Detective Conan

Blow Me Away

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: As always, the characters aren't mine and the story is! The title comes from the Breaking Benjamin song of the same name, which I think is a very accurate Gin image song. This was another little attempt of mine to explore some of the Black Organization's members' relationships with each other, or at least, the three main ones. And would you believe this story is here because of a dream? Every now and then, they are useful! I hope I have everyone in character. Also, there are a few brief references to my Ghosts story, but that does not have to be read in order to understand this. And I have added a couple of new scenes, and tweaked some others. I've felt for a while that this fic wasn't complete, and now I'm satisfied that it is.

Vodka blankly watched Gin's quiet form. The blonde had barely moved for the past couple of hours, delirious and sick from the poison that was coursing through his body. His green eyes were open, but unseeing, and his breathing was quick and shallow. He was obviously in a great deal of pain, and he was gripping chunks of the sheets in his fists. Vodka felt helpless. He could not do anything to ease his comrade's discomfort. He wished that they would render Gin unconscious, so that he would not have to suffer, but they could not because they did not know how the toxin would react to a sedative. And so Gin had to stay conscious as the poison drained the life from him.

In all the years Vodka had known Gin, he had never seen the blonde so ill. It did not seem right. Gin should not be laying near-death in the infirmary at one of the Black Organization's bases. He should be back in the Porsche, calm, cool, and collected, and lighting a cigarette. The thought ran through Vodka's mind that he might never see Gin healthy again, but he pushed it aside.

It had all happened so fast. . . . They had been dispatched to get rid of a man who had sabotaging the Black Organization's bases around Japan, but when they had been searching for him in a warehouse where he was supposed to be hiding, he had come up behind them and plunged a knife into Gin's back. Gin had still managed to kill their nemesis, but then had collapsed to the floor in agony. Vodka had been forced to pull the weapon out of his partner's flesh, and Gin had told him in a rasping voice to wrap it up and bring it with them. He had realized that he had been poisoned, and he had hoped that there would be traces of it on the knife that would be useful to the doctors. But so far they had not managed to figure out what the toxin was. They had warned Vodka that Gin very likely would die, but Vodka was not willing to accept that.

Gin was starting to mutter again now, saying something about Akemi and then Sherry that Vodka could not catch. After a moment his delirious rambles turned to the idea that the room was filled with some sort of demonic enemies, and Vodka felt his blood run chill as Gin yelled, "They're right there! Can't you see them?" It was more than a little disturbing, and Vodka did not know what to do.

"There's nothing here!" he protested vainly.

"They're everywhere!" Gin retorted, sitting up with wild eyes. Vodka suddenly had the feeling that he was going to get violent, and as he tried to decide whether to try to push the blonde back down and hold him there, or else to simply back away from him, Gin lunged and dragged him to the floor. He had always been a physically strong person, but Vodka had actually not expected it of him when he was suffering from the drug. The heavyset man yelped in surprise as Gin struggled with him, prying Vodka's gun out of its holster.

Once Gin got hold of the weapon, he stood up shakily, pointing it at whatever imaginary, nightmarish beings were haunting him. He fired off one round, then two, and Vodka got to his feet, simply gaping at his ally. He had obviously taken leave of his senses, and Vodka tried to grab at his left arm to wrestle the gun away before any serious damage was done. Gin could end up injuring someone, perhaps even himself, if he continued to possess the weapon.

Before he could take it back, however, Gin whirled around and held the gun at Vodka's head, his eyes devoid of all recognition. Paling in alarm, Vodka could only press himself against the wall that he was already in front of. Gin had held a gun on him once before, but Vodka had not truly believed that Gin would shoot him then, even though he had been nervous about it. Now, however, he honestly could not say what the blonde would do. He was out of his mind.

"Bro . . . you don't want to pull the trigger, do you?" Vodka swallowed nervously, staring into the glassy green eyes. "Come on, I'm not tryin' to hurt you!" Gin did not waver, and Vodka had the very real feeling that he was going to die. He heard the gun click.

Abruptly Gin's eyes flickered, the mists of confusion clearing slightly. He growled, stumbling back several paces, and dropped the gun before crumpling to the floor as he was hit by a sudden wave of vertigo. His mind was a muddle, and he could not think straight at all through the images and feelings that the poison was forcing on him. He was vaguely aware that he had almost killed someone whom he wanted alive, but beyond that he could not comprehend any of what was going on in the real world.

Vodka stared at Gin as the green-eyed man lost his balance and pitched forward. Before he could hit the floor, Vodka snapped out of his trace and grabbed his comrade, trying to steady him. If he had been at all able to, Gin would have fought off any assistance. But as it was, he was limp in Vodka's grasp, and this, more than anything else, disturbed him. Gin was so much more ill than Vodka had allowed himself to acknowledge at first. Now that realization hit him very strongly, and as he tried to guide and ease the blonde back onto the bed, he found himself honestly wondering whether Gin would make it through the night. He had thought before that Gin would be able to conquer the drug, in spite of any lingering doubts, but now he seriously had to wonder.

