Title: Puppy 101

Authoress: Ladya C. Maxine

Rating: T

Summary: see chapter one

Warnings: see chapter one

Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha or any of its characters. Any and all unrecognizable characters belong solely to me and are not to be used by any other. I am not making any money off of this and I write with the sole intention to entertain.

A/N: looks around Huh? How the heck did I get here? Oh well. Might as well update.

BTW, thanks for over 1000 reviews! Well, amassed over a shameful year, but thanks all the same.


'Bad Kagome! Really, really, really bad Kagome! Selfish, evil, thoughtless Kagome!'

"Oh, aren't they darlings!" a woman swapped in purple cooed, holding onto the handrail above Kagome's head.

"Thank you," Kagome forced what felt like her hundredth smile in the past twenty minutes, turning to the woman standing next to her in the crowded bus. All around them people were staring, and in the back a group of school girls wouldn't stop squealing. There were quite a few young children with their mothers also packed in here, and Kagome was pretty sure she knew why.

"Such rare features. Are they albinos?"

Inuyasha, who'd been playing with Kagome's cell phone, transfixed by the tiny monitor, turned in her lap when the woman experimentally rubbed a lock of his hair between her fingers. He stared at Kagome, not sure what to make of the stranger's actions. Kagome, however, wasn't as passive. Keeping up her smile as best she could, she turned, angling the pup away from the aisle and the woman, pulling the newsboy cap Inuyasha was wearing further over his head. She feared that it might pop off at any moment.

"Brother and sister?" the woman persisted, jostling another commuter out of the way to get a better look at Sesshoumaru, who was sitting by the window, ignoring everything inside the bus.

Kagome, who had to continuously juggle Inuyasha, her bag and her book, blew a strand of hair out of her face, counting to ten slowly before shaking her head.

"Brother and brother," she corrected.

"Oh, but he has such soft beautiful! Has anyone ever told you that he looks like a porcelain doll?"

"Yes. Um, I really have to get back to my studies, ma'am, so—"

"Where are they from? Such light features; are they European?"

"They're from abroad," Kagome nodded, and said nothing more about it.

"Ome?" Inuyasha asked, patting her cheek to get her attention.

Somewhere in the crowd, a couple of people aw'd. Kagome, struggling to keep her book from slipping, accordingly took the phone from him, wondering what he wanted. There wasn't much space on her lap, but he easily manoeuvred himself around until he sat facing her. Taking her algebra textbook from her, he held it open against him.

"Okay?" he asked, big eyes hopeful that he was helping her by serving as a living table.

"It's okay, Inuyasha," she smiled. "I can't focus in here anyway. I'll just study later."

Sesshoumaru suddenly tapped her arm, pointing outside. A towering grey skyscraper was slowly coming into view, on its edifice a sprawling pink and blue banner with children on it. Traffic before the building was thick and people were streaming in and out of the glass doors.

"Crap!" Kagome hissed, fumbling to press the STOP button, though someone else had already done so.

"You're entering them in the My Sweet Chibi contest?" the same woman asked, hanging over them like a lilac bat.

Suddenly the other women didn't look so friendly. Some looked envious, some looked defeated, most looked affronted. As the bus groaned to a stop, Kagome slung her bag over her shoulder, hiked Inuyasha up onto her hip and took Sesshoumaru's gloved hand, all the while praying they'd all make it off the bus without losing each other. As she excused her way through the crowd, which was thinning as many were also getting off here, she heard the whispers.

"Is she really entering them?"

"I hope they don't belong to my son's age group."

"Are they even hers?"

"You're right; she's just a school girl."

"Is that allowed?"

"I hope not!"

"Do you think she's…altered their appearance for the contest?"

"That hair colour is unusual, even for Europeans."

"And those eyes; I think they're contact lenses."

"Horrible what some people will do for money!"

Keeping her head high, Kagome stepped off the bus, steering the pups away from the throng filing towards the building, ignoring the stares. Finding a relatively quiet spot on a bench beneath a tree, she sat down with a sigh, putting Inuyasha next to her while Sesshoumaru pulled himself up onto the bench. Kagome stared at her hands. They were shaking.

'What was I thinking?…What if those women are right?…They're not mine…Who am I to be doing this?…What will mama think when she finds out?'

Inuyasha was searching his coat pocket. He pulled out one of the twenty or so lollipops he'd stashed in there and, after a hearty struggle with the wrapper, held it out to her. He'd already picked up that grape was her favourite candy flavour.

"Yum," he encouraged, patting his tummy as she took it. He then took out another and handed it to Sesshoumaru, who took it but didn't eat it; candy didn't interest him much. Undeterred, Inuyasha ripped open one for himself and crammed it into his mouth. "Mmmm!"

