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there's no place (for us/like home)

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The strange snarling noise turns her feet towards the alleys, even though she knows better, she's known better for years. It's not her fight, it's not her concern, and still she hears them before she sees them as she steals down the adjacent alley anyway, listening hard.

"Filthy half-breed," is followed by a pause and a laugh. "What, nothing to say for yourself?"

The snarling grows louder, wilder.

Kagome starts to run.

"That's right, growl like the miserable dog you are," a different voice says, followed by a softer noise, the too-familiar noise of flesh hitting flesh, followed by a pained grunt. "You'll die like a dog as well."

Kagome forces herself to stop and look around the corner before rushing in- she learned that lesson long ago.

But right now there's one man on his knees, arms twisted awkwardly behind his back, snarling and shaking his head as though he can get the strange mask on his face off if he just shakes hard enough. He's kneeling in his own blood and surrounded by at least six other men who are all on their feet, and Kagome draws her bow and unlearns that lesson in a hurry.

Her first shot takes down the ringleader. Her second cracks the stranger's mask, but isn't enough to break it off, and now they know she's here so she takes aim at one of the men holding him in place. That one drops as well. As she's felling a third, the man on his knees succeeds at tearing free entirely and springs upright, taking a vicious swipe at his closest attacker before backing away, nearly falling as he puts weight on his right leg. Odd red ropes dangle in shreds from both his wrists, tied tightly enough to draw blood. He's favoring his right side and the snarling is growing louder again.

Kagome's been shooting to disable, not to kill, but the look in the stranger's eyes makes her pause. It's wild and furious and hurt. It's not fear that gleams in them- it's anger and humiliation.

The strangeness of the mask resolves as she looks at him. It's not a mask at all; he's been muzzled, and the dog ears that flicker upright from where they'd been pinned back hint immediately as to why might be.

Kagome narrows her eyes and shoots another of his attackers through the knee. She means it to be painful, to be permanent; she means for it to heal badly, if it heals at all. She means for the man to never be able to do anything like this ever again.

Kagome's grown a little more violent than she used to be, after living so long with demons in the woods.

Demons aren't quite as rare in the area as they once were, but they're unusual enough that Kagome's distantly surprised to see a dog demon here at all. The only local demon she knows of is Shippo and he lives out by the well with her, far from the populated part of the forest, and Shippo doesn't come with her when she stops for supplies.

They live that far out in the forest for a reason.

There's only one enemy left and the dog demon takes another snarling swipe at him as he tries to close in. Kagome can't get the clear shot she wants, but she fires at the attacker's heels and forces him back, and the strange demon blurs past their bolting enemies to glare at her.

She looks to his wrists instead- the red ropes are glowing. When she looks with more than just her eyes, she can sense that they're spelled to weaken him and keep him subdued, and to keep him from getting them off. Whoever laid the spell meant it to last- it's strong enough that it's remarkable he was able to tear them at all.

"Let's get out of here, and get all of that off of you," she says.

He growls at her and flings a hand up towards his face. The muzzle crackles with pink energy, forcing his hand away before he can tear it off, and he shudders as a second bolt from the rope on his wrists rips through him, stiffening a moment later as though not wanting to let her see that it hurt him. 

Careful to telegraph her movements, Kagome grabs his wrist and pulls him after her as she turns, trying to yank the rope off as they go. It comes free, but not without a lot of reluctance and a few more brief sparks that make both of them flinch. Blood streaks both their hands now.

"We'll get it off," she repeats, pulling him down another alleyway and into a stumbling run as she claws his other wrist free. The ropes fight her; they don't want to come free, but Kagome is a brand of stubborn that only living alone in demon-inhabitated woods with a fox kit can cause. She is getting them off. "We'll get all of it off, but we need to get away from here as fast as we can."

The demon growls at her again, but he does follow. She's not entirely sure he can make sounds beyond snarling and growling with that muzzle on so she isn't going to take that too personally.

They run for hours. Kagome knows her destination, so she's able to keep to an easy lope that lets them keep speed without tiring too quickly, and she suspects the pace is easier on her injured stranger.  They're well into the trees but not even halfway to her destination when she feels safe enough to stop. If they were pursued at all, she won't have been followed this far past the boundaries- the forest is strangely lenient with demons, but still particular about who it lets in.

She doesn't need to convince it to let the dog demon in. She'd needed to argue with it for herself initially, and even for it to let Shippo stay with her, but this demon, remarkably, it immediately likes.

