Okay, I finally got this part off the laptop's harddrive, which means, here you have it. Do enjoy, and review, and all the usual shtuff that I so desperately desire. The next chapter shall include Soujirou, I do believe, and the infamous Saitou Tokio.
The clouds had pushed themselves aside, letting the last of the fading sunlight through to the land below. The trees barely remembered their wetness of not more than an hour ago, though now that the sun was sinking below the jagged horizon line they soon would feel the chill of twilight. Although it would not be a dismal night, it would indeed be a lonely one. The difference between the two could be felt not in the weather but in the gut, or that familiar pinching between the ribs; it would not be seasonal, but internal. Out there, the grayness of the coming night would not affect some -- those lucky enough to love or to be loved would think the night blue, or black, speckled with the comforting flicker of the stars or the ethereal cloudiness of the moon. But if you were sleeping alone, it would be another story entirely: cold but sticky with the passing humidity, and lonely, very lonely.
Sano shoved his hands into his pockets, leaned against the tree just outside the dojo, and waited. It had been a while now, he thought idly, a long while since Saitou had disappeared with Kenshin, inside. He had distracted himself for a bit exchanging barbed comments with Megumi but the problem with that course of action was that Megumi always won. Not one to take such indignity, because his ego simply couldn't handle how cruel that woman allowed herself to be, he'd abandoned her company and had turned to picking on Yahiko. Of course, Yahiko was a goddamn brat who kicked real hard and bit when he felt like it, and because everyone was a little more tense than usual about Saitou Hajime showing up Sano had tried Yahiko's patience to the kicking point real early on. So bothering Yahiko was out of the question, too. All in all he'd been able to waste a good hour and a half, getting away with a bruised ego and and a bruised ankle, and that was an impressively low tally, even on a good day. There was nothing left to do now but wait for the door to slide open, for Saitou to straighten his back and light a cigarette and head home -- or head wherever it was he was headed, more likely. Well, if Saitou thought he could get away without answering some questions first, Saitou had another think coming.
Sano scuffed the ground with the heel of his foot and looked up at the unforgiving sky with a challenging frown. Just great, really: sending Saitou Hajime along with the storm clouds. Still, it didn't smell like it had smelled, the first time Saitou had come, for there was no steel in the air, no fire and blood brought on the wind like portents of an ominous time. Perhaps Mibu's Wolf had not come as a harbinger of unrest, of lives soon to be lost, of blood soon to be spilled. It seemed odd, then, that he would have come at all, for his scorn for all who lived in or frequented the Kamiya dojo would have been apparent even to a blind man.
Sanosuke bowed his head, closed his eyes. There was this steady ache, now, in his shoulder, a dull throb that at least reminded him of his solidity in the afternoon; he was a big guy, a strong guy, and a little wet wind couldn't pick him up and blow him away, despite the unpleasantness of twilight's manifold mysteries. Maybe he was keeping his eyes fixed on his feet beneath him but that was all part of the way he stood, see, shoulder blades pressed up against the rough bark behind him.
So it was that he looked up just in time to see Saitou standing in front of him, smirking at his own stealth, a calculating look in his eyes. Impulsive as ever, Sano swore that if Saitou was going to make the first move, then Sano was going to get the first words in. No problem there.
So he say yes or what? Sano watched as Saitou lit a cigarette -- he had not, of course, smoked in the dojo, because above that thick level of scorn he was ever infuriatingly polite -- and took a long drag. Smoke, then, streamed out his nostrils as they flared with the extra-long exhalation. Naturally, Mibu's Wolf would wait as long as he could manage to before actually answering Sanosuke's question. Naturally.
I didn't ask him anything. Saitou took another drag of the cigarette.
So there's somethin' goin' on? Of course. Maybe not tomorrow and maybe not next week but Saitou never came around unless he had a good reason and good reason' for Saitou had to be pretty damn good, at that. Saitou took another long drag of the cigarette so that light flickered in the dank dark, illuminating, for a moment, the sharp angles of the cop's face. Then, there was smoke, which banished the clarity, and Sano thought finally to look away.
I never said that.
Ch'! You implied it. Just talking to Saitou made Sano's teeth grind together with aggravation. Either he didn't have the patience or Saitou didn't have the people skills or it was a combination of the two, but conversation between them was like putting a match to one of Katsu's home-made bombs and waiting for the fireworks to start.
Did I? Hm. Again, monosyllables and minimal interest. Sanosuke was just another piece of lint on Saitou's cop jacket, except Saitou would have taken pause to flick the lint off, and he didn't give that much attention to Sano, usually.
Sure, go ahead, try and pull this shit on me. I'm used to all these I'm real dumb' acts, it ain't nothin' new. Problem was, Sano had spent a very long time with Himura Kenshin, the Rurouni, and just enough time with Himura Battousai, so that he knew the differences between smiles and actual intent, between words and their motives. Saitou Hajime was, in his own way, just the same at the very core. Kenshin and he were two different weapons: but forged from the same times.