It was not too much longer after this that Gin slipped into unconsciousness, and Vodka had to admit that he was relieved. He slumped back into the chair, hoping that Gin would stay senseless until the antidote could be found---for both of their sakes. He did not think that he could take any more of Gin's mad rantings. And he was certain that Gin would be more peaceful now, unless the hallucinations would somehow continue in his subconscious mind.

He watched the blonde for a few moments longer, seeing how still he had become. His green eyes, usually so menacing and dark but now glazed and filled with anguish, had closed---not that Vodka could tell one way or another. They were completely obscured by Gin's thick fringe of bangs. The only real sign that he was alive was his breathing, which was still shallow but no longer quick, and the incessantly beeping machine monitoring his heart rate, which had slowed as well. Vodka sighed, also noting that the color had drained from Gin's flesh. The pale hue only added to his half-dead appearance, and Vodka soon had to look away in discomfort.

He started to wonder why he was staying there at all. He could not stand to see his partner in such a condition, and he had the feeling that Gin would not want him to, either. Gin was a very proud sort of person who abhorred showing weakness to anyone, even someone he had known for years. Or maybe especially then. Vodka felt in some way that he was intruding where he should not. Or perhaps that was just an excuse he was making up because he wanted to leave.

Of course . . . he did not know where he would go if he did. When he thought about it, he realized that he had almost always been with Gin since they had met. Generally they were always on some assignment for the Black Organization, and when they were not, they were usually still together. Neither of them particularly had anything better to do; Gin was not extremely impressed with people and preferred to stay away from the majority of them, and Vodka was not good at communicating with them unless it was on "business." But they had been together for so long now that they were used to each other's quirks, and tolerated whatever they had not grown accustomed to.

Vodka could not really imagine going somewhere around a lot of people who probably would not bother to realize that he wanted to be left alone, and then when he would snap and tell them so, it would only make things all the more uncomfortable. He would rather stay away from other people to begin with, especially without Gin there.

He was about to get up and begin pacing around the room when there was a soft knock on the door. In confusion he looked over at it. "What is it?" he demanded.

"I just wondered if I could come in," Vermouth's voice answered. Before Vodka could reply, the knob turned and the sultry blonde woman came partway into the room, leaning on the doorframe.

Vodka swallowed hard. He had not expected this, and he wished she would go away. He did not know how to act around her, especially. She made him nervous, and he could not help but remember the times when her taunting of Gin seemed to almost border on flirting with him. Either way, Gin had been annoyed with her, and Vodka was shy. Not that he would ever admit it. "What do you want?" he asked warily.

"Oh now, now, Vodka, don't be like that," Vermouth purred. "I just heard about what happened to Gin, and I thought I'd come see if he's really as bad off as everyone is saying he is." She glanced to the blonde assassin's body, and a brief flicker of surprise went through her eyes before vanishing. "He really is sick, isn't he," she murmered, coming over close to the bed. Her high-heeled shoes clicked on the floor as she did, and Vodka idly listened to the rhythm.

Vodka did not offer a reply. He shifted uncomfortably, watching Vermouth gaze at Gin with an unreadable expression. At last he spoke. "He wouldn't want us to see him like this. . . ."

Vermouth stepped back, a trace of a smile flickering over her features. "No, he wouldn't, would he," she mused softly. "He's always been like that, so stubborn." She looked back to Vodka. "Of course, I've never met a man who wasn't."

He looked away. It always felt as if her gaze penetrated through his sunglasses and right to his soul, and even though he thought the same when it was Gin studying him, it made him much more uncomfortable when it was Vermouth. He had the feeling that she knew it bothered him, too. "What do you really want, Vermouth?" he wanted to know as he addressed the floor instead of her.

If he had looked at her, he would have seen her amusement. But then it was swiftly gone again as she came to the point of her visit. "Dr. Takamisaki told me to come rout you out for a while," she admitted. "He wants to look Gin over again." She frowned a bit. "How long has he been like this?"

"Unconscious?" Vodka sighed as he got up. "I don't know . . . a couple of hours, maybe. Could be longer." He had long ago lost track of time, since there was not a clock in the room. It could have been a couple of days, for all he would know. It already had felt like an eternity.

Vermouth turned, heading back to the door. "It must be boring, being here with him like that," she commented.

Vodka followed her, glancing back at Gin before exiting the room. "He's quiet a lot of the time," he replied stiffly. For him, it was more a matter of discomfort than anything else. And he knew that he did feel some sort of concern for his ally. He did not want to see Gin suffering so much.

"But not like this," Vermouth pointed out, glancing back to him as they walked down the corridor. They stopped several yards from the room, and Vodka saw the doctor enter it through the door, accompanied by a nurse.

"Vodka. . . ."

He turned back to look at Vermouth, and he was surprised to see that her expression had softened slightly.

"It's alright to be honest," she told him now. "You don't want to lose him, do you."

Vodka was caught off-guard by the blunt question. He opened his mouth, trying to think of how to respond, but then he could not. He looked away again, frustrated with his lack of ability in carrying on a conversation with her. For Gin, it was different. He could talk to her, but he simply did not have the desire to do so. She would make a remark that he would find annoying and he would immediately shoot it down without a second thought. And she took it in stride. It was normal bantering for them, which Gin did not like and which Vermouth probably enjoyed. But with Vodka, he simply could not speak to her for very long before he became stymied. And he felt certain that she enjoyed that, too.

