Chapter 32: Dating Advice

If there was one thing that had changed in the present over the years, it was that when Kagome came home she no longer had to wake up to the annoying blare of an alarm clock. Sunlight filtered from beneath the curtain, dusting the room a color of shade and stirring the fresh-washed scent of bed linens.

Kagome groaned, musing on this as she turned over and smacked the wall with a closed fist.

"Dammit Souta, turn that thing off!"

The same tatoo thumped in her ear from the other side of the wall. The alarm continued to wail for a - deliberate, she huffed - while longer before it quieted, and the only sounds she could hear were the shuffling of her little brother's feet.

She rolled onto her back, pulling the sheets over her face and resisting a scream. All she wanted was some home cooking, a good night's rest, and a late morning. Was that too much to ask for?

"Kagome, are you up?"

Apparently, it was.

Her mother's head popped into the doorway. "Breakfast is ready! I'm heading out in 5 minutes. Your brother's headed to school today for soccer practice, so please remember to go to the store for me. I left the list on the refrigerator for you!"

"Okay, mom."

As the door closed again, Kagome turned face down into the pillow with a dry sob, until her nose hurt and the breath she took became uncomfortably warm and sticky.

At least I got the first two.

When she entered the kitchen, Sesshoumaru was already up and dressed in his borrowed street clothes, reading a newspaper. She would have been shocked at the out-of-place normalcy of it, had she not felt so groggy and annoyed. Grabbing some bowls from the cupboard, she served herself some rice and miso soup from the stove, throwing in a piece of left-over fish as an afterthought.

After she'd mustered up the energy to get up, she had found the bathroom occupied by her little brother. He'd come to spend an inordinate amount of time on his hair since she'd last seen him. And even though he was styling it up just to run around sweaty all day, the little punk refused to leave the bathroom so she could pee. Kagome, who was used to dealing with more temperamental beings than a teenager (a dog-eared friend of hers came to mind), wasted no time in falling into "mean, older sister mode," putting him in a head-lock and kicking him out without reticence.

The night before had gone surprisingly well. Reticently, she had returned to the kitchen after setting out clean sheets in the guest room, only to find her mother and Sesshoumaru conversing about pottery and the change in ceramics that had taken place over the last few centuries.

Leave it to her mother to drink tea with a demon as though it were an every day occurrence.

Grandpa had then showed up. He was stymied long-enough by Sesshoumaru at his kitchen table that Kagome had enough time to intercept him before the sutras came out. After hearing an account of Sesshoumaru's presence (and omitting the romantic aspect of their relationship), Grandpa was unusually excited about the presence of such a "majestic, important historical figure" in his home. Dinner went decently well, what with Sesshoumaru eating and no one getting decapitated. Souta placed a few questions that were rude, but none so mortifying that Kagome felt the need to make him pay for them. Afterwards, Kagome had shown the demon lord to the guest room and - with a blush and a short good night kiss - she retired to her room.

Everything had gone well, until she was ripped rudely from sleep by that cockatoo alarm clock in the other room.

Grumpy, her plates clacked harshly against the table top as she sat down. A few drops of soup splashed over the side and stained a napkin lying nearby. Sesshoumaru, who said nothing, gazed from her plates to her with a raised eyebrow.

"Eheh. Good morning!"

"Hn, indeed," issued back. If it wasn't for the amusement that colored his voice, Kagome might have been a little upset. As it was, she muttered a sheepish "itadakimasu" and began eating as he went back to reading his paper. Observing him while she ate, she tried to consolidate the image of "her" Sesshoumaru with this modern version. It was then she noticed that he seemed not so much to be reading the individual articles, rather examining the paper itself - the make, the quality, and the type of the characters. Suddenly, the two Sesshoumaru's coalesced and she was able to consolidate the two images. However, it brought up new worries of this demon war lord in modern Tokyo.

"Did you already eat?" she asked, her mind still mulling over the things they would have to do today. In Public. She shuddered.

