To the Dogs
by Mina Lightstar

Sakata Gintoki has never been a magnet for trouble; he mostly went out of his way to bring trouble to him. Lately, he doesn't have to. His so-called "apprentice" tends to get into trouble for him -- and then run it back to Gintoki for good measure.


Gintoki stifles a sigh and drops a few coins on the table. "Thanks, the ramen was good." He leaves the stall before trouble makes a wreck of it.

The man reaches out for the money. "Thank you for your... hey! This is only half -- get back here!"

"Shinpachi!" Gintoki calls. He's already hopping aboard his scooter. "We're leaving."

"GIN-SAN," the little bundle of panic cries once he's caught up, "GIN -- I mean, Gin-san, they're chasing me!" He climbs on and hooks his arms around Gintoki's middle. "Ride, ride!"

"Safety first," Gintoki reminds him calmly. "Put your helmet on."


"There they are!" Gintoki hears in the distance. "Get 'em!"

"Shinpachi," he gives his companion a look over his shoulder, "what were you up to?"


Gintoki smacks a helmet onto Shinpachi's head, and then revs his engine and takes off. They end up having to tour half of Edo before Gintoki feels as though it's safe to go back to the apartment -- though by that time, the path of destruction they've left in their wake would be clue enough as to their whereabouts.

"Shinpachi. I thought you were going to get the slippers back," Gintoki grumbles as he pulls his helmet off.

"I... I tried!" His hands clench like he wants to hold a sword. "I went to the pawn shop we saw them at, but they'd just been bought, and I didn't have any money to bribe the guys with and they called me Four-Eyes and said they were going to kick my--"

"Ah, ah, I get it, I get it." Gintoki waves the issue aside and sighs. So much for the latest job.


"... And that's why we can't pay the rent this month," Gintoki concludes.

Otose stares at him, cigarette smoke escaping in a steady stream from a corner of her mouth.

"But, anyway," Gintoki raises his hands in a careless gesture and shrugs, "I painted your roof last week, so that counts as the rent, okay?"

Shinpachi presses his face into the counter and covers his head, hoping to be spared Otose's wrath by mere association. He hears Otose's angry shouts and Gintoki's squawking and then he hears the telltale thumping of Otose's fist on Gintoki's head.

People walking by don't do more than casually glance their way to see what the fuss is about. It's common knowledge that Otose's tenant is a good-for-nothing, unemployed bum who spends a lot of time whining about how he has to monitor his sugar intake, and no one understands why she puts up with him.

"Even if that's supposedly one month of rent," Otose is screaming, "how do you plan to get out of the other six?!"

"Shin-chan," Kagura speaks up around her onigiri, "you should have called me. I would have beaten those guys up for you."

"Gin-san could have beaten them up himself," Shinpachi moans. "I'm sure he could have."

"But now they got away, and we failed." There's a pause as Kagura stuffs her mouth full. "Now we won't get our share of the pay."

Shinpachi looks up, peeking at the Yato girl with one eye. "Kagura-chan... you know Gin-san has never paid us, right?"

"As long as I get food, it's fine."

Shinpachi wonders about this, considering Kagura is "working" for them in order to raise money to return home. But he figures she said it just because she was in the middle of a meal -- and Kagura thinks with her stomach most of the time. (The rest of the time, she thinks with her fists, or watches television.)

"It was a stupid job, anyway," Gintoki points out, sliding back into his stool beside Shinpachi. He has a very pronounced lump on his head and a trickle of blood coming out of his nose.

"It doesn't matter that it was stupid!" Shinpachi snaps. "What matters is that it was going to get us money!" He reaches into his kimono and pulls out their bankbook. "LOOK AT THIS!"

Gintoki shoves the book away from his face. "You know, in this world, there are samurai without bankbooks to glance at."


"Ah!" Kagura gasps. "Ladies Four is coming on!"

"We have more important things to worry about!" Shinpachi turns to glare at her, but she is already gone. He turns back around to glare at Gintoki, but the silver-haired samurai is gone, too. Shinpachi sighs.

"I don't know why I bother," Otose mumbles, lighting another cigarette. "I don't think he's paid me rent since he's moved in."

