Disclaimer: Twenty-seven chapters, and I still don't own GB.


XXVII. Al Fine

There she was by the door, wearing a beige trench coat that seemed a little too large for her.

Mido Ban exploded.

"YOU!"

He suddenly got up from the bar stool and lunged at Iarra, aiming for her throat. She swiftly sidestepped to the left to avoid his attack, and he ended up breaking the glass in between one of the wooden grids on the door.

Wan Paul sweat-dropped at the sight of more broken glass on the floor.

Iarra smirked at Ban, saying, "I kinda expected that." She then gave Paul an apologetic look. "Well, not the broken glass."

Ban suddenly pulled his arm out of the hole in the door and attacked again, catching her neck with his right hand and pushing her hard against the doorframe.

"Ban-chan!" Amano Ginji exclaimed as he stood up and rushed towards them.

Before Ban could say a word, he felt something sharp nudge him under his chin.

It was the tip of one of Iarra's silver daggers.

She had already dropped the origami plane to the floor, and with her right hand, was gripping the handle of her dagger straight up, her knuckles pressed against his chest as the tip of the blade prodded the soft flesh under his chin. With the smirk still on her face, she said, "Glad to see you up and about and no longer paralyzed."

"Oi, oi oi!" Paul waved his hands frantically. "No fighting in my cafe!"

With her dark brown eyes still locked onto Ban's fiery blue ones, she responded to Paul. "He started it."

Unfazed by the blade at his throat, Ban roared, "You've got some NERVE showing up here!"

She looked back at Ban calmly, then said, "Boy, you're really mad."

"And rightfully so!" He growled, very much irritated by her statement of the obvious. "What the hell are you doing here, Dagger Freak?"

Instead of answering his question, she asked with a sly smile, "Is this how you thank someone who just saved you from being frozen to death?"

Ban gritted his teeth.

"Stop it, you two!" Paul barked. He pointed at Iarra, saying, "You!" He then motioned to her dangerous-looking weapon. "Put that away before somebody gets hurt."

Iarra scowled. "Sure," she answered the cafe owner. "Just get this thing off me first."

Calling Mido Ban a 'thing' was not exactly the way to placate the retriever's anger. Ban tightened his grip around her neck, making her grimace.

"Ban-chan! Let her go!" Ginji said. He then put his hand on his partner's extended right arm in an effort to calm him down. "She came back here for a reason. Don't you wanna hear what it is?"

Ban didn't answer, but continued to glare at the ex-Dark Fleet agent. The swelling in her left cheek was still there but had gone down substantially, and the split in her lip was already dry. Needless to say, she seemed to have already recovered from her injuries.

She met his glare with that annoying triumphant look in her dark brown eyes. Ginji was not going to let Ban squash her throat, and she knew it.

The dark-haired retriever grumbled under his breath, narrowed his eyes, then finally released his grip on her neck. He watched unsympathetically as she coughed, letting the air rush back into her lungs. She then pulled back the bottom part of her oversized trench coat to put her dagger back into its sheath.

With anger still in his blue eyes, he fired questions at her one after another. "So what's the reason? Did you come here to gloat? Is that what it is? Did you really think you could steal the ring and get away with it?"

She looked up at him, meeting his furious gaze for a moment before her lips turned up into a smile. "You mean, this ring?" She held up her bandaged left hand, which had fished the bloodstone ring from inside the pocket of her coat.

Ban's scowl deepened. He looked back at her with distrust in his eyes, swiped the ring quickly from her hand, then held it up to his face. Ginji took another step towards him, and together, they took a closer look at the ring. Yes, it was the bloodstone ring, alright.

Ban flicked his eyes over to Iarra to give her a suspicious look. "I thought you said you weren't after the ring."

She was still rubbing the sore spot on her neck where Ban's hand clamped around when she said, "I wasn't."

The irritated look came back into Ban's eyes. "Then why the hell did you steal it?"

"I didn't steal it," she said defensively. "I just borrowed it."

"Borrowing means you ask first."

"No, borrowing means you'll be returning it, which is what I'm doing right now."

Ban narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest. "Explain," he demanded.

"Of course," she said, smiling. "But before I do that..."

She walked past Ban and Ginji farther into the cafe. She took off the trench coat, revealing the same clothes that she was wearing from the mission - the beaded bodice, the ripped pants. The cuts on her arms were still there but were now also dried up. She dropped the coat into one of the booths and plopped herself down on the seat.

