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the fewer good friends someone has, the closer they usually are

Chapter Text

Hijikata Toushiro wonders how his life turned out this way.

"This way", of course, being both general, in that he never expected to be the Vice-Commander of a specialized squadron explicitly for protecting Edo, and specific, in that he doesn't know how on Earth he came to be squashed under 5 warm bodies and a massive, snoring dog.

"I swear to God," he mutters. "Whoever's boot is in my back, you have 12 seconds to remove it before I cut your foot off."

"Who says it's my boot?" Gintoki murmurs from behind him. Hijikata elbows him in the restricted space. Gintoki shrieks in pain.

"Shut up, Gin-chan!" Kagura shouts. "At least you're next to your gross mayo boyfriend! The sadist kid is sitting on me! Shinpachi!"

There's a noise that sounds suspiciously like Okita sniggering, and a pair of glasses cracking.

"Why is the damn dog on top?" Hijikata mutters. The way this had all happened was really, truly stupid. They had been in hot pursuit of a trio of Joi Rebels after raiding one of Katsura's bases, which turned out to be the Yorozuya fuckers- why they were hanging out with known terrorists in the middle of the night, Hijikata doesn't even care anymore, because of course Katsura and the Shiroyasha are bosom buddies- and the three idiot musketeers had jumped into an upturned storage container by the docks. Of course, mistaking it for some kind of tunnel leading underground, Hijikata, Okita, and Kondo had leapt in in hot pursuit, leading to their current predicament. There's a thwack, and a sound of rattling metal, and Okita and the China girl start arguing again.

Why the dog had jumped in on top of all of them is beyond Hijikata's range of thought. Everything these idiots do is incomprehensible. Why in the world someone as sane and rational as him is dating as big a moron as Sakata Gintoki, the world may never know.

Speaking of Sakata Gintoki- that poking pressure in the small of Hijikata's back still isn't gone, so he intentionally grinds down on it, more than harshly enough to be physically excruciating.

Gintoki screams.

"Hijikata-kun!" He shrieks. "I need those! I need that! I thought you liked Little Gin too!"

"I'm going to fucking murder you," Hijikata spits, elbowing Gintoki in the side again. He presses the button on the walkie talkie in his hand again. "Yamazaki! Where the fuck are our reinforcements?! Get us out of here!"

"Sorry, Vice-Commander!" Yamazaki's wavering voice comes crackling out of the speaker. "Everyone's chasing the Katsura rebels right now! We'll come get you soon, I promise!"

Hijikata almost crushes the radio in his hand.

~~~~~~

Needless to say, after all is said and done and the Shinsengumi liberate them from the cramped confines of a salt-water smelling, rusting storage container, Gintoki and his brats stomp off, the man proclaiming loudly about how he doesn't want to even see the Shinsengumi uniform for another month. Hijikata scoffs at his back and turns to grill Yamazaki about what happened while they were occupied. He knows he's going to run into the Yorozuya bastard on his next day off, anyways. Maybe they'll go see a movie. He very explicitly is not looking forward to it. Just because the guy is technically his boyfriend and also happens to be a fantastic kisser doesn't mean he has to chase after him every time he has a petty fit.

His phone rings.

"Shinsengumi Vice-Commander, Hijikata Toushiro." He answers.

"Hijikata-kun!" A voice that he'd never expected to hear coming out of his speaker greets him. "A liberating chase today, as always. Can we meet up?"

"What the fuck?" Hijikata says. "Katsura?"

"Honestly, I'm surprised you Shinsengumi are still chasing after my men after Kondo and I shared such deep experiences," that annoying voice sighs. It's definitely Katsura. "Anyways, I wanted to talk to you privately. Is that alright? I won't even bring Elizabeth."

"What the fuck." Hijikata says. "Katsura."

"It's not Katsura, it's-" Katsura starts, then cuts himself off. He coughs. "Nevermind. Shall we say... the maid cafe down the block from the last headquarters you raided? In 15 minutes?"

"What the fuck?" Hijikata says.

"That's getting old," Katsura says. "See you soon!"

He hangs up. Hijikata takes his phone away from his ear.

"Everything okay, Vice-Commander?" Yamazaki asks.

"What the fuck?" Hijikata mutters.

