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The Fifth Flavor

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Inuyasha didn’t think he’d ever eaten this damn well. Like, ever. In a matter of three weeks he’d gone from living on nothing but plain instant noodles or camp rations (if he was out on assignment) to what tasted like nothing less than Michelin-starred fine fucking dining in comparison. 

There were actual colors to his meals besides brown, and ingredients he didn’t even recognize—how the fuck was he supposed to know “quinoa” wasn’t pronounced “kwin-oh-ah.” Kagome had broken into peals of laughter when he first tried to read it off the menu, and it was only the way his heart had done a funny little flip at the innocent joy in her face that kept him from snarling something rude and storming out in embarrassment.

Plus the cheeky wench seemed to delight in just watching him eat. Sure, there were a few times he got home at odd hours and missed normal dinnertime, but on those rare occasions there was always a bento box wrapped in a furoshiki cloth—the first time it was a cute one, pink with little fucking pawprints on it, and Inuyasha had almost dropped the damn thing in horror—set carefully on his stoop, with a note written in Kagome’s precise hand, detailing exactly how he was supposed to heat the sukiyaki donburi back up. (He’d returned that first box and wrapping—washed, he wasn’t an animal—the next day with a scrawled note of his own: “ Fucking hell, use a plain cloth next time, what do you think I am, five?! And way less shichimi. But the beef was good.” )

It was almost enough to make Inuyasha swear off instant ramen for the rest of his life. Almost. 

But for most evening meals, Inuyasha found himself at Shrine’s counter, being forced— or not so forced , his traitorous mind sometimes reminded him, as he let the petite woman bustle him onto a stool—into eating some strange concoction or another for dinner. Kagome practically stared him down as he ate, eyes constantly darting between his mouth and his eyes. If she was youkai he might have taken this constant surveillance as a fucking challenge, but Inuyasha could hear the way her heart kicked up a jackrabbit pace every time he took his first bite, literally smelling her relief whenever he grunted out that something was good, or the acrid tang of disappointment when he was forced to admit—albeit rarely—that a dish didn’t taste right.

He grew to love watching her behind Shrine’s counter after he had finished eating, wrapping up for the day. Kagome moved with fluid grace in the kitchen, deft hands chopping and stirring as she seemed to dance to a rhythm Inuyasha could never hear, no matter how he pricked his ears. She would talk to him, keeping up an almost constant stream of chatter as she complained about a frustrating diner or raved about whatever new produce her friend Sango had driven down. 

By the end of every evening, Kagome’s natural, heady scent of cloves and ginger pervaded the intimate space. Inuyasha sometimes felt he could get drunk on it alone, practically wanted to roll around in it like he was high on fucking catnip. Every so often Inuyasha thought she’d caught him taking a less-than-discrete inhale, but every time his eyes flickered to hers in his best “what the fuck are you looking at” glare, she would only smile and ask if he was still hungry.

Keh, maybe he was. Just not for food. It probably should have terrified him, the extent to which Kagome now infused his consciousness, waking and sleeping. He wanted to kiss her, touch her—hell, he thought, as he sat in his apartment, staring listlessly at his computer, he’d settle for merely spending more time with her.

And then there was his fucking photograph. How the fuck had she even gotten that? It hadn’t quite been the first print he’d ever sold, but damn if it hadn’t been embarrassingly early in his career. That particular picture had just been something he’d shot on a whim, a reason to use up one last frame in a roll of film, and he’d sold it for chicken scratch to the first gallery that had shown any interest, used the money to buy a handle of nice vodka and drank himself into tasteless oblivion like the proper starving artist he was. To hear that something he’d treated as an excuse to get wasted was the literal reason behind Kagome’s fucking restaurant’s fucking name had both flattered him and scared him shitless. 

It was an emotional combination that tasted more than a bit like shame, and it took a lot to shame Inuyasha Takahashi. Should I tell her I took it? 

But he’d been burned by his own fucking fame before. 

Carefully manicured nails dragging down his chest...sheets rustling...a camera flash reflecting almost perversely off the sheen of sweat on skin...a low feminine laugh...his own pleased rumble of approval as he posed Kikyo for another shot... 

