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Fanfic: Going For The Gold, ch. 17 (Get Backers, Ban/Akabane, #7 - "superstar") 
31st-Jul-2013 07:31 pm
Stressed Akabane
Title: Going For The Gold (ch.17)
Author: Amethyst Hunter
Pairing: Ban/Akabane
Fandom: Get Backers
Theme: #7 – “superstar”
Rating: R (language)
Warnings/Spoilers: None other than standard canon.
Notes: Many thanks to you, wonderful readers, for your continued appreciation. :)
~ This is for the lovely btamamura. If you’ve ever seen the Red vs. Blue series, the inside joke is that the English voice actor for Akabane makes a certain notable quip. :)
Disclaimer: Santa didn't put 'em in my stocking this year, so I guess I don't own GB. Aww.
Summary: Ban and Akabane struggle to amass funding for their trip to Europe, efforts that receive an unexpected boost when old enemies cross paths with retrievers and transporters alike.




The transporters that made up the Dream Team were no strangers to violence. If it wasn't Akabane's doing, it was their opponents', since being the best in the business usually meant that there was no shortage of fortune-seekers willing to try their hand at claiming the top title. With the Party Crashers facing off for a showdown, Himiko and Maguruma weren't surprised when Varlou attacked Ban, and they reacted fast.

Unfortunately for them Stinger and Oil-Slick were also primed for response. The moment everyone's eyes were on Varlou as he took advantage of Ban's distraction in spinning the Jagan, Shah-tzi whirled and lashed out at Himiko with a solid fist. She managed to block the punch without losing her footing, but her own weapon, the perfume, bore the brunt of the blow and cracked apart. By the time she recovered for a counterattack the older woman was already sprinting away out of reach, leaving a trail of noxious fumes from the broken perfume bottle in her wake that Himiko was forced to dodge.

Maguruma was having somewhat better luck, since his opponent preferred to fight only when the odds were squarely on his side, which was why the third Crasher let his comrades do most of the harder work. Though Gouzou was distracted enough for Itoh to rear up and throw off his hold so that he could tuck tail and run, No-Brakes was by far the larger and stronger man. He caught up with Oil-Slick and slammed him to the ground – but not before Itoh was able to splatter him with an exploding pellet that contained a greasy substance. It took more than a minute's worth of wrestling for Maguruma, who was good and mad at this point, to knock his quarry's head into the dirt and pin Itoh without losing his slippery grip on the other man.

That left Akabane and Ginji. Jackal had sensed danger even before the first wound was struck and was bolting in Ban's direction, but Ginji was closer. He dropped the recovery box, stuffed the grenade he'd been fooling with into a vest pocket and darted right for Ban – exactly the mistake that Varlou had been hoping for.

Ban was too busy trying to keep more of his guts from getting spilled to notice the enemy's sudden disinterest in finishing him off. He'd anticipated more than one strike and so was able to avoid getting full-on gutted by the time the sai jabbed its second injury, and he was then dropping and rolling to miss the third swing, reaching up with his right hand to snap Varlou's left shin and dish out some serious hurt to the bastard, but his fingers closed over air, and that's when he heard Ginji's pained yelp.

He squirmed upright, no easy task when his side was bleeding green, and hissed a curse when he saw what awaited him. The ever-helpful Ginji had managed to land himself in yet another pickle: in his haste to aid his partner, he'd forgotten to keep track of Varlou, thereby allowing the Crasher to easily slip behind him and trap him with a well-aimed sai point at his jugular. Ginji might have been able to throw him off with a sharp electrical charge, but thanks to past experience with Akabane he remembered only too well the possibility of what could happen if he misjudged his current. A blade to the brain, or an artery, was every bit as fatal as one in the heart, after all.

Ban wasn't the only one sizing up the new stalemate. Akabane skidded to a halt between the two Get Backers, and, after a glance to assure that the B half was in no imminent danger of premature worldly passing, fixed his deadly sights on Varlou. Purple eyes colder than any iceberg reflected the metallic sheen of four raised scalpels, and if the gleaming edges weren't enough to lend ample testament to the wielder's seething displeasure, their scarlet outlines spoke volumes.

