No Way Out
Notes: Sorry about the confusion, folks. This is the third part of the Ghosts trilogy. A Lovely Lonely Night is an AU, as I mentioned on it. The characters aren't mine (except the antagonists), and the story is! The title is inspired by the song by Peter Gabriel. The line about the Organization's role in some public hospitals was inspired by Eeveebeth's excellently written story Sniper's Soliloquy, which I highly recommend!
It was raining heavily that night. It came down in sheets, pelting over the roads and any cars whose drivers were either foolish or brave enough to venture out into the weather. The wind blew viciously, bending trees and snapping several branches free of their positions to fly at houses, onto sidewalks, and into the road. There had been several bad accidents, not only from the slippery asphault, but from parts of trees slamming into people's windshields. This bad weather was a followup to the ice and snow that had come several days before, and there were still patches of slush and even of ice still on the ground. Some was melting from the rain, but not all of it had faded away yet.
One driver in particular cursed as he saw a particularly deadly branch flying toward his dark car. He swerved, skidding over several lanes as he tried to avoid it. His companion cried out in protest as the vehicle ended up spinning once, then twice, before coming to a halt near the road's edge. There was silence for a long moment afterward, as both simply digested this experience. Finally the one in the passenger seat spoke.
"Bro, they had to be crazy, to send us out in this kind of weather!" He looked over at the other, who was gripping the steering wheel and glaring ahead with eyes of emerald ice.
"Who's crazier," the driver retorted after a moment, "the original fool, or the ones who follow?" He leaned back, taking out a cigarette and using the car's lighter on it. He rubbed at the mist that had formed on the inside of the windshield, squinting to see what was outside. He could barely make out the next couple of yards. Then his eyes narrowed and he moved forward again, his gaze following the beam from the headlights. His blonde bangs fell into his line of vision again, but it did not seem to bother him nor to lessen his ability to see ahead.
His partner blinked in confusion from behind the dark glasses. "What do you see, Gin?" he asked, and then stared when Gin opened the door on his side and began to climb out into the ferocious weather.
"I don't know," the other growled, slamming the door again and carefully starting to make his way over the icy road. His eyes could be playing tricks on him. Perhaps he had not seen anything other than some slush or old snow in the road.
The wind whipped again, blowing his fringe back into his eyes. The rain seemed to be starting to turn to snow, and several flakes slapped his cheeks harshly. He pulled the high collar of his coat closer around him, and the flakes landed on it and in his long hair. Still he went forward slowly, cautiously, not wanting to slip and go sprawling due to a large piece of ice in his way.
Then he found what he had thought he had seen from the car---a small body laying limply in the road, on its stomach. Its arms were thrown out in front of it, the right fist tightly clenched. Short and drenched raven locks fell across the face, concealing the features, but Gin found that he already had a bad suspicion. The hairstyle looked too familiar. Carefully he reached out, brushing back some of the hair. Then he growled.
Gently he ran his hand down the child's neck and back, making certain that there was not any damage done. He was not certain what had happened to her. Was she the victim of a hit-and-run, or had she slipped on the ice and struck her head? He could see a bit of blood on her arm.
He looked up abruptly when he heard approaching footsteps. "Bro?" His partner stopped short, staring in shock at the scene.
Gin started to take off his coat. "It's that girl Ayumi," he said flatly. "There's no telling how long she's been laying here, but she's completely drenched. Pick her up."
The other simply stood there for a moment, stunned at the order, and at finding Ayumi laying here at all. They had not seen her for nearly three months, during which time Gin had been recovering from the sniper attack that had left him near-death. He still moved somewhat stiffly, and that was apparent at times such as now, as he was slowly easing his body back into a standing position.
"Pick her up, Vodka!" Gin snapped. "I'll wrap her in my coat."
Quickly Vodka reached for the limp child, disturbed by the stillness of her form. Carefully he straightened up, making certain not to jostle her, and gently laid her in Gin's arms. Vodka swallowed hard. "Is . . . is she alive, bro?" he asked finally.
"Yes," Gin grunted, bringing the folds of his dark coat around her before turning and heading back to the Porsche. He felt her snuggle weakly against him as he sank into the driver's seat.
Vodka was soon back in the shelter of the car as well. "What are we going to do with her, bro?" he asked hesitantly. He watched Gin's expression, trying to determine his answer, but the blonde's eyes were masked and his expression never changed as he looked down at Ayumi. She seemed to be struggling for consciousness and she shuddered, moving closer against Gin's chest. Vodka wondered if she was aware of the one holding her.
Gin did not answer. He wondered himself what they would do. "Are you awake?" he said to Ayumi, hoping that his words would pierce through to whatever state of awareness she was in. "Can you hear me?"
