Chapter Three

The sights and sounds of death were everywhere. Flashing lights from the ambulance and the police cars painted colors on the road, the vehicles, the people gathered around, and the sides of the nearby buildings. Most of the worst parts of the crash had been cleaned up by that time, but she could still see the medical examiner inspecting one of the bodies. A limp and bloodied hand was all that she could make out from her location, and even as she gave a small shudder, a sense of morbid curiosity came over her.

She wondered what the rest of the form looked like, and what the person had died from---the crash itself, or injuries that could have been treated? Would the person still be alive if help had gotten there sooner? She wondered if something like that could or would ever happen to her or someone she loved---not that she had many such people. But the ones she did have were all the more dear of her because of it.

Did the victims of the crash have people who would care about them, too?

Right by the corner where she was walking, she could see a scuffed and torn shoe, which had apparently landed there after the impact. She gazed at it for a moment, her thoughts turning over each other. Had it belonged to the body that was now being wheeled away, or one of the others? If it was the property of someone who had been taken to the hospital, would they wonder about it---if they recovered enough to be able to do so? Or maybe she was wrong and it had been there before, lost by a careless child on the way home from school.

She was often told that she was serious for her age, and people were both surprised and disturbed by it. Sometimes they would make jokes about her really being an adult in a child's body, and she would simply stand there, giving them a pokerface. Of course, they could never understand that she was being raised in a very serious, adult environment. It seemed that everyone wanted her to grow up too fast, except for Enok. He was her protector and her near-constant companion, and though he was eight years her senior, they were very close.

He had told her that outside of school, she should not call him "Enok" any longer. He was no longer that person, he said. He was being trained to be someone else. The Black Organization wanted a Gin, not an Enok. And she had said that he was still Enok to her.

She started, her eyes flying open as she did so. Everything seemed so quiet now, unlike a moment before. She lay where she was, gazing up at the white ceiling. What had happened to the shoe, the vehicles, the paramedics---the accident? Now they were all gone, and she was not even outside any longer. As she slowly adjusted to the scene around her, she realized that she was laying amid soft, white, and comfortable sheets and a matching comforter, with red trim. She was back in her bed at the hotel, not on the couch or even wandering down a lonely street witnessing an accident.

She could not remember how she had gotten back there. Gin had brought her, she supposed. The last thing she coherently remembered was him holding her. Had she fallen asleep in his arms? She frowned. That seemed unlikely. She could never again relax to that extent around him. If she had, she must have been hurt worse in the accident than she thought.

It seemed strange, to be dreaming about her childhood---if it could be called as such. She was no longer the little girl in that dream, though she was still serious. And she no longer thought of Gin as Enok. He was Gin, just as he had wanted her to call him. She could not imagine calling him anything else, anymore.

She smirked wryly to herself. It might be easy for her to determine what to call Gin, but when it came to herself, it was quite another matter. She had been living under aliases for so long, and using other personalities, that now she was no longer certain of who she was. Was she still Sherry, the dark and sadistic chemist for the Black Organization? She did not feel as though she was still in that part of her life, and yet it seemed that she could never escape from it. She was certainly not the strange little girl Ai Haibara now, and as for Shiho Miyano . . . who was she? Was Shiho only the girl before either of the other two had came along, or was Shiho all of them together? Or was she someone different entirely?

She knew that each persona she had taken on through the years held part of herself. But she was unsure of what name she should use. Gin seemed determined to call her Sherry, and while she did not like being called by that moniker, it did not seem to her that either of the others were exactly appropriate either. Maybe it was time for yet another, to mark another turning point in her life---though, what that turning point was, she still did not know. There was no telling how long she would be here, with Gin and Vodka, and she knew returning to Beika was out of the question. She hated the thought of going off somewhere alone again, but it was really the only choice she had. If she could get away from here, she would have to go elsewhere to start again.

It was odd---she was certain that Gin would not hurt her, and yet that was precisely why she did not feel safe around him. Inwardly, she knew that she did not trust her own feelings. She was weak, to still feel for him as she had in the past. She could not allow it to continue, but as long as she was with him, she knew that it would. Knowing, and then seeing, his apparent concern for Ayumi Yoshida had seriously weakened her resolve about him to begin with, and during her encounter with him at the docks, she had been too confused to know what to make of it. She had threatened to kill him, but had not been able to. Of course, he had kissed her to make it all the more perplexing. And in that state of mind, she had now met up with him again, almost as if it had been supposed to happen. Not that she believed in such things, and even if she did, she could not imagine that this misadventure was intentional. If so, whoever was controlling fate must have a sick sense of humor.

