Disclaimer : Been there. Done that.
A/N: I originally wanted to end this fic at Chapter 5 on an open-ended level. But honestly, how could I leave Ginji and Natsumi hanging like that? They're just too cute. So the result… is this; pure silliness that I'm not even sure fits in at all with the general theme (not to mention the angst –cringe-). Take it as an epilogue if you will. Oh, and as a Valentine's Day offering, maybe. Warnings galore, hehe.
Big, big thanks to everyone who tuned in and extra hugs to those who left a kind word in passing. I cannot appreciate your thoughtfulness enough. Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it.
Well, time to draw the curtains closed. Enjoy!
VI. Match Point
Ginji yawned and sat at the Honky Tonk counter drumming his fingers on the tabletop. Head kept down limply, his eyes feigned busy attention by skimming the wood veneer's grains aimlessly; tracing the swishes and swirls until his view caught a small scratch of a heart gouged lightly into the varnish with a ballpoint pen. Inside the heart were the names 'Hoshi' and 'Hikari'. 'Star' and 'light' , Ginji thought. How very kismet. No doubt that piece of engraving came from someone who had nothing better to do than to pour out his or her lonely, lovesick heart into a childish scribble that passed for extemporaneous art.
Paul was attracting a lot of those types into his little hole in the wall, so it seemed.
"Eep," Ginji let out an inaudible mouse-like squeak and transferred to another stool where the etching wasn't so visible. He began tap dancing his shoes on the metal footrest. How he wished he didn't have to face what he dreaded – and feared – most…
The morning after.
As the Get Backers waited for Hevn to drop by with a new assignment, Ginji recalled whining, pleading with Ban if it would be possible for them to rendezvous with the agent someplace else; only to be answered with a flat-out "no" and a bonk to the head. Then the blond tried to lock himself inside the bathroom - a useless endeavor really when there was 200kg of force knocking on the opposite side. Ginji finally relented when Ban threatened to dunk his head, and toothbrush, into the toilet. Fine, then. Geez, if he was going to stand before Natsumi eventually, he sure wasn't going to do it smelling like a sewer.
He just didn't expect 'eventually' to mean like, after nine hours.
Natsumi busied herself behind the bar carefully cutting a round, frosted cake into slices while the coffee bubbled nearby. With the only sound in the café being the persistent gurgling and the intermittent scrunching of Paul's newspaper, Ginji was a ticking bomb. He couldn't bear the casual tranquility any longer.
He cleared his throat while nervously twiddling his thumbs. "Did you bake that cake yourself?" He asked the dark-haired teenager reticently. Admittedly, not the greatest conversation starter between potential lovers.
"Mm-hmm," Natsumi coolly hummed, focus un-swayed from her task at hand. " - At three o' clock in the morning, actually. I couldn't sleep much."
"Me neither," Ginji murmured. That was an understatement. Even though he won the right to the bed at the cheap hotel room the retrievers rented, Ginji tossed and turned all night until, ultimately, switching places with a very amused Ban. Apparently, a hard floor was a terrific way to kill any kind of 'romantic' feeling.
Natsumi giggled slightly to herself as she dug about for saucers and some cutlery.
The blond Get Backer wrinkled his brow. Girls sure were strange creatures, he decided. For someone who was supposedly heartbroken and likely sobbed her lungs out for hours, Natsumi seemed calm, collected, and together. Plus, she looked fresh and so pretty, like a girl who'd just come home from a long, relaxing vacation. And last night was no vacation. Well, it was, sort of, until ruined by a ferocious thunderstorm – literally.
Ugh. Ginji didn't get it at all. Was the girl happy they said goodbye before they barely said hello? Did she get over him that quickly? Did she lie in bed and suddenly make up her mind she could definitely do better than a stupid dork and find herself a nice, handsome university-bound chap who didn't even have to take civil service exams? Maybe she called up Mitsuharu Hiroshi (funny that he remembered his name) and took him up on his offer of private tutorial sessions (wink-wink-wink).
Not that he wanted to, but Ginji half-expected Natsumi to be wearing a sack-cloth and rubbing ashes or cow manure or whatever into her hair just like those crazy women in the Bible. Damn it. She should've been making him feel miserable with guilt, instead of making him feel miserable with...
Why, why did she have to go and make herself look so freakin' cute?
As Natsumi turned to check on the coffee, she smoothed down the hem of her shirt over the curve of her taut waist. Her lavender knit top was a short-sleeved one-off-shoulder thing with a single spaghetti strap draped across her bare alabaster shoulder, marking a spot between her neck and shoulder blade that, Ginji swore, just begged to be kissed.
