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

Iím not sure what happened,
But here I am alone,
Trying to find a way
To find a reason that youíre gone.
I donít know if Iím shaking
From the rhythm of these wheels,
Or if it's my heart breaking
And this is how it feels.
This is how it feels...
--Jessica Andrews, "Windows On A Train"

Part 4: Find A Reason

Yuuichi stared about in unabashed curiosity and awe at the interior of the room Haibara Ai had requisitioned as her laboratory. It was much cleaner than the room the men outside had occupied--there was not a speck of dust or hint of a takeout wrapper anywhere. The window here was boarded off too, but the room was still coolly bright inside, illuminating the many tables and cabinets that lined the walls--some built-in, some obviously moved here for this purpose.

There was another very nice computer in here as well, along with so many different machines and instruments that Yuuichi couldn't begin to identify them. He recognized several kinds of microscopes, a balance, and two whole tables full of test-tubes, beakers, pipes, bunsen burners, and other chemical nicknacks--but all the rest of the stuff was beyond him. His curiosity tingled, superceding his nervousness, making him wish Niichan was here to tell him about these things. There were so many neat items, and Niichan would know about them all...

But Haibara-san tugged on his hand, leading him over to one of the less-cluttered tables. "Come on, Yuuichi-kun. It's time to go to work. We have to hurry a little."

"What are we gonna do?" Obediently, Yuuichi followed, noting that most of the things on this table looked like stuff he'd seen at the doctor's office. There was even a stethoscope. "Haibara-san? Are you a doctor? I thought doctors had to be grownups."

"Smart boy..." Ai smiled a little, glancing down at him. "Actually, I'm not exactly a doctor," she replied, as he allowed her to lift him up to sit in one of the stool-seats by the table. She kept the chairs in here a bit tall, so she could reach her own equipment. "I'm a scientist. Do you know what a scientist is?"

Solemnly, Yuuichi nodded, watching as she began to fetch various tools and lay them out on the desk. "A doctor works in an office and takes care of people. When you get sick, they make you better." He looked a bit nervous when she reached into a drawer to get a sealed package of needles. "Niichan told me...um, a scientist works in a lab and...researches things to help people. They look for new things that doctors can do."

Ai shook her head in faint amazement. "Smart boy," she murmured again, reaching to a rack of vials for a couple to put samples in. "I'll bet you don't get sick very often, Yuuichi-kun."

"No," the boy replied, hands folded politely in his lap but his feet fidgeting nervously. "I just get a cold sometimes."

Ai nodded to herself. Noted that with Kudo-kun--excellent health, except for a respiratory weakness. The similarity with Yuuichi should mean increased compatibility. But I can't doubt now--I have to pray all my theories and research are right...


The small voice broke into her ruminations, and she glanced up into worried blue eyes.

"Um...are you gonna give me a shot?" the little boy asked quietly. "'Cause...you're not a doctor. I don't think you're s'posed to."

"It's alright," she replied, offering her best reassuring smile. "I don't know if I'll have to give you a shot, but I will need a sample of your blood eventually. I know I'm not a doctor, but..." She thought for a moment. "I'm a scientist, remember? I'm looking for ways to help people. And I need you to help me with that."

Yuuichi considered that for a while, watching her hands reach toward the stethoscope. "Why?"

Ai paused, serious, trying to frame her answer correctly. "Well...Yuuichi-kun...remember when I said your father needs help?"

He nodded, large solemn eyes set in a pale, worried face.

"This is part of that help. Let's just say...your father has a disease, and he's had it for a very long time and needs my help...and I need you to help me make a cure for him."

Yuuichi suddenly looked alarmed. "Touchan's sick?"

"No...well, in a way he is..." The abrupt turn from solemn little boy to upset child made Ai uncomfortable, as unused to dealing with such young children as she was. She hadn't wanted to frighten him, but she wasn't sure how she could explain it to him. "He's not going to die from the sickness...but...if he doesn't get better from it, those bad men I told you about...he won't be able to stop them and they'll hurt him..."

Yuuichi almost sniffled. "I don't want Touchan to get hurt."

"Then will you help me, Yuuichi?" Ai asked, reaching out just as she had back in the schoolyard. "I need you for this. When it's all over...you'll understand...someday..."

Looking down at his small, folded hands, the little boy shrugged. "I guess...it's okay . I wanna help Touchan."