Gin did not want to let her go, and she was afraid that with her current mixed feelings, he would again "torture her sweetly" and bend her will to his. She was afraid that she would entirely lose her resolve, and find herself wanting to stay with him in spite of herself.

Without warning the door was flung open, and she looked up in surprise. Gin was standing there, gripping the knob in a way that she could see meant he was feeling distressed. His expression was grim, his jaw set, his eyes narrowed and filled with something she interpreted to mean that there was approaching danger.

Quickly she sat up, regarding him with an equally serious expression. "What is it?" she demanded.

He looked at her, the urgency obvious in his eyes. "There's another Black Organization operative in this building," he announced darkly.

She stared at him, feeling fear grip her heart. Another one? Why? Could that truly be a coincidence? Maybe they had been followed. Could someone have known what Gin's plan was? He would never have said, but perhaps someone like Vermouth would have figured it out. Vermouth had often had the uncanny knack of being able to determine what Gin was going to do, but that fact had usually not bothered her much. She gripped a handful of quilt.

"Who is it?" she asked, searching the other's eyes for any hint that would lead her to the truth. She dreaded the answer. Would he have said if it was Vermouth? And whoever it was, how had he learned of the other's presence? Had he been threatened?

He left the door open as he advanced further into the room. "It's Cognac," he growled. "You remember him, don't you? One of the explosion specialists."

She swallowed hard. She remembered. He delighted in his work, almost to the point where he was an obsessed fanatic. But would they send an explosion specialist after Gin? She frowned. "How did you learn he's here?"

"Vodka saw him when he went downstairs to get more cigarettes." Gin walked past her to the glass doors, brushing aside the sheer, lace curtain to look out onto the balcony. Apparently not finding anything unusual, he let the cloth fall back into place as he turned around again to face her.

"Was Vodka seen by him?" She started to move back the covers. It was doubtful that she could sleep any more right now, and at any rate, she certainly did not want to. They were not safe here, just as she had feared. The Black Organization always seemed to end up where she was located. She must be cursed, she thought dryly. And if Gin continued to do as he was doing now, he would share in that curse.

"Vodka doesn't think he was," Gin grunted, "but who knows." Vodka was not extremely skilled at being stealthy to begin with, and when he had not been thinking that he needed to be overly cautious in the hotel, he most likely had not been. But in their favor, Cognac had been talking to the desk clerk, and had seemed quite occupied with that. Perhaps he truly would not have noticed the heavyset man going past him.

She sighed. "Could he be after us?" she asked. The thought was obviously in Gin's mind as well. Being as highly ranked as he was, he generally knew the locations of the other Tokyo agents when they were out on assignments. Of course, it was late now, and if Cognac had simply gotten stranded for the night, Gin would not necessarily have heard about that. But he also would not have got the memo if Cognac had been sent out to eliminate him.

"Yes, he could be," Gin answered slowly. From the tone of his voice, she could tell that there was something else on his mind.

Her eyes narrowed further. "What is it?" She watched him walk away from the doors and past the bed again, his coat sweeping out behind him.

He stopped, staring out the door into the room beyond. "He could have tracked a different target here," he said. "Or maybe the hotel itself has something it shouldn't, such as information about the Organization in its computer system. If some smartass decided to try hacking into our computers, who knows what would happen." It could be a repeat of the Countdown to Heaven all over again, only this time, without Gin being in control of it. He hated the thought, especially when he had Sherry here with him.

Suddenly she felt alarmed for another reason. An uneasy feeling was forming in the pit of her stomach, and her suspicions of what was going on were only increasing. She started to push herself off the bed. Even with the snow, they needed to get out of there---now. They should not stay there overnight, not with another Black Organization operative in the building---and an explosion specialist at that. Perhaps she was just being paranoid, but she did not want to take a chance. And the blonde seemed to have ideas similar to hers. She looked to Gin, her eyes narrowed darkly. "You mean . . ."

She never did finish her sentence. A cacophony of sound ripped through the floors beneath them, and its source seemed almost to take hold of the entire hotel and rock it violently. She fell back onto the bed with a gasp, watching the lights flicker dangerously. Gin fell forward, barely managing to catch himself on the footboard. The furniture trembled and vibrated, but then as soon as it started, it stopped, leaving everything in a too-deathly silence.

Gin looked over at her grimly. "Yes," he said flatly. "I do mean that."

The sound of frantic running met their ears then, and Vodka dashed to the doorway, gripping it as he breathed heavily. "Bro!" he gasped, looking to his partner. "The hotel---they're blowing it up!"

