This story has no chapters, but has been divided into three posts due to length:

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Days passed, and suddenly it was July. How could time have been moving so slowly when it was already July? Looking at the calendar on the wall in Saitou’s office, despite how meticulously the officer kept to the current page, Sano still felt there must be some mistake. It could only be the beginning of June at the very latest! Even the weather didn’t seem to believe it could possibly be July; this was the mildest summer he could remember.

Though he never definitively brought it up, and Saitou never questioned, Sano began pushing himself harder than ever in all areas. Technically he could probably entirely abandon the combative part of his training, since the goal of impressing Kenshin had been accomplished… but Sano felt he wasn’t quite getting something, that something lay just barely beyond him; he was sure if he only reached far enough, trained thoroughly enough, he would understand. If only Saitou would giver him some positive feedback! As Sano had predicted all those weeks ago, ‘not hopeless’ was the best he would ever get. Even just a word or two of specific encouragement would do him a world of good.

This overwhelming desire for an expression of approbation from his mentor brought Sano to the realization of just how reliant he’d become on Saitou, and forced him to a reluctant decision: regardless of what remained for him to learn, he needed to extricate himself from this dependency. So on July 8th, having finished his chores early enough to be done before Saitou appeared, he went home… though that phrase didn’t feel entirely accurate anymore; his run-down apartment seemed almost unfamiliar after so long. It was definitely cold. Very cold, particularly at night. And the lack of a certain heat during those hours was not the least of the circumstances he needed to acclimatize himself to. He should only be thinking about Kenshin now, even at night — especially at night — and he needed a clear head for the upcoming trial.

And he was prepared, wasn’t he? In the important areas, at least. He’d built up better defensive skills than he’d ever had, could easily continue practicing them on his own, and had caught Kenshin’s eye with his abilities and his willingness to change and grow. He’d learned so many lovemaking tricks that he hadn’t even gotten a chance to test half of them yet, but he sure as hell knew what their effects on him were; he figured if Saitou could do it to him, he could do it to Kenshin.

So why did he still feel there was something serious, something vital, that he hadn’t figured out yet?

In searching his own head for the answer, in trying to lay everything out neatly in the hopes that he would be able to spot the missing piece, he found only confusion. Of course lately he’d been confused on a fairly regular basis, and he assumed it would clear up once he was triumphantly and happily settled down with Kenshin, so he attempted not to worry too much about it.

Settled down with Kenshin? Now that he thought about it, this circumstance seemed unlikely. Sano’s intentions were going to destroy or at least severely damage some of the friendships they had here in Tokyo and — he hadn’t considered this before — effectively evict Kenshin from the Kamiya Dojo, at the very least until Kaoru recovered. A single glance around assured Sano he couldn’t very well invite Kenshin to stay here with him in the limited space under this leaky roof… it was about time he made some concrete plans.

First, the confession.

“Hey, Kenshin, can I talk to you?”

“Of course, Sano.”

Then I put my hand on his shoulder and step up close. “I’ve been wanting to tell you for a long time. A really long time. Maybe ever since I first met you.” Dammit, even in my own fucking imagination I can’t spit the damn phrase out.

So Kenshin says, “Yes?”

“Kenshin… I love you. And I don’t want you to marry jou-chan.”

Then he stares at me like I’m crazy and says, “But I love Kaoru! I am sorry, Sano.”

Fuck! No! Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. How about this…

“Hey, Kenshin, can I talk to you?”

“Of course, Sano.”

Then I take him for a walk away from the dojo and make sure jou-chan doesn’t follow, and once I get him somewhere private I give him a kiss — a really good kiss, like the kind where Saitou…

He shifted in discomfort and annoyance where he lay on his moldy futon staring at the ceiling. It took several moments to get his thoughts under control again.

Yeah, so I kiss the hell out of him, and while he’s all breathless afterwards I say, “I love you, Kenshin. Please don’t marry jou-chan; it’ll break my heart.”

And he’ll look at me and realize he’s loved me all along and was only going along with jou-chan because… whatever; anyway, he’ll see that me and him just have to be together, and he’ll say, “Oh, Sano, I am so glad you told me this! I might never have realized, but of course I love you! I must cancel my wedding to Kaoru-dono.”

Again he was derailed. Because that was going to fucking kill Kaoru.

He’d never given more than marginal reflection to this topic, but now he supposed it was time to focus on it squarely. Kaoru loved Kenshin. Kaoru had supported Kenshin, emotionally and financially, almost from the very moment she’d met him. Kaoru had waited ages for a return of affection from Kenshin. And once Sano had won Kenshin away from her, had broken her heart, how could he live with himself?

And yet… shouldn’t she have picked up, after those platonic ages, that Kenshin would only marry her if she pressured him into it? By this time she should be braced for the possibility of never actually having him. And it wasn’t as if a lengthy period even of the impressive type of unwavering support Kaoru had been providing entitled her to romance; she shouldn’t expect it! And, honestly, did Kaoru really love Kenshin? Was there a proper bond of souls there, or was she merely dazzled by Kenshin’s awesome amazingness?

Besides, Kaoru was strong and resilient… she’d recovered nicely once before when Kenshin had left her. Even if the emotion she felt toward Kenshin and the expectation of living happily ever after with him were both serious and deep, even if the series of events Sano planned on initiating did break her heart, she would eventually be fine. She would go on to find a love more properly suited to her, and perhaps even, someday, reinstate her friendship with the two men.

Though far from satisfied, Sano steeled himself. That was the best he could do, so he pushed thoughts of Kaoru’s part in all of this firmly aside and went back to meticulous planning of his conversation with Kenshin. “Hey, Kenshin, can I talk to you?”

This set of reflections left him much closer to satisfied. He believed he had things worked out reliably well, having come up with a general plan of attack, specific arguments against any weak excuses Kenshin might provide, and some really delicious mental images of how things would go from there. Then he would suggest they remove to Kyoto for a while — he could do some work for the Oniwabanshuu or something to support them — as a sort of honeymoon. It gave him shivers just thinking about it.

Over the next couple of days, he took to practicing the persuasive statements he had in mind whenever he was alone — which, given that he’d come home specifically to concentrate and not be distracted by anyone (mostly by Saitou), he usually was. As long as he didn’t botch his delivery (and possibly even if he did, depending on how near the surface lay Kenshin’s subconscious love for him), he didn’t think anything could go wrong.

That at least some aspects of the affair still had him feeling undeniably, skin-crawlingly wrong he continued attempting to ignore.

And July 15th arrived. Sano didn’t have to make any special effort to rise early, for he’d been awake all night. Once the light of dawn touched his unsettled figure in its twisted blanket, he gave up trying to sleep and commenced pacing instead. Hands in the pockets of his freshly washed pants, he chewed his lip in between hours’ worth of broken further rehearsals of what he was coming to consider his lines for the day.

Finally, “What the fuck am I doing?” he grumblingly demanded of himself. Throwing open the door with decisive vigor, he strode out toward the Kamiya Dojo and his conquest.

***

Though Sano raised his arm toward the dojo property’s outer door, his fingers seemed to shrink back toward the palm of his hand rather than extend to open it. Was he really that nervous? His steps had been sluggish all the way here, and his mind was in a turmoil. He was more than ready for this, so why the hesitation?

He brushed the handle, which was good for a start. He had to stop overthinking. Had to set worry aside and just go in there and do this. It was his own happiness he sought; delay would do nothing for him. What was wrong with him? After a deep breath he intended as steadying and encouraging (little as it functioned thus), he clenched the muscles in his arm to fling the door open.

“Sanosuke.”

He froze. Not having heard the other man’s approach was nothing unusual, but the use of Sano’s actual name was.

“Sano.”

And his nickname, even? Sano turned slowly. Under other circumstances, he might have been annoyed with Saitou for throwing him even farther off balance than he already was with the unprecedented name-calling, but he found himself bizarrely pleased at the officer’s presence. The very sight of him there puffing away at the ubiquitous tobacco fix braced Sano unexpectedly.

“Hey,” was his weak greeting. “Come to wish me good luck?”

“Since you didn’t bother to say goodbye a week ago…” That the generally articulate Saitou didn’t finish the sentence struck Sano as odd, but he took his point. Actually it was touching — and surprising — that Saitou would wish him well, so far even as to show up here specifically today.

