Everything fucking sucked. Repeat: Fucking. Sucked. Ever since that one night at the bar, things had been great. And then, not 30 minutes ago, that damn wolf had shot it all to hell. Inuyasha felt like he’d plummeted from the top of the world—a world where, every day, he woke to the promise of Kagome’s smile and Kagome’s food and the thousand little ways she just fucking lit up his life—to the depths of despair.
And here he was: Lying on the floor of his apartment after Kagome had thrown him out of her restaurant, staring blankly at the ceiling, camera flung aside like a broken toy. So what if it was melodramatic? He almost hoped he’d broken the temperamental piece of equipment. What good had photography ever done him, anyways? First it had cost him Kikyo—which, he reluctantly admitted, was for the fucking best: that was one relationship that had bitten him in the ass. But now it had cost him any snowball’s chance in hell with Kagome, and that fucking hurt. He’d be surprised if she ever spoke to him again, given all the shit Koga had spouted. Kami, if only he’d recognized the damn wolf immediately, maybe he could have done...something...to prevent it.
It was like all the color had been leached from his vision. Things were paler, pathetic shadows of themselves. Inuyasha tried to tell himself to get up, sit up, hell—just to get a fucking grip, but he was in the throes of an oppressive moroseness. Breathing in and out was the most he could manage.
Knowing Kagome was probably sobbing her eyes out one floor below only made him feel worse. Unbidden, her anguished expression as she told him to leave swam before his eyes, and Inuyasha felt bands of steel clamp around his chest and just squeeze. See this, this is why he clearly shouldn’t “do” people. Or friends, other than Miroku (and did he even count, given he paid the man handsomely?). Because one little mistake and BAM, that was it: Relationship? Toast. Heart? Crushed. Who would ever willingly put up with that kind of emotional roulette, hell if he knew.
The shitty thing was, he already knew what his life would revert to without her. An endless cycle of long, solo photography trips to remote locations, returning only briefly to hole himself in the dark with his computer. Generally avoiding Miroku’s too-cheery company and even his own gallery shows. Instant noodles on repeat, when he could be bothered to eat.
Fuck, he didn’t want that. Not when he knew there was a sweeter alternative. But he also didn’t know how to fix what he’d broken. Especially because, no matter how much he wanted to just punch Koga in the fucking jaw for daring to compare Kagome to a bitch like Kikyo, Inuyasha knew this whole mess was, at heart, his fault. He could have told her right away. Or when he said he’d take the photos. Or explained himself better in the heat of the moment. Hindsight tormented him with a dozen better courses of action.
Come to think of it, maybe he did have enough energy to check the top shelf and see if he didn’t just have a handle of vodka back there. It was always 5 o’clock somewhere, right?
In the middle of Inuyasha’s apathetic will-I-won’t-I personal debate about the merits of drinking himself into welcome, tasteless oblivion before a respectable cocktail hour, he felt his phone vibrate against his thigh.
Fumbling it out of his pocket, Inuyasha saw he had one message from Miroku: Dude. What did you DO?
Nothin. Inuyasha jabbed at his phone, trying to avoid puncturing yet another overly delicate smartphone screen with his claws.
Vvvt. Because here I am, having a frankly delightful afternoon, when I get a call from my darling Sango. My innocent self answers, expecting to hear sweet nothings whispered in my ear, but instead I am greeted with a quite curt “LEASH YOUR MONGREL” and nothing more. She’s on a warpath!! Scary. Also Hot. But mostly scary.
Vvvt. So again, Inuyasha. What did you DO??????
Inuyasha knew that any attempts to ignore the messages would only escalate Miroku’s methods of prying answers from him. He typed: She found out.
Just as Inuyasha got his hopes up that, for fucking once, Miroku would leave something well enough alone, his phone started vibrating to a barrage of incoming messages:
You knew that would happen eventually, right?
Kami why didn’t you tell her before?
WHY DID YOU GET ME INVOLVED IN THIS IDIOTIC CHARADE NOW SANGO HATES ME.
I hate you. >:(
This time, Inuyasha didn’t bother to reply. Several minutes of blessed silence followed. Then: You OK?
Yeah, Inuyasha texted back. Fine.
“I hate me, too,” he said to the empty room.