She shivered again, drawing further into the coat. "Gin-sama," she murmured softly, and a soft smile graced her features. "You're so warm. . . ."
Gin ignored that. "Can you tell me what happened to you?" he asked. "Are you badly hurt?"
She looked confused. Her blue eyes opened and she blinked up at him, and then suddenly, tears spilled over from her eyes and down her cheeks. "Gin-sama . . . they're going to kill you," she whispered. "They're going to kill you and Vodka-san. . . ." With her left hand she reached out, grabbing a handful of Gin's turtleneck sweater. He could see the panic coming over her and he growled, knowing that she needed to stay calm but also wondering what on earth she was talking about. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Vodka staring in disbelief.
"Who's going to kill us?" Gin demanded. He half-wondered if she was just delirious from the cold and whatever else had happened and that she did not know what she was saying. But then he blinked as she dropped the contents of her small right hand into his large one.
"Those mean people," she said softly, "the ones who were bothering us before. . . ."
He studied her, his expression having darkened. "Did they hurt you?" he wanted to know. But she had closed her eyes again, re-entering a state of near unconsciousness. Gin muttered to himself and then uncurled his fingers to see what she had given him. Then he stared in astonishment at the blood-red pearl laying on his palm.
Vodka gaped. "What's that?" he exclaimed.
Gin turned it over between his fingers. "I don't know," he grumbled. "We need to find out what happened to her." He slipped the pearl into his pocket and studied Ayumi again, a slight thoughtful look in his eyes. "Vodka . . . Vermouth's going to be staying in the city for a while, isn't she?"
Vodka blinked in surprise, then nodded slowly. "Yeah . . ." He regarded Gin with confusion. "Are you saying we should go to her?"
Gin looked irritated. "I hate to, but we can't take the girl to the base. And if we take her to a hospital, I doubt we'd be allowed to have any time alone with her. It would probably just result in a lot of unpleasant questioning." He gazed down at her shivering form before handing her over to Vodka so that he could start the car. Revving the engine, he turned on the heater and the windshield wipers as he began to manuever out of their current position.
Vodka watched him for a moment, then looked down at Ayumi. She appeared to be more at peace now, as if knowing she was safe. From what Vodka could see, she did not have any visible injuries, other than the effects of the cold. But that was bad enough. And she would not realize at this point that Gin wanted the information from her. Still, Vodka knew by now that was not the only reason why Gin wanted to help her. When he had wrapped her in his coat, he had not known that she possessed knowledge he would want. Vodka cradled her close as they went around a corner, feeling uncomfortable.
"It doesn't seem like she's changed much," he remarked slowly.
"Were you expecting her to?" Gin answered flatly.
"Well, no," Vodka admitted. He started when he felt the child snuggling against him, and then he felt himself blushing. It always made him uneasy to be around children, and especially this one. He never knew what to say to her, and he preferred to leave it up to Gin. And sometimes Gin found himself stymied as well. Vodka shifted position slightly, gazing out at the stormy road.
"Call Vermouth and tell her we're coming over," Gin directed. He did not want to attempt it himself. With the bad weather, he wanted to keep both hands on the steering wheel.
Vodka gulped, not relishing the thought of that at all. "But what should I say about why we're coming?" he exclaimed.
"Just tell her what happened," Gin replied. "She can have time to see if she has any clothes that would fit the girl." He did not offer any other advice, and Vodka sighed as he pulled out his cellphone.
Conan cursed in frustration, slamming his fist down on the door rest of Dr. Agasa's Volkswagen Beetle. This latest case he was attempting to solve was driving him mad. Three people, seemingly unrelated, had all turned up dead---and at each scene of the crime, there had been a broken necklace of blood-red pearls. Now another body had been found, and the person who had reported it had described a small child running away from the sight---a child who matched Ayumi's description.
"What would Ayumi have been doing there?" he said now. For the past few minutes, he had been trying to contact her with the badge, but it was not working. Either she was out of range or else she did not have her badge. Or the storm could be causing problems. That definitely sounded likely. Of course, there was the other possibility---that she was not capable of answering right now. Conan did not want to think about that, but he did anyway.
"Maybe she just found the body while she was going home from somewhere," Ai remarked calmly, watching him from her position on the other side of the backseat.
Conan glowered at the badge. "But it would be out of her way," he replied. "I haven't talked to her for several days. What's she been doing all this time? It looks as if she's been getting mixed up in a mystery herself." He looked over at Ai, his expression dark and serious. "I know you can't have forgotten what happened the last time she went missing."
Ai nodded grimly. "She said she'd been with Gin at some hospital." Her own eyes narrowed. "She was probably at one of the Black Organization's bases." She still remembered Conan's expression when they had first learned Ayumi's story after her return. She had rarely seen him look so completely bowled over. Not that she herself had not been appalled as well. She most definitely had been.
