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Between Two Lungs

Chapter Text

There are boxes everywhere, with their contents spilling out haphazardly. It’s a silent kind of chaos, but Tsukuyo couldn’t be any happier.

In the quiet of her new (her own) 700 square feet of space, Tsukuyo can finally breathe. It’s not to say that Hinowa’s had been stifling, or even small, but the traffic of people brought in noise and energy that left her feeling more tired than she ought to, although that much was to be expected from the dwellings that housed an escort service.

Yoshiwara- The Land of Vices and Pleasure had been home in the most basic sense- it’s where she slept and ate and laughed with escorts and clients alike, but it was also where she worked and studied and argued with the inebriated. Her closest friend had sheltered her during the most trying times of her education- of her life- so when she received her degree and the lease to this place, Tsukuyo knew it was time to stop leeching off of Hinowa and Seita’s space and food. She’d always been attracted to the irony of a civil law student living and working in the district best known for its covert and not always legal businesses and clients- still she doubted her employers would find it as funny as she does.

Now in the still seedy, but definitely affordable residential corner of Kabukicho, a Red Light District with slightly thicker walls, the stars were visible and rent was cheap- her work building three train stops away. There was plenty to study and witness. All these strange people kept her entertained and in the know. On top of that she had a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom and a sitting room- already more than she knows what to do with. Tsukuyo had never been one for frivolity in her 23 years, and though many would call her place dumpy, she was ready to call it home. As much as Yoshiwara had left her tired and grumpy, the bright lights and bustling energy was what would lull her into a sense of warm security every night. Perhaps all she needed was her own space and some fresh air uncharacteristic to the underground she had been stuck in.

Stepping onto her balcony, which took less than 3 paces to cross entirely, she leaned against the cold metal rails and stared at the span of brightly-lit buildings and bridges that strangers crossed- by foot, car or train. All these people living without acknowledgment of anyone else around them- the thought was strangely calming. With the city bustling beneath, beside, across from, everywhere around her, Tsukuyo closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

And then promptly coughed it out.

She’s not sure how it had snuck up on her like this- she’d been to parties, small social outings with fellow students just looking to unwind. She lived and worked in Yoshiwara for a good chunk of her life, but drugs had always been restricted, either completely or in closed off rooms she would rarely step into for reasons other than tidying up after patrons long gone.

Marijuana, though. The way the smoke would cling to her was different from her cigarettes- which were definitely the lesser of the two evils here, just to be clear. Also it was illegal. Going to prison for a plant was hardly worth it. She’s heard from second hand sources the bliss that would come upon one who partook in it, and though she sort of understood the appeal that drug-induced ignorance held, she always kept a firm hold on her inhibitions, snubbing the substances that would loosen her grip. A cough sounds from the room next to hers.

Bringing a sleeve up to her nose, Tsukuyo stomps back into her apartment to finish unpacking the sea of beige boxes.


 

“Eh? You’re probably talking about Gintoki, the miscreant.” Otose, Tsukuyo’s landlady, and Gintoki’s by consequence, snorts derisively and takes a drag of her cigarette the next morning. “He’s harmless, but I’ll go scream at him if it makes you feel better.”

Before Tsukuyo can open her mouth to tell her there is no need, Otose barks at a bespectacled boy walking his dog.

“Oi! Megane, tell your no-good father figure his smoking is disturbing the neighbors again.”

“Er, wait a second Otose-san there’s no need-“

“Hey! Who are you calling a Megane?” The boy is much too old to be called a boy, but the planes of his face suggest he is still young, especially when they brightened at the sight of Tsukuyo. “Oh, hello! You must be Gin-san’s new neighbor. I’m Shinpachi.” He bows. “Sorry about the- you know- Gin-san’s never really been very considerate of those around him. Shinpachi glares up at the window Tsukuyo assumes to belong to the man in question.

Eventually, Otose send the two off to pick up groceries for the bar she runs underneath the complex. The time is filled with Shinpachi’s chatter- all of it friendly and informal, but not quite asinine. She figures that she enjoys his company.

“So what do you think of living there so far? You know, aside from the obvious.” Tsukuyo takes a moment to respond, but tells him that she likes the newfound quiet. Shinpachi looks at her strangely- The Red Light District was hardly what anyone would call quiet. Still, he accepts the comment. “Don’t worry about Gin-san, he’s lazier than he is anything else, but he’s a good person.” The fond smile that stretches across the boy’s face pings a reminder of Otose’s words from earlier. Father figure? She’s curious, but she doesn’t ask, choosing to smile and listen to the easy stream of words that come from the boy.


 

Work is a pain, Tsukuyo decides as she kicks her shoes into the coat closet.

It’s been a week since she’s moved into the apartment complex and things have been quiet next door. After their excursion Shinpachi walked up the stairs with her and vowed to tell Gin about her complaints. She took the mostly clean air outside her living room as proof of his acquiescence. She steps out into the night and takes note of the lingering smells of Kabukicho- perfumes and fried foods- that sit beneath the clean air. She lets out a sigh and slumps against the now familiar railings, taking a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from her coat pocket. As she lights up and sucks in the nicotine, her free hand undoes the top buttons of her constricting blouse.

“A smoker, I see. I was going to get mad but I got distracted by your little show, Blondie.” Tsukuyo whirls to her right and sees a man staring at her, his arm propped up on the rail of his own balcony. His chair is shamelessly angled to face her completely and his chin rests in his hand. His posturing speaks of boredom, like he was waiting for Tsukuyo to entertain him.

It’s probably exactly what he was waiting for, Tsukuyo thinks to herself. She wills her heart to slow down its erratic thumping, unused to being taken by surprise. “I wasn’t giving anyone a show, don’t flatter yourself old man.” She turns again, trying discreetly to replace the topmost buttons. She became accustomed to dealing with leering men long ago. “You should make your presence known immediately- you’re just spying through omission, you pervert.”

“I usually let the weed do the talking, and watch who you’re calling old, lady.” Upon closer investigation she realizes that the man’s hair is not the white and grey that belong naturally to Japan’s growing senior population. Rather it is silver and wild, his face young and smug but the eyes sleepy. Still, the lidded expression is not what gives him away. It is the realization that the apartment she is facing, the occupant she is talking to is Gin-san.

“Huh. From the way Shinpachi described you, I was sure you’d be a perverted old man.” He laughs at this. “So who decided to name you after your hair color?”He hmmphs here.

“So are you going to give me a name or should I keep calling you Blondie?”

“Did Shinpachi not tell you my name?”

“I’d prefer to hear it from the lady herself.” Tsukuyo has to let out a snort at that one.

“Tsukuyo.” She nods, not quite wanting to look him in the eye.

“Sakata Gintoki- resident stoner, arguable MADAO.” He winks at her, and Tsukuyo has to look away again, taking a shaky drag of her shrinking cigarette. She taps the ashes onto the tray by her elbow.

A tsk sounds from behind her, much closer than it was before and her first instinct is to punch. Her fist is caught midair, by the infuriating man, who studies the pack in her hands.

“Smoking is such a filthy habit, surprising that it’s coming from the woman who preaches to the choir when she smells a little bit of pot.” Tsukuyo is too shocked to say anything, too shocked to even be worried for her safety after this man, who is a good head taller and much wider than she is- jumps onto her balcony and is touching her, examining the cardboard square in her hands- all with an infuriating smirk etched onto his already smug face.

“I-it’s illegal! And what do you think you’re doing? How’d you get over here?”

He blinks stupidly at her. “I jumped.” He gestures vaguely towards his side of the complex. “And no offence, Tsukki, but if it’s legality you’re concerned about, you won’t be finding a lot of that in Kabukicho. Quite the opposite, really.” He glances at the arm he’s holding and lets her go. “Besides, everyone knows that cigarettes are what kill. Marijuana’s never hurt anyone.”

“It’s 5 years in prison if you’re caught.”

“Mhmm, if you’re caught, Tsukki-chan.” And then he pulls out a joint and Tsukuyo isn’t sure what to splutter about first.

“Excuse me? I- what? Don’t call me that! And how dare you bring that onto my property, I just told you- it’s illegal.” Instead of withdrawing like any decent person would, Gintoki only pulls the cigarette from her mouth, which has burned down to the filter and smiles at her.

“C’mon Blondie, live a little! Don’t let the law control every bit of your life.” They’re both sitting on the floor of her balcony now. Gintoki is lounging against a plant and Tsukuyo sits stiffly with crossed arms, still unsure of exactly how she had allowed the night to unfold this way. “How about just one drag?”

“I’ll have you know I work in law enforcement.” She waits for his expression to morph into one of panic, but the silver haired idiot only smiles.

“You won’t tell on me.” She realizes that he’s right and she scowls at him.

“Fine, I won’t. But I don’t want you smoking on my balcony- or even yours. It stinks up my place. Also keep your door closed when you do.”

Gintoki pockets the blunt and nods in agreement. “Then I guess I’ll be sucking on it somewhere else from now on. But if you ever need something or someone to help you relax, I’m your man.” Before she can even blush, Gintoki has jumped the rails and is wishing her a goodnight. “Sweet dreams, neighbor. You need the beauty sleep for your skin. Y’know, to make up for the chemicals you’re huffing into your bloodstream.” It’s followed by a laugh and then the sound of a door sliding shut.

“You’re also banned from jumping onto my balcony from now on!” A beat, and then

“I can’t make any promises.” A muffled voice calls from inside. Away from the red gaze, Tsukuyo finally allows herself a small smile.

Chapter Text

A train running along the Shinjuku transit line is congested, normal for this time. It is stopped in the middle of rush hour, which is not unheard of, but since Tsukuyo is on said train and 15 minutes behind schedule, she is starting to feel the annoyance creep on her.

The voice on the intercom that has been chiming in sporadically, thanking the riders for their patience goes ignored by Tsukuyo and the suits and shorts shifting in place beside her. She’s already texted Hinowa more messages than she’s bothered to count. Since none of them have been returned, she can only assume that none have been received and Seita is already waiting for her under the overhang of her apartment building. Tsukuyo knows she shouldn’t worry too much, the boy lives in a modern day brothel in the widely known Pleasure District. Still, he remains uncorrupted and childlike, his naivety is intact and the thought of some creep taking advantage of Seita’s youth throws her into a cold sweat.

She continues to try Hinowa’s cellphone, cursing her for trying to be a good mom attentive to the dangers of children owning personal devices with internet connection by not allowing Seita to have a phone until his 10th birthday.  

Frustrated, Tsukuyo tries to think of an alternative contact and her phone almost slips out of her hand when she remembers Otose and how she should be opening shop around this time. The train had begun moving during the ordeal and a woman’s voice sounds from the other side.

“Hello, Otose’s Snack House in Kabukicho. Tama speaking.” Tsukuyo’s heart is still racing.

“Yes, Tama this is Tsukuyo, I moved in a few weeks ago. Listen, this is a little urgent-“

“Ah, yes. Hello Tsukuyo-sama I am Otose-sama’s personal assistant. I am available to help with an array of chores and social requirements, whatever it is you see fit. I have experience in both desk work and domestic chores and have an excellent disposition when dealing with rowdy customers. I have been commissioned by Otose-sama to-“.

“Can you see a child anywhere? He’s about four and-a-half feet tall with brown hair. He’s most likely wearing a backpack and-“.

“-uphold the reputation and hygiene of her bar and residence. I will be more than happy to assist you with whatever it is you need to be done.” Tsukuyo was clearly more fazed than Tama-san, so she takes a deep breath and tries again.

“Could you look around for a little boy? He’s just come from school and I’m running late in meeting him.”

“I am sorry Tsukuyo-sama but I have no record of a child within close vicinity of this building. Actually, children must avoid Kabukicho, especially so late on a Friday.”

“Yes, yes, Tama but you see, I’m running late because of a train delay and he has no phone-“.

“I am not making judgements on our character Tsukuyo-sama, but perhaps you should supply your child with a phone if you were to let him wander around such an area by himself so late at night.” The girl’s voice shows no sign of judgement or disapproval but Tsukuyo’s attention was snagged on her words.

“Wait, no- Seita is not my son. And it’s 3PM, what are you talking about?”

“Children these days are exposed to many dangers. The knowledge of these risks are important for them to know, particularly in Kabukicho, where women are presented as nothing more than sex objects. This can be very damaging to the male child psyche particularly if his primary mother figure will be absent from his life in order to work. Freudian psychology suggests-”.

Tsukuyo hangs up on the girl right as the train doors opened up to the platform of Shinjuku-sanchome station. She likes Tama, but she’s too preoccupied with the safety of her little brother/nephew figure to care for propriety. She’s already sure that Tama will not take offense, so she shoves her phone into her bag and pushes her way through the throng of people, fully intending to book it to her building when she reaches the escalators.


 

Tsukuyo doesn’t make it to her building before she spies Seita’s mop of brown hair. She lets out a sigh of relief, her mind had raced with her heart and legs, imagining all the trouble he could’ve gotten himself into. She’s about to call out his name when she sees that he is  walking and talking alongside a puff of senior-citizen silver hair stuck on top of a nearing middle-aged man’s body.

Tsukuyo will later deny that the first though to cross her mind is he’s pretty damn built. Instead, she will focus on the fact that she had ran to Seita to make sure he was alright before she even looked at the man.

“Tsukuyo-nee!” Seita runs up to her and immediately starts chattering about his day. What she catches through her slowly receding anxiety is that he had waited right outside her door after sneaking past the ladies in the front (“because you always warned me about strangers in the Pleasure District no matter their sex- prostitutes here aren’t as kind as Yoshiwara’s”.), but he had gotten bored and started making too much noise like he always does, when Gin-chan popped his head through the door and yelled at him to be quiet. And now the old man was taking him out for ice cream. She listens attentively and by the time the three arrive at the only family-friendly ice cream parlour in the area, Seita has raced off to stare down the flavours through the window, interrupting the enthusiastic flow of his own monologue.

She turns to Gintoki, who is scratching the back of his head and looking at the ground. It’s almost endearing.

“So, uh, he’s a good kid. Very smart.” He’s still not looking at her and she finds his bashfulness a nice switch from his overzealous boldness a few nights before.

“Yeah, I’m glad he’s in my life. He keeps me on my toes, forcing me to play with him and whatnot.” She smiles a little when she hears him let out a soft laugh.

“Ha, yeah, kids are like that.” There a stretch of silence between them as they watch Seita try to decide which flavours he wants and whether he wants a cone or a cup. “Hey, I’m sorry.” Tsukuyo turns to look at him, confused.

“What for?” His hand has disappeared again into the depths of his perm.

“You shoulda’ told me there was a kid. I would’ve stopped right away. Y’know, the smoking and- borderline sexual harassment.” He coughs out the last part. “I never did that kinda stuff around my kids, even though Pachi-boy would sniff it out right away.” He pauses. “The first one, I mean. I swear I didn’t do either around my kids, I’m not a pervert, just a flirt.”

Tsukuyo smiles at him. The man is endearing, she has to admit. She’s enjoying his company when civil, formal conversation passes between them. “It’s no problem, Seita wasn’t in the apartment at the time. As for the borderline sexual harassment, I forgive you, just- maybe don’t do it again?” Gintoki nods and smiles back.

“Of course, so does Seita stay with his father? Is this a split custody thing?” She blinks.

“Huh?”

Gintoki throws up his arms in surrender. “Sorry, sorry, I might’ve overstepped my boundaries there again.”

“Not at all, it’s just that he lives with his mother. There’s not really a father in the picture.” Gintoki starts coughing, Tsukuyo stares at him, expecting him to be holding a hacked up lung when he finally recovers.

“O-oh. I really didn’t think you were- uh, y’know.” He clears his throat once more and Tsukuyo is confused. “Wow, I am very sorry.”

“Well, I never knew him, so there’s really no use apologizing, Sakata-san.” Her comment earns her another strange look, so she tries again. “Uh, his mother and I are very good friends.”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” He clears his throat. “So how did Seita come about?”

This was getting very strange. “Well, the normal way?”

“Oh, I see. So what would you consider the normal way?” She narrows her eyes.

“Is this another sexual harassment thing? Because you just said you would stop.”

“No! No, I mean like, were there any special instruments, operations involved or..?” And just like that Tsukuyo’s brain dings.

“I am not Seita’s mom!”

“Ah, I see. He did call you Tsukuyo-nee. Is it one of those young mother complexes? You can’t be more than 25 years old. 28 maybe.”

“No, you dumb shit. Seita is not mine, I’m just his surrogate mother’s little sister figure.” It’s Gintoki’s turn to squint in confusion.

“So you’re not a lesbian?”

“No!”

“Ahh, thank God for that.” He’s reclining again, resting the back of his head on both arms crossed behind him. The cocky expression has since replaced his shyness and Tsukuyo finds herself taking back all she said about it being cute before. “Not that there’d be anything wrong with it. It’d just be harder for me.” Suddenly his right arm is wrapped around her shoulders and her side is pressed against a hard, masculine torso.

“What do you think you’re-“

“Thanks for treating us to ice cream, Tsukki!” And before she can suplex him head to ground for touching her so casually, he’s sprinting off to join a contented Seita, who holds a cone and a cup while he tries to figure out how to eat them with both hands occupied. She’s not surprised when the idiot gets himself a vanilla cone. She just shakes her head and adjusts to the fact that she’ll be taking care of two children for the night.


 

Gintoki returned with the vanilla cone and presented it to her with a chivalrous flourish of his muscled arms ("I thought you would like your ice cream a little boring"). Tsukuyo can’t help but be a little bit more charmed- that is until he swipes Seita’s cup of strawberry ice cream and admonishes him for trying to give his mother a higher dental bill to pay.

The three of them make their way around the more child-friendly portions of Shinjuku. Even with Seita’s constant bubble of words, Tsukuyo cannot help but be self-conscious with Gintoki in such close proximity. A complicated man, an infuriating man, but still admirably bold and good with children. She tries her hardest not to let her insecurities shine through so that this stranger (who has touched her entirely too much and too casually, but she can’t be bothered to feel uncomfortable underneath those calloused fingers) can see them.

Later in the evening, when they’re all laughing and climbing the stairs to their apartments, Tsukuyo notices the warm feeling in her stomach she’d commonly associate with family was beginning to bubble up inside her. She glances at Gintoki, who is busy talking to Seita about some manga, and quickly admonishes herself for being too paranoid.

This was not a feeling Gintoki gave her, it was most likely from the ice cream. Also she’d missed Seita and seeing him was nice, nostalgic and reminded her of Hinowa.

After they separate and Seita has brushed his teeth of all the sugar he had no doubt consumed in the sample section of the grocery market they’d stopped by, he stretched out on the spare futon by Tsukuyo’s and tells her about all the fun he’d had with Gin-chan.

“He knows how to fight! He said he was a Kendo champ in high school.”

“That’s just an old man reliving his youth Seita, sometimes they exaggerate.”

“No, Tsukuyo-nee you weren’t there, but you really shoulda seen it! He was like wah! And bam! It was so cool!” Seita flops onto his back and pulls the coverlet over himself. “Gin-chan is so cool, Tsukuyo-nee.” A yawn. “He’d make a great big brother.”

“Yes Seita, I’m sure he would.” The boy is out before she finishes her sentence.

Tsukuyo wanders over to the door of her balcony and peeks out from between the blinds, looking out at her neighbor’s. He’s there, looking out as well, but at the bustling lights of Kabukicho. She looks at him looking at the world and feels that warmth in her belly again. This time, she can also feel it creeping up her throat.

