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Think before calling an actual terrorist a T-word.

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"Gintoki, let's go home. Are you able to stand up?" Katsura messed with his friend's hair, sitting next to him, trying to comfort him and get his attention in the same time. But Gin didn't rise his head, still lying on a counter pub the way the terrorist had found him.

"I am homeee.... you're home, you're my home... and I took it all away from you ... hooomee," Sakata babbled incoherently, his body jerking in sobs.

"Not home, but Zura. Ops, you've got me here, it's Katsura." He sighed heavily. Why was Gintoki even here, so far away from his home? Ah yes, as far as Zura could remember, every time the man wanted to get really wasted, to drown in alcohol and his sorrows, he would slip away from Kabuki (the famous party district!) into the downtown that lured desperate people with the promise of anonymity. No known faces to tell you to stop, no kids under your care to whom you should show your responsible side, nobody to pity you either. Gosh, this destructive idiot.

He waited patiently for the breakdown to pass, but even then he didn't managed to communicate with his friend verbally. Resigned, he stood up and hoisted Gintoki up from behind. He threw the man's arm over him and grabbed him tightly in the waist. Enough of this show, they really needed to go home, before the owner kicks them out or Gintoki passes out for good. Of course - he swayed and stumbled, but even this limited cooperation was better than dealing with an unconscious body.

Or maybe not. When they managed to squeeze outside and frisk air seemed to bring his  friend a tiny bit of comprehension of the situation, Gintoki started to fight him. Why? Katsura couldn't get this sudden mood swing at all, maybe it was low sugar lever, the stupid desire to show the other man he had  it under control, or maybe this story simply needed more drama.

"Oi, Zura, I.... " a pause, "Why are you even here, it was supposed to be my night... Fu..ck.. off, I'm good. Where's my scooter, my baby." he balked and tautened his body away from Zura, as far as the grip allowed.

"To drag your sorry ass home, you idiot." he spat."Forget about the scooter, you can't drive like that, and I'm not driving either, you can fall from the seat any moment. It would be far easier if you were just 70 kg bag of rice. But are you even sure you went here by the scooter? Where is your helmet?"

"A.... Ah! right .. toooook  a metro. Reallyy... fu.off. I am well capable of...." he didn't finish, because Zura just slacken his grip for a second. Silver-headed samurai inertly shot backwards, bounced backed - because Zura wasn't such a sadist and still held him in the end, and slid down Kotarou's torso, ending up wrapped around his waist.

"So, Gintoki, did you say something?"

More babbling and swearing answered him. He smirked, his point proven. But as much fun it was to torment Gintoki, it was pointless. He wouldn't remember anything from tonight - no mocking, no preaching to his samurai honor. Sakata should get to bed as soon as possible - Katsura, thanks to his over-dramatic vivid imagination, could come up with dozens of black scenarios - from Gintoki tripping over and drowning in the puddle (no rain for two weeks, but you never know), getting hit by a car (a pedestrian zone, but maybe a bike would run him over), getting robbed (nothing valuable on him, that was sure) or getting arrested for an indecent exposure or peeing on the streets (happened before).

Downtown, with the terminal hovering above and many modern drinking establishment that targeted corporation employees, was an alluring place for quick entertainment, but in fact it was a trap. After midnight till five a.m. the metro or any public transport didn't operate here. What luck, it was exactly 0:01 a.m.

Katsura just happened to walk from his work. Work. No "work" but a real legal job with insurance (just look how far he climbed the social ladder!), a nightshift, cleaning endless rooms and claustrophobic corridors in the skyscrapers when the last employees had left their kaisha. He was too, just like Gintoki, a Jack of all trades. The honesty of his current occupation wasn't spoiled by the fact that he and his joui-team of cleaners extracted trade secrets or other fun stuff alongside the dust from managers' carpets, but that's a different story. The plan was simple -  to catch the last train., hunt an unoccupied seat to set his exhausted ass on and hit the bed at 00.20 a.m. And he would, if not for his extra vigilance of a terrorist that became his second nature (a.k.a. damned paranoia), that made him look around and pick up random threats or familiar objects from the background. So that's how he ended up with his charge, having spotted him through a window in a pub.

The situation kept getting worse. Gintoki, still clung to his waist, started to tremble. So they needed to catch a taxi, but that would be a miracle at this hour. And they needed two of these, the second to convince the driver that the drunk ass wouldn't puke inside the cab. Speaking of that, some thick, acid-smelling liquid flowed down his leg, the one above which Gintoki hovered. Shit! Kami, give him patience! But that was it about their taxi plans.

Looking for shelter? But in this condition they weren't particularly welcomed anywhere. Besides sitting with a half-conscious man, rummaging through his pockets or taking him to a toilet (so he could take a piss or puke, ok?), looked at least suspicious. Far more predatory than dragging a drunken buddy through the streets, and he wasn't going to risk somebody calling the police.

So, swearing to Gintoki to kill him painfully in the morning, Zura dragged him to the nearest wall, ordered him to throw up everything else he had, and announced to take him home. Zura's home to be exact, sorry, Katsura's home, because it was just half the distance comparing to Otose's Snack Bar and he was tired after the whole daywork, what Gintoki would never understand slacking off for days, and he was not his personal riksha, and it was really like seriously the last time he would do it and it was Gintoki's fault that he would lose his voice shouting at him in the cold!

"Ok, let's go." he wasn't proud of snapping at people, but afterwards he felt so much calmer "And by the way, could you please take a pee in advance as well? I would rather we didn't stop unnecessarily."

 

Till the time Katsura finally pulled the cover up to Gintoki's chin, who was settling himself for sleep in the only futon in the flat, it was dawning! Dawning, can you imagine?! Because Zura couldn't. Ok, maybe it wasn't so much staggering if you consider it was early summer and 3:30, but it clearly announced that the new day was about to start! It always hit him hard, this realization that time slipped through his hands before he knew, wasted on nothing particular, and there were no more hope for a healthy long sleep. No, as the lightening sky brought up the anticipation of daily hardships, the fatigue of the night promised to drag along through the next day too.

