Detective Conan

Friendly Fire

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The characters are not mine (save Jenever and Brandy, and the director) and the story is. I'm not entirely sure where the idea came from, but when it appeared it insisted on being written! It's for challenge #36, Gun, at 100 Situations.

The commotion at the Tokyo base of the Black Organization took place in the middle of the night, and was soon brought to the attention of most of the agents, despite the hour. It was not unusual for them to be injured while carrying out their assignments, but the greater percentage of the time, they managed to avoid serious and life-threatening experiences. This time, that had not been possible. And the circumstances surrounding this incident were going to make for some very unpleasant repercussions for days afterward.

"He's lost a lot of blood," commented one of the young medics, looking down at the limp and unconscious form on the gurney. He pressed firmly against the covering over the serious wound, seeing that blood was seeping through again.

"Will he make it?" another asked, looking over with narrowed eyes.

"It's hard to say. There may have been internal damage as well."

"Frankly, it seems likely. It could have even damaged his spine."

"The bullet's still in his body."

"Get him into the operating room, now!"

Vodka stared after the retreating medics in a daze, his heart racing. His tie was undone, and his normally orderly clothes were rumpled and covered with blood. More of the crimson substance was on his hands, but he did not make any move to go somewhere to wash it off. His sunglasses had slipped partway down his nose, revealing his haunted bluish-lavender eyes, and he did not even notice to replace the shades that covered them. One thought kept going through his mind, one thought that plagued and tormented him to no end.

It's my fault. . . .

He simply stood where he was, unable to think or move. Again and again in his mind he turned over the events of the past thirty minutes, desperately trying to remember if there was not something else he could have done, something that would have changed what now was. Such thinking was pointless, but at this moment he did not care. Of course, he decided, if he had been more careful, this would not be happening at all.

Vodka wandered uncomfortably through the darkened warehouse, his gun held out to the level of his eyes as he searched for the target who had led him and Gin in here. Over the years, and especially the past months, he had become very uneasy about venturing into such places. It seemed that whatever they did, something went wrong courtesy of the target, or of the building itself, as they were often old and rickety. This one seemed fairly new, but Vodka still had to wonder if the pursued had something in mind. He was certain that Gin wondered, too. The blonde would be on his guard, with good reason.

Abruptly Vodka's train of thought was cut short as a form came flying at him out of the darkness. He could see nothing of the features, but the gleaming knife pointed at his throat was quite visible in the light from the moon outside. Vodka suddenly felt his insides twist. He had no time to get out of the way. And in the split-second before he would have been killed, he whipped his gun into position and squeezed the trigger.

When the shot first rang out, Vodka did not realize that anything out of the ordinary had happened. But as the assailant collapsed, dead, Vodka stared as he noticed another figure there, shuddering as a hand was clamped over its left side. Green eyes looked up at Vodka in shock, and the heavyset man suddenly felt numb. He fumbled with his gun, barely managing to get it correctly put back in the shoulder holster before struggling to force his shaking legs to move forward to his partner.

What had happened? he could not help but exclaim silently. Had the bullet gone through the stranger and then into Gin's body, or had Gin shot the attacker while Vodka had missed entirely and instead had shot his partner? Or had there even been a second person who had shot Gin? Vodka did not remember hearing two guns go off, but by now the poor man was so bewildered that he was not certain what he had actually heard. All he realized was that Gin was now wounded. And he did not hear anyone else in the building. He knew that this must have, indeed, been his doing in some way.

"Bro . . ." he murmured, his voice cracking. He reached out, trying to steady the blonde as he doubled over in pain. Had Gin been about to shoot the target himself when Vodka had acted first and caused . . . this to happen? Would they both be fine if he had been just a half-second slower in getting his gun aimed?

Gin slumped into Vodka's strong arms, dizziness sweeping over him. He coughed, tasting blood in his mouth. "What did you do?" he mumbled, sounding dazed. "What did you do?"

Vodka swallowed hard. "I . . . I don't know," he gasped. He stumbled back several steps as Gin fell further against him, unable to stand with the direction the bullet had taken. Vodka's thoughts continued to race. How badly was his partner hurt? Would he recover? In any case . . . this was Vodka's fault. He fully believed that, even though it was an accident and could not have been controlled. His hands shaking, he tried to steady the green-eyed man. He knew he needed to lay Gin down somewhere to examine the damage, but he was afraid of hurting the other worse in the process.

Gin hissed in pain, suddenly feeling nauseous. Whatever course the bullet had taken, it was causing him to lose blood fast. He could not remember very clearly what had happened, though vaguely he thought he recalled being struck by the same bullet that had killed the target. Vodka had been trying to defend himself. This could not have been prevented. He coughed again, subconsciously gripping at Vodka's shoulders as his partner tried to gently lay him on the floor. It hurt. . . . He had not felt such excruciating pain for some time, and he wondered how a single bullet could cause so much searing discomfort.

Vodka fumbled, struggling to untie the cloth belt around Gin's coat. The blood on his hands made it hard for him to get his fingers around the knot, not to mention that he was still in shock from what had happened. It felt like a strange dream that Vodka was detached from, something that was not actually happening. It was, and yet it was not possible or real. Vodka had not done this. He was not responsible for Gin's injuries. But he was . . . he had done it; he could not get away from that truth.

At last the belt came free, and Vodka brushed back the sides of the coat, feeling another wave of guilt as he saw the crimson that had seeped over his partner's sweater. Slowly he pushed it up, sickened as he surveyed the torn flesh and the badly bleeding wound. And it was not as if Gin had only been grazed---which would have been bad enough. He was seriously hurt.

Vodka clenched a fist. He could not waste time feeling guilty. Gin needed help now. The stout man quickly pulled out a clean handkerchief, pressing it desperately against the injury. He was not certain if the bullet had gone completely through Gin's body, but he had a feeling that it had not. There was not any blood coming from underneath the blonde's pained form. And Gin looked as though he was going to pass out any minute. That was not a good sign. Usually Gin was so good at withstanding any sort of agony. The bullet must have hit at a critical point.

"Bro!" Vodka pleaded frantically, still trying to stop the bleeding. If Gin fell unconscious . . . was the damage such that he would not be able to wake up? That was what he was afraid was the case. And Vodka did not know what he would do then.

