Characters: Kagura, Sacchan, Tsukuyo, Catherine, Tama, Otae
Disclaimer: Sorachi owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Summary: After fifteen years of hunting aliens, Kagura returns to Kabukichou for a career change.
Note: Written for Short Precarious Anecdote Month and Kagura's birthday (November 3). I am unspoiled for the Gintama manga (because I prefer to watch the anime without knowing what's going to happen) so this does not incorporate any canon events or character developments after the Kintama arc.
Kagura sat cross-legged atop the desk inside the Yorozuya, chewing distractedly on sukonbu and twirling a paintbrush. The Sugar Content sign above her head hung askew; she hadn't yet decided whether or not she was going to keep it.
Maybe she should change it to one that said Vinegar Content.
Wind through the open window worked at dispelling the stale, dusty air in the room, bringing with it the scent of fried fish -- silver biddy, unless Kagura had completely lost her nose for Earth food -- and the dull, indistinct roar of a city going about its business. Some things about this part of Kabukichou never changed.
The last time she'd been here -- for Otae's wedding six years ago -- Otose had still been alive and Gintoki had still been the upstairs tenant. Though the Yorozuya was not her true childhood home, Kagura still thought of it as such, so seeing it empty and abandoned like this stirred her heart the same way memories of her mother did.
Sometimes, when things changed, you felt you had to try your best to change them back.
She dipped her brush in the pot of red paint at the far edge of the desk and raised it above the sign laid out in front of her. A drop of red plummeted, landing neatly at the top of the metal radical in "silver". Red silver? She could work with that.
"What are you doing, child?" Sacchan asked, descending from the ceiling like an overgrown spider in a lavender wig.
"Just freshening up the storefront sign," Kagura said, unperturbed. Everyone knew Sacchan actually lived illegally in the attic, so her appearances stopped being flummoxing after the fourth season or so. "It could use some colour. And you're ten years too late to call me a child, you creepy stalker."
Sacchan peered at the sign. "Shouldn't you change it to say Yorozuya Kagura-chan?"
"Don't be rude," Kagura said. "Gin-chan might have retired, but he isn't dead."
"He's dead to me," Sacchan replied with a sniff. "I can't believe he would choose that foul-mouthed chainsmoker over me."
Kagura rolled her eyes. "He was basically going to choose anyone before he chose you so I don't see how Hijikata's smoking habit is even relevant here. Anyway, you should take a page out of Gin-chan's book and become a housewife instead of haunting this place. What are you, some kind of sexually frustrated middle-aged ghost? Are you Kiyohime?"
"I don't remember you complaining about my chain-smoking or my foul mouth last night, Ayame," came Tsukuyo's voice from the doorway.
Sacchan crash-landed on the floor and retreated into a corner, red-faced. "Did you really have to announce it like that?" she muttered.
Tsukuyo walked over to pat her on the shoulder. "Don't sulk."
"Tsukky! Long time no see," Kagura said. She finished painting the last of the characters on the sign and stuck the brush into the paint pot, then hopped off the desk and dusted off her pants. "Did you see anego on your way over?"
"Mm-hmm, she was inside a shop, though."
"Good, then she must have remembered to buy the paper. Catherine, how's it going with the flyer?"
Catherine, who had been drawing quietly on the couch with a sketchpad in her lap, looked up. "I'm doing my best here, so don't interrupt an artist at work."
"That's a very nice picture of a horse," Tama commented, emerging from the kitchen. "I've repaired the refrigerator, Kagura-sama. As I thought, it was the thermal expansion valve."
"How is this a horse?" Catherine protested. "It's obviously a cat. A cat!"
"Do cats really have horns?" Tama asked, sounding doubtful.
"Those aren't horns, they're ears! You think I don't know how to draw a pair of cat ears? Me?" Catherine wiggled her own ears for emphasis. "And horses don't have horns, either, stupid."
"I thought it was a devil horse from the nether realms," Tama deadpanned. "Catherine-sama, my sensors are registering high levels of agitation in your nervous system. Shall I prepare an herbal mixture with a dose of lithium to help regulate your blood pressure?"
"Lithium?" Catherine screeched. "It's bad enough that the Bakufu wants to put that stuff in the public drinking water--"
"That's just an urban legend," Sacchan objected. This whole time she had sat at Tsukuyo's side, letting herself be petted.
"What's your point?" Catherine asked, settling down to draw again. "Back in the day I was a legend, and I live in an urban area, so. Don't tell me you trust the government dogs to do right by the people."
"Speaking of government dogs, where's Nobume?" Kagura asked Tsukuyo. "I thought she was going to come over too."
"Nobume and Kyuubei were sent to Kyoto to guard a transport of some kind," Tsukuyo said. "They left this morning."
Kagura clicked her tongue. "Here I thought we could have all the girls together for a drinking party."
"There'll be time enough for that," Catherine muttered, accepting a glass of vile-looking blue-green stuff from Tama.