“This is for Midou-kun, Maguruma, Makubex and Lady Poison. Oh, and especially from me.” Akabane's voice barely rose above a whisper, but it carried the promise of blood. “Let Ginji-kun go...and I might only leave you half-dead!”

“Another time, perhaps, lover,” Varlou sneered, tightening his hold on Ginji. “While you're considering that offer, how about being a good puppy and turning that box back over to us!”

Stinger had appeared out of the nearby brush to join him. Across the clearing, a stained and ragged Maguruma was dragging forward a semi-conscious Itoh by his ankles. With Ginji held hostage, Himiko had no choice but to stop her pursuit. She sagged behind, next to Ban while she helped him to stand up, the pink and red battle-scratches on her face making a stark contrast to the paling of anger that suffused her skin.

Akabane didn't move; only the flicker of ruby from his blades and the subtle squeezing of his fingers around them betrayed his wrath. He still had one of the black gloves restraining the other handset of knives, but Ban wasn't sure it would be enough, now that the Jackal's bloodlust was roused.

“Hurry up, Jackal,” Varlou growled. “You always underestimate me, mon cher, and that's why you get stuck with the leftover bones instead of feasting on the whole steak. You could have saved yourself a lot of frustration if you'd just played nice from the start like I wanted you to.”

“I don't play well with others. Do I, Midou-kun?” Akabane said, without looking at Ban.

“Not when backstabbing's involved,” Ban confirmed with a sour mutter.

Varlou laughed, a sharp bark of derision. “Well, I don't think you have much to fear from me on that account, Kuroudo love. It's more fun for me to see your face when I do it.”

Ginji piped up then, undeterred by his enemy's chokehold. “I don’t like you,” he declared in the same tone of voice he used when voicing his disgust for anchovies.

Varlou snorted. “And I don’t like you, so we're even, you little punk.” He shifted and poked the sai harder beneath Ginji's exposed pulse, making him wince and grit his teeth. “Now tell your friends to give me the fucking transport item or we'll find out who makes the better pincushion, you or Jackal!”

“No way!” Ginji said. “Get Backers never give up on our missions!”

He suddenly sagged against Varlou, who was thrown off-balance and had to stumble aside in order to keep his hold on his prisoner. When he straightened and jerked Ginji upright, the latter hoisted a small pinecone-shaped object in his free hand, and nearly everyone gasped.

Ban could have burst a gasket. “Ginji! Are you nuts!? I TOLD you to put that stupid thing down!”

Undaunted, his partner pushed the miniature menace closer to Varlou's face. “Now who's the punk?” Ginji grinned. “As Lightning Lord my powers will protect me from the blast. How about you? Feel lucky, Yami Dorko?”

Varlou's eyes widened for a second at the sight of the grenade. Then they narrowed. “You can't scare me. I saw you fooling with it; it's inactive!”

Ginji shrugged. “It was until I pulled out the safety pin...” He flicked his thumb into view and a small round metal ring jingled lightly around it.

Varlou cursed a torrent of several languages as he shoved Ginji as far away from him as he could. Ginji spun to take a swing at him, but the Crasher was zooming in on the box that held the transport item. Shah-tzi moved to back up Varlou and Himiko, Ban and Maguruma all yelled at Ginji.

“You moron, get rid of it!” Ban screamed.

Ginji blinked and gulped as he realized he was still holding the live grenade. He turned around, went to heave the thing in a huge step and promptly banged into a nearby tree stump, sending his throw off so that the explosive pitched low and bounced across the ground. It rolled several times and came to rest on a lopsided angle...right against all the other explosives that Ban had taken off of Varlou moments ago, and which were now piled almost directly underneath the trailer of Mr. No-Brakes' truck.

An open-mouthed Akabane came up next to him and stared. “That. Was the worst throw. Ever. Of all time.”

A quivering Ginji shrank back. “Not my fault! There was a wall there!”

“IDIOTS!” Ban roared. “HIT THE DECK!”

Self-preservation took precedence as everyone dove or ran for cover. Varlou and Shah-tzi had nabbed the box and were leaping into their car, taking off in a squeal of rubber and spit-snarl of gravel. Fury at being hoodwinked instinctively made Ban start to get up and chase after them, until the thunder of detonating bombs sent him flying right back behind the cluster of boulders where he, Maguruma and Itoh Oil-Slick had been hiding.

