-_- Just a fit of absolutely morbid weirdness that hit me upside the head and demanded to be written, holding my other fics hostage. Do not ask where this came from; I have no idea. It's got something to do with a song combined with an odd dream and a depressed mood. Detective Conan and all the usual characters belong to Gosho Aoyama. Song credits: "I'm Already There" by Lonestar.

There. That said, read on...



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I'm Already There
by Becky Tailweaver


He couldn't put it off any more; Ran's birthday was tomorrow, and she was turning twenty-two. Her big day, her ascent past the final marker of childhood--even if she'd already undergone more trials than any young woman should.

And if I don't do this now, I'll catch absolute hell from her next time I call. And I'll have to watch her spend her whole birthday wondering...

A few coins, tapping buttons he'd long since memorized, and he waited quietly, leaning against a particular payphone--one that was like an old friend to him. He knew every scratch and dent on it--how the speaker was a bit tinnier than most, how you had to wiggle the "5" key as you pressed it or else it might not work. The tool in his hand held close to his mouth, he waited.

The telephone rang three times. On the fourth ring, just before the voice mail would have picked it up with Mouri Kogoro's gravelly tones announcing the Mouri Detective Agency, someone answered.

"Hello, Mouri Detective--"

"Ran?"

The other end of the line went dead silent. He could just make out faint, shaky breaths, could almost feel the surprise radiating from her.

"Shinichi?"

"Hi...it's me."

With a deep breath, she exploded at him. "For God's sake, do you know how long it's been? I started to think you were dead, you selfish, conceited, uncaring baka!"

"Yeah...I know...I'm sorry..." He said the only things he could.

"Sorry doesn't cut it! It's been four months! I've counted every single day!" There were tears in her anger too. "Don't you even care? I haven't seen you in years! When are you coming home?"

It was like this every time. She railed, she cried, she demanded, she asked--every time. And every time, he gave her the same not-answers.

"I-I can't say exactly. With the way things are going, the FBI won't be able to find the new hideout unless I can decode the--"

"To hell with your damn FBI, Kudo Shinichi." There was something so brokenly hard in her voice that it made him catch his breath. "We can't live like this--I know I can't take it any more. You can't keep feeding us hope and dreams and giving us nothing!"

"Ran, believe me...I wish..." He could barely keep the hoarseness from making his voice completely blurred. "I wish...I could..."

I wish I could touch you and kiss you again. Like before. Like the last time. I wish I could hold you in my arms for real. Haibara, where the hell are you...?

"Wishes don't work, Shinichi," she responded firmly. "I already tried--and failed."

"Um...anyway...how are your folks doing?"

"They're just fine," Ran replied succinctly. "They still won't let me get a job and pay my share of the finances around here. Okaasan is finally able to cook decent rice at least. Otousan still won't eat her miso, but it's actually getting better. He still gets more jobs than you ever did, you High School Detective."

"Hey, I'm not in high school any more!"

"So you aren't. And now you're working as a top-secret undercover agent for the FBI in America. But Otousan is still doing a better job here--and I don't mean just in his work."

"Yeah, I know. He's an old grouch, but he's a great old grouch. He's filling my shoes a lot better than I ever could."

"Yeah, he is. Wait a second...did I just hear you admit my father is better than you?" There was a faint chuckle from her, and then her voice grew sad and wistful. "How on earth do you do it, Shinichi? How do you make me remember that I love you without even trying to?"

"Oh, I dunno...maybe it's my great personal magnetism..."

The dead air hung heavy between them for several moments, something building; something she was waiting for...and he was almost afraid to say.

"You're being evasive again," she observed, her tone going somewhat sharp and reprimanding. "Aren't you even going to ask? What if he's forgotten you, Shinichi?"

"Oh...well...how's...?"

A shrill indistinct voice broke through the quietness on the other end, along with the sounds of some items falling to the floor, and a regular thudding as if something were bouncing. The high-pitched, eager shouts were clearly heard, coming from right beside Ran.

"As you can hear, he's obviously healthy enough," she sighed.

He called her on the road
From a lonely, cold hotel room,
Just to hear her say "I love you," one more time.
And when he heard the sound
Of the kids laughing in the background,
He had to wipe away a tear from his eye.

