“Hey! Anyone home?”
Well, Sanosuke thought to himself, he knew someone was home. Yet it was completely dark, and, after inviting himself into Doctor Gensai’s house, he realized it was completely quiet as well. It was starting to worry him; Gensai had told him Megumi would stay home for the night, and it wasn’t so late that she would be sleeping.
“Helloooo… Megumi?” He tried calling.
No answer. He pondered whether it was worth yelling more loudly and risking the chance that the moody doctor throw a hissy fit because he was making a ruckus and bothering the neighbors.
Ugh. He wasn’t in the mood for bickering.
“Doctor Takani?” Sanosuke said instead, imitating the presumptuous tone of the noblemen who would sometimes visit her.
He still heard nothing but the cicadas’ song.
“Uh.” He deliberated, before trying one last resource: “... Fox lady?”
“Where the hell are you? Is everything alright?” Thank god he knew Doctor Gensai’s house fairly well to navigate the place using only his hands from time to time; Any other person would’ve ran into 5 different pillars by now. “Why is everything so damn dark?”
“My, my… are you worried about me? I knew you cared, Sano, but I didn’t think you cared that much!”
He frowned. “What are you talking about? Doctor Gensai asked me to look after you tonight because you were going to be alone!”
“Oh, my… Doctor Gensai is always soooo kind… Truly, such a lovely man!”
Sanosuke raised an eyebrow as he clumsily made his way through the halls, following Megumi’s voice. This was getting weird, the usually composed woman sounded completely out of it, unusually chipper and almost like she was…
“You gotta be kiddin’ me.”
“Why, hello Sagara-kun~” Sitting in the outside corridor by the backyard, Megumi waved cheerfully at him. Clad in a purple yukata, she was holding an elegant sake cup, from which she took a sip as he neared her.
What a funny way to walk, she thought, seeing a double image of Sano as he approached her.
“You’re drunk.” He stated bluntly as he crouched in front of her, like a doctor diagnosing an extremely obvious case of the flu.
“My, you’re quite observant.” She replied, graciously brushing her fingers through her hair.
“But, uh… Why?” This certainly wasn’t the first time he’d seen Megumi drunk out of her mind but it was the first time he had seen her drinking alone—and he had been around enough drunks to know people only got wasted alone when something was tormenting them. The woman only shrugged, though, looking anything but troubled.
“Doctor Gensai said to relax tonight, for once,” she explained, picking up the flask and serving herself a little more sake. “He also once said that I was welcome to have some of his special brew whenever I pleased. So, I took both offers at the same time. Two birds with one stone: Bang!”
Sanosuke held back a snort. “‘Bang?’” he repeated mockingly. “Alright then.”
No point in arguing with a drunk, that much he had learned when wandering from bar to bar when he was younger. Megumi patted a spot next to her and he took the offer, sitting down as she served herself some more sake.
“So,” she began after emptying her cup. “Doctor Gensai thinks I need a babysitter, huh?”
“Since you got drunk the moment he left you alone in his house, I think you do, too. Ow.” He snickered when she lightly kicked his leg.
“Smartass. It’s a one-time thing, alright?” Megumi said seriously—or as seriously as she could while swaying like a willow. “It’s not like I do this every time I’m alone.”
“Heh, I’m just teasing you. And you can’t blame the man for being worried about you spending the night alone in an empty house. You could be attacked by burglars or whatever, so that’s why I came.”
She harrumphed. “I can defend myself, thank you very much.”
“Oh yeah? What are you gonna do Doctor Takani, bandage the burglars to death?” That drew a snicker out of her. “You can’t even carry the groceries by yourself, what are you gonna do against a bunch of burly guys ready to fight?”
She gave his question some very serious thought, then winked mischievously. “I could seduce them.”
“Pffft. Yeah, good luck with that.”
“Hey, you never know. Might work.”
“Can’t say I’ve tried seducing the guys I fight, so I’ll leave you to try that out for me and then you can tell me how it turns out, alright?” he proposed jokingly, and Megumi chortled. “Where are your manners anyway? You’re drunk, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to not offer some sake to your babysitter.”