The more he stared, the more he began to fall. Sure, he'd seen Natsumi before in significantly less on a few of the gang's beach and hot springs excursions, but he found it curiously intriguing how much more enticing a flash of skin became when there was a promise of possession.
And it didn't help that she also had on tight, hip-hugging jeans that nicely showed off her shapely, endless legs. Ginji hadn't told anyone (for not even Ban had discussions like that with him, probably thinking Ginji wasn't capable of getting any of it anyway) but he was never really a breast man like his notoriously lecherous partner was. For him it was all about a beautiful, smiling face and miles and miles of limbs. And boy, he just realized, did Natsumi have a fabulous pair of legs on her. Long and limber like a dancer's, he imagined how slinky they'd be wrapped around…
Natsumi leaned forward to push a cup of coffee in front of him, disrupting Ginji's rapidly de-evolutionizing, degenerating train of thought.
She smiled daintily.
He did a double-take.
Oh, he thought. Ohhh… Was he mistaken in noticing a touch of gloss on her lips?
He peered again and forgot to look away. No. Red heat flushed up his cheeks.
"Sugar?" Natsumi offered. It appeared to him as though she mouthed the word in syrupy slow motion.
Yes, yes. Please, yes! "Sure." Ginji's curt, no-nonsense answer contrasted sharply with the nearly orgiastic responses screaming from his mind, his nerves, and goodness knows where else. His heavy, half-lidded eyes were drawn hypnotically to those lips, which he remembered were his, briefly. Unconsciously, he lurched slightly into that vision, which kind of reminded him of a luscious, glistening, jewel-toned piece of watermelon-coloured hard candy; heavenly sweetness which he'd pop into his mouth and slowly suck on…
Damn! What the hell! Ginji finally snapped out of his wet daydream. Without warning, he slapped his face hard and leapt off his seat like a scalded cat.
Natsumi jumped away from him in alarm. "Gin-chan?" She lightly bit on his object of fantasy in puzzlement.
No, no. Don't do that. Ginji sighed inwardly. With caution, he felt if there was blood dripping down his nose again. Thankfully, no. He'd hate to explain to Natsumi why he kept bleeding from there, to tell her some little white lie that he was sick, as in some disease; and not sick, sick. The Get Backer paced a few steps to and a few steps fro, not knowing where to go. He thought of heading to the bathroom, for even though he just had a shower, he felt he badly needed another. A very cold one.
He glanced over to the farthest corner of the bar at Ban, who merely saluted and smirked knowingly. Ginji made a face at his friend, swearing he'd kill or at least taser a few hundred thousand volts into the unsympathetic snake for not wanting to wait somewhere or anywhere else but here.
"Oh, um… it was just a mosquito. Yeah. It's dead now," he replied, rubbing his cheek. Timidly, the blond dredged his feet and sat back down, positing his slightly-puffy-from-last-night's-crying eyes on the coffee cup. Caffeine. Caffeine… That might work. Picking the ceramic cup swiftly, he chugged the steaming liquid down in one gulp.
"Aaaaghh…" Ginji mumbled in agony as he slammed the cup into its saucer and covered his parboiled mouth.
"Are you sure you're okay? That was a freshly brewed cup you just drank there," Natsumi warbled her concern. But her gleaming puffy-from-last-night's-crying eyes were starting to laugh. She had attempted to hide them behind a pair of round, violet glasses that were exactly like Ban's; but they hardly covered even half of the ridiculously huge chrome Chinese stress balls of her eyes.
Ginji looked into those mocking eyes, which were now tinctured with whirls of lilac mist – just like Akabane's, he thought, except larger, softer, and – hey, why was he associating Natsumi with Jackal anyway?
The high school girl chuckled.
Of course. To his chagrin, turns out both took precious amusement in watching him suffer. Greatly, he might add.
"I'm… I'm fine," Ginji whimpered. Fine in that he had effectively quashed his overactive libido. Not fine, for he practically had to maim himself, burn half his mouth off to do so. "Really." He took a deep breath of relief as the waitress handed him a glass of ice water.
All that fantasizing about bonbons made him remember the bag Natsumi left in the elevator. He reached into his pocket. "Natsumi-chan, I think you forgot this…"
She clapped her hands as Ginji slid over his gift reluctantly. "Oh! Is it the candy? I knew I dropped it. I searched the elevator and the whole lobby last night…" The girl exclaimed radiantly. She then tilted her head upon seeing a brown, charred, caramelized, shapeless chunk of … something. "Um… What is that?"
"I'm sorry, Natsumi-chan. It kinda got… struck by lightning?" He shrugged sheepishly.
