“Sir? Are you all right?”
He turned with distant surprise toward the sympathetic woman’s voice that had spoken, but couldn’t at first get his eyes to focus on her.
“You’ve been standing there packing those for five minutes,” she explained.
Saitou’s hands paused in the middle of said motion, which he hadn’t realized he’d been doing for so long. Once he’d made the transition from one action to another, it was with automatic if jerky movements that he opened the package, extracted a cigarette, brought it to his lips, and searched for his lighter.
The woman, whom he eventually hazily identified as a member of the janitorial staff cleaning out the ash trays here on the smoking deck, looked at him pityingly, especially at his arms onto which some of the blood must have soaked through his jacket before he’d removed it. After a moment she offered her own lighter, seeing he was absently continuing the search despite his inability to find his (it was in his jacket). “Waiting for someone in surgery?” she guessed quietly.
Dumbly he nodded. The smoke worked to clear his head a little, but not enough for him to attempt a verbal response.
She glanced again at his uniform. “Partner?”
He nodded again, not up to the task of differentiating between types of partners.
“I hope everything goes OK,” she said as she wheeled her cleaning cart around to face the door back inside. “Keep the lighter.”
Saitou was left alone, watching the ambulances come and go but not really seeing them, nor hearing their wailing sirens rising up from below. Presently he tossed what remained of the cigarette into the ash tray and started another.
They hadn’t come in an ambulance. He hadn’t wanted to wait for one when he had a car with a siren right there. It was a breach of protocol, but he didn’t give a damn. That wasn’t the only thing he’d done wrong… a shooting, and he hadn’t pursued… had opened fire in a public parking lot… had barely been coherent enough to relay information to someone in the vicinity…
Justice was one thing. Revenge was one thing. Prevention of further crime was one thing. Saving someone’s life was something entirely above and beyond.
He gave a short, sarcastic laugh as he started his fourth cigarette. Above and beyond justice? Above and beyond the only ideal that had mattered to him his entire life? Guns are loaded with truth, the saying went. He’d never liked it. He still didn’t like it. At least now he’d found an applicable situation, though. The truth here was that the police were coming up very short in this city if somebody in the company of an officer couldn’t cross a parking lot without getting shot.
His hand, he found, was clenched with vicious tightness around the lighter, and he forced it to loosen. Whose lighter was this, anyway? He’d just bought a new one, along with the cigarettes, at the store, before… Well, that one had been black, and this was red.
In the midst of lighting his sixth stick, his hand clenched again inadvertently, and he growled, bending his will to pry it open and reignite the lighter. He sucked hard on the cigarette, but found its soothing quality inferior to some he’d enjoyed in the past.
The idiot had a death wish. That was the only explanation. Wasn’t there some psychologist somewhere with a theory about beautiful people being more reckless? Typically stupid. Somebody beautiful shouldn’t care if some moron he didn’t even know called him a faggot, shouldn’t have to respond to everything said to him, shouldn’t have to turn everything into a confrontation, then a fight… then a shooting… but Saitou should know better by now — much better — than to associate, even indirectly, charm with sense. Because it should have been obvious to anyone familiar with the streets, not to mention that particular neighborhood, cop or otherwise, that those guys were trouble. There were visible bullet holes in their car, for god’s sake.
He accidentally snapped the eighth cigarette between fingers that shouldn’t have been quite so unsteady. Irritated, he pulled out another one.
How absurd, to go through life assuming you were invincible! Though perhaps that attitude was only present in the company of a cop? Saitou thought it was more likely a permanent thing. He took a long, angry drag on the tenth cigarette. What kind of cop was he, anyway, letting someone get shot right in front of him? True, he’d put a few more holes into that wreck of a car as they’d peeled out, but he’d been intending to hit their tires. He couldn’t remember when his aim had been so off.
His aim was still off, and he had to bend and retrieve the half-spent cigarette from wet concrete to deposit it in the ash tray. Then the lighter blew out twice and it was several moments before he got the twelfth one lit.
And what kind of timing was this? It was like some cosmic sense of irony had decided to make a joke of him, of both of them, or like something out of a bad tear-jerker ‘romance’ movie. Did everyone suffer similarly disastrous consequences of important admissions? Or had it only happened here because he’d been so stubborn for so long? He flicked ash from the fourteenth cigarette and it unexpectedly blew right back into his face. Representative of anything? Possibly. But it was a cruel form of punishment for one‘s obstinacy to let the other get shot.
