Later that night...
Kaoru crept stealthily to the kitchen. She looked around furtively and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that she was alone. Hah. She gazed at the bottle she held in her hand, the one she bought just that afternoon. 'Time to see if it really works,' she thought. Dinner was an extended affair. Dr. Genzai, Megumi, and the little girls came by and there was a lot of gossip and exchange of heated opinions. Well, the latter would particularly apply to Sano and Megumi. Kaoru shook her head wryly. For some reason, Sano's mouth expanded to huge proportions whenever Megumi was around. The larger the space, the more feet you can insert, after all, and Sano had always been a maximizer par excellence. And, boy, was he in his element tonight. Kaoru wondered how he could even stand, considering that Megumi thrashed him at the rate of one swing per second. 'And she calls me a violent tomboy,' Kaoru thought. Come to think of it, Megumi only gets that -- angry whenever Sano's somewhere in her immediate vicinity. Kaoru pondered on that, a sly smile curving her lips. It was pretty obvious that--
Kaoru whirled around quickly. Kenshin. "You startled me," she said with a nervous laugh.
"Why are you still up?" he asked her curiously.
Kaoru waved her hand airily, "Oh nothing, just...nothing," she said with as much nonchalance as she can muster, trying to ignore the fact that the kitchen was not exactly the perfect place to -- relax.
"What's that you're holding in your hand?"
Kaoru's smile froze on her face as she realized with horror that she was practically waving the potion bottle at him. She quickly placed it at her back. "Oh. Well--um--that's the--uh--yeah--you know."
Kenshin frowned in puzzlement, "Oro?"
Kaoru rolled her eyes. 'Jeez,' she thought. 'Figured he'll stay that.' "You know," she growled and gave him the look (the Kenshin-don't-ask- or-you'll-be-sorry look). Come on. Translate, you baka.
Kenshin gulped and smiled weakly, "Sure. I-- know." He looked at the ceiling (a plea for mercy to the gods probably) and then back at her. "I know," he repeated. "Would you--uh--like some tea?" he said inanely.
Tea? At midnight? Just peachy. Kaoru rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Kenshin--" she began And then it hit her. An inspiration. A revelation. An epiphany. The idea of all ideas. 'Brilliant. Kaoru, you are just so-- so--' Kaoru sighed happily, the smile widening on her face as she thought about it. She had been fretting over how she could get Kenshin to drink the potion. She couldn't very well force it on him. And she certainly couldn't mix the darned thing with his bathwater. She'd tried spilling it on his drink earlier but he always turned just when she was gonna pour the stuff. But now... "Sure!" she exclaimed perkily. "I'll get the tea, Kenshin!"
"Oro?" Kenshin blinked. He didn't think that she would take his -- suggestion seriously. Even he had to admit that it was a pretty stupid one. Maybe, just maybe, he really could learn a thing or two from Sano.
Kaoru beamed at him and he swallowed. Why was she being so nice to him? During dinner, she practically ignored him and each time he looked at her (which, Kenshin sighed, was quite often), she had a murderous gleam in her eyes. He'd prayed that she wouldn't go on a hitting spree, especially since Sano and Megumi's -- exhibition was getting out of hand. Sano seemed to be enjoying the entire evening however. He even winked at Kenshin. No, that wasn't quite right. Sano squinted at Kenshin, considering that his lids seemed permanently stitched to their sockets. Kenshin had avoided joining the fray as much as possible because he'd felt that Kaoru needed only the slightest provocation to flatten him to hell and beyond. He glanced at Kaoru who was bustling around the kitchen and he smiled. She was humming. That was a good sign. But -- Kenshin frowned -- she seemed too happy. Almost dazed. Was something wrong with the food earlier? Did she drink something weird? She smiled at him and he relaxed. Nah. He must be getting paranoid.
Kaoru carefully poured the tea into the cups, resisting the urge to dance in excitement. Finally, finally... She grinned widely. Kenshin stared at her and she tried to assume a more -- appropriate expression. After all, you don't look like a maniac when you're just pouring tea. Kenshin probably thought she was going crazy. Not for long. She sneaked a glance at him. He was leaning in the doorway, arms crossed in front of him. His red hair gleamed in the dim light. He looked so cute. She felt a pang of guilt at what she was about to do. Drugging someone wasn't really her idea of a good time. Besides, her parents must be turning in their graves now. Kaoru bit her lip. Maybe she really shouldn't do this. There must be another way...
Well, desperate times call for desperate measures. And she absolutely loathed the -dono stuff, anyway.
