Disclaimer: Gintama does not belong to me!

A/N: Well, here it is. Originally I never planned on writing anything for Gintama; however, I became inspired by the tone at the conclusion of the Benizakura Arc. The melancholy reminded me of how it felt when my closest high school friends and I all went to different universities after graduating, so I hoped to recreate the feeling in this one-shot. I hope you all enjoy it.

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End of Illusions

by Chairo Mori

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Final Lesson: Adults Are Too Old For Fairytales!

"Forget changing the country, I can't even hope to change a friend!" – Katsura

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The End.

Endings. Endings were supposed to be happy. Fulfilling. Friends were supposed to be reunited. Conflicts ended. Understanding shared.

Ah, Katsura reflected. What would it have been like if his encounter with Takasugi had concluded in that perfect fairytale ending? Inwardly, he scoffed at the thought. Fairytale. Of course that was the perfect word. Because fairytales just didn't exist in real life. If they did exist, he would have been able to change his former comrade. He would have been able to open Takasugi's eyes - well, figuratively speaking, as the man only had one eye – and make him see everything from his point of view. Their paths would once again converge, and they would again be allies in the never-ending struggle to better their country.

But as he realized before, this wasn't a fairytale, and Takasugi was still Takasugi. Nothing had changed. That was what he detested about his childhood friend. His unyieldingness. His stubborn sense of justice and self-righteousness. In a way, it unnerved Katsura, the maniacal way with which Takasugi clung to their late sensei's shadow. To think that a man could hold such loyalty, enough to attempt to sacrifice an entire world for the sake of retribution. It was insane. Then again, who was to say Takasugi wasn't insane?

He was deaf to reason, made that way by his own overwhelming hate. One eye blind to peace and sanity, the other only able to see rage and destruction. How suitable it was that he only had one eye, mused Katsura. No childish fairytale would ever contain that kind of disfigured protagonist without some miracle occurring to heal him of all imperfections. And there was no miracle that could grant Takasugi what he had lost: his left eye, his stable mentality. It only served as a bigger testimony to the reality before him. The reality where he had been forced to retreat under his Elizabeth-marked parachute pondering what could have been, instead of regally departing among his own fleet of men.

Indeed. This wasn't a fairytale. It was simply a tale. Nothing magical. Nothing to be awed about. Like most tales, there was only a lesson to be learned. . . Katsura clutched Takasugi's tattered textbook in his hand. One last lesson to be taught. How fitting it was that of the three of them, only Gintoki, the laziest of them all had managed to fully understand it.

Self-reconciliation.

For people like himself, Gintoki, and Takasugi, samurai who had sacrificed themselves to fight off the Amanto, who were forced to witness death after death of their comrades, the endless flow of crimson, the putrid smell of warfare . . . being robbed of the man they looked up to . . . the government's sudden compliance to the Amanto's every whim had been nothing short of betrayal. The decapitations of its loyal soldiers to appease the invaders, the sword ban, samurai becoming obsolete – they had left the pungent taste of bitterness in their mouths. All of their efforts, all of the bloodshed, all of those deaths, they were all a waste! Everything had been in vain. And that was unforgivable.

This loss was the drug that refused to allow the war to truly end. It was what induced the former samurai to band together into gangs of terrorists, into groups that sought to oppose the Amanto and the corrupt Bakufu, even at the sacrifice of more comrades. It was the drug that filled the pipe Takasugi smoked so addictingly. The opium that tempted and riled the beast within his soul, that possessed him with madness.

Katsura himself had been a victim of it. He could remember all too well the assassinations and bombings he and his followers had committed throughout the years. If it had not been for Gintoki, he would still be taking more innocent lives, unable to dissipate his anger. Fortunately, he had had the benefit of a friend to aid him in subduing his rage. He had been able to reconcile with himself, to stop the needless violence, to stop and contemplate another way to save Edo. He had been able to flush away the worst of the poison that had flooded his veins.

Yet, he knew the same could never happen for Takasugi. That he had kept that book with him all this time was proof of that. That last lesson would never be learned. Shouyou-sensei, the only person in the world Takasugi would listen to, was dead . . . no one could teach him now. And it was because of this, Katsura regretted, that he could no longer allow Takasugi to continue with his plans unchallenged.

As much as it had pained him to say them, he had meant every bit of his last words to Takasugi. Next time, there would be nothing left to say; he would be cut down. He wondered if Gintoki felt the same melancholic emotions as he too spoke those words. To be forced to finally sever his ties with one of the scarcely few comrades that survived the war. It was a burden that the both of them had voluntarily placed upon their own shoulders.

To unhinder the flow of time.

They needed to release the past. Time would continue to flow onwards, dragging all of them along with it. To continue to cling to the past would only prolong their pain. Time stretching their bodies from the past, across the present, and to the future until ultimately, their souls would be shredded by its phases.

They would cut Takasugi down. Cut away the arms that clung so vehemently to the past, freeing his soul before it became annihilated, ripped to pieces by his own doing. End him. End his ambition. End his hatred, his rage, his lust for vengeance. The hideous beast would finally be put to rest, and the past would finally be freed from hands that were all to unwilling to release it. Death was his only cure. And that was where their tale would truly conclude.

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End.

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