That was true. Kagura had become so used to only being in town for a few days at a time, trying to see everyone and talk to everyone and ending up not really spending any quality time with anyone. This time, it would be different.
She leaned back against the desk and surveyed the room once more. The dust in the air had dissipated somewhat; if she closed her eyes, she was sure she would be able to imagine herself at fourteen again, pretending to be Gintoki while he was away on a job.
Sacchan was softer around the edges, her outfit more ninja utility than ninja chic. Her hair was shorter. She seemed as besotted with Tsukuyo as she ever had been with Gintoki.
Tsukuyo's serenity remained, but she looked tired -- no, not just tired, world-weary. Age hadn't touched her visibly, not yet, but Kagura knew that she had already stepped back from active Hyakka duty and was spending more time behind a desk than patrolling the streets.
Catherine was well into middle age: her ears drooped a bit at the top, her midsection had expanded, and all the lines in her face had deepened. Her eyes still looked the same as ever: as though she suspected everyone of everything, all at once.
Tama was the only one who hadn't changed at all, but that was to be expected of a robot.
Kagura wondered how she looked to them. Did they see the young brat they'd all helped raise in their own ways, or did they see a stranger who reminded them of that brat?
"How nice, everyone's gathered together already," Otae said, stepping inside. She wore a lovely dark-coloured kimono with a floral sash; her hair, which she'd let grow since the wedding, hung down her back in a soft chestnut wave. "Sorry I'm late; Sagaru got stuck under the porch while trying to chase a squirrel."
"Which Sagaru?" Sacchan wanted to know. "I wouldn't put it past either one."
"The younger one. His useless father's still at work, so I called Shin-chan to babysit. Anyway, I think you should put this on the flyers, Kagura-chan," Otae said, waving the day's Oedo Times at her. "Everyone's scared of it these days: Agent Orange."
"Isn't that a Will Smith character? Guy in an orange suit who fights interplanetary crime?" Kagura asked. She'd been gone from Earth for far too long, and her memories of entertainment trivia were fuzzy. She was going to need to spend a few weeks hanging out with Gintoki to get her mojo back.
"It's a chemical weapon developed by some barbarian foreigners from the West," Tsukuyo supplied. "The Princess wouldn't marry one of their so-called dignitaries so they sent a container of it to the palace."
"Except Takasugi stole it en route and is now threatening to pollute the countryside with it," Otae said.
"Whoa, they put that in the paper?" Catherine asked, looking up from her masterpiece.
"No, the paper just says there's been a threat, but Sagaru mentioned it the other day."
"Speaking of Takasugi's little ragtag band of middle-aged idiots who don't know when to settle down, what about my stupid brother?" Kagura asked. "They find him yet?"
"Sorry, Kagura-chan," Otae said. "Last I heard they were investigating some boy band member, but he was clean."
Kagura snorted with contempt. "They should've just asked me instead of wasting time -- Kamui can't sing if his life depends on it."
"I don't think that would necessarily disqualify him, Kagura-sama," Tama said. "Singing ability often has little to do with being selected for a boy band."
"That had better not be another attempt to make fun of B'z, Tama-chan," Otae said, smiling sweetly.
"I am not sure what you mean, Otae-sama," Tama replied. "B'z is not even a boy band; there are only two of them, and besides, aren't they elderly by now?"
"You take that back! They'll be young at heart forever!" Otae said, advancing on Tama.
"I detect a measure of hostility, Otae-sama. Would you like me to prepare an herbal mixture with a dose of lithium to help regulate your blood pressure?" Tama asked.
"Why you little -- are you calling me an old woman?"
"You're picking a fight with a robot, Tae," Tsukuyo said, stepping between them. "Stop it."
Otae sighed and sat down on the sofa next to Catherine. "What are you drawing? Is that a space ship?"
"It's an umbrella. I don't even understand what's wrong with the eyes of you people. Tama thought this was a horse," Catherine said, pointing.
"Robots just don't understand human art," Otae said. "Any person with taste can tell that's a tanuki."
Catherine jumped to her feet. "This is ridiculous! China, you tell me what it looks like!" She held up the drawing.
Kagura studied it.
"I'm hungry," she said. "Let's go out for yakiniku. My treat."
The rainy season rolled into Kabukichou in the middle of the night, trying but failing to be stealthy, like a drunk husband.
The Kabukichou Neighbourhood Association bulletin board, protected somewhat from the elements by a bit of overhanging roof, was covered in colourful leaflets featuring photograph cut-outs of a black cat, a floor brush, and a purple umbrella. The leaflets had been stuck to the board with bits of onigiri rice instead of pins or staples.
An errant raindrop knocked one of the leaflets off. It sailed along the wind and into a puddle.
Agent Orange in Your Food? Lithium in Your Water? Not on Our Watch!
Yorozuya Gin-chan Grand Re-Opening