A/N: Hello, all! Welcome to my new project. This will turn out predominantly Mir/San, but it will have some Inu/Kag as well. Just so everyone knows. It's a funny story how this story came about, actually…I was watching Rodger and Hammerstein's Cinderella a few months ago and this idea rooted itself in my brain. Although, this version diverts from the original ideas I had, but it was still influenced by the above mentioned film. Though, don't expect this to be a Cinderella fairy tale or close. This definitely is not.

And one last thing…I would like to give my wonderful beta, Fenikkusuken, many hugs and kisses for helping me out. (You rock!) And I swear, if you haven't read her fanfiction…Go. Read. Now. But after you read this, of course. (Insert grin)

Without further ado…Assume Love Dead! (bows deeply and departs)

Japanese Translations:
Hanyou- Half-breed.
Neko- Cat.
Soba noodles- A Japanese noodle made with buckwheat flour.
Subuta- Sweet and sour pork.
Omuraisu- Cooked rice, wrapped in thin omelet, and usually served with tomato ketchup.
Oyabun- "Father". Yakuza leaders are referred to as such, the idea is they treat their subordinates as if they are his children, and he their family head. The leader provides for them and protects them. Obviously, Naraku is a very bad leader…
Kobun- "Children". The oyabun's subordinates; the members of a yakuza clan beneath the leader.

Disclaimer: Sadly, Inuyasha and co. are not my property. Trust me, if they were I'd be rolling in the bucks, and Kikyo and Koga would have minimal exposure time.

Assume Love Dead

Chapter One: Assume the Beginning

"Hello, Grandpa Mushin…meet Kool-Aid the dog…," the dark-haired man mumbled to himself. He dropped his pencil and mentally laughed at his most recent pastime: talking to drawings he had doodled. Oh, how low Miroku had sunk; perhaps the heat had fried his brain cells, because going crazy looked fairly imminent…

The heat and humidity outside were rather stifling at the moment, which was to be expected for the middle of June, and while most of Tokyo's residents were happily taking refuge indoors, Miroku couldn't help but be restless. He had been cooped up for far too long of his twenty-five years of life; he just wanted to get up and walk out the door.

Where would I go? It's not like I know anyone outside of this house… Miroku sighed, pushed away the writing tablet he had been doodling on, and laid his head down on the table. He ran a hand through his unrestrained shoulder-length black hair, wondering absently where he had left the elastic.

Miroku had arrived two weeks ago to live with his long-time friend Inuyasha Takahashi, after completing his training in Data Systems Administration. He really had no where else to go and as strange as it seemed, the twenty-three year old silver-haired hanyou lived alone in a two-bedroom house. He didn't exactly know how his friend was able to own a house at his age, especially considering Tokyo real estate prices, but Inuyasha had graciously offered to put him up and Miroku hadn't bothered to ask for details. Miroku was grateful; he would be out on the street if he didn't have Inuyasha. Sadly, Miroku's parents and grandparents were all deceased, and he didn't know anyone else in his family, let alone their whereabouts.

So, here Miroku was, living in Tokyo in a two-bedroom house with his friend.

The house itself was fairly simple and unadorned. As long as Inuyasha had ramen, the 'food of the gods' in the hanyou's opinion, he could care less about other possessions. The tall, narrow house had a modest living room with a well-used black couch and armchair, a convenient glass coffee table to prop one's feet on and a TV to watch from the comfort of that couch and chair. The kitchen area was very tidy, since it was barely used; ramen didn't take much effort to cook. This was the dark-haired young man's current vantage point as he sat resting his aching head on the cool wooden surface.

All in all, Miroku appreciated his new home. It was nice, but he didn't want to be cooped up in it at the moment.

"Oh, hello! Who are you?"

Miroku slowly lifted his head from its resting place, and his face brightened at the sight of the beauty in front of him. There stood a woman with long ebony hair and caring brown eyes, wearing a baby blue sun dress and the most welcoming smile he'd been on the receiving end of in quite a while.

Thank god! The day's looking brighter already! Miroku smiled broadly as he gave the woman a closer inspection, and noticed she had the cutest dimples when she smiled.

"Hi, I'm Kagome," said the woman, she placed a yellow backpack on the table and extended her hand in greeting.

Miroku took her hand in his own. "Excuse me, lovely lady, but are you an angel?" He winked flirtatiously at her. "I wondered, because I do believe I can see your halo." He released her hand after giving it a little squeeze. His spirits lifted when he heard her cheerful laugh at his sappy words.

"Hello to you too, Miroku," Kagome said after her giggles wound down. "I didn't know who you were at first, but it's hard not to guess, especially since Inuyasha's description of you matches perfectly. I don't know why I didn't realize it was you sooner; he told me he'd be getting a new house mate a few weeks ago. It completely slipped my mind…I'm really sorry about that!" She smiled sheepishly; her beautiful brown eyes full of sincerity.

Great, there goes everything…she's already taken! Inuyasha, you lucky dog, you… Miroku inwardly chuckled; this was just so typical. All through high school, the girls had been drawn to the hanyou; of course he would have a girlfriend. He vaguely remembered Inuyasha telling him so, but if he recalled correctly, he'd been calling from a payphone at the time. That blonde girl had been winking at him from across the street…his attention hadn't been focused on the conversation, of course, with that kind of distraction…

"Things are just now slowing down at work…so I've been busy," Kagome continued, "I'm really sorry. Even Inuyasha has barely seen me these past few weeks…"

Miroku snapped himself from his thoughts, only half registering Kagome's previous words, and managed to smile reassuringly. "Don't worry about it, Kagome. It's nice to finally meet you, although I wish I had known it was you before I started flirting…I don't want to meet a premature death at the hands of an jealous hanyou!" Miroku pushed himself up from the table, revealing a pair of jeans and a wrinkled t-shirt. He proceeded to emphasize his point by acting as if there was a noose around his neck, his head hanging to the side, tongue sticking out, and eyes closed as if in death.

