Disclaimer: Inuyasha does not belong to me.

For Akay's To Deviate Challenge

Prompt – Bartender

La Lune

Slow, jazzy music drifted through the upscale restaurant and bar. Dimly lit with flickering candles and dull hanging lights, La Lune lent itself to a languid, seductive atmosphere where guests lingered till the early hours of the morning, harboring secrets and sweet kisses and whispered nothings. In this lazy, quixotic place just outside a bustling metro, time seemed to get lost, forgotten the very moment the door swished closed.

It was a slow night however. The days were getting longer, the nights shorter and business was trickling down. Sesshoumaru didn't mind though. It gave him the chance to observe at his leisure. He wiped down a few glasses, placed them neatly in a row before once again letting his gaze linger on the only restless soul in La Lune.

Nestled in the far left corner, she'd been sitting alone for the past hour. He lost track of how many times she checked her watch and how often she would glance at the door. As the minutes waned, she grew more and more desolate, idly circling the rim of her water glass with a slim finger, nails painted a darker shade of purple. But even in her saddened state, he still thought her radiant.

He had discretely watched her when she first entered La Lune. His gold eyes had followed the smooth movement of her body, the way her wavy midnight locks brushed against her skin and the silky fabric of her dress. She had turned heads and captured gazes with her alluring aura, big blue eyes seemingly oblivious as she followed the maitre d' to her candlelit table. She had thanked Bokuseno with a glowing smile, which the old man had returned, as rare as it was, with one of his own.

Miroku whistled low, waiting for Sesshoumaru to finish the order. "Who'd be crazy enough to stand up a woman like her?"

"Hnn…" Sesshoumaru placed the drinks on Miroku's circular tray, tossing a sidelong glance at the female in question.

The charming waiter smiled on the sly. "Interested?"

Sesshoumaru shot him a dull look, as if he had no idea what the womanizer was alluding to. Rolling his eyes, Miroku snorted. "I saw the way you were looking at her."

"Your customers are waiting."

Miroku smirked, waggling his eyebrows when he saw her stand and head their way. "Work your demon magic, Sesshoumaru and maybe you'll get lucky tonight." He winked before sweeping away with a flourish.

She gave him a little, broken-hearted smile as she took a seat in one of the high stools. Tossing her black clutch to the side, she leaned forward. "May I have something to drink, please? Preferably something strong?"

Was she planning on drinking herself into oblivion? Before he could respond, she pointed to the shelves behind him where an array of alcohol was displayed.

"How about that one? The pretty black sake bottle? I'll have a few glasses of that."

No pretty mixed drinks. No fruity iced concoctions. Sesshoumaru suppressed an amused smile before reaching for the rich rice wine. Grabbing a small matching ceramic cup, he set it down in front of her and poured. The moment he finished, she grabbed it and downed the entire cup in two swallows.

He raised a brow. She poured herself another and finished that off just as quickly. Perhaps some intervention would be best.

"You should—"

She put up her hand to silence him before the clear contents of her third cup disappeared. Luckily, the bar was quiet tonight so he could give her his undivided attention. When she went to pour a fourth cup, he stopped her midway through, easily plucking the sake decanter from her fingers and placing it out of her reach.

"You should slow down," Sesshoumaru advised.

"Or what?" she snapped.

He saw the immediate regret in her eyes before she looked away, ashamed. With a heavy sigh, she buried her face in her arms and pushed the sake away. "I'm sorry," she mumbled. "It's not your fault that all men suck."

His lips quirked into a half smile and knowing she'd appreciate something that wasn't sake, he poured her a glass of Pinot Noir with all the grace of a feline. She looked up when he pushed it towards her.

"It's on the house."

She offered what smile she could, running a finger along the cool wine glass with methodical care. "He didn't show up," she whispered. "It's his birthday and I wanted to do something special…but he never came." She took a small sip and smiled. It was sad and made her eyes glitter with heartbreak.

Sesshoumaru placed his elbows on the shiny ebony bar top and leaned forward. "Then he doesn't deserve you."

She leaned into the palm of her hand, hair falling to the side and he couldn't help but discretely follow the tempting curve of her neck to the dip of her collarbone. Her scent gently pushed against his senses, delicate and fresh and further piquing his interest.