"Inuyasha, Sesshoumaru…"

Two sets of golden eyes turned up at her. Standing, she pushed them closer together and knelt down before them on the pavement, holding their hands. Mama had bought some better fitting clothes for them and, despite having come home from work at eleven, had spent another two hours altering all of Sesshoumaru's pants, neatly cutting holes for his tail, and coming up with creative ideas for hats and caps for Inuyasha. Mama still didn't know about Kagome's plans, but her timing had been perfect. And still…

'…What if mama won't be happy with the money?…What if she'll be ashamed of me?…'

Inuyasha was swinging his short legs, rocking from side to side, occasionally bumping Sesshoumaru, who still held his unopened lollipop. Though Kagome was getting sick of hearing it herself, they were indeed like a pair of dolls: fair, innocent, delicate and priceless.

'And yet here you are, trying to make money off of them. Way to go, Kagome!'

She didn't think Inuyasha would fully understand what she was about to say, or what kind of place they were about to enter, but he and Sesshoumaru had to right to know. And she also wanted them to know her reasons, and her regrets.

"You see that?" she asked, pointing to the skyscraper. They followed her finger. "We're going there. There's a…um…game there. And we're going to play in it."

"Yuki na?" Inuyasha asked, making a vague hand gesture that looked like ball.

"No, not that kind of game. A contest. Um…you like mama, don't you?"

"Mama? Ya!" Inuyasha's face lit up, holding up his lollipop, which had indeed been a gift from mama.

Sesshoumaru, having put his lollipop in his pocket, was watching her steadily, and while it was a far cry from the great Lord Sesshoumaru's death glare, it contained a faint trace of the penetrating stare that made the pup look as wise as his adult self. It made Kagome feel both guilty and humbled. It was still unclear just how advanced Sesshoumaru was, or even how much of his adult conscience was active, if at all.

"Um…I…as I was saying…Mama's in some trouble and…and I want to help her so if we take part in this contest we might be able to help her…I'd never do this if it weren't for the situation, and I really hadn't planned this when I brought you here…But…But I'm worried about mama…and jii-chan…and our home…And I promise I'll look after you both and—"

"AAAWWWWW! Wook at the wittle dolls!"

A group of seventh graders stopped in their tracks behind Kagome, hugging their bags as they hopped over to stare at the pups. There were only four of them but the way they crowded in made it feel like they were with their hundreds.

"Is this some kind of show?" one of them asked Kagome.

"I wanna picture!" another shouted, waving her cell phone around madly.

"Cuties!"

"Oh my god, I wish my little brother was this adorable!"

"I want one!"

"Are they for sale?!"

"Let me hold one!"

Inuyasha yelped when he was plucked from the bench and almost crushed in a tight hug, struggling as the obnoxious girl showered him with kisses. He wasn't as shy as Sesshoumaru, but this was definitely too much for him. Whimpering, he twisted and turned, trying to pry himself free while all the girls moved in, petting his head and pinching his cheeks.

"Ome!" he yelped, reaching out a pleading hand to her.

Kagome's vision went red.

"LET HIM GO!"

People on the other side of the street jumped, looking around them with wide eyes. A car swerved, almost hitting a cyclist and a fruit vendor. Before her the schoolgirls cowered. The one holding Inuyasha quickly put him down and ran back to her friends, finding safety in numbers while he hurried into Kagome's arms.

"You don't go around grabbing kids like that!" Kagome scolded the group, hugging Inuyasha close. She felt Sesshoumaru gripping her leg, also in need of some reassurance after the sudden chaos. "You scared them both. Think before you do something next time, will ya?"

"Y-Y-Y-Y-Yes!"

"S-S-S-Sorry!"

And they ran, pigtails and short skirts bouncing madly as they hightailed it out of there. Inuyasha dared to peek out from beneath her hair. He'd dropped his beloved lollipop on the ground, and was too shaken to care.

"Ank u," he said as she adjusted his cap.

Sitting back down on the bench, she moved him to her lap and pulled Sesshoumaru close so that he could also find some shelter in her arms. She could feel their hearts hammering in their chests. Inuyasha, resting his head on her chest, took hold of Sesshoumaru's hand, cuddling it close to him, seeking double the amount of comfort. He was still breathing heavily.

Kagome sighed, resting her head on his while she held onto them.

No, she couldn't do this. If they entered, this was bound to happen again and she couldn't put them through it. This had only been a small group of schoolgirls; how would they fare against a whole crowd? They didn't want the attention; they couldn't handle it.

"You know what?" she said, combing Sesshoumaru's hair with her fingers to better hide his pointy ears, "Forget it. Why don't we go to the park and get some hot chocolate milk instead?"

Neither gave any form of protest when she stood but when she started walking, away from the building she'd pointed out to them, Sesshoumaru, who was walking next to her, was standing his ground, holding onto her with both hands. He shook his head and pointed back to the building.

"No, don't worry. We're not going there."

He shook his head again and started to tug her back.

"Sesshoumaru, really, it's done."

Frustrated, Sesshoumaru looked around him, searching for a way to explain his intentions. In the end he just tugged at his own clothes, looking at her meaningfully. Not getting it, Kagome crouched down. Inuyasha wriggled free and stared with a tilted head at his brother.

"What's wrong with your clothes?" Kagome still wanted to know.

