Sano frowned as soon as Kenshin stepped inside the bar with a blonde wearing a sly teasing smile and not before the red head take another step towards them did the girl slip a piece of paper inside the breast pocket of his suit that he returned the favor by sending her a wink and a smooth wave of goodbye.
What a cheesy piece of a bastard.
"I'll be back." He turned his attention to the small and hurried voice of Kaoru who seemed to slightly pale under the dim lighting. His frowned deepened as he pieced in her recent distress as he watched her grab her purse and go to the ladies' bathroom. He sighed and looked back at Kenshin who was striding his way towards their table. The redhead gave an easy smile as he slid in Kaoru's place.
"Hey." He took what used to be Kaoru's drink and cringed at the strong dark whiskey that slid down his throat. Sano wondered if Kenshin cared to know whom that drink belonged to. He was not particularly surprised when Kaoru ordered whiskey as soon as they settled at their usual table at the bar. He'd have a field day putting Kenshin on a guilt trip, assessing that their female friend would be taking her time in the toilet because of his presence.
He grunted in response and crossed his arms and stared hard at the oblivious man beside him who was absently sipping on his recently self-acclaimed drink despite his initial distaste towards the warm whiskey.
Sano wondered whatever happened to the three of them. They used to be the best of friends. They were together since elementary, grew up during high school, and had a riot during college. He swiftly remembered going in between dorm rooms during Friday nights for their weekly pizza pig-out sessions, and the celebratory after-party during university wins in football. That was Kaoru's first introduction to alcohol. Upside down with a funnel down her throat as Sano and Kenshin fed her incessantly with beer. He nearly smiled at the memory.
Nothing much changed years after graduation. They still stuck together, managed to do the same routines, and right after graduating, they frequented this bar halfway from where they all lived and that was how they ever knew of their time together.
The hard planes of his face softened as he saw the faraway look at Kenshin's face, the slight sigh that escaped his lips before drawing in for another sip as his eyes lingered on the ladies' bathroom door before swiftly shifting to a group of girls by the counter.
So at least he knew what a bastard he really is.
Sano supposed he could be blamed for half of the things that have happened to the three of them.
He was just recently engaged to Megumi a few months back, and Kenshin and Kaoru could not have been any happier for them. Sano was just bugged that perhaps his engagement and soon married life would start to affect his relationship with his two friends, it almost seemed his last desperate move to try putting the two of them together so they could literally grow "old" along with them. Besides, he sort of knew the two of them had it going ever since college. The fleeting glances, the knowing smirks, the off-handed high-fives that he knew left a certain palpable measure of warmth on their palms. At that time he thought he was just doing all of them a favor.
With a few whims with the help of Megumi and her sister Misao, things were giving light to a blossoming relationship that was Kenshin and Kaoru.
The notable playboy and the all-knowing artist just couldn't get their hands off each other especially at the first part of their "relationship" when they had to keep it a secret from everyone despite the secret of being unknowingly set up still skillfully hidden.
Things were looking up for everyone, and he could not mistake that Kenshin has been at his happiest as Kaoru became his first unofficial and official girlfriend. The dumb redhead couldn't settle for one girl for longer than a few weeks, and Kaoru couldn't have any more time of the day to keep a boyfriend. They both thrived with the similarity of their circumstances, so for a while it made sense.
Until towards the end of the relationship, things seemed to mellow down. Megumi deemed it was normal in relationships, but what scared Sano most was how things seemed to be more than just "mellowing down". Things were slowly dying between them. Like a slow, lonely death that couldn't be saved.
They had broken up saying that they would be better off as friends, and being romantically related (however natural as it seemed) would just put a dent on their deep-seated friendship had they gone through with their relationship any longer. They didn't want anything to change between them had things gone wrong. They invested too much of their lives being friends.
They claimed they both wanted to end it in friendly terms, and that nothing would change. Sano, Megumi, and Misao couldn't really contend with them as they started to see them fall apart and watched them try to painfully put everything back in order with a nonchalant and cheerful mask. When Sano was around, nothing really changed. They still exchanged the same old jokes, and rotated around a few drinks.
Except Sano noticed that Kenshin started to go out with more girls at once and Kaoru busied herself with media work and almost always appear late during their nights out together. He later then figured out it was to probably purposely miss Kenshin part ways with another random girl.
He was the perpetual playboy; she was forever going to be the quintessential independent woman. And Sano was going to live the rest of his life watching them grow apart as he starts his new life eventually without them.
Sano was brought back to the present when Kenshin put the glass down with a loud thud and clutch his head in between his hands. He groaned and Sano well knew it wasn't the whiskey.
20 minutes and Jou-chan hasn't come back.
"Fuck." He heard him mutter and he had to smirk at his rueful state. The brunette easily spread his arms over the backseat of the couch.
"Why, had not enough of those yet for the past weeks?" Kenshin slanted a glare at him before slumping over the table.
Apparently, they all knew that those two were hooked to each other more than they would ever admit to anyone. He first thought it was affecting just Kaoru. Looking at Kenshin now, he knew it was just as killing him as well.