"Don't be scared," Ai tried to reassure him. "I promise, I won't hurt you. It'll be...well, pretty much just like when you go to the doctor with your mother."

Yuuichi looked up at her again, took a deep breath to steady his courage, and nodded.

Privately, Ai was glad that Yuuichi wasn't like other small children she'd observed; frankly, if she couldn't reason with something, or use a logical discussion, she didn't often know what to do with it. Which was one of the reasons sweet little Ayumi-chan had often baffled her so, with her smiles and her affection and her completely unconditional friendship...

She was very glad for Yuuichi's cooperation as she proceeded with her work--taking heartbeat, breathing, blood pressure, temperature, pupil response, reflex checks, and more...a gamut of little tests before she did anything else, which would determine the boy's base state. Overall, Yuuichi was in excellent health, fit and sturdy.

He wasn't squeamish about any of the tests, not in the slightest--instead, asking question after question about this or that tool and what she was doing, nearly overwhelming Ai with his curiosity. She had to wonder to herself how Kudo-kun managed to keep up with this hungry little mind--but then, perhaps Kudo-kun was the best sort of person to parent a child like this, since he was just as intelligent, and had lived in the shoes of a child himself and would listen to and understand the boy. Father and son were so much alike anyway, it was no wonder Yuuichi adored his "Niichan" so.

To her surprise, Yuuichi even sat perfectly still--eyes closed at first and his face comically scrunched up--when she drew blood for her numerous samples, filling several tiny vials for all the purposes she had for it. Early in the process, Yuuichi lost his worry over the needle's sting and opened his eyes to watch, rather fascinated, as the little glass containers filled up, one by one as she attached each to the needle.

Yuuichi was only a little disappointed that she didn't have any pretty, multi-colored, character-adorned band-aids in her drawer--just ordinary ones.

And then, with that, Ai was done with him for now. She had to run tests on the blood samples, to determine what steps would follow. Until then, she would have to find something for him to do...a prospect she had little knowledge of and less experience with.

"This is the boring part now," she told the boy as she helped him down from the chair. "I have to work on this for a while, so...I guess..." Perplexed, and not pleased about it, she shifted her weight and frowned. "Would you like something to eat?"

Yuuichi's eyes lit up. "Can I? I'm hungry--I didn't get any lunch yet."

"Well...let's...go see if the men have anything." With the eager little boy on her heels, she headed back out to the main room where her bored colleagues--those who were not on perimeter duty or monitoring--were laying about playing cards, drinking soda, or snoozing. "Gentlemen!" she announced into the quiet, startling several of them upright.

Yakamoto-san, on the monitoring equipment, glanced up unconcernedly. "No news is good news, Haibara-kun. Cops are looking for a missing kid, and Iori-kun says Edogawa stopped by the Agency for a skateboard, but not much else is going on out there."

Ai nodded. "I'm glad to hear that Mouri-chan and her friends aren't overreacting." She glanced at the dented refrigerator near the stairs, then looked about for Akai--who was sitting quietly in a far corner, watching everything. "Is there any food left?" she asked of the group in general. "Yuuichi-kun is hungry, and needs something to do while I work."

"I'm already babysitting the phones, so no thanks." Yakamoto-san shrugged and waved at the fridge. "Think there's some noodles left over from last night."

"Eiji-kun?" Ai asked of the shaggy-haired young man on the computer.

"Busy," he replied, not even glancing up from the screen.

Now Ai was starting to be annoyed. She had work to do, Yuuichi was hungry, and someone needed to take care of it so she could get back to her lab. "Akai Shuichi!" she announced, making eye contact with her most loyal associate. "Here--look after Yuuichi. I have to finish my research."

Akai actually looked startled. "But..."

"It can't be that hard," Ai interrupted. "Just feed him and make sure he doesn't get into anything that he shouldn't."

Silent at her side, Yuuichi just looked from Ai to Akai and back again. "Haibara-san...?"

"Stay here with Akai," Ai told him, a bit less severely. "He'll look after you for a little while, until I come back. Be good, okay?"

A little worried now, Yuuichi nodded solemnly. Leaving him there, Ai turned and reentered her laboratory, closing the door behind her.

Yuuichi stood still, looking very small, glancing from person to person as the group of men looked rather uncomfortable--Akai supremely so.

"Well," the dark-haired man finally said, rising to his feet. "I suppose I'd better find you something to eat."

Yuuichi smiled shyly and followed him.