After what felt like hours, but was probably only 15 minutes or so, Inuyasha extricated himself from the floor. Fuckin yay for little victories. An unfairly lovely fat, golden beam of late afternoon sun streamed through the window. His sensitive ears picked up the slight rattle of a hefty mamachari bicycle making its way down the street. Life went on in Tokyo, the city unaware of the individual torments impacting its inhabitants.
At a loss of what to do, Inuyasha fell back into the only routine he could think of: Photo editing. He still had multiple SD cards filled with shots from Shrine, and of Kagome, he’d taken over the past weeks and hadn’t yet looked at. Honestly, he wasn’t sure he even wanted to. But he’d promised Kagome PR shots and, even if she hated his worthless hanyou guts, let no one say Inuyasha Takahashi didn’t follow through on an assignment. He could just shove a portable hard drive with the best shots into the mailbox or something. Whether she’d want to use them at all, well, that wasn’t up to him.
Inuyasha snapped the curtains shut, throwing the room into an ambiguous half-gloom, and plopped himself into his chair, punching the power button on his computer with more force than was strictly necessary with one hand while groping for his snap-on glasses with the other.
I must be a fucking masochist.
The first SD card was, mercifully, just of Kagome’s food. Inuyasha was able to somewhat dispassionately discard the poorly composed or out-of-focus shots, adjusting shadows and highlights and levels on those that passed his initial cull and saving them in a separate folder.
He lost himself in the rhythm of clicking, dragging, saving, so Inuyasha was completely blindsided when Kagome’s face suddenly filled his screen.
He’d caught her in a rare moment of calm in the kitchen, braced against the counter, facing out toward the dining room. Stray locks of ebony hair spilled from her updo; there was a smudge of flour on her apron. Her smile could only be called “jaunty,” with a laugh tucked into one corner of her mouth that Inuyasha knew was the result of one part joy, one part pride.
In the next shot, Kagome was in the middle of presenting a plate to a diner, beaming as she set the dish down. Another was cropped tight on her concentrated face as she arranged garnishes on a plate, brow furrowed, tongue poking out from between plush lips in the cutest possible way.
Photos of Kagome cooking. Kagome greeting customers at the door. Kagome wiping down the tables after a long day. Kagome catching sight of Inuyasha with the camera and flashing him a secret smile. They were all candid, kind, honest. Everything Inuyasha hadn’t been with her—hadn’t even been with his fucking self.
Inuyasha didn’t let himself want things often. Most of the time, that kind of craving just came around and bit him in the ass. But fucking hell if he didn’t want to fix this. Fix him and Kagome, whatever they had.
So he did the scariest fucking thing ever: Leaving Kagome’s smiling face on the screen for courage, Inuyasha dug his phone back out and called Sango. He had an inkling of an idea—a desperate idea—that might get Kagome to hear him out, but he’d need Sango’s cooperation to pull it off.
He’d gotten her number a few weeks back from Kagome—“just in case of emergency or something, Yash, you never know when it might come in handy”—but he’d never called it. Come to think of it, he didn’t even know if Sango had his number. Maybe she wouldn’t even answer.
Or maybe she will, and won’t that be fun as a fucking barrel of monkeys.
Inuyasha drummed clawed fingers on his desk as the dial tone rang on, more than half hoping Sango wouldn’t pick up and he could just leave an awkward message. Hi Sango, it’s Inuyasha. I know I made your best friend cry and you both probably hate me but I need some help to try and make it better, so call me back! Thanks, buh-bye.
The ringing went on long enough to put him on constant edge, perpetually expecting the next dial tone to be the last, when—instead—he heard Sango’s all-too-real voice: “Moshi moshi?”
Her voice was too friendly—guess she didn’t have his number after all. Inuyasha cleared his throat. “Sango?”
Immediately the politeness in her tone frosted over. “Oh. It’s you. What?”
Even on the other side of the phone, Inuyasha winced. This was going to go about as well as he’d thought. Why did Kagome’s best friend have to be so actually terrifying and not a general idiot like Miroku? Idiots he could handle. Vengeful best friends with justice on their side? Less so.
He decided to go for honesty. Seems like it was going to have to be his policy going forward, after all.
