"You done yet?"
"Shut up!" I pushed the pillows away, breaking the wall that separated the makeshift dressing room from the rest of the limo. "I gave you more time when you changed!"
He grinned. "Champaign, sweetie?"
I cringed. My lord, how could my husband manage to sound so sweet AND mocking? …I cleared my throat. "No, my mother looks down on alcohol…honey." The last word left a bitter taste on my tongue.
Isamu smirked and poured himself a glass. "Well, it's just us and the limo driver. No one will ever know, sweet-cheeks. Isn't that right, Maurice?"
The limo driver laughed, though I could tell it was forced. He must've been new to posing as a driver.
I turned to the tinted windows, watching the world roll by with a reflection of my sour expression looking back at me. Kazumi Hayashi married to Isamu Yamaguchi. Kazumi Yamaguchi. Boy did that sound wrong.
I examined my face and my new outfit. The makeup artists had done a great job selecting my new civilian clothes. I really did look like I had just come out of a bride's dress, what with the sparkling makeup left from the wedding reception and the luxurious curls falling out of the once expensive hairdo. And I had French manicures to complete the package!
Now I just needed to act like a newlywed.
"How about some beer?" Inuyasha pushed a can in my face as he rested his hand on my lap, suggestively, and painfully, squeezing my thigh. "I'm sure you'll like it."
I struggled to smile, wrinkles forming to show my dismay.
Yup. This was going to be a LOOOOONG honeymoon.
The Life of a Newlywed (finally!)
"Oh, look at them," I heard someone say as I stepped out of the limousine. "They must be on their first honeymoon."
Inuyasha, upon hearing this, hopped out of the car and immediately wrapped his arm around my waist. As he pulled me in I heard a couple of "Aww" from a bunch of foreigners about to board a tour bus.
"Why don't you relax?" he whispered in my ear, making it look like we were cuddling. "I'll take care of everything." He added a wink just to spite me.
"Oh shush," I hissed and slapped his hand away, though I made sure I was doing it playfully so people thought we were teasing each other. If this was how it was going to be for the next 4 weeks, I was doomed.
The fake smile on my face tightened even more as I watched Maurice drive away. I was left with my dear Isamu.
"Come on love, we have to get going."
I turned to Inu—I mean—Isamu. Oh whatever. Forget the aliases. "Of course, pudding." I dragged my luggage with a huff, grudgingly following my husband into the lively airport.
Shippou saw the last of the guests off, pasting a hollow smile on his face as another obese lady pinched his cheeks, ruffled his hair, and rubbed his belly.
"Goodbye, goodbye," Shippou slammed the door, "and good LORD I'm finally free!"
"Shut up and help me clean up."
Shippou turned… and fell at the sight of his companion wearing a foolproof biohazard suit, her supposed chain mail augmented with double layer latex gloves and two miniature oxygen tanks strapped to the back. He sat up on his fox tail and squinted, noticing that, behind the bulletproof facemask of her white rubbery suit, she was also wearing a surgeon's mask and swimming goggles.
"What?" Souten glared at the blur that was Shippou. "You better not call me fat, or you'll get it." She pointed her salad tongs and the industrial sized garbage bag, her tools of the trade, at the boy to emphasize the threat.
"Can you… can you see me through that?"
"Good enough to whoop your butt…if I have to."
Shippou shuddered. "Why do you always pick on me?"
"Because that's life, my-forever-clueless-one," Souten bent down and picked up another rose petal off the dirty floor with her salad tongs, her nose scrunched up to show her apparent disdain. "That's how it is in the real world. Learn to survive now or in 30 years I'll find you cowering behind Kaede-sama with a goatee and an unwashed hippie hair talking about utopian fantasies while playing PlayStation24."
Shippou blinked. "What's a goatee?"
"AH!" Souten slipped and fell on a well-placed banana peel. "Dammit, stupid…I HATE weddings…stupid roses…"
The former flower girl looked up when she felt a heavy weight settle on her chest. "Shippou, what are you doing?"
