Disclaimer: Does anyone read these disclaimers? I own Hana Yori Dango. I own Makino and Doumyouji and -- what? You're reading! I take it back: Yoko Kamio owns Hana Yori Dango. I'm suffering from temporary insanity and cannot be sued.
The Sweetest Thing
"CAKE!" Tsukushi squealed with delight as Rui placed the container packed with large chocolate slices in front of her. She grabbed the nearest fork and started pouncing.
Tsukasa's eyes narrowed. It had been one of those disturbingly sunny days that were too good to pass up so he, Souijiro, Akira, and Makino all gathered on one of Eitoku's wide lawns for a quick break when Rui sauntered by with dessert. For a second, he felt his jaw tighten at the fact that someone else was making Tsukushi totally thrilled but he shook his head. He wasn't paranoid enough to deny her a slice of chocolate mousse. It wasn't everyday that Rui bought them something to eat.
His fork stopped in mid-air when she saw her stuffing her mouth full, like she hadn't had a bite in the last three days. "And you wonder why you're getting fat," he growled under his breath.
If she heard him, she chose to ignore him. "This is --mmmph -- really -- mmm -- delicious, Hana -- mmm -- zawa Rui," she managed in between mouthfuls. When she showed no signs of stopping, Soujiro laughed and handed her a glass of water. They all watched in mixed degrees of amusement as she downed the glass in one gulp. "What's the occasion? Where'd you get this?" she said finally.
Rui looked at her shyly. "No special reason, actually. I made it."
"What?" everyone cried out in amazement. Tsukasa couldn't believe his ears. Rui, baking? He couldn't imagine that anything much could shake his friend from his usual stupor. Besides what did he do while he needed to wait for 45 minutes for the cake to bake -- sleep?
Rui shrugged. "It's no big deal."
Tsukasa was about to wave the subject off when Tsukushi nearly leapt in front of Rui and grabbed the front of his shirt. She had an admiring look in her eyes that stirred uneasy emotions in his chest. "You really baked all this? By yourself? With your own hands?"
Before Rui could answer, Tsukasa had already wrenched Tsukushi away. He couldn't help it; it was almost like instinct. There was no way on the planet that she was going to touch another guy while he was in front of her. Come to think of it, there was no way on the planet that she was going to touch another guy aside from him. Period. Okay, maybe her father and brother, but that was about it.
But Makino didn't even protest his intervention. In fact, it didn't seem as if she noticed he was irritated with all her Hanazawa Rui-worship. "How come I never knew you baked?"
"If it's any consolation, Makino, you don't know how I am in bed…" Akira's voice trailed off when Tsukusa shot him a murderous look. "… but that's beside the point now, isn't it?" he finished meekly.
"My mother likes it," Rui answered. "Besides, I've always had a lot of time on my hands."
"But this stuff is great!" Tsukushi gushed. "Really great, Hanazawa Rui."
Tsukasa sniffed. "I've tasted better. There's a café in Chicago that serves the best black forest. You want me to take you there?"
"Hey, sure," Soujiro piped up.
"I wasn't talking to you," Tsukasa snarled.
Still Tsukushi ignored him. "I've never met a guy who actually bakes! And to think that you're marvelous at this stuff."
He couldn't stand it. Tsukasa jumped to his feet suddenly, surprising everyone. "Hey, isn't it time for class?"
They all stared at him as if his hair had straightened right in front of their eyes. "Class?" Tsukushi echoed, finally speaking to him. "Since when has that bothered you?"
He took her arm and hauled her up. "Since you started hanging out with us. I don't want you to come crying to me if you're late."
Tsukushi sighed and began walking after him, but after a second, she turned back to Rui. "Hey, Hanazawa Rui, will you promise to teach me how to make that cake?"
Something in Tsukasa snapped. He swept her off her feet, and despite his all his put-downs about her weight, he placed her on his right shoulder as if she didn't weigh anything at all. She struggled under his grip but he held her down. "Get, woman."
"Hey, isn't it too early in the day for that?" Akira called out behind him, but Tsukasa just kept on walking without even a backward glance.
