The Sides of a Demon

Summary

Having dropped off the face of the Earth for a few weeks, Gintoki returns with no preamble or explanation to the kids. Yet both of them suspect it was more than just a regular television hiatus vacation for him. Oneshot

Genre:
Drama / Action
Author:
Fugue
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
1
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
13+

The Sides of a Demon

“Oi, old man, lemme get anodder,” Gintoki said past a partly functioning tongue, shakily offering the sakazuki to the barman.

“You’re already over your tab and your limit, Sakata-san. I’d like for you to get home in one piece.” He took the empty cup instead and fixed Gintoki with a level glare.

“Ah, c’mon, c’mon, Gin-san holds saké very well.” The barman refused to relent and Gin clucked his tongue, rising from the seat only marginally unsteadily. “Den I’m gunna take my yen ’lsewhere, ah?”

The barman seemed highly disgruntled but made no moves to reclaim Gintoki’s business. Gin noticed him picking up the phone as he pushed off in a wobbly gait, but his brain was too addled by alcohol to make sense of it. The night was dark and cold against his clammy skin, and he fought the urge to loosen his kimono and unzip his shirt; however much relief it would bring, it wouldn’t be worth anyone possibly seeing the marks.

A night as cool and quiet as any other. Someone was playing the shamisen in the background, and while Gintoki would have found it soothing any other day, it only heightened the impotent rage brought on by his wallet. It was surprising how heavy an emptied piece of fabric could feel.

"Damn pachinko machines. Someone’s screwin’ with me, I know it.” His grumbles continued as he passed a street of stalls that had long since closed and were vacant of other human life. He had his plan for the last four hours or so until daylight set: he would go home, get as little sleep as possible before the demon in his closet woke him a lá bouncing on his stomach like a springboard, soothe the inevitable exhaustion headache with Shinpachi’s breakfast, pray that a client would call lest he feel two brats’ wrath for blowing their savings…

Not that he called gambling “blowing their savings.” It was a great investment that children who had yet to grow hair on their chests (or otherwise) would never understand.

His muttered complaints did help to shorten the long walk and he was halfway home before he knew it. He was crossing a small wooden bridge when he heard it: footsteps. Not his, clipped and heavy against the soggy wood, but softened by bamboo sandals. His hand was on Lake Toya in half a second. “Oi, I don’t do moonlit strolls with ugly men, I’ll have you know.”

His assailant paid no mind and Gintoki ducked in time to avoid the swing of a katana, stark and silver against the crescent moon’s glow. He somersaulted backwards and lost a second in footing to the wet boards. That second gave his opponent—a middle-aged Average Joe with a hairline reaching back to Gorilla country—time to advance and thrust. Gin’s kimono was slashed along his hanging sleeve; he stumbled from the unexpected force but turned it into a parry at the last second, blocking the next strike and swinging at his ribs. The assailant parried in turn and ended up in a deadlock.

"So, what’s it this time?” Gintoki asked casually, though his opponent was visibly reddening. Kind of a skinny guy, he was. “Alien overlord? Government dog? Sunrise’s producer?”

Again, he got no response, and he figured he wasn’t going to get much motive from the guy. So he lashed out with his foot, kicking the man’s sandaled feet out and launching him in the air, before striking down with his wooden sword right in his gut. His breath left in a harsh whoosh before he crashed down through the base of the bridge and into the shallow waters below. A loud splash succeeded the impact and Gintoki cringed as his hair turned to a soggy mess against his skull.

"Aah, see what you’ve done? Now it’ll dry in an even worse perm.”

The stench of alcohol surrounded him like a cloud; it was the only viable explanation as to why Otose was waiting outside the darkened bar with the butt of a cigarette lighting her dour expression. She wore a thinner kimono and a haori draped over her shoulders, and her hair was pinned at the back of her head rather than her usual elaborate wrap. “Gintoki,” she began, and he could already imagine the boatloads of trouble he was in if she used his name. She took one last long drag before dropping the cigarette and ashing it under her sandal. “Unless you’re planning on going up and explaining yourself to the brats, turn back to whatever shithole you went and hid yourself in.”

“Yeesh. That’s harsh, don’cha think, Granny?” He couldn’t quite stand still without swaying slightly, and even that small motion made him feel like throwing up. God knew he already did enough of that. Chances were there was nothing but saké in his gut at that point.

“I don’t want to hear your jokes, idiot. Just a confirmation.” She levelled a glare at him and he fought not to cringe, fought to keep his expression at that stupid drunken content.

“You don’ wanna ’pology? ’m sorry, Granny. How ’bout a hug ’n kiss?” She scowled and spun away from him.

“You know what? Forget it. You’re too drunk to even make sense.” She returned inside the bar and shut the sliding doors with a definitive clack. Gintoki stared at them long after the sound of her footsteps disappeared. Then came his more arduous task for the night: ascending the steps to the apartment. Even gripping the railing, he lost his footing several times, and he thought he twisted his ankle…again. He was going to feel like absolute shit come daylight. Like a night in the war, after a long day spent battling dozens upon hundreds of Amanto, forcing his body past human limits and knowing there would be hell to pay when he woke, as if having made a deal with the Devil. Have the strength now and get the consequences later. Kinda like the saké, now that he thought about it.

The sliding doors weren’t locked and he wasn’t drunk enough to miss it. Due to their abundance of unwanted intruders—Zura, Sacchan, Sakamoto, et cetera—he started pounding it into Kagura’s head to lock it all the time. If it remained unlocked all the time he was gone, which he didn’t doubt, knowing how those brats were…they never lost faith in him returning. For the first time since his battle with the prematurely balding ronin, he smiled.

“’m home,” he muttered as he bent to yank off his boots. He knew the first thing he had to do was greet the kids, it had been a few weeks, maybe more, but…in a better condition. Like, after a month-long coma and a few showers. In acid rain. And a lava bath. Maybe the pain of his skin melting away will allow him to forget…

Well, he wasn’t that lucky.

He sighed and straightened, slowly making his way over to his bedroom. The door was wide open to show his fluffed futon and the duvet folded neatly at the foot. Shinpachi, you stupid mother hen, he thought as he collapsed into the soft cotton. It smelled like the herbal soap stuff Shinpachi used at the dojo; Gintoki hadn’t realized how accustomed he’d become to that scent until his nose was filled with the musty, acrid scent of the jail cell. That minor comparison led to a slew of memories he squeezed his eyes shut against, not that it helped.