The doctor tilted her head, confused. “Aren’t you too young to drink?”
“The hell? I’m 19!”
“Oh… rrright,” she said, trying her hardest not to slur. Honestly, Sanosuke behaved like a child so often she sometimes thought he was younger than Kaoru. “And I suppose there’s really no age limit when it comes to sake… though there should be.” Megumi paused, appearing to think deeply for a couple of seconds before shrugging. “Well, go ahead, my dearest caretaker, fufufu~”
Sanosuke rolled his eyes and reached for the empty cups piled beside the sake flask. When Megumi grabbed the bottle to fill his cup, he took it out of her hands—she simply couldn’t be trusted with it anymore, not when she kept gently swaying from side to side, eyes opening and closing lazily like she could fall asleep any second.
“How much did ya drink anyway?”
“Um… Don’t know. Hm…” She counted on her fingers with some difficulty. “Not… much, I think. Half the flask?”
Sanosuke snorted. “Lightweight.”
She lightly slapped his arm as reprimand. “I’m not! I can handle my alcohol just fine. I just… I just think this is stronger… maybe.”
He shrugged, taking another sip. It was certainly stronger than usual, but nothing to write home about. It would take several flasks to make him feel slightly dizzy, he guessed—as a big guy he often grew tired of drinking before actually feeling its effects, ending up with only a belly full of liquid.
Better that way, really. He made pretty bad decisions when sober; he didn’t want to find out just how badly he could fuck up when drunk.
Megumi, though… he could see why she’d be off her rocker after just half a bottle. She was small and slim—too slim. It always seemed like the damn fox woman would break if you dared look at her funny. And now she was wavering in the wind, like a spirit with rosy cheeks and a dazed smile, humming a tuneless song.
So damn vulnerable.
Secretly, he thanked Doctor Gensai for asking him to watch over her.
“Are you sure you’re going to be able to fight off the bad guys if you’re drunk?” She questioned, barely suppressing a yawn.
“Meh.” A shrug. “I fight better when I’m wasted. Besides, you already drank more than half the flask, doubt I’ll be able to get drunk with what little you left.”
Megumi pouted. “You’re making me feel bad. Though… maybe I did overdo it. I’m feeling sleepy. And hot, too.”
“That’s what sake does to you.” Sanosuke quickly gulped down what was left in his cup. “Though this damn summer heat sure ain’t helping.”
“I know… These past few weeks I feel like we’re slowly being baked in an oven. It’s even worse when my patients are here, since I can’t wear lighter clothing, you know?”
Absentmindedly, Megumi dipped her fingers underneath the fabric of her collar, pushing it to the side to let the cool midnight air grace more of her skin. After blinking once or twice, Sanosuke opened his mouth to say something, maybe crack a joke about her being an exhibitionist kind of drunk, but quickly closed it again when Kaoru’s past complaints about his lack of tact reverberated in his head. So, with one quiet swallow, he simply looked over at the fireflies flying around in the backyard, trying hard to pretend his very beautiful (though he’d rather die before admitting that outloud) drinking partner wasn’t slowly stripping right beside him.
And now she was looking at him. Great.
“You’re so quiet. Cat got your tongue?”
“More like fox got my tongue,” he answered, attempting a joking tone. He still sounded rather stiff, but Megumi didn’t seem to notice. “I guess I just don’t have much to say.”
She hummed in response, clumsily reaching for the underside of her yukata and lifting it up to reveal her lower legs, fanning herself with her other hand.
Sanosuke pretended that counting the stars in the sky was suddenly the most entertaining pastime in the world.
And then he felt a soft weight fall against his shoulder.
“Hey, hey, hey, hey,” he stammered, pushing her away. “Don’t get too cozy now.”
“But I’m too sleepy to stay upright,” she whined, pressing her arm to his, and letting her head fall on his shoulder. “Don’t be stingy.”
Easy for her to say, he thought bitterly. She was just too damn drunk to read the mood—and honestly he wished he were drunk as well, so he wouldn’t have to struggle to smother the old feelings bubbling up inside him that he had thought dead and buried.
