A/N: Long awaited, I know. I thank you for your patience.
Gin opened his eyes.
Somehow he had fallen asleep in spite of himself and the torturous thoughts playing out in his mind. It was apparently a lot easier to fall asleep in your own bed, no matter how depressed you were.
Gin rolled out of his futon and stretched. The apartment was quiet. It was quiet every morning, given how late Kagura slept in, but that morning, the quiet weighed him down with loneliness.
Gin slid open his bedroom door, rubbing sleep from his tired eyes. And gaped.
Curled up on the sofa was the one and only-
Tae blissfully slept on, unaware of the now-awake Gintoki and his now-twitching eye.
Gintoki gritted his teeth and clenched his fist. "...isn't it your wedding day..." he grabbed a pillow and flung it, hitting Tae squarely in the face. "What the hell are you doing sleeping here! Wake up!"
Tae groggily sat up and rubbed her eyes blearily. "Ah."
"Don't say 'Ah'!" Gintoki burst out. "What are you doing here? I'm going to be murdered by Zura. Hang on..." Gintoki started to panic, "...did I unknowingly carry you back home last night? But I didn't drink! Was it one of those fair-"
"Gin-san, please shut up," Tae cut him off calmly. "It's too early in the morning. And besides, you need to get ready. We have a wedding to attend."
Gintoki could feel the neurons in his brains popping. "...THAT'S MY LINE!"
"Get ready, for God's sake." Tae gave him a threatening look. "Before I beat you up."
Finally, after an hour of Gintoki rabidly pestering and questioning a stubbornly unanswering and unexplaining Tae, they reached their destination - the Kudoukan dojo. Gintoki had tired out and given up getting any answers from Tae as to what she was doing curled up on his sofa, instead of getting ready for her own wedding in her own dojo.
Hence, he wordlessly allowed himself to be ushered into the dojo grounds, which was quiet, as the bulk of the guests had not arrived yet, save for a few close friends and family.
"You're supposed to represent Kotarou-san's family, right?" Tae asked. "Go on. He should be in the dojo now with the priest. I need to get ready."
Before Gintoki could answer, Tae hurried away.
Since there was nothing else he could do, he made his way to the dojo hall. When he entered it, only Katsura and Elizabeth were sitting serenely by the dojo's tokonoma.
Katsura looked up as Gintoki made his way towards him. "Aa, Gintoki. I was beginning to think you weren't showing up."
"'Course I'd show up," Gintoki replied, as he took his seat next to his childhood friend. "I'm the only family you have."
At his words, Katsura turned to look at Gintoki, a serious expression on his face. "Gintoki. Even after I get married….we will always be family. Na?"
Gintoki couldn't help rolling his eyes at his old friend's sentimentality, but nodded. "Aa."
As they sat there in silence, Gintoki realised that this was the last chance he had to clear his doubts about Katsura and Tae's marriage.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Do you..." Gintoki swallowed, "...love...Otae-chan?"
Katsura inclined his head. "She is a wonderful woman."
Gintoki fought the conditioned reflex to retort a "where and since when" and instead, persisted in his attempt to wrestle an answer from Katsura. "No, but do you-"
"She would make an ideal wife."
"That's not what I'm-"
He was rudely interrupted by Shinpachi's excited chatter. "This way please! The groom's side is already waiting."
Gintoki, Katsura and Elizabeth all looked up to see Shinpachi escorting an elderly priest into the dojo.
Gintoki felt his heart sink to somewhere around his waist.
"The bride's side will be here soon! I apologize for the wait."
"Don't worry about it, young man. It is no rush."
As Shinpachi hastily excused himself and left the hall, Gintoki found himself wondering what it would it be like should he be the one sitting in Katsura's place.
What am I thinking? Gintoki gave himself a slight shake. Stop this idiocy Gintoki! I mean well, you can be idiotic but it's really not the right time-
Everyone (including Elizabeth) turned to look at the entrance.
Gintoki's gaze fell on Tae, and he suddenly vaguely wondered what breathing was like.
She was beautifully decked out in an exquisite kimono, her hair pulled in her usual ponytail but decorated with a fresh spray of flowers.
