Threesome?



“What the hell was that?” Sano demanded, startled, as he caught sight of something small and… furry? disappearing into the next room of Saitou’s house, which he’d just entered.

“I assume you’re referring to the cat,” came the officer’s voice from down the hall. “It’s Tokio’s.”

Sano went to where the animal had vanished and scanned the area curiously. “Why’s it here?”

Emerging from the living room with a wry smile, Saitou joined his lover at the bedroom door. “She asked me to watch it while she’s away.”

“Why you? Why can’t she have her servants do it? She probably has a special servant just for looking after the cat, doesn’t she?”

With a brief roll of eyes Saitou replied, “Apparently she thinks I’ll take better care of it.”

At this idea Sano chuckled heartily. “Is that right…”

No cat was visible within the shadowed room before them, but Sano was intrigued. He entered and began a leisurely search, eventually finding the creature curled up beneath the wardrobe. “Hey, you’re a nice-looking little guy, ain’t you?” he greeted it cheerfully as he knelt down and reached under to touch the cat. “What’s that noise you’re– shit!” Jerkily he sat up as he drew back his now-bleeding hand.

From the doorway, Saitou gave what might have been the prototype of a laugh.

Sano made a rude gesture at him. Muttering, “Figures,” he examined the wound for a moment before taking on a expression of determination and moving around to the other side of the wardrobe. Once there, he found the cat had also moved and was still too far away to be easily seized. With a frown, he reached out again, watching carefully this time, and yanked his hand back when he saw the claws appear.

“What’s your problem…” he demanded in a quiet growl. The cat replied by turning its back to him and looking for all the world like a giant anpan that had rolled under the wardrobe by mistake.

Sano relocated again. So did the cat. “Fine,” he grumbled, sitting back once more. He began untying the cord that held his pants up. “Cats like the string thing, right?”

Now Saitou was definitely laughing at him.

“C’mon out, cat,” Sano called as he started trailing the cord in random patterns around on the floor in front of the cabinet. “Come chase the stringy thing.”

The cat darted out at the speed of sound, raked Sano’s hand twice, thrice, and disappeared once more into the shadows.

“Oi!!” Sano pounded a clenched and bleeding fist against the side of the wardrobe, which rattled, then thrust both hands under in pursuit of the offending animal. When neither soft fur nor sharp claws met his blind search, he put his face to the floor again and looked; the cat was gone.

“It’s on top,” Saitou supplied, sounding highly amused. “But you probably shouldn’t scare it any more, ahou,” he added as Sano jumped up and looked to where the creature glared down at him, ears prone, from atop the wardrobe. “If it runs away, Tokio will be very upset.”

“Whatever,” Sano muttered as he began to fix his drooping pants. “Why would anyone want such a shitty pet anyway?”

“Oh, she went on about it,” replied Saitou with a touch of sarcasm, approaching at last and raising a hand toward the feline: “How it’s a rare ‘blue’ breed from the mainland and how it was so difficult to find and so expensive…”

“Blue?” Sano watched skeptically as the cat sniffed at Saitou’s fingers. It looked every bit as grey as the glove covering the latter, against which it presently began delicately to rub its face.

“So she said.” All of a sudden the animal trickled off the wardrobe right onto the officer’s shoulder, where it stood poised on its toes as it nuzzled his head.

“The fuck does it like you?” Sano wondered somewhat grouchily.

“Who knows?” replied Saitou as he took the cat from his shoulder into his arms. “It’s not such a bad pet.”

“You only say that because it attacked me.”

“There is that,” Saitou smirked as he began petting the creature.

Sano snorted. “I still say it doesn’t look blue.”

I never said it does.”

“And I still… bet… she has…” He trailed off, finding himself utterly entranced by the slow movement of Saitou’s gloved hand over the cat’s slightly luminescent fur, and by the animal’s reaction. The hand seemed to conform to the exact shape of the sleek body, which was evidently caught up in the most extreme pleasure at the caress.

He raised his eyes to Saitou’s and found them flashing with amusement and… something else. Evidently the officer could see exactly what had brought Sano to that loss for words. Rather unceremoniously he dropped the cat and adjusted his glove. “I wonder if you can purr like that.”

“I bet I could,” Sano replied hoarsely. In any case he wasn’t averse to the experiment.

The cat was curling around Saitou’s leg in apparent adoration. Saitou nudged it away with that same appendage and advanced on Sano.

After a long interval, and once a more relaxed moment had been reached and the two men were lounging, entwined and cooling, on the futon, they both happened to look up at once and give a mutual start. The cat was again perched atop the wardrobe, watching them intently with wide, calculating eyes.

“That’s creepy,” Sano remarked. “Reminds me of Aoshi that one time.”

Saitou said nothing, and probably didn’t know what one time Sano was talking about anyway — but he’d certainly been just as startled.

Observing the humans were finished flailing and throwing their clothes in random directions, the cat descended and came to stand elegantly at Saitou’s side with expectant dignity. Saitou released Sano and sat up, reaching out to scratch the furry chin. Purring filled the room again (they’d discovered that Sano could not, in fact, manage it), and the cat crept slowly onto Saitou’s thigh.

Sano watched with wide eyes. “I wouldn’t let those claws that close to my dick.”

“Ahou,” Saitou murmured. But even he looked taken aback a moment later when the creature rolled onto its back, fully in his lap now, continued to rumble prodigiously, and gazed up at him demandingly. With a slight shrug he began to rub its belly; the purring increased.

Sano, deeming it safe, reached out to test the softness of the fur between the thing’s little ears. These, however, immediately flattened, and the animal’s head twisted so quickly Sano could not avoid the scoring bite it gave him. He jerked his hand away and sat glowering at the cat, which had gone back to rubbing its face against Saitou’s fingers.

“I get it,” postulated Sano finally. “It’s jealous.”

Saitou, observing the fixed way Sano’s eyes were still riveted on his attentions to the cat’s underside, wondered mildly, “Who’s jealous?”

Sano snorted. “I bet you like petting me more.”

“You don’t have fur,” Saitou replied promptly.

“What?!”

“And I’ve never seen you get on your back this willingly.”

“And I don’t bury my shit by hand and I don’t belong to your wife! And if you say you’re gonna fuck that cat, I’m never coming anywhere near you again.”

“Ahou.”

Sano moved to get up, but Saitou rolled on top of him, having expelled the cat from their bed so quickly that its protest was still yowling through the air as he said, “Ahou,” again and leaned down to kiss the younger man.

This time the animal decided to attempt to break up what it considered an inappropriate activity by attacking Sano’s feet at random — but after a while, when Sano didn’t seem to notice, gave up and returned to the top of the wardrobe.

It took even longer this time for the humans to calm down, but when they finally did — and, with a blanket and considerably increased settling, seemed like they might actually stay that way — the cat returned.

“Looks like I got myself some competition,” Sano yawned as it walked right onto Saitou and stared down into his face.

The animal almost seemed to nod disdainfully. Saitou, still coming to grips with the fact that he had a cat on his chest, gave only a brief laugh.

“Yeah, I don’t care how expensive you were, little guy,” added Sano as he snuggled closer against his lover and adjusted the blanket. “You’re about as blue as my balls.”

In response, before turning its back on the younger man and curling up on the older, the cat reached out a languid paw and gave Sano’s nearby arm a brief scratch. Silence fell over the contented bedroom but for that loud, almost triumphant purring.


This story, which I’ve rated , was for 30_kisses theme #15 “Purrfect…” er, “Perfect blue.” I can just picture a rich, vindictive Tokio having her cat trained to attack her husband’s boyfriend…

This story is included in the Saitou & Sano Collection ebook (.zip file contains .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats).


Constructive Nostalgia

— with that piece of junk? — I found it at my folks’ house while I was there; trashy-looking, ain’t it? — Why are you recording? — I used to spend hours recording stupid shit on this thing! — I have no doubt you did — It was awesome! I’d pretend to be a DJ introducing a song, and then record some random thing off the radio… or I’d make up my own song and sing it as loud as I could and bang on random stuff for drums. Or I’d fill a whole side of the tape seeing how loud I could belch, and then laugh my ass off at it and… hey, quit rolling your eyes, bastard! I was a little kid! — You’re very entertained by something you admit to be childish — Well, normal people enjoy laughing at shit they did when they were kids. You can’t tell me you didn’t do any stupid stuff when you were little — I certainly never belched on tape — But you did something. Don’t even try to tell me you sat around reading cop handbooks when you were ten — I read Tom Clancy — You did not — I did — Not when you were little! — I read The Hunt for Red October when it first came out — OK, fine. But that wasn’t all you did when you were a kid. Come on, what kinds of games did you play? — Why is this important? — Because you made fun of mine — We played Capture the Flag — ‘We?’ — The other kids in the neighborhood and I. We played it obsessively. Almost every day after school, and all weekend, until I got into paintball as a teenager — Hah! I’m not surprised. I bet you guys snuck out at night so you could play in the dark — Yes — And wore camo and face-paint! — Yes — Heh heh — You never did explain why you’re recording — Oh, yeah. I just wanna make sure it still works. I figure if I liked it as a kid, your kids might like it too — Oh, yes, please pass your immaturity on to my children — If you were really worried about that, you wouldn’t live with me — Hmph — Hey, at least I ain’t teaching ’em to defy authority. I never snuck out at night — Idiot, do you expect me to believe that? When do you ever respect authority? — Depends on what it’s telling me to do — Come over here — Yes, sir! — Turn that thing off first, moron. I don’t want our —


This story, which I’ve rated , was for 30_kisses theme #14 “Radio-cassette player.” Unusual formatting, but I think it’s pretty cute. I envision it as taking place in the same continuity as Fourteen Strange Looks.

This story is included in the Saitou & Sano Collection ebook (.zip file contains .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats).


How Many Days


“You need to learn the difference between persistence and stubbornness,” Saitou half sighed, dropping the butt of his cigarette and grinding it underfoot before turning to face the young man approaching him through the dusk.

Is there a difference?” Sanosuke wondered, his tone an interesting mix of dark determination and joviality.

Saitou couldn’t believe the idiot had managed to keep this up for so long. “One evidently too subtle for you to grasp,” he replied at a murmur, undoing the top two buttons of his jacket.

“Fuck subtlety,” was Sano’s growled retort as he hurled himself forward to attack for… yes, Saitou believed, this really had to be the thirtieth time.

“Your personality in two words,” the officer marveled as he jerked aside, dodging the kick Sano aimed at his shoulder, and, turning, slammed a solid blow into his face.

Sano had no reply for the quip other than to wipe vaguely at the trickle of blood now issuing from his nose, clench his fists, and come back for more.

“Eventually you’re going to have to realize,” Saitou admonished patiently as he blocked a few punches and returned a few, rather idly, of his own, “that it can take just as much strength to admit defeat as to keep fighting a losing battle forever.”

Sano staggered back and slowly regained his balance. “You’re so sure I’m never gonna get anywhere with you.”

“You’ll never defeat me,” agreed Saitou, waiting for the next charge.

“Che…” Sano rubbed absently at a growing bruise on his right forearm before making it. “Even I know that by now.”

“You’ve attacked me every evening for a month, and barely hit me a handful of times.” Saitou caught the fist flying toward him, twisted to dodge the other, slammed his own hard in Sano’s ribs, and threw him back again. “If you know you can’t beat me, what can you possibly hope to gain from this?”

Coughing and stumbling, his face a grimace of pain, it was several moments before Sano could answer. “Proof… that you’re not… invincible.”

A black eyebrow rose. “If you haven’t figured that out by now, I don’t see how my beating you up every day will help.”

I already know it.” Sano’s breathing was labored from the last blow, his growl considerably subdued. “I wanna prove it to you.”

“If I were under that impression,” Saitou wondered as he sidestepped entirely the roosterhead’s next attack, “and you did somehow manage to disillusion me” — spinning and elbowing Sano in the back of the head — “what makes you think I’d admit it to you?”

But there was no answer, as with the crack of contact between arm and skull Sano fell limply to the ground.

Saitou stepped back, brushed off his jacket and refastened the top two buttons, and stared at the unconscious figure as he pulled out a cigarette and lit it. “Ahou,” he muttered, though not to any particular purpose. After a few moments, he crouched at Sano’s side, flipped him easily over, and examined briefly the wounds inflicted by today’s bout. These were difficult to distinguish from yesterday’s wounds, but it seemed he’d actually broken a rib with that punch. He sighed; to the doctor, then.

He’d altered his route home to take him past a clinic when it had become obvious that this new hobby or fixation of Sanosuke’s would not relent for a while, and the young man had timed things well enough this evening that it was only a short walk there with the extra weight.

Again, Fujita-san?” asked the doctor in a despairing tone as the officer entered.

Saitou, laying Sano’s slack form down on the table as usual, shrugged. “It makes just as much sense to me,” he replied, drawing from his pocket, as usual, enough money to cover today’s treatment. “I believe he has a broken rib this time.”

The doctor sighed, taking the money and stepping into the next room to retrieve what supplies would be necessary to patch Sano up yet again.

Saitou looked down. “Ahou,” he said softly once more, shaking his head. “How many days will it take you to find something better to do with that energy of yours?” He snorted and added in a very dry and quiet tone, “As if I would admit it to you.” Then quickly, briefly, he bent and brushed his lips against Sano’s. “I was invincible.” He went to the door, turning to glance back once before he exited. “See you tomorrow.”


This story, which I’ve rated , was for 30_kisses theme #16, “Invincible, unrivaled.”

A Strong Bad quote comes to mind here: “It’s like… even when we win, he wins.” Yet even when Sano’s one-up on Saitou, he’s still the one unconscious with a broken rib. I love it when he manages to win something, though. All it took to show Saitou was a month of getting his ass kicked XD

This story is included in the Saitou & Sano Collection ebook (.zip file contains .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats).


"Video Games"

Sano paused his game and pulled the buzzing cell phone from his pocket.

“Oh, good, I hoped you’d still be up,” was Kaoru’s greeting.

“Yep, just playing video games,” Sano confirmed, wedging the phone between ear and shoulder and resuming the aforementioned. “What’s up?”

“I just needed somebody to talk to. You don’t mind, do you?”

“‘Course not. Why would I?”

“Oh, I was just worried you might not be too excited just to chat with me when I kinda stole your best friend…”

“Aw, don’t worry about that… it’s pretty normal for a guy not to hang out with his friends so much after he gets married.” Well, Sano had been a little annoyed at first, but had eventually found other sources of entertainment. “So is everything OK?”

“Yeah…” She sounded hesitant, and Sano restrained his urge to chuckle as he speculated she had some kind of girly problem she wanted to discuss but he was her only acquaintance likely to be awake at one in the morning.

“Everything OK with Kenshin?” he prodded.

“Well…”

“C’mon, you called me,” he laughed; “don’t make me guess what you wanna say!”

She laughed a little too. “It’s silly, though.”

“Then I’ll definitely never guess it. C’mon, spit it out!”

“Well, I’m waiting for Kenshin to get back from his business trip. He had a late flight and then that long drive from the airport, so it’ll still be a while before he gets home.”

“So?”

She sighed. “He told me not to worry about waiting up for him because he’d be so late, but I’m doing it anyway.”

“The old anxious wife routine, huh?”

“Yeah, I thought people only did that in romance novels and country songs.”

Sano laughed again. “Nah, I figure that’s probably pretty normal too for someone who’s only been married a few months. It is cheesy, though.”

“I know… it’s not like I’m really afraid something’s going to happen to him… like his plane crashing or him getting robbed at gunpoint or something…”

“But you still mention ’em,” Sano chuckled; “way to be paranoid.”

“I know, I know,” she answered somewhat irritably.

“You should be worried about what happens if he accidentally drives through a time/space portal and ends up in, like, ancient Japan or something! Or what if aliens landed and he got tangled up in this big government conspiracy and had to disappear and change his name and shit?”

“Oh, great, thanks, now I’ve got more things to think about! But, seriously… when I’m worried not about anything real, just… worried… I come up with real things like car wrecks and robberies, kindof as an excuse for how I feel, even if I know they’re not really likely to happen.”

“Shit, girly, you got it bad! Good thing Kenshin’s job ain’t dangerous, or you’d have problems even when he just worked late! Maybe you should be reading romance novels instead of calling me.”

“Now, just a minute ago you said it’s normal!”

“I’m just giving you hell. You’re a perfect match for Kenshin, you know that?”

“I’m not sure how you figured that out just from this,” Kaoru replied, smile evident in her tone, “but thanks anyway. And thanks for listening to me.”

“No problem.”

“I should let you get back to your game.”

“I been playing this whole time! I’m skilled like that.” Actually he’d died twice. “But if you wanna go listen to some country music until Kenshin gets home…”

Kaoru laughed. “Now you’re never going to let me forget this, are you?”

“Probably not,” confirmed Sano.

“Well, I’ll talk to you later.”

“See ya.” Sano yawned and stretched, and, after glancing at the time, shoved his phone back into his pocket and returned the greater part of his attention to the TV screen.

After another half hour or so, there came the sound of a key turning in the door. Sano glanced up from his fictive destructive efforts with a smile, then went intently back to them. The door opened and in came Saitou. He locked up behind him, then stepped over to Sano and looked down. Glancing at his watch and back at the young man, he smirked, “You’re going to be even more useless than usual at work in the morning.”

“Oh, shit, I didn’t know it was that late!” Sano set his controller aside and crawled over to turn off the TV.

“And didn’t you already clear that level?” Saitou began to remove and put away his gear.

“Huh? Oh… I wanted to find a secret area I missed.”

Saitou rolled his eyes.

“So, how many shootouts did you get into today?”

“As many as usual.”

“Knife fights? Djyou get to break up any of those?”

“I barely made a single arrest, actually.”

“What kept you so late, then?” wondered Sano in surprise that hid his relief rather efficiently.

“Paperwork.”

“Oh, your favorite thing!” Sano beamed.

Saitou, closing the closet door on his bullet-proof jacket and other accouterments, moved to seize the young man and kiss him. “Bedtime for little boys,” he said when that was finished.

