Hello, all :) Wow, it has been a long time, lol.. Aha.. Kinda busy? I'm deeply sorry for my absence. And I'm sorry to all my KakaHina fans and Naruto fans: this isn't a Naruto fic. It's from Gintama, one of the most hilarious and outrageous, and yet, sentimental and thought-provoking anime I have watched of all time. The end. P
This fic was constructed back in the wee months of April and May of 2010, when I was on a Gintama spree and a Gintoki/Shinpachi lovefest ;P It's yaoi (shounen-ai in this fic, so light and fluffy) but oh-so-near-and-delicious to my heart. I found an old draft in my email and I decided since I have no time to write nowadays, I could at least edit old stories and post them up. Don't worry my KakaHina fans, I found an old draft of a KakaHina fic in my email too XD It'll take a while longer to post cause it's still unfinished, but I only have a few scenes left. Also, note, most of this work is from last year, guys, so I'm hoping my writing's improved from then.. somewhat? But until I actually find time (if I ever do, sadly... applying for college and scholarships is a pain in the butt), I won't get to practice what I've learned.
Anyways, for GinShin and Gintama fans, here's to you~
Btw: I hate how ffnet doesn't allow you to use multiple punctuation marks at the end of the sentence, like an exclamation mark and a question mark.. :( the emotion conveyed in the sentence just isn't the same without it =/
Polite. Unassuming. Always aware of other's moods and feelings. It's a given that Shinpachi is the epitome of the perfect patient.
True, but… There is just something (wrong, wrong, wrong) how Gintoki discovers this. He decides not to delve on it, because Otae is taking it harder than he, which is only right.
Another truth, but…
The young nurse's soft voice interrupts his inner monologue. Gintoki stands, shoving his hands into his pockets dejectedly.
"Visiting hours are o-ov—"
"Over. I know." He sighs and shuffles out of the room.
She quivers before finding words. "Y-yes, you are right." And then she looks away with such an expression of hurt that Gintoki almost regrets his hashed out words. Almost.
He stops at the half-opened door and decides to compromise.
"Take care of him while I'm gone. Though he doesn't look like it, Shinpachi's the kind of kid to get lonely when we're not around. It does him good to have some company. It's 'cause of his sister complex, you know? Uptight kid who thinks he's independent on his feet. Tch, kids are all like that! In this age, they're all about "Let me stay out late! I'm independent!" and all that. A warning when you pop out a few: all of them reach a rebellious stage! It's a lesson of life, Kaa-sa—Ah."
He cuts off when he realizes he's rambled on far too long about something that doesn't really need to be rambled about, not when the kid he's talking about's in the same room—Ah. That doesn't apply here, does it? he asks himself with a slight upturn of his lip – the other side pulls down into a frown. He ends up with a contorted grimace. It's a constipated look, he thinks with a wry chuckle.
"Well, I'll be around tomorrow. Tell him that for me would you?"
"A-ano… Why don't y-you, Sakata-san?"
The words are barely above a whisper, but his keen ears (perfectly honed to tune into young teenagers' grumblings and complaints, and even more perfectly adept at ignoring them) hears all the same.
Gintoki's hands curl into restrained fists and he grits his teeth. There is a tense silence that envelops the room, uncontrolled in his loss of emotions. He breaks it with a few terse words.
"Clean out your ear wax and listen closely next time, Kaa-san. I told you already, didn't I?" His voice comes out strained, but he plows forth regardless.
"Kids these days just don't listen to their elders."
It's not an excuse, or so that's what he tells himself. Honestly, Edo would do good if punk kids would just listen to their elders and not go around with hanging hakamas all the time.
Ah, but Shinpachi s'not one of those kids.
Gintoki likes to think it is the result of Gin-san's endless wisdom and less from the fact that Shinpachi fears his older sister's wrath should he ever become a hakama-hanging hoodlum.
Good, glasses-wearing kid like he is, Shinpachi also escapes the latest teenage rage of hearing things and letting them run through the other ear. The teen listens, honestly listens to people and what they have to say, significant or otherwise – his current state is proof enough.
My fault, it's my fault.
These words have echoed in his mind the past two months (endlessly, relentlessly). Gintoki doesn't have the strength to bat them away with reason or logic anymore. Every passing day is a packed punch to the gut – it's his fault.
Otae is swift to blame, quick to anger, but she never faces him down in the days that follow the incident. Gintoki almost wishes she'd let out her pent-up fury on him. But no, a monster she may be when pissed off, she shows restraint and gentleness in the most unexpected moments.
("It is no one's fault, Gin-san. If anyone's, it's mine.")
And then she buries her face into the sleeves of her kimono, choking back a heart-breaking sob.
Gintoki cannot drudge up enough sympathy to offer her any relief – it falls down to Kagura to comfort the breaking woman. And even Kagura cannot help but let her tears fall freely, snot running down her face in all its runny goodness.
