“I could be wrong but… Buyo, I think we're not making a beeline for the apartment anymore…”
A shift in the plump feline's position inside the carrier had her tugging on the strap so it would sit higher on her shoulder. She'd settle for the brief trill she got as a response to her poorly veiled distress call. It wasn’t like she could expect much else from a cat, anyway.
She also shouldn’t expect that repeatedly chanting to herself that she was to trust her former Girl Scouts skills slash spidey senses and believe that that was, in fact, the way to the apartment complex would actually assure she'd find it. Yet here she was.
Oh, who was she trying to kid? Of course that had to be it. Especially since the listing mentioned a hardware store just across the street (and there it was), and her street navigation prowess was in fact based on the pointy blue mark on Google Maps (and there it pointed).
“I could swear it was just a block down from Family Mart...” Kagome peeked inside the faded blue carrier to attempt to convince the lazy cat. “Well… I mean, it's not an upgrade, but we'll make do! Maybe the inside is a bit nicer. Totosai-sama did say it had a kitchen island. It can’t be too bad if it has a kitchen island, right?”
As minutes turned to halves of hours past sunset and the old man on the receiving end of her calls remained AWOL, she grew increasingly restless. It occurred to her that agreeing to meet up at seven wasn’t her brightest moment of the day, but she couldn’t help but jump at the chance for a change of scenario. Maybe she shouldn’t trust him about the kitchen island, either.
Kagome had taken a seat on the stairs that led to the main entrance of the building. Her fingers, numb from the crisp night air, protested when she declined the first woman's invitation to let her come inside. The second person, a middle-aged man with nasty yellow teeth, was dismissed purely out of discomfort. If the property manager insisted on taking much longer to get there, she'd throw manners to the wind and scurry inside all right. He had told her in which studio she'd be staying after all and it wasn’t like he was too polite either, given how late he was running.
“Are you cold, Buyo?” Kagome opened the front lid to pet him, her other arm twisting so she could check the time on the small dial at her wrist. “Two- hours? Alright, this is just getting ridiculous now! Next person that comes by, I promise.”
Problem was… the next person that did come by was distracting to say the least.
A black-haired man jogged up the steps where she had curled herself up into an onigiri-shaped bundle, long midnight tresses flowing down his back and brushing the waist band of his light gray track pants. At first, it seemed like he would ignore her in favor of keeping his attention on balancing the paper bag brimming with ramen cups and ice cream in one hand, while attempting to get the key into the lock with the other.
“What are you starin' at?”
Kagome flinched. He sounded mildly annoyed. Perhaps partly hungry. Maybe he was having a bad day. She knew comfort food all too well and she was staring, to be fair.
“Oh, s-sorry,” she muttered lamely and would have followed that up with an amiable smile and a plea for help hadn’t he opened his trap again.
“This isn’t the place for you to camp out at this hour, kid. Run along to a safer part of town, would'ya?” he spared her no more than a glance. “And consider getting a dog or somethin' toothier.”
Her mouth parted in confusion. Kid? Camp out? “Wait, n-no, I- I'm not homeless. Well… I, I mean, technically I am now that I think of it, but-”
“You'll get chased off with a broomstick if the old man finds you here. A broken broomstick. And believe me, it's not broken 'cause he's a good little housewife. So, beat it, alright, kid?”
She ignored his patronizing grunt and took a deep calming breath. “Old man? That wouldn’t by any chance be Totosai-sama, would it? ‘Cause I would expect him not to after leaving me hanging for two hours now...”
Black opal eyes scanned her from top to bottom. “Oh... Sorry. You just uh, have that look.”
And what exactly did he mean by that? Maybe she hadn’t put all that much thought into what she'd throw on her back that morning but it was a stretch for him to immediately assume she was a teenage vagabond. Given her current predicament though, she couldn’t afford to get on the man's bad side.
“It’s fine. Uhm, I- Would you mind? Letting me inside, I mean? I'm freezing out here and I can’t get hold of Totosai-sama. I don’t know how long it'll be 'till he gets here...”
He crossed one leg over the other and leaned against the glass door. “Depends. Are you a serial killer?”
She took a second to gape at him and realize he was completely serious. “… A serial killer who hunts in capris and carries a cat around?”
