SM: Wow. So yeah, it's been a while since I've updated anything, so here's something that's been sitting on my HDD for far too long. Enjoy!

Edit 09-15-07: I accidentally uploaded the wrong version. This one should be longer, with the scenes in the correct order, and more of them. If it is complicated, I'm sorry, I was trying to add much more substance and ended up throwing in piles of detail that will further complicate the story.

Ugh!

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Chapter Four

He hadn't been too sure before, but now he was absolutely positive.

There was someone else trailing Kagome.

Bankotsu would hardly deign to use the word 'stalk,' because that would imply that he too was stalking the younger sister of his best friend, and he was hardly doing such a thing. He was merely observing the girl on her first day at work for the purpose of keeping her out of trouble. The fact that he was all but forced into a decision he would have made on his own never entered the equation.

He had first noticed that there had been another person in close vicinity to Kagome almost immediately. But as Kagome was surrounded by at least one or two people (Naraku or Kagura) all the time, he didn't figure it to be too important.

But the presence lingered, and after the point where Kagome had met that strange man at the other Hutch (Bankotsu had developed an instantaneous dislike of that man), he had been completely sure. Another person was following Kagome, and from the looks of him, it was one of the waiters from Howl's. It looked that like moron Ginki. Or was it Hararu? One of those weirdos.

That wasn't good. That meant that Kouga didn't trust Naraku, not that he blamed the man. But it also made more trouble for him. Naraku was sure to bite of his head about this, and when he did tell his friend (for there was no 'if' about it), Naraku was sure to seethe in that silent and crafty was of his. And, for sure, make Kouga's life a living hell.

Bankotsu had learned early on that any threat the man made was very seldom an empty one. So he paused to think, what the hell was he going to do now. If Ginta was found out by any one other than him, Naraku would have his head. But if he ratted out the waiter from Howl, Kouga was sure to suffer as well.

Though he didn't particularly care for the café owner, there was not much animosity between them. So he decided to do the next best thing. The moment Kagome went deeper into the Hutch, presumably to stack her folded towels and retrieve more from the delivery box, he made his way toward the crouching shadow behind an adjacent dune.

"Hey," he muttered lowly, trying to not to startle the intently watching waiter. He failed as the man all but leapt three feet into the air.

Bankotsu clapped a heavy hand over the man's mouth, stifling the man's need to shriek and give them away to Kagome. That was so not what he needed at that point in time.

"Shut up, would ya?" He grunted, caught in an uncomfortable position when he had reached out to quiet the other. "She's gonna find us otherwise."

Ginta stilled at that. Kouga would probably beat him senseless if he were to be found out. He gave a quick jerky nod, an ascension to keep quiet.

With a sigh, Bankotsu let him go and shifted so he was steady on his feet instead of in a half-lunging position. He moved so now both were side by side, backs pressed on the sand side facing the Hutch. He shook his head slowly. "You have to leave."

Ginta's startled glare was enough to know that this wasn't a task that was forced onto him, but rather something he was willing to do. Stupid crafty waiters and their owners. So the people at Howl's had become attached to Kagome. It wasn't something that he wasn't expecting. Kagome was too likeable as a person. But at the moment, it would be much more efficient, as well as less risky, if only one person tailed her. There were too many people working and visiting The Beach for both of them to go unnoticed by someone for long.

He held up his hands placatingly. "Look, we're both going to get caught at this rate. If you don't want both of us getting kicked out of here, it's probably better to leave this to me. I have more experience than you and I know that Howl's is short handed at the moment."

Ginta shot him a dark look, as if it were his fault that they were missing a waitress. Indirectly, it was, but he wasn't willing to foot the blame for Naraku's over-protective nature. He shrugged off the glare and simply waited until the waiter saw the reason in his words. But by the rather stubborn glare he was receiving he knew it would take longer than he was willing to wait.

Somewhat annoyed, Bankotsu shot him a dirty look, toned down by the need to not anger the other man thoughtlessly. All they didn't need was Ginta bursting a nerve and making a scene to blow both their covers.

"I'll watch over her, and you go back. It's too risky to have two people watching her when one will do just fine."