* * * * *

In her lab, Ai was already beginning to manipulate her samples--some in the centrifuge, some with chemical tests, some under the microscope, some in the DNA analyzer. It made her lab noisier than it had been in a long while, to have this much going at once.

And really, she couldn't deny that she herself was very interested in what she would find out. She'd never managed to convince Kudo-kun to let her run some of these tests on him; he would allow nothing beyond what was needed to research a cure. And Professor Agasa--bless that man--though he had plenty of equipment and a very good budget, he couldn't quite afford much of what she was using now.

Her scientific curiosity had nagged her for the longest time--and still did--wanting to know what made someone like Kudo Shinichi tick.

The DNA analysis always took far too long for her taste.

She occupied herself at her microscopes, doing the initial explorations of Yuuichi's cells manually. He seemed healthy enough by her other tests, and all his blood counts were optimum. He showed no deficiencies, and the cells under the microscope were healthy and active.

So were Kudo-kun's, she remembered to herself. And he was living under the influence of the apotoxin even longer than me. I've been slightly anemic ever since then, but he was always just fine. He and I both have a half-immunity to APTX 4869's effects--it won't kill us, but it will still harm us...

Even the electron microscope gave no ill answers about Yuuichi's cells. The chemical tests, however, yielded alarming and confusing results.

With herself as a test model, her hypothesis had been correct. The APTX 4869 stayed in the victim's body indefinitely--staying in the cells it affected, its chemical structure too heavy for the body to flush out. Thus, the apotoxin that lingered in Kudo's cells--including his reproductive cells--had been incorporated into the cells of his offspring. According to her theory, Yuuichi carried the same elements of the apotoxin in his own body.

But with the proper chemical tags, her observation through the microscope revealed that her other guess had been correct as well--though not in the way she had thought it would be. Yuuichi was apparently natively immune to the toxin's effects...but to Ai's surprise, the apotoxin itself did not exist in his body.

The bodies of Kudo-kun and herself contained segmented components of the apotoxin--no longer deadly since it wasn't in its complete state, having already reacted in their bodies. A good thing, too--otherwise, they might have been a danger to anyone who happened to get into their blood or saliva...or possibly even touched them.

And the apotoxin stayed in their cells--in those repressive, heavy molecular chains, having completed its violent chemical reaction and made itself a permanent fixture in their cells, irrevocably damaging their telomeres. Though once a victim was dead these molecular chains would not be noticed by forensic scientists, for the living subject the continued presence of these ugly leftovers made a permanent cure impossible; the antitoxin she had formulated, while perfectly functional, only reacted with the apotoxin to restore it to its original state--detatching it from their cells and freeing them to return to their original forms as well--but the restored apotoxin would only begin anew the same catastrophic reaction that reduced their bodies again and again. A vicious, never-ending cycle.

Ai had truly expected to find these same chemical traces in Yuuichi's blood cells--and with how perfectly normal the little boy's body was, he could have been the carrier of the very antitoxin she needed.

Instead, she found nothing at all. No reacted chains of the toxin could be traced anywhere within the cells' metabolisms. It was as if the APTX elements present at his conception had simply...disappeared.

Ai sat for several moments, staring at a vial of blood sample in her hand and wondering where her carful thought and planning and reasearch had gone wrong. Without being able to study how Yuuichi's body functioned with the apotoxin, she had no way of figuring out how to permanently reverse Kudo's condition. She had nothing but a dead end--the chemical traces of the apotoxin were simply, inexplicably gone...

Or were they?

A sudden, half-hopeful epiphany spurred her to motion again, this time searching not for a puzzle, but for the pieces themselves. The apotoxin was not where it should have been--she had been expecting to find the same footprints that it had left on her body as well as Kudo's. But she knew it had to be there--she knew it, because it couldn't just disappear into thin air. If it was there, but she just wasn't looking in the right places...

Ai had designed APTX 4869, and she knew it top to bottom and inside out, every single molecular chain that made it up. It was made to be untraceable--but she knew how to trace it. If it was there--if even the tiniest fragment if it was there--she would find it. She would solve this mystery as surely as Kudo-kun worked out a murder; the truth was just waiting for her to uncover it.

With her persistence, she did. And the truth, in all its simplicity, was more awe-inspiring and confounding than any of her thoughts and theories could have been.

The molecules were so ordinary and unnoticeable that only someone who knew what they were looking for could have spotted them--someone like Ai herself. A common doctor or lab technician would not even know what they were looking at--would not even bat an eye at the faint traces that might come up in the child's blood work.