Ah. You speak of the Battousai. It was hardly a question, though from anyone else, it would have been -- Sano wondered how often it was that Saitou needed to ask a question of anyone. That was another thing that got on Sano's nerves. He was building up quite a list.
Because Saitou had not truly asked a question, Sano's words were not an answer, just a statement of agreement. If I can see through his bullshit then I can see right through yours. The corners of Saitou's lips twitched, an expression which made the hairs prickle all along Sano's neck.
Ahou ga. That was the last straw, Sano decided, hating how young the man consistently made him feel, with no visible effort.
Stop callin' me that! Sure, there was no elegance or dignity in the exclamation, but Sano had realized right off the bat that he wasn't about to beat Saitou at the man's own games; Sano had to fight in his own way, or not at all. Of course, the latter wasn't even an option.
If you can make me. Still infuriatingly unmoved, Saitou's eyes could be seen glinting in the now-darkness, as caring as colored glass. Sano clenched his fists at his sides, not for the first time and certainly not for the last.
Oh, I'll make ya-- Sano began, but Saitou flicked the cigarette butt to the ground and cut him off at the same moment, perhaps more bored with this extraneous conversation than anything else.
Hn. Now is neither the time nor the place. It's a real wonder, Saitou went on smoothly, as an explanation for Sano because it seemed he did not trust him to work it all out on his own, that the Battousai has not yet starved to death during his stay here; his Kamiya girl cannot even make tea properly. Much though it grated Sano's nerves to agree with any insult Saitou made against one of his friends, the fact still remained: Jou-chan was a terrible cook, and they both of them knew it.
Tell me about it, Sano snorted, making a face of remembrance and disgust. No, he only came to mooch food off Jou-chan when he knew it was a day nice enough for her to drag the others off to the Akabeko. He may have been real damn hungry at times but it was adding Kaoru's food to an empty stomach that could get a guy killed, a death more painful than he'd ever imagined.
The Akabeko, as I remember I, is the nearest place to go for a decent meal. Naa, ahou? Hunger made itself known with a vengeance then, snarling inside Sano's still empty stomach at the mere mention of the restaurant. He watched as Saitou's gloved white hands lit another cigarette, painfully slowly to a guy who'd suddenly been reminded of just how hungry he was by the tempting vision of a grand meal passing before his very eyes.
Sano said, careful, now. If he could play this right -- and that was a resounding and negotiable if -- then maybe he wouldn't have to go to bed hungry that night. I haven't eaten since yesterday, ya know. Not too casual, of course, because he refused to beat around the bush too much. Somehow, he got the idea that that sort of game-playing would piss Saitou off.
Perhaps that was the first real question Saitou had needed to ask during all this time - and this was just verifying the truth of a fact he had already assumed to be correct.
Sano answered, frowning a little, glad his expressive face was hidden by the darkness. Did Saitou Hajime really know him that well?
Pity. You must be very hungry. It was then that Sano realized Saitou already knew what he was trying to get at, then that Sano realized also that Saitou had known before Sano had even opened his mouth. And oh, did that make him mad.
he said again. Well, if Saitou already knew what Sano wanted, then Sano wasn't going to beg any further. That was, at least he wasn't going to beg again, right away.
And that was his signal to start begging again, wasn't it? Not that he was going to be polite about it, but if Saitou wasn't even going to budge at this level, there was no point in trying to wear him down. Sano may have had his pride, but that got you nowhere when you were dying of hunger. Pride didn't fill an empty stomach.
You are one sonovabitch, Sano snapped, patience already run down to the fraying point.
But you would still beg scraps from me. What does that say about you? Saitou sounded smug. If it wouldn't have ruined his only chance at a meal ticket, Sano would have punched that amused smirk right off Mibu's Wolf's face. But as of th emoment, Sanosuke was too hungry to gamble this opportunity for a good meal, of all things at the Akabeko, on getting his ass kicked by Saitou Hajime once again.
It says I'm damn hungry.
Mm. You must be.
Says I'm damn hungry enough to suffer eatin' a whole meal with you. As if to accentuate his point Sano's stomach rumbled angrily, almost desperately, though it would have been a long shot to assume Saitou would care for a second about how pathetic Sano's stomach sounded.
You make a convincing argument. Do you think you can behave yourself? Saitou's cool words cut like steel into the cool night.
That ain't, Sano began, having expected to hear words of an entirely different nature, and then went on far less eloquently,
I said, can you behave yourself? This time, it was a real question. Sure, the nature of it was condescending and Saitou Hajime was still one sonovabitch in Sano's book, but it was a real question and that had to mean something. Before he answered, Sano paused to think; something rash and rude might blow the whole operation, though who was operating on whom, Sano wasn't sure anymore.
Depends on the meal, he answered finally, a grin in his voice.
Saitou crushed his second cigarette out with the heel of his boot and, when he offered nothing more in the way of words, Sano found himself scrambling to save whatever it was he had started in the first place. Goddamn, he thought to himself, but dealing with Saitou was like being held off a cliff by someone you didn't trust farther than you could throw. And it just so happened that Saitou was one tall guy, not really suited for throwing.
Sano said quickly, yeah, for a meal at the Akabeko, I can behave myself just fine.
