Title: Joui Chronicles
Warnings: none for this chapter
Disclaimer: no
Important: this is a sort of 'prequel' to Justaway, but you don't have to read one to understand the other.
A/N: this fanfic will probably get lengthy. It will start out with the Joui as kids, then work its way to when they're teenagers fighting in the war.

I

The village wasn't a big one, but it didn't need to be. It was clean and well put together, the houses and buildings on the smaller side, ranging from one to three levels. There wasn't much surrounding the village besides acres of forest and open fields. A river ran along the west side just outside the village limits, but it wasn't a big one. Long, maybe, but not large and there was a wooden bridge connecting the two banks. He hadn't really seen the rest of the village, preferring to instead stay in one spot for awhile.

Gintoki was wandering around the school house, not for the first time, to check things out – again. He'd been there for a few days and everything had been quite the whole time he'd been around, but he didn't trust that relative silence. It was too quiet and on top of that, definitely not the type of quiet he was used to because he wasn't usually inside a house or building. He tended to stay away from stuff like that, with the exception of when it snowed.

His bare feet made soft thuds against the hardwood and though he kept the sword held close to him, the bottom of it would sometimes scrape against the floor briefly before he hiked it up higher. He kept it with him most of the time and when it wasn't at his side, it was somewhere nearby, somewhere he could see it. The sword gave him some comfort in this strange new place and he needed that, so of course he kept it with him at all times.

He didn't dislike being in the village, he just... it wasn't somewhere he ever dared to dream he'd end up. Someplace quiet, clean, and welcoming that offered a place for him to stay, he never would have thought he'd find himself in such a place, especially when he was used to the exact opposite. The clothes on his back were new, though he'd already torn it in a couple places and dirtied the sleeves. This yukata actually fit, unlike the last one which had been too small for him for a long time.

Gintoki entered what Sensei had called the classroom, a big room with desks and a board to write on up front. He didn't know much about reading or writing, so already he'd been sort of put off by the place. But it was only one room and there were plenty of other places to go inside if he wanted, he was merely checking to make sure it was the appropriate amount of empty. Which it was and it was quiet, just the way he liked it.

He left the door open as he ventured further inside, looking at the different desks, though he wasn't at all curious enough to sit down at one. There was another door on the far side of the room, one that led outside, and along the wall were a few windows to let in the afternoon light. It wasn't late, Gintoki knew that much from the color of the sky, but it was getting to be and if things continued as they had during his stay, food would be served soon. He didn't care what was given to him, he'd take anything while he could.

The sound of approaching footsteps made him freeze and he stood stock still, frozen with his little fingers wrapped tight around the scabbard of the sword. There were low voices, footfalls on the slow side sounding cautious and light, too light to be an adult. Gintoki relaxed a bit at that, but then tensed right back up because they were getting closer, one less noisy than the other. Hightailing it out of there crossed his mind, but movement always attracted attention, so he remained still, hoping whoever it was would pass.

No such luck.

The door slid open and a head poked in, a boy with short hair. "See, I told you I saw a ghost."

A second head whose hair was in a ponytail appeared above the first one. "That's not a ghost, it's a boy. Sensei told us he was here."

"But he's so pale," the first, shorter, boy groused, eyes narrowing.

"So what?"

Gintoki stared at them, just stared, in such a way that he probably couldn't have looked less interested. He'd seen them before, walking around the village and outside the school house, but he'd never actually talked to them. In fact, he'd gone to great lengths on one certain occasion to make sure they didn't see him at all. He... really wasn't so good at dealing with others, what with his lack of social skills and general state of awkward. He had no practice being with adults and even less so with kids since he wasn't the type of kid normal people wanted hanging around, orphans were just extra mouths to feed.

And even though it might have looked like he was just staring, he was studying. Two kids were nothing he really had to worry about, he was confident that if they tried to gang up on him he'd be able to hold his own despite both of them being bigger than him, but obviously he didn't trust them, so he was wary. The way they were looking at him made him uneasy, too, it always did when he was under close scrutiny when he was more used to being ignored.

