Disclaimer: I do not own the Inuyasha series or any of the characters.

Summary: Angry at Inuyasha, Kagome takes Kouga up on his offer. Kouga thinks it's his lucky day, until reality sets in. One Shot.


Matchmaker

Kouga leapt out of the Tetsusaiga's path and aimed another strike and a taunt at the increasingly infuriated Inuyasha. "Is that the best you can do, mutt?"

It was amusing to watch the colours Inuyasha's face turned as his rage spiked further. Fighting with him over Kagome wouldn't be half as fun if the stupid dog didn't let himself be provoked so easily. But the hanyou apparently existed in a state of constant, simmering irritation, and it didn't take much of anything to set him off. Kouga had been called brash and hot-headed before, but Inuyasha gave the words new meaning.

One thing was clear to Kouga; Inuyasha didn't deserve Kagome.

Kagome was still shouting herself hoarse from the sidelines, but seemed reluctant to use her "osuwari" command on Inuyasha today, probably because it would leave the dog boy completely helpless. Kouga felt bad about ignoring her displeasure, but he wasn't planning to lose this fight. However, Kagome made herself impossible to ignore when she threw herself in between them, bringing the fight to a temporary halt.

"I can't believe you two!" she shouted. "All this fighting is pointless! You should both be saving your strength to fight Naraku, but instead you're both here acting like a pair of little boys bickering over a toy."

"Keh!" said Inuyasha scornfully, which was a tactical error on his part, because it just served to draw Kagome's attention and ire. Kouga was clever enough to keep his mouth shut.

"You should know better!" she exclaimed. "Kouga-kun is my friend, and all he has to do is show up and you're already spoiling for a fight. Don't you think there are more important things to worry about than which of you can hurt the other the most?"

Ears low, Inuyasha struck a defiant pose. "Whadda you know? You're just a shard detector, anyway."

I can't believe it! Not even Inuyasha could be that stupid. Sure enough, the dumb mutt looked like he knew exactly what a mistake he had made the moment he finished speaking. He had his ears flattened right back along his scalp now, so that they nearly disappeared, and he seemed to be bracing himself for a round of subjugation.

Kagome seemed too angry to "osuwari" the dog. "Ooooo, Inuyasha, you're such a jerk!" she yelled, stamping her foot.

"It's not my fault you don't know how to mind your own business and keep out of my fights!" Inuyasha retorted, because his usual method of trying to get out of a hole he'd dug for himself was to just keep digging. "I don't need you!"

"Is that right?"

"Yeah! And if you're going to take the stinkin' wolf's side all the time, maybe you should just run off with him after all. It's not like I'd care!"

Kagome's face was turning a furious shade of red that nearly matched Inuyasha's clothing, and Kouga was a little concerned for her health. Surely it couldn't be good for humans to get that worked up.

"Fine!" Kagome shrieked. "Maybe I will! Kouga-kun would treat me better anyway!

"Good!" Inuyasha shouted back just as loudly. "Then I won't have to put up with saving you all the time, bitch!"

"I hate you!" Kagome screamed. "I hate you! I never want to see your stupid face again! I'll leave and never come back! Except later to get my bag, when I'm not likely to murder anyone!" she finished rather lamely, but still with impressive volume and feeling.

She stormed over to Kouga, who felt quite wary. He still remembered the time she'd hit him in the face. But Kagome didn't try to attack him. Instead, she just said determinedly, "Take me away from here."

Kouga couldn't believe his ears at first, but he wasn't going to question his good fortune too closely. He scooped Kagome up in his arms, feeling a broad grin work its way onto his face, and took off running with his pack trailing behind. He didn't know what he'd done so right in a past life, but for whatever reason, apparently this was his lucky day!

Or so he thought. They travelled perhaps two miles before Kagome broke down in tears and wanted to be put back down.

"What's wrong with Kagome-nee-san?" asked Ginta, as Kouga set the girl down on a flat rock, where she sat sobbing.

Kouga wished he knew the answer to the question. He was completely out of his depth when it came to crying women. He hazarded a guess at what might be the problem.

