Distraction Sufficient

The idea that if he’d realized it sooner things might have been different was pleasantly, absorbingly distracting.

Sano finally admits how he feels about Saitou, perhaps only because to do so is conveniently distracting.



It was with a peculiar sort of indifferent abandon that Sano allowed his thoughts for the first time ever down a path wherefrom they had previously been emphatically banned, and it was a surprise how short that path was before the destination I love him was reached.

He was astounded. I love him? he wondered. That’s a pretty hefty thing to have been denying all this time!

He couldn’t help but think it had been ‘all this time,’ or at least something close to it, as he certainly couldn’t have fallen in love recently. One didn’t fall in love with absent men. And though he couldn’t trace it quite as far back as the shoulder-stabbing, he felt it must have been present for some time without his noticing or at least admitting it.

The fight in the street had procured his attention and his desire to impress, the endless reflections on the way to Kyoto had solidified that… the jail, perhaps, had been the beginning, the Rengoku the confirmation, and after that it had just become steadily stronger and stronger and, as a consequence, more deeply repressed. It had almost surfaced in the smoke and dust of that protracted battle of many enemies when he’d first laid eyes on him again after believing him dead for so long, but Sano had been too steadfast in his denial to allow that.

It was liberating, really, to make a clean breast, even if only with himself. It was a relief to allow that the reason he’d been so inexplicably, so drastically horrified in that burning fortress had not been merely the unnecessary loss of a strong ally. He felt a strange and unexpected clear-headedness, as if in being honest with himself he had suddenly simplified the whole world. He loved Saitou, and he didn’t even mind thinking about it.

Too bad he wouldn’t be seeing him again. Hokkaido, was that it? He thought that was what he remembered Kenshin saying. Well, it didn’t matter… Hokkaido or America or the moon; it made no difference now.

He wondered what Saitou would say about his current situation. Surely the wolf would have nothing but contempt for Tani, but Sano doubted his concern would extend as far as a stupid rooster that had made the pig mad. But Saitou, having been transferred, wouldn’t even know, so wondering if he would care was rather extravagant.

Still, Sano didn’t bother to stop himself imagining nice things that might have been. It wasn’t likely they would have been, but he’d met stranger couples. And in all honesty, he didn’t really think Saitou had hated him as much as he’d pretended. Maybe they could have been happy…

It was interesting he’d chosen to delve into this issue when he had nowhere near enough time to do so thoroughly. Perhaps it was because Saitou, and the fact that Sano loved Saitou, and the idea that if he’d realized it sooner things might have been different, was pleasantly, absorbingly distracting.

That was what Saitou would say, he realized belatedly — “You should have learned to defend yourself.” And surely he should have, or should, at the very least, have been quicker in his attempt to flee the country. He laughed weakly.

He wondered if, were it possible for Saitou to know of this anomaly of being simultaneously first and last in Sano’s thoughts, he would appreciate it.

First because Sano loved him more than he might have been able to express even had he had the chance.

Last because they were fitting the noose around his neck even now.

He closed his eyes, and burning gold was all he could see.



The idea for this story evolved at work (McDonald’s), and I got so agitated about it that they actually let me go home early so I could write it XD I’ve rated it .

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).


Greedy

It wasn’t enough, was it, that I admitted you’d been of some use, despite what I’d thought that made it quite a concession to say you weren’t entirely worthless? No, you demanded I respect you on top of that. Outright respect! From me!

It wasn’t enough that I admired you, was it, acknowledged to myself disinterestedly how beautiful you were? Of course not. You insisted I actually lust after you as well. Objective appreciation just wasn’t sufficient; for you it had to be this distracting physical attraction.

It wouldn’t, naturally, be enough that your loud and obnoxious presence dominated my attention whenever you were around. No, you required that I obsess over you even when you were gone. You had to have some part in every second of my contemplation.

