AU. Inu/Kag. Mir/San. Everyone's human. Modern day. Began as a oneshot, but now a twoshot.
Title is a reference to T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Read it sometime. :]
04-03-2011: Just to clarify, Sango and Miroku are both about 24 years old, while Kagome is finishing up college at 22 years old.
Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha.
Measuring Life with Coffee Spoons
"What do you think he's doing on that laptop all the time?" Kagome asked curiously, leaning her forearms onto the café countertop. As if the stranger could sense the steady interest of her blue eyes from across the room, he flicked his own gaze up to meet hers and glared heatedly until she could feel a blush warm her cheeks. Only after he looked back down was she able to pull her eyes away. She turned to Sango, who was standing next to her elbow-deep in the espresso machine calibrating it, but the brunette had clearly missed Kagome's question and the scene that had followed.
Unfortunately, Miroku, the café's co-owner and Sango's husband, had noticed everything. "Porn," he answered seriously, his eyes—so dark brown they were almost violet—now fixed to his wife's backside; although it seemed a little perverted, Kagome thought that he was doing it to give her time to calm her burning cheeks while he looked away.
Once she was sure she was no longer blushing, Kagome shot her manager a dirty look. "Who watches porn in public?" she asked the pervert incredulously only a split-second before something dawned in her eyes, and she started to wave her hands frantically in front her. "Wait, wait! Don't answer that. I don't want to know!"
Sango finally retracted her head from the machine and tossed a look over her shoulder at Kagome, her friend and employee, and Miroku, her letch. The married couple had opened the café shortly after their honeymoon and college graduation only two years earlier. Sango handled the machines and products while Miroku took care of the financial side of things. Kagome, although a couple of years younger than them, had known them from some of her classes at the university and had applied to be a barista. Working for friends wasn't always easy (Kagome tended to not listen to them like a good employee should, and it sometimes got awkward seeing each other all the time), but luckily they worked most issues out whenever they popped up.
Now, about the stranger…
Kagome didn't know how long the man had been coming in before she noticed there was a pattern to it, but it had been three weeks since she noticed that she was noticing that pattern. Every Tuesday and Saturday (which were her two lunch shifts) as well as Thursday (according to Kagome's coworker Ayame who worked the lunch shift on that day), the man came in at 12:30 P.M. almost on the dot. Sometimes he was dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt, sometimes nicely in a button-downs shirt and slacks (these were the days that he was the most rude). He didn't talk much. He just placed his order (always, "Coffee, just black.") and then resorted to only grunts and facial expressions for any further communication. Afterwards, he sat down at the corner table, his back to the wall, and pulled out his laptop. Forty-five minutes later, he would pack up and leave without another glance at anyone.
… Had Kagome happened to mention that he was also attractive? A little rough around the edges, maybe, but he had long, thick, black hair pulled away from his face and intense, golden-brown eyes. Unfortunately, he also wore a perpetually surly expression. Plus, his attitude stunk. Other than that, he was easy on the eyes. When not helping other customers, Kagome would often find her eyes drawn to him without thinking about it. Normally, he didn't notice her attention… unlike today.
"What are you two gossiping about now?" Sango asked, wiping her hands absently on a dishrag. Only afterward did she notice that she'd already managed to get a greasy smudge on her crisp, white blouse. The brunette swiped at it fruitlessly with a grimace, wondering why she bothered to dress up for work when she always ended up getting her hands and clothes dirty.
Kagome repeated her earlier question in a low voice with a quick glance at the man across the room, who was back to typing rapidly in concentration.
"He's probably just checking his email," Sango suggested, watching the man openly.
Kagome gave her boss-slash-friend a very dry look, indicating silently that she thought it needed a much juicier explanation than that. Business was slow, and let's face it, she felt like people-watching. They were briefly interrupted when the man, like clockwork, began packing up his things at 1:15 P.M. and took off for the door. "At least he cleans up after himself," Kagome pointed out appreciatively as the guy dropped his empty cup into the trashcan stationed next to the exit. He may have been a terrible conversationalist, but a patron cleaning up after himself always scored points with the (somewhat lazy) employee.
