“–probably find it interesting, at least, that he’s fainted twice in twenty-four hours.”

This latter half of a statement, from Hajime, was the first thing Sano heard upon awakening. But if Hajime thought the interest of having fainted twice in twenty-four hours was the first thing Sano would feel, he was dead wrong. Well, it was interesting — earlier this week he’d been reflecting on how he’d never actually seen someone faint, and now he’d done it twice himself — but not nearly as engrossing as the sensation of what couldn’t be anything but Hajime’s arms around him, Hajime’s body against his.

Just as he’d suspected, it was a hard, wiry body that could probably do with eating more pizza on a regular basis, and the arms had an unrelenting grip. Given that they were both more or less upright, Sano guessed that Hajime had caught him as he’d fallen, and he was impressed at their positioning: Hajime must have dragged Sano’s left arm across his own shoulders, leaned slightly, and pulled Sano against him with an arm around his ribcage — thus avoiding as best he could the wounded right shoulder while still taking most of Sano’s weight on himself.

Not that the shoulder wasn’t rather excruciating at the moment. It felt a little as if someone far more concerned with the extremely emotional conversation he was having than the state of the body he was borrowing had used that right arm and shoulder indiscriminately for a while. No real resentment could possibly arise from this, though; it was how things had to be. Honestly, Sano just wished he’d had a chance to say goodbye to Kenshin.

It was strange to think of Kenshin as gone after so long having him around but inaccessible. Sano had barely gotten any opportunity to talk to the guy between the nuisance stage and the farewell, and that recognition of Kenshin as an individual that he’d hoped to accomplish at some point had never really come to pass. During their brief exchange, he had felt as if this was someone he really would like to get to know, but it was too late now, and he couldn’t help regretting it.

Not exactly gently, but certainly with no deliberate roughness, Hajime was now setting him in the chair beside the sofa. Sano tried not to be quite so dead a weight as Hajime attempted to arrange him, but motor function was not available to him at the moment. It seemed the control of his body he’d relinquished to Kenshin was not something that would return on its own: he had to find it and actively take it up again. And the strangest thing about this state was that it didn’t particularly worry or even frustrate him; it was only a matter of reconnecting, which might be a little while but would definitely happen.

The feeling of breath on his face simultaneously galvanized him toward greater ability and froze him where he sat; but then Hajime drew away, out of contact with Sano entirely, leaving behind a racing heart that must be instrumental in a return to activity. Still, when control did begin to trickle back, it did so subtly enough that he barely noticed; it was as if he’d never been without it, and the open-eyed state he’d been wanting was achieved before he even knew he had the power to attain it.

Hajime stood nearby, watching Sano calmly. His expression was so calm, in fact, that for a moment Sano was a little annoyed. He’d fainted! Surely that merited some concern, especially given that he was still wounded. But then it occurred to him that his thoughts had become relatively coherent full minutes before he’d been able to move — which meant Hajime would have had evidence that Sano was all right long before Sano had been able to open his eyes and note the exorcist’s face. So maybe Hajime had worried at least a little. He’d apparently made a point of catching Sano before he could hit the floor, after all.

At this, Hajime rolled his eyes and turned away. There was just the tiniest hint of a smile on his lips, though.

Kaoru had returned to her seat on the sofa, whence she was staring at nothing with streaming eyes. She didn’t seem aware of her surroundings, and, though Sano guessed she must have spoken to Hajime at least once to have prompted his comment about Sano fainting twice, he doubted she really remembered there was anyone else in the room.

Her conversation with her husband was more like a dream than a proper memory to Sano, since being possessed had turned out to be a little like dreaming. Hell, compared to this process of recovering from being possessed, it had been downright lazy. He’d felt as if he was floating in a comfortable haze, not required to do or say or think anything, barely even aware of what his body was up to; and all the events around him he’d observed with the detachment of a spectator only slightly invested in the proceedings.

So now, in order to decide what he thought about that farewell discussion, he had to concentrate on it, run through it line by line and force it to solidify in his memory. And still it was a memory of someone else entirely; the fact that most of the words had been spoken with his mouth and many of the gestures given with his body didn’t really register.

He emerged from his musings at last with two very distinct impressions: first, that he was extremely glad Kaoru had made at least a little progress toward a better frame of mind; and, second, that he regretted more than ever not getting to know Kenshin. It seemed somewhat ironic and almost cruel that they’d been thrown together the way they had, inconveniencing Sano for so long during a very difficult time for Kenshin, but never been allowed to become friends and help each other through those difficulties as friends would.

Well, it wasn’t as if they’d been no help to each other. Sano had done his part getting rid of the shade that had been plaguing Kenshin, and Kenshin… well, if he’d never begun haunting Sano, the latter would never have felt the need to call up an exorcist, would he?