Gin straightened his body, glancing to Vodka before turning and reaching for Shiho. "I know," he growled. "There's probably bombs every few floors or so. We have to get out before all of them go off."

She brushed the strong hands away as she again started to stand. "I can manage on my own," she said firmly, though she actually did have to wonder. She had managed to walk into the living room a while ago, but that was much different than trying to escape a hotel under attack. And now that she thought of it, how could she leave the suite dressed as she currently was? She looked to Gin. "Where are my clothes?" she demanded.

He grunted. "You wouldn't be able to wear them," he replied. "They're bloodstained and wet from the snow. And we don't have time for you to change, anyway."

She gazed down at herself incredulously as she stood. Gin was right, of course. They would have to leave before anything else happened. She was not sure whether it was her imagination, but it had almost sounded as though the building was groaning. She would not be surprised. And the next bombs could go off at any time.

"At least I need my boots," she declared.

Gin was about to respond when another explosion rocked the building, more powerful than the first. Shiho gave a startled cry as she lost her balance, tumbling into Gin's arms. The blonde stumbled back, clutching her tightly as he bumped into the dresser. Vodka grabbed more desperately onto the doorframe, planting his feet on the floor as the room shuddered violently. Again the lights flickered, the glow becoming first dim and then very bright. It remained that way for a brief moment, as if hesitating, and then went out, plunging the room into darkness.

Gin gave a harsh curse as his eyes began to adjust. The only light was coming through the glass doors outside, and it fell dimly on the walls, furniture, and floor, and on Sherry's white face. She was subconsciously gripping at him, perhaps as she tried to regain her footing, perhaps out of shock and fear. At the moment he did not care which. His main priority now was to escape with her, and Vodka, alive.

Without warning he reached down, getting a hand under her knees as he lifted her up. Her eyes widened in utter disbelief. "There isn't time to get your boots, either," he growled, walking past Vodka as he exited the bedroom. The heavyset man watched him for a moment before following.

"Bro . . . will we even be able to get out at all?" he asked, swallowing hard. Suddenly death was a very real possibility. And though he had imagined that it would come soon, he realized now that he was very unprepared for it. Nor had he imagined this scenario in the slightest. He had thought death might come from a shootout, not an explosion. And this explosion might not even be directed at them. They may have become entangled in a plot that did not relate to them in the slightest, save for the fact that now they might be killed by it. It was quite unsettling.

Gin arrived at the front door, and balanced Sherry as he opened it. He studied the hall with narrowed eyes, watching the frantic people run from their rooms towards the stairwells. Several were foolish enough to try the elevator, but it seemed to already be out of order, judging from the way that they repeatedly and desperately pressed the Down button without success. "This floor hasn't been affected yet," he reported. "There's no telling what the ones below us will look like, but we're going to have to try." Undoubtedly some of the levels would be damaged from the bombs. A lot of people might become trapped in the building with no way out, and Gin did not intend to let that happen to them.

Overhead, the lights began to flicker again as the generators activated. Gin only glanced up at them briefly before stepping out into the hall. He did not bother to look back and see if Vodka was behind him. He knew that the other would be.

"What if the parking garage has been bombed?" Sherry spoke, looking up at him. He could tell that she was very unhappy with her current situation, but she would have to deal with it. Even if she was not seriously hurt from the car accident, it was not likely that she would be able to keep up with his and Vodka's pace, with her injuries. He fully intended to carry her all the way down and outside.

Now he did not answer. It was possible, but unlikely, if what Cognac wanted to hide was in the hotel itself. If Cognac had been after a specific person, however, Gin knew that the other might try to render any means of transportation unusable, just in case they escaped the current trap. But for now, they would have to think that the garage was still available to them. They needed that car as their escape. And Gin did not particularly want to see anything happen to it, for other reasons as well.

In a matter of a couple of minutes, the corridor had become a complete madhouse. As they tried to make their way to the nearest stairwell door, other people were constantly pushing and shoving against them as they also made the attempt. Gin could feel elbows poking into his sides, and up ahead he could see another person fall to the floor amid the commotion. It did not seem as though anyone noticed or cared about the incident, and the assassin held Sherry closer as he pushed his way through the chaos. That poor fool would be lucky if he was not completely trampled.

His eyes widened as he felt someone slam into him from behind. He stumbled forward, vaguely aware that he had stepped on someone's toes in the melee, but did not try to look back to see who had tumbled against him. He did not want to get distracted from the stairwell. It was just ahead now, and two women fumbled with the heavy handle for a long moment before finally noticing that they were supposed to push the door and not pull. Gin muttered to himself.

