"We got it!"
There were a lot of things about this moment that Midou Ban might prefer were different. Number one would be that it was warmer. True to his snake nature he did not like the cold, and ten degrees below zero was a good thirty degrees below what he considered an acceptable temperature. He could also do without the snow that had gotten under the cuffs of his parka and into his boots, he could wish that Ginji had begged for more than a few onigiri for their lunch, and while he was at it he might ask that the mountainside be a little less...mountainous. The slope had been too steep for the snowmobiles to navigate, and it was a bitch slogging back up it through half a meter of snow.
"We did it, Ban-chan!"
But at this particular moment he couldn't help but think it was all worthwhile. Ginji's smile was at least as brilliant as the sun glittering off the ice, undaunted by the depth of the snow or the wind whipping his cheeks ruddy. He waved the object of their mission triumphantly at the sky. Such a little thing, even wrapped in triple plastic bags to protect it from the snow.
Worth plenty to their client, however. And they'd beaten the monkey trainer to finding it, even with all his beast minions combing the mountains for the downed plane. Ban smirked at that, as he hunched his shoulders against the wind and buried his face deeper into the parka's furry collar. Show him who the real retrievers were. If they hurried they would make it back before dinner--Yokomori was treating them to meals as well, this weekend. "Let's go, Ginji!"
"Yeah!" Ginji stowed their precious objective away under his coat and plowed after Ban. As they labored up the slope he called, "Hey, Ban-chan, do you think this will help? For Yokomori-san to remember, I mean?"
Of course Ginji would be thinking about that, even if his toes had to be as numb as Ban's. He was tempted to say he didn't care, but it wasn't true, even if he was presently more involved in visions of hot cocoa and hotter baths. Still, success was a warming thing, and it wasn't just the money which made the wind seem a little less piercing. "Even if it doesn't, everyone'll still have those songs."
He didn't need to look back to see Ginji's grin; he could feel that beaming behind him as much as hear it in his voice. "Yeah! Maybe he could play them tonight at the lodge? Or some of his other songs? I think Madoka-chan brought her violin."
"Ginji, Yokomori is a rock musician. I don't think--" He paused, stopping in his tracks so suddenly that Ginji bumped into his back.
"Do you hear that?"
Ginji cocked his head, frowned slightly. "You mean that rumbling sound?"
Which was it, exactly, and it seemed to be getting louder, though that could be his imagination.
"Is it getting louder?"
Or not. Shit.
"Uh, Ban-chan? What is that--"
He didn't bother looking above them; no point when he knew what he would see. Instead he whipped around, scanning the slope--the stone outcropping to their left was closer by a few meters. "Ginji, there," and he shoved his partner in its direction, "Run!"
"Ban-chan, the mountain--"
Ginji tripped over a concealed chunk of ice. Ban grabbed his arm and dragged him up, but it was impossible to run in snow this thick and deep, and the solid rock underneath was vibrating like a malfunctioning motor. The roar was deafening.
They had almost made it, he thought they had, and then, two steps away, the avalanche crashed into them, swept them up and tumbled them over. He grabbed for Ginji's hand, got it for an instant, and then he was only clutching snow, submerged in heavy white waves that tossed him like a leaf in a typhoon. He had the presence of mind to decide that this was most definitely not worth it after all, and then the white noise went black and silent, though every bit as cold.
Yokomori Kazuma was one of those people who hadn't really been changed by fame, because he had always lived as if he were famous. The notoriety of his outrageous stunts was second only to the popularity of his music. One could see the flicker of irritation in his eyes when it became obvious Ginji had never heard of him, only somewhat assuaged by Ban smacking his partner. "He's a superstar, idiot. Remember that billboard downtown?"
Ginji peered at him curiously. "Wasn't his hair a different color?"
Ban only clouted him again, before turning back to their potential client. "You know, I thought you were still hospitalized after that accident last week. Plane crash, wasn't it?"
"That's the official story," Yokomori said. "Because..." He trailed off.
Madoka, sitting next to him, said quietly, "It's all right, Kazuma-san. You can trust them." She smiled confidently. Ginji wondered if she would be quite so sure if she could see the glares Ban and Shido were exchanging across the table. When Shido wasn't eying the rock star with something less like admiration and more like the look his lion might give a dog invading its territory.
Yokomori seemed oblivious to it, however. Or else he really did enjoy danger that much. "Thank you, Madoka-chan. Yeah, about the hospital...that's the story my manager's putting out. Until we figure out what to do about this mess. Most of it's the truth--I was flying solo over Hokkaido, the fuel line ripped, plane went down, straight into the mountains," and he illustrated dramatically with his hands. "I managed to jump out--no clue how. A couple rescue guys found me crawling down the mountainside, dragging my 'chute behind me. I'd gotten clonked on the head--passed out, woke up in Tokyo, didn't remember who I was at first. You know, just like the soaps. Except I had nurses telling me my name so I could sign shit for them. Things are coming back to me, but..."
