“Owowowowow …” Ginji winced as the last Band-Aid was applied, over the bridge of his nose. Who knew monkeys had such sharp claws?
It had taken the better part of three hours, and a bit of reflexive panic on Ginji’s part, to fight their way free of the pile of animals. Unlike human opponents, slower and heavier and more easily tired, those stupid monkeys had kept coming until Ginji plunged both hands into the heated pool and released a single, sharp burst of static electricity.
So, even though they’d managed to retrieve all the stolen jewelry, the smell of charred fur followed Ginji whenever he turned his head, and he’d been left with a rather bad-tempered Ban, whose dark hair had been poofed out into a fritzy mess, rather than its customary mussed spikes. Upon their return to the bathhouse, Ban disappeared to the onsen to sulk with Paul, refusing Kazuki’s offer of first aid.
Kazuki sprayed the last scrape across the back of Ginji’s wrist, and he flinched a little from that. “Ow!”
“I’m sorry, Ginji-san.” Kazuki actually looked more amused than apologetic, but at least he put the antiseptic aside. “I did try to warn you, though.”
“Eheh.” With an embarrassed shrug, Ginji prodded at the Band-Aid on his cheek. “Yeah, you did, Kazu-chan. Next time, though, try and warn us faster? Ban-chan will be mad at me for weeks now.” He flashed wide, shimmery brown eyes at Kazuki, who laughed and turned his head.
“Even now, Ginji-san,” he said, “there isn’t a lot any VOLTS member, past or present, wouldn’t do for you.”
When he looked back, a very small, round Ginji sat on the futon and poked despondently at the bedcovers. “Um … Ginji-san?”
Tears shimmered in Ginji’s huge eyes when he looked up. “Ban-chan is very mad at me,” he announced, with all the grave solemnity of an execution sentence. “So, I’m going to stay in Kazu-chan’s room until he feels better.” Abruptly, he popped back to normal and frowned. “Unless you and Juubei … ?”
For a moment, Kazuki paused in putting away the first aid kit. His smile, though, was more knowing than wistful. “If it’s him, he’ll be fine.” Kazuki sat on the floor beside Ginji and undid his high ponytail, rewrapping it in its traditional long tail. “He needs some time to work through things by himself, and then he’ll come back. Don’t worry about him, Ginji-san.”
Ginji’s mouth pursed into a half-pout. “But what about you, Kazu-chan?”
Kazuki blinked. “What about me?”
“Is this really okay? I mean, you wanted to see him so much, and now he’s gone again …” Ginji looked down at the blanket, tracing patterns in the stiff material with one finger. “It just seems really unfair for you, Kazu-chan.”
“You haven’t seen Juubei since you left the Mugenjou, right?” Ginji shifted a little in place, looking distinctly uncomfortable with the conversation. “Before we went back, you said you left without warning, so he’d be mad at you. That was at least a year, wasn’t it?”
“Actually, I hadn’t seen him since you left, Ginji-san.” Kazuki began to refasten the bells into his hair. “He disappeared into the Mugenjou the same day you left–he said it was for ‘training,’ but he never came back.” His hands paused again, and the sudden pause of movement made the small gold bells chime briefly. “You left, and Shido followed soon after. When Juubei never reappeared … that’s when I decided to leave, too.”
Juubei isn’t the only one who has things he has to discover for himself. I thought he’d understand.
“That long?” Shock shaded Ginji’s voice into a squeak. “Kazu-chan!”
“I was twelve when I met Juubei for the first time,” Kazuki said, over his indignation. “And until we came to the Mugenjou, we’d sometimes go months without seeing each other. I’m happier with him here, but if he’s gone–then that’s all right, too.” He closed his eyes, and thought about an early-morning sunrise from years before, when Juubei (and how young he looked, through the lens of hindsight) first made the promise that even physical separation couldn’t divide their connection.
“Even if I’m not there, Kazuki,” he’d said, and his hands had been hot and maybe a little damp to the touch, “I’m always with you. Understand?”
The memory made Kazuki smile, and he looked down at his spread hands. “Juubei’s very fond of dramatic speeches,” he said. “But that’s all right, that’s a part of who he is. That’s why I’m fine even when I miss him–” He looked over at Ginji, then stopped, concerned. Ginji’s blonde head was bowed low, and one of his hands closed tightly over the coverlet, shaking a little with the force of his grip.
