The force with which Saitou threw Sano to the floor of the treatment room at the Oguni clinic sent blood spattering from the gash across his chest to the wood on which he now sprawled. Sano didn't mind a little rough handing, especially from Saitou, but being practically dragged along the ground all the way from the bar to the doctor was something he didn't much appreciate.
At their abrupt entry into the room Megumi had started a little, but now she only watched, calm and wordless, as Sano swore incoherently at Saitou. It was neither the first time this had happened nor particularly uncharacteristic.
"I told you I could get here just fine on my own!" was the first thing Sano managed to articulate properly. It was a pointless statement, however, since he had told Saitou that several times on the way over, and Saitou hadn't listened then any more than he was likely to now.
"I'm not done with you," the officer answered ominously.
"Shouldn't you be dealing with the rest of that brawl?" wondered Sano, surly but not honestly wishing Saitou were anywhere but here.
"The men can earn their pay for once." Saitou was glowering down at Sano as the latter shifted into a kneeling position and glared back. "Do you have any idea who that was I pulled you off of back there?"
"Sugiyama Shinichiro is an influential tradesman with connections all over the country. He's one of the richest men in Tokyo and one of the most ruthless. A word from him could have you killed and your body hidden so no one would ever find you, and a second word would make sure nobody even looked."
"Well, isn't it your job to take care of guys like that?"
Saitou completely ignored this remark. "Just because his brother is every bit as worthless a deadbeat as you are does not make him a good target for your idiotic weekend games."
"He wasn't a 'target!'" Sano protested with, he thought, a fair imitation of honest outrage. He was outraged, of course, but it was just the usual anger at Saitou's treatment of him, not because the accusations were untrue. "He just happened to be there when that fight got started, and--"
"Just shut up, ahou. This is the fifth time in the last two months you've gotten yourself into this kind of trouble and I've had to get you out of it; I'm sick and tired of wasting my influence on you. You can't just stick to lowlifes like yourself, can you?" Sano had rarely seen Saitou this irritated; it was very picturesque. "No, you have to seek out and start pointless fights with the highest-profile people you can find and get yourself into situations you need a government agent to get you out of alive."
"It's not like I go out looking for them," Sano lied. He had struggled to his feet by this point, but here Saitou stepped forward and shoved him to the floor again.
"Is there some reason you keep doing this?" the officer demanded harshly, towering over Sano with fists clenched. "Some reason that fits into any logical human rationale? Or are you really every bit as brainless as I've always thought you?"
It was consistently marvelous to Sano how Saitou could enrage and electrify him at the same time; how Sano could have come to crave emotions he normally would have considered negative simply because they were the best he could expect from that source, desire this rough treatment only because it was closer to what he wanted than anyone else's gentleness... and yet grow irate when he received it. Although he opened his mouth to answer, he couldn't be sure what he planned on saying. He certainly wasn't about to admit the reason he kept doing this, whether or not it would fit Saitou's idea of 'logical human rationale.'
But Saitou didn't give him a chance to say anything at all. "This is the last time I step forward to help you out of a mess like this; do you understand?"
Sano tried not to show just how much of a stab this statement was. "But I thought the commissioner said--"
"I don't care that you came to Kyoto and I don't care that you're Himura's friend; it's not my job to clean up after you, so next time you can just get yourself hanged so we can all be free of your idiocy."
Sano had scrambled back and was moving to stand again, in response to which Saitou took a menacing step toward him, but at last Megumi spoke. Her tone was placid, and the spark in her eyes expressed plainly that the delay in her intervention was no accident. "Now, now, I can't have you worrying my patient to death."
"It would save you a considerable amount of trouble," Saitou replied. He stared down at Sano with burning eyes for a long moment before striding abruptly from the room.
Once it had slammed shut, Sano tore his gaze from the door with an effort and rallied himself not only for the remonstrance he knew Megumi expected him to make but also for the entire conversation that must follow.
"You couldn't have stepped in before he started ripping me a new one?"
"No," she replied brusquely, "because then I would have had to do it, and I have enough to do with you tonight as it is." Her hands were gentler than her tone, however, as she helped him to the patient bed and began examining his injuries. "Besides," she added with a somewhat evil smile, "he's so good at it. It would have been a shame to interrupt him."
Sano couldn't help grinning. "Yeah, he's made an art out of being an asshole."
"Trouble attracts trouble, I suppose," she said with a slight sigh.
"Yeah, I wish," Sano muttered.
She'd been muttering something of her own at the time -- "I'm going to have to stitch this," he thought -- and hadn't heard him. "What was that?"
"But really," she went on as she washed her hands in the basin by the door, "have you noticed we only see him when something goes wrong?"
"Yeah, it sucks."
The glance she shot him was more confused than anything else, but there might have been a hint of suspicion to it.
"That I keep having to be helped by him," Sano explained quickly.
"Well," she sniffed, "maybe you should get a clue and stop getting into this kind of trouble."
"Yeah..." Sano murmured, glancing again at the door. Then he added more quietly, "Where do you s'pose they took that Sugiyama guy...?"
