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The Fifth Flavor

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Inuyasha woke to the reek of flowers.

His mind clawed its way out of sleep to full, unwilling consciousness from where he lay sprawled face down on his futon. With increasing horror, he realized what he thought, in his bleary state, was just a remnant of some horrible dream was, in fact, all too real. It fucking smelled of fucking flowers. Everywhere. Fuck.

The chaotic overlay of scents—he caught cloying whiffs of roses, tiger lilies, orchids, probably a dozen other varieties—overwhelmed the half-demon’s sensitive nose, coating the inside of his nostrils like some kind of invasive potpourri. In the miserable humidity and sweltering heat of Japan’s late summer, their perfume clung to everything. With an irritated growl Inuyasha buried his face in his pillow and took a few shallow breaths, debating if he should just smother himself and be done with it.

It definitely hadn’t smelled of flowers last night, when he’d dragged his exhausted ass up the narrow stairs to his second-floor apartment at 3 in the damn morning, exhausted from three straight weeks of hiking and photographing wildlife in the remote crags of the Hida Mountains, plus the hours-long commute back to Tokyo. He’d barely had the wherewithal to drop his bag of too-expensive camera gear off by his desk, brush his teeth and peel off his grimy clothing, but even near dead on his feet he would have noticed a stench like this. All he had wanted to do was sleep for a day, or five, but here he was, awake at—he blindly groped with one clawed hand for his phone, raising his head just enough to check the screen—just past 9. He gave another muffled growl. Fuck mornings, and fuck flowers.

When the scent started to penetrate even through his pillow he finally decided he needed to find wherever the fuck the smell was coming from and make it go away.

Inuyasha peeled himself up from the ground, taking one look at the sweaty, mussed bedding and decided he’d just wash it later. He scraped his long, silver hair into a messy bun (yeah, he’d just wash that later, too) and slid on a pair of slim black joggers, which fell comfortably low on his hips, and a loose red V-neck shirt. He padded across the tatami floor to his shitty-excuse-for-a-kitchen and downed a glass of lukewarm tap water, then another. Slightly more awake, he could start to focus on what was making his apartment smell like a goddamn Lush on steroids.

One ear flicked towards his open window as the engine of a motorized scooter rumbled closer, stopping on the street directly outside.

“Good morning, I have another delivery for Higurashi,” came the polite call from a courier, followed by the opening and closing of the street-side sliding door on the first floor, the slight stick in the tracks making the thin walls of the old building shiver.

The fuck, since when was the ground floor occupied?

Inuyasha shoved his feet into the pair of cheap flip-flops he kept by the entrance for quick runs to the convenience store for instant ramen and beer and stumped down, not bothering to hide how clearly pissed he was. He rounded the corner of the building and nearly knocked over a tall wire stand. Shooting out one clawed hand to keep it from falling, as he stepped out onto the street Inuyasha abruptly let out an explosive sneeze.

He’d found the source of the absolutely putrid scent.

Dozens of elaborate flower arrangements, all bearing placards formally pronouncing “congratulations” lined the entire length of the building. There were gaudy elevated bouquets in wire stands—one of which he’d almost toppled—and pots of velvet-petaled orchids, exotic ferns mixed with brightly colored blooms, pastel pink roses bursting from ribbon-wrapped vases. No wonder the stench had made it into his apartment, half the flowers in fucking Tokyo were practically on his front stoop.

The delivery man was already puttering away on his scooter, and Inuyasha locked golden eyes on a slim figure still standing in front of the building. The figure turned, gold met eyes as blue as the summer sky and Inuyasha couldn’t look away, his breath caught in his lungs, his ears were ringing, and aw fuck he was a goner.

The woman’s wealth of ebony locks were piled in a messy bun, but several tendrils had escaped to frame a heart-shaped face, leading his eyes to plush lips, a delicate chin, the dip of her exposed collar bone…

She wore an unadorned black T-shirt. Her dark denim clung to her legs like a goddamn second skin and a white apron was tied around her waist, drawing his attention to the curves of her slender waist and the swell of her ass. Holding a small basket of little purple blooms it was like a damn goddess had come to life and just, fuck.

