“Tama-chan, ever since she found out about my lover, my wife won’t talk to me. What should I do?”
The green-haired robot closed her eyes, emitted a soft information-processing whirring sound, then opened her eyes again.
“Based on my data, there is a 14.7% chance your wife is feeling left out after witnessing your relationship with another woman. I recommend trying to invite her to join you the next time you go out with your lover.”
A pair of half-lidded, drunken eyes stared at her blankly from the other side of the table. The owner of the eyes grabbed the emptied glass lying in front of him with a hand, brought it up to his lips, waited for some non-existent liquid to slide into his mouth, put the glass back down, then stared some more. As if stricken by a lightning bolt of clarity, his face suddenly creased into a delighted smile.
“Tama-chan, you’re a genius!” He clapped his hands in gratitude and adoration, then paused, smile dropping as suddenly as it’d come. “But, Tama-chan, ever since she found out about my lover, my wife won’t talk to me... What should I do?”
There was a grumble of irritation from another man behind him. “Mu-san, that’s the third time already. Some people don’t have all night here!”
The other men lining up behind the grumbling man roared in approval, prompting Mu-san to finally leave his seat to the next person.
Gintoki looked at the scene, furrowing his brows above a pint of beer. “Oi, old hag, what’s happening here? Why are we doing the confessional arc again? I know our household is environmentally friendly but recycling entire arcs is pushing the limit.”
“That’s not it,” Otose said from behind her counter, puffing out a ring of environmentally unfriendly smoke his way. “If anything, I’d say it’s the premise to a love counsellor arc.”
A biohazardous abomination wearing cat ears crossed her arms and sent him a smug look. “Just because you degenerates are so broke you have to recycle the same still sequence over and over again doesn’t mean everyone’s as desperate as you are, Idiot Sakata.”
Gintoki let the discordant sound of her vocal cords enter through one ear and slip out of the other. “I’m too old to be playing a game of spot the difference,” he said, sipping at his drink. “All I can see are the same drunkards spilling the same dirty guts to the same wrong-odds-giving robot. What’s up with that 14.7% chance anyway? You don’t advise someone based on a 14.7% chance, that just makes them 85.3% more likely to do the wrong thing.”
There was a pause as Otose stared, eyebrow quirked. “I’m surprised you got that calculation right.”
He shrugged. “I’m full of surprises.”
Catherine let out a condescending huff. “I bet he used the time I spent insulting him making fourth-grade subtractions in his head instead of listening.”
“The difference’s simple,” Otose said. “They just don’t say amen at the end.”
Gintoki felt the corner of his lips twitch. “So we’ve gone past the stage of pretending to be sorry to the ‘I know I did wrong but I know I’ll do it again so help me find a way to make it look like it’s not so wrong after all’?”
He was given a dirty haggy look. “Don’t make it sound like it’s some sort of unavoidable progression. Not everyone’s like you.”
“Everyone grows older though,” he stated plainly.
“I thought you’d always be a boy at heart.”
“Boys are just men of greater values.”
As if to prove his point, Gintoki left his unfinished beer to the side and went to get a glass of oil instead. He pushed the drunkards away as he made his way to the tireless robot and slung an arm over her shoulders, offering her the glass.
“Tama, I’ve got this idea I think you might be interested in...”
“Gintoki-sama, is it okay to reuse the exact same setup as during the confessional arc? We might get a copyright infringement strike from canon.”
Gintoki glanced at her through his peeping rectangle. “Nah, we’re fine. Canon hasn’t been around for a while, no one will notice a thing.”
She seemed to take his word for it. “Still, I thought we had gotten rid of this cardboard contraption. I’m surprised you managed to get it back.”
He shrugged even though she wouldn’t be able to see it. “It was just laying around with the rest of the anime props.”
“We don’t get rid of the props?”
“That’s why I said, environmentally friendly.”
She nodded, turning back to face the entrance of the makeshift confessional. “Gintoki-sama, you don’t have to stay if you do not wish to. I can take care of this on my own.”
“I don’t doubt your abilities,” he said, not mentioning the part where he did doubt her abilities. “I’m just here for moral support, don’t mind me.”
“As you wish,” she said.
Gintoki smirked to himself. Moral support his ass, he was 100% here for the gossip and potential blackmail material. Besides, he’d been extra careful to store all his Ketsuno Ana figures in a safe place this time, as well as make sure his own Ketsu No Ana was still safe and in place before opening business. No cupboard corpse or broken broom would find him under their new Love Counsellor brand.