Sano smiled faintly. Saitou had been really nice all along, hadn’t he? Nice and supportive and a lot more of a friend than Sano had ever expected to find him. It would have been appropriate to thank him for that at this point, but an unspeakable ocean of things Sano needed to say already threatened to drown him. So he just gave the older man a wave that probably didn’t convey much as he turned toward the door again.

And then Saitou said his name for a third time. The sound of those syllables in that voice was so unusual and so compelling that Sano turned back immediately. He noticed now, as he looked closer, that Saitou’s appearance differed somewhat from that of last week: he was worn out, Sano thought, and perhaps a little thinner… haggard, almost. He’d clearly been up all night as Sano had. He must be working on a difficult case.

Though Sano sympathized, he couldn’t handle delay. Still, he tried to keep any unfriendliness from his tone as he asked, “What do you want?”

The period Saitou then spent staring, cigarette near but not quite touching his lips as if he’d forgotten about it, lasted so long that Sano would have thought his own patience shouldn’t have covered it… and yet he made no move, nor attempted to break the silence. And finally Saitou said, “You’re finding this difficult.”

“Yeah, no shit,” Sano muttered.

“Why?”

“If I knew what was wrong, I’d have kicked its ass by now.”

One corner of Saitou’s mouth lifted. “Pithy, as always.” He came a step closer, looking abruptly so pointedly determined that Sano shivered. Those golden eyes seemed ready to stab into him every bit as devastatingly as Saitou’s sword had once done. “My point,” he said, “is that you don’t actually want to go through with this.”

Sano stiffened. “What? What the hell do you mean?”

“Maybe you haven’t realized it yet, but you don’t really want Himura.”

“What the fuck would you know about that?” He managed to make this demand in a decently defiant tone, and the feeling of fists forming from what had previously been lax, sweating hands encouraged him somewhat, but mentally Sano was even more of a mess now than before.

“I was sleeping with you for two months, a week, and three days. It makes sense that I would know some things about you.” Saitou’s smirk lacked something; it looked put on, like a mask behind which his true feelings were completely unreadable.

“And you came all the way over here to tell me this at the last minute?”

“I came all the way over here at the last minute,” Saitou said slowly, as if struggling for words, “to tell you that I don’t want you to go through with this.”

At this the final strands of Sano’s annoyance and impatience unraveled, leaving behind thin-stretched nervousness and a condition, newly revealed, that seemed very much like unhappiness. But there was curiosity too, and something else he couldn’t quite define, in response to Saitou’s words and unusual demeanor. “What? Why?”

The officer stepped even closer, so that only a short distance remained between them, never removing his piercing gaze from Sano’s. “I am in love with you.”

Inability to breathe or, for several moments, to formulate a coherent thought in the wake of the sort of reality implosion that had just taken place inside him left Sano stammering and dizzy. What kind of a development was this?

All these months practicing at… at… everything… had all been real to this guy? All along? Or else since when? And Saitou claimed Sano didn’t want Kenshin, which carried the obvious implication that there might be someone else Sano did want… and Saitou had an infuriating habit of being right most of the time. And Saitou was not only capable of love, willing to admit he could and did love, but loved Sano? Enough that he would actually say it in such unmistakable, uninsulting terms? How had that happened?

Everything was spinning, and Sano suddenly found himself leaning on the frame of the door he’d been trying to open just minutes before. The figure in front of him had become more of a concept, a puzzle he was being forced to solve, than a proper visual, and seemed to be flickering in and out, repeatedly replaced with a different concept, a different puzzle, a torment to Sano’s eyes and brain. Kenshin, Saitou, Kenshin, Saitou… what was he going to do?

***

As the silent mental wrestling match progressed, Saitou watched in raging anxiousness, unmoving and equally silent. He didn’t miss a single expression that crossed the young man’s face as Sano furiously contemplated this upheaval, but what to make of those expressions he didn’t know. He feared his own interpretation must be miserably biased, but interpretation was all that could occupy his mind at the moment.

No, that wasn’t true. In addition to this, his mind was full to bursting of any number of things, many of them emotion-charged images and memories: Sano jumping in mud puddles and kicking rocks; Sano yelling until he was pink in the face; Sano lounging around Saitou’s home as if it were his own; Sano complaining in colorful language about the littlest, silliest things; Sano sitting across from Saitou at the supper table, laughing at something Saitou was telling him about work; Sano twisting and attacking during their training, somehow simultaneously stubborn and responsive; Sano straining upward as Saitou thrust deep inside him… Everything was Sano: cheerful, infuriating, funny, beautiful Sano. It was all Saitou could do to keep from shaking in fear at the thought of losing what he’d so unconsciously come to treasure.

The only person that could hide anything from Saitou with any success, he reflected bitterly, was Saitou himself. He’d certainly repressed this well, at any rate. Exactly when it had started — exactly how long he’d spent denying what he felt, coolly claiming that the entire arrangement with Sano was nothing more than a source of entertainment, eventually easy sex, and perhaps something like unexpected friendship — he still didn’t know. He probably would never have admitted it even internally if he hadn’t been forced to.

When Sano had disappeared so abruptly without a word of explanation, Saitou had tried to tell himself first that he wasn’t surprised, then that he didn’t regret the loss, then that he missed Sano only as he would miss anything he’d become accustomed to having around, that he would soon cease to notice his absence. But just the consciousness of that absence — the awareness that Sano might never come back, that Saitou might never see him again or perhaps encounter him only as Himura’s lover — had roused in his suddenly racing heart a sharp, squeezing pain that increased with every lonely moment and every thought of Sano. He’d been overcome with a furious and nearly unconquerable desire to go after the idiot, drag him home, and never let him go again, and this had made plain to him the full scope of his own emotions.

And now what? He’d been encouraging Sano’s plan to win Himura — at first because it was so amusingly ludicrous, but eventually because it seemed to mean so much to Sano — and therefore hadn’t made any provisions against falling in love with Sano himself. If he’d even recognized that as a possibility, he would have been more guarded, probably wouldn’t have slept with him, would at least have watched himself for symptoms and nipped any budding of what he would have considered a very inconvenient and counterproductive attachment.

Or, if the attachment had been inevitable, which he was more than a little inclined to think, if he’d merely known his own heart earlier, he could have spoken then and avoided the badly timed outburst of today… the one that, every moment, he expected to have thrown back in his face with anger and derision… or, even worse, stupefied pity.

But he hadn’t been lying when he’d postulated that Sano didn’t really want Battousai. Wishful thinking it might be, but not dishonesty. To him, Sano’s behavior over the last few months, not to mention the way Sano spoke of Himura, indicated nothing more than a superficial infatuation. Saitou certainly didn’t believe Himura had any romantic interest in Sano, but, again, wishful thinking might be skewing his perception.

If Sano continued his plan, walked in there now and made his confession, what would be the result? And if it turned out Saitou was the only person around here that actually understood his own feelings, might not irreparable harm be done to more than just him by the decisions made behind these doors?

Of course, even if Sano didn’t love the rurouni, and even if he could acknowledge that, it did not necessarily follow that he loved or could acknowledge he loved Saitou. There were any number of ways in which these events could end very badly.

Sano’s emotions tended to be printed across his face like words on a page. Saitou therefore watched all the more carefully, looking for any sign of favor in those eyes, those lips, that set of jaw and level of brow. But though every feature seemed active, the whole was also almost unreadable in its chaos. As Saitou had predicted, Sano didn’t really know what he wanted, and was at the moment overwhelmed with confusion — better than outright rejection, than a dogged clinging to his supposed love for Himura, but horribly tormenting in the interim. What would he say?

Nothing, it turned out. Instead of speaking or even attempting to speak, Sano spun jerkily and ran away.

Saitou released a tense little sigh as he watched the white-clad figure tear off down the street like a madman. That Sano wanted time and privacy to think things over meant more hope for Saitou, but the latter would rather be with Sano than know he was dealing with turmoil and confusion alone. The presence of one of the causes of that confused turmoil probably wouldn’t improve Sano’s mood or assist his thought, but still Saitou would like to be with him during this difficult time. At the very least, he would like to know immediately what conclusion Sano came to.

Deciding that, in any case, he would prefer to remain as close to him as possible until the crisis had ended, he tossed away his cigarette and lifted his leaden feet to follow.

