Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters in this grand finale... especially for the one who thinks like a wolf. A nod of recognition is bent towards Rumiko Takahashi for her creative prowess.
A Good Chase
It was a conspiracy of sorts, since everyone but Miroku seemed to be in on the so-called secret. To some degree, Sango appreciated all the support because deep down, she was incredibly nervous. At the same time, she felt a little guilty about keeping something this important from the one person she wanted to share everything with. Isn't this the kind of thing a couple plans together?
During their shopping trip the previous afternoon, Ayame had waved off her concerns, saying that this was how an arranged marriage worked. It was still hard for Sango to wrap her head around the idea. Humans generally dated, got engaged, and planned a wedding; however, she'd gone behind Miroku's back, negotiated with his father through a go-between, and gained permission to lead the man on a merry chase that was meant to end in mating. Talk about cultural differences!
The only thing comforting her was an underlying certainty that Miroku would be happy. If nothing else, he would know she was serious. When it came right down to it, he said he loved her, and she knew she loved him. That's all that really matters, she firmly assured herself.
And so she kept working towards her goal, albeit slowly. Sango was mentally prepared to take the next step; she just... hadn't. It wasn't that she was putting things off. The timing hasn't been right, that's all. For instance, today was all about supporting Kohaku, whose jitters were almost as palpable as Shippo's.
The young kitsune's tails tended to get tangled up when he was nervous, and Inuyasha wasn't opposed to teasing him about it. "C'mon, runt... it's just a bit of froth," he cajoled. "No contest, right?"
"I can do the patterns," the redhead said defensively. Casting a glance at the freckle-faced teen on the other end of the room, he added, "Kohaku's just really good at this kind of thing."
"Gonna concede?" inquired the hanyou.
With a soft snort, Shippo retorted, "Gonna make him earn it!"
"You'll be fine," Sango soothed, though she didn't envy either of the adolescents. After some deliberation on the best way to handle the undertaking, Sesshoumaru surprised one and all by clearing his schedule and closing Founder's Coffee to the public for an entire day. A panel of judges had been arranged for the latte art competition, and even though Kohaku said he didn't really care about the whole ranking thing, he wanted to make a good showing in front of the judges... especially Ginta. Sango thought it was sweet that he felt his pride as a future patisserie was on the line.
There was a clatter and shout of greeting from the front of the store, and Shippo hurriedly unlocked the door to let in a flood of wolves. Inuyasha jostled Sango's elbow and said, "I broke the news to Miroku last night, so he knows about the whole adoption thing."
"Did he guess...?"
"Nope. He was mostly just relieved since Sesshoumaru had him worried."
"The whole 'guard dog' routine?"
With a small smirk, he whispered, "More like the whole 'romantic rival' routine."
Her brown eyes widened. "He actually thought Sesshoumaru was interested in me?"
Inuyasha shrugged. "There's a fine line between showing interest and protecting your interests. Without knowing you'd become a packmate, he drew the wrong conclusions."
Sango couldn't help smiling. Does that mean he was jealous?
"Miroku definitely didn't want to challenge the bastard, though to be honest, it'd be interesting. Tomeo was powerful, and Kouga figures Miroku packs an even bigger whallop than his old man did. Wouldn't tell me how he knows this," the hanyou grumbled. "That's a story I'd really like to hear!"
"Should I have told him sooner?" Sango wondered aloud, glancing Miroku's way. He was talking animatedly to Kohaku, and he seemed like his usual, enthusiastic self.
"It's only been a few days, and Sesshoumaru's tight-lipped about private matters," Inuyasha replied. "Don't worry about it, Sango. Miroku heard it from me, his best friend, and that's proper protocol in pack terms. I just wanted you know know he's in the loop."
"Oh, good," she breathed. Almost immediately, she added a soft, "Oh, my!"
Takeo sauntered through the door, his bright blue eyes taking in the surroundings. Inuyasha grinned at her expression and said, "Someone has to drink all the coffee we're pouring today. Since Sesshoumaru insists on the finest, we needed a judging panel of similar caliber." Excusing himself, the hanyou strode forward to help greet their guests.
