Golden eyes looked around in panic, two white ears at the top of his head flicking around at the chaos of noise around him. The scent of hairspray permeated the hall, mixing with the scent of anxiety and stress, nearly overwhelming him.
What the hell was he doing here?
Oh yeah, that’s what he was doing here. A small hand reached out to wrap around his finger, careful not to catch his claw.
Inuyasha Takahashi looked down at the small dark-haired girl next to him and gave her a reassuring smile. He knelt to look at his eight-year-old niece, running a hand down her long black hair.
“You ok Rin?” His voice was rich baritone, and more than one woman (and man) in the room turned to look at them.
They made a striking picture of contrast, the tall broad man with hair the color of moonlight and eyes of molten gold next to the petite child with her black hair and deep brown eyes. Rin Takahashi nodded shyly as her eyes lowered to the floor. Inuyasha could feel the tremors in her hand as it clutched his finger, his nose flaring as he caught the first trace of salt around his niece.
“Come here baby girl,” he soothed, drawing the small child into a hug. “If you don’t want to do this you don’t have to, we can come back and watch it instead.”
“No,” her soft voice was barely audible over the cacophony in the hall, “I wanna… I wanna do this.”
“Ok hun, only if you are sure though.”
Rin took a deep breath and sniffed back her tears, nodding her head as she turned towards the table and stepped up to give her name.
If you had asked Inuyasha two years ago if he would have been anywhere near the Shikon Jewel pageant he would have laughed in your face and said only if it was to take the new Miss Shikon Jewel out for dinner. Then again, if you had told him that his half-brother would adopt a sweet and adorable child like Rin, Inuyasha would have asked if you had a lobotomy. Yet here he was, escorting his niece, who had captured his heart as surely as she had captured her adopted father’s, at the pageant when Sesshomaru had been called out of town for an emergency business meeting.
To say he was out of his element would be putting it… mildly. He didn’t know anything about beauty pageants… just beauty queens. And from those he had met, he didn’t want Rin to be anything like them, but she had her heart on competing, and well, Sesshomaru and Inuyasha were unable to deny her anything.
Thankfully, Rin’s age division, the Little Miss for 7-9-year-old girls didn’t allow any of the usual trappings of a pageant. Any girl at that age found wearing flippers (which Inuyasha had just learned meant fake teeth), false hair if it wasn’t medically necessary or makeup would be disqualified. This pageant, at least in the lower divisions, served as a mentoring program, teaching public speaking, presentation, and helped young girls gain more confidence in themselves.
A young female wolf demon with red hair tied up ran down the hall in curlers, a dark-haired wolf demon followed behind her carrying three bags of clothing and more bags full of what appeared to be makeup and more hair products at a fast pace.
The older division though… that was a typical beauty pageant, with young women age 17-24 competing for the coveted title of Miss Shikon Jewel, a precursor to the state pageant.
“Uncle Inu, I’m nervous…” Rin whispered, Inuyasha’s ears twitching to catch her words.
“You and me both baby girl, you and me both.” He admitted, shifting to encircle her hand with his, holding it securely as he took her number, lucky number 7, and lifted her bag of stuff over his other shoulder.
If he thought the hall was chaos, it was nothing compared to the waiting area.
“You can’t come in here, it's women only.” A nasal voice called out, and Inuyasha started to look down at an old woman, her white hair tied at the base of her neck, with two strands forming loops above her ears.
“I’m her chaperone.”
“I don’t care, women only.”
“I have to get her ready, she has to be in interview in…” Inuyasha looked at his watch, “twenty minutes.”
“She can come in and get dressed but you have to stay out here.”
Inuyasha felt Rin curl into his side and hide her face against his waist.
“Yeah, not happening. Is there somewhere else she can change?”
The woman pointed down the hall towards the restrooms and with an irritated nod Inuyasha turned and led Rin towards them. There was no way in hell he was leaving Rin in a roomful of people he had never met on her own.
