A Lovely, Lonely Night
Notes: The characters and title are
not mine, and the story is. While this can stand alone, it is a
follow-up to Empire of Dirt, and therefore, it will probably
be somewhat confusing for anyone who has not read that. Also, it would be helpful for the reader to have read Ghosts and Evil Never Dies. Otherwise, Gin and Ayumi meeting in the first place will make little sense. And, as with
Empire of Dirt, this is AU from my usual timeline. It is
something completely independent, which I felt I had to write. Please
do not think of it as being a sure thing that will occur after Evil
Gin cursed to himself as he staggered down the street, leaning heavily on his right leg. The gunfight he had gotten into with his target had left the other man dead and Gin with a bullet wound in his left leg. The lead had gone all the way through, and he could barely walk, but he forced himself onward anyway. He was relieved to see the Porsche up ahead, parked at the corner. He did not have much further to go now. Then he would just go back to the base he called home and rest alone in the empty suite. . . .
He was thirty-six now. It had been five years since his life had been changed drastically by the deaths of both Vodka and Sherry. And he was still stubbornly alive, working for the Black Organization as always. Sometimes he wondered if the fact that he did not die was simply because of his own determination, or if it could be attributed to something else, such as the way the fates had of laughing at him. And he hated being laughed at and mocked.
He was startled out of his mind to hear a youthful, innocent voice call his name. "Gin-sama!"
He looked up, bewildered, and saw a girl of about seventeen running toward him. Her black hair was cut to just above her shoulders, with a white hairband keeping it back from her face, the bangs bouncing against her forehead as she ran. Her blue eyes were bright and sparkling with recognition. She was wearing a pink, short-sleeved blouse and dark blue slacks, and as she caught up to the astonished assassin, she grabbed his hand in awe.
"Gin-sama . . . it's you, it's really you!" she breathed softly. "You're still alive! I was so worried through the years, never knowing what had happened to you and not having any way to contact you. . . . But you're hurt!" she gasped, noticing his leg and the blood. "What happened?"
Gin could only regard her with confusion, at a loss for words. She turned crimson.
"Don't you remember me, Gin-sama?" she said softly, embarrassment and fear creeping into her voice and expression. "I'm Ayumi, the little girl who got you into so much trouble. You helped me so much. . . ." She looked him over, smiling fondly as she took in his black hat and coat, the baggy turtleneck, and the long and flowing hair. "You haven't changed a bit," she declared, brushing a blonde lock back over his shoulder.
Gin grunted. "Of course I remember you," he said now, finding his voice. He doubted he could ever forget. He thought about her more often than he would ever admit, even though it was not something he ever consciously tried to do. He would wonder how she was doing, and hope that she was staying out of trouble. Then he would feel irritated for even wondering, the same as he did when he caught himself thinking about Akemi or Sherry or Vodka.
She certainly had grown. She came up to his chest now, and he had the feeling that she probably had a lot of boys chasing after her. On the other hand, in ten years he himself had not physically changed much at all, as she had observed, though he felt that inwardly he most definitely had. He was so much more bitter now, and numb and apathetic inside. Limping, he turned to the Porsche and unlocked the door. He had to sit down. Wordlessly he sank into the driver's seat.
Ayumi let out a breath she had not realized she was holding. "I'm so glad," she said softly, and then was worried again. "Gin-sama, what happened?" Before he could protest, she had bent down and was examining the wound. She looked at him apologetically before ripping aside the part of his pant leg that was over the torn flesh. "After getting hurt like this, you wouldn't have been able to really use this pair any more, anyway," she remarked, eyeing the blood.
He ignored that and growled. "In my line of work, I often end up hurt," he said flatly. "You should know that." He watched her in disbelief as she took out a handkerchief and pressed it against the injury to stop the bleeding.
She sighed softly. "I know," she confirmed. "I've wished a lot through the years that you would get out of that 'line of work', but I've always known that it probably wouldn't happen." She looked up at him. "Gin-sama, where's Vodka-san?" It seemed strange to her that she had not seen him, and when Gin was silent she could guess what had happened. Her heart caught in her throat. "He's not okay, is he?" she said quietly.
He looked at her with emerald ice, but she could see the pain he did not speak of. "He's dead," he said then. "He was killed in an explosion, five years ago." Had it only been that? It felt like an eon. Gin had never gotten over his partner's death. He had not even known how to begin trying, as he was insistent on making himself believe that he did not care. And so he had bottled up his pain.
