The weather was brisk, but the afternoon sunshine added a little bit of warmth when Kagome managed to walk on the sunny side of the street. She’d been out doing a little shopping, treating herself to a few new things—she still wasn’t quite used to having so much disposable income, but it was nice to be able to buy what she wanted without having to feel guilty afterwards.
She stepped into the lobby of her building and crossed to the alcove lined with brass mailboxes off to the left. She had to shift a few bags around to free up a hand to retrieve the mail, but soon managed it and closed her slot again, heading over to the elevator. On the way up she tried to rearrange things again to keep the bag handles from cutting into her elbow, but there was no really good way to hold everything comfortably at once.
When she reached her apartment, Kagome clamped the stack of mail in her mouth to free up a hand so she could dig her keys out of her purse and open the door. Once inside, she nudged the door shut again with her heel and shouldered her purse and purchases off onto the dining table, shrugging out of her jacket as well and hanging it neatly over the back of the nearest chair. Then she grabbed the mail out of her mouth again and started sorting through it—bills, credit card offers, coupons, more bills. She never really expected anything more interesting, but somehow it was always a letdown nonetheless.
Tossing a few items of pure junk mail into the recycling, unopened, she slipped a finger underneath the flap of the American Express bill and started to tear open the envelope as she wandered down the step from the wood-floored entryway into the carpeted living room. A flicker of something caught her attention out of the corner of her eye, and she stopped short, frowning at the armchair across from her, at the other end of the couch.
How did that get there?
Kagome dropped the small stack of half-opened bills onto the coffee table and walked over to the armchair, bending down to pick up the trophy and turn it over in her hands. It was definitely the same trophy—had her name on it and everything.
“Thought you might want that back.”
Kagome jolted and jerked around at the voice just a few feet behind her. “Jesus,” she breathed irritably, pressing a hand to her chest and glaring at Inuyasha. “Don’t do that—you scared the hell out of me. What are you doing here?”
“Just came to bring you the trophy,” he said, pointing to the object still in her hands.
“Haven’t you ever heard of UPS?” she grumbled, tossing the thing back down onto the chair and crossing her arms. “Besides, I told you, I don’t want it.”
“Well I don’t want it either.”
She scoffed. “I find that hard to believe.”
“Well it’s true,” he said. “It’s not mine. I didn’t win it, and I don’t want it.”
“By less than a percent,” she parroted tartly.
But he didn’t rise to the bait. “I didn’t win it.”
She glared at him, but he only met her gaze evenly. Finally she was the one who had to look away. “How did you get in here anyway? Call your friend Hikaru and have him pick the lock for you?”
“Kagome…” he warned.
“Don’t you ‘Kagome’ me—you’re the one who just broke into my apartment.”
“I didn’t ‘break-in’—Kikyo knows the building manager from when she used to live here. She made a couple of calls for me, and he let me in.”
“On what planet is that not breaking in?”
“Well it’s not like I’m here to rob you,” he snapped. “I tried calling, but you never picked up.”
“You know, most people would take that as a hint.”
“Well I’m not most people.”
“Oh,” she laughed harshly, “don’t I know it. Look—fine, okay, I’ll take the damn trophy back. You can stop feeling guilty and go back home and get on with your life now, alright? You happy?”
Inuyasha glanced away, shoving his hands in his back pockets. “No,” he said quietly, staring down at the floor in front of his feet.
Kagome frowned, looking slightly askance at him. “What do you mean, ‘no’?”
He sighed, a little annoyed, a little frustrated. “I mean no, I’m not happy. I thought I was, but I’m not. At least…I’m not anymore.”
Kagome tilted her chin up slightly, still more confused. “What are you talking about?”
He gave a sharp growl of annoyance and glared at her. “You’re gonna make me say it, aren’t you?”
Kagome threw up her hands, nonplussed. “I don’t know what you’re trying to say!”
“Alright, alright,” he said, “it’s just…it’s not easy, okay? I’m not good at this.”
