Disclaimer: I do not own
– Alternate Universe – Romance/Drama/Humor –
Summary: The bride disappeared a week before the wedding. The father of the groom was dying. Anyone else would have called the entire thing off… but no. They wanted to find a replacement. And Kagome Higurashi seemed to be who they were looking for.
Rating: "R" for adult situations, language, and just to give me breathing space.
To know before reading: This is set in present-day America, a land dominated by youkai. Sesshoumaru's family name is "Kirishima" – so you don't get confused later on. Kagome is Japanese-American, and so was born and raised in the United States. Sesshoumaru, being the traditional youkai he is, insists on being known as Kirishima Sesshoumaru and being addressed as Kirishima-sama; Kagome is more Americanized.
Replacement Bride – Part I
"No one has seen her for days, sir. We have managed to keep your father in the dark, but he demands to see her soon." The man stared calmly at his superior, hiding his unease. All knew that Kirishima Sesshoumaru was not to be taken lightly, but his affianced bride seemed to have no fear for her life. That lack of fear was not shared by Kirishima Inutaisho's guards.
"You have checked the phone records, I trust." The soft, impassive voice carried with it a silky threat of imminent death.
"The Shichinintai are on the case, sir. They believe she may have run to Japan, as she has roots there."
"After three days, you have no concrete information to hand me?" The piercing golden gaze was hidden behind dark sunglasses, but the effect was still the same.
The uniformed man swallowed. "Within twenty-four hours we shall have her destination in hand, sir," he promised rashly. Anything to get away from that look.
"Humans…" He scoffed lightly. "You are worthless laborers. Get out of my sight. Your stench sickens me." The fear permeated the entire room. It was not an odor he enjoyed in his office, though he normally enjoyed placing that emotion into the hearts of all he met.
He turned to the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, staring out at Los Angeles. That bitch Kikyou had wanted the wedding here, and his father had agreed with surprising ease. He liked the weather in California, or so was his excuse. Sesshoumaru knew his true reason—to bring his sons both together again.
The door opened, and a familiar scent brushed against him. Even thinking about it seemed to summon his half-brother into his presence.
"How many times have I told you to announce yourself before entering, half-breed?"
The contemptuous tone immediately set the younger brother on edge. Eyes the same tawny hue as all men of the Kirishima line flashed angrily. "We were supposed to check out our most recent acquisition," he said flatly, ignoring the question asked of him. "In its first month it's bounced back to bring in 4.2 more than anticipated."
Of course he knew that. All the information on their holdings and investments was stored in his mind; having his useless half-brother quote the statistics only irritated him. He turned. "Change out of that ridiculous red. You will not shame our father by appearing as nothing less than man of the world. You're no longer fifteen; don't act like it."
As expected, the criticism earned him a flat look before the door slammed shut, separating the brothers once more. There was no increase in volume outside; all employees were paid hefty salaries in exchange for discretion and professionalism. It satisfied him to hold such power over their worthless little lives; even youkai were subject to the material world, of which the Kirishima family held much sway.
Any human employees only existed on the ground levels. They were too flighty and unreliable. Of course, humans made excellent bodyguards and troubleshooters. They were easily cowed by the intimidating presences of powerful youkai.
He reached for his suit jacket, resigning himself to an evening of inspection. The classy little restaurant they had bought out five months before was doing remarkably well, but as of yet there had been no pruning of employees. Although Western Lands brought in no complaints, he was certain there would be a select few that would be discreetly replaced. He strove for perfection, and no one seemed to meet his exacting standards.
This time would prove no different.
- - -
"A glass of cold water, please, no ice—it is mineral water, isn't it?" the elegantly dressed woman interrogated. Kagome smiled politely, pen poised to write.
"Of course, Madame."
"And a salad, with light dressing on the side. Please, no onions or tomatoes, and could you be certain to include only the leaves?"
"Of course." Kagome scribbled the complicated order down, barely resisting the urge to roll her eyes. The richer the customer, the more requests made. She smiled with false warmth at the man smiling fondly at the model (or so she guessed, by the order). First date, she judged, and there would be no more. Miss America seemed to dislike his fond affections, by the way she avoided his eyes. "And for you, sir?"
He didn't glance toward the waitress as he rapidly ordered. His face was familiar; she paused a second before placing it. Of course. Table ten, last week, a brunette in a stunning crimson sheathe. She'd ordered lamb. Smiling politely, she was quick to reassure them that their order would be by soon.
