Fine Is a Four-Letter Word
by Rana Eros

Don't ask me how this turned out vaguely gen-ish. I had plans for smut, but Ban had other ideas, and Ginji humored him because he was wounded. Proof that I am just the scribe. Eliza approved the title and cheered me on through chat, and she, Rune, and Karot all betaed this critter. All remaining mistakes can be blamed on my peevishness at not getting Ban's shirt off.

Ban's trying, but he knows he's in bad shape when even Natsumi can pick up that something is off. He eats with his left hand, drinks with his left hand, and tries to pretend that doesn't hurt in its own special Lightning Emperor-induced way. He seems to be doing a good enough job to put Natsumi's mind at ease, but he can feel Paul's eyes on him, and Ginji is hovering. And he's tired and angry and yeah, in pain, and what the fuck was that sword Akabane'd skewered him with? There's something of it in him still, despite Asclepius' influence, and he hates the feeling, creepy as the Jackal himself.

"Why don't you head on home, Natsumi? I'll finish closing up," Paul says, and Ban considers his chances of wolfing down the rest of his sandwich and escaping the trap he sees coming. Except his body's sending him signals that say, "Don't even think about it, buddy," and he'd slid into the booth first to keep Ginji from staring at his wounded shoulder, so now Ginji's between him and the door. And Ginji's sipping his coffee like he's tasting wine, which means some signal passed between Ginji and Paul that Ban's too out of it to have intercepted. Damn it.

"Are you sure, Chief?"

"Yeah, I can handle these two."

"Okay!" Natsumi takes off her apron and puts on her coat, bounces over to their table to look at them with big, earnest eyes. "I'm glad you're okay, Ban-san, Ginji-san, but you look tired. Promise me you'll rest!"

"Yeah," Ban puts the effort into saying, and it's not nearly as enthusiastic as Ginji's, "We will, Natsumi, promise," but he's never as enthusiastic as Ginji, so Natsumi goes home pleased.

Paul sees her out the door and locks it. Ban tries not to see it as anything except the usual closing procedure at the Honky Tonk, but he's not generally on this side of the door when it happens. He's not, in fact, generally in the vicinity, since he and Ginji tend to park in safer neighborhoods when sleeping. He can't help tensing at the feeling of being caged, though, and that makes the pain in his shoulder flare. He sucks in a breath, which draws all Ginji's attention.


"I'm fine!"


Paul slides into the booth across from them. "Let me see."

"It's taken care of. There was a pharmacist who bandaged me up, so it's fine."

"That's wonderful. Let me see."

Ban takes a deep breath and reminds himself that using his snakebite on Paul is not a good idea, tempting as it sounds right now. And Gen did say he'd need to change the dressing, and Paul's patched him up before. He hates it every time, but not because Paul's not competent.

He's just not sure what good it is being cursed with a god who can heal when the healing only vaguely works on the cursee.

"Not here."

"You know the routine. Upstairs. I'll be up in a few."

"Can I at least finish my sandwich first?"

"You going to eat it or keep picking at it?"

Ban's not too far gone to glare, though it doesn't do much good when Paul's always got those damn shades on. "I'm a wounded man. Is it too much to ask I be allowed to eat at my own pace?"

"If you're hungry enough to complain, then take it with you. Upstairs."

"Come on, Ban-chan." And Ginji gets out of the booth, taking Ban's sandwich with him. Ban opens his mouth to protest --loudly-- but Ginji's set his jaw and the look in his eyes is somewhere between pleading and commanding. Ban slaps his hand on the table in frustration, gets more pissed at the flash of pain.

"Fine." It's not in him to surrender gracefully, but he surrenders, stalking up the stairs with Ginji close enough on his heels to--

To catch him if he falls. And it's probably a point in Ginji's favor that it feels like too much effort to turn around and smack him for it. Damn, Ban owes Jackal for this one.

He makes it up the stairs without stumbling, but the door to the storeroom's a few meters away, and he can't help listing a bit, leaning toward the wall. Ginji's there immediately, arm around his waist. He doesn't even think before he's leaning into Ginji instead. He touches his hand to his shoulder, glances down to see the shirt is still clean from the washing he gave it at the old man's, but he can feel blood seeping into the bandages. Not much, Asclepius is at least that useful, but enough that Paul'll probably insist they sleep here tonight.

