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Nine to Five by Tsuki no Tennyo

Nine to Five

Author's Note: Melancholic slice of life Diner!AU because I have needs.

.

There were many reasons that he stood out from her usual diners, which consisted mainly of locals, truckers, and the broken up family that stopped by. For one thing, he was clearly not American. In the beginning she had trouble figuring out his exact ethnicity, but she had it all figured out when she accidentally passed by him during a private phone conversation spoken entirely in Japanese.

Secondly, he looked like he was dressed to be in a five-star restaurant in New York City or Los Angeles, and not a humble mom and pop's diner in the middle of nowhere. Initially, she had thought him to be just a one-time-only passerby, but two weeks had passed since he had first stepped inside the diner all decked out with Americana décor, never missing a single day.

"Ten a.m.," she said in Japanese, walking up to the booth by the window that had now been unofficially deemed as his, "Punctual as always, Sesshoumaru."

He looked up from his cellphone, apparently in the middle of a text message, and gave her only a curt nod as a greeting.

She held up a worn out notepad, grabbing the pencil tucked behind her ear. "Usual order?"

He nodded.

"Hey, Joe!" she yelled in English to behind the counter for the short order cook, "I need a plate of Adam and Eve on a raft!"

She turned back to Sesshoumaru, smiling and speaking Japanese again, "You should try some of our other food one day. Our chicken and waffles is pretty darn good."

"I'll take that into consideration," he said, speaking for the first time to her.

"Great!" she said before walking away to take her next order, unaware that his eyes continued to linger on her as she moved from customer to customer.

.

She was friendly and interested in all of her customers; that was just the type of person she was, but she had taken a special interest in him. He was a reminder of home, something far beyond her reach now, but he was comforting even if he didn't know it.

"It's cold outside," she said, walking up to him just as he was getting up to leave. She held out a to-go cup of coffee to his surprise. "It's on the house."

He hesitated for a moment before accepting her gift, letting his fingers brushed against hers. "Thank you, Kagome."

She felt her heart warmed up, even if he was only being polite to her.

.

He did not talk much at first, and really, he did not talk much at all to anyone since he had arrived in town. He was fluent in English, but he just chose to keep to himself, speaking as few words as possible. The women fawned over his quiet mysterious nature. The men scoffed at the asshole pretty boy, feeling threatened by his intelligence, wealth, and minimal effort in attracting female attention.

Kagome, herself, had just felt happy to have someone to converse in Japanese again, even if it was a slow progress in the beginning.

"Are you staying at the motel across the street?"

He had nodded once, eyes skimming over the menu, before settling on the mundane order of poached eggs and toast and coffee that she quickly memorized.

"This town is really not that bad once you get used to it," she had said with a shrug and a smile, "but I'm sure you might wish for a nicer hotel in town. At least one with fewer cockroaches as guests."

With a light, friendly laugh that had left a deep impression on him, she disappeared off to behind the counter, bustling along the way as customers called to her.

.

One day, he didn't show up at his usual time, causing Kagome to worry. It seemed unlike him, even though the only thing she knew about him was his name, where he came from (for the most part), and that he was punctual and a stickler for routine. She realized she didn't know all that much, but the things she did know she felt should count towards being entitled to worry about him.

It was nearing three o'clock in the afternoon when she saw him entering as she wiped down the booth closest to the door. She stood up, meeting his eyes, and smiled jokingly. "It is not like you to be tardy."

"Am I tardy?"

"Well, you were absent for breakfast," she said, walking him over to his booth that was already cleaned and ready for the next diner. "So, the usual still?"

"Yes," he answered, but before she could holler the order for Joe, he stopped her, "Will you join me?"

She was surprised by the request, but she smiled, and accepted the invitation. "I'll get us something to drink then. Coffee for you?"

He nodded, watching as she went to get the drinks and finished up her earlier tasks.

