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!

AN: Moving, new job, moving again, looking for another job...ah, Real Life...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Coming Home
by Becky Tailweaver

All in just a moment my whole life passed before me;
In just that time it left me cold and numb.
Lying in the darkness like there's nowhere else to be,
Wondering if there's nothing more to come,
Curiosity compels me and I open up my eyes;
Like another day the night is gone again.
The natural conclusion I'm about to realize:
This is the beginning or the end.
--Clint Black, "Wake Up Yesterday"

Part 13: The Beginning or the End

Conan sat on the lab chair that Ai directed him to. Although he was holding on to the hope that this would work, that this was really a cure, he still had doubts--as evidenced by the noticeable paleness of his features and the faint trembling in his hands. He could be walking out of the hell he'd been living in the last few years--or he could be walking willingly into his own death.

Either way, anything to do with the apotoxin process was always hurt like hell.

Ai's hands were shaking too, even as she kept her face businesslike and tried to make her breathing even. She hopped up to her own chair and began to prepare her supplies, small glass items clinking faintly and computer printouts shuffling.

"I think I've managed to convince myself this is okay," Conan finally announced quietly, wryly. "But...how about you, Haibara? Are you alright with this?"

Her hands stilled for a moment. "I'm not sure," she admitted with an ironic chuckle. "Once again, I've manufactured something that could kill you. And everyone has a lot of faith in me, considering everything I've..."

"Hey..." Conan leaned forward briefly. "I know...I was really mad at you...and I guess there's still some things that we haven't worked out, but...I think I'm starting to understand why you did what you did. Most of it, anyway." He offered a faint smile. "I've been forgetting that I'm not the only one who's been through some hell these past few years. All that aside, I'd like to think...we're still friends, right? At least a little, for old times' sake..."

Her back was to him, so he couldn't see how her face fell, but he could see her shoulders shake, her head lowering. He couldn't see the expression of shock that quickly turned to relief and then sorrow.


"Don't make this any harder than it has to be," she told him, her voice shaking. "I'd rather think you hated me...then this wouldn't hurt so much..."

He couldn't know what she meant, either. Not just administering the dose of "medicine" that could kill him, but the dose that could cure him--and send send him out of her reach, out of her life, forever.

Conan blinked, then glanced down. With what could happen, he didn't want things to stay sour between them. "Look, I said some things before...and even if this situation is shot to hell I know you were trying to help us. What I said then...God, I was so angry...I was completely out of my head. I've had time to calm down...and I've been thinking about things, figuring out what this is about..." He turned his gaze up again, but she would not turn around and look at him. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry I went off at you before. I might have every right to be angry, but you didn't deserve to have my panic and exhaustion thrown at you like that."

She shook her head. "Never mind that...never mind...you were right..."

"Am I forgiven?" he asked, wearing a shadow of his old grin.

"Baka," she retorted, wiping briefly at her eyes--though she still had not turned to look at him. "There's nothing to forgive. I'm the one who started this. And now I'm going to finish it..."

He nearly jumped a bit when she suddenly whirled at him. Her eyes were slightly red but she had put on her mask again, stern and brisk. "Are you ready?" she asked bluntly.

"I don't think I'll ever be ready for that stuff, but...yeah, let's do it." He let out a deep breath. "Now or never."

Ai nodded, fetching the last implements from her desk--a solution storage bottle and a glass syringe. Moving briskly, she secured a thin needle to the syringe and began to draw out a precise amount of the translucent, slightly reddish liquid in the tiny jar.

"Injectable, huh?" Conan laughed shortly, attempting to make light of his situation. "That's a change. And I always hated those trips to the doctor that required shots."

"I didn't have time to render it into a pill," Ai replied, concentrating on the syringe. "And there are some living substances in this solution that wouldn't react well to that process. This is simply the quickest, safest way to ensure success."

"Whatever works," Conan shrugged. "As long as it works..."

"I did the best I could," she admitted quietly, facing him at last with the loaded syringe. "But I still can't be completely sure. This substance is a combination of a carrier fluid, apotoxin trigger, and retrovirus. If it works the way I hope it will...your cells will pick up the codes from Yuuichi's DNA that allow him to filter the toxin. Since they're similar to your own genetic code--obviously, by your relation--there shouldn't be a problem."

"So you're pretty much hoping my body will take the hint from Yuu-kun's on how to get rid of the apotoxin?" Conan cocked an eyebrow.