Kagome stops running and the demon skids to a stop, ears flicking wildly as he whips around to glare down their backtrail.

"We weren't followed," she says, catching her breath and stepping forward, only to freeze when he whirls back to her with his claws aimed to strike, eyes still wild and frantic. He's still growling.  She's not sure he ever stopped.

"We weren't followed," she repeats firmly. "They can't get into the forest- it's picky." She reaches forward, but stops when his ears pin back and his pupils narrow. She holds up her empty hands, her bow already slung over her shoulder from the run. "I just want to get this thing off of you. Like I did with the ropes."

The growl dies down, though it doesn't subside entirely, and his eyes are still wary. He does incline his head towards her, very slightly.

Kagome wants to reach over and wrench the damned thing off, but she doesn't know how it's fastened and she doesn't want to hurt him.  He clearly feels threatened enough. She doesn't think he'll like anyone at his back any more than she would, so she slowly steps as far into his personal space as she dares and reaches up to feel for where the muzzle is fastened. It leaves her closer to him than is comfortable for either of them but that's unavoidable, and it's still better than stepping into his blind spot.

The stranger startles slightly but doesn't move back, expression unhappy and slightly confused.  He has the most expressive eyes she's ever seen. His ears, pinned back now, also make it easy to read what he's feeling.

Unfortunately it looks like what he's feeling is mostly cornered and unhappy.

Kagome frowns as she feels for a catch or a latch, surprisingly silky hair slipping through her fingers as she searches. The muzzle is knotted up so thoroughly behind his head that large chunks of his hair are caught in it. Finally she finds an end and starts to tug it free.

The demon makes the first noise she's heard from him that isn't a snarl or a growl, but it's a low noise of pain and that's not better. She preferred the growling.

"Almost got it," she says intently, tugging loose strap after strap. There are fastenings but whoever put it on hadn't bothered with them, opting instead to tie it into a tangled mess that makes it difficult not to yank at his hair by accident.

"Kagome!" a voice shouts, startling them both. The demon tries to leap away and Kagome tries to freeze at the same time, but with her hands still behind his head it only results in the both of them toppling into a tree.  The demon catches himself with claws embedded in the bark, steadying her for a moment with his free hand before dropping it as if scalded.

"Kagome!" Shippo shouts again, barrelling through the trees and leaping to her shoulder, then to a branch so that she can see him. He glares distrustfully at the strange demon and demands, "What are you doing with him? Who is he? What's that stupid thing on his face?" He sniffs, and a strange look settles on his features, one she hasn't seen in years. The kitsune turns his back on the demon and sniffs again, this time with disdain. "You shouldn't bother with him, Kagome. He's only half a demon."

"Shippo, don't be rude," she scolds the kit, finally locating the last knot and working it free as quickly as she dares. "I don't care what he is, he needs help." She'd be lying if she said she wasn't intrigued, though.  Demons in the area are rare enough; hanyou are unheard of.

Kagome supposes she should be afraid, but she should have been scared of Shippo too, and it's not like anything she'd known about kitsune had turned out to be true.

As soon as the muzzle comes free the half-demon bats it away with a snarl, despite the burst of energy that burns at his hand, and he stumbles back to glare at them both, bristling as he spits, "I don't need- I don't need help!"

"He's rude," Shippo informs her haughtily.

"Shippo," Kagome says mildly. The kitsune subsides in an instant, grumbling. She turns back to the stranger.  "Okay, so you don't need help. I have food and medicine, though, if you'd like to share those."

He's still glaring, distrust written all over his face, but his ears do twitch towards them at the mention of food. He'd backed away to crouch against a tree, but he straightens slightly now. His voice is rough with pain or disuse or both. "What's... the catch?"

Kagome shrugs. "I'd like to know your name?"

"Why should I... tell you?" He hasn't stopped glaring at them, but one hand's snapped out to latch claws into the tree and she's starting to suspect it's most of what's keeping him upright.

"Fine, don't," Kagome retorts, exasperated.  Injured or not the man is quickly getting on her nerves. She can't entirely blame him, but she's also under no obligation to put up with it. "I'm Kagome, and this is Shippo. We're going home so you can do whatever you'd like from here."

"Kagome, I don't want him to follow me home," Shippo protests immediately, jumping from his branch to her shoulder.

The half-demon flinches at the sudden movement or at Shippo's words or possibly at both.

"You stay with me most of the time anyway," Kagome tells Shippo dryly, before turning to leave.

