I drum my fingers restlessly on the hilt of my sakabatou and look up into the scorching summer sun. “Where is that idiot?” I mutter as a bead of sweat rolls down my neck and I resist the urge to flick it away — I’m going to be sweating a lot today, and I’ll just rub my skin raw if I try to keep it off. With a sigh I scan the area yet again for any sign of the young man I’m supposed to be meeting so we can spar in our usual spot, or what was our usual spot until a year ago.
I’m still wondering why I never noticed before.
There’s a patch of trees nearby; I could easily walk over there and wait in their shade rather than this blazing heat. I’d still be able to see the place I’m standing now in case he ever bothers to show up. But… just a little longer… I can handle it (if I can’t, then things are looking bad for the match we’re supposed to be having, about which I’m already a little dubious in this weather). Really, waiting for him, I can handle anything.
Mou…! Thoughts like that have been popping unexpectedly into my head quite a lot lately, since I got back to Tokyo. Since I first, finally noticed him.
It doesn’t make sense! I was at his parents’ wedding, not to mention his own birth; I grew up just one step ahead of him, under the same roof; we trained together, and I even conducted some of it in the later years; hell, I’ve spent more than half my life with him! So why did it seem, when I came through the door into the dojo yard and shouted and he ran excitedly out to greet me, that I’d never seen him at all before? Why was it that I felt like I was noticing his shapely, muscular slenderness, the pattern of deep auburn in his crimson hair, the sparkle in those warm blue eyes, and the absolute sweetness of that smile, for the first time? Why had it taken an absence of eleven months to bring all this to light upon my return? I have to assume it’s always been there; things like that don’t develop in a year, and if I think about it logically I know he’s always been like that… so why did I only see it so recently?
Well, actually, why did I see it at all?
I finally succumb and drag my hand across the back of my neck, sighing yet again as I rub the sweat into my stinging skin. Where is that pretty, irresponsible redhead?
You know I always thought I liked girls…? It’s natural to like girls, right? Even back when I was sixteen and Yutarou “stole” Tsubame from “right under my nose” (as the comforting shoulder-patters put it) and I felt nothing, I still thought I liked girls (just not Tsubame). But now… I like Kenji. Or maybe I’ve always liked him and just never realized it: there was all that other stuff I never saw, so maybe this was always there too.
And what the hell does that make me? A pedophile, or just a pervert?
With another sigh, I finally turn towards those trees. Yeah, I’m fine with waiting for the kid even in this heat, but I really should stop thinking that way. That way like I could put myself through much worse than just the sun’s beating and the rough summer air grating my lungs, as long as Kenji’s at the end of it.
He’s sixteen, dammit, and I’m twenty-seven! Eleven years’ difference. And then there’s still the fact that we’re both male and it’s just… not right. Not natural. It really should bother me more, all of this. That it doesn’t is probably because I have so many gay friends and I’m so used to the concept. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s just…
Well… I can’t really think that about any of them, but… but… that must just be because they’re my friends. I really do think it isn’t healthy. Not for me, anyway. It must be a generational thing or something…
“Where is that stupid kid?”
I stop short. Those words, although rather close to what I was just about to say, did not come out of my mouth. They were spoken in a much deeper voice than mine from within the trees I’m about to reach.
…speaking of gay friends…
It’s the first time I’ve seen Saitou since I left to wander, but he doesn’t look much different. Even with a head all silver and movements slowing, much like Kenshin’s, after so many vigorous years, he still appears impressive and strong. And weary. It’s a look I’ve watched growing in Kenshin’s eyes over time, an expression that speaks a little forlornly of the end of the age that created him, of his inability to run at full speed with the new one. It used to worry me, until I noticed that whenever Kaoru walks into the room, that look vanishes entirely and Kenshin is Kenshin again.
Saitou still wears his police uniform — now he stands holding over one arm the jacket that must be unbearably hot in this weather — and that high nihontou. He never ceases to impress me… he must be something like fifty, and still out dispensing justice with a sword at his side. Men like him and Kenshin never quit, even if the era does try to leave them behind. It seems those two are alike in more ways than I realized.
Saitou is looking out of the trees for something, his searching eyes unblinking and his face as irritated as mine. I stand silently watching him until what it is that he’s waiting for appears and is greeted thus: “You’re late.”
“Yeah, sorry… It’s so damn hot out, I just had to cool off.” And so it seems he has rather effectively: his hakama is dripping wet, and he’s carrying his gi in one hand — he dresses rather more conventionally than he used to before he passed down his aku ichimoji to me a few years ago. But I don’t give more than a glance to his attire or the water running down his wide, bare chest; what I can’t stop staring at is Saitou’s face: the weariness has vanished and his eyes have been restored to their familiar gilded intensity, and though he is scowling, it doesn’t fool me and probably wouldn’t fool anyone who knows these two… he’s content, and it’s obvious. I can’t help but smile as I realize that just as Kaoru is the key to Kenshin’s happiness, all Mibu’s wolf needs to make him complete is one look at Sagara Sanosuke.
Funny how I never noticed that before. That year away really opened my eyes about a lot of things.