"Why are you asking me that?" he cried at last.

She smiled and winked. "A secret makes a woman, woman," she replied, and he flushed. He should have known that she would never give him a straight answer.

"Well," he said then, suddenly growing vexed, "if you won't answer my question, why should I answer yours?"

Vermouth blinked in surprise, but then chuckled softly. "You know, I think some of your partner's obnoxious behavior has rubbed off on you, Vodka. I would say it's rather endearing. Though I like it best when you're more . . . quiet." She was about to leave when she noticed Dr. Takamisaki coming back over to them. She frowned, taking note of his grim expression, and decided to linger for a moment to find out what was the cause of it.

"What's wrong?" Vodka asked apprehensively.

Dr. Takamisaki sighed. "Gin isn't doing well at all," he answered slowly. "He's completely unresponsive." He studied Vodka, seeing that the shorter man did not comprehend. He swallowed hard. Even when talking to hardened assassins, he found these sorts of tasks difficult. He never knew how they would react. And even some of the Organization's members cared in some way about each other, though he did not actually know what Vodka's feelings were toward Gin. Sighing again, he cleared his throat. "He's fallen into a coma," he explained.

Vodka stared at him blankly. That could not happen. It just did not seem possible. Gin was such a strong-willed person. How could he be overpowered like that?

Seeing that Vodka was too stunned to say anything, Vermouth looked back to the doctor. "What about the antidote?" she queried.

Dr. Takamisaki removed his glasses, rubbing at his eyes. "We did finally determine what poison was used, and we have the antidote," he admitted. "It was administered to him, but I'm afraid the poison has already become too advanced to stop." He looked back to Vodka. "Frankly, I don't think he's going to ever wake up. I think he'll be dead within another hour or two."

Vodka heard his words, but he still could not get them to fully sink in. Nor could he think of anything to say. Finally he simply walked past them both in silence, stopping at Gin's room and pushing the door open slightly to look in at him. There had not been any change. And according to the doctor, there would not be. He gripped the doorknob, mulling this over, and then shut the door again as he headed for the elevator. He had decided that he needed a drink.

There was a small bar at the base that the agents frequented, and this was where Vodka went now. When he entered, to his annoyance he found that there was quite a crowd, and they were talking over the sound of the loud music. Trying to ignore all of them, he went to the corner booth that he and Gin always used when they went there and slid into it. The waitress soon found him there and he gave her his order. Then, leaning back, he lighted a cigarette and tried not to listen to the agents in the booth next to his, but it proved difficult.

"Did you hear about Gin?" the first asked his two companions.

"Yeah," said the second. "Someone stabbed the guy with a poisoned knife. I didn't think that would happen to him. I thought he was always careful."

"Anyone could end up like that sometime, careful or not," the third pointed out.

"I know, but still. . . . I wonder if his partner could have done something."

By now the waitress had brought his drink. When Vodka heard the first agent make this comment, he nearly choked.

"You have to be kidding!" the third cried. "You know how mild-mannered Vodka is when he's not doing some assignment. He wouldn't have the nerve."

"He wouldn't have the heart," the second grumbled. "In case either of you are too dense to notice, he looks up to Gin a whole lot. He wouldn't do something malicious to his partner."

Out of habit, Vodka glanced over at the empty place across from him, half-expecting to see Gin there, lighting a cigarette and glowering over the way they were being gossiped about. But no one was there. Vodka clutched the now-empty glass tightly in his hands.

"But think about it," the first said. "Vodka would have had the opportunity. Gin trusts him enough to not think that Vodka would try to kill him. If he had wanted, Vodka could have easily taken a poisoned knife and plunged it into Gin's back, and then turned around and brought him back to the base so that it wouldn't look suspicious."

A shattering sound silenced all of them. Vodka stared at the remains of the glass as the pieces slipped from his hand and onto the table. He had not been watching what he was doing and had gripped it too viciously. His shock and indignation had finally boiled over. How dare they! How dare they accuse him of hurting Gin, when he could not stand the thought that the other would likely die?

He got up, mumbling an apology to the nearest waitress. She could put the bill on his tab, for all he cared. He had to get out of here.

"Hey," he heard the first agent say, "isn't that him there?"

"He probably overheard everything," the second gasped.

"I guess that serves us right," remarked the third.

Not wanting to have anything to do with them, Vodka went out the closest exit. He stayed outside, gazing up at the sky as he smoked a cigarette of his own. He was shaken by what had taken place in the bar just now. He could not understand why they would accuse him of stabbing Gin. He had never done anything to indicate that he was unhappy with the blonde. And he was not. He had been perfectly content to be Gin's partner.

He did not know how he felt about Gin's imminent death. All he knew was that he did not want it to happen. It felt so wrong to him. He did not know if he could ever get used to the blonde not being there. It was only now, when he realized that he might lose the other, that he fully understood how much he had taken Gin for granted. For so many years now, Gin had just always been there. Usually he was quiet, as Vodka had told Vermouth, but still, he was there. Vodka had come to depend on that. And for someone who was a loner and had often been ostracized, it meant a lot just to know that there was a constant like that—someone who did not judge, but instead simply accepted. Vodka wanted that to remain.