Katsura was trembling from exhaustion and lack of sleep, eyelids congealed in a wide-open spread he kept all night not to fall asleep. The cut on his temple, when they both tripped over, didn't make him particularly happy either.

Just for the record. Everything went wrong. The walk that was supposed to last half an hour, ended in a one-and-a-half-hour journey, during which they fought for every centimeter forward. Gintoki was heavy and obstinate, a very unfortunate combination, when they didn't particularly agree on what road to take. And Kotarou, being his childhood friend after all, didn't have much authority over him. How did it happen that he managed to command them during the war? How did it happen that he managed not to dump this idiot into a river somewhere along the way tonight?! He probably tried out every grip and hold, ending up giving a piggy ride to his friend, who luckily tired himself out before Zura did.

Now, in his flat, Gin-chan had this genius idea to shower in his clothes. When Zura tried to get him out of the wet robes, the man entered the phase "Don't try to steal Gin-chan's innocence", and when he realized it was just Zura, he mocked him, taking sadistic pleasure in friend's embarrassment, when he grabbed his butt and purred into his ears "Mhmm I didn't know you swing this way, baby". Drunken Gintoki was lame, and drunken seductive (joking or not) Gintoki even lamer. Just for the record, silver-haired samurai wasn't a sexual predator, he just liked crude jokes at the cost of Kotarou, who wouldn't really felt hurt by it (that's all for BL here, at least officially).

Plenty more jostling, dragging, coaxing and threatening ("Please just go to sleep or I'll make you sleep forever") and everything seemed to be on the right track. Both finally washed and changed in fresh nemaki, Gintoki finished his tea that was supposed to ease his nausea and help with the morning hangover.

"Oyasuminasai" the terrorist helped his guest get into the futon and pulled the cover up to his chin.

"Oyasumi..."

Uff, done. He absent-mindedly stroked Gintoki's hair, an old silly habit, but quite useful to comfort wounded comrades. It was dawning! Only now he fully registered how tired he was. Their washed clothes hanged in the bathroom, and he had dealt with the most of the mess there. Now he just needed to found a blanket. Fortunately tatami were quite soft to sleep on directly (one futon and no BL, remember?). Just when he stood up and the floor creaked underneath him, there was a grip at his ankle.

"Zura... what time is it?" his friend said groggily, eyes already closed.

"Mhm? Three thirty... just sleep."

"Three thirty!" Gintoki yelled and sat up. "I neeed to go..", he said weaker and fell down on the pillow again.

"Go where? At this hour? Don't be silly..."

"They're gonna kill me... I'm done... already done!"

Katsura shifted, instantly alert. He narrowed his eyes, scrutinizing his guest and going in his head through the past events. Did he miss something? He found Gintoki in a popular bar near the metro station from where you could catch a train to Kabuki. Nothing suspicious about the place and the people - usual crowd attracted by the cheapest beer in town. And Sakata didn't act any different tonight.

"What kind of troubles are you in now? Besides you're safe here, who would find you here?"

"Them... this old hag Otose... and when she's done, the kids."

"What?"

"I ...  come back at twelve... told them..   meet the client, won't be staying out long... They are... angry at me... for the last time I fucked up..."

"Are you telling me you have a curfew? Just how old are you, fifteen?"

He huffed. "Gin-chan is a man of his words... He said... he will be home at midnight... I would.. have not for you... you dragged me to my death..."

"Uh, you're clearly live in an alternative reality, my friend."

"It's you... check up your  head, .. you imagine you have friends at all... I'm going, my clothes?" he was still talking but his body was spread on the futon too comfortably to move soon.

"Mhm, they're wet."

"Give me...my phone"

Katsura went away and brought back the device. He flopped down the floor, and put it in Gin's hand, but the man apparently didn't registered this fact. He was snoring.

"Oi, Gintoki! what about the phone?", the long-haired brunet shook him slightly by the shoulder.

"Call... tell them I'm late... because abducted by terrorists..."

"Don't come up with stupid excuses!"

"Alien duck..."

"Elisabeth is not even here today!"

"Alien duck lover..."

"I'll kill you when you're sober-"

"Threatened by a terrorist...hostage.... call them."

"And if I do, will you be quiet?"

"mhm.. undying gratitude."

He huffed but obediently took Gintoki's phone. There was no password set, so he entered and scrolled the contacts. Yorozuya - with the picture of the banner that hanged on Sataka's balcony - ok, that must be Gintoki's stationary phone. He dialed the number. After some cracks and hisses (Zura was sure the Bakufu listened to all the conversations) there was a silence on the line. A beep, then another, and another... A mere phone ringing wasn't enough to wake up super-strong alien teenage apparently.

'Home doesn't answer," he informed.

"Old hag."

He found a contact with Otose's Snack Bar banner under the name - literally - Old hag - ICE. Gosh! Wasn't she supposed to be Gintoki's mother figure? But the story repeated itself, nobody answered. It was fat chance after all, who was supposed to pick up the phone in a busy, noisy bar?

"Patsuan."

"Really? Are you going to wake up kids at night, because you're drunk and lonely?"

"Said...report me missing... immediately."

Katsura sighed but dialed Shimura. This time he managed to get through.

"Moshi moshi," young female voice answered.

"Hello, I'm calling on the behave of Sakata Gintoki-"

"You perv! What a low trick! Be sure I'll burn your precinct down if you call me again, you disgusting gorilla!" and she hanged up. As far as it was tempting to see his enemies destroyed, he himself felt a little afraid of Otae-san right now.

"Call.... call..."

Kotarou went through the contact list again, but he was running out of ideas who he should call. Gintoki seemed to be fixated on the idea to let anybody know he would be late, and who knows, maybe really there were some extraordinary circumstances he wasn't aware of.