"That's what Sango tells me all the time," she said. "But I love him…" She said it with less conviction than any woman who thought herself in love would say it. Years of listening to similar situations told him so.

"Do you?" he asked nonchalantly.

"Of course I…do…" She frowned, biting her lower lip.

"Does he love you?" The way a woman should be loved?

She slouched forward and took a bigger sip of the Pinot Noir and then another and another until that too was gone. Burying her face once again in her arms, she mumbled, "More please. More sake."

Realization was oftentimes jarring and so he poured a cup for her and watched her gulp it down like water. Her eyes had become a little hazy, a rosy tint rising in her cheeks.

"I'm so stupid…" She gave a self-deprecating laugh before her lips quivered and a few tears escaped. She hastily wiped them away, giving Sesshoumaru a watery smile when he dangled a napkin in front of her. She took it, dabbing her eyes and wiping her nose.

"You must get this a lot."

"It comes with the territory," Sesshoumaru confirmed, noting the lazy way she was leaning into her palm. He would hazard a guess and say her alcohol tolerance wasn't very high.

And then she burped. Slapping a hand over her mouth, a cherry red blush stole across her cheeks as her laughing blue eyes drowned in embarrassment. Sesshoumaru couldn't quite hide his amused smile nor deny how adorable she looked.

"I'm sorry," she squeaked. "Apparently, my manners also forgot to show up tonight."

"No apology is necessary." He filled a tall glass with ice and filled it with water before dropping in a lemon wedge and a few fresh raspberries. He placed it in front of her. "Drink."

"But—"

"I believe you've consumed enough alcohol for one night."

Huffing, she took a long drink and practically melted from the sweet simplicity. "I'm Kagome by the way," she offered with a grateful smile.

"Sesshoumaru."

As he mixed a couple of orders the waiters had sent over, she watched him with soft, curious blue eyes.

"How long?"

She glanced up from his hands to his inquiring expression. "How long what?"

"Were you with him," Sesshoumaru clarified, deftly pouring a clear martini into its glass.

"Almost a year," she replied quietly. "Though I probably should've ended it a while ago." A wry smile danced across her full lips. "But I couldn't." She lapsed into a thoughtful silence, stroking the cool condensation on the tall glass.

"I did love him…for a time he was everything but then things…changed. Maybe the novelty wore off. Maybe we were together just for the sake of being together. We weren't—aren't—what we want, but we dragged it on anyway."

Sesshoumaru listened with a careful ear while placing the drinks on a tray. Miroku and Kohaku came by and swept it away, the former waggling his eyebrows suggestively. He made a note to break the waiter's fingers after La Lune closed for the morning.

"We fell out of love…" she whispered, as if she'd just been enlightened.

"So perhaps it was for the best that he didn't show tonight."

Kagome nodded, a soft smile curving her lips. "I'll still kill him for standing me up, but yes…I guess it was."

Sometimes strangers were the best listeners. Sometimes a few well placed questions and comments could make a world of difference. Sesshoumaru knew this very well. He did it every night. The unbiased, unassuming bartender. How he, inuyoukai with centuries of living behind him, had come into such a profession still eluded him. Perhaps it was not knowing who would walk through the door—the novelty of the notion. Or who would be the object of his observance for the night. Perhaps it was curiosity, peeking into the lives of strangers and seeing a different life through their eyes. Or maybe it was because of women like her, jilted and love worn and in need of a temporary shoulder to cry on. How kind of you, Sesshoumaru. Since when did others start mattering to you? He inwardly wasn't that they mattered. This was simply a pastime, a hobby of sorts to fill in the dull hours of his life.

Though he could honestly say that she was quite different. No weeping, no ranting on how she did everything and how could he do this to her when she thought they were in love. No placing blame. Just self-realization in the wake of a night that didn't go as planned. Rather easy, Sesshoumaru thought, giving her a lingering glance while she fished out a red raspberry and placed it in her mouth, savoring the sweet fruit as if this was her very first time tasting it.