"I don't know about you guys, but I am tired," she said as she exhaled loudly. "Haven't gotten any sleep at all." She looked up at Paul. "I hope that offer for a cup of coffee still stands."

The high school waitress, who had been staring at the newcomer, quickly stood up to respond.

Ban and Ginji then made their way to the booth to sit across from Iarra, with Ban glaring at the ex-Dark Fleet agent along the way.

Iarra just met his glare with an irritatingly sweet smile. She then looked up at the young waitress who had just set down a steaming cup of coffee in front of her. "Thanks, ummm.."

"Mizuki Natsumi," the high school girl said.

"Thanks, Natsumi. Pleased to meet you. I'm Iarra."

With a slight bow, Natsumi replied, "Pleased to meet you, too, Iarra-san."

"Sorry about that little... " Iarra had a slightly embarrassed look on her face as she motioned to the door "... episode."

"It's okay." Natsumi smiled. The look on her face seemed to indicate that she had been around the Get Backers long enough to know that semi-violent episodes like that were not all that uncommon in this cafe.

The waitress then set two more mugs of coffee in front of the retrievers. Iarra noticed that written on one of the mugs were the words The Invincible Man – For the Use of Mido Ban-sama. She raised an eyebrow at the 'Invincible Man' and gave him an amused look that said, 'Seriously?'

The 'Invincible Man' just crossed his arms over his chest and glared, waiting impatiently for the former Dark Fleet agent's explanation.

Paul, on the other hand, groaned internally as he looked at the pieces of broken glass on the floor. With a sigh, he then moved from behind the counter to clean up the new mess.

"So," Iarra finally said as she warmed her hands around her coffee cup. "Have you talked to your client at all?"

Ginji nodded, then answered, "He cancelled the job."

"And I take it that you know why," Ban, whose glare had grown more sharp, added.

Instead of replying, she brought the cup close to her lips and let her elbows rest on the table. "Don't you think it's a little weird that he just lost interest in finding his supposed heirloom?"

"So he lied about the ring," the spiky-haired retriever said in response. "That makes two of you."

"I didn't lie." She then muttered, "Withheld the truth, maybe." She looked back at them. "But I didn't lie. The ring really wasn't my target." She then took a sip of coffee from her cup.

Ban sighed exasperatedly. "Then why the HELL did you steal it?"

"Borrowed," she corrected him. "I didn't steal it, Mido. I borrowed it."

"Just get to the point, Dagger Freak."

She scowled at the rudeness, but complied. "I wasn't after the ring. I was after what was inside the ring."

Ban and Ginji stared at her with puzzled looks on their faces.

She brought the cup back down on the table. "Here, let me show you." She then held her right palm out.

Ban looked down at her palm, then back up at her eyes. Normally, Ban would have moved the ring away, far from her clutches. The fact that the ring really didn't have that much value anymore after the client's cancellation made him decide to drop it - reluctantly - into her hand, but not without giving her another suspicious glare, at which she just rolled her eyes.

Iarra closed her palm, then flicked her wrist to hold the ring with her thumb and index finger. She brought it closer to her face, and with the thumb and index finger of her bandaged hand, pressed the sides of the mount where the bloodstone sat. The bloodstone opened up, revealing a small compartment.

"Pretty neat, huh?" The ex-agent smiled at the retrievers as they stared at the hollow cavity that was behind the bloodstone.

"You said you were after what was inside the ring," Ban said, his gaze going back to Iarra.

"Yes."

"I don't think you meant air."

She smiled again as she answered his implied question. "There was another gem hidden inside the ring - a synthetic gem created by a scientist named Otsuka Roku." She paused. "He was murdered three days ago."

"Who killed him?" Ginji asked, his eyes wide.

"Nobody knows right now," she answered as she slowly shook her head. "But it was somebody who wanted the gem really badly."

Ban frowned. "So why would anybody kill for that gem?"

Iarra looked at him for a moment, then asked, "Have you heard of the YAG gemstone?"

Ban nodded. "Yttrium Aluminum Garnet."

Ginji blinked confusedly at his partner. "What?"

Ban took a sip of his coffee, then explained. "YAG is an acronym. It stands for Yttrium Aluminum Garnet. It's a man-made gemstone. It was used to simulate diamonds before cubic zirconia was created." He then looked back at Iarra. "Now it's mainly used in lasers."

