Playing Along

The thing is, though he cries and pouts and acts nothing at all like the stories Shido-san has told her of Raitei, Ginji-san still moves more quietly than anyone Madoka has ever known. Even Mozart, napping at her feet, didn’t stir until he said, a bit shamefully, “Madoka-chan?”

She turned her face to the sound of his voice. “Ah, Ginji-san,” she said. “Shido-san isn’t in right now, if you’re looking for him …”

“Eh, actually …” there was a heavy pause, and Mozart whined a little as though in response. She wondered what sort of face Ginji-san was making. “I was hoping to talk to Madoka-chan instead.”

“To me?” She tilted her head. “I would be happy to help you, but what do you need?”

“Ummm, well.” The sound of his voice moved, and Madoka turned to follow it; over the years, she’d learned that people were more comfortable if she still faced them, even knowing that her eyes won’t see a thing. “Madoka-chan. Do you remember the violin you lent Ban-chan last year?”

“Oh,” she said. “I do. It was a Burgess violin, made by an American. A very good instrument.” Not quite as noble or poignant as her Stradivarius, but certainly still a wonderful instrument. “Why?”

“Um,” said Ginji-san. “I know it must be expensive, but — I was just wondering if — I’ve been saving some, Ban-chan doesn’t know about it, I–”

“Ginji-san?”

“Could I borrow a violin?” he blurted, more in a single breath than anything else, canIborrowaviolin. “I was hoping, you know, we’ve been doing okay, we’ve got an apartment for a few months at least, so–”

“Ah,” Madoka said. “You’d like Ban-san to play for you again?”

He squawked and sputtered, but he didn’t actually deny her question. Madoka smiled.

“That violin is my backup,” she said. “I practice with it to remember that not all instruments need to be Stradivarius to sound wonderful.”

“Oh.” He sounded dejected. “No good, huh? Ehehh, sorry to bother you then, Madoka-chan–”

“However.” She got to her feet, hearing Mozart stand as well, his warm flank against her leg. She walked to the cabinet where her violins were kept and opened the doors. “These are things that should be appreciated, and not just kept up on display like trophies. Instruments should be used for music.”

“Madoka-chan … ?”

Madoka opened the case and and ran her fingers gently over the strings of the violin, smiling at the harmonics plucked off. “Ginji-san, I’ll lend this to you on one condition.”

“Eh? Ehhh?” He sounded hopeful now, so much more pleased than before. “What sort of condition? Whatever Madoka-chan wants, I’ll do it–”

Madoka took the instrument down and turned towards the sound of Ginji’s voice, smiling.

“Make sure Ban-san plays it,” she said. “And make sure that you listen.”

+++

“Ahhhh?” Ban’s glasses slipped just enough for him to give Ginji an incredulous stare. “The violin again?”

“Pleaaaaase?” Ginji clutched the case to his chest, looking wide-eyed and hopeful and disgustingly cute. “Please, Ban-chan, after Madoka-chan was so nice to lend it to us …”

“Feh!” Ban snorted. “Like we’ve got time for that? We gotta keep working, Ginji, or else we’ll be evicted in no time!”

“Ehhhhhhhhhh!” Ginji wriggled, his eyes dewy. “But Ban-chan–”

“No buts!” Ban scowled. “Stop that, you look like a moron.”

“Ban-chan,” Ginji burbled, not relenting from that ridiculous puffy-cheeked face he was making. “C’mon, Ban-chan, we’re not working now, it’s too late for work, you said so yourself.”

“It means I want to relax,” Ban griped. “Relax! Where I don’t have to worry about–”

“Ban-chaaaan–”

“–anything like–”

“Pleeease?”

“–this, so get out of my face!” Ban put his hand on Ginji’s forehead and shoved back. “Idiot, let me enjoy my evenings off!”

“But Ban-chan, Ban-chaaan, we don’t even have a radio, there’s nothing to dooooo, c’mon, just one song? Just one?” Ginji managed to slip under Ban’s hand and latch onto his arm, dewy-eyed and gnawing on his sleeve. “C’mooooooon …”

“The hell, Ginji, get off!” Ban shook his arm hard; Ginji, on the other hand, remained tightly attached. “Eels aren’t supposed to be clingy, damnit!”

“Ban-chan, c’mon, Ban-chaaan–”

“Ahhh, get off!” Ban shook his arm again. “Look, moron, I can’t play a damn thing if you don’t let me use both hands!”

Still wrapped around Ban’s arm, Ginji’s eyes lit up. “Eh, really? Really? Ban-chan will?”

“It’ll make you shut up, won’t it?” Ban gave his arm another shake. “Let go.”

Ginji did, landing on the ground with a plop. Like someone presenting a trophy, he took up the violin case and held it out to Ban, bright-eyed and beaming over it. “Ban-channnn~”

“Yeah, yeah,” Ban muttered, though his hands were careful when he took the case, and more careful still when he lifted the instrument up. “Whoever heard of borrowing an instrument like this, anyway?”

Ginji didn’t answer, but he hugged his knees to his chest, looking up at Ban with large hopeful eyes. It was the same sort of face that usually conned an extra slice of pizza or a coffee out of Natsumi, and sometimes a sandwich out of the yarnball. It was cute and wide-eyed and innocent, and it never failed to get to get on Ban’s nerves.

