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Dog Guardian

Chapter Text

An old man walked across the shrine grounds, his steps slow but steady. He left the part of the shrine that was open to the public into the remnants of an ancient forest, surrounding a incredibly special tree.. Its wide shadow was shielding a big meadow where the old man was headed. The forest had a peaceful aura, serene and timeless. Not many people walked through it, but the old man always enjoyed spending time in the shadow of the forest, finding peace of mind in it. And the ancient tree seemed to be the heart of the forest. It seemed the soft light and shadows were dancing around it as its branches swayed.

As the human passed the last tree before entering the glade a white shadow came out from behind a tree and joined his side. Together they entered the meadow where the leaves of the Sacred Tree were filtering the sunlight, golden dots swaying across the green grass and reflecting on the pristine white fur of the huge dog that walked soundlessly beside the human. Its eyes were as golden as the sunlight, ears perked as it stood with its head on the same level the human's was. The dog appeared to look mostly like an Akita Inu, but it wasn't a pure blood, its tail wasn't curled upwards, it was hanging in a relaxed, but alert position. The beast had a wide, mucular chest, with strong, long legs and huge paws, its fur short, aside of the ruff around its neck and its tail which were covered by longer hairs.

'Old man,' the shrine keeper heard the voice of the creature, rough and masculine, sounding half bored and half annoyed. The dog had no vocal chords to speak, but his voice was loud and clear in the man's head. One glance on the beast's body language told the shrine keeper that he wasn't really annoyed at seeing him in the forest.

"Dog," the man smiled and reached a hand to touch the side of his snout. The creature that looked more like a trick of imagination than a living being felt solid and warm under the touch of his fingers "Shift for me?"

'What for?" It happened when the man blinked. He felt the fur under his hand disappear like mist and when he looked again there was a boy standing in the dog's place. The boy was leaning down towards him, since now he was taller. His long wild hair was as white as the dog's fur, canine ears sticking out of it. He was dressed in a kimono that looked like it was dyed with fresh blood. His eyes were yellow and his features handsome. He had an old looking katana tucked in his obi and no footwear. The shrine keeper was used to seeing this exotic being in all his forms, but the one standing in front of him was his favorite, since he could talk to him normally now and the being himself seemed to prefer this one. After so many years he still felt odd hearing his voice in his head.

"I wanted to say goodbye," the man stated simply, but when he saw confusion and anxiety on the boy's face he smiled and patted his cheek before dropping his hand. The creature's ears laid back and a scowl appeared on his face, but the signs of annoyance disappeared as soon as he spoke again. "I'm old and I won't be fun to be around for you. I will retire soon. But you won't be left alone. Here."

The boy watched in silence as the old man reached to the rosary hanging around his neck. A spark of pink light sprung from his fingertips and hit the beads. The boy shuddered and sighed.

"I know we did not always see eye to eye, but I'll miss seeing you boy,," the old man smiled when he opened his eyes and saw the huge dog shaking himself to help the beaded collar settle against his chest.

'Stupid human, you'll see me. If I decide to let you, that is.'

The old shrine keeper looked fondly at the cocky gait of the dog who walked towards the Sacred Tree and looked over his shoulder at him.

"It won't be the same," he said sadly and heard no reply other than a snort of the dog that sounded suspiciously like a 'Keh!'

The branches of the Sacred Tree swayed on the wind and as the sunlight blinded the man for a mere second the dog disappeared.

Chapter Text

Kagome had this one dream, that seemed to plague her since she was fifteen. She dreamed it often enough to notice it, despite the fact that she usually didn't remember her dreams and never paid much attention to them.

But this one was different. In that dream she was running, often on all fours, following a more or less accurate road that led from her home to the old shrine on the mountainside, where her grandfather lived. There were various alternations to the dream - it was night or day, sometimes there was the moon shining overhead. Sometimes the road was fuzzy, other times she could find all the noticeable landmarks along the way. Very rarely she was going from the shrine to the city.

She liked to think about the dream as her subconsciousness reminiscing on how much she liked the shrine with its calm atmosphere and lovely landscape. And her grandfather was pretty cool, even if he liked to tell folk stories all day long. Whatever the reason she was never reached her destination in her dreams. Still, she always felt relaxed and well-rested after them, so she was pretty fond of them. After all, she had a connection to that place, maybe her knowledge what was going to happen in near future was influencing her dreams?

Kagome lived with her mother and brother in the city located under the foot of the mountain, while her grandfather's shrine was located high on the mountainside. They often visited to make sure that he was fine, besides it was already known that Kagome was going to inherit the shrine, so she spent a lot of her vacation days there, learning from the old shrine keeper. The place was in a remote area, but there still were visitors and tourists that wanted to see the shrine. Her family took care of that place for generations.

She never felt bound by the knowledge she'd end up on the mountainside. It wasn't that far from the city and her friends. And since she wanted to be a writer she supposed living in a peaceful place, close to the nature, would be very inspiring for her. Already she was writing little stories, which sometimes got to be published in the local newspaper. Nothing much, but it was a good practice and some extra cash was always welcome.

And her grandfather wasn't an annoying old person who would be very hard to take care of. He just had a tendency to forget things like meals or taking his pills if he was left unchecked. Kagome wasn't the best cook in the area, but supposed he'd be glad to have a hot thing to eat regularly, even if wasn't a five star meal. Besides his sight wasn't the same anymore and he had problems driving his car, so Kagome would be the one driving him to see doctors or whenever

Now, as a high school graduate, she was going to move to the shrine to watch over their ancestral home and her grandfather, in her free time writing the novel she was dying to start to work on. She hoped it'd be her big book debut.

She was packing her things into boxes to be added to the already packed pile by their flat door. Souta and her mother were working with her, carefully folding or wrapping all her things, talking about visiting and bringing her three high school friends with them.

"Just make sure they don't bring Hojo," she warned them and made them laugh. The trio had tried countless times to set Kagome with that boy on a date for the whole high school. Kagome even once had went for a date with him, but they had found out a relationship between them wouldn't work. They were friends and there was nothing more between them, but the trio never accepted the fact that there could be a friendship between a boy and a girl and nothing more. So they tried, despite being told multiple times it wouldn't work, and now their quest was more of a joke to Kagome, her family and Hojo than anything else. Kagome suspected that maybe it was also for the trio, but whenever she asked they were claiming that they were serious and insisted she should go with Hojo to see the latest movie.

"I'll double check the trunk before we leave," Souta promised.

"Don't worry, honey," Mama H. folded her daughter's jacket and put it in her old yellow back pack. "There won't be much space in the trunk to fit a human anyway, we'll be bringing your winter clothing and all the stuff that doesn't get to the shrine with us this time. If you remember anything..."

"I'll call," Kagome grinned and picked up a photo of her family to put it carefully in her laptop bag pocket. The laptop bag was the safest place for delicate things, because Kagome paid extra attention to the safety of her writing gear. "I'm a big girl and the shrine isn't that far, we'll manage."

"I know," Mama sighed. "Still, a mother's heart worries when her daughter leaves the nest to start a new one."

"Mom..." Kagome rolled her eyes in exasperation, but smiled at her. "I've spent almost all my summer breaks up there since I was a kid, I'm not going abroad. Think about people who move to really far places to start living."

"I know, I know," the older woman sighed and went for a first aid kit to add it to the bag, just in case. Kagome raised a brow at her while Souta just giggled.

Chapter Text

Kagome brought in the last of her packs and put it on the raised floor of the traditional house that she was going to live in from now on. It was traditional house, alright, but it had some modern features as well - especially the bathroom and laundry room didn't fit with the whole old house atmosphere. Kagome wiped her forehead and kicked her shoes off before stepping on the raised floor and around a pile of previously brought in packs.

"Is this jasmine tea I smell?" she asked as she entered the kitchen. Three other Higurashi family members were seated around the kitchen table, each with a cup of tea in hand and a piece of apple cake in the other. Kagome glared at Souta, who had ditched her on the end of the bags moving to join the tea party. The boy gave her a sheepish grin and jumped to make her tea.

"Kagome, dear, are you finished with the packages?" her grandfather smiled at her.

"Yup! It took a while, but it's all next to the door. I will carry it to my room later, if it's okay?" the young woman sat by the table.

"Of course, dear," the old man reached to grip her hand where it rested on the table top. "I don't mind, as long as the highway to the bathroom isn't blocked."

Kagome snickered and took her tea from Souta before promising to keep the highway open.

"We will be visiting the next Sunday," Mama said. "And we'll bring homemade oden."
"
Kagome clasped her hands in front of herself.

"Oh, yes, please, mom!" she exclaimed and gave her mom a puppy dog eyes.

After an hour Kagome and her grandfather were standing in front of the house, looking at Mrs. Higurashi putting her car on reverse and rolling down the driveway.

"I guess I'll be moving the boxes upstairs," Kagome sighed.

"Heavy lifting?" the old man inquired. "You know, I can help you, if you want to. Those old bones aren't that old."

"Oh, no," Kagome shook her head vigorously. "It's just that... Well, I guess I already miss my old place and now I have to unpack and settle... I never was away from home for long... I know it's silly," she shrugged, unsure how to put her feelings in words. She looked in her grandfather's eyes and saw him smile.

"Ah, moving sometimes make you feel that way, but it won't take long to adjust, child. Come, let's go see the Sacred Tree," he gestured for her to walk with him towards the bit of forest that belonged to the shrine grounds.

Kagome returned his smile, happy that she wasn't alone. She walked beside him, looking at the forest that seemed to have a peaceful aura that was soothing her anxiety.

She missed a flash of white and red that came from the roof of the house and disappeared behind the door.

Soon they found themselves in front of the ancient tree and Kagome found her previous feelings melting when she reached to rub the bark of the Tree. The shrine was her home now, but the apartment in the city was her home as well, full of memories and where she could always go to see her other family members. But the shrine was where her roots were - for five centuries this was where Higurashis lived and served as priests and priestesses. When she stood, her hand against the Sacred Tree, looking at the meadow and her grandfather glancing at her with fondness, she knew she was going to be alright.

It almost felt as if the Sacred Tree itself greeted her.

After a few minutes they returned home and Kagome decided that it was the high time to tackle the unpacking.

She picked her huge yellow bag pack, that was sitting on the edge of the raised floor in the entryway and walked halfway towards her room before she realized something was wrong.

She looked back and saw her grandfather putting his shoes on his shelf of the shoe box. There were no packages piled up on one side of the corridor. Kagome walked to her room and found all her stuff stacked on the center of the floor.

"Huh?" she put her bag pack down. 'Guess Souta felt remorse for ditching me for a slice of an apple pie and sneaked away while I was talking to mom and grandpa to bring my stuff here. Well, there's no reason to procrastinate unpacking more," she shrugged and reached for the bag containing her cosmetics. "I need to give Souta a really cool gift for his birthday."

Chapter Text

Kagome woke up in the middle of the night and for a second she was pretty freaked out, because she didn't know where she was. She snuggled into her futon, covering her shoulder with a blanket while looking around anxiously. She spotted her electronic clock blinking at her from her dresser, telling her it was barely past midnight.

It was then that she finally remembered where she was - at her shrine house. And that pile of stuff in a corner was the remainder of her unpacked things, not a supernatural being watching her during sleep. She groaned inwardly at her irrational half-asleep assumptions. Of course it was just an ordinary pile of stuff, that she was going to sort and put away the next day.

She spent a while laying in her bed, simply letting herself feel the house. She could hear wind blowing outside, rustling in the forest that was near. Her sight slid across the room, taking in the otherworldly shapes that were just furniture. In her old home she had had a bed, but here she was going to sleep on a futon, which also changed the angle at which she was looking.

More awake now Kagome felt that her bladder decided that since she wasn't sleeping, she could go and empty it. She sighed and threw her blanket off of her legs, Shuffling across the tatami mats towards the sliding door she outstretched her hands, trying to remember if there was anything she could trip over in the dark.

Luckily she reached the door without an accident. She gave a sigh of relief and carefully sneaked into the corridor. One look in the darkness made her realize, that the bathroom quest was going to be a hard one. But slowly, carefully, she managed to cross the short corridor and then climb down the steep stairs to the first floor. Now she just had to turn and go to the bathroom located on the back of the house.

But when she reached the bottom of the stairs she almost forgot about her pee desire, because she saw light coming through a crack in the living room door. She heard movement inside when she started to walk in that direction.

"Grandpa!" Kagome opened the door and saw her grandfather sitting by the table, bending to pick a white rock that rolled out of the table top and onto the tatami mat. The sliding door to the garden were opened, letting in the cool air.

"Oh, Kagome, dear," he glanced at her and put the picked rock in a small box next to the Go board laying on the table. Kagome walked in and saw that there were at least a dozen of white and black rocks on the board already. "I thought you went to bed hours ago."

"Grandpa, it's after midnight, don't tell me you forgot to go to bed!" Kagome walked to the door and slid it closed. "Go to bed, you need to sleep too."

She stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at him.

"I didn't forget, I just sometimes play Go before sleep. I'll go to bed but you have to play with me once first. I can't fall asleep without some brain exercise," he gestured to the board. "It will be fun and won't take long. Humor an old man?"

"Uh, okay," Kagome glanced at the board. "Well, okay, but I need to go to the bathroom first."

"That's alright, I'll bring some midnight snack while you're gone," the old shrine keeper offered.

And so, five minutes later, Kagome was kneeling in front of the board, dressed in her pj's, with a cup of white tea and a box of pale rocks next to her hand. She looked down at the board. Her grandfather was a big Go fan and utilized various strategies during his matches with friends. Now it looked like he had been playing white as aggressively daring player while the blacks were more focused on defense. Still, a glance to the captured rocks' piles confirmed that the players were pretty even. Kagome wasn't the best Go player, but was decent herself, after playing against her grandpa often enough to pick up some tricks.

Kagome glanced across the board at her grandfather, who smiled at her.

"Go on, it's your turn now," he encouraged. Kagome put her rock on the board.

"Okay, let's make this quick," she said and looked around. "Where is the cake? You promised a snack, grandpa."

"Oh? A, yes, I did, but it looks like the cake's gone," he shrugged. "I have no other sweets at home right now."

"Gone already? There was almost a third of it left when mom and Souta left," Kagome raised an eyebrow at him. Her grandfather glanced away, preferring to look at the closed door to the garden than at her. "You ate it all?"

"It was tasty," he said and she just groaned before next rocks were added to the board.

"You'll have to go on a diet if you can just inhale a third of a cake," she murmured. The old shrine keeper sighed, then looked at the board. He glanced to the garden door and back at the board.

"You know, white player should be less shy in their advance" he commented on her strategy. "You have to finalize the game fast and with the benefit to you, after all."

"Yeah, I know, blacks do the first move," she rolled her eyes. The old man looked at her with odd look on his face before capturing one of her rocks.

"Hm, you're correct," he mused. "I guess blacks are less... timid to step onto the battle field and meet their opponent face to face."

"I never thought about it that way!" Kagome giggled. "You know, from what I saw of the board earlier it was the whites who were more aggressive," she pointed out while putting her rock.

"Ah, in my night Go sessions they often get ahead of themselves, yes. I think they think their nose leads them to the victory. But charging into a battle without a good strategy can lead to getting the nose pinched."

Kagome laughed at that while her grandfather grinned smugly. They played for a while longer and when they finished the match Kagome went to put their cups in the sink before going to bed. Her grandfather put the board and the rocks away in the storage area close to the window. When he glanced out at the garden he saw a white shadow glaring with its golden eyes at him. He just waved a hand and went to bed.

He knew one thing - the next days were going to be very interesting.

Chapter Text

The next day Kagome woke up groggy and tired - which was no surprise after spending a part of her 'sleep time' playing Go with her grandpa, who had devoured the cake that she had hoped to save for today lunch. Still, she couldn't hold it against him, after all he wasn't privy to her mother's baking too often.

Kagome sighed and crawled out of the warmth of her bed to dress and make herself look proper. She glared at the pile of stuff to sort and put away later, but first she had to eat breakfast and perform her duties around the house and shrine.

As she entered the kitchen she found her grandfather standing in front of an open cabinet with an instant ramen cup in hand.

"Good day," he smiled brilliantly and went to a bowl to dump his ramen into it. "Slept well? Did you have any dreams? First night in a new place dreams are special, you know?"

Kagome rubbed her face and went to make coffee for herself.

"I dreamed I was a mermaid," she muttered, not very excited about the whole idea of important prophetic dreams. "It'd be kinda hard to be a mermaid living on a mountainside, huh?"

"A being who lives on the border of two worlds," the shrine keeper poured water into his ramen and handed her the kettle so she could fill her cup. "Not one, nor another, interesting... I'm almost sure we have a mermaid's tail fins in our storage room, remind me to show them to you later."

"Yeah, sure," Kagome sat by the table and took a sip of life from her coffee. 'Goodness, how can grandpa be so energetic so early? It should be banned... And I'm sure he doesn't drink coffee, too... Life is so unfair...'

"What are you plans for today?" he asked as he sat down to eat his breakfast. Kagome glared at it.

"I need to finish unpacking and go to the shop,” she said and looked into her grandfather's face. "I saw the contents of the cabinets," she stated grimly. Yes, she had went through them while making her grocery shopping list and - as much as she understood how convenient it was to eat instant food - she wanted to make some changes. Her grandfather wasn't a good cook, but now it'd be her task to feed them both. "But it all can wait if you have some stuff for me to do."

Her grandfather shook his head.

"Nothing that can't be done later. Better go shopping before the weather gets nasty. I heard there's a storm coming in the afternoon.”

With that warning in mind Kagome left the shrine as soon as possible, riding on her old bicycle to go to the small village that nestled on the mountainside and had the nearest convenience store. It wasn't far and she enjoyed the road through the forest, despite the fact that it wasn't one of the smoothest ones. She tried to push away the knowledge that her way back wouldn't be so nice because she'd have to go up the mountainside.

The village was pretty small, but decently prosperous, the villagers farmed sheep and goats or worked for local businesses; like an onsen that was pretty popular. Still, the place wasn't overflowing with tourists like some resorts. Kagome had visited the village and the onsen a lot of times in the past, it was just behind the corner from the shrine and it was literally the closest place where people lived.

The store was located toward the end of the village closer to the shrine, so it took her no time to get there and park her bike in front of it. Soon she was pushing an iron cart in front of herself and gathering supplies.

She was in the pet food alley when that man came to talk to her.

