Suzu didn't like the sound of that. He winced and covered his ears as Tetsu bellowed away to the world his excitement.
"It is not a school approved activity." Suzu reminded him primly, uncovering his ears. "Besides, all we are doing is going to a nasty, smelly store with nasty, smelly animals."
"You have a nasty zombie cat!" Tetsu pointed out, still enamored with the idea of getting off school grounds. They could be going to the town's landfill and he'd have the same amount of glee.
"My cat is very clean."
"Yeah, tell that to the litterbox." Tetsu snorted, "And my gym socks! They're always covered in black hair."
"You could not even find your gym socks under all that radioactive slime." Suzu retorted.
"Everyone excited?" Heisuke asked, strolling up with a yawn. He blinked around in the morning sun, not used to being awake before noon. Shinpachi didn't look awake at all with his eyes half closed and a dead expression. "We get to see what crappy school brainwashing—er, work study programs are like."
"And why do I have to go?" Suzu asked in a deadpan voice. He'd much rather be curled up with a book outside on a nice Saturday morning, not being dragged along with some crazy maniacs.
"Because Kitty, it's obviously just another tactic by the teachers to cow students into submission! You must know how the teacherism works in order to fight it… And the Demon said he'd give us money for ice cream if we'd get off the campus for at least a day and leave him in peace."
Suzu leaned against a tree, wishing the other members would hurry up so they could leave and get this over with.
"You seem displeased."
Suzu jumped and whacked his head on a low branch. He hissed and turned to stare at Saitoh would was leaning against the other side of the trunk. The dark senior was peering at him with the same disinterest one might give a little bug crawling across a windowsill.
"Thanks for noticing." Suzu muttered, rubbing his sore head and edging away. He was truly wishing that someone, anyone, would come and save him.
"Good morning!" Okita came tearing around the corner looking like he had already downed a Cosco-sized case of pixie stix. "Are we all ready?"
"Hijikata forget to lock up your gummy bears again?" Heisuke inquired over another yawn.
"Ha, I hid another stash in the ceiling of the art room."
"Careful Susumu doesn't find one of your stashes and poison it. Up in the dark, small pipes is exactly where he'd like going." Heisuke muttered darkly then brightened, "Off we go!"
Luckily, Sano's work was within walking distance. Suzu didn't trust any of the members present to drive the car properly. He shuttered when he remembered driver's ed and the raccoon. He seriously thought he was going to die.
The first thing that caught his eye was the giant sign in highlighter yellow with black letters that proclaimed, "Live rattlesnakes, scorpions, piranhas, and other dangerous exotics within! Beware!"
"Hey guys!" The big senior greeted them with his usual bellow. He waved heartily, making the large snake on his shoulders squirm to gain a hold. He didn't actually stop until the snake decided to use his neck as an anchor. He squeaked and Suzu thought it was a lovely shade of purple.
Heisuke smirked, unable to keep his mouth closed, "Need a snake charmer?"
Shinpachi elbowed him sharply, "He doesn't need your help for any kind of snake. And you're not charming."
"Aren't I?" Heisuke responded, looking hurt and giving huge puppy dog eyes. Shinpachi sighed, "No."
"Gah, hold this." Sano requested, shoving the liberated snake at Heisuke. Before the slick senior could protest, he had his hands full of large, angry boa. With a high-pitched girly shriek he pitched it straight at Shinpachi, who happened to be standing too close.
Suzu prudently had stayed back and was glad he was out of range.
The red head automatically threw his hands up and barely managed to catch hold of the flailing animal. Once he had a hold of it, he looked around in a panic. Seeing a tank a few feet away, he ran over and threw the snake down. It bounced on the aspen chips and curled into a pitiful ball.
"Noooo!" Sano yelled, tearing towards the tank, "That's the furry piranha tank! Frank will be eaten alive!"
Suzu watched closely as the bedding shuddered and moved towards the terrified snake. It backed away from the tunneling hunters. Hitting the glass, the snake frantically tried to climb the slick sides as the vicious killers closed in from underground. The trails of bedding flew as the monsters picked up speed, sure of their prey. Suzu and everyone else jumped as a bloody-murder scream tore from the tank and furry blurs launched from the wood chips.
Sano jerked the lid off and grabbed Frank just as the little bullets with teeth reached him. Instead they pinged against the glass and hit the ground, dazed.