Cold, cold and damp, reeks like mold—ever heard of a matsui stick, dipshits? Aah, now Average Joe’s shoving my face right into it. Blood and mold, not a good smell combination. Just wait, wait until I get outta here, wait until I get my hands on y— Wait, hands? What’s he doing with his hands? Where are they—why are they on my—

Gintoki shoved his face into the pillow a bit too aggressively and willed his mind to shut up. Not that it was very hard: exhaustion filled his body and he couldn’t keep his eyes open anymore. For the first time in weeks, he felt safe.

Instincts were a funny thing. However much time passed, they would never vanish. They could be dulled, certainly—like knee-jerk reactions in response to the bigger, tougher Amanto species—but never forgotten, just buried in a place where bad issues of Shonen Jump and cheesy morning television could blind a person to their existence. But they still existed, and they still saved Gintoki’s life on several occasions. This being one of them: he spun around before the water had even settled and swung his wooden sword, taking several small projectiles from the air. One survived, however, and it pierced through his collar to land cleanly in the junction of his shoulder and neck.

"There,” said a new, sinister, “main villain of the arc”-type voice. “That wasn’t so hard, was it, White Demon?”

"Tha’ wasn’—huuuh—” The drug quickly ran through his system and dropped him to one knee before he really realized what was happening. His shaky vision focused on three new sets of sandals walking onto the bridge, and at the front was a set of fancy polished shoes. Clenching his jaw, Gintoki raised his heavy arm and prepared to smash those shoes into oblivion.

"Oh-oh,” he said, and his sword was halted mid-swing. A good swing it would’ve been too: Gintoki’s whole side jolted when the sword was grabbed by a large tough-skinned hand. He sluggishly raised his head and tried to focus on his accosters in the moonlight. All Amanto—two rhino-looking ones, an unholy caterpillar-sparrow kind of thing, and the ringleader Mr. Goodshoes, with blue skin and a lizard’s long snout, topped with long, neatly-combed cerulean hair. Not a single curl in sight, as if the fates wanted a good laugh in with his bad fortune.

"L’me go.” Gintoki narrowed his eyes and tugged against the rhino’s grip, but the drugs sapped his strength and left him near defenseless. The lizard alien chuckled and set a clawed hand on Gintoki’s head.

"I doubt you remember me, but I remember what a demon you were on the battlefield. So I calculated more than enough tranquilizer to put even you down. I’d say I’m surprised you’re not comatose yet, but I expected as much.” His Japanese was clipped by an accent that hardened his consonants and made his words fade in and out on their highs and lows.

The rhino did release the sword only to grab him around his forearms in a vise grip, lifting him off his knees. He was now eye-to-eye with their leader and his self-satisfied smirk. He thinks he’s won, Gintoki thought as his head lolled to the side. For now, maybe, but if he thinks I’m going down without a fight—

"Let’s go.” He nodded to his goons and turned away in one sharp movement. “I have the V.I.P treatment prepared for you.”

In the morning, there was no alien child burying her fist in his gut or the sound of breakfast cooking. The apartment was still quiet…too quiet. Gintoki yawned and winced when he realized he’d fallen asleep fully dressed. The futon would need to be aired out again.

He dragged himself out of bed and realized with a groan that his pains hadn’t abated—if anything, they worsened in the five or so hours he’d been sleeping. But he would endure, he had gotten quite good at that. He pushed himself up and dragged his feet until he reached the bathroom. He stripped his clothes off, tossed them in the corner, and dropped onto the bath stool with a relieved sigh.

The quiet whooshing of warm water filled his thoughts as he worked on soaping up and washing away every trace of the last few weeks. It was only partly successful: the outward grime slid down the drain, but his bruises were as large and stark as ever, especially against his pale skin. Most of them were green and yellow, having been inflicted in the beginning; the largest ones, however, were created just before his grand exit, and their violet hue symbolized breathtaking shapes. Mostly hands, a couple truncheons, a whip they only managed to use on him once before he strangled the guy with it, and a weird curvature he instantly knew as the lizard’s bite. Toothless just like an Earth lizard, but damn his jaws were strong.

“Not gonna miss that fucker,” he said before dumping the bucket of water over his head. He briefly considered taking a bath to loosen his muscles but the thought made him anxious. He shook it off and grabbed the towel, swiping it through his damp curls. Every time the cotton pulled his hair he shuddered.

They didn’t carry Gintoki away—either too much effort on their parts or allowed him too much dignity. Instead, they forced him to walk in his drugged state, pulling him by his collar or his hair to keep him moving. He only had the faintest clue what was happening around him; the world swam in and out of focus and faded to black more than once. They often woke him up with a punch to the gut.

"What’s the matter, White Demon? They say you can cut through entire armies without even stopping to breathe. Is moving your feet so hard?” The Boss’s tone reeked of sarcasm as his claws were next to grip Gintoki’s scalp, drawing blood as he tugged him forward extra hard.

"Fuck…you,” Gintoki said, digging his heels into the street. The boss pulled away and clicked his tongue. When the lankier caterpillar-looking subordinate went for him next, Gintoki grabbed his feathered arm and lifted him, sending him flying with a spin into one of the rhino lackeys. The motion caught the Boss’s attention and Gintoki broke into a loping run. He didn’t get very far before a huge weight slammed into his back, driving him into the dirt. The rhino sat his huge ass right on Gintoki’s lower back and butt, completely halting his movements.

"Can’t break free, can you?” The Boss crouched in front of Gintoki with a shit-eating grin, but his expression quickly turned lax and cold, a gross parody of Gintoki’s notorious dead fisheyes. “It’s quite a familiar sight to me, but I suppose it’s terrifying for you, being on this side of the treatment now.”

Gintoki growled between gritted teeth. “Hope you’re…having fun…talking shit. When I b…break your teeth…”

"I have none to speak of,” he said quite cheerfully, grinding Gin’s last nerves to dust. The Boss’s claws tangled in silver curls once again and yanked his head up with a vengeance. His breath stunk like insects and fanned over Gintoki’s face. “Come on, White Demon, let’s get you to your new home.”

Gintoki stumbled in the process of putting on his pants. New “home”—that godforsaken place was anything but. Then again, it was surely nicer than some of the other hellholes he crashed in during and after the war. Ah, at least he could look back on the war with the same amount of disgust—his alone-time with the Boss and co. wasn’t worse than all that, worse than the Tenshouin Naraku and the headless corpse on the hill, but it for sure made his top five of Worst Experiences, 2/10 Will Not Experience Again.

