In the Moment: Today

“Just one minute.” Ban punctuates the statement by snapping his cigarette lighter closed. Over the years, he’s perfected his timing to an art. “Did you see your dreams?”

The target looks dismayed; the gun drops from suddenly nerveless fingers as he stares at the two of them. He makes a choking noise that might be “Jagan” or simple denial, but he never gets to finish it. Ban delivers a quick chop to the man’s neck and lays him out cold, then taps ash from his cigarette onto the body as an afterthought.

“Ban-chan.” Ginji’s voice is scolding. He’s got the client’s requested vase in his arms, and it’s almost too big for him to hold; he has to constantly shift and juggle its weight to keep from dropping it.

Ban rolls his eyes. “Hey, hey.” He turns away from the client and starts walking. “Let’s go, Ginji. Our client’s waiting.” It’s a small job, but it still means payment, so he and Ginji won’t go hungry tonight. Ginji follows him a step and a half behind, already chattering happily about their success.

When they first started the GetBackers, Ban used his Jagan sparingly and weighed every option with a perfectionist’s fussiness. Then people started anticipating it, daring him to use it–and Ban has never been one to let a challenge slip past. These days, it’s just that he sometimes doesn’t want to put in the effort to avoid a confrontation where it’s necessary. Maybe it’s just sloppiness, but Ban trusts his instincts to know when to throw a fight with the Jagan, and when to follow it through. Ginji’s a good sport about it, even when the dreams involve one or both of them getting killed.

Then again, Ginji lives his life in absolutes, surprisingly naive for someone who grew up in the bowels of the Mugenjou. Those he loves are forgiven every sin, and though Ginji never truly hates, he does not easily forgive those who cross his moral boundaries. Good is good, bad is bad, and the gray area between them is comfortably narrow.

Ban, on the other hand, can’t see the ends of the spectrum for what seperates them. No one is to be trusted completely, because someone who shows you his throat may just be waiting to catch you with your guard down. Sometimes he’s annoyed by Ginji’s straightfoward way of seeing things–but other times, he understands to appreciate it for its rarity.

You don’t need friends to survive, or even be happy. It’s just that they make both easier.

Ginji is not exactly his friend–he is Ban’s partner, and that makes him much more important than that. More than Ginji’s clear-cut view of the world and his steadfast belief, finding someone who adapts this seamlessly to the way you work is a precious and rare thing. Ginji is necessary, and Ban will give up everything to keep him.

Himiko, because of what she is, has the promise of his protection and, if necessary, his life. She has his devotion because of his promise to her dying brother, and for the young girl he still sometimes finds reflected in her eyes. He thinks he would not mind staying by her side, if he didn’t feel certain they would kill each other before long.

But Ginji has somehow managed to earn a place in his thoughts, with nothing more than his own puppyish devotion and the cold rain that used to fall in his eyes. Sometimes Ban tries to puzzle through that, and figure out how it happened exactly.

He hasn’t been successful yet.

“Ban-chan!” Ginji says, and somehow he’s gotten ahead, already waiting by the car. In the dying sunlight his smile is illumination enough. “Come on, hurry up! I’m hungry!”

Ban snorts, but he doesn’t put any force behind his projected irritation. “Ch’, you’re always hungry. Patience is a virtue, you know.” Despite that, he picks up the pace and unlocks the doors so Ginji can put their retrieval target into the car and crawl in himself, balancing the vase on his lap.

“I want ramen tonight, Ban-chan!” Ginji to him as he starts the car. “Let’s have ramen, okay?”

Ban snorts again. “You’ve got such juvenile appetites,” he says, but does not disagree. And Ginji, who knows how to understand him, cheers. Ban sighs to disguise his smile. Really, the distance between them seems unfathomably deep, and he’s not quite sure exactly how he and Ginji manage to bridge that gap over and over.