Kagome tried not to laugh, but the happy sound bubbled out, and she held her sides as she giggled helplessly.

"Miroku, what the hell are you doing? You look like an idiot!" Inuyasha appeared in the kitchen at that moment and glared at his friend, his usually-erect ears flattened into his hair.

"Umm…nothing…," Miroku said, straightening himself up and pretending to be too preoccupied with smoothing out the wrinkles in his shirt to look the hanyou in the eye.

"Miroku and I were just introducing ourselves, Inuyasha," Kagome said, turning to her boyfriend and hugging him affectionately. He squeezed her back, a lop-sided grin spreading across his face as she stood on tip-toe to give him a quick, sweet kiss. "At least I can say I finally met him, since you talk about him all the time."

"I do not!" Inuyasha lightly scowled at her. "In passing, maybe, but that's it."

"Why, Inuyasha," Miroku spoke up, a hand over his heart as if in pain, "You wound me with your words! Am I not worth mentioning to your lovely girlfriend?"

Kagome smiled brightly. She rather liked Inuyasha's friend so far; he was funny and seemed good-natured. She wondered about Inuyasha's description of him as being a bit of a pervert; so far, he had only been flirtatious. "He doesn't like to admit it," she said, turning in the hanyou's arms to face Miroku, "But he does talk about you quite a bit. My favorite story is the one where you smooth-talked him out of detention… from a Watanabe-sensei, wasn't it?"

"Why, yes it was, as a matter of fact," Miroku replied, obviously re-living the memory in his mind by the amused, almost perverted smile spread over his face. "Those were the days; I often forgot that Inuyasha was actually two grades under me."

"Feh, wench…that story aside, I do not talk about him all the time!" Inuyasha pouted at what was an obvious conspiracy attempt.

"Yes, you do, Inuyasha. Just admit it; Miroku's been such a big part of your life that I would find it strange if you never talked about him at all. You've known him since high school!" Kagome gave Inuyasha a knowing look and affectionately tweaked one of his dog ears.

"Whatever," grumbled the hanyou. The other two grinned as he conceded an obvious truth without actually coming out and admitting anything.

"So, how do you like Tokyo so far, Miroku?" Kagome escaped from Inuyasha's loosened grip and pulled out a half-full package of Pocky from her backpack. She offered some to Miroku, who gladly accepted the treat, while Inuyasha just turned up his nose like he usually did.

"It's alright I guess…I don't know anyone yet though, so I'm mostly stuck in this house when I'm not at work."

"I wouldn't worry too much, you've only been back in Tokyo for a few weeks. I'm sure you'll make some more friends soon. You used to live here a while back didn't you?" Kagome asked. She disposed of the empty box in the garbage, and then took an apron off the hook on the wall, tying it around her waist.

"Yeah, I did…about eight years ago," Miroku replied wryly. He glanced at Inuyasha meaningfully; silent communication coupled with a knowing look was all that was needed. Kagome had missed the entire exchange, because the tie on her apron had come loose and she had her head down remedying the problem.

"Ahh…well, people do tend to lose touch after a while. It's good that you and Inuyasha stayed in touch." Kagome smiled, and then her teeth worried her bottom lip while she thought about something. After a moment of silence, her face brightened and she clapped her hands together. "Inuyasha, why don't we invite Miroku and Sango to go out with us? If Sango agrees, we four can have some fun together! We haven't gone out in a while, and it could serve as a 'Welcome to Tokyo!' celebration for Miroku. How about it?"

"Oi…wench, aren't you getting ahead of yourself?" Inuyasha grinned at the cute blush that colored her cheeks. Reaching to loop his arms around her waist, he lightly tickled her with his claws. "You haven't even asked Miroku if he wants to join us on this excursion."

Kagome peeked over Inuyasha's red t-shirt clad shoulder, hesitantly meeting the topic of the discussion's deep blue eyes and amused smile. "Sorry…would you rather not? I just thought you might like to do something…"

"Kagome, I would love to spend the evening out," Miroku said, chuckling.

"Great!" Kagome exclaimed, pulling away slightly from Inuyasha's grip. "I'll talk to Sango when I have dinner with her tomorrow night and see if she's up for it."

"Alright, well, come get me when you're done with tonight's dinner…" Inuyasha said, kissing Kagome's temple and reluctantly letting her go. Kagome and Miroku both watched him disappear, an ear twisted back, listening in even as he left for the living room, and then the TV flicked on.

Some things never change, Miroku thought. He registered Kagome approaching the table and riffling through her backpack. A question sprouted in response to the frilly white apron wrapped around her waist. "Do you normally cook for him? Unless his cooking skills have improved recently, I doubt he cooks for himself…" Miroku made a face, remembering one time when they'd made a wager over who had to cook…

At the time, the friends had shared an apartment in Kyoto. Miroku studiously attended classes, while Inuyasha put to good use the two-year degree he'd received several months before. The trouble started when Miroku, exhausted from a long day of computing, had tried to escape cooking dinner that night. Not fully thinking through his desperately-concocted plan, he pitched his brilliant idea to his hanyou friend. Unfortunately for Miroku (as later events proved), Inuyasha agreed to play along, scoffing heartily at the whole idea. The squabbling twosome left the apartment, their destination a floral shop two blocks away that he had previously noticed because of its attractive female staff. Miroku's bet was simple; if the first person he asked agreed to bear his child, then Inuyasha would cook dinner for a week.

The flower shop had seemed like an excellent place to start.