“Yeah,” said Sano, sounding neither regretful nor penitent as he accompanied his lover into the next room; “I can’t believe I lost track of time like that…”


*__* Check out the awesome fanart Avek did for this story:

I’ve rated this story .

This story is included in the Saitou & Sano Collection ebook (.zip file contains .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats).


List (Mobile Without Motive)


Sano awoke very slowly, mostly because the greater part of his energy was being directed toward combating a looming hangover. There was always a sort of perverse, bitter pleasure about coming to his senses hung over, though, because the more miserable it was, the more fun that meant he’d probably had the night before — so the waking wasn’t as slow as it could have been.

Eventually he opened his eyes and looked sluggishly around for Katsu, but wasn’t surprised not to find him; the artist consented to hang out with him at the dojo from time to time, but wasn’t comfortable spending the night there. This always impressed Sano — god knew being picky about where he slept when drunk was more than he could usually manage — but he not infrequently preferred to have someone nearby to complain to, describe his headache to, when he came around in the morning. That this might be another reason for Katsu’s consistent abandonment of him after he passed out he could not fail to be aware.

Slowly attaining greater mobility, he began eventually to observe the minor disarray of the room; he’d better get this place straightened up before jou-chan wandered in… but there was no way he was going to attempt standing just yet. When his eyes fell on a somewhat crumpled piece of paper lying carelessly on the floor not far off, however, he did make the effort to reach over and grab it. And while he endeavored, squinting, to read it, he had to chuckle (and wince) at the memory of the silly conversation that had occupied a large part of last night’s edge of lucidity.

List, the paper was headed in Sano’s handwriting: a creative title only a drunk could come up with. Well, at least he hadn’t drawn little hearts around it.

1 – Pretty

After some argument with Katsu over whether he could definitively demand this characteristic when his attention could as easily be drawn to a man as a woman, Sano had struck it out and written Sexy instead. After this he’d apparently decided to make an essay in abstract on the subject, for something nearly illegible went on about turning heads and not looking like everyone else and off the bottom of the page. Sano would probably have to scrub the rest of it off the table or the floor or his leg later.

2 – Has money

Katsu, who for all his politics and getting-things-done was sometimes a good deal more fanciful than Sano, had protested violently against this being on the list. What argument Sano had made for practicality over romance in this instance he couldn’t recall, but as the point was not crossed out he had to assume he’d thought of something decent. Drunk was pretty much the only time he could out-philosophize Katsu.

3 – Good cook

The list was getting more difficult to read, and next to this entry was some addendum that had been entirely scribbled over; if Sano remembered correctly, it had been some comment to the purpose of (Not like jou-chan!), and was glad that, even when drunk, he had enough sense of self-preservation to keep that, at least, from possible public view. The Kenshingumi had been in and out of the room all evening, though, so, assuming thereby that he’d had constant reminders, he didn’t give himself too much credit.

Katsu had objected to requiring culinary skills almost as strenuously as he had to the money thing, and, though he’d obviously been argued down again, he’d evidently carried his point enough that the next two items were a little less shallow.

4 – Recspect

Sano thought he got the gist of the scrawl that meandered next to this, but only because the thoughts had been his in the first place: something about recognizing and not failing to acknowledge good traits, having your back in a metaphysical or social sense, and knowing when to stop teasing.

5 – Commartion

He was fairly sure this was supposed to say Communication. Equally mysterious were the accompanying ramblings that again marched right off the edge of the paper, and this was the end of what Sano had written.

But it was not the end of the list.

Sano squinted at what succeeded; Katsu must have added on after Sano had stopped paying attention.

6 – Nice, it said in the artist’s considerably neater handwriting, then added (Not abusive)

Sano snorted. “Kinda goes without saying, doesn’t it?” Then he frowned; the next entry was in a completely different hand:

7 – Close to the same age

“Who the hell wrote that?” he wondered. And why? Who cared that much about age? He puzzled over the neat, familiar stroke of the characters for a bit; it had definitely been written by one of his friends, but he couldn’t guess which.

The following item was in yet another hand: 8 – Not obsessive/fixated

“Well, no shit,” he laughed. Obviously the dojo residents had gotten hold of his list while he’d been unconscious and thought it funny to add a bunch of stupid stuff. Not that he cared much; it had all stemmed from intoxication to begin with.

9 – Not lacking in basic social skills

Sano thought that had pretty much been covered by previous points, but maybe he was wrong; perhaps the nuances of Recspect and Commartion didn’t encompass basic social skills.

It was at a loopy, feminine hand’s 10 – Doesn’t smoke that he paused with a disturbed, thoughtful expression. It had all seemed random up until that point, and maybe he was still overthinking, but… He scanned the latter half of the list again. He supposed it could be a coincidence, but there really was only one abusive, obsessive, fixated smoker not his age lacking basic social skills that came to mind. And why did it seem like his friends were purposely expressing disapproval of that specific person in this specific area of discussion?

Sano, who was by now sitting up scrutinizing the list carefully, hangover nearly forgotten, gave a skeptical laugh. Did they really think… where would they get… what a stupid… unless they thought they saw something that he hadn’t noticed? It wouldn’t be the first time.

He continued to chuckle as he got up and looked around for his gi. Wouldn’t be the first time they’d been totally unsubtle about something, either.

Well, whatever the case…

He opened the door, stepped off the porch into his shoes, and headed out of the dojo in search of someone.

…they really should know by now what was his usual and immediate reaction to being told not to do something.


The original idea was just the perverseness — Sano’s friends trying to warn him away from Saitou, and Sano immediately deciding to do exactly what he’d been told not to. After that it struck me that a drunken sleepover with giggly list-making would be the perfect setup for this. Though I have to admit that I never made a list of the qualities I wanted in a sweetheart at a slumber party. I do remember one time when we wrote chain-story porn, though. But we were sober. And that’s a tale for another time.

Anyway, I find this story cute and amusing — though, as in several of my less successful vignettes, the overall point gets a little lost. In regard to the title (besides being a reference to the line in the story, a creative title only a drunk could come up with), Poe said about perverseness (among other brilliant things), In the sense I intend, it is, in fact, a mobile without motive, a motive not motiviert. Through its promptings we act without comprehensible object; or, if this shall be understood as a contradiction in terms, we may so far modify the proposition as to say, that through its promptings we act, for the reason that we should not. In theory, no reason can be more unreasonable, but, in fact, there is none more strong.

I’ve rated this story .

This story is included in the Saitou & Sano Collection ebook (.zip file contains .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats).


Just That Bored

This wasn’t a topic that would normally make the least bit of difference to Saitou.

Saitou tries to keep himself from dying of boredom by looking for the answer to a seemingly unimportant question.



“Saitou? What are you doing here, de gozaru ka?”

“Oh?” wondered the officer with heavy sarcasm. “Wasn’t I invited?”

Himura cleared his throat.

With a roll of eyes Saitou explained. “The police chief asked me to patrol around the dojo to make sure this party of yours isn’t disturbed.”

Now Himura looked skeptical.

“I did remind him that with the kind of people you and that girl were likely to invite, the only danger would be from each other… but he insisted.”

With a slight smile Himura nodded his understanding. “The chief of police is very attentive.”

Saitou rolled his eyes again.

“Well, you’re welcome to come inside if you want.”

Saitou raised an eyebrow. “So I am invited.”

“And I’m sure you’re as pleased to know that as Kaoru-dono will be.”

“No need to alarm her,” Saitou replied dryly. “I won’t be coming inside.”

Himura, who’d already assumed as much, just nodded and smiled as he turned back toward the door; Saitou began his ‘patrol,’ looking forward to an exceptionally dull night.

Contrary to his avowal, however, the temptation to enter at least the grounds became after not too long acute, for he found that traversing the streets around the Kamiya dojo was about the most tedious thing he’d ever done. It wouldn’t have been quite so bad if there had been any point to it other than that the chief of police had a hopeless crush on Himura; as it was, even the headache he must acquire from the presence of those within would be better than this monotony. He let himself through the main doors.

Patrolling the inside of the wall was at first just as boring as the outside, but eventually the party spilled from the building and there was at least something to watch. Saitou was actually fairly surprised at the presence of certain of the guests; those that noticed him were surprised at his presence as well. And given the caliber of some of them, about a third of those attending must be aware of his shadow-prowling vigil. Let them find out from Himura why he was here, though, if they were curious.

He didn’t think he could stomach drawing close enough to catch any of their conversations — though some of them (any that included the Oniwaban chibi in particular) reached his ears anyway — but at least watching kept the tediousness from driving him mad. Some of it was even faintly amusing. He had to reflect, for instance, as he observed the looks the tanuki constantly threw Himura, that if such a girl had been giving him that treatment, his reaction might actually have been legitimate fear.

The truly frightening thing about these glances, though, was that the rurouni appeared to enjoy them. In which case he was being remarkably slow about things… How long had he been living here, and no progress between them? Of course, all of the members of the pitiable Kenshingumi had been single for a very long while, it seemed. Obviously this wasn’t a topic that would normally make the least bit of difference to Saitou, but at the moment he was just that bored. And, really, it was a little sad how relationship-challenged this group appeared to be. That Sagara boy, for instance, who was currently entertaining a small cluster of friends with a gesture-filled anecdote… shouldn’t he have snagged that doctor woman by now?

Well, the pointy-eared medic, for all her manhandling ability, wasn’t strong enough for someone like Sagara. The boy would be better off with Himura himself… except that the redhead was so short and annoying and enamored of an even more obnoxious girl. The latter might actually have been a decent match for the doctor, but she also wouldn’t do for the roosterhead.

Shinomori might be a good option… or perhaps not… even if Super Angstman could escape the jealous clutches of the Shrieking Sidekick, there was no way Sagara could long put up with someone that dull. The Okashira might do well for Himura, though. And the weasel might match Sagara’s energy fairly closely, but the boy definitely didn’t have the patience it would require to tolerate her for any great length. Saitou didn’t think anyone did. It might be amusing to watch someone try, though: the kenkaya or — sudden thought, even better — Chou. How long would the weasel last once the broomhead snapped? And what kind of damage would she inflict on him before he killed her?

Come to think of it, Chou himself might not be the worst choice for Sagara. Well, if the stupid phallic-symbol-collector had the stamina for more than a two-day relationship and an attitude focused just a little more outward, that is. And maybe a better hairstyle.

So perhaps it wasn’t such a surprise that Sagara didn’t have anyone, when there seemed to be something that unsuited each of them for him. But for some reason Saitou kept thinking there was somebody around that was suited for him… somebody so obvious it was actually a little difficult to figure out who it might be… who was he missing? He looked around at the remainder of the party guests.

Of course there was always Himura’s eccentric master with the odd taste in clothing… Saitou wasn’t overly familiar with that person, but from the little he’d seen so far it seemed the caped giant was in love with himself to the point where bringing somebody else in would make it a threesome and someone was bound to get jealous, possibly the man himself.

Sagara’s quiet friend with the long hair was probably the one Saitou was thinking of. The officer didn’t know much about him either, other than what he did for a living (and otherwise), but… it still didn’t seem right. The man always looked so gloomy… that wouldn’t do for Sagara. Not in a romantic sense, anyway. It might for Shinomori, though…

This was no use. A question whose answer eluded him so completely was almost worse than the boredom it was supposed to replace. And yet nothing else would occupy his mind. Well, there was that restaurateur… Sagara was fond of a good meal, of course, but there wasn’t much to Sekihara beyond business; she probably wouldn’t be able to hold his attention anywhere but at a dinner table.

And then there was that overdressed scythe-wielder that was supposed to be in England… Saitou wouldn’t even have considered him, but he was running out of choices; still, it was obvious offhand that Honjou wouldn’t do: Sagara might look decent with a woman prettier than he was, but never with a man. Maybe the psychotic Tenken was a better former-Juppongatana candidate… but, no, the last thing Sagara needed was somebody that compliant; Seta’s smiles would only egg Sagara on in every one of his foolish behaviors.

There had to be someone else. Why did it seem the answer was there, but barely beyond his reach? The most annoying part was that it didn’t matter… it was just something to keep him from insanity… it shouldn’t be this frustrating…

Eventually, after what felt like several ages, the party began to break up, and goodbyes were said to those not staying at the dojo. Saitou was fairly sure his presence was even less required at this point than it had been before, and gladly slipped away for home before the guests really started to leave.

The question about Sagara, and the conviction that he was forgetting someone, bothered him still, but that was fading along with the overriding need to stave off boredom. And once he stopped thinking about it all together, the answer was sure to come to him.

Actually, considering it had to do with that perverse roosterhead, it was likely to strike him at the least convenient moment possible — just when he’d fallen asleep, or some such.

Stupid boy was troublesome like that, even when he wasn’t around.


I’ve rated this story .

This story is included in the Saitou & Sano Collection ebook (.zip file contains .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats).


Do It Yourself


He wasn’t much surprised that Sagara had absolutely no shame, but he would have expected a former hitokiri to be a little less of an exhibitionist. But ever since those two had admitted their long-repressed feelings for each other (or whatever the case was; Saitou didn’t care enough to pursue), they’d been doing things all over the place regardless of the time of day. Saitou could swear that a shift didn’t go by without his coming across them in some absurd location — bushes or recessed doorways or even mostly unconcealed as long as the street was empty — while he was on patrol.

The truly sad thing was that the rurouni didn’t seem to know what he was doing. Sad, but not particularly shocking: Himura was about the last person in the world Saitou would expect to know how to get the optimal reaction out of a fresh young man. This wasn’t something that would normally occupy the officer’s mind for more than half a derisive minute, but due to the aforementioned exhibitionism, the issue intruded on his consciousness with irritating regularity. One of these times he was going to arrest just Himura and claim it was on charges of being bad at sex.

But much as he would have loved to see their responses to that, he didn’t think it would actually solve the problem. Of course it wasn’t his problem to solve, but half-hearted moans from someone normally as loud and passionate as that boy were almost incitingly irksome.

So that was probably why he found himself at the idiot’s door one evening after having overhead a particularly unenthusiastic-sounding sexual encounter earlier that day. Disliking Himura or liking Sagara really didn’t have much to do with it. Rather, he wasn’t fond of waste, and had always held with that tried and true maxim, If you want something done right…



I love this story because, while it’s almost the shortest piece here, it manages to raise so many amusing questions and ideas. Is Saitou obsessive-compulsive or what, to do something like that with disliking waste and wanting things done right as his only motive(s)? Or maybe he’s in denial and he really does like Sano. And is Sano actually with Kenshin because he likes him, or to get Saitou’s attention in just that way? If the latter, is Kenshin in on the plot or is he being used?

Whatever the case, I’d love to see how Sano will act when he realizes it’s Saitou at his door and exactly what he’s there for. And I can totally picture the brusque way Saitou’s likely to handle the situation. All this extraneous story is what makes a vignette a vignette, of course, and therefore I am rather pleased with myself for this one. I’ve rated it .

This story is included in the Saitou & Sano Collection ebook (.zip file contains .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats).


Compromise


It was only a routine patrol around a trouble area; it shouldn’t have been so difficult, so life-altering. But every time this particular kid was involved, things just couldn’t go smoothly, couldn’t be normal or easy.

“What are you doing standing around out here at this time of night?” Saitou wondered as he approached, eyeing the young man’s clothing with vague apprehension.

Sano whirled, scowling. “Hey, fuck off, OK? I ain’t doing nothing.”

“It’s my job to be suspicious of scantily clad people standing around on street corners apparently doing nothing. You look like a prostitute.”

“You’re always harassing me,” Sano replied — a little too quickly, Saitou thought, and, if he wasn’t mistaken, fighting off a blush. “I know I’ve always been your favorite street-bum to pick on, but you can even search me — I got nothing on me.”

“You’re loitering.” Saitou did not like the look of that blush.

“Do you see any ‘No Loitering’ signs around here?” demanded Sano.

“There are ‘No Loitering’ laws, you know,” Saitou reminded him.

“Yeah, well…”

“Now, tell me honestly… what are you doing here?”

Sano looked away immediately, the expression on his face more than just embarrassed; it was bitter, ashamed.

“Sanosuke,” Saitou said, very softly and seriously, feeling his heart drop for no reason he could guess at. “Prostitution is only legal in specific parts of town, and this isn’t one of them.”

“I… so, what, you gonna arrest me?”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Why do you think, jackass?” Despite much of what Saitou said enraging Sano on the best of days, this anger seemed out of place, almost as if Sano were fighting to keep it up. “Gotta make money somehow.”

“And a regular job isn’t good enough for you?” Why, Saitou wondered, did this seem to matter on a level much closer to home than that of abstract social philosophy? Sure, he’d known this kid for a while, had even actually arrested him once, had more often than that let him off a little too easy… but still…

“You think I can live off what they pay at shitty fast food restaurants and mall stores?” Sano growled. “Hell, even those places’ll barely hire me, with my record… anything better’s a million years out of my reach. So I figured it was about time I started using what I got to make some real money; that’s all.” He still hadn’t looked Saitou in the face; it was very evident how he felt about the decision he’d made. And why was that so painful to the police officer?

“Isn’t there anyone…” Saitou knew he would be treading dangerous ground with this. “Don’t you have any friends or family who could help you?”

Sano’s expression darkened visibly. “Would you just fuck off?” he demanded. “Or arrest me already; quit talking my ear off.”

Saitou stifled a sigh and asked professionally, “When did you start this?”

“Tonight.”

“Have you had any clients yet?”

“No. I didn’t know… this wasn’t the best place for it…”

Why should that relieve Saitou so thoroughly? This was absurd. “I’m going to seriously suggest you rethink this. There are better ways to live your life.”

“No way in hell. Not in this city there’s not. Not for people like me. Took me long enough to decide on this in the first place. I ain’t going back now.” It appeared Sano had just revealed more than he’d originally intended; he was looking away and blushing again, seeming almost horrified with himself. “Go ahead and arrest me if you want,” he finished up, a little more quietly. “Won’t change a thing.”

