It wasn't very often that dinner was quiet. With people like Heisuke and Shinpachi arguing about stolen pieces of food and such, it had become difficult to even expect such a thing, and those not involved learned to tune them out. Suddenly the entire dining room was absolutely...silent.
It was a relief, and nobody, not even Hijikata, could complain that once in a while the group dragged each other out and away from work for a while.
"It's so quiet; why won't anyone talk? I really miss the chatter."
Of course, Hijikata could always complain about the fact that nobody ever took Souji with them. There was convincing everyone, everyone including the overworked Sannan-san, but there was no convincing Souji.
"If you miss the chatter you can always go and join them." Hijikata retorted grumpily, glaring up from his meal.
"Hmm," Okita hummed a bit before smirking, "I'd rather stay here."
"Of course you would." Hijikata mumbled. He was certain that Souji often did this on purpose just to piss him off.
"Let's talk then!" Souji encouraged enthusiastically. "Between four people we can surely..." Then he glanced over at Saito who continued to eat quietly, never raising his eyes to the rest of the small group, "Of course...Hajime-kun might not count so perhaps it's more like three..."
"Souji." Kondo said in a whining tone, calling him to retreat in his gentle banter.
Souji got quiet again, pursing his lips together before turning back to his food.
Hijikata breathed a short and very silent sigh of relief before he eventually returned to eating his food.
"So have you two even started doing things together or what?"
"Souji!" Hijikata snapped furiously, slamming his chopsticks down on his tray. The fact that Kondo-san was there completely slipped his mind; also the fact that he was snapping at Kondo-san's lover also. "That's none of your business."
"Does Hajime-kun not have any experience?" Souji asked, a little intrigued.
"I'm sure you know if he does or doesn't! Now leave him out of it!" Hijikata snapped defensively.
"Toshi, please calm down," Kondo exhaled heavily but knew it was out of Toshi's hands, "and Souji, don't you think you're pushing things? These aren't things to..."
"What's wrong with it, Kondo-san?" Souji asked, feigning innocence. "We're both couples here, aren't we?"
"That is besides the point, Souji." Kondo corrected him.
"Saito's made no objections. It's only the always-high-strung vice commander that has objections, as usual."
Saito didn't raise his eyes, and continued to pick at his food, though he finally spoke, "I see no point in getting frustrated with you." Just when Souji may have thought it would be safe to make another snide remark, Saito's eyes lifted sharply from his food and glared right into the depths of his green ones, "On the other hand, if you have something you want to know then ask me directly without taunting the Vice Commander."
"Saito." Hijikata practically whined his name; he knew what a private person Saito was, and of all things, he didn't want him going against that just to defend him. Certainly not defend him over something as little as Souji's pathetic and annoying childishness. "Leave it alone."
"Don't you have any kind of experience, Hajime-kun?" Souji seemed serious, and extremely curious as he cocked his head to the side.
"Of course not."
"Do you expect a nenja anywhere to accept having a disobedient wakusho such as I?"
Everyone remained silent however much they wanted to protest to that statement. On the other hand, they all knew that it was true. With Saito's left-handedness and his insistence to train in the way he did there was no nenja anyone who would be willing to train him, or defend his courage and behaviour, let alone build that type of relationship with him. Of course, Souji's mind was too wrapped up in dirtier things and taunting the couple to remember that the Shinsengumi was Saito's first real friendship anywhere, the first time he let trust build with anyone other than himself.
Saito didn't say much else other than that rhetorical question; he lowered his gaze back to the bowl of rice he held in his hands and finished off the last few grains he had. As everyone else remained silent with nothing to say, Saito thanked them for his meal and got off the ground, leaving.
"You have such a big mouth." Hijikata hissed at Souji.
"How did I know he'd react like that? Hajime-kun isn't the easiest person to read."
"Just use your head! You know enough!"
"Toshi, don't put all the blame on Souji." Kondo sighed, waving a hand in front of the two glaring men.
"Who should I blame then?"
"Yourself; maybe if you gave Hajime-kun what he wanted then maybe he wouldn't still be getting upset about this."
"I take back my words; you know nothing!"