He typed ICE - but being drunk wasn't really ICE by the way, it was a normal state of Gintoki in the evenings - and four results showed up. He already tried Old hag-ICE". The next one was... what was in the picture? A woman's buttock draped in a fancy violet - gold kimono? Not bad at all, he himself admired fashionable ladies too, but seriously, Gintoki was really such a low human being, taking advantage of women like that. Definitely not suited for samurai. Wait a minute. He knew this pattern! With his heart beating faster, he looked at the name: Zurako - ICE but actually not (unless very ICE). Killing the idiot won't be enough! Calm down, calm down...

Next - Bakamoto - intergalactic ICE . That was the only phone call he would like to make. But now he wasn't in a mood for a friendly chat. Besides he could tell right now how the conversation would go. He'd say something like "Gintoki got drunk" and Tatsuma like "and you didn't invite me? How cruel! Ahahaha".

So it left him with the last name: Mayora13-ICE embellished with a photo of a mayonnaise bottle.

"Call... call them..."

"Who the hell is that?"he shook Gintoki and moved the phone screen in front of his face. "Or, don't answer, I don't want to know about your deviations."

"No,  no call... don't call the mayonnaise..." he grabbed the phone from Kotarou, but his own hand with the device slowly lowered to his face and let it rest there.

"don't call... abducted by terrorists.... bad idea.. don't..."

"Moshi-moshi?!" there was a voice coming from the phone speaker "Gintoki?! Where are you?!"

Zura and Shiroyasha frantically threw themselves on the device to end the call.

 

****

 Hijikata liked night patrols. Driving through the empty streets just like now, enjoying the velocity and freedom. As a vice-chief, he allowed himself not to take a partner while he speeded in an undercover car. He could deal with most of the threats alone and if not, backup would arrive anytime if he asked. It was almost 4 a.m., dawning, two more hours for the well-earned rest. At nights time flowed differently. It slowed down that you became conscious of every minute and then leapt an hour forward. So were human thoughts - tangling seemingly incoherently, but at the end you came out with a clear mind. And the emotions, they got numbed and you could almost witness them like an outsider.

If the peaceful tide continued, he would soon smoke his first of the day triumphant cigarette in the beams of rising sun. Super cheesy. Okita knowing would be a worse blow than the little bastard poisoning all his mayonnaise bottles. That's why he patrolled the streets alone!

His phone beeped. Somebody's must be bored, ha? But when he looked at the screen, he felt slightly irritated. Yorozuya. When they exchanged numbers, it was mostly for Hijikata's convenience, to keep tabs on Gintoki. He told him clearly that the samurai was not allowed to call him at pleasure, it was only for emergencies that Sakata wasn't able to deal with himself. Somehow Yorozuya's mess always coincided with threats to the whole Edo.

He picked up.

"Moshi-moshi?"

There was some heavy breathing, fabric brushing fabric. Then raspy, muffled voice that he recognized as belonging to Gintoki:

 " abducted by terrorists... bad idea... don't..." some quick movements, rustles and he hanged up. Hijikata's heart sunk. What the fuck was that? What really not a funny joke this was supposed to be? He pulled over. And lit a cigarette. So much for his triumphant smoke over a peaceful night. He hit Yorozuya stationary number.

"Gin-chan? Is that you?" - a child voice answered five signals later."

"A, sorry for the inconvenience. Hijikata's here. Is Gintoki home?"

"Toshi? No, Gin didn't return from drinking yet. Please arrest him. For abandoning his family."

"Kagura-chan, do you know where he is?"

"Nope, so by the way I want to report him missing, mister officer. Should be home 4 hours ago. He promised me."

"Kagura-chan-"

"Now excuse me, young lady must return to sleep. Bring his dead body home when you find him, ok?" and she hanged up.

So it wasn't a joke. At least Gintoki really had been missing. He contemplated for a while calling back on Sakata's mobile - but what if he compromised Yorozuya? But it must have been the kidnapper (if there was any kidnapper at all) who ended the connection. So he didn't risk much and at least could gain a clarification of this ridiculous situation. He set the recording on and hit the green button.

After four long signals he was sure nobody would pick up the phone and when he completed the list of officers he was going to throw into the immediate search, he finally got through.

"Moshi-moshi" soft male voice answered.

"Moshi-moshi, who's there? Where's Gintoki?"

"Oh, hello, Gintoki is currently unable to talk. He sleeps. Sorry for the trouble, he accidentally called you in the middle of the night." the talk was a little too polite for a kidnapper-terrorist, but there was also some nervousness in the tone.

"Excuse me but why are you answering his phone? What is happening with Gintoki?"

"Oh, sorry, sorry, Yes. Gintoki is sick and unavailable, I met him in a pub and he will stay the night at my place."

"O, I see ". Was he prying too far? Should he press further? There were some incoherent hummings and a moan? Gintoki's unable to talk? He cringed at what his imagination was telling him. Anyway that was a possible scenario, maybe a little bit surprising that this was a male, but you never know with this things.

"No, no, no, he is just..."

"Listen, I don't want to pry but I am Gintoki's close friend and I am worried about him."

"O, I see. Yes, I saw your number is ICE", the voice seemed to give up. Hijikata felt nicely flattered that the idiot took him seriously at once. Didn't predict Yorozuya lousy lifestyle though. But he shouldn't lose the focus.

"So make Gintoki available, just stop what you two are you doing and let me talk to him for a moment. Please." he added, recalling Positive communication seminar, he attended last week. Ordering and snapping at the possible terrorist in negotiations wasn't the brightest idea.

"I'll try."

There were some rustles, moans (again?!) and muffled conversation.

"Gintoki, he wants to talk to you."

"Fuck ..., Zura~, I wa.. sleep."

"It's all your fault. Just tell this mayo... whoever he is to you -whatever he wants to hear!"