Saitou nodded slowly. “I’m not going to arrest you,” he said, just as softly, “but I think you’re an idiot.” And turning, he started to walk away, more than dissatisfied with the exchange but not sure there was anything more he could do.

“Hey!” Sano retorted in a more animated tone than before. “I may be an idiot and a fucking whore, but at least I’m making my own way.” His voice rose into a shout as Saitou drew further and further from him. “Nobody can say I didn’t take care of myself on my own!”

The officer’s steps slowed almost against his will, his frown deepening and seeming to turn abruptly to stone. It was always that fierce independence, that absolute, uncompromising determination… Still without the full consent of his better judgment, he retraced his path. Sano actually backed up a pace, evidently afraid Saitou had changed his mind and planned to arrest him after all. But Saitou only pulled his wallet from his pocket, extracted a couple of large bills, and held them out with a stiff arm.

Sanosuke’s face darkened. “I don’t want your charity, cop.”

“I’m not offering charity,” Saitou replied in an equally dark tone.

As Sanosuke realized what he meant, reaching up slowly to hold both the money and the hand offering it, he looked into the officer’s face with eyes that seemed, against all odds and expectations, warily hopeful. “You said this is illegal around here,” he whispered.

But Saitou didn’t waver. “Come on,” he said, letting go of the money and turning. “My car’s just around the corner; we can use the back seat.”


When Queen Yokozuna beat me in the Quote-Guessy Game, she requested “Sano a whore; Saitou his first paying customer.”

I’m sure there are plenty of prostitutes that are happy in the profession and their lives. I leave it up to others to write that situation, however, because I have such a hard time imagining it. So this story was sad. I had a sequel planned, and had written some parts of it; let’s see how sad that one would have been, eh?


Tired

The knock was so quiet that Saitou might not have heard it if he hadn’t by chance been walking down the hall past the entry just at that moment. It was a knock made with the fleshy side of the hand rather than the knuckles, as if the hand had simply fallen against the door; it was the kind of knock that wouldn’t admit wanting to be heard. Curious, Saitou went to answer it.

His mouth curved into an instantaneous, surprised frown when he saw who his visitor was, then opened for a greeting that would also be a castigation and dismissal.

It was their standing, silent arrangement that whenever business was bad or Sano was behind on the rent or just needed some extra spending money, he could come to Saitou and Saitou would pay higher than usual rates — whatever Sano asked, really — for his services. But it always started with a phone call, and they usually met somewhere other than either of their residences. Certainly Sano had never before shown up on Saitou’s doorstep entirely without warning.

That he had now was worthy of an irritated remark at the very least. The nature of their relationship was ambiguous, the routine they’d developed paramount to keeping it that way. Sano pulling a stunt like this threatened to turn everything on its ear, and that was even before the practical issues — such as how it looked to the neighbors when a prostitute appeared openly at a cop’s door and the cop let him in.

But something, he noticed as his eyes swept Sano’s figure in a second glance more comprehensive than the first, was wrong. Sano looked thinner, face and body, than the last time Saitou had seen him, and tonight it seemed he hadn’t taken much care in dressing or making himself up. But more than this, it was the screamingly empty eyes that stabbed out from the honest face into Saitou’s heart and changed his intended, “What are you doing here?” to an immediate, “Come in.”

Without a word, Sano obeyed, standing perfectly still in the entry, as Saitou closed the door behind him, after the three steps it had taken him to get inside. Then they waited in silence for several moments, Saitou staring at Sano and Sano seeming to see nothing even of the floor tiles on which his blank gaze was riveted.

“What are you doing here?” Saitou did eventually ask, in a tone much less harsh than he’d originally planned.

“I don’t know,” replied Sano listlessly, and, leaning back against the closed door, let his eyes drift shut.

“Are you all right?” Saitou wondered next.

“Yes… no… I don’t know.” Sano did not open his eyes.

A long silence ensued, in which Saitou watched Sano with growing worry and the younger man continued to stand, motionless and almost limp, against the door, arms slack at his sides and eyes closed.

“I’m tired, Saitou,” Sano finally murmured emotionlessly. “I’m tired of what I do. I’m tired of who I am. I’m tired of being alive.”

This admission — particularly the last — caused Saitou’s heart to clench so tightly that he felt dizzy, stifled.

“Well.” It was a struggle to keep his voice even. “Since you are here, I can–”

And Sano, as if anticipating Saitou’s next word, broke in with his usual protest: “I don’t need your help.” But it was almost a whisper, and lacked even the faintest trace of conviction.

“You need help tonight.” It was a statement that would accept no challenge, and Sano offered none. Nor did he resist as Saitou took him by the shoulders and pulled him upright, then guided him down the hall to his bedroom.

As if Sano were a child exhausted after a long day, Saitou had to encourage and often assist him in every step of the process, trying his hardest throughout — generally unsuccessfully — not to look into the boy’s dead eyes. He bathed him, he wrapped him in a robe, he forced a glass of warm milk down his throat… that Sano didn’t protest this juvenile nightcap or even ask why on earth it should occur to Saitou to give it to him in the first place was almost as worrisome as the other signals.

The first and almost the only indication he gave of being aware of what was going on was when Saitou pulled back the covers of his bed and encouraged Sano in that direction. At this Sano shied back visibly, looking for a moment pathetically panicked. Saitou took a deep breath and said, “You have to sleep somewhere.” If Sano was, as he’d indicated, really tired of his profession, it was no wonder he didn’t want to get into anyone else’s bed… but Saitou was not letting him leave the house in his current condition. “I’ll sleep in the living room.”

Slowly Sano calmed, and his head turned just as slowly toward Saitou; his eyes took on an expression of greater clarity and he said, “No, you don’t have to. Sorry.” Then he looked back at the bed and seemed to go dull again. When Saitou next urged him in that direction, he obeyed with the same weary, childlike obliviousness he’d displayed before.


Geez, it’s already so fucking sad.


He awoke at the same time Sano did, and it only took a moment of brief debate to decide not to let Sano know. So he kept his eyes closed and his breathing even while Sano sat up and pushed the blanket aside in a single startled motion. From the tense, agitated way Sano looked around in movements that swiveled his entire upper body, it was obvious that he did not at first remember where he was.


Sano leaves as quietly as he can so as not to awaken Saitou (who is, of course, aware of the whole thing); he refuses to take the money Saitou left out for him.

Saitou can’t stand this situation, so he pulls some strings and then goes and looks for Sano on street corners where he often works.


“Why the fuck would you show up here in uniform?” Sano hissed, irate and distressed.

“I have an offer for you,” Saitou replied.

Sano scowled. “I don’t need you tonight,” he muttered.

“That’s a debatable point, but it’s not why I’m here.”

Sano kept scowling at him, now suspicious.

“An acquaintance of mine is looking for a construction manager, and he’s promised to hire you — sight unseen — for a living wage.”

Saitou wasn’t about to mention what it had taken to make this arrangement, how close to crooked his interactions with this acquaintance of his would have looked in quite a few lights, or how he felt about compromising for Sano’s sake yet again. Compromising, in this situation, with absolutely no promise of any kind of payout.

Sano’s expression darkened further, and he took a step backward. His face shifted through several visible emotions before he managed to speak. “Why would you do that? I didn’t ask for your help.”

“Not verbally,” Saitou agreed, “but you told me you were tired of what you do.”

“I was drunk,” snapped Sano.

“You were not.” Drunk on unhappiness, perhaps… drunk, even, on despair… but not on alcohol. As if Saitou couldn’t tell.

“Besides, it’s none of your goddamn business!” Despite the anger in Sano’s raised voice, it didn’t seem to be his primary emotion. “So what if I don’t like this? It’s not your job to find me something else! You’re such a fucking know-it-all; you feel like you’ve gotta be in charge of everyone’s life!”

“I’m offering you something you don’t seem willing or able to get for yourself. Of course the choice is yours, but if you’re as intelligent as I believe, you won’t turn this down.”

“What is your fucking problem, exactly? Why the hell can’t you just leave me alone?”

“Because I love you, you idiot.”

Tense and astonished silence reigned for nearly a minute, Sano staring up at him with an expression turbulent but otherwise unreadable. Finally, in a tight, haggard tone completely unlike any of his usual he ground back, “Right. That’s what every guy says to his whore.”

“I loved you before you were a whore,” Saitou bit back. “I loved you before I ever touched you. And I’m not telling you this because I want anything from you; I just want you to know why I want to help you. I’m not trying to be in charge of your life. If I thought you were happy doing this, I wouldn’t say a word — but you’re not.”

“Whether I’m happy or not has nothing to do with you.”

It tore Saitou’s heart to hear Sano say this


Saitou was going to agree with him there, had I ever completed that sentence. And after that… I have no idea where this story was going to go. Knowing me, it would probably have been an optimistic-ever-after, but there’s always the possibility Sano would reject Saitou and it would have taken a third story to get them romantically instead of just physically involved. Who knows?

This story is included in the Saitou & Sano Collection ebook (.zip file contains .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats).


Two, Five, or Twenty


“So what’d Tokio have to say?” Sano inquired, yawning, as he entered the office. “Same as always?”

“You ask that as if you weren’t listening at the door,” Saitou replied from behind the work he’d resumed once his wife had left.

“Yeah, but you guys were talking kinda quiet; I couldn’t hear everything.” Sano seated himself on the desk, cross-legged, and peered over the papers in Saitou’s hand.

“Yes, same as always.”

“How I’m not good enough for you and she can’t figure out why you’re with me and all that?”

“That’s about right.”

“Hmph.”

Saitou looked up. “What’s wrong? I know you don’t care about her opinion.”

“Nah, what she thinks doesn’t bug me,” Sano confirmed. “What does is the fact that you never stand up for me.”

Saitou smirked slightly. “Do you need me to stand up for you?”

“If I’m not there to defend myself, you could at least say something!”

The smirk grew. “What am I supposed to say? When she points out that I normally prefer intelligent, mature, reasonable men of about my age who have something like a hope of beating me in a fair fight, exactly how am I supposed to respond?”

The roosterhead rolled his eyes. “God, you are such an asshole.”

“I doubt God appreciates that accusation.” The wolf reached up to flick him on the nose before turning his attention back to his work.

“You prick…” Sano snatched the papers away, forcing Saitou to look at him. “You really think I’m a stupid, immature, weak little kid, don’t you?”

Folding his hands and laying them on the desk, Saitou looked placidly into Sano’s face and replied, “Of course.”

“Then she’s right! Why do you keep me around?”

The officer leaned back in his chair, contemplating the young man on his desk for a long period of silence.

“Saitou?”

“You once told me I couldn’t judge you against my own level until you’d had as much time as I’d had to improve,” Saitou finally said thoughtfully. “I’m waiting for that.”

“What?”

The wolf gave a brief laugh at Sano’s bewilderment. “It’s true your mind lacks cultivation, your attitude is childish, your fighting style is laughable, and you’re barely legal,” he said. “But based on what you’ve shown me so far and what I’ve come to know of you, I fully expect to see that all reversed with time. Whether it will be in two years, five years, twenty years… eventually you’re going to be perfect for me, and I feel it’s best to keep you around in anticipation of that.”

“Shit…” Sano’s face was a picture of confused irritation, with perhaps just a little gratification thrown in. “I don’t know whether to be pissed off or really happy with that answer.”

Saitou shrugged. “Do as you please.”

“Fuck, I don’t even know whether I believe any of that,” Sano continued. “How the hell can you think… you really believe I’m gonna be all great in twenty years?”

“Although you’re not entirely unpleasant at the moment, be assured I wouldn’t put up with you if I didn’t.”

Sano rolled his eyes again, but by now the pleasure in his expression had grown (mostly) to overshadow the puzzlement. “You sure have an ass-backwards way of giving a compliment.”

“Thank you.”

Almost wary of the answer Sano wondered next, “So what am I good for now?”

“Sex,” the wolf informed him matter-of-factly.

Sano shook his head. “You just said all that to make sure you get laid tonight, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” the officer admitted, “but that doesn’t make it any less the truth.”

“Bastard…” Sano leaned forward to kiss him. “I don’t know what I see in you.”

“Maybe it will take a few years to surface,” Saitou speculated with another smirk just before their lips met.


Upon beating me at the Quote Guessy Game, Dedra’s nonspecific ficlet request was for something about Saitou and Sano. As I happened to have this idea vaguely in mind at that time, I went with it.

I’ve rated this story .

This story is included in the Saitou & Sano Collection ebook (.zip file contains .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats).


Head Injury


It was cold. Very cold, for October. He wouldn’t be surprised if the morning’s frost was more like snow. He looked forward to home and tea and bed. Of course, he always looked forward to those after a particularly long day’s work, but on a night like this any remotely sensible person would be hurrying home. Which was why it wasn’t much of a surprise to find Sagara Sanosuke loafing around in the street appearing not to care that his nose was turning blue. He also looked somewhat drunk.

Saitou debated whether to say something or just walk by. Harassing a drunk was a little too easy, but shots at Sagara were always cheap and he didn’t enjoy them any less. And it had been so long since he’d last had the chance. It was cold out, and he did want to get home… but he couldn’t resist. Maybe it was a little sorry, but Sagara’s seeming helplessness (as always) was just too enticing.

“Apparently you’ve realized how pathetic your life is and decided on a slow suicide.”

This relatively good line seemed to have been a waste of breath, however, as Sagara only turned slowly to fix bleary eyes on Saitou. It seemed he was actually more than merely ‘somewhat’ drunk. Saitou frowned; in this cold, that was dangerous. Typical that the boy could get himself into a life-threatening situation without anyone’s help…

“Saitou?” Sagara was wondering, stepping slowly toward him. “Izzat you?”

Saitou rolled his eyes. “Yes.”

“How much did I…” His face took on a deeply pensive expression. “Since when’re you alive?”

Oh. How irritating. “I talked to Battousai just last week, and it wasn’t the first time since Kyoto… how can you have still been under the impression that I wasn’t alive?”

Sagara seemed confused by the question. “What kinda game’re you playing? The whole place blew up!”

“Sorry to disappoint,” Saitou replied easily, “but I don’t play games.”

Sanosuke staggered a step closer. “Maybe I’m just drunker’n I thought.”

“You probably are, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m not dead.”

The roosterhead conceded unexpectedly. “Right. Good to know. What’d’jou want?” Although this answer was (relatively) coherent, it didn’t seem he was keeping very good track of the conversation.

“What I don’t want is to trip over your body on the way to work tomorrow, so I suggest you go home before you freeze to death. I would add that you should also learn some temperance in the future, but I know a hopeless cause when I see one.”

“Go home?” Sanosuke echoed vaguely, seeming not to have caught the rest. “Yeah, I think I live ’round here.”

“No, you don’t.” Saitou sighed as he saw how this was going to turn out. He hadn’t particularly wanted a detour through this kind of weather, but leaving the idiot to wander in this condition would be akin to killing him. Which might be interesting, yes, but then he’d have to come up with a legal excuse for it more watertight than that, as he hadn’t wanted to arrest him because the police station was too long a walk from here, it had just been easier. “Come on.”

It was better proof of Sano’s state than anything yet offered that he followed dutifully, if not at all steadily. “Where we going?” he asked.

“Home,” Saitou replied shortly.

“Why’re you coming home with me?”

Gold eyes rolled again skyward. “Because you’ll never get there on your own.”

“Oh. All right.” Sano had barely made this acquiescence when he retracted it with, “What?! Yes, I will! ‘Mnot that drunk!”

“Yes, you are,” Saitou assured him. “Keep up!”

And though Sano quickened his pace to walk at Saitou’s side, he was still protesting. “Like I need you to show me how to get home.” And at that moment he tripped violently and would have fallen on his face if Saitou had not caught him. “Shit!” Suddenly he sounded more amused than angry as he admitted he’d been wrong: “Guess I really am that drunk.” And if his words weren’t evidence enough, the officer thought, his uncharacteristic mood swings must be.

“You’n let go,” Sano said petulantly. “I can walk without your help.”

Upon Saitou’s compliance, Sano promptly lost his balance and fell. The wolf did not hesitate to laugh as he hauled the idiot to his feet and pulled one arm of Sano’s around his shoulders.

This action appeared to confuse Sano quite a bit; Saitou was beginning to think that, in addition to ordinary drunkenness, Sano had also perhaps taken a blow to the head — simply because the wolf didn’t think anyone could hold the amount of alcohol it would take to confuse him this badly and still be standing, let alone walking. Of course, if anyone could, it would be Sagara Sanosuke.

He wasn’t even entirely sure how or why he knew where Sano lived, but his memory of the location evidently had not failed him; as soon as Sano caught sight of the place, he started groping through his pockets for something — a key, it turned out, which naturally he dropped the moment he extracted. Saitou retrieved it, nearly losing hold of Sano before he got the door unlocked and the young man inside.

There, Sano looked around for a moment in continued confusion before a triumphant expression took his face and he said, “See, toldja I could get here just fine!”

“Yes, you did tell me that,” Saitou agreed. “Now, sit down.”

Sano, still with that bizarre (injured?) air of patient compliance, did as he was told, stumbling over to a worn futon of dubious sanitation and indistinguishable original color and taking a seat thereon.

Saitou looked around for a light source. The sooner he could test his head-injury hypothesis and deal with the situation accordingly, the sooner he could get home. Finding a small and dilapidated lamp, he lit it with his own matches and turned to find Sano watching him (predictably) with confusion in his gaze. He went over to him and knelt down. “Hold still,” he commanded, removing his gloves.

“What’re you doing?” Sano wondered as Saitou reached around to the back of his head and began to search for anything unusual.

Instead of answering the question, Saitou asked, “Do you remember fighting anyone tonight?”

“Uh…” Sano looked puzzled for a moment, as if it took him that long to comprehend the question, then contemplative. Finally he answered, “No.”

Having found no signs the young man was hurt, Saitou nevertheless persisted, “Do you remember falling?”