She examined the thing in her hand in silence. Being the Pollyanna that she was, though, she saw in it what nobody else could possibly see. Natsumi thought it looked like a heart. Not a Valentine's heart, mind you; but a human heart – preserved and pickled and out of its brine. She erupted into snickers.
Ginji pouted like a kicked puppy.
"This is the funniest, weirdest, most adorable piece of candy I've ever seen!" She clutched the lump to her own heart. Natsumi didn't know what had happened to Ginji after he left her apartment, but she figured him getting hit by lightning had something to do with their little affair. And since this was the human electric power plant here and not some ordinary bloke who would've been roasted to a crisp if zapped by millions of volts; Natsumi thought it was very sweet and touching of him to have to go through all that just for her – in a morbid kind of way.
" – and because it's from you, I'll cherish it always."
Ginji face-faulted. "Really? You sure? You're not, eh, offended? I can give you something else if you want." His doe eyes blinked contritely.
Violet specs slipped down her button nose as she shook her head. Like what, another kiss? Her irises twinkled mirthfully. Instead, Natsumi playfully mussed up his hair and set down a slice of chocolate fudge cake and a bowl of whipped cream for him. "Don't be silly. Besides, to quote that English saying, 'It's the thought that counts', ne?" she assured. "Now eat your cake."
Ginji smiled at her gratefully, tickled pink at how charmingly bossy she sounded, almost like – and not that he was an expert or anything – a wife. If marriage was something similar to having cake everyday, maybe he wouldn't mind it at all, he thought.
"Hey, you know? I sort of feel out of place with all of you guys wearing dark glasses…" Ginji unhooked his night vision goggles from his steel retractable belt and slipped them around his head and over his eyes. "Will this do?"
With his yellow locks, the boy uncannily resembled a bumblebee; and buzzed about for his cake like one, too.
Natsumi laughed. "Can you even see what you're doing, Gin-chan?"
"No, not really." Ginji pitched his fork around, fumbling until he hit something soft.
Giggling further, the perky teenager called out to the blond's best friend. "Ban-san, do you want some cake?"
"Nah. I'm all right," he replied lazily. Ban wasn't one to care about adolescent concepts such as cuteness, but he had to admit Ginji and Natsumi made a damn cute couple if there ever was one.
The Honky Tonk owner wasn't too convinced, though.
Paul pretended to be thoroughly engrossed in his morning paper when, all the while, his nose was buried deep into its fold, black shades spying surreptitiously over the top edge. He didn't even notice his cigarette just burned a hole right into the forehead of the Japanese Prime Minister, making him look like he'd been blasted through by a shotgun.
"Er… Paul?" Ban pointed.
The barkeep frowned, pulled the paper away from his face and noisily flapped it out into a makeshift screen shielding them from the flirting youngsters. "Just look at her. I mean, what is that she's wearing? And why?" He hissed.
Ban sloppily slumped into the counter, head nested drowsily in folded arms. "So? Kid looks nice, if you ask me."
"You didn't have anything to do with this, did you?" Paul wondered skittishly, accusingly.
"What are you blaming me for? You're the one who suggested Natsumi should go with us to the festival in the first place," the spiky-haired retriever sneered back, finding it a hoot how all this was making the redhead crap his pants.
"Hmph! So she could have fun, not so she could have fun," Paul groaned. "Damn it! She's only seventeen. If I find out she and your partner…"
Ban was having a little fun of his own torturing his creditor. "What's the big friggin' deal? If you happen to forget, this is innocent, dumb dopey were talking about here." He smirked. "Or would you rather it was me over there instead of him?"
"Good lord, no!" he balked, thankful for small mercies. "But since Ginji's slowly taking after you in the deviant department, it might just as well be you."
"Thanks a lot. I so try to be a good role model," Ban snorted. He picked his head up and snooped out the side of Paul's stupid paper wall.
Something to live for, indeed, the Jagan master thought as he watched Natsumi at her subtle game. The girl was a fighter. A look and peek here, a touch and taste there. He smiled imperceptibly, pleased at how Natsumi was cleverly showing Ginji what he was missing and what would be waiting for him once he got his life in order; giving him an additional incentive to come back from the last battle safe and alive – no matter what the obstacles…
No matter what happened to him.
Because as Get Backers, they never really knew.
So now, Ginji had someone else to live for. It gratified Ban to no end that, finally, he had ceased to be the only one; knew his best friend would never have to face being alone.
Ginji finished his plate of cake and raved enthusiastically. "That was delicious, Natsumi-chan." He put his hands together in a begging gesture. "You think I can have the whole cake? Please?"