Quickly, she flicks the blinds back into place and hurries to the bathroom to brush her teeth.

Chapter Text

“So, Seita tells me you’re finally getting laid.” Coffee is sprayed from her mouth onto the kitchen table, some fine droplets even reaches far enough to sink into the material of Hinowa’s cardigan, but the Sun of Yoshiwara continues to observe Tsukuyo with a bemused smile.

It’s a while before Tsukuyo can stop coughing, so Hinowa busies herself with cleaning the spit-up coffee. She knows her little sister enough to be almost sure that this Gin-chan Seita has been telling her stories of is likely nothing more than a friend to Tsukuyo. She’s not the type to jump into bed with a man she’d only met a few weeks ago. Or one she knows well, in any case. Still, Hinowa enjoys getting a rise out of the blonde if only just to tease her about it afterwards- Tsukuyo is prone to overreactions and she’s already thinking of all the jokes she’ll be able to make at her expense.

“I am not sleeping with anyone!” Tsukuyo can feel her face growing hotter. She knows that Seita must have shared his thoughts on her neighbor to his mother. The most they’ve done together since Seita’s first night at her place was argue with each other from their respective balconies. The last time they’d spoken- aside from when he had picked up Seita, citing some much needed ‘man time’- was last night and it was a debate concerning the practicality of fur pillows.

She’d told Hinowa as much just now, but quickly shut her mouth when she noticed the suggestive content. The damn silver-haired adult-child can make her flush without actually being in the same room with her. Annoying.

“You’re not fucking him Tsukuyo, I know you.” Tsukuyo cringes at the lewd phrasing. “But I also know when you’re crushing.” The way Hinowa’s voice lifts up the last syllable almost makes her roll her eyes, but she manages to stop herself, keeping her gaze steady. On the bookshelf behind Hinowa’s left shoulder. She doesn’t think she can look at anything else right now without wanting to set herself on fire.

Hinowa takes a sip of her own drink and looks at Tsukuyo strangely. “You’re not even denying it?”

“I- I like talking with him.” Hinowa’s eyes widen.

“Tsun-kuyo, why didn’t you say something to me earlier?”

“Hey! What did you just call-?” It was amazing how fast Hinowa wheeled herself around Tsukuyo’s kitchen table and gripped her hands. Her smile stretched over her face in the bright way that reminded Tsukuyo of the epithet that drew so many to Yoshiwara.

“I’m so glad you told me! You’re always so shy about this stuff, Tsukuyo. I had thought that you’d never express interest in anyone because of Jiraia-.“ Tsukuyo pulled her hands away, feeling like a bucket of cold water had just been upended on top of her.

“No, it’s not like that Hinowa.” She rubs at her hands self-consciously and doesn’t miss Hinowa’s eyes darting between her hands and face, concern very evident in her expression. “Gintoki is just my neighbor, and he’s interesting. I like talking to him, but I wouldn’t be able to handle him for too long- he’s too lazy for my tastes.” Her spiel ends with a laugh that sounds forced to her own ears. She knows right away that Hinowa is not convinced, instead she gives her a pitying look.

“I’m sorry Tsukuyo, it wasn’t right for me to bring him up.” She places her hand on her shoulder in gentle reassurance. “Still, I can’t help but worry about you. You’ve never shown sexual interest, or even romantic interest in anyone before, I guess I got too excited just now.” Hinowa’s hands are fixing the blonde hair framing her face. “You’re a beautiful woman Tsukuyo, with good intentions and the means for them to boot. It’s just sad for me to watch you grow so nicely as a person alone. The world is so much bigger than yourself.”

“It’s alright, but I really do appreciate being single. It’s easier for me to focus on what I really need to get done.” The dead-tiredness she feels after work every day is nothing when she remembers the benefits that follow. Justice being served and rights being given to the oppressed, stratified and marginalized- it’s worth everything if not just an empty futon and single toothbrush sitting beside her sink. And then she thinks of Hinowa and Seita; the women and girls back in Yoshiwara who are scorned and ridiculed by the general public, but used for their bodies, regardless. “Besides, I’m not alone. I have you guys to push me forward.”

Hinowa beams at her and Tsukuyo cheers inwardly knowing that she won’t have to have this conversation again for a while.

“Whatever you say, Tsukuyo-chan. I’m not going to try to get you into a relationship anymore, I can respect your choices, but in the meantime, take this.” A massive, purple dildo is pulled out of her bag and plonked onto the kitchen table before Tsukuyo can even refute the offer.

“Hinowa!”

“What? Women have needs too, Tsukuyo-chan.”

“Okay, but did you really need to bring that?“

“Well yes, I had it on me anyway. It’s brand new, don’t worry.”

“So you just carry these things around with you?”

“We’d just received the newest bulk shipment and I need your help with quality checks-“

“Tsukuyo-nee, look at what Gin-chan got me!”

The scene Seita- followed by a bored looking Gintoki- walks into comprises of two women hovering near a small dining table in a modest blue kitchen. There is a neon purple phallus sitting between them and if one was to zero out on the scene slightly, they’d see the black bag sitting innocently on the floor beside the woman in the wheelchair held a pile of shiny, plastic dicks. No one was naked, but you could read their embarrassment as easily as you could if they were.

“Well, he got me a bokuto. You could spar with me using yours Tsukuyo-nee.”

“That’s actually not a toy sword on the table, Seita-kun.”

“Oh dear, this isn’t the first impression I wanted to make.” Hinowa’s as red as Tsukuyo had been earlier that morning. She rolls herself over to the silver-haired man who’s gallantly trying his darnedest not to look at Tsukuyo or the giant purple elephant in the room. “I‘m Hinowa, Seita’s mother. You must be Gin-san.”

“Pleasure to meet ya, Hinowa-san. Sorry if we interrupted anything.” Gintoki takes a quick glance at Tsukuyo, who is still red, frozen in place and staring dumbly at the entrance. “Er- hey, Seita I might have some ice cream at my place.”

“Really? Let’s go get some Gin-chan!”

“Actually,” Hinowa moves closer to the door. “Seita, I was about to grab some drinks for all of us. It looks like Tsukuyo-san just ran out. Come help me at the store, we can get ice cream on the way!”

Of course, Seita runs after his mother, the wooden training sword dragging on the ground behind him. Of course, the sound of silence and a shut door is what rouses Tsukuyo from her state of shock. Of course, Gintoki is the only one in the room with her. And of course the bright purple monstrosity continues to stand prettily on the table between them.

So, Tsukuyo sits down on the chair she had just vacated and laughs. Cackles, really.

Gintoki is studying her with a less bored look on his face, but he doesn’t say anything, knowing he wants her to be the first to break the tension. Which she does. Tsukuyo is still in hysterics when she grabs the offending object and chucks it over her shoulder, where it thunks against a wall and falls to the carpet with a muted thud.

She turns back to Gintoki who seems to not know where to put his eyes.

“Can we forget about this entirely?” Her voice comes out stiffly and she’s looking at the bookshelf behind her guest once again.

“Alright with me. But can I say something before I do?”

Tsukuyo is lighting up a cigarette without looking at him, so he takes it as an indication to continue.

“You have a pretty laugh, you should do it some more.” Tsukuyo finds that his grin is less smug and more charming. She’s flattered, but more unnerved at how her eyes can perceive him differently so many time on one occasion. “Also, if you are getting freaky with Seita’s mom I won’t tell.”

She throws her lighter at him -he just laughs- and closes her eyes, enjoying the companionate silence she can find with him.


 

Hinowa did come back forty minutes later with take out and cold tea. Tsukuyo had a sneaking suspicion that it was due to Seita’s insistence.

She and Gintoki had been talking about his day out- the games he and Seita played and the stories he boy shared with him were relayed to her with almost as much enthusiasm. She would know, Seita likes to recycle his tales. She laughed, still. Perhaps it was because of the compliment he paid her earlier that made her feel jittery, but she knew that every one of them were genuine. She enjoyed Gintoki’s company and the sound of his voice pulled at her from the inside.

Her mortification had passed for the most part- Gintoki’s smooth baritone lead her mind away from idling and overthinking the dildo incident- which is exactly what she didn’t want to call it. She appreciated his efforts, whether they were purposeful or not because she felt the stress of her week melting away while she listened.

“He told me you grew up in Yoshiwara.” The package of cigarettes slipped from her grip, betraying the surprise she was supposed to hide behind a cool demeanor.

“Uh- yes. I’d um, been sold there as a kid.” She could feel his eyes on her. She fiddled with the edge of the yellow table cloth, not wanting to see his expression.

“Did you and Hinowa meet there?” Tsukuyo looked us from her fingers to see Gintoki giving her a curious look. “I mean, you said she was like a sister to you.”

“Yeah, we’ve been together since. I’d just moved from there, actually.” They continued like that- Gintoki asking her questions about her life in Yoshiwara, but for someone so deviant and –frankly- perverted, he never strayed from the topic of her or Seita’s background, although her truths allowed for many opportunities to.

When Hinowa and Seita arrived, they ate together with friendly banter and arguments over trivial things like they had all known each other for years. This is nice. Tsukuyo would think as she watched Seita try to hit Gintoki with his newly acquired bokuto, and Hinowa cheering him on from the sidelines- that being her couch.

Seita and Hinowa’s ride came around at 10 o’clock that evening, and while Tsukuyo was ready to turn in, Gintoki was still flopped on her couch.

“So you’re one of those guests who stick around past the time they’re invited?” Tsukuyo lifts his legs off one half and deposits them on the ground none too gently. “Why am I even surprised?” He groans, lifting himself from the couch and sitting by her legs.

“Ahh, I’m getting old. Seita’s got too much energy for me.” She smirks at him, but remembers the questions that have been poking around since their initial meeting. Given the events of the day, Tsukuyo relaxes and decides she feel comfortable enough asking about them.

“Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.” He’s begun the arduous process of lifting himself from the floor and stretching out his cramped limbs. She looks away from the bulges of muscles that bunch underneath his shirt sleeves and the strip of toned belly that a lift of his strong arms presents her with.

“Mm?”

“Did you adopt Shinpachi or something? I mean, why did Otose call you his father?” He finished rolling out his shoulders and she can almost hear his bones creak when he sits on the couch beside her, their thighs almost touching.

“Eh, not legally. I guess you could say I was his mentor.”

“Oh, so the Kendo things was real?” She angels herself towards him, it’s an automatic response by now.

“Haha, no. I mean, I was captain at one point, but that’s not quite it.” Tsukuyo stares, waiting for him to continue.

“It’s a little complicated.” He scratches the back of his head. “I was a stray, so I kinda just took them in when I became my old enough.” He glances at her from the corner of his eye. “People who seems lost, that is.”

“Them?”

“Ah, yes. I had Kagura-chan too. She’s off living life with a big-shot police officer husband now- how time flies.”

“Alright, just how old are you?”

“Ah- you’ve asked too many questions for today, Tsukki-chan.” She opens her mouth to protest the nickname, but he thrusts a card into her line of vision before she can let a sound out. “It’s late, I’ll be happy to answer your question some other night. Maybe with some dinner- I guess it’s my treat this time.” She takes a quick look at the cardstock in her hand. It has a few lines of characters and a phone number. Tsukuyo’s heart jumps a little.

“Yorozuya Gin-chan? What is this-“

“Next Saturday night at 7. I’ll meet you downstairs, okay?”

“Now wait a minute, you can’t just-“

“I’ll leave you with your purple friend for now. G’night Tsukki!”

He shut the door and Tsukki found herself too confused to get indignant at the ‘purple friend’ comment. She pockets the card but continues thinking about the 10 digits on the front- some more proof of Gintoki’s presence in her life.

Chapter Text

All the noises that make up Kabukicho are more relevant than the sights, Tsukuyo decides.

She has spent 10 minutes standing outside of the apartment complex, waiting for her neighbor so they could go on their date- which was really just two adults drinking and chatting together-so not a date, just a casual two-person party, a friend date, if you will. But it wasn’t a date-date even if one of the aforementioned parties had shown certain indicators of attraction (the seriousness of it debatable), while the other would stall at every teasing word from the former’s mouth.

In short, Tsukuyo was half-way through a meltdown and the only thing keeping her sane was the comfort of giggling women trying to pay the rent and the buzzing of neon signs. All of it complimented by the sound of coin and greased-up money transactions. It was home.

Suddenly, the door to Otose’s opens and Gintoki peeks out. Seeing the blonde woman staring out into the crowd, oblivious to his presence (or ignoring him, he’s unsure), he makes his way up to her. He notices her left hand clutches the pack of cigarettes, her thumb scratches at it absentmindedly. Her left arm crosses her body and the right elbow rests on the fist that grips her cigarettes. She is poised as if she’s smoking, but he can see she is strung up and tense in the way her jaw works and the positioning of her legs. He wants to change that.

He makes his presence known with a clearing of his throat. He enjoys the way Tsukuyo relaxes at the sight of him and the knowledge that his company is enough for her to put away her crutches- the nicotine. She asks him where he’d like to go and he shrugs and says that he’d prefer to stay close to home, and leads her to Otose’s Snack House, where he holds the door open for her and offers to take her coat. She’s unimpressed but he’s already anticipating their evening.

**

“Were you waiting there long?” Gintoki’s settling into booth across her while he asks.

“Not at all. I wasn’t quite sure where you wanted to meet me exactly so I just loitered outside for a little bit.”

“Ah, sorry ’bout that. I tend to do chores and stuff for Otose, so the old crone pays me in IOUs and liquor.” Otose walks by their booth at the exact moment and swats Gintoki on the head, although his hair is the only thing her palm makes contact with.

“Why are you sitting with this alcoholic, Tsukuyo-san?”

“Curiosity, mostly.” Otose smiles.

“Careful, girl. He’s a sneaky one, who knows what he’s hiding in that hollow skull of his.”

“Oi, just get us our drinks.” Otose leaves with a snort, but disappears behind the bar regardless. Tsukuyo plays with the edge of her napkin and tries to figure out where to start with the man.

“Have you lived here long?”

“Hm? Yeah I guess so. Why do you ask?”

“You seem close with her. Otose-san, I mean.” Tsukuyo rests her arms on the table in front of her, finding herself comfortable in the soft chatter of those around her. “So why did you bring me here?”

He shrugs again. “I like the ambience, and Otose does tend to waive my tab when I make myself useful, she just doesn’t like to admit it.” Gintoki’s arms stretch out behind his head. “More perks for me, and I did tell you it was my treat this time.” He winks at her and while Tsukuyo is desensitized, she is definitely not immune as of yet.

“Mm, alright that’s fair. I should warn you though, I’m not the best with alcohol.” He snorts at that.

“Ah, we got a lightweight here I see.” He smirks. “I expected that much from Miss Prissy Straight-Laces, here.” Tsukuyo feel her right eye begin to twitch. The weed thing will never leave us, will it?

“Excuse me for being a law-abiding citizen and doing my civic duty to reduce air pollution.”

“Ha! Says the chimney.” Ooh, he’s got me there. Judging by Gintoki’s smirk, he knows that he’s got her as well. Tsukuyo sniffs lightly and looks towards the bar.

“Whatever, at least I can say that what I’m doing is legal.” She throws him a look.  “Also I am not a lightweight.”

Gintoki’s eyes scan her up and down, so she chucks her scrunched up napkin at his head. “You’re saying that tiny body of yours can handle its liquor?” She crooks an eyebrow at him.

“It certainly can kick your sexist ass hard enough that you’ll be able to pull your entire head out from it.”

Tsukuyo notices his eyes glint in the dim lamplight, she hopes her own shine back twice as brightly. “Alright, now I’m really looking forward to tonight.” Tsukuyo only rolls her eyes, not knowing how else to react without giving away the pleasure bubbling in her gut.

“You still haven’t answered my questions, y’know.” Tsukuyo watches him pick at his ear wax, mildly surprised at how his rude habits don’t bother her.

“What do you want to know?” He flicks something off his hand

“About you.”

“You putting the moves on me already, Tsukki? We haven’t even gotten our drinks yet.”

“All this deflection is making me think you’re hiding something, Sakata-san.”

“Can’t I give a beautiful lady some mystery?”

Tsukuyo narrows her eyes. “Don’t need it.”

He crosses his arms and looks at her. “I raised Shinpachi and Kagura-chan in their pubescent stages. Their parents were never around and they worked for me.”

“For your Yorozuya thing?”

“Yeah, why are you looking at me like that?”

“It’s not a cover for a drug trafficking business?” Gintoki explodes into laughter, and Tsukuyo turns red for the first time that night.

“Damn Tsukki you’re really stuck on the pot.” He wipes at his eyes and readjusts his shirt which had been rucked while he clutched at his sides. “First impressions really are everything for some people.”

“Ju-just answer the question.”

“No! I told you I wouldn’t do that stuff around kids. Let alone let them deal that shit. That’d be fucked up.” He lets out a sigh. “Just when I believed we had something too.” He shakes his head. “You just wanted me for a bust.”

“Wh-what?” Have something? What does he mean by that? Is this supposed to-

“You said you work in law enforcement- and Seita said you’re a cop.” He pauses. “Aren’t you?”

Tsukuyo allows herself a laugh, mostly at herself. “No, I’m a lawyer. I wouldn’t want to deal with you in a court either.”

“Ah, Seita did say you fought bad guys. I see it now.” He scratches his head. “Well, this was a mess. You probably only agreed to this date because you wanted some dirt on me.”

Tsukuyo’s heart started to beat faster. “I actually never did agreed to this”

“You’re here, aren’t you?” He gives her a grin. “We’re here to have a good time, Tsukuyo, just relax and drink up.”

At that moment, Tama comes by with two large beer glasses. Gintoki takes them from her and immediately orders a round of shots.

“I hope you ordered that for yourself because I am not drinking them with you.” Tsukuyo huffs over the rim of her glass and sips at it delicately fully intending to pace herself and drink responsibly. That is until the silver-haired shit gives her a look and then he opens his mouth.

Looking back, she can’t recall what it is he said- whether it was to goad, tease or annoy her- but it worked.

**

There’s a lot of slurring and stumbling, but eventually, Tsukuyo makes it onto the landing of the second floor. She’s been following the bobbing blur of light ahead of her for the last fifty or so paces. Tsukuyo thinks that the night went well. From what she can remember of it, she was able to keep up with Gintoki. She’d beaten him at mah jong and several impromptu martial arts contests. At least, she was sure he’d been challenging her.

Whatever it was, she was feeling great. Otose had kicked her and Gintoki out 10 minutes ago, and most of that time had been spent trying to find their way home. Neither of them could remember how to get onto the second floor.

Stairs are difficult, she was starting to get tired and she’s not completely sure where Gintoki went, but if she were to guess, he had likely passed out on the stairs- she had almost done that. The light leads her home, and it reminds her so much of some children’s tale- or perhaps it was a folk tale- that she begins to giggle.

“Ara? Tsukki s’that you? Whatch’a doin’ here, baby?” The light begins to speak and its then that she realizes that the ball of light had arms, legs, a torso, a face- it was Gintoki. He reaches out a hand and pats her on the head. “You shoulda’ gone home, with all these creeps ‘round a pretty girl shouldn’t be walkin’ ‘lone.” His hand continues to pat.