***

It felt as if Sano had done a lot of running lately — a lot of leaving behind of problems, a lot of avoidance of things he didn’t want to face. But he couldn’t go to a bar and drink this away. He was literally running, but he couldn’t outdistance this issue. He had to stop moving, stop mentally reeling, and face this.

What did that mean, “I am in love with you?” Sano knew it meant, “This changes everything.” He knew it meant, “I won’t lose you to Himura.” He knew, as surely as if Saitou had said it aloud, that it meant, “Stay with me.” Maybe forever, because that was the kind of person Saitou was. It held an entire world of meaning, the earnestness of a strong heart and unwavering character directed toward Sano with the piercing purpose and desire he’d observed in Saitou’s eyes just now. It held the offer of everything Saitou was, and the life that could create for Sano, for both of them. Because that was the kind of person Saitou was.

But how could it be possible? After all their training on various battlefields for today’s trial, that Saitou would be the one to back down had never seemed remotely likely, had never occurred to Sano. He hadn’t even thought the officer particularly invested; Saitou had just been getting his chores done and some nightly entertainment, hadn’t he? But now it turned out that in fact Saitou loved him. It didn’t make sense.

Without having given any thought to where he was going, Sano found himself approaching the river near the spot where, just over a year ago, Kenshin had taught him one of the most important lessons of his life. Perhaps the singular appropriateness of the place had drawn him. He clambered up onto the wooden wreckage that had changed very little since he’d last seen it — certainly far less than he had — stared out over the sparkling water, and essayed to make some sense of his racing thoughts.

He tried to think of Kenshin, or at least to give equal time to the two most prominent men in his life, but apparently his memory had other ideas: Saitou moving with that spare but graceful stride; Saitou mocking him with a gleam of eye stating that, although he meant the insult, he didn’t mean any hurt by it; Saitou sitting across from him at the little table, surprisingly easy and pleasant company; Saitou training him, his concise words and precise movements teaching Sano more than he’d ever learned from anyone else; Saitou conjuring up reactions from his body that he couldn’t have imagined… Although he’d come to accept some time ago that Saitou was not the heartless bastard he’d long thought him, he hadn’t realized until it was laid out in front of his mind’s eye like this what a wonderful person Saitou really was.

But Sano wanted Kenshin, didn’t he? He’d always wanted Kenshin! Since that first day here at this very spot, when his life had been turned upside-down, he’d wanted him. Kenshin was gorgeous; he had eyes you could melt into and the world’s sweetest smile. He could move like nobody could, and he’d done things nobody else could have done. Kenshin was kind and admirable and amazing. You just couldn’t help loving Kenshin. Of course Sano wanted Kenshin.

Even if Kenshin never paid Sano much attention, didn’t know where he was or what he was doing or notice when he was gone. Even if conversation with Kenshin rarely progressed past the superficial, and Kenshin was never willing to spar with him. Even if the connection Sano felt with Kenshin didn’t really go far beyond that of one comrade deeply indebted to another. Even if memories of Kenshin came in discrete little bursts like recalled interesting moments from an otherwise unmemorable play he’d seen at some point — unlike those memories of Saitou, which grasped him in an unshakable grip, rolled him over, climbed on top of him, and started kissing his neck. Fuck it all. Everything was snapping into focus.

Sano was in love with Saitou.

The whirling of reality seemed abruptly to cease, and as Sano gazed out over the calm river he thought his eyes were continually adjusting as if he’d been falling and had suddenly been righted.

No, he never really had loved Kenshin. Not the way he’d believed he did. He gave a hoarse, wild laugh, in fact, as it occurred to him that the feelings he’d vaguely attributed to Kaoru in his attempt to excuse what he planned on doing were actually, more accurately, his own: not love — not romantic love, at any rate — but rather an awareness of the heroic, mysterious image of the hitokiri-turned-rurouni, who had taught him such an important lesson and done such impressive things, that had dazzled him. Dazzled and blinded him so he couldn’t see anything else, even what should have been glaringly obvious.

Of course there was some legitimate physical attraction there, but what did that mean? A lot of people Sano met or noticed in passing were physically attractive, and he wouldn’t necessarily want to spend his life with them. Of course Kenshin was a comfortable friend to have around, but Sano was realizing now that this friendship had a sort of stagnation to it, an unchanging complacency and a lot taken for granted. And of course Kenshin had revolutionized the way Sano lived, and Sano would always be grateful for that… but love didn’t necessarily follow. He could appreciate without idolizing. Hell, he could even, if it came to it, idolize without desiring.

He needed someone to saturate his existence, someone whose presence in his mind was more than just a disconnected series of isolated events; someone that didn’t consider him merely a groupie, and had a real emotional reaction to his presence, whether that was good or bad; someone that knew him well enough to understand his thoughts, and was actually interested enough to pursue them; someone that would surprise him instead of sticking to an endless routine; someone uncontrollable and perfect. He needed Saitou, and if he went back to the dojo now he would be making the biggest fucking mistake of his life.

***

A tall blue figure stood on the long bridge over the river, a smoldering cigarette held to his lips, watching the unceasing sparkle of sunlight on the water beneath him. The bright spots burned his eyes and remained in negative, obscuring his vision, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to look away.

He should be at the police station right now; he should be working. God only knew what kind of mess Chou would be making there without him. Somehow Saitou couldn’t quite bring himself to care.

Presently he found his cigarette had shrunken to a butt, which was farther than they usually got before he threw them away — though it was possible he’d only let it burn down rather than actually smoking the thing to this point. He allowed it to fall from lax fingers into the water, and there lost track of it. Another would be nice, for the comfort of the thing, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to search one out and light it. He merely stood still, perfectly still, waiting in silence.

Sano wasn’t far off. He’d stopped at a point just out of sight of this bridge that seemed to hold special significance to him, and Saitou had come here to wait without even taking care not to let Sano see him following. And here he waited.

He tried not to think about Sano, tried not to think about the situation or the last few months or the possible future. But the burning sun and its unpleasant effect on his body in a relatively heavy jacket, the coruscating whiteness of the river water, the case he was currently working on and the harm Chou might do it while left alone, the state of the country in general… none of it could take his thoughts off Sano. Just as the officer had been unable to do anything recently, even sleep, without thinking of Sano, so Sano dominated his thoughts all the more in this crucial moment.

What would he do if the young man went through with his plan, went back to the dojo and the clueless, undeserving Battousai? Wait around like a faithful hound in case he might have a chance at second place? No, never. He was Saitou Hajime, and he could deal with this as he’d dealt with any pain or loss he’d ever experienced. If Sano rejected him, he would leave Tokyo and move on. He’d been alone for years; he could do it again.

And yet, if Sano did go through with his plan, and was, as Saitou believed he would be, rejected by Himura, he would emerge from the dojo heartbroken and probably in greater need of support than he’d ever been. Could Saitou bear to abandon him at such a moment? Just because the plan was idiotic didn’t mean Sano would suffer any less when it failed.

But approaching him at that point, even purely as a friend offering comfort, would be like pressing his suit, taking advantage of Sano’s frame of mind to insinuate himself as a replacement for the originally desired prize. There were many circumstances under which Saitou would have no objection to such underhanded methods in pursuit of a worthwhile end, but in this case his pride would not allow it. He would not be satisfied with attentions from Sano under any pretenses not completely straightforward. He would not take second place, and he would not take advantage.

But if Sano needed him…

Finally he lit another cigarette, using jerky, irritable movements and viewing the package and matches only imperfectly through the burn spots on his eyes. Then he turned back toward the water and continued to damage both his vision and his lungs.

Not quite knowing what to do was an unusual state for him. He was half inclined to go seek Sano out, half to go home. Which was the wisest course he couldn’t tell, and the awareness that nothing he did was likely to make much difference, that the outcome of this situation lay entirely out of his lands, made the decision seem pointless in any event. He was Saitou Hajime, who had outwaited enemies in the most uncomfortable of circumstances and whose work often required immeasurable patience… but this extended ignorance, he thought, might well kill him.

How long he’d been standing here he wasn’t sure — it could have been minutes or hours — but eventually he felt as if he was at last ready to move. Where he would go and what he would do he likewise wasn’t sure, but the moment finally seemed right. So he lifted his hand to toss what remained of his latest cigarette into the water unfinished before he turned to walk away, but found himself frozen as a figure appeared in the corner of his eye and footfalls sounded across the planks of the lengthy bridge.