“MY TRUCK!” Gouzou howled over the shrieks of dying metal.

Ban would have snorted, except that he suddenly remembered what was in the truck's trailer. “MY CAR!”

Everything after that was mostly an earsplitting drum chorus of explosions and shattering debris. Shrapnel whistled and flames spiraled all around as each grenade set off a chain reaction. Ban had no idea how many of those damn bombs he'd taken off Varlou, only that each time a percussive blast made his teeth rattle, it was one too many in his estimation, and he vowed that if he ever got his mitts on Yami Dickhead again he didn't care how many scalpels Akabane stuck in him for it, he'd shove Jackal aside and have Aesclepius pound the insufferable jackass into the bloodiest pulp imaginable.

He raised his head slightly between booms when a voice somehow carried above the din. “Wait – did he just say 'Bloody Lariat'?”

“Who?” Maguruma yelled over Itoh's whimpers.

Ban ignored him and risked a glimpse out from behind the rocks. He was just in time to see Akabane cast aloft what looked to be a long rope of red, and then the transporter was lifted off his feet when the line suddenly snapped taut.

“No way you're hogging all the fun, Kuroudo!”

Ban shot through the clouds of smoke, dodging the fireballs of charred wood and metal that continued to shoot through the air like deadly hail. He closed a hand around a clump of black trenchcoat, felt something latch onto his other arm, and looked down to see a grubby-faced pixie glaring indigo doom. There was no time, however, to tell Himiko to let go and leave this to the pros, because his arm muscles were hollering strain when they all went sailing after Akabane and the two remaining Party Crashers.

He had to give her credit, though. Himiko's acceleration perfume helped them reach the car without too much bouncing along the pavement; otherwise they both might have been missing more skin. Ban had lost his glasses and his grip on Akabane's coat but the still-trailing length of rope – he didn't want to think of how the hell dear Jackal had come up with that one – allowed him to clamber onto the back of the car and haul Himiko up with him. No sooner had he accomplished this than a swarm of bees pelted his leg and sent a wildfire of pain racing along the entire left half of his body.

“Here!”

A whoosh of cool moisture flooded his sinuses and suddenly the pain was gone. Himiko didn't miss a beat as she finished ripping out the tiny needles that studded his lower calf and flicked the vial of antidote perfume back into its holster. Just as fast she withdrew a near-emptied bottle of paralysis potion and tackled Shah-tzi before the other woman could fling another round of poison darts. While the two women grappled for control of the steering wheel, Ban struggled to get a foothold in the back seat, where Varlou and Akabane were doing their best to gut each other.

“Fight me properly, damn you, coward!” snarled the Jackal when Varlou avoided a scalpel's slice and jabbed his sai at Akabane's foot in an attempt to dislodge him. His hat had blown off somewhere and left a wild storm of dark hair whipping in the winds. Ban caught sight of his mate's teeth-baring snarl, and a part of him took perverse pride in the fact that Akabane was just as pissed off as he was right now, minus a bleeding wound or two. Even so, he climbed further into the car, gritting his teeth against the hot throb of his own wounds, holding on till metal crunched in his fists since the vehicle was fishtailing all over the place.

He had no idea how well Himiko could hold her own with Stinger, but if he didn't intervene with Yami and Jackal, somebody was going to be roadkill and he wouldn't have placed any bets on it being Varlou – or Akabane, for that matter.

Ban lunged for the creep but a swerve of the car threw him into Akabane instead. The transporter lost his aim and fired a scalpel right through the windshield, barely missing Himiko's head. Ban didn't wait for her screech of outrage but pushed himself back from a startled Akabane and tried again to wallop Varlou. He almost had him when a hard knee came up and nailed him right in the first stab wound the latter had dealt him during their standoff.

“Mind your own business, Mi-dumbo Ban!” Varlou laughed as Ban promptly retched over the side of the careening car. His triumph was short-lived as a furious Akabane swooped in on him in the next second. “Come and get it if you want death so badly!” Varlou growled, brandishing both sais now.

