It's too damned quiet in here.
Well, except for the machines, and while the soft beeping sounds are not overly loud they're too noisy by far - at least in his estimation.
And they're a constant reminder.
Everything is so white. He's surrounded by white. And the chemical odor is strong, so obnoxiously strong that he finds it offensive.
They've been ensconced in this newly built wing for the best part of a day now. Set back and away from the large public wards this extension is state of the art. It has been equipped with the latest in cutting edge tech and boasts an elite team of specialist staff.
All privately funded of course.
Down the hall, towards the rear of the wing lies an elegant suite of interconnected rooms. It goes without saying that security is tight here. Each room is surveilled as a matter of course, and if he concentrates hard he can make out the low droning hum of extraneous sound as the medical staff go about their nightly duties.
Many find such sounds calming, perhaps even reassuring, but for him they provide little comfort, do nothing at all to allay his concerns. Because it's all so familiar, it's all too familiar. He's grown so damnably used to those sounds that they flow through his veins like they're a part of him now. And yet try as he might to turn the clock back, he just can't bring to mind a single act or occasion that might have brought this bizarre sense of normalcy into being.
He's not one for introspection - for that one needs to have a soul - but for an instant he toys with an irrational concept, one that purports that there may never have been such a time as 'before'.
He finds it oddly unsettling.
He's never stopped to question how this type of event could have come to be accepted as a commonplace thing. Hell, if the thought had occurred before now he would have simply dismissed it. But then it's a dark shadowed realm they inhabit, a world set apart.
A world with norms of its own.
And so for him and for all of the others that dwell in that realm, this may well be the norm.
Something icy and formless sweeps through him, a razor-sharp echo of mourning, a frisson of grief. The sensation is fleeting and its essence eludes him, but he's sworn he will never again set one foot on that path and kills the urge to pursue it.
He fends off the urge to succumb to a yawn and shoots another glance sideways, but not a damn thing has changed.
And yes, he can see him. And yes, he is still alive. And the blood has been sponged from his face, and the flecks of brain matter scraped out of his hair. But the fact that his hair has been washed and restored to its usual tow colored hue is of small consolation.
It doesn't make it less real.
It doesn't fix a damned thing.
And now the rage he's contained for so long reignites without warning, assaults him in waves. Because to lose him at all simply doesn't bear thinking, but to lose him to this would be like throwing his whole life away to no purpose at all.
The very thought is anathema to him.
God damn him.
God damn him to hell.
He lowers his head and draws a deep ragged breath, fiercely willing the figure to move. Demanding in silence that he make some kind of sound, provide some indication that he's going to survive.
The need for tangible proof becomes a visceral one and it claws at his gut and it tugs at his mind until his hand reaches out to grasp at the wrist of the motionless form in the hospital bed.
There's a small green device attached to one of those fingers. It's a foul shade of green and it puts him in mind of the color of bile. The thing is too bright and provides a stark contrast to the unhealthy pallor of the skin that surrounds it - as does the glare of the overhead lights and the irksome off white of the hospital gown.
But at least that skin is warm to the touch now.
And he's breathing alone.
Not at all like before.
Still, there should have been more of an improvement by now. That's was what he'd expected, what he'd been led to believe. And yet here they are, nearly twenty hours on and so little has changed - well, apart from the gnawing disquiet which has continued to grow. Those respirations are far, too erratic and those eyes remain closed. And the absence of movement, that absolute stillness, is hard to reconcile with what they'd all seen barely two days ago.
Thinking back, he had sensed the intention from where he'd been standing. Had even readied himself to spring forward, determined to stop what he had judged at the time to be absolute madness. But he had never completed the action, had not even taken that first desperate step, because his instincts were already howling.
He'd been too far away.
And he was far, far too late.
Instead, they had watched, open-mouthed as he'd leaped from that bridge. Vaulting over the railing in one fluid motion he'd tucked and rolled like an Olympic class athlete, catapulting the hostage well out of harm's way with a full body slam.
It was a high-risk extraction that in the end had succeeded, but in the course of its bold execution he had crashed through a hole in the rotted old timbers, leaving him down and trapped out in the open, with no way of escape and with nowhere to run.