Shinpachi feels like protesting that yes, of course he has, but no longer has the energy. He bids the landlady farewell and trudges up the stairs to the apartment, feeling defeated.


Katsura Kotarou thinks he is having a bad day. He figures this when his cold takes a turn for the worst, and he drags himself out of bed after a sleepless night. He decides this promptly at four-thirty-six in the afternoon, when he makes eye-contact with one Okita Sougo of the Shinsengumi.

Fortunately, Captain Okita has a penchant for firing a rocket launcher before asking questions. Even more fortunately, Katsura is good at dodging this rocket launcher, and using the smoke from its explosions as getaway cover.

Unfortunately, Katsura's day has been utterly ruined, and now he has to escape on a wounded leg through the smokescreen courtesy of Okita's weapon.

Being a terrorist is hard sometimes, he laments.


"I think Zaphaphargh will win Quirina's heart by the end of season one," Kagura predicts. She's resting her feet on a dozing Sadaharu.

"Nonsense," Gintoki scoffs. "She obviously has a thing for Xellors. Especially since Akinfrin is going to die in the next scene."

"Well, that's obvious. They've been dropping those hints for two months!"

"You two," Shinpachi starts, and then stops, looking like he wants to cry. Gintoki wonders why; he doesn't even like the show, so it's not like they spoiled him.

"Cheer up, Shin-chan," Kagura consoles, patting Shinpachi's shoulder. "Akinfrin wasn't cool, anyway."

"That's not what I'm talking about!" Shinpachi screams.

"You weren't talking about anything," Gintoki tells him. "Anyhow, the commercials are ending, so be quiet and watch."

"Only you would care more about a drama than your friend's feelings, Gintoki."

Gintoki raises an eyebrow, because the voice didn't belong to Kagura or Shinpachi. In fact, it sounded like -- "Zura." He looks up at the dark-haired samurai and wonders what he's doing here and hopes it doesn't involve Gintoki.

"Not Zura," the other man corrects automatically. "Katsura." He closes the door behind him.

"Do you ever knock?" Shinpachi wonders.

Zura opens his mouth to reply, Kagura rides over him with "Zura, your face is gray," and then he pitches forward onto the floorboards.


Shinpachi swallows. "Gin-san... shouldn't... aren't you going to help him?"

"At the commercial."

The silver-haired samurai has to duck to avoid Shinpachi's punch, and Kagura stops his fist before it gets her, instead.

"GIN-SAN! How can you say that?!"

"Ah," Kagura points, "Isn't that the commercial for Otsuu's new album?"

Shinpachi leans forward, entranced, the unconscious Zura temporarily forgotten.


The apartment is quiet with Kagura and Sadaharu gone, Gintoki flipping through the latest issue of Jump, and Shinpachi fretting over a feverish Katsura. Thankfully, Otose knows a thing or two about bandaging wounds and treating the common cold.

Gintoki's a little upset about losing the comfier couch, though. "You could have put him in the bedroom," he says, without moving his manga. "Ohh, bankai."

"Reading lying down is bad for your eyes, Gin-san. And how can you say that? He's your friend, isn't he?"

"He's had worse," Gintoki replies absently. "He'll be fine."

Shinpachi frets some more, because Katsura has helped them out a few times. "But he's been out for two hours."

"It's because he doesn't drink enough milk," Gintoki declares. "I keep telling him, calcium is very important. I don't know why he doesn't listen to me; he puts milk in his hair, but won't drink it." [1]

"It's not the same kind of milk," Katsura slurs.

"Oh, you're awake? Shinpachi-kun, get him some milk."

Shinpachi retreats to the kitchen, grabbing the carton of strawberry milk and bringing a glass back to their uninvited guest. Katsura makes a face when he tastes it, but obviously his throat is dry, because he downs the entire glass.

"How are you feeling?" Shinpachi asks, taking the cup back as the samurai lies down again.

"Much better, thank you."

"Zura," Gintoki interjects, "what happened to you?"

"Katsura. Nothing out of the ordinary," the other man admits. "I'm not feeling well, and the Shinsengumi chased me."

"Oh, I see -- what?!" Gintoki sits up, dropping his Jump magazine as he gapes at his former comrade. "If the Shinsengumi were chasing you, why did you come here?!"