"Fuck off... damned terrorist."  then louder to the speaker "You fucking tax-thief. Let me sleeeep..."

That was definitely Gintoki! Tired, groggily, but him! Hijikata would never imagine he would be so happy receiving insults from him! The conversation in the background seemed spontaneous, despite the T-word, nobody threatened anybody - if so, it was Yorozuya, who was in charge -  you just don't tell your kidnapper to casually fuck off, right?

"So, Mayora-dono, thank you for your concern and I'm really sorry for the troubles." the stranger was back on the phone.

"Ha?! What you just called me?!"

"O, isn't it your name? Sorry, I must have made a mistake in reading the signs then, Mayora13-dono."

"What?! Whatever, give me your name. Please."

"Yes, sorry, it is Kaa... "a cough"...Zuraki Tarou."

"And the address?" the last test. He would have the call located either way.

There was a heavy sigh.

"It's Shogun Yuzu Yuzu Street 4. Flat 15."

"Ok, I'll be there in 15 minutes."

"Right. Hahaa." nervous laughter, "And please don't worry, Gintoki is really just sick. Nothing else happened."

 

He told Yamazaki. Of course he told him. He wasn't stupid to drive into unknown with no backup plan. And Sagaru was very useful. He wouldn't spill the beans unless necessarily, wouldn't use the knowledge against Hijikata (just like a certain little sadist would do), wouldn't complain being woken up during night, and most importantly, the badminton boy confirmed that the call was made from the proximity of the given address.

From the one hand the location match gave this Zuraki a lot of credibility. What kind of bad guy tells you the real directions anyway? From the other hand, the address was in the outskirts of Kabuki-cho - the area fully deserved a label of bad neighborhood. Crooked businesses, regular violence and rebels' and mafia fighting among themselves. So if some madman was to kidnap Sakata, it was high chance he kept him in a hideout out there.

He parked his car near the address - a run-down tenement house among other similarly shabby buildings- and lit a cigarette. Last moment to think. The idea that it was all Gintoki's stupidity that resulted in 3 police cars on a stand-by a few blocks away was just so... probable! But that was the police job, to check out the hints, examine the threats, no matter how absurd they seemed. He wouldn't deny it, he was a little bit nervous. After all tonight was going to end badly -  he was about to discover a serious crime (15% chances as now) or fall right into a cringy, embarrassing situation (85%).

He lost track of his thought when his phone came to life. Gintoki?

"Moshi-moshi."

"O, hello again, Gintoki's friend here. Sorry for the inconvenience. Last time we talked I got the impression that you'd like to come to Gintoki... "

"Yes, yes, thanks for the call I'm almost at the place, could you meet me on the parking lot?" so I can lure you out and interrogate, he added in his mind.

"Ano... I can't see you but I'll be down in a minute. Actually I'm calling to ask you to be cautious. There is an undercover police car at the parking lot right now, so could you mmhm .. park behind a block maybe? I'll pick you up from there." What kind of terrorist invite strangers home, knowing there's police on his tail? A lame one? A bold one? And how did he know?

"Oh, the police, is it a problem?"

"And when isn't it a problem? " the interlocutor sighed. "Gintoki would disembowel me if I let his close friend got arrested."

"Why am I going to be arrested? I would just walk the street."

"Oh, I see, you're apparently not from our neighborhood. Anyway, I'm coming down."

"Ok, thanks, and don't worry about the police car, it's actually me."

There was a momentary silence and then again this nervous laughter.

 

Another cigarette later, Toshi was waiting outside, leaning on his car. A figure approached him in a determined walk. A man in his late twenties or early thirties, as tall as him, with long hair put in a ponytail. The policeman scrutinized the newcomer. Really, Gintoki would have no problems in biting crap out of him in a fair fight - slender figure, long limbs, kind of delicate-face type of guy. It rang a bell, but Hijikata wasn't able to pin it down. There were thousands of these adult pretty boys who never grew up, walking around the town in concert T-shirs and slim dark jeans above the ankles. This particular example had a Laruku tishatsu on, a white haori, tabi socks and zori sandals. A mixture of modernity and tradition, but in fact quite suited for these punks pretending to be samurais. Wait! Was that a sword sticking at his side?!

"Mayora-dono?" That was that voice. The stranger stopped in a 3-meter distance. Just far enough to have a chance of fleeting or drawing a sword if attacked. Hijikata felt as in the X-ray, because the man returned the scrutinizing look; he swayed his eyes from head to toe, staying a little bit too long to be innocent on the sword, on where he kept his police equipment, on a phone. Toshi knew he had been identified as a threat. What did he imagine entering such a district?

"Ha?" he managed to splutter only as much, his thoughts running in every directions, analyzing the situation.

"Mayora-dono? excuse me, I must have mistaken you for somebody else. I'm waiting for someone who happens to be a policeman too," so polite, softly, just like on the phone. Wide-opened hazelnut eyes, as if surprised, scared maybe?

Hijikata was to retort, but bit his tongue. Positive communication.

"You must be Zuraki-san, right?" he said as politely as he could now, trying to buy more time.

"Yes, it's Zuraki. Nice to meet you, Mayora-dono" the stranger slightly bowed his head.

There was no need to beat about the bush, he decided. Better now than in some shabby back alley or in a unknown flat. Hijikata could still win this. He was sure of his skills and if not, Yamazaki knew.

"Is it a katana?' he asked, all tense now, hands ready to grab his own.

"Oh, you've noticed!" the man answered a little bit too enthusiastically. He moved the side of his haori and presented the scabbard. "It's the perfect replica of the Hyorinmaru, the last Emperor's famous sword."