“Pretty sure I've seen that ruse on 'Tokyo Cops'.”
Kagome huffed, resisting the urge to rub her temples. “Well, no? I don't have the stamina I'm pretty sure that line of work requires, trust me.”
The black-haired man inspected her before turning his attention back to her face with a wince. “You are awfully skinny. Sorry, the devil's spawn in the bag threw me off. Can't be too careful with cat people.”
She looked like a murderer? Because she had a cat?
Kagome faked a smile at her human ticket inside. “Mind if I do it?” she offered, holding out her hand to grab the key and open the door while he busied himself with keeping the contents of the brown paper bag from spilling out.
Thankfully, Kagome had decided on only bringing with her a medium-sized carry-on and the cat's malleable crate because the elevator was broken and the walk up the narrow staircase wasn’t exactly easy-breezy.
“So, are you old enough to rent a place? Or are you here for, ya know, something else?”
Kagome frowned and the blank stare she got in return told her he wholeheartedly believed her face was contorting due to her struggle with the bag.
“I am renting it. I'm twenty-two.”
The man stopped mid-step to peer down at her, his gaze yet again, and much to her annoyance, trailing up and down her form with slight disdain. Or was it disbelief? It didn’t really matter. She felt insulted by both.
“Oh. Sorry. The old man isn’t married and likes them a bit, uhm, low maintenance? And you just…”
Kagome tightened her hand on the trolley's handle and narrowed her eyes at his insinuation, daring him to tell her she had that look too.
“Nevermind,” he dismissed with a scoff.
“Why, you,” she grunted, unable to hide her irritation anymore. “I’m not a- street worker! Kami, what in the world is wrong with you?”
“Keh. I was just wonderin'. You don’t have to bite my head off.”
“I’ve been in your company for five minutes tops and you've already called me a skinny, low maintenance, murderous-looking, homeless prostitute! I think you ought to keep your musings to yourself!”
“I said I wasn’t sure about that third one, actually.”
Kagome bit her tongue. “Look. I've had a very long bad week and I'm trying my best not to push you down the stairs right now because I don’t wanna risk an assault charge or losing the only place available on such short notice. Mainly the place, though. So, if you could just please, leave me alone…”
The man tsked. “You're the one following me, kid.”
Kagome grit her teeth. “I’m on 2K! And stop calling me that, already!”
“Ahh, great.” She could hear the eye roll in his tone. “Stinky cat smell right across the hall. Just my fucking luck.”
"I keep Buyo very clean, if you must know! And- wait, what?”
The man sighed his way through the remaining steps down the hall. After reaching one of the deep green doors, he balanced the groceries on his bent knee while working on the golden handle.
“This is me, dear new front door neighbor,” he said unenthusiastically. “So, if you ever need an extra egg, a steady hand to kill a spider, or a shoulder to slobber on, don't bother me.”
Kagome shut her lips in a tight line and smiled back cynically. “2L, huh? Appropriate enough, I'd say.”
On a regular day, she'd be trying her hardest to make peace with the first and only person she knew in the building but he was pushing her buttons and from the smirk that made a brief appearance on his face during that last remark, she'd say he was starting to enjoy it. That is, until he picked up on her little pun.
“Oh, I see. Kitty's inside now so the claws can come out.”
Kagome groaned, taking a seat on the floor by her apartment door. “You started it, mister! Just- forget it! I’m cold and I haven't eaten anything in hours and I'm already regretting agreeing to stay here without checking it out first...”
“A terrible idea, really,” he commented offhandedly. “Fine. Suit yourself.”
Faster than she could process, the man had slipped inside his apartment, leaving her to wait on the floor. A great wrap-up to a great week, she thought with a whine.
The loud 'oh, fuck it” she heard from behind her neighbor's door not ten seconds later put a halt to the start of her self-pity party and before she could blink, he was back outside with an annoyed scowl.
Fishing a phone out from his front pocket, he tapped his foot impatiently and stole a peek at her. “This is just 'cause I don’t want the hallway smellin' like cat when I walk out in the morning.” Her angry pout had him chuckling. “Hey, ya old geezer! Where the fuck are you?”