Ayumi gasped, tears filling her eyes. "Poor Vodka-san," she said, her voice breaking. She had always been closer to Gin, but she had cared about Vodka as well. It seemed so wrong, for him to not be there! She kept expecting to see him suddenly walk over, alive and well, and for him to say that he had been missing and badly hurt for a long time, but that he was alright now and had wanted to come back. Yet she knew that would not happen. The tears spilled over. "You must miss him so much, Gin-sama!" She knew that she did, even though she was just hearing the news now. There was suddenly a void in her heart that could not be filled.
"Of course not!" Gin snapped, not wanting to talk about it. He looked away from her, felt a pang grip at his heart. After five years, he still blamed himself and his pride for being what had killed Vodka. He doubted that he would ever think about it differently.
She shook her head. "I know he was your friend, Gin-sama," she replied, "even if you can't admit it." She tied the cloth around his leg. "Won't you come back with me?" she implored. "Oh, just for a little bit!" she added when she saw Gin's incredulous expression. "I could treat your wound better at home. I'm studying to be a doctor." She looked up at him again, and now he could see a bit of the growing maturity in her eyes. She was no longer the helpless seven-year-old whom he had rescued in the past, though her devotion and respect for him was just as strong.
He grunted. "You shouldn't be seen with me," he objected.
She smiled gently. "My parents are on a trip," she answered. "I'm home alone." She took his hand again. "Please, Gin-sama. . . . I want to help you!"
He pulled away. "I don't need help!" he snapped.
Undaunted, she hugged him around the neck, to his shock. "You need something," she replied firmly. "Oh, you're just stubborn, like Vermouth-san said!"
He was about to attempt to come up with a reply when an angry and disbelieving voice wafted over to them. "Ayumi-chan! What are you doing?"
Quickly Ayumi pulled back and turned around. A plump teenager of average height and sporting messy dark hair was storming over, and he looked as though he did not know whether to be furious, crushed, violent towards Gin, or all three. He stopped in front of the girl and stood there in his T-shirt and shorts, breathing heavily and trying t calm down enough to say something. "That . . . that guy must be more than twice your age!" he cried out at last.
Ayumi laughed kindly, watching him. "I know, Genta-kun. It's alright." She moved to the side, allowing Genta and Gin to get a good look at each other. "This is a very dear friend of mine," she explained. "Genta-kun, this is Gin-sama. Gin-sama, this is my childhood friend Genta-kun."
Gin looked at the boy boredly, while Genta completely exploded. "'Gin-sama'!" he howled, and Gin had the distinct impression that Genta was jealous, which Gin found extremely ridiculous. "She's always talking about you!" Genta cried, pointing his forefinger at Gin. "But Conan-kun said you're a bad guy! I don't want you around her!" Even though Conan had long ago returned to his true form of Shinichi Kudo, Genta had never fallen out of the habit of referring to him as Conan. And though Genta was still angry with Shinichi for never telling them the truth about his identity, he still found himself putting stock in the other's words against Gin.
Gin grunted, placing a cigarette in his mouth and lighting it. "She's old enough to decide for herself what she wants," he said flatly. "But don't worry. I'm not your competition."
Genta looked flustered at hearing Gin summarize his thoughts in such a way. He stumbled over his words until Ayumi interrupted, giggling.
"Of course, I don't love him in that way, Genta-kun!" she tried to reassure him. "He's saved my life before and taken care of me. He's a really special friend. Right now I was just going to help him. He got hurt in a fight." Before Gin could protest, Ayumi shut the door on the driver's side, and then went to the passenger side, climbing inside and affixing the seat belt.
Genta stopped and stared. "He's going back to your house?" he gasped, and grabbed the door, trying to pull it open again. "I won't allow it, Ayumi-chan! Conan-kun said he's a murderer! He's dangerous!"
Gin continued to regard him with annoyance through the closed window. He rolled it down slightly, just enough so that Genta could hear his reply. "I've never harmed her," he answered matter-of-factly, "as I'm sure she's told you. The real reason why you don't want her to go with me is because you're jealous." He revved the engine and started to back out of the parking space, forcing Genta to step back.
"We won't be long, Genta-kun," Ayumi smiled at him. "I'm still planning to go to the movies tonight with you and Mitsuhiko-kun."