"No, you can't." She swatted his hands teasingly as she held up Ginji's bag of toys. "But… If you help me put up your stuffed animals, I might give you another slice."
"Sure! I'm game. What do you want me to do?" he piped up brightly.
Natsumi then noticed something. Squinting, she blurted out, "Um, Gin-chan, you have… on your…" She motioned a hand to her lips.
"Oh," Ginji muttered. He swiped a napkin off the holder, but before he could bring it up, Natsumi bent close to him, steadied his face in her cupped hand and scolded gently, eye-to-eye.
"Tsk, tsk. You're quite the messy eater, aren't you?" And with that, she used the tip of her middle finger to softly smear the dab of whipped cream off his bottom lip. For a split-second, it hovered tantalizingly over Ginji's lips and he wondered deliriously what he was supposed to do.
But Natsumi solved that dilemma for him as she straightened up and coquettishly lifted her finger to her own lips and quickly licked the cream off. Smiling innocently, she then turned her back and began taking toys out of the paper bag.
Ginji pushed the goggles to the top of his head and blinked widely in disbelief.
With ponytail bobbing flirtatiously, Natsumi spun her head around and sing-songed, "Your cake is waiting."
"Cake. Right," Ginji droned, slightly in shock. Clumsily, he climbed behind the counter to join her.
Paul wrenched away in horror from his improvised cigarette burn peephole and roughly fanned out his newspaper into a shield again, almost ripping it in half.
"Ban! Did you see ! Where… where… where the hell did Natsumi learn that?" he stammered. Abandoning the paper, Paul tore off his bandanna and wiped the beads of sweat collecting on his forehead behind the red curls. "This is. Not. Good…"
Ban knew an opportunity for extortion when he saw one. "That's nothing. Last night, they went up to her house and her dad wasn't home…" he cackled.
The snake found himself talking to Paul's hand. "Shut it.! I don't need to know –" What was the point of ignorance being such bliss when imagining things would drive you crazy anyway? "All right! I'll cut a hundred grand from your tab. Just - just keep an eye on them, for chrissakes!"
"Hmmm… I'm not sure if I can spare an eye, these being precious commodities and such…"
"Half!" he roared.
"Deal." With a puckering sound, Ban dramatically popped his cigarette out of his smug mouth.
Paul opened the freezer door and frantically stuck his head into its chilly confines. "It always starts out like this. And then, boom! Before you know it, they'll be sneaking into the backroom, and… and…" he babbled mournfully into the frosty mist. "… Shit. Her father's going to kill me, I know it… Gonna throw me off a skyscraper…"
Sucker. Ban laughed.
Everything was going to turn out just fine.
Ginji helped Natsumi climb down the step ladder. Pulling back, the two leaned on the counter and inspected their handiwork of lining up the toys on top of Paul's wine cabinet. Ginji needed a temporary place to crash his pets until that time he and Ban found a pad for themselves to crash into. The Get Backers being the Get Backers, however; that wasn't anytime soon. The Honky Tonk was as good a home as any.
"We need to win you some more animals, don't you think?" Natsumi suggested. She tugged on Ginji's sleeve. "I know. They have lovely toys over at the amusement park. We should go sometime."
"What a great idea!" he agreed lavishly. "That way, we can enjoy the rides as well."
"And this time, we won't let Ban-san out of our sight," she chuckled, though with a determined, sneaky edge to her voice. "Who knows, we might even hook him up with someone…"
"…in the Tunnel of Love," Ginji whispered.
"No way!" Natsumi gasped at the sheer impossibility of getting Ban inside that cheesy ride – with a date, no less. She kicked Ginji's sneaker for thinking up such an absurd plot. He kicked hers in return. Squealing with laughter, the youngsters played footsie for a while until Natsumi almost tripped. Instinctively, Ginji threw an arm around her waist to brace her, eliciting fond reminiscences in both of them of an intimacy that could've been, should've been, would've been. Instead, he sinuously glided his arm away and tucked his hands underneath the eaves of the bar.
Ginji glanced up at the menagerie contemplatively. "You know, I still have to win a toy for myself – a big, nice one. I was thinking of a pure white cat…" His gaze dropped and settled on the high school student's delicate, serene face. The blond's left hand emerged from behind his back as if in a summons. "… to go with your teddy bear."
"And are you sure you can win her for yourself?" Natsumi smiled, her right hand drifting magnetically away from her side.
"Aa. My luck is already changing as we speak," Ginji drawled confidently.
At his last word, the tips of their fingers met and caressed ephemerally, a touch of parts in lieu of the whole. Hidden away from prying eyes, and even from the view of a castle that peered through the window; Natsumi's slender hand molded snugly into Ginji's, fingers entwined in perfect coupling.