In Yuuichi's body, the apotoxin had been broken down into bare fragments of molecules, which his cells metabolized and processed as if they were normal nutrients--concealing them amidst the normal bustle of activity that took place inside each tiny life-factory. The hidden, out-of-place substances did not affect him at all, either in size or rate of growth; his body had deconstructed the apotoxin, turning it into completely benign molecules.

His cells contained and transported the faint, lingering, shattered fragments of the apotoxin like a group of children ignorantly carrying around different parts of a disassembled gun--not dangerous unless it was put together properly. Since his entire being had been conceived with the deadly chemicals already present, his body knew how to handle it.

Further tests revealed that not only did his cells metabolize those elements, they also required them. Molecules that were typical to a normal human's body had been replaced with the heavier-element chemicals of the apotoxin. His metabolism had somehow broken it down, scattered it, and built around it--a unique symbiosis she had never dreamed was possible.

In order to survive with the toxin inside him, his body been forced to adapt from the moment it was created--but it had adapted in such a way that he could not survive without the elements of the apotoxin, either.

That fact in itself was just as much of a surprise to Ai, but it also pleased her. It only increased the chances that this venture would be a success--in fact, perhaps a hundredfold increase from her original hypothesis.

If what she was beginning to imagine was in fact true, she would not just be limited to reversing the effects of the apotoxin--she would be able to completely cure it. Her tests had shown that Yuuichi was already natively immune; if she was right, the apotoxin could be rendered completely inert and harmless in his body, and she would finally have a working, permanent remedy.

The DNA analysis was finished not a moment too soon. She dove into the calculation and computation with glee--though no observer might have noted any change in her expression.

The first and most urgent thing she checked were Yuuichi's telomeres--protein sequences on the ends of each strand of DNA, which protected that strand throughout cell divisions and kept the ends from "unraveling." Telomeres played a large part in aging--and it was the telomeres that APTX 4869 damaged the most. Even if he was able to metabolize the toxin's components, if his telomeres were affected in any way, her entire theory would come crashing down.

Thankfully, Yuuichi's telomeres were completely healthy, much to Ai's relief. Healthy and long--long telomeres, long life.

Then, as she began to go over the data the machine had composed for her--which had been merely a field analysis, not an in-depth genetic map--her mask of professionalism gave way to a look of astonishment...and perhaps awe. Though she knew she should have expected something like this...just to have it put down in numbers and graphs that her scientific mind could read made it all the more incredible.

Even this brief analysis showed factors that put the Black Organization's entire genetic engineering research program to shame. She almost couldn't believe what she was seeing here--the blueprints of a being with absolutely extraordinary mental faculties; almost inhumanly high intelligence and memory, gifted with rapid growth and development and immense capacity to learn and recall. Even the aspects of nerve transmission velocity, reflexes, and precise coordination--even the five senses themselves and the fitness and strength of the body that contained and propelled them...

Ai had known that Kudo Shinichi--and his son--were very special, but to this extent...

These were gene sequences that her former associates had spent years trying to develop in the lab--and somehow manage to adapt into a living person--with little to no success. But here they were, present and abundant--in advanced form--in this child. Kudo-kun himself was a stunning example of this same genetic code, and his largely dominant genes had gifted Yuuichi with these remarkable characteristics--and not only that, but Yuuichi's DNA was also enhanced by and adapted to Mouri-chan's genetic contribution, showing that this bloodline only improved itself over time. And Yuuichi, through some miracle, had apparently acquired the ability to metabolize APTX 4869--a developmental jump that had taken only one generation to accomplish.

She had to wonder how, in the course of human development through generations of random breeding, had anyone--even unknowingly--managed to produce specimens like Kudo-kun and this child. Decades of human science and endeavor were put to shame by the simple hand of Nature itself.

And as she read those graphs, stared at those awesome/terrifying numbers, a cold chill of realization swept over her. She had been in and out of the Genetics programs in the Syndicate, but her area of expertise had been and still was the field of chemical biology. But back then, she'd heard whispers of what they had been trying to do--trying to construct a perfect agent...a perfect killer, mind and body alike.

The information and intelligence gathered by associates of her new comrades had indicated that, for some reason, the Black Organization had been interested in certain individuals--one of which was Kudo Shinichi in particular. She had not understood why, nor had she made the connection between their interest in Kudo and their genetics agenda--until, perhaps, this moment.

