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Champagne by Lonelylark

Champagne

Champagne

'Kagome, you know how I feel about this.'

"I know, mom."

'You really should be celebrating here, with us. I'm finally letting your brother do fireworks this year -oh, he was so excited - and your grandfather is performing the coming of year ritual. He was counting on you to -'

"I know, and I said I'm sorry," Kagome answered for what seemed the millionth time. The stony silence from the other end of the line relayed the offence her mother took at the tone she had used. Stressed or not, it didn't matter that she was twenty-three, a grown woman. Kagome sighed. "Look mom, I'm really, really sorry I'm not there, but I promised Inuyasha I would come with him. This is really important. You know I wouldn't miss it otherwise."

'Well, I only wish you would tell me what's going on.'

"You'll find out soon enough. Just...Happy New Year, in case I can't get to you tonight."

'Happy New Year, Honey.'

I'm sorry mom, but I really need to be here. I'm...I'm getting....

Allowing the thin silver mobile to snap shut with an audible click, she leaned against the cool stone of the balcony banister. The night was cool and clear, granting thorough visibility of the sky. Far in the distance, the crescent moon hovered over the rooftops and skyscrapers of Tokyo in a bed of crystal stars, its resolve to bathe the earth with its iridescence not at all hampered by the twinkling lights of the bustling city.

Biting her lip softly, the raven-haired woman looked down at her hand and imagined a similar crystal star adorning it. It had been three years already, and if Miroku was right... A soft sigh escaped her. Maybe it was finally time.

Turning her back to Tokyo, she focused her attention on the party going on inside the lavish penthouse. Light spilled out of the doorway and painted her feet a pretty gold, the grandeur of the expensively decorated home sparkling like the glass she held in hand. A multitude of people filled the party premises, all engaged in myriad forms of conversation; sitting, standing, dancing, creating a cacophonous roar of speech and laughter and music.

There was only one person she was looking for.

A scan of the crowd left her unsatisfied in the shadows. Then again, there was the kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms...

With a huff Kagome reentered the party. Various people she knew, and had to smile at in passing, but overall she looked through them, over them, searching for that one person and never really paying attention to what was in front of her. Then again, she never was very attentive when it concerned travel, and it usually took something to stop her in her tracks before she realized she was making a mistake.

Like a solid back.

Kagome whimpered as she stumbled back sharply, trying to balance her self on her heels. The back she had collided with grew an arm that steadied her, and readily a familiar yet unfamiliar face was also made manifest.

"Are you okay?"

Concerned golden eyes searched her for answer as a large warm hand held her forearm while she adjusted her renegade shoe with a twisting of her foot. The almond-set eyes blended into creamy light skin, set upon high cheekbones that sloped into a decidedly male jaw.

"Yes, yes, thank you," she smiled in response, awkwardly holding her champagne glass to the side at arm's length as some of the bubbly dripped down the sides to the floor. A majority had made it onto her dress and she closed her eyes in embarrassment as she felt it seep into her bra.

Noticing the results of their accident, the man spared her the request. "Here, stay right here and I will go get a towel."

Kagome granted him a smile of relief as he left. Watching his back, she could not help but think how much a resemblance he held to Inuyasha. Aside from their eyes - different in shape, but similar in color - they both had a light hue of silver hair. Granted, this man was a full head taller than her Inuyasha, and by far less tanned, but something was definitely there.

When he returned from the kitchen and handed her an actual towel, she smiled gratefully and tentatively dabbed at the square cut top of her dress. She sent up a prayer to Eri, wherever she was, for convincing her that she looked good in a dress of pure gold glitter; at least the champagne stain wouldn't show when it dried.

"Thank you so much. You really didn't need to go get me a towel. I'm really sorry about bumping into you, too. I'm really clumsy, if you haven't noticed," she laughed meekly.

"Not at all," he replied modestly. "After all, I live to rescue damsels in distress. Now I can cross you name off my list, Miss..."

At the insinuative pause, she supplied her name for him. "Kagome."

