Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters in this long-awaited update... especially for the one whose mood improves. A nod of recognition is bent towards Rumiko Takahashi for her creative prowess.
Kagome made it official, then wandered into the kitchen, planning to drown her sorrows in a cup of coffee. The storm system would hit by mid-morning tomorrow, and the forecast was calling for more than a foot of snow with enough wind to kick it up into a proper blizzard. The local news was already bombarding listeners with the lengthy queue of school closings, including hers. "Just in time for corndog day," she mumbled morosely. Throwing caution to the wind, she brewed a whole pot. Might as well stay up late because no one's going anywhere tomorrow.
The insistent ring of the phone dragged a groggy Kagome from a heavy sleep. She squinted blearily at her bedside clock, which informed her that it was shortly after seven in the morning, then fumbled for her phone. Three hours of sleep. With a groan, she mumbled a sleepy, "Hello?"
"Oh, Principal Higurashi, ma'am!" exclaimed a familiar voice. "I'm so glad you're there!"
"Yes, it's me!" she acknowledged breathlessly. "I didn't know who else to call!"
The kindergarten teacher wailed, "I can't get to the school, and I'm so worried!"
"School is canceled," Kagome quickly assured. "Didn't you hear?"
"Yes, of course!" the young woman replied, sounding as if she was on the verge of tears. "But that's the problem!"
Kagome shook her head and blankly asked, "Why?"
"Because of Mr. Whiskers!"
Gripping the steering wheel of her car with mismatched mittens, Kagome despaired of her heater ever kicking in. Only a few other foolhardy souls were braving the oncoming storm. Visibility was dropping fast, but she lived quite close to school. If she got in and out quickly, she should still make it home before the world turned white.
"I am risking my life for a rat," she mumbled as she fishtailed her way into the school parking lot and skidded to a stop in the general vicinity of her usual parking place. Either that, or it was her duty as a principal to spare a bunch of youngsters from the trauma of finding their class pet frozen to death once the roads cleared.
She hunched her shoulders against the fitful wind; heavy snowflakes were sticking to her lashes by the time she reached the door and jiggled her key into place. "Better hurry," she muttered, staggering gratefully through the door.
Conscious of the gleaming terrazzo, Kagome kicked off her boots and padded along the dark corridor in her stocking feet; however, she barely made it halfway to Miss Burke's classroom when she was startled by the sound of heavy footfalls coming towards her. Shrinking against the wall, she wracked her brain, trying to think who else might be here on a snow day.
She was poised to run when Shippo rounded the corner and exclaimed, "I thought I heard...! That is... Kagome, what on earth are you doing out here? I know you know there's no school today!" The redhead hurried forward and leaned close, studying her face with concern. Apparently satisfied by what he found, a crooked smile lit up his face. "By any chance, did you come here to keep us company?"
"Miss Burke sent me," she replied, still trying to make sense of Shippo's presence at the school. "If the power goes out, she was afraid that Mr. Whiskers would freeze his little pink tail off. I was planning to take him home with me."
The janitor shook his head and scolded, "Why didn't you call me?"
"Because you live way out past Knocking?"
He sighed and said, "Inuyasha and I have been camped out here since yesterday evening!"
Shippo wrapped his arm around her shoulder and guided her back towards the door. "Don't you remember? When there's a bad cold snap or a blizzard like this one, we're stuck babysitting Bessie."
"The boiler!" she recalled.
"Yep. She keeps this place from turning into an ice cube, but only if you treat her special," he confirmed. "Now, you need to get home as quickly as possible. I'll rescue any and all class pets that might be in the building."
"That's very nice of you," she murmured, trying to keep up with his long strides.
He thrust open the door and frowned deeply. "I take it back," he said, swinging her around and dragging her back indoors. "I'm not letting you go out in that mess."
"Oh, I'm sure I could manage," Kagome protested.
"Inuyasha would kill me," he countered. With a rakish grin, he amended, "Well... he could try, I suppose."
"Unbelievable," she sighed. "Mama frequently hints that I live at work, but I've never actually been trapped at school before."
"Don't worry. I know someplace warm and cozy, provided you don't mind sharing with a real growler."
"That's the guy!"
Kagome giggled and asked, "Is he in a bad mood?"
"The worst!" Shippo happily confirmed. "I think he had his heart set on corn dogs, if you catch my drift."
"So did I," she murmured, her heart skipping.
"Hmm," the redhead replied, a smile warming his tones. "Let's go cheer him up!"
The halls were dim at best, but the maintenance room was black as pitch. When Shippo strolled right on through the door, she hastily reached out and tapped his shoulder. "Erm... how can you see?"
"Oh! Sorry, Kagome!" he immediately apologized. "I was so excited, I wasn't thinking straight. Here."
She stared at the hand he offered and ventured, "Wouldn't it be easier to turn on a light?"
"Maybe," he conceded. "But I don't want to tip off Inuyasha. Don't worry! I know my way around."
