It is during afternoons like this, hot and sticky, that Ginji just sits and lets the air from the air conditioning unit pass over him, back against the cool walls of their small bedroom; Ban is rarely in when they’re not working, but when he is back in their apartment he is usually at the window – Ban-chan’s living room window, Ginji thinks, because Ban is there so often, perched on a three-legged stool they salvaged on one of their more recent jobs – taking long drags on Marlboros and looking out. Sometimes Ginji falls asleep and it is night when Ban comes back with dinner, or sometimes Ban comes back earlier and Ginji wakes up to the sound of Ban cooking, and the smell of food, but they have electricity now and Ginji can fall asleep on hot afternoons while waiting for Ban to come back, if he remembers to turn the air-conditioning on properly before he does.
(Ban still complains when Ginji does that though, he’d rather have Ginji power the appliances, it saves money, but there is less of that lately.)
They’ve been getting jobs quite regularly, small jobs that are enough to pay the rent and their living expenses, and Ginji had nagged at Ban about kicking the habit enough – “but Ban-chan, the smell stays in the walls, and the landlady doesn’t like it, and it’s really not good for you” – that Ban has cut down significantly, though he still keeps two packs in the living room and one spare pack in the car. Ban’s smoking less, fewer traffic violations and parking fines, Ban cooking instead of eating out, the steady flow of jobs – somehow, they are able to save 300,000 yen; they had set up a joint account, had bickered over who got to keep the passbook (Ginji won, but only because he threatened to not power the air conditioning), they had a proper bathroom with a shower, a small fridge, beds with proper mattresses, the beginnings of a wardrobe.
Ginji feels like he owns the world, and not in an ironic way; he wonders what Ban is feeling.
One night, after a particularly satisfying dinner – Ban had brought back sushi, and they’d had a few cheap beers – and they were sprawled on their beds, Ginji had ventured, “Isn’t this just like being married?”
Ban had hit him, hard, on the head, and then stalked off to have a smoke. The door almost slams.
Ginji wonders why the smile he glimpses on Ban’s face, before Ban turns away, is so sad.
Ginji has kept count; it is nine days from that night, two months from when they moved in, seven weeks from when Ban started leaving in the morning and coming back at night. When Ginji asked him, after the first day, where he’d been, and why he’d left without waking Ginji up, Ban had smiled that same smile, and said he’d brought dinner back.
Ban is in today, and stalks into the room, settling down next to Ginji. The perspiration soaks through the back of his shirt. His face is covered in a fine layer of sweat, and he smells, more strongly than usual, of sweat (fresh) and smoke (stale).
“What’s for dinner?”
“Haven’t decided. ‘M feelin’ lazy. Vegetable stew?”
Ginji groans, pulls a face. Ban smiles, teasingly. Ginji shocks him a little, just for revenge, as he draws closer to trace Ban’s collarbone with a finger, then closer for a kiss. Ginji licks off the sweat on Ban’s face, almost like a dog. It is Ban panting, however, when Ginji blows kisses, then tongues wetly, into his ear. Their hands rove over each other’s backs, necks; Ban’s shirt makes little squelching sounds against the wall as their limbs tangle, untangle.
Ginji pulls away, for breath, and because, he thinks, this is as good a time as any.
He begins, tentatively. “Ban-chan.”
Ban’s eyes are closed, his breathing slow. He grunts, sleepily. “Hmm?”
“What aren’t you telling me?”
Ban doesn’t answer; his expression doesn’t change. They sit in silence for some time before Ginji envelops him in a hug.
“You had that same expression, too, when we went to buy mattresses. And when you came back on the first day you spent out.”
Ban thinks, shit, he noticed. The world had changed, but Ginji has not; he smiles wryly. Ginji lets him go, sensing (with typical intuitive excellence, Ban thinks) that his partner is ready to talk, withdraws to a cross-legged position, eyes on Ban.
He chooses his words carefully. “I’m not used to living like this. Living in happy domestication. It tends to end badly.”
Ginji looks at him, almost curiously, brown eyes wide.
Ban continues, hesitantly, because Ginji expects it, “The changes – the world, it’s different. Ever since we came back from the mugenjou and the Ogre Battle. I think I know what happened, except for one thing that doesn’t make sense. Akabane won’t give me straight answers – “
Ginji thinks, so Ban-chan did go to talk to Akabane-san.
Ban notices the hangdog look that passes over Ginji’s face, if only for a second.
“ – and that computer kid doesn’t remember what happens, says he can only remember being vaguely sad, and the same goes for Himiko and all the rest of them.
“I should be dead, Ginji! I shouldn’t even exist – “
Ginji winces, visibly.
“ – because I used it a fourth time. But now I’m here, domesticated. Cooking for the first time in years. The last time I cooked was for Yamato. Who liked my delicious stew – “
Ban smirks at the memory, and Ginji smiles, relieved.
He ventures, tentatively. “Ban-chan. I don’t know why you’re alive either. I could sense when you, you died, could feel you thinking of me – ”
Ginji looks at Ban, whose gaze is turned inwards, and thinks that Ban has never looked more vulnerable.
“– the same way I thought of you when I nearly died, um, both times when I fell off the heli and when Shido killed me when we were trying to get back Madoka-chan, and, um, many other times, but I believed. That you wouldn’t leave me alone, I mean. – “
Their eyes lock.
“I was – I was so worried all the way up the stairs! ‘Cos you were fighting Akabane-san and in trouble – don’t hit me! – and then, Himiko-chan was crying, just before I opened the door. But that’s what the ‘s’ in GetBackers is for, right? I’m the number 2, and when I came back I was still the number 2, so there has to be a number 1, right?
“I’ve wanted to say this a while.”
Ginji takes Ban’s hand, squeezes it.
“Don’t you want to live, Ban-chan? No wonder you never told me what happens when you use the jagan the fourth time. That’s why you always lived like that, took so many injuries for me, never passed up the chance to, um, feel Hevn up, and, um, give Rena and Natsumi lessons on bra-wearing, and kiss, kiss Toshiki. You knew we’d forget, and you knew you’d use it eventually. It’s unfair.”
Ginji pouts. Ban looks more than a little sorry.
“But now I know. And you’re not allowed to.”
Actually, Ginji thinks, I’m not sure what will happen if he does. Will it have changed?
Ban thinks almost exactly the same thing. I think it’ll probably knock me out a whole week instead. The thought annoys him.
Ginji stares hard at Ban, who is looking at his feet. “You can’t be irresponsible any more. I won’t forget you.”
Ban looks at him, then looks away.
He slumps against Ginji, and squeezes back. “I know.”