A/N: This is probably pretty crappy, as it was written as a spur of the moment one-shot and was completed after 3 AM in the morning. I DID do research though – and this is based on historical facts about the real Saitou's family – 3 sons, and their names. What is NOT fact is the birth order and personalities – I made those up based on the "meaning behind the name" on some cheesy webpage.
The Wolf Pack
I knew this was going to be difficult when I came. But Tsutomu, the eldest, and Tatsuo, Mother's favorite, traveled back home, so it would be unseemly if I did not.
I don't think Father realized any of us were here. Sometimes, I'm sure he forgot we existed, that we were his flesh and blood. His sons.
His absence is what I am most familiar with. Mother was the center of our lives – she was the sculptor who molded us; he had nothing to do with it. Her smiles, her wrath, her care, and her love were what sustained us throughout those years we discovered the world. She would tell us we had to be proud of Father, he was an important government official, keeping everyone safe from evil. But I cannot even remember where he worked - Internal Affairs, perhaps?
At any rate, I am here for Mother's funeral and I will not mislead you – I did not want to come. Please, do not misunderstand, I loved Mother dearly, more than anyone else who has entered my life. I did not want to come because I did not want to see him.
For the few days we have been back home, I do not think either of my brothers have ventured to speak to him. And I know he has never attempted to approach us. His eyes are still the narrow slits I remember seeing the few times he was around – late at night, smoking a cigarette in the kitchen while reading papers. Those prowling eyes frightened me – Tatsuo has the closest thing to them, but even his have been tempered by a bit of Mother's features.
Mother tried to make us love him, and it is through no fault of hers if we still failed to appreciate the existence of a man who had done nothing for us. She would always comment on how like Father we were, but never could I see the traits as good ones. For Tsutomu, it was his sarcasm. Every argument I began with him, I failed to succeed at, for he had a frustrating way of always being right. And when he was, he was smug about it. Mother would laugh in that sad way she had, when she was remembering something from long ago, and she would say "Ah, Tsutomu, you sound like your father." But unlike Father, Tsutomu was always cheerful, happy, and carefree – and I envied him for that. My younger brother, Tatsuo, however, was the one Mother doted upon most. He was quiet, intelligent, and serious - always capable, always responsible. When she did not think I saw her watching him play outside, she would speak so quietly that I could barely hear her whisper against the window: "You remind me so much of him…"
Then, from the shadows, I would watch her cry.
Strangely, however, Mother never compared me to Father. I suppose this was all for the better, for I had grown to harbor a rather strong hatred of him. The tears Mother shed in his absence, the pain we sometimes brought her as we reminded her of the man who was no more than a figment of our imagination… his own neglect of us made me furious. I did not want to be Father's son, but that seemed to be all that would grasp Mother's attention. She would laugh at Tsutomu's witty comments, and she would praise Tatsuo's intelligence, but all I would receive was a puzzled wrinkling of her brow, as she would pat me on the head affectionately and tell me to run along, for she "just didn't understand!" me. I was the rash, impulsive one, who did first and thought afterwards. So many times I was scolded for not being like my brothers, my brothers who apparently resembled him. If I was not like him, I was nothing.
Yet, I was the one who managed to find the courage to approach Mother when she received news that he had been severely injured on assignment. His legs sustained parallel wounds, and, according to the doctors, strenuous activity after the injury made it doubtful he would be able to regain full use of them*. Tsutomu and Tatsuo were home, but having been present when the news arrived, they had left her to be alone. So it was I who walked home to find her crumpled on her knees, crying as if her heart would break.
My presence made her immediately try to compose herself and stand up, but the wet streaks on her cheeks and the puffiness of her eyes could not disguise her unhappiness. The tiny paper that had been folded in threes lay on the floor face-down. I did not pick it up, instead kneeling next to her as she shakily tried to breathe.
"'Kaa-san*…" I started, unable to find the proper words to voice my sorrow at her sadness. Extending my arm, I pulled her close and let her head rest on my shoulder, wordlessly permitting her to cry soundlessly as I rubbed her arm or patted her hand. We did not speak, although I was fairly desperate to say something soothing. When she at last gathered enough of her poise to dry her eyes and stand with my assistance, I managed to find something I thought would be comforting.
"It's alright, 'kaa-san. It's not your fault he wasn't here instead."
The look she gave me shattered any hopes I had of being helpful, as the strange frown she gave me suddenly cast doubt in my mind. After a pause she sighed, shaking her head.
