Title: Going For The Gold (ch. 23)
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.
They were taking too long in there.
Ignoring the curious look from Ginji, Ban glanced at the closed office door and hissed irritation under his breath. He started to get up, to go pound on the door and demand entry, but the repeated metallic clicking nearby drew his attention. He went over to Akabane and put a gentle but firm hand over the other man's clenched fist, mindful of the blades protruding there.
“Stop that. It's gonna be all right, Kuroudo.”
Akabane's eyes shifted from the comforting gesture to Ban's face, searching for any sign of clarification on the matter causing them both concern at the moment. “I'm sorry. I suppose I'm getting a bit impatient, aren't I?” he murmured as he retracted his knives.
“You and me both,” Ban said, knowing that 'impatient' was just a more polite word for 'nervous as shitweasels.' “What the hell are they doing in there anyway, comparing their lack of social lives?”
“You ought to know,” Maguruma spoke up from the corner where he was sitting. “You brought the negotiator along. My guess is, Himiko's using her to shake down a deal. Pretty slick of her, actually.”
“I guess,” Ban grumbled, those having been his thoughts as well. “If there's one thing that Hevn knows, it's money, all right.” He paused. “But come on. They've been shut up in there for what, an hour? How long does it take to broker an art commission anyway?”
“More than an hour, if you put a hard-nosed negotiator like your Hevn and someone with a reputation like Clayman's into the same room,” Maguruma pointed out. “I've never dealt with her myself, but Himiko has, and according to her, Clayman is very specific about the type of art she's interested in.”
“Right. So why would she think that Clayman would hire Jackal, unless it's for a transport...” Ban trailed off, frowning as he thought. “Unless...no. I don't think...” Still frowning, he turned to Ginji. “She wouldn't...would she?”
“Hire Akabane-san to move some artwork, Ban-chan?” Ginji shrugged. “I don't see why not. He is a transporter, after all. And her missions can be dangerous – remember when we first met her? And there was the Venus-thing too - “
“I don't mean for jobs like that,” Ban said. “I meant - “ He hesitated, then shook his head. “Never mind. Forget I said anything.”
“I try to do that every day,” a bemused voice spoke from the other side of the waiting room. Ban glared at Himiko, who was emerging from Clayman's office. She was calm, but excitement danced in her eyes. His anticipation mounted.
Himiko spoke, not to him, but to Akabane. “Akabane? She's ready for you now.”
Akabane got up, a wary but curious slant in his brows. Ginji leaned over and squeezed his wrist. “Break a leg, Akabane-san.”
“That's show business, you doofus,” Ban muttered as he followed Akabane inside the office, only to be blocked off by Himiko. “What - “
“Not for you,” she said pleasantly, her tone containing an authority he hadn't thought possible. “She wants to see if he's on the level. You might present a biased opinion.”
“And you aren't?” Ban grumbled as the door abruptly shut in his face. But he knew Himiko was right – on both counts – so he grudgingly wandered back to his seat and picked up the magazine he'd already thumbed through twice.
There were only so many times he could stand to read through a critic's description of abstraction and its practical applications, however, so after five seconds of paging through the magazine Ban gave up and heaved the thing back onto its table with a loud sigh. “Screw this. I want to know what's going on in there and I'm not waiting another hour to find out.”
He got up and started for the office door when a voice from the adjoining hallway stopped him. “Patience never was one of your virtues, was it?”
Ginji bounced from his seat. “Kazu-chan!”
Ban made a face at the so-called Prince entering the waiting area. “At least I'm not a nosy gossip like you, thread-spool. What are you doing here?” He shot a look at Ginji. “If you don't stop texting everybody you know about our every movement I'm gonna have to get Makubex to hack-lock your phone. You're worse than a toddler, I swear.”
A sheepish Ginji stuck the phone he was playing with back into his shorts pocket. “I was just asking Paul if we could have pizza at the Honky Tonk when we left here. He said yes, Ban-chan.” He paused. “But we have to do the dishes or else he'll add it to the tab.”
“Ginji didn't contact me,” Kazuki confirmed over Ban's snort. “I had a meeting of my own in the area, and I heard you were over here at the art gallery, so I thought I'd stop by on my way back and say hello.”