He heard her cry before the sound of the sliding door getting violently ripped from its tracks: “GIN-CHAN!” He quickly zipped up his shirt and turned in time to receive a foot to the gut. The force of the kick transcended human definitions of pain, and so the sound he emitted was completely nonsensical as the momentum carried him into the far wall. The wood splintered heavily but thankfully didn’t explode; he didn’t need to add “falling from a second story” to his lists of aches and pains. Once he stopped seeing stars, he blinked to the face of one very angry Yato.

“K-Kagura-chan, I c-can explain…”

“Save it!” She jabbed an accusing finger in his face with her pink cheeks puffed wide. “You know the rules, don’t you? ‘Only take an extensive vacation when we’re on hiatus, uh-huh’? Don’t you think I need my beauty rest to? But we all must wait in line like good people, uh-huh!” She put her hands on her hips and glared in a way that an ignorant man could see as cute. Gintoki noticed her cheongsam was all torn and dirty and she was out of breath; a Yato out of breath, it took a lot to manage that. Like, a long long long time worth of searching. He sunk to the ground in a heap and didn’t bother picking himself up.

“Sorry,” he said.

“You are sorry, uh-huh! I’m tired, I’m gonna bathe and let Pattsuan deal with you.” She spun on her heel with a decisive humph and left his room, making sure to kick down that sliding door as well. Considering all he got were a couple of ulcers, he was getting off lightly.

The big dog came poking his head through the doorway, sniffing curiously at shipwrecked door before blinking up at Gintoki. He smiled and chuckled bitterly. “Are you pissed at me too, Sadaharu?” He whined and trotted forward, nosing into Gintoki’s sore gut with ears flattened. If he didn’t know any better, he would’ve thought Sadaharu was concerned for him. But, no, he probably just wanted to add onto Gintoki’s pain.

He eventually used Sadaharu as a crutch to pull himself to his feet. He offered his fuzzy head a pat for the help and forced himself to walk unaided into the living room—no need to worry the brats further. He was also aware he would need to come up with a practicable excuse for his extended disappearance, but what he was focused on at the moment was food. And painkillers. Food would be the harder part; if Shinpachi hadn’t restocked their supply, which he wouldn’t have had reason to do considering how many weeks Gintoki spent M.I.A. and Shinpachi would have no reason to hang around the apartment without Odd Jobs business, then he would have to scrounge up dog food or risk a strip of pickled seaweed. Both were risky, really, but he was so overall achy he couldn’t dig up the wits to care.

He checked the rice cooker and saw the empty basin. He then turned his attention to the cupboards and found half a sack of rice left. He poured it into the machine along with some water and set it to cook. When he checked the fridge, he was surprised to find two cartons of strawberry milk, their labels indicating they were bought recently.

"Heh, even if he has no reason to come, the brat still does,” Gintoki said with a smile, taking a carton and popping it open. It wasn’t just an average strawberry milk from the convenience store; it was, like the unlocked door and his readied futon, a show of faith. Faith that Gintoki would return or they would return him themselves. Warmth filled his chest at the thought and completely melted the icicles that had settled there since that unfortunate day. Standing there in the kitchen, chugging his milk and waiting for the rice cooker to beep, he could pretend things hadn’t changed a bit. He could pretend his pains were from some stupid fight with Kagura (which they were, technically) and soon Pachi-boy would come to smooth things over, and they would bicker in front of the television until the off-chance a client would come in—

“Hello? I’m sorry, is this the Odd Jobs residence?”

The voice was female and entirely unfamiliar. Gintoki stared in the direction of the door for a second, completely floored, and it wasn’t until he spotted Kagura’s wet head walking past that he revived. He set the carton down and rushed over as she opened the sliding door. A woman about Gintoki’s age stood in an immaculate blue furisode with her blonde hair done up by golden pins. Her eyebrows were pinched and her forehead lined despite her nice makeup.

“Yup. I’m Odd Jobs Gura-san, uh-huh. There’s my useless butler.” Kagura jerked her thumb over her shoulder in Gintoki’s direction. There was a fluffy pink towel around her neck that she moved to her soaked hair. “Did your fiancé leave you at the altar or something?”

“What? No, I…” She shook her head and bowed a bit. “I’m sorry, I didn’t introduce myself yet. My name is Umeko Yamada. My sister, Tsubaki, was to be married this morning, but she never showed.”

“Maybe she left her fiancé at the altar, uh-huh.”

“No, you don’t understand how in love those two were. She wouldn’t just disappear, and she’s not answering her phone either. Her apartment is locked and hadn’t been opened since yesterday, so she didn’t return home. I’m worried.”

“Did she have any enemies? Make any shady deals? Shit in someone’s toilet and didn’t flush?” The women looked to Gintoki in surprise, Kagura more so. He maintained his dead fish expression as he stepped forward. “Well?”

“No… As far as I know, Tsubaki had no enemies.” Gintoki hummed pensively.

“Where’s this fiancé of hers? He didn’t come with you?”

“He’s still searching,” she said. Gin yawned and stretched his arms overhead.

“Well, let’s find him first, then.” He stepped towards the door to put on his boots when Kagura’s confused voice filled the air:

“Gin-chan, where’s your sword?”

Gintoki was hauled by the neck and tossed against a damp concrete ground. He rolled once before bracing himself on hands and knees, suddenly noticing his hands were bound by the wrists. He saw a shadow approaching in the small window’s light and swung his fists; the rhino caught them in one hand and swung the other, catching him across his cheek. He was knocked down with the force of the impact and felt the side of his face begin to swell.

"I’d drug you again if I didn’t need you wide awake for this.” The Boss’s annoying voice rang through his ears. Gintoki scowled and spat blood and a tooth onto the rhino’s foot. That same foot buried itself in his gut, slamming him into the back wall. While he was disoriented, he felt movement along his side.

"You won’t be needing this.” And the Boss held Lake Toya in his full view. Gintoki’s reaction was immediate: he pushed himself up and into a forward lunge, tackling the Amanto to the ground and making a grab for his sword. One rhino seized Gintoki by his shoulders and yanked him backwards; the other punched him in the side, giving him a new distraction in the form of a few broken ribs. “Quite a decrepit sword this is—cheap too,” the Boss said, calmly rising and dusting himself off. He appraised Lake Toya with a critical eye before, in one smooth movement, cracking the thing over his knee, snapping it in two uneven chunks plus hundreds of tiny splinters.