Inuyasha, however, understood what his silent kin was trying to get across when Sesshoumaru looked at him, as if there was some sort of telepathic link along which they could read and reason with each other's thoughts. At least, he understood what it was about Sesshoumaru's clothes Kagome wasn't getting.

"Mama!" he chirped, jumping up and down excitedly. Now he too was pointing at the building. "Gia nano mama!"

Kagome's breath caught in her throat.

"You want to repay mama for the clothes…for helping take care of you."

Sesshoumaru nodded.

"But you don't have to do this. Tell you what, we'll go to an arts & crafts store and buy some paper and sparkles and we'll make a nice card. She'll love it."

"No!" Inuyasha objected, siding with whatever his brother wanted. "Mama!"

"But there'll be a lot of people…and you'll have to do some things…and there'll be cameras and reporters and it can be pretty scary."

Sesshoumaru shrugged, taking her left hand while Inuyasha grabbed her right. Before she let them drag her along, Kagome used her superior strength to pull them back into a hug, moved to near tears, and, deep down, greatly relieved.

"I promise you, I'll protect you. Nothing and no one will get to you, okay?"

Cupping Sesshoumaru's face, she stared deep into his eyes.

"Sesshoumaru, are you absolutely sure? I'm afraid you don't fully understand what it's going to be like, and I know you don't like it when there are too many people around you. I wish I knew what was on your mind; please, tell me. Tell me what you know."

After a long moment, the pink lips parted and a soft breath was released, followed by an intake of air…but then he closed his mouth and looked away, abashed. Kagome bit back a frustrated sigh. Why? Why wouldn't he talk to her?

Their roles were reversed when Sesshoumaru took her face in his hands, but he only rested his brow against hers as some obscure sign of affection and trust. When he pulled away he looked more determined than ever. Inuyasha hopped over and took his hand, swinging it between them excitedly as he looked back at Kagome with a "Well?" expression.

Brushing off her knees, Kagome walked over and took Inuyasha's other hand.

'…If this is what they want…This still doesn't make it right, but if we're all in on this…and if they're willing to do this…I will protect them…And if anyone gives them a hard time…' Kagome's eyes narrowed with resolve. '…Anyone troubles them…and they'll have to deal with me!'


The building housed several offices and companies, but the competition was being held in, and sponsored Tokyo Conference Centre's own exclusive Star Crossed Hotel. It's lobby had been turned into a waiting room; its show room the contest itself would be held; and some of its ground floors had been reserved as dressing rooms. This was the real deal. People from all over the country had converged right here, fame and riches already shining in eager eyes.

Staring blankly at the papers in her hands, Kagome was still second-guessing the whole thing. They'd had to wait in a long just to get a number (one for each pup) which was rather unceremoniously stuck onto the potential contestant's chests while Kagome was given a stack of papers that they called a registration form but what she was convinced was a book.

She looked around her. Children from toddlers to pre-teens, dressed in everything from tutus to evening gowns to Halloween costumes, some eager, others less so, were being fussed over by their parents, mostly mothers. Some were singing, others were juggling; one little boy was even rehearsing a famous play. Every ten minutes or so numbers were called to the large doors behind which the first judging was taking place. For every sixty people who went in, fifty-nine, if not all sixty, came out upset or outraged. The mothers, that is.

"Who am I to judge?" Kagome challenged herself, crossing her legs.

Inuyasha was sitting at her feet, the tip of his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth as he tried to peel the sticker off his shirt front. She'd allowed him to take off his scarf and coat, but he had to keep on his cap and gloves to hide his ears and claws. He'd found a solution and had poked the sharp tip of his nail through the gloves, but even that wasn't enough to scrape off the bothersome sticker.

Sesshoumaru couldn't remove his coat, lest he reveal his tail for the whole world to see, and he didn't mind his sticker, so he just sat there watching Inuyasha flailing about. He'd come to realize that certain parts of them were meant to remain covered so he'd pull down Inuyasha's cap whenever the hanyou's wrestling would threaten to knock it off.

Overtime they'd established a routine: snarl, tumble, adjust cap, snarl, tumble, adjust cap, snarl, tumble adjust hat, etc. It was only broken when a particular noise would make the two clamber up onto the chairs and peer over the backs at the assembly for a minute or two before they returned to their floor routine. Ironically, the two little demons, dressed in everyday clothes, looked and were acting more normal than the crying, nagging, costumed kids around them; mothers were constantly insisting that it was just the excitement that was turning their usual angels into little terrors, trying to save face even as their angels kicked and hit them, or ran around the room screaming loudly, or threw tantrums for every possible reason.

"I do wish they wouldn't let riffraff like those enter such a prestigious competition, don't you?" a nasally voice asked out of nowhere.

Abandoning the confusing mess of papers in her lap, Kagome looked up to find a woman sitting right opposite her in the aisle. She'd chosen this spot, way in the back, for its seclusion and relative peace; everyone was up in the front, where TV cameras were reported to be sometime during the day. Here, it was quiet and the brothers were content, and she could hear herself think.