"Sometimes, I do not understand you, Tsuyoshi…"
Even though she claimed not to understand me, it seemed I was the only one who understood her. My brothers did not wish to interfere with her emotions, for she had been our provider and protector for so long it was difficult to see her struggle. Or perhaps I was the only one who witnessed her unhappiness, her doubts, and her frustrations – sometimes with Father, sometimes with us. I would do what I could to comfort her: buy her presents, try to reassure her it wasn't her fault – anything I would have wanted someone to do for me if I was in their situation. She would sometimes smile for me, and I would feel a rare warmth I constantly craved, yet never seemed to find. But when she smiled, the feeling it gave me would last for days, and I could endure countless lost arguments with Tsutomu and the eternal quiet brooding of Tatsuo.
I apologize to my brothers if I make them sound like villains. They were both kind-hearted, Tsutomu generous to a fault and Tatsuo always dependable and willing to assist when needed. We helped raise one another, for there were some things Mother simply would never understand, and as we grew, we knew to trust and rely on one another. Of the three, however, only I bore a strong grudge against him. They did not question his motives for being more concerned with his work than with us, did not accept the pain he caused Mother, and did not take his absence as a personal affront in the way I did.
After I had left the house permanently, I pushed the subject from my mind, forgetting all but the good things like Mother's smiles, her cakes, and her distinct laugh. Her scent, her arms wrapping around me as a child, all aspects of her that I remembered gained a golden glow with the years that I dared not erase. But, there I was, back in the home I remembered from my youth, back in the neighborhood I recalled vividly from childhood. And every dark memory I tucked away in the back of my mind had resurfaced with twice the original intensity.
This was to be my last day at home, however, and my brothers had already said their good-byes, a slightly awkward moment as Father stood there silently, looking intently at them as they spoke, as if searching them for something he could not find. When I was the only one left, I quietly told him I had yet to pack my things, as I needed to quickly buy a few items before I left to return to my own residence. He said nothing, but turned and fumbled for his cigarettes – the inefficient manner in which he did so caught my attention, and I saw his fingers tremble. But his eyes belied a different state of mind entirely, so I scurried away to avoid being scrutinized further.
Upon my return to the dwelling, I found it to be strangely devoid of sound. I was exposed to enough of Father's ways to know how silent he was, but this house evoked memories of laughter, shouts, and teasing… not the somber heaviness that now surrounded it. I made my way inside with care, unwilling to break the stillness.
I packed my things and took them to the door, before I went to search for him to make my final departure. I ended up combing through the whole house, because I could not find him anywhere.
At last, I plucked up the courage to slide open the door to Mother's old room, and froze as I saw him kneeling in the center of the floor, facing a rolled up futon and her favorite kimono, neatly folded into a fastidious square. It was a silky red, that I had rarely seen her wear, but that she had always treasured. I stood there stupidly for a moment, unsure of what to do and unsure of what to feel. Father, the man I had grown to despise and blame throughout my life, was in the room full of her things, which I valued as sacred, not to be defiled by his presence. Why was he in the room now, after he had left it vacant for so many years? How dare he kneel and pretend to mourn, when he failed to cherish her while she was alive?
"What are you doing with that?" My tone took on a far more accusatory note than I intended. He closed his eyes, his hands resting gently on his knees. I had begun to step into the room, moving to put it back in its proper place – which was wherever she had left it last.
"Ahou*. Who do you think gave it to her?" His voice was low and rough, the emotionless nature of it causing me to pause before I comprehended his words. His attitude of possessing her, even when he had abandoned her for so long, stirred up an intense anger in me that I could not repress. Unlike Tsutomu and Tatsuo, however, I did not master the art of masking over my feelings to have a calm, logical debate – I was never very good at saying what I felt, so I opted for a bluntness hardly ever accepted by others.
"You may have given it to her, but were you ever here to see her wear it?" I countered angrily. The sharp look in my direction indicated I had struck a nerve. His intense scrutiny was disheartening, but I tried to hold eye contact without wavering.
"You are forgetting your place." He responded evenly, the tinge of authority in his voice infuriatingly evident.
"I have always been a dutiful son!" Despite my efforts, my voice was increasing in volume as I continued to speak. "It was you who forgot your place as head of this household!"
He made a quick effort to stand up, but the severe injuries he had sustained on assignment several years ago were beginning to make their presence felt as he grew older. He winced, and slowed his progress of standing, peering at me with a glare that I thought would slice right through my body and soul.
"I forgot nothing." He glared in my direction.
"You forgot us for your job! You don't even have the right to be standing in this room!"
"This is my house, and you are overstepping your bounds."
"How can you call it yours when you've spent more time away from it than you have in it? You have no idea what happened within these walls for the twenty years I lived here, do you?"
"I'm not going to repeat-"
"She told us to be proud of you, when you were never proud of us!"
