First attempt at Saitou/Sanosuke fic; because I can't resist the pull, the urge, the desire. It's in my soul. Well, there you have it. More to come. Do read, and definitely review.
Of all the things he hated, Sagara Sanosuke hated waking up in the morning almost most of all.
His place was shit; there were no two ways about it. His bed was shit and the ceiling was patched up but it was still shit. Hell, even the fucking roaches were shit, and when it got to the point where you had sub-par roaches you knew you'd hit rock bottom. Well, the good thing about rock bottom was that there was nowhere to go but up from where you were. The only problem was, Sanosuke couldn't very well go anywhere at the moment, up or down, because his head hurt so goddamn bad, like someone was sitting between his ears and smashing around wherever he could with a real big hammer.
With a grunt and a groan, the man pushed himself up, trying to ignore the way the world twitched and spun all around him, beneath him, above him. He cursed under his breath, low and rough. The tatami mat beneath him was pleasantly grounding, and he let his hands rest there, against the comfort and solidity of the floor. If he could just remember that there was floor beneath him, then maybe he could get up enough presence of mind to get over to the dojo and hit Jou-chan up for some tea.
Not any of Jou-chan's tea, he told himself. Maybe, if he was lucky, Megumi would be visiting, and he'd get something he'd be able to swallow without spitting out in disgust right afterwards. The last thing a guy needed when his head was splitting in half after a long night filled with just the right amount – which was too much, in anyone else's book – of sake, was some of Jou-chan's tea. She always managed to be able to screw up even boiled water and it could damn near kill you on the best of days.
His lower back hurt. Probably from whatever position he'd fallen asleep in, or maybe from the way he was sitting now, but it was a dull, throbbing ache that reminded him of old wounds. Absently, with a motion that had become a habit by this point, he reached up to his right shoulder, rubbed the deadened, mangled flesh that twisted and puckered into paleness. It felt older than it was, as if it had been with him since birth. He'd roll over in the night and sudden pain, sudden memory of pain, would flare through him, startling him awake. He'd find himself on his right side, his shoulder pressed beneath him and all he'd remember between his ears: the sound of metal sheared in half, the feel of metal in his flesh, the feel of one callused palm grabbing the torn metal and pushing it through the other side of his shoulder, so hard that he found the floor had come up to meet him. So it felt like, anyway, everything that was solid connecting, bam, with his shoulderblades. Later, he'd learned the extent to what a disgrace the wound itself was, Saitou Hajime's calling card, left as a torn, bloody wound in Sagara Sanosuke's shoulder because that's all he was good for, anyway, like some sort of little kid who'd just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sano frowned to himself. The glint of those gold eyes like steel; they would have been that color in the darkness, even, as if they borrowed their brightness from the moon. Those eyes knew how to smile like Kenshin's eyes knew how to smile, masked and fake. Those eyes probably only knew how to smile that way, like it was something you hid behind because it was easier to catch prey that didn't know you were coming. Saitou the wolf and Kenshin the hawk, Sano thought to himself, and then realized the hangover was making him too fucking poetic for his own good.
It pissed him off, incensed his belly when he thought about it. Made him want to punch something. Well, fuck, he knew what it was he wanted to punch but damned if he was ever going to land a fist square in that smug, narrow face, gold eyes like two chips of metal slanted and watching, bemused. Didn't mean he wouldn't try next chance he got. There was some amount of catharsis in giving enough of a damn to go for it; Hajime'd kick his ass because Hajime was that damn superior about everything, but one of these days Sano was gonna pull one over on the bastard, and then they'd see who got to smile like they were real hot shit.
He could win one battle, couldn't he – even if there was no chance in Hell that he was going to win the war.
