I'm back, b!t(#s::Insert Evil Laughter: Anyway, please read from top to bottom again, as I've made tons of changes. Thank you, and please review.

Note: Due to adjustments, I am still withholding the 6th chapter of Solace. It is still in the works in my hard drive and will only be uploaded if this project gets enough positive response from readers.

Solace

By Deep Color

Chapter 1: The Deal

"Necklace, huh…" Ban.

"And that which sums to money enough to last you until you're wrinkled and old." Hevn.

"So, that's it? It's too easy…" Ban killed the light of his cigarette on the glass ashtray in front of him.

"I wouldn't be so sure about that if I were you, Ban. After all, this is the necklace, you know."

"Che. I don't even know about it. It's not that popular."

Hevn sighed. "Well if your pants can't handle it, you know there are a few others in line for the job... Now if you'll excuse me, I wish to use my time in more productive affairs than with the Prima Donna I'm wasting it on right now. Bye."

As Hevn stood, the Honky Tonk bells chimed in its usual disposition when someone entered. "Ah, Kazuki-san," Hevn sounded poisonously—almost threateningly, Ban noted—cheerful as she called out the man's name.

"Good morning, Hevn-san – Paul – Natsumi," he walked over to the beaming agent. "How is the mission coming?" he asked, trying to sound cheerful and interested.

The blonde's eyes widened as the implication of his words hit her. "So you've agreed to do it, then?" she asked, unable to contain the delight in her voice.

"Agreed to do what? Don't tell me you came to him first before me… I'm the original Get Backer!" Ban grimaced grumpily and loudly for everyone to hear, but without even bothering to look up at any of them. "Oh, and good morning," he added acidly.

Kazuki turned to the general direction of Ban, cheeks subtly flushed. He had avoided greeting the man on purpose—such formalities would be dismissed anytime soon, anyway (albeit unwillingly, on his part), what with this crazy assignment and all…

"I just knew you'd take it! You're the best, Kazuki! Now, we should be getting ready to go…" Hevn chattered on, but no one was listening. Kazuki simply reserved single-worded replies in dull submission to her whims.

After her long ranting about how she'd been scheming things in her mind for the longest time, Ban spoke.

"What, is it Ignore-Mido-Ban-and-Be-Happy-For-the-Rest-of-Your-Life Day? What is this bull about going shopping?" he demanded.

Kazuki's eyes were downcast, unwilling to meet anyone's, as if fearing the scrutiny that automatically came with it.

Hevn rolled her eyes. "You still gonna take the job I offered you? Coz I heard something about Ginji breaking some preeeeetty expensive stuff of Clayman's last week… Gee, I wonder how poor Gin-chan will pay for it…"

Ban paused, momentarily stunned by the question and the decision-making it involved. He weighed his chances and options, if he had any, and then blurted out, "Agh, fine, fine! I'm taking it!"

The wide smile spreading on Hevn's lips probably did not indicate good meaning to his decision. Ban's eyes narrowed at the sly woman, trying to squeeze the details out of her. Nothing came, except a blunt, careless, "Thanks, Ban, I owe you!"

---

"Ban-kun, come on in, I have a pre-job gift for you." Hevn said, after having searched for Ban all over the place. If her wide grin was again an indicator of mischief, Ban refused to delude himself with false delight at the prospect of a 'gift'.

As she led him by the shoulders into the Honky Tonk, Ban lazily commented, "If it's not cancellation papers, I'm not excited."

Hevn shook her head and opened the door for him.

Ban had formulated several possible 'gifts' in his head. He liked to believe it was a meaty down payment; or if not, some announcement that he was to be disguised as a filthy rich man on this job, allowing for use of anything five-star, free of charge. However, he was faced with disappointment. A happy kind of disappointment, that is.

"Oh my go- WHO'S THAT!" He asked the blonde agent, trying to whisper his sudden excitement to her.

"Make a guess."

"Can't be Koda Kumi, can it?" Ban asked stupidly.

