Title: My December
Disclaimer: Not mine. Sadly.
Notes/Warnings: Probably spoilers. Not many warnings for this chapter, except maybe a 'yay!'ness factor at the very end. Longest chapter yet, I think, at nearly 3,800 words. XD
It was the first night he'd spent in Mugenjou in a long time. And while he'd not forgotten how uncomfortable the old, creaky beds could be (certainly less comfortable than the seats in the 360, which he'd grown so used to), his back certainly had and he found himself tossing and turning and, more than once, attempting to sling his arm across a certain grumpy brunette that wasn't beside him.
In fact, it was Ban's absence that woke Ginji in the morning rather than the usual rumble in his stomach... though that was present as well. He shifted, bare feet slipping out from beneath the blankets and locating the floor. After some effort he forced himself to sit up, yawning.
The room was a familiar place; the ceilings were low, the window dusty and its wood paneling cracked in a place or two that made getting it open or closed rather difficult. It was cracked open only a tiny bit to allow in some fresh air amongst the musty walls. It wasn't a five star hotel, but it was nostalgic for Ginji who'd spent eighty percent of his life sleeping in rooms like these. Usually they were a little (lot) more crowded though.
Kazuki always kept by him back in those days, right alongside him while Juubei and Sakura lay on the other side of Kazuki. Shido preferred any place near the window and he liked it open (despite Kazu-chan's protests - he had a thing about windows) so that his cats, birds and mice could get in and out as they pleased. Emishi usually slept sitting up, leaning into Shido, and usually MakubeX would trade off whom he slept near. Sometimes by Sakura, sometimes by Ginji or Kazuki or Shido... It really depended on his mood.
Ginji smiled faintly to himself. Kazu-chan had always been such a warm, comforting presence against his side, one arm slung across his middle, head rested on Ginji's shoulder. He always fell asleep before Ginji, as though staying awake would be disrespectful in some way. He wondered if the thread-user would still do it now.
Ban-chan was different than that, but not in a bad way. He rather liked how his partner would stay awake long after him and watch him sleep. Ban never admitted to it, but he did and somehow, Ginji just knew.
'Ban-chan and Kazu-chan...' he mused quietly. 'They're so different, but alike in a few small ways... Shido and Ban-chan, too.' Maybe it was part of the reason why Ban had felt so familiar to him even when they'd first met. Like warmth and sanity and comfort and home. Every time he missed his friends - missed the Volts, all he had to do was look at Ban and he remembered all over again why he still didn't regret having left Mugenjou those several years ago.
A knock at the door jarred him from his sentimental thoughts and he got up, running a hand back through his sleep-mussed hair. "Come in."
He'd expected MakubeX, or Emishi or even Juubei, and was surprised when a different familiar face peeked in.
The thread-user smiled and slipped inside, shutting (and locking, out of his paranoid little habit) the door. "Good morning. I hope I didn't wake you."
"Nah, I needed to be getting up." He yawned and plunked right back down onto the bed. "How come you're here? Are you visiting Juubei?"
"Sort of." Kazuki grimaced a little. He'd not actually gone to see Juubei or Toshiki yet... but it was on his agenda. They were out on patrols at the moment anyway. "I also came to see you."
"Oh." The blonde blinked and drew his legs up, sitting Indian-style and patting the empty space in front of him. Kazuki took the cue and meandered over, sitting down. "Is everything okay, Kazu-chan?"
"Nn. Everything's fine." What was he supposed to say? 'I'm crushing on your best friend/partner/possibly love interest and I want to know if he's just stringing me along'? All he really wanted was some sort of reassurance that Ban wasn't actually just trying to get him to bed because of some stupid argument with Shido. The fact that he needed to be reassured at all, however, was proof that he didn't trust Ban as much as he thought he did. "I spent yesterday with Ban-kun." There, as good of a place to start as any.
Ginji's face lit up. "Glad to hear it. I was kinda worried Ban-chan would be all alone while I was gone... Is he okay?"
"He misses you." Kazuki lay back, stretched out on his side and facing Ginji.
"I was going to call him..." He sighed and rubbed the back of his head. "But I know he had a job last night and I didn't wanna call while he was in the middle of anything, y'know? I figured he'd call me this morning and let me know he got through it okay."
"You could call him," Kazuki suggested, wanting to ease Ginji's worry - as well as his own. He refused to permit himself to call, but that didn't mean Ginji couldn't.
The blonde worried at his lower lip for a moment, then leaned over and snagged his shorts from the floor to dig the cell phone out of its back pocket. He and Kazuki both stared at it for a minute, as though expecting it to start ringing or doing tricks or something. Finally Ginji hit the first speed dial button and put the phone to his ear.