“Welcome to the Love Counselling Chamber of the Love Robot Counsellor of Love Counselling,” Tama said as the silhouette of a person entered the cardboard room. “How can I help you today?”
The person, dressed in black clothes and apparently a man, sat down heavily on the borrowed snack bar stool. He hung his head low, small goatee peeking out from behind the carboard wall, then sighed.
“I don’t know what love is.”
Well, not the easiest way to start this thing. Gintoki glanced at Tama, wondering if he should intervene that early into the game or let her play around for the beginning at least. She closed her eyes, did the whirring sound gimmick, then opened them again.
“Based on my data, there is a 99.8% percent chance that your confusion comes from being a gorilla.”
Okay, so she might be right about that, but Gintoki wasn’t convinced that this was really the info the chief of the shinsengumi had been looking for coming here. Why, yes, Gintoki was perfectly aware of who the gorilla sitting miserably on the other side of the cardboard wall was. He hadn’t intentionally forgotten to set up the voice distorting mic for nothing. After all, what was the point of a love counsellor chamber if he couldn’t put a name and face to the hilarious stories he’d get to hear?
The gorilla sighed. “Love Robot Counsellor-san, what are the chances I could stop being a gorilla?”
Slamming two hands against the cardboard counter, the scientific-name-Gorilla-Gorilla-Gorilla gorilla stood up. “Zero?! Can’t I at least get the 0.01% chance of statistical uncertainty?!”
“I’m sorry,” the robot said. “I can’t change the results of calculations as I please. A –1% will remain a –1%.”
“But you’ve already changed it?! And why is it decreasing? I’ve never heard of negative percent chances before!”
“I recommend avoiding any kind of full moon settings whenever the chances range from –100% to –69%, as you will then have a gorilla% risk of turning into a Great Ape.”
“What’s gorilla%?! And I’m not a Sayian, I can’t transform into a Great Ape!”
“I apologize, there must have been a bug in my program. I meant a Great Gorilla.”
“At the end of the day, I’m still a gorilla!” The not yet Great Gorilla let out a tired sigh and slumped back on the stool. “Forget it, I was an idiot to ask.”
Faced with the gorilla’s oozing aura of despair, Tama glanced at Gintoki, seemingly at a loss. Gintoki gave her a thumbs-up. For some obscure reason, she seemed to find the gesture helpful.
She turned back to the shell of a shinsengumi commander. “Please don’t lose heart, Gori-sama. Based on my calculations, there is a 100% chance your gorilla meter will one day reach love%. Have faith.”
Gori-sama hesitated for a moment, probably trying to figure out whether he should consider her words comforting or not, before he eventually spoke up. “Thank you, Love Robot Counsellor-san. I’ll be wary of full moons.”
He stood up, bowed, and left as Tama muttered a solemn, “Amen.”
“Psst, Tama,” Gintoki called through his rectangle. She turned to look at him. “You did great, but next time forget the amen, okay?”
“Understood,” she said.
There was a long stretch of nothing after that, the description of which the readers —and Gintoki by proxy— were thankfully spared. And so, the narration skipped right to the next client of the day.
“Welcome to the Love Counselling Chamber of the Love Robot Counsellor of Love Counselling,” Tama said as another black-clad man appeared. “How can I help you today?”
The man sat down heavily on the borrowed snack bar stool. He hung his head low, chestnut bangs peeking out from behind the carboard wall, then sighed.
“I don’t know what love is.”
Tama turned to eye Gintoki, bringing a hand to her mouth to whisper. “Is the recycling of that introduction also part of environmentally friendly measures?”
Figured that the only bastards desperate enough to resort to sequence recycling like he and the kids did would be those uniform wearing idiots. Gintoki shrugged, again, even though she wouldn’t be able to see it, again. “I guess.”
She nodded then turned back. Then, she closed her eyes, whirring sound thing, opened them bla bla bla. He was starting to think Tama was on the environmentally friendly team as well.
“Based on my data—”
“Ah, my bad, did you think I was asking for your opinion? Because I wasn’t, not really. I just wanted to say I didn’t know what the point of love was when you can have begging and submission instead.”
A new type of whirring sound came from the robot as she stared at the man standing up, which eventually resulted in her blinking.
“By the way, great way to scam people, Danna,” the poor excuse of a shinsengumi officer said. “Your slyness amazes me more every day.”
“Get out already, snotty brat,” Gintoki grunted out from behind his rectangle. “I’ll report you to your superiors for slacking off.”