The woman was wearing expensive clothes that would have made her look elegant if it weren't for the heavy green eye shadow, fake eyelashes, candy apple red lipstick, someone-just-slapped-me bright rouge and the tight bun in her hair that gave her already surgically enhanced face an instant, and alien, facelift.

Next to her was a smaller but equally strange looking person. Looking hard, Kagome was surprised to find a young girl beneath the mop of dark, tightly curled hair that flowed out from beneath a pink bonnet. She was wearing a dress that looked like it was made entirely out of doilies, and black, rounded Mary Jane shoes with lacy socks. In her daintily gloved hands was a frilly pink umbrella.

It was a sight Kagome had never seen before; an actual living doll, which was a bit creepy. And yet, there was something about the girl. Beneath all that doll make-up and curls, the big brown eyes and round cheeks looked familiar…

"Ninety percent of those children aren't fit for a barn," the woman said. It took her considerable difficulty and much concentration to blink her eyes; her skin was that tight. "Screeching wild children with mothers who don't know the first thing about proper child-rearing. I'd be mortified if my daughter acted like that. Your appear to have yours well-trained also. Interesting colouring, by the way. Bleach and dye?"

"What?"

"Their hair, did you bleach and dye it white?"

"Uh, no. I don't think it's healthy for kids to be exposed to chemicals."

The woman's laugh was like a donkey braying. Inuyasha jumped, his lollipop stick drooping as he stared, open mouthed, at the braying human before him before climbing up to Kagome and settling in her lap, warily watching the lady. Sesshoumaru wasn't as easily scared, but he had his hands clasped over his ears, trying to protect his delicate hearing. While he wasn't too impressed with the woman, he kept staring at the girl, seeing something Kagome wasn't.

At last, the deafening noise died down to soft tittering.

"Have they ever won anything?" the woman asked, neglecting Kagome's last comment. "My daughter has been Beauty Queen and Pretty Princess of her school for three years running, as well as a regional champion four time. She's also been in a total of eight commercials, and we're currently working on a movie deal."

"That sounds really exciting," Kagome smiled to the girl, who couldn't be older than seven.

"Boring," the girl yawned dramatically, studying her pink paste-on nails. Though it was distorted by her obnoxious whine, her voice was familiar too. "Where's the competition if I always win all the time anyway? Ugly people shouldn't be allowed to enter, mommy. They annoy me."

For all her sweet appearance, the girl was rotten to the core.

"Now, now, dear," the mother said without any reproach in her voice; she was smiling fondly at her little brat, "Not everyone is as gifted as you are. What have I taught you?"

"That I should be sorry for everyone because they are less fortunate than me."

"They learn so fast, don't they? Yours are quite a pair. What are their names?"

"Sessh—I mean, Sora and…er, Riku. Actually, Riku and Sora."

Sesshoumaru craned his head back to give her a bemused look and Inuyasha wrinkled his nose.

Okay, so that hadn't been one of her greatest cover-ups, but their real names would raise eyebrows. Only demons would proudly call their children 'The Killing Perfection' (Sesshoumaru) and 'Dog Demon' (Inuyasha). Humans wouldn't be too impressed, however. Or they'd think the pair to be possessed, which, incidentally, wasn't far from the truth. All the more reason why their real names had to be kept secret; nothing hinting to their true identities could be revealed.

"Riku and Sora…Nice, strong names," the woman said, tapping her pointy chin. "And you are…?"

"Kagome Higurashi," Kagome said, and was forced to ask, "And yours?"

"Gin Akita," the woman identified herself, touching her man-made chest with dangerously long nails that could pop them. "And this is my daughter, Rin."

Kagome almost dropped the forms.

No, it couldn't be…

She had to be imagining it. It was just coincidence. Rin was a common name. After all, that living Barbie doll couldn't possibly be…Not with that contemptuous attitude…Not…It just couldn't be.

"Rin," she forced a pleasant smile. "That's a pretty name."

"I'm beautiful," Rin said, making a bold statement that threatened anyone who dared deny it. She was still to engrossed in her nails to look anywhere else.

"Um…yes?"

"Well then. A pretty name's perfect for me."

Finally satisfied with her hands, she looked up, studying the three of them for the first time. She dismissed Kagome, looked a bit interested in Inuyasha, who was lying on his back, playing with his brother's long ponytail. Sesshoumaru was staring at her, completely still. His golden eyes met the girl's brown ones and Rin actually stared back with something other than boredom. She looked him over, and Kagome could tell that the girl was feeling that this wasn't the first time she was meeting the white-haired boy/youkai.

Rin herself didn't know any better, but Kagome was now certain, without a doubt, that the self-groomed princess before them…was feudal Rin's reincarnation!

"Rin!" her mother suddenly hissed, forcing her to sit upright. "Don't gape! They're patrolling the floor!"

Rin looked away but Sesshoumaru continued to stare. He must have positively identified her as the kind girl who'd looked after him when he'd first awoken from the spell, and as the same girl he knew held some sort of important part in his life, but he was also at a loss as to why this Rin wasn't showing any hint of care towards him. It confused him, and he hung back, unsure how to act but definitely captivated.