He really regretted not taking that shower.

Inuyasha’s right fingers gave an involuntary twitch, like pressing a camera shutter, and he had to stop himself from bringing up his hands to frame the portrait he’d take, to get the angle for the light to make her glow just right because no, he didn’t take photos of people. Not anymore.

Not after Kikyo.

Forcing his thoughts away from painful subjects, the hanyou raked his eyes back up her form, taking note of her quizzical expression and slight pinking of her cheeks. Smirking, Inuyasha gave an instinctual sniff, he had this burning desire to know if she smelled as sweet as she looked, if she was as intrigued as he was, but all he got was another noseful of flower, and he let out another sneeze.

“Oi,” he said, trying to cover up his frustration and embarrassment, “what the hell is all this?”

“All what?”

“All,” waving his arms to encompass the bouquets, “this.”

“Oh,” she said with a soft giggle, setting her newest acquisition on the ground by the door, “I guess the flowers are a bit much, huh? I really wasn’t expecting so many, there’s aren’t really any nearby shops in the neighborhood, and I guess it’s a bit of an old-fashioned business practice, sending flowers to a new business, but it was just so kind of my friends to think of me, you know? I don’t even open until tomorrow. I’m Kagome, by the way.”

She proffered her hand, and Inuyasha just stared at her, surprised she’d just offer to shake hands with a hanyou. Hadn’t she seen the ears? Didn’t she care? Was she this naturally fucking friendly? Just as he decided that, yes, he’d shake, it was clear his indecision was a beat too long because the open light in her gaze dimmed a fraction and she abruptly dropped her arm, tucking it awkwardly behind her back. He felt an uncharacteristic pang of guilt.

“Yash,” he said gruffly. “I live upstairs.”

“Oh so you’re the mysterious other tenant,” she teased, gentle smile restored. “The landlady said there was one, but I was beginning to think you didn’t exist!”

“Yeah, well, I exist. So, uh, what are you even opening? It’s not a flower shop, is it?” he asked in a moment of sudden panic.

“No, no. It’s a café!” she said, beaming.

“A…café.” It came out like a statement. That was almost…worse. Is she stupid?

It’s not like Minowa was the middle of bumfuck nowhere, but it straddled the divide between Taito and Arakawa wards, neither of which had reputations for posh dining. It wasn’t anywhere near the center of the city, everyone was working-class. Inuyasha liked it this way, all the locals just minded their own business and it was quiet. He had simple tastes. No major vices, besides the occasional bender. Sure, he made enough that he could have afforded his own place anywhere he wanted, even a Meguro penthouse, if that was his style, but no one expected world-renowned photographer Inuyasha Takahashi to be living on a shitty second-floor apartment in an out of the way neighborhood. Not that anyone knew where he lived anyways, except his gallery agent, Miroku, or even looked like, and he planned to keep it that way. Last thing he needed was an ongoing parade of people invading his chosen territory.

“Yeah, it’s going to be all farm-to-table stuff, hyperlocal produce, organic if I can get it. I’m calling it Shrine, see?” She pointed. Inuyasha glanced over and found a subtle wooden sign fastened above the doorframe that did, indeed, have “Shrine” etched into the grain in elegant script.

Inuyasha knew he should have said something like “congratulations” or “sounds nice.” But his imagination had kicked into overdrive with visions of his—his!—quiet street overrun with vapid image-conscious teens and couples and fucking influencers posing for endless vapid selfies. So what came out of his mouth was, “What a stupid idea.”

Immediately, he knew he’d screwed up. Kagome’s face turned stony, blue eyes narrowed. He could hear her rising pulse, her ire practically palpable.

“What do you mean, it’s ‘stupid?’” Her voice was cold.

“I mean this is a stupid place to open a café, woman,” Inuyasha scoffed. In for a penny, in for a pound. “Does this look like Nakameguro to you? Ain’t no one here interested in your prissy, hippy-dippy shit.”