She nodded. "I hypothesized it would work, based on the genetic readouts I got from Yuuichi-kun--and from him, I could make an educated guess on yours. Both of you--your genes are hardy and adaptive...more so than most normal people...but if it doesn't work and you can't adapt to this, then..."

Conan swallowed, but met her eyes. "I'm still willing to risk it. I have faith in you...and I'm pretty sure I can trust Yuu-kun's cells to help me out," he added with a brief snort of a chuckle.

She smiled in reply--a sad, hollow smile, but a smile nonetheless. Approaching with the needle and a tourniquet, she took a deep breath to focus herself. "Left arm," she requested succinctly.

He complied wordlessly, setting his left forearm on the chair arm to allow her access. Ai secured the tourniquet, then quickly swabbed an area with alcohol.

"This will be going directly into your bloodstream," she informed him quietly, trying to keep any shaking out of her voice. "It might cause some dizziness."

He only nodded, taking a deep steadying breath himself, watching her position the needle. "Oi," he nudged, with a shade of his old fatalistic humor, "if your hands keep shaking you might miss. Then I might only grow up on one side or something."

She couldn't help her tiny chuckle of laughter, shaking her head. It didn't do much to steady her hands, but it gave her focus as she repositioned her hands, took a deep breath, and slid the needle in.

* * * * *

Ran was rather surprised at the sudden hubbub when Akai came marching smartly out of Haibara-chan's office and ordered his men to begin preparing for the move. Instantly, all the soldiers in the room were on their feet and moving--packing everything that needed to be packed, securing important equipment, and tossing their bedding and belongings into duffels and carrysacks.

She sat on her cot, clutching a large-eyed and perplexed Yuuichi close, silent tears drifting down her cheeks as she hoped for Shinichi to come walking out that door across the room--tall, as he once had been, with a man's strides that would eat up the distance between them, long arms that would wrap her in warmth, and deepened voice to tell her that he was coming home for good.

Hell, who was she kidding? She'd be overjoyed to see Conan-kun coming out that door, if only it meant he was still alive.

"Mouri-san?" came the shy voice of Daisuke from beside her, making her jump a little as she was pulled from her inward thoughts.


"I-I'm really sorry," he told her. "I mean, I know you're...waiting, but...the boss says it's time to move. Is there anything you need while we're getting ready? Uh...we don't have any carseats for the little guy, but..."

Ran gave the poor young man an understanding smile. "Thanks for the thought," she said, trying to sound grateful through the tears she couldn't stop. "I think I'll just need Yuu-chan's coat--I left it...over there..."

There, on the floor, where it had fallen when she'd arrived to find her son safe and alive...where Conan-kun, Shinichi, had come following her trail to find them both...

"I'll get that for you," Daisuke offered, glad to be doing something to help, scuttling off to fetch the small garment.

Ran watched him go, then turned her eyes back to the door. Shinichi...please be okay...

"Kaachan?" Yuuichi queried softly. "Are we goin' home soon?"

"Soon, Yuu-chan," she replied, just as softly. She wished she had something more reassuring to say to her little boy, but there was nothing reassuring about encroaching death. "I don't know if we're going home...but I know we're going soon..."

* * * * *

The prick of the needle didn't even sting; she was more skilled than that.

At first, Ai drew blood in, letting opaque and transparent red fluids mix, before gently pushing the plunger down. Her fingers moved in a patient, gentle rhythm of draw back, push down, draw back, push down--never forcing the liquid, never letting it out in too high of a concentration.

They were both silent, both watching the potentially deadly syringe. Gradually, in uncounted seconds, the syringe was empty, and the needle was drawn back.

Ai hurriedly set the syringe aside and removed the torniquet, turning away to replace the items on her desk. She felt the same as she had when dealing with Yuuichi--giving him the apotoxin and praying that he would not die.

As she was praying now.

"Well," Conan announced, with another shaky breath. "So far so good. I didn't keel right over--that's got to be a good sign."

Ai checked the wall clock. "Five minutes," she stated. "We'll wait five minutes at least. Even Yuuichi-kun showed no reaction at first."

Conan had felt a warm, slightly tingly sensation slide through his veins as the solution was being administered, but that had faded even as the last milliliter of fluid disappeared through the needle. "No dizziness--yet," he reported at the end of a minute and a half. He caught himself looking over his hands and arms as if expecting something to happen--good or bad--and forced his eyes back up to the clock.