"Wait!"

She glances over her shoulder in time to see the stranger lurch away from the tree, pressing a hand to his right side with a grimace. "What is it?"

Now that he has her attention again, he seems lost for what to do with it. He stares at her long enough that it's clear he hadn't thought of what to say if she answered him.

Kagome swallows- he is surprised she'd answered him. From his expression, he didn't expect her to.

"Inuyasha," he says suddenly, his rough voice almost too loud in the silence between them. He looks away from her and huffs as he says, "My name, it's Inuyasha."

Imaginative, Kagome almost says, but she stops herself in time.  She hears Shippo draw in breath like he's about to comment, but he stops when she reaches up to touch his tail. "Nice to meet you, Inuyasha.  It's going to be dark soon, so I really do need to get home." She brushes her hand down Shippo's tail as she turns to address the kit, giving the hanyou privacy. "Are you staying tonight, Shippo?"

"Yes, you've been gone for days, Kagome," Shippo says reproachfully, leaning into her shoulder for balance as they move off through the trees. "Did you bring me anything?"

"Oh- of course I did," Kagome smiles and fishes in her pack, retrieving a ball to hand to her friend. "You lost your old one, right?"

"Yeah!" Shippo tosses it once and catches it with delight. "Thank you!" Tiny feet press down on her shoulder as he leans in and says eagerly, "Did you get me anything else?"

A grouchy hanyou, Kagome thinks wryly, listening to Inuyasha crash along somewhere behind them. Uninjured, he's probably graceful. Right now he's very much not. His low cursing doesn't sound all that different from the growling before. It might still be growling. "Not much, Shippo. What about you, have you been hunting?"

He puffs up proudly.  "Yeah! I got lots of rabbits Kagome, lots and lots of them, and some squirrels, too!"

"Good job Shippo!" she praises him, even though she's wincing a little internally. She's glad to hear about the rabbits, but the local squirrels tend to be a lot of work for not much actual meat.

Inuyasha's stopped cursing.  She thinks he's probably too busy with listening to them (and, if his attitude before had been any indication, with staying on his feet).

She can't blame him, really. She and Shippo are- odd.  Humans don't typically live out in the forest like this, not when- at least in a more usual forest- rogue demons attack near constantly. Most demons, even young ones like Shippo, don't typically live with humans.  They definitely don't hunt with or for them.

But then, Shippo did say that Inuyasha's a half-demon.  The concept can't be that strange to him.

Shippo gets grumpier and grumpier as they come closer to the hut and it becomes clearer and clearer that Inuyasha isn't leaving.  He follows them the whole way, although he doesn't say anything to them, and every time she tries to sneak a glance at him he refuses to look at her.

He's limping a lot worse by the time they reach her home.

It isn't much, just a one-room hut and a clearing with a fire pit that she shares with Shippo, but it's hers. She can come and go as she pleases while keeping her home isolated and safe.  Until now, only Shippo and Kaede have known where she lives. Not even Souta knows how to find this place.

Of course, Souta would never know to look, but that's not something Kagome thinks about.

Kagome continues into the clearing with Shippo, dropping her pack besides the fire pit as the kit jumps down and races to leap onto a log.  Inuyasha's stopped at the edge of the clearing under the trees and she studiously doesn't pay any attention to him. She doesn't want to scare him off.

"Where are the rabbits, Shippo?" she asks instead.

He sits upright to puff out his chest proudly and grins at her. "And squirrels!"

"And squirrels," she agrees, smiling.  "Why don't you go get them and I'll show you what else I've brought back?"

His eyes go wide. "Did you get spices?"

"Go and get your kills and you'll find out," Kagome suggests.

Shippo scampers off, so she raises her voice to address the shadow in the trees. "Would you like to join us?"

Inuyasha doesn't answer her, but when she looks again he's moved further from the trees, still not quite in the clearing but close. He'd still be easily able to dart for shelter from where he's crouched.

Well.  Shippo had been like that at first, too, a little bit, and he'd been a lot less injured and a lot more trusting.

When Shippo brings back the rabbits, Kagome sets aside more than usual to prepare closer to Shippo's preference than her own, and when she holds one out to the side she feels the weight vanish from her hands almost immediately.

Shippo sniffs, but at a look from her he doesn't comment further.

The kitsune has been busy.  Kagome's glad for it; she's more than full enough, but by the time a third rabbit has vanished into Inuyasha's claws even Shippo is looking between the squirrels and  the half-demon and looking conflicted.