He glowered at the sky. Vermouth was right---he did not want to lose Gin. He doubted that Gin would care, if their situation was reversed, but that did not matter. Vodka was still not ready to let him go. And sometimes he still did wonder if there was the slightest possibility that Gin did care about him. After all the time they had spent together, maybe there was some chance that Gin had gotten used to him enough that he would not want to be without him. But with Gin, it was hard to know.

Sometimes Vodka had the feeling that not even Gin really understood a lot of things about himself. He often seemed to doubt that he could possibly and genuinely care about someone else, or that he could ever do anything kind, such as when they had ended up involved trying to protect Ayumi Yoshida from the pedophile Yusuke Ushio. But Vodka himself had been surprised by Gin's actions, and the extents he had gone to in order to keep the child safe. He had known that Gin loathed men such as Ushio, and yet he had not thought that Gin would ever actively work against Ushio---though Gin had not set out to, it was true; it had just happened that way. Vodka sighed, deciding that he did not really know Gin at all, even after all the time they had worked together.

He remembered Ayumi asking him at one point if he believed that Gin was truly a good person, somewhere deep down. He had not known at all what to tell her, overwhelmed by being put on the spot like that. But he supposed that he had never thought that Gin was all bad; he knew of many far worse than him, with Ushio being one of them. It was true that Gin was an assassin, but Vodka felt that Gin could be a much more terrible person than he was.

He was startled out of his thoughts then by the sharp ringing of his cell phone. Feeling a bad foreboding, he took it out of his pocket and opened it up, holding it to his ear. "What is it?" he asked, not bothering to say hello.

As he had half expected, it was Vermouth. "Vodka," she said slowly, and then did not seem to know how to continue. At last she took a deep breath and spoke again. "Gin is dead."

Vodka gripped the phone tighter. It was what he had known he would hear, but that did not make it any easier to bear. "When?" he asked finally.

"A few minutes ago. They . . . haven't taken him away yet . . . if you want to see him."

Vodka considered that for a moment. He still could not believe what he had been told. He doubted he would unless he saw for himself. "Alright," he replied then, and hung up before Vermouth could say anything more. Putting the phone away, he turned and headed for the main building on the base.

He did not know what he had been expecting to see. Maybe he had still thought that Gin was not really dead, that he would go in and find that it had been a mistake, that Gin was still breathing faintly, or some such thing. But as soon as he walked into the room, he knew that Gin was gone. He felt it. And as he approached the body and looked down at it, he felt a chill run up his spine. Actually, the blonde did not look much different than he had when Vodka had seen him before. He was still pale and motionless, and he still looked pained. But now there was not any trace of breath, and the machines had been unplugged.Gin, the feared assassin of the Black Organization, had truly passed away. And in that moment, Vodka felt such a profound feeling of emptiness that it seemed to literally wash over him, dazing him, causing him to stumble back.

Vermouth looked at him sympathetically as the sheet was pulled over the lifeless form. His mind reeling, Vodka shook his head and turned away. He did not want her pity. He did not know what he wanted, only . . . only he wished that this had not happened. He wanted Gin to be alright. But it was too late for that.

Somehow he wandered back through the halls to where the agents had their quarters when they were at the base. He was in a daze, and he moved on autopilot as he found the suite that he and Gin had shared and unlocked the door. Shutting it behind him, but forgetting to lock it again, he collapsed into one of the chairs in the living room area and simply stayed there for a while, staring off into the distance and still trying to comprehend what had happened.

Gin was dead. He had seen his empty shell, pale and lifeless. But a few hours ago, Gin had been fine. Vodka remembered talking to him as they had gone searching for the man who had ended up being responsible for ending the blonde's life. He had not had any eerie premonitions that he would never again have a normal conversation with Gin, and that before the night was over, his partner would be dead. He had not suspected in the least that any of what had happened would take place. It had only been a few scant hours earlier, and yet it seemed as if that had been another lifetime.

"Bro . . . who do you think is doing this?" Vodka glanced to Gin and then out at the darkened highway. This had not been the first time that their bases had been attacked by a mysterious person, but this time it seemed different than before. In the past there had been more than one. Now it seemed as if was being done all by a single man bent on the Black Organization's destruction. They were not sure whether the perpetrator could be a fellow agent turned traitor, or if it was someone on the outside, though it did seem strange that someone who had never been part of the syndicate would know the exact locations of many of the bases.

"I don't know," Gin admitted, his eyes narrowed darkly. "There have been reports coming in that Chardonney has lost her mind after that mission that she and Sake were on when they went to Okinawa." He threw his cigarette out the window and glared ahead.

"Do you think it's true?" Vodka asked hesitantly.

Gin grunted. "It could be. All I know is that they haven't been back to any base since then. The last communiqué we got from Sake was a brief message saying that they'd completed their objective on Okinawa, but not saying a word about when they'd return." He turned off the highway once they neared the docks. It was much darker there, and Vodka squinted as he tried to make out the various shapes that were all around the abandoned buildings and warehouses. Most were crates, but some almost appeared to be figures, watching them. But he knew that was merely his imagination.

