Kagome Higurashi let herself into the small Italian villa, almost tripping over the entryway, the grief in her heart making it hard to lift her feet. Ravello was lovely, and normally she would be buzzing with excitement at the thought of exploring the seaside village, but right now, all she wanted was a shower.
What she really wanted was him, but she didn't let herself dwell on that thought for more than a moment, clenching her eyes shut to hold back the new wave of tears that threatened to bring her to her knees.
Not saying anything had been a regret she'd been living with for close to five years, hiding her feelings behind false smiles and forced laughter. She'd never been a believer in love at first sight, but she'd taken one look at Sesshoumaru at Inuyasha's wedding and promptly fallen head over heels for the older sibling.
And now he was dead.
Inuyasha had received the letter a few days ago, the Italian embassy getting straight to the point about him being present for the reading of Sesshoumaru's will. No condolences, no explanation, just business as usual.
The news had come as a shock to all of them, Inuyasha himself being inconsolable for hours. Sesshoumaru was his hero, having raised him after the sudden death of their parents, and none of them had been ready for a life without him.
Certainly not her, who'd been dreaming of a life with him since the moment they'd met.
The cold hand of regret clenched around her heart, and Kagome was helpless to stop the tears this time, the dam bursting as she made her way through Sesshoumaru's villa. She'd been there a handful of times, though never by herself, and Inuyasha had shared the combination to the front door with her on the off chance she got there before him.
Even in a world run by technology, Sesshoumaru had chosen a more rustic lifestyle, forgoing the need for most modern conveniences aside from electricity and wifi. There was no pool, no television; there wasn't even a dishwasher, as he preferred the tranquillity of washing everything by hand.
Inuyasha had managed to convince him to invest in a washing machine after Rin had been born, his wife, Shiori, forever grateful that she didn't have to wash bodily fluids out of their baby's clothing herself. And considering how much of a soft spot Sesshoumaru had for his niece, it was surprising that the modern appliance was where it had stopped.
Kagome paused outside of his bedroom, wondering if Inuyasha had already broached the subject with his eldest. She did not envy her friend right now, especially with how much the young girl adored her uncle. She thought every stern glance was a game, going out of her way to make Sesshoumaru smile afterwards.
And Rin always won.
Sesshoumaru would play it off like she hadn't, but Kagome always caught the telltale twitch at the side of his mouth, the expression sending her even deeper into the tornado of emotions she felt for him. She'd often wondered if he'd end up being so indulging with his own children, giggling at the thought of Rin competing for attention.
And now she'd never know.
Heart breaking all over again, Kagome pushed the bedroom door open. The earliest Inuyasha and his family would arrive would be tomorrow, so she had at least a day to indulge herself in everything she'd missed out on when Sesshoumaru had been alive.
Sleeping alone in his bed, curled around one of his pillows, certainly wasn't at the top of her list of fantasies, but it was where his scent lingered the most, and for now, it was enough. And if anything, Kagome could pretend for a few precious moments that she'd been brave enough to tell him how she felt, and he'd invited her there out of choice.
The next day dawned bright and early, but she managed to ignore it until almost noon. Warm sunlight peeked through the curtains, luring Kagome from the confines of a tangle of blankets and bad dreams. Rubbing her crust-filled eyes, she hoped she'd shed enough tears to be able to greet Inuyasha with a supportive smile. He would need her strength to get through this, and it wouldn't do to collapse in a miserable heap before he'd even entered the villa.
She showered quickly, having forgotten the day before, then made herself some tea. Coffee would've been better, but Sesshoumaru had never liked the stuff, and Kagome wasn't sure her stomach could handle anything else right now.
She was on her second cup when the front door opened. Frowning, she checked her watch. Had Inuyasha managed to find an earlier flight? She hadn't been expecting him until that evening, or even tomorrow, especially with two kids in tow. Rin had no issues with flying, but little Kohaku had an intense fear of heights, even at two years old. He didn't even like being thrown up in the air.
Securing her robe around her waist, she grabbed her cup and went to greet her friend, fingers tracing the lines of an ornate frame as she rounded the corner.
"You're early. I thought you'd be—" The cup fell to the floor, the pain of the hot tea spilling over her feet not even registering as she stared at the person in the foyer, blood draining from her face.
