The Hanged Man Sees the Ace of Cups Inverted

Saitou hadn’t felt any urgent need to be here in person, since he could have accepted Chou’s report and been satisfied; but he’d happened to have a few hours free, and felt this might be entertaining.

Strange situations keep arising whenever Sano gets drunk. It’s easy enough for a curious Saitou to set up the right circumstances to learn what’s going on… but then he has to deal with what’s going on.

The Hanged Man Sees the Ace of Cups Inverted

If Saitou were inclined to add things up on his fingers as that idiot Sagara Sanosuke probably was, he would soon need two hands to enumerate the occurrences of this event.

Aforementioned Sagara Sanosuke seemed to have a penchant for drinking to excess; this Saitou had been to some extent aware of from previous research, and probably could have guessed based on what little he understood of the moron’s personality. Now he knew for certain. And given how often he’d stumbled upon evidence thereof, there must be a far greater number of times this had happened when he hadn’t been around.

Inevitably, outside some bar, a group of rowdy young men fresh from drinking within, Sanosuke among them, would catch sight of Saitou or otherwise get wind of his presence, and would hustle the drunken roosterhead away in such haste it was as if they thought the one represented gunpowder and the other an open flame. This seemed no stretch as a comparison, whether or not Saitou was lighting a cigarette at that moment, but the rapidity, evident concern, and consistent determination with which they carried out their task had not ceased to surprise him. He’d even caught statements such as, “It’s him,” or, “There he is,” and, “Get Sano away,” or, “Don’t let Sano see him.”

In one instance, Saitou had even paid a visit to the Kamiya Dojo, mostly to bring a message to Himura from the police chief but a little to see whether Battousai might mention something interesting and explanatory about his volatile friend. He’d chosen just the time of evening and just the day of the week on which he most expected to find Sanosuke there, and he hadn’t been disappointed: the idiot’s raised voice could be made out even beyond the outer wall, though the precise words (assuming there were any) remained unintelligible.

Himura had greeted him somewhat wearily, and stepped through the outer door and closed it behind him for the subsequent conversation as if eager to shut out the noise. Naturally Saitou had dealt with the more important, business-related discussion prior to pursuing an inquiry pertinent only to his own idle interest, and Himura had seemed to relax a trifle as they spoke on police-related matters. But when Saitou then casually asked, “That’s Sagara in there?” Himura had become very tense indeed.

“Yes, it is.” He even raised his voice a trifle, as if hoping to drown the sound of his friend’s ranting: a hopeless task. “I’m afraid he behaves very irrationally when drunk.”

“Sou ka,” was Saitou’s response. “As opposed to?”

Having put all this evidence together, his educated guess was that Sagara longed so desperately to fight him again that he couldn’t keep it to himself, particularly when out of his senses, and his friends had wisely decided on a course that prevented the two ever meeting. Yet something seemed strange about the affair, and when the count had indeed progressed to two hands, Saitou’s curiosity had risen to a pitch that, if it didn’t match Sagara’s apparent frenzy, did at least occupy his thoughts on an irritatingly regular basis. Fortunately, he had more and better resources than the roosterhead did for gaining satisfaction in such a situation. Not that he would ever tell Chou he included him in that category.

It required little arrangement, though his instructions were detailed, so within a number of days suitable for counting on only one hand, Chou informed him the mission was a go.

And now Saitou sat tucked away somewhat uncomfortably behind and beneath the bar at a drinking establishment with restaurant pretensions and employees trying very hard not to eye him askance whenever they passed.

The first sign that his wait was not in vain came in the form of Sanosuke’s voice approaching the bar. “–still don’t really believe it. Pretty sure poison’s not your style, but I’ll be watching everything I drink.”

“‘sides that I don’t believe that,” Chou replied, hopping up onto a seat, “you’re kindof an asshole, you know that? I say, ‘We got off on the wrong foot and I wanna make nice,’ and you think I’m trying to kill you?”

“Well, I’m here, though, right?” Sanosuke heaved himself more slowly onto the stool beside Chou; as planned, they would be drinking just across from Saitou’s place of concealment.

“Only ’cause I offered you sake,” Chou grumbled. And either this deception fit him extremely well, or he truly would have preferred to make nice with Sanosuke rather than connecting with him in this underhanded manner and on orders.

“And you’ve got no idea,” said Sanosuke, reverting to cheer, “what you’ve gotten yourself into.”

“Think you can out-drink me, do you?”

Sanosuke gave a derisive chuckle. “Pale-ass skinny guy like you? Not even a contest.”