Gin growled weakly when Vodka pressed down too hard on the wound. He was struggling to cling to consciousness, but not even the pain was helping. It actually seemed to be trying to push him under. His hand shaking, he clutched at Vodka's jacket, as if trying to get his partner to keep him awake. He wondered again what sort of disaster the bullet had caused, and if it could have struck his hip. He did not think it had gone down that far, but his sense of direction right now was sketchy at best. Confusion blanketed him with the latest wave of pain, and he again felt blood rising in his throat.

"You've gotta try to stay awake, bro," Vodka cried now. He knew he needed to call for help from the Organization's medical unit, but first he had to do something about this injury, even though it seemed hopeless. He could not make the bleeding stop, and that only increased his distressed feelings.

The words vaguely registered in Gin's mind, and he scoffed. Stay awake? He was trying. He was trying so hard. But it was not going to work. And . . . who was speaking to him? His mind had completely clouded over. He felt as if he should know the answer, but he did not.

Vodka felt a chill run down his spine at the blank look Gin was giving him. He did not even know how to begin to react to that, or what it meant. But he felt Gin's hand loosening its grip on his clothes. Then the blonde slipped away, his body going limp as his hand fell back to the floor with a soft thump that seemed loud in the otherwise silent room.

Immediately Vodka felt a certain panic rising. It was ridiculous to think that Gin would not still be alive, but the thought persisted anyway. He quickly leaned down to check, and when he felt the other's breath on his face, he leaned back in relief. Gin was still fighting. And Vodka would not give up on him.

Holding the cloth in place with one hand, he shakily got out his cellphone and dialed a number, not caring that he was getting Gin's blood all over the device and further over his clothes. He shifted nervously as it rang. Why did someone not answer? They could not afford to waste time! Maybe he should just try to take Gin away himself. But he was afraid to move the other, after what he had already done to Gin. He knew that it was said that one should not try to move someone who was seriously injured. Still, no one was answering and Vodka was growing all the more restless. Finally he gave up. It would take too long, anyway, for the medical unit to come all the way from the base, get Gin, and then go back. He could get Gin there in half the time, and his partner would probably have a better chance at survival.

Shoving the phone back into his pocket, he carefully lifted Gin's wounded body into his arms. The blonde gave a weak moan, and Vodka felt a chill go up his spine as he carefully carried Gin outside to the car.

"Vodka? Vodka, what happened?"

The poor man came back to the present. He was still standing where he had been a moment before, when he had watched the medics wheeling Gin away. Dazedly he blinked, looking toward the direction of the concerned voice. He groaned inwardly when he saw Vermouth coming toward him. She was not what he needed right now, with her endless questions. Even if she did not tease, she always made Vodka nervous and he did not know how to talk to her, nor did he even want to tell her what had happened to Gin. That was not her business, and Vodka felt so guilty about it anyway without Vermouth knowing.

"Vodka, you look terrible," the blonde woman murmured, stopping in front of him. "I heard that Gin was brought in hurt, but no one seems to know the details." Gently she reached out with a hand, pushing up the stout man's sunglasses so that his eyes were hidden again, the way he liked it. She was honestly concerned about the other operative, and she knew that if Vodka was too much in shock to even fix his shades, what had happened must have been horrible.

Vodka immediately looked away when Vermouth removed her hand. "I don't want to talk about it, Vermouth," he mumbled weakly. He wanted to get away, to be alone with the thoughts that were plaguing him. No one could make him feel better, and certainly not Vermouth. The only one who could possibly ease his mind was the man who had been taken to the operating room.

She looked at him sympathetically. "Well, at least come and get cleaned up a bit," she answered, and lowered her voice. "I do know that Gin will be in surgery for a while, Vodka. . . . You can't just stand around here like this." She laid a hand on his back, between his shoulder blades, with the intention of gently leading him out of the infirmary and towards the suite he shared with Gin. Vodka looked so confused, so lost, and Vermouth was deeply worried about him. She was, of course, interested in knowing what had actually happened, but she would not pry. She could see that Vodka was much too shellshocked to be able to talk about it. But that only made her worry all the more.

Vodka was not sure what it was that suddenly made his patience snap---Vermouth's touch, her words about Gin, or the fact that he was already overwhelmed over Gin first being shot and now having been taken by the doctors, in such a serious condition. Perhaps a combination of all three. In any case, he could not stand it any longer. He jerked away, storming down the corridor and out of the infirmary. "Don't touch me!" he yelled over his shoulder. "Just leave me alone!" He headed back to the suite himself, leaving a stunned Vermouth behind him.

Vodka was not the type of person to stay angry long, and though he was still upset with himself, by the time he reached the suite and was fumbling for the key he could not believe that he had screamed at Vermouth. Not only was she ranked far higher than Vodka, or even Gin, but she had not meant any harm. That did not mean, however, that she had not added to Vodka's stress. She had, and Vodka worried more about Gin as he wondered how long the operation would last, and what all would have to be done in order to repair things.

He looked blankly at his bloodied hands as he inserted the key in the lock and tried to turn the knob. The blood had dried and was not slippery, so the door opened fairly easily. He wandered into the room, barely remembering to remove the key as he went into his room and into the bathroom from there.

As he scrubbed at his hands, trying desperately to remove Gin's blood, he gazed at his reflection in the mirror. He looked terrible, as if he had been the one injured instead of Gin. He knew that he had been emotionally damaged by what had happened, but it was not the same thing. Gin was the one suffering now. Vodka's own distress was irrelevant. Of course, right now Gin should be unconscious and hopefully not in pain, but that was not the point.

Vodka glared down at his hands. Some of the blood stubbornly remained, and no matter how hard he tried, it would not come off. Or was that in his mind? He reached for the soap again.

Eventually Vodka did manage to remove the rest of the blood from his hands, and he shakily dried them before going back into his bedroom. Slowly he unbuttoned his jacket and began to pull it off, swallowing hard as he stared at the various splashes of blood that had come when the blonde had been slumped against him. Gin had grabbed him several times, too, and the bloodied handprints haunted Vodka. Rolling the jacket into a ball, he threw it into a corner of the room before dazedly taking off his tie, shirt, and trousers. Then he crossed to the closet to find something else.