Or maybe it was just a message from the great beyond. He’d given in because he had a weakness for pretty, stupid, adorable people, but maybe he should have held out. Perhaps this was the universe’s way of telling him that, of taking the choice he’d handled badly out of his hands. Except that would have to mean…
The thought was so unexpectedly chilling, the resultant shiver so intense and unexpected, he nearly dropped both the lighter and his sixteenth cigarette. Fumbling just to keep them in his hands, it was a while before he got the thing lit. He didn’t know why that idea was affecting him so much; he didn’t believe in destiny and being guided by the hands of fate. It had been an unfortunate and ironically timed coincidence, nothing more.
Even his own name could hardly gain his attention.
“You’ve been out here the whole time, haven’t you? You’re soaking wet! If you catch a cold or something, Sano’ll be pissed at both of us.”
The name, not to mention the accompanying implication, was enough to bring him ten steps closer to reality. He suddenly recognized just how cold he really was, as well as the sight of the young man standing in front of him, and the fact that by now… by now it must be over. A little more aware of the real cause of his shaking hands, he was able to control them much better than he had before as he stubbed out his cigarette in the ash tray.
“He’s going to be fine,” the long-haired man said as Saitou straightened and looked at him again. “At least, he’s out of immediate danger, and they don’t expect complications.”
“With him there are always complications.” He was surprised at how dark and harsh his voice sounded. Unfamiliar, somehow, as if he hadn’t heard himself speak for a very long time.
The young man — Katsu, that’s who he was, the roommate — smiled, wry and weary. “I don’t understand any of this.” Saitou found himself struggling to hear the words over the pounding in his chest, which sound even overrode the very close-by noise of the lighter striking and flaring up. “You seem like a complete asshole, and that’s basically how Sano’s described you… but he’s been totally obsessed with you since he met you.”
The officer nodded, accepting the unflattering assessment of his personality as well as confirming the history.
“But you wouldn’t have him for the longest time,” continued Katsu, “until you just randomly changed your mind tonight when you ran into him at a gas station on your way home from work… and then — just then — there just happens to be some trigger-happy homophobe waiting outside to shoot him. Am I right so far?”
Saitou nodded again, not bothering to explain that there had been physical involvement for quite some time, and tonight had merely been the first expression of emotional involvement. It came to the same thing — Sano had finally gotten what he wanted, and then this…
“So first I get a string of texts from Sano I can barely read because he’s so happy and excited about you… and then you call me up, cool as cucumber, asking does Sano have medical insurance and can I meet you at the hospital! Almost give me a heart attack, and you’re just calm and disinterested, and then disappear the moment he goes into surgery.”
Saitou wasn’t aware he came across as so very indifferent, but neither was he surprised. He had nothing to say in his own defense.
“And finally.” Katsu shook his head, smiling faintly. “I find you out here, where I guess you’ve been the whole time, still pretending to be a stoic asshole.”
“Pretending?” Saitou echoed, vaguely startled.
“I don’t really know you at all, but it seems to me that getting hypothermia pacing in an ice storm and not even noticing means you’re pretty damn distracted.”
Saitou looked around at the heavy sleet, realizing for the first time it was there. “I would hardly call this an ice storm…”
“Have it your way,” Katsu shrugged. “My point is, you like him enough to worry yourself sick over him, so I just wonder what took you so long.”
Still filled with the same unfocused surprise, Saitou again had no answer.
“He’s in room 354,” Katsu said with a snort that might have been amused and might have been exasperated. “It’s two floors up from here. Be there when he wakes up.”
Saitou thought he nodded, but he didn’t even see Katsu there anymore — only hallways and elevators, and the only thing in his head was a number.
And there in the bed was his stupid boy. There was nothing else — no small and painfully white room with ceiling, walls, and floor; no potted plants to add cheer to the scene; no curtained window providing the slap of frozen rain from outside; no TV near the ceiling to keep the patient from insanity; no worn and comfortable chairs for family members to worry their hearts out in; no IV or heart monitor or folded tray table or even sterile sheets or breathing tubes or anything else at all in the entire world but Sanosuke lying there pale, asleep, alive.