“I thought you were hot?” he tried arguing, but Megumi only pressed closer to him, fanning her neck with one hand, inadvertently bringing his attention to the sharp outline of her clavicles. Lower, her pale skin lay bare and the gentle curve of her breasts quickly hid under the purple fabric of her yukata.
Shit. He was ogling, wasn’t he? That had to count as ogling. Sanosuke looked up at the sky again, face a little hot.
His old feelings, dead and buried?
More like alive and healthier than ever, for fuck’s sake.
He had always found Megumi a gorgeous woman; he’d have to be blind not to think so. When he had first met her, suspicious as he had been, he still found himself admiring her features, elegant and feminine, which contrasted starkly with Kaoru’s more childish look. And after all the events that had led to her freedom unfolded, and he had digested the fact that she was simply another of Kanryuu’s victims, he began to appreciate her unique personality, too. It didn’t take long for him to allow her to own a comfortable little spot in his heart along with the rest of his friends.
Problem was, as soon as he let her in, she seemed determined to take over the damn place and rule like the vixen queen she was. With flirty mannerisms and compassionate actions, Megumi constantly, and almost certainly involuntarily, found ways to make his heart beat a little faster in their every encounter. She worried deeply for him, and for every friend he selfishly brought into her house for much needed medical care, she coquettishly teased him when she caught him off of his usually abrasive persona around her. Even when they bickered he had a little too much fun with their back and forth,ruined only when someone eventually hinted at a ‘lovers’ quarrel,’ an insinuation which made them both jump away from each other defensively.
Hell... even when she scolded him he got a bit of a kick, which was honest-to-god a little troubling, since the last thing he needed was a masochist streak.
After she had settled down in Doctor Gensai’s house, Megumi only seemed to become more beautiful. The daughter of a wealthy and educated family, and possessor of much medical knowledge, she knew exactly how to take care of herself and always looked like a goddess amongst commoners: raven hair lustrous, skin perfectly smooth and adorned with just enough makeup to make her stand out but not look cheap.
Before long, Sanosuke grudgingly had had to admit he may have a bit of a crush on her.
It was impossible for anything to happen, though. Megumi seemed completely taken by Kenshin, and Sanosuke couldn’t blame her—the guy was near perfect for her. Kenshin was polite, gentle-mannered and soft-spoken, qualities she often complained Sanosuke lacked. So as much as it hurt, he did his best to let his feelings die out, and convinced himself it was really just physical attraction anyway, and that any man whose heart didn’t beat faster around her simply did not like women.
“I’m comfortable.” She murmured, answering a question he had already forgotten he’d asked. Megumi shrugged by his side, her yukata sliding a little lower down her shoulder, nearly giving him a stroke.
This was just too much—he just had to get away from her. He had to get away from her flowery aroma and her rosy cheeks and her naked legs.
“Y’know,” he ventured, after clearing his throat. “Now that I think about it, I’m getting kinda sleepy too. Maybe I should just hit the sack.”
“Hmm? But what if bandits attack us while you’re asleep and kidnap me?” she teased, placing a hand on her cheek, doing her best impression of a damsel in distress.
“I’m a light sleeper.” Sanosuke tried to stand, but Megumi held onto his arm, forcing him to stay in place.
“You’ll leave me to drink alone, then? Hmph, rude as usual.” She tapped his nose with her finger and he pushed against it, his face getting dangerously close to hers.
“Not like there’s much left to drink, is there?” he teased, and Megumi stuck out her tongue.
“Then let’s get more.”
“Fine. I’ll get you some more. I’ll just get up and…”
“No.” Stubbornly, she held onto his arm, refusing to let him leave her side. He could just stand up and walk away—it wasn’t like Megumi had the strength to keep him there. But considering how loose her yukata was after so much adjusting and moving, it made for a rather dangerous scenario. He really didn’t want to help a drunk woman for whom he may or may not have feelings dress herself.
“Listen, lady. The sake ain’t gonna materialize itself so one of us is going to have to get up and get it.”
“Then I don’t want any,” Megumi said childishly. She placed her head on his shoulder again, and sighed. “I’m just comfortable like this, alright? Let’s stay like this.”
