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

'Cause you're working,
Building a mystery,
Holding on and holding it in.
Yeah, you're working,
Building a mystery,
And choosing so carefully.
--Sarah McLachlan, "Building A Mystery"

Part 8: Choosing So Carefully

It took him a long time to reach Tokyo Tower, even if he'd managed to hop a bus going in that general direction. It didn't carry him all the way there, but it did shave a chunk of distance off the walking he had to do.

Conan was already beyond exhausted. His feet ached and his muscles shook, and he felt terribly cold even though he was sweating profusely from all the exertion of walking, running, jogging through the night streets. He got a lot of strange looks from passersby--a bedraggled, gasping young boy running and stumbling down the sidewalk on a beeline for Tokyo Tower.

Once he got to the base of the huge structure, however, his real problems began. Standing there, staring up at the tower, his arms wrapped around himself against the night chill, he started to feel the edges of frustration and desperation creeping in.

Great. Just great. Now what am I supposed to do? he growled silently. "Meet me at Tokyo Tower," he says. Well, Kuroba, it's a pretty damn big place--so where the hell are you?

He glanced around at all the people and lights; though it was dark, it still wasn't all that late, and there was still a lot of people and traffic about. This is way too public for him. He'd never come out to meet me here--what was I thinking? This is too exposed. He's not coming...

Conan was just beginning to fall into the depths of despair once more when a cooing flutter caught his attention. Startled, he glanced around, catching sight of a pidgeon on the sidewalk beside him--a pidgeon, out and about after dark, in the bright streetlights.

No, not a pidgeon--a dove. A plump, moon-white dove with distinct, ash-gray markings on its wings and tail-feathers.

It was hard to breed pure white doves while living as a fugitive. Sometimes the occasional common pidgeon got mixed in.

Conan blinked at the bird, eyebrows going up with recognition. "Well...hello, Kemuri," he said softly, his voice rasped from weariness and thirst--and now, relief.

The white-and-gray dove strutted closer to him, cocking its head to peer up at him with one shiny dark eye. It turned in a circle and cooed at him, regarding him almost impatiently.

Despite his tiredness and depression, Conan managed a faint half-smile. "Follow you, huh? Figures..." He took a step toward the bird; it remained where it was for a second before launching into flight, heading across the street to the top of a lamp-post.

With a bone-weary sigh, Conan unlimbered his arms and followed after the dove, skittering across the street without waiting for a green light. When he reached the lamp-post, the dove fluttered off again, further down the street.

They continued this follow-the-leader game for a while, with Kemuri the dove leading the way and Conan stumbling along behind. They moved in a generally straight line--probably since the bird had been instructed to find a target and return, but pidgeons weren't all that smart--and occasionally Kemuri would flutter back to perch and turn in a circle if Conan fell behind.

Eventually, however, the mottled dove flew down to the sidewalk at the mouth of an alley, stopping there and turning one last circle before regarding Conan with an approving air as he stumbled up, panting. The bird cooed at him softly, unafraid of his proximity, as Conan recovered his breath somewhat and peered into the dark depths of the alleyway. It was further from Tokyo Tower and the street around them was quiet and empty.

In fact, it was so quiet for a moment that the flutter of Kemuri's wings startled him as the dove took wing once more, vanishing over the top of the adjacent building.

Wary, and a bit confused, Conan stepped forward into the alley, looking up at the building the bird had vanished over. Now what? Is he up there? Then there has to be a fire-escape ladder somewhere--he knows I can't get up there any other way like this...

Then he got the feeling. There were eyes on him.

He passed into the shadows where the streetlights couldn't reach, his steps slow and deliberate to allow his eyes time to adjust as he walked further into the depths. There was almost no direct light here, but as his eyes quickly grew accustomed to the dimness he could make out dumpsters and fluttering bits of trash--and further down, the wall of a building. A blind alley, then.

He wouldn't just let himself be cornered...

There was a faint breeze through the alleyway, just enough to make him shiver. All around him were piles of trash and junk, above were the shadows of the fire-escape he'd sought, but there was no one here. Or at least no one immediately apparent.

The watched feeling was growing intense, making every hair on his body stand on end and his spine tingle with alertness. An edge of adrenaline drowned some of his exhaustion, making him stand a bit straighter there in the darkness.

And even as his body reacted, his mind banished the alarms--he already knew who was watching him. He knew who, and why, and where.