To Sango's chagrin, Miroku led Takeo their way in order to make introductions. She'd never told him that she already met his adoptive father, and it was far too late to bring it up now.
"Sango!" Miroku warmly greeted. "I'd like you to meet Takeo, leader of the pack that took me in. Father, this is Sango Sakamoto. She and her brother were recently taken in by Sesshoumaru!"
The tall wolf demon stepped right into her personal space and drew her hands into his as he studied her flushed face. "Good day, Miss Sakamoto." Takeo's tail took on a satisfied sway as he inquired, "Are you the one responsible for my son's racing heart?"
"Father!" protested Miroku in an aggrieved undertone. "That's telling!"
"It's only telling if it was ever a secret," countered Sango with a small smile.
Miroku's gaze swung to her face as he eyebrows shot towards his hairline. With a low laugh, the wolf youkai said, "I look forward to knowing you better."
"Likewise," she replied honestly.
Takeo's blue eyes sparkled as he patted her hands, then he rather unsubtly placed them into his son's, remarking, "A clever young woman, this one. No wonder your mind is so often elsewhere these days."
"Y-yes," Miroku replied awkwardly. He gazed after his father with an expression that quickly shifted from astonishment to delight. Leaning close, he whispered, "I think he likes you!"
"Is that so strange?" she asked dubiously.
"Honestly... yes." Bending down, he kissed her knuckles and earnestly said, "Sango, you're amazing!"
Gently extracting her hand, she said, "And you're being paged."
Behind the counter, Shippo held up an apron an waved it furiously, beckoning for Miroku to get into position. As the local latte art expert, the man was officiating the contest. "Duty calls!" he cheerfully announced before hurrying across the room.
Sango made a beeline for Kohaku so she could wish him luck before Sesshoumaru called everyone to order. The teen had his arms full of purring neko-youkai as he stood partially behind Ginta. "Nervous?" she asked sympathetically.
"I'm not used to having an audience," he quietly admitted.
"Showmanship comes with the territory," his wolf friend assured with an encouraging smile.
"And everyone here is a friend... or family," Sango reasoned.
"Or future family," added Ginta in a hushed voice.
Kohaku brightened somewhat and asked, "We'll be related?"
The wolf-youkai folded his hands over his chest and considered. "Let's see! If your sister was to marry Kouga's brother, that would make us... second cousins once removed, through marriage, by adoption? Or is it third cousins?"
"Really?" Kohaku asked shyly.
Ginta broke into a wide smile and replied, "I'll take you to my gran if you to cross-check my pedigree, but all that really matters is that we'll be packmates."
The teen's brown eyes took on an anticipatory shine, and he looked hopefully into Sango's face. "Hey, sis? Could you hurry?"
With a covert glance towards the young man behind the counter, Kohaku whispered, "Hurry up, and marry Miroku!"
Despite everyone's eagerness and encouragement, Sango didn't hurry. Business had picked up at the coffee shop now that summer session was in full swing, and several study groups had laid claim to Founder's as a meeting place. They did a brisk business in iced coffee and bubble tea, and a couple of weeks slipped by almost before she noticed. To be honest, the only real progress she made was with her endurance. She felt stronger during her jogs with Inuyasha, and they'd increasing the distance they covered each morning. "The timing just hasn't been right," she grumbled aloud.
"Keh," the hanyou responded, quirking a crooked smile at her. "There's no rush. In fact, the longer you wait, the happier the bastard gets."
"Sesshoumaru?" she ventured. "Is he worried about covering shifts or something?"
Inuyasha's eyes lit up. "He hasn't said anything to you?"
He pulled up short, and she slowed to a stop as well. Taking a quick look over his shoulder, he lowered his voice and said, "Change of route. We're heading off campus today."