Inuyasha hung Rin’s bag on a door jamb, lowering the zipper to reveal three outfits. A quick glance told him that the jean outfit with its embroidered jacket was not the right outfit, but which of the two dresses was she supposed to wear when.
“Uncle Inu, I need my interview dress to change!” Rin was bouncing with nerves as she watched him.
“Yeah, working on that baby girl, I just gotta figure out which one you need.”
“First time?” A voice as smooth as honey sounded behind him as Inuyasha caught the scent of vanilla and roses. He turned to meet stormy gray eyes that glistened with amusement. The girl… no… the woman, stood in the door of the restroom in an emerald green fitted suit, her ebony hair cascading down her back in waves.
“Is it that obvious?” Inuyasha’s cheeks flushed as he turned back to the bag. He could smell Rin’s anxiety rising, and knew he needed to try and help her as fast as he could.
“Little miss, right?” The woman said as she stepped forward to kneel down in her heels to offer Rin her hand. “My name is Kagome Higurashi, I’m competing in the Miss division.”
Rin’s eyes rose briefly to Inuyasha’s before she gave a small smile and offered the woman her hand.
“Rin Takahashi,” she said shyly.
“Well Rin, would it be ok if I helped you and your father?”
“Uncle…” Inuyasha quickly interjected, and Kagome turned to give him a smile, “and we would appreciate any help you could give.”
Kagome rose and considered the two dresses in the bag, one was a floor length orange cotton dress embellished with yellow embroidery and a light green ribbon for the waist, and a knee length orange and yellow sundress with bows on the shoulders.
“Oh these are so adorable!” Kagome exclaimed, taking the sundress out of the bag and holding it in front of her. She turned to Rin with another smile, “would you like me to help you with this?”
“Y...yes please.” Rin whispered, and Inuyasha let out a small sigh of relief as Kagome led her to the restroom, cooing over her outfits. At least Rin would have someone to help her get dressed, someone who knew what they were doing.
A few minutes later Rin skipped out of the bathroom to twirl in front of her uncle.
“What do you think Uncle Inu?”
“I think you look beautiful Princess.”
“I’m not a princess Uncle Inu…” Rin’s giggle warmed Inuyasha’s heart.
“You are a princess to me, and you always will be,” Inuyasha said solemnly, bending down to pick the girl up into a hug.
“Could all the Little Miss contestants please line up in numerical order?” A voice called down the hall, and Inuyasha set Rin down, grabbing her number and pinning it to the bottom of her dress. Rin gasped as she saw the two headed dragon pin he had used, and beamed up at her uncle.
“This way Ah-Un is with you too.” Inuyasha said with a smile, touching a finger to her nose. “He’s there to wish you luck.”
A tall woman with long brown hair came down the hall towards them, and Inuyasha shifted to stand slightly in front of both Rin and Kagome. The woman quirked an eyebrow at him before chuckling.
“My name is Sango Hoshi, I am the Little Miss Contestant Coordinator. Are you Miss Rin Takahashi?” When Rin nodded. Sango smiled and offered her hand. “If you come with me, I will escort you to the interview line up.”
Inuyasha turned to look at Rin, who gazed up at him with hesitant eyes. He cocked his head towards Sango.
“Go on baby girl, I will be here when you get back.”
Inuyasha knelt in front of Rin to take her hands in his.
“I will always be here, I promise.”
When he released her hands, Rin took a hesitant step around him, moving towards Sango to take her hand before being led down the hall.
“Sango will take good care of her, she’ll be fine.” Kagome said softly as Inuyasha watched his niece walk down the hall.
“Yeah, but will I be?” He grumbled, fighting the need to dash down the hall to pick Rin up and take her out of there.
“First pageant is always rough, especially on the family, but Sango and her husband Miroku have done a great job after they took over three years ago, it's a great experience for the contestants.”
When Inuyasha turned back, troubled gold met her stormy gray eyes. “She’ll be back soon, the judges are usually really nice, especially with the younger girls.”
“You sound very familiar with this pageant.”
Kagome smiled and leaned against the wall. “I should, I’ve competed at almost every level since I was Rin’s age.”
