A/N: Phew, took way too long to get back to this story (hell, back to any story). @ I apologize for holding anyone in suspense--my life has been on a collision course lately. I have survived my second-to-last quarter of school (yup, finishing in the fall, joy of joys), three weddings in 4 months (including my own in about 2 weeks ^__^), and my fi first lost his job and then got a new, much better one. Suffice it to say, it has been a very busy 7 months since my last update. : P

This chapter is a bit shorter than the others (yeah by 3 pages, heh), partly because I lack the energy to make it longer, and also because I have heard from some people that the extreme length isn't always the best way to go. I'm still looking for a good medium ground for chapter length in this story, but then again, one never knows with me, and they could end up getting longer... )0_0('

I realize there will undoubtedly be some people who disagree with my casting choices. All of you are entitled to your own opinions on the subject, of course, but I ask (as kindly as possible) that you refrain from emailing me or leaving me reviews telling me that I've got it all wrong, and so-and-so is made for X role, etc. etc. If I have a concern with casting or any element of the story, I promise I will pose it to all my readers to see what you think. That isn't to say that I wouldn't love to hear how someone thinks the casting choices sheds light on the characters, or anything like that. I just don't want to hear, "You suck, Inuyasha should have been Don Pedro" or anything along those lines. I'm having so much trouble staying focused on this story at the moment that that kind of thing would just discourage me for another few months.

To finish up on casting, there are a few minor roles I'm a little uncertain about, but the main ones are set, and with good reason. I hope I can convince you to read on even if you disagree with my decisions. There are whole depths to the personalities of both Shakespeare's and Takahashi's characters that this story is allowing me to explore. I hope everyone will enjoy the ride, since I know that I am. ^_^

To conclude, my thanks to everyone that reviewed. Your reviews have really added meaning to this work, and keep me writing when my normal tendency is to slack off whenever I'm not super motivated (which is most of the time). I appreciate everyone's comments on the length of the story, the pace, the rendering of the characters. But I especially love those reviews where the reviewer told me the story got them so interested that they went off to read the original play by Shakespeare. I can't tell you how excited that makes me, so thanks to all of you for sharing with me how this story has affected your interests!!! ^__^

This chapter is dedicated to Aino and Nana-chan, wonderful friends who are always there, even when we haven't had the time to talk more than once a month. Thanks for your continuing support--it means more to me than even you realize. ^__^

Chapter 3--Setting the Stage

"Illusion is the first of all pleasures." --Voltaire

"What we see depends mainly on what we look for." --Sir John Lubbock

I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior/ Benedick. Nobody marks you...

Miroku stared blankly at the rising air bubbles in his glass of soda. Although the surrounding din of the café wherein he sat was loud enough to make anyone raise their voice to be heard, he remained oblivious to it, seeing only the smug face of Kachiki Sango as she threw that obnoxious remark in his face.

Nobody marks you...

Ridiculous how a mere line from a 400-year-old script could be causing him so much discomfort. Never in all his years of acting had he found himself so preoccupied after an audition, nor as emotionally stirred by the impact of the words directed at his character in a scene.

Had Shakespeare ever realized what such an implication could mean to an actor? Miroku thought unhappily.

The whole profession would be out of a job if indeed no one paid attention to the actors. But the line had been written to act as a witty barb delivered by a threatened woman to the man she secretly loved, not towards actors in general. Why, then, did the line have so much power over him, forcing him into a state of uneasy contemplation over the potential psychological effects behind such language?

I had rather hear my dog bark at a/ crow, than a man swear he loves me...

Miroku could still see the blazing triumph in her dark eyes as she openly disdained the power and allure of him and of all men in general. Kachiki had spoken the words with such utter conviction that he was inclined to think she believed them wholeheartedly.

Her loss, echoed through his mind, an ordinarily ready dismissal of Kachiki Sango and her junior high school attitude. That said, how was it that the entire audition scene with her still clung to the forefront of his mind, plaguing him as he tried to unwind from the tense situation he'd just come out of?

He sighed, and closed his lips over the straw in his drink. He took a few disinterested sips before allowing himself to return to the real world.

Hachi was watching him uneasily across the table. Upon meeting Miroku's suddenly sentient gaze, he forced a dim smile over his features.

"Is the soda good?" he asked lamely, wanting to avoid the unpleasant moments from the audition for as long as possible. Not much hope of that, of course--Miroku could keep him here way past dinner if he wanted to. The slanting rays of late afternoon sun outside the café window were only serving to enhance Hachi's desire to go home and forget the whole thing.

Inwardly, Hachi sighed, and skimmed the rows of cheap leather booths, searching for the waitress who'd brought their sodas. If Miroku was going to keep him here for as long as he suspected, it might be wise to order some french fries or something.

"Huh?" Miroku was thrown by the question. Without giving his drink so much as a second glance, he replied, "Sure, it's fine. Hachi... I want your opinion on something."

Trying not to look overly wary, Hachi nodded. He knew what was coming next.

"What do you make of that sophomore, Kachiki Sango?"

Hachi let out his breath in gradual spurts. Man, Miroku was really fixated on her lately...

"Well," he said slowly, "she seems to have some potential... as an actor, I mean!" he added quickly as he realized the unintended implication behind his words.

Miroku smirked. "That she does, when she actually bothers to let herself go enough to really get into character."

At Hachi's look of confusion, Miroku pushed his drink to his right and leaned his forearms on the table, ready to elaborate. "Come now, Hachi, surely you must have seen the difference in her performance from the first scene to the other two."

Hachi nodded imperceptibly, but his senpai continued without noticing, "It was as if she were two totally different people..."

Trying to ignore the empty ache of his stomach, Hachi asked reluctantly, "Why do you think that happened?"

Miroku shrugged. "Who knows? She doesn't seem to have much acting experience from what I can tell. Perhaps the stress of the auditions succeeded in getting to her by the second scene."

His words rang hollow to both of them, but Hachi had no intention of openly contradicting him.

If that damn waitress doesn't show up soon, my stomach will start going on strike, and the last thing I want is to mess with Miroku's weird mood, Hachi grimaced inwardly.

"Perhaps Yuuretsu intimidated her in the second scene?" he suggested quickly, eager to fill the silence that had begun to settle around the table.

Miroku snorted, looking rather displeased at the thought. "Quite unlikely there. Kachiki Sango is not intimidated by anyone it seems, not even the superior Yuuretsu Sesshoumaru. No, something else was going on, I'm sure of it."

Hachi knew without saying what it was that Miroku wanted to believe.

"So you think it was something about the first scene that drew her out of her shell then, Miroku?" he asked arbitrarily, knowing this was the direction his friend wished to go in.

His companion smiled wanly. "Meaning that it was due to her unfounded dislike of me that she reacted so strongly to the part? Most likely." He uttered a short laugh, "I suppose I ought to get a medal for such an achievement."

More like an Academy Award... Hachi thought privately. Especially seeing as Yuuretsu Sesshoumaru was not able to do the same thing himself, and Kachiki probably disliked him as well.

Slouching down against the hard red faux leather seat, Hachi resigned his hunger to the back of his mind. This was fast becoming too important an event for him to miss, despite the fairly convincing argument his stomach was putting up. With a small sigh, he forced all awareness of his physical discomfort from his mind and returned his attention to the older boy. Miroku was hunched over his drink again, his violet eyes gazing into its sherry-colored depths without clear focus. Yup, he was back with his own thoughts again, an unfamiliar state indeed for the urbane, self-assured actor.

Hachi cocked his head to the side and studied his companion with revived interest. There was definitely something unusual about Kachiki Sango. Miroku's reaction to her was radically different from anything he'd ever seen before, and he had seen a lot. For, contrary to popular belief, Miroku's romantic overtures had been rejected by girls on several occasions, at least during the three or so years that Hachi had known him. However, that had never seemed to matter to him. He had just taken it in stride and moved on to the next conquest (and there was always another girl lined up, even in 8th grade). Until now.

It was another long moment before Miroku spoke again. "Regardless of why she responded as she did in that scene, it was good enough that I shouldn't be surprised if we end up seeing Kachiki Sango at rehearsals."

Hachi blinked, surprised by his friend's admission. "You think she was good enough to get a part?"

A touch of arrogance slid across the angular planes of Miroku's face--he was obviously feeling better. "I don't just think so, Hachi. I know so," he rolled his eyes, half-amused and half irritated that Hachi had thought to question his judgment.