"There,” he said, tossing the remnants over his shoulder and into the water. “Now, let’s get bac…”

“Gin-chan?” Kagura’s head tilted to one side as she observed him with remarkably shrewd eyes for a child. He turned back to the client to avoid scrutiny and mentally pummeled himself for taking too long.

“Bet it as collateral,” he said offhandedly. He could actually hear Kagura’s teeth grinding, but it didn’t matter—the sliding door opened again.

“Kagura-chan? I’ve brought some Takoyaki, are you…oh…” Shinpachi’s voice trailed away as he most likely spotted Gintoki’s boots in the entrance. He came into the main room with barely a sound, glancing first at their client, then Kagura, and finally Gintoki. His expression was unreadable behind his glasses.

“Took ya long enough to get here, Pattsuan,” Kagura said, breaking the brief veil of silence that had fallen over them. “We have a client.”

“Oh. Oh, my apologies for not greeting you immediately.” He turned to Umeko with a short bow. “My name is Shinpachi Shimura.”

“Umeko Yamada, pleased to meet you.” She returned the bow with a smile, then brought a hand to her mouth. “Oh my, you two are quite young. Starting in the family business early?”

Both flinched, Kagura less so than Shinpachi, but Gintoki noticed all the same, although he doubted Umeko did—it was part of knowing them for so long. “That’s…one way to put it, Yamada-san,” Shinpachi said after a moment with a bit of an awkward snicker.

“Well, to start off, could you give us the address of your sister’s apartment?”

“Yes, of course.” She pulled a folded sheet of paper from her waistband and bowed again after passing it to Gintoki. “Thank you so much for your help, Odd Jobs.”

Shinpachi mimicked the bow, and Gintoki shoved Kagura’s head down when she made a remark about craving pickled plums. “’course, ma’am. Odd Jobs will not fail.”

Umeko let herself out and Gintoki looked over the small bundle to find the address scribbled in what was clearly a man’s script alongside a housekey and fifty thousand yen. His eyebrows raised into his hairline. “Forward?”

Kagura snatched it from his hand before he could even smell it. “Don’t blow it on strawberry milk before we buy meat, uh-huh.”

“Never mind that right now, Kagura-chan, until we finish this job.” Shinpachi looked over her head to meet Gintoki’s eyes, his own appearing reserved. ”Everything else will be discussed afterwards.”

She caught on and gave him a side-eyed nod before plopping onto the floor to yank on her flats. Gintoki sighed and grabbed his boots, making his way back to the couch to pull them on—crouching down was far too painful. “Yes, everything.”


The cell he woke up in was cold, damp, and very cramped; Gintoki could lie down and stretch his arms and legs out and touch both walls, and the height was barely above the top of his head. The last wall had a thick steel door, and though he deluded himself into thinking he could punch through it, all he got for his efforts were a few bloody knuckles. The only other escape option was a thin vent pumping in moldy air.

Gintoki was just figuring out how to shapeshift himself into that vent when the door swung open. The rhino Amanto bodyguards were first in, and he wasn’t going to delude himself into thinking he could overtake them with his bare hands and sedative still in his system. The Boss followed behind, reptilian face as smug as ever.

"I don’t suppose this is punishment for all the lizards I crippled as a kid,” Gintoki said offhandedly. The Boss scoffed.

"I have no affiliation with your brainless Earth reptiles. My business is with you, White Demon.”

Of course his war actions were coming back to bite him in the ass—most of the time that was the answer. He never claimed he was guiltless in the affair—he had more than enough nightmares of that time that he had to play off in front of Kagura—but he found long ago that it was much easier to atone with his head still attached to his shoulders.

"Get in line,” Gintoki responded, bringing his swaying form to his feet. The Boss was taller by a few inches or so, allowing his beady eyes to look down on Gintoki.

"My friends and I have much planned for your extended stay here,” he continued, ignoring the remark entirely. “It took much longer than expected to locate you and narrow down your schedule to when you’re completely alone, however it gave us much more time to decide how to maximize our time together.”

"And what will that be exactly? Pachinko? Drinks?” The Boss’s brow twitched.

"You talk quite a bit. That is certainly a change from the war.”

"So, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say your beef with me is from the war. Fine, whatever, do your worst and lemme out to drink it off and we’re all happy, yeah?”

The Boss stepped aside to allow one of his bodyguards to swing a fist at Gintoki’s gut. He wasn’t dull enough to take the hit and dodged to his side—only to be seized by the throat. “These Certidas are, like myself, the last of their kind,” he explained in a calm voice that belied an iced-over fury. “Our people were made corpses on your battlefield, and all thanks to you, White Demon.”

"The war was the effort of no single species or man.” The nice way of saying the Amanto dug their own graves when they first arrived on Earth sniffing blood. The Boss’s eyes narrowed.

"You were no single man, White Demon. On that cursed field you fought as an army. We Amanto sought to bring enlightenment to you mud-crawlers—” Gintoki couldn’t help but interrupt with a howling laugh. This earned him a rough toss down to the concrete floor, agitating his already aching ribs. He kept his face impassive even as he fought for breath through the stabbing pain. “We Amanto brought enlightenment, and though your government accepted it for what it was, the rest of you mud-crawlers wanted a fight. And when the fight was too much for you, you played dirty. Fine then, we can play dirty all the same.” He knelt to get into Gintoki’s face. “You will learn our power here and now, and that curse will follow you into your soon-coming grave.”

"Go. Fuck. Yourself.” Gintoki spat a wad of bloody saliva right in his eye. He reared back with a shrill scream, then spun quickly on his heel to march to the door.

"Teach him respect!” he called without turning. As the Certidas closed in on him, Gintoki remembered his brats. As fists and feet ground his bones to dust, he remembered he promised to be back before dawn, sure to have passed long ago.

Wait for me a little longer, Kagura, Shinpachi.


Tsubaki’s apartment was up two flights of stairs, pulling uncomfortably at Gintoki’s half-healed wounds and drawing upon long emptied energy stores. Kagura was bouncing up three steps at a time, and Shinpachi stayed just barely ahead, glancing back at Gintoki every few seconds or so.

“Gin-san,” he began, then fell silent for a few seconds, many thoughts swimming through his eyes. Eventually he settled on, “You look tired.”

That was the understatement of the century. He was so exhausted he could sleep for the next ten years straight and sleep some more on top of that.

“Been a long night,” Gintoki said with a yawn. Shinpachi’s eyes flashed and he turned back to the stairs.