Iarra, who was smiling at his short discourse, said, "Correct." She took another sip of coffee, then continued, "There's a great deal of research going on right now on the use of high-powered lasers as directed energy weapons. It's a great challenge, since the heat generated in these things causes so many problems, but...," She paused. "... FIRESTRIKE has demonstrated that it is possible. (1)"

Ban stared at her for a moment as he tried to make sense of what she was saying. "They wanna use gems for laser weapons," he finally said, then frowned. "So this synthetic gemstone was like YAG?"

"In a lot of ways, yes," she answered. "Roku-san called it... Heaven's Jewel, due to its almost miraculous ability to amplify energy. The only difference with YAG is..." She frowned, then corrected herself, "The big difference with YAG is... When Heaven's Jewel was used in lasers, it produced energy levels that turned out to be..." She paused again as she thought about the right words to use. "... stunningly high."

The tone in her voice made Ban wonder what she meant, so he asked, "What's stunningly high?"

"Too high." She paused again, then looked directly into the eyes of the retrievers as she said, "Like a nuclear bomb."

The retrievers stared back at her.

Her gaze dropped down to her mug as she continued. "Roku-san lost both of his parents in the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima." She slowly shook her head as she said softly, "He couldn't bear the thought of causing, by the work of his own hands, the same loss and pain that he had experienced..."

She noticed Ginji's eyes flicker slightly as they moved towards his own gloved hands, and the twinge of sadness in those chocolate brown eyes told her that she must have triggered some painful memories.

"Once he realized what his creation was capable of," she continued, her gaze now shifting to Ban's bright blue eyes. "... he took it upon himself to destroy it and all information related to it. He wiped his hard drives clean, shredded and burned his notes... and was able to successfully destroy two of the three gems."

"Two of the three," Ban repeated, frowning. "So the remaining one was in that ring?"

She nodded, then held up the opened bloodstone ring. "Several people expressed their interest in Heaven's Jewel - governments... and big-time criminal organizations. But before Roku-san could destroy it, the last Heaven's Jewel was stolen, and he was killed in the process."

She paused, and her gaze dropped down once again to the cup in front of her. Ban noticed her swallow, as if there was a lump in her throat. She then took a deep breath before continuing.

"I've been following this gem's trail for the past three days, and I found out that the Yakuza was planning to use the gem to forge an alliance with Dark Fleet. With Dark Fleet's resources, it would only be a matter of time before nuclear-like laser weapons could be created and sold in the black market."

Ban leaned back in his seat, his mind churning out unpleasant possibilities of what could've happened if the alliance pushed through.

"That's why it was very important for that deal not to go through," Iarra, who was watching Ban's expression, said. "I was hoping that I could stop it back at the hotel last night." She muttered, "That way, I wouldn't have to deal with Dark Fleet." She then looked pointedly at Ban and Ginji. "But surprise, surprise. Guess who I bumped into and messed everything up."

The dark-haired retriever snorted. "You could've just told us what you were really after. That would've made things simpler, wouldn't it?"

She shook her head, saying, "I couldn't tell you about the gem. The less people that knew about it, the better." She then motioned to the ring in her hand. "Besides, I didn't know at the time that Heaven's Jewel was inside this thing. It just dawned on me later, when we first met Yosuke and he mentioned that the ring was already with Shimo. Plus..." She closed her palm as she raised her cup to her lips again. "I didn't know who you were working for."

"Didn't," Ban repeated, noting the past tense. "But you do now."

She looked back at those bright blue eyes and knew that even though it wasn't a question, the retriever wanted her to elaborate. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but it appears to me that you have no friggin' idea who you were working for."

Not wanting to admit it, Ban just bore his piercing blue eyes into her.

Her smile grew smug, and it annoyed Ban how she could tell that he was absolutely clueless about who the Get Backers' client really was.

"Like I said, I've been following this gem's trail for the past three days," she said. "So I knew that the Yakuza stole it from this guy that works for an automobile company. That's your client, right?"

Ginji, who had been sipping his own cup of coffee, nodded.

"Well..." She took a sip herself before continuing, "His real bosses are the 14K." At Ginji's confused look, she continued, "They're one of the largest Triads based in Hong Kong, and they're also the most active internationally. (2)"

The blond stopped and stared at Iarra. "So that's why he cancelled the job. He must've found out that the Yakuza no longer has the gem."

"That's right," she said, nodding back at Ginji.

