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!

Author's Note: READ! The second section of this chapter was co-written by me and Hell's Hauntress! ^_^ So be good readers and throw her as many kudos as you throw me. Or better yet--more! Section 2 is a lot bigger. And without Hauntress's invaluable help, it would never have turned out as great as it did!

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Coming Home
by Becky Tailweaver

Don't turn away,
Don't give in to the pain,
Don't try to hide,
Though they're screaming your name.
Don't close your eyes;
God knows what lies behind them.
Don't turn out the light;
Never sleep, never die.
--Evanescence, "Whisper"

Part 9: Screaming Your Name

Ran still sat in her chair, hands folded in her lap, having long since stopped sobbing though silent tears still trickled steadily from her eyes. She hardly knew what to think, or what to feel, or what to do next--and certainly not what was going to happen the next time she saw Conan-kun...Shinichi...

Whoever said the truth hurts could never have imagined this.

Kudo Shinichi...her friend, the one she loved, the father of her child...he was really...Edogawa Conan...the boy who was so dear to her, whom she had come to see as her little brother, who had been Niichan to her baby as long as he'd been alive...

How were you supposed to put something like that together in your head?

He had lied to her. All this time...lying and deceiving her...but as Haibara-chan--Miyano-san...whoever she was--said, he'd done it to protect her. And then Yuuichi. He couldn't let there be any chance of anyone finding out, or else...or else...

Those men would come and kill them all--and that scared Ran enough that anger was still distant in her mind.

And she still wasn't sure she could believe what...that girl had told her. She had actually once wondered the same things, when she was younger--wondering, believing, positively sure that Conan-kun was really Shinichi...but so many times she'd been proven wrong...she'd even seen them together...so many times...

So many times that she'd begun to believe it--really believe it...even if there were doubts...even if Conan-kun was still the strangest and most special little boy she'd ever known...

The hectic days of her pregnancy had made it nearly impossible for her to dwell on her old wonderings, pulling her mind from secrets and mysteries to her future and her child. And it also further separated Kudo Shinichi from Edogawa Conan in her own mind--a sweet, innocent little boy like that could not be him, could not be her one-time lover and the father of her unborn baby. It became impossible to associate Conan with that...so her last musings and wonderings and secret fears had faded into the background, drowned out by the noise of preparing for her child's birth--and then, taking care of her baby, raising her son...

She had, on some level, forgotten all about it. Until Haibara-chan--whoever--looked her in the eyes tonight and tore aside the veil with three words: "Edogawa-kun is Shinichi."

And then it could no longer be a passing whimsy, easily brushed off. It was no longer just "Ran-being-silly"--it became real, like a piece of evidence taken from a crime scene; like a dead body that could no longer be hidden. She could no longer even subconsciously ignore it.

And even if she could hardly even believe it, even after all that Haibara-chan had told her, her own memory began to confirm the truth she'd been given. Her own mind reached back, so many pieces beginning to fall into place--so many strange, unexplained things; so many moments and instants and glances and touches and noticing...

How many times had she seen it, and not understood what she was looking at?

Her memory flashed--dozens of glimpses, hundreds of instants--moments when a shadow across Conan-kun's face seemed so out-of-place...or the times he'd smiled at her, so strange...or the way he looked at Yuuichi, with eyes so full... She had seen him smile and laugh with such brittle hollowness inside, never understanding--she had watched him watch Yuuichi and never known why such young eyes carried such painful shadows...so many things from the corner of her eye, so many things she'd looked right at and never seen...

But she had seen him cry, too. She had seen him laugh and cry and smile and sob the night Yuuichi was born, and she couldn't understand why...but oh God what he must have felt and how much he must have been hurting...!

It made another sob well up from inside her--she had seen him hurting, watched him suffering and crying and dying inside and never even known...and she knew how much he loved Yuuichi, how much he loved her, and she knew how it must have been killing him by centimeters every day to live like that, so close yet forever so far...right beside her all along...