It is another punch to Gintoki's gut, another conviction added to his long list of guilt and regrets – (things he had the power to prevent).
The hospital room's door slides open and Gintoki is jolted back to present time. He gets up without saying a word, hardly sending the peaceful figure in front of him a glance.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Visiting hours are over," says Gintoki. He receives his just desserts for his brusqueness when the nurse shimmies away from his approach to the door. Gintoki sighs.
"You've told me a million times, Kaa-san. Geez, quit treating me like a kid, old hag."
An unwilling smile spreads across the nurse's face. She bows when he steps out of the door.
"I-I'll watch over him for you, Sakata-san. Until you return tomorrow."
Her unexpected kindness wells up a sudden burning sensation in his eyes. Gintoki blinks and runs a hand through his unkempt hair.
"Then I'll leave it to you," he mumbles.
"It's what mothers are for, Sakata-san."
"Hah?" questions Gintoki, a rusty smile melting the corners of ice on his dead expression. "What're you going on about? If a mother can't at least cook fried rice for her son, then they have no use."
The sun's morning rays stream through the window after he pushes aside the curtains. The bright light shines on an unnaturally pale wrist lying on top of a bed cover. Gintoki watches it in fascination, astounded by how much life it puts into Shinpachi. As the sun rises, a thin ray dances across Shinpachi's face and becomes indented in the curve of the teen's lips.
Gintoki off-handedly wonders if Shinpachi's ever kissed a girl.
"So he has yet to wake?" says a familiar voice as two lumpy figures block out the sunlight. Gintoki slams the glass window closed, but he isn't fast enough to keep the unexpected visitors from entering.
"Is that any way to greet a friend?" says Katsura with a slightly annoyed edge to his voice. Elizabeth displays a sign board covered in kanji characters Gintoki doesn't even attempt to decode.
"Haven't I told you to stop deluding yourself?" returns Gintoki, falling into the easy banter like he hasn't since…
Something indiscernible flashes in Katsura's eyes – Gintoki raises an eyebrow in question.
"You appear to be…" Katsura pauses and meditates on his next words. "More at ease with yourself than you have as of late."
Gintoki snorts and plops down into the only visitor's chair. "Leave sleep-talking for old geezers, Zura."
He is pulled up short when the terrorist deigns not to reply with his characteristic "Not Zura, it's Katsura!" and instead says, "He looks peaceful today. I wonder what he is dreaming of."
Gintoki's lips clam up. He folds his arms with a perfunctory shrug and leans the chair backward on its two hind legs, pointedly ignoring the searching look Katsura places on him. Finally his long-time friend sighs.
"My visit today has a purpose, actually." Katsura pulls out a CD case, still fresh in its wrapper, and places it on the bed table. "Otsuu-chan's newest album has come out. When I saw it while escaping from the Shinsengumi dogs, I immediately thought of Otsuu-chan's Fan Club President." A silly smile pulls up the corners of Katsura's lips. "It's not yours, though, Shinpachi-kun, remember that! We're on a loan-and-return basis now."
Gintoki watches Katsura slide open the door, graciously letting Elizabeth go before him. He sends Gintoki a silent wave and a long look in the hospital bed's direction. "You can return it after listening to it when you wake up, Shinpachi-kun," he finally says.
And then he jumps, no doubt carried off by a parachute or whatever he keeps in handy for these kinds of situations.
Gintoki spends the rest of the day wondering why there appear to be ghost images of a faint smile on the teen's lips. He finally comes to a conclusion mid-afternoon, and, inwardly, he thanks Katsura.
His stomach keeps time for him and protests with an upset roar from missing lunch. Gintoki muses for a few seconds on whether or not to return home to eat or risk Otae stepping in with a home-cooked meal… The decision takes a millisecond to make; Gintoki swings his legs off the table to stand up.
He turns and is greeted by the harried sight of the young nurse holding a bento in her hands.
"S-Sakata-san!" she squeaks, nearly dropping the package in her hands from the surprise of facing him so fast. She was clearly prepping herself for this, thinks Gintoki with an amused grin. It's something so unexpectedly Shinpachi-like that— He mercilessly crushes his next thoughts, despite the nostalgic warmth easing its way to his chest.
"Oh? Kaa-san's come to see me?" He eyes the wrapped bento speculatively. "…And dropping off the lunch I forgot on the kitchen table?"
The nurse blushes and thrusts the package towards him, stuttering under her breath, "M-my son needs nourishment to keep him healthy, r-right?"
Gintoki blinks, surprised by how well she's playing into his joke – he shudders at how much this resembles a sex play.
He accepts the proffered meal with a smile of thanks, ignoring the sudden coldness gripping his heart when he recalls how Shinpachi hates his laidback, facetious way of dealing with things – (once the straight man, always the straight man).