“How absolutely marvelous of you,” Ban drawled. “Now, if you really wanna make my day, fly-fisher, you can bugger off. Don't you have a male harem that misses you somewhere?”
Kazuki smiled, though his eyes narrowed a bit at the insult. “Very well. I was going to offer to lend a hand with your current dilemma,” he said, nodding towards the closed office door, “but I see you've clearly got control of the situation. So I guess I'll just be on my way, then...”
“Kazu-chan!” Ginji shot Ban a pleading look. “Ban-chan! He can help us...” He pantomimed pulling a line from his ear, a clumsy imitation of what the Fuuchouin heir could do with his multifaceted threads.
Ban scowled. “Fine. Whip it out, thread-spool. But watch where you cast it. I've told Jackal about your little hanging tags and he has even less patience for your prying than I do.”
Kazuki toyed with the bells attached to his braid. “And what do I get in return, if
I help you?”
Ban stared at him. “You get to live to be massaged by your airhead boyfriend another day.”
“You know, Juubei is a lot smarter than you seem to think,” Kazuki snapped.
“I was talking about the other one, the beach-head blond who's always trailing you around with his tongue hanging out like a puppy's. It's sad, really.”
Kazuki's smile faded. The bells in his fingers twitched.
“Ban-chan!” Ginji hissed. He pushed past his partner and bowed before Kazuki. “Please, Kazu-chan. Just ignore him, okay? Ban-chan's just worried about Akabane-san. He always bites off people's heads when he's worried. He doesn't mean anything by it.”
“Of course he means it. If he didn't, he wouldn't have said it in the first place,” Maguruma calmly put in from his spot.
“Thank you, Mr. No-Brakes,” Ban said, resisting the urge to grab for the nearest magazine and hurl it at the unhelpful driver.
He did grab Ginji's shoulder, though. Yanking his partner to face level, he told Ginji in a sour tone, “You owe me one.”
He let go of a confused Ginji and turned toward Kazuki. “All right, thread-spool. If you get us in on the pow-wow behind that door, we'll cut you in for free Honky Tonk pizza afterward. Deal?”
Kazuki mulled this over, glancing at Ginji's hopeful face. “All right.” He started to unwind a section of thread from one of the bells. “But give Juubei and Toshiki a break, would you? They're good guys, if you'd just give them a chance and get to know them better...”
The thread spun freely from its shell now and took on a life of its own. Kazuki directed it beneath the door and into a hidden spot somewhere inside the room, where the eavesdropping could proceed without fear of discovery. Ban and Ginji crowded Kazuki to listen in on the thread's gatherings.
“...art, I have always believed, should enhance a viewer's life experience. Not merely an appreciation of the skill and imagination required to produce it, nor a temporary rumination upon the more serious and profound questions of humanity, although those qualities are certainly honorable in themselves,” Clayman was saying. “But I think that the greatest impact arrives when one is able to look upon creation time and again, and draw sustained pleasure – a fond memory of reverence, if you will – from the very fact that it exists. Perhaps such joy is what grants its very inspiration, as well as that of additional works.”
Movement; someone in the office stepped around inside. “Your artistry, Akabane-san, possesses all of these noteworthy characteristics. Your God-given grace...it's as if you imbued your subject with the breath of life itself. Rarely have I seen anything so wondrously immortalized. I must say, it's been a while since last I found myself so moved by a sampling.”
A seat creaked as someone else shifted. “Sampling? Your pardon, but I don't recall ever bringing you any of my sketches...”
“I did.” Another seat squeaked as Himiko got up. “Akabane, I have a confession to make. I stole something from you, that day I was making perfume at your apartment and you showed me the pictures in your sketchpad.” There was a whisper of paper being scooped up from a flat surface. “I took this.”
Outside, Ban let out a soft whistle. “So that's what she meant about making Jackal a feature!”
“What's that mean, Ban-chan?” Ginji whispered. “Is Akabane-san gonna model for Clayman or something?”
Ban shushed him so they could hear the conversation. Himiko was talking again.
“I was serious when I said you could go pro with your art, Jackal. That's why I brought you to Clayman. She's the best in this business. She can give you exactly the kind of creative freedom you'd need.”
“I don't understand.” Akabane sounded as puzzled as Ban imagined he looked at this moment.