It couldn’t be enough that I gave up my peace of mind, my tranquility, my solitude, to be with you, could it? Then you demanded I give up my unhappiness too. Change my entire way of life and the feelings of each moment solely for you!

And now I’m sure it isn’t enough that I lie here with you in my arms having thoughts like these totally inconsistent with my character. You’re going to insist I say it aloud in no uncertain terms, aren’t you? Compromise my dignity as always by making some kind of silly statement like…

“I love you.”

“Tell me how much.”

Hn. Greedy boy.

What am I going to do with you?


I’ve rated this story .

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


Treasure of the Ancient People

“If I were to reveal to you the hiding place of a great treasure, would you abandon your evil, thieving ways?”

Two thieving sisters stumble upon an ancient secret that will change their lives.


[two girls breathing, crunching footsteps approach; branches swishing aside]

TESCHIA: I swear, this jungle’s thicker every time we come!

URAWHA: And Honor always wonders why we’re in such a bad mood when we get there.

TESCHIA: When she bothers to get there on time.

URAWHA: Ah, ooh, branch in my face! [snap] Ow!

TESCHIA: Serves you right for laughing at me the other day. You almost got me caught!

URAWHA: When?

TESCHIA: When I was grabbing that little kid’s scarf.

URAWHA: [giggle] Oh, yeah. How much do you think we’ll get for that, anyway?

TESCHIA: I dunno. Fifty, maybe more. I wouldn’t give it to my little kid.

URAWHA: Yeah, people around here aren’t so bright. You wouldn’t believe what I [snap] Oops, sorry. You wouldn’t believe what I got from this lady in the middle of the street just before we left.

TESCHIA: What?

URAWHA: [grunts] Let’s see if I can… get it out… dumb pack… yeah, here it is.

[footsteps stop]

TESCHIA: It’s pretty. What is it?

URAWHA: I have no idea. She was wearing it around her neck on this cheap leather band; didn’t even notice me. It looks like gold, doesn’t it?

TESCHIA: Yeah, but it’s no bigger than a coin.

URAWHA: It’ll still bring a price; it’s pretty heavy.

TESCHIA: You know, I’ve seen that twisty design somewhere before.

URAWHA: That’s what I kept thinking, but I don’t know where. C’mon.

[footsteps resume]

TESCHIA: Maybe you should just give it to me instead of selling it.

URAWHA: [laughs] You may be my sister, but I don’t like you that much!

TESCHIA: Hmph. Look, there’s the rock — we’re almost there.

URAWHA: Twenty sols says Honor’s not there yet.

TESCHIA: Honestly, I think she’s afraid of the place unless we’re there.

URAWHA: Well, who wouldn’t be afraid of a ruined city in the middle of the jungle? That’s why it’s the perfect meeting place.

TESCHIA: Yeah, I guess it is kinda weird.

[footsteps stop]

URAWHA: And awing. Every time I look down at this view, I’m amazed. Who the heck built this place anyway?

TESCHIA: Well, if you listen to the dumb legends —

[footsteps restart, on stone this time]

URAWHA: — which I don’t —

TESCHIA: They say some mystic clan of healers used this as a hospital or something.

URAWHA: Well, let’s go sit on the hospital and wait for Honor.

TESCHIA: Like always.

[footsteps]

URAWHA: [grunts] These carvings are getting weathered to the point where we can’t even climb them anymore.

TESCHIA: Here, give me your hand. [grunts] There we go. Eventually we’ll be able to get up just using all these vines, I bet.

URAWHA: What a view!

TESCHIA: Yeah, it’s… oh, my!

URAWHA: What?

TESCHIA: Urawha, look! Look!

URAWHA: What? Where?

TESCHIA: Over there, on that other building?

URAWHA: What, that tall, crumbly one?

TESCHIA: No, the one that’s mostly intact. Look at the door!

URAWHA: Oh, my goodness! Is that the same…? [rustling] It is! It’s the same design as this necklace!