At this Kagome gasped, propping her hands on her hips. “Listen,” she sputtered, “Just because there’s, god forbid, a vegetable in a dish doesn’t mean it’s bougie. And I have a name, Yash,” she continued. “It’s Kagome, not ‘woman.’ Use it.”

“It’s gentrification, is what it is,” he shot back. “You’re gonna ruin the neighborhood.”

“I think you’re doing that quite well on your own, you rude, ignorant, jerk!”

I’m the jerk? You’re the one who’s practically blocked off the whole damn street, these are a health hazard.”

“For your information, Yash, I went around the whole chome and let everyone know my opening plan and what was going to happen. I knocked on doors. I made flyers. All of which you would have known, if you bothered to check your mailbox.”

Inuyasha scoffed. Mail. All his bills were deducted automatically from his bank, and Miroku knew better to send him anything important via the post. They basically just communicated through punctuation-less text messages or, if Miroku was drunk and in a good mood, some combination of peach butt, eggplant, and flamenco dancer emoji.

“Who bothers to read flyers anyways, Ka-Go-Me? People just throw away that shit. I bet you won’t last a month!”

“You. Take. That. Back!”

They were both yelling in each other’s faces at this point. Although Inuyasha towered over the petite woman, Kagome boldly lifted her gaze, challenged him, met his scowling face without an ounce of fear. Another tendril of hair had escaped her bun and was plastered to her neck. Inuyasha felt flushed, and he wasn’t sure if it was him or just the heatwaves radiating from the pavement. He watched a bead of sweat slide its way down the exposed arch of her neck to disappear beneath the collar of her shirt and kami.

A low growl broke from his chest and at the sound of a feminine gasp, Inuyasha’s golden eyes flickered up to lock with Kagome’s, noting her dilated pupils with interest. He could hear the jackrabbit flutter of her heart. An undercurrent of something heady and spiced, like ginger and cloves, reached his nose.

Under some compulsion he didn’t really understand, Inuyasha ducked his head until his mouth hovered inches from hers. His own pulse thump-thumped in his ears, blood singing to just…have one taste…

Abruptly, she took a step back, breaking the silence with a nervous laugh. Inuyasha felt a surprising sting of rejection, tried to cover it up by crossing his arms over his chest and frowning. What the fuck had he been about to do? 

“Look…I think we got off on the wrong foot,” Kagome said softly, still avoiding his gaze and worrying her plush bottom lip between front teeth. “I’ve been under a lot of pressure to open on time, and I took it out on you.”

“Keh.”

“I’ve just really, really wanted this, you know? Opening my own place like this has been my dream since I was a kid, basically. I’ve always loved cooking and seeing someone eat and enjoy your food? It’s like you know you’ve fed their soul. Or at least, that’s what my dad always said…”

Her eyes misted over and she blinked once, twice, three times in rapid succession.

“So,” Kagome barreled on, “let me make you lunch, as a sort of apology-also-hi-I’m-your-new-neighbor meal. I’ve got the short menu for tomorrow’s opening all planned out, and would love someone to taste test. What do you say?” Kagome’s face was hopeful; she offered him an olive branch.

This…was a problem.

Demon palates, especially inu youkai palates—even hanyou ones—were just so much more sensitive than human ones, and human-made meals were almost always too…much. Too spicy. Too salty. Too everything. Even when he ate instant ramen (maybe too often), he could only use a pinch or two of the seasoning packet in the broth.

He had this horrible image of him choking something down that she’d made for him, and trying to lie by saying it was “delicious,” or even just “good,” knowing he couldn’t pull it off.

So he lied. And burned the olive branch. Better she hate him for this than the alternative.

“I don’t want your fucking food, woman.” Feed me. “I couldn’t enjoy it with all these stinking flowers around, anyways.” Nourish me. Inuyasha leaned forward, giving what he knew was a soulless smirk, letting the point of one fang poke out for emphasis. “So get rid of them. Today.” Let me eat you up.

Then he left her there, mounting the stairs to his place, shutting the door quietly behind him. Even with his ears pressed flat against his head he could still hear her little hiccupping breaths through the open window, and he knew that if he could smell past the flowers, there’d be the scent of salty tears streaming down her cheeks.

