Title: Don’t Make Me Laugh
Word Count: 1480
Disclaimer: Aoyama created Shin'ichi and Shiho. I'm a mere slave to their banter.
Friends: Kudou Shin'ichi/Edogawa Conan and Miyano Shiho/Haibara Ai
Notes: A trip to the petting zoo becomes a lesson in laughter. 30 Friends: #18 – some advice, manycases1truth: #29 – the zoo
Don’t Make Me Laugh
“A day without laughter is a day wasted.” – Charlie Chaplin
Haibara Ai examined the clump of rough grass in her hand and trailed behind Conan, Agasa, and the children as they entered the sprawling petting zoo at Ueno Park. Many goats and sheep roamed over the sunscorched plaza while chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs, and other fuzzy creatures huddled indoors. The Detective Boys’ chatter about the hippos and gorillas they saw earlier rose above the voices of other children who pet the bleating sheep with careful, yet sticky fingers. Though Ai took the occasion to fling a verbal barb at the professor, who sneaked a box of cookies while her back was turned during lunch, she fell silent as Ayumi squealed with delight at a pair of lambs and ran toward them, Mitsuhiko and Genta fast at her heels.
“First time here, right?” Conan asked, slowing to a halt beside Ai while Agasa hurried after his younger charges to keep them from plowing into the many families at the zoo. Though Conan and Ai blended into the crowd with his striped polo shirt and her layered tank, in a different light they almost looked their age.
Ai glared at Conan sidelong while her thoughts oozed with sarcasm. Of course she had been to Ueno Zoo. In fact, as a little girl, her guardians in the organization had taken her to dozens of American petting zoos because they had given her lots of free time between lab practicals, and boy, they just loved children. “What do you think?”
“It’s simple enough to feed the animals,” Conan said, glaring back. He lifted the clump of grass in his fist and led the way to a large sheep, perhaps the lambs’ mother. He crouched, angled the long stems toward the sheep’s mouth, and said, “Just hold it out to them. They won’t bite you.”
Watching Conan feed the sheep with keener interest than she would care to admit, Ai spied him chuckle as the sheep munched the grass until his palm was clean.
Conan pulled himself upright and smiled at her. “Try it, Haibara.”
Ai shrugged. Glancing at the tangled grasses in her hand, she held it out and started to say, “Not much different than feeding a dog, I guess—”
However, as soon as the sheep nibbled at the food in her hand, Ai shook at the sensation. She pressed her lips together, but no amount of clenching her throat could stifle the giggles that slipped through. At that, she yanked her hand away and wiped off the last few blades of grass stuck to it, ignoring the heat that flamed her cheeks.
Conan arched an eyebrow, but pointed to where the rest of their group had gone to pet the neighboring lambs and said, “The professor and the others are getting ahead of us. We should get moving.”
“Right,” Ai said, crossing her arms and falling into step behind Conan who, if she was not mistaken, quirked his mouth into a subtle grin. She sighed, knowing that look too well. Of course he figured out why she had reacted that way. If anything, at least he was keeping his mouth shut.
Ayumi rose from where she had been stroking a lamb’s short, puffy fleece and waved to Ai as soon as she approached. “Ai-chan, over here!”
“We’ve got more grass!” chimed in Genta, raising a huge clump of the feed in one fist and dangling a stem behind the sheep’s ear with the other.
“Idiot, it won’t reach its mouth that way,” Conan said, taking more grass from the professor and handing some to Ai.
“I’ll pass,” Ai said, her answer clipped as she jerked back. The children blinked as one until Mitsuhiko seemed to get an idea and, beaming, took Ai’s hand.
“Don’t worry, Haibara-san, we’ve got plenty!” Mitsuhiko said, blushing as he pressed the short grasses from his palm into hers.
Ai’s quickening heartbeat thudded in her ears. Her first instinct was to drop the feed altogether, but she realized that she could no longer do that to Mitsuhiko. Maybe when she first met these children, maybe then, she could justify stomping on their hopes to keep her distance, but not now. She glanced at Conan.