Ginta's eyes narrowed in an expression that told Bankotsu that he wasn't trusted. Bankotsu didn't blame the guy. But at the same time, this wasn't any of his business. Ginta had known Kagome for maybe a week or two. Bankotsu had known her for years. She was more of his responsibility than anyone from Howl's.

He planted a heavy fist on the waiter's head. "Are you stupid? Do you want to get us both caught?" He hissed the questions angrily, shaking Ginta's head as he did so.

"Two people doing the job of one is stupid. Get out of here, Kagome is mine." The words slipped out of him without thinking. He regretted them instantly. That wasn't what he had wanted to say at all. He was supposed to say that Kagome was his to watch. But that wasn't what had come out.

Before he could correct his error, Ginta had flashed him a shadowed look, one that was shrewder than Bankotsu would have credited him being able to make. But then he nodded and edged away, wordlessly.

Bankotsu managed not to sigh in relief. He watched the other man leave, not as stealthily as he would have gone, but good enough.

The security at The Beach was rather tight, and it was admirable that the young waiter had gotten as far as he did. Then he returned his attention to Kagome.

She seemed happy enough, thinking that she was helping. Truth be told, much of what she did was redundant, such as working. Naraku made more money than she could possibly imagine, and it was because she didn't want to rely on him that he never told her. Whenever he bought her an expensive gift, she thought that he had worked long and hard for it, when in truth it had cost nothing more than pocket change to him.

If she ever found out how much money he actually had, she wouldn't be happy. She liked the idea of helping and being useful. She didn't want to burden him and it was because of her mindset that he kept working. If he had it his way, Naraku would have moved long ago, to a large house and kept Kagome locked inside while showering her with gifts.

But, she never would have been happy.

So they worked, and lived a simple life instead. As long as Kagome was happy, Naraku wouldn't have it any other way.

Yet, he couldn't help but wonder as to what Naraku was thinking.

There were other ways to hide Kagome's shape and charm than behind grey sweats and thick glasses. Looking at her almost made him blush. She was still cute, even looking ridiculous. The outfit she wore de-aged her by about five years.

She was still such a child.

-:- -:- -:-

"Who was that?"

Byakuya turned around to see Hakudoushi, his partner at this Hutch. Usually, Hutch's were maintained by two-person groups, Kagome's Hutch, though, was a special case.

"A newbie." Byakuya replied, not caring for how Hakudoushi's eyes were following her.

"Hm..." Hakudoushi smiled. "I suppose I should go introduce myself then."

-:- -:- -:-

Sesshoumaru was walking. Deeming the city too small to warrant a cab, he decided that it was more efficient to travel by foot.

He crossed the street from Howl's. He had just been inside to inspect Ryuukossei's chosen eating establishment before taking off to visit Ryuukossei's chosen recreation location.

He had actually been surprised by the café. It had been tastefully designed, giving the illusion of the outdoors without making it seem too artificial. There were booths for privacy and open tables for single or double parties. And both the staff and customer base tended toward the more intelligent side. It was rather impressive for something that looked rather like a hippie marijuana club from the outside.

Now he stood on the cement, just before the entrance to the facility of The Beach. To be fair, the design was far from tacky, and quite stylish, in honesty. However, it was more the fact of seeing half dressed people wandering to and fro, and the fact that those half dressed people acted so earnestly to please the customer that bothered him more than the idea that it looked like an outdoor host club.

It reminded him too much of associates and the like garnering to his favor, simply so that they could have a share in the fruits of his labor.

That or marry him for money.

It was what the 'Beach Mates' reminded him of, and they weren't pleasant memories. People like those brownnosers made him feel ill, or at the very least, filthy for being in their presence.

He was just about to leave in disgust when a very unusual person scampered out from one of the back doors.

A strange girl with coke bottle glasses and lumpy sweats that did nothing for her figure except make her look deformed.

He stared at her wondering, what a girl that looked as out of place as she did, was doing there.

He heard the happy (masculine) shout at the girl, causing her to turn.

"Kagome!"

The lumpy girl grinned, positively beaming as she ran toward the shouter, another man who looked too elegant for such a place. He wondered if perhaps the man, though young looking, was her father.

When the man straightened the girl's clothes, Seshoumaru could see that the girl actually had a rather fine figure, causing him to wonder why she would dress to hide it.

He hadn't realized he'd been staring until he heard a voice buzzing in his ear, repeating itself for what he felt was like quite a long time.