“The word is ‘lanky,'” Chou drawled. “And for your information–” here his tone dropped so low Saitou almost couldn’t make out the words– “if I ever let you get a look down south, you’d find out I bleach my hair up north.”

Saitou had not known this.

Sanosuke roared with laughter. “Well, lemme know if you ever need help finding Kyuushuu, and I’ll get a search party together.”

“The same one you have to use?”

Silently Saitou sighed as the bartender walked away and the two young men began toasting each other’s dicks.

It took very little sake to loosen Sanosuke up, though the banter had undoubtedly helped. It seemed Chou had won himself a friend, whether he’d genuinely wanted to or not. Saitou found that this annoyed him somewhat. It shouldn’t be that easy.

They chatted about the experience in Kyoto, with a somewhat disturbing frankness on Chou’s part in relation to his evil deeds and an impressive willingness on Sanosuke’s to forgive and offer second chances. And Sanosuke rambled for a bit about the dramas within his circle of friends: mundane stuff mostly, though when he switched from his hooligan buddies to the group at the dojo, it did become slightly more interesting. Chou gave what news he had on the remnants of the Juppongatana, which was little enough. Their speech became simultaneously more flamboyant as time (and evidently an abundance of drink) passed.

Then they started talking about swords.

Saitou absolutely should have been expecting that.

Chou always waxed so enthusiastic on this subject; Saitou could only hope he wasn’t as drunk as he sounded, had followed his superior’s orders to allow his companion a large majority of the sake, and wouldn’t continue on the topic of tsuba and habaki and menuki and mekugi and kissaki and boke until he went comatose. Saitou had also ordered Chou to bring up his name once Sanosuke was well intoxicated, if the roosterhead didn’t do it without prompting, and, in some impatience for this next step, cramped under the counter, Saitou drummed his fingers on his own tsuba. He’d been forced to stand the sword up diagonally in his lap.

In fact Chou had no need to implant the idea (as Saitou had rather been expecting, given the nature of the post-bar scenes he’d already witnessed), for once Sano had reached the proper state, he seemed to veer that direction as if it were the most natural thing in the world. However, the words he actually spoke seemed nearly the least natural thing in the world: “God, I miss Saitou.”

A clunk sounded just above Saitou’s head, and a sudden coughing and spluttering farther up and back. “What did you say?” Chou wondered wetly.

Sanosuke’s voice was slurred. “It’s just not the same without Saitou around kicking my ass and calling me names all the time.”

There was a moment of baffled silence. Chou didn’t necessarily know for a fact his boss sat compactly behind the bar — though if he didn’t at least suspect, he had less sense even than Sanosuke — since the original explanation for this mission had been something along the lines of ‘checking up on Sagara’s vendetta and making sure he won’t get in our way…’ but Saitou could imagine not merely what Chou’s face must look like at this juncture, but also his impression of what the hidden listener’s reaction must be.

Honestly, Saitou hadn’t felt any urgent need to be here in person, since he could have accepted Chou’s report and been satisfied; but he’d happened to have a few hours free, and felt this might be entertaining. Suddenly, he didn’t regret his presence. This sounded like something he might need to hear with his own ears.

Chou had finally gotten around to responding to Sanosuke’s latest statement. “Didn’t you just meet him before you left town? You never had him around when you were doing normal shit before, did you?”

“Yeah, but I got so used to him. I always think I’ll run into him somewhere, and he’ll call me ‘ahou,’ and we’ll have a nice argument…” Sanosuke’s tone became much more dejected as he added, “‘Cept he’s dead.”

I can call you ‘ahou,'” Chou offered, showing great discernment in not contradicting this coroner’s declaration.

“Yeah, but you’re not him.”

“So what makes the difference?”

“Saitou was…” Now Sanosuke sounded distant and dreamy. “He was so tall and… thin, like in a good way. And his face…” But Saitou never knew what the young man thought of his face — he must take what satisfaction he could from being ‘thin, like in a good way’ — for Sanosuke was clearly gulping more sake.

“You know…” Chou said it in an experimental sort of tone. “I’m taller’n anyone, and thin, and my face is way better-looking than his…”

“You’re only tallest cuzza your hair,” Sanosuke mumbled. “Don’t put yourself next to him.”

“Oh, I see how it is!” Chou’s air of being affronted, Saitou was fairly sure, meant nothing in reality.

More sloppy drinking noises, and then, “But, I mean… I mean… Saitou always wannedda make me better, you know?”

