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The Fifth Flavor

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Kagome’s head hurt. For several long moments she lay absolutely still, taking slow, controlled breaths and fighting against a vicious throbbing in both temples. 

What happened? Hazy recollections of many—too many—fizzy beers; laughing uproariously with Sango; Yash's golden eyes glittering in wry amusement and the way the hard, toned lines of his torso felt pressed against her feminine softness; the aroma of petrichor and pine swam to the surface before a rolling wave of nausea nearly forced another whimper from her throat.

Her tongue felt heavy, like it was coated in a thick layer of moss—practically tasted that way, too—and she swallowed weakly. When not even a hint of moisture trickled down her parched throat, Kagome let out what she knew was an utterly pathetic groan, as if that would magic a glass of water to her side. 

She forced crusty eyelids open and blinked until the fuzzy visage in front of her gradually shifted into focus. 

Huh. There, just in front of her, was a sturdy glass two-thirds filled with water. Two plain, white tablets—what she could only assume were painkillers—rested on a tissue paper next to the glass. Maybe fairies do exist, Kagome thought fervently as she gingerly propped herself up on one arm and took a tentative sip of water, following it with the two pills and another larger gulp when the first one seemed to stay down.

I am never drinking again

After another few deep breaths to ensure her stomach was under control, Kagome finally took stock of her surroundings.

She was lying on a simple futon, albeit one of high-quality, if the luxurious plushness was anything to go by. A light blanket was twisted around her legs which were, Kagome noted with some relief, still clothed in the same jeans she’d been wearing the day before. In fact, she was still wearing all her clothes, albeit now quite wrinkled and—she crinkled her nose as she caught a whiff of stale cigarette smoke—ugh, gross. 

The tatami-covered room was fairly spacious, though somewhat lacking in the furniture department. Besides the futon there was a wooden table with squat foldable legs propped up against the wall next to a much larger and more permanent-looking work desk that fairly groaned under the weight of the three computer monitors, screens dark, spread precariously across its entire surface. Kagome nearly winced at how the desk’s load pressed it into the tatami—that would definitely leave a dent. An empty ergonomic chair, one of those fancy swivel ones, was left awkwardly in the middle of the room, as if someone had pushed away to stand up in a hurry and then just left it there. Straight in front of her was a tiny kitchen equipped with—from what she could see—nothing more than a refrigerator, microwave, two-burner stove, and rice cooker; just to the side was the doorway that led to what she assumed was the bathroom. 

And...that was it. No other hints of personality—no accumulated knickknacks or framed photos, not even a cheap poster ripped from a dirty magazine affixed to the wall with sticky putty— graced the space; there was no sense of who lived there. It was pure function, the equivalent, she thought, of people who said that food was “just fuel.” Where was she? 

Just then, a soft rattle outside the door caught Kagome’s ear, and she felt her heart leap into her throat as the door oh-so-slowly eased open. Ohmigosh, what if it’s a serial killer? Or an axe murderer? A serial killer axe murderer? Or what if it’s

“YASH?!” she shrieked, spiraling thoughts of being chopped into tiny pieces in a random Tokyo apartment dissolving instantly as she caught sight of the familiar silver-haired hanyou. “What are you doing here?”

He froze halfway through the door. Golden eyes locked with hers for a moment, then he heaved a long-suffering sigh as he shuffled back into motion, kicking off his sandals haphazardly in the genkan. A white plastic bag Kagome recognized from the konbini around the corner crinkled in his hand. 

“Waddaya mean what am I doing here, I live here woman. Keh.”

“I’m in your apartment?” Kagome asked, still feeling a bit thick. Treacle-y. 

“Where else would you be? Sure as fuck couldn’t get you to your place.” he said in exasperation. “You do remember last night, dontcha?”

“Uhhhhh…” she stalled, scrambling for a more coherent memory than brief flashes of tipsy celebration. “You...carried me?”

Yash grunted, tossing the plastic bag on the counter. He turned on the faucet, splashing water over his face. “Keh.”