An arrhythmic knock at his door jolted Inuyasha out of his increasingly morose spiral, and he glanced up from the flickering screen of his computer, photo half-edited in Lightroom, to discover that it was already dark. And he’d only culled and edited three out of...two-fucking-thousand shots. Great. 

Without properly scenting the air, Inuyasha stomped over to his door—kami, the person was still fucking knocking—and yanked the door open, ready to bite someone’s head off.

Fortunately—or unfortunately—it was his just gallery agent, Miroku. The dark-haired man had his hair pulled back into a short ponytail. Wearing a lavender leather down jacket, black crew-neck sweater and loose pleated trousers plus—was he really? —a thin gold chain, Inuyasha felt his irritation melt away in the face of his friend’s utterly inane fashion choices. At least he has the good sense not to wear cologne

“The noughties called, they want their puffy jacket back,” Inuyasha ribbed, holding the door open and jerking his head to invite Miroku in. He headed back and slumped on his ergonomic work chair; his friend could make himself at home.  

The ponytailed man wagged a finger at him reprovingly. “Now, now dear Inuyasha, don’t disparage fashion. This is the absolute latest in streetwear. Fresh off the catwalk! I am,” he said, gesturing to his own outfit and striking a pose, “the pinnacle of hip.”

Inuyasha snorted. “And my brother and I are bosom buddies.”

“One day you’ll see,” Miroku lamented, taking in Inuyasha’s unadorned red T-shirt and dark jeans with a mock sorrowful look. “Some bodacious babe will catch your eye and then you too will find yourself caring about complementary colors and pattern matching.”

“Keh. What’s wrong with how I look? I’m not ever in front of a camera, that’s the whole reason why I’m the fucking photographer.”

“Nothing, nothing,” Miroku soothed , prowling  around Inuyasha’s apartment. Catching sight of an uncharacteristically neat, wrapped bento box on the counter, he gave a pleased “ah-hah!” and pounced on the container, flinging the wrapping aside and immediately shoving a plump inarizushi of sweet, deep-fried tofu skin and rice into his gaping maw. 

“You bastard, I was saving those!” Inuyasha roared, leaping out of the chair and making a swipe with one clawed hand. He hadn’t gotten home that late, but Kagome had clearly headed out earlier than usual, so instead of getting to spend an evening in her sparkling presence like he wanted , there was just the box—wrapped and tied in a suitably plain linen cloth—at his door. Miroku, seeming to anticipate Inuyasha’s outburst, effortlessly danced out of the way, cheekily popping another into his mouth, making a semi-grotesque show of smacking his lips. 

Kagome made those for ME, they are MINE. A snarl ripped from the back of his throat, more than a hint of fang emerging as he practically bared his teeth. 

Miroku’s eyes widened a fraction at his best-friend-cum-best-client’s reaction but, though he wisely didn’t try to eat another, he still kept tight hold of the bento. These disappointingly bland inarizushi were clearly leverage

“How about we trade,” Miroku offered, slyly. “The sushi...for the SD card of processed photos from your Hida trip that is nearly three weeks overdue.”

“How about you give me the sushi and I don’t rip your fucking hand off.”

“Ah, ah, ah,” Miroku tutted, plucking out another sushi and holding it threateningly in front of his mouth by the tips of his fingers. “Don’t want another poor morsel to meet its doom, do you? Now, do you have the photos you promised me for review, or no?”

Inuyasha’s golden eyes flicked guiltily over to his still-active computer screen, and Miroku’s own dark ones gleamed, predatory grin deepening a fraction. 

“You’ll have the shortlist for me by tomorrow.”

“Friday.”

“I wasn’t aware this was a negotiation, Takahashi.”

“Make it Friday, and I’ll buy you a drink.” Inuyasha knew Miroku’s weakness: booze. Booze and the chance to hit on pretty women. 

“...”

“...I’ll buy your drinks for the whole evening,” Inuyasha ground out. What the fuck was he doing, practically risking bankruptcy, knowing how Miroku could put highballs back, for a couple dozen inarizushi. Even if they tasted like sweet, sweet sin. 

He stared Miroku in the eyes. Fuck, he could practically hear the gears in his conniving friend’s mind, and he tried to fix his face into something borderline contrite. 