Repressing an inward sigh, Hachi decided to that he needed to push Miroku further along in the conversation. He was beginning to have a hard time ignoring the pangs of hunger resonating throughout his abdomen. Damn, he wanted to go home!

"What about Yuuretsu Sesshoumaru?" he asked, hoping his deliberate change of subject wasn't too obvious. "I mean, yeah, he's getting a part regardless, but not necessarily Benedick. Do you think his brother's appearance affected his performance at all?"

At that Miroku snorted, and reached for his drink. "Are you kidding, Hachi?" he asked, taking a long draught. "This is the first time anyone has ever seen Sesshoumaru express strong emotion off the stage. That said, of course his concentration was affected. Myouga-sensei must have been absolutely insane to put those two on stage together for the 3rd scene," he smirked and added, "as I'm sure you can recall."

Hachi shivered involuntarily, remembering how terrified he felt up there with those two glowering entities on either side of him. Thank god Higurashi Kagome had been there to bear the brunt of it during the scene, or he might have fainted from the continuous assault of all those waves of tension emanating from the brothers.

"Insane or cunningly brilliant..." Miroku mused, half to himself. "What an interesting wild card Yuuretsu Inuyasha turned out to be," he smiled wryly and took a sip of his drink. "He lacks the polish of Sesshoumaru, but there's some deep, powerful emotion he can tap into that somehow makes him compelling to watch."

"Do you think he'll land a part?" Hachi asked, reaching for his long-ignored soda. It wasn't food, but it was the closest thing he had to it. Under the circumstances he'd best make do with what little he had.

Miroku frowned a moment before answering. "I don't know. Perhaps. It depends upon how strongly Myouga-sensei feels about Inuyasha's talents, since there's no question we'd have to endure rehearsals with those two glaring daggers at each other."

Hachi nodded. That made sense. Especially since Sesshoumaru was pretty much guaranteed a good part, given his position in the Drama Club and his carefully cultivated acting skills.

Inwardly, he heaved a sigh of relief. Now that he'd had gotten Miroku started on the auditions in a more general way, his friend seemed to have loosened up enough to analyze the proceedings in his normal fashion.

"That girl with Kachiki, Higurashi Kagome--now there was another unexpected surprise," Miroku was saying.

Hachi raised an eyebrow, but remained silent. He knew when Miroku liked to hold the reins of a conversation, and this was definitely one time to give him control of it. An arrogant Miroku he could deal with, but a moody, quiet Miroku had him quite stymied.

"Aside from Kachiki Sango, Higurashi was the second best reader among the girls, especially in that last scene with the Yuuretsu brothers," Miroku said, leaning forward to take another sip of his soda.

Hachi slurped loudly through his straw. He didn't want to remember any more about that particular reading, but to his chagrin it seemed that Miroku wasn't ready to give it up yet.

"Moreover, in that scene there was another dynamic that I hadn't expected to see either. Higurashi and Yuuretsu Inuyasha had really surprising chemistry onstage," Miroku rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

Turning to Hachi, he continued, "Do you remember when I came to see you at lunch a few days ago and those two were arguing loudly in their classroom?"

How could I forget? Hachi thought bemusedly, but kept all trace of his feelings from touching his face. Outwardly, he nodded and tried to look interested.

"When Myouga-sensei had assigned those three to read all together, I thought we'd have an explosion or something," Miroku smiled widely, amusement dancing in his eyes.

He quickly sobered and returned to his train of thought. "However, not only were the Yuuretsu brothers strikingly in character for the duration of the actual scene, but the sparks flying between Yuuretsu Inuyasha and Higurashi Kagome were based on more than simple dislike. The pain she was showing wasn't just feigned--no one with her lack of experience is that good. It was like they were acting out something else behind the words, some kind of deeper, shared experience that neither is particularly comfortable with."

He looked suddenly at Hachi, who had to race to assume an enraptured expression. In truth, the smaller boy had been focusing his energy into trying not to yawn every few seconds. Moreover, a pair of really hot girls--both wearing the Shomingeki uniform--had just sat down at the booth across from them. It was only a matter of time before Miroku noticed their presence, which would hopefully signal the end of his ceaseless analysis. At least, Hachi hoped so.

"Uh, well, what do you think is going on then?" Hachi stammered, resorting to the surefire tactic of immediately throwing the burden of proof in the conversation back to Miroku.

It worked, to his relief.

Miroku shrugged, "That is certainly an interesting question, isn't it? If those two both get a part, I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunity to find out. Although I suspect that Higurashi will definitely get something, perhaps one of the ladies-in-waiting for Hero or a similar female role."

He scratched his head. "Or maybe even Hero herself, if she's really lucky. There wasn't really anyone else who read that scene as well as Higurashi, come to think of it, although that other girl, Kyoushi or whatever her name was, did a pretty good job too."

"And Beatrice?" Hachi asked without thinking. Inwardly he kicked himself, knowing that the question would put Miroku back onto the topic of Kachiki Sango again.

Once again, Hachi's knowledge of his friend proved insurmountable.

Miroku drew in a long breath and let it out slowly. "Yes, that's the question, isn't it? The real tenor of this production will depend upon Myouga-sensei's casting decision for that role, I believe. When she lets herself go, Kachiki is by far the most engaging Beatrice that I've seen. However, she's inconsistent, inexperienced."

Not to mention that she's got a nasty temper when riled up and seems to hate me beyond all logical reason, Miroku added dryly.

Careful not to let his thoughts express themselves in his features, he paused to sip at his drink, aware that the movement would prevent Hachi from noticing his lapse. "Giving the role to a novice like her could result in brilliant success or complete disaster. There are a few more experienced girls who could play the part, but they lack Kachiki's..." he struggled for the right word, "fire."

Fire. Yes, that was the perfect incarnation for Kachiki Sango, Miroku mused, examining the mental image of her he'd been unable to throw out of his consciousness since his scene with her ended over an hour ago.

Even her name seemed to signify that there was a tough, unyielding spirit behind the quiet, unassuming exterior. Coral. Seemingly fragile on the surface, yet strong and hard as rock when one reached out to examine it more closely. Even more amazing (and more deeply hidden) was the spark of life concealed behind the plain, solid exterior. Coral bore the appearance of simple rock when in truth it was a living entity. Miroku was hard put to find a better creation of nature with such brilliantly simple, deceptive illusion.

Indeed, from all he had observed thus far, Kachiki Sango completely fit the qualities of her namesake. Were it not for that powerful personality simmering behind her dark eyes--the passion that he had drawn out of her in that now infamous scene--she would merely be another pretty face in the crowd, one he might admire for a day or so before moving on to the next girl. Boring was certainly the last word he could attribute to Kachiki.

However, the hard as nails attitude that so clearly separated her from the masses of eligible females at Shomingeki was more than he wished to contend with on a daily basis. And if she got the role of Beatrice... god, what then? The thought of endless rehearsals with her glowering at him did not appeal to his finer senses. No, he would not allow that to happen. In addition to being a senior member of the Drama Club, he was still Kachiki's senpai, whether she liked it or not. She had to conform to polite strictures there, and he knew she wasn't stupid enough to forget that. Headstrong or not, the girl would be put in her place, without a doubt. But how to bring her to heel in the smoothest way possible? He was sadly at a loss. Somehow, the idea of crushing Kachiki's spirit, as much as it stood to get in his way, wasn't an attractive option.

Sighing over this unwanted dilemma, Miroku surrendered completely to his thoughts, allowing the setting and people around him--including the cute girls at the nearby table--to recede to the inner recesses of his consciousness. Cognizant of what was passing through his mind, Hachi left him to his own devices. For Miroku to ignore an opportunity to check out a pretty girl or two was so out of character that his companion had no intervention to offer.

Slurping absently on his soda, Hachi eyed the actor warily, his mind drifting back over the events of the day. Although he hid his feelings very well, Miroku was clearly dying for the chance to play Benedick--a role that Hachi knew could launch his acting career into new realms. From all that he'd witnessed at the auditions, Hachi knew that his friend stood a very good chance of landing the part he so desperately coveted. However, there was more at stake for Miroku than simply winning the role. Hachi knew enough about acting to understand that good chemistry between the starring actors was essential to a stirring, believable performance; it brought out the best in all of the leads. The woman who ended up playing Beatrice could hugely influence Miroku's performance, provided she was the right fit to his personality to get the chemistry working just right. And if it were Kachiki Sango... well... probably he would have better odds at winning the lottery than in establishing any kind of onstage bond with her.

As Miroku pensively returned his gaze to his soda glass, Hachi wondered how much more complicated things would become if Kachiki did indeed win the part of Miroku's leading lady.

