Breaking the Habit
Notes: Gin and Vodka and Vermouth
are not mine, but Jenever and the director are. So is the story. This
was written for the Separation challenge at the ManyCases1Truth
community at Livejournal, though the idea was planned before that. It
takes place several years before the start of the Detective Conan
series. The conversation at the end had its dialogue largely taken
from Ghosts, though this is basically from a different
person's perspective and a few other things were added.
Vodka had to admit that he felt nervous as he got out of the elevator and began the walk to the base director's office. He did not know what to expect, and in fact, upon receiving the news that the advisor wanted to see him, he had actually thought, What now?
It had only been several days since the last time he had been called into the office, with the news that his senior partner, Jenever, had made a formal complaint against him. Vodka had been shocked at first, but after the director had read off the list of complaints, it had suddenly made sense. Vodka still remembered flushing in embarrassment and discomfort, too stunned to say much in his defense. Jenever had gotten his wish, and their partnership had been dissolved that day.
Not that Vodka had not secretly wished for it as well. To say that Jenever was hard to get along with was a gross understatement. Jenever had loathed Vodka from the very first day they had met as official partners. Vodka had never met him before that, but he had heard rumors that the other agents-in-training did not like working with him and that they found him difficult and hard to please. Once Vodka had met the higher-ranked agent, he learned that the rumors had not only not been exaggerated, but they had not said enough.
"So, you're Vodka?" Jenever sniffed, looking down at him with criticizing violet eyes. His raven locks fell gracefully to his shoulders, framing his face. "They've decided to put you under my tutelege," he remarked, not giving Vodka the chance to do anything more than nod, "so we'll have to deal with that. I hope you're not as hard to deal with as I've heard." He frowned. "They say you're too quiet, that you don't have any confidence in yourself. I don't want you in my way, but you'd better know how to stand on your own feet."
Vodka flushed. "Okay, bro," he stammered, immediately not at ease.
Jenever studied him for a long moment and then abruptly reached out, pulling off the ever-present sunglasses. "If you want to wear these on your own time, or if the sun's shining too brightly, fine. But otherwise, I expect you to keep them off. I want to be able to see my subordinate's eyes whenever possible. They say the eyes are the window to the soul, and I want to make sure your soul isn't plotting against me." With that he shoved the glasses into Vodka's pocket, while the poor man simply gaped at him in astonishment. "Am I clear on that?"
Vodka nodded slowly, relieved that at least no one had seen this incident. He felt as if he had been publicly humiliated and that Jenever did not approve of him at all. It was not a good start to what was supposed to be a lifelong partnership.
Vodka also was not happy about being ordered to not wear the sunglasses. Being a quiet, shy person who often ended up socially inept, he did not like for his eyes to be able to be easily seen. It made him extremely uncomfortable, for his emotions to be clearly visible. But since he was a lower-level agent, he did not feel that he could protest at all. It would not be his place.
Abruptly flesh connected with his cheek, and he stumbled back as he tried to comprehend what had just happened. Carefully he raised a hand to his face, touching the now-sore skin where he had been slapped.
"Don't just nod!" Jenever snapped. "Speak when you're supposed to."
Vodka swallowed hard. "Sorry, bro," he apologized quietly.
Vodka had known then that things were not likely to work out. The partnership had only gotten worse from then on, and missions were a disaster. Everything Vodka did was wrong in Jenever's eyes. It seemed that the only things Jenever had told him were complaints about Vodka and praises about himself, Jenever. It actually seemed incredible that they had gotten anything done at all.
When they had not been on missions, Jenever had been perfectly happy to be rid of Vodka. The heavyset man did not know what Jenever did during those times, and he honestly did not care. Times away from him were a relief, and did not come nearly enough. Jenever was rarely in the suite they shared, so Vodka had taken to staying there frequently.
Sometimes he would go to the base's bar and slip into a corner booth. Several of the other operatives were quite fond of gossiping, and Vodka had not been able to help but hear them at those times. They would shamelessly speak against anyone and everyone, not caring who was listening. Vodka had overheard them discussing himself and Jenever more than once, and he still felt a mix of embarrassment and frustration when he remembered the things they had said.
"Those two are the laughingstock of the Tokyo branch!" the first remarked one night, following a disastrous mission that had ended with Jenever actually throwing Vodka out of the suite.
