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07 July 2011 @ 12:37 pm
Something’s Burning: Fate could create you and I. [Gintama, 1/8]  
GINTAMA and all characters/ideas/concepts/places therein are not mine, although the writing certainly is.



Title: Something’s Burning: Fate could create you and I.
Characters/Pairing(s): Kawakami Bansai and Takasugi Shinsuke
Rating: NC-17
Summary: A possible look into how Kawakami Bansai and Takasugi Shinsuke met, and why Bansai follows Takasugi in the first place. Part one in many.
Warnings? Graphic depictions of violence.
Notes: This takes place before the start of Gintama, well after the end of the Joui resistance but years before the beginning of the series.



Something’s Burning: Fate could create you and I.


There was something about that particular area of the city that appealed to him, especially in the city of autumn. Edo had been a lively city once, long before the Amanto ever came: it had been old but grand, rife with contradictions yet giving off its own sort of brilliance to residents and visitors alike. It shined ever brighter than before at present – they say that it’s the only city on Earth that one can see from outer space. Takasugi Shinsuke believed, though, that it was a cold light, a dead light from empty glass, steel and silicon towers, foreign and strange and conceited. They cut up the sky during the day, devoured the stars at night. They were, to him, representations of all things unnatural, most especially the alien race that created them.


That place, however, was different. It had been Yoshiwara once, before the Yato king Hosen had come and taken the entire district under – traces of its old grandeur remained, in the Chinese rooftops and liberal use of red on the pillars, the walls. It was a broken and toothless place now, home to the outcast and the exile when it had once been a paradise of women of the night. It was a gallery of villains that always seemed to be on the verge of self-implosion, or collapsing under the weight of all the sin and vice teeming from behind every rotting door, every shuttered window, every dark street corner. Combine that with the biting winds and constant onslaught of dead leaves from every tree, and there was an odd, rotten sort of beauty to the place that amused him. The sort of beauty he would love to die surrounded by, or, better yet, kill somebody in.


The thought made Takasugi smile. He lingered just at the mouth of one of the many alleyways cutting into the main roads of Old Yoshiwara, smoking, looking up at the trees and the skyline past their branches. There was blood pooling at his feet now; it must have started trickling down from the alleyway a few moments ago, when he had been distracted. It matched the shade of red of the leaves fluttering down to the ground, like a peculiar, dizzy sort of rain.


Not his work this time – at least, not directly. He took one last drag of his pipe before turning around, stepping out into the middle of the mouth of the alley. There was a man lying face first in a pool of his own blood, but that did not interest him.


“That was quick.”


The other man in the alleyway was very different from his victim. With his messy black hair and clean face and broad shoulders, in his long black coat and dark shades and large headphones, Kawakami Bansai looked like something that belonged to another time and another place altogether from where they were now. The trace of music bleeding out from his headphones only increased that effect: it was something fast and heavy, high and strange.


Bansai smiled at Takasugi, cool and reserved. He flicked his sword clean, sheathing it into the shamisen on his back. He stepped forward and offered his hand, as any courteous man would to his company if he felt the latter was in need of some assistance. Takasugi ignored it. He was, for all his fine features and indolent ease, no woman, no stranger to death and destruction in any form. He had watched a bit of the hunt; it was only logical. A good businessman carefully monitored the progress of all of his investments.


Takasugi crouched low, right beside the body. The blood was soaking into the heels of his sandals; the smell was strong, overpowering the scent of the smoke from his pipe. He did not care. He had eyes only for the ragged lines torn through the man’s clothes, and the fine, almost surgical slices beneath them.


“Such clean work. Did it bore you, though?” he let the question linger in the air, pausing a moment to bring his pipe to his lips and take a drag. “They talk, you know, about the sort of jobs you take. The things you prefer, the ways you like to kill.”


Bansai did not respond, and Takasugi did not turn around to face him while he was speaking to him. When Bansai left, he left no trace of his presence in the alleyway, not even a trek from his boots. Takasugi did not move to stop him; it was almost as if he had not noticed.


***


They were together again two weeks later, on the second floor of a rundown motel. Bansai had one string from his shamisen wrapped around the neck of an old man. He tightened his grip, kept his knee against the small of the man’s back to keep him from moving much, held his target just above the ground to reduce the flailing and scuffling of his feet over the tatami floor. Takasugi was watching him three feet away with his chin in hand, perched on the window sill. He was haloed by the sunlight, which shone off the gold on the butterflies of his kimono. He had not brought his pipe; it was too hot to smoke much of anything.