"Sure," she agreed as he waved for her to follow. They cut across one of the lawns and jogged back in the general direction of the coffee shop before taking off through one of the old residential sections surrounding the campus. Bursting with curiosity, Sango asked, "Where are we headed?"
"Did Sesshoumaru show you the formal letter of acceptance from Takeo?"
"Did you understand all the particulars?"
"Mostly," she replied as Inuyasha took a turn that led them back towards University Avenue. "It seemed to boil down to a promise that if everything works out between me and Miroku, I'll be taken care of... and so will our children. Kohaku was mentioned, too, but I got the impression that Sesshoumaru wants to keep my brother for himself."
"No kidding," the hanyou agreed. "The bastard keeps sneaking gourmet crap into my fridge, then showing up for breakfast."
Sango quipped, "So he was after a personal chef all along."
Inuyasha slowed to a stop at University and Marketplace and waved towards a four-story brick building on the opposite corner. "Takeo's had this place in his back pocket for a while now, and he and Sesshoumaru made it part of the deal. You can't get much closer to campus and still be in neutral territory, so it's perfect."
Lights were on inside the ground floor windows, and two vehicles from an electrician's company were parked out front. She could see people moving around inside, and she asked, "Perfect for what?"
"Another bakery," Inuyasha replied. "Kouga's got a couple of young wolves working under him that are about ready to go it on their own.
"Kurou and Jurou?"
"That's them. I think this was originally gonna be their storefront, but Takeo changed his mind after meeting you. He put this up as the bride price."
"I thought Ginta and Hakkaku were the bride price."
"Well, yeah... part and parcel." He blinked and muttered, "Speaking of! Let's go say hi!"
Sango followed Inuyasha across the street, calling, "They're here?"
"They're always here," he replied, rapping on the glass of one of the wide front windows.
A moment later, Sango was being led along by both hands as Ginta and Hakkaku did their best to talk over each other. "Isn't this beautiful? Can you believe how much room? This is top of the line! Sesshoumaru-sama has spared no expense! Do you like it?"
She was a little overwhelmed by their enthusiasm, but gradually, she was getting the picture. This was to be their store, the new flagship of their pack's bakery chain, and thanks to Sesshoumaru's meddling, the enormous kitchen was everything those two wolves could wish for. Kohaku would probably have understood better, but even Sango was impressed by the dazzling array of shiny new appliances. Resting a hand on the cool surface of a marble countertop, she said, "I can tell you'll be happy here!"
"Not just us!" Hakkaku quickly exclaimed. "You, too!"
Sango frowned. "Do you mean I'd be working here instead of at Founder's?"
"She doesn't know?" Ginta asked, glancing in surprise at her escort.
"Eh, you know Sesshoumaru." Inuyasha tugged at an ear and said, "It's probably best coming from you two anyhow."
"I'll go get the key," Hakkaku gasped, disappearing into a small office.
"This is what was agreed," Ginta explained as he fitted his hand around Sango's and drew her towards the back door. "A den in neutral territory—not within the enclave, but under the pack's oversight."
"A den?" Sango echoed in disbelief.
"A home, then," Ginta said with a small smile. "Takeo-sama promised to take care of you, and these are the arrangements that were made under Sesshoumaru-sama's advisement."
Hakkaku rejoined them, and the two wolves led her out the back door and along a covered porch to another door, this one fitted with diamond-paned glass. Putting a key in her hand, the mohawk-crested wolf-youkai urged, "Go ahead. Open it!"
By the time the tour ended, Sango was in tears, which was really not like her at all, but it was too much to take in. The second floor was where the two wolves had rooms, and the third floor was mostly empty. "Room to grow," Hakkaku called it.
On the top floor of the building, Sango found the home that had been prepared for her and Miroku. "Sesshoumaru wanted this done first," Ginta explained. "We rushed to make sure it would be ready in time for... well, for when you're ready."
Hakkaku wrapped his arm around her shoulders and crooned, "I'm glad you're happy, little sister."
"This is happy?" grumbled Inuyasha, handing over a box of tissues.