"Three minutes," Ai announced, still alternating between the clock and Conan. "You don't look flushed...do you feel anything?"

He shook his head, fighting off disappointment. "Not a thing. I don't get it--even with your old cure something would have changed by now. I'd have started getting feverish already."

"We're in uncharted territory with this," she replied absently, watching the second hand. "It may be nothing...it may be everything."

After many more far-too-long seconds, Conan let out a long breath, half of relief and half of frustration. "Five minutes. Nothing."

Ai let out a sigh of her own, but it was a much happier reason. "No reaction," she stated, almost unable to disguise her gladness.

Conan, on the other hand, was fighting off a crushing sense of disappointment. "Nothing. Dammit. After all this, nothing!" He slid out of the chair and all but stomped toward the door.

"Would you rather be dead?" Ai demanded, stopping him in his tracks.

"I'd rather be cured," he asserted, glancing over his shoulder with a look of almost petulant frustration.

"This isn't the end, Kudo-kun," she said, rising from her own chair. "We can try again. Later, when we're safe, we'll have time to try again..."

He relaxed a little, shoulders slumping. "Yeah...I guess so. And have to go through all this again, too--wondering if I'm going to die..."

"Kudo-kun..." She could see he was hurting again--not from the chemicals she'd injected, but from the bitter defeat he had once again suffered. She had seen the hope in his eyes at the mention of the possibility of a cure, and she had seen that hope dashed like brittle glass at his feet with yet another failure on her part. "I'm sorry..."

He glanced back at her again, his eyes gentler this time. "Hey, don't do that. You tried. And besides, I make a good guinea pig--when it works for me, we'll get you set up and then--"

"It won't work for me."

Conan blinked, quickly turning to face her completely. "What? What do you mean it won't work for you? It's the cure, isn't it?"

"It's the cure for you, Kudo-kun," she replied softly, offering the faintest of smiles. "Yuuichi-kun is your son. The whole treatment hinges on the fact that your DNA is compatible, plus that you and Yuuichi-kun are...special, genetically. It would never work for me; in fact, I'd say that your cure would kill me--one hundred percent chance of death. And even if I were to try to create a cure for myself--and that's if my offspring posessed the same survivability as you and Yuuichi-kun, which I highly doubt--by the time I can bear a child of my own...well, the point does become rather moot, doesn't it?"


She shrugged. "I don't mind, though. I've...grown accustomed to this. Resigned myself to it. For a long time, I've seen this change as...a way of leaving my old life behind. With my family gone and only sorrow behind me, I have nothing tying me to Miyano Shiho."

He stood there for long moments, staring at her, trying to find something to say.

But she wanted none of that. "Go on," she ordered, her face a businesslike mask again. "Get out of here. Go tell Mouri-chan you're still alive, before she comes looking for you. I'd rather she not karate my door to splinters."

"Yeah..." Conan swallowed once. "Thanks, Haibara."

Then he was gone, and she was alone in the silence of her lab once more--wondering if she'd wished too hard that it wouldn't work...

* * * * *


The sound of his voice brought her straight upright, nearly spilling Yuuichi onto the floor. She wasn't even able to distinguish between the voice of the boy she knew and the man he wanted to be--all she cared about was that it was him, and that he had returned to her.

"Shinichi--!" Leaving Yuuichi at the cot, she darted through the milling, hurrying soldiers--barely registering Akai at the corner of her eye, heading for the door Conan had just vacated. But that wasn't important right now--grabbing Conan up in a ferocious hug was. "You're alright...!"

"Ack!" Swept bodily off his feet by her embrace, Conan managed not to blush too badly--he returned the awkward hug and tried not to feel so embarrassed. "I'm fine, Ran--really. Uh, you can put me down now..."

"Sorry, sorry..." She was laughing and crying all at once, again, overjoyed to find him alive and whole. "I'm just so glad you're okay..."

Feet once more on the floor, he shrugged, still fighting off the bitter black disillusionment that threatened to swamp him--promising to return him to the broken-souled life he'd lived before today. "It didn't work," he confessed, looking down, his voice barely audible over the melee around them. "It didn't do anything. I'm sorry, Ran...I wanted to--"

"You're sorry?" she asked incredulously. "What for?"

He met her eyes, and his own were dark pools of regret. "I wanted to be me...for you, so..."

