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Dear Stranger by Chie

First Steps

Summary: Via exchanging e-mails, a romance is beginning to bud between two strangers. But Kagome knows that falling in love is not an option – that would be bad for business.

Rating: M

Universe: AU (Modern, all human)

Genre: Drama, Romance

Disclaimer: Inuyasha and its characters belong to Takahashi Rumiko-sensei. I am but a fan, writing for other fans, for absolutely no profit.

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Chie: At this moment, due to my studies taking a priority as well as a big chunk of my time and due to the multiple on-going stories I have on my plate, I cannot promise quick or even regular updates for this fic.

Still, this is an idea I've been sitting on for 10 years now, and I'm excited to get to explore it and didn't want to withhold this chapter any longer. Hope you like it!

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Dear Stranger

by Chie

Kagome squeezed at the straps of her backpack as she stepped onto the platform of the Shin Osaka railway station. It felt like forever since the last time she’d stepped off the shinkansen, although in truth only six weeks had passed.

Giddy with excitement, Kagome wanted to just stand there – take a minute to relish this moment – but there was a line of people behind her waiting to get off the bullet train, so she hurried out of the way. Kagome joined the mass milling on the platform and let the stream of people steer her towards the escalators.

Being trapped in that flow of bodies might have rendered some people claustrophobic, but Kagome felt fully at ease. As a Tokyo native, she was used to crowds.

In fact, as she got off the escalator, she walked with a bounce in her step. She craned her neck and turned her head this way and that, trying to catch everything.

The train station was much like any other; full of busy people walking at a clipped, hurried pace. There were the salarymen in their suits moving about with a purpose, the travellers dragging on their wheeled luggage, the gaggles of youth in their school uniforms, the occasional gawking tourist.

Still, Kagome couldn’t stop smiling as she followed both the moving crowd and the signs hanging overhead towards the exit.

Kagome’s excitement built into a crescendo as she drew nearer to those large automatic doors. Finally, she stepped through them and the butterflies in her stomach erupted. She walked slowly out into the spring sunshine and paused to take in the city – after making sure she was out of the way of the busy people getting into the line of taxis waiting outside the station.

All right, so the view of the stretching parking lot and some towering buildings in the distance wasn’t all that breath-taking, but who cared?

Not Kagome, that was for sure! Because here she was, finally arrived in Osaka.

The sense of freedom, knowing that she was on her own, was overpowering.

And to think this was just the beginning!

Kagome grinned, and gripped tighter at the straps of her backpack. Her shoulders were already aching under the generous bulk of her beloved yellow monstrosity, but that did not dim her mood the slightest.

On top of all her packed belongings were a couple of printed sheets featuring listings Kagome had found online and considered with her mother back in Tokyo. Tucked into the pocket of her light jacket was the business card of an Osaka-based realtor, who was an acquaintance of her grandfather’s.

Briefly, she wondered if she should pay the realtor a visit right away… but then decided against it.

She was too restless to go sit in an office and concentrate on apartment hunting just now.

And too eager to go explore the new city that was to be her home – for the next couple of years at least.

Her mind made, Kagome squared her sore shoulders.

She’d go find her hotel, which wasn’t too far from the train station. She’d check into her room, ditch the backpack, and go see what Osaka had to offer.

 

DS

 

The last thing Sesshoumaru wanted after a torturous day at the office was to sit down for a family dinner. Unfortunately for him, his presence in the dining room was expected; family dinners were what his father had decreed for every Wednesday and Sunday, and as the head of the family, Sesshoumaru’s father got what he wanted.

Always.

Sesshoumaru sneered at his reflection in the mirror, then worked loose the stifling knot of his tie. He changed out of the business suit, into a more comfortable combination of slacks and a sweater.

He plugged his phone in the charger by his desk and, having no more cause to linger in the comforting privacy of his room, crossed over to the door and stepped out into the corridor.

His reluctant feet steered him towards the landing, then carried him down the stairs as they had done countless and countless times before.

When Sesshoumaru stepped into the dining room, the scene he found within was the same as always. His father’s imposing figure sat solidly at the head of the table. Izayoi sat on his left, the picture of a refined lady.

“Sesshoumaru! Come, sit,” his father commanded as soon as he caught sight of him.

Sesshoumaru spared them a nod in greeting before crossing the room.

His seat was on the right side of the table and across from an empty chair.

It appeared Inuyasha was tardy, as usual.

Sesshoumaru had barely sat down, when his father pinned him down with his stare.

“I need you on Friday after work,” he informed Sesshoumaru.

Sesshoumaru’s fingernails scraped against his thigh as his hand balled into a fist.  Luckily, he still managed to keep his face impassive.