Sango giggled sheepishly and dabbed at her nose. "Very happy. As soon as we get back, I'm going to hug Sesshoumaru."
The hanyou's ears pricked forward. "Best revenge ever for him not telling you sooner. So... can I watch?"
The next day was extra hectic at the coffee shop, largely due to Shippo's shenanigans. Although the kitsune had assured everyone that he harbored no hard feelings over his loss to Kohaku during the latte art contest, there was a definite uptick in the number of small pranks played at work.
While Miroku took Kohaku into the back room to rescue Kohaku from his apron, Sango gave the redhead a long look. "Is it worth scolding you?"
"Nope!" he replied with an unrepentant grin.
"Maybe you should bring me some books on kitsune next time," she sighed.
"All done reading up on wolves?" Shippo asked innocently.
Sango nodded absently, saying, "Thanks for digging them up for me."
He shrugged. "I know the library backwards and forwards by now. It's no big deal."
"I do think it's best that you're the younger brother," she ventured, meeting green eyes that suddenly grew solemn. "Even though you're actually older, Kohaku will grow up faster."
"I know," Shippo shrugged. With a sly look, he rubbed his nose and whispered, "I won't be the littlest once I'm an uncle. Then, I'll have someone who'll look up to me!"
Acting rather impulsively, Sango pulled the adolescent fox into a tight hug. "I'm going to invite Miroku to meet me tomorrow," she confided shakily.
"It's about time," he retorted in longsuffering tones. Tentatively, he added, "...sis?"
"You're completely right, little brother," she replied warmly, earning a peck on the cheek from her cheeky packmate.
Miroku decided that he lived for lulls and there weren't enough of them in the world. His eyes drifted longingly towards the young woman who'd been sent out to wash fingerprints off the glass doors. While he appreciated the way the sun brought out the subtle highlights in her dark hair, he wished she was back behind the counter with him. Even if they didn't have time to talk, at least she'd be closer. The front door jangled, and she walked briskly back inside, immediately turning her attention to the tables. All work and no play, he mourned inwardly. Would she come if I called?
Finishing up an order and sending his customer off with a smile, he caught Inuyasha's attention. Sesshoumaru was out today, but that didn't necessarily mean Miroku's way was clear. Dogs will be dogs. Giving his friend his best puppy dog eyes, he inquired, "Would you object mightily if I were to approach your sister?"
"Are your intentions honorable?" the hanyou asked.
"Define honorable," he hedged.
Inuyasha only snorted and waved him on, so Miroku propped his arms on the counter and sang out, "Sango, do you have a moment?"
She strode over, an inquiring look on her face. "What do you need?"
Propping his chin on his hand, he bluntly replied, "You."
With a challenging expression on her face, she leaned against the counter opposite him and asked, "For?"
"Ah," he sighed, his eyes glazing over. She snorted and he confessed, "I miss you."
"We see each other almost every day," she pointed out.
"That only makes it harder," he complained. "You're right here, but I can't as close as I'd like to be."
"It's safer that way," she said, a hint of a smile in her tone.
Her hand was resting on the countertop, and Miroku casually placed his over hers. When she didn't object, his pulse quickened, and when she didn't pull away, he threaded his fingers through hers. Delighted to have made such progress, he relaxed. I love your eyes, he silently declared, afraid that saying it out loud would scare her away. She's so skittish about compliments. For the moment, she bravely met his gaze, and he wondered if her eyes were simply amazingly beautiful... or if it was actually the way she was looking at him. Something about it had his heart hammering so hard, he missed her first question. "Hmm?"
"I said... would you like to spend some time together tomorrow?" she repeated.
Miroku gently teased, "I think I could fit you into my schedule. When?"
"Tomorrow morning," she replied seriously. "We can meet out back."
Just then, Shippo yelped, "Incoming!"