"Sitting on you."
"Get off!" she wiggled around and turned this way and that, but the two oxygen tanks on her back were equivalent to that of an exceptionally arched shell of a tortoise. "Curse you! Curse you all!"
"Just why are you wearing that?" Shippou asked, wiggling his tail. "That weird suit, I mean."
Souten gave up trying and went limp. "Because, lover boy, the doctor said if I get three allergic reactions in a row the next one I get will be fatal. That means if I touch another rose petal, you won't be seeing me for a LONG time…"
"I know what death is," Shippou said, surprising Souten with his blunt reply. "Remember my dad?"
Souten glared. "And remember my brothers?"
There was a pregnant pause. "Is that why you've been so mean to me?"
"You know nothing."
Shippou crossed his arms. "I'm not moving until you tell me why you don't like me anymore."
"Who said I ever liked you?"
Souten's eyes bulged (from behind the goggles and the facemask). "She TOLD you?"
"She thought I should know ever since you began acting out…you know, after your brothers—"
"That's it!" Souten flung her arms in the air and began flailing her limbs like a fish out of water. "Kaede-sama's SO off the Christmas card list!"
Shippou fell back to relax on top of Souten, and, since he was so much smaller than the girl, his head came only to rest comfortably on her stomach. "Just why did we volunteer for this? You hate flowers."
Souten's tantrum stopped as quickly as it began. "Shippou."
"And Kaede always treats me like a baby…"
"Shippou," Souten sighed. "We owed her. We had to repay a debt."
"The debt?" Shippou frowned, mindlessly counting the pieces dangling from the chandelier. "Just because she took us in? Jeez, I bet there are a lot of people who owe her THAT debt."
"What can I say? She takes in strays."
And if anyone was to see them now, to see the smaller ring bearer lying on top of the former flower girl, both with the same faraway look in their eyes, there would be no other appropriate reaction but "AWWWWWWW"…
I stretched. "Wow…first class sure was comfortable."
"Yeah, especially since you have those troll feet."
I sent him a withering glare before the glass doors slid open.
"Welcome!" A Chinese woman bowed, her English slightly accented. "You are Yamaguchi couple, yes?"
I blinked as Inuyasha smoothly answered… in fluent Chinese. He knew Chinese. He knew one more language. I only knew Japanese and English. He knew Japanese and English AND Chinese. Darn it, he's smarter than me!
The woman, pleasantly surprised, proceeded to lead Inuyasha to her desk to personally hand him the suite keys. I expected this kind of treatment; we were heirs to a vast fortune… or at least Kazumi and Isamu were.
I sighed and pulled my luggage to a nearby wallflower, feeling queasy around the rich folks. Standing next to an inanimate painting felt more natural than trying to fit in with these people. And this ring… I looked down at my wedding band and began fiddling with the sacred jewelry. It was so tight too.
Then I sensed it. Not really the kind of sensing with my Spidey Sense, but sort of…a guess, with my intuition, per se. I turned my head slightly to the right, slowly, casually, to avoid looking paranoid, and saw a couple of tourists intently watching me from the other side of the lobby, examining me like a bald eagle eyeing a fish out of water. When our eyes connected one of them immediately puckered his lips and leaned forward, as if he wanted to blow kisses at me. His buds laughed. I'm not sure if they were flirting with me… or mocking me.
But it was still creepy.
Argh, I only attracted the freaks, didn't I?
It wasn't their immature actions that bothered me. No, it was their eyes. Their predatory eyes—it was as if they were in this one disturbingly organized hunting group. Two of them surveyed the lobby as if on guard for something while some of them dispersed, acting as normal as possible. Then, to my great concern, three of them started walking my way, their calculating eyes fixated on me.
What was I supposed to do? Just start running away? What were you supposed to do in a classy place like this? I was so busy trying to follow the social etiquettes of the rich that I was forgetting common sense, including one's most reliable instinct.
Your gut feeling.