"Oh...you silly..." She bent low, to his eye level, to fix his gaze nose to nose with her tearful one. "You are you. Baka! I don't care how you look, or how tall you are. As long as you're here...as long as you're alive..."

The faint accusation in her gaze stung him. "I know...and I'm sorry I made you worry, but..."

Ran took a deep breath, rising to her full height again. "But we can worry about that later, right? We just have to survive tonight."

"Yeah..." Disappointment was still a sour taste on his tongue, but he couldn't allow himself to dwell on it. No matter that he was still trapped in the body of a child--no matter that the whole world still knew him as Edogawa Conan--he would still see to it that Ran and Yuuichi were safe. They would survive tonight, even if he didn't...

"Daisuke-kun told me they're loading everything into the vans," Ran told him, wiping at her eyes. "And then the team will split up to take alternate routes to their next safe place."

"Sounds like a plan," Conan sighed, feeling quite tired. It was much warmer out here in the main room, with all the bodies and activity. "How's Yuu-kun holding up?"

"He's okay," Ran replied, watching the little boy sitting on the cot by the wall. "He understands we'll have to go quickly and quietly. He knows there's danger. He's always been very intelligent that way...like you..." She smiled, trying to stay positive, but a fresh pair of tears appeared in her eyes. "But he's scared..."

Conan took a breath, wiping at a trickle of nervous sweat at his temple. "We'll be okay," he promised. "We'll all be okay."

She took his hand, and together they walked back to stay with the wide-eyed little boy on the cot, becoming an island in the sea of people moving to and fro. Ran sat beside her son, comforting him in a warm embrace.

"Did the medicine work?" was Yuuichi's first question, as Conan stopped wearily before him.

"No, not really," the older boy replied honestly. "Looks like Haibara still has some bugs to work out."

Yuuichi's face fell. "But she said it would work," he insisted, childishly stubborn. "You don't feel better?"

Conan's mouth twitched. "It wasn't like I had the flu or something..." he chuckled tiredly, ruffling the little boy's hair. "I didn't feel sick before, Yuu-kun. I still don't. The medicine wasn't for feeling better..." He glanced at Ran. "Well, maybe for feeling better about myself..."

But even as he glanced at her, he blinked at the worry in her eyes. He turned his head to face her fully--and nearly tipped over.

"Shinichi?" Ran asked, reaching out an arm to steady him. "Are you okay? You look...really pale and flushed..."

"I'm fine...I-I just..." He realized he was swaying--or was it the room that was swaying? "I'm...kinda dizzy..." he admitted.

Ran jumped to his side and held him up, stopping him from toppling to the floor. "Oh God, you're burning up...!" she hissed, testing his forehead. "Are you...?"

"Suh...something's...wrong..." he said hoarsely, his legs trembling beneath him.

Then his phone rang loudly in his pocket. Startled, he drew it out with shaky hands, unintentionally leaning on Ran for support. He managed to get the phone to his ear and inquired unsteadily, "Who is it?"

"You're out of time," bit out a terse, familiar voice. "They're here. You've got to move."

"Kuroba?" he choked. "What--?"

"No time, Kudo! Get the hell out of there, now!"

The line went dead.

* * * * *

Hattori Heiji was very, very bored.

Initially, he had signed on for this little adventure expecting a rescue mission--but had thus far done a lot of waiting. A whole lot of sitting on his ass--which he did not like doing when there were enemies afoot; it rubbed the swordsman in him the wrong way. He wanted to be out and about, moving--attacking, rather than waiting to be attacked.

Dammit, Kudo, I ain't your personal chauffer! he thought irately, tapping his fingers on his biceps as he waited impatiently, leaning against the motorcycle. Something had better happen soon, or I'm gonna go in there myself and read that little shrimp the riot act for makin' me wait out here like a cab driver...

He yawned, and proceeded to stretch enormously, arms high above his head. That done, he rose from his motorcycle to commence another period of restless pacing.

Just as he moved, a bullet pinged loudly off the brick wall, right where his head had been.

"K'so!" he yelped, ducking away from the loud ricochet and diving for cover behind his bike, eyes already searching for his attacker. "What the--?"

Another pair of bullets tried to find him, one hitting the wall above, the other sparking off the motorcycle's metal frame. What the hell--snipers? Shit, it's them! Screw it, Kudo, I ain't waitin' around any more!