"It's probably best not to ask," Megumi replied. "And lie still."
There was something a little untrustworthy about her tone, and Sano speculated immediately, "He's here, isn't he?"
Megumi laughed musically and, Sano thought, a little uneasily. "Why would someone like that come to this clinic when he undoubtedly has a private doctor back at his estate?"
"Because it's closest. Ow! shit! warn me before you stick fucking needles into me!"
She made a disdainful noise and continued stitching up his worst injury.
"Anyway," Sano grunted, "he was only half-conscious when I last saw him, and he didn't seem to have enough of a brain to get himself to the right place even when he wasn't drunk off his ass and kinda beat-up... by me..."
"There's the pot calling the kettle black," Megumi said with a roll of eyes, snipping off her thread deftly and concisely wiping the blood away from the newly-sewn-up wound. "And don't jump to conclusions."
Contemplatively Sano watched her apply bandages to the fresh stitches and what other of his hurts required them. "If they'd brought him here, he'd probably be in the opposite corner room," he mused.
Rolling her eyes yet again, Megumi stood abruptly. Applying pressure to a rather uncomfortable spot on his chest, she forced him to lie down. "You are more trouble than you're worth," she remarked, and went to wash her hands again.
"Pretty sure you're not the only one who thinks so," Sano grinned, putting his arms casually behind his head.
"And now if you'll excuse me, I have other patients to look in on."
"Including Sugiyama, right?" Sano abandoned his relaxed pose almost immediately after assuming it, sitting up.
"You need to lie still for a bit," she admonished, not entirely without the air of one making excuses, as she reached for the door.
"Why should I lie around at all?" demanded Sano, a triumphant grin growing on his face. "You didn't give me any drugs or nothing. You're running off to get him out of here before I can get at him, aren't you?"
She drew herself up with dignity. "As I said, I have other patients to look in on. It has nothing to do with you. And you need to lie down because I'm your doctor and I said so."
Sano jumped up, fully prepared to follow her wherever she was going and see if his guess was correct. As if to escape him, she opened the door quickly and took a step forward... but then fell back a pace with an inadvertent gasp. Even Sano's progress was stopped in his surprise.
"I'll handle this, doctor," Saitou said, stepping through the door past Megumi, his dark, irritated gaze locked on Sano's face.
Megumi could recover her presence of mind quicker than anyone Sano knew. "I would appreciate that," she smiled. "Thank you, officer." And she was gone.
Saitou closed the door and advanced. He did not look happy.
Sano was torn between pleasure that Saitou had returned (or perhaps never left) and wondering if Saitou might actually deliberately injure him this time and give Megumi more work. But all he said, in a tone of relatively indifferent defiance, was, "What are you doing still here?"
"Making sure you don't do exactly what you're trying to do right now."
"Oh, really? What do you think I'm doing that's so awful it requires your personal attention?"
Saitou gave a frustrated sigh. "You weren't angry enough tonight to justify a follow-up visit to that overdressed idiot, so the only reason I can think of for you to be stalking him now is to draw attention to yourself again."
"Draw attention to myself?" Sano echoed, trying to sound surprised at the accusation and, he feared, failing. "Why the hell would I do that?"
"I don't know, ahou; why don't you tell me? I've had the feeling you were getting yourself into trouble on purpose all this time, but even of you I almost couldn't believe it. How is it possible for you to be that stupid? Or are you suicidal?"
"Something like that," Sano muttered. When Saitou's impatient, irritated glare indicated the insufficiency of this answer, it was Sano's turn to sigh. "You're the investigator," he said. "You should be able to figure it out."
He wasn't sure exactly how to interpret the narrowing of Saitou's eyes at this. There wasn't, he believed, any way Saitou could really be completely in the dark about his motives... unless he did simply think Sano suicidally stupid. Well, Saitou had said this was the last time he would help him out of a situation like tonight's, which meant this little game had to end here. So, Sano figured, he might as well finish digging his grave before trying to evade it. He'd known, after all, that this moment had to come eventually; he hadn't really been prepared for it (if that was even possible), but he'd certainly known.
"I noticed you help me out way more than makes sense unless... And I thought, 'Well, maybe he really...'" Sano gave a half laugh and shrugged. "The truth is," he said after a deep breath, "I kinda li--"
The confession, the very syllable was cut off by Saitou's hand over his mouth as another clamped down on his arm to hold him in place. Sano's eyes went wide in surprise as he half-choked in the cigarette scent of the glove and stared into Saitou's face that was suddenly very near his own. This behavior at another time might have angered him, but with Saitou so close, and Sano just having said (or started to say) what he had, all he could feel was the overfast pounding of his heart.
"Ahou," the wolf admonished in a low, intense tone, "think, for once in your life, before you speak. Think about who you're talking to before you finish that statement." For a long moment he paused, while Sano waited breathlessly to see where he was going with this. "Because if you invite," Saitou finally continued, "I'm not going to refuse." Feeling his eyes widen and his pulse intensify even farther, Sano wondered why on earth Saitou was phrasing this like a warning. "But if you're looking for something soft and romantic," the officer finished, "you're better off with that woman."