He was a couple of years older, rather handsome and dressed in nice clothes. Judging by his looks he was a foreigner, probably a tourist staying in the hotel near the onsen. She glared at him from the can of cat food she was holding when he came to stand on the edge of her personal space bubble and saw his piercing blue eyes looking straight into her own. Then he flashed her a wide smile and casually leaned against the shelf.

"Hi there," he said in a pretty fluent Japanese. "What's a girl like you doing in a place like this?"

"Buying cat food," she shrugged and reached for another can to add it into the cart. She hated people who woulf approach total strangers and stare at them like that guy was, with the look clearly telling that he was looking down at her and was pretty full of himself. "If you need help you should go to the shop staff," she pointed in direction of the front of the shop.

"I'd rather stay with you." he shrugged and flashed her a charming smile. His next words were half a question, half a statement. "I'll help you shop, so you can go grab some lunch with me?"

"Excuse me?" Kagome stared at the man, almost dropping a bag of dry cat food on her foot.

"I came to visit my uncle here for a couple of weeks and you're the prettiest girl in this place," he explained himself. "So I thought it'd be great to hang around and stuff."

Kagome glared at the man coldly. The previous summer Eri had had a boyfriend who was a rich boy from France, spending vacations in Japan. He had been pretty okay, until he had decided to break up with her, telling her that it had been just a fun summer adventure, but it hadn't been meant to last after his return to France.

It had taken weeks for Eri to get over this.

"Not interested," she replied coldly. "I don't want to associate with people like you. Good day," with that she turned and left the aisle, going to find the noodle stand. She had planned for the shopping trip to be fun and refused to get annoyed at that boy.

 

.

Tom took a few steps, intent on following the pretty, petite girl. He wasn't sure why his charm didn't work on her, but knew he could woo her, usually he had girls wrapped around his finger in under five minutes. This one wouldn't be a challenge once she listened to his sappy story of healing his broken heart. Chicks liked to help tend to hurt sensitive guys.

His eyes followed the long ponytail of the girl when she turned left at the end of the aisle. And then the air in front of him waved like it uses to do in great heat. Tom stumbled backwards with a silent cry.

A huge white dog, bigger than Great Dane or any other breed Tom heard about, was crouching in the place where a minute ago there hadn't been anything at all. It seemed to fill the whole world with its threatening presence, towering over the boy. The beast's fur was bristling, jaws full of long, sharp teeth, claws scratching the tile floor. Saliva was dripping from huge fangs as the creature lowered itself, readying itself to attack.

But the worst were its eyes - burning like twin suns, deadly and malevolent. They brought to Tom the memory of his aunt, who was Japanese, telling him about yama inu, spirits that watched travelers and killed those who stumbled on a mountain path. She was one of those people who believed in all those crazy folklore stores. Tom used to poke fun at her for that, but right now he was believing her wholeheartedly.

A low growl brought Tom out of his stupor and the boy didn't waste any more time. With a cry he turned on his heels, intent on running away from the beast. Before he could make more than a handful of steps he tripped over something and fell to the floor.

"Please, don't kill me!" he squeaked out when something heavy pressed against his back, like a hand preventing him from getting up. His hands flew to cover his head.

"Don't approach the miko again, human," whispered a growling voice next to his ear. "Leave this mountain, I hate your stench."

"Yes, I promise I will!" he felt the weight lift. Mere seconds later a handful of customers and a member of the shop staff came running to see what was the cause of his screams.

.

Kagome approached the tiny line of customers waiting for the cashier to come back. She had went through her list twice to make sure she had everything.

"Where's the cashier?" she asked an old lady standing in front of her.

"A boy fainted in the shop area and they had to call his family to get him," she explained and added in a hushed voice. "I heard he tripped and was mumbling something about yama inu attacking him before fainting," she shook her head. "Those silly kid these days, yama inu don't venture into villages."

"Yeah, they stick to forests and mountain roads," Kagome nodded and received a pleased smile from the woman. She guessed that the old lady was glad she agreed with her on the youkai lore.

The cashier returned shortly after and soon Kagome was riding home with her bags tied to all parts of her bike where a bag could be tied to without rendering the vehicle useless.

When she reached the shrine she no longer remembered the foreigner who had wanted to take her to lunch. She had other things to do.

As the girl hauled her shopping inside and closed the door, a huge white dog proudly walked through the red gate, his tail raised proudly up, his ears perked and a smug expression on his furry face.

'It sure was more fun than escorting the old fart,' the dog thought before going to have a well-deserved nap under the Sacred Tree.

Chapter Text

It was after lunch and Kagome was dressed in her miko robes. The red and white of the garb was in stark contrast to the vibrant thousands of shadows of green and brown of all the plants growing around the place.

The garden surrounding the shrine area, that was open to visitors, contained mostly trees and bushes that didn't need much tending, the rest was just grass that was cut on a regular basis. Behind the house was a small vegetable and herb garden, herbs being used mostly as spices or in good luck charms. And there was also the forest part of the grounds, growing wild and free. Sometimes her grandfather would sell a tree or two that grew too close to each other or remove dry ones to have some fire wood and make place for new trees.

A few visitors were roaming around the open area, ringing the bell and praying or just soaking in the serene atmosphere of the place. Kagome knew she was going to be the center of attention for many of the visitors, at least at first. The rumors of the new miko would spread fast and some would come to see her performing her duties, even if said duties were as mundane as the sweeping of the yard.

She finished her work and put the broom in the shed when her grandfather approached her. He held a charm in his hands.

"Kagome, dear, could you hang this on the Sacred Tree?" he asked.

"Sure," Kagome took the charm and went behind the corner of the shed where a small box was attached to its side. It housed two pairs of comfortable shoes, that were more easy to walk in through the forest. Kagome kicked the wooden sandals off of her feet and put on her old sneakers, snickering at the contrast of her traditional robe that could fit in the warring states era and her modern footwear. She made sure she had the charm stashed in her sleeve before walking into the shadow of the forest.

She never saw the mischievous Higurashi smirk her grandfather had on his face when he observed her. 'All goes according to my plan. Black rocks are closing on you,' he thought amused. He went to make sure the last two visitors of the shrine were gone before walking after his granddaughter.

Meanwhile Kagome made her way through the forest, dodging the branches and roots that grew across the path to the Sacred Tree. As a child she had made a little game of it, trying to move as quiet as possible, imagining she was Indiana Jones sneaking up on some bad guys in an American movie. When Souta had been big enough he had joined her in the game.

The meadow housing the ancient tree came to view and Kagome smiled, seeing the soft shadows and spots of sunlight filtered through the leaves, all golden and green. It was a picture of serenity, timeless beauty and harmony of nature.

She stopped when she noticed something that didn't fit. A splash of red like fresh blood was at the foot of the Sacred Tree, along with white that was too stark to be just sunlight reflected on the tree's bark.

Kagome stared at the vision in front of herself for a long minute, unable to even comprehend what she was looking at.

There was a boy with indecently long hair that was silver white and looked like it had never been acquainted with a brush. His clothing was as odd as his hair style - it was a red kimono effectively hiding all details of his physique, aside from his bare feet and hands, which were tucked under his cheek as he rested on his side. And he was resting on his side because he was asleep.

As Kagome wasted more time staring at the unsuspecting boy she noticed that there was an old katana laying next to him, but it hardly registered. For her the more important fact was that there was a strange boy sleeping in her forest, his face nuzzling the soft moss and his pose relaxed.

"Hey, you!" she exclaimed, stomping into the meadow, her hands on her hips. "What do you th-!"

She never finished her sentence.

The boy sprang awake. And 'sprang' was a good word there, because he jumped good two meters up in the air before falling to a crouch, facing her, his eyes frantically blinking away the drowsiness of being woken from a deep slumber.

"Don't you try to run away!" she yelled when she saw him looking around. He tensed and glared her way and that was when she had a chance to look at his eyes.

His golden eyes with pupils akin to a cat's, she realized, when at the same time the mane of his hair got pulled down his back and shoulders by always helpful gravity to reveal what had been hidden - a pair of fuzzy Spitz dog ears atop his head. The ears laid back as if they could feel the weight of her eyes on them and wished to find sanctuary in his tousled tresses. The air in the meadow seemed to grow tense, darken and tingle against her skin in a way she couldn't describe.

"Damn!" the boy barked and that brought her out of her stupor. She took a step back, unsure what to think about the sight in front of her. It clearly wasn't a cosplayer that strayed away from a convention. As she stepped back his eyes widened,and then narrowed, his shocked expression turning into a dark scowl.

"Fuck!" he swore again, clearly not happy about being discovered.

"Who...? Wha...?" she stammered out. 'Youkai!' her mind was chanting, partially amazed at the sight of the supernatural (and rather handsome) being, partially stunned to see such a being was real and obviously in a foul mood. She was from a shrine keeping family, she knew a lot of stories about youkai, but she had never seen any. She needed a minute to get over it.

"His name is Inuyasha," came a reply spoken in an amused voice. Both of them looked to the side to see the old shrine keeper smirking at them, standing at the end of the forest path. "And her name is Higurashi Kagome, the shrine keeper you should've approached earlier, dog."

"Grandfather..." Kagome pointed a finger at the white-haired boy. "He... He..."

The said boy growled and sent a glare her finger's way. She immediately tucked her hand against her chest.

"Old fart! You..."

"Don't call my grandfather names!" Kagome scolded the boy, who instantly closed his mouth and just glared at her. She didn't really think about it beforehand, just scolded him as if he was a rude boy, but then when he shut up, she glanced his way, anxious about what he was going to do. Yelling at youkai wasn't the smartest thing to do, according to the folk tales. Angry youkai could do wicked stuff to humans that angered them, maybe she should apologize and give him an offering to appease him?

But the boy didn't move, just glared. The shrine keeper chuckled, finding much entertainment in the situation. He remembered his own introduction to Inuyasha all those years ago.

He had been on his way to the shrine, when a group of soldiers had came to make sure he wasn't smuggling anything, despite the fact that he obviously wasn't. But he was alone and they were probably bored, so they had decided to entertain themselves with a local person. He had doubted they even had recognized he was a priest by his robes or if they simply hadn't cared. He had been sure he was a goner that moment, seeing the five men that were armed while he had nothing beside a bag of food for his family that waited for him at the shrine. They had talked to him, but he hadn't understood their language.

And that had been when suddenly they had opened fire, screaming. He had screamed himself and had collapsed to the ground, frightened but not harmed. They hadn't been even looking at him, aiming their guns at something that had emerged from the forest behind him.

Before he had time to look behind himself he had heard a formidable growl and a white shadow passed over him to land in front of him on paws spread widely, not caring about bullets that hissed about its ears. With a bone-chilling howl the creature charged at the soldiers, who in panic ran to their car parked nearby and sped away, shooting once or twice at the being that had chased them for a dozen or so meters.

The huge white dog had looked back at him, kneeling on the side of the road, staring at him in awe, fright and amazement. When the canine moved its enormous head towards him he had closed his eyes, praying to the gods. He had missed the burst of light, but had felt the furry nuzzle touching his forehead and his reiki rising to meet youki.

'Stop laying around, we have places to go, human,' a gruff voice had spoken in his head.

Grandfather Higurashi smiled fondly at the boy glaring silently his way. 'I guess it's a family tradition to startle new shrine keepers with you, dog,' he thought and was certain the boy's reply would be a snort.

"I already closed the shrine for the day, so we have plenty of time to discuss things without any disturbance," he said and gestured for his confused granddaughter to follow him to a patch of moss where they could sit comfortably. The entertainment wasn't over yet.

Chapter Text

Following a path leading through the mountains was a young man. His name was Take and he was the fifth son of a samurai lord and was on a mission.

Dressed in plain robes that bore no sign of his clan, he had to travel through the dangerous mountain patch during winter to reach the palace of their ally and bring him his father's letter.

It was a great honor to serve his clan so, to carry such an important and secret message, yet it was a dangerous mission and one that exposed Take to hunger, bitter cold and weariness of aching muscles.

He sighed and looked back when a gust of biting cold wind blew past him and - to his annoyance - through the heavy wool mantle he was wearing. The storm clouds, heavy from the snow, were closing in on him and he realized he should find a shelter before the storm hit. In the mountains, far from any village, he didn't expect to find much, but a cave would surely shield him at least from some of the blizzard.

He doubled his effort at moving as fast as possible, looking for a good place to hide. When he walked around a rubble of boulders he needed a couple of minutes to realize what he was looking at.

In the center of a small glade, hidden between tall trees and under a blanket of snow, stood a house. Not a dilapidated shack, but a real house, bigger than a village hut and obviously inhabited. The bewildered man approached the building cautiously, almost certain a group of bandits or a youkai was going to jump at him in a second.

But the house looked way too tidy to be a bandits' hideout, And it didn't look like a youkai's lair either.

Before Take could reach the door and peek inside to see whose house it was, the sliding screen was opened and a woman in red and pink kimono came out of the building, carrying a lit lantern, which she hung near the doorway, under the overhanging roof. Take just stood there, frozen a couple of meters away from the house, looking at her.

She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever laid his eyes on. Petite and slender, despite the multiple layers of her rich kimono, she looked like a heavenly maiden, her hair cascading down her back and reaching her knees, a waterfall of black that made her pale skin shine. Big, innocent and dark eyes turned his way as the woman noticed him, a delicate hand went up to cover the gasp that left her red, full lips. She was perfect, like a dream, and Take felt his heart beat faster.

"Oh, goodness!" her voice was soft, sweet like a silver bell. It charmed Take's heart and the young man swallowed before bowing.

"I am sorry for intruding on you, heavenly maiden," he said. "I'm traveling from beyond the mountains and am weary from my travel. And the storm is close and I wished to ask if you could let me stay in your dwelling until it passes."

The lovely lady shook her head.

"I am no heavenly maiden, good traveler," she said in amusement.

"Then you must be a princess of a noble house!" he exclaimed, smiling at her. He hoped she'd let him stay, not only because of the weather that was worsening with every minute. "For certainly you can't be a commoner or a youkai!"

"I am most certainly a human," she laughed and shook her head. "But my honorable spouse is a youkai, and one who dislikes unwelcome guests. But if you promise to be civil and keep this place and our presence here a secret I think he wouldn't mind you spending the night under our roof."

Take was shocked at that reply, but quickly agreed to her terms. What woman would agree to be a youkai's wife? Maybe she was under a spell? Or held against her will by the vile creature? He decided to see for himself instead of asking her directly, risking upsetting her or her spouse overhearing them.

Not even an hour later the blizzard hit, shaking the trees in the forest, howling overhead and snowing heavily. Take was extremely grateful that he was inside, near the fire, with a warm bowl of stew in hand, with a beautiful lady keeping his company. But the woman was only partially focused on their conversation, glancing towards the doors often.

"My husband is bound to return any minute now," she explained herself and Take nodded, his smile vanishing. The woman looked so worried, he wanted to wrap his arms around her and swear that he was going to protect her. But when he offered to deal with the youkai she laughed and then looked at him sternly. "My husband is an honorable male, brave and strong. I am his wife because I love him and he loves me. If you desire to fight him know that he will kill you in a heartbeat and I won't stop him, because attacking the one in whose house you're spending the night, whose food you eat, is against the customs and common sense."

Take bowed and apologized, but since that minute the lady was less open towards him and smiled less. He cursed his hasty tongue that betrayed him.

Suddenly the door slid open and in a cloud of snow and cold air a huge white dog entered the house, its red eyes scanning the main room.

"Paws!" the lady exclaimed and ran to the creature standing beside the door. Take watched speechless as the princess knelt beside the dog dripping cold water on the dirt before the raised floor. She took a towel and carefully wiped the dog's paws before throwing another towel over its fur and helping to dry the youkai. It had to be a youkai, no dog was that big, nor had those blood red eyes, nor slashes of blue across cheeks.

Once dry and free of towels the dog jumped to the raised floor and glared at Take, who barely restrained himself from reaching for his sword. The dog looked to the lady standing beside it.

"My beloved, this is Take," she introduced. "He is a traveler who asked for shelter from the storm. I let him in after he promised to keep our secret."

'Very well,' the dog nodded. Its maws didn't move, yet Take heard a male, low voice that had to belong to the lady's spouse. The dog sat on the other side of the fire and the princess busied herself with preparing a meal for him, Take watched the canine eat for a minute before he excused himself and went to the corner of the room where he was going to sleep. He watched the couple sitting next to each other through half closed eyelids until the dog stood up and led the lady deeper into the house, probably to their bedroom.

The mere thought that he, Take, was sleeping on the floor in the main room, while that creature was going to sleep with the lovely lady on a futon was enough to keep Take up for a long while despite how tired he was.

The next morning the storm was over and the world was covered by a thick layer of new snow. Before Take left the house the lady implored him again to keep his promise of keeping their house and presence a secret.

When two days later, after reaching the palace of his father's ally, Take got a bit tipsy with sake and told about his encounter with the youkai and the lovely lady, he thought that a promise given to a dog and an enchanted princess wasn't a binding one, so he felt little regret about gathering the younger sons of the lord and some of his samurai to go and retrieve the lady he had been thinking about since the fateful day.

They found the house hidden high up the mountain path easily, but to Take's disappointment, there was no sign of the lady nor her hound around, their belongings had vanished and the ashes in the fireplace were cold.

When the group returned to the palace they got a scolding from the lord, a wise old man, who - upon hearing his story himself - enlightened Take, that the lady he had met was indeed a princess of a house that was no more, the fair Izayoi, and that the dog that was her husband was the dog daiyoukai known to humans as Inu no Taisho. The old lord forbid his sons and samurai to chase after them, fearing the fierce youkai's retaliation, but Take couldn't stop thinking about the beautiful princess who so clearly needed him to save her. So he dedicated all his free time to gather rumors and investigate, trying to find her again and this time battle the youkai to free the princess so she could become his wife.

For years all he found were rumors and cold ashes. Until one day one of his samurai brought him a letter from a friend, telling him the whereabouts of the great dog youkai that was waging a war against a dragon youkai.

Chapter Text

Kagome was sitting on the moss-covered root of the Sacred Tree, her brown eyes wide and not moving away from the hanyou crouched not further than two meters away from her. Hiro could easily see that the staring didn't help the irate boy reign in his annoyance.

"Kagome, dear, are you alright?" he asked, hoping to break the shock of the young woman.

Kagome twitched when she heard her grandfather calling her name. She tore her eyes from the glaring yellow-eyed individual to look at the old man, who offered her a reassuring smile.

"He's a youkai," she said. Her grandfather gave a nod while the boy scowled. "Is he real?"

"Should I pull your hair to prove my realness?" said the boy dryly.