A flicker at the corner of her eyes warned her of new customers. She hurried to place the couple's order, smiling with real affection as she entered the kitchen. "Hey, Jean-Paul, another steak order for you!"
"Ah, 'tite chatte, you wound me," he declared, pausing in the action of hefting a bloody knife. "Such a classy place, and they order steak. Steak!" He sniffed. "What is he, an accountant?"
"I think he was her lawyer," she laughed. "Dark suit, subtly-striped tie, impeccable posture and completely enamored of the lady model at his side." She arched her brows with wicked amusement, and turned to smile at her roommate, who'd just entered the kitchen. "Sango, a glass of cold water, no ice, and Dom Perignon to table fifteen, if you could? I'll grab the ones who just came in. Oh, God, Anita's rushing to the counter—thanks Sang!" she called quickly over her shoulder as she rushed to the front desk without seeming like she was in an absolute hurry. It had taken her two weeks to master the brisk pace, under her friend's stern eye.
"Good evening and welcome to the Western Lands," she began warmly, smiling at the two men standing impatiently. No, not men—a youkai and a hanyou. She noticed the silver-white hair, immediately assumed them to be related. Both wore impeccably tailored suits. The taller of the two was wearing what she swore to be a Jaken, though it had to be extremely expensive. It was rumored that even Armani couldn't live up to the mysterious new fashion designer's line.
"Table for two?" she continued, discreetly checking them over. Slightly annoyed at the wait, though it hadn't been for more than a few seconds. They would have to go to one of her tables; Sango was methodical but a little slower, having three regulars at this time of day, who loved to strike up minor, inconsequential conversation.
At the taller man's curt nod, she infused her smile with more friendliness. Really, couldn't he loosen up a little?
"This way, please," she requested, discreetly pulling two menus from the bottom of the counter. "Would you prefer a window table, or…"
"Corner, if you have it," the other said quickly. A second glance made them out to be brothers, though there seemed to be a significant gap between their ages. The younger looked to be around her age, but the eldest seemed to be a mature, seasoned individual. Both of them had unusual gold eyes, almost unnerving as they looked her over. Had she been so rude in her own inspection? Surely not.
As she seated them, she pulled out the small pad and her trusty pen. "My name is Kagome, and I will be serving you today. Would you like anything to drink?"
The younger glanced at her and grinned, fangs flashing. "Beer, thanks." She smiled reflexively, the expression contagious on his boyish face.
"Whatever," he shrugged. Her brows arched, but she simply wrote Guinness on the little notepad. Then she turned her attention to the older brother, who was staring at her intently, making no intent to conceal his interest.
"Sake," he ordered, the word brief and curt. She scribbled it calmly. "And green tea."
"Guinness, sake, and a green tea?" she inquired. At their nods, she flashed another smile. "I'll be with you shortly to take your dinner order."
Pocketing the requisition, she glanced up and grinned involuntarily at the sight of Sango deftly evading a customer's wandering hands. He was one of her regulars, and was constantly asking her for dates—and being shot down swiftly. Kagome smoothed the smile from her face as she noted the harassed expression in her friend's dark eyes.
"Ah, Kagome," she greeted, moving quickly to intercept her. She lowered her voice. "Your newest customers are special, make sure you're on your best behavior."
Her brows arched. Special?
Sango smiled quickly and headed toward the kitchens. Both girls slipped through the broad doors before the other girl continued to speak. "They're the ones who bought out Western Lands," she explained. "I guess they're here to inspect, which means there's going to be a few people being politely asked to leave. So be careful."
"How'd you know?" Kagome asked, intrigued. Just as her friend was about to answer, an incoherent bellow made itself known from outside. Both women glanced at each other before hurrying out.
Ah, great. An unhappy, drunk customer, she thought, an eye on the burly man waving his hands angrily at the diminutive waitress in front of him.
"…you were supposed to bring it out at the right time, but y'all fumbled't," he snarled. "Now look! She's out there madder'n hell 'cause no one can do a surprise right!"