“Thanks,” Kagome said quietly. A brief silence fell, Kagome fiddling with the hem of her jeans; Yash standing absent-mindedly at the sink, neither knowing quite what to do, or say. As Kagome plucked at a loose thread, idly wondering if she’d be able to talk Yash into letting her freshen up in his shower, the sudden thought of her, naked, in his apartment, caused an icy tendril of fear to run down her spine about what else could have happened the previous night. 

“Yash,” she asked, “after you carried me home, we didn’t, um, that is to say, nothing, ah...happened?” Her voice trailed off weakly. She didn’t really think they’d done anything improper, but…

Yash’s face flushed red then went very, very white. “What—? NO—!” he snapped, golden eyes flashing. “What the fuck kind of man do you take me for Kagome. You really think I would take advantage of a drunk, unconscious woman and have my fucking way with her? Is that what you think me capable of?” He let out an honest-to-goodness growl, flexing his fingers on the counter, and Kagome winced at the scraping of his claws.

“No, woman, all that fucking happened is I carried you home, put you on the futon, and then I worked all night at the computer because I was behind on work since I spent the whole evening babysitting you and Sango and Miroku. Kami.” 

Although she hadn’t truly thought Yash had touched her like that, Kagome still felt her pounding heart ease slightly at his vehement denial.

“I know you’re not that kind of person,” she said, quietly. “I just, I had to hear you say it.” 

He gave a grunt, not really meeting her eyes. Looking at him more closely, Kagome saw deep purple circles under his eyes, and his ears drooped slightly at the tip. Wow he actually looks worse than I feel, and that’s saying something.

“And you were damn heavy, woman. S’all your cooking I suspect.”

“Yash!” Kagome mock-gasped, trying to ease the atmosphere with some sort of joke, “are you calling me fat?”

He flashed a tired smirk her way. “Course not.”

Emboldened by the easing tension—and very aware of her own hangover breath—Kagome scooted off the futon and kneeled to fold it into rough thirds in order to keep the bottom of the mattress from getting moldy in the late summer humidity. Rising to her feet with an oof, she turned back to Yash—and no, she didn’t miss how his eyes flashed quickly up from her ass to her eyes—and offered him a smile of her own. 

“Would it be OK if I used your shower quickly? I feel,” she wrinkled her nose as another tobacco-y whiff rose up from her blouse, “like I definitely spent the night in the same clothes I went to a bar in.”

“Yeah, sure,” he said quickly. “Oh, and, uh...here.” 

Yash reached into the plastic convenience store bag and handed her a plain toothbrush, still in its plastic carrying case. “Just thought you might want that,” he mumbled. “I didn’t have any spares.”

Kagome felt her cheeks pink as she turned the toothbrush over in her hands. He’d gone out and gotten it for her simply because he thought she’d want to brush her teeth when she woke up

“Thanks,” she said again for the second time that morning. “Truly, Yash, I appreciate it.”

He brushed off her words with a huffed “keh,” but the corners of his mouth tipped up. Then he opened the door to the ofuro room off the main living space, a decently sized bathroom that was as unsurprisingly spartan as the rest of his apartment: The small amount of counter space by the sink only had a plain cup with a single toothbrush, a half-empty tube of toothpaste in a brand Kagome had never seen before—tilting her head to read the kanji, she saw it said “for youkai”—and a hairbrush. 

Yash plopped a thick red towel into her arms and jerked his head towards the shower door. “It’s nothing fancy so you can probably figure it out. I’ll just, uh, be in the main room.” 

Kagome shut and locked the door behind the hanyou, and only then peeled off her sweaty, smoky clothes, giving them a shake to smooth out some of the wrinkles—that was how it worked, right?—and laid them out flat, hoping some of the steam would help. Then she cracked open the glass door to the shower and sank down onto the little plastic stool, flipping the water on and just letting it cascade over her with a grateful sigh. As the water pounded over her neck and shoulders, she felt the last of her headache fade away. Bliss

Not wanting to take too long, she eventually lathered up with soap, giving herself a quick rinse before tackling her hair, working a large dollop of shampoo—both soap and shampoo were scentless, she noticed; did that mean, mmmm, that Yash’s woodsy smell was all natural?—into a thick foam and working it into her scalp. 