A ripple of mirth runs through his body. Even he acknowledges half his joking cracks wouldn't be so effective if he didn't have Shinpachi, calling them out all the time.
His amusement fades away as soon as it comes. That is the reason he's hardly choked a laugh lately, the reason why any words of humor dies before it escapes the confines of his lips.
Remembering leaves him numb.
He stuffs himself with fried rice mechanically, the nurse having left to finish her duties. He scrapes the last grains and says his thanks for the meal, licking off stray pieces of rice on his mouth with a thoughtful look. It's only after packing away the bento that Gintoki finds the words to describe the meal.
The answer reverberates throughout his entire being – the overwhelming sensation ringing like the bells during New Year's.
He'd tasted the over saltiness of the meal, just didn't comment on it. He'd tasted the carefully cooked grains of rice that had obviously taken many tries to get it to that level of perfection, just didn't acknowledge it. He'd tasted the fluttery feelings of hesitant love in the meal, and yet hadn't dared to read too much into it. It is all so Shinpachi – a gentle caress of his face and a simultaneous pierce to his heart.
Gintoki buries his face into his hands, entwining his fingers into his hair with painful pulls and twists. A sliver of a tear runs down his cheek, setting off the oncoming tempest. His breaths come out choked; snot dribbles down his nose as he crumples into himself.
He chafes his cheeks raw from his attempts to stem the brutal onslaught of tears, but finally gives up when it's obvious it won't stop, not any time soon, and lets them have their way – it's not like him to turn anything away from its natural course, anyways.
And so he releases the burning frustration that has been cultivating in him for the last few (anguishing, horrifying, so-goddamn-painful) months.
"Wake up, you idiot! Wake up so I can beat you back into submission, you stupid otaku!"
It's the first time, thinks Gintoki, that he's allowed himself to utter the words that have been battling deep inside of him.
He doesn't even think to ask for forgiveness – it's guaranteed that he'll receive it anyways, no matter how undeserving he is. Because that's just how Shinpachi (naïve, glasses-wearing, idol-obsessed idiot) is.
No, it's asking him to ("Wake up, wake up, wake up, stupid! Don't you see how many people are worrying for you! Quit reliving your teenage wet dreams and return to reality! Idiot! Stupid! Moron!") that tears at him from the inside out.
But the words are forbidden from escaping his mouth, forbidden from the moment he lashed at the teen before the accident. ("Haaah? You didn't get Jump? Gin-san, whose roof you're under right now, demands it this instant! Got that, paper boy?")
Kagura, witness to his words, knows his reason for not speaking to Shinpachi more than anyone else in this world. She has her own reasons for avoiding this hospital room like the plague these past few months. ("Oi, oi, oi, Pacchan! If you can't even run simple errands like getting Jump and my sukonbu, we may have to replace you.")
("Che, you think I meant to forget? It's pouring rain out there! Take one step out there and you'd fall on your lazy butts, idiots! Anyone'd forget to buy a few things when you're worrying about your life suddenly taking a skydive from alive to dead!")
Ominous words from an unsuspecting teen given to two uncomprehending idiots.
Gintoki's tears suddenly dry. He wipes off the last of his snot on his sleeve and stands up.
It's suffocating in here.
He thinks Kami-sama is trying to send him subliminal messages when he passes by a popsicle stand, filled with ice-cold ("It's perfect for this hot, summer day, dear Customer, don't you think? And only for 398 yen! That's a golden deal right there!) popsicles of varying sweetness that would really do good for his parched throat and sweating temples.
Huh. Maybe he should get a popsicle.
He gives in, with 200 yen in his pocket, and observes the different flavors with calculating intensity. Pink? Ah, no, Sensei said my sugar level's too high… Blue's for punk kids who don't know the difference between cotton candy and grape. Hah! As if Gin-san would fall for artificial flavoring!
Gintoki looks up at the owner and spots a familiar pair of sunglasses. "Hasegawa-san?" he says, taking his eyes off the icy treats. "A new job?" he asks, idly digging his pinky finger into his ear.
"Ahh, ha ha ha. You know how things go for me…" Hasegawa-san trails off and chuckles sheepishly as if that explains things. Gintoki 'hmm's disinterestedly, but perks up at Hasegawa-san's next words.
"Here for a popsicle, Gin-san? I can get you one for free, you know?"
"Oh? Thanks, Mada—Hasegawa-san."
"Oi, you definitely almost said Madao right there. And when I'm about to offer you a free treat, too!" Gintoki returns his interest to the popsicles half-way through Hasegawa-san's rant, ignoring him. The man sighs and mutters something under his breath.
He's just about to ask for strawberry when Hasegawa-san speaks again.
"Sh-Shinpachi… How is he? I-I actually haven't had the time to visit, but… How is he, Gin-san?"
And there's such an earnest expression on the man's face that Gintoki doesn't have the heart to deftly ignore him like he's done these past few months when asked about the teen's condition.