"'If I was one of them, I'd have killed you a dozen times by now,'" he quoted into the dimness around him--and with a low sigh, he turned keen eyes directly toward a window nook about twelve feet up, a little ways down the wall. "Right, Kuroba?"

"Sharp as ever, I see," replied the soft, ironic voice of the thief, as a shadow shifted in that spot--a dark shape that was invisible until it moved. "Can't hide from you at all. And you took the words right out of my mouth."

"I don't have time for games." Conan took a few steps closer, gazing up at the darkly-dressed form curled into the recess of one of the building's small back windows. "You said meet at Tokyo Tower, and I followed your bird all the way here..."

"Ah yes, Kemuri...I thought she would be a good choice. You'd recognize her--and she likes you, besides."

Conan's eyes narrowed--not with real anger, but impatience. "I'm flattered. So tell me what you know. Where's Ran? And Yuuichi?"

"Safe, at least I think," Kuroba Kaito replied, before leaning out and leaping down from the window nook to land easily on the alley floor. He remained where he'd landed, two meters from Conan and not offering to approach any closer.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Conan demanded. He'd long since lost his wariness of the thief, but long habit made him keep the silent mutual agreement on space.

"Don't flip your lid on me, Kudo," Kaito warned, not unkindly. "I'm gonna tell you some stuff, but you've got to keep your cool. This--" He gestured at Conan's bedraggled, exhausted, emotional state. "--isn't like you at all."

"I'm fine," the boy almost growled. "You said you know where Ran is."

"Yes, I do." Kaito put his hands in the pockets of his long dark coat and fixed Conan with a firm stare. "She was picked up by a man in a car and taken across town to an old warehouse district. I wrote down the address--"

Conan had already switched modes--directly into panic. "She was what? A man in a car? Who--?"

"Stop, Kudo," Kaito interrupted, the unusually urgent tones in his voice halting the boy's babble like a brick wall. "I told you not to flip out. I think she's safe with them, at least for now. They've been following her most of the day, I'd guess--"


"--but listen, it's not Them--not the ones we're after. If I'm not mistaken, it's another bunch--a rival group, I think. I haven't heard much about them, since they're just as tight on secrets, but--hell, this isn't the time for long explanations. I don't know if we're okay, or if we've just jumped from the frying pan and into an even worse inferno."

Kaito's voice became even more serious, so abruptly it startled Conan. "What happened?" he asked, on edge and already trembling with anxiety.

"When Ran took off on her own, one of the Black bastards made a grab for her, but the new guys nailed him before he could get her," Kaito informed him. "That's when they took her, and I followed. I found out where they're at, and they've probably got Yuuichi in there too. So they're alive for now...but I don't want to see them made into bargaining chips in some gang war between the Blacks and these new guys. We don't have much time before something major breaks loose."

"You mean I don't have much time," Conan stated, his eyes already bleak. "I have to get there. Where is it? You have the address?"

"You're not gonna like this," Kaito replied, almost apologetically. "It's halfway across Tokyo, in the big industrial storage district to the south."

Conan's jaw dropped--and so did his heart, all the way to the pit of his stomach. "But...no...! How am I supposed to get there...from here...? And I'm running out of time...!"

Kaito actually smiled a little. "Didn't you call your old pal, Hattori?" he asked, half-teasing. "I think he could arrange to give you a lift."

"Hattori--!" The boy blinked, nearly smacking himself in the forehead. "I completely forgot--he's on his way here--"

"Precisely." After a thoughtful pause, in which Kaito regarded Conan with measuring eyes, the thief took several slow, careful steps forward--as one of the hands in his pockets withdrew, holding out a small slip of paper. "Here's the address, Kudo. You can take the freeway southeast, and get off at the exit where a canal passes a factory with three red smokestacks. The rest is written here."

Conan stared at the paper for a half-instant before taking it, carefully, his small fingers barely brushing the hand of the thief. He read the information over briefly, then looked up at Kaito, who had taken a step back. "I...I...thank you...." he stuttered, gratitude tightening his throat. "I really...can't say enough..."

"So don't worry about it," Kaito replied with a shrug.

"But--doing this..." Conan still stared up at him, eyes large in his pale, tired face. "Why? You could put yourself in danger...if they saw you--if they knew...you'd be at risk, and so would..."

Again, Kaito shrugged, glancing away for only an instant. "You'd do the same for me. At least, that's what I'd like to think."

