It was a phrase he’d always hated, even before this Sano thing had started, back when he’d thought he had no use for love. Tokio’s sweetheart would say, “I love you,” and Tokio would reply, “I love you too,” and Saitou would get annoyed. Of course they were women, and women said incomprehensible and irritating things, but this one bothered him more than many.
“I love you too.” It was something people said like a greeting, a polite reply that was expected of them, and after time it started to come out as thoughtlessly and as much by default as the quick positive response to “How are you?” It was a second-place phrase, an admission made only by those who couldn’t get to “I love you” first. It was a pressured phrase, one that was demanded by “I love you,” however sincere it might or might not be. How could the first speaker ever believe it? How could anyone ever be sure that “I love you too” was anything more than a meaningless, automatic answer — forced out, tossed out, rendering the “I love you” less significant?
Nevertheless it was a phrase Saitou found himself using more and more frequently lately, because the alternative was to let Sano think he didn’t love him, which thought he couldn’t stand. Or to come up with something more meaningful (and consequently more romantic), which he didn’t think he was capable of. Or… to somehow get “I love you” out first. Which he was working on.
There was a rigmarole of thought involved in this effort that was almost as bad as leaving it at “I love you too.” For instance, Sano only mentioned love about once a week (on average), and Saitou didn’t want to bring it up too soon after Sano had. But wait too long and Sano would say it again. Then, it was usually after sex when Sano said it, and Saitou spent far too much time wondering whether or not to uphold this tradition. Would it seem strange if he didn’t? He wasn’t afraid of the fact that their relationship was becoming this serious, but did he really want to be declaring love at any old moment? But if he said it after sex, might it not seem he was implying that his love was based mostly on sexual attraction? Not that he believed that was what Sano was implying…
It was irritating to be thinking so much about this. Yes, Sano was important enough to him that he wanted at least once to make the statement on his own terms in a way he would consider meaningful… but why did that require so much attendant deliberation?? Saitou generally wasn’t the type to overthink things; it was a rare occasion when he didn’t immediately know exactly how to behave. But being annoyed with Sano for effecting this change was just a little counterproductive.
Eventually he decided to do things by the book (as it were), and took to waiting for the opportunity to arise. But days were passing, and always some circumstance unfitted the moment for his purpose, and he came gradually to realize that the overthinking might be a defense mechanism, or at least a way to soften a trial that was really incredibly hard for him. Scorning “I love you too” for being too easy didn’t make “I love you” any less difficult.
But that it was such a struggle made it all the more important to him that he manage it, and, of course, finally, he did. One night with Sano in his arms, their pulses calming as they settled in for sleep in perfect warmth and contentment, Saitou took a deep breath and said it before he could find an excuse not to: “I love you.”
Sano would never know how much work had gone into this, or how much more it meant to Saitou than their usual exchange, and Saitou wasn’t sure he wanted him to. As Sano snuggled more thoroughly into his arms and replied, oblivious, complacent, “I love you too,” Saitou was satisfied to note that hearing it wasn’t so bad.
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This story is included in the Saitou/Sano Collection 1 ebook.