"It's alright, Kagome, you don't have to worry about that stupid mutt anymore. I'll take much better care of you than that smelly dog ever could."

The rest of the pack pressed close, whining and trying to comfort her, to no avail. She just cried harder.

"I didn't mean it!" she whimpered between sobs. "I didn't mean to say those things to Inuyasha!"

Kouga didn't like where this was headed.

"I'm an awful person," Kagome continued to wail, gaining painful volume and looking utterly wretched. "I said such horrible things, and I don't hate Inuyasha at all!"

"You're not awful," Kouga said, helplessly.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled, snuffling loudly with her face buried in her hands.

Kouga just looked at her, the perfect picture of dejection, and wondered if he was a sucker for punishment. He knew exactly where this was going to end up now, and he couldn't help but sigh. Figures. Just when I think I've got a chance with the woman of my dreams, she changes her mind.

His next words came out quiet, wry, and resigned. "You're never going to agree to be my woman, are you?"

She took her hands away from her tear-stained face, but kept her eyes on the ground. "I'm sorry, Kouga-kun," she repeated in a whisper.

He couldn't find room within himself to be truly upset. She just looked so heartbroken, and so very young. How old was she now? Seventeen, wasn't she? He'd known her two years now, and humans aged so quickly. Kouga had still been a small pup at age seventeen, barely weaned. He'd seen whole kingdoms rise and fall since he was that age. For all Kagome's maturity, she was still a mere child compared to him. He suddenly felt very weary and foolish.

"I suppose you'd like me to take you back."

She let out a soggy hiccup and nodded, misery written all over her face. He pulled her easily to her feet, and enfolded her in his arms for a long moment. It felt nice to hug her like this; she was warm, and soft, and smelled wonderful, and she felt so delicate in his arms. She was just the right height to hide her face in the hollow between his neck and his collarbone. He rested his cheek against the top of her head and wished things could be different.

"He's not good enough for you," he whispered in her ear, already knowing it was futile.

"I can't help it," she replied quietly, sniffling, and he knew it was the truth.

He picked her up again and directed the rest of the pack to stay behind, arbitrarily leaving Hakkaku in charge, before running back towards the spot they had just left.

"If it helps any," she said from her spot in his arms, trying to brush away her tears, "I do love you, Kouga-kun. But as a friend, or a brother."

These weren't the words any man would want to hear, but Kouga couldn't help but smile a little. She really was a remarkable girl.

"That hardly makes me special," he said. "You love everybody." At her indignant look, he just had to tease her. "Name one friend you don't love."

Kagome thought about this, fidgeting with the fur trim at the shoulder of his armour as she tried to come up with an answer. She quickly gave up. He chuckled. "See?"

Becoming serious again, he continued. "You love too easily, and people hurt you. I don't like it, but I wouldn't want to change you, either. You may never be my woman, but I still consider you part of my pack, and if you ever need me, I'll be there. And if Mutt-face ever hurts you, I'll tear his stupid ears off."

"Don't do that," she protested. "I like his ears."

He looked down at her to tell her she had completely missed the point, but stayed silent when he caught sight of her face. She was still a little teary-eyed, but she was smiling tentatively, and he could tell her comment had been meant to tease him. Well, if she could still make jokes, she'd probably be alright.

Kagome's friends hadn't moved anywhere, so they were easy to find, but Inuyasha was nowhere in sight.

"He ran off right after you two left," the houshi explained as Kouga set Kagome on her feet. The kitsune and the taijiya crowded around her with hugs and sympathy. "He looked pretty upset."

Kagome looked lost. "What if… what if he's not coming back?" she asked, her bottom lip starting to quiver again.

Kouga looked to Kagome's companions, hoping they would take charge now so he could slink away with his tail between his legs and curl up somewhere until he felt better. Unfortunately, they were all looking at him.

"None of us would ever be able to catch him," the taijiya pointed out.

Kouga sighed. He must have the word "sucker" written across his forehead. "Wait here!" he said, not even trying to keep his impatience out of his voice, as he started off into the woods.