Had he? Saitou, shifting slightly in his uncomfortable hiding place, supposed he had.

“He wazzan asshole, but, dammit, underneath he wasn’ that bad. I mean, he was really, really, really good… and he coulda been good to me if only…” Pure despair sounded in the last few syllables, and even a kind of choking at the end.

“You think so?” Chou’s voice held a repressed laughter Saitou hoped Sanosuke wouldn’t recognize.

“Yeah, I mean, we coulda been so good together. He din’ rully hate me. I din’ hate him. ‘Snot fair.”

And Chou mused, “I guess it’s not.”

“An’ even if he din’ ezzactly love me, maybe sometime he woulda… We hadda chance, right? It coulda worked!?”

Saitou could doubt no longer. Sanosuke meant all of this in precisely as romantic a way as he’d hinted at in his first few statements. The officer under the counter was surprised to find his face heating. It startled him too much to process properly just yet, but apparently it could make him blush.

Still restraining his incredulous laughter, Chou tried another experiment as Sanosuke kept drinking. “Yeah, it coulda worked… Just like Shishio-sama’s plan. You know how many men Shishio-sama had? And doing shit all stealthy like he was? There was no reason that shoulda failed. Don’t you think?”

And Sanosuke completely ignored this attempt to change the subject. “I mean!” he said splashily, as if bursting out of his sake with his next thought. “He was so uptight during all that… he was prolly always uptight when he hadda job… I coulda helped him relax… you know… in between…”

“Yeah, I jus’ bet you could.” Chou was grumbling now, and no longer bothering to try passing for drunk. Simultaneously, the baffled amusement had not entirely left his tone, and came out more strongly as he added, “So you guys’d run into each other on the street or something, and he’d call you ‘ahou,’ and you’d have a nice argument… what then?”

“Then ‘e’d kiss me!” Sanosuke said with childish enthusiasm.

Chou laughed out loud this time. “What, right in the street?”

“Yeah, so?” demanded Sano defiantly. “I’da spread for him anywhere!”

The broomhead choked again, guffawing, drowning out whatever Sanosuke said next. The heat in Saitou’s face only increased. This evening had gone so ridiculously far beyond his expectations. The reason Sano’s friends kept hustling him away when the officer drew near had been more than provided. They had wanted to prevent the young man’s flinging himself at Saitou… just not in the way he’d believed.

“All right, all right, all right,” said Chou in grinning haste, able to speak once more. “So say he takes you home instead. Then what?”

“Oh, god,” Sano moaned. “Then we get naked and fuck all night. I’m sure he could puddit in me and gofer hours.”

“You don’t wanna puddit in him?”

“I mean, yeah, acourse, sometimes… we c’d go back an’ forth. Not like I’d ever get tired of it!”

Chou actually pounded on the countertop in his mirth, evidently rendered incapable of speech again.

“Y’r laughing, you bast’rd, but he’s rully…” And Sanosuke actually sobbed. “He’s dead! He’s fucking dead!”

“‘Fucking dead!'” Chou repeated in the midst of his laughter, still obviously draped across the counter.

Fuck you,” Sano replied aggressively.

Breath left Chou’s body abruptly, causing a hiccup in his laughter, and a thud seemed to indicate Sano had pushed him off his stool. It did little to stop the broomhead’s flow of hilarity. He could barely get the words out as he answered, “‘Cept I’m not the one you wanna do that to!”

The sound of someone crashing into something, and a more distant cry of irritation, made Saitou believe that in this situation, Sano was hustling himself away. Angry words accompanied him from the bar, and the officer let out the breath he’d been holding. He stretched his arms as far as they would reach in this cramped space, and prepared to shuffle sideways and rise.

And then a voice above him said, low but audible and still chuckling, “You better watch that pretty ass a’yours, boss. He wants to puddit in you. He finds out you’re still alive, nothin’s gonna stop him.”

To his excessive irritation, Saitou found his blush returning. How on earth could the professed interest, however explicit, of one young idiot do this to him? Not to mention Chou’s inept teasing. Could he face his subordinate like this? The broomhead would only laugh harder.

But if he didn’t get up and follow Sano, the lovesick moron might just die in some embarrassingly stupid way outside the bar. Whatever liberties his imagination had taken with Saitou’s person, he didn’t deserve that. Not when Saitou had arranged this entire meeting in the first place out of casual curiosity.

