Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin and all characters therein belong to Nobuhiro Watsuki.

Friendly Persuasion

Sano had long ago lost count of how many times he'd heard the easily recognizable beep followed by the tinny recording asking for a message echo faintly from down the hall. He glanced over at Kaoru's determined expression when Kenshin's voice came over the line calling her name, yet again asking her to pick up and talk to him. When the answering machine finally beeped again to signal the end of its allotted time, Sano sighed and couldn't stop himself from commenting. "He's going to win."

Kaoru shook her head in denial and folded her arms stubbornly across her chest. "I told him I'm not talking with him until I'm finished being angry. I'm still angry, thus I'm not talking."

Sano ground his teeth together in frustration. Rubbing his temples, he inwardly ran the gamut of his favorite curses, the ones he saved specifically for being dragged into idiotic battles between his two equally hard-headed friends. Not that he couldn't sympathize with both of their positions… it was just that in his opinion, this one had gone on long enough. It wasn't the first time Kenshin had put his foot in his mouth, but this was certainly the longest Kaoru had ever held out against their inevitable making up.

"Jou-chan, don't you think it's time for you to put him out of his misery?" Sano leaned over to tap her knee lightly with his empty beer bottle. "He overreacted, you overreacted, this is supposed to be when you two tell each other you're sorry, kiss, and get all nauseatingly lovey again."

"I can take care of myself," Kaoru protested, leaning over to get another beer and pop the cap with the church-key before passing it to Sano. "He needs to stop acting like he's trying to be my replacement father."

Sano choked on his mouthful of beer, coughing and gasping until his airway cleared enough for him to take a proper breath. Absently dabbing at his watering eyes with the back of his hand, he cleared his throat and sat up straighter. He pinned her with a disbelieving, entirely unappreciative look for that claim, and pointed at her with the hand still holding the bottle. "Jou-chan, honey. I can vouch for Kenshin and safely say he is not in any way looking to be your father."

Kaoru shrugged, but grudgingly mumbled her assurances that she knew he wasn't when Sano continued to stare. Sano gave her a vague sort of grunt she supposed meant he'd accepted the apology on Kenshin's behalf and slumped back in his seat. Kaoru raked a hand through her hair and sulked back into her couch, wrapping up in her favorite down blanket as she settled on glaring at the wall. "I'm still not talking to him."

Sano had opened his mouth to answer when the ringing phone interrupted again. Rolling his eyes, he glanced over and watched Kaoru's fingers clench in aggravation at Kenshin's tenacious efforts. "You may as well talk to him. He alreadly knows you're home."

"Just drop it, Sano. I'll unplug the damn phone before I talk to him," Kaoru muttered and sat up with the intent to do just that. "He needs to get it through that thick-"

"Kaoru, you can't keep ignoring me," Kenshin's voice was raised enough for the words to clearly travel into the living room, interrupting her tirade more effectively than anything Sano could have possibly said.

"The Hell I can't," Kaoru muttered under her breath, carefully avoiding Sano's eyes.

"Sweetheart, if you won't answer me, I'll just have to start talking about what should be happening in there right now."

Kaoru's eyes narrowed suspiciously at the hint of warning threading into those words. She fidgeted with the blanket and used her hair to sneak a discreet peek at Sano, trying to gauge his reaction to Kenshin's "threat." If he so much as blinked wrong, he was going out on his-

"I know you changed as soon as you got home, you always do. Something soft, isn't that right? The pants that are so old all it takes is a little tug to get them to fall off your hips."

Kaoru's full attention snapped back to the hallway in disbelief as heat started to spread across her cheeks. He wouldn't

"You should be on the couch, wrapped up in that blanket you refuse to let go of even though it's too short for you," Kenshin continued on, undaunted by the continued lack of response. "Except, you should be curling up on top of me."

Sano was forced to cover his mouth with one hand when Kaoru shot up, sprinting down the hall the instant her feet touched the floor to get the phone before the message could get more graphic.

"So I can slide my hand under your shirt, up onto your stomach and higher until I get to-"

And judging from the way that was going before Kaoru put a stop to it, Kenshin was just gearing up for a fine session of details in the most graphic nature regardless of his potential audience. Sano took another drink, swallowing quickly and keeping himself quiet to satisfy the sheer morbid curiosity over what Kaoru was hissing into the phone.

"Sano is here having dinner with me, you shameless pervert! What are you thi-?" Kaoru cut off, covering her eyes with one hand and sighing heavily in defeat. "Yes, I'm aware that it got me to pick up the phone, but that's not an excuse to- No, you can't come over. Kenshin? Kenshin!"

The sound of what was most likely her unfortunate phone thumping against the carpet with more than a little force convinced Sano it was time to make his strategic retreat. Dusting his hands off on his jeans, he stood up and stretched while he watched Kaoru stomp past him. He'd put money on her planning to hide upstairs in her room and pretend that she'd taken off or fallen asleep by the time Kenshin came knocking despite the late hour. She was sneaky enough that he wouldn't put it past her.