When she finally stepped out from the shower, Kagome felt like a new woman. One who could take on the day—and any smoking-hot hanyou—with some measure of aplomb. Or try to, at any rate. She grimaced a bit at having to put on the same clothes (though she knew there was no helping it), and, not seeing a hair dryer, elected to quickly plait her hair into a braid, hoping that would minimize frizz as it dried. Not entirely sure what to do with the towel, she ended up tossing it on an empty hook on the back of the door. 

“Yash?” she called, poking her head out into the main room, intended to ask him where it should go. 

He was back in the work chair, staring intently at the computer, but before he swiveled around, he quickly darkened the screen so she couldn’t see what had kept him up all night. What did Yash do for a living, anyways? I don’t think he ever said...maybe he’s the reclusive coding type? 

But before she could finish her question, Kagome caught sight of her arch nemesis. It was sitting on the desk next to the computer: Slick, black, neon green. Vile.

It was an open can of Monster Energy.

“How can you drink that crap?!” she practically shrieked, towel question completely forgotten. 

Yash started at her vehement outburst, but followed her accusing finger to the empty can and guiltily grimaced. “It’s nasty as shit but keeps me awake when I need to. Woulda collapsed long before now without it.” 

“I can’t believe you ever said my cooking could be bad,” Kagome grumbled. “Not if you can stomach that nasty, toxic garbage. Youkai senses my ass.

At this he laughed, reaching over to tweak her damp braid. “Ahhh, jealous of a soda can, woman?” he teased. “Don’t worry, your cookin’ is still first in my heart,” he continued, putting on a fake country drawl. 

Mollified by his praise—even if it was somewhat put-on—Kagome contented herself with shooting the can a glare and flipping it off, prompting Yash to let out a bark of laughter. 

“Alright, alright,” he said. “I’ll toss it if it’ll make you feel better. Though you’ll have to bear with its presence in my kitchen for another week; it’s too late to take out recyclables today, the truck already came.”

“Fine, fine,” Kagome said. Then, as she processed Yash’s words, she let out another shriek, this time in panic. The morning garbage collectors had already come by. The morning. Garbage. Collectors. “What time is it?” she gasped. 

“11, why?” he replied, perplexed.

“I AM SUPPOSED TO OPEN SHRINE IN 30 MINUTES. Yash. Why didn’t you tell me? Where are my shoes? Fuck, I have to go to open the kitchen and figure out what to feed people who will be coming and expecting actual food for lunch in 30 minutes.”

She was already at the genkan, fumbling with her overly strappy shoes from the previous evening, cursing her own idiocy and kami why couldn’t her fingers get this buckle closed

“But it’s Thursday,” Yash said behind her, still sounding way too unconcerned for the level of panic she was feeling. Her heart was pounding like a bass drum in her chest and Kagome could feel tears pricking in the corners of her eyes. How could I be this dumb? Making it one month doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly this superpro!

“Kagome. It’s Thursday. Shrine is closed on Thursdays. No one is coming and expecting lunch. Well, except me, maybe.”

It’s. Thursday. Yeah, the whole reason I even agreed to go out with Sango was because I knew the restaurant would be closed the next day. Because I have half a working brain. Or at least Sango does. I should text her so she doesn’t think that Yash is an axe murderer and that I’m dead.  

Still trembling a bit from residual panic, Kagome let out a whoosh of air and plopped down at the genkan stoop. In an unusual fit of tact, Yash eased himself down next to her and just sat with her in silence, breathing steadily in... and out...  

“I promise,” Kagome said weakly, once she felt like her voice wouldn’t tremble (how embarrassing), “that I’m not usually this spastic.”