“Yeah,” Sano replied slowly. “Yeah…”

Saitou’s theory was right, then. He resumed his cautious examination of the thick skull until Sano added, “And then you laughed at me.”

Oh. Saitou scowled. What now? He was no doctor, of course, but he couldn’t think of anything besides certain types of head injuries that would so flummox someone without visible signs such as blood loss or severe pain. Maybe Sano really was just superhumanly drunk. Saitou wasn’t quite satisfied with this explanation, though, and, nudging one edge of Sano’s gi aside, slowly probed his chest looking for other wounds that might not be immediately apparent.

“Shit…” Sano gasped.

Thinking he must have found the problem, inexplicable as that was when Sano’s chest seemed perfectly fine, Saitou looked up into the young man’s face — and Sano leaned forward and kissed him.

Oh. What he’d just been doing could be construed that way, couldn’t it? Especially by someone superhumanly drunk. It opened up a whole new set of unexpected possibilities for the night’s heretofore minimal entertainment, and what with the can of worms that was the ensuing ethical dilemma, Saitou was distracted for several moments and did not bring the kiss to an end.

The decision he came to in those moments was, he thought, impressively unbiased for someone that was avidly (if clumsily) being groped by a hot and willing teenager too drunk, most likely, to remember any of this in the morning. That is, assuming he was ready to go with the drunkenness explanation after all. But, again, Saitou was no doctor, and not qualified to diagnose anything more than drunkenness.

Kissing Sano harder, he pushed him down onto his back on the futon.

***

It was late. Much later than he usually woke up after such an experience. But since this was the mutated mother of all hangovers, that made sense.

But Sano didn’t so much wake up as come to the realization that, despite a host of convincing signs to the contrary, he had not, in fact, died and gone to hell. As greater lucidity filtered in, much like the nearby hellfire light and just as painful, he started vaguely to wonder whether whatever he’d done last night had been worth this. It was quite some time before he had the energy to make even the least persistent attempt at figuring out what that had been. And nothing was coming back to him.

That he was still desperately tired after such a long sleep didn’t seem quite logical, or that his entire body was aching so very much… though, for the second, perhaps he would find a justifying fight in his memory once he recovered it. Eventually, aided by the in-rolling of some clouds to dim the evil sun outside, he started slowly to gather his wits. He found in them no explanation for the unusual amount of exhaustion and soreness, however. There were holes in the story of the night, to be sure, but none of them were large enough to fit a battle and its aftermath into… In fact, he was beginning to be able to piece together which bars he’d been to and after which one he’d headed home. Maybe this was just going to end up as one of those unsolved mysteries of the universe.

He didn’t know how long it took him to get his eyelids up for more than five seconds, but once he managed that, he figured he might as well try to sit up too. And even as he did so, he froze, eyes going wide. Had he…?

Yanking the blanket off in a motion that hurt his vision only because it was so abrupt, he gazed down at himself and the futon and the unmistakable signs, then around the room at his scattered clothing. Yes, it looked like he had.

But… he didn’t recollect leaving with anyone… or even meeting anyone interesting… maybe he’d run into someone on the way home? He couldn’t remember. Whoever it had been, he’d worn Sano completely out. Which made it not only unfair but also a little creepy that he couldn’t place him.

God, did he need a bath…! But there was no way he was getting up just yet. He turned over and buried his face in soft cloth, still trying to recall the details of the encounter. The worst part of not being able to was, what if it had been somebody embarrassing? He’d done his share of sniggering at his friends when they’d gotten too drunk to realize their one-night-stand was the crazy fish-vendor or someone with no eyebrows and buck teeth; now was the shoe on the other foot?

Although, again, he didn’t remember leaving that last bar with anyone. Had there been another bar he couldn’t recall? Otherwise, nobody would know. He hoped. But he wanted to know. How could he show his face around town if he wasn’t sure he hadn’t slept with fish-merchant Dochou-jiisan? Or somebody worse? He gave a muffled groan. No way would he be this tired after a night with crazy Dochou, so at least he didn’t have to worry about that, but he definitely needed to figure out who it had been. Maybe if he thought really hard…

Feelings… the typical ones associated, or… maybe rather better… well, that was promising… of course, he might have been imagining the guy was a good lay because he was too drunk to tell for sure, or it could just be wishful thinking now… He had to remember. He got the impression he’d been more pleased than usual about the arrangement — why? Well, the conviction it had been really good sex was not diminishing, so that would explain that, he supposed…

Saitou?

“Oh, god,” he moaned. “Please tell me I didn’t…”

No such luck. The more he thought about it, the more his weary head was filled with images that would not disperse of Saitou Hajime touching him in ways he never could have imagined.

So. He’d gotten desperately drunk at a friend’s birthday party, hooked up with some random guy on the way home, had wild, fatiguing sex, and pretended very enthusiastically all along it was his dead rival and erstwhile crush. Greeaaat. It didn’t get much more embarrassing than that.

Unless he’d managed to pick up a police officer.

Yeah, that actually would be more embarrassing than just some random guy. And given how convinced his brain seemed to be that it really had been Saitou, he thought it more than likely.

He was never going outside again.

He’d known he liked the unlikeable wolf, but had put it down to the maddening stress of Kyoto, and (he thought) gotten over it when it obviously wasn’t going to go anywhere (due to said wolf’s untimely dissolution). Well, it must have been worse than he’d thought. It figured Saitou could embarrass him even after death.

And how might he have behaved in the company of his anonymous fuck-buddy? What kind of telling things might he have said, or, better yet, cried out at the worst possible moment? And would he hear about it the next time he spent a weekend in jail for brawling? Well, if the stranger had been as drunk as Sano had (proportionally speaking, of course, as few people could actually get as drunk as Sano could), he might never hear about it. But there were just too many possibilities here. And he wasn’t sure he wanted to make any effort at deciding what to do with them until his head hurt a little less.

Until then, it couldn’t do any harm just to lie here with his face in the futon imagining what it might have been like if it had been Saitou.

***

It was not what he’d been expecting. Whatever that had been. True, he had remarked to himself that Sano was unlikely to remember, the next day, what they’d done, but he hadn’t actually thought that would happen. And what other explanation was there for hearing nothing from him in the week that had passed since that night? Sano wasn’t the type to sit back patiently and let things play out; surely if he were fully aware of what had occurred, whatever his reaction, he would have found some way to confront Saitou about it by now. Obviously he didn’t remember.

That would be a little irritating if not for the pleasing recollection that Sano had started it. Even if he didn’t remember, he must still want Saitou, and would inevitably react the same way to a similar situation. Saitou had very easily determined that he wanted Sano again… In fact, it was safe to say he wanted him again every night until further notice. So he planned to go see him as soon as the case he’d just opened was finished and his evenings were a little more free; and then it would be like the first time all over again.

But for a second time, things did not go quite as he’d expected.

As there was obviously nobody home when he found his way to Sano’s apartment, he decided to let himself in and wait. The room was as he remembered it, and he couldn’t help smiling as he removed his shoes and went inside, looking around for the best place to sit to startle the returning Sano.

His attention was caught by a folded sheet of paper laid conspicuously on the table, and he paused to examine it. Slowly a frown grew on his face as he read what was written inside:

Hey, Katsu-

If you’re reading this, means you broke into my place like I figured you would looking for me. I’m all right… got into a bad situation the other night when I was drunk, though, so I’m gonna hang out in Kyoto for a while. If any cops come asking about me, you don’t even know me, all right?

Saitou refolded and replaced the note with frown still in place. Had he misinterpreted so badly? He’d been certain Sano had wanted him, but, looking back, was it so certain Sano had even really recognized him at that point? Just because he had earlier meant nothing. It wasn’t inconceivable the roosterhead had awakened the next day, then remembered and completely understood, and been less pleased in full awareness than he had been the night before.

Of course there was the possibility Sano meant something entirely different by ‘bad situation the other night when I was drunk,’ and the reference to cops was ambiguous as well… but each was also too coincidental for Saitou to ignore.

It seemed, then, he’d gone too far. And what must have been the effect on Sano if, instead of blazing out to kill Saitou for what he’d done, he’d decided to leave town? Saitou could only assume he’d hurt him, which rendered a situation he’d thought simple and pleasant complicated and unfortunate. He wasn’t even sure what to do about it, although he didn’t need to decide just yet as in any event he didn’t have time for a trip to Kyoto until next week.

With a sigh he left the apartment and headed for home.

But, following the trend, things didn’t go quite as he’d expected, for just as he was leaving the neighborhood, whom should he run into but Sano himself.

There was no time to choose words or actions; he turned the corner and there was Sano walking toward him with a travel bag over his shoulder and not the world’s happiest expression on his face. He looked up as Saitou came around the bend, and stopped dead.

“S-Saitou?!” Well, that was odd… Sano didn’t seem angry, but was blushing. Why would he blush if he didn’t remember, but why if he remembered and wasn’t angry had he not approached Saitou about it? “I… thought you were dead…” Sano continued, his tone not much more collected than before.

Now Saitou was very confused.

“If you were alive, you sure as hell coulda said something about it, you know that?”

But if Sano had believed him dead, he obviously couldn’t remember — so, again, why the blush?

“I was just going outta town, but I forgot something at home.” It seemed Sano was not used to, nor comfortable with, Saitou having nothing to say in response to his statements, for he was speaking with the nervous air of one trying to fill an awkward silence. Which was not something Saitou had ever seen him do before, and made this all the more confusing.

“It’s just like you to be dead and not say a fucking word to any of us and then show up at random like this and…”

Saitou was still trying to figure this out.

“…and you’re still not saying a word.” Sano’s face took on a worried look. “Hey, are you all right? You’re not sick, are you? This is a weird neighborhood for you to be in anyway, and usually you’d’ve insulted me by now… Djyou hit your head or something?”

For this there could be no response but laughter.

Sano’s expression was now very concerned, and he stepped forward a little nervously. Raising a hand, moving slowly as if Saitou were a skittish animal, he pressed the back of it to the older man’s forehead, testing against the temperature of his own. “You don’t feel sick,” Sano murmured, moving even closer and sliding the hand around Saitou’s head, presumably searching for injuries.

Well, just because this seemed too good to be true didn’t mean it wasn’t actually happening, so Saitou leaned forward and kissed Sano decisively.

It seemed Sano was as surprised by this as Saitou had been similarly the other night, but the twitch he gave was not violent enough to break the contact. And after a moment, his arms crept around Saitou’s chest and clasped him tightly.

It was a long kiss. Very long and passionate, heating up the frigid night and indicative of what things were going to be like from now on. A nice thought, that. And at last Sano drew away, gasping, a delighted sort of shock on his face. “God damn!” he panted. “You really musta hit your head or something.”

Saitou smirked. “Maybe I did.”

“And that was you the other night, wasn’t it?”

The smirk grew. “Maybe it was.”

“Asshole,” Sano grinned, and kissed him again.

When he had use of his tongue once more, at great length, Saitou asked, “So, going out of town, are you?” He still didn’t quite understand what had been going through Sano’s mind, but he had time now to figure it out.

“Oh, hell, no,” Sano answered. “And leave you acting all weird? You obviously have a serious head injury; I gotta take you home and make sure you’re all right!”

“Well, I’m glad I’m in such capable hands,” Saitou said with friendly dryness.

Sano’s grin expanded. “Come on, then,” he ordered, pulling Saitou by the wrist. “Keep up!”


OH MY GOSH SAITOU REALLY

Ahem. Drunkenness does not equal consent. I’m glad Saitou at least recognizes the possibility of having behaved very inappropriately, but he still doesn’t seem to take it very seriously; and since things worked out in the end, he probably won’t even give it any thought after this. What a rapey story I have written.

Anyway. This was first posted on my twenty-fifth birthday, and, corresponding with that, the story was originally set in September. I eventually recalled, however, that not everyone lives where I live where snow in September isn’t terribly unusual. Even October is pushing it, for Tokyo, but that’s at least a little better.

Also, I had really wanted to have Saitou trip over Sano’s sleeping form on his way out the next morning, but POV and arrangement didn’t allow for it.

I’ve rated this story .

This story is included in the Saitou & Sano Collection ebook (.zip file contains .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats).


And the Moments Drift Like Snow

And the Moments Drift Like Snow

And the Moments Drift Like Snow

“If you want those two years badly enough to face what has to come with them, you’ll let yourself remember.”

Sequel to As the Years Go Up In Smoke: Saitou no longer trusts himself, Kenshin claims to love Sano, and Sano feels more and more that it’s desperately important to recover his memory of the last two years… but can he handle it?

And the Moments Drift Like Snow

Part 1

Three. Hours.

Three hours, consisting each of sixty minutes, for a total of one hundred and eighty, which was ten thousand eight hundred seconds if you wanted to calculate that out — which Saitou didn’t need to, as he’d counted each as it passed. For three long hours he sat in his room, scarcely able to breathe, cold, silent, still, struggling against a deadly pattern of thought from which a brief, inadvertently well timed visit had pulled him for the course of the morning. As he found himself slipping back into it in the afternoon, he fought. Now that he had a weapon with which to combat it, the battle was fierce and attenuated.

Although he wasn’t sure exactly what he would do, he knew survival would be part of it. Now that his world had in some measure regained its wholeness, or at least now that he was seeing things in less of a miserable haze, he wondered for a second time if he’d really been serious about suicide. He believed he had, but didn’t know if even before the visit it would have been right. He didn’t quite know how he felt about anything at this point, and he hated not knowing.

But he had to see him again. It seemed he would be allowed to associate with his ex-lover, and he knew he needed to contact him as soon as possible, if only to prevent himself from going crazy or sinking back into the suicidal mindset. He wasn’t sure how he would make this happen, but he knew he must.

To court Sano before, he’d merely made a point of showing in places the roosterhead went, knowing Sano was interested in him already, counting on the combination of constant proximity and previous desire to do the trick. That wouldn’t work this time, as Himura was still likely — indeed, more likely than ever, and with good reason — to frown upon his seeking Sano’s company.

He didn’t know what to think of Himura. He knew exactly how he felt about him — he hated him, and that wouldn’t be changing any time soon — but wasn’t sure how he should react to the choices that man had made. Naturally he couldn’t be pleased with the seemingly selfish decision to withhold from Sano the entire truth about their relationship — but how much that decision pleased Saitou was not the issue; whether or not it had been the right course was the important thing. Just because Himura had probably jumped at the chance to keep Saitou out of Sano’s heart, in order to attempt to put himself there, didn’t necessarily mean he had the wrong idea about Sano being better off without Saitou in his life.

The officer still wasn’t sure who had informed his former lover of their previous ‘friendship,’ but, given his belief in Kenshin as the mastermind behind the neat deception currently being inflicted on Sano, Saitou had to think that half-lie, like the rest, had had at least its origins with the rurouni. And why? Himura must disapprove, and to give his rival such a second chance… why? Saitou doubted it was out of kindness toward him, but perhaps it had been out of kindness toward Sano. Did he dare hope Sano missed him somehow, perhaps not knowing what he lacked, and that Himura had been driven, eventually, to that carefully curated form of the real story in order to placate him?

More likely it was a reminder from Himura to keep quiet about the truth.

And maybe he’d jumped to a false conclusion anyway in assuming Kenshin wanted Sano. Maybe he’d been thinking too jealously, had misread the looks, had attributed to desire what was merely natural protectiveness. Perhaps the rurouni’s motives were purer than Saitou thought, and his discernment should therefore be lent that much more credence — certainly more than Saitou’s heavily biased judgment. He didn’t know. Normally he would trust his instincts in such a matter, but he found he couldn’t bring himself to rely on his own understanding at the moment. He just couldn’t be sure.

That was what it came down to: he didn’t know that Himura wasn’t entirely correct in the way he was handling this. And as Saitou had turned Sano over to Himura’s care in the one hour when Sano had been unable to care for himself — that is, the one hour when Saitou, as his lover, might have been justified in making decisions on his behalf — he felt he’d waived his right to protest. A lover’s rights would not ordinarily be so lightly repealed, but he’d given up that status as well when he’d put Sano into Kenshin’s arms.

Eventually it seemed best to let Himura have his way — at least temporarily — and to keep up with the deception that catered to Sano’s repression. If Saitou could spend some time with Sano, as it appeared he would be allowed to, he could hopefully, through observation, form a less clouded opinion of the rightness of the situation and plan his actions accordingly.

And meanwhile, at the very least, Sano would still be a part of his life, something he’d feared was impossible. At least he had that to keep him alive.

This same life, he was reflecting in response to a sense of duty that at the moment he found almost painful, was something he should really be getting back to… now he’d decided he was definitely going to be living it.

They rarely questioned his actions at the station. As a matter of fact, though they unfailingly greeted him when he entered and said goodbye when he left and jumped to answer any question he might have or follow any order he might give, few of them there were even willing to look him in the eye. So his return to work, even after so many days’ absence, went unchallenged. Two or three gazes followed him into his office, but nobody said a word.

“Hey, boss, where you been?” Chou greeted him, glancing up from whatever he was doing, which looked to be essentially nothing. “Chief told me to send you his way whenever you showed up.”

Saitou nodded, casting dull eyes around at the room. Rousing himself after several long moments, he asked, “Any progress?”

“Actually, maybe yes,” Chou replied, beginning to dig through a nearby stack of papers.

It was with unexpectedly engaged attention that Saitou stepped forward to see what Chou might have found, and he realized he had subconsciously been steeling himself for a future devoid of all interest consequent upon the loss of Sano. The discovery that he was still intrigued by, still felt a sense of purpose concerning the issues he dealt with in his job was both reassuring and painful. On the one hand, the fire of Aku Soku Zan, whatever color it burned these days, was gratifying and familiar heat. On the other hand, Sano had meant more to him even than that, and it felt like betrayal to be taking comfort in another pleasure, to find something else meaningful, however important it had always been and still was to him.

Eventually, as he started to fall back into the customary pattern of work, Chou’s initial statement — that the chief wanted to speak to him — registered in his mind. This was something he would not so easily have forgotten had he been mentally on top of things, and he wondered how long it would take him to get it together. He wouldn’t lie to himself; it was entirely possible that would never happen.