"Sir? Sir? Excuse me, sir. May I help you sir? Sir?"

He turned to the irritating voice if only to shut it up, regardless of the fact that it was probably his fault for standing there, unresponsive.

With a sharp look, which he had tried to tune down, he gave a brisk reply. "Who was that man?" He asked, knowing that he would probably receive a more informed response if he asked about the good looking man instead of asking about the not-so-good looking girl.

The woman, who he assumed was either a receptionist or some kind of hostess for this establishment, gave a glowing smile. "That was our Number One BM. His name is Higurashi Naraku." She answered proudly.

She continued with an odd gleam in her eye. "Was he your type? He's on reservation for the next month and a half or so, but I'm sure I could squeeze you into his schedule."

Attempting to show less disgust than he felt, Sesshoumaru managed an appearance of mild constipation. "No, that won't be necessary." He replied rather quickly. "Thank you for your help." Then he strode out hurriedly, uncomfortable.

There had always been the jest that he favored the less fairer sex.

Those assumptions were ungrounded, and yet he always had been made awkward by it. He could defend his position against Ryuukossei and the rest of his father's cronies simply because they had made that crack so often. But for those he had met only briefly, or for the first time, for their mind to jump so quickly to that kind of conclusion, disconcerted him.

Just what was it about him that made other people think that?

-:- -:- -:-

"Naraku!" Kagome exclaimed happily, launching herself at her brother.

Catching her easily, he hefted her in the air as he had done when she was smaller.

She giggled. Then placing her hands on his shoulders she asked, concerned, "have you been waiting long?"

"Not at all. I just arrived." He answered with a smile, glad to see that so far Kagome seemed happy. That meant that so far no one had made any untoward advances on her. He meant to keep it that way.

"How have you been?" He asked, placing her on the ground, but keeping her hands in his.

She beamed at him. "Great! Kagura's been really nice, showing me the ropes. I just hope I'm not troubling her too much. How about you?"

He shrugged. "Good so far." He replied, then he gave a depressed sigh. "The trouble starts when work begins." He let go of one of her hands to place a hand on his forehead melodramatically, closing his eyes and sighing once again. "It's all the problems of being as good looking as I. It's just so hard being popular."

With a good natured smack to the shoulder, ("Ow, that hurts," he complained) she shook her head. "Sure, whatever. So what do you want to eat?"

"What do you want to eat?" He asked back. "It's your first day. It'll be my treat."

"Hmm…" She adopted a thoughtful look. She bit her bottom lip.

Naraku eyed the gesture. He knew her habit.

She wanted something, but wouldn't say it because she thought that it would trouble him. Most of the time, it was nothing at all. A very few times, it was a little out of his way, but nothing he wouldn't do for her.

"Just ask." He said pleasantly.

"Um..if it's not too much trouble, do you think I can visit Howl's?" She asked timidly.

Blast it!

"Howl's you say?" He adopted a concerned look. "But, weren't they the people who fired you?" He asked.

She shrugged. "I'm sure they had good reason."

He sighed inwardly. She was so forgiving, a trait he adored in her, but sometimes wished that it wasn't directed at certain individuals. "Of course." He tried not to grit his teeth.

She sensed his tension and shook her head suddenly. "No, never mind. You pick." She said with false cheer, a way that meant if you don't want to go, I'm not going to make you.

Defeat!

"No, that's not what I was thinking. Let's go. I'm sure they'll be happy to see you." He replied.

Defeat on his part…

She beamed at him and he melted.

He would kill for that smile. Now to kill others so that they wouldn't get that smile.

Throwing her arms around him she whispered her gratitude into his ear. "Thank you, thank you. I know you don't seem to like them much, but thank you for doing this for me." She babbled excitedly.

Those stupid wolves. He was beginning to hate Howl's more than he thought possible. But he wasn't jealous, of that he was sure. There was nothing that they had to be jealous of. He had those guys in the palm of his hand…

Kagome began to pull away from the embrace and he reluctantly let her go. "I should go change." She muttered.

He caught her by the wrist. "No, you look fine." He said with a smile. "You don't have to dress up for them."

She laughed. "You're my big brother, Naraku. You'd think I look good even if I wore nothing at all."