“Deal,” Miroku finally said, handing the bento back to Inuyasha with a distinct lack of ceremony. Inuyasha had to stop himself from cradling it protectively into his chest, settling for giving it a few sniffs to make sure it still smelled, mmmm, heavenly, before wrapping it back up and putting it somewhere Miroku couldn’t reach. 

Except his jackass of a friend was just standing by the door, tapping his foot.

“What?” Inuyasha growled. 

“The deal was drinks, no?”

Now?! I thought you meant after the photos were fucking done. Who the fuck goes out on a Wednesday night?”

“We do,” Miroku smirked, cracking a smile that Inuyasha could only describe as “vindictive.” “I’m cashing my favor in. And I’ll still expect these photos on Friday. Morning. In person, at my office.” Inuyasha’s face blanched as he realized the odds were very high Miroku was going to keep him out all night, giving him only one, likely hung-over day, to get everything done. Plus a trip all the way over to Daikanyama. Fucking hell. Couldn’t he just renege? But the fucker knew where he lived after all...  

“Aren’t I magnanimous,” his now definitely-ex-best-friend continued as they headed out, Inuyasha locking the door behind them and leading the way down the street to the nearest not-shitty izakaya pub just a few blocks away—perks of the comparatively rough-and-ready neighborhood? Bars everywhere. This one was pretty well regarded among the locals for its cheap pints and addictively juicy karaage fried chicken, not that he’d dared to give it a try. He was more of a vodka guy or, if beer was his only option, something pale.

Within minutes the pair were pushing past the noren curtains at the entrance to the bar, and Inuyasha flattened his ears, bracing himself for a sensory assault on his entire person—the sudden stench of sweat and beer and (ugh) general motherfucking horniness; heat from twenty too many bodies; the overlapping sound of conversations echoing around the tiny space. He and Miroku pushed their way to two stools abutting the square counter, Miroku hollering out for two large Sapporo draft beers, which a harried-looking waitress dropped off a moment later.

“Cheers,” Miroku said with a cheeky grin, clinking his glass so enthusiastically against Inuyasha’s some of the foamy head slopped over the rim.

“Watch it!” Inuyasha hissed, looking for a shibori towel to wipe off his sticky hands. Not seeing one, he scanned the room for the waitress, prepared to summon her with nothing but the force of his fucking glare if needed and—what the fuck?! Was that Kagome?

A drunk-as-a-skunk Kagome?

She was giggling at a corner table cluttered with empty beer glasses together with another dark-haired woman Inuyasha assumed must be Sango. Kagome’s hair tumbled in a shining mass to her shoulders, her dark jeans hugged the sinful curve of her hips, and she had on a maroon blouse with an intricate, strappy neckline that did things to her cleavage Inuyasha’s frazzled brain could only react to with a desperate hrmmmghh.

As he watched, Kagome let out a particularly joyous laugh, throwing back her head and exposing the vulnerable hollow of her throat. Inuyasha saw several other men shoot more than appreciative gazes her way, and a displeased growl rumbled from his chest as his hand clenched involuntarily around his drink. How dare they look at her like she’s some sort of juicy fucking steak

Miroku, who was now well into a second pint, glanced over at his unusually surly friend—seriously, what had gotten into him today?—in confusion, but as soon as he caught sight of the two women he immediately smirked. 

A light jab in the ribs dragged Inuyasha’s attention back to Miroku. Kami, he could practically smell the man’s drunkenness already, even over the bar’s pervasive odor. But while he knew Miroku was a fucking lightweight (much though he’d deny it), he had an uncanny ability to stay conscious enough to match almost anyone drink for drink. He just got all wobbly and giggly and, and touchy-fucking-feely while doing it. 

“Sooooooo,” Miroku slurred, now slinging one arm around Inuyasha’s shoulders. “Which of those two lovely ladies has caught your eye?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, you lech.”

“Oh, come on, don’t be shy.”

“I’m not fucking shy,” Inuyasha retorted, taking another sip of his increasingly lukewarm beer—ugh —and forcing his gaze anywhere except towards the back corner, hoping Miroku would take the hint and just drop it and let them get on with drinking.