"Sorry, bro," he heard a voice mumble from behind him. Strong hands were laid on his shoulders, steadying him---and probably also in an attempt to steady the other. Vodka slowly walked out from behind the blonde, using his physical strength to force a path clear for them. He reached the door first, and pushed it open as Gin walked through. Then he quickly followed. The rest of the people could get the door for themselves.

Sherry kept quiet as Gin walked down the stairs. She was still not happy about being carried, and especially by Gin, for several reasons. But right now she supposed she had to be grateful that she did not have to walk. It would be almost impossible for her to do so, amid these maniacs. A crisis of this magnitude could instantly turn relatively sane people into a flailing, mindless mob---and it had. She would be willing to put up with it, of course, were it not for her injuries from earlier.

"You wouldn't be in this mess, if not for bringing me here," she remarked quietly.

Gin grunted. He could tell that she was saying it because she was hoping for an answer, but he did not have one to give. He could never have predicted this scenario. But in any case, he had known that having her with him would put him in danger as much as her. Did he have to explain all of his actions to her? It had used to be that she had known him well, and he had not had to speak in order for her to understand. They truly had grown distant. It seemed wrong, somehow.

They reached the next landing, and Vodka moved to allow Gin to get past first. The stout man was about to quickly follow suit when a small body slipped around his legs. Blinking, he looked down at the child's form. It was a boy of about seven, with sandy-colored hair and a white shirt with blue shorts. The hair's style was short and layered, but other than that, the child had an uncanny resemblance to Gin when he had been that age. It almost seemed eerie, and he glanced at Gin to see his reaction. Gin, however, did not seem to notice or care.

Sherry followed the boy's movements until he scurried around the corner out of sight. He could be heard jumping down the stairs two at a time, and she smiled slightly to herself. She doubted he really understood the danger he was in. To him, it must seem like a big adventure. Children were so innocent that way. Hopefully, this would just be a "big adventure" and not a big disaster.

She wondered what they would do when they got out of here. Would Gin try to find another hotel, or would she be able to convince him to let her go? That was unlikely. And what if Cognac was, indeed, blowing up the hotel because he was trying to kill them? There was not any way of actually knowing what he was thinking.

They passed the second landing from their floor. There was still quite a way to go to reach the bottom. And as Gin continued walking, some of the sounds that they had been hearing along the way began to change to voices---voices filled with frantic pain. She frowned, trying to listen.

"I can't move! I can't move! I'm trapped!"

It was a woman's panicked voice, and she was sobbing. It sounded like she was on the next floor, and there were other, indiscernible voices nearby, shouting apparent orders to each other on how to help her. It seemed that the hotel was already starting to come apart, and she was being held fast by a strong beam.

Sherry narrowed her eyes. There would not be much time to get the victim freed. Smoke from the fires was starting to drift into the stairwell, and she turned her head as a cough rose on her lips. Before her time with Kudo, she would have believed that getting herself out would be the most important thing. Now she found herself wondering if anyone trying to help the trapped woman had medical training. Would they know what to do if she had broken bones, or deep lacerations? Would they know how to treat her for shock, and how to move her without causing further injuries?

Without warning came the third explosion, more fierce than the first two. The entire stairwell shook and trembled, and in the enclosed space echoed the cracking of the walls. Plaster began to rain from the groaning ceiling, and someone screamed as part of a wooden beam crashed to the floor, exposing the electrical wiring in the widening space above.

Gin cursed as the force from the blast took his ability to stand. Clutching tighter to the woman in his arms, he fell backwards, slamming hard onto the metal stairs. Dazedly he stared up at the gaping hole in the ceiling. He could see another beam hanging precariously as more plaster and dust made its warning descent, and he knew the thing was about to fall. He reached down, pushing and holding Sherry's head against his chest as he rolled onto his side and out of the way. Behind him he could hear the deadly wood crashing to the stairs. Splinters became airborn, and Gin felt several of them bounce off his back before they fell lifeless across the floor.

He could feel Sherry's heart racing as she gripped at his coat and his arms. No matter what she claimed that her feelings for him were, the action around them, and her injuries, were forcing her to rely on him at least somewhat. He knew that she was probably not pleased, because of her independent personality as well as the awkward situation with Gin. She probably wanted more than anything to be released.

But he was pleased. He wanted her to fall into his embrace and to not resist. He wanted her to accept that she loved him and to not struggle to deny it any longer. But why? Why was that important to him?

