Thank you to everyone who has reviewed! I've greatly enjoyed writing
about these characters, and I hope that everyone will stay with me as
I continue to pursue DC-related projects. This tale isn't over yet! I'm thinking that it will be a trilogy, at least.
Gin did not know how much time had passed when he finally regained consciousness. It took him a while before he was even able to wrestle open his eyes. Slowly he focused on the dimly lit room he was in, becoming aware of the steady beep of the heart monitor. He hated those things. Not only were they simply annoying in and of themselves, but their presence meant that he was in the infirmary wing. Actually, when he remembered all the bullets that had come raining into his body, he supposed it was surprising that he was not in the morgue. He smirked weakly. Ling still had not won.
He was gratified to see that he was wearing a robe and not a hospital gown---confounded things. As he shifted slightly, several locks of his hair fell over his shoulder and he noticed that it had been freshly washed from whatever blood had stained it after the shooting.
Feeling something warm snuggled by his side, he glanced down and saw Ayumi curled up there, having laid her head against his chest. She seemed to be asleep, and she looked exhausted. He also noticed that his arm was around her, and he wondered if she had done that or if he could have done it in his senselessness. Then he fully realized that they were on the base, and his eyes widened. What on earth was Ayumi doing there?
Gin started at the voice and looked around, soon finding Vodka wearily sitting in a nearby chair. His partner looked relieved to see him awake, and Gin tried to find the strength to speak. At last he managed to hiss, "Why is the girl here?"
Vodka sighed, looking embarrassed and nervous. "It's a long story," he replied then, hesitantly, "but she's only been here, in the infirmary, and she doesn't know how to get to the base. I made sure she wasn't looking out the window. . . . I didn't tell her to come, bro, honest!" Quickly he explained about the other children calling to her and how he had fled with Gin's body, only to find Ayumi jumping into the car right before he started the engine. "She didn't want to leave you," he said quietly, not wanting to wake her. "She was worried that you weren't gonna make it. . . ."
Gin growled weakly in the back of his throat. "She's a fool," he muttered. Ayumi should have gone with her friends instead of coming with Vodka. He still could not understand why Ayumi loved him so much. Yes, he had saved her, more than once, but did she not realize how dangerous it was for her to associate with him? Did she not realize that he was not the sort of person she should look up to and idolize? Then he sighed softly. She had admitted herself that she knew he was an assassin, and yet she loved him anyway. To Gin, it did not make sense.
"Anyone who's seen her just thinks she's one of the agents in training," Vodka admitted, and then sighed himself. "Well, except Vermouth. . . ."
Gin mumbled something that was probably a curse.
Vodka could see that he was still very weak and pale. He knew that Gin should not try to talk very much at this point. And he also knew that Gin would do as he pleased.
"How long has it been?"
Vodka looked into the weary green eyes. "I'm not even sure," he admitted. "It's been hours, bro. . . . We were all wondering if you'd make it. . . ." Absently he laid a hand on the bed railing. "You were really bad off for a while there. I thought you'd left us at one point. . . ." He felt uncomfortable discussing that, however, and looked away.
Gin grunted. "I died?" he asked flatly.
Vodka nodded slowly. "On the operating table," he admitted. "It took them a while to get you back. They'd almost given up. . . ." He shuddered faintly, remembering one of the nurses coming into the room where they had been tending to Vodka's shoulder and telling him that they were having trouble reviving his partner. He had panicked.
Gin was silent for a moment. "What would you have done if I hadn't revived?" He knew that Vodka looked up to and relied on him, and suspected that Vodka even cared greatly about him, and he wondered if Vodka had ever thought about what he would do if Gin was someday killed. Somehow he doubted it. Vodka did not seem to him like the type to think that far into the future. But Gin supposed that if he was killed, Vodka would be put with another high-level agent. And hopefully not Vermouth. That would be a complete disaster.
Heh . . . he thought to himself when he realized how flippantly he had just been thinking of his own death. That was the way it was with him---able to think easily about anyone's demise. It came from his training. And yet . . . he did not want to think about Ayumi dying. The thought made him furious. And when he watched Vodka, the sudden thought struck him that it was not as easy to imagine him gone as Gin had thought it would be, especially after Vodka had nearly drowned earlier. Bah . . . he had gotten too used to his partner being around. That was dangerous.
