lysapadin: pen & ink painting of bamboo against a full moon (Default)
[personal profile] lysapadin
Originally posted November 2003. Revised substantially several times.

Title: Things You Learn
Characters: Ban, Ginji
Summary: Ban tries to teach Ginji to read.
Notes: Anime canon only; pre-anime timeline.

Things You Learn

Nothing is quite like the heft of a book in one’s hands. Ban, who is a master of dreams and nightmares, thinks of books as self-contained dreams—permanent dreams that don't disappear after the span of a minute of a minute ends, but can be experienced and re-experienced as many times as the reader wants.

He does not have the time to sit and read these days, because he's always busy. There are clients who want their belongings back to tend to, or he and Ginji have to drum up business for the Get Backers so that they can get the money to eat, and besides, it's not like he can carry a library around with him in the 360. He remembers the times when he could read as much as he liked, though, learning the craft of dream-construction from the masters of literature as much as from anyone else. Sometimes he misses reading and the dusty smell of old paper. When he and Ginji hit the big time, he'll have a room for all the books he wants to own.

Ban sits in the driver's seat of the parked 360 and swears, going for several minutes before he begins repeating himself. Ginji sits in the passenger seat, shoulders hunched. Between them there is a file folder, the source of Ban's fury and Ginji's misery.

Ban's cursing begins to slow down as he runs out of creative expletives, and becomes a steadily-mumbled complaint about wasted time and effort. Ginji keeps quiet and watches the traffic passing them. When it seems like Ban has wound down to a relative calmness, he ventures to speak. "Sorry, Ban-chan. There were two folders, and they looked just alike—"

"So naturally you picked the one labeled 'Grandma's Recipes' instead of the one labeled 'Top Secret,'" Ban drawls. "Fuck, Ginji, can't you read?"

Ginji looks straight ahead through the windshield. ""

Ban stares at his partner. "You're kidding."

Ginji looks back at him and smiles. "Nope! Never had time to learn." He shrugs.

"Huh." Ban thinks about it, and the way Ginji defers to his lead in unfamiliar situations. He had assumed that it was just the unfamiliarity of a foreigner—the Mugenjou might as well be a foreign country—who learns through mimicry. "You really can't?"

"Not a word."

"Idiot." Ban knuckles Ginji's head.

"That's why I'm partners with you," Ginji announces, and then dodges Ban's swipe at him. "That's not what I meant! You know the stuff I don't." He looks rueful. "My head would explode if I knew all the things you do."

"Hmph." Ban shakes his last cigarette out of the pack and lights it, cracking the window for the smoke to escape.

"So how are we going to get the right folder?" Ginji asked after a while. "It'll be harder now, won't it?"

"I'm thinking..."

Ginji thinks about the Mugenjou as Ban drives them out of the city, and thinks about reading. He thinks about Ban, absorbed in a scrounged newspaper or magazine, and tries to fit that absorption into the setting of the Mugenjou. It doesn't work. Reading requires concentration to the exclusion of alertness, and that kind of thing gets people killed.

In the end, getting the proper folder back is not as difficult as they had expected, since it's a matter of inept industrial espionage and they are the invincible Get Backers. The client is happy to receive his company's research materials, and pays them as well as he can. It isn't much, but it's enough to pay off a bit of their ever-growing tab at the Honky Tonk and to get a cheap room for the night. They splurge on sukiyaki for dinner, and afterwards Ginji wins the coin toss for first shot at the shower, so Ban excuses himself to walk down to the corner store for a pack of cigarettes.

Ginji emerges from the bathroom to find his partner leafing through a book. This wouldn't be so strange, if the book weren't so disconcertingly cheerful. There is a duck on the cover—a smiling duck, with galoshes and an umbrella.

"Um, Ban-chan?" Ginji hesitates. "Whatcha doing?"

"Sit down," Ban orders, pointing at the floor next to him. "I'm going to teach you to read."

Ginji blinks at him.

Ban pushes his glasses up on and tries to sound gruff—as gruff as a man holding a book for toddlers can sound, which is not very gruff at all. "Don't look at me like that. It's not that difficult, and you're not stupid."

"Aaaaahhhh, Ban-chan, you're amazing!" Ginji tackles Ban and hugs him.

"Ack!" Ban pries Ginji off him. "It's not that big a deal."

Ginji looks at the book, and the notebooks and other paraphernalia in the plastic bag beside Ban's feet. "Aren't these expensive, Ban-chan?" he asks, digging out a book with a friendly-looking frog on the cover.

"Naw, don't worry about it. 'Sides, I don't want you screwing up another job, so it's worth it." Ban picks up a notebook and a pen. "Let's get started, okay?"

"Okay!" Ginji hovers over the notebook and watches as Ban forms arcane shapes, and begins telling him what they mean.

It is the next morning when Ban tries to bum a cigarette off Paul and is rebuffed that Ginji realizes just how very important this reading thing is to Ban. "Ban-chan, didn't you get cigarettes last night?" he asks.

"Hm? I must have forgotten," Ban shrugs. He shoves a notebook and a pen at Ginji. "Copy down what you learned last night. I want to see if you still remember it."