"Is it Touchan on the phone? It is! It is! Lemme talk! Kaachan, lemme talk!"

"Okay, Yuu-chan--careful, don't drop the phone..." Ran seemed to drift away from the receiver, and almost immediately an eager, childish voice spoke up joyfully.

"Touchan!"

It hurts so much every time he calls me that...yet I can't wait to hear it again...

Somehow he swallowed down the lump in his throat to respond--brightening his voice, letting none of the agony show through. "Yuuichi-kun! How ya doing, scamp?"

"Touchan! I knew it was you! Kaachan only yells like that at you, not anybody else."

He chuckled. "Is that so. How come she's only this mean to me?"

"'Cause you're a baka! Kaachan says so. She says you're a stupid, selfish...arrogant...uh, sweet...um, mystery-loving baka."

"She said that?" No doubt Ran's regretting that he's got my memory recall right now...

"Uh-huh, she did."

"And you believe her?"

"Ummm, maybe," the boy giggled. "Some of it. But not the baka part. Touchan's smart!"

"That's good to hear." He felt himself warm inside, unwilling though it was. "So, you're three now...how are you doing in preschool? Any new friends?"

"No..." The little boy's tone turned somewhat thoughtful, if a bit sad. "They're all kinda stupid. They can't read yet. They just wanna play with dolls and cars and stuff."

Damn me for giving him that curse... "I see. Are you getting along with the teacher?"

"Yeah! She's really nice! She lets me read the big kid books! She even says I could skip a grade." The happy tones petered out again, turning puzzled. "Touchan, what's 'skip a grade' mean?"

He laughed. "It means you're really, really smart and maybe you'll go to a new classroom where the kids will want to talk to you about the things you like." But maybe not even then.

"Really? Wow!"

"Just remember to be good and listen to your teacher, no matter what class you're in."

The silence on the other end became deeper.

"Yuu-kun?"

"Touchan..." A sad childish waver, an uncertain, hopeful question. "Touchan...when are you gonna come see me?"

God, help me...

A little voice came on the phone
And said, "Daddy, when you coming home?"
He said the first thing that came to his mind:

"I'm already there,
Take a look around;
I'm the sunshine in your hair,
I'm the shadow on the ground,
I'm the whisper in the wind,
I'm your imaginary friend,
And I know I'm in your prayers.
Oh, I'm already there."

"A-as soon as possible, Yuu-kun. I'm trying as hard as I can. I'm trying. Please believe me..." He was crying. There were tears streaming silently down his face, even if his voice betrayed none of it. "I am...I am..."

I am with you.

"Can you hurry?" the little boy asked innocently. "Kaachan's birthday is tomorrow. If you come, she'd be happy. And...I wanna meet you."

Oh God...God, why...? "I...I know...and I'll try, but...don't...don't wait up for me..."

"Okay!" The boy was instantly cheerful again, taking a half-broken half-promise as if it were an absolute fact. The faith of a child--unwavering even in the face of constant longing and disappointment. "Um, Kaachan wantsa talk to you again."

"Alright...bye, Yuu-kun. I love you. Be good."

"I will. Bye Touchan!"

There were muffled noises as the handset was handed over; Ran's voice returned, slightly cracked as if from pent-up tears. "Well, if that doesn't inspire you to get your silly ass home, I don't know what will," she observed, sarcasm mixed with pain.

She got back on the phone,
And said, "I really miss you, darling.
Don't worry about the kids, they'll be alright."

"Ran...I..."

"Shinichi..." she sighed. "He'll be fine if you don't show up. Most likely he'll be so absorbed in the cake and the party he'll forget all about you."

Not him. Yuuichi doesn't forget. "I'm still going to try..."

"I know. I'll hope, but I won't hold my breath." There was fond resignation in her voice, then a deep, weary sigh. "I don't know what's kept me holding on to you so long. Maybe it's Yuuichi--he's living proof. Maybe it's because I was madly in love with you to start with, I still love you, and absence makes the heart grow fonder."

"I really wish I could..." he tried. "I promise I'll do everything I can--"

"Shinichi..."

He wound down, choking on his own words. Pie-crust promises, cookie crumbs--empty, hollow, uncomforting. "If I could reach you right now, Ran..."

