"We should slit our bellies and die like warriors."
When Gintoki hears those words, he knows it's almost over. They'd be damning from anyone, but from Katsura Kotaro? The man who knew the likelihood of successful retreat better than any samurai under the sun? From him, they're practically a suicide note.
Honestly, it's tempting. He's so tired of days, of weeks, of years like today. The wounds covering his body, both fresh and old, stinging with every movement. Sweat, dirt and blood sticking to his lips and tongue. A body that can’t stop pumping his veins with adrenaline. The fallen comrades he knows are nearby but can no longer see for the waves of hungry weapons surrounding him.
Even without an official count of the casualties, Gintoki can already tell the failed battle for Mount Eiroku represents one of their greatest losses in number so far. Surviving, making it back to camp—it would mean dealing with that reality, sitting through another list of names called out to no answer and scrambling to remember some flash of how each had fallen. He's gone through it too many times now; his body is a teenager's, but the weight of each name has burdened it like an old man's.
Why should he have to bury anymore friends? Wasn't it his turn to be lain down to rest? Couldn't someone else carry the burden, just for once?
And still, the memory rings out as it has for half a decade now.
Please take care of them for me, okay?
Katsura is kneeling down behind him. He isn't able to see Gintoki's expression, his near-breaking point. He never will. The Shiroyaksha searches for the response that will pull his best friend back from the edge. This moment won't be the one where they give up. It can't even be a possibility.
"Don't be an idiot," he forces a grin and rises to his feet."Stand up." By some miracle, his voice is steady. "If you have time to plan out a beautiful death, why not live beautifully to the very end?"
Silence first answers the question he's grabbed from the depths of his tired soul. But it's followed the sound of a sword being pushed into the ground. Katsura hauls himself upright, using his weapon as a support. No other response is needed.
"Let's do this, Zura."
The simple reply drifts into his ears. "It's not Zura. It's Katsura."
It's such a silly phrase. A remnant of their long-gone childhood that has somehow clung onto them all the way to late adolescence. Laziness on Gintoki's part, stubbornness on Katsura's. But it's a sign, isn't it? They're going to be alright. His promise is safe.
Yoshida Shoyo's disciples leap into battle and live to fight another day.