"Whoever's been doing this, they're supposedly in this area now," Gin muttered, "since the last base they attacked was the one we've been at." And a significant amount of damage had been done to it, as well. Several of the communications rooms and part of one of the laboratories were in shambles. It would take a long time to repair what had been done, and several agents had been killed during the attack. Gin was certain that someone on the inside had done it, and he was disgusted.

He parked the car to the side of one of the buildings and then stepped out, his gun held high. Vodka followed, starting to feel edgy about what they would find.

As it turned out, they did not find anything for some time. Most everything there was deserted, and it was not until they came to the seventh warehouse that they caught the saboteur. At first it seemed vacant, too, but then Gin was sure that he could hear light breathing in the shadows. When he tried to investigate, that was when the knife was plunged into his back. He gasped in pain, falling forward, and Vodka stared at him in confusion and alarm before taking notice of the weapon.

"Bro! . . ." he gasped, his eyes wide behind the dark sunglasses. He was about to move forward to try to get the blade out when their saboteur stepped out of the shadows, bearing several other knives in his hand. It was not Chardonney or Sake, or anyone whom Vodka was familiar with. But Vodka did not stop to ponder over it. Immediately he shot the person before another knife could be thrown.

The bullet caught the mysterious man in the arm, and the weapons fell. But he was still holding another in his left hand. Hissing in pain, he reached to throw it at Vodka.

The next bullet got him in the head, and he fell back against the wall and slumped to the floor, dead. Gin breathed heavily, watching him fall, and then shakily lowered his smoking gun. "He must have been the one," he growled, feeling his vision spinning. "Several of the agents back at the base were stabbed with knives like this . . . and by the time they were found, they were dead. . . ." Losing his balance, he crashed onto the floor, the gun falling from his hand. Perhaps he knew at that point that he would not survive. But Vodka would not accep that.

He knelt down beside his comrade, grabbing hold of the handle and trying to ease it out of his flesh. Gin tensed in pain, but gripped at the floor and allowed Vodka to do what had to be done. "Find something and wrap it up," he directed, his voice rasping as he felt his associate pressing something against the wound to stop the bleeding. "There might be some traces of poison on it."

Vodka knew in the back of his mind that Gin had been poisoned, but he did not want to acknowledge it. It seemed too . . . surreal. But hearing Gin say it forced him to actually stop and take note of it. This was not a simple stab wound that Gin could easily recover from. Already he looked ghostly pale, and it was then that Vodka first realized that he might die.

Shakily he wound a handkerchief around the knife's blade, trying to hold it so that Gin's blood would not drip onto his hand. It seemed eerie, to see the crimson trails fall off the blade and onto the floor, making small puddles. Quickly he set it aside, reaching to help Gin get up. But Gin weakly pushed him away, struggling to make it up by himself.

He forced himself to his knees, and then after several more minutes, succeeded in standing. His eyes revealed that he was suffering, but he gripped the wall and pushed forward, heading for the door. Vodka watched him, hoping that he was not so badly hurt as all that, since he was able to get up without assistance. But then again, Gin always pushed himself too hard in order to do everything without help, even if he needed it. He stumbled several times, but somehow made it back to the Porsche.

Even he knew that he could not drive, however. Shaking, he collapsed into the passenger seat and leaned forward, willing the dizziness to stop. He hated this. He was certain that he was appearing weak to Vodka, and that was something unacceptable to him.

He wondered why he had not heard the person coming with the knife until it was too late. Had there truly not been any indication that he was approaching, or had Gin just not been concentrating well enough? He despised the thought that he could have prevented this, and he ran things over in his mind several times, trying to remember exactly what had happened. He knew that he thought he heard the saboteur's breathing coming from a certain direction, but when he had gone there, the person had suddenly vanished. And then, the knife had just slammed into his back.

Vodka slowly got into the driver's seat, setting the knife aside in the glove compartment. He regarded Gin with concern, seeing how the blonde was slumped over, propped against the inside of the door. He had a hand to his forehead and looked very ill, shuddering now and then from the effects of the poison. Vodka swallowed hard, wanting to do something for him but knowing that he could not do anything---except to get him to the base as fast as possible.

But that had not been good enough. He lit another cigarette, staring off into the distance. He wondered if a few more minutes would have made any difference. Most likely not, though. Gin had been so far gone hours earlier. Vodka could never forget how disturbing it had been to see him so delirious and out of his mind, and to then be attacked by him. Perhaps death had been a release.

Still, he wondered why the antidote could not have done something for him. Gin had surely not wanted to die, so why he had not fought harder to stay alive? Vodka sighed, knowing that the poison had simply been stronger than Gin. But that did not seem right.

He did not know how long he remained there, lost in his thoughts of the past, but he was suddenly startled out of said thoughts by several screams from down the hall. Bewildered, he stood up and was about to open the door to see what on earth was going on, when the door was abruptly flung open as someone entered. As Vodka took it all in, he suddenly felt somewhat lightheaded.

The tall figure who had just stumbled in was breathing heavily. With one hand he gripped at the doorknob, and with the other he held a sheet firmly around his waist. Other than that odd attire, he was not wearing any clothes. He looked up from behind blonde bangs, and Vodka caught sight of the green eyes.