Ban, who grew up amidst wealth and art and the strange shadows of his grandmother’s world, always considers the value of material things–that’s why he handles the finances, because he knows that money is what’s truly necessary in this world. Ginji, on the other hand, gives back whatever he receives, because he’s never been taught the actual value of things. If the price is high, he’s impressed–but that’s forgotten as quickly as last week’s breakfast.

Then it is fitting, Ban thinks, that their first kiss was stolen.

It happened during their first job together as retrievers–the newly-named GetBackers setting out against the world, before they had the car or an intermediary or a reputation to stake things on. The pursuit after they retrieved the stolen heirloom cat statue ended up dumping them into a river, carried away from their swearing victims by the current as they laughed.

When the hired bodyguards disappeared from sight, Ban had caught Ginji’s arm and steered them towards shore. Once they hit the bank, he’d hauled them both out, and Ginji had looked up at him with the cat hugged to his chest and just laughed.

“You’re all messed up, Ban-chan!” he’d said, between giggles, never mind that he was equally soaked and dirty, with his blonde hair dripping into his eyes and smears of mud drying on his cheeks and arms. And then he’d just smiled at Ban with exuberance born out of adrenaline–we did it, we actually did it!–and though his cigarettes were all soaked and ruined, Ban couldn’t help but smile back. And when Ginji bounced to his feet and shifted the vase so he could hook an arm around Ban’s neck to draw him in for a hug, he had turned his head just a little, so that his lips brushed and then pressed against Ginji’s damp temple.

He had frozen, exuberance and adrenaline drained from him in a single heartbeat. Ginji’s hair, caught between his lips, tasted like river water and static electricity. And then Ginji pulled away, with guileless eyes, and asked what was wrong. Ban fumbled, and came up with some glib excuse, and Ginji has never questioned the moment after that, too gleeful over their success to care.

He doesn’t know if it counts. He likes to think it does.

“Ban-chan, there, there!” Ginji points excitedly, jostling his arm. “I want to eat there!”

Ban looks; it’s a ramen stand that advertises All You Can Eat For Cheap. Obviously, they don’t know Ginji’s appetite. He resists the urge to smirk.

“Ginji, we haven’t even been paid yet. We don’t have the money right now.”

Ginji presses his face and hands to the window, and watches the place go past with a moue of disappointment. “It looked really good, too.”

Ban says nothing else as they drive to the meeting spot. The client meets them there, and after a bit of last-minute haggling, hands over their payment. Ban takes it casually like always–“thanks for your business!”–but Ginji’s practically shaking, hoping from one foot to the other. He almost doesn’t remember to thank the customer, only tossing it out after Ban elbows him in the side.

It has been a while, Ban thinks, and lets that go with a shrug and a wry grin. They’ve gotten through the past few weeks because of Natsumi’s kindness and an unexpected favor from the thread spool. The prospect of buying their own food like respectable people makes him feel indulgent.

“Now let’s go to that place, Ban-chan,” Ginji says, when they’re back in the car again. “I’ve heard it’s good.”

He shakes his head. “What makes you think I want ramen?”

Ginji pouts at him until he recognizes that they’re headed back to the stand–then his expression does a complete one-eighty, and he beams more brightly than any man-made light. He even bounces a little in his seat, leaning forward in an attempt to see better into the thickening night. “Ramen, ramen, ra~me~n~” he sings, drumming his fingers on the door, the dash, his knees–they move in a restless pattern, never lingering for very long. At the next stop, Ban raises an eyebrow at him, and he subsides. But he continues to smile, straining against the seatbelt as the little stand comes into view.

It really is nothing more than a shoddily-crafted wood stall with a few creaky seats, and the curtains are a bit stained and tattered; one hangs more than halfway off. A good windstorm could easily collapse it into rubble. One of its lights has gone out, and another is flickering badly enough to give anyone a headache. But Ginji bounds up to it and plunks himself on one of the uncomfortable stools with all the anticipation of a man about to eat a five-star high-class restaurant. Ban follows more sedately, and eyes the place with obvious doubt before he sits down.