"Toshi." Kondo finally growled that name until the man in question stopped glaring daggers at the other. "Leave Souji to me..." He clearly wanted to continue that statement, but decided against stating the obvious.
"I will go check on Saito." He picked up Saito's chopsticks and one of the bowls of food, making his way down the corridor to Saito's room. It was chilly tonight; he hoped the others wouldn't stay out too late so as not to get sick. At this point in time every member was valuable and they couldn't afford losing anyone to illness. He gave a light knock on the thin frame of the door before sliding it open, stepping in.
The oil lamp not far from the bed was dimly lit and Saito, already changed and lying in bed, half sat up in bed, "Is there a problem?"
"Of course there's a problem," Hijikata crouched down and held up the bowl, "you left your favourite part of the meal untouched; that's a big problem."
Hijikata fed him a small amount of the mixture but Saito made a face, "It's gotten cold."
He placed the bowl and chopsticks down on the ground, kneeling more comfortably beside the bed, "I was just trying to be helpful."
"Do you need something? I was just tired so I..."
"The things that Souji said..." Hijikata interrupted quickly, albeit a little unsure if he should press forward on the matter, "did they upset you?"
"How can I get upset about it?"
Hijikata shifted uneasily, "It could be very easy for most people."
"I'm not upset." Saito flashed a small and very brief shy smile, "I'm tired, not upset."
Hijikata nodded his head firmly, lips pursed together. "Okay." He got back off the ground, taking the things he brought with him, "I'll leave you to sleep then."
As he left he felt something crack inside his chest, leaving a resonating shattering sound inside his head. He knew that what he was doing was wrong. He placed everything in the kitchen for whoever was on duty today to clean up and when he exited he was met with Kondo and Souji returning their trays. "That was quick." Souji teased.
"He says he's alright but I'm not so sure." Hijikata ignored Souji and turned to Kondo, speaking in a hushed tone.
"If you have your doubts then you should probably confront him about it." Kondo told him wisely.
"Don't listen to Kondo-san," Souji showed up over Kondo's shoulder again, "If you have your doubts then you should definitely confront him about it."
Hijikata ran his fingers through his hair momentarily, cast his eyes to both men in front of him before making his way back to Saito's room. He slid the door open slowly and crept into the room in pitch darkness. Saito was no fool and surely heard him entering; he would not allow someone to just crawl into bed with him the way Hijikata just did. He reached out for the form in the darkness and wrapped his arms around him, pressing his cold nose and warmer lips into his neck.
Vaguely he heard a sharp intake of breath; the body he held didn't stiffen and thus his advances weren't rejected. Although it couldn't be said that he had never given this type of affection before, he had certainly never given it to anyone like this, "Please don't lie to me." Those words held a tinge of desperation; such a thing was never in the words he shared with the rest of his men.
In part he had to be thankful for Saito's personality; even if he did speak to him about these feelings he held inside of him he wouldn't be sure what to say to him. He rolled over slowly in Hijikata's arms instead, and allowed himself to nestle deeper into the warmth that tried to comfort him.
They didn't make love for a long time. The relationship had remained simple for a few months. There was no lovemaking, they simply kissed and were affectionate with each other.
"You don't push Hijikata-san hard enough." Souji slid a damp cloth over his chest and stomach, cleaning himself up before bed. Kondo-san couldn't understand how or why, even after all they'd done in the past hour, Souji was still thinking about that.
"And you? Don't you think you were pushing Saito more than Toshi?"
"Hajime-kun needs a start too; no sense in pushing Hijikata-san if Hajime-kun will just retract."
"I really think you should stay out of this; you may do more harm than good."
"We won't know unless I do something, won't we? I'm the only one doing anything to help them anyway."
Kondo half sat up, using his elbows for support, "Why are you trying to help them?"
"Thank you for your faith in me, Kondo-san." Souji continued to tidy himself up, tying his hair up this time, but his tone pointed out his hurt. "I don't think they'll manage at this rate; I don't know why I try either. They have no courage, nor the knowledge, between them and they're going to want privacy which, as we know, is rare here."