If it was not Kudo-kun himself they were interested in, but the secrets locked within his genetic code...

That made Yuuichi just as much of a target, she realized, sitting still and horrified at her desk. Perhaps more of a target, if Yuuichi had the capability to exceed his sire. That had to be it--if they couldn't figure out how to build a better agent, they had to find someone who carried blueprints they could use. Or, in Yuuichi's case, someone who was possibly young enough to be trainable. And if they liked what they got, they could literally copy him...

An agent like Kudo Shinichi, with Gin's bloodlust and cruelty, obedient to the cold leaders of the Organization--people like Vermouth...the very idea was frightening. Unthinkable.

There was no way she could let such a thing happen. Which was why she had to produce a cure, and restore Kudo Shinichi so that he could stop them.

Reaching into the locked safe at the far corner of the room, Haibara Ai withdrew a very small case and held it gingerly in her hands. Opening the case with delicate fingers, she stared down at the red-and-white capsules within--her last few remaining doses of the original APTX 4869. Doses which had cost her two years and many comrades to finally acquire. They'd had to steal them from the offices of the Syndicate itself.

And now, she would spend these final capsules to do her last tests on Yuuichi's cells, to see if her hopeful, desperate theory was really true. And even then, they wouldn't know until they tried it--and the trial might be their last and only chance. She couldn't be exactly sure of anything in this any more; even the cure itself could be life or death.

But she had been gambling lives ever since she'd left Shinichi alone without explanation, running everything on a fine edge of risk and hope, just to find some way to fix this mess that just kept getting worse...

Until she'd learned of Kudo-kun's child--knowledge that had sparked a crazy idea which spurred her to motion. Renewed hope, and renewed risk. There was a distant possibility that one child might have what she needed to save Kudo, so she'd planned and waited and hoped for so long until the time was nearly right. And now, on what could be their eve of destruction, she was going to risk it all again--future, hope, and all their lives--in one last gamble that all centered on this one child...

One last gamble that could finally free Kudo Shinichi...so that he could save them all...

* * * * *

When Ran's mother arrived home from work, Kogoro in tow--apparently they'd met up to do some "secret shopping"--they did not receive the news of Yuuichi's absence very well at all.

For one, Eri was furious that her daughter had not called her to let her know, even if Ran explained that she hadn't wanted to worry anyone. Kogoro simply stomped and fumed and complained in general, looking for someone to blame for this catastrophe--insisting to call the police headquarters to see if Megure and his "useless layabouts" had come up with anything.

Though there really wasn't much anyone could do that had not already been done, Eri set about calling any and all of their acquaintances, to see if Yuuichi had, by any chance, turned up at any of their homes. This in turn made Ran even more worried that her mother was tying up the phone line if someone needed to call in with information. Kogoro continued his pensive ranting, quickly transferring the blame to Conan for teaching his impressionable young grandson so many bad habits, and for allowing the boy to run off like this--even if Conan had been a block away in his own classroom at the time.

The cake and the birthday preparations lay forgotten on the table, just as the dinner ingredients sat untouched in the kitchen. Ran sat, silent and near to tears, as her parents orbited in flurries of motion, their voices raised with worry and upset. She was heartsick and afraid for her son, tired and overwrought from worry and waiting. She felt so helpless, like she wasn't doing enough--even poor Conan-kun was out there somewhere, trying to find Yuuichi...

She didn't know how much longer she could sit here and do nothing.

* * * * *

Edogawa Conan, halfway across town and still finding no sign of Yuuichi, was not in much better shape.

In fact, he was probably worse off. Because he knew what could happen to his son--he knew who might have already found him and snatched him away.

But it was still daylight, and his skateboard still worked, and even if he was bedraggled and sweaty and exhausted, he was still looking. He darted through traffic and around clumps of pedestrians, alarming people and drivers alike as he flew uncaringly down streets and through intersections.

The skateboard that Professor Agasa had made for him was quite a marvel, and went much faster than any normal one. But it no longer zipped along as quickly as it once had, and it could no longer run on the turbine alone; as he grew, Conan's increasing weight required that he use his foot to help push along, especially up an incline. But it was still his quickest mode of travel, and no ordinary skateboard could glide so fast or cruise for so long.

Without it, he would never have covered so much ground so quickly, but he was already beginning to feel as if this would never be enough. Tokyo was so huge, and Yuuichi was just one tiny boy...