* * *

He was entering the sophomore hall when the final bell rang.


The last thing he needed to start off his day was Kaede-sensei's disapproving frown and the curious stares of his classmates.

Especially Kagome's... a small voice inside him nagged the rest of his consciousness.

Inuyasha snorted and shook his head, trying to rid himself of all thoughts of Higurashi Kagome. He'd had enough of her yesterday to last several months. The fact that her stricken face in the audition scene had haunted him all the way home had not improved his mood any further. She had looked so much like Kikyou... but different at the same time. Where Kikyou would have met his accusations with an icy calm bordering on scorn, Kagome's hurt and anger was etched into her features, so palpable he could practically see it in the air. And that was what had kept him in this uneasy state ever since the audition ended. Her pain.

Feigned pain, baka! he chastised himself. It was a stupid play that brought that out, you know that! It wasn't real, and she isn't Kikyou.

The harsh reality stopped him in his footsteps, mere strides from the classroom door.

She's not Kikyou...

Much as he hated to admit it, ever since he had first mistaken her for Kikyou in the hallway that first day, he had treated Kagome as if she were on par with the ice queen herself. Contrary to what Higurashi probably believed, it hadn't been done on purpose, but was instead more of a reflex. She had obviously not gotten over the incident any more than he had, resulting in his subsequent inability to move past it even when he tried. He was still pretty embarrassed for having yelled at her by mistake, but that shame always sank into the back of his mind whenever he met her gaze, looking knowingly at him, as if she were smirking at his one blatant weakness.

Angrily, he shoved open the door to 10-1 and stalked into the room, slamming the door shut behind him. Ignoring the frowning visage of Kaede-sensei as she looked up from the roll sheet, he made a beeline for his desk, dropping heavily into his seat without a backward glance.

He was sure that the eyes of the entire classroom--including Kagome's--were on him, but he wasn't going to let it bother him. Kaede-sensei had wisely chosen to continue calling roll without further interruption after his entrance, and he sank lower in his seat, crossing his arms over his chest, waiting for the interest of his classmates to die down.

Still, he couldn't quite shake the feeling that one pair of eyes in particular continued to rest on him.

Trying to make me out, is she? he scowled at the neat rows of Kaede-sensei's chalked characters on the blackboard in front of him. Or is it worse than that, to the point where she thinks she's got my personality completely pinned down?

Such thoughts depressed him, for there was nothing he could do to investigate the truth behind them, at least not now. Unlike most girls, who tended to dwell on things for so long they completely lost sight of what they were initially looking for, Inuyasha preferred to push his problems aside until he couldn't avoid them any further. Higurashi Kagome was definitely in that category. Therefore, he would treat her as such.

"Please open your English textbooks now, class," Kaede-sensei's gravelly voice instructed. Automatically, Inuyasha reached into his bag and pulled out the medium-sized book. Its cover was still glossy. He suspected that it would probably remain that way, unless, god forbid, there were enough interesting things inside it to pique his interest.

"We will pick up where we left off yesterday, with 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge'. Turn to page 35, please."

Dutifully, the students obeyed. The sound of fluttering sheets filled the room.

Kaede-sensei began to drone on about the mechanics of the English used by Ambrose Bierce in his story. Letting loose a barely audible sigh, Inuyasha leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. Whatever. As if anyone other than her really cared about the grammatical elements of the story. That wasn't what made it good. The plot was what mattered, and this one had an interesting one.

It was about a guy about to be hanged for trying to blow up a Union Army blockade during the American Civil War. Inuyasha had been surprised to find himself so quickly drawn in by the dramatic escape of the hero, his swim across the river while dodging bullets, his traversal of the rough terrain, all just to get back to his family. And right when the man reached his wife and kids, the story switched tracks, pulling out from his viewpoint to what Kaede-sensei had called "omniscient third person", revealing that the dramatic escape scene had all occurred in the man's mind in the fifteen seconds or so before he died.

This was a surprise, a real shock to the reader. It was the kind of story Inuyasha could appreciate, perhaps admire, although he knew that had it been him in that guy's place, he would have easily kicked the asses of his captors--guns and all--and gotten the hell out of there for real. If the man's family was that important to him, his desire to be with them should have been more than enough to help him overpower the fools that stood in his way. But as he listened to Kaede-sensei babble on about the style of the prose and the imagery utilized and other such crap, Inuyasha suspected that she really didn't get the point of the story, and was instead totally bogged down by all the details.

Glancing at the semi-interested faces around him, Inuyasha deduced the same could be said for his classmates. Stupid morons were missing the entire reason behind telling a story. The fact that even Kagome and her little friend were being quiet for once made him even more disgusted.

Well screw them all, he thought sourly. No one in this room really understands what's truly important in life anyway. It sure as hell isn't sitting here, listening to lectures on English grammar, the mechanics behind the language, and all that other boring shit. In the end, school doesn't really matter.

But he couldn't expect anyone there to understand that. They were so caught up in trying to fulfill expectations heaped upon them by a strict social order: to get good grades, get into a good university, get a good job, get married, continue the pattern. Well he wasn't having any of that. Like hell he was going to become a mindless insect like the rest of them. There was more to life than that--there had to be. The only person who had ever really understood that was Kikyou.


A wave of pain washed over him as his mind unwittingly replayed the last few encounters with her.

It was ridiculous to think that he still had no idea what had gone wrong. Things had been great, he'd been happy, then all of a sudden, bang! She walked out of his life, her cold hatred somehow burning him more soundly than any massive fight could have ever done. What had happened that caused her to change so drastically? As far as he knew, he hadn't done anything to hurt her so badly. But girls were weird, taking offense at things never aimed at them in the first place. He'd been angry himself, sure, but it had passed soon enough. If only he could understand what had happened, but Kikyou wouldn't give him the time of day... It was obvious that she hadn't forgiven him for whatever he supposedly did; seeing how she had completely ignored him every time she saw him, as if he were some kind of leper.

How dare you do this to me?!

The words entered his mind, unbidden. He clamped his lids shut, wishing he could shut out the accompanying pain.

How the hell should I know, baka?!

He blinked in surprise. Somehow, the image of Higurashi Kagome's flashing eyes and angry words had superseded Kikyou's last words to him. Impossibly, they seemed to hurt as much as the cold, hateful last words he'd exchanged with Kikyou that summer.

He let out his breath in a low growl, not caring that the students around him were now staring at him in trepidation.

Damn Higurashi Kagome and her stupid anger! And damn the cold-hearted bitch she looks so much like too! I don't want either of them to hold any more power over me, goddamn it!

Gritting his teeth, he banished their visages from his mind and switched mental tracks to an equally unpleasant, but less confusing topic--his snot-faced brother. Deep down, Inuyasha felt himself relax a little. As much as the topic of Sesshoumaru sickened him, this at least was familiar territory, something he could control.

Pleased that he'd gotten a grip on his treacherously slippery emotions, Inuyasha proceeded with his thoughts. Although still uncertain about how he felt about yesterday's auditions, he did know that somewhere deep down, he was proud of himself for going. Whether he got a part or not, who knew and who cared? That wasn't what he was there for, anyway. All that mattered was that he had shown his brother that he wasn't a puppet to be controlled or a mangy dog to be kicked around. He could go to whatever club tryouts he wanted, and Sesshoumaru could go to hell and back for all he cared. The bastard didn't own the damn club, after all.

Satisfaction coursed through him at the image of his brother's white, pinched face when Inuyasha had entered the theater. That memory was something he would cherish over the years, something that his cold prig of a brother couldn't take away from him even if he tried.

And to think that he might not have done it at all, if it hadn't been for Myouga of all people...


Inuyasha had been completely stupefied by the strange power those angry words from Kikyou--no, Kagome--had over him. No girl, not even Kikyou at her angriest, had ever dared talk to him like that. Higurashi, that freaky Kikyou-clone, was the only exception. Not only was she furious with him, but she had no qualms letting everyone around them know it.

To further worsen matters, Kaede-sensei had overheard enough to intercede and scold them--him--as if they were a pair of grade school children fighting over something as insignificant as a bottle of rubber cement.

"Higurashi, Yuuretsu, do you have something you need to discuss in private?" her wrinkled face was somehow more austere now than it was earlier, when he'd waltzed into class late. He tried not to wince as her only visible eye bore into him.

Like hell I do, he glared at her, aware that his face was beginning to heat up. The realization only served to worsen his mood.