“Nah, Gintoki this is my door.” Tsukuyo knocks on her door, but is only met with air. She shuffles over a few feet and taps on a solid block of wall. It’s Gintoki’s chest, but she continues to rap on it.

After a while she gets bored- the lack of sound output from her knocking is dissatisfying. She stops her tapping, but Gintoki continues with his patting- it’s turned into petting her hair. Her eyes begin to drift closed.

“Why‘re ya in my home?” He pauses his ministrations but doesn’t take his hand away. Tsukuyo wiggles her head, hoping that he’ll continue. It felt nice. “Tsukki?”

“Hm?”

“What’re ya doing?” She can feel a wall with heartbeat underneath her head and the warmth of Gintoki’s hand seeps past her hair to her scalp. It’s warm and it smells like rice wine.

“I followed the light- it brought me home like in that one story.”

“Wha’?”

“I forgot.” She adjusts her pillow. “I think I’ll hit the sack now. G’night Gintoki.”

“Oi, go home Tsukki, I don’t have any spare futons for ya.”

“Couch s’fine.” She drags him over to what looks like a couch. It’s a floor, but she lays down anyway.

“Nuh-uh, you’re too drunk for this. Up we go, ya lightweight.” Gintoki falls back to the floor with a crash. Rather, he was pulled down by a pile of blonde hair and angry eyes.

“Here.” It grunts. Not that he has much of a choice all of a sudden, so he lays there with his neighbor’s head on his chest. He can smell her hair, like linen and bamboo, and he decides he’s rather comfortable on the floor, in the vise-like grip of his pleasant-smelling neighbor. “Turn y’heartbeat down you ingrate. I’m tryin’ to sleep.”

“Oi, stop talkin’ and conk out already, woman.” Tsukuyo wrestles with her limbs for a moment before she pulls herself up to look Gintoki in the eye.

“You. Are. Makin’. Too. Much. Noise.” Through her blurry beer goggles she somehow makes out Gintoki’s eyes making their way down to his own chest, where she is pressed against him, along with the rest of her body, which is straddling his. She doesn’t move right away and she doesn’t know why, so she speaks instead, her voice decidedly more sober and her head clearer. “Take me to bed.”

“Haaaah? I mean, haha. You’re drunk Tsukki. You might regret it in the morn-” She smacks him another time that night.

“No, you idiot pull out your futon I’m cold.”

“Oi, and where will I sleep? You were comfortable on the floor just now.” Tsukuyo stands and unsteadily makes her way to the series of doors, opening them until she finds his bedroom. Through her clouded mind she’s able to notice that it’s sparse and not at all like what his sloppy demeanour would suggest.

“I don’t care, just stop making so much noise.” When she’s fluffed his pillows and unfolded the duvet, she shucks her cardigan somewhere and peels her socks off, feeling the cold wood of his floors against her toes. “C’mere, I don’t mind sharing.”

“Oh, do you share men’s futons often?” Once again, Gintoki finds himself slammed onto the floor of his own home, in the clutches of a particularly angry and drunk- albeit beautiful- lady. “I deserved that.” Tsukuyo hums in agreement.

When he’s snaked underneath the covers (not touching Tsukuyo and taking the remaining one-fifth of the duvet Tsukuyo had allotted to him) he let himself relax, listening to Tsukuyo’s quiet breathing, finally letting the drowsy effects of post-drunk arguments to lull him to sleep.

“Gintoki.”

Is she talking in her sleep? “Mm?”

“Can you touch me like you did?” He swears his heart almost stops.

“Tsukuyo ya need to learn how to word things when you’re with a man.”

“Shut up, I’m a law school graduate, I can word things just fine.” He hears her shuffling around in the dark. A smaller, cooler hand take his and brings it to its owner’s face. “Just here.”

Tentatively, Gintoki starts to move his hand. First stroking her cheek and then brushing through her hair with his fingers. She lets out a small breathy noise and judging by the speed in which his body reacts, he knows he’s sobered up enough to appreciate the turn of events.

His thumb traces over her features. Brushing her eyelashes and kissing at her nose and cheeks. After some trepidation, he allows himself to trace the outline of petal-pink lips. They’re slightly wet and each puff of breath against him serves as a reminder of his own needs. He stops there, knowing he’s crossing the line from consensual cuddle friend into pervert.

While he inwardly curses Tsukuyo for dragging him into his current, overactive state of mind; he praises the god or deity that had gifted him with the woman that lay beside him. He doesn’t dare try anything Tsukuyo- the drunk or sober version- would consider inappropriate. The former was much harder to predict.

Her breathing has been even and slow for a considerable amount of him, so he takes the risk by looping his arm around her waist, only to be met with a fist to his sternum while a peaceful Tsukuyo continues to sleep.

He smiles painfully and settles for slipping his arm underneath her head so that she would be resting on his bicep, allowing him the freedom to continue brushing his fingers through her hair. He inhales the air around them and decides this is exactly where he wants to be at this moment in time.

Chapter Text

Tsukuyo paces in front of Gintoki’s door. Except, slightly to the right of it so that it would look like she was pacing in front of her own and no one would ask her any questions.

It has been a week and a bit since she woke up in her neighbor’s arms and needless to say, she had no recollection of the night before. Because Tsukuyo is a reserved and touch-shy woman by nature- who has never hopped into bed with a strange man- her first reaction had been to clock Gintoki in the face, eliciting a loud yelp from the man.

She had scrambled out of his apartment without another word, she could hardly process all the thoughts that swirled in her head. As far as she was concerned, her neighbor was a manipulative shit who takes advantage of drunk women. He lures them in with the promise of a friend date and tragic character background, but jumps their bones when the woman is cloudy enough in the head.

When Tsukuyo had been calm enough to gouge the situation in a logical and composed manner- a few days afterwards- she knew she’d jumped to conclusions a tad too soon.

Taking her precious downtime to visit Gintoki made it feel less like an obligatory apology the more she thought about her rash actions. Regret stirred deep in her- she holds a tub of strawberry ice cream in her hands, knowing that she had purposefully chosen an apology gift that would discourage her dallying, but also hating herself for her foresight.

Squaring her shoulders, Tsukuyo resolutely makes her way up to Gintoki’s door, but before she can even raise her hand towards the bell, a red-haired and very pregnant woman pulls it open.

“Ah, I was wondering when you’d come in.” Taking the ice cream from a stunned Tsukuyo, Kagura waddles towards the kitchen, leaving the door open. “You can come in, Tsukki-chan.”

Gintoki could be a baby daddy, but the thought isn’t as funny as it should be.

“Er, sorry to intrude but is Sakata-san here?”

“Gin-chan? He stepped out, have a seat Tsukki, I wanna hear from the real deal.” She speaks around a spoonful of ice cream.

“I, uh, can come back another time, there’s no need for you to go out of your way- uh“.

“I’m Kagura!” She beams at her past a mouth full of food. “Nuh-uh, Gin-chan hardly coughs up anything about his new girlfriend.” Tsukuyo starts.

“I’m not his girlfriend.”

“That drunk terminator is not my girlfriend.”

Their answers are spoken simultaneously, Tsukuyo looks behind her to see her neighbour frowning at the red-haired woman and holding a plastic bag, which he drops onto Kagura’s head.

“Here’s your sukonbu you black hole- oi, where’d you get that?” Gintoki snatches the dessert from Kagura’s lap with hardly a protest, as she’s already stuck a bar of pickled seaweed in her mouth. “Souichiro will have my balls if I let you have any more sugar- it’s bad for your spawn.” Gintoki picks up the spoon and eats directly from the confiscated tub. The similarity of their actions sparks a memory of where she had heard Kagura’s name before.

“Whatever, Gin-chan, I already texted Shinpachi. Also, Tsukki brought that for you.” He glances at Tsukuyo, who is seated stiffly and silently on the love seat across from the two.

“Huh, as an apology for the fat lip and sore jaw, I hope?” Gintoki snorts around his spoon and Tsukuyo flushes as she glances at the man’s mouth.

“I-I’m sorry, it was a reflex.”

“Do you frequently beat up the men you sleep with?”

“Gintoki!” She whips her head to gauge a smiling Kagura’s reaction. “I-it wasn’t like that!” The red-haired women munches on her seaweed and shrugs.

“It’s alright, Tsukuyo-chan, is anyone waiting for marriage anymore?”

“No! I meant there was no- no s- uh.” Gintoki smirks, probably feeling victorious for his pettiness.

“We’re not doing anything together, Kagura-chan. We just shared a futon.” Kagura wrinkled her nose.

“You can stand that guy’s old-man stench?” She raises an eyebrow. “Maybe you two are meant for each other.”

Tsukuyo feels her entire body blushing. While Gintoki inhales the strawberry ice cream, she turns to Kagura. “So, er- how did you come to find out about me?”

“Eh? Well, I found women’s clothing in Gin-chan’s room, and they’re not even his size, so I knew it wasn’t his.” Tsukuyo’s eyebrow quirks upward. “Also, Shinpachi told me about you and Otose said something about Gin-chan going on a date.” She gnaws thoughtfully at her snack. “I heard you completely handed his ass to him.”

Tsukuyo perks up, feeling Gintoki’s glare on her. “Of course I did, his bones creaked too much though, so I eased up.”

“Oi, you just used the fighting as a ruse to feel me up.”

“Ew, Gin-chan. Volatile, foster daughter in the room, here.”

“Weren’t you just digging for details on my sex life?”

“Ah, so you and Tsukki are f-“

“Kagura-chan, you’re not allowed to eat raw eggs when you’re pregnant!” A new, frustrated voice joins in as the door slams open, effectively ending Kagura’s train of thought and Tsukuyo’s mortification. The bespectacled man appearing at the door blinks. “Oh, hello, Tsukuyo-chan!” He looks around the room, clearly puzzled. “What’s the occasion?”

“Nothing, Tsukuyo just came over to talk to Gin-chan.” Gintoki places the now-empty tub on the coffee table with a clunk. “We’re about to have an adult conversation about adult things, you kids go outside and have fun.”

“Oi, I’m 8 months pregnant, you bastard.”

“I’ll give you 300 yen.”

“I’ll give you another black eye-“

“C’mon Kagura-chan, let’s give them some space at least. I need to pick up Sadaharu from the groomers, and he misses you.” Shinpachi leads a hobbling Kagura to the door, they disappear behind it soon after, leaving Tsukuyo to stare at a bored looking Gintoki in awkward silence. There have been a lot of those lately.

 “Do you want your cardigan back? I have your socks as well.” Gintoki is the first to break the silence. Tsukuyo has to clear her throat.

“Yes, please.” He stands up and moves to his bedroom. Tsukuyo takes that moment to take in her surroundings. Gintoki’s apartment is similar to hers in terms of layout, and very, very different in the daylight, she thinks. He has a desk positioned by the furthest wall, and the couches she’s sitting on are facing each other in the center of the living area. She knows without looking that the kitchen is separated by the wall behind her, but she can’t spot a kitchen table or dining area.

Gintoki comes out at that moment, holding a folded piece of black cloth (her cardigan) and two white socks. “I- uh, washed them for you.” It looks comically tiny in his arms, a thought that sends a small thrill down Tsukuyo’s spine. She takes it from him with a small smile and sets it beside her.

“I’d like to seriously apologize, Gintoki.” She folds her hands in her lap, unsure of what else she could do with them. “For my actions that night. And the black eye, that was uncalled for.” Gintoki has plopped down next to her. Despite the good 1 ½ feet of space between them, Tsukuyo flushes. Close proximity with Gintoki is foreign to her in the daylight as well.

“It’s alright, I’m not sure why I let my guard down. It’s been a while since I’ve had another body beside me while I slept- not, like, as a sex thing. Although, in that way too, I guess.” He backpedals fast enough for Tsukuyo to overlook his slip, mostly.

“Do you live alone, Gintoki?” Tsukuyo’s voice comes out breathy and strange.

“Yeah. Uh, yes I do.” He coughs, probably to clear his throat, and then crosses his arms in front of his chest “Why?”

“Nothing, really. You’re not as fidgety as usual. I thought it had something to do with Kagura-chan and Shimura-san being here.” She glances to her left, trying to picture the kitchen from where she’s sitting. “You don’t have a dining table either.”

“I never had one, even when I had Kagura living with me.” From this angle, Tsukuyo notices his age, though she knows he can’t be much older than her 27-odd years. She remembers the jabs that Kagura had thrown at him, and wonders if everyone sees it too. “Patsuan lived with his sister- didn’t feel like dropping the cash to buy a table we didn’t need, so we ate right here and watched TV for all our meals.” He pats the seat next to him and Tsukuyo can immediately picture the two squabbling over rice and knocking soy sauce onto the coffee table, much to a tired Shinpachi’s dismay.

“How old is Kagura?” Gintoki blinks.

“She’s not mine if you’re asking. Biologically, at least.” Tsukuyo doesn’t say anything, a trick she learned with Seita. If you wait, they’ll give you the information you want.

Gintoki stares back at her for a bit, then slowly he says, “she’s almost 22, but she’s been married to Souichiro for two years.” He looks at her strangely. “Why do I always feel like you’re trying to dig up dirt on me every time we talk?” Tsukuyo squints at him.

“Well, I can assure you that’s not my intention.”

“Mm, whatever you say, Officer.”

“Officer?”

“Oh, sorry, force of habit. Seita stuck the idea of you being a lady cop in my head early and it still hasn’t left me.”

“I was a bouncer at Yoshiwara during my undergrad.” Gintoki quirks an eyebrow at her once again.

“Oh? Is that where that left hook comes from? Or the freakish strength?” Tsukuyo shrugs.

“Men are rough and heavy, especially when drunk. I had to adapt.” She pauses, unsure if she wanted to tell him about Jiriah.

“You stopped.”

“Huh?” Tsukuyo looked at Gintoki questioningly.

“You sounded like you had more to say just now.” Slightly baffled by his observation, and a little at a loss for how to respond, Tsukuyo resorts to staring him down, another trick she learned, though this time in her experience at Hinowa’s. Funny how all of these lessons were popping up now. “Hey, if you don’t want to say anything, I get it.” Gintoki raises his hands in surrender. “But you seem a little lonely too.”

“What makes you say that, Sakata-san?”

“That, that right there.”

“What?” Gintoki sticks his hands behind his head to cradle it, Tsukuyo knows she’s about to listen to something she may not want to hear.

“You bring back the formalities, you distance yourself socially from people when you think they’re getting too close.”

“I- no I don’t-.” Tsukuyo is stunned by the revelation.

“Y’know, you are worthy of care, Tsukuyo. You have Hinowa and Seita- the kid looks out for you more than you think.” There is a lump at the back of her throat, so she remains silent, though not only out of fear that he will hear it. Gintoki’s face is a lot closer than it had been before and she notices his hands had come down in between them at some point, breaching the 1 ½ feet of space that previously separated them. Still, that space between them was kept constant, even if his face came closer and voice became louder. “It doesn’t stop there- Otose may be a hag and her cat is annoying, but she and Tama care too.” He pauses and Tsukuyo is almost sure of the next group of people he will cite as her friends, but it’s too much for her to hear right now, she’s overwhelmed by his words and their meanings.

Gintoki starts to speak again, but he stops abruptly at the look on Tsukuyo’s face. Suddenly, a strong, warm hand- still smelling of rice wine, but not enough to be a cause for concern- brushes against her face, leaving a cold trail in its wake. Looking at her reflection in Gintoki’s irises, Tsukuyo realizes she’s crying, although it’s a belated realization based on how quickly Gintoki freaks out (Oi- oi, don’t cry Tsukki. Shhhh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-). He’s still wiping at her tears when Tsukuyo allows herself to croak out a thank you.

“Oi- I just made a woman cry, I don’t deserve that thanks.” Tsukuyo jabs him in the gut, knowing that he’ll understand her annoyance at his misogyny. Before he can complain about the (well-deserved) nudges, she wraps her arms around him and buries her face in his neck.

“Thank you, really.” She whispers against his skin. She feels him touch her hair, a reassuring gesture that feels more familiar to her body than her mind.

“No problem, Tsukuyo.” His pause in speech is punctuated by his break in smoothing at her hair. “Also, there’s no need to be embarrassed about this later. Seeing you cry has nothing on seeing your dildos.”

Rather than a bruise, Tsukuyo lets out a small puff of laughter against his skin, feeling lighter than she had before.

Chapter Text

In the weeks that follow Tsukuyo’s little breakdown, she finds herself becoming increasingly comfortable with Gintoki’s brashness, no longer needing several awkward moments to adjust herself to his strange rhythm of being. They’ve reached the level of friendship that allows for teasing banter and easy conversation as soon as they cross paths, but most pressingly, Tsukuyo is comfortable being herself around him, a feat she has achieved with only Hinowa and Seita.

The realization that she may care for the man more than easy friendship would entail does not come as a surprise to her. It hits her like a freight train, but a freight train she had anticipated- still, one cannot help but have the breath knocked out of them by such a heavy vessel/revelation.

They’re having a beer at Otose’s that evening. Over the din of a crowded snack house, he’s telling her a story about the job he had taken that day. She can smell the sweat that continues to cling to him after a day of heavy lifting under early autumn sunshine. The cowlicks of his silver hair are more pervasive than usual and he only wears one shoulder of his yukata, belted at his waist with his right hand tucked into the fold of it. His voice rambles away with good humour and the warmth of alcohol- the pitch, tempo and volume moving in tune with his recounting.

All this data collected by four out of five of Tsukuyo’s senses is not all that different from what she had perceived when they saw each other yesterday morning, or even when she met him face to face for the first time. When he leaves her for a moment to use the washroom, allowing her to ponder and dissect her own thoughts, she realizes that Gintoki hasn’t changed, but rather her perception of him. The way she can identify the smell of sweet sake and strawberry-flavoured dairy products through the layers of man-sweat and the rest of the bodies in the bar, the way she can recognize the four primary kinks in his hair and the directions they usually point towards, the way his attire has become so familiar to her that she can readily imagine how the material of his yukata would feel between two fingers, beneath an entire palm, clenched in her fist, and then the feeling of only skin against her.   

“Tsukuyo?” She almost chucks her half-emptied draught at him.

“Wha- yes?”

“Oi, you alright? You’re lookin’ pale.” Tsukuyo lets out a weak chuckle, moving to stand just to gain feeling in her legs again, but collapsing from her barstool enough that his arms automatically shoot up to catch her. She tries her hardest not to let out a shriek when her palm meets a hard bicep and the veins of his forearm press into the skin her tshirt bares. 

The sudden blush is enough to heat the air around her face, but Gintoki gives her a look of concern.

“Are ya sick? You’re burning up?” Unwinding an arm from her torso, Gintoki holds his hand against fevered flesh. “Tsk. You’re working yourself too hard over at work, Tsukki.” Even though his voice betrays his state of inebriation, she can sense his genuine concern.

A flash of warmth spreads through her guts at his words. Tsukuyo is positive that it has nothing to do with the few ounces of ingested alcohol. A week prior, she had told him of a case she took- a standard custody battle, however her client was a sick, deteriorating mother who only wanted to spend the rest of her months with her only son, much to the disapproval of the father’s family. It was the stuff daytime dramas were made of, but the sympathy that was required here would most likely go to the father’s side, especially in their dearest country’s patriarchal, paternalistic lineage-based methods in the legal sphere.