God had to be punishing him for something. Was it because he owed money to hundreds of people? Maybe it was because he had beaten Anji, and now Buddha was out for his ass. Either way, Sanosuke didn’t have it in him to keep this up. He was the one who was sober and aware of what was happening and what could possibly happen, and he knew Sober Megumi would be begging him to stop her drunk self from behaving so strangely.
“Listen, fox…” he started, only to find the woman’s face just a few centimeters away from his, her blue eyes staring into his own.
She leaned forward.
And he leaned back.
Megumi blinked slowly, confused, and attempted to get closer to his face again, but Sanosuke only leaned further back, until he had to use his arm to avoid falling to the floor.
She pouted, yet tried once more to kiss him. With her added weight and his own nervousness, he ended up falling on his back, Megumi falling right after, her face landing on his chest.
“Geez!” She finally growled, hitting his chest with her little fists. “What are you doing!?”
“What are YOU doing!?” He panted back, trying to get up on his elbows. Megumi began crawling up his body to reach his face, though, and he quickly grabbed her waist to keep her in place.
“What do you think I’m doing!?”
Sanosuke paused, not sure if saying it out loud was wise. “I… I dunno!” he finally lied.
“Oh, you know.” Her tone was accusatory, and her eyes narrowed. “You know what I’m doing.”
“Well, if I know what you’re doing, and you know what you’re doing, then maybe you should stop!”
“Why? It’s not like I’m doing something bad.” She tried to move again, and after some more struggling, she kicked the floor with her legs. “Sa-no-su-ke!”
“You’re drunk!” He managed to gasp, hands firmly grasping her sides in an effort to keep her from trying anything else.
“So? You’re drunk, too.”
“Really, really not.” And thank god he wasn’t, otherwise this would’ve ended much, much poorly. “I’m not a lightweight like you.”
“You were looking at me.”
Shit. Was it that obvious? “I… I wasn’t. You’re so damn drunk you’re imagining things.”
“You were! You were looking at my chest and my legs! I may be drunk but I’m not stupid, Sano!”
“I, uh, I really...”
“It’s fine! I don’t care. I’m used to men looking at me, I’m just that beautiful.” If it weren’t for the tense circumstances, Sanosuke would’ve burst into laughter—it was such a Megumi thing to say. “Just get over it and stop pretending you’re not interested.”
He doubted himself for a moment, just long enough for the woman to inch forward, but he held her back once again. “No! Listen, you’re wasted! You don’t want to do this.”
“Don’t tell me what I want or don’t want to do!”
“For once, I know better than you, believe me.” Sanosuke managed to prop himself up, supporting his weight on one of his elbows, holding Megumi close to him to keep her yukata from sliding further down her arms. “Tomorrow you won’t remember a thing at first, I bet, and then when you do, you’ll be hating me, and yourself.”
“I don’t forget the stuff I do when I’m drunk, blockhead.”
“Sure you don’t.”
Sanosuke finally maneuvered himself into a seated position with Megumi safely pressed against his side, her blue eyes now melancholic.
“Does the idea of kissing me really disgust you that much?”
He shook his head. “It’s not that.”
Looking hopeful, she smiled softly. “Then…”
“... I’m sorry. You’ll thank me tomorrow.”
Clenching his eyes shut, Sanosuke reached for the back of her neck and hit it hard enough for her to let out a soft gasp and then fall over his torso, limp. He took a moment to breathe in, then out, heart in his throat and heavy sorrow settling into his chest.
He did the right thing… yeah. He did the right thing.
He felt for the back of her yukata and tugged it back over her shoulders, making sure to avoid looking at any part of her unconscious body. It took no effort to pick her up; she was as light as she looked, and he quickly made his way to her room. Thankfully, she had already laid her futon on the floor, so he placed her down carefully, brown eyes resting on her face for a moment before forcing a smile.
Yeah… This was the right thing to do.
Tomorrow, she’d wake up and not remember a thing. And he’d pretend he didn’t remember, either, and nothing would change.
Nothing would ever change.
It was for the best.