"You should know me by now," Conan replied quickly, with sudden earnestness.

"That I should," Kaito answered with a smile. "And I do. That's why I think so."

"Kuroba...I...back then--"

Kaito shook his head. "Don't, Kudo. It wasn't your fault. I knew the risks, and I made my choice."

"But if I hadn't--"

"Look, just shut up," Kaito stated, his voice firm but in no way harsh, waving a dismissive hand. "I'm tired of telling you it wasn't your fault, so just stop. You don't have time--get your ass moving!"

Conan took a step backward, more surprised at the absolute lack of animosity in the youth than with being told he wasn't held to blame. Kuroba had said so before, many times, and even then he was never angry, never resentful, never bitter toward Conan at all. "But--what about--?"

"You're not alone in this, Kudo," Kaito replied, with a shadow of his old cocky grin. "I think the Black bastards are in for more than a few surprises tonight." He regarded Conan impatiently for a moment. "What are you still standing here for, baka? Get going! Hurry, before I kick your skinny butt myself! Go!"

The sudden look of danger--as well as two threatening steps toward the boy--caused Conan to yelp and shy back, surprised at the thief's lunge and reacting automatically to avoid being touched. Startled, he skittered toward the mouth of the alley like a spooked colt, stopping to look back only when he had reached the edge of light and darkness.

When he looked back, Kaito had not moved any further--but was instead grinning at him. Only briefly, though; with a jaunty wave and a leap, the thief caught hold of the fire escape ladder and flipped himself up, returning to the rooftops he'd descended from.

Conan didn't stay to watch him go. With an instants-long, wry smile, he whirled and began to run down the sidewalk, back in the direction he'd come. Above his head, a white-and-gray dove swooped low over him with a soft coo, as if to encourage him, before turning upwards, back to the height of the buildings--back to her master's side.

As if the knowledge of Ran's whereabouts had rejuvenated him, Conan sped back toward Tokyo Tower as if he were fresh and unexhausted. As he ran, he fished his phone from his pocket and hit one of the speed-dial buttons.

Again, it rang forever. He was almost back to the Tower when the other end finally picked up.

"Hattori here. Who the hell is jangling my phone in the middle of--?"

"Hattori! Where are you?" Conan demanded breathlessly.

"Kudo? What--?"

"Where are you right now?"

"Jeeze, I'm on my way to Beika right now--what are you--?"

"So you're in Tokyo?" Conan broke in urgently.

"Hell yeah. I'm about fifteen minutes out, if you'll wait a sec--"

"Fifteen minutes? What? Are you in a car?" he asked, his voice sharp and quick as he came back into the lights of the Tower.

"No!" Heiji snorted. "I didn't want to wait for buses or trains so I rented a motorcycle just outside the airport when I got here. That's why it took me so long to--"

"That's perfect!" Conan blurted, almost grinning for sheer elation. "Stop--turn around--whatever--just don't go to Beika! Come here and meet me at Tokyo Tower. I'll be--" He paused and glanced up. "I'll be at the south corner of it. Right there."

"Can I ever finish a sentence?" Heiji groused. "And what are you doing at--?"

"I'll explain everything on the way. Just get here!" Conan ordered, his voice harsh and urgent. "I'll see you then!"

Without waiting for a response, he shut the phone off and kept running. Even if his legs cramped and his lungs burned, he barely felt it--he was going to find Ran and Yuuichi, and that was all that mattered to him.

* * * * *

It was sometimes odd, Haibara Ai observed, how some people handled shock. Some closed up, or grew angry, or immediately denied all. Others burst into sobs, or began to scream and cry, or even fainted.

Mouri Ran seemed to do none of these, yet her reaction encompassed several. Clinically, it was interesting to watch--but for Ai, it was painful, knowing what had to be pouring through the young woman's mind.

First, Ran grew terribly, tremblingly still, her features draining of all color. Then she began to shake her head, tears already welling up to spill from her eyes. Her mouth worked, soundless for long moments as if she was fighting with her own throat for control of her words.

"No...no...you're wrong, Haibara-chan..." she finally managed, denial spilling forth in soft croaking tones. "He's not...I know he's not, I've seen him...Conan-kun is Conan-kun...I've seen them both--I've seen him, and he told me..."

Ai shook her head as well, but it was only a brief, negatory gesture as she pinned Ran's gaze with her own. "It was a lie."