It was such a horrible, horrible kind of lonely...she'd thought her own pain and loneliness too much to bear at times--but to be so close to everyone and everything she loved, yet to be forever kept apart by a barrier no thicker than her own skin...no thicker than the dark threat of death...

But despite the tortures he'd endured, he had stayed. She knew that--she realized he could have left at any time. He could have run away, truly left her behind, gone with his parents and disappeared to America for real and never come home...but he hadn't.

He had stayed at her side through everything.

So many times--innocent little Conan-kun had always wanted to help her, make her feel better, do anything for her...doing anything she asked, and more--always ready and willing at any time, from the very beginning and even now...for her and for Yuuichi he was always there...

God, how many times had she brushed him aside, trampled on his feelings, shoved him away--how many times had she hurt him herself? She hadn't even known...but he was always trying, trying so hard for her, to do everything he could...he was Niichan to Yuuichi even if he wanted to be Touchan, and he tried with everything he did to be everything he could to them.

She had just been thinking how well he was doing, filling in for Shinichi...when he was Shinichi, right there the whole time, trying...

And now he was out there, still trying, out in the cold night somewhere, looking for them. He'd been in a panic all day to find Yuuichi--and now her--and he was trying to find them even now...

She hoped he found them soon. She hoped it with all her heart, even as she tried to dry the river of tears that wouldn't stop. She wanted to see him again--to really see him, now that she knew...and even if half of her was terrified and didn't know what to do when she saw him...the other half was desperate to look into his eyes and see him again for the first time in so very, very long...

And before she could even complete her next thought, all hell broke loose downstairs.

* * * * *

The silence was almost stifling.

Then again, Daisuke thought to himself, that could almost be considered a good thing. After all, they could be getting chewed out by Akai-san for complaining and talking about him behind his back--but as long as their dark-haired leader was content to lean against the wall with an unlit cigarette in his mouth and stare at the door, instead of chewing them all out big time and threatening to hand them over as Haibara-san's latest test subjects, that was perfectly fine with them.

Well, it would be perfectly fine with them if Haibara-san had shown even the slightest indication that she expected to survive the conversation with Mouri-san when they left. Since she hadn't, no one in their group was quite comfortable yet.

Not even tall, dark, and deadly there, thought Daisuke rather wryly as he watched his dark-haired leader, who was quite obviously fidgeting in his own, more subtle way.

The men were still awkwardly shuffling around, not quite sitting down, not quite squirming with the anxiety and suspense but not far from it, either. Worried murmurs were being traded back and forth like choppy waves, as the men were actually more used to being snapped at and ordered around than just sitting still here and doing nothing. Yakamoto was the only person who had anything to do, still continuing his radio monitoring even when he was separated from his comm station. Aside from the unease hanging over them like a cloud, everything was pretty much normal...

Until Yakamoto-san's familiar quiet mutterings into the radios changed into louder, more jarring responses that drew the attention of everyone present--save for Akai, who was still preoccupied with his thoughts and didn't pay any attention whatsoever.

"I just got a report from the perimeter," Yakamoto growled crossly into the tense quiet that followed, looking up at the others. "That idiot Tsuji-kun didn't report in to the guard leader for his five-minute check. If the twit just somehow forgot I'm gonna skin the damned--"

"Are they looking for him?" Akai interrupted sharply from his place at the wall, eyes narrowed, startling them to realize that he was paying attention.

"One of them is going to his position now," Yakamoto reported gruffly, switching something on his headset and listening for several seconds--before his eyes hardened with alarm. "Shit! Ken says he's down! I'll put them on red alert--"

"Belay that!" Akai was suddenly over by his side before anyone had seen him move, earning a miffed look from the older man which he pointedly ignored. "Give me a handset."

Yakamoto blinked, looking almost puzzled at his commander's unusual behavior, as he fished out one of the radios. Daisuke had to hide a snicker behind one hand. Classic. Just classic. The look on his face...why don't I have a camera?

