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Title: Tea-House Moon
Rating: T
Genre: Fantasy/RPG-AU, Humour, Friendship, Action-Adventure.
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Sakata Ginko/Tsukuo, Shinpachi, Kagura, Hinowa and others in future chapters.
Warnings: It’s a Gintama fic, all sorts of warning go here, dammit. Genderbent!GinTsu, mild language, crack, breaking the fourth wall.
Summary: In which Tsukuo finds himself part of a company and quest he did not sign up for, that blood may be thicker than water but it certainly isn’t thicker than ketchup (nor does it taste as good with fries)* and that sometimes a thief can be a liar and still keep their promises. Set three and half years after the events in Thieves, like books, should not be judged by their covers (it’s best to read that one-shot first to familiarize yourself with this AU and understand how Ginko and Tsukuo met)

A/N: A terribly belated Christmas gift fic (or if you prefer, an early V-day gift?!) for my madao-bro [livejournal.com profile] waketozee. Apologies for the wait (again), dearie


~.*.~


Chapter 1

Everyone likes to pretend reunions are always happy
when they are actually really unnerving!

.

.


It began in the Woods.

Or rather, it came from it – stumbling sounds of running and crashing through the undergrowth, of panicked voices, h-hurry, hurry we must run, we must get to the edge of the Great Woods, hurry

Tsukuo frowned as he listened, perched cat-like on a large branch, sweeping his gaze around as he tried to pinpoint the location of the intruders. He had been out roaming the district of Yoshiwara – something that had become more of a habit these days, especially when he was visited by bouts of restlessness. He was visited by brief memories, of how he'd done something similar as a child, prowling under the cover of velvet night, with only the thin slivers of moonlight to guide him as he searched, hungry and cold, for food scraps to last him the long dark hours. The moon had been his guide in those early times and it was the moon he was named after (he had no memory however, of the face of the person who first called him Tsuki; he could only remember her voice, gentle and kind, as she whispered the same song over and over into his ear as she held him close, enveloping him away from the chill and the shadows).

And it was the full moon this night that brought him venturing close to the edge of the Great Woods. The trees lining the borders of the Manor’s estate, illuminated by the silvery sheen of moonlight; the long shadows dancing in magic-like swirls upon the dewy grass below, the gentle ripple of wildflowers like ocean waves in the wake of a night breeze passing by – the view never failed to set Tsukuo’s restiveness at ease, if only but a little while.

As he continued to strain his senses in the dark, he heard yet another faint cry, a shrill voice coming deep from the foliage, followed by more rustling of leaves and the snapping of branches and twigs underfoot .

And suddenly, suddenly, two figures emerged running out from the Woods.

Tsukuo kept himself hidden, watching them still as he fingered a short throwing knife loosely in one hand.

The figures reached the flowering fields, running as quickly as their legs could take them. Under the moonlight, Tsukuo could see that they were only children, possibly not more than twelve years of age. The boy’s eyes were wide mirrored ovals glazed with fear, light glinting off the nose-bridge and the sleek steel-trimmed sides, lending eighty-five percent more dramatic air to an otherwise rather dull side-character–

“I really hope that you’re describing the actual me and not just my glasses!” the boy cut in, glancing up towards where Tsukuo stood between the leaves. “And who are you calling a dull side-character?!

Tsukuo blinked, surprised. “Huh. So the human-wearing glasses can speak after all.”

The boy made an angry, indignant sound at the back of his throat. “My glasses aren’t the character, I’m the character! Can we move on from these glasses-are-actually-Shinpachi jokes already? It’s beginning to get really tiresome!”

A long, smoky tendril of blackness abruptly appeared behind the boy then, plucking off a strand of hair from the back of his head. He yelled again, this time in pain, and gasping in fear, ran harder.

“Kids love running jokes, Shinpachi!” The young girl who’d just spoken didn’t look at all afraid; in fact, she was practically beaming as she skipped beside the boy, swatting her violet parasol nonchalantly at the curling black tendrils reaching for them.  “Especially when the subject of the joke himself is doing the running and ends up becoming a pun as well.”

“Ugh Kagura-chan, this isn’t really the time to be parroting Gin-san’s smart-talk! Those Black Shapes are gaining on us!”

