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10 July 2011 @ 01:00 am
Something’s Burning: Errands and affairs. [Gintama, 3/8]  
GINTAMA and all characters/ideas/concepts/places therein are not mine, although the writing certainly is.



Title: Errands and affairs.
Characters/Pairing(s): Bansai Kawakami, Takasugi Shinsuke, Katsura Kotaro
Rating: PG
Summary: A possible look into how Kawakami Bansai and Takasugi Shinsuke met, and why Bansai follows Takasugi in the first place. This takes place before the start of Gintama, well after the end of the Joui resistance but years before the beginning of the series.
Warnings? None.
Notes:
+ Taking a cue out from a pre-series fic that my friend nique wrote for some of the details I’ve included here, revolving around Gintoki and Katsura. Read it sometime soon – it’s a lovely, lovely thing.
+ Canon details on exactly how Shouyo died and the like remain fuzzy, so I’m taking some liberties.



Something’s Burning: Errands and affairs.


The crickets were the first thing that the both of them heard, well before they reached their destination – their boat had still been navigating the bend of the river, in fact, when they first caught wind of them. There was an army of them, it seemed, up in the trees, in the grass, behind the rocks, the walls. Their droning filled the air, loud enough to echo in one’s ears long after one had retreated to cooler and quieter places. It would have been fine, perhaps, if it was consistent enough to wash out into the background, like white noise. The singing happened in waves, however, returning whenever one least expected it.


Bansai did not know why they were venturing out to a place like that one. He found himself thinking about it yet again when they entered the town; he couldn’t help himself. It was a dismal little place, more a collection of huts and shabby excuses for buildings centered on a rotting temple, half-hidden by the beginnings of a vast forest. They were days away from the capital, so far out from the fringes that the people were either ignorant enough to believe that the Amanto were a myth, or were simply too caught up in struggling to survive to really care who was in power and who wasn’t. The heat was something terrible, stronger than the cool air that should’ve been part and parcel with proximity to a forest: it baked the ground and danced in waves just over in the distance, whenever one dared to look too far ahead.


“You look troubled, Bansai. Care to tell me what’s on your mind?”


Takasugi was, of course, amused – when had he ever been anything but amused at someone else’s discomfort? The bandaged man smiled up at him from under the cover of the straw hat he was wearing, to keep the light out of his eyes and the heat off of his head.


“I’m merely cynical. This place doesn’t look like it’s capable of housing human beings, I daresay, let alone radicals.”


“Whoever said anything about radicals living like human beings?”


Takasugi paused at the largest junction in the village – the “square”, with its temple and its decrepit market stalls. He surveyed their surroundings a moment before drawing out the map he had kept folded in one of his sleeves. “The end of the war had all of us scattering to the farthest corners of the country,” he murmured, as he studied the paper in his hands. “A few even stowed away overseas. Those who still believed had to survive at any cost, even if it meant giving up their dignity.”


Bansai chose not to comment. He studied his master, seeing him as he was now and attempting to imagine what he might have been like back then, a youth of sixteen or seventeen summers standing with an army of hundreds. He wondered, as often as he did, how many Amanto Takasugi had killed, how many people he had murdered in the name of justice before the war had taken his eye. He wondered, as well, how many others Takasugi had moved on to kill after that.


Takasugi folded the map up again, setting off to the west in the direction of the forest. Bansai chose to walk behind his leader rather than fall in step at his side. Takasugi glanced back at him just once in open amusement before simply turning forward again, letting Bansai have his way.


In the months that came after Bansai had decided to follow Takasugi, the two of them had spent much of their time traveling across the country, rebuilding the Kihetai. Most times, Takasugi walked wherever he pleased, winning over the newly displaced – the orphans, the widowed, the misfits, the criminals, or simply anyone who wished for nothing else but the world to end – over with his words and his smile. Sometimes, he called upon specific individuals who used to fight alongside of him, or was, in one way or another, connected to the people who used to fight with him and had not been able to make it out of the war alive. Still other times, he tracked down the source of a rumor about this-or-that veteran, or so-and-so deserter and chased after it, ferreting out the ghosts, offering them redemption. They almost always walked away successful. The few who could not be moved quickly proved that they had not been worth the effort, by suicide or however else.