"Damn," Ban muttered. To think that they almost helped those thugs create nuclear-like weapons. The spiky-haired retriever shuddered at the thought. He then brought his suspicious eyes back to the ex-Dark Fleet agent. "You said that the less people that know about the gem, the better. Why are you telling us all this now?"

"Because the gem no longer exists," she replied simply.

"You mean you destroyed it?" Ginji asked.

"I'd like to say yes, but it wasn't me who actually did it. Yosuke did most of the work," she answered. "That was what we've been trying to do since this morning. Destroying that gem wasn't as simple as crushing the damn thing."

The confused look on Ginji's face prodded her to elaborate. "The chemical bonds within the gem's crystal structure had to be broken, and Roku-san created this device that could do exactly that, but... I had no idea how that thing worked. Hoshi-san had no idea how that thing worked. It was Yosuke who figured it out." She smiled at Ginji. "You weren't kidding when you said that the kid's a genius."

"He is!" The blond then frowned. "But who's Hoshi-san?"

"Otsuka Hoshi. Roku-san's widow." She paused again before saying, "My client." She took another sip of coffee. "After Roku-san's death, she contacted me asking for help."

"Contacted you." Ban suddenly interrupted. So there WAS a way to contact her. "You mean she called you?"

"Yes," she answered.

"So you DO have a phone number."

She stared at Ban for a while, unsure of exactly what he was getting at. After a long pause, she asked, "Yeah. Do you want it?"

Ban felt blood rush to his face as he realized that his statement made it sound like he was asking for her number. "Well," he grumbled. "It would've been really handy right after you ran off with the ring."

Before Iarra could say anything, Ginji asked, "So where is Yosuke now?"

Iarra turned from staring at Ban and moved her eyes over to Ginji. "He's with Hoshi-san." She then smiled. "He's in Sleepsville, to be exact. Which isn't a bad place to be right now if you ask me." She stretched out her arms, then stifled a yawn. "I'm exhausted." She looked back at Paul and Natsumi and gave them both a smile. "That was really good coffee. Thank you."

"You're welcome," Paul said.

She then placed the bloodstone ring on the table in front of Ban, then said, "Here's the ring. Even though you didn't get paid, you still have your 100% success rate, so..." She smiled wryly, "... congratulations."

"Thanks," Ban responded just as sarcastically. "This is ALL because of you."

She chuckled, then reached for the beige trench coat that was on the seat beside her. She saw Ban's blue eyes flit over to the trench coat, then back to her.

"What?" She asked him.

"What's with the coat?" Ban asked.

"What do you mean?"

"It's not yours," he remarked. "Did you steal it, too?"

Irked by the question, she gave him an annoyed look, then asked, "What makes you say that?"

She slid her arm inside one of the oversized sleeves, and the spiky-haired Get Backer gave her a look that said 'Duh'.

She chuckled, then said, "If you really must know... I borrowed it from Hoshi-san. I didn't think it was a good idea to walk around Tokyo in broad daylight looking like this." She motioned to her black beaded bodice, the cuts on her arms, and the daggers at her hips.

"Tch." Ban snorted. "I've seen some cosplayers dress more horribly than that."

Iarra raised an eyebrow. "You think I can pass as a horrible cosplayer." An amused smile now tugged at the corners of her lips. "And if somebody asks, what character am I supposed to be?"

"That's easy," the spiky-haired retriever said with a snicker. "Some psycho knife-wielding zombie chick."

"Haha," she said sarcastically. "You should know by now that these aren't knives, Mido. They're daggers." She then frowned. "Do I really look like a zombie?"

Ban found it funny that she didn't protest the 'psycho' part. "Well," he started. "The bloodshot eyes are a nice touch."

She chuckled this time. "Well, I could've gone straight home for a hot shower and much needed shuteye time, but I thought I'd be nice and give you answers as soon as possible, so forgive me for my zombie-like appearance. Anyway..." She slid her other arm in the coat, then took another sip of coffee. "I need to go now. This zombie needs some rest."

"Iarra-chan."

She looked back at Ginji.

"Now that Dark Fleet knows you're still around, do you think they'll be looking for you?"

Iarra thought for a while, then answered, "Most likely."

"So what're you gonna do now?" Ginji asked again.

The blond Get Backer was actually concerned about her well-being, she realized with wonder as she looked back into those chocolate brown eyes. No wonder Yosuke had so much respect for his former Emperor.

"Disappear, I guess?" She then smiled. "You could say that I'm pretty good at that."

