full title: be careful when shopping online because what you see in pictures is probably not what you're actually going to get

Joui4 friendship and maybe a bit more; hints of (and eventual) Takasugi/Gintoki, and possibly other minor crack pairings on a whim. Not as AU as it seems. Other characters in the cast will also be appearing.

You may be confused. I really don't know where I'm going with this, so just enjoy the ride ~

I would recommend finishing up to at least where the Gintama anime has gotten to before reading (Shogun Assassination, Farewell Shinsengumi), preferably even some later parts in the manga, though there are no explicit spoilers except for one vital part of Shogun Assassination.


part one. a true friend is someone who gives you homemade coupons for your birthday

.-.-.

Always look forward. Know your part, put your all into it, and trust your band members to keep up with you. As long as you're still standing on the stage performing, we all are.

Smile; the cameras are on you and your face is being broadcasted live in definition so high that your every sweating pore can be seen (good thing Tatsuko's imported magical pore fillers from outer space came in time). Your fans are watching (Shinsuko's eye is going berserk from twitching at every loud-ass fanboy's screams), it's an outdoor stage on a cloudless autumn day with a gentle breeze (that is gracefully caressing Zurako's silky black hair and inducing the aforementioned fanboys' screams), and there's going to be a lot of money rolling in from the ticket sales and the concert goods that Paako will be able to splurge on Two-Ps (the fabled treasures of parfaits and pachinko). The world is your stage. Just do it!

Four pairs of interwoven hands reach for the sky. Good evening, everyone! We are Houkago Happy Hour!

Their performance ends with deafening applause.

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Wait. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's backtrack a bit, shall we?

Rewind to a Takasugi Shinsuke bound and gagged by his two former comrades' feet and obviously beyond furious at such degrading treatment. His one eye is dilated in the most nightmarish way, pupil piercing enough to be shooting lasers at a certain silver-coloured perm-head.

Said perm-head tsks and bends down to grin sadistically at him. "Oi, oi, Takasugi-sama. Don't look at me like that. If I have to do this stupid arc with Zura, you're coming along. We can be Crapxile together."

"It's not Zura, it's Katsura. And it's not stupid arc, it's a way to recruit the youth of Edo to join our noble cause using the powerful universal language of music..."

Ruby eyes widen as their owner detects the dream-like tone Katsura's voice had trailed off in. "Shit, Zura's about to start one of his flashbacks again...! Come back, ZURA, NOOOOOOOOO-"

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"Gintoki."

The familiar OST marking Zura's appearance is never a good sign. Gintoki doesn't raise his eyes from his weekly Shonen Jump magazine as he sighs, "What is it, Zura?"

Katsura laughs slowly, deliberately, and Gintoki can't help but feel a sense of foreboding tickling at his spine. It's the kind of laugh that precedes one of Zura's wild fantasies, the telltale sound of the mass in his head that can't even be classified as a brain anymore whipping out another grandiose scheme of messing with the Shinsengumi toilet paper stash or chilling watermelons in public pools. "Gintoki, have you seen the script for the arc that will begin today? I have, and we will become a sensational duo that can rival the likes of Otsu-dono and sell lots of merchandise to fanboys to perform dirty acts with. Let us be on our way to the recording studio, Gintoki!"

Silence, and then the crinkle accompanying the turning of a page of Jump. "Not interested," Gintoki drawls, and shifts to a more comfortable position on the couch.

Another beat of silence. "Oh," Katsura says meekly. He turns away, letting his bangs hide his expression from view, and continues in a timid voice, "S-Sorry. I got carried away in my excitement of not being on standby again for another arc. Forget I said anything. I'll take my leave now."

He begins to make his way towards the door leading out of the apartment of the Yorozuya Gin-chan while counting three Elizabeths in his head. The newest issue of Jump crinkles for another three Elizabeths, and then he is not disappointed by what he hears next.

"Wait."

Katsura pauses, tilting his head to the side. "You do not need to console me, Gintoki. I will go drown in Ikumatsu-dono's oily yakisoba."

