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

When your education x-ray
Cannot see under my skin,
I won't tell you a damn thing
That I could not tell my friends.
Roaming through this darkness
I'm alive but I'm alone.
Part of me is fighting this,
But part of me is gone.
--3 Doors Down, "When I'm Gone"

Part 6: Fighting This

Kogoro and Eri were sitting anxiously in the living room when the door burst open, startling them both to their feet.

Sweaty and disheveled, scuffed and scraped and dirty, Edogawa Conan stumbled in the door, dropping coat and skateboard as he stepped inside, panting heavily. His eyes were almost feverishly bright, yet strangely washed-out, his face flushed with exertion yet incredibly pale. He looked like a ghost of himself, and hardly like himself, leaning against the doorframe in utter weariness without ever quite relaxing.

"Conan-kun--!" Shocked at his condition, Eri stepped closer to him, reaching out. "What happened to you? Where on earth have you been? Ran's been worried absolutely sick, and--"

"Where's...Ran?" he gasped, pushing her concerned hands away. "Where is she?"

"She left," Kogoro reported, coming up behind his wife. "Almost fifteen minutes ago."

The fever in Conan's eyes only brightened, and his teeth clenched. "Shit."

The anger and hopelessness in his curse shocked both of them far too much to scold him for it. They were both too startled to say much at all; it was almost as if there was something wrong with him--as if there was really something else inside the skin of the boy they knew, straining his seams, struggling to burst out. And who could tell if it was something good...or bad?

With what shone in his strange eyes right now, the subconscious began to speculate if that something was even human at all. And on some level, that frightened them far too much to even think of.

"Any word?" he grated, the harshness of his voice making both adults draw back. "Well? Anything?"

"N-no..." Kogoro managed, after clearing his throat. "Inspector Megure has called once or twice to say no one's seen Yuuichi-kun, but..."

"Damn it!" Conan hissed, his fist striking the wall with a solid whack! that made the others jump. "I can't lose them..."

"Conan-kun..." Eri spoke up softly, worriedly. "Just...just come in for a while...you need to rest...just come sit down, and eat something, please..." Just turn back into the Conan-kun we know...!


Eri tried reaching out again, but found herself held back by her own fear. What lay hidden in his eyes frightened her, whatever it was--rage, weariness, hatred, grief, murder--and it was as if an invisible wall had formed that her own body refused to pass. She couldn't make herself get within his arms' reach.

So instead, she drew back, and Kogoro put his arms around her almost defensively as they stared at the boy who stood against their wall. He stared back at them, the depthless fires in his eyes bared for them to see, and they felt as if a stranger had stepped into their home.

This was not Edogawa Conan. This was not the quiet, polite, gentle boy they knew.

Who are you? was the question at the very tip of her tongue when Conan pushed up from the wall, making Eri bite back her words with a tiny gasp.

"I'm going to find them," he stated, leaving his jacket and skateboard on the floor. He turned to leave, walking out and down the steps.

Something else in his eyes made Eri feel suddenly as if he was walking to his death. As if she'd never see him again--as if none of them would ever see him again. She lurched out of her husband's arms to go after him, calling out to him, Kogoro right on her heels. "Conan-kun--Conan-kun, no--!"

Halfway down the steps, he stopped to look back. His gaze made her freeze in her tracks, right there outside the door, and Kogoro nearly bowled into her. She couldn't speak--neither of them could speak, but they only stared at him, like they had before.

His eyes shifted again. Something softened, becoming caring, almost tender, mixed in with the anger and the fear and the terrifying death that had been there before. "Stay here," he told them, quietly, as irrevocable as a command. "Stay safe. I will find them."

And as he turned and continued walking--out of their lives, for all they knew--Eri once more fell back into her husband's arms, clinging to him this time, as they both silently watched the young boy leave.

* * * * *

Yuuichi awoke when the men brought the cot in, despite their painstaking efforts to be quiet. The little boy watched them with bleary eyes from the shelter of Ai's arms, and each of the hardened operatives frowned worriedly when they saw the pale, wearied condition the once-vibrant child was in.