Kondo pulled Souji back down suddenly and the boy was laying on the older man's strong arm, staring up with admiration. Only Kondo could still take Souji off guard. "Knowledge? You're not going to really comment on that, are you? Aren't you the person who knew nothing his first time either? I vaguely remember you asking 'you're going to put it there?' the first time."
The lines around Souji's mouth stiffened, "Don't make fun of me; I was twelve."
Kondo chuckled and apologized lowly, smiling against the corner of Souji's mouth. "Just give the two of them some time."
"Time isn't all they need, Kondo-san."
Although he wasn't pleased with it Hijikata had to break to Saito the news from the latest meeting. "You'll be coming with me; we're going to the next city as I have things to do."
Saito's gaze asked 'why me?' But his usual obedient attitude simply forced him to nod and accept it.
"I'm sorry for the trouble; believe me, they were adamant about it." Hijikata sighed, rubbing his temples.
"I can go alone." Hijikata had protested to Kondo immediately.
"You can't go without some back up."
"I can take a few of my men instead."
"You'll need someone strong and someone that can bring a message back if something happens. Besides, you may need to find a place to stay and having more men would be more expensive."
"I can take Yamazaki."
"I have sick men here; I need Yamazaki as we can't afford to keep getting a doctor."
Kondo was up to something; even Sannan-san looked between the two, wondering why Kondo was so insistent on sending Saito, and why Hijikata was trying so desperately to change his mind.
This had attracted too much attention and eventually he had no choice but to cave.
"I don't mind." Although Saito was very...naiive; that would be the accurate and gentle term to describe him. He didn't understand why they were being lumped together all of a sudden. Saito was uncomfortable often and felt under pressure, but he always felt like he was under pressure created by himself, and remained completely oblivious to everyone else's pushing.
"Pack a small bag; depending how long this takes we probably won't make it back before nightfall."
It was only a matter of time before they were on the road together. It wasn't necessarily awkward but Toshi was seeing things that Saito obviously wasn't. Particularly, Kondo's deception. The time spent walking to their destination through city streets and wooded areas was time alone they could probably spend talking in ways they couldn't surrounded by everybody else.
Occasionally they would share a few words but they were all related to work and laced with the usual formalities that they were so familiar with. If Toshi returned to Kondo and told him that they'd made no progress whatsoever then he'd surely be disappointed after he gave them an opportunity such as this one. "Saito..." There was another moment of silence, although he'd gotten the other's attention. But he didn't know what to say. "Nevermind." He gave Saito a brief smile and continued to walk.
Just when they were both feeling relief that they were close to the headquarters the ambush on the dirty side road blocked their path. The conflict was one that experts as they were could handle, although the ronin weren't going down easily either. As Toshi took care of the last one Saito had landed harshly on his back in his last ditch effort to avoid the sharp blade that had slashed so closely to his body.
Saito sheathed his sword with some discomfort shooting through his upper body. Toshi loomed over him and extended his arm to help him up; the growl of agony that rumbled in the back of Saito's throat was one Toshi wished he'd never have to hear. "Were you hit?"
"My back..." He put his hands on his knees and felt himself struggle under the quick sharp pains.
Toshi pulled Saito to rest against him until he could recover his posture. "You can't stand." Toshi decided, holding Saito by his forearms.
"I can. Let's keep moving; we're almost there."
"You can't walk though, can you?"
"I can." He stood upright as much as he could force himself too and picked up his things to keep walking.
"Don't push yourself, Saito! You'll make it worse!"
"I'm not hurt; we may make it there..."
"We can find a place to stay and keep going in the morning."
"That would delay everybody back at the headquarters."
"This would be a plausible reason for delays."
"No, let's keep going. Please."
"Saito..." Toshi sighed his name, disappointed. Even if their relationship advanced Saito could never see the two of them on equal ground and would probably never stop pushing himself harder than anyone else.
As long as they were on side roads surrounded by more trees, knowing that anyone else who will probably come across them would die at his hands Toshi forced Saito to lean against him the rest of the way.