“I know,” Yash’s voice was a soothing rumble that she felt in her bones. “Passion isn’t always pretty, Kagome. I know that. You know that. And we both know how damn fucking hard you work every day to make Shrine the fucking amazing place it is. Hell, even I can tell that, and my palate is as uncultured as shit.”

“Actually,” Kagome mumbled, “shit has a lot of microbiotic cultures in it.”

“Quiet woman!” Yash said, but his gentle—unexpectedly, tenderly gentle—tone belied his brusque words. “Point is, anyone with half an ounce of sense can taste how much love you put into your food. And you don’t need to be embarrassed about caring in front of me. I won’t hold it against ya.”

Feeling the tension seep out of her shoulders, Kagome allowed Yash to offer her a calloused hand, pulling her to her feet. Once again kicking off her poorly buckled shoes, she looked around for her phone, spotting it charging in the corner. 

Quickly unlocking the screen, she gulped to see the 18 unread messages from Sango. They started off calm— Hey Kags, hope Yash got you back OK! What a night! Don’t forget to ask him about the photos! —but grew increasingly frantic with each hour she hadn’t replied. The last one was in all caps: GIRL U BETTER CALL ME RITE NOW OR I AM KICKING THAT INU HANYOU’S ASS FROM HERE TO TIMBUKTU.

Kagome’s thumbs flashed across the keypad— Am OK. Just slept in. HANGOVER!!!!!!!! <3 —letting her friend know she wasn’t dead in an alley somewhere in Minowa before the tough-as-nails farmer actually did come over to hand Yash his ass on a silver platter. 

There was also another from a number she’d just entered as “TakoHandMan” that just had a ;) emoji. Who? 

Before she could put one of her few working brain cells towards the mystery, her phone pinged with another text from Sango: Ohthankkami. 

And another: Kags don’t scare me like that! I’d have thought that grumpy idiot had really done something to you if Miroku hadn’t texted to say he said you were fine. 

Who??? Kagome texted back. 

Ping. Uh, I think you called him TakoMan at one point. Yash’s friend? The one who suggested he take pics for you?

That...maybe rang a teeny, tiny bell. Oh yeah, I think he sent me a stupid text. WW. <a href="#WW" name="WWback"><sup>1</sup></a>

Ping. WW I believe it. But pervy as he is, the idea is a good one nail Yash down for dates/times!!!!!!

Kagome sent Sango a quick thumbs up emoji before unplugging her phone and tucking it in the back pocket of her jeans. It had been a roller coaster of a morning—from waking up in a strange place, to the sheer panic over almost failing her customers (and herself), to Yash’s sincere, uplifting words. It surprised her, just how comfortable she felt around the hanyou, even with their occasional spats. She was so...much—too bubbly, too feeling, to heart-on-her-sleeve, and he managed to balance out her exuberance with his gruff simplicity and brusque caring. If she was a firework, he was a banked fire—radiant, warming, with flickers of beauty if you knew where to look. And she wanted to feed that.

Starting with this lunch, where she’d get Yash to officially commit to taking PR photos for her because, as much as she hated to admit it, Sango was right. 

“Yash, I’m going to head downstairs and make lunch for us, want to come down in 20 minutes?”

“Yeah, I’ll come down after I shower.”

“Great!” she chirped, consciously not thinking about him shirtless. Showering. Naked. Nopenopenopenope mind out of the gutter, Kagome. “It won’t take too long to whip up something, so come down whenever you’re, uh, clean.”

Kagome slipped her feet into her shoes, leaving the straps unbuckled this time—thank kami she kept a spare pair of crocs in Shrine’s kitchen for times like this, cooking all day in heels would have been murder on her feet—and clattered down the stairs to Shrine’s front door. It was locked and she didn’t actually have her keys, but she’d discovered that the old door never really locked properly, so with a targeted jiggle and one quick and dirty heave, she managed to open the sliding door and step inside, careful to keep the big “closed” sign facing out, lest anyone assume she was open for business. 