He unsheathed the blade half way in split seconds. Lantern lights danced on the cutting edge, the man lips spreading in a predatory smirk (Hijikata's interpretation). Toshi's hair stood on end, heart racing. That was the kidnapper, a fucking terrorist, a mad hitokiri after all! And he felt into a trap like a schoolboy, Gintoki probably already slaughtered, he was next in line and no squadron of the police around the corner would save him now. No, he could still win this. The excitement of a good fight burst in his guts. Time slowed down and his perception did this very strange thing, making him aware of opponent's every move, voracious glitter in his eyes, tensed muscles ready to strike, his own hand traveling to the hilt of the sword, despite the fact the opponent had a clear upper hand now.

But the terrorist-to-be casually sheathed the blade. Seeing Hijikata hypnotized on the sword, he added.

"Impressive, isn't it? They do wonders out of plastic nowadays."

Fuck. And he was a moment away from cutting in halves the man for carrying a toy sword. Right, right, he was tired and overreacting. Gintoki walked around with a souvenir wooden sword, too. Why wouldn't his acquaintance be as weird as him?

He sighed and put his body in relax stance. No, there wasn't really any malice on the man's face. The stranger was a little wary? attentive, that was all... Toshi was willing to blame the lingering traces of nervousness on his obvious dislike of the police (Yorozuya didn't like them at first, too), the late hour and apparently a hard night, as a fresh bruise deformed man's temple. Still Hijikata was tempted to arrest him, for preemptive measures, just for spooking him like that. After all anybody living here was probably some kind of joui, yakuza, or other social pathology. Oh, he recalled the phone conversation... damn it, so what, was he being a bad cop now? These hazelnut eyes...

 "Oh. yes. Yes. I didn't introduced myself. I'm Hijikata. Not Mayora. Nice to meet you. "

"But the phone contact said-" ok, that would be Yorozuya-like, calling him names.

"Never mind. I'm here for Gintoki".

"Is he in some kind of troubles?"

"None of which I know. Have I met you before?" Toshi spitted. Maybe he saw him with Sakata one day and couldn't remember it.

"Oh... people say this often to me " nervous laughter, " they say I'm similar to Okada Masaki, this actor."

"Oh! Well... yes, that must be it", yeah, all these pretty boys looked the same for him. Especially because the last movie with Okada he saw, the actor was wearing a long-hair wig. He decided to leave it like that for now.

"So I assume you want to see Gintoki, right? Can we already go inside? He was sleeping, but I can't stop thinking that he will blow something up in my flat."

Another tide of blue funk washed Toshi; intuition, that hardly ever failed him, was screaming JOUI. But before he managed to react, the man turned around and start walking away. He could totally arrest him right now, could slay him in the back. Was the man playing with him, literally turning his back on him? Was this a sign of a challenge or naive trust? And by the way, would Joui recruit such a modern wimp with no survival instinct at all? Their leader, although still young, was said to be so much into Bushido and tradition, that he mostly attracted and recruited middle-aged men that couldn't find themselves in the changing era.

"Mhm... " the man seemed to be thinking out loud," Gintoki blowing my bombing balls off..., we need to hurry, Hijikata-dono."

He wasn't sure what shocked him more, the unwanted disturbing images of somebody's balls being blown off sprouting in his head or that the man apparently mocked him.

 

****

Katsura was climbing the exterior staircase to his flat on the fourth floor as if the steps led to the gallows. He felt the piercing gaze of the Shinsengumi Vice-Chief on his left hip, almost regretting having taken the sword. It wasn't even about his samurai pride - without katana, he felt naked. Incomplete. As if part of his soul was sealed in the blade. He suffered enough throughout today's work to leave the sword behind.

When he had made his way down, he decided to take his chances. Either way, he was doomed the moment the call was made, because it could be easily located. Between avoidance - that would result in Shinsengumi squadron storming his flat or meeting some random donut-eating police guy, who might hardly ever heard of him, he chose the second option. If so, he wasn't called Runaway Kotarou without reason. When it would come to this it was better to flee, or even get arrested with Shiroyasha posing as a victim, rather than as an accomplice. He would even have tided Gin up, had he known demonic Vice-Chief was going to pay him a visit. Who could have guessed Gintoki had no survival instinct, befriending purebred Bakufu dog?

Anyway how could the policeman not recognize him, he was not even dressed up, just grabbed the first clean clothes available. (But from the other hand Captain Katsura costume, that was basically an eye patch and a coat, always worked). Did Hijikata know and play with Katsura?! Did he fear that Yorozuya would become a collateral damage, if they started fighting for real? That's what Zura himself felt at least, so he continued the farce.

He was just too soft. He just didn't want to worry a person who managed to rise to the exclusive list of Gintoki's ICE. Whoever that person was. (Or let this person call the police and have the situation spiraling out of control. Ha, ironic.) And when the mysterious Mayora-san introduced himself as Gintoki's close friend... Close friend, can you imagine? Adult above 25 y.o. just didn't keep close friends in a sense of friendship. He was surprised (ok, slightly panicking), maybe a little bit hurt that Shiroyasha didn't trust him with his personal life, but in the end they would have "meet my family" event, he and Tatsuma would give the wooer a threatening/welcoming talk and... Stop. His vivid imagination went too far again. He just married Gintoki off to a freaking demonic Shinsengumi Chief in a country that didn't even recognize same-sex marriages. And last time he checked, Shiroyasha was into Ketsuno Ana-type of girls, why would that suddenly change? Katsura would accept Gintoki the way he was, even when he would finally come out of the closet with some furries fetish or similar sort, everything but THIS particular person, the personification of the police arrogance! Joui's archenemy (they had many archenemies by the way). Calm down, calm down, the bastard was probably just trying to use Gintoki as a fizgig. That was also disgusting.

Zura's options were very limited. He had to play along. Oh, yes, he could draw a sword any moment, but the risks of this movement in a tiny flat varied from getting himself killed/seriously injured to getting a high police officer killed/seriously injured, with Gintoki somewhere in the middle going down with this ship. Surely Hijikata's backup was lurking around the corner. He could gather his own men if needed too, the district belonged to Joui after all, but unleashing regular war with the police over one drunkard would be his absolute last resort.