And all of these events and Ayumi's retellings of them had left Ai feeling so extremely confused about Gin and Vodka. She had long ago given up on them both, but after Ayumi's experiences, Ai had half a mind to go confront Gin and demand to know why he had helped the child. And yet she knew that she could not. She could never let it be known that Ayumi was connected with her in any way, if Gin did not already know. Ai knew that Conan believed he did, and sometimes Ai could not help but consider that possibility herself.
Conan slumped back against the seat. "Why would they let her in there?" he said in frustration. "And why was she allowed to leave?" He had often considered the idea that perhaps they were tracking her every moment, and he wondered it again now.
Ai sighed, shaking her head. "Ayumi always insisted that it was a hospital," she mused. "Maybe she never saw any other part of the base." She frowned more. "Of course, there's also public hospitals that are secretly being run by the Organization." She studied Conan. "Do you think Ayumi's found Gin again?"
"I think it's something we should think about," Conan replied darkly. "Or maybe that he's found her."
Ai nodded slowly. "Gin wouldn't have been committing these murders, though," she said then. "He would never leave something at the crime scene. The Organization likes to cover their tracks."
"I know." Conan knew all too well. "But maybe Gin knows something about the crimes, anyway." He sighed. "And why did Ayumi run? Was she going to tell someone about the body? Was she running from the murderer or someone else? Or was she running to someone?" It was all so complicated. He wished that Ayumi and the other members of the Detective Boys would not always find a way to involve themselves in the cases. Then he had additional things to worry about, wondering what sort of trouble they were getting into and taking the time to find them when he needed to use that time to solve the crimes before other people were killed.
The vehicle stopped. "This is the location where the body was found," Dr. Agasa announced, glancing over at the office building. Police cars had already gathered, and yellow crime scene tape was being set up. The officers were wearing rain coats, and none of them looked pleased at being out in this weather. Agasa could certainly understand why. He was not pleased about coming out either.
Immediately Conan undid his seatbelt and opened the door, stepping out. Ai followed suit, getting out on her side. After a sigh, Agasa found his umbrella and chased after them.
There was not much that could be learned. The woman who had seen Ayumi fleeing could only tell them that the child had seemed panicked, and as though she did not know where to go. And, if the woman had seen correctly, Ayumi had been carrying something with her, in her hands. At first, no one could figure out what it could have been, but then one of the police officers mentioned that there had not been as many beads as there had been at the other crime scenes.
Conan frowned deeply. "Could Ayumi have taken some of the pearls?" he mused.
"If she did, what would be the purpose?" Ai asked. "She would probably think that they were pretty, but after everything she's seen she would know better than to take evidence away."
Conan began to pace around, wishing that he had his soccer ball. "If we could solve this case, then we might have the answers to Ayumi's whereabouts as well!" he said in frustration. "The three previous victims were a waitress, a radio personality, and a television news reporter. And this one tonight was a secretary. None of them had ever met each other before." He narrowed his eyes, rubbing his chin as he tried to think.
"We've already done searches on the first three," Ai remarked, "but if we tried this fourth victim, maybe we would find some connection to at least one of the others."
Conan nodded. "That's about the only thing I can think of to do. Maybe she'll be the key to this." He looked around the area a moment longer, but did not find anything of use. With a sigh of exasperation, he got back into the car with Ai and Agasa.
Vermouth instructed Gin and Vodka to use the back entrance to the manor, as it would not look good if the press somehow learned of Chris Vineyard's mysterious visitors in black. Even on such a stormy night, she did not trust that reporters would be kept at bay. She gave the two directions, and when they found their way there, she was waiting near the door, smirking in amusement.
"Well, so your little shadow is back, Gin," she purred as she opened the door and let them in. "I had a feeling that you wouldn't be able to get away from her." Gin grunted, and Vermouth looked down at the small body curled up in the folds of his coat. Vermouth was further amused.
"That reminds me of when I met her," she commented. "That time, she was wearing your hat, too." Playfully she tapped the brim of the dark fedora before reaching to take the child from Gin. "I'll get her into some dry clothes and have my doctor look at her." Her smirk widened. "I told him on the phone that a couple of my servants found her near here."
Gin growled. "I don't care what you said, as long as it doesn't trace back to us," he answered, and noticed Vodka looking around the large room in fascination. They had been to a couple of Vermouth's other mansions, at times when it was absolutely necessary, but they had not been to this one. Vodka was always somewhat awed by the spacious, well-decorated rooms, as he and Gin lived at the various Organization's bases when they were not on assignment. And though the suites were nice, they were nothing like this.
Vermouth watched with amusement. "You boys can wait in here," she smiled, "or upstairs, if you'd prefer. You're the only guests I have right now, other than the doctor." With that she calmly walked out of the room, carrying Ayumi.
