Ban still didn't know exactly how it had happened. He could guess, but refused to do so. The only answers he could come up with were just too ridiculous for words. After all, there could still be some logical explanation of how Ginji had ended up flat on the pavement far below the rooftop where the two of them had been working. There had to be. People did not just leap off buildings for no good reason.
Ginji had been vaguely conscious when the ambulance had whisked him off to the hospital, but not more than he could recognize Ban, insist he was fine, and pass out again. Ban had gotten no answers out of him then, and now Ginji was away getting fixed up. Because he'd get fixed up good as new, no doubt about it. This was Ginji, after all, who had survived much worse things than a little fall. He'd be fine.
Ban reached for his pack of cigarettes, fished the lighter out of his pocket and was just about to light up when he felt a glare boring into him. He looked up and found the matronly nurse behind the reception desk looking disapprovingly at him. She gestured sternly at the bright red "No Smoking" sign on the wall. It hadn't changed since the last dozen times it had interrupted his plans for a well-deserved smoke.
"Ch'." He plucked the unlit cigarette from his mouth and stuffed it back into the pack, bending it badly in the process. He was beginning to run out of patience, as his options for passing the time were decreasing. No smoking. He could always ask a nurse for news of Ginji, but for some reason they had all taken to snapping at him as soon as he approached. So, he probably wouldn't get anything new out of them anyway. Pacing was getting old, but not as old as the magazines strewn about the drab waiting room. How long had he been here for, anyway? He had lost track of time while dealing with the hospital staff and their questions about Ginji's existence. After an insanely complicated debate, he had finally gotten them to agree that if they were currently treating a patient, said patient was probably real, even if there was no record to be found about him anywhere.
He really needed a smoke very badly. Dealing with those people had made him realize that staying at a hospital would cost money, and the only money they had at the moment was what their client had given them for this job. The job that they were not actually doing right now. Because Ginji had fallen off a building. This was all his fault anyway, so why should Ban stay inside where he couldn't smoke just because he was waiting for news? He had almost managed to convince himself that he was perfectly justified in walking off when a young nurse he vaguely remembered came up to him. Dark eyes, hair pulled up in a ponytail under the white cap.
"Sir? Your friend is out of the emergency-room now." She smiled, sounding relieved. Funny, because she couldn't have been worried about Ginji.
Scrambling to ignore that, Ban gathered his wits and managed to ask, "Really? How's he doing?"
"He's awake, and expected to make a full recovery." The nurse consulted the clipboard she was carrying. "You're Midou Ban-san?"
"Yes." Expected to make a full recovery - from what? What did that mean?
"According to this you're his next of kin." She lifted her eyes from the paper, looking curiously at Ban.
"Uh, yeah. Well, that's to say… yes. We're partners. Retrievers. And there's nobody else, not like that…" He shut up. Not knowing what to say did not mean he had to start babbling like an idiot.
The nurse seemed more puzzled than she had before, but she smiled politely at him. "That's nice. Now, if that's right, then you can visit him for a little while. Don't stay too long - he needs to rest. But he has been asking for you." Her smile warmed as she said it, and stayed sincere even when she went back to checking her papers. "Like I said - he's hurt, but it's nothing permanent. He will have to stay hospitalised for a month or so though, because of the trauma to his neck, and -"
Ban cut her off with a most undignified squawk. "A month? What do you mean, a month? He can't stay here for a month, we've got a job to do tomorrow night! He can't do this to us!"
The smile fled from the nurse's face, chased off by a frown just as stern as any schoolteacher's with a class full of unruly children. "Shh! This is a hospital, please keep it down."
"But, but…" Ban spluttered.
"Do you want to see your friend or not?" The nurse's dark eyes flashed dangerously.
Ban froze. Well, he had a few things he wanted to ask that idiot. "I do." And he hadn't been doing all that waiting for nothing if he could check up on Ginji himself. He followed the nurse quietly through white, empty hallways with identical doors on both sides, until she stopped outside a door where a handwritten sign already read "Amano Ginji". She motioned for him to stop, and carefully pushed the door open and peeked inside.
"Ban-chan?" That was good enough for him - Ginji was awake, and asking for him. Ban ducked past the nurse, and smiled widely at his partner's happy "Ban-chan!".
"So, you're awake now, eh?" Ban eyed him critically - well, what little of him he could see above the blanket. The bandage wound around Ginji's blond head and the very conspicuous white neck brace immediately caught his attention.
"Mmm, yes." Ginji sounded slightly muzzy, and when Ban came closer he noticed how dilated his pupils were, making his brown eyes seem almost black. Of course. They would have had to give him painkillers.