"Technically, Inuyasha is a hanyou, but he's been blessed with power and abilities surpassing those of many youkai that walk the world," her grandfather said. Kagome noticed a twinkle of pride in yellow eyes that were still observing her with unnerving intensity. She couldn't help the thought that he was silently challenging her to cross her mind.

Kagome knew quite a few stories featuring youkai and ghosts, after all she was a member of a family of shrine keepers. She had never thought too much about them before. She wasn't one of the people who were firmly stating youkai couldn't exist, after all there were a lot of things in the world science couldn't explain yet and youkai and other supernatural beings could be one of them. But to see a youkai from so close was definitely something else. There was no doubt that he was real.

Her grandfather was seated next to her, a smug smirk on his face as he looked between the youkai - the hanyou - and her. She thought he had all rights to be smug - he had been the one who was always telling her that youkai were real, even if no one had seen any since the days of legends. Seeing him so calm and relaxed helped her feel calmer as well, it looked like he didn't fear the supernatural being and she guessed she shouldn't as well. After all, he was still only glaring at them.

Her gaze drifted again to the squatting young man. His hair was much thicker and longer than hers, as she realized with a bit of envy. It seemed to shine in the dappled light. On top of his head of hair were seated two dog ears and, as much as they looked strange on an - otherwise normal shaped - man, Kagome thought they looked cute and soft as well. The other feature that was drawing attention, beside his rather handsome looks - were his eyes of radiant yellow. He was looking at her and Kagome realized that there was little of the anger that had been there before. He was sizing her up just like she was him, a tentative curiosity was clear in his expression. As she was looking at him she could almost see something wrapped tightly around him, like an aura tinted with red. There was no malice there, but easy to explode temper and unease. The scowl on his face deepened with every second of their mutual silent staring. She had admit it, he looked pretty threatening.

"Fear not, Kagome," he grinned. "Inuyasha here, despite being part youkai, is the shrine guardian and will protect you against any and all that might come after you or the shrine. He means you no harm."

"Believe me, you'd be dead already if I did," supplied the hanyou and grinned, exposing his fangs. Kagome's eyes widened for a second, but then she saw a twinkle of playfulness and challenge in his eyes and realized that he was teasing her. Her grandfather wagged a finger at the boy as if to scold him for scaring her, so she glanced at the dog-eared boy aloofly while turning to the old shrine keeper for more explanation.

"Uh... Like a bodyguard...?" she asked, tilting her head a little.

"You can think about it that way," the old man shrugged.

"Feh, more like an inugami. You know what that is, huh?" Inuyasha spoke again in his raspy, low voice. Kagome gasped and covered her mouth with a hand.

"Don't tell me our ancestors killed a dog to..." she breathed out.

"Of course not," her grandfather assured her and put a hand on her shoulder. "According to the shrine annals roughly around five centuries ago one of our ancestors had a dream in which the deity warned them about Inuyasha's arrival and soon after the hanyou came to become our family and the shrine's guardian. I tried to make him tell me about that time, but as you will soon learn, Inuyasha doesn't let people too close and rarely shares a story from the past. And it's such a pity, because he saw so many fascinating things!"

"Feh, you're just trying to put your nose where it doesn't belong," the hanyou grumbled while looking away. Kagome couldn't help but smile, he looked just like a normal boy not wanting to tell his parent what he was up to.

"Anyway, since that time he was always the guardian of the shrine and the one who was running it, protecting them and lending a hand whenever it was needed. And since now you're the shrine keeper, dear Kagome, it is time for you to become Inuyasha's master, with all perks and downs of this. Anyway, there's no time like the present to finalize the bond between you two."

"Uh, grandpa..." Kagome started. She wasn't sure how she felt about learning how real youkai were and that one was living for centuries in her family shrine, learning that she was supposed to be his mistress was a bit too much too fast for her liking. "It's a little too much... I never expected anything like this... Can't this finalizing - whatever it is - wait? And do I have to..."

"Kagome..." started her grandfather, but the hanyou, who had been rather out of the conversation so far, shook his head and growled at them both.

"You're an idiot," he told Kagome, his ears laid back in annoyance. "You are the shrine keeper and have reiki, you're bound to draw attention soon, both human and youkai. You don't hafta be bound to me, I don't care, there's still your brother when a youkai kills you. Unless, of course, you are able to protect yourself, which I doubt after watching you for a while."

"Inuyasha!" the old man exclaimed while Kagome bit her bottom lip and paled. Was it all really that serious?

"What? There's no use to sugar coat it for her. She's the Higurashi shrine keeper, she has to man up and take the mantle. Gods know she will see and hear worse."

"I thought..." Kagome said softly, silencing both angry men. "I thought that I was going to be just a regular shrine keeper, selling good luck charms and tending to the shrine..."

"Regular shrine keepers who have reiki battle youkai and keep them out of the human world. And they defend their shrines, because they have lots of artifacts and sealed shit there. Not mentioning the fact that youkai like to devour those who have spiritual powers. I guess they think you're a delicacy," Inuyasha said, his voice strangely soft when he looked at her again. "Listen, wench, you don't have to fight, but I need to be linked to your reiki if I want to retain my ties to the beads and be the shrine guardian to fight for you. The old man's influence on them is fading and it wasn't strong to begin with."

"It was plenty to subdue you for comments like that," Kagome's grandfather grumbled. Kagome looked from her balled fists resting in her lap to look at the hanyou who was now squatting right in front of her. He wasn't scowling anymore, there was a genuine concern and determination in his amber eyes. He didn't even turn his head to glare at the old man. She noticed a rosary wrapped around the hanyou's neck, it was glowing very faintly.

"Let me protect you," the boy in front of her whispered, his voice soft, but solemn.

Chapter Text

It was sunset and the shrine was already closed for the visitors for the day. Kagome changed into a shirt and sweatpants before descending to the kitchen. As she worked on the supper she looked out of the window and her sight was drawn to the Sacred Tree that dwarfed the rest of the trees around it.

 

She sighed and resumed her work. It was the second night of her being the official Higurashi mistress of the family shrine guardian, but she hadn't seen him from that fateful meeting the other day.

 

He was nearby, she could sense him, often she saw the results of his actions - like today, after sleeping in, she had found the yard swept and in good shape for the approaching worshipers. Still, no ear nor tail of the hanyou in sight.

 

Her grandfather had been the one who had answered her questions that followed the scene under the Sacred Tree. He had told her a bit about the hanyou and the more supernatural duties of a shrine keeper, how she would be asked for help in dealing with youkai and other beings out of legends. In performing those tasks the help of a powerful hanyou was going to be essential, otherwise she wasn't expected to have any contact with the hanyou if she didn't want to. Her grandfather had told her that she could become his friend in time, treat him as equal but if she wanted to she didn't have to, as long as she wasn't mistreating him.

 

'As if I could ask him to risk his life in a fight for me and not treat him as an equal,' she thought dryly. Then she returned in her mind to that time when she had made the mistake.

 

.

 

Kagome glanced at her grandfather, the old man smiling at her. Then she looked at the hanyou squatting in front of her.

 

"What am I supposed to do to finalize the bond?" she asked Inuyasha. She supposed it'd be rude to ask grandpa, since she was going to form the bond with this supernatural being.

 

"Give me your hand," Inuyasha demanded and when Kagome obliged, he grabbed her by her wrist and pressed the tip of his claw to her palm. Her eyes widened when she felt a little pang of pain and when he lifted his claw she saw a bead of blood forming in her palm. He glanced up at her, as if to make sure she wasn't going to freak out on him.

 

Kagome had to admit, she was a bit shocked by his action, but was more curious than afraid, even after seeing her own blood. He seemed so focused and moved with calm, sure movements, that calmed her. And it looked like he could read this calm in her face, because he gave a small nod and pulled her hand towards the beaded rosary hanging around his neck. Soon her fingers were curled around the smooth, cool beads, a magatama poking her palm. As she looked at the beads they seemed to shine pink in the sunlight for a moment, but when she blinked they were back to red and ivory.

 

She looked up to the hanyou's face, expecting him to say something, but he just licked his finger and then smeared his saliva over the tiny wound he had caused her. Kagome wiped her hand as soon as it was free of his hold, much to grandfather's merriment. She glared at the old man, who poked his own palm with a finger, prompting her to look at the spot where her skin had been broken. She blinked when she saw no trace of a wound and turned to Inuyasha just to find him with his head bowed low, his ears swiveling and twitching to each and every sound around him.

 

It wasn't her fault her hands got a mind of their own and found purchase on those fuzzy little triangles without her consent or notice.

 

Her fingertips barely grazed the divine softness of the fuzzy fur when she heard a sound between a startled yelp and a growl, that gave her pause.

 

Last thing she saw of Inuyasha was the white tail of a humongous canine disappearing in the foliage.

 

.

 

Kagome sighed yet again, her body going through the motions of preparing the meal while her mind wandered. Her grandfather insisted on her training archery and meditation to strengthen and direct her reiki and Kagome was thankful for his guidance, but also unsure if she could actually fight. Blessing and cleansing would be no problem, but shoot arrows in a battle? She bit her bottom lip.

 

After she finished the dinner preparation she took the bowl she put aside and walked out of the room. Carefully she made her way into the forest and to the foot of the Sacred Tree, where she set the bowl on the ground and took the lid off of it. The smell of hot soup filled the crisp air and almost immediately she felt youki nearing the meadow, but not approaching entirely.

 

"Inuyasha," she said aloud, hoping he could hear her. "I'm sorry for offending you. Please, accept this peace offering and don't stay away. I'd really like to talk to you..."

 

She yelped in surprise and jumped back when the hanyou leaped down the tree limb and landed in a crouch just in front of her. Kagome was about to yell at him for startling her, but the look of confusion and surprise on his face made her stay quiet.

 

"You wanna me what?" he asked and Kagome lowered her head. It wasn't the best time to yell at him. The boy was obviously confused and annoyed. She guessed she would be too if someone groped her ears. But was it her fault they were so cute?

 

"I... Uh... I'm sorry for ruining the ritual and grabbing your ears." she said. "I apologize and promise not to impose on your personal space without a permission. Please, don't be angry with me. It all is still so new to me, I feel overwhelmed and could use a friend. I do want to be a good partner, even if I have a lot of these spiritual things to learn... I hope we could be friends and that you’d help me a little?" she glanced up to gauge his reaction and saw the dumbfounded boy staring at her, apparently speechless. But the angry scowl was gone, the boy looked younger when his features weren't set in a look of annoyance. "So... What do you say? Can we do the ritual and be friends, Inuyasha?"

 

He still didn't say anything and Kagome felt her anxiety rise. From her grandfather's stories - that she was now more inclined to believe in - there were many youkai she really would prefer not to have to deal with on her own. Besides, Inuyasha was living in the shrine, it would be better to get along. The thought that she could actually kick him out of her home never came to her mind.

 

She sank to her knees in front of him and pulled a small kitchen knife out of her pocket. She was about to press the tip of the blade to the palm of her hand to make a tiny cut, but before she could do that the knife was snatched out of her hand and embedded to the hilt in the nearest tree that wasn't the Sacred Tree.

 

"You idiot!"

 

Kagome looked up to the angry amber eyes of the youkai, who was gripping her hand in his clawed fingers.

 

"H-hey!" she exclaimed and glared right back at him. She wanted to do things right, couldn't he help her?

 

"We're already bound together, wench," the shrine guardian grumbled and let go of her hand, as if realizing only now how tightly he held to it. Awkwardly he turned towards her peace offering and sniffed it.

 

"We are?" Kagome blinked at the boy that grabbed the steaming soup and started to eat it with chopstick he had pulled out of his sleeve.

 

"Yeah," he confirmed between slurps. "And you better not try to cut yourself in my presence again."

 

"So why didn't you come to the house? Or appeared around? I told you, I'm new to all of this and grandpa is..."

 

"He starts seven stories and never finishes any of them," the hanyou smirked over the top of the almost empty cup. "I guess it makes sense, with you living down in the city."

 

"What makes sense?" Kagome asked as she sat closer to the supernatural being who basically inhaled a whole cup of noodles.

 

"That you don't know shit about being a shrine keeper."

 

"Hey, I know a lot! I know how to cleanse stuff and perform blessings and other things..."

 

"...And nothing about youkai, spirit world or basic survival shit."

 

Kagome was again annoyed by the boy, who was doing a good job of keeping her emotions swaying this way and that. And yet again she didn't have time to yell at him. This time he decided it was the right moment to show her his dog form. One minute there was a boy sitting with his legs crossed, the other there was this huge canine peering down at her. 'I wonder if he would yell at me if I stroked his back...' As soon as she thought that she shook her head, it was better not to touch him so fast after the ear grabbing incident.

 

'I am,' while she was battling her desire to just run her hands through the abundance of white fluff, the dog got comfortable and looked at the Sacred Tree. 'I'm not used to be around humans. Your ancestors usually called me only when there was work to do. Not many were like the old man who invited me to visit the house from time to time. Besides you looked pretty freaked out, so I figured out to better give you space.'

 

"Oh," Kagome said softly. "I'm sorry. For freaking out and for my ancestors."

 

'Keh! They were warrior priests and killed many youkai, it made sense for them not to grow too close with me,' the dog did something that could be a canine version of a shrug.

 

"But, you know," she smiled softly when the big white head turned her way. "We already established I'm not a warrior priestess. I don't see why you couldn't come to the house whenever you want to. I came here to ask you to come over for the dinner anyway."

 

The shrine guardian stared at her as she outstretched her hand towards him.

 

"We're going to be partners, keeping the shrine and the land safe. Let's be friends," her smile grew wider and hopeful. Maybe her ancestors weren't very friendly towards him, but she was not her ancestors, she honestly didn't want him to feel like she was using him or something. Partners meant equals and she wanted to treat this boy, that was also a youkai, like an equal.

 

'You,' Inuyasha grumbled. 'Are one crazy wench.'

 

Kagome decided to overlook this comment and giggled when a cool nose brushed against the palm of her hand. The next minute she was alone in the meadow, the empty cup of ramen next to her. 'He didn't say he's going to come,' she thought. 'But he also didn't say he won't.'

 

That was when it hit her - since he had changed his form she had never seen him open his mouth. Did he even have vocal cords attuned to human speech as a dog? And yet she had heard him without any trouble. Another thing she had to ask about later...

Chapter Text

Kagome walked down the corridor, smiling. After her meeting with Inuyasha the previous evening they all had a nice, even if awkward, dinner. Grandpa had done the most talking. Inuyasha had been more focused on devouring the food with the enthusiasm of a starved man. She had been watching the two men, throwing questions and basically trying to make the hanyou feel welcome.

Now, she felt as if it was her first day of being a real shrine keeper. From what she gathered from her grandfather's stories most shrines had no guardians like Inuyasha. Not many youkai in the past had felt inclined to accept the life of a guardian, even if they were benevolent.

She exited the house and was on her way towards the shed where the broom they used to sweep the shrine yard was, when she saw a postman approaching the gate. He waved a hand at her, holding a pack under his arm.

"Good day," he greeted when Kagome approached him. He had a young. round face with playful dark eyes and a nice smile. A bit on the pudgy side and with a kind expression on his face, he gestured to the pack. "I'm the new postman, I’ve worked in the village for the last month, but I believe I've never meet you before, miss. My name is Takeda Shi and this pack is for Mr. Higurashi."

"Hello," Kagome couldn't help, but smile at the man who stood almost in the shadow of the gate. "I'm Higurashi Kagome, I'm his granddaughter. Can I sign for him, or should I call him?"

"Oh, your signature will suffice," the postman assured her. He was about to hand her.the pad he almost dropped it when a loud bark could be heard. Kagome looked back and saw a big - but not bigger than an akita inu should be - dog running their way, his tail up like a banner, barking and growling. His golden eyes never left the postman, who was looking at him in mixture of shock and uncertainty.

"Oh, goodness," Kagome gasped. It was shocking to see Inuyasha charging on an innocent human with his teeth bared, even if he was not to his normal height. The dog looked so splendid in the sunlight he seemed to shine like a divine messenger. "Inuyasha, behave!" she scolded and gave the frightened postman a reassuring smile. "Don't worry, he won't bite."

She was actually more than a bit surprised to see the shrine guardian leaving the sanctuary of his forest - she already had labeled him as the type that didn't like to spend much time with others. And she would've never thought he was the type to chase mailman down the driveway.

"Oh... I...Uh," the startled man still looked as if he was seconds from bolting down the shrine steps. Inuyasha meanwhile reached them and bodily forced Kagome to step back, taking the spot in front of her and glaring at the man, daring him to do something Inuyasha wouldn't like. "Let's just..."

He outstretched his hand with the pad and a pen for Kagome to sign the paper. She gave him an apologetic smile, murmured once again for Inuyasha to behave and signed the paper. Then she exchanged the pad for the pack and the man - looking very relieved - bid her good day and turned around to leave.

And that was when Kagome saw his tail.

Fluffy, orange tail with a white tip. sticking out from under the postman's jacket. It visibly fluffed out when the man was walking.

"Stupid dog," he muttered under his breath, barely audibly for Kagome, but apparently well in Inuyasha's hearing range. The dog, that had remained motionless after assuming his position, sprang forward and gave a sharp, but not really that strong, nip to the furry appendage.

The postman yelped in surprise more than in pain. In front of the staring Kagome he spun around and pointed at the canine.

"You!" he exclaimed and added another, weird word. The air sizzled as a spark shot off of the tip of his finger and hit the dog.

Five minutes later, when the tempers finally cooled down, Kagome looked between the two youkai glaring at each other.

"I'm not here to cause much trouble, miko," the kitsune promised when he noticed her concerned eyes. "I'm in the human world only for a couple of months, to pass my test.

"Test?" Kagome asked, tilting her head. After retribution for the bite the kitsune had lost his will to fight and Inuyasha was now pouting near her, as if just in case that it was all just a game.

"Yeah. I want to go up in rank and get a tail," Shi explained with a hopeful smile. "I have to pretend to be a human for half of a year. Please, don't send me back, I will not get a chance to repeat this test for a century. I promise not to cause you any trouble."

Kagome looked to Inuyasha and barely held in a giggle when the fluff ball of curly fur glared at them both. She guessed that if he wasn't attacking the kitsune it was probably fine to agree to his plea. Besides, she had no idea how to 'send him back'.

"Alright, just remember to behave," she said to the fox, who smiled in relief and bid her good day for the second time before leaving the shrine. This time his tail was tucked safely under his jacket. When he was far enough Kagome turned to Inuyasha.

"Um... Do you want me to brush it smooth again or....?" she asked.