Bad enough that a mere slip of a girl like Higurashi Kagome had managed to completely confound and offend him in less than a minute, but facing the inquisitive stares of all the students in the hallway had put him over the edge. What did they think, this was a scene from some stupid drama on TV? He was not a freak on display for a bunch of losers to ogle over, nor was his private business open to outside interest.

So he did the only thing he could think of: getting the hell out of there.

Barely registering the shocked faces of his audience, he'd whirled around and stormed down the hallway, fists clenched at his sides, his jaw set in a hard, unyielding line. Everything in his line of vision was washed over in varying tones of dark red, a sure sign that he was close to the boiling point. It had been well over a year since he'd last felt that powerful rush of rage, and it wasn't something he cared to have re-surfacing often.

Need to get away from everyone before I slug someone...

Before he knew it, he was walking down the front stairs of the building, then striding off to the right, making his way around the side of the building. He passed by numerous classrooms without the temptation to look into the windows and meet the gazes of anyone watching him. The reddish haze was beginning to recede, and with it, his awareness of his surroundings was returning.

He found himself standing in front of a grove of Sakura trees just to the left of the outdoor tennis courts. The courts were empty, thank god. No one was around to disturb him.

He sat down on the slightly damp grass, leaning his back against the tree. If he hadn't been wearing his stupid school uniform, he might have scaled the tree, seeking a perch among its limbs. It was a position that always gave him a feeling of calm and control, as if he were above everything and everyone. Still, the tree was solid and the rough bark against his back strangely comforting. He closed his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest.

Time passed, a few precious minutes or a half hour--he didn't know and he didn't care. His ears pricked up as a rustling sound some distance in front of him entered his consciousness. His eyes snapped open, quickly followed by the swift drop of his jaw as he recognized the person heading towards him.


The wizened little man smiled at him, his long white mustache rising over his lips in a way that reminded Inuyasha of a walrus bearing its teeth.

"Hello Inuyasha," the old man greeted him, still wearing that stupid grin. Inuyasha wished he'd quickly go away before the temptation to wipe that smile off his face grew too great.

Hoping he'd get the message, Inuyasha crossed his arms more tightly across his chest and glared at his unwanted visitor. Sadly, Myouga had known him for too long to be intimidated by the normally fail-safe "bugger off" pose he'd perfected over the years.

"Getting some fresh air, I see," Myouga said blithely, as if it were a common sight to see a recalcitrant student outside while class continued unabated indoors.

Inuyasha refused to respond.

Unperturbed by the boy's lack of response, Myouga strolled over leisurely to the circle of trees. Clearly he wasn't stopping by for a short chat.

"How are you doing, Inuyasha? I heard that you'd been transferred from Mitsuwa. I hope it wasn't too much of a shock."

"Keh!" was the snorted reply.

"Well, no matter," Myouga continued on in a matter-of-fact way, as if he'd completely missed the rude tone in Inuyasha's response.

"I suppose you'll be doing a lot of studying now that you're in high school," he said in an offhand way.

Inuyasha smirked at the concept. "Yeah, sure." He deliberately drew out the syllables of the last word, hoping it would piss off his companion.

What a dense old fart! He's known me long enough to know that I couldn't care less. Inuyasha narrowed his eyes suspiciously. Was Myouga up to something?

There was silence for a moment. Inuyasha listened to the faint rustling of the leaves overhead as the breeze gently caressed the treetops. Several delicate pink blossoms, loosened from their grips, fluttered aimlessly to the ground. Inuyasha inhaled their soft fragrance as he followed their descent with his eyes.

Myouga also paused to watch the blossoms. His eyes crinkled up at the corners as he too, stopped to breathe in the light fragrance.

Inuyasha couldn't keep from rolling his eyes at the situation. Great... Here I am in the perfect setup for some sappy girl flick, with fucking flower petals everywhere, the wind blowing in the trees... and Myouga-jiji. What a joke.

If Myouga figured out the eyeroll was for him, he chose not to show it. "Thinking about joining any after school clubs?"

The question was so ludicrous that Inuyasha couldn't keep from laughing aloud. "Do you have a fever or something? Me, in a club? Perhaps you're looking for Sesshoumaru..." he made a big show of looking around for his errant brother.

When he returned his gaze to Myouga, he was surprised to see that the teacher was watching him steadily, a calculating look in his dark eyes.

"What?" he snapped, unnerved by the old man's silence.

Myouga paused for dramatic effect--damn him, it worked--and casually rubbed his chin. "Have you ever considered acting?"

"WHAT?!" Inuyasha stared at him as if he'd suddenly sprouted another set of arms.

Myouga stared back, his gaze assessing. Somehow, Inuyasha felt as though the old fart's vision had a x-ray-like quality, able to penetrate him to the bone. It was not a comfortable feeling.

Leaping to his feet, Inuyasha tried to shake off his discomfort.

"Have you finally gone senile, Myouga-jiji? You know perfectly well that that hard-ass bastard of a brother has declared his sacred club off-limits." He snorted loudly and waved a dismissive hand in the air. "As if I'd want to be associated with that pack of pretty sissy boys anyway."

Myouga didn't speak for a moment; Inuyasha figured he'd realized the stupidity of his suggestion. Therefore, he wasn't prepared for Myouga's next words.

"I think you would find the experience far more enjoyable than you imagine. Besides, this semester is a free trial period for anyone interested in the Drama Club."

Inuyasha blinked at the implication. "Why the hell are you doing that?"

Myouga's smile looked far too cunning for his liking. "I figured it would be a good way to attract potential members to the Club. If there isn't a forced commitment involved with acting in this semester's play, I believe it's much more likely that undecided people will be willing to give the club a try."

Inuyasha digested that information for a moment. "Is that why you picked a Shakespeare play to perform?"

Inwardly he groaned as the words left his lips. The last thing he wanted to do was encourage the old fool further.

Myouga was smiling broadly at the question. "Actually no. I've wanted to put on a Shakespeare production--in English, mind you--for several years now. However, with the large influx of new students and all the administrative changes this year, it seemed a perfect thing to offer. Especially to anyone ordinarily intimidated or uncertain about the Drama Club."

"Hmph," was all his companion could think to say.

Myouga chose not to let Inuyasha's lack of response deter him. "Tryouts for the play are on Wednesday afternoon. We're just doing a cold read from three different scenes, all in groups. I think you should come."

Inuyasha snorted. "Keh! In your dreams, old man."

He barely noticed the quick smirk that flitted across Myouga's lips. "I'll see you there, Inuyasha. Sesshoumaru will certainly be in for the surprise of his life, don't you think?"

And with that enigmatic parting sally, the teacher turned and walked away, leaving Inuyasha standing under the trees, blinking his eyes in thought.

Recalling Myouga-jiji's last words, Inuyasha felt his lips twist up in a smug smile. Sesshoumaru sure did have an unpleasant surprise. One that would hopefully be prolonged for some time, provided Inuyasha got a part in the play. God, he'd love to see that angry, scornful face every day and know that, for once, he'd gained the upper hand. The days of the unflappable, intimidating Sesshoumaru dominating his life were over. He wouldn't let the bastard influence his actions any longer. But for the change to begin in earnest, he needed to be in this play. And just any little role, he feared, wouldn't do the trick. He had to get something halfway decent to really be a thorn in his brother's side, and that, sadly, was a decision entirely out of his hands.

Sinking farther down into his seat, Inuyasha frowned at the text of the open book on his desk. Myouga-jiji wouldn't have gone to all the trouble trying to convince him to go to the stupid audition if he'd simply planned to shoot him down. Would he?

As much as he hated to admit it, Inuyasha was almost afraid to see the cast list that afternoon, lest all his dreams of standing up to his brother shattered like broken glass in his hands.

* * *

The instant the final bell rang at 3 pm, Hinutsu Miroku was on his feet, making a beeline for the door.

Time for the moment of truth, he thought, tightening his grip on his backpack strap.

The hall was still empty when he stepped into it, but the sounds of students packing up and chatting quickly filled the narrow space. Behind him, his classmates spilled out the room, talking animatedly about afternoon club meetings, establishing daily study sessions, hanging out on the weekend. Had Miroku not been in such a hurry to discover his fate, he might have paid attention to which pretty girls were studying where--as was one of his older practices--so he could drop by later and test his luck.

Ignoring the talk of the other students, Miroku strode quickly towards the stairs, but not at too fast a pace--after all, it wouldn't do to have people see him racing along the halls like a freshman late for class. The cast list would be up all day; he really had no reason to hurry, save for his rising anxiety.