While Inuyasha loitered near the door, trying not to sneeze, Miroku approached the counter, and turned on the charm with the young, attractive, heavily-made-up cashier. After exchanging a few pleasantries about the blossoms, he had asked the willowy girl his famous question. He clearly remembered Inuyasha's surprise when the giggling cashier said 'yes', and on the first try, too! However, things rapidly went to hell when the cashier leaned forward, her blouse falling open to reveal a flat, undeniably masculine chest. "I'll gladly try to bear your child, honey," he purred huskily, "but, in exchange, I want that yummy little puppy's phone number," pointing at the flabbergasted hanyou. The cashier had then proceeded to wink broadly and leer at Inuyasha, who looked like he was going to be sick, or explode, perhaps both.

Shuddering, Miroku and Inuyasha made their escape. The upside was that Miroku had won the wager, since someone had agreed to bear his child, even if it was a man.

The downside was stomaching Inuyasha's cooking for a whole week, since the hanyou only had two recipes; ramen or burnt. After that incident, he cooked or ate out, rather than risk the need for a stomach pumping.

Waking from his thoughts, Miroku registered that Kagome was smiling gently at him while zipping up her backpack. "…not all the time, but when I'm off shift. I work at Tokyo General Hospital as a radiation therapist, so I'm usually pretty busy. I haven't worked there long…so I tend to put in more hours than others in my department. I want to get as much experience as possible and I love what I do."

Miroku merely nodded in acknowledgement, and decided he had been standing long enough, so plopped himself down in his chair. He pulled his drawing tablet closer, picked up the abandoned pencil, and started the task of finishing his art work.

"What would you like to eat, Miroku?" Miroku looked up to see Kagome leaning against the table. He frowned, confused at such a question directed towards him.

"Umm…"

"Don't worry about Inuyasha, if that's what you're concerned about. He asks for ramen at every meal, so the main course is irrelevant to him." Kagome rolled her eyes at her hanyou's addiction.

"By any chance can you make soba noodles? It's been a long time since I've had a decent plate…" Miroku forced a smile on his face at the thoughts of who was the last person to make him the dish, squeezing his pencil unintentionally. If Kagome noticed, she didn't say anything… something Miroku was grateful for.

"Of course!" Kagome smiled brightly. "Be back in a sec; I forgot to ask Inuyasha which flavor of ramen he wants tonight."

Miroku merely nodded and watched her disappear into the hallway. He was alone again, but not truly alone, unfortunately. No, Miroku, the talks-to-artwork recent resident of Tokyo, always had his thoughts to keep him company.

He didn't want their company; in fact, he despised them; they never left him alone, especially on late nights when he closed his eyes and prayed for peaceful sleep.

If only, if only…Miroku thought, releasing a sad sigh; he wasn't sure if it was for himself or those who had been harmed in the past. He stared grimly at his right hand. Thickly corded red and white scar tissue writhed across his palm, a reminder of his fragmented past.

The small café's outdoor patio was stressing her out. It was a gorgeous warm summer evening; a slight breeze wafted cooling air and she'd thought to sit out on the patio deck to take advantage of it. She rarely did this, mostly because she hated the thought of being stared at by strangers as they shuffled to their destinations. However, she couldn't find it in her to resist the urge because it was too stuffy inside the cafe.

What had she been thinking? Despite the fact she was casually dressed in her standard uniform of loose blue-jeans and a baseball tee, she'd managed to draw unwelcome attention to herself. Did she have a sign over her head reading, "I'm single, the name's Sango. Talk to me!" The last two guys to pass by had offered to buy her a drink; she hadn't liked the calculating look in their eyes, purely on principle. Strangers were bad news.

What's taking Kagome so long? She's always here by six o'clock…Sango leaned against the table, propping her cheek on her palm.

"Hey, what can I get for you…oh, it's only you, Sango." A teasing voice snapped her out of her thoughts. "Wow, Kagome must have finally decided to ditch you. It's about time; I've been telling her that I'm a much better friend than you!"

Sango looked up, wiped her chocolate-brown locks away from her face, and gave the waiter a dry look. "That joke is starting to get really old, Shippo; you bring it up every time like it's all shiny and new."

The joker in question, a teenage kitsune youkai with bushy red hair tied back by a green ribbon, smirked down at her, two menus tucked under his arm and an order pad in hand. He was dressed in the Cherry Blossom Café's standard waiter uniform; black pants, a white long-sleeved collared shirt, and a red bow tie. Shippo was an old friend… a bratty, annoying, immature nineteen year old friend…

"Really, Shippo it was funny at first. Amusing the next few times, and annoying now that it's cooked, baked, burnt, and stale. Capeesh?" Sango rolled her head from shoulder to shoulder, assuming the kitsune would take the hint and happily comply.

"When was the last time you wore a skirt, Sango?" Shippo smiled mischievously, his green eyes glinting, and plopped himself down across from her, completely ignoring his job for the moment.

Sango rarely wore skirts, she didn't have to answer Shippo's question, and he darn well knew it. She was a tomboy, plain and simple, and had even been known to buy her clothes in the menswear department. "What's your point, Shippo?" she snapped. "I don't go around asking you when you last wore a skirt, do I?"

Shippo just snickered at her and stuck his tongue out. "I'm not a girl, so why would I want to wear a skirt?"

"Why would I want to wear one, either? Shaving is over-rated, anyways…" Sango grinned at the expression on the kit's face. Score one for me

"Shippo, are you harassing my friend again? That's not very nice at all! Just ignore him, Sango; you know he loves to get a rise out of you," came a familiar, feminine voice.

Both Sango and Shippo turned to find Kagome smiling cheerfully at them. Her long, midnight black hair was tied neatly into a French braid. She looked very cool and collected in a white tank top and blue jean skirt.

"Kagome, you just saved Shippo from an impressive ego-smacking. What took you so long?" Sango eyed the kitsune closely as she spoke. He was still recovering from her 'shaving' comment, and hadn't come up with a snappy comeback yet.