The old man was a peculiar target, another one in a line of strange, inglorious contracts that Takasugi had given Bansai. They were nearly as strange as Takasugi’s method of contacting him were. In a world of cellular phones and high speed internet, the bandaged man carried on the way that the Japanese used to in times of adversity: written missives left in his apartment or his office, coded messages passed on to him by unknowing strangers. It was precisely the kind of method Bansai did not favor, and it wasn’t because it was old fashioned. Bansai was a careful man: he wanted to know the kind of client he was going to have before he agreed to anything. Because sound was everything to him, personal meetings, phone calls and online conferences allowed him to do that, to catch a even a chord of their music and know, from just the first few notes, whether they were going to be worth his time or not. Penmanship did nothing for him, and seeking out another in someone else’s voice was foolish.


He had ignored clients before, Bansai suddenly realized, for attempting to hire him in such a fashion. As he stood there, strangling his quarry and waiting for the thrashing about to weaken into nothing, he found himself wondering why he was even agreeing to all of this in the first place. It wasn’t until the old man went limp in Bansai’s arms did the assassin figure things out for himself.


“And now I know that you will not hesitate, no matter who the target is.”


Bansai detached the string from his shamisen with one decisive tug. He looped it about the old man’s neck, tossed the remaining length over the wooden beam directly above them. An effortless pull, and the corpse was hanging, swinging lightly in the breeze coming in from the window. He could feel Takasugi’s one good eye on him throughout the entire process, but from where the man was sitting, it was hard to see his expression.


Takasugi did not come to oversee all of the kills he had Bansai make, and there was no discernible pattern, no way of knowing whether he was going to show up or not. This too, perhaps, was done on purpose.


“These tests are unnecessary, I daresay.” Bansai took the shamisen from his back, caressing its neck, twisting its knobs, tuning it. “You are satisfied enough with my work to hire me repeatedly, are you not?”


“Is that why you think I do this?”


Bansai’s fingers went still, hovered right over the last knob. Even with the way the man was sitting against the light, he knew that Takasugi was smiling. A heartbeat later, the man was standing, heading for the door.


“Enjoy the rest of your day, Kawakami-dono.”


Bansai was distracted hours later, as he sat in an important meeting. He should have been attentive, of course, focused on interviewing a potential new musician for his record company. He was remembering, instead, how it felt to look another man in the eye and realize that for the first time in his life, he had no answers.


***


Much later, months down the line, after slaughtering children and infirms, junkies and whores, drunk ex-samurai and Bakufu half-wits, Bansai found himself on one end of a room full of corpses, watching Takasugi cut a man’s throat open through the spray of blood and falling halves of his latest victim.


He had known that Takasugi would be there that evening, the moment he had received the contract. He knew his patron now; he had pieced together the fragments from their brief exchanges, the silent observation, the things he made a point to read about the man in between one job and the next. It is odd for him to become that deeply invested in learning everything about a client and he knew it. He did not care: he couldn’t bring himself to. The curve of that smirk was a promise; that look in that eye held nothing but possibilities.


There was a light in it now, a crazy gleam sharp and wield as the steel of the knife that Takasugi was swinging through the air at that moment, plunging its tip through the center of another man’s forehead. No cool smiles, no confident smirks: just a grin that was a bit too wide to be sane as Takasugi used that same man as leverage, stealing his sword, running up on the falling corpse and springing off of its shoulders, bringing his next target down to the ground, running him through. He maimed a third by cutting his legs right out from under him, and killed a fourth in an afterthought.


Bansai could hear it in that moment, in the flying limbs and the blood and the mayhem, in the death throes and wild cries and wet gurgles. A song, low and quiet and sinister, heavy and steady and discordant. Perhaps it had always been there; he must have missed it, muted, as it was, by the calm veneer, the masks, the layers of control. Those had fallen away with every cut and kill, letting him see, for the first time since they met, the one who hid beneath.


There were shouts in the corridor behind him, and the rush of feet. Bansai faced them himself, greeting the first man that charged in with the sharp end of his blade. He turned around after he was done, and found nothing but bodies and an open door. He could trace the sight and sound of Takasugi walking away through the brief flashes of steel in the shadows, the distant echo of screams.


***


Bansai returned to his apartment in the small hours of the morning, when the moon already hung low in the sky. He stepped off the street and walked up the stairs, fingers drumming along the steel railings in an absentminded attempt to record the notes of the song he had heard that evening, during the fight. Occupied as he was, he only noticed the fact that the lights were on later, when he was already close enough to see that his door was open.


He didn’t draw the blade from his shamisen; he only paused at the threshold, glancing through the crack, listening for any sounds within. He was greeted by the glimpse of kimono sleeves rolling off of slender wrists, and the sharp, crisp notes of his piano. He entered without a word, and locked the door behind him.


“You’re back late.” Takasugi did not look up. He remained seated on the piano bench, tapping away at mismatched keys. “I was starting to get bored.”


“I didn’t think I’d have you as my guest tonight, I daresay.”


Bansai set his shamisen down by the door. He crossed the room, heading for the kitchen. He listened in on whatever it was that Takasugi was doing, even as he busied himself with a kettle and some water.


“I shall prepare tea for you, sir.”