Plus there was a high chance that Mayora 13 on ICE list wasn't a mistake. Whether as a close friend - not in a friendship way (stoop thinking about it, you've watched to many kdrama's lately) or really kind of buddy-ally. He should take into consideration that the war devoured a good couple years of their youth and they could be mentally still 25. Mhm. Anyway, the policeman came here because he thought Gintoki was in trouble. Katsura could respect him for that and that was enough not to slay the man. But would Hijikata still protect Shiroyasha if he knew he was a close friend (in friendship way, of course, because they meet before they reached 25 y.o.)  to a Joui big fish?

"We're here," he opened the door and gestured for the policeman to go in first.

"After you" the other murmured. Shit. So he did know. Did he?

Nonetheless, everything went surprisingly polite. When they moved from a tiny corridor to the living room/bedroom, Gintoki was snoring, happily unaware of the world around him. Katsura flopped down beside him, shaking him slightly to wake him up, to no avail. He just earned some "Fuck off Zura..... you damned terro....".

Meantime Mayora decided to stand defensively with his arms crossed. Oh, Kotarou could see his prying eyes moving in every directions, judging, defining threats and possible way out. He needed to get Gintoki out of the equation as soon as possible, then he could escape.

"So, as you can see, Gintoki is kind of unavailable."

"How did he call you? Zura? is it you? Zuraki-san? A nickname?" the officer pretended to relax a bit and sat down on the other side of the futon. Fake it till you make it, right? And the golden rule of interrogation - let the suspect lose his guard by starting to talk about something easy first.

"Mhm, he calls me like that. Apparently he doesn't care remembering people's name. That's shameful and rude, Mayora-dono."

Toshirou cringed. "Hijikata desu~."

 

****

Shabby. That particular word he was going to use in his report with the frequency worth Yamazaki's "anpan". Shabby neighborhood, shabby build, shabby tiny flat with one room and a kitchen corner and mold on the ceiling. Only the owner wasn't shabby at all. He was... flashy? Full of contradiction? Peculiar clothing, politeness to the point of being plain versus unintentional? insults, teasing. Weird random lines that could put some people off versus unstudied grace, handsomeness and alluring air that promised uncertainty (or death). He had known him for only 10 minutes and already the man had sent him twice on the pick of his emotions. He needed to revise one more assumption too. When the man was climbing the stairs in front of him and his pronounced muscles moved under the tight fabric of his jeans, silky ponytail swinging side to side, Hijikata couldn't help thinking about panthers, big lazy cats with their deadly muscles under the fur, tense and ready for strike. (The long-term effect of recent escort of Soyo-hime to the zoo). He might be physically challenging opponent after all.

So who was this man and did he pose a threat to Gintoki? The host treated the unconscious man well... good, but who'd dare to abuse somebody in the presence of the police. The man answered his questions effusively and yet very uninformative. He talked about meeting the perm tonight and about their arduous (yes, he used that word) way back home as if it was an epic journey of two heroes. In any other circumstances the story might even be funny, but Hijikata couldn't really decipher the character of their relationship out of this bizarre talk. Couldn't even tell if the man mislead him on purpose or was just a bit weirdo.

He wouldn't like to arrest (still no charges) anybody connected to Yorozuya, dragging the perm into the investigation as a witness, the wobbly trust between them on the line. They met at a bar. Sounded legit with the perm clearly intoxicated. A friend?  People Gintoki's age didn't invite strangers to drink at home. A one-night stander? (the idiot was broke, so he ruled a prostitute out.) More likely, but still not very Gintoki-like, because that was a male. Ugh, Hijikata  never imagined he would have to analyze Yorozuya sex life one day. But people weren't particularly picky when drunk and the long-haired man looked ekh attractive enough to want to experiment with. He wouldn't really care normally, but how could he leave Gintoki in this pathological district at the mercy of a stranger? Then there was another problem rising. The white-headed idiot was totally wasted - Zuraki definitely not. If he took advantage of Gin... this bruise, Gin must have resisted... His anger rose, the police unit will come at handy after all. Then his stomach sunk. This slender man against Gintoki? What if the bruise was there because Zuraki didn't want to be experimented with? And then what, happily dotting Yorozuya as if nothing happened? What he was thinking at all, overanalyzing situation five steps further than necessary? But don't you ever mix sex with alcohol, people.

That moment the white-head samurai decided to toss in his sleep, turning on his belly. The duvet slid revealing his shoulders. Zuraki's hand shot out and grabbed the hem of the cover to pull it up. Hijikata's hand shot out to stop him.

"What is he wearing?" he spat.

"Hu?" confused hazel eyes landed on Toshi.

"Where are his clothes? Why is he wearing nemaki? Don't tell me he walks around the town in not-his pyjamas."

"Oh, so you know what does his PJ look like." the host turned his gaze away, was he blushing? "Sorry, I didn't want to pry."

"It was just an assumption." he too blushed, but was boiling in the inside at the stranger's suggestion and at his own big mouth.

"Answering your question, I just gave him the robes he could sleep on comfortably. His own are in the bathroom, getting dry. You can check if you want." he pointed to the door behind Hijikata.

Toshi contemplated the move for a while, the man clearly bringing up the policeman's distrust. But hell, despite the courtesy, it was obvious that they didn't trust each other at all. He got up and disappeared in the bathroom.

 

Still shabby, but at least clean. The man was telling the truth. There was the characteristic white kimono with blue prints on the edges, on the wall radiator. On the strings above the bathtub hanged the rest of the outfit - black pants and a shirt, another navy-blue robe he didn't know, and...pink, strawberry-patterned boxers? Not that he knew, but the style somehow suited Gintoki. He touched the clothes. They were not completely wet, but rather humid, as if they had been drying for a longer time, way before Hijikata announced his visit. He was sick of the situation. What kind of kidnapper-terrorist, or even one-night stander, does your washing?