“Then I’ll arrest you for opening a business without a permit,” the brat casually threatened back. “See you around.”
Tama turned around.
Gintoki looked at her wide robotic eyes that, somehow, while remaining exactly the same, managed to convey her urge to cry. Curse that damn sadist, this wasn’t good at all for his business plan.
“It’s alright, Tama, this one couldn’t be helped. Love is a complicated thing, not everyone is ready to receive counselling about it.”
She nodded. “Understood. ‘Gintoki-sama finds love complicated,’ I will add it to my database.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“’Gintoki-sama becomes bashful when confronted with the fact that he finds love complicated,’ I will add it to my database.”
“Tama, I don’t mind if you don’t listen to a gorilla or two but I’d appreciate it if you could listen to me at least.”
“Um, excuse me?”
They both turned toward the man who’d just spoken up from the cardboard room’s entrance. He was already sitting on the stool, back straight and hands clenched over his black-clad pants.
Was today shinsengumi parade day? Gintoki was getting tired of this.
“Welcome to the Love Counselling Chamber of the Love Robot Counsellor of Love Counselling,” Tama dutifully recycl-- repeated. “How can I help you today?”
“T—Tama-san, I—” The man cut himself off, muttering a soft curse under his breath before trying again. “I— I mean! Love Robot Counsellor-san. I’m, um, I came to see you because... I...”
Tama surprisingly didn’t recycle her whirring sequence. “I’m sorry, I don’t have any data available for you.”
Whatever non-existent comeback the statistically negligible man could have tried to come up with, it was interrupted by a faraway shout of, “YAMAZAKI!” before it could even aspire to come into existence.
The man startled and immediately retreated to his usual ‘part of the story yet too insignificant to actually be mentioned’ hiding place. One could say whatever they wanted about minor characters, they certainly had it easy with the narrative camouflage.
“Yamazaki, get your ass out of here!”
A fourth and hopefully last black-clad man made his way into the cardboard room. Gintoki watched him look right and left for his subordinate and counted the seconds until he’d realize his subordinate wasn’t here and finally leave.
Gintoki did not need this particular man in this particular place at this particular moment.
Tama apparently didn’t take the telepathic hint. “Welcome to the Love Counselling Chamber of the Love Robot Counsellor of Love Counselling,” she said, to Gintoki’s horror and despair. “How can I help you today?”
The man turned around right as he was about to exit. Damn them authors and their dramatic timings. After a moment of hesitation, the vice-chief of the shinsengumi finally spoke up, only to ask the most unnecessary question ever.
“...Isn’t that title way too long?”
Tama glanced at Gintoki.
Gintoki glanced right back.
So what if the name of ‘Love Counselling Chamber of the Love Robot Counsellor of Love Counselling’ sounded a little redundant? It wasn’t his fault that halfway through writing ‘Love Counselling Chamber of the Love Robot’ on the front of his makeshift shop, Gintoki had realized he’d started too far on the left and had had no other choice but to fill the resulting void on the right with whatever he could think up on the fly. Besides, that bastard was already the fourth client. Tsukkomi this late into the story was virtually useless, couldn’t he figure out that much on his own?
“It’s fine,” he told the robot. “Gives it more impact.”
“Anyway, have you seen an unimportant character pass by here just now?” The man asked.
“Tell him you haven't,” Gintoki said.
Tama turned around to face her soon to be no-longer-a-client. “Based on my data, there is a 17.2% chance that I say the truth when I say I haven’t.”
The man didn’t react immediately. “Am I supposed to figure out what you mean by that?” He eventually asked.
“It is natural to be confused,” she wisely answered. “Love is a complicated factor in calculations.”
Please leave. Please leave. Please leave. Gintoki even peppered his inner mantra with a couple Nama Ama Kamasutra chants just to make sure that the Buddha would hear.
“I think I got it. That idiot Yamazaki came to get some love advice on how to court his robot girl, didn’t he? Since you’re a robot yourself.”
Could you not sound so damn smug when you’re not even right? Gintoki internally grumbled, his annoyance levels increasing dangerously fast.
“If that’s the case, he’ll definitely be back,” the man concluded like he was goddamn Sherlock. “Might as well wait here until then.”
Why? Gintoki plaintively asked the plotline.
Because it was written in the summary , the plotline answered flatly. You’d have known if you’d just read it.
Gintoki made a personal oath to obliterate the very existence of summaries once his ordeal was over with.
