Supper was very hushed the next day, but the nuances of the wordlessness were eluding Katsu. They’d had to rouse the warden to let them back into the quarters last night; she’d not been quiet in her wrath and assignment of punishment — it didn’t help that she found distasteful the activities they’d fairly obviously been engaged in outside — so Yahiko and Kaoru knew.
Kaoru was very disappointed; she seemed to think Katsu should have been stronger than that against temptation. She’d worked alongside him and Soujirou throughout most of the nearly-silent day, unhappy and without enough energy for the annoyance she might otherwise have displayed. Katsu hadn’t bothered to explain that Akamatsu had encouraged them into it, given that he wasn’t entirely sure something similar wouldn’t have happened without the guard’s help.
Yahiko was uncomfortable with anything sexual, being at the age where such things were still relatively null in his mind, but, simultaneously, living in an environment where it was present around him at most times and where he also had to worry that he might be growing into a more attractive young man than was good for him. He understood fairly well the potential dangers of involvement with another slave, having seen Kaoru’s symptoms as plainly as the rest of them, but evidently didn’t feel qualified to discuss the matter.
How much Sano deduced by the atmosphere among them Katsu couldn’t tell. He’d never come back yesterday, so presumably he’d spend the night with that guard again. And whatever had occurred between them didn’t seem to have improved the situation, for Sano was even more broody and tense than before. Whether this preoccupation extended so far as to keep him from noticing that Kaoru was sad and disapproving, Yahiko silent and embarrassed, and that Soujirou couldn’t look at Katsu without his smile turning all silly, there was no way to tell.
Not knowing exactly what his own opinion about last night was, Katsu didn’t feel up to trying to make conversation, and the meal proceeded without much comfort. He also couldn’t decide whether or not he wanted to ask Sano about the outcome of the ill-thought venture, whether it had accomplished anything more than getting friends in trouble: such a discussion would undoubtedly lead to what Katsu and Soujirou had gotten in trouble for, and why they’d been out after the door was locked… he feared Akamatsu’s involvement wouldn’t entirely avert Sano’s protectiveness and worry. Yet Sano was sure to find out sooner or later, and, for all Katsu’s engrossment in his own situation, he was concerned enough about Sano’s not to want to wait.
Kaoru had hardly any appetite, and walked heavily and slowly away with Yahiko after not too long. This didn’t help the tension much, but, as Katsu thought it would be best to question Sano with less of an audience, he didn’t complain. Once the two of them were done eating (Soujirou, of course, having finished before anyone else, as usual), they all rose and left the building wordlessly. Katsu found that Sano turned immediately toward the guard barracks outside the door.
“You’re going back to him?” he asked without thinking.
Sano stopped and turned. Soujirou, almost as if Katsu had specifically requested it, did not halt, but walked on a few paces, giving the two of them almost complete privacy. Sano sighed and said, “No… the other confusing guy.”
“The othe– oh, the one who had you sit in a chair the other night?”
“Yeah. I don’t know what the hell he wants me up there again for.”
With a shake of his head and a shrug Katsu changed the subject. “So what happened last night?”
Sano scowled, and at first it seemed he wasn’t going to answer at all. This was not a good sign. Finally he said, “Not much. He asked me more questions…”
“And then he jacked me off.”
This, Katsu had to admit, was strange… but he was sure Sano was making more of it than it merited. “Why?” he asked.
“I don’t know!” Sano exploded. “I don’t understand one fucking thing he’s done!”
Katsu shook his head again. “Neither do I… and I also don’t understand why you’re complaining when it’s better than what you’re used to.”
“I’m not used to being confused,” Sano insisted heatedly. “I’m not used to–”
And just then Soujirou called out, “Katsu, don’t forget we need to scrub the bathrooms!”
The conversation was derailed and Sano was frowning at him. “Why do you guys have to scrub the bathrooms?”
It was Katsu’s turn to sigh, and Sano’s frown grew; evidently he hadn’t gone through dinner time completely oblivious. “Last night I went outside after you, and he followed… then Akamatsu showed up and demanded some slave porn. We didn’t get back in for a while.”