"Hn. Your mother was gracious enough to prepare a spread for me." Her grandfather had eyed him warily, despite the previous night's warm reception, but he didn't tell her that. The old man may act like a fool, but he was by no means senile, and Sesshoumaru felt he knew more about their relationship than Kagome had told him.

"Oh, that's nice," she said absently. Sesshoumaru felt her attention shift, and put his paper down to look at her. She was nervously poking at the tofu in her soup with her chopsticks. The white, porous cube disappeared and reappeared amidst little green islands of wakame, bobbing up and down like a dolphin in the briny water in time with her heartbeat.

"We've got to do some shopping today," she said with a surreptitious look.

"Yes, your mother mentioned such yesterday." He gazed at her appraisingly, waiting as her emotions shifted and settled enough for her to think.

"Are you sure you want to come?"

"I wish to explore your world."

"But it smells out there!" She said almost desperately.

"This Sesshoumaru is accustomed to filtering out scents."

Kagome made a last-ditch effort to change his mind, though he realized it was half-hearted. "There are lots of humans."

"Are you not human?" came his retort.

She pulled a sour face, and all pleading left her.

"Fine!" she snapped, "But there are rules, okay?" Rubbing her face in frustration, Kagome tried not to think of the first time Inuyasha came to her time. She only hoped that Sesshoumaru was truly much more self-controlled than his brother as to prevent any mishaps.

"First, no attacking people," she enumerated, sticking up a vehement finger.

"This one only attacks when others prove to be obstacles."

"Second," the second finger flew up, ignoring his explanation, "no killing or maiming!"

"I will defend you and myself should the need arise," he stated with a no-nonsense tone.

"The need definitely won't arise!"

"And those were two conditions, miko."

"Whatever! Third, absolutely NO special powers. Don't fly, don't turn into a dog, and most definitely DO NOT melt anyone or anything with your poison, even if you're startled. People don't exactly know about Youkai. Please?" The memory of Inuyasha punching a car because he thought it was a rogue Youkai surfaced, and she tried desperately to push it back.

Kagome had told him before about the seeming "lack" of youkai in her era, and while he had no reason to believe they had disappeared, he would not make an unnecessary show and jeopardize her. He had the feeling his little brother had done enough of that.

"Hn."

The young priestess took his grunt as a confirmation, and melted in her seat as the stress left her.

"Alright, I'll be back in ten!"

Sesshoumaru glanced from her unfinished breakfast at the unusual "clock" he had learned about, and settled in to count the minutes until she was dressed.

It was near three o'clock by the time Sesshoumaru and Kagome began climbing the stairs to the shrine. Sweat was trickling down the back of Kagome's neck, but she couldn't find it in her to care. She was too happy with their successful - and most importantly painless - shopping trip. No one died, and Kagome didn't have to pay reparations for any broken items. Sesshoumaru seemed to take in all of his surroundings with an aloof curiosity, but he remained respectful of her rules. He often picked up objects and inspected them carefully, but he always put things back in their place.

They certainly received many stares, as there was no way to hide his natural coloring - "I'm an inuyoukai, not a chameleon," was his dry response when she posed the initial suggestion - but after so much time in the Feudal Era, Kagome was used to stares and barely paid them any mind. Besides, most people considered him either a Visual K wanna-be or a yankee gangster, and thus tended to stay clear of them.

They'd gone first to the dry-cleaners to drop off some futons, then went to a home goods store to pick up some new curtains her mother had ordered for the living room. Since they were on foot, it became lunch time before they new it. Kagome took Sesshoumaru on his very first train ride, and together they zipped over to Harajuku, where they had a pasta lunch and shared some ice cream. Sesshoumaru imperiously informed her that he was not "lactose intolerant," but rather did not tolerate lactose products; he seemed to like sherbert well enough though. Although he was intrigued by her world, she figured that his senses must be overloaded, and so they took a break walking through the quiet, forested path to Meiji Jingu shrine not far from the station.