Though Vodka did not actually faint from shock, what he did do was not extremely practical either. He simply gawked at the dead man, astonished by his reappearance, and decided that he must be having a hallucination now. Or maybe he had fallen asleep and this was all a dream. Either of those explanations would make sense. The idea that Gin was actually alive and standing in front of him, did not.

At last the apparition spoke, his voice tinged with irritation. "Why are you looking at me like that?" he demanded. "I'm not dead." He shut the door behind him but continued to clutch the knob, looking dizzy and apparently wanting nothing more than the chance to collapse somewhere and rest. The emerald eyes were tired and weary, but within them Vodka saw many emotions that he had been certain he would never see from this person again---first and foremost, recognition and sanity. He was alive and yet he could not be. It violated all rules of sense.

"But . . . bro . . . you were!" Vodka cried, finally finding his voice. "I . . . I saw you, just laying there in the bed! You weren't breathing, and you didn't have a pulse. . . . You were a goner!" He swallowed hard, still half wondering if he himself was delirious now. "They . . . they tried to give you the antidote for the poison, but they said that . . . that the poison was too strong, and that you were gonna die. . . . And you did!"

Gin grunted. "That's impossible," he retorted. "You must have only thought I was dead." He stumbled, and Vodka realized that the blonde badly needed help despite never wanting to have to ask for it. "The drug probably slowed down my heart and my breathing so much that it looked like I'd died." His eyes narrowed. "I woke up in the morgue with only this sheet around me!" He gave Vodka an extremely irritated look, as if to say how hard it is to keep one's dignity in such a situation.

Finally fully accepting that Gin was indeed still alive, Vodka snapped out of his trance and went over to him. "Bro . . . you should sit down," he said, still reeling from the shock in spite of having acknowledged it. He reached out to try to steady the blonde, but Gin brushed his hand aside as he forced himself to stand up straight and to move away from the door. Vodka had to admit that he was relieved by the action, as it showed that Gin was feeling much better than he had been. Still, though, he knew that Gin was extremely weakened from the poison and the stab wound and that he should not continue to be up and around.

"I should get some clothes on," Gin grumbled now, and painstakingly maneuvered around the furniture as he headed for his room. Vodka just watched him with a mixture of dazed awe until he disappeared into his room and shut the door behind him.

Abruptly there was a knock on the front door and Vodka started, looking back at it. He was pondering over who that could be and what they wanted when Gin's door opened and he looked out, perturbed.

"Don't tell anyone I'm here yet," he grumbled. "The doctor would try to get me to go to the infirmary, and there's nothing there that will make me feel any better right now." He started to close the door again, but then thought of something else and stopped. "And he or anyone else who might be there will probably want to see me, out of curiosity. The last thing I want to be is an exhibit." He shut the door again then, leaving Vodka to answer the knocking.

When he did, he was not surprised to find Dr. Takamisaki standing there, looking both bewildered and annoyed. "What kind of joke are you trying to play?" he cried.

Vodka sighed to himself. "What joke?" he queried.

The doctor glared at him. "Everyone on this floor, and on 3, is saying that your partner ran out of the morgue and terrorized all of them as he went down the hall and got in the elevator!" he reported. He was completely flabbergasted by the claims. Naturally it could not be true, he knew, so the only thing he could figure out was that Vodka was somehow doing something, for whatever reason.

Vodka thought of how Gin had staggered into the room, and he highly doubted that the blonde had "ran" to or from anywhere. "Why would I play a joke like that?" he asked, frowning a bit. That was the last thing he would have ever dreamed of doing. He would not think of disrespecting Gin in that way, and he did not know what Dr. Takamisaki would think that the point in such a thing would be.

"I don't know!" Dr. Takamisaki exclaimed in despair, throwing his hands up in the air. "But all of them swear it was him!" He looked at Vodka suspiciously. "And his body is gone from the morgue."

Vodka leaned on the door, wanting to close it. "People don't come back from the dead," he countered.

The doctor glowered. "I know that," he snapped, "and that's why I thought maybe you'd . . ." He trailed off with a sigh. "I'm sorry," he apologized then. "I know it wouldn't be like you, to do something like that. I just . . . I don't know how to explain this!" He ran a hand through his hair. "But I shouldn't have come here like this. You lost your partner, and now I come accusing you of taking part in some scheme to make it look like he came back. You must still be in shock."

You've got that right, Vodka thought to himself. "Well, I haven't even heard anything about that," he answered truthfully, and started to close the door.

Dr. Takamisaki nodded slowly. "I'll leave you alone now," he said, and turned to leave.

Suddenly thinking of something, Vodka called after him. "Hey . . . is it possible that . . . that Gin wasn't dead after all?" he asked hesitantly, thinking of how the blonde had explained what must have happened.

The physician turned back, surprised and indignant. "Are you suggesting that we don't know when someone is dead?" he demanded.

"No," Vodka replied slowly, remembering how still and lifeless Gin had looked earlier. "But . . . what if the antidote worked after all, only it just kinda . . . made him look dead while it was takin' effect? Or . . . or maybe he really was clinically dead, but the antidote was able to bring him back, the same as artificial respiration can do. . . ."