The expression on Sano’s face was disturbing. He obviously didn’t know what to say, or probably what to feel. Finally he forced a very unconvincing grin and said, “Better than that bastard doing you himself, right?”
Katsu, miserable at his friend’s concern — all the more because it was perfectly justified — seized him by his good shoulder. “Look, I don’t want you to worry yourself to death about me when you’re already driving yourself crazy over some guard who’s suddenly decided you’re his boyfriend.”
“It’s not that I–”
“I know exactly why you’re worried,” Katsu broke in, “and I appreciate it. But you’re going to have to trust me to take care of myself, OK? I’m not going to… I’m not going to fall in love with him and waste away and abandon you. I promise.” And he shook Sano slightly.
Sano took a deep breath as if steeling himself. “OK.” He didn’t sound entirely convinced, but he did make a brave attempt to smile.
“I won’t let you down.”
“I’ve gotta go scrub toilets. Good luck with that weirdo.”
“Have fun,” Sano said, with another gratifying effort at greater cheer. He turned and walked away. Katsu watched him for several moments with a heart in turmoil.
“Everything OK?” Soujirou asked in what seemed a deliberately casual tone as they started toward their quarters again.
“Relatively speaking,” was Katsu’s dry reply.
“I don’t want this to come between you guys,” Soujirou said softly.
“I don’t know that there is a ‘this,'” answered Katsu just as quietly.
Soujirou nodded his understanding, his smile wan.
It wasn’t long before, armed with old and somewhat ragged scrub-brushes and diluted but still foul-smelling tile cleaner, they were sequestered in the first bathroom. There were two bathrooms, of course, at the back of the building, connected by a door that was usually locked; tonight they had they key so they could detail clean both sides without bothering the other slaves, and easily vacate the women’s half when someone needed to use it. Having a key to anything was an unusual amount of responsibility, but this was not exactly consoling.
As they went at the streaked, disheveled sinks with less than perfect vigor, a somewhat awkward silence hung in the air; the last exchange they’d had outside was just as palpable between them. Katsu wasn’t sure it was a good idea to say anything; doing so might give rise to expectations or even assumptions he didn’t want to encourage — in both of them. But at the same time, he couldn’t just say nothing… because neither did he want to promote the idea that there wasn’t anything between them.
Finally, “So how much of this type of work did you have to do with your old master?” He gestured at the brush in his hand. He thought this was a fairly safe topic.
“Some,” Soujirou shrugged. “More towards the end when he was selling the others. I can’t say I like it very much.”
Katsu gave him a skeptical smile. “Does anyone?”
“Well,” Soujirou pondered, “I think it wouldn’t be so bad if it were my bathroom.”
Katsu had to smile again. “So you do want freedom.”
Mimicking Katsu’s skeptical expression of a moment before, Soujirou wondered, “Doesn’t everyone?”
“You and that smile could fool anyone. You seem like you’re happy all the time no matter what.”
Soujirou laughed. “I guess I’m just an optimist.”
“You’ve been pretty optimistically shooting down all of Yahiko’s escape plans,” Katsu pointed out, still quizzical.
“Even an optimist can be practical!” Soujirou protested. “I wouldn’t want to try anything stupid, but I’m always sure things will get better somehow.”
“Somehow, sure,” replied Katsu darkly. “It won’t be because of anything you did, though; it’ll still be someone else making changes in your life. Someone doing you a favor, or you being in the right place at the right time.”
Soujirou considered this and nodded slowly. “You’re right; a slave’s happiness isn’t the same as a free man’s happiness…” Not surprisingly, he broke into another smile. “Either way, I’m still usually pretty happy.”
Katsu experienced an abrupt clenching in his heart at this. He had to admit, he couldn’t understand the concept of practical optimism… and whether what he felt now was more worry for the moment of Soujirou’s disillusionment or a hopeless desire to share in the sanguine attitude, he could not tell. So much for a safe topic.
The conversation lapsed as they each attacked one of the two toilets with quiet sighs.
“Come look at this,” Soujirou said suddenly, after several minutes. “It won’t come off, and I swear it’s moving.”
Katsu joined him in the next stall, and, both of them on their knees, they scrutinized the spot on the toilet Soujirou indicated. It was faintly green with bright orange blobs, and it did almost seem to be pulsing on the slick porcelain as they looked at it.