A sob cut through Ran's silence--only one sob, as if the word "lie" was a hot poker jabbing her in the heart. "He wouldn't--he wouldn't--you don't know--"

"I do know, Mouri-chan," Ai interrupted, unable to hide the pain inside; it was leaking out through her eyes, making her gaze glisten. It was touching her face, pinching her features. "I'm one of the few who knows everything about this."

"But...he can't be..." Mouri-chan repeated brokenly, and Ai saw her eyes flick beyond her, to the room where Yuuichi was playing quietly. "He couldn't...he couldn't...!"

"He is, Mouri-chan," Ai stated quietly, trying to keep herself and her tone detatched but realizing that it was going to be a losing battle. "I know what you're thinking about me right now--and you're wrong. Just like Edogawa-kun, I'm not what I seem. I'm not a little girl making up stories."

Mouri-chan's eyes had gone wide, now, staring at her as if suddenly...afraid.

Ai took another deep breath. "My name is Miyano Shiho, and all of this is my fault."

The silence still hung in the air. Ran was still pale, her eyes so huge in her face that she looked like a lostling child. And...in a way, she was.

"I can say without lying that all of this is my fault," Ai went on, after long moments of quiet, folding her hands on the table and staring at them. The shock and pain on Mouri-chan's face was just too much to look at for long. "I'm the one who created the drug that turned Kudo Shinichi into Edogawa Conan. I'm the one who took the drug myself and forced my way into his life. I'm the one who offered him false cures and told him to keep lying to you. I'm the one who ran away and made him panic, and caused...all your suffering...I'm the one who kidnapped your son, and started all this pain again..."

Ai's face felt like plastic, though she couldn't stop the creakiness in her voice as she spoke. She didn't know what Ran was thinking--couldn't look up to spot her reaction. "There isn't a lot to explain," she stated, more softly, as if that would hide the tremble. "You already know when Edogawa Conan came into your life. Now you'll know how and why. Kudo Shinichi suffered the consequences of the drug I made, forced into the body of a child. I made that poision because...I once worked for the same people who want to kill Kudo-kun--and Yuuichi-kun, and you."

At this, she heard Ran gasp softly, felt the flinch of cold through her own heart. "That's right. I was one of them. I worked for them and made that damn drug for them, and then Gin went out with our first trial batch and..." She had to clear her throat and swallow hard to continue, not liking the way her own body betrayed her emotions. "The first human test subject was Kudo Shinichi, because he stuck his nose in where it didn't belong."

The next sound Mouri-chan made was something akin to a sob, but almost more like a tiny exclamation of pain.

"It was supposed to kill him," Ai said, her eyes and face still as blank as ever though she kept losing more and more control over her voice. "As far as I know they still think he's dead. Or at least Gin thinks he's dead...but he wasn't, he was turned into a child who knew too much, and kept finding out more." Finally, she managed to look up at Ran--wincing visibly at the horrified, enraptured, betrayed expression that hung on the young woman's chalk-white face.

"That's...that's why he lied, Mouri-chan," the blond girl continued, her tones changing to a faint but definite pleading. "Because if anybody ever found out he was alive--if anybody found out who he really was, it could trickle back to Them, and they'd come back to kill him for sure, as well as anybody who knew about him. They cover their tracks too well--they kill the target, his family, his employer, and his third cousin all to make sure that no one finds out..."

She saw Ran's eyes again flick to the room, where Yuuichi still remained, quiet and out of sight.

"That's right, Mouri-chan. Yuuichi-kun, too." She steeled herself and pressed on into something she knew would get a reaction, and a horrid one, but something she knew was true. "Or if they didn't kill him, they'd adopt him--he's young enough--and mold him into what they wanted him to be. Like they did to me. They like special children--they'd make him a scientist, or an officer, or...or a killer like Gin..."


The near-inaudible rasp of Ran's voice almost startled Ai--she'd been silent and pale for so long that it seemed as if she'd never find her voice again. It made Ai glance at her, briefly, before staring at her hands again. "It's the truth. It's the way they operate. I don't know how much Akai told you, but...right now secrecy is our only chance at survival. And back then...hiding was the only choice we had--he had. He didn't want to risk your life, or anyone's...so I hope you can understand why Kudo-kun chose not to tell you..."

The faintest sounds of crying made Ai cringe inside, miserably aching with her eyes full of tears she would not let fall. She couldn't--training, stubbornness, or whatever reason. Mouri-chan sat in her chair, tears rolling down her cheeks, shocked and suffering--and the sight of her made it ever harder to stay remote, to stay detached.