She spilled her frustrations and insecurities concerning the case to Gintoki- giving him a rundown of every loophole she could find, every weakness and potential hazard that the father’s family could serve to the 7 year-old boy. Gintoki, listens to her attentively, but still points out her under eye circles with mirth and concern.

“C’mon, you need rest and water.” Before Tsukuyo can say anything, he lifts her up by wrapping his arm around her thighs, allowing her to hang over his shoulder. Tsukuyo suddenly finds herself too weak to protest, so she settles for kicking him in the thigh and throwing a deadly glare at the customer who hoots at the both of them. 

**

“That wasn’t necessary, by the way.” Gintoki turns to look at her. He’s returned from tinkering around in her kitchen and is standing near the door, holding a green mug in his hands. Tsukuyo is peering at him sideways from the floor, through eyes cracked open. When Gintoki had pulled them through her door and then set her down on the hastily-made futon in the center of her room, Tsukuyo finally allowed the exhaustion from the last few days to seep through her bones. Gintoki tucked her into the covers with careful hands and a promise to bring her hot water and soup.

“Well if you’d have heeded my earlier warnings and got some sleep, I wouldn’t have had to, ya stubborn woman” he crosses the space between them and deposits himself cross-legged in the space by her head her head. “Besides, I thought it would’a just been easier if I just brought you upstairs instead of having to listen to you tell me you’re fine before that. Here.”

By thrusting the cup into her face, he effectively cuts off all objections and arguments that she may have had. Tsukuyo sips from the cup in his hands, supporting the weight of her upper body with an elbow. She notes that the sturdiness of Gintoki’s hand holding her head up eases her in a way similar to the water soothing her throat.  They continue that way in silence for a few minutes. Gintoki’s supporting hand never wavers, nor does the hand holding the cup tip too much or too little. Consistency is a predominant trait of his, it seems.

“I ordered some soup from a friend’s place. She does delivery, so just hang tight.”

“Mm, thank you, Gintoki.” His hand is rearranging the hair that frames her face, but he stops suddenly at her words. Tsukuyo opens her eyes and sees him looking at her. “What?”

Gintoki shakes his head and resumes his stroking, a small smile on his face. “You don’t seem like the type to accept someone else’s help, even when you’re sick.” He flicks some of Tsukuyo’s hair off of her face. “Probably the type of broad that will insist on walking to the hospital with a broken leg to avoid burdening anyone with calling an ambulance.”

Tsukuyo snorts. “You’re right, actually.” She’s feeling steadier than before, so she sits up by herself without too much of a struggle. “But don’t get a big head about it. You’re just here until the soup comes” Taking the cup from Gintoki, she sips from it and then places it on the floor between them. She notices his eye follow the movements of her hand.

“Hmph, I’m staying here until you finish all your soup. I went through your trash, I know you’ve only been eating instant ramen and convenience store bentos.” He crosses his arms in front of his chest. “You’ll ruin your health and your skin.” Tsukuyo snorts.

“Stop motherin’ me, it starting to get weird.” She pauses. “Should I ignore the fact that you just admitted to going through my trash?”

He shrugs. “I took out your garbage for you just now.” He pointedly tackes a sarcastic you’re welcome to the end of his admission.

Rather than being shocked at this, Tsukuyo presses a hand against her neighbor’s neck. “You’re acting pretty out of character right now, you okay? How much did you have to drink exactly?”

“Oi, I could say the same for you, Tsukki.” He taps her forehead. “You got weird real quick earlier. In fact you still haven’t looked me in the eye.” He mockingly strokes his chin as if studying and scrutinizing her.

At his words, Tsukuyo instinctively jerks her gaze to the space over his shoulder. “Huh, is that right? Must be the fever.” She lets out a weak laughs that sounds forced even to herself.

Rather than being unsubtly masculine in action like his track record would suggest, Gintoki does not reach out for Tsukuyo’s face and force her to meet his eyes, nor does he growl in her ear and rasp his admonishments while running his hands all over her body (Tsukuyo is positive now that the fever is making her previous revelation worse for her). Instead he sighs and shakes his head. “You don’t need to be so proud, I’m sure you’d do the same for me, with how you’re always caring for people and stuff.”

Surprised, Tsukuyo turns her head to look at him. He’s propped an elbow on one of his knees and is leaning his face on his fist. Pride was not quite the only reason she couldn’t and still can’t look him in the eye. Suddenly taken over by a dissonance of intentions and thoughts and information, Tsukuyo steels herself to speak her own truth to Gintoki, her friend, if only just to figure out what it is she wants. Raising her own hand from under the covers (she subtly wipes it against the coverlet, just in case they’re clammy), she tips his face towards her, allowing the bone and stubble of his chin to slide atop the pads of her middle and pointer fingers. She gradually allows more of her hand to come into contact with him, and distantly registers the movement of her lips to form Gintoki’s name. In the moment, Tsukuyo recognizes that there are no barriers between them at that moment- with her palm cupping his jaw and her eyes meeting his gaze head-on. The strange intimacy between them tears at Tsukuyo to either run away or tell him everything that’s gone through her mind concerning him for the last few hours.

Having Gintoki in such close proximity allows her to get a better whiff of him- the sweat is more pronounced, but now, while she is surrounded by cold air and soft sheets, it stirs something feral in her. His hair is soft on her littlest fingers, but the skin of her palm is brushing against the roughness of his face, where dark hairs confirm the natural silver. Suddenly, Tsukuyo finds herself wanting to add his taste to her repertoire of information on Gintoki according to her senses.

Before she can entertain that idea any more than she morally should, Gintoki grips her hand in his and gives it a squeeze, and while keeping eye contact, slowly moves her hands (still clasped in his own) in the direction of his lips. His mouth shapes words she cannot hear, but in the moment, she doesn’t think it matters. As it nears, she feels the steady stream of warm breath against the mounts of her palm. Gintoki is looking at the small, female hands cupped in his own, tracing the boney knuckles with his thumb. His breaths have quickened to match the pace Tsukuyo had set, likely without even realizing. He aches to bathe the soft skin, memorizing the indents and grooves, with his tongue and worship the woman that owns the soft, gasping pants.

“G-Gintoki.” He lets out a groan at the sight of Tsukuyo’s flushed face and dishevelled hair. Deciding that there was always tomorrow to deal with the consequences. Gintoki ghosts his breath over Tsukuyo’s fingers, then slowly, carefully, drops a small kiss onto her highest knuckle, keeping his eyes locked on hers. Going up her finger, he continues to trails them hotly along the length of her digit, dipping his tongue into the junction between her fingers at every turn finger. The quick, shocked ah that Tsukuyo lets out the first time is enough for Gintoki to need to start shifting around at the gradual tightening of his pants. He can hear Tsukuyo’s breathing speeding up, and the knowledge that he was the one spiking her heartbeat and working her lungs excited him more than he would be willing to admit. After listening to Tsukuyo’s breathy ah’s and watching her squirm from beneath his eyelashes, Gintoki unfurls a slim index finger from the loose fist she has inevitably formed and teases the pad of it with his tongue

Currently unable to completely register everything, Tsukuyo tried to focus on not hyperventilating and dying as a result. Gintoki is sucking on her fingers, twisting and stiffening and relaxing and sweeping his tongue all over the small space of skin he holds in his hand. Gintoki’s eyes have not left her face for more than a moment since he’s touched her, his stare heated her skin and gave her ideas she could hear  in the voices of gossiping courtesans. She never realized how sensitive the thin pads of her fingers are, or how good teeth would feel and the sudden thoughts of where else the stiff muscle of his tongue and saliva would feel good. Before she could quell the moan that bubbled in her throat as Gintoki pulls her waist closer to him, a loud pounding at the door makes them jump, alerting them both of sudden company.

“Oi, Blondie, someone dropped some soup off for you, and I’m starting to get impatient!” Otose screeched from the other side of their divide.

Shocked, Tsukuyo jumped away from her neighbor, pulling her fingers out from his mouth. “Uh, yes, coming Otose-san!” Momentarily distracted by the glistening of her wet fingers and the stunned look on a still lust-hooded Gintoki’s face, Tsukuyo hurries to the door on unsteady feet and hands a bundle of yen notes to Otose, who hardly even raises an eyebrow at her tenant’s mussed shape.

When she closes the door, Gintoki is sitting at her kitchen table with his standard bored expression. Tsukuyo almost thinks that he had been unaffected by their earlier activity, if not for the uncharacteristic way he’s fiddling with the mug instead of picking at his nose. The thought calms Tsukuyo’s racing pulse a little bit, she’d rather they both be a little shy after that.

“So, uh-“

“I have the-.”

Chuckling lightly, Gintoki scratches his head and Tsukuyo blushes as she sets the Styrofoam containers in the table in front of him. Fishing two spoons and a set of bowls from their cabinets, Tsukuyo seats herself beside the man rather than across from him, curious to see his reaction to proximity after that.

They eat their soup in silence for some time, neither of them are very sure of what should, or even could be said. Vaguely, Tsukuyo wonders if Gintoki has prior experience with these situations- a morning-after setting for prudes, if you will. She shakes her head, not quite comfortable with the direction her thoughts are taking. From the corner of her eye, she sees Gintoki put his spoon down. She turns to look at him, meeting his eyes.

“You’ve got some tiny fingers.”

She can’t help it, it was nothing near what she had expected after the tense air of the last half hour. She starts laughing really hard, all anxiety melting from her. With a pang she realizes that she had been scared. Scared to lose her friendship with the man, whether because they let the sexual tension get in their way, or because of the chance that it would work out but end badly for them. She’s clutching her sides and wheezing in front of a dumfounded Gintoki, who looks on with concern.

A little later, with wet eyes and a satisfying ache in her stomach, Tsukuyo smiles widely at him. She’s at a loss for what to say once again, and thanking him would only bring on a round of questions with answers that would boost his ego past what she wanted to deal with.

“Your tongue’s too smooth. Did you burn off your taste buds with all the sugar you eat?” Looking affronted, Gintoki argues back the excellence of his palate.

We’ll be alright. Tsukuyo is confident of it.

Chapter Text

This is not alright.

Tsukuyo checked her voicemail on her lunchbreak as she always did. She didn’t want to at first, dreading the bad news she’d be sure to receive from her colleague regarding the Matsumura- Mother/Son case. They had managed to win over the presiding judge’s sympathy, but with the climbing legal costs and constantly added stressors, Hisako Matsumura- née Ueda’s health was speeding up its already steady decline. Tsukuyo was currently living in a state of constant anxiety- if Hisako’s health reports were to fall into the wrong hands, the case would be over immediately and the fight would’ve been all for naught.

It’s a tragic contradiction, Tsukuyo thinks, to give a dying woman what she wants without wasting away the little time she has left on fussing with the technicalities.  Sighing to herself, Tsukuyo presses 1 to hear her (3) unheard messages.

“Uh, Tsukki- it’s Gintoki-“ Tsukuyo will later deny that her heart had started beating faster.

“-I’m in holding right now- it’s like jail but no showers.” Gintoki lets out a sheepish laugh and Tsukuyo has to resist the urge to hold her palm to her face. “I don’t have time to explain, but I- oi, fuck off I’m using this one right- Oi! Wait your turn-.” Her phone beeps and then tells her she is now listening to the next message.

“Hellooo!” The new voice is much too loud and too cheerful to be Gintoki’s, but Tsukuyo has no doubt that it is linked to the previous message. “It’s nice to meet you, I am Sakamoto Tatsuma, and Gintoki’s told me much about you, Tsukuyo-san.” Oi, you dumbass why’d you call my woman twice? “Oh-ho? So this is your wo-“. There’s a crashing noise over the phone, and another beep, then the next message plays.

“Good afternoon. This is Yamazaki Sagaru calling from the Tokyo Police Department. We have detained Sakata Gintoki and Sakamoto Tatsuma in the Kabukicho Headquarters for reasons that will be further disclosed when the details of the case are sorted out. We would ask that you please come by at your own convenience in order to be filled in on the specifics. Thank you for your cooperation!” A beep and then the voice tells Tsukuyo that she has no more unheard messages.

The time stamp of the latest message had been thirty-six minutes ago, but a good hour after Sakamoto-san’s phone call. Despite the seemingly hurried sequence of voicemails, Tsukuyo takes her time with her lunch and wonders who and what else Gintoki would bring into her life.

**
“I swear, Sir, all his drug tests came back as negative, he might just be like this naturally.”

It’s 4 in the afternoon, and Tsukuyo had run out of things to do and reasons to withhold Gintoki’s freedom (as well as his friend’s, consequently) any longer. Admittedly, she was also slightly nervous. She had thought about how much she truly knew Gintoki, and while they have spent hours together, some instances more intimate than the other, she can’t shake the suspicion that there is still a large chunk of his life that she has no idea about. Once she had stepped into the police department and heard those words from who she assumed to be a clerical worker, her blood froze in her veins.

She knows Gintoki is only a casual drug user, far from a crackhead, but drug use is still illegal, no matter how often, as you only have to get caught once. She hasn’t smelled any weed coming from his room since the first day, nor has the subject come up in a while, but for all she knows Gintoki might’ve been up to any kind of illicit drug activity for a client, if not himself.

Through the haze of her panic, Tsukuyo fails to notice the two male officers regarding her with curiosity from behind the desk.

“Er, Miss?” The one in uniform speaks up first. The blonde woman starts and looks towards the owner of the voice.

“Yes! I mean, uh, yes excuse me. I’m here to pick up Sakata Gintoki. And his friend.” The black haired man in the badminton racket-patterned bowtie taps away at his computer, but pauses.

“I’m sorry Ma’am, but I’ll need a name for the friend. It’s just standard procedure.”

“Er- yes, Sakamoto Tatsuma.”

“Ah, the Loud One.” He peers at her. “Are you Tsukuyo-san? I left a message on your phone.” His name plate says OFC. Yamazaki Sagaru. After her affirmation and some exchanged bows and other formalities, Badminton-Bowtie hands a stack of papers to the officer in a police uniform and gestures to a hallway leading to the south end of the building. “Hijikata-san will take you to them from here, I just need you to sign here- here and here right before you enter the holding room.”

“Tch- no time for that, I just want these bone heads out of here- they’re taking up space.” Hijikata slashes a black marker through several tick boxes and then offers it to her, pointing at a single line that calls for her initials. Tsukuyo’s heart skitters.

“Just how much trouble are they in?” Hijikata snorts as they walk. There is something familiar in the curve of his cheek, but Tsukuyo doesn’t dwell on it.

“We brought ‘em in for loitering, though we were tipped about drug exchanges goin’ on in the area, that’s why they were put in holding.” Tsukuyo struggles to keep her face from revealing her renewed panic. “Also, Sakamoto’s always been a pain in the ass.”

“Er-“

“To the neighborhood, not just me, Lady, don’t sweat it.” Turning another corner, Tsukuyo and Hijikata are faced with a heavy, metal door. The bolts look intimidating, as well as the complicated piece of machine that is fitted into the jamb. Hijikata swipes the card he had pulled from his pocket and punches in a series of numbers that Tsukuyo doesn’t bother looking at. She’s trying to will her pulse back to its resting state, as there seems to be no reason to panic. Hijikata looks more in a hurry to kick Gintoki and his friend out than anything else.

Stepping into the brightly lit room, she took in the cells lining the walls, all of them empty until her eyes reach the one furthest from the door, which seems to be guarded by another officer.

“Oi, Sougo, what are you still doing here?”

“Just catching up with the father-in-law,” a sandy haired police officer calls back in response. “We should do this over some beers next time, Danna.” He says to the bars of the cell.

“Oi, don’t call me your father-in-law, brat.” Knowing right away that was Gintoki’s voice, Tsukuyo feels some tension leave her body, the auditory proof of his safety was not something she thought she needed until now. She also notes that Sougo must be Kagura’s husband. “Is that the Mayora? Oi, you better let me out now, you shit. Don’t you have better things to waste my time and tax dollars on? Disgraceful.” Hijikata rolls his eyes and mutters a stay right here to Tsukuyo before he moves towards the cell, fingering at a thickly lined keyring.

Based on Gintoki’s ranting and raving, he is not at all worried, still, Tsukuyo thinks that he may be hiding any anxiety behind his well-kept bravado. One way you could usually tell is by how much his right eye twitches, but since she can’t see him, she waits patiently and listens.

“Yeah, yeah. You’re free to go, both of you. And I don’t want to see either of your sorry faces anywhere near this station for a long time.” Hijikata seems to have found the correct key, but stops short before unlocking it. “Hey, wake that mop-head up.” There’s a crash and the quiet snores that had earlier evaded Tsukuyo’s ears suddenly stop.

 “Oi- Sakamoto we’re getting out of here. Wake up.”  There is a huge yawn, which Tsukuyo automatically pairs with Gintoki’s faceless friend.

“Aahhhhh, finally. I’ve got to call Mutsu and tell her where I am, ahaha! It’s a good thing they didn’t find out about what we were really doing at Zura’s-mmnf.“ There is a simultaneous noise of what she assumes to be Gintoki’s hand choking off Sakamoto’s sentence and what she definitely knows to be Hijikata’s hand turning the key to stick the lock back into place. Sougo, who has remained silent throughout the whole exchange straddles the chair he had previously vacated and Hijikata strides forwards to stand beside him, lighting a cigarette.

“So, what were you two ‘really doing at Zura’s? Hm?” Tsukuyo feels the temperature of the room drop a few degrees just from the tone of Hijikata’s voice- a dangerous one. She guesses it goes unnoticed by at least two other occupants based on how casually they speak in the interrogation scene.

“Ugh, fuck you Sakamoto, I can’t believe this. How many times have you fucked both of us over like this?”

“I’m sorry, Kintoki-“

“No, nuh-uh, not this time you empty-headed perm. You know that guy’s always had it out for me.” Gintoki then proceeds to scold his friend for getting his name wrong. From where she’s standing, Tsukuyo can see the throbbing vein on Hijikata’s forehead increase in size. He grits his teeth.

“Hey, are you going to answer the-“

“Man, I can’t help that he wants you more than he ever wanted to bag any of us, ahaha.”

“Oi, why’d you gotta make that sound so dirty?”

“Nothin’ dirty about love, Kinto-“ Tsukuyo watches Hijikata’s cigarette fall to the floor, and his heel grinds into it, just as he begins to shout.

“STOP WASTING MY FUCKING TIME AND ANSWER THE QUESTION.” With every eye on Hijikata’s angry form, as far as Tsukuyo can tell, she waits for the ice to snap completely from the iceberg.

“Oh? I’m wasting your time?” The voice is Gintoki’s, more bored than he had been even before they began arguing. “Does Mitsuba know you go to work every day and speak like this to your charges?” Hijikata starts.

“Hey, leave Mitsuba out of this-“

“Oi, Sougo, does your sister know she’s married to a hypocrite?” Sougo stands, serious all of a sudden.

“I’ve tried to tell her Boss, but Nee-san has the right to choose her own husband.” Hijikata’s posturing speaks of agitation, but Tsukuyo is too busy trying to keep up with the conversation.

“Well he’s not doing a very good job. If he’s spending all his time at work and very little at home, that must speak for a rocky marriage, ne, Hijikata-kun?”

“Oi, I just told you to leave Mitsuba out of this.”

“Mm? What’s that? Is that you being defensive? Of your failing marriage?” Sougo sucks in a breath and coughs awkwardly at Gintoki’s words.