Now...what to make. It needed to be something where a single bite would make Yash re-commit to her photographic demands. Ramen was the obvious choice, but she didn’t have any broth on hand. Hmmm, what about...hiyashi chuuka? Chilled noodles topped with ham, thin-sliced omelette, cucumber, a piquant soy sauce broth (well, she’d tone down the lemony acidity for Yash of course)—what’s not to love?

Thus decided, Kagome set about slicing the vegetables and cured ham, cracking and whisking a few eggs before cooking them in  several thin layers on a greased pan, julienning the result into slender, golden strips. She boiled water for the noodles, soaking them in a bowl of ice water as soon as they were al dente before dividing them into two bowls; pouring a simple soy sauce, vinegar, sesame and yuzu citrus broth over the top; and arranging the sliced toppings in a colorful rainbow. 

Just as she finished plating the last bit of egg, Yash rapped twice on the glass window pane. Kagome beckoned him in, and he slipped into her restaurant, sniffing the air with noticeable appreciation. Even her relatively dulled human senses picked up on his growling stomach. 

Without ceremony, the two tucked into their respective bowls, slurping up the refreshing starchy goodness with abandon. Yash inhaled his in record time, and Kagome, for once, found herself on the receiving end of his fixed stare while she ate. 

So what if she licked up the last of the broth around her lips with extra...thoroughness. 

When they’d both finished, Yash whisked the two bowls to the sink and began rinsing them, along with the rest of the pots and pans; Kagome took up a post at his side, drying dishes with a clean cloth as he passed them to her. 

Finally, when she felt it was impossible to put off any longer, Kagome simply blurted out, “So will you still take photos for me?”

She practically felt him stiffen next to her, though he passed off the last dish—her deep pot that she used to boil water—without fumbling. 

“To be honest, I wasn’t sure you’d remembered that,” he admitted, shutting off the tap. “You were...pretty damn drunk.”

“Sango has been adamant in reminding me. And if you’re still willing, it would mean the world to me.”

Dishes done, they returned to Shrine’s counter, taking up their usual places—Yash posed like a gargoyle on a stool, all angles and limbs; Kagome, unable to keep still, looking for something to do with her hands in her main cooking space. She settled for polishing some of the silverware, whether it really needed it or not. 

“I’m willing,” Yash said slowly, avoiding eye contact, “but Kagome, I don’t really...fuck, this is hard. Fuck. Uh. I’m not usually comfortable with...taking portraits. I can take photos of the space. I can take photos of the food. But I don’t know if I can take photos of you. Not the ones that you fucking deserve.”

Half-convinced his ramble was just lead-up to turning her down completely, Kagome felt too relieved to really process his words, waving off his protests with the hand that still held a few partially polished spoons. 

“Honestly, whatever you can do is better than what I’ve got now. They don’t have to be professional quality, Yash, promise. Just tell me what you need me to do.”

They quickly set up a plan: He’d come in on Sunday, the next day Shrine was closed, and Kagome would make a few of her signature dishes and fan favorites for him to photograph while the light was good. (Kagome made a mental note to see if Sango could drive down a few of the ingredients she needed during her usual weekly trip.) Yash begged off taking posed portraits, so they compromised by saying that he would stop by whenever he had time to take candid shots, though he’d advised her to put a sign up on the door saying there may be filming going on and that anyone who came in to eat was tacitly agreeing to potentially be photographed. Kagome didn’t mind the casual nature of it, feeling that staged photos would have felt too fake and antithetical to Shrine’s entire homey vibe. Yash adamantly refused her offer to pay him—“your food is enough payment, woman”—though they still officially shook  on it, at Kagome’s insistence. 

