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The Light at the End by LikeABlueThread

Chapter 1

New story! It bit me, and I couldn't resist. I don't own any of these characters. I hope you all enjoy this little romp!

...

Downtown Tokyo flew past the train windows, anemic trees and highrises and neon shop signs blurring into a dingy wash. The scent of humans was so thick Sesshoumaru could barely breathe; perfume and stale cigarette smoke, sex and despair, illness and sweat and arrogance. If only his car hadn’t broken down (a bloody Jaguar; honestly, expensive cars shouldn’t break!); if only he hadn’t given the chauffer the day off; if only he’d had a little more time to arrange a different mode of transport. He hated taking the train.

One strong hand gripped the triangle that dangled from the ceiling as more humans crowded around him. He glared up at his hand, with its blunt human nails, and at the bracelet he could feel but not see just under the cuff of his shirt – the bracelet that hid his appearance from the world. He thought for a moment about what he looked like at the moment – black hair rather than his natural silver, dull brown eyes rather than the rich gold he’d inherited from his sire, tanned human skin instead of his dam’s marked alabaster. He hated hiding his true appearance. 

The train lurched, and he found himself shoved towards the seats that lined the sides of the train by the press of the crowd. He had to take a step forward to keep his balance as a large man behind him was thrown against his back, muttering apologies. His leg brushed the knee of a young woman in a dove-grey skirt suit who was sitting with a book; a brief scent of rain, clean and cool, reached him, and he inhaled involuntarily, grateful for the brief reprieve in the fetid space. The woman in question blinked owlishly and glanced up at him in confusion, as though she’d forgotten where she was. As she took in his face, his broad chest, the bunched muscles of his upraised arm, the elegant lines of his (expensive) suit, a rush of desire colored her scent – no longer cool spring rain, but rainforest at noon, lush and aromatic. He knew what would come next – she’d make an innocuous comment about how crowded the train was or how wet the spring had been, and then try to discreetly slip her phone number into his pocket. His lip curled in disdain. He hated women who threw themselves at him for his looks or his money. 

When he lowered his eyes to glare at her, however, she had already returned to her book, nothing remaining of her momentary lapse save a faint blush across her cheeks and a lingering scent of embarrassment. One eyebrow rose; if he’d been human, he would never have known she found him attractive. And now she was ignoring him. Unusual.

As the train sped farther from the city center, the crowd thinned; every new stop allowed a bit more fresh air into the train car, and soon Sesshoumaru could breathe again. He remained near the young woman even so; her scent was calming, carrying none of the reeking misery or depravity he was so used to in humans. He soon found himself tracking her reactions to what she was reading through the variations in her scent – something would confuse her, then there would be a rush of elation and satisfaction as she solved her puzzle. Excitement at some new revelation. A twist of poignant sadness, a wistful sigh.

He was still nearly an hour from his own stop when the old woman sitting next to his little human diversion got up and hobbled off the train. After a moment’s hesitation, Sesshoumaru sat, suppressing his disgust at the warmth of the seat and the lingering scent of age and infirmity. From this proximity, the woman’s clear, clean scent was much more prominent, soon overwhelming the other scents around him. He closed his eyes in relief.

When he opened them, he realized that she had shifted a bit, tilting her knees ever so slightly away from him and shifting her book to the far side of her lap. He found that from that angle he had a clear view of the words on the page, which he hadn’t tried to decipher from his upside-down vantage point while standing. His mask of indifference almost shattered. She was reading an academic treatise on material culture and social memory. All those emotions – that elation, that wistful sadness – had been raised by scholarly analysis of textiles and pottery?

His eyes slid over the page at hand, and he found himself drawn into the argument. The author was insisting that the feeling of using an object, the weight of it in your hand, the roughness or smoothness, the blisters it gives you, where it makes you sweat, all affect its meaning. The example he was using was of a katana. The young woman turned the page. The author was making an elegant argument, he had to admit, vividly evoking the feel of the pommel in your hand, the balance of the blade, the pressure it takes to pierce skin. But – what? No. The description of that defensive technique was off; the author was describing a feeling of weakness being overcome, of momentum being used to slide through a moment where the wrist could barely support the weight of the blade otherwise. That was wrong; such a moment would mean death in an actual battle.

“Your book is incorrect,” he said quietly, turning his eyes to the window opposite him as the young woman looked at him with disbelieving eyes.

“Pardon?” she asked. Her voice was quiet, but with a sweetness to it that he found he appreciated. He met her eyes for a moment before turning away again – they were blue.

“I apologize for reading over your shoulder; I merely glanced at your page and found it interesting. But that is not the way that maneuver feels. The ‘moment of overcome weakness’ is beautifully symbolic and works well with his argument, but there is no such moment in that technique; it would be extremely dangerous.” He hazarded a glance over at her; she was watching his face with something akin to amazement.

“That’s fascinating; I’ve been finding the same thing throughout, with things that I have some experience of. His analysis of performing the tea ceremony and tying an obi is just the same – beautiful, but wrong.” She smiled at him, an open, friendly smile, with no hidden agendas. “Do you study martial arts?”

“I suppose you could say that; I am also a scholar of antique weaponry.” It was close to the truth; he couldn’t really tell her that he knew every blade since the Kamakura period because he trained with them as they were invented.

Her eyes had lit with interest, and her scent was sparkling with enthusiasm. He almost smiled despite himself as she began asking him about precisely how and why the author of her book was mistaken.

Many more stops flew past, and he found himself deeply drawn into the conversation with this woman. She was quick to make connections, drawing powerful insights from seemingly innocent evidence; and throughout, her unbridled enthusiasm, her passion for knowledge, made the air around them shimmer giddily. Perhaps, Sesshoumaru mused, perhaps he could do with a bit more companionship in his life. That said, he hadn’t actually tried flirting in decades; women came to him, not the other way around. He found himself at a loss.

“You know,” he said during a lull in their conversation, “most people exchange names before diving into academic analysis together.” Crimson blossomed across her cheeks and down her neck. He found it inexplicably adorable.

“Eh, sorry,” she stammered, her smile turned shy. “I’m Higurashi Kagome.”

“Taisho Sesshoumaru,” he answered, waiting for the flash of recognition in her eyes. It never came, and he found himself profoundly relieved. She really wasn’t like the other women, the ones who were after the ‘wealthiest’ and ‘most eligible’ from the fashion magazines. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Higurashi-san.”

She blushed again, murmuring something in return. Suddenly her phone went off, startling both of them. Her blush deepened, and she fumbled in her purse for a moment before locating the source of the noise, silencing the ringer, and checking the caller ID.

“Oh, dear – excuse me for being rude, Taisho-san, but this is my ride at the station; I think I need to take this.” She bit her lower lip, looking abashed.

“Of course,” he answered calmly, finding himself surprised by this little woman again. She hit a button and greeted her caller as he mused on her manners. There weren’t many people in Tokyo who would hesitate to take a phone call in the middle of a conversation with a stranger, or apologize for it if they did. And she seemed to indicate that she would have ignored the call completely if it hadn’t been pressing. He gave an almost-imperceptible shake of his head. She was a puzzle, wasn’t she. He looked out the window again, but his full attention was on the woman beside him.

“Hey, kiddo,” she was saying, a playful happiness lacing her scent. “How’s it going?” Given the noise of the train and the fact that her phone was pressed to the ear on the far side of her head, he couldn’t make out the reply, but her scent took an abrupt turn for the worse – she was worried, almost panicked. “Oh, no! Is she OK?” Another pause. The panic calmed, but the worry didn’t abate. “Souta, calm down. You take care of Kotoko; don’t worry about me.” An overlaying tinge of exasperation. “Souta. I’ll be fine. Now get in the car and go.” Another pause. “Don’t worry about it. Honest, Souta, I’ll be fine. Tell Koto-chan I love her.” Pause. “You too, kiddo. See you tonight.” She bit her lip as she ended the call, concern still lacing her scent. Sesshoumaru found that he didn’t like it.

“Is everything all right?” he asked quietly, meeting the young woman’s worried eyes.

“I think so – my little brother’s girlfriend is having an allergic reaction, and he’s had to take her to the hospital.” She was chewing on her lower lip again, clearly anxious about her friend. “He was just calling to let me know he couldn’t meet me at the station; like I care about that more than poor Kotoko’s health!” She shook her head, and Sesshoumaru noted the righteous indignation that was swirling through the air with the scent of rain.

“You will have no difficulty getting home?” he inquired, surprised by the surge of possessive concern he felt. It suddenly occurred to him that he was unused to being surprised – and this woman managed to surprise him at every turn.

She shrugged, not really engaging with the question. “I’ll be fine; I can walk.”

He looked pointedly down at her shoes; they were perfectly serviceable black pumps, but the high heels were not intended for long walks. “How far is it to where you’re going?”

She looked a little embarrassed. “It’s not that far, it’s just a couple miles.” For one, that was too far; for another, he could smell her discomfort – she wasn’t telling the full truth.

“A couple?” he pressed, frowning.

“Six and a half,” she sighed, giving in. She glared down at her feet. “And there are no buses. Stupid interview,” she grumbled. “I’d have been in sensible shoes otherwise.”

“You can’t possibly walk six and a half miles in those shoes, with that bag,” he said, indicating the overnight bag on the luggage rack above her head. She opened her mouth to ask how he knew it was hers, then glanced up at it; the luggage tag was in plain view, her name printed in bold black letters. She closed her mouth again. “You will take a taxi.” His voice brooked no opposition.

She gave him a rueful smile. “That’d be great, except that it’s way too much money.” She looked away, clearly uncomfortable with the new turn in the conversation. “I appreciate your concern, but really, I’ll be fine.”

He scowled. He was not used to being defied, and the thought of this young woman walking alone, in high heels, unable even to run should anything untoward happen – it was insupportable. Especially since the sun was already low in the sky, and it would be dark before she was halfway there.

He drew his wallet out of his pocket, and her eyes widened. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” she gasped, waving her hands in protest. “I am not taking your money.”

He drew out a wad of bills, quickly calculating how much it would cost to take a taxi seven miles, plus a generous tip. He separated the right amount plus an extra thousand yen just in case.

“Higurashi-san,” he said carefully, tucking his wallet back into his pocket. “You have to understand. It’s late; you’re alone; it’ll be dark soon. It will take you a minimum of two hours, probably more given your footwear.” She had a look of mulish determination on her face; he wasn’t getting anywhere. With a mental sigh, he adjusted his approach. Given how she worried for her brother’s girlfriend, Sesshoumaru hoped that appealing to her desire to look after others would make her more inclined to accept his offer. “I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight now knowing whether or not you reached home safely.”

It was a good strategy; the look in her eyes softened. “Taisho-san,” she said gently, “I appreciate your generosity and kindness – really I do. I’m touched, and very grateful to you. But I can’t possibly accept.” Her eyes crinkled. “I don’t accept gifts from anyone who’s not practically family,” she said, grinning. The laughter faded from her eyes, and her voice was serious as she added in an undertone, not meeting his eyes, “And I don’t accept charity from anyone.”

He sighed, resisting the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Very well, then, Higurashi-san,” he started, deciding on a new tack. “I am a businessman. Would you consider a loan?” Her eyes had gone wide; she was staring at him in bemusement.

“But...” she stammered. “I can’t ...”

“Perhaps,” he started, “you could repay me with your company?” Realizing from the widening of her eyes what the must have sounded like, he backpedaled furiously. “I just mean –” he cleared his throat, unused to feeling flustered, but horrified by what he’d inadvertently implied. “I just mean that I have enjoyed our conversation, and would consider it a great privilege to be able to continue it.” Her eyes were still wary, but she didn’t seem quite as alarmed. “There is no need to accept,” he sighed, turning his eyes away from her. “That’s not what I meant at all. Just that if you insist on repaying me, your company would be compensation enough.”

A small smile was blooming at the corners of her mouth; he almost sagged into the chair in relief. She didn’t think he was a huge pervert trying to buy her favor. In fact, she almost seemed – amused? What about this woman turned him into a fumbling schoolboy? He glanced over at her again. She was blushing; her scent was dancing around them, confused and flattered and pleased and just a little bit excited. Biting her lip, she nodded shyly. 

Now, Sesshoumaru had to think fast. Where could they go that would not make her nervous, that wouldn’t make her feel pressured? Ah, he knew just the thing to ease her discomfort, to assure her that his intentions were honorable. 

“Tell me, Higurashi-san,” he asked quietly as she fidgeted with her book, “do you like children?” She gaped at him for another moment, bewildered by the seeming non-sequitur.

Reluctantly, she nodded. “Yes; I have a six-year-old son. I’m very fond of children.” Blinking back his surprise – again – Sesshoumaru nodded, adjusting his ideas about where they should go.

“Are you familiar with Jin’s?”

She nodded, her eyes lighting up. “That’s one of Shippou’s favorite places; Jinenji’s an old friend of the family.”

He nodded, satisfied. “Perhaps, then, you and your son would be willing to meet me and my daughter there for dinner tomorrow night?” She blinked as she processed the fact that he had a daughter, but immediately her eyes lit up, and she nodded.

“That sounds wonderful.” She was still chewing on the corner of her bottom lip, but the smile that was blossoming around the gesture was breathtaking.

“Six o’clock?” he asked, and she nodded again. His eyes crinkled in a smirk. “Excellent. Now you have no pretense for protesting against this.” He pressed the wad of bills into her palm, and she gaped down at it, blushing. She’d clearly forgotten that component of the ‘deal.’

“But –” she started, stammering slightly.

He shook his head, smirking. “Now, now, Higurashi-san, a deal’s a deal. You’ve accepted my terms; there’s your loan.” His expression softened. “Get home safely; that’s the best reward I could ask for.” The sweetness of her smile made his heart clench in his chest.

The train lurched to a stop. She started, then leaped to her feet, tugging at the strap of her bag and stammering apologies. Sesshoumaru stood and freed her bag in one fluid movement, hanging it delicately on one of her slender shoulders.

“’Til tomorrow,” he murmured, a small smile quirking at his mouth.

“’Til tomorrow,” she agreed, still blushing. She sent him a heart-stopping smile over her shoulder as she darted through the closing doors, then waved at him from the platform as the train slid into motion again.

He found that he spent the rest of his ride home fighting a smile, and enjoying the lingering scent of rain.

 

INUYASHA © Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan • Yomiuri TV • Sunrise 2000
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