When he was done, he wandered out of his room and wearily slumped into one of the chairs in the living room. It was too quiet there. Not that Gin had ever been loud. Not at all. But when he was not there, and it was uncertain whether he would even be back, the silence was eerie. And when Vodka was already so edgy and nervous, the small noises such as the clock, seemed to be magnified tenfold.

Shakily he lit a cigarette, taking several puffs before holding it between his fingers as he gazed numbly around the lonely room. He hated having to wait for news. It was not likely that any would be forthcoming any time soon, as Vermouth had indicated, but Vodka did not feel that he could sleep. He actually wanted a drink, but he was afraid to go down to the bar. By now word of what had happened to Gin had probably spread, and whether or not people now knew the truth behind how it had happened, Vodka did not want to be plied with questions or to listen to the other agents gossiping. He could not forget that in the past, after Gin had been stabbed and poisoned, there had been speculation that Vodka had done it when Gin had let his guard down around his partner.

What would be thought now, when it could be proven that the bullet had come from Vodka's gun?

He could still see Gin's stunned expression right after he had been hit. His green eyes had become so glassy, just in those few seconds, and he had looked at Vodka as if unable to comprehend that his partner had shot him. "What did you do? What did you do?" his voice echoed in Vodka's mind, and the heavyset man crushed the cigarette between his fingers. What had he done?

Would Gin even survive? Vodka still did not know the extent of the damage that had been done. Maybe the other's hip had been shattered and he would have to undergo surgery for a replacement. Or could the bullet have hit his spine? What if Gin would be paralyzed? He would hate to live like that. Vodka wondered if Gin even could, considering their line of work. At any rate, he would have to work from inside, perhaps at a desk. Gin was not the kind of person who would end his own life, but would he, if he found his situation hopeless?

Gin would not want Vodka around any more, of course. Vodka swallowed hard, not wanting to think about the possibility that Gin would want to kill the other. Gin might care about him, but he was also a very vindictive person if he felt that he had been wronged, and not even Sherry was exempt from his wrath. Or especially her. Vodka doubted that he would escape. Though, if Gin knew that it was an accident, would that change his feelings at all? Maybe he would just want to be partnered with someone else, instead of wanting Vodka's life.

Vodka wanted to believe that Gin would forgive him, but it was hard for him to have that kind of confidence when he could not even forgive himself. He could not expect that Gin would do so, either.

Finally he stood up. He could not stay here. He was going back to the infirmary to wait there. It was ridiculous, since of course the wait would not be any different in another location. But somehow Vodka felt a certain comfort in knowing that he would be able to receive the information, when it came, that much faster.

The poor man felt a new sense of dread welling up when he got back to the infirmary and found that Vermouth was still there. She was talking to a doctor and did not appear to see him, and he was starting to consider turning around and returning to the suite. He did not know at all what to say to her, especially since he had actually lost his temper and yelled at her. What could he possibly say after such an outburst? But on the other hand, maybe she was learning something from the doctor. In that case, Vodka wanted to go in and find out whatever there was to know about Gin's condition. He had lost track of time, but it seemed that at least two or three hours had gone by since he had left. Surely something was known by now.

Before he could absolutely make up his mind, Vermouth felt eyes upon her and half-turned, locking eyes with the despondent man. For a moment she looked as though she was not certain how to react, but then she gave a weak smile. "Vodka . . . the doctor's telling me about Gin," she announced, as if the other had not screamed at her. "You're just in time to hear what he has to say." She crossed her arms, and though she tried to look perfectly calm, Vodka could see in her eyes that she was very worried. Vodka felt all the more relieved that no one could see his own distressed eyes.

He hurried over now, immediately looking to the doctor. "How is he?" he demanded, forcing his voice to stay level.

The physician sighed, rubbing at his forehead. He was still wearing the clothes he had used in the operating room, and blood was splattered in various ways across them, mostly around the chest and the waist. Vodka tried not to think about the fact that it was Gin's blood.

When the doctor spoke, his voice was weary. "The bullet missed his hip, but there have been some complications." He glanced to Vodka, unsure of how the other would respond. He looked somewhat uneasy, as if he did not want Vodka there, but Gin's partner wondered if he was imagining it. Still, he knew he saw Vermouth nodding in apparent encouragement out of the corner of his eye.

He was unsure of how to respond, and he shifted anxiously. "What's wrong?" he asked finally.

"Well . . . as you know, it's been hard to control the bleeding," the doctor answered. "He may have lost too much, even with a transfusion. We found that he's bleeding internally as well. It looks like we've managed to get it to stop, but he seems to have gone into shock. He's still unconscious, and as of right now, we don't know if he's even going to come out of the anesthesia." He continued to watch Vodka, and the shorter man looked away uncomfortably. "We're just going to have to wait and see."

Vodka clenched a fist. Gin would not let a single bullet wound take him out. He would keep fighting, and he would win. Vodka had to believe that. With the ironies of life, Gin could very well die from this, but he would not. "Where is he?" he spoke after a long silence. He wanted to see his partner, to be reassured that he would be alright, even if Gin did not want him around anymore. Of course Vodka would leave, if Gin awoke and wanted Vodka to go. But he wanted to see.

The doctor opened his mouth, but then hesitated. He looked to Vermouth helplessly, as if asking her what to do. Vermouth simply smiled and winked at him, and Vodka started to feel even more uneasy, as if they both were in on something that he was not. Why did the doctor not want to let him know where Gin was? Was something else wrong that he had not been told about? Or . . . was this because he had shot Gin? The sinking feeling increased.

Finally the physician spoke again. "I . . . I don't know that it would be a good idea for you to see him," he stammered, and then got control of his voice. It hardened. "He's very ill. He doesn't need anything that might further upset him, if he wakes up." He half-turned. "I'm sorry, I can't let you in."

Vodka's mouth dropped open in shock. Then this was about the accident. He took a step back, feeling his mouth working as he tried to put together a coherent sentence. "But . . . Gin . . . I . . . he's my partner," he choked out finally, his mind reeling. He knew that he had been wondering what would be thought when the bullet's origins were learned, but now he realized that he had never actually expected that he would be kept from seeing Gin. He had thought the only people who might buy into outlandish rumors and ideas were those like Bourbon. He had not thought that the medics would do so.