He looked at his reflection in a mirror. Ugh, he felt as bad as he looked. Toshi was tired, not thinking clearly. He splashed water on his face, adrenaline flowing away, but the frustration remained. He needed yet to squeeze out from Yamazaki's questions, explain himself to the officers on a standby. Oh, just one toothbrush? The situation was overwhelming him. He couldn't make a coherent conclusion, except that Gintoki seemed safe for now.

 

"Your ID!" he barked, as he flopped down to his previous spot by Yorozuya's bed, not being able to hid his grumpiness. "Please", he hissed through the clenched teeth. Kondou-san would be proud of him, seeing how the seminar paid off.

"Oh, so you're on a official visit after all, Mayora-dono." the man hit a serious tone too, hazelnut eyes staring Hijikata's as if throwing down a challenge. Ugh, Toshi just wanted to get this over as soon as possible, why this man wanted to resist him now?

Nonetheless, the host stood up nonchalantly, and returned with a bag. He rummaged through it for a time, bringing to light strange objects from the void and putting them back in the bag. Disposable gloves, a pack of UNO cards, justaways, some metallic balls with a small screen, probably a merchandise from another pokemon fad.  Hijikata was about to sneer, but his focus lost when the man finally produced the requested document. Their hands met when Zuraki passed the ID, Toshi quickly withdrawing his as if he got burnt. Again the tension electrocuted him. As if his subconscious knew more than he was aware, as if he saw something alarming, but what? His perception for one more time skyrocketed on adrenaline, Hijikata desperately taking in any changes in the man's stance, breathing, mimics. His narrowed, seemingly uninterested but attentive eyes; a predator observing his pray. A cat and a mouse.

"Something wrong, Policeman-san?" that kicked him out of the trance. Was Toshi going crazy?

The document looked ok. Zuraki Tarou, 30 y.o., born in Hagi, ID issued by the Edo Mayor , valid till 20.02.2023. The picture definitely matched the man in front of him, although here he had his fringe combed back and glasses on. Just a nerd. Hijikata took a photo of the ID and sent it toYamazaki just in case.

"Everybody looks like murderers on the ID photos. Can I see your Police ID then? It'll be funny if I let some cosplayer arrest me or my friend and drive away into unknown..."

Hijikata was to retort but he bit his tongue. It had some logic and it was the citizen's right to know with whom they were dealing. If this skipping tension was the effect of distrust? Nobody had ever question his authority when he wore the uniform, but again, in this district? Criminals surely ruled here, but he heard the regular police wasn't particularly pleasant with the inhabitants either.

He showed the man his ID with the identification number. Zuraki, following his example, took a picture with his phone of the ID and then, not asking for permission, of the policeman. He was too tired to be angry about it.

"You too look kinda demonic Mayora-san. On the photo I mean. Anyway, if any of us go missing after tonight, you are the last known person who saw us, you know?" he added in a bored, but polite tone. Ughr. That man was too full of himself. Just like Gintoki! Where did such people come from! Ah, Hagi. Gintoki was born in Hagi as well. Coincidence?

 There was a momentarily silence, both of them staring at Shiroyasha lying between them. Zuraki put his hands into the sleeves of his haori, Hijikata nervously drummed his fingers on the lighter in his pocket. The water tap dripped in the background.

"Who are you to him?!" they spat simultaneously.

"I've told you, I met him in a bar, felt responsible for him. Kinda know him, everybody knows Yorozuya here." the ponytail man spoke awkwardly.

"We are... kinda know each other. H.. Helped with a case once." why he felt a need to excuse himself?!

"How does he have your number?" narrowed cat eyes pierced Hijikata.

"Just gave him, just in case. Told you, he helped once."

They looked away from each other.

"So, Mayora-dono," the host first broke the awkward silence with a serious but not threatening voice. "I do believe you came here because you care about Gintoki." Hijikata blushed, but nodded," this scene is taking too long and we both are tired. I see two solution. One. You leave Gintoki under my care and leave. Two. You take him home - like his home I mean - because you trust me less than I trust you right now and his kids are worried about him."

"Two," he chose without second though. This area was no place for Gintoki. What if he falls into bad crowd, get to know some Jouis?

 "So let it be." the host sighed. "Let's wake him up and dress up."

"I need to smoke first. Excuse me." he stood up and walked away from the flat to the staircase balcony, leaving the front door open. If the man didn't murder them till now, Gintoki will be fine these 5 minutes.

 

The world outside was suffused with a white light, forms coming out from the darkness, contrasts intensifying. The sun was about to rise, but he wouldn't see it from this place. He leant on the railling, staring at the world below his feet. The bitter-tasting smoke filled his lungs and he savored every second of it. His triumphant cigarette. After all the night went peacefully. This Zuraki - a bit crazy, cunning, protective. There was definitely more to it than meet the eye, and maybe one day he'd like to discover the mystery behind him. But as for now the man was just Gintoki's problem (or blessing). Speaking of the devil,  he could hear whispers and movement coming from the flat.

"Gintoki, Gintoki... wake up. Really, wake up..."

"Mhm... let me sleep...What are you wearing?"

"You puked on my yukata. More importantly Hijikata's here..."

"What!"  words being said more lively, screamed in fact.

"Hijikata... he came for you...."

"What. What! Hiji... Zura... Hiji..."

"Everything ok. He'll just drive you home, ok? Don't worry. Just don't do anything stupid, don't say anything stupid. But. How could you do this to me! What are we now? Am I a fucking brother-in-law to a demonic Shinsengumi Vice-Chief?"

"Go check up your head.. Hiji... Zura... Did you invite him here? HijiZura... a rising tag, sick attention bitch. Gonna sue us for false advertising."

"Ha? And who's doing HijiGin behind my back?"

"Shut up. There is 'and' between us, not slash. And I'm sure it's GinHiji, not the other way around, just like with GinZura. Water."

