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Ban said he didn't believe he and Ginji could've run up a 3,000,000-yen tab at the Honky Tonk, but the fact of it was he had no idea. Paul kept the books and could have been screwing with them for all he knew, but Paul also fed them on credit. It was better not to inquire too closely. During long dark nights of the soul he could admit that when the money went toward food it generally went fast. Legwork burnt calories, they slept like logs huddled in the winter and sprawled during the summer, and dreamt of protein with tiresome persistence.

He saw Himiko maybe once every two months. At these encounters he worked to maintain an appropriate level of obnoxiousness, and was generally punched in the face for his trouble. Between August and December they took a series of minor jobs, but -- the Honky Tonk's reckoning sated for the moment -- none where the reward wasn't worth the time they would've spent pursuing the prize. Time preyed on Ban's mind, infuriatingly. There was nothing to do but keep his ears and eyes open and wait for the other anvil to drop. Pride prevented him from pestering Maria, but he spoke to Kazuki and took steps. Their intuitions agreed that they were on the same page: the black threads of hearsay ran, not parallel, but converging. Also Kazuki had about as much interest in keeping Juubei in the investigative loop as Ban had in weighing Ginji down with what was not and should never have been a problem of his, namely none. It was different if -- when -- there was going to be a fight. Ban prayed for swift violence without complexity, a boon rarely granted in these latter days.

He caught himself thinking in false dichotomies. Like, they only needed to eat and make rent and keep the car in gas until mid-February, then it was going to be over. He didn't plan on being dead or anything but he couldn't see into the future past over. The rest was going to have to wait.

Natsumi coughed up part of the disputed tab so they could buy winter clothes, on the condition that she held the money and made sure it was well-spent. The irony of it was that the shopping expedition took twice as long as it would have had she not been involved. Ban was a goal-oriented sort of guy: he figured long sleeves and pants legs against the cold, dark colours that wouldn't show dirt, more pockets because he was sick of making Ginji carry all their joint crap around. Right waist sizes, that always helped. But Natsumi insisted they had to look good. Women, Ban realized, were insane. It wasn't the first time the thought had occurred to him but he always blocked it out after the moment of clarity had passed.

Fatally, Ginji looked cute in everything.

"That looks really cute on you, Gin-chan," said Natsumi. "And it's so soft!" Ginji touched the knit with uncertain, lingering fingers, and hugged himself experimentally.


The jumper was white and the yarn appeared to involve cashmere in some capacity. It looked like it would stain if breathed on and fall apart if allowed to touch hot water. And it cost an arm and a leg; Ban didn't have to check the tag to know.

"Yeah, okay," he said. Natsumi beamed and bought three, one for Rena and one for Himiko. Ban made sure those didn't go on his tab.

That evening he got Ginji out of it, but slowly, with stops along the way. All the new clothes still smelt of department store, and a little bit of Natsumi; it was like opening gift wrap the civilized way, how his granny had taught him his manners. When they kissed he put his hands on Ginji's ass and slipped his thumbs into the back pockets of Ginji's jeans for leverage. The denim was stiff, but warm from contact with Ginji's skin.

They still had no chairs. The futon was wrong for what he wanted to do, the stools were too low, and standing was a pain. They ended with Ginji sitting on the windowsill while Ban worked aforementioned jeans down around his knees, then altogether off in a fit of insouciance. The venetians were closed but Ginji was restless, shifting and making them clatter with his elbows.

"Someone's going to see," he said.

"Let them," said Ban, not meaning it. He didn't think anyone could see anything. On second thought he got up and went to turn off the light. When he came back and sank to his knees Ginji sighed and bowed his head, so that his breath was a warm tickle against Ban's exposed nape.

"Are you cold?" Ban asked. He bit the inside of Ginji's thigh, very gently, for the form. Ginji shook his head and murmured no, but when Ban went down on him he curved in on himself even more, as if to segregate the two of them from the open air. He didn't move to touch Ban or to hurry him; he kept his hands on the windowsill and dug his nails into the painted wooden molding. Tiny scratching noises, Ginji's soft, strained breathing above him. Ban listened lazily, closing his eyes and remembering the first time they did this, or something like it. He never thought about it normally, because there were no words to define the heart of the matter -- none until they were well out of the Infinite City, and Ginji had followed him, even though Ban had not asked. Only sometimes the taste of Ginji's skin brought it back; and the way Ginji's pleasure-response could still parse in Ban's mind as pain, if he wasn't well aware of what he was doing. At that earlier point neither of them had been particularly sensitive to the demarcation.

In memory it was this: shattered rubble, a white noon hammering down. Sweat collecting at the base of Raitei's throat and the slick drag of his limbs against Ban's, fingers knotting in Ban's flesh. The heat of him inside and out, less contained than lightning, more merciless than the sun.

After he'd made Ginji come he kissed his way up, pushing impractically sensuous cashmere aside to reveal the gist of the matter. Ginji laughed and tugged at Ban's turtleneck until it went over his head. They tumbled into the futon and Ban pulled the cover over their heads. It really was cold now, and they had no space heater -- no money to buy one, needless to say. Tokyo was a bitch like that.

"Ban-chan," Ginji said into the crook of his arm, "it'll be December soon. Your birthday's coming up." Ban's hands paused for a second before moving again, and Ginji arched into the touch, exhaling, a little sleepy now.

If only--

But Ban wasn't the wishing type.

"Tomorrow," he said, "let's talk about it tomorrow."