The first disturbance we've had in a month, and of course the owners are here. Just beautiful. She stepped between the irate customer and the cowed waitress, giving a slight jerk of her head to tell the other girl to return to the kitchen. She looked as though she were about to break down in tears. "Excuse me, sir," she began pleasantly, only to be interrupted by a tirade of epithets. She kept the soothing, friendly smile on her face the entire time her ancestry was maligned. "I understand that you're upset, sir, and it would only be natural to feel that way," she said quickly, taking his arm and patting it gently as she steered him to the back room. Luckily it was empty—more often than not a trysting couple would be in there. "If we could please talk in private, I'm certain we can get everything straightened out."
- - -
Sango glanced at the order Kagome had shoved into her hand. Beer, sake, and green tea for table twelve. She pasted a happy smile on her face as she gathered up the order and walked confidently toward the two silver-haired gentlemen staring intently in the direction her friend had disappeared with the unhappy customer.
"A Guinness?" she inquired sweetly. Startled, the younger of the two made a slight motion to claim it. "Here you go, sir. Sake—ah, for you. And the green tea as well?" She placed both items in front of the man, glad her fingers didn't give in to their urge to tremble. Pulling Kagome's pad from her pocket, she smiled. "Are either of you ready to place your order?"
"What about our current server?" The man with the sake pierced her with a steady stare.
Don't get flustered. Be calm. "She is handling a delicate situation at the moment and will be with you as soon as she is able. Until she can see to your needs, I will be taking over," Sango explained sweetly. It would be pointless to deny that everything happened, considering that everyone knew what just did. The noise level had grown with inane chatter and malicious gossip, especially considering where 'the conversation' was taking place. Why did Kagome have to take him to the Trysting Room, of all places?
"I see. I do not believe we are yet ready to take our order," he dismissed coolly. She continued to smile as she thanked them both and made her way to the tables she had to oversee.
- - -
Sesshoumaru looked thoughtfully at their departing temporary waitress. Then he nodded curtly toward his half-brother. "Stay," he commanded coldly, before making his way to the door that 'Kagome' had disappeared into. He would need to see how she was handling this… situation.
- - -
"Of course." Kagome made suitably commiserating noises as she offered a tissue to the now-broken man sobbing before her. "I know you love her very much; it was obvious to everyone in the restaurant," she soothed, patting his shoulder gently. "And your surprise was beautiful! I don't see why she had to get so upset over it."
"I was going to propose, and she—she said it was time to see other people," he cried. She felt her heart stir with pity, for he was indeed a pitiable sight.
Setting the stage to propose, in a restaurant he couldn't really afford, in a suit he'd just bought… only to have his perfect relationship blown up. She clucked maternally, wondering what Sango would say if she saw this. "Maybe you could see this as a little time off; while you're gone, she's sure to realize what she's missing," she comforted, ignoring the smell of beer on his breath. It seemed he'd waited to down a few bottles of Guinness before confronting the employees about their 'shabby' work.
"That's right!" He brightened considerably, looking up at her with a pathetically hopeful expression. "She will, won't she?"
"And if she doesn't, she's not the right woman for you!" Kagome said lightly, discreetly moving back a step. Beer had such a strong smell. "In fact, I don't think you should be here right now," she added thoughtfully. "What if she came back and saw you like this? You don't want to show her how much it hurts, right?" Poor guy… "Maybe you should get home, take a shower and sleep on it so you have a bright new day to work everything out. Call her and tell her she was right, that you needed to take time apart…"
His hopeful expression fell. "But I don't want her to see other people!"
"It's just a ploy! Reverse-psychology. If you tell her that it's best to stay apart, she's going to want to stay with you," she explained hastily. Once more his face brightened. She grinned weakly. "Look, I'll tell you what…" She patted down her pockets, searching. "Ah, here it is. A gift card!" She held it up in front of his nose. "Fifty dollars. Didn't know Western Lands packed gift cards, did you?"
"No." He looked pathetically confused.
"Okay, look. This is good for another month. If she doesn't come back to you within a month, get a nice date and come back here. The dinner will be half paid for if you use this." She smiled kindly. "Hopefully you both will be together again, and you can propose right this time."
He was nodding enthusiastically by the time she finished. He really is plastered, she thought. "And next time, just do it sincerely, from the heart. No fancy trappings. Just get down beside her and ask her to marry you. No cakes or—"
"Right, right," he nodded again, so hard she wondered if he was bruising his brain. "Aw, you're such a sweet girl!" He wrapped her in a crushing embrace. Being six-foot-three to her five-foot and at least two hundred pounds heavier, it very nearly turned all her bones to powder. "Thank you for your help," he sniffed. "I'll go take that shower now!"