The doctor glared at him coldly, unrelenting. "Yes, I know, but you apparently decided to betray him," he retorted, and turned completely as he walked back up the corridor. As far as he was concerned, the matter was closed. Vodka did not deserve to have any further involvement with Gin. If the blonde survived, then he would naturally agree, and want Vodka terminated. But meanwhile, the physician would file an official report about the situation to the base director. He would see to it that Vodka was taken care of without delay, if possible. To turn against a longtime partner was unacceptable.

Vodka slumped back, his heart racing. He had thought that the people at the base knew him better than to think he would ever deliberately shoot Gin. If the bullet was tested, would not the target's blood be found on it too? Why would they not be able to determine the truth from that?

"Vodka. . . ." He felt Vermouth touch his shoulder, but he felt too numb to respond at all, or to move away. "I'm sorry, Vodka," the blue-eyed woman said quietly. "I had a hard time even convincing him to tell you about Gin." She paused. "I could make them let you in, you know. I have enough authority to do that." She still made no mention of Vodka's earlier outburst, and did not intend to. She knew how stressed he was, and now that she knew what had happened to Gin, it was all the more understandable.

He just shook his head dazedly. Maybe the doctor was right. Maybe Gin would not want him there at all, and it would only hurt him more for Vodka to be there. "How many people know?" he asked weakly.

Vermouth sighed softly. "Honestly, I couldn't say," she replied. "The doctor told me that they'd analyzed the bullet and found that it came from your gun. The news could have spread outside of the infirmary by now. Some of the interns really are gossips."

Vodka took a few steps forward, not even certain where he was going. "But . . . the bullet went through the target," he said helplessly. "I didn't mean to hit Gin, too. . . . I would never . . ." He trailed off. Saying this did not and could not even begin to erase his guilt. He had not been careful enough. Surely, if he had been, if he had shot at a different angle, Gin would be fine.

"Some of the doctors are saying that maybe you planned it all out," Vermouth said slowly, "that you figured out how you could do it if you could get the velocity just right." And while that did say that they apparently thought Vodka was smarter than some people did, Vermouth knew that was not a comfort at all. Vodka would rather be thought an idiot rather than for it to be thought that he had purposely and maliciously plotted against his partner.

Vodka shook his head, at a complete loss for words. What could he even say to such accusations? If they were that determined to believe he had acted deliberately, then nothing he could say in his defense would make them think differently. And he should not even have to defend himself to them. But he wondered if it would mean his life. It naturally would if they believed he had betrayed Gin, or if they thought he had simply been careless. "What do you believe?" he mumbled.

Vermouth blinked in surprise. "I know how much you look up to Gin," she said then. "You respect him more than anyone else in this place. You'd have to be out of your mind before you'd ever hurt him on purpose."

Somehow her words were not a comfort to him, even though she knew the truth. Gin would not be as understanding . . . if he survived at all. Vodka kept moving, feeling blank. Perhaps he was his own worst critic, but he did not care.

"Vodka? Where are you going?"

Vaguely he was aware that he was walking toward the door, but all he could do was weakly shrug. He had no idea where he was going, or what he would do now. He would not try to see Gin. He wanted to be alone.

He did not know how long he wandered up and down the winding hallways of the base. Several times he thought he was going in circles, but he was in such a fog that he was not sure at all whether that was true. Perhaps everything was just starting to look alike after so much time. He was exhausted, he needed to sleep, but he did not know how he ever would. He did not know if Gin would survive the night, and he had the sinking feeling that he himself would not, either. If Gin did not kill him, then someone else probably would. He had made a fatal mistake.

"Well, well, Vodka, this time you've gone too far, haven't you."

He snapped back to the present, his insides twisting as he whirled to face a smirking Jenever. Vodka's former partner was exiting the elevator, and he looked just the same as Vodka had always remembered---the thin, shoulder-length black hair, the violet eyes, the arrogant coolness that permeated from his being and was physically obvious in his face and his entire stance. . . . Jenever had always delighted in making Vodka feel completely worthless, finally making it so that Vodka had barely any trace of self-confidence left by the time he had been reassigned to Gin. It had taken years for Vodka to fully start to get it back, and he still had not, in full. If he had, he might not be feeling so extremely guilty over the accident, but instead would consciously know that it could not have been avoided.

Now he swallowed hard, walking past Jenever and deciding that the best thing was just to ignore the other. He did not have anything to say to someone who had hurt him so deeply, and who probably wanted to do so again. From the dark-haired man's words and expression, it was obvious that he knew all about what had happened---or at least, the rumors of what had happened.

Undaunted, Jenever walked over to Vodka and kept pace with him as they advanced down the hall. "They're saying you deliberately shot Gin," he remarked in a hushed tone, "but we know better, don't we?"

Vodka blinked in surprise and confusion, looking over at the taller man.

Jenever smirked more. "Of course it was an accident," he purred, "an accident due to your incompetence as an agent. I'm amazed something like this didn't happen years ago. I'm glad I got rid of you when I did." He followed Vodka around a corner, his voice raising slightly. "Though the blame can't lay solely on you. Gin should have never let his guard down so much around you. Maybe he's actually the bigger incompetent, hmm?"

Vodka stopped, turning to stare at Jenever in shock and disbelief. All the times in the past when the violet-eyed man had tormented and looked down on him came to his mind, swirling and clashing with the memories of everything that had happened that night. Again he saw Gin's shocked and pained eyes as the bigger man clapped a hand over the wound and doubled over in agony. Again he felt his own horror and alarm as it had dawned on him what had happened, and his stunned feelings over realizing that the doctor thought he had deliberately shot Gin. This was what Jenever wanted him to feel. He wanted Vodka to feel horrible and to blame himself. He still wanted to break Vodka completely.

"If he dies, how will you look then?" Jenever mused. "I imagine you'll be haunted, and inconsolable, especially since you'll know it was your own fault. And you will know that Gin would not be dead if not for you, and his own idiocy in trusting you! You will know all the more how worthless you are."

Vodka never did know what got hold of him then. His emotions spilled over at Jenever's cruel remarks and he lunged forward, punching the other harshly across his face. Jenever fell back in astonishment, and Vodka stood over him, breathing heavily as he tried to restrain himself from completely beating his former partner. It was a strong temptation. He could not stand Jenever to always be walking all over him, uncaring and unconcerned about Vodka's feelings and actually wanting him to feel miserable. Right now, Vodka felt plenty miserable on his own without Jenever adding to it. He blamed himself fully, and he did not need Jenever's "help" to continue doing so.