“To hell with death, it's blood I want!” Akabane proceeded to make good on that promise, raking a handful of knives over a howling Varlou from mid-face to thigh. Enraged, the other transporter stabbed wildly, aiming for anything vulnerable. His first blade missed, but he struck gold with the other, sinking the point solid into Akabane's shoulder. Jackal uttered a shrill scream and swiped at him with claws, missing Varlou's neck when the other ducked, but clipping a thick chunk of white-blond in the process.

Ban recovered from gagging and saw the hair go flying; his first thought was that Jackal had decapitated the bastard but the lack of blood-spray and the bodies tumbling into him corrected that misconception. When the pressure lifted in the next second he spun into the fray, missing a sai blade to the heart by millimeters when Varlou tried for another attack on Akabane. That one glanced off a trenchcoat cuff and split fabric, and when Akabane reared up to stab at Varlou, Ban slipped in between them and his right hand shot out, catching Jackal's throat firmly.

But if Yami Doko took this to be a misplaced attack and therefore an invitation to deal the finishing blow, he was dead wrong. Varlou's victorious laugh never even made it past his lips when he brought down his blade and the heel of a hand smashed into his wrist. Yowling, he dropped the sai, but whirled and slashed with his other weapon, losing that one as well when the same hand ripped it from his fingers. He squealed wordless desperation and stumbled backwards, which was all the time Ban needed to grab him by his shirt and slam him headfirst into the back of a seat.

“Don't kill me!”

“I won't, shitweasel, but he will, so stay down!” Ban snarled at him. He had a good grip on Akabane, who'd frozen as soon as his fingers had clamped down, but he needed to disengage both fighters before a certain Other entity decided that Ban was the new opponent. He'd seen the red fire dancing in Jackal's eyes and with only one black glove for barrier, he couldn't trust to the lure of mission objective alone. But he couldn't let Varlou off so easily either, and besides, he too was itching for his bucket of blood, after all the cat-and-mouse chasing and what had been done to his Miss Ladybug.

Feeling only a tiny smidgen of regret over being unable to finish the job the way he knew both Aesclepius and Jackal would have enjoyed, Ban gripped Varlou and slammed him again into the seat, rendering him stone cold out.

That done he was finally able to placate Jackal, albeit with mixed success. The other had withdrawn his scalpels when he realized Varlou was no longer a threat, but lashed out with a black-gloved fist that connected with one of Ban's sai wounds: punishment for a battle conclusion denied. Ban accepted this with his usual grace; namely, he managed to keep himself from puking over the car's side again and restrained himself to a few carefully-chosen profanities instead of knocking some sense into Akabane's battle-fogged brain.

He heard Himiko yell then and felt the car abruptly straighten itself out. Fearing the worst he croaked her name over a wave of resurgent nausea, pushing Akabane aside as he struggled up. When he saw why they weren't swerving across the road any more he groaned loudly, partly thankful that one bad thing hadn't happened – and partly disbelieving that another was about to.

“You gotta be fucking kidding me!”

Himiko had dispatched her enemy, all right, but in doing so she'd lost track of the route. Shah-tzi hadn't, and took full advantage of the distraction to jump to safety, leaving the remaining occupants to barrel straight for the cliff of the huge gravel pit ahead.

Ban clambered over an indignantly-hissing Akabane and into the passenger seat. “What are you waiting for!”

“I can't stop!”

“WHAT!”

“I can't stop us!” Himiko said, even as she punched the pedal over and over, to no avail. “That bitch did something with one of her darts right before she jumped out!”

Probably cut the brake lines, Ban figured. “Then it's our turn to bail,” he said, clenching his teeth against another twist of pain in his side and giving her a shove towards the door. “Get going, squirt!”

“Wait! The box!”

They both looked over their shoulders in dread, fearing that Stinger had nicked the transport with her, but to their enormous relief it was still wedged in a corner on the floor of the car. Ban reached down, tore it free and Himiko grabbed it as she opened the car door and crouched in her seat, preparing to jump.

“Tuck your head and roll!”

She nodded and jumped, dropping too far and fast for Ban's liking, but there wasn't time to worry now. He looked for Akabane and found him slumped over the back seat, clutching his bleeding shoulder. Varlou's sai must have hit deeper than he'd thought.

“Time to get off, puppy, and I don't mean our happy fun playtime!” Ban said, helping him step into the front seat.