'Feh!' the shrine guardian barked at her and ran off into his forest, not saying a real word.

Chapter Text

The clouds came from the east, from the direction of the ocean. They were thick, heavy and dark, promising a long, strong storm. The wind picked up suddenly, catching Kagome off-guard when she was hanging her laundry in the back of the house. One glance upwards and the miko was hurriedly collecting her damp clothes and relocating them to a drying rack inside the house.

Meanwhile her grandfather closed and secured the gift shop. They both went about preparing the shrine and the house for the storm, moving as fast as they could, putting everything away and making sure all windows and doors were closed as the wind tugged on their clothes.

Finally they were back inside the house, Kagome preparing flashlights in case there would be no power for a while, her grandfather making tea. A gust of wind hit forcefully against the house and the surrounding forest, the sound of a distant thunder filled the air as it rumbled overhead, echoing off of the mountainside.

That was when Kagome realized something.

"Grandpa?" she asked while closing the drawer containing the flashlights. "Where does Inuyasha stay during a storm? Or during winter?"

"Inuyasha?" the old man shrugged. Kagome thought that maybe he had a home hidden in the forest somewhere, one she hadn't discovered during her visits as a child. "Sometimes, when it's really cold, he uses the shed."

"Don't tell me you mean the shed where you store your work tools and..." Kagome gasped.

"Honey, we have only one shed," the old man reminded her. "Besides, he doesn't like to be around other people or stuck inside for too long and always brags that he doesn't need any 'shelter for weaklings who can't stand the weather'. I tried to convince him to use the attic, but he is as stubborn as a mule, so I just made sure he knew where the spare key to the shed lock was and keep a few blankets there. But during the rainy weather... I mean he can change in his dog form, his fur looks thick enough to keep him warm and dry, especially if he stays in the thicker parts of the forest... And here she went..."

Kagome didn't hear the ending of his comment about Inuyasha's coat. She was already running outside, pulling on a raincoat and putting on her shoes practically without stopping.

She was a miko on a mission.

A recovery mission. A mission to bring to the safety of her house one handsome, gruff dog-eared individual.

As soon as she ran around the corner of the house a strong wind blew drizzle on her face and pushed her breath back into her lungs. Kagome slowed down a bit before she leaped towards the shelter the trees provided.

Sadly the drizzle changed to a real downpour somewhere in the middle of her mad dash for the forest. Kagome gasped when she felt the cold rain running down her neck, but just a second later she was in the forest, shielded from the rain by the canopy of tree limbs - at least for now.

"Inuyasha!" she called, but at the same moment a thunder rolled overhead, much louder now. The shadows of the trees danced when the light flooded the area for a second. "Uh, this was not that far... Inuyasha!"

After the intense light blinked in and out of existence the world seemed even darker than it had before with the low, thick clouds obscuring the sky. Kagome followed the path towards the Sacred Tree, hoping Inuyasha would be there.

As she ran, calling out Inuyasha's name, the forest shook around her with every powerful gust of wind. Thunders were rumbling, but luckily the bolts of electricity were hitting the mountainside higher or not touching the ground at all. Here and there, where tree limbs were less thickly intertwined, rain was reaching the forest floor and Kagome's hair was already damp and sticking to her face and neck. Good thing her raincoat was keeping her warm and dry.

Inuyasha wasn't under the Sacred Tree, but from that place she could sense his youki somewhere deeper in the forest, so she decided to find him and drag him by his tail to the warmth and safety of the house. The forest wasn't a good place to spend a storm, she knew because she wasn't enjoying being there. The wind was whistling in the treetops, breaking weaker or dry branches, shaking the leaves loud enough that Kagome feared the boy wouldn't hear her.

The forest was harder to wander through, since there was no path to follow, just empty spaces between bushes and trees. But Kagome didn't turn back, stubbornly making her way forward, grabbing branches for support and stumbling over the roots, calling out the name of the shrine guardian.

In her imagination she could see the boy in red, his bare feet cold and covered in mud and dry leaves, his white hair hanging in wet ropes and sticking to his blue skin, his cute little ears droopy and miserable.

She was the shrine owner now and she refused to let anyone of her household to stay out in this kind of weather while she could do something about it.

"Inu-!" she called. At the same time she heard a loud crack, much different from the whip snaps of the lightnings, as if whatever was cracking could actually wail in pain. She didn't have time to look up, because something hit her and tackled her to the muddy and rough ground, pushing her breath out of her lungs.

'Dumbass!' Kagome looked up and had the pleasure of seeing Inuyasha's impressive fangs mere centimeters away from her face. The next thing she saw was a pair of blazing golden eyes of an irate youkai. The dog's snout moved back and upwards, granting the girl the view of the rest of the world.

The huge canine stood on wide spread legs, shaking off bits of bark and pieces of wood which had been a dry branch that had almost hit her. Kagome carefully moved to sit up and reached a hand to touch the fluffed out ruff on Inuyasha's chest, prompting him to look down at her again, his ears twitching in annoyance.

"I was looking for you," she said.

'Why? There is no youkai or any other trouble,' the dog guardian grumbled. 'You should stay at home during a storm, not wander aimlessly through the forest.'

"But... But I wanted to bring you home. It's not fair for you to stay here when you could be dry and have some tea and snacks with me and grandpa. We could play Go," Kagome said, throwing in the promise of the game. From what she knew from her grandfather Inuyasha liked to play, even if the guardian was too proud to admit he enjoyed it himself.

The dog looked at her with his head tilted in a classic 'puzzled puppy' expression. A thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance and Kagome saw that his ears pressed against his skull, his body shook visibly as if he felt cold.

'Go home,' he barked at her. Kagome gripped his fur tighter.

"Go with me."

'Keh! I don't need to hide from some wind and rain! You, on the other hand, should go back and change clothes,' the dog lifted his nose in the air in defiance. This time she felt him shake when the next thunder boomed overhead.

'I bet he would growl at me if I pointed out he's trembling,' she thought. He was part dog youkai, Kagome guessed that his hearing was as good as any dog's. That meant that the sound of a thunder was more unpleasant to him than it was to her.

"But... Do you have a safe place to stay?" she asked. There was no use to argue with him, she had to come up with a plan to lure him home. But she doubted she could just simply fake a twisted ankle. He had trust issues, it was better not to give him any reason to doubt her word.

'Keh! Stop pestering me and go home!'

"Alright, but you have to carry me. The ground is slippery and I barely can see anything, I'd trip and hurt myself," Kagome said sourly as she looked around the darkened forest. The dog guardian sighed and lowered himself until his belly almost touched the forest floor.

Kagome tried not to look too smug when she climbed on top of the canine. His fur was wet, but only on top, it was also thick and so soft... Without thinking she wrapped her arms around his neck and pushed her cheek in the divine softness.

'Don't get too comfy,' Inuyasha grumbled and dashed between the trees swiftly approaching the edge of the forest. His steps were smooth and the feeling of the cool wind made her push her face in his fur more. In a few more leaps he was in front of the home. He barked to get her attention, but Kagome just held on tighter, her legs wrapped around his body as well. 'Oi! Let go!'

"Come to wait the storm out inside?" Kagome replied, her voice like steel. She had him just in front of the house, she wasn't going to let him prance back in that dark, wet forest. The dog shook himself, but she held on tight.

He growled in annoyance. 'I told you I don't need...'

A lightningbolt struck nearby.

Kagome smiled at her grandfather standing in the kitchen door when Inuyasha, now in his humanoid form,slid the door behind them. The old man returned the smile and went to fetch them dry towels and one damped in warm water for Inuyasha's feet.

It was just when she watched him wipe his feet off that Kagome realized that she had rode on this boy's back after basically tricking him to carry her home.

Chapter Text

Kagome waited for her brother and friends to reach the shrine gate. Her mother was parking the car near the garage, but Souta wanted to give the three girls the chance to approach the shrine from the front. Kagome guessed he wanted to drag them up the steps leading to the main gate of the shrine, since coming from the side gate would be easier and didn't require climbing dozens of steps. As the future soccer star Souta was more than prepared to take the stairs on without even breaking a sweat. From the flushed faces of the girls following him it was easy to see they hadn't that stamina.

"Hey, Kagome!" Eri panted out. "Your brother is a wicked one!"

"Serves you right for neglecting exercises and eating in WacDonald's so often," Ayumi giggled, a tad out of breath herself.

"Kagome!" Yuka waved her hand excitedly, albeit without her usual energy. "You look great!"

"Thanks!" Kagome dropped the end of the sleeve of her miko attire she had been playing with and smiled. The next minute she was hugging Eri and Ayumi. "So good to see you, guys!"

"Well, you look like you're already growing into your job," Ayumi gave Kagome a once over and winked. "Can we get a tour, lady miko?"

"A slowly-paced one," Eri added with a chuckle.

"Sure!" Kagome turned and stepped away from the gate, leading them across the shrine grounds to the first stop, that was the small building with a fountain where the visitors could wash their hands and mouth. Right now there was no more people around, only a couple of old ladies crowded by the gift shop and talking to her grandfather. "I mean grandpa could give you a snail-pace tour, but you'd have to endure the extended story of the shrine and a bunch of legends on top of that."

The whole group laughed, Souta and Kagome had warned the trio about their grandfather's storyteller streak.

"Are there any handsome guys visiting you here?" Eri asked. Kagome almost tripped over her own zori and cast her an incredulous glance.

"Or maybe you have an attractive single shrine helper around here, you know..." Yuka wiggled her eyebrows.

"And with that Souta is officially done here!" Souta chuckled. "I better stay away from the girl talk."

"No, Souta, don't leave me with them!" Kagome called after her brother, but he was already running towards the house, laughing. Kagome could feel three shadows behind her back, three pairs of eyes looking straight at the back of her head.

"Soo...?" Eri hummed. "Any hotties digging in the miko style?"

"Eri!" Kagome waved a hand towards her robes, "It's a shrine, not a mall, even if someone handsome comes here I won't just go up to hum and ask for his number!"

"You wouldn't do that even in a mall," Yuka teased.

"It's because you already have a sweetheart. It's so cute you're staying so faithful to Hojo," Ayumi clasped her hands and they all giggled.

"For the record - I'm not staying faithful to Hojo. Now go cleanse yourselves if you want to go and pray to the gods before we go to the house. I have ice cream in the fridge," Kagome pointed to the little building behind them. "I will tell you the whole story of the kamainu guarding the shrine for teasing me!" she called after the trio, who just giggled at her.

It actually was an interesting story, since the shrine guardians carved from stone and standing guard before the shrine entrance had been given to the shrine by a samurai lord as a token of his gratitude after Inuyasha had saved him and his family. They resembled Inuyasha's huge dog form, with their ruffs fluffed out and fierce gaze piercing everyone who approached the shrine.

Of course, Kagome knew that if she told them about Inuyasha they wouldn't believe her, thinking it was but a legend to make the donation sound more special. There was also little chance of Inuyasha actually presenting himself to back the tale and give it legitimacy, the hanyou seemed too wild and antisocial, too wary of people to actually show his face around humans.

'Not mentioning the harpies would swarm him and demand his phone number,' Kagome thought as she watched the girls washing their hands and mouth. 'After all, he's pretty handsome, as a boy and as a dog.

She imagined the trio rubbing his dog ears and demanding a ride on the white dog or asking the flustered boy various questions while invading his personal space. It was amusing, yes, but she found herself not liking the idea of the trio teasing him - or her later on.

Little did she know that a pair of pale eyes was observing her from afar, frowning.

Chapter Text

After inspecting the perimeter of the shrine 'in search for hunks' the girls finally let Kagome lead them home. They all ate together and Kagome had to answer dozens of her mom's questions - the first being if she felt safe so far from the civilization. Her grandfather was no help, just smirking and playing dumb if he got a question. Then he started to tell stories of kappa living in a stream running near the shrine grounds and wolf youkai pestering people of the next mountain and the dinner was over in less than five minutes.

The four friends spread extra beds on the floor of Kagome's room, because they firmly declined the offer of sleeping anywhere else, claiming it was the last chance for a long time to have a sleepover together, since both Yuka and Ayumi were going to move out of the city to go to college, and Eri was going to start working in her uncle's store next week.

Kagome was immensely thankful that the trio came to visit her, even if they were teasing her about all sorts of things. With them in her room, despite it looking so different from her old one in her mother's house, she felt as if she was a schoolgirl again. They talked about their plans for the future, a bit about their classmates and boys, shared little stories for hours, until the other girls finally fell asleep.

For some reason Kagome couldn't sleep. She rolled on her side and looked at the shadowy room, listening to the three girls' breathing.

Something was wrong, but she couldn't put a finger to it.

She was pretty tired and wanted to fall asleep, but something was bothering her, like a hair under her shirt. She focused on the odd feeling, trying to name it.

It was a bit like sensing the air pressure shifting, as if a change of weather was coming. Kagome frowned, trying to think if she had felt this feeling before, but before she could search her memory, she heard a sound outside of her bedroom door. Her eyes, that she hadn't realized had been closed, opened and she looked at the doorway. Someone was walking down the corridor. She tilted her head, so she could listen with both her ears. It wasn't her grandpa, the person was moving too fast.

Kagome decided to get up and carefully navigated through her room not to step on her friends. No matter if it was her mom or Souta, she hoped that talking to the mystery person would help her feel better. The feeling of something pressing against her skin was getting more and more annoying.

She felt a bit like a spy following an unsuspecting target, despite the fact that it was her home and her family member. She slid the door open and carefully sneaked out of the room, so not to wake her friends up. A moment of careful listening revealed that whoever it was ahead of her was now in the living room, which was odd, to say the least. There was no food there and the bathroom was on the other side of the house. She managed to get to the bottom of the stairs when she felt a gust of crisp night air against her ankles, a clear indicator that the shoji to the engawa was slid open in the room. Bewildered and curious she peeked through the door to find the room empty and dark, the only source of light being the faint glow from outside.

She crept towards the light, carefully avoiding any furniture on her way, then she poked her head out and looked around. Just in time to see Souta and someone else entering the old well house. What was he doing there, in the middle of the night? His companion wore clothes easily blending in with the shadows, their form not bigger than her brother's. Frowning, Kagome stepped outside and made her way to the ancient building. It didn't store anything special, just an old, dry well that had a few slips of paper with sealing spells on the dusty lid. Some shrine visitors were sometimes stepping in to take photos or just admire the place, but in Kagome's opinion it wasn't as pretty as the main shrine or the forest.

As she approached the sturdy, plain-looking building, Kagome could hear someone talking inside - it wasn't her brother's voice, but one belonging to a girl. She was talking in a monotone voice, calm and soothing. The feeling of something being amiss intensified when she heard the girl speak.

"...Good... Now the southern seal..." A pause, silence filled with shuffling of feet. "Western seal..."

Kagome decided that whoever it was and whatever she was doing with Souta, it was definitely not to her liking. It sounded like the two were doing something to the old ofudas put on the well by her grandfather or even great grandfather. Without thinking much about it she stepped inside, determined to tell the girl and her brother that they were in big trouble, because she was going to tell her mom and the girl's parents what they had been doing.

"Hey!" she started.

And that was when she lost her voice, her next words stuck in her throat, her eyes widening in shock and fear. The feeling of something being wrong intensified and now she knew what was wrong.

Souta was standing by the well, his face passive and emotionless as he idly stood there, his hand holding a few slips of paper which had to be the ancient seals. But the sight of him was only mildly unsettling in comparison to what lurked in the shadow behind him.

A girl... Or rather something that looked like an unassuming girl with short dark hair and empty eyes. She had no nose or brows and her dark lips seemed to be too long for a human. Something told Kagome that she had rows of thin fangs hidden behind those lips. The creature held a doll in her hands. The air around her felt thicker somehow. There was only one supernatural being she had ever seen in her entire life, but Kagome had no doubt in her heart that the girl was a youkai.

As Kagome stared at the girl she smiled at her with her too wide mouth, revealing that indeed, she had teeth like no human should have. Souta reached for the last slip of paper placed on the wooden lid of the well slowly as if in a daze, as if he wasn't aware what stood behind him. Kagome couldn't imagine how someone could turn their back at something so disturbing.

"Souta!" Kagome called and outstretched her hand and took a brave step forward, knowing that there was no way she could reach her brother in time to stop him or grab him and run away from that eerily smiling being behind him before the youkai attacked them. Still, she wouldn't be herself, if she just did nothing. A sudden light flashed before her spread fingers, blinding her for a second. When the light faded the girl, now scowling, stood deeper in the shadows and Souta was swaying on his feet, holding the last slip of paper in his hand.

"Ah! Stay out of this, miko, or the brat dies!" the youkai girl called. Her voice sounded angry and a bit too high-pitched.

"What? Please, don't..." Kagome gasped for air, feeling her knees shake and a block of ice appear in her belly. She didn't look away from her brother, who now held all the ancient seals. What was the girl going to do to him? What could she do to save him? What was that light and why did she suddenly feel dizzy on top of being frightened?

"Yeah, miko, stay outta this," grumbled a voice from behind her and a man in red grabbed her shoulder to roughly push her out of the well house. She stumbled on her weak legs and barely avoided falling down the stairs.

"Hey!" Kagome had enough time to call and look back at Souta pushing the lid of the well off of it before the door slid shut.

"What do you want, mongrel?" Kagome froze with her hand on the door frame when she heard the girl's voice again. "This human is mine and I don't have time to play with you. Hey! I need this!"

Kagome slid the door open just in time to face the growling Inuyasha holding her unconscious brother. The hanyou pushed the boy in her arms. Kagome barely had time to grab him before almost collapsing under his limp weight.

"Stay," Inuyasha barked and closed the door again. Almost at the same time something hit the wooden surface not a meter away from them. The thud was immediately followed by a growled curse, a sound of something crashing and a howl of anger and pain - luckily it didn't sound like Inuyasha. The sounds of struggle were growing louder, accompanied by yelled curses and growling. She would've assumed Inuyasha shifted to his dog form, but as a dog he couldn't curse aloud.

No matter which shape he was in, it sounded like he was handling the supernatural issue pretty well, so Kagome decided that maybe it'd be best to leave it to him and focus on Souta. After all, what could she do to fight a youkai?

Kagome looked down to her brother's pale face. His eyes were still closed, but he was breathing and didn't look hurt. Something hit the door again and slid to the ground with a wet noise. Kagome carefully half-carried half-dragged her brother away before the door collapsed on both of them. As she laid the boy in the cool grass, Souta gasped and opened his eyes.

"K-Kagome!" he gripped her hands with desperation. "She's a monster!"