"I'm sorry, Sango," Kagome apologized, suddenly looking very tired. "But…things happened at work and I couldn't get away."

Sango and Shippo looked at each other, then at Kagome, their eternal conflict extinguished by mutual concern for their friend.

"Shippo, you better get to work before Koharu decides to fire you…she's sure to notice your absence soon," Sango interjected before anything else was said. "Since you supposedly work here, why don't you get off your butt and bring us our usual? Oh, but bring Kag a large vanilla milkshake instead of a root beer; she looks like she could use one." Sango smiled up at her friend, who mouthed a silent 'thank you'.

"I better go…I need this job to pay for college. I don't want to end up a bum at nineteen…like someone else I know…" Waggling his eyebrows at Sango, Shippo pushed himself out of his seat and held it for Kagome before heading into the café to place the girls' order.

"Well, what happened?" Sango asked after Kagome had settled herself. "It must be something important, and don't you dare try to tell me it isn't. I've known you since second grade and I can tell when something's bothering you." Sango leaned forward, resting her arms on the table, all ears and ready to listen to Kagome's problem.

"No, I can't hide anything from you, can I?" Kagome asked rhetorically, managing a small smile that just as quickly evaporated. "Koga Oyama is the problem. I mentioned him last week… you remember…the wolf youkai?"

"Koga the new morgue attendant? That Koga?" Sango asked, arching her eyebrows.

"Apparently Koga has taken a strong liking to me…a very strong liking. The worst part is, I didn't realize until today that we were once neighbors…oh, why me?" Kagome sighed heavily, rested her chin on her hand, and looked intently at her friend.

"Umm…I'm confused…"

"Remember when we were fifteen, and my next door neighbor wouldn't leave me alone? He was always coming around and trying to convince me to go out with him. Mama wanted to put a restraining order on him; she felt his advances were extremely inappropriate. I convinced her he was harmless and I could handle him…he moved away shortly after that; something about his parents wanting to live closer to his grandparents."

"Yeah…don't tell me Koga and neighbor boy are one in the same?" Sango covered her mouth in a mix of amusement, surprise, and mortification. She could already picture Inuyasha's forceful response.

"Unfortunately, yes…I had to have my number changed today, because through some unknown means he acquired it. Yesterday he called me five times asking for a date…" Kagome sighed.

"So, why were you late?"

Kagome sighed again, and Sango couldn't help but feel sympathetic for her friend. Sango reached across the table and squeezed her friend's hand comfortingly. Kagome smiled gratefully at Sango, squeezing her hand back in return and then releasing it.

"The short version is, I was detained because I wasn't fast enough; I spent half an hour three feet from the exit, defending my relationship with Inuyasha to this idiot. Koga is convinced that Inuyasha is…well, Koga believes he's a much better match for me. It was so frustrating!" Kagome covered her face, groaning. "Oh, god…please kill me now. I can already imagine the testosterone exploding if they get anywhere near each other."

A momentary silence passed between the two friends. Sango contemplated the likelihood of Koga remaining un-bruised and fracture-free once Inuyasha heard about this latest incident. If she knew the hanyou, he'd be storming Kagome's work, intent on making it clear to the wolf youkai that he was risking having his head mounted on a very sharp stick. As a half dog-demon, Inuyasha was highly protective of his girlfriend and would react very badly if he felt that Koga was encroaching on what was his. Youkai, especially canine species, had very strong instincts to protect and lay claim to what they believed was rightfully theirs.

Now that won't be pretty… Sango chewed her lip, thinking about her friend having to deal with the situation. World War III would be a picnic in comparison…

"I met Inuyasha's new housemate yesterday," Kagome piped up after a few minutes, back to her cheery self.

"That 'Miroku' guy? What's he like?" Sango's curiosity was piqued, because in the year-and-a-half that Kagome had been dating Inuyasha, Miroku's name had come up more than a few times.

"He seems all right. Inuyasha warned me he was a bit of a pervert, but he didn't come across that way at all." Kagome smiled at her friend's shocked expression. "Nothing you couldn't handle, San. I'm sure ten minutes with you and you'd set him straight, right?"

"Damn right I would!" Sango replied adamantly. Kagome chuckled at her friend's response.

"Um, Sango…" Kagome hesitated before broaching her idea. "Would you be interested in joining Inuyasha and me in welcoming Miroku to Tokyo? We discussed it briefly yesterday and I thought it would be nice to take him out, to show him around a bit…what do you think?"

"I don't know, Kagome…I've had a hectic schedule lately, with trying to graduate and all. Just a couple more months and I'm through…can't Miroku wait 'til then?" Sango smiled innocently, but Kagome wasn't fooled. She gave her friend a dry look, wadded up a napkin and chucked it at her. "Come on, San, just for a few hours? I'm sure your criminology work can take a break for that long, can't it? Besides, think of that poor, poor man…doesn't know anyone here but me and Inuyasha…he seemed really lonely."

Sango chuckled and shook her head, tossing the napkin back across the table. "I'm pretty busy, Kagome; if what you say is true about him being a 'bit of a pervert', he won't be interested in me. I hardly appeal to that type…now you, on the other hand…"

"Sango! I swear, he seems like a really good guy… just give him a chance. Please?" Sango looked away from Kagome's hopeful eyes, a tight expression on her face. Kagome sighed. "Look, I won't ask you to meet him if you really don't want to, but at least consider it…you never get out anymore. You let very few people get close to you, which I understand…but you rarely let yourself just let go and have fun." Sango still refused to look at her, and Kagome's heart went out to her friend. When are you going to let your barriers down, my friend? When will you allow someone to touch your heart? When will you let go of the past and allow yourself to heal?