Saito would have marvelled at how little time it took for him to convince superiors of their plans and of the Shinsengumi's needs if it weren't for the fact that the pain his back was giving him was agonizing. Toshi had not needed him to join him and thus stood outside, leaning back against the wall. It had him so alert that even just a moment seemed like eternity. When Toshi returned he could see the concern on his face but he fought to keep walking and shrugged off his offers to get a kago for him.
When they got themselves a room just before the darkness began to fall Saito was given some time alone; Toshi had left him and hadn't said a word. It was only after changing into something to sleep in did Saito realize the point at which his back was damaged. Toshi re-entered with a sake bottle and seemed surprised to see Saito still standing, "What's wrong?"
"I can't lie down."
Toshi put the bottle down and hurried over to him, holding onto his arms and hoping he would trust him to help him. Each step toward the futon caused sharp pains up and down his back and it really showed however much he tried to bite back his winces.
Toshi stared into his eyes and willing him not to protest to his sudden actions; he lured him over to the futon, wrapped his arms around him and struggled a little with their balance until he could lay him down gently. Saito's fingers were gripping tightly onto the sleeves of his haori but once he touched the gentle surface the pain seemed to subside somewhat. When he realized that his hands were still holding onto him Saito's cheeks burned a deep shade of red and he pulled them back quickly. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be." Toshi reached for the makeshift bag he'd carried with him, "When Yamazaki told me he would prepare something in case of an emergency I almost talked him out of it."
"I don't think there will be anything for this." It wasn't one of the more typical battle injuries any of them were prepared for.
Toshi fished through the small box that had weighed him down for most of their journey, and upon coming across a small jar that he thought may help he decided that having not left it behind or dumped it half way was a good idea. "You'll need to turn over." Saito immediately seemed defeated at the sound of that; unable to see himself successfully rolling over. "I'll help you." But since he couldn't guarantee he could help him without causing him much pain he began pouring out some sake. "Drink this first."
"It's too much trouble."
"It is not."
The sharp and dry taste of the sake that passed his lips told Saito that the Vice Commander had picked up the strongest thing that there was; perhaps he had foreseen how much pain he would be in. He sat up slowly, gritting his teeth as he lowered his clothing to his waist. With the help of the other he rolled onto his stomach, supporting his head with his arms.
"You're not bruised." He pointed out. "Where does it hurt?" He opened the jar and picked some up onto his fingers; Saito tried to bring his arm down and reach behind his back but he just winced sharply so he stopped him. "Don't worry." He sighed heavily and began to spread the moist substance on his warm back, "I don't think anything bad will happen if we use a lot."
Saito felt the hands going deeper and deeper into the muscles; he grit his teeth hard together and scrunched his eyes shut. How did this happen to him?
Toshi noticed the burning red of Saito's face that he was trying to keep well hidden; to Toshi... He couldn't say this was the worst thing he had ever done, but to have this sort of situation creep up on them in such a way was a little unnerving. He looked away from his face; it only served to fuel the rosiness in his own face. He pulled back eventually and then put some effort into trying to pull the other over onto his back again carefully.
Saito protested quietly and Toshi thought it was just because of the pain, even if Saito wasn't really one to complain. The bulge in his clothing made him understand why he was acting the way he was.
Toshi took the hand that Saito covered his face with, gripping it firmly as he touched his lips to the corner of his mouth. "We're alone; you don't need to feel ashamed."
Saito bit the inside of his cheek and Toshi debated constantly for what reason he was making such a pained expression over. He hoped the answer would come shortly. He kissed him tenderly; if Saito resisted even slightly then that would be the cause. Saito wasn't one to lead, but when he accepted the kiss he felt relief.
The cable that held back the brutal passion that surged inside for the other seemed to snap in a way he never could have let it back at their headquarters. He felt a swelling heat all over himself as he felt himself erupt in his intense feelings, kissing away hotly at his younger partner. Saito even reciprocated were he could, but Toshi knew he went too fast for the other to catch up, with his mindset and even with the state his body was in.
After making Saito feel intense pleasure with his mouth alone Toshi became that much more enthusiastic. With his fingers slick with remnants of Saito's arousal he placed his other hand on the inner part of his thigh, "Spread your legs," he whispered against his cheek. Saito had been watching him both curious and cautiously, and the close attention began to make Toshi nervous.