It must've rang six or seven times before Ban picked up, his voice exhausted and thick with sleep. "'Ello...?"
On the other end, Ban gave a lazy smile, eyes still closed and moving as little as he could so as not to jar his injured shoulder. "Hey, Ginji..."
"You okay? How'd the job go? I didn't mean to wake you up, but Kazu-chan and I were worried and - did you eat breakfast? You should come see me and we can eat together!" He rattled on a moment longer, and Kazuki just smiled faintly.
"Oi, oi, Ginji... Calm down." Ban yawned and grimaced as he attempted to right his seat up. "I'll come see you for breakfast -" Pause. "Threadspool's there?"
"Uh huh. He came to see me." Ginji glanced over with a grin. Kazuki stared at the phone intently.
"...Lemme talk to him," Ban said after a moment. Ginji blinked, but handed the phone over obediently. Kazuki eyed it as though it might bite, taking it slowly.
"Good morning, Ban-kun."
"Yo. ...Things got a little hectic last night. S'why I didn't come by." No apology, of course, but there was a hint of one in his tone. Kazuki had wanted to be angry, just like he'd been that morning, but... it just all seemed to melt away at the sound of Ban's exhausted voice.
"It's alright. Are you well? You don't sound it."
"Nn. Tired. Little sore. I'll be fine."
Frown. "Do you need a doctor?"
Ban started to object, then examined his shoulder as he was peeling off the bandaging.. The skin around the wound was red and sickly looking. Great. The last thing he needed was an infection. "...I'll go see old-man Gen when I get there."
"Juubei can look at you," Kazuki offered. Not that Gen wasn't a wonderful doctor, but Kazuki had always put his faith more in Juubei for such things.
"Sure, whatever. I'll see you guys in a bit - lemme talk to Ginji."
Kazuki handed the phone back over and they proceeded to talk about last night's job, what Ginji had been up to... Kazuki whispered that he'd see Ginji in a bit and the blonde grinned and nodded to him. He could still hear Ginji's excited voice out in the hall, and off he headed to pay a visit to his personal doctor.
Juubei was easy to find with MakubeX's help. Kazuki approached the blind man on a corner near the west exit out of Mugenjou, sneaking up behind him as quiet as he could. His childhood friend had his head lifted, and was even turning it as though he were looking around. Sometimes it was hard to remember that Juubei was blind - until you took him out of Mugenjou, at least.
Still, Kazuki had managed to get up behind him and was reaching out when Juubei turned towards him suddenly, surprised.
"Kazuki." He didn't even make it a question.
The thread-user grinned up at him. "All these years and I still can't sneak up on you."
A rare smile touched the blind man's face and he dipped his head a little, permitting Kazuki's arms around him in a hug. "It's good to see you." Figuratively speaking, at least.
"Likewise. It's been awhile... Walk with me?" Kazuki linked his arm with his best friend's, giving it a tug, and Juubei had no objections to allowing himself to be led off down the street.
Meanwhile, Juubei was taking in as much information as he could about Kazuki. The way he talked, the way he walked (limping? Not much, but a little...), even the sound of his breathing. "Are you well, Kazuki?" He asked worriedly.
"Of course I am." Kazuki gave his arm a pat, then another gentle tug, turning a corner. He figured if he, Ginji and Ban were going to have breakfast, he needed to go find breakfast for them to eat first. He didn't imagine Ginji had any money, and Ban wasn't likely to fork over the cash to feed all three of them. Besides, he would treat Juubei as well, especially since he had a favor to ask him once the pleasantries were over.
"You're limping," Juubei pointed out flatly. "What happened?"
Sigh. "A rough job, that's all. It's feeling a lot better today - just a few bruises."
Juubei's steps halted at that, and his tone was one of worry and almost pleading. "Kazuki... Working alone like this isn't-"
"Isn't safe," he finished. "Yes, I know, I know. You and Toshiki have told me this countless times." He sighed again. "While I appreciate the concern, it's not like I get injured all that often." Bruises, cuts and scrapes came with the job description. But he could count the number of times he'd been really injured on one hand - and this, he hardly counted. Being shot or stabbed, that was a little more serious. Not that he hadn't taken much worse there in Mugenjou, but Outside, without the accelerated healing rate factoring into the equation, a simple stab wound was a lot more serious and took weeks as opposed to hours to heal.