She had played a major part in ruining Ran's life, too.

"I'm sorry for all of this, Mouri-chan..." she managed to get out. "I hope you won't blame Kudo-kun for this, because I'm the one who started it all. Please don't be angry at him...it's not his fault..."

It felt strange to be begging someone not to hate someone else. Some detached part thought perhaps she should be pleading not to be hated herself. And that tiny, traitorous part of her heart wanted to scream, Hate him! Blame him! Leave him! Let me--! But she would never let it speak--never let it have what it wanted.

It was only a shard of her heart, after all.

"Please...forgive him," she went on, her own voice choking. "He only wanted to protect you; he never meant to hurt you. I know that. Please don't be angry with him, Mouri-chan...he's missed you so much, please don't..."

Why am I crying? she had to wonder. Why am I crying just like Mouri-chan? I'm not the one who just had my whole world turned upside-down...

It was always so strange, feeling the hot tears well up and trickle slowly down her cheeks. It happened so rarely, she was unaccustomed to it. It was unwelcome, a sign of weakness--yet Mouri-chan seemed to do it a lot, and she was one of the strongest young women Ai knew of. Maybe tears were part of that strength.

I'm crying because I know, she realized, comprehension coming slowly. I know what she went through. I know how she feels. I watched her suffer without him...and him, at her side, without her...I watched them both so long...and it's my fault.

I'm trying to heal what I did wrong...but if she hates him now...God, how often did I wish for that to happen? But I know...if he loses her...he'll...he'll...

At this point in his life, with all that had happened and all that had gone wrong, Ran was the only thing keeping him alive, stable, and possibly sane. If he lost her, he would die. His body might live, but his soul would go out like a snuffed candle. He would not fight death, then--he would not fight Them. He would collapse like a half-alive doll and just let Gin kill him...

"Mouri-chan..." She tried to speak, through her tears. It was so hard--just thinking of the right words was so hard.


Ran's voice was an even more tearful mess than Ai's had tried not to be. One word--one single query--seemed to phrase all her pain, all her questions, all her disbelief, all her betrayal and agony and confusion and love and longing...

Ai didn't have to wonder what she was asking.

"He loves you," she said, as the tears became a river. "He's always loved you. He'll do anything for you...at any cost...and he's been killing himself all this time to protect you from Them..." She managed a gulp of air to continue. "Hurting you hurts him even more...and he's been living in agony--I've watched him, I've seen him crying...but even if he made mistakes--and he did make mistakes--he'd do anything to keep you safe...and he did keep you safe. That's why, Mouri-chan...he did it for you..."

Her voice broke, like a shattering crystal, emotions cutting into her throat like knives as Mouri-chan sobbed in earnest at her words. Crying like this was so rare for her that she hardly knew how to speak through it, and Ran's disbelief and sorrow sliced into her heart even more deeply than any of her own fears and griefs. Ran was the one who had lived the loneliness, suffered the agony, right alongside Kudo-kun.

"He tried so hard for you..." she managed at length, raspy and quiet but at least understandable. She refused to wipe the tears away, even though they were streaming down her face--wiping them away would mean acknowledging them, and that wasn't something she was ready to do, even now. "So please, Mouri-chan...if you're angry about this...don't stay angry with him. I deserve it if you're angry with me, but not him...he loves you, he needs you..."

"How could he...?" Ran sobbed, grieved and demanding but not venomous. "He--he could've told me...! He lied to me...all this time...and he lied to Yuuichi...!" Her words were torn with gasping tears, with anger and denial and pain. "He didn't tell me...even when...even when we...!"

"He couldn't risk you," Ai stated, her knuckles white as she clasped her hands tightly. "If he told you...and anyone saw the difference...if anyone overheard...if there was ever a slip..." She actually sniffled, a sound incongruous to her soft, roughened voice. "And when you became pregnant he was even more afraid...and he couldn't tell you anything. If something went wrong...he'd lose both of you..."

Mouri-chan was crying into her hands; grief and anger warred for hold on her emotions, and her tears were the battleground. "He...he lied to us..." she whispered.

"And if he didn't, you'd be dead!" Ai burst out, a bit more abruptly than she'd meant to. "You have to understand this, Mouri-chan--secrets have kept us all alive. They've kept Yuuichi alive..." She almost stood up out of her chair, still refusing to wipe away the flowing tears on her cheeks. "He loves you both too much to risk your lives just so he could be happy...and even if you were sad he wanted you to stay alive."