Looking behind her, Kagome saw that the lobby was even more chaotic than before as parents tried to gather their wayward children, fixing runny make-up and adjusting little bowties. The cause of the commotion was obvious: walking amongst them were a man and a woman. The man wore a smart, grey suit, his steel-healed shoes clacking in rhythm with the woman's high stilettos. Her suit's bright red colour clashed with his more subdued tone but they both had looks on their faces that said the same thing: they were very important.

They walked slowly, like vultures leisurely circling the floor. They were offered small presents by some people, and a few of kids tried to show them their singing/dancing/acting talents, but the pair just walked on, unimpressed. The woman was carrying an envelope that had many people trembling just at the sight of it. She looked even more imposing with the dark sunglasses perched on her straight nose.

"Who are they?" Kagome whispered, though it was far from silent in the lobby, what with everyone trying to sweet talk the two.

"Only the two most influential judges in the world of pageants: Cynthia Lacroix and Maxwell Olson," Gin said, giving her daughter's curls some last minute touch ups while Rin checked her make-up in a handheld mirror. "They have been invited to serve on the panel here. Both are foreigners, but their opinions are highly regarded throughout the world. Of course, they're good friends of mine."

Meanwhile, back amongst the masses, a woman shoved her daughter before the two, blocking their way, tripping over her own tongue as she began listing all the reasons why her child would do the pageant justice. Not to be outdone, others joined in to argue their case.

"Fools," Gin chuckled, now preening herself. "Desperation is such an unattractive thing."

"Um…" Kagome faltered, staring at Rin in her I'm-cute-dammit! outfit. "Yeah…pretty desperate."

Mrs. Lacroix frowned harshly at the women at her feet. All it took was a snap of her fingers and five security guards advanced out of nowhere, stripped the group of their numbers and escorted them out the building despite their please for forgiveness. The duo moved on, unmoved as they scanned the floor.

"What are they looking for?" Kagome asked, keeping her trembling fingers occupied by readjusting the clip on the end of Sesshoumaru's long ponytail. "Is this part of the judging?"

"It isn't unusual for the top judges themselves to have a look around, to weed out the exceptional from the average. There are only 150 places available, 50 for each age category. This helps speed up the process of finding suitable participants. This being the first competition of this size ever, it wouldn't do for there to be simply fair or cute children: to draw in an audience for next year, the participants have to be stunning."

"Should I sing for them, mother?" Rin asked, fanning herself with a (naturally) lacy fan.

"No need," Gin said confidently. "Mommy has it all under control. I'm so glad I do not have to fill out those forms. You see, when you are as well-known as my daughter and I administrative work is no longer needed. Tedious things, aren't they, those forms?" she asked Kagome, pointedly looking at the haphazard pile in Kagome's lap.

"Yeah, really tedious," Kagome gulped. She hadn't really looked at the questions yet, because, upon receiving the papers, she'd felt something tie a painful knot in her stomach, and since then she'd been doing her best to ignore both it and the papers.

She really should have thought of this earlier, but, if one was to look at it in a legal light, she had no guardianship over Inuyasha or Sesshoumaru. There weren't any birth certificates or passports. In fact, they no longer existed in this day and age, being time-travelling demons from the past.

She'd gotten away with giving them false names; conjuring up false identities wasn't that simple.

'This is insane!' she told herself. 'I can't even prove that they exist! What if the authorities found out? What if they'd think I'd kidnapped them? Even worse, what if, when they'd taken them from me, they discovered that they aren't even human?!'

"We're leaving," she told the two pups, blocking out Gin and Rin, who were making some sore of pre-planned agreement. Sesshoumaru wanted to object when she took them by their hands, but she shook her head sternly. "No complaints. I made a huge mistake and if anyone finds out who you really are—"

"Strangers!" Gin's voice rang out as she rose to her feet, her arms spread out with overdone flourish, her face nearly tearing under the strain of her smile. "It's been too, too long!"

Kagome spun around and swallowed a small squeak. The two judges were right behind her, so close she could make out the details in the woman's pearl and diamond necklace and the golden inscriptions of man's tie clip. Something bright and loud brushed by her as Gin glided over to embrace the woman, who finally managed to crack something that could have been related to a smile.

"Beautiful as always, Gin," Mrs Lacroix smiled, and Kagome knew that, if there was one thing the woman was more skilled in then judging, it was lying as she complimented her 'friend'. "You seem fit and well, especially considering that the divorce wasn't so long ago."

"It was hard, Cindy, but I found some measures of comfort," Gin said, purposefully flashing one of her gaudy rings. "Prenups are such useful things."

"We knew we'd find you here," Mr Olson said, just barely, moulding his stern face into a more pleasant one. His blond hair was slicked back with enough oil to take out an entire coastline, Kagome was sure. "Going for another trophy, are you?"

"It isn't much of a strive for my dear daughter, is it?" Gin said, stepping aside to show off Rin, who curtsied, smiling as smug as cat with every last drop of cream in the world.