The last place they went was the supermarket, where he stared with thinly veiled disbelief at the array and availability of food. That such essential yet scarce commodities were so attainable to even the lower classes in such abundant quantities...his admiration for his miko only deepened for the strength it must have taken her to leave behind this world.

Kagome found herself enjoying this time with him almost too much. Even though they were committed, this was the first time the went out. They'd talked, exchanging questions and answers about modernity; they'd eaten lunch, taken a romantic stroll; he was carrying her bags. It was like a real date, like the scant few she'd only ever had with Hojo, the difference being that Sesshoumaru lacked the reserve and awkwardness of the pubescent boy she'd known in her school days.

Oh! - and she actually liked him.

Somewhere along the walk back to the station, Kagome had shyly slipped her hand into his. Sesshoumaru regarded her blush with a golden side-glance. His only response - a quirked smirk and a squeeze of their clasped hands - was enough to reassure her, and they continued walking that way for the rest of the trip home. Even though they were only running errands for her mom, her heart sighed a little. These times of peace - would they ever get such reprieves in the Feudal Era?

She buried the thought. 'Let me enjoy this light feeling just a bit longer.'

"Kagome!"

They had finally crested the landing of the steps and were headed towards the house when voices came to them. Sesshoumaru turned to see two females and a male approaching them. They were roughly Kagome's age, he speculated, and were coming from the direction of the shrine.

Kagome froze as she watched her friends approach. Of course, she just had to be friends with the nosiest people on the planet, people who had no reservations about asking rude questions, not to mention people who constantly tried to set her up on dates with Hojo.

'Ugh, I can't believe they brought him again!' Fighting her self pity, she put on a smile and embraced the two girls.

"Hey guys!"

"Oh thank God we caught you before we left," Ayumi said dramatically as she pulled away from Kagome. "We ran in to Souta this morning, who told us you were back, so we decided to stop by and say 'hey'!"

"Oh he did, did he? That's lucky!" Kagome smiled too sweetly, but didn't manage to repress a twitch in her eye. Souta, you're gonna pay so bad for this! She had worked out the story with her family that, after graduation, she would 'move to the countryside where an easier pace of life and less pollution would help her recover after the three years of various illnesses were finally attributed to severe allergies.' The excuse was meant to keep her friends and other inquisitive parties away, so that they wouldn't come by looking for her now that they had more freedom than in high school.

"Yeah, but the doors were locked and no one was home," said Eri. She paused thoughtfully. "Then Hojo suggested checking out back since sometimes you help your gramps. Good thing we did, huh?" Both girls failed to hide their identical suggestive grins, which told her they still hadn't given up on matching them up as a couple.

Kagome turned her attention to Hojo then, and almost winced visibly. While he had grown taller and looked more manly now in his street clothes, he still brought her awkward gifts of medicinal remedies. This time was no different. In his arms, he carried a large wicker basket filled with an assortment of items, nicely wrapped in pink cellophane and tied off with a flowery ribbon.

"Hey Kagome, long time no see!" Hojo said with an eager smile. "I wasn't really sure how you were doing, or if you had any relapses, or new illnesses since you moved to the country, so I brought you a medley of useful tonics and stuff," he rambled nervously, shifting the basket in his grasp. "Here."

Kagome felt Sesshoumaru's aura pulse with displeasure as he approached them, but tenuously took the gift basket from him. "Gee, thanks Hojo. You're always so..."

"...hopeless! What is this? Three years and you're still bringing a girl foot pads? Get a clue!" is what she wanted to say.

"so...thoughtful," she finished lamely.

Sesshoumaru obviously didn't think so. Narrowing his gaze on the interlopers that had interupted the end of their pleasant shopping trip, he left the groceries by the door and walked up to them. He placed himself neither at Kagome's back nor at her side, but instead somewhere in between. She felt him hovering over her shoulder, close enough to feel the heat of his body if she moved even a bit. Cold, calculating eyes found the boy, and the demon lord almost smirked as he visibly repressed a shiver. Kagome had said "no killing or maiming."