“I don’t remember much,” he said, and put the instrument under his chin. He plucked a few notes, testing; despite its transport, the violin was still remarkably in tune. “Don’t get your hopes so high.”

Ginji beamed and tilted his head.

+++

This was what Ginji heard: a rippling scale that bloomed into a greater silvery cascade of sound. He’d heard both Clayman and Kadsuki discuss art before, with metaphors and meaningful language that he’d never quite been able to grasp — and he thought maybe if they could hear this too, they’d have all the clever words to explain this unnamed song.

It sounded, he thought, sort of like how all his wistful dreams of the outside world had felt, back during his time as Raitei.

It kept changing too, the song: high and almost too shrill for a moment, then deep and sawing the next. Ban’s fingers were light and fast across the strings, and while he didn’t have Madoka’s confident grace, he still showed no hesitation as he played.

Somehow, it made Ginji’s throat hurt, just a little.

Even Ban’s face changed, and the most Ginji could come up with for that was he looked less grumpy, less cynical of the world — a lot more like the nice person that even Ban himself didn’t want to admit he could be. Ginji put his chin on his hands and watched that, and thought he liked that part maybe as much as Ban’s playing itself. Despite the open window and the sounds of traffic just outside, it sort of felt like being encased in a bubble of sound, which bent to outside influences, but didn’t snap.

He wouldn’t, he thought, go so far as to wish this could continue forever — but he rather hoped his memories of it would remain clear always.

And eventually the song ended: Ginji watched Ban’s long fingers vibrate to a stop, and the stillness left behind seemed louder than anything else. For a moment Ban didn’t even move, standing still with the violin beneath his chin, and then he opened his eyes. He looked at Ginji and raised an eyebrow.

“What’s with that emptyheaded staring look, ahh?” he said. He lowered his instrument, keeping it tucked in the crook of one arm. “Told you I was out of practice, if you’re not satisfied, it’s your own damn fault.”

“Um,” said Ginji. “That’s not it, Ban-chan …”

“It’s not? Were you listening?” Ban’s expression turned saronic. “Your hearing going on you?”

“It was good,” Ginji protested. “Ban-chan, you have talent! Maybe at Madoka-chan’s next concert, you could–”

Ban cut him off by grinding knuckles on the top of his head. “Hardly,” he said. “She’s got true talent, I just hack it.”

“Owowowow, but Ban-chan, you could, owowow–”

“Right,” Ban said dryly. “I’m going to believe an uneducted punk who can’t even tell the Venus de Milo from the Statue of Liberty–”

“They look the same,” Ginji began, then yelped when Ban’s fist came down harder. “Owww, Ban-chaaan!”

“… Besides,” Ban said finally, and stepped back. Ginji looked up, blinking hard. “I can’t just let you handle the GetBackers by yourself, can I?”

Ginji rubbed the tender spot on the top of his head. “Eh?”

“Idiot.” Ban flicked a finger against Ginji’s forehead. “If I did that, what would you do?”

Ginji considered. “Become a groupie?”

The comment earned him another brief smack. “Classical musicians don’t have groupies, moron! It’s higher-class than you could afford, so don’t even bother.”

Ginji rubbed his abused head again, pouting. “I was just saying,” he said. “It might be nice if more people could hear you play.”

Ban put the violin away with the same careful reverence he’d taken it out, loosening the bow with precise sharp twists of his wrist. “No point,” he said. “I’m out of practice enough that only idiots like you could find something to appreciate in it.”

Ginji paused. He watched Ban’s face.

Ban-chan, he didn’t say, could it be that you–

Ban glanced over at him and scowled. “Sheesh, you’re making that same stupid face again,” he said. “Cut it out, you look like a freak.” He closed the lid of the violin case decisively, then fished a cigarette from his breast pocket. “Look, I played for you. Happy?”

Abruptly, Ginji beamed. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah! Ban-chan’s the greatest!” And then he launched himself up at Ban, tackling him around the waist. “Ban-chaaaan!”

“Eh, hey, what, let go, you damn eel!” Ban slapped a hand against Ginji’s forehead and pushed. “What are you, some sort of squid, get off!”

“Ban-chan, Ban-chan, you’re the greatest, thank you Ban-chan~”

“Idiot, let go, I’m gonna–”

In a tangled mess of wrapped limbs they fell, right on top of the violin in its case.

+++

“It’s not so bad,” Madoka assured Ginji, running her fingers carefully over the top, where the neck had snapped. “This should be easy enough to fix.”

That was something of a lie — the instrument would never quite be the same, even if Niccolo Amati himself rose from the dead to fix it. On the other hand, she certainly hadn’t been doing the instrument much justice, leaving it to languish in its display case for so long.

Ginji whined, sounding almost exactly like Mozart. “Ma, Madoka-chan …”

“Did he play for you?” she asked, pressing a finger gently to the splintered wood.

He paused, and his silence felt more like reminiscing than a scramble for an excuse.

“Yeah,” he said at last, his voice warm; she didn’t need to touch his face to know he was smiling. “He did.”

Madoka turned her face towards the sound of his voice and smiled back.

“Good,” she said. “I’m glad.”

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