A few minutes later she came back with two identical plates of two poached eggs on toast, placing one for him and for her. "You are lucky everyone else in town has already been fed." She was already helping herself to her plate. "I am starving! I had to skip my lunch earlier to cover for Shelly, so she could pick up her sick son from school. Poor little Elliot, caught the chicken pox suddenly was what she told me—"

She stopped, realizing that she was babbling as he stared at her. She blushed as she moved her fork around an egg, breaking the yolk so it smeared down her piece of toast. "Sorry," she mumbled as she reached for the salt and pepper, shaking them all over her eggs.

"For what?"

"For, well, babbling away like that. You don't care about such things."

He nodded briefly. "You are correct, I do not."

She felt her face burned up again with embarrassment as she set the shakers back in their places.

"But I am interested in learning how a Japanese woman found herself in an American diner out in the Midwest."

She laughed softly. "Well," she sighed, "I wanted to be an actress, but I ended up here instead. My life is basically a clichéd Hollywood movie. Ironic, isn't it?"

"Explain," he said, still not touching his own plate.

"Well," she was a bit hesitant with sharing this particular detail about herself. She was close with all of her co-workers and the other townspeople, but they only knew things about her that she had chosen to tell. This particular detail she had decided to keep secret from everyone. She inhaled sharply, seeing him stare at her with such an intense look she could feel he was pulling the secret out of her. "Alright. No one knows this, and I'm only telling you this because you will be the only one to understand it and I know you are not the type to gossip."

He nodded.

"I was married to an American," she said, expecting him to be surprised by the reveal, but his face remained impassive. She took in a quick sharp breath before continuing, "He was a musician—not famous, but he had a decent-sized group of fans. We met when I was an exchange student in college a few years ago."

He remained silent, absorbing in her story, so she continued.

"We were young and…stupid," she said, frowning, "And he was not who I thought I fell in love with."

She rubbed at her arms, suddenly feeling cold. "It was good the first year, but when I started to get ambitious about moving to L.A. to pursue my career, he started getting angry, saying no bigshot director would ever want to cast a 'Jap' like me."

Her throat felt suddenly dry. She cleared it, continuing a bit quieter than before, losing all of her earlier merriment, "I was shocked that he would use that word around me, but I had brushed it aside, thinking he was stressed about his own stagnant career. But then it had gotten worse."

She poked at her food absently, her earlier appetite gone. She wasn't looking at Sesshoumaru now, feeling only a bittersweet sense of comfort to be able to share the story she had kept buried for years. "It was just verbally at first. And emotionally, I suppose. Then it has gotten physical. He wasn't even drunk."

She touched close to her left eye. "He said 'a good Jap wife should obey her husband' when he thought I was talking back to him during a disagreement." She touched her lips. "'Did you kiss anyone else with this whore mouth?'" She felt her right cheek and shrugged. "Sometimes he didn't need a reason. He wanted a punching bag more than a wife, I guess."

"How did you leave him then?" Sesshoumaru asked finally.

"I didn't," she said, stabbing at the other egg on her plate now with resentment, watching in almost a cold satisfaction as the yolk bled over the white plate. "I had no money, no family here or there, I was entirely dependent on him. Not that he would have let me leave him even if I could have."

She sighed and then smiled, sad and broken, looking much older than her real age in that moment. "Goddamned bastard drank too much one night and drove into a lake."

"You never left town after that?"

"I did, I moved here," she said. "No one knows me here, so I could just have a fresh start."

"Why not L.A. then?"

She shrugged. "He was an asshole, but he was right." She snorted quietly, hating the aftertaste her last comment left in her mouth, "How many Asian actors have you seen made it big in Hollywood? It was just a dumb dream."

"It is not a dumb dream if you are truly passionate about it."

"Then I guess I have no passion," she said. "It was time I had woken up anyway. Nothing for me in Japan, and nothing for me here, but it's fine. I like my life now."

"Do you?"

She nodded. "I like the friends I have made here. I like this quiet monotony."

He said nothing to that.

"What about you? How did you end up here dressed the way you do?" She gestured to the expensive designer suit that was a far contrast to the humble overalls and plaid shirts that she saw every day from the other regulars. She always did feel plain in her waitress uniform around him. "You look like you should be at the Russian Tea Room, not Mama Ann's Diner."