A pleasant closed-mouth smile stretched his lips. "Well, Kagome, it is a pleasure to meet you."

"And you are?"

"Sesshoumaru, shining knight at your service."

~*~

Two hours and twenty minutes found Kagome sitting on a white living room couch, hand covering her mouth to suppress the laughter inspired by a one Sesshoumaru. After their rather informal introduction, he had gallantly taken her glass and replaced it with one that was dry and full. Champagne had then come into their light conversation, which led to the discovery of their mutual love for France. Things had simply proceeded from there, migrating from the dining room to the living area couches, where dialogue had uncovered some interesting similar likes.

Sesshoumaru was a refreshing personality, refined but still deceptively humorous. His dress, a combination of tailored black slacks, shining black dress shoes, and a fitting charcoal dress shirt, was accented elegantly by a deep crimson tie and an undecorated black leather belt. A deep baritone composed his voice, smooth and thick. He knew all sorts of things, spoke on all subjects knowledgeably, but the most endearing characteristic was his humor. Though not one to raise his voice often - particularly refreshing to someone who constantly dealt with the blaring antics of Inuyasha and her old deluded grandfather - he was insatiably witty, possessing a dry, crass humor that got her giggling every time.

"That was a good laugh." Sighing audibly with a beaming smile, she wiped the running trail of her happy tears with the back of her hand, praising the person who invented water-proof eye makeup. Looking back at him, her doe brown eyes widened. He was staring at her with a mysterious glitter in his eye, and a ponderous half-smile adorning his lips.

"What?" she asked with a hesitant smile, suddenly self-conscious. His own question floored her.

"May I kiss you, Kagome?"

If it were not for her infallible hearing, Kagome would have sworn the liquor had gone to her head. Her eyes widened impossibly, and her face felt hot, surely burning a blush on her cheeks.

"I-I," she stuttered, "I can't."

Sesshoumaru let loose a short chuckle. "Forgive me, but it would seem you have ensnared me. It's not very often I meet both a beautiful and intelligent woman to keep conversation with. I figured since you were alone - "

"I'm not alone," Kagome said hesitantly. In that instant a flash of silver in the distance caught her eyes, and as the crowd shifted she saw Inuyasha for the first time in two hours, laughing at something said by a woman in a silk crème dress.

Kikyo.

So that's where he'd been all night. Kikyo, her third cousin, had been his girlfriend once. She was his age, two years Kagome's senior, taller, fairer, yet very similar to Kagome. He'd been smitten then, until one day she up and left for America. It had been a while, and then Inuyasha had hooked up with her, Kagome, who had always secretly admired him.

Things had blossomed from there. True, he was a rough-and-tumble guy, not always well-versed, but he had a good heart. They seemed to be a great fit, getting along swell, though he could incite her temper. And he never treated her badly, except for the times he forgot she was there altogether.

Granted, he didn't do so often. Only when Kikyo was in town, like tonight.

Having noticed her distraction and the sudden slump of her countenance, Sesshoumaru followed her line of sight. His gaze hardened on the distant figure and his jaw clenched.

"I see."

Kagome didn't know what to do. Talking to Sesshoumaru the past few hours had made her forget completely about Inuyasha, and the loneliness she would have felt waiting for him to remember she was there. The distraction had not seemed just a distraction, but a pleasant engagement. It had been too good to be true. Now the dream had been shattered. Not wanting to watch Inuyasha and Kikyo, and guiltily unwilling to look at Sesshoumaru, she stared into the bottom of her empty champagne flute.

"He's supposed to propose tonight," she intoned softly, swallowing the nervous lump in her throat and not at all feeling the joy she should at the prospects of engagement.

"Then I believe congratulations are in order. He is a very lucky man, to be the one to make you happy."

Kagome startled at his words and cold tone, and felt the utmost regret and guilt at once.

"Sesshoumaru, I... I didn't mean to... to lead you on, or - "

"Not at all," he nodded. And it was genuine. "I should not have simply assumed." An airy tune then filled the air. Unsurprised at the random choice of waltz, he cleared his throat and allowed a small smile to lift the corners of his mouth.