Did he just want to have that power over her, the same way he had thought he wanted her to fear him? He had tried to convince himself that was the only reason. It would make sense. After all, he was beyond deeper feelings. He did not love. He did not care about people. But still, as he held her alarmed body close to him, feeling her winded breathing, he wondered if it was more than that.

He imagined her body cold and still, unresisting him not because she wanted him, but because of the sleep of death. She would never speak to him again, or argue with him, and he would never have the chance to win her back---if that was what he wanted. She would be beautiful in death as well as life, but there would not be any challenge then, no hope of finding her again. She would be lost to him. And in that moment, as he gazed down at her as she looked up at him, he knew with a firm and unwavering surety that he was going to keep her alive.

And it was not just because of a challenge, or because he wanted to torment her for her betrayal. He did not know what it was, only that he felt complete with her there. He did not just want her, he needed her. Was that love, or was it merely an obsession? Or had the obsession developed from love? He was not even sure any more. But he wanted to know. And he would never be able to find out if she was dead.

"Are you alright?" he asked now.

She nodded shakily, and paused. "Are you?" Her voice was slow, hesitant, uneasy. It seemed strange, to be asking him such a question---even moreso when she realized it was a sincere query.

"Fine." He rose up slightly, casting his gaze around the area. Where was Vodka? Was he safe? There were people all around them, yelling and crying, but Gin could not see his partner anywhere. He frowned in annoyance. It was foolish to worry. Vodka could take care of himself. He was fine.


Gin turned slightly, moving half onto his back as he looked up. Vodka was standing on the steps above him, his sunglasses hanging half off his face. A bit of blood was coming from a cut over his right eye, but it did not look serious. He placed a hand on the wall, balancing himself as he came down the rest of the stairs and walked around Gin and Sherry to stand on the landing at their feet. He seemed alright, but worry for Gin flickered across his features.

Sherry released Gin now that the immediate danger had passed. She had been momentarily startled from the explosion and the ceiling caving in, but now she had control over her senses again. She wanted to get up, and she would have, if Gin was not still holding her as if he would never again let go. She took hold of his arms, trying to pry them away from her. "Let me go," she requested, looking to the green eyes with what she hoped was a firm, demanding expression. She was tired of being carried, and even though she was not feeling completely up to par, she wanted to walk on her own. If it had not done any other good, the explosion had jarred sense into her. She did not want Gin to hold her. She hated the memories it stirred.

Gin grunted as he slowly loosened his grip. It would be easier to get up right now if he was not holding onto her, and the crowds of people had seemed to have thinned out for the moment. Otherwise, he probably would not have complied. And in any case, he intended to take hold of her again. He was certain that she would soon realize that it would not be easy for her to maneuver her way through the hotel in her current state, even if the last thing she would do would be to admit that she needed Gin's help.

He watched as she took hold of the wall, using it to lean on as she guided her body into a standing position. She swayed for a moment when she let go, and quickly grabbed onto it again. Her gaze drifted to the debris-covered floor, and she carefully placed her bare feet where there were not splinters or other, larger parts of the ceiling's support structure.

Gin was then able to rise as well. He reached behind him, gathering his hair with one hand and brushing the unwelcome intruders out of it with the other. The smoke was getting to him more than he realized, and his eyes watered as he turned away, coughing. There was no telling how much of the building was damaged now, but the floors they had just come from were obviously in peril, as some of the smoke was coming into the stairwell from the hole above.

"Let's stop wasting time," he grumbled, walking past Vodka with a flourish. "There's no telling when it will be too late."

Sherry concurred. She followed him then, cautiously, and Vodka brought up the rear. The other people in the space were getting their bearings as well, and now they dazedly fell into place behind Vodka.

Gin stayed alert as they went down the next set of steps. He could feel pieces of wood and plaster crunching under his feet, and as they turned the next corner, he noticed that the glass around a fire extinguisher had cracked and shattered. Now it was laying in variously assorted fragments all over the floor, and on several of the stairs. He glared at the crystal as he reached for the object it had been protecting. Judging by the increasing smoke, they might need the extinguisher to get out of the building. He handed it to Vodka to carry.

"There's broken glass along here," he said gruffly to Sherry, only half-glancing back at her before continuing his pace. She would be able to see it as well as he could, so he would not lift her up again---yet. If she wanted to try to make it on her own, then he did not care at this point. She would not be able to run from him here, and Vodka was behind her anyway. The other people were not stampeding, either. Perhaps they realized the idiocy of the motion. Or maybe they were too dazed to do otherwise. Whatever the case, Gin was glad of it.