"But?" Ginji asked eagerly, caught up in the story.
The rock star spread his empty hands. "I've lost my songs. A bunch of them, anyway."
"You don't remember how to sing?" Ban's eyebrows went up.
Yokomori shook his brightly-dyed head. "I can do that fine. And I remember most of the songs I've recorded. But not any of the ones I was working on. That's what I need back--I must have left it on the plane."
"I keep a digital recorder with me at all times. Has room for about twenty hours of music, and I'm always playing into it. Whenever inspiration hits, you know? Melody, lyrics, I'll tap out rhythms. I had it in the plane, of course--I vaguely recall being in the middle of something when it went to hell. I must have panicked--like I said, I don't remember any of that. But I left it behind."
He sighed. "It's a stupid thing. But I can't remember one note that I recorded into that thing...and now I can't think of any new notes. I'm too busy trying to recall the ones I lost. Been driving me crazy--haven't been sleeping, haven't been able to work at all. There's other things that are hazy, but hell, gives me a good excuse when I forget birthdays, right? But that music..." He shoved his fingers into his colorful hair, rubbed his temples. When he leaned back into the light the dark patches under his eyes were more obvious.
"It's not stupid," Shido said abruptly.
"No, it isn't," Madoka agreed, nodding at Shido gratefully. "And they can help, Kazuma-san."
He looked at all of them. "Madoka-chan said you're good at what you do. Retrieving things."
"One hundred percent success rate," Ban assured him, then glanced at Shido. "At least for the GetBackers." Before the Beastmaster's growl could cut him off he went on, "So you want this recorder back? Where is it now?"
"As far as I know--in Hokkaido, still in the plane." Yokomori rested his chin on his fist. "They didn't bother sending anyone after the crash--those mountains are dangerous in winter, it wasn't worth it. And the other problem is, it's not clear where exactly the plane went down. There's a pretty wide area it could be. Now, there hasn't been any major storm in the last week, but that luck might not last. If a blizzard or an avalanche buries it, it won't be found until spring, if then--and the batteries might give out before that, which means I'd lose whatever's on it.
"I'd go after it myself, but..." He indicated the cast around his leg. "Not an option. And my manager doesn't want me pushing this too hard--we're trying to keep the whole amnesia thing from the public. But there's nothing suspicious about renting a lodge in the area for a few personal friends to spend a weekend skiing in the mountains...I'll cover the travel expenses, snowmobiles, gear, whatever you need."
"I'll do it," Shido said, and Madoka smiled.
Ban leaned back, the casual way he did when he had yet to find out how much a job was worth. "I don't know. It does sound dangerous, and it's kind of out of our way..."
"I'll pay you each a hundred fifty thousand yen for the search, and another hundred fifty thousand for actually finding it."
"But we are the best retrievers you can find," Ban said, hastily rocking forward. He nudged Ginji, unnecessarily, because he had already spotted the gleam in his partner's eye. Together they chorused, "The GetBackers accept this mission!"
So twenty-four hours later they were maneuvering snowmobiles across mountains which dwarfed Mugenjou's height. Riding the snowmobiles was almost as fun as a rollercoaster--Ginji had shouted aloud the first drift they jumped, and Ban had called him an idiot, but on the next one he heard his partner whoop as well. They had Ban's triangulation from the flight plan, and once they were in the right area Ginji projected an electric current which drew him to the downed plane sure as any magnet comes to metal.
Successful retrieval, and Yokomori would be so happy to have his recorder back, and Ginji was looking forward to hearing the songs on it. As soon as someone picked up the futon laying over his face so he could hear again properly. Everything was muffled this way.
And cold. More like an icepack than futon, really, but he probably needed one, since when he moved he felt like he were bruised from head to toe. Though he couldn't recall who he had been fighting, and that was bad, not remembering. Ban would be angry with him, if somehow he had--
Ginji choked on snow when he opened his mouth, tried to sit up and couldn't, and realized why. His reaction was pure instinct, calling on the power which always buzzed in his core. The electrical burst exploded the snow aside, and he jerked up, stared out over a landscape of choppy white and gray.
It looked like a different mountainside at first, and then he realized the avalanche had brought him further down the slope. The peak high above looked sharper--he could see the gray of stone where there had been snow before. Because that snow was now on top of them--
"Ban-chan?" Ginji clambered to his feet, turned in place. Nothing but white, hard to look at in the sunlight, here and there patchy with rocks and dark earth. No motion caught his eye, no sound caught his ear. He tipped back his head, shouted, "BAN-CHAAAN!!"
But the only answer was his own echo.
to be continued...