"I am here on business," he stated simply.

"In this boring old town? The only booming business here—other than Mama Ann's, of course—is old man Dan's car repair shop." She paused, frowning as she remembered something else, "Well, maybe the strip club down the road might have us both edged out."

"No, in Chicago," he explained, smirking only a bit at her flippant jabbering, "but I was passing by and decided to take a little extended detour."

"Not the kind of detour I would have in mind," she mumbled, and then grinned, "Or did you get lured to Max's Climax? Max's girls are like sirens for the fellows, and some of the ladies, I might add. Did you see Chastity there? She's real friendly."

She wagged her eyebrows suggestively, causing him to cough and then chuckled, saying slowly. "No, I did not get 'lured' to the…club."

"What a shame," she said, taking a bite of her toast and egg. "Thursday night is all-you-can-eat-wings."

"I'll keep that in mind," he said with a raise of his brow. There was a hint of bewildered amusement in his expression and voice. "You seem to be fairly knowledgeable of that place."

"Oh, of course. I know the girls there," she said with a wink, "Actually, I know the bouncers, too. And Max. Well, I know everyone in town, let's just put it simply."

"I would imagine a town of a few hundred would be fairly close."

She nodded. "It was strange at first, since I look nothing like everyone else here and they knew nothing about foreigners other than what they've read or seen on TV." She grabbed her glass of water, taking a brief sip before setting it back down. "It was not always good things, but I wasn't too mad by some of their bigotry. They've gotten better."

She pointed at him, grinning from ear to ear. "You're the town's latest gossip, by the way."

"How so?"

"Well, the bingo ladies do it the most, talking about that 'tall drink of water' in the same way that the high school girls are always giggling when they see you come in for breakfast on the weekends."

He chuckled. "Is that so? It seems I am a fairly oblivious man."

"I would imagine you would probably be used to the attention." She grinned again. "We don't get many handsome strangers in town, so you are a breath of fresh air compared to the burly truckers and divorced midlife-crisis dads."

"I'll take that as a compliment then," he said.

"Oh, you should!" she said before widening her eyes, "I better get back to work. I have to get things ready before the dinner rush—oh, no your food has gotten cold!" She reached for his plate, "I can heat it up again for you, if—"

"It's fine, Kagome, do not trouble yourself."

"Are you sure? It would be no trouble at all—"

"It's fine," he repeated with a faint smile, a rare occurrence, causing her cheeks to reddened a bit.

She tucked strands of her hair behind her ear, nearly forgetting about the pencil she had placed there, feeling suddenly shy in his presence. She backed away slowly with her own plate and glass. "Well, I'll just get back there and help Joe with everything. Just holler when you're ready to pay."

He nodded, watching as she disappeared into the kitchen.

.

"Do you miss home?" he asked her one day as she stopped by his table to refill his mug of coffee.

She was surprised by the sudden question, but she shrugged as a response. "Don't really got one, so I don't know what to tell you."

"You mentioned once having no one waiting for you in Japan?"

She shook her head. "Parents are both gone. I had a little brother, but we aren't really speaking anymore." She set the pot of coffee she was holding on the table for a moment as she reached behind her to untie her apron and readjust it to fit more comfortably again. "My dad's family had a shrine, so I don't know if he's still staying there, or if he sold it. Or abandon it. Not that it matters either way with me."

She picked up the pot of coffee again, being called away by a customer before Sesshoumaru could ask any more questions.

.

"So are you ever going to go to Chicago?" Kagome teased, setting his usual plate of two poached eggs and toast in front of him.

He smirked behind his coffee mug, "When the time is right, I will go."

"Hmm, cryptic," she said with a smile.

.

"What sort of business are you in?" she asked one rainy morning as she sat down at his booth, opposite of him.

The weather kept most of her usual regulars away, leaving her with plenty of free time to chat with him. She watched as he cut into an egg to break the yolk so it spilled over his toast before he took a bite of his breakfast. She wondered how he hadn't grown tired of the same old meal day after day.