"Why did you?" Shinpachi wants to know. He rubs his face, foreseeing more trouble. "We spend enough time trying to convince them that we aren't helping you out, and you run here for shelter?!"

"So cruel," Katsura sighs, closing his eyes and looking like he is going to drift off again. "Turning your back on a friend in need."

"You're warping words and assuming Things," Gintoki cuts him off. "Stop it."

"Gin-chan!" comes a familiar voice, accompanied by the loud footsteps that can only be Sadaharu's.

"Kagura-chan," Shinpachi greets her. He goes to open the door and his head ends up in Sadaharu's mouth.

"Kagura," Gintoki says, taking in the returning Yato girl and her companion. "Who's this?"

"A client!" the girl squeals.

"A client?" Shinpachi echoes, the words muffled. He pulls away from Kagura's pet with difficulty.

"A client," the client says. He bows to them. "I am Rin." Rin is a Ronin, and well-dressed. He looks like an established member of society -- and therefore, someone who can pay well. "I heard from Kagura-san that you will do any job?"

"Of course!" Shinpachi puts in immediately. "Just tell us the particulars and we'll handle the rest!"

"Yes, yes!" Kagura ushers the client to the unoccupied couch and sits him upon it. She sits on his left, Shinpachi on his right.

Gintoki picks himself up off the floor and moves to the other couch. There isn't much room since it's posing at Katsura's sickbed, so Gintoki moves the other samurai's legs and lays them across his lap, careful not to jar the injured one. He tries to put on an air of professionalism despite the fact that his hands are resting on Katsura's knees.

"Now then," he says, "tell us what you need."

In answer, Rin pulls out a sheet of paper and shows it to them. On it is a picture of a large sheepdog. "I want you to find my puppy."

Silence reigns in the apartment.

"I'm willing to pay several thousand yen," Rin adds.

"We'll do it!" Shinpachi shouts, with almost as much enthusiasm as he uses for Otsuu concerts. He's already glancing at their bankbook. "We'll gladly do it!"

"A puppy!" Kagura claps. "How cute!" She pauses, glances at Sadaharu, and adds, "I'll have to restrain myself." She is probably thinking of her past experience with pets.

"A puppy," Katsura murmurs. He frowns. "I wonder where Elizabeth has gotten to...."

"A puppy," Gintoki says. "Fine, we accept. We'll find your dog and bring it back."

"Oh, thank you!" Rin gives Kagura the picture and wrings his hands. "I love him so much... please, please bring my little Gin-chan back to me!"

Silence reigns in the apartment... but it's soon broken by uproarious laughter.

"Gin-chan!" Kagura manages between gasps. "It takes a Gin-chan to find a Gin-chan!"

"Shut up, both of you!" Gintoki yells. "If you keep laughing, I'll kill you two-thirds dead!" He glances over at Katsura, who is snickering quietly, and shoves him so that he's lying down again. "You, too! The injured should sleep and stay quiet!"


Hijikata Toshirou wonders why he's staking out a warehouse in broad daylight, baking in the heat of the sun on the roof across the street. He prefers hunting down terrorists to busting drug traffickers. He glances at his partner, and wonders if just once, he could possibly take someone else along.

"Sougo," he sneers. "You are not staking out the sky."

"Aw, nothing is happening, anyway, Hijikata-san." Sougo sits up and then lowers himself onto his stomach next to Toshirou. "What idiots announce their illegal activity in the middle of the day, in public?"

"That's not why we're here, we're here to --" something catches his eye, "-- hn. Sougo. Look."

Sougo follows Toshirou's gaze and frowns. "Hijikata-san, he's... walking a dog? Who brings a dog to a warehouse?"

"Exactly," Toshirou replies. "Even if it's a coincidence, we can bust him on letting his pet defecate on corporate property. Either way, I'm not getting suntanned for nothing."

"I don't tan, I burn. Lend me your coat to cover myself, I'm going to take a nap."

"The hell you are."


"Where do we start?" Shinpachi wonders, rubbing his chin. "Looking for a dog in Edo is like getting Kagura to stop eating." He winces when Kagura whacks his arm.

"We could get Sadaharu to sniff around for him," the Yato girl suggests.

