After a brief knock, and permission to enter, the shoji screen door slid open to reveal the man Hijikata had sent for.
Saito, Hajime walked in and knelt on the floor before Hijikata's seat, bowing low as he did so.
"I hope you don't mind if I cut to the chase... You admire Master Itou, don't you?" Hijikata asked.
Surprise flashed in Saitou's downcast eyes, but he quelled it before looking up at his superior officer. Already, he seemed to have an inkling as to what they were about to discuss.
"Master Ito is a wise and admirable man," Saito murmured. "But my loyalties are to you, Sir...and to Commander Kondo."
"Of course, Saito," Hijikata responded. "Your loyalties have never been in question."
"But...Master Ito's are, are they not?"
Oh, yes, Saito, Hajime was very astute. Hijikata valued such intelligence almost as much as he valued a skilled swordsman, and this man was both.
"The Ito faction will soon split from the Shinsengumi. Kondo's intent is for the split to go amiably, and no doubt Ito will want the same..."
"But you can't afford to give him the benefit of the doubt."
"Yamazaki and I both agree that there is no one more suited to the job of keeping tabs on the defectors, but Saito... If I could send anyone else..."
Hijikata leaned forward, touching the face of the young man who knelt before him. He knew exactly what he was doing with that gesture. It was calculated, and in some ways cruel, but it was what Saito needed, and what the Shinsengumi needed of Hijikata. A tether... Something to keep Saito tied to them once he was off in Ito's clutches...and, likely, Ito's arms.
Saito's face turned just slightly, deepening that connection on instinct. His eyes were sad, but his body language was hopeful.
"Vice-Commander... There's no need for that. I'll do as you ask, regardless," he said. The hesitation in his voice was likely in fear of reproach for speaking so boldly of what should not be said.
There were many ways Hijikata could respond. He could withdraw in relief, he could give that feared reproach, he could refute the statement. He wasn't possessed of the same inclinations as Saito, Ito, and some others, and they both knew it. Therefore, there was no point in saying so. Instead, he chose to prove with his actions that it had little bearing on the circumstances. He would do whatever it took to ensure Saito's loyalty... To ensure that Saito would one-day return to the Shinsengumi...to Hijikata's side.
As their lips met, Saito released a soft sound that betrayed his repressed desire. If Hijikata had harbored any doubts that he was the object of Saito's affections, he held onto them no longer. Before he even pursed his lips to pry Saito's apart, the younger man's tongue was stretching towards his, more honest than it had ever been in his stoic silence.
Hijikata's kiss was not born of love, or lust, but for him, it was driven by a thing far greater... Respect. He admired Saito's resilience, and he admired the man's honesty, now. Thus, his fingers slid down Saito's cheek, gripping him under the chin and guiding him to stand, finding his way into his superior officer's lap.
With sheer practicality, Hijikata began to work on the younger man's sashes and ties, pulling open the kimono that disguised a body thinner than that of most of the samurai in their ranks. For all that he was not often found in the beds of women, let alone men, he had sought training from an expert, knowing what use the bedroom arts could be in matters of persuasion and negotiation. His hands were deft, and even Saito was made to moan as Hijikata stroked and pinched, licked, nibbled, kissed, and occasionally caught between his teeth.
For his part, Saito didn't insult Hijikata by pretending there was any deep attraction, or need to return any favors. He let himself be pampered and, essentially, bribed, without much fuss. There was just one moment of hesitation, when they lay on the floor, and Hijikata was paused on the threshold of his body, preparing to accept what had been offered.
As Hijikata penetrated his body with all the swift grace of a sword thrust through the ribs, he leaned close to Saito's ear and whispered, "Come back to me, Hajime. Whatever it takes. You come back to me."
"To you...right now... I'm Toshizo," Hijikata murmured, his body sweeping back and forth across Saito's, their skin rubbing and sliding aggressively as he relentlessly snapped his hips deep into the man beneath him.
Saito never said it, not once, and Hijikata wondered if he was saving it... Saving it for his return to the Shinsengumi, someday, when the problem of Ito was neutralized one way or another. He was a brave man, was Saito... And ultimately foolish.
Buried in Saito's hair, Hijakata's pained expression was hidden from sight. He loathed what he was doing to this loyal, valiant man. He loathed himself for playing Ito's twisted little game. He loathed Saito for allowing himself to be so open a target, and so valuable a pawn...
A grunt, rising in pitch, signaled the arrival of Saito's pleasure, and Hijikata slammed harder and deeper three more times before coming to a stop, trembling slightly with the exertion, and the buzz of his own, friction-rallied arousal. He thought of finding a way to finish, showing Saito that there was something of him in this, as well, but he could not. It wasn't right.
Never-the-less, Saito's arms tightened around him as the man's body relaxed into the ground, then slid to his sides. When Hijikata raised his head, Saito was smiling. He lifted his arms once more, bringing his hands to Hijikata's cheeks and holding his superior captive, unable to look away in shame.
"I'll return to you...Vice Commander. Someday, I know you'll find room in your heart for love, and I want to be there, just in case it can be me."
A short while later, Hijikata sat on the floor, his back pressed up against the seat he had been occupying when Saito first came to him. His kimono was clad about his shoulders, and his hair hung in haphazard straggles from the disheveled ponytail he had yet to fix.
"You did well, Toshi." As if appearing from the very shadows, Yamazaki Susumu approached on silent feet. "Just as I taught you."
Hijakata looked up at the man, knowing his eyes were haunted with his guilt. Yamazaki simply knelt before him and swept the folds of his hanging clothes aside, bending over him to encourage and relieve the lingering effects of his exertions.
To his surprise and horror, Hijikata found that it was Saito who occupied his mind as Yamazaki's mouth and throat worked him, expertly. He thought of Saito calling on Kashitaro Ito in the dead of night, undressing, crawling under the learned man's blankets and teaching him new things... He thought of Saito, calling Hijakata's own name... "Toshizo... Toshizo!" He thought of Saito kneeling before him with Ito's head hanging from his hands, and the words, "For you," on his lips... He thought of Saito playing the aggressor, kissing Hijikata, pressing him down, and riding him intently...and he came hard down Yamazaki's throat.
"That was fast," commented the intelligence officer, wiping his lips with the hem of his sleeve. "If I didn't know better, I might think young Saito had gotten under your skin."
"That's absurd," Hijikata lied, getting to his feet and flicking his clothes around him, snapping the folds closed and tying them off. "What are you doing here, anyway?"
"I've had word, regarding one Sakamoto Ryouma and a certain familiar pseudonym he goes by..."
As Hijikata listened and compartmentalized the vital piece of intelligence, a small part of him dwelled upon the puzzle of Saito and his own, awakening affections... Perhaps it was a good thing Saito would be gone for a time. Hijikata had no room for distractions when they were about to lose a portion of their numbers, and some of their most influential captains. There was work to be done. There would always be work to be done.