Believe me when I say this: MOVE when you feel uneasy. Don't be stubborn and hold your ground like a rock (unless they're purposely trying to intimidate you). If you stand your ground just because you don't want to embarrass yourself and hurt your pride, then you're a fool. Like me.
So lucky for me I had a wedding ring on…
"Yo," Inuyasha returned with the Chinese lady in tow. "We got our keys, love. The lady's going to lead us to our… you OK?"
I turned around and gave him a humorless smile. Ah, I see. Demon senses picking up on my discomfort, eh? How convenient. "Yeah. Let's go…Isamu."
And, as we traveled to the large private elevator, I wrapped my arm around Inuyasha's forearm and rested my head on his shoulder. I stuck a large grin on my face and nodded to a passing group of foreigners, showing them my man. Showing them that I was taken. Showing them that I was untouchable.
And Inuyasha, though suspicious, didn't say a word.
Kaede somberly placed the receiver back on the holder.
The man sitting on the opposite side of the oak table, the one Kagome knew as the SD man, sat rigidly in his chair. "What's the word, Kaede-sama?"
"Not good. Not good at all," Kaede rested her knobby chin on her two wrinkled hands, two crooked elbows stiffly planted on the dusty surface of her once abandoned office desk. "Inutaisho's jet was shot down. His body…is currently missing. And his wife… she was last seen in the cafeteria. Ironic that I happen to be the last person she talked to before her disappearance act."
"It's as if she knew," the SD man trailed off when he was hit by a sudden epiphany. "Oh!"
"Yes," Kaede voiced his thoughts. "She knew. She knew she was going to disappear, as she knew her husband would before her."
"Then why didn't she—"
"She does not toy with Fate," Kaede's answer was short and harsh. "She may be younger than us, at least in human age, but remember that her soul matured years before ours peaked. Izayoi is too kindhearted, too gentle for this modern day and age. She does not question destiny. She follows it. It's a curse she will live with for the rest of her life."
"What about the girl?" he unconsciously clenched his hands. "The girl now known as Kazumi Yamaguchi. She wasn't part of her destiny. Not by a long shot."
Kaede smiled. Grimly. "And that's why Izayoi's so taken with her…so taken with the girl who can challenge Fate itself."
The SD man sat quietly for several minutes, paraphrasing the senior scientist's words in his head. Such a cruel gift for such a delicate flower. "It's very frustrating, isn't it?"
"Frustrating indeed. What's worse, my son…" she held her forehead with a motherly sigh.
"Son? You mean Shippou?"
"No, no. My other son…"
"Your other son… Kaede," he stared, "you take in so many sons and daughters I've lost count. And, like Shippou and Souten, so many of them don't even consider you their mother. To them, you're just someone they owe a large debt to. One time I even found a wad of money in your mailbox with a Thank You letter attached to it. Really, it's just too much."
Kaede opened her mouth, paused, and quickly said, "What were you doing in my mailbox?"
"Nothing." His answer was a little too hasty.
"…well, who I take in is my choice and my choice alone. The only trouble is one or two of them sometimes come back with blood on their hands."
"Blood? What do you…the best man," the SD man was stopped by another epiphany. "Oh!"
"Yes. He was mostly raised by his godfather, but I was there for him as much as his godfather was there to teach him about the opposite sex. Then he enters the military and breaks any kind of contact he has with me. Now, after all these years, he comes back to tell me he needs to repay his debt, as if he was dying. And, strangely enough, his secretary isn't with him."
"Or coworker. I never figured that part out. They were inseparable, you know. They met in the military. I heard they started a business together, but now, I don't know. She's gone, and… oh, we're getting off track aren't we?"
He blinked. "Uh…we are…?"
Kaede sighed and stood up. "Call in the scouts. We'll need two separate search parties in half an hour."
I think Inuyasha started feeling uncomfortable the moment we both sat down.
As the Yamaguchi couple had been invited to a special charity dinner party in the hotel restaurant, Inuyasha had worn his best dinner jacket and I had worn my best dinner dress. (When I mean "the best" I mean the best we could find in less than 6 hours. By the way, before I forget, I'd like to thank Sango for the oh-so prompt warning).
