DISCLAIMER: I do not own Detective Conan or any of its characters and concepts! They all belong to the genius of Gosho Aoyama. Except for Yuuichi--he's mine! ^_^ No touchie!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
|There's another world inside of me |
That you may never see;
There's secrets in this life
That I can't hide.
Somewhere in this darkness
There's a light that I can't find.
Maybe it's too far away.
Maybe I'm just blind...
Part 1: Another World Inside
Conan was visibly storming as he headed to his first class of the day, scowling like an inclement thundercloud with a look of such piercing anger in his eyes that even his closest friends thought it best not to approach him until it passed. Even though he fully realized that the cracks in his mask were showing--though it began to matter less as "Conan" grew older--he couldn't bring himself to brighten up and concentrate on the tasks at hand. Not with what had happened when he'd dropped Yuuichi off at Teitan Elementary.
He and the boy had parted ways at the Elementary's front gate, as Conan sent his otouto-chan on his way to the preschool center on the ground floor. It had all been pleasant enough, Yuu-kun giving him a cheerful hug goodbye and dashing off to join the other children--until Conan spotted Jodie Stantemillion standing near the main doors, gazing at him from across the yard.
No, not at him--she'd been watching the small, dark-haired little preschooler bobbing along amongst the herds of other youngsters on their way to class. The blond woman's gaze had been intent and calculating, her smile warm but...chilling.
Conan had done nothing but frown when Jodie-sensei's eyes flicked up to him, dark with secrets and knowledge--but inside, Shinichi boiled and raged and seethed like a caged animal, fighting down an urge to rush in, grab Yuuichi, and get him out of there before she did something.
It had taken every ounce of self-control he posessed to turn on his heel and walk away without looking back.
And now he had to sit here in a mind-numbingly dull junior high classroom and listen to a teacher drone on lessons he'd had years ago and had aced easily--while somewhere, less than a block away in the Elementary building, that woman was in close proximity to his son and could do anything, at any time.
It took all he had now just to sit still with Conan's usual air of half-listening boredom, taking vague notes that were pretty much worthless in light of his memory, just to look somewhat studious.
Yoshida Ayumi, ever the observant one--and since she was sitting right beside him, his ill humor was hard to miss--had obviously noticed his funk and looked as though she itched to ask, or at least attempt to console him. But Conan-kun had long since made clear his stance on passing frivolous notes in class, or whispering during lectures; she was effectively cut off from him until the teacher was finished, or the class got out.
Besides, what could she do? What sort of comfort could she offer him?
Ayumi--like Genta and Mitsuhiko and even the other friends he'd made in his time here--knew absolutely nothing. She didn't know that he wasn't the junior high student he pretended to be--though she recognized how mature and intelligent he was, especially since she was growing up a bit herself--and she didn't know what his real name or age was. She didn't know that his life was in danger from a secretive crime syndicate; she didn't know that he had to live day in and day out in constant fear, pain, and loneliness. She didn't know that Mouri Yuuichi was really his son.
No one did.
No one that mattered--but the one who could destroy everything. That woman--the one who called herself Jodie Stantemillion, who passed herself off as a kindergarten teacher. A kindergarten teacher--her!
He caught himself scribbling a hangman's noose on the margin of his note paper and glared briefly at the offending image, scratching the sketch out with a barely-visible grimace. Damn her...
"Jodie-sensei" was lying to the world. And, it seemed, he was the only one who knew.
He didn't know when it had happened. He had a vague timetable at best; sometime between Ran's shaky high school graduation--and things had been so hectic and emotional back then that he hadn't paid attention like he should have--and Yuuichi's advent into preschool, someone had taken over Jodie Stantemillion's life. Someone, he had very little trouble guessing, who was involved with the Black Organization. He didn't know what had happened to the original Jodie-sensei, the one Ran knew--dead, gone back to America, or imprisoned; he had no way of finding out--but this new one had, he'd heard, eventually transferred herself out of her position as a high school English teacher.
And he had not even known until he'd seen her at the beginning of this school year--the year he had been transferred to the Junior High with the rest of the twelve-year-olds. The year he had left, she had gone to Teitan Elementary--where Yuuichi was participating innocently in class right now.
The thought made his blood boil. Hattori had once chided him for his overprotectiveness, such that he wound himself into a tight ball of temper and nerves whenever things got risky--becoming a human time-bomb waiting to explode at the slightest jostle--but in light of the way things were, Conan didn't care if he was being hypervigilant. He had no reason not to be, when They were an inch away and a step behind at any given moment.
Every day he had to send Yuuichi off to school with her cranked his springs even tighter. One more day, one more twist of the screw, yet he could do nothing to stop what might be coming. Something was going to happen, and she would be in the middle of it--he knew that. There could be no other reason she was there, waiting; waiting for him, waiting for Yuuichi--to use the child as a hostage, or to steal him away forever, or to kill him...