Toshi tsked at him and Saito immediately did what he was told. A finger slides in and Saito cringes, covering his face with the back of his hand. Soon Toshi is able to thrust two fingers in and out of him, slowly intoxicating himself with the sight of the smaller body beneath him panting and squirming.
He got into position between his legs, planting a kiss on his mouth and running his hands along his stomach under the loose obi. As he pulls back he sees the other looking at him with confusion. His tip is already at his entrance but with the man underneath him shaking all over he doesn't think he can do this.
"You need to calm down."
"Is this how it's done?"
Toshi smiled gently. He honestly didn't want to hurt the other's feelings by asking if he was serious. "That's how we'll do it. You'll like it, I promise."
Saito nodded his head and closed his eyes. Toshi couldn't resist kissing those soft features once more. He asked him if he was ready before he entered him. His nails suddenly dug hard into his back and he screamed as though he was ripping him apart. Soon enough he was crying quietly. Toshi pulled out the moment he felt the muscles around him unclench for even a second; he had no heart to do this with a crying man, and instead worked on wiping the tears away.
"Can you try again?"
Toshi was surprised by that question, "You tell me," he retorted softly.
Saito nodded his head; he'd gotten this far after all. He felt hands sneak under his back and pull him closer. So with some more preparation he tried again. H was a bit more relaxed and Toshi slid in a little easier, kissing his cheek and forehead until the expression changed. He began to thrust into him; he groans and he could tell he was feeling some pain. He placed small kisses on his neck and kept his thrusts slow and gentle. He's panting frantically; Toshi finds it fascinating. He kisses his chin and then moves his lips up to his mouth, marvelling at what a quiet person he is even like this.
He moved away to let him breathe, moving his mouth to tease his ear. He gasps and tries to squirm away even between their closeness. With a little effort Toshi pulled him upright into his lap, the sudden depth and change in position shocked the younger man but he quickly adjusted with a sharp intake of breath. "How can you..."
At the sound of his clear voice Saito opened his eyes and finally drank in the sight of the man in front of him. He wrapped his arms around his neck and extended his arms down his back, burying his mouth in his collarbone, "Hurry..." was the only thing he requested.
Toshi took Saito in his hand, kissed his lips promptly and continued thrusting until the two of them reached their climax, the younger biting into his skin as he had came inside him. Saito's fingers dug into his back and his voice elevated to soft moans. By the way he collapsed against him, he knew that the boy couldn't have taken it for much longer.
Unable to keep their balance anymore Toshi fell back, pulling Saito with him to keep from dropping him onto his injured back. He pulled the haori up over Saito's sweaty body and pulled out of him cautiously. "Don't tell me you've fallen asleep."
Saito shook his head and pulled himself to sit up, expression hidden by his long hair that fell out of it's loose tie. He smiled very faintly and with guidance managed to lay successfully beside the other. "You'll live, won't you?" Toshi asked softly, chuckling as he touched the boy's damp cheek.
"I would hope so."
"Do you have regrets?"
Saito remained silent and then buried his face in the other's shoulder timidly.
Toshi felt uneasy. He should have known better; he should have spoken to him more before he even did anything. "I'll...wait."
"If I regretted it, I wouldn't have let you..." With that admission, his face burned red.
It was something debatable to Toshi. Saito was so obedient, he thought, that even if that were true then perhaps...
"I'm...passed off as naive by everyone but...I know what you're thinking and...I wouldn't have agreed to come here, though I always knew there was a chance this would happen." He shrugged one of his shoulder, a small smile tugging at his lips, "I wanted to... As long as you would have me then I wanted to."
That promptly soothed every worry Toshi had dwindling inside of him. That was the most Saito had ever voiced his feelings for his partner, and he hoped that it wouldn't be the last time. He smiled widely, taking him by surprise.
"Why are you smiling like that? Did I say something stu-"
"Don't take back a single word you said." Toshi chuckled, pressing their lips lightly together. "Get some rest; if we don't return before nightfall tomorrow everyone will worry."