He closes his eyes to hold back a sudden rush of emotion, and sighs.
"Green." Gintoki speaks suddenly, as if he's just chosen a flavor from random. "I want green, Hasegawa-san."
"E-eh?" asks Hasegawa-san, surprised by his lacking description of Shinpachi's condition. "Green, Gin-san? I was already getting ready to get you a sugary pink or red one too, ha ha. You sure you can take the bitter flavor?"
Gintoki shrugs his shoulders. "Who knows? But…" He pauses, a slight smile playing on his lips. "If Pacchan can take it, Gin-san can too."
Hasegawa-san's gaze zeroes in on his melancholy expression like a mother would a lying child, with half the accuracy. He finally shrugs his shoulders and tosses two frozen green popsicle treats at him. "Eat one for me would ya, Gin-san?"
Gintoki turns and lifts up a hand in answer, gripping the two icy treats in his other with a crushing hold.
He finds a deserted bench and sits, rolling the melting popsicles around in his hands with a contemplative air. He scrutinizes the extreme brightness of the lime green, its color reminding him of its tart flavor.
How did he ever eat these things? Gintoki asks himself incredulously. Already, he can feel his sweet tooth aching for a sugary treat and yet, he's holding an incredibly bitter popsicle in his hands.
And then he remembers that ("Gin-san, Gin-san! I want green!") Shinpachi loves them.
He bits off the tip and sucks. Bitter, is his first thought.
("Ehhh? Green? What kind of flavor is that? Wanna kill off some taste buds, idiot?")
("Sh-shut up! Lime's better than your disgustingly sweet popsicles, Gin-san.")
Eh? When did he become Kakashi? Reminiscing about his dead (in a coma) teammate (employee, best friend, that-nameless-fluttery-butterflies-in-stomach-tongue-in-a-twist-special-person) whenever he's not thinking about anything else?
Huh? So what if I've got silver hair! I need a cool mask too, damnit!
He slurps up the last of the popsicle in mock frustration, spluttering when it goes down the wrong pipe. Shinpachi's favorite flavor extinguishes his thirst but leaves him choking from the bitter taste.
"H-how could he ever eat these things?" he coughs out between spine-cracking hacks.
"Must've had dead taste buds," comments a familiar voice.
Gintoki raises his head mid-cough to see an unpleasant sight.
"Oh?" he drawls, his voice hoarse.
"Tch. I'm just as disgusted to see you too, Yorozuya, so don't give me that," says the mayo-maniac Hijikata with a grimace.
Gintoki waves a hand casually. "No, no, not that. It's just hearing you say someone else has dead taste buds when you're obviously the only one present with—"
Hijikata sputters, just as Gintoki expects. "Shut up, natural perm! I don't wanna hear that from you of all people!"
They glare daggers at each other for what seems like an eternity before the other man sighs and slaps a palm to his head. Gintoki's hoping he's lost a few brain cells.
"Tch. I didn't come here to do this. I was looking for Kondo and Sougou. Those two idiots give me so much trouble…" Hijikata sighs and lights a cigarette. He eyes the empty space left on the bench Gintoki's sitting on and frowns when Gintoki props up his feet and lays down, covering the entirety of the bench. "And so? What brings you out here? Haven't seen you around much since… Never mind."
Gintoki ignores the look of comprehension that dawns on the mayora's face half-way through his questioning and, instead, examines his fingernails. There's a green stickiness stuck to a few, much to his distaste.
"Ah, well, I'm off. Hope the sadist gets a bazooka in your head sometime soon."
Hijikata fumes from the side and Gintoki's left with a feeling of satisfaction that completes his late-afternoon snack perfectly. He swings his feet off the bench and gets up, crumpling the thin plastic left from the popsicles and throwing it into the nearby trash bin.
The mayo-maniac's predictable responses bring a sense of balance back into Gintoki – the feeling leaves him slightly more energetic, slightly more ready to face the world.
This feeling is crushed when he realizes his insults and bridled remarks still haven't shaken off the Shinsengumi Vice Captain.
"Oi, Higushi-kun, I know I haven't returned that copy of Jump yet, but I haven't finished it and—"
"Shut up, would you? I just happen to be going in the same direction," growls Hijikata from three paces behind him.
His excuse is so startling that Gintoki stops and turns around to better confront the man. The words are half-way out of his mouth when he stops to realize that the mayora's in his casual clothes and he's holding a stuffed bag filled with Shinsengumi sausages.
Suspicion takes root and Gintoki narrows his eyes dangerously. "Oi, you wouldn't happen to b—"
"Kondo-san's orders," cuts in the man, deflecting the guarded words Gintoki throws at him. He bats Gintoki's glare away with a puff of his cigarette. "He's been meaning to visit Otae-san's brother for a while, but we've been bus—"
Hijikata raises an eyebrow in question.