There was a hot babe sitting on a Honky Tonk stool, drinking something that looked like hot chocolate. She wore a figure-hugging, backless midnight-blue dress with three-inch stiletto shoes of the same color. Her long, brown hair cascaded down her back, some locks draped over the shoulder to rest in front of her, while some stray strands were tucked behind her ears, which had been the home of white crystalline chandelier earrings.

Long… brown hair… Ban immediately felt the air being knocked out of his lungs, rendering him speechless for a good few seconds as the hard, cold truth hit him square in the face. "KA-KAZUKI!"

Mido Ban was a man of dreams—being the Jagan master ensured him a talent even he sometimes did not want. Idle moments found him dreaming the world away, uncharacteristic of him as it seemed. He often dreamt up things he knew he would never see happening in the flesh, so it came as a surprise to see a particular musing of his come to life. The hospital-nurse-dressing-incident just wasn't enough to sate his wild mind with regards to Kazuki's form in female clothing.

In addition, now that he was seeing his ultimate fantasy in the flesh, he wanted to slap himself REALLY hard in the forehead for only recognizing him now. Who would have thought Kazuki had such a deadly feminine figure, anyway? He was even beginning to think up a pickup line…

"Hai…" Kazuki's tone sounded uninterested and gloomy as he turned around to look at Ban, closing his eyes and bracing himself for all the insults he expected to come.

"Oh my GOD! Hevn, what'd you do to him? No way I can function properly around that…that thing!" Ban said, not discretely backing off into a far wall and turning around to face away from Kazuki, not wanting temptation to get the better of him. He slowly counted to ten as he breathed in and out, trying to calm his nasty brain chemicals from kicking in. He felt, more than anything, like laughing his head off at the irony of the situation.

Hevn shot a satisfied look at a blushing Kazuki. "See? I told you, you look perfect! Now get up and get to work, both of you. Make my hard work worth it," Hevn said, forcing the two out of the Honky Tonk.

Ban was last to budge, finding his legs had turned to jelly as the goddess walked past him. "Hevn! How is this part of the job!" he demanded, suddenly remembering how little he knew of the project.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you. You're not the star here, Kazuki is. You're just a 'bodyguard'. Merits you, hmm, around 25 of the total payment, don't worry."

Well, that was gentle. "Minus your 30 share, you mean!" Ban looked like he was ready to cry.

"I figured that's a given… But, well, come on; get your manly ass working!" Hevn slapped him on the back playfully.

Mouth slightly dropping as the whole situation registered, Ban watched her walk past him towards the exit. As if it did him any good, he bellowed angrily at the door. "Why isn't anyone telling me anything these days!"

With that, Ban headed for the door as well, silently muttering something about this job truly being a last resort, and something about Ginji being stupid and destructive and having to pay off a debt from Clayman's gallery, and hospital bills for the blonde's injuries.

---

"Care to tell me the details, princess?" Ban asked mockingly, pulling the brakes in obedience to the red light ahead.

Kazuki, his new partner, had been avoiding his gazes all day. "No thanks," he half-joked, not bothering to follow it up with any excuse for his un-Kazuki-ly behavior.

Ban ignored it. "So, by my 25 part in this assignment, you guys meant for me to be just a driver, is that it? Because frankly, I don't think that's much of an assignment at all," Ban did not drop his sarcasm.

Kazuki sighed an apology, surrendering to the request at hand. "Okay. Where should I begin… how much do you know already?"

Ban pretended to think deeply, then, "Hmmm, let me see… oh, nothing! That's right, I agreed to do something I know nothing of."

He rolled his eyes at the irony, briefly checking Kazuki's reaction via the mirror. "Sure, Hevn told me bits about getting a necklace back from Yokohama—where we're going to tonight—and that's it. I don't even know the client's name, status or even the gender. But then the pay is unbelievably big, too…Come to think of it, really big shot clients almost never show themselves…" he mused thoughtfully.