"Better not let her hear that, Zura." Gintoki scratches his head while mentally sighing once again. Why was he always caught up in Zura's ploys? He'd been planning to laze around the whole day with his Jump and the newly-stocked strawberry milk in his fridge. His life had already been too hectic lately! Seriously, what was with that gorilla author and Sunrise going from arc to arc without much of a break in between? Gin-san had had to operate on a Jump withdrawal! Give Gin-san a break already! But little tendrils of guilt from not calling his childhood friend up the last time he'd stormed the Shogun's castle were coiling up again, and Gintoki was pretty much powerless against said friend when he was acting like this. "Alright, alright, I'll come."

Whirling around to face him, the expectant smile stretched on Katsura's normally-composed face is blinding. Regretfully, this is not an animated piece, but if it were, there would literally be sparkles and stuff. "I knew it, Gintoki! Your weakness is moe! Ah, but do not worry, Gintoki, I will seal my lips and take your secret fetishes to my grave-" His rambling is cut off when Gintoki knocks him across the room, yelling, "I'll give you a grave right here!"

Huffing, Gintoki brushes his hands of imaginary dirt and stands upright. "Not so fast. I do have one condition," he says, and there is a malevolent twinkle in his eye.

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"And this brings us here, Takasugi. Gintoki's one condition was you." Katsura uncrosses his arms and smiles beatifically at the tied-up governor of the Kiheitai, who's still glaring at the two of them with the strength of a thousand beam cannons.

"Hey, don't go starting flashbacks just because you're too lazy to explain things to him!" As the straight man whenever Zura's around, Gintoki feels like that was something he should yell. Role completed for the moment, he leans down to untie the gag in his former-rival-slash-comrade-turned-nemesis figure's mouth. "So, what do you say? I heard you in those showers back then, by the way. For such a midget, you have a decent voice."

Takasugi's eye flashes at the word "midget"; he was going to destroy the naturally curly-haired idiot once he got out of these surprisingly resilient ropes. Short - short, his mind sputters. They were all just tall freaks, and he was going to destroy them all- but the miniscule corner of his mind that was still rational ("Miniscule"? Here the author of this fanfic is added to his rather tall list of Things To Destroy) recognizes a grudging compliment from the perm-head's mouth, and he calms down enough to remember gentle hands. Sensei... Sensei used to tell him he had a beautiful singing voice. One day when the stupid permhead freak had made fun of his singing and sensei had berated him for it, much to the young Takasugi's satisfaction. Then he also got a scolding for calling the freak a freak, but when Sensei turned around the freak had stuck his tongue out at him, which led to Takasugi jumping on him and calling him a freak again.

They both got in quite a bit of trouble that day. Such memories are almost enough to warm the harshness of his mouth. But those memories are distant now, as if they had never been his in the first place- merely those of an observer of a fading motion picture.

In his mind, he could see Sensei's patient, steady hand teaching him to write. Since the start, Takasugi had been drawn by the bold strokes on paper that could form words, evoke imagery, lull the senses. Where Zura's calligraphy style was refined and Gintoki's an illegible mess, Takasugi's pen flowed to his own rhythm, harsh lines and soft curves dictated by the haphazard calling of his passion. He'd spend the lessons with his cheek resting in his palm and words dancing in his head. On occasions he'd recited a few lines to sensei. "You have a gift for poetry, Shinsuke-kun," Shouyou-sensei's pleased smile never fails to make him puff out his chest proudly, and he remembers those warm hands ruffling his hair...

But it had never been simply poetry to him. The lines in his head would sync with melodies of his weaving, drawing inspiration from the folk songs sensei would have everyone sing in class. If sensei hadn't - if things had turned out differently, in another universe, there may have been a ballad singer named Takasugi Shinsuke. Even now, the beast inside flares up in dreams of a world consumed by brilliant hellfire raging to the deadly beat of post-apocalyptic heavy metal. It was one of the reasons why he had been drawn to Bansai; a childish envy of the man who could hear the song of the end of the world.

(During this whole nostalgic inner trip down the memory lane, Takasugi's eyes had glazed over to make the oddest expression on his face.)

"Oi, Zura, I think we've broken him."

"This is solely your fault, Gintoki. Anyone who comes in contact with you is reduced to such a sorry state."