"I know. I see it every night in my dreams. You always come back to me in my heart." Her voice broke. "I keep dreaming that you come home to us...and it's so happy I can't help but cry, and when I wake up and you're not there I cry more because it's like you've died and I still can't get over you--you're a ghost that keeps calling..."

He could almost see her tearful face, the memories in her eyes. He understood; the same sweet, painful memories were in his own--as well as the darker truths she didn't know.

"Wish I was in your arms,
Lying right there beside you,
But I know that I'll be in your dreams tonight."

The last time Kudo Shinichi had walked the earth, almost four years ago--when Haibara Ai had vanished inexplicably with all of her files and work and not even Agasa knew what had happened to her. She was just gone, without warning or goodbye. All that remained was a single capsule of the phony cure sitting on an empty desk in an empty lab.

Then the following days--days of panic. Full of the feeling that it was all over--they knew, they were coming, and that's why Haibara had fled. Then the weeks of desolation and hopelessness, searching for any clues--but finding nothing; even they had disappeared. Jin, Vodka, the occasional agents, everyone but the suspicious teacher; the one he knew the truth about now--a hard-won, bitter knowledge. It left him feeling that it really was all over--no chance for a cure, no freedom from his hellish half-life.

In a fit of depression he popped the last pill. His last chance at a true cure if the Professor could sort anything out, his last emergency backup--his last frail hope. In a rush of desperation he swallowed it and destroyed his final chance.

Elation gave brief respite from the darkness of despair. Seeing Ran again--rushing to her and holding her despite her utter shock--gave him back his smile. Still, it was all tempered with sadness and a sense of impending doom. It was a blur of remembrance, still as clear as day--a compendium of memory and emotion that he could never forget: Spending the day with Ran, and the night as well--concocting a last-resort fish story to tell her, about getting called up by the FBI to go work in undercover America on a major Mafia case, to save children and innocents from gangsters and terrorists...not too false but far from the truth. Ran, shocked and dismayed, tearful and grieved--how could he leave her again so soon after coming home, how could he break her heart yet again? Crying together--her, begging and pleading with him not to leave; him, with the knowledge that this might be the last time. Making love to her with the rising dawn, bittersweet and tender, fueled by a need that took them both by surprise. Leaving her sleeping alone in his bedroom with a kiss and a whispered farewell, running away before he cried, before his time ran out...

"And I'll gently kiss your lips,
Touch you with my fingertips,
So turn out the light and close your eyes."

"I miss you, Ran," he said softly, meaning every word.

"I miss you, too," she replied softly, the same longing sadness in her voice. "I've waited yet another four months to finally tell you to get out of my life and let me go on...but I guess I won't give up on you completely yet. My heart's still with you, no matter how much I try to deny it."

"I think about you all the time," he told her quickly, unable to stop the sudden rush of words. "I can never forget about you--your face is in front of me wherever I go. I always feel like you're right beside me, even if I can't touch you..."

"You sweet bastard..." She was crying openly now. "Why can't you let me let go of you? I just can't, no matter what anyone says. But I guess I don't want to either. You better come home. Promise me you'll come home before we die."

"I promise." And he meant it.

"If not for me, then for Yuu-chan...he wants to see you more than anything..."

"Ran, I promise." I know that for a fact--one of these days it's going to be too much, and I will just give up and come home...

"I'll hold you to it," she said, with an audible sniff. "And if you don't keep that promise, I'll hunt you down in the next world and beat you to a pulp. That's a promise too, tantei no baka."

She let out a soft chuckle, and he couldn't help but do the same.

"Ran...I was gonna say..." He cleared his throat. "Happy Birthday. Even if it is a little soon..."

"I want you here," she replied quietly. "But I really appreciate that you called. If nothing else, I get to vent on you once in a while. Thank you, Shinichi."

He laughed shortly. "Yeah, gotta stand up and take my licks now and then. Besides it's...nice to hear your voice. And to talk to Yuuichi." And to hear him call me Touchan. Even though I love him so much...I wish Ran hadn't had to...

"Uh oh...Otousan's on the warpath," Ran sighed, as he made out the rumble of Kogoro's voice in the background. "I've got to get dinner ready, and it's late as it is. Okaasan isn't up to much more than miso and rice, so I'd better get to the kitchen."

