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18 July 2011 @ 12:30 pm
Something’s Burning: Regarder la lumiere. [Gintama, 5/8]  
GINTAMA and all characters/ideas/concepts/places therein are not mine, although the writing certainly is.




Title: Something’s Burning: Regarder la lumiere.
Characters/Pairing(s): Kawakami Bansai and Takasugi Shinsuke
Rating: PG-13
Summary: A possible look into how Kawakami Bansai and Takasugi Shinsuke met, and why Bansai follows Takasugi in the first place. Part five of eight.
Warnings? Graphic 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.
+ The title of this chapter means “Watch the light” in French.



Something’s Burning: Regarder la lumiere.


The people in the industry were thrilled, to say the least, when he contacted them again. There had been talk in the past few months, in his absence, wild rumors and greatly exaggerated “accounts” based on shaky facts and sweeping speculations. Perhaps he had cracked under the pressure, they said. Perhaps he had killed someone. Perhaps he had found God. Perhaps he had taken in a lover. Either way, they had nearly given up hope, and had been ready to close what they considered to be a glorious chapter in contemporary Japanese music. There was, after all, profit to be found in mourning a great man. It built up the mystery.


Still, at this point? Having him back was better than having him gone. Tsunpo still had crowds to charm, and money to make for them.


In the days after Takasugi Shinsuke drove him away, Kawakami Bansai spent his time talking to people. If it wasn’t in person, it was over the phone. If it wasn’t over the phone, it was by email, or SMS, or faxes, or post. He met people in recording rooms, meetings, in press releases, in bars, in clubs. He smiled at people over coffee, at bar counters, over dinner tables, through the glass of a recording booth. They were always so relieved, so happy to see him. They always had something to ask him, and nothing to give in return beyond their gratitude.


He realized what he was doing much later, after another day full of people and their noise. He was trying to avoid the silence, the long hours before sunrise when there was nothing but him and his piano or him and his shamisen, fingers striking keys/plucking strings, trying to remember Takasugi’s music.



***



He was never alone these days. When he was awake, when he was asleep, there were voices around him, always and ever. He couldn’t see any of them – he didn’t need to. They made their presence known to him, coating everything he saw/heard/smelled/touched/tasted with their noise.


He had forgotten about them, in the years after the end of the war. They weren’t very happy about that. They liked being remembered. They wanted him to feel sorry.


He tried to beg, for a time. If he was contrite enough – if he groveled enough – maybe they’d believe him. Maybe they’d quiet down, and he’d be allowed, once again, to pretend that they weren’t there.


He stopped when he realized that maybe he didn’t want to be alone after all.



***



“You should not be calling this number, you know. You should not even be speaking to me now.”


“Forgive me, Kawakami-dono! We don’t know who else to turn to.”


Twentieth hour, third day of the first week, first month. Bansai was in his room, standing in front of the glass wall. No headphones; just his mobile pressed between his right ear and his shoulder. He was holding the sheet music of a budding young star that his company was thinking of pirating from another. He had been studying it when the call came in.


“Takasugi-dono has gone mad, sir… he is completely beyond our reach. We have lost good loyalists in attempting to approach him.”


He could imagine the song clearly just by staring at the notes. Light, innocent, hopeful: it was likely best if they had her perform in acoustic sessions often, should they manage to succeed in stealing her away.


“Our ranks are in shambles. There are deserters by the day.”


A slight technical flaw, in the bridge. Bansai reached towards the edge of his desk, picking up the pencil lying at the corner. He solved the issue with a single scribble.


“Please return to the Kihetai, Kawakami-dono. We need you!”


“He told me to leave.”


Bansai hung up.



***



There was a place full of ghosts, far away from Old Yoshiwara, from the cold city of aliens and shadows. He followed the sound of them, pushed on by the voices. He traveled on foot to get there, must’ve been walking for days, didn’t notice at all.


He cut down the first one he saw. The body was heavy, warm, possibly male. Pretty blood, slow to flow out. He couldn’t see the sky in their puddles.


Someone started sobbing/laughing. Who was it? He sifted through the voices, seeking it out. Maybe he could comfort it somehow. Maybe he could make it better.


When he realized it came from his own throat, he walked off to find another corpse to make.



***



“We will have to cancel the tour to the north, I think.”