Having used the last bottle of house vodka and seeing that she was the only one at the bar, he figured he could disappear to the stock room for a moment or two and return unnoticed. But when he got back, Kagome was gone and on the bar top, next to the empty tall glass was all the money she owed, including the cost for the red wine and water.

Miroku fluttered over. "She just left. It seemed like something urgent."

"I see."

"You look like a kicked puppy," the waiter commented and if Miroku didn't already know he'd get his arms ripped off, he would have given the dog demon a consoling hug.

Sesshoumaru began the next round of orders without responding. He had done this sort of thing every night since becoming a bartender. Listening to raving women and to lonely, pitiful men was commonplace. Consoling broken hearts and advising yearning, young lovers was routine. So why should tonight be any different? He gave the doors to La Lune a sidelong glance. For some absurd reason, he couldn't quell this acute sense of loss. Kagome. He wondered if he'd ever see her again.

The next night, as Sesshoumaru rolled up the sleeves of his crisp white collared shirt and smoothed out his black vest, Miroku came into the men's changing room with a wicked smile. In the middle of putting his long silver hair into a low ponytail, Sesshoumaru waited for him to proceed.

"You had a visitor today," the violet-eyed waiter said before tossing something white and furry. Sesshoumaru caught it, raising a silvery brow.

"Don't look so happy. I know you can smell her all over it," Miroku teased before leaving the youkai to his privacy.

He stroked the baby soft fuzz on the white stuffed puppy and smirked when he read the little red t-shirt it wore. World's #1 Bartender. Taking the rolled up note that had been attached to a paw, he unfurled it, scanning the bubbly characters.

Thank you for listening, Sesshoumaru. Maybe next time we can talk more. –Kagome

A week later, there was still no sign of her. And he wondered why she even mattered. Why their hour together mattered when the all the other hours didn't. Ridiculous. She should've been just another forgettable woman, just another stranger with problems in love and in life. A mere exchange of names and thoughts, grazing only the surface of who they are…

Impressions. She had made an impression on him and he just couldn't seem to get rid of it. Her and those big soulful blue eyes. Christ, he was like an infatuated puppy.

"You don't seem yourself tonight," Miroku remarked.

Sesshoumaru didn't bother to respond. He turned back to his prized shelf of different brews and blends, expensive tastes and exotic finds. When his eyes helplessly fell on the black sake bottle, he inwardly grimaced. He refused to show Miroku how right he was.

"Don't lose hope. She'll come around again eventually," the waiter imparted knowingly before scurrying away. Sesshoumaru wasn't the type who liked to be assuaged by meaningless words. But still, sometimes even great inuyoukai needed some positive reinforcement.

Another week later and five minutes to closing time, the door to La Lune gently swung open. The little bell tolled and Miroku paused in his wiping to glance up. A slow grin curved his lips at the welcome sight.

"The bar has closed up for the night. Did you want something else?" he asked.

She bit her lip, hair windswept and slightly out of breath. "The bartender?"

Miroku laughed. "Through the back, first door on your right."

Kagome smiled her thanks and weaved through the tables, soon disappearing through the swinging double doors.

Three tentative knocks sounded on the changing room door. It'd been a particularly irritating night and he was in no mood to deal with prying waiters. Loosening his tie and stiff collar, he threw his black vest on the back of a chair before swinging open the door.

Her scent was the first thing to hit him, fresh and calming and so very tempting. As he let his sunshine eyes take her in as if for the very first time, that sense of loss he'd been feeling slowly vanished.

"Hey…"

Sesshoumaru leaned against the doorframe. "Kagome."

"You remembered."

He nodded and never once did his eyes stray from her. The fullness of her lips. The radiance in her bright blue eyes. The fine, enticing curves of her body. He wondered if her skin felt as velvety soft as it looked. Probably better.

"You came." He said it before he could stop himself.

A smile teased the corners of her mouth. "You were waiting?" Kagome took a step forward and he could see the gentle teasing in her eyes.

"What took you so long?"

She laughed, soft and sincere. "How about I tell you over breakfast?"

With a sly wink at Sesshoumaru as the pair left through the side exit, Miroku locked the doors to La Lune and blew out the last candle for the night.

end…