"I do let myself have fun!" Sango finally growled, her expression dark. "You should know better than anyone that I love playing sports…and I go to the gym, and video games are quite fun, if you can track down the good ones…"

"Yes, you do those things…when you're not working yourself to death at the AMAA, or attending classes at Tokyo University. And even then, you seem to do those things for the distraction more than the fun in them." Kagome refused to back down on this point, determined to help Sango by prodding her a tiny bit outside of her comfort zone. Baby steps

There was a long moment of silence; Sango caved in first. "What exactly do you have in mind?" she asked quietly. "I guess it wouldn't hurt to meet him…as long as you're there."

Kagome hid her delight at winning this tiny victory, instead smiling gratefully at her friend, acknowledging that Sango was only considering doing this to make Kagome happy. The girl appeared so tough and strong on the outside- and she was- but where her family and friends were concerned, she'd take a risk.

"How does a picnic in the park sound? Or even catching a movie? What would you feel comfortable doing?" Kagome asked.

"Shooting hoops…just kidding! Hmm…I guess we could catch a movie, so long as you promise we're not going to see some chick flick. The last time I allowed you to choose the movie, we ended up watching 'Legally Blonde'. I'm sorry Kagome; you know I love you, right? But there's only so much hot pink I can stomach."

"But Sango, your instructor's uniform for the Aimiya Martial Arts Academy has pink on it…what's wrong with pink? And 'Legally Blonde' is a great movie!"

Sango snorted and stared Kagome square in the eye, smiling at her friend's utter girly-ness. "Kagome, I love you like a sister…but if you want me to do this, absolutely no chick flicks. As if Inuyasha would sit through one of those!"

Kagome pouted lightly, silently admitting to herself that Inuyasha definitely wouldn't go for it, and the chances his friend loved them were also slim to nothing. "Fine…no chick flicks," she conceded. "But…no martial art movies, either."

"Alrighty, you've got yourself a deal, my friend!" Sango agreed, extending her hand across the table. Kagome shook her friend's hand happily, and then noticed Shippo was headed their way with a precariously balanced tray.

"About time…did you have to go and kill something first?" Sango asked as he arrived table-side.

"Here you go," Shippo said, ignoring the jibe while setting down Kagome's subuta, salad, and vanilla milkshake in front of her. "Kagome…are you okay?"

"Uh, yeah…why?" Kagome was momentarily confused, then remembered her entrance. "Just having problems with my phone…" She dug in with the chopsticks, avoiding any other questions that the kitsune may have wished to ask.

"Alright…if you say so," Shippo replied, shrugging, but not entirely convinced. He set down Sango's omuraisu, fruit salad, and cola. "Sorry the food was so late, but one of the cooks got sick and had to leave. We're going to be super-swamped tonight."

Sango and Kagome wished Shippo well on his shift as he hurried off. The rest of the evening ran smoothly as the girls finished their meals, chatting animatedly to each other about their families, school and work. Once eight o'clock rolled around, they walked out together and parted ways; Kagome headed to the house she shared with her mother, grampa, and little brother, and Sango returned to her one-bedroom apartment.

It was only when Sango sat on her bed that night, with the radio playing softly in the background, that she questioned herself. Perhaps there is truth in Kagome's words, that I hide from my past by avoiding the future? She shook her head, unwilling to admit to anything.

Reaching over to her bedside table, she picked up a picture frame, the frame worn out from years of being handled constantly. She tenderly ran her fingertips over the familiar countenance, remembering the past. Finally, she swallowed hard and set the picture back in its place, but face down this time, on the night stand. She vaguely registered the song playing in the background as she readied for bed.

"So take a look at me now, oh there's just an empty space.
And there's nothing left here to remind me,
Just the memory of your face.
Ooh take a look at me now, well there's just an empty space.
And you coming back to me is against all odds and that's what I've got to face…"

With a sigh, Sango shut the door to the bathroom attached to her small room, closing off all the thoughts and the scars she constantly tried to forget and yet wouldn't allow herself to.

Sango walked into the Aimiya Martial Arts Academy the next morning at 9am on the dot, dressed in her instructor's uniform; black full-body armor that encased her entirely, and pink guards that added extra coverage and padding to the more vulnerable places. It was made of the strongest youkai hide, was skin-tight and allowed for ease of movement. Sango's outfit was a real original, a garment made centuries before and passed down from her demon slaying ancestors in the feudal era. Aside from basic mending here and there, the uniform had withstood the years, so it appeared brand new to the untrained eye.

It's so early! Sango yawned, stepping into the reception area of the AMAA and taking in the familiar surroundings.

The expanse of the reception area was covered with gray flooring that spread some thirty feet. Directly to the left was the reception desk. To the right was a waiting area equipped with gray cushioned chairs and a sofa. A door in the far corner led to a long corridor of side by side training rooms of various sizes, some large while others were small, fit for one-to-one instruction. Locker rooms and bathrooms were situated at the end of the corridor.

Sango's grandparents had started the Academy over fifty years earlier, their motivation was to educate youths and adults alike in the various methods of personal defense based on the centuries-old demon-slayer training. When her grandparents had reached senior citizen status, her parents had inherited the responsibility of running the school. As soon as Sango was old enough, she'd made the transition from merely training to teaching at the Academy, which she thought of as her second home.

"Sango? If you wouldn't mind…care to move?"

Sango looked over her shoulder, and sure enough, she was blocking the entrance. She smiled sheepishly at the pig-tailed, red-headed youkai wearing a green t-shirt with the Academy's emblem on the front, and a white knee length skirt. The wolf youkai stared back at her expectantly, deep green eyes twinkling, white tail swishing gently, and a duffle bag slung over her shoulder.

Sango moved out of the way, and followed the red-head behind the reception desk, dropping into the extra chair.

"What's up with you this morning, Sango? You're earlier than normal…Saturdays we don't even open until 10am and you usually arrive only twenty minutes before that," the red-head said, a hint of curiosity lacing her voice. She glanced at her wrist watch, before pushing her duffle bag under the desk and followed Sango's example, plopping herself down in the receptionist's chair.