The owner is an old man whose face disappears into a mass of wrinkles when he smiles. He wears clothes that are only marginally cleaner than his curtains, and moves with deliberate, awkward slowness. His happiness to see customers is about as obvious as Ginji’s happiness to be eating there. Ban bites the inside of his cheek to keep from saying anything too scathing, because he knows the insult would go over both their heads.

Ban is still working on his second bowl when Ginji orders his fourth. And even if the old man is slow, he’s steady, and he speaks in a high, whistling voice, telling some story that Ginji listens attentively to, even if Ban has tuned him out.

They manage twenty bowls between the two of them. Ginji gives the man too much money and refuses to take the extra back; he drags Ban off before he can protest.

“The food was good, Ban-chan,” he says earnestly, like a puppy who has believed he’s done the right thing. “He deserved the money.”

Ban punches him anyway. “Dumbass,” he says, though without that much anger. “Don’t whine at me when we run out and can’t buy more food.”

Ginji rubs his cheek and pouts, but then he grins, and the moment’s forgotten. Money is something they only agree on half the time–usually when Ginji’s hungry. With a full belly, he’s much more easygoing about funds. As Ban drives to their usual parking spot for the night, Ginji settles back in his seat with his hands folded over his stomach, already drowsy-eyed. By the time they pull up and Ban puts the car in park, he’s already asleep.

Ban rolls down a window and leans back in his own seat to light a cigarette. He blows the smoke outside. Ginji admitted once that he used to smoke, but gave the habit up soon after Raitei exploded to life within him. The subtle high of nicotine was nothing compared to the sort of power that the Lightning Emperor commanded. These days, he doesn’t like the smell of the smoke, and if it gets into the car, he needles Ban about it until it fades.

Honestly, it doesn’t bother him as much as he likes to complain. It’s one of the many ways Ginji shows his affection, the nagging along with the constant hugs and steadfast faith.

One always knows where one stands, with Ginji. Ban finds the honesty refreshing, even when it irritates the hell out of him.

He draws the smoke deep into his lungs, then lets it out slowly. It’s pale against the night before it dissipates. Ginji mutters something in his sleep about ramen before he subsides. Ban smiles a little at that, and part of the beauty of being in a dark car at night is that no one can see you if you slip.

After he’s done, he drops the butt out the window and rolls it back up. Ban’s eyes have long since adjusted to the dark, so it takes no fumbling to take his glasses off and hook them into the open collar of his shirt. He folds his arms behind his head and leans back, staring into the dark. Beside him, Ginji snuffles and wakes slowly.

“Ban-chan?” he mumbles. “Why’re you still awake?”

He shrugs, though it goes unseen. Ginji never sleeps fully throughout the night–it’s a leftover from his time in the Mugenjou. Seventeen years of catnaps has trained him to sleep deeply when he does, whenever he can. The longest Ban has ever seen Ginji sleep is four hours through.

“Ban-chan?” Ginji sounds more awake now; he sits up a bit, and ruffles a hand through his hair, leaving it standing on hand more than usual. He muffles a yawn with one hand, and blinks sleepily at Ban.

“Wasn’t tired.” Ban shrugs. “What’s your excuse?”

Ginji chuckles. The sound is rusty. He shifts onto his side, facing Ban, still mostly drowsy. His hands lie slack against his chest, and his tired smile is almost contagious.

“I was sleepy,” he said. “I’m not anymore.” Then he yawns widely, behind one hand, and blinks his eyes wide open. “No, really, I’m not,” he says, when Ban smirks at him.

“We’re not in the Mugenjou,” Ban says, rather than argue. “You don’t need to keep waking up.”

Ginji shrugs awkwardly, then pushes himself up to a straighter seated position. “I know,” he says. “It just feels weird to keep sleeping, that’s all.”

“You’ve got weird habits,” Ban says, without heat. “Sleep is good for you.”