“Watch,” Soujirou advised, and, bending down, scrubbed at it hard. When he pulled his brush away, the stain had undergone no change; indeed, it had quite possibly become more pronounced. He gave a helpless laugh. “It looks like an octopus having spasms.”
Katsu, who only vaguely knew what an octopus was, peered more closely and replied, “Or a dancing spider.”
“It’s an indestructible toilet monster!”
Katsu chucked; then, sitting back up, found himself very close to Soujirou.
The latter had opened his mouth to say something more, but refrained as they were suddenly staring into each other’s eyes. Katsu wondered why he felt like he’d never seen that precise shade of blue before. Some silly reason, no doubt.
Hands clammy with tile cleaner sought each other as their lips met almost desperately, and they were kneeling next to a toilet and the smell was unpleasant and they’d just been discussing some kind of fungal discoloration and it was about as far from romantic as anything he could imagine and Katsu could not stop. His hands were moving to Soujirou’s body, trying futilely to pull him closer or at least to feel as much of him as possible. Soujirou’s were likewise engaged.
And then came the unmistakable sound of the door opening.
They jerked apart and scrambled up. The girl that had entered was looking curiously at the open door into the other bathroom, and gasped when they emerged from the far stall.
“Sorry,” Soujirou smiled a little breathlessly. “We’re cleaning the bathrooms; we’ll step out.” As he grabbed Katsu’s arm and they hastened through the door, the girl nodded her comprehension. She didn’t appear any too sympathetic, and Katsu assumed she’d been awakened last night, as many had, by the quarter-warden yelling at them.
He swung the door closed and leaned against it, and presently found his companion leaning against him looking up into his face. Soujirou didn’t say anything, only smiled.
Katsu sighed, but also didn’t really have anything to say. Actually, there wasn’t much to do other than kiss him again and not let go until they heard the girl exiting the other side.
Sano’s night, not surprisingly, involved a good deal less scrubbing, but also a good deal less kissing. Which he would have considered himself happier to forego, under the circumstances, was a matter of question.
Aoshi responded immediately to the knock, and ushered him in without a word. Once the door was shut, Sano found his entire figure the subject of the guard’s intense, silent scrutiny. For several moments the cold eyes roved over him, and Sano was actually a little startled when Aoshi spoke. “Take off your clothes.”
Sano did as he was told, wondering if this night would end up a little more normal than the last one had. But he found when naked that Aoshi was still doing nothing more than staring. It almost seemed he was looking for something. After what felt like a very long time, and without giving any hint at what he was thinking, Aoshi turned. “Sleep in the chair. Put your clothes back on if you want.” Sano opened his mouth. “And keep quiet.”
A little annoyed, Sano began pulling on his pants as darkness fell and he heard Aoshi getting into bed. He fumbled his way to the chair and sat down.
Here we go with another comfortable night, he grumbled silently. Way to make sense again. What the hell was wrong with this guy? It was almost like he was punishing Sano for something. This was just like the other night, only everything he was sitting here contemplating had escalated since then. Stupid fucking guards.
“…some guard who’s suddenly decided you’re his boyfriend…”
Sano just didn’t want to think about any of it. He was very close to wishing he were in some normal guard’s room, so at least he might have something to distract himself. Some guard that didn’t pretend not to want him or pretend to want him and not fuck him either way and what the hell did it mean?!
Then a new theory struck him, and he stared through the darkness to where he knew Aoshi lay. I bet… he considered slowly, and a slight grin spread across his face. Bet ‘e can’t get it up. He’s hauling me in here and doin’ his best, but even I can’t do it for him.
Maybe it was the stress he’d been under lately, or maybe it was because this explanation lessened the burden of confusion on his mind, but somehow, the more Sano thought about the theory, the funnier he found it — until he had his head laid against the back of the chair and tears leaking from his eyes in silent laughter, and drawing breath quietly was difficult. He can’t get it up, and sending me back to quarters would be good as admitting he couldn’t… so he keeps me here in the chair and goes to sleep all frustrated.
He hadn’t expected to find any relief here tonight, but after not too long was falling asleep in a much better mood.