Gintoki turns around and returns to his slow, ambling pace.
"His name's Shinpachi, you nicotine-freak."
There is a solemn atmosphere enveloping Shinpachi's room. Gintoki surveys the surprising lack of bloodshed curiously.
"Oh? You met up with Yorozuya, Toushi?" The gorilla's voice is three decibels lower than usual – Gintoki assumes this is the reason why Otae has yet to lose her temper and hurl him out the window.
"Ah," grunts 'Toushi.'
Gintoki raises a hand in greeting towards the blonde sadist.
Otae, who is visiting Shinpachi before setting off to work, is quiet as usual – she only has eyes for her comatose younger brother. The expression on her face reminds Gintoki yet again of the shared complex between the two Shimura siblings.
There is another grinding stab of guilt to his heart.
The three Shinsengumi officers keep a respectful silence throughout the visit, and when Otae finally says good-bye to her brother, brushing his hair away from his closed eyes with a fond smile, they take their leave as well.
Not without, however, offering their own partings.
"See you, Four-Eyes. When you wake up, I'll take you bar-hoppi—er, to a nice restaurant with your nee-san. Yeah." Sougou beats a hasty retreat when Otae's demure smile locks onto him.
"Shinpachi-kun… You'll always be my precious brother-in-la—"
"Don't give him nightmares, Kondo-san," growls Otae from the door. "Or I'll give you some. Ones that will have you screaming blood-curdling cries for the rest of your life." And then she smiles in a way all men in the room are familiar with as she leaves the room. Kondo follows after her with exclamations of, "Otaeee-san! So we'll be together for that long? I'm so happyyy!"
The last Shinsengumi officer barely sends a glance towards Gintoki, and instead focuses his attention on the teen.
"Don't mind those two. They're both idiots… Shinpachi."
And then he's stalks out of the room, muttering something about how the Shinsengumi can't afford any more visits to "damn cabaret clubs."
Gintoki pushes off the wall he was leaning on during the entire affair, a soft smile playing on the corners of his lips.
"Oi, oi, Pacchan. You never told me you had so many friends."
"G-Gin-san?" comes Otae's shocked voice. Gintoki can hear the ("Gin-san's lost his mind, mmhmm, yeah, he's definitely lost his mind!") in her disbelieving tone, but he pays it no attention.
"Gin-san? Who's that?" he asks in a mild tone. "My name is Sakate Gakashi." And then he tugs up his dark, skin-tight mask for emphasis.
Otae gapes while Kyuubei looks at him cluelessly. Their new visitor for the day gets it, however, and chuckles.
"Emulating Kakashi-san, Danna?" says the badminton cosplayer, Yamazaki.
"Osu~" intones Gintoki with a raise of his hand. Absentmindedly, he wonders how Kakashi can stand to wear his mask 24/7 – it's freaking sweaty, damnit!
The room's occupants eventually settle back into their respective silences. Gintoki, with Otae occupying his regular chair, is restless, and roams around the room. He adjusts his mask ten times in a minute and crosses and uncrosses and crosses his arms as if his life depends on it. Finally, when the quiet atmosphere begins to choke him, he rips the mask off, flinging it and watching it hit the wall with a certain satisfaction.
The door slides open.
"Ah! What a surprise to see you all here. Usually it's just Gin-san," comes the voice of the doctor.
Gintoki perks up at the familiarity of the tone and smirks. "Yo, Gaijin-sensei."
The doctor smiles, crinkling his scar. "It's nice to see my most frequent patient here without any wounds." The man pauses, sending Gintoki an unreadable look. "Wounds not of the body, in any case," he finally says. Gintoki remains expressionless.
Yamazaki speaks up from his corner with a slight bow, "I should probably get going. Hijikata-taichou's going to make me commit seppuku if I delay our meeting any longer… ha ha…" He exits with a nod towards Otae and Kyuubei and sends Gintoki a polite glance.
Gaijin-sensei waits a few seconds after Yamazaki's departure before finally speaking. "Actually, I came here to inform those close to Shinpachi-kun that the nurse on duty last night detected brain activity from him." Gintoki's ears suddenly expand and Otae focuses an intense stare on the man. "It could mean one of many things, but more than likely, it was just a dream. Tanaka-san ascertains that she saw Shinpachi's fingers twitch as well."
The name sounds familiar, but Gintoki cannot place it. His mind is on other matters entirely, regardless.
And then Gaijin-sensei speaks his next words. "I want to remind you all that recovery has always been possible for Shinpachi-kun's case. It all depends on him to wake up and face the world again." He smiles when he catches sight of Otae's radiant one and Kyuubei's accompanying one.
And then the mood becomes too much for him. Gintoki leaves – not without, however, sending the teen a backwards glance. It's the first time he's allowed himself to (because he's the cause of this).
Gintoki reaches the hospital lobby and spots an interesting sight.