'She said nothing of intimidation.'

The triad watched the strange looking man looming over their friend. Eri and Ayumi glanced nervously at each other, while Hojo was too scared to break his gaze.

Realizing that Sesshoumaru wasn't going to say anything, Kagome cleared her throat to break the awkward silence.

"Oh right, how rude of me. Sesshoumaru, these are my school friends, Eri, Ayumi and Hojo. Everyone, this is Sesshoumaru," she introduced with a cheery smile. At the sound of his name, all three of them seemed to freeze. It took her a moment to remember the meaning of his name, and she fumbled to find a remedy. "He's -"

"Her intended," Sesshoumaru interjected. He stared intently at Hojo for a moment longer before turning his attention to the two females, to whom he nodded cordially.

"Intended...?" Ayumi repeated with an air of confusion. Of course, the hopeless romantic of the group caught on first.

"You mean, like, fiance?!" Eri exclaimed with a gasp.

Kagome's blush alone would have given it away, but she glanced up at Sesshoumaru and couldn't stop the silly little smile that broke free. She'd never thought of it like that before!

"Yeah, heheh."

"Oh, well congratulations!" Hojo said, though his usual enthusiasm was lacking.

Hands on her hips, Ayumi skipped congratulations and went straight into admonishment. "Kagome, how could you not tell us!" she cried indignantly. "And all this time, we were thinking that you and -"

"Oh! The groceries!" Kagome feigned surprise, and turned to Sesshoumaru. "Could you take them inside for me, please? I'm afraid they'll go bad with this heat."

Sesshoumaru regarded her silently for a moment. Honestly, he had no desire to leave her side, especially not with that impetuous pup still sniffing around, pathetic though he may be. Yet, he couldn't seem to say 'no' to those pleading doe eyes of hers...'I'll have to work on that,' he thought with a sigh.

"I'll take this for you, as well,"

'-and melt it.'

As though reading his mind, she held on to the basket a second longer before relinquishing it with a look that said 'just try it.' She watched as he nodded politely to her friends and glanced dismissively at Hojo before turning and walking into the house. The dispelled tension left her feeling slightly shaky, but she forged a smile for the sake of her friendships.

"Well, that was..."

Kagome's smile fell into a wince. "Sorry guys. Sesshoumaru's not the best at socializing." She new he'd been a bit rude - okay, a lot rude - but he was who he was. Poor Hojo was lucky he wasn't dead. Though she hoped her influence continued to ease him up, she wasn't going to actively try to change him.

"No kidding," Ayumi snorted.

Ignoring her friend's ire, Eri acted on her curiosity. "How'd you meet him, anyway?"

"Well," Kagome took a big breath, "we met in the countryside, actually-"

'in the forest, really, but close enough.'

"He comes from a long line of swordsmen-"

'not a lie!'

"-and so we met one day when I was looking for a place to practice archery. He actually taught me quite a bit"

'Not a complete lie. We used each other for target practice, after all...'

"Aww, how cute! It's just like a story: The cold, stoic warrior whose heart is steadily thawed by the kind, warm-hearted damsel! And of course he'd fall for you!"

"Eheh, something like that." Kagome laughed nervously, trying to ignore just how accurate Eri's starry-eyed conjecture was, simplified though it was.

"Are you seriously going to marry this guy?"

Hojo's tone had flattened, and his eyes held an incredulous hardness that she'd never seen before. Kagome's thoughts stuttered.

"Excuse me?"

"The hair, the contacts, the tatoos," Hojo emphasized, crossing his arms...

"Wha-"

"Not to mention the killing attitude." Ayumi rubbed her chin and nodded in agreement. "Now that I think about it, he reminds me of that two-timing gangster you dated in high school. What was his name? Inaba~something."