Miroku, who Kagome could always count on to play along with her imagination when his much more realistic, practical wife wouldn't, lightheartedly suggested, "Maybe he's a spy!"
"Yes!" Kagome agreed enthusiastically, turning on her heel to face the much taller, dark-haired man as soon as the stranger was out of sight. "He's typing up his reports after deadly missions."
"To save the world," Miroku tacked on. "In fact, he just finished yet another battle with his arch-nemesis, Naraku McBadguy, over control of a giant missile that could have destroyed Earth!"
Sango crossed her arms and leaned her hip against the counter, one eyebrow raised as she tried to decide whether to be exasperated or amused with the two of them. "Among the many ways I could poke holes in your theory," she told them, "I would like to just point out two. One, he doesn't have a scratch on him."
"Clearly, he's just that good, dear," Miroku informed his wife patiently with a charming smile.
"Or his clothes are covering up all the scrapes and bruises," the younger girl pointed out, pondering an image of the stranger dancing through her mind shirtless and flexing. She waved the image away after a second with a self-indulgent grin stretching her face.
"Two," Sango continued as if she hadn't heard their counterarguments, "do you really think a government agency would send the same man on three missions a week so that he'd have time to be back here every time, on time to type up his reports? What, does the world not ever take more than two days to save?"
Kagome deflated a little, pursing her lips thoughtfully. "Maybe he's been working on the same report this whole time after a huge, major mission three weeks ago?" she argued weakly.
"Yes," Sango agreed with a teasing laugh, "I've heard that all secret agents spend forty-five minutes, three times a week typing up their reports. It's standard procedure. Now, if you two are done playing James Bond, I need to go place a baked goods order; we're low on almond cookies again." With that, she pushed off from the counter and weaved around her husband and friend, patting Kagome on the shoulder as she passed. As if tied to his wife by an invisible string, Miroku turned to follow the brunette before she could get far, and together they went into the office in the back, leaving Kagome to her musings.
"I'll figure it out," she swore to herself under her breath with a mischievous smile.
A week later, Kagome was manning the register during an unusually busy Saturday lunch rush and calling out drink orders to Ayame, who was running the espresso machine, and food orders to Shippou, the new employee. Unlike Kagome and the other employees (which included a prissy snob named Yura, a guy named Kouga who alternated between hitting on Kagome and Ayame, and a sweet but somewhat dense boy named Hojo), the redheaded Shippou was a high school student and not in college. Kagome had thrown him a bone that morning and was letting him retrieve pastries and walk those out to customers rather than do anything remotely difficult.
"Why's it so busy?" Shippou cried, looking up to see that the line was still out the door.
"I bet it's the new art gallery around the corner," Kagome guessed, handing a middle-aged woman her change and directing her to the other end of the counter for pick-up. With a glance at the clock, she noticed that it was only two minutes until the stranger's arrival time.
"Shippou," she began out of the corner of her mouth, still looking at the customers with a smile fixed in place, "the table in the corner just cleared up. I need you to take a cup of black coffee out to it and make sure no one sits down until I give you the okay."
With a confused, "Yes, ma'am," Shippou did as ordered, taking a large cup of unpaid-for coffee to the table and setting it down, standing next to it awkwardly like a guard with his green eyes watching Kagome. Soon, he noticed her eyes light up with recognition. Following the direction she was looking, he saw a man come in with a troubled look on his face as he saw the long line. The blue-eyed girl leaned to the side and waved her hand in the air eagerly until she caught the stranger's attention. She then pointed toward Shippou, the table, and the coffee before giving him a wide smile and nodding her head encouragingly.
When the man looked his way, Shippou gave him a small wave with an embarrassed smile on his face. The stranger, today in a suit with his tie already loosened around his neck, approached, weaving around the other patrons.
