Childishness. That’s what it was — the childishness and weakness Saitou had always accused him of. Whatever he wanted to think about himself, he had to face the truth: it didn’t matter how hard he tried to be an adult; when it came right down to it, he was just a big, helpless baby who expected — who needed — to be petted and humored and allowed to live the good life at the expense of others. Because really, only a brainless kid would ask something so stupid and expect any kind of likeable answer. You’d think after having been with the guy for a year Sano would know better than to ask that kind of question.
Saitou Hajime didn’t love. He destroyed evil. What exactly had Sano been expecting, anyway? A blood oath?
“Sano, may I ask if you’re all right?”
Sano looked down quickly. It wasn’t that he was unhappy to see Kenshin… he just didn’t like the idea of Kenshin guessing at the self-deprecation going through his head. Kenshin got awfully annoying when he thought you were being too hard on yourself.
“Sano, what is wrong?”
Sano shrugged. “Just that life’s a bitch,” he muttered.
“It can be,” the red-head agreed calmly. “But why do you say so today?”
“Would you ever say you loved your sword?”
“No…” Kenshin’s expression was quizzical. “At least… well, no, I cannot say I would.”
“Yeah, didn’t think so.” The bitterness in Sano’s tone increased with every word. “And do you think someone’s ever gonna love you if they don’t after you’ve been with them for a year?”
Kenshin thought of Kaoru and cleared his throat, not sure what to say.
“Yeah, didn’t think so.” Sano leaned his elbow on his knee and his face on his fist, looking simultaneously furious and deeply hurt.
Having by now figured out what this was all about, Kenshin carefully planned what he would say, knowing there were a few ways he could put this that would only anger Sano more. “Even people who have known Saitou for a long time do not always understand him perfectly,” he told his young friend eventually. “Especially when it comes to important matters, I have noticed he likes to get his point across in his own way.”
Sano rubbed absently at the old scar on his shoulder and nodded.
“I would not like to try to interpret anything he said if I thought it might be only half of what he meant,” Kenshin finished, mentally crossing his fingers as he watched Sano digest his words, hoping the statement would push the other in the right direction.
Finally, “He should just say what he fucking means,” Sano grumbled, but the angry and pained notes in his tone were not nearly as sharp. And when presently he jumped up with, “I’ll talk to you later, Kenshin,” and strode out the door, the addressed friend had to breathe a sigh of relief.
Pride. That’s what it was — the pride and stubbornness Sano was always complaining about. Whatever he wanted to believe of himself, he had to face the fact: it didn’t matter what his morals or intentions were; when it came to relationships with actual people, he was just a proud old man who expected to have things his way and everyone else to live by his standards. Because really, only a complete jerk would answer a simple, forthright question in such a way that the questioner’s heart would be broken. You’d think after having been with the boy for a year Saitou would know better than to expect Sano to play word-games with him over such an important issue.
Sagara Sanosuke didn’t puzzle through things. He fought them with a straightforward fist. What exactly had Saitou been expecting, anyway? A calm, “Oh, really? How so?”
“Hey, boss, what’s your problem?”
Chou seated himself on top of Saitou’s desk and peered down at the grumpy expression on the older man’s face. “You have another fight with tori-atama?”
“Worse,” was Saitou’s only reply.
Chou, who adored gossip and by now knew Saitou better than most people would be willing to admit even if they could get that far, just waited.
“The idiot asked me this morning if I love him,” Saitou finally said irritably.
“Well, shit,” Chou laughed, “everyone knows the answer to that.” Not cowed by his boss’s deadly expression at this, he continued, “But I bet you said something all fucking high-and-mighty and he ran off crying.”
Saitou’s eyes flicked away to the right as if he didn’t want to face this accusation; after a long pause he said, “Yes.” Well, Sano hadn’t exactly been crying, but close enough.
Chou had to laugh again.
“I told him that would be like saying I loved my sword,” Saitou protested, wanting sympathy and knowing perfectly well he’d get it from Chou in this instance.
“Well, makes sense to me,” Chou replied, as expected, then added with another chuckle, “but no wonder he didn’t like it!”
Saitou knew that perfectly well too, and only frowned harder.
“But I know how that guy is… gets mad at everything and gets over it just as quick,” Chou continued in a jovial tone that was calculated not to sound like he was giving advice. “When you tell him what you meant, he’ll probably forget he was ever pissed at you.”
Saitou snorted faintly, but it was accompanied by an equally faint smile.
Chou shrugged. “Wish I was that good at bouncing back from shit.” Then glancing smoothly at the clock on the wall and hopping backward off the desk he said, “Well, you don’t pay me to sit around in here all day. Gonna go check out that one warehouse.” And through the door he went, his knowing grin carefully hidden from the pensive officer he left behind.
They met at a spot almost exactly halfway between dojo and police station, stopped short, and stared at each other in pregnant silence.
“I didn’t mean–” Saitou began.
“I shouldn’t have–” Sano said at the same time. And they both fell wordless and stared for another wary moment.
And then, “I’m sorry,” they both declared, and by mutual consent were in each other’s arms.
“I was stupid to run off without letting you say anything more,” Sano said.
“Next time I won’t be so cryptic,” Saitou replied, touching his lips to Sano’s temple.
“Well, what did you mean with that stuff about the sword?”
Saitou took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of Sano’s hair and smiling slightly before he replied. “In battle, my sword is like a part of myself, and if I were to lose it I would lose everything, perhaps even die. To say I loved it would be strange because it’s closer even than that; it’s so much a part of me, I couldn’t even exist without it.”
Sano’s face and chest were burning at the sound of these words. “And that’s… that’s how you feel about me…?”
Saitou held him tighter so their hearts were beating close in rapid synchronization. “It’s more than that, for you… but I don’t have words for it.”
“Oh, shit,” Sano murmured into his lover’s neck. “Remind me never to run off again before you get to the good stuff.”
“Or I could just give you the good stuff without preamble,” Saitou replied with apologetic fondness.
“Well, let’s go find some of it right now,” Sano suggested, the words accompanied by some nibbling on Saitou’s ear.
“Good idea,” Saitou growled, returning the favor.
And as they drew back out of each other’s arms, Sano’s whispered “I love you” was echoed just as softly by Saitou. Unblinking eyes meeting before they turned to walk home, they shared a smile of perfect understanding.
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