“I do sleep, whenever I’m tired,” Ginji says. “But I’m not right now, so why should I?”

They sit together in companionable silence for a while; Ban can feel the quiet seeping into him slowly, and it makes his eyelids and body heavy with the approach of sleep. He curls his lips in a halfhearted attempt to stifle the yawn, but it escapes anyway. Ginji laughs softly, more amused than mocking.

“Take your own advice, Ban-chan,” he says. “Go to sleep.” Then he stretches a little, fingers lacing together as he reaches above his head; there’s a series of soft, subtle pops, and he makes a content noise in the back of his throat before subsiding.

Ban snorts. A moment later, he yawns again.

“Ban-chan, really–I’m okay, but I know you like your sleep–” He stops when Ban holds up a hand for silence, pouting just a little. Ban sits up and makes to push up his glasses, before remembering they’re already off and hooked on his shirt. They look at each other thoughtfully, in the same untroubled silence as before.

He does it on a whim. As Ginji looks at him, head cocked to one side and still a little confused by sleep, Ban leans forward and presses his lips to the side of Ginji’s mouth. It’s not quite a kiss, but he waits there for a second and leans back.

He doesn’t need light to see how red Ginji’s face is. “Ba–Ban-chan … ?”

“You’re noisy,” Ban says, by way of explanation. “Try silence once in a while.”

Ginji lets his fingertips ghost where Ban touched him, drops his eyes for a moment, and takes a deep breath. When he looks up again, he’s smiling. The hand he puts over Ban’s is dry and warm.

“Say so earlier, Ban-chan,” he says, and then mirrors Ban’s earlier movements. His mouth is surprisingly soft on Ban’s cheek, and somehow warmer than he suspected. There’s a bit of a spark when they touch; neither of them flinch. Ban has long since become accustomed to the random static electricity Ginji generates by simply breathing.

Ban hooks an arm around Ginji’s neck to hold him in place. Under the buzz of static, the smell and taste of clean ozone, Ginji tastes oddly sweet, as though all the extra sugar he puts in his coffee has taken permanent residence in his skin. When they part, Ban licks his lips and grins when Ginji’s blush deepens.

“Not bad,” he says. “Could be better, but that comes with practice.”

“Practice?” Ginji’s voice comes out as a squeak, and he clears his throat before trying again. “Wha–what do you mean, practice?”

“You’re not that dumb, Ginji.” Ban settles back again, folding his hands over his stomach. He closes his eyes to create the illusion of complete casual disdain. “Figure it out yourself.”

The silence wears on his nerves more than he wants to admit, but Ban does not even peek at Ginji. However, when the seat beside his squeaks a little from movement, he opens his eyes in time to receive the kiss to his cheek. Ginji meets his gaze evenly, and there is no trace of nerves in those wide brown eyes.

“You’re forgetting, I need someone to practice with.”

Ban grins at that, and relief unfurls a warm glow in his chest. Once again on impulse, he reaches up and pats Ginji’s cheek, and it takes a surprising amount of effort to keep his expression a smirk and not a smile.

“I’ll be glad to do that,” he says, and then when Ginji perks up, he adds, “in the morning.”

Ginji’s jaw drops; he looks like someone from a tsukomi-boke routine, with the rug yanked out from under him. “Ba–Ban-chan!”

“What?” And this time Ban plays up the yawn, letting his eyes slide half-shut. “I’m tired, and you were the one telling me I should sleep.” And then he closes his eyes fully to cut out the image of Ginji pouting. “Good night, Ginji.”

Silence, and then a sigh. “Good night, Ban-chan.” Ginji sounds more amused than annoyed now, and the car shifts and creaks as he moves back into his usual position again; in his mind’s eye, Ban can easily see Ginji leaning against the door, forehead against the window, expression quietly content as he looks out into the featureless night.

The image feels like home, in a way.

Ban relaxes and lets it carry him to sleep.

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