"Ah, right. You're the prime example of it, Zura."

"It's not Zura, it's Katsura."

There is a prodding at Takasugi's left cheek. The familiar(ly annoying) calluses on the finger can only point to one man. He snaps his eye up to fixate his gaze on the infuriating mop of silver hair. It'd been a while since he'd taken a break from plans of world destruction, he supposes. His Kiheitai could take care of themselves for a while. He'd trained them well, after all. His pawns were already slowly moving into place in the background, and for the moment he didn't really have anything to do. And he could also use a reprieve from Kijima's prying eyes following him around everywhere...

It is Zura's voice that decides for him. Zura, who's looking expectantly at him and making energetic gestures of the idealistic possibilities and dreams his head had always been stuffed with. Zura, whose eyes are just as bright (about the cause, about the future) when he recruits members to form a pop band as he once recruited soldiers for the war effort. "Be our lead singer, Shinsuke!"

Ahh, what the heck.

"..Fine."

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The trio (after Gintoki untied Takasugi's bonds and the two glared sparks at each other for a while) ended up at the photography studio where they would be taking pictures for their album cover and individual photo cards. To lovingly wrangle as much money out of their future fans as possible, one had to be smart and employ certain gimmicks, like including one random photo card in each packaged CD. Given that there were three members, a fan who was Gintoki-biased ("because everyone loves Gin-san!") and had very bad luck could potentially only get his photo card after buying twenty copies of the album.

"See, kids, the music industry is a cutthroat business." Gintoki, who'd somehow conjured a pair of glasses out of thin air, is lecturing to what, for anyone else happening to look at him, is a brick wall with lots of G**dam graffiti on it.

Takasugi forcibly drags him into the building by the collar. Zura's already inside negotiating with the head photographer, hands gesturing heatedly at where he wanted the lights, camera, and action to go. Knowing Zura, the photoshoot was going to be a mess if they let him take the reins, so Takasugi sides up to them and smiles smoothly at the photographer. She's a fairly tough woman-her flinch at his smile is quickly, albeit shoddily, concealed.

"You can ignore what he says. Just make those pictures good." Just the slightest lilt in his voice is enough to imply to anyone with half a brain that the studio could find itself blown up the next day if he wasn't satisfied.

The photographer nods hastily, and scurries off to make preparations.

Katsura pouts for a moment. Then he regains his spirit and trails after her. "Ah, photographer-dono, I already sent someone for our outfits. He should be here any moment now..."

Takasugi feels the familiar twitch of his muscles, his honed senses detecting a dark aura fast approaching. Judging by the way Gintoki freezes (in the middle of emptying the complimentary bowl of candy on the receptionist's desk), he's noticed it too. There's a whirring sound coming from above and then no time to brace themselves at all before the ceiling splintered and the room was shrouded in smoke.

Takasugi is rather unfazed by the wreckage. As such, he's the first person to catch sight of a head of brown curls emerging from the dust. "I hope I'm not late, ahaha-aHAHAHAHA. I hope this is the right place too, ahaha-HAHAHAHAHA."

Whatever he was going to say next was cut off by a jump kick to the thigh courtesy of our favourite (only) silver-haired protagonist who evidently liked kicking his old buddies around when they chose to pop up out of nowhere. With love, of course. As much love as one could pack into a flying kick that sent Sakamoto to the opposite wall. Sakamoto regains his rightful orientation moments later, blood spurting profusely from a sliver of wood sticking through the top of his head while he clutches at his thigh. "Ahahah-AHAHAHHA Kintoki, I see your thigh kick is as strong as ever."

Katsura barrels through the smoke to charge at the moron laughing heartily in a fountain of blood, and the other two Joui in the scene have the sense to plug their ears. "TATSUMA." Katsura shrieks. "TATSUMA, WHAT DID YOU JUST DO."

"Oh, I have your clothes in the cockpit!" Sakamoto grins and wobbles over to the heap of warped metal and debris in the center of the room in an attempt to ward off Katsura's rage. "Let's see..."

He looks up at his former comrades with a sheepish smile on his face. "Uh, the cockpit seems to have become one with the propeller and the rudder. Ahahahaha, how could that have happened?"