“Fucking fine!” Hijikata yanks the cell door open after a few moments of fumbling with the lock. His ears are red. “Go home, and if I catch any of you loitering in public parks again I’m not going to hold back.”

“Ahaha, I think that’s meant for you Kintok- oof.”

Two curly-haired figures walk out of the barred space, the first one, taller and rubbing at his jaw, stops and whistles.

Woo, hello there Miss. You’re a real pretty sight after being cooped up in a cell with this old man for the last five hours, ahaha.” Unamused, Tsukuyo only stares him down. Gintoki looks up after hearing Sakamoto’s words.

“Oi, back off Sakamoto, she’ll kill you if you get too close.“ Gintoki rubs the back of his neck. “So, uh Tsukki-.“ He’s interrupted by the sound of a heavy, metal door creaking open. Yamazaki peeks in a moment later.

“Hijikata-san- is Sakamoto ready to go?” Stepping aside, he allows a serious looking woman to march inside. She carries herself confidently, but tired, as if she’s been forced to do this too many times.

“Mutsu! Ahaha, what brings you here?” The woman looks at Sakamoto as if he was something that she had found stuck to her shoe.

“You. C’mon, we need to be in Kyoto by 7 this evening.” Mutsu’s fingers are already clasped around Sakamoto’s ear before she completes her sentence and she’s dragging the man (a good two heads taller than she is) out the door. She nods at everyone before disappearing around the corner behind Yamazaki and Sougo. Hijikata turns to the one left in the room.

“Alright, your turn. Go home, Sakata.” Hijikata gives Tsukuyo a pointed look. “I trust that you’ll take him there?” It’s more of a command than a suggestion, so Tsukuyo agrees, momentarily forgetting that they lived less than ten paces away from each other- the black haired man’s gaze had left no room for debate.

**

There is hardly a word exchanged between them in the time taken to collect Gintoki’s belongings, check out and then walk four blocks away from the building.

“You hungry?” Tsukuyo feels a little bad for delaying his release, though she was more curious than anything else about exactly what had just transpired.

“You offering?” Gintoki raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“You’d just talk me into it, so I’m saving time.” He smiles.

“True. Good timing too.” Without warning, Gintoki takes her hand into his and leads her down the crowded Kabukicho sidewalk. He turns suddenly, sliding the door to a nondescript ramen place that Tsukuyo would walk past any day. A blonde woman is standing behind the front counter, chopping vegetables from the sound of a knife against wood. “Oi, Ikumatsu, two regulars.”

Without looking up, Ikumatsu snorts and slides a pile of chopped carrots into a red bowl. “What trouble are you in this time, Gintoki?” Raising only her eyes, they land first on Tsukuyo, and then the clasped hands between them. Without another word (but with a ghost of a smile, Tsukuyo notices), she turns to the sink behind her and waves at them to sit wherever they want.

 Gintoki leads her to one of the barstools, still keeping her hand in his. Once she is seated, Gintoki in the stool that is turned to face her, she looks at him expectantly, suddenly itching for a cigarette.

“So.”

“So?” Gintoki’s expression is questioning.

“Aren’t you going to tell me what happened?” Gintoki blinks at her and gives a small laugh. Their hands had separated a while before, but he continues to play with her pinky finger. Momentarily, Tsukuyo considers how far they’ve come. Weeks prior, she surely would have kicked Gintoki around a lot more for touching her so casually, and without permission. Now, despite blushing at certain non-daytime thoughts, Tsukuyo lets herself enjoy his touch.

“Yeah, I probably should- it’s really not a big deal though, Toushirou’s been narking on me since we were kids.” Ikumatsu places two glasses of water in front of them, Tsukuyo nods her thanks and turns her attention back to the man in front of her, sipping at the liquid.

“What do you mean?”

“We’re cousins, so we were kinda forced to grow up together.”

“Huh.” Tsukuyo pauses, remembering the impressions the police man had left. “I guess that explains why you look alike.” Gintoki coughs on his water.

“Oi, I thought you found me attractive.” Flushing, Tsukuyo jabs right back.

“I don’t ever remember saying that.” He wipes the spit and water off his chin with his sleeve.

“It’s implied, Tsukki.” Gintoki winks at her, and she can’t find it in herself to not look away shyly. “Anyway, Sakamoto and I weren’t quite doing anything illegal when he caught us, but Mayora’s always been looking for dirt on me.” He looks thoughtful for a moment, playing with a discarded straw wrapper. “He’s like you in that sense.” Tsukuyo scoffs.

“Please, I’d hardly go that far.” Tsukuyo clears her throat. “But I’m a little concerned about Hijikata-san, you really did have no business bringing his wife into your argument.” She regards Gintoki earnestly, but he only shrugs.

“Mitsuba asked me to talk to him, she thinks we’re close for some reason.” Scratching at his ear, he adds, “It’s not like she’s unaware of how terribly we work together, but she knows I have a way to get under his skin in ways that no one else can.” Tsukuyo nods, she feels like she understands. Ikumatsu comes in from the kitchen with two bowls of ramen. She sets them in front of the couple, nodding a soundless you’re welcome when then thank her. The broth is rich and the noodles the perfect consistency.

“Alright,” Tsukuyo says through a mouthful of vegetables, “so what slightly illegal activity were you involved in beforehand?” Gintoki’s eyes dart cautiously to where Ikumatsu is standing, organizing plates, and then back to Tsukuyo.”

“It’s a long story.”

Chapter Text

It’s 9 in the morning on a Friday, hours before Sakata Gintoki is anywhere near the peak of wakefulness. Supressing a yawn, he leans his back against a dirty brick wall in a nondescript Kabukicho alley, contemplating whether he should wait out the company of his friends or go back home to the comfort of his futon and dreams of a certain blonde-haired neighbor. He closes his eyes, remembering the feeling of Tsukuyo’s skin- skimming his cheek, under his own fingertips, on his tongue.

“Ahahaha, Kintoki! Hisashiburi! It’s been too long!” Ah, well that’s the end of his quiet morning.

“Not long enough if you’re still coming around here- and it’s Gintoki. Gin-To-Ki.” He grumbles, annoyed at the interruption, even if the laughing idiot is partly the reason he was standing in the dirty alley to begin with. “Where’s Zura? He only ever comes out from under his rock to vandalize public property with that ridiculous duck cartoon.”

“It’s not Zura, it’s Katsura.” A hooded mess of long black hair emerges from the shadows of the buildings. “Also, Elizabeth is a symbol.”

“Katsura! How’s it hanging? I’ve brought the stuff ahahah.” Katsura smiles at him.

“I have been well, thank you-.“

“Oi, oi, what stuff? Why’re you dragging me into your criminal activities?” Katsura sighs.

“Gintoki, I assure you that I’ve enlisted your help, even under illicit means, only for the sake of this country.” He wrinkles his nose. “Besides, you’re hardly an exemplary citizen yourself.” Gintoki scoffs.

“I never agreed to help you with anything. Also, aren’t you a little old to be drawing on walls, Zura?”

“It’s not Zura, it’s Katsura, and this project is not just vandalism, as you call it. It is art, but more than that, it is a statement.” Katsura raises his chin, taking a defiant stance. “Elizabeth is a figure of freedom. The Japanese people have been imprisoned by their vices for years- from mobile phones to this very district we are standing in right now.” Katsura pounds a fist against the brick wall beside him to emphasize his point. “For such an advanced society, we are constrained by these inventions that only serve to replicate human contact.”

“Oi, Zura, what does this-“

“Robots- that is, scraps of metal, plastic and silicon- are taking away jobs from real women. Prostitutes have it tough as it is!” Gintoki’s interruption doesn’t seem to faze the man. “Shouldn’t we use our technological advancement for better things than trying to invent a new thing to stick your dick in?” His voice had gone up in volume during his rant. “Is it really so hard to become attracted to another living, real, breathing person? Why must we invent holograms to please the general public’s libido?” Gintoki sighs and runs a hand through his hair.

“That’s rich coming from you, Zura. You’re the most socially inept person out of all of us.” Katsura throws him a glare. “But I guess I’ll help you just this once.”

Katsura turns his entire body to look at Gintoki, his eyes adapting a watery quality, he notices his mouth wobbles even before he speaks. “Really, Gintoki?”

“Tch, yeah. Now hurry up and tell me what you want me to do before I change my mind.” Saluting, Katsura turns to run down the alley, down the same direction Tatsuma had disappeared down just a little earlier in the exchange.

“Bring ‘em in, Sakamoto!” Over the sound of a truck backing up, Sakata Gintoki hears unreasonably loud chortling, and knows immediately that he had made a grave mistake. Katsura turns to face him, the sunlight hits his long black hair and projects the shimmering quality of his olive eyes. “Gintoki, I present to you The Renho Project.” Then, the door of the ton truck slides open to reveal-

“Oi, Zura I thought you said this would be an art project.” Katsura blinks at him.

“It is, Gintoki.” A snap sounds through the alley, although it’s a hypothetical one, meant to represent Gintoki’s patience running out completely.

“THEN WHY ARE THERE ONLY DUCKS IN HERE?” And there are indeed rows of stacked cages, each holding a white American Pekin duck, or so according to the tags on each cage. Katsura laughs, high and hearty, jumping into the cave of domestic birds.

“Oh, Gintoki- this is art!”

“No, you dunce- these are fucking animals.” Gintoki shouts. “I thought I’d be painting some shitty cartoon onto bathroom stalls.” The long haired idiot unhooks one of the cage pins and picks up the bird, laughing good naturedly.

“That’s a very narrow definition of art, Gintoki. See, I had garnered inspiration from feeding the ducks in the park back when I had travelled to America.” He begins to pet the duck serenely, a far-away gaze painted over his face. “I had befriended one in particular- Elizabeth is what they called themself. See, Gintoki, art is anything that is pulled from within, often with the intention to pull at the insides of others.”

“OI- YOU.” Gintoki grabs a dopey-faced Sakamoto by the lapels and shakes. “Are you the one who shipped all these American ducks to Japan?”

“Ahahaha, you shouldn’t be so loud, Kintoki, you’ll take away the element of surprise.” The silver haired man stops his throttling to look back at Katsura.

“Oi, Zura, what’s this idiot talking about?”

“Why, we will be releasing the Elizabeths onto Kabukicho’s main street.” The man has the gall to use a tone that implies his intentions would be the obvious course of action.

“Are you joking? Oi, I live here you idiots, why would you make me do this to my own neighborhood?” Katsura is now standing beside the two perm heads. The morning sunshine illuminates the three- four including duck- in a manner that suggests innocence and light as opposed to their statuses of criminal and accomplices.

“Hm, I guess that does serve as a small foil in our plans.”

“Pssh, our plans? What are you even hoping to accomplish with this?” Gintoki gestures wildly at the duck truck.

“Ahahaha, he already told you, Kintoki! It’s a statement.”

“Of what?” Gintoki notices that his voice has begun to take on a desperate tone. “What kind of message are you hoping to send? In what world does it make sense to release tons of illegally imported wildlife into a busy entertainment district? Your doodles were harmless, but I am drawing the line here, Zura.” Katsura’s face had remained impassive during his tirade, a hand idly strokes the duck in his arms.

“Hm. You are right Gintoki.”

“Oh, excellent, I’m the voice of reason here.”

“The caricatures are too small of a precursor for a demonstration of this mass.” Locking away the duck, Katsura begins to take notes on a memo pad. “Yes, yes. We must delay the release of our feathered friends here until we have built up an adequate foundation, otherwise the depth of our discourse will be lost amongst the flurry of white down.” Clapping the booklet shut, Katsura grins at a laughing Sakamoto and a tired-looking Gintoki. “Excellent work, Gintoki. Sakamoto- if it’s not too much, I must ask you to keep the stuff in a humane storage facility for a while longer.” Sakamoto flashes a thumbs up and begins scrolling through his phone, presumably looking for the facility’s number.

“Oi, if we’re done, I’d like to go home.” Gintoki rubs at his eyes and yawns. “I’m beat from trying to keep up with both of your skewed logic.”

“Ah, Gintoki, we’re not done yet. You must stay with us to continue planning for The Renho Project: Draft 2.”

**

Tsukuyo blinks slowly.

“I-“ She stops herself, unsure of what she wanted to say.

“It’s fine, you don’t need to say anything.” They are sitting on Gintoki’s couch, a pair of empty tea cups are placed on the coffee table. Tsukuyo clears her throat, trying to find the words to describe her skepticism and formulate the questions she has.

“Just. Alright.” She leans herself against the back of the couch. Still trying to process the strangeness of Gintoki’s friends.

“So, Sakamoto and I were caught because Zura took us to a playground to ‘discuss’.” Gintoki snorts. “We hid him in the sand pit, not sure if he’s come out of there yet. Then, Hijikata drove by us, two grown men sitting on the teeter totter, and accused us of licentious observance of children, but put us down for suspected drug charges.” Tsukuyo lets out a laugh at the mental image.

“Yeah, he mentioned there was a tip-off.” An eyeroll and then the man picks at his ears.

“It’s the Red Light District, what does he expect? He probably just used that as an excuse to waste my time.” Tsukuyo eyes him once again, feeling like she is still missing a corner piece of a puzzle.

“So, why did you have to bring me over to tell me all this?” Gintoki adapts the smug grin she has familiarized herself with.

“Eh? A man can’t enjoy his lady’s company in the privacy of his own home?” She’s blushing and it has nothing to do with the warm room.

“Is that what I am to you, Gintoki?” She notices his face has suddenly moved closer, but she’s not having it. Her hand shoots up to grip at his shoulder, holding him away from her. “Why couldn’t you tell me all this at Ikumatsu’s? It doesn’t seem like she would’ve run to the police, if that was your worry.”

Gintoki sits back, smiling fondly at the blonde. “Damn, Tsukki. You’re sharper than I’ve ever given you credit for, y’know that?” Tsukuyo just rolls her eyes to hiding her pleasure at the compliment, while Gintoki stretches out his arms behind his head. “Ikumatsu and Zura have a bit of a history.”

“Really?” She doesn’t mean to sound incredulous, but the idea of the stern woman being associated with such a strange sounding man doesn’t click with her immediately.

“Yeah, it’s hard to believe, I know. I had to get Zura high off his mind to get anything from him.” He leans forward, his voice lowering although they are surely safe from any open ear within the walls of his apartment. “Ikumatsu’s actually windowed- goin’ on ten years now, I believe.”

“And what does Katsura-san have to do with any of this?” Gintoki shrugs.

“I didn’t get much from either of them, didn’t feel right askin’.” He eyes her from the side. “Daigo- her husband was killed by some gang years back.” The temperature of the room suddenly plunges. Apprehensively, Tsukuyo speaks slowly, so not to stutter.

“Is Katsura involved in some kind of gang activity aside from tagging?” Gintoki doesn’t speak for too many long seconds. “Gintoki?” His arms are still crossed behind his head, but his eyes are downcast- he’s uncomfortable, but trying not to show it. Tsukuyo knows he’s mulling over some risky words.

 “It’s been a while since I’ve heard anything about it from Zura, but I had been a part of a turf war a while back- with Zura and another guy. Sakamoto later.” He pauses, gauging her reaction, but Tsukuyo can’t quite feel her face- too many thoughts have suddenly bubbled to the surface of her conscience. Oi, Tsukki, what’s wrong?

She only vaguely hears Gintoki’s concern, the sound of blood rushing through her ears has suddenly taken over their conversation. The room is dim, and she’s no longer in the warm, Kabukicho apartment, but rather outside in the brisk April midnight years ago in the rotten depths of Yoshiwara. She can feel the needles of rain cutting into her skin and the chaos of bodies kicking and shoving around her. She is brawling with air and choking on one word, one name. And then she’s shaking.

Or being shook. “Tsukuyo!” Gintoki is kneeling in front of her when she comes to. She guesses that something in her eyes alerts him of her return, because his expression of distress shifts into relief. He takes her into his arms, pressing kisses into her hair. “Oi, are you okay? What happened there?” He has let her go in order to stroke the hair out of her face and look into her eyes. Tsukuyo notices that her hands are still shaking, as if she had really been transported to the freezing rain that came back to her vividly just moments ago.

As if another ghost had passed by just to take over the control she had over her body, Tsukuyo takes Gintoki’s face, broad and rough, into her hands and presses her lips firmly against his. She can feel Gintoki’s eyelashes brush against the tops of her cheeks, a faint groan making its way from his throat to reverberate throughout her whole body. Their breaths join as their lips pull apart, only briefly. They continue that way for some moments, minutes, perhaps hours. It’s when Tsukuyo is sucking at Gintoki’s bottom lip and straddling his lap that he gives a long groan and pulls away.

“Tsukki, as much as I want to continue making out with you, I want to know that you’re alright first.” He’s breathless, with kiss-swollen lips and more hair sticking up in more directions than usual. Gintoki rubs her back, patiently waiting for her to restore the air in her lungs and find the words she needs. She realizes she has slid into his lap and they are now seated on the floor.

“I’m sorry.” He kisses her hair.

“I don’t know if you’re talking about jumping me, or the episode you just had, but an apology isn’t needed for either.” As he continues to comb at her hair with his fingers, and she hides her eyes in the crook of his neck, Tsukuyo comes to the realization that truth is what Gintoki deserved. For all his evasions- the last five months of her life they’ve known each other- he had chosen to tell her all that he had left out tonight. Tsukuyo flushes a little when she realizes what her rash actions had delayed.

Above everything that had irked at her senses during her episode, fear and its every chill had been the most pervasive.

“Still, I… I don’t quite know what came over me.” She raises her head from his neck, and looks directly into wine coloured eyes. Gintoki doesn’t speak, merely waits for her to continue. “It- gang violence has always been a sensitive topic for me.” Her mouth seems to form the words before her mind knows what to say, and suddenly it’s spilling out of her, as sharp and swift as the raindrops from that night. She tells Gintoki of Jiraia- a man who ran the underground; her saviour, but not her father, as he lacked the support and love one would expect from real dads. He was her teacher, she was his charge and she stuck with him for reasons beyond the servitude that is linked to Yoshiwaran gratitude. Still, despite his coldness, his detachment and the extrinsic value he stuck onto Tsukuyo as a successor and a fighter, Jiraia had gained her trust and love in some mysterious way.

She describes to Gintoki April of her 16th year, Jiraia had enlisted her help as a bouncer and bodyguard while he drew up mass drug sale plans in the back rooms with unspeakably notorious gangsters and businessmen, though they were all crooks to Tsukuyo. She guarded the door as faithfully as a watch dog would, until she didn’t, because she was then being dragged outside by her hair. She had tasted the blood and bile before they had even kicked her hard enough, because right there- on the cracked concrete floors- was Jiraia, with enough dark, dark red pooling around him for her to believe that he would die if he was not already dead.

Tsukuyo never did find out what happened to her voice that night.

“I blacked out. I only remember the rain and Hinowa’s voice later on.” Gintoki is very quiet and very still. He had stopped his steady touches sometime while she spoke, the hand he had placed on her waist earlier now lie beside him, clenched in a fist. Tsukuyo takes that as a sign to say no more on the subject. Suddenly, she’s wrapped her in his arms again, and Tsukuyo can feel him breathing deeply, his heart beat steady and strong through their clothes and rib cages.