The police chief was merely suffering from acute curiosity about Saitou’s orders concerning the arsonist. Considering the situation’s less-than-brilliant resolution and Saitou’s disappearance in the midst of the action, this was understandable. With forced composure and fighting off desperate unhappiness Saitou informed him it had been in pursuit of a lead regarding his current case. That was enough for the chief, who knew full well Saitou had duties separate from and often superseding precinct business, and it was also the truth, but Saitou still didn’t like to be reminded of the fact that everything had been his fault.

Moving slowly back to his own office from that unpleasant interview, wherein his conscience had berated him while his superior had not a word of reproof, it occurred to him it would probably be wise to tell Chou at least part of what had happened. With the broom-head’s tendency to run his mouth, Saitou couldn’t count on chance to keep Sano away or the secrets safe. Even if he did decide Sano needed to be told the truth, he wouldn’t want it done haphazardly by Chou.

Then, maybe he just wanted to talk about it with someone. He didn’t like that thought — it made him feel very weak — but he wasn’t going to deny the possibility. And maybe he was weak. He wouldn’t deny that one either.

Weeks were passing with their usual quickness, hastening toward winter, and Sano was dissatisfied with his life. At times he even felt downright unhappy. He supposed this was natural for someone with as large a memory gap as he had, but (also naturally) he didn’t want to accept it at that and just continue placidly living on the border of sorrow.

He’d sensed all along, and far from indistinctly, that there was something his friends weren’t telling him, but his brain had exhausted itself trying to guess what kind of thing it might be. Kenshin had absolutely refused to open up, maneuvering his way out of every conversation on the topic with a slickness Sano would not (but probably should) have expected of him. So continuing to conjecture that this big secret was something of which Kenshin did not approve seemed to be a good line of thinking.

But what could it be? He’d already logically ruled out nearly everything he could come up with. So, since the only thing Kenshin made any overt signs of disapproving was Saitou, Sano assumed the secret pertained to him — or at least that Saitou also knew what it was, and Kenshin worried he might reveal it.

Therefore, sensibly, Sano spent as much time with the police officer as he could.

It was a little amusing and a little disturbing how startled Saitou seemed the first few times Sano showed up — amusing because he’d rarely seen Saitou startled, disturbing because, damn! had he really been sick enough that for someone to see him walking around alive and well could be consistently shocking? Other than that surprise, Saitou didn’t seem to mind Sano randomly appearing at his side at any given time; and that Saitou made no discernable objection stood as fairly convincing evidence they really had been friends before (which Sano at first couldn’t quite bring himself to believe): there was no way the man would put up with Sano’s near-stalking if he regarded him with nothing more than tolerance.

Yet Saitou was different than Sano remembered him. His previous intensity was… not gone, Sano had corrected his initial assessment after a few meetings, but restrained somehow. This, even when Saitou was at work or tossing unusually mild insults in Sano’s direction, left him with something like placidity, even gentleness, that seemed unnatural.

Puzzling and sometimes disconcerting as this must be to Sano, it was yet another sign that they could have been friends. On the other hand, any particular friendliness, which might naturally be expected as typical of such a relationship, seemed likewise withheld. Actually, every aspect of the personality Saitou presented these days felt characterized by restraint.

Was that part of the secret, then? But why would Kenshin disapprove of a restrained Saitou? Of the man Sano remembered — of the stabbing, the offenses, the general lack of respect — perhaps… but with a wolf so subdued, what could be the problem?

Well, the fact was, if Kenshin wasn’t prepared to tell him, in any kind of satisfying detail, why associating with Saitou was unwise, no way in hell would Sano stay away. Beyond his initial motive of hoping to absorb information, he found himself too curious about the alteration that had come over a man he’d always thought the essence of stability.

Besides, after the disbelief in their friendship had at last worn off, he’d come to realize he liked Saitou, changed though he was.



Part 2>>

Part 2

It had never been Saitou’s habit, before, to alter his routine for something as inconsequential as winter weather… but this year, for whatever reason (as if he really didn’t know), he couldn’t stand the cold, and had taken to spending his lunch breaks at an indoor restaurant rather than the open-air stands he usually favored. And somehow Sano had discovered where this was and taken to joining him there not infrequently.

It still made Saitou’s heart pound every time Sano showed up, as if the sight of him were startling, even shocking. And watching him walk casually over to the booth, slide his shoes off, and sit down without ever realizing that his every movement was torment to the watcher, Saitou wondered how long he could last keeping regular company with him. It was a daily struggle not to pour out his entire heart and the protracted story of the past two years to the ignorant young man.

And maybe one of these days he would; he had yet to decide.

At the moment he still leaned toward letting things run their current course, the reason for this being that Sano didn’t seem unhappy. That made it no easier to buy him lunch day after day and try to keep himself from seizing him and declaring he would never let him go again, never let anyone else have him.

“Funny thing…” Sano had obviously noticed something unusual about their interaction. “Most people, when you say you’re friends with ’em, it means you’re nice to each other and shit… but with you, it’s more like you’re just refraining from killing me or something.”

“‘Or something?'” Saitou echoed mildly.

Sano shrugged. “I can’t figure out whether you still hate me and are just pretending not to, or what.”

Saitou struggled to keep the bitterness from his laugh as he wondered, “If I hated you, why would I bother hiding it?” That would make about as much sense as loving you and hiding it.

“Guess this is as nice as you get, then, huh?” speculated Sano in a jovially insulting tone.

“Be careful, or I might decide even that’s too nice.”

“I wouldn’t put it past you! And, hell, at least you don’t treat me like Kenshin does.”

“Oh? How is that?” Saitou hated Himura more than anything else in the world, hated it when Sano brought him up in conversation, hated the very sound of his name… but couldn’t be anything but desperately curious what complaint Sano might have about Kenshin’s treatment of him.

But Sano merely shrugged again. “I can’t figure him out either. He probably just treats me funny because I was so sick.”

Or because he wants you, Saitou suggested silently, grimly. The doubts he’d once entertained about Himura’s intentions toward Sano were by now completely gone; everything Sano had said about the man since that time confirmed this. And it made keeping quiet all the more difficult. Sano was right — Saitou was refraining from killing; it was just that Sano wouldn’t be the victim of choice if he were to let himself go.

What he said aloud was, “I think you like the extra attention.”

“Hell, no! Everyone’s always acting all careful around me, like I might fall apart or something… and they’re all so sorry for me. Losing a couple years’ worth of memory is shit, but I’m not made of fucking glass.”

“I’ve hit you enough times to believe that,” Saitou nodded. “And I’m glad to hear you’re dealing with this better than your friends expect.”

Sano sighed and leaned back, putting his hands behind his head and looking thoughtfully annoyed. “Well, I guess it’s really just Kenshin, actually,” he corrected himself. “And you, of course, but you’re different.”

“Am I?”

“Yeah… Kenshin treats me different than I remember, but you are different than I remember.”

“Am I?” Saitou repeated.

“Yeah… either something happened to you over the last two years that changed you, or I just didn’t know you all that well before.”

“People do change,” Saitou said with some difficulty. If I have, it’s because of you. Although at the moment what Sano was probably sensing was merely Saitou’s struggle to keep up the charade, not the natural metamorphosis of seven hundred and seventy-odd days. “Two years is a long time.”

Kenshin’s the same… I’m pretty much the same…”

“Don’t be too sure. Not on either count.”

“Why do you say that? You think we’ve changed a lot?”

The tone of that question was a little too eager, and it made Saitou pause before answering. Why did it seem Sano was fishing for information? Surely, ever direct as he was, Sano would simply ask if there was something he really wanted to know? Or did he assume Saitou wouldn’t tell him just as Himura wouldn’t tell him? But that would imply he was resorting to guile to get answers — and Saitou doubted that of Sano… at the very least, he would ask directly before attempting to employ artifice. Of course, Saitou could merely be reading him wrong; Sano could really just be eager to hear the answer to that question for its own sake.

Why couldn’t he be certain about anything anymore? Why did he have to question himself at every turn?

Because he’d been certain, so damned perfectly sure of himself, a month and a half ago, and it had cost him everything.

“You’ll have to watch for the changes yourself,” he forced out at last, adding in an attempt to take the focus off his long silence, “if you think you’ve changed enough in the head to recognize them.”

Sano stared at Saitou as he made this statement, wondering… not only did the words remind him only a very little of the Saitou he remembered, they also lacked the vigor that would previously have marked them. Beyond that, something else was missing… what was it?

Saitou raised an eyebrow at Sano’s unbroken gaze and lack of response.

“Oh,” Sano explained, even as he realized what it was, “I think I just figured out why you’re not as good at insulting me as you used to be!”

Saitou’s expression remained quizzical.

“Cutting remarks just don’t have the same edge without you waving a cigarette around as you say them. What happened, djyou quit? Speaking of changing…”

Saitou nodded without offering any explanation.

“Your teeth start to rot out?” Sano prodded.

With only the mildest of scowls Saitou replied shortly, “I don’t like smoke as much as I used to.”

That seemed an odd answer, but instead of pursuing it directly Sano mused, “I wonder about that whole smoking thing… How did it ever get started, anyway? What idiot first decided that breathing smoke was a good idea? It comes from some plant, right? Who picked the plant and thought, ‘I wonder what would happen if I burned this and breathed the smoke!’ Seems fucking idiotic to me. It’s one thing to– what?” He’d looked across the table to find Saitou staring at him with a hint of the same startlement Sano had previously found so entertaining.

Saitou shook his head with a slight smile. “It’s just odd to hear you say that as if you’ve never said it before.”

“When did I say it before?”

Saitou seemed to calculate days in his head before answering, “May of the year before last, I believe. You were trying to argue me into quitting.”

“Did it work?” Sano wondered eagerly. “Is that when you quit?”

“Unfortunately, no.” And again with the lack of explanation.

“But I had you half convinced, right?” Sano grinned, then spoke again before Saitou could even attempt to deny it: “So when did you quit?”

“Recently.”

“You really don’t want to tell me anything about this, do you?”

“Why do you find it so interesting?”

“Well, it’s not the most exciting thing I’ve ever discussed, but it seems like you specifically don’t want to talk about it. You hiding something, or what?”

“Yes, ahou, the dark and scarring secret of the cigarettes.”

Even with the ahou, Sano had to laugh. It wasn’t as if he thought he’d really been following a lead or something with this branch of the conversation.

“It’s one thing to accept a cigarette from someone who tells you, ‘Try this; it’s nice.’ If they’re your friend, you take their word for it and try it, and — if you’re like you — it is nice, and then you can’t stop, and you bug the hell out of your boyfriend with the nasty things forever more. That I can understand. But who the hell goes around burning shit and breathing over the fire?”

“Hn.”

“Seriously! If I went around picking plants and burning them and telling people to breathe the smoke–“

“I have to admit I see your point.”

“–hell, trying to charge people to breathe the smoke — they wouldn’t pay for it, they’d–“

“And having made your point, you can shut up now.”

“–throw me in a fucking asylum! But some guy whenever over in America somewhere–“

“I admit that smoking is one of the stupidest things anyone can do.”

“–instead of people calling him crazy and stupid like he was for thinking — wait, what?”

“Yes, smoking is stupid. Cigarettes are stupid. Much like you rambling on about it when there are so many more interesting things we could be doing.”

“So you admit I’m right?! Does that mean you’ll give them up? Wait…” Sano looked around, not failing to note their solitary state. “What more interesting things?”

Saitou’s answer was to latch his mouth onto Sano’s shoulder — he couldn’t kiss his lips, as this conversation had originally been prompted by the cigarette he’d just been smoking — slide his hands down the young man’s body, and silence him quite effectively, at least on the topic of tobacco.

Saitou sighed quietly, watching Sano chuckle at his remark about the dark and scarring secret and wanting to do here and now just what he’d done back then. How am I supposed to keep this up? he wondered hopelessly. He’d better get around to resolving for certain how he felt about maintaining this secrecy, and quickly.

Part 3

Saitou had been right: Sano wasn’t the same as he’d been two years ago. Well, that was logical; he should have agreed at the time. But of course he had always to figure things out on his own. He’d realized this one upon coming to recognize a sensation he’d been feeling lately that he’d certainly never felt before the lost time: restlessness for lack of anything to do. This was utterly baffling. As far as he could remember, he liked nothing better than to lie around on someone’s porch all day completely idle, but now he couldn’t stay still for very long, had to have something to keep him occupied.

He could only guess he must have developed something like a work ethic over the past two years and it was plaguing him now. Why this had happened he could not begin to guess. Kenshin had told him Kaoru had compelled him to work to pay at least a semblance of rent to her, and to help with repairs — but had he really come to like it? Become addicted to activity because Kaoru insisted?

Whatever the cause, the result was that he now found himself performing odd grunt jobs around town on a near-daily basis, and more money in his pocket at any given time than he (thought he) was accustomed to. It still puzzled him. Additionally, he couldn’t lounge around the dojo as he had in the past. Either he had to be assisting somebody there with chores or whatnot, or he ended up wandering away in search of something else to do.

This was the case one chilly afternoon when he found himself discontented, within a mere half an hour, with the pastime of restfully drinking tea after having helped Kenshin bring the clean laundry inside.

“You are leaving already?” Kenshin looked up from whatever he was folding.

“Yeah…” Sano stretched his arms and back as he headed out. “I’m gonna go see what Saitou’s up to.”

“Sano, I would like to talk to you about something, if you wouldn’t mind staying.” It sounded more like a command than a request, which was irksome. And Sano believed he knew what Kenshin wanted to talk to him about, too. Again.

“Yeah, yeah, I know you don’t like him or like me hanging out with him… I don’t really need to be lectured about it even more.” Sano waved an irritated hand at Kenshin as his steps toward the door did not slow.

“Sano, I love you.”

That, of course, was enough to halt Sano dead in his tracks.

“I have always loved you.”

“K-Kenshin…” He couldn’t turn. There was simply no way he could look Kenshin in the face, having just heard those words. “Are you serious?”

Of course Kenshin was serious. As if Kenshin would joke about something like that. At least, so Sano interpreted the silence behind him.

“Well…”

He really had to answer this, didn’t he? Not that Kenshin had asked anything outright, but the statement had been as good as a question.

“Look…”

There was a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach… almost sick, he thought… he didn’t quite understand it. How was he supposed to say this?

“Kenshin, I’m…”

Kenshin finally spoke again. “Sano, can you love me?” And how could he ask that so calmly?! A question like that, really! shouldn’t sound so damn placid.

“I–” The substance of his answer was obvious — a yes-or-no query laid out for him so neatly like that — but the wording was a bit more difficult if he didn’t want to be a complete asshole about it. Finally he settled for, “I’m sorry, Kenshin.”

He still couldn’t look back, and this silence couldn’t be interpreted as easily as the previous. Had he crushed him? Was Kenshin surprised? Hurt? Sano wasn’t sure he wanted to add guilt to his current discomfort, and therefore turning around must be out of the question. But Kenshin continued to say nothing. What could Sano do? This had been so unexpected and, honestly, unwelcome…

“I’m sorry,” he repeated as he left in a hurry. And he had no real idea where he was going.

This explained very adequately Kenshin’s odd treatment of him lately. Actually, he wondered how he could possibly have failed to consider this a viable answer before. Probably because he would never have wanted to think Kenshin had been in love with him for years and was just now telling him. Well, that Kenshin loved him at all.

And why should that feel so wrong, anyway? It was hardly unnatural for a man to fall in love with his friend… Sano didn’t think so lowly of himself to be amazed it had happened… And it wasn’t as if he was obligated to reciprocate; Kenshin was reasonable, and would certainly understand that his feelings were not returned. It was unfortunate Kenshin must suffer, but such things happened in life… none of this was unusual. So, really, why did it seem so completely inappropriate?

Of course there could be no staying at the dojo after that. It was perfect, just perfect, that Kenshin had said what he had on the day leading to the first intolerably cold night of the year — when Sano couldn’t just find a secluded spot or quiet corner to curl up in, but actually had to locate someplace with a roof and walls and a welcome. And as he was not in the mood to wrack his brains, Saitou’s house seemed most convenient to fill the first two requirements at least.

There was no answer to his knock, but that was just as well: he could explain his freeloading better once he’d warmed up and settled down. And maybe Saitou wasn’t coming home tonight, gone on business or something, and Sano wouldn’t have to worry about explaining at all. It took a few tries to pick the lock, and he was inside.

“Freezing in here too,” he muttered, and why did that seem so sadly appropriate? Fortunately, there was wherewithal on the hearth to build a fire, which he soon had in order; the only thing missing was matches. Sano looked around, puzzled. Matches were not something he would have thought Saitou’s house would be deficient in. But, then, he remembered, the man had quit smoking. Still, matches near the firewood seemed logical, didn’t it?

He went into the next room, the bedroom, and continued his search. This was a nice modern house, for all it was so small, with those fancy self-striking lamps and everything, but there had to be matches somewhere… unless Saitou had gotten rid of all of them to keep himself from lighting cigarettes with them? Sano had heard quitting was difficult, so that explanation could make sense. But there had been signs of a fire on the hearth recently, and, fanciful as Sano was, he didn’t think Saitou had lit it with those burning eyes of his…

He was about to close the standing cabinet that seemed much too large for what appeared to be all the clothing Saitou owned, when his eye caught on something that, though not likely to contain matches, still seized his attention: a small wooden box tucked away at the back of an empty shelf.

Don’t pry, Sano, he was telling himself. It’s absolutely none of your business. But despite the timely manner in which he’d recognized and attempted to discourage his nosy intentions, the box was already open in his hand.

And something was… wrong…

It was merely a pair of matching golden rings. He had never seen them before… that he could remember… but he must have… otherwise what could be so totally riveting, so very nearly appalling, about objects so plain, so insignificant?