The next few weeks flew by. Yash returned on Sunday as promised, toting a—to Kagome’s layman’s eyes—surprisingly slick-looking camera and several different lenses. Sango perched on a stool, watching and making snarky comments as Kagome plated dish after dish, Yash’s discerning eyes picking out stray smudges and spots of sauce he insisted she tidy up before he posed the plate first on the counter, then by the window, frowning and angling it this way and that. She watched with interest as he peered through the lens and snapped several shots, fiddling with something on the camera screen and then snapping several more. For one dish—a butterflied and fried mackerel with a side of cabbage slaw, pickles and lemon wedges—Yash was so unsatisfied with something about how the fish and the salad were angled on her plate, he demanded she remake it three times before declaring the photos “acceptable.”

He was more unobtrusive when photographing her. Several times during the week she’d feel eyes on her and look up to realize Yash was training his camera in her direction, but he never announced his presence and often, when Kagome got a moment to breathe in the kitchen and looked around for him, she discovered he’d slipped out. 

I wonder what I look like when I’m cooking. Kagome mused as she tidied up after a completely chaotic Friday evening—Shine had been packed with couples on dates. All she wanted to do was head back to her apartment, flop on her couch, and have a glass of wine (or three, who was she kidding). She just needed to go through Shrine’s social media and email, do her due diligence.

Dear Higurashi-sama, the latest email began. 

This is Yura from the editorial section of Casa Brutus magazine. Our next issue is focusing on youkai-friendly spaces in Tokyo, and we’ve learned that your restaurant has a reputation for offering delicious, healthy food that caters to a variety of “sensory conditions.” We’d love to feature Shrine. Would it be possible to set up a time in the next week for a reporter and staff photographer to conduct a short interview with you? I’d be grateful if you could let us know what dates and times are most convenient.

Looking forward to working with you, 

Yura

No. Freakin. Way. 

Brutus was one of the lifestyle and culture publication lines in Japan, and making it into Casa Brutus—one of the dedicated holistic design magazines—was like affirmation from “those in the know” that you had made it. Kagome stopped what she was doing and immediately wrote back, letting Yura know that she was able and willing to have Casa staff stop by any afternoon the following week (she could always close Shrine for an afternoon if she needed to, for this). Despite the late-ish hour, within 30 minutes she had a reply from Yura thanking her for her prompt message and suggesting the following Wednesday at 3 p.m., after the lunch rush. A few more emails later and Kagome had locked in the interview with Yura herself and one of the magazine’s photographers.

Ohkamiohkamiohkami.

She shot off a text to Sango who immediately replied with about two dozen exclamation marks. Wednesday couldn’t come soon enough. 

Then again: Maybe it could. 

Why am I so nervous? Kagome fretted, wringing her hands on a towel. 

It was 2:55 p.m. The last of Shrine’s lunch diners had left just a few minutes prior, leaving a frazzled Kagome to flit around and tidy up dirty dishes and askew chairs. What if she just embarrassed herself? What if Yura came and took one look around and said that there had clearly been some mistake, and they couldn’t include Shrine in the magazine after all. 

“Boo.”

She felt a warm puff of breath on the back of her neck and squealed, whirling around to find Yash smirking at her, holding his camera in one hand. 

“Yash, you startled me!”

“Sorry,” he said, looking entirely not sorry at all. “Why’s the place all empty?”

Kagome started to raise her hand to her mouth like a stereotypical sitcom character. “Oh, Yash, I completely forgot to tell you. I have a reporter and photographer from Casa Brutus coming, uh, any minute now for an interview.”

His fluffy ears drooped a bit. “I guess congrats are in order,” he mumbled. “Don’t need me for photos, then, anyhow.”

He turned to go, but Kagome snagged him by the arm. “No, please, stay,” she pleaded. “I could really use the moral support.” Yash disentangled himself from her grip with a gruff “keh,” but rather than storming out—as she suspected he might have, once—he merely took up a brooding post in the back. And just in time: There was a polite rap on the door, and Kagome gave Yash a shaky smile before heading over to open it. 

The editor, Yura, was just as chic as Kagome had imagined, with a sharp-as-razors bob Kagome knew she could never pull off, and a swipe of blood-red eyeshadow on each lid. Yura greeted Kagome with a warm smile, and the two went through the expected ritual of exchanging meishi, making appropriate greetings. 