“I know I’m not your favorite person right now,” he started, ignoring her snort of disgust. “I’m not my favorite person right now, either. I know I fucked up. I know that.”
“You know what I know, Inuyasha?” she broke in, “I know that you hurt my best girl. She has done nothing but gush about you for weeks, and today I get a phone call where she is hys-ter-i-cal and babbling about how you’re not who you say you are and that everything is a lie. Honestly, I still don’t think I really get what’s going on.”
“I did have reasons,” he started in, weakly.
“Whatever they are, they’re not good enough,” Sango snipped. “Because you made Kagome cry. So now that I’ve got a bit of this out of my system, you better have a good reason for calling me, buddy, or I’m hanging up on you.”
“I have an idea,” Inuyasha said quickly. “A way to apologize and explain and make it up to her. If it’s not enough, if she wants nothing to do with me after, fine, I can live with that. I at least need to try. But I’ll need your help, for part of it.”
He outlined the plan to Sango, desperately hoping that she wouldn’t decide enough was enough and simply cut him off mid-sentence. When he wrapped up with a tremulous “and yeah. That’s it,” there was silence. But he could still hear her breathing on the other end of the line.
“The idea has merit,” she pronounced, finally. “If you can set it up, I’ll do my part—but only because, under all that idiocy, I actually think you’re a good guy, Inuyasha.”
“Thank you,” he said fervently.
“But don’t you ever, EVER make her cry again or I will decapitate you with a gardening shovel and use you as fertilizer for my farm. No one will ever find your body. And, conveniently, I know where you live. Text me when you have more details.” Abruptly the call cut out.
Only one threat of murder? Could have gone worse.
Taking a moment to collect himself and calm his racing heart—Miroku was right, Sango was scary as hell—he made a second call.
“Miroku? That you? Yeah. No. Yeah I know goddammit. Stop yelling at me for one fucking second! Just— if you would— MIROKU! Look, I need you to call the gallery, OK? The one that’s supposed to be showing the Hida photos. I’m going to change all of them. Yes I KNOW the exhibit is set for next week. I KNOW they’ve done all the PR for it already. I wouldn’t be asking if it wasn’t fucking IMPORTANT. No— listen— IFYOUDOTHIS FOR MEITMEANSYOUCANGETBACKINSANGO’SPANTS.”
Inuyasha was finally able to bring the phone back up to his ear from where he’d been holding it several feet back to protect his eardrums from Miroku’s personal sense of theatrics. Fuck that man’s octave range was high.
“Fucking finally got your attention. Here’s what you’re going to do…”
No, Kagome did not want to go out. Not even with Sango, who had been wheedling with her for a week about how they needed to go have some “fun.”
She didn’t really feel much like “fun” right now. For the past week, ever since the disastrous interview with Casa Brutus—Yura had sent an overwhelmingly apologetic email for the whole ordeal, even offering to cancel the feature entirely, which Kagome protested (she did need the exposure, after all)—she felt like she’d been living in a fog. She opened Shrine as usual, cooking and serving food, but her heart wasn’t in it. All the zest and flavor had been sucked out of what was usually her favorite part of her day.
It had taken a stern talking-to from Sango to keep her from googling whoever this “Kikyo” was—“Kags, honey nothing good is going to come of that.” But there was nothing better to squash any desire to gussy-up and go out than knowing she’d just constantly compare herself to a dang supermodel. That would do nothing positive for her self-esteem. (And yet, the desire lingered…) Plus, after Inuyasha had left—just like she told him to, her brain snarked at her—she’d seen neither hide nor hair of him.
Which is what she wanted, right? Right?
All she was in the mood for, Kagome told herself firmly after the end of the work day, was to head back to her apartment and cuddle up with a tub of ice cream.
Still, she did feel bad about blowing Sango off all week. And maybe going out and letting loose would do her some good, she rationalized, and help her put all the too-complicated feelings about a certain hanyou out of sight and out of mind.
U win, she texted her friend, before she changed her mind. Let’s go out.
Ping. YES! Kags! Block off your tomorrow evening. I’ll plan everything, so no stress, kay?
Ping. Wear something pretty!
Nothing too crazy, alright? Kagome typed.
Pinky promise <3 I’ll meet you at your place at 6.