Nothing could have saved him from Katsura descending upon him like a vulture making a bloody meal out of... well, a very loud person.

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By some miraculous turn of events, the four of them manage to dig out a crate from the catastrophe that is still sitting front-and-center in some poor photographer's studio. (Speaking of the photographer, she's currently having a mental breakdown in the makeshift kitchen, ie. sharpening knives, so let's give her a break for now.) Or, it was more like the four of them managed to get along for long enough to combine their efforts and dig out that crate.

"Your clothes," Sakamoto gestures to the rather dented crate and does a flourishing bow. "It was a pleasure to do business with you."

"I'm going to leave a scathing review and negative feedback," Katsura sniffs.

Sakamoto shrugs good-naturedly. "Good businessmen are prepared for anything that could possibly go wrong. I've blacklisted Fruit_Punch_Samurai," he says, and pushes the crate toward Katsura, who nudges it to Gintoki expectantly.

With a sigh, Gintoki reaches forward and tugs on the top flap of the cardboard. It doesn't budge, so he shifts to get a better grip and yanks at it again. Takasugi resists the urge to roll his eye and slips out his sword instead. The blade is sheathed again in the next second, moving too fast for the frame rate to catch (the hypothetical frame rate of course, as this is merely fanfiction). The box collapses into pieces while the contents within are revealed, unharmed.

"Show off," Gintoki mutters. Takasugi almost smirks.

"Well, let's see what our first album concept is going to be, hm?" Gintoki picks up the first item on the top of the pile. It happens to be an extremely frilly skirt. The temperature kind of drops in the room, a deadly chill emanating from the three assuredly masculine guys who are going to have to wear this shit. They rummage through the various dresses and cropped flowery tops and garter tights that would make a lolicon proud, expressions darkening with each skimpy thing they toss aside.

Finally, they turn to the man solely responsible for delivering their stage outfits. Katsura's hair is slightly frizzled. "I believe I ordered rocker outfits," he says slowly. It is the calm before the storm.

Sakamoto's boisterous laugh only results in him digging a larger hole for himself. "Lots of girl bands wear these nowadays, Zura! I quite enjoyed K-**! myself. I had to watch it secretly, though, or Mutsu would really kill me."

"I believe I ordered male rocker outfits," Katsura emphasizes. There's a reason his specialty is in bomb attacks. His foot goes tap tap tap against the tarnished floor and there was no telling when his internal timer would reach zero. Probably when the internal matter in his skull called a brain started to function.

"Why would you even order from this guy?" yells Gintoki, wagging a (snot-coated) finger in Sakamoto's direction. Permhead or not, for once, Takasugi is inclined to agree with him.

"I had a gift certificate," is Katsura's defence. He turns to Gintoki. "You gave me that gift certificate. For my birthday."

"Which was totally forged, by the way," Sakamoto interjects with a laugh.

Gintoki flicks a fresh booger away. "What are you talking about, the customer is always right."

Meanwhile, Takasugi has already abandoned all hope for this unit thing to work. Sure, space was boring most of the time and he didn't quite have enough screentime in the last Gintama movie, but having more appearances wasn't worth this. How could he have already forgotten how dysfunctional a group they were? Even if.. and here Takasugi pauses, memories flashing by in some crappily-put-together slideshow that he didn't have the power to stop. Even if they had a certain chemistry back in the day and could buldoze enemy lines in battle, away from the battlefield it was all hopeless. And UNO parties.

He couldn't say he'd enjoyed it immensely, but he couldn't say that he had altogether hated it, either.

(It was all he saw every time he held the moon's gaze. During the day he weaves blazing trails of destruction. During the night, he remembers. His pipe smells of fields and flames long smothered.)

A frustratingly annoying voice penetrates his thoughts and is coming from a source far too close for comfort. "Oi, stop having these pensive looks on your face, you're going completely out of character here." Takasugi doesn't have to turn his head to know that Gintoki's annoying perm is right there, on the side he could no longer see from. "The author is going to have a hard time and then she'll have to stick warnings everywhere about how moody and OOC you are."