"Advertising," he answered.

"Oh, how very…unexpected."

He looked at her, perplexed.

"I mean, you are certainly dressed for the part," she started in her explanation, gesturing to the suit he always wore, "I just expected something more…mundane."

"Like…?"

"I don't know. Something with lots of numbers and big words beyond my simple brain's capability to understand."

"You are more intelligent than you give yourself credits for," he said, seeming displeased with the way she put herself down.

She looked outside the window, seeing the rain was not easing up any time soon. Occasionally, she would see a single car drive by down the road, hitting a large puddle and creating a massive splash. She sighed.

"I'm just a college dropout."

"That is irrelevant," he answered, "Your intelligence is not measured by a piece of paper."

"So," she felt suddenly uncomfortable with how the conversation had shifted to her, "So why are you delaying your trip to Chicago? Won't your agency or something be angry that you haven't shown up yet?"

"I already had my meeting," he explained, "We did it online. I have a different kind of business in Chicago to attend."

"Oh," she said, "Personal?"

He nodded.

"Then this is none of my business," she said, standing up, but he stopped her.

"My father has recently passed away," he said suddenly before pausing with a faint frown on his face. "Well, I suppose it has been over two months now."

"Oh, no," Kagome said softly, not expecting something like this, "I am so sorry to hear that, Sesshoumaru—"

"But that is not my reason for going to Chicago," he interrupted her, not at all fazed by the condolence she tried to offer. He gripped the napkin on the table tightly, eyes darkening in a way she had never seen before from him. "I have recently learned that I have a half-brother, seven years younger than I am."

Kagome settled back into her seat, reaching across the table to touch his hand. He remained unfazed by her actions.

"It makes sense," he said, seeming to have pieced together some puzzle that had grappled him all of his life. "His many oversea business trips, the phone calls, his detachment with my mother and I, everything. He had a secret family, one that he cared more about."ss

"Now, Sesshoumaru," she said gently, stroking his hand, "You know that can't be true. He must have loved you and your mother just the same."

"How would you react to the news?" he looked at her expectantly, "If you found out your dead father had a secret family you never knew about?"

She was startled by the question and even more by the hypothetical scenario. She pulled her hand back, placing it into her lap as she rubbed the black apron worn around her waist. "I don't remember much about him. I was too young when he died," she said softly, feeling guilty that she couldn't even remember her own father anymore, "but I think I would be angry like you are right now."

Sesshoumaru sat up even straighter than before, feeling pleased to have justified his anger, but the feeling of satisfaction quickly diminished when Kagome continued with her thought.

"But I would want to meet them."

"Why?"

"They can't be blamed for the circumstance surrounding their birth, and I'm sure they feel just as angry and dissatisfied to have just half a parent who is always in and out of their life," Kagome explained in the same gentle tone, "Your brother can't be blamed for your father's judgment and fallacy. Wouldn't you like to get to know him and judge him based on his own merit?"

Sesshoumaru seemed displeased, but also conflicted with her advice.

She gave his hand another gentle touch, catching his attention. "Whether or not you meet him is your choice, but don't hate him for your father's mistakes."

He watched as she walked away to resume her job. He looked out the window.

It seemed to be pouring now with no promise of a clear sky any time soon.

.

Though they had some disagreements, the air around them remained the same as they continued with their daily routine.

"Penny for your thought?" she asked him the next day, handing him his bill when she noticed how intensely he was looking at her.

"Do you ever think you are settling?"

She had not expected this question, but she smiled, asking, "What do you mean? I am not settling for anything."

"You settled for an abusive husband. You settled for this town. You settled to be a diner waitress for the rest of your life," he said it all in one breath, even toned, but hitting her hard just the same. There seemed to be a subtle look of frustration sparking in his eyes. "Do you not think you deserve more?"

She shrugged, only because it seemed the only sensible thing to do in that moment. She had no answer. Truth be told, she didn't like thinking about the future much anymore. "Not everyone gets to be as well off and happy as you, Sesshoumaru."