And since he was awake, and she had to finish what she'd started, Ai let him sit on the cot as she conducted another physical, running the same tests she'd run beforehand. Yuuichi was tired and still sleepy from his nap in her arms, yawning hugely when he tried to take deep breaths for her stethoscope--but he remained cooperative and uncomplaining throughout, even when she had to poke him in the other arm for even more blood samples.

These post-reaction tests were the most important of all--she needed the same number of vials again, for the same tests, both to see what had changed and to extract the elements of the cure that she needed. She was so close she could feel it, and had to keep her hands from shaking. Just a little more, and she would have a cure for Kudo-kun at long last.

It excited the boy to hear that his mother would be coming soon. Though wearied from his reaction to the toxin, knowing that Mouri-chan was on her way was enough to brighten his eyes and bring a smile to his face.

Since it was growing late and he was tired anyway, she gave him a large glass of water to drink and put him to bed in the cot--despite his reluctance to go to sleep now that Kaachan was coming. Though he was excited, he still yawned and blinked sleepily as Ai tucked him in under a thin military-issue blanket, promising to wake him the moment his mother arrived. The pillow was soft, and the little boy nodded off almost before he could mumble a reply.

The lab did not remain silent for long; the hum and murmur of instruments and machines filling the air with quiet, steady noise. But Yuuichi did not stir at the sounds, and Ai began her work in earnest, once more testing the samples of blood and cells for the slightest change.

It was absolutely astounding. Again, the apotoxin had almost literally vanished--there wasn't a trace of whole-form or reacted molecular chains anywhere. Yuuichi's cells had depleted some of their fuel stores, showing that the body had gone through a period of stress, but nothing had reached detrimental levels. His telomeres were in perfect shape, his body tired but healthy and on the lookout for any other signs of the apotoxin. His cells had indeed metabolized the toxin's chemicals, adding them to the stores of harmless, inert little fragments in their hidden corners--only more stacks of elements to be built around and built upon.

His body had literally recycled the apotoxin, breaking it down and filtering it into the same harmless little molecules that he had already lived with all his life. Harmless molecules, that any ordinary human could live a perfectly normal life with--so long as their body would only store, and not touch, those potentially-dangerous fragments.

Herein was the crux of the problem--and the key to the cure. Ai started to smile faintly as she began piecing together the increasingly-simple puzzle before her, growing ever more eager to see it done. She had here the final ingredients, the perfect tools...and all that remained would be to see if she could, at last, use all her gifts wisely.

* * * * *

Part of Mouri Ran's mind--the sensible, practical, adult part--realized that leaving the Mouri Detective Agency after dark and all alone was probably not a good idea. It also realized that she, by herself and on foot, going up and down the streets of Beika, was fairly silly and if Conan-kun--who had been all over hither and yon on his skateboard--couldn't find Yuuichi, she wasn't likely to either.

But the sensible part of Ran's mind was massively dwarfed by the frantic, frightened, determined mother part. This part didn't care how late it was, how dark it was, how silly it was, or how alone she was--it only cared about her son, and finding him no matter what it took.

She couldn't bear to sit still any longer--couldn't stand just waiting there at home doing nothing, when it was getting dark and cold and Yuuichi was still out there somewhere. It was still so cool at night, and Yuuichi's coat had been left at the school; she had it with her, to give it to him when she found him--she didn't want him to be cold. And so here she was, hurrying down yet another street with a flashlight in her other hand, calling out for Yuuichi and crying as she did.

She had started crying about ten minutes ago, as she ran up and down streets realizing how horribly futile it all was...

But still, she had to try. She had to. Her whole being was bound up in finding her son--her very soul would not let her sit still.

As wrapped up as she was in walking and searching and calling, she did not notice who followed her. She did not see the man in dark clothing walking not ten meters behind her, growing closer. She did not hear his silent approach as she stopped on an empty corner beneath the streetlight, looking left and right and wondering where she could go next.

But he was seen by no less than three others--one, who watched the follower, the shadow, and the one who approached all at once; another, who had followed her from the very beginning; and a third, right now on his way to save her.