Takasugi grits his teeth as he shoves the other man away. Together, the two of them turn to Katsura and Sakamoto. Katsura's rampage is breaking anything in the studio that had been left untouched by the crash of the spaceship, his wig wild and spitting venom (it's not a wig, it's Katdusa) as he demands a full refund to be deposited to the savings account he uses to be buy nmaibo with. Never mind the fact that he'd never actually paid anything to begin with.

"Ten cases of nmaibo for me," he says to the bloody pulp beneath him that was once Sakamoto, "and another five cases for Elizabeth, who needs to go on a diet for a while - ow -"

Out of seemingly thin air, a blank placard materializes and flies across the room to whack Katsura on the head. It is a critical hit. The sound of footsteps off the side indicates that the photographer has somewhat recovered from her breakdown, and is slowly stepping towards the door. No doubt she would call the police, and the Shinsengumi would arrive and grind this whole plan to a halt.

It was left to Gintoki to save the day, as always. He didn't know why he bothered, but he had to admit that it was almost kind of nice – to see those stupid faces again. Talking to them when the pressure of the war wasn't a constant, taut weight on his shoulders. Talking to Takasugi when he wasn't a bastard trying to burn the world to ashes, but just a bastard, pure and simple.

His wooden sword is joined by a distinctive metal one in the air; both swords lodge into the door in a perfect tandem not seen for ten years. The photographer jumps back with a scream, mouth agape as she looks back at two men and a rocky relationship rekindled.

"You. Got anything we could wear? A studio like this should have spare suits for rental."

"Ooh, good thinking, Takasugi-kun. That ED with us in suits was very well received by the fan-girls."

His light tone of agreement stirs the beast inside Takasugi. It is angered at the thought of being contained again; Takasugi drives it away for the first time in years, and half snarls, "I may be working with you right now, but your voice still grates me."

"Right back at you," says Gintoki as the two of them turn their attention to the poor woman who will probably never touch photography again.

Trembling, she points to the sign hanging up above the reception desk. First Love Wedding & Bridal Photography, it reads. "We only have wedding dresses for rental." Her eyes dart around to avoid direct eye contact with the formidable men in front of her, and she doesn't seem to far from cracking. "Look, I wanted to ask you in the beginning, but... are you sure you're in the right kind of studio for whatever you're doing?"

Two pairs of expressions darken identically. Then, ever-so-slowly, they turn around. The man in question, the one who'd led them here like he'd known what he was doing but of course they should have realized he didn't... the one who is already holding up the white placard he'd picked back up as a sign of surrender. "You can always trust the places married women go to," he explains.

Forget Bakamoto. First, there was Bakatsura to take care of. It was his own misfortune that he'd selected not one, but two super sadists, to be his band mates. Gintoki and Takasugi were formidable sadists in their own right, but that was alright when they were generally sadistic to each other. If they were ever to have, Sorachi forbid, a sadists coalition...

The Young Noble of Fury certainly had a very undignified scream.

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In the end, it was between the frilly bunny-eared maid outfits or the wedding dresses.

The wedding dresses won. Their masculine prides disintegrated.

It was still not the easiest task to get three of them into the dramatic Western-styled sweeping dresses of white.

"No one's going to see a difference, Gintoki," Katsura twirls, having somehow already changed into a classically timeless A-line that hugged his slender form modestly, a mesh veil donned on and make-up expertly applied. He – she? – the narrator is a bit confused, but will carry on with the usual pronouns for now – manages to spin perfectly despite the fact that his feet were in a pair of elegant high heels, and continues, "You're already always in white. You need to step up as the main character by wearing something no Jump hero has ever had. Look, here's an asymmetrical one with only one shoulder strap so you'll still have the distinguishable silhouette."

"Zura," Gintoki grounds out. His nose kind of hurts from over-mining it earlier, but nothing hurts more than his headache caused by the overdose of stupidity in the room. "There's a men's clothing store a block down the street."