Conan's pencil tip snapped loudly, getting a glance from a concerned Ayumi but little attention from anyone else--after all, pencils broke all the time. Conan glared at his pencil for a second, scowling at the broken piece of graphite and the harsh letters of the "notes" he'd been taking. They were hard and dark, livid, like slashes from a knife.
At his side, Ayumi swallowed hard, silent and almost scared of the boy sitting next to her for a second; there was something awful and black in his eyes--something that made it seem like he wasn't their Conan-kun any more, but someone else. She recognized this, though; sometimes it happened--it just happened, sometimes for no reason at all, or sometimes when there was danger, especially when Yuu-chan was with them--and she didn't like it at all when Conan-kun got like this...
But then Conan shifted around to get a fresh pencil from his pencil case, and when he looked up again it was all gone--he was just the normal, sleepy-eyed, bored-in-class Conan-kun like always. He turned to a fresh notebook page and wrote down notes, his handwriting the same old lazy, precise letters that only Conan-kun was so good at.
Sometimes this scared her more than the burning in his eyes when he got...strange like that. When he would be all black inside for a few instants, and she could see it--but then it would all just disappear and leave her half-wondering if she'd seen it at all.
It was like he was wearing a mask, and sometimes it would slip--like the way his glasses sometimes slipped down his nose, and with a single finger he could push them back again. And just like his glasses, he would push the mask back up again, just like that, so nobody could really see what was underneath.
Sometimes Ayumi wanted badly to ask him. Just to ask him what was under his mask--what was so dark and hurting that he had to cover it up like that, all the time. But she was afraid to ask, because what was underneath was so scary--and she was afraid that if she asked him, he would tell her.
She was afraid of his answer. Because it might mean that he really wasn't the Conan-kun they all thought they knew, and they would lose him forever.
It wasn't that Mouri Yuuichi meant to be inattentive in class. Really, he knew how important it was to be quiet, sit still, and above all listen to the teacher. He didn't mean to be distracted by the book Conan-niichan had lent him when Sensei read them stories, or to occasionally daydream while the rest of the class recited alphabets or poems.
It was just so hard to pay attention in preschool when he already knew most of it. Niichan had taught him to read really well, and he even knew how to put numbers together a little. Art was fun, but the teachers always made such a big deal when he painted pictures of things that looked real, instead of the smudgy blotches and streaks the other kids made. The other children always had such fun making messy paper bag puppets or glitter-swathed bean rattles, or other silly preschool projects; he always finished his quickly and neatly with time to spare, leaving him with nothing to do while the other kids figured out how to glue two paper plates together.
He didn't mean to be like this. He wanted to be a good boy and participate in class like Kaachan and Niichan wanted him to. He really tried. But preschool was just so boring a lot of the time.
It wasn't much of a surprise that Snack and Recess were two of his favorite "class periods."
At least he played a lot like the other kids did. As Sensei told them to put their snack-time trash in the wastebasket and file outside for the recess break, Yuuichi looked forward to fifteen minutes of free time before he'd have to come back inside and they'd have boring old story time. As soon as their teacher gave them the okay, the entire herd of three and four-year-olds cut loose for the school playground, jockeying for who would be first on the slide.
Yuuichi played like the other kids, but still not the same. Most of the others shied away from playing with him; he was different from them, and even if they were young and silly and naive they could still sense it somehow. Yuuichi liked to play soccer or tag or obstacle-races, games that had rules and goals and other things just a little too complex for their young minds. What they wanted to play involved little more than finding out who was heavier than who on the seesaw, or discovering how many ways there were to go down a slide.
Yuuichi thought there were three at most; frontwards, backwards, and upside-down. And the upside-down one hurt.
So, like most other days, Yuuichi played by himself. He could sometimes beg a soccer ball out of the gym from one of the recess aides, if they were one of the teachers that knew him and if they were feeling generous. Other times he would have to content himself with climbing up to the top of the jungle gym--often alarming Sensei, who didn't think little boys his age should go that high. Sometimes the swings were relatively unoccupied, and he could pass the time almost-flying, seeing how far into the sky he could put his toes.
Today, none of the teachers would get him a ball and the swings were too busy, so he wandered off on his own, toward the grassier part of the playground near the back wall. It was much quieter there; he could hear the birds and the cicadas over the more-distant shrieks and laughter from his classmates.
There was an ant-hill near the wall behind one of the cherry trees, and he lingered for a moment there, squatting to observe the scurrying little black workers. They were always very interesting, always doing things--carrying bits of food, dead bugs, pieces of leaves and dirt, going about looking for things to eat and lugging them back home with them.
There were many different kinds of ants, he knew, even in one nest; they all had jobs, just like a tiny little city. Niichan even told him that the ants had a queen, somewhere down there.
A few meters from the ant-hill, he spotted a large, shiny insect that rather caught his eye. It was nearly the size of his thumb, with a brilliant irridescent carapace, but he couldn't tell what kind of bug it was. It looked like some sort of beetle; it was certainly large enough and had very long feelers. Niichan would know what it was--Niichan knew everything.
