"You have to--"
"Nononononononono!!!" he screamed.
Sano winced, "Damn it, Kenshin. You're overreacting!"
"I am NOT overreacting!" Kenshin shouted, his voice cracking.
"What's wrong with you, huh? One simple thing and ya have to turn it into a shouting match," Sano retorted. He backed away rapidly when he saw Kenshin grip the hilt of his sakaba, a manic gleam starting to burn in his violet eyes. "OK, I was wrong, you want to turn this entire episode into a freaking bloodbath. NOW you're overreacting!" He ran his hand through his hair in frustration, "Jeez, Kenshin. Have I ever demanded anything of you, huh?" he demanded. "Tell me. I've never asked you for ANYTHING at all..." Kenshin opened his mouth to reply and he butted in hurriedly, "Well, OK, not counting the hundred yen or so I owe you--"
"A hundred?!" Kenshin asked incredulously.
Sano snorted, "Fine. Ninety yen."
"NINETY?!" Kenshin squeaked. "Sano, do you count backwards or what?"
"OK, FIFTY!!!" Sano roared. "Really, Kenshin, I never expected you to be such a damned miser."
"Don't you fucking ORO me!" Sano yelled. He took in a couple of deep breaths. "Anyway, you're changing the subject."
Kenshin rolled his eyes, "Now THAT'S about the only thing that's non-debatable here."
"Shut up," Sano snapped. "Now, are you gonna do it or what?"
"You shut up," Kenshin snapped back. "I already told you that that's a closed issue."
Sano sighed in exasperation. "Kenshin, you can be so trying at times."
"Meaning?" Kenshin drawled sarcastically.
"You're such a BABY!" Sano howled.
Kenshin flushed, "Stooping to name-calling is pretty low, Sano."
"Well, aren't you?" Sano retorted. "And a coward to boot."
Kenshin blinked, "Excuse me? A coward?! And--and--" he said in a strangled voice, "--a BABY?!"
"Yeah," Sano growled. "And you call ME a chicken."
"That's not the point!" Kenshin yelled at him.
"It is SO!" Sano yelled back. "Gods, we're wasting time here, Kenshin. Are you gonna do it or what?"
"NO!" Kenshin screamed. "Are you deaf or something? NO! NO! NO!" Sano began to make clucking noises, flapping his arms tauntingly.
Sano looked at him with new respect, "Wow, Kenshin, I didn't know you had it in you." Kenshin broke out into another swearing spree.
Sano grinned at him, "Hmm...There MUST be some hope for you, after all." He edged closer to his friend, "Now, Kenshin, you gotta listen to me, OK? Just do this one itty-bitty thing and we'll do it your way next time." Kenshin glared at him suspiciously. Sano held up his hands, "Hey, I promise, buddy. And the word of Sagara is as unbreakable as Saitoh's face. You can bet on that."
Kenshin sighed, "Sano, I won't do it!"
"Come on, now..."
"I'll treat you to a night out at town."
"I'll do all your chores for you."
"I won't borrow money from you again."
"Well?" Sano asked hopefully. "You're finally beginning to see sense, huh?"
"I was speechless with disbelief," Kenshin muttered.
"Kenshin, don't make me drag you there," Sano said. "You know how I hate scenes."
"Well, go ahead!" Sano shouted. "It's your loss, anyway! Let's see if Kaoru would prefer a--"
"NO, Sano!" Kenshin also raised his voice. Gods, they were starting to sound like fishwives on a high. "NO. N-O. No!"
Sano yanked the front of Kenshin's gi and pushed his face at his friend angrily, "What is your goddamn problem, Himura?"
Kenshin shoved him away roughly, "You're my problem! Leave me alone!"
"Like hell I will," Sano snarled. He cracked his knuckles and muttered, "Fine. No more Mr. Nice-Guy-Sagara for me. (tin: eheheheheh ^^;;) If this is what it takes to make you see sense, then..." He narrowed his eyes, "You're gonna look like Kaoru's cooking on a really bad day, buddy."