"Don't tire him out now, remember. You can only stay a few minutes," the nurse admonished him. At his distracted nod, she slipped out of the room with a sigh, closing the door behind her. Ban hardly noticed.
"So, how're you feeling?" Ban grabbed a nearby chair, and sat down facing his friend.
Ginji smiled. "I'm fine!"
"Uh, sure. You didn't break anything important?"
"Nope. Not at all. Just my head!" The enthusiasm with which Ginji delivered this news was - very Ginji. Ban grinned.
"Just your head, eh? Well, your thick skull won't get hurt so easily, right?" Ban reached out and tapped Ginji lightly on the head, hardly more than a brush of the spiky blond hair.
"Ban-chan…" Ginji frowned, then blinked slowly at Ban. "Are you being mean to me?"
Keeping a straight face, Ban shook his head. "Absolutely not."
"Good. Because I'm a patient now. In a hospital. And so…" Obviously Ginji's train of thought got derailed somewhere around there, because he fell silent.
Ban was about to take the opportunity to ask him what the hell had happened, when Ginji spoke up again, his voice strangely small and quiet.
"Don't leave me alone."
Ban started, not quite sure he had heard right. He leaned closer to Ginji, just to make sure. "What?"
At his movement, Ginji stirred, scooting closer to Ban. A hand snuck out from under the hospital blanket and grabbed his shirt. "I don't… I don't want to be alone here." Ginji was looking up at him like a lost puppy. "It's too big. Empty." The words were so quiet Ban had to bring his face close enough that it was almost touching Ginji's before he could make them out. This close, he could clearly see the small cuts and bruises that hadn't been covered with bandages, the thin lines of pain etched around Ginji's eyes. He laid a hand on Ginji's shoulder, and felt a shiver pass through his friend's body. Big brown eyes gazed pleadingly at him, clouded by drugs and fatigue, but still as guileless as ever. The same quiet panic he'd picked up in Ginji's voice was clearly reflected there. "Please, Ban-chan…"
Ban swallowed, gripped by a very unfamiliar sense of helplessness. The nursing staff was an opposition he did not know quite how to deal with - and even if they hadn't been a formidable enemy, there was always the hospital security. He wasn't called a fighting genius for nothing - he recognized a battle lost before it began.
"Ginji…" He squeezed his friend's shoulder through the blanket, then snatched his hand away when the gesture elicited a hiss of pain from Ginji. "Sorry! Sorry." Feeling more miserable than ever, he awkwardly searched for somewhere to put his hand where it couldn't do more damage.
"S'okay, don't worry," Ginji was quick to mumble, and tightened his grip on Ban's shirt as if he was afraid Ban would back away altogether.
Ban sighed, and put his hand over Ginji's fist. "Here, let go of that. You'll rip it."
Ginji reluctantly obeyed, but when Ban kept a hold of his hand he could feel him relaxing slightly. "You'll stay, right, Ban-chan?" This time he sounded less panicked, and the words were accompanied by a yawn.
Ban was saved from having to come up with a good reply to that by the nurse's return. She walked softly into the room, speaking in quiet tones. "Sir? You'll have to leave now. Amano-san needs his rest."
Ginji stirred. "What?"
"Yeah… I can't stay. But you'll be all right here, Ginji - you have all these cute nurses to look after you!" Ban ignored the nurse's scowl, and smiled encouragingly at Ginji.
Ginji did not look very encouraged. He looked completely out of it, and Ban had to agree with the nurse - he needed to sleep. Apparently Ginji was not of the same opinion, because he was blinking, struggling to wake up, and possibly sit up, too. Ban didn't care to find out what his idiot partner had planned, and pressed him back down with his free hand. "You moron. You won't get better if you don't sleep, and we've got a job to do!"
Then he had an idea. A sudden memory, and inspiration struck, because this was Ginji, and though appealing to his pride as a GetBacker did have a certain effect, this would probably work much better.
Ginji was no longer fighting to sit up, but he was looking at Ban with silent desperation. "Ban-chan…"
"I won't leave you alone. I'll be right back." He started to let go of Ginji, but his friend's hand only closed more tightly over his. The grip was still strong enough not to be easily dislodged. "I promise," he added, and Ginji was satisfied with that.
The young nurse let him out of the room, switched the lights off behind them, then turned on him. "What do you mean? You can't spend the night there - only patients can stay! He must get his peace and quiet."
Ban glanced at the closed door. "I know, I know. I won't. I'm just going to bring him something." If the store he had seen before was still open.
The nurse hesitated, looking at the door, then back at him. After a long stare, she nodded. "You can do that. Just hurry - I won't let you wake him up."