Akabane spat blood from his cut lip and shook his head. “He just had to get the old scar,” he growled, his face paler than normal as his expression screwed tightly into pain.

“We can play doctor later,” Ban said, urging him forward, while he glanced at the backseat, quickly debating any possible merit there was in saving the unconscious Varlou lying half-sprawled along the floor of the car. “Go!”

Akabane looked at their vanquished prey, then at Ban, his brow twitching slightly in silent query.

“Do we have to?” Ban muttered.

Akabane shrugged with his good shoulder, wincing when even that small movement set off ripples of pain. “It's what Ginji-kun would want,” he said after a moment's breath.

Ban heaved a sigh. “Damned eel. He owes us big for this!” he grumbled, hauling Varlou up and into the front of the car after another second's hesitation. “We jump together!” he told Akabane, squeezing the other's hand, while gripping the enemy's arm at the same time.

To his surprise Jackal reached out with a free hand and stroked Ban's face. “Haven't we always, beloved?”

Ban started to ask him if he'd lost his mind, that now was not the time for sweet talk, until he saw where Akabane's gaze rested. He looked down at himself and a chill skittered through his spine. Nestled in the center of the breast pocket of his shirt was a hole about the size of a slender blade, cylindrical in shape. The cut had penetrated both his outer and inner shirts and scratched a pin-sized mark on his chest, before the weapon's path was abruptly severed...

...by the scalpel which had slipped through Akabane's fingers during the fight and lodged itself between Ban's heart and Varlou's sai. It fluttered over his chest even now, creating a miniature shield as it spun too quickly to be seen by the naked eye, ready to deflect any threat. If Akabane had remained true to his promise to keep both of the black gloves on at all times...!

For once Ban was thankful that Jackal had disobeyed their rules. Talk about leaps of faith, indeed.

“I told you it was unwise to interfere,” Akabane murmured, holding up a stub of sai blade, before leaning closer to nuzzle Ban's cheek.

“I should've just had you J the asshole right from the start,” Ban agreed shakily.

Akabane managed a smile in spite of his injury. “The job's not over yet,” he pointed out, right before seizing Ban's hand in his and propelling all three of them out of the car.

Death rushed up to meet them with gaping jaws of jagged rock as the vehicle sped over the cliff. But though the churning engine bemoaned its demise all the way down in a wail of crumpling metal, its former owner was at least present at the hour of its passing – even if he wasn't awake to actually witness it.

Ban and Akabane paid little heed to what Varlou would have thought about the end of his prized roadster. They were more invested in clinging to a spindly slab of rocky earth, into which Akabane had somehow managed to plant a trio of scalpels. Those were attached to a loop of what Ban assumed to be the aforementioned bloody lasso, since Akabane had the end of it wrapped around his hand in a stranglehold, and they formed a human link that swayed precariously above a pit of more rocks, with Varlou being at the bottom of this food chain.

Ban had no illusions about survival with the cushion dangling below him. “A-KA-BA-NEEEEEEEEE! Get us out of this mess!”

“I'm trying, dearest!” Akabane snarled, willing the rope to stretch upwards and drag them with it. “Only it's a little more difficult with two extra weights – oh, bloody mother of bollocks!” he howled, as the movements of the lasso pulled his bad shoulder across a jutting slope of rock. His concentration slackened enough for the rope to drop sharply, jostling them all like a fraying bungee cord.

“Holy kickdancing Christ!” Ban roared.

A groggy Varlou picked that moment to resume consciousness. He blinked once, twice, and the instant reality hit him he jitterbugged at the end of their line like a hooked worm trying to avoid getting chomped by the hurtling fish. “Save me! Save me! I DON'T WANT TO DIE, PLEASE, I'LL DO ANYTHING YOU WANT!” he wailed, clawing at Ban with his loose hand.

“I want for you to shut up and hold still before I 'accidentally' drop your stupid ass!” Ban barked at him, kicking his foot into Varlou's ribs for good measure, and was gratified to hear the other man's grunt cut off the rest of his blubbering plea. “Jackal - !”