Get a grip on yourself, Hinutsu! he chastised himself. Remember your resolution from last night!

Forcibly, his pace slowed a bit as he reached the stairs and began to descend. Inwardly, Miroku engaged in the practice that he'd come to depend on in his early teens--meditation. Although he couldn't really do a full-fledged round of mediation while walking through the school, just the practice of focusing his thoughts and energy in one direction worked wonders.

That's right, calm is the way of things. Remember that.

Beneath his iron will, his errant emotions recessed to a deeper part of his mind. Miroku relaxed, and noticed his surroundings for the first time since he'd exited the junior homeroom. He was now in the main part of the building, where the administrative offices were housed. Walking past the windowed front office of the senior administrators, he entered the hallway that led to the big school auditorium where the first assembly had been held three days earlier. The day he'd first laid eyes on Kachiki Sango, not knowing what a massive pain in the backside she would turn out to be.

Closing his eyes in disgust a moment, he gave himself a good mental shake. So far, sticking to his resolution seemed to be far too difficult for his liking. After leaving the café with Hachi yesterday afternoon, Miroku had done a good amount of thinking on the subway ride home. The bulk of it had centered around Kachiki, and not in a way he enjoyed. Positive as he was that she would win some kind of role, he had to prepare himself to face her for the many days of rehearsals. And letting her see how much she had managed to get under his skin after barely a day's acquaintance was the last thing on his list.

So he had determined to never let her see his annoyance. He was an actor, after all--he knew that as long as Kachiki's behavior got a reaction out of him, she'd persist in it. If he kept his distance, remained polite but not effusively friendly, then she'd eventually back off and find someone else to harass. That was the best he could hope for under the present circumstances, and he was bent on making the plan succeed.

With his edict clearly rehashed in his mind, Miroku forced his mind onto other matters as he turned left into the small hallway--bordering the auditorium--that led to the Green Room. Up ahead, he spied the tall white-haired form of Yuuretsu Sesshoumaru, his little shadow boy following him, as always. From the senior's relaxed, elegant posture, it seemed clear to any observer of him that Yuuretsu was utterly confident in himself--in this case, of having won the role he sought.

We'll just see about that... he thought, his own confidence surprisingly bolstered by the sight of his arrogant colleague.

His somewhat tenuous calm was completely restored when he reached the doorway that Yuuretsu Sesshoumaru had entered a minute earlier. The door was swinging closed--from having admitted another student--as Miroku reached it. Grasping the wooden edge of the door, he took a deep breath for good luck and crossed the threshold.

A small group of students were clustered around the bulletin board on the opposite wall from where Miroku stood. Most of last year's Drama Club members were already here, as were the remaining senior Club members. Manzai Jakotsu was slumped across the dying brown leather armchair to the left of the bulletin board, his lips spread in a wide grin. Miroku repressed a shudder at the image and let his eyes traverse the rest of the room, taking in the Rakurai brothers, waiting silently near the door to the little theater. Next to them stood Funjin Kouga and his band of misfits, apparently checking out the group of freshmen girls giggling nervously a few feet from bulletin board. Voices from the far right momentarily grabbed his attention--Kachiki Sango's dulcet tones rose on the tail of the lighter, more feminine laughter of her companion, Higurashi Kagome.

So, we're all here, then. The stage is set.

From the nervous stances of both girls, Miroku hazarded a guess that they hadn't been brave enough to check out the list yet. Somehow this knowledge was not as comforting to him as he supposed it should be. After all, what did the sophomores have to lose, really? They weren't in this for the same reasons he was.

Gearing up his resolve, Miroku looked away from the two girls. Across the room, the bulletin board beckoned him onward.

Well, here goes nothing.

He began to cross the room.

"This is an outrage, Sesshoumaru-senpai!"

Miroku couldn't keep a smirk from passing over his face. He never could understand what the dignified Yuuretsu Sesshoumaru saw in that obnoxious junior. Hikigaeru Jaken was more irritating than a thrice rejected female that wouldn't give up, not to mention as ugly as a toad, with a voice to match.

For such a small boy, Jaken's voice could be heard rising indignantly above the others without difficulty. "You should have been cast in the role of Benedick, not merely the Prince!"

Merely the prince? Miroku thought, unable to refrain from smirking some more. Aw, poor man, stuck as a rich, powerful and leading character... My heart truly goes out to him.

He blinked as the implied meaning behind Jaken's words registered. If Sesshoumaru wasn't... that meant... He felt something deep inside him--probably his stomach--start to unclench (he supposed it was that tight ball of fear that he was never able to banish entirely). The news that Sesshoumaru had only landed Don Pedro was--contrary to Jaken's offended sensibilities--fantastic. Miroku couldn't keep himself from inwardly heaving a deep sigh of relief. That didn't leave many other candidates for Benedick, and none as good as he. His confidence that he had indeed gotten the role was steadily rising.

His step lighter, Miroku continued to make his way across the room to the bulletin board, deftly maneuvering around newly formed clumps of students chattering about the cast list.

"I was so hoping I'd get a speaking part--"

"I can't believe that Myouga-sensei cast him--"

Too full of anticipation, Miroku was unable to pay the conversations any heed.

Planted in front of the cast list, Jaken was still continuing his rant, although his august "master" didn't seem to be around to hear it.

"--Just as offensive that I should be given the small role of Balthasar, when I could have easily played Conrade or Borachio!" Turning his head to gauge Sesshoumaru's response, Jaken was unpleasantly surprised with the revelation that his idol was not there. "Sesshoumaru-senpai? Where are you, Sesshoumaru?" He looked almost panicked.

Oh good lord... Miroku couldn't keep from shaking his head sadly. This was simply pathetic. Well... it would be if it weren't so damn funny either...

Seeing that most of the people within earshot were mirroring his thoughts on the subject, Miroku saw the perfect opening and pounced. "Now there's a type-cast if I've ever seen one," he said wryly in a loud enough voice to be overhead. A chorus of laughter rose from the students as his remark registered. Having successfully captured his audience, he eyed the retreating Jaken's diminutive figure with amusement.

Out of the corner of his eye, Miroku saw Higurashi Kagome and Kachiki Sango--still standing together near the worn green sofa, along with Kachiki's brother and that freshman kid, Naiibu Shippou--following Jaken's progress across the room. Kagome and Shippou were laughing, having obviously overheard him. The younger Kachiki--Kohaku was it?--was fighting a losing battle trying to conceal a smile. Sango, however, appeared not to have reacted at all. Surrounded by faces full of mirth, hers was as serious now as it had been on the day of the audition.

Miroku's brow furrowed into a frown. Well that wouldn't do. What fun was it getting everyone else to laugh at his comments if she refused to acknowledge him? After all, there was no way she could have missed what he said. He was an actor--when he wanted something heard, he made damn sure it was heard. The girl's lack of reaction was frustrating, not mention a distinct challenge to his ability at engaging an audience.

No longer choosing to remain inconspicuous, he turned his head to the right and observed her more closely. She hadn't noticed his regard, which was definitely a good thing, since any reaction she might subconsciously betray would completely disappear once she was aware of his scrutiny. He'd grant her that much acting ability off the stage at least.

Hmm, now that was interesting. For a moment there, it looked like--yes, it was! There was just the smallest of smirks on her face, perhaps only a subconscious reaction. For some strange reason, this pleased Miroku so much he couldn't have been much happier if he'd won an acting award of distinction. It had to be the knowledge that he could get her to smile against her will that made him feel this way. Indeed, if things continued going this well in his favor, he might have to revise his resolution. He had to admit that the idea of finding all sorts of creative ways to undermine Kachiki's high and mighty attitude held strong appeal.

Emboldened by his small victory, Miroku pushed his way to the bulletin board. He fastened his eyes at the top of the list, where the principals were always listed, and found his name immediately. And the name directly across from his: Benedick.

For a moment, Miroku closed his eyes and basked in the warm glow that suffused through him. YES! The role was his. Everything he'd dreamed of was now reality. His stomach did a little jig and the jubilant smile he'd been holding back spread across his face without resistance.

To hell with Yuuretsu Sesshoumaru, Kachiki Sango and the lot of them. I've done it! he thought with satisfaction.