The communications man spared one more instant before his surly attitude returned, smoothly handing his commander a radio. "Perimeter's on channel four."

Akai turned the hand-radio on, getting an immediate burst of panicky static-talk from the soldier on the other end. "Ken!" he snapped into the radio, breaking into the babble. "Get ahold of yourself, for pity's sake! Check Tsuji's vitals--is he dead?"

"No, sir," the man on the other end replied, sounding supremely confused and terrified. "He's, uh, still alive, but...sir, he's...asleep."

"Get a replacement for Tsuji and go back to back to your station, Ken," he snapped into the radio. "And keep on your guard."

He shut the radio off before the man's answering "Yes sir!" was even through, meeting the rather confused--and miffed, in Yakamoto's case--looks of his men with a small shake of his head. "It's not Them. They'd never leave Tsuji alive." There was something almost like a smile in his voice, albeit wry, as he stated softly, "I believe our last guest has arrived..."

A general murmur of perplexed query went up, as the men quirked eyebrows and glanced among themselves. All of them--all standing upright now, cigarettes put out and faces drawn and tense--were waiting tensely as their leader turned back to face them. He looked them over, going from gaze to gaze as if measuring each of them. His own expression was grim and anticipatory as he spoke.

"Edogawa's here."

All the men glanced around at each other, their expressions equal parts incredulity and trepidation. They had all taken turns with Haibara's observation of Edogawa and the Mouris. And they had heard a lot of things, both from Akai and Haibara--a lot of things, both briefing information and the occasional offhand comment, that made them nervous as well as disbelieving. It wasn't so hard to conceive of there being another out there who was like their Haibara-san--an adult trapped in the body of a child. But it was the way she spoke of him--even the way Akai spoke of him--that gave them pause.

They had heard things about this Edogawa.

"How much time do we have?" asked Mamoru, looking slightly edgy as he eyed the door.

"Not much," Akai replied tersely. "He's probably already closing in. Two of you--" He gestured to Daisuke and Keisuke. "--go out and take up positions observing the door. Take a radio and let us know when you see him. If you see him..."

"Right." Daisuke hesitated a moment to borrow two radios from Yakamoto. While he was thus occupied, Keisuke headed straight for the door, turning the handle to step cautiously out. He didn't even make it halfway.


The loud hollow noise made every one of them jerk around in surprise; the unlucky victim let out a shrill, pained yelp--and it was to the utter disbelief of all present when the blond man was thrown backward by some tremendous force. He hit the floor with a swelling lump on his forehead and unconscious before he landed, his legs half out the door, preventing it from closing--and locking--again.

There was about another nanosecond of shocked pause as everyone stared...then an exploding flurry of activity as Akai shouted, "Get him up! Get the door closed--!"over the noise of everyone yanking out their weapons and arming themselves against the threat as they lurched to obey orders.

Everyone darted into action in a moment, with the same kind of almost hilariously insane hurry that one sees in many horror films--if the door doesn't get shut now, Something is going to come in and eat them. And somehow they knew--all of them knew--that what was outside that door was not something they wanted to meet on bad terms.

Throughout the chaos, Akai stood by himself, eyes blank as he strained to remember--something that Ai had told him earlier, about Edogawa's healthy supply of equipment and weapons...

Something about...shoes...

Realization hit him and he whirled around, pointing to the first two people he saw. "You and you! Get all kickable objects away from the door!"

"What?" Hiroshi yelled back, pausing for a second at the utter absurdity of the request.

"Say what?" Daisuke echoed cluelessly.

"Just do it!" Akai yelled, and the men scrambled to comply.

And so another flurry of panic ensued with the other half of the soldiers trying to remove every kickable object within two meters of the door; pop cans that had fallen out of trash bags, empty buckets, Styrofoam cases, takeout bags from restaurants and everything in between, even going so far as to pick up the candy wrappers and saran wrap littering the floor--after all, they were kickable, if not very aerodynamic.