In the morning the state of Saito's back wasn't much better but rather than fuss over him Toshi only tried to make Saito laugh about it. Unfortunately, that hurt to do so also which left them smirking most of the way back to their headquarters. Saito used Toshi's shoulder for support and almost every hour on the hour he would apologize and ask if he was hurting him.
As much as neither of them wanted this rare time alone together to end both were looking forward to being back with the others also. A break from them was pleasant, but to leave them both alone like this for much longer would only serve to make things more awkward.
When they got there Sano and Heisuke were at the entrance; upon seeing Saito leaning against him and utterly exhausted Heisuke ran back inside, probably to call Yamazaki, and Sano came to take the weight off the Vice Commander.
"What happened to him?" Sano went to pick Saito up but was immediately met with resistance.
"We were attacked; he took a bad fall."
"I can still walk on my own." Saito protested half-heartedly.
"Don't listen to him." Hijikata dismissed promptly, his voice now cold and stern. "Be gentle, but pick him up and take him to Yamazaki."
Souji exited his room just in time to see Saito being carried away, "Hajime-kun seems to be in bad shape."
"He took a bad fall when we were attacked."
Souji smirked, raising a delicate eyebrow at the Vice Commander, "Is that what it was?"
Hijikata glared, "...What's with that look?"
"Ahh, Hijikata-san, I think when you were fumbling for your clothes this morning you may have picked up Saito's naivety by accident."
"Nothing like that happened! Get it out of your head!"
"Yes, yes," Souji said, waving his hand, "I'm sure nothing at all."
"Toshi!" Kondo called, exiting the dojo. "What's with all this yelling?"
"Hajime-kun came back with a suspicious injury." Souji informed the Commander with a sly grin.
Hijikata grit his teeth, rolling his eyes before turning to Kondo, "We were attacked and he took a bad fall."
Kondo raised both his eyebrows, "Now, Toshi, that's a really poor excuse, isn't it?" He asked rhetorically in a hushed tone. "If that's what you're going to be telling people then they'll..."
"It's the truth!" Toshi protested, huffing.
Just about losing his breath from protesting against Kondo and Souji for an hour, with no peace and quiet to be found anywhere else, after dinner Hijikata went to visit Saito. Yamazaki was still with him; placing warm towels on his back. All of a sudden Toshi was very thankful he hadn't left any marks on the man.
"Don't try to get up." Hijikata instructed, seeing Saito shakily trying to sit up.
Yamazaki placed the last towel and stood up, "I'll leave you two alone."
"Yamazaki-san says I'll back to normal in a few days."
"That's good to hear."
Saito glanced up from his awkward position, "Would it be correct of me to say that Souji may have been giving you a hard time?"
"I hope that like a child he'll tire out eventually."
Hijikata noted Saito glancing away promptly, possibly with his cheeks turning a deeper shade of red under the dim lighting. "Has he been here asking you questions?"
"Not me... He asked Yamazaki-san if there were any suspicious marks on me..." He sighed.
Hijikata's eyes widened. He had quite a few thoughts and which one would rush out of his mouth first was debatable. "Are there any? Did he see? What did Yamazaki say?"
"Yamazaki-san told him it was none of his business and pushed him out but..."
"But now Yamazaki's suspicious..." He sighed heavily. He slid down to lie on the ground, supporting his back by resting on his elbows, "Leave it to me. Hopefully if I speak to Kondo seriously he'll tell Souji to hold back."
"I'll have your duties divided amongst the others until you get better." He bit his lip nervously but leaned in and kissed his forehead gently. "Get plenty of rest." Placing another brief kiss to his lips he stood up and with much regret left Saito's side.
"Vice Commander..." Saito called after him, lifting his body just enough. "Thank you... You...didn't need to visit..."
As Hijikata opened his mouth to speak, someone else cut in. "You still call him 'Vice Commander' in private?"
Hijikata turned to the door and slid it open with a loud bang, "Souji!" The man in question scrambled off the ground and down the hallway, having taunted the demon inside of him enough it seems. Hijikata looked back to Saito, gave him a quick smile and then closed the door.
That smile held understanding. That smile held their silent love, until it could burn furiously again some other night.