"Those are killers?" Tetsu laughed, clearly thinking that they really were piranhas that were magically able to grow fur and live out of water. "Those are just mice."
"The sign states that they are Russian hamsters." Saito corrected, pausing from the tank he had been staring into.
"There, there, Frank." Sano crooned to the snake. "They won't get you. See, the monsters are locked up."
"Aww, they're cute." Okita grinned, boldly sticking his hands into the tank. Little grey, white, brown, and black beasts crowded around his sacrifice, chattering and jumping like miniature tribal cannibals. A particularly brave albino leapt off the back of his fellow and latched on to Okita's finger, just under the nail.
Suzu just barely ducked as the furball with teeth flew his direction. Okita looked sheepish, "Sorry, it was reflex."
"Sure." Suzu muttered as he straightened up. His ruby eyes followed the path of the airborne hamster and winced. The tiny creature's splash was hardly loud enough to alert a cat but apparently the vibrations in the water was more than enough to catch the tanks owners' attention.
Several dark fish with big mouths swarmed to the surface, sure of an easy meal. The hamster screamed then gurgled and tried to get out. It willingly grabbed the outstretched hand and climbed, shivering, onto Okita's palm.
"Aww, poor thing." Okita hardly noticed that his dripping bloody finger was making the fish froth into a frenzy. He putting his face up to the creature to get a better look and was promptly bitten on the nose, "Or not." He moved to toss the ungrateful cretin back into the tank.
"Okita, no!" Tetsu howled, "It's too cute."
"Yes, but it is an enemy." Okita replied, "Look what it did to me."
Suzu rolled his eyes. For the love of… it was a dumb little animal. A vicious, dumb little animal, but it certainly hadn't been plotting Okita's injuries. Then again, it was about time something had the guts to bite him.
"Just kidding!" Okita grinned, plopping the bedraggled monster into Tetsu's palm, "I think we should call her Sugar!"
The newly christened "Sugar" bit Tetsu.
"It is very sweet." Suzu remarked sarcastically. "If it were a rat you would not be so forgiving."
"But it's a hamster. Hamsters are so cute and cuddly. I'm sure she's just having a bad day. Right Sugar?" Chomp. "Oww! Hehe, love nibbles… OUCH, bastard."
"Frank is safe." Sano announced like everyone had been holding their breath. He grinned again and said, "Who wants a tour?"
"Ooo, me, me." Tetsu started then yelped as the hamster bit him again.
Shinpachi tugged on Heisuke's arm, "C'mon, you're not that traumatized. Let's go on the tour."
Heisuke uncurled slightly from where he had wedged himself in the corner. He glared, "I am too traumatized. It was trying to eat me! It could have chewed off my super handsome face and then what would I do?"
"Sell yourself to a circus?" Suzu remarked icily. He shoved the hamster, which Tetsu was holding in his face, to the side and followed after Sano. He assumed that if there were any more incidents, Sano would be most likely to wrangle whatever loose animal was rampaging.
"Hey, hey, look!" Tetsu insisted and Suzu paused to give him a glare. Tetsu beamed, "I just noticed this; you guys are like twins!"
Before Suzu turned he gave Tetsu the move scathing 'I-am-not-impressed' look.
"No, really! You're both white with red eyes. Twins. Isn't that sweet, Sugar, you have a buddy." Tetsu cooed to the hamster, "Ouch, okay, yeah, that was kinda an insult, wasn't it? Sorry, you're way cuter than Suzu."
Somehow Shinpachi managed to coax Heisuke out the corner and slung an arm around his side. It might have been interpreted as a friendly gesture if Shinpachi didn't have a death-grip on Heisuke's shirt. The fabric bunched mercilessly under his white-knuckled gripe and he was muttering threats under his breath.
"And these are the fish." Sano announced, waving his arm towards the long wall of bubbling tanks. "We have many different kinds of fish."
He dragged them past several tanks and pointed out one on the top. "These are my favorite. Watch!" He grabbed a scoopful of little minnows and threw them in the tank. The long, silver, snake-like fish darted forward, demolishing the poor victims. If fish could scream, they would be screaming. Head-first the minnows went down the throat and into the stomach where they sat heavily as lumps.
"Cool, huh?" Sano beamed.
Suzu didn't understand the fascination was animals that ate other animals alive. He really preferred he never see the face of his meal and that it be thoroughly dead before it reached his plate. He wondered if taking such pleasure in such a brutal act was a sign of mental insanity.