“So what, you just sit there all day and listen to people talk about their love lives?” The vice commander of the shinsen-shouldn't-be-fucking-here-gumi asked the robot.
She nodded. “I give advice as well, since I’ve been employed as a counsellor.”
“You’re an employee?”
“Yes,” she said, then whirringly hesitated. “Although since I am not getting paid, I wonder if the appellation is correct.”
Tama, Gintoki mentally screeched. Please don’t go there. Please don’t. I’ll buy you 300 yen’s worth of oil so please don’t.
Aloud, he only said, “Tama, it’s bad tastes to mix talks of love with talks of money.”
Alas, it was too late.
“You’re... not getting paid?” The man, who had sat on the stool while Gintoki had been too busy hoping that he wouldn’t to notice that he had, sounded something between bewildered and outraged.
If Gintoki could also sense a hint of excitement stemming from the man’s bloodlust, he pretended it was just nerves.
“I'm not,” Tama continued, oblivious. “That was our agreement as I signed the contract with my employer.”
“You signed a contract where you’re not getting paid?”
“Tama,” Gintoki hissed, feeling beads of sweat accumulate on the back of his neck.
“Yes,” Tama said.
Gintoki rubbed a hand over his temples. Who’d said this whole love counsellor thing would be a good idea again? Ah, right.
The goddamn summary.
“Give me that asshole’s name and I’ll go give him a special kind of contract myself,” the police officer said. “One called arrest warrant .”
There it went. Gintoki had seen it coming from the moment he’d first gotten a whiff of that god-awful mayonnaise scent.
“Tama,” he called from his not so rectangle anymore rectangle due to the hand marks now adorning its edge. “What are the chances you manage to not put me behind bars with your next line?”
But Tama didn’t answer. She was strangely silent for a long, nerve-wracking moment until she finally spoke up.
“I don’t understand.”
Gintoki blinked and imagined the black-clad man mirroring the movement.
The robot clenched her fists over her knees and looked down, looking more depressed than any love counsellor had any right be.
“Why does everyone want me to get paid for what I do? Why do they want me to take breaks, to go on vacation, to rest? Why do they not want me to work?”
Gintoki looked at her back, at the screw still holding up her bun.
“Is it so wrong of me to want to help people?” She asked, a tune of frustration to her voice. “Is it a defect? Am I dysfunctional?”
There was a moment of silence as no one spoke.
“You remind me of someone.”
She looked up at the man’s voice. “Someone?”
A hand going for the inside of his vest, the vice commander of the shinsengumi proceeded to fish out a pack of cigarettes. He took out one, lit it, brought it to his lips, then breathed out a tobacco filled cloud of smoke.
“Yeah, a lazy, selfish, useless and stubborn someone.”
“Are you saying I am lazy, selfish, useless and stubborn?” She asked.
“No,” the man said. “I’d say you’re his complete opposite.” After another whiff of his cigarette, he added, “On the surface, at least.”
“On the surface?”
“On the surface, that guy is the king of dumbasses. He’s constantly doing his damnest to pretend like he’s living life his way and couldn’t care less what others thought or did. And he’s good at it too. I can’t count the number of times he almost convinced me that he genuinely is a rotten jackass.”
A puff of smoke. A pause.
“But occasionally, he gets those eyes.”
“What eyes?” Tama asked.
The man tipped off the accumulated ash onto the ground.
“When he can find it in himself to get up and help someone out, that’s when his eyes look the most alive.”
Tama’s fists unclenched, shoulders relaxing.
“Robot or human, it doesn’t matter,” the man continued. “If you can find a way to shine by helping others, that should be enough. I’m only saying, you gotta be careful with how you choose to do it.”
The robot stayed silent long enough for the officer to puff out another trail of smoke.
“That man, is he shining?”
The officer snorted. “To be honest, he’s as dim as a spluttering flame from a lighter running out of gas about 99% of the time.”
“What about the remaining 1%?”
A pause. “I’ll let you picture that yourself.”
Tama then proceeded to ask the one question Gintoki had wished she would just refrain from asking.
“Are you in love with that person?”
Gintoki didn't want to hear what was about to follow, whatever it ended up being. He didn’t want to have to hear what the vice-commander of the shinsengumi felt toward that entirely unrelated and fictional man he was describing. Firstly, because it wasn’t his business, however much his position on the back of a love counselling cardboard chamber begged to differ.