"Yeah...well...tell everyone 'hi' for me, will you?"

"Sure." There were tears, despite how even and ordinary it all sounded. She couldn't know when he might contact her again, if ever. She had to let go and say goodbye somehow; the end of every call was like another painful little death, each one worse than the last. "We all miss you. All of us. Really. Come back soon?"

"I'll try."

"Okay...goodbye, Shinichi."

"Goodbye. I...I love you, Ran."

"I'm already there,
Don't make a sound;
I'm the beat in your heart,
I'm the moonlight shining down,
I'm the whisper in the wind,
And I'll be there to the end.
Can you feel the love that we share?
Oh, I'm already there."

Suddenly, she was sobbing. "I can't...I can't-- Just...just come home...please just come home...!"

And before he could reply--before he could even think, she hung up with a heavy click. Dazed, hurting, he numbly hung up the receiver.

Pain lanced deep in his heart, like a soundless, bloodless bullet wound. He sank down in the corner of the telephone booth, face hidden in his arms, his shoulders shaking with muffled sobs. The agony and the loneliness flowed up and overwhelmed him, and for long minutes he just couldn't stop the torrent.

Everything hurt. The thought of Ran, alone, still waiting for him, crying just like he was. The thought of Yuuichi, laughing even though he was sad, wondering why his Touchan would never come. Being right beside them, yet forever locked away.

He had been right there for all of it. He'd been right at Ran's side when he'd had to hide his reaction to the life-changing news--a simple truth that hit like a blow to his gut, stealing his breath and leaving him weak-kneed, all because of one moment of selfish weakness; his life went from cracked to shattered, his guilt and agony a thousand times worse than before. He was right at her side for the long months of waiting, watching her hope and yearn for him, trying as best he could to make her smile; she wouldn't give up on him no matter what her friends and family advised, holding out somehow under the strain of cruel rumors and isolation, even still talking to him when he called--even eager to tell him of what was happening lately and how much she wished he could be there.

He was right at her side when the time came, and though he was denied entry again and again he finally sneaked in--and behind a hospital curtain, unnoticed in the hustle and frenzy, he watched her give birth to a miracle named Yuuichi. He was right at her side, waiting agonizing hours for everyone to finally wind down and notice him there--waiting so long just to touch that miracle, just to hold it, even if his arms were almost too small for such a tiny burden. He was right there beside her with all the adults looming around when she told him to be careful, mind his head and hold him close; and looking down into the nestle of blanket he saw something so precious and beautiful and wonderful that he couldn't breathe, couldn't think--this one small perfect thing that was so profound there were no words for it, and he felt so much inside that all he could do was laugh and cry.

He was right beside both of them--ready to help Ran whenever he could, ready to do anything for Yuuichi. He was helper, babysitter, playmate, teacher, friend, brother--never Father, never Beloved...

Everything hurt--from the memories of his last precious moments with Ran as himself, to the image of a bright, beautiful little boy with his blue eyes and Ran's soft dark hair. So much of his life was shattered shards that gouged into his soul, leaving him bleeding to death within.

Dying inside, suffering and waiting and yearning, he was still right beside them. And he would be forever, as long as it took.

"We may be a thousand miles apart,
But Iíll be with you wherever you are."

It was that thought and that thought alone that pushed him back to his feet and made him wipe away his tears. It alone gave him the strength to pick up his bookbag, square his shoulders, and leave the telephone booth behind. Layers of masks had been stripped away by that one conversation, and he had a short walk home to replace them.

Even if sometimes he got so tired, and just wanted to give up--to end the lie, to come home, even if the truth would hurt terribly too...it still had to be better than this...

Long practice made it possible for him to don his mask in only a few moments. By the time he reached his doorstep, no one could have ever told that there had been anything wrong with him. He was smiling when he grasped the doorknob and turned it.

"Tadaima!"

"Welcome home, Conan-kun!" Ran greeted, leaning briefly out the kitchen door. Her face was slightly flushed and her eyes were red, but she too did a remarkable job of hiding her pain behind her smile. "I'll have dinner on in about twenty minutes--can you keep the tsunami occupied 'til then?"