Dr. Takamisaki frowned, considering this. He had never personally witnessed this poison before, nor had he before seen how the antidote worked. It was a poison only available in certain crime syndicate circles, developed by a rival organization, and they had been extremely fortunate that they had been able to procure the remedy. But that also definitely raised questions of who the saboteur had been working for. "I . . . I suppose that could be so," he admitted finally. "But . . . if Gin truly did revive and leave the morgue, wouldn't he come here?" Again he studied Vodka with suspicion.

The heavyset man only shrugged. "I guess so," he answered, and shut the door. The physican glared at the slab of wood before turning and wandering back up the corridor, knowing that he would not receive any more information at this point.

As Vodka came back into the living room, he blinked in astonishment when he heard the shower being turned on in Gin's bathroom. He wondered how the green-eyed man planned to stand up long enough for that, since he had looked ready to collapse upon entry. But he sighed and shook his head, knowing that Gin would do whatever he wanted, no matter whether anyone else believed that he should. And so he simply sank into a chair, continuing to ponder over what a strange night this had been. He had not gotten any sleep at all, he realized. But he doubted that he would be able to for a while yet.

The morning hours passed by lazily. Gin dried his hair and then got dressed, collapsing onto his bed. He gazed up at the ceiling through blonde bangs, thinking over what had happened. He remembered very little after Vodka had gotten him back to the base. The poison had been taking over by that time, and Gin decided that it was just as well that he did not recall the rest. He did have scattered memories of shooting at demonic creatures, and that was plenty. Painstakingly he rolled onto his side, being careful not to reopen the stab wound on his back, and dozed.

Vodka finally fell asleep as well, in the chair, and awoke some time later feeling stiff. For a moment his thoughts were clouded and he could not recall what he had been doing before his unplanned slumber, but as he stumbled up and glanced to Gin's closed door, it all came rushing back. He hesitated, wondering if he truly had been dreaming after all. Perhaps Gin was not alive at all, but cold and lifeless in the morgue.

After another hesitation, Vodka finally went over to the door and knocked softly, thinking that if Gin was not there he would feel extremely foolish even though no one would be seeing him do this. There was not a reply, and Vodka waited for what seemed an eternity before finally turning the knob. He could only hope that Gin would not be too furious with him for peering in without receiving permission. Of course . . . maybe Gin was not there to be angry with him.

Vodka let a small shaft of light shine into the darkened room, and that was enough to allow him to see that Gin was there on his bed, laying on his side and obviously in a deep sleep. Vodka noted that Gin was breathing as he quietly shut the door again. So he had not dreamt it at all. Gin was alive, somehow. He relaxed.

He realized then that he was hungry. He could not remember the last time he had ate, but it must have been before all of this had occurred. Doubting that Gin would wake up anytime soon, he decided to go down to the cafeteria and find something to eat.

As he stepped out of the suite and into the hall, he was not extremely pleased to see Vermouth heading in his direction. He half wanted to go the other way, but to get to the cafeteria, he would have to go past her. And she would probably follow him anyway. He sighed to himself and knew that he would have to bear it, so he walked forward to meet up with her.

"Have you heard the rumors?" she purred when he nodded to her and walked past. As he had known, she changed direction and walked beside him, and he assumed that she had been coming to talk to him about this in the first place.

"What rumors?" he mumbled as they came to the elevator. He pressed the Down button, and got on when the doors opened.

She stepped in beside him. "Oh, about Gin, of course," she smiled. "That he's back from the dead."

"That doesn't happen," Vodka replied, wishing that he would not be starting to blush from her attention.

She did not seem to notice, or if she did, she said nothing. Instead she leaned against the flat bar. "So you don't believe it, then?" she asked, studying him with her ice-blue eyes.

He was suddenly glad that she could not see his, but he supposed that it did not matter. He still felt as if she could. "Maybe he was never dead in the first place," he answered, and then suddenly became aware that the elevator was not moving.

"Oh, that's an interesting thought," she mused thoughtfully, as if it had not occurred to her. Then she looked at him with amusement. "What floor?"

He felt frustrated with himself. "The ground floor," he replied, and since she was closer to the panel, she pressed the button.

She gave him a smile that could have been a smirk. "You didn't seem at all surprised when I mentioned the rumors," she remarked. "You must have already known."

"Dr. Takamisaki came and told me," he responded. "He thought maybe I was pulling something." He wished the elevator would go faster.

"Oh, but you'd never," she answered in mock shock.

"No, I wouldn't." Vodka started to study the structure of the elevator. Had those panels at the top always been there? He had thought that the ceiling was all one section. And the carpet was a lot scruffier than he had remembered. Someone should clean it, or just replace it altogether.

At last he felt the elevator jerk, then come to a halt. The doors opened, and he walked out in relief. At least if Vermouth insisted on continuing to follow him, they would not be by themselves now. Other agents were milling around, coming and going to their various stations and assignments, and he could see several in the cafeteria. He relaxed, somewhat.

"Maybe you should get something for Gin when you're in there," Vermouth remarked as she brushed past him. "Something light, of course. After what he's been through, he shouldn't start off with a large meal."

Vodka just stared after her, dumbfounded. She had known all along.

"Well . . . this only proves what we already knew," she said after a moment. "Gin is a stubborn man." She looked back, giving him a wink, and walked off down the hall, her shoes clicking on the floor.