His surprise was evident but not hostile, and he finished removing his coat. "I am not against impromptu visits, Kagome, but a phone call informing me of your arrival would be appreciated."
Words wouldn't form.
He wasn't real. He wasn't here. He was just a figment of her imagination, a lingering phantom from her dreams brought on by exhaustion and despair. She shut her eyes, clenching them tightly until lights sparkled behind her eyelids. He'd be gone when she opened them; the villa would be empty, and she could go back to—
"Are you unwell?"
It hadn't worked—he was still there. Why was he still there? Even her deepest fantasies were never this vivid. It was like he was standing right in front of her.
Her feet moved without her consent, hands reaching out to touch his face. Silver hair was pulled back into a low ponytail, allowing Kagome to trace the lines of his jaw. It wasn't until she felt the warmth of his skin, the strong heartbeat through his silk shirt, that she remembered to breathe again.
"Should I not be?"
Kagome burst into tears, her expression a mix of panic and hysteria as she threw herself at him, burying her face against his chest. "No! You're supposed to be dead!"
His arms settled around her, Sesshoumaru drawing soothing circles on her back. "Clearly, I am not."
"But you are! You were. We got a letter. From the embassy," she argued. "Inuyasha showed it to me." She wrapped her arms around him, squeezing him tightly to reassure herself she wasn't hallucinating.
The scent was the same as it always had been, and Kagome finally relaxed. He was real. He was alive. It was a mistake.
It was a mistake.
They moved back into the kitchen, Sesshoumaru easing her into the chair she'd just been sitting in. It wasn't until he placed an icepack on her feet that she remembered dropping tea on herself.
"I don't understand. How are you alive? The embassy—"
"There was an accident. An assassination attempt on the Italian ambassador." He adjusted the icepack, holding it against both feet. "We found out about it beforehand and were able to set up a trap. The mole was outed, but the ambassador's yacht did not survive."
"But you did."
The edges of his mouth twitched. "I did."
She reached out, pushing his bangs away from his face. "I don't… I'm still—"
"I apologize. The people we were working with assured me that there wouldn't be any fallout afterwards, but obviously someone was misinformed."
"Misinformed?" She gaped at him. "Sesshoumaru, we all think you're dead! Inuyasha is going to be here tonight! He—" Blue eyes widened as the front door opened again, the soft shuffling of feet signalling Inuyasha's arrival.
"K'gome? You here already?"
Sesshoumaru gave her a startled look; Inuyasha's usual exuberance was missing, the tone listless as his steps.
"I told you!" she hissed.
She held Sesshoumaru's gaze, his hand covering hers as he inclined his head. "I'm in the kitchen."
"How was the flight over? Shiori managed to get Kohaku to sleep before—" Inuyasha froze in the doorway, eyebrows disappearing under his bangs as Sesshoumaru rose to his full height. "What the fuck."
"Daddy! You're not supposed to use that word!"
The brothers stared at each other, neither moving as Rin poked her father in the leg.
"Sweetie," Shiori called from the foyer, "Daddy is still really sad right now, so let's cut him some slack, okay?"
"But Mama, he said the bad word!"
"I know, and we can scold him later—" Shiori gasped as she joined her husband in the doorway. "—actually, in this case, I think it's an appropriate response."
"It was a mistake," Kagome blurted. "The embassy made a mistake."
Inuyasha jerked, red blotches appearing on his face before he turned on his heel, muttering more curses under his breath.
Kagome went to nudge Sesshoumaru, but he was already following his brother into the living room.
"What's wrong with Daddy? Why isn't he happy to see Uncle Maru?" Rin looked between her mother and aunt, confusion marring her innocent features.
Shiori shifted Kohaku, the boy still asleep on her shoulder. "He is, sweetie. Probably the happiest he's ever been. Daddy just needs a few minutes to talk to him first."
"Why don't I make us some tea. Have you had lunch yet?" Kagome asked.
Rin made a face. "They gave us food on the plane, but there was yucky tomatoes in my sandwich."
"Tomatoes? In your sandwich? How dare they! Didn't you tell them that Princess Rin was on the plane and that tomatoes were not allowed?" Kagome wasn't sure how she managed it, but the overly dramatic response had them all giggling, Rin going on to tell her about every person she talked to as they waited for the water to boil.