Kagome blinked, perplexed by his crude language. “Are you talking to Totosai-sama? Why didn’t he answer my calls?”
He quickly waved a dismissive hand in front of her face. “The new girl for 2K is here, you asshole. Well, if you would've told me I wouldn’t have forced you to go tonight! Fine, yeah, I would have, but you could have warned me or somethin’.”
Her eyes narrowed as the conversation went on. So he was the cause of the old man's tardiness and, by default, her miserable end of the day. More so than he already had been before, obviously.
“Whatever, I'm lettin' her in, alright? You come straight here when you're done at Hosenki's.” It was like a dark cloud slowly set over his head when he heard the next bit of information from the other end of the line. “What do you mean, 'it's not ready'? I know what 'ready' means, Totosai! Fucking hell! Yeah- yeah, fine. I got a spare one from- before. Hope it still works well enough… But you better be here first thing in the morning! Yeah. Of course I’m in a bad mood! Yeah. Top of the lamp on the left, right? Fine. Pft.”
Kagome got the clue as soon as she heard it and stood on her tiptoes to reach for the spare key inventively hidden away.
“Keh. You're welcome, by the w-”
“What in the heck is wrong with you!?”
The man's eyes widened in shock. “Wha- What the fuck are you on about? I was helping you out, you idiot!”
“You were to blame in the first place! Just what in the world were you forcing that poor man to do at this ungodly hour?”
“That,” He crossed his arms. “is none of your business. He'll only be here by morning so make yourself comfortable and don’t wait up. Kiddo.”
Kagome fought with everything within herself not to give him a piece of her mind after hearing the purposefully spat out endearment. Instead, she marched back to her bag and the cat's carrier and started pulling them inside. When she turned around to close the door behind her, the long-haired man was eyeing her from his apartment's own entrance.
“Buyo’s a fat cat's name, by the way."
She slammed the door shut.
“No, I'm fine, Mama. Promise! I was just completely beat and fell asleep on the- uh, couch.” Floor. Because unlike what Totosai had claimed, the apartment was most definitely not semi-furnished. Unless his definition of the term equaled a refrigerator that rattled the whole night like an old bike engine going uphill and a moth-eaten purple bean bag.
The (tiny) kitchen island was there though.
“I was worried sick about you, dear! Did you at least sign the lease yet?”
“Not really. Totosai-sama should be over in a while. I'm also waiting on the moving guys,” she commented distractedly, too busy inspecting the cutlery drawer. “They sent me a text saying they'll only arrive at around noon. Something about someone holding them back for fermented soybeans, rich in fiber and vitamin K2! A double threat to constipation and heart disease!”
“Ugh…that boy was always a bore. Right? That's what we're going with?”
Kagome chuckled, flipping one of Buyo's ears. “I know you liked Hojo, Mama. You don’t have to do that.”
“Nonsense! I will always take your side, Kagome. No matter what I may think of Hojo or whoever comes after him.”
“Believe me, it's gonna be a while until 'whoever' actually comes…”
“You're a beautiful young lady, young lady, and don’t you dare think otherwise! Moths. Flame. Trust me!”
She cringed at the prospect. “I better throw in a fire extinguisher on the shopping list for today.”
“Kagome! You are not going to clam up just because Hojo turned out to be too much! If love comes knocking on your door, I don’t want you in your Totoro sweatpants!”
The young girl had a smartass reply on the tip of her tongue but it was cut short when a quiet yet insistent knocking on the door echoed in the nearly empty apartment.
“Uhm… I'll call you back, 'kay Mama? Someone's at the door.”
Kagome doubled over in laughter. “The irony is not lost on me! I gotta- Okay, okay! I'm coming already! Jeez! Mama, I'm sorry, gotta go! I love you!”
Hurling the phone on the counter, she shuffled to the door as quickly as she could. If it turned out to be the jerk from last night, she would throw a fit.
Petite as she was, Kagome had to stand on her tiptoes to inspect the hallway through her new peephole.
An old man. Hunched over with a broomstick for a cane. Ready to bolt should the jerk's door open first, if the nervous glances over his shoulder were anything to go by.
It all checked out.
“Totosai-sama?” she greeted brightly.
“Higurashi-sama! Lovely to meet you! Apologies for my tardiness yesterday! May I come in, please?”