Quickly coming back down to earth, he resumed scanning the list, curious about the other casting decisions. He spied Jaken's name next, and found that he was unable to stifle an amused guffaw when he read the character name printed across from it. Heh heh. The stupid moron was obviously so flustered by his dear Sesshoumaru's misfortune that he'd misread his own role. He wasn't Balthasar, the singer in Don Pedro's entourage, but instead was the Sexton, an even smaller role than the one he'd so fervently complained about. What a great joke. Almost as funny as Funjin Kouga playing that idiot--

His breath caught in his throat as another name leaped out at him. Oh surely not... did Myouga wish to torture him? Miroku had obviously been celebrating his good fortune too soon, so it seemed. Just when things looked to be absolutely perfect, here was an obstacle he hadn't wanted to deal with.

Closing his eyes again, he breathed in and forced a wave a calm over the flustered emotions that were threatening to revolt.

Well, no matter. Nothing was going to prevent him from the performance of a lifetime. Nothing. He'd make damn well sure of it.

You never know, he reminded himself. This might turn out to be a highly educational experience.

His lips spread in a slow grin at the thought.

Across the room, Kachiki Sango watched out of the corner of her eye as Hinutsu Miroku scanned the cast list. God, would he hurry up and leave already?! The very idea of going over there to read the list with Hinutsu looking on at her patronizingly was enough to push her roiling stomach to the brink.

Unfortunately, the anticipation that had built in the last five minutes of waiting was beginning to kill her. Maybe if she could get Kagome-chan to go ahead and run interference for her... But that was cowardly, wasn't it? That was letting Hinutsu win.

Hinutsu moved away from the cast list without a backward glance at her. The coast was clear, but her feet remained planted to the floor.

This is getting ridiculous.

Apparently her companions shared her convictions.

"Ready to go look yet?" Shippou asked, looking as nervous as Sango felt.

Kagome's laugh was a little forced. "I suppose it's now or never, ne?"

Kohaku nodded. "Might as well get it over with."

They turned expectantly towards Sango.

What, are they expecting me to give them the go-ahead signal or something?

Forcing a wan smile on her lips, Sango gave Kagome a little nudge. "Why don't you go ahead and look, Kagome-chan? I know there's nothing there for me to see."

"Geez Sango-chan, don't be so hard on yourself!" Kagome looked at her with concern. "You should at least look and see if your name is on there."

Sango shook her head quickly, aware on some level that she'd just die of humiliation if her name wasn't on the list, but unwilling to let anyone--even Kagome--see it. Especially after she managed to survive that audition opposite Hinutsu Miroku. Hell, if she could stay in character around that conceited playboy, she could play Godzilla.

Kagome studied her for a moment in silence, a pensive expression on her face. She must have guessed at the tenor of Sango's feelings, however, for she quickly brightened (in what Sango had learned was her natural way of putting others at ease) and turned towards the ever-beckoning cast list. "Right, I'm going in there. Let's hope we each landed a small part at least, ne, Sango-chan?"

"Hai," Sango nodded without conviction as she watched her friend stride over to the bulletin board, head held high. Near the adjacent wall, the group of rough looking guys headed by the set designer, Kouga something, paused to watch Kagome's progress. The object of their interest didn't even notice them.

Sango couldn't keep from chuckling at the expression on Kouga's face--he looked like he was impersonating a stunned rabbit staring into the oncoming headlights of the car about to maul it. Heh, what an irony to think that Mr. Tough Guy had a thing for nice, studious girls like Kagome. Nice to know there was hope for them all. She rolled her eyes.

Kagome was looking up at the posted list, her face a mask of concentration.

"Shippou-kun, you're the messenger!" she called out, a smile dancing over her face.

Shippou looked absolutely floored; Sango thought his reaction pretty cute actually, one of the nicest she'd seen yet in this room full of self-conscious and self-important people.

"Kohaku-kun, you're one of the watchmen!"

Grinning, Sango turned to her brother, who gave her a genuinely happy smile.

"All right, Kohaku!" Shippou smiled at him. Far more relaxed now, the boys exchanged a congratulatory slap on the back.

I'm so glad that Kohaku got a role! He's worked so hard, and this is something fun, something he deserves, Sango thought, full of pride for her younger brother.

Realizing that Kagome had been silent for some time now, Sango refocused her gaze on her friend, who was staring in disbelief at the cast list. She was about to call out and ask what was going on when the transformation that overtook Kagome's face almost immediately basically answered her unvoiced question.

"Ohmigod Sango-chan!" she squealed. "I can't believe it! I'm Hero!"

"Really?" Sango exchanged excited glances with the two boys. "Kagome, that's wonderful!"

She was surprised by the excitement that stirred up in her at Kagome's words. Well, at least her friend had gone well beyond her own expectations. As for her, however, that was another matter entirely... Still, for all of her friends to have done so well, it was something she could be proud of, regardless of what happened to her.

Kagome was running in place like a runner who'd just won a marathon. "Oh Sango, this is sooooo exciting! I never dreamed I'd get a part this good and-- OHMIGOD!" she stared at the list with wide eyes.

"What?!" unable to stand the tension any more, Sango raced to her friend's side in a few quick strides. Behind her, she could hear Kohaku and Shippou talking animatedly about what rehearsals might be like.

Kagome grinned inanely at her. "Sango-chan!" she grabbed her hands. "Look at your name!"

"My-- what?" Shock replaced excitement as Kagome's words sank in.

Sango's eyes ran up the list. What was Kagome talking about? She didn't see her name anywhere. No wait... it couldn't be--

"Well, well," said a lazy voice behind her that made her blood freeze in her veins. "Apparently Myouga-sensei liked that audition after all."

For a brief second, Sango felt her heart stop mid-beat. Quickly collecting her wits, she whirled and plastered a smile full of fake sweetness on her face as she met Hinutsu's startling violet gaze.

"I suppose he did," she said airily, waving a hand carelessly in the air. The sheer amount of will power it took to hide her excitement at the news that she was Beatrice was staggering, but somehow she managed it. It was worth it.

Hinutsu appeared momentarily taken aback by her off-hand response. Encouraged by his confusion, Sango decided to plunge ahead with her newly discovered tactic.

"Pray tell," she infused the fake sweetness into her tone and was immensely pleased with the effect, "what role did your illustrious person land? Given your reputation, I should expect that it is to your satisfaction," at that last bit, she couldn't keep the smug smile from peeking out behind the masked pleasantry. Hopefully he'd gotten the role of one of the bad guys, like Don John, or better yet, the seducer Borachio.

Yes, she decided, her smile spreading wider across her face, that would fit him perfectly. Especially because Borachio not only gets found out, but is properly censured for his conduct to boot. An absolutely perfect parallel for Hinutsu, and a fate he certainly deserves.

As the complacent thoughts just finished crossing her mind, Sango was suddenly struck by how little of a reaction she had gotten out of Hinutsu. His facial expression hadn't shifted from its normally conceited, self-assured mask. Somehow, impossibly, he looked more smug than before. Uh oh... that didn't mean what she feared it might...

Miroku's equally lazy smile confirmed her fears. "I should imagine so, given that I'm to play Benedick to your Beatrice. 'My dear lady Disdain,'" he quoted, and, with a flourish, swept into a deep bow worthy of any professional Elizabethan actor.

Giggles from the girls around them, including--traitor!--Kagome, met his display. Sango, however, could only feel a cold rage settling in the pit of her stomach as she stared at his bent figure, dark strands of hair framing his face so perfectly that it made her want to throw something in protest. So the conceited drama king thought he could treat her as an acting novice, did he? Well he'd be sorry to discover that he had quite another thing coming. She had no intention of letting him patronize her over her lack of acting experience, even if it ended up losing her the part in the end. No matter what, she had to preserve her dignity. Despite his suave, polished façade, Hinutsu was just an irritation--no more than an annoying fly that kept on buzzing in one's face no matter how many times it was swatted at. She refused to let him control this game.

Arranging herself into as haughty a demeanor as she could manage, Sango looked down her nose at him and recited, "'Is it possible Disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come in her presence.'"

Now the giggles around them had turned into roars of laughter. Looking directly into Hinutsu's eyes, Sango was pleased to see undisguised surprise there. His pose, while charming and attractive in the first few seconds, was beginning to look rather silly. His bangs were seconds away from getting tangled in his eyelashes (surprisingly long eyelashes, she noted quickly before forcing her thoughts elsewhere), and his arms were sure to get tired from their prolonged position thrust away from his body. Moreover, it was quickly becoming apparent to their audience that his advantage had fled.

Nice try, hotshot, but it's as easy as you thought, is it?, she thought with a gleam of satisfaction in her eyes.

Ha, she had outdone him this round. She'd bet everyone in the room two thousand yen that he'd never expected that a novice such as herself might have memorized one of the lines from their audition scene.