Inuyasha grabbed the menu and skimmed through the choices, though, as he was in my peripheral vision, I saw his eyes occasionally flicker over the menu and analyze me instead. I knew why he was acting the way he was. Ever since the incident in the lobby I had been on my best behavior, lest he kick me out of our honeymoon suite and feed me to the sharks. Even as we left our room and entered the dim lit restaurant I remembered to snuggle his right arm like a doting little trophy wife.
I felt him shudder when I cuddled him.
But when I thought about what I was doing, and thus start to regret my actions, I remembered those eagle eyes. Eyes that studied me, prodded my body, as if deciding how much I was worth. You can't tell a stranger to look away unless you want to sound like a paranoid schizophrenic; but I wasn't about to leave myself vulnerable like last time.
So I kissed up to my husband as much as needed. (Meaning whenever we were together in public).
"So…eh," Inuyasha started, his voice rough and unsure. "What do you…what are you planning on ordering?"
Funny. I was making him nervous without even meaning to. I had broken his egotistical guise. And yet I was strangely… unsatisfied.
"Your orders, please?" a waiter, with a French accent, came up with a little notepad in his hands.
"I'll have a canard au sang…and one quiche." I said, randomly picking two names from the list of cuisines. "And water, please. No wine for me."
Inuyasha raised his right eyebrow before saying, "I'll have a steak au poivre with sherry and pommes frites. Also, I'd like cider instead of wine."
Dammit. He knows Chinese AND French cuisines.
As soon as the waiter left with the menus Inuyasha leaned in, trying to make out my face in the dim light. "Just what the hell are you doing?"
"What…?" I hadn't expected that.
He lowered his voice, making sure to keep his voice under the restaurant's soft music. "What's up with the cuddling and the snuggling? All you've done is kiss up and coddle and pamper… and in our suite you lock yourself in the bedroom and watch TV."
I shrugged, avoiding his eyes by looking at the ceiling. "I just like acting… oh crap."
I leaned in and grabbed his forelock, pulling his face closer. "Enemy at three o'clock."
His eyes flickered to his left, my three o'clock, and he looked back at me. "It's just one guy."
"The same guy with the posse of perverts that tried to escort me out of the lobby this morning." So I exaggerated on the details. They didn't exactly try to escort me, but if Inuyasha hadn't come sooner they probably would've tried to.
I released my husband's forelock and the two of us looked up, curious.
"I'm with the music crew," the man started, only making eye contact with me, "and I was wondering if you'd like to visit us in the backroom."
I exchanged a quick, astounded glance with my husband. This man had the nerve to invite me, an obviously married woman, to a secluded area? I mean, I was sitting in a dark restaurant with a man, both of us with a gigantic rock on our ring fingers, and leaning over the table looking like we were exchanging romantic words or even some kisses. How many more hints did you need? I guess this lady's man was blind. Or stupid.
…probably stupid. Yeah, he's the latter. This guy was stupid.
I cleared my throat and got ready to spell out the facts to this idiot. "I'm sorry, but my husband and I have…something already planned. For tonight."
"He can come too." He said this while completely ignoring Inuyasha, though his voice was full of forced lightness and nonchalance. I looked back to my husband and, needless to say, Inuyasha was mighty pissed.
Sensing that this was going to get really ugly if I didn't intervene, I quickly replied, "No, that's OK. I think I'll just stay with my husband for a while."
Then, for a second, I saw something flash in his eyes. Something dark, possessive, and hungry. I blinked. It was gone. Maybe I imagined it.
"We'll be in touch."
We'll be in touch…?
The two of us watched him go in silence. We stayed that way until our orders came. Inuyasha chugged his cider and I stared at my dish.
"Isamu," I whispered. He didn't look up from his plate, but his hands paused. Then I said something I thought I would never voice, especially to my husband:
AN: Next chapter—His Strength, His Loss