Is this really the woman who makes me into her regular punching bag? Gintoki wondered.
Tae entered the dojo.
Then it hit him.
She's not wearing-
Behind her, somebody else followed, also in an exquisite kimono, her hair swept up in the traditional Japanese bridal style.
As Tae and the somebody else sat themselves opposite of Katsura, Elizabeth and Gintoki, Tae looked straight into Gintoki's eyes, grinned and gave him a huge wink.
Jaw gaping open, Gintoki turned to look at his childhood friend - who was preoccupied with blushing and staring at his knees.
He turned back to look at Tae, who was clearing her throat while covering her mouth in a ladylike gesture.
Was written on the back of her hand, in clear, black ink difficult to miss.
It took all of Gintoki's willpower not to pass out. Or to punch something.
As the wedding festivities carried on around them, Gintoki and Tae strolled around the dojo's grounds.
"I'm not getting married," Tae remarked casually.
"That's very obvious," Gintoki snapped. Relieved and elated though he was, he could not help but feel extremely miffed at the fact that the whole world, save him, had known about the change of plans.
"Sorry we didn't tell you sooner." Tae examined her nails nonchalantly
From the teasing look on her face, Gintoki was sure that she wasn't sorry at all.
"...I'm torn between beating everyone up and beating everyone up. Only to do it at a wedding is a new low, even for me," Gintoki retorted.
"I don't care if you're a useless perm-head with no real job and who scratches his balls." Tae stopped suddenly and turned to look at him. "If you changed, you wouldn't be Gin-san anymore."
"Somehow I realised that," Tae smiled wistfully. "Some time ago. At the same time I realised, really, Katsura-san and Ikumatsu-dono should be together. They're soulmates."
Gin kept quiet. Tae sighed dramatically and continued to walk. "Guess I'll just be an old maid."
"...no you won't," Gintoki said to her back.
"But who'll have me? And anyway, I don't want anybody who's not a useless, near-diabetic, ass-scratching, nose-digging, natural perm-head either. So I guess I'm doomed."
Gin couldn't help it; he burst out laughing. Tae turned around and stared at him for awhile before starting to laugh herself.
One month earlier.
Tae stopped in her tracks.
Outside her dojo, two blonde women were waiting for her. The scarred, violet-eyed one was leaning against the wall, coolly smoking a pipe, while the other stood nervously next to her.
"Tsukuyo-san...Ikumatsu-dono..." Tae approached them. "What are you doing here at 3 am in the morning?"
Tsukuyo nodded in the direction of the woman standing next to her. "Ikumatsu-dono has something to say."
The three women sat in silence round Tae's low table, three steaming cups of green tea in front of them.
Tae was the first to speak. "Why?"
Ikumatsu looked up, surprised. "Eh?"
"Why didn't you accept Katsura-san before? He was devastated that you kept turning him away."
"Because I'm...Katsura-san deserves someone...younger. Untarnished. Not a..."
"Widow?" Tae's voice was harsh, but her expression was gentle. "You know, why don't you let Katsura-san decide who he deserves?" Tae shook her head. "I mean, really. He isn't an idiot. He knows whatever he needs to know about you, it's not like you're deceiving him or anything. Despite what you think - that he doesn't deserve to marry a widow or whatever - he still chose to love you. Don't you think you should at least give him credit for that? Sheesh." Tae sighed. "You know, that kind of attitude is what makes people miserable unnecessarily. There's enough misery in the world without self-suffering people like you adding to it."
"But I don't want him to regret-"
"Regret what? Marrying a widow? Yet, you don't mind him regretting marrying someone he doesn't love. That's downright oxymoronic. No, actually it's plain moronic, if you don't mind my saying so, Ikumatsu-dono. It's just rubbish."
Ikumatsu stayed silent.
Tsukuyo took the chance to cut in. "Ikumatsu-dono. Don't you agree Katsura-san at least, deserves to be with somebody he loves? Instead of this violent cabaret girl."
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that, Tsukuyo-san." Tae rummaged around for a piece of paper and wrote something on it. "Katsura-san should be on his way home from a meeting in a spot near his headquarters. He'll be up on the roofs. Look for him and after you tell him how you feel, give him this and tell him it's from me. Don't open it."