He knew Sano’s tread as well as his own, and he thought his heart slowed with each step toward him until it stopped entirely. He ached to look, to see the noontime brightness picking out the subtle differences of shade in Sano’s hair, gilding his smooth skin, sparkling in his eyes, but he didn’t move. He couldn’t move. What he might see in those eyes when he turned his own in that direction kept him paralyzed. He was Saitou Hajime, dependent on no other person for his own fulfillment, and yet he could not move.

These continual reminders of his identity were having little effect. The terrible, wonderful presence nearly at his side was enough to make him forget himself in an instant.

Hotter even than the July sun, ready to burn Saitou into nothingness with his verdict, ready to send him from this place in agony, Sano paused a few feet away for several moments without a word. Finally he came to lean on the railing beside Saitou, reaching out a casual hand to nab the forgotten cigarette from dangling gloved fingers. “So,” he said after a long drag, “why the hell did you wait so long to tell me?”

Under other circumstances the question might have been ambiguous, but here Sano’s tone and the language of his body made its meaning plain. And as if Saitou had been entirely suffused with anxiety so great it was almost despair, swollen and tight with it, he seemed now to feel this wretchedness draining out of his sensitized tissues and spirit and dissipating. He was conscious of relief in every part of himself, every muscle and bone, every corner of his mind; it left him embarrassingly weak. And yet his motions were strong and sure, energized by the same outside source that had freed him from his fears, as he turned and reached out.

Crushing, jealously clutching, he drew Sano to him, flush up against him, fitting them together as they were meant to fit, as perhaps they always had been. One hand at the base of Sano’s spine and the other on his neck, Saitou did not allow any space to remain between them as he tilted Sano’s face upward and descended on slightly parted lips with his own. Sano gave a muffled sound of surprise, but the squirming motion of his body was clearly intended only to wedge himself even closer as his own arms circled Saitou’s back and held tenaciously.

Overwhelmed as he was with relief and happiness and desire, Saitou had no other way to express himself at the moment. He could only kiss Sano as he never had before, as he’d never allowed himself to, as he’d never felt the need to, trying to communicate thus what he could not, at present, convey in words: all the fervor and adoration that had been building during the last few months and had now broken over him like a thunderstorm.

Eventually, dizzily, panting, lips swollen and internal temperatures significantly increased, they were forced after some unknown period of time to stop kissing each other, at least for now, and acknowledge that the world around them still existed. Saitou, however, only saw it reflected in Sano’s eyes, which were at the moment extremely bright and clear and still very close to his own, as the two hadn’t loosened their mutual embrace. Sano stared at him with a shocked expression that might presently turn into a grin but at the moment was still too much blown away for anything but astonishment.

“You… never kissed me like that before,” he gasped.

Before Saitou could even reply, he had to kiss him again, but he made it brief this time. Then, “I couldn’t have you staying with me just for the sex,” he explained, every bit as breathless as Sano.

“Shit.” Somehow Sano’s eyes managed to widen even further. “Have you been holding back there too?”

“Come home,” said Saitou, conscious of a thrill like electricity at a phrase that suddenly held an entire new world of meaning, “and I’ll show you.”

***

During a kiss that had seemed to last forever, to promise forever, and yet hadn’t been nearly long enough, Saitou’s feelings had required no clarification, but the fact remained that Sano couldn’t read Saitou nearly as well as Saitou could read him. As they embarked on the long walk across town, Sano couldn’t shake the impression that Saitou was still worried, and he wondered if he was imagining things.

It would make sense, though… he didn’t like to think what his poor wolf must have suffered waiting for Sano to make up his stupid mind. How long Saitou had loved him Sano didn’t yet know — it was one of a number of questions he wanted to ask — but every moment that emotion had been recognizably present in Saitou’s heart while Sano mindlessly pursued someone else must have been a torment. And recovering from that kind of ongoing concern and agitation must take more than just one kiss, especially given that the conclusion Sano had come to had been reached over the course of less than an hour’s reflection.

The silence that settled over them as they walked, however, seemed to forbid speech. The thousand things that needed to be said — reassurances, queries, explanations — busily lined up in Sano’s head and quickly lost patience, but he couldn’t bring himself to say a word. He wasn’t uncomfortable walking next to the officer, but he did feel… well, impossible as he would otherwise have considered it, he really did feel… shy… and he believed the revolutionary nature of the kiss on the bridge had caused it. Their relationship, the entire scope of their interaction, and, in fact, Sano’s whole spinning world had changed… and he doubted what to do or say now.

But the need to reassure Saitou was overwhelming; the thought of him still skirting the edge of fear and sorrow, and Sano doing nothing to steady him, was unbearable. Somehow he had to demonstrate the seriousness of his decision. So he reached out — almost without looking, lest he deepen the blush that already rode his cheeks — and took the closest gloved hand in his own. As he interlaced their fingers, he thought he saw from the corner of his eye an expression turned toward him that seemed to say, “Right out in public, ahou?” Yet Saitou didn’t pull away. In fact he never pulled away, throughout the entirety of that lengthy walk.

As the familiar house came into view, Sano’s heart gave a little throb. “Come home,” Saitou had said. This was home. At the same time, the silence became discernibly heavier and more expectant than before, and Sano wondered what Saitou believed to be the cause of the increasing sweat on his palm that must be palpable through the glove. In any case, he finally disengaged his grip as they went inside, closed the door behind them, and removed their shoes in continued wordlessness.

Sano had to admit he wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted at the moment. Well, he knew of several things he wanted very much, but in what order they should be accomplished and how each should be carried out he couldn’t tell. His body longed for the sex Saitou had promised him — somewhat annoyingly perpetually demanded it, actually — but those thousand things he had to say clamored with equal noisiness in his mind. His heart, full of a variety of emotions, was making the obviously erroneous claim that it would be quite content doing nothing more than simply being here with Saitou, while simultaneously informing him that the unprecedented post-bridge shyness had only become stronger.

With all four doors closed, almost no light shone in this hallway, and Sano had never before felt so grateful for that circumstance. It meant the intensity of his blush couldn’t be seen as Saitou pulled him close in the darkness, though the pounding of his heart would undoubtedly be felt. Saitou didn’t kiss him this time, but drew him into a tight embrace as the silence dragged on. And Sano got the feeling, somehow, that he was still worried. Sano himself was nervous, but that overwhelming need to prove himself and the truth of his feelings was as strong as ever. Words still weren’t quite working, so, until they were, actions would have to do; that at least helped to clarify what the order of events was to be at the moment.

He stepped back out of Saitou’s arms, but, catching hold of one, urged the man toward the door for which the fingers of his other hand fumbled. Then the dim light of the shuttered bedroom filled the passage, and they moved together into it.

Sano caught his breath at the sight of the room, and was at last able to speak. “You left your futon out this morning.”

“Is that really what you want to talk about, ahou?” Though the tone was one of skepticism nothing alien to Saitou, yet there was a hint of evasiveness to this answer — as if he was reluctant to admit to a morning state of mind so distracted and unhappy that he hadn’t bothered to put his futon away… a state of mind that was, perhaps, still lingering in traces.

Instead of forcing Saitou to discuss the unpleasant details of earlier hours, Sano turned to him with a grin. “Your housekeeping’s hopeless without me, isn’t it?” He trailed down the arm he had hold of until he caught Saitou’s hand, then began walking backward onto the futon in question.

“Don’t get too high an opinion of yourself,” Saitou admonished, smiling crookedly as he allowed Sano to pull him down to his knees on the bed.

Kneeling, Sano immediately leaned forward to kiss Saitou. And though this was something he’d done many times over the last couple of months, he was blushing harder than ever now — which probably explained why the kiss started out so soft, though it didn’t stay that way long. For Sano pressed closer eagerly to taste the cigarette flavor of Saitou’s mouth, and Saitou teased Sano’s tongue out with his own.

With so much blood heating his face, that there was any left to form an erection down in the sudden tightness of the wraps beneath his pants was astonishing. Sano’s chest rose and fell rapidly with the intensity of his breaths; and, wanting to get some part of Saitou in between his legs, he squirmed closer to him in an attempt to rearrange their limbs a bit, rendering their kiss messy and difficult to maintain as he moved. The desire he felt to be closer to Saitou was like an explosive force expanding within him… and it was this very desire, seemingly contradictorily, that slowed him.