Kagome almost felt bad for the man, her forehead scrunching up as she thought back on his misfortune. Still, he could have called to let her know instead of playing ostrich, so she'd take her revenge by making him fidget a bit more.
“I must have missed your call yesterday! Thankfully, the very nice tenant from 2L there was kind enough to let me in,” she said while leaning on the door frame to prevent him from slipping inside.
“Ah, yes, yes. My dear friend Inu- eh, Yash. Accommodating as ever with the ladies. I've got everything right here for you to sign. Why don’t we go inside right this second, uhm?”
Kagome frowned. Was he just going to call him a dog? Though, with his attitude, she was sure he'd been called worse. Still, weirdest of all was how the old man didn’t pick up on her sarcasm. She was a master at it! Or could the tool - as she had kindly baptized him in the wee hours of the night remembering her best delivered line – actually be… nice?
The door of 2L was yanked open. “Hah! There you are, you old ass! Thought you could sneak around without me noticing, did'ya?”
Nevermind, Kagome sighed.
Then she looked up, and her breath caught in her throat.
His…eyes….and hair…and, were those dog ears!?
“Do you know what time it is, Totosai?”
The old man scratched his head in thought. “Ehh… n-nine?”
“It's eleven fucking thirty,” he gritted out. “Why the loving fuck are you so late?”
“Oh, is it? I must be going to take my meds then...”
Twirled around by his neck, Totosai was met with a stretched hand in front of his face. “Give it.”
“Hmm?” The old man glanced at the folder in his hands. “Oh! Do you mean to help with Higurashi-sama's paperwork? I heard the two of you met already! And she's told me you were quite the charmer!”
“Don’t gimme that shit! You know what I'm talking ab- wait, what? She did?”
They both turned to stare at her.
Kagome blinked. “What?”
Her front door neighbor was suddenly growling and veering his attention back to the old man. Kagome had tuned out at around 'eleven fucking thirty'.
A youkai, she thought as a trembling breath tickled her lips. It had been ages since she'd last seen one, their charms more efficient by the year. A quick inspection up the man's body and she immediately found it hiding beneath his black shirt, the beaded necklace that concealed his true appearance and demonic aura. It was faded, ever so light, but she could make out the outlines of his claws, the electric gold of his eyes and the fluffy white triangles atop his silver hair.
Correction, a hanyou… What had Totosai-sama almost called him before? Inu- Yash? Inuyasha, maybe? Pft… That's original… Erasing the uncomfortable question of 'which kind' at least…
How hadn’t she noticed it last night? Though, now that she got her thinking cap on, she didn’t remember him even wearing the necklace... It looked like it had seen better days, worn out and jaded. For the regular human eye, it would be more than enough to keep his identity hidden. For someone with spiritual powers, as rare and untrained as they were, it simply didn’t suffice.
“…-you gave me was not eh- up to standards. There's only so much Hosenki can do with spoiled goods!”
“The fuck do you mean by that!?”
“What difference does it make, hmm? You've got the old one!” Kagome didn’t miss the sneaky glance Totosai tried to throw her way without her noticing. “It looks like it works well enough. And I'll have the new one by tonight, I promise!”
She did her best to retain the confused glint in her eyes when her new neighbor caught a glimpse of her. Gaze trained safely below the hanyou's forehead, lest he figured out what she was actually dying to stare at, Kagome kept her thoughts occupied with willing herself not to get overly nervous. Sure as eggs is eggs, he'd pick up on her racing heart and she wasn’t quite in the mood to become youkai fodder.
“Throw in a discount. For my troubles.”
“I'll throw in the leftover chicken curry I had last night. How’s that sound?”
The old man received a light bonk on the head. “Like you're offering me the chance to braid Sesshomaru’s hair.”
Kagome watched the twosome's dickering with mild curiosity until something entirely more interesting and infinitely cuter caught her eye as it strut out of apartment 2L.
“Ooh! Who's this handsome boy?” She kneeled on the floor faster than lightening when the white fluffy dog sat in front of her.
“I wasn’t calling you, dumbass,” the hanyou reprimanded him.
“I told you it was a bad idea to name him 'Sessh',” Totosai said.