Then again, yelling when you hear the word "Bubbles" and dive to the floor with your hands over your head didn't qualify as sane.
Sano showed off a few more tanks of cannibalistic fish before concluding his tour of the fish.
He was about to move on when another employee shot past shrieking, "Code Black!"
"Uh, Sano…" Shinpachi started. Heisuke was looking around with an edge of paranoia. Code anything didn't sound good, especially if it involved a fleeing employee.
Sano looked mildly perturbed but offered, "Don't worry; it just means that all the scorpions and spiders are loose. Again."
"A-again…? What kind of place is this hellhole?" Heisuke paled. Suzu imagined he was reliving Webber's nightly escape to his pillow. The whole floor had heard him scream like a little girl for nearly a minute from waking up to a spider on his face.
"At least it's not a Code Green." Sano reassured confidently, "It's really hard to get the 'gators back in when they break loose. They get really ticked about being wrestled."
"When did went land on The Crocodile Hunter?" Shinpachi rolled his eyes trying not to look too troubled.
"Are you kidding? This is like Survivor and Fear Factor all rolled into one. Awesome!" Tetsu whooped. "Got any sharks Sano?"
And Code Black was promptly forgotten by the two members of the party that raced off to the nine foot shark tank that dominated the middle of the small store.
"I'm scared." Heisuke whimpered, and for once Suzu wasn't completely sure that he was faking to get his hands all over Shinpachi without rebuke, "I really hate spiders now."
"There is one." Suzu pointed to something scuttling over the floor. Heisuke screamed and clutched Shinpachi around the neck. Suzu looked closer and calmly corrected, "Never mind, it is just a roach."
"False alarm." The same employee as before came over and told them. The guy eyed Shinpachi and Heisuke for a moment before informing them that he got the code colors wrong all the time. He meant to say that it was a code orange. That sounded a lot more dangerous that black.
"And what does orange mean?"
"Oh, just that Fluffy is having his walk around the store."
"What is Fluffy?" Heisuke asked hopefully, probably imagining a super-soft puppy or something.
"He's our seventeen foot Burmese python. I'm just supposed to let everyone know because one time he ate someone's dog. We managed to save the toddler though."
Suzu couldn't tell if the guy was serious or not.
"Just don't make too much noise. It makes him cranky." The employee warned, "And no fast movements."
"I am leaving." Suzu announced with a frown. It was slightly disturbing to see Heisuke a gibbering school girl. And he didn't like snakes, spiders, hamsters, pigs, dogs, sharks, fish, birds, or the idiots that surrounded him.
"Party pooper." Tetsu accused, coming back from the shark tank. Sano wailed, "No, I haven't finished the tour!"
"I think Kitty has a good idea." Heisuke replied firmly. He peered around, "Where's Okita and Saitou?"
Suzu stared across the store at Okita. He had a fish net and was waving it around like a sword at a giant bird. The bird kept lunging and was trying to hit his face with its sharp, pointy beak. It gave a strangled scream at Okita poked it in the throat with the edge of the net, laughing. The bird gave him an evil glare and retaliated by pecking him in the forehead.
"I believe he is busy."
A man with a multitude of colorful tattoos and stretched earlobes wandered up. He looked them up and down, "Hey, can one of you dudes get me some feeders? I need two and a half dozen. But only the orange and white ones. Hehe, my electric eels don't like the other kind."
"Can you get that?" Sano called over from where he and Tetsu were dangling their fingers into the shark tank.
"N-no way." Heisuke disagreed, "That's so not the way to the door."
Shinpachi rolled his eyes and went over to the tank filled with millions of baby goldfish. He tentatively picked up a net and fished out a scoop. The fish flopped everywhere, splashing his face. He sputtered and tried to count them as they fell into the cup. After a few seconds an employee came up, snatching the net.
Suzu watched as the woman deftly sorted out several orange and white ones and bagged them up. She handed them to the customer and then turned towards them, "You must be Sano's friends."
"His abandoned friends." Heisuke qualified with a jealous glare as she shook Shinpachi's hand.
"Well, at least I know where he is." The woman sighed after they introduced themselves. "Sometimes he takes on little "tasks" and I have no idea where he is."
"This store is quite small." Suzu observed, skeptical that big and loud Sano could actually disappear for any period of time.