Now officially committed—whether she’d regret it tomorrow or not—Kagome endeavored to compartmentalize any potential freak-outs about a night out on the town. She forced herself to finish wiping down all the tables and make sure all the prep she needed to do for the next day’s menu was complete before hopping on the Tokyo Metro and heading back to her petite apartment and then flinging open her full-to-bursting closet and bemoaning her lack of anything to wear.
At least nothing that immediately screamed “I’m here sort of against my will but I also know I need to relax and wouldn’t it be great if my tits looked nice, too.”
Eventually she decided on a favorite dress, one with an extremely flattering sweetheart neckline and pleasantly swishy flared skirt, and hung it on the back of the door as she considered shoes and accessories. Not entirely sure what vibe Sango was going for, eventually Kagome decided simple was best and, if she ended up over- or under-dressed, so be it.
Kagome, badass chef extraordinaire, told herself she was ready to have a fun girls night out, even if it killed her.
It was not a sentiment she appreciated the following evening, tottering after Sango for what felt like kilometers in heels several centimeters too tall. Why had she elected to wear these shoes again? Oh, yeah: Because beauty is pain, apparently.
Sango, despite wearing shoes of equally perilous height, strode ahead unflaggingly, and Kagome grumbled to herself about how it wasn’t fair farm labor afforded you calves of steel. But it was a beautiful evening, and as the two made their way down the main boulevard by Gaienmae Station, the glitter and glow of boutique storefronts and bijoux bars only lifted Kagome’s spirits, like Tokyo had put its best face forward to remind her how lovely it could be.
“Kags, this way,” Sango called, beckoning her down one of the city’s many wending backstreets. Where on earth are we going?
Kagome found her answer not two minutes later, when Sango stopped in front of an unremarkable concrete building. Its wide shopkeeper’s windows were covered with blinds, giving no hint to what might be inside.
“This is it,” Sango said, tucking her phone back into her purse.
“What is it?” Kagome asked, suspicious.
“A surprise,” her friend replied, cryptically. “Now go in!”
Still skeptical, Kagome nevertheless moved to open the simple wooden door, which swung open easily under her grasp. She stepped into a small antechamber, hung from floor to ceiling in the same thick drapes as the exterior windows. And was that...the smell of burnt sugar?
Sango slipped in behind her, and pointed to a gap between two curtains. “Through there,” she encouraged. “I’ll be riiiight behind you.”
Now just rolling her eyes at her friend’s increasingly obvious staging—just what had this girl planned?!—she shoved her way through the drapery.
Immediately, Kagome gaped in astonishment at the room. Before her stretched a surprisingly large gallery space, bathed in muted light. The walls were a starched white, but the spartan effect was tempered by the dozens of chunky beeswax candles, all of staggered heights, clustered in the corners and perched on tall candle holders made of some sort of delicately wrought metal. Their gently flickering flames ringed the room in a warm glow; at the center of the room was a matching cafe-style table flanked by two chairs.
It took her a moment to notice the photos.
When she was finally able to drag her eyes away from the charming romanticism of it all, it was to lock eyes with...herself. A photo of herself, laughing in her kitchen as she stirred something behind the counter. In shock—what?—she went to take a closer look, noting the glossy quality of the print and frame. These were the real deal.
“Kagome” read a small placard affixed to the wall next to the photo. Beneath it in smaller letters: Inuyasha Takahashi (2020). She flicked her eyes to the bottom right of the photo and, sure enough, there was the telltale “inu” kanji, carefully penciled in the corner.
Kagome inhaled sharply, whirling around to ask Sango what the hell she was trying to pull, but—surprise—her friend had left her all alone. Alone with...Inuyasha’s photos of her.
Because, she saw, they were all of her. Cooking, smiling, dozing in a chair, frowning, each—she knew—a facet of what drove her to wake up each morning and make Shrine what it was. All of them were labeled with nothing more than “Kagome,” Inuyasha’s name, and the date.
They touched her, despite herself initial unwillingness to give him a second chance. Seeing herself through another’s—through Inuyasha’s —eyes. It felt almost voyeuristic, even though the photos were of her; as if she was intruding into Inuyasha’s world. Getting to see more into his mind—maybe even his heart—than he probably realized. It almost felt like taking advantage of him.
