Title: Dead Air
(I. – Kazuki)
Pairing: Ban x Ginji x Kazuki
Rating: R for violence and death.
Notes: Lyrics are "Ever the Same" by Rob Thomas.
We were drawn from the weeds
We were brave like soldiers
Falling down under the pale moonlight
You were holding to me
Like a someone broken
And I couldn't tell you but I'm telling you now
You may need me there
To carry all your weight
But you're no burden I assure
You tide me over
With a warmth I'll not forget
But I can only give you love
Just let me hold you while you're falling apart
Just let me hold you and we'll both fall down...
It was an accident; a foolish, clumsy, stupid accident that never should have happened. But it had been raining, and the pavement was slick and Ginji had always been clumsy even in good weather – his feet had slipped, he'd failed to dodge the bullet and Ban turned just in time to see his partner go down.
It was the last injury Amano Ginji would ever have.
Kazuki had known the funeral would be difficult. He took most of the planning out of Ban's hands, knowing well the man was in no condition to think of such things. It wasn't easy for him to do either, but somehow he managed.
It would figure that it rained that day. A miserable drizzle accompanied by an uncomfortable chill – indeed the weather matched all of their moods. Ban refused to have the casket opened and nobody argued. Kazuki remained directly at Ban's side the entire time, reaching out to clutch the other man's hand and trying not to look pained when Ban took little notice of him.
Juubei, Sakura and Toshiki lingered back, out of the way, per Kazuki's request. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate their thoughtfulness and want to comfort him, but he'd seen Ban's eyes looking at them earlier, and he knew it was a painful reminder that Kazuki still had his most important people alive and well… and Ban did not.
Little was said, despite the numerous people there. Shido and Emishi and Madoka, Sakura, Juubei and Toshiki, Masaki and Teshimine, and Natsumi – who spent the time crying quietly in Hevn's arms with Paul beside them… MakubeX could do little, being stuck inside Mugenjou, and simply sent his regards along with Sakura only after he'd stopped crying into her dress.
People left eventually. Paul and Hevn finally had to usher Natsumi away to escort her home. Emishi approached the graveside before leaving and saluted in a way that should have looked mocking, but was meant with only the utmost respect. He left with Shido and Madoka. Teshimine and Masaki had said nothing, not even to one another. Masaki put a hand to Kazuki's shoulder when they left as his silent apology, and Kazuki said nothing in response.
The last three remained behind with Ban and Kazuki, none willing to leave their Prince until ordered. Kazuki turned to them when he took notice of everyone else gone and merely nodded, and reluctantly the two boys followed Sakura off through the graveyard to leave the two in silence.
Once the last of the footsteps had dissipated into the distance, Kazuki tightened his hold on Ban's hand, dropped his head to rest on the other man's shoulder. Neither spoke, neither cried. Ban was Kazuki's comfort – or would have been, had he been inclined to acknowledge his presence there. Only a few minutes passed before Kazuki began getting the nagging feeling he wasn't wanted there, and he drew away.
"I'll wait in the car," he offered, his eyes lingering over the open grave a moment longer before silently retreating to the 360 parked on the road nearby. Ban didn't so much as watch him go.
It was another few hours before they arrived home, Ban soaked through from having stood in the rain without bothering with his umbrella for close to an hour after Kazuki left him. Neither had eaten all day, and neither felt too inclined to do so. The day had been spent in nearly complete silence, no tears shed between them, and yet Kazuki felt as weary as though he'd been running a marathon all day. His head hurt, his eyes were heavy and tired and most of all, his heart hurt. It was impossible to tell how Ban was feeling by looking at him, and Kazuki didn't dare ask.
The silence continued even after they'd stepped into the apartment. There were papers from funeral arrangements scattered about the kitchen table and Ban cast them a reproachful look as he walked past. He settled himself onto the couch and stared at the black television as though it were the most interesting thing in the world. He only gave a soft noise in response when Kazuki asked him if he wanted tea, and the thread-user made him some regardless.
Even as he handed the cup over and Ban accepted it, he just stared down at it in disinterest. Kazuki sat beside him, but held little interest in his own drink as well. They both sipped at their cups anyway, offered little comfort by the warmth it gave them.