TESCHIA: Quick, let’s go look at it! [feet thud on the ground]

URAWHA: Wait for me! [feet thud, run]

TESCHIA: It really is the same.

URAWHA: What a coincidence! That something I stole would be from the same place we meet our contact to sell all our stolen stuff!

TESCHIA: What do you think is behind this door?

URAWHA: Is it a door?

TESCHIA: Yeah, look at the seams. They’re kinda hidden in this twisty pattern.

URAWHA: Oh, I see. I wonder… What’s this little indentation here?

TESCHIA: It’s about the size of that pendant.

URAWHA: Lessee… [click] It fits! [rumble] Oh, my goodness! [rumbling continues; silence]

TESCHIA: Wow.

URAWHA: Yeah.

TESCHIA: We’re probably the first people to have opened this door for hundreds of years!

URAWHA: Well, what are we standing around for? Let’s see what’s inside!

TESCHIA: Honor’s not here yet… maybe we should leave something so she’ll know where we went.

URAWHA: You sound like you’re worried we’ll never come out of there.

TESCHIA: Well, it is really dark inside. There’s probably a million spiders.

URAWHA: Don’t worry, we’ll light the torches. [rustling] Here’s one for you.

[fire; footsteps resume; all noises get reverb]

TESCHIA: This is steep.

URAWHA: At least it’s dry.

TESCHIA: Honor’s going to freak when she gets here and we’re not there.

URAWHA: And then she’ll be even later next time.

TESCHIA: Uh-oh…

[foosteps stop]

URAWHA: Which way?

TESCHIA: Let’s go back.

URAWHA: Why?

TESCHIA: No matter which of these three we choose, it’s sure to get us lost. They’re all the same width as this passage.

URAWHA: Look, I’ll leave something here. [rustling] See, when we find that cloak across the tunnel we’ll know this is the way we came.

TESCHIA: [sighs] So which way do we go?

URAWHA: Who cares? [footsteps resume]

TESCHIA: Ah, a level passage — much better.

URAWHA: See, this isn’t so bad. No spiders, even.

TESCHIA: I think they like moisture.

URAWHA: That would explain why the jungle’s so full of them.

TESCHIA: Ew.

[footsteps stop]

URAWHA: Oh, and here’s another one.

TESCHIA: Now which way should we go?

URAWHA: Feel the wind from this third passage? Let’s go that way.

TESCHIA: All right; this time I’ll leave my cloak. [rustling; footsteps resume; wind]

URAWHA: Pleasant breeze here.

TESCHIA: Yeah, right. I’m freezing.

URAWHA: Hey, is that light ahead?

TESCHIA: You’re scaring me.

URAWHA: But look! Here, I’ll hold my torch down behind me. See, it’s light!

TESCHIA: It’s probably a door outside, which would explain the wind.

URAWHA: The light looks kinda red.

TESCHIA: You’ve been in the dark too long.

[foosteps, reverb increases]

URAWHA: Wow…

TESCHIA: Well, I guess it’s not a door outside.

URAWHA: What is this room?

TESCHIA: And how can all these torches still be lit after however many years?

URAWHA: It’s so huge…

TESCHIA: It feels so empty…

URAWHA: You’d think it would be dirty or broken down or something.

TESCHIA: What’s that, on the opposite wall? [footsteps run]

URAWHA: It’s… weird.

TESCHIA: Yeah. Who carves a giant face into the wall of a big empty room?

FACE: I might ask who creates this ridiculous humanity to run around being absurd.

[footsteps; gasps]

URAWHA: [softly] All right, there’s a giant stone face talking to us…

TESCHIA: [softly] Yeah, I noticed that…

FACE: In response to your rude question, nobody “carved” me. I grew, just like you did. When the people of this city found me in the jungle, they presumed I was some sort of mystic spirit and brought me here to their temple.

URAWHA: Then what are you really?

FACE: I’m merely myself. I do possess a perception greater than that of humanity, but I am no god.

TESCHIA: You seem to be immortal, though.