Unfortunately, it was almost impossible to deter Miroku from flirting with any woman with half-decent tits and ass, and before Inuyasha could stop him (or kill him), he hollered for the server, held up three fingers, pointed towards Kagome’s table and started. Walking. Over. 

Fuck.

Inuyasha downed the rest of his glass in a few sour gulps, the fizzy feeling of the alcohol starting to work its magic warming his belly, and headed after his now absolutely-definitely-ex-best-friend. He took sadistic pleasure in cutting off some other utter tool (seriously, who wore fucking fedoras unironically anymore) who had taken Miroku’s boldness as tacit permission to shoot his own shot with Kagome and Sango. The merest flash of fang had the wimp scuttling back to his seat. Damn straight, motherfucker. Fuck off, she’s mine.  

He arrived just in time to see Miroku attempt to kiss the knuckles of Kagome’s companion, and he bit back a laugh when Sango shot him an absolutely withering glare and yanked her hand out of his with a frosty “excuse you.” Inuyasha liked her already. 

“Yash!” Kagome exclaimed, sapphire eyes brightened by drink and delight. “Why are you beer? I mean here. I mean: Hi.”

“Miroku twisted my arm for a drink,” Inuyasha said, shooting him a look that he hoped expressed his ardent desire that Miroku say nothing about his nickname. “Didn’t expect to see you here,” he added, truthfully.

Kagome stuck out a hand for Miroku to shake. “Nice to meet you, I’m Kagome. I own the cafe downstairs from Yash.” Her voice slurred just the slightest—adorable, his brain provided, coherent this time—bit.

Just then the server arrived with Miroku’s order of drinks, and, along with Sango and Miroku, Inuyasha found himself cradling another (if only to keep it out of Kagome’s hands). An obligatory round of cheers later, Miroku gave Sango what he clearly thought was an alluring smoulder and asked, “So what brings you two peerless beauties here this fine evening?”

“Celebrating Kags!” Sango chirped with genuine pride. 

Kagome stuck both fists in the air: “Whooooooooo!” she shrieked, giving a little shimmy. Her shirt rode up, exposing a sliver of skin and Inuyasha’s brain went straight back to mush: mrgphhhhhhh

“What’re ya celebrating?” he asked, once his mouth could form actual human words again. 

“Shhhrine’s first month anniversary!” Kagome beamed. Then Inuyasha watched her face go through a remarkable series of emotional shifts—elated, puzzled, shocked, indignant—until she finally turned to face him with an expression he could only describe as “drunken righteousness.”

Guess she’s more drunk than I thought. Still, why is she so fuckin cute?

“Youuuuuuu,” she slurred, “were sssso wrong! Such a pretty face,” Kagome patted him amiably on the arm, “but all wrong! It has been a month and I am shtill in business!”

Ah, fuck .  Inuyasha cringed when he recalled his outburst—you’re gonna ruin the neighborhood —and his ears reflexively pinned back. Guess she never actually forgot about that.

Miroku still looked completely clueless, but Sango took a modicum of pity on the dejected hanyou, steering the topic back to celebratory themes.

“So Kags, honey, will you finally take my advice and get some proper PR done? You’re a killer chef but, girl, you’re a klutz with a camera.”

“You really think I should? But it’s so much moneyyyy,” Kagome whined, pushing out her lower lip into a pout. 

“Sango is right,” Miroku chimed in, sounding—suspiciously—helpful. “People eat with their eyes first, so it’s a great idea to have some PR shots of you and the space and all your best dishes ready for whenever the news crews come beating your door down. In fact, Yash here,” he said, emphasizing Inuyasha’s truncated name, “has got a pretty good eye and some gear, and hey, I bet he’d do it for free. Wouldn’t you, buddy?” He winked, not even trying to be subtle. 

That. Mother. FUCKER.

But Kagome turned her big, blue eyes all shining and hopeful and sweet, up at him and made that fucking pout—kami her lips looked soft and sweet —and shifted side to side like she couldn’t work up the courage to actually ask him and then Inuyasha found his resistance deflating like a souffle. “Yeah, I guess I could, uh, give it a try? If you want?”