Gin muttered to himself as he drove around Genta, leaving him standing there in frustration. He was not certain what he was going to do now, actually. He had just wanted to get away from that irritating, overly paranoid boy. But he also was still not receptive to the idea of Ayumi treating his wounds. He doubted that there was much that she, or anyone else could do about it. He just needed to rest for a while until the worst had healed and then do whatever physical therapy was necessary to recover entirely.
"I'm sorry about that," Ayumi spoke up then, dragging him out of his thoughts. "Genta-kun's always worried about me." She smiled softly. "He's really sweet, when you get to know him better. Mitsuhiko-kun is too. I've known them since I was six, before I met you and Vodka-san. . . ." At the mention of Gin's deceased partner, Ayumi suddenly shut her mouth and looked down. It felt strange, almost wrong, to ride where Vodka would be sitting, if he were still alive. Ayumi felt as if she had just taken over someone's place when she did not have any right to.
Gin was having similar thoughts. He had ridden alone for so long, and had thought that he had grown accustomed to it, but there were still times when he would unconsciously open his mouth to say something to Vodka, or glance over, half-expecting to see the other there. But then he would remember the truth and he would be angry at himself for being so absurd. Vodka was never coming back.
"Where are we going?" Ayumi asked hesitantly after the silence had gone on for a while. "Are you going to let me take care of your wounds, Gin-sama?"
Gin grunted and did not directly answer her question. "You'll have to remind me where you live again," he replied then.
Ayumi brightened. "It's the same place," she told him, and gave him the directions.
Gin nodded slowly. He wondered why she always managed to stymie him so much. He was not certain at all why he was agreeing to go with her now. He could easily stop the car and just tell her to get out. But he could also imagine how sad she would look, and for some reason, he felt completely unable to think of hurting her.
A hardened assassin who could have his will bended by a child. . . . He smirked wryly to himself. Oh, wouldn't Vermouth have a heyday with that.
By the time he parked in front of Ayumi's house and turned off the Porsche's engine, it was nearly dark. He glanced about, as if taking in the neighborhood, and then slowly undid his seat belt and opened the door, stepping out onto the pavement. Ayumi followed suit and hurried ahead of him to unlock the door of the two-story house, and Gin observed her silently as he limped after her. She was still so innocent, so filled with wonder at the world and excited about life. And the fact that she could care about someone as dark and cold as he was filled him with wonder . . . and thoughts of her being a fool.
He reached the porch and stepped onto it painstakingly, then entered the nicely furnished house and sank onto a soft couch that Ayumi indicated. Then she shut the door and hurried off to gather up the first aid kit and whatever else she thought she would need.
He glanced around the room while he waited for her to return. It was a comfortable-looking home, just right for Ayumi and her parents. He had wondered sometimes what it would be like, to have had a normal life---to not get up every morning knowing that you were likely expected to kill someone before the day was over. At times the hunt still thrilled him again, but mostly the excitement had worn away. He was weary now, of doing what he was assigned to do, of not having anyone around whom he had been close to, of life itself. But he would not allow himself to be defeated. He would press on stubbornly for as long as he lived, and afterwards, if there was anything else.
Ayumi re-entered the room and he came back to the present as she set the white case down on the coffee table and then knelt in front of him. Removing the handkerchief and laying it aside, she poured a bit of rubbing alcohol onto a clean cloth and began dabbing it gently over the injuries. Gin watched her, growling slightly from the sting but otherwise not seeming to care about it. After a moment he spoke.
"Why have you always thought so highly of me? You know I've killed. I've done countless things that someone like you would be horrified by. And you've known that ever since our first meeting in the park."
"I can only imagine what you've done," Ayumi said softly as she worked, "and I don't want to. It's true, I've always known your hands are stained with blood." She had experienced nightmares over it sometimes. She would see Gin on assignments, executing his orders with precision, and she would wake up sobbing. She had never feared for herself or the others, but she had always feared for Gin. So many times she had wanted him to leave the path he was on, but as she had grown older she had known it would not likely happen. And even if it did, he would never be able to live normally in society after what he had done. He would be arrested, tried, and most likely put to death. And she could not bear the thought of that, either. She wanted him to live. She wanted her Gin-sama to be safe. But she doubted that he ever could be.