Sango was too far from her station to reach it in time, but Kohaku bolted into position, slapping his hands over napkins and fliers just in time for the door to fly open, letting in a redheaded whirlwind. Ayame cleared the counter with a neat tucked somersault, giving the freckle-faced teen a saucy wink before darting through the door into the office. She was only gone for a few heartbeats. Retracing her steps, she carefully leapt back over the counter and into the booth closest to the front door. Making herself comfortable, Ayame waved the kitsune over. "Loan me some of your skill, trickster?"
Miroku was rather impressed by the she-wolf's ingenuity. Between her uncanny ability to curtail the amount of youki she threw off and a touch of Shippo's fox magic, she'd essentially hidden herself in plain sight. This was obviously her goal, for a few seconds later, Inuyasha warned, "Here comes the next one!"
Kouga blew through the door, and swore, "Damn, she's fast!"
"Out for a run?" the hanyou drawled.
"Something like that," the wolf-youkai muttered. Pointing towards the office door, he demanded, "Did she go through there?"
"She did," Miroku replied with a twinkle in his eye.
"Be my guest," the hanyou invited, casually beckoning.
Kouga leapt lightly over the counter and barged into the office, and a moment later, they heard the back door slam. All eyes swung to Ayame, who cheerfully said, "I'm parched. Iced coffee, please?"
"Coming right up!" Inuyasha acquiesced with a smirk.
Sango moved to go talk to the demoness, but Miroku wasn't done with her. Holding tightly to her hand, he kept her close. "Tomorrow morning?" he asked, picking up where she'd left off. "As in... eleven?"
"As in six," she corrected. His soft whine of protest, brought the shine of amusement to her eyes. "I thought you wanted to spend time with me?"
"I do, and desperately," he said with feeling.
"Desperately enough to get up early?" she challenged.
"I'm sure it'll be worth it," he stoutly replied.
With a soft look, she quietly promised, "It will be."
When Sango arrived at the back of Founder's Coffee Shop the next morning, a slumped figure wearing a hoodie was dozing in the doorway. She felt a little guilty for forcing Miroku from his bed so early, but she needed to have the upper hand today. His sluggishness gave her a small edge... and a teensy confidence boost. We'll be fine, she assured herself as she crouched next to the man. He'll understand, and everything will be okay. Reaching into the hood, Sango gently tickled the small hoops piercing Miroku's ear. "Good morning," she called in a low voice.
He took a deep breath and smiled before opening one eye a crack. "You may count this as a tribute to the depths of my feelings for you," he declared in tones softly slurred by sleepiness. "I had to use an alarm clock."
"You have one?" she teased.
"Yes. His name is Hakkaku, and I am pretty sure he carried me over." Glancing down at his running shoes, he added, "He might have dressed me, too."
Laughing at his chagrin, Sango stood and crooked her finger coaxingly. "Time to wake up, sleepyhead. A jog across campus should clear your head."
"Jogging?" he groaned. "I'm a scholar, not an athlete!"
"I thought wolves ran everywhere," she countered, setting an easy pace.
"Mostly," Miroku conceded, hauling himself into gear. "Kouga used to drag me out all the time when I was younger, but it's not as if I could ever keep up. He says I run in slow motion."
"I suppose we do," she mused thoughtfully. "Inuyasha never complained."
"How long have you been jogging with your new big brother?" he inquired curiously.
"A while," she replied vaguely, putting on a small burst of speed.
With a grunt, he did his best to keep up. Sango led the way past familiar buildings and around a reflecting pool. Taking a turn off the beaten path, she jogged along the manicured paths that wound through one of the most picturesque parts of the campus. Just as they reached a pretty little bridge that spanned a wide creek, she turned to face him. Miroku gratefully slumped forward, his hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath.
"Hanging in there?" she asked solicitously.
"I'm alive," he assured, straightening. "And even more miraculously, I'm awake."
"Good," she rejoined, neatly stepping into his personal space. Without warning, she went up on tiptoe and gently kissed the underside of his jaw.
"S-sango?" he asked weakly, but she was already on the move again, her long ponytail bouncing and swaying with all the attitude of a saucy she-wolf's tail. Giving his own hair an absentminded tug, he tried to make sense of her actions. Does she have any idea what that means? He needed to know.