"Well, since I can't kiss you, would you at least grant me this dance for the evening? You did mention you liked classical."

Kagome flushed. "I-I'm afraid I don't know how to dance to this."

"Don't be foolish," he smiled genially, standing and offering his hand, "You'll be fine, just follow my lead."

Biting her lower lip, Kagome slipped her hand into his with reticence and allowed him to lead her to the floor.

They swept along unhindered, only few other couples actually taking to the floor in attempt to mimic the older ways of Western dance, thus allowing them ample room to move. As they danced, his firm hand pressing up against her shoulder blade to direct her, his words came hauntingly back to her.

'He is a very lucky man, to be the one to make you happy.'

...

'...to make you happy.'

...

'Kagome, are you happy?' Sango had asked her that at the last party Kikyo had shown up to. 'You know, you don't need to take this crap from him.' Good, loving Sango. Kagome had just smiled then and assured her it was alright, that she had no problem with it. Kikyo and Inuyasha were just catching up on old times, after all, right?

It hadn't mattered as much then, when she had Sango to keep her busy in the face of his desertion. This year she had bailed out with that failure of a monk, Miroku, no doubt to give her and Inuyasha their time. But now that Sesshoumaru had mentioned it, curiously enough, she wondered: Was she really happy? Could she really see herself married to Inuyasha for the rest of her life, knowing he saw her as a shadow of her older cousin, his first true love?

Because she knew. There was no way around it. Kikyo would always be first, no matter how much she, Kagome, loved him.

Biting her tongue to suppress the hot swell of tears, Kagome looked up at Sesshoumaru's face and forced a tight-lipped smile, which eventually grew warm and normal.

If it could only be like this, like with Sesshoumaru...

"Are you sure you've never done this before?" he asked in a good attempt at flattery, one brow raised in question. "You're doing it quite well."

Kagome chuckled and smiled sadly. "No, Inuyasha doesn't like to dance with me much."

The silver-haired man's reaction was instantaneous and left her shocked. "Barbaric fool," he spat with malice, his hand tensing around hers for a moment before it relaxed again.

His calm was short lived.

"Speak for yourself, you bastard!" exclaimed a familiar voice in response. Kagome's breath hitched in disapproval as Inuyasha stormed up to them. Luckily it was still too loud around them for him to cause a scene, something he was quite good at when it tickled his fancy.

"Inuyasha! That's extremely rude!" she scolded.

"It's quite alright, Kagome," Sesshoumaru said coolly, releasing her as they stopped their waltz. "Though I must agree with her, little brother."

A gasp was torn from her throat. As she looked between the two, her finger pointed back and forth. "You two are...You and Inuyasha are...brothers?!"

Inuyasha snorted derisively. "Yeah, unfortunately. I should have warned you this asshole was comin' to town. Then again I expected him to steer clear of you."

"Inuyasha," Sesshoumaru warned, his voice laced with valid anger, "You would be wise to hold your girlfriend in higher esteem."

"And you would do well to stay the fuck away from my friends," Inuyasha bit back with just as much edge. Then grabbing her wrist, he began to take off without one more look at his older sibling. "Come on, Kagome, It's five minutes to countdown and there's somethin' I want to show you."

Kagome looked helplessly back at Sesshoumaru, who stood with his hands tucked casually in his pocket looking right back at her. In her mind she realized she probably looked stupid, akin to a gaping fish, as the realization hit her that not only had she severely overlooked their familial similarities, but she had completely disregarded his name - uncommon enough as it was - and failed to recognize him for who he was.

Sesshoumaru Taisho, one of Japan's most successful businessmen. I just spent a wonderful set of hours talking to Sesshoumaru Taisho, and I didn't even know it.

Not that it would have changed anything, but it made her feel dumber nonetheless. If she weren't so shocked and getting her arm ripped off by her three-year boyfriend, she would have smacked herself.