Because words from earlier, “I couldn’t have you staying with me just for the sex,” had come back to him all of a sudden. Saitou had clearly been teasing with that statement, but the memory of it reinforced Sano’s awareness that his current actions could be interpreted in more than one way and might not be as reassuring as he intended. He throbbed for Saitou in every part of his body, and he fully planned to use that body to convey his emotions… but he had to preface that with words. He couldn’t proceed one step farther in this process, couldn’t so much as kiss Saitou one more time, before he’d done so.

His lips tingled as he drew back, and his heart felt much the same as he looked Saitou in the eye. He found himself abruptly overwhelmed with a feeling of vulnerability like nothing he’d ever experienced even when he’d been specifically encouraging Saitou to attack him. Everything that had gone before had been mere play compared to this moment; with this he would be opening himself up to Saitou, exposing his heart, as he never had. It was a breathtaking sensation.

“I love you,” he said in something of a rush, quietly and hoarsely. “Don’t think, just ’cause I realized it all of a sudden, I don’t mean it. I’m just sorry I didn’t notice sooner.”

Saitou smiled, and if there had previously been any trace of worry in his expression, it had now vanished. “I only realized a few days before you did,” he said. “For once, I’ve been just as stupid as you.”

Sano grinned in return. “I don’t think either of us have been stupid.” He was able to speak more easily now that the soul-baring moment was over. “This shit is crazy; we couldn’t have predicted it.”

The smile on Saitou’s face widened to match Sano’s. “And for once I think you’re right.”

Leaning forward again, Sano half growled as he approached Saitou’s lips, “Why don’t you stop insulting me and fuck me already?”

Saitou’s chuckle was muffled and then cut off completely.

Of all the garments between them, Sano’s gi was historically the easiest to remove, and it wasn’t long before sliding gloved hands had pushed it down off his shoulders and Sano had pulled his arms free so it could be tossed aside. Then he replaced his own hands on Saitou’s neck, where they ran continually up to the man’s ears and chin and back down to just beneath the collar of the blue police jacket. Though he’d actively taken Saitou’s clothing off on numerous occasions and knew exactly what the officer looked and felt like underneath, Sano found himself inexplicably nervous about initiating this process at the moment — and simultaneously hungrier for Saitou’s nakedness, more eager to get at his skin, than he’d ever been before.

And then, in a hasty movement almost impatient, Saitou gave a brief, teasing twist to one of Sano’s nipples, ran one knuckle down the wraps beneath it over stomach and waistband, and took hold of Sano’s erection. Sano stiffened, his lips breaking away from Saitou’s with a groan, at the very unsubtle touch. As Saitou began a massaging motion through the cloth of Sano’s pants, he murmured, “I think you’re even harder than usual.”

Sano’s attempt to answer was an incoherent failure, and where he had previously been working on the buttons of Saitou’s jacket he was now clutching pointlessly. Eventually, in a clumsy-fingered trance of pleasure, he resumed his previous activity, though his aim wasn’t likely to be accomplished any time soon. Presently Saitou turned his full attention to stripping his companion, and Sano took advantage of the brief removal of direct stimulus to hasten his own efforts in that direction as well. He’d barely managed to remove the jacket when Saitou’s arms, returning from shrugging that garment to the floor, encouraged Sano upward so as to shed his pants.

The moment the latter had fallen around his ankles, Sano would have relinquished the standing position, but Saitou held him steady as he rose up on his knees; and suddenly it was Saitou’s mouth rather than his fingers that worked against Sano’s cock, now with minimal material between. The sound of pleasure Sano let out was sharper than before, and his legs trembled and stiffened as the world seemed to be tilting sideways and threatening to take him with it. This made Saitou chuckle, and the vibrations of the laugh tingled against sensitive skin and only increased Sano’s imbalance. His hands came down heavily on Saitou’s shoulders as he struggled not to fall right over.

Gloves, soft but rougher than the hands they covered, lightly brushed against Sano in one spot after another, teasing, as Saitou deftly unwound the wrappings around Sano’s abdomen and crotch. No sooner was Sano’s erection freed to throb in the open warming air than Saitou’s tongue ran along it, eliciting further absurd noises from Sano’s throat and more pronounced trembling of his legs. Then, though Sano wouldn’t have thought there had been a chance for Saitou to remove his gloves (not that he was probably observing time properly at the moment), bare, calloused hands were exploring his exposed buttocks and the space between them, making it nearly impossible for him not to writhe.

In response to growing pleasure he thought soon must become overpowering, Sano forced himself to make the somewhat half-hearted protest, “You’re gonna… make me come… way early… like that.”

Again Saitou chuckled, with much the same effect as before — an effect that was augmented by the vibrations of his words: “I want you to come early. Then you can come again late.” And so saying, he took the head of Sano’s cock in his mouth and began sucking it deeper in.

At this, Sano’s fingers dug into Saitou’s shoulders, and he made another inelegant noise. This was followed by a few more, voluntary sounds, which had been intended as words but didn’t come out resembling anything of the sort. Eventually, though, he managed to articulate more or less comprehensibly, “Rather… have you… inside me… better that way…”

“Hmm,” Saitou said, wringing an inadvertent groan from Sano once more. The officer drew back so as to disengage his lips and tongue, then remarked, “I can’t say no to that.” He licked the tip of Sano’s erection again briefly before he added, “We’ll see if you can last that long.”

Determined to prove he could, Sano was nevertheless unsure; he was so affected by Saitou’s stated intention to make him come multiple times, by the awareness that Saitou specifically wanted to give him pleasure, that every touch threatened to send him over the edge. It came extremely close when Saitou’s fingers, on returning to the crevice between Sano’s buttocks, proved now to be slick with oil that eased their quick slide into the opening there.

In fact the only thing that kept Sano from orgasm was the sudden distracting mental query as to why the oil had been near the futon at all. Whenever they weren’t actually busy fucking, it was always put away neatly in the cabinet. The room didn’t stretch far in either direction, but the cabinet was definitely too distant to reach from here… so the jar must already have been on the floor nearby.

The ensuing theory — that Saitou must have had some personal use for it very recently — would have been enough to make Sano come hard as the mental image of Saitou masturbating hit him like a hot blow, but for the accompanying pathos at the thought of the man he loved attempting in desperate loneliness to recall physical sensations that were all he had left of someone he believed he might never see again.

Prompted by this miserable image, “I love you,” Sano gasped even as Saitou’s fingers pushed deeper inside him.

“And I love you.” Saitou sounded as if he would like to know why Sano had felt the need to make that statement just at that particular moment, but he didn’t ask; he just licked Sano’s cock again as if he wanted something less comprehensible instead. He got it. It wasn’t merely the tongue, though, or even the fingers; it was the words. Sano had never realized how amazing it could feel to hear them like this, to exchange that declaration in such a context. It rendered all of this so much more meaningful, as if they were operating on a totally new level. Now more than ever he wanted Saitou inside him.

And it was time, as evidenced by the withdrawal of fingers and Saitou shuffling backward slightly into a cross-legged position right at the end of the futon. Gratefully Sano dropped to his knees even as Saitou unfastened his own belt and the buttons of his pants. Before he could bring out the instrument with which he would more thoroughly penetrate and pleasure Sano than his fingers could, Sano growled, “You let me do that,” and pushed Saitou’s hands aside.

Yet again Saitou chuckled, though the sound disappeared as Sano leaned forward and kissed him while his hands dove into the blue pants and found what he sought. He thought as he did so that Saitou, too, was harder than usual. Never had he loved any texture as much as the hot, silky skin of Saitou’s cock, and couldn’t help rubbing it up and down, smearing the pre-ejaculate from the tip as far across the length as it would go. Of this substance he could taste traces of his own in Saitou’s mouth, and he could feel the moan in Saitou’s throat as he continued to massage his erection with one hand while the second pushed impatiently at his pants.

He had to break off the kiss a moment later in order to look around for the oil jar, and while his head was turned Saitou began mouthing his jaw and neck. Locating the lubricant and scooping some messily up to dribble onto Saitou’s cock, Sano rubbed the latter down again — partly to ensure even coverage, but partly just because he wanted to return the pleasurable teasing Saitou had given him.

Saitou groaned, and his teeth closed on the flesh of Sano’s shoulder, causing Sano also to make an abrupt noise in surprise. The older man’s hands pulled at the younger’s body, trying to draw him into the closeness they both wanted, and, as Saitou had remarked not long ago, it was an invitation Sano couldn’t deny. He clambered forward fully across Saitou’s lap, ignoring the slight discomfort of a starched waistband and a belt buckle against his exposed flesh, and positioned himself somewhat awkwardly while keeping hold of and guiding Saitou’s erection.