"Just a minute, Kenshin," she replied. When he looked away from her for a moment, she quickly put out the bottle, undid the cork, and carefully tilted the container over Kenshin's cup. Just one or two drops...Too much might turn him into a raging nymphomaniac. Though, of course, that wasn't such a bad idea. 'Kaoru,' she told herself, 'you can be really frightening at times, do you know that?' Come on. Steady now. Kaoru watched a drop of the liquid fall. And then another. Just one more and it's--
Startled, Kaoru jerked her hand and looked up at Kenshin who was standing beside her. "K-K-K-Ken--" she stuttered. "Kenshin! What are you--I mean why are you--?" She suddenly realized that the bottle she held in her hand felt surprisingly light. Almost as if-- Horrified, Kaoru turned her back on a bewildered totally innocent Kenshin (who really had nothing more in mind than a simple offer of help ^^) and stared at the now empty bottle in her hand. That means... She grabbed Kenshin's cup and peered at the green liquid inside. Oh no. Talk about an overdose.
"Kaoru-dono, can we--um--have that tea now?" Kenshin asked a little desperately.
Kaoru looked at him. She looked back at the tea. And then she looked at him again. 'To give or not to give' she thought blankly. 'To give or not to give, to give or not to give, to give or not to give...'
Kenshin was beginning to panic. Kaoru looked-- well, Kaoru looked positively catatonic. Maybe she did eat something awful. "Kaoru-dono?" he said. "Kaoru-dono?" He waved a hand in front of her face. He was about to knock on her forehead (and to hell with the consequences) when she blinked. "Kaoru-dono?" he queried loudly.
She stared at him for a long time. If she threw away the tea, she would probably never get another chance, and she'd wanted him for so long...
A sign from the gods.
"Here's your tea, Kenshin," she said and handed the cup to him slowly. He gazed at her wide-eyed. "Come on. Just take it." He looked like he was lost somewhere in limbo.
He took it from her with agonizing slowness, wondering all the time if the tea would suddenly mutate into a monster or Shishio or Saitoh or whatever. He glanced at Kaoru who smiled at him encouragingly. He sighed and thought that maybe his brain, or whatever was left of it, was really beyond repair. Kami-sama knew that he absolutely did not have any idea about what's going on. Kaoru, on the other hand, looked like she actually expected him to say something. He came up with "Kaoru-dono?"
"Drink the damned tea," she growled.
Kaoru waited. 'Does it take effect immediately? Or do I have to wait for a certain amount of time?'
Kenshin put the cup down.
"Well?" she asked expectantly.
Well what? "Uh--it's--good?"
You'd have to wait for a certain amount of time. Kaoru sighed inwardly. She hoped fervently that a 'certain amount of time' didn't translate into fifteen years. But, Kaoru thought with dawning horror, what if the potion's of those long-term thingies? She hadn't bothered to ask... 'No, damn it, no. You're being stupid, Kaoru. Kenshin probably needs to sleep over it. Yeah, that's it. Tomorrow. He'll be a totally new man tomorrow.'
Kenshin thought that the tea had some sort of weird aftertaste. He frowned. It was too -- watery. He actually wasn't able to taste the tea. Kaoru probably used too much water. Yeah, that's it. Water. Too much water.
They smiled at each other.
Kenshin crawled into his futon tiredly. After the usual 'oyasumi' Kaoru had practically ordered him to sleep. And to sleep for all he was worth,too. What the hell did that mean? He slumped on the covers with an audible sigh. Sometimes, that girl could be beyond comprehension.
Kenshin heard a rustling movement from a corner of the room. Instantly awake, he jerked up into a sitting position, his hand on the hilt of his sakaba.
"Kenshin! Pssstt! Kenshin, it's me!"
Kenshin relaxed. "Sano?" he whispered into the darkness. "Sano, what are you doing here?"
"We were supposed to meet tonight, remember?" Sano whispered back as he crawled on hands and knees towards Kenshin. "Where were you?"
"With Kaoru?" Sano asked incredulously.
"And whose idea was that?" Sano said. He stretched his arm in the darkness, trying to grope his way (he still couldn't see very clearly), and bumped into something hard.
"Sorry. I thought that was the wall."
"That was my face!" Kenshin muttered.
"I said 'sorry' already," Sano retorted. He tried to sit in a cross-legged position and felt his bones crack. Ouch. That Megumi was the best. Kenshin sat in front of him. Or at least he hoped it was Kenshin. He squinted painfully. Something red. Yep. He was in the right track. "You didn't answer my question."
Kenshin sighed. "OK. It was my idea."
"I bet she enjoyed that," Sano said. When Kenshin didn't answer, he asked, "You're kidding, right?" He heard a grunt which sounded like a 'no.' Sano sighed in exasperation. "Gods, Kenshin, is that the best you can do? Did you talk?"
"A little," Kenshin answered. He recalled his 'conversation' with Kaoru. It wasn't really talkk talk (he was mainly restricted to "Kaoru-dono?") but at least it qualified as 'little' talk.
"Look, Sano, are you just going to repeat everything I say?"
"Like what you do with Kaoru, huh?"
That hurt. "I resent that," Kenshin muttered.
"You've got an awful lot to learn about the ways of women, buddy," Sano told him as he shook his head.