“Not good at what?”
“This! All this…feelings stuff.”
“Feelings? What kind of feelings?”
“For fuck’s sake, Kagome, I came all this way, will you at least just back off for a sec and let me way what I’ve got to say?”
“So say it, already!”
“I’m trying!” he growled, turning away to pace across the carpet and get his head on straight. Then, when he seemed to have gathered his courage, he stalked back over to face her again. “Look—here’s the thing. I’m just going to come out and say it, and if you want to throw it back in my face when it’s over, that’s fine, whatever, it’s up to you—but I’m going crazy here, so I’ve got to get this off my chest, because if I don’t I’m totally fucked.”
“Okay…” Kagome said warily.
“That week—that week that we spent together at the tournament…it’s been months, but somehow it seems like it was just a little while ago, you know? I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since, and even all that time before when we were—I mean, when I was acting like—”
He got tangled up somewhere in the middle of that thought, and Kagome peered at him, still lost. “Well you’re off to a really good start so far, I think…”
He sighed, backing up. “I know I was a jerk. When you first showed up, all I could think of was how much I had to lose and how humiliating it would be to have you take it from me, just like that—a woman chef. I’m not proud of that,” he added quickly, stifling her response. “It’s just the truth. But something changed that week. Or maybe it was before that—I don’t know exactly when it happened, but by the time it was all over I knew I had lost big time. Not the tournament—I’ve got a shelf full of those stupid trophies, one more wasn’t going to make a difference. It took me awhile to really realize it, but the thing I really cared about losing that week…was you.”
Kagome said nothing. The air itself was begging her for a response, but she was drawing a blank. Was he really saying what she thought he was saying?
“And I know you probably don’t feel that way about me—you made that pretty clear after that night when we…that night before the awards dinner. And I don’t blame you—it’s not like it’s your fault I’m such an arrogant fucking prick who drives away anyone who can stand him for half a minute—but I wanted you to know…how I felt. Because even if you don’t care about me—I know I won’t ever regret that week, or that night that we were together. You…you made me care about something for a change. Something more than just myself.”
They stared at each other for a long time, neither sure just what to say next. Finally Inuyasha looked away again. “So anyway, that’s it. I’ll get out of your hair now—sorry I bothered you…” He turned and walked quickly up into the entryway, reaching for the door.
“Inuyasha, wait,” Kagome called after him, and he paused with his hand on the door handle, not looking back as Kagome came up to stand behind him, just a couple of feet away.
She let out a frustrated sigh, and he looked back at her, confused.
“You see?” she said, throwing a hand out at him as if to show how he’d somehow put his foot in it again. “This is it—this is exactly why we would never work together. It’s always about you—always about your feelings and what you want and what you need. You said your piece and now you’re just clearing out. What about what I feel?”
Now he was pissed. He let go of the door handle and took a step toward her, shouting, “Well why the hell do you think I came here? What more do you want me to say?”
“I don’t want you to say anything,” she countered, stamping her foot, “I want you to ask me!”
“That’s what I just—you—aaaarrgh you are such a pill sometimes, you know that!” he ground out, clenching his fists as if tempted to grab her by the throat.
“Still not hearing a question!” Kagome countered in an almost singsong tone.
“Alright, fine then!” he snapped, exasperated. “How do you—”
But he stopped short, the words sticking in his throat, making him lose his nerve. It was harder than he’d thought it would be, asking her this face to face, her eyes gleaming up at him like twin suns—beautiful, but too bright. Because asking the question meant listening to the answer. He swallowed, the steam seeping out of him rapidly. “How do you feel about me?”
She glared at him for a long moment, then crossed her arms and looked away with a sigh. “I hate you,” she said quietly.
His eyes flashed with irritation. “Well thanks a lot for walking me into that one!” he growled.
“Let me finish!” she snapped, glaring at him again. “It’s true, alright, sometimes I really hate you—you make me angrier than anyone I’ve ever met, and you’re so stubborn and full of yourself I just don’t know what to do with you sometimes. But these past few months…” she trailed off, unfolding her arms and looking down at her hands, rubbing her thumb across her palm absently.