“I like it and I'll keep it. Oi, don't get him too mushed up, kid. He's got a temper.”
“Clearly,” Kagome scoffed while holding the pup's face in both hands. “I’d bet on something less cotton candy-ish, to be honest.”
“Keh. Luck of the draw. I'm tryin' to train the Rottweiler out of him.”
Kagome giggled and went back to running her fingers through the soft white fur.
“Ahh, look at my two favorite tenants, getting on like a house on fire!” Totosai's cheerful tone echoed from the end of the hallway, and only then did they realize he had quietly placed the papers down on the floor and sneaked out. “Lower right corner on all of them, Higurashi-sama! I'll pick them up later!”
He's… fast. For someone his age, Kagome mused before noticing the pair of eyes watching her intently. It wasn’t gradual, the way she felt much heavier and out of breath with one look. Perhaps due to his demonic nature having remained unknown to her up until a few moments ago, but she could swear he'd acquired a predatory presence.
“Now, you and I need to have a little talk.”
Kagome leaned back defensively as the hanyou kneeled in front of her, his expression unreadable.
“You think I didn’t notice your nervousness before?”
Oh no! Just how in the hell had he figured it out!? Could he have sensed her spiritual powers? No, it couldn’t be… It was the one thing she'd mastered in the course of her childhood training! Had she been too obvious with her gawking then?
“My, uh-” she muttered.
“I could practically see your heart missing a beat.”
That's when it occurred to her that focusing on why he'd come to realize that she was aware of his masquerade was far less important than thinking of a way to get out of it. Think, Kagome, think! Would she be able to channel her reiki if push came to shove? It had always proved hard for her but maybe she'd get a rush of it, like adrenaline in a fight-or-flight kind of deal. But how would she control the amount of power? She couldn’t exactly kill someone! Or… could she? Nothing had been signed yet… She could escape to Tibet… But first- oh… oh, no! He's leaning- He's gonna tear my neck open!
“You wanna do the four-legged foxtrot with me, don't you?”
Truth be told, she could count on the fingers of one hand the number of youkai she'd unofficially met during her short lifetime. They were still very much a mystery to her. Yet it still astonished her how a member of the species was capable of such a… wholehearted expression of pity.
“I'm sorry I was rude to you yesterday. It was not a good night for me. And I'll take full responsibility for your attraction to me. At such an impressionable age-”
“- it's normal for you to lean towards hot men with behavioral issues.”
“Hot-… and, that would be… you?”
He nodded, eyes closed. “And look, ya have a really pretty face, alright? A tad on the scrawny side, by the looks of it under all those clothes, but real pretty. Just… not quite my type. So, we're gonna have to stick to occasionally running into each other at the mail box, okay?”
Thankfully, he'd induced a stupor deep enough in her that she was physically unable to vomit at the sickeningly soft way that last 'okay' was whispered.
Why this insufferable little- buttmunch!
This was not happening. She didn’t deserve it. After the day she'd had… After breaking up with her boyfriend of three years… To get pity compliments from this rude, arrogant asshat!
Kagome took a deep, soothing breath to stop herself from jumping him. And not in the way he thought she wanted to. She could be petty about it. Insult him in return. Refuse to address him should they run into each other in the hall. Hint that she figured his little secret out to watch him squirm- oh. She liked that one.
No, she chastised herself. Don't be an idiot! He seems harmless enough now, but Mama taught you not to play with fire! You have to be the bigger person!
Her mind was set, her truce-inducing smile was on, and- his hand was on her shoulder?
“You'll find someone. You'll see.”
Oh, fuck it.
“Yes, that's too bad. But I understand,” she said, trailing her hand up Sessh's fur until it reached his head. “What can you do? The heart wants what it wants.”
The hanyou nodded again, standing up from his kneeled position and crossing his arms in front of his chest. “You’re being very mature about this, kiddo.”
“Well, I am twenty-two years old,” Kagome sneered. “But, anyways. I won’t keep you. Just hope I get to see this handsome, fluffy cloud on occasion.”
She looked pointedly at him then, while her fingers gave one last playful tug at the dog's furry appendages. Eyes locked on his, legs ready to bolt inside, heart hammering away, she spoke.
“Cute ears, by the way!”