"Ban-san?" Madoka asked, at the thump of the cup falling to the rug.

Shido glanced over to where Midou's head was drooping, dark hair hiding his eyes. "He's asleep."

"Good," Madoka said. "He is going to be all right, Shido-san?"

"He should be." It was the first time Madoka had actually asked that, since they had found them out in the snow--over an hour ago, now. When night fell with no sign of the GetBackers it had been clear something was wrong. Shido had asked what animals he could, but the day creatures were already asleep and those nocturnal were mostly hiding from the coming storm. He had been outside, considering taking the last snowmobile and following their tracks, when the startled rabbit had bounded up, made hurried mention of humans further down the mountain and then fled from Mozart's bark.

As it turned out it was fortunate that Madoka, alerted by her dog, had insisted on accompanying him, because it would have been difficult to carry both of the idiots back by himself. He was frankly grateful that she hadn't been able to see them, half-covered in snow and just about as white. Until Midou had moved he hadn't been sure there was anything left to save--humans were too damn fragile in the cold, not made for it at all. But Madoka had expressed no doubt, even when Yokomori had gasped to see them, only calmly asked the man to put on tea. The singer wasn't entirely useless; he had at least had the presence of mind to stoke the fire and spread blankets to warm beside it.

And Midou, snake or not, was recovering--no surprise there; bastard was too damn pigheaded not to. His partner, however..."What about Amano?" Yokomori asked.

Shido knelt by the cot, pressed his hand to Ginji's forehead. He was warming, slowly, but still unconscious, his face ashen, though at least his lips now were more pink than blue. "Shido-san," Madoka said, not more than a whisper, mindful of Midou dozing, "he...hasn't woken at all..."

Mozart whined, sat up on his haunches to push his damp nose against Ginji's cheek. Right smell, but wrong, the guide dog whimpered to Shido, not him, not storm-prickly...

Shido remembered what Midou had mentioned. "He's drained," he said, as quietly. "He used up his electricity keeping them ali--warm, out there. It's taking time to get it back." He hoped, at least. Hard to be sure; in Mugenjou Raitei could never have exhausted his energy. But Ginji was just as strong. He had to be.

"But will he be okay?" Yokomori wiped his brow. It was hot by the fire. "With that snow coming down we might be stuck here for a couple days; if he needs a hospital..."

"We're doing all we can here."

"Damn it!" The rock star punched his fist into his other hand. "And I asked for this damn retrieval."

Shido glanced at him. "They might not have found the recorder, Yokomori; I couldn't tell from what Midou was saying."

"You think I care about that? You realize you could've lost both your friends, just for my stupid songs?"

"That snake bastard is not my friend. And you hired us to take those risks," Shido reminded him.

"But I didn't--look, I like danger, makes you feel alive, living on the edge, but I don't just throw my life on the line because someone pays me!"

"Kazuma-san," Madoka said, "the first time I hired Ban-san and Ginji-san was for a job more dangerous than this. But when they told me they could do it, I believed them."

"And they did it."

"Well..." A faint pink colored Madoka's cheeks and she ducked her head. "I did get my violin back."

"Yeah, she did," Shido said, a little smugly, until he remembered the snake bastard wasn't awake to hear it.

"But--"

"Kazuma-san, would you mind making me some more tea?" Madoka asked. "I'm a little chilly."

"...Okay. Coming up." Yokomori levered himself to his feet with his crutches and headed for the kitchen, his cast thumping on the wooden floor.

Shido eyed her askance. "How can you be chilly this close to the fire?"

Madoka's head dipped again, golden firelight sheening off the black silken fall of her hair. "It was very cold outside, my fingers are still a little..."

"Eh?" They were cool, when he took her hands. He pressed her slim fingers lightly in his, circled his thumbs against her palms to stimulate the blood flow. "That better?"

"Yes." No louder than the snow rabbit. "Thank you. Shido-san?"

"...Yeah?"

"If you hadn't found them..."

"It would've been all right," Shido told her. "You know those two. Midou was still awake, since Ginji had helped him; he would've made it back eventually."

"But Ginji-san..." Madoka shook her head. "No, Ban-san wouldn't let him, would he?"