She sighed and looked up at him again. “I’ve missed you too. And sometimes I don’t hate you. Sometimes I can’t even remember why I hated you.”
She caught the hit of a smirk that was tugging on his lips, and her eyes narrowed a bit, the aggravation returning. “And then,” she said, “just when I start to think you’re not such a bad guy—there you are again acting all possessive and trying to manipulate me into whatever—”
Inuyasha growled his frustration. “I’m not trying to manipulate you, Kagome—I’m not trying to win you or possess you or control you—I’m just trying to tell you I’m in love with you, and you’re not listening!”
Kagome stared at him, her previous accusation dying on her lips. He looked as if he sort of wished he could take that back, as if it had slipped out without permission—but he didn’t look away.
“You’re in love with me?” she said, dumbstruck.
“I think so, yeah,” he said, nodding, as if still getting used to the idea himself.
She shook her head, still not convinced. “Inuyasha, how could you be in love with me? We barely know each other!”
He looked her in the eyes and gave her the ghost of a smile. “I know you,” he said quietly.
And she was surprised to find that she believed him.
“You’re like me,” he said. “Except crazier.”
Kagome rolled her eyes. “Oh, well, now that’s rich. Which one of us is Mister Fireball?”
“Well which one of us runs for the hills every time things get a little bit serious?”
“We both do that!” she pointed out, advancing on him. “And at least I don’t lash out at people who try to talk to me like an adult!”
“No, you just play hide and seek!” he countered, taking a step toward her.
“You are such a jerk!”
“And you are such a bi—”
But he wasn’t quite able to finish that last word before she reached out, took two fistfuls of his hair, and dragged herself up to crush her lips against his. He was caught off guard for a moment—but soon swept that aside and wrapped his arms around her to make sure she wouldn’t escape this time.
Several breathless moments passed in which there was no arguing, no bickering, no hurling of insults—just the sound and the feel of the two of them together, finally, possibly, in complete agreement. When they finally came up for air, parting only a few inches, their arms still wrapped around each other, he looked down into her eyes, which looked right back up at him.
“How much of all that did you mean?” she asked breathlessly.
He frowned in slight annoyance that she’d even ask the question. “All of it,” he grumbled in a ‘duh’ tone of voice. But then he reconsidered, amending, “Well, all of the good parts—don’t listen to the bad parts. How about you? Did you mean what you said?”
She nodded. “Only the good parts for me too though.”
“Deal,” he said, leaning in to kiss her softly again. Then he pulled back a bit and looked down at her, a little uncertain. “You’re not planning to run away again, are you?” he said warily, even though the grip he had on her would hardly have allowed it. But if anyone could thwart him, it was her.
A smile curved her lips, and she shook her head slowly, never taking her eyes from his.
“Good,” he said. And then he captured her lips again, holding her to her promise.
* * *
A couple of hours later, the two of them were tangled together in the sheets of Kagome’s bed, Inuyasha’s arms wrapped around her, his body pressed against her back as she dozed lightly against his arm. He was a little sleepy too—it had been a long flight, not to mention the workout they’d just had—but he was determined not to fall asleep. Just in case he woke up and found out this was a dream. Or woke up and found that she was gone again, which was a little more plausible.
Only a little though. This was her apartment, after all.
“Inuyasha?” she said sleepily, eyes closed.
He tensed slightly, part of him still worried there might be a reversal in the offing. “Sorry for what?” he asked carefully.
She shifted around underneath the covers so that she was facing him, resting her head on her bent arm in the mirror of his position and opening her eyes to look at him seriously. “For that day—the last day of the tournament. I think I’ve been blaming you for everything, and I shouldn’t have. I mean, it was your fault the way things started between us—but I think it was my fault the way they ended up.”
