Title: That Auld Lang Syne (Here We Go Again…!)

Author: Amethyst Hunter

Rating: PG

Word count: 1751

Warnings/Spoilers: Slight spoilers for canon character bits.

Disclaimer: I don't own GB.

Notes: This was originally intended to be for New Year's 2008, but got put on the back burner with all the other stuff I have/had going. So I decided, what better time than to break it out and polish it up for 2009 now? XD I wish everybody a happy, safe and prosperous one! – grin –

Summary: The Honky Tonk crew reflects on another year of ups, downs, and everything in-between.

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It had been, Shido thought, one crazy year. Of course, before taking up unofficial residence as one of the regular patrons of the café, he'd not bothered much with timekeeping. Not that he wasn't punctual or had no sense of it - he could time his comings and goings with as much precision as a bird's instinctive migration. He just had little use for the calendar tracking most people preferred. To him, seasonal changes came and went with nature's cyclic rhythms.

Still, it gave him an odd little relief to be able to join in these social gatherings, even if it was just in a limited capacity. Shido wasn't much for partying, but being with Madoka had taught him that there were nuggets of enjoyment to be had in partaking of 'normal' interaction. He'd found that, with time and practice, he could tolerate it better.

It helped that he had somebody with to take the heat off. Madoka was performing at a charity concert and would be by later, but she'd insisted he go ahead anyway, and so Shido had tagged along with Emishi, knowing that he could safely sit back and watch the show while his friend flitted about the room trying out his latest jokes.

Emishi was in top form tonight – if top form could be considered repeated limericks and anecdotes. Shido was pretty sure he hadn't had any alcohol – yet – to leaven his natural repartee either.

"Hey, Shido-kun! What's green and red and goes ninety miles an hour?"

"I don't know."

"A frog in a blender!"

Shido made a face. "That's disgusting."

"Oops. Sorry," Emishi said, looking sheepish as he remembered his companion's fondness for wildlife. The reminder didn't seem to have much effect on him though, when a moment later he nudged Shido and said, "What's brown and red and goes ninety miles an hour?"

Shido rolled his eyes. "I give."

"The same frog a week later!"

Shido's only comment was a snort. Emishi was never thoughtless on purpose. He just had a talent for being endearingly hopeless.

Paul welcomed them with fresh cups of coffee and sandwiches, the latter prepared by his industrious waitstaff. Natsumi and Rena, both decked out in holiday colors, were taking turns bussing the different tables and making sure that everybody was enjoying themselves. Shido and Emishi took up space at an empty table near the side, where they could watch with ease.

Shido poked Emishi in the ribs. "Watch this." Louder, he directed his attention to Ban Midou, who was hunched over at the counter, and said, "Hey, snake bastard! How's your brother-in-law these days?"

Midou shot him the most poisonous look he and ten cups of eggnog could muster, and launched into a litany of drunken curses consigning Shido's ancestry back to several Stone Age-era swine.

Still laughing, Shido addressed Emishi's confused look. "You didn't hear? His baby sister eloped last week with Doctor Jackal."

"No way!"

"Yeah. Some hell of a Christmas present, eh?" They both turned to stare at the couple who were quietly necking in a back booth, underneath one of the many sprigs of mistletoe. Akabane wore his perpetually amused serenity, while Himiko was basking in decidedly smug satisfaction.

"Dude, check out the rock she's got on her finger. Wonder who he had to kill to get it."

Shido sipped his coffee. "More like how many. Knowing her tastes, it didn't come cheap."

"Runs in the family, does it?" The Midous' fondness for money was an ill-kept secret.

"Heh. They've both got a gold-digging streak a mile wide, but he's a whole lot worse than she is when it comes to managing the stuff."

Emishi nodded at Shido. "So, when ya gonna pop the big question to Madoka-chan, huh? Ya keep sayin' you're gonna…" He waggled his eyebrows.

Shido shrugged. "When are you going to suck it up and ask Sakura out?"

Emishi reddened slightly. "Juubei-han would kill me," he mumbled. "If Makubex-kun didn't first…"

"Wuss."

"Can't blame the menfolk for protecting a lady as lovely as her, can ya?"

"It's not like you're some stranger off the streets. They'd give you the benefit of the doubt sooner than they would anybody else," Shido pointed out.

"Maybe," Emishi said. "But I'm still not in any hurry to find out what it's like to be on the business end of my own whip."

"Wuss."

Emishi punched him in the arm, but there was no real force behind it. They returned to watching the other denizens in the midst of their revelry.

Ginji bounced over to greet them. "Emishi! Shido! Glad you guys could make it," he said, beaming. "Paul says he's gonna let us light off fireworks from the rooftop this year! Isn't that awesome?"

"Sweet! And Amon and I can do our standup routine against the backdrop!" Emishi chortled. "We'll be stars and make lots of money!"