Gin folded his coat and draped it over a chair near a heat vent. "She said it was the same people from before," he mused. "She must have meant Hi Sou." He narrowed his eyes. "I want to know if he's been using her again, or if she just happened to stumble across some plan of his and he tried to kill her for it." He reached into his pocket for a cigarette and touched the pearl. Frowning, he brought it out to study better under the bright lights.
"Hey," Vodka said suddenly, "haven't red pearls been left at several crime scenes lately?" It seemed to him that he recalled reading something about it in the paper earlier that day, when they had gone for lunch at a café.
Gin blinked, recognition coming into his eyes. "You're right," he replied. He turned it around and around again, trying to think of what significance such an item would be, and what connection it would have to Ling. Had he or his associates been doing the killing? If so, why did they leave such messages behind? Were they trying to attract someone's attention? If they had wanted Gin's, they had failed. And how had Ayumi become aware of things?
He narrowed his eyes. They would not learn much of anything until Ayumi could speak to them. He still wondered if Ling had been hurting her once more. That would definitely get Gin's attention, but the ones responsible would regret it.
They did not know how long they remained there. Gin smoked calmly, appearing as though nothing was bothering him. Vodka was too much on edge to sit down, and he paced around the room several times before finally settling down to smoke as well. The clock ticked in another room, loud enough that they could hear it through the wall. Gin glanced at his watch once or twice, but stared off into the distance for the most part, his eyes obscured, and Vodka was left to wonder what his partner was thinking.
At last the door opened and they both looked up as Vermouth stepped into the room. "Alright, boys, you don't have to hide anymore," she smiled, leaning on the doorframe. "It's just us now."
Gin looked up, part of a cold green eye becoming visible. "What did the doctor say?" he asked flatly.
Vermouth pulled out a cigarette of her own and lighted up. "Well, the poor kid's getting warmed up now," she replied. "The doctor thinks she was running fast and slipped, then just got too exhausted to get up again." She frowned. "She's got some bad bruises and cuts . . . could be from the fall . . . or she could have been being beaten."
Gin growled. "Is she awake?"
"She's been mostly just half-awake. She couldn't really tell the doctor anything. She was asking for you, though."
Vodka looked at her in concern. "How did you explain that, with the doctor there?" he exclaimed.
Vermouth shrugged. "I just said, of course, that I didn't have any idea what she was talking about," she replied. "After all, the story is that I've never seen her before. Anyway, you might want to go up to her," she added, looking over at Gin. "The only thing she really seems aware of right now is that you were with her."
Gin said nothing in response and instead simply got up, brushing past Vermouth and heading for the stairs. She mock-pouted.
"Oh, don't I even get a thank you?" she remarked, looking back to Vodka.
The poor man flushed deeply. "Thanks," he mumbled, getting up to hurry after Gin. The last thing he wanted was to be alone in a room with Vermouth.
The blonde woman smirked, watching him go. "Kisses," she purred after him, and she watched Vodka freeze in shock before quickly going up the stairs. She laughed softly to herself.
Gin was still silent as he came into the room where Ayumi was. It was one of the smaller guest rooms, as Vermouth had decided that too much space might overwhelm the child, and also, a smaller room would keep in the heat better. A fire was roaring across from the bed, and the raven-haired girl was snuggled under the covers, her dark locks a sharp contrast against her pale flesh and the white pillow. In the light, he could see that one of her cheeks was red, as if she had been struck. He could imagine what the rest of her body looked like. He sank into a chair near the bed, watching her expressionlessly.
He never had been able to sort through his feelings for her, or indeed, the very fact that he felt anything at all. He knew that in the beginning, he had saved her mostly because he had simply not wanted Ushio, a man he hated, to get what he wanted. But somehow it had ended up being more than that. He never had figured out why he had let her go free. After all, killing her would have kept her from Ushio just as easily. He could have done it, just as he had told Ushio he had.
Her eyes would have haunted him, though. He ran a hand over his face. There was just something about her eyes that had pierced through to his dark and tattered soul. He did not understand it, yet he knew it was true.
He glanced up briefly as Vodka came in and sat down in another chair. But Vodka recognized that Gin was not in a mood to talk, and so he remained quiet. After they had worked together for so long, Vodka had come to be able to sense Gin's moods quite well, even though he often did not have confidence that he understood the blonde. Gin was grateful for the silence.
He looked back to Ayumi, watching as she stirred briefly to clutch the pillow. He could see another hint of a bruise on her arm, and his eyes narrowed. He knew it angered him, when she was hurt. He felt a strong, undeniable outrage towards the ones responsible. But he refused to acknowledge why. He would not and could not comprehend the simple truth that everyone around him could see.