She sighed, glancing down at the narrow space between them on the mattress. “I was a coward,” she admitted. “After that night we spent together, I knew I was falling for you, but—I didn’t believe that you could possibly have the same feelings for me. I thought I was the only one at risk of being hurt, and I…I was just trying to protect myself.” Her eyes lifted to meet his again. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, Inuyasha. I’m sorry if I did.”
He looked back at her for a moment, then gave a small nod of acknowledgement—and he could see a little bit of tension, a little bit of nervousness seep out of her frame at his silent acceptance, a smile flickering on her face. She reached out a hand to run her fingertip over the line of his jaw, her eyes meeting it as she traced the contours of his chin, and her smile turned slightly on its side.
“Anyway, you know how things are with us,” she continued. “Even if you did feel what I was feeling, I thought I’d be doing us both a favor stopping this…whatever it is before it started. And then when you got all huffy about the trophy and everything, I just figured I’d been right—you really didn’t care about me.”
He grasped her hand at his face, curling it inside his own and drawing her eyes back up to his. “Kagome, I only made a big deal about the trophy because I thought that you didn’t—”
“I know,” she said, squeezing his hand to reassure him. “I know that now. That’s why I’m sorry. The whole thing was as much my fault as it was yours.” She smiled wryly up at him. “Sometimes I think you bring out the worst in me, you know that? I was a grown-up before I met you.”
He grinned at her, shrugging a shoulder. “Being a grown up is overrated. I can take a beating every now and then—as long as you always come back.” His hand parted from hers and brushed down her side, coming to rest on her sheet-covered hip and squeezing gently. “Especially if the makeup sex is as good as it was this time.”
She flicked the back of her hand against his chest scoldingly, but the gesture was undercut by the satisfied smile tugging at her lips.
He leaned over her and kissed her softly. “So,” he murmured, then kissed her again just as briefly, teasing, “exactly how long do you think we can stay like this before you get it in your head to run away again?”
She chuckled as his lips closed over hers again, and the sensation of it ran straight from her body into his. “Well I’m not going anywhere, but you are,” she replied, parting from his lips to kiss him on the chin, then making her way slowly along his jaw and down his neck to the hollow of his shoulder. “When do you have to be back in Chicago?”
Inuyasha went still and didn’t answer, so Kagome opened her eyes and pulled back a bit, glancing up at him curiously. He was absently nibbling at the inside of his lower lip, looking away at something across the room. “Inuyasha?” she prompted.
He glanced down at her, then away again. “Well,” he began, “I was thinking…I might move here. Not, like, into your apartment,” he clarified quickly, “just…to New York. To be near you.”
Kagome stared at him. “Seriously?”
He nodded, still not looking at her. She shifted herself up a bit higher so she could face him properly, supporting herself on an elbow. “But, what about the restaurant? What about your career?”
He shrugged, finally meeting her gaze sincerely, if somewhat sheepishly. “I don’t care about that. I can get a job anywhere, even if it’s just as a regular chef or something, and it’s not like anything else is really tying me down. If it’s a choice between going back to an empty apartment halfway across the country with only an armload of trophies for company or being here with you…I’d rather be here.”
“Weren’t you the one who once told me I needed to learn to be alone?”
“Maybe I did, I don’t know—but I guess it’s possible to get too good at it too. If it is, I’m it.”
Kagome smiled at that, stroking a hand over his cheek, down his throat, and resting her palm flat against his chest. “Inuyasha, you don’t have to move to New York.”
His eyes darted to hers with an almost plaintive look. “But I told you, I want to be near you.”
“I know,” she said. “I just mean…I’ll move back to Chicago.”
His expression brightened. “Really?”
She nodded. “Yeah. My family is there, my friends are there—and frankly, even though he wasn’t behind all the plotting, I still think Naraku is really creepy. And despite the pay, I have to admit this job isn’t really shaping up the way I’d hoped. Besides, the only real reason I moved away in the first place was because of you—so if we’re going to make a go of it, I’d just as soon do it in Chicago.”
