The entire world seemed to exist behind a thick filter of intense red that fluctuated between the color of fresh strawberries and that of clotting blood. Nothing around him was recognizable, and Sano didn’t entirely know what was going on; it was like a video game where half the time you were in a mirror of reality that only corresponded vaguely with it, and the controls had gone all twisted and frustrating. His body was trembling; his blood was pounding so noisily that he couldn’t hear a thing above it. He also didn’t realize for some time — he didn’t know how long — that he was moving.
More than once he had wondered what the anger would be like when it became ungovernable, but now (Unfortunately? He would have to decide later) he was in no frame of mind to analyze it. Nor could he tell exactly what his status really was. Prior to this there had been a sort of scale or gradient by which he could measure the level of his wrath and its probable effects on his behavior, but this was off the charts.
He was walking. With the tenacity of someone in shock not knowing what he clung to, he maintained his grip on the ghost, and every step he took jarred the anger in him as if he were filled with liquid to the brim and about to be shaken into spilling. The anger was all the worse in that it was without object, without reason. Of course it had been that way all along, but this was… he needed an object… he needed a reason for this overwhelming rage. And why was he walking? Hadn’t they been talking to Kenshin’s wife, whom he couldn’t decide if he was angry at or just angry about? Hadn’t they been working on dealing with this problem, not walking away from it?
Through the film he saw Hajime, who looked distant and sinister and very red. Hajime, the disdainful jerk still pretty clearly more interested in some dead guy he’d never actually met than in Sano.
Suddenly he had an object.
He realized Hajime had hold of his arm only when he wrenched free. Turning to face him, fists clenched… well, he meant to demand what the fuck was going on, where they were, where Mrs. Himura was, and any number of other things… but the noise that broke from him had no words and practically no semblance of humanity.
Hajime spoke, but to Sano he was every bit as incomprehensible as Sano had probably been to him just now. All that came across was the insufferable calm and indifference with which Hajime always seemed to treat him, and it was enough to cause a critical mass. Whether or not he could measure his current level, whether or not he could judge its probable effects, there had clearly been a line, and it had clearly been crossed. With a burst of increased tension that set his muscles creaking and straining, Sano charged the other man with flying fists.
There was no impact, but the next thing he saw, as he caught himself and whirled, was Hajime slipping quickly out of his jacket, which he dropped onto the grass, and loosening his tie. The bastard didn’t even have the decency to look concerned that Sano had struck at him; on his harsh face appeared merely a sort of bored, almost passive determination to do what had to be done. It was maddening.
The next blow met flesh as Hajime raised an arm to prevent it reaching its real target. The one after that went wide as Hajime retaliated into Sano’s ribs with his left. Pain felt absurdly good at the moment, and there was a bizarre accompanying sensation as if he were slicked over with a liquid coating of anger and the punch had splashed a certain amount of it right off of him. But that was nothing compared to the astonishing, glorious release in tension when his subsequent attempt connected with Hajime’s shoulder and seemed to deliver anger along with kinetic force.
So tightly was he packed with rage that he felt he must literally explode and decorate the park with viscera and pressurized blood. He was so heavy and overheated, his movements seemed reeling and clumsy… and yet somehow, simultaneously, pointed and devastatingly impactful as he drove an elbow toward Hajime’s neck and a knee toward his abdomen. And, though not precisely what he’d been going for, it was hardly any less a release of anger when neither connected and, in fact, Hajime half sidestepped and gave him such a hard hit to the shoulder that he spun past and crashed to the ground.
After half a hot breath that was barely enough to bring him the red scent of the grass beneath, Sano was on his feet again, twisting to throw another punch at the man that seemed to have been waiting for the attack without taking advantage of the fall. This time Hajime’s raised arm wasn’t quite in time to prevent a hit to his high cheekbone, and to Sano this felt so good that he let out a growl of satisfaction at the cracking contact. It wasn’t unanswered, though, as, in a spray of released anger, that hard left of Hajime’s slammed next into Sano’s face in almost precisely the same spot.
Chaos roared in his hearing like a riotous crowd, and the waves of pain rippling from the point of that last hit were temporarily affecting his vision as well, but the driving impulse of forward and against kept him moving. Hajime blocked him, blocked him again, hit him in the stomach, dodged and kicked and sent him sprawling a second time, but Sano was undaunted. His craving for the feeling of his knuckles against Hajime’s face had not been satisfied by one instance.