Once the young girl was settled at the table, thoroughly distracted, Kagome peeked into the living room, breathing a sigh of relief at the sight of Inuyasha clinging to Sesshoumaru in a fierce hug.
At least things could get back to normal now.
Usually, they spent their first night being treated by Sesshoumaru at one of the local restaurants, but after the shock of his death, and subsequent revival, everyone was more content to stay in.
Kagome and Inuyasha were seated on either side of him, needing the reassurance of his close proximity. Sesshoumaru didn't seem to mind, especially after a brusque call to the ambassador and the embassy.
Both had apologized profusely, offering all kinds of accommodations to him and the rest of the family. None of them would have to pay to travel for a very long time.
Watching Rin and Kohaku's animated gibberish, Kagome was grateful that Inuyasha and Shiori had waited to tell the kids about what had happened until after they'd arrived. For all they knew, they'd just been trying to surprise their uncle, not attend his funeral.
"Hey K'gome, just how did you make it here before us?" Inuyasha asked between mouthfuls of food. "I thought all the flights were booked."
"They were, but I managed to pull a few strings," she said evasively.
"Yeah, but why bother? You probably had to pay an arm and a leg for the upgrades. It wouldn't have mattered if you'd gotten here after us."
Kagome felt heat rise to her cheeks, but she waved a dismissive hand. "It just worked out to come earlier rather than later."
"But weren't you in the middle of launching your new restaurant?" Shiori asked. "You'd been talking about it for months. Don't you need to—"
"Kagura can handle it," Kagome cut in, trying to change the subject, "she's better with the reporters and public interviews, anyway."
Shiori and Inuyasha exchanged confused looks but finally let it drop, Kohaku taking that moment to drop his entire plate on the floor. Breathing a sigh of relief, Kagome leaned back in her chair, then started when she caught Sesshoumaru's intense stare.
"Is this the opening in Shiba?"
"And you managed to get a flight from Japan to Italy within a day?"
Kagome shifted nervously. "Yes? They have allowances for special circumstances—"
Her cheeks began to glow as she struggled for a response. There were many reasons she could give him, lies that would feel natural on her tongue, but as gold bore into sapphire, Kagome's mind went blank.
"Because," she whispered, then quickly rose from the table, busying herself with washing her dishes, unable to dispel the heat from her face as Sesshoumaru's gaze followed her every move.
The rest of the evening went by without them saying a word to each other, both content to let Rin and Kohaku dictate their actions in a game of pirate ship. Inuyasha and Shiori double over in laughter when Sesshoumaru was the one to be tied up.
By the time their precious uncle had been rescued, both kids were rubbing their eyes, so their parents scooped them up and headed towards the spare bedroom.
"Can we go to the beach tomorrow?" Rin asked, trailing off into a yawn.
"Sure, runt, sounds like a great idea." Inuyasha nudged the door open, then looked back at Kagome. "Thanks for remaking the beds. It doesn't even look like ya slept in here."
Sesshoumaru shot her an accusatory look, one that she blatantly ignored, and she waved at her friend. "No worries! See you in the morning." She waited until the door clicked closed, then turned away from Sesshoumaru. "Guess I'll be taking the couch again, right?"
Slim fingers wrapped around her wrist, and Sesshoumaru dragged her into his room, careful not to slam the door behind them before confronting her.
"You did not sleep in the guest room last night."
He motioned to the still crumbled comforter and the clear indentation on his pillows. Caught, Kagome swallowed once, then twice, darting a look between him and the bed.
"No, I didn't."
"That answer was not good enough before, and it is certainly not good enough now," he said, eyes narrowing.
"Why do you need an answer?" she asked, dodging his question in a desperate attempt to escape and retain some semblance of self-preservation.
"That's not fair."
"Neither is you sleeping alone in my bed. Or giving up the opportunity to promote your own restaurant, all based on the fact that you thought I had died."
Kagome's eyes were glued to the floor, hands clenched into tight fists. "Wouldn't you have done the same?"
"Yes." There was no hesitation in his voice. "Which is why I am trying to discern if your reason is the same as mine would have been, if the circumstances had been reversed."
"If they'd—what?" She finally looked at him, heart skipping a beat at the intense look on his face. He stepped closer, and Kagome felt the door at her back,
"I am going to ask you one more question, Kagome. And you will answer truthfully."