“Are you sure?” he asked, searching her eyes for doubt. “Because I meant what I said—I really would move here for you.”
“I know,” she said with a smile, shifting to rest her cheek against his chest and wrap her arms around his waist. “That’s why I’m coming back.”
* * *
It took a couple of months to get everything straightened out. Kikyo was more than happy to give Kagome back her old job—in fact, from the sound of her voice on the phone when Kagome called, she had a funny feeling Kikyo had been expecting exactly this outcome from the moment Inuyasha had gotten on the plane to come after her. Kagome gave her two weeks’ notice at Onigumo, which Naraku accepted cordially, though not without a bit of pique. Kouga threw her a farewell party, and it was all she could do to talk Inuyasha out of dropping another few hundred bucks on a flight back out to New York so he could keep the other man’s hands off her all night. Kouga behaved himself even without Inuyasha on guard duty, however, accepting defeat more gracefully than Kagome would have expected, and she was cheered to feel that at least she was leaving one genuine friend behind. She didn’t mention this to Inuyasha, of course.
After a couple of weeks spent packing, Kouga helped her load up a rented truck, and she drove the distance back to Chicago in a couple of days. Inuyasha had helped her find an apartment back in town while she’d still been in New York—obviously the Hojo arrangement was out of the picture, and although she sort of got the feeling Inuyasha would have preferred that she just move right into his place, she knew it would be best for them to at least begin the relationship with more than a few feet of space between them. Otherwise they might end up with no relationship and no remaining breakable objects. Still, she couldn’t help noticing that the apartment he steered her towards turned out to be only a couple of blocks from his place. She grinned at this but said nothing as she signed the lease.
* * *
It was a Saturday night, and the restaurant was busier than ever. Miroku was taking his time doing a bit of prep work in the kitchen, having finally earned a small respite in his table flow. Inuyasha was there too, sharpening his knife set on one of the handheld steal sharpening rods from the counter over near the door to the dining room.
Miroku glanced up at the squeal of the door hinge, seeing Kagome swing in and park her spent cart off to the right to be unloaded by the kitchen staff.
“What’s the count so far?” Inuyasha asked her, glancing up as well.
“Seven,” she said, grabbing her next ticket off the post board and breezing past him to load up a fresh cart. “You?”
“Eight,” he smirked.
“Oh really,” she said grinning at him skeptically as she grabbed supplies from the shelves one by one. “I’ll have to double-check that with Kikyo next time I’m up front.”
“So untrusting, Kagome?” he said in mock offense, shaking his head as he inspected the blade of the knife he was working on, then returned to sharpening it just a bit more.
“You’re one to talk,” she said as she passed by again in the other direction, heading for the door.
He reached out and gave her ponytail a tug as she walked by.
“Get off,” she laughed, batting his hand away without looking back. “You pull on my pigtails and I’ll pull on yours.”
“Promise?” he called after her.
She cast him a sly look and shouldered her way out of the kitchen and back into the dining room. Inuyasha turned back to what he was doing, unable to suppress a gleeful grin.
Miroku sidled up beside him to rinse a few utensils in the sink at Inuyasha’s elbow. “So,” he said casually, “I take it things are still going well?”
“As if it’s any of your business,” Inuyasha muttered, but he couldn’t muster any genuine annoyance.
“Inuyasha, as someone who has to work next to you day in and day out, for better or worse, richer or poorer, cheerier or grumpier, believe me, I have a vested interest in your happiness,” the other man countered.
Inuyasha chuckled, by now slipping his freshly sharpened knives back into their case and reattaching it to his belt.
“Seriously though,” Miroku said, glancing over at his friend, “how are things?”
Inuyasha glanced over at him briefly, then over at the door through which Kagome had just disappeared, and Miroku marveled at the rare look of contentment that settled over his features.
“Things are…good,” he said. And for once there was no sarcasm, no muttering, no grumbling, no hedging. Even Inuyasha seemed surprised by how easy it was to say.