"You could at least take me with you," Juubei continued quietly. And then, because he knew that himself tagging along could quite possibly make things worse he added, "Or Uryuu. He would gladly go." And as much as Juubei didn't like the man, he trusted him to take care of Kazuki at the cost of his own life. They had that much in common, at least.
"I don't work well on these kinds of jobs with others," Kazuki tried to explain patiently, and with another tug managed to at least get Juubei walking again. "I have to be concentrating completely on what I'm doing, not worrying about someone else's safety if something goes wrong. Trust me, if there's ever a job I honestly don't think I can handle alone, I'll take someone with me." And that much was true; he'd worked with Shido a few times - they helped one another out with jobs that were a little too tricky for one person to handle... and even a handful of times he'd gone with Himiko on a transport job to play guide or navigator.
Juubei didn't seem satisfied with the answer, but he dropped it nonetheless and simply nodded curtly. The worry was still written all over his face - subtly, but Kazuki knew his expressions so well that it was plain as day to him.
"...Why don't you look at my leg later? Make sure I'm really okay," he finally offered. The blind man's expression seemed to smooth a little, calming, and he nodded. Finding out for himself that Kazuki was well would placate him for the time being.
"I'm having breakfast with Ginji-san and Ban-kun," Kazuki continued, "if you'd like to join us."
While the idea of sharing Kazuki's attention with others wasn't his idea of fun, Juubei knew any time with Kazuki was good, and so he nodded again. "Midou is here?"
"He will be. I need to pick something up for all of us to eat." He paused. Well, good a time as any to ask. "I think he got himself a little banged up in a job last night... Maybe when he gets here, you could...?"
"I'll examine him."
"You don't mind?"
"As long as I can check your leg first, I don't mind." It was a good compromise, one Kazuki was more than willing to go for. The thread-user smiled up at his companion, gave his arm a squeeze and changed the subject to happier things.
Ban wasn't there yet when they got back, though MakubeX popped in long enough to inform them that he was inside Mugenjou and headed their way. Ginji was eyeing the assortment of food Kazuki and Juubei had brought back with them with a watering mouth, and more then once Kazuki gently smacked his hands away when he'd reached for something.
The table in the room was old and cracked and honestly wouldn't have been too comfortable to sit at. Instead, Ginji sat on his bed, leaning back against the wall with Kazuki on the edge and Juubei sitting on the floor at his feet. It was as good of a place as any so that he could have easy access to Kazuki's leg, and no sooner had the string-user gotten comfortable did he feel a sharp twinge that came from Juubei feeling around.
"Please hold still."
"That hurts." He squirmed a little. Really, by now he could have easily sat still and permitted Juubei to poke and prod at him with as many needles as he wanted, but the exasperated look his doctor got on his face when Kazuki whined and wouldn't stop moving was too cute for words - especially since Juubei knew he was doing it on purpose. The times that Kazuki remained perfectly still and wasn't a royal pain were the times that Juubei knew immediately that something really was wrong.
Juubei's fingers were careful, starting at his knee and working up along his thigh until he felt Kazuki's leg give a small, involuntary jerk of pain. A few moments of silence later and, "You pulled something rather badly."
Kazuki quirked a smile. He could have diagnosed that himself. "Am I going to live?" he asked lightly. Juubei frowned up at him.
"You really should be more careful or you're going to end up tearing something. It was a pulled muscle, but now it's just knotting up because you aren't giving it proper rest. Is it causing you a lot of pain?"
"Some," he admitted. "It's not as bad as it was yesterday."
"I can alleviate some of the discomfort for you, but you'll need to get out of the pants."
Understandable. Using needles through denim jeans wasn't exactly going to work. Kazuki glanced over at Ginji, who was just watching them with a fascinated sort of curiosity. "Can we wait until after breakfast?"
Juubei started to answer, paused, and tilted his head towards the door. He heard Ban coming before either of the others did, and it was a signal for Ginji to go flying off the bed and tackle his partner the second he was through the door.
"Ghk- Get offa me!" Ben squawked indignantly, wind milling to keep from falling back flat onto his ass. He managed to pry the wibbling tare off of him with his uninjured arm after a few attempts, and scowled down at him. "Jeez, you'd think you hadn't seen me in a week."
"I missed you, Ban-chan!" Ginji wailed. Ban cuffed him upside the head, albeit gently, and deposited him right back onto the bed. He then nudged his glasses up his face and turned his attention to Kazuki - disregarding Juubei entirely. Not that Juubei seemed to be paying him any attention either. Kazuki quirked a smile up at him, though his eyes were very obviously looking him over in concern.
"Where are you hurt?"