Shido sighed. "No, he wouldn't." Unbidden, Midou's insistent growl crossed his mind--I told him to. Really, the man should know his partner better than that. Ginji could no more have left him behind than he could have abandoned one of his own limbs. But then Midou hadn't gone any farther without him, and loathe though Shido might be to admit it, he wouldn't have expected any less of the snake bastard.

Madoka's fingers tightened around his, and he looked up at her face, the beautiful blank dark eyes. "Madoka?"

"I..." It wasn't even a whisper. "I'm glad Shido-san wasn't caught in an avalanche, alone."

"I couldn't have been," he said, surprised. "I was never alone today--I have lots of friends on these mountains."

Madoka smiled. "I know," she said. "But...Shido-san, if you go out tomorrow, I know I couldn't help you much, but could I come with you?"

"If you want. But it'll be cold. And it can be dangerous."

"I wouldn't be afraid." She leaned forward a little, so he could hear her whisper. "Like Ginji-san has Ban-san, and Ban-san has Ginji-san--I'll have Shido-san. And Shido-san is warm, too..." Her chin was almost resting on his shoulder, her breath tickling his cheek, and if he turned his head just a little...

Mozart's quick bright bark overlapped the rustle of blankets. Shido jerked back, looked past Madoka's shoulder to see Midou climb off the chair and shakily draw himself erect, the thick blanket draped over his shoulders. "Midou--"

"That idiot still hasn't woken up?" Midou's stare was fixed on his partner. One hand gripped the back of the chair for support, the other pressed to his temples. Shido frowned, hastily stood as Midou released the chair and took an unsteady step toward Ginji's cot. He crossly shrugged off Shido's offered support, only to sway dizzily, still holding his head.

"Look at me," Shido ordered, still frowning. Midou glared back at him, blue eyes not quite focusing, and Shido shook his head. "Midou, tell me you don't have a concussion."

"I don't have a concussion." He took another step, definitely limping.

This time Shido didn't let him resist, just grabbed his arm and guided him the last couple meters to the cot. "You could've mentioned you actually got hurt in the avalanche, you asshole," he growled as he helped Midou sit in the closest chair, folded the blanket around him again. "Did Ginji?"

Midou shook his head, winced at the motion. "Don't think so." He extended his arm out from the bundle of blankets, passed his hand once over Ginji's drooping blond spikes and then, very lightly, tapped his knuckle against his brow. "Come on, you lazy guy, about time you got up."

Ginji's eyes remained closed, lashes dark against his pallid cheeks. Midou glanced to Shido and Madoka. "Can you get some food for him? Unless we plug him into a socket he'll need to recharge the old-fashioned way."

Madoka stood, started for the kitchen. "Kazuma-san and I will get soup. You must be hungry, too, Ban-san."

"Yeah, sure, thanks. You hear that, Ginji? Wake up or you'll miss dinner." But the reprimand was undermined by his voice's shaky rasp. "Come on, now..."

"Midou," Shido began, hesitantly, "he might not--"

The whisper that came from the blankets was no louder than the hiss of the fire. "Ban...chan?"

Shido crouched to get a better look at Ginji's face as the brown eyes fluttered open, blinked hazily. Midou's grin as he leaned forward cancelled out the pain which had drawn his brow. "Ginji! Took you long enough."

"Where..."

"You're at the lodge," Shido told him. "You and Midou made it far enough that Madoka and I found you."

"Shido?" Ginji blinked again, and the blankets heaved as he struggled to sit up. "Ban-chan--are you--you were--"

Shido gently pushed him back down on the cot, but it was Midou's voice that quieted him. "I'm fine, Ginji. You're the one worrying everybody."

"Sorry..." Ginji twisted onto his side, tilted his head to look at his partner.

Midou waved dismissively. "It's all right. How do you feel?"

"Okay...just a little tired."

"And cold." Midou hadn't missed his shivers under the blankets. "The soup will warm you up. Get your energy back, too." He poked Ginji's forehead with his index finger. "Since you used it all up. You idiot. You have to be more careful."

"I was being careful, Ban-chan. It kept you warm, didn't it?"