"My, how you've grown! Yet still precious as always," Mrs Lacroix beamed. She opened the large envelope in her hands and took out a golden slip of paper. "Welcome to the competition. You're through. We look forward to seeing you on stage."

The crowd that had huddled around them gasped at the sight of the paper, which Gin took with false humbleness.

"My, my! You are too much, Cindy," she said, waving it about to make sure everyone saw what it was. "Really, this is such an unexpected surprise! Be assured that you are cordially invited to our celebration feast at the end of the competition."

"Your confidence is well warranted," Mrs Lacroix said, tossing back her shiny black hair to peer over the rims of her sunglasses. "I have yet to see a child half as adorable as Rin, though, we were told that there are a pair of…Good heavens!"

Abruptly forgetting her 'dear friend' and her 'dear friend's 'precious daughter', Mrs Lacroix marched right over to Kagome, pulled off her sunglasses and stared in all encompassing awe at the pup in Kagome's arms. Inuyasha, not as impressed with her as she was with him, was still trying to get the offensive sticker off his shirt, having managed to rip off one corner.

Kagome wanted to step back at the near-crazed glaze in the woman's green eyes as she hungrily took in the sight of Inuyasha. That little shred of sanity tore when she looked down at Sesshoumaru standing with his hand gripping Kagome's pants' leg, looking up at her through his soft bangs. Kagome worried that the woman was having a seizure; she was gripped her throat and made a strange noise. Were those…tears?!

"My word, the rumours are true," Mr Olson said, also abandoning a flustered Gin to join his companion in gaping at the pups. "I thought they were exaggerating, but those truly are silver strands!"

"And golden eyes!" Mr Lacroix said, trying to compose herself as she got in Sesshoumaru's face.

"Porcelain skin!"

"Flawless features!"

"And all natural; no make-up! No lenses! No wigs!"

"They look so ordinary in those clothes, yet so exotic!"

"Unbelievable," Mr Olson said, circling the trio, studying the pups from all angles. He made one of those how-do-I-put-it? hand movements. "I…am stunned," was his conclusion.

"Just the balance we are looking for," Mrs Lacroix exclaimed, turning on Kagome with a wide grin. "My dear, you have here a perfect pair!"

"Actually," Kagome said, feeling self-conscious now that every single head in the lobby was turned towards them, "I was just about to go home. I've changed my mind and—"

"Oh, you most certainly will not! These two are exactly what this pageant needs! Here," Mrs Lacroix almost tore open the envelope, as excited as she was, all semblance of cool superiority gone. She held out two golden pieces of paper. "Here are your tickets. Your boys are in the competition and I will not take no for an answer!"

"Perhaps we should make them the poster children for the pageant," Mr Olson suggested, cell phone already in hand. "Have their pictures on every poster, flag, brochure and commercial. Think of the attention they'll bring to the pageant!"

"Yes, yes, yes!" Mrs Lacroix agreed, practically wringing her hands together.

Kagome drew the pups closer, afraid that the woman might swoop in and snatch them from her. Her hesitance was exploited by Gin, who came forward, all fake smiles and burning eyes.

"W-Well, Cynthia. I haven't seen you this excited before," she said, putting on a brave face. "But perhaps you shouldn't get your hopes too high, or make too rash decisions. Remember, this isn't a contest of just looks; talent is also important, and as you know my Rin can do it all."

"I know she can, dear," Mrs Lacroix said, more interested in the length of Sesshoumaru's hair. "I've seen it all before. But this, these two are fresh and new! Forgive me…"

"Er, Kagome Higurashi," she supplied.

"Forgive me, Ms Higurashi, if I seem…overwhelmed, but you are aware of the two jewels you have brought before me?"

Inuyasha gave up trying to unstuck his number. He flicked off the sticky scrap of paper and, pouting, looked around. He blinked at Mrs Lacroix, who stared back expectantly.

"Eh-oh!" he beamed.

Mrs Lacroix almost fainted.

"He's a singer, isn't he?" she asked Kagome. "I can hear it in his voice; this child's a singer."

"He likes singing—"

"Tell them he's a singer!" she ordered Mr Olson, who was heatedly talking on his sleek mobile.

"No, I'm serious; I don't want to enter them anymore. It's complicated and…I haven't even filled out the forms yet," Kagome tried to reason. "And I was thinking—"

"No need, no need. That's just trifle protocol that no one ever looks at. At least, it is now. Yes, I'll deal with it. All you have to do is show up with these two and we'll do the rest. I am really looking forward to what your sons have to offer!"

"But they aren't my—"

"Our card," the man cut in, holding out a business card. "You can reach us at all hours. Your name, address and number?"

Struck dumb, Kagome stuttered the information to him. She was feeling the burn of envious stares all around her. Gin was a pillar of fire and smoke as she stood rooted in the same spot, outraged at being ignored while Rin smouldered next to her mother.

"Then that's that," Cynthia said, beaming. "You will be getting more information in the mail. Ciao, darlings!"