"Huh? Oh, don't worry about it. Let's eat."
"I smell blood," Juubei tilted his head back a little, and the look that Kazuki gave Ban was enough to make him grumpily give in.
"Just the shoulder. I took care of it myself."
"You told Kazu-chan that you'd let Juubei look at it," Ginji said rather firmly, looking now less interested in the food. His partner's well being always came before food - no matter how good it looked. "Please, Ban-chan?"
That was all it took. Ban scowled, mouth twitching slightly, and he stepped back a little to start unbuttoning his shirt.
The bandages had obviously just been changed before he'd come into Mugenjou, because they were starting to bleed through. Ginji whimpered a little and Kazuki's expression contorted into something more upset than concerned. "It's always the right fucking shoulder," Ban grumbled.
Juubei rose smoothly, gestured to the bed and slid one of his tobari out from where they were snuggly strapped to his forearms. "Please sit down."
Ban eyed him, growled a little but complied after a look from Ginji and Kazuki. He wasn't big on touch (not from men, at least) even on his good days, and being injured was like trying to poke and prod at an injured rottweiler that was having a bad day. Juubei ignored the tiny little snarl of pain as he started pressing around over the bandaged area, and didn't even ask permission before removing the bandages. It was then that Ginji and Kazuki both grimaced.
"And you were telling me to be more careful. What happened?"
"See, Ban-chan! This is why you shouldn't go out on jobs alone!"
"Oh shut up," Ban growled, suppressing another wince. If Juubei could see, it probably would've been a lot easier. It made him think of how Kazuki would come to the blind man for examinations whenever Juubei pleaded enough with him (he was always so worried for Kazuki's health). Everything he did, everything he examined, would all have to be done by touch. Ban found the mere thought of it made him angry, and as a result he gave a growl at Juubei that wasn't a result of the pain at all.
Growls, snarls and hisses ignored, Juubei went on with his examination with a flat expression. When he was done, he drew back and straightened up. "I need to get a few things from my room."
Kazuki started to get up. "Do you need help?"
"No." Juubei frowned in his general direction. "You need to stay off that leg until I tend to it."
"I'll go," Ginji offered, crawling past his partner and slipping off the bed. Juubei didn't object, and so Ginji followed him out of the room, giving one last forlorn look back at the breakfast he was leaving behind.
The door clicked shut and Kazuki and Ban sat in silence for a long moment, Ban toying with the bandages Juubei had removed from his arm, Kazuki just watching him do so.
After a moment... "What happened?"
"Meh. Rough night." He sulkily refused to admit that, yes, perhaps he'd gotten a little too careless. e was so used to having his partner there, after all, that working alone left him slightly off-guard. It was a mistake he wouldn't make again, however. Midou Ban was nothing if not a fast learner.
The thread-user fell quiet again, at a loss for what to say. It took him a few tries to think of anything. "At least it'll heal faster if you're here in Mugenjou. Just stay a few hours and you should be good as new." It occurred to him that Mugenjou was probably the reason his leg was feeling so much better. Within two or three hours, his bruises and other injuries were likely to be a thing of the past. All things considered, the fortress did have its uses.
"As though I'd wanna stay here any longer than I have to," Ban grumbled, toying with the pack of cigarettes lying in his shirt pocket across his lap. He looked like he really wanted to light one up, but it seemed pointless if he was going to have to put it out to eat soon anyway.
"But... if you just stayed until it healed..." Kazuki protested softly, sighing.
Ban's dark gaze flicked towards him. "What're you so worried for, anyway?"
"I'm..." Kazuki sat up a little straighter, feeling his stomach tighten uncomfortably with the question presented. Why was he worried? "I'm not worried. You've taken worse than that before." Okay, so maybe it wasn't a lie. He wasn't really worried anymore, but last night...
He lifted his gaze again, studying the half-lidded smirk now on Ban's face. "Don't look so satisfied with yourself."
"Why not?" Ban rolled his shoulders a little, wincing minimally. "If you're crushing on me so bad, itomaki, you really ought to just say something." His smug expression both intrigued and frustrated Kazuki; made him want to both slap Ban and kiss him.
He settled for the latter, any thoughts of his earlier conversation with Shido out the window and in the gutter. He didn't even remember moving forward, didn't remember putting a hand into Ban's hair to tug him closer so their mouths could meet halfway. All he could remember afterwards was how Ban smelled and felt and tasted and that for once, he was prepared enough for it to do something other than sit there stupidly.
He would also later remember the look on Ginji's face when he and Juubei chose that moment to reenter the room.