“There's more.” Himiko moved something from what must have been Clayman's desk; it was heavier than the paper she'd picked up. “I took these, too, whenever I had an opportunity. They're copies. The originals are still in your sketchpad. I just made use of Ban's printer to make duplicates.”
“Why that crafty little - “ Ban's surprised rant failed to reach its conclusion when Ginji slapped a hand over his mouth.
A long silence followed before Akabane spoke again. “Why?”
“It's my gift to you.” An awkward pause, and then, “You've done so much for me – you and Ban – and now I want to share something with you. It's up to you, of course. But with the money Clayman's offering to pay for a series of commissions, you and Ban will be able to pay off your bills and afford your vacation to Europe.”That
left Ban speechless. Crafty little witch, indeed.
“You mean...Clayman-san...wishes to procure more drawings from me? Why?”
“It's a common practice of my gallery to feature monthly displays from local artists in the area,” the legendary medium explained. “Most of the time, I find them myself, but once in a while, someone – usually a friend – brings new possibilities to my attention. Most collectors and dealers, you see, glimpse only the monetary value of a piece. They don't see the pleasure within, the exquisite struggle to bring forth the ultimate essence of that which is so fleeting. They're unaware of its true importance, summoning back that which might otherwise be lost to time and history's endless grave.”
“I have no use for people whose only enjoyment is money,” Akabane agreed, with a cold edge of something none of them had ever heard before in his voice. It hinted at an ageless contempt that only Ban, and perhaps Himiko, suspected from bitter experience.
A new female voice entered the conversation. Hevn was closing on her sale. “Clayman doesn't rule her business by how much she makes from showing the work of others. Her profile is such that any extra publicity from amassing extreme wealth would hinder her, ah, charitable deeds. What she will do is include a collection of your chosen artwork in one of her regular gallery shows that are open to the public, and pay you fair compensation for this privilege. And, Akabane-san,” she hastened to add, “if any other dealers or buyers are interested in obtaining commissions from you, that bargaining would be entirely at your discretion. Or you could hire a negotiator to handle the details for you,” she concluded on a cheery note.
“Greedy broad! Gotta suck blood from everybody, huh, Ginji?”
“Negotiators have to eat too, Ban-chan...”
“Quiet. The thread's slipping,” Kazuki hushed them as he adjusted the string.
“Never mind,” Ban snapped. “Come on, Gin.” He didn't wait for an answer as he hauled Ginji over to the door and pressed both their ears to it. Kazuki grimaced, but likewise followed, if only because a closer proximity gave him a clearer reading on the thread's vibrations.
“You would be able to sell and display your works as you see fit, in other words,” Clayman said. “Or, as Hevn-san mentioned, you could request the services of someone with a full background in art commerce, such as myself. I have a list of reputable agents I can provide you with, should you decide this is your preference.”
A seat scraped on the floor. Ban figured Hevn was discreetly venting her annoyance at being upstaged by Clayman. Serves you right, missy,
he thought with a smirk.
A longer silence ensued while Akabane was presumably considering his options. “How much would be involved?” he finally asked.
A piece of paper slid across the desk. “This is a ballpark figure based upon my updated calculations. As you're no doubt well aware, Akabane-san, Hevn-san, this base is what most of my clients start out at for approximately twelve months' time.”
There was a rustle of fabric as Akabane stood to peer over at the information, quickly followed by an audible gasp. “Good heavens! You really think it's worth that much?”
“That's a twenty percent increase from what I normally pay my contracted exhibitors,” Clayman said. “I like to deliver based upon how likely I believe its attraction value will rise as appreciation expands and word of mouth spreads.” A smile was evident in her voice. “I believe you have quite the promising future in the modern art world, Akabane-san, should you wish to pursue this path.” More paper being shifted around. “Everything you will want to know is in that documentation.”
“I'll be collecting my usual thirty percent on the contract, of course.” Hevn's smugness was undeniable this time.Holy shit!
Ban mouthed to a grinning Ginji. A twenty percent increase? He didn't have specifics, but he knew enough to understand that Clayman didn't skimp on her clients. Whatever Himiko had shown her must've impressed the hell out of her. He wondered which drawings she'd swiped. Couldn't have been any of the war ones...
“Oh, my,” Akabane was saying softly. “My, my... You really liked my drawings?”
“Very much so. The sense of playful fun you bring to your subjects is distinctly unique.”