"But," she continued now as she finished cleaning the wounds and began to bandage them, "I've never forgotten the kindnesses you and Vodka-san showed me. I must have annoyed you so much, but you kept trying to help me anyway. You don't know how much that meant to me." She smiled gently, looking up at him again. "I think that the fact of you being an assassin only makes it mean more to me." He looked at her in shock, and she tried to figure out how to explain. "I mean, you're supposed to be heartless and cruel. You and Vodka-san were trained to be that way ever since you were both kids, and yet you both showed me that you have a lot of humanity left. You risked your lives for me more than once. I wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for you and Vodka-san. Now that I'm older, I realize it all the more."
Gin was silent, digesting her words. He did not know what to say to her. He did not know that there was anything to say.
Ayumi concluded her work now and stood. She went into the bathroom, washing the blood off of her hands, and then came back, sitting down next to Gin. "I worry about you every day," she admitted softly, laying her hand over his and rubbing gently at it. "I never know if you're alive . . . and I didn't have any idea that Vodka-san was dead until today. . . ."
He grunted. "And that's the way it will stay," he replied. "The two of us can't stay in touch, and you know it as well as I do. It would be too dangerous for you, and I don't have the time." And that's not the life I want for you, he added somewhere in his mind.
She sighed softly. "I know," she answered, "but that doesn't make it any easier."
She was quiet for a moment, then changed her position on the couch to see him better. "I'll never forget how horrible that was, when that man shot you so many times and then just left you laying there. . . ." She shuddered, then swallowed and came to the point. "I talked to Vermouth-san about it. . . . I remember asking her if you really cared about me, or if I was just someone who annoyed you all the time."
He looked at her, admittedly somewhat curious to know what Vermouth would have said to her. Or perhaps he was just a glutton for punishment.
Ayumi smiled now. "She told me that you wouldn't do for just anyone what you did for me, and she said that you care about me, even though you'd never admit it."
Gin growled, not surprised but definitely annoyed. "That sounds like Vermouth," he muttered in annoyance.
He wondered why he continued to remain there. He would not allow himself to acknowledge that he was lonely. That was something he was trained not to be. Any time he started to feel such human emotions, he denied and ignored them---or tried to. And yet, if he had truly managed to do that entirely, the girl next to him would have been long ago dead. But in any case, he had spent enough time there. That was bad for both him and her.
He began to push himself up from the couch. "I have to go," he muttered.
Ayumi sighed, but stood up with him. She knew that she could not keep him there, even though she wished that she could. Somewhere in her mind, she supposed that she knew that he really could not stay, but that did not make it any easier. "You'll take care of yourself, won't you, Gin-sama?" she said softly.
He grunted in reply as he began to limp toward the door. She followed, taking his hand once he stopped. He looked down at her.
"I know you must be really lonely now," she said softly, "and I know that I could never be a replacement for everyone you've lost, but . . . maybe it would help even a little to know that someone still cares about you." She stood on tiptoe, laying her hands on his shoulders as she kissed him on the cheek.
He could not help but remember that the last time she had done that, things had been so much different. They had both been a lot younger, Vodka had still been alive, so had Sherry. . . . Bah.
He opened the door, stepping out into the night air. "Stay out of trouble," he muttered, going down the steps to the car. Behind him he could hear her soft voice.
"Goodbye, Gin-sama. . . . I love you. . . ."
He snorted, pulling open the door of the Porsche and easing his body inside. A voice from the past. That's what it was. A voice, and a ghost, from the past. He shut the door after him and stopped to light a cigarette before starting the engine. Then he sighed, glancing again at the vacant seat beside him as he moved the car out of the parking space.
Well, Vodka, he thought to himself, you wondered if that girl would ever show up again. Did you want her to? Now she has, but you weren't here to know about it. I wonder, if you've been sent on to the next life, if there is such a thing, where are you? In the Hell that religions speak of, with fire and brimstone? Or is Hell all around us, on this planet? Are you still here, somewhere?
And what about you, Sherry? Where are you and Akemi? Both of you either directly or indirectly killed people in order to stay alive yourselves. Are you any better than Vodka and I are? Maybe you're both in Hell too. Maybe I've sent you from one torment into another, more lasting one. I suppose I won't know until I die as well. He glanced out at the darkened streets, a rueful smirk gracing his features as he continued to smoke. Somehow, he doubted that time would come soon.
He pushed back the feeling of emptiness that tugged at his heart as he turned the corner.