Something was definitely wrong. His chest suddenly hurt, and as he stared at his hand and what it contained, a strange feeling very much like despair rushed through him. He didn’t know what was happening, why he was now on his knees clutching the little box so fiercely, or how he could be gripped with such inexplicable anguish, but it frightened and disturbed him and sent shivers throughout his entire body.

He recalled with an abrupt hastening of the already-painful pounding in his heart the gesture he made sometimes and had never previously understood: the twisting motion around one of his fingers, as if he were wearing a ring. A ring like these? Possibly one of these? The latter option didn’t make sense, but otherwise why was he so very worked up?

And at that moment Saitou entered the room.

“What are you…” The semi-irritated tone in which he began faded just before the words failed as he stepped fully inside and went completely still.

The consideration that perhaps Sano was trespassing onto very personal territory and Saitou might now, justifiably, be very upset with him only barely crossed his mind. As he set the box down hurriedly and staggered to his feet, all he knew was that the expression on Saitou’s face — nearly blank but for the hint of something a little like surprise — was somehow… just… unbearable. It rendered a previously uncomfortable scene overwhelmingly unpleasant, all the more so because Sano had no idea why.

Somehow finding movement difficult, Sano stumbled out the door as quickly as he could, gasping as he did so, “I think I’m sick…” This was a plausible excuse for his hasty exit as well as a decent explanation for why he felt so strange and distressed, but he didn’t believe it and wasn’t sure even why he’d said it. Saitou gave neither word nor gesture to stop him.

He broke into a run immediately outside the house, with no idea where he was going, only the determination to outdistance his pain and confusion. When he felt the tears on his face, however, he stopped.

Crying?! Sinking to the ground against some wall near which he found himself, he put his head in his hands. How could he be crying? Wasn’t he a grown man? What was there here to cry about? The last time he could remember having cried was…

But he should really stop looking to his memory to help him make sense of things. Because that’s what this was about, wasn’t it? It had to be: whatever it was he didn’t remember, whatever Kenshin hadn’t told him. Something about Saitou.

From that night on he knew no peace. Whereas before he’d been living merely at the edge of sorrow, now he dwelt in it day after incomprehensible day. Previously his attitude about this had been relatively casual, as if recovering his memories were a game of sorts… now, frustrated and nearly distraught as he thought about that unexpectedly upsetting discovery, he could not treat the matter so lightly.

The Tokyo friends he remembered were gone or nowhere to be found, doubtless drawn away over the last two years by the demands of chance. Kenshin might even have reminded him who had gone where, but at the moment Sano was still pushing thoughts of Kenshin uncomfortably away. He wasn’t even sure where or how he spent the next several nights, since most of his time was devoted to a search of the blackness in his head — a fruitless search. The only thing he could come up with, besides a headache, was the hazy image of a ring on his finger… but was that real memory, or wishful imagination?

When he found himself outside Saitou’s lunch restaurant one day at about the right time, he wondered if his feet didn’t know better than his brain what the next step was. Saitou had never been particularly forthcoming about the issue either, but Sano realized he’d never really asked him very direct or specific questions the way he had Kenshin. Newly hopeful, he went inside.

“I haven’t seen you for a while,” Saitou remarked carefully as Sano slid into the booth across from him.

“I’ve been avoiding everyone,” admitted Sano.

Saitou said nothing, wary, as if waiting for further explanation before he spoke.

“Tell me,” Sano demanded quietly.

“Tell you what?”

“Everything. Everything I don’t know. Everything about those two years I’m missing that nobody thinks I need to know. What’s with those rings? Why did I… freak out… like that, looking at them? And where do you come into all of this?”

Saitou gazed at him very seriously for a long moment, then turned his face away and remarked so softly that he might not have been addressing Sano at all, “I no longer trust myself.” Looking back at his companion, “I can’t tell you,” he said.

The younger man drew breath to protest, but checked his exclamation. If Saitou didn’t trust his own judgment… this was serious. Not that he’d thought it wasn’t, but that revelation did a lot to drive it home. He closed his mouth and frowned.

“What I will tell you,” Saitou said heavily, as if pondering each word before and even as he spoke it, “is this: what you’ve forgotten, you don’t remember because you don’t want to. Nobody but you has the right to decide whether or not you should remember it, but at the same time, nobody but you can recover it. If you really want to remember, you can and you will; I can’t give your memory back to you…” Then, almost as if speaking against his will, he added more quietly and with a touch of bitterness, “…and he can’t keep it from you.”

“You mean Kenshin?”

Saitou looked away again, but did not manage to conceal from Sano the brief flash of absolute hatred that passed across his face.

Sano attempted to puzzle through this out loud. “Obviously there’s something there… something that happened… something really bad… or nobody would mind telling me anything I wanted to know. And you say I’d remember on my own if there wasn’t something like that I wanted to forget.”

Saitou, his eyes still turned from Sano, nodded stiffly.

“And it has something to do with you.”

Saitou stood abruptly. “I won’t play guessing games with you. If you want those two years badly enough to face what has to come with them, you’ll let yourself remember.”

“Dammit, Saitou, you’re just–” But the older man was gone before Sano could finish his sentence, leaving him with a sudden chill in his heart that simultaneously angered and pained him. Why had Saitou turned so cold so suddenly? Why had those last words seemed so harsh? Had Sano been right, then, that whatever the big secret was concerned Saitou, more closely than he’d been speculating all along? And was it true the answer lay within his own mind?

“Bastard,” he muttered as he stood and looked to the door, but the remark held little energy. Glancing back down, he realized with a start that Saitou had left not only in the middle of his soba but without even paying for it. Hoping vaguely that he had enough on him to cover it, Sano wondered what in the world could be so upsetting as to distract that man that much. And once again, as Saitou had suggested, did the answer lie somewhere within reach inside Sano’s head?

He’s probably right, Sano reflected as he paid the bill (by a hair) and left the restaurant. Dismissing as annoying the quieter mental voice that added, He’s usually right, he decided it couldn’t hurt to put Saitou’s theory to the test.

Well… it could hurt. But supposedly ignorance could kill.

Part 4

And here he was at the dojo again. He hadn’t set foot here in over a week, not since Kenshin’s disconcerting confession, and he wasn’t entirely sure he really wanted to be here now. Something about what Kenshin had said just gave him unpleasant goose-bumps. It was faintly disturbing, having that kind of reaction to your best friend, but Sano had no control over it; feeling vaguely uncomfortable was the best he could do.

Remembering on his own hadn’t worked. Sorry, Saitou, you were wrong, he reflected ruefully as he stared at the dojo’s outer doors, trying to bring himself to open them. He didn’t know what he would or could say to Kenshin to get any more information than he’d ever gotten before, but retrieving the missing pieces of his past had become paramount… he had to crawl free of this growing depression.

He steeled himself and went inside.

Yahiko looked up from where he was raking soggy leaves into a pile, and Sano observed, “You should have done that before it snowed.”

“Yeah, no shit,” the kid grumbled.

“Where’s Kenshin?”

“In his room, I think.”

“Thanks.”

As he made his way toward the aforementioned, Sano tried to figure out what he would say. Kenshin had always resisted him quite expertly before, and Sano didn’t excel at speaking cleverly. Unfortunately, he hadn’t come up with much by the time he knocked.

“Come in, Sano.”

Kenshin sat very still, appearing as if Sano was interrupting him staring at the walls. “Hey, Kenshin,” Sano greeted him a little nervously.

“It’s been a while.” Was it really necessary for Kenshin to gaze at him so steadfastly, so attentively? It was unsettling. The younger man scratched his head as he sat down, already at a loss for words.

“Sano,” Kenshin said quietly, “I am sorry if I made you uncomfortable the last time you were here.”

Sano cleared his throat. “That’s… all right…” A very awkward, wordless moment followed, thickening ice that it was a struggle to break. But eventually Sano managed it. “I wanted to ask you about the last two years.”

“Oh?” Kenshin’s tone seemed guarded.

“Lately… it’s getting really important to me to figure this out, and I feel like there’s some bullshit I really need to get out of the way.”

“What do you mean?” Still that wariness of voice. If Sano had needed any further confirmation of some secret in his past, this would have been enough.

“I didn’t lose my memory because I was sick, did I.”

After a very long silence Kenshin answered softly, “No, you didn’t.”

“Why is everyone lying to me?”

Kenshin’s eyes dropped to the floor as he replied, “Because we all want what is best for you. We thought it would be easier this way.”

“Do you know that’s what’s best for me? You’re a really smart guy, Kenshin, but can you really say what’s best for another person?”

Appearing just slightly uneasy, Kenshin seemed unable to decide how to reply.

Sano went on. “Saitou said… well, suggested… the reason I don’t remember is because something shitty happened at some point and I’m repressing it… and that if I want to remember it, I will.”

“Has Saitou not yet learned his lesson about meddling in your life?” The tone of Kenshin’s voice was quiet and possibly the most bitter Sano had ever heard from him.

“So it is something to do with him. I don’t remember you guys hating each other as much as you do now… what the fuck happened with him? Did he…” But Sano couldn’t come up with a single idea of what Saitou could have done that would be so bad the memory of it would need to be repressed… at least, nothing Saitou would have gotten away with. Or that would result in nothing more than disapproval from Kenshin.

“Sano, I am not going to play guessing games with you. It’s just better you don’t know.”

“Kenshin, that’s not good enough!” Sano jumped to his feet as the anger that had been building this entire time finally broke surface. “Who are you to decide whether or not I should know something that happened in my own fucking past? Is it something so horrible it’s worse than anything any other human has had to deal with in all history? If not, why not just let me deal with it? For once can’t you let me carry my own fucking weight? You don’t have to protect me, you don’t have to feel responsible for me… you don’t… I’m my own person…” Sano was running out of things to say, and Kenshin’s unhappy placidity wasn’t helping.

When the younger man had finally fallen silent, Kenshin said quietly, “There are some things people should not have to bear, and this is one of them. If I can spare you the pain of it, I will. I cannot stand to lose you again.”

“‘Again?'”

Kenshin just shook his head.

“Kenshin!” Sano’s voice was rising despite all his attempts to keep the anger out of it. “Can’t you ever… what, do you think I’m not strong enough? It always comes back to that! Why do you think you’d ‘lose me’ or whatever? How can it be that bad?”

“Sano, the last time you recovered this memory, you tried to kill yourself. I am not going to let that happen again.”

Sano let out a long breath of surprise and irritation, but could think of no further argument and therefore lapsed into several moments’ silence as he stared down at his friend. Could he ever have guessed a time would come when Saitou’s words, Saitou’s treatment of him, would seem more reasonable than Kenshin’s? When Saitou would have more faith in him than Kenshin did? Clearly if he wanted answers, this was not the place to find them. He turned toward the door.

“Sano…” Kenshin began, uncertain and appealing.

Forcing himself to speak calmly again, to spare his friend’s feelings, whatever they were, Sano said, “I’ll see you around.”

“Sano, please trust me,” Kenshin murmured, and he sounded so miserable that Sano had to turn and regard him. And the expression on his friend’s face drained the anger out of him and left him cold. Unfair as his behavior seemed, Kenshin did care about him and really was, probably, trying to spare him pain as best he could. Sano just didn’t want any such efforts, any more than he wanted the affection that prompted them.

“Kenshin, there’s a lot of people in the world, I bet, who’d be glad to let you make this choice for them. But I’m not like that. So if you’re not gonna tell me, I’ll go to someone who will.”

Kenshin’s brows twitched downward, and he looked for a moment as if he might say something very emotional, let something slip, perhaps — no doubt in response to the implication that Sano was going again to talk to Saitou — but eventually did not even open his mouth. This was at first frustrating… but it also gave Sano the beginnings of an idea.

If neither of them will straight-out tell me, he reflected as he left the dojo and the sad-eyed rurouni behind, maybe I can trick it out of one of them…

Saitou seemed the obvious choice. He didn’t disapprove of the general idea of Sano recovering his memory — only insisted Sano do it on his own — and had, of the two men, been easier to deal with lately — especially given Kenshin’s revelation — and more reasonable on the subject. Whether or not Sano could adequately deceive such a man was a matter of question, but he considered it worth an attempt if it meant he could get rid of this damned incessant curiosity and confusion and the pain that came with.

He had to steel himself before approaching, prepare himself for the kind of subterfuge he planned. He didn’t like deliberately lying to his friends; it didn’t seem fair. And the fact that his own situation was also unfair, that Kenshin and others were deliberately lying to him, made things no easier, because Saitou didn’t seem to be a part of that. But what else could he do? This was his last idea.

“Saitou!” he called out to him, running to catch up as Saitou was evidently walking home from work.

“Hello,” was all the other said.

Walking beside him, Sano took a deep breath. “So I was at the dojo earlier…” He let the sentence hang unfinished, knowing Saitou’s hatred of Kenshin and incomprehensible concern with Sano’s memory issue would eat at him until he demanded,

“And?”

“And Kenshin finally told me everything.”

Saitou stopped walking, stiffening where he stood, motionless as a statue, in visible shock. He was silent for so long that Sano was beginning to think he would never speak again, when he finally repeated, “And?” in an unnaturally quiet tone.

“And…” What to say now? It was what he wanted, but why did it seem he had the officer’s attention more completely than he’d ever had it before? Why was this matter so important to Saitou? “I understand now why you didn’t want to tell me,” he finished.

“Do you remember?” Saitou asked.

“I’m getting bits and pieces of it back when I think about things he said,” Sano replied cautiously. “There’s some stuff I still can’t remember, though… Kenshin said I tried to kill myself before, but… was I…” How could he put this to get the most informative answer? “Was I really that weak?”

“Stronger spirits than yours have been broken by an experience like that…” Saitou faced away from him, and his speech was still oddly soft and perhaps even a little uncomfortable. “But I don’t think you would even have considered it if you hadn’t remembered… the way you did.” What was that tone? Guilt? From Saitou? This was so unfathomable it hurt — what part had Saitou played in whatever had happened to Sano?! “Most people have time to deal with something like that, instead of having it overwhelm them all at once.”

“I’m not mad at you,” Sano found himself saying… and although it seemed the perfect next line in the conversation, in response to that guilt, he was surprised to realize that the statement arose more from a desire to… comfort Saitou… than anything else. That was decidedly odd.

“Sano–” Saitou, who had with the word turned suddenly to look at him, cut himself short. And what was that expression on his face? Finally, after studying Sano for several moments, Saitou said in a calmer tone, “What are you going to do now?”

It was a good question. Sano feared that with Saitou looking into his eyes as he was — looking hard, as if searching for something, searching avidly — he wouldn’t be able to lie any more. But still he’d found out so little… only that the spirit-breaking experience he was repressing was something he’d already brought out of repression once before (though Kenshin had said something indicating this as well); that Saitou hypothesized it was the suddenness of his previous recollection of it, not necessarily the memory itself, that had caused his attempt at suicide. And that Saitou really had had something to do with it… or, at least, had been there the first time Sano had remembered? Felt terribly guilty about it in some way..? This was just too confusing. “I need to think,” he finally answered both Saitou and himself. Still a trifle afraid Saitou might detect his deception, he turned as if to walk away as he added, “A lot.”

“Sano…” It was the second time he’d heard Saitou say his name within a few moments, and Saitou never called him by his name. Sano hadn’t thought he would ever find Saitou so emotionally involved in something as the man seemed to be in this… and why was it that when he did get the chance to see so rare an occurrence, he couldn’t understand it no matter how hard he tried?! “Did Himura tell you… all about the last two years?”

Maybe he would, after all, get more information out of this conversation. “Yeah, just about everything,” he replied, glad his back was turned.

“Are you…” Had he ever heard Saitou so uncertain before? He didn’t think so. He wouldn’t have thought it possible. “I…”

“I’m not mad at you,” Sano said again, and although there was nothing he could think of for which he should be mad at Saitou and therefore the statement should logically be meaningless, for some reason he found himself putting his entire soul into the phrase.

“Is that all?”

Why did it feel like the rest of his life was riding on the answer to that question? Why did he have to be caught in the middle of a stupid riddle game nobody would play by the rules? It wasn’t fair. “Like I said,” he finally settled on, “I need to think.”

And why did he feel, then, as if he’d said exactly the wrong thing?

Only impenetrable silence lay behind him, so after a few moments, disappointed and disturbed, he really did walk away.

Without a word, without moving a muscle, Saitou watched him go. He obviously wasn’t welcome during this proposed meditation, so what could he say or do?

Despite how much he liked to attach every possible negative trait he could think of to Himura in his mind, realistically he knew it wasn’t much like the rurouni to back down from his resolve. But he was also perfectly well aware that men did stupid things when they were in love, and Sano had been insistent lately. Sano was always insistent. If he wanted something, it was usually almost completely pointless to try denying him. And when it came down to it, Saitou rarely begrudged any of it, for all he might pretend otherwise.

He couldn’t even smile at that reflection. At another time he might have, but just after Sano had given “I need to think” as his only answer to the question Saitou had clumsily been asking? …he wasn’t sure he would ever smile again. Not so difficult a prospect, really, when his face felt frozen in this blank stare.

Well, Sano had what he wanted now; Saitou only hoped with all his heart it was not more than he could handle. Then, maybe Himura telling him first as a sort of warning precursor to actual memory was the best way to go about it. At least the deception was at an end. But had Sano really been ready for it? Saitou didn’t know. He’d had no faith in his own discernment since that burning building; how could he possibly guess now whether this turn of events was for good or ill?

Gone away to think, Sano was.

And didn’t need Saitou’s company as he did so.

Saitou didn’t want to consider this a sure indication that Sano’s regard for him had not and would not return… but how could he think otherwise? He couldn’t deny he’d had the more-than-occasional daydream about Sano remembering everything, running immediately to his open arms, and staying there for however long it took to recover… but these had never been anything more than fantasies. And the reality was that if Sano had been told, was remembering, and was already avoiding him… how likely was it that he would ever return?

It was over.

Given the intensity of the previous exchange and the emotions he’d felt at Sano’s words, he thought he was taking to the idea remarkably calmly. There was no stabbing sensation in his chest, no overwhelming pressure or any more pain than he was accustomed to feeling day after day.