 

Toshi moved so he could see the inside of the flat. A sickening scene came into his view. The black-haired man had Gintoki half-sat, leaning on the host's chest, while he himself was keeping a cup of water to his lips. Yorozuya put his hand on the other's tight for the support. Ughs. 200% fluff. Happy couples were the worst!

Putting aside his mixed feelings about Zuraki, Hijikata was flattered being called a fucking brother-in-law, even though it was an exaggeration at this moment. If Gintoki considered him a material for a real friend it was just... nice. Yeah, yeah, he was just sappy idiot sometimes, but having somebody outside the police life was such a relief.

"Oh, Sleeping Beauty is up!" Hijikata announced his entrance and leant on the kitchen corner.

"Yo!" the man in question welcomed him groggily. Zuraki quickly moved aside from Yorozuya, who fell down on the pillows. What a prude.

"Up for a ride?"

"Police cars... the best taxis in town."

"Gintoki, don't fall asleep again. You need to get up and dress," the host scolded him in a mother-like tone.

"Mhm."

"Hiji... ehm Mayora-dono, could you give me a hand at this?" Zuraki asked.

"You do it on purpose!"

But the man was already rummaging through a closet. A moment later he threw a robe at Gintoki.

"It's rather warm kimono, but I don't have any lighter ones right now. It has to do. Just put it on naraki."

They both struggled with not-very cooperative Gintoki, but fortunately kimono was easy to put on. Zuraki disappeared in the bathroom and emerged with a big plastic bag and a smaller fabric bag.

"Here are Gintoki's clothes, still wet. And his stuff. Don't lose them."

They hoisted Gintoki up, each of them on the other side of Yorozuya. They didn't talk much. Hijikata found himself oddly comfortable following short, almost military-like orders, that led them through each step of their task - making Gintoki stand up, putting on shoes, securing their grips while walking down. He also came to the conclusion that arduous was quite suited word for the situation. Gintoki was sleep-walking, his head was swaying from side to side with each step, but his legs miraculously dragged forward.

  

****

When they reached the car, Shiroyasha came - more or less (let's be honest: less) -to his senses. Good, that helped so much. The drunken idiot even got in on the passenger seat by himself! But fastening the belt was still too big of a challenge. Katsura leant inside the vehicle, over the man, to do this for him.

"Oi, Zura, what did you do to Mayora?" the samurai asked merrily from somewhere above Kotarou's back. "How did you domesticate him?"

"It's not Zura, it's Zuraki," he hissed, fighting with the entangled belt.

"Oi, he's staring at your ass!" Gintoki whispered loudly, so the policeman observing the scene could hear him. And yes, he earned a reaction, as Hijikata shuffled away from them.

"Don't be crass, he's just admiring Hyorinmaru."

"Did you give it a name? Or did he give it a name?"

"I liked you better when unconscious."  The buckle clasped. "Ok, done. Take care." he moved aside.

"Zura? Thanks..."

"Mhm" Kotarou slammed the passenger's door.

Hijikata-dono was treading around the car, waiting. He seemed as oblivious - or ignorant - to who Zura really was  - as at the beginning.  What else the terrorist found he liked about the policeman was that he was quite cooperative and goal-focused. He could have fussed about... everything - trying to pick up a fight, provoke him to have a clear reason to arrest him, or, taking into account he was Gin's close friend (always be ready for the worst scenario) he could display his jealousy at Shiroyasha in another's man bed (literally, because no BL). But no. Competent, protective, a little bit dumb though. Ugh... Zura had to stop before he took a liking to the demonic Vice Chief. But surely there was something extraordinary in the man, if he had managed to Gintoki's good books.

"Hijikata-dono, thank you for your help."

"Zuraki-san."

They bowed slightly, acknowledging each other. The policeman got in the car.

Slam of the door, tires scratching the asphalt; the black vehicle disappeared behind a corner. Good. Now super quick packing and jumping to another hideout. Then, finally sleep. What a shame, he really liked that place.

 

 ****

 Gintoki was messing with his phone as far as Hijikata could see from the corner of his eye, too focused on the road in front him.

"I don't really know him," Yorozuya confessed out of the blue.

"Really? Isn't he your boyfriend?" he raised his brow, but he was at the point beyond caring about anything else than hitting a bed. Besides Sakata was in no way obliged to share information about his personal life with him.

"Hell no, have you seen his fat ass? oh, you have." a pause "Anyway, I don't really know him.... "he trailed off, then continued with a lot of breaks. "I did a job for him once, looking for a lost duck-pet... Since then we exchange 'hello' on the streets... I don't know what he told you, but, you know, he's kinda clingy type that doesn't have any friends so he would start calling you best buddy before you know it." he shrugged. "I let him believe in it as long as he buys me a free beer from time to time. Wouldn't like to break his fragile heart refusing."

"Whatever."

"You're his next target, definitely. Prepare for more night calls."

 

 

"Shochou!" Yamazaki called through the sliding door, thin paper not muffling the noise at all.

"I'm sure it can wait," he barked, face buried into a pillow, not having moved an inch the moment he fell down on the futon in his own room twenty minutes ago, still in his uniform.

"Shochou! It's important!" the voice drilled in his brain.

"OK, but be quick about it." The door shuffled.

"The ID you send me. Zuraki Tarou, boss. I can't stop thinking that this is... I mean he is very similar... like I'm 90% sure..."

"Yeap, I know... he told me..."

"Oh, so you know... uff. And what do we do, shochou?!"

"Give me a break... I don't care. If you're so excited, go and ask him for a fucking autograph, you know the address."

"What?"

"And they might look alike, but I don't think famous Okada Masaki actually lives in such a rat hole."

"Who? Shochou? What Okada?"

"That actor? What do you mean who?! Who is Zuraki Tarou similar to!?"

"Ano... Zuraki Tarou... isn't it a shortening from Ka -tsura Ko-tarou? Eh, Shochou?"