FACE: That I do not know.

URAWHA: So, who were the people that lived here?

FACE: They were a hard-working race; they hunted and gathered fruit and built up their great walls. They were very honest.

TESCHIA: [softly] I think that was aimed at us.

URAWHA: So, what?

FACE: If I were to reveal to you the hiding place of a great treasure, would you abandon your evil, thieving ways?

TESCHIA: Sure!

URAWHA: Not so fast… money always runs out eventually.

FACE: If it is used to begin a respectable trade, it can, in a sense, last forever.

TESCHIA: Sounds good to me.

URAWHA: Well, what do we have to do?

FACE: First you must swear.

URAWHA: All right.

FACE: Swear that, once you have gained the treasure of the ancient people, you will never steal again.

TESCHIA: I swear.

URAWHA: I swear.

FACE: Very well. The destruction of the city came about through war, but the leaders were determined that their enemies should never have the city’s treasure that they sought. They hid it in the jungle so that someday it could be found and used for good.

TESCHIA: How did they know someone would ever find it?

URAWHA: Or that their enemies wouldn’t?

FACE: That someone would eventually find it they had no doubt, since they had entrusted to me the duty of revealing its secret. That their enemies would find it they did not fear, as they had placed a severe curse on any who did not seek it in the correct manner.

URAWHA: And why are you willing to give it to us?

FACE: The purpose of the treasure is to do some good. In giving it to you, I am setting you on the path to honesty; that will help both you and the people around you.

URAWHA: Ha! How do you know we won’t just take the treasure and live like we have? [silence] What, why are you looking at me like that?

FACE: I told you that I possess a higher level of perception than humanity. I can see the goodness in your hearts, and the willingness to abandon your path of evil. Otherwise I would not have greeted you at all, despite your sister’s rude remark.

TESCHIA: Sorry.

URAWHA: All right, I get it. So where’s this great treasure?

FACE: It lies beneath a stone hill two miles to the east; it is the hill from which I was born.

TESCHIA: Beneath the hill?

FACE: To retrieve it, you must speak the correct verse. It is inscribed in the wall to my right.

URAWHA: It’s in the old language… read it, Teschia.

TESCHIA: Bala hiero to ute / Meno u niwakawe / Raditama ikori / Ken daima sortei. But I don’t know what it means.

FACE: It is nothing more than a children’s rhyme used in ancient times. The leaders thought that would be cleverest to keep their enemies out.

TESCHIA: I’ll write it down. [rustling pack / paper]

URAWHA: So what else do we need to know?

FACE: Just this: that if you speak the treasure’s location to anyone else — forever more — you will turn instantly to stone.

URAWHA: Harsh! Well, that shouldn’t be too hard. You done, Tesch?

TESCHIA: Yeah.

URAWHA: Well, sir giant face, thanks a lot. You want us to come back and report to you or something when we’re done?

FACE: I will know. Only see that you keep your promise. That I will also know.

TESCHIA: We will. Thank you!

FACE: Goodbye.

[footsteps recede; silence]

HONOR: There you are! When I saw that that door was open, I was seriously worried; I shoulda known you guys would do something stupid like going down in there!

URAWHA: How’s it going, Honor?

TESCHIA: How’s life in the big city?

HONOR: Dull, as always. How’s the tiny town?

URAWHA: Interesting, as always. But, we got bad news.

HONOR: What?

URAWHA: We’re going straight.

HONOR: What!?

TESCHIA: We just decided that this whole thief thing isn’t right for us.

HONOR: Whaddya mean? You guys are the best thieves I’ve ever marketed for!

URAWHA: Well… we just decided.

HONOR: That’s going to cut into my business something big. [sigh] Well, what do you have for me today?

URAWHA: Umm…. there’s more bad news. We’re returning all the stuff we’ve stolen since last time.

HONOR: What?!? How can you do this to me?!?

TESCHIA: But we’re going to pay you a cancellation fee!