"Sano," Kenshin sighed exasperatedly, "I'm not fighting you." He shook his head, "Look. Let's just go back to the dojo, OK? This is ridiculous."
"If it's so trivial," Sano countered, "why won't you do it?"
Kenshin turned to him, "Because."
Sano raised his hands in despair, "Y'know, I'm beginning to symphatize with Hiko. How the hell did that old bastard put up with you? In your growing-up years, no less."
"Don't bring Shishou into this," Kenshin snapped.
"Kenshin," Sano said carefully, "I'm just curious. Why won't you do it?" he repeated.
"What the hell--"
"No, I won't tell you why. No, I won't do it," Kenshin retorted. "Satisfied?"
"Aaaarrgghhh!!!!" Sano screamed. "What's wrong with it anyway?! I do it all the time!!!"
Kenshin's patience snapped. "I don't care about that!" he yelled, "I'm not gonna do it! Besides, how can you know what it feels like, huh? So many years...and then you tell me that I have to--"
"Sano, read my lips," Kenshin said slowly and deliberately, "I--AM--NOT--" he paused and took a deep breath, "CUTTING MY HAIR!!!" he shrieked.
"Gods, Kenshin..." Sano moaned. "You've really gotta do something about that attitude..." When Kenshin turned his nose up at him, he sighed and decided to play his trump card. 'Sorry, Kenshin. You forced me into this.' He cleared his throat. "Kenshin," he said in long-suffering tones, "I didn't want to tell you this. I thought that there was a better way, but since you're so stubborn..."
Kenshin eyed him curiously.
"Here's the deal..." Sano continued and leaned over to whisper in Kenshin's ear. "It's about Kaoru--"
Sano paced to and fro impatiently. When the white-garbed man finally emerged from the adjoining room, he went up to him quickly. "Well?" he asked anxiously. "Did it go OK?"
The man smiled up at him, "Yes. It's over."
"Arigato, Kami-sama," Sano breathed and clasped his hands for a moment in a benevolent pose. The man backed away from him hurriedly.
"But I didn't expect that he would be so-- so--" the man stuttered nervously, "--demanding."
"Why?" Sano asked abruptly, "Did he complain?"
"A lot," the other man nodded. "For a minute I thought he was actually going to cry."
Sano smothered a laugh, "Yes, well, he's still in denial, y'know."
"This must be so new to him," the man said gravely.
"You bet," Sano grinned. "Can I see him?"
"Oh, by all means," was the reply. "Go right inside. I'll just wash my hands. I'll be with you in a while. To make last-minute adjustments."
"Thanks, Jin," Sano clapped him on the shoulder. The other man winced. Sano inspected him more closely, "Hey, why do you have a pin there? And on your ear... Your face...! Gods, Jin, what happened?!"
Jin flushed shame-facedly, "There was, uh, a sort of, well, tussle between us. Of course I was at the losing end. And so here I am--" he gestured to himself, "--a pin cushion." He shook his head, "He was so fast!"
Sano stared at him, "Kenshin's a nice guy. Something really awful must have set him off."
Jin grinned, "He thought I was gonna place a flower on his hair."
Sano promptly doubled over.
He was still hysterical, a few moments later, when he saw finally saw Kenshin.
Kenshin glared at him, "Sano..."
Sano wiped his teary eyes, "Jeez, sorry, Kenshin but--" he glanced at his friend and began to laugh again, "MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!" He rolled in the floor, arms around his stomach, kicking his feet in the air wildly.
"I knew it," Kenshin muttered. He stared at himself in the large mirror. His red hair was pulled back severely in a tight top knot. Kenshin ran his hand across his forehead tentatively. It felt so-- unnatural. Well, of course, he thought sullenly, it's as bare as a god-forsaken rice field. He tried to coax a few strands down but they were stuck tight. "Kaoru-dono's gonna laugh her head off when she sees me," he said in despair, "or, worse, she's gonna run in the opposite direction."