Akabane growled something that sounded suspiciously like “ought to drop the both of you buggers!” but he obliged Ban's wishes and the rope laboriously began crawling again, inching upwards like a vertical serpent cautiously staking out a tempting treat overhead. They'd advanced a whole foot and a half when a new voice pelted their ears at a distance.

“Jackal! Midou! You guys okay?!”

Ban opened his mouth to shout for Maguruma but Akabane beat him to it. “A little help over here would be nice, Gouzou, IF IT'S NOT TOO MUCH DAMNED TROUBLE!”

Ban thought he heard Mr. No-Brakes speaking to someone with him then, as a bit of “...yeah, they're still - “ drifted down. Then Himiko and Ginji were calling to them, a windswept curl of the former's hair visible at cliff's edge.

“Hang on, Ban-chan, Akabane-san!”

“Maguruma's coming to get you two!”

“Make that three, unless Yami deadweight here doesn't cooperate!” Ban yelled back, letting his fingers relax just a little around Varlou's arm enough for the Crasher to get the point. The rival man let out a ripe squeal, but he stopped trying to use Ban as a stepladder and hung in a frigid lump of quietly squalling terror.

Himiko's hair vanished from sight, replaced shortly by a tuft of dark brown surrounded by a white sweatband, and then Gouzou Maguruma's face was within view. He carefully stretched his big shoulders and arms over the edge, resting on his stomach, and reached down until he could grab the handles of the scalpel-tripod.

“This tether strong enough to hold everybody while I pull it up?” he called to Akabane.

Jackal was in no mood to be questioned about his weaponry's durability. “Loop it a few times around your neck and find out for yourself, you daft git!”

Maguruma's mouth thinned in an indistinguishable expression. “I'll take that as a 'yes',” he grunted, as he began pulling up the bloody rope and its catch.

The going was slow, but not as much as when Akabane's efforts were responsible. Maguruma's face grew red and sweat beaded around the edges of his headband as he worked, hand over hand, pulling on the rope. But he got them back up the cliffside, aided by Ginji, who helped him drag Akabane, then Ban, and finally Varlou onto solid ground.

Spared from immediate harm, the leader of the Party Crashers was quick to turn over a new leaf – that is, he wasted no time in scrambling to his feet and making a run for it. He got as far as two steps forward when the air seemed to close in around him and a flash of lightning struck the spot his feet touched. A short, sharp squeak like the pinching off of a deflating balloon escaped Varlou, and he flopped face-first onto the ground, where he lay silent and still.

“Figured we might as well collect the entire set of Crashers,” Ginji explained to a weary and curious Ban as he flexed his still-charged fingers. “Mr. No-Brakes chained the Oil-Slick to a tree some ways back, and Himiko-chan stunned Stinger with the last of her perfume.”

Ban looked to Himiko. She shrugged, ignoring the tattered sleeve of her shirt that drooped further along her arm. “Timing poison. Gets 'em every time.”

Maguruma got up and peered over the edge at the smoking ruins below. “Look what Jackal and Midou did. You two killed a perfectly good car!” he whistled, temporarily forgetting the destruction dealt to his own pride and joy.

A red-coated hand, minus its glove, seized his ankle in a vise. Mr. No-Brakes looked down. A thoroughly bruised, bedraggled and dust-covered Akabane was not smiling, and as he spoke his scratchy voice slowly but surely escalated into a raving that bordered on berserk rampage.

“Gouzou. In the course of this mission I have endured the foulest of travesties unlike any other I've ever had the great misfortune of encountering on any past job. I've been hopelessly bored, battled very uncooperative opponents, gotten grenades and rebounding poisons tossed at me, shaved ten decades off my health from watching my life's mate and his partner nearly plunge to their untimely deaths from an incomplete highway overpass, been cheaply tricked by the same opponents multiple times, had more grenades blown up around me, suffered numerous wounds from that sniveling arse of a blowhard from whom I didn't even get to so much as subtract any limbs - “ Akabane shot a venomous glare at the fallen Varlou - “yes, wounds requiring a bit more substantial treatment besides a dab of iodine and small adhesives, including a shiv to one of my scars – which need I remind you how damned much that costs me! - gone through hell and back JUST to recover my stolen scalpel, then my Midou-kun almost gets himself killed, AGAIN, if I hadn't stopped Varlou in time, and then we finish it all off by jumping out of a bloody flipping vehicle going a hundred miles an hour over a godsdamned cliff and all you can think to say to me is bleeding commentary on the waste of our enemy's transport! SOD YOU AND THE STUPID CAR!”