“Almost every level?”
“Yeah, this is my first time competing in the Miss division. I was away for college for a few years, but I graduated last June, and came back to compete again in my last year.”
“So this may not be a one time thing? Hell, I don’t think my nerves could handle that.”
Kagome’s laugh soared down the hallway, and Inuyasha let the sound soothe his nerves. “Most girls compete in Little Miss then keep coming back when they age up to Pre-teen and Teen.”
“Bloody hell…” Inuyasha ran his hand down his face, “Sess better be here next year.”
“Her father, my half-brother.”
“Ah yes, Uncle Inu?” She teased, her eyes sparkling.
“It’s actually Inuyasha, but Rin likes to shorten it to Inu.”
“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you Inuyasha.” Kagome said as she held out her hand.
Inuyasha hesitated briefly before reaching out to take it. The moment his hand met hers he felt a shiver run through him, a sense of rightness as he took a good look at the petite woman before him. Even in heels she barely reached his chin. Inuyasha typically preferred to date taller women, but he couldn’t deny feeling the need to protect the dainty, gorgeous, woman before him. He reluctantly released her hand, silently pleased when she lifted the hand towards her chest, bringing her other hand up to clasp it. A quick look showed no ring on either hand, nor any tan line to indicate that a ring should have been there.
“Thank you for your help, seriously, you’re a lifesaver.” Inuyasha was slightly embarrassed to hear how deep his voice was as he spoke, shit he needed to get a grip over himself.
“Don’t worry about it, helping each other is what we do.” Kagome assured him. “I’m just glad I was here to help, I can’t stand being in the main changing area, too many nervous parents.” She raised an eyebrow as she looked at him, her eyes dancing.
“Keh…” was his only response.
“Will you be escorting her on stage if she gets through to the next stage?”
“I’ll do whatever Ri… wait next stage?”
“Today is the preliminary. The top 5 from each division will compete tomorrow as well.”
“Ah hell, Sesshomaru didn’t mention that part.” Inuyasha groaned. “Yeah, if she gets to the next stage I’ll escor…” His voice broke off as he looked up, suddenly worried. “It won’t mess her up or anything if I escort her will it?”
“What?” Kagome’s jaw dropped, “no, not at all, why would you think it would?”
“I dunno,” Inuyasha mumbled, “I mean, I’m not her father, and I’m hanyo, wouldn’t she get marked down for that?”
“Oh Inuyasha, no…” Kagome’s heart was breaking at the terrified expression on his face. “The contestants can be escorted by anyone, family member, friend, anyone they want there with them, to support them. This system is open to everyone, yokai, humans, hanyo, you won’t hurt her chances at all by being there with her.”
Inuyasha’s face visibly relaxed as he let out a sigh of relief. “She’s been looking forward to this for months, and I just… I want to help her as much as I can.”
“You are, don’t worry. You have been very very supportive from what I’ve seen.”
“Thanks. Sorry, I think I’m almost as nervous as she is.”
“You’ll be fine Uncle Inu.” Kagome smiled up at him, and he felt his heart stutter. “What made Rin want to compete?”
“Everyone competes for a reason, I was curious what Rin’s is.”
“Oh, well… she dances at a local studio, and at the end of the year recital they bring out all the young girls and women who have won a pageant and let them walk the stage in their dresses and crowns, and she decided she wanted to be one of them, and so, here we are.” He tilted his head, his ears flicking towards her. “What about you?”
“The scholarship money. I was able to pay a good bit of my college with what I have won, and I’m considering grad school so I figured I would give it another shot, and if I were awarded anything I would put it towards that.”
“That’s… I didn’t even think of that.” Inuyasha sheepishly admitted, his hand rubbing the back of his neck.
“It helped me come out of school without any loans, so hey.” She shrugged. A call from the main corridor caught her attention. “Crap, they are calling us, we have a different set of judges so we interview at the same time. If you want, I’ll come back and help get Rin ready for the next round.”