He took off after her, but she wasn't holding back any longer. In the back of his mind, he could hear Kouga's complaint from the day before. 'Damn, she's fast!' Could it be? Was it even remotely possible? Digging in, Miroku used his longer legs to close some of the gap that lay between them. "Sango! Do you have any idea what that meant?" he asked urgently. "To wolves, I mean? Sango?"
She glanced over her shoulder, rolled her eyes, and ran even faster.
Realization hit him upside the head, and he felt like a fool. "You do!" he yelled, for she'd greatly outdistanced him. She knows exactly what she's doing. This was an honest-to-goodness chase, and he was putting in an even poorer showing than his brother. Miroku's second staggering realization spurred him into motion. She wants me. Suddenly feeling ready, willing and able, he found his second wind. The chase was on!
Mercifully, Sango ran fast, but she didn't run far. With a long look to make sure he was still on her trail, she left the path, cutting cross-country into a pretty little copse of trees. Wolvish tradition made it clear that it was impossible to catch a female unless she allowed it, and Miroku was grateful that his love was giving him a fighting chance.
That didn't mean she was making it easy, though. With a playful smile she wove in and out between the trees, always just out of reach. He growled softly. She laughed breathlessly. He made a grab, but only silky hair slipped through his fingers. She let him corner her and went limp in his affectionate clutches. With a surge of triumph, Miroku pulled her back against his chest and hung on for dear life. Mine. He could hardly believe his good fortune. A chase. Me. Human though he was, he'd always wanted to literally pursue the woman he loved.
Wincing at the painful stitch in his side, he cast about for a good spot, then tugged Sango towards a beech tree. With a weary sigh, he pulled her down with him, sinking to the ground and propping his back against the smooth bark. She leaned into him, her body relaxed, and he was glad to note that she was winded, too. The sneak has been preparing for this. Any gripes over the injustice of this were quickly subsumed by the realization that... Sango had been preparing for this. Wrapping his arms around her waist, he asked, "Have I mentioned that you're amazing?"
"Ah, good," he murmured, yielding to the temptation to kiss a spot behind her ear. "It would be a shame if you thought I hadn't noticed." Sango folded her hands over his, and he hardly knew where to begin. Dozens of questions whirled through his mind, but he hated to spoil the serene moment; however, intellectual curiosity finally won out. "Why did you draw me into a chase?"
"Well... you're not a wolf," she declared, just as she'd always insisted. "But sometimes you think like one."
Truer words were never spoken. With a confident smile, he turned her around so he could kiss her. Since she'd always been quick to push him away, he marveled at how easily her arms slipped around his neck to draw him closer. His lips found hers, and with kisses, he thanked her for welcoming him into her trust. Her responses assured him that he'd finally found his way into her heart, so he made himself at home.
Miroku was breathless for wholly different reasons when he drew back enough to huskily inquire, "Do you realize what's supposed to happen next?"
Sango hummed and coyly replied, "Everyone keeps saying, 'May his chase end in song.'"
He blinked and countered, "You do realized that the proverb is a euphemism?"
"I'm not dense," she chided. "But I think the way wolves put it is rather romantic."
"Please tell me you don't expect me to engage in traditional wolfsong."
"What if I did?" she asked with a sweet smile.
He knew the answer to that. Anything... I'd give her anything and everything. Miroku swallowed hard, then whispered, "Marry me?"
With dark eyes shining, she reached back and grabbed his ponytail, a shockingly bold move if it had actually been a tail. Gently pulling his head back, he signaled her acceptance by sprinkling his chin, jaw, and throat with soft kisses. Feeling like the luckiest fool in the world, Miroku laughed for joy, then let loose with a triumphant howl.
~ The End ~
End Note: Posted on September 22, 2011 to help celebrate my fandom anniversary. 4,512 words. Thank you to everyone who gave Froth a whirl and found it fun! 'Twas a pleasure to write from beginning to end!