Takasugi didn’t answer; he continued toying with the keys, testing scales, striking whatever caught his fancy. Bansai turned to watch him as he waited for the water to boil, studying his patron in the studio lights of his apartment, surrounded by his belongings, against his favorite piano. Just hours ago, Takasugi had been riding on the thrill of murder. Now he looked innocent, almost child-like, as he plunked out meaningless little tunes on the piano.


He only spoke after Bansai approached from behind, setting a steaming cup on top of the piano and right within reach.


“I have a new assignment for you.” Fingers moved to the white keys, then the black, then the white. Takasugi went for the tea cup afterward. “A personal one, you could say.”


Bansai circled around the bench and came to a stop by the side of the piano. “Weren’t the previous contracts personal?” he asked, turning to face his number one customer.


“No, not entirely.”


Takasugi sipped his tea. Bansai reached down, letting his fingers move through a simple scales on the keyboard.


“A man has been testing his blade on samurai along the bridge to Kabuki-cho.” Takasugi looked up at Bansai and smiled. “I wonder if you will be able to kill him.”


Bansai hit a full chord rather than a scale in the next moment, flexing his fingers in a spider-like fashion. Takasugi lifted himself up and away from the piano, but not before plunking out a few notes closest to Bansai’s hand. Their fingers nearly touch over the keys.


“This one will take time, I think. You will see what I mean soon enough.”


Takasugi let himself out. He did not bother to wait for Bansai to do it for him.


***


Two weeks passed before Bansai engaged the target. He spent the first week wandering through the area almost aimlessly, walking one way across the bridge and then the other, seeing nothing, finding no one. He got better at tracking his quarry down as time went on: he began to arrive, let’s say, just as the night watch was rushing over to inspect a fresh body bleeding itself out over the waters. Other times, he heard a whisper, caught a whiff of pipe smoke, felt someone watching him from a distance.


The weight of that gaze was familiar. After that long – after everything – he knew.


The next week was all about watching his target. He did not have to do this: he knew when to hide, when to reveal himself. But he had seen his quarry at work before; the image had burned itself across his eyes, destroying everything else. He wanted to prolong the moment, before he brought it all down himself.


He wanted, as well, to study Takasugi Shinsuke as he twisted the hilt of his blade inside the gut of another man just to listen to him scream, and think about the possible reasons why his new patron gave Bansai the right to kill him.


The fourteenth night found him calmly walking up the bridge as Takasugi took another life. He looked on as the bandaged man let his victim drop, letting it slip down unceremoniously from his sword, nudging the gasping man down into the river with a nudge of his sandal. He watched as Takasugi turned to watch it float up and float away, as the latter cocked his head, as if he were listening to distant music.


He was onto Takasugi before the other could react, stepping right up in the latter’s space, locking his blade under his patron’s chin, sliding his hand over those bandages concealing the left side of his patron’s face. The closeness excited him; he could hear his own pulse drumming loudly in his ears, drowning nearly everything else out.


“That was amazing, I daresay.”


Takasugi trembled in his grip; it wasn’t out of fear, but excitement. He felt more than heard that crazy little laugh. He did not move, even as Takasugi was flipping the grip he had on his sword, turning it about and lifting it until the sharp edge rested, with almost romantic precision, right against the back of Bansai’s knees.


Takasugi’s voice was a whisper right into the crook of his neck.


“I wonder what will move faster: your blade cutting my throat open or my blade slicing your legs in half?”


“Would you like to find out?”


“You don’t mean that.”


Bansai didn’t answer. He breathed in, enjoying the feel of Takasugi’s body against his, committing the man’s scent to memory. He sunk his blade into the man’s flesh deeper, drawing blood. Takasugi only sighed, arching up, welcoming Bansai’s blade.


Another whisper, low and hushed, louder than the chafe all around him, in his ears.


“I know what you want now.”


He could end it, then. The cut would be clean; the scenario, only too perfect. Instead, however, he was remembering tiny little nothings keyed out on his piano, and the almost touch of fingers against his own.


Bansai removed his blade from Takasugi’s neck. He stepped away, moving back, sheathing his sword. Takasugi turned around to face him, holding his sword low over the bridge. He was putting one hand to his neck, getting blood on his fingers, bringing them to up to his mouth.


“I forfeit, Takasugi-dono. I need no payment.” He chuckled then, as if remembering an old joke. “I will not fail you next time, I daresay.”


Takasugi merely licked his fingers and smiled.
 
 
Current Mood: jubilantjubilant
Current Music: Stereophonics "Help Me (She's Out of Her Mind)"
 
 
 
Tsuki: Takayellowrose2167 on July 20th, 2011 06:11 pm (UTC)
I'm usually more of a GinTaka fan, but this was so lovely that I think BanTaka has quite significantly moved up on my favorite pairings list because of it. Thank you for writing.~
I look forward to the next part. ^^
do not feed the animalsizkariote on July 23rd, 2011 12:06 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed it!