“No one will hurt you again.” Although she’d felt variants of his words before, from the warmth exuded by Hinowa to the assurance of her sensei’s training, ingrained into her, marrow-deep, she had never experienced them like Gintoki had given it. Breathing him in is enough for her, so she takes him in her arms as he holds her and allows herself to give in to someone else’s strength.

Chapter Text

The next morning, after waking up tangled awkwardly around each other -the both of them with sore backs and limbs from falling asleep on the floor- Tsukuyo witnesses first-hand how well Gintoki can cook.

“Y’know, I never would’ve guessed.” She is standing by the stove, grilling the fish.

“What, that I wouldn’t be completely useless in the kitchen?” Gintoki snorts as he cracks an egg into the mixing bowl.

“Yeah, exactly.”

“Aww, give Gin-chan some credit, Tsukuyo.” He pours the omelet mix into the pan that has been heating on the stove next to her. “I kind of raised two kids, one of them with the appetite of an army, I swear.” Tsukuyo watches his easy movements, not so much because she’s truly that amazed at how well he’s been navigating his own kitchen, but rather from how his company felt natural, especially after what had transpired the night before.

The discomfort and awkwardness anyone could’ve expected from tearful confessions and a first kiss doesn’t seem to exist with Gintoki, not even an inkling of embarrassment from him. Even after growing up in Yoshiwara, where strange sexual favours were a constant and popular topic, Tsukuyo can only blush helplessly when confronted with the memories of a kiss and the feelings they entailed. The finger sucking, she realizes, was only easier to accept because it was never tabooed in her hometown.

They may be adults and kisses could be trivial to him, but last night’s action are just about unthinkable to her, especially in the position of the initiator.

“Oi, Tsukuyo.” She turns her head towards Gintoki, who is standing next to her, the chopsticks that had been poking at the grilling fish placed on the stovetop. He moves his face closer to hers, and instinct takes over. Their lips lock and his hands are cupping her cheeks, while hers slip to the nape of his neck, feeling soft, silver curls. There is more tenderness than heat to his kiss- his hands stay above her neck, so he can slide his thumbs against the soft skin of her face and feel the silk of her hair, which she rarely wears down.

When they finally slide away from each other, Gintoki is (barely) able to save the eggs from burning and Tsukuyo fumbles to remove the browned fish from the element. Before that, however, Gintoki had whispered to her how much he looked forward to kissing her some more.

Sometime after breakfast, Tsukuyo decides to stay over at Gintoki’s, who is standing behind her with his arms wrapped around her waist as she scrubs at burnt patches on the pans they had used. The domestic tableau they make warms her, much to her embarrassment.

“You missed a spot.”

“Shut up, I’m washing your dishes because you seem like the type to let them sit to ‘soak’ for too long.” She sniffs. “Also, it’s the least I can do for having you feed me something other than that pink milk.”

“It’s strawberry milk, Tsukuyo.”

“Whatever it is, being a good cook hardly compensates for being a slob.”

“Oh? So you enjoyed my cooking then?” Gintoki’s chin is now digging into her shoulder, but the weight of his head is comfortable.

“And if I did?” He shrugs.

“Bragging rights. And you would have a reason to come over.” Tsukuyo’s heart speeds up and she finds herself fighting a smile.

“Hm. I’m not sure I’d want to hang around such a messy man all the time.”

“Eh? Tsukki please, I am militant when it comes to cleanliness.” Gintoki’s mouth right next to her ear now. She can feel the deep rumbling of his voice and the soft air that comes out with every hard consonant. Tsukuyo turns her head to look at him doubtfully, but he catches her lips with his own before she could form a comeback.

“What was that for?” She’s blinking up at him in a poor attempt to look indignant at the uncalled affection, though they both know she hardly minds. Gintoki shrugs.

“I felt like it.” His arms are around her once again and he’s nuzzling her neck. “You’ll have to get used to it, Tsukki, I’m needy.”

Tsukuyo, blushing, returns to rinsing the dishes. The silence that hangs between them is amiable (or maybe it’s just his lips pressing kisses against her jaw), but Tsukuyo already has questions, recycled from instances that came before.

**

Three hours later, it’s a little past noon and Tsukuyo is beginning to feel the anxiety that comes from half a day of doing nothing. She has checked her phone and email obsessively for the last 15 minutes, awaiting a call from work, or Hisako Matsumura, or anyone else involved in the case. Work had been pushed from the forefront of her mind for the day (as well as the night) and although the final hearing had been just yesterday, she swears it had been longer since she stood in the courtroom.

The only thing left to do was wait, and in Hisako’s case, gain back her health. There was the implicit directive to enjoy the rest of her time with her son, in case they lose, or things really take a turn for the worst. At the thought of what the Worst would entail, Tsukuyo feels the dread and guilt that has been stirring in her stomach rise up into her throat.

She is responsible for more than a case- this is the life and livelihood of a mother and son. She had taken this case with every intention of shouldering all the stress, but she hasn’t even talked to Hisako since yesterday in court, whether to sooth her worries or update her on the state of their progression.

“Tsukuyo.”

She hadn’t even bothered checking up on her wellbeing! And her son, Shou-chan is too clever and too perceptive to be unaware of how dire their situation is. Tsukuyo covers her face in shame- she’s terrible. At her job, at caring for those she had promised to shoulder a burden for-

“Oi, Tsukuyo, stop pacing for a second.” Gintoki’s hand is on her shoulder. They’re both standing, and Tsukuyo’s managed to crush the cigarette package in both her hands, her cellphone laying innocuously on the coffee table. He’s prying the cigarettes from her grip and steering her towards the loveseat. Turning off the television -which seems to still be playing Dragon Ball reruns- Gintoki sits her down beside him.

“What time is it?” Gintoki glances at the clock behind her.

“Still 12:20. Oh, 12:21 now.” He directs his stares at Tsukuyo’s hands, which fiddle with the buttons on her cardigan. “Why’re you so wound up right now? Like, more than usual.” Tsukuyo can only shove him weakly.

“I’m an awful lawyer- no a terrible, horrible, careless person.”

“Tsukuyo, I’ve seen you with Catherine. Anyone who makes noises that cute to a cat can’t be that much of a sociopath to people.” He lays his hand over hers. “I also know you are very good at your job.” Tsukuyo only snorts and turns her head.

“Shut up.” If she had been looking at Gintoki, she’d have seen the slow, smug smile spread across his face.

“Eh? Are you blushing?”

“No.” Big hands turn her face towards their owner. Gintoki can’t help the smile that splits his face.

“You are blushing.” His tone sounds surprised, though it’s hardly the first time he’s seen her flush so violently. Tsukuyo’s face is as red as Gintoki’s upholstery, which she currently seems to be trying to bury herself into. Gintoki kisses the back of her head, a little lost in the wave of affection that suddenly overcomes him. “S’cute.”

“Ugh, please stop that.” Gintoki, infuriatingly, only hums into her hair.

“Ah, I should’a known you would hate compliments.”

“I don’t hate compliments.” Tsukuyo tries to look up at him indignantly from the couch cushions. “I am just undeserving of them at the moment.”

“So you like compliments?” Tsukuyo lifts her head a fraction.

“Well, I mean-“

“So I can comment on how nice your hair is?” The pink spots on her cheeks burn a little more.

“Th-thank you-“

“Or compliment the colour of your eyes? The way you speak?” He’s tapping her chin to look up at him. “Or about how soft your lips are?” Since he’s definitely the type to plan that kind of set up, Tsukuyo shoves her hand to stop his incoming face before he can catch her mouth with his for the third time that day.

“Nice try, Gintoki but I’m being serious right now.” He pouts at her.

“I was being serious too- you just don’t give yourself enough credit, Tsukuyo.” He lands a kiss on her cheek. “You’re allowed to enjoy yourself once in a while.”

Tsukuyo smiles, warmth blooming in her chest at his words. “Thank you. I needed to hear that.”

“Oi, I wasn’t finished. You’re definitely welcome to enjoy me while you’re- ouch.” The pack of cigarettes hits him square in the face.

Suddenly the doorbell rings, pulling their attention away from each other. Gintoki looks at the door questioningly, but hauls himself up to answer it. Feeling slightly more at ease, Tsukuyo leans back into the cushions.

“GIN-CHAAAN!!” Some unholy shrieking is coming from the entrance, from both Gin-chan and the person at the door. A woman’s voice.

“GAh- What do you want?”  

“Maa, Gin-chan. I haven’t seen you in so long, is that any way to greet me?”

“Sarutobi, I thought you moved far, far, faaaar away.”

“Am I not allowed to visit my darling?”

“Oi, who’re you calling ‘darling’, you deprived woman.”

“OH- YES SAY IT AGAIN.”

“Ugh. Oi, Zenzou why’re you just standing there? Get this away from me.”  

“Tsk, is that any way to treat a client, Gintoki?”

Tsukuyo had stood up from the couch, the new voices had made her curious, especially since they sounded like people familiar with her neighbor. Turning the corner, she takes in the sight of two cosplayers- both in what look like ninja getups. The purple haired woman has her entire body wrapped around the Yorozuya while the man- Zenzou, most likely, is flipping through a thick magazine that lay among foot-high stacks around Gintoki’s apartment.

“Couldn’t you guys drop me a phone call or something to let me know you were going to ruin my day?” Gintoki had finally detached the woman from him, and she falls to the floor with a shriek. He’s surprisingly nonchalant, as if he’d untangled his limbs from the woman’s before. “Alright what do you want?”

“Hmph, if you’re seriously asking, Gin-chan we’re here to- oh? Who is this?” Upon closer investigation, Tsukuyo sees that the woman wears red glasses, a small beauty mark underneath her right eye. And she’s looking straight at her.

“Er- Tsukuyo, I’m Gintoki’s neighbor. Nice to meet you.” She’s not just his neighbour, but she doesn’t know what else she is to him, or if their relationship afforded any labels at all. “Is it Sarutobi-san?” The woman’s inquiring expression morphs into one of smugness as she stands up.

“Oh ho, so I see Gin-chan has told you about me.”

“Actually, I-“

“No, you bone head, she could obviously hear you two earlier.” The man in the ninja outfit bumps Sarutobi on the head with the side of his hand, then turns to Tsukuyo. “Forgive us for interrupting. I’m Hattori Zenzou and this is Sa-chan. We used to live next door.” Tsukuyo blinks, she had never speculated about the past owners of her place, let alone their relationship with Gintoki.

“Oi, so what are you two here for?” Gintoki is almost yelling over an indignant Sa-chan’s shrieks of Interrupt? What do you mean? “Do you need me to fix the door to your creepy BDSM dungeon again?”

“No, the hinges are still in place.” Sarutobi sniffs. “But I see that you’ve already forgotten our plans for this week.” Judging by the way she drags out the syllables Tsukuyo automatically knows that they are talking about something she doesn’t know and is probably supposed to be kept from her. Looking at Gintoki’s face (his eyes dart to her and back to Sarutobi and Hattori-san too quickly), her suspicions are confirmed. “We can go, I see that you’re busy.”

Tsukuyo’s eyes start to narrow without her permission. She feels vindictive and unsure, though she is hardly in the position to harbour those emotions. Still, the tone the other woman is using does not sit well with her at all. “Oh? Well I can leave so it’s no problem, then. I’ll see-“

“No need, Tsukuyo-san. Ayame and I were just leaving.” Hattori is placing the manga anthology back on Gintoki’s stack nearest to the exit. Sarutobi, who is still standing in place rather than acting on her word turns to Hattori, almost looking betrayed.

“Hah? But what about the-“

“Oi, didn’t you just say you were about to leave?” Gintoki has wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “We were a little busy here.” Tsukuyo jabs his ribs with her elbow, mortified at what his words imply.

“Gintoki!”

“Oh, so I guess now that you’re hitched, you’re too good for us then!” Sa-chan is wailing piteously, though Hattori only snorts while watching the couple in front of him.

“Sarutobi, let the love bird get back to their nest.” He begins to usher her out. “Also, you’re looking desperate again.” This time, Sarutobi’s eyes whirls around to glare at him.

“Can’t I be worried about my darling?” She turns to Gintoki, who is still grumbling and rubbing at his side. “Mommy and Daddy leave you for a few months and you have this woman on your arms when we come back!” Sarutobi holds the back of her hand up to her forehead, but peeks at Tsukuyo after a moment. “And of course, she’s a fucking catch. Ugh, Gin-chan, what will we do with you?”

“You could start by not referring to yourself as my parents, I don’t want you as my mother.” The purple haired woman sighs.

“Such a brat.”

While Hattori and Sa-chan finish bidding their goodbyes and Gintoki continues inching them closer to the exit, Tsukuyo excuses herself to slip onto Gintoki’s balcony. She’s sure that Hinowa would scold her for hours if she were ever to find out she treated a guest so flippantly, even outside of Yoshiwara, but her need for a cigarette becomes too much.

Sliding the door shut behind her, Tsukuyo lights up, coughing slightly at the rush of smoke that fills her lungs in a way she’s almost forgotten. Looking out into the sea of lights and telephone poles, Tsukuyo thinks. The view from Gintoki’s apartment is only degrees different than what it had been from next door, all those months ago. She blows the smoke out of her lungs at the thought and lets her wrist rest on the railings, the end of the cigarette glowing in the chilly sunlight.

Despite all the days they’ve spent together and the times their skin has breached the space between them, Tsukuyo feels that the Gintoki she knows today is the same Gintoki she smelled first from her own window, only now he’s a figure of familiarity and comfort. She is not the same woman- there have been lessons and people and events crashing into the flimsy wall of her identity, tearing down the foundations of her defenses. Nearly all of them, she realizes, have been Gintoki’s doing.

It’s instances like this, however, that remind Tsukuyo of how little she knows about him, and though what has passed between them are indicators enough that it may not even be relevant, the distance leaves a bad taste in her mouth. More so, she thinks of how many secrets he must have that she doesn’t know about, and she can only help to resent herself for being so clingy. While he is not the archetypical mystery that women lust after, what with his nose and ear picking and apathetic stare, but he’s complex enough that Tsukuyo’s head spins the more she tries to piece him together.

She thinks about her brief brushes with his friends and family- Kagura, Sakamoto, Ikumatsu, Shinpachi, and now Hattori and Sarutobi- all of them mean something to Gintoki, but the casual way he speaks of all of them makes it hard for her to figure out the way he cares and where they fall in terms of their relationship. Tsukuyo groans and stubs out her spent cigarette on the ashtray Gintoki set out for her. She’s turned into one of those women obsessed with questions of what are we, among many more downfalls she had witnessed with a large population of Yoshiwaran women. The sound of the door opening behind her isn’t enough to pull her away from her thoughts.

“Sorry that took so long, they wouldn’t leave before I sent them off with a ‘valid excuse’.” He scoffs and leans against the rails next to her. “Oi, what’s wrong?” Though she leans into his warmth and acts as if she hadn’t just been contemplating the deeper implications of their status as ‘friends who kiss each other a lot’, Gintoki easily picks up on her mood and she’s not even surprised.

“How could you tell?” He wrinkles his nose.

“You’re smoking again.” Gintoki pokes at the cigarette butt that sits between them. “And Sarutobi’s an exhausting woman to be around.” Tsukuyo shakes her head.

“It’s not Sarutobi-san.”

“Damn, I was hoping she made you a little jealous.” Tsukuyo scoffs at his lame attempt at a joke, and Gintoki nudges himself closer to her. “But you do have something on your mind right now, don’t you?”

“Mm.” A silence stretches long in between them.

“Well are you going to tell me?”

“I don’t know what it is.” Gintoki groans and drags one of the plastic lawn chairs towards him.

“Aw, don’t give me that, Tsukki.” He pulls her down onto his lap, rubbing his hands up and down against her upper arms. Goosebumps erupt and it has almost nothing to do with the chill of the air. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”

“You’re being more romantic than usual right now and it’s starting to freak me out.”

“Alright, is that your only complaint?” His smugness makes Tsukuyo look away.

“No.” Gintoki lays a kiss on her shoulder and Tsukuyo has to fight back a shiver. He lays back against the lawn chair and Tsukuyo awkwardly lowers herself next to him.

“Fine, I’ll just talk then.” They’re both scrunched onto a narrow reclining lawn chair, their legs tangled together and their noses close to touching. Tsukuyo watches the way the faint midday light bounces off silver curls and the way her own hair wavers at every breath he lets out. “They’re both friends I made in this building. Sarutobi used to- I don’t know, like, fucking stalk me.” The mental image of him creeping around trying to avoid Sa-chan was enough for Tsukuyo lets out a small laugh. Gintoki had disclosed to her, while drunk, that he hated clingy women.

“Hattori was my dealer, and I guess one day when we were high enough, Sa-chan came waltzing in here with pizza and we all just- well, baked.”

“Baked?”

“Smoked, Tsukuyo.”

“Oh.” Tsukuyo begins studying Gintoki’s eyelashes, thick and dense. “So are Hattori and Sarutobi-san together then?” Gintoki laughs.

“I don’t even know with them. They could just be fucking.”

There is a long stretch of silence, probably one of the longest, but not the most uncomfortable that has occurred between them before Tsukuyo’s voice cracks through it.

“Gintoki, can I ask you a question?”

“Hm? Shoot.”

“What are we?” Tsukuyo’s gaze drifts from his eyelashes to his eyebrows, which she notices are scrunched together, as if confused.

“What do you think we are?” Weirdly, Tsukuyo finds herself grateful for the delay of his answer.

“Kissing friends.”

“What are you, 12?” Gintoki guffaws, deep and amused. Tsukuyo can feel her whole body turn pink.

“W-well what else could we be?” She’s not looking at his face anymore, preferring to stare at the skin that stretches over his collarbones. She watches the flex and bunching of his shoulder and collarbone as he shrugs.

“I guess the adult equivalent would be ‘fuck buddies’.” Tsukuyo flushes harder at the term. “But since we haven’t gotten that far yet-“ At this point, Tsukuyo has gathered the nerve the look Gintoki in the eye, and the way the next few minutes play out comes as only a slight surprise to her. “-I guess I could call you my girlfriend.”

Then, her lips meet his and the way he kisses her is sweeter than any of the instances before.

 

Chapter Text

Though the kiss she predicted, Tsukuyo was at a loss when Gintoki popped out the G-word.

“Yes?”

“Is that a question, Tsukuyo? I mean, it’s alright if you’d, y’know, rather not.” This time, Gintoki is the one who blushes, and Tsukuyo enjoys it immensely.

“No- I mean yes. I’d like to be your, ahem, girlfriend.” Now, Gintoki is bright pink with a smile splitting his face in half.

“Cool.”

“Yeah.” They’ve been staring at each other for an inordinately long time, and Tsukuyo’s eyes are starting to water, so she blinks hard just as Gintoki goes in to kiss her. “Ow.” Their noses bump against each other painfully.

“Oops, sorry.” Gintoki is rubbing at her nose delicately with his index finger, his smile has turned into a sheepish grin. She figures it’s been a while, but she finds herself needing to look away as he beams at her. The same warmth that has been creeping through Tsukuyo for the last few months is now running through the length of her veins- leaving her feeling like the sun was shining out from inside of her.

“So, what now?”

“What do you mean ‘what now’?”

“Have you never had a girlfriend before?”

“Have you?”

“Stop redirecting my questions.”

“Well, no, not a serious one.”

“Same.”

“Does Hinowa not count?” And just like that, the tension is broken.