Immediately she launched herself into his chest in a sloppy, enthusiastic hug, muttering thanks into his shirt. Beer spilled over his hand as he automatically moved to steady himself, feeling her warmth press flush against him for one glorious instant before she pulled away, leaving him bereft, to holler for more beer. 

Looking around and still not seeing any towels, Inuyasha absently licked some of the beer off his palm, not noticing the sour tang. Maybe this would be fine…

It was not fine. 

Inuyasha’s good mood lasted all until 2 a.m.—2 fucking a.m.—when he found himself trying to herd his three drunk companions out of the bar to go home. Stepping out from behind the curtain, he gulped in the cool Tokyo night air in relief, feeling his ears ringing slightly in reaction to the sudden (comparative) silence. Behind him, Miroku and Sango were bickering about whether or not she should come back to his place, while Kagome was doubled over in fits of hysterics. 

The crack of a hand on flesh drew his attention: Sango was clearly sober enough to warn Miroku, who was now rubbing his reddening cheek ruefully, off. 

“You pervert, you can go home by yourself,” she hissed, brushing him off to address Kagome, who had stopped giggling and was now yawning widely. “Kags, honey, where’s your apartment?”

“Kiyosumi-Shirakawa,” she mumbled. “Last train’s gone, gonna, mmmm, start walking.”

“You idiot,” Inuyasha barked, overtaken by a flash of red hot rage. “You can’t fucking walk home by yourself. No fucking way, not even in fucking Tokyo.” What was she thinking, staying out so late when she had no way to get home?

“Right,” he growled. “You—” he pointed to Miroku, “can get home however the fuck you want, I don’t care. You—” this time he pointed to Sango. “How are you getting home?”

“Taxi to an APA hotel near Ueno; I’m good.” She flashed a jaunty V with the fingers on one hand while tapping away on her phone with the other. 

“Fine. Kagome, you , are fucking coming with me.” He crouched down in front of her, making a little beckoning motion with his hands for her to clamber on. “Get on, ya can’t walk back like this.”

A long moment later—was the wench going to make him crouch here all night? —he felt her hands gently press into his shoulders, and he immediately hooked his hands beneath her thighs before she could change her mind, hoisting her up. Kagome wriggled for a moment to get comfortable, eventually ending up with her arms loosely linked around his neck. The feel of her warm breath on his skin as she nuzzled into his shoulder sent a shiver down his spine that went straight to parts of anatomy he didn’t even realize could be awake this late. Think un-sexy thoughts. Carabiners. Cold mushy oatmeal. Uh. Uh...Sesshomaru.

Taking a firm grasp of her legs, mindful his sharp claws didn’t puncture her denim, Inuyasha set off at a quick, but steady, pace back to his apartment, leaving Miroku and Sango to sort themselves out. 

And he’d now basically signed up to do pro bono work for Kagome. Goddammit, Miroku knew he didn’t do people photos, and half of PR work was headshots...

Inuyasha wasn’t sure she’d even remember what happened the next morning, but if she did, well, he’d just have to figure out a way to do just a good enough job that she’d like the photos, but not good enough she’d figure out exactly how professional a photographer he was. And who he was. Her photographic idol. Who had...not said anything to her about it. Gah.

As he mulled over how he could pull this off—maybe he could purposefully fuck with the composition somehow?—he could feel Kagome’s breaths evening out. As he rounded the corner to their building, Inuyasha did his best not to wake her as he climbed up the steps and fumbled with one hand to get his keys out of his pocket to unlock the door. 

Inuyasha gently laid Kagome out on his futon, crouching only to take off her shoes (so small!), which he left neatly lined up in his genkan and toss a light blanket over her, since the nights were still warm. He smiled slightly as she merely snuggled into his pillow, then turned and slung himself into the chair in front of his computer, dimming the light so it wouldn’t wake Kagome and snapping on the blue light-cutting glasses he always kept by the desk for late-night instances like this. 

He still had 2,426 photos to process before tomorrow. 

Just as he was about to start culling, his phone pinged with the annoying ringtone he’d set just for Miroku. Glancing down at the message, he had to give a soft snort of amusement: His best friend had texted him five eggplant emoji.