The Black Organization had hundreds of agents, and he was just one person...

He pulled to a stop at the next street corner, panting deep breaths and glancing around to get his bearings. He was already far beyond anywhere Yuuichi might've gotten on foot--but by now all he could do was try to find a trace of kidnappers.

God, how he wished Ran had let him give a Detective Boys badge to Yuuichi...they might have been able to track him somehow...

Uncomfortably hot, he slid out of his uniform jacket and tied it around his waist, grimacing as he did. His backtracking to the Teitan Elementary playground had given him no clues either--no footprints, no signs of scuffle, no single trace of Yuuichi anywhere. It was as if the child had walked out the back gate and vanished into thin air.

Which meant someone had to have picked him up in a car. And without an indication of a fight, that meant someone had talked him into leaving with them.

But who--and how--could that be? Yuuichi knew better--how could he have just let himself be taken away? Had it been someone he knew? He knew Jodie-sensei, but she had been back there at the school...and for some inconceivable reason, Conan had believed her when she told him she didn't have the boy. Who else did Yuuichi know that might have done this? A friend would have called by now to tell them where he was...

And if they tracked him down, Agasa would have called me, Conan thought, as the light turned green and he pushed his skateboard into motion once more. His house was one of the first places I looked. Genta-tachi hasn't seen Yuu-kun at all since this morning, and he hasn't been to any of the usual places...

Sailing along at top speed, Conan scowled as a thought occurred to him. If this is just Hattori pulling a fast one on me, I swear I'm going to kill him, he thought hotly. Friend or not, I'll rip his guts out and make him eat them for putting Ran through this. This goes way beyond a prank--dammit, this is serious!

That idea made him reach into his pockets for his phone--the gadget that had once been shaped like a gaudy earring but had since been modified into a simple microphone and speaker that fit over the ear, a hands-free device that Conan much preferred to the silly-looking design of the past. The telephone itself was a small unit that, once dialed, could remain in his pocket as he rushed along on his skateboard.

The cell phone on the other end rang for quite a while, exasperating Conan further.

"Moshi-mosh'--Hattori Heiji speaking,"

Finally. "Hattori! Took you long enough!"

"Oi, Kudo, that you? Sorry, I'm kinda in the middle of somethin'--"

"Shut up and listen--are you here, and is Yuuichi with you?"

"What? What the hell are you talkin' about?"

"I'll take that as a 'no.'" Conan gritted his teeth. Heiji sounded too surprised and clueless to be lying.

"Hell, I'm not even in Tokyo--I'm solvin' a murder case here in Osaka," Heiji responded, still sounding perplexed--and now slightly worried. "What's going on, Kudo?"

"Yuuichi's missing," Conan stated tersely, dodging a pair of ladies stepping out of a department store.

"No shit?" Heiji went from puzzled to seriously concerned in a heartbeat. "What happened?"

"He disappeared from the school grounds this morning--didn't come back in from recess--and there's not a trace of him anywhere. The cops are on the lookout and I've been combing the city since it happened..."

"Damn. Neechan must be having fits. Have you--?"

"Yes, dammit, I've checked all the usual places!" Conan spat at him. "The worst part is that woman at the school said she didn't know either but now that he's missing they're after him too! God, I've been everywhere today and I still can't find him!"


Heiji went silent for long moments as Conan turned down a new street and upped his speed. "No kidding," he hissed at his Osaka friend, beyond his wits' end already and lacking the patience to be polite.

"Have you been lookin' for black suits too?"

"Of course I have, dumbass," Conan snapped. "Though I don't know what I'll do if I see one of them right now. If I catch up to them, it won't be pretty."

"Damn," Heiji repeated, his own voice dark with concern. "You keep lookin', Kudo. I'll be out there as soon as I can get myself on a plane. Don't do anything stupid, but don't you stop searchin' for a second, you hear me?"

"You don't have to tell me that," Conan growled. "And watch yourself--if they're up and about you never know what might happen."

"Copy that," Heji replied. "I'll have this solved in a jiff and be there in a flash. You watch your back too, Kudo."

"It's not my back I'm worried about," Conan snapped, before hanging up and shoving the earpiece back in his pocket. Not me I'm worried about, he echoed in his mind. I don't care about me--I'm worried about Yuuichi. If anything happens to him...

He could not even begin to imagine how his heart and soul would shatter if he lost his son.

~~to be continued~~