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!

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Coming Home
by Becky Tailweaver

I don't know how to live through this hell.
Woken up, I'm still locked in this shell.
Frozen soul, frozen down to the core;
Break the ice, I can't take any more.
--Metallica, "Trapped Under Ice"

Part 2: Locked In This Shell

"Excuse me--Edogawa Conan?"

Conan paused to blink at the student aide who had called his name; the entire class went quiet, alternately watching him and the nondescript girl who was standing in the classroom door. "Um, yeah?" he replied.

"I'm to tell you to please report to the office," the girl informed him politely. "You have a message from your guardian."

Then she was gone, bowing to the teacher and exiting the classroom, headed back to her duties.

"Edogawa-kun, you may be excused to the office," the teacher told him distractedly, far too involved in getting the class ready to begin. Most of the teachers here trusted him, though; he was well-known for being a quiet, responsible student.

And so, quietly and responsibly, he scooped up his bookbag and hustled out of the classroom, headed for the office.

However, he had to wonder what sort of message from his guardian--Ran? Or one of the Mouris?--needed to pull him out of class right at the beginning of fourth period, before he'd even had a chance to get out his texbook. His heartbeat kicked up a notch as he considered the possibilities--something important, some kind of emergency...?

"Excuse me," he announced himself courteously as he entered the Junior High's main office. "I'm Edogawa Conan--was there a message for me?"

One of the secretaries looked up at him with a smile. "Oh, there you are! Yes, we received a call from your guardian, Mouri Ran. She'd like you to go see her at the Elementary building's office as soon as possible--the message is urgent; apparently her son..."

Conan was out the door and running down the hall with only a rapid "I'mleavingthankyou!" to mark his exit. The secretary shook her head in faint exasperation and made a note that Edogawa Conan was going to be excused from class.

Yuuichi--Yuuichi--something happened to Yuuichi--! Conan's mind beat a rhythm as he pelted down the steps and sprinted in the direction of the Elementary. It wasn't all that far, but it seemed like hours before he was skidding into the hallway, around the corner to the old familiar Elementary office, all but tearing open the door to call out for Ran and Yuuichi.

"Ran-neechan! Ran-neechan! I'm here, where's--?"

Purse clenched in her hands, Ran stood up suddenly from the chairs in the waiting area, the Elementary vice-principal beside her. "Conan-kun!" she gasped, relief in her eyes at the sight of him but her face still pale and worried. "I called because I thought there might be a chance Yuu-chan was with you--but you didn't come over to bring him back, so I guess he didn't come find you again..." She trailed off, hopes dimming when her son did not appear at his Niichan's side.

Conan swallowed hard, his bookbag falling to the floor beside him. "Where's Yuuichi?"

"That's what we're trying to determine, young man," the vice-principal said, rather sternly. "I know the boy has a habit of wandering off to the Junior High to visit with you--not a practice that should be encouraged, mind you--but you've been fairly responsible about bringing him back here as soon as you find him. However, in this instance..."

"I haven't seen him since I dropped him here this morning," Conan said, more to Ran than to the vice-principal, getting a miffed look from the older man. "What happened?"

Ran's breath hitched, almost a sob. She was deathly pale, her knuckles white as her hands clenched her purse. "I don't know, Conan-kun. I got a call from the secretary saying that Yuu-chan didn't come in from recess, and the teacher was a little worried but thought he might have snuck off to see you again...I came here but when they called the Junior High nobody there had seen him, but they were going to call you..."

Icy fingers were already squeezing at Conan's heart, making his breaths come in slow, harsh gasps. He had seen it this morning--seen the predatory look in that false Jodie-sensei's eyes. He'd known even then--every single instinct in him had been screaming...

Oh God...no...

"Go home," he told Ran, his voice low and calm despite the roaring in his ears, the haze that clouded his vision. "Tell your parents what happened. Call Inspector Megure. I'll find Yuuichi."

"But...Conan-kun...!" Ran looked shocked at the cold, commanding air that had suddenly come about the boy.

"Young man, that's entirely--!"

"Hurry!" he snapped, cutting off the increasingly-irate vice-principal with his sharp order, already halfway out the office door. "Please. Trust me, Ran--just do it!"

He was sprinting off again before she could reply. She stood still and quiet as the vice-principal fumed for several moments about ill-mannered young hooligans who lured children out of preschool and talked back to their elders. She ignored him, however; that change had come over Conan again--the change that happened when there was a murder afoot, when danger threatened, when he became less and less like the boy she knew and more like the ghost of a man she wished she could touch...

"I beg your pardon, Kyoutou-san..." Ran said softly, as the man's mutterings wound down. "I think...I'll go home and call the police, just to be sure..."

* * * * *

Conan pounded down the quiet hallway, teeth gritted in a grimace that belonged on a much older face. As he passed each classroom, he glanced within, through an open door or a window in a door--searching for one particular, all-too-familiar face.

She was here. He knew it. She had to be here--the kindergarten was in this wing, and class was still in session. She would have to be here--there was nowhere for her to run.

If she wasn't here...


He spotted her distinctive blond hair through a slightly-ajar classroom door, braking to a hard stop right there in the hall. Without a thought, he nearly flung the door open, startling the young children in the midst of class within.

They seemed to be in the middle of some kind of free art period; a couple dozen small, curious faces turned to look at him in confusion, as the teacher of the class stood up from her place near one child's desk. Her eyes were hard in her kindly smiling face, never wavering.

