Disclaimer: Sorachi did the original thing.
NOTE ON THE TEXT: (*) means end of flashback.
How Fools Fall In Love
Chapter 1: Not All Ghosts Come Out of the TV
It was close to four in the afternoon when a ring at the door interrupted Gintoki's Oi Mai Mi marathon. He was sprawled in front of the TV looking absolutely dejected. Issues of Jump were scattered on the floor and the tabletop was littered with snacks. Kagura's nonstop eating added to the cause by converting food into trash in mere seconds. All in all, it was a regular Sunday afternoon at the apartment except for Shinpachi's absence. The teenage boy who usually dropped by every day of the week had skipped the weekend to help out his sister at the dojo, after the guys from the kendo club had left the place in a miserable state the previous day. Gintoki suspected Kondo would see the last of his testicles pretty soon.
"Gin-chaaaaan, the dooooor." Kagura drawled out annoyed.
"Kagura, the dooooor."
"I told you first!"
"I told you second!"
"I just came back from the toilet."
Gintoki rolled his eyes, sighed and grunted before relenting. He got up lazily and stretched, feeling a mile between himself and the front door.
"I hope Shinpachi doesn't bring his sister's food." he muttered in despair.
"Then you shut the door and don't let him in, you hear?"
Gintoki was keen on Kagura's advice when he opened the door and his favorite neighbor stood there looking as graceful as ever. He spied a little head behind her with large glaring eyes, which meant neither him nor Gintoki were going to enjoy whatever was to ensue and Gintoki had a pretty good idea what it was going to be about.
"Gin-san good evening." Mistuba said with a friendly smile. Gintoki found it hard to express emotions with her brother's gaze boring holes in his forehead.
"Hello." he managed to utter.
"I came to ask you a favor."
Okita Mistuba was Gintoki's favorite neighbor for a lot of reasons. She was pretty, polite, discreet and often brought him leftovers for dinner. She also had an astounding resemblance to the weather girl whom Gintoki was quite partial to. Nevertheless, there was something which sullied Mitsuba's many qualities. His name was Okita Sougo, her darling little brother. He was around Shinpachi's age and had a tendency to pick on Kagura wherever and whenever until both of them drove Gintoki nuts. Sougo had calmed down a bit with age but he could still be provoking to an alarming degree, perhaps even a bit sadistic. Gintoki couldn't understand how someone so sick and twisted could be related to Okita Mitsuba. It made him wonder whether behind her gentle exterior was a cold ruthless sociopath. He shifted.
"I was wondering if you could look after Sou-chan while I go to the station pick up a friend." she asked warmly, grabbing Sougo by the elbow and pushing him forward.
"What's up Danna."
Gintoki eyed him suspiciously.
"Why don't you take him with you?"
"He doesn't want to go." she replied with an apologetic face.
"I want to enjoy what little time I have left before you bring that ass-"
Mitsuba took out a tiny pepper bottle from her sleeve and thrust it into her brother's mouth. Gintoki barely saw her arm move and Sougo instantly choked on it with watering eyes.
"Sou-chan what have I told you about language in front of the neighbors? What would Kondo-san think?" she said by way of scolding, not losing her smile. Her genuine concern was as fearsome as her spoiling the kid.
"He isn't very excited about coming. Please just watch him for me? I will be back in a jiffy."
"No. He's old enough to be on his own."
Gintoki's reply met silence. Mitsuba kept looking at him with an adoring pleading face which stated she wasn't leaving until he said yes. Gintoki wanted to dive into the nearest cliff when he heard himself complying.
"Sure, he can stay."
"Oh thank you so much! I am in your debt," she exclaimed happily "Sou-chan, bow your head," but Sougo just shrugged his shoulders, walked past Gintoki and kicked off his shoes "I'm so sorry, I know I shouldn't spoil him but he is a good kid."
Mitsuba giggled at Gintoki's remark and took off. He lingered a few seconds by the front door and prayed God to bestow upon him the same kind of repellent Mitsuba's acquaintance had; with Kagura and Sougo under one roof he was going to need it.
Fortunately, it was a day for miracles. The living room managed to remain intact by the time Mitsuba returned. However, the casualties were not what one could call minor. Minutes before her arrival Kagura and Sougo had broken into a fight and knocked down the TV, ruining Gintoki's magical girl marathon and probably damaging the screen beyond repair.