HONOR: Oh. How much?

URAWHA: We’re not sure yet. Can you wait here for a couple of hours?

HONOR: You’ve got to be kidding me. You guys are just going to run off home and leave me here, right?

TESCHIA: C’mon, Honor, you know us better than that. We’re serious.

HONOR: Oh, whatever! Why should I trust a couple of thieves?

URAWHA: We’re not thieves anymore; I just told you that!

TESCHIA: Besides, why would we fire the flare and come all the way out here to meet you if we were just going to run off?

HONOR: You must think I’m crazy.

URAWHA: Look, either you wait here for us and we bring you the cancellation fee, or you go home unhappy. What will you do?

HONOR: [sigh] I’ll wait for you. Where are you going?

URAWHA: To get your cancellation fee.

HONOR: Whatever. All right. I’ll wait.

[footsteps]

TESCHIA: See ya in a few hours.

[rustling, cracking]

URAWHA: Just what I wanted — another walk through the jungle.

TESCHIA: And you sound so unhappy.

URAWHA: [laughs]

[rustling, cracking]

TESCHIA: Ah, we’ve been walking for an hour! Shouldn’t we be there yet?

URAWHA: Yeah, I think so. We’ve been going straight east.

TESCHIA: Who would ever have thought that we’d be this lucky? I mean, a treasure buried under a giant rock hill just two miles east of a place we go all the time, and all we — [grunts, gasps; crackling]

URAWHA: Oh, my! Teschia! What’s…

[crackling]

TESCHIA: Help me… [chokes]

[crackling]

URAWHA: But… how can this be happening? The face said we’d turn to stone if we told someone where the treasure was hidden! Oh! [cries]

HONOR: I guess that’s my fault, then.

URAWHA: Honor!?

HONOR: I’m sorry. I was so curious about what you guys were up to, I followed you and heard what Teschia said.

URAWHA: It is your fault! What am I going to do?

HONOR: Who is the face?

URAWHA: A strange creature we met inside the building in the city. It told us about the treasure…

HONOR: Then let’s go ask it how to save Teschia!

URAWHA: We can’t just leave her here!

HONOR: Do you want to carry her? She looks like a piece of art… she must weigh a ton!

URAWHA: [sighs] Tesch, I’ll come back, all right? Don’t worry; I’ll save you somehow. Let’s go, Honor.

[footsteps crackling]

HONOR: It’s getting dark.

URAWHA: That happens when you’ve been walking around in the jungle all day. Look, there’s the city ahead. [footsteps on stone] Hurry up. [footsteps run, get reverb, continue; girls pant] Face! Hey, face! Wake up!

FACE: I do not sleep.

URAWHA: How do I get Teschia back from being stone?

FACE: Are you willing to make a sacrifice?

URAWHA: Of course!

HONOR: Urawha, are you crazy?

FACE: City child, you would do as much for someone you love. Urawha, you must smear the statue with your blood, and she will return to life.

URAWHA: H-how much blood?

FACE: That is all I can say.

URAWHA: All right… let’s go back.

[footsteps recede]

FACE: Humans are so intemperate.

[crunching footsteps, swishing branches]

HONOR: Urawha, are you sure about this? [metal ringing] Urawha!

URAWHA: I don’t know if I can do this…

HONOR: But you just said…

URAWHA: I mean, actually cut myself with this dagger. I guess I’ll just think about Tesch… [gasps]

HONOR: Oh, my…

URAWHA: Come on, Tesch… [gasps] Wake up! Ooh…

HONOR: Teschira! You have to wake up!

URAWHA: [gasps] I can’t lose this much blood… Tesch! Tesch! Tesch!

HONOR: Urawha, you’ve got to put something on that… it’s going to kill you!

URAWHA: Teschia! Please! [grunts, falls]

[crackling]

TESCHIA: [gasps, grunts] Oh, I’m covered with… [gasps]

URAWHA: Tesch…

TESCHIA: Urawha! What happened?