The day wasn't bright. It was going to rain later on, that much was clear, from the way the clouds growled above in the sky, bunching together with gray intent. It was better that the sun wasn't out in full noonday force: such was the last thing Sano needed as another assault on his poor head. The world wasn't made for a man who'd been out drinking late the night before, that much was clear. If it was loud at the dojo – if Kaoru and Yahiko were intent on acting like two bratty children and Kenshin was intent on letting it happen because it let him forget or let him be distracted or whatever – then Sano didn't know how much it was worth it. Hell, he could get tea at the Akabeko for cheaper. Well, if they were still serving him at the Akabeko; but his tab had gotten a little unwieldy as of late and it was probably a bad idea to go back without having something to pay Tae-san with, if only as a peace offering. Really, it just got embarrassing after a while. And the last thing Sano needed was to die at the hands of one pissed off waitress brandishing some kitchen implement as her weapon. Sure, he could laugh in the face of danger, but when Tae-san's left eye got a little twitchy and she started to roll up her sleeves, it was definitely time to turn and walk as quickly as you could in the opposite direction.
The skies let out their protest, their warning.
"Ch'," Sano muttered, well aware that he was talking to himself, but it was going to rain and Isoon/I; he didn't have to be a fucking Battousai or a fucking ex member of the Shin Sen Gumi to figure that out all on his lonesome. There was some little rhyme playing in his head – don't run under a tree – but the clouds had darkened to an angry, bruised gray, the clouds rolling and pregnant, ready to unburden themselves. The road beneath him breathed out a sigh of dry dust at the touch of his feet. It was going to be a quick downpour; the smell of rain in the air was sudden and fierce, but it would be over, spent, as quickly as it had come.
If there was one thing Sano didn't need it was to get rained on; he saw the change in the weather as a personal affront, but who wouldn't? Sourly, he ducked himself off the road, moved to rest up against the trunk of a tree whose branches and thick foliage provided ample cover. Sano folded his arms over his chest, and the tension in the air snapped. The sound of the rain came first: a delicate dance upon the leaves above his head, before it got serious and darkness flooded the afternoon, wetness making for a thick sheet of rain pounding down for as far as the eye wished to see.
Sagara Sanosuke shoved his hands in his pockets and scowled, up at the network of branches above him. The air was thick with humidity. Maybe, when he got older, the scar on his shoulder would ache with the coming of rain, would remind him of past battles and youth. He snorted at the very idea – why he was thinking like he was already an old man was beyond him. The rain got to him. Headaches got to him.
His thumb moved over the twisted flesh at his shoulder and he frowned. Sure, he had scars, a hell of a lot of 'em. His hands, for one thing, were a mess of once-broken knuckles, of the same flesh torn time and time again. By far, this was the biggest, though, the sort of thing that stood out when you were naked. There hadn't been too many girls lately but when there were, they asked, touched it, and it made Sano uncomfortable, like two gold eyes were watching him even in private, even in the dark of night. It was something Sano couldn't fathom and it pissed him off all the more, though there was nothing he could do to shake the feeling.
The skin around the scar was sensitive; the scar itself felt nothing at all. Could've put another one of Mibu's Wolf's swords right through it and Sano got the feeling that it wouldn't be able to register the sensation as more than a dull throb, in comparison to the intensity of the first time Sano's flesh had ever tasted the power of the man behind that blade.
In front of him, the rain stirred into the wet air; the trees, the road, made gray by the fall of water. Everything smelled like rain, unpleasant unless you were in the mood for it, or had an umbrella.
It was the smell of smoke that filtered into his senses next, smoke lingering on the humidity from somewhere behind him. Then came the sudden aching in his shoulder, so that he dropped a startled hand from the scar to his side. The ache was acute, a throbbing between the joints and all throughout the undamaged muscle, the sort of pain he didn't get from the rain, but only got from a sixth, physical sense, that always told him one thing, one thing only.
"Ahou ga," the deep voice murmured, as low and as smooth as the cigarette smoke that also came from the same parted lips. "Didn't anyone tell you to keep out from under trees when it's raining?" Gloved fingers flicked a sudden sparkle of ash to the ground and Sano found himself staring down as the brightness flickered and then disappeared, muscles tensing instinctively.