"I am not happy," he said, surprising her, "but this is not about me. I am asking you. Do you not want more for your life?"

"I have a decent job, a roof over my head, and surrounded by people who care about me. What more do I need?"

"You are settling," he repeated, tone unchanged. "You had dreams."

"Dreams are meant to be broken," she answered defiantly, feeling for the first time a sense of irritation with him. She didn't understand why he seemed more upset about her life choices than she was. She had accepted that this was all there was to her life. "Can you even see a girl like me in Hollywood among all of those stars?"

"Yes," he answered, his conviction strong and genuine.

She felt her legs go weak, unused to such confidence bestowed on her. She shifted nervously before turning away.

"I have to go get more coffee," she mumbled, "Just pay when you are ready. I'll be back in a moment."

She walked away, still feeling his eyes on her.

.

One day, as she placed his plate in front of him, Kagome noticed his left ring finger was bare. It shouldn't mean anything to her, but she felt curious, wanting to learn more about him. He had learned so much about her, but with him, he was still very much an enigma, still just a stranger that had walked into her diner weeks ago and hadn't left yet.

"Have you ever been married?" she asked the question one day, whatever remnants of anger she felt with him had dispersed long ago.

"I have not," he answered, not offended or surprised by her curiosity. He looked at her, a wry smirk was forming on his face. "Why the sudden interest, Kagome?"

She flustered for a moment, and then she mumbled softly, trying to appear nonchalant, "It's nothing. You just seem like you should have been married at least once."

He took a sip of his coffee. "I am afraid married life is just not for me, much to my mother's exasperation, of course."

"All parents must wish the best for their children," she responded, thinking of her deceased parents for a moment, wondering if they would be sad by the choices she had made. Her life at the moment was far from what she had dreamt of as a child. She did not live in a big fancy apartment in the city, working at the type of job that could afford her to buy designer clothes and accessories, or have a handsome boyfriend on her arm who would take her out to wine and dine at only the best restaurants in town. Now, she was just happy if she could make ends meet on her humble salary and whatever generous tips she received.

"She does desire a grandchild. I suppose he did as well."

She looked at him sharply, shaken out of her thoughts and barely registering what he had said. He didn't appear to notice her lack of concentration.

"But the women I take to bed are not the maternal type."

Even though she was the one that had started the whole conversation, she felt embarrassed by his frankness. Weeks ago, she had only thought of him as just the mysterious stranger that had shown up at her diner, coming day after day to the same booth and conversing with her on a genuine emphatic level. She had told herself before it was only because they were the only two people who shared the same language in this town, making the conversations that much easier, but she wondered if he had been anyone else, would it have even been the same?

She didn't think so anymore. He was one of a kind, the way he carried himself and talked was very different from the people she had met over the years. He was honest and intense, but still managed to have this enigmatic air around him that she wanted to clear. She wanted to know him on an even deeper level, though she knew it to just be her own foolish desire.

"Well, then," she said, putting on her best cheerful voice, though inside she felt a strange emptiness brought on by his own hollow words, "Maybe you should hit Max's Climax and finish sowing your wild oats. Afterwards, start considering having a more serious relationship with a nice woman. You won't be young and gorgeous forever—or does that only apply to women?"

He chuckled at her, causing her to blush a bit. "You are a unique woman, Kagome."

She shrugged. "Uniquely stubborn is what Joe is always calling me."

"And how about you?" He took a glance at her left ring finger, much the same way she did with his. "Have you considered getting remarried someday?"

She felt her blush returned a few shades brighter. "Not really, no."

He nodded. "I understand."

She smiled sadly. "Do you think I'm wasting myself away?"

"I think," he said slowly with careful consideration for his words, "that only you can be in control of your own happiness."

"Hm." She mulled over his words. "You give good advices, Sesshoumaru."

"But I am also the world's biggest hypocrite, Kagome."

"Are you now?" she laughed. "Well, we all have our flaws."

