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[personal profile] jamjar
Fandom: Warai no Daigaku aka University of Laughs
Written for: Keiko Kirin in the Yuletide 2007 Challenge and originally posted here.
This was actually a prompt I was really happy to get since I love the movie so much, while being kind of terrified at trying to write it because, well, I love the movie so much.

And yes, it has taken me three months to get around to posting it to my lj. I'm just that efficient!

Gen, the way the movie was.
Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] snowballjane for beta reading and [livejournal.com profile] caithion and [livejournal.com profile] megolas for handholding.


Letters

It's freezing cold. Freezing, Tsubaki thinks, putting the word in his mind. Kanji, hirigana, katakana. Romaji. Dear Sakisawa, it is freezing cold, so cold I cannot write to you. The ink is frozen solid in my pen and I lost my pencil. Also, I think my fingers would drop off and fall in the envelope if I did.

If we did that on stage, you could be so shocked you threw the fingers into the audience. Not real ones, but wax, maybe, something close enough. Disgusting, but the audience would laugh, if we made it just ridiculous enough.


Tsubaki lets the letters form in his head in exact detail, blue ink and creamed, gridded paper, and keeps his hands tucked under his arms. The first night on the island, the sailor that brought them over made tea over a gas stove, gestured Tsubaki in and threw a cup of boiling water out into the air. It froze before it hit the ground, one cup turning into a white mass of fog and snow that hung in the air for a second. They built the small base that night, leaning against each other for warmth.

Two weeks later, the boat came for Kawashima and Jozenji, leaving Tsubaki to stand watch on the empty island.

Kawashima had looked at him, apologetic and pitying. "Maybe you'll see some action here," he'd said, like offering Tsubaki hope of something more exciting, more noble.

"For the steak of my nation," Tsubaki had said, teeth chattering. Kawashima's nod was automatic, not listening to the words.

"Yes!" he said. "Good luck. Persevere!"

As if, Tsubaki thinks, he can do anything else. The island around him is covered in snow, flat and white and empty, like expensive calligraphy paper. He has two books in his bag and can't move his hands to take them out. He writes over it, drawing the words over the background.

Dear Sakisawa, the wind has died down a little, but it sounds like a mother-in-law. Not a real one, a stage one, harsh and over-dramatic and mean, the perfect villain. I know you will hate my lazy characterization, but the audience will like it and tell themselves she's just like their one, even if their one is the kindest, sweetest and meekest woman in Japan.

Dear Sakisawa, I am thinking about a new play. This one will be set in Okinawa, and involve the goings-on around an onsen in the middle of summer.

~*~

Pictorial


It's a crude sketch, even by his standards. His hands don't hold the pencil well and it's been years since he painted more than a background and-- well, there are many excuses, but the truth is that Tsubaki was never a good artist, even before he landed in this hospital with half of his fingers in bandages and two fewer! toes than he had last year.

Fortunately, he doesn't have to be. The newspaper is not demanding, not like his old troupe. All they want is something cheap to print that will occupy about 1/8 of a page and will draw the reader's eye to the advertisement for fabric sales. It pays badly, but he doesn't have much to spend it on, here in the Aomori Recuperative Facility for soldiers with frostbite and burns and no family.

"Today's all done then, Tsubaki-sensei?" Hiruta, editor (and chief reporter, photographer, fact-checker) of Kuromatsu's only local paper says, sitting on the chair next to Tsubaki's bed.

"Yes. I'm sorry, it's not my best work but..." Tsubaki trails off, smiling politely. He flexes his hands, some of his fingers stiff inside their bandages. Through the window, he can see the cherry trees in bloom. The petals litter the ground around them like snowflakes. The familiarity of the white drifts is oddly reassuring.

"Oh, it's fine, it's fine." Hiruta shrugs, glancing over the strip. "Not like anyone around here is an art critic."

"You can post them to us when you leave," the editor says. "They're popular enough. Don't get any letters complaining." He shrugs gloomily, weighed down by the burdens of a small-town newspaper. "No-one stops me in the street and threatens to tell my parents or my wife."

"Inoffensive," Tsubaki says. It's not a bad thing, he thinks, not the way some of his colleagues would say it. Inoffensive, they'd say, meaning weak and boring and cowardly. It's not, he thinks. He wants his audience to be happy, to feel better for reading. To recognise and appreciate and feel less alone, laughing with a thousand other people at the same joke.