Secondly, because hearing that would lead to having to put words on his own feelings, and Gintoki would rather become suddenly illiterate in a Deus Ex Machina way than have to do that.
So many perfectly good reasons to walk away, yet Gintoki didn’t move. He stayed rooted right where he was, silently angsting behind his poor excuse of a rectangle. He must have sunk quite low for a cardboard rectangle to be his last defense.
“Love?” The man snorted. “That kind of feeling... Love’s too cheap a word to describe it.”
“What would be an appropriately expensive word then?”
The man thought for a moment, then shrugged. “Beats me. That guy’s like a light, shining his annoying rays all over the place. Best I can do is watch him from afar and complain about how damn blinding he is, I guess.”
Tama smiled. “Based on my data, there is a light inside of everyone. I’m sure you can get closer to that man’s light if you let yours radiate in return.”
A puff of smoke, then a chuckle. “I can see how you became a counsellor."
After stubbing his cigarette on the ground, which wasn’t environmentally friendly by the way, the vice-commander of the shinsengumi stood up. “I’ll take my leave, then. That bastard Yamazaki’s probably too smart to come back while I’m here anyway.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Bye, Counsellor-san. Come up to the barracks if you change your mind about that unfair contract.”
“Amen,” Tama agreed as he left, before realizing her mistake and turning around. “I’m sorry, Gintoki-sama, there must be an error in the code—"
But Gintoki wasn’t behind his rectangle anymore.
Toushirou leaned against an alley wall as he flicked his lighter on and off like a goddamn broken record. There was a new cigarette taking up space between his lips but for some reason he didn’t feel like lighting it. What in the world had he been thinking, spilling his guts to a random robot like that? Whose idea had it been to make him sound like a stupid high school girl with a crush? Why did he have to be in this story again?
Maybe he should create a new law forbidding the use of summaries, he thought absently as he watched the small flame flicker on and off. That would be a better use of his time than having to run after Yamazaki.
“Tsk.” He let the flame disappear and ruffled his bangs instead.
“Need a light?”
He jerked around at the sound of the irritably familiar voice. Of course the guy would have to appear right after that frankly embarrassing moment in Toushirou’s life. That man took the saying of ‘speak of the devil’ to a whole new level, after all; he tended to appear even when no one was talking about him just so he could have the satisfaction of ruining people’s day uninvited.
“Already got one,” he said, showing off his lighter.
The disagreeable man then proceeded to snatch the lighter out of his hand and throw it as far away as possible with a pitching move that could come from too many baseball manga to pinpoint a specific one.
Toushirou watched his lighter disappear into the sky with a Team Rocket signature twinkle. There was a moment of pause before he turned around and grabbed the permed samurai’s collar.
“What the fuck did you do that for?!” He barked.
The man caught the hand twisting the material of his clothes and offered the most unrepentant stare to ever walk the Earth. “You don’t need that kind of weak light.”
He brought his face closer and smacked their lips together.
Toushirou stood motionless as the strange sensation of two foreign buccal appendages rutting against his own like an oversized octopus sucker shut off his mental processes.
When the octopus finally retreated, its skin was a tad darker shade of red.
“You can use this light instead.”
Toushirou switched his position from standing motionless to staring motionless.
The man furrowed his brows, looking away. “...well, say something.”
Toushirou did not say something.
Bringing a hand to ruffle the back of his neck, the man scowled. “Don’t you know you shouldn’t leave the light on for too long?” He said, pointing an accusing finger Toushirou’s way. “That’s not environmentally friendly, bastard.”
Toushirou caught the finger in a hand. “Shut up. As if a weak-ass light like you would cost anything to keep on anyway.”
“It’s a matter of principles,” the man argued. “You have to develop good habits to help protect the planet—”
He cut off when Toushirou brought their lips together again. This time, he summoned his own inner octopus to move against the other’s. It was later said that not even the world-famous ‘Giant Octopus Vs Shark’ YouCylinder video could come close to the epicness of the battle that ensued.
When they finally separated, both pretending not to be panting, Toushirou wiped his mouth with a gruff swipe of his sleeve and huffed. “Is that all you’re capable of? I can’t even light a single cigarette with your weak spark.”
The other man grinned, frowning in challenge. “I’ll burn your retinas, bastard.”
Toushirou grinned in turn.
“Bring it on, you permy lighter.”
If Yamazaki had to describe what he witnessed that day as he remained hidden in the corner of unnecessary storytelling, he’d only choose one word.
Then, he’d cross it out with a marker and write ‘anpan’ instead.