“Pfft, shut up.” Tsukuyo shoves at him, but she’s laughing and she realizes she’s happier than she’s been in a long time. When they’ve further settled into the thin polyester cushions, they hold hands and the feeling of Gintoki’s legs intertwined with hers is as familiar as the sun on the back of her neck.

“So what plans did you have with Hattori-san and Sarutobi?” She meant for it to be an innocent question, since she really is curious, but Gintoki stutters and stumbles over his response.

“Hahaha, what makes you think we had plans? They usually just drop in unannounced. Terrible guests, they are-“

“Sarutobi-san mentioned it, remember?”

“Oh. Right.” Watching his eyes dart around the room and his hands twitch towards his neck (a nervous tick she’s realized he has), Tsukuyo is again reminded of how private Gintoki is for someone so loud. “Uh, promise not to get mad?”

Tsukuyo thinks about Sarutobi’s roaming hands and screeched moans. “Can’t promise anything.”

“Eh? Shouldn’t you trust me enough as your boyfriend?” He pokes her playfully.

“Shouldn’t you start with giving your girlfriend the truth when she asks you a question?”

Gintoki sighs and flicks some hair off her cheek. “Fair enough.” He moves to sit up on the lawn chair, tugging Tsukuyo upright grudgingly with him. They’re cross-legged and facing each other, knees touching and faces close together. Gintoki reaches into the inside of his sweater, where Tsukuyo knows there is a secret pocket.

And this is where the third surprise of the day- after the visit from cosplayed ninjas and the whole becoming Gintoki’s girlfriend thing- is introduced to Tsukuyo.

“Oh.” Gintoki’s smirks at her.

“I thought you knew and were testing me with those questions. Sarutobi’s not the most subtle.” He’s holding a small plastic bag holding a few buds of what is unmistakably weed. Tsukuyo shakes her head and realizes she isn’t mad as she’d expect herself to be.

“So, they were- here to smoke?” Tsukuyo had paused halfway through her sentence, trying to imagine what exactly would’ve gone down had she not been over.

“I guess. They said we made these plans months ago before they moved out, but I don’t remember.” Gintoki shrugs. “You’re taking this really well. No sermon this time?”

Strangely enough, Tsukuyo feels no need to grab the baggie and chuck it over the rails, or even cluck at Gintoki. In fact, the part of her brain that usually screamed in the name of the law whenever drugs came within smelling distance of her was uncharacteristically quiet.

Tentatively, she takes Gintoki’s hand, the one holding the buds, and brings the bag up to her face to examine. They are fuzzy looking and earthen. She can smell it through the plastic, but rather than disgust at the mustiness, she finds herself curious as to how the plant differs from her cigarettes. Tsukuyo holds Gintoki’s hand, which holds the dried plant. The dried plant that could cost anyone five years in jail. That could cost her everything she’s built up if anything were to go wrong right at this moment. Gintoki’s watching her silently, his face impassive.

“Wh-what’s it like?” Her throat has gone dry, and for the first time, it’s not because of Gintoki. She hears him clear his throat as she returns his hand to his own lap.

“You could try some, Tsukuyo.” She lets out a laugh, short but bordering on hysterical.

“I-I couldn’t, I mean. No, it’s-” Gintoki still hasn’t put the bag in his pocket.

“Illegal, yes, yes I’ve been told a few times.” He waves his hand flippantly, still looking at her. “But I know you’re curious.”

“It’s still wrong-“ Gintoki’s wrapped an arm around her shoulder, bringing the weed at face level once more.

“Mm, no Tsukki. It’s illegal, but I don’t see anything wrong with it. Aside from the fact that the government has a giant stick up their ass.”

She can feel her resolve wavering, but it’s different from the way simply being in Gintoki’s presence would often incite. This time, the slack faces of her old classmates and the dopey smiles of Yoshiwara patrons come into mind- the promise of a state of mind and relaxation that alcohol and sleep cannot give her is exciting. The knowledge of it being illegal does not interest her as much as Gintoki’s proximity and attempts at convincing her. He’s whispering in her ear, but his words come without force- just concern. Relax, you’ve been working yourself too hard. You deserve a break. Let me do this for you.

It must be the heat of the sun and the distant buzz of the city, because she sighs and gives him one more excuse- a flimsy sheet between her yes and no.

“But, that’s for you.”

“And I want to share.” Gintoki stands and then leads her back into his living room, shutting the sliding door of his balcony. It’s much quieter inside without the constant chattering of Kabukicho streaming below them. He’s holding her hand as he takes his seat on the couch next to her. “I’ll give you all the control you want.”

The way his words glide from his lips like honey and the timbre of his soft persuasions shake at her, so Tsukuyo figures that it’d be best to accept his offer. Her resolve has always been solid, so having it shaken like this is both foreign and thrilling.

She will make it clear that she does not give in, but rather examines all of her available options carefully and critically. Realizing that she’d only be subjected to longer hours of the constant loop of Gintoki’s arguments and knowing full well that she is curious, it’s only a few minutes later that Gintoki’s prepared the buds into a neatly rolled joint, which sits on the coffee table in front of them. His smile is stretched across his mug lazily, his eyes soft but peering at her intensely. If she didn’t know better, she’d think he was already in the throes of a high.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this.” Concern peeks through Gintoki’s excitement.

“Hey, you can still back out now if you want.” She shakes her head.

“No. I- I want to do this, but uh-“ Cringing, she looks away as she mutters “could we start with something indirect?? If we can? You know what I mean?”

“Ugh, you’re so fucking cute.” He’s smiling at her, and it gleams in a way that she’d think would be excessive for anyone who was not Gintoki. “Of course we can. In fact, I have the perfect way to do this.” Taking the lighter from the table, Gintoki flicks the flame into being and holds it to the tip of the joint for a few moments. It catches and he breathes out a plume of smoke, straight above the both of them before he turns to her.

“Just let me know when you’re ready, Tsukki.” And because she trusts Gintoki and is admittedly interested in what it would be like to smoke something other than a cigarette, she parts her lips and tells him she’s ready. They’re both sitting on the same couch they usually occupy, their bodies turned to face each other and body language loose. Gintoki is staring at her, his face expressionless once again. “What I’m about to do is called a blowback.” His voice is low, like he’s telling her a secret, and she’s beginning to get giddy with anticipation. Switching the hand that holds the spliff, he pulls Tsukuyo’s face to his own and she tastes the salt of his skin and the peach of his rolling paper.

“I’m going to blow the smoke into your mouth.”

“That sounds. Dirty.” Gintoki laughs.

“Only if you want it to be.” He chuckles. “Okay, I’ll start with blowing it at your face. Get you used to it.”

She kisses him softly as thanks and then he pulls away, taking a longer drag as his eyes flutter shut. When he removes the blunt from his lips, he thumbs at Tsukuyo’s mouth, willing her to part them open and she does, inhaling softly as Gintoki breathes musty smoke directly at her. She starts hacking at how strong it is, and Gintoki turns to blow out the rest of it over his shoulder. He does this hastily, coughing a little as he grips Tsukuyo’s shoulders and asks if she’s okay.

“M’fine.” She chokes out between her attempts to clear her lungs. The whites of Gintoki’s eyes are turning red and from the way her eye water, she’s sure she mirrors him. “How’re you?”

He chuckles and leans into her. The way he skims the dip of her waist does not go unnoticed. “I’m good. I’m more than good, I’m getting high with my insanely hot girlfriend.” His arm is slung over her shoulder now and he pulls more smoke from the joint, but this drag is not as prolonged as the last. He turns to her, and under the haze of the smoke, Tsukuyo thinks for a moment that he’s going in for a kiss. Instead, while his hands cradle her face mere centimeters from his, her mouth parted in anticipation for his lips, he blows hot, hot air at her mouth.

She’s so disoriented she’s sure she is swallowing the smoke and choking on the aftermath. Rather, she is inhaling Gintoki’s air and his mouth has sealed itself over her own, but fails to muffle the sound of a long groan. When they break apart, Tsukuyo lets out a few small coughs, feeling that her bones have melted into pudding her head being remarkably cloudier. And she has the most inane desire to start laughing although there is almost nothing funny happening at the moment. Unless you count the fact that Tsukuyo is currently high. Hinowa would have a field day with that one if she were ever to find out.

“How was that?” Gintoki speaks softly, but underneath the sound of her own thundering heartbeat and with a too-light head, Tsukuyo is unsure of what to say. Or how to talk, come to think of it.

Yes.” She distantly registers the fact that she had almost moaned out her answer, like middle school boy. It sends her into a fit of giggles. “I mean good. You feel good.” She angles herself over the man next to her and tugs at the lapels of his sweater. “Hot.”

Apparently Gintoki still has some drops of sobriety left, at least enough to correctly piece together Tsukuyo’s fragmented sentences. “Hm? How’s takin’ my sweater off gonna help ya cool down, baby?”

“I can feel that y’er skin Gintoki. S’on fire.” Tsukuyo slurs. “Just wanna help my boyfriend.” She giggles some more, but only because she had called Gintoki her boyfriend. She realizes that her hands have moved into the arms of Gintoki’s sweater, and the feeling of the soft fleece is just- whoa. Tsukuyo’s fingers are brushing against a dense, dense field of microscopic sheep living in Gintoki’s sleeves.

“Tsukki?”

She knows that Gintoki had called out for her, but she chooses to ignore him in favor of petting tiny, tiny lambs with the pads of her finger. Suddenly, she finds Gintoki holding the joint up to her, offering a drag without his intervention. Although she peers at it for a while, she eventually takes the cylinder into her mouth and, with well-practiced motions, she brings the smoke into her lungs. It’s thicker and more pungent than cigarette smoke, but less bitter, even though it stings.

She’s somehow found the will and solidity to kneel over Gintoki, who’s propped up by the couch’s backrest. While the smoke escapes her lungs through her mouth, her eyes lock with his, and they stare at each other. Their eyes stay glued to the other’s even while Gintoki takes his turn. Tsukuyo thinks of the way his lips wrap around the blunt, and suddenly her knees give out from beneath her, bringing her on top of Gintoki.    

“Ha! Y’er as much of a lightweight with weed. I didn’t even think that was a thing.” Obviously, Gintoki is talking to himself and Tsukuyo vaguely notices that he’s taking another drag from the joint. He’s had to bring the blunt between them, and she felt the back of his hand brush against her breast. Tsukuyo realizes belatedly perhaps, that the drugs have heightened her sense of touch. And evidently, it has lowered every inhibition, because she’s taken Gintoki’s other hand, the free one that sits at his side, and brings it up to cup her breast.

Gintoki, who is in the middle of sucking in more of the half-spent joint chokes as he realizes where Tsukuyo had placed his hand. She’s lifted herself up so that she’s almost straddling him now, her knees are on either side of his thighs, but she is not seated on him, bringing his face level with her rack.

“Christ, I really lucked out with ya, Tsukki.” He’s yet to move his hands and his sweater is still shoved half-way off his body, leaving a strip of naked bicep free to touch. Looking down at Gintoki, she watches his jaw work and his eyes seem to be more hooded than they usually are. As the rest of the smoke is pushed out of his mouth, Gintoki scoots up higher on the couch, her breast still encased in his hand. “Didn’t think ya’d be like this while high.”

Vaguely, Tsukuyo registers a pang of insecurity, but it’s quickly replaced by pleasure. Gintoki’s thumb is brushing over the peak of her nipple through her thin t-shirt. “Wh-what do you mean?” It comes out as a moan.

Gintoki has to angle his neck to look at her. His back is against the couch, an elbow crooked to rest on top of the cushions as he pulls more smoke in through his lips. He’s watching Tsukuyo idly while his fingers rub and fondle her over her bra, but his eyes take all of her in. The heat of his stare sears through Tsukuyo, who has begun to pant and squirm on his lap. The stimulation is stronger than any kind of stimulation she’s received from herself or Gintoki, even through the layers of her clothing. She’s too light-headed to feel anything remotely close to embarrassment, though.

“You’re letting me feel ya up like this while high.” His hands have paused its ministrations, content with just balancing the warm weight of her breast in his palm. “Are you sure this is okay?”

Tsukuyo rolls her eyes and in a fit of boldness, she plucks the joint from her boyfriend’s hand and draws from it, breathing the smoke into his face this time. “You said earlier you’d give me all the control I wanted didn’t ya?” Gintoki’s hand is beginning its slow slide from her chest to her waist and then her lower back, where she finds both of his hands cupping her ass. He brings her down onto his lap and Tsukuyo giggles uncontrollably at the feeling of thickly muscled thighs underneath her.

“Mmph.”

“Oh.”

There is more obnoxious laughter, louder giggles come from Tsukuyo, because she finds Gintoki’s face muffled in her cleavage. His nose bumps against her breastbone and she realizes he’s leaving sloppy kisses in the valley between her tits.

“Nn- hahahaha- Gintoki, that tickles.” Using her free hand, she lifts him up by his hair. His face has lost any semblance of alertness and the intensity that had been in his eyes not a minute ago left not a trace in his now slack expression. She holds the blunt, which is nearing its completion, up to his face, accidentally poking his eyelid.

Ouch. Why you always gotta torture Gin-chan like this?”

“Oops. Sorry.” She smiles dopily up at him, nestled herself in his lap, head resting on his chest.

“S’fine.” Gintoki finishes off the blunt and stubs out the remainder on the ashtray he keeps on the coffee table. Settling into the couch, he adjusts Tsukuyo so he can rest his chin on her head. They both let out a sigh, giggling at their unintentional unison.

She feels light- even with the weight of Gintoki’s head balanced on her scalp.

“How’s it feel, Tsukki?”

“Weird- good weird.”

“Hah? What d’ya mean?”

“I was wrong.”

“Hm?”

“I’m hot.”

“Well, I mean-“

“S’like the ends of my fingers are on fire.” Her head feels lighter now, but mostly due to Gintoki lifting his head off of her.

“Oi, you need a doctor?”

“No, nooooo.” Tsukuyo swats at him lazily as she pulls herself upright. Gintoki’s face could be interpreted as a look of concern but the haze of the room hardly allows for anything more than a glimpse. “No, I mean it’s me, not the sheep.”

“Which sheeps?”

“Uh.” Except Tsukuyo can’t remember where she’s put them. “Here.” She runs her finger through curly white wool. Except it’s hair. And it’s silver. It’s Gintoki.

“Unnhh,”

“Huh?”

“Yes.”

“Alrigh’ then.” Tsukuyo thinks she’s done petting the sheep/boyfriend now. As she moves to retract her fingers, Gintoki lets out another noise.

“Could’ya- ahem- do that more?” Curiously, and a little unsteadily, she plunges her hand back into the mess of curls.

“This?”

“Mmm- yes.”

Tsukuyo thinks to herself that she’s never given a massage before. She revels in the fact that it’s her first time and the client seems to be enjoying himself. She kneads his scalp leisurely, drawing small moans and mewls from the mass of hair.

Suddenly, the sensation of gravity falls back into her legs and she realizes that she is still straddling Gintoki. His hands are still resting on her backside- actually they’re pressing her into his lap. His head, which has started to nuzzle her chest once again, moves lower down her torso and she can feel cold, wet spots where his mouth gently sucked her skin into his mouth. Her hands, she’ll realize later, had been guiding him downwards, just as his arms laid her down so that her back hit the seat of the couch.

Tsukuyo’s palms have left his scalp. He’s balanced on top of her so that she feels the firmness of his pectorals resting between her hipbones. She’s not sure when Gintoki had removed his shirt, but she can’t put much thought into it because of how curious she is regarding the direction his mouth seems to be going. As he continues to kiss the naked skin of her stomach, and his hands roam the ultrasensitive field of her back, Tsukuyo starts to let out small mewls.  She watches goosebumps erupt on the pale skin of his shoulder and finds herself having to focus on removing her own shirt so not to act out rashly.

The haze of their highs are evident in how many giggles mix in with the mewling and panting, but Gintoki attacks her newly bared skin with enough vigor to (almost) convince her of his sobriety. Perhaps it’s the animalistic way he shoves the material of her bra off her chest, or the severe heat of his mouth on skin that has yet to be touched by him- or anyone else other than her. Or maybe it’s the way his left thigh is placed strategically close to her pelvis, and the hard muscle that grinds against her perfectly.  Whatever it is, the pleasure that has been coiling in Tsukuyo’s belly just about erupts, and she finds herself riding the waves of an orgasm, one that took her completely by surprise.

When she comes to, Gintoki is playing with her hair and staring ardently at her heaving chest. He still has enough decency to look her in the eyes when he notices the pattern of her breathing return to normal. His expression is betrayed, and through the cloudy head, she registers some of her own alarm.

“What? Wha’s wrong?” She flushes a little at hearing herself slur her words.

“I can’t believe you came.” She punches him in the arm with the little energy she has, her face burning.

“I-I mean s’not like I-“

“How am I supposed to show you all of Gin-chan’s sexual prowess when you can come from having your nipples sucked?”

“That’s not what got-“ Gintoki lets out a groan of what sounds like frustration.

“God, you’re so perfect.” Tsukuyo has the urge to hide her face once again, but Gintoki has pulled her into his arms, the both of them entangle their legs around each other on his couch. Tsukuyo inhales, finding that she still enjoys the scent of his sweat, even cloaked in marijuana that currently clouds her senses and saturates the room around them. Slowly, as the time passes with them laying there, another thing breaks through the thinning smoke that lingers in her head.

“Uh- Gintoki?”

“Mmph?”

“You’re- uh. Do you want me to. Y’know.” Tentatively, Tsukuyo moves her thigh against the stiff thing that has been poking at her for the better part of 15 minutes.

Ahhh- don’t. Uh, please don’t do that.”

“But-“ Gintoki kisses her, but then turns over, his arms are behind his head now, looking up at the ceiling. Tsukuyo turns her body to face him, head held up by her right hand.

“Were you really okay with me doing that, Tsukki?” She answers without missing a beat.

“Best orgasm I ever had.” Both of his eyebrows lift.

“Ara? So you’re a virgin?”

“Are ya really that surprised?” Gintoki pauses here.

“Y’know, I don’t think I am anymore.”

“Well, you told me to enjoy myself- and now I want to give ya that very same treatment.” Tsukuyo, who is still topless, feels a final surge of confidence, courtesy of the weed, and places her hands over Gintoki’s crotch. It’s still hard.

“Mmph- Tsukuyo.” She’s running the mounts and ridges of her palm over the outline of his dick, which is encased in sweatpants. “S-stop. Stop for a second.” Gintoki’s panting, but she pauses her ministrations. Gintoki sits up and Tsukuyo has to watch the movement of his muscles. It’s a mystery someone so lazy is so built. “Are you really okay with this?”

Gintoki’s hand is over her own, which is over his crotch and she can feel herself getting hot and she has to swallow. “Are you?”

God. Goddamn it, Tsukuyo. Of course you’re the type to get in- instate- horny while high. Jesus.”

“I’m not high anymore- I think.” She straddles him once again, and Tsukuyo has to rethink her last statement, unsure of where she’s finding all that nerve. She grinds down on Gintoki’s lap and he lets out a thick groan.

“Fuck- oh God.” Tsukuyo finds her rhythm easily. With the help of Gintoki’s hands, she sets a pace, which guide her hips over his erection. And over. And over.