Through the haze of rage and adrenaline, as he struck out once more and was denied, he wondered vaguely how it was that Hajime seemed so good at this. Hadn’t he seen Hajime with a sword on more than one occasion? What kind of martial arts training did the bastard have? Had he ever mentioned? But attempting to remember things like that was not only extremely difficult in Sano’s current state of mind — though, he thought, becoming slightly easier as moments passed — it was also dangerously distracting when fists were flying, and probably what won him the next couple of blows to his chest.
The diminution of his anger had been steady and gradual, but the realization that he was within measurable levels again was abrupt and startling. The result was a sudden winding down as if a power source had shut off, and he found the arm he’d raised for a punch sinking along with the adrenaline and the desire for further violence. His fist loosened as his wrist came to rest on Hajime’s shoulder instead of progressing as he’d intended. Hajime’s movement also ceased as he perceived Sano’s changing state, and he was looking much less crimson.
“Back, are you?” he wondered, and Sano was pleased to find the words more or less comprehensible.
Sano’s reply that he thought so was less smooth, because it turned out he was panting and shaking like a drug addict, but Hajime, at least, seemed to understand. He nodded, then gave Sano one final punch across the face.
The unexpectedness of the hit increased the amount of anger it caused Sano to release, and he swore loudly as he sprawled back onto his ass on the ground. But he was seeing clearly now, hearing accurately, and, he thought, properly aware of his surroundings and situation for the first time in he didn’t know how long.
For example, he was realizing that he and the grim-faced man standing over him were not alone. Hajime’s thoughtful frown was sufficiently engrossingly infuriating that it took some doing to drag Sano’s attention away from it, but this was accomplished by the realization that they were loosely surrounded by a group of kids. It was primarily the skate park crowd, past whom Hajime had probably paraded Sano to get here, and some of them looked as if this was the best day of their lives. He doubted it was very often they got to see two grown men (one in a suit!) beat each other up right in the park in front of them. Some were still cheering, some laughing; a few, seeing that the fight was over, were analyzing it — evidently Sano had pretty clearly lost — while others stood in interested or even horrified silence.
As the pain of the various instances of successful application of Hajime’s fists began asserting itself, now without nearly as much satisfaction attached as earlier, Sano turned back to the source of this discomfort. Hajime had retrieved his jacket and folded it over one arm; he seemed unmoved by the seam at the shoulder of his shirt that had split or the dark spot already intensifying on his face.
Sano was still quite angry, and readier than not to turn and roar at the gawking kids if they didn’t shut the hell up — and Hajime was not excluded from this wrath… but the sight of those results of the fight summoned up a simultaneous sensation of almost affectionate gratitude. How many people, even in the pursuit of a significant source of interest in their career, would fall so readily into a fist fight with an non-paying client just to work off some excess anger? When Hajime held out a hand to help Sano up, Sano reached for it thankfully, and, upon standing, clasped it briefly in both of his own in lieu of a verbal expression of appreciation that probably wouldn’t have come out very coherently at the moment.
Beginning to be convinced that the entertainment was at an end, the kids were dispersing. This was for the best, since Sano didn’t have any clear idea where the ghost was, and he didn’t want breaking up a brawl among a bunch of suddenly incensed little skaters to be the next thing he had to do today.
“You’re quite the thug,” Hajime was remarking, sounding unsurprised.
Assuming that his mental shields had taken just as much of a beating as his body, and that Hajime could therefore pick up on his memory of just how many fights he’d been in during high school, Sano did not bother explaining, only said, “You’re pretty damn good yourself.”
Hajime also neglected explanation, which was annoying since Sano couldn’t read his mind. He was looking around, presumably watching the kids returning to their previous activities, and straightening his tie in a seemingly unconscious movement. Sano too looked around, and found the ghost not far off doing its usual thing. He gave an angry sigh and addressed Kenshin at a grumble: “Fucking ghost making me randomly attack people… You’re going to owe me big when this is over…” Then he frowned and turned back to Hajime. “Hey, did I hear you say the lady was lying or something?”
“She was. Come on.” The exorcist gestured. “It’s not a good idea for us to be here much longer after that.”
Sano wasn’t actually sure what he was gesturing at, and was too annoyed to ask, but didn’t mind following. Well, he was annoyed about following, but he did it anyway.
Hajime was beginning to explain, as they walked, about the finale of the conversation with Mrs. Himura that Sano had been too irate properly to mark. The fact that Sano, under Kenshin’s stupid influence, had essentially blown their only chance at getting information out of her could only irritate him further, and as soon as he had the gist of what Hajime was detailing he couldn’t help breaking in with, “Big fucking waste of time today’s been.”
Hajime made a thoughtful sound even as he raised a hand to the growing bruise on his face. “It might not have gone as badly as you think,” he said cryptically, and walked on.