Tsukushi stopped squirming for a final goodbye to Rui. "Save me some of that, won't you?"
Tsukasa ran all the way to the building.
What was it about that chocolate mousse? Tsukasa was in serious contemplation over the finer points of baking as he walked Tsukushi to the dango shop that afternoon.
"Why are you so mad at me?" Tsukushi complained, interrupting his thoughts.
"Who said I was mad?" he shot back.
"You're not talking to me," she pointed out.
"Then what do you call this?"
Tsukushi threw her hands up in frustration and stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. "See what I mean? I don't get you, Doumyouji. If you're so mad, why bother walking me to work?"
"Because this is all your fault!" he shouted back, knowing perfectly well that his argument didn't make sense.
Then to his complete surprise, Tsukushi stood on tiptoe and kissed the tip of his nose. When she pulled away, her cheeks were bright pink. "You look cute when you're angry."
"You-- you--" Tsukasa sputtered in disbelief. Tsukushi wasn't one for public displays of affection.
She threw him a wide smile and began walking backwards, her hands smugly tucked behind her. "I knew that would shut you up."
Of course with that kiss, Tsukushi thought everything was fine between them. But Tsukasa knew better.
"Everyone out!" he demanded when he entered the kitchen.
"But, young master, we haven't finished cooking supper…" a meek voice protested.
He shrugged. "Cook it after I'm done." He waited until all the servants had piled out through the wide swinging doors before he focused his attention on the task at hand.
"Easy-To-Bake Chocolate Pudding," he read out loud from the cookbook he had found in his mother's library. At first, he was sorely tempted to get one of those no-bake mixes that he assumed could be found in the supermarket, but he knew Tsukushi wasn't one to be won over with no-bake stuff. That was the easy way out. At least with the chocolate pudding, he had a fighting chance to impress her. So maybe it wasn't Rui's chocolate mousse, but it was his.
He knew Tsukushi wasn't the type that was blinded by material objects, no matter how expensive or extravagant they might be. She would sooner appreciate a rice cake from the neighborhood store than a truckload of truffles imported from Europe. But there was something in her eyes when she smiled at Rui, a wistful look that tugged at the strings of Tsukasa's heart.
He wanted to be the one who made her smile. He wanted to be the one to knock her off her feet with his superior skills.
Let's see them try to beat this.
He squinted at the fine text and read silently, "Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and lightly grease a 2 liter pan with melted butter."
Tsukasa glanced around the large room. And just where exactly was their oven?
He had found it a few minutes after, but that wasn't the worst of his problems. Once he had discovered how to turn it on, he found out that he had a knack for attracting bad luck. First, he ran into the mistake of not preparing all his ingredients before starting. The recipe asked that he stir the butter, chocolate and milk in a saucepan for three minutes. Unfortunately, he spent more than three minutes looking for chocolate in their refrigerator. When he had found it, most of the milk and butter had already gone. Tsukasa wracked his brain for a quick solution, ignoring the drops of sweat that rolled down the sides of his face. He needed something liquid, right? He improvised and added a cup of water to the mixture -- if it could be called that.
"Allow mixture to cool slightly," he read. Good, he thought to himself. This would be the perfect chance to regroup. After discovering his earlier mistake, Tsukasa now rummaged through the kitchen for the rest of the ingredients.
He cracked his knuckles. "Yosh," he murmured to himself, feeling the confidence slowly seep back into his frayed nerves. This was going to be a piece of -- excuse the pun -- cake.
He slipped the pan with the cake mixture into the oven, so that he could let it bake for the required 40 minutes. Baking a cake was easier than he thought. He didn't have an eisai education for nothing, did he?
Now there was only one thing left to do.
"Go to the dango shop and bring her here," he instructed his driver. "Tell her I baked her a cake that will make her forget all about Hanazawa Rui's."
Time to show Tsukushi that Doumyouji Tsukasa was no pushover.
"I hate to break it to you, young master," Tama began. "But that's not how a chocolate pudding should look."