When Kazuki set his empty cup aside, he tucked his legs up beneath him and leaned into Ban, tucking his head into the safety of the curve of his neck. Ban was still wet, and smelled of rain, but he didn't mind. Ban put an arm around his shoulders, but the gesture was empty and done purely out of habit. Kazuki contemplated kissing him, or running a hand through his hair, attempting anything that might've soothed. In the end he decided against it; physical touch was the comfort he wanted, not necessarily what Ban wanted.
Instead, he left the couch in favor of fetching a towel and some dry clothes. He padded back into the living room, plucked the half-empty cup from Ban's hands and said, "Stand up."
Ban lifted his eyes, and only reluctantly got to his feet so Kazuki could set to undressing him. He didn't bother helping much, save to help shrug the shirt from his shoulders and stepping out of his pants. Kazuki nudged the wet clothes aside to be dealt with later and wrapped the towel about the younger man's shoulders and began to dry him off.
He was well aware of Ban's eyes watching him, following him as he moved and rid his skin of rain. Kazuki found his chest tightening – normally Ban-kun would never have been so passive in allowing himself to be babied.
When he finally did look up to meet those blue eyes, realization dawned. Ban was tolerating it only because of him. He was humoring Kazuki and allowing him to play the worried wife. Though whether it was because he thought it would make Kazuki feel better or because he couldn't muster the energy to tell him to stop, Kazuki wasn't sure. His eyes lowered again and he quickly finished his task, straightening and stiffly offering out the sweats and nightshirt. Ban took them silently and dressed, and Kazuki just stepped back and left to carry the teacups to the kitchen.
When he returned, Ban was sitting on the couch again, towel draped across his lap and eyes fixed yet again on the television. Kazuki lingered behind the couch, hands wrung together.
"Do you want to come to bed?"
Ban lifted one thin shoulder in a shrug. "Think I'll stay up for awhile."
It was the most Ban had said to him all day. Kazuki worried at his lower lip, and without argument he retreated into the bedroom to get into different clothes himself.
Beneath the covers and enveloped in the warmth his bed offered, Kazuki pressed his face into one of the pillows and drew in a breath. It smelled so strongly of shampoos and Ginji that he felt the tears filling his closed eyes. He didn't dare open them.
'Ban-kun hasn't cried. This is harder on him than I can even begin to fathom, and he hasn't cried. I don't deserve to.'
He fell asleep after several hours of tossing and turning, Ginji's pillow clutched to his chest.
Ban hadn't slept that night. He slept later in the day once he was too exhausted to stay awake anymore, but on the couch he stayed. That day, and the following night, and the night after… Each evening ended the same; Kazuki would ask him to come to bed, Ban quietly refused, saying he just wanted to stay up a little longer. Kazuki would retreat to his room, wait up for shy of two hours, and step back into the living room… And when Ban wouldn't so much as notice he was there, back to his bed he would go. After a week, Kazuki began sleeping with both Ban and Ginji's pillows clutched in his arms.
The thread-user attempted to go about his daily routine, tried to keep things as normal for them as he could. He got out of bed every morning when his alarm went off, checked on Ban asleep on the couch, made them breakfast and coffee and made sure Ban ate enough, which he rarely did. It was hard to tell. Kazuki started to eat only as much as Ban did, and when his own stomach began to hurt from lack of food, he knew Ban's had to be doing the same and would quickly force him to eat just a little more.
Otherwise, Ban ignored him. He didn't look up or take notice when Kazuki came by, even sat next to him, held his hand for awhile or tried to kiss his forehead or cheek. Every time Ban pulled away, Kazuki just stared at him, mentally scolded himself and fled to his room or the kitchen or anywhere. If Ban wasn't pulling away from him, or answering a direct question, Kazuki felt invisible.
'…Sometimes… it feels like I'm a ghost here…'
Juubei called often. Sometimes Toshiki or Sakura, or even MakubeX or Emishi – but usually Juubei. Their conversations were commonly short, but spent in near silence while Kazuki tried not to let his voice waver as Juubei asked him if he was really okay. Kazuki couldn't lie to him and he would answer, 'I'm okay. I'm fine.' And for all intents and purposes, he was. He was alive, he had Ban, and he was healthy and had his home…
'No. I'm not the ghost… I'm living in what used to be Home, with the ghost of the man I loved. When Ginji-san died, he took Ban-kun with him.'
