It felt a shame to spend any time in jail as a result of such a boring brawl, but he was too central to the affair, physically and in terms of culpability, to dodge the police now; and he'd had enough dull fighting for the night that the idea of knocking any of them down and making his escape wasn't particularly palatable. So he remained seated on the floor in approximately the middle of the room, with a broken table on one side and an unconscious opponent on the other, and waited for the officers to work their way through the various results of the melee to the guy that had started it all. And even the waiting wasn't much more boring than the fight had been.
Eventually, after the man to his left had been hauled off and the table dragged out of the way so the police could stop tripping over it, one of the officers laid a heavy hand on Sano's shoulder and commanded, "On your feet." The other floor-bound participants had been asked if they were able to stand, but the police knew perfectly well who Zanza was and that he undoubtedly had no debilitating injuries. Sano had never been able to decide, in situations like these, whether such treatment was compliment or insult, but he didn't much care. At the moment he just looked up placidly, ready to acquiesce.
A familiar voice from the other side of the room, however, disrupted that placidity completely: "Leave that one."
Sano's head whipped around toward the door and the officer in command of this raid or whatever it was. Not that he wouldn't recognize that voice any time and anywhere, but his body didn't quite obey his mental command not to make the unnecessary effort in looking. He decided, at least, to stay where he was, to forget entirely about getting up and going peacefully.
"Sir?" (It must, Sano reflected, take some guts for a normal cop to question Saitou's orders, even with a single, polite syllable.)
"Leave him to me," Saitou said, unmoved and unmoving.
"Sir, this is--" (Guy must be new.)
"I know who he is," interrupted Saitou. "Just get the rest of them out of here."
So Sano was allowed to continue sitting on the floor in perfect tranquility -- except for the thought of what Saitou might do to him once the others were gone -- while the police hurried around him removing all the rest of the brawlers. More than half of the latter, Sano knew, would be given a dark eye and a talking-to and released immediately; only those with a history of this type of violence would be held for any length of time.
And he would certainly have been among those sleeping on a hard cell cot for the night if Saitou didn't have something presumably worse planned for him. Briefly he toyed with the idea of trying to escape now the room was starting to clear out, but found he was actually somewhat morbidly curious about Saitou's intentions. At the very least, it might turn into a fight that would be a hundred times more entertaining than the one that had brought the wolf here in the first place.
Except then Saitou would start going on about defense again, lecturing and making all sorts of points that hit even closer to home than his iron blows... Sano wasn't sure if the fight was worth it. Saitou got under his skin like nobody else he'd ever met; was it really a good idea to sit here calmly waiting for that? Hell, Saitou might well be keeping him back just to lecture him and would then deliver him to the police station.
Why the hell did Saitou care about Sano's ability to defend himself anyway? Like it had anything to do with him anymore. Or maybe this was what Saitou did when he got bored: pretended to be a regular policeman just so he could track Sano down -- Sano specifically -- and lecture him about defense. What a dumb hobby.
At a sound of finality in Saitou's latest orders, Sano looked up and noticed the last of the other officers, towing a distraught bartender that wanted to remain behind and assess the damage, leaving the room. And as the door, half-broken from someone having been thrown against it at some point, screeched closed behind them, Saitou turned to face Sano. Languidly, tossing away a spent cigarette as he came, he moved across the mayhem-cluttered space to stand before him.
Sano didn't allow Saitou the first word. "I know what you're going to say, so just fucking don't."
"Oh, do you?"
"Yes," Sano grumbled. "Get lost."
"After specifically arranging privacy for this conversation," wondered Saitou, still in that perfectly unperturbed tone, "do you really think I'm going to just 'get lost?'"
Sano sighed slightly. "All right, fine, get it over with."
"What is it you think I'm going to say?"
"You know and I know, so why bother?" Stubbornly Sano was staring at the floor between his knees, but he could hear the faint amusement growing in Saitou's tone, and fancied he could picture the exact arrangement of the man's mouth.
"Maybe I want to hear you say it."
"Well, maybe I'm not going to give you the pleasure, asshole." Sano's tone, on the other hand, had become almost a snarl.