"Kagome?" the little kitsune says uncertainly, looking away from the edges of the firelight and back up at her.  "I, uh, I don't really like squirrel."

This is manifestly untrue; Kagome's seen the kit eat more than enough squirrels before.  But Inuyasha's obviously hungrier than either of them, and proud besides.  "I don't really either, Shippo."

The kit looks relieved before snatching the last squirrels out of the fire and bounding over to Inuyasha, who recoils slightly.  "Hey, you take these! We don't want them, anyway."

Inuyasha swipes them and glares at Shippo. "Don't need your pity."

"Yeah, yeah.  You said." Shippo sniffs again and his face contorts. "You're still bleeding, though, it smells awful."

"Hey-" Inuyasha growls. "Does not!"

Kagome stands, slowly.  "He didn't mean it like that, Inuyasha." He might have. She isn't sure.  "Shippo doesn't like the scent of blood.  I have bandages and medicine in the hut, if you'd like."

"I'm fine," Inuyasha snaps, huddling in on himself. Kagome notices he doesn't loosen his hold on the squirrels, though.

Kagome shrugs and turns towards the hut.  "Suit yourself, I'm turning in for the night.  Shippo? You said you were staying tonight, right?"

"Yeah!" Shippo leaps for her shoulder again.  "You've been away so long."

"It was only a few days," Kagome says, laughing.

"Hey." She almost misses Inuyasha's low voice under the crackle of the flames, but she turns towards him and raises an eyebrow.

"Is he-" the hanyou gestures towards Shippo with a half-eaten squirrel, eyebrows drawn together but expression oddly unreadable otherwise. "Is he- yours?"

Shippo bristles, tail bushing out.  "I'm a full demon!"

"Shippo," Kagome says, exasperated. "No, he's not- we look after each other, that's all.  He lost his parents just before he found me."

"Right." Those golden eyes are glaring at the ground again and Kagome blinks.

She can't be sure, but she thinks maybe he was hoping she'd say yes.

Maybe, on another day, that would have been her answer after all. Shippo's not hers by blood, and they're not the same species, but she's been doing her best to raise him for the past few years. In a very real sense he is her kit now.

But there's blood pooling under Inuyasha when he moves, and his wrists are still visibly scarring, and she's still far too aware of finding him bound and kneeling in an alley with a muzzle on.  She's not making any claims that leave too much room for interpretation.

Inuyasha says nothing more, so Kagome retires to the hut.  Normally she'd never leave the fire to burn itself out but tonight she leaves it for Inuyasha and settles herself on her pallet with Shippo.

She's glad the kit is here.  She always sleeps easier with him around.  Living in the middle of the forest as they do is not without its dangers, and Shippo's senses are much sharper than her own. And- she doesn't want to bar the door, tonight, and she's not sure she'd quite be willing to leave it alone without Shippo here.

Kagome made sure to leave her medical supplies near the door before she went to bed.  She wakes partway through the night to see that they're gone, smiles to herself, and falls back asleep.

Inuyasha lurks around for the next few days but he doesn't actually leave. He won't come close, he won't get in grabbing range of either of them, but his wrists and side are inexpertly bandaged and when she asks Shippo the kit says he doesn't smell blood anymore.

Slowly, excruciatingly slowly, Inuyasha starts to creep closer to the fire at night.  Now that he's not so injured, he's begun to vanish into the woods and come back to throw down rabbits and once a badger at the side of the hut, and Kagome hasn't had to worry about finding enough to eat as the air starts to turn colder. He hardly ever talks to them, or at all, and he won't come close enough to touch- he never comes as close as he had that first day again, but he stays.  She never catches him at it where they can see him but he's definitely helping to carry water from the old well and to collect firewood as well. He's no help in her garden, but even accounting for leaving enough food for Inuyasha as well she's more well-prepared than the last two winters. She wouldn't give up Shippo for the world but it is a lot harder to look after herself and the kitsune than it had been for just herself.

She's not sure why Inuyasha hasn't left, but she's glad for it.

Inuyasha watches her in the garden, sometimes, too, showing a fair bit more interest in the plants than Shippo ever has.  It worries her, a bit; Shippo is basically carnivorous, but she doesn't know if the same is true for him. Kagome starts to talk out loud while she's weeding, naming off each plant and whether it's for eating or for medicine, listing medicinal uses. To her own surprise she wants him to stay. She still doesn't know very much about him, but if he'd intended them harm he's had more than enough chances. Instead he's starting, slowly, to help.