"Sure thing, Ran-neechan!" A smile and a laugh kept everything hidden, as he dropped his bag and shoes by the door and waited for the inevitable.

"Niichaaaaaan!"

The little boy was aptly nicknamed "the tsunami," a small toddlerish ball of energy who had the same nose for trouble--and knack for getting out of it--that his absent father did. Mouri Yuuichi was as inexhorable as a tidal wave and unstoppable as a storm--Ran's fire and strength mingled with his own intelligence and determination. A daunting combination, even when embodied in someone who wasn't much taller than the knees of most adults.

Conan managed to catch Yuuichi's charge without being knocked over this time; "twelve" years old and counting, he was still rather a shrimp. An energetic payload of Yuuichi launched straight at him was almost more than he could handle and still keep his feet.

"Whoa, scamp, no running in the house!" he admonished, kneeling down to embrace the small child despite his gentle reprimand. No one was looking and Yuuichi never seemed to mind him being occasionally out of character, so he closed his eyes and hugged the boy tight--just to hold him for a little while, just to breathe in the sweet, soft scent of his dark hair.

No...I can still live with this. I can't give in, not yet. They're still out there somewhere. Besides, Ran would kill me, and...Yuuichi's still too young to understand. It would only frighten and confuse him. Hell, who wouldn't be freaked out to have a kid for a father...?

"I missed you today, Yuu-kun."

Unashamed, the child hugged him back, though he was a little confused at his niichan's sudden shift from his usual cheerful, careless demeanor. Sometimes it seemed like the older boy would change somehow, growing quiet and wanting to hold him for a bit longer than usual--but such times were always welcome, making Yuuichi feel warm and safe in a way no one else could. "You were gone a long time," he admonished, little-boy serious. "I was waiting, 'cause you promised."

"Yeah, I know," Conan said, pulling back. "I was at the arcade with Genta-tachi today, but I didn't forget to go to the library."

Yuuichi bounced back, almost hopping up and down. "Didja get me a book? Didja?"

He smiled. "You bet I did. You'll like this one--it's got a mystery in it." He bent to fish the book out of his bag, holding it up before the little boy's eyes. "But first...how did you do with the puzzle book? Can I see?"

In less than a moment Yuuichi was racing off to the room he shared with Conan, and from the ruckus that resulted, he was probably tearing his half of the room to pieces looking for his book. It only took him a minute to return, and by then Conan was seated on the floor, waiting for him. The two bent over the children's puzzle book, going over the solutions that Yuuichi had contrived. Conan only had to gently nudge the youngster through the tougher problems that had been previously missed, watching as comprehension dawned so swiftly each time. He could not help the glimmer of pride, though he masked it as a boyish smile of enthusiasm.

Yuuichi's amazing; speaking, reading, writing, thinking--he's much further than even I was at this age... "You did this while you were in school?"

"Yup!" the child replied, already into the second book. "I got bored. Sensei said I could."

"That's fine. Wow, you do need to move up a grade."

"That's what Touchan said too!" Yuuichi smiled brightly up at him, a mirror of blue eyes and tousled bangs that fell exactly the same way as his own. "I wanna go to a new grade! The teachers saw me doing my puzzles today and said I should. Jodie-sensei wants me to be in her class!"

"She..she does..." He felt a hard chill grip him in that moment, though he showed no outward signs. Damn her...damn her...I knew she was being transferred from the high school but I didn't know where...did she apply for the elementary on purpose?

Oh God...does she know...about Yuuichi...?

"Yuu-chan, Conan-kun, time to get ready for dinner!"

"Haaai, Kaachan!"

"Coming, Ran-neechan!"

She has to know. She's with them, there's no way she couldn't know--just look at him. Then...she must be planning something...wanting Yuu-kun in her class...what's she waiting for...? He followed Yuuichi to get washed up, trying to let the fear flow down the drain with the water. Until he finally beat them, he could never really come home--not the way he wanted to. And that teacher, that cursed Jodie Stantemillion, was at the epicenter of it all--always there, always watching, always asking. She was one of them, and as long as her cold eyes were on him, he was trapped. And now she had one more precious life to hold over his head.

Grief, pain, loneliness, anger--all of them were excellent fuel for his cold, silent rage. This small family he was a part of, yet apart from--though he was trapped behind this invisible wall, his vow to protect them burned as hot as ever.