Vodka pressed himself further against the back of the booth, wishing he could disappear. When Jenever had actually gone into the suite and locked the door after him, Vodka had been shocked. He had become fed up with the disagreeable man weeks before, but now the problem had come to a head. He had called through the door that Jenever did not have the right to kick him out; it was his living quarters too. Jenever had snapped back that it was not anymore, and that Vodka did not have the right to talk back to him, before bolting the door. Vodka had his own key, but trying to get past the bolt was pointless, and he had given up and gone to the bar in desperation.
"The target almost got away on their last mission," declared the second. "It was probably that idiot Vodka's fault. He always was careless as an agent-in-training."
"Jenever's more of an idiot," said the third. "He doesn't know how to operate in a team. He's always preening and thinking he's so great, but I bet it's because of him that they haven't been doing well. I kinda pity Vodka, actually. He deserves better than that self-centered moron. Heck, any of us do."
Vodka slowly downed the contents of the shot glass, wondering exactly what would happen now. Jenever had been angry before, but never this much. Would he calm down by tomorrow, or would he still stubbornly decide that Vodka was at fault and refuse to let him inside? The problem really was humiliating. Vodka did not know what to do about it.
As it had turned out, the following morning Vodka had been able to get back inside. Jenever had departed, leaving a note that declared he would make sure to end this once and for all. And later that day, Vodka had received the call that he was wanted in the director's office.
There had been many times when Vodka had wanted to register a complaint himself, but he had never had the courage to do so. He had always been certain that it would only be denied, and Jenever would never let him hear the end of it. And though Vodka had been in disbelief over the list of grievances, he had been relieved once the director terminated their partnership. Such things rarely happened in the Organization, as the agents were expected to get along with each other, but apparently even the advisor had seen that it was a lost cause.
"Your senior partner, Agent Jenever, has accused you of blatant insubordination, carelessness, and indulging excessively in your vices around him," the director read from the paper, speaking in a flat tone of voice. He looked up at Vodka, who was shifting in his seat and looking extremely uncomfortable. "Would you care to explain? What is meant by this last statement?" He pointed at the paper.
Vodka swallowed, leaning forward to look at it. "I . . . I think he means that I smoke too much around him, sir," he answered meekly. What he did not know how to say was that sometimes Jenever would seem to allow Vodka to smoke, and then suddenly declare in annoyance that he hated it and for Vodka to put it out, saying that he had not given Vodka permission to light a cigarette.
"Is it true?" The director looked at him with emotionless, piercing eyes.
Vodka flushed. "I guess it is, sir," he replied.
"And what about the other things he's accused you of?" The older man's eyes were sharp and piercing, leaving no room for arguments. Not that Vodka would have tried.
"Well . . . Jenever believed they were true," Vodka said at last. He still wondered where this was going to go. Jenever had probably already spoken to the director, and since he was the senior agent, naturally his claims would be supported and Vodka's would not. No matter what Vodka said, he was certain that it would not go well for him. Perhaps he would even be dismissed. And dismissal from the Organization was quite permanent.
"That's not what I asked, Agent Vodka." The advisor's tone was clipped, impatient.
Vodka quickly took to studying the floor, as if he suddenly found it very fascinating. "I tried my best, sir," he answered finally.
"But Agent Jenever was not satisfied, I see."
Vodka shook his head. "No, sir. . . ."
The director leaned back. "That's all, Agent Vodka. You're free to go," he declared.
Vodka stopped as he arrived at the director's office. He took a deep breath, reaching to knock. He knew it would be better to simply get things over with. Whatever would happen, would happen . . . que sera sera, as he had heard Vermouth say several times. Whatever the director had decided would not be able to be changed, no matter how much Vodka might wish it so. Hopefully Vodka had not committed a grievance so terrible that he would be killed.
"Come in, Agent Vodka."
Vodka blinked, wondering how the director knew it was him. Slowly he turned the knob and entered, shutting the door behind him. "You wanted to see me, sir," he said cautiously, walking over to be in front of the older man's desk.
"Yes, that's right," the director agreed. "Sit down." He gestured to the nearby chair.
Quickly Vodka pulled the chair over to him and then sank into it, trying not to let his nervousness be seen. Not wanting to make an indiscretion by speaking when not spoken to, he waited for the other to make the next move.