"Have it your way." Smiling at his obvious love for mischief, Kagome put her hand into his much larger one and trusted him to lead her to the place she was most eager to be.
He grinned and warned, "We're going to be very sneaky. He won't even notice us until it's too late!"
"Lead on!" she urged gamely.
Kagome couldn't see a thing, but Shippo didn't hesitate once. There was a soft click and an odd whoosh, and she realized he was opening the heavy door on the back wall. A faint glimmer reached her from below, the soft, warm glow of firelight, and the redhead slipped his hand under her elbow to steady her as he started down a narrow set of stairs made from metal grating that felt funny under her stockinged feet. The boiler room was like a warm, dry cellar largely occupied by Bessie's metal bulk. Inuyasha squatted before its open door, firelight illuminating his lost-in-thought expression.
Shippo tapped her shoulder, then winked broadly before holding out his free hand and snapping once.
Inuyasha shot to his feet and whirled in one smooth movement. "Shippo! How many times have I told you not to use your kits–" The dark haired janitor cut himself off, eyes widening. "K-kagome?"
"Hey," she greeted with a small wave.
Violet eyes cut to his partner, and he gruffly asked, "Is this one of your tricks? Because if it is, I swear, I'll yank every one of your four..."
Shippo waved both hands furiously, exclaiming, "I wouldn't do that! She's really here!"
"Oh." Inuyasha shoved his fingers through his hair, then awkwardly muttered, "Hey, Kagome."
"I'll just run through the building and do a critter check!" Shippo offered, bolting back up the stairs and leaving Inuyasha alone with Kagome. The hanyou had spent most of the previous night pretending he didn't care about the storm's wretched timing. Wishing and wanting had never done him any good before, but this unexpected turn of events had all the markings of a dream come true. For the time being, he had the woman he loved all to himself.
"Nice place you have here," she remarked, gazing about curiously.
There wasn't much, but they didn't need much—a battery operated radio, two chairs, several stacks of instant ramen cups. A single, fat candle on a folding table shed just enough light to make out the narrow cot pushed against the far wall. "There's usually at least one bad storm every winter," he explained. "One year, the weather was bad enough, we were stuck down here five times."
"Wow," she offered sympathetically. "That must have been rough."
"That was a fluke. Still, it happens often enough that we're prepared."
Shedding her coat, Kagome strolled over and sat on the edge of the bed. His bed. "It's nice of you to keep an eye on things like this," she offered, approval shining in her expressive eyes.
He shrugged off the compliment, gruffly retorting, "It's our job." Eager to change the subject, he blurted, "So what are you doing here?"
Once he heard her story, Inuyasha wasn't sure if he wanted to throttle Kagome or kiss her. He leaned towards the latter. It was ridiculously sweet and incredibly stupid for her to have shown up on their doorstep like this, but maybe that's why he even had a chance with her. No one with any sense at all would have given him a second look. Smiling in spite of himself, he rummaged for a hand towel and draped it over her head, saying, "Dry your hair before you catch cold."
"Thanks," she replied, pulling her long, black hair forward and giving it a thorough tousle.
Inuyasha swallowed hard as the activity filled the room with her scent. Keeping a level head was going to be hard. Thinking it best to put some distance between them, he edged back to Bessie and tapped the various gauges that tracked her unpredictable moods. What's keeping that kitsune?
"You're out of uniform," Kagome remarked offhandedly.
He glanced down at his jeans and rumpled shirt. "Dress code gets pretty lax when there's no one to keep us in line."
Nodding towards his bare feet, she asked, "Aren't your feet cold?"
"Are yours?" he countered concernedly. Her pink and white socks looked really thin.
"A little," she admitted.
Hurrying over to crouch in front of her, he took a good look and a deep breath. "You look terrible," he declared, chagrined over not noticing sooner.
"Thank you," she replied, her voice flat.
"That came out bad," he sighed.
Kagome pulled self-consciously at her sweater and explained, "I left home in a hurry."
"That's not it," he insisted. Carefully cupping her pale cheek, he brushed his thumb across the dark smudge under her eye. "Didn't you sleep?"
Surprise rippled through her scent, and she admitted, "Not much."
"Lie down," he ordered. "You'll be here for a while, so you might as well catch a few winks."
She nodded slowly, then offered, "There's room for both of us."
Inuyasha's mind blanked. "You want to sleep with me?"
Her slow smile sent a quiver from the base of his spine to the tips of his ears. "Next to you," she allowed.
"Th-that's what I meant," he replied awkwardly, glad Shippo hadn't stuck around to see him make an idiot of himself.
"Your feet must be cold, too," she coaxed.
The last thing he was suffering from was cold feet. "I'll take the wall," he gruffly announced, crowding as far from the edge as he could.
Kagome stood and looked down at him, a hand on her hip. In her best principal voice, she ordered, "Under the covers, or they won't do you any good!"