"Gin-chan!" shouts an ecstatic voice. A familiar 'woof' in greeting comes from the enormous white dog accompanying her.
"K-Kagura?" he asks, shocked.
The Yato girl jumps on him, and Gintoki just barely catches himself from falling backward. "Huh? Don't tell me you've forgotten about me, Gin-chan!" Kagura hops off him and pulls up a curled fist with a beatific expression. "If so, don't worry! I'll pop you a good one and then it'll all come rushing back!"
The familiar naiveté from Kagura is overwhelming – Gintoki can hardly believe that the world is slowly tilting back to its original axis.
And then the world tilts around him in a blanket of darkness when a sharp pain erupts throughout his head.
"Tell me if it works, Gin-channn!" echoes faintly before he loses complete consciousness.
Gintoki wakes up and his first conscious thought is that his head hurts. His second is that he's going to burn Kagura's stash of sukonbu, because that hurt damnit!
A questioning voice interrupts his plans for revenge.
"Y-you're awake, Sakata-san?"
Gintoki blinks and shifts his head a little to the right from his lying position. His half-lidded eyes connect with those of his "kaa-san's" from his bedside and he sighs.
The nurse giggles slightly at his dejected tone. "It's quite unusual for p-patients to get their injury in the hospital, Sakata-san."
"Ah?" he grunts tonelessly.
"Mm…" The nurse trails off into a contemplative silence.
Gintoki raises a palm to his forehead, calculating the extent of his pain. He inwardly shrugs, shoves off his bed covers, and gathers himself to his feet.
The world suddenly swoons from standing up so fast.
"S-Sakata-san! Are you sure you're able t—"
"Oi, Kaa-san," mutters Gintoki as he clambers towards the door, his head pounding as if he's been out drinking all night and is only just now feeling its effects. "Don't talk so loud. Gin-san's world is all dizzy-wobbly right now."
A hand latches onto his forearm and gently guides him out of the hospital room. "Then Kaa-san will help you walk," comes the nurse's voice from his side.
Gintoki sighs once before letting a reluctant half-smile cross his face. The words, oddly familiar, "Then I'll leave it to you," leave his lips.
They shuffle down the brightly-lit hallway together. When they turn the corner, Gintoki pushes himself off the younger woman with his lips pursed in a rebellious-teenage manner. The nurse giggles unbidden into her hands.
They are just about to turn down Shinpachi's hallway when the nurse suddenly corners him. Gintoki backs away from her determined stare and jolts when his back meets the wall.
"O-o-oi!" his voice quivers, eyes wide. "K-K-Kaa-chan, whatever it is, I didn't do it!"
The nurse bites her lip to keep from smiling and fixes a fierce stare on him. Gintoki feels his shoulders relax – he recognizes this intensity (all she needs is the glasses and she'd...).
"Sakata-san." She inhales once and closes her eyes to calm herself. They flicker open and Gintoki represses the urge to flinch. "I'm not your mother. I… I'm just a nurse here… And we both know this…"
A blush inflames the woman's cheeks and reaches the roots of her hair in a fiery trail. And then she finally confesses, "I like you, Sakata-san!"
An awkward silence envelops the two – Gintoki refrains from making any facial expressions. The nurse exhales and flashes him a sad smile. Gintoki idly notices that two dimples dot her cheeks.
"I just wanted to let you know… but your heart is elsewhere, is it not?"
Gintoki doesn't comment and the nurse returns to her orderly manner after a stretched pause. With a poignant smile etched on her face, she speaks.
"Patient 00345 Shimura Shinpachi has awakened."
The Amanto may have taken over Edo and the samurai may have been crushed in their rebellion, but nothing obstructs Gintoki from his mad dash down the hallway and into the hospital room.
Five pairs of eyes jolt upward when he jerks the door open, but Gintoki only has his sights set on one. Familiar brown eyes widen in recognition and their owner's lips curve into a bemused smile.
His voice (so weak, so frail) and the imperceptible tilt of his head… Gintoki can hardly believe this is actually happening (how? just how?) without going on a long, torturous journey and gathering the seven dragon balls and summoning Shenron so he can grant his wish and—
"You… you look like you've seen a ghost, Gin-san," jokes Shinpachi, his voice rasping from its lack of use these past few months.
"Not a ghost," says Gintoki, his lips beginning to upturn. "Just a rebellious teenager whose waken up from the dead."
It's slow and trembling, but like daylight breaking over a sleeping Edo, a beaming grin eventually overtakes Gintoki's face. Shinpachi returns it with his own shaky one.
And then he collapses back onto his propped up pillow, clearly exhausted.
Gintoki can only watch helplessly from the side as Otae and Kagura rush forward towards the spent teen. Gaijin-sensei raises a hand, his lips pressed into a thin line.