"Don't see what fuckin' business it is of yours," Sano snarled, turning. Saitou had the upper hand, of course, because Saitou was just fractionally taller and Saitou had come up behind Sano, which forced the younger man to make the first move. Uneven ground; always, Saitou forced them to be on uneven ground. Sano was younger and Saitou damn made sure it was obvious, and always with a subtlety that Sano had never bothered and never would bother to learn.
"I should think Battousai-san would be put out if his stray met an unfortunate end in the woods," Saitou replied easily. He breathed smoke out his nose, nostrils flaring just slightly as he exhaled.
"Shouldn't you make some fuckin' noise when you move, or somethin'?" Sano demanded. The corners of Saitou Hajime's mouth lifted up, tugged by some unseen amusement that was directed at the younger man. Naturally, it was scornful, but that much was the only obvious part of Saitou's expression. The rest was as veiled as the smoke that curled from the cigarette held neatly between fore- and index-finger. Like fire didn't mean anything to Mibu's Wolf – like he conquered the things that tried to conquer him, and wasn't that the truth?
Fire was in the air. It was a fitting ending, wasn't it; the man once burned by fire engulfed by it at last, though this time it devoured him from the inside. It seemed as if it had taken years to come to this point, like traveling the long, weary edge of a sword's blade and finally coming to the tip – learning, suddenly, there was no way to turn, nothing to do but jump. 'Back' simply wasn't a direction in this place: it was like limbo, indecision, heat making the air waver, so that sweat prickled Sano's forehead.
The flames licked at the air hungrily, some unnamed beast's tongue flicking in and out, grown hungrier the more it gorged itself.
It made you wonder. They'd been through so much, too much; now, Kenshin, slumped over like some doll that'd been thrown against the wall too many times, Sano hurting so bad, like Anji'd been practicing his technique all those years on bhim/b, and Saitou Hajime was—
"The point is not to make a sound, ahou," Saitou said easily, smoothly. Cigarette finished, he flicked it to the ground, and crushed it out beneath the heel of his boot. His hair was damp, Sano noted, from the rain, wet where it fell into his eyes. So Mibu's Wolf hadn't known or thought to bring an umbrella. Somehow, the idea comforted him. There was at least some part of nature that Saitou Hajime didn't have complete control over. You could only anticipate so many moves.
"Yeah? Get yourself into trouble some day, doin' sneaky shit like that."
"You're trying to teach me life lessons?" Saitou tilted his head to the side. "You've a lot to learn."
"Yeah. Why don't we start with you tellin' me what you're doin' here in the first place?" Sanosuke shoved his hands into his pockets, eyes narrowing. Obscurely, he realized the deep brown color of his eyes wasn't as suited for anger or intimidation as the gold of Saitou Hajime's slitted pupils, but it didn't mean he couldn't try. Saitou watched his hands clench into fists with very little interest, though the scarred skin was stretched taut over the knuckles and the amount of determined futility in the motion was something to be considered. No; ever since the Battousai's puppy had proven himself to be a scrappy sort of mongrel, learning Anji's technique, he'd been at least a creature to consider as worthy of thought. The temper was what made him intriguing; the temper was also what made him foolish.
"Assuming I would tell you?" Saitou lifted one slim brow. The furrow between his eyes, above the bridge of his nose, smoothed for a moment with the expression. The rain had not lessened and the humidity in the air was making things uncomfortable, cold but too thick to be anything other than clammy. "It is an unpleasant day, ahou; and while I cannot do anything about the weather, you are a different matter." Just as simple as that; like flicking ash from the cigarette, or brushing his hair out of his eyes, Saitou Hajime passed off Sano's presence as annoying but minimally so. That was what Sano hated the most: the condescension. Anger he could've tolerated. A certain amount of nastiness would have been just fine. But that superiority got Sano's blood boiling like nothing else could.
And Saitou knew it – most infuriatingly of all.