Vodka continued to gape before finally getting control of himself. She's right about that, he thought to himself, and turned away. I don't think I've ever met anyone that stubborn before. It looks like Gin was stronger than the poison after all. Or at least, more determined. . . . Or maybe some of both.


When he got back to the suite a bit later, he was surprised to find that Gin was awake. The blonde was sitting in a chair in the living room, smoking and looking world-weary, the way Vodka had always remembered him. He was still very weak, and he appeared somewhat frail—his skin still a color much lighter than normal. Vodka wondered if Gin should be smoking already, and yet he knew it was useless to say anything about it.

"I . . . brought you something from the cafeteria," he said now, slowly setting the bag down on the table. "I didn't think you'd feel like eating much, so it's just some applesauce and some things like that."

Gin looked in the bag and nodded slowly, as if in approval. Then he leaned back against the chair, his green eyes becoming visible through the thick bangs. Vodka still wondered sometimes how Gin could see. When he looked into those eyes now, he saw a whirl of emotions—confusion, exhaustion, irritation—and he wondered what the other was thinking. He wanted to ask him that, and other things, but he knew how much Gin disliked being questioned.

At last the blonde spoke. "Are things still in an uproar?" he growled, remembering all too well how he had turned the base upsidedown by leaving the morgue.

"I think it's calmed down now," Vodka answered slowly, sitting across from Gin in another chair. "But I guess . . . you really did startle a lot of people. . . ."

Gin smirked slightly, placing the cigarette between his teeth. "Heh. Including you," he stated in a matter-of-fact tone.

Vodka looked down, remembering his utter astonishment over seeing the other stagger through the door, clutching at the sheet around his waist. "Well . . . you've gotta admit, bro . . . people coming back from the dead isn't something that happens every day. . . ." Vodka still wondered if the initial shock had not worn off. It seemed to him as if this must be a fantasy while Gin's death had been the only reality. And yet he knew he was awake. Gin was alive.

"I told you, I wasn't dead," Gin answered, a hint of annoyance in his voice. He put out his cigarette in the ash tray and took hold of the bag, pulling the items out of it for inspection. After a moment he decided on the applesauce and reached for the plastic spoon.

Vodka swallowed nervously. "But . . . you were, bro," he said then. "You were clinically dead. I saw your body. . . ." Involuntarily he shuddered. Gin did not seem to remember the past night's events very clearly, but Vodka recalled them too well, and he wished that he did not. He would be content to block them out, instead focusing on the strong and silent Gin he had known for years. He did not want to think about how sick the blonde had been earlier, when he had been ranting and raving about phantom demons in the room, or when he had lapsed into a coma. He did not want to remember going and looking at Gin's dead form and realizing that he was alone.

Gin looked up, seeming thoughtful. "I wonder if we really have an accurate system to determine when someone's dead," he mused. "We have all these methods used for bringing people back to life, but do they really work? Are those people truly dead, or do we just think they are because there's something we don't understand yet? Maybe they're still alive, but we think they're dead and that we're bringing them back, making us some sort of gods. That's what we seem to want, after all—to be all-powerful."

Vodka blinked at him, then nodded slowly, surprised by his sudden decision to get philosophical. Or maybe Gin was just saying what he was now because he did not want to accept that he had been dead. In any case, Vodka did not want to debate over whether or not his comrade actually had passed away for a certain amount of time. Gin was back now, and that was the only thing Vodka cared about.

"Vermouth knows you're back," he said after a moment of silence.

Gin grunted. "She likes to know everything that happens on the base," he commented, a touch of vexation in his voice. "Before long she'll probably come up here to bother me."

Vodka sighed, knowing that he was probably right. And that was something that he was not looking forward to. He decided to enjoy the quiet for as long as he could. It was nice to have things back to normal.

Then he swallowed, remembering what the agents in the bar had been saying about him. Not wanting Gin to hear the rumors from someone else, but not knowing how he would react at all, the heavyset man looked at the other nervously. "Bro . . . some of the agents have been saying that I was the one who stabbed you," he said uncomfortably.

Gin glanced up, his green eyes narrowed. "Why would they say that?" he demanded.

Vodka shrugged helplessly. "They didn't mention any motive that they thought I might have," he answered. "They just said that I could've had the opportunity."

Gin grunted. "You were off to the side," he said flatly. "You weren't close enough. And anyway, we killed the one responsible." This was his way of letting Vodka know that he was aware that the other could not have been the attacker.

Vodka nodded slowly. But he wondered if that was the only reason why Gin felt that way. In other circumstances, would he have believed that it was Vodka? The thought made him anxious. Surely Gin trusted him more than that. . . .

Gin set the now-empty applesauce container aside, leaning back in the chair. Whether he sensed Vodka's discomfort or not, he put him at ease with his next comment. "You wouldn't hurt me anyway, though," he said flatly. "Anyone who knows you at all should realize that."

Vodka looked at him, his relief apparent. He nodded again. "That's right," he acknowledged.

Gin closed his eyes, but did not sleep. He would recover, but it would take a while. And once he did, he intended to get to the bottom of this mystery. He wanted to know who his attacker had been working for, if anyone. But for now he just wanted to rest.