"Yeah, we know," Ginji said as he remembered their fruitless search earlier.

Iarra looked back at the blond in puzzlement at what he meant. She turned to Ban, who just flicked his eyes down to stare at his mug, which made her frown grow deeper. His reaction was making her think that he knew something that she didn't. The spiky-haired retriever didn't say anything, but just continued to stare at his mug in silence. Figuring that it was probably not a big deal, she decided to shrug it off as she moved to the edge of the seat.

Just as she was about to stand up, Ban said, "You don't need to worry about that too much."

She stopped and turned to him.

He directed his gaze from his mug up to her face. "They think you're dead," the dark-haired retriever added.

Iarra stared at him in confusion, her brows furrowing as she thought about what he meant. "Why would they..." Her voice then trailed off as it dawned on her. "That last Jagan... with Shimo," she said, a look of understanding emerging on her face. "You killed me, didn't you?"

Ban gave her an innocent look. "Now why would I do that?"

"I mean, in the dream. You had me killed."

Ban just smiled, then took a sip of coffee from his favorite mug.

Iarra chuckled. "I thought you said you showed him a bunch of Winnie the Poohs."

"That, too."

She laughed. "That's one helluva dream, you twisted bastard!"

Ban couldn't help but smile at the peals of laughter coming out of the ex-Dark Fleet agent. Soon, her laughter subsided and she gazed up, directly into the eyes of the Jagan Master.

"I never thought I'd say this, but...," she began, and a sincere smile came over her lips. "Thanks for having me killed."

"Oh, it was nothing," the dark-haired retriever said, dismissing her gratefulness with a wave of his hand. "I've imagined it so many times, it wasn't that hard."

She rolled her eyes at him, but the amused smile stayed on her lips. "Aww.. You're too sweet."

"Before you go," Paul, who had just finished cleaning up the broken pieces of glass, interrupted. "You should know that the insurance of this cafe doesn't cover being smashed by chopper blades."

"Oh," Iarra said, wondering why the cafe owner was mentioning this to her. "That's too bad."

"Yeah," Paul continued. "So I took the liberty of putting that on your tab."

"What?" She protested. "But I wasn't the pilot!"

"Yeah, she was the co-pilot," Ban added.

Pleasantly surprised that he was actually backing her up for a change, she gave Ban another grateful smile. "That's right!"

Ban then turned to her and gave her a smirk. "That means you're co-responsible."

Her grateful smile turned immediately into a glare, while Ban's smirk turned into a grin.

"Fine," she grumbled, then turned back to Paul. "I'll pay for the damage after the Get Backers pay for my bike."

"What?" It was now Ban's turn to protest. "Why the hell are we paying for your bike?"

"Because you wrecked it, that's why!"

"We never touched your bike, sweetheart. You were at the controls, not us."

"I was in control until you two twerps knocked me out!"

"I didn't knock you out. Ginji did!"

"Gee, thanks, Ban-chan," Ginji said as he gave his partner a miffed look. "So much for the 'S' in Get Backers."

"Alright, alright!" Paul said as he held up his hands to break up what seemed to be an impending fight. He turned to Iarra. "Sorry, but I have to hold somebody responsible, and unfortunately, that has to be you. I hope you have a better record of paying tabs than these two."

Iarra grumbled under her breath, then sighed. "Fine, I'll pay for it. But that last one..." She pointed at the new hole in the door, then gave Ban an accusing look. "... isn't my doing, so I'm not paying for that."

"Well, that wouldn't have happened if you just stood still," Ban snapped.

She snorted. "Are you saying that the door being broken is my fault because I didn't let you strangle me?"

"Yes!"

"Well, that is the most ridiculous reasoning I've ever heard!"

Natsumi chuckled, smiling as she shook her head at the verbal spat. Her gray eyes dropped down to her watch, and she realized that her shift was ending soon. She proceeded to take her apron off.

Ginji, who noticed the waitress' movement, looked up and asked, "Are you leaving now, Natsumi-chan?"

His question thankfully interrupted the bickering.

The watiress nodded, saying, "I have to go home now and get ready." She gave Ginji a smile, which made the blond's brown eyes light up. "We have a big night tonight."

Ban sighed. "I don't think we can go to the concert, Natsumi-chan."

The light in Ginji's eyes dimmed as he turned to his partner in surprise. "Why not, Ban-chan?"