"Idiot," Gintoki drawls. "Sadaharu would eat him." Sadaharu proceeds to eat Gintoki's hand. "Anyway, one of us should stay with Zura. What if he orders pizza with our money?"

"We don't have any money," Shinpachi reminds him.

"Ah, Sadaharu!" Kagura cries, leaping onto the dog's back as he suddenly becomes interested in sniffing a trail. "I think he's got something! Is it him, Sadaharu?" She waves the picture in front of her pet's face. "Is it?"

"Like he can answer you," Shinpachi grumbles. "Come on, Gin-san, it's as good a start as any."

Gintoki shoves his pinky into his ear and sighs. "He's probably going to sniff out every damn dog in Edo."


Toshirou is at his wit's end when more people start floating into the warehouse. He sends a message to Yamazaki, telling him to get ready for a raid, and then pokes the still lump that is under his uniform jacket.

"Huuuh, what is it, Hijikata-san?" Sougo mumbles as he sits up, rubbing at his eyes.

"Our warehouse just filled up." He twitches when Sougo's rocket launcher locks on target. "Not yet, Sougo."

"Then why did you wake me up?"


"A warehouse?" Shinpachi asks, squinting at the building. "Why'd Sadaharu bring us here?" He waits for an answer, and then realizes that Gintoki, Kagura, and Sadaharu are still moving toward the foreboding structure. "H-hey! Wait, is this even safe?"

When he joins them at the back of the warehouse, Kagura, being the smallest, stands on Shinpachi's shoulders and gets a cautious peek through the window.

"I see a doggie!" she whispers excitedly. "Good job, Sadaharu!"

"What else do you see?" Gintoki asks.

"People exchanging briefcases."

" -- What?"

Before anyone else can react, the side of the warehouse explodes and they hear, "YOU'RE UNDER ARREST! THIS IS THE SHINSENGUMI!"

"Shit," Gintoki curses. "Come on, let's get the dog out of this before they trash the place!"

The three (four) of them bust into the back of the warehouse, into smoke and fire and fighting, without a second thought. The Shinsengumi are taking care of the situation swiftly, efficiently, and for the most part, Shinpachi and the others aren't met with any resistance. They search for puppy Gin-chan with their eyes and whistles and calls of "here, boy!"

"Shit," Gintoki says again. Kagura and Shinpachi stop short beside him and echo his curse.

Okita Sougo has the dog now, leash in one hand and rocket launcher in the other. "What a good boy," he is saying, "I do believe I know you, let's get you back home, shall we, good boy...."

They stare, dumbstruck, as chaos is ravaged all around them.

"How is it like this?" Gintoki wonders.


On their way home, they hear about the successful drug-bust performed by the Shinsengumi. Two high-profile, warring drug rings have been destroyed. A stakeout had led to the first bust, and, they discover, the missing Gin-chan became the key to making the second series of arrests.

"So Rin was head of a drug ring," Shinpachi summarizes. "They were fighting over territory, so the Zetsu ring tried to get Rin where it would hurt most. That's why they kidnapped Gin-chan." He scratches his head. "And when they turned Gin-chan loose and followed him to his master, that's when they arrested Rin." He scratches his head again. "So confusing. We almost worked for a drug dealer, like we weren't in enough trouble with the Shinsengumi."

"Good thing they didn't notice us running around that warehouse," Gintoki adds.

"Sadaharu must have smelled the drugs," Kagura suggests, patting her pet's big nose. "He thought they smelled funny, so he followed the scent."

"Sadaharu can sniff out drugs?" Gintoki gives the alien dog a considering look. "Maybe we've found another means of getting money...."

"No way!" Shinpachi snaps. "We are not opening a drug ring!"


"... And that's why we can't pay the rent," Gintoki concludes.

Otose lights another cigarette, and then tries to stick it in his eye.


"And since you can't walk yet," Kagura is saying, "that's why you have to give us money for food. As payment for taking care of you."

"But I can walk," Katsura says, and makes as if to demonstrate -- only to settle back a moment later, when Kagura begins to look like she will make it so he can't.

Shinpachi's stomach growls.

"Come on, Zura," Gintoki drawls. "We'll even watch the dramas you like."

"It's Katsura, and you're pathetic." But he gives them money nonetheless -- on the condition they order soba.