Saitou Hajime was gone. It wasn't possible. Saitou Hajime was the best – no, not the best, then, because Sano couldn't think that without abandoning that oddly childish yet impossibly dedicated trust he'd put in Kenshin's strength and abilities. But Saitou Hajime was at least the second best, the lean line of that lanky body, the determined movements, the way he'd come at Sano like a sudden flash of metal and light, gold and blue and black. The way he'd marked Sano, because he'd marked him whether either of the two would ever admit it verbally. His scar hurt – that he could admit. The air smelled and tasted like smoke, but not small-grade smoke, smoke that came from twisting, charred metal and so much wood, being swallowed up by the raging fire.
It was a sight to behold, impressive, terrible. Devastating. So much talent lost, so much work destroyed: whether it was man-made or simply man, there was a pall of smoke hanging in the air, mourning the great loss.
Saitou Hajime was burned with the rest of it, like so much ash, now on the wind – now gone.
"You here for Kenshin?" Sano persevered. If only he could just get one good swing in – maybe break the guy's nose, or knock that smug smile right off his damn face. Both of them knew it wouldn't happen. Sano didn't even swing the punch – he wasn't that stupid. Not here. Not now. Not with the wetness mixing up his emotions, not with the throbbing of his shoulder. And, soon enough, impulse would destroy his hands, leave them as mangled and useless as Saitou had left his shoulder, and then were would he be?
"Well, I'm certainly not around to see you." Saitou's voice was clipped. He lit another cigarette like so: first the cigarette was placed between his lips, then the matchbox removed from his pocket, one match struck against it, his cupped hands around the flame to nurse it into brightness. The cigarette lit, he flicked the match to the ground; the flame was out by the time it hit the dirt. Sano pulled his eyes away.
"Ch'," he muttered, to no one in particular.
"Something the matter, ahou?"
"That shit fuckin' smells," Sano snapped back, defensive.
And how the guy could stand the smell of smoke after—
(It was impossible to have survived that blaze, Kenshin said afterwards, when he'd healed enough to sit up and eat Jou-chan's cooking like a real trooper, but something in the fathomless depths of the Battousai's purple eyes had said: but Saitou Hajime would. Saitou Hajime was a stubborn bastard; both Kenshin and Sanosuke knew as much from experience. Kenshin probably knew the extent of just how stubborn Mibu's Wolf was better than Sano did, but hell, even a blind dog could smell the stubbornness on Saitou Hajime from miles away.)
"I'll have you know, I'm here as Fujita Gorou," Saitou continued, ignoring Sano's comment as if it were too rude to be acknowledged, even tempting fate and Sanosuke's temper enough to blow a circle of smoke in the younger man's direction. "I was in the neighborhood. It's only polite to stop by, to pay a visit."
"To let Kenshin in on what's happenin' outside of the dojo. To throw him some hint so he'll have no choice but to go off and do your dirty work for you, 'cause you're not interested in savin' the whole damn world, like he is."
"Hn." Saitou smiled, his eyes becoming those false crescents of harmless, glassy cheer. He only ever got that look when he was on the hunt, though he seemed complacent enough, smoking with an ease Sano only ever wished he could have. "Perhaps. Are you going to stop me?"
"Mattaku." The rain was letting up; the sun, starting to press its way through the clouds, which had already reluctantly begun to disperse. The day was getting just a little brighter. "I was just goin' the same way, that's all." And damned if Saitou Hajime was going to change what path he was taking, even if he was one fuck of a traveling companion.
"Then, do you think you can behave yourself?"
"Temee." A scowl played over Sano's features, flickered petulantly in the depths of his eyes.
"I thought not. Ahou." Saitou dropped the second cigarette to the ground, a casual motion, and stubbed it out with the same movement he'd used for the first. Saitou was deliberate in such ways; with his Gatotsu, with his insults, with his cigarettes, apparently. Always the same thing, a repetitive sort of stubbornness that, again, was far subtler than other, more mainstream compulsions.
It was only when Sano registered the straight, blue line of Saitou's back in front of him that he realized the rain had turned to a weakened drizzle, and Mibu's Wolf was leaving him behind. A curse tucked underneath his breath, almost hiding against his chin, he shoved his hands once more into his pockets and moved off after the taller man. He knew one thing: he wasn't going to get left behind.