"Your ineptitude is no pleasure of mine."
"Coulda fooled me..."
Nearly audible over the long silence that followed was a sort of countdown to the moment Sano gave in.
"Better defense or whatever wouldn't have helped here anyway," was his eventual surly mutter.
"Oh?" Saitou seemed only calmly pleased at having dragged it out of him, as if this were simply the natural progression of the conversation and nothing to be particularly enthusiastic about.
"This was just a brawl, not a real fight."
"Ignoring that staggering lack of logic for the moment, you're still missing the point."
Sano looked up in vague curiosity to find Saitou staring down at him with a much more serious expression than he'd anticipated. Though quite aware he would probably regret it, he couldn't resist: "What do you mean?"
"You didn't enjoy this." Saitou gestured to the pervasive destruction around them.
Climbing to his feet and avoiding the gaze of the far too perceptive officer, Sano finally responded, "No."
"But I understand you started it. Care to explain?"
"Guy pissed me off."
With a nod Saitou said, "That's what I thought."
"So, when I say you need better defense, I don't just mean in battle. You're too reactive, too open to attack in every area. You allow yourself to be manipulated emotionally because you don't guard yourself against it."
Brushing fruitlessly at rumples in his clothing, Sano looked warily over at the other man. This wasn't the usual lecture, and he didn't quite see Saitou's point, but wasn't eager to say so.
"For example," Saitou continued, taking two steps. "If I..." And unexpectedly -- indeed, it was the last thing in all time and space Sano could have expected -- he seized Sano's jaw in a firm grip, yanked his face forward, bent down slightly, and kissed him hard.
It was as if lightning had struck.
The impossibly enjoyable physical sensation was nothing to the others that came rushing over and around Sano with incredible speed: the shock that kept him still and let Saitou wreak havoc on his mouth; the surprise at his own reactions and belated realizations; the thought of who and what Saitou was and how Sano really felt about that; the longing for Saitou to put his arms around him and not let go, to take him home, to keep him -- it all swept up in an instant's fraction, forming an impenetrably swift whirlwind of sudden comprehension and confusion and desire at whose center Sano was dazed and helpless.
But the most intense part of this rapid, unstoppable cavalcade, the most overwhelming and engrossing thought, was the relentlessly baffled and angry query, How did Saitou know? How did he know when I didn't even know?
Sano stumbled back and nearly fell when Saitou let go. Everything still flurried through him at speeds that kept him from regaining anything like a sense of composure or balance, and he could do nothing more than stare, open-mouthed, at the other man.
The latter was smoothing out the collar of his jacket where Sano had unconsciously been clutching it. "Not only couldn't you have stopped that if you'd wanted to," he said, "but when you realize I only did it to make a point..." He left the statement eloquently unfinished as he stepped abruptly away.
There was a half moment of recognition, which Sano could perhaps have used to brace himself if he'd had the presence of mind, before it hit home. He was conscious of something twisting and perhaps snapping inside him, which was doubtless what caused the twisting change of expression on his face, and then...
As quickly as it had all come, it all vanished. And it left behind merely a sort of chilling vacuum that echoed vaguely of the previous hurricane. This didn't exactly hurt, he thought abstractedly; it was more like the sensation a child might feel at the sudden removal of a promised treat they'd never anticipated and that had been in the first place a little incredible. He hadn't even had time to get used to the idea, and now it was withdrawn. And in that remaining void -- the eye of the storm? -- he found his thoughts unusually clear and moving at a speed similar to that of his emotions just moments before.
Watching Sano's writhing expression settle, Saitou evidently interpreted it to his satisfaction, for he smirked briefly, then turned and began walking away without so much as a goodbye. He was searching out a new cigarette, and lit it as his measured steps carried him toward the door.
Sano was surprised at the sound of his own voice as he said, "All right, I get it." Yes, there was a hint of anger, a touch of hurt, but overall it was simply level and serious.
"Good," Saitou replied without stopping.
"At least, I get the point you were trying to make just now. What I don't get is why you bother."
Pausing and turning again, Saitou regarded him, unreadable and wordless.