"There was a woman trapped on this floor," Sherry remarked as they approached the landing. With narrowed eyes, she looked toward the stairwell door. It was open, hanging half off its hinges. Obviously one of the bombs had been planted on this floor. Instinctively she placed a hand over her nose and mouth as she squinted, trying to see through the thick clouds of smoke. The crackling of a fire could be clearly heard to the side of the yawning doorway, and as she leaned in slightly to look, some of the embers leapt out at her. She jumped back, at the same moment Gin's strong hand came down on her shoulder.

He half-turned her around, his viselike grip sending a chill down her spine. "There were people helping her," he said.

She looked up into his green eyes. They were the same as his voice, unwavering and filled with a cold steel. He had given her a certain semblance of freedom, but she could tell from his reaction now that if she tried to follow through with an idea of lending assistance to that unknown woman, that liberty would end. But that did not mean she would accept it. She had never gone along with Gin's dominant personality, and he both hated and loved that about her.

"They might need someone who has medical knowledge," she answered. "Even if they've got her free, they might not know what should be done to keep her injuries from getting worse."

Gin clenched his fist at his side. Why did she have to pick now to be stubborn? Judging from the appearance of the floor they were at, it would probably only get worse the further down they went. They could not take time out to do other things. If she went into the burning inferno they were looking at, there was not a guarantee that she would even make it back out again. He had just found her and had her with him. He was not about to give her up because she wanted to get involved in some foolhardy and dangerous rescue mission. He knew it was selfish, but he wondered if anyone would really blame him for not wanting to take such a risk of losing her, especially under the circumstances. Not that he wanted someone to understand what he was feeling right now.

"We need to get out now!" he snapped, grabbing her other shoulder as well. It was also not lost on him that her behavior was different. In the past, she would have rationalized that the woman was being helped satisfactorily, and leave it at that. He made a mental note to question her about this once they were safely away from here.

"Maybe they even already got her out," Vodka spoke up hesitantly.

"It's possible, but not likely, considering the explosion that came right then," Sherry replied. She looked into the room thoughtfully. She did not hear any voices now. Maybe, if there was another way off the floor, they had taken it. And then there was also the possibility that the ceiling had caved in and they were buried underneath it, in which case it was not likely that any of them would still be alive. And while she did want to give assistance if she could, she did not plan to be reckless.

Vodka tensed as he felt people brushing past him to go down the stairs. He stepped closer to Gin, wishing that they could follow suit and just leave. It did not seem like anything would be accomplished by staying here, gazing into those angry flames. He looked to his partner.

Gin could feel Vodka watching him, but he did not bother to turn around. He had half a mind to scoop Sherry into his arms, whether she liked it or not, and hasten down the rest of the staircases to the ground floor---if they still had access to the other levels. It was highly possible that the bombs had destroyed other parts of the stairwell, or at the very least, they might have caused large amounts of debris to be dumped right where they would need to walk. But in any case, the longer they waited, the more likely it would be that they would not be able to get out.

Sherry turned suddenly, giving a thoughtful nod. "Let's go," she said, not giving any explanation for her actions. But right now, Gin did not care.

He saw the fire flash a split second before it roared toward the opening, directly at them. Without warning he grabbed Sherry and clutched her against his chest, barely thinking about his own actions as he leaped out of the way. The most important thing was to avoid the flames. Hopefully Vodka had been quick enough to follow suit.

He cursed when he stayed airborne for longer than he should have. The landing was not large enough to stay on while dodging the angry fire, and he found himself painfully hitting the stairs. Over and over he tumbled, keeping his deathgrip on Sherry's warm body until he came to a halt at the next floor, slamming onto it on his back.

For the second time in the last few minutes, he lay where he was as he gathered his bearings. Pain was shooting through all parts of his body from the spill, and it was obvious that he would be badly bruised when this was over. Hopefully nothing worse than that.

He forced himself into a sitting position, and as Sherry tried to move with him, she found herself sitting on his lap. They did not have time to wait while the agony rushed throughout his body. It could be a while before it would settle down, and Gin had trained himself to deal with pain. They had to leave.

"Now are you satisfied?" he growled angrily as he looked into Sherry's shaken eyes. "We have to get out of here."

She nodded weakly, pushing herself away from him as she carefully rose. She could not keep the bite out of her tone as she responded. "Ironic, isn't it, that we wouldn't be in this situation if you hadn't brought me here." Now she was not saying it because she wanted to know why Gin had taken her. Now she was simply angry over the situation, and her feelings, and she was taking it out on him. If not for him, she would not have to be so bewildered over what she thought of him. She could have gone on, denying her love and continuing to hate and fear him. Now she was torn.