Normally Shippo would go back to his den more nights than not but the kit doesn't show any signs of leaving while Inuyasha's still here.  Kagome finds she doesn't mind that. She's always worried about the kit when he leaves her, but she's never before tried too hard to get him to stay.  Shippo doesn't have very much besides his independence and her.

The reverse is true, too, but she's never known if Shippo sees it that way.

Even after such a relatively short time there's already no way she'd ever ask him to leave, but as he's healed Inuyasha seems to have taken up the role of their protector, as though trying to earn his keep. Not much makes it through the forest's defenses and close enough to their home to be a threat, but there have always been exceptions, and Inuyasha easily takes down a centipede demon that might have left her and Shippo seriously injured without his help. The hanyou doesn't stick around the immediate area after, so Kagome can only hope he's listening when she shouts her thanks after him. He drives off a rogue bear youkai as well and his presence alone seems to warn off the lesser demons of the forest that have plagued them the past two winters.

It's weeks past when Inuyasha must have fully healed, and Kagome's gotten in the habit of talking to the air as she works. She still doesn't really know why he's stayed all this time but by now she's relatively confident he isn't about to leave again.  "The first winter with Shippo was hard, you know? He'd only really just started hunting for himself right before his parents were killed, and he wasn't very good at it yet. And I- well, let's just say my aim has improved since then.  I used to go into the village more often for supplies, but I couldn't get too much or they'd get suspicious.  I know that they can't get out here but I still get paranoid, sometimes."

Inuyasha's somewhere in the trees above her and she sees red fabric flash at that.

Kagome pauses, reviews what she's just said, and elaborates.  "The forest is a barrier.  People, well, humans mostly, with ill intent can't get in.  Sometimes it doesn't let people with good intent in, unless it likes them a whole lot. I had to argue with it for Shippo- it always gets a little weird about demons, like it can't quite read them as well." She glances up and drops the pretext of talking to herself as she adds, "Not with you, though.  It let you in right away."

Usually when she addresses him directly Inuyasha withdraws into the trees. This time, however, he drops down next to her, landing in a crouch.

For the first time since the day she dragged him out here, he's come close enough to reach out and touch. Even in battle he keeps his distance. 

Kagome carefully doesn't make any kind of move towards him, threatening or not.

"Why would it let a... let me in?" he asks darkly, but years with Shippo lets Kagome pick out the undercurrent of uncertainty.

Kagome shrugs. "I really don't know how the forest makes its determinations. Shippo and I live here, and there's an elder who lives at the edge of the forest, but it's always let some demons through and not others. Most of what it keeps out seems to be human bandits, and they don't usually realise it's the forest.  They just- find some reason they need to go around."

Inuyasha doesn't say anything, but his ears are trained towards her attentively.

She inhales and sets down her basket, privately glad that Shippo's unbent enough to hunt while Inuyasha is here with her. "Those men that had you-" Inuyasha flinches heavily, and Kagome amends what she was about to say.  She does want to know what happened to him but not at the expense of what trust he's still willing- or able- to give.  "They wouldn't have been able to get in here. I didn't know if there were any more, and I knew I'd gotten the forest to allow me and Shippo in the past, so I thought we'd be safest here."

"You don't... know me." His voice has never gotten any less rough than when she'd first heard it; it startles her a little every time, especially with as rarely as he speaks.

Demon ages are often deceptive, and he's had a bad time since before they met.  She doesn't know how old he might be although he seems to be the equivalent of her age- she doesn't know how long he'd actually been muzzled. He hadn't been able to touch it or the ropes that had been on his wrists, and the more she's thought about the more she's realised the men in the alleyway hadn't had that kind of power. Someone else had done it to him. Someone else had left him there, or at least left him where those men could find him.

He'd healed too slowly for someone with demon blood, too. Kagome has a half-formed suspicion, but she'll have to wait for Lady Kaede's yearly visit to confirm it, and the older woman only comes in spring. It's only late autumn.  Inuyasha might not still be here by then.

She hopes he is.  It's only been a few weeks, and this is the closest he's ventured since that first day, but already she knows she'll miss him if he leaves them.

"I didn't need to know you," she says finally, staring at the tea plants on the far end of the garden.  "I knew you hadn't tried to hurt me, even though you couldn't know who I was or why I was there, and I knew they were going to hurt you." She almost says hurt you more, but every brief interaction they've managed with the hanyou has taught her that he's both touchy and proud.