“Truly, I don't know what to say, Clayman-san...”
She chuckled. “A simple 'thank you' will suffice. Naturally, I don't expect a decision right away. Take some time, talk it over with your companion, Midou Ban. My office is open to you whenever you're ready to announce your choice.”
“No wait. No wait,” Ban hissed, muted only by Ginji's frantic hands trying to protect their cover. “Take the deal, Jackal. Take it! Take it now!”
“I do hope to be seeing more of you in the near future, Akabane-san. Please take care. And do feel free to contact me with any other questions or concerns you might have.”
Chairs were pushed into place and feet gathered as the power players exchanged their parting pleasantries. “And now, I think we can let in our audience, don't you?” Clayman said, suddenly much closer to the door than she'd been seconds earlier.
Ban and Ginji, unable to react quickly enough, toppled across the office's threshold when Clayman opened the door. Kazuki, caught up in the tangle of line they stumbled on, was pulled down along with them when they kissed floor. Ban refused to be deterred by this minor complication.
“Are you nuts, Jackal!? Don't mind him Clayman; we'll take the deal! We'll take it!” he screeched, even as the pile of agents around him struggled to extricate themselves from one another.
“Ban-chan, Kazu-chan, you guys are smooshing me,” Ginji mumbled from his place at the very bottom of the group.
Above, one slightly startled art medium, one disapproving negotiator and two amused transporters beheld the spies. Akabane chuckled and shook his head, as if to say so that's how it is, isn't it?
He looked at the folder of photocopies that Himiko was holding, then at her. His eyes warmed.
“You...care that much, that you would get back such a dream for Ban-kun and me?”
Himiko gave a little shrug as she matched his smile. “You're my friend. I want you to be happy.”
A mist of something kinder unfolded within Akabane's gaze. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “Well-played, Lady Poison. Well-played indeed.”
Ban wasn't the type to sing in public; that was more Ginji's doing. However, on occasion, if the circumstances warranted it, he had been known to break out with a verse or two of his own making, so long as the audience was minimal. Today, he couldn't have cared less who overheard him, he was in that good of a mood. Nothing whatsoever could faze him.
“Ahh, the sun is shining. Birdies are chirpin'. Wallet is fat and so is my smoke. Life is good to me,” he cackled as he sprinted up the steps to his apartment, opened the door and did a jig into the living room...
...where he promptly dropped his unlit cigarette when he saw Ginji, seated bare-assed naked, in the center of the coffee table with an apple he'd gnawed the side out of. He was staring at it as though all the secrets of the universe were contained within that abused delicacy, which also bore a single scalpel, the handle of that jutting like an angry thorn from its core.
“What. The fresh-steamed fruitsicle hell. Is this?”
Ban demanded of the smiling man standing at an easel off to the side, who was wearing an old dress shirt lightly dotted with paint droplets.
“Number six in the featured collection of an aspiring artist soon to be known to the world as Jackson Midou,” Akabane replied, not taking his eyes off the canvas as he drew the tip of the brush down in a sweeping motion. “It's my new alias. Himiko-san helped me think of it. Doesn't it sound dashing?”
“Not bad,” Ban admitted. He and Akabane traded brief kisses in greeting, and then Ban gestured at the easel. “I thought you were going with the watercolors for the next piece.”
“I was. Then I decided to go with this paint instead, once I saw how nicely the oil brings out the sheen in the blood,” Akabane said.
Ginji piped up from his exposed spot. “On the apple. Don't worry, Ban-chan, it's fake. Kazu-chan found a costume shop that sells Halloween stuff year-round,” he said, wiggling the thrice-chewed apple he was holding. The first two sets of bite marks exposed the yellowing white flesh of the fruit, but the third was oozing a thin stream of deep red liquid, placed there by the artist himself.
Ban looked at the emperor who was minus his clothes, which were far from new. He slowly turned to Akabane. “Explanation.”
Akabane beamed. “Clayman-san asked for a meditative portrait this time, so I came up with the perfect arrangement. What do you think?” He moved back so that Ban could see the picture. “I'm thinking of calling it 'Temptation Defeated.'”
“Looks more like 'Still Life with Stupid,'” Ban snorted.