Kaoru came back, the tips of her ears and nose slightly pink as well as the edges of her eyes skillfully hidden with some applied foundation and mascara.
"Sorry I had to be long. Ate some chili dogs on the way here. Hey, who drank my J.D.?" She settled on the couch opposite the two men and curiously looked over her empty drink, or moreover, the man behind the empty drink.
"Oh hi Kenshin." She said flippantly as she rummaged over her purse to fish out her phone to check for any messages. Kenshin in turn barely raised his head and tossed a careless wave and putting his hand back to cushion his head against the table that any onlooker would assume he just had a bad headache. Sano would have wanted him to see just how barely concealed Kaoru's distress was just so he could see how much both of them needed each other.
Sano had to give them props though. They acted so well on pretending everything was as they were, but he knew just how much of an effort it was to exhaust for the both of them.
"Oh, shoot. A client." Kaoru placed her blackberry inside her purse and winked at them sheepishly.
"On a Friday night? At ten in the evening?" Sano raised his brow suspiciously while being aware on how Kenshin inconspicuously listening through their conversation.
"It's just something I have to finish up before the week ends." She stood up and that meant no more questions.
"I'll see you later." She started walking towards the entrance and Kenshin finally raised his head to watch her leave. So she just said goodbye to Sano. Big deal. He huffed and ordered another round of J.D.
"What?" He tiredly looked back at Sano as if preparing himself for another earful of advice on relationships.
"Have you ever heard of the three-month rule?" Kenshin raised his brow and pursed his lips. So at least he knew this is going to lead to his failed relationship with the girl who just left to escape his presence.
Not bothering to hear his reply, "It's the number of months you're supposed to wait after a breakup before you start dating or in your case, hooking up." Sano fished out a few bills from his wallet and stood to put on his jacket.
"Just thought you should know why Jou-chan couldn't stand to see you lately. I mean," he then let out a disgruntled laugh, "You two just broke up, right?"
Sano crouched down to Kenshin and his voice lowered a notch down, "Just at least extend that courtesy to her, why don't 'ya? At least do that for someone who stuck to your bullshit for the last 27 years." He then left without second guessing to make sure he knocked some sense into the idiot.
It's his call to make things right.
And it's Kaoru's to give him another shot.
He may have known that their relationship may have died down for the past month, but he knew it was nothing that's beyond repair.
He didn't think he would be back facing this door after a few weeks. Last time he saw the pale blue wooden door was when… he was pushing her against it and desperately finding her house keys at the back pocket of her jeans while battling with her competitive mouth. Oh how turned on he was when she slipped her knee in between his legs and…
He shook his head. He shouldn't think about Kaoru that way. His ex-girlfriend. His best friend. His… ex-best friend? For the first time he wondered what was she to him. Moreover, he wondered what he was to her. He knew as much that as he stood in front of her door, she meant something to him. Just enough of something that for the first time in his lifetime he was going back for a girl. He just usually walked away and never looked back.
He raised his fist to knock on the door three times and never had he felt so nervous. He was sweating and cold at the same time. They hadn't really hung around just the two of them since the split. It was not as if they talked about it, it was just how they handled it. He went back to his old ways of picking up girls, and she busied herself with her work. Other than that, they hadn't really remained friendly with each other… only when they were in other people's presence especially Sano's.
He waited for her to open the door and he was just about ready for anything. He conditioned himself that she may not be in the brightest mood in seeing him, he wouldn't be either when someone knocks on his door with no absolute clear reason why. But as the door opened, he wasn't ready to see her like this.
Since the split, he never really took time to truly look at her. Somehow it made something inside him ache, wishing they didn't have to end things the way they were. Wishing he was man enough for her to stay.
Her nose was bright pink, and so were her cheeks. He would also normally tease her about her sensitive ears, but seeing how their tips were also a pale shade of pink shook him to his senses that she had been crying. She sniffled a little and wiped her nose with her long sweatshirt.
"Uh Kenshin. Hey," she cleared her throat and fixed her bangs.
For the first time, he looked at her. Truly looked at her. He knew just how much she was trying to hold back her tears, and the brightness of her blue eyes further dimmed upon seeing him. He mentally cringed.
He didn't know.
That after their "friendly" breakup, she would be hurting. And if that ache in his chest since they broke up grew any further, he was sure he was going to break too.
He brandished so much of his freedom since Kaoru, that he showcased his weekly girlfriend like an owner on a pet show. She did nothing but watch him move on with his life like she never happened. He knew just as much as Sano has that that was not the case. That was how he masked the pain.
"I'm sorry, I just came up with a cold. I –" she stopped mid-short when in two easy strides, he took her into his arms and buried his nose on the strange familiarity of the juncture of her neck where he knew was the perfect spot where her scent is the strongest.
"I'm sorry, too." He whispered near her ear and closed his eyes when she choked a sob and cried.
Reluctantly she returned the embrace and she burrowed herself deeper into his warmth.
He knew then and there, he was going to stay. With her. He was going to leave his old habits behind. He was going to start feeling alive again.
And Sano, that lucky bastard, was going to have a field day.