A promise to finish what had been started.
The young pair traded wide-open gazes that shone with hope. To Natsumi's delightful discovery, Ginji's hand was not merely the pocket of friendly warmth and solace she had felt the previous night on the bridge. Now, there was a spark, a tingle, however slight; of expectation, anticipation; the seductive vibe of a suitor's touch. The only thing, really, she had wanted from him since the start.
And it made her happier still to know that they were willing to give each other so much more.
For that was all Ginji and Natsumi needed at the moment. They would not play for the small prizes, worth a trifle, a perfunctory kiss, or a night of passion without promise; but for the big ticket items worth a lifetime of their dreams, a future, and infinite security. Ginji and Natsumi knew that if they saved their pennies, played the right numbers and used their trump cards for last; the odds would be in their favour that someday, they would win not just a windfall of prizes they had long wanted, but the whole jackpot…
Ginji tilted forward and touched his forehead to Natsumi's, giving her the most peaceful and contented of smiles.
… A prize so special, it was worth waiting for.
A/N2: I hope this (innuendo-rife) chapter of fluffy nonsensemade up for the angst. Special thanks goes to Rabid Lola for suggesting the use of Ginji's toys to decorate the Honky Tonk. :D
Rabid Lola : You've been much too kind with that first line of your review. So, guess what? It's all downhill from here. ARGH! Hehe.
I know, I've made Ban angsty/fatalistic on this fic, having him realize how heavy his curse is to bear. But the way things are going in the manga, it kinda fits (Have you read the latest Voodoo Child summaries? Looks like he's going to have to face his own ? soon. Wah! Can't get any more tragic than that T.T).
That section about Ban and dreams is actually worth a one-shot fic. Might try out something with it. :)
You know, I've always acknowledged the slashy tendencies of GB, being a bishounen series and all; but I try to portray how much Ban and Ginji "love" each other without them being yaoi, because their indebtedness to each other is far beyond sexual. I'm glad you think that point somehow comes across in my fic. Thanks!
The perverted discussions? Yeah. Boys will be boys. And in this chap, Ginji is such a boy, hehe. Bad Ban-chan, rubbing off on Ginji like that. BONK!
Endless : THANK YOU for sharing that little present. I LOVE it! No, I'm not offended at all. You had me giggling like an idiot for hours (especially since Natsumi is still wearing an apron through it all hahahaha). Yes, I'm so twelve. Did you create those chars yourself? Good resemblance. In fact, I'm kinda imagining those frames as an alternate ending to Chapter 4. You know, what would happen if Natsumi actually invited Ginji into her house? Right (snickers). Unfortunately I don't play The Sims. (small voice) Do you have more? Just kidding. :D Hope you liked this ending. Cheers!
hikari : Yup. They're okay. Hope you liked this chapter. Thanks for tuning in!
Nisha : Hallo! Thanks for your very kind words. How do I come up with this stuff? It isn't so hard with Ban's character since I'm quite a lot like him (with a bit of Akabane mixed in. Eek!). Oh, and the testosterone-jacked loser dorks is something you should beware of, especially if they're wielding leaf blowers in autumn. Tip: wear pants, or else a stacked-heel boot you can conveniently plant into the middle of said loser-dorks' foreheads, hehe. (wink)
limelie: With regard to my question on "I'm Still Here", I don't mind waiting for your reply. I really don't want to keep a genius 13-year-old from her studies, hehe. So you see yourself as Ban in this fic? Okay, I owe you a Prozac (wink). I'm sorry you had to start all over again with your summary. And yes, I agree with you on Himiko. I don't know what the creators' beef is with her, but she gets more nekkid than Hevn, for crying out loud. And she's only 16! And now in the Voodoo Child Arc they're turning her into a kook. Aye-yi-yi. Thanks for the RR.
machanbanlover : It's a love triangle, but the only romantic angle here refers to GinjiNatsumi. Ban's 'love' here is more um, sacrificial: ) BanxHimiko? Hmm… I have a series coming up (hopefully) that might… could… well, we'll see. Don't know when I'll be able to put it up. Wait for it, ok? Thanks for reading. Hope you liked this ending.
YunCyn : Thank you! I hope this is happy enough an ending for a fic of this kind. As for Ban, I think he's pleased he could do something for his best friend despite the circumstances.
May I be allowed to use this space to tell you I think you're a talented writer and that I look forward to more of your work. :D Cheers!
So I'll see you when I see you next. You've been a great audience. Till then, signing off. Bye:D