No one dared say a word while Akabane panted out the blazing embers of his spent fury. Amazingly, it was Ginji who broke the burn of the ice, meekly tiptoeing up to the collapsed transporter and gently putting a hand on his uninjured shoulder.

“...um...Akabane-san...are you feeling...all right...?”

Ban rolled over on his back, shutting his eyes. He didn't have the strength to warn Ginji off, so he braced himself for a renewed hurricane. When it didn't come he turned his head and let one eyelid creep halfway open.

Akabane had lifted his head and was staring up at Ginji with what could only be described as imploring puppy-dog eyes. “Ginji-kun. Please be a lamb and help me up, won't you?” he whimpered.

Ginji knelt to support him. Ban opened both eyes and watched this exchange with morbid interest. “You faker,” he jokingly accused Akabane. “Now we're even, see, you've got one to match mine,” he said, prodding an area beneath his own shoulder where the Bloody Sword had once made its mark.

Jackal's gaze cooled over into a void of amethyst. “Don't make me kill you when I adore you so much, darling,” Akabane said in that dulcet voice which suggested death remained a viable option on tonight's menu.

“Shutting up now,” Ban agreed.

“I can help stop some of the bleeding,” Ginji offered. “I do this all the time when Ban-chan and I get into scrapes…”

Electricity sparked again and flowed from his fingers in a gentle stream of tiny current. The miniature bolt zinged along the length of Akabane’s arm and made him twitch like a cat whose fur had just been petted the wrong way. But the blood dripping from his shoulder quickly slowed to a trickle, and while the wound itself didn’t completely close, it did stem the worst of the red tide. Ginji sat back to inspect his handiwork.

“How’s that?”

Akabane’s eyes half-rolled back in his head and he shook himself, still jerking a bit as he carefully got to his knees, and then his feet, swaying a little like a tipsy barfly. “I think…better…” he mumbled, more to himself than to Ginji.

Ginji beamed.

Ban managed a laugh. “Not bad, numbnuts. How about shooting me a flow next?”

His partner made a sheepish look. “Um…well, Ban-chan, I would, but that was about the best I could manage after tonight, and Akabane-san looked like he got hurt the worst…”

Ban flopped on the ground again and groaned. “Remind me to clobber you when we get home.”

Akabane spoke up, his voice sounding a little more like its normal calm. “Speaking of such. Ginji-kun. That recharge you just gave me rather reminds me a little of the time you unleashed your electromagnet when we fought over the platinum. Do you remember that, the night we first met?”

“Oh yeah. But what’s that got to do with this job?” Ginji scratched his head.

Akabane hobbled over to him and smiled tolerantly. “This.” And he hauled off and slugged the retriever fair in the gut.

“Ak-Aka-ban-ne-san!” Ginji coughed and hacked before he managed to bring himself up from half-keeling over. “What – what was THAT for!?”

“For tearing out all my knives at the same time, you cheeky little blighter!” Akabane stood over him, bristling righteous fury. “THAT FUCKING HURT!”

“About time he learned how to swear right!” Ban grumbled to Himiko and Maguruma as they helped him get up.

Ginji seemed to understand that he’d had it coming, and he offered Jackal a conciliatory smile, which came out more like a grimace. “Sorry.”

Akabane’s anger evaporated like fog rolling off the riverbank. “All right, now, are you?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. I hope I didn’t strike you too terribly hard. A fellow could die from being hit in the wrong place in the abdomen, you know,” Akabane said to a gaping Ginji as he helped him stand too.

“It’s cool,” Ginji assured him, rubbing his sore stomach as he checked to make sure no stray scalpels were ‘accidentally’ sticking out of it. “Hey! You know this means we won, right?” he said, his good cheer blossoming like a firework.

Akabane grinned with him. “Why, right you are! We did win!”

“Not yet we haven’t. Not yet,” Ban said. “We don’t have the money!”

His Jackal and his partner both looked at him. “We won. Deal with it, Ban-chan!” Ginji said.