"She might just welcome you with open arms," Sano wheezed, as he finally got enough strength to sit up.
"You don't say," Kenshin muttered. "This is all your fault, Sano."
Sano's lips twitched but Kenshin narrowed his eyes at him warningly. He decided to settle for a wide grin, "But you look good, Kenshin. Honestly."
Kenshin rolled his eyes, "Uh-huh. Right."
"But," Sano continued as he heaved himself upright, "you would look even better if you'd followed my earlier advice."
Sano struck a dramatic pose, "Have your hair done like mine."
Sano glared at him, "Hey, it's not that bad." He put an arm around his friend, "Just imagine it... The Kenshin bad-ass look..."
They both paused, looked up at the ceiling, saw Kenshin's hair in spikes...
"Forget it," Kenshin retorted. He caught another glimpse of himself in the mirror and groaned, "Why did I let you talk me into this?"
"Ahem," Sano snorted, "YOU were the one who ended up dragging me to this place, remember?"
"Because you told me--" Kenshin said defensively.
Sano waved his hand dismissively, "It doesn't matter now."
"The hell it doesn't!" Kenshin interrupted him heatedly. "You told me that Kaoru-dono has a crush on Oda Nobunaga!"
"Yeah, I heard her and Yahiko saying so just this morning!" Sano countered. "I never denied that, right? Anyway, it was your bright idea to have your hair done Oda Nobunaga-style..."
"Because you said that Kaoru-dono would soften up more..." Kenshin protested.
"So don't blame me!" Sano huffed.
Kenshin's head began to ache. His hair...ouch. "Oro," he sighed. "Look, I'm sorry, Sano. It's just that I'm pretty frustrated and all..."
"Man, the secret here is self-confidence," Sano urged him. "You feel good, you look good!"
"I don't feel good," Kenshin muttered as he rubbed his temples with both hands.
"You will soon," Sano said gleefully, "Wait 'til you getta hold of the clothes I bought you!"
Kenshin stared at him in horror, "Clothes?!"
"Yup," Sano said smugly, "You couldn't go around courting Jou-chan in that same pink outfit--"
"It's not pink," Kenshin said flatly.
"Whatever," Sano retorted. "Anyway, you and Jin were taking so long I decided to take a walk around town and I saw these shops and, man, the gear... I decided to buy the stuff while I was at it."
"Oroooo..." Kenshin moaned. "No bandages and red headbands, please."
Sano looked offended. "Kenshin, don't you trust my fashion sense?"
Kenshin was mercifully saved from replying when Jin entered the room.
"Himura-san," he said with a smile, "you look good, if I do say so for myself." He exchanged a wink with Sano.
Kenshin managed a weak smile, "Uh, arigato, Jin-dono."
"Is there anything else you want me to do, Himura-san?" Jin asked politely.
"How about that flower?" Sano quipped.
"You wanted to talk to me, Kaoru-san?" Sekihara Tae asked. She looked at the younger girl worriedly. Kaoru was sitting at one of the tables of the Akabeko, fiddling with her hair restlessly.
"Hai, Tae-san," Kaoru answered. She forced a smile for the other's benefit. Gods, where to begin? Tae-san, do I remind you of Genzai-sensei? Tae-san, do you think I'd look better in a gi and hakama with my hair shaved off? Tae-san, what am I gonna doooooo?!!!! "I--" she began nervously, "I--"
"I--" Kaoru looked around and noticed that-- "Is Megumi-san coming?"
Tae smiled at her, "Yes. I sent Tsubame to fetch her. She should be arriving any minute now."
"Uh, yeah, arigato," Kaoru said, biting her lip. "I'm really sorry for being such a bother, Tae-san."
"You're not a bother, Kaoru-san," the other woman said warmly. "Now, suppose you tell me what's going on? Has something happened between you and Kenshin-san?"
Kaoru flushed, "Tae-san!"
Tae was also turning a deep shade of red, "Er, sumimasen, Kaoru-san. It wasn't supposed to-- sound that way."