~~~~~~

Of course, Hijikata goes alone. Even if it's a trap, he can probably escape, he rationalizes, since most of Katsura's forces will be scattered tonight because of the raid anyways, and Katsura doesn't seem the type to do violent business at a maid cafe.

Why is a hero of the Joi war frequenting maid cafes, anyways? Hijikata thinks anyone connected to Sakata Gintoki must be messed in the head one way or another.

"Hijikata-kun!" Katsura waves at him from a corner booth when he walks in the door. "Over here!"

"What's going on, Katsura?" Hijikata asks. He seats himself. A girl dressed in a frilly apron beams at him and asks if he wants anything. He orders coffee to be polite.

"Right down to business, I suppose." Katsura sighs. He pulls out a clipboard. "Well, that's not a bad quality to have, especially dealing with someone like Gintoki." He scribbles something down on the clipboard. Hijikata isn't sure why, but something about this situation is pissing him off.

"What?" Hijikata says. "What does Gintoki have to do with anything?"

"This is an interview, of course." Katsura says, looking from his clipboard back up at him. "For the position of Gintoki's partner."

"What the fuck," Hijikata says for what feels like the dozenth time in half an hour.

"Now, what would you say your best qualities are as a significant other?" Katsura says, tapping his pen against his bottom lip. "I've already marked down resilient and persistent among your virtues... oh, but maybe persistence should go in the negatives column, too..."

"Uh," Hijikata says. "You called me over here for this?"

The girl in the apron delivers his coffee. She smiles at him and skips away. He empties half a bottle of mayonnaise into it and takes a sip.

Katsura frowns at him.

"How much of your monthly income do you spend on mayonnaise?" He asks disapprovingly. "Addiction is a serious issue that can break a household apart, you know."

"Why is this happening to me," Hijikata says.

"Not too quick on the uptake, either," Katsura mutters, making a memo on his clipboard. "Potentially... prone to addictive behavior."

"Enough!" Hijikata shouts, slamming his fist on the table, making Katsura's teacup and his saucer rattle. "Cut it out!"

"Violent... outbursts." Katsura says, still writing. Hijikata's fingers twitch towards his sheathed sword. Katsura finishes and looks back up at him.

"Many of your character traits mirror Gintoki's," Katsura sighs. "He never learns, does he. I'm not surprised he chose to become involved with you."

Hijikata stills.

"I'll be honest with you." Katsura says, setting down his clipboard. "Gintoki... is not someone who has had an overabundance of happiness in his life."

Hijikata stares at him. Sometimes he forgets that the Yorozuya was somebody before he was Edo's Odd Jobs Gin-chan. Katsura meets his eyes, and even in this man who is about his age, he can see deeper knowledge of Gintoki and of the battlefield than he has, albeit in a different way. Katsura holds his gaze.

"What are you saying?" Hijikata says, mouth suddenly dry.

"What I'm saying," Katsura says, folding his hands over the clipboard resting on the table, and for a moment, Hijikata catches a glimpse of what others must see when they look at him- the Rampaging Noble, Katsura Koutaro, ally of the Shiroyasha, genius tactician and elite war general by the time he was in his late teens, or Joi rebel faction leader, Katsura Koutaro, a man with the power of ideal enough to rally a hundred samurai around him, or orphan and head of the Katsura clan while his age was still in single digits, Katsura Koutaro, a man who abandoned all pride and wore a coward's skin and became known as Runaway Koutaro to save his troops- Hijikata feels a chill go down his spine, "is that a geniune romantic relationship is something that Gintoki never expected to have after the war, I don't think."

Hijikata stares at him.

"And the only person I will allow to take his heart in such a way is someone who truly cares about him as a man, and not as a Shonen Jump protagonist," Katsura finishes, sighing. "Alright, that's it for this interview, Candidate #12."

"Candidate number-" Hijikata says. "Wait, how many people are you interviewing for this thing?!"

"Hmm?" Katsura says, picking up his clipboard. "Well, two more today, about twenty five in total."