…like how their heights are about equal, much like their builds. How they really seem to fit as they embrace… and it’s not like I haven’t seen them do that thousands of times over the years (the fifteen or so years, if I remember correctly) that they’ve been together. Somehow I just never really saw how they seem to have been designed for each other.
“Thirty-six, and you still go swimming in the river like a little boy,” Saitou is scoffing as their mouths come close to touching.
“Are you mocking my age, old man?” Sano grins just before they kiss.
Oh, and I take back whatever crap I was thinking, or pretending to think, earlier — about men with men being unnatural or wrong — because watching them like that, knowing how long they’ve been together and how happy they are… damn, there’s nothing about that that isn’t completely right, and my childish worries are blown away. If me and Kenji could have something like that…
“I’m just wondering when you’re going to start acting it,” Saitou is commenting as he breaks off the kiss that actually seemed hotter than the air around them.
“Act my age?” Sano laughs. “So you mean soon I’ll start demanding back-rubs every morning after we–”
“Ahou,” Saitou cuts him off abruptly, “we have an audience.”
It doesn’t surprise me much that he knows I’m there, and I step into Sanosuke’s searching view. I’m probably blushing a bit, although I’m not really all that embarrassed at what he was saying — these guys have had sex in so many conspicuous places that I’m well aware of their habits and no longer easily chagrined.
“Hey, kid,” Sano greets me. (Of course he’ll never stop calling me that until his dying day…) “Only a week back and already spying on people, are you?” He grins and keeps one arm around Saitou.
“Actually, I was supposed to meet Kenji here,” I reply just as cheerfully, then add with a smirk, “And as if I haven’t seen everything there is to see.” (I walked in on them once.)
“You definitely have not,” Sano says with quite a naughty look as he runs his hand up Saitou’s chest.
“Sanosuke!” Now I’m certain I’m blushing, not so much because of what I’m seeing as because I’m imagining Kenji doing the same thing to me… and the already sweltering day suddenly feels a million degrees hotter. Stop that! I order myself. Just because you’ve resolved your gay issues doesn’t make Kenji suddenly old enough for you to fantasize about!
Saitou, who seems to find this exchange very entertaining, still comes to my rescue: “Ahou, you’re getting your friend a little too worked up, and I believe he wants to know if you’ve seen the boy.”
“‘Smatter of fact, I have,” Sano replies. “He was swimming with me, actually, which is probably why he stood you up. You should just go have your date with him in the river; it’s too hot for anything else.”
Now I’m seriously blushing. So I’m not the only one who’s noticed that I suddenly find Kenji attractive, huh? Still… “It’s not a date! We were just gonna go spar.”
“Yeah, sure,” Sano says jovially. “I’ll go get him for you.” And he’s off before anyone can speak another word.
Saitou sighs, but not in any unhappy way, as he watches his roosterhead disappear. “He just wants an excuse to jump in the river again.”
“It is very hot out,” I reply.
He nods, and neither of us speaks again. Until his silver hair catches my eye and something crosses my mind and prompts me to ask, “How much older than him are you?”
Throwing me an amused glance, he gives me the uncanny feeling that he guesses exactly why I’m asking that particular question at this particular moment. “Fifteen years.”
It’s funny that I didn’t think of that, you know? I know Sano’s age, and I was pretty sure of Saitou’s, and yet the number comes as such a shock to me. Naturally, my first thought is that it’s much higher than eleven.
Those two… they’ve been together for a decade and a half, some parts of which were rather hard times; they love each other to death, you can tell; each one is exactly what the other needs to make him strong and whole… and they’re fifteen years apart in age.
My next thought is that I might as well stop resisting. My feelings are what they are, and I can’t find any more reasons not to act on them.
My next million-or-so thoughts are about what exactly I’m going to say to him. And there’s one thrown in there that wonders what’s going to happen over the next decade and a half.
I guess that’s all Saitou needs to figure me out once again — nope, never ceases to impress me — for he remarks, “Battousai may not like you molesting his son, you know.”
“Probably no more than he liked you molesting his best friend. At first.”
“I must assume he cares more about a son than a friend,” he replies, still amused.
“Yeah, but he likes me where he didn’t like you.”
Saitou concedes the point with a nod. I return his smirk, and the air between us is friendly, as of men with a shared secret. And we both look to where the ones we love — and hopefully the next fifteen years, or even the rest of our lives — are approaching through the trees.
This was written in response to Queen Yokozuna’s Sizzle and Burn s a i s a Fanfiction Challenge, where one of the categories was “hot weather.” I was on vacation at the time, at my grandmother’s, and it was freaking hot. Hot night + inspiration = insomnia (not that I ever have trouble coming up with insomnia on my own), and I was up attempting to write this story that had popped into my head.
The problem was that there were about twelve hundred other people visiting her at the same time, and every available space in the house was occupied by a sleeping body (I’m pretty sure I was even sharing a bed with a sister or someone). So I went and sat in the bathtub (in pajamas: empty bathtub) and scribbled away, accompanied by the cat. That was a good experience.
Anyway, I’m very fond of this story, even if Yahiko seems disturbingly certain about his own pending success with Kenji. I promise anything that happens between them will be consensual. To the extent that anything between people 16 and 27 can be, anyway…
This story is included in the Saitou/Sano Collection 2 ebook. I’ve rated it . What do you think of it?