"Sneaky," Hiruta says, like he's correcting him. "They're sneaky. And honest." Like that's more of a flaw. "Kawaguchi-sensei likes them and you know he doesn't like anything."

Kawaguchi is the schoolmaster, who lost two sons to war and one daughter to a bad marriage, and who visits the hospital and always brings food and old books and is possibly going to marry the widow Hanada and Tsubaki knows this because everyone knows everyone else's business here. It's a small town where everyone knows everyone else, and he misses Tokyo so much, it's like being struck by lightning or being shot. He misses the noise and the people and making small clusters of places and people to know, and then stepping outside them into the freedom of anonymity. He misses being part of the crowd. He misses letting people know him, telling them about himself, instead of this small town where every one already knows everything. People he's never met know his name, his age, that he likes pork buns and can't eat leeks without feeling miserable the next day. He doesn't need to tell anyone anything, they've already heard it from their sister's husband's workmate.

There's no space to craft his responses and no-one to talk to and draft conversations with, without it getting shared with the whole town.

It's claustrophobic enough that he misses the island, vicious winds and empty skies and the space to craft his unwritten letters. The cherry trees catch his eye again and he wonders if he can persuade a nurse to move his chair under them. He could claim he needs the artistic inspiration, that it would soothe his poet's soul.

Maybe not. The nurses read his strip, too.

Hiruta leaves a copy of last week's issue and Tsubaki finds scissors and carefully cuts out his strip, exactly on the line of the box, then smooths the paper out. His work stares up at him from the page.

"When I was a child, I thought everything came from the stomach," Aunty Aki says to her companion, sitting at a table.

"Then as a young girl, I thought it came from the heart." In the next panel, a quick sketch of her head turning to Mr Fuyuno.

"Ah, you're getting closer to enlightenment." There, tapping his head and looking like a slightly drunk monk.

And then the last one, the punch line. Half-drawn lines to show her shaking her head and, "No, I was right the first time!" One hand on her round stomach.

He searches around his bedside cabinet and finds an envelope. The strip has to be folded over to fit and tries to make the lines sharp and even, as if he was doing origami. Like always, he thinks about attaching a note, but he doesn't know what to say. All that time writing letters that he couldn't send and now when he can, he doesn't know what to say. He doesn't even know if his letters get through, if Sakisaka still works there or has been assigned somewhere else, or if he's-- He's heard about how badly Tokyo was bombed, the fires.

In the end, he closes the envelope and writes the address on the front. Sakisaka Matsuo, c/o Law and Order Preservation Department, Tokyo Metropolitan Police Agency...

He leaves it on the chair for the nurse to find and post (and tell her husband about that Tsubaki sending another letter to that man, yes, another! So strange, sending them to this man's work, not his home!) and leans back on the bed, closes his eyes and tries to rest.

~*~

Address book


"Tsubaki Hajime?"

Tsubaki jerks, almost asleep when he hears his name. He blinks, looks around the train carriage and tries to remember where he is.

"It is! Tsubaki Hajime!" The Tohoku accent is familiar, drawn out and over-emphasised.

"Asahita Miho?" He blinks again, surprised to see a familiar face,.

"Yes! Well, Kondo Miho now," she says, sitting down next to him. She looks him over, seeing if he's changed. "I married when the troupe disbanded." Miho arranges herself, taking off her hat, adjusting her coat. It's still just cool enough for her to be justified wearing them outside, but the train carriage heats up like a greenhouse. Tsubaki feels a sense of déjà vu, watching her busy hands remove her coat and straighten her blouse. It's almost like being backstage, watching her adjusting her costume, quick change from Comic Housewife Two to Unhelpful Saleswoman One.

"Congratulations?" He says, straightening up. He doesn't mean to make it come out like a question.

"You're coming back to Tokyo?" Miho says, looking over his suitcases. "Are you writing still? Got a new troupe?" She glances at him, hat and coat to one side and still wearing his gloves, but she doesn't comment on them.

"No, well, I'm--" he starts to say, before she interrupts him.

"Ah, you should be! I liked your plays," she says in her thick Tohoku accent. "They were funny! For everyone, not just the boss. Ah, I was hoping to play the love interest in the next one!" Her usual accent falls and away and she slips into Osaka-ben. "'Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?' See?" She elbows him. "It would've been funny!"

Tsubaki laughs and is surprised at the sound. "Yes, you would have been fabulous. It wasn't Romiet and Juleo, though, we'd changed it to The Golden Demon. You would have been a wonderful Omiya, though."