"OI OI OI OI! Is that the TV? Did you just kill my TV?!" Gintoki exclaimed, pointing to the abandoned thing on the floor "Kagura-chan, Sougo-kun," rather than bursting into a fit of senseless rage, Gintoki felt a void of depression swallow him whole "Mai-chan... my Mai-chan... what happened? Is she going to end up with the masked hero? What if he tricks her and steals her powers! No, Mai-chan..." thoughts about the unclear future of Mai-chan were soon replaced by thoughts of his TV's uncertain demise. He put it back in place and tried to turn it on to no avail. Pressing the remote buttons while chanting a mantra didn't seem to work either.
"Kagura-chan guess who is going to Gengai's tomorrow? I'll give you a tip! She has two dumb buns on her head." Gintoki muttered mostly to himself given the neglect the two loud quarreling idiots were giving him. It was no wonder Mitsuba's ring at the door came as a blessing. Gintoki ran towards it at once, grabbing Sougo's collar on the way and throwing him out into her arms.
"Here he is! Safe and sound!"
"Ooof!... thank you Gin-san." Mitsuba almost lost her balance grappling with the sudden weight, yet she was able to hold on to her brother without losing her step. Gintoki noticed how her grip on him remained quite fierce even after both of them had regained their footing. The mixture of anger and reluctance on Sougo's face was something surreal to behold. Gintoki knew the kid loathed anything that ever got in the way of him being with his sister, therefore his sudden lack of willingness to be with her was nothing short of disturbing. A chill ran up Gintoki's spine.
"That must be some hell of a guest." he observed.
Mitsuba had to take Sougo's hand and drag him behind her before he finally yielded.
"They're both just shy of each other." she laughed.
Gintoki couldn't be sure, but something told him he was going to see both siblings again very soon.
"Yooo! Ka-gu-ra-chaaaan wake uup!" Gintoki opened the closet door with a terrible sing-song voice and mischief written all over his face. Kagura rubbed her eyes still half-asleep and when she looked at him the first thing she did was dispatch a fist to his chest. Gintoki fell back with a gasp, his breath all but leaving him.
"Oi are you trying to kill me?! That hurt like hell!"
"Oh it's Gin-chan... I thought it was Orochimaru."
"Wrong! That's downstairs!"
At that moment a thumping sound came from beneath their feet. It didn't bother Gintoki and Kagura very much. Otose beating the ceiling with her broom to shut them up was something of a daily occurrence.
"You woke her up." Kagura deadpanned.
"She wakes up with the sun, stupid!" Gintoki whispered in a fury "Anyway, go wash up and eat your rice. There's a TV waiting to be repaired and you're the one taking responsibility."
"Eeeeehhhh!?" the rebuff was immediate but Gintoki was deaf to her pleas.
"Yes and you're taking out the giant dog as well."
Sadaharu barked at the mention of his name and came scampering towards Kagura who received him with open arms.
"You can ask for Shinpachi's help if you want, as long as that TV gets to Gengai today. I want it back in time for my drama tonight," Gintoki told her "Next time don't break things if you want to sleep until late."
"It's Gin-chan's fault for letting that creep stay in..." Kagura mumbled into Sadaharu's fur. She hugged the massive dog tightly and murmured a few more complaints and curses until Shinpachi arrived.
"Good morning everyone, how was your-" Shinpachi's greeting was interrupted by Kagura's desperate whining. She clung to his arm and tried to fake a few tears.
"Shinpachiiii! Shinpachi you have to help me! Gin-chan made a deal with the demon and now I have to take the TV to Gengai all by myself," she cried "and I have to walk Sadaharu too! Pleeaaase."
Shinpachi glanced confused towards Gintoki but the latter ignored him, resolute in taking no pity on the culprit. He took out an uncommonly big booger out of his nose and hurled it at the poor broken television set.
"You PIG!" Kagura shouted, detaching herself from Shinpachi to go kick Gintoki in the groin. Luckily the latter managed to dodge her foot in time and sent her flying to the sofa instead.
"You two stop bickering so I can make some breakfast! We're gonna be late!" Shinpachi exclaimed, slapping the two idiots on the head.