Sitting stiffly, Ai watched the young woman crying softly, almost curled into herself on the office chair. "You didn't see him, Mouri-chan," she said quietly, swallowing hard to keep her voice as clear as possible. "I wish you could've seen. He called you last night...do you remember?"

Wiping her eyes, still crying, Ran glanced up at her and nodded.

"I wish you could've seen...how much he wanted to come home...how much he wanted to tell you," Ai continued, tears coming anew at the memory. "He was crying, Mouri-chan...even before he hung up...because he couldn't tell you but he wanted to, because he knew you were hurting and Yuuichi wanted to see him...but he couldn't tell you, and it was killing him...and I wish you could've seen so you wouldn't be so angry with him now..."

"...not angry..." Ran shook her head, quick small jerks accompanied by a quaking voice. "I'm not but I am..." She looked up again, red-eyed and pale-faced, her breath still coming in gulps. "I just...I love him so much...and he was right there...!"

Ai looked down again, finding it hard to meet Mouri-chan's gaze when it was directed at her like that. "And that part is my fault...I made it so he had to do that...so you should be angry with me, not him. I can say I'm sorry and mean it...but I know it isn't enough...not with all I've done. All I can do is...try to repair the damage I've done, and hope that it's enough to make amends..."

Now Mouri-chan's hands were tight in her lap, her head lowered. Occasionally, a tear would fall silently to land on her wrists. She was so still, yet almost trembling so... "I...I'm sorry to have to leave you like this, Mouri-chan..." Her own words sounded hollow and lame to her ears. "But I have some things to do...before Kudo-kun gets here. And he will be here. I just have to finish this...it's very important..."

If I finish this, and it works, he'll be able to come home to you. Her mind finished what she could not say. Like he was always meant to...

She left her spot at the table quietly, watching Mouri-chan out of the corner of her eye--but the dark-haired young woman didn't move at all, except for those quiet tears falling. Ai stopped at Yakamoto's station to take one of the comm units with her--one that was set to the console frequency so that she could communicate with the perimeter guard through Yakamoto when Kudo-kun finally showed up. She would need to be able to tell them to let him in...

That is, unless he decided to let himself in. Ai frowned worriedly as she headed for her lab--trying to close Mouri-chan's silent presence out of her mind so that she could concentrate on her work--remembering that when push came to shove, when it all came down to the wire, Kudo-kun did not act as expected. She knew both from experience and from observation that he could become unpredictable and dangerous when Ran or Yuuichi were in jeopardy.

Even if he was a small-for-his-age twelve-year-old who barely weighed anything compared to a seasoned soldier, she had to pity anyone who got in his way when he was like that...

In her lab, Yuuichi was sitting on the cot with his picture. But he wasn't drawing; as she came in, he looked up at her with wide blue eyes that seemed oddly worried, almost frightened. "Ai-neechan?" he asked, a soft quaver in his voice. "Kaachan's crying?"

She stopped to try and offer him a reassuring smile, but it only came across as a sad one. "Yes, I'm afraid she is," she answered quietly. "She's...worried about your father, and...she needs some time to think."

Without replying, Yuuichi looked down at his picture. His small face looked apprehensive; not quite sure what to do, Ai let him stay where he was and went back to her computer to start working again. She had a lot of ground still to cover, and not much time left at all.

"You can draw another picture if you like," she told the child, without looking behind her. "Or you can go back to sleep. Edogawa-kun will be here...soon, I hope..."

She didn't see the way Yuuichi sat so still, like his mother out in the main room. She didn't see the expression on his face, or in his deep blue eyes. She didn't see his chin quiver in childish worry, nor did she catch his faint murmur over the hum of the machines she was starting up again.

Yuuichi stared at his picture, but his mother's tears made him sad, and in his mind he saw another face.

"Niichan...?" he whispered, confused and afraid.

* * * * *

Though the rush of the wind and the roar of the motor made it difficult to be heard, Conan managed to impart all of the story--in condensed form--to his friend and current source of transportation, Hattori Heiji. It took quite a bit of shouting and a few impatient repeats, but eventually the Osaka detective got the important details as they blasted down the freeway at top speed, constantly passing slower traffic.

Heiji's reaction was predictable, once Conan finished his shouted explanation.