“Ginji-san?” Kazuki began to reach out, then let his hand drop just shy of Ginji’s fist. “Is something wrong?”
For a long time, Ginji said nothing. Then he shook his head slowly. “I’m trying to imagine it,” he said. “I can’t.”
“When I think of not being with Ban-chan,” Ginji said, staring at the blanket, “for months and months at a time, it hurts, right here.” He put a hand over his heart. “Like a piece of me would go away with him.”
Kazuki looked at Ginji’s bowed head thoughtfully, then smiled. “In your own way, you’re as straightforward as Juubei,” he said. “It suits you, Ginji-san.” He took a deep breath and tilted his head slightly up towards the ceiling. “It’s not that I enjoy being apart from him,” he said finally, “it’s that I know him well enough that when he says, ‘my heart will be with you,’ I know it’s the truth.” He laughed suddenly, covering his mouth partially with one hand. “He’s so old-fashioned, sometimes.”
His eyes misted over briefly, and Ginji, well-accustomed to personal flashbacks, said nothing. A tightness still lingered in his chest at the thought of being separated from Ban for that long. Though Ban never promised anything in explicit terms, prickly as his spiked hair might suggest, he remained forever constant.
All Ginji had to do was reach out, and Ban was there. But Kazuki didn’t have that kind of promise. Certainly, thinking back to his time in the VOLTS, Ginji couldn’t remember a time when Juubei wasn’t by Kazuki’s side, but …
He looked up. “Kazu-chan, I–”
This time, Kazuki’s hand did close over his, a cool touch over the underlying warmth of blood and muscle. Only the tips of Kazuki’s fingertips had any traces of callus, so different from Ginji’s own, or Ban’s–and most likely Juubei’s. Ginji looked up into Kazuki’s gently smiling face.
“Relationships are as different as the people who have them,” he said. “Ginji-san, it works for us, but it doesn’t seem like it would for you and Midou-kun.” He chuckled suddenly. “You’re too impatient, the both of you.”
“Kazu-chan?” One could almost see the question marks floating over Ginji’s head.
Kazuki looked up, head cocked as though listening to something. Then he got to his feet, carefully adjusting the edges of his yukata as he did. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
“Eh?” Ginji blinked. “But, Kazu-chan, isn’t this your–”
The sliding door banged open. Ban stood in the doorway, now dressed in the plain gray yukata provided by the bath house, with his hair slicked completely down, though here and there, a few spritzed strands of hair defied Ban’s best efforts. A few bandages had been peppered across his face and arms–probably Natsumi’s doing, because it was difficult to tell such a happy girl “no.”
“Erk,” said Ginji.
“Please excuse me,” Kazuki said, and slipped past Ban into the hallway. Ginji reached after him, deflating.
“Kazu-chan, wait! I–er–” He took a deep breath, then plastered a big smile across his face when he looked up again. “Um–hi, Ban-chan–”
Ban raised an eyebrow. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Hurry up and get changed.”
“Giku.” Ginji blinked.
“Come on, let’s go!” Ban tossed his towel at Ginji. It smacked him in the face. “We’re having a rematch against Natsumi.”
“Ban-chan?” Ginji scrambled up to his knees, looking at his friend anxiously. Ban blinked back at him and pushed up his glasses.
“You heard me,” he said. “Come on, Ginji–our honor is on the line here! Do you really want to have to buy cakes every day for the next month?” Ban raised a fist, a determined scowl on his face. “This time, we’ll definitely teach her not to mess with the invincible GetBackers!”
Wide-eyed, Ginji blinked. Then he grinned.
“Okay! Coming, Ban-chan!”
Outside, in the cool evening, Kazuki cupped the flower Juubei had left behind on one hand. He smiled.
Inside, something large and heavy slammed into the wall. Kazuki could hear Ginji fussing, and the scraping sounds as Ban dragged himself back to his feet and challenged Natsumi again. The girl’s laughter reminded him of Sakura’s, back before the disaster had rendered her so thoughtfully silent most of the time.
He opened his hand and let gravity and evening breezes carry the flower from his palm.
(“Even if I’m not there, Kazuki, I’m always with you. Understand?”)
“I understand,” he said. “So train hard, and come back soon. I can be a little impatient too, sometimes.”