The things Hajime had discovered so far that could distract Sano from his rage were humor, food, and this new excitement over the possibility of geological pursuits. Of course the rage still needed to be released, but Hajime thought it was easier on Sano to insinuate outlets for it during more pleasant interactions. So, since they were essentially just killing time again right now, he was attempting to make use of at least two of the aforementioned three. And the restaurant across the street had a patio with a few outdoor tables, which was ideal for both a man with a ghost orbiting him and a man that wanted to keep an eye on the park nearby.

Sano presented an amusingly contradictory attitude inside when a small internal war seemed to arise between his protest that Korean food was too similar to Chinese food for his tastes (a point Hajime would have to debate with him sometime) and his pleasure at being bought any kind of food by anybody. But eventually they were seated and waiting for any number of things, and Sano looked as if he might return to fuming. To head this off, Hajime had been planning on introducing immediately the topic that had so engrossed them this morning, but Sano beat him in starting the conversation abruptly on another subject:

“Hey, did you think she was pretty?”

Though Hajime could tell that Sano’s reasons for asking this were serious and mostly not frivolous, he had to reply, “Hmm… for a second there I thought you had something rational to say.”

“I am being rational!” Sano insisted. “And I really want to know — did you find her attractive?”

“No,” said Hajime bluntly, not bothering to add that he didn’t really find anyone attractive.

Somewhat to his surprise, Sano grumbled, “You probably don’t find anyone attractive. So take it from me — I’d call her a five. Maybe a six at best.”

Hajime just raised a brow at him, not feeling any desire to comment.

“So why did Aoshi describe her as ‘beautiful?’ That’s a pretty strong word that I don’t think really fits her.”

“No accounting for tastes — yours or Aoshi’s.”

Sano snorted. “Well, if we’re talking about Aoshi’s taste…” He shrugged. “My gaydar could be off because he’s such a total weirdo, but I never thought he was the type of guy who’d overexaggerate a lady’s prettiness.”

Wondering how Aoshi’s sexual orientation had come into this, Hajime asked, “So?”

“So he was probably getting that impression from Kenshin.” Sano gestured to the drifting ghost. “Because Kenshin’s idea of his wife that Aoshi picked up on was that she’s so beautiful because he still loves her that much.”

Now Hajime saw his point, and glanced also toward the ghost, which was at that moment at the spot in its orbit about the most convenient for doing so. Unexpectedly, much sooner than he’d anticipated, a server appeared with their food just then, stepping right into the space his gaze was occupying and startling him a bit. Friendly and obliging though she was, it was clear both from her demeanor and the extreme curiosity she was suddenly projecting that this server couldn’t help staring and wondering at all the evidence of recent vigorous activity between these two customers; for this reason and others, their interaction with her wasn’t entirely natural.

When she was gone and the slightly awkward scene ended, Hajime said, “So you think Kenshin’s anger isn’t aimed at his wife.”

“Yes, exactly.” Sano surveyed his plate with much more optimism than his earlier complaints could have predicted (probably because this was nothing like Chinese food). “If it was her he’s mad at, you’d think he wouldn’t be giving off this impression of her being so beautiful when she’s not.”

Hajime nodded slowly. “It’s not a bad assessment, but you can’t be sure.”

Pausing with chopsticks halfway to his mouth, Sano frowned. For a moment he was still and silent, and finally he shook his head. “No, I am sure. Don’t even start asking me how, but I’m sure. He’s not mad at her. He sure as hell is mad, but not at her.”

“You’re the one he’s haunting,” Hajime allowed. Actually he was inclined to believe Sano’s assertion without any more evidence than had been offered, but still felt the need to raise one more point. “But doesn’t his anger increase when he’s around her?”

Again Sano shook his head. “I thought so at first, but that’s not it. He gets more intense when she’s nearby… he wants to go to her and do whatever… so then I have to work harder to deal with him, so I soak up more of that shit… but I don’t think there’s actually any more of it just because she’s around.”

Hajime nodded again, accepting the explanation, and ate his lunch in silence. The idea that the dead man’s vicious anger wasn’t directed at his anchor was interesting and probably important, but it didn’t advance them at the moment. The truth about Kenshin’s death remained the crucial information, and, while he wasn’t hopeless about getting at it, the slow proceedings were somewhat annoying.

Eventually, as even the nothing-like-Chinese food couldn’t keep Sano’s brow from darkening and his grip on his chopsticks from tightening detrimentally to his ability to use them, Hajime deemed the moment right to ask, “What will you need to do at school to get into geology?”

Sano looked surprised, and seemed once again to be thinking that this apparent sign of interest was, rather than solely a distraction technique, a gesture of friendship… and maybe he wasn’t so far from the truth this time. And he didn’t hesitate answering.

“Well, like I said, I’ve been working on getting all my general stuff out of the way already… and I’m actually already in the first chemistry pre-req I’ll need for the geology program. It’s a seventy-five credit hours thing, and then I can look into getting my masters somewhere else; there’s some really good schools for it…”

It wasn’t an interesting subject — school plans never could be, except perhaps among relatives (and, Hajime thought, not frequently even then) — and yet he found himself interested. There was an unignorable difference in Sano’s demeanor when he discussed this topic: the directionlessness, the waste of energy, the carelessness and frustrated frame of existence that Hajime had begun to consider characteristic of the young man seemed entirely to disappear, to be replaced by a vigorous and unvarying determination.

Of course there was no way to be certain how long it would last — this whole resurgence of geological fixation might be no more than a flash in the pan — but at the moment Hajime was inclined to rethink or at least put on hold his earlier idea that Sano would probably eventually change his mind about this. And certainly this new sense of purpose Sano seemed to be radiating was intriguing.

So too was the rapidity with which he had gathered such thorough information Of course an ability to look things up online was nothing terribly unusual — though Hajime was familiar both with the lack of internet conversance of a large portion of the population and the frustratingly unintuitive nature of college websites — but listening to Sano’s description of what he’d wondered and how he’d found out, Hajime was irresistibly reminded of the question-and-answer pattern of divination.

As engrossing as all this was — and Hajime wouldn’t deny that it was — this entire leisurely process of lunch and conversation had a purpose other than distracting Sano from his anger for a while or even proving to Hajime that his companion might not be as much a waste of space as he’d previously thought. And when Sano abruptly stiffened and scowled, simultaneously reminded of how angry he was because of some sudden movement of the ghost and dismayed because he’d thought he was done with the higher levels for the day, Hajime had to struggle not to smile. As much as he enjoyed giving Sano hell, there was no reason (at the moment) to be grinning in the face of his misfortune… but Hajime did like knowing he’d been right about something.

Suspicious and angry, Sano was looking around for the reason for the ghost’s change in motion and attitude, but that reason had already moved out of his line of sight. And by the time he’d stopped craning his neck in that direction and turned back to a proper position in his chair, Mrs. Himura had come through the restaurant and stood before them.

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