The moment he’d been waiting for was exquisite, and, as he ground down onto the long solid shaft, he felt he was allowing more into his being than just that. Physically the sensation was the same as ever — the stretching tightness and fullness, both somewhat uncomfortable in an absolutely wonderful way — but the feeling of deriving mutual pleasure from taking part of his lover inside him was maddeningly heightened. The awareness of having opened himself to Saitou as never before had only increased, and the intense intimacy this led to was augmented to a nearly unbearable pitch by the certainty that Saitou would not take advantage of that vulnerability. There were times, of course, when any weakness of Sano’s was fair game, but this was not one of them; at the moment, Sano thought, Saitou was every bit as open as he was, relishing this honest show of Sano’s feelings and pleased at a soul-deep level by Sano’s presence.

Overwhelmed by all of this, Sano pressed hard against Saitou in a full-body shiver, flexing around the stiffness that now filled him and giving a helpless groan. This mingled with Saitou’s sound of pleasure, and they more or less stilled with the officer’s hands tense against Sano’s lower back and Sano clutching at Saitou’s shoulders. The messy, hungry kiss that followed did little to stop Sano’s noisy gasping or Saitou’s moan as Sano continued to clench around him and shift in his lap. And when one of Saitou’s hands sneaked into the limited space between them to grasp Sano’s aching erection, Sano went from panting to crying out.

Clearly Saitou’s ability to articulate was in a state similar to his partner’s, but it seemed fairly sure that what he whispered roughly into Sano’s ear was along the lines of, “Is this what you wanted?”

Sano felt as if he’d been stripped not just of his clothes, but right down to his most sensitive organs, and once again the consciousness of Saitou’s devotion to his pleasure seemed to lance straight into his bared heart — which was, of course, connected directly to his entire sexual system. There was absolutely no way he could respond coherently to the question that had affected him so strongly, but Saitou seemed to understand that the answer was a riotous affirmative. As he pumped his oil-slicked hand up and down Sano’s length, he growled something that sounded very much like, “Then come for me.”

At times Sano didn’t enjoy being ordered around by Saitou, but now he did as he was told. With a cry, stiffening, clutching at Saitou tightly, Sano let the ecstasy spread explosively across his body and the less physical realms of thought and emotion that appreciated it, perhaps, even more.

Upon returning from the prickling mists of insensible pleasure to the more mundane but still astonishingly enjoyable world he knew, Sano found Saitou slowly kissing his neck beneath his upturned chin. And as Sano looked down again, Saitou transferred his attention to the young man’s lips, leisurely working them open, trailing his tongue over them and over Sano’s. His movements seemed smug, somehow, and he was still hot and solid inside Sano’s ass — and the fact that he, yet unsatisfied, was so pleased with having brought Sano so hard made Sano shudder and cling to him again.

Though this current position, seated and entwined, was a little awkward, Sano didn’t want to move from it just yet. He didn’t want to move at all, in fact, savoring the fading throb of orgasm, and couldn’t be sure how long he sat flush against Saitou breathing in the scents of the hot air. Moreover, he loved the feeling of precision that came with penetration in such a position — they way they fit together so perfectly, as if they’d been cut from a single pattern of the same material — and how even the minutest motion tested the boundaries of that connection and reaffirmed it with little jolts of sensation.

He also loved — particularly loved — how Saitou reacted to each of those minute motions, those little jolts. Sano was very tight around him since coming, and even the movement of his calming breaths seemed to tug at the hardness inside him and make Saitou moan.

“So…” Sano said at last, softly, when his mouth was free for a moment. “Was I really pathetic that first night?”

“Yes,” replied Saitou at a whisper. He was unfastening the last of the wraps around Sano’s upper body — unnecessarily, since they covered nothing relevant to the task at hand, but Sano did not begrudge it him.

Slowly he squirmed, reveling in the fullness and solidity and, most of all, how affected his lover was. “Really?”

Saitou’s hands clenched almost convulsively against Sano’s back, and his whisper was broken as he replied again, “Yes.”

Sano stopped his teasing movements and scowled. “I thought for sure you were just being an asshole when you said that.”

“You…” Saitou kissed the corners of Sano’s pouting lips. “…were an awkward scared virgin who was thinking about someone else and came after about thirty seconds.” As he drew back a bit and observed Sano’s increased glower, he grinned and added, “And I enjoyed it very much. You could have done a lot worse and I would probably still have enjoyed it.”

Placated, Sano also determined, now, to wring more distinct praise out of his lover. He ran one hand up under Saitou’s black shirt, which was sticky with Sano’s ejaculate, to pinch one of the officer’s hard nipples even as he started squirming again more pointedly against the hot length that filled him below. “You don’t think I’m pathetic now,” he growled.

“No,” Saitou gasped, his eyes closing briefly and his whole body tensing beneath Sano. “Not at this, anyway.”

Sano couldn’t help laughing. “I’m not even going to ask what you still think I’m pathetic at.” His motion had taken on a rise and fall that began gradually to mimic thrusting. “I’m so not-pathetic at fucking now that you want it all the time.”

“That’s right.” It was half a chuckle and half a groan as Saitou pulled Sano closer against him. The rubbing of Sano’s flaccid cock on Saitou’s stomach as he did this wasn’t entirely comfortable, but that didn’t matter much.

“You can probably never stop thinking about me.”

“Possibly.”

“Even at work when you’re supposed to be thinking about other things.”

“Maybe.”

“And even Aku Soku Zan and all that isn’t as important anymore.”

“You’re getting… too high an opinion of yourself… again…”

Sano grinned. “Just checking.”

Breathless as he returned the expression, Saitou replied, “Ahou.” And as his unblinking gaze bored into Sano’s, there was a feeling of something snapping, as if even the patient, powerful Saitou couldn’t bear this any longer. His arms tensed around Sano and his entire body shifted, and Sano was suddenly propelled downward to land heavily on his back on the futon with Saitou atop him. Then there was barely time for a desperate kiss and some brief disentangling of limbs before Saitou was thrusting into him hard and fast.

Sano’s abruptly shattered thoughts as he shouted in surprise and pleasure had something to do with the idea that if this was what happened when he got Saitou’s cock inside him and started teasing, he would definitely have to try that more often. He wasn’t quite ready for a second erection of his own yet, but in this new heat and speed and intensity — not to mention the awareness that Saitou had been driven to it by Sano’s words and actions — he knew it wouldn’t be too much longer.

A noise of frustration forced its way through the happier ones Saitou was making, and suddenly, dismayingly, he was pulling back — pulling out — and getting to his feet.

The sight of Saitou yanking his clothes off with quick, determined movements was exactly the opposite of disappointing, but Sano was yet compelled to make a disappointed sound at the constriction and emptiness caused by the removal of the hard length that now stood out from Saitou’s bare body beyond Sano’s reach. And Saitou was so desirable, so perfect in every way that mattered to Sano… beautiful, even, if such a word could be thought to apply… from the hair he’d mussed with the removal of his shirt to the scars that dotted his shins — the only scorch marks he’d borne from Shishio’s fortress, as Sano, upon inquiry, had discovered the first night. (‘Horribly burned,’ indeed!) Even the white socks, which often seemed out of place with Saitou’s dark clothes and that now looked downright silly, Sano loved.

At the pitiful noise Sano made, the officer looked down as he kicked his pants aside. And it seemed the complaint had actually been counterproductive, for the quick return movement toward which Saitou’s body had tended was now stilled, and he stood staring in silent pensiveness. The lust in his demeanor had not diminished, but he obviously felt the need to take this moment to scrutinize, from that height, the young man lying propped up on one elbow at his sock-clad feet, naked and ready for him.

Sano’s shyness and the piercing awareness of their increased intimacy was ongoing, and he knew he was blushing as Saitou’s glinting eyes traversed his body. But this was no one-sided or disconnected appreciation; the mutual approval and admiration and desire were palpable between them, tying them together like a hot cord along which thoughts seemed to run from mind to mind without words. It sent a shiver through him that was something like discomfort or nervousness, or what these conditions would be if nearly all unpleasantness were stripped from them.