"Keh." He shifts his weight unhappily.  "Like those humans could really- really hurt me."

His wounds had bled for days.  She still isn't sure why, the wounds she'd been able to see hadn't been that bad, but he'd bled for days with no sign of stopping.  Even as a half-demon he would be dead if he hadn't chosen to follow them after all. He'd needed the medicine and bandages she'd offered and now that she's grown more used to him she's just glad he hadn't been too proud to take them.

Or too afraid.  She'd never say anything about it out loud, but even this much later he's the most skittish person she's ever met.  He doesn't let them come close, he hardly talks. He must have reached just inside the hut that first night for supplies but he's never come that near again.  She can't really blame him, not when she doesn't know how he'd been caught the first time, but she hurts to see how wary he still is. He's been hurt in more ways than just the physical.

"Well," she says at last. "They could have hurt me or Shippo, so I'm glad they couldn't follow."

He makes another low noise and glares at the ground, swiping at the dirt almost absently with one clawed hand. "Wouldn't have. Wouldn't have let'em hurt you or the runt."

Kagome blinks, startled. "You wouldn't?"

"No!" His head jerks up and he turns his glare on her.  "Whaddya take me for? The runt's just a runt, and you're-" He stumbles to a halt and turns away from her again rather than finishing his sentence.

She doesn't push him.  This is already the most words she's ever heard from him at one time, and it's more than she'd hoped for.  For a while he hadn't spoken to them at all and she hadn't been certain that he would again.  "Thanks, Inuyasha. You know... you are welcome to sleep inside the hut with us." She honestly isn't certain if he knows that. Shippo likes to be inside at night, but maybe Inuyasha doesn't.  He might be staying away purely out of personal preference.

She doesn't honestly think that's why he does it, but it could be.

"Keh." Inuyasha sniffs and shifts away from her.

"Maybe just when it storms, then," Kagome suggests.

He doesn't reply beyond his ears flickering in her direction.

He doesn't say anything else, but he also doesn't retreat into the trees this time until Shippo's back from his hunt, and he comes closer than usual that night to get his share of the meal without prompting- for once she doesn't have to toss it towards the trees or leave his share on the log when she turns in for the night. By now Kagome's learned to cook Inuyasha's food somewhere between what she does for herself and what she does for Shippo, and she adds the same vegetables and herbs for him that she enjoys herself.  He's never commented- he never does- but she's caught him surreptitiously licking his claws clean more than once, and he brings back more from his hunts when she's been preparing the food the way he seems to like it.

If it gets all of them through the winter without a scare like the last one, she's more than willing to pay that price.  Of course, not all the herbs grow in her garden, and none of them grow through the winter, but she'd stocked well on the same trip that she'd found Inuyasha on. At the time she hadn't planned for another mouth to feed, or for Shippo to stay here all the time when he's never done so before, but she's glad for them both even if she does have to be careful to ration her herbs and spices.  Kagome chose to live out in these woods a long time ago but she can admit that it's been lonely sometimes.

After that day in the garden, Inuyasha starts to allow her closer again.  He won't do it when Shippo's around, and he continues to sleep somewhere outside, but he'll come near enough to her that she could reach out and touch him.  She never does, not when he still tends to startle badly if she or Shippo moves too suddenly, but it feels like a turning point that he's letting her near him at all.

He still doesn't say very much but by now she suspects that might not be entirely by choice.  His voice tends to falter and fail at odd times and Kagome tries very hard to pretend not to notice. That he's at least trying to talk to her is more than she'd hoped for.

And then, one night once it's become well and truly winter, Kagome wakes without knowing why and sees a shadow in the hut.

She holds very still- Shippo is asleep by her feet, and that can only be true if the shadow by the door is Inuyasha. No other scent could be so familiar as to not wake the little kitsune.

But- her heart stutters once, briefly, and she winces as she recalls that Inuyasha's senses will have more than told him that she's awake by now.

But- he's never come inside the hut before, except to get the bandages.

"Go... back to sleep, Kagome," he rumbles from the dark, voice stumbling on the words the way she's grown used to.  She's privately come to the unhappy conclusion that he probably really was muzzled for a long time; even now, he doesn't seem terribly comfortable with language. "Storm's coming."

"All right," she says at last, before her vaguely-shaped concern solidifies and her eyes shoot wide. "Oh, no..."