"In your dreams, maybe," Shido remarked, not unkindly, while people began crowding at the front counter for Paul's piece de la resistance' – an enormous frosted cake trimmed with nuts and berries of all kinds.

"You guys make any New Year's resolutions?" Kazuki greeted them as they got into line to be served a piece of the confectionery delight.

Ginji bobbed his head. "I'm gonna do a million pushups, eat a ton of meat, and – " he lowered his voice, leaning in closer to Shido – "kiss Natsumi-chan. If she wants me to, that is," he added, blushing.

"Oh, she wants you to, trust me," Kazuki chuckled. "I have that on good authority." He lifted one of the bells attached to his hair and jingled it lightly.

"One of these days your snooping is going to land you in some deep animal manure," Shido warned.

Kazuki shrugged. "He who snoops and runs away lives to eavesdrop another day."

"What about you?" Shido said to him. "Any resolutions for self-improvement for the new year?"

Kazuki idly played with his bells. "I don't do them. I've tried, but I always end up breaking several before the end of the first month. So I leave it to Juubei and Toshiki to come up with some. They're better at sticking to that motivation."

"Not hard when their only resolution is to stick like flypaper to you," Emishi joked.

"True, true," Kazuki laughed. "Himiko-san? How about you?"

She tilted her head thoughtfully. "There are a couple of new spells I want to master. Maria said she would work with me, schedules permitting. Otherwise there's nothing much to speak of."

"She's really good," Ginji said. "Ban-chan took me with to watch them practice one day, and it was the coolest thing ever. Himiko-chan's really come a long way!"

On that count, Shido had to agree. He'd worked a few retrieval jobs alongside Lady Poison, and her skills had drastically risen since she'd taken up witchcraft seriously. It was yet another delightful thorn he could use to stick in the snake bastard's paw. He'd have bet good money that Ban Midou, while doubtless proud of his sister's success, also harbored a natural sibling jealousy stirred by the attention's spotlight and the shadow of his own chronic mishaps.

Ginji ventured a somewhat nervous look at Akabane, and in an effort to make polite conversation addressed him. "Um, Akabane-san? Did you make any resolutions for the new year?"

Himiko answered for him. "We discussed it, and we agreed that Kuroudo would work on – " she started to say, "cutting back," realized her poor choice of wording and quickly changed her mind – "reducing the volume of his work." She cast a fond but stern look at Akabane. "Right, honey?"

He smiled and stroked the back of her hand. "As you wish, darling. So long as satisfactory alternatives are arranged," he purred. "I would so hate to be deprived of stimulating engagements."

Himiko smirked. "I'll show you stimulating later tonight," she growled playfully before tugging on his tie and kissing him.

"Mmm. Promise?"

"Yeesh, get a room!" Emishi said.

"Emishi!" Ginji hissed. Shido stifled a snicker, not sure whether to be amused by the semi-homicidal lovebirds' display or Ginji's fear of starting off the new year by pissing off Doctor Jackal.

He needn't have worried. That unenviable task had already been claimed by Midou, who had evidently overheard their conversation and was now stumbling over to them intent on righteous thrashing. "Oh, so now it's 'Kuroudo', is it? Whatever happened to 'Jackal'? Whatever happened to professionalism? Listen, missy, I got half a mind to put you over my knee and beat some sense into you – "

"Ban, you're drunk," Himiko said with barely disguised disgust. "Shut up."

He glared at her and continued to rant. "Put up your dukes an' let's take this outside. You marry into a witches' clan, there're rules you better follow, mister. You don't just whisk her away on some crappy stinkin' semi truck, you go the whole nine yards and respect her family's authority before you even think about proposing! I'll show you what the great Ban Midou-sama can do…"

Akabane sighed. "Midou-kun, as much as I would dearly love to take you up on your generous offer, I'm afraid my wife is correct. You're hardly in any condition to put up a proper struggle and it simply wouldn't be any fun."

"I can too," Ban sulked. "I am prefectly – perfectorily – perfectly capable of kicking your skinny ass into orbit." He demonstrated his prowess by promptly heaving up the entire contents of his digestion system onto Paul's neatly-waxed floor, just barely missing the cake, and then collapsing in a dead faint into the mess.

"Aww. Ban-chan's gonna miss the new year," Ginji said.

Shido pinched the bridge of his nose and laughed heartily. "Now that," he gasped to Emishi, "was worth dragging my butt down here to see!"

He glanced around the room, hoping that somebody had had the presence of mind to take a picture of it, and was pleased to notice that Natsumi was industriously snapping away with her cell phone. "Hey, Natsumi. Can I get a copy of that?"

She flashed him a smile. "Sure, Shido-san!"

"Blackmail material," Shido explained to the others. "From now on, whenever I'm having a bad day, I'll take that shot out and look at it and smile, because I know that wherever snake bastards suffer, all is well and right in the world."

"Hear, hear," Emishi cackled. "Think she'll make duplicates?"

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