"Idiot," Midou said again, softer but no less reproachful. "How does it do the GetBackers any good if you're the frozen one?"

"Ginji-san, you're awake?" Madoka's happy interjection interrupted any reply. Shido jumped up to relieve her of the tray she was carefully balancing, set it down on the end table and then helped Ginji sit up on the cot, propping him up with a pillow and the blankets. Ginji gave him a grateful smile, accepted the bowl of soup with hands that were only trembling a little. Midou leaned forward to claim the other bowl, but waited until he had seen a few sips of the hot broth bring color back to his partner's face before he nodded in satisfaction and started slurping up his own soup.

"Thank goodness," Yokomori said, sincerely, as he watched them finish. "I'm glad you're feeling better, Amano-kun, Midou-kun. I want to tell you, I'm so--"

"Oh! Yokomori-san!" Ginji returned the bowl to the tray, flipped the blankets aside and stood, then swayed woozily.

Shido grabbed his arm before he fell, and Midou surged up to take his other. "Take it easy, idiot!"

"You too," Shido snapped, and pushed Midou, just a little shove, but he collapsed back into the chair, while Shido helped Ginji back onto the cot. "Don't push yourself, Ginji."

"But--we found it, Yokomori-san." Ginji shook his head as if he could shake off his weakness like water. "Where's my parka?"

"It's here, Ginji-san," Madoka said, going to the couch where she had put the coat aside and picking it up, exploring the pockets with her fingers. "Right--oh!" She unzipped the inner lining, withdrew a small package wrapped in plastic. "Is this it?"

Yokomori hobbled over on his crutches, claimed it from her and ripped the bags aside as Ginji bobbed his head. "That's it! Isn't it, Yokomori-san?"

Their client ran his hands over the sleek black casing. "Yes--it looks like it..." He clicked a button on its side and his face brightened. "It's still working! Wait..." Digging into his pocket, he withdrew a set of headphones, plugged them in and put them to his ears. Then the rock star's expressive face went blank, and he slowly turned his head from side to side.

"Yokomori-san?" Ginji asked anxiously. "Is it--" His face lost most of the color it had regained. "Ban-chan, my power, maybe I--"

"You couldn't have messed it up," Midou said. "Those bags were anti-static. Hey," he looked back at their client, "We got you the thing, you can't stiff us even if it's broken."

"Broken?" Yokomori blinked, and then a smile burst across his features like a firework. "No--no! It works! My songs, they're here..." For another moment he stood suspended in the reverie of his recovered music, and then he hit another button, took off the headphones, and bowed to them as well as he was able with the crutches. "I can't thank you enough for this. The bonus is yours, of course, but if there's anything else..."

"There is," Midou said, decisively. "You can play those songs for Ginji here."

Yokomori blinked at the GetBackers. "Of course, if you'd like to hear them."

"Would you?" Ginji asked, all eager anticipation. Except for the heavy blanket wrapped around his shoulders despite the closeness of the fire, he hardly seemed affected anymore. Shido suspected this had as much to do with Ginji refusing to believe hypothermia would bother him as it did with his rapid healing. Midou didn't seem entirely convinced, studying his partner with narrow-eyed intensity--he must be exhausted himself, to let that concern show so clear on his face. But Ginji seemed oblivious to it as he chattered on, "I'm sure Ban-chan wants to hear them, too. I've never heard your music before so I don't know what it's supposed to sound like, but Ban-chan does."

"You've never heard...any of it?" Yokomori blinked, then looked down at the recorder. "Well, there should be a few things on here from my last recording session, they're almost finished songs. I could play you those. Except..." He held up the headphones. "There's no speakers here, so only one person can listen at a time."

Midou gestured at his partner. "Let Ginji."

So Yokomori settled the headphones over Ginji's blond spikes and fooled with his device, and Shido heard the scratches of a tinny beat start playing through the little speakers. Ginji's face lit up, as if the music were every bit as energizing as a generator might have been. "Wow, Yokomori-san!" he cried, a little too loud over the music in his ears. "You can really sing like that?"

