Character[s]: Hijikata Toushirou, Sakata Gintoki
Disclaimer: Sorachi owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: ~3600 words
Summary: Hijikata could never visit this grave alone.
Beta: None. u_u
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Toshi is picking his way through the thin trickle of Saturday morning shoppers when he notices an elderly couple trying to keep up with an ebullient puppy. The old woman is so tiny, one might mistake her for a child from afar, and her husband looks as though he might be carried off by an errant gust of wind. Yet they are smiling at each other as the puppy drags them in the direction of the nearby park, and Toshi stares after them with a wistful, bittersweet envy.
Everyone always says that they remember the time they met the one they loved best as clearly as it were yesterday, but for the life of him Toshi can't remember how he and Gintoki met. He vaguely recalls a sword fight, but he's not sure if it was at a bar or in an alley, and he's not sure if Katsura was involved or not. He's only certain that it happened before the Tokugawa shogunate had fallen, while Toshi was still the Vice-Commander of the Shinsengumi, and Gin was still the Yorozuya.
He does remember the first time they kissed, but he's never been sure if that's because it ended up life-altering or because it was the most embarrassing moment of his life:
Toshi feels like the world's biggest asshole, sitting bare-chested in front of a green screen with a collar round his neck. His hands are tied behind his back and his left buttcheek itches. Every time he tries to move his bound hands to scratch himself, the collar's chain clatters and clinks against his chest. Gintoki, also half-naked, is kneeling before him with the face of a bored victim of eternal constipation. Toshi had good reasons for agreeing to do this for Sunrise but he can't quite remember them right now.
"Now put your hand on his chin, Gin-san, and make it convincing," the photographer yells. "Come on, you two really need to look like you're into it."
"WE'RE NOT INTO IT!" both Toshi and Gintoki snarl. They look at each other and just as quickly avert their eyes.
"I'm only doing it because Elizabeth's got a knife under that outfit," Gintoki mutters.
"I'm only doing it because Kondou-san told me to," Toshi adds. The chain rattles.
"Stop being such babies," Kagura pipes up from behind the photographer. "Two minutes and it'll all be over. Gin-chan, pretend he's Ketsuno Ana. Creepy otaku guy, pretend Gin-chan is one of your mint-condition figures."
"You're enjoying this, aren't you, you little brat?" Gintoki asks. "Why are you even here; this is not a sight for children to see."
"Who are you calling otaku?" Toshi asks in turn, but Gintoki and Kagura are already bickering so enthusiastically that nobody hears him. As if he'd ever commit such indignities against a mint-condition 〇〇〇-chan. Wait, what?
"ENOUGH!" the photographer screeches, and silence falls, because such high-pitched squeaking out of 150 kilograms of muscle is not something you hear every day. "The episode is already in post-production and if these pictures are not done in an hour it can't air. So shut the hell up and pretend to be into it!"
Toshi and Gintoki turn to look at each other. Clink.
"I know something that might work," Gintoki says under his breath. "Endure it, ok?"
Then he leans over and French-kisses Toshi to the sound of a collective gasp from beyond Toshi's field of vision. Gintoki's tongue slides into his mouth and sets his bloodstream on fire. Toshi's blood can't decide whether to rush to his head or to his crotch; he feels dizzy and glad he's sitting down. Toshi's first coherent thought is that he'd like this to happen in private, not that he'd like it to stop.
Gintoki breaks away and tugs on the chain, making Toshi arch his back slightly; he lifts Toshi's chin with his fingertips, and all of the earlier dullness is gone from his gaze. A flash goes off in Toshi's peripheral vision.
"Perfect!" the photographer says. "Next scene, chop-chop! Get that collar off him, Gin-san."
As Gintoki removes the collar, Toshi feels like a man freshly brained with a baseball bat. He can't think, can't speak or gesture; he's hyper-conscious of Gintoki's half-nakedness, the faint flush across Gintoki's cheeks, the way Gintoki's hand lingers on the back of his neck after the collar is off.
"Yorozuya," he exhales and tries to move closer, but Gintoki gives a tiny shake of his head.
"Not here," he whispers, and Toshi's not sure if it's the warmth of Gintoki's breath or the unspoken promise that makes him able to move again. He glances at the reference drawing on the back wall and moves behind Gintoki, who leans back against him. Toshi always thought Gintoki's skin would be cold to the touch but even in this glaring white air-conditioned room, it's hot, he's hot, and Toshi is lost.
The photographer tosses them a bolt of red silk, which Toshi catches easily. He drapes the silk across Gintoki's lap and his own arm around Gintoki's neck, reaching down low enough to press his mouth to Gintoki's neck--
"And that's a wrap," says the photographer from somewhere far away. "Wasn't so hard, was it?"