Ban started work again without even a word of it to Kazuki. The thread-user left one morning to make a store run for groceries, and when he returned the 360 was gone from the parking lot and Ban was nowhere in sight. He tried calling Ban's phone; once, twice, three, four times, panicking all the more when it finally ceased to ring when he called and went straight to voicemail, signifying that Ban had turned the phone off.
Even after he'd returned home that night to Kazuki sitting on the couch, hands clutched together so tightly that his fingers had started to numb, even then he said not a word. Kazuki got to his feet and watched him amble through the apartment towards the bathroom, likely intent on showering.
"…I was worried."
"Don't call when I'm in the middle of a job," was all Ban said before he disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door behind him.
Kazuki did as he was told. Without Ban in the house during the days, he found himself too restless, too anxious to sit around. There was little to do but return to work as well.
But the jobs were uninteresting and he found it hard to concentrate. His thoughts were on Ginji often, but they were on Ban ninety percent of the time. Where he was, if he was safe, what he was thinking, if he'd come home in one piece. The constant running of his brain made even the smallest task of smiling at clients impossible. Nothing seemed worth a smile anymore.
It was weeks before he finally made an appearance at the Honky Tonk again. Natsumi's smile was as brilliant as ever, though her eyes regarded him sadly as she took in his condition. His eyes were heavy and dark, and he'd lost weight just as Ban had. Kazuki of the Strings was feeling twice his age and then some.
Hevn sat at the counter but lifted her head upon his entrance, smiling wide. "You're done already?"
Kazuki came to a slow halt and regarded her blankly, confused. "I'm sorry…?"
The blonde's smile faltered. "That job I gave to Ban-kun. He said you two…" she trailed off. Kazuki sucked in a breath as he felt his chest tightening. Hevn looked hesitant. "That you two… were taking jobs together…"
The thread user's mouth twitched up into a very dry, very forced smile. "He's been working through you." Which immediately led him to believe the jobs were less than safe. "Have they been dangerous?"
"Well," she straightened, looking uncomfortable beneath Paul and Natsumi's stares. "Yes… which was why he promised me he was taking you along…"
She'd barely finished speaking before Kazuki was out the door.
Kazuki wasn't certain if he remembered to breathe the entire way home. The 360 was parked out front, the door to the apartment upstairs unlocked. He threw it open, slammed it behind him and took a moment to compose himself. The slamming drew Ban's attention, who was seated in the living room. He didn't look terribly injured, no more than usual, and Kazuki could have cried in relief. Instead, it just made him angrier. Ban regarded him a moment, then merely lowered his head and resumed to mechanically covering one of the cuts on his arm with a band-aid. Kazuki's shoulders trembled from the tension coiling in them.
"Why did you tell Hevn-san that you were taking jobs with me?"
Ban shrugged, didn't look up. "Needed the work."
"She said they were dangerous. Too risky for you to be taking alone." His voice was strained, taut, and he moved slowly towards the couch. "You could've found work elsewhere; you always do. Something safer. Are you trying to send yourself into an early grave!" Before he finished saying it, he knew the answer. Maybe Ban himself didn't, but he did. It only fed his anger and tore at his insides.
Ban leaned back and sighed, already looking weary from this conversation. It was the most they'd conversed in weeks, and he didn't seem pleased by it. At least he was looking at Kazuki now, but didn't seem inclined to answer that.
Kazuki seemed to wilt a little. "You could have asked me… for help, for jobs… You can't get yourself killed. You can't be careless and reckless and risk your neck for money."
The other man's eyes seemed to darken. "Why?"
It took three and a half long steps for him to reach Ban, and only half a second beyond that for Kazuki to slap him. Ban's head turned with the impact, and for a moment he remained that way. Kazuki could feel the tremor working down his back, arms, into his hands. Slowly, just Ban's eyes turned to look up at the thread-user.
"…Anything else you wanna tell me?"
