It was very rare for Sano to wake before his alarm went off, or to refrain from grumblingly curling into a tight blanket ball and going determinedly back to sleep if he did, but, as Kaoru had suggested yesterday, an unusual situation could lead to rare happenings. Today he lay in bed observing the slow growth of faint light in the room, noting the stiff soreness of his entire body, watching Kenshin circling with a placidity that belied the fury surrounding him that could so easily be transferred to Sano.
Not that Sano required superfluous external anger to madden him. The mere fact that he had a stranger so close, so undismissable, twenty-four hours a day was enough to keep him just as consistently annoyed even before the supernatural influence. He felt like he was on a reality show against his will; he felt like he had a chaperone, a jailer, in this unknown man over a decade his senior whose eyes were, perhaps, on him non-stop.
Waking up from angry dreams to find himself trying to tear his pillowcase apart felt especially stupid and frustrating when he knew somebody was watching. Doing anything in the bathroom was hugely embarrassing. The state of his apartment from one moment to the next was almost enough to raise a blush, but the idea of straightening up in Kenshin’s presence made him feel like he was catering — caving! — to the presumed tastes and desires of someone he didn’t want around in the first place. And it wasn’t necessarily appropriate to be thinking about the sex life of a brand new and as yet not-terribly-close acquaintance, but Sano couldn’t help making comparisons between Kaoru’s stated reluctance to sleep with her husband when she’d known she was being monitored and his own change in intimate personal habits when he’d realized he was being haunted by more than just a shade.
Not that the inconvenience of his situation, great as it was, could even begin to compare with the misery of hers. Of course he needed to be free of Kenshin in order to get on with his life, and no consciousness of disparity between his situation and someone else’s could change that, but, even haunted, that life could certainly be a lot worse. Maybe if he kept that thought in mind and stopped concentrating so much on his own difficulties, things would go more smoothly.
So what if he was irrationally, sometimes destructively angry all the time? So what if some guy he didn’t know was watching him every time he took a piss? So what if he’d developed a crush on someone whose sexual orientation he couldn’t parse? At least he had never been coerced into killing his husband.
He sat up and looked at Kenshin, turning his head to follow the ghost’s progress around him. He really had been thinking a lot about himself, hadn’t he? Kenshin, who was central to this affair, had barely registered as more than a problem to be solved, a nuisance to be gotten rid of by whatever means — certainly never fully as an individual with driving needs and memories and (as Sano should have good reason to know) human emotions.
What was Kenshin thinking and feeling now? How had that intense meeting with his wife affected him? What did he really want accomplished? Was he eager to move on, or would he prefer to remain a ghost?
Angrily, Sano sighed. It was unfortunately easy to ignore the humanity of someone so unreachable in every way. There hadn’t been a picture of Kenshin in the email report; Sano didn’t even know what he looked like, beyond that apparently ‘good in women’s clothing’ was part of it. He definitely knew nothing about Kenshin’s personality, except that Kaoru thought him pretty much the nicest guy in the world — which, even ignoring the probable bias, didn’t really mean a lot. And though he could guess that the dead man wanted to tell Kaoru he didn’t blame her for what she’d been forced to do, there was no way of being sure.
None of these thoughts were terribly useful or pleasant: overall, an annoying way to start the day. He wondered when he could expect Hajime to call. How early did that bullshit cop go into work? Sano lay back down and closed his eyes, but after a moment rolled onto his stomach and reached over the side of the bed. Not wanting to repeat the experience of a few days ago when he’d been too disoriented coming out of sleep to answer a call in time, he’d left his phone on its charger on the floor within arm’s length. Now he unplugged it and dragged it into a teddy bear position as he curled up on his side and rearranged the blanket he’d completely disarrayed.
He didn’t sleep, but he wasn’t exactly thinking profound thoughts either; he was just lying there, vaguely angry, conscious of every bruise Hajime had given him yesterday, listening hard for any noise from the phone cradled against his chest. Eventually, though, as the morning became more visible, he did call in sick to work again. That he was endangering his state of employment thus was an unavoidable fact, which made him feel sorry for anyone that legitimately got sick for two days in a row, but he had a feeling he was going to need the free time today. And he was pleased with himself for managing not to sound too irate talking to the opening manager.
Next, giving up on doing nothing any longer, he tried to choose an appropriate ringtone for Hajime’s number, but this was frustrating because all he had to work with was the pre-loaded lineup of generic jingles, and none of them seemed to fit. A few songs came to mind that would be very appropriate — a couple angry, one plaintive — but to buy them as ringtones cost something like two dollars each. He was pondering the issue, considering whether or not he should authorize the expenditure, and on the verge of giving in, when Hajime actually called and spared him the decision (for now).
“Kaoru was Kenshin’s second wife.”
So busy was Sano trying to decide whether it was a good or a bad sign that he now apparently rated a complete absence of greeting just like that dumbass policeman, he barely took in the meaning of this initial statement and responded only with an inarticulate sound.
“His first wife, Tomoe,” Hajime went on, “died in a car accident in Fresno back in ’99 after he was married to her for less than a year. Kenshin was driving that car, and speeding at the time, which made the accident worse — she might have survived if he hadn’t been going thirty over the speed limit.”
“OK,” said Sano slowly. “That sucks…”
“Her maiden name was Yukishiro. Sound familiar?”
It did, actually, but Sano couldn’t place it. Something he’d heard in the news at some point not too long ago…
“Enishi Yukishiro,” Hajime filled in the silence, “was her younger brother.”
That name was even more familiar, but Sano still didn’t quite have it. “OK, I give up,” he admitted finally.
Hajime helped him out with, “CEO of U.S.Seido?”