“We would really appreciate it, but only if it won’t interfere with your competition.” Inuyasha quickly told her, relaxing when she smiled at him and gave him a wink.
“I’ll see you later then dog-boy.”
“The hell, dog-boy? Where did that come from?”
“Uncle Inu… that and your adorable puppy ears, and I thought you might like dog-boy better than puppy.”
At Inuyasha’s growl she giggled and walked down the hall towards the other contestants. She had almost reached the crossway when he called out.
“Hey Kagome!” Kagome turned back to Inuyasha with a questioning look. “Good luck.”
Before Kagome could respond a loud “UNCLE INU'' echoed through the hall as Rin raced towards him to leap into his arms. Inuyasha looked up to see Kagome give them one last smile before she was ushered around a corner and out of view as he spun Rin around.
“How did it go baby girl?
“It was amazing, I had so much fun talking about them, they asked me about ah-un and my dog fluffy and I told them about being adopted and how being brought into your family made me so happy and I got not just a daddy but an amazing uncle and…” Rin’s words were cut off as Inuyasha grabbed her into a tight hug, tears forming in his eyes at her words.
Through some miracle (and a lot of help from Kagome), Rin made it through all three rounds of competition. Inuyasha had been so flustered with making sure she was where she needed to be, in the right outfit, when she needed to be that he was frazzled, more frazzled than his sweet, adorable, diabolical niece.
How the hell did people do this on a regular basis?
He collapsed to the floor in a groan as Rin was led by Sango to the final stage of the competition proudly wearing her orange and yellow dress, its green bow… oh hell it was coming untied. As he tried to force himself up he saw Sango place a hand on Rin’s shoulder and turn her to redo the bow. The smile that Rin gave her made it all worth it. She was having a blast. When Rin and Sango turned out of his view he let his head fall back with a groan. His hair trailed onto the floor and for once, he just… didn’t care.
“Don’t worry Uncle Inu, the day is almost over.” Kagome’s gentle voice pulled him from his exhaustion as he opened a single eye.
Kagome stood before him in a casual outfit of jeans and a tank top, showing her toned arms and figure, her dress bag tossed over her shoulder. She had removed all her makeup and tied her hair back in a ponytail…
And she was the most beautiful woman Inuyasha had ever seen.
“Are you already done?” Inuyasha pushed himself off the floor to stand with her, noticing for the first time just how petite she was without her heels. The top of her head barely reached his shoulders in her flats, and he again felt the overwhelming need to protect her.
“Yeah, as I said we have a different set of judges for the preliminaries than Rin does, and there are only 15 of us, while there are about 50 for the lower divisions. So the Miss division is always done first.”
“How did it go?”
“I’ll find out tomorrow. For Little Miss, Pre-Teen and Teen they announce the top five in each division today so everyone knows who needs to be ready for tomorrow. For Miss they announce the top five during the competition.”
“Ah, I guess there’s a lot to learn about these.”
“It gets easier with practice, give it a year or so and you’ll be an old pro at this.” Kagome teased as she shifted her bag.
“Ah… Rin just went back with Sango for what they called ‘beauty,’ what do we do after this?” Inuyasha asked.
“That’s it for today. After she gets back from beauty you will have probably a half hour to load up the car and then they post the top five. If her name is on there, you will be back tomorrow to do it all over again with a final set of judges, if not, you can come back tomorrow to watch the rest of the competition.”
“Kagome…” Inuyasha reached out to take her free hand, catching it in both of his, “thank you, really, thank you. I don’t think I would have survived without your help, and Rin, well, you were right, she’s having a blast, but in a large part that was due to you and your support.”
“Don’t mention it,” Kagome said with a smile, “people were there for me in my first pageant, and I never forgot how much that meant, so I was glad to help.”
The moment was broken by Kagome’s pocket blaring the chorus of Fall Out Boy “Immortals,” making them both laugh.
“That would be my brother.” Kagome chuckled as she pulled the phone out. “He had to take the car today and was going to call when he was out front.” She quickly answered the call, and shot out a quick “I’ll be right there,” and deposited the phone back in her pocket. “I gotta go, it was really nice meeting you and Rin. I hope to see you guys tomorrow.”