"Exactly. It should be impossible." The woman agreed, "But this whole store is psycho. You hear that Bob, I said its psycho. Again. You going to fire me so I can collect my unemployment yet?" She was focused on a small camera on the ceiling. For good measures, after finishing her speech, she flipped the camera off with a scowl. She turned back to them, "It's Big Brother in here, big time."
Heisuke looked impressed and Suzu hoped he wasn't getting any bright ideas on how to handle authority.
"Hey, I need two dozen truffles."
The woman's eye twitched, "Tuffies?"
"Sure, whatever." The man shrugged, shuffling off to peer at the sharks.
With the ease of practice, she bagged them up and handed them over.
"Are you sure that's two dozen."
"Nope." The woman snatched the bag back out of his hand and proceeded to fish each one out. "One… two… three…" She said each number deliberately as the fish plunked into a second bag, "Fifteen… wait, where was I? I need to start over."
As she fished out the last victim, she said, "Twenty five. Oops, you were right, it wasn't twenty four. Sorry about that." And she put the extra fish back in the tank. "Anything else?"
"Sorry, we don't carry dogs or your taste in women." The woman replied sweetly and Suzu decided it really was time to leave.
But now Heisuke looked interested, despite his terror of anything creepy-crawlie and the giant snake loose somewhere in the store. Apparently the Big Brother comment triggered something in his paranoid, cultist mind.
"Oh no, Sugar's loose on the floor!" Tetsu screamed as a small, white bullet sped past.
Suzu watched passively as the little monster whizzed past his feet fearlessly. It was obviously delighted at the freedom.
It skittered around the corner just as Tetsu screamed about the snake.
Suzu watched as Okita did a full-body tackle on a two inch hamster.
"Safe!" Sano yelled, "Fluffy, you're OUT!"
"Umm, Sano, wrong sport. You don't tackle people in baseball."
"Sure you do. You want to hit them with the ball." Sano blinked, looking genuinely bewildered. Shinpachi muttered trying to push a quivering Heisuke off him, "Remind me to never play baseball with him. I don't think I would survive."
"O-okay, I think we've had enough." Heisuke stuttered, eyeing the large snake. Suzu was in complete agreement. The snake looked like it really could swallow a small child with a head that was bigger than Sano's fist.
"That's a big snake." Shinpachi remarked, backing up a step and tripping over Heisuke.
"It almost ate Sugar!" Tetsu wailed, clutching the satan spawn to his chest. Okita, standing beside him, looked like he would have been okay with that. Instead of saying anything, he grimly tried to stop the blood from his bitten fingers.
"I believe that I have had enough." Suzu said brusquely, realizing there wasn't really any way to save this outing. Enough was enough. And someone had to say it.
"M-me too." Heisuke stuttered as Sano hefted the big snake's neck. Sano tried to turn the snake and pleaded with it. Fluffy was having none of that and his tongue flicked in and out, seeking its lost meal.
As they all headed hastily out the door, the sadistic female employee waved mockingly, "Y'all come back now."
"I am never going in there again!" Heisuke proclaimed, "Now, who wants some ice cream?"
"I do!" Tetsu shouted, "Ouch, dammit."
"Why did you bring that… thing… with you." Suzu asked, knowing his cat would probably catch the blame when the thing disappeared. Whether or not she ate it.
"The lady gave Sugar to me. She said she could see that I would give her a loving home, and if I didn't take the evil hamster, it was Fluffy chow." Tetsu explained, "How could I not take her home?"
"And where are you going to put it?"
"Sano has a cage."
Of course he did. It probably already had an occupant though.
"Hey, Saitou, what's in the box?" Heisuke asked, clearly recovered enough to be noisy.
Saitou merely raised as eyebrow, "I must decline ice cream. There are experiments I need to set up for."
The remaining party members stared at each other. Finally, Shinpachi ventured, "I'm not even going to ask. That guy is way too weird."
The unspoken agreement was that it was better that he experiment on whatever was in the box rather than freshman.
Author's note: I realize I'm posting this almost a year late :\ I actually had most of the remaining chapters planned out, but my HD ate them, including Itou's epic graduation speech (for which Hijikata is grateful). This chapter was not in the original storyline but I needed a quick one to get me back on track.
Luckily, the most recent Gintama episode reminded me of this little chapter. Their "Mitsu" is a bit different than mine, LOL.