He held his ground as they entered the room the rest of the way and moved toward him. They jostled each other when they came to a stop not far away, neither taking their eyes off him, and the taller one took a step forward.

"Hello," he greeted with a bow, "my name is Kotarou Katsura."

No.

It was going to be Zura, end of story, and the kid was way too formal. In answer, since he was being stared at like a reply was expected, he raised a hand and started picking his nose.

"Gross!" The other kid curled his nose and it was kind of amusing the way it made his face look. "Does he even understand us?"

"Of course he does, now hush," Zura chastised, then said to Gintoki, "this is Shinsuke Takasugi. He's not so bad once you get to know him."

Gintoki wasn't all that inclined to either way, not much stayed in his life for long and he had no reason to think that this would be any different. Mining a booger out of his nose, he flicked it at them and was pleased when they both leapt apart to dodge it. He wasn't comfortable, still tense as he was, but the two boys didn't seem too terrible, though he'd prefer to be by himself. The uncomfortable feeling only got worse when Takasugi started edging closer, keeping a close eye on Gintoki's hands like he was going to start picking his nose again – which wasn't unlikely, all things considered.

"Careful, he bites."

Takasugi leered over his shoulder. "How do you know?"

"Sensei said so."

"What is he, some kind of animal?"

"Does he look like an animal to you?" Zura asked, staring at Takasugi in bemusement.

"Sorta," Takasugi said slowly, eyes on Gintoki then as he padded a little closer. "He's got silver hair... and red eyes." His face scrunched up again, nose curling as he leaned down a bit. "He's so weird."

Too close, it was too close.

There needed to be more space between them than there was.

Using the sword, he pushed it forward so the hilt tapped the center of Takasugi's forehead. His aim wasn't to hurt, only to distract so he wouldn't be grabbed at. He stood with the sword in tow, holding it with both arms as he scuttled off. He tripped and fell to one knee, a little distressed noise sounding in the back of his throat. Correcting himself quickly, he kept going, not looking back, but listening to make sure he wasn't being followed. There were only voices behind him, not footsteps, but he didn't slow. He tripped again as he entered the next room, but was able to use the sword as leverage to keep himself on his feet.

He had to cross a hall before he was able to get into the room he was staying in, a sizable room that was a thousand billion and then some times better than anything he'd ever had before. He didn't view it as his own or anything, definitely not. It was just a place he was staying, for how long, he didn't know. That wasn't something he thought about since he tended to take things as they came and though having a room and place to stay freaked him out, he wasn't stupid enough to take it for granted. He had a chance to sleep with a roof over his head, of course he wouldn't turn that down no matter how uneasy it made him.

Leaning the sword against the wall nearest his little futon, he wormed his way under the comforter and squirmed until he found what he was looking for. His very first day in the school house, Sensei had given him something – a house warming gift, it had been called. At first he hadn't wanted it, he'd told himself he didn't need something like that. He had to travel light, carrying something stupid like it around would be dumb.

But it turned out he must be some level of dumb because he'd taken the stupid little stuffed animal tiger and worse, it had grown on him. It was so soft, its fur made of a material he'd never felt before and he found himself running his fingers through the fur more often than not. He liked to wrap his arms around it and rub his face against it as he curled up to sleep in his usual fetal position – it was safer to sleep that way, made him look even smaller and easier to overlook. He liked its big golden eyes too, and the striped pattern of its pelt, the red shade of its coloring appealed to him.

He wasn't tired, but for once he had the luxury to rest without having to worry so much about where he was or what might be going on around him. He could relax a bit and so he did now that he was on his own. He didn't care what the boys thought of him and he felt better with the door closed, hiding him away should they come looking. Last, he maneuvered the comforter so that if he glanced up he could see the sword and once that was taken care of, he pulled the stuffed animal to his chest and prepared to doze until dinner.