When he rose from behind the bar like a pop-up toy, subtly stretching stiff muscles and joints, Chou said, “Figured that’s where you– oh, shit, look at your faaaace!” He fell back onto the stool, setting it rocking beneath him with the force of his movement. “He really–” He could barely breathe, it seemed, for laughing. “He really got to–” And for a second time, he fell to the floor.

The bartender, who’d agreed to all of this in advance, didn’t protest at not being paid yet; he undoubtedly felt strongly enough about the future usefulness of having done the police a good turn that he wouldn’t make a fuss. This allowed Saitou to leave the building quietly — or relatively so; Chou was still calling attention to him.

It required very little subtlety to track the roosterhead without being seen. Of course Saitou had considered confronting him, but had immediately dismissed the idea. However Sano reacted to laying eyes on him, it would be too much like taking advantage of a drunk. Still, he’d inevitably embarked on a train of thought that treated the concept of a relationship with the young man, instead of as the shocking far-fetched fantasy of a deranged mind he’d originally considered it, as a realistic possibility.

Some annoyance must follow so enforced a change in attitude, but as the night air cooled his flushed cheeks, he found he could ponder rationally. So as Sanosuke stumbled in some unknown direction, ranting at no one and openly weeping, Saitou tailed him, watched him for signs of collapsing and drowning in the gutter, and pondered.

Sexually, there could be no denying the relationship would satisfy. Saitou’s time in the Shinsengumi had been wild enough to have taught him what he liked and to make him miss having a regular source of physical pleasure. But in spite of Sano’s promising physique and abilities, these days the wolf didn’t take much interest in purely sexual relationships. How would Sano hold up on the more emotional and cerebral end?

As far as Saitou could tell, the idiot enjoyed lazing around, getting drunk, and fighting — but, even allowing the last to be something they could share, there had to be more to him than that. The officer had previously considered him mostly in terms of liabilities and assets to the mission, but now he tried for the first time to assess him on a personal level.

The Bakumatsu had changed Sanosuke’s life, taken friends from him and him from his family; they had at least something in common there. Sano felt betrayed by the Ishin Shishi, and had strong opinions about the Meiji government; there they might also think alike. And the young man’s outrage at the idea of harm or oppression coming to the innocent and weak might well resemble Saitou’s sense of justice far more than it did Himura’s wishy-washy compassion and guilt.

Sano made friends easily, and moved in an extensive circle; he must be fairly pleasant to spend off-time with. And Saitou had to admit, he’d always enjoyed annoying the roosterhead. There had been moments, too, when Sano’s stupidity hadn’t seemed entirely unconquerable. Yes, Saitou thought it safe to say he liked him.

They would need rules, of course. Sano would have to refrain from getting this drunk and rendering himself boring; and in exchange, Saitou would refrain from killing him, perhaps even from merely stabbing him, in their sparring matches. There would undoubtedly be other things, though from what Saitou had just heard, Sano actually secretly enjoyed being called ‘ahou.’

With a fresh surge of irritation he realized he’d shifted from thinking of this as a possibility to actively planning for it. He didn’t even know how he felt about the whole affair, yet he’d jumped ahead to the planning stage. He didn’t even know how Sano felt about the whole affair when in his right mind.

If, on further reflection, Saitou found himself amenable to the idea, he would need to approach a sober Sanosuke and see how the encounter proceeded. For now, since Sano had wound his circuitous way around to what appeared to be his home, Saitou simply watched him inside before turning his steps toward his own. He needed to sleep on this, and certainly Sanosuke did too.

Notwithstanding that sleep did not come quickly, allowing him several hours’ further cogitation that night, the morning found him yet indecisive. He’d gone over the facts a hundred times, and never come to a yes-or-no conclusion. And maybe he merely didn’t want to see how Chou would react to whatever decision he made, so he preferred to leave the matter in the balance to evade it.

Chou would react aggravatingly to his indecision as well, though. He would react aggravatingly to Saitou avoiding the police station today too. The broomhead must be a factor no matter what Saitou did, so Saitou might as well do as he pleased. Not that he’d ever intended anything else; he only needed to figure out what that was.

He kept considering everything he’d overheard Sano say last night — points that, had the young man known it, pled his case remarkably well, especially from someone in his condition. Sano’s life wasn’t the same without Saitou around. Saitou had always wanted to help him improve. Maybe Saitou hadn’t loved him back then, but he could love him. They had a chance. And Sano could help Saitou relax.