"How can we get there? Our car is in the middle of nowhere." He then looked pointedly at Iarra. "Thanks to a certain someone."

"Hey," Iarra protested. "You're the one who drove it there, urchin-head."

"And I didn't intend to leave it there. A certain someone made that call."

"Which saved your life!"

"Ban-chan!" Ginji interrupted before another fight could ensue. "Can't we just take the train?"

"Public transportation?" Ban gasped as he shook his head vehemently. "No way! Absolutely not! I'd rather walk!"

Natsumi frowned. "But it's too far to walk."

"What's wrong with public transportation?" Iarra asked Ban.

Ban turned to her, saying, "Let's just say that I haven't had a good experience with it."

"B-but, Ban-chan," the blond said, his lower lip trembling. He turned his big brown woeful eyes to his partner. "It's free dinner!"

Ban sighed. He hated it when Ginji gave him that look. "Then why don't you go and get your free dinner?"

"But we told Madoka-chan that we would both go."

"That's before we lost the car, thanks to a certain someone." He turned his blue steely gaze back to the ex-Dark Fleet agent.

Iarra, who had been listening curiously to the conversation, was oblivious to Ban's glare. "Madoka?" She repeated. "Otowa Madoka? The violinist?"

Ginji turned to Iarra. "You know her?"

Iarra nodded. "I've heard her play once. She's incredible." She smiled. "I love the sound of the violin."

A grin appeared on Ginji's face. "Ban-chan plays the violin!"

Ban suddenly bonked Ginji on the head, making the blond turn chibi. He gave Iarra the same kind of smile that his partner just gave her. "And Ginji blurts out stupid things!"

"Why is that stupid?" Chibi Ginji asked. "It's true!"

"It's stupid because it's irrelevant!"

Iarra watched them with an amused expression in her eyes, then asked, "Can't you guys just take a cab?"

"Since our job was cancelled, we can't really afford to take a cab," Ginji replied mournfully.

"Shut up, Ginji," his partner grumbled. She did not need to know about the Get Backers' money problems.

Iarra's gaze moved from Ban's slightly embarrassed face, to Ginji's woeful look, to Natsumi's disappointed expression. She sighed.

"I..." Iarra began. "... might be able to give you guys a ride."

Ginji's ears perked up like a little labrador puppy. "Really, Iarra-chan?" He then frowned. "But with your bike gone, how can you give us a ride?"

"Ginji," the ex-agent said patiently. "Even if I had the bike, do you think I would use that to give you all a ride?"

Ginji paused for a while, then answered, "I guess we can't all fit."

She smiled, amused. "No, we can't."

"You have a car, then?"

"I have another vehicle, yes."

Ban interrupted with a snort. "I hope you don't mean that chopper."

"No," Iarra replied with a chuckle. She then sighed. "That reminds me. I still haven't figured out how to get rid of that thing." She turned to Ban with a joking smile. "Do you want it? It's still got one more rocket."

"As tempting as a stolen Yakuza chopper with a rocket sounds," Ban said wryly. "I'm gonna have to pass. I just want my Ladybug back."

"Then get it back, Mr. Get Backer," she said, shrugging as if it was no big deal. "You know where it is."

"And how do you know that it's still there?" Ban asked pointedly.

"It's in a hidden place," she answered, annoyance staring to creep up once again into her voice.

"Ummm... Iarra-chan?" Ginji interrupted before the argument escalated. "So you don't mind giving us a ride?"

Iarra turned from Ban to Ginji, then to Natsumi, then back to Ginji. She sighed, thinking, Why am I doing this?

But it was too late to back out now. Aloud, she said, "Otowa Madoka is an amazing musician. I would hate for you guys to miss her concert just because some jerk doesn't want to take public transportation."

"Oh, thank you, Iarra-chan!" Tare-Ginji hops over the table and glomps her.

Iarra, who was not used to being glomped, stiffened up. She stared at tare-Ginji who was now dancing on the table with those fans that seemed to always magically appear out of nowhere during times like this.

Ginji suddenly stopped his happy dance as a thought occurred to him. "Hey, do you want to come with us?"

Ban bonked him on the head once again.

Chibi Ginji turned to his partner with an annoyed frown on his face. "What was that for? We do have an extra ticket."

"We do?" Ban repeated. "You mean, I do. You can't just go around offering my ticket to anyone."

"You told me last night that I could do whatever I want with it," Ginji said as he went back to his normal form and returned to his seat beside Ban. "Well... This is what I want to do with it."