Fuck, he was an asshole. But it was better this way.

Chapter Text

“And he was such an asshole, Sango!” Kagome ranted, santoku chef’s knife flashing as she diced her way through a pile of onions behind her restaurant’s open counter. “A total jerk.” She punctuated this pronouncement with a particularly rough chop, keen edge of the blade thunking into the wooden cutting board with such force that several chunks of onion bounced their way onto the floor. “Drat,” she grumbled, bending to scoop them up and toss them into the compost bin.

“Mmmmhm,” her best friend replied from where she perched on a stool, scrolling through her phone. Her ever-present demon cat companion, Kirara, lay curled on her lap. “So you said. Sounds like a regular Jerky McJerkface.”

“Well, he was.” A Jerky McJerkface who’s hot enough to fry an egg on in the dead of winter. Who has gorgeous golden eyes. And the cutest, most pettable ears…  

It was a sleepy Sunday morning, one of the two days each week Kagome had determined would be Shrine’s closed days. Not that, as a new business owner—especially a new restaurant owner—she could really take that time off. Sango had driven down from her family’s farm in Saitama Prefecture with several days’ worth of fresh produce, plus some longer-lasting root vegetables, heaped in the back of a kei truck, and the two had spent several hours hauling boxes into the kitchen, sorting, and giving everything a quick rinse. Kagome had practically squealed in delight at the stalks of tender asparagus, ruby red tomatoes, and knobby green bitter melon, already planning what to put on the lunch menu for the following week.

Not for the first time, Kagome thanked the kami for Sango. She knew that her long-time friendship with the no-nonsense woman was a big reason why the Matsuzawa family had cut her such a great deal: In exchange for buying her produce exclusively from their farm and featuring their CSA subscription prominently on her social media, the price they quoted her for both produce and delivery was…overly generous, to say the least. So what if the cucumbers and carrots weren’t ruler straight? Certainly didn’t matter once they were chopped up. 

And overall, the first week of business had been…OK, she guessed. The first couple days had been disappointingly slow, and after a second morning of only one or two diners Kagome had felt an icy trickle of fear slide down her spine at the thought that maybe, possibly, Yash was right, that she wasn’t going to last the month. The thought of his smug, stupidly handsome face smirking as he said “I told you so” in that low, husky voice of absolute sin was enough to drive her to distraction. Mind off the sexy hanyou, Kagome. He doesn’t even like you, remember?

She’d actually been really excited to meet her mysterious upstairs neighbor. Kagome already tended to be the imaginative sort, and many hours of menial labor painting and sweeping and scrubbing had been whiled away with daydreams of what they’d be like. 

She just hadn’t expected someone so hungry .

Kagome had always had a knack for knowing what sort of nourishment someone needed, even if they didn’t know it themselves. If they were craving sweet or savory, something light or something stick-to-your-ribs. It was a bit of a sixth sense, one she’d honed evening after evening feeding her family through grief, through late-night study sessions and when her friends went through breakups. 

With Yash, however, it felt like he needed a bit of everything she could offer. 

It was something in the eyes, she thought. Once they’d gotten past the awkward not-handshake—she’d startled him, maybe?— and then completely unwarranted round of yelling and Kagome had gotten her first close look at his face, it was like she couldn’t look away. His eyes were warm and lustrous, like the jeweled segments of a just-peeled peach, and he smelled a bit like musk and pine. It was stupid, and totally unlike her, to be this captivated by someone she’d just met, but it wasn’t until she realized Yash was dipping his mouth close to hers that what he was craving was, maybe, perhaps, her.

She'd completely panicked, dousing the heat and offering him food—her standard peace offering—only to have that backfire spectacularly. Though she could have sworn Yash's gaze said something completely different than his mouth.

Kagome had bumped into him only once (not that she was keeping an eye out for him, nope nope nope). It was an accident: She was locking Shrine up for the night and he was coming back from who knows where. He’d literally frozen at the sight of her. Before she could even open her mouth he’d darted up the stairs.