As he did, his gaze traveled around the office, which was furnished in an elegant and tasteful fashion. The advisor had collected various, uniquely carved crafts from around the globe, in addition to his collection of old volumes. His desk was carefully and precisely organized, with a small stack of folders to one side and several useful desktop items on the other. A wooden figurine of what looked to be a tribal god was placed in the front.
"I've been reviewing your file."
Vodka snapped to attention. "Sir?"
The director leaned back. "You've never gotten along well with people, but for different reasons than as to why Agent Jenever can't seem to," he remarked. "As a child, you were often teased and tormented by the other agents-in-training." Vodka flushed at the remembrance. "You feel uneasy around other people partially because of that, and it seems to me that you have a lack of self-confidence.
"I'm putting you with a no-nonsense operative," the older man continued now, "someone who hasn't ever put up with such teasing from other agents. He's always kept to himself, as you have, though for reasons of his own. But you shouldn't have a problem carrying out missions with him. He will listen to your opinions and respect them. I've spoken to him separately and he is willing to accept you as his partner."
Vodka waited for a moment, and then suddenly realized that the director was waiting for him to say something. "Who is it, sir?" he asked, wanting to show that he was interested.
The director leaned back, lacing his fingers. "I'm assigning you to the agent codenamed Gin," he declared.
Vodka started, not having expected that at all. Gin? Why Gin, of all people? Gin was already one of the highest-ranked operatives in the entire consortium, with only a couple of others above him. He was highly efficient, as well, and he was known for his icy personality and eyes. Vodka, frankly, could not understand the director's confidence in such a partnership. He doubted that he would get along well with Gin at all.
"Is something wrong, Agent Vodka?"
Again Vodka came back to the present. "Oh . . . no, sir," he stammered.
"If something's on your mind, I would like to hear about it."
Vodka looked down, feeling somewhat embarrassed and self-conscious now. "I . . . I guess I'm just wondering, sir, why you think that I could work well with Gin," he said finally. "He doesn't seem like he would have a lot of patience with someone like me."
"He asked me the same question," the director said calmly. "And the answer I have for you is the same as what I told him. I see things that the agents don't always pick up on. Trust in my decision and give it some time. I'm confident that it will work. Naturally, the both of you will have to make some adjustments, but I'm certain you both will do your best to do so, unlike Agent Jenever, who did not even try at all." He looked at Vodka evenly. "That is all, Agent Vodka. You're to report to Agent Gin in the main conference room of building B."
Vodka nodded slowly, realizing that he would not receive any more of a response. "Thank you, sir," he said as he got up and headed for the door.
He was still in a daze as he walked up the hall to the elevator. He had been worried that he might lose his life, and instead he had been assigned to someone even more highly ranked than Jenever. He did not understand at all. He had wanted to question the director far more than he had, but had not, both because of being afraid of the other getting angry and offended and because he wanted to show that he did respect the advisor's decision, even though he did not understand it at all.
Vodka wondered if the director knew that Gin had rescued him once, when they had been children and Vodka had been mercilessly shoved into the swimming pool by Brandy and several other agents-in-training. Vodka had never forgotten that, but he had the feeling that Gin would not remember now, after eleven years had passed. And whether Gin did or not, Vodka still doubted that a partnership would work. Gin had been very aloof and bored when Vodka had tried to talk to him then, and he was probably all the more that way now.
The elevator doors opened and Vodka stepped inside, then pressed the button for the ground floor and waited while it descended. He wondered if all the rumors he had heard about Gin were true. The ones about Jenever certainly had been, as far as they had gone. Perhaps Gin was even more cold-hearted than he had been portrayed as being. And yet he had cared enough to rescue Vodka in the past, for whatever reason. . . . But Vodka was certain that Gin had drastically changed since then.
He himself had not changed much. At least, he did not think so.
The elevator stopped and he got out, walking across the foyer to the doors and exiting. Building B was next door, and Vodka went to it quickly, feeling a mix of curiosity and apprehension as he went through the doors. He badly wanted for things to work. If another partnership failed, Vodka was certain that he would not be let off as easily. And he would not end up merely having the director angry with him, but Gin as well. Somehow that seemed more nerve-wracking than anything else. He wanted Gin to be pleased. But Vodka was sure that he would not be.