"Hey, I didn't see you getting very far with Megumi," Kenshin retorted.
"That's not true!" Sano protested.
"Right," Kenshin said. He touched Sano's shoulder lightly and grinned when Sano cursed. "I suppose that's proof of your, uh, 'expertise' with women?"
"The fox-lady's of a different breed than Kaoru," Sano told him haughtily. "'Sides, we ain't talking about her, Kenshin. We're talking about you. Anyway, that entire crap during dinner was for your benefit."
"Really? And what's the moral lesson of the story?" Kenshin asked interestedly.
"Learn from your mistakes."
Kenshin rolled his eyes. "Sano..."
"Look, what are you doing here anyway?" Kenshin poked him again. He smiled at Sano's reaction. "You really should tone down your vocabulary, Sano."
"Shut up," Sano snapped. "I came here for that piece of paper I gave you this afternoon. Did you read it?"
"What piece of paper?" Kenshin asked him blankly.
"You know," Sano whispered iratedly. "The paper. You didn't lose it, right?"
"Oh," Kenshin sighed. "That one." He slid his hand inside his gi. "Yeah, I've got it. What's this anyway?"
"Read it," Sano said. "You've gotta exert effort, Kenshin. I'm trying to help you here."
Kenshin wearily reached for the lamp and lit it. "Fine. I'll read it." He frowned at the characters which were just barely legible in the gaslight. "'Lesson One'?"
Sano crossed his arms importantly, "Yep. The basics. From the master himself."
"Oro?" Kenshin muttered as his eyes skimmed over the paper. It was a list of-- "Sano, what the hell is this?" Sano smirked at him. "'Sweetie,' 'honey,' 'darling,' 'cutie-pie', 'girlie', 'b--" Kenshin peered closer at the last item on the list. His jaw dropped open when the word finally registered on his mind. "'BABE?! Sano, I can't call Kaoru-dono--" Sano clamped a hand on his mouth. Kenshin wrenched his face away angrily.
"What do you think you're playing at?!" he whispered fiercely.
"But she is a babe, Kenshin," Sano drawled.
"Get your mind out of the gutter, Sanosuke," Kenshin snapped.
"Well, isn't she?"
Kenshin glared at him. His hand ever so slowly drifted to the hilt of his sakaba. Sano sighed.
"Kenshin," he said patiently. "In case you haven't noticed, that was a list of endearments you can use with Kaoru."
Kenshin stared at him as if he'd gone mad. "Endearments?" he said in a strangled voice.
"Yeah," Sano answered. "Look, the main objective here is for you to stop calling her 'Kaoru-dono'. I'm telling you, Kenshin, that -dono stuff is a MAJOR turn-off, in case you haven't noticed. Which--" he sighed again, "--you probably haven't."
"What's wrong with--"
"There's really nothing wrong wrong with it, Kenshin," Sano said. "But you've gotta explore your options. 'Sides, if you're gonna show her what you really feel for her, the first thing to do would be to call her in a special way," Sano lectured him.
"But it is--"
"Kenshin, you -dono everyone in this town," Sano interrupted him. "You don't love the vegetable-seller at the market right?"
"Uh--" Kenshin shook his head impatiently. "Of course not, Sano! But how do you think this--" he waved the piece of paper in the air helplessly "--will help?"
Sano put his hands on Kenshin's shoulders, "Just trust me, buddy. Women love to be called those names by guys. All of 'em. No exception. Especially Kaoru. I know what I'm talking about."
"Oro..." Kenshin began when Sano shook his head again. "What?"
"That 'oro' has to go, too," Sano said solemnly.
"What do you mean the 'oro' has to go?" Kenshin asked in disbelief.
"Because you sound so-- redundant," Sano answered.
Now that was too hard a blow on Kenshin's self-love. "Sano, I can't just stop saying 'oro'. It's like--" he groped for the appropriate word. When he couldn't find one, he groaned, "Oroooo...."
Sano said earnestly, "That's what I'm telling you."
Kenshin buried his head in his hands.
Sano patted him consolingly on the back, "Don't worry, Kenshin. We've got that settled, right?" When Kenshin didn't answer, he hit him harder, "Right?"
"Right," came the muffled reply. Sano frowned at his friend. He sounded almost-- hysterical, but there was simply no other way. You've gotta be brave, Kenshin. This is for your own good.
"Great. Just remember, you're doing this for Kaoru, OK?"
Kenshin finally raised his head. He wasn't too happy about it but if this is what it took..."For Kaoru," he answered. "For Kaoru." 'I just hope I live through this,' he thought miserably.
END OF PART THREE
About the endearment stuff, sorry if I used English terms. I don't know the Japanese words for the, uh, y'know ^^ If you know of words which are roughly equivalent to those which I wrote in this 'fic, do tell so I can change 'em OK? Anyway, I was a little delusional when I wrote this so I hope you guys forgive me for errors in spelling, grammar, the works ^_^ Thanks!