The landlady, Kaede, had come in on the third day and, after praising her lunch to high heaven, had promised to spread the word to her friends. Since then there’d been a small, if steady, trickle of new customers. Kagome knew it would take some time to build up a reliable base, but, that didn’t make the slow start any less unsettling. Goddammit, she hadn’t busted her ass through culinary school to give up now!

With a huff, Kagome used the flat of her knife to slide the pile of onions into a separate bowl, starting in on several slender purple eggplant, deftly halving them down the center. 

“Sango, what type were these, again?” she asked, dragging her thoughts back to the present before she accidentally cut herself.  

“Mmm?” Sango glanced up. “Those? Oh, they’re heirloom finger fruits. We should have more for you next week, too. Though if you’re feeling really frisky, I can ask my brother to toss in some of the special pickling eggplants, if you wanted to make tsukemono.” The ponytailed girl waggled her eyebrows at Kagome, sending them both into fits of giggles. 

“Sure Sango,” Kagome chuckled, “have Kohaku add a couple and I’ll make the sexiest pickles you’ve ever seen. Since you’re my vegetable pimp.” 

“Careful, don’t want your produce privileges revoked!”

Kagome stuck her tongue out at Sango. “Hey, I’m feeding you, that must count for something!”

Sango propped her head on her hands, peering over the counter to where Kagome was now prepping small mise en place bowls of curry powder, bay leaves, and other aromatics. “Speaking of which, Kags, whatever you’re making smells ah-ma-zing.”

“It’s a soup curry,” Kagome said. “I based it off my dad’s old recipe, actually, just punched up the flavors a bit. Figured I’d test it out on the menu.”

For a while, the only sounds in the cozy kitchen were  the sizzle of browning chicken, the bubbling of butter, and the hiss of vegetables hitting hot oil. Kagome lost herself in the active meditation of her craft, humming under her breath as she adjusted temperature, checked seasoning levels, and fluffed rice. Finally, she presented Sango with a deep bowl of rich, brown broth topped with elegantly arranged vegetables, plus a second plate of white rice, to soak everything up. 

As Sango dug in, Kagome noticed Kirara sniffing with interest at her friend’s plate. Not wanting the little cat to go hungry, she quickly ladled some broth and chicken into a bowl and set it on the ground. The demon cat immediately jumped off Sango’s lap, making a beeline for the food. 

“You’re not gonna like that, Kirara,” Sango mumbled around a mouthful of rice. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” 

The cream-colored kitten had hardly dipped her tongue in the liquid before she let out an anguished mew, frantically pawing at her tongue with both forelegs. 

“Sango, oh gosh, what’s wrong?” Kagome gasped. Did I mess up? Is it bad? Or is she allergic to something? Can demons even have allergies? In a panic, she scooped up the bowl and took a taste.

“Kirara’s fine, Kags,” Sango soothed, seeming decidedly unconcerned about her companion. “It’s just too spicy. Water will help.” 

Slightly mollified—though somewhat confused—Kagome quickly put down a dish of plain water for the poor cat, and Kirara immediately shoved her entire tongue in the cool liquid.

“I guess you wouldn’t have cooked for many demons,” Sango continued, scraping her own plate clean with a spoon. “But you really have to be careful what you put in their food, or it’ll just totally override their senses. Makes it so hard to go out on a dinner date,” she mourned, offhandedly. “Kirara can handle a bit more since she’s not transformed right now but she should still ,” Sango emphasized this last statement with a glare at the now sheepish-looking demon, “know better.” 

“Oh.” Oh. Ohhhhhhhhhh. And that’s why he—! And the flowers—! And oh kami—! Kagome smacked both her hands over her face and made a noise somewhere between a groan and a dying hippo. “Sango, I’m a moron.”

Kagome whipped out the notepad she used to take orders from her apron pocket and smacked it down on the counter. 

“Right,” she ordered, “you’re going to tell me absolutely everything you know about demon senses.” She felt an almost manic grin crack across her face as she recalled the entire garbage bag of instant ramen she’d found in the building’s shared garbage bin on trash day. Time for her to feed a stray. And if it ended up with Yash admitting that her food was good, that would just be icing on the cake.