Gin-san? Tsukuo waited until the children dashed past the tree he stood in and jumped down nimbly from his perch, jogging quickly after them. Could it be...?                          

There was a loud crashing noise from the Woods and when Tsukuo glanced over his shoulder, he saw a third figure – another girl, clad in a white tunic with blue-patterned swirls at the hems – dashing wildly out from the trees, pursued closely by a menacing Black Shape on a roaring speeder-bike. The Black Shape reached forward, its fingers curled into sickled claws as it shrieked like night terrors. Tsukuo, Kagura and Shinpachi froze in their tracks, throwing their hands over their ears to block out the terrible, bone-chilling screams of the Undead.

“N-no need to panic, kids, I’ve got everything under c-c-control!” The girl called out, sprinting into the scene as if her life depended on it. She tripped over a dead branch, hitting the ground with a loud –oof! – and the Black Shape was upon her, its speeder-bike towering over her and ready to ram her against the ground.

“Gin-san!!”

Before Tsukuo could run forward to help, the girl twisted away, dodging the speeder-bike just as it nosedived into the ground.  Rolling back up her feet, she swung her arm out, flinging what seemed like mud at the Black Shape. It caught the rider sharply by the side of its head with an ugly squelching splat, knocking it off the speeder-bike.

The girl laughed, punching her arms in the air as she twirled about in the manner of an obnoxious victory dance. Her short hair was a mess of curls, gleaming silver in the moonlight.

Tsukuo winced, feeling his heart sink; he’d recognise that laugh and that face anywhere.

“See, there’s nothing to worry about; everything’s just going as plan–”

“Ginko, move!”Tsukuo hissed urgently, just as another Black Shape appeared, charging swiftly towards the girl.

Ginko jerked her head sharply towards Tsukuo, her eyes widening by a fraction when their gazes met.

“You–” she began, and never got to finish because Tsukuo had launched himself at her, knocking her away just as a second Black Shape surged passed them,  the engines of its speeder-bike roaring fiercely as it dashed the ground where Ginko had stood moments ago.

The second Black Shape screamed again, thrusting its bike towards at both Ginko and Tsukuo; it held one long black sword poised before it, ready to strike them down. But Ginko was already moving forward, flinging mud at the Shape as it bore down upon them. This time, it caught the rider from the front, knocking off its Dark Hood to reveal its face…

Except it had no face at all. In fact, it didn’t even have a head.

Ginko froze, gaping stupidly at the Headless Rider, the colour running from her face and leaving her pale as a ghost. Which is ironic and amusing, considering how afraid she was right now at the possibility that she’d been dealing with the paranormal and not just some random Amanto hell-bent on murdering her.

(If you don’t find this amusing, you need to stop reading and go back to finishing your homework. Stop procrastinating on the internet already you lazy bastards!)

“H-Hey, aren’t you d-d-dressed too early for H-H-Halloween?! And w-who said I-I-I was afraid of g-g-ghosts, d-dammit!” Ginko stammered bravely like the shounen protagonist that she was not.

The Headless Rider only slashed at Ginko with its black sword by way of a reply, snipping off a tiny piece of Ginko’s hair.

“Ginko, get away from there!” Tsukuo said, rushing to her side.

With a blood-chilling shriek that would have raised the hair on your bald uncle’s head, the Headless Black Shaped Rider lunged at Ginko again, sword poised for a killing blow. But Tsukuo was quicker and grabbing the girl’s arm, pulled her out of harm’s away just as the speeder-bike blazed past.

“I-It’s all right! A-All we need to do is find a t-t-time machine!” Ginko yelled as she ducked between the grass.

Ignoring the girl’s incoherent yells – what time machine? – Tsukuo dodged another slash from the black sword and drawing out his throwing-knives, sent a flurry of them flying at the two Black Shapes. The knives plunged into the ground around the Black Shapes, closing them in a neat circle. Clasping his hands together, Tsukuo began to murmur – softly at first, and then louder and stronger until his voice rose in a chant over shrieks of the Black Shapes, weaving words into a string of spells. Blue sparks crackled from the ground, snaking upwards to circle the Black Shapes in a tight coil of magic, hissing, spitting and swirling around them like a ferocious spirit-cat.  Then with a thunderous roar and a blinding flash, the magic imploded and crashed upon itself.

