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.”
When Queen Yokozuna beat me in the Quote-Guessy Game, she requested “Sano a whore; Saitou his first paying customer.”
I’m sure there are plenty of prostitutes that are happy in the profession and their lives. I leave it up to others to write that situation, however, because I have such a hard time imagining it. So this story was sad. I had a sequel planned, and had written some parts of it; let’s see how sad that one would have been, eh?
The knock was so quiet that Saitou might not have heard it if he hadn’t by chance been walking down the hall past the entry just at that moment. It was a knock made with the fleshy side of the hand rather than the knuckles, as if the hand had simply fallen against the door; it was the kind of knock that wouldn’t admit wanting to be heard. Curious, Saitou went to answer it.
His mouth curved into an instantaneous, surprised frown when he saw who his visitor was, then opened for a greeting that would also be a castigation and dismissal.
It was their standing, silent arrangement that whenever business was bad or Sano was behind on the rent or just needed some extra spending money, he could come to Saitou and Saitou would pay higher than usual rates — whatever Sano asked, really — for his services. But it always started with a phone call, and they usually met somewhere other than either of their residences. Certainly Sano had never before shown up on Saitou’s doorstep entirely without warning.
That he had now was worthy of an irritated remark at the very least. The nature of their relationship was ambiguous, the routine they’d developed paramount to keeping it that way. Sano pulling a stunt like this threatened to turn everything on its ear, and that was even before the practical issues — such as how it looked to the neighbors when a prostitute appeared openly at a cop’s door and the cop let him in.
But something, he noticed as his eyes swept Sano’s figure in a second glance more comprehensive than the first, was wrong. Sano looked thinner, face and body, than the last time Saitou had seen him, and tonight it seemed he hadn’t taken much care in dressing or making himself up. But more than this, it was the screamingly empty eyes that stabbed out from the honest face into Saitou’s heart and changed his intended, “What are you doing here?” to an immediate, “Come in.”
Without a word, Sano obeyed, standing perfectly still in the entry, as Saitou closed the door behind him, after the three steps it had taken him to get inside. Then they waited in silence for several moments, Saitou staring at Sano and Sano seeming to see nothing even of the floor tiles on which his blank gaze was riveted.
“What are you doing here?” Saitou did eventually ask, in a tone much less harsh than he’d originally planned.
“I don’t know,” replied Sano listlessly, and, leaning back against the closed door, let his eyes drift shut.
“Are you all right?” Saitou wondered next.
“Yes… no… I don’t know.” Sano did not open his eyes.
A long silence ensued, in which Saitou watched Sano with growing worry and the younger man continued to stand, motionless and almost limp, against the door, arms slack at his sides and eyes closed.
“I’m tired, Saitou,” Sano finally murmured emotionlessly. “I’m tired of what I do. I’m tired of who I am. I’m tired of being alive.”
This admission — particularly the last — caused Saitou’s heart to clench so tightly that he felt dizzy, stifled.
“Well.” It was a struggle to keep his voice even. “Since you are here, I can–”
And Sano, as if anticipating Saitou’s next word, broke in with his usual protest: “I don’t need your help.” But it was almost a whisper, and lacked even the faintest trace of conviction.
“You need help tonight.” It was a statement that would accept no challenge, and Sano offered none. Nor did he resist as Saitou took him by the shoulders and pulled him upright, then guided him down the hall to his bedroom.
As if Sano were a child exhausted after a long day, Saitou had to encourage and often assist him in every step of the process, trying his hardest throughout — generally unsuccessfully — not to look into the boy’s dead eyes. He bathed him, he wrapped him in a robe, he forced a glass of warm milk down his throat… that Sano didn’t protest this juvenile nightcap or even ask why on earth it should occur to Saitou to give it to him in the first place was almost as worrisome as the other signals.
The first and almost the only indication he gave of being aware of what was going on was when Saitou pulled back the covers of his bed and encouraged Sano in that direction. At this Sano shied back visibly, looking for a moment pathetically panicked. Saitou took a deep breath and said, “You have to sleep somewhere.” If Sano was, as he’d indicated, really tired of his profession, it was no wonder he didn’t want to get into anyone else’s bed… but Saitou was not letting him leave the house in his current condition. “I’ll sleep in the living room.”
Slowly Sano calmed, and his head turned just as slowly toward Saitou; his eyes took on an expression of greater clarity and he said, “No, you don’t have to. Sorry.” Then he looked back at the bed and seemed to go dull again. When Saitou next urged him in that direction, he obeyed with the same weary, childlike obliviousness he’d displayed before.
Geez, it’s already so fucking sad.
He awoke at the same time Sano did, and it only took a moment of brief debate to decide not to let Sano know. So he kept his eyes closed and his breathing even while Sano sat up and pushed the blanket aside in a single startled motion. From the tense, agitated way Sano looked around in movements that swiveled his entire upper body, it was obvious that he did not at first remember where he was.
Sano leaves as quietly as he can so as not to awaken Saitou (who is, of course, aware of the whole thing); he refuses to take the money Saitou left out for him.
Saitou can’t stand this situation, so he pulls some strings and then goes and looks for Sano on street corners where he often works.
“Why the fuck would you show up here in uniform?” Sano hissed, irate and distressed.
“I have an offer for you,” Saitou replied.
Sano scowled. “I don’t need you tonight,” he muttered.
“That’s a debatable point, but it’s not why I’m here.”
Sano kept scowling at him, now suspicious.
“An acquaintance of mine is looking for a construction manager, and he’s promised to hire you — sight unseen — for a living wage.”
Saitou wasn’t about to mention what it had taken to make this arrangement, how close to crooked his interactions with this acquaintance of his would have looked in quite a few lights, or how he felt about compromising for Sano’s sake yet again. Compromising, in this situation, with absolutely no promise of any kind of payout.
Sano’s expression darkened further, and he took a step backward. His face shifted through several visible emotions before he managed to speak. “Why would you do that? I didn’t ask for your help.”
“Not verbally,” Saitou agreed, “but you told me you were tired of what you do.”
“I was drunk,” snapped Sano.
“You were not.” Drunk on unhappiness, perhaps… drunk, even, on despair… but not on alcohol. As if Saitou couldn’t tell.
“Besides, it’s none of your goddamn business!” Despite the anger in Sano’s raised voice, it didn’t seem to be his primary emotion. “So what if I don’t like this? It’s not your job to find me something else! You’re such a fucking know-it-all; you feel like you’ve gotta be in charge of everyone’s life!”
“I’m offering you something you don’t seem willing or able to get for yourself. Of course the choice is yours, but if you’re as intelligent as I believe, you won’t turn this down.”
“What is your fucking problem, exactly? Why the hell can’t you just leave me alone?”
“Because I love you, you idiot.”
Tense and astonished silence reigned for nearly a minute, Sano staring up at him with an expression turbulent but otherwise unreadable. Finally, in a tight, haggard tone completely unlike any of his usual he ground back, “Right. That’s what every guy says to his whore.”
“I loved you before you were a whore,” Saitou bit back. “I loved you before I ever touched you. And I’m not telling you this because I want anything from you; I just want you to know why I want to help you. I’m not trying to be in charge of your life. If I thought you were happy doing this, I wouldn’t say a word — but you’re not.”
“Whether I’m happy or not has nothing to do with you.”
It tore Saitou’s heart to hear Sano say this
Saitou was going to agree with him there, had I ever completed that sentence. And after that… I have no idea where this story was going to go. Knowing me, it would probably have been an optimistic-ever-after, but there’s always the possibility Sano would reject Saitou and it would have taken a third story to get them romantically instead of just physically involved. Who knows?