Megumi had just finished washing the dishes the next morning when Sanosuke came through the gate. "What a shame-you missed breakfast."
He grinned. "If you're upset about it, I'll stay for lunch."
"I'm not upset at all. Well, Notaro's ready when you are."
Sano and Megumi jumped at the new voice. A stunningly beautiful girl in her late teens ran through the gate and threw herself on Notaro, who was wriggling in a transport of joy.
"Ohagi?" Sanosuke raised his eyebrows.
"That's his name." The girl got to her feet. "I'm Fujiko Takashima, and I want to thank you for finding my dog. The police chief told me all about it-how you rescued him from the river and cared for him."
"Oh, he just loves ohagi. When he was a puppy, he ate a whole plateful that my mother had just made, and my father said we should call him Ohagi." Fujiko knelt down again, petting the big dog. "I thought he was gone forever!" She glanced reproachfully over her shoulder at a young man standing diffidently by the gate. "Yoshi promised to watch him and he lost him!"
"Fujiko, I told you a thousand times how sorry I am."
"Humph!" The girl turned her shoulder on Yoshi and smiled dazzlingly at Sano. "I want to give you a reward for saving Ohagi."
Megumi found herself getting more and more irritated at the way Fujiko was fawning on Sanosuke and now she snapped, "Give him a reward? I'm the one who should be rewarded-your dog ate a plateful of my ohagi, tore my kimono, and slobbered all over my new tatamis! The least you could do is pay for the damages."
Fujiko looked at Megumi as if she were some strange creature from another world, then turned back to Sanosuke. "I think you were awfully brave to risk your life in the river to save Ohagi. Yoshi didn't even know where he lost him."
"Fujiko!" The young man gritted his teeth.
"Hey!" Sano raised his voice. "You heard the lady. You lost her dog. If you were really her friend, you wouldn't have let that happen. The least you could have done was look for him."
Deprived of speech, Megumi sat down weakly on the porch. What on earth had gotten into Sanosuke? Oh, Fujiko was pretty, in a very common sort of way, but it wasn't like him to pick a fight with a stranger. Or was it? Had he suddenly fallen in love with this girl?
"I did look for him!" Yoshi shouted.
"You must not have looked very hard!" Sano shouted back. "Maybe you were glad he was gone!"
"That's not true!" The young man tore into the yard and stood face to face with Sano. "I'd do anything for Fujiko-I looked all over Tokyo for her dog!"
"Then I guess he must be a lot smarter than you, because you didn't find him," Sanosuke sneered.
At that, Yoshi drew back his fist and threw a punch at Sano. Megumi's jaw dropped as she saw it connect and Sano's eyes roll up in his head. He collapsed face down and Megumi threw herself on her knees next to him. "Sanosuke!" She rolled him over. He was out cold, and she cradled his limp body protectively, glaring at the young man who looked almost as surprised as she felt. "You two take your dog and get out of here!"
They left, Fujiko taking Yoshi's arm and saying, "Oh, Yoshi, you're so big and strong!" and Megumi watched them go, seething, then turned her attention back to Sano.
"Sanosuke, can you hear me?"
He opened his eyes and looked around cautiously, then sat up. "Are they gone?"
"Oh!" Megumi jumped to her feet. "I thought you were hurt!"
Sano got up and dusted himself off. "That hit wouldn't have killed a fly."
"How could you scare me like that!" Megumi's hands were balled into fists and her voice was shaking.
"I'm sorry." Sanosuke hung his head. "I just….couldn't you see how upset that poor guy Yoshi was? His girl was giving him a really hard time, and I thought I'd help him out. She was all mad at him and now she thinks he's a hero."
Megumi's anger melted away. Sano was the most aggravating person she had ever known, and the kindest, most generous-hearted man in the world. "You've got a black eye," she said quietly.
He shrugged. "Small price to pay."
"Still…." The young woman smiled. "Maybe Fujiko was right and you do deserve a reward." He eyed her speculatively and she went on, "Come on. I'm taking you to lunch at the Akobeko."