"Indeed."

.

"Why are you unhappy?" The thought had been nagging in her mind for several days now, even though when he had said it, it came out more like a casual factual statement, as if he was just stating the color of the sky or describing the weather. She stood by his table, hadn't even called out his order yet, but just waiting for him to reveal more of himself to her.

"What does it matter?"

"It matters to me," she said firmly, feeling her heart bleeding for him.

"Do I need a reason to be unhappy?"

She looked at him and then said softly, feeling almost like a chastised child, "No, I suppose not." She turned to call out his order, but felt his hand slipping into hers for a moment. She looked at him, feeling her heart stopping under his steady gaze.

"I am happy when I talk with you, Kagome."

She smiled at him. "I feel the same."

.

He didn't show up at the diner one day. Or the next. Or even the following. She knew he would be gone one day, but she didn't think he would have left without saying a goodbye, or that she would feel this heartbroken over him leaving. Without her realizing it, his presence had become a routine that she enjoyed and anticipated daily, and now that he was absent from her life, she felt strangely lost and alone—even more so than before he had walked into her life.

.

She kept his table cleared for three days with the expectation that he might show up at any time again.

.

It was a week later when he returned to the diner, surprising her even though she had already started to accept with great reluctance that he was gone. She stood against the counter, giving him one of her trademark smiles, hoping to hide the hurt she had felt previously.

"Hello, stranger," she said in English before switching over to Japanese, "Saved a seat for you."

He nodded, following after her as she led him to his booth.

Out of habit, she held up her notepad and pulled the pencil out from behind her ear. "Poached eggs and—"

"Actually," he started, "Perhaps I will try something different today."

"Will you now?" she said with a raised brow, breaking into a grin. "Thank god, I'm going to win my bet against Joe and Shelly."

He looked at her with suspicion.

"We have a pool going on about how long you will keep up with your order," she explained, noticing his face remained on the annoyed side, "They're convinced you will always order the same boring old poached eggs and toast, but I thought you would try something new one time."

"So what do you recommend?"

She turned around, and yelled in English, "Hey, Joe! I need a barnyard pileup in a fog!" Then she paused, before yelling back, "And you and Shelly both owe me $50!"

Joe stuck his shaved head out of the kitchen, taking a look at her and then Sesshoumaru, before realizing what had just happened. He laughed heartily, "Damn it, I was this close to winning that pool, Kags!"

"Better luck next time, Joe!" she shouted back, grinning, "Now get his order ready!"

Sesshoumaru looked at her questionably, asking in Japanese, "What did you order for me?"

"Chicken-fried steak with eggs and mashed potato," she explained, and seeing his confused look remained, she clarified further, "It's just steak breaded and fried, sort of like tonkatsu—kind of, anyway. There's no chicken in the dish. Well, other than chicken eggs. And…and I'm babbling again, but you'll like it! Or just pretend to like it for my sake."

He chuckled, "Very well."

"Great!" She looked up when another group of customers walked in. "Be right back with your order in a bit."

She returned about twelve minutes later with the dish, which seemed to be much larger and heartier compared to the meager eggs and toast she always served him. She set the plate on the table, grinning ear to ear, "Honestly, a guy as tall as you should have been eating something more filling than eggs, toast, and coffee."

He raised a brow at the plate in front of him. "I might be regretting letting you choose my meal."

She sat down opposite from him, smirking, "Oh, don't be like that. I have money on the line with this. If you don't eat it, it'll count against me!"

"For you then," he said with a nod, cutting into the chicken-fried steak and taking a hesitant bite.

She looked at him with expectant wide eyes. "Well?"

"It is different," he said slowly.

"I'll take it, I don't need to know nothin' else!" She was about to scoot out of the booth when his voice stopped her, causing her to turn and face him again.

"I was in Chicago."

"Were you now?" she asked with a smile, feeling her earlier sadness over him leaving to be silly, though it did reveal to her how comfortable she had gotten around him. She settled back in her seat more comfortably, turning her full attention over to him. "Did you meet him?"