"Ikumatsu-dono..." Tae smiled, but her eyebrow twitched. "Before I change my mind. Katsura-san is a wonderful person and before I decide in the next 2 seconds that I'm in love with him and am not giving him up, you better get your ass out of my dojo."
"Hai!" Ikumatsu bowed low. "Thank you, Otae-san." She turned to the blonde woman sitting next to her and bowed as well. "Tsukuyo-san...thank you." She got up and left hurriedly, tucking the piece of paper Tae had entrusted her into her sleeve.
Tsukuyo took a long drag from her pipe. For a long while, the two women sat there quietly.
"I'm sorry." Tsukuyo broke the silence. "I didn't mean to put a spanner in your wedding plans. After all...the wedding's just a month away. Was, I mean. But I just thought it's something you should know."
Tae sighed. "Well, I know it, already. I know Katsura-san loves Ikumatsu-"
"No, not those two. I'm talking about you."
Tae sighed. "That, I also know. I know I'm an idiot anyway..." She gave a bittersweet laugh. "But you're right. Even if he changed to becomes some kind of man that I wanted him to be, then he wouldn't really be him, right?"
Tsukuyo frowned. "Right."
"Anyway, I'm surprised. I didn't think you, of all people, would do this for Ikumatsu-dono and Katsura-san, whom you barely know..."
"I'm not. I'm doing it for the man I love and for the sake of his happiness." Tsukuyo withdrew her pipe from her sleeve and lit up.
"So that the girl he loves won't get married to some random Joui freak." Tsukuyo got up. "See you maybe, Otae-san. Come by Yoshiwara if you ever have the chance."
Tae blinked as Tsukuyo go up made her way to the sliding door.
Tsukuyo turned. "Hmm?"
"I have a favour to ask."
"That would be...?"
"I need your help to pull the prank of a lifetime." Tae grinned at her.
Tsukuyo smirked and took a long drag of her pipe, before exhaling the smoke lazily in Tae's direction. "Count me in."
Much much later. Many years later, in fact.
Shinpachi's enthusiastic greeting was rudely cut-off by a brown-haired, brown-eyed little girl skipping happily towards her mother, who was busy in the kitchen.
"Kaa-chan kaa-chan! Papa is still asleep," the little girl reported.
"Just hit him between the legs, won't you? There's a dear," her mother replied as she scooped out scary looking black things onto a serving dish.
As the little girl happily skipped away, Shinpachi sweatdropped. "Ane-ue...what exactly are you teaching her? Also, don't you pity Gin-san? Plus, you might not be able to-"
Tae smiled sunnily. "Cheap birth control. Breakfast, Shinpachi?"
"Uh...no thanks. I just ate."
"Now, now, a growing boy like you could do with a big breakfast-"
"Ane-ue, I'm 25."
"Set the table, there's a good lad. Is Kagura joining us?" Tae asked her little brother.
"She messaged me and said she's not coming in today. I think it's Okita-san's day off or something."
"So sweet, they're spending it together..." Tae's eyes sparkled.
"They're probably spending it trying to murder each other," Shinpachi corrected her.
"Something I wonder that to myself every morning," Gintoki remarked, strolling into the living room with his daughter clamped around his waist. "Anyway, my darling wife, it takes more than that for birth control. Nothing will stop this-"
"Dear, please brush your teeth before breakfast."
A/N: I enjoyed myself immensely thinking about, planning and writing this fic. I mean, I don't know if you guys liked the ending or what, but I sure as hell enjoyed torturing Gintoki. It's been a while since I spent time thinking and planning for a fic (my specialty was more of one-shots all the way back when I was writing SD fics a decade ago) and I hope that like me, you too found some measure of entertainment in this.
I would like to thank everybody for their support and extremely kind words of encouragement. Every single review truly touched my heart. While I basically write to satisfy myself, it is always such a big bonus to be told that my writing is appreciated.
Lastly, I will write a bonus companion piece for this fic under Snapshots. I had wanted to include it but found it interfered with the flow. Otanoshimi!