Hijikata's sword clicks as he unsheathes it.

~~~~~~

"Fucking Joi war criminal idiots," Hijikata mutters, because the meeting had devolved after that until he had chased Katsura out of the cafe's kitchen exit, brandishing his sword. "Fucking meddling assholes."

His phone rings.

"What?" He snaps. "If this is Katsura again-"

"Huh?" Gintoki's voice comes through the line. "Zura called you?"

"Crap," Hijikata mutters.

"It's not Zura, it's Katsura," a muffled voice comes from the speaker. "Shinpachi-kun, a little more antiseptic."

"So you're the one who sliced Zura up," Gintoki sighs.

"Why are your friends so fucking weird?" Hijikata asks.

"They're not my friends." Gintoki snorts. "Hey, Zura. Next time you go one-on-one with Hijikata, don't lose. It's embarrassing if my former comrades lose to my boyfriend."

"It's not Zura," Katsura starts, but there's a thump, and a yelp, and the phone makes a funny crackling noise. Hijikata feels a warm pulse rush through his chest at Gintoki's casual dropping of the word "boyfriend". He shouldn't. The man is an idiot. A fucking big-headed sweets-loving fool and Hijikata thinks he might be in love with him and in far, far deeper shit than he originally bargained for, because now he's got famous Joi war criminals stalking him, but somehow he can't bring himself to care.

Chapter Text

The next week, Hijikata is patrolling the port when a massive, bright red skyship docks about twelve feet from his fucking face.

"Ahaha!" A loud laugh. Hijikata feels an impending sense of dread, though he's not sure why. "Found him, Mutsu!"

There's a thumping sound, and a scream, and suddenly a person clad in a red coat is falling next to him, colliding with the concrete boardwalk with a loud crunch.

"You're the one who wanted to talk to him!" A girl calls from the helm of the ship. She's wearing a wide-brimmed bamboo traveler's hat. "We have business! Kaientai, set off!"

The ships begin to retreat.

"Mutsu!" The man shrieks, pulling himself away from the pavement. "Hold on!"

It's too late- the ships are already retreating into the sky, and Hijikata stares at the man at his feet.

"Ahahaha," the guy laughs, scratching the back of his big puffy fucking head. His sunglasses are cracked. He gets to his feet and holds out a hand. "Sorry about the sudden introduction. Sakamoto Tatsuma, at your service."

Sakamoto Tatsuma-

"Oh, shit." Hijikata mutters. He crushes his cigarette butt under his boot. He takes the proffered hand, because he's not a fucking heathen, and Sakamoto beams at him.

"So I hear you're ****ing Kintoki," Sakamoto says, and Hijikata uses their joined hands to throw him into the water.

There's a large splash, and when Sakamoto resurfaces, he's sputtering- he drags himself back up to the concrete, dripping. He laughs. It's quickly becoming his most annoying trait.

"Sorry, sorry," he apologizes again, still grinning. "Zura told me! See?"

He pulls out a red phone.

"I had my phone waterproofed because Mutsu keeps trying to drown me," he explains.

--

--Tatsuma changed the chat name to THE BOISE--
[11:23] Zura: By the way, Gintoki found a boyfriend.
[11:23] Tatsuma: REALLY
[11:23] Tatsuma: (w)
[11:23] Tatsuma: Kintoki why dont u intro us
[11:24] Gintoki: Tatsuma, this is a text conversation
[11:24] Gintoki: My name is right there
--Takasugi changed the chat name to HIT LIST--
[11:24] Takasugi: I refuse to be part of a group named... THE BOISE.
[11:24] Gintoki: No one wants you here anyways dumbass
[11:24] Takasugi: No one wants YOU here, idiot.
[11:24] Tatsuma: Cut it out guys
[11:24] Zura: Just let them fight it out. And who keeps changing my name to Zura?
[11:24] Tatsuma: Ahaha im the mod
[11:24] It's not Zura, it's Katsura: Why are you the mod?!
[11:24] Tatsuma: Because none of you will admit to wanting to stay in touch (sad) so I had to make the group (ww)
[11:26] Tatsuma: ...guys?
[11:33] Tatsuma: ..... hello
[11:53] Tatsuma: Nevermind i hate all of you
--Tatsuma changed the chat name to NOT FRIENDS--
--Kurokono changed the chat name to FRIENDS--

--

"This is the stupidest chat log I've ever seen," Hijikata says.