Pretty soon, Tsukuyo can feel her own release approaching. Her breathing speeds up, and she can hear Gintoki muttering her name between his own pants. He’s taken her lips in his own as he begins to rut his hips against Tsukuyo’s warmth. He holds her hips steadfastly onto his and Tsukuyo comes once more, the angle of his hips brushing her already sensitive clit in a way that gives her more fireworks to set off behind her eyelids.

With a deep growl, Gintoki holds Tsukuyo against him as he shakes and comes, their chests pressing against each other. She can smell the both of them now- and although it’s musty and sweaty and strong, it’s not wholly unpleasant.

When his arms go slack around her, they both collapse onto the couch, still panting.

“Did that really just happen?”

Tsukuyo’s head is definitely still not completely cleared of the effects of the drug, but some of her reasoning and self-consciousness, she decides, has returned.

Gintoki is still breathing heavily. “Yeah.” He looks at her. “Are you sure you’re okay with this?”

Raising her eyebrow, Tsukuyo nods. “I’m still here, aren’t I?”

“Hm. I guess you are.”

Chapter Text

Laying on a musty couch, in a musty room on top of her musty boyfriend is all good and great, especially without her pesky inhibitions telling her to skedaddle out of the place in an embarrassed haze of post-high bumbling. It’s nice, even if she’s sticky and Gintoki’s starting to shift around, probably due to the mess in his underpants. It’s all good and great, especially when he wraps his hands around her waist and flips her over, back pressing into the cushions.

His lips are cracked and she tastes some blood, but Tsukuyo sinks into the kiss regardless. Her limbs have regained some feeling, though the plumes of smoke that have long cleared out from the room still cloud her mind. She feels sated and relaxed, for the first time in her life- the bone-deep kind of slack that she’d never been able to experience. Gintoki begins kissing down her front, she runs her fingers lazily through his hair. Every nerve trills at the contact of his lips, and then his fingers which stroke and skim her bared skin. Tsukuyo doesn’t bother trying to muffle her moans, remembering that she is his only neighbor, and that the bar would drown out any of the sounds coming from upstairs.

Gintoki pulls her towards him by her hips, arranging her legs so that he can kneel in between them. He pulls away from their kiss, dishevelled and lips swollen with his eyes red and dazed. They scan over Tsukuyo’s splayed limbs and lidded expression, but rather than feeling self-conscious, she giggles and pats his cheek. She’s looking directly into his eyes, then suddenly he’s close enough that she can see her reflection in the crimson irises.

They lay like that for a while, Gintoki eventually tucks his face in the crook of Tsukuyo’s neck and breathes her in. They don’t speak with words, choosing to revel in each other’s fading buzz in amiable silence.

The sun has set completely by the time reality starts making itself known. Gintoki’s steady pulse beats alongside Tsukuyo’s. The solid feel of his body against hers admittedly spikes her heart rate, but not as much as the recollection of their latest hours.

Much like the moments leading up to her choice to smoke weed –of all things, oh my God- Tsukuyo’s first response is not regret or insecurity, or even the typical bashfulness that anything pertaining to Gintoki would entail. It’s hunger. As if on cue, her stomach rumbles, and Gintoki, who is half-laying on her, grumbles and sits up. His hair is even more mussed than before and there’s a collection of deep purplish bruises forming on his collarbone down to his left pectoral. Tsukuyo realizes, perhaps belatedly, that Gintoki is much more muscular than his lifestyle would suggest. In fact, he’s got a fair amount of toned muscle, despite the adorable pudge around his stomach.

“Oi, did you just call my beer gut cute?” His eyebrows knit together as he regards Tsukuyo suspiciously.

“Whoops.” She pokes it, giggling. “I think you’re cute as a whole too.”

Gintoki looks slightly affronted, but he stands up, offering his hand to Tsukuyo, who takes it and tries to balance herself on unsteady legs. “You’re probably gonna start feeling hungry around now.” She nods, but Gintoki is looking down at her a little too intently. He clears his throat and starts pawing around in the dark, then throws something which is definitely her shirt in her general direction. “I’ll make you something, stop distracting me, woman.” Tsukuyo snorts, a little pleased that she can fluster him with minimal effort.

She follows him into the kitchen after freshening up in the bathroom. It’s a dizzying experience that’s exactly the opposite of sobering, based on how many times she turned the sink on and off just to feel the water. The time she spent in there stretched strangely and she half expects to see him sitting on a bar stool with the food ready and impatient fingers tapping on the counter. Instead, she finds him rolling dango and plopping them into a pot of boiling water. He has the same cheesy pink apron on, humming the same vaguely familiar tune as he did during breakfast. The clock on the stove reads 5:37, but Tsukuyo could swear it was later and breakfast was days rather than hours ago.

“Dango?” Tsukuyo moves to peek into the pot, the smell of boiling rice dough making her feel both ravenous and nostalgic. 

“Yeah, that okay?” Gintoki looks up at her from the pan of mitarashi sauce he’s stirring. “It’s usually what I go for after. Sorry I didn’t ask you first.” Tsukuyo shakes her head.

“Nah, this is perfect.” The light above the stove bathes everything in a warm golden glow, as if replacing the sunset they’d missed during their-

Activities.

It registers in the back of Tsukuyo’s conscience that a conversation on that would probably be necessary at some point, but she can’t bring herself to broach it. She’s too busy studying the domestic scene she’d been able to witness for the second time that day. Admiring the lines of Gintoki’s back and arms and the way the lights plays around the creases, especially the dimples low on his back.

And then he’s plating the dango, no skewers, extra sauce, and leading her to the couch where she can further bask in the lazy blue glow from the television and the weight of Gintoki’s arm around her shoulders.

***

Weeks later, this time standing in cold sunlight, Tsukuyo is standing outside the lobby of the courthouse, smiling tiredly but triumphantly to Hisako, and Shou-chan, who had been allowed to sit in the jury pews while the final ruling was being read out. Hisako, with the assistance of her mother, was granted full custody of Shoutarou, with Matsumura being allotted a set amount of monthly child support until he turned 18, regardless to whether Hisako would make it as long as that.

Tsukuyo bit the inside of her cheek during the entire ruling. Hisako sat by her side, furthest from her ex-husband with white knuckles and tense shoulders. She’d become so thin, Tsukuyo was afraid the tension would snap her in half. She recalled a conversation she’d had with Shou-chan near a month ago, wherein he told her, in the blunt way only a child can, that he’d prefer to support himself in the event that both his mother and grandmother were to die rather than return to live with his father. Tsukuyo didn’t bother asking why, knowing full well that Shou had never received an ounce of affection and compassion from his father. She only nodded gravely and told him that she was always ready to take his side. Mentally, she scratches another mark under her counter of too-serous children she’s met in her life.

They were without a doubt the more jubilant party after the court was dismissed. Even in the joy of the case finally being finished, Tsukuyo knew the that they were all ignoring the foreboding words of the judge, the technical jargon not enough to cover up the fact that no matter how much space is put between them, Matsumura would always remain in a shadowed corner of their lives. She hadn’t bothered to look at his expression while leaving, wanting to put his grim face outside of her memory as soon as possible.

Tsukuyo helps Hisako into the taxi she called for them, feeling a pang of warmth at the grateful smile they both direct at her. With promises to keep in touch, she watches them drive off, and then turns to find a place to sit while she checks her phone. Before she can open any of her text messages, her phone beings to ring, the ID belonging to her boss.

“Tsukuyo.”

“Hello, Nobume-san.” She had been her mentor in during grad school, and the one to offer her a position fresh after graduation.

“I’m guessing you’re out of court by now. How’d it go?” Tsukuyo relays the summary of events to her, listening to Nobume’s hummed reactions. “So how are you feeling then?” Tsukuyo shrugs.

“I mean, I expected Ueda-san to be given custody, and I’m happy it played out that way. Still- it feels too convenient.”

“Aren’t you ambitious, Tsukuyo-san.” She snarks. “You sound like you’re thirsting for harder-earned victories. I get it though, it’s a newcomer thing. Thrill of the fight or whatever.”

“What? No, that’s not it at all.” Tsukuyo splutters into speaker and fidgets around with her case binders. “This isn’t a game, I’d be foolish to treat it as such.”

“Maa, you’re no fun.” Nobume lets out a yawn, “Alright, I’ll let you off this time. Good work, Tsukuyo. Make sure you stop by the office sometime next week for your paycheck. Just rest up for now.”

Upon hanging up the phone, the post-lunchtime swarm of the courthouse commons makes itself known. Tsukuyo stands up, only to be knocked into by a suit, who doesn’t bother to apologize. “Excuse you, asshole,” she can’t help but whisper under her breath. Her binder is thrown open on the ground, some loose sheets flying out nearby, she kneels down to begin picking them up.

“You dropped these, Ma’am.”

Tsukuyo looks up at the source of the sudden shadow cast across her. Another suit, a man with dark hair and eyes two different colors, holds her notes out to her. She smiles at him gratefully, allowing him to place them into her hands. “Thank you.”

He nods at her, but rather than leaving, he offers a hand to help her up. Tsukuyo notes that their gazes are level with each other and his hands are more calloused than a standard business man’s ought to be. “Not a problem.” This would be a good time as any to tip his hat and leave, yet he only does the latter, flashing her a grin and a nod before striding towards the glass doors.

Before she can make the time to dwell on the strange man longer, her phone rings and she once again has to juggle everything to answer it.

“Hello, Hinowa.”

“Don’t ‘hello, Hinowa’ me, Tsukuyo. Do you have any idea how long it’s been?” She winces, she’d fallen out of her promise to come in for dinner on the weekly.

“I’m sorry,” It comes out more like a plea for understanding. “But the case is finished, so I can start coming by soon.” Until I start my next one, is what Tsukuyo decides to leave out.

“Cute, but you know you have no say in it now.” Hinowa sighs. “Honestly, with your diet and sleeping habits I’m surprised you didn’t just pass out in court. I’ll see you tonight, Tsukuyo.” Gintoki had actually been the one feeding her for the last weeks, but she doubts Hinowa would hear any of it.

“But-“

“Nope! I’ve already planned dinner and you’re going to bring Gin-chan. We have some new stock I’d like some testers for.”

“I- oh my God, Hinowa. Fine.” Tsukuyo knows it’s futile to argue any further so instead she crosses her fingers that Hinowa wants to quality check pepper shakers or new silverware instead of something inappropriate.

After hanging up, preceded by a ton of repeated promises to be at dinner, Tsukuyo texts Gintoki the address and an explanation after, to which he responds:

Are you really taking me to Yoshiwara for our first date? :)

She rolls her eyes and shoots back:

We live in Kabukicho- that’s the literal red-light district.

Also this isn’t a date

Hinowa insisted you come with me

Her phone buzzes while she’s walking to the train station.

Whatever you say Tsukki. I’ll pick you up at 6 x

Breaking the news to everyone of their new relationship status came as a surprise to absolutely no one. Even Shinpachi, who’s busy at school most, if not all the time only pushed his glasses up and congratulated him on manning up and taking responsibility for his unborn child.

(Oi, I’d take responsibility for any women I impregnate and not just the scary ones. What are you trying to say, Shinpachi?) vs. (No! Kagura’s lying, it’s not like that!) Shinpachi only raised an eyebrow and spooned more rice into both of their bowls.

Dating is a lot less high-maintenance than Tsukuyo was prone to thinking. At least, dating Gintoki isn’t very demanding on anyone’s part. They’d mostly curl up on his couch with a movie or anime playing and eat. Or make out. Tsukuyo flushes and tries not to think too hard about any of their activities (the ones that border on indecent, at least) while in public. 

They hadn’t done anything as racy as they had the one night with the illegal substances and Gintoki’s ninja friends. Looking back, most of it felt like a very, very good dream, but distant and hazy. The only evidence of it were the marks that took an entire week to fade completely on both their chests. As it turns out, the both of them have a thing for that.

Gintoki not having as much free time as the title ‘freelancer’ would suggest, is one of the first things she learned. Despite being neighbors, they mostly see each other on weekends. It’s difficult for their schedules to synch up. Tsukuyo’s still very much curious about the Yorozuya business but propriety, and maybe something else, kept her from asking him. Besides, she’s confident that the topic would breach itself at some point. Many things did still surprise her- one of them being that he’s a volunteer kendo instructor, which probably explains his physical upkeep. Guiltily, she’d also learned belatedly that Seita enrolled in the club quite some time ago.

Tsukuyo had observed early in their encounters that he was bringing a degree of change to her life, even before they’d bothered to exchange numbers and make an effort to see each other daily. In a short time, Gintoki had completely settled himself into her life so that everyone she knows, knows him. The permanence should scare her, but instead it is seamless- like a space for him had always existed in her life.

Tsukuyo jerks slightly at the mushiness. The man sitting next to her sends her a strange look, so she tries to cover it up as adjusting herself to the train’s speed.

The comfort she found in Gintoki as a friend, combined with the rosiness of a crush and the lust for a lover mashes around inside her at nearly all points of the day, but rather than finding it as annoying as she should have, she just waits patiently, biding her time until she can see him again.

**

Hinowa drags Tsukuyo to one of the back booths as soon as they arrive. Seita had taken Gintoki’s hand and hurriedly asked him for help practicing one of the kata’s he’d learned in their class earlier, probably because kids weren’t allowed in the establishment after 7 P.M., when business hours would actually begin. Yoshiwara could stick to the rules, even if they weren’t all completely there.

Hinowa had (of course) been the first person Tsukuyo told when she and Gintoki made things official, and since then, Hinowa had insisted on sending them a sample from every new import of anything relevant to the cabaret house-love hotel Hinowa ran. The very mechanisms of the club were still a mystery to Tsukuyo despite living for a long period of time in the very same building. She’d only known that everyone in there was under her care and security, which was all the information she ever needed.

“How did you like The Flexi-Glove?” Tsukuyo cringes, recalling one of the questionable props that Hinowa had sent to her with the best intentions.

“It was alright, probably won’t use it again.” The Flexi-Glove had been one of the first things she’d thrown directly into the trash. “It uh- just wasn’t our thing?” Hinowa chortles.

“Alright, alright- you don’t need to lie for my sake, Tsukuyo. I know you’d never let anyone, let alone Gin-chan, see that thing.” Hinowa sips her drink “It was a flop with the club too, I just use them to dust the sets now.”

Tsukuyo smiles. On the stage, the girls do their final run through of the show’s dance finale before the clients start pouring in. Even though she’d been gone for almost half a year, the sounds and sights still feel as much like home as Tsukuyo’s apartment has become.

The girls Hinowa take in tend to have a low turnover rate, so most of the women are the same ones Tsukuyo had gotten to know during her undergraduate years. There are a few unfamiliar faces, even without the heavy stage makeup, yet she catches a few smiles directed her way as they rehearse the choreography. It’s a jazzy, sensuous song as many of their shows tend to be. The farce of a dinner theatre is meant to allow the girls to put their talents, assets, and characters on display without revealing too much. Mystery is apparently the best attention-getter.

Half an hour to doors opening, Seita and Gintoki join Tsukuyo and Hinowa, with Hinowa telling them to enjoy her evening and then wheeling away to usher a disgruntled Seita home. Gintoki takes in the lush red stage curtains, the crystal light fixtures and the glass furniture with a low whistle. He slides into the plush booth, pressing himself close to Tsukuyo.

“Was I supposed to dress up for this?” She laughs and shakes her head.

“No, you’re fine. No one’s going to be paying attention to you tonight, sorry.”

“I was hoping you would, actually.” He bumps her with his shoulders, but before she can retort, a voice calls her name.

“Tsukuyo!” Turning towards the kitchen, Tsukuyo spots a familiar head of black hair approaching the booth.

“Ah, Hotaru.” She smiles at the girl, who beams back just as wide. She’s in the same waiting uniform as always, a half-eaten tart in her hand.

“Everyone in the back was talking about how you stopped by, but I didn’t think- oh hello there!” She smiles at Gintoki who introduces himself in the laidback manner he reserves for no one.

“Pleasure to meet you, I’m the baby-daddy.” Hotaru’s neck twists to look at Tsukuyo fast enough that she’s a little surprised there wasn’t an audible crack to go with it.

“He’s kidding! Kidding!” Tsukuyo elbows him in the side with more force than she usually allows. “Stop telling people that, Jesus.” Turning to Hotaru to assuage the situation, she’s interrupted by the house manager’s calls for last-minute preparations.

“Ah, I’m sorry Tsukuyo but I’ve gotta jet. We have a special client coming in tonight so they need the cute ones for wait display,” she rolls her eyes, as fed up as Tsukki is with the misogyny that seems to saturate Yoshiwaran clientele. “You two enjoy your night though! It was nice to meet you Sakata-san!” He’s still wheezing, but waves at her with a strained, but good-natured grin.

“Goddamn, Lady. Didn’t know you could do that harder.” He grumbles at her. Tsukuyo snorts.

“You brought that onto yourself.”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re just fun to rile up.”

“Fine but do that in private. I don’t want people thinking we just got together because you knocked me up.”

“Nah, I’d have married you by now.” Tsukuyo blushes, but doesn’t take the bait. Instead she pulls out the menus and passes one to Gintoki. Taking note of the auditorium around them slowly seating more people.

“So, any word from Kagura today?” She asks him, absently flipping through the menu she’s already memorized.

“Hmm? Ah yeah, they’re inducing the birth next week. Little sucker doesn’t want to come out yet.” She chuckles, remembering that bullheadedness runs in their mismatched family. Before she can comment further, their server approaches their table, asking them if they have their drink orders. He’s not someone Tsukuyo recognizes, but the three of them make small chit chat until there’s a disturbance of the ambiance by the door.

An entourage, flashy and animated, steps in to the venue, likely the first one of the night. They’re not rowdy, but they aren’t the dangerously silent group that would sometimes breach the doors of Hinowa’s establishment. Tsukuyo carefully angles her body towards Gintoki, but keeps her senses pasted to the passing party, her well-honed bouncer instincts dropping her back onto the rhythm of analyzing potential threats. Read: everyone.

When she tunes back into the conversation, their server is standing at respectful attention and Gintoki has an eyebrow cocked upwards, though he says nothing. The entourage passes them, loud and chatty, but there is enough slack in their posturing that Tsukuyo concludes that they are just the seat-warmers: the lower rungs that precede the real deal and his or her right hands.

She chooses not to say anything to Gintoki, trusting that he understood enough to simply accept the procedures. Pondering if he perhaps was one of the seat-warmers all the time ago. When their waters come, quickly after their server had excused himself, another body drifts through the door.

The staff around him bow wordlessly- a single figure in a stiff Western suit, fitted but undone in areas although none of the empty button holes or rolled-up sleeves detract from the dignity that permeates him. Tsukuyo feels the hairs at the back of her neck rise. This man is a dangerous one, but what’s worse is that she recognizes him.

Two eyes, two different colours gaze past her. Even from a distance one of them clouds over with a look she’s not sure how to interpret. He’s in the same suit as earlier, calloused hands poised gracefully at his sides, a smug grin spreading across his face.

Next to her, Gintoki grips Tsukuyo’s elbow. His gaze in unwavering but cautious as he stares down Takasugi Shinsuke. They remain locked in their silent face-off for a beat longer before Takasugi turns his head forward and strides forward, to the army silently awaiting their boss in the VIP section.

Tsukuyo witnessed the exchange with more building confusion, but she wisely does not approach the topic until the house lights dim and the red curtains are pulled open, accompanied by the shower of polite applause.