Yuuichi was bouncing as they headed back to the main room to eat, sing-songing something about "tomorrow," "birthday," and "Touchan."

Conan felt his heart twist again as he remembered that Touchan wasn't coming home tomorrow for the birthday.

"Yuu-chan, settle down," Ran admonished gently as everyone came together. Mouri Kogoro and Eri, together at their end of the table; Ran alone at the next side, Conan and Yuuichi across from the older couple.

"Aw, how come you don't call me Yuu-kun like Niichan does?" the child pouted. "Even Touchan calls me Yuu-kun, just like Niichan."

Ran laughed. "Because you're still my little boy, silly. And because you're bouncing like a bunny rabbit."

"'Cause tomorrow's Kaachan's birthday!" Yuuichi crowed. "An' Touchan's gonna come home too!"

Kogoro and Eri shared sad, knowing looks, saying nothing; they had already argued a hundred thousand times with their headstrong daughter, telling her that she should put the Kudo boy out of her life and go find a young man who could love her and be a father for Yuuichi--but each time she resisted, holding firm. Even when she was about to give in, her heart would rebel.

"You really believe that?" Conan asked softly, staring down at his plate as the family began their meal.

"Ummm, maybe," the boy giggled, his words so startlingly similar to what he'd said on the telephone that Conan glanced up. "But I know he's gonna try."

"Yes, he is," Ran agreed quietly, smiling at her son. "That's what really matters. Because we love him, don't we, Yuu-chan?"

"Yup! I love Touchan!"

Someone he's never met...he still loves so much... Conan choked down the lump in his throat.

"Even if he can't right now, he'll still come home someday," Ran continued, earning sad, understanding smiles from her parents. "No matter how much my head says 'Forget it,' my heart just won't let me stop believing in him. I have to believe in him...he's my stupid, selfish, arrogant, sweet, mystery-loving baka."

Her words threatened to rip all his masks aside and flood them away with tears. I'm here, Ran...I'm right here...

"I'm already there,
Take a look around;
I'm the sunshine in your hair,
I'm the shadow on the ground,
I'm the whisper in the wind,
And I'll be there to the end.
Can you feel the love that we share?
I'm already there."

"Then...here's to hope," Conan offered softly, raising his teacup, surprising everyone with the low earnest tone of his voice. "Here's to Shinichi-niichan's safe--and swift--return."

"Why, Conan-kun...!" Eri breathed, finding herself amazed by the boy's intensity and faith. Her husband hefted his own cup grumpily, willing to give Kudo the benefit of the doubt for his daughter's sake. Yuuichi raised his cup, though not quite understanding, and Ran touched her cup lightly to Conan's, smiling at him over the rim as she sipped.

"Thanks, Conan-kun. You've known me long enough to know how much I miss him..."

He nodded. "I know it's not my birthday, but I have a wish. I wish...he could be here for you. I-I hate seeing you cry, Ran-neechan...and I know...how much you...love him..." His voice choked up, and Ran mistook his bitter gulps for boyish attempts not to cry from concern.

"Oh, you sweetheart..." With the faint glimmer of tears in her eyes, she set her teacup down and threw an arm around him, pulling him against her side in a firm hug. "Thank you, Conan-kun."

Her warmth and caring were meant for a young boy named Edogawa Conan--but for once in a very, very long while, Shinichi let himself accept her touch, let himself lean into her embrace and put an arm around her in return. He promised in his heart everything he could not say, and saved it all up inside to tell her someday. The one whom she longed for was already there, right beside her, even though she couldn't see him.

I'm right here, Ran. No matter what happens, I'll always be right here...


"I'm already there..."





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Epilogue

A young girl with long blond hair stood in the alley across the street from the Mouri Detective Agency, hidden in the shadows, hands in the pockets of her warm overcoat. Her deep, piercing eyes stayed fixed on the third-story windows of the Agency, barely reflecting the gentle yellow light that spilled forth. There was a peculiar warmth that softened her unreadable gaze; that warmth gradually spread to her lips, curving her mouth into a faint, sad, barely-recognizable smile.

Hold on, Kudo-kun--it's almost over. Just hold on a little longer...



~~end~~