The crowd parted as the two walked off, done with floor patrolling, too excited to talk about anything other than the pups. The crowd dispersed, some trailing behind the judges, hoping to get similar reactions out of them with their children, while others were packing up their things, already throwing in the towel.

"Ink bu ta?" Inuyasha asked, looking between her and Sesshoumaru, waiting for an answer. His cap was sitting lopsided on his head, just barely hiding a fluffy ear.

"Congratulations," came a very stiff voice as Gin walked over to collect her belongings which she had left on the chairs. "It looks like my Rin will have a couple worthy rivals after all."

"Y-Yeah," Kagome, still trying to process what just happened, said, staring at the golden tickets in her hand. "But I…um…I wasn't expecting this…"

"Of course you weren't," Gin said sarcastically, wrapping a massive feather boa around her thin neck. "But like I said, this contest isn't just about looks so I do hope those two can do more than just stand around looking doe-eyed. Don't want to traumatize them for life, do you?"

"But…I…I-It's only a contest," Kagome said bravely. "And this is supposed to be a fun experience."

Gin tittered her donkey laugh, walking over on her bandy legs to stand face to face with Kagome. Her perfume was strong; trying-to-hide-the-smell-of-formaldehyde strong! Inuyasha actually coughed, covering his nose with a hand and burying his face in Kagome's chest. She would have blushed if she wasn't struggling to keep a straight face, blinking away tears.

"Don't be so naïve, little girl," Gin sneered, not doing any wonders for her face. "Naivety does not translate well in this environment. Yes, to the outside world, this is all fun and cute, but this isn't about fun. This is about recognition. This is about winning. Because no one likes to lose, do they? There's no 'fun' in that. So if you're here for fun I suggest you pull out now, because I never lose."

"It's a competition, not war," Kagome argued, trying to keep her cool.

"Hmph. Same thing, different names." Gin brushed an invisible hair from her tight face. "But what am I getting all wound up about? Everyone loves the homely, girl-next-door look, and Rin symbolizes the essence of our nation's people. Yours," she pointed directly in Inuyasha's face, "have nothing recognizable about them. The public won't connect with such outlandish looking children. If I weren't a better person, I'd dare to say they look a bit like…freaks, Ms. Higurashi."

"Ome?" Inuyasha asked, edging away from the accusing finger. "Da mi?"

Kagome, however, handed him to Sesshoumaru, who pulled his little brother behind him to shield him from any more nasty words. Kagome would have reassured him, but she was too busy seeing red.

"Freaks?" she growled a Sesshoumaru-like growl. She took a step forward, actually feeling her miko powers tingling to ward off the threat to her pups. "If I weren't a better person I'd tell you to take a good look in a mirror, if you could find one that wouldn't crack at the sight of you, before you went around judging others on appearances, Mrs. Akita."

Standing behind her mother, Rin wasn't looking as smug as before. Every time her eyes fell on Sesshoumaru she'd look away, confused. Gin was having trouble looking Kagome in the eyes too, but was trying harder to pretend otherwise.

"I suppose," she said, ruffling her boa, "that, unlike myself, you must really need the money. In that case, I can find it in me to pity you instead."

"I don't believe you; it would have to take you much longer to find any humanity deep down in that body of yours. Now, if you'll excuse us, we have a competition to prepare for. Oh, and can you give this back to the people behind the registration desk?" she asked, dropping the stack of papers in the woman's hands. "You were right; it's a pleasure not having to fill them out."

She dressed both pups swiftly, ignoring the indignant woman glaring at them as she and her daughter also packed up. Kagome left first, carrying Inuyasha while Sesshoumaru trotted beside her. She would have walked away triumphantly if the woman's words weren't still ringing in her ears. Yes, she'd entered them only for the money, but now she had a new goal: to make Gin Akita eat her own words, and to make sure that she'd choke on every syllable!

"Evil cow," Kagome muttered, stalking past the doorman holding the glass door open for them. He nervously wished her a good day but she didn't answer. "Conceited bully…We'll see who will be the loser…Stupid, plastic-faced, walking Tupperware…"

She grumbled the entire way back to the bus stop. Those who fawned over the brothers kept their opinions to themselves; afraid to approach the glowering young woman. Every time she felt herself calming down she'd see Gin's pug face or hear her nasal voice and she'd get all riled up again. By the time they reached the bus stop and sat down to wait Kagome was plotting evil things that had nothing to do with the pageant. If only she could use her miko powers to—

"…Ome?"

Inuyasha was sitting between her and Sesshoumaru, half-heartedly kicking his short legs. They were the only ones there but it would soon be rush hour and already the street was beginning to fill with pedestrians, drivers and commuters. Pulling his knees to his chest, Inuyasha picked at his shoelace, a troubled look on his face. He looked at Sesshoumaru, then down at himself.

"F-Fweak?" Inuyasha asked. Before Kagome could stop him, he pulled off his cap and touched his velvety ears, tracing their curves with a tiny finger. He sighed, confirming his own thoughts. "Fweak…"

"No, Inuyasha," Kagome scolded softly.