Maybe he could catch it, and take it home for Niichan to look at...
Yuuichi looked up from his intent study of the beetle-bug in question, glancing around for the source of the voice that had called him. He was a bit startled when he noticed the speaker; standing behind him was an older girl with long blond hair and very grownup-lookng clothes, looking down at him with a small, strange smile on her face that made him frown at her.
"How'd you know my name?" he asked, standing up to face her, careful not to step on his beetle. "I'm not supposed to talk to strangers. You're not from this school--you're supposed to be at the Junior High."
"My, such a shrewd little fellow," the girl murmured, her smile quirking up at one corner. "Actually, I know a lot of things about you, Yuuichi-kun. My name is Haibara Ai, and I used to be very good friends with Edogawa-kun."
"Niichan's friend?" Now Yuuichi was puzzled. After all, friends were different from strangers--even friends of friends. But he'd never met this person before, and she wasn't Ayumi-neechan either. "How come you used to be?"
"I had to go away a long time ago," Ai explained softly, her eyes softening as his frown began to fade into cautious curiosity and thoughtfulness--an expression she knew all too well, set on a small face that so resembled... "You look just like your father," she caught herself whispering.
That made Yuuichi's brows pop up. "You know Touchan too?"
She smiled ruefully at her own slip. "Yes, I do. I know a great deal about your whole family, Yuuichi-kun." Much more than you, I daresay.
"You know Kaachan?"
"Yes, I've met your mother." And I'm sorry I don't have time to do this gently... "Yuuichi-kun, I need you to come with me."
Instant balk. The toddler took a step back, all the wariness returning. "Go with you? Away from school?"
"It's very important, Yuuichi-kun," Ai persisted, taking a step so that he wouldn't get too far from her--and she didn't have time to waste; if someone spotted her or she took too long... "I need your help."
"I-I don't know you." Yuuichi was shaking his head vehemently. "School's not over yet. Kaachan didn't say I could!"
"We can't wait until school's over," Ai told him, frowning. "I need you to understand, Yuuichi-kun--something's going to happen very soon, and it will be very bad unless you come with me. If you wait until the end of school, someone may come to kidnap you. Do you know what that means?"
Looking frightened--but amazingly, still not panicking or crying--Yuuichi nodded. "Take me away from Kaachan...somewhere I don't wanna go. Haibara-san...are you gonna kidnap me?"
"No." So please don't force me to. Come on, Kudo Yuuichi, if you've got any of Shinichi in you besides just your looks...please understand this--I know you can. You've got to come with me before--! "Listen carefully to me, Yuuichi-kun," she began, fixing the child's gaze with her own. "This is very important. Your father is in very great danger--" Yuuichi gasped softly. "--and we need your help to save him. If you don't come with us, something could happen to you, and then we won't be able to help your father or save your family and friends from some very bad people."
"Touchan's in trouble...?" The toddler took a shaky breath, brows low and worried over eyes that were just as intelligent--despite their youth and innocence--as his father's. "What bad guys? Like the bad men Niichan and Jiichan catch for Inspector Megure?"
"Even worse." One more step, one more second...please, Yuuichi... Ai measured the distance between herself and the boy, should she have to make the decision for him. "Yuuichi-kun, take my hand and come with me. Please?"
Yuuichi looked up at her, his blue gaze strangely piercing--thoughtful and measuring--and locked her eyes with his own, all but freezing her in her tracks. "I wanna help Touchan, so I'll go with you," he decided at length, stepping forward to take her half-raised hand. He only glanced back once, at the shiny beetle that was skittering away into the grass.
Ai's smile was truly genuine this time. "Thank you, Yuuichi-kun," she said honestly, gently leading him toward the back gate--toward the car that waited at the curb, its engine already running. Yuuichi hesitated once, glancing back at the schoolyard, before climbing inside the rear door she opened for him.
"Kaachan's gonna be mad," he informed her almost apologetically before she shut the door.
"I think she'll understand, just this once," Ai chuckled, as she helped him strap in and climbed into her own seat beside him.
In the front, the driver of the car--a cold-faced man with dark hair--took off his sunglasses to regard the little boy. Yuuichi looked back at him with large eyes, wary but unafraid.
"So here he is at last," the man said quietly, one brow raising just a bit.
"Yes," Ai replied, folding her hands in her lap as she glanced at the child beside her.
"I still say he's awfully small."
"All our hopes rest on him," Ai said, her tone touched with irony that Yuuichi did not understand. "I realize this is a lot to ask of one little boy; if I could wait longer, I would--but none of us has any time left." She smiled at the boy beside her. "Yuuichi-kun, this is my friend, Akai Shuichi."
The man in front snorted faintly, making Ai look up at him again.
"Let's go--we need to hurry," she stated.
Within moments, the car pulled away from the school, accelerating around the corner and disappearing amidst the light midday traffic.
~~to be continued~~