Toshi grins faintly. It was hard, all right, but not the same "it" the photographer was referring to. After that photoshoot and the strange heat they'd made between them, the two of them stayed away from each other -- and when they couldn't, the hostility between them was greater than ever. Toshi no longer remembers why he'd been intent on keeping Gintoki as far away as possible. He does remember that he never stopped wishing for another kiss.
He is passing by Gintoki's favourite dango shop, and his earlier bittersweet ache intensifies; he can practically see Gintoki sitting there with a plate of dango he can't pay for in his lap. That was how Gintoki was back when they were young, hadn't he? Always flat broke but somehow managing. It drove Toshi insane, and he remembers seizing upon Gintoki's layabout ways as a reason to hate him. Like the rest, that didn't last long.
His rationalisations, whatever they were, never really had a chance. Both the sadistic gorilla and Sunrise kept putting the two of them in situations rife with barely-there sexual tension, as if daring them to resist. Toshi did resist for as long as he could, and so did Gintoki, but eventually the two of them decided to just get it over with. They bickered for a full hour over who would get to be on top but finally decided it with janken:
The air in the hotel room smells like cheap prepackaged udon when you take it out of the plastic. Toshi's hot; sweat is rolling down his face and down his back pressed against the wall behind the bed -- it's early August and there is no aircon, but that isn't even the half of it.
Both his fists are clenched over sheets that were white once and he's trying not to make the sounds that want out of his throat, but all it takes to gasp is one glance down into his lap, at Gintoki's mouth around his dick and Gintoki's eyes wide open and looking for a reaction. He doesn't want this to stop, doesn't want to ever come; if he could freeze this moment in time forever, he would.
It's not just a blowjob, it's intimacy, closeness he thought was impossible for guys like him, for guys who put their pride in their swords and their minds in their work and their hearts into coffins. He thought sex with another guy would be more like jerking off, but none of the illegal smut Toshi has furtively flipped through, hiding in the back of the evidence warehouse, prepared him for this. Gintoki pushes Toshi's legs further apart and comes up to face him, and Toshi leans in to kiss him.
"Don't," Gintoki murmurs, blushing. "You know exactly where my mouth's been."
Toshi grabs the back of Gintoki's neck and leans closer. "Yeah, I do. That's why."
Gintoki isn't shy about making noises, and his moan as they kiss sends new heat through Toshi. Gintoki kisses his mouth, his chin, his neck, his shoulder, wet, open-mouthed kisses, each of them a firebrand. "I want you so bad," he whispers into Toshi's ear. "Can I--?"
Toshi freezes, not sure if it's fear or anticipation, but nods and lets Gintoki pull him down on the bed and push his legs up over his head. He doesn't want this; he doesn't care if he is supposed to want it -- other guys can do whatever they want, but the idea of anything in his ass that's not outward bound makes him ill. But this is what sex is, and he'd be doing it to Gintoki if he had been the lucky one at janken.
Gintoki lets Toshi's legs down gently and sits back on his haunches.
"What?" Toshi asks, propping himself up on his elbows. In his mind is a messed-up mixture of relief and anxiety: is there something wrong with his ass?
"I'm not gonna do anything that's going to make you look like that," Gintoki says. "Everybody thinks I'm a sadist, but to be honest misery is a total boner-killer."
"It's fine," Toshi lies. "I lost at janken, so fair is fair."
"Let's pretend I was the one who lost at janken," Gintoki says, climbing over Toshi's leg and lying down beside him. "Would you fuck me if you knew I felt the way you did just now?"
"No," Toshi blurts without thinking and turns his head away, embarrassed.
Gintoki pats Toshi's leg. "A man doesn't need to stick his dick into a person to feel good." His hand slides up Toshi's thigh. "Here, I'll show you."
Toshi casts a furtive glance ahead of himself to make sure no one is staring at his crotch, which is not being very age-appropriate. That first time in that stinky hotel with the creaky bed and dirty wallpaper, those hours of intense erotic pleasure -- so long ago, so far, but forever branded into Toshi's consciousness to an embarrassingly Pavlovian extent.
Afterwards, they both insisted that it was just a physical relationship, a mutual addiction to each other's bodies. For five years they sneaked around -- love hotels and plain old hotels if on the sleazy side, cinema restrooms and flat rocks next to secluded ryokan baths when Toshi got a bonus, that one forest meadow a few train stops from the city's edge where the moonlight made the leaves look silver and Gintoki once begged Toshi to fuck him (and afterwards declared that anal sex really wasn't worth all the overhead).
They didn't just have sex; they ate and got drunk and they talked and they argued, but they both agreed loudly and repeatedly that sex was the only reason they did this, that they wanted nothing to do with each other when they weren't naked. When they met on the street, they would barely acknowledge each other, just as before; Gintoki's life revolved around the Yorozuya brats, just as before; Toshi's life revolved around the Shinsengumi, just as before.