Takasugi did not speak at length about the war: whatever Bansai learned of it came in odd remarks, clipped statements. He said close to nothing about himself: those details were ones Bansai gleaned through second or third hand accounts, question sessions after sex, and personal observation. All of that, however, was precious little compared to what he should have been able to get out of anyone else.


He knew about the man named Shouyo, the school, the way the villagers had tipped the Amanto off and stood by, doing nothing, as the invaders rounded up the teachers and many of the students, locked them in, and burned them inside. He knew about the army that had formed years after, headed by three of its surviving students, supported by a fourth youth from the southern islands. He knew that Takasugi had been one of them. He also knew that the mere mention of the names of his schoolmates or the swordsman from the south in Takasugi’s presence could get a man killed. Bansai had discovered that the hard way; he had cuts on his hands, right across the upper pads of his palms, from the time he had had to catch and pull away the knife that Takasugi had tried to drive through his chest. He had fucked the anger out of his leader, in successive rounds.


To his credit, Bansai had managed to dig around a bit before Takasugi had snapped. Others had died for less.


“Stop daydreaming, Bansai. We’re nearly there.”


They had left the village proper, and stood on the start of a path that meandered its way towards the forest. Takasugi was far ahead; he already stood right at the mouth of the forest. He was standing in the shadows of the trees, lifting an eyebrow in Bansai’s direction. The musician only smiled, dipped his head in apology and dutifully picked up the pace.


It took them about ten more minutes of walking before they reached their destination. There was a clearing and a hut beside an ancient lake, just as their informants had described: the smoke rising up from the chimney was sure indicator that it was, indeed, occupied.


“Wait here. Follow me in if I’m not back in an hour.”


Takasugi set off without waiting for Bansai to respond. That was, of course, expected: the man never allowed anyone else to witness his meetings with the people he was trying to win over. Bansai watched his leader leave for a moment before settling his back against the nearest tree.


It wouldn’t take long, if he was lucky.


***


The sun was not so oppressive in the clearing. Much of its light filtered through the trees – tall ones, taller than the like Takasugi had seen in the past. There were no crickets, no odd human rabble: even Bansai’s presence was fading from his awareness, blending in with his surroundings. Takasugi, however, took pains to move quietly not because he was loathe to disturb the stillness, but because stealth brought particular advantages. After numerous engagements, Takasugi felt best that those whom he visited did not know that he was coming until it was too late.


He did not have much to go on, with this one. Unlike many of the others, the details had been sparse and the rumors nonexistent. Part of him was even inclined to consider the possibility that this trip out might lead him nowhere. That did not irritate him nearly as much as he might have expected. Achieving what he had set out to do would take time. He was patient when he needed to be.


Takasugi moved up the path, taking note of his surroundings, marking any possible escape routes and the oddities of the terrain. He slowed down, however, the moment he was close to the door, and paused right in front of it, taking time out to listen for any noises within. That he heard nothing was the first indicator that for all of his care, his approach might have been noticed. He slid the door open with his left hand – his right, his sword hand, stayed on the hilt of his blade. He managed to take a few steps inside the house before he was attacked; it was a strike he had been more than ready for.


It was not the first time that someone he had attempted to visit attacked him on the get go. Many of the war’s survivors were still haunted by the way things had ended, held prisoner by their own paranoia, quick to lash out at whoever threatened what remained of their peace of mind. They, however, had been easy to subdue. This one ended up taking a bit more work than a turn of a heel and a proper hit with the flat of his blade. Still, a round of sword blows and a bit of scuffling in the semi-darkness of a rude cabin hardly constituted a fight, and it wasn’t long before Takasugi had his opponent backed against a wall, with his sword at the latter’s throat. It was only in that moment – when they were pressed close, close enough for their breaths to mingle in the air between their faces – which he got a good look at the man he had sought out.