The one who watched all three saw the shadow prepare to make a move and withdrew further into the darkness, waiting.

The shadow saw the follower walk up behind Ran and broke cover to come to her rescue, already spotting the knife in the dark stranger's hand.

The one on his way to save her pulled up at the street corner in a rumble of engine and a screech of stressed brakes, making Ran gasp and leap away from the curb.

Then everything happened all at once.

The follower in black made a lurching grab at Ran; her withdrawal from the screeching car had turned her to the side and she caught his motion in the corner of her eye. Years of karate training, only slightly rusty with disuse, reacted automatically to the arms coming her way; she dropped the coat and flashlight, ducked and turned and struck out, and a weapon fell away to the concrete with metallic clatter, accompanied by a man's harsh hissing curse of angry surprise.

The one who had pulled up in the car had already leaped out and was rushing at her assailant, catching him in a tackle that slammed both of them into the side of the building behind her. With a startled shriek, Ran stumbled aside of the confrontation, shocked and panicked at the sudden nature of this madness. In the scant instants it took to try to decide whether or not to flee, another man had approached her from the other side, trapping her between the confrontation and the newcomer.

Frightened but determined, Ran set herself into a karate stance, ready to go down fighting. But to her surprise, the nondescriptly-dressed stranger held up his hands, speaking tersely but politely. "We're not here to hurt you, Mouri-san."

Stubbornly remaining as she was, Ran glared at him, confused and suspicious. Behind her, the man from the car had subdued the man in the black coat, holding him face-down on the sidewalk with a knee in his back and one arm twisted up behind. "Iori," he grunted, leaning harder on the struggling captive. "Come take this bastard for me. I've got my orders."

"Righto, Akai-san," said the one named Iori. He paused to offer a faint smile at Ran. "Nice finally talking to you, Mouri-san. Don't worry, you're safe now."

"Who are you?" Ran demanded, facing both of them though her knees quivered to back away.

"Akai-san" had hauled the bruised captive to his feet, one arm still twisted behind, and handed him off to Iori, who merely slammed the prisoner to the building wall instead of the concrete. Panting slightly, Akai turned to her, the intensity of his dark gaze making her step back from him.

"You!" she whispered, eyes widening in shocked recognition. "Who are you?"

"That man--" Akai jerked his chin at the captive. "--was sent to kill or kidnap you. I was sent to bring you back to our current base of operations for your own safety. And to reunite you with your son."

The change was instantaneous. "Yuuichi?" Ran gasped, tears flooding her eyes suddenly. "Where is he? What have you done with him? You give him back to me now or I'll--!"

"Mouri-san, please," Akai said, breaking into her rush of words with an impatient tone and a half-raised hand. "It was for his safety. We took the boy into our custody so the same thing wouldn't happen to him. If you'll come with me, I'll take you to where he is now."

The two parts of Ran were at war again. Her mind was still swirling, too shocked to process the attack yet--how close she had come to life-or-death danger--and too startled from seeing this enigmatic man's face again. The sensible part knew much better than to get into a car with a stranger, especially one like this--this dangerous, shadowy man she had seen several times before, always in such suspicious and troubled times. The mother part said to go with him now, and get her son back, and heaven help whoever might have hurt him--even this cold-eyed semi-stranger.

As usual, the mother part won.

"Take me there!" she commanded tearfully. "And while you're taking me you're going to explain why you kidnapped him!"

Akai glanced at the other man, still holding the prisoner. "Iori. You know what to do with him."

Iori nodded, with a grim smile. "That I do, sir. Consider it done."

The captive black-dressed man gulped loudly.

Akai turned back to Ran, gesturing to his car. "Get in. I can't tell you everything, but I'll tell you what I can."

Silent, Ran picked up Yuuichi's small coat from where it had fallen, gingerly sliding into the back seat of the car when Akai opened the door. She remained silent as he got in and started the car, the jacket clutched tight in her hands, glaring at the back of his head as she waited for him to start explaining.

As the car pulled away, leaving Iori with the captive Black agent, the shadowiest of shadows began to follow.

~~to be continued~~