Saitou’s intent gaze didn’t leave Sano as he dropped to his knees and blindly sought out an auxiliary helping of lubricant, the application of which made him gasp, before crawling forward. Somehow the half smile on his otherwise serious face served to render his entire expression more intense, and Sano groaned not only at the sight of it but at the mere touch of Saitou’s hand on his leg. That second erection was very close now.

And then Saitou was pushing into him again, and Sano was groaning not just in pleasure but in something like relief. Saitou didn’t wait this time, but immediately began thrusting. His skin, now free of encumbrance, slid against Sano’s with hot friction as he curled down atop him and kissed his face with such imprecision it was as if finding his lips was not merely impossible but unthinkable at the moment. Up and around Saitou’s tense back Sano slid his arms, fingers spread wide to feel the shifting of muscle beneath them. Then he drew his knees up as far as they would go and began running his curling toes at random over Saitou’s lower body.

The change this occasioned in the angle of constriction on Saitou’s cock made the wolf groan out his lover’s name in between his panting breaths, and that was enough for Sano, in a prickling rush of sensation, to start becoming hard again. His moan matched Saitou’s, and immediately he tried to press closer to the shifting body above him so as to trap this new erection tightly between them. Unfortunately, this left not quite enough of him against the futon, and Saitou’s next thrust slid him right off one edge.

The floorboards were unexpectedly cool beneath his shoulders, and he gave a little cry of surprise in which was mixed some pleasure, equally unexpected, at the temperature contrast. Saitou laughed breathlessly and, without bothering about the fact that Sano was half off the bed, adjusted his position. He braced himself more firmly with strong arms on either side of Sano, and kept at what he was doing.

Some tiny segment of the burning, spinning, out-of-control part of Sano that claimed to be his mind insisted that later he would have to remember this new angle and try for it again, because it was fabulous. Everything besides Saitou atop him and inside him, Saitou loving him, had faded rapidly from his awareness; he’d practically forgotten his own identity, except as far as he was Saitou’s lover, and didn’t particularly mind. And by the gorgeous expression on his face and the increasingly pleased and eager noises he was making, Saitou seemed to be enjoying it too.

How long this went on Sano couldn’t guess; such mundanities as seconds and minutes (and caring about them) seemed inapplicable to this ecstasy. He held tightly to his beloved, moved with him, felt with him, and nothing else really mattered. And then, as that full-body tingle of second orgasm swept through him, compelling him to cry out in an attempt (not very successful) at Saitou’s name, he tightened every part of himself that was locked to Saitou, clenching most notably and somewhat painfully where Saitou still moved inside him. It made his outburst of pleasure even louder, in which he was joined by his partner as Saitou ground into a suddenly much smaller opening. Saitou quickened his pace for the last few deep thrusts it took him to come as well, with a moan as formless as Sano’s had been.

They celebrated this accomplishment with a few kisses almost exhausted and certainly uncalculated, then lay mostly still, breathing hot mist against each other’s skin for quite some time. Things besides Saitou and Saitou’s body and Saitou’s love were reminding Sano that they existed, and he wanted to laugh as he discovered how well he and Saitou together seemed to fit into them. Everything was perfect right now, even if they were still lying half off the futon and had, he was fairly sure, spilled the oil jar at some point.

Eventually, with a sigh and the kind of wincing care he never exhibited under any other circumstances, Saitou lifted himself slowly out of direct contact with Sano as he pulled gradually out of him. Then he shifted so that when he settled again, it was lying properly on the bed, and he pulled at Sano to join him. Sano squirmed over and into the arms that awaited him, pressing back against Saitou’s hot flesh and kissing him briefly on the neck before stilling with an echoing sigh. They fell silent, except for breaths calming only in their own good time, and Sano, analyzing the silence as he had often done since he’d met Saitou in the street that day that seemed so long ago, classified it as ‘exquisite.’

All silences, even the most beautiful, must end eventually, especially between two such men, and Sano didn’t mind when he felt he couldn’t refrain from speaking any longer. “So you weren’t lying. You really were holding back before.”

“Because I was trying to simulate the boring sex I imagined you having with Himura.”

Later Sano would have to explore the interesting idea of Saitou imagining him having sex with Kenshin. At the moment, however, the reference was extremely awkward. “Shit, please don’t mention Kenshin at a time like this.”

“Good.” Saitou sounded very pleased as he ran a hand up and down Sano’s back in response to the younger man’s shudder. “I’d rather have you thinking exclusively about me anyway.”

“You might want to be careful… I can get kindof obsessive…” Though Sano grinned as he said it, there was a touch of embarrassment to the warning.

“I’ve seen how you can get when you think you’re in love; I’m very interested in how you get when it’s real.”

“You’ll probably still think I’m an idiot, though.”

“Of course. I wouldn’t love you half as much if you weren’t.”

“I’m going to quote you on that.” Sano wondered if he would be receiving nearly this many declarations of love once the current atmosphere of intense emotional connection between them had faded, and believed keeping this latest one firmly in mind would be extremely useful in the future when Saitou was talking down to him as usual.

“I’m sure you are,” Saitou chuckled.

Sano angled his face upward to look into Saitou’s, and found the older man smiling fondly at him. He smiled back, upon which Saitou nipped at the tip of his nose and then kissed it. Sano kissed him back, but on the mouth, and then drew away with a thoughtful expression. “You know what you never have showed me?” he mused.

“Hmm.”

“How to fuck you.”

“No… in the previous context it seemed unnecessary.”

“This is not the previous context.”

Saitou’s eyes narrowed. “It certainly isn’t. Do you think you can handle more lessons from me?”

“I’m pretty sure I could spend the rest of my life figuring out better ways to be with you.” The lightness of Sano’s tone did not hide the fact that he meant this statement, in all seriousness, on multiple levels.

Again Saitou smiled at him. “Well, we’ve discovered you can be taught, so I think it’s worth a try.”

***

Sano’s gorgeous new life (which, honestly, almost mirrored the old life, except that he understood it better) had progressed only a few days before he ran into Kenshin. He hadn’t expected this quite so soon — he’d believed nothing but the wedding itself, which he obviously couldn’t miss, could tear him away from Saitou for the next long while, but the work of Mibu no Ookami waited for no man and didn’t always keep the most convenient hours for newly declared lovers. The fact that Saitou was likely to be out all night drove Sano from home with afternoon just turning to evening; visiting the dojo wouldn’t help with the pining and worrying that would torment him later when he went to bed alone, but it could at least prevent him from starting in on those pastimes several hours earlier than absolutely necessary.

Kenshin was just emerging from the main doors with a shopping bag over his arm, and Sano immediately reflected how funny it was that, only a few days before his marriage, nothing had changed for the rurouni. Somewhat unthinkingly, he stepped forward and remarked on this aloud — which was fortunate, because after that thought came a whole slew of others that he had to work through before he could possibly speak again.

Perhaps nothing had changed for Kenshin, but everything had changed for Sano. He almost couldn’t believe he’d previously considered himself in love with this man. Of course he loved him — in fact, a warm wave of affection washed through Sano as he looked Kenshin over now — but it was a comradely love, even a brotherly love, and that he could ever have mistaken it for anything else seemed absurd. Sure, looking with less bias now than before, Sano could still admit Kenshin to be damned attractive (though ‘tall and lean’ took a firm first place on his list of desirable physical attributes these days), but this was nothing more than an impartial observation such as he might make about anyone he met. There was no trace of active desire.

What there was was guilt, and even a certain measure of horror. The awkwardness Sano had planned to thrust upon Kenshin had been unkind and unfair, and the heartbreak and betrayal he’d callously declared perfectly appropriate for Kaoru had been unforgivable. How grateful he was that they knew nothing of it! How immeasurably more grateful he was that Saitou had snapped him out of his lengthy trance of inconsiderate stupidity before friendships could be strained or even destroyed. Saitou hadn’t rescued him merely from emotional turmoil, but from actually making a worse person of himself. Not that having considered it in the first place didn’t weigh pretty heavily yet… but at least now Sano had the chance to improve, to avoid a repetition of such reckless thoughtlessness in the future. Thank god, once again — and Saitou! — that Kenshin and Kaoru would never know.

In direct contrast to the mixed nature of these feelings, Sano was struck by a straightforwardly pleasant irony in the reflection that he had originally intended to get to Kenshin by way of Saitou, then ended up doing just the reverse. It only made the sight of Kenshin, regardless of any other emotions simultaneously called up, that much more welcome to Sano’s eyes. He could make amends, whether or not Kenshin and Kaoru guessed what for or even that he was doing it. He’d been learning a lot lately; surely he could learn to be a better friend too.