HONOR: To rescue you, she cut her wrist. I don’t know…

TESCHIA: Quick, help her sit up. I’ll tie it. [rip] Are you all right?

URAWHA: I… I don’t know… Are you?

TESCHIA: I feel fine.

URAWHA: Then so do I.

TESCHIA: Can you stand?

[rustling]

URAWHA: Yeah… Let’s go get that treasure.

HONOR: This is too weird.

TESCHIA: You’re telling me.

HONOR: It’s enough to make anyone go straight.

URAWHA: Yeah.

TESCHIA: Let’s go.

HONOR: We’ve got to talk about this…


There really isn’t much point to writing radio dramas considering that nobody makes radio dramas anymore. However, I’d read one that someone had posted somewhere, and was totally fascinated by the format’s ability to create a setting through nothing but dialogue and sound effects. That was really the point of this… to see if I could do it… I succeeded fairly well, I think. The only real problem is that when read aloud it’s difficult to figure out who’s who; with an actual cast of distinctive voices, I think it would work, though.



Just Ten More Minutes

…these last minutes seemed to drag by like the long years of eternity.

A young woman is unbearably impatient.


Just ten more minutes.

It was such a hot, beautiful day. Waiting was hot, but waiting was not beautiful. At least there were only ten more minutes, which was something to be able to say after the many days and hours. Still, these last minutes seemed to drag by like the long years of eternity. She drummed her fingers nervously, pressing her ear to the ground to catch the vibrations as each fingertip made contact with floor so close beside her face. Ten… more… minutes…

Araki had been so excited to go to the fair — begged and begged for days when the news of its coming had hit town. Had, in fact, begged too much.

Nobody liked her now.

She was so impatient to get going, she almost screamed. Seven minutes left.

And what a fair! The guards were out in force, naturally, so there was no loitering. Everyone who was not buying and selling was just staring. Araki had been so eager to see it all.

She wanted to be the one staring. She would be staring soon. Five more minutes. Bubbling with joy at the thought, she grinned and looked around impatiently, ceasing her nervous drumming for just a bit. Then she sighed.

The endless begging really had been too much, hadn’t it?

She had crossed the line from aggravating to being seriously in the wrong. Still, there was no reason to feel this guilty, right? Everyone had wanted to kill Araki after about an hour’s complaining that chores too look long and they should leave for the fair now.

Everyone had wanted to kill Araki. Some of them, their patience worn out with the endless talk, talk, talk about the fair, had even threatened to.

What reason could they have to wish her dead?

Maybe they felt differently now, she reflected as she lay, silent and impatient. Two minutes.

She turned to gaze up at the ceiling. She couldn’t help the increasing pace of her heart as she counted down the last seconds. The huge clock, out there in the town square where the fair was taking place, began the lesser chimes. Her ears strained as the last seconds ding-donged away, strained and hungered for the eventual twelve notes — she couldn’t remember whether the strike of the hour was the highest or the lowest tone the clock possessed. Twelve, eleven, ten — ah, it was the lowest! — six, five, four — ah, high noon! The reverberations of the deep tolling faded. Finally! Finally! Finally!

The hooded guards arrived on cue. “Any last words?” one of them asked.

She shrugged. “It was Araki’s fault,” she said, briskly stepping out between them. “If he hadn’t begged and complained so much, I wouldn’t have killed him.”


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Boys’ Night Out


“Sano, I had no idea you were familiar with any restaurant this nice,” Kenshin remarked, approving and maybe even a little in awe, as they entered.

Sano shrugged. “Back before Megumi insisted I stop seeing other people, I used to take some people out sometimes…”

“With Kaoru’s money, I have no doubt,” Aoshi murmured as he followed them inside.

Sano punched him in a friendly fashion, and his half-embarrassed laugh testified to the truth of the statement.

Once they’d been led to a table the correct size for the three of them, Kenshin settled down with a sigh and said, “This is a good idea.”