"I did," Sesshoumaru responded, placing his utensils carefully off to the sides of his plate. "It seems he already knew about me."

Kagome looked surprised. "Do you suppose your father might have talked about you?"

He nodded. "It also seems that you were correct, Kagome."

Her surprised expression remained as she pointed to herself. "Me? About what?"

"He is just as displeased with our father as I am." He shook his head, causing his bangs to flutter up for a moment, "My father was not as infallible as I once believed him to be."

"But that does not mean he wasn't a good man, does it?"

Sesshoumaru was quiet, pondering over her comment, and then he shook his head slowly, conceding, "It does not."

"Your brother—"

He shot her a quick look.

"Half-brother," she amended, carefully treading with her thought, "what is he like?"

"He was born in Japan, but he and his mother moved to Chicago when he was a toddler." Sesshoumaru stated, recalling what his half-brother had shared. Then he continued quietly, "He has a wife. She is also Japanese, and they have two young children, a girl and a boy."

"Well, isn't that nice!"

It was Sesshoumaru's turn to be puzzled by her words.

"Not only did you find out you have a half-brother, but also a sister-in-law, niece, and a nephew!" Kagome smiled at him. "How fortunate."

"You see the glass half-full," he said, almost accusing her.

"To balance out your pessimism," she answered back with ease.

"Very well," he conceded after a brief staring contest with her, his narrowed eyes wavering against her bright smile, "It is nice."

.

Kagome rarely covered the early morning shift, but occasionally she would to help out her co-workers. On this particular day, she found herself bearing the frigid wind of the Midwest as she made her way to the diner a couple blocks from her home. It was almost five in the morning, and as expected, there was no one on the dark street except for the occasional few who also had the same early start as her.

With the diner in sight, she made a final dash towards it, hoping to get out of this weather quicker. As she approached it, she could see a figure standing outside, causing her to pause with caution. She didn't think it was one of her co-workers, because they would have the key to open the diner as well. She considered her option carefully before making the firm decision to approach the stranger with caution, surmising that it could just be one of the other locals up and about.

As she gotten closer, her fear subsided when she recognized the person standing outside.

"Sesshoumaru! You are early," she said, laughing, and seeing a small puff of warm breath in the frigid air. "We aren't even opened yet."

He nodded. "I'm aware, but I wanted to see you."

She felt her stomach twisted at the comment, out of flattery or dread she wasn't too sure. Perhaps a combination of the two, she decided quietly. She kept up her bright appearance, so he wouldn't suspect otherwise, as she unlocked the diner, letting them both in and out of the terrible weather.

"How did you know I'd be here this early?" she asked with a light teasing in her voice as she shrugged off her coat and removed her gloves. She set them over the counter for the time being. "I don't usually cover this ungodly shift."

He was quiet for a moment, still standing near the door and making no motion to remove his own winter coat. Finally, he confessed, "I've asked your co-workers if they would be willing to convince you to switch shift so we could speak in private."

She paused again, and then she said quietly, "It must be important then—what you want to tell me—if you need to ask to be alone with me."

"To me, it is," he answered with a nod.

"Um," she knew she didn't want to hear what he was going to say, having a faint inkling of what it might be, so she tried to delay it as long as possible. "Let me brew us some coffee. We—certainly you—need to warm up after being out there. Can you believe we hit below freezing already?"

He watched as she headed to behind the counter, and began brewing the coffee. As she went about the task, she filled the empty room with her mindless chatters to keep up the appearance of normalcy. She continued talking about the weather outside, her conflicted feeling about doing an early shift, and other mundane subjects, all of which he did not contribute to.

Once the coffee was ready, she filled two white mugs, handing one to him across the counter. They walked over to his booth, sitting down from across one another, listening to the silence that had returned. He drank his black, but she filled hers with lots of cream and lots of sugar until there was only just a slight hint of bitterness still left.

The silence felt stifling, though she was grateful that it prolonged the inevitable, even if it was only a few minutes. She swirled her mug gently, feeling its warmth between her cold hands.