~~~~~~

Turns out, Sakamoto is pretty well off, so he offers to buy Hijikata dinner while they wait for Mutsu to finish the business deal the Kaientai has apparently come to Earth to close. Sakamoto takes him to an Edo-style sushi shop, and Hijikata enjoys the brief reprieve from meals at the Shinsengumi mess hall, and Sakamoto tells some vaguely amusing stories about stupid shit he's gotten up to in space. Even though he doesn't know Sakamoto that well, it's easy to get along with him. Chatter flows freely from his mouth, and Hijikata feels himself relaxing against his better judgement. Maybe he's been spending too much time with idiots.

"And then," Sakamoto laughs, "Mutsu beat the crap out of all the traders on that ship, and we took their stuff, too."

"You're basically pirates at this point." Hijikata mutters, but he doesn't protest when Sakamoto plies him with another cup of sake. If this is how he does all his business deals, Hijikata can see why Gintoki calls Sakamoto a conman.

"Well, I was originally a war criminal, so I don't know if that's better or worse," Sakamoto snickers.

"Right." Hijikata mutters. He's been doing some studying. "Dragon of Katsurahama."

Sakamoto guffaws.

"You heard that old legend?" He says. "I was never much of a swordsman, really. Not even the troops thought I was much good."

He reaches for the bottle of sake again, and his sleeve rides up, and Hijikata sees a ripping scar trailing from the inside of his right wrist to the middle of his forearm. It's bumpy and dark with old scar tissue.

Sakamoto catches him looking.

"Ah, this?" He says, smiling. "That's the thing that ended my swordsman career for good. Yup. Never held a blade tight enough to swing after that."

"Ah," Hijikata says.

Sakamoto watches him out of the corner of his eye. He suddenly seems much less inebrieted. The pink flush on his cheeks is beset by the sharp look in his gaze.

Ah. Right. Conman.

"So, Hijikata-kun," Sakamoto says, drawing out the honorific. "How's Kintoki treating you?"

Hijikata purses his lips.

"Are you here to chew me out too?" He says. "Katsura already nagged me for a good half hour."

"Ahaha!" Sakamoto laughs, scratching the back of his head. "Zura got to you first, huh? Well, I can't say I'm surprised. Zura's always been close to Kintoki."

"Close?" Hijikata mutters. "Is that the word?"

"Mm... As close as people like them can be, I guess." Sakamoto says.

Hijikata makes a noise and drinks again.

"He's not the only one, though," Sakamoto says, and his voice takes on an undercurrent of meaning, remaining light. He's still smiling. Hijikata feels a sudden wave of nervousness. He's not a man who gets nervous easily. "All of us are pretty fond of Kintoki, though we may not say it."

"R-right." Hijikata says.

"Kintoki's the one who took revenge for this arm of mine," Sakamoto continues, setting down his cup and tracing the scar with his fingertips. "He and Takasugi. A couple of big idiots who love petty battles and can't see the big picture."

Sakamoto grins at him. Hijikata stiffens. It has such a strange edge to it he wonders if he shouldn't have been checking his drink for poison.

"Treat him right, yeah?" The Dragon of Katsurahama smiles at him, and his sharp blue eyes are visible over the rim of his sunglasses. Gintoki's friends are entirely too weird. "Or the Shinsengumi might start facing some... certain difficulties when you try to stock back up on your weapons."

Is that a threat? Hijikata thinks privately. After a moment's consideration, he decides it definitely is, and also that he'd rather never get on Sakamoto Tatsuma's bad side if he can avoid it. In the next second, every bit of the cunning trade expert disappears, and Sakamoto is laughing like an idiot again, pushing another refill of sake onto Hijikata, making some stupid joke about how Kintoki would beat the shit out of him if he caught him talking like this.

~~~~~~

Hijikata stays over at the Yorozuya that night, because Gintoki refuses to stay over at the Shinsengumi barracks, and the China girl doesn't really give a shit if it's Gin-chan or Gin-chan and his gross cop boyfriend in the other room, as long as they don't fuck while she's in the house and she retains precedence if she can't sleep. The Queen of Kabukicho comes first, she insists.

"Why are all your friends so fucking weird," he repeats, half-asleep, for what feels like the half-dozenth time in two weeks.

"Huh?" Gintoki mutters, half-sprawled across the futon, his arm pillowing Hijikata's head. Hijikata is curled up on his side with his back pressed against Gintoki's side. One of Gintoki's legs is slung over Hijikata's. "Which one of the idiots are you talkin' about?"

"Sakamoto," Hijikata says, and Gintoki snorts.

"That Tatsuma." He mutters. "He's always been a meddling guy."

Chapter Text

A few days later, his phone rings when he's at a crime scene. Burglary. No casualties. Hijikata puts Okita on the case.

"Hello?" Hijikata says. The voice that comes out of the phone is slightly tinny but distinctively smooth.

"Is this Shinsengumi Vice-Commander Hijikata Toushiro?" Hijikata's mystery caller asks.

"Yeah," Hijikata says. "Who is this?"

"I'd like to set an appointment." The person on the other end of the line says. "8 o'clock, Saturday evening. I'll text you the address."

"Sorry?" Hijikata frowns, taking the phone away from his ear to check the caller ID- Unknown, as he had seen when he had picked up the phone. "Who the hell is this?"

"It's about Sakata Gintoki." The voice says. "8 o'clock. Don't be late."

The dial tone sounds as they hang up. Hijikata glares at his phone.

"What the hell was that?" He mutters.

