By Nix Winter

Falling Shattering Losing

It wasn't a Kritiker hospital. It wasn't even hardly a hospital, just a clinic in some town large enough for three stop signs and a grocery store that still sold hardware and feed supplies. This wasn't in Japan and Aya could point to his location on the map, explain how to drive his car back the way he'd come, but he didn't know how to explain why he'd come here. Someone in Kritiker could probably explain why Youji had been sent here, though that would take more persuasion than Aya had been able to call forth.

So here he was, standing in this clinic in a town smaller than some malls in Japan, with a name he couldn't say, glaring at a nurse. Maybe it was a doctor. He couldn't really tell and she wasn't offering any information.

"I'm sorry," she said, shoving the photo back across the counter. "We don't have any blond Japanese men here. Did you try Seattle? They have everything in Seattle."

Aya tilted his head just slightly, knowing how completely unlikely it was that this woman did not know Youji. Her eyes had snapped back from the photo as if she'd been slapped. She knew him. Aya knew it. "It is important that I find him."

She moved away from the counter, crossing to the front door. "Then I suggest you try Seattle."

Aya did not move. He heard the bell ring as she opened the door, heard her foot tapping. "Do you smoke?"

"No. Of course not," she snapped, shaking the door a little, just in case he hadn't heard the bell.

Aya picked up the photo and tucked it back in his inside jacket pocket. "Then why does your clinic smell like cigarette smoke?"

"You're imagining things," she hissed. "Don't you dare! You can't go back there! This is my clinic!"

Aya was already into the back though. He smelled cigarette smoke, the slightly sweet, almost cigarish scent of Youji's French cigarettes.

There were four empty exam rooms, then a back door, a small lab, and Aya wasn't sure what to do.

"I am calling the Sheriff!"

Aya was good at ignoring people. A small town sheriff did not concern him. He had id that would identify him as Japanese intelligence. It was only quasi real, but it would work for a place such as this. Aya turned slowly around. The scent of that smoke was more intense now, impossible to ignore. Only Youji would smoke in clinic. Aya's nose twitched. Then. Then he saw the second bathroom, labeled with a big blue male/female sign, on a door that matched the exam rooms, not the other bathroom he'd seen out front.

It wasn't logical, and yet, that's where the smoke seemed like it was coming from.

Just as his hand was about to push the door open the doctor jumped between him and his target. He put a hand on her should and pushed firmly, gently to the side. With his other hand he pushed the door open, telling himself it was probably just a bathroom.

But it wasn't.

Youji wasn't smoking. He lay under a white sheet so clean and un touched it looked starched still, blond hair clean and fanning around a pale and too slender face.

"Youji!" Aya yelled, crossing to the bed, as if he'd wake up the slacker. The room stank of cigarette smoke! He couldn't be sleeping! "Kudou Youji! Do not pretend to be sleeping!"

"He's in a coma, you ass! He's been in one for a month! Don't you dare shake him!"

Aya's hand, which had been moving towards Youji's shoulder, moved instead to his face, to caress his cheek, then to trace the oxygen tubing, as if he needed to feel that it was real. "What happened?"

The doctor's hand fidgeted with something in her scub coat pocket and Aya realized she'd picked up a gun while he was searching the back rooms. She glared at him, her foot tapping nervously. "I don't know why he came to town. He was here for a couple weeks, like he was waiting for someone. These European guys, Eastern European, Romanian, they came to town one day. Then they started disappearing, one by one. And this girl, no more than sixteen or seventeen shows up one night in my clinic, so pregnant you would think she'd explode if she took a deep breath."

Youji's mission, Aya could draw the dots together. "What happened?"

"A couple of the guys came after her," The doctor said, closing her eyes, "There had been six to start with but only two were left. I don't even want to know where the rest of them went."

"Youji got involved?" Aya prompted.

She nodded. "It was after the baby was born. The girl went into labor, but it really wasn't early. He came out of no where," she pointed at Youj's sleeping self. "He strangled one of them, so face. I've never seen death that fast. He used to flirt with me, you know in the kind of way a dog will tease a cat, never meaning to catch it, just barking."

"Did you shot him?"

"No. The other man got the girl, held her as a shield, threatened to shot her. It's so much faster in real life, not like a movie or show. He," she motioned at Youji again, "He attacked and I guess the man really wasn't expecting it. There was a flash of wire and the girl screamed, but the asshole let her go, and it was just this guy and the asshole. The gun went off and blood sprayed every where. I thought they were both dead. It's three hours to the nearest real hospital, and at least 45 to get a helicopter ambulance in here. I put him back together as well as I could."

"That's been a month. Why didn't you tell anyone or move him? Somewhere where he could get better care?"

"Because then I would have had to tell someone about the men he killed and the girl. She wants to stay here. And everything that can be done for him, is. Other people have come looking for him, you know? There was another red head, German. But he didn't find him. How did you?"

Aya turned back to Youji, the back of his fingers against his cheek. He didn't say anything. What was there to say about ghost cigarette smoke? "I want what's best for him."

"You're a friend?"

"You could call me that," Aya said, thumb against Youji's lips. Or lover, but friend first.