"Here, sir," Shippou said, straining to be polite. The angry expression the man had made the boy itch with annoyance, but he didn't do anything about it. The kid knew his petite, perky coworker would have his hide if he was rude. "Kagome sent me over with this… I guess you can pay when things calm down?"
With a grunt, the man collapsed in his chair. Shippou hesitated, wondering if that was all he was going to get from the guy, but when the redhead turned to go, he heard a low grumble, "Thanks, I guess. Tell her that, too."
Nearly fifty minutes later, Kagome watched with a tired but pleased smile as the last customer took his coffee order from Ayame. Running the back of her hand across her forehead, Kagome let out a slow breath and looked around the café. The place was a mess! They had their work cut out for them to get everything cleaned up before the after-dinner rush started. Thankfully, the night shift—Kouga and Hojo—would have shown up by then.
As she stepped out from behind the counter with a trash bag, she noticed something sitting on the table in the corner. The guy was gone, but he'd left behind payment for his coffee in exact change.
Something was wrong.
Kagome turned her eyes back and forth between the stranger in his corner and the clock. It was 1:41 P.M., which, if she did the math right, was twenty-six minutes after the time the man was supposed to pack up and leave. She leaned against the counter thoughtfully, her eyes scouring his appearance from head to toe. It was another suit day. He'd long since deposited his jacket in the chair opposite him and loosened his tie; his sleeves were now rolled up to his elbows. As she watched, he'd type furiously for several minutes, then slow to a stop with his hands hovering over the keyboard before angrily hitting the same button—likely the 'delete' button—many times. He would then start the process all over again.
"He's still here?" Miroku asked in surprise, suddenly at her elbow. Kagome jumped a little, startled after studying the man so intensely.
"Yeah. Weird, right?"
"Very," Miroku agreed. "Why exactly are you so interested?"
Kagome looked over at her boss quickly and then turned away with an honest shrug. "I don't know. Hey, you know how I like to read, right?" At Miroku's nod, she continued, "I've been reading a ton of mystery novels lately by the same author, and I guess it's making me a little extra curious."
"You've always been too curious, Nancy Drew." Miroku affectionately ruffled her hair and turned to walk away. "I've got to place some calls."
Kagome slanted him a knowing look. "Tomorrow's your anniversary. I hope those calls are for flowers and gifts for your wife."
"I can tell you nothing," Miroku said, pantomiming turning a key into his lips as if to lock them shut. "You're a spy. You'll tell my plans to the enemy."
Kagome laughed good-naturedly with a lop-sided grin and ran a hand through her hair to settle it back into place. "'Enemy' is right. We both know Sango could take you if you screwed up."
Miroku returned her smile… but looked a little uneasy. "Like I said, I need to go place some very urgent calls."
After he'd retreated to the office and shut the door with a dry click, Kagome turned her attention back to the stranger. Now he was sitting with his elbows on the table, his fingers threaded into his hair and holding on tightly. In short, he looked stressed.
With only a moment of hesitation, Kagome picked up the coffee pot and approached his table. Silently, she closed her fingers around his cup and slid it away from the laptop to safely refill it. She noted but didn't react when the man jumped, surprised by her presence just as Miroku had surprised her a few minutes earlier.
"On the house," she said with a perky smile in his direction, trying to slyly glance at his screen. Unfortunately, Kagome was standing at the wrong angle to see anything, and she worried he'd noticed if she adjusted her position. He grunted. The girl rolled her eyes and withdrew, feeling like she'd achieved nothing.
Unfortunately, she missed the way his eyes watched her retreating back.
Kagome, as was usual for a Thursday, was watching the café by herself while a manger—today, that manager was Sango—took care of business in the back office. Bored, the blue-eyed girl organized the pastries in the bake case for the third time. It was 2:13 P.M. The stranger was still there. Since that day two weeks earlier, he had stayed longer and longer with each visit, sometimes even showing up early. With each passing day, he looked more frazzled and typed more passionately, but seemed to be getting even more stressed out no matter how hard he worked. Kagome had taken to silently refilling his coffee cup every thirty minutes, thinking that he needed the boost. His eyes were dark and hollow; she could swear he'd even been losing weight.