The scent of vanilla and roses lingered as she hurried down the hall towards the entrance, and Inuyasha took a deep breath, trying to burn it into his memory. Even if Rin didn’t make the top five in her group, he knew he would be there the next day anyway to see how Kagome did.
Inuyasha eyed the chaos around them in the hall. Crap, he really should be getting that all cleared up. He grabbed the hangers from the door jamb, and carefully hung up Rin’s interview dress, eying the wrinkles. He didn’t think the dress could be washed, and he was afraid a dry cleaner wouldn’t get it back in time… looked like he was going to have to dig out the iron and try to learn how to use it. A glance down the hall showed other parents doing the same, but many had a device that seemed to use steam… yeah, he needed to figure out what that was and get one.
“UNCLE INU!!!!!!!!!!!!!” A blur of orange and yellow came zipping down the hall, and his arms were full of an excited Rin. “I did it Uncle Inu, I finished the competition!!”
“Did you have fun?
Rin nodded enthusiastically, and immediately started to fill her uncle in on everything that had happened and the new friends that she had made. Rin danced around him as he packed up her clothes and they brought everything out to his car, relaying everything she could about her day. When they got back inside she grabbed his hand and pulled him to meet all her new friends and their parents, and Inuyasha arranged several meet ups at local parks for the girls.
Inuyasha was relieved to see Rin finally relaxing and enjoying herself and more importantly, making friends. When Sesshomaru had adopted her a year before Rin had been quiet and timid, barely saying a word to anyone. She hadn’t made any friends at school, preferring to sit on her own, and when Sesshomaru had asked her why, she had simply shrugged and offered one heartbreaking reason…
“I won’t stay here long enough to matter.”
It had taken them the year to get her to understand she was part of their family, one of their pack, and that no matter what happened they would always be there for her. That’s why her statement about the interview, and being happy to be part of the family had hit him so hard. So if she was making friends, even if they lived on the other side of the state, he would do whatever he could to get her to a playdate with her friends.
Watching Rin was like watching a flower as it bloomed, revealing its petals and beauty to the world after being hidden away. She had never shown as brightly as she had that day, and her excitement and happiness spread to everyone that she spoke to. No matter what the outcome of the pageant was, Inuyasha would be forever grateful that he had been here to experience it with her.
A murmur down the hall caught his attention, his ears flicking towards it with curiosity.
“I think the list went up.” He told Rin, reaching down to take her hand. “You want to go look?” Rin’s hand tensed in his as she looked up at him, her eyes uncertain. “Hey,” Inuyasha knelt down and drew her close, “we don’t have to if you don’t want to. You came, you had fun, you made friends, that’s the most important thing right.”
“But what baby girl?”
“I… I wanna do it tomorrow to…” she whispered.
“So, let’s go look, want me to come with you?” Rin’s shy nod made his heart swell. “Ok, let’s go then.”
Rin kept a tight grip on his hand as they made their way down the hall. Squeals of happiness mixed with sobs as girls threw themselves in their parents arms after looking at the list. Inuyasha hesitated… maybe this wasn’t a good idea… maybe they shouldn’t do this…
Rin pulled him to a stop with a tug of her hand.
“Coul… could you look for me?” She whispered, and Inuyasha nodded, bending down to kiss her forehead.
Inuyasha gulped, halfway afraid to look at the board, but it would be better coming from him than seeing it for herself, no matter what happened.
His eyes darted over the list for Teen and pre-teen before finally settling on the list for Little Miss.
- Shiori Komori
- Soten Sanda
- Botan Ningyo
- Momiji Ningyo
- Rin Takahashi
Inuyasha turned to Rin with a giant grin on his face and her eyes went wide.
“R… really!!!!” At Inuyasha’s nod she squealed and started dancing in place. Inuyasha watched her with a silly grin on his face until it suddenly hit him.
They had to do this all over again the next day… he may not survive the weekend.