"What's going on here?"

Vodka started at the sound of another unwelcome voice. As he looked up, he found Brandy towering over him and the fallen Jenever. Immediately he tried to gather his wits about him again. Brandy was another of his most unfavorite people, but unlike Jenever, Brandy was physically a good match for him. It would be unwise to do anything to anger such an agent, one who had also always hated both Gin and Vodka anyway.

"He hit me!" Jenever cried before Vodka could get in a word. The skinny agent pulled himself to his feet, blood gushing from his nose. Swiftly he clamped a hand over it, looking at Vodka with a gleeful expression that clearly said You will regret your moment of weakness. Perhaps he had been initially surprised by the other's loss of control, but now that the shock was wearing off, Jenever was realizing just how bad this would look for Vodka. Coupled with what had happened to Gin, it would make a very unsettling report---once Jenever twisted a few facts about their encounter.

Brandy raised an eyebrow, looking from Jenever to Vodka. "You hit him?" he growled pointedly at Vodka. "He's ranked much higher than you. What are you thinking? Or are you thinking at all?"

Vodka looked away. He was digging his own grave, and he knew it. Not only was Gin half-dead because of him, but he had lost his temper twice in the last few hours. Vermouth might be willing to forgive him, but Brandy and Jenever certainly were not.

Brandy reached out to grab hold of his jacket. "What do you have to say for yourself?" he demanded.

Vodka caught the other's wrist, holding it tightly before pushing the hand away from him. "I don't deny that I did it," he replied quietly, and walked past both of them before either could reply or make a motion to grab him again. It would be foolish to say anything else. Jenever knew the reason why Vodka had done it, and he might brag about it in secret to Brandy, but otherwise the vindictive agent would make sure that it sounded like Vodka had struck him without any provocation.

"This will be the death of you," Brandy called after him.

Vodka did not answer. He went around another corner before picking up speed, wanting to get as far away from both of them as possible.

Bro . . . will you turn against me too? he thought sadly to himself. Perhaps he felt that he deserved it, but still, he did not know if he could stand to be rejected like that. Unlike most everyone else, Gin had always accepted him for who he was, and that meant a great deal to Vodka, more than he could ever put into words. He did not want to lose that.

Vodka eventually returned to the lonely suite shortly after dawn, and only took off his shoes and tie before collapsing wearily into bed. When he was half-asleep he remembered that he was still wearing his sunglasses, and he removed them with a weary sigh. He doubted that he would get any sleep at all---at least, certainly nothing peaceful. His mind was too filled with thoughts of the night's events, and it would not surprise him if he experienced bad dreams about said events.

Hence, he was surprised when he found himself being awakened an indeterminable amount of time later by the ringing of his cellphone. He had not even dreamed at all, to his knowledge, nor did he even remember falling asleep. Still not completely back in the conscious world, he fumbled for the device and finally pulled it out of his pocket. "Hello?" he approximately mumbled.

The voice on the other end of the line quickly brought him to full awareness. "Agent Vodka, I've received more than one negative report about your conduct yesterday," said the base director in his cold, unassuming tone that betrayed none of his inward thoughts and feelings. "Among other things, you've been accused of deliberately shooting your partner in an attempt to end his life, aggravated assault against yet another agent, and other blatant insubordinations."

Vodka groaned, rising up halfway and leaning his elbow on the pillow. "I did purposely hit Agent Jenever, sir," he admitted quietly, "and I did . . . shoot my partner, but that wasn't at all deliberate."

"Yes, so Agent Vermouth has said in your defense," the director answered. "In any case, I want to see you in my office later today. Shall we say four?"

"That's fine, sir," Vodka replied, feeling dazed. He could read between the lines. This would be like it was when Jenever had written all manner of false accusations in order to get the director to dissolve their partnership. Vodka had been called in as sort of a trial, though it had not been called as such. He had gotten off easy that time, being reassigned to Gin, but what were the odds that it would happen twice? And something else was different this time, as well---what he was being accused of was true. Though . . . if Vermouth was on Vodka's side, maybe that would help. She was the highest-ranked agent, and was in close with the mysterious boss, so maybe she would have luck convincing the director to give Vodka another chance. He doubted that he deserved such a chance, but at the same time he did not want to die.

"Good. I'll see you then." And with that the conversation was ended.

Vodka folded up the phone, continuing to hold it as he slumped back into the bed. He knew he should not have punched Jenever. The other had surely been trying to provoke him, and Vodka had given in. What a fool he was. Gin would naturally think so as well. If Gin ever woke up. . . .

Vodka looked down at the device again. Would he get any answers about Gin's condition if he called the infirmary, or would he be brushed off? Part of him still wanted to see his partner, whether or not Gin would want it. He wanted to know Gin would be okay. But maybe there was not any way to know. Gin was probably still unconscious. If he was awake, Vermouth would probably know and she would have called Vodka.

In any case, Vodka was much more edgy now that he knew that the director wanted to see him. After a moment he slowly climbed off the bed. He was going to see Gin before he had to go to the office. Now that he was somewhat more calm compared to how he had been the previous night, he knew that there was at least one person working in the infirmary who would be willing to let him into Gin's room.

Vodka did not realize how long he had slept until he arrived at the infirmary and found that it was already after three. But he was only momentarily surprised by this before seeking out the elderly doctor who had helped them in the past. He was certain that he would be assisted again, and that the level-headed physician would not be likely to take stock in the rumors that were flying around. And he was right.

"Agent Vodka! I was hoping you'd come by," the older man smiled kindly when Vodka looked into his office. He was sitting at his desk, but when he saw the operative, he got up and came over to the door. "I heard that you were being given a rough time last night. If I'd been on duty, I would have given you a hand."

Vodka felt himself relax slightly. "Is there any news about Gin?" he ventured.

A soft sigh and a nod was his answer. "He has stabilized, but he hasn't regained consciousness. Though, it's looking more hopeful that he will wake up."

Vodka experienced an immense relief at this news. If Gin would be alright, then it would be easier for Vodka to accept whatever fate he would be dealt. "I'd like to see him," he spoke now. "Just for a minute. . . ."