"Stantemillion-sensei," he bit out, painfully formal, barely keeping his voice civil and vaguely sounding like it should. "I need to speak to you for a moment. If you would."

A faint tightening around the woman's eyes was the only change in her smiling visage. "Of course. Class--just keep on working," she told her students brightly, "and I'll be back in just a second!"

Not questioning the teacher--or the presence of a strange older boy in their doorway--the children shrugged as one and went back to their projects, the usual free-period din resuming. Jodie-sensei wove between the small desks and stepped out the door, sliding it shut behind her. She faced Conan, who had moved back as she emerged to give her a wide berth. He stood in the middle of the hall, glaring at her, hands fisted at his sides and his eyes glittering almost feverishly behind the glass lenses.

"Can I help you, Edogawa-kun?" she asked politely, as if nothing was wrong.

Her unconcerned attitude made something flame hotly inside him. "Where's Yuuichi?" he demanded flatly, trembling where he stood--locked in a strange mixture of terror and rage that would let him neither advance nor flee.

"Why--has he gone missing?" she inquired, her eyebrows raising in "concern."

"He disappeared from recess today," Conan stated, eyes narrowed and cold. "Ran's frantic. Where is he? Don't pretend you don't know!"

Jodie-sensei's expression...softened somewhat at the mention of Ran. "Poor Angel..." she murmured, so quietly he almost didn't catch it. When she spoke again, her voice had changed--sharpening, no longer polite and concerned but colder and almost...amused. "So, Cool Guy...I take it you're through playing games."

When Jodie changed, so did he--the last vestiges of Conan fell away, everything but the ever-present glasses. "Where is he?"

"Now, now...a nice young man like you shouldn't be so impolite to a teacher," Jodie scolded, shaking a finger at him.

"You're no teacher," Conan spat viciously, his whole body tensed like a bow about to spring. "Where's Yuuichi? What have you done with--"

"--your son?" Jodie broke in suddenly, her voice strident enough that, though he was angered, Conan flinched at the volume of it. "That's it, isn't it? Right, Conan-kun?"

Conan's jaw tightened. "Don't."

"Don't what? We both know we aren't what we pretend to be." She smiled, mocking. "If anyone were to overhear that I'm not quite certified to be teaching...well, that would be just as unfortunate as if, say, someone overheard that Yuuichi-kun is your son. The Angel would get in a lot of trouble if a blood test matched Yuuichi-kun's DNA with yours...Conan-kun."

His grimace was almost a tooth-baring snarl. "Don't."

Jodie's face turned hard and cold, the mocking vanishing like a mist. "Don't presume to come here and give me orders. I can make your happy little secret life disappear in an instant."

"Don't." There was a sudden snap in Conan's eyes that made even Jodie hesitate. His icy blue gaze pinned hers with the intensity of an eagle's, and fire burned within--a barely-restrained rage that was only enhanced by the fear and panic that raced through him. "Where...is...Yuuichi?" he all but growled, his voice sounding nothing like a twelve-year-old boy for an instant.

Jodie matched gazes with him for long moments, watching him struggle with himself, watching the crackling of terror and anger turn his young face from innocent child to all-too-dangerous man. It made her shiver inside.

With the little one missing, he no longer cared to keep silent, to continue this high-wire dance of lies--the mask of the young boy was worthless to him now. He dared enough to come directly to her, to confront her and demand this of her--he knew she knew, and she knew he knew, but until now they had acted the part of teacher and student. He had never given her reason to act; not yet, not with Sherry's whereabouts still vague, not when action would require that she lose the Angel and her baby...

But when that same Angel Baby was put in danger, the Cool Guy was willing to go to Hell and back. Through her if necessary.

Finally, she smiled--a light, wry smile, appreciative and ironic. "I have no idea where he is."

His glare faltered. "What?"

"That's the truth, Cool Guy," she replied. "I don't know where he is. I admit I'd like to be the one behind his disappearance--" At this, Conan nearly snarled at her again, but she continued. "--but as luck would have it, neither I nor my associates have anything to do with it. This time."

His eyes narrowed. "How do I know that's the truth?"

"Would I stand here tap-dancing with you if I had your son in my hands?"

"You can still kill us anyway, so that doesn't make any difference," he retorted. "You said so yourself. What's holding you back?"

"You have my word, Cool Guy." She pinned his gaze with her own. "On your sweet Angel's life. I don't have him."

He glared at her, eyes sharp with anger and hatred.

"I suggest you track him down quickly," Jodie went on, her voice gone quiet and cold once again. "I know he's out of your hands now. I won't hesitate."

Conan's hands fisted. "If you hurt him...you...you--if you even touch him..."

"Whoever finds Yuuichi-kun first..." Jodie let her sentence hang in the air.

The young boy who was not a young boy glared death at her for a few instants more. Then, with a noise that might have been a snarl of frustration, he whirled on his heel and took off, running for the hall exit.

Jodie watched him go, a faint smile flickering on her lips. "Good luck, Cool Guy."

A small, tousled head poked out the classroom door behind her. "Jodie-sensei? Mosuke-kun won't share the gold glitter!"

By the time she turned around, her face was once again that of the warm, friendly Jodie Stantemillion that all the children knew and loved. She turned, taking the child by the hand and leading him back into the busy classroom.

"There now, Akira-kun, let's go talk to Mosuke-kun..."

~~to be continued~~