When Inuyasha came to a stop, she saw that he had led her to the same balcony she had been at earlier in the evening. She knew what this was, what was coming. Miroku, the sneaky letch, had accidentally let a word slip when he was having lunch with her and Sango, and once they'd pounced like rabid dogs he'd easily divulged all he knew.

'Inuyasha showed me the ring. He said he wanted to propose on New Year's.'

As she stood there in the doorway, she watched his back as he leaned against the marble railing and looked over the city. He was nervous, she could tell, and she was nervous too; But for an entirely different reason. She wasn't sure this was the best idea anymore.

"So, Kagome, how are you liking the party?" he asked conversationally.

"It's nice," she answered simply. Her stomach churned with indecision.

Once an awkward moment passed he looked down, back still to her. "Listen, Kagome, there's somethin' I've got to tell you. It's important," he paused to gather his bearings. "We've been together for about three years now, right? Well, that's a long time for two people to be together. So I think it's time we make it permanent."

Kagome closed her eyes tight, both hating and loving what would come next. They were the words she had always wanted to hear, but the words she knew she could never accept. As he turned and approached her, opening a felt box he had removed from his blazer, she lowered her head and braced herself.

"Kagome, will you marry me?"

"No."

Inuyasha blinked. "W-what?" Her answer had been whispered softly, so he swore he must have heard incorrectly.

"No, Inuyasha," she repeated more firmly, yet still it was soft and filled with regret. He seemed to pale and blink uncontrollably, until she lifted her face and he saw the tears filling her eyes.

"I can't marry you, Inuyasha," she sighed sadly.

"But...But I thought you loved me!"

"I do," was all she could say. It hurt her, too. It hurt her just as much to let him go.

"Then what the hell's the problem?!" he exclaimed, demanding an explanation. "You love me, I love you! What's so fucking wrong?!"

"More than you love Kikyo?" she whispered bitterly.

It shocked him into silent understanding. Finally he whispered, "Kagome, you know I love you. You know I do."

"I know," she smiled ruefully. "But it's not fair, to either of us. Loyalty is not love, Inuyasha."

She knew it. He had always been faithful, never once cheated, except for in his heart. And even that had not been betrayal, because he had never fully given it to her.

A cheer sounded from inside the penthouse, followed by the clinking of glasses and excited chatter. Fireworks popped in the distance, but it did not penetrate their moment.

"Kagome, I -"

"Happy New Year, Inuyasha," she cut him off before he could say anything to hurt himself more. Nothing else needed to be said. "I wish the Kami bestow many great things upon you this year."

Nodding numbly, Inuyasha took one last moment to look at her, and reentered the party. She watched him drift through the crowds, seemingly destitute, but in her heart of hearts she knew she had done the right thing. He could never give her the unconditional love she wanted, and she could never be his Kikyo, no matter how much she resembled the older woman.

She'd loved him, desperately, but it did not mean she could not grow to love someone else. Already her soul was lightened, bittersweet as it was to turn him down. She would be free to be loved now, without limits, and so would he.

Besides, no matter how well they got along, they were all wrong for each other. She needed someone who actually liked visiting museums, who loved history and Paris, and languages, and books -

She was getting ahead of herself. There was only one person she knew who could possibly enjoy all those things, and he was probably long gone by now.

A massive red dandelion lit up the Tokyo skyline with a deafening crack, followed by three more of varying colors flanked by whistlers. Kagome smiled, leaning against the balcony on her elbows and imagining how Souta must be enjoying himself, when a full flute of the bubbly appeared before her.

"Happy New Year, Kagome."

She looked up, blinking with wide-eyed astonishment at Sesshoumaru, who smiled at her with a look in his eyes that was all for her.

"Happy New Year."

And in that moment when their glasses clinked and their fingers brushed ever so slightly, and the foam of the rich amber liquor flowed over their hands to wet the tiled floor, she knew that this new year would indeed be a new beginning; the beginning of something wonderful.

Something that had started with a little Champagne.

 

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