~~~~~~

Of course, he should have been expecting it. These past couple stupid weeks have been full of idiots dropping into his life because of Gintoki. He shouldn't be surprised when he arrives at the place specified in the text- a surprisingly upscale restaurant- and is directed to a private room with a view of a small outdoor garden through open sliding doors.

It's nighttime. Takasugi Shinsuke blows smoke out of his long, thin pipe. His butterfly-patterned yukata fans out darkly against the tatami.

"Hijikata-kun," Takasugi says. "Glad you could make it."

"Somehow I'm not sure if I should be," Hijikata says, but he sits down anyways. There's food and drink on the table already. Several bottles of Yakult are open and probably emptied on the table in front of Takasugi. Hijikata eyes them warily. Yakult? Takasugi?

Takasugi's eyes are closed. He breathes in again, and out. Hijikata's fingers itch for a
smoke of his own.

"Feel free to eat," Takasugi says, setting down his pipe and raising his eyes to HIjikata's face. "I invited you here, after all."

"Right," Hijikata mutters. "I might be crazy enough to be in love with Sakata Gintoki, but I'm not nuts enough to eat food offered to me by an extremist Joi rebel."

"I promise it's not poisoned," Takasugi says, sounding amused. He seems to have mellowed after working through most of his struggles with Gintoki, as much as a man like him can mellow, though Hijikata only knows this because Gintoki has been complaining that Takasugi and the Kiheitai have started sending the Yorozuya New Year's cards that don't involve begging for more screen time. "Gintoki would come for my head again if I killed his precious partner."

"Hearing you say it like that is so creepy," Hijikata mutters. He takes a small sip of water. Takasugi takes another drink. He's just... watching Hijikata. Hijikata's leg starts to shake.
There's silence.

"I'm guessing you're not here to turn yourself in," Hijikata says.

"I hope you're not here to arrest me," Takasugi says. He takes another pull from his pipe. Hijikata grits his teeth.

"This is the weirdest one of these meetings I've had by far," he says. "At least Katsura and Sakamoto said something."

"Oh, Zura and Tatsuma have talked to you already?" Takasugi says, smiling, and Hijikata regrets breaking the silence, because Takasugi's smile is definitely scarier than Takasugi's stare. "Good. I suppose we won't have to cover as much, then."

"What," Hijikata says. Takasugi leans forward. He places a short sword on the table. He looks Hijikata in the eye.

"I'll say it briefly," Takasugi says lowly. "Break his heart."

"What did you even call me here for," Hijikata says.

Takasugi looks at him, and taps one finger on the short sword. Hijikata eyes it warily.

"I'm not going to do that," Hijikata says.

"Even if I threaten to kill you?" Takasugi says.

"I'd like to see you try," Hijikata hisses, wrapping his fingers around the hilt of his sword.

Takasugi's hand twitches. The blade of the short sword gleams in the low lighting. Hijikata remembers that the guy in front of him isn't just his boyfriend's childhood friend, but a volunteer-rebel-army-turned-space-pirate-troupe commander and probably one of the most dangerous men in the galaxy. Takasugi's eyes glitter maliciously-

-and he takes his hand off the knife. Leans back on his cushion. The front of his butterfly-patterned yukata gapes lazily open. He turns his head gracefully, and takes a pull from his pipe. The smoke curls gently out of his mouth when he exhales.