Then one day they were hiding behind a hedge spying on Sougo and Kagura's first date in the city park -- Gintoki to make sure Sougo didn't do anything unseemly to Kagura and Toshi to make sure Sougo didn't do anything at all that could get the Shinsengumi sued:
"Stop that, Yorozuya; we're not here to canoodle," Toshi snaps.
Gintoki pulls his hand away from Toshi's butt with an exasperated sigh. "No reason we shouldn't have a little fun on the job," he complains.
"This is why you never have any work," Toshi replies, watching through the binoculars and wincing as Kagura delivers a swift kick to Sougo's crotch area. "Because all you do is try to have fun."
"Show me where it's written that work can't be fun," Gintoki says in that petulant tone that Toshi has always secretly thought was extremely adorable.
"It's common sense," Toshi says. "And I don't think you have to worry about Sougo doing anything to China. He tried to slip her some tongue and she's currently beating the shit out of him."
"Ah, young love," Gintoki says theatrically. "I did tell him that a Yato would never allow a lowly human to make the first move, by the way, so don't blame this on me. Will you kiss me?"
"For fuck's sake, what's with you?" Toshi asks, facing him. "We're not here for--"
"I'm in love with you," Gintoki says. "That's what's with me."
Toshi stares at him and feels much like the good old unfortunate victim of a baseball bat to the head. "What?"
"It's okay," Gintoki says, rising. There are twigs and clumps of dirt stuck to his kimono and he brushes them off with studious concentration. "I know that's not what you wanted from all this. You don't have to say anything."
It takes thirty seconds for Toshi's senses to return, but when they do, Gintoki's gone. Toshi takes a patrol car to the Yorozuya, but no one is home -- or maybe no one wants to open the door. They did have an agreement that if one of them fell in love, it was over. But that was years ago. Does Gintoki really think Toshi is going to just cut him loose? Has he really not noticed that Toshi fell for him long ago?
He returns to headquarters feeling simultaneously elated and miserable, and, as he settles down to the paperwork that's piled up, he realises that in the years they've known each other, Gintoki is responsible for every instance of mutually exclusive emotions coexisting in Toshi at the same time.
"So I hear you broke Danna's heart today," Sougo says from the doorway. For a person with two black eyes, he looks alarmingly cheerful. "You're a terrible person, Hijikata-san."
"What the hell are you talking about? Why is none of your work done? Why are you cosplaying as a panda?"
"Me and China pretended to go on a date so Danna could get you alone outside of your usual, ahem, circumstances. He totally confessed to you and you totally blew him off. I'm disappointed in you, Hijikata-san; I thought that at your advancing age you'd at least know a good thing when you had it."
"Wait, what?" Toshi asks, setting the report aside. "You and China what? He what?"
"Oops. I wasn't supposed to say any of that out loud," Sougo says, deadpan. "I really need to work on my inside voice. Anyway, Danna's sitting in the garbage pile outside his house, dead drunk and telling everybody, so I guess it's okay that I told you."
Toshi plants his face in his palm. "That idiot."
The old Yorozuya is out of Toshi's way on this morning's excursion, and he doesn't want to go by it anyway; it's too sad and lonely, boarded up for all these years. The last time Toshi was there had been on the day of Otose's funeral, when he went to check on Gin a few hours after it was over.
He remembers pausing in the living room doorway and suddenly feeling like an intruder:
Gin stands by the window still in his funeral outfit, a clenched fist pressed against the glass, his shoulders rigid. He looks especially alone, somehow; which is kind of a weird thing to think since he's the only person in the room so of course he's going to look like he's alone.
But Toshi knows how alone Gin is: Kagura and Sougo are gone on their honeymoon (and won't Otose's passing be a great homecoming present for China?) and Shinpachi probably hasn't come by in months; he's too busy with the dojo. Tama the robot asked to be deactivated and buried next to Otose. This house is a den of ghosts.
Toshi walks up to Gin and pries his fist away from the window. "You'll break it," he says. "An ageing hippy you may be, but windows are fragile."
Gin gives him a tiny smile, but Toshi can tell his heart's not in it. "Weird day," Gin says, letting Toshi lead him to the couch.
"Move to my place," Toshi answers. We both hate ghosts, after all.
Toshi lights a cigarette and pollutes the crap out of the crisp morning air around him. He shouldn't really, not at his age, but some days a smoke is all that will do. If he takes the next right, he'll eventually arrive at the oden stand where he and Gin always went after a fight. There, they always made up, though the ageless guy manning the stand drew the line at public displays of affection.