He loosened her enthusiastically and immediately left the room, whistling happily with his new-found hope. She fell to the floor, gasping for breath and rubbing her sternum briskly. "Ow," she whispered. Then her shoulders slumped. That gift card was supposed to be for Nick, so he could take his wife-of-six-months out on a half-anniversary dinner date. Ah well—she'd just give him fifty dollars to pay for it. Though her bank account was going to go through some serious strain…
- - -
He stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. She didn't even seem to realize he was there, by the way she was staring at the wall. His nose wrinkled fastidiously at the overly strong scent of beer all over her. "Not bad," he offered laconically.
Her head shot up, and she blinked up at him curiously. "What…? Oh, what are you doing here?" Her eyes suddenly widened as her cheeks crimsoned. "I'm so sorry—I had to deal with him before I could take your order…"
"You didn't handle it as badly as I thought you would," he interrupted. "Now if you would please get off the floor, you have customers waiting for you." He'd listened to the entire conversation through the door, ignoring the odd looks he'd been thrown. It was a pleasant surprise to realize that he had someone with brains working for him, able to turn a potentially disastrous event into something that would be funny later. And that the person would turn out to be this 'Kagome' was even better. His complex mind grappled with a new, possibly crazy idea that would be the perfect solution to a crazy state of affairs.
"R-Right," she stammered, too flustered at the moment to recognize the insult. "I'll be right out, sir."
- - -
"Oh, God, Sango," she sighed, collapsing onto the couch with a fatalistic air. "They wouldn't stop watching me! It was like I was being appraised for a play by some psychotic drama coach, or something."
"Yeah, I guess." Her friend dropped listlessly onto the ground, resting her head back against the younger woman's legs. "They fired me, Kagome."
"What!" She bolted up, staring down at her friend in shock.
"Oh, no, they didn't say that. It's just that… that older one gave me this shriveling look, like I didn't come up to par. I just know I'm going to get a letter in the mail telling me that they don't need me anymore…" her hands fluttered helplessly.
"He did that to everyone, Sango-chan," Kagome soothed, unaware of her lapse into Japanese. Her childhood companion rolled her shoulders with a forced show of indifference.
"Well, it doesn't really matter—I have that job at the video store, too, so it's not like I'll be unemployed if they do fire me." Jumping up with sudden energy, she cast a baleful glance at their extremely dirty kitchen. "We should clean up, but I really don't feel like it. But we can't cook if it's a mess…"
Kagome was already reaching for the phone. "In times of distress, order Chinese!" she chanted, laughing. "Let's get the Handsome Twins off our minds for today, okay?" The movement was quickly stilled as footsteps thudded up the stairs outside their small apartment. Cloudy blue eyes met clear cinnamon-brown in a shared glance of worry before two small tornadoes erupted through the door, one heading straight for Kagome's lap and the other for Sango's, with identical cries of distress.
"Kohaku…?" the older girl asked helplessly, kneeling to brush tears away from her baby brother's face. "What's wrong?" She glanced out the open door, wondering where their third roommate had disappeared to.
"Souta, where's Bankotsu?" Kagome carefully wrapped her arms around her younger brother, rocking him gently.
It took a good ten minutes before the boys would calm down to answer their respective sisters' questions. It seemed they had taken Kirara on a walk in the park, but Bankotsu had been distracted by a call on his cell phone, and the little kitten had disappeared when the kids played tag around the base of a tree—and then they weren't allowed to search for her because the phone call had told "Bankotsu-no-aniki" to hurry to work.
Sango's face grew darker with each second that passed by in explanation. She and Bankotsu had been dating for a year now, and it was always work, work, work… she didn't even know who he worked for or what he did, though they all knew about his creepy friends who often came by the cramped apartment to visit. And, of course, complained about the size; Bankotsu could easily afford a bigger apartment, but Kagome and Sango were adamant about not depending on him.
And now his precious work kept him from finding the kitten youkai who had been with the young woman her entire life…
"Kids, stay here. Kagome and I are going to look for Kirara, so you need to stay in the apartment, okay?"
"Okay," they chorused dutifully, faces still tear-stained and nearly identical in their seven-year-old misery.
"And if either of you step foot out of this apartment, I am going to be very upset," Kagome threatened. "Stay away from the stove and just play your video games, okay?"
"Okay," they chorused again, sad eyes following their sisters out the door.