"This visit has been allowed because of the close relations you all share, however…" Here, he pauses, and sends a calculating glance towards Shinpachi. "However, any more excitement will over-exhaust Shinpachi-kun. For now, I'll have to ask you all to leave so that Shinpachi-kun can rest."
Otae starts at the proclamation, a protest on her lips. "B-but is that alright? Going back to sleep after being in a coma?"
The doctor nods. "It is a common response, due to the body's own fatigue, for a recently awakened comatose patient to need natural sleep to restore its vitality. Seeing as how Shinpachi-kun's still a young, healthy teenager, his rehabilitation should take shorter than usual." Gaijin-sensei pauses and runs mental numbers through his head. "It should take a few weeks to get Shinpachi-kun used to walking and a few days to get through normal conversations. For today, however, he needs to rest, because as I said, over-exhausting is something one doesn't want to do to any patient."
"It's okay, Ane-ue," comes Shinpachi's thin voice from the bed. Gintoki observes the sight of Shinpachi struggling to sit upright and failing with hawk-like sharpness. The teen eventually gives up and leans heavily on his head board, a strained smile on his face. "I'm just tired. When I wake up again, we can… we can talk." And then he releases a teary yawn.
Gaijin-sensei nods in agreement and leaves the room.
Otae is clearly reluctant to leave her newly wakened brother's side, but in his fatigued state, she has no words to protest.
"Sleep well, Shin-chan," she says softly, brushing her hand across Shinpachi's forehead. The teen gives her a crooked smile.
"I am happy that you are awake, Shinpachi-kun," says Kyuubei, taking her leave along with Otae.
Kagura just stares at Shinpachi, her facial expression visibly stricken. "Sh-Shinpachi…" And then she swallows it up, just like the stubborn kid she is. "Get better soon, boy, or else I'll have to find some other four-eyed otaku to take to Otsuu-chan's next concert."
Shinpachi blinks and a familiar frown grows on his face. "O-otaku? I'm not… I'm not an otaku, Kagura-chan. As, as Otsuu-chan's number one fan, I can't… allow someone to call me—"
"Yeah, yeah! I got it, geez!" shouts Kagura, stomping her foot down in frustration, creating a shapely indent in the floor. "Don't be the stubby sukonbu in the box, idiot! Just be glad you're getting to go with such a nice-looking lady!"
She growls and moves to shove Shinpachi (it's instinct, a habit so deeply ingrained it takes more than a few months' distance to break it) before she remembers who's the patient here and settles for flicking his nose. Gintoki watches her make a face at Shinpachi and stamp out of the room in amusement.
"Kagura-chan… will always be Kagura-chan. Ne… Gin-san?" chuckles Shinpachi.
His words bring Gintoki back to the room – he realizes, vaguely, that it's only him and Shinpachi left.
He also realizes, vaguely, that he has no idea what to say.
Shinpachi reads the situation with ease and reacts accordingly – he says nothing at all. He instead works on getting his pillow back to its original position, albeit fumbling in his attempts.
Gintoki can only stand to be a spectator for so long – watching the usually independent teen struggle so much to complete a simple task constricts his chest in ways he'd never known existed.
"I told you, didn't I?" begins Gintoki as he walks towards the bed; each step closer makes it increasingly easier to breathe. "Calcium – the answer's calcium. With calcium, you'd be able to do this yourself."
Gingerly, Gintoki places a firm hand on Shinpachi's back and eases him to his back on the bed, ignoring the feeble protests from Shinpachi, and places the pillow in its rightful position under Shinpachi's head.
His tone softens, just the slightest.
Shinpachi nods, half-lost in unconsciousness already. Gintoki watches the blissful expression of sleep settle on Shinpachi's face, unable to help but lose himself in the moment (it's been so long since he's watched the teen battle a fierce war and yet still succumb to sleep).
His voice is faint, but Gintoki hears it all the same (he's only been praying, begging, pleading Kami-sama for the last two months to let him hear it again).
Shinpachi's arm slides out from under the covers and reaches weakly towards him. "H-hand…?"
Gintoki sends the pale, extended hand a fervent, desperate look of longing he would a lifeline, but is hesitant (he cannot help but think that if he were to take hold, he'd be defiling it) – and then he notices Shinpachi's tightly clenched eyes and the inferno blush overtaking his cheeks.
So he's not the only one who…?
It's slow to process, but eventually, he can't hold back the wild, insane elation that warms him from the inside.
His warm, clammy hand slides into Shinpachi's thin one easily and grasps it in a light grip. Shinpachi absently squeezes back, and Gintoki's heart does an Olympic-winning leap (which he determinedly ignores).
An irritated shout, a frustrated fold of arms, an easy smile spreading from his lips to eyes… Shinpachi's familiar mannerisms are akin to precious drops of water given to a deprived man parched with thirst – Gintoki drinks it all in, letting the dew drops linger on his tongue, relishing the overwhelming sensation of normality for as long as Kami-sama will allow this.