The evening found her standing awkwardly before her grumpy neighbor’s door. Kagome felt some of her confidence from the morning had perhaps been misplaced. She knew he was home—she could see a muted glow emanating from his windows—but struggled to take the final step of actually knocking. What if he was busy? What if he didn’t want to see her? What if he was asleep? What if—oh gosh—someone else was over?

Worrying her bottom lip between her teeth, Kagome had just lifted her hand to actually, for real this time, knock when the door suddenly flew open and she found herself looking up into Yash’s carefully blank face.

She was struck, in the moment, by just how beautiful he was. This time, his hair fell in silky strands down to the middle of his back. In the light of the streetlamp, it glowed an ethereal, icy silver. His eyes were guarded, their color rich and deep and…were those glasses? Yup. A pair of black-rimmed—dare she say, almost hipster-chic—glasses framed his face, held up…somehow. 

“Well?” his voice was gruff. 

“I thought demons didn’t need glasses!” Kagome blurted out, then immediately clapped a hand over her mouth. 

She had startled him, clearly. He slowly reached up one clawed hand and unhooked the frames, tucking them in his back pocket looking somewhat…embarrassed. “We don’t. They just help cut out computer blue light when I work,” he mumbled. “So what?”

OK, Kagome, focus! Stick to the plan.

“Have you had dinner yet?” she forged on.

“I already ate,” Yash insisted. Now that she was looking for it, Kagome thought she saw a hint of panic before he locked it away beneath a veneer of ambivalence. 

But just then, his stomach let out a loud grumble. 

“Mmmhmmmm.” Already ate, my ass. “Well, I think it’s pretty clear that even if you have, you’re still hungry. I have food that I made downstairs. For you. So if you don’t eat it, it’ll go to waste. And,” she said, taking a bit of a gamble, praying she’d read her hanyou neighbor right, “you owe me, Yash.”

There was a long moment of silence. Just as Kagome was beginning to fear she had grossly overstepped, Yash let out a long sigh. “Fine.”

“Really?”

“I said ‘fine,’ didn’t I? Keh.”

Kagome practically skipped down the stairs in glee, Yash following behind after locking his door. She slid open Shrine’s door, giving it an extra little heave where it liked to stick in the old track—that was going to get stuck one day—and beckoned the hesitant half-demon inside. 

“I need, like, three minutes to finish up, so feel free to take a look around,” she chirped, already darting behind the counter to fetch six identical bowls.  She kept a half eye on Yash, watching him take in Shrine’s rustic-chic décor: the counter, formed from the natural curves of a single piece of recycled wood; the long-legged stools upholstered in matchingly-mismatched fabric; potted plants and wooden carvings collected from her own travels, or brought as gifts by friends. 

When she finished plating the last of the six bowls, Kagome saw he was paused in front of a small photograph. It was the only one she’d hung on that wall, giving it pride of place at eye-level. It showed a small inari jinja shrine on an anonymous street corner somewhere in Tokyo. The focus was locked-in on the single red—almost, but not quite, hypersaturated—torii gate, and the stone kitsune guardians with bared fangs. The blurred forms of people broke up the composition, a rushed counterpoint to the shrine’s utter stillness. And loneliness. 

“It’s my favorite photo,” Kagome said, quietly. Yash’s ear flicked back at the sound of her voice, but otherwise he was still as stone. “My dad bought it for me when I graduated culinary school. I’d been eyeing it in a small gallery for weeks. I was crushed when it disappeared from the window; I thought someone had bought it before I could scrape up the money.”

At this, Yash scoffed. “What’s the big deal with this boring ass photo anyways?” He jabbed one clawed finger at it, stopping just short of puncturing the print. “S’not that great. Composition is janky as hell, and the colors look all wrong.”

“Well aren’t you the expert,” Kagome rolled her eyes. “It just speaks to me, OK? It’s why I named the restaurant Shrine. I want this to be a place of stillness for everyone, where they can come to escape the chaos around them. I just wish I knew the photographer. Look.”