Fortunately, he blushed only faintly, and she was far from noticing that as she turned away to seek out changing rooms. She had brought along another outfit, just incase her spud suit wasn't suitable. It wasn't that she hadn't trusted Naraku's word, it was just that he was always so soft on her. She was sure that if it ever came down to it, he'd let her get away with murder or something.

After locating the rooms, she gave a shout of "I'll be just a sec," and entered, changing quickly.

She reappeared looking much more fashionable than before, not that it would be hard. Comfortable jeans and a baggy wide-neck shirt replaced her sweats. She still wore her glasses and braid though. She hadn't brought her contacts and she was lazy to re-braid her hair if she had let it down.

"Thanks for waiting." She said, looping her arm around his. It was a routine they had when going out.

When Kagome had been younger, one of her greatest fears had always been being separated from Naraku, whether by adoption or simply being lost. He had remedied it by always taking her hand or arm when they went out. When they grew older, the practice stuck until it was second nature. If they were going to go out somewhere together, they would always be linked somehow.

He liked to think that she disliked being separated from him. She did, truly, but he wished it was for a different reason.

-:- -:- -:-

Kouga had been pleasantly surprised.

He hadn't expected Kagome to return, at least, not before he cleared up things with Naraku and apologized profusely to her. It had been a madhouse after she had left. Summer season was always hectic, and with the sudden shortage of one exceedingly quick and helpful waitress, they were more than shorthanded.

Many of the applicants they had trained spur of the moment had quit almost immediately, unable to keep up with the demanding workload.

Poor Ayame was up to her ears in customers, and her smile seemed frozen in place.

Ginta and Hakkaku could handle being either waiters or cooks, but not both at the same time. They alternated, one being a waiter and the other a cook, while attempting to do both parts of the job at once. They had worked well together when they were covering one job, one taking orders and one bringing the orders as waiters, and then one prepping the food and the other cooking as cooks. But it was something akin to catastrophe when they were by themselves.

With Kagome, it had worked like clockwork. With the substitutes, it wasn't as smooth. But they had still tried hard to keep a consistent level of service.

He may have been exaggerating, but it hadn't felt like it. They had all missed her after she had left, becoming quite attached to her in that short time she was with them.

Kouga grinned at her, showing no sign of guilt. "Hey babe, hadn't expected you back so soon." He greeted cheekily.

She blushed. "Um, came by to say hi." She said, peering over his shoulder concerned, taking in the sight of the panicked waiters almost tripping over themselves, and Ayame moving like a smiling red blur.

"It looks busy." She commented a bit worriedly. All of them looked rather stressed, and Ayame's smile was stretched, like a rubber band. She wondered what would happen when the redhead snapped.

Kouga's grin widened. "Wouldn't have it any other way."

Naraku cleared his throat behind them. "I believe we're blocking the way." He said calmly, indicating the gathering of people trying to push their way out around them.

Kouga had been standing in the doorway when they had opened to door. He looked like he was about to leave.

Undaunted, Kouga moved aside, letting Kagome and Naraku in, and the other customers out.

He apologized to the customers of the inconvenience before returning his attention to the dark-haired pair.

"So, how may I help you?" He asked a bit stiffly, eyeing Naraku.

"Some food would be nice." Naraku answered dryly.

"Of course!" Kouga smiled broadly and took them to a booth with a flourish.

It was one of their nicer booths, Naraku could tell with a glance. All polished dark hardwood, velvety lined seats, and ambient lighting with a silvery outline. Kagome, of course, observed none of this and chatted happily with Kouga. It was a moment more before Naraku noticed that Kagome had ordered for him and Kouga was already waltzing away with their order.

Kagome gave him a sheepish smile. "I hope you don't mind," she said with a blush rising on her neck. "But I wanted you to try their chicken cacciatore and pasta, it's really good." She said earnestly, suddenly terrified that he might take offense.

He smiled assuringly. "I'm sure it is. It's just as well anyways, I wouldn't have known what to order." He grinned.

It was true.

He had never been to Howl's, at least not to eat.

No doubt, Kouga would have just grinned moronically anyways and given him idiotic suggestions, only to spit in his food later. If Kagome had ordered, then he wouldn't know which dish was for Naraku, and he would not do anything unseemly to their orders.