It was inevitable. Shinpachi and Kagura were too late for school by the time they took off. They ran out the door in a hurry and considering the loud noises in the hallway, so did Sougo. Gintoki heard them fighting all the way down to the street, as well as Otose and Catherine's shrieks over the rumpus. Gintoki quickly shut the front door and locked himself in the bathroom, knowing it was only a matter of time before the two women decided it was time for a trip upstairs. The savage knocks on his door proved it.
"OI Sa-ka-taa open the door!"
"I know you're in there Gintoki, don't make me waste my time, I have a store to run." Otose chided angrily.
"I'm taking a dump, sorry!"
"I'll take a dump on you next time I see you, loser!"
"Calm down Catherine, I'll take care of this," Otose declared "Gintoki, you listen to me, I've told those kids a hundred times not to run down the stairs. This apartment building is already as old as it is and with shitty tenants like you two," she glanced at Catherine as well "who don't even understand the concept of regular payment, I can't afford to spend money on maintenance which careful and normal behavior should be enough to avoid!" she paused and took a deep breath "Besides, you can't trust carpenters these days, they're all leeches! And don't get me started on those bastards your friend Sakamoto sent me the last time. If I see him around again I promise you I'll shove the bill up his rear and..."
Otose's rant trailed a while before she returned to her original point and yelled a few more obscenities at Gintoki's overall useless existence. Catherine spit onto his front door like the animal she was and later on, when Gintoki was certain the coast was clear, he finally left the bathroom. He would have enjoyed his much needed sigh of relief if there had been no TV to repair and no Sadaharu looking like he was holding in his biggest turd yet.
Walking Sadaharu was actually pretty easy. Gintoki took a shovel to bury the deed and sooner than later was back home staring at the stupid TV. He was starting to nurture a deep hatred towards the thing and he knew it was wrong. It was one of his most treasured possessions, the only means by which he could watch Ketsuno Ana and be temporarily happy at heart. Fate was right in punishing him. He understood it now. Entrusting the TV to Kagura had been a mistake. Only more disaster would have befallen the TV if she had taken it to Gengai. Gintoki was sure of it. Hence in a fit of valor and fortitude, he took the damn thing in his arms, walked out of the apartment and made straight for the old man's shop. He was going to watch his drama tonight. He was going to man up and work it out.
Or maybe not.
The second he stepped out of the apartment a ghost appeared in front of him sending all his bravery to shit. Strength seeped from his muscles and the TV fell to the floor with a shattering sound. Gintoki's heart had stopped so brusquely he didn't know if he was breathing, least of all hearing. The vision in question was dark, tall and hypnotizing, leaning over the railing with a cigarette in his mouth. Gintoki froze. This couldn't be happening. Nope. Not again. He slapped himself mentally and picked up the TV with trembling hands, leaving the apartment building without bothering to look back at the figure again. He was so shocked that the immensity of what had just happened only hit him three blocks down by the bookstore.
"What in the actual fuck." he turned around and squinted his eyes to see if there was someone in the second floor hallway. It was deserted without even a trail of smoke.
"Hello there Gin-san, back already for more comics? I tell you young man, you should start living the life of a respectable adult, people have been talking ever since you got that little girl-"
"Old man," Gintoki interrupted the owner of the bookstore with a grim expression on his face "How do I look? Do I look like I am going insane?"
"Well, now that you mention it, you do look a bit pale, maybe it's the hair?"
"Oi seriously, tell me the truth, you think I need to start going to those therapy sessions?" Gintoki wondered. His heart roared inside his chest and some kind of yearning pulled at its strings. Perhaps the time had come to put those psychiatrists' business cards to use.
"What's the matter, you seen a ghost or what?"
"Something like that." Gintoki replied apprehensively. He was still staring at the building hoping some explanation would rain down on him "Have you ever seen a ghost, old man?"
"Sure thing," he retorted with a chuckle "My old lady keeps nagging me from the grave"
Gintoki's face contorted into a disgruntled frown and he sent the old man an affronted look, as if he had heard the most offensive joke in the history of the universe.
"Save me the new Jojojo volume, I will be back for it later." Gintoki told him, adjusting his grip on the TV.