Enough that Ban knows he'll agree, despite the blow to his pride.

In the room, Ginji tries to ease him down onto Paul's spare futon, but there's only so much careful handling he's willing to put up with. He drops down, grits his teeth through the subsequent jolt of pain, and snaps at Ginji, "Don't drop my sandwich," before Ginji can reprimand him.

Ginji's still got those damn eyes, though, and he gives Ban a reproachful look as he sets the plate down --just out of reach, damn it-- and reaches out to start unbuttoning Ban's shirt. Ban catches one hand and says, "I can do it."

"You haven't really used your right hand since we walked out of Mugenjou, Ban-chan, and you with your left." Ginji's voice is subdued; his whole manner is subdued. "Let me do this."

"You're such a dork," Ban mutters, but even he doesn't quite know what he means by it. He lets go of Ginji's hand and fishes his cigarettes out of his pocket, lighting up as an excuse to look away while Ginji opens his shirt. At least the room is warm, and Ginji's hands warmer. Ginji pushes the shirt off his right shoulder and, without thinking, Ban starts to shrug it farther down his arm; Ginji catches him before the wound can do more than twinge, fingers pressing down lightly beside the bandage.

"Be careful, Ban-chan."

He wants to snap that he is careful, it's the rest of the world that keeps messing with him, but Paul walks in at that moment and he knows better now than to try taking them both on in this condition.

Next time he sees Jackal, he's so kicking his ass.

Ginji helps him get his arm out of the sleeve completely, and the lack of fabric on that side reminds him Jackal's not the only one responsible for his condition. He didn't think it was possible for Fudou to get more obsessed, but he's not as well-versed in the psychotic mind as some people would like to claim. Just well-versed enough to wonder when Akabane's going to reach that level with Ginji.

He's going to have to do something about that before it happens. He doesn't want Ginji facing that kind of madness. He's not too keen on facing it again himself.

"Front or back?" Paul asks, and Ginji moves to sit on Ban's left. Paul sits on his right, setting a medical kit and a bowl of water on the ground, then untucking the bandages with hands much cooler than Ginji's.

"Back entry."

"Entry, huh? Bullet?"


It says something about their lives that Paul doesn't even pause at that, just shakes his head. "It would be. Do I have to worry about it bleeding everywhere when it's unwrapped?"

"Doesn't feel like it. It's not very big." That's Asclepius' doing, and how he managed to fool Ginji into thinking it was the jagan for so long. He suspects Jackal knew otherwise, but it doesn't matter, the ruse served its purpose. Now all that's left is his least favorite kind of recovery.

Paul gets down to skin and whistles softly as he probes at Ban's shoulder. Ban hisses and tries to jerk away, but Paul holds on.

"This bruising isn't from a sword."

"Ban-chan," Ginji whispers, and Ban scowls. Paul talks too much; the old man bandaged him up without comment.

"No, it's not. Will you stop that?"

"Got to assess the damage. You hit something, something hit you, or both?"

"Is that relevant?"

Paul shrugs, drops the bloodied bandages into the bowl and opens the kit, pulling out gauze, rubbing alcohol, scissors. "Nothing feels broken, though you'd know that better than me. You want painkillers?"


"Yes! Ban-chan."

"I don't need them."

"Turn your head and look at me when you say that."

Murdering Ginji would be bad for business, and more of a fight than he's up for right now. "I'm fine."

"I'll get you some water to take the pills with."

Ban can see the smile Paul's not bothering to suppress out of the corner of his eye. Ginji leaves, and he growls, "You're enjoying this."

"You didn't get paid. I'm not getting paid. I'm making the best of the situation."

Ban grits his teeth. That's another thing he owes Jackal for; if they'd been paid, they could have gone to a hotel, and he'd distract Ginji with food and take care of his wounds himself.

He ignores the voice in his head that says he knows better, that Ginji would have insisted they come to Paul anyway. He knows better than anyone how to redirect Ginji's attention.