She wanted to question his motives, but the events from the last 24 hours had stripped her of the last of her resistance, and all she could manage was a nod.
"Do you love me?"
Every interaction they'd had in the last five years flashed through her mind, every piece of the puzzle that was Sesshoumaru, every reason behind why his 'death' had affected her so much, and tears welled up in her eyes.
"Good." He didn't give her the chance to pull away before his hands were on her, drawing her close and claiming her lips.
Kagome was sure she'd fallen asleep during Rin and Kohaku's game; why else would he be kissing her? Or maybe she'd hit her head in the airport lobby and not even made it to the villa. Both options seemed more likely than Sesshoumaru stroking the sides of her face.
"Kiss me back." The command came out as a desperate plea, one that Kagome had never heard before and it had her melting against him, responding with vigour as her arms slid around his neck.
He crushed her to him, one hand burying itself into her hair as the other locked around her waist, pinning her against the door. Their chests were pressed so close together that she could feel the rapid beat of his heart, and she moaned, pulling him closer.
He plundered her mouth, tongues tangling in a heated dance that had them both gasping for breath when he finally pulled back.
"Give me one reason I should not strip you down right now," he growled, barely an inch between them.
Kagome whimpered, wanting the same thing with every fibre of her being, but her brain had finally caught up, and she tapped the back of her head against the door. "Because your niece and nephew are right down the hall."
His lips flattened into a thin line, but he sighed in defeat. "If you had said Inuyasha or Shiori, it would not have stopped me."
"I know." She managed a cheeky smile before her expression turned solemn, her fingers stroking the back of his neck. "Is this real?"
"Shall I kiss you again to prove it?"
"Maybe." The word had barely left her lips before he was on her again, teeth teasing, and Kagome felt like she was being devoured. One of his knees nudged her legs apart, and the heat that had been building in her chest dipped lower.
Her resulting gasp had him tearing himself away again, though barely, and Sesshoumaru rested his head on her shoulder.
"Does this mean I'm not sleeping on the couch tonight?"
"I should think not."
"If you insist." His indignant snort ruffled her hair. "Though you have been tempting me for so long, what is another few days?"
Making a mental note to bring that up later, Kagome went up on tiptoe, arms tightening around his neck. "I'm so glad you're okay."
He brushed his lips across her temple, then pulled her towards the bed, tucking her against him after adjusting the blanket. Sleeping in the clothes they'd been in all day wasn't the most comfortable, but it was heaven compared to the night before.
"I'm going to stay a little longer," Kagome said a few days later as Inuyasha finished packing up the kids' clothing.
"Does it have anythin' to do with the fact that ya haven't been sleepin' on the couch since we got here?" He gave her a knowing smirk.
"Maybe." She picked at a loose thread on her dress. "Don't say anything yet, okay? I don't… I'm not sure what's going to happen."
Inuyasha crossed his arms. "Fine. But if he hurts ya, I'll come back and make him wish he was dead."
Kagome laughed, it feeling good to do so, then planted a soft kiss across her friend's cheek. "You're the best."
"Ah hell, why'd ya hafta get all mushy?"
"Because you secretly love it," Shiori said, grinning from the doorway.
Inuyasha growled, then picked up the remaining suitcases, grumbling about being ganged up on by females. Said females looked at each other, then started laughing, following him out to the foyer. Sesshoumaru was entertaining Rin and Kohaku, showing them how to make their origami frogs jump across the table.
"Kids! Say goodbye to Uncle Maru, it's time to go."
The siblings collectively groaned but did as they were told, Rin tucking the frogs into her backpack before giving Sesshoumaru a tight hug. "Come visit soon, okay? Missing you makes me sad."
He met Kagome's eyes from across the room, and she squirmed at the heated promise reflected in his golden gaze. "I am sure you will be seeing me more soon."
After a complicated pinky promise, and three more hugs, the family of four waved as they headed down the stone path to their rental car. Kagome and Sesshoumaru waited until the car was completely out of sight before closing the door.
Neither said anything for a moment, the air slowly becoming charged in the afternoon heat.
"We have a lot to discuss."
"Later." She grabbed the front of his pants and pulled him towards the bedroom, intent on showing him what a mussed bed really looked like. "Much later."