"Hey, Jou-chan? I'm going to head out." He called after her, making sure he was loud enough to cut through any of her internal ranting. Grabbing his coat off the chair, he absently checked his pockets to make sure he had everything he needed to get home. "I'll lock it up behind me, all right?"

Kaoru paused and immediately turned back around to at least say good night. Being irritated with Kenshin wasn't any reason to be rude to Sano. "Take the leftovers with you," she offered with a dismissive gesture toward the mess on the table. "You drew the short straw on listening to me gripe, so the least I can do is let you keep the food."

"And that's why you're my favorite." Sano grinned at her, obligingly picking up the pizza box. "Come on, get back over here and give me a hug before I go."

Kaoru rolled her eyes, but crossed the room to do just that. Wrapping her arms around his waist and gave him a hard squeeze when he lifted her up off her feet. He practically crushed her against his chest until she finally started to laugh. Satisfied, he set her on her feet and let her step back. She ran a hand through her hair to smooth it back out and flashed him a smile. "Thanks for coming over, Sano."

"Hey, don't mention it." Sano reached out and patted her on the head. "This is all going to work out just fine, Jou-chan. You just get some sleep and stop being so damn stubborn before you end up driving yourself crazy. We all know that you two hate it when you've had a fight."

"I know, I know." Kaoru rubbed her temples, trying to stave off the growing ache behind her eyes. "I just really don't want to give him the wrong idea about this. I'm not going to do what he says just because he thinks he knows what's best."

"Nobody expects you to get all docile on us just because you hooked up, not even Kenshin," Sano scolded, digging around in his pocket until he came up with his keys.

Kaoru snorted, "Tell him that."

"He's crazy about you just the way you are and you know it." Sano tugged on the end of her ponytail. "Now, go have a long bath, drink a glass of wine, and roll around on that thing you call a bed. I'll call you in the morning."

Kaoru smacked him lightly on the arm for the insult against her furniture. "Go home, you moron. And don't think I don't know you told Kenshin you'd keep an eye on me."

Sano shrugged, not bothering to deny it. "I would do it anyway."

"That's what makes it more obnoxious."

Sano chuckled, but resisted dragging her into further banter. As much as he loved his friends, it was late, he was tired, and he had a nice quiet apartment calling his name. He stayed in the living room long enough to watch Kaoru very deliberately turn her back on him to go up the stairs, turning off the lights as she went. Shaking his head at her antics, he glanced down at the mostly full six-pack on the floor beside the couch. Tilting his head, he ran through a brief argument with himself before deciding "leftovers" definitely included the remaining beer. Quite pleased with his evening's take-home haul, Sano finally made his way through the darkened apartment and quietly opened the front door.

Kenshin straightened away from the wall, searching Sano's face for what he wanted to know.

"Yes, she's still mad," Sano informed him with exasperation, biting the inside of his cheek when Kenshin's attention immediately redirected to inside the apartment. Eyes faintly narrowed as though he could change Kaoru's mind across the distance through the force of his will. "I told her to take a bath and go to bed."

"Good," Kenshin murmured in approval and motioned for Sano to stop blocking his way in. "Her aim isn't quite as good when she's naked." Kenshin smiled affectionately as his eyes glassed over, blissfully reliving some private moment before he seemed to remember his surroundings and shake off those thoughts. "Anything else?"

"You're both crazy."

Kenshin's smile widened and he nodded, unrepentantly acknowledging that accusation as he stepped inside Kaoru's apartment. "That happens when you're in love, Sano. You'll see."

"No thanks." Sano saluted him awkwardly with the hand holding his well-earned beer. "Your relationship is more than enough to occupy my days, nights, and weekends. Not to mention most major holidays."

Kenshin slipped his hand into his pocket, the smile taking on something of a secretive air. "Maybe that will change soon."

Sano snorted, "Yeah, and I will fall madly in love with a doctor."

"Stranger things have happened," Kenshin taunted him.

"So am I off for the night, Boss?" Sano drawled out the title with more than a little sarcasm, pointedly turning him away from the touchy subject of his own private life. "Or should I keep my cell handy?"

Kenshin waved him off, ignoring the laughter that followed him inside. Closing the door firmly in his friend's face, he set the locks and moved farther into the foyer to step out of his shoes. Tilting his head to one side, he forced himself to be patient until he caught the distinctive rumble of pipes indicating Kaoru was indeed taking Sano's advice.

Smiling in satisfaction, Kenshin padded down the hallway silently, pausing only once to pull the phone cord out of the wall.

"And that-" Sano raised his champagne glass to the crowd for emphasis. He turned a cheeky grin down at Kaoru, taking pride in the way she had hidden her face in her hands while Kenshin patted her back in consolation and appeared to be trying very, very hard not to laugh at his new wife's embarrassment. "Is how Kenshin proposed to Jou-chan naked in the bathtub."