Gin's expression twisted in fury. It was not as if he had known about Cognac's plans. He still wondered if this was the other's way of trying to eliminate them, but while it was possible that Cognac was blowing up the hotel so that no one would know his target, it seemed likely that there was another reason for this---perhaps because of information on the computers, as he had previously thought.

"I saved your life," he hissed as he got up as well.

"For what reason?" she retorted. "I would rather be dead than to be part of some twisted plan of yours. And anyway, it's possible that we'll all die in here."

Gin was about to retort when his hat was suddenly thrust at him. He frowned, glaring at it. He must have lost it on the way down, after he had jumped. He grabbed it, turning to look at the one who had proffered it.

The shorter man looked back nervously, shifting under his partner's piercing gaze. "We'd better go," he said uncomfortably. He had seen that Gin and Sherry had started to become involved in an argument, one that could have gone on for some time if he had let it continue. If they could just find their way out, then the former lovers would have plenty of time to talk, or argue. But now, as the building was falling apart around them, was not a good time.

Gin did not answer. He continued to regard Vodka with a cold gaze as he placed the now-battered fedora on his head. Then he swept past, heading for the next set of steps. He would ignore the fact that it hurt to walk. He would force himself to go on anyway. Behind him, he could hear Sherry and Vodka falling into place again.

It seemed amazing that the next few floors were passed without incident. The amount of debris that they found had definitely increased, and on the sixth level smoke had poured from under the door and flames had been heard roaring behind it. Gin supposed that it should not have surprised him that they ended up running into another obstacle. This one, however, was not like the others. This was a living obstruction.

He cursed as they approached the landing of the fifth level. People had gathered in a circle, and they were spread the entire length of the small space. There was not any way to get past them without pushing into the throng. And so Gin grabbed the shoulders of the two people nearest him, forcing them away from each other so that he could squeeze through between them.

Instead of being upset by this interruption, as he would have expected, they looked at him worriedly. "Are you trained in the medical field?" asked the one, taking in his icy presence and dark eyes. Ordinarily he was not the sort of person they would appeal to at all, but right now they were desperate.

"I am," Sherry announced before Gin could have the chance to brush them off, as she imagined he would have done. She also made her way through the people, and stopped to survey the situation when she was standing beside Gin. Vodka was quickly following, but she paid little attention to him.

Her eyes narrowed darkly when she saw that the others had crowded around the small boy from earlier. Now he was laying on the cold marble, crumpled on his side. His arms were out in front of him, as if he had tried to brace himself for a fall. Blood had pooled around his head, matting down his hair, and his skin was chalk white. He gave no indication of movement, and his closed eyes added to the morbid picture.

Immediately Sherry went forward, kneeling down beside the silent form. "What happened here?" she demanded, though she could make a good guess.

One of the other men in the circle spoke. "That last explosion really shook things up on this floor," he said quietly, twisting his soft hat about in his trembling hands. "The boy was just starting to run down these steps at the time, and . . ." He shook his head. "He lost his balance and fell." Even though he was talking to the chemist, his eyes never left the child's body, and when Sherry glanced up, she could see the especially haunted look in those eyes. It was possible that he was just understandably sensitive in cases like this, but she had to suspect that he knew this boy and was even close to him---perhaps the father or an uncle. But that was unimportant.

Vodka stayed close to Gin, watching uneasily as Sherry bent down to check for signs of life. He remembered that the boy had reminded him of Gin, when they had seen him earlier. Gin had been a terror as a child, full of life and mischief and energy. He probably could have easily ended up laying motionless, the victim of the same sort of calamity. Vodka shuddered, looking away.

Seeing injured children in general bothered him, even though as a general rule he considered the little ones to be brats. He had been horrified and indignant when Ayumi Yoshida had been used against Gin, and he knew Gin had been outraged. Usually the blonde did not give any indication of how he felt, as he was doing right now by standing silently with crossed arms while Sherry carefully turned the boy onto his back and began performing artificial respiration. Vodka had started to wonder of late if Gin honestly did not care about such things, or if he wanted to appear indifferent because he did not want to care---even if it did indeed bother him. Vodka would never ask, and Gin would never tell. It was an unspoken agreement between them on quite a few subjects.

He started back to the present when a weak gasp and a cough interrupted his thoughts. When he turned his attention back to the child, he saw the boy was trying to raise up on an elbow, drinking in the polluted and smoke-filled air. His eyes were wide open, as if he could not get enough oxygen to satisfy his needs and was in a panic because of it. Sherry was leaning back, simply observing, and when the man who had been so distraught came over, she moved further out of the way.