Kagome beamed in response. "I hope you like it. I really did." She said dreamily.

It was funny how talk of food could get her so interested. She really liked food, and not just eating it either. He could remember whole single days she spent with cooking; waking up at the crack of dawn to pick and buy ingredients, then chopping, mincing, dicing, peeling, cutting, cleaning, and prepping them all by hand.

It was extraordinary.

But she fell out of that habit when it came time to work, preparing simple meals and the like. Now it seemed like she didn't even have time for that at all. He missed them, the days when she spend all hours at home. She was safe then, safe from his compatriots, from outsiders, and most of all, from prying eyes.

Unaware of her brother's train of thought, Kagome hummed happily to herself, drumming her fingers on the table and watching the general hubbub.

Naraku seemed lost in thought, and she figured it was best to not disturb him. She wasn't aware of all the details of his job, but it seemed like a lot of responsibility. He didn't talk too much about it, but she knew he played an important role and assumed that it was his job about which he thought so much.

Ayame served up their food hot and quick. She seemed to have a tired, but grateful smile for her. Kagome wondered as to why, but then the redhead was gone in a flash, back to the counter to retrieve more trays of food. In the back, Kagome could see Hakkaku working with a determined look on his face, and a headband that wrote "Fight! Win!" on his forehead.

Ginta was moving equally as fast as Ayame, but with much less grace. He had his tablet of tickets in one hand and a tray of drinks in the other, and looked as if he were trying to move in two different directions at once. She almost made a move to go and help him, but remembered that she was there with Naraku. He probably wouldn't have been too happy if she just up and left like that.

Instead she gave Ginta a thumbs up (he blushed madly) and turned her attention to her brother. He seemed to be a bit amazed by it. She had ordered him the chicken cacciatore with spaghetti in a garlic and butter sauce, served with parsley. It also came with a few thick slices of crusty sourdough bread. And she had gotten the extra large portion so they could share.

She fingered her plate a bit nervously.

He smiled at her. "Looks good." He complimented, meaning it. He hadn't expected that level of quality from the café owner, but then again, for all he knew, Kouga was just trying to impress Kagome.

That thought irritated him.

He ignored it for the moment though, taking the time to take the serving spoon from Kagome's hands and serve her first, instead of the other way around. He also had noticed how her left hand was fisted surreptitiously beneath the table, sometimes going into her pant pocket. He knew that she was holding her money at the ready, so as to snatch up the bill when it came.

She always was trying to do things for him. He wished that she would let him do things for her as well, and no one else.

-:- -:- -:-

Taking a break, Hakudoushi stretched as he left his Hutch, earning a few whistles from a couple of female BM's who were walking by. Winking at them, he smirked and then turned his eyes to search for a particular BM.

Upon not seeing her, he sought out a different one, the woman who was the most noticeable on the entire beach.

"Kagura!" He called as he walked up to her.

Surprised, the woman turned to her, distrust written on her face. "What is it?" She asked, unsure.

Hakudoushi was not the most reasonable person. For as long as she had known him, he had been quite silent and difficult to get along with, at least in private. His face had been impossible to read and he was as emotionless as they came. He was a good actor though, and nowhere was his talent as apparent as when they were working.

With a childlike demeanor, but handsome sculpted features to show his true age, he had been one of the most popular BM's on the beach. However, some time ago, for no reason, he had asked to be placed at a Hutch.

Kagura was not a curious person, but she was a suspicious one.

Naraku had something to do with it. As far as she was concerned, that man had his hand on everything, and Hakudoushi had been his tool since they had met.

But something was off this time, and as soon as the next words left his mouth, she knew what it was.

"Where's Kagome?" Hakudoushi asked.

"Where's Byakuya?" Kagura shot back.

With an unsettling smile, the younger boy answered, "folding towels."

Turning around, Kagura began to walk away. "She's with Naraku." She said, meaning for the statement to end the conversation. She did not like Hakudoushi, nor did she trust him.

That man was a viper.

"Ah..." Was Hakushoushi's response from behind her.

-:- -:- -:-

Sesshoumaru was walking back slowly to the hotel he was staying at. He had a surprising amount of things to think about. That lumpy girl…

She looked familiar and was associated with Higurashi Naraku. That name was setting off alarms in his head. He should know that name from somewhere.