"G-Gin-san! Guess what? Guess what? I made it all the way down the hallway without any support!" Shinpachi sports a triumphant look (never mind the fact that sweat drenches his hospital clothes and his breathing's ragged from over-exertion) and there is a trace of boyish pride painting his flushed face ("Oi, oi! You think your beetle's the biggest? Hah! I went through a whole army of Amanto and came back with this beast!").
Gintoki flicks a page of the latest Jump issue and looks up with half-lidded eyes. "Hah? Ah, good for you, Shin-kun. Now let the adult get back to adult busin—"
The Jump in his hand is yanked unceremoniously from his hands and thrown to the ground. Gintoki narrows his eyes at the perpetrator (h-how dare he treat Jump that way?) and levels the chair's legs he's sitting on with the floor in a dull 'thump.'
His eyes connect with those of Shinpachi's. Gintoki frowns at the fierce glare directed at him. "What's this? Some petty attempt at rebelling? Oi, you're ten years too early to think you'll get your way around my house!"
He regrets his words as soon as they come when whatever restraint holding back Shinpachi's rage lodges loose, fueled by his words.
"Rargrhhh! Gin-san! Your nonchalant attitude lately is so damn annoying!" shouts the bespectacled teen as he flings his arms up in emphasis. "Whatever I do, it's still all about you and your sugar obsession and your damn Jump! I'm freaking sick of this!"
Irritation rises unbidden in Gintoki as Shinpachi continues his raged outburst – his collar heats up as he tries to contain his own protests in a tight bottle.
"You don't even care! So just… just get the hell out of here!"
He's up on his feet before he even realizes it. The chair is lying behind him, overturned, and his body is tense with unbridled anger. Shinpachi is visibly taken aback at his show of anger, but by this time, Gintoki's tight control has snapped to the point of no return.
"'Get the hell out of here?'" scoffs Gintoki in derision. "Tch, some punk kid like you thinks you have the right to tell Gin-san what to do and where to go? You think you know how I've been these past few months when you were in a freaking coma? Huh?" Gintoki spits to the side, fury streamlining his actions. "Gin-san's been deprived of Kami-sama's gifts these last few months! Gin-san catching up on his Jump? Gin-san stuffing himself with parfaits? Only because it's been Shinpachi, Shinpachi, Shinpachi for Gin-san lately! How could I read Jump, knowing there's no one to nag me like an annoying kaa-san? How could I eat parfaits with you on your deathbed? Huh? Gin-san's just trying to refill himself on what he's missed these—Ah."
(crapcrapcrapcrapcrap!) echoes throughout the ominously silent room, or maybe it's just in Gintoki's head. Panic erupts inside him, and Gintoki shifts his eyes towards the door, looking for an exit (anywhere, anything! Come on! Come on!).
Plans for a quick escape crumble to pitiful ashes when Shinpachi's small voice breaks the heavy silence.
And so Gintoki is forced to speak. He avoids Shinpachi's light gaze and focuses on a stray speck of dust past the teen's shoulder.
"D-d-don't get cocky, brat! It was just… just… c-community service, yeah!" Gintoki releases a muted sigh of relief at his conjured excuse. "Community service for… K-Kabuki-cho! A-ah ha ha ha! Labor hours are required now a-and, er… Kagura went up to the mountains to battle the bears attacking the poor defenseless rabbits and, er… I went… I went… to, er, you know, watch comatose patients in the hospital! E-easy work, d-d-don't you agree, Pachi?"
Shinpachi blinks once (the expression on his face far too amused to have believed a word he'd just said) and drops his gaze to his feet. The sunlight's glare on the teen's glasses prevents Gintoki from seeing his eyes. A sense of unease settles in his bones – again, the desire to escape wells up in him.
"Gin-san…" There's a slight tremble in Shinpachi's voice that Gintoki easily detects.
(And the case is closed, just like that.)
Gintoki says nothing and allows a slow smile to spread across his face. His eyes drift towards the window, watching the orange rays of the setting sun wash over the hospital grounds and into the room. (Summer is leaving; fall is kicking the season out and into the dank alleys of Kabuki-cho.)
Gintoki reaches forward and ruffles the teen's hair, smirking when Shinpachi attempts to retaliate and tries to snatch his arm in a vice-hold.
"Find a wheelchair; Gin-san's going to treat you to some popsicles."
("Haaah? You didn't get Jump? Gin-san, whose roof you're under right now, demands it this instant! Got that, paper boy?")
("Che, you think I meant to forget? It's pouring rain out there! Take one step out there and you'd fall on your lazy butts, idiots! Anyone'd forget to buy a few things when you're worrying about your life suddenly taking a skydive from alive to dead!")
Gintoki tosses these memories out as he would old copies of Jump on combustible trash day – (he regrets them, but now's the time to move on and make new memories).