All of the photos showed someone strong, capable, joyful. And they were all, Kagome noted with some surprise, not retouched. In the closeups, there were her laugh lines, crinkled into the corners of her eyes. And there—she remembered that one day she had a stubborn zit by her hairline that she couldn’t quite hide. In every single photo, Inuyasha had left her exactly as she was. No more, no less. Just…“Kagome.”
So this is how he sees me.
It was both a welcome and unwelcome revelation. Because it was clear from the photos that he beheld her with...more regard than she’d realized. And yet, she empathized—this feeling of being exposed was how she felt every time someone took a bite of her food: Like she was giving them a part of herself willingly, but each person also took something more than what she’d consciously offered.
Finally, after looking at every single photo—and there were several dozen of them—Kagome approached the table, which was empty save for a small white ramekin and a dessert spoon. She picked up the ramekin and spoon and took a quick sniff—ah, there was the source of the burnt sugar smell.
It was, she could tell, supposed to be a creme brulee. The sugar top was more crisped than caramelized and, with a slight shake, she could tell that it hadn’t quite set properly. Making creme brulee was hard, especially because it seemed so simple—cream, a good vanilla bean, sugar, eggs and hot water.
Nevertheless, not one to reject food, Kagome took the spoon and gently broke through the crust, taking a small bite of the brulee. It was...marginally better than she expected, if she was being honest. There was the slightly too acrid bitterness of over-caramelized sugar, but once you got past that the creme was rich, with a mellow vanilla flavor. Kagome licked the spoon thoughtfully. There was something else in it, too...but what?
“I know it’s probably not great,” a low, familiar voice came from behind her. She slowly turned around to face Inuyasha, who was drinking in the sight of her like a starving man. He, too, was dressed up, in a classic, fitted black suit, with a white shirt and black tie, hair pulled back into a sleek ponytail. He looked uncomfortable; to Kagome, it was clear he didn’t wear these clothes often.
“I know it’s not great,” Inuyasha repeated, “but I made it, for you. I’m, uh, not much of a cook.”
He tugged at his tie, as if it were too tight, and Kagome caught sight of several bandages wrapped around his fingers, and what looked like a small red burn on the back of his hand.
“You’re hurt,” she breathed, despite herself, and Inuyasha’s mouth quirked in embarrassment.
“Yeah, knives are sharp, and, uh, vanilla beans are more slippery than I thought. Went to scrape it out like the recipe said and stuck the blade into my damn fingers.”
A brittle silence stretched between them. Kagome didn’t know what to say. She couldn’t exactly order him out of this room, after all. And she didn’t want to just yell at him, not this time.
Again, it was Inuyasha who broke the quiet first. “Do you like them?” he asked softly. “The, uh, photos I mean. Not the brulee. I know that’s bad.”
“They’re beautiful,” Kagome said, honestly. “I didn’t know you had taken this many.”
His lips tipped up in a tremulous smile. “I didn’t, either. I guess...my camera knew what I wanted before I did.”
“And what’s that, Inuyasha ?” It came out harsher than she’d meant, but he only gave a small wince.
“Deserved that,” he grimaced, and Kagome tried not to let the defeated sound of his voice waver her determination to not be a sucker. “I want… I want...fuck. Fuck.”
He turned molten gold eyes to hers, they were swimming with an emotion Kagome didn’t want to name, and in two steps he was before her, moving slowly to carefully cup her cheek with one hand. Startled, she let him. “I want to make things right,” he said softly. “I want to explain. And fuck, if you want nothing to do with me after, I will fucking respect that. But kami if I don’t want this to be the last I ever see of you, Kagome.”
He slowly dropped his hand and gestured to the room. “All these, they’re of you, Kagome, but there’s also for you. Just you. I called every damn favor I had with Miroku and this gallery to put these up. But no one else has seen, or will see them. They’re for our eyes only. To help me explain. Will you let me?”
She managed to give him a stiff nod, and he drew her over to the table, taking the ramekin and spoon from her unprotesting hands and setting it down, before seating himself across from her.
“It’s fucking weird, being famous,” he began. “Everyone knows who you are, but they don’t really know you. And half the time you aren’t sure if someone likes you for you, or because they have some weird artist-worship thing going on, or they think you can ‘help’ them somehow.”