Sano wasn't quite sure what woman Saitou could possibly be referring to. As a matter of fact, he really only had an amorphous concept of what a woman was at this point, given that the world had narrowed to the hot, expectant space he and Saitou occupied and nothing else seemed to exist.
The hand over his mouth pulled slowly away. As his lips were grazed slightly by Saitou's fingers in this movement, Sano found his face tilting forward slightly as if to ask them to stay. And now he couldn't think of anything to say. Saitou's caution, after all, was valid enough; Sano knew perfectly well that, the moment this moment was over and the strangeness and anticipation had passed, he was certain to be irate at the cop again for something or other.
But, hell, that would be then. This was now.
"I've been starting brawls and getting myself stabbed just to get you to show up," he replied hoarsely, "and you think you're gonna scare me off with a vague little threat like that?"
The smile that spread slowly across Saitou's face sent an intense, prickling shudder running through Sano's entire body. Though not much different on the surface from the man's usual predatory smirk, yet it somehow suggested he was deeply satisfied with Sano's answer -- as if his warning had been a test and Sano had passed particularly well.
And then Saitou descended on him like some force of nature made flesh, kissing Sano suddenly and fiercely. Rough gloved hands gripped him, pressing painfully against his injuries; possessive arms encircled him, making him feel always just a little off-balance and, for the moment, utterly dependent; and at their uppermost point of connection Saitou seemed to be attempting to devour Sano alive and whole. Sano didn't think he'd ever felt anything so wonderful.
"I shouldn't be rewarding you for your stupid ideas," Saitou murmured after a while against Sano's lips.
"Admit it," Sano triumphed (though perhaps that was the wrong word when he could still hardly believe this was happening) -- "you couldn't stand the idea of me getting hanged or whatever, so you kept showing up to help me even when it annoyed the hell out of you."
Saitou hmphhd and went back to kissing Sano thoroughly.
"That's an unusual way of handling it," Megumi commented suddenly from the door.
It was like that old story where the guy got a look at heaven only to find years had passed during the brief glimpse. Surely it hadn't been long enough for Megumi to deal with some other patient -- possibly to the point where he could be discharged -- and decide it was safe to come back into a room where Saitou was supposedly raging? And why didn't she look nearly as surprised as Sano thought she should?
Meanwhile, Saitou had, very unfortunately, released him and turned an amused expression on the doctor. "Nevertheless, the situation is under control," he said.
"The end always justifies the means with you, doesn't it?" Whether the disapproval in her voice was real or feigned, or to what exactly it referred, Sano couldn't quite tell.
"In this case a more accurate idiom would be 'killing two birds with one stone.'"
Megumi looked as if she had some issue she wasn't vocalizing, and in any case she didn't smirk nearly as well as Saitou did -- but she still definitely had her own style. "I trust, then, I won't be seeing him in here again."
Saitou raised an eyebrow with a brief laugh. "I'm taking him in hand, not miraculously giving him a brain. You still have the pointless fights he's always getting into, self-inflicted injury, and whatever I do to him to deal with." At this point Sano protested rather loudly, but they both ignored him as Saitou finished, "Situations like tonight's, however, you no longer need to worry about."
"Then I suppose I won't have to move Sugiyama-san after all."
"No," laughed Sano. "Matter of fact, give him my best."
"Get out of here," she commanded wryly. "You've had all the clinical treatment you need for one night."
"Oh, I don't know about that." Sano glanced slyly at Saitou, who seemed unable to restrain a faint smirk at the suggestion. Signs were good that Saitou had been in much the same state of mind Sano had ever since Kyoto, and Sano's pleasure at the cleverness of his own plan (stupid as it had seemed all along) was overshadowed only by his pleasure at its outcome.
Megumi snorted and rolled her eyes. Then she fixed the latter somewhat severely on Saitou. "I'd better not see him back in here tonight, at least. I have other things to do."
"Nah..." Sano felt suddenly a bit sheepish about all the trouble he'd given Megumi over the last couple of months in pursuit of an end he'd never really considered very likely. "Got no reason to go looking for fights now." Especially since he could probably find one with Saitou now any time he wanted, and not even need to go to extreme measures to get the man's attention.
As if reading his thoughts, Saitou punched him in the arm none too gently. "Ahou. That's not what she meant."
"God, asshole, that's no reason to fucking hit me!" Sano's hand went from rubbing the spot on his arm to striking out against Saitou, who stepped easily aside. "What the hell did you think she meant?"
"I'll explain on the way," Saitou smirked. "Come on." And he started toward the door.
"Where are we going?" Sano jogged after him.
"I'll explain that too."
"Hey, see you, kitsune!" Sano whirled, walking backward for a few paces, to wave at Megumi. Stumbling, his back running hard into the doorframe, he was soon forced to resume normal movement; but before he turned he saw her standing still watching them leave, arms crossed, rolling her eyes at him again.
She was smiling, though.