“I thought family doesn’t lie to each other. I guess I was wrong.” His words were soft yet cut through Gintoki’s heart like the sharpest blade.

I’m trying to protect you from how fucked-up my life is. That’s what he wanted to say, but the words never left his throat, and they stopped in front of a plain wooden door marked 3F. The key provided a quiet entrance, and the door swung open to reveal an entirely unassuming flat. The furniture and decorations were neatly arranged and there any obvious human skeletons lying around at first glance.

“Looks boring so far,” Kagura said, flopping onto the couch and throwing her arms over the back. Shinpachi fretted over that.

“K-Kagura-chan! You can’t just do that in someone else’s apartment!”

“Not only that,” Gintoki said flatly, picking up an old issue of Weatherwoman Weekly, Ana Ketsuno’s bikini on the cover, “this is a crime scene.”

Kagura’s eyes lit up and she leapt to her feet. “A crime scene, uh-huh!” As if from nowhere, she produced a detective’s hat and cape. “Perfect time to carry these in hammerspace.” She whipped out a comically large magnifying glass and peered into a speck of dust on an end table.

“Oh, boy…” Shinpachi sighed, then his eyes drifted to Gintoki again. Gintoki suspected Kagura knew something was out of place—she was wildly unpredictable, but her warrior’s instincts were no joke—yet she wouldn’t bring it up, probably because she didn’t know what to make of it. Shinpachi, on the other hand, was a major mother hen and had no problem with airing any grievances he had. That was what worried Gintoki. It was one thing for the brats to have their suspicions; if they figured out what had happened…he didn’t know what he’d do. But it terrified him worse than whatever the Boss could do.

Kagura’s sneeze caught both their attention thankfully. “My allergies are kicking in, uh-huh,” she sniffled.

“Allergies?” Shinpachi repeated suspiciously, then paused. “Although it is quite dusty in here…”

“The couch is dusty too.” She pointed at the modern sofa with a fine coating of dust. “So’s the television and the table.”

The three of them spread out and covered the rest of the one-bedroom apartment. Though it was furnished for the average young lady, it was like a room from a catalogue. Everything was coated with dust and almost meticulously organized.

“The bathroom has never been shitted in,” Kagura said, earning a scandalized look from Shinpachi.

“A woman’s panties are never this clean,” Gintoki said, holding up a pair. Kagura side-eyed him.

“How would you know?”

“Years of panty raiding expertise.”

“Okay, okay.” Shinpachi covered his face for a moment until the redness subsided. “So she hadn’t been here in a long time. Days, possibly a few weeks? Yet Umeko-san has obviously interacted with her in recent times, so has Tsubaki-san simply been avoiding this place?”

“I’m thinking we should interview the neighbors,” Gintoki said. “See if there’s any creeps worth avoiding.”

“No one would know a creep better than a creep, uh-huh,” Kagura agreed. Gintoki’s eyebrow twitched.

“I’m not a creep, you bun-headed black hole. I’m still a damn spring chicken.”

“Chicken is only good fried! Everyone knows that!”

“Ah? You uncultured brat, it’s best with miso.”

“Personally, I prefer oyakodon,” Shinpachi said.

“Who told you to butt in, shitty glasses?” Kagura retorted. A loud bang came from the floor below.

“Shut yer traps, shitty humans!”

There were five other units on the floor. Shinpachi and Kagura took the left side; Gin took the right side. While their attention wasn’t immediately drawn to him, he let himself move a little slower than his usual feet-dragging pace. Since Gintoki’s moped was being held hostage by the mechanic on account of his years unpaid tab (with Gin in no condition to grab it in run as usual), and even the forward wasn’t enough to cover the bill, they had to walk the forty minutes to the apartment building; an easy feat under normal conditions, but when his whole body felt like one amalgamate bruise, it wore him down. It was a fight to keep the illusion of normalcy.

The first door he knocked on, nobody answered, though he heard footsteps within. “Oi, did you guys see any creeps coming by?” he called. The door was opened long enough for him to get a flower vase tossed in his face.

The second door, a frazzled-looking woman did answer, although he was bombarded with so much children screaming he couldn’t hear a word she said. Then a plastic car was tossed in his face.

The last door, he knocked and immediately ducked. This time, however, nothing flew at his face; the door was opened by Jii and Gintoki jumped in surprise. “What? Prince Idiot lives here!?”

“No, Prince Idiot and I rented this space temporarily while he purchased another pet,” Jii replied, looking a bit worn out. True to his words Gintoki could hear Hata’s screaming and a bird’s squawking inside. He could have pretended to care, but…no.

“Have you seen anything unusual lately? Besides the stupid running gag that imprinted itself on my face?”

“Well…” Jii glanced up the hall and adjusted his glasses. “Now that I think about it, a woman started living here not long after us, and the company she brings by is—”

"Jiiiii!" came Hata’s annoying voice, and Jii ducked before a large body came flying through the door and right into Gintoki, pushing him backwards and through the hall’s window. Fine, whatever, he was used to falling through windows, pain is an illusion and whatnot—

Then he took a good look at the Amanto.

The one Amanto Gintoki saw the least of was the caterpillar-sparrow thing. Every so often he could hear it and the Boss arguing outside, but Gintoki supposed it wasn’t the hands-on sort.

Today was different. Today he was sane enough to give the Certidas hell and a half when they came for the usual. He had more broken ribs than working ones, a twisted ankle, one eye so swollen it was borderline useless, and seven fingers between both hands, but he managed to get one downed. He was nothing if not a persistent fighter.

"Still haven’t learned about retaliation, have we?” The Boss was standing arms folded in the doorway, shiny shoe tapping an annoying pattern into the floor. Gintoki had long since been restrained and pinned but he wasn’t yet down and out.

"Haven’t we learned it’s pointless keeping me locked up?” he growled. “I’m going to break out, and then I’ll break everything here. Preferably beginning with you."

"Well, I’ll give you that: it’s becoming quite troublesome going through guards. The Certida don’t come cheap.” He came closer and bore down into Gintoki with impassive eyes.

"Why don’t you chain me up then?”

"Hmph. I’ve seen what you do with restraints. Don’t take me for a fool, White Demon. Although…” Suddenly a nasty smile crossed his face, and Gintoki felt a note of unease. “That gives me an idea. I’ve done all I can to break you physically, so let’s try something new.”

"Torture is nothing new to me,” he scoffed even as the Boss was turning away.