The two localized flurries--one trying to scrabble up all "kickable objects" and the other attempting to get Keisuke's unconscious body out of the way of the door--only intersected and impaired one another, until the entire entryway was one mass of entirely unprofessional chaos. If Akai had been so inclined--and if he'd had the time--he might have developed a headache.

But almost before the echoes of Akai's order had fallen out of the air, the still-unclosed door was yanked brutally open from the outside--and a small blur of a shape thrust itself inside, charging into the middle of the groups of men trying to get Keisuke clear and pick up anything kickable.

He looked normal--red sneakers, dark pants, and grubby white shirt--but the eyes did not look anything like a little boy; they were blazing with fury and panic, looking ready to tear through Hell and back for his loved ones...and through them if necessary.

For a crystalline moment, everyone froze. There was pure silence, as the two sides of the imminent battle simply stared at each other. The men, who stared in almost wonder at the sweaty, bedraggled little boy--who really wasn't a little boy, and they knew that, but knowledge was one thing and first impressions was another and this really did not look like a soldier as far as they were concerned--who had the utter gall to come charging in and knock out two of their own; the not-boy, falsely named Edogawa Conan, who stared at the battalion of hardened soldiers ready to do battle, taking only an instant to size up his surroundings and come to a decision.

Silence, broken only by harsh breathing, as the two sides stared at each other...

Then, the soldiers' brains kicked on again with the first thought they could readily track: Intruder. Their reaction was automatic. They were quick, they were professional, and they were well-trained; they moved in rapidly to restrain the interloper, but even a trained soldier's brain looked at the boy's slim frame and thought little kid.

Perhaps their mistake was that they didn't try hard enough.

Conan was furious, surging with adrenaline and rage so powerful it was like a potent drug, erasing his fear and sending him forward. All the soldiers charged as one, and with gritted teeth he met them.

The two men closest to the young boy dived in a tackle, ready to pin down the child that had rushed into their midst. The first one got a vicious kick in the groin for his efforts, making him yelp and roll away in an expletive-spouting little ball, effectively out of the fight for a while. Though in retrospect about the matter much, much later, he considered himself lucky since Edogawa-kun's special shoes weren't on--they might have turned his injured appendage from tender to broken in a mere instant.

The second soldier to rush Conan came from the side, and got a sharp elbow in the gut, jabbed there with all the weight and strength a rather unusual twelve-year-old could muster. As he doubled over, the boy caught the soldier's weight over his shoulders for a moment, letting the man's own mass and momentum work together to allow him to pull off a rather awkward throw--more of a rollover, really--that landed the attacker on his back on the ground, yet another groaning casualty.

Akai, on the other end of the fracas, was trying to wade through it--trying to make himself heard over the pandemonium, to stop this before someone got worse than just hurt. He knew quite well who this little not-boy was, and that not only would Ai have his head should they so much as scratch him, but it seemed as though their chances of defeating him were about even with his chances of hurting them anyway, even with their much greater numbers and physical strength. "Stop this! All of you! Stop!"

He almost couldn't see Edogawa any more; the small form was lost somewhere in the squirming center of the battle over there by the door. Even practically unarmed, the boy was hurting them--evidenced by the yells of fury and yelps of pain from the men. Small and strong and quick as a rattlesnake, they could hardly get a hand on him--and those that did quickly regretted it. Akai tried again to yell over the din, but his voice was enveloped in the howls of pain and grunts of anger and a little boy's wordless scream as he fought with all he had against those he thought had taken his son...

"Stop it!" he shouted, though his voice, which usually held so much command and power over these men, was rendered as insignificant as a fly's buzzing, swallowed in the fray. "That's enough! Stop it now!"