Saitou didn’t think he’d ever remained so utterly still, nor stared at something with such profound fixedness. He felt like he stood in the eye of a huge storm; here there was agonized calm and quiet, but around him everything was spinning and chaotic, and nothing would ever be the same again. How such a simple thing as a sleeping face could have such an effect on him, he was not and would probably never be sure.
Eventually, after how long he could not even begin to guess, he found his way to one of the chairs and continued his intense study of Sano’s visage from there. He felt inexplicably weary, as if he had been the one shot, as if he’d done anything tonight other than pacing. It was illogical and troublesome, and for a while he fought the onslaught of sleep with irritated vigor. Sano’s tranquility was contagious, however, and after a while Saitou gave in.
When he awoke, the young man still lay silent, his breathing as shallow as before. Saitou stretched, rearranged himself in the chair, and started watching once again, almost as if he had never been interrupted. The light had changed, the storm outside had evidently passed during the night, but everything else remained the same.
After an indeterminate while — a clock ticked somewhere in the room, but Saitou’s eyes had never left Sano’s form to locate it — a nurse entered. “Oh, you’re awake,” said she. “We let you stay because you looked so tired, and because the roommate mentioned that Sanosuke would want to talk to you as soon as possible, but normally we only allow family members to sit in the room all night — especially no police officers, because patients don’t need to be questioned right after–”
“I’m not going to question him,” Saitou broke in. “I’m his–” he forced himself not to stumble over the word– “boyfriend.”
“Oh!” The nurse looked surprised and sympathetic. “Well, of course you can stay, then.” She added as she went about whatever business she’d come in to do, “He’s going to be just fine.”
Saitou nodded silently and continued watching Sano, barely noticing when the woman left.
Not long after that (he thought), Sano’s lids finally opened. Despite not seeming to see much more than he had with them closed, at least at first, just this tiny motion on Sano’s part caused Saitou’s deliriously spinning world to come down so abruptly it left him shaking. He was beside the bed before the brown eyes could even come into a half-focused state.
“Oh,” Sano said blearily. “You really are here.”
“Yes,” Saitou replied.
Sano gave a vague smile. “I thought I heard you talking… thought I heard you said you’re my boyfriend.”
The smile, which was remarkably childlike, widened. “Gotta get shot more often, then. Every day. Did I get shot?”
Sano’s hand emerged slowly from under the blanket and found Saitou’s. “I don’t feel it,” he murmured. The smile turned almost into a grin. “Don’t really feel anything.”
“You will,” Saitou assured him. “It’ll hurt sooner than you want it to.”
“You should kiss me,” Sano mumbled.
Normally Saitou would have refused to kiss someone with a plastic tube up his nose, but at this point he couldn’t deny Sano anything. Still, it was a very brief, gentle kiss.
“Smell like so many cigarettes,” was Sano’s faint statement. “You been chain-smoking again?”
Saitou lifted the mostly crushed package that was still in his other hand and glanced at it. One cigarette remained, and he was surprised it wasn’t crushed as well. Yes, he supposed, he had been chain-smoking. He hadn’t noticed.
“That’s the pack you just bought!” Sano protested with a little more energy. Saitou made no attempt to stop him as he reached out and took it in loose fingers, then threw it weakly across the room. Whether he’d awakened at some point earlier and looked around or by coincidence, it landed somewhat near a small trash can. “You have a death wish, I swear,” he chastised as his hand fell limply to his side and his eyes drifted closed.
“Yes,” Saitou said softly. “We’re a matching pair of suicidal idiots.”
With a dim smile, Sano whispered, “OK, sleep now.”
Saitou kissed Sano’s forehead and stepped away from the bed. He turned and went to the fallen cigarette package, bending and retrieving it. Silently he returned to the chair and sat down to continue his vigil, after decisively tossing the package into the garbage.
This was originally going to be called Twenty Cigarettes, but I liked the “matching pair of suicidal idiots” theme better. Maybe someday I’ll title another story Twenty Cigarettes when I come up with something appropriate.
I commissioned Candra to draw a picture for this fic, and I don’t have words for how much I love it:
I’ve rated this story . What do you think of it?