Except here comes Ginji with a glass of water, and Paul tears open a packet to shake two pills into his open hand. Ginji crouches down in front of Ban once more, and he's got the same look he did when he left the table downstairs, the one that means Ban can do what Ginji wants, or he can turn this into one of their real fights, and why is it Ginji only ever looks like that when Ban's in no shape to win?

Okay, dumb question, even if he just asks it in his head.

He takes the cigarette out of his mouth and switches it to his right hand. He takes the pills, takes the water and swallows it down. And nearly chokes on it as Paul starts cleaning the new blood off his shoulder. That pulls at strained and punctured muscle in new and interesting ways, and Ginji yanks the glass back out of his hand to keep him from shattering it.

"Ow, damn it!"

"Sorry," Paul says, not sounding sorry at all. But then Ginji turns those eyes on him and he says it again with more feeling. "Sorry."

That makes Ban feel a little better. He moves his cigarette back into his left hand and puts it back in his mouth, taking a long draw. Ginji sits down next to him again, pressed up against his side. That makes him feel better too. It took him a while to get used to Ginji's cuddliness, but he can't say there aren't times now when he takes advantage of it.

Paul finishes up more carefully, probably just to avoid getting that reproachful look again. Ban doesn't care, at least it hurts a bit less. Or it does until Paul starts rewrapping, which requires Ban to move his arm.

He dumps the end of the cigarette in the water glass Ginji's still holding so he can grit his teeth. His left hand clenches involuntarily, and that hurts. Ginji tugs at it, coaxing his fingers open and pressing their palms together. So he holds onto Ginji, and trusts Ginji to tell him if he starts squeezing too hard.

Finally, Paul's done, and Ban thinks he feels the painkillers starting to kick in. They take the edge off his concentration, which is why he hates taking them, but the dulling of pain is welcome when he's this tired.

"I want to check that again in the morning," Paul says as he puts things away. "It'd be more convenient if you stayed here tonight."

It's Paul's way of showing concern, offering them a place to sleep without making it sound like he's doing them a favor. Even so, Ban might turn him down except he doesn't want to move. Good thing Paul planned ahead and folded the futon out, though that says yet another thing about their lives.

"Thanks, Chief," Ginji says. "Need help carrying anything?"

"Nah, I got it. Just shut the door behind me, get the light, and take care of your partner."

"I'll be fine," Ban musters the energy to say. Again. Paul and Ginji pay as much attention as they have been.

Ginji follows Paul to the door, and Ban finds himself slumping a little without the support of Ginji's body. He considers the merits of just laying back, but that would put pressure on the wound. So he angles himself slightly, and lets himself fall, closing his eyes as he goes down.

"Ban-chan." He can't quite read everything that's in Ginji's voice, and he's too tired to try, but he thinks he hears worry, affection --and amusement. He's glad one of them is enjoying this. "You still want your sandwich?"

Oh. Right. Except that would require sitting up again, and he's fine where he is. "No."

"Okay. You're still wearing your glasses and your shirt, you know. Sort of."

"Don't care," he mutters, though it sounds garbled to his own ears. Then Ginji's on the futon beside him, sliding his glasses off and coaxing him up enough to get an arm under him.

"Come on, Ban-chan. Let's get you on the futon, okay?"

"I'm on it."

"All the way on it, Ban-chan, or you're not going to be able to sleep."

"Shows what you know." But he curls his legs up and pushes when Ginji moves, not quite far gone enough to let Ginji do all of the work. It makes his shoulder ache, but it's a more comfortable position in the end, stretched out on the futon with Ginji as a makeshift pillow. Their positions are usually reversed when they get a chance to sleep like this; he can see why Ginji likes it. His right hand's resting on Ginji's stomach, and Ginji's got an arm slung over his waist. Ginji's other hand is buried in his hair, fingers stroking in small circles.

He thought Akabane and Fudou would be waiting for him behind closed eyelids, but all that's there is warm, Ginji-tinged darkness.

"Go to sleep, Ban-chan," Ginji whispers. "I've got you."

Yeah, you do. He's not sure he says it aloud before he's too far gone to say anything, but that's okay. Ginji knows.


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