Katsura is already flouncing across the room to where Takasugi is standing mutely by some gowned mannequins. "Nonsense, Gintoki! A samurai never goes back on his words!" He calls over his shoulder. "Ah, Shinsuke, do you want to try this on? Photographer-dono, if you will…"

Gintoki tunes them out to stare at the asymmetric satin dress that had been pointed out to him, and shakes his head in horror. Noooope. Zura's gone crazy. He's already crazy, goddammit! Gin-san is never putting that on!

"Ahahahahaha," Sakamoto tries to cut in Gintoki's adamant rambling, "this looks very fun and all, but why do I have to wear a dress too? Guys, I have a business meeting in a few hours, ahahaha!"

He wisely shuts up when he's responded with a glare. "Shut up, this is your entire fault, Sakamoto. Don't think you're getting out of this, aah? You can drum or something. Oi, Zura, get him a dress too – " Gintoki casually turns his gaze to where Katsura had been and his whole jaw ends up on the floor.

Because poised beside Katsura Kotarou, leader of the moderate Anti-Foreigner Faction… is the leader of the most radical one, the most wanted criminal in all of Edo, the man whose bounty on his stupid soft purple-haired head was high enough to satisfy Gintoki's Jump and strawberry milk cravings for probably the rest of his life and then half of his afterlife too, if they sold it in hell. Takasugi Shinsuke, the terrifying governor of the Kiheitai with his maniacally green eye and unshackled beast.

..Is in a cream-coloured, flowing, v-necked sheath dress.

Sakamoto is laughing in the background, but Gintoki can't concentrate on anything with the sudden loud hammering in his chest and the flush of heat in his cheeks. In all honesty, it should have been disgusting to look at the tanned, calloused man of stiff edges wear what was a gentle, velvety dress that revealed much of his legs. Although Takasugi had never been particularly hairy, it should have been disturbing nonetheless, and Gintoki should have been having a good time ridiculing the other man's getup. But the low v-neck is dipping sultrily into the planes of the other man's lower chest, and Gintoki's mouth goes dry at the way the dress hitches at the hard angles of his hips.

"It's not Zura, it's Zurako," Katsura responds flippantly to Gintoki's calling of his nickname some paragraphs ago. Gintoki can't recall anything but the vibrancy of a lone eye that has never ceased to focus on him. Katsura shakes his head at the jaw still sadly abandoned on the floor and prods at a grooming Takasugi. "I thought you said you've never cross-dressed before!"

"I haven't."

"You lie! You couldn't possibly be this close to level of glamour of I, who spent precious screen time in drag to train for this – especially not while smoking in a wedding dress," Katsura says, scandalized, when Takasugi somehow produces a pipe from the padded area of his stuffed boobs and lights it with ease and magic.

Gintoki, by now, has eased his jaw back into its proper alignment with the rest of his "dashingly good looks", he says, trying and failing to cut into the narration in order to salvage some of his lost standing in this story.

Unfortunately, he'd forgotten that his eyes had still not left a certain fake bride. "Jealous, Gintoki?" A faint smirk is visible on Takasugi's face. Flattering or not, Gintoki still really wants to rip it off.

"Not you, bastard! Me! Me! And anyway, Zura makes a much better girl than you do," he childishly jabs. Katsura is torn between preening and delivering his catchphrase, and ends up dividing his time evenly between the two before engaging in another one-sided conversation with the photographer.

Gintoki's arms cross and he feigns nonchalance as he puts out, "anyway, I'll have you know that Gin-san makes a very convincing girl, too. Paako is very popular among the patrons, right, Zura? The natural perm is the new milkshake in the yard, I tell you!" He hmmphs and nods, puffs himself up with self-satisfaction and shoots Takasugi another glance.

Takasugi, that insufferable bastard, raises his lone visible eyebrow. And that does things. Stirs something in somewhere that shouldn't be stirred, because it was Takasugi and that was just sick, he liked boobs and women, think of Ketsuno Ana -

He quickly yanks his dress off the hanger and covers the alarmingly problematic area with it. "I'll change into it now," he says, his voice unnaturally high as he backs away a few steps before turning and running the rest of the way to the washroom.