"Is it a crime to want to come in early, Ayame?" Sango asked, smiling just a bit too brightly for the AM hours.

Ayame eyed her employer suspiciously, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms over her chest. "If you are Sango Aimiya, then yes…what's up with you? I've worked for you and your parents for two years; in that entire time I have never seen you come in this early except when something's up."

"You must be mistaken, Ayame…I have no idea what you're talking about," Sango retorted twisting around in her chair to look at the schedule books for the day, noting that she was scheduled to teach the 10am Intro Defense class.

Ayame was about to open her mouth to push the issue again, however at that moment a bell chimed, announcing company.

"Oh, Sango dear, what are you doing here so early?" A soft-voiced woman asked. She was petite, with short, brown, curly hair falling around her shoulders. When she smiled a greeting to the two behind the desk, crow's feet pulled slightly at her eyes and mouth, a minuscule detail that one would miss if not looking.

Sango's head popped up from where she was studying the day's schedule, meeting the warm chocolate orbs she had inherited. She smiled brightly at the woman and jumped over the desk to greet her. "Good morning, Mother," she replied, embracing her warmly. Her mother returned the gesture as they spent a quiet moment together.

"Hey, what am I? Chopped liver? I see how it is…Risako-san," Ayame teased. "Hey, where's Seiichi-san?" Sango could hear Ayame shuffling papers at the desk.

Sango let go of her mom, took her gear bag, and carried it over behind the desk, stashing it next to Ayame's. "Where is Father? The door was open when I arrived; I assumed he'd come bounding out to greet me by now…." Sango shrugged and sat on the edge of the desk, allowing her mother to sit in the chair she had originally occupied.

"Thank you, dear, for giving up your chair." Risako smiled. Her attention shifted to include Ayame as well. "Your father mentioned something about a surprise and then dashed out the door at sunrise this morning. I didn't have time to question him as to what he was up to…"

"Strange," Ayame commented, rubbing her chin thoughtfully.

"Well, if the door was open when you arrived you can rest assured that he's here," Risako laughed. "After all, the only three who have keys are you, him, and me!"

"That's true," Sango admitted. "Mom, I was thinking…maybe we should consider firing Jakotsu…I'm not quite sure the instructor position is a good fit for him."

"Why do you say that, dear?"

"Hmm…I don't know…maybe because he keeps hitting on his students?" Sango could see, from the corner of her eye, Ayame squirming in her chair in an attempt to squelch her laughter. "Thank god he teaches an adult course, or we'd probably be sued for employing a pedophile!"

"Really now? I wasn't aware of this situation. I trust your judgment, dear; I'll leave the situation in your capable hands. Whatever decision you decide to make, I'll support you and your father will as well. We mustn't continue to employ him if he's causing the students to feel uncomfortable." Sango's mother reached over and ran her fingers through her daughter's hair affectionately, a proud smile on her face.

Sango was about to thank her mother, but the phone rang and silence was needed. She couldn't stop the smile though; her parents never ceased to amaze her with their unending support and love. She was extremely close to her parents; they had a special relationship with each other, the three of them, a bond that no one could ever break. They were constantly there for each other- to offer support and comfort- as it was often needed in the past, when times were dark and their lives ran in shades of gray and black, were disturbing, lonely, and dismal.

Before Sango's mood could be ruined by venturing too far into those dark memories, footsteps were heard and then the door leading to the training rooms opened. A head with wind-rushed raven hair and a modest beard poked out, and then the man smiled brightly at the ladies in the room- nodding to Ayame, who smiled in return- and whose blue eyes shimmered gleefully with hidden knowledge.

"Hey, Seiichi-san, where'd you come from?" Ayame asked, cocking her head to the side as she eyed him suspiciously. "You're up to something!"

"Why, yes I am, Ayame! Good morning, Sango! How are you this fine day?" Her father asked cheerfully, immensely pleased with himself for something.

"Good morning, Father," Sango replied, standing up. She glanced at her mother, who looked rather bemused.

"Seiichi, dear, do you mind telling me why you found the need to rush off at sunrise?" Risako stood and approached her husband, frowning lightly, arms crossed and waiting for an answer.

"All will become clear in a minute, sweetheart," Seiichi said, never loosing his cheerfulness or blinding smile that would put the sun to shame. "Sango, come here, I have something for you. Think of it as an early birthday present!"

"Father, my birthday isn't for another five months…" Sango shook her head, laughing at her father, and approached him, stopping just in front of the half open door he was hiding behind. "So, what's this about? My birthday's not until October. You're not getting Alzheimer's so soon, are you?" She tapped his forehead jokingly. "Yep, too bad…you're only fifty-one."

Seiichi frowned playfully and swatted away her hand. "Fine, if you'd rather I take it back, then that can be arranged…when they ask I'll say I returned it because my ungrateful daughter didn't want it." He stuck out his tongue.

"No, no, I suppose I'll accept it…if I must," Sango replied dramatically, clutching her heart. She smiled at her father's chuckle, while behind her, her mother and Ayame continued to watch in curiosity and anticipation.

"Close your eyes and I'll give it to you."

Wonder what he brought me…Sango's eyes fluttered close; she registered the door opening completely, if the two female gasps behind her were any indication. A moment later she sensed the 'gift' placed eye-level with her, before something wet caressed her cheek. Her eyes shot wide open, and she found herself looking into a pair of bright red eyes. Startled, she could only stare at the creature while it purred happily. It wriggled out of Seiichi's grasp and onto the young woman's shoulder, nuzzling her in greeting.

"Oh, Father!" Sango laughed as the small creature continued to rub its cheek against her own. "A neko-youkai…it's so sweet!"