After popping Kagome’s business card into a slim case, Yura stepped aside and said, “This is one of our photographers, Koga.”

“Sup cutie,” the tall, ponytailed man said, his sharp eyes taking in the space. He was hauling a camera similar to Yash’s, and had one of those large, white diffuser screens Kagome often saw at model shoots in the park tucked under one arm. “Looking forward to working with ya.” A low warning growl from the back of the room drew everyone’s attention. 

“Oh? Who’s this?” Yura asked. 

“This is Yash,” Kagome introduced. “He’s...a friend,” she finally said, struggling with how to describe him. Friend? Neighbor? Hot hanyou I’d like to kiss?

Yash and Koga exchanged glares, each sizing the other up. Koga’s eyes narrowed as he took in Yash’s defensive pose and closed-off expression, locking on to his hair and ears, which were pricked forward. “Yash. Yash. Yashhhh. Don’t I know you from somewhere? You look familiar.”

“Don’t think so, wolf ,” Yash grunted. Koga’s nostrils flared in return and he grimaced. “Ugh, mutt.”

Kagome’s own eyes narrowed at the almost slur, and she opened her mouth to give Koga a piece of her mind, photographer for a fancy-schmancy magazine or no, when Yura clapped her hands together brusquely.

“We shouldn’t keep Higurashi-sama all day now, so let’s start, shall we?” She pulled out a tape recorder from a pocket, taking charge of the situation. “You don’t mind if I record, do you? No? Excellent. Now let me just ask you a few questions to start. Koga, why don’t you start with detail shots of the interior?”

Koga, who was—Kagome noticed, now that she was looking—indeed a wolf demon, acquiesced with surly grace, setting down the diffuser and starting to stroll around the space, camera in tow. Inuyasha sent one last glare in his wake before settling down onto one of the stools, close enough for Kagome to draw some comfort from his presence. At least one person truly likes my food. I deserve this. I deserve this! I’m a boss chef bitch. 

Yura engaged Kagome in a few fluff questions—her name, age, when Shrine opened—before segueing smoothly into questions about Kagome’s vision and mission for the space and the philosophy behind her food. She found herself opening up to the woman, speaking honestly about how important food and family was to her, how her dad encouraged her to pursue her passions, and her goals to prioritize local produce, but in a way that felt accessible to—she glanced over at Yash—everyone. Yura nodded along, asking appropriate followup questions and seeming truly interested in where Kagome sourced her produce. Periodically she heard the shutter snap from Koga’s camera in the background. 

Suddenly, there was a startled shout from where Koga was peering at her prized photo. 

“I knew it! I knew I recognized you from somewhere.” The wolf demon whirled around, glaring at the hanyou. “Bloody hell, you’re Inuyasha Takahashi! That signature just confirms it—I saw the same one at the Tokyo International Photography Competition exhibition a few years ago, when you’d won the Grand Prix with that sexy nude photo series.” It was like Koga’s mouth was a faucet that’d been turned on full blast. “Kami, you have such an eye for light and shadow, the way you played up her curves, and oh the black-and-white one where it was just her hair covering everything, perfection. And the one where you were both nude in the shot? With that ‘just-fucked’ afterglow? Damn.” He gave an appreciative wolf-whistle. 

“You’d brought the model, Kikyo, with you to the ceremony, right? The one in the photos with you? She was plastered to you the whole evening.” Koga smirked at Yash, something that was probably meant to be some sort of male commiseration, but just came off as sleazy. “Swore I almost saw her with her hand down your slacks in a corner at one point, buddy. Shame you two didn’t last long after that, though, word was it was a rough breakup. Actually,” Koga fixed his gaze on Kagome, giving her a quick appraisal. “If your hair was a bit longer, you and Kikyo could be twins. Guess Inuyasha has a type.”