She pointed to the lower righthand corner. Scrawled in pencil, lines so dark they indented the mat, was the kanji for “dog” and the number zero.

“It’s signed, but I haven’t been able to find out anything about them,” Kagome continued wistfully. If only to thank them, just once. “I even checked with the gallery, but all they’d say is they bought it from a third-party agent and they ‘weren’t authorized to share his contact information.’ So it was a dead end. Even a hissy fit in their office didn’t make them budge.”

“Of course not. You can’t be more than 50 kilos soaking wet. A damp kitten would be more frightening than you, woman.” But one corner of his mouth tugged upward, and Kagome felt her face flush.

“Well, this kitten could take you any day. Now, you need to eat!” As Kagome pushed Yash toward the counter, she could have sworn he mumbled something like “keh, don’t I know it” under his breath. 

Once she’d practically bullied the half demon into one of the stools, Kagome snapped into chef mode. 

“Right, Yash. I have six bowls of ramen, and I’ve seasoned each of them differently. The one on your far left is almost not flavored at all, while the far right is what I’d call ‘normal.’ I want you to work your way up, telling me when it tastes right, OK?”

When he still just looked at her, she let out a little growl and practically shoved a pair of chopsticks into his hands. “I spent all afternoon making these, so eat!”

“Well, I sure as fuck didn’t ask you to,” he shot back. “Kami woman, you’re pushy. I already said I would.”

“I know. But I meant it when I said I wanted Shrine to be for everyone. And I’m honestly a little ashamed I didn’t even realize no one from the demon population would be able to eat here. And I’m going to fix that, immediately. I know I said you ‘owed’ me, Yash, but you’re really doing me a favor. So eat, please. And tell me what you like.” 

Yash slowly reached for the bowl, on his left, claws clinking against the ceramic. He sniffed it almost delicately before taking one hesitant sip of broth, then one slurp of noodles. Kagome felt her eyes following the path his hand took from bowl to mouth. 

There was something so intimate, she thought, not for the first time, about watching someone eat food you’d made for them . It was like you were giving them something of yourself, the best of the care and kindness you had to offer. And it had been a long time since someone had eaten something she’d made so...thoughtfully. Thoroughly. A warm feeling bubbled up in her heart, watching the gruff hanyou take her sudden request seriously. When he wasn’t being an ass he could actually be quite...sweet.

“How is it?” she asked hopefully.

“Too bland,” Yash said bluntly, already moving on to the next bowl. It got the same conscientious treatment, and Kagome had to stop herself from interrupting to ask if it was good, if he liked it. This was a challenge she’d set herself. Kami knows what I’d do if he says they all taste bad. 

On the third bowl, Yash paused after the first sip. His ears twitched once, twice...three times. He took another sip, then a big slurp of noodles and Kagome could hardly stop herself from cheering. 

“This one. This one is...good,” he said slowly. “Maybe a bit less salt?” 

“OK. OK, cool, yeah, I can work with this.” Kagome knew she was babbling, but couldn’t stop the relieved outpouring. “So it was only a quarter of the amount of salt, and maybe a little less in the other aromatics. I, wow, knew that you must have a pretty strong sense of taste but this is amazing, and oh kami I’m going to have to adjust my entire menu so I can make sure everything is demon-friendly, and...”

“Kagome.” The amused sound of her name on his lips jolted her out of her spiral. She looked over to find his gaze warm, almost...fond? There was a new look in his eyes she couldn’t quite place, but it did delightful things to her insides. “You don’t have to redo everything at once. Look, I’ll,” he licked his lips, “I’ll come taste-test for you, alright? Make sure your new stuff is edible.”

“You’d do that?” 

“If it’ll stop you freaking out! I could practically feel your brain overheating. Plus, someone’s gotta make sure you don’t poison any demons, then you really would have to close.”

“You jerk !” Kagome shot back. But there was no heat behind it. She was smiling. Yash’s bowl of ramen was empty.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

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:

Well. Shit

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. 

Yeah, right. 

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.”