"Not exactly.” The door shut for a moment and Gintoki was caught off guard by the Amanto’s high volume argument. It lasted a couple of minutes, then the door opened to allow the other Amanto inside. “Meet my associate…you can call him Sparrow.”

"Him?” Gintoki repeated derisively, looking at the segmented body covered in long blue feathers. This Amanto also wore a suit—like some sort of weird Amanto host club—and looked entirely displeased with everything.

"This better be worth double the promised pay,” Sparrow said, waving away the Certida pinning him. Gintoki made to get up before Sparrow took his place, and though the Amanto was smaller and half his weight, he had some strength to that form. “No hard feelings, Kid. Wasn’t here for the war; this is all business to me.”

Gintoki was wondering why the hell he needed a disclaimer now…then he realized. His obi and belt were being undone, and his pants were coming down. He struggled and strained but dammit that Amanto was really goddamn strong. “Get offa me!” he shouted. His pants were tangled around his knees and Sparrow grabbed his arms, twisting them back around his shoulder blades so tightly one wrong move would dislocate them. Shit, he would dislocate his neck to get out of this situation. He latched onto the Amanto’s tail with his ankles and yanked hard with the intention of breaking bones. The appendage bent rather than giving the satisfying crack he expected, though Sparrow still yelped with pain.

"You little—” A clawed hand dug into the back of his skull and slammed him face-first into the concrete. Stars exploded in his vision and he fell into darkness for a minute. When he woke up, it was over.

Sparrow was just getting up when the Boss returned. “The deed is done. Pay up,” Sparrow said irritably. The Boss scowled but handed over a neat stack of ten thousand-yen bills. Sparrow pushed past him to leave and the Boss knelt in front of Gintoki, tense at first and then relaxing when no attack came.

"Don’t you have any vitriol for me, White Demon? You’re not going to curse my name, spit at me, threaten to shove your foot so deep up my ass…oh, excuse the reminder.” And he laughed. He goddamn laughed. The urge to crush his face was still there, but, dammit, Gintoki felt exhausted on a molecular level, every ache and pain was multiplied one thousand fold, blood was running down his scalp and crusting on his face, fucking gross viscous alien fluid mixed with blood was crusting on his legs, the bastard didn’t have the decency to pull up his goddamn pants after he—he—

And Gintoki went quiet. Because for the first time since he was captured, he thought, really thought, perhaps this was his final penance. Perhaps…perhaps he should’ve been a little nicer to the kids and Otose, Madao and Sacchan, Kondo and Hijikata… Because he wasn’t getting out. He was going to be there with the Boss and his guards and his f-friend and fucking die like that—

Sparrow spread his wings and turned the sharp downward descent into forward movement. Gintoki grabbed onto his wrists and gave him a sharp headbutt. Crying out in pain, Sparrow’s wings folded and they crashed onto the street. His half-healed ribs jolted but he paid no attention to them; he flipped them around so Sparrow was pinned to the concrete. His whiskers flailed and he continued squawking until his eyes locked on Gintoki.

"You! The White De—”

Gintoki punched him right in the beak. His knuckles split, but Sparrow’s beak was cracked and bleeding. “I can’t—” punch, “sock that stupid reptile—” punch, “so you’re—” punch, crack! “a really goddamn close second—” swollen hand, don’t care, gonna break his face and turn him to dust, “you damn alien, what you did to me—several times—I’ll kill you!"

“Gin-chan!”

"Gin-san!"

Like a hypnotic state, Gintoki snapped from his rage-induced fugue at the sound of the brats’ voices. He hadn’t realized how much attention he had garnered, but several Kabuki dwellers were gathered in a circle, watching him thrash a naked and collared Amanto. Kagura and Shinpachi pushed to the front of the crowd and looked surprised for a moment before quickly jumping into action.

“What happened? What did he do to you?” Shinpachi was saying as he pulled out his wooden sword.

“Want me to blow him up?” Kagura was saying as she readied her parasol.

He looked at his bleeding hands gripping Sparrow’s blue bloody face and remembered with an awful jolt that they didn’t know. The kids didn’t know what the Amanto had done, but they saw Gintoki punching the shit out of him and assumed Sparrow was the bad guy. Which lightened his heart, knowing they were still on his side after everything. And subsequently made his heart drop into his stomach, knowing he couldn’t explain why Sparrow was the bad guy, because then he would have to explain what Sparrow did fuck no, and then explain everything else that happened in the last few weeks, and just…nononono.

“Oi, what’s going on here?” The crowd disbursed at the sound of a very irate and familiar voice. Kondo and several low-ranking officers started herding the people away, while Hijikata—the speaker—came straight to Gintoki, accompanied by Sogo. “If it isn’t Odd Jobs disturbing the peace. What a surprise,” he said flatly, one hand on the hilt of his sword. Sogo, meanwhile, raised a hand in greeting.

“Hey, Boss.” The nickname stroked Gintoki’s ego once upon a time, but now just made his skin crawl.

“Well?” Hijikata caught his attention again. “Give me a reason not to cuff you right now.”

“Calm your tits, Ogushi-kun,” he said, raising his hands and straightening his back, but making no moves to get off Sparrow. Hijikata moved closer and unsheathed his sword the smallest bit.

“Really, I want an explanation. Do you realize how you look right now? You get into harebrained schemes all the damn time, and I am one hundred percent over you and the property damage that follows as long as I can follow that train wreck you call a thought process.”

“C’mon, Toshi, relax a little.” Kondo’s voice of reason cut through the tension as he set a hand on Hijikata’s shoulder. “Sakata-san may be an oddball, but if he’s taking action, it’s for a good reason.”

“I believe that,” Hijikata said flatly, “I’d just like to hear that reason.”

“Gin-san?” Shinpachi said, his sword falling to his side. What could he say?

“Gin-chan?” Kagura said, lowering her fists. How could he explain?

“Boss?” Sogo’s head inclined and even he seemed a bit confused. Then his eyes narrowed, looking between Sparrow and Gintoki, and understanding dawned. “That look in your eyes…something to do with the war.” It wasn’t a question. The Shinsengumi was quiet, his brats were quiet, everything was quiet save for the noise in his head.

“…It—”

Pain seared through his side. He gasped and looked down to find claws embedded deep into his gut. Sparrow’s breath was heaving as he pulled back and a spray of blood splattered onto the concrete. Gintoki shot to his feet automatically but they buckled under his weight; two sets of arms came from behind to catch him. His head lolled back and Kagura and Shinpachi’s faces swam in his darkening vision. There was just too much—too much pain, too many people, too much to hide—and he was just…done.