"Right, the stuff with the censor," Miho says. "A terrible situation." She shakes her head and Tsubaki doesn't ask her to clarify if it was censorship she objected to, or Tsubaki being the whipping boy for his troupe. "Do you still have a copy?" She leans in and Tsubaki remembers that her pushiness kept her from getting the lead roles, even though her talent kept her on stage. "I know where some of the troupe work still, and with a bit of funding we could start it up again. Hiro-- well, he's gone, but To-kun, he's still around and..." She laughs and looks out the window. "I miss being on stage so much," she says with almost painful honesty. Tsubaki can see her reflection in the window, open and distant. "I-- my husband's a nice guy, I don't need to work, but..." She turns back to look at him, her face adjusted back to her usual smile. "We just need something halfway decent to get the punters on the seats!"

"I don't-- I lost my copy of the script," he says. He looks down at his hands, his brown leather gloves and flexes his fingers, feeling the stretch against scar tissue. "I don't know if I can find it again."

"You didn't leave it with a friend?" Miho says, sounding honestly disappointed.

"No, I did," Tsubaki says. "But I haven't-- I don't know if he's still in Tokyo. I haven't heard from him in a while."

"Ah," she says, looking sympathetic. "Yes, I know how that is." She looks away and starts rummaging around in her bag, looking for a distraction. "Here, porkbun?" She holds out a brown paper bag. "From the Kaminari bakery, the one near Jozenji. It's still there. Surprising how many things still are, really."

Tsubaki blinks and it crosses his mind that this is how he's always reacted to Miho, her relentless speech and lightning-fast switches in accent. She would have been a great Omiya, though the part would probably have gone to Sayuri or Akiko, prettier and less likely to argue with Kanta for stepping on her lines. Sakisaka would have agreed with her, or possibly just fought at her tendency to ham it up on stage. "Give me your address," he says, interrupting her. The words come out too strongly so he smiles and tries again while she's still stunned into silence. "Please? So I can contact you, if I find my script again."

Miho still looks shocked and he wonders if it was his tone or the request, but she relaxes a little and says, "Yes, good idea. I'm-- here, do you have a pen? Or I have one somewhere..." She rummages in her bag, singing something Okinawan under her breath before triumphantly pulling out a pencil. "Here! Let me give you my address, and To-kun's work. Sayuri, she's working at the telephone exchange, so at least you can call her!"

Tsubaki hand over his address book and she fills in several entries, flicking through the book to write people down. She hesitates slightly when she writes down Shioka Sayuri's new address, pausing at the entry before it before turning the page too casually. "There," she says brightly. "All done."

Tsubaki nods and tucks the address book away in his front pocket. Miho looks at him, opens her mouth to ask him a question and he makes his face smooth, polite and friendly and utterly blank.

She changes her mind about what she was going to say, closes her mouth and looks at him. He doesn't flinch and doesn't explain why one of the very few people listed is Sakisaka Matsuo, Censor. "Their main building was bombed to rubble, you know." Miho says, slowly and deliberately. "All those policeman and bureaucrats without anywhere to do their work." She looks at him for a reaction but he doesn't give her one. "I don't know where the new offices are."

Tsubaki shrugs. He can picture it, a mass of rubble and tile, plays and letters marked with red ink weighed down by broken bits the ceiling, half-censored plays scattered through the wreckage.

"Hmm," Miho says, unsatisfied with his lack of reaction. She shrugs and leans back in her seat. "Oh, such a mess," she says, more to herself than him. Then she shakes her head and starts to tell him about Sayuri and Akiko's latest fight.

~*~

Reviews


Tsubaki waits outside the building for the Central Offices of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Agency for almost an hour before he gets the strength to go in. The woman at the reception reminds him of the ticket lady and watches his uneven steps with contempt, like he could walk normally if he just pulled himself together.

His chest is tight and he wants to turn around, his head screaming what-if, what-if and he almost stutters his request to see Sakisaka Matsuo, please, and he doesn't mind waiting.

"One moment," she says. "I'll see if I can find him. You can wait here," she says, gesturing at some seats.

He sits down and tells himself it's a good sign. She didn't immediately say he didn't work there or that he was dead. It's a good sign.