"What?" He shifts, darkness on further darkness, remaining near the exit. "What is it?"

"It's- it's Shippo," she says hesitantly.  "His parents were killed by storm demons."

"Keh." His restless shifting stops. "S'just a storm. But." He hesitates, then says gruffly, "But y'can tell the runt that I'll protect him."

Kagome beams at him, hoping he can see her. "Thank you, Inuyasha."

"Don't... mention it." He settles, back against the wall, in easy distance of the door.

By mid-morning she can see why he came inside.  The storm's a bad one, far worse than usual, and she thinks grimly of the garden.  At least it's winter and she doesn't need to worry about losing the plants. More pressing is Shippo's fear.

The kit is trembling against her, four fuzzy limbs clutching at her as he ducks his head, and whimpering as lightning flashes outside.  It's cold in the hut, but Kagome doesn't dare let go of Shippo long enough to reach for her bedding. 

To her surprise, Inuyasha leaves his post by the door to crouch beside them, ears trained forward as he looks at Shippo.

"Hey, runt," he says quietly. 

Shippo lifts his head, his face streaked with tears.

"Safe," Inuyasha tells him.

Shippo shakes his head and buries his face in Kagome's robes once more.

Inuyasha glances up at her. She shrugs back at him, a little helplessly. She never has been able to do enough to reassure Shippo when the weather's turned on them.

"Kit," Inuyasha tries again.  "Kid. Shippo. Lookit me."

Reluctantly, Shippo does, staying pressed close to Kagome.

"S'just a storm," Inuyasha tries, watching the kitsune intently. "Normal storm. No. No demons."

Shippo shakes his head again and turns back to Kagome.

Inuyasha sighs, nearly inaudibly, and grits his teeth once before offering, "An' if there were demons, I wouldn't. Wouldn't let'em near you two."

Slowly, Shippo stills. He squirms around in her hold, looking up at Inuyasha. "Do you mean that?"

Inuyasha starts to scowl, but catches himself and worries at his lip with his fangs instead. He nods.

The kit's eyes narrow. "You don't talk very good, do you."

"Shippo," Kagome scolds, upset with him, because Shippo isn't stupid, far from it.  He was there when Kagome got the muzzle off of Inuyasha.  He's baiting the hanyou on purpose, because sometimes when Shippo is scared he turns mean.

Surprisingly, Inuyasha doesn't rise to the bait.  He shrugs and rises to his feet instead.

"Wh-where are you going?" Shippo asks, fear creeping back into his voice.

Inuyasha doesn't turn around, edging towards the door. He never turns his back on anyone but this is as close as he gets. Kagome's started to get the sinking impression that whatever happened to him had been at the hands of someone he'd trusted once.  "Y'don't need me, right?"

"I-!" Shippo squeaks and ducks his head. Voice full of tears and resentment, he says, "Don't go. I don't want you to go."

Inuyasha stops short.  From the way his eyes are widening, that's more of a reaction than he'd bargained for.

"Kagome doesn't want you to go, either," the kitsune cries, unhappy and hurting and flinching at every peal of thunder that's a reminder of his lost parents. "Don't go Inuyasha."

The half-demon sighs and slowly sits back down.  "Not goin' anywhere."

"Promise?" the kit demands, and Inuyasha hesitates. "Inuyasha, do you promise?"

Kagome's eyes meet Inuyasha's.  She won't ask him to promise, but she can admit she'd be devastated if he left. These past few months she's grown to enjoy having him around. His presence is worth the extra hunting; he's doing most of it, anyway.

"Promise," he says finally, voice fading out to a cracked whisper.

Shippo lets out a sob and, at another burst of thunder, turns to launch himself from Kagome's arms into Inuyasha's.

Kagome freezes.

So does Inuyasha, who's just gone very suddenly from avoiding all contact to having an armful of terrified kitsune child. Hesitantly, his arms come up around Shippo.

"I'm so glad," Shippo sobs.  "I've been so scared, you're outside all the time and the weather's getting so bad and, and there're monsters in the woods an' what if the demons got you like they got dad, and I thought you were just gonna vanish one day and I, I wouldn't-"

"Shippo?" Kagome says, bewildered. Inuyasha looks even more lost.

As far as she'd known Shippo had been tolerating the hanyou at best. She'd never have guessed at this, not when Inuyasha hardly comes near them and never talks to Shippo at all. He still barely talks to her.