Tsukasa was ready to tear his hair out when he took the pan out. After the thunderous roar that shook the mansion, Tama came bursting into the kitchen to see what the latest ruckus was about.
"Do I look like I'm stupid?" Tsukasa shouted. "Of course I know that's not how a pudding should look like! I can crack my head open with this!"
"And this is supposed to be my problem how?"
"Aaaargh!" he yelled. Tsukushi was going to be here in less than twenty minutes. How the hell was he going to impress her with this brick?
But Tama was already handing him the cordless phone. "Times like this, you need to know when to admit defeat."
His fingers dialed the number of the most expensive fine dining restaurant in Japan. "This is Doumyouji Tsukasa," he announced the moment someone answered. "I need your best tiramisu, and I needed it fifteen minutes ago."
"But sir, we can't--"
"Did I say fifteen?" Tsukasa wondered out loud. "I meant ten."
"But really, sir --"
"Actually I meant seven."
There was an audible sigh on the other end. "Yes, sir. Right away, sir."
"That was absolutely delicious, Doumyouji," Tsukushi proclaimed. "Just what I needed after a rough day. But seriously, I never knew you could bake, too! You really never fail to surprise me."
He leaned back smugly against his seat, basking in the warmth of her praise. The cake had been fantastic, and there was no way Tsukushi was going to know that he didn't bake it.
"You really liked it?" he asked.
"More than Rui's?"
"Because you made it," she answered softly.
Her trusting words stung him. Did she like it more because she thought he had made it? He suddenly felt like the lowest heel on the planet.
"Listen," Tsukushi said, standing up, "I really need to go. It will be late and I don't want Susumu to worry. Thanks for the dinner, and for the wonderful dessert. I'll see you tomo--"
"Makino," Tsukasa called out.
He had risen to his feet as well, but his eyes refused to meet hers. "Actually, I… uh, I… didn't bake that cake."
"What?" she asked, taken aback. She cocked her head to one side. "Then who did? And why did you say you did?"
"I ordered it from a restaurant." Tsukasa sighed. "I might as well tell you. I did bake a cake. But it was such a failure I wouldn't even let the dogs eat it. But I wanted to impress you so much that I thought it would be better if I gave you a really delicious one."
To his surprise, a slow smile spread over Tsukushi's face. "You went through all this trouble for me?"
"You're not mad?"
She walked over to where he was and tugged on his arm. "I want to see the cake you made."
"I threw it away," he objected, but still allowing himself to be led to the kitchen.
Tsukushi pointed to the pan sitting on the counter. "Liar."
Tsukasa turned red at the embarrassment he once deemed to call a dessert. "Horrible, isn't it?"
But she was already breaking off a piece of the hard, blackened mass.
"Don't eat it!" he cried out, but he was too late. The piece had already disappeared inside Tsukushi's mouth. For a second, Tsukasa thought that her eyes had widened, but she kept her features under control that he assumed he had imagined it.
"Are you stupid? How can you eat that?" he demanded.
"A little hard," she commented between loud crunches. "And maybe a bit bitter."
"I told you not to eat it," he huffed.
"But you know, it's really the sweetest thing."
It took a while before Tsukushi's words sank in. He stared at her, cheeks puffed with the hard cake, struggling to keep the mouthful down.
What a woman.
"I'll make you another one if you like."
She swallowed visibly. "Maybe in the next five years."
"Does that mean you'll be sticking around that long?"
Tsukushi looked at the wall clock. "Wow, look at the time! I'd better be going." And with a quick kiss on his cheek, she was gone, but not before Tsukasa caught her reddened face.
"You didn't answer the question," he pointed out as she watched her retreating figure run towards the swinging doors. But it didn't matter. His heart was already full. So full.
Author's Notes: Eisai education means advanced education. Once Doumyouji referred to his education as 'eisei' which means hygienic, and I couldn't resist putting it in here how he has 'learned' his lesson. Much inspiration for this fic came from the fact that I was suddenly craving for an oreo cheesecake at 12:45 in the morning but was too lazy to get up and fix myself even a glass of milk.