Taking a deep breath and bracing himself, he pushed open the door leading into the main conference room. He blinked when he saw that it was empty. Gin was not there yet. Unless he had become annoyed and already left. . . . Too nervous to sit down, Vodka paced around the room before finally leaning against the wall to wait.
It was not long before the door opened again and Vodka heard the click of a cigarette lighter. He looked over with a start, and the first thought that went through his mind was that at least Gin surely would not complain if Vodka smoked around him. Then Vodka blinked, wondering if this was for certain the same person who had helped him get out of the pool. Maybe it was someone else. . . .
Feeling eyes upon him, the blonde looked over coldly, and Vodka looked away in embarrassment. It was him. His hair was much, much longer now, and the bangs were completely concealing his eyes, but Vodka recognized him anyway. He could never forget that cold expression. And Gin still apparently liked to dress casually, as he had when he had been a child. Instead of a suit, he wore a loose-fitting turtleneck sweater as well as a dark coat and hat.
Gin walked over to him now, and Vodka could see that he was being scrutinized. He swallowed nervously, pushing himself away from the wall, then froze once the taller man spoke. "Are you Vodka?" His voice was uncaring and dark. He was here on business. That was all. He did not seem to be concerned about the change that this would bring in his life. Though, his life, and Vodka's, were all about business. Whether they liked it or not, that was all that they existed for.
Vodka nodded shakily. "Y-yeah," he answered, and was frustrated with himself for stammering. Then he saw Gin looking at him expectantly. "Bro," he added then, flushing in further self-aggravation at forgetting his place. He wondered if seeing Gin's eyes would make him more anxious, or if it would help him relax better. He also wondered if Gin could even really see at all. It seemed incredible that anything could be visible through such shaggy bangs.
He shifted a bit. "We met once before," he said slowly, though he was certain that Gin's expression was devoid of recognition.
Gin looked unfazed. "Oh?" he remarked, and Vodka thought that Gin was raising an eyebrow. "When was that? I don't remember." He took the cigarette out of his mouth and held it between his fingers.
"It was a few years ago," Vodka admitted, still not feeling at ease at all. "Well . . . it was over ten years ago, when you were living in Japan before," he added, remembering that Gin had spent most of those ten plus years in America. "You'd gone somewhere on the base where you weren't supposed to, and I talked to you while they were trying to find where you'd gone. . . ." He was not sure why, but it made him somewhat uncomfortable to speak of something that had happened so long ago. Perhaps Gin would not want to be reminded of his mischievous behavior as a child. Jenever would have despised it.
But Gin only grunted. "I'm bad with faces," he said flatly, "if I only see the person for a short while." He placed the cigarette back in his mouth, studying Vodka again. Now the other could see an emerald eye, as some of the bangs fell away, and he nearly gave an involuntary shiver. That eye was filled with ice.
At last Gin leaned back. "I don't think I'd remember you anyway," he remarked. "You probably weren't wearing those then." He pointed at Vodka's sunglasses and the shorter man tensed.
"Well, no. . . ." Vodka wondered if Gin would suddenly reach out and snatch them away, as Jenever had done. Gin was the type who would not stand for insubordination, or even the possibility of it. But was he also excessively paranoid?
"Do you wear them all the time?" Gin asked next.
"A lot. . . ." Vodka shifted again, partially in a subconscious manner.
"Heh. You don't want anyone to know what you're thinking?" Gin almost looked amused. "They wouldn't need to see your eyes to know. I can tell right now that you're nervous. Your body language gives it away."
Vodka blushed, knowing that Gin was right. The blonde must have sensed his anxiety as soon as he had walked in the door. He opened his mouth, trying to think of something to say, and then not knowing what that something would be.
Gin's expression turned somewhat annoyed. "I'm not going to kill you," he pointed out, half-turning away. "Do whatever you want, including wearing those sunglasses. I don't care. The idea is that we're going to be together for a long time, so we'll have to get used to each other's quirks." He started to walk off, and it took Vodka a moment to realize that he was expected to follow. Quickly he did.
"Right, bro," he said then, and saw Gin nod in approval.
Vodka felt himself relaxing somewhat. Maybe this would work after all. Or at least, maybe it would not be as terrible as his time with Jenever had been (though Vodka was starting to wonder if anything could be as torturous as that). Gin did not seem to be a friendly person, but Vodka had not expected that from him. He did seem tolerant, at least, which was probably the best that Vodka could hope for.