And though they had laid down a blistering swath of covering fire, they knew they had lost what advantage they'd gained the very moment he'd stumbled. He'd gone down in the first burst of crossfire and the warehouse behind him had erupted in flames.
Which had become an inferno.
And as for the hostage.
The anger rekindles.
Well, that had all been a ruse.
He's never been one for matters arcane, but the hairs on his forearm are standing on end, and he is seized by a fantastic notion, a bizarre half conviction, that gives him cause for alarm. That to remain in close physical contact might convey his unrest to the man in the bed.
Or, worse still, that it might interfere with the process of healing itself.
Oddly shaken he pulls his fingers away with a low, muffled curse and looks up at the clock on the wall.
But that's a mistake, a damned foolish mistake.
Because now he knows how much time has elapsed.
And his body knows too.
All at once it is almost upon him, a great rolling tide of fatigue that even he can't turn back. With no chance to shore up his defenses he scrubs at his face with an unsteady hand, but that's to little avail.
There is a torpor creeping into his limbs, and it's becoming a struggle to keep his eyes open. It is compelling, seductive, sirenic – the soporific effect so damned deep and profound that he does not even hear the soft footfalls behind him.
A hand comes to rest on his shoulder, and though he stiffens his reflexes have slowed. And in that crucial split second recognition sets in and he crushes the swift retaliatory blow.
“Hey,” breathes a voice in his ear.
The hand is withdrawn but is swiftly replaced by a pair of strong arms that wrap themselves around his shoulders, and as a cheek comes to rest in his hair, he feels a kernel of warmth spring to life.
The slim muscled frame leans in close, and determined young fingers slide in beneath the collar of his ruined white shirt. For a good twenty seconds, they expertly knead at the tightly bunched muscles and tendons they find there, before stealing across the broad expanse of his chest to hover, uncertain and wary, above the worn leather holster, where his Beretta sleeps, heavy and waiting.
“Your gun.” That tone might be pitched low, but it is throbbing and fraught with misgiving. “Don't tell me you're going back out there!” The sentence breaks off, as though to give voice to the thought will provide it with form and imbue it with substance.
But that disquiet cannot be contained, not for long - as he had known it would be. And before he can answer the rest is expelled in a passionate whisper. “Asami, you can't! I won't let you!”
His gut instinct is always to strike at the first sign of challenge, the slightest hint of provocation, but this time the words give him pause - as they naturally should. Because this is no salaryman and they are not at a Meet with some brash Diet member. This young man is his lodestar, and the flare of concern in those bright hazel eyes is all that is needed to stay him.
“Calm yourself, Akihito.”
He may be more than half spent, his limbs might feel like lead, but at least he can still raise his head. “Kirishima has it in hand,” he says without further preamble, and like a prelude to sunrise the anxious face begins to clear.
And then he adds, softly, as if to himself: “..can always rely on Kei to know what to do.”
There is heartfelt relief in the discernible sigh that escapes his companion, and in response to a quick, gentle nudge, he leans obligingly forward to provide the access that Akihito needs. He shrugs his way out of the torn leather harness and gratefully stretches his stiff, aching neck as it is lifted away.
Both holster and pistol are carefully deposited, side by side, on the table before them. Asami rolls his head back and presses a kiss to the arch of those knuckles as the hand is withdrawn.
He lets his guard slip a little, deriving much-needed strength from the small act of kindness. It gives a measure of succor only one man on earth has the power to grant him.
Only you, Akihito.
Silence reigns for a short space of time, and in the seconds that pass he drowses a little. Then he feels something change as Akihito loosens his hold.
He knows a sharp sense of loss, but in no more than a heartbeat that lithe body settles, warm and solid, beside him, and he opens one eye as a fingertip traces the line of his jaw.
He blinks and looks down at the wrinkled remains of his sleek three-piece suit. The waistcoat is torn, and all its buttons are gone, and his jacket had been ripped into shreds to stanch the worst of the blood flow.
And judging by the untidy mess of mahogany strands now impeding his vision, his outward appearance can't have fared any better.
There had been so much blood.
“Why don't you go get some rest?” The words sound far off as if they have made their way here from a very great distance and those talented fingers are forging new paths through the disorderly, ash-covered strands. “There's a bed right next door. I can --”
“No,” he cuts in abruptly, rallying briefly. “Kazumi is family. We must be here when he wakes so we can thank him in person.”