Maybe Shippo's been talking to Inuyasha the same way she has, by addressing the trees and surrounding area.  She knows Shippo knows about her doing it- she's long since learned there's no hiding something like that from his senses and she's never really tried to.  She can't imagine that Inuyasha had been answering him, not when he's only recently started to haltingly answer her.

But Inuyasha does have a tendency to creep close and observe how they do things here, how she tends the gardens and how she cooks their meals, even the way she prefers to arrange the firewood. Shippo's hunting has been improving exponentially lately- maybe Inuyasha's been showing him, in his own way. For a man who remains unhappy and uncomfortable with his own voice it would be a simpler form of communication.

Shippo, who doesn't like or trust many people himself if they're being honest, ends up crying himself to sleep in Inuyasha's arms.

"Thanks," Kagome tells him, once Shippo's asleep again.  "He's not usually here all the time like he has been- he was more scared of you leaving than I thought."

The look Inuyasha gives her is oddly lost. He's gone wordless again.  Sometimes it's almost as though he only has a limited number of words at any given time, as if once he's used them all he has to wait before he has any more.  She has no way of knowing if he's always been like that or if it's a symptom of his past.

Kagome shrugs, fighting off a shiver down her spine.  His eyes aren't any less expressive up close than she remembers. "We've liked having you here.  It's just been us for a while now, and the nearby villages- they don't care for us much." She sighs.  "Tricksters aren't very popular and I would never leave Shippo for longer than a few days. He's-" She hesitates, because she thinks the wounds will always be fresh, but she also thinks she can say this without hurting either of them now.  "I was telling the truth when I said he's not really mine, but- we're, well, I guess we're each other's.  We don't have any other close family. I should have guessed- he never stays here this long, he has a den he goes to.  He must have been really scared that you'd go and not come back."

Inuyasha's still giving her that terribly lost look.  It makes her hurt for him and she's not sure what it's about. He opens his mouth and she hopes he'll give her a hint, but he shuts it again without saying anything, out of words for the moment. 

"We don't want you to go. We like having you here," she repeats on a suspicion, and his ears flicker. His gaze drops and she wonders if no one's ever said that to him before.

The storm rages for most of the day. Shippo sleeps uneasily in Inuyasha's arms, and there's not much to do in the hut, so Kagome talks quietly about anything that comes to mind as she picks up their living space.  She sets out the second set of bedding that she keeps for guests, even though she's never had guests.  Inuyasha looks at it, but doesn't comment. He says nothing for most of the day, although his ears follow her every movement and his eyes widen and narrow at appropriate parts in her stories.

When she talks about her family and how she'd lost them to a demon years ago, he makes the low pained noise she's becoming familiar with.

"It was a long time ago," she assures him quietly.  "And I didn't lose everyone- Souta still lives, but it's safer if we live apart. And I have Shippo." She hesitates, unsure if she should say it, and then sighs.  The decision may be a poor one but her heart's long since been made up. "And I have you, I hope."

His ears flick again.  His voice is quiet.  "Yeah, you have me."

He says nothing else, but Kagome smiles for the rest of the day.

Kagome's glad when the storm finally begins to die down.  As attached as she is to them both, it's not wise to spend too long in an enclosed space with a restless demon, much less two. Although, she reflects, as Inuyasha shifts but doesn't wake Shippo, it's not as unsafe as most people think. 

More of her family might have lived, had someone like Inuyasha been around.

Inuyasha still mostly sleeps outside, but he'll come in when it rains, after that. He rests upright by the door rather than take the guest bedding, and Kagome doesn't actually see him sleep, but he does come inside. He's started to help more with daily chores while they're there instead of waiting until they're hunting or asleep.  He still doesn't really talk, but he listens. He sits closer at night when they gather around the fire.

On a good day, he lets Shippo climb on his shoulder. He doesn't flinch half so often as he used to and Kagome can reach into his space or hand things to him without worry.  He still startles easily, he still has days where he wants no contact from either of them, but he's getting better.

She thinks he wants to talk to them more, from times she's caught the sound of his muttering to himself out in the woods, but his voice is still uncooperative. Kagome hardly minds but he seems almost ashamed and Shippo's occasional mean-spirited taunts don't help. Kagome scolds the kitsune, but she doesn't think he'll stop entirely unless she explains exactly why he should, and there's no way to do that without Inuyasha overhearing.  Promises or not Kagome's afraid that might be enough to drive him away.

She hasn't learned anything more about him before the night the monk comes.