"Sure thing. Do you want my old lawn cart for that thing? I have it backstairs."
With the TV on the wheelbarrow the journey to Gengai's was over in the blink of an eye. Gintoki had never felt so thankful, since all he wanted to do was return home and scrutinize every bit of that hallway to make sure he still had his sanity. He couldn't remember how many years it had been since he had last seen that face. He couldn't even bear to think about what seeing that face used to unleash in him. It was just painful and ridiculous and Gintoki had closed, buried and burned that chapter of his life long long ago. He was so done with the whole ordeal he couldn't understand why he was deluding about it. Moreover, he had no recollection of drinking last night. He was sober clean.
"Your scooter ain't ready yet, what is it this time?"
Gengai's industrial goggles snapped Gintoki out of his trance and he presented his problem in precise short words.
"TV broken. Need it for tonight."
Gengai didn't bother to protest. He just laughed aloud, almost smacking himself in the head with his wrench.
"Come on Gintoki, look at that crap. If you want to watch TV tonight you're gonna have to buy a new one. I don't even know how you still have this rubbish running."
Gintoki pretended he wasn't listening and shrugged.
"Can you fix it or not?"
"I'll see what I can do but I don't promise nothin'."
"That's fine by me. Just don't tamper with it and send me back a mutant version. I heard some funny stories going around," Gintoki pointed out sorely, backtracking to the myriads of people he had heard complaining about Gengai's repairs "your luck is that you're cheap." he added halfheartedly.
"And yours is that you're an idiot." a low voice spoke behind him. Standing in front of Gengai's garage was a slender looking blond woman with a pipe between her fingers. A perfect example that a relationship can and will flourish out of accidental groping. Gintoki tried hard not to roll his eyes. For some reason she was the last person on his mind at the moment.
"They don't fix Bitch pipes over here, you have to send it back to the seller." Gintoki noted casually.
The random remark pricked one of the many nerves Tsukuyo had been enduring for the past couple of weeks. She hadn't really been expecting an apology right away. She knew Gintoki well enough to foresee that, nevertheless his total indifference pissed her off. He had clearly forgotten all about her and wasn't even trying to fake the tiniest speck of remorse. Tsukuyo took a long drag on her pipe before a torrent of rage spewed out.
"You here to fix your watch? Or maybe your phone?" she suggested bitterly, masking her scowl with with a turn of her lips.
"Nope, just the TV. Kagura and the devil spawn broke it yesterday."
Gintoki's plain reply had struck her last nerve. As such, his total neglect was unable to save his head from being bashed violently against the hood of the nearest car.
"Don't you dare stand me up again, you piece of shit!" she clicked her tongue in disgust and walked away fuming. Gintoki barely had time to collect his thoughts.
Gengai approached him cautiously and appraised the new dent on his car.
"At least she won't bill you Gintoki."
The walk home was more painful than predicted. Tsukuyo's blow had shaken the list of priorities on Gintoki's brain and produced a substantial amount of cursing Gintoki didn't know he was capable of. The fact it had taken him a dose of brutality to remember he had forgotten about their date was too depressing to live with and now he had to carry that shame as well as the aching bump on his forehead for the rest of the week. His whole figure screamed pathetic scum.
"Pathetic scum, where were you?!" Otae didn't waste any time with greetings. She was waiting for him in front of his apartment building, arms crossed and right foot patting the ground impatiently. She was obviously holding herself back from wrestling his neck "Didn't I tell you yesterday you had to pick up Kagura-chan today? Shin-chan has exams coming up and he can't continue languishing his entire evenings here with you, doing your chores. He has to study! And you're letting a middle school girl walk home all by herself?!"
"She can take out your dojo idiots. The burglars too."
"Shut up and go get her! I have to go back to the club," She hissed, taking out her cellphone and dialing her friend "Yes yes, I'm leaving right now..." she glanced back to urge Gintoki on and he did as he was told.
After wondering countless times if he was ever going to reach home that day, Gintoki stepped over his beloved threshold and took off his shoes. Kagura followed after him, throwing her backpack into the air triumphantly and committing her butt to the sofa in a manner most identical to that of her guardian. The sight was close to endearing. Nonetheless, Gintoki's vexation wasn't done for the day. The minute after he had sat down and indulged in the comfort of his cushion, Kagura began her tirade on the obvious.