"Shh, it's okay, Souta, you're safe now," Kagome said, hoping that she sounded soothing. Seeing Souta awake and unhurt caused a wave of relief to wash over her. Souta flinched when something crashed inside the well-house again, followed by a yell and then eerie silence. She swallowed and touched his cheek to keep his attention on herself. Her fingers shook a bit. "It's okay. A friend will get rid of the monster."

"Uh... Okay..." her brother still held her other hand like it was his safe-line. He slowly nodded, swallowing and inhaling deeply, just like she did. The door of the little building slid open with a loud thud and they both jumped in fear and surprise. Kagome looked up to see Inuyasha standing in the doorway.

"She ran away. Get the seals from the kid and reseal the well before something crosses to this side," the hanyou grumbled. In the moonlight his red kimono was almost black. So were the tips of his fingers and a splash of something smeared across the side of his face. Kagome heard her brother gasp and she glanced back at him to see him staring at the hanyou with eyes big as saucers and jaw hanging. The look on his face wasn't terrified it was more like awe and fear mixed together.

"It's okay, Souta, don't be afraid," Kagome soothed. "I can explain..."

"No time for that now!" Inuyasha leaped from the doorway to where they sat on the grass. "Oi, kid, give her the seals now!"

"Inuyasha!" Kagome scolded the shrine guardian. "Be gentle with him, he just got..."

"I'm not kidding, wench, if we don't put the seals back we will have the whole shrine grounds swarming with youkai," They both glared at each other for a second. The hanyou's ears were twitching in annoyance and his scowl was the deepest she had ever seen. "You can take your sweet time with the brat when it's over. Now move."

With that he stood up, towering over the two humans like a pillar of red agitation. Kagome gave a small nod, realizing that he was right, she had to do whatever he wanted her to do before she could take care of Souta. After all having youkai running around the place didn't sound appealing. Carefully she extracted the old papers from Souta's grasp - the boy was still staring mutely at Inuyasha - and stood up.

"Okay, just tell me what to do," the last word was a squeak of surprise, because the shrine guardian grabbed her hand and pulled her after himself with inhuman speed. The well-house stairs - both external and inside the building - flashed before her eyes and she stopped in front of the well. The lid was already back in place, even if one corner of it was missing and was replaced by a fragment of one of the steps' planks. She looked up to see Inuyasha observing her, his foot impatiently tapping the ground. "What now?"

She expected him to insult her lack of knowledge, as he did before. She was supposed to be a shrine keeper and know things, but she had a lot to learn. He sighed and pointed at the well.

"Put those on the lid. It won't be as effective as a real sealing, but it will hold for now. You have to circle the well clockwise."

He sounded annoyed, but he didn't wasting time on insulting her for not knowing what to do, which was nice. There was a sense of urgency in his voice and he didn't look away from the well, as if expecting it to explode or something. Kagome did as he said, walking around the well on stiff legs. Each seal glowed a soft pink light for a second after being placed on the wood, but beside that nothing else happened. When she put the last seal on its place she turned again to the hanyou for more directions.

He smirked at her and walked up to the doors. It was then that she saw that he was limping.

"Inuyasha..." she started.

"Keh. I dealt with the youkai. Now you deal with the humans," he said as he glanced back at her and then jumped away with slightly less grace than usual.

It took her a second to realize what he meant by that. She could hear multiple voices coming closer and she remembered Souta was still sitting in front of the well-house.

"Oh, dear..."

Chapter Text

"It was a youkai attack," Kagome's grandfather told her three friends with a nod. "Those things happen sometimes."

The trio looked at him as if he was a bit insane and Kagome quickly waved her hands at them to draw their attention.

"Grandpa means that there was a burglar that tried to rob the shrine," she said. The girls nodded, accepting the more logical, even if untrue, explanation.

They all sat around the kitchen table, while Mama was putting Souta to bed upstairs and making sure that he was okay. Kagome just prayed he wouldn't tell her mother about Inuyasha. It wasn't like she didn't want her mother to know about the shrine guardian, but she guessed he was more or less a secret only the shrine keepers were supposed to know. She tightened her hold on the glass of tea her grandfather had put in front of her and took a sip of the hot drink, trying to find a way to not only calm herself after the rather shocking events in the well-house, but also soothe her friends, who had came to investigate the said happenings after hearing the ruckus of youkai battle.

"That's terrible," Yuka said. "Shouldn't we call the police?"

'Maybe it wasn't the best idea...' Kagome thought and tried to smile warmly.

"Oh, no, no need to do that," she said hurriedly before the trio could think about that option for too long. "A friend's taking care of this."

"The shrine guardian," Kagome's neck almost snapped when she turned her head to look at her grandfather. 'Grandpa! Not helping!' Her cheeks paled at the look in Eri's eyes.

"A friend, huh?" Eri asked and leaned closer to nudge Kagome's shoulder. "Is it a male friend maybe...?"

"Well, well, Higurashi, a security officer, hmm?" Yuka poked Kagome's other shoulder. Kagome felt like her face suddenly caught fire. "In an uniform..."

"He doesn't have an uniform!" Kagome exclaimed, almost spilling her tea. Her hand flew to cover her mouth, but it was too late. She stared, wide-eyed, at her three friends, all grinning like kitsune from old stories.

"Oh... So he's a he..." Ayumi giggled. Kagome shook her head with new energy. 'How could things go so wrong so fast?' She glared at her grandfather, who peacefully sipped his tea, that traitor.

"Girls, please, it's not like what you think..." Kagome pleaded in vain. She tried the mature, calm approach and hoped they would do the same.

"You will have to introduce us some time." Yuka grinned.

"She means: soon," Eri added.

"Girls, we shouldn't force them. Let them decide when they want to make their relationship official," Ayumi said in a soothing voice. "I'm sure when they're ready, they'll tell us, right, Kagome?"

'Relationship...? Gods, help me... They think I have a secret boyfriend or what?'

Luckily, the gods were listening, since at that very moment Kagome's mom entered the kitchen. She held a rolled cloth that looked like Souta's pajama shirt. As she spoke she put it on the counter.

"Alright, Souta is asleep now," she said and looked at everyone with a smile that did wonders to ease Kagome's nerves. "And if everything is...taken care of, we all should go to sleep too. It's still a few hours before dawn and, believe me, we all will feel much better after some rest."

"Good idea, Mrs Higurashi," Ayumi nodded and stood up.

"Yeah," Eri followed her and glanced at Kagome. "Are you going?"

"Um..." Kagome realized she was the last one seated by the table. "I will go check up on something real quick and go to sleep to. Go ahead, guys, I will be upstairs soon." As soon as her mother had spoke about taking care of things Kagome remembered how Inuyasha had limped up the stairs in the well-house. It would be best to go check on the guy. She could just hope she'd find him in the forest, where he was probably hiding.

The girls said their good nights and went out of the kitchen, leaving the three Higurashi family members alone. Calmly, Kagome's mother gathered the empty glasses from the table and carried them to the sink to wash.

"Is the boy alright?" the old shrine keeper asked. Kagome stood up and went for the cabinet where the first aid kit was stored, moving quietly and waiting for her mom's answer.

"Yes, he's okay," Mama said. "He told me the most outlandish story. I was going to assume he was sleepwalking and it was just his dream, but... Kagome, can you look at the shirt I brought?

"Uh, yeah, mom," Kagome gulped and reached for the said article. As she lifted it up it unfolded and she gasped, her stomach twisting.

There was something brown smeared on the back of the shirt, close to the collar. It looked roughly like a hand, the fabric pierced and torn where fingertips of the hand were pressed into the material.

It looked like a hand had gripped and tugged at the shirt, ripping it. A bloodied hand.

'Inuyasha...' Kagome thought, thinking about that moment when he pushed her unconscious brother into her arms and closed the door before fighting the creepy girl. She thought about the dark spots on his clothing and face after the battle.

"It's not Souta's and you are unharmed as well," she heard her mother speak. "So I want to know what happened? Should I believe in a story about a youkai and a super hero coming to my son's rescue?"

Kagome turned her head to look at her mother. She appeared calm and curious, concerned, but also patient and trusting her to give her answers. Kagome glanced to her grandfather, who smiled warmly in encouragement, clearly leaving her alone to explain everything to her mom. 'Oh, so now I can tell what happened, huh?'

"Mom..." Kagome started. Should she hide the shrine guardian's presence from her family? According to her grandfather usually only the shrine keepers and other reiki users knew Inuyasha. It was both to protect the hanyou and to keep him from scaring other members of the family. Kagome doubted that her mom would be a threat or be afraid of the boy, even if he was a youkai. And Souta already had seen him. Maybe it was the right time to change this family tradition as well? It sure could help Inuyasha if he could be more social and walk around the shrine freely during her family visits. Keeping a secret from her closest ones and alienating the boy didn't feel right for her, even if for generations only a handful of people knew about his existence. "Um... Souta was speaking the truth. Mostly."

"Mostly?" her mom tilted her head. "How so?"

"When I woke up Souta was going to the well-house. I followed him and when I came there, there was a creepy youkai girl that was controlling him and making him take off the seals on the well there. I wanted to stop her, but she threatened to hurt Souta. Then Inuyasha showed up and saved us, and fought the youkai until she fled," Kagome said it all almost on one breath, fearing that if she stopped to think about this, she'd lose her courage.

"And Inuyasha is... who exactly?" her mother asked when Kagome took a breath. The air left Kagome's lungs in a sigh. How was she going to explain to her mother the existence of a supernatural being without sounding like an insane person?

"You can call him," Kagome's grandfather spoke suddenly. The young miko turned to look at him and saw him smiling warmly at her. He gave a nod when he saw her puzzled expression. "Just call for him and he will come."

"But... He always does all he can to avoid being seen, doesn't he?" Kagome asked. It would look even worse if she screamed in the night and the shrine guardian refused to show up.

"If you use kotodama he will come," the girl now looked as puzzled as her mother. "He won't be able to fight your will for long if you call him by his true name. Usually you have to be given the name by the one who uses it, but in this case it works when the previous shrine keeper tells you it."

Kagome's mind jumped to the memory from not that long ago when her grandfather introduced her to the hanyou under the Sacred Tree. Was it real? Could she give him orders by using his name? Would it force him to do things he didn't like every time she called him by his name? 'Nah, I called him by his name before and he didn't seem affected, so maybe it works if I do it intentionally...' She made a mental note to ask about it later.

"Just don't use it too often, he gets pretty cranky," the old man chuckled.

Kagome smiled at him and her mother, who was still patiently listening to them. Then she walked to the shoji leading to the engawa and opened it.

"Inuyasha!" she called quietly out loud and in her mind, imagining herself tugging at the beaded necklace he wore around his neck to get his attention.

Too bad that Inuyasha had been eavesdropping on the roof above the kitchen porch.

Chapter Text

'Kotodama is such a powerful technique,' the old shrine keeper thought as he watched the shrine guardian trying to pull himself out of the pile of dislocated and broken roof tiles and wooden planks that had been the engawa railing just a minute ago. The old man was sure of one thing - deciding to retire and to hand the shrine to Kagome had been the best decision of his life, now he was never going to be bored. With the ancient, anti-social hanyou and his granddaughter becoming the new shrine keeper things were sure going to be entertaining.

And, since Kagome had grown away from the shrine and the rigid life of a traditional shrine miko, she was not willing to keep the hanyou in seclusion. Grandpa hoped that the sudden exposure to new view of life presented by the girl would influence the boy in a good way. She was going to continue his work. Grandpa looked at his daughter-in-law, who was staring at the shrine guardian in stunned silence.

"Oh, goodness!" Kagome exclaimed and jumped towards the boy. "Are you okay?"

"Why did you do that?" he groaned and shook his head before looking up at the girl who knelt beside him. Kagome gasped when she saw a trail of fresh blood trickling down the side of his face from his cut temple. Kagome barely could believe that it was her actions that brought the hanyou down. But there was no other explanation for the agile and strong youkai to just tumble down the roof like that. And the beaded necklace around his neck was radiating a fading light, one similar to the light emitted from her hand before, in the well-house. 'I guess it's what my reiki looks like... I really shouldn't've done that tugging thing...'

"I'm so sorry, Inuyasha... I didn't mean to..." Kagome outstretched a hand towards him. He scowled at her. But then he looked to the side and Kagome was confused for a moment before she turned her head and saw her mother standing in the shoji, a hand raised to her chest, her eyes never looking away from the wealth of white hair practically glowing against the darkness of the night.

"See what you did?" Inuyasha growled softly. "I am not to be seen by outsiders! Otherwise they freak out and..."

"Mom?" Kagome asked, ignoring for now the complaining boy, who fell silent anyway when the middle-aged woman stepped forward like in a daze. Kagome watched her mother's other hand lift towards the hanyou, who tensed and looked like he was ready to spring away. Yellow eyes studied the approaching human warily, as if waiting for any sign of hostility.

The hand brushed the shaggy bangs aside.

"Does it hurt much?" Kagome blinked when she heard her mother speak with the same warm tone she always used around her and Souta when they were injured. Inuyasha's jaw almost hit the ground as he stared, wide eyed, at the human leaning over him and smiling kindly. "Come inside, we need to put an ice bag on this, otherwise it will bruise."

"K-keh! I'm a youkai!" he exclaimed, half in defiance, half in shock. Kagome, if she was honest with herself, was pretty amazed by the way her mother was handling the supernatural.

"Of course you are. Now, come in and let me see your temple. I'm sure youkai get bruised as well," mama reached up and did something even Kagome hadn't had courage to do yet (but really wanted to do), she playfully tweaked the rapidly twitching ear of the shrine guardian. Then she turned back to the kitchen to find an ice bag.

Kagome looked after her before glancing to Inuyasha. She gasped when she saw his golden eyes mere centimeters away from her face, watching her intently.

"Your mother is nuts?" he half-asked, half-declared with the look of pure confusion and befuddlement on his face. When he tilted his head ever so slightly Kagome couldn't help herself. She gave a giggle and tugged at one cocked canine ear. It was soft and tickled her skin like a butterfly when it twitched.

"She's a Higurashi," she said and smiled widely and allowed the hanyou to lean away from her touch,. "I don't want you to hide away when my family visits. Just make sure no one except Higurashis see your cute ears and that you're a youkai and you can roam the shrine grounds no matter who's around."

She stood up and walked towards the brightly lit kitchen, but looked back at the hanyou when she didn't hear him move.

Golden eyes were looking at her with an odd shine to them. She felt her cheeks getting hotter and wondered what was that look, but before she could ask, he blinked and looked to the side.

"Keh! What a crazy shrine keeper you are, wench!" he barked. "A-and you better not touch my ears!"

"Kagome?" she could hear her mother's voice from inside. "Can you and your cute youkai friend come in? I found the ice bag and if he wants to I can make him some ramen as a thank you for saving my children tonight."

"Coming!" Kagome called and returned to Inuyasha's side to grab his hand and practically drag the hanyou inside.

If she was going to be the shrine keeper and his mistress, she could be on her own terms.

Chapter Text

Next morning Kagome woke feeling as if she slept only a few minutes. Briefly she wondered if maybe she'd feel better not going back to bed after all the events of the last night.

Her mother had treated the hanyou's cut temple, despite the shrine guardian's grumbling and complaining all the time. As soon as her mother had turned her back on her patient the hanyou had bolted for the safety of the forest. It was then, as Kagome had watched him go, that she had remembered about his battle wounds and limping step from before. She had tried to call him back to check up on those injuries, but her grandpa had stopped her, saying that all Inuyasha had needed was some peace and quiet to rest and recover.

Then her mother came to her side and had told her that she would ask some questions, the next day. That had marked the end of the kitchen meeting and Kagome had gone upstairs to sneak back to her room and under her blankets to get some much needed sleep.

And now she was woken up by a hand gripping her shoulder and shaking her.

"What?" she grumbled groggily as she opened her eyes. The room was full of fresh air and light provided by the opened screen to the engawa. In the light she could see the three girls hovering over her like three bloodthirsty oni.

"Who is he?" they all asked in excited unison.

"Who is who?" Kagome was still too asleep to realize what they were talking about. They already knew her grandfather and brother. Ayumi stood in a Disney princess in love pose with her hands clasped in front of her and eyes unfocused while smiling widely. Yuka and Eri pointed to the outside. All three were still in their pajamas, so it hadn't been long since they were awake. Kagome sighed and crawled out of her futon to go and see what the three wanted. Maybe later she could send them downstairs to make some breakfast so she could get some more sleep? She felt so tired, her limbs heavy and her eyes itching. As she walked the trio went after her.

When she entered the engawa wrapped around this floor of the house like a balcony, she heard some hammering. Frowning in confusion she followed the sound, the three oni giggling behind her for some reason.

Finally Kagome got to a corner in the house and walked past it. And what she saw almost made her fall over the railing.

A foot was hanging over the edge of the roof. It was a very nice foot, rather big and with muscular anke attached to it. One could predict that the shin that was higher was well-defined as well, but that part of the leg was obscured by the fabric of red hakama cuffed right above the ankle.

As if sensing Kagome's stunned gaze on it, the shy foot disappeared behind the roof mere seconds after being spotted. Kagome gaped at the spot where it had been just a moment ago before realizing that the sound of hammering stopped. She cleared her throat and put her hands on the railing.

"Um... Hi?" she addressed the empty space and came closer to the spot where the roof overhead was almost fixed with new tiles. She noticed four deep claw marks across the railing where the shrine guardian had tried to stop his fall the previous night. In the silence she barely heard a soft scoff from above her head and she looked up to see a flash of golden eyes and nails stuck in the mouth of the individual peering carefully down at her. A strand of silver hair floated down over the edge of the roof.

"Wanna a cup of ramen for breakfast?" she inquired after a second. A hand was thrust over the edge of the roof. It was a sinewy, lean arm, with long fingers - two of them were curled up while three were spread as if to make sure that she saw them all. "Three cups?"

"Keh!" a sound almost too soft to hear floated down from the top of the roof. She smiled and stepped back from the railing. Then she turned around.

Three girls' heads were sticking out from behind the corner of the house. Ayumi was on the bottom, with a wide dreamy smile. Yuka and Eri were both looking extremely curious and a bit amused.

For a second Kagome was majorly tempted to run away along the engawa or to call Inuyasha for help, but instead she just straightened her back and started walking towards her room, planning on changing out of her pajama and going downstairs to work on the breakfast.

"Kagome..." Of course first she had to survive the trio's curiosity. At least they waited until they all were behind the corner of the house and the hammering resumed. "So, who is the mystery guy?"