Perhaps, Ryuukossei would know. And if not him, then one of his father's other friends should know it. Whatever alerted him could not be a good thing. It might not be so bad seeing all of his father's friends again. Crazy though they may be, they also had their own brand of genius, financial, economical, and intellectual.

Sighing to himself, he knew that they were usually right, even when giving the most inane advice. Pretty much the only subject they were dead wrong on was anything to do with women, at least in terms of getting into a relationship. One could see it in their various (and failed) forms of flirting.

Not one of them had ever been married for more than a few years.

And all were brilliant enough to sign nuptials and ensure that their fortune would remain theirs.

He rubbed his forehead.

Dinner at Howl's. Conversation with crotchety old mad men.

Contractional sustenance coming from them looked doubtful. It wasn't that they didn't support him, it was just that they were so old, and had done practically everything in their youth, that nothing would really garner their favor unless it interested them.

Their interest was a hard thing to come by.

According to Myouga, there had been little they had ever not seen.

At least he had caught Ryuukossei's eye with the mention of that girl.

Maybe mention of Naraku would plant the seed of curiosity. Maybe not. Ryuukossei sounded like a regular of The Beach, so most likely he would have the most information.

Sesshoumaru squeezed his eyes shut. This was why he never took vacations. Everything became more complicated when he took his guard down, even for a moment.

He hadn't even left the airport terminal yet when he'd lost his wallet. He'd been there for less than a day and had already been branded a closet fruit by many of the hotel staff. The only thing going for him was Ryuukossei's interest and connections to some of the most influential, wealthy, and insane old men there ever was.

He sighed.

It was going to be an interesting night, for sure.

-:- -:- -:-

Hakudoushi was waiting for them when the Higurashi siblings returned.

Naraku had taken his time dropping off Kagome, an indulgence that would have been severely scolded had it been anyone else. But it confirmed his suspicions.

Naraku had anything but brotherly feelings for his younger sister. Not that Hakudoushi would blame him. The purity of the younger Higurashi was screaming to either by tainted or protected.

With the way that Naraku treated her, he obviously responded to the latter. Hakudoushi himself had yet to decide which one he preferred.

Smiling, Hakudoushi went to approach Kagome, who had already turned her complete attention back to the maintenance of the Hutch.

"Hello Kagome."

His greeting startled her.

"Hakudoushi!" She replied with a bright smile, remembering him from earlier. Shortly after she had met Byakuya, the young man had showed up to her Hutch, introducing himself.

"Would you care to accept my Invitation?" He asked.

Puzzled, Kagome gifted him with a quizzical smile.

"Let's go grab a bite after work." He clarified.

"Oh, I probably shouldn't. My brother was looking forward to meeting up after work, to talk about my first day." She admitted.

Hakudoushi's smile widened. "That's okay. Some other time then."

"Wait!" A sharp cry interjected. It was Byakuya, jogging up to the Hutch. "I'll Invite you too, so it'll be three of us." He said, grinning.

"Okay! That sounds fun. Thank you." Kagome replied with earnest gratitude. She was glad that the employees of The Beach were so kind. She was sure that this would be a great place to work for the rest of the summer.

"Maybe tomorrow?" She offered.

The two men smiled. "Sure." They replied together.

Then excusing themselves, they left, glaring at each other when she wasn't looking.

-:- -:- -:-

"Where's Kagome!" The words were out of Naraku's mouth before he even finished rounding the corner.

"Right here." Kagome replied, confused. Why was her brother so panicked. "Are you all right?" She asked concerned.

Relief flooding his features, he nodded. "Just fine." He replied. "I just thought that you might have forgotten."

"No, I wouldn't do that." Kagome said, laughing.

He forced a smile in return and extended his hand. "Let's go home then."

Grabbing it, Kagome stood and hugged her brother. "Thank you."

His smile softened.

Naraku raked a hand through his hair. Dammit!

Kagura had paged him earlier with a message that Hakudoushi was on the move. Thankfully, Byakuya had managed to stay with him, but that was unexpected.

Hakudoushi had always been the most efficient of his little band of minions. He had not expected that the brat would take the initiative upon himself, especially with Kagome. She was simply not his type. Akago would have taken interest in her, but not Hakudoushi, that boy was too full of himself to stoop down to check out a girl with no sense of fashion.