When the dust and magic finally settled, the Black Shapes were no more; there were only dark scorch marks on the ground where they last stood and two torn strips of paper flapping weakly in the dying breeze.

As he reached for the strips, Tsukuo felt a slight ripple of dark magic burning through his flesh when his fingers touched the fast-fading black inscriptions on the paper. He cursed softly, releasing his hold from the burning touch and the strips crumbled to ashes, leaving no trace of the Headless Riders save the burnt patch of grass.

“Enchanted figures huh,” he said softly. Before he could ponder more about these strange events, he felt a gentle tug at his robes and glancing down in surprise, he saw that one of the two children – Kagura, was it? – had buried her face into one of his robe sleeves.

“Blessed handsome saviour of the moonlit night who smites the dark and keeps it at bay!” Kagura cried out, wiping tears and snot away into Tsukuo’s sleeves.

“Thank you for helping us,” The boy Shinpachi said, bowing gratefully to Tsukuo as well. “If you hadn’t arrive when you did, I don’t think we could have outrun those… things.”

“Oi, oi. Are we forgetting who’s the one who managed to keep your hides safe all through the Woods?” Ginko abruptly cut in as she climbed back to her feet and dusted herself importantly. “What a bunch of ingrates you two are.”

“Gin-san, you were running way ahead of us and we were struggling to catch up with you.”

“W-Well yeah, but that meant you had to run faster and that’s how you managed to outrun those t-t-things!”

“Hmm, that’s somewhat true,” Kagura said, breaking away from Tsukuo. “It’s because Gin-chan tripped over a branch the first time and that stalled them for a bit, yes?”

“I did not trip!” Ginko said, putting on her best indignant expression. “I was... uh, I was being a decoy so you and Pachi-boy could escape!”

“You totally tripped over the dead branch,” Shinpachi snapped. "Twice too, might I add."

“Did not! A shounen protagonist trips exactly when she means to, f-for plot advancement!”

Tsukuo let out a tired sigh, shaking his head in disbelief. He had no idea if any of them were telling the truth or what they were even doing in the Woods so late into the night. But he was responsible for the night watch and knew what he had to do, so he cleared his throat loudly to catch everyone’s attention.

The trio stopped bickering at once, turning to faced him.

“I apologise in interrupting your debate,” Tsukuo began, bowing his head shortly. “And I have less say about the predicament you find yourselves in right now. But I do have an announcement to make and a duty to fulfil as Captain of the Night Guard.” Moving closer to Ginko, he reached for her hands and promptly clasped on a pair of iron cuffs around her wrists. All around them, there was the rustling of leaves and several masked figures appeared from the trees and bushes, surrounding the trio.

“For the crime of intruding uninvited into Yoshiwara and into the private grounds of the Lady Hinowa, you are hereby under arrest.”

Ginko blinked stupidly, the veins squirming like worms underneath her eyes, before Tsukuo’s words finally hit her in the face like a flopping dead fish.

“W-WHAT THE HELL?!”



to be continued...

_____

Notes:
- * Part of the summary is from a quote by Jarod Kintz.

- Kagura and Shinpachi are slightly younger in this AU, about twelve and thirteen respectively. Ginko and Tsukuo are about nineteen going on twenty.

- Tsukuo is now a full mage and is the leader of the Hyakka.

- I have no excuse for taking so long with this, except that I’m a champion procrastinator and am a very lazy person by nature u_U Buuut!! Here is it at last, the sequel to Thieves... as I promised so many months ago.

- Initially it was supposed to be a one-shot focusing on Tsukuo and his backstory in this AU, but after thinking it through, I felt that the story would flow better as short chapters (also because it’s an excuse for me to come up with ridiculous chapter titles, lol). So yes, this will be my first multi-chapter fic for Gintama /o/

- Updates may be sporadic as my muse tends to be really fickle, but I promise, once I've posted a wip, I'll finish it, even if it takes a while (plus I've already figured out the epilogue and conclusion to this story).

- Partially inspired by the song Meditational Field from the Paprika OST

- What a speeder-bike sort of looks like.

- I hope you've enjoyed the prologue... stay tuned for more! Comments/critique are always appreciated. Thanks for reading

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