Saitou doesn’t approve of the direction Sano’s life is going, and one of them is going to have to compromise.
It was only a routine patrol around a trouble area; it shouldn’t have been so difficult, so life-altering. But every time this particular kid was involved, things just couldn’t go smoothly, couldn’t be normal or easy.
“What are you doing standing around out here at this time of night?” Saitou wondered as he approached, eyeing the young man’s clothing with vague apprehension.
Sano whirled, scowling. “Hey, fuck off, OK? I ain’t doing nothing.”
“It’s my job to be suspicious of scantily clad people standing around on street corners apparently doing nothing. You look like a prostitute.”
“You’re always harassing me,” Sano replied — a little too quickly, Saitou thought, and, if he wasn’t mistaken, fighting off a blush. “I know I’ve always been your favorite street-bum to pick on, but you can even search me — I got nothing on me.”
“You’re loitering.” Saitou did not like the look of that blush.
“Do you see any ‘No Loitering’ signs around here?” demanded Sano.
“There are ‘No Loitering’ laws, you know,” Saitou reminded him.
“Now, tell me honestly… what are you doing here?”
Sano looked away immediately, the expression on his face more than just embarrassed; it was bitter, ashamed.
“Sanosuke,” Saitou said, very softly and seriously, feeling his heart drop for no reason he could guess at. “Prostitution is only legal in specific parts of town, and this isn’t one of them.”
“I… so, what, you gonna arrest me?”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Why do you think, jackass?” Despite much of what Saitou said enraging Sano on the best of days, this anger seemed out of place, almost as if Sano were fighting to keep it up. “Gotta make money somehow.”
“And a regular job isn’t good enough for you?” Why, Saitou wondered, did this seem to matter on a level much closer to home than that of abstract social philosophy? Sure, he’d known this kid for a while, had even actually arrested him once, had more often than that let him off a little too easy… but still…
“You think I can live off what they pay at shitty fast food restaurants and mall stores?” Sano growled. “Hell, even those places’ll barely hire me, with my record… anything better’s a million years out of my reach. So I figured it was about time I started using what I got to make some real money; that’s all.” He still hadn’t looked Saitou in the face; it was very evident how he felt about the decision he’d made. And why was that so painful to the police officer?
“Isn’t there anyone…” Saitou knew he would be treading dangerous ground with this. “Don’t you have any friends or family who could help you?”
Sano’s expression darkened visibly. “Would you just fuck off?” he demanded. “Or arrest me already; quit talking my ear off.”
Saitou stifled a sigh and asked professionally, “When did you start this?”
“Have you had any clients yet?”
“No. I didn’t know… this wasn’t the best place for it…”
Why should that relieve Saitou so thoroughly? This was absurd. “I’m going to seriously suggest you rethink this. There are better ways to live your life.”
“No way in hell. Not in this city there’s not. Not for people like me. Took me long enough to decide on this in the first place. I ain’t going back now.” It appeared Sano had just revealed more than he’d originally intended; he was looking away and blushing again, seeming almost horrified with himself. “Go ahead and arrest me if you want,” he finished up, a little more quietly. “Won’t change a thing.”
Saitou nodded slowly. “I’m not going to arrest you,” he said, just as softly, “but I think you’re an idiot.” And turning, he started to walk away, more than dissatisfied with the exchange but not sure there was anything more he could do.
“Hey!” Sano retorted in a more animated tone than before. “I may be an idiot and a fucking whore, but at least I’m making my own way.” His voice rose into a shout as Saitou drew further and further from him. “Nobody can say I didn’t take care of myself on my own!”
The officer’s steps slowed almost against his will, his frown deepening and seeming to turn abruptly to stone. It was always that fierce independence, that absolute, uncompromising determination… Still without the full consent of his better judgment, he retraced his path. Sano actually backed up a pace, evidently afraid Saitou had changed his mind and planned to arrest him after all. But Saitou only pulled his wallet from his pocket, extracted a couple of large bills, and held them out with a stiff arm.
Sanosuke’s face darkened. “I don’t want your charity, cop.”
“I’m not offering charity,” Saitou replied in an equally dark tone.
As Sanosuke realized what he meant, reaching up slowly to hold both the money and the hand offering it, he looked into the officer’s face with eyes that seemed, against all odds and expectations, warily hopeful. “You said this is illegal around here,” he whispered.
But Saitou didn’t waver. “Come on,” he said, letting go of the money and turning. “My car’s just around the corner; we can use the back seat.”