And then the moment passed, and Inuyasha shrugged it off, turning to the post board to grab the ticket for his next table. Miroku looked askance at him as Inuyasha loaded up his cart, seeming suddenly in a hurry.
“Where’s the fire?” he asked, bemused.
“Shut up,” he grumbled. “I’m only on six—got to up my game if I’m going to beat her. Don’t tell Kagome.”
“Right,” Miroku said, nodding indulgently.
Well, some things just don’t change.
The night carried on pretty much as usual, the constant hum of conversation throughout the restaurant interrupted only by the occasional laugh or cheer from one of Kagome’s tables, and the occasional fireball (and accompanying sounds of appreciation) from one of Inuyasha’s. After the doors were closed and the grills were cleaned, Inuyasha and Kagome both climbed into Kagome’s car and headed back to his place for the evening.
“Inuyasha,” she sighed as he opened the door to the apartment and followed her in, “you can’t just steal Kouga’s move.” She shrugged out of her jacket and placed it on the hook beside the door before moving toward the kitchen.
“I’m not stealing it,” he countered, tossing his own jacket onto the chair and following her. “His was a whirlwind of steam—mine is a whirlwind of fire.”
Kagome reached up into the well-stocked cupboard and started pulling down ingredients as Inuyasha preheated the pan on the stove and started clearing off the kitchen table. “What is it with you and fire anyway?” she asked as she stretched for a jar of garlic powder that had somehow ended up on the top shelf.
Inuyasha reached up easily and plucked down the garlic powder, placing it in her hand and flashing her an easy grin. “Fire is cool,” he said simply.
“Sure, but it’s not the only trick in the book,” she pointed out, closing the cabinet and turning to lean back against the counter as he moved over to the fridge to shuffle through the stack of fresh fruits and retrieve the package of tenderloin filets stuck in the back. “You can change it up every now and again, you know.”
He shrugged a shoulder, grabbing a knife and cutting board from the rack beside the refrigerator and beginning to slice the meat into bite-sized pieces. “That’s your job,” he said.
Kagome rolled her eyes and fished a can opener out of the drawer to start working away at the cans she’d set out on the counter. “Well you’d better make it your job too, big guy—never know when you’ll start getting rusty.”
“Rusty? Ha! Twenty-one requests tonight—does that sound like I’m getting rusty to you?”
“Inuyasha, you did not have twenty-one requests.”
“I did so!”
“That table who asked for the birthday cake doesn’t count.”
“Well I made the cake, didn’t I?”
“Only because it was your turn! And that one where the three couples each requested you separately—”
“Oh come on, that counts!”
“They were meeting each other there!”
“So? We don’t know they planned it ahead of time.”
Kagome sighed and shook her head, grinning to herself as she continued preparing her part of the meal. They were going on four months now since her return from New York. She still had her apartment down the street, but she didn’t really spend much time there, to be honest. It was Inuyasha’s place that felt like home. The relationship was contentious, to say the least, and when she thought about it too hard she realized they really did seem to spend an awful lot of time arguing. But the strange thing was, it didn’t bother her. It was comfortable arguing, without any real anger—like a game, each of them scoring points of one another, though no one was really bothering to tally them up. It was fun. Most of the time, anyway. But then the angry fights just meant they got to have that much more fun making up afterwards—and as per their deal, the makeup sex had continued to be of an exceptionally high standard. Sometimes Kagome got the feeling Inuyasha picked fights with her just to have an excuse to make up afterward. She didn’t mind.
Whatever it was, this weird love-hate of theirs, it seemed to work for them. It made them happy—for now, anyway. And hopefully it would for a long time to come. Anyway, like the saying goes, if you can’t stand the heat…
“Ow!” Inuyasha yelped and snatched his hand away as he tried to grab an unprotected metal pot handle.
Kagome smirked and waggled her fingers at him inside a well-used oven mitt.
“Shut up,” he grumbled, inspecting his burned hand and glaring back at her. But there was a hint of a grin in his eyes.