"Is he hot?" asked Yuka.

"Or is this the security officer per chance?" Ayumi looked back when the hammering stopped for a long moment. Kagome briefly wondered if Inuyasha could still hear them. "Will you introduce us?

"Girls!" she lifted her hands in a placating gesture. She really hadn't thought about a way to explain stuff to her friends and now they were all talking and asking questions, and it was all before the first cup of tea. "Just..."

"Is he single? Or is he off-limits?" Yuka pressed, backed by Eri asking more similar questions. Ayumi was just giving her the starved puppy when you open a dog food can look. The young shrine keeper's mouth moved for a second when she tried to come up with an explanation that wouldn't be weird and that would make them not go all seductively on the poor shrine guardian. She had this suspicion he'd bolt in a blink of an eye and never come back if any of them tried to flirt with him.

"He's my boyfriend!" Kagome exclaimed.

In the silence that fell after this declaration Kagome heard the hammer hit one last time and then slide off the tiles of the roof and probably all the way to the ground.

Without thinking too much Kagome fleed tot he bathroom.

Chapter Text

Kagome heaved a long, suffering sigh and then took a few deep breaths to take in the serenity of Inuyasha's Forest, She quickly entered the welcoming serenity of the woods, carefully carrying a lidded pot.

Past hour had been pure hell.

Not only had her friends been pestering her for details on her 'secret relationship', but her mother and grandfather - upon being told the news - had been teasing her mercilessly at the breakfast.

The only good thing had been that Inuyasha had been absent to hear all that. She didn't dare to imagine what it'd be like to survive breakfast with the shrine guardian right there.

'The lengths I go to save your fuzzy ears," she thought as she entered the meadow. She was there to bring Inuyasha his promised ramen - all three cups poured into a pot for easier transportation. She still wasn't sure her hasty confession would really help to keep the girls away from the hanyou. But she hoped it'd be enough and that the skittish boy would not be assaulted by them trying to get to know him better. They would never try to hit on her boyfriend, it wouldn't be right.

But a part of her still yelled at her for calling Inuyasha her boyfriend. They barely knew each other and the boy was probably thinking she was nuts!

"Inuyasha?" she called out in the dappled sunlight of the greens and browns of the forest. The glen looked so otherworldly, so peaceful, she felt better by just breathing the fragrant air smelling of plants and earth. She wasted a moment to just soak in the atmosphere and felt as if the tiredness and tension were washing off of her. For a second she found inner peace, leaving the worries and uncertainties away.

'Here,' the great canine walked out from behind a thick tree, he approached her slowly stepping between the little flowers scattered in the grass and leaves that made up the floor of the meadow. His nose twitched towards the pot in her hands and his long tail wagged, flattening plants as it swayed side to side. 'Food!'

Kagome giggled and nodded, then walked to the foot of the Sacred Tree where she sat the pot on the ground and lifted the lid. The huge canine head nudged her aside, almost knocking her off of her feet. She stumbled and then sat down on a convenient root, that she often used as a stool. It was somewhat easier to talk to him without blushing madly when he was in his canine form and she wondered if it was easier for him as well.

"I take it you like it?" she asked. It was just instant ramen, but she added some extra ingredients like sausage slices and boiled egg to make it taste less artificial. One ear twitched her way, but he didn't pull his nuzzle out of the pot, his tongue swiping noodles into his maw.

'Keh,' was it just her imagination or was his body smaller than a minute before? She frowned and looked at his form, low on wide spread massive paws, tail relaxed and on the ground. Yes, he had shrank, that greedy dog.

'Is it so it's easier to put your nose in the pot?' she wondered. 'You know, you could change, I have chopsticks...'

'Keep 'em.' the canine lifted his head to look at her, chewing on the mouthful of noodles.'Your brother is in the forest.'

It wasn't phrased as a question, but the sideways glance towards the bushes and tilting ears made her think that he was asking if he should hide.

"Stay," she said in a soothing tone of voice. "He's family, he can see you as you are, my friend. Just don't let the girls find out you're..."

'Yeah, yeah, I'm your boyfriend, not a shrine guardian, got it,' he laughed in her mind. A sausage slice dropped from the tangled noodles right on her knee. 'Really, couldn't think of a better explanation?'

"Excuse me! I was trying to make sure they wouldn't come hounding after you!" she glared at him, trying to hold back her blush. He might be a dog right now, but she knew he wasn't, he was a handsome, cute and annoying boy. 'You're too handsome to be left alone, you idiot! And your ears are too cute!'

Her eyes widened at the same time that her hands flew to cover her mouth, heat covering her face. The dog froze with a few stray noodles handing from between his fangs and some of the ramen broth dripping off of them.

The telepathy link they shared wasn't a total bond that would let them in the other's head. Their thoughts and memories weren't immediately known to the other. It merely enabled Inuyasha to communicate with her in his canine form. It also allowed them to talk over some distance, but it wasn't much bigger than a shouting distance would be. It also allowed Kagome talk to him... If she directed her thoughts at him.

"Oh my gods, I thought it out loud," she gasped. Inuyasha looked away, his ears twitching rapidly. He took a small step back and lowered his body closer to the ground, as if unsure what to do. His body grew back to its usual size as he retorted.

'K-keh! Stupid wench, half-breeds ain't handsome,' he forced out, his mental voice strained and a growl coming out of his throat. "And my ears ain't cute! Damn you, I'm a youkai, not a plush toy!'

"You know what, you're right, you aren't cute, not even a bit!" she glared at him in mixture of embarrassment and anger. She picked the sausage slice from her knee and waved it in front of his snout. "And you eat like a slob!"

The 'not cue' ears, previously laid back, kicked forward, golden eyes zeroing on the bit of meat she held. A pink tongue sneaked out from his mouth and the morsel was snatched out of her fingers before she knew what happened. She stared at him with her mouth open, her hand still between them, the miko unsure if she should make an 'awww' or an 'ewww' noise.

Ans that was how Souta found them.

.

 

To be blunt - he wasn't prepared for her. He was glaringly not prepared for her and now he was confused and lost.

He had lived in the shrine almost his whole life. He had spent five centuries serving twenty seven shrine keepers, but he wasn't prepared for the twenty eighth one.

She had came into his life suddenly like a summer rain - the old man had just up and declared retirement, handing the shrine and all attached to it, in her hands.

She had been raised away from the shrine and when she had been visiting earlier he had never paid her much attention, preferring to stay away from humans in general. But when she had came to take her grandfather's place, she had brought changes Inuyasha had never expected to come.

Oh, he had had reasonably friendly shrine keepers. He had had clueless ones that hadn't been trained before taking up the mantle. But never in his life had had he one not carrying even a bit of fear of him.

She came into his life like a tsunami tide, turning the order he knew upside down. How was he supposed to act around her now? She seemed not only to not fear him, she was actively seeking his company just for sake of spending time with him.

As if she was blind to the fact that - shrine guardian or not - he was a half-breed, an abomination that was granted sanctuary and a safe place in this world only because he swore to obey and protect, giving the kotodama of his name to her.

She was crazy, this brave, clueless, clumsy, lovely, nicely smelling wench, she had to be for bringing so many changes into his life without even trying.

She was breaking all the order, changing the laws installed by her ancestors. She gave him food, worried about him when a storm came, while her ancestors had been content with making sure he could take care of himself by himself. She granted him the permission to enter the home, to wander freely through the shrine grounds as long as his ears were covered, she even let an outsider - her mother - learn about him.

...That woman's hands had been so gentle when they stroked his ears, he couldn't remember anyone doing that in his entire life since his mother's passing...

And then she went and declared him her boyfriend. Oh, he knew it was a lie, but the mere thought that a lowly hanyou could enter any kind of romantic relationship with a human... He knew what a boyfriend meant - her grandfather had had explained it to him when her father had started dating her mother years ago.

When she came with the food for him he approached her in his dog form, thinking that it'd feel less awkward. He was still unsure what to think and it looked like every time he twitched his ears she was doing or saying something to throw him off balance. It was annoying, the feeling of unpredictability, but at the same time he was feeling as if he was allowed to run through a wild forest for the first time in his life.

He pushed her away with his snout, he growled at her and there was still no trace of fear in her scent. She sat next to an inu youkai and never thought how dangerous he was. She even had the audacity to argue with him. He had thought that after witnessing him fighting she'd learn, but apparently she was too dense. Maybe next time he should tear a youkai to shreds in front of her?

But... Did he want her to fear him? To distance herself from him, like almost all others had done before? To call him only when she needed his assistance? To hesitate before touching him? Or did he want to explore this new wild forest, find out where the path of the tsunami wave led? Did he want to trust her?

And just then, when she was yelling at him, smelling embarrassed and nervous, but not for the right reasons, he went and licked her hand like a dumb dog he was.

But there was a good side to it - she got quiet and was now just staring at him, blushing madly. The bad side was he was probably more embarrassed than she was.

And - of course - that was when the order of things was breached once more.

"Komainu..." breathed out a new voice. Inuyasha leaped to face the newcomer, snarling, his head low as he readied himself to pounce. But it was just the boy, Kagome's brother. He looked pale - paler when he saw Inuyasha's reaction - but unharmed.

"Inuyasha, don't hurt him," Kagome hissed, her hand grasping the ruff of fur around his neck. It was an order, but he wasn't going to attack the young Higurashi anyway.

Of course it was all the wench's fault - she had ordered him to allow the other Higurashi family members to see him. And now he was to somehow interact with this creature. His ears laid back he glared at them both.

And now the boy was staring at him with those eyes shining with child-like awe Inuyasha knew. Many others of his family had looked at him like this, at least until they had witnessed him in battle and other youkai harming humans.

He remembered pushing Kagome out of the well-house and leaping to tear this same boy our of the youkai's grasp.

"You... You are the man in red," Souta said after a moment, watching the tense dog that was much bigger than any mortal canine. The dog's head bobbled in confirmation. "Thanks for saving me."

"Souta, this is Inuyasha, he's the shrine guardian and my partner," Kagome said.

'I thought I was your boyfriend,' he jibed and got his fur pulled.

"Oh, hush, you!" Kagome grumbled, looking away. Souta carefully approached, never turning his admiring gaze away from the inu youkai crouched beside his sister. At her words he blinked and tilted his head, so the girl explained. "He can't really talk in this form, so he uses telepathy.
"
"Wow, cool!" Souta turned towards Inuyasha. "Can you talk to me too?"

'No, kid,' Inuyasha shook his head, knowing only Kagome could hear him. She passed his reply to the boy, who pouted.

"That's not fair, why does she get a cool youkai companion?" he grumbled.

'Gods help me, is no one in this family sane anymore?' Inuyasha lifted his eyes to where the inner shrine was located, as if looking for the mountain deity to answer. The deity, of course, didn't bother.

Chapter Text

Kagome should have known it was going to happen. It wasn't like she hadn't had all the data needed to come to a correct conclusion.

But in the light of an awkward talk with the shrine guardian and then Inuyasha meeting with her brother kinda made her forget. It had been pretty amusing to see Souta look at the clearly unnerved hanyou with those shining eyes. After all, Inuyasha was his savior from the vile youkai's clutches. It had been pretty amusing to watch the poor hanyou try and not show how anxious he was getting with Souta's blizzard of questions. Kagome had tried to keep her brother's excitement at bay, not wanting for Inuyasha to be overwhelmed, still she giggled when the hanyou had put his hair in a messy bun on top of his head to hide his ears.

Souta ran out from the shadow of the trees, smiling and beckoning them to follow. He was still a bit pale, but otherwise it seemed that he was back to his old self after the events of the last night. Kagome returned his smile, simply happy her little brother was alright.

"Come on, komainu," the boy called. "I'll show you my favorite..."

"Don't call me that, kid," Inuyasha grumbled as he caught the boy by his shoulders and turned him around to face the shrine building and the two statues guarding it. "These two are komainu."

"Well yeah but they're made after you," Kagome teased.

"Keh," the hanyou shrugged and ignored the renewed spark of adoration in Souta's eyes. The youth latched onto his hand, just like Kagome not afraid to grab the clawed hand of the supernatural being, and pulled him towards where Mrs. Higurashi's car was parked. Kagome watched the poor hanyou being dragged away from her, a soft smile on her lips. She knew her family could be a handful, but she hoped that their acceptance would make this boy less lonely.

Kagome stopped near the side of the well house, good ten meters away from the car, and watched her brother crawling in the vehicle, Inuyasha bending his head down to stick it inside, probably to better behold the thing the boy wanted to show him. Knowing Souta it was the newest volume of One Piece, stashed in the back pocket of the seat. Kagome wondered if Inuyasha had even before been inside a car. The vision of the boy with his head stuck out of the window of a moving car, his tongue hanging out of his mouth, his hair windblown and his ears perked and eyes twinkling in excitement popped into her head and she double checked to make sure that she wouldn't send this image to Inuyasha.

The miko didn't notice three shadows joining hers on the ground in front of her until it was too late.

"So, Ka-go-me, to whom belongs this magnificent behind?" Eri inquired casually. Cold sweat covered Kagome's brow when she felt Eri's hand on her shoulder. She was almost too afraid to look to the side at the three grinning harpies ogling the back end of the hanyou.

'Oh, shit.'

Kagome wasn't sure if it was hers or Inuyasha's thought, or maybe they both had thought that at the same moment. One thing was for sure - the feelings attached to those two little words were panic and anxiety. And more than a bit of annoyance. His youki swirled in tight coils, as if he was ready to fight or flee at any moment.

"Uh..." Kagome grunted when Yuka patted her shoulder and started walking towards the car. 'Run!'

"Don't worry, we just want to say hi to him," she said, looking towards the car with a bit less playful gaze than their friends.

'Like how? You wanna me being a youkai to be a secret, no? I can't just bolt or teleport!'

'...Wait, you can teleport?...' between the panicked thoughts flying between them a vision of Inuyasha doing the same move Goku from Dragon Ball Z as he teleported came to her mind - even with the right sound. Maybe she had watched too much anime with her brother...

'Focus, wench!'

Ayumi bounced after Yuka, followed by Eri. It seemed all three were eager to meet the owner of the red-clad behind sticking out of the car. A terrible image of the trio tackling Inuyasha to the ground to stroke his hair and play with his ears came to her mind. Oh no, she had to save the ears! Especially because she herself haven't had a chance to play with them yet!

But it was already too late, Yuka and Eri reached the car.

"Hello?" Eri called out in a warm, merry voice.

'Inuyasha, try to be nice!' was all Kagome managed to think to him before he straightened his back and turned to face the curious trio. He was scowling, but she wasn't sure if it was because of the command or of the three girls invading his personal bubble. He hid his hands in his sleeves as he sized them all up.

"What do you want?"

"You're the guard here, right?" asked Yuka, her hands on her hips.

"Oh, wow, you have cool eyes." Ayumi gasped in awe, staring intently in his face.

"Do you dye your hair? Can I touch it?"

All three spoke in the same time and the approaching Kagome was sure their eyes were shining. Eri, who spoke about his hair, reached a hand, eager to touch a forelock that covered the place where no human ear was to be found. Inuyasha flinched away from her.

"Keep your clammy hands to yourself, girl!"

"Oh, how rude!" she gasped.

"And grabbing at strangers isn't rude?" he growled and glared at the other two. "And I'm not a thing to be ogled! And yes, I'm a guard here, so better notpiss me off!"

"Inuyasha..." Kagome decided to jump to action before a real shit could hit the fan. "Let me introduce my friends, Yuka, Eri and Ayumi," she smiled as she weaseled her way between the hanyou and the aforementioned girls. She glanced up to him to make sure he wouldn't shout at her for invading his personal space even more than them, but saw a somewhat relieved look in his eyes. 'He must feel cornered, standing pressed against the side of the car and with them surrounding us... Still, I'm glad he tries to act civil and not run away.' Even his youki seemed to be less agitated."Girls, this is Inuyasha..."

"Your boyfriend, right? So, how long are you two together? How did you two meet?" it sounded as if they had rehearsed this, because they spoke in unison.

And then the unthinkable happened.

"We’ve known each other for a while. After all I've been the guardian at the shrine for a long time and she used to spend her vacations here."

Kagome gaped at the man standing just beside her. He sounded almost pleasant, but his body language told her he was still wary and tense. Ayumi clasped her hands together, stars reappearing in her eyes. 'Doomed by one sentence...' Kagome thought.

"Ah, a vacation love then!"

"Kagome, why didn't you tell us?" Yuka exclaimed in disbelief. "We were supposed to tell such things to each other!"

"Uh... Wells..."

"I asked her not to." 'Saved by one sentence!' Kagome smiled at the sound of this simple explanation and gave an enthusiastic nod.

"You know, Inuyasha here isn't too extroverted and he prefers to keep his private life a secret," Kagome said with a wink. The expressions on the girls' faces showed that they accepted their explanations and Kagome sighed in relief. She didn't like to lie, especially to her friends, but there was no way to predict how they'd react to the truth.

"So, Inuyasha, what about this burglar, did you get them?" Yuka asked.

"Burglar?" Inuyasha tilted his head like a confused puppy. 'We told them that the ruckus last night was due to a would-be thief,' Kagome quickly informed the boy. "Keh, it's been taken care of, don't worry about it."

"So, guys, what are you up to?" Kagome asked the trio. "Wanna do something fun or just see around the shrine? The forest part is pretty big, so better try to stay near the edge," she warned.

"To be honest, we wanted to mix seeing around the shrine and searching for your secret boyfriend, but since we already found him..." Eri put a finger to her chin. "Let's get to know Inuyasha better.."

"Not gonna happen," Inuyasha grumbled. "I already wasted enough time with you," Inuyasha declared, his youki rising at the prospect of being interrogated by three too loud and too curious girls.

"Wait, where are you going? We have questions!" the girls complained

"And I have a job!" the boy barked back, not even turning to look at them.

"Inu..." Kagome reached a hand, but he was already stomping towards the forest. 'Don't leave me alone with them!'

'Don't try my patience, wench,' she heard his voice in his head. 'I shouldn't be seen by outsiders at all, so consider me staying with those airheads for so long a payback for the ramen.'

"That was so rude!"Eri put her hands on her hips, glaring after the hanyou. "Leaving us so abruptly!"

"Oh, don't mind him he's just busy," Kagome smiled brightly at her. "He wants to check the whole grounds before the visitors come in."

"Ah, so he's gruff, but dutiful," Ayumi returned Kagome's smile. "I kinda imagined you would go for a silent, cool type, Kagome."

"Come on, Ayumi, it's plain as day he isn't the cool type," Yuka shook her head. "I bet he's a hothead. And to think you choose him over the kind, nice Hojo, Kagome..."