It was easy enough to follow Inuyasha's scent. Apparently the dog didn't care enough to even try to conceal it. As it turned out, he hadn't gone all that far, and Kouga found him perched in a tree about half a mile away, looking like the only thing keeping him from trying to hang himself was a lack of initiative.

Kouga stood silently beneath the tree for a minute, trying to decide how to approach this, and all the while cursing at himself for having such a soft spot for Kagome. Of all the ways he'd pictured today turning out, talking a mutt down from a tree was not one of them.

"Did you come here to gloat, wolf?"

Kouga cringed inwardly at Inuyasha's tone of voice. He sounded utterly defeated, and Kouga was surprised by the fact that he didn't like it one bit. It seemed unnatural, coming from the usually unconquerable dog.

"No, I came to bring Kagome back," he said.

"What for?" the hanyou asked in a surly tone.

"She'd have flooded my den, what with all the crying."

This seemed to make Inuyasha perk up just slightly; not the fact that Kagome had been crying, but the idea that she might have been crying about being around Kouga. However, he still showed no signs of cooperating, and Kouga's patience had been stretched to the limits already today.

"Come down outta there."

"Fuck off!" was Inuyasha's eloquent reply.

"You're asking for it," Kouga warned in an undertone, before leaping up into the tree. A strong kick knocked Inuyasha off his branch, and Kouga jumped back down again, landing right on the stunned hanyou. He sat on Inuyasha's spine and twisted both his arms up behind his back, effectively immobilizing him. This served to infuriate the mutt to the point that he was nearly frothing at the mouth. Kouga waited patiently, but with ill-grace, for all the swearing and struggling to die down a little.

It was a long wait. Inuyasha was quite creative with his profanity and had plenty of practice, so it took a while for him to run out of steam, even after he finally stopped thrashing. Kouga stared at the clouds, the trees, the rocks, and the back of Inuyasha's head to pass the time. As he did so, it occurred to him that, like Kagome, Inuyasha seemed awfully young too. He didn't look much younger than Kouga, but he sometimes acted like it (not that either of them tended to act with much maturity around each other — even Kouga could admit that much). Kouga knew hanyou aged faster than full youkai, but just how young and inexperienced was the mutt? Youth would certainly explain his temper, as well as his stupidity around women.

When he could get a word in edgewise, Kouga said, "Listen, mutt! You can swear at me all day and it won't make a bit of difference to me. But the longer we sit around here, the more Kagome's gonna get herself all worked up, and I don't like seeing her upset."

"Fuck you!" the hanyou spat. "If she's upset, it ain't my fault!"

Kouga was beginning to get angry. Growling, he released one of Inuyasha's arms and punched him in the side of the head. While the mutt was still reeling, Kouga took the opportunity to get hold of his arm again. "Shut up and listen, you stupid puppy! If it was up to me, I'd leave you here to rot, and take Kagome with me. You're not good enough for her! Hell, we're neither of us good enough for the likes of her. I'd give her the world, anything she asked, but she'd still be miserable. I don't know why the hell she loves you so damn much when you don't deserve her, but she does, and I'll be damned before I see her unhappy!"

Inuyasha froze, his face still pressed into the dirt. Then, in a quiet voice, "She loves me?"

Kouga rolled his eyes heavenwards. "Fuck! I'm not saying it twice, Dog-turd!" He exhaled sharply, frustrated. "What the hell does she see in you?"

It was meant to be a rhetorical question, but he still caught Inuyasha's response, almost inaudible even to his sharp ears. "Dunno."

Kouga still hated him. That wasn't going to change anytime soon. But in the corner of his mind, something shifted uncomfortably. He felt just a little bit guilty, just a little sorry, and didn't really like to see Inuyasha's face shoved into the dirt any longer, because apparently the world had already put quite a lot of effort into convincing the hanyou that the dirt was where his face belonged.

He still hated him. It was just that, somewhere along the way, he'd possibly come to hate him just a little less. Maybe.

"So you've got two choices," Kouga said. "You can either stay here and be an asshole and kill yourself for all I care, or you can go to Kagome and be a man and apologize — the right way! — and better yet, tell her how you feel, fuckwit! Because if she has any sense, she won't wait around forever.