She kissed both ears before putting the cap back on. Pulling him into her lap, she ran her fingers through his hair, smoothing it out. It was still weird, holding someone she knew best as a loud and crude fighter like this, but when Inuyasha snuggled closer her reservations disappeared and she returned the cuddle. She was the only thing they had in this scary, modern world; sometimes, her own feelings didn't matter, so long she kept them safe and secure, as she'd promised.

"You are not a freak," she said sternly, fiddling with his scarf. "You are Inuyasha. Nothing less, and maybe even a little bit more. Just ignore the mean lady."

Sesshoumaru took Inuyasha's place next to her and she placed an arm around him, pulling him against her side. Some of the rage that had been dissipating returned two-fold when she saw the unsure look in his eyes. Sesshoumaru, his adult self known in the feudal age as the perfect demon, had been troubled by the title. The older pup knew full well what he'd been accused of being, and while his adult self would have brushed it off—Correction, while his adult self would have sliced Gin into thin shreds, he didn't yet know just how mighty a being he'd turn out to be. He'd noticed that he and Inuyasha certainly didn't belong here; that if they weren't like her, like humans, they were outcasts…freaks…

"You are everything every single human wants to be," Kagome told them as they clung to her. Their combined body heat was an even better barrier against the cold than their clothes. "You both are perfect and if anyone ever says otherwise they are just jealous and you shouldn't listen to them. You're a million gazillion times better than that sculpted hag."

"Ya!" Inuyasha nodded seriously. "Baba pleh!"

"Yes, she is revolting. Humans are like that."

"No! Ome no pleh," Inuyasha disagreed. "Ome okay."

"Ome is a bit pleh," Kagome muttered under her breath, watching as Sesshoumaru offered Inuyasha the lollipop he'd given him earlier, which the hanyou happily accepted since it was already unwrapped. "Ome is just like every other human…"

"Ome, mama, Ota okay!" Inuyasha insisted, his tongue turning green from the sugary treat on a stick. 'Ota' was his newest name for Souta, who was proud to have been given a nickname by his now pintsized idol. "I-an okay!"

"Jii-chan? Grandpa? Yeah, he's a nice person too."

Humming happily, Inuyasha settled down to watch the cars practically parked in the streets, stuck in traffic, some of the drivers leaning out their windows to stare at them. She couldn't believe how late it was. She'd spent all day waiting in that stuffy lobby. And she hadn't gotten further than one page in her textbook!

A familiar jingle cut through the silence. Her hands full with Inuyasha, Kagome struggled to reach her phone. Sesshoumaru fished it out of her coat pocket for her. He looked tuckered out. It had been a long day for the two of them. The moment they got home it was going to be dinner (for Inuyasha anyway), bath and then straight to bed. Kagome wished she could follow suit, but she was going to have to study at least two chapters tonight.

Sighing, she took the blinking phone from Sesshoumaru and shifted Inuyasha to one side, patting her thigh. Sesshoumaru gratefully lay down, resting his head on the offered lap. Looked like she was going to have to carry them both home. And those were a lot of steps leading up to the shrine…

"Hello?" she sighed into the phone, watching her and Inuyasha's misty breaths mingling in the cold air.

"Kagome, where are you? Dinner's ready and we've been waiting for twenty minutes," mama's worried voice said. "And you know how grumpy Souta gets when he doesn't eat on time. Is everything alright? Are Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru okay? Did something happen? Do you need me to come pick you up somewhere?"

"Oh, um, no, mama, we're on our way."

"But where have you been? When you left I was under the impression that you'd only be gone for a couple of hours."

"Um…mama…there's something I have to tell you…"

"…What did you do?" mama asked with a knowing-I'm-not-going-to-like-this tone that always went hand-in-hand with mothers' magic abilities to know when their kids did something bad.

"I…um, kinda entered Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru in the national child beauty contest…"

There was a dead silence on the other line, with grandpa and Souta complaining in the background of family-starvation/homicide. Mama was the calmest, most tolerant person Kagome knew, and it took a lot to make her the least bit upset.

And this had been more than enough. When the ominous sound of a deep intake of breath sounded in her ear Kagome braced herself, wishing that they were back in the past, battling Ryuukotsusei all over again.

Tbc…


A/N: Personally, I oppose child beauty pageants, especially when you see the overzealous mothers/parents (usually, it's the mothers) who work their poor kids to the bone. I'm always under the impression that the mothers are trying to live their dreams through their kids. The worst I ever saw was an infant beauty contest, where 3 month old babies were wearing eye shadow and lipstick. There should be a law against that!

LOL I couldn't resist using the names 'Sora' and 'Riku'. I'm currently playing Kingdom Hearts (for the fifth time) and I just love it to itty-bitty pieces!

Sorry for the lack of Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru escapades in this chapter. I had to shift attention to the competition, but those little cuties will be back in the spotlight in the next chapter.

And, I solemnly swear, it isn't going to take me another year to update. Sorry about that, by the way.

Read & Review, please.

P.S. I'm back on LiveJournal! Check out my Inuyasha fan art in my scrapbook.