Another thing you have taught me.
There is a sharp intake of breath from beside him, a soft sound of surprise, and tender fire sweeps through him as a vehement kiss is pressed into his hair.
He feels a wry little smile twist his mouth. Because he's said that out loud. And in his line of work a misstep like that could well prove to be fatal.
Another chink in his armor exposed.
He tries to blink his way back to awareness.
“Hey, don't fight it.” A puff of warm air disturbs the hair at his temple. It tickles his ear. “This is me, so just close those eyes, baka.” Affectionate fingers continue to comb back a few errant strands.
That sounds like an order.
A tiny part of him bristles. Perhaps that part always will. Because he should countermand it, raise some kind of objection, but he's drifting again and can't fashion the words.
But his lips twitch in instinctive response to the familiar endearment, that verbal caress.
And when he does surface. some long moments, later, having gathered his fugitive thoughts. “Very well,” he accedes, “..but just for a moment.”
Then after a beat. “..thought I told Kei to take you home.”
“Suoh needs us,” comes the stubborn reply. “You said so yourself.”
That tone is absolute.
“Besides, you're here, old man, so where else would I be?”
He tries to muster a smirk. Because he must tell him. Must tell Akihito how much he has come to rely on that obstinate strength. He'd do it right now, but he's three parts seduced by exhaustion, and his eyelids are leaden.
Where else indeed?
An arm snakes up to loop itself around him and it squeezes once, firmly, as if in response to the unspoken thought.
“He's gonna be fine,” Akihito goes on. “The guy's a real force of nature, he has to pull through.” But though his tone holds conviction there's a strong undercurrent; there's something else there..
And then, under his breath.. “'cause, if he doesn't I'll kill him myself!”
And every single word is weighed down with pure anguish.
All at once he's awake and alert. “Ah,” he sighs harshly. “Then, I take it, you know.”
After everything else he had vowed to prevent that.
Akihito's composure is slipping – no, not slipping; it's gone. It's evinced by those fast shallow breaths and the hand that has fisted itself in Asami's shirt. “Kirishima told me...” he starts.. “Ah, Asami,” he chokes, looking up.
His voice cracks and deserts him and he has to start over. His eyes are far, far too bright. “He said that Suoh thought the hostage was me..”
Asami feels his jaw tighten.
A muscle jumps in his cheek.
“Don't blame Kirishima,” Akihito says, quickly. “They've always been close and he's pretty torn up.” But it's clear he can no longer hide the extent of the guilt and the horror he's feeling. “Asami, he did that for me!”
“And if he dies.. If he ...”
He can no longer permit this. It's time to take it in hand.
Kei is blameless in this. Of course he cannot blame Kei. He's already taking this harder than most and yet the man is still out there, despite the wound to his shoulder, pursuing their prey.
He straightens up and he turns. “Listen to me.” He captures Akihito's eyes. He cradles that face between both of his hands and brings their foreheads together. And then he lets out a sigh.
“It was not just for you.” He sees the hazel eyes widen, surprise in their depths. He thumbs the line of a cheekbone. “He did it for us.”
“It appears,” he hears himself saying softly, “..that we are Suoh's family too.”
Akihito's jaw drops and he stills.
And while he waits Asami slackens his hold and resettles his hands on the younger man's shoulders.
It doesn't take very long.
“Okay,” comes the quiet response. “Okay, I can almost accept that.” His breath is still hitching a little and his face is still drawn, but the shadows have fled from his eyes and the worst of the horror is gone.
And as for the guilt – well, this is Akihito. And therefore that guilt – in one form or another – will always remain.
Akihito tilts back his head and looks up. He draws a deep shaky breath. “So..” he says, and goes straight for the jugular.
“..when were you planning to tell me?”
And their gazes collide.
Asami says nothing. Because both of them know that he can't answer that.
He knows that his answering smile must be filled with dark promise because he can feel it.
He also knows that Akihito feels it too.
They both watch over the slumbering giant until the darkness gives way to the bloodied grey streaks of an uncertain dawn.
At four forty-seven the behemoth stirs.
And at four forty-eight he finally opens his eyes.