At last, the icy roar of his voice cut through the noise, cut through the madness. Everyone suddenly froze on the spot, and once again, nothing could be heard save for the harsh breathing--and from the injured two, low moans of pain.

No one had ever even heard their dark-haired leader do so much as raise his voice...but he had just yelled--and out-and-out roared--all within the space of two minutes. Trembling with exertion and fury and even the beginnings of fear of this very dangerous little boy that had come into their midst, the men lurched almost like guilty children as they suddenly hurried to disengage--pulling back out of arms' reach like a startled school of fish, weapons still ready but retreating, with only Hiroshi and Mamoru pausing to help their injured friends up before backing away and regrouping with their own. The withdrawing tide left behind a panting, wild-eyed young boy in the middle of the floor, his face set in a vengeful grimace that promised pain to anyone who set foot near him again.

As it was, most of their number was nursing a bruise or a tender spot here or there, courtesy of the small intruder. Only Yakamoto and Eiji--both of whom had apparently used common sense--had escaped injury, having stayed out of it.

For Conan's part, he ached all over and felt like dropping dead and sleeping for a week, yet his burning desperation and almost hatred of these men who had taken his son and Ran away from him kept him alive, kept him awake, kept him together and dangerous and very capable of taking out whoever might come in his way. The group of shadowy, black-dressed men did not inspire any confidence as to what might have happened to his son...and certainly not the dark-haired man in the center that seemed to be their ringleader, the one he had seen before--many times before, in daylight and in shadow--the safety off his pistol and the silenced barrel levelled straight at him.

Nevertheless, even with a gun pointed at his face, the burning pain and fear of losing his son and Ran kept his anger going, kept the adrenaline pumping in his blood, keeping his voice dangerous and clear if not trembling slightly with fury. "You. Where are they?"

Akai's brows drew down without his leave when he noticed that Edogawa, for all the scuffling, didn't have a single mark on him--apart from what looked like smudges and road dirt from his long day. He kept his silenced weapon steady, ready to fire at any moment as he spoke to the not-child in a cool, detached tone, trying not to let his anger seep into his voice as he watched his injured men limping to safe distances out of the corner of his eye.

"I assure you, Edogawa-kun, that Mouri Ran and your son--" He pointedly ignored the furious blaze in the dark eyes as he said the words. "--are in our custody and perfectly safe." There was a somewhat wry note in his voice, mixed with equal parts of faint admiration and seething anger as he continued. "So I'd appreciate it if you didn't go knocking my men about like tenpins in a bowling alley."

There was a faint slump to the young boy's shoulders, the relief in his small frame so strong it was palpable. Nevertheless, the dark eyes behind the glasses only hardened as he took another step forward. "Let me see them."

"I'm afraid I can't do that," Akai replied tonelessly, weapon hand still steady and gun barrel aiming at the boy's face. "You see, my associate is having a rather...intimate discussion with Mouri-san, and they do not wish to be disturbed."

"Like I give a damn!" Conan was bolting for the stairs in a flash, but stopped short when a low pffft cut through the air and something impacted hard with the cement inches from his foot. He froze, eyes wide as he stared at the smoking pistol in Akai's hand.

"You're fast, Kudo-san," he said appreciatively, blowing the smoke from the still-warm barrel and earning a wince from the boy at the address. "You're very fast. But I'm a good shot--and is your speed great enough to outrace my bullet? Or--" he added, as the men around him still in commission slowly levelled their own weapons at him, thumbing off the safeties with soft clicks. "--twelve bullets?"

The small figure in front of him didn't move, and there was a brief flash of satisfaction as Akai acknowledged that he had the kid--or adult, whichever--and that he wouldn't budge another step. As he carefully approached him, however, Conan lifted his head, hot gaze flicking up--and Akai found himself stopped.