If Sounga, or even that bastard Takemaru, found out about just how important Kagome was, he would never hear the end of it. Of course, there was not much they could do about it, but their mouths were large and they liked to flap their lips. They could be more trouble than they were worth.

Getting her hired here had been one of the biggest risks he had ever taken, but it was meant to be safe!

Hakudoushi couldn't afford to betray him. He held that brat's older brother's life in his hand! One word from him and Akago suffered a mysterious relapse.

-:- -:- -:-

"Naraku?" Myouga was screeching. It was the tiny man's habit (to screech) whenever he became flustered.

Toutousai had fallen silent and was turned facing another way while Bokuseno had closed his eyes and Ryuukossei seemed more interested in the smoke of his cigarette than in the topic. Saya was, as usual, asleep.

Knowing those old coots, that all meant that Naraku was bad news. But how bad was what Sesshoumaru wanted to know.

He waited patiently for one of them to spill their guts. He turned his glare toward Myouga. Brilliant and clever though the little man was, refusing Sesshoumaru was not one of his stronger traits. Sesshoumaru blamed it on the years of having to watch over his younger half-brother.

It did not take long until Myouga let out an "eep" of nervousness and Toutousai snorted.

"He's a terrible man." Myouga began with a shake of his head and a crossing of his arms. "Bad man, indeed."

Sesshoumaru stared at him for a few seconds more as Myouga continued to shake his head and cross his arms without adding anything further.

"Myouga!" He finally barked, impatient.

The bald head snapped upward. "Hm? Oh? What was that? I dozed off for a minute there."

A fierce glare got Myouga talking again.

"It happened suddenly one day. No one knew where or when he came, but it was an immediate thing, the effect of his name. The mere mention of his name would make people pale and tremble, sometimes even mute for days, though that could be rumor. But what is true is what he's done."

The little man leaned forward with his hands on his knees.

"He's a jackal." He said simply, then fell back to elaborate. "That man, who was really a boy at the time, appeared suddenly. He was rogue with no claim, but he was smart. He started small, and moved up quickly, taking down first those men who had fallen prey to lone sharks and were so destitute that they didn't even own the clothes on their backs. He protected them by making it impossible for the muscle-bound goons to get to them, and took away the power of the lone sharks.

"Strange really, how it worked. He had those people who were owned by yakuza under his command by protecting them. Many fell under his shield of influence and then it grew, swallowing up the lone sharks and prostitutes. Anyone who was low on funds went to him. No one was really sure how he did it, but he made the money of the yakuza his. At first it was a petty thing, one man beating up a few of the bottom tier, but the pride of a yakuza is a funny thing. One by one, the bottom levels were falling to Naraku, moving his way up from prostitution rings to drug lords, and finally weapons.

"Guns are really rare in Japan, and ironically enough, it was thanks to him that they continue to be so scarce. He cleaned up the yakuza in less than five years. All the black market and illegal gambling became set in fixed locations with the local police force on their payroll. Then he vanished only to reappear a year later in a no-name backwater town. He made it famous by instituting an adaptation of a Host Club to appeal to a larger audience."

Here, Sesshoumaru nodded. "The Beach." He added.

Myouga's head bobbed in agreement. "That's it. A place were both the top executives and the average salary man can relax in relative equality. And it's not just a coincidence that it's run by Sounga."

Bokuseno twitched at the mention of the name. He eyed Ryuukossei for a moment, but the other man was concentrating on a long slow drag of his half-finished cigarette. Saya offered a small whine of protest, followed by a long snore.

It was fortunate for Sesshoumaru that Saya remained asleep. The tiny old man had vociferous opinions of The Beach executive, that were not all based on fear.

"Sounga, a man of brute force in industry, but gained all of his capital from dealing with the black market and underground gambling rings. He was also under suspicion of being the head of an exotic brothel that catered to…eccentric tastes." Sesshoumaru said, denoting his understanding of Myouga's cryptic statement.

The little bald man grinned. "That's not all, he was also once a business partner of your father's."

Sesshoumaru tensed.

"Please continue." He said after a moment. Somehow, his query had grown to greater proportions that he had imagined. This Naraku sounded like an interesting person. Dangerous, but useful, and for some reason, irritating.