Ginji bends over the napkin and painstakingly tries to write out what Ban had taught him the night before. Ban looks over his work and nods, and makes some corrections to Ginji's work. Then he starts a new page in the notebook, and sounds out what he's written for Ginji, and tells him to practice.

Paul looks at them over the top of his newspaper, and Ban shrugs a little. Paul doesn't say anything, but hands him a cigarette while Ginji mutters under his breath and does his copying.

The reading progresses in fits and starts, in between jobs and meals and goofing off. It startles Ginji to realize how many bits and pieces he recognizes on signs. He wonders, dizzily, if there was always this much writing in the world before Ban started showing him how to make sense of the jumble of writing, and Ban laughs at him.

Try as he might, though, he can't seem to progress past that. Ban has explained it time and time again, that the characters stand for sounds, and the sounds string together to form words, and Ginji knows he is frustrated, but the gap between theory and practice does not want to be bridged. So Ban drills him endlessly, and surely there is no one in Japan who recognizes characters more swiftly than Ginji does. But that is still not reading.

Ban has read the children's books with Ginji—to Ginji—so many times that he has the damned things memorized. He thinks about moving on to real books, because he is tired of the saccharine repetition of primers, and since Ginji doesn't recognize words, but only the parts of words, they might as well be using real books for these lessons.

If Ban weren't so bloody-minded, he would have surrendered this job a long time ago. He feels Ginji's puzzled glance during reading lessons, wondering why he hasn't given up.

Ban wonders too.

Ban lies with the panache of a master and gives the address of the Honky Tonk to the clerk, and in return gets a library card with his name on it. He turns to see Ginji staring at the shelves of books with wide eyes that are maybe impressed, and maybe just a bit intimidated. "This… is a lot of books, Ban-chan."

"Yeah," Ban says, taking a deep breath of old-book smell and releasing it.

"I don't have to read all of them, do I?"

Ban knuckles his head. "Idiot. No one could read all of these books."

"Especially not at the rate I'm going…" Ginji trails along behind Ban as he moves off into the stacks. Ban is not exactly browsing, and not exactly looking for a specific book; his look reminds Ginji of the way Ban acted when he was in Clayman's gallery. Sometimes he stops at a shelf and pulls a book off, flips through a few pages, and puts it back. When he finds one he likes, he hands it to Ginji instead. They walk out with five books, and that's only because Ginji wonders aloud when they will find the time to go over so many books and Ban stops himself.

Ban parks the 360 near a light source at night now, when they don't have money for a hostel. If Ginji will let him, he reads to him, hoping Ginji will make the connection. Most of the time Ginji nods off during the lessons, and Ban ends up straining his eyesight and reading for his own pleasure. He shorts himself on sleep and is grumpier than usual in the mornings, but tells Ginji not to be silly when he suggests that Ban should read less and sleep more.

They are sitting in Honky Tonk, eating a pizza and waiting for Hevn, who might have a job for them. Ginji is looking over Ban's shoulder as he works through a book aloud.

"You must really like to read, Ban-chan," Ginji observes as Ban turns a page.


"Is this how come you know so much more than me?" he asks.

"Sort of. I didn't spend my formative years in that junkyard, either." Ban gets the sense that Ginji is working toward a point with these questions, and waits.

"If I learn to read—"

"When," Ban says.

Ginji ignores the correction. "Will I know as much as you do?"

Ban considers this. "You could, if you tried really hard. I've got a big lead on you, so it'd be tough for you to catch up."

"Don't you think I could catch up, Ban-chan?" Ginji asks.

"If you had the time, you could, but we're the Get Backers, and pretty soon we'll be so busy we won't have time to read," he boasts. "You'll probably be stuck asking me questions until the end of time."

"You don't mind the questions, do you?"

Ban shrugs. "Naw. The only way to learn is to ask questions." He's still not sure where Ginji is heading with this, and is about to ask when Hevn sashays in and it's time to talk business.

Ban is shocked when he points to a sign out of habit and Ginji reads it—not without some hesitation, but correctly nonetheless. Ginji peers at his partner anxiously. "Did I do it right?" he asks anxiously.

"Perfectly," Ban says, with a grin so wide it threatens to split his face.

That night they eat out to celebrate and splurge on a room, with Ban having Ginji read anything in sight that is printed. They are the target of a lot of curious looks, but ignore the audience. Instead of the nightly reading lesson, Ban shoves a library book into Ginji's hands. "You read to me tonight, okay?"

And Ginji reads to him, slowly and sometimes pausing over difficult words, until it seems like Ban has fallen asleep. He closes the book.

Ban mumbles. "Y'can finish the chapter."

"Later," Ginji says. "Hey, Ban-chan?"


"Why'd you want me to learn to read?"

One sleepy eye cracks open to glare at him. "Books're important. Like dreams y'can share."

"Okay." Ginji thinks he may understand, so he puts the book away and turns out the light before crawling into his half of the bed. "Good night, Ban-chan."

"Mmmrf." Ban is already almost asleep, too tired from late nights and busy days to stay conscious, and coherence has already gone out the proverbial window. Ginji doesn't mind, because he learned to translate Ban-speak even faster than he learned how to read.

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lysapadin: pen & ink painting of bamboo against a full moon (Default)
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