Ban grumbled, "You forget a lot of things, but why do you remember that?"

"You can relax," Iarra told him as she rolled her eyes. "I'm not gonna go where I'm not wanted."

"Then what are you doing here?" Ban asked before feeling a hard kick from under the table. "Owww!" He flashed his partner an angry look that said 'What was that for?'.

Ginji just crossed his arms over his chest and gave his partner a reproachful look. Ban's eyes flicked over to Natsumi, who was watching the scene with that innocently hopeful look in her eyes. Ban swore under his breath, then sighed. He then turned to the girl sitting across from him.

"Would you like to go with us, Dagger Freak?"

Iarra looked straight into those blue eyes and gave him a deadpan look. "I have a name, y'know."

Ban stared back at her, then muttered, "You're not gonna make this easy, are ya?"

Iarra just blinked innocently. "I don't know what you're talking about. Make what easy?"

The spiky-haired retriever glared at her as he gritted his teeth. With forced sweetness, he said, "Iarra."

She gave him her own sugary smile. "Yes?"

"Would you like to spend an evening with the Invincible Mido Ban-sama?"

"Wow," Iarra breathed out sarcastically. "That sounds sooo irresistable."

"Yeah, I can turn on the charm button sometimes," Ban replied just as sarcastically.

"No... way," she gasped in mock disbelief. "You mean it's been off all this time?"

"Hard to believe, isn't it?" He said dryly. He then scowled. "So are you going or not?"

Iarra raised an unamused eyebrow and crossed her arms over her chest.

"Ban-chan!" Ginji hissed. "Ask nicely."

Ban glared at his partner, then directed the glare back at Iarra. Girls, he thought. Why do they have to be so difficult? He sighed again, then with gritted teeth but with a voice dripping with honey, he said, "We would be very much delighted if you could grace us with your presence."

She rolled her eyes. Realizing that that was as good as it was gonna get, she finally sighed and asked, "Where is it gonna be?"

"At Ebisu," Ban answered.

"And what time does it start?"

"Seven. Doors open at six."

Ban then frowned. It suddenly occurred to him that they were now talking to each other without any hint of sarcasm. And it felt... well.. wierd.

"We don't need to be there at exactly six, right?" Iarra was saying. "I'll be here at six-thirty."

"It's a Friday night," Ban said. He then dropped his gaze to his mug. "Traffic's gonna be slower than usual."

She was about to reply, but stopped as she, too, suddenly realized something.

Friday night. She was actually talking to Mido Ban about meeting up on a Friday night. And it wasn't for a job.

"Okay." She frowned, her gaze dropping down as well as she mumbled, "Six-fifteen, then."

"Sounds good," was Ban's curt reply.

They both took sips from their respective cups.

Ginji looked at Iarra, then at Ban, then back at Iarra. Both were looking at everywhere else but at each other.

"Sooo..." The blond said, confused as to what was going on. "Was that a 'yes'?"

She looked at those hopeful chocolate brown eyes, and she couldn't help but smile. "Yes."

"Yey! This is gonna be fun!"

"Alright." Iarra, who was unable to handle the uneasiness any longer, suddenly stood up and made her way to the door. "I need to..." She stammered. "..You know... get ready... and stuff." She stopped as she reached the door. She then hastily turned and gave them a small wave. "I'll see you all later."

And with that, she quickly opened the door and stepped outside. As she closed the door behind her, she sighed, then glared at nothing in particular as she scolded herself.

What the hell was that?


Ban's eyes flicked over to the door. He watched Iarra turn to the right and walk past the window outside. Once he was sure that she was gone, he relaxed and exhaled. He then heard a soft chuckle from behind the counter. Turning his head to the sound, he found himself looking at the amused expression on Wan Paul's face.

"What?" Ban asked, glaring.

"You're homeless, carless, and penniless, and yet you managed to get yourself a date," Paul replied, chuckling again. "Your luck doesn't seem to be all that rotten, after all."

"Oh, shut up." Ban spat back. "It's not a date. She's just giving us a ride, and we just happen to have an extra ticket."

"Of course." Natsumi chirped. "That's all it is."

Ban said nothing, but just glared at his mug, ignoring the knowing smiles that were being exchanged between Ginji and Natsumi.

"Well, I need to go now," the waitress said.

"I'll walk you home," Ginji offered.