Akabane's brow did a caterpillar bend. “Continue to disparage my methods and you'll
be the still life. Don't forget. My art is the bridge to our European vacation.” He smiled suddenly, all traces of irritation vanquished at the reminder of how their dream trip had been salvaged. “We have much to thank Clayman-san for, yes? And Himiko-san too. I ought to be displeased with her pilfering, but in truth, I can't find it in myself to feel any such wrath. Quite the opposite, actually.”
“Well, she was a plunderer before she turned transporter,” Ban said. “I have to hand it to her, the brat. That was some smooth operation she pulled, getting Hevn to hardball Clayman into a deal.”
“She's a dear, sweet girl,” Akabane chided gently as he began to mix another set of paints. “I understand why she did what she did. And I will be ever grateful to her for it. Thanks to her, we're going to enjoy ourselves in Europe, Midou-kun!” He cast a gleeful wink over his shoulder at Ban. “I cannot wait to visit all the battlefields of the ancients with you..!”
Ban left him to his giddy musings and studied the painting he was working on. Even he had to admit, the detailing and effort poured into this creation was stunning. Akabane had an honest gift for capturing the life force of a subject, even the inanimate ones. The apple in Ginji's hand fairly popped from the canvas, as though the paper had borne the fruit of a divine design every bit as real as an actual tree's. Raw emotion, Clayman had called it later, when Ban had asked during the contract's official signing.
Ban felt a surge of pride. His instincts had proven true: in redirecting Akabane's passion to less bloody pursuits, he had finally hit upon an outlet for the transporter's deep-seated inner conflict, thus nullifying the worst of the rage and providing Jackal with a chance to feed his muse with something infinitely challenging. Akabane had been quite the busy bee, turning out in a single month five pieces of artwork, in various mediums ranging from simple charcoal pencil to clay sculpture to fired glass, the last bit being attained with the assistance of Himiko's flame perfume. Better still, they were reaping the benefits of his work – in more ways than one. Akabane was so ridiculously mellowed, sometimes Ban felt like pinching himself just to make sure he wasn't dreaming up the newfound bliss which had taken root and sprouted in their home.
Of course, there were drawbacks, the balancing counterpoint to any side of good fortune. Ban made a mental note to burn that coffee table as he approached Ginji. “Blackmailed you into it, did he?”
“Nope. Akabane-san promised me ice cream if I'd help him do this.” Ginji's serious expression remained firmly in place; his focus on the reward of tasty treats lending his face extra authenticity.
A delighted Akabane peeked out from behind the easel. “And a very fine model you are, Ginji-kun! But please, try not to speak any more than necessary. I have to get the contours of your jawline just right.” He furrowed his brow a little as he resumed stroking the brush across the canvas, his concentration likewise as set.
Ginji obediently slammed shut his mouth and sat up straighter. Ban laughed and shook his head. “You two culture vultures enjoy your art-bonding. I'm getting a beer.”
He headed for the kitchen. Halfway there a phone rang; the gratingly familiar 'Que Sera, Sera' tune warbled its melody from a corner of the couch. Ban never had been able to convince Akabane to change to a different ringtone. He watched as the transporter and artist extraordinaire set aside his brush and went to answer the new phone he'd bought with Makubex's assistance. Unlike its deceased predecessor, this smartphone had been hacked by the boy wonder so as to offer little to no backtalk whenever it was presented with an inquiry it was incapable of answering satisfactorily.
Ban opened the fridge, but before he could retrieve his favorite hair of the dog beverage, he heard Akabane yelp and drop his phone. Well before he made it into the living room the caller's shrill tantrum was immediately apparent. He pointed at the erupting phone. “The hell’s going on with that thing!?”
Akabane rubbed his stinging ear, keeping the phone well at arm’s length as he stooped and gingerly picked it up. “Suzume-san is quite upset with me,” he said with a visible wince. “It seems Gouzou’s come down with the same thing you and I had not long ago. Now everyone in the Maguruma household is sick.”
“Geez, if a cold virus gets her panties in a wad, I’d hate to see what she does if someone winds up in the hospital,” Ban said, grimacing at the furious invective that continued to pour from Akabane’s phone. “What’s the big deal, the thing’ll pass in a couple of days anyway.”
“Not when the entire extended tree of relatives has come to visit for the weekend,” Akabane said, mirroring Ban’s pained look as they stared at the spewing device.