He swallowed, and steepled his hands on the table. “Kikyo,” he continued, and Kagome mentally braced herself for another stewing of misery. I’ll give him a minute, she vowed, and if I can’t take it after that, I’m leaving.
“I thought Kikyo was one of the rare good ones, at first,” Inuyasha said. “Someone who genuinely fucking liked me. Didn’t mind the stupid ears, or the claws, or my fucking shitty attitude. We started as friends. We started dating. And that’s when it started going off—as my date, she got invited to all the parties, all the galas, all the insider events. She started to show herself off, wanted more attention, more time in the spotlight. I honestly don’t remember why I agreed to take those photos of, of us, um, together —some last-ditch effort to salvage something, I guess—and she pushed me to exhibit them. Put us both on display. And then she broke up with me. Said the pics would be ‘great for her portfolio.’”
Kagome let out an involuntary growl. The gall of that….that bitch! Inuyasha flashed her a quick, wry smile, as if he could read her mind.
“Last I heard, she was trying to make it in Hollywood,” he went on. “Not sure how the fuck that’s going. But it broke something in me—I didn’t trust anyone, other than Miroku; swore off portraits for life. Stuck to nature shots—animals don’t want anything from you except to be left alone, you know.”
“And then I met you, Kagome. You, with your inner light and passion and fucking addictive as hell scent. You brought color and spice into my days again. But can you blame me for not wanting to tell you? Risk losing yet another person in my life, just because of who I am? You mattered, always mattered, too much to risk that. You, you...fuck, I can’t put it into words. I just want to be in your life. I want to eat your food every single day, if you’ll let me.”
Inuyasha held out one hand, bridging the gulf of the empty cafe table, leaving the choice up to her.
Kagome absorbed his speech silently—she’d always been a good listener. And now it really was up to her, to decide whether or not to take his hand—and accept whatever that implied—or bid him a cordial good evening and snuff out the flame.
She knew what logic dictated. That he’d lied to her, was often rude and gruff and antisocial. But she also knew what her heart said. What it saw in his photos and words and even in his badly burnt creme brulee. Knew that he would—already had—taken care of her. That something in him had compelled her even before they’d ever met. Why else had she naturally, through his photos, fallen in love with the way he saw the world?
Plus, even badly made, creme brulee was her favorite dessert.
Decision made, Kagome gently placed her hand in his, folding his poor, bandaged fingers over her own.
“I think I’ll make the dessert next time,” she said lightly. And it was all she got out before Inuyasha lunged over the table, slanting his mouth over hers, swallowing her startled, pleased gasp. His kiss made her feel like she was being heated from the inside out, a pleasant warmth radiating out to the tips of her fingers and toes and settling deep in her belly.
It was a long moment before they both came up for air. Inuyasha, she noted with some satisfaction, had a rather dazed look on his face.
“You taste good,” he mumbled, and Kagome gave a little snort, leaning back over the table to give him a more chaste peck on the cheek. There would be time for plenty more kisses...and tastes…licks...later.
“That reminds me,” she said as they both pushed back from their chairs, Inuyasha immediately drawing her into his chest, tucking her head under his chin with a contented sigh. “What else did you put in that creme brulee?”
“Oh,” he said. “Miso. The internet said it would make it taste better. Did it?”
She made a face into his shirt where he couldn’t see, resisting the urge to nuzzle into the dip of his chest. Better…? Um...maybe in theory?
“You’ve got the right flavor in mind,” she said diplomatically.
She felt, rather than heard, him chuckle: “I have a better flavor in mind.” His voice was pitched low, husky, and he tipped her chin up, up, up. “Chef, may I have another taste?” he murmured against her lips before once again claiming them with his own.
A girl could get used to this, Kagome’s kiss-addled brain managed to process. Inuyasha Takahashi: The new sixth flavor. A revolution in culinary education.
And she smiled so hard into his kiss, he was forced to stop or end up kissing nothing but teeth. “Everything OK?” he questioned, hesitantly, ears twitching.
She giggled. “How about we head back to my place and I’ll make us some real dessert…”
Inuyasha cracked his first real grin: “Yes, Chef.”