“Why?”

“I’m meeting with some clients and I need you to attend,” his father said. He went back to eating dinner, signalling that the subject wasn’t open for discussion.

Sesshoumaru gritted his teeth and swallowed his objections.

They wouldn’t do him any good.

Grimly, he helped himself to his food and ignored his father and Izayoi the best he could.

Inuyasha sauntered in, offering no greetings or apologies for being late. He plopped down to his chair and reached for the food. Izayoi immediately turned to him with a smile and started speaking softly to him.

Their father didn’t even flick a glance at Inuyasha’s way. Their relationship had frosted over once it’d become apparent that Inuyasha had failed his university entrance exams. And while Inuyasha might have been looking forward to his year of freedom as a rounin, their father was very displeased.

Aside from the quiet discussion between Izayoi and Inuyasha – although even that was mostly one-sided – the only sounds in the dining room where the clink of their utensils.

Family dinner indeed. The irony of it was as palpable as the stiff and formal atmosphere in the room. The sneer might not have risen to his lips, but Sesshoumaru felt it deep in his heart.

He couldn’t help but to think back to a different family dinner back in Kyoto. The food his mother had prepared herself. His mother sitting next to her husband, laughing at the anecdote he’d been telling. Sesshoumaru’s 11 years old half-sister Rin would be chatting animatedly, her brown eyes sparkling when she’d turn to flash Sesshoumaru a bright smile.

Scowling at his dinner, Sesshoumaru wondered for the umpteenth time how different his life would’ve been had his mother been granted custody all those years ago.

When his plate was finally empty, Sesshoumaru excused himself. After a curt nod from his father, he hastened out of the dining room and back upstairs.

Back to his room, where he could finally be at ease.

 

DS

 

Kagome’s feet were aching and yet her wide smile stayed on. She’d been wandering around all day, sight-seeing. Her phone was now full of pictures of Osaka. She was almost ready to start heading back to her hotel room, except for one thing – her stomach had been grumbling pitifully for a while now and she’d never make it to her hotel if she didn’t get some grub and soon.

In the end her hunger decided for her: Kagome ducked into the first restaurant she came a across, a small and cosy ramen shop.

The place seemed very popular, it was so full there were no more free tables left. If her situation hadn’t been so dire, Kagome wouldn’t have minded waiting. As it was, however, she walked over to where a lone woman around her age was dining and asked if she could share the table.

The woman shrugged and agreed.

Kagome thanked her with a quick smile before heading to place her order at the counter.

She returned to the table and sat opposite of the young woman with a relieved sigh. The next second, her stomach rumbled loudly enough to earn a smile from the woman across the table.

“Hungry?” she asked her.

“Starving,” Kagome replied, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. “I’ve been so busy sight-seeing I only could sit down to eat when my stomach started complaining.”

“It’s important you take the time to eat,” the woman pointed out. Then she grinned. “Besides, the food is worth stopping for.”

“’Eat in Osaka till you drop’,” Kagome quoted, her eyes laughing. “I guess there’s some truth to that, then!”

“Definitely,” the woman agreed.

Before the conversation could continue, a waiter came over and set the bowl of udon before Kagome.

She thanked the waiter, then picked up a pair of chopsticks as her stomach screamed in anticipation.

It looked delicious and the bowl was huge. If she weren’t starving, Kagome wasn’t sure if she could eat it all.

“So, you’re enjoying your visit so far?” the woman asked, after Kagome had got started with her dinner.

Kagome looked up from her udon. “Oh, I’m not visiting,” she told the woman.

Her eyebrow arched. “You’re not?”

“No, I’m moving here,” Kagome announced with a bright smile.

Surprise flashed on the woman’s face, followed quickly by disbelief before her features finally settled into wry amusement.

“That’s funny. I’m moving to Osaka, too.”

Kagome’s eyes widened and she nearly lost the grip on her chopsticks.

“Really? Wow! That’s such a coincidence!”

The woman smiled. “It’s a small world.”

“Definitely! Do you have an apartment yet?” Kagome asked.

“No, I’m still looking. It’s been difficult to find something in my budget,” the woman confessed.

Kagome grimaced. “Yeah, that’s gonna be a challenge. I might have to get a part time job, though I have no idea how I would balance studying and work.”

“You’re moving here to study?” the woman asked.

“Yes! I got into Kansai University.” Kagome beamed.

“Congrats. You’re not going to live in a dorm, though?”

“I suppose in a lot of ways that would be convenient,” Kagome said, poking at her udon, “but I’d rather live on my own, you know? Not have to be tied down to rules and curfews and what have you.”