Sango could sense that Kagome was watching her with interest, but she was too determined to relish her small victory to pay her any attention. Watching Hinutsu squirm was not something she intended to miss.

Clearly the object of her amusement had sensed his failure, for he quickly dropped his previous pose and stood up normally; his visage half-frowning as his mind raced for a quick retort to Sango's challenge. Before Hinutsu could even utter a syllable, however, he was accosted by a deep voice saying wryly, "Perhaps Myouga liked that audition a little too much."

Everyone turned and stared as the daunting, graceful figure of Yuuretsu Sesshoumaru came to a stop beside the already battling Beatrice and Benedick. By his side, Hikigaeru Jaken glared at them, his eyes so round and protruding that he almost resembled a dead fish. Miroku straightened unconsciously as the king of the Drama Club's golden eyes alighted on him.

Meeting his gaze with outward calm, Miroku found himself wondering whether Sesshoumaru was cursing him for landing the role of Benedick. Although never one to covet the role of the romantic leading man, Sesshoumaru was certainly as qualified to play the role as Miroku was. Add the fact that there wasn't a better male role in the entire play, and Sesshoumaru could easily be pissed off at the turn of events. He'd never let it show, though. He was too damn good an actor for that--too proud by half.

"Well met, my good Don Pedro," Miroku said amiably, masking his thoughts behind a charming smile.

Sesshoumaru smiled thinly, "Well met indeed, Signior Benedick." Turning his attention to Kagome and Sango, who were trying not to make it obvious that they were staring at him, he said, "So these are our leading ladies, then?"

"Hai, Yuuretsu-senpai," Kagome bobbed her head, following the traditional rules of deference for upperclassmen. Sango mirrored her action.

"I do not believe we have met," Kagome said, raising her eyes and meeting his golden eyes dead on. "I'm Higurashi Kagome."

Sango was just opening her mouth to introduce herself when someone else did it for her.

"This is Kachiki Sango," Miroku, to everyone's surprise, made the introduction.

Sesshoumaru's right eyebrow rose with a sophistication that suggested many hours of patient study in front of a mirror to perfect the gesture. "Quite an admirable role for one so new to our ranks, Kachiki. Perhaps you should consider joining the Drama club permanently instead of just for the semester." Obviously he'd read all the students' information forms from the audition.

"Perhaps, Yuuretsu-senpai," Sango said quietly, feeling ill at ease. The icy exterior of Shomingeki's most distinguished actor was enough to put anyone on their guard. Even Hinutsu Miroku, who obviously had much contact with him, looked less than his normal stellar self at the moment.

Speaking of Hinutsu... As he and Yuuretsu began to discuss rehearsal dates, Sango stole another quick glance at him, puzzled. Whatever had provoked him to butt into the introduction? Was Yuuretsu Sesshoumaru so totally superior that a mere newcomer such as herself could not introduce herself to him?

Sango was prevented from presenting Hinutsu with a glare for his rudeness by the sudden entrance of Yuuretsu Inuyasha, swaggering through the door as if he owned the place. The entire room fell into a breathless hush as the Yuuretsu siblings locked eyes.

Next to Sango, Kagome felt an involuntary shudder course through her at the blast of pure hatred she felt from Sesshoumaru. That intensity which served him so well on the stage was turned on full blast now, and she found it incredibly unnerving. Framed in the doorway, Inuyasha looked equally as menacing as his older brother did. Yet, for some odd reason, she wasn't frightened of him, and that admission in itself was enough to send her mind into a spin.

The tense moment passed. Inuyasha stalked across the room and came to a stop in front of the bulletin board, scarcely a foot away from Kagome's left side, as she now stood with her back towards the list. Warily, she watched him out of the corner of her eye as he scanned the list for his name, gearing up to get out of the way if he suddenly lurched towards his brother.

Therefore, it came as a complete shock to her when his face suddenly lit up like a newly installed light bulb. His golden eyes softened, and the most genuine, boyish smile she'd ever seen spread over his lips. Was this the same Inuyasha who had spoken so harshly to her in the hallway that first day, who had since been sour and obnoxious every time she set eyes on him? These emotions were unexpected; she had no idea how to react to them. She was enraptured, waiting to see what he did next.

Sesshoumaru appeared as surprised by Inuyasha's reaction as Kagome, although his reaction clearly went off in another direction from hers. Leaving the gasping Jaken's side (who now sounded like the dead fish he'd earlier resembled), he marched right next to his brother and looked over his shoulder to discover just what had prompted such an unwelcome response. Kagome blinked in surprise as it occurred to her that Sesshoumaru probably was viewing the cast list--aside from his own role--for the first time.

God, how conceited, she thought, bristling a bit.

Sesshoumaru's proximity had forced Inuyasha to move a bit off to the left, and consequently closer to Kagome. They were standing so close that his sleeve accidentally brushed against hers as he drew in a breath. For some crazy reason, Kagome felt as though she were about to become dizzy.

Get a hold of yourself, Higurashi Kagome! she ordered the disobedient factions of herself. They're not going to kill each other, at least not in front of the stupid bulletin board!

Still, her pep talk couldn't quite dispel the shaky feeling in her knees. Disgusted with herself, Kagome shifted position a little and focused her attention to the cast list, which, given her vantage point, was easily readable. Beside her, she felt Sango move uneasily.

Leonato... Myouga-sensei? her eyes widened in surprise at the discovery. Myouga-sensei is acting in the play? Is that allowed? And was that really Kaede-sensei's name I just saw-- oh god, it is!

She barely had time to marvel over the revelation when her eyes took in Inuyasha's name. Claudio.

Oh my god...

The sudden sharp intake of breath nearby clued her in that Sesshoumaru had just found the same thing she had. He was right to be shocked. She was flabbergasted. Yuuretsu Inuyasha was playing the sweet, dashing lover Claudio? Had Myouga-sensei gone out of his mind?

Her mind was positively reeling from all the developments. Numbly, she watched as Inuyasha--moving as though in slow motion--turned and faced Sesshoumaru with a victorious grin on his face. Her breath caught in her throat as Sesshoumaru turned eyes glittering with hatred on his errant younger brother's face.

As the seconds ticked by, Kagome felt the tension rising exponentially. The whole room watched with bated breath as Sesshoumaru began to smile slowly.

"Congratulations, Inuyasha," his voice was surprisingly smooth and measured. Each word that followed was clearly emphasized. "You've been cast as a naïve, gullible fool."

Beside her, Inuyasha froze. Kagome could feel the fury emanating from him in waves.

"Is that so, pretty boy bastard?"

Kagome stared in fascinated horror. Was Inuyasha baring his teeth? He was! The two canines on either side of his mouth were surprisingly long and pointed, almost like mini vampire fangs she'd seen in low budget horror movies. She wasn't sure whether she felt frightened or amused by the discovery.

Sesshoumaru, apparently, also possessed a good set of pointed canines. Kagome was wondering whether it ran in the family when he growled, "What did you call this Sesshoumaru, hanyou?"


Sibling rivalry aside, did Sesshoumaru really call his brother a half demon? For some reason, Kagome felt a wave of rage flood over her. What did that make him, then, a full demon?! That was beyond cruel. What the hell was wrong with their parents, to allow such animosity to run unchecked?

"How can you call your own brother something like that?!" she snapped at Sesshoumaru without thinking.

The look in Sesshoumaru's eyes as they alighted on her was so powerful she staggered, as if taking an actual blow from him.

"What did you say, girl?"

Kagome stared at him in shock, her mouth working. To her amazement, Inuyasha jumped in to defend her.

"Leave her alone, Sesshoumaru!" he shouted, sandwiching himself between her and his brother in a protective stance. His voice was dangerously low. "Your argument is with me. Or do you need to pick on a girl to feel important?"

A flurry of surprised gasps, including one from Kagome herself, met his words. Only half aware of Sango's hand clutching her arm, Kagome stared at Inuyasha. Only part of his profile was visible, but the emotions crossing his face were clear to see: anger, hatred, determination... and something else, something she couldn't determine. Fear, perhaps? But for whom? Her? Surely not. But then again, he hadn't looked quite like this earlier, before she stupidly butted in. Could it be that he was really trying to protect her in earnest? But... why? Her mind spun at the idea.

Sesshoumaru, meanwhile, had straightened at the insult, his spine stiff with repressed rage. He looked to be seconds away from striking his brother.

Inuyasha's hands were curled into fists, raised threateningly above his waist. "I'm ready whenever you are."