Keeping low, he waited for the next couple of shots--then leaped for the seat of the motorcycle, kicked the engine to life, and roared out of the alley.

* * * * *

Conan's knees went out from under him as cold fear robbed what was left of his strength. Through the roaring in his ears, he could just hear Ran calling out to him, and Yuuichi's shrill voice nearby, frightened--but they almost sounded like they were underwater, and the whole room spun around him.

"Akai..." He tried to speak, tried to stand, fighting Ran's hands. "Quick...tell Akai...got to warn him...!"

Ran resisted his efforts, puzzled. "Shinichi--what are you...?"

"Let go--we gotta go--they're coming--!" He looked up at her, forcing himself to focus on her face. "You have to tell him--tell him they're here!"

Pale-faced with shock but quickly understanding, Ran nodded and left his side. "Akai! Akai! Haibara-chan!"

At the same time she went in search of the leaders of the little troop, Yakamoto jerked upright in his chair. "Alarm--!"

An explosion rocked through the building before he could finish--something far too nearby, the rumble drowning him out. For that instant, everyone was still--sharp-eyed soldiers and wide-eyed children alike, awe and dread rendering all of them silent.

Then Yakamoto was on his feet, throwing down his radio headphones and unclipping his sidearm, bellowing aloud at the men around him. "Code Black! Code Black! Evacuate! Move!"

Controlled chaos erupted again, accented by loud voices. Hurrying feet flowed around the boy crouched on the floor looking dizzy and ill--around the smaller boy who stood with him, trying to be brave.

"Niichan...?" Yuuichi quavered, somehow audible to him over the din.

"It'll be okay," Conan promised breathlessly, taking the child's hand and holding it tight. "Don't be scared, Yuu-kun...it'll be okay."

A second explosion, closer than the first, made the lights flicker and dim.

Akai burst out of Ai's office, nearly colliding with Ran--and interrupting her before she could even begin to explain anything. "I know, Mouri-san, I know! Move quickly--get your son and get ready. We'll go down the chute."

Ran blinked. "Chute--?"

"Move!" Grasping her roughly by the shoulder, he turned her bodily about and gave her a push back in the direction she'd come. Then he hurried to bark orders at the others. "Code Black, now get a move on! Eiji, dump and wipe! Yakamoto, pull the plug! Hiroshi--get Keisuke out of here, and do a head count on the other end! Ishita, take four and make sure they don't come in through those doors!"

"Aye sir!"

"Wh-what about the others?" Daisuke demanded, all but dancing in one place. "What about the guys on perimeter? Aren't you going to recall--?"

Akai fixed him with a glare, silencing him--and in that silence, they could hear the gunfire. "They're already dead. You--you've got Mouri-san, got it? Make sure she gets clear."

"Yessir!" Gulping, the young man snapped off a salute, training taking over despite his nerves. He darted off after Ran, already drawing his weapon.

"This is gonna be tight," stated another steady voice--Mamoru, who remained calm despite the situation. "They got here a lot sooner than we--"

"I know that, dammit," Akai bit out. "Nothing we can do about it now. Look...I want you on the kid."

Mamoru nodded. "Got it. I'll see to him. What about--?"

"I'll take Kudo myself."

"Right." Mamoru nodded again, sharply, then gave his commander a grin. "Catch you on the flip side, boss."

Without another word, the two separated, moving at a fast clip.

At the back of the room, not far from the lab wall, was a small door built into the plaster--which looked for all the world like a laundry chute. And perhaps it was; men and supplies were being bundled into the opening like dirty laundry, disappearing down the dark metal tube to parts unknown.

Ran was staying at Conan's side, trying to hold on to him and to Yuuichi at the same time. Conan was doing his best to stay on his feet, and the child who clung to Ran's leg was huge-eyed with fear.

"We've got to go, Mouri-san," Daisuke insisted, with Mamoru alongside him. "We'll make sure you all get out of here--but we've got to go now!"

"The chute will take us out to the warehouse below," Mamoru explained, a little less frantic. "It's not in the floor plan, so they won't know about it--they'll be expecting us to take the stairs."

Conan was anxious, frustrated with the growing sickness that plagued him, making him unable to act quickly in this emergency. And he was worried--he hadn't seen a sign of Haibara since before the fracas had begun, and the little "secret base" was rapidly emptying of bodies. "Wait...wait..." he demanded breathlessly, fighting to keep his feet. "Where...after the chute, where do we...?"