"Yeah, that guy was no good, either," Hojo chimed in.

"INUYASHA," Kagome emphasized, biting back her ire, "was not a gangster. Nor was he a two-timer because we never dated! Anyway," a breath to cool her temper, "Sesshoumaru's from an old, rare warring class family, and his hair and markings are a tradition passed down through generations. He and Inuyasha are half-brothers, which is why they look similar."

"Oh goodness! There's a love triangle!" Eri cried, half shocked, half elated.

"Oh, not that. Kagome, you've got to be kidding me! That loser's brother? Seriously?"

At that, Kagome snapped. "Don't you dare say that! That loser is my friend, thank you very much. And he doesn't say mean shit about you guys!"

The girls recoiled at Kagome's anger. Usually, she was always calm and kind, but clearly they'd hit a nerve if she was resorting to foul language.

Ayumi raised her hands in a pacifying gesture. "Calm down, Kagome. I'm sorry, alright? We're not trying to pick a fight or anything, we're just worried about you. You're our friend and, well, you were always sick so..."

"So you think you know better than me." Stone cold, Kagome didn't even try to put on a happy facade. "Kagome's this sick girl, who can't do anything for herself, can't even make her own decisions. I've dealt with a lot of shit in my life, and I've done things on my own just fine! What do you think I am, a baby?"

"That's not fair!" Ayumi cried, appalled.

"It's what you're thinking, though!" Kagome shot back angrily, stepping towards her.

"Hey, hey, hey! Everybody just calm down, alright?"

Taking it as an aggressive gesture, Hojo quickly got between them and grabbed Kagome by the shoulders. He tried not to be offended when she shook off his grip and settled for looking her in the eye.

"Listen Kagome, you're a beautiful, strong woman," he started. "But you need to take our advice. He's dangerous," he pleaded with her to understand.

'You have no idea.' Although he was right, she knew he would never be a danger to her.

"Well, I don't know, he may look scary but he could be a really good guy..." Eri suggested weakly.

"Get your nose out of the books, Eri. Besides, do you know how bad it'll look if people see her hanging around with a thug like that?" Hojo snapped. "You're a good girl, Kagome. I don't want to see you hurt."

Kagome slapped his hand away as he reached for her.

"No, you don't want me to date someone else," she fired back. "You spent so much time obsessing pathetically over me after I turned down your dates for how many years, and the only way you can cope is by name-calling and putting other people down? And you, Ayumi - I expected better of you than judging him just based on his looks, what with your brother and all. You don't even know him!"

"Yeah, well I'm starting to think I don't know you," Hojo retorted angrily. "You never used to be like this; wouldn't be like this if you would just follow me. That jerk's poisoning your mind!"

"Sesshoumaru is the best thing that's come into my life! He cares about me, protects me, and I love him. So YES, I'm really going to marry him, Hojo. And since you clearly have a problem with that, I'd appreciate it if you left."

Hojo stared at her extended hand pointing towards the shrine steps. She was supposed to be his perfect angel; the good, quiet shrine girl who married into his family and gave him obedient sons to raise; who eagerly met him with kisses after work, and had his favorite dinner on the table. Now she'd been stolen from under his nose. Rage barely contained, he stormed off with one last glare at Kagome.

"Come on Ayumi, we're wasting time."

Ayumi hesitated for a second, trying to hold on to the last bonds of a friendship that had been stretching and tearing for years. In wake of Kagome's anger, there were no words left to say. Turning, she followed Hojo down the shrine steps.

Eri was the only one to linger long enough to see the tears in Kagome's eyes before she rubbed them away. Taking her hand, she patted it softly.

"Don't worry Kagome, I think you're doing the right thing."

With a gentle smile, she turned and followed the rest down the many stairs.

Letting out a shaky sigh, Kagome wiped the last of her tears. She had just severed the last ties to this world outside of her family.