Kazuki's eyes seemed fixed on the red against Ban's cheek where he'd been struck. He wanted to hit him again, to kick and scream until Ban fought back and cared again. Instead, he dropped onto the couch beside Ban, reaching for him. He hadn't attempted to touch him in over two weeks, he'd given him all the space he was able and slowly killed himself in the process when all he wanted was some sort of physical comfort. All he wanted now was reassurance that Ban was still really there with him, because it certainly didn't feel like it.
"…I love you, you ignorant bastard."
'And you don't care about that at all anymore, do you?'
Ban said nothing even as Kazuki's hands touched his face, neck, and shoulders. He stiffly allowed Kazuki to pull him closer and hug him and tangle his fingers into his hair, but the embrace was not returned. The tension in his body was more than enough to tell Kazuki he was pushing his luck.
"…Don't you care?" he mumbled after a moment. "If you die… Don't you care that you'd be leaving me behind?" It sounded selfish, it was selfish and he knew it. When Ban didn't answer, Kazuki drew back to look at him. He had the intention of kissing him – just once, just to see if there would be any sort of response that didn't involve Ban pushing him away. The look in Ban's eyes stopped him sort and he drew away as though burned.
Ban's expression was otherwise apathetic and flat, but his eyes were dark sapphire staring into him as though he wasn't there, as though he shouldn't have been there.
'…Is that it, Ban-kun? Should it have been someone other than Ginji-san? You think it should have been you. …No, you can't help but think it could have been me. It would have hurt you, but nothing like this does.'
With no questions left to ask that Ban would have answered, Kazuki rose and fled to his room in an attempt to hide from the world.
When he emerged an hour later, Ban was gone.
The phone call came over a week later, late in the evening when Kazuki was in bed. He'd done little the last several days, not since Ban had left and not returned. His mail had not been checked, his phone not answered, even once Natsumi came knocking with an offered gift of cookies for Ban and him, but he'd not bothered to get up to answer the door.
When the phone rang, he ignored it as per usual. The answering machine clicked on after a few rings, and Shido's voice just barely reached his ears.
"Kazuki, answer your damned phone. Juubei's been trying to get ahold of you for days…"
His voice droned on, and Kazuki pulled a pillow over his head to block it out. Indeed, Juubei had been calling every night, every morning, each message more concerned than the last. It wouldn't be long before they came knocking on his door, too, maybe even forced open the door to get in.
'I just want to be left alone for awhile… Just a few more days…' He squeezed his eyes shut.
Indeed, shy of an hour later came the sounds of someone at his front door. At first they just tried the knob, and then that didn't work they started rattling it a little. Kazuki curled farther in on himself. The sound was violent enough that for a moment Kazuki was certain whoever it was would take the damned thing off its hinges.
Instead, it went suddenly silent. Kazuki began to settle again, content that whoever it was planned on leaving him alone.
Not five minutes later, he heard an indignant squeak and his eyes creaked open to behold a small white rat seated on the pillow beside him.
Kazuki promptly fell out of bed with a startled yelp.
Shido had been waiting outside for him. He'd said nothing but Kazuki dressed and left with him without a word. He knew why the beastmaster was there; he'd found Ban, and he would take Kazuki to him.
Madoka greeted them when they arrived at her home. Shido insisted it was better that way; safer for the hospital staff should Ban wake up and decide he didn't want to be there anymore. Kazuki held his breath as he ascended the stairs and stepped into the room Ban was being kept. Inside, the windows were cracked open to allow in fresh air, white curtains pulled to either side to let in the fading sunlight. Everything was white, so white, reminiscent of a hospital room.
…And it smelled of blood. Dried and fresh.
Juubei stood so abruptly that he nearly knocked his chair over. "Kazuki-"
Kazuki lingered in the doorway, wanting to run away. His stomach was queasy and his head pounding. Ban's still figure didn't stir, but Kazuki didn't stop watching him regardless. Juubei's head was lifted, turned in the Kazuki's direction as the thread-user forced himself to approach. "He's alive…?"