The doctor nodded, walking past Vodka into the hall. "You have a right to, no matter what my colleagues say," he said firmly, and Vodka followed him down the corridor. "You couldn't help what happened to Gin. I'm not sure who started the rumor that you deliberately tried to kill him, but it was a very insensitive and cruel way to handle this situation." He stopped at a particular door and slowly pushed it open. "You go in, and I'll wait out here and keep a lookout in case someone tries to interrupt you."

Vodka gave a nod in thanks as he quietly entered the room. He was bracing himself for the sight of Gin laying very ill and looking near-death, and he was surprised to see that the blonde instead looked simply calm and asleep. The heavyset man advanced slowly, partially wondering if Gin was indeed asleep and would start awake at the slightest sound of movement, but the other never stirred. Gin was a light sleeper, and Vodka concluded that the other was still senseless.

When Vodka reached the side of the bed, he could see that his partner was still somewhat pale, his flesh standing out against the deep gold of his hair. Gin did not look as though he was in pain, and Vodka thought he actually looked rather expressionless, which he imagined Gin would be pleased about if he was aware enough to realize.

Vodka sighed softly, placing his hands on the metal railing. He could not think of anything to say, and he doubted Gin would hear him anyway, so he simply continued to stand there, blankly gazing down at the other man as his thoughts wandered.

He remembered their first meeting, and how nervous he had been after the fiasco with Jenever. Gin had seemed more tolerant than Vodka's former partner, and Vodka had been hopeful that things would work out. But still, they had soon discovered that they did not get along. Gin had been annoyed by Vodka's exteme lack of self-confidence and Vodka had been intimidated by Gin's cold and commanding presence. It still amazed him that they had ended up becoming so close. He knew that he had learned a lot from Gin about believing in oneself, and sometimes he had actually been able to put it into practice---though after these events, he felt that his confidence had been shot again. And he doubted Gin could have learned anything from him. Vodka did not think that he had anything of worth that someone like Gin could gain from him.

He did not think he had been there for a long time, and when there was a sudden knock on the door, he started.

The door cracked open. "I'm sorry to be the one to interrupt you, Agent Vodka," the elderly doctor said apologetically. "Someone's here for you from the director's office. He says he's been sent to collect you because you're going to be late for some meeting?" He blinked in confusion at this, but then realization dawned and he looked sympathetically at Vodka. It must be because of what had happened to Gin, and why. And that was not what Vodka needed to deal with when he was already feeling horrible about it.

Vodka looked away, not wanting pity. He sighed softly. Well, this was it. Within probably an hour, he would know whether he would be allowed to live or die. If the only problem was that he had punched Jenever, then he doubted that being killed would be an issue. But because the main issue was whether or not he had tried to kill Gin, there was a very real chance that Vodka would die or be sentenced to death---if his enemies had their way.

He gazed down at Gin again, and he had to wonder if they would even meet again, and if such a meeting would be pleasant. But there was not time to wonder, at least not there. On the walk to the office, he could think about it all that he wanted. He turned away, his shoulders slumping as he headed for the door. "Bye, bro," he mumbled, barely discernibly.

Waking up was a strange feeling under the circumstances. It seemed as if he was trapped underneath a filmlike gauze, and that he was reaching up, clawing for the surface but usually failing. Instead his hands would become stuck in the gauze, and he would have to pull away and try again. But at last he managed to tear a hole in his prison, and as he figuratively made his way upward, in the real world he was able to force his eyes open.

"Vodka?" he muttered weakly as he tried to focus. It was odd, that he had thought his partner was there. Vodka was not, as he soon found as he cast his gaze about the room. He was not alone, as a doctor was writing on a chart, but they were the only occupants of that room.

The physician looked up, smiling with relief. "Agent Gin, it's good to see that you're awake. It's about time, I'd say."

Gin grunted, seeing something else in that smile as well---regret, perhaps? Why? "Where's Vodka?" he asked.

The doctor sighed softly, setting the chart aside. "He was here for a little while, but now, apparently he's at the director's office," he replied. "The poor man's gotten into some trouble, I'm afraid." He was not about to gloss over what was happening, even though some of his colleagues would probably argue that it was not good for Gin to hear this immediately upon awakening. Perhaps it was not, but this physician was certain that someone as strong-willed as Gin could handle it. Maybe he would even be able to do something about it, such as to speak to the director if the doctor offered to dial the number.

Gin growled, trying to fully grasp what he was being told. "Vodka's . . . in trouble?" Subconsciously his hand drifted to his left side, and he winced at the pain. The memories of what had happened flashed back then, washing over him with certainty. "Because of this?" Gin found it hard to speak at the moment, still weary and exhausted from his experience. Being unconscious, after all, was not like a natural sleep.

A nod was his answer. "That's right." An apologetic, yet indignant tone. "Some people, most of them seeming to be malevolent towards poor Vodka, are spreading rumors that he was trying to end your life, and that he shot you with such a predetermined intent." A pause. "I've also heard that he attacked Agent Jenever last night."

Gin snorted. "He probably deserved it," he retorted, turning his attention to struggling to sit up. His side screamed in protest, but he gritted his teeth and threw back the blanket before shakily grabbing the metal railings for balance. While the doctor simply stared at him in amazement and disbelief, the blonde continued his attempt until he was sitting on the bed. Then he forced down the railing on the right, easing his right leg over the edge. That was easy enough, though his body felt wobbly. Narrowing his eyes in determination, and holding a hand over the aching wound, he tried to slowly move his left leg off the edge as well.

The physician continued to stare. "What on earth are you doing, Agent Gin?" he gasped. "You can't possibly get up!"

Gin ignored him. The pain was excruciating, but he continued to insist on forcing his other leg off the bed. When he finally did, he threw his weight onto his right side and steadied himself on a chair as he struggled to stand. His hair slipped over his robe-covered shoulders, but he ignored it as he managed to stand up straight. The room spun, and Gin growled as he took a shaky step forward.

"Please, Agent Gin!" the doctor exclaimed, hurrying to get in front of him. "You can't possibly leave this room. You're in no condition to stand, and especially not to walk!" But it dawned on him what Gin was trying to do, and why, and his expression softened. "I was going to suggest calling the director's office," he said.

"That's not as effective as showing up there," Gin retorted. With Jenever involved, Brandy probably was too, and together they would try everything that they could think of to discredit Vodka. It would not surprise Gin in the least if they were aiming to get him permanently removed from the Organization. And Vodka did not deserve to die. Knowing him, he had probably been foolishly blaming himself for Gin's injury.