Excellent. Perhaps you can explain to me whatever strange charm it is that the Battousai finds in his new life. There it was, Sano clenching his fists again, enraged at the thought that maybe, just maybe, Saitou had wanted him to come along after all, that Sano was the one being played all along. And to make him beg, when Mibu's Wolf had wanted something -- information about Kenshin, it would seem -- all along? It made Sanosuke's already hot blood boil.
If ya think you're gettin' anythin' outta me, he started, all ready for action, but for the second time that night Saitou interrupted him.
Tsk, tsk, ahou. Behave yourself starting now.
You gonna take care of him? Harada Sanosuke had this habit of having a little more sake than he should have, but just enough so that you knew he knew what he was talking about. It was problematic for multiple reasons, as the man could say something and pretend on the one hand that he'd been drunk enough to gain impetus to say it, but if it hit home, he could say on the other hand that he hadn't had too much to drink really. It made Saitou's eyes narrow and it made his back straighten and it made all of him get really on edge, like they were about to fight. They had never fought, though; not yet, and probably not ever. Against all odds, they were the strangest of friends, honest with one another to the point of rude bluntness, but there was something liberating in that relationship. They said what they meant and meant what they said, reciprocal and ultimately satisfying.
I don't feel the need to justify my actions to you, Harada-san. Saitou's response was no more friendly and no more cutting, either, than it needed to be. Though Harada's words might have been rough, there was no challenge and no animosity behind them; Saitou knew him well enough to know that much by now, and so he responded in kind. Besides, it was a beautiful morning, and there was a certain languid laziness in Saitou's body that came only from post-coital relaxation. He'd slept well the night before. It showed in his posture, in his eyes, though he had tensed in anticipation of where this conversation was headed.
Yeah, Jime, just like you don't ask me about what it is I fuck, huh? Convenient system you've got worked out for yourself. Harada grinned after speaking, an expression which signaled better humor than just his words might have, otherwise. His face was a network of honest emotions, open and surprisingly kind despite this sort of hard edge it had now, which meant sure, he may have been a good guy deep down but for the time being, he just meant business. It lacked a certain refinement to its features, was just a blunt display of raw feelings, but still, you never knew exactly what he was thinking. Harada might let you think you did, and it was certainly easier to deduce his thoughts than it would have been to take a crack at Saitou Hajime's, but honesty and being an open book were two entirely different things. Harada Sanosuke was honest, but he wasn't an idiot, and he wasn't someone to take lightly.
was all Saitou replied, the sort of response he employed when he was being stubborn, refusing to answer anything outright or give too much of his position away.
"Well, it ain't gonna work with me, I can tell you that much." Harada grinned, but then it was fractionally more of a challenge, the faint darkness of tone in his voice giving his intent away. But it seemed as if perhaps, he had intended it to, because of his one quirked eyebrow, his cocky, confident stance. Saitou leaned against the wall, wondering how much of his morning this would waste, or perhaps planning a strategy to cut the waste of time short. The desire to be obstinate was strong; monosyllables could be a man's greatest verbal weapon. Perhaps, if Harada grew bored and in his boredom grew hungry, then Saitou could avoid a lengthy conversation, one which would inevitably keep him from returning to the bedroom and the pleasure of a long, easy morning.
"Oh?" here was another desire as well: to tell Harada Sanosuke to get his damn nose out of business that had nothing and would continue to have nothing to do with him. Saitou Hajime was a private man, had always been a private man, even in a time before necessity called for privacy. His personal life was up to his discretion, not Harada's; his to deal with, without the supposed 'help' of anyone else. The curt question that served as a pretend answer made Harada snort, moody and annoyed but also calm enough, as if he had expected such a response. Saitou smiled thinly and waited with ultimate patience for Harada to break the sudden silence, first.
"Yeah," Harada said finally, a growl in his voice, "I may be loud but I'm not stupid and I've seen the way he looks at you." For a moment, Saitou took pause, wondering at the obviousness between Okita and himself: the weakness that provided, the disadvantage in the weakness. To have such a weak spot as another human was a folly one could not afford indulging in. Not in such times. "Just don't fuck it up," harada added unexpectedly, his voice now softened, as if he could sense Saitou's thoughts. Saitou frowned, eyes keen and sharp and piercing as they fixed on Harada's face, searching out his motives. Still friends. Still companions. Still on the same side - whatever that meant, in the end. But suddenly something had changed. Saitou's grudging respect was now wary respect, and Harada's understanding had become quite apparent. This situation, Saitou decided, deserved a serious response, a thoughtfulness and a power of words he had not thought he needed to employ previously.
"I can assure you, Harada-san, I am well aware of my actions and their possible repercussions." Now, Saitou meant business. Harada shifted, body language showing that he understood, that maybe he'd misjudged the situation to begin with. If it was worth Saitou's attention, Saitou's full attention, then maybe it wasn't just a cold, calculated thing -- like a fighting stance, like most of Saitou's sword fights.
grinned, relaxing completely, looking satisfied, "thought so. 'Cause that's
you all over, ain't it."