Sango lifted the creature to her eye level, studying it while it swished two cream colored tails, and observed her as closely as she was inspecting it. It chirped happily and Sango smiled, realizing it was still a baby, probably no more than a few weeks old at most. The creature was in fact a two-tailed neko youkai, cream colored from head to toe aside from traces of black on its paws, ears, tails, and a diamond shape on the center of its head. Sango tucked the neko into her arms, cuddling it happily.

"Do you like her?" Sango's father asked, chuckling at the child-like glee radiating from his twenty-two year old daughter.

"Definitely, Father," Sango replied happily, refocusing her attention on the man before her, "How old is she? Where'd you get her?"

Seiichi chuckled, catching his wife's eyes from behind Sango and winking at her, then took his daughter's shoulders and steered her to sit in a waiting room chair. Once Sango was seated, his wife approached and embraced him, whispering something in his ear that Sango couldn't make out, and kissed him sweetly on the cheek. Then all three were seated, Sango situated in the middle of her parents with a comfortable neko youkai lying in her lap, and Ayame watching the interaction from her post at the reception desk.

"Sango, do you remember Ito-san?" Seiichi asked.

"Yes…she used to live down our street when I was little, right? She moved away so suddenly… we were never close to her, but it was odd how she just sort of disappeared one day." Sango shrugged indifferently, remembering the sassy brunette.

"That's right." Seiichi nodded pleasantly. "I met her outside of the court house last week. She was grumbling about a neko youkai, so I asked her if she needed some help. Apparently her boss had dumped a youkai kitten on her, with the task of finding it a new owner. She was quite happy to hear I'd take it. We arranged to meet today so I could claim the kitten." Seiichi smiled happily, obviously proud of himself for acquiring Sango's new pet.

"Alright…so is there a reason you specifically wanted me to have her?" Sango questioned. "Not that I'm ungrateful, because I absolutely adore her, but my birthday really is five months from now…"

"Sango, dear…I think she'll be good for you," Risako broke in, "after all, we tend to worry about our smart, beautiful daughter living by herself. After what happened to your brother…" Sango's mother broke off, darkness in her eyes.

"Kohaku is fine, Mother, one day you'll see…he's not dead yet, so please don't act like he is." Sango swallowed hard, feeling the chaotic emotions within her bubble and rise to the surface. Words couldn't describe the feeling, and she never wanted to. And yet, she both hated and loved the way the chaos within her had such an impact, affected her so much. Whether her parents noticed her internal conflict was unknown to her, but she assumed they were more than aware…

"Of course, dear, I just meant living in that apartment of yours, by yourself…it'd be nice knowing our daughter wasn't constantly alone." Seiichi nodded in agreement.

"I understand, Mother. I'm sorry…" Sango wiped her mind clean of her thoughts, brushing away all emotions threatening to overtake her, and smiled gently.

"What are you sorry for, dear? There's nothing to be sorry about." Risako assured, reaching out and brushing a few stray locks from her daughter's face.

"Hey, not to interrupt or anything…but it's a quarter to ten," Ayame cut in. She was leaning over the counter and grinning at the trio. "Why, I do believe when a new kitten arrives life must stop, must it not?" She chuckled, her green eyes sparkling playfully.

"Ayame?"

"Yeah, Aimiya-sama?"

"Do me a favor and shut up!"

Ayame laughed and nodded her head at her boss, who was currently sticking his tongue out at her. She loved working for the Aimiyas; she had recently received approval to teach a few low-grade classes. Ever since she'd become the permanent morning secretary two years previous, she'd never had a dull working day. "It's almost time to let the eager students in!"

Seiichi laughed, rising from his chair. "Yeah, yeah, I know. Thanks for telling us, Ayame."

"No problem. Now if you excuse me, some of us have to get to work." Ayame pushed herself upright, flipped a pig-tail over her shoulder, and organized her paperwork.

Seiichi laughed and then turned his attention back to his family. He eyed Sango and her new pet, who appeared to have fallen asleep, snuggled up into a ball in her lap. "Have you thought of a name yet?"

"I'm going to think about it some more before making a decision. I'll let you know, okay?" Sango smiled gratefully. "Thank you, Father. She's beautiful and I love her!"

"You're welcome, my bumblebee," Seiichi replied, practically glowing with pride.

Sango made a face, wondering why now her father chose to address her by her childhood nickname after years of its absence. The last time she was called bumblebee she'd been ten years old…

"Now, I do believe work calls," Seiichi said, shifting from his playful self to the professional man who ran the Aimiya Martial Arts Academy with legendary seriousness. When it came to the Academy and martial arts, Seiichi loved it with a passion; he took everything seriously, and yet still managed time for fun. "Sango, why don't you prepare for your first class of the day? Ayame, would you mind watching over the neko? She's well-behaved, just keep an eye on her, if you wouldn't mind."

"Sure thing," Ayame called. "Bring the furball over here."

"Alright, ten minutes until we open, let's get warmed up," Seiichi said enthusiastically, clapping his hands in preparation. Within moments he and Risako had whisked out into the corridor, intending to stretch before class and ready any supplies they might need.

After transferring the neko's care to Ayame, Sango proceeded to make her way down to the training rooms, all the while possible names for her new pet swirled through her head.

"Kobayashi, let's call it a day. Go home and take a load off!"

Miroku peered around the computer screen in front of him and over the piles of paper work and case files loading his desk in the crowded District Office of the Police Superintendent. Hojo Fukuda, his supervisor, was shuffling through papers on his desk. Miroku was still confused as to how the dimwitted Hojo could function in the world, let alone in the District Office. He'd only worked here for a week and already it was apparent the man was remarkably dense, not to mention a bit odd. Miroku had almost laughed outright when Hojo presented him a basket of health creams and medicines as a welcome present.