He had not thought that he would ever see that face again.


“Zura.”


“Takasugi.”


The cabin went still all around them. He could hear nothing, it seemed, even the sound of his own breathing.


***


“I survived through the kindness of some of our old supporters. They took me in after our defeat in Fukushima and nursed me back to health.”


The tea was finally ready. Kotaro Katsura removed the kettle from where it had been hanging over the fire and poured its contents into two cups. It was an awkward movement, slow and shaky: he wasn’t using his dominant hand. The nerves were still strange in that one, after a sword blow had nearly destroyed it.


“I haven’t heard anything since they hid me away here… the people who aided me feel that it’s better if I recover first before I rally the troops, since there’s a price on my head. As such, I couldn’t have known that you were coming. I didn’t even know you were still alive.”


He rose to his feet with care, putting as little weight on his mangled left leg as possible. He limped into the sitting room, set the tray – with its kettle, its rice balls and its cups – at the center, and arranged himself in the far corner, exactly opposite to where his guest of the moment was.


Takasugi did not stir. He remained sitting on the sill of the window overlooking the lake, the spot he took up the moment he had finally taken his sword from Katsura’s neck. He had not looked once in Katsura’s direction since then.


“Finding me should have been next to impossible. You either had help, or you’re rebuilding the Kihetai.” Katsura reached out for his cup and took a sip. “Which one is it?”


Silence, yet again. Given the way they had departed years ago, with the smashed sake cups and the collar grabbing and the shouting, that Takasugi had not killed him on the spot was a surprise. His silence was worrisome. Katsura expected rage, expected drawn blades and accusations. He did not know what to make of the deathly stillness.


He spoke again, because it was easier to do that than to think.


“If you’re after the Amanto in our government, I’ll help you once I’ve recovered. There’s still a chance to change things, and if the two of us worked together…” he trailed off. He did not mean to. Memories were terrible things. Guilt was worse. “I want to keep fighting. You do as well, don’t you?”


“I will not fight with a traitor.”


Takasugi had finally turned to face him. Katsura knew that look. It was the same one Takasugi used to get on the battlefield when they were surrounded by their enemies, and he had every intention of taking them all down to hell with him.


“Well? Have you anything to say? Or do I take your silence as your willingness to accept that I am right?”


“You went mad, Takasugi.”


“I was fighting for the cause.”


There was music coming in from somewhere beyond the cabin; a lone shamisen. Odd: no one in the village, even the girls serving at the temple, where capable of playing one. Katsura couldn’t make out the notes. His hands remained folded around the teacup in his hands, pale and still.


“We’ll end up crossing paths again, you know – we need each other. If we start something, perhaps Gintoki will come around.”


He knew, distantly, that he had made a mistake the moment those words had left his lips, the second that name entered the conversation. He couldn’t help himself, it seemed. He hadn’t been able to convince Sakata Gintoki, when the two of them had run into each other. He didn’t want to have another one of the people he might have called his friends in another life leave.


Perhaps a part of him knew, as well, that if there was anything that could catch Takasugi’s attention, it would be the name of the one person they had all placed their faith in, during the war. The one person who could make Takasugi heel. The one person Takasugi might have felt just a bit more for, out of all of them.


Takasugi was standing, abandoning his place at the window sill. He did not speak again until he was at the door.


“That person no longer exists to me.”


By the time Katsura managed to lift himself up and head for the door, Takasugi was gone.


***


Bansai had been in the middle of his first song when Takasugi emerged from the cabin. His master said nothing to him; he only walked fast, heading back the way they had come. Bansai took his shamisen up and followed him.


“So there was nothing?”


Takasugi did not answer.
 
 
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
Current Music: Diamond Rio - "One More Day"
 
 
 
シボ 洋蔥さん: if ever a bunny looked at the moonnijibug on August 28th, 2011 06:41 am (UTC)
Ahhh I'm really enjoying this so far. And wow, I didn't realize this sooner but I've read all your Lin/Naru fic from Ghost Hunt. (Needless to say, I loved those too.) ♥