Here, Myouga paused, as if contemplating something. Then he shrugged. "There's not much else. Naraku seemed to settle down for a while, and other than the rumors of using The Beach as a nondescript recreation resort, there was no other mention." He finished off.

Sesshoumaru withheld a frown. That did not make much sense.

According to the popularity of the location, as well as the attraction toward high-profile businessmen and celebrities, The Beach would easily be a place for illegal transactions or economic manipulations. At least, in his mind. For such an infamous name as Naraku, to suddenly go quiet, there had to be a reason.

His mind flashed back to the girl with the lumpy outfit.

"I see." He said quietly. Then leaned forward to pose a question. "Is he seeing anyone? Any woman who has caught his eye or fancy?" He added for clarity. He did not doubt that his query would be unexpected.

He saw Ryuukossei perk up from his bored position.

Bokuseno looked surprised. "No," the ancient man answered.

"But there are rumors." Ryuukossei interjected, almost pleased.

Toutousai scoffed. "Don't go giving the boy the wrong idea." He said, puffing on a longpipe.

"I'm not!" Ryuukossei said, indignant. He turned his attention back to Sesshoumaru. "Would you be interested?" He asked, eyes bright. He was always too curious about Sesshoumaru's sexual orientation. Just what was it about Touga's eldest that made him such a veritable ice cube.

"Is he seeing anyone?" Sesshoumaru reiterated.

Ryuukossei flapped a hand. "Just rumors. Nothing that would get in your way if you were interested."

Sesshoumaru's lips thinned.

Having known the boy the longest, Bokuseno was well versed in Sesshoumaru's moods. Despite appearances, the young man was quite impatient. He decided to reply before Sesshoumaru's temper got the better of him.

"There is nothing official, and never would be, about Naraku. There is only the observation that he is closer to a young woman than he should be. But he neither says nor does anything to comply or correct the assumption, just that anyone who gets too close to her, disappears." The elderly man spoke slowly and clearly, and then fell silent, sipping on a glass of water.

Simple, yet concise was how Bokuseno would talk, and when he was finished, he was finished. He would not elaborate further on the matter, and with him being the senior most member, the other three old men listened to him.

The discussion was closed.

Toutousai took the moment to start a new conversation.

"Haa, Myouga, how is the youngster? I haven't heard much about him lately, and he hasn't been bothering me as much either. Always some new merchandise with him."

The tiny man perked up at the new topic. "He's a handful as always." He muttered, shaking his head disapprovingly. "Can't keep his head on one subject for more than five minutes. In fact, he called me not a week back that he would be traveling. Haven't heard from him since."

At this, Sesshoumaru tuned them out. Once those men got off topic, they stayed off topic. He assumed that it was selective senility since if it was about business their minds were as sharp as razors.

He sighed inwardly, and wondered how long this night would take.

Spying movement on his left, he signaled the red-headed waitress to refill his coffee cup. She took it, blushing, and then fled quickly.

Hoping that she hadn't become another of his 'admirers' he turned his attention out toward one of the spacious windows. This town was peaceful, but far from boring, to tell the truth.

-:- -:- -:-

Ayame hurried off, the eavesdropped conversation still ringing in her ears. Just who were those men?

At first she had assumed that they were wash downs from The Beach: old gross perverts. They fit the bill, but then they weren't.

At the same time, they were not nice men. They were scary, powerful, and they spoke of Naraku.

She got a bad feeling about it all. Those men did not speak of Naraku lightly, but it seemed as if they were privy to much information about him, tracing it back to Sounga.

Kouga would have to know, and maybe, from this, they could break Naraku's hold on them.

It was a possibility.

-:- -:- -:-

Outside of Howl's, Ryuukossei took Sesshoumaru aside when the other men had ambled off to their respective cars and driven away.

"Here, my boy." He said, pressing a slip of paper into Sesshoumaru's hand. "Just if you're interested. You can call ahead of time and use my name. But next week it's all on me in my area, all right?" He said with a wink.

When Ryuukossei had left, Sesshoumaru opened up the folded paper. Written on it was a name and number.

Higurashi Naraku, Area: 379-a, Designation #: 0555-0666

-:- -:- -:-

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SM: Now that I think about it, was anyone waiting for this? I should probably get cracking on my other things.