"But look how focused he is on making sure our Kagome here is safe," Ayumi giggled. "And he sure is more handsome than Hojo."

The miko blushed and looked after Inuyasha with envy. After all, he wasn't going to play the game of dodging her friends' questions without lying too much anymore.

She didn't notice that Yuka stopped giggling with the rest and looked towards the forest as well, frowning a little. She also didn't notice her brother skipping towards the house to find their mother and tell her what he had witnessed.

Chapter Text

It had been a lovely day. They had met the rude guy who was supposed to be Kagome's boyfriend. He looked acceptable, even if exotic with his pale hair and eyes. He was rather unkind and Yuka hadn't liked his attitude towards them when they had met, but during their brief encounter she had felt as if there was no need to worry about Kagome. She wouldn't allow her dear, kind friend to be a victim of a violent man, but this Inuyasha seemed like he was just an antisocial introvert with a rough demeanor, not a brute. She had noticed that as soon as Kagome had joined them he had seemed to relax a bit, so she guessed he had been so unkind and had left them so fast because of being startled.

Still, even long after this encounter, Yuka felt that something had been wrong about that boy. It wasn't his attitude, nor his odd looks. There was something different - sadly she hadn't had a chance to interact with him again, since he hadn't showed up for the rest of the day.

She had let it go and just enjoyed her time with her friends, talking and helping Kagome around the house, laughing and letting Kagome show them around.

But now, as she rested on her futon in Kagome's room, listening to the others breathing deeply in sleep, the memory of the encounter with the shrine guardian came back to her mind and kept her awake. 'It felt as if the air itself around him was changing thickness,' she wondered, looking at the ceiling. 'When I stood right next to him it felt as if something hot and charged was surrounding him, pressing against me.' This was of course, stupid, there was no logical explanation of this other than that she was wary of the man that had been secretly dating Kagome. She was just an overprotective friend and that was why she felt unsettled around the stranger who seemed to be pretty close with her friend.

Even thinking about her was making her feel something similar again, the feeling of heat pushing at her skin, causing goosebumps to cover her arms. She carefully sat up and made her way outside of the room. Armed with a flashlight she made her way to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water before she went through the shoji to the porch to breathe some cool air and drink her water.

Sometimes stargazing helped her collect her thoughts and then fall asleep faster.

As she sat on the wooden floor, watching the stars twinkling over the dark forest, the sickle of the moon high overhead, she froze with her glass halfway towards her mouth.

Something pale left the forest.

As it entered the dim moonlight Yuka blinked in shock - it was an old woman dressed in miko robes just like Kagome's. She was walking through the grass towards the old well house. One of her eyes was covered and she held something wrapped in white cloth in her hand. Beside her, dressed in the red kimono from before, but with his hair falling down his back, walked Inuyasha.

"Can you move any slower?" the man complained.

"Weaving a spell like this takes a lot of energy and it's still not finished, Inuyasha. You should finally learn some patience," the old woman scolded in a tired, but kind voice. Yuka felt the fine hairs on the nape of her nexck stand straight as she watched the pair.

"Keh, just hurry up."

Yuka frowned. 'A spell? Who exactly was this woman? Kagome had never mentioned her before...' What was going on? Was it maybe some secret ritual? But if it was a shrine affair shouldn't Kagome or her grandfather be present? Or... Maybe it was linked to the 'burglary attempt' from the previous night? Yuka put her glass under the wall. It would explain her feeling of something being amiss. She often had those feelings and rarely was wrong - no matter if they concerned a newly met person or a gamble. And right now her sixth sense was telling her something was really not normal.

She waited for the pair to climb up the few stairs and disappear in the darkness of the well house, thinking what she should do. Should she call Kagome and expose them? Was it safe? Maybe it'd be better to record their actions and then use the video as a proof? Who knew what a criminal could do to make sure a witness couldn't talk about their shady deeds?

She returned to the kitchen where she found Kagome's camera from where they had been taking photos earlier this day. She grabbed it from the counter and sneaked towards the well house, carefully peering inside and pointing the camera towards the inside of the building.

The shadowy place was lit - but not by lamps or candles. An eerie glow seemed to radiate from the old woman who was standing in front of the well. From the place from where Yuka was looking at her she couldn't see her feet. Inuyasha was standing a bit to the side, observing the woman as she waved a branch with little bells tied to it above the well.

"You know, it should be the current Higurashi who should do it," the woman muttered.

"She will, but later. I wanted to make sure the seals won't let go at the first touch of youki. From any side," the man crossed his arms in front of him. Yuka bit her bottom lip. She didn't understand what they were saying or doing, but it was sure something that shouldn't be done without the shrine keeper's consent. And judging by the fact that they were doing it in the middle of the night Yuka could bet any money on that they haven't told Kagome or her grandfather about this. One thing was for sure - this guard dude wasn't as trustworthy as Kagome thought he was. "Just a while ago I had to kill a whole flock of corpse crows."

'Corpse crows? Kill? What's he talking about?' Yuka frowned. Maybe it was some kind of code?

"Not taking any chances, eh?" the woman chuckled. "You seem more focused on making sure that the current Higurashi is safe than you used to be."

"It's not my fault she doesn't know shit. Now stop babbling and just focus on the work, old hag," he barked. Yuka almost dropped her camera when a sudden movement drew her attention to the top of his head.

A pair of pointy dog ears twitched there.

"Ah," ignoring the growling of the man beside her the old woman chuckled. "You are just as you were when Nobunaga's army laid siege over the Buddhist monastery and..."

"Old woman...." Yuka was snapped out of her daze staring at the ears - now kicked back and almost hid in the unruly mane of hair - when he lifted a hand and flexed his fingers, long claw-like nails shining in the eerie light. This odd sensation of something hot pressing against her skin returned. This... creature... whatever he was, he was dangerous. The old miko ignored his anger yet again as she swiped the branch over the well for the last time. The eerie light faded almost entirely.

"See? Done, there was no need to get all impatient and agitated, Inuyasha." she said and rested her hands on the well as if to support herself. "Now, will you help this old woman get home?"

"Feh, let me check it first," the man said in a low voice. Yuka gasped when he leaped forward and with a shout slashed at the wooden lid covering the well. Yellow light flashed on his claws and a pearly glow rose from the lid in a short flash. With a hiss the man jumped back, his hand hid in his voluminous sleeve.

"So, Inuyasha, is my barrier a ghost of its former glory, or is it strong enough to pass your test?" the old lady laughed.

"Damn, that hurts!" he grumbled. "Fine, I'll bring you home, but first..."

Yuka realized that somehow she had given away that she was crouched behind the doors of the building when she saw the blazing yellow eyes turning her way. The sense of foreboding rose in her once more, a bile of cold fear in her throat. With a short cry she turned to run,but before the chase even started it was over. Yuka never had a chance to even leap over the stairs to the well house, a strong arm wrapping around her waist and pulling her back, another hand clasping over her mouth before she could yell for help.

Claws brushed against her cheek when her back collided with a firm body behind her. She tried to struggle, but it was in vain, she was brought inside the dark well house, to where the old woman was standing, looking at her with mild concern.

'Did you think I wouldn't smell you?" Yuka froze when she heard his voice next to her ear. "Did you think I wouldn't hear you?

Yuka bit the hand covering her mouth.

"Fuck!" he hissed and pulled her tighter against himself, growling louder.

"Don't harm her, Inuyasha," the old woman's voice was calm as she approached.

"Just do it before I lose my patience," the man demanded. Yuka turned her frightened eyes at the old woman. Was she going to kill her? And she couldn’t even defend herself, the man was holding her tightly and not giving her any chance to fight back.

"Poor child," the woman said softly and touched Yuka's shoulder. The girl froze, the touch was cold as ice and made her shiver. "Do not fear, I won’t harm you."

'Yeah, right,' was the last thing Yuka thought before the old woman put her other hand against her forehead... And then the cool fingers sank into her head and the girl lost consciousness, slumping in Inuyasha's hold. The camera she held fell out of her limp fingers.

.

When Mrs. Higurashi was driving away from the shrine, Yuka sat on the back seat with her friends and still felt a mild headache, probably caused by all the excitement of the past two days. She looked back to see Kagome and her grandfather standing in the open gate, waving goodbye and smiling. She waved back and smiled, then she saw something white.

It was the shrine guard Inuyasha holding the gate wing open. He hesitantly lifted his free hand and gave a small wave too, looking unsure and timid. She smiled. The man looked so strong and rough most of the time and then was so shy, it was so adorable.

'You better be nice to Kagome, or Eri, Ayumi and I will have your head,' she thought, half joking and half serious.

Still, there was something... missing... or something... that shouldn't be there, and she couldn't figure out what.

Chapter Text

Kagome woke up with the sound of birds singing outside. She opened her eyes lazily and spent a while just stretching and battling her unwillingness to get out of the bed. She closed her eyes just for a moment.

And then the worst thing happened.

She had the most annoying dream there was - one in which she actually got up, dressed and readied herself for the day. She even went to prepare breakfast in the dream and realized it was not real when she found Inuyasha perched on top of the fridge and playing a cover of 'My Heart Will Go On' on an acoustic guitar.

The young woman woke up giggling and it took her a moment to realize she was still in bed. With a resigned sigh she got up to do the things she had already done in her sleep. Still, the image of the gruff shrine guardian singing that song was enough to make her smile when she finally got downstairs. Of course, upon entering the kitchen she didn't find the said boy.

Instead she found her grandfather pouring water into a cup of instant noodles. The girl shook her head and didn't comment of the old man's choice of food for this one time. 'Is it any wonder Inuyasha likes to eat this stuff so much? He must have picked this habit from years with grandpa,' she thought as she hurried to prepare a coffee for herself.

The day was rather uneventful after all the excitement of the weekend with her family and friends. They performed their respective duties around the shrine, offering guidance and suggesting purchases in the little gift shop for the handful of visitors. They were mostly locals wanting to offer prayer to the kami, but there were also a couple of tourists, who requested to be led to the famous ancient tree that grew in the forest part of the shrine grounds.

Kagome was the one who led them down the narrow path in the dappled light of the forest. They were talking and snapping photos of the beautiful trees. At first she was half-bent on asking them not to take any photos, afraid they could point their cameras at a certain hanyou, but after a few minutes she realized that the shrine guardian was nowhere in sight. She took a deep inhale of the rich in scents air and relaxed her tense shoulders.

They reached the Sacred Tree and the tourists took their photos, amazed by the sheer size of the ancient tree. Kagome smiled at them, remembering how excited she had been when she had seen the Tree for the first time. She remembered herself as a kid, climbing on the roots, grasping at the bark of the tree, dancing in the light and shadows cast by the sunlight and shade of the leaves swaying overhead.

'Wait a minute, was Inuyasha watching me back then?' she immediately looked up, part of her expecting to see the hanyou crouched on a branch. She sighed, not entirely sure if she wanted to know the answer to this question. She had been a kid back then, it wasn't like she was acting silly now.

Seeing that the tourists were done taking pictures, she waved for them to follow her back.

"Better not get lost in this forest. There are wild animals lurking here," she warned. It was the common knowledge, but it was best to remind people that it was not a park in a city, but a real mountain forest. Sure, it was safe near the shrine and the village nearby, but otherwise it was dangerous for unprepared wanderers.

"Is it true that yama inu, a huge mountain dog spirit lives around here?" asked one of the tourists, a blonde girl with chubby cheeks. "I heard people in the village telling stories about a humongous canine youkai..."

"Uh..." Kagome glanced in her wide, bright eyes and smiled, thinking about the one the folk tale was referring to. Luckily, she had an answer to questions like this one prepared. After all, she had heard some of the stories, but back then she hadn't known they were about Inuyasha. "There are many stories about the yama inu of this mountain. It is best not to anger the mountain dog spirit by disrespecting his domain."

Judging by the looks on their faces, the tourists thought that it was just a superstition. 'Oh, how little you know about the sulking dog guardian of the shrine,' Kagome giggled inside as she led them back When they left the forest Kagome bid them goodbye and went to check if her grandfather needed anything at the gift shop. To her surprise, the shop was closed, with a sign indicating that it'd be reopened shortly. Frowning, the young woman walked towards the house and as she neared it she heard her grandfather's voice coming from behind the corner. When she got there she saw her grandfather sitting on the raised porch with another man at his side.

"It's better be tea in those cups, grandfather," she murmured as she paced towards the two old men. Knowing Hiro Higurashi it could be sake, the old man didn't drink much, but liked to treat guests to a cup of it while enjoying the fresh mountain air and lovely sight one could look at from the engawa of the living room.

"Here she comes," her grandfather smiled and waved a hand at her. "Mr Hashira, this is my granddaughter, Kagome. She's the shrine keeper now, while I enjoy my retirement."

Mr Hashira was one of those tiny, thin old people with nose like a beak of a bird of prey and matching eyes, that were now sizing her up. Kagome offered a polite bow when she stopped in front of the engawa.

"Pleasure to meet you," she said. The man bobbled his head.

"She doesn't look like a strong reiki user," he commented, turning to Kagome's grandfather. Kagome's smile vanished and she straightened her back, trying to look aloof and not tell the man what she thought of his rudeness.

"I can assure you that she's more than capable," the older Higurashi replied calmly and smiled at her. "Kagome, Mr Hashira came today to request spiritual assistance of our shrine."

"What's the matter?" Kagome blinked and glanced at the man with curiosity. The tone her grandfather used suggested he didn't have in mind a regular request of blessing or purifying.

"Something lives in my koi fish pond," the thin visitor said with a grimace. The way he said 'something' sounded like he was spitting the word. "And it's scaring my fish. I'd prefer a real priest to take care of it, not a girl with milk under her nose."

The cup he held in his hand cracked in half, sake spilling on his lap.

"Goodness!" Kagome gasped. Was this man's disdain so great he couldn't contain himself and spare the delicate cup? Her grandfather produced out of his sleeve a pack of tissues and offered them to the stunned man, who in silence did what he could to dry himself with one hand, holding the two halves of the cup in his other hand.

"A bad sign," he muttered. "This is a sign from the heavens that..."

"I think," Hiro cut in in a perfectly serene voice. "I think it's more like the heavens not appreciating your disbelief in Kagome's abilities. Better not to anger the deity more and accept her assistance."

'Keh, stupid old fart,' muttered a suspicious smug voice in Kagome's head.

Chapter Text

Mr Hashira was staring with his mouth slightly opened. Kagome glanced awkwardly downwards, not sure what to say to the old man, who just a minute ago had left his ancient car in front of his house to find the young miko sitting on the grass near the gate to his yard.

She knew what he was thinking - he was wondering how she managed to be here before him when she had still been at the shrine when he had left a half of an hour ago.

The simple answer to this was Inuyasha. The more elaborate one included her not wanting to suffer the ride in the old man's car and Inuyasha simply and silently offering her his back instead. It also included a dash through the mountain forest, with leaps over ditches and zigzagging between trees. The time between arriving and seeing Mr Hashira's car she had spent pulling twigs and leaves out of her hair and trying to smooth it.

And, of course, trying to figure out how to explain her appearance here.

'Easy,' Inuyasha said from his spot somewhere up a tree branch or on a rooftop. 'Don't let him ask about it.' It sounded like a good advice, so as soon as Kagome saw the man's mouth open she offered him a wide smile.

"So, Mr Hashira, where is the pond? For how long have you had the problem with it?" she asked. The old man glared at her and opened the gate, letting her in.

"Follow me, let's get this over with," he grumbled. "It crawled in a few days ago and since then my fish rarely dare to leave the shelter of the decorative reeds."

Kagome nodded, walking with the man around the house towards a lovely and well-kept little traditional garden with cherry trees and bonsai plants. It seemed that the unpleasant man really liked his garden.

"I think it's a kappa," the man continued, leading her to a pond..

This is when it finally hit her. She was supposed to... do something... to make the creature in the pond... disappear from it.

And she had no clue what it'd be and how she should handle it.

Her step faltered and a shiver ran down her spine when this realization came to her mind. She could do normal things, but would they work on a real youkai? She had no weapon and no sacred items to aid her in her work on top of not having any idea what that should be. Should she just pray and hope the youkai would go away? Or try and purify the pond? Use an exorcism? She had some sacred talismans, but would they work? Something told her that asking the old man would only make him laugh at her and say something like 'I knew you couldn't handle this'.

'Um... Inuyasha...?' she started tentatively when the old man stopped walking, pointing at the part of the pond where the reeds grew and where the fishes were probably hidden. The whole body of water was round and not more than six meters in diameter. It didn't look too deep.

'Yeah, wench?' came Inuyasha's reply, the hanyou nowhere in sight. Something in his tone suggested he had been waiting for her call, amused and enjoying the uncertainty in her mind voice.

'Can you... Uh... What am I supposed to do?'

Her answer was a wicked snicker. Anger boiled in her when she realized that he was actually enjoying the situation she was in and that it was probably going to be tricky to enlist his help. 'Idiot.;

'Takes one to insult someone who could actually help you right now,' came his mildly annoyed, but still mostly amused, reply.

'Uh...' Kagome bit her bottom lip, knowing that he was right, it was stupid to insult him right now. 'Well... How to make him...'

'I know what you should do,' he spoke in her mind again. 'But it will be pretty fun to just let you figure it out while the old fart glares.'

One glance in the direction of the said man told Kagome that he was really glaring at her, his expression showing his impatience and annoyance with the young girl just staring at his pond instead of doing something. In panic she clasped her hands as if in a prayer.

"Um, could I get some space?" she asked, hoping the man would go away and quit staring, so she could figure out what to do. She swallowed, praying he wouldn't throw a rude comment at her and decide to stay to make sure she wouldn't do anything to his fish. "I need to focus my reiki."

'If he goes away maybe Inuyasha would come out of his hiding,' she hoped. The old man looked her up and down before he gave a short nod.

"Higurashi prefers to have no witnesses to his work as well. Call me if you need me," he grumbled and walked towards his house, oblivious to the relieved and surprised expression on Kagome's face.

'Keh, so you managed to bite off your tail, wench. Not bad,' Inuyasha commented. Kagome looked around, but she couldn't see him.

'Come out?' she suggested with a hint of hope. Standing alone in a stranger's garden, next to a haunted pond, felt weird.

'No way, he can see you through a window,' the hanyou crushed her hope of having him at her side.

'Oh,' she frowned and swallowed again. 'So... What am I supposed to do? I can't throw salt in the water, right?'

'Better not. It could get ill from it.'

