Title: Going For The Gold (ch. 22)
Author: Amethyst Hunter
Fandom: Get Backers
Rating: R (language)
Warnings/Spoilers: None other than standard canon.
Notes: Many thanks to you, wonderful readers, for your continued appreciation. :)
Disclaimer: GB & gang belong to the wonderful Aoki-san and Ayamine-san, not me. I just play with them for fun. And unlike Akabane's scalpels, I'm harmless. ;)
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.
“Well. Go on. Someone has to say it!”
Maguruma glanced at Hevn. “I thought that was your department.”
She made an irritable snort. “Usually. But you took the lion's share this time, so you might as well be the one!”
“How about nobody says it?” Ban snarled, kicking another stone in his path.
Beside him, Ginji winced. “Ban-chan, I think I might be sick. My head still hurts...”
Hevn shot Ban a glare. “Oh, it's going to be said. Over and over. Because it never seems to sink into your pointy-haired - “
“Say it and you die, buxom-britches.”
“ - sea urchin skull that the one thing – the entire point of the mission! - was for you to have - “
“That's it, we're done here. Jackal, sic 'em,” Ban ordered a brooding Akabane, who was trudging behind a sour-faced Himiko. To no one's surprise, Akabane ignored the edict, pulling the brim of his hat a shade lower and effectively announcing that no further conversation on his part would be forthcoming.
The group lapsed into silence again until a little while later, when they passed by a store advertising fine housewares. Ginji stopped and stared at the window where an elaborate set was displayed. “Hey, what if we went in here? Maybe we could find another one.”
Ban saw what had struck his attention and scowled. “Idiot! Antiques can't be replaced. Much like your brain. That's the last time I'm taking you Jager-bombing with me. ”
“And even if they could, with what money do you think you're going to use?” Himiko said, directing her words at Ban rather than Ginji. “Between Maguruma's truck, your hospital bills and that unbelievable bar tab, whatever funds were left got eaten up!” She heaved an angry sigh. “You guys always find a way to screw up the job!”
“The hell we do, missy! Why don't you talk to those dipshit celebrities whose faces we had Paul and the computer brat plaster all over the internet? They're the ones who blew No-Brakes' truck to hell. They're the ones who hosed Jackal's shoulder and my gut, and I sure didn't hear you complaining between all those Mai Tais. They're the ones you should be pissed at, not me!”
“Well if your plans weren't so flimsy in the first place, the Party Crashers never would have done so much damage! Didn't you read Jackal's dossier? There's a reason Varlou's never been cornered until now, you know!”
“You may as well preach to the wind, sister,” Hevn said to Himiko. “If I had a yen for every time dear Ban-kun here cost me extra money, I'd be rich enough to retire!”
“You've nicked enough change from us that retiring shouldn't be a stretch now anyway,” Ban retorted. “Negotiator's fee, my ass. You should be paying us, for all the misery we've gone through for you over the years, you ungrateful wench!”
“Ungrateful?!” Hevn's near-shriek startled several birds nearby out of their trees. “Oh, if that isn't the load I've heard for today!”
Ginji cowered behind Ban. “Not so loud, please, Hevn-san? I feel like I wanna throw up again...”
Ban dug into his shirt pocket and pulled out a jagged bowl-shaped piece of crumbling pottery that he handed to his partner. “Use this. Instant barf bag.”
He turned to the irate Hevn and let her have it. “Yeah, I said ungrateful. We're the ones who do the shit jobs nobody else will touch in a million years because they're too smart for you to snowball them with your big - “
“Says the ungrateful one who's perpetually out of work otherwise,” Maguruma muttered, but luckily for him, Ban was too focused on Hevn to hear.
“ - batting eyes and syrup-sweet sob stories. We're the ones getting dogged – no offense, there, Jackal - by any number of degenerates that regularly crawl these streets, getting our butts canned, mangled, and thrown in jail even, just for the sake of seeing the job through, and when we finally come back bruised and bloody, all we want is a little peace and quiet and some good coffee and stir-fry and maybe a smoke afterwards, until a vulture like you starts picking at us for her stupid fee which is already outrageous to begin with!”
“A fee that I almost never get to collect anyway, thanks to your shenanigans!” Hevn puffed up her chest like an offended bird.
“My 'shenanigans,' as you so kindly put it, generally don't include destroying the thing that we're supposed to recover!” Ban turned and jabbed Ginji in the arm. “Back me up here, Gin.”
“Ban-chan, I really don't feel so good...”
Seeing that no help would be forthcoming from his greenish-looking partner, Ban looked to Hevn again. “Was it my fault those stupid transporters – not you guys,” he hastened to clarify when both Maguruma and Himiko raised brows at him - “those Crasher jerks kept bouncing the goods around more than your tits in a string bikini? Was it my fault we had to jump out of a damn car going off a cliff if we wanted to save both ourselves and the item?”