Vodka looked back at him in shock after the other spoke. Gin was gazing at him seriously, with an impassable expression. But Vodka did not know how to answer. He did not even want to think about what Gin was asking. And so he shook his head helplessly.
"I thought so," Gin said evenly, then started as Ayumi suddenly came to life.
"Gin-sama!" she cried in delight, and promptly threw her arms around his neck. She had been awakened by Gin and Vodka talking, even though they had tried to be quiet. But she was perfectly happy with that. Now she knew that her Gin-sama was awake. Surely that meant that there was more hope of a recovery for him. And she was so relieved that she burst into tears.
Gin simply let her hug him. He was much too stymied to do anything else.
Vodka watched this, somewhat shocked, somewhat amused, and somewhat touched, and then remembered reluctantly what he needed to tell Gin. He swallowed nervously, shifting about. Gin would not be happy. Vodka himself was not pleased. He had been absolutely alarmed when he had first been told.
Gin looked over, his eyes narrowing when he saw the other's expression. "What is it?" he demanded, absently laying a hand on Ayumi's back. She also looked up, blinking in confusion.
Vodka sighed, leaning forward in the chair. "Some of the agents went and looked around the warehouse," he reported, "and they didn't find Hi Sou's body with the others. When they went inside, it looked like someone who was badly injured had fired from the window."
Gin growled. "So it could have been Hi Sou?" he muttered.
Ayumi gasped. "That's terrible," she exclaimed softly. "So he might still cause trouble?" It was not that she wanted Ling to be dead, but she also did not want him to be able to come and hurt Gin again. She was terrified of him, after the way he had used her and after what he had done to Gin.
"If he knows I'm still alive," Gin answered, "then he probably will." He knew that he would have to lay low until he healed, which would be a while---though he would no doubt push himself, as always. And he wondered what to do about Ayumi. Of course she could not keep staying there. She should not have come there at all. They would have to take her back. She was only in danger if Ling knew that his enemy had not died. Then he might try to use her against him again. But Ling himself would need time to heal. Hopefully they would not hear from him for a while, if ever. Perhaps he was even dead. He could have passed away later, after exerting himself to fire at Gin. But Gin was not willing to say that that was definitely the case.
Ayumi bit her lip, sitting up and taking hold of Gin's hand. It was warm now, and not limp, and she smiled softly in relief and joy. "You're gonna be okay, aren't you, Gin-sama?" she asked.
"I'll be fine," he grunted. "But Vodka's going to have to take you back."
Ayumi's shoulders slumped. She knew that Gin was right, and she did want to go home to her family and her other friends, but she could not bear to leave Gin yet. And she looked at him pleadingly. "Oh, please, Gin-sama, can't I stay for just a little longer?" she begged, her voice cracking. "I've been so worried about you, and now you're finally awake. . . ."
Gin grumbled, but at last he decided that a few more hours would not make much difference, and he told her that she could stay for at least the rest of the day, whereupon she hugged him again.
Gin did not know how it happened, but "several hours" became several days. He was recovering slowly but steadily, and after four or five days he was completely exasperated with the infirmary wing and wanted to get out. As he said, there was nothing there that would help him any further, and he could recover much better in his own bed. The doctors, who were exasperated as well, finally agreed to let him go---but only if he actually did rest, and if he rode back to his and Vodka's suite in a wheelchair. After all, they said, he was certainly not well enough to get up and try to walk all that way. Gin was not pleased at all, but he was so desperate to get out of there that he agreed. And whether he would admit it or not, he did not particularly like the thought of walking any distance right now.
"You have to go back tonight," Gin growled at Ayumi as Vodka wheeled him down the hall. Ayumi was walking alongside the wheelchair, relieved that Gin was well enough to even be up this much.
She could never forget how alarming it had been to see him laying so cold and still, bleeding from the many wounds. Several times she had had nightmares about that, and in the nightmares, Gin did not wake up. Then she would wake up in tears and have to check to make certain that he was still breathing and that his heart was still beating before she could go back to sleep. Gin had woken up and caught her doing that one night, and when she had explained her dream, he had muttered something unintelligible before falling into a slumber again.