“Oh?”


Fourteenth hour, fifth day of the second week, third month. A corporate meeting with corporate bigwigs talking concerts and profit and money, music, money. Bansai listened to the song in his headphones, tapping his finger to the beat of a snare drum, gut strings. None of the people at the table cared: they knew he was paying attention.


“Haven’t you heard the stories? There’s a murderer on the loose, wandering through the towns. He kills whoever he finds out on the streets at night.”


“What, and the government can do nothing?”


“They don’t care. The crazy’s not in the capital: they can turn a blind eye.”


“I feel sorry for the people there…”


“Don’t. It’s not like any of them can afford our tickets anyway.”


The song ended. Bansai pulled the headphones from his ears.


“There was a castle town there before, right? With a school. The Amanto burned it all down.”


“Hell if I know, Tsunpo-dono. Is it important?”


He only smiled. A round of curious looks, and then they forgot all about it.



***



He remembered, sometimes, when there weren’t any ghosts to kill. It came back in flashes, brief and sharp moments of clarity like knives of light through his skull.


Stifle a sob; laugh. Since he couldn’t stop breathing.



***



“Greetings. This is Tsunpo, and I daresay I cannot answer your call right now. Please leave a message.”



***



There are few then there are many then few then many then noise then nothing and bodies in the ground beneath his feet laughing ha ha ha they are lost they know him he knows them buried them once can do it again but they’ll never shut up never shut up shut up sob shut hush don’t cry want a little quiet quiet kill some more then blood is warm nice now they won’t be lonely.



***



They tried to warn him, the moment he rode into town. Surely he heard the stories. Surely he was a smart man: he’d move on, reach the city further down the road well before sunset and cool off his heels in a big, safe hotel. He was all smiles, painful politeness. Yes, he wouldn’t stay long. No, they needn’t worry. He knew where he wanted to go; he could take care of himself.


He climbed the steps up to the ruins of the school and waited.



***



New noise new smell sword tear the cloth of the dark lift up, step, shove the ghosts, kill the memories go for the throat: end it.



***



Third hour, first day of the third week, third month. Takasugi Shinsuke had emerged from the ruins of the school, flown over the snowed in courtyard with ridiculous ease and aimed his sword straight for Bansai’s neck.


In the few intimate seconds they had, as he was warding off Takasugi’s blade with his own, Bansai had a single, perfect moment to study the shadow the other had become. He was something thin and starved now, wielding a sword chipped and caked with dried up bits of blood and people, grinning at nothing. The bandages he used to carefully change every day were gone, showing off the broken face that had hidden beneath them.


Bansai adjusted his footing, gaining just the amount of leverage he needed to shove Takasugi away – the sound of the metal of their blades against each other sounded like a shriek. The other swordsman staggered back, one foot behind the other, rounded forward, flipped the grip of his sword and charged at him again, and again, and again.


As they came together, as the courtyard of the ruined school echoed with the sound of their fighting, he focused all of his energies on studying the one that now stood before him, listening for the music, the thrumthrumthrum of his heartbeat, his soul. He could have ended it quickly – this wasn’t the man who had hired him, the one who could take down hundreds with systematic precision. He was facing a monster who knew no cold, no heat, no pain and no fear. He was seeing Takasugi as he used to be, at the moment when the world broke him.


He knew Takasugi wasn’t fighting him, but fighting a memory, trying to destroy the ghost of the one who had left him behind. He was no memory. He was no ghost.


As he drew his strings tight and wrapped them, quite lovingly, about the limps and neck of his master, he told himself that he was doing them both a favor. As he dragged Takasugi up, pinned him between a broken wall and the warmth of his body, he told himself it was the only way. The younger man was shaking his head like a child, sobbing, screaming, fighting to throw him off. He felt none of the blows; he listened to the quake of the other’s breath.


“I’m here, Shinsuke.”


He slipped a knife between Takasugi’s ribs, felt him jerk, felt the grind of the blade against flesh, muscle and bone. He kissed the broken lid of Takasugi’s missing eye.


“Don’t worry. I’ll never leave you alone.”


And he waited for the rasp of Takasugi’s breath to quiet down, stroking his fingers through that blood matted hair, until the man in his arms went still. The courtyard went silent with his master, filling up with snow. He began to hum a song.
 
 
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