“Yes. We won,” Akabane said, and that sealed the deal as far as everyone was concerned. His eyes lit up. “You know what this means. I hope you’ve already packed your suitcases, Ban-kun!”

“Going globetrotting, are we?” Maguruma grinned, patting Ban a little too roughly on the back for his liking.

He coughed and winced as he stumbled on some loose rock, causing the biggest wound in his side to reopen again and leak more red. “Gah. Just as soon as Jackal sews up this rip in my hide and we finish taking out the trash.”

“And you pay for the damages to my truck.” Maguruma was the one not smiling now.

Ban almost told him what he’d said to Akabane earlier about wrecked vehicles and fat paydays, until he remembered that he had no firm base to stand on when it came to his own car. The poor thing. “For what we’re getting for this job I’ll buy you a whole fleet of trucks,” he said magnanimously. “What the hell. Right?”

They all tottered over to where the defeated enemy lay. Ban toed Varlou’s chin with an ungentle boot. “You know what I think we could use now? A nice, stiff, cold drink.”

Next to him Akabane and Ginji had been hastily whispering to each other. They straightened and elbowed him aside. “First we dispose of the garbage. Then we celebrate,” Akabane said, stooping to grab Varlou’s feet.

“I did say you were allowed a freebie this time,” Ban conceded. “All right, make it fast so the flies don’t settle too thick before we can ditch his corpse.”

“Oh no, Ban-chan.” Ginji shook his head and picked up Varlou by the arms. He and Akabane began to carry the man off. “Akabane-san’s not going to kill him.”

“You’re not.”

“I’m not,” Akabane said. Then he looked over his bad shoulder and grinned feral glee at them. “Ginji-kun came up with a much better idea…!”

--

“You will swing for this, Kuroudo Akabane! I – SHIT – YOU – NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT!!”

“Yes, yes. Sticks and stones and all that rubbish,” Akabane yawned in response to Varlou’s impassioned vow.

“You guys need help. And you – “ Ban pointed at Ginji – “we gotta talk.”

Ginji just shrugged helplessly and giggled, the way he always did when he’d managed to outfox Ban over the last piece of pizza.

They stared at the trio of rival transporters – each one of them stripped to their underwear and piled on top of one another in an indecent pose reminiscent of an ancient Roman orgy – restrained to the road sign posts by various means including rope (not made of blood; Maguruma found some slightly charbroiled cord in the ruins of his cab), handcuffs (courtesy of Varlou’s own stash) and timed poison perfume. All three Party Crashers were doing their best to struggle free as they bleated and shouted certain vengeance, but the most any of them accomplished was to make themselves topple into an even more hilariously awful position.

“Himiko-chan, do you have your camera on you?”

Wordlessly she passed the device over to Ginji. He aimed it at the furious Crashers who tried desperately to avoid getting captured in the act, to no avail. “Smile, everybody! Say ‘sweet dreams!’”

The camera flashed several times as Ginji made sure to get the best shots, ones that detailed each Crasher’s dirtied and demented visage. He handed Himiko’s camera back to her. “That ought to get some good ‘likes’ on Facebook!”

“You are a true visionary, Ginji-kun,” an admiring Akabane chuckled. “Oh! But we mustn’t forget the finishing touch to your masterpiece.”

Out and down came the knife. Swish, swish, the rending of fabric and the screeches of pain filled the air, and Akabane stood up with a thoughtful smile.

“Just had to give it the seal of disapproval, didn’t you?” Gouzou nudged him while they watched the angry Crashers try to wiggle around and glare at the miniature Js tattooed onto each others’ cheeks.

“It’s not official until they’re marked,” Akabane told him sagely. “A transporter’s work is never complete without the pro’s signature, you know.”

He sighed and leaned against Ban now, the expense of the fight’s toll fully apparent in the way he put his head on the retriever’s shoulder and nuzzled his neck. “Our work is done, dearest. Now we shall do as we please, hmm?”

Ban couldn’t take his eyes off the shrieking pile of Party Crashers. It was like watching an internet trainwreck – you knew it was dreadfully wrong in all the ways that the universe could be hilariously, horribly wrong, yet you were powerless to look away. “You do as you please. I could really, really go for that drink.”

And Europe – Europe! – called.

--

TBC

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