A third very distinct impression, actually, accompanied Sano out of the reverie about Kenshin’s departure: his shoulder hurt a fucking lot. So his first real movement was to reach into his pocket in search of a couple of pills he’d stashed there before leaving Hajime’s house. He was probably taking more of this stuff than he really should, but he could cut back on it later when he was free to lie around and not be possessed or stabbed by anyone.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been sitting here regaining control of his body and pondering the friend he’d almost had, while Kaoru mirrored him on the couch trying to regain control of her emotions and pondering the husband she’d lost, but Hajime was stoically waiting for one or the other of them to say or do something.

I don’t think she’s going to be up to much more from us, Sano sent, and was surprised at how weary even his mental communication sounded. Evidently he wasn’t going to be up to much more either. Possession really took a lot out of you, probably even if you weren’t injured to begin with.

Hajime nodded slightly. Give her another minute, he replied. I have a few more things to tell her. Somewhat irritably he added, I would have said them earlier, but Kenshin just had to talk to her that second.

It didn’t appear, however, that an appropriate moment for reopening conversation with Kaoru was likely to arise any time soon; she was so deep in thought that her awareness of their presence actually seemed to be decreasing as minutes passed. Sano found it all too easy to lose track of the others around him in his own reverie about Kenshin and everything that had happened, so he could only imagine how profoundly embroiled in contemplation Kaoru must be.

Though Hajime was outwardly still and silent, waiting with apparently limitless patience for the right moment to resume the discussion, Sano was aware that he was increasingly impatient within. It came as no real surprise that Hajime was the type of person much more interested in the active pursuit stage (even if that active pursuit sometimes involved sitting around waiting for a phone call) than the emotional aftermath of a job like this. Of course he would not have given Kaoru any hint of this even had she been in a state to recognize hints, but he wanted to wrap this up.

Eventually, clearly with his desire to be gone and his unwillingness to harass the client both in mind, in a tone just a touch louder than he might normally have used to get the attention of someone in the same room, Hajime said, “Mrs. Himura.”

Though a portion of his attention had been on Hajime all along, still Sano started a little at the sound, which motion of course jarred his shoulder. But Kaoru turned only slowly toward the speaker and seemed to be emerging gradually and with some difficulty (and, in the end, no more than partially) from her contemplation. She looked at Hajime as if there was a whole world of things she might want to say, but eventually said nothing at all.

“We’ll leave you to your thoughts,” Hajime said, and again Sano believed he was aiming for a gentle tone he just didn’t quite have the capacity for. “But there are a few more things you need to hear before we go.”

She nodded almost absently; her current level of attention was probably the best they were going to get from her right now.

“The criminal organization your husband’s brother-in-law was the head of was U.S.Seido, a company you’ve probably heard of, and we got most of our information from a man named Gains, who was Enishi’s secretary. I would have preferred not to mention you specifically, but I wanted to know what your status with them is right now. Gains assured me that whatever revenge Enishi was working on against your family was being conducted with his personal resources, not the company’s, and that he was using independent agents not directly employed by U.S.Seido. You’ll have to decide how safe you feel knowing there are probably still a few people who were working for Enishi who know what really happened last year, but as far as the organization is concerned, you and your son are not targets and not being watched.”

Kaoru nodded slowly, her expression blank. Sano guessed this was more than she could process right now, and its meaning and implications would not sink in until later. Probably much later.

At that moment there issued from the hallway that led from this room the command, “Stop making mommy cry!”

All eyes turned that direction, toward where a little red-headed boy stood hugging the wall looking simultaneously rebellious and somewhat nervous. And as Sano gazed at the son Kenshin hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye to and saw this courageous concern for the mother’s feelings even at so young an age, he couldn’t help thinking that Kenshin had been right: Kenji was sure to be a good person. At the very least, he might be able to break the pattern of murder and guilt his parents had established.

Kaoru had held out her arms to her defensive child, who had gone willingly to sit on her lap and be held tightly by her but continued to stare defiance at the two men he perceived as the current cause of his mother’s sorrow. It was about time to leave.

“I… I don’t know what to say,” Kaoru murmured, half into her son’s hair, as Sano stood slowly from the chair and leaned on it for balance.

“Don’t try,” Hajime advised. This seemed somewhat rude, but it was also probably the best option for her at the moment.

Still, Sano felt the need to wish her a friendlier goodbye. “You have my number if you need to talk or anything,” he said, perhaps a little awkwardly. Meeting the angry gaze of Kenji still on his mother’s lap, Sano was prompted, against pretty much every feeling on every side of this situation, to smile. “Good luck,” he added before turning and following Hajime out of the apartment.

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