"Yeah, it's OK," Kaoru sighed. "But you're partly right, anyway. Something has happened to Kenshin."
Tae waited expectantly.
Kaoru looked up at her. "I just gave him a love potion."
Tae stared at her for a long time. "Uh, are you sure you don't want to-- rephrase?" she asked weakly.
Kaoru grinned sheepishly, "Um..."
"Gods, are we gonna go through this again?" Sano asked in frustration.
"You told me I'll have it my way this time," Kenshin said through clenched teeth.
"Did I say that?"
"Look, Kenshin," Sano rummaged through the sack of clothes he'd just heaved into the room under the amused gaze of Jin and with Kenshin's 'Oros' as background. "We gotta work together," he said in a muffled voice."Now where did I put that?" Muttering and then "A-ha!" Sano shouted triumphantly. He held up a piece of cloth proudly, "Get a load of this, Himura!" He draped it around Kenshin's shoulders, "Jin, does he look totally cool or what?"
Kenshin snatched the gi away, "Sano, NO WAY!"
"What the hell is wrong now?!"
"I am not wearing something like-- like--" Kenshin waved the gi in front of Sano's face, "THIS!"
"Why not?!" Sano asked in confusion.
Kenshin's speech failed him altogether.
Jin coughed, "If I may make a suggestion, Sano? A gi made of-- of-- velvet is not exactly at the height of style."
"And it's in BRIGHT ORANGE!!!" Kenshin yelled. "A velvet bright orange gi! If I wear this, I'd look like a really ripe melon!"
"Actually," Jin muttered, "you'd look more like a cross between a tomato and a pumpkin."
"So?" Sano asked irritatedly.
Kenshin closed his eyes, "Sano, I am NOT wearing this, got that?" He threw the gi at his friend. "And where did you get something like that anyway?"
"Fine," Sano muttered as he caught it. He grabbed another piece of cloth. "Try this. And no more complaints, OK? You practically trashed everything I showed you."
Kenshin gazed at the cloth suspiciously. Hmmm... At least it's in dark blue. Not pink, thank the gods. His head was still reeling from being presented with gis and hakamas in hot pink, baby pink, mauve pink, all shades of pink. And, gods, the oranges! He shuddered inwardly. He and Sano nearly got into another fight, what with Sano saying that he just based his choices on Kenshin's very obvious preference for -- pastel colors. Kenshin had bristled at that. If he had met Sano earlier, during his ten years as a rurouni, he'd have broken his vow of non-violence a long time ago, he thought wryly.
Kenshin sighed, "It looks OK."
Sano grinned at Jin exultantly.
Kenshin began to inspect the cloth. He turned it over slowly -- and promptly choked, "Sano..."
"What?" Sano demanded.
Kenshin's shoulders began to shake, "It--it--it-- has--"
"Are you wearing it or not?" Sano asked heatedly. "Gods, Kenshin, I'm getting fed up with you."
Jin walked over to Kenshin's side and looked at the gi. He whistled. "Sano, I don't think Himura-san's gonna wear this," he called.
"AGAIN?!" Sano yelled. "Kenshin, you'd better have a good reason for--"
Kenshin glared at him, his violet eyes shimmering with gold, "You bet I do."
"Sano, did you take a good look at the front of the gi when you bought this?" Kenshin asked in a low dangerous voice.
"Hell, yes, that's why I bought it," Sano retorted. "Because of the front."
Kenshin gripped the hilt of his sakaba, "You are so dead."
Jin began to back away from him nervously, "Now, Himura-san..."
"What?!" Sano burst out. "Wait a sec here. I'm entitled to an explanation..."
"I'll give you one," Kenshin snapped. "I am not wearing anything--"
"With pink elephants sewn on the sleeves!!!" he roared.
Sano turned to a petrified Jin, "What the fuck is wrong with that?"
"Uh--" Jin uttered hoarsely. "He doesn't like elephants?"
END OF PART FIVE
Next part: Megumi hears a very improper conversation ^-^