He took another step forward, and nearly fell over. He cursed as the doctor caught him.

"Agent Gin . . . there's no way you can walk all the way over there," the physician said firmly as he steadied the bigger man. Gin was one of the tallest agents---at least six feet, perhaps a couple inches more, and though he was not a bodybuilder such as Brandy, he had a good, firm physique and was formidable in a fight. The doctor knew that it bothered Gin---angered him, even---that he could not get to the director's office unassisted, but he was certainly not going to allow his patient to attempt it.

"If you want to go there so badly, I'll take you in a wheelchair," the older man said now, looking up into the cold green eyes. They narrowed. "You'd get there much faster than if you tried to walk," the doctor added easily, knowing that the only way he could get Gin to agree was if he made it look profitable for the blonde in his ventures.

Gin glowered, but then looked away. He had been about to say that he would wheel himself there, but he was feeling weakened and he realized that he would not ever make it that far. He despised that he would have to be helped in this matter, but for the sake of time he would agree. While he was certain that the director would not condemn Vodka unfairly, he knew that Brandy could be very clever and could skillfully find ways to bend things in his and Jenever's favor.

"There now," the physician smiled. "It won't be as bad as all that."

Gin grunted. But then he thought of a compromise.

Vodka looked down, studying the floor as he quietly shifted. This was different from the previous times he had been in the director's office, in that he was not there alone. Jenever and Brandy were there, along with several of the doctors they had gathered. Vermouth, however, was also there, and she had been defending Vodka all along the way. He was grateful for her help, though just from looking at the director, he could not tell what was being thought. Jenever and Brandy had been very convincing, and Vodka truly felt that he was on trial.

"Sir, I hope you can see how critical it is to remove such a weak link," Jenever spoke up now. "Agent Vodka has a record of being careless, but this kind of atrocity goes far beyond mere carelessness. His partner is still in serious condition, if I'm not mistaken, and there's no guarantee that he will even survive."

Vodka clenched a fist at his side.

"Not only that," Brandy added, "but these doctors have shown that with meticulous planning, there is a chance that Agent Vodka could have deliberately tried to shoot Agent Gin through the target. If he failed, no one would know the difference, but if he succeeded, he could use the excuse that it was an accident." He crossed his arms. "Naturally something like this is rare, but it is possible."

"That doesn't make it probable," Vermouth purred. "Especially from Vodka. Don't you boys even realize how much he respects Gin? That isn't an act."

"Agent Vermouth, you're that person's favorite," Jenever objected. "Why do you even waste your time trying to defend this pathetic operative?" He gestured disdainfully to Vodka. "Just let him suffer the consequences of his actions. Maybe Agent Gin only got what he deserved from trusting such a careless person."

Vodka looked at Jenever with hatred, feeling his emotions spilling over once again. He had been Jenever's figurative punching bag for too long. But he never would be again. "I couldn't help what happened!" he screamed then, not caring how far his voice would carry. When he had arrived, he had quietly told the director exactly what had taken place. But then, for most of this time, the others had been talking, accusing and defending him. And he could not take this any longer. He was tired of hearing the event over-analyzed, and of hearing all possible motives he could have had. Jenever had suggested many things, such as that Vodka secretly hated Gin and that Vodka enjoyed sabotaging partnerships. Brandy had mused that maybe Vodka was actually one of the most sadistic agents and that he had wanted to gain Gin's trust before doing away with him.

"I never tried to kill Gin!" Vodka continued now, aware that all eyes were upon him. "I didn't know that bullet would hit him. Nothing like this has ever happened before! It was an accident! An accident!" And he slumped back, having run out of things to say. But he had said what was important.

The door suddenly flew open. "Just remember that," a cold voice remarked.

Immediately everyone turned to stare at the uninvited newcomer. Vodka's mouth dropped open in shock, his thoughts racing as he gazed at his partner leaning forward in a mechanized wheelchair. Gin looked weary and weakened as he slowly navigated his way into the room and then reached to shut the door behind him. He should not be up. That was obvious. But he was awake. He was awake, and he had come. Vodka could not think of what to say, or how to react. Many conflicting emotions were going through his mind as he watched the blonde. He was upset that Gin was up when he should not be, worried about what it would do to him, and overwhelmed and amazed that Gin had struggled to come in the first place.

Gin looked up at Vodka, his bangs parting and revealing his icy green eyes. "We both know this couldn't have been prevented," he growled, and then looked to the others gathered around, who were still staring at him in shock and disbelief. "Vodka can be careless, it's true, but this has nothing to do with that. He was being attacked, and he shot the target. That was what he was supposed to do, and it was all that he planned to do. If any of you actually believe that Vodka intended to shoot me, then you don't know anything about him. And if you don't believe it, but are trying to make everyone else believe it, then you're both fools." He glowered at Jenever and Brandy as he said this, and they glared back.

Vermouth was the first to speak. "Well, Gin . . . you're a naughty boy to get out of bed and come here," she commented, but then gave a half-smile. "But you're right, of course." She was relieved that he had come, knowing that he was really the only one who could snap Vodka out of his distressed state of mind. And with him backing up Vodka's explanation, surely the director would see the truth, if he had not done so already.

Gin ignored her, looking to the director. The other man had been quiet throughout all of the outbursts, and now Gin's entrance, simply digesting all of the varying opinions. Now he met the blonde's pointed stare.

"I've never believed that Agent Vodka is guilty of what he's being accused of," the director said easily, leaning forward at his desk. "Of course, what happened to you has been an unfortunate accident. However . . ." He looked back to Vodka. "I don't doubt that Agent Vodka deliberately struck Agent Jenever. Agent Vodka admitted as much."

"Jenever deserved worse than that," Gin growled, looking to the outraged operative in question. "Knowing him, he was trying to make Vodka feel even worse about what happened to me."

"I imagine so," the director responded calmly.

"Now, I must object," Jenever cried. "I was merely speaking with Agent Vodka about what happened to Agent Gin, and he struck me."

Vodka glared at him from behind his sunglasses. He was not certain what to say on this issue. It was true that Jenever had been taunting him, but Vodka should not have given in to his anger. He could not deny that it had felt good to finally punch the person who had always been trying to emotionally break him, but it had not solved anything. Indeed, it had only made his own situation worse.