"Thanks, but you don't have to, Gin-chan," Natsumi said. "Don't you need to get ready yourself?"

The blond nodded, "Yeah, but guys don't need as much time to get ready. We just need to get into our tuxedoes. Right, Ban-chan?"

Ban groaned. "Tuxedoes."

Natsumi turned to Ban with a questioning look in her gray eyes.

"Oh, right," Ginji said. He smiled sheepishly at the waitress. "The tuxedo rental shop owner wasn't too happy with us when we returned the ones that we used for this last mission."

Ginji then attempted to imitate what he remembered of the scene at the tux rental shop earlier. In an old man's voice, he shook his gloved fist in the air, and said, "This is the last time I'm gonna let you ruin my merchandise, Get Backers!"

The waitress laughed at the impromptu impersonation. "Why? What happened?"

"The tuxes had lots of rips and blood stains," the blond answered.

"Blood stains?" Natsumi stopped laughing as her gray eyes widened.

"We're alright," Ginji said, holding his hands up to reassure her. "It's kind of a long story."

"Which I don't need to hear," Ban interruped as he quickly stood up. "You can tell her when you walk her home."

"Ban-chan?" Ginji gave him a confused look. "Where are you going?"

The spiky-haired retriever ignored the stares that he knew they were giving him as made his way to the door. Without looking at any of them, he said, "I'm going to get us some tuxes, of course." He then opened the door.

"Okay," his partner called out after him.

As he closed the door behind him, Ban lit up a cigarette that he had fished out of his pocket and took a long drag. He blew some smoke from his cigarette, his breath making it seem almost like a sigh. Damn, he needed to get out of there.

He turned down the street and started walking.

Dammit, he cursed to himself again as he thought about the upcoming evening.

He was perfectly fine with going by himself to Madoka's concert. In fact, he would very much prefer it. That way, he could just enjoy the food and the music without having to engage in the wonderful joys of making small talk.

But so much for that. Now, she, of all people - the ex-Dark Fleet agent who had earned quite the sterling reputation in the underworld as the Silver Claw - was going to be his date.

It's not a date! He protested as soon as the thought entered his mind.

She would just happen to be there.

With him.

Thanks to that idiot partner of his.

He sighed again, putting one hand in his pocket while the other held his cigarette. He trudged on, ignoring the existing smoking ban on Tokyo sidewalks, until he reached a corner. Still preoccupied with his thoughts, he turned to the small sidestreet and stopped.

Right across the street from him was - lo, and behold - a tuxedo rental shop.

Great, Ban grumbled.

With his hands in his pockets, and his cigarette dangling in his mouth, he stopped in front of the shop and looked up, staring at the shop sign for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, he took a deep breath.

Well... Better get those tuxedoes now before he changed his mind.

Dammit.


A/N:

This chapter's title, "Al Fine", is an Italian musical term that literally means "to the end". And as you can see, we have finally reached the end of this fic, and what better time to post it that on a Friday night? :) (it's Friday in my part of the world, anyway. Wish I had a dinner concert to go to hehe). I'm not sure if this was the best place to end it, but I realize that I have to stop now before I start writing about Madoka's concert.

I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it. Thank you for staying with me till the end. As always, I love hearing from you so comments are very much welcome. It's very encouraging, it makes me happy, and I find out how I can improve :)

(1) What Iarra said is true. FIRESTRIKE is a product of this ongoing research on laser weapons. It's a high-energy solid-state laser weapon system created by Northrop Grumman. Tests have shown that this laser can be powerful enough to be used in the battlefield (not quite like the Star Wars-style blasters yet, but it's getting there). Oh, and it uses YAG.

(2) The 14K Triad is also real.

To vedha:

The last word in this chapter is dedicated to you (lol Just kidding!). Well, there is no shortage of foul language whenever our beloved Ban-sama is around, so there you go ;)

To Atropos' Knife:

Here's your info dump (I hope that wasn't too geeky hehe) on the ring and how Dark Fleet is involved. I don't know what more I can say about Shimo, other than Nomi is nursing his broken heart (lol). And the Ginji-Natsumi moments are for you hehe ;)

P.S.

I don't know what to do with myself not that this is over. I might write another fic. I have a few ideas, but I'm not sure which one to pick. I could write another sequel, which would be about the concert; or I could continue my other unfinished fic; or I could write a totally new one. What to do, what to do? If you have a preference, let me know!

Till next time, everyone!

Mayumi-san out.