“Yes!” said Sano as he remembered, but then sobered as he finally recalled the news reports he’d been trying to dredge up. “But didn’t he die, like, last year?”
“Just at the end of last year,” Hajime confirmed, “near the beginning of January.” And he paused to let this sink in.
“Right when… right when Kaoru started having red shade problems?” Sano had no idea what it meant, but it didn’t sound like a coincidence.
“What would you say to the theory that the anger we’re dealing with isn’t Kenshin’s at all?”
Sano had been in the act of shoving his blanket aside in order to rise, probably to start pacing in some agitation, but as Hajime’s suggestion hit him he stilled, and gradually sank back to rest against the wall. “Shit,” he murmured. “That would…” So simple an idea, yet not even a hint of it had ever crossed his mind. “Yeah…” He’d never heard of a ghost being affected by someone else’s shade, but, honestly, how much did he really know about ghosts in the first place? “That’s a…” If this Enishi guy had still somehow been angry enough a decade after his sister’s death to plan the kind of bullshit that had gone on last year, his anger must be both prolific and tenacious… and wasn’t that exactly what they’d been noticing about this shade all along?
Sano’s trailing remark finally finished with, “…really good… theory…” Despite the inconclusiveness implied by this last word, there was a certainty growing in his mind as if being built up by an outside source, and that source an authority. He believed this idea. Soon, he felt, he would be past the point where he could entertain any other.
Hajime was apparently waiting for an end to the contemplative, almost shocked silence, and it came as no less of a shock to Sano to realize that the exorcist was also waiting for a more definitive response from him… that Hajime had proposed this as if Sano were the authority here. In a way, being the one haunted by Kenshin and most closely connected with the shade in question, he was the authority… but he wouldn’t have expected Hajime ever overtly to recognize that. So it was with a sudden and unexpected warmth in his gut, and as a result none of the cautious restraint he might otherwise have used, that he said, “Yeah, that’s exactly what’s going on. When that guy died, he left some kind of huge shade behind, and it’s been wrapping around Kenshin ever since and keeping us from talking to him.”
“I always thought there was a little insanity in that shade.” Hajime sounded incongruously pleased, and Sano had to grin a bit at this further evidence that the man just really liked to be right about things. “To get revenge ten years later…”
In a more businesslike tone suggesting they would definitely want to retouch that branch of the conversation later, Hajime went on, “But that’s not all the information Chou had for me. The rumors that Seido is practically a stateside yakuza are true, apparently — in addition to their legitimate business, they’re more than suspected of money laundering, smuggling, and other, less pleasant things. Chou wasn’t happy to find out they might be involved in this. According to him, the police don’t touch Seido unless they’re absolutely sure they’ll come out on top of the transaction.”
“I don’t think I’m happy finding out about this,” said Sano, now a little uneasy. “I don’t really want to get involved with any yakuza either.”
“I’m not exactly ecstatic about it myself,” Hajime admitted. “But this is significant progress. Seido sometimes makes use of one of those gangs that provided the cover fire when Kenshin died, and you may have heard about that Seido secretary who was a person of interest in the investigation of Enishi’s death because of unusually aggressive behavior that started the same day Enishi died.”
Nothing of this latter story had reached Sano, and he admitted as much in some surprise.
“I’m sure you did hear that Enishi’s death was eventually ruled suicide, so this secretary wasn’t charged with anything. But apparently he’s been on a leave of absence ever since because he’s too angry to get any work done.”
“I’m an asshole for saying it–” and in fact Sano had a hard time stifling a grin as he did so– “but it’s kinda nice to know I’m not the only one whose life’s been fucked up by this.” Then, quickly repenting his choice of words, he added, “I mean, obviously Kaoru and Kenshin in the first place, but still…” He cleared his throat. “So you think the next step is to find this secretary guy and get the shade out of him?”
“And see what he can tell us about Enishi and his grudge against Kenshin,” Hajime confirmed. “I’m sure he’ll be glad to answer at least some questions; when I talked to him just now, he seemed desperate to find any solution to his current problem and very ready to believe he was being haunted by his late boss’s anger.”
“You talked to him just now?” Sano had eventually followed his original plan of rising to pace his apartment, and at this point he stopped on the kitchen linoleum and threw up his free hand. “God, you are so disturbingly efficient!”
Hajime sounded smug as he replied, “Well, unlike you, I like to actually do my job.”
Although he hoped that in general he wasn’t becoming immune to the very useful power of insult from Hajime, Sano was more than a little gleeful at the feeling almost of camaraderie between them.
“Don’t think it was extremely easy, though,” Hajime went on somewhat regretfully. “It took every corporate connection I have and all my personal charm to get someone at Seido to put me through to this man Gains, and he was so angry it was hard to get anything rational out of him.”
“‘Personal charm,'” Sano echoed, and whether his accompanying snort was more amused or derisive he wasn’t sure. He was pretty sure Hajime had set that one up deliberately, though.
“Anyway, if you want to come with me to meet him, which I assume you do, be ready for me to pick you up in half an hour.”
“Oh! Yeah! OK.” Sano could only be glad that Hajime was indeed so efficient — and also, really, that he himself had been awake enough fully to appreciate this whole conversation. Some unusual happenings were better than others.
“See you then,” was Hajime’s goodbye.
As Sano’s hand holding the phone fell to his side, he stared at the ghost drifting through both hallway walls in its pattern around him. It was still difficult to think of Kenshin as an individual and not an inconvenience, but this next step might help. Sano shook his head as he returned the phone to its charger, and headed toward the bathroom for a quick shower. Having done so yesterday, he hadn’t planned on showering today merely for the sake of a work shift, but for the sake of sitting in Hajime’s passenger seat he suddenly felt the need. Ghost or no ghost.