The murderous glare from those blue eyes looked nothing like a child, flashing with helpless fury and the crystal-clear intent that he would kill them all right now if he could. The trembling, seething, hateful fury that brewed deep in those inhumanly blue eyes was enough to give even Akai pause--and he had seen rage and hate and death in his time. He had seen all these things, but never focused so, never directed at him with such terrible will and promise, never contained and honed into a keen, deadly edge made doubly dangerous by exhaustion and adrenaline and pure, absolute rage.

Gone was the childish innocence he had seen when he watched Ai and this boy on his side-trips long ago; those masks had been stripped away from Edogawa in the instant the panic and desperation hit, telling him that he might lose them if he didn't do something. And gone was the fear that Akai had briefly seen in those blue eyes; the brief flash of fear had been transformed to fury--never-ending fury, terrifying in its wrath, that would not stop until he had them back--and those eyes were hardened like the worst criminal, the most battle-tried soldier, ready to do whatever it took to get his loved ones back.

Even Gin's eyes were mere cold marbles compared to this. Like a dark patch of water, like a black hole, this boy was far deeper inside than he seemed on the surface; this was utter Hate and Vengeance poured into a vessel that should have been far too small to hold it...

This was not a child. This wasn't even Kudo Shinichi. This was literally looking Death in the eye--the vengeful ghost of a father that never was, ready to rescue his son and beloved through any hell or suffering or opposition...ready to go right through them like a knife through flesh, without a second thought.

And as Akai stopped in his tracks, the men around him drew back from the boy. More than any verbal warnings, more than anything they had witnessed here, seeing their hardened leader hesitate in the face of a mere child brought them more trepidation than a thousand official briefings.

Akai scowled, banishing his own reservations even as he ignored the chilly fingers that had gripped his heart for an instant. He took a step forward again, disregarding the safety barriers his own mind tried to throw up to keep him at a distance from this diminutive threat.

Conan's face shifted to an almost unconscious snarl when Akai moved even one step toward him, his small body drawing in to what was nearly a crouch, weight balanced, arms ready, set to move in an instant. To the eyes of all the soldiers, the boy's defensive stance should have appeared ridiculous; a laughably scrawny wildcat cornered by a much larger, much stronger wolf--but they had already seen that this little wildcat had very sharp claws, and his fangs posessed a dangerous bite. If pushed, he would attack without hesitation.

Akai stopped where he was, gun locked on his diminutive target. He glared down at him for several moments, measuring the furious defiance with some small admiration--there wasn't a trace of fear in the not-child; only raw anger and the fierce desire to find the ones he loved.

"Again, I will reiterate that Mouri Ran and the boy are alive, safe, and hopefully comfortable," Akai said evenly, keeping his tone darkly civil though his anger at the situation made him wish to raise his voice again. "Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of you if you don't stop this now. Stand down."

His command only made Conan tense further--this dangerous man wanted him to surrender to them? To make him their prisoner--while they held Ran and Yuuichi hostage--all they would have to do was get a grip on him. One man, one hand, strong enough to hold on to him and hold him down--that was all it would take, he would be helpless and he'd never be able to save Ran...

"Don't touch him--" Akai snapped suddenly, at the few who were trying to ease up behind the boy while his attention was on their leader. "--unless you want to lose those appendages."

Wary, the others subsided, not really sure if the threat alluded to Edogawa or to Akai himself. Either way, they didn't really want to chance it.

Almost startled that Akai had denied his men the chance to grab him--not that he hadn't noticed them shifting around back there--Conan eyed the tall, dark-haired man suspiciously. "I won't surrender to you," he stated, the voice of a child twisted unnaturally into a low growl, eyes sharp in a hateful glare.

Akai's stare did not waver, and neither did Conan's. This was not a gaze in which sparks flew--the explosion had already happened, and this was the smoldering, radioactive aftermath, oppressive and potentially deadly. The air around them was silent again, but tense and almost electrifying in its intensity--thrumming between the father determined to get his family back, and the soldiers sworn to protect this ground. The stalemate stretched on like infinity, like a never-ending road, pulling away--far, far beyond them until they froze where they were like statues...