"It shouldn't even have to be said that Vodka rarely loses his temper and attacks another person because of it," Gin said flatly. "All of you have seen what he's like. He usually tolerates whatever's thrown at him, even when he shouldn't. If he snaps, he has a good reason for it."

"All very true," the director said lazily, "and I really am not in the habit of punishing agents for one breach of self-control, if no real damage was done." He looked from the furious Jenever and Brandy to the confused Vodka. "This madness is over. You're free to go, Agent Vodka. No action will be taken against you."

Jenever was not willing to give up. He felt certain that it was Gin's interference that had tipped things in Vodka's favor, and he cursed the fact of the blonde having regained consciousness. If Gin had stayed nearly comatose, then Jenever could have continued to use him as a reason for why Vodka should be punished. And he was certain that Brandy was irritated as well, especially since the other agent despised Gin so deeply.

Jenever stepped forward, leaning on the edge of the director's desk. "But sir! . . ." he exclaimed vainly. "He could have broken my nose!"

"Then you shouldn't have been tormenting the poor man anyway," was the flat response. "He was already stressed because of hurting his partner, however accidental the incident happened to be."

Jenever pushed himself away from the desk, exchanging a look with Brandy. They may have failed to get Vodka in permanent trouble, but things still would not be completely peaceful for him. Now that the rumors had spread, there were people all over the base who believed that Vodka had been trying to kill Gin, and others who were at least unsure as to what the truth could be. And Jenever liked the thought of the pain that would result from that.

Gin realized this as well, but he did not see the point in speaking of it. He looked to Vodka as he opened the door. "Let's get out of here," he growled.

Vodka nodded quickly, relief for many things washing over him as he hurried after his partner.

"I do hope you'll go back to bed now, Gin," Vermouth called after them, smirking as she said it. She would have followed them, but she recognized that they should have this time to talk uninterrupted. So instead she set about herding Jenever and Brandy out of the room. They had definitely worn out their welcome. Though, Vermouth decided, they had done so almost as soon as they had entered.

Gin ignored Vermouth's remark as he and Vodka proceeded down the hall. "You were blaming yourself, weren't you?" he asked matter-of-factly.

Vodka swallowed. "Bro . . . I didn't know if you'd even still want to be partnered with me," he admitted. He doubted that he needed to say it, however. Gin probably already knew. He had usually been able to read Vodka very well. That was another reason why they had almost always gotten along famously, after their initial clash at the beginning.

Gin grunted, arriving at the elevator and pressing the Down button. They were not going back to the infirmary. He was going to rest in his own bed, no matter what the doctors thought about it. "We've already established that it was an accident," he growled, entering the elevator when the doors opened. "You had to defend yourself."

Vodka was relieved to see that the enclosure was empty except for them. He did not want to speak to anyone else right now. "I know . . ." he said slowly as he followed the blonde inside.

"Stop thinking you're so worthless," Gin snapped as the doors closed. "If you were really as pathetic as Jenever tries to make you out to be, do you really think you'd even still be alive? The Organization would have had you killed ages ago." He paused, watching the numbers change at the top. "And I never would have stayed with you as long as I have. I don't stay around people who annoy me."

Vodka looked at Gin in shock. He wanted to say something, to think something, but his mind was a blank. He had thought that he knew Gin fairly well, but once again he had been surprised.

The blonde looked over at his partner, feeling the other's gaze upon him. "You had a perfect right to hit Jenever," he muttered. "It was about time you stood up to him."

Vodka thought this over. "But . . . it didn't really do any good," he said then. "He probably wanted me to hit him, so he could use that against me. . . ."

"I doubt he has enough brains to think of something like that. Why would he think you'd snap on him, when he's never seen you do that before? He was probably expecting you to be submissive and subdued, the way you've been around him in the past." Gin shrugged. "Now he knows you won't always just buy into what he tells you." The elevator stopped and the doors opened, and he wheeled himself out into the hall without another word.

Quickly Vodka followed him, realizing that they were heading for their suite. That, at least, was not a surprise. Gin despised the infirmary, not that Vodka blamed him. "You shouldn't have got up, bro," he said quietly, looking down at his partner.

"I'll do whatever I want," Gin answered flatly. He supposed that the director would have let Vodka go whether Gin had come or not, but if nothing else, Gin struggling to show up had reassured Vodka of his own feelings and that he did not hold a grudge. And that was good enough.

Vodka nodded slowly with a sigh, knowing that was true. Gin was stubborn that way, and always had been. Vodka looked at the other worriedly. "But bro . . . you probably hurt yourself worse. . . ." he protested now.

"I'm fine," Gin responded, looking at Vodka with an expression that clearly said he did not want to say anything else on the matter.

Vodka sighed, recognizing that look. He got out his keys, unlocking the door of their suite when they arrived and then stepping aside to let Gin in before following. "They thought you might die, bro," he said finally. "I . . . I thought you might, too. . . ."

Gin grunted in annoyance, looking back at Vodka over the top of the wheelchair. "Do I look dead to you?" he retorted. "I wouldn't let something like this kill me. There's no point in feeling guilty over what happened. I was hurt while we were just doing our job. It happens." Placing his hands on the arms of the chair, he started to ease his body up while Vodka watched, mouth agape. Ignoring that, Gin forced himself to stand, looking at Vodka expressionlessly.

The shorter man swallowed hard, watching him. He could see that Gin did not feel as fine as he insisted he was, but he also knew that the other could be a lot worse. Finally he gave a slow nod, hoping that if he acknowledged what Gin was trying to do, the green-eyed man would lay down and rest.

"Don't forget that," Gin muttered, limping over to the soft couch and easing his tired body onto it.

"I won't," Vodka replied, and knew that was true. He still did feel guilt over the accident, but knowing that Gin did not blame him relieved his mind of a great burden. He could start to heal from the emotional wounds, and Gin would heal from the physical wounds. They would be fine. It would take some time, but they would both recover.

He half-turned, but then looked back as Gin got settled on the couch, draping an arm over his eyes. "Thanks, bro," he said then, barely above a whisper. He was not certain if Gin would hear him at all, or if Vodka actually wanted him to, but he spoke anyway.

Gin was silent, as if he had not heard. But then he removed his arm, looking over at Vodka again. He gave the faintest nod of acknowledgement.