"There's no TV!"
"Is that so? I wonder what happened to it." Gintoki replied with sarcasm.
"You took it to the old man?"
"When is it coming back?"
"I don't know, when it grows two legs probably."
"Gin-chaaan! What are we supposed to do then?" Kagura whined.
"You can start by doing your homework, Gin-san is going to take a nap."
"I'll take a nap too!"
Gintoki was too tired to argue. He nodded his head and made a mental note to later lock Kagura outside until she was willing to do her homework. If that option failed he would threaten to ship her over to Mitsuba's. That always worked like a charm.
His half-shut eyes bulged out the second he remembered the spooky vision by her door that morning. He had all but forgotten it. His heart started racing again and he felt his palms sweating. Kagura was already snoring by his side and he looked at her with pure jealousy cursing through his veins. How he wished to be sound asleep. He couldn't ask for anything better. In his sleep there were no screw ups with Tsukuyo, no Otae lashing out at him, no Otose after his money and no creepy run-of-the-mill ghosts. No, no, there certainly weren't. Nope. Not one. Noooope. Gintoki shut his eyes to stop any memories from swarming up. He didn't need this kind of bullshit right now.
Another ring at the door almost made him puke out his heart. He started so violently he almost struck Kagura's nose. She flinched at his movement but the tumult wasn't enough to wake her. She slept like a rock. Gintoki was forced to go get the door. He dragged his feet hesitantly down the room and repressed a bout of despair. At least the lack of hysterics on the other side consoled him to some extent. He assumed it would be Mitsuba with leftovers and he was right.
"Good evening Gin-san, I brought you some curry leftovers as thanks for yesterday. I hope you'll like it." she said with the biggest smile.
Gintoki thanked her and was about to close the door when a third person showed up from inside Mitsuba's apartment.
"Oi Mitsuba did you see my lighter?"
Gintoki had to fight the spasm spreading throughout his organs. Mitsuba's cute bag of leftovers would have fallen to the ground if the seizure taking over him hadn't tightened his grip to a bone-crushing degree.
"Ah, Toshiro-san come over here, let me introduce you."
Mitsuba's guest was as unresponsive as her neighbor and that lead to some kind of paralympic staring competition between the two men. Gintoki for his part couldn't feel his body move at all. Mitsuba turned from one disgruntled face to another, slowly but steadily piecing their reactions together.
"Oh you know each other?" she wondered innocently, eyes shining with delight.
"I said no!" Gintoki repeated a bit panicked.
"I'm not lying!" the other man said just as passionately.
"Oh that's fresh coming from you!" Gintoki sneered.
"Look who's talking!"
"Are you brothers?" Mitsuba speculated, puzzled by their incredible similarity.
"What!? No way!"
"I think I'm gonna throw up."
"Not here you ain't!"
"Shut up, did someone ask for you opinion?!"
"No, but I think someone is asking for a punch to the face?!"
"I wonder who?!"
The distance between the two men dwindled to mere inches. Like machines put back in motion, their response to each other was automatic. Gintoki gripped Hijikata's shirt collar with his free hand and the latter mimicked him, exposing Gintoki's collarbone to the cold night air.
"Toshiro-san please." Mitsuba reached for Hijikata's arm and he pulled back immediately, straightening up his shirt.
"I think I left it in the counter." Hijikata muttered, retreating back into her apartment to get his lighter.
"I'm so sorry Gin-san. It seems all I do lately is apologize to you," Mitsuba lamented "He is a friend from my hometown, but it appears you know him as well?" there was a sorrowful tone in her voice brought on by the hostility she had just witnessed. Part of Gintoki felt obliged to provide her with a plausible explanation, but knowing he would have to give her an account of all that had happened between them, he quickly put an end to the story.
Gintoki tousled his hair to shake off the fluster and answered with the barest of truths.
"We were roommates."
AN: I hope you'll forgive me for this one. I'm just taking advantage of my current writing spree to type this down. I've been dying to write a GinHiji AU for so long that I've lost count of the times I started a chapter. There's gonna be lots of flashbacks and probably Hijikata's POV at some point. I'm still putting it all together but please do enjoy it if you can.