"You go to so much trouble trying to make sure I get things like that," Sano continued when it was obvious Saitou didn't intend to reply. "You track me down just to lecture me, you beat me up, you go out of your way to do all sorts of stupid shit to let me know what's wrong with me and how you think I should be instead." He felt somewhat detached -- as if he knew this should, eventually would affect him emotionally, but for the moment was riding a current of pure logic to an unknown conclusion. "Why? What's so important about this, Saitou? Why should it matter to you whether I stay the way I am or turn into whatever you want me to be?"
Finally Saitou spoke. "Who says it does matter?"
"You do. Over and over and over again. Every time you show up somewhere and show me some 'example' of why the way I am doesn't work. Obviously it bothers you. Why? Why do you care? Why is this important? I'm not getting in the way of someone you're trying to send to Kyoto, or involved in some case of yours where you don't want me to screw up, or even really connected with you in any way at all... so why do you want to change me so bad?"
Saitou said nothing, only looked at him with those inscrutable golden eyes, so Sano was left to ponder the answers to his own questions in silence. What seemed the obvious explanation and would have been his first guess had, with Saitou's dismissal of a passionate kiss as solely 'to make a point,' been denied before the questions even arose... but that, Sano realized, was the exact and only explanation he wanted. He didn't want some other bullshit excuse for why Saitou felt the need to prod him continually on his skill levels and way of life... though Saitou doubtless had one.
But he wouldn't make more a fool of himself than he already had. However much he would like to believe Saitou's concern was a sign of his personal interest in Sano, he couldn't -- not after the sight of the wolf's cold, unmoved face after a kiss that had changed Sano's world but had really been intended merely to prove how emotionally assailable he was. And yet what other explanation was there?
Saitou hadn't said anything. Obviously he had no enlightenment to offer, so why was he still here? He'd made his goddamn point and more, so why didn't he just go? Or did he plan on forcing Sano to give some admission of edification again? Irritation swelled in Sano at the thought, and he muttered rebelliously, "You're so fucking sure you can do it, too..."
"You think so?"
"It makes sense, I guess. Arrogant bastard like you probably thinks he can change anything in the world. It explains your job and everything."
"If I thought I could change anything I wanted to," Saitou replied evenly, "would I be wasting my time on you?"
"I don't know," was Sano's frustrated response. "You tell me."
The brief and inexplicable calm was over. Sano could feel the full force of his emotions returning, filling the void with throbbing, rushing pain, anger, and confusion that swiftly became a storm as rapidly churning as the last had been. "Listen to me, bastard," he seethed, all his levelheadedness vanishing like the smoke of Saitou's cigarette into the air. "I've worked really fucking hard not to be the kind of person I was turning into because of the shit I went through as a kid and growing up. I finally figured out what I do want to be, and there is no way in fucking hell you are going to change that; you are not going to change me, so you might as well just give up now."
"So you think you have no room for improvement?" Eyes flashing, Saitou took a step away from the door, toward Sano again. Evidently the younger man's words had provoked him, but he also looked distinctly surprised. Honestly, Sano was distinctly surprised he'd let slip something so personal.
"I didn't say anything like that," Sano snapped, a burning urge (born partially of chagrin) to be yelling right in Saitou's face pushing him a step forward as well. "But why the hell do you think it's your business to point that out in the first place?"
"You keep asking me that," replied Saitou darkly. "Why don't you figure it out?"
"You think I haven't?" Sano growled. "You think I asked because I don't already know?" And then, despite every screaming warning from his better judgment, he really did say it. "You want me, but since I'm not your type and you're too much of a bastard just to get over it, you're trying to change me into whatever the hell is your type so you can justify to yourself being interested!"
As he waited for the crushing riposte, the reminder that the kiss hadn't meant anything he wanted it to, the assertion that being pathetic and desperate didn't excuse jumping to conclusions, he noticed they were within a pace of each other now, their demeanors combative and tense. Perhaps he only observed this because he refused ot meet Saitou's eyes. Moments dragged by more and more heavily, and he became increasingly disbelieving he'd actually said all of that. Or any of it.
Finally the blow fell.