"Tsubaki-sensei!" Sakisaka says. Tsubaki stands up too quickly and stares at him. He makes an awkward gesture with his arms and converts it to a bow. He can almost hear the music, dramatic reunion with lots of strings, lovers clutching. The image of it is so overwhelming he has to remind himself that its not true. Sakisaka is a-- well, acquaintance is probably the most accurate term and embracing him in the lobby of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Agency's central offices is not a good idea.

Sakisaka is still staring and him and he reaches out a hand and Tsubaki wonders if they're thinking the same thing. Probably not, because Sakisaka reaches out and pats him on the shoulder. "It's good to--" and then he looks around at the receptionist and the few people walking through the lobby. "Come to my office," he says. He grabs Tsubaki's elbow to steer him through the corridors and into the lift.

Sakisaka's office is small and neat. Sakisaka sits on one side of the desk and Tsubaki sits on the other and it's so familiar he expects to find the security guard waiting outside afterwards.

"You're limping," Sakisaka says abruptly. His eyes are focussed on Tsubaki's face. He'd forgotten just how it felt, having that focus on him. "I shouldn't have walked so fast."

"It's fine!" Tsubaki says, then winces when he hears how loudly it came out. He lowers his voice and tries to sound normal. "Frostbite, but it's not-- I can dance just as badly as ever." He resists the urge to hold his hands behind his back, keeping them loosely by his side.

"I don't doubt it." Sakisawa's face is like something from a poster, the model of a dutiful, hardworking, patriotic Japanese man. The perfect straightman, Tsubaki thinks. Sakisawa raises an eyebrow and Tsubaki realises he's smiling. He shrugs, apologetic. "It's good to see you again," Sakisaka says. "I got your letters."

For a moment, Tsubaki is convinced that Sakisaka means the letters from Takashima, the ones he wrote ande rewrote in his head, but then Sakisaka reaches inside his jacket pocket and pulls out a familiar envelope, "The comic strip."

"They got to you?" Tsubaki says. He feels his mouth stretch wide, grinning without meaning to. "I'm not an artist, the strips are rough and I don't have great talent, but I'm fast and--" He's babbling, talking to quickly, but he can't quite bring himself to stop. There's a knot in his chest that's loosened and Sakisaka got his strips, his work, he can talk to him about it. "I started as an artist, you know, before I discovered words and--"

"You painted the scenery," Sakisaka said. "I remember. This is--"

"Different?"

"Smaller. But," he added, looking off to one side, "I suppose one could say it has its charm. For some people."

It's possible, Tsubaki thinks, that he values Sakisaka's opinion too much. His heart doesn't flutter or pound, but he feels a warm glow that starts somewhere just below his chest and spreads outwards. "Yourself?" Daring and greedy, but he manages to force himself to look at Sakisaka instead of glancing away like an overly coy actress.

"I've read a few. When I have the time. They're more interesting than most of the stuff you find." Sakisaka makes a dismissive gesture at the newspaper on the table. "Do you have anything more for me?" "Nothing set down," Tsubaki says. He glances up at Sakisaka. "I wanted to talk to you first. I found it hard to write without an audience, once I'd found mine."

Sakisaka nods. The movement is a sharp, precise acknowledgement before Sakisaka looks away to dig for a cigarette in his pocket. He finds his cigarette case and offers one which Tsubaki politely refuses before taking one out for himself. In someone else, it would have been a nervous gesture.

"I didn't think I'd see you again," Sakisaka says, leaning back in his chair and looking at the ceiling. He starts to bring the cigarette up to his mouth then stops, as if he just remembered that he hasn't lit it yet. "I thought you'd die."

"Ah. So did I," Tsubaki says. Sakisawa let his chair fall forward. It hit the ground with a loud clatter. It echoes around the room and Tsubaki thinks that it's the first time he's let himself admit it. He risks a glance at Sakisaka and says, "But I'm glad I didn't."

"Yes," Sakisaka says. He meets Tsubaki's eyes and says, "Me, too." Before coughing and tapping his cigarette against the table. "I still have the script," Sakisaka says. "And I had some thoughts, actually, on the second scene."

"With Kenichi and Tomiyama?" Tsubaki says. He leans in and Sakisaka does the same, pushing a pen and notebook towards him. Tsubaki takes off his gloves and puts them in his pocket and doesn't realise what he's done until after he's done it, but Sakisaka barely glances at his hands, his eyes on the empty lined pages and the pen hovering above them.

"Yes," Sakisaka says. "It doesn't make any sense for Tomiyama to be there, not with--"

Tsubaki nods and lets his pen move across the page.

End
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