A sudden crackle broke the spell--a crackle that sounded remarkably like a radio, but definitely not Yakamoto's--cutting through the air, followed by a small burst of static.

And oddly enough, it was coming from Conan.

Shocked out of his glare and looking almost puzzled, the faux junior high student reached into his pocket to pull out a small yellow badge emblazoned with a blue silhouette of Sherlock Holmes, and the words Detective Boys inscribed on the side--laughable design, really, had this been a more appropriate moment for it. He clicked a switch behind the badge and put it to his mouth, blinking with confused hesitation. "Hello?"

But what came out with only slightly less clarity than Yakamoto's digital radio was not any voice that he would have expected, nor was it addressed to him at all--it was very familiar, though he hadn't heard it in four years, soft and lilting but with a weary, battle-hard edge that he had never noticed before.

"It's all right, Akai," Haibara Ai said over the line, her voice tired and soft. "Let him in."

Akai spun around, taking his attention off the very dangerous little boy for just a second as his onyx eyes, almost truly perplexed, looked askance at Yakamoto, who merely shrugged and held up his radio--where the switch was irrevocably turned to On. Behind him, Eiji grinned a somewhat sly grin at his leader.

Meanwhile, Edogawa Conan was almost frozen to the spot, his intellect analyzing but not comprehending the meaning of that message. What she was doing with these shadowy men aside for now, there was only one person he knew who had that voice--the same person who knew the exact frequency of their Detective Boys badges...

"Haibara," he whispered, looking stunned. "You're the one behind all this...?" His eyes suddenly flashed pure murder with white-hot rage, lighting the dark blue color with an unholy fire that in that instant might have been bloody crimson. "Haibara! I'll kill you!"

Edogawa crouched back and charged forward in a single instant, his abrupt motion throwing off the targeting of the soldiers as they lurched to track him again. Even as Akai whipped back around to face the boy--already knowing he'd lost any chance at a shot--Conan slammed bodily into his midsection with bruising force, nearly knocking the breath from him as he was tumbled over backwards. Akai struck down painfully on his back, Conan on top of him and his gun clattering away somewhere on the concrete.

Startled, but still retaining his presence of mind, Akai tried to wrap his arms around the boy and catch him--but the small body was shockingly strong, wrenching out of his grasp and leaping away from him, planting hard shoes on his chest to push off in a move that sent all his breath out with a painful "Whoof!"

Conan was beyond him and tearing toward the stairs before the rest of the men even realized what had just happened.

"Shit!" In a second, Akai had twisted to his feet and was after him, thoroughly pissed off now as well as concerned for Haibara's safety. He shot toward the stairs, flipping over the banister and racing after the not-boy before his vicious curse had finished ringing in his men's ears.

On the stairs, Yakamoto missed his grab and Eiji was knocked to his rump--then both of them were flung aside as Akai barrelled past them, hot on the heels of the dangerous little fugitive, fury burning in his dark eyes. He was faster because of his longer stride, but Kudo had a head start and was fueled by desperation. And even as fast as he was, he wasn't fast enough--he just couldn't catch him...!

Conan tore up the stairs, taking them three at a time, aware of the whole squad of men chasing him--just barely--but not giving a damn. He raced up the flight of steps, ignoring his pounding heart and burning lungs and the harsh sound of his breath--only skidding to a halt at the doorway in front of the last step, causing the men stampeding behind him to nearly trip over his small frame.


Haibara was nowhere in sight--and just as well, because the sight of Ran standing there in the middle of the messy room looking alarmed and afraid made every other thought fly right out of his head. He forgot about Haibara--forgot about the blazing-eyed man standing just behind him--just stumbling through the doorway in utter, bone-weary relief at seeing her alive and well and safe...

Then, her face pale and her eyes brimming with tears, Ran said one word--one single word that made the bottom of his already-broken world fall out for the last time.


~~to be continued~~