"Well, shit! We'd better hustle!" Stating the obvious, he turned up the gas as Conan hung on grimly behind. "A canal and a factory with three smokestacks? You'd better keep your eyes peeled, Kudo! I don't know this town at all!"

Clinging to Heiji as they slalomed between trucks and around slower cars, Conan kept his eyes open for any sign of such a landmark. They had further to go, he knew--the industrial side of town was still ahead.

But he felt better having Heiji at his side, and moving quickly like this gave him a sense of freedom that he'd lost with his skateboard. He felt as though there was hope.

They roared on through the night, hoping that with their speed there were no observant policemen out patrolling the freeway. It was a long ride, holding on to Heiji as he shivered in the cold night wind; drying sweat and lack of motion had allowed his body to cool down, and now his skin was goose-pimpled and he was heartily wishing for the coat he'd left at the Mouris--even if it was only his school uniform jacket.

His uniform was going to be a total loss anyway, after tonight...

Suddenly, he lurched up straight, nearly unbalancing Heiji. "There! There!" he shouted, his voice breaking shrill and loud over the motorcycle's engine. "There it is! Hattori--turn now!"

Without hesitation, Heiji banked the motorcycle into the exit, narowly missing the bumper of another car--the driver of which was honking irately as they passed out of sight down the off-ramp. "Sorry 'bout that..." Heiji muttered, mostly to himself. "Bit of an emergency... Ah--now where, Kudo?"

Conan reached into his pocket and brought out the slip of paper, holding tight to keep it from being blown away. He squinted at the writing in the dim mixture of streetlight and starlight, then looked ahead at the street signs on the intersection coming up. "Turn right!"

All things considered, they made good time. Between Conan's sharp night-sight and Heiji's skill with the motorcycle, their travel to the target destination was unhampered by confusion or wrong turns. Soon enough, Heiji was damping down his speed and--at Conan's advice--turning off his motor to coast down the last street and into the alley that led to the next. The next street--where the tiny slip of paper indicated the address of the industrial storage lot was.

Staying in the darkness of the alley, Heiji pulled his helmet off of his sweat-tousled head and glanced back at his smaller passenger. "Now what?"

Conan pocketed the card once more. "This is it," he stated, sliding off the bike. "There's the lot he was talking about..."

"Are you sure 'bout this, Kudo?" Heiji asked softly, dropping the kickstand and stepping off the motorcycle as well. "You got that info from--"

"I'm sure," Conan told him tersely, barely glancing at him. "No question."

Heiji shrugged. "Oookay...so again, now what?"

The boy peered around the corner, looking up and down the street--and across it, at the high chain-link fence and the expansive, maze-like lot of warehouses ahead. It was huge...

He pulled back to face his friend. "You're going to stay here," he commanded firmly, "and wait. I only want to have one of us in the line of fire. Keep the bike ready, and I'll call you if I need you."

"Just wait--?" Heiji spluttered. "I come all this way just to drive you around and wait?"

"Hush! Be quiet!" Conan hissed, glaring at him. "Listen, I need someone to keep our wheels ready, got it? You're the backup. The cavalry. Whatever--this isn't about who gets to save the day, dammit! This is about Ran and Yuuichi's lives."

Heiji had already subsided at the urgent, angry look on his friend's face. "Yeah," he agreed, shaking his head at himself. "Never mind me--just go. But you call the instant things get too hot, hear me?"

Conan nodded, peering around the corner again to see if there was anyone about. Spotting no movement, he skittered out of the alley and across the street at a diagonal. The gate of the lot complex was at least two blocks down--but he didn't want to chance walking in the front door. Heiji watched him go, leaning on the bike and crossing his arms to wait.

Reaching the other side, the small shape flattened itself to the chain-link in the shadow of a power pole, almost invisible even in his dirty white shirt. All Heji could see was a faint outline, and a flash of glass lenses for an instant.

After another pause to check things out, the little-boy shadow scaled the ten-foot chain-link like a squirrel, barely making it rattle. Then, without a hitch, the small lithe form slipped between the strands of barbed wire at the top, somehow avoiding any snags. It dropped to the ground in a low crouch, froze again for several moments, then darted off out of sight to the side of one of the outbuildings.

Heiji stared after him, amazed, then shook his head with a soft, wry chuckle. "How the hell does he do that?" he whispered to himself with an appreciative snort, settling in to the long, boring process of waiting.

~~to be continued~~