He supposed a heart could only break once, after all.

It was really over.

He realized he was walking, after a few minutes, but it didn’t seem he was heading home any more. He didn’t know where he was going, but what did it matter? He could be walking straight to Hell, and what difference would it make? He was too numb to care, or to mind the snow that began to gather as it fell onto his slow-moving frame.

Attempting to tell himself it was too early to declare the thing completely done with was futile, as he realized he’d been bracing himself, ever since he’d made the decision to go on living, for the eventuality of Sano’s never coming back; he’d actually, on some level, been expecting it. A pessimist at heart, then? It was what he would previously have called realism or prudence. Now he didn’t know what to think. Only that he felt so cold… so very cold… it seemed natural to have assumed he would never be loved again.

“I just didn’t want to get my hopes up.”

And there he was, stopped short at the edge of the street looking out into a little wood to the spot where Sano had been standing as he’d said those words. So this was where his steps had been directing him. It was no surprise.

His eyes did not see the snow, nor his ears hear the silence. His mind was reliving a far-off day whose effects had now been terminated, and what flesh remained to him was finally turning completely to stone.

Part 5

What had started as a lie to cover up a lie was about to become truth. This had to end. For some reason Sano could not even begin to guess at, he’d just made things worse with Saitou in his attempt to gain a little more information. It seemed it really was time to think about things — a lot and alone. Every time he went to either Kenshin or Saitou for answers, the entire mess just became more complicated, more confusing, more painful… to the point where he was hurting not only himself but also his friends in the process.

His initial attempt had been far from successful; in fact he’d fallen asleep. But now it seemed that to try again was the only thing left for him to do, besides being a venture he absolutely had to make — because, of all possible motives, he couldn’t stand to let Saitou suffer any longer. Of course Kenshin was suffering as well, but Saitou was obviously central to this thing and his unhappiness weighed heavier on Sano. What memory he did possess found it ironic that he would be searching for something painful in his soul in order to spare Saitou discomfort, but the recollection of that man’s tone and bearing just now would not leave him.

He was right after all, I guess; it really is up to me in the end. Except now I’m not really doing this for myself, am I? He shook his head and looked around. It was snowing, but the day had yet to fade, and everything under the clouds was a dull sort of glowing grey. I’ll find a place and sit down, and I won’t move until I remember, he told himself determinedly. And a nearby stack of crates in an alleyway between two shops seemed as good a place as any. He settled in against the cold wall, wrapped his arms around his chest, and closed his eyes.

The beginning of this process, at least, he’d been over many times, like fingers run across a sealed wound without nearly enough force to break it open again. The last thing he could remember clearly before the gap was Yumi offering to let them leave without any further battle. Her back was to a huge pair of metal doors, and beyond these, memory dissolved. Picturing himself there with a clarity he would fight to retain, he steeled himself and stepped forward through them as they grudgingly parted with the shriek of unoiled metal. He must not fail this time.

His eyes flew open, wide and trembling, his breaths shortened, as he finally remembered.

It was… terrible… so terrible… This was what Kenshin had sought to protect him from, and with good reason. Misery, humiliation, self-abhorrence, hatred of the entire world… it raged out at him from the depths of his mind that were now becoming less black — cold, clawing, his own weakness and pathos, his abject helplessness, nearly crushing him.

Hands clutched each at the opposite arm as he bowed his head and squeezed his eyes shut once more, gritting his teeth against the recollection of physical sensations so strong he could swear it was happening all over again. Tears seared their way from beneath his eyelids and fell like crystals into his lap, and he bit back an anguished cry as his entire body shook.

No wonder Kenshin had tried so hard to keep him from recovering this. These feelings were worse, he had to think, than death… making his previous attempt at suicide beautifully understandable. He remembered that now as well, remembered the feeling of the sword in his hands and the sweet promise of oblivion.

Saitou’s sword.

No. He absolutely couldn’t allow himself to fall into that oblivion now. Because he hadn’t done this for himself. Of course he’d wanted to remember, but what had finally opened those doors was his concern for Saitou. If he gave in to despair now, it would make the entire effort, maybe his entire existence, meaningless. Saitou blamed himself — Sano remembered now — because he hadn’t arrived in time, because he’d forced the memory on Sano before, because… because Sano himself had told him it was his fault.

This recollection was a blow, if not equal to the one dealt by Shishio, immediately secondary to it. Had he really… had he really said… A trembling hand crept to his cold face, clenched against it, felt the tears pouring. He could hear his own voice screaming, “You might as well have fucking done it yourself!” Yes, it seemed he really had.

He forced himself to his feet, finding his balance badly off but taking to an immediate run nonetheless. The irregular beat of his pounding steps reminded him of the sound of Shishio’s footfalls as he’d approached… to… and how could Sano believe he was fit for anything other than to be thus used, when he’d said things so unforgivable to Saitou… to a man who’d… who’d loved him so completely?

The overfast and terribly painful pounding of his heart almost dragged him to the ground at that moment, the sense of his own worthlessness threatening to devour him whole. But he pressed onward, seeing before him the expression on Saitou’s face from earlier that had probably been a mirror of what his own must be now.

“I need some compensation for all this trouble I’ve taken to entertain you people.”

No, he could not start reliving it here. It would sap his strength and fell him, curl him up again around his once-shattered fists, and he might just die there in the snow. He had to find Saitou. But–

“If you get back on your knees, I’ll let you enjoy it.”

Concentrating on a different memory — the quiet despair in Saitou’s voice as he agreed with Sano’s wild accusation, “Yes, this is my fault” — he kept moving. As he found himself in Saitou’s neighborhood, his speed increased; he could not reach the man’s house quickly enough, and it didn’t matter if he was panting too hard to speak when he got there.

He burst inside without knocking, not even knowing whether he’d broken the door, stumbling and yelling out Saitou’s name. But in none of the rooms he frantically entered was Saitou to be found.

This house… everything here was familiar now — from the angle of every corner to every worn spot on the floor to every last item in every room. He knew it all, because this had been his home, the place he’d spent nearly two years in peace — in peaceful ignorance, at least — with Saitou, the place where he’d been happier than anywhere else he’d ever lived. But for the moment, without Saitou here, he couldn’t stand it.

“What does it look like I’m doing?”

No… oh, god, no…

The minor composure he’d built up in the house shattering, he slipped in the growing snow on the walk outside, but caught himself before he could fall; he wasn’t sure he’d be able to rise again if he did. Think of something else! Just for now…

“Are you… I…”

Saitou…

Back in the street, his desperate eyes searched for any sign of the man, but found nothing. There was no way to tell where he might have gone after the fraudulent conversation that — well Sano knew now — must have hurt him so deeply.

“Sano! Sano!”

Only at a third repetition of his name did he realize someone was calling him, and he skidded to a halt. Turning, he found Kenshin at his side looking as if he’d just run to catch up. The rurouni’s eyes were wide and his face extremely worried. “Sano, what is going on? Are you all right?”

“The thing you are missing… the person you are missing… is Saitou.”

“You’re kidding me, right?”

“Sano, I honestly wish I could say I was. During the last two years, you and Saitou became friends, and you spent a lot of time with him. None of us ever really approved, but…”

“‘Friends?'” Sano whispered, absolutely stunned, as that instance not long after he’d awakened from his ‘illness’ drifted across his mind’s eye. Then a bit louder, “‘Friends?‘”

“Sano, what is wrong?” Kenshin sounded almost desperately concerned.

“Sano, I love you. I have always loved you.”

He understood it all now: the lies from a man he’d thought totally honest, the disapprobation of a friendship that had seemed harmless, the inexplicable and apparently recently-arisen hatred of someone that had never appeared to be more than a rival in combat… the selfishness and glaringly contrasted selflessness of two men that wanted the same thing.

“You absolute bastard,” Sano whispered, rage swelling for the moment above his pain.

Kenshin looked dumbstruck.

“How could you do that to me?” Sano demanded, unable even to raise his voice, so great was the commotion within him. “How could you do that to him? How could you call yourself my friend doing something like that?”

“Sano, do you… did you…”

“Yeah, I remember everything now.” He couldn’t even think of anything more to say to Kenshin; his mind was in too much turmoil, his heart hurting too desperately for much more speech with the man. “I’m just on my way to find Saitou,” he added as he turned away, emphasizing the name almost spitefully.

“Sano!” Kenshin’s voice was harsh, demanding, nearly reminiscent of how he spoke as Battousai. “All that man has ever done is hurt you! If you remember, you should see that! He’s no good for you; if you go back to him now, he’ll–”

Sano had whirled and struck Kenshin in the face with a clenched fist, full force, before he’d even realized what he was doing. Even Kenshin, who saw every blow coming, looked shocked as he staggered back a pace. “Don’t you dare even fucking talk about him,” Sano seethed. “All that man has ever done has been anything and everything that was good for me, unlike some so-called friends or would-be lovers who couldn’t even let me live my own life without trying to play out their own fucking selfish plans.”

Kenshin was absolutely speechless.

“Sano, I love you. I have always loved you.”

“Some love,” Sano growled, disdainful and bitter and utterly crushed, as he turned away again, and the freezing tear tracks on his face doubled as he resumed his run.

Forward movement, after that encounter, was physically difficult; it felt as if he floundered through a waist-deep snow-drift, memory piled upon stinging memory and each demanding to be examined at length.

He remembered Kenshin and Saitou fighting… fighting over him… fighting for his love… a battle that would have been a death-match had Sano not intervened.

He remembered another battle that had been a death-match, on a high and fiery platform on Mt. Hiei, a battle that had taken more than lives.

He remembered every tortured moment of the events just a few months ago, when Saitou had done everything he could to help him, to save him, and had eventually, evidently, given him up for that very purpose.

He remembered falling to the ground onto shattered hands, and Shishio pulling him back up by the hair.

He remembered those rings: how much it had meant to him back then, and that whole glorious day… but the recollection of how happy he’d been only heightened by contrast his current misery.

He remembered Shishio.

He remembered his first confirmation of Saitou’s feelings for him, and what they’d done in that grove… it had been months after Shishio, but still he’d been in so much pain… he’d assumed, back then, that was due to its being his first time, but of course he’d been wrong about everything… Shishio had been there first.

Shishio… Oh, god, he didn’t think he could ever… no, no, never again…

I have to find Saitou! Continually telling himself that was the only thing keeping him going, now not only because of his desperate need to reassure the officer that none of it had been his fault, but also because he feared that, at least until he could get himself together, he might just fall apart without him.

Time seemed to stretch until he could not tell a second from an hour, and his body worked only sluggishly so it felt he moved as slowly as the languidly-falling snow. And his only coherent thought amidst a flaming sea of horrifying images and ghost sensations threatening every moment to overwhelm and destroy him was that he must find Saitou.

And at last, by some miracle of chance or perhaps by the kindness of destiny, he did. The wolf stood very still on a secluded street that ran alongside a little patch of woods. As Sano came to a halt upon sight of him, his blood seemed to start flowing again, and his mind cleared just enough for him to entertain one or two lucid reflections.

Saitou’s figure, his movements, his presence, everything, everything Sano saw and remembered of him, knew about him without having any way of knowing — Sano loved it all. It seemed so natural for him to love him, so nearly primal, he almost couldn’t believe he’d ever forgotten he did. All he wanted now was to be in Saitou’s arms, know he could stay there, to cry out his sorrow until it washed away and have Saitou still with him when it was all over.

But would Saitou forgive him for his deceit? For the pain he’d inflicted in attempting to figure things out, when he could have remembered on his own without that kind of duplicity? Could Saitou still love him, after putting up with months of indifference and carelessness?

It didn’t matter. There were things Sano had to say, regardless of their future together.

“Saitou!” he hailed him, nearly too breathless to form the call. Likewise was his body nearly too exhausted to finish the run to the other man, and he stumbled as he approached.

Saitou, though apparently surprised as he turned toward Sano’s voice, stepped forward and caught him quick as lightning, looking in horror at Sano’s tear-stained face and desperate eyes. “Sano, what’s…”

Regaining his balance, Sano did not step back, but clutched at Saitou’s arms and gasped out, “Saitou, I’m sorry… I’m sorry… it was all a lie… Kenshin never told me anything. I was just trying to get you to talk. I’m sorry.”

The older man’s eyes widened a fraction, and then he frowned. “I told you that you–” he began, apparently with some difficulty.

“But I couldn’t stand it bothering you so much,” Sano interrupted him, plunging on wildly with his explanation, “so I took your advice and forced myself to remember… so I could tell you… make sure you know… that I really don’t blame you… really.” After that, the words just came pouring out; he had to make sure Saitou understood; it was simply imperative. “I know I said I did, but I wasn’t thinking straight; you know I wasn’t thinking straight; you said so yourself, that I wouldn’t have tried suicide if I hadn’t remembered it all at once. I wouldn’t have said any of those horrible things… I would never have fucking hit you. You can’t blame yourself; there was no way you could have known what kind of thing I was repressing… you needed me to remember, and I needed to remember, and I need to remember now and you…” His tone was more desperate than he recalled allowing it to become. “I’m sorry if I sound like a complete idiot, but just… just tell me you’ll stop blaming yourself.”

Saitou was staring at him wordlessly, but his expression now was less inscrutable than it had been in months: he was clearly heartbroken, and at last Sano knew why. And imagining what Saitou must have been going through since their separation… no, he couldn’t even begin to imagine it. But at last he understood the man’s face.

“Please,” he said, very seriously. “It’s the only thing about this I won’t be able to deal with, if you keep thinking it was your fault.”

“You’re… sure you’re remembering what happened to you accurately?” Saitou finally asked with forced calm.

“Yes, I am,” replied Sano. “Don’t worry about that; I’m handling it.”

“You seem to be handling it… very well.” Saitou really couldn’t be blamed for mistrusting Sano this time, but that didn’t make things any less strange and awkward.

“I remember every fucking detail,” Sano insisted. “Do you want me to describe it? He told Houji to take Yumi inside and–”

“All right,” Saitou cut him off, harsh and quiet. “You don’t have to. And you’re… all right?”

“No. Nobody’s all right who gets raped, least not for a while,” Sano answered bluntly. “I feel like crawling into a hole and rotting. But right now it’s more important to me to make sure you don’t feel like any of this is your fault when you’re the only one who was actually looking out for me all along.”

Saitou let his eyes fall shut and nodded slowly, as if finally accepting what Sano was trying to get through to him. But the expression he was still fighting off, that tortured restraint, was just too much for Sano. The younger man’s breath caught as he began, “And– and if you– if you still love me, I–”

There was a half-second’s flash of gold from which every minute shred of restraint had fled as Saitou’s eyes opened, and then Sano was… whole again… held tightly against the man he loved in a heated, possessive, almost crushing embrace that shattered any doubts he might have that everything would, someday, be all right.

“Ahou,” Saitou was growling into his ear. “The moment I stop loving you, I’ll cease to exist.”

Sano buried his face in Saitou’s chest, choking out something he thought might have been an apology before the sobs tore all words from him.

And as the sun set completely and frigid night fell, the healing of two fragmented hearts, reunited in the silent, drifting snow, slowly began.



<<Part 4

This story’s not terrible; in fact it gets a . It’s good enough, at least for now, that I keep its abysmal predecessor around so this one can be read properly. You never know when that may change, though.

I had at one point started writing the scene where Saitou tells Chou what’s going on. It turned out not to fit in the story, and never got finished, but I think it’s interesting enough that I’m including it here. I just adore Saitou and Chou as friends.


“What? What?! I thought that guy was tori-atama’s friend! I’d fucking kill someone who did that to me!”

“If you knew he had.”

“Well, you’re gonna tell him, right?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“What do you mean you don’t know yet?! You’re not gonna fucking let Battousai win, are you?”

“It isn’t about him. It’s about what’s best for Sano.”

“How the fuck is that good for him?! How can you be so calm about this?”

“The only reason I brought this up is to let you know that you need to keep out of it.”

“But… but this really pisses me off! It’s a fucking dirty trick! It ain’t right! Don’t just stand there and tell me not to get involved!”

“Do you remember what Sano thought of you in that jail cell in Kyoto two years ago?”

“He didn’t like me much…”

“Well, that’s probably all he remembers of you now. You’re not his friend anymore.”

“But I’m fucking still yours! This… this seriously pisses me the fuck off!”


Also, two bonus versions of the figures from the title pictures:

Closer Even Than That

Childishness. That’s what it was — the childishness and weakness Saitou had always accused him of. Whatever he wanted to think about himself, he had to face the truth: it didn’t matter how hard he tried to be an adult; when it came right down to it, he was just a big, helpless baby who expected — who needed — to be petted and humored and allowed to live the good life at the expense of others. Because really, only a brainless kid would ask something so stupid and expect any kind of likeable answer. You’d think after having been with the guy for a year Sano would know better than to ask that kind of question.

Saitou Hajime didn’t love. He destroyed evil. What exactly had Sano been expecting, anyway? A blood oath?

“Sano, may I ask if you’re all right?”

Sano looked down quickly. It wasn’t that he was unhappy to see Kenshin… he just didn’t like the idea of Kenshin guessing at the self-deprecation going through his head. Kenshin got awfully annoying when he thought you were being too hard on yourself.

“Sano, what is wrong?”

Sano shrugged. “Just that life’s a bitch,” he muttered.

“It can be,” the red-head agreed calmly. “But why do you say so today?”

“Would you ever say you loved your sword?”

“No…” Kenshin’s expression was quizzical. “At least… well, no, I cannot say I would.”

“Yeah, didn’t think so.” The bitterness in Sano’s tone increased with every word. “And do you think someone’s ever gonna love you if they don’t after you’ve been with them for a year?”

Kenshin thought of Kaoru and cleared his throat, not sure what to say.

“Yeah, didn’t think so.” Sano leaned his elbow on his knee and his face on his fist, looking simultaneously furious and deeply hurt.