At the moment, Kenshin was wrapping up his explanation of what he needed to shop for and why it was necessary that he rather than Kaoru do it; and, though Sano hadn’t caught most of the exact words, he could easily read his friend’s mood.

“I’m glad you’re happy, Kenshin,” he said with earnest sincerity. “Really glad.” It was all he could do not to ask how he could help keep things that way, which would just sound silly.

“Thank you,” said Kenshin, equally intent. Then he gave his companion a brief, sidelong look whose meaning Sano didn’t recognize until Kenshin continued in a somewhat cautious tone, “And you, Sano? It looks as if you have made up with Saitou, so I assume things are going well for you…”

Torn abruptly and violently from schemes of better friendship and personal improvement, Sano stilled with a jerk and stared, gaping, as Kenshin kept walking a step or two before stopping as well. Hoarse and quiet, Sano echoed, “‘Made up with…'” and could say no more.

Turning to face his friend, Kenshin looked as if he regretted having decided to ask. “If you would rather not talk about him…”

“No, that’s not…” Sano cleared his throat and shook his head vigorously, feeling a blush creeping over his face to replace what had probably been an unusual paleness there a moment before. “I just… didn’t know you knew about us.”

“I couldn’t be sure I was interpreting things correctly,” Kenshin admitted, “until that night at the Haiirobou, when you were so embarrassed when I asked whom you had been training with. I thought you must be worried I would disapprove.”

This conversation had gone in a direction so completely, so stunningly unexpected that Sano could say nothing but, “And… do you?”

“I did at first.” Kenshin sounded apologetic. “Especially because you did not come to see us very often, and seemed so agitated whenever you did. But I believe I am used to the idea now. It is your choice, after all.”

They’d resumed walking, and Sano was speechless. Kenshin trusted him in a way he hadn’t done Kenshin the honor of trusting him: to make a rational decision about his own love life. And he’d known all along — the entire time Sano had been training and scheming and deliberately overlooking sense and morality — all along that Sano was involved with Saitou. As Sano perceived clearly the precise depth of the abyss he’d so narrowly avoided flinging himself into, the true scope of the embarrassment and misery he’d only been saved from by the care of another, he was hardly able to breathe for horror and chagrin.

“Saitou was stalking around for a week or so as if he was ready to kill someone,” Kenshin went on when Sano said nothing. “That is, he always looks like that, but this was worse than usual. But when I’ve noticed him over the last few days, he has appeared much happier.” In a tone of pitying resignation he added, “I assume there will be plenty of fights between the two of you, but, once again, it’s your choice… and after that business with Hasekura, I did worry less.”

Sano still had no grip whatsoever on this discussion, and could only repeat blankly, “‘Business with Hasekura?'” The name was vaguely familiar; he thought he remembered Saitou mentioning it at some point… one of the government officials on the ‘to be investigated eventually’ list, wasn’t he?

Now Kenshin gave him an inquiring look that turned quickly to one of surprise and even disbelief. “You did not know?”

“I still don’t know. What are you talking about?”

“Saitou never said anything at all about Hasekura Susumu?”

“I’ve heard the name, but he never told me anything specific about…” Sano’s presence of mind got no support from the nearly astonished expression on Kenshin’s face.

“Sano, the man you fought in the street that night — the same night I mentioned, when we went to that restaurant — his father is Hasekura Susumu, of the Ministry of Finance. Hasekura was so angry at what you did to his son that he was going to bring charges against you — you really know nothing about this?”

Mutely Sano shook his head.

“The police were searching for you for a week. They came to the dojo almost every day.”

“But…” Thinking back, Sano remembered that he hadn’t left Saitou’s house for quite some time after the incident in question. “But Saitou knew where I was that entire time!”

“I suspected as much when he suggested you were in hiding. He contacted both me and the young woman we met that night for an unofficial hearing. Any charges against you were dismissed when the police chief heard two witnesses describe the circumstances and the fact that the Hasekura boy actually attacked you first. And you will be happy to hear that he was ordered to stay away from her.”

Sano nodded blankly. It was good news, but nothing he could concentrate on at the moment.

His mind reeled and his heart throbbed with the thought of what Saitou had done for him. The officer had gone out of his way to free Sano from trouble he must have assumed had arisen during the pursuit of a goal he considered ill-judged in the first place. He’d taken time from the busy schedule of essential work he had to do for the country to smooth over that little issue for Sano, who at that point had not even been his lover. Saitou’s sense of justice had undoubtedly come into play, but Sano liked to think consideration for a friend had also been a part of why he’d taken such pains. And he hadn’t said a single word about it — had neither held it over Sano’s head as a favor that would one day need to be repaid, nor taunted Sano for getting himself into such a situation.

“Thank you,” Sano managed at last. “For telling me, I mean.” In the midst of his shock at everything that had just been revealed, he was conscious of a hot joy spreading through him as he considered everything he would be saying to Saitou when they next met. First there was this little matter of secretly rendered services to address… Saitou might never have established it as a matter of future repayment, but would be paid for it, with interest. And then there was the fact that Kenshin had known about them all along — known about them even before there was really a ‘them’ to know about — and held his tongue the entire time. This would probably amuse Saitou to no end.

Lastly, the point Sano could least likely express aloud but that he would surely find some other way to show his appreciation for, there was the unexpected newly arisen idea that Saitou, of all people, might be able to teach him to be a better friend. For Sano’s new goal of making amends to Kenshin and Kaoru and himself as true to them as they deserved, it appeared he needed to look no farther than the man that had helped him with his previous goal, the man that had saved him from destroying that friendship entirely, the man that had already taught him so much. The man he loved with all his heart and only respected more with every new thing he learned.

There was a big stupid grin on his face as he considered this. Kenshin, probably thinking he knew the reason for the expression — and certainly understanding at least part of it — smiled in return as he said, “You are certainly welcome, Sano.” And together in silence they walked on into the evening.


He Can Be Taught was one of the first Rurouni Kenshin stories I ever wrote. It was quite popular as I originally posted it, and won the 2002 Rurouni Kenshin Readers’ Choice Award for the yaoi category. Then, in 2013, as I reread it intending just to touch it up a bit, I realized it needed rewriting entirely. The result is what you find here.

The events of the story have remained completely intact, though a couple of them may be approached from a slightly different angle now. The biggest overall change, besides a quality of prose that I consider much better and the transition from chaptered to nonchaptered, is that certain interesting ideas only teasingly touched on in the original have been expanded in the rewrite. There’s a greater depth to it, very much for the better, I believe. And though nearly every other RK fanfiction I ever wrote was based on the manga rather than the stupid anime, in this case I found anime-specific references too numerous (and generally too innocuous) to do away with.

I’ve rated this story , one of the few perfect fives on my site. I consider the romantic development in this rewrite the best and most touching I’ve ever written.


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Chikki
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Chikki

You don’t know how happy I am to stumble upon your site. SaiSa was one of the first pairings that got me into yaoi, and rereading this fic after so many years proves that our boys timelessly just so perfect together. This fic feels all cleaned up and I love how smoothly everything flows. Thank you for this. This fic just made my day. Can’t wait to reread all of your writing! :)

Sagara-hime
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Sagara-hime

I actually read your original version of He Can Be Taught over a decade ago and became a fan of SaiSa. Netflix recently added Rurouni Kenshin to their online shows, and as I nostalgically rewatched my favorite anime of all time, I was reminded of some of the awesome SaiSa fiction I had read so long ago. Naturally I searched for this fic first. I’m so happy with all the revisions you’ve made! I love all the emotions you evoke in your writing, and this will continue to be one of my favorite SaiSa stories. Thank you for keeping this… Read more »

catsbell
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To this day, this remains my very favorite SaiSa story. It’s believable. It follows canon in a very natural progression. It doesn’t get over-the-top. There are glimpses of unapologetically immature Sano as well as his development into a (more) responsible human being. Saito slowly realizes his feelings and loses his iron grip on his control (always flail inducing). We learn Kenshin’s kind of just human (he’s so overrated). I could read this over and over and never tire of it. I feel like This Summer, Every Summer is a sort of far in the future glimpse of where this relationship… Read more »