Strong eyes sparkled back at her. “Go for it,” Conan said. “You’re not half bad at this.”
With a curt nod, Ai bent toward the sweet little lamb, not sure whether to be more embarrassed about what would soon happen or the fact that she was afraid of it. With a gulp she tried to suppress, she held out her hand—if she could only keep it steady—and watched the sheep start eating for a second until that sensation returned. Fighting it was useless. Her insides quivered again and she clutched her torso as her soft giggles grew, bubbled, and burst into the one sound she never made.
“Oh!” the Detective Boys cried in unison, gaping at Ai. She was laughing!
“I see!” Ayumi said. “Ai-chan is ticklish!”
Agasa chuckled and said, “Come to think of it, you’re right. Ai-kun always avoids touching certain things with her feet, probably for the same reason.”
Conan stayed by the professor’s side and, with a small smile, said nothing.
Unable to stand it any longer and thankful the sheep had finished, Ai wiped her hands and frowned. Though she blushed hotter than the noonday sun, she still had it in her to scowl at Agasa. “I avoid advertising that for a reason.”
Genta flashed a toothy smile and said, “Yeah, but that’s—”
Mitsuhiko nodded. “It’s just—”
Ayumi giggled, tinkling like a bell. “It’s so—”
Ai, stunned, found herself glued to the concrete when Ayumi skipped to her side and flung her arms around her neck. The boys gathered around them but had enough sense not to touch their frosty classmate.
“Come on, come on, we’re here to pet the animals, remember?” Conan said, lowering his eyelids at the trio as he walked over to them. Grinning, he pointed to a nearby wooden building and added, “The guinea pigs are over there. If you sit down, a worker will put a mat on your lap and bring one over to you.”
“Yeah!” The cheering children pumped their fists in the air and bolted.
“W-wait a minute!” Agasa shouted after them, huffing and puffing at the unasked-for exercise.
Ai smirked and followed at a casual pace. It served the professor right. Noticing that Conan lingered by her again, she eyed him warily. “What?”
Conan stuck his hands in his pockets but looked ahead, his expression stern. “You know, it’s okay to laugh sometimes.”
“Hmph,” Ai said, with a grimace, ignoring the tension in her stomach. Over such a simple thing, yet again, Kudou was nudging her where she did not want to go. She shrugged as if she could not care less and replied, “As they say, ‘Deru kugi wa utareru. The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.’”
“If you use that reasoning, by holding back now you stick out more,” Conan said, gazing at the children as they reached the building. Ayumi climbed onto a bench between the two boys and gasped as a worker set a brown-spotted guinea pig on her lap. Running her hands along the animal’s silky fur, she blushed with sheer joy. “They also say, ‘Nana korobi ya oki. Fall down seven times, get up eight.’ I just have to lock them behind bars. You’ve got to kick them out of your head.”
Though Ai was tempted to snap that a person does not just arrest the entire syndicate, as she watched Ayumi kick her legs and giggle freely, she found she had no answer.
“Besides,” Conan said, grinning at Ai as he stretched his arms behind his head, “you’ve got a nice laugh.”
Fighting the sudden blush on her own cheeks, Ai shot him a glare, but then smirked and said, “Don’t worry. Considering how much you behave like a complete idiot, you’ll hear me laugh plenty.”
At that moment, Genta cupped his mouth and shouted for Conan and Ai to hurry up while the others tried to shush him in vain. Then, to everyone’s alarm, Genta hoisted his squirming guinea pig in the air and struggled with the zookeeper when she tried to take it back. Rubbing his forehead, Conan said, “Let’s go before we’re kicked out of here.”
“Answer for me. I’ll pass,” Ai said, with a glimmer of a smile. At Conan’s frown, she continued, “I’d like to pet the mice. Considering how many of their cousins I’ve killed over the years, I’d like to make peace with them. Is that allowed?”
“No way I’m giving them that explanation, but sure,” Conan said, swinging his arm in a backwards wave as he walked away. “We’ll catch up with you.”
Laughing softly, Ai turned and walked in the opposite direction. “I’m sure you will.”