Disassociating somewhat, Kagome realized they made for a bizarre tableaux: Koga was smiling at Yash—Inuyasha?—triumphantly; Yash was staring back at him in abject horror; Yura was looking intrigued, turning to point her recorder toward the two; and she...was confused. It felt like everything she thought she knew about Yash had been turned on its head, and she didn’t know what to think. But she did know she didn’t want to hear this. Any of it. 

“Who?” She didn’t know if she meant Yash or whoever this Kikyo woman—who Yash had liked enough to take postsex nude photos with—was.

“You really don’t know? He’s Inuyasha Takahashi, a bloody famous photographer,” Koga repeated, as if she was stupid. “Like, Michelin-level equivalent photographer.”

Only just catching sight of Yash’s camera, which he’d set down on the counter, Koga gaped. “Man, I thought after the thing with Kikyo you’d given up on anything but nature stuff. Not that,” he backtracked quickly, “it’s not amazing, of course. But if he’s taking photos of you,” this bit was again directed at Kagome, “you’re a lucky woman.”

Kagome felt like she was two ingredients short of a stew. Something wasn’t connecting. Yash wasn’t saying anything. Why wasn’t he saying anything

“Is this a joke?” she asked weakly. “Like, ‘ha-ha, your friend has secretly been a celebrity this whole time, you’re on candid camera?’”

But Yash only looked at her mutely, golden eyes as closed-off and shadowed as the first time she’d seen him. Yura, better sensing the mood than Koga, who was both gleeful at having played Sherlock Holmes and thrilled to meet, clearly, a photographic idol, murmured that she had plenty of interview material to get started and would be back in touch if she had any follow-up questions.

That left Kagome alone with Yash—no, with Inuyasha Takahashi, apparently a photographer so famous his name was as well-known in art circles as Anthony Bourdain was in hers—in her dinky little restaurant. The photographer who had taken her favorite photo, her dad’s last gift to her before his passing. The photographer who knew this, but had said nothing. The photographer who apparently took sexy photoshoots with gorgeous women, but wouldn’t take a single measly portrait of little Kagome Higurashi.

“Say something,” she said. 

“I’d never meant you to find out,” he replied, voice hollow. “It’s not something I go around telling people.”

“You said you didn’t take photos of people. But today I learn that not only do you, apparently, win international prizes, you do so for nudes that you took together with your model. Who you apparently also sleep with. What am I supposed to think, Yash? It feels like you used me, like I’m some pathetic, stale second offering. Some sort of pity case.”

“Kagome, it’s not like that,” he pled. He reached out to grasp her shoulders, but she pushed him off, cradling her arms against her chest protectively.

“I wouldn’t know what it’s like, Inuyasha, because how could I? You clearly had no intentions of telling me anything. I gave you so much of myself, of my food, because I thought what we had—what I thought was a friendship, what could have been something more — meant something and you...gave me nothing. You know,” she let out a cold chuckle, “I had this cute little vision of you as a coder or programmer or something, with all your computers and strange working hours. I created this whole fantasy Yash, who was gruff and maybe a little awkward, sure, but also kind, caring and...perfect for me. The right flavor. But it took this second-bit fashion visionary wannabe revealing that you’re actually some industry hotshot and, oh, that I didn’t even know your real name. Was it fun,” she continued bitterly, “to watch me struggle and scramble and make a fool of myself in front of you with my ‘hippy-dippy dreams?’ I think,” she swallowed, trying to get rid of the bitter taste in her mouth, “I need some space.”

“Kagome, wait, no, let me explain,” he cried. She had to steel herself against the raw pain and regret in his voice. Inuyasha’s golden eyes bored into her own blue ones, and there was such a depth of emotion there that Kagome felt herself wavering, wanting to give him a second chance. 

But Kagome knew that whoever this half-demon was, she didn’t know him. And didn’t know if she could bear to. 

“Yash,” she said, and he looked so goddamn hopeful for a moment, she felt tears well up in her eyes. “No. I need you to leave.”

Inuyasha looked like he wanted to protest, but after a moment he simply gave her one last, long look and walked out Shrine’s front door.