"Kobayashi, are you alright?" Hojo asked, gathering his bag from his desk some ten feet away, "You aren't coming down with something are you? You aren't getting laryngitis, perhaps?" The brown-haired man's face twisted with concern and the distance between the two became non existent as he approached Miroku.

My god, this man is ridiculous! Is his solution to everything either a medicine or a sickness? Miroku had to restrain himself from laughing.

"Kobayashi?" Hojo leaned over Miroku's flat-screen monitor to closely inspect his subordinate's face. "Are you feeling unwell? I have Tylenol and Advil in my desk…would you like some?"

"I'm fine," Miroku finally spoke up, "I was merely distracted when you called to me."

"Oh, I see," Hojo said cheerfully, "Alright then, I'm off! Don't tire yourself out, Kobayashi. New files pop up everyday that need entering into the criminal database, so no need to overwork yourself."

"Of course…I'll be leaving shortly."

"Alright, good day, Kobayashi! Don't forget to take your vitamins before bed!" And with that, Miroku watched Hojo depart, cheerfully whistling It's A Small World.

Miroku shook his head, and chuckled quietly. Obviously Hojo had forgotten Miroku was scheduled until five o'clock. He still had a half-hour left.

I wonder what Kagome's friend is like

At the exact time Miroku closed his computer out, and prepared to finish his shift for the day, a raven haired woman rounded a street corner several miles away, going deeper into the shady part of Tokyo. Her hair was twisted and pinned up, a form-fitting blood-red skirt suit clung to her in a manner that breathed money; the whole look was complemented by a black briefcase she clutched in her hand. Her facial expression twisted into a mix of annoyance and rage, with a hint of regret tinting her eyes the closer she approached her destination.

That bastard! I'll be free one day, and when I am, I'll kill him! I don't care if he's the leader of the Demonic Dominos! She growled angrily, black heels clicking loudly on the pavement as she arrived at her destination, which appeared to be a three-story storage compound. Coming to a stop, she knocked on the door.

A peephole slid open and a pair of cold ice-blue eyes stared back at her. "What the fuck are you here for?" a rough, masculine voice spat out, malice dripping from his tone.

"Look asshole, I don't care if you like me or not. I don't care if you trust me or not," the woman snapped, blood-red eyes igniting with fire, fingers digging into the leather of her briefcase. "Let's get something straight… what I am concerned about is what will happen to you if you prevent my entrance. Your Oyabun sent for me; if I'm punished because of your stupidity, your financial concerns and will better be complete. Got that?"

The man behind the door snorted and closed the peephole. A moment later, the door opened wide to reveal a formidable creature. A wild mane of pure white hair streaked broadly with black fell to his shoulders and pointed ears (just as the woman standing before him had) stuck out from the mess. White pawed feet with black stripes, and twice the size of average human feet, were his most distinct youkai feature. Needless to say, he emitted strength and power.

"Rune, move out of my way, you asshole."

"Whatever, bitch, I don't care what the boss says. Trust is one thing you'll never get from me," Rune growled. "Show me the mark or I'm not allowing you entrance."

"Fine," she seethed, pushing the cuff of her suit jacket up to reveal the emblem seared into the skin of her inner wrist. "Now let me pass."

Rune merely nodded and moved aside with a look of disgust. The woman lowered her arm, the sleeve falling down to re-cover her previously exposed flesh, and imperiously swept pass him. Once the door was closed, she expertly traveled the familiar path she'd known for over twenty years, through dusty and poorly lit corridors. She heard cat-calls from the shadows, and ignored them. She was in no mood to entertain arrogant yakuza thugs.

After enduring the twist and turns of the warehouse, as well as climbing the two stories worth of stairs, the raven-haired woman came to her destination, stopping in front of the reinforced door. Preparing herself for a confrontation, she took a deep breath, straightened her hem, and knocked on the door.

"Enter."

Pushing the door open, she entered the exact room that many years ago had proved to be the scene of her undoing. The room itself was nothing special; a desk took central position, a large window to the left over-looked the street below, and a glass terrarium holding a large tarantula rested on a table by the door.

She hated coming here. Bastard.

Stepping inside and closing the door behind her, she met two red eyes, almost identical to hers. However, these eyes held malicious amusement, deception, evil intent swirling in their depths. These eyes were cold …the eyes of a killer.

She refused to be intimidated. She despised those eyes; she despised the creature before her…but above all else, she despised playing the role he demanded of her.

"Greetings, my dear. Have you been well?" His voice was deep and silky. Gritting her teeth, she approached the desk. He disguised himself well, so well that many people assumed he was full youkai, but she knew otherwise.

The dark hanyou watched her approach, his eyes narrowed slightly, his long wavy black hair falling around him and catching on the fabric of his black silk suit. He was amused at her continued resistance, at her denial of his power over her. Leaning back in his cushioned chair, twirling something in his hands, he smirked.

"It's a shame that some people don't consider consequences, don't you agree?" His eyes glittered, and the smirk widened. Languidly, he set the object occupying his hands on the desk.

Resting in the center of the blotter was a human pinky finger, still oozing fresh blood.

"Of course," she ground out, unaffected by the appendage itself, but instead by what it symbolized…the crushing power he held over the members of the clan. He was their oyabun, their leader, their family head. However, whereas a family head should care about what happens to his underlings, he cared not; everyone was dispensable to him. His kobun meant nothing to him for all the loyalty they showed him.

"Now, to our business." His red eyes pierced her, daring her to answer him wrong. "Did the transaction go as planned?"

"Yes, things went as planned," she replied, rolling her eyes.

"Good, good. Now we will wait. We will allow things to settle down a bit before we make our next move. Until then, I suggest you remember your place. Is that clear, dear Kagura?"

"Yes, Naraku."

A/N: Please if you would, review? I would appreciate any feedback I can get. (Insert smile)