There was the night they sat on that bench after nearly coming to blows over Toshi's decision to work for the special internal police unit after the Tokugawa shogunate fell:
"You barely escaped the Shinsengumi with your life, for fuck's sake, why can't you just take it easy, like a normal person? I thought we were too old to court death, wasn't that what you told me after I came back from Kyoto?"
"I am not courting death, you utter moron. I am an inspector -- it's practically a desk job. I'm not even allowed to carry a weapon." Well, not openly, anyway, Toshi thinks guiltily.
Gin snorts. "Inspector my ass, you're not gonna ride a desk. One good hunch and you'll be off to some den of evil or another. Trying to pretend you'll be Higurashi Neruo when you're actually Ryo-san -- don't kid a kidder, Toshi."
"I'm telling you, it won't be like that. Quit acting like I'm some doddering oldster; we're only in our forties."
"You just need a hobby," Gin says obstinately.
"Being a cop is my hobby."
"I thought I was your hobby. Demoted, again?" Gin takes a drink and slams his empty glass on the counter, drawing a sharp look of disapproval from the owner.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Toshi asks, bewildered. "You're the main event, Gin. Everything else is a hobby."
Thirty years. Sometimes the number seems so arbitrary to Toshi; absurdly large or small, depending on how he's feeling. There are vivid memories and faded ones, everyday little things and huge life events; everything seems in full colour when it's happening but it's weird what stands out and what gets washed out once enough time has passed.
Toshi remembers Gin's habit of forgetting the kettle before they got the robot, but not how long Gin spent in the hospital after getting disembowelled by Kagura's crazy older brother: that whole stretch of time is an anxious black blur. He remembers every moment of the three weeks they spent not speaking to each other after Gin insulted Tamegoro's memory and wouldn't apologise but Gin's insistence on folding underpants was always a surprise until they got the robot.
It isn't even good times, bad times -- just times, one after another. And not enough, never enough. Thirty years seems like a long time when you're young, but when you really love somebody, it's not long enough by half.
He has reached the cemetery.
Toshi stares at a patch of grass near where the road ends and the path into the cemetery begins. It's just plain old stupid last year's brown grass, same as everywhere, but in Toshi's imagination it's once again poison monster grass that will reach up to seize his ankles and drag him down into an unknowable hell he stopped wanting a long time ago.
Toshi breathes. Pitches the cigarette into the ashtray by the entrance.
Takes a step.
Shakes his head.
"Not this year, either," he mutters, apologetic, and makes his way back home.
Sadaharu II -- a fat, stumpy-legged little beast and a far cry from the original, but no less likely to poop on the floor -- greets him with his usual doggy enthusiasm, getting in the way of Toshi's hands as he pulls his shoes off at the entrance.
"Quit it, damn beast," Toshi mutters, but provides the requisite ear-scritches. Sadaharu trots triumphantly away, nails clicking, and Toshi follows him.
Gintoki is lying on the living room couch, still in his nightclothes, reading Shounen Jump held high above his head. Toshi plucks up the Jump and puts it on the table next to the tea set. "I wish you'd quit reading that. You're pushing sixty."
"I'm not pushing it, it's pulling me," Gintoki says, sitting up and patting the couch beside him. "Besides, I don't wanna hear that from someone older than me. I'm still a boy at heart. More importantly, were you able to do it?"
"No," Toshi says, sitting down as Gin's expression darkens. "It's okay, I'll see if Sougo will come with me later, though he's probably already been."
"It's fine, leave Sougo to chase after the brats. Kagura's off hunting weird lizards again." Gintoki puts his arm around Toshi's shoulders and pulls him closer. "We'll go together later. What are old geezer boyfriends for if not to accompany you to pay respects to your ex-girlfriend?"
"I went by the dango shop earlier. It made me think of you," Toshi tells him, changing the subject because he never learned to express gratitude without fearing that his reaction will be exaggerated and seem insincere.
"That's a cruel thing to say to a diabetic." Luckily for Toshi, Gin knows him very well and always lets him change the subject just this way.
"Well, I was thinking of the first time we kissed at the time." Toshi leans over to face Gin, the movement practised and sure, yet his heart's travelled thirty years back in time and is racing just the same way it did back then, the same way it does every time.
Gin smiles against Toshi's mouth and murmurs, "Oi, oi, think about the audience's feelings. They don't want to see a couple of nearly-sixty-year-old dudes making out. If they wanted that, they'd go find some Umibouzu smut."
Toshi steals a kiss anyway. "Umibouzu's like ninety," he says.
"That's my point. It's a slippery slope. First you have sixty-year-old guys making out, then you're trolling futaba for geriatric porn. Were you smoking?"
"I love you."
"I love you too. Let's take our dumb dog for a walk."