He looks at Hijikata out of the corner of his eye. He smiles, and it's sharp, with bright white teeth, and Hijikata isn't a man who scares easily or commonly but he feels the beginnings of a cold sweat break out on his brow.

"You can take your hand off your weapon, Vice-Commander," Takasugi drawls, as if he hasn't just told Hijikata to break up with his boyfriend under threat of death. "It was a test. You passed."

"A test?" Hijikata says, dumbfounded. His brain trips, catches up, then he grits his teeth. "God, you people never give it a rest with the mind games, do you."

"Gintoki is one of 'us people," Takasugi shrugs, exhaling smoke again.

"Aren't you supposed to hate the guy?" Hijikata mutters.

"Tatsuma said ten years was too long to be having a spat," Takasugi sighs. He's definitely mellowed, because Hijikata can see less of the nutjob-crazy idiot who manipulated the bakufu and the Amanto behind the scenes, and thinks he might be able to glimpse more of Gintoki's friend, and the Kiheitai's young commander that the history books describe. Takasugi's smile is less wild and more content. "I can't say I approve of Gintoki's choice of bakufu dog, though."

"Want to say that again?" Hijikata says. Takasugi eyes him.

"Well," Takasugi says, voice low, putting one hand on his knee and pushing himself up. "Unless you had anything else you wanted to discuss, I'll end our little meeting. The room is paid, so help yourself."

Hijikata opens his mouth.

"Hold on," he says after a moment, when Takasugi is halfway to the door. "Takasugi."

"What is it?" Takasugi says, looking back at Hijikata. "Demon Vice-Commander."

Hijikata frowns.

"Why are you all doing this?" He says. "Katsura I could understand, and Sakamoto seems like a friendly idiot, but I don't understand why you would..."

Takasugi makes a noise. He turns away. He takes another pull from his pipe, slow and leisurely, and exhales in the same moment with a sigh.

"What are old friends for?" He says, quietly, and the sliding door clicks as it shuts behind him.

~~~~~~

"Gintoki," Hijikata says.

"Huh?" Gintoki says.

Hijikata looks at him. Gintoki is sat across from him in a boring booth at a boring cafe, eating a too-sweet parfait and looking lazily out the window, but when Hijikata speaks he turns his head to look at him, spoon sticking out of his mouth at an angle. All in all, he looks the perfect part of a useless human being.

Hijikata thinks he understands those Joi idiots, and their motivations for the visits they've paid him this past month. Despite it all, he thinks, and despite the fact that every single one of them is a massive moron, they really do care about the curly-haired idiot. He knows this because he does too. Friends are difficult to come by, and annoying, tedious, muleheaded ones that will never leave your side, no matter how far apart you are, are doubly so. Gintoki doesn't need to speak to his friends to know they have his back, and when the time comes, he'll have theirs.

Across the table from him, Gintoki looks at him oddly and sticks his finger in his nose. Hijikata realizes it's because he hasn't replied.

"Nothing," he says, instead of saying any of the things on his mind, and he takes a sip of his mayonnaise-covered coffee, and uses the rim of the cup to hide a rare smile.

Chapter Text

Hijikata's phone buzzes.

"Huh?" He mutters groggily from his futon. He feels around for it and flips it open. The glow from the screen stings his eyes. He rubs them with the palm of his hand.

// Hijikata-kun.
// Thank you for looking after Gintoki-san.
// Please continue to care for him in the future.
// Our former comrades are truly precious to us.

"The hell is this?" Hijikata says lowly, voice still sleep-scratchy, squinting at the screen.

// If anyone were to put the happiness of someone as important to so many people as Gintoki-san in jeopardy...
// The heavens would cast ill fate upon that person.

"Uh." Hijikata gulps. He feels goosebumps start to rise along the back of his neck.

// I'm sure you understand.
// Thank you.

Hijikata twitches. His eyes trace back up the screen, to the sender's identification line.

"Gintoki," he hisses, turning around, kicking Gintoki in the leg. Gintoki groans, asleep, and tries to roll over. Hijikata kicks him again. "Gintoki!"

Gintoki makes a sleepy noise.

"Who the hell is Kurokono Tasuke?!"