I hope I don’t wake up in that shithole again. After all I did…


Gintoki’s routine was static for an indeterminate amount of time before, without warning, things took a turn.

One day, he woke from a pain coma to a lot of noise and movement outside the cell. When the voices came closer, he pinpointed them as human ones, pretty angry ones at that. He used the wall to get up from his prone position on the floor, feeling like a walking train wreck, and pushed himself closer to the door. His half-healed ribs ached with every breath as he fought to listen closer.

“—check every room! Every Justaway has to be taken in, especially if you can’t immediately confirm what’s a bomb and what’s not.”

What? Was he being kept in a damn Justaway factory this whole time? Ah sh—no, no, not the point. That sounded like the Shinsengumi, albeit no one he knew personally, and if they were on the hunt for Justaways, they would have to open every room. Meaning…

The door slammed open and Gintoki was ready. Only one officer entered; Gintoki bumrushed him with a boot to the face. Not his most graceful takedown, but dammit he was a walking bag of bone shards, the animators better cut him some slack.

Ouch, dammit, even breaking the fourth wall hurt at this point. He would nap for years once he got home…home, yeah. He could go back.

The officer crumpled and Gintoki took his sword before continuing outside and down the hall. The entire building was concrete, and one side of the wall was full of windows looking out onto the industrial district. It was the dead of the night by the moon’s position, and Shinsengumi cars were all over the dock. Under normal circumstances he’d gladly jump through the window, three story fall be damned, but he had something to do before he left.

He continued down the hallway away from the noise and to where the exit signs were pointing. Loud clumping footsteps were not too far ahead—the Certidas. As he grew closer he made out three forms, two of which had dealt with him earlier that day. Strong as they were, agility was not their strong suit, and they were slow to make a one-eighty; Gintoki leapt over their heads and sliced into the walls and ceiling around them, hitting the ground at a skid some feet ahead. The concrete fell around them in chunks, suffocating them under a ton or so of rubble.

He could hear more Certidas clomping about when he reached the stairwell. He glanced inside and saw two making their slow way down, and leading the proverbial herd was the Boss himself. Gritting his teeth, Gintoki pulled another flying boot on the closer Certida; it was knocked forward and sent tumbling downstairs into its friend, and the Boss turned around as the roly-poly came close. He jumped to the slanted roof and clung there to avoid being tramped, what a goddamn shame, then his eyes locked on Gintoki.

"You!” he growled.

"Yo,” Gin said, raising a hand in greeting. “So, Justaway fetish? Didn’t take ya for that kind of alien.”

The Boss hit the ground and raced towards him, lashing out with his tail. Gintoki leapt back to avoid the swipe that left a massive gouge in the concrete stairs and struck out in a thrust. The Boss’s coat was torn along the breast, but he otherwise avoided the attack and grabbed Gintoki by the neck, tossing him down the stairs headfirst. Gin caught himself with his hands and backflipped to his feet, blocking the Boss’s next tail swipe with his sword.

"I was going to blow you and this place sky high when I had my fill,” the Boss said through his teeth. “Getting to kill more shitty humans only adds to my pleasure.”

"Not every human’s a piece of shit. You Amanto, on the other hand, make up one massive deuce.”

The Boss suddenly ducked and latched onto Gintoki’s side with strong jaws. Gintoki bashed his skull with the hilt of the sword and he let go—not before swiping at his ankles with his tail. Gintoki fell hard to the ground and the Boss went at him with claws once more.

The stairwell’s door banged open and the Boss turned his attention to the two Shinsengumi officers who just crashed their way into the worst situation. The Boss swiped across them in a shred of fabric and blood, then whirled around with his tail and slammed them into the wall hard enough to knock them out on impact. With the doorway cleared, he took off running towards the exit.

"Get back here, you overgrown gecko!” Gintoki shouted, giving chase. He was injured but still the quicker one; realizing this, the Boss ducked into a room with an open door. Gintoki followed and found himself in an empty room with a Justaway on the floor and the Boss wriggling through an air vent on the ceiling. The Justaway was already ticking at top speed when Gin came in and quickly exploded in a cloud of heat and concrete shrapnel. He was picked off his feet and slammed into the outer wall, which crumbled under his weight and left him tumbling past the docks and into the sea.

Gintoki was tired. Even more tired than at the beginning of the story. So tired, in fact, that he wanted to end the story right he

THE END

Bad joke. He was stalling for time.

He cracked one eye open to see the bland walls of O-Edo Hospital. At this point he was more familiar with that place than his own flat, but he didn’t expect to be waking up there. With a quick glance proving the room was empty, he sat himself up with a groan, propping his back against the bed’s headrest. There wasn’t much skin left visible through all the bandaging he’d been covered with, and a wad of gauze was stuck where Sparrow gutted him.

“Shit,” he muttered, gripping his sleeves. If the doctors saw that wound, they saw all the others, and they would have had to tell—

The door opened and Kagura was in first, three empty pudding cups stacked on her head and working on a fourth. When she saw Gintoki was awake, however, she dropped all of them and bum rushed him in a hug. “Gin-chan!” she yelled into his neck, effectively deafening him.

Behind her, Shinpachi dropped a new copy of Jump (Jump! Gin almost forgot it existed) and quickly joined her, gripping Gintoki so hard it felt like his ribs would break a second time. Then he felt their tears soaking into his sleeves and suddenly didn’t feel any need to complain.

“Hey,” he said quietly, resting a hand on each head. Kagura rose at the movement and gave him a wicked punch to the shoulder. “Ow, you brat! I’m already in a hospital!”

“If you weren’t, I’d put you in one myself, uh-huh!” she said through the tears rolling down her cheeks. She continued punching his shoulder, surely leaving another bruise as she gasped, “You big—old—heartless—dummy!”

Shinpachi finally grabbed her wrists, stopping her, but he was just as sad, maybe even sadder. “We took you here after you passed out a few days ago,” he explained quietly, avoiding eye contact. “The doctor examined you, patched up the stomach injuries…then he told us there were more, a lot more. Your scalp, your ribs, fingers, pelvis, even your, your…” He stopped to take off his glasses and wiped his eyes. “Gin-san…” he met Gintoki’s eyes, sad and pleading, “what happened to you while you were gone?”