"I will be returning to Japan tomorrow," he said quietly, looking out the window to the darkness that still cloaked the town. He did not see the sad expression flickered across her face. When he turned around to face her again, she was smiling as usual.

"Really? That must be nice to return home," she said, and then bit her bottom lip, "I'll miss you."

He raised a brow, causing her to quickly backtrack what she had said. "I mean, I'll miss having someone to speak in Japanese with."

"Of course," he said softly.

"Will we…meet again?" she asked, though deep down she already knew the answer.

He nodded, though he seemed unsure himself.

"Well," she tried to laugh in spite of the heartache she felt, "you know where to find me: Mama Ann's Diner, where you can get the best darn cherry pie—"

"I'd rather see you on the big screen," he interrupted her rambling, recognizing that she was doing it as a defense mechanism. She stared back at him shocked, but she recovered quickly, scoffing.

"You're in for some major disappointments then, mister."

"Am I?" he challenged her with an amused smirk.

They bantered and talked for a long time, barely aware of the rising sun off to the horizon. It wasn't until Kagome heard a rickety old pickup truck driving by that she realized the morning rush would start piling in soon.

"Shit, I forgot to get things ready for Joe," she mumbled, forgetting momentarily her companion.

"I am sorry to have kept you from your job, Kagome," he apologized, though she caught the faintest hint that he wasn't truly that sorry. Just as well, she didn't feel that bad, having enjoyed the moment she had shared with him.

"Well," she said with a shrug, "Should I get you your bill then? You still have to pay for that coffee and I expect a better tip than usual since it's all your fault I had to cover this ungodly shift and walking in the cold."

He smirked, nodding, and already reaching into his wallet. "Very well, but I only have a fifty with me today."

She smiled assuredly. "It's fine, I'll just be a bit with your change." She held the crisp fifty-dollar bill in her hands, grinning widely at him and giving a quick wink as she walked to behind the counter, "I'll just help myself to the tip then."

When she walked to behind the counter, she realized she didn't have enough money in the cash register for change. She made a quick motion to him that she was heading into the back office to get his change, receiving only a curt nod as a response.

As she stood in the office, counting out the bills, she felt a strange fluttering in her belly, a quiet dread that chilled her to the bones. He was behaving stranger than normal, arranging a private meeting, talking about leaving, and even his choice of payment was different from normal. She gripped the money and then rushed out of the office back into the dining area, finding his seat empty. She didn't even realize she had dropped the money to the floor.

He did it again. Leaving without a word. Not a single goodbye.

It hurt. Why did it hurt whenever he was gone? She knew the answer, feeling like she had let something good slipped away, though she wondered if it was ever even hers to have in the first place.

Shaking, she looked wildly around the room, not seeing a trace of him except for the coffee mug he was drinking from earlier. She was about to cry when she heard the sound of the door opening, seeing him standing there, regret filled his face. She barely had time to blink before he had crossed the room, pressing her up against the counter and pulling her into a sudden kiss. Unconsciously, she used her toes to push herself up higher, letting herself melt into him.

"I was going to leave," he said, breathing heavily when he pulled back.

"Why didn't you?" she asked, trying to keep the tears at bay. She still felt her heart throbbing with pain when she thought he had left her again. "Or did you just want a kiss before you leave?"

He shook his head, bending down to press his forehead against hers.

"Come away with me?"

She touched his cheek, the distant knowledge that her co-workers and customers were about ready to enter the diner seemed immaterial in that moment when all she wanted was just within her reach. She felt the fluttering in her belly returned, though this time she felt a nervous excitement filling her senses instead of the earlier dread.

She laughed quietly, "But what will I do with you?"

"Be a star," he answered back.

She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him down even closer to her. "Oh, alright, you win," she said with a sigh, "But I have to give them a two-week notice first. They'll be so lost without little old me here."

"Two weeks?"

"Think you can manage another two weeks in this boring old town?"

"For you, I'll manage," he responded, kissing her just as the door swung open to surprised gasps and cheers.

 

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