The officer’s reason was convinced. But it seemed his emotions or instincts still hesitated, and he couldn’t determine why. Maybe simply because it had been so long since he’d tried anything like this, because he’d become cautious and far more restrained than the captain that had slept with half the Shinsengumi and then gone through two unsuccessful marriages. Because he didn’t know how Sano truly felt. Because he ran the risk of hurting him if it didn’t work out. It seemed here and now, as in Kyoto, he didn’t want serious harm to come to the roosterhead — something else to add to the list of facts in favor of initiating what it appeared they both more or less desired.

Were facts what he needed, though? Or could he admit that his caution and restraint had grown out of a fear of being hurt again himself? That what would really help in this scenario was some means of overcoming them? He would never have Sano’s recklessness, but an extra measure of emotional courage wouldn’t hurt.

There, he’d owned up. He might not ever disclose this information to another living soul, but he felt annoyingly more self-aware. Wasn’t he supposed to be the one helping make Sano better?

Now he absolutely must discover how Sano regarded him. He needed to catch him no later than a drink or two in, and preferably earlier — but not so early as to find him hungover and bitter against the whole world. Would later today be too soon? He didn’t suppose it would make any difference to Sanosuke, and, for his own part, he’d rather get the thing over with than continue to stew about it. Four o’clock or so in the afternoon would find him in Sano’s neighborhood, then.

But it seemed the moron had left his premises even earlier, for Saitou found no sign of him. Knowing every minute that passed raised the likelihood of Sano’s being drunk whenever the officer did manage to locate him, he made a quick tour of the bars where the previous incidents had taken place, but still without any luck. This combined with the uselessness of so many hours spent not at work made for a very frustrating day.

He couldn’t bear the thought of more time off, so the next morning he dressed as usual and headed into the station. It took approximately 45 seconds for his worst fears to be confirmed, for Chou’s behavior was an endless parade of feeble-minded ridicule and curiosity. He’d latched especially onto the phrase ‘puddit in,’ and used it as often as he could in every possible context, with some particularly acrobatic syntax to make it work in some cases. He used it so much that it actually started poisoning Saitou’s frame of mind, so that the wolf began, in the back of his head, trying to frame sentences so the phrase would make sense in them.

He couldn’t decide which was the worst: Chou’s attitude in itself, the fact that he felt secure enough around his intimidating boss not to fear his wrath in expressing it, or Saitou’s own reaction to the continual references to Sano and various things they might do together. Eventually, blushing again, he sent the broomhead out on a half-spurious assignment just to take some distance and puddit in between them.

The workday passed in discontentment and, yes, impatience. He wanted to resolve this and get on with his life, whether or not Sano would be a part of it. He’d already decided to leave early enough to have some chance of finding the young man in the right state; and when he heard Chou’s cheerful voice in the outer room, returning from his task, he acted this resolution in some haste, slipping out of his office and then a back exit.

After yesterday’s fruitless search and at least an hour of the same this afternoon, what was his annoyance when Sano, who presumably wasn’t searching, found him first. Saitou sensed the flare of ki, behind him and abruptly drawing closer, the instant before an outraged voice shouted his name.

He took a relatively deep breath (and puddit in his lungs), and turned to face the figure that came running up. “It’s Fujita in public, ahou.” And there he’d already gone and implied there might be an ‘in private.’

Sanosuke, feet apart and fists clenched, breathing like an angry bull, stopped just in front of the officer and stared at him, wide eyes roving up and down Saitou’s entire frame. And he looked… he looked good. Saitou felt… stirrings.

“It’s really you,” Sano managed at last. “You fucking asshole.”

So far, so normal. “Well observed.”

“You’re alive.”

He was alive. He felt more alive, suddenly, than he had for quite some time. Sanosuke almost glowed with wrath and desirability, and seemed to light up the whole world around him. Saitou couldn’t even gage the temperature of his own cheeks while in range of Sano’s aura. Now more than ever he wanted that dose of emotional courage he’d been considering yesterday. Without it, all he could say was, “I see this is a day for stating the obvious.”

“I’ll make it fucking obvious,” Sano declared through gritted teeth. He stepped forward and gripped Saitou’s jacket, a liberty Saitou allowed more easily than he had the last time Sano had taken it. “I’m a gossip,” he said, and the unexpectedly noncombative words sounded almost comical in his deeply irate tone. “My friends are gossips. Kenshin’s even friends with the police chief, sorta. So how the fuck did not one single one of us know, all this time, that our– that our ally didn’t get blown up in that goddamn fortress?!”