He wanted to deflect so, so badly, but while the truth would break him, lies would break the kids, and he cared too much to do that. So he did it, he told them. Shifted his eyes at everything else and ground his molars to dust and sprained his knuckles with how hard he was clenching his fists, but he told them, sparing them the grittiest details. At the end of it, Shinpachi apologized, of all things.

“I was mad at you in the beginning. I’m sorry for that,” he explained. Kagura’s head whipped from him to Gintoki.

“I-I’m sorry too, uh-huh! For kicking you in the gut…even if it felt good to do it.”

“Eh. Could’ve gone without that last bit, Kagura,” Gin said groggily, but with a bit of a smile.

“I did. And I’d do it again if you try lying to us again, uh-huh.” She wagged a finger in his face. He was going to bite it before Shinpachi cleared his throat.

“We’re here for you through everything, Gin-san, but you have to tell us. The good things, the bad things—sure, your gambling’s a pain, and I could go without the fine details of every hookup,” he said with a bit of a blush, “but we’re family, we tell each other everything, alright?”

Family. Huh.

“As long as it’s not Jump spoilers,” Gin agreed. “Speaking of…”

The door slammed open again and Hijikata’s boot came down on the magazine as he stepped in. “Oh, good, you’re up,” he said, glancing at Gintoki’s horrified expression.

“Get your dirty boots off my Jump, you shitty tax thief!”

“Don’t care.” Hijikata picked up the dirtied Jump and tossed it over.

“Sakata-san! Sorry to interrupt your recovery.” Kondo came behind the vice captain with his face pinched in worry. “We need to talk to you for a moment. The other day, we did a raid on a Justaway factory, and although we recovered all the bombs, the one we suspected of manufacturing them escaped. Then yesterday, that Amanto you attacked, he came to us and told us the suspect’s whereabouts.”

“Said he was more scared of the White Demon than ‘the Boss,’ is the direct quote,” Hijikata added, giving Gin a shifty look. Gin shrugged a shoulder. “Found out the bastard was hiding in that apartment building with a human woman—”

“Um, I’m sorry to interrupt you, Hijikata-san, but the woman’s name wouldn’t happen to be Umeko, would it?” Shinpachi said. Hijikata turned to him with a raised brow.

“Yeah. How’d you guess?”

“Well that makes some sick sense,” Gintoki scoffed. “Continue.”

A vein pulsed in Hijikata’s temple at being ordered, but he continued nonetheless, if in a tenser voice. “He was with a woman who later confessed to housing him in exchange for money. The Amanto’s been majorly tightlipped since being incarcerated—can’t get a word outta him. Well, nothing except him swearing to crush that damn White Demon.”

“I’ll crush him first, uh-huh!” Kagura yelled, making to rise before Shinpachi set a hand on her shoulder.

“That overgrown lizard knew me…before,” Gintoki said carefully. By the Shinsengumi’s expressions, they understood what he meant. “And had several bones to pick. As you can see, he got them plus change.” He wiggled his bandaged fingers before dropping them atop the Jump volume. “He had me in that damn factory until all the hubbub you started gave me a chance to get out.”

“Hmm…that does explain the boot print on Ishida’s face,” Kondo said thoughtfully. “Well, that explains that. We’ll have to get a more formal statement when you recover, Sakata-san, but for now,” he waved and disappeared through the door.

Hijikata hung back a bit, looking over Gintoki’s prone form with an unreadable expression. For a second, Gintoki feared pity from the other man, but instead earned a minute head bow. Some sort of sympathy and admiration combo. “See ya,” he said, and followed after Kondo with the click of the door.

“So,” Gintoki said after a few seconds of silence, “about that money—”

Kagura picked up the fallen pudding cup and slouched into a nearby chair. “Oh, that money’s long gone.”

“What!?”

“Extensive hospital bills,” Shinpachi explained. Gintoki was still trying to pick his jaw up.

“But—but—I didn’t get to buy a single carton of milk! How are my bones gonna regrow without milk!?”

“Lots and lots of big needles, uh-huh,” Kagura said. Gintoki tossed the bed’s remote at her head; she caught it and tossed it back at Mach speed. He ducked to avoid being beheaded.

“That’s no way to treat poor old Gin-chan!”

“Then don’t make yourself an easy target!”

“Come on, you two,” Shinpachi said with a sigh, but it was a smiley sort of sigh. Gin and Kagura’s pointless banter continued, but it meant good things; it meant he could recover, inside and out, and put things behind him sooner than he thought. And it reminded him that although what he did during the war was reprehensible, there were small moments that could still mean something, like giving a young alien girl a home and teaching a young samurai what the title meant. It meant that while the White Demon was a relic soured by time, Gintoki Sakata could still live.

He surfaced with a gasp and fumbled towards the closest pier. At least the water washed off the blood and dust, he thought, climbing onto the soggy wood. The Shinsengumi’s voices rang out from the other side of the building as they tramped in and out. He just lay there for a few minutes, catching his breath and deescalating from I’mabouttodie mode. Getting back into the building sounded like too much goddamn work; he would’ve been happy to simply lay there and die, but he was free. Finally-fucking-free. And as pleasant as it sounded, dying on a pier and turning into seafood, he had a home he could die at. And kids who could kill him instead for disappearing. Yup, that sound a lot nicer.

So, Gintoki dragged himself up for the billionth time and started walking.

The night stretched endlessly as Gintoki hobbled through the streets of the Kabuki district. He placed his location after a few buildings drifted past and realized he still had a few hours to go before reaching the apartment. At least he was dry at that point; the night was cold and no time for swimming.

You’ll catch a cold!′ Shinpachi would’ve fretted.

Idiots don’t get sick!′ Kagura would’ve scoffed with a pointed sniff.

Then he would give a garishly fake laugh, they’d banter, probably throw some punches and furniture and throwaway gags, Shinpachi would fret some more, and they’d call it a day. Such a simple life most of the time, he never thought he had been taking it for granted. No matter, the kids would kick his ass soundly when he rolled in.

Ah, Shinpachi, Kagura. He wouldn’t tell them what happened, no way in hell. But they would worry, and they would be angry when he played things off—which was fine. He would laugh things off and feign normalcy until it came easy again, all the while watching them like a hawk. If the Boss or any of his goons made a return, he would be ready. He would take him down as true to his moniker as he’d ever been. He would protect his family to the last breath.

The sweet smell of sake caught Gintoki’s attention. He was passing by one of his usual late-night haunts. Feeling more in need of alcohol than ever, Gin stumbled over and sat for a drink.

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