"For starters," Kazuki began, "the client's a girl. We're getting back a family-inherited necklace from the guy who runs the private casino we're going to visit tonight."

"Ooowkaaayy…"

Kazuki found that he had nothing else to say to his partner's questioning raised eyebrow. "Well, that's it… You were sent to watch out for me, I've been prohibited to bring my strings along."

"Why? Are those strings highly suspicious, do you think?"

Kazuki tried his best not to roll his eyes. Great. Just when Ban finally dropped his much-loved sarcasm, the silly part comes in. "No, Hevn says they're unfashionable."

Those were the magic words. Ban burst out laughing, feeling lighter than he had been feeling all day. The silliness of Hevn's reasoning played back on his head like a broken record, refusing to let up.

When Ban checked to see that he was laughing alone, he stopped. "Okay, so… any plans at all? I mean, how to go about this… We can't just barge in there and beg for the jewelry, you know. And frankly, I don't think he'll keep that necklace in a casino, of all places, so why the hell are we going there?"

"…"

"Do I have to ask the suspect himself?"

Kazuki sighed in defeat. "Promise not to laugh?"

"I don't know abou—okay, okay, I promise," Ban conceded, albeit unwillingly. "How bad can it be?" he mused, more to himself than anybody.

"The plan is to get him to take me home—WATCH OUT!"

Ban swerved in the nick of time, barely missing a lamp post. It was no secret that Ban almost got them both killed because of the raw shock that hit him with what he'd just heard the Strings Master say.

"What?" he spat out, pulling the brakes so abruptly on an empty sidewalk that inertia acted on them more forcefully than necessary. Kazuki bumped his forehead on the back of Ban's seat ungracefully.

He rubbed on the sore spot and sat up properly. "Not that I'm gonna have to do anything with him… I.. he just—I just have to make him like me and then—"

"What do you take me for, an idiot?" Ban snapped. "I know the implications of what you said. Perfectly."

"…"

"What do you expect me to do? Watch and let it happen?" Ban's voice was venomous. "I mean, I don't like you very much but you /are/ a man just like me. You know as well as I do that you weren't born in to the big blue world to exploit your dignity for a few million Yen. Your fuckin' dignity as a man at least. God, this is the Great Plan and you didn't even bother telling me?"

Kazuki was admittedly dumbfounded at Ban's unexpected reaction. Whether he should make it out that Ban truly, genuinely cared for him, or that his manly pride was just as high as Mt. Everest, he didn't know. Nor was he in the position to make such judgments, seeing as that he was partially at fault too.

"I-I'm sorry... I-of course-didn't want to tell you at first. I understand completely how you must feel about this, but… trust me. It's not that bad…at least I try not to make it too bad." He said the last part weakly to himself, wondering if he was speaking the truth.

Ban looked like he was witnessing someone swallowing a live octopus. "Not that bad? Not that bad? For Heaven's holy sake, Ito Maki, are you out of your goddamned mind? Or is it just that you're just /so/ desperate to get laid that you're actually doing this out of your own free accord? I know Juubei's been out somewhere, but you didn't have to—"

"I'd appreciate it if you stopped disrespecting me for once in our lives," Kazuki warned through gritted teeth, his eyebrows furrowing in what was a mixture of hurt and attempts at self-preservation

Ban clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth like he usually did when he was annoyed for being held back when he had more to say. He chewed on his lower lip in frustration, eyes still bloodshot alert.

"I didn't want to be in on this any more than you did, Ban."

Suddenly, the clock on his car that read 7:30 PM seemed like the most interesting invention of the millennium. He kept his eyes glued to it so he wouldn't have to look at the human being he just hurt. After a few silent moments, he let out a thick, heavy sigh of defeat. "I know."

/to be continued

Yeah, I know. It's so-so quality. Not as exciting. But hang on; I've got the next revised chapters in line! Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, please drop a review if you read this. You know, credit for my hard work?