Inuyasha knew she couldn't see his ears droop, but with a sufficiently hangdog look, he rolled off the cot and tried again. He was way out of his depth and sinking fast... but that didn't stop him from holding back the blankets so Kagome could slide in next to him. "Kinda crowded," he apologized.
"Snug," she cheerfully agreed.
"Are you warm enough?"
"Getting there." Kagome turned towards him, lifting her face in a silent appeal.
He couldn't believe he'd ever thought today was going to be the worst he'd ever endured. Kissing her softly, he asked, "Warmer?" Her answering smile invited more, but he firmly announced, "Nap. You need to rest."
She hummed agreeably and wriggled around until her back was to him, her head pillowed on his arm. Without much hesitation, he fit his body snugly against hers. Kagome leaned into him, and he trespassed further, running the flat of his hand up and down her arm.
As she traded her weariness for a haze of contentment, he nudged closer, tucking his nose behind her ear as he moved his hand to her waist, smoothing along the curve of her hip and thigh. To his delight, she melted, accepting his presence, his touch, his protection.
Inuyasha ears pricked forward, listening for every nuance of breath and pulse as he tried to send her to sleep. When she finally drifted off with a soft smile and a sigh, he stopped holding back, and a deep rumble of contentment welled up in his chest. Her relaxation appealed to him on such a deep level, he knew it was instinctual. He was taking care of her... because she was his.
After a generous interval, Shippo returned with a pocketful of rat and found the pair neatly spooned together. He quietly eased onto one of the two chairs shrewdly studied his best friend's face; even in sleep, his expression radiated strength and peace. Nodding to himself, the kitsune waved a hand, casually initiating a complex series of illusions that would keep them from noticing his return and allow them the long rest they deserved.
Bringing out the rat who was at the root of all this romance, he gently stroked his white fur and whispered, "It's just me and you, Mr. Whiskers. Those two are off in their own world!"
For several hours, Shippo kept careful watch over the couple, wanting the woman to sleep herself out, but needing to extricate her from his best friend's embrace without setting him off. As much as he didn't want to rob Inuyasha of his enviable position, he didn't quite trust the love-starved hanyou not to blunder inadvertently. Being a dangerous creature himself, he knew just how easy it could be to yield to strong instincts.
Delicacy came in the form of a fresh pot of coffee and some localized wafting. One of Kagome's hands lay near the edge of the cot, so once the aroma worked its magic and her lashes fluttered, Shippo slipped his around hers and squeezed lightly. When her eyes blinked open, he solicitously inquired, "Feel rested?"
Her brows furrowed, but her expression quickly cleared. "Mmm... yes, thank you," she mumbled.
"Good, because I hate eating dinner alone, and I'm starved!"
Inuyasha stirred then, tightening his hold on his bedmate and growling grumpily.
"Excuse me," the redhead said with a smile, swiftly reached past the woman to gave Inuyasha's invisible ear a firm tug. In even tones, he inquired, "Do you have your wits about you?"
He stilled, then gruffly replied, "Yeah, m'wake enough not to be stupid."
"Good," Shippo breathed, offering an apologetic scratch behind the hanyou's ear before withdrawing. He rolled to his feet and stepped back to give Kagome room to free herself from the blankets. "I brought coffee, and I babied Bessie while you slept," he cheerfully rambled, determinedly derailing any chances for awkwardness to find a foothold. The woman's pink and white socks touched the floor, but she stayed seated, looking a little disoriented. Shippo did his best to communicate that finding her in bed with his best friend was the most natural thing in the world. As far as he was concerned, it was.
Clearly, Inuyasha agreed, for the hanyou was watching Kagome with an expression of stark longing. He'd balled his hand into a fist and shoved it under his pillow to keep from reaching for her as she stood.
"What time is it?" she asked.
"Late-ish," Shippo replied vaguely. "But it's still corndog day!"
Inuyasha slowly sat up, then rearranged himself so he was leaning against the wall behind the cot. "Is that what I smell?"
The redhead nodded to the hot, foil-covered pan he'd snitched from the kitchen. "Plenty for all of us, assuming you don't mind a double date?" he proposed. "Mr. Whiskers and I are currently an item."
Kagome laughed softly, and Shippo was glad to see her relax. Like a chain reaction, the hanyou's tense shoulders loosened, and his smirk was back. "Match made in heaven, considering you've turned pack rat. What'd you drag down here?"
"Games!" the redhead exclaimed, moving to one side and waving proudly to the jumble on the table. "I raided the classrooms, so most of them are kid stuff. But beggars can't be choosers; I figured we could make do."
Kagome looked over the selection, which included a memory game, a few card games, chess, checkers, and some beat up boxes. When she spotted the label on the side of the bottommost one, she flashed Inuyasha a brilliant smile. "There's Candyland!"
To Shippo's amazement, his best friend blushed and offered a bashful, "Keh."
The redhead grinned, glad to be so totally out of the loop. It made him happy to know that Inuyasha and Kagome had formed one.
End Note: Posted on February 23, 2012. 2,858 words.