“You mean getting away from jou-chan?” Sano teased as he took his own seat beside his friend.

Kenshin surprised him by nodding silently. “I do like Kaoru-dono, but sometimes…”

Sano laughed heartily, and Aoshi’s eyes (if not his mouth) were smiling. Sano’s laugh turned into a sigh of his own the next moment, however. “At least jou-chan lets you go out with friends every once in a while… I have to sneak wherever I want to go these days, or Megumi ties me up and yells at me about seeing other people.”

“What can I get you three tonight?” asked the waitress that had approached. Just the sight of a woman seemed to dampen their spirits.

After placing their orders and when the girl was gone, Aoshi spoke. “I maintain that I have it worse than you two.”

Kenshin and Sano tried not to smile, but just couldn’t help themselves. After a moment, in fact, Sano even burst out laughing. “Can you imagine if ours were that clingy? Kaoru: ‘KENSHIN-SAMA!!! KENSHIN-SAMA!!! WHERE ARE YOU?????????’ And I don’t even want to think about what kind of freaky chain stuff Megumi might get into.”

“Very well, Aoshi,” an amused Kenshin added, “we agree you have it the worst. But you don’t have to do all the laundry and the shopping.”

Sano groaned. “I know what you’re talking about there… ‘Sano, I need you to come hold the tray while I perform this surgery,’ or, ‘Sano, keep this man down while I stitch up the oozing wound on his stomach.’ Meanwhile she hires guys to fix the roof for her… I coulda done that!”

“You wouldn’t enjoy that any more.” Aoshi’s tone was, as always, rather flat, but Sano could tell when he was being teased.

“The point is, she doesn’t understand me at all,” he growled. “And she calls herself my girlfriend!

“At least she really is your girlfriend,” Aoshi sighed. “I’ve never even touched Misao.”

“Nor I Kaoru-dono.”

“Well, to be honest,” Sano admitted a bit sheepishly, “Megumi won’t really let me touch her. ‘I don’t know where you’ve been today,’ she says, ‘and you might have germs.’ Whatever.”

Aoshi summed it up: “So we’re all in the same boat — tied down to annoying women with whom we don’t actually get anywhere.”

“Sounds about right,” Sano agreed.

The waitress brought their food, and they all fell silent, looking listlessly at each other to avoid the depressing sight of breasts and wide hips.

Kenshin reflected, I thought tonight would be the night — the night I get away from Kaoru-dono. But now I cannot decide… Sano is my best friend, and he has been through so much with me… I cannot help but love him…. but Aoshi is more like me, closer to my age — and he is so admirable, so mysterious… so quiet, unlike her

Aoshi was looking into his teacup and thinking, Why can’t I make up my mind? I thought I loved Himura, thought he was my key to definitive freedom from Misao… but I look at his exciting young friend and can’t bring myself to say a word. Still, Sanosuke is somewhat like her, while Himura is what I really need — steady, strong, and relatively quiet…

Sano had his hands behind his head in a nonchalant position that was totally opposite the turmoil in is mind: What the hell is my problem? I was gonna talk to Aoshi tonight and see if he felt the same way, then go dump that kitsune forever… but now I’m gettin’ all hot over Kenshin again! I thought I was over that! Dammit, they’re both so cool…

What the trio did not realize was that they were being watched. From a nearby table a dark figure marked their every word, scrutinizing their faces carefully and easily able to calculate the purport of their thoughts. Curious, he completely ignored his wife’s endless monologue about her recent European tour as he watched them in anticipation, wondering if any one of the three would ever come out with his feelings to either of the others. As the awkwardness at the other table grew, and his wife’s grating voice seemed to increase in volume, so did the frustration of the watcher at the men’s indecision. Finally he stood in a crisp motion, silencing his wife mid-word.

“Excuse me, Tokio,” he said, not even bothering to look at her as he fixed his eyes on a spiky head not far off. “I have a fight to finish.”


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