Sesshoumaru smiled coldly. "Brave words for a little runt like you. You honestly think you have a chance against me? Chiche-ue barely taught you anything before he died."

Inuyasha shook visibly at the words; Kagome couldn't avoid feeling it, given that his back was scarcely inches away from her.

Their father is... dead?

Before Kagome had time to really digest the information, Inuyasha threw down the proverbial gauntlet.

"Keh!" he snorted, brushing off his initial reaction. "Are you too afraid to find out and see?"

Kagome couldn't take it any more. The situation had progressed further than she could stand. They were brothers, for god's sake, whether they liked each other or not!

Shoving Inuyasha aside, she angrily stomped her foot and screamed, "Stop it!!!"

Dead silence met her outburst, but she was too angry at this point to care. "Stop this stupid fighting! This is a goddamn play we're talking about here, not some battle of life and death! You're both behaving like children, and I won't have it!"

Inuyasha's mouth worked but no sound came out. He stared at her in affronted, almost wounded silence. Kagome was so struck by the visible display of pain in his face that she felt all her anger dissipate like a puff of smoke. Why was he looking at her like that? What had she done?

"Well spoken, young lady," a gruff voice from across the room interrupted any further action.

Everyone turned to meet the grim face of Myouga-sensei, who had paused by the doorway, his arms folded across his chest in disapproval.

"Yuuretsu Sesshoumaru, Yuuretsu Inuyasha, if either of you wish to remain in this production, you will cease and desist right this minute." His eyes moved between the two brothers, daring either to challenge his word.

Kagome held her breath, fearing that Inuyasha might do something stupid and get himself kicked out of the group. Her fears were groundless. All the rage she had sensed in him just seconds ago had now deflated like a punctured tire, happening so quickly it left her reeling.

Turning to meet Myouga-sensei's eyes, Inuyasha relaxed his stance to one of bored indifference and regarded the teacher with something akin to petulance. "Keh. I'm not interested in playing his little power game. Do what you want."

And with that, he strode across the room and stretched out on the worn green sofa Kagome and her friends had been standing by less than ten minutes ago. He looked almost bored. Kagome felt the sudden urge to hit him, hard, for his annoying attitude shift. The violent, obnoxious... jerk! First he goads his brother into a near fight, gets enraged the instant she got involved, and then goes off the next minute and acts like nothing happened at all. That stupid-- baka!!!

She was so preoccupied with her frustration at Inuyasha that she barely heard Sesshoumaru's comment to his director, but it sounded as indifferent and bored as his brother's had. Somehow that enraged her further. They were truly a pair, those Yuuretsu brothers. So damn alike in the worst ways that they hated seeing those parts of themselves in each other. Ooooh, it just made her sick!

While she seethed, Myouga raised his hands in the air in a placating gesture, preparing to speak to the room at large.

"I'm sorry that this production has started off on such a sour note. However, I assure you all that there will not be a repeat performance," he smiled weakly at his own pun, and someone snickered from across the room. "If anyone here has a problem with someone else in the cast, stow it for the duration of the production. Otherwise, the door is there," he gestured behind him, "and you will be walking through it. Do I make myself clear?"

His eyes scanned the breadth of the room, meeting the gaze of every student present. Kagome barely noted Sango's slight flinch as the teacher's eyes met hers. She remained quiet, however, and Myouga-sensei's gaze moved on, to Hinutsu, who returned his look with only half of his normal assurance. Clearly, Myouga-sensei was aware of any rivalries and resentments among those present, at least the more obvious ones. Kagome wondered if he'd sensed the awkwardness between Inuyasha and herself. Of course he didn't, she realized, berating herself. He wouldn't have cast them to play lovers if he had, surely. The knowledge did not serve to make her feel better.

His survey of the room complete, Myouga nodded slowly, and the students let out a collective sigh of relief.

"Very well, that's settled then. Now," he rubbed his hands together, "to business. Rehearsals won't begin in earnest until Monday, but tomorrow after school there will be a short meeting for the entire cast and anyone interested in crew to go over rehearsal dates, distribute scripts, and get to know each other a bit better. I expect to see you all here at 3:15. Thank you, that's all."

With that, he walked off to the desk in the far corner of the room and took a seat, apparently dismissing the students. No one moved for a moment, waiting for someone else to make the first move.

The spell was broken by Funjin Kouga's loud announcement. "Anyone interested in production crew, the introductory meeting is today." He gestured towards the vacant chairs along the wall, "take a seat and we'll begin shortly."

His bit done, Kouga strode across the room and plopped down on the sofa nearest the bulletin board. His two buddies, resplendent in their scruffy uniforms and sporting hairdos from a bad 1980s American rebel youth movie, followed him meekly. Around the room, various flustered students looked for seats.

This was the cue for all the leading actors to pack up and go. Kagome was more than relieved by the early dismissal. Turning to meet Sango's eyes, she saw her feelings mirrored back. Across the way, Shippou and Kohaku clearly interpreted their unspoken communication, for they quickly crossed the room to join the two girls.

"Let's get out of here," Kagome breathed, and the three nodded their agreement.

Without so much as a single sideways glance at Inuyasha, who hadn't moved from his position on the sofa, Kagome strode over the left edge of the sofa and grabbed her and Sango's backpacks from their spot against the wall. As she turned and held up the backpacks for her friend to see, she blinked in surprise at the sight of Sango and Hinutsu Miroku exchanging a wary glance. It was almost as if they seemed to be saying, "Truce." Inwardly, Kagome wondered how long that resolution would last, but knew deep down that, no matter how deep their shared resentment ran, it would never get to the point of the Yuuretsu siblings.

So far, the production seemed doomed to fail before it even got onto its feet. With a mixed sense of dread and anticipation, Kagome wondered whether the first meeting tomorrow afternoon would pick up from where they left off today, or whether everyone would show up ready to be serious.

We'll just have to wait and see...

Right now, however, she just wanted to get out of here, away from all these strange people. Hurrying past Inuyasha, Kagome met Sango and the younger boys by the door. With a collective sigh of relief, they exited the room.

Whew! I thought I was exhausted at the end of the last chapter, but this one doesn't seem to be much less so. The fight between Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru kind of took off on its own accord, and I just went along with it, reeling about as much as poor Kagome was. Ah well. This chapter is a bit rougher than the last two as well, since I really just wanted to get the damn thing posted. So please excuse the entire paragraphs where internal monologues drag on in the middle of the action. I'll do a revision when my muse arrives and re-post. Fortunately, I don't think there's anything really glaring, although feel free to email me if you see something.

No real Shakespeare in this section, but that's okay, there will be plenty to make up for it in the future, heh heh. As for endnotes, count yourselves blessed--I didn't see anything in this chapter that I haven't used in the previous chapters--including the Japanese--so you are spared. This is just an aberration, I'm afraid, so rejoice while you can, heh heh. : P

Anyway, sorry again for taking so long to write this chapter. What an irony that, in all the months of planning my wedding, now that we're past the two week mark, I decide that NOW is the time I need to finish this chapter. :rolls eyes at self's perverseness: I hope the effort was worth it! ^_^ Feedback is adored, as always. I'm not sure when the next chapter will be coming out, but certainly in much less time than it took me to finish this chapter. Whether it's less than a month delay, well, I guess it all depends on my primary source of IY inspiration, heh heh (no pressure, Aino ~_^), as well as my ability to recover from my wedding (11 days and counting! WAI!!!).

Just out of interest, if anyone would like to read Ambrose Bierce's wonderfully ironic "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", I was able to find it online. Here's the link:
As for why I picked this story, truthfully, it was on a whim. I read it in my freshman lit class (high school, that is), and it struck me for its ironic power then, even though I was a young, relatively immature writer (and reader) who thought that Christopher Pike was a fantastic writer and the old greats like Bierce were boring Victorians. : P Somehow, over the years, the impact Bierce's story had on me remains, filed away in the back of my mind, waiting to be retrieved. I'm glad I was able to resurrect it for this story. It does seem to be a great medium through which Inuyasha's protective instincts are expressed, don't you think? ^_^

Oh yeah, you'll find out the entire cast in the next chapter! There didn't seem to be an easy way to post the information in this chapter without disrupting the flow of dialogue and action I had going on, so... oh well. Next chapter it is! : P At least the important roles are established here.

Lastly, my thanks to Melissa Nathan's hilarious book (P&P in the modern era) for the whole analogy of the stunned rabbit in the headlights. It's just too damn funny an image not to use here, especially in regards to Kouga, who often gets that glassy look from time to time. : P