Sano’s face had gone red, but it could be solely with anger. And the feelings he expressed could be merely those he would experience in the same situation over any comrade in arms. No sign yet of particular regard. Perhaps his interest in Saitou really was purely subconscious.

“Shishio was dead,” the officer found himself saying. “I was no longer your ally.”

The brown eyes went even wider, veins beginning to stand out alarmingly, as Sano pushed closer to him and growled, “I paid my respects to you where I thought you fucking died, but you couldn’t respect me enough to let me know you didn’t.”

It had changed to entirely personal pronouns — ‘you couldn’t respect me enough to let me know.’ How absurd for Saitou to be grasping at that as a hopeful sign. “Ahou ga,” he said. “What made you think I respect you at all?”

Sano did not appear hurt, only slightly angrier. He gave Saitou’s jacket a little shake — he couldn’t quite shake the officer himself (physically), for all he tried — and finally let go. “You did,” he stated without stepping back. “You never said it, but the way you treated me changed during that shit.”

And it had, hadn’t it? He’d gone from considering Sano a liability, who must be prevented at all costs from following Himura, to regarding him as a minor asset that might have a part to play before the end.

“You even offered to take my place against Anji,” Sano finished. “You didn’t think I could win, but you didn’t want me to die.”

He had, hadn’t he? It rather seemed that if the roosterhead had worked up an interest and puddit in his subconscious during their time in Kyoto, he wasn’t the only one.

Sano’s eyes were already about as wide as they could be, but his sharp intake of breath expressed his additional wonder as Saitou nodded slowly. “I climbed the burning wreckage of the platform, and then the cliff wall,” he told him. “Then I had to find my way through the fortress and the caves. It was over 24 hours before I made it back to Kyoto, where I had my wounds treated and then slept for almost as long. After that, I started my next assignment.” His gaze focused out of the distance of memory and locked with Sano’s as he inquired, “Is that enough for you?” He didn’t want it to be enough — he wanted Sano to want more from him — and the diminution of rage in that gaze at his words and especially at his nod seemed promising.

“I mean…” Sano pursed his pink lips. “I guess you can’t take back not telling me before, so… yeah. You’re not dead. I’m glad…” Belatedly he tacked on, “…to know,” as if it were too much for him to admit he was simply glad Saitou hadn’t died.

Though this felt like a good ending to the conversation, Saitou couldn’t bear to leave it at that. Evidence pointed to a lack of conscious awareness on Sano’s part, and Saitou’s emotional courage had not yet risen to a level where he could make his own overture; but at the same time, he couldn’t walk away. He felt the tension between them increasing moment by moment, and longed to know what would happen when it became intolerable.

Finally, with some apparent difficulty, Sano forced an unnatural-looking grin. “Well! Since you’re… not dead… and now I know you’re not dead… wanna go get a drink? You know, to celebrate?”

Saitou’s heart throbbed very unusually. Had he misread Sano’s level of self-knowledge? Did that offer mean what he thought it did? Was there a half-suppressed anxiousness in Sano’s eyes as he made it?

And a few drinks — just short of rendering him incoherently violent — would probably grant him exactly the courage he wanted. Yes, to order a drink and puddit in himself seemed the perfect arrangement for finding a solution to the bizarre problem that had arisen between them. There was only one point Saitou needed to clarify first.

“That depends,” he said in as steady a tone as he could command, “on where you want to wake up tomorrow morning.” And as he said it, he felt his face heating once more.

In response to what must be a significant redness, Sano’s eyes went wide again, and a blush of his own spread across his face as he replied hoarsely, “Oh, yeah… just, you know, wherever I end up…” He cleared his throat, and all of a sudden his demeanor hinted at a restrained giddiness that precisely mirrored something Saitou also felt. “Let’s… find a bar.”

“Make it an inn,” Saitou murmured, feeling a little more confident now about such a provocative suggestion but well aware of his intensifying blush as he said it.

For a moment Sano just stared at him, still reflecting Saitou’s rubicundity. Then, apparently unable to speak, he nodded. He turned jerkily and beckoned the officer to follow. And the officer, with just as little grace but anticipating a transition from awkwardness to ease and freedom over the course of the evening, followed. However much effort it took to figure this thing out tonight, Saitou would puddit in.

This fic is dedicated to gimmekensei as a huge thanks for becoming my very first Patron!!

So this story is obviously the preincarnation (if I may so use the term) of Veritas, and I’m a little surprised at myself that I allowed them to come out so similar. And why did I give this one a surer ending? Probably because, despite everything, I still love Saitou & Sano best of all.

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