“Ah, yeah, I can understand that.” The woman’s eyes were kind. “You want to spread your wings.”

Kagome laughed. “I suppose I do. What about you? Why’re you moving to Osaka?”

The woman didn’t answer right away.

Kagome wondered if she had misstepped, and busied herself eating her udon while the silence stretched between them.

At long last, though, the woman shrugged. “I got laid off,” she said matter-of-factly, “and I figured I’d have better luck finding a job here than in Kyoto.”

“Oh, I’m sorry! I hope you find something soon,” Kagome said.

“Thanks. I do, too.”

The conversation veered into brighter topics from there – into things like their hobbies or their favourite movies. When Kagome left the little restaurant she was full. And, though they hadn’t exchanged their names or contact information at any point, it almost felt like she’d made a friend.

 

DS

 

It was late. Everyone was probably sleeping by now – except perhaps his father, who would sometimes pore over work-related things in his office till the wee hours. Sesshoumaru grimaced, thinking of how in a few more years that could be him.

He chased that depressing thought out of his mind and tried to focus on the bit of text he’d just typed out on his phone. He gave it a cursory read through, before he posted it to his blog.

If his friends knew he had a blog, they’d keel over in shock.

If his friends knew he had a blog just so he could post his cell phone novels there, they would probably think that the real Sesshoumaru had been abducted by aliens and replaced by a poor imposter.

In truth, however – a fact which no one, not even his closest friend, knew about him – Sesshoumaru had been writing cell phone novels since he’d been in middle school.

Soon as he had learned to read, books had become his refuge. He could escape the distressing reality in fictional worlds.

The reality where he missed his mother and was forbidden to see her, where long school days were followed with evenings at cram school, where the pressure of his father’s expectations piled on his shoulders.

But middle school had become the breaking point.

Back then, Sesshoumaru had finally been allowed to reconnect with his mother and visiting her had made him realise for the first time how stifling the cold and formal atmosphere at home was for him. He was also starting to chafe under his father’s plans for him – Sesshoumaru hadn’t yet known what he wanted to do after growing up, but suddenly he was starting to understand that following in his father’s footsteps didn’t have to be his only choice.

And in grips of all this new turmoil in his life, Sesshoumaru had found a new refuge – in writing.

Perhaps him being a writer – of cell phone novels, of all things – would seem odd and out of character to most people who knew him, but writing had become such an outlet for him. There was so much which he often felt he wasn’t able to express, but with writing he could use characters of his own creation to channel his frustration and give voice to the thoughts and feelings bottled inside.

Besides, cell phone novels were the perfect format for him: the chapters were short and the character limits encouraged an economical, minimalistic writing style over the more verbose kind of prose, which Sesshoumaru might have enjoyed reading but would have hated writing.

The blog was really a matter of necessity – sure, there were specific websites where people could post cell phone novels, but Sesshoumaru wanted as much control as possible over his writings.

Besides, because most cell phone novelists and cell phone novel readers were young women, the websites were naturally built with that clientele in mind.

Sesshoumaru would have never fit in onsuch websites. The subjects he liked to write about differed a lot from the typical cell phone novels anyway – his interests were action, adventure, mysteries and history among other things.

Sesshoumaru’s phone chimed softly to alert him to a new comment. As soon as he saw the username, a rare smile rose to his lips.

ShrineMaiden. One of his regular readers. She – at least Sesshoumaru assumed she was a she, based on the name she’d chosen – had been reading his stories for over a year now, and always left thoughtful comments on the chapters. Sometimes, Sesshoumaru would reply to those comments and they would bloom into full, long discussions that strayed from the story itself to touch on other topics. After all this time and all those comments, ShrineMaiden felt like a friend.

He had always been reserved by nature, but his strict and disciplined upbringing had made him even more so. Over the years he’d come to guard his innermost feelings so closely, that he found it hard to open up and truly speak his mind even among his closest friends.

The only people with whom he was being completely honest were his readers. Thanks to the guise of anonymity, Sesshoumaru had been able to converse more honestly with ShrineMaiden in the comment section of his blog than he’d ever been able to do in the real life, even with his best friend. As Nishida Sesshoumaru he was bound; as The Lord of the West he was free.

ShrineMaiden’s enthusiastic reaction to the latest chapter made Sesshoumaru smile again – and as he stood there, smiling down at the comment, a thought struck him.

As of late, Sesshoumaru had been feeling more stressed than usual. The disagreement with his father – which he could not voice – regarding the family business was really eating at him.

His father had raised him as his heir, expecting him to step up and take the reins once he was ready to step down.