Having by now figured out what this was all about, Kenshin carefully planned what he would say, knowing there were a few ways he could put this that would only anger Sano more. “Even people who have known Saitou for a long time do not always understand him perfectly,” he told his young friend eventually. “Especially when it comes to important matters, I have noticed he likes to get his point across in his own way.”

Sano rubbed absently at the old scar on his shoulder and nodded.

“I would not like to try to interpret anything he said if I thought it might be only half of what he meant,” Kenshin finished, mentally crossing his fingers as he watched Sano digest his words, hoping the statement would push the other in the right direction.

Finally, “He should just say what he fucking means,” Sano grumbled, but the angry and pained notes in his tone were not nearly as sharp. And when presently he jumped up with, “I’ll talk to you later, Kenshin,” and strode out the door, the addressed friend had to breathe a sigh of relief.

*

Pride. That’s what it was — the pride and stubbornness Sano was always complaining about. Whatever he wanted to believe of himself, he had to face the fact: it didn’t matter what his morals or intentions were; when it came to relationships with actual people, he was just a proud old man who expected to have things his way and everyone else to live by his standards. Because really, only a complete jerk would answer a simple, forthright question in such a way that the questioner’s heart would be broken. You’d think after having been with the boy for a year Saitou would know better than to expect Sano to play word-games with him over such an important issue.

Sagara Sanosuke didn’t puzzle through things. He fought them with a straightforward fist. What exactly had Saitou been expecting, anyway? A calm, “Oh, really? How so?”

“Hey, boss, what’s your problem?”

“Go away.”

Chou seated himself on top of Saitou’s desk and peered down at the grumpy expression on the older man’s face. “You have another fight with tori-atama?”

“Worse,” was Saitou’s only reply.

Chou, who adored gossip and by now knew Saitou better than most people would be willing to admit even if they could get that far, just waited.

“The idiot asked me this morning if I love him,” Saitou finally said irritably.

“Well, shit,” Chou laughed, “everyone knows the answer to that.” Not cowed by his boss’s deadly expression at this, he continued, “But I bet you said something all fucking high-and-mighty and he ran off crying.”

Saitou’s eyes flicked away to the right as if he didn’t want to face this accusation; after a long pause he said, “Yes.” Well, Sano hadn’t exactly been crying, but close enough.

Chou had to laugh again.

“I told him that would be like saying I loved my sword,” Saitou protested, wanting sympathy and knowing perfectly well he’d get it from Chou in this instance.

“Well, makes sense to me,” Chou replied, as expected, then added with another chuckle, “but no wonder he didn’t like it!”

Saitou knew that perfectly well too, and only frowned harder.

“But I know how that guy is… gets mad at everything and gets over it just as quick,” Chou continued in a jovial tone that was calculated not to sound like he was giving advice. “When you tell him what you meant, he’ll probably forget he was ever pissed at you.”

Saitou snorted faintly, but it was accompanied by an equally faint smile.

Chou shrugged. “Wish I was that good at bouncing back from shit.” Then glancing smoothly at the clock on the wall and hopping backward off the desk he said, “Well, you don’t pay me to sit around in here all day. Gonna go check out that one warehouse.” And through the door he went, his knowing grin carefully hidden from the pensive officer he left behind.

*

They met at a spot almost exactly halfway between dojo and police station, stopped short, and stared at each other in pregnant silence.

“I didn’t mean–” Saitou began.

“I shouldn’t have–” Sano said at the same time. And they both fell wordless and stared for another wary moment.

And then, “I’m sorry,” they both declared, and by mutual consent were in each other’s arms.

“I was stupid to run off without letting you say anything more,” Sano said.

“Next time I won’t be so cryptic,” Saitou replied, touching his lips to Sano’s temple.

“Well, what did you mean with that stuff about the sword?”

Saitou took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of Sano’s hair and smiling slightly before he replied. “In battle, my sword is like a part of myself, and if I were to lose it I would lose everything, perhaps even die. To say I loved it would be strange because it’s closer even than that; it’s so much a part of me, I couldn’t even exist without it.”

Sano’s face and chest were burning at the sound of these words. “And that’s… that’s how you feel about me…?”

Saitou held him tighter so their hearts were beating close in rapid synchronization. “It’s more than that, for you… but I don’t have words for it.”

“Oh, shit,” Sano murmured into his lover’s neck. “Remind me never to run off again before you get to the good stuff.”

“Or I could just give you the good stuff without preamble,” Saitou replied with apologetic fondness.

“Well, let’s go find some of it right now,” Sano suggested, the words accompanied by some nibbling on Saitou’s ear.

“Good idea,” Saitou growled, returning the favor.

And as they drew back out of each other’s arms, Sano’s whispered “I love you” was echoed just as softly by Saitou. Unblinking eyes meeting before they turned to walk home, they shared a smile of perfect understanding.


I’ve rated this story . I wrote it for Midori Natari Himura, so long ago, when she complained there wasn’t enough WAFFy (that was a term we used to use) Saitou & Sano fic.

There’s still someone else’s fic kicking around on the internet that, if it’s not a deliberate knock-off of this one of mine, is a bizarre coincidence of similarity XD

This story is included in the Saitou & Sano Collection ebook (.zip file contains .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats).


All Sorts of Good Details



Chou regained consciousness to a splitting headache, the reflection that daylight was just pure cruelty in the sky for being so bright, mild curiosity at his somewhat familiar surroundings, and the oddly worried-sounding and subdued voice of Sagara Sanosuke — “You awake?”

“Yeah,” Chou groaned. “The fuck…?” It felt like a hangover, but he could not for the life of him remember… “Whydzthis look like Saitou’srom?” He’d seen it once or twice during his time reporting to Saitou, but why would he be there? And with Sanosuke?

“It is Saitou’s room,” Sano replied quietly, “and you’d probably rather not know why you’re here, but I figure I better tell you anyway.”

Chou didn’t want to sit up, but the roosterhead’s tone was proddingly strange. Still, it took a moment before he could get his eyes to focus on the distinctly agitated form of the other man. The other, barely clothed man. What had happened last night??

“It’s like this,” Sano said: “about right after you quit working for him, Saitou went fucking crazy.”

“Wzalready fuckin’ crazy,” Chou protested.

“I mean like sex-crazy. It just came out of nowhere!” Sano’s voice dropped almost to a whisper as if he were afraid someone might hear; it made Chou very nervous. “He just started going after anyone he could get… half the good-looking guys in town’ve been his bitch, and there’s nothing none of us could do about it ’cause he’s got connections like crazy and he’s too strong even for a group of us to take down.”

“Shit!” Chou growled, gripping the blanket around him and picturing Saitou’s psychotic yellow eyes all sex-hazed and predatory. “You’re fuckin’ kiddin’ me!”

“No.” Sano shook his head gravely. “I’m his favorite, I guess, probably ’cause he always hated me so he gets off on dominating me all the time. Lucky I ran into you last night before he found you; he was so busy with me he didn’t get to you, and then he had to go do some emergency shit at work. I dunno when he’ll be back, but you’d better get out of here. He’d know when the drug would wear off, so he might be back any minute.”

“Drug?!” So it wasn’t a hangover at all. “Shit, shit, this is fuckin’ crazy!” Chou was scrambling to his feet, but, losing his balance — not to mention getting tangled in the blanket that really did smell terribly of cigarettes — he fell back to the futon. “Always knew’e was off his fuckin’ nut, but this is…” His eyes went wide. “Where the fuck are my fuckin’ swords?!”

“I don’t know,” Sano replied. “Maybe in the house somewhere, maybe– oh, shit.”

Chou looked around in wild consternation at Sano’s sudden tension and the very obvious sound of footsteps in another part of the house. Before he could say anything, Sano had jumped to his feet. “He’s back; shit, yeah, that’s definitely him. Look, I’ll go distract him, try to get him into another room so you can get outta here.”

“I’m not leavin’ without my swords,” Chou insisted.

“Which is more important, your swords or your fucking ass?”

Picturing that crazy bug-bastard’s eyes again, Chou wasn’t sure how to answer this question.

“I gotta get out there, man, or he’ll be in here after you.”

“‘fhe comes in here I’ll fuckin’ kill ‘im,” Chou growled.

“No!” Sano replied frantically. “You’d never be able to beat him, and it would just turn him on! ‘Sides, you can barely even stand up yet!”

Chou had to admit that this was probably true. “Shit, this is fucked up…”

Sano was at the door. “I’ll see what I can do… you just get going soon as you can walk.”

“Th-thanks,” Chou stammered, wondering how soon that would be and whether he would be able to escape this situation.

*

Saitou watched as Sano emerged from the bedroom half clothed, closed the door behind him, and seemed to struggle for a moment to contain a fit of laughter.
“There’s my undercovers cop,” the young man finally said. “You’re back early.” (Although he didn’t seem at all surprised.) And, flinging himself on the officer, he attempted to kiss him.

Saitou, who had been frowning at the strange display of amusement, now frowned at the haphazard mess of sheathed weapons strewn across the floor from wall to wall; he refused to be kissed. “Do I even want to ask what Chou’s swords are doing in my house?”

“He was in the area,” Sano shrugged, “and I ran into him, and we went drinking.”

“For future reference,” Saitou responded, “your drinking companions stay at your apartment” — fixing him with a flat stare that, while not far from Sano’s face due to the younger man’s still being draped over him, was far from pleased. Or at the very least in the living room, he added silently; he would not say it aloud, as the smallest degree of allowance would encourage his irresponsible lover to take even more liberties.

“Aw, lighten up,” Sano grinned, and kissed Saitou’s nose.

The wolf’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why are you so cheerful?”

“Because you’re back in town half a day earlier than I expected you,” replied Sano in a tone of overwhelmingly untrustworthy innocence.

“You’re a terrible actor,” Saitou informed him flatly.

“I’m good enough!” protested the jovial Sano. “I can convince a drunk guy of just about anything. Or a hungover guy, even.”

Saitou shook him off and reached for the bedroom door, his eyes still narrowed.

“Aww, c’mon, the poor bastard’s feeling like shit, and now you’re gonna kick him out?”

“I believe I have a right to determine who inhabits my own bedroom,” Saitou replied coolly.

“Fine, fine,” Sano shrugged. “Go in there; freak him out; whatever.”

Saitou turned briefly. “Does he know about us?”

“Oh, sure,” Sano replied in a deliberately offhand manner that failed entirely to conceal the slyness in the remark. “He knows all sorts of good details.”



Sometimes I wish I had the resources to play this kind of elaborate practical joke, but in actuality I would find it too cruel. Here it’s fucking hilarious, though. Messing with Chou was always fun, of course. This also gets points for “undercovers cop” and Sano kissing Saitou’s nose. I’ve rated this story .

This story is included in the Saitou & Sano Collection ebook (.zip file contains .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats).


Fate and/or the Radio


Saitou didn’t usually listen to the radio, especially not when he had a headache, especially not in his car, and especially not when he was on the phone.

…one day, summer afternoon, just me, nothing much to do…

But the fact that he’d dialed the number mostly against his will, calling someone he didn’t want to be thinking about in the first place but hadn’t been able to stop thinking about all day, had made him desperate — his scheme was that, even if the moron was awake and decided to answer, and even if he sounded completely irresistible over the phone, the music would be distracting enough that Saitou would be able to get away with just giving him a hard time, annoying and confusing him, and not asking him out.

…then he swayed on by me, brown hair and a wicked body…

Saitou changed the station with a frown. The main reason he didn’t listen to the radio was that he hated just about everything everyone played.

…my love, my love, where have you been? my love, my love, where did you go?

Three rings. One more would be a good excuse to hang up.

No such luck. A tired voice, frustrated and surprised: “It’s fucking midnight, man, and I already told you everything I know, like, a hundred times, and you even wrote it down… what the hell do you want now?”

…my love, my love, what have you seen? my love, you’re such an idiot…

“I don’t recall giving you my cell number.” If ever man spoke in the tone of a raised eyebrow, it was Saitou. “How did you know it was me calling? Or do you always answer the phone like that?”

An uncomfortable silence ensued on the other end of the line, followed by the slight clearing of a throat.

…like an idiot… I run around like a chicken with its head cut off…

“You are aware that stalking is a felony?” Saitou pursued with a smirk that, like the raised eyebrow, was evident in his voice; he changed the radio station again.

…you’re too young to love me, and I’m too old for you…

“Well, I just…”

…at least that’s what they tell us; it’s in their book of rules…

“What exactly did you think to accomplish by stealing my cell number? You can’t have been planning to call me at any point.”

…that you’re too young, too young, baby, you’re too young…

Saitou changed the station again even as the other voice said in gruff embarrassment, “Well, maybe I…”

…oh my pretty, pretty boy, I need you…

“Unless there’s some detail you neglected to mention in reference to my case?”

…oh my pretty, pretty boy, I do… let me inside…

Saitou jabbed the ‘seek’ button a little harder than usual this time.

“No! man! I told you! I’m so fucking sick of that shit… I even told you what kind of shoelaces the bastard had… can’t you fucking leave me alone?”

…when you look at me with those brown eyes, what do you want to do?

“If you wanted me to leave you alone, why ever did you have my number?”

…do you have to have me the way that I want you?

“OK, why the fuck did you call me? I mean, did you have anything real to say, or did you just want to give me shit like always?”

…I want you…

He changed the station again, but it was obviously futile. As hard as he’d tried not to have anything real to say, it seemed fate and/or the radio had other ideas. So much for his great strategy of distracting himself. “As a matter of fact, I was calling to see if you wanted to go eat somewhere; I just finished work.”

Silence.

“Kid, I know you can’t say no to free food and possibly alcohol.”

“I don’t… want to say no… I’m just trying to figure out if you’re seriou–hey, you’re a cop and I am so too young to drink.”

“Too young to purchase alcohol. And I’m an investigator, not a street cop.”

“Close enough.”

“Hn. Are you at home?”

“Why; you know where I live?”

“You’re a witness; of course I have your address on file.”

“You know stalking’s a felony, right?”

…here they come to snuff the rooster…

“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

…yeah, here come the rooster…

“I’ll be ready.”

…you know he ain’t gonna die…

Ending the call with a shake of his head and a slight smile, Saitou set the phone down and turned the radio up.



The first time I heard that song about snuffing the rooster, I was like, Hmmm, how can I use this? And finally the idea came to me of driving Saitou crazy with songs that would remind him of Sano. Now, how likely it is that Saitou would actually find all or even most of these songs playing on any station anywhere (not to mention why nobody was on commercials as 90% of radio stations are 90% of the time), I don’t know. I just used what I needed. In order of appearance, those are:

Brown Haired Boy by Sweetbox, Idiot by Coldplay, Too Young by Elton John, Pretty Boy by M2M, Brown Eyes by Fleetwood Mac, and Rooster by Alice in Chains.

I’ve rated this story .

This story is included in the Saitou & Sano Collection ebook (.zip file contains .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats).


Attention Span


He finally seems to have figured it out.

“Hey, roosterhead! Long time no see!”

“How you doin’, broomhead?”

“As you two are both in the same room, there really is no need to shout.”

“…boss’s gotta headache, I guess, so…”

“…sure…”

Yes, quiet down, both of you. Honestly.

“…doin’ here?”

“…way to have lunch at the dojo……stop in an’ say hello…”

“…how’re things up with the…”

He used to come in here to bother me. Day after day, no matter the weather. I never could figure out why, but now he seems to realize that I don’t want his company.

“…but Aoshi’s……an’ Kenshin wants us all to…”

“…that crazy Niwabanshuu guy, right?”

“Yeah.”

Now he just comes in here occasionally to bother Chou, and hardly says a word to me. Which is a relief, since everything I ever say to him prompts some kind of unnecessarily angry reaction; honestly, if I make him so mad, why did he keep coming around? Especially when he must have known I didn’t want him to.

“…hear ‘e’s got two kodachi in one sheath…”

“…pretty good with ’em, too…”

What I really wonder, though, is what finally brought him to his senses.

“…should try’n steal ’em for me…”

“…funny……don’t think so…”

It used to be that I could always get some kind of comment from him with just a look, but now he ignores me almost entirely.

“…think he’d kill me……seen him this one time…”

What made him so thankfully well-behaved?

“…musta pissed that girl off…”

“…would not believe…”

If my offhand recollection is correct, the last time he was in here pestering me specifically was at about four thirty two weeks and three days ago… but I don’t remember that I said anything more pointed than usual during that meeting to indicate that I didn’t appreciate him endlessly hanging around my office forcing me into meaningless conversation.

“…heh heh heh…”

“…and then Aoshi says…”

But since I’m glad he’s broken this irksome habit — although for as many months as he kept it up, it was really more of a hobby — I’m not going to question my good fortune.

“…yer friend Battousai do about…”

“…just laughed and didn’t……but Aoshi was all…”

He’s certainly talking about Shinomori a lot… I wonder why…

“…sounds like ya got a crush on that Aoshi guy…”

Chou noticed too, I guess.

“Nah, I just like it when his coat goes fwoosh.”

Maybe Shinomori is the idiot’s new hobby.

“…one with a……collar, right?”

“…’s it……think it’s pretty damn sexy, even if I’m not…”

I’m sure Shinomori doesn’t like it any more than I did. Poor fool.

“…wha, sexier’n mine?”

“…heh heh, of course……gotta go…”

Well, the boy has the attention span of a butterfly, so Shinomori won’t have to suffer him long.

“…later, ya freeloadin’ tori-atama…”

“…tomorrow, houki…”

Yes, go, and let Chou get back to the job I pay him for. Don’t bother saying goodbye to me; I don’t want it. Just leave me in peace.

Peace and quiet.

Yes.

Exceptionally quiet quiet.

It’s only the contrast, of course. And I still have a headache, so I’m not complaining.

But still, it’s very quiet.

“Chou…”

“What? Want me to go buy ya a trench coat?”

. . .

Well, I do pay him to be observant.

“Just make sure it isn’t yellow.”

Really, I don’t mind butterflies so much.

Mostly I find I dislike being forgotten.


I’ve rated this story .

This story is included in the Saitou & Sano Collection ebook (.zip file contains .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats).