“...and then she ran away from both of us,” InuYasha mumbled, embarrassment and shame tinting his cheeks cherry red. The eighteen-year-old sighed into his hands, exhausted and feeling more like eight-years-old sitting where he was with his figurative tail between his legs as he and his two best friends brainstormed ways to fix yet another messed up situation he (and his mouth!) got himself into.
To his chagrin, Sango burst out laughing. Miroku at least was considerate enough to conceal his chuckles in a cough, but Sango went so far as to point at him and choke out between giggles, “You're hopeless, InuYasha!”
As if he needed her to tell him that! The hanyou glared at her, hoping his murderous gaze would halt the shaking of her shoulders, but Sango mercilessly laughed until her face turned blue...
...and then she laughed some more.
InuYasha growled, his fist coming down hard enough on the table in front of him to make the varnished wood splinter. “Damn it, Sango! I don't need this! I need help.”
Too used to his temper, Sango didn't even flinch. She sobered up, her face still red as she raised a thin eyebrow at him. `Too easy,' she thought, a slow grin spreading on her lips. Grunting, InuYasha stood to leave.
“You know what? Forget it,” he muttered, annoyed. Miroku, always the peacemaker of their trio, urged him to sit back down.
“Wait, Inuyasha! We're sorry. We'll help!”
InuYasha refused to show any sign of gratitude or relief, but it was obvious in the way he sat back down, too swiftly for someone hell-bent on getting away from the two, that he desperately needed their advice.
“Keh,” was all InuYasha said. His cheeks flushed an even brighter red, but the cold winter air wasn't the cause of his ruddy coloring.
A girl was, but InuYasha would never, ever say so. In fact, when Miroku gave him his signature knowing look, InuYasha tried desperately to deny it.
“I know what you're thinking, Monk,” InuYasha mumbled, avoiding eye-contact with his friends. “But I 'aint doing this because I like her or anything like that...”
“Mmhmm,” Sango hummed.
“She's just a friend!”
“We believe you.”
“I just didn't like that mangy wolf trying to 1-UP me up in front of her today!”
“Understandable,” Miroku agreed, the sarcasm subtle in his tone. InuYasha missed it, babbling on.
“Again, n-not because I like her. I mean, what's there to like about that annoying wen—?”
“You said that already, now shut up,” Sango said sternly.
Next to her, Miroku nodded sagely. “Talk like that is what got you here in the first place,” he reminded.
“But I know exactly how to help you out of this one,” Sango grinned, her brown eyes sparkling with the semi-mischievous, mostly evil glint that meant trouble for whomever she set her sights on. Miroku knew that look in her eye well—because usually, she reserved that look for him—so, eager to see what she had up her sleeve (and what someone else being her victim would look like) he let the beautiful, athletic girl take charge of the situation.
InuYasha eyed her, half-suspicious and half-afraid of whatever she had planned.
When she stood up and pointed one long, dagger of a fingernail at him, close enough to poke an eye out, InuYasha gulped, one-hundred-percent afraid now—though he'd never admit it!—of his demented friend.
“Meet me by the front entrance after school.”
`Damn that mangy wolf Kouga for starting this mess!'
Earlier that day, the trio InuYasha sat with at lunch had been a foursome, but their fourth stormed off angry and in tears after the slick wolf-youkai came over to their table to instigate an argument with InuYasha, which, as arguments between them usually did, snowballed into an all out brawl in the snow-covered front lawn of Shikon High School.
It happened over a Christmas present.
“I can't wait to show you what I got you,” Kouga boasted, his arm curling around Kagome Higurashi's shoulders as he forced the poor girl into an intimate hug. Though the pretty seventeen-year-old stressed way too many times that she only saw him as a friend, Kouga never took the hint or wasted any opportunity to put the moves on her. InuYasha growled and Kouga grinned, winking at the flushed, and clearly uncomfortable girl. “Only the best for my woman.”
“Stupid wolf!” InuYasha muttered. Kagome shot him a quick, exasperated look before turning her distressed baby blues on Kouga.
“Um, thanks Kouga, but,” she gently began, laying a hand on his forearm and discreetly trying to pry the limb off of her. “You really didn't have to get me anyt—”
“Of course I did!” Kouga cut her off smoothly. With a quick, sly look at InuYasha he added casually: “Your favorite color is green, right?”
She looked pleasantly surprised when she nodded.
“Yeah. How'd you know?”
“I pay attention, babe.”
“Ugh, please,” InuYasha snorted loudly, interrupting their moment. “You two make me sick.”
“InuYasha!” Kagome scolded, sounding hurt. He turned away from her with an irritated “keh.”
“Where the hell did Miroku and Sango go? I can't stand being around this anymore, disgusting flirts.”
Kouga shrugged. “You can leave,” he taunted, moving his arm from around Kagome's shoulders to her waist. Fists balling at his sides, InuYasha went to do just that.
“Wait!” Kouga shouted at his back, sounding cocky and delighted. “I forgot to ask ya mutt: what did YOU get Kagome for Christmas?”
The hanyou spun back around, his eyes comically wide. Kouga casually examined his own claws.
“It's this Sunday, you know.”
“I know that!” InuYasha shouted. He shot a nervous glance at Kagome who, for some reason, was looking at him funny. Her expression was some strange, barely readable mixture of hope and sadness, with a little affectionate tossed in there, and after a while, he couldn't stand to see that anymore...
So he turned his attention on Kouga, lavishing him with everything from insults to hard knocks to the skull for putting him in such an awkward and embarrassing position over a stupid Christmas present for a stupid girl who—
—truth be told, InuYasha liked. A lot. Kagome Higurashi had been the most recent addition to his small circle of friends but the raven-haired teen blended in perfectly. Always available whenever he needed tutoring, always extending a helping hand without him ever having to ask—because his own pride and stubbornness always prevented his asking—she managed to worm her way into her own little place in his heart...
...not that she knew, and InuYasha would never, EVER let her know that.
“Mutt,” Kouga grimaced, trying to wriggle out of the headlock InuYasha caught him in. By now, half the school stood around them, cheering the two wrestling boys on and drowning out Kagome's cries for them to stop. “I bet you didn't get her anything.”
An uppercut to InuYasha's chin dislodged the arms around his neck and faster than anyone could blink, Kouga switched positions with the hanyou.
“D-did too!” he growled out, swiftly bringing up his knee.
“Stop it you two!” Kagome shouted, running towards them them. She got dangerously close to being hit when Kouga swept his foot out to kick InuYasha, so with one last swing at Kouga, the hanyou jumped away from the fight.
Standing between the two boys, a red-faced and teary-eyed Kagome stomped her foot.
“Look, I don't care about any stupid presents either of you did or didn't get me! Christmas isn't even about that!”
That being said, she stormed off, leaving InuYasha shamefaced and Kouga...still grinning?
“That'll change once she sees what I bought her,” the wolf said confidently. InuYasha couldn't help himself. He and Kouga turned everything into a competition, and this would be no different:
“Keh, fat chance she'll even care about your gift once she sees what I got her.”
`There's just one problem,' he thought, mid-explaining what caused the fight to Miroku and Sango once they returned from wherever they'd run off to.
`I didn't get her anything yet!'
“Hey, Miroku?” Kagome asked timidly. Hours later, once school let up for the day, the two walked companionably towards the gated front entrance to the building.
“What's InuYasha doing with Sango?”
She tried not to sound jealous or even interested in what her hanyou best friend was doing—after all, she wasn't speaking to him—but her voice gave it all away. She, InuYasha, Miroku, and Sango always hung out together, but rarely did InuYasha spend much time alone with Sango, or Miroku with Kagome. If their group broke up into twosomes, usually the girls and guys stuck together or Miroku went off with Sango and left InuYasha with Kagome.
“...not that I care about what that jerk decides to do from now on,” Kagome added quickly, catching the amused look in Miroku's eye, but her gaze narrowed when she saw Sango loop her arm around InuYasha's, giving away how much Kagome DID care. Though she half-considered following the two to see what they were up to, her nose wrinkled at the thought. She determined not to care for real this time.
`Starting now!' she thought huffily, folding her arms across her chest and looking away from them.
Miroku shrugged. “No idea,” he lied. Truthfully, he felt a little bitter and jealous himself seeing Sango with the hanyou. Wherever they were going, Miroku wasn't allowed to come with because Sango knew Kagome would find all of them hanging out without her too suspicious. Good point, but the teen wasn't too crazy about the idea of them going off alone. He knew how enticing his goddess of a prospective girlfriend—and her butt—was, and though InuYasha was oblivious to pretty much all things female and alluring...
`You never know,' Miroku thought wryly, before realizing Kagome was standing there, not satisfied with his answer.
“I, uh, think she said something about helping him with his history homework?” he fibbed.
“Oh,” Kagome said, sounding glum.
`I'm usually the one who helps him with that,' she thought sadly.
“Yeah...soooo,” Miroku began casually. Kagome stiffened, a familiar, creeping sensation crawling slowly down her spine—towards her butt! “Wanna help me with my homework tonight?”
“Miroku, you pervert! Get a clue!”
Kagome slapped him.
...and for some reason, it made her feel better. Grateful for her perverted, but loveable best friend, Kagome hugged him and determined not to think evil thoughts about Sango and InuYasha for the rest of the night.
`...but still,' she couldn't help thinking. 'I wonder what they're doing right about now?'
“Are you CRAZY?!”
Sango hummed to herself, skipping in front of InuYasha and occasionally leaning over display cases to get a better look at their sparkling contents.
The hanyou gaped at her, watching with disbelief as she ordered a salesperson to pull a few pieces out for her to look at. She picked up a gigantic, glittering rock and held it to her ear, admiring the way it looked on her in an adjacent mirror. She had to be.
“A jewelry store is where you want me to pick out Kagome's present?” he clarified, feeling out of place in the luxurious shop she dragged him into. `THIS is her brilliant idea?'
“Yes,” Sango said innocently. She put the earring she'd been trying on down and held a long, diamond encrusted necklace up for inspection. “Haven't you seen the commercials? Diamonds are a girl's best friend! She'd love a gift from here.”
“B-but, I don't HAVE diamond-money!”
`...just two 50-yen coins and a bus pass!'*
A nearby salesman shot him a dirty look before snatching the sparkling pieces back from Sango and putting them back underneath the display case. He then rolled his eyes and distanced himself from the two obviously broke teens.
“Anyway, Kagome doesn't even like jewelry,” InuYasha added. Then his eyes narrowed suspiciously on Sango, who was smart enough to turn away and hide her grin.
“Hey, wait one damned minute—neither do you, Sango!” he accused. “'Diamonds are a girl's best friend,' my as—”
“How do you know she doesn't?” she challenged petulantly.
InuYasha thought about it for a second, envisioning Kagome in his mind. He knew Sango didn't like it because she was a tomboy and jewelery was too much of a burden to wear while playing any of the numerous sports she enjoyed. Kagome, however, looked and acted very much like a girl, but unlike other girls at their school who broke dress code with gaudy chains and too many earrings, Kagome kept her attire simple both in school and out of it.
“I just do!” InuYasha protested. Kouga's words came back to him and he grimaced:
“I pay attention, babe.”
Yeah, well, he did too!
“She doesn't need this shiny crap, anyway,” InuYasha started before catching a glimpse of Sango's weird, awestruck and pleased-as-punch expression. Clapping her hands as if her work there was done—though InuYasha didn't see how it could be; He still hadn't bought Kagome's present—she dragged the confused hanyou out of the jewelry store.
“InuYasha, tell her that!” Sango said before they parted ways. She clapped him on the shoulder. “She'll love it!”
“Love what? Was it something I said? I don't see how you just helped me with anything!” InuYasha shouted after her.
Sango threw her hands up in the air with an exasperated sigh.
“Then I can't help you!” she tossed back, her head shaking.
`The jerk doesn't get it...and I wonder if he ever will.'
The next day, bright and early, InuYasha popped up at Miroku's house with a frightening look of determination on his face and more than just chump change in his pocket.
“Sango was useless yesterday,” the hanyou hastily explained, dragging the half-dressed, half-awake boy outside into the frigid, wintery air. “And I don't expect you to be much better, but I have until tomorrow to get this present, so let's go!”
“Yash, I know the perfect place to go for this, but please...let me put some pants on first!”
“ Ooh, monk, you are dead!”
Fortunately for Miroku, InuYasha needed to catch him in order to kill him, so he shrugged off the threat, dashing into the store where he knew he'd be safe from the angry hanyou's claws. Outside, a blushy InuYasha shouted insults at Miroku.
“You can't stay in there forever, pervert! Come out, coward, and face me like a man!”
Miroku sniggered, darting behind a table displaying dozens of brightly colored bras.
`On the contrary, I think I can stay in here forever. Gotta love Victoria's Secret!'
“Bastard!” InuYasha growled from outside. His best friend rolled his eyes, exasperated.
“Quit being a baby, Yash, and get in here. They sell more than just lingerie,” Miroku pointed out, gesturing towards a whole beauty section in the back.
...only once InuYasha gave in and entered the store, Miroku dragged him to see everything but beauty products.
“What about this?” he asked, holding up a lacy green bra and thong set. “Green is her favorite color, right? She'll love it!”
“M-monk!” InuYasha choked out, backing away from him. “Put that back down!”
Waggling his brows, Miroku ignored InuYasha's protests and tossed the thong at an him. “Yeah, she'll love it,” he repeated, sounding pleased with himself. “Maybe we'll get her a nice sheer nightgown to go with it...and one in pink for Sango.”
“L-like hell,” InuYasha stammered, flicking the offending undergarment off of himself. Wrinkling his nose at all that the store had to offer, InuYasha added, sounding childish: “I don't see the point of stuff like this. It all looks uncomfortable and frilly and stupid.”
Miroku's mouth dropped open. “Are you serious?” he asked, almost insulted. For lechers everywhere he felt the need to defend Vicky's good name. “The point is that it's sexy, and it makes women look sexy.”
Making a spectacle of himself inside the store, Miroku flailed his arms wildly when he cried dramatically: “Don't you want Kagome to look sexy?”
“KEH. She already is!” InuYasha blurted out before he could stop himself. His hands clapped over his mouth as the hanyou turned a disturbingly dark shade of red. Miroku once again looked stunned.
“You think she's...sexy?”
“Wha—NO!” InuYasha amended, shifting uncomfortably. “She just doesn't need to dress up in all these weird, frilly outfits to look nice...and she definitely doesn't need those stupid beauty products you pointed out that smell like cheap flowers and old lady perfume, so come one monk, we're getting out of here!”
“What?” the teen growled, pushing Miroku out of the store.
“What you just told me about Kagome not needing any of this stuff to look nice—maybe you should tell her that.”
“Sango told me the same thing,” InuYasha snorted. “What's wrong with you two! You're both weird.”
“You can't be helped. Hey—wait!”
He shrugged InuYasha's hand off of his shoulder and ran up to the window of some costume store they passed on their way out of the mall. Inuyasha was more than confused when he caught him eyeballing a strange, black latex suit adorned with pink armor.
“Sango would look great in that,” Miroku grinned, his eyes glazing over. “I should buy it for her so she can wear it for me.”
“—and you guys say I'm the hopeless one? Quit fantasizing about her in that suit, pervert!”
“I know you. You were.”
“Really, I wasn't,” Miroku sniggered as InuYasha directed him away from the costume store, spluttering insults. “Honestly. I was picturing her in that cool-looking armor.”
“Oh. Well that's a first.”
“...just the armor.”
So again, InuYasha went home empty handed, the monk being of no help. The next day was Christmas day and with it came falling snow and a very smug text message from Kouga about his plans to drop his present off at Kagome's house later on that day. InuYasha still had nothing to give her and it upset him more than he'd willingly admit, even to himself. For the first time in years he had a reason to celebrate the silly Western holiday. More importantly, he had someone he wanted to celebrate it with. His best friend was incredible, just as spitfire as she was sweet, gentle, and loving, and though InuYasha cared a lot about her, he and the way he acted sometimes only pushed her away from him. She already said she never wanted to speak to him, so did it matter then that he had no Christmas present to show for this year?
Truth be told, he didn't think getting her anything was that big of a deal until Kouga came along, bragging about his gift. The sad, hopeful, affectionate look she gave him when Kouga asked him what he bought her made him feel the absolute pits when he realized he hadn't even thought about getting her a present. Kouga, who she barely gave the time of day to, got her something as a token of his appreciation while InuYasha, who appreciated her more than she'd ever know, had absolutely nothing to give her.
`She hates me anyway,' he remembered, saddening as he recalled her words after the fight at school. 'Maybe I should just—'
“Give it up, kid,” someone next to him encouraged. InuYasha jumped, failing to notice the—`What the hell IS that???'—sitting next to him on a park bench outside. Covered from head to toe in bandages with nothing but a dingy coat to shield the man/thing/creature from the cold, whatever spoke to him took a drag from the cigarette it held before opining in a scratchy, harsh voice: “Whoever she is, she's not worth it.”
InuYasha bristled. “What the hell do you know,” he muttered, scooting away from the creep.
It laughed. “I know that you look stupid sitting out here in the cold with that dumb, lovesick look on your face.”
“I do NOT!”
“You do. I also know that women, they're no good.” Leaning toward InuYasha, the bandaged stranger whispered conspiratorially: “Wanna know why I look like this?”
“Not really,” InuYasha grimaced. Through the threadbare bandages he caught a glimpse of mangled, pink skin, charred completely black in some places.
“A woman did this to me!” it told him anyway. “This crazy, good-for-nothing, hell-bitch of a woman named Kikyou—”
“Hey, that's nice and all, but my Kagome is nothing like this Kikyou woman!” InuYasha snapped. He stood up, fists curling at his sides. “She's nice, and pretty, and compassionate, and—”
“Why are you telling me this?” it asked, sounding bored all of a sudden. “All I wanted to do was complain, but if you don't share my opinion—”
InuYasha wasn't listening. Stunned by the force of his epiphany, his mind reeled through conversations he should have paid more attention to:
“Talk like that is what got you here in the first place.”
“You think she's...sexy?”
“Why are you telling ME this?”“
“I don't care about any stupid presents!
“Maybe you should tell her...”
“...Christmas isn't even about that!”
“ Tell her that!”
Damn it! It made sense now!
Words got him into this mess, and they might get him out of it.
`I'm an idiot,' he realized. The last few days he'd been telling everyone how Kagome didn't want or need much to be happy or look beautiful. She was simple and sweet and...
...he should be telling her that! After all, the holiday was a time to spend times with—InuYasha gulped at the realization—loved ones.
With newfound courage, InuYasha rose from his seat and ran in the direction of her shrine home, leaving the crazy burnt guy shouting after him.
“Hey, were you even listening to me?!”
It rolled it's eyes. “Merry Christmas to you, too.”
Back at the shrine, Kagome tried to act pleased with her present, but the ginormous slime-green teddy bear had to be the ugliest thing she'd ever seen.
“T-thanks, Kouga, I love it!” she lied. Kouga (and his ego) were too busy patting himself on the back to notice that her smile was a forced one. As she disappeared inside her house to put the present somewhere where her fat cat, Buoyo, might find (and destroy) it, Kagome felt horrible for finding his gift horrible. Wasn't the thought supposed to count somehow? Truthfully, it was sweet of Kouga to think of her—AND apologize as profusely as he did for upsetting her at school the other day—but Kagome couldn't help her disappointment, especially when, for the millionth time, he followed up his cheesy presentation of her gift by asking her out on a date.
How many times did she have to reject the poor guy for him to get it through his head??? She wasn't interested!
...and where was InuYasha.? Further fueling her disappointment was the fact that he hadn't shown up. In fact, she hadn't seen him since the fight at school and wondered worriedly if he took her harsh words seriously.
`Oh my God! I'm such an idiot!'
When Kouga texted her that morning with his plans to show up at the shrine, she hoped it meant InuYasha would turn up too, even if it meant another brawl between the two. She missed her best friend desperately and wanted nothing more than to spend Christmas with the crass, but loveable hanyou.
“Maybe I should call him and apologi—”
“Mutt!” she heard Kouga yell outside. She froze in place, her heart pounding out an erratic rhythm as she wondered if InuYasha had actually shown up. Kouga only used that moniker on one person, but she didn't want to walk out and experience disappointment if, by some chance, her hanyou wasn't there. “Didn't think you'd actually show your ugly face here, and I see you're empty-handed, too. How lousy! My woman deserves better.”
“Piss off, Kouga.”
Kagome's breath caught before, wildly happy, she lost her mind and went sprinting outside in just her pajamas and bunny slippers.