'You know, you could just tell me what to do and we could be done and back home,' she grumbled, clenching her fists. She didn't even know in which direction to glare, so she glared at the pond. He was acting just like Souta, holding the last few cookies just beyond her reach. She thought about her options. She could yell at the shrine guardian, which wouldn't help her any, or she should use the route she always used when she wanted her brother to do something for her and she couldn't blackmail him.

'Say, Inuyasha...' she started in a smooth, serene voice. 'I'd make you ramen...'

'Feh!' the hanyou scoffed.

'Playing hard to sway, huh?' she thought to herself and continued. 'With beef and chicken, and with all the ingredients you might want...'

There was no scoffing this time. Inuyasha liked his ramen, but he seemed to love his meat. She tried to hide her victorious smile when a moment later she heard his voice in her head again. It didn't sound amused this time, it was the voice of a starving man ordering his first meal in days.

'Three bowls? And with extra boiled egg...?'

'Of course,' she gave a small nod. Inside she was dancing a happy dance. Some instant ramen didn't sound like a big price to pay for his assistance. She made a mental note to herself to ask her grandfather about performing the 'extra duties' she was supposed to. She didn't want to go through this again.

'Feh, I'll tell you, but you better make the ramen today, wench,' when she nodded again, the boy's voice whispered in her mind. 'Kneel by the pond and touch the water. Act calm and don't move more. You can try and let your reiki gather in your hand. It's skittish, so don't overdo it.'

Kagome blinked in surprise, but followed his words, dipping her fingertips in the cool water, causing little ripples to form and spread across the surface. 'A skittish kappa...?' she wondered, focusing on her spiritual energy and telling it to move down her arm. The tips of her fingers glowed a little. She wasn't very good with using reiki, since she had never had much reason to train and meditate, but she had this suspicion she had to get strong and proficient with using it soon.

'It's not a kappa.' Inuyasha grumbled. 'The old fart knows shit. A kappa would never settle here. Actually I'm shocked this one is here, but I guess it got unlucky.'

Kagome didn't listen to him insulting the man again, she was more focused on staring at the creature that swam from the bottom of the pond towards her fingers, moving cautiously, but curiously forward.

It was a sea horse... Or something very similar to one. It was no bigger than her hand, looked fragile and had pearly scales. In the sunlit water it seemed to shimmer. Its fins looked as delicate as butterfly wings. When it was mere centimeters away from her fingers it stopped moving, Kagome felt as if its sapphire eyes were sizing her up.

"What is this?" she whispered, not wanting to scare the animal that looked more like a piece of jewelry than a living being.

"A baby dragon." Kagome turned her head to see Inuyasha standing behind her, a plastic bucket in his hand. He smirked at her, one ear cocked towards the house. She turned her wide eyes towards the little creature in the pond to find it gone. "I spooked it. Here, lure it to this bucket and we can go home. And don't tell the human what it is. Tell him you exorcised the kappa or whatever."

"Why not?" she cocked her head at him.

"He might want to eat the little guy. Humans think they can become immortal or get magic powers by eating dragon meat," Inuyasha shrugged. "Figured out you wouldn't like that."

"Yeah, I wouldn't want that," Kagome nodded and grabbed the bucked from his hand. As soon as she held onto it, Inuyasha leaped off of the ground and swiftly returned to the roof of the house, from where he was observing her. She guessed he came down only because he was sure the old man wasn't spying on her from behind a curtain at this moment. It was better to get the baby dragon out of the pond quickly.

Kagome turned towards the water and put the bucket in it, holding it with both hands and trying to put some of her reiki in it. Judging by Inuyasha's words, the tiny creature was drawn to spiritual energy and calmness, so if she just managed to stay still and...

She opened her eyes she didn't know she had closed when she felt something rub against her skin. The pearly nuzzle touched her knuckle and the sapphire eyes glanced up at her as it to gauge her reaction. She smiled at the cute thing.

"It's okay. I know Inuyasha can look scary, but he's harmless," she promised, ignoring the disgruntled grunt in her mind. "We're here to help. Get in the bucket and I'll bring you to my shrine, okay?"

The baby dragon tilted its head as if unsure of her words or not understanding her. But after a moment of her not moving a muscle, the little creature got braver and swam inside the bucket where the water was a bit warmer and purer. Kagome waited a few moments before carefully lifting the vessel out of the pond, keeping it almost full of water. The baby dragon swam in a circle before it looked at her, as if alarmed.

"I know, it's tiny," she cooed, moving the bucket closer to her face. "But it won't take long and you'll be safe."

'Move, before the old fart leaves the bathroom,' Inuyasha warned. 'Put the bucket behind that tree over there before he sees you.'

The miko nodded and hurried to the nearest cherry tree to hide the container. She smiled at the baby dragon before she returned to the pond and assumed a praying position. When the shrine guardian gave her a hint that she was being watched again, she pulled out of her sleeve a paper talisman, charged it with her reiki and threw it in the water. It glowed faintly for a moment before the paper got wet.

After this little performance she turned towards the house and managed to make a handful of steps before Mr. Hashira approached her.

"I'm done," she said. The old man eyed her and then looked at the pond where the wet slip of paper was being nibbled at by curious fish.

"So it looks like. I must confess, I didn't believe a mere girl could perform such a task," he muttered. Kagome shrugged and accepted an envelope he produced out of his pocket.

"If you need any spiritual assistance in the future, come to the shrine," she said and bowed her head before putting the envelope away and turning to leave.

As soon as she was out of sight from the house, and in the shelter of the forest surrounding the village where it stood, Inuyasha in his mortal dog form and size joined her, the bucket hanging from his mouth.

"You got the dragon," she smiled and peered into the water to see the little creature eyeing the canine spirit. "Don't worry, little one, you're safe"

'Better take the bucket before it gets upset enough to cause rain,' Inuyasha turned his head towards her. 'I can't carry you back, the water will spill if I run.'

"Uh," Kagome took the bucket handle from between the dog's fangs with no thought about how sharp and deadly they were. "I guess we will have a long walk ahead of us then. It's fine."

The dog nodded and walked beside her like an obedient pet that didn't need a leash or a command to stay by her side, ignoring all the interesting sounds and scents of the forest. His pointed ears were perked and swiveling on top of his head like radars. Kagome smiled at him and then at the little dragon, that was now calmer, glancing up at her with innocent curiosity.

She wondered how she was going to explain to her grandfather that now they were going to have to take care of a dragon.

Chapter Text

The walk home was a rather uneventful one, but it sure was long and tiring. Kagome always thought she was rather fit, but walking uphill for so long, part of the way traveled by a road and part down narrow and uneven forest paths, And the pace Inuyasha set was almost too much for her after first half an hour of walking. The air in the forest was humid, heavy with heat and scents, almost drugging and luring into drowsiness.

But finally, she managed to get home. She was sweaty and panting after the hike, but she was at the shrine again. Inuyasha led her out of the forest and towards the back of the house, as quiet as he had been for almost the entire walk. Overhead the hot summer sun got obscured by heavy clouds that had been the reason for Kagome not to complain about the brisk pace of their walk, it wouldn't be nice to get caught in the rain.

"Okay, I need to go to the bathroom," Kagome put the bucket on the engawa and climbed up on to it herself. When she took off her shoes and walked inside to put them away before going to the bathroom, Inuyasha leaped at the wooden floor of the engawa to stay guard over the little dragon. The baby seemed to be asleep, drifting near the center of its container, its eyes closed. For the entire walk she had been letting her reiki purify the water, Inuyasha had suggested it as a means to calm the little creature and keep it strong. Of course, exerting spiritual power had been only adding to her fatigue, but it was worth it to see the cute thing's scales shine with energy and its movements getting calmer. Kagome smiled just thinking about the tiny supernatural creature that she had saved from the grumpy old man's pond.

As soon as her shoes were where they should be, Kagome ran to the bathroom, thanking the gods that she could finally relieve herself. Peeing in the forest, with Inuyasha nearby, didn't feel right.

Soon, the girl emerged from the domain of porcelain furniture to grace the world with a refreshed smile. She went to where she had left the bucket to find out that her grandfather was standing next to it, peering inside. Inuyasha was lying lazily on the other side while the little dragon was anxiously making circles in the water that no longer glowed with the light of her reiki.

"Hi, grandpa, we're back," Kagome greeted and gestured towards the bucket. "We took him out of the pond and I want to keep..."

"A dragon," whispered the old man, not even glancing her way. "Quick, Inuyasha, take it away."

Kagome gasped at the urgency in her grandfather's voice. Inuyasha didn't even flicker an ear. The dragon let loose a cloud of bubbles and swam around in more erratic way. 'I wonder if it can understand..' a part of Kagome thought. 'I guess it might, after all it responded to me earlier.'

"Grandpa!" Kagome made the last few steps to reach the engawa. She knelt beside the bucket and offered the nervous creature in the bucket a calming smile. She touched the side of the container to send some soothing reiki to it. "We can't throw him away."

"The dragon must go. Inuyasha..." the old shrine keeper said with a grim expression, but without anger. Kagome blinked when she saw a faint pink aura around his hand, a finger pointing at the scared creature in the bucket.

The dog stood up and growled at him, his ears laying back, his ruff fluffing out. He stepped next to Kagome and over the bucket, his fiery eyes focused at Hiro. Thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance and a strong wind shook the forest surrounding the shrine.

"Inuyasha...? What's...?" Kagome grabbed onto his fur, knowing that if he wanted to leap she couldn't hold him down.. But luckily the youkai didn't move to attack, just stood there.

'That was kotodama,' the dog growled. 'But he no longer holds power over me.'

"Oh," Kagome looked between the annoyed dog and her grandfather, who was no longer looking at the dragon, but at them both. His eyes were full of fear and concern.

"I'm sorry," Hiro muttered. "I didn't mean to, but... The dragon... You know it has to go."

Kagome felt the tense muscles hidden under Inuyasha's lush fur relax and flex. His ears were still laid back, but in a less threatening manner. The shrine guardian was still irate, but she knew he wouldn't do anything - he wouldn't jump to snap around her grandfather's ankles in a show of anger and warning, nor would he run away to sulk for days. Inuyasha was collared but for sure not tamed.

"Alright," Kagome sighed. "Grandpa, why can't we keep it? I mean if other humans find it they might hurt it."

"Kagome," her grandfather glanced at Inuyasha before he sat down a bit away from them. "Dragons come with storms and they grow with them. They might bring rain and floods. Thunders strike where dragons are nesting and when they take to the skies tornadoes form around their coils. The dragon is dangerous to the shrine and to us all and when it starts to grow it will call up a storm."

As if to prove his point fate decided to let a thunder grumble across the darkening clouds overhead.

"But this one is so tiny!" Kagome put a hand against the lip of the bucket. "It won't cause any trouble for a while and when it gets big enough to fend for itself we can..."

She stopped talking when the dragon nuzzled her hand, and blinked at the creature. Its pearly body filled almost the whole bucket, the water spilling over the edge whenever the beast flexed its serpentine neck to look around. Two golden bumps were sticking out on top of its head and two whiskers were now hanging from its tipped nuzzle.

When she was taking in the sudden changes in the creature, it moved a bit more and rested a small paw adorned with three claws. The dragon leaned in, propping itself on its paws to stretch its body, nearing Kagome's face. The dragon opened its mouth, showing tiny sharp fangs and long tongue...

...A curtain of red appeared just before the dragon could lick her nose. Kagome blinked and looked up, recognizing the red fabric as the sleeve of Inuyasha's kimono. The dragon hissed at the hanyou, who in return growled softly. Kagome grabbed Inuyasha's arm in both hands and lowered it, glancing at the dragon pouting in its bucket.

"Aw, you are so adorable, little one!" Kagome pushed Inuyasha's arm out of the way and reached a careful hand to rub the dragon between its forming horns. The creature gurgled and closed its eyes. "You're the cutest!"

Behind her Inuyasha scowled.

"Keh!" he grumbled when another distant thunder had his ears twitching. "Better end your petting, wench, the old man has one thing right, the scaly brat has to go soon. A storm is already nearing."

"What? No, he is too small to fend for himself!" Kagome shook her head and the dragon hissed at the shrine guardian again. "See? He doesn't want to go yet either."

"Dear," Hiro said, glancing to the darkening clouds lazily making circles overhead. "Dragons are wild and intelligent, and as soon as they are able to leave the water..."

"I'll call you Tempest, little guy, do you like it?" Kagome asked. The dragon happily gurgled and slithered out of the bucket to rest its long body partially around the smiling miko. The creature was almost as long as she was tall. 'Oh, so maybe he isn't a little guy anymore...'

"Wench," Inuyasha growled, crouching near them and watching the dragon stretch itself across the floor. "It doesn't need you to stay safe anymore, you know. It got big enough and we should take it to some secluded body of water in the forest before the storm hits."

Kagome watched the dragon bending his neck in a graceful manner. In the dim light the pale creature seemed to shine. Thunder rolled over the mountainside, rumbling and echoing over the forest. Inuyasha's ears flickered back and forth. Tempest tilted his head to observe the distant lights of thunder bolts flashing over the mountainside. Kagome wondered about what he was thinking. For some reason the dragon looked more like an adult pondering a problem than a youngling admiring the sight. 'They mature so fast...' she thought in amazement. Just mere hours ago Tempest had been the size of her hand.

"Kagome..." Hiro said softly. "I think it'd be best to have Tempest move to a place a bit away from the buildings. As I said before, dragons grow with the storm and they ascend to the heavens in a tornado. The shrine won't survive it."

Kagome turned her head and was about to tell her grandfather that Tempest was too young to just go and be on his own, but a sudden gust of cold wind pushed her hair in her face. She sputtered and smoothed her hair back,. When she looked at the dragon, his face was mere centimeters away from hers. His big eyes were looking straight into hers with serenity and fondness.

"Tempest?" she whispered and the dragon nuzzled her cheek before moving away. It was easily the size of Inuyasha's inu youkai form when it moved off of the engawa and into the drizzle that came after the first strong gust of wind. "Hey, buddy..."

The dragon didn't even look back at her, his head lifted as if he was studying the storm clouds shifting and listening to the low rumbling of thunder. Kagome made a move to follow him, but found herself held by Inuyasha.

"Stay, it isn't safe," he warned her. The drizzle suddenly changed in a downpour.

"What? He won't attack us and some rain..." she started. Her grandfather shook his head.

"Let him go, Kagome," he said. "You can't hold a dragon like you can't hold a storm."

"But Inuyasha... You wanted to bring him to the shrine to keep him safe from humans," Kagome argued, her eyes following the ever growing body of the dragon moving in the darkness and thickening rain.

"Because I didn't know how long it would take for him to be strong enough to call up his own storm!" Inuyasha growled over the howling wind. "I didn't know you'd feed him so much of your reiki so fast!"

"You told me to charge the bucket and the water inside!" Kagome argued. She wanted to make sure Tempest was alright. Maybe he was upset that those two wanted to get rid of him? She couldn't free herself from Inuyasha's hold.

"Yeah, but till today you never used so much of your power at once!" the hanyou barked.

"Children!" Hiro shouted over them. Kagome and Inuyasha looked where the old man was pointing his finger.

A pale streak of coiling light was encased in swirling wind and water. The wind couldn't cover up the roar of excitement that came out from the great mouth when the dragon stretched his body upwards, his claws reaching for the clouds. Just as the tips of shining, golden horns were touching the low canopy of clouds the huge head turned, two pale blue eyes looking at the three spectators.

Then a lightning struck, running down the serpentine coils all the way down to where the tail of the dragon rested against the ground.

Kagome cried out and covered her eyes at the lightning and it took her a while of blinking away tears and dark spots before she could look back where Tempest had been.

There was no dragon rising from the forest, only the gray and blue rolling clouds.

"T... Tempest?" she whispered, her voice not able to rise over the sounds of the wind rustling in the leaves and the rain hitting the ground.

Inuyasha's hold on her loosened, but she didn't move away from the warmth of his body. Suddenly she felt cold and weak.

"He... He disappeared," she whispered.

"Dragons' instinct is to ascend as soon as they are able to summon a big storm or a typhoon with their power," Hiro explained, resting his back against the wall of the house. "I guess you fed him a lot of your strength."

Kagome shrugged. "I guess. I really hoped he'd stay longer, he was so cute..." she rested her head against the warm and rough fabric covering Inuyasha's shoulder. She opened her eyes just to see a pair of yellow ones staring down at her. Blushing, she straightened her back. "Um, sorry."

"Feh," the hanyou stood up and looked away as if to make sure the last lightning hadn't set anything on fire. "At least the shrine is safe."

Kagome sighed and looked at the clouds moving away from the mountain. 'Maybe we will meet again one day,' she thought drowsily. She deserved a nice long nap.

Chapter Text

When Kagome opened her eyes she saw only darkness. It took her awhile to gather and sort her memories, the mission and the cute dragon growing with frightening speed to ascend to the sky in a storm. She had been so confused and excited that it had been only when Tempest had disappeared that she had realized how tired she had been. She had closed her eyes just for a moment to relax and gather her energy so she could go and make dinner...

...And now she was lying in her bed, still dressed, in the darkened room. She could only hear the soft whisper of a calm rain outside. A soft breeze flowing through a crack in the shoji leading outside was heavy with moisture and the scent of wet dirt and forest. It was so soothing and fresh.

The odd exhaustion was almost entirely gone, but she was still a bit groggy from her sleep. Since it was obviously not the time to get up, Kagome decided to go back to sleep, but she had to do something before that.

She was still fully dressed, only her socks were missing. And on top of being too hot, her bra was uncomfortable. 'I had to be really tired if I didn't even stop to take the damn thing off before going to lay down,' she thought with a bit of annoyance.

She sat up while pulling at her clothing to loosen it up. It was when she was wiggling her hand out of the sleeves of both layers of her top clothing that a terrified voice from the dark stopped her.

"What the hell are you doing, wench?"

With a panicked shriek Kagome ducked under her blanket,suddenly losing all interest in shedding her clothing.

"Inuyasha! What are you doing in my bedroom?" she glared at him through a slit between the blanket and the bedding. The hanyou was sitting cross-legged by the crack in the shoji to outside, but was barely visible. Still, she caught him move when he turned around, facing away from her. Kagome put a hand to her flaming cheek. She didn't even want to imagine what would have happened if he hadn't spoken. Despite trying not to think about that her imagination cooked an image of Inuyasha with her bra haphazardly hanging from his ear, his eyes as big as saucers. She groaned and pushed the vision out of her mind with all of her might. 'It didn't happen, no need to be embarrassed about it,' she