“You could at least have exercised a little discretion - “
“Fuck discretion, lady! I had goddamn grenades thrown at me. Which is typical of the jobs you bring us, by the way.” Ban stumbled over a small stone in his way, stepped back, and kicked it savagely down the street. “Broken. Over three thousand years, the damn vase sits in tombs, gets carted off by raiders, tossed around the globe by collectors, changed hands with God only knows how many museums, lands in the basement of some chinchilla-hoarding nerd, and ends up finding its way here to Shinjuku so it can be a party favor for some hotshot businessman. For all we know, it was already busted centuries ago. It's been locked up in that box for who knows how long.”
There was quiet for a moment, and then Hevn heaved a longsuffering groan. “I just can't believe that after all the effort you put in, you still managed to botch the recovery. It's like you guys have a gift for it! Just once, it would be great if you could actually accomplish the job and
get paid for it. Without losing any money on parking fines in the process, I might add.”
“Hallelujah. We finally agree on something,” Ban muttered.
“Poetic injustice,” Maguruma said, unfazed by the curious looks his statement brought on. “They did the recovery part just fine. It's the collection at the end that they always flub. Kinda fitting in this case, if you think about it.” He grinned at Ban; now that his truck repairs had been secured, his mood was back to its usual jovial setting. “You guys really do know how to get on the money gods' shit list, don't you?”
Ban gave him a poisonous glare. “I hope you have to brake so hard your precious truck jackknifes itself straight into the bay and takes you with it.”
Ginji poked at the fragment of the priceless wealth vase he and Ban, along with their transporter partners, had tried to recover. “Ban-chan...I don't know if this is gonna work. I think my stomach has way more than what this can hold...”
Everyone had needed a few days of rest after the drinking binge party, especially him and Akabane, who, unsurprisingly, had suffered the worst from it. Ban actually had booked Ginji into the hospital at the same time he checked in for stitches to the wound he'd taken from Varlou, on the worry that alcohol poisoning might be a concern. He'd have done the same for Akabane if the latter's regenerative capabilities weren't already busy flushing the booze from his bloodstream.
Even so it had taken Akabane a while to regain his scalpel-forming powers. The only saving grace was that the hangover migraine he'd simultaneously been whacked with was strong enough to keep him from venting his wrath on the nearest available target: namely, Ban. Akabane spent the better part of the weekend in bed, dead to the world for the most part, until his body had recovered from the strafing with Jagerbombs.
Ginji's own recuperative talent was no slouch either, but unlike Akabane he still seemed to carry over a bit of nausea from the binge. Ban was only somewhat grateful for this, being that when he was sick, Ginji didn't eat as much so that saved him a lecture at Paul's. But the past few days had been an exercise in patience, as every time he went to discuss matters of importance with his partner, Ginji ended up needing to run to the closest receptacle – which wasn't always the bathroom. Despite the six cans of stain repellent he'd used, Ban had given up on trying to save his favorite recliner and just decided to throw a towel over the unsightly discoloration instead.
When it was time and all agents were in satisfactory condition, their client hadn't been a happy man when presented with the results of the mission. A dose of Evil Eye had been necessary for everyone to save face all around; Ban convinced Hijiri Muboshi that the wealth vase was initially intact upon delivery, but that an unfortunate misstep caused Muboshi himself to trip and drop the valuable artifact – said to have once rested in the palace of a prominent Han Dynasty ruler – into a million pieces onto the floor. Muboshi might have entertained thoughts of refusing payment after that, but the thought of what these agents could do – one in particular, who adjusted his large black hat in a way that implied unpleasant harbingers to come should he be insufficiently amused – made him reconsider.
Because all the hospital arrangements had been made through Hevn, she naturally showed up to confiscate a hefty chunk of the payment. The rest had been claimed by Maguruma, to pay for his truck's repairs and to settle the bar tab from the other night. And there was still the poor Ladybug – currently holed up in Himiko's garage where it could lick its fatal wounds in private – whose eventual fate was another thing for Ban to ponder.
“I hate to say it, but I agree with Hevn. You can't continue to be so slipshod with your plans like this, Ban.” Himiko shook her head. “You not only lost the commission we had on this one, you actually set yourself back in the red with it from the bills you guys racked up.”
“You think I don't know that? That I haven't kicked myself over a million times?” Ban said, sharper than he'd intended.
“Oh, you know full well,” Himiko replied darkly. “You're just so full of your own hot air that you can't take a moment to come down out of the dreamworld - “
“Oh, stop it!”
Everyone stopped and turned with startled looks to a scalpel-less but still bristling Jackal. Akabane pushed past the lot of them and went forward a few steps before pausing and turning to glare at them again.
“Stop it, now, all of you. Pointless squabbling won't change what has been done.” Plum-dark eyes lowered, and there was a brief silence before Akabane spoke again, this time in a quieter, somber tone. “If there is any fault to assign here, it is mine to claim. I ought to have known better.”
The quiet that followed was interrupted by retching noises. Ginji looked up from expelling the last of his ill-fated experience with binge drinking and gave them a weak smile. “Sorry,” he mumbled.