She flew at him, not caring that the temperature outside dipped below zero, or that her bunny-slippers didn't properly warm or protect her feet from the cold. When he caught her easily, she finally knew it wasn't a dream, though it very much felt just as magical. She buried her face in his warm, red jacket and tried to stave off tears.
`I can't believe it. I wanted you to show up and you did!' She gazed up at him adoringly, enamored by the fangy grin he wore just for her and thinking that three days of not speaking to him felt like a lifetime.
“Damn, Kagome,” Kouga snorted from somewhere behind them. For a moment, both InuYasha and Kagome forget he was there. “He's your best friend and he didn't get you a present? What a wimp. From now on, why don't you sit with me at my ta—?”
“Shut up, wolf,” InuYasha said dismissively, keeping his gaze focused on the girl in his arms. Her greeting was better than anything he could ever have hoped for and he silently hoped Sango, Miroku, and the crazy thing/man/creature from the park could feel how grateful he was for their advice...even though the latter didn't mean to spark his epiphany. Focusing bright gold on his beautiful best friend, who looked angelic and perfect in the snow-covered setting, flakes glittering like tiny jewels in her hair, InuYasha wondered what he should say and where he should start.
Kouga pouted, knowing that the battle was lost and accepting his defeat.
And after a long moment, while InuYasha organized his thoughts...
“Hey,” the hanyou whispered softly. He decided that there was as good a place to start as any.
Kagome giggled, wiping the moisture from her eyes. She knew better than to expect poetry from him, but he seemed prepared to say something!
“Hey,” she shot back. “What are you doing here? I didn't think you'd—”
“I missed you,” InuYasha cut her off. Kagome's mouth fell open in shock and while nerves and fear threatened to overwhelm InuYasha, he refused to stop talking until he got everything he wanted to say out. He rarely, if ever, used his words for good, but today—with Kagome—seemed the perfect time to start.
“Two days of not speaking to you were hell. I missed you laughing with me, arguing with me, tutoring me—which, by the way, I probably failed that last history assignment because of yo—”
“ I thought Sango helped you out with that!” Kagome cried, confused. “Miroku said—”
“ Our friends are useless,” InuYasha shook his head. “But that's a story for another day. These two days before Christmas, I went crazy trying to find you the perfect gift. Sango took me to a jewelry store where everything was too expensive, Miroku took me to—you don't even want to know where,” he blushed, willing the embarrassing memory out of existence. “And then I met some deranged man-thing in the park who helped me realize that...you were right. Christmas isn't about presents or 1-Upping that idiot Kouga. None of that is important. You are.”
“ So, I didn't get you anything yet, but I came here to—well, to tell you that—and,” InuYasha shyly ran a hand over his head, “t-to ask if maybe, possibly, you'dwannaspendChristmaswithme?”
He blurted the last part out in one long, jumbled, nervously spoken mess.
`Crap! And I was doing so well!'
Kagome laughed again, enveloping InuYasha in a warm, tight hug. The wintry air didn't faze her. She felt alive and on fire in his arms.
“Come again?” she teased, though she understood him the first time.
InuYasha took a deep breath. “Would you want to spend Christmas with me?” he repeated, blushing. “I-I mean,” he stammered when she didn't answer right away, “if you still want a real present I'll buy you one, but I thought maybe we could—Ka-Kagome? Why are you looking at me like...let go of my...Mmmph!”
Grabbing a fistful of his red wool jacket, Kagome threw herself at him, sending the two of them flying backwards into a bank of snow. Only then, when he was sufficiently caught off guard, did she press her lips to his in a sweet, loving kiss.
“Oh, InuYasha,” Kagome sniffled when they pulled apart for air. “Of course I want to spend Christmas with you. This is the best Christmas gift you could have given me ever!”
“B-but, I told you. I didn't get you an actual present. If you still want me to, the mall closes early today, but I THINK we can still—”
“Idiot,” she giggled, laying her head on his chest and hearing his heartbeat through his many layers of clothing. “You don't get it, do you?”
InuYasha's brows knit in confusion. “Everyone keeps telling me that, but I don't get what I'm missing! I finally told you how I felt and—”
“Just shut up and kiss me.”