Another few moments dragged by while Sano wrestled with an entirely different disbelief before he managed to look up into Saitou's serious and still slightly annoyed face. And he found that the rushing was back, this time removing his latest turmoil and replacing it with another confusing set of thoughts and emotions. He was apprehensive, he was skeptical, he was perplexed, he was hopeful...
"What did you just say?" he managed at last.
"I said you're right," Saitou replied bluntly, speaking those unspeakable words again. "You're on the right track, at least, which for you is close enough: I can't justify being only statically interested in potential like yours."
Sano stared at him, the new vortex in his head and chest whirling at even faster rates and, he thought, making his heart pound and his body heat up unnaturally. Because when Saitou put it like that, it almost seemed... flattering. Still... "If my 'potential' is the only thing you're interested in, you can just fuck off." It came out hoarsely, angrily, and yet somehow invitingly. Or at least Saitou seemed to think so, for, yet with the air of one grudgingly giving in to something he's long known to be inevitable, he closed the distance between them for the second time during that encounter and pulled Sano into another harsh kiss. And this time arms clutched tightly and forms pressed together and didn't separate even when their swollen lips did.
"And if you tell me that was just to prove a point," Sano gasped, "I swear I will smash your fucking head."
"Though I doubt you're capable of it, no, it wasn't."
"The other one wasn't either, was it?"
"Yes, it was."
The furious tension between them, augmented by close proximity, had become pricklingly tangible. It wasn't sexual (though Sano had a feeling it could be used in much the same way); rather, it more closely resembled anger, building up like electricity at their contact. Typical.
"But there were other ways you coulda made that point," he persisted; "it didn't have to be a kiss."
"Maybe I wanted to see how it would change things." It was so irritating when Saitou started statements about his own damn motivations with 'maybe,' as it always gave Sano a feeling of being toyed with. In this situation, however, the rest of the sentence was more gripping.
"You and your changing things," he grumbled.
"It's not going to stop, you realize."
"Yeah, I think I get that now." Sano didn't bother expressing the growing impression, directly in contrast to what he'd thought all along, that Saitou's desire to improve him was actually somewhat complimentary now he felt Saitou didn't entirely disapprove of him. "But you realize changing me is way more than you can handle?"
"Or maybe you're in over your head trying to prevent it," Saitou snorted.
"Or we're just going to drive each other fucking crazy and when they find our bodies they'll have to pry our cold dead hands off each other's throats."
"I've never considered that unlikely," replied Saitou as he released him. Their separation was like that of two objects charged with static: although the field of violent energy surrounding Sano's body did technically feel less fierce, there seemed to be a sort of crackling around them both, most chaotic where they were closest, invisible sparks of continued strain.
"How did you know, anyway?" It was embarrassing to admit, but he was painfully curious. "I had no idea until..."
With a raised brow Saitou replied, "You really don't realize how easy you are to read, do you?" Sano flushed, but before he could retort Saitou went on. "It's very tempting to tell you this was all just an extension of my original point, and see how you take it."
Open-mouthed, Sano stared at him. The wolf was lighting yet another cigarette, replacing the one he'd dropped for the second kiss. "You wouldn't," Sano said in a low tone that would have been deadly if it were at all possible for Saitou to feel threatened by him.
"Not to you, no," Saitou agreed.
"What does that mean? You'd do it to someone else?"
"Let's go. I'm sure the bartender is more than anxious to get back in here and see how much of his property you've destroyed." And Saitou headed again for the exit.
Sano hastened after him, annoyed. "No, seriously, what do you mean 'not to me?' You better not mean you go around doing this kind of bullshit all the time -- setting people up like you're interested in starting something and then tell them it was all a fucking act?! Saitou!!"
The expression that turned toward Sano's passionate demand was sardonically amused. "Vulnerable," was all Saitou said, in a tone both of irritation and reminder.
"Hey, fuck you," Sano growled. "I really wanna know."
"At least having you around more often should make beating you into shape a little easier," Saitou smirked darkly as he gestured Sano to precede him through the open way.
"I already told you..."
Their voices faded as the door screeched shut.