The author would like to express their deepest sympathies for the people of Japan in the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
Chapter 22: A Game of Numbers
May the hottest one win.
Kagome frowned in concentration as she sipped from the tea bowl she held in her hands. "This must be… tea from Shizuoka."
"Very good," praised her teacher. "And the maker?"
"Yamanaki." Smiling triumphantly, Kagome set the bowl back onto the tatami floor.
"Actually, this tea is produced by Nogata," Inutaisho corrected patiently.
She gulped, took another hasty sip, and burned her tongue doing so.
It had been a week since they'd been released from the hospital, and having sent her overly-anxious father home to America, Kagome had looked forward to making the most out of her stay in Japan. Ryuukotsei had, true to his word, signed over an obscene amount of money to the Sesshoumaru and Inutaisho each, and although Kagome hadn't asked, Kagura had been more than happy to give mysterious hints as to how many zeros this left her grandfather out of pocket. Of course this had meant that Sesshoumaru would be obliged to join Ryuukotsei in his political ambitions, which happily for Kagome would mean freedom to do whatever she pleased.
Instead, Inutaisho had unfortunately decided to personally conduct tea lessons with her in the absence of his son. After straight seven days of drinking nothing but top-grade tea and making observations about colour and water temperature with Inutaisho, who was not nearly as easy on the eyes as Sesshoumaru anyway, Kagome was nearly at the end of her tether.
At least with Sesshoumaru, she could verbally and even physically protest when she wanted to slack off. With Inutaisho, however, Kagome felt compelled to hold in her F-words and S-words; instead it was all smiles and bows and Yes, Sir, of course, Sir, I really enjoy this historical nonsense. All the caffeine drinking wasn't helping her sleep pattern either, and Kagome found herself tossing around in bed night after night despite being exhausted to the bone.
Considering that a few weeks ago she hadn't known the difference between Chinese and Japanese tea, Kagome doubted that in all her life she would ever need to know the difference between Nogata and Yamanaki. Thankfully, a knock on the door revealed Izayoi and Jaken, who had come to remind Inutaisho that he was late for a cocktail engagement.
"How are the lessons coming?" Izayoi asked kindly.
"Couldn't be better," Kagome said, coaxing on her most radiant and studious smile.
"Ahh, good luck then," said Izayoi with a wink. "I don't think the Taisho family has ever accepted a daughter-in-law who couldn't perform a tea ceremony properly."
"…Is that so?" asked Kagome cheerfully. It was really amazing how every single person seemed to know about her absolutely non-existent engagement. The fact she hadn't said yes to anything, and that she didn't have a big rock on her finger, should have been enough clues for them to leave her alone. She was about to clarify with Izayoi when Inutaisho interrupted.
"What is this cocktail engagement, and was I expected?" he frowned.
"You must go, darling, it's the launch of the newly renovated Louis Vuitton boutique… in your hotel," Izayoi said, roling her eyes. "Remember? You told Sesshoumaru to RSVP on your behalf but he's out working now."
"Oh yes, Sesshoumaru's new career – just so we're clear, I'm not ever voting for my son."Inutaisho smiled conspiratiorally at Kagome. "Let's take a break for the day, shall we? You've worked hard, and it's eight-thirty anyway."
"In the evening?" Kagome nearly wept. No wonder she'd been having hunger pangs for the last three hours, she hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. Inutaisho was a hard taskmaster. Suddenly she could see why his sons had cracked, one becoming an arrogant twit and the other just plain unmotivated.
"Jaken – you'll feed Kagome, won't you?" Izayoi said, trying to coax her husband into the suit jacket she'd brought along.
"Come along, Higurashi," Jaken said with a grumpy scowl. "I will procure some food for you."
He whisked her back to her room, whereupon the extent of Jaken's procurement included him barking a phone call to room service. Having tried everything on the menu at least twice by now Kagome had to say she wasn't a fan of beluga caviar and lobster risotto, but she politely swallowed everything with Jaken watching her every move intently.
Much as Kagome hated to admit, she missed Sesshoumaru's strawberries and champagne. "Jaken," she said, setting aside her fork casually, "where's Sesshoumaru?"
"Working," sniffed Jaken, as though she'd asked him something personal, like the flavour of bath soap he used.
"I know, but so late?" Kagome asked, peering at the clock on the wall. For the first time she realized even the hotel clocks were made by Rolex. Jewel-encrusted hands read half-past nine.
"Sesshoumaru-sama does not abide by any curfew," Jaken declared indignantly. "Least of all yours."
Kagome ignored the jibe. "Do you know where he is, at least?"
A small smirk appeared on his face. "Oh, yes," Jaken said, "You know in Japan, politicians are so busy all the time, they are probably at a hostess club, or a geisha party, or some strip club maybe…"
Toying with her fork, Kagome resisted the urge to stab him with it. "Just because you would never get anywhere unless if you paid for it, you don't have to sound so jealous," she told him crossly.
"I am not jealous of Sesshoumaru-sama!" Jaken sounded furious. "I'll have you know I have had plenty of girlfriends -"
"'Had' being the operative word, of course -"
"And just because you have never had sex in your life –"
Kagome blinked. "Excuse me?" Since when did this idiot think he had the right to talk to her about her personal life, especially when Jaken himself obviously had serious self-esteem issues?
"Please. You're obviously young. And given your lack of social graces I would be surprised if any man has ever been interested in courting you!"
"That's it," Kagome snapped. "I'll make a bet with you. That is, we'll both go to a hot little club, and whoever who picks up the most number of people, wins."
"Fine!" Jaken said. This insufferable little girl was insulting his ability to get women. And even though he had been born a little on the short and ugly side, Jaken would show her how it was done. "I'll call a cab!"