The doctor's hesitation in answering that terrified him. "Shido brought him. Some of his animals found him a few blocks from his car between some buildings." He lowered his head a bit. "He's been shot. Four places; I removed the bullets and stitched them shut. His left arm was dislocated – Shido took care of that." Pausing a moment as he felt Kazuki brush against him on his way to get to Ban, Juubei's voice lowered. "He has a gash across his abdomen. I closed that up as well."
Ban was covered in bandages and stitches. A smaller bandage graced his brow, his left shoulder purpled and swollen. Kazuki was thankful he couldn't see beneath the blankets – he could smell that the blood had soaked through any dressings Juubei had put on him. "…He's going to live?"
'If you can call what he's been doing 'living'…'
Juubei was silent for a moment before touching the thread-user's shoulder. "He's lost a lot of blood, Kazuki…"
Juubei left him alone with Ban, though reluctantly. The door shut quietly and Kazuki sat on the edge of the bed. At least like this, he was able to touch Ban. He brushed the sweat-dampened hair back from his face, dabbing at his cheeks and lips with a wet cloth that'd been sitting in a bowl of water nearby.
It felt like hours before Ban's eyes started to move beneath their lids, and he licked some of the moisture from his lips. Kazuki drew the cloth away and watched him, swallowing hard. When he finally saw blue peering up at him, Kazuki managed the closest to a smile he'd been able to in weeks.
"Good morning, sunshine," he said softly, teasingly, though his voice wavered at the last second and ruined the effect completely. "How're you feeling?"
Ban shifted slightly, though stopped when it seemed to cause him pain. "…About as good… as I look, I'd wager…" he managed, voice breathy.
Kazuki blinked back tears. He come this far without crying, no good to let them fall. Not now. He leaned over Ban so he might not see his glassy eyes and pressed a kiss to his forehead. He wanted to apologize, but he knew that Ban would ask what for and he didn't know where to begin.
'You left because I yelled, I made it worse…I did this,' countered with, 'why didn't you come home to me? Even if you just planned on dying, you could have at least come back…'
He sought out one of Ban's hands, intertwined their fingers tightly. He didn't care if it bothered Ban now. The bastard hadn't planned on being alive right now, and Kazuki couldn't stop from touching him. He pressed another kiss to his forehead, and another to his cheek and another to the corner of his mouth while murmuring against his skin, "I've missed you." Whether Ban understood that he meant more than just the last week – but the last several weeks – he was not sure.
Ban's eyes studied him, a feat made awkward by their close range. He didn't move when Kazuki finally kissed him full on the mouth, though as chaste as it was, he didn't kiss back. When Kazuki pulled away, tears were finally on his cheeks and he was struggling to keep smiling. "Go back to sleep… Pretty soon this'll all seem a bad dream."
He gave Kazuki a long look, unbelieving, but his eyes had softened the tiniest bit just before drifting shut. Kazuki took a slow breath and bowed his head, fingering consciously at one of the bells in his hair.
'Just a bad dream… I'll help end it.'
Juubei and Shido lifted their heads, Juubei's in response to the sound of Kazuki's footsteps, Shido's to watch the thread-user descending the stairs. Juubei was the first to stand. "Kazuki…?"
He stopped at the bottom of the stairs, and Shido rose warily to his feet as well to study his friend. Kazuki managed a crooked smile. "Thank you both for trying to help."
Shido set his jaw and averted his eyes, Juubei struggled for something to say even as Kazuki began shuffling to the door. "I need to get home," he explained, ignoring Shido's stare burning into his back. "More arrangements to be made. I imagine he'd want a place right beside Ginji-san." He paused, cast a glance towards the stairs with glassy eyes and a smile that was weak but genuine. 'It's where he belongs.'
Juubei and Shido stayed silent as he left, stepped back outside into the dark and sucked in a deep, painful breath. His heart ached.
'…And my place is here for now.' Too much to live for, and so little time. He'd tried to be strong for Ban's sake, and now it was time to be strong for his own. Every movement hurt, though, every step away from Shido and Madoka's home to take him back to his own – where the pillows would still smell like Ban and Ginji, and the coffee brand was Ban's favorite and the clothes lay untouched in the closets and conger eel leftovers in the fridge. Kazuki thought of anything other than all of that as he forced his way home.
'…But oh, god, how I miss you…'