"Thank you," he was saying again and again, looking from the child to the woman. "Thank you!"

Sherry shook her head slowly. "Do you have a clean cloth?" she asked.

He blinked in surprise and confusion, but searched through his pockets until he found a white handkerchief. "Here," he said as he presented it to her.

She took it, folding it up in a neat rectangle once, then twice, and leaned over the boy again. He seemed frightened now, and she spoke quietly to him as she gently pressed the cloth over the profusely bleeding head wound. Vodka could not catch her words, and judging from Gin's bored expression, he either could not or else he did not find it very interesting. But whatever she said, it seemed to calm the child, and he lay back down while gazing up at her in apparent awe.

Sherry looked back to the man. "Under normal circumstances, the victim of a head injury should not be moved until the proper medical authorities arrive," she remarked, "but we don't have that option. Will you be able to gently carry him down the rest of the way?" As she spoke, she held the cloth in place with one hand while taking hold of the sleeve of her nightgown with the other. She ripped it with ease, then took a long strip and wound it around the boy's head, tying it so that it would keep the dressing secure until something professional could be applied.

The man nodded shakily, and bending down, he reached for the small body. The boy seemed to take notice of him for the first time, and a bright smile came over his features as he was lifted up. His mouth opened as he apparently tried to form words, but could not manage it. Instead he settled for placing his arms around the other's neck.

Sherry slowly straightened up, watching them with what looked like a wistful smile across her features. She turned, heading for the next flight of stairs, but froze at the man's new words.

"You're an angel sent to us," he declared earnestly, as he allowed the two men with her to go past.

She frowned deeply. An angel? No, she was the furthest thing from an angel. She had often considered herself a demon. But she could not help recalling something Kudo had said to her long ago.

"Even a demon can become an angel."

She smirked slightly. She still did not know if that was true. It was a nice thought, at any rate, and he had seemed to believe it. She would like to believe it as well.

"No," she spoke as she began to descend the stairs. "I'm not an angel. I'm . . ." She paused, mulling over the right choice of words. "I'm just a demon who yearns to become an angel, someday."

The night air was even more chill than she had remembered. But then again, she had been cozy and warm in a hotel room for several hours, and then had been in danger of being burned alive. It was understandable to have gotten used to the heat. As she finally stumbled through the door into the welcome parking garage, the stinging wind struck her harshly across her face. She shivered subconsciously, wishing she had something to keep her warm. The nightgown did not offer much protection at all, and being white, it did not absorb warmth. Not to mention that now one of the sleeves was half gone.

She narrowed her eyes as she took another step forward. She would not show that she was cold. She would make it back to the car fine, if her bare feet did not freeze along the way. The concrete felt icy, and suddenly she found that her greatest desire would be to have a long, hot shower---for more reasons than one. She surely could not look very presentable, after the experience she had just come through. She probably looked as bad, or worse, than she felt.

The feel of something thick and warm being laid over her shoulders caused her to start back to the present. She looked down at the familiar black cloth, now torn in places and still covered by a thin layer of plaster. A quiet smirk came over her features as she remembered Gin's earlier words about her clothes being bloodstained and unwearable.

"This coat is bloodstained too," she murmured. "Figuratively."

Gin only grunted.

A lone figure watched from a secluded and well-hidden point as the frazzled trio made their way across the parking garage to where the black Porsche was still waiting for them. He had seen the car there when he had first come out of the building, and had decided to wait and see if the famed agent Gin made it out safely. He was not surprised to see the blonde's stout partner with him, but the sight of the girl was definitely something he had not expected. She should not be there. If she was with Gin at all, it should be as a corpse. But she was very much alive, and apparently Gin had just given her his coat to wear against the cold. He showed no indication of malice or hostility, or that he would shoot her dead, as he was ordered to.

The shadow smirked to himself as he pulled out his phone and dialed a number. Oh, this was very interesting indeed. He placed the phone to his ear, watching as Gin reached the car first and unlocked it. The girl was climbing into the back, and Vodka was walking around to the passenger side. Gin was using a hand to brush any remaining plaster and wood splinters out of his hair before sliding into the driver's seat. Obviously they were all leaving together.

There was a click on the phone, followed by a familiar voice in greeting. The spy smirked more, leaning on his own car as he spoke into the receiver.

"Agent Vermouth? Yes, this is Cognac. My mission's been completed without a hitch. Oh, and just an interesting tidbit I picked up---it seems that Gin is officially a traitor to the Black Organization."