Kagome watched him dial with narrowed eyes. This little twerp was completely in over his head here. Kagome Higurashi was pulling out all her charms tonight; Jaken was way in over his head.
The cab dropped them outside a crowded door with a long line of elegantly-dressed and beautiful people. Disconcertingly the doormen seemed to recognize Jaken, and they entered immediately into a glitzy club room filled entirely with mirrors and glass fixtures.
"You're on your own," Jaken said, heading straight for the bar where Kagome saw him pull himself onto a bar stool and order a drink.
Of course, if either one of them had been a little less hot-headed at the moment, it would have occurred to them that this little game was probably something Sesshoumaru would disapprove of. "Good luck, you'll need it," Kagome muttered, noticing a group of young men watching her with interest. Putting on her best smile, she winked before settling herself on a lounge seat.
This was going to be the easiest bet she'd ever won.
Club Miroir, it was called, and although he'd heard of it this was the first time Sesshoumaru had actually gone in. Safely ensconced from the crowds in the VIP section with the club owner, a beautiful older woman named Tsubaki, Sesshoumaru let her regale him with her reasons for why the alcohol tax should be removed and why she should be allowed to have a gaming license in her chain of nightclubs. His grandfather Ryuukotsei called it garnering support for the next campaign. Sesshoumaru would have called it borderline corruption.
"Isn't this a lovely concept?" Tsubaki gushed, opening another bottle of vintage Dom Perignon. She was referring to the two-way mirrors which covered the walls of the outer club section – while the customers outside remained unaware, the people in the VIP rooms had a clear view of what went on main areas.
"Absolutely ingenious," Sesshoumaru acquiesced obligingly. This was his last stop for the evening, and the sooner he secured Tsubaki and all her employees as loyal voters the sooner he could go home.
Unfortunately, she seemed delighted to have him to herself. "So, Sesshoumaru, I hear you hurt your arm in a skiing accident."
A skiing accident, really. Whoever handled his PR needed to get fired; it was the middle of summer after all. "Actually it's just a small scratch, nothing important," Sesshoumaru said smoothly. "I… won a game of cards and the other party was a sore loser."
"Oh, are you a betting man?" Tsubaki said with feigned surprise. "But of course you are, I forget that your father is Inutaisho. Well, actually, what a coincidence, but I was hoping to start holding blackjack nights across all my clubs, and -"
Nodding along to Tsubaki's sales pitch, Sesshoumaru found himself following the club scene across the mirrors instead. He arched a brow as he noticed a very familiar figure talking to two young women at the bar. Sesshoumaru had never known Jaken to frequent clubs, but whatever Jaken was up to, Sesshoumaru doubted he knew those two were famously expensive prostitutes.
Even more interestingly, a small crowd of eager young gentlemen had gathered around someone who looked uncannily like Kagome Higurashi. Judging from all the empty drink glasses in front of her, she was one of the more popular attendees that evening, as the men clamoured to buy her drinks.
There was simply something too coincidental about Jaken and Kagome both showing up at the same place, and both showing an unusual interest in flirting. Seeing Kagome tapping the phone numbers of two guys into her phone, though, gave Sesshoumaru a sudden inkling of what the two were up to.
"Tsubaki," Sesshoumaru said, "Those two girls over there by the bar, they work for you, don't they?"
"Shall I call them?" Tsubaki asked immediately.
"No, no, please don't. But I would like to hire them, if only for them to talk to that poor bastard for the rest of the night," smirked Sesshoumaru. After all, Jaken was a fairly dedicated employee, and Sesshoumaru had always been a generous man.
"Leave it to me," smiled Tsubaki confidently, rising. "Excuse me for one moment."
"No, excuse me," Sesshoumaru said, rising also. "It was a pleasure to meet with such a charming lady such as yourself, and I will be sure to recommend your cause in our next political meeting."
He was done with Tsubaki; Sesshoumaru was ready for some amusement. Jaken probably would never know what hit him. And as for Kagome Higurashi, Sesshoumaru loved a good mind game, and of late he was really enjoying screwing with her head.
Making his way into the main room, he meandered over to Kagome, picking up a potent-looking blue cocktail along the way. He had to manoeuvre quite a few men out of the way to get to where he wanted to be – that was, right next to the highly popular Miss Higurashi.
"For the most beautiful girl I have ever seen," he said, handing her the glass with a perfectly innocuous glance. "Allow me to buy you a drink."
Kagome nearly choked her drink in shock. "What are you doing here?" she whispered as she patted her mouth quickly with a napkin, promptly knocking over a bottle of champagne while she was at it.
"Well, Kyoto is not a very big place, you're bound to run into someone sometime," Sesshoumaru said, calmly handing her another napkin. "So what's the squabble between you and Jaken?"
"I," Kagome said, waving bye to one of her conquests, "am going to beat Jaken in the number of phone numbers I collect by the end of the evening."
"My dear, that's hardly a fair competition," Sesshoumaru pointed out.
"Hey, he asked for it," shrugged Kagome. "Now if you're not going to give me your number, you might want to sit somewhere else. You're driving away my suitors."
"Pardon, madame. You can have my work cell number." Sesshoumaru handed her a new shiny business card. "Oh, and Jaken didn't mention? He's going to be a bit busy for awhile, so he's asked me to help him win this little game you two have going on."
And the expression of her face was priceless.
"That's cheating!" Kagome exclaimed, indignant. "This is unfair!"
"Let's see, you have had a one hour head-start, and I have one broken arm," Sesshoumaru said reasonably. "Who's got the advantage, I'd like to know."
Kagome shook her head. "I'm not playing with you."
He simply smirked, and left her with her group of boys. He needed to find some girls, and sure enough a few of them were already eyeing him up from across the room.
The game was on.
Thank you to all my wonderful reviewers:
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