Even a superstar wasn't immune to Ginji's enthusiastic approval. Shido recognized Yokomori's gratified grin well. In Mugenjou there had been many willing to kill, willing to die, for that accolade, but somehow it was worth no less outside. Ginji's eyes closed, his head tipped back in blissful appreciation of the music as he tapped his fingers in time to the beat. Shido couldn't help but smile a little himself. It had once been a rare thing for Ginji to be able to give himself over to something he enjoyed; seeing it now was like watching something long caged at last fly free.

When he happened to glance over at Midou, he saw a smile playing on his lips, very unlike the usual serpent smirk, a sleepy contented look that was too warm to be just the satisfaction of getting paid. Ginji was appreciating the music and Midou was appreciating--maybe simply their survival, maybe more. It wasn't an expression Shido could recall seeing on the snake bastard before, and yet it sat right on his sharp features. He had the feeling Ginji would recognize it easily.

Before Midou felt his eyes on him, Shido looked away, went to Madoka. She was sitting in the armchair with Mozart, her hands wound in his thick ruff. The dog thumped his tail in greeting to Shido, looking every bit as content as Ginji under his mistress's ministrations. Shido sat down on the rug beside them, leaned against the chair and idly reached up to scratch the dog's ears.

"So Ginji-san likes Kazuma-san's music," Madoka commented in an undertone too low to disturb anyone else.

"A lot, looks like. Is he really that good?"

"He is." Madoka nodded. "He's a talented singer and a genius composer. I'm so glad he was able to get those songs back. I'd love to hear them myself." Her hand brushed his shoulder, settled on it, a single point of warmth he could feel through his vest. "He can write wonderful music, though it's not the kind for my violin. But when we get home, I can play you one of his CDs, Shido-san. If you want."

"I'd like to hear it." Shido studied the back of Yokomori's azure head, wondering what kind of music it actually produced. For both Ginji and Madoka to love it, it must be worth hearing. Human music was so different than what animals called or birds sang, so much more complicated, hardly spontaneous. But it could be beautiful.

When he got up to add another couple logs to the diminishing fire, he noticed Ginji yawning. Yokomori clicked off the recorder, and Ginji sheepishly drew off the headphones. "Sorry, Yokomori-san," he said. "Your music is great--I'm just really tired."

"Can't imagine why," Yokomori said, wryly.

"I really do like it a lot--do you want to listen to it, Ban-chan? Ban-chan?" But Midou had dozed off again. He didn't look too comfortable, sitting up in the chair with his neck bent at an angle, but moving him would be more trouble than it was worth.

Ginji looked from his partner's nodding head to Shido. "He is going to be okay, Shido? He was hurt..."

"Don't worry about him, Ginji. You know how strong this snake bastard is."

The smile Ginji gave him was reassured and grateful. But Yokomori flinched. "Amano-kun," he said, "I wanted to tell both you and Midou-kun, I'm sorry about this damn mission. It wasn't worth it."

"Eh?" Ginji blinked. "You mean you're not going to pay us--or is it the snowmobiles--"

"What? No, of course I'm paying you, I told you already. And the bonus, obviously. I can't thank you enough for getting this recorder back--but as much as I wanted it, I never should've let this happen."

Ginji only looked confused. "This?"

"You and Midou getting hurt, he means," Shido explained.

"But, Yokomori-san, that avalanche wasn't your fault. And it was our job."

"You see, Kazuma-san?" Madoka said.

"No, I don't!" The rock star looked between Ginji and Shido, shook his head again. "Why are you retrievers, if it's this dangerous?"

Ginji cocked his head, reached over and tapped the recorder. "Yokomori-san, why do you sing?"

Yokomori's eyebrows shot up under his bright blue and purple bangs. "That--because it's what I'm good at. It's what my talent is. And I love being a singer, I couldn't imagine being anything else."

Ginji nodded. "That's how it is. What we are, what we can do, me and Ban-chan and Shido--there aren't many jobs that we could be this good at, and there aren't many people who could be this good at it. And I love being a retriever. Being able to help people like this, doing things like this--even if it's dangerous, it's what we have to do. Ban-chan and I, we're the GetBackers--we couldn't be anything else."