My angry retort had an effect I had not foreseen. Throughout this exchange I had not expected to win the argument – I had enough encounters with Tsutomu to prematurely accept the idea of defeat in any verbal sparring. But I watched as his shoulders slumped and he slowly sank back to his knees.
"That's enough." He said, his voice weary. A hand reached out to gently smooth a fingertip over the corner of the folded kimono. Then, speaking almost to himself, he muttered,
"Tokio… you didn't have to…"
His words faded in and out of my thoughts, as I was more preoccupied with the strange sight before me. The man who had accompanied fear and hatred in my memories with his dark blue police uniform and golden eyes, was before me, looking tired and almost frail – a burdened soul who had seen too much and lived too little. The lines in his face suddenly stood out, becoming more apparent in the weakened sunlight that shone through the windows, portraying indescribable trials and tribulations he was no doubt forced to go through. His face no longer turned my way, but I saw him stiffen, as if feeling a sudden chill, before a hand methodically moved to his face. In a slow, fluid movement, his hand crossed his eyes before lowering back down to his knees. After a moment of pointed hesitation, I ventured to resume conversing with him.
"You didn't deserve her, you know." As I said this, I cautiously moved into the room to kneel facing the kimono.
"Sou ka*…" He answered absent-mindedly as he intently stared at the silk cloth. Another pause inserted itself in our dialogue, as we both contemplated our own separate thoughts.
"Mm. Yet she would always cry over you. A waste, really." My legs unfolded so I could stand – I could not imagine having anything more to say to this man, my Father, whom I had hated for so long.
"You're one to speak about such things." He accused in a flat voice, devoid of malice. "When you have seen what your mother and I have, shedding tears is a luxury." His eyes faded back into focus, and he turned his burning gaze onto me. "During the Bakumatsu*, watching your friends and comrades die – you had no opportunity to mourn their loss or you'd be next."
"There's no justification for abandoning your family."
"I am making no excuses."
"What was so important about work that you were never here?"
"I was doing what needed to be done. As long as I protected the new government from itself, then the death of my comrades will not have been in vain. I had to justify their loss of life in the only way I could, after we lost."
"You chose that over three of your own children…"
"Tsuyoshi." His eyes were narrow and they made my blood run cold. I could not remember him ever speaking my name before. "There is more to the world than simply your life. Listen to you; you may look to be grown, but you are still a child."
His words struck such a chord of truth in me, that I was dumbstruck. This man, who had neglected his own offspring, was calling me selfish? He was insinuating that I had no right to be angry with him?
"Well, if that is your reasoning, then you are no better." I refuted. "You were so absorbed in your own desires that you pushed my brothers and me aside!"
"Ahou." He heaved a small sigh, as if I was beginning to become irritating. "You have no idea what I want."
This was true. I hardly knew this man, I did not know what obstacles had faced him, what he had to endure – none of it. And he would never understand what I had undergone, despite my apparent expectation that he would.
"Yare yare*, perhaps I would have liked to have had a real family. Ah, such foolish thoughts."
The apparent sadness of what he said struck me as so uncharacteristic of him that I could think of no suitable response. I remembered how Mother would tell us would tell us stories of his bravery during his days in the Shinsengumi, of the important things he did at his government job – but never did she mention happiness. And now, as I stood looking at a man who had spent all his life performing what he thought was his duty and sacrificing any sort of personal happiness, I understood. The man I had hated my entire life, did not even exist. The man before me was the real Saitou Hajime, who without his duty, had nothing but regret. A sad longing to return to days in the past he had sacrificed for something he had mistakenly believed to be reason for his existence.
"Don't you have a train to catch?"
The thought had entirely slipped my mind, but upon prompting, I realized that if I did not leave soon, I would miss the departure time on my ticket. As I made my way to my luggage, I could hear him following me, making no effort to mask it. Once I had gathered all my things, I stepped out the door, but on an impulse, turned around to say one last thing.
"I'm glad we came to an understanding."
"Is that what you call it?" I could not help but smile a little at his sarcastic remark.
"Well… I've just come to the realization Mother was right to claim you loved us."
"Hmph. I never loved any of you." He paused, looking up into the sky to, I suspected, avoid looking at me directly. "But think what you will – it makes no difference to me." At that, my small smile widened into a knowing grin.
"Sou ka… 'tou-san*?"
* - Reference to when Saitou is injured in the battle against Shishio.
* - 'Kaa-san = okaa-san = mother
* - Ahou = moron, idiot – one of Saitou's favorite words.
* - Sou ka = Really
* - Yare yare = expression of disappointment (eg. "Oh well…")
* - 'Tou-san = otou-san = father