Everyone looked back to Akabane, who had turned away and slowly padded over to a nearby alleyway. The others watched him. Then, one by one, Ban in the lead, they followed him.
“Where is he off to now?” Hevn wondered in a not-so-subtle whisper.
“Yeah, what's up with Akabane-san?” Ginji asked, looking to Maguruma, whose face had taken on a serious cast. “He seems...upset. But not mad-upset,” he rushed to clarify.
The other transporter gestured to the dead-end alley, where a large starburst-shaped soot stain covered nearly half of the wall. “This is the place where it happened...you know...” He pantomimed with his hands what had taken place, and Ginji, who had heard a basic version of the story from Ban, made a silent breath of understanding.
Akabane was standing before the stain now, head bowed as if in genuflection – or mourning. He put one gloved hand against the brick – both Get Backers noted that he was wearing black gloves today – and stood for a long time, not moving, not speaking.
Ginji frowned and tentatively approached him. “Akabane-san...why do you think this job was your fault? You saved me. You saved Ban-chan. And you didn't kill anybody, even without your fail-safe - “
There was a dreary murmur of a sigh. “Perhaps not. And perhaps that in itself was my failing, this time.”
Akabane hesitated. “I was so ready to take what I wanted...so I expected too much from everyone. I let my temper get the best of me when that wretched Varlou challenged me, and I lost sight of what my purpose on this trip was. And now Ban-kun and I cannot fulfill our dream because of my mistake.” His shoulders trembled a little. “It is I who needs to apologize.”
There was an awkward silence following his unprecedented confession. Then Ban started to shake his head. “No. No. It wasn't your fault, Jackal. Not directly, at any rate.”
He went over to Akabane and put his arm around him. “It's my fault too, I guess. I should've just mashed the son of a bitch while I had the chance. I was doing my share of showboating around and I guess I got a little too...”
Ban curled his lip at Maguruma. “I was gonna say 'careless.'”
Akabane leaned into Ban with a tiny half-smile. “You tried, though. For that, you deserve some credit.”
Ban thought for a minute. “Maybe we all do. Nobody really screwed up, when all is said and done. We each did what we were supposed to do; those shitweasel Crashers just kept throwing bombs at us. Literally,” he muttered, remembering how close some of those grenades had been. “And the Bug got a flat at the worst possible time, so there was that, and then we just had to improvise the best we could with what we had to work with.”
“Is that what you call it? Improvising?” Hevn snorted.
“At least you kept your promise to me,” Akabane said to Ban.
The Jackal managed another small smile and held up a shining blue spire. “You got my scalpel back.” He put the knife away and looked down at his bare hand for a while before putting his glove back on. He closed his eyes and seemed to wilt then, a shadow weakened by exposure to some unseen force. When Akabane opened his eyes and looked at Ban, the lavender in his face was bright with unshed tears. “I really wanted to see Europe with you,” he said in a near-whisper.
Ban blinked away the smattering of sudden moisture that threatened to sting his own eyes and hugged Akabane, kissing the tip of his nose. “We will see it, Jackal...someday.” He sighed, his own chest heavy with an unfamiliar regret. “It's just now is not that time, is all...”
They all stood together for a while, dwelling on the twists and turns of fate, and how their own destinies seemed to factor into everything whether for good or for ill. At one point Ginji looked up at the brick wall again and scrunched his brows in thought as he studied the soot patterns. “It kind of looks like angel wings, doesn't it? And if you put Akabane-san in the center of it, it looks like he's the angel...”
“You numbnuts, you see designs in the bottom of a discounted fruitcake bin. That's - “ Ban broke off as he looked at the wall and realization stuck. “Holy crap. It does
look like wings.”
Himiko looked at the wall, at Akabane, and then at Ban. She looked at Akabane and the wall together, and then she slapped Ginji hard on the back. “You're a genius!”
Ginji reeled from the blow, which threatened to set off another bout of nausea, but he rallied and gave her a confused look. “I am?”
Himiko was too busy rummaging in her backpack to answer. She pulled out a sheet of paper with a drawing on it and zipped the pack, slinging it over her shoulder. “Come on. Clayman's gallery is just a few blocks from here. If we leave now we can catch her before she goes to lunch.”
Ban slowly approached her as he tried to get a look at the paper in her hand. “What does Miss Art Medium have to do with any of this?”
Himiko grinned. “Well. You wanted a magic bullet. So Jackal's going to be her newest featured promotion.” She went up to Akabane and grabbed him by his coat cuff, pulling him after her. He cast her, and then Ban, a bewildered look, but followed obediently in her wake.
Ban debated whether to follow her. Ginji decided. “Hey, wait up, Himiko-chan!” he squeaked as he stumbled after the transporters.
Hevn and Maguruma looked at each other. Maguruma just shrugged, and started after them. Hevn rolled her eyes, but resigned herself to joining the group once more.
Ban lit up a cigarette and toked on it for a moment. He let the barely-used butt drop to the ground and mashed it with his boot as he set off to find out what that conniving little witch was up to now.
“This had better be good...”