But Sesshoumaru didn’t care for the business, didn’t want to be a CEO, didn’t want to be saddled with all the responsibility.

Not that he’d ever be able to explain that to his father.

Nishida Takeshi was not used to hearing the word ‘no’.

And some days, that really rankled.

Sesshoumaru was used to bottling everything up and handling things on his own – but the truth was, he could really use a friend.

A safe one.

Someone he could talk to about things openly.

Someone like ShrineMaiden.

Sesshoumaru stared down at his phone screen, at the hyperlinked username.

This would be a step out of his comfort zone. Then again, what did he have to lose?

He opened up ShrineMaiden’s profile and tapped on the “Send message” button.

 

DS

 

Kagome got up bright and early the next day. She’d been too excited to sleep well, and the unfamiliar bed and the strange room hadn’t much helped. Despite spending most of her night tossing and turning, however, she did not feel tired: she was too hyped up to face a new day in Osaka.

She got dressed, made the hotel bed out of habit, and re-checked that she had her printout of the selected apartment listings and the business card of the realtor her grandfather was friends with. Then she grabbed her yellow backpack and headed out.

Kagome had a quick and easy breakfast at a convenience store, explored a park she came across and enjoyed the morning traffic on the streets. She looked up the real estate agency’s opening hours on her phone and started to head that way as soon as they opened, hoping her grandfather’s friend would be working today.

Kagome found the place without much trouble, pausing for a moment to look at the apartments they had listed in their window. Then she squared her shoulders and entered the office.

Kagome looked around curiously, seeing the small waiting area in the front of the office, with desks and cubicles towards the back.

A woman Kagome guessed to be the receptionist smiled at Kagome from behind her desk.

“Hello! Can I help you?” she asked politely.

Kagome walked over, holding on to the business card. “Hi. Is Sugimura-san in this morning? I would like an appointment with him.”

“He’s available this morning. I can book you in for half an hour from now, if that suits you?”

“That sounds great, thank you.” Kagome smiled, relieved that she’d be able to meet with the realtor so soon.

“May I have your name?” the receptionist asked.

“Higurashi Kagome.”

“Thank you. I’ve booked the appointment for you. You can take a seat in the waiting area.”

“Thank you so much.” Kagome inclined her head, then turned around.

She looked at the empty chairs, but before she could settle down to wait, she realised she knew the sole other person in the waiting area.

Eyes wide, she met the surprised gaze of the woman with whom she’d shared the table at the restaurant yesterday.

The woman’s lips twitched “It really is a small world.”

Kagome laughed, and crossed the waiting area to take the seat next to her.

“Seems like it,” she replied cheerfully. “You decided to start apartment-hunting today, too?”

“Yeah, I figured I could use help finding something affordable,” the woman said.

“I hope you’ll be able to find a place,” Kagome said, and smiled at the woman.

“Thank you, I hope so too. I’m Ikeda Sango, by the way.”

“I’m Higurashi Kagome. Nice to meet you.”

They shared a smile.

And just like the day before, they fell into a conversation with ease. Chatting with Sango, Kagome didn’t even notice the time passing.

The half an hour felt more like ten minutes, and sooner than Kagome would have believed, someone called her name.

“Higurashi-san?”

Kagome paused mid-sentence and turned to meet the kind eyes of the older man who had just entered the waiting area.

She recognised him from the picture her grandfather had shown him and got up from her chair and bowed. “Good morning, Sugimura-san. Thank you for meeting me so quickly.”

Sugimura bowed his head. “The pleasure’s all mine. It is very nice to meet you, Higurashi-san. How is Jirou-san?”

“Grandfather’s doing well. He’ll be happy to know you asked after him,” Kagome replied.

“The last time he called me, Jirou-san mentioned you might be needing my assistance. I’m happy to help. Are you looking for an apartment together with your friend?” Sugimura smiled, as his gaze flicked from Kagome to Sango.

Taken aback by the question, Kagome turned to Sango.

Sango seemed startled as well, but then she looked at Kagome, her eyes narrowed in deliberation.

“We’re both looking for an apartment,” Kagome started hesitantly, “but we hadn’t considered trying to find something together.”

“It might be a good idea, though,” Sango said. “What do you think, Higurashi-san?”

Kagome glanced at Sango. She had been planning to live on her own; spread her wings like Sango had said yesterday.

But now that the offer was on the table, she realised she would rather have a friend in her corner than be alone in a new city.

Kagome turned to Sugimura.

“I think we’re looking for something together, then,” she answered. Beside her, Sango stood up and nodded.

Sugimura smiled.

“All right. Follow me, please.”

Kagome and Sango shared a quick grin, before following Sugimura to his desk.

 

 

 

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