"So what you're saying is, you're crazy." But he was smiling as he said it, and Ginji laughed.

"Just don't let Midou hear that," Shido warned.

Ginji grinned. "Ban-chan wouldn't mind. As long as we don't have to pay for the snowmobiles."

"Don't worry, that's covered." Yokomori stood, yawned as widely as Ginji had before. "Guess it is getting late. If everything's okay now, I'll be getting to bed myself."

"Good night, Yokomori-san."

"Good night, Amano-kun. You coming, Madoka-chan?"

"I'm comfortable here," Madoka said politely from the armchair she was curled up in, Mozart snuggled in beside her. "Good night, Kazuma-san." Yokomori nodded, thumped his way to the bedroom and shut the door behind him.

"Are you warm enough?" Shido asked Ginji.

Ginji looked over the pile of blankets he was buried under, nodded. "I'm fine." But as Shido switched off the lamp and started to turn away, he caught his arm. "Shido?"

"Yes?"

"I didn't say yet--thank you." He looked past Shido to Madoka. "Thank you, too, Madoka-chan. You found us, right, brought us back? You should get some of the bonus--you brought the recorder the rest of the way." He shivered, wrapped the blankets tighter around himself. "Just for a little while...out on the mountain, there. I didn't..." He shook his head. "Never mind. Ban-chan would be angry if he heard me."

"Damn straight I would." Midou's eyes were still closed, but his voice was clear. "We didn't need the monkey trainer. We'd have made it eventually. No way the GetBackers lose to some damn mountain."

Ginji's grin had no doubts at all. "Of course not, Ban-chan."

"Hmph. And that rock star's not gonna charge us for the snowmobiles? That's something, at least."

"Midou, don't you ever sleep?"

"And let you draw pictures on me or something?" Midou snorted, repositioned himself on the chair to a slightly less awkward sprawl.

Shido picked up one of the blankets that had slid off and threw it back over him, feeling immaturely vindicated when Midou growled and burrowed out from under it, the static from the flannel whipping his hair into a worse mess than ever. He heard Ginji stifle a chuckle before sleepily saying, "Good night, Shido, Madoka-chan, Ban-chan."

Shido answered in kind, heard Madoka echo it. "G'night, Ginji," Midou put in after a short pause. When Shido looked his blue eyes were open, watching his partner settle under the blankets, a trace of that same smile from before on his lips.

"Midou," Shido said quietly, "if you want the couch--"

Midou shook his head. "I'm good here." The smile shifted into a much more typical smirk as he whispered, "Unless you and Madoka want some privacy--"

Before Shido could do anything with the fist his hand reflexively curled into, Madoka said, cheerfully, "No, it's okay, Ban-san," and it was almost worth it for Midou's expression as he realized he had been overheard.

"Get to sleep, snake bastard," Shido said, figuring he could do no better.

But Midou of course wouldn't let him get away with that. "Monkey trainer," he said, not much more than a hiss.

"Yeah?"

Midou was not looking at him. "Ginji said it already." He reached out, swiped his hand over his softly snoring partner's yellow spikes in a gesture too gentle to be a cuff. "But...thanks." His gaze shifted up to Shido's. "Even if we didn't need it."

Those blue eyes could hold any nightmare or fantasy imaginable, but in the dim orange of the firelight Shido only saw the usual obnoxious arrogance. And maybe a little of something else, but that didn't need to be mentioned.

"Ginji's my friend," he said. "I'll always help him. Even if he doesn't need it."

Midou nodded, sharply, and Shido understood that look, silent answer to his unspoken reply. Then Midou leaned his head against the chair back, shut his eyes. "'Night, monkey trainer."

"Good night," Shido told the GetBackers, and left them asleep by the fire's warmth.

owari


I've had the ending for a bit, finally got around to editing it. When I should be NaNoWriting. ^^; But I couldn't leave y'all hanging forever! Big thanks to all my reviewers, awesome to know you're out there. & extra props to those who are also writing GB fic and making X-parrot a happy, well-fed fangirl. Please keep it up ^_^ Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it...it's fun to do bad things to favorite boys, now and again...