"And if you hurt her," he added in a lower tone, tightening his hands and pulling Inuyasha's arms hard enough to make it hurt, "I'll make you wish you were already in Hell."

He loosened his grip again, and calmed himself. "I'm going to let you up now, so don't do anything stupid."

He got off the prostrate hanyou, who had been unusually silent for the last few minutes, and a moment later Inuyasha rolled to his feet. The first thing he did was punch Kouga in the face, but Kouga had been half-expecting it, and it wasn't a very hard blow anyway. Inuyasha seemed too distracted by his own thoughts to care about being caught throwing half-hearted, pansy-ass punches. Then he took off running in the direction of the camp.

Kouga sighed to himself, rubbing his smarting jaw before taking off after the hanyou. After all, Inuyasha wasn't out of the woods yet, so to speak, and there was every chance he might change his mind or mess things up.

He needn't have hurried, because Inuyasha slowed to a stop just inside the trees, eyes fixed on Kagome, who was waiting around looking like she might start crying again at any minute. Inuyasha stayed stock still, watching her as his mismatched pack tried to comfort her. For a moment, Kouga thought he might have to shove the dog forward, but just when he was resolving to give it a try, Inuyasha stepped out into the clearing, head low and ears laid down, the perfect image of submission. If he'd had a tail, it would have been tucked between his legs.

"Kagome?" Dog-breath called hesitantly.

Kagome's head snapped up and for a moment she and Inuyasha stared at each other. Then Kagome burst into tears again. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it!" she sobbed.

"Don't go cryin'," Inuyasha said feebly. "Look, I… I don't really think all that stuff about you, either."

Kagome sniffed loudly. "You don't?" she asked, doubt colouring her voice.

"No," the mutt replied, shifting his feet. He elaborated, slowly, as though the words were being drawn out of him by force. "I... do need you around. And not just as some shard detector. And… I don't want you to go. And, well… I'm… sorry."

It was the most pathetic apology Kouga had ever heard, but apparently it was good enough for Kagome. She beamed a watery smile and flung herself at Inuyasha hard enough to knock him back a few steps. Then she took everyone by surprise (especially Inuyasha, by the looks of it) by impulsively kissing the hanyou right on the mouth.

Kouga heaved a disgruntled sigh as the pair quickly became lost to the outside world. The things he had to put up with in the name of being a halfway-decent guy!

"I must say, I'm impressed, Kouga-san," said the taijiya, averting her eyes from the pair and blushing slightly. "I think that's the nicest thing I've ever seen you do."

Kouga cringed. "Ugh! Don't remind me."

He glanced at Kagome and the mutt again and wrinkled his nose. They were still being all mushy. He turned away, trying to decide whether he should just go or wait for them to finish. On second thought, why was he hanging around torturing himself?

"I'm outta here," he announced, preparing to leave.

"Kouga-kun, wait!"

He turned back to see that Kagome and Inuyasha had disentangled themselves. Kagome looked heartbreakingly happy. The mutt was busy staring at her, and he had a sappy look on his face that made something ugly rise up in Kouga's head. He wanted to hit him. But then Kagome stepped forward, and the impulse faded away.

"You're a good friend, Kouga-kun," she said, gracing him with a smile so lovely that it hurt to see it. She put her arms around him and hugged him tightly. "The very best sort of friend."

He ignored the mutt's low, warning growl and hugged her back, then released her. "I meant what I said. You're still part of my pack. If he ever hurts you, just shout. I'll be there."

"He won't," she whispered, glancing back at the hanyou. "But thanks."

"Take care of her, Mutt-face!" he called, regaining some of his bravado. "Or else!"

Inuyasha narrowed his eyes, but he also gave the tiniest of nods. They had an understanding.

Kouga turned and walked away, not feeling like hurrying back to his pack. He could use some time to clear his head.

And maybe, when he felt a little better, he'd go see if Ayame was still interested.

The situation didn't have to be a total loss, after all.

::Owari::