Now Ayumi sighed softly. "I know," she replied. "Everyone must be so worried. . . ." She had asked several times to be able to call them, and Gin had always refused, though finally, after wearing down, he had told Vodka to take her to somewhere not close by where she could use a payphone and let her parents know that she was safe. She had done that and then had quickly hung up after saying that she did not know where she was. It made her feel guilty in some way, and yet she knew that it was an honest answer.
Gin grunted. "What are you going to tell them when you get back?" he asked. This was such a complicated situation. Again he wished that Vodka had not brought her back.
Ayumi shrugged. "I'll say I've been with Gin-sama at a hospital," she said then, and smiled. "That's what I said on the phone, and it's true. . . ." She looked up at him. "You and Vodka-san won't get in trouble, will you?"
"No," Gin answered flatly. "We'll be fine. Don't worry about us." He leaned back, watching as they approached the elevator.
When they were inside, he was suddenly startled by Ayumi climbing carefully onto his lap. She smiled up at him, pure and innocent, and then snuggled close, making sure to be careful of his wounds. He watched her, apparently not knowing what to think or do. Then, slowly, he put an arm around her so that she would not fall once they were out of the elevator.
It was snowing again. The flakes tumbled from the gray sky, swirling and dancing around each other and around objects in their way as they headed for the ground. Vodka kept the windshield wipers on as he manuevered down the slippery streets, muttering to himself. Snow was not one of his favorite things, and it made him nervous right now. He had to make sure that nothing happened to the Porsche as he drove through it.
After getting back to town, he had to stop and look over a map of that section of the city to see how to get to Ayumi's house from where they were. He made it to her street without incident and parked in front of the darkened house next door. At Ayumi's house, the lights were on and there was a car in the driveway. Vodka did not want to be seen by whoever was home.
"Well," he said as he turned off the engine, "here it is."
He was stunned when Ayumi came to him and hugged him firmly. "Thank you, Vodka-san," she said softly, and looked up at him sweetly.
He opened his mouth, trying to think of something to say, but then he could not. "You'd better get going," he said at last.
She nodded reluctantly and turned to his companion in the passenger seat. She embraced him now as well, feeling his soft hair against her hands, and whispered softly to him. "Thank you, Gin-sama. . . . I love you. . . ." She felt him stiffen in shock, and she smiled gently, pulling back to look into what she could see of his green eyes. "I hope we can see each other again," she told him. She did not want to leave him, and yet she wanted to see the other people she cared about. And she knew that she could not keep staying at their base. That was too risky for all of them.
He grunted. "It would be better for you if we didn't," he answered flatly.
She did not answer that. Instead she kissed him on the cheek. "Goodbye, Gin-sama," she said softly, and climbed out of the car, shutting the door gently behind her.
As Gin and Vodka watched, she went up to her house and knocked, whereupon the door was opened and she was swept up into her parents' arms as they exclaimed in surprise and relief.
Gin nodded slowly in satisfaction. "Let's go," he directed, leaning back in the seat.
Vodka nodded as well and started the engine. "You didn't have to come along, bro," he remarked as he pulled out of the parking space. "You were supposed to rest. . . ." He had frankly been surprised when Gin had insisted on coming. But then again, perhaps it was not that surprising. Gin had wanted to make certain himself that Ayumi got home safely, even though he trusted Vodka to be able to do it.
"I'm resting. You're driving, aren't you?" Gin retorted, and placed a cigarette in his mouth.
"Well . . . yeah . . . but I don't think this is what the doctor meant when he said for you to rest," Vodka answered slowly, driving around the corner.
Gin grunted. "You know I don't put much stock in what the doctors say." He lit the cigarette, looking out at the swirling white flakes.
Vodka shook his head. Did he ever know.
"Do you think we'll ever see that girl again, bro?" he asked after a moment. It seemed strange, for her to not be with them when she had been for several days. Vodka wondered if Gin felt the same, but he knew that the blonde would never admit to it if he did.
Gin's expression turned thoughtful. "I would say no, but that's what I thought the last time," he replied, and then did not say more. Vodka did not, either.