"Sure." Ban took off, walking as fast as he could without running. At least until he was out of sight from the nurse. He found his way back to an elevator he recognized, and when he stepped out of it on the ground floor he was relieved to see the lights still on in the hospital gift-shop. There was nobody else around but a yawning man behind the counter, but Ban still hesitated before approaching his goal. Now that he was actually here, this felt - stupid. If anyone should see him, Midou Ban, buying a stuffed toy… the thought was too embarrassing to dwell on. Determined to get it over with as soon as possible, he walked briskly up to the display of fluffy, soft, squishy toys of all shapes and sizes. A multitude of cute little faces peered out at him from their shelf, bright colors competing for attention with big eyes and velvety fur.
It was just too much. He caught sight of a plain brown teddy bear with shiny black eyes, and grabbed it before the cute overwhelmed him completely and he abandoned the whole idea in disgust. Trying to come up with some way of holding the toy that didn't look completely ridiculous, Ban walked stiffly up to the counter. When he handed it over to the clerk he belatedly realized he hadn't even checked the price tag. He rifled through the contents of his wallet, grateful that there was at least something there to rifle through. Not so grateful when he had to part with more of his precious money than he had ever thought anyone could demand for a simple stuffed animal. He declined having it wrapped - the sooner he could get out of there, the better.
When that ordeal was over he heaved a relieved sigh, and hurried back to Ginji's room. He still hadn't discovered a way to transport the bear that clearly said "This is not mine", and was glad there were so few people around at night as he scrambled through the building with a child's toy squashed under his arm. But he couldn't keep it hidden from the nurse, who was still waiting outside the door. She gave a delighted smile. "How cute!"
Ban glared at the object of her admiration. "This is all your fault, Ginji," he muttered darkly to the bear.
The nurse didn't stop him from going back in, and as soon as he opened the door he heard Ginji's voice greeting him. He could see well enough by the light spilling in through the open door, and didn't bother to switch the lights on. He sat back down on the chair he had left by Ginji's bed. Hesitated.
"Ban-chan." Ginji smiled sleepily at him. "You're back."
"Of course I am, idiot." He squeezed the teddy bear. "But I can't stay." Ginji started to protest, and Ban cut him off by shoving the toy into his arms. "Here."
"Huh?" Ginji looked at the soft form of the bear, squinting to make it out in the darkness.
"Yeah. I can't stay, but you won't be alone." Ban felt a giddy mix of silliness and pride as he said that. Had he just given his grown partner a teddy bear? What kind of idiot was he? Then Ginji's hands closed around the teddy bear, and he pulled it close to his chest, snuggling against it.
"Warm," he mumbled happily, and Ban could see a smile playing on his lips, interrupted by a yawn. The sight was enough to dispel all doubts. He might be an idiot, but so was his friend. A happy idiot, now, which was all that mattered.
He waited a little while longer before leaving, making sure that Ginji was calm and falling asleep.
"Good night, Ginji," he smiled. With a little imagination, the sound Ginji made in reply could've been "'night, Ban-chan." Then there was only breathing, deep and even. Ban stood up, careful not to scrape the chair against the floor, and left silently.
When the door closed behind Ban, Ginji roused, half expecting that fear he had felt earlier to return. The fear was of this strange place where he didn't know anybody, which smelled of chemicals and sickness and where nothing was familiar. Most of all, though, he'd been afraid of being all alone. For so long now, he'd fallen asleep every night to the sound of Ban's breathing, sometimes feeling so close that he imagined he could hear two sets of heartbeats. Now there would be only one. Only him, and the silence of a missing person, which had been so loud before Ban came. Except that when Ban left this time, he was not really gone. He hadn't left Ginji alone. So there was nothing to fear. Ban would be back, and if the silence grew too crushing he could just bury his head in the soft belly of the teddy bear. There he could still smell cigarette smoke and old car seats and something more, something that made it uniquely Ban. Then he could close his eyes, and feel like he was in the car, with Ban beside him, and things were just as they were supposed to be. He smiled, and hugged the little bear. He wasn't alone, not now, not ever. Because he had Ban. And he felt no fear.
The next morning Ban stumbled into the hospital as soon as he was allowed back in for visiting hours. Bleary-eyed and feeling in desperate need of a cigarette, despite the fact that he had smoked a pack and a half since leaving the hospital the night before. No matter what he had tried, he just hadn't been able to fall asleep in the car. Strange, since he had more space than he'd ever had, without Ginji there. Silence too, which was usually a rare thing around his talkative partner. So how come he had spent the night alternating between trying to fall asleep, cursing about not being able to fall asleep, and smoking to help him sleep?
At least Ginji seemed rested and chipper - but soon that became yet another source of irritation for Ban. How the hell had the guy who fell off a building slept better than he had? And for that matter… How had that happened? Of course, he just had to ask, didn't he.
"…off a BUILDING?!"