From his vantage point, one man who always sees more than he ever lets on doesn't miss the entire exchange and the shifts in body language of his fellow comrade in battling naturally wavy hair. "This is mine, right?" Sakamoto cheerily lifts an ivory ball gown off of a tall stand that anyone else significantly shorter would struggle with, and makes his way over to the washroom without another word. There was a benefit in having his head up in the clouds all the time; dreams drove away boundaries, defied judgment, and that inherently made him an open person to confide in.

So he nudges the washroom door open, and initiates the much overdue heart-to-heart talk with a good friend.

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The two of them re-emerge from the washroom laughing at a joke Sakamoto made (at Takasugi's expense, not that it was something he needed to know). Gintoki flashes his middle finger at, admittedly, his personal rival; Takasugi doesn't hesitate in sending one back. It's a terse few moments later before they both break into grins, and the atmosphere visibly lightens.

Katsura waves them over. "It is time for the group hug! That picture of us back in the day has been reused more times than Jackie's nose! The viewers have spoken out demanding something new! We want something sensational and inspiring – like a before-and-after shot of us, ten years later and about to be married."

"How's that even remotely inspiring?! We're regressing, oi, don't ruin Gin-san's cool scenes! They're limited as it is!"

But Gintoki goes over to his left side anyway, hand reaching out to whack Katsura's head before slipping it across his back. With a good-natured grin, Sakamoto joins in beside Gintoki and his arm comfortably crosses with Katsura's over Gintoki's shoulders.

There is space for one left; the unspoken is palpable in the room. Takasugi's eye is flickering, specks of green wavering in intensity to the desire in his soul. Gintoki watches with bated breath as Takasugi makes a jarring movement, seemingly directed inward as if his chest was in pain, but it's reflex-like in its speed and gone within the next blink of an eye.

Then the fourth and final Joui warrior moves to take his place among the idiots that he'd called friends, once upon a time. He doesn't need to remind himself that it's too late, now; the fact is etched in all of their stances even as Sakamoto reaches out for a hold on him. The image of the world in flames is the thin string that holds him together, mind, body and soul. It's the one reason he still goes on even when he's out of reasons, the will of a man to shroud in carnage a world that has only wronged him. For all that Gintoki has preached about the will to protect, he has failed to acknowledge that the will to destroy is its equal in every measure. Like night and day, they were two people with two desires that could never coexist, the only thing tying them together being inverted promises to the same revered mentor.

His own promise is what held him from going beyond at the brink of sanity even with a foot already across the line, the driving power of an irrational force that won't stop and won't let him stop, either, until everything once vivid and alive like Sensei has crumbled to ashes. This power will consume him, too – it's already consuming him – but he has long known that this was a one-way road. Return is not an option. Neither is failure.

So, why, then, is he humouring old connections that have already frayed, entertaining the idea of another path even though it could only ever be a little blip on the road he'd chosen long ago?

The hidden strength of Sakamoto's arm wrapping around his back is more familiar than he'd expected. He doesn't have to glance to his right to see the wary expressions they all carry. The snug of their bodies is still the perfect fit, like they were meant to be.

What had changed were their hearts.

And even Katsura, self-proclaimed expert in the unpredictability of love and the unrivalled master in bonking the heroines of dating sims off cliffs, doesn't know a single damn fix.

(So he smiles. It doesn't quite reach his eyes, but he hopes for even a fraction of it to reach the other three.)

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Lights flash in a spastic rhythm as the four interchange positions to take as many photos as they can amidst assorted backdrops and stupid props. Like the fairytale wand they were all made to hold for a 'fairy bride' look - those pictures weren't going to see the light of day, ever -

Even when Takasugi's eye is shut, he can still see three annoyingly persistent lights in his way. They want to stop him.

But they'll never realize what it's like to have a beast inside you, pushing, biding its time until you give it an opening to rein its head; meanwhile, Takasugi is already numb to the recoil.

No, that's not quite right. Someone else is just as painfully aware as he is of its devastation. And it's the one thing he doesn't get, no matter how long he mulls over it in his head – how Gintoki can be so nonchalant about it all, locking the beast and throwing away the key as if it didn't cost him a thing.

But today he could pretend, too. With his eye shutting off the world and only the pressing of warmth in his side in the briefest moment of peace, this could have been a feeling of contentment.