With a sigh, she snatched up the coffee pot and walked to his table. It was a slow day, the shop empty besides them. Outside, the rain was falling softly and streaking in rivulets down the window pane. Trying to be as unobtrusive and quiet as possible, she refilled his cup.
His sudden sigh, a huge gust of breath, startled her. Kagome looked to his face, but he was staring intently at the screen. Every once in a while, she tried to steal a peek but had yet to manage to figure out what he was doing without getting caught.
Trying to be helpful, she dropped off the coffee pot and retrieved an almond cookie, their best seller, from the bake case and brought it to the man on a small plate.
Surprised when she set it next to his elbow, he glanced up at her, as if noticing her for the first time. For a second—only a second—his features seemed to brighten in gratitude, and he didn't look as stressed and exhausted and angry. But then, like a thought had dawned on him, his expression caved back into the beaten look he'd been wearing lately.
By the time Kagome was back behind the counter, only a few seconds at most, she saw that the plate was empty, not even a cookie crumb left. And she could have sworn he had a small, pleased smile on his face.
"You," Sango stated suspiciously, "look way too pleased with yourself."
Kagome gave her friend a smug smile, a light blush tinting her cheeks. "Want to know why?"
"Maybe," the brunette conceded slowly, as if she was worried Kagome would admit to something dirty.
Kagome leaned in closely, her face conspiratorial as she whispered, "When he left today, he smiled at me."
The stranger had given Kagome five smiles over the past week. Make that six, she calculated happily as he smiled at her again when she refilled his coffee cup. He still looked angry and surly and snarky most of the time, but he was still finding it in him to smile at her when he came in, when he left, and now when she brought him coffee. If he had seemed attractive before as the brooding stranger, Kagome was sure he was even more attractive when he smiled. His eyes, so serious sometimes, lit up and became gold, and he suddenly looked younger, more like her age instead of someone who was aged beyond his years.
Six. Six smiles.
Kagome was worried sick.
The man hadn't come in for three of his days in a row, which meant it had been an entire week since she'd last seen him. He had never missed a day before, and now he had missed three? The first time had been on a Thursday during Ayame's shift. The redheaded girl hadn't informed Kagome until, that following Saturday, Kagome had been wringing her hands behind the register when it was 1:05 P.M., and he hadn't shown. Ayame had only then, after Kouga had given her a pointed look because Kagome was having trouble focusing on the customers, approached Kagome and told her.
It was 3:34 P.M. on Tuesday, and Kagome was staring out the floor-to-ceiling windows silently wishing he would walk through the door any second.
For goodness' sake, she didn't even know the man's name… but what if he'd gotten in a car accident? What if he'd been hurt or, much worse, killed? It didn't help that she'd convinced herself after he'd left the week before that she would ask him out the next time she saw him. It felt like someone had jerked the rug out from under her feet.
The week before, when she came to fill his cup and he gave her that small smile in return, she'd been surprised when he'd asked, "What can you tell me about this place?"
His voice was nice. Gruff, but nice, and Kagome felt a small flutter in her stomach. She was half turned away from him, ready to walk away, but now she faced him fully. And then, for the next ten minutes while he listened (no longer smiling, but at least he didn't look bored or annoyed), she told him about the café, Sango and Miroku, and her coworkers. When she was finished, he smiled at her again.
"Thanks," he told her, sounding sincere, before looking back at his laptop and starting to type again, effectively ending the conversation.
She'd been a little confused, but pleased. Now, she convinced herself, she had a better foundation on which to base the fact that she had the biggest crush on the man. At least they'd talked now… Mostly, she'd just been happy with the smiles and the small gestures of gratitude and the fact that she felt so happy and light whenever he was sitting at his table.
That was last week.
This week, he was gone.
Six months had passed since Kagome had last seen the man. It had been so distracting that she had traded some of her shifts with coworkers and rearranged her class schedule. She had gotten sick of always watching the door, always wondering, always worrying. She had since graduated college and gotten a "real job" as a social worker, but she still set aside enough time to work one day of the weekend at the café. Working a regular job, a 9-to-5 job, meant she had evenings free to spend time with Sango and Miroku as if they were her real friends and not bosses-slash-friends like before.
It was beautiful out. A crisp fall day, but the sun felt warm on her bare arms and the breeze was small, just enough to ruffle her hair without completely rearranging it.
She had finished work and was walking home to her apartment, a jaunt in her step; today was the day her favorite author's latest mystery novel would hit the shelves. Thankfully, there was a small bookstore on her route home.
Kagome stood on the sidewalk, peering through the window at the towering display. "Measuring Life with Coffee Spoons," she read out loud, under her breath of course, with excitement. Because of the years she worked at the café, the blue-eyed girl found she was fond of anything related to coffee. Having it tied to her favorite author was more than she could have hoped for.
With a grin and a wink at her own reflection in the window, she entered the store to make her purchase.
Kagome licked her finger and used it to turn the last page, a pleased smile on her lips.
She had very carefully read the book, savoring it and making sure she took her time reading, only a couple of chapters each day. Still, she couldn't have saved it forever and had finally finished it, a week almost to the hour since she had bought it. This novel had been much better than any of the previous ones.
Mostly that was because she felt this instant connection with the main character. Unlike the other novels, which had taken place from the point of view of a detective, this book was seen through the eyes of another character. The detective was still there, but he was mostly in the peripheral. The main character, this time, was a heroine instead of a hero. With a thrill, Kagome had realized the first day that the woman described on the pages was almost exactly like her. Long, black hair, wide blue-gray eyes, pale skin, barely over five feet tall, perky, friendly, sweet but with a quick temper when necessary, worked in a coffee shop (hence the title),…
The list went on.
The book had been so good, in fact, that it had distracted her from almost everything else.
As she finished reading the last word, she turned the page and noticed that, for the first time in eight novels, the author had included a small biography and even a picture of himself on the back flap of the dust jacket. With a start, Kagome leaned closer, her nose almost pressing against the surface, drinking in his face.
She knew that strong jaw, those thin, set lips, that nose, those eyes…!
Quickly, as if the book would bite her, Kagome flipped back to the first page, the dedication page.
"To the girl who inspired it all," she read out loud, the tip of her finger tracing the words. "She deserved a book just for her. Thanks for the coffee." Stunned, she stared at the paper for several minutes, finally lifting her eyes and looking to her cat, a plump thing curled up next to her.
"No," she breathed out. "There is absolutely no way."
Buyo, with a yawn, looked boredly back at her.
"Inuyasha," a bored yet still somehow irritated voice said into the phone line, identifying himself.
Kagome clutched the phone tighter to her ear, steeling her nerves. "Why," she started, but her voice sounded strained and hoarse, so she licked her lips, gulped, and tried again. "Why didn't you ever tell me you were Inuyasha Taisho?"
A few heavy seconds passed as, Kagome was sure, the man on the other end tried to work out her accusation. "Excuse me?" he asked finally, sounding bewildered and angry.
"For more than two and a half months I saw you every week, and you never, not even once, said that you were the author Inuyasha Taisho! And then you disappeared without a word, without any explanation, and then you dedicate a freaking book to me," Kagome continued, almost shrilly, but she managed to keep a leash on her voice.
"All that time you were writing a mystery novel? You are the worst conversationalist on the planet; I never would have guessed you were a writer. I'm still stunned. I love your books, have I mentioned that yet? I suppose every time you were in a suit, you had probably just met with your publisher. I checked a fansite—not that I'm one of those obsessive fans—and it said your publisher is your older stepbrother, some hard-ass named Sesshoumaru Taisho? Anyway, and then… I suppose when you started getting upset and working harder, he must have been putting pressure on you to finish your next book. Right?"
"Inuyasha Taisho," Kagome repeated in awe, quieter now. Believe it or not, she had actually worked hard on this speech. All the night before, she had stared at her ceiling while trying to fall asleep, trying to figure out exactly what her words would be when—if—she could get a hold of the author. She had replayed everything over and over again in her mind, struggling with how embarrassing but pleasing it felt to know that she had made such an impression that the guy had written a book based on and then dedicated to her. There was no doubt in her mind that it was her, by the way. The more she thought about it, the surer she was. Unfortunately, clearly, those words had fled as soon as the receptionist had put her call through to the irritable, famous author.
This was so much better than a spy for the government.
It had taken time to figure out how to get in touch with him. As an author, he really was antisocial and unreachable. She had to claw through the internet, piecing together what she could from small biographies on fansites, barely-detailed press releases, and the very tiny description provided by the publishing company he used. She'd discovered some useless and some interesting things, like his favorite food (ramen), his age (nearly twenty-six years old, impressive considering he'd written and released eight novels in six years; Kagome felt certain that he used his connection to Sesshoumaru and skipped college to do this, writing as soon as he was out of high school. This was all conjecture, of course, and she was itching to ask him about this and other topics), and his hobbies (kendo and judo).
As if he had finally worked out who had called him, Inuyasha cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Sorry about… I mean, just taking off was probably…"
"Nerve-wracking? For me, I mean?" Kagome supplied helpfully.
Almost guiltily, he made an unintelligible humming sound. "I finished my book, and as soon as it was sent to the printers, Sesshoumaru insisted I do a book-signing tour in Europe."
Kagome drew in a deep breath, twirling the phone cord around her finger as if she was a love-struck teenager. She floundered, grasping for something to say as the silence stretched between them, heavy but not uncomfortable. Thankfully, he started speaking again.
"So… you liked the book?" he asked, his voice low and husky and a little thrill ran down her spine as she wondered if he was trying to sound sexy, or if that was just natural when he was talking over the phone. His voice was probably so low only because, she thought with a small smile, he was actually nervous about her answer to his question. Maybe. It was hard to picture him nervous. In fact, it was almost hard to picture him at all anymore after six months. Thankfully, she had his author's picture sitting in front of her to remind her of just who she was talking to.
"Your best one yet," Kagome told him sincerely. Then, hastily, she added, "And I'm not saying that only because I'm practically the main character."
"Good," he answered, sounding pleased and self-conscious, and Kagome imagined he was rubbing the back of his neck, as if also struggling to figure out how to move this conversation, this almost-relationship, forward.
"So," Kagome said faintly, again trying to steel her nerves. With a deep breath, she plunged ahead. "Would you like to go out with me sometime?"
"Yes," Inuyasha said immediately. A beat passed before he asked, "How's coffee sound?"
"Coffee, just black."
"And for you?" Shippou asked, turning from Inuyasha to Kagome with a grin.
"Something sweet," Kagome returned, smiling at the redheaded boy affectionately. "Oh, and an almond cookie."
"You eat way too much sugar," Inuyasha told her, eyeing her sternly.
Kagome smiled brilliantly up at him, not put off by his surliness. "The cookie's for you. I know it's your favorite."
He grunted and looked away, but she noticed how the tips of his ears turned the lightest shade of pink.
Shippou handed the coffees and then the cookie over, waving away Inuyasha's hand as the man held out money. "On the house. Kagome always gets free stuff. She has connections."
Kagome laughed lightly, winking at the boy and wrapping her fingers around the coffee cup and loving how warm it felt as it seeped through the cardboard to her skin. When she turned away from the register and looked over at Inuyasha, she noticed that the plate with the cookie was already empty. With a chastising expression, she frowned up at him.
"Sorry," he said, but he was grinning slyly. "You were just too slow."
"I guess it's okay," she said with a playful sigh before stretching on her tip toes and pressing her mouth to his, gently. She pulled away and licked her lips, as if she had just eaten the cookie herself. "Oh! They're good today."
With an amused chuckle, he steered them toward the table in the corner. "Keep that up, and I might write you another book."
The End of Part 1