"There'll be cars waiting," Akai stated tersely. "We'll be able to go quickly once we reach the warehouse entrance. Now move!"

"Mouri-san, you're with Daisuke--he's your bodyguard," Mamoru said. "Stick with him like glue, got it?"

Ran nodded rapidly, but protested. "What about--?"

"I'll take care of your son, ma'am," Mamoru assured her with a smile. "I promise. I'll die before I let anything happen to him."

She let out a breath of relief. "Thank you."

"And I'll take care of this 'kid,'" Akai informed them, grasping Conan's upper arm and removing his weight from Ran's hands. The boy gasped as the sudden motion made his head pound and his feverish skin ache, but offered no protest.

"Go with them, Ran," Conan rasped, his breath coming in hard pants. "They can protect you...a lot better than me..."

"But Shinichi, you're sick--you need--"

"Go!" he cried, unable to fight both pain and emotion at the same time. "I'll be fine--you take care of Yuu-kun--!"

And then Mamoru and Daisuke were pulling Ran away, escorting her to the chute opening and helping her in. She was still pale, but there was determination in her eyes as they flashed back toward him, and that was enough to set Conan's mind at ease; she was strong, and she could see this through.

Daisuke followed Ran, and Mamoru reached for Yuuichi--who was clinging tight to Conan's hand, trembling faintly, confused but uncrying.

"Niichan...?" he quavered, large-eyed.

Conan concentrated, allowing himself to lean on Akai to gather strength. "Go with Mamoru-san...okay? Do what he says...he'll take you to Ran..."

Slowly, reluctantly, the little boy released his hand--after one parting squeeze--and stepped back, turning toward Mamoru.

"I'll take care of him," Mamoru assured him--then he was gone, wrapping Yuuichi up in his arms and taking the child down the chute in his lap.

"Just you and me, Kudo," Akai said, still holding on to the flagging boy's arm. "Can you make it down on your own, or do you need to ride in my lap?"

Despite the heat throbbing in his bones, Conan snarled. "I'm fine!" He jerked his arm free, teetered, but held firm. "Those men--downstairs--"

Akai's dark eyes fixed on him. "Shitty decisions, Kudo. They knew when I sent them down there they weren't coming back up. They're there to hold off the enemy."

Conan gaped, but Akai shoved him toward the chute, all but tossing him into it. With a yelp, he fell into metallic blackness.

The chute did not lead straight down; rather, it descended at a steep but definite incline, vertical enough to make it a rapid form of transit, just gentle enough to be safe. The darkness and the speed and the tumbling descent only made his head throb even worse--and then he abruptly exploded out into light and open air at the bottom, spilling into a hard pile of some kind of rough cloth that acted as a cushion.

Hands grabbed at him, dragging him upright, away from his landing spot. He struggled to focus his eyes, to hear the voices over the thundering in his ears; his surroundings spun around him horribly enough to make him nauseous, exacerbating his feverish tremblings.

"Holy shit, he's burning up--" he heard, an unfamiliar voice.

"Ran...where's Ran...?" he demanded, but his words came as hardly more than breaths of air. The hands pulled him along, their touch alone hurting him--searing his feverish skin and causing his aching muscles to cramp.

"Where's Haibara-kun? She needs to take a look--"

"--gone with Mouri-san, headed for the cars--"

"--if he dies Akai's gonna--"

"Let go," he gasped, trying to stop the spinning room. "Let me go!"

"--get back, watch it, give him some space!"

The hands released him, gently, letting him sag against...something, rough wood. The surface felt like it was tilting, and he couldn't even tell if it was the wall or the floor. His legs were giving out; the floor was probably down there even though it felt like the ceiling just now, and he was falling toward it...

He just managed to catch himself on his hands, but that was all; too weak to stop it, he threw up the remainder of his previous meal as another wave of hot irons throbbed into his bones.

"That had better just be nerves, Kudo."

Akai's sharp voice cut into the haze that surrounded him, making him grit his teeth against the humiliation as well as the pain. Anger crystallized, giving him a focus; using that, he pushed back, regaining ground he'd lost to the hot pain and sickness, forcing himself to sit upright and glare blearily at the man.

"Piss off..." he grated, wiping his mouth with a shaking arm.

Akai actually cocked an eyebrow. "Well. At least you're still fighting. Alright, Kudo, let's go. My men are already moving your family toward the cars. We should have a good five minutes on the enemy."

"I'll...get there..." God, this was a thousand times worse than any pill--sure, the damn things hurt, but it was over quick. This...

Impatient, Akai reached for him, grabbing him by the arm to haul him up again. The unexpected touch rattled through his muscles like firecrackers, making him give a sharp cry.

It was enough to startle the dark-haired man into releasing him. Akai stared at him for one unguarded moment--then scowled, irritated once more. "How bad is it?" he demanded. "And why didn't you say something earlier?"

"Came on a little quick..." Conan husked wryly in reply. "...and we've been...kinda busy..."

"It's the serum, isn't it?" Akai said lowly. It was not really a question.

Conan would have shrugged, but then that would have hurt too much. "Yeah. I'm either dying..." He fought down another wave of hot, dizzy nausea. "...or I'm gonna start...wishing I was dead..."

"Can you walk?"

The not-boy gazed at him with eyes that retained their fire, despite all the fever and pain. "Help me up..." He took a deep breath, swallowing his pride. "I'll make it...I have to...she's waiting for me..."

Akai reached out and, more gently this time--though he would admit that to no one--assisted Conan to his unsteady feet. The four men around them took up positions as they began their far-too-slow trek across the crowded storage warehouse.

* * * * *

Ran was worried--frightened, even--but Daisuke and the men around her assured her that Yuuichi was coming right behind her; that it was best not to move them in a single group so that they would not present an easy target...that she should not be afraid, even though she could hear guns firing not so very far away...

Where are the police? she wondered, stumbling along with Daisuke guiding her by the elbow. Surely someone heard the explosions...didn't they? Isn't anyone going to come?

"How much further?" she whispered breathlessly.

"The second door is at the south end of the warehouse," the young man at her side responded. "Our vehicles are hidden there. Don't worry, Mouri-san, we'll be out of here in no time."

She nodded, more to reassure him that his reassuring smile was effective; really, the poor man--barely older than herself--was on eggshells, torn between jittery nerves and sworn duty. He had promised to protect her with his life, but neither was he anxious to die.

Behind them, there was a tumultous crash, and the brief, staccato bursts of gunfire got louder. Daisuke tensed beside her, his mouth settling into a line. "Breach," he said softly, and the others with him nodded and thumbed their safeties off.

Ran got the feeling things had just gotten worse. The urge to go back and take Yuuichi up in her arms was almost unbearable.

The other three men around her were just as wary, moving quickly and confidently with their weapons at the ready. Ran had never much been comfortable around guns, but right now she found their presence to be just as solidly reassuring as the competent, experienced soldiers around her. She was safe with them, as they'd promised, and just behind them Yuuichi had another escort just like this one.

Ahead, there were only more dusty stacks of crates--old machine parts, metal frames covered in canvas, stacked piles of forklift pallets. It was a veritable maze--but she had an inkling that this little private army had left it that way for a reason.

She didn't even know what triggered the sudden shout from one of the men behind her. But she was tackled to the ground amidst a sudden flurry of motion--and the distinctive pwangs of bullets ricocheting off of concrete. Suddenly the gunfire was horribly, shockingly loud--it was coming from all around her, from the men sworn to protect her, firing back at the attacking enemy.

Daisuke and one other grabbed her by the arms and hurried her behind the nearest solid cover, while the rest covered their escape. She heard a man scream, one of theirs, and gave a single short, sorrowful cry of her own, crouched there behind a meager shelter with Daisuke beside her.

The young soldier was shouting into his headset radio. "Yakamoto! Yakamoto! We're pinned down!" He clicked off, swore, and then glanced at her. "God, I'm sorry Mouri-san...I don't know how they got in here so quickly..."

"Can we make it?" the second soldier shouted over the sporadic gunfire.

Daisuke looked bleak. "Not sure."

"Yuuichi!" Ran nearly shrieked--and would have stood, if Daisuke had not stopped her. "Yuuichi's out there--he's--"

"It's okay! Mouri-san--" Daisuke struggled against her briefly, forcing her attention. "Mouri-san, they won't bring him this way! He'll be safer if you stay here--don't lead them to him!"

White as a sheet, she nodded.

"I'll get you out of this, Mouri-san..." Daisuke reloaded his weapon and rose to a crouch. "Just hang on--I'll make sure you get back to your little boy."

And Ran could only wait, bleeding in her heart, as gunfire echoed all around her.

~~to be continued~~