.

.

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The pictures come out much better than expected.

Studio-destroying aside (though reparations are already underway courtesy of Sakamoto's genius pair of carpenters), they were, after all, four young men with "ridiculously good looks and one with an irresistible natural perm" - courtesy of Gintoki's self-insert – and bodies kept physically fit with acts of strenuous exercise ranging from heroism to terrorism to laughter, space-battling, rent-evading, police-eluding, business-conducting, nmaibo-throwing, Jump-reading, Yakult-drinking, and the like. To put it mildly, they were every female photographer's dream to work with as models, other minor nuances notwithstanding.

Thus, the photographer's rate of recovery is astonishingly fast. It is hard to gush over anything when you'd just witnessed some pretty horrifying things, but she manages anyway.

"This is perfect, and so is this shot, and this, so you'll be buying the deluxe package that includes all of the pictures in the normal package plus a bunch of useless stickers for ten times the price, right?" She gushes, wholeheartedly forgiving all of the incidents of the day. Idiots brought bad luck, but they also brought the money to make up for it.

"Ahahahaha why am I paying for everything? Mutsu's going to kill me when she gets the bill, hahahaha… Shinsuke! Your Kiheitai is well-off too, please chip in please please please please -"

In the daily operations of the Kiheitai, all of the paperwork required is taken care of by Bansai. Takasugi's access to the treasury is thus not as direct. So, instead, he tells Sakamoto to suck it up and ignores the juvenile voicing of "that's what she said" from Gintoki.

There's no need to retort when he knows Zura's already on his way.

"Gintoki!" The long-haired male admonishes. The effect is heightened by his female garments. "A samurai does not think such uncouth thoughts. Keep your perversions about Shinsuke to yourself so this fanfic doesn't become M-rated and hidden in the archive."

No, he'd definitely lost his mind if he'd actually thought Zura could handle this properly.

A shoe lift flies at Katsura's head but he dodges well this time. Takasugi looks up to see Gintoki cackling and that confirms his suspicions – that's one of his shoe lifts which he keeps hidden in the folds of his shawl (for emergencies only, note that he has never used them at all), and it was an oversight he shouldn't have made. But it allowed for things like throwing the Jump that had been lying on the table at a Katsura that surely could not defend both ends…

It was soon a full-blown war, three men taking apart a studio as fast as the carpenter brothers could repair it.

.

Sakamoto can't stop himself from grinning even as he pulls out his wallet and gets everything inside it thoroughly swindled away.

His eye for assessing the value in things has always been peculiar, anyway. Money itself had no worth until you gave it one. And while the era of the Joui War may not have been Sakamoto's brightest days, there were things in there that he'd seen the true value of right away and, with a bit of support, they'd shaped up to be worth more than the stars in the farthest galaxies.

Mutsu was still going to kill him, though. He had just the slightest inkling that she wouldn't be too impressed with the transaction or his corny justification behind it.

.

-.-.-

/end part one.


/ begin blurb:

So I've always liked the Joui members, but what intrigues me the most are their interactions and dynamics even though we rarely get glimpses of it, and the whole Gintama verse lends itself so well to fanworks because you can technically do anything with it, so this was born. Somehow. And somehow I managed to stick through with it to write 6.5k of this. It has been a long and arduous journey because I write at a snail's pace and my planning basically consists of OH IT WOULD BE FUN IF THEY DID THIS, but it has been fun.

This will be most likely eventual Takasugi/Gintoki somewhat romantically, ie. as romantic as they can get, although really nothing is planned. It'd started out as genfic but then my ship started sailing in the manga and I couldn't resist. However, their friendship is not going to take a backseat to the romance.

I will be busy again soon and have no idea when I will finish the next part, but I will see this thing done. But... have an excerpt!

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Coming up next…

"Do we even know how to write a proper song?"

In which the author realizes that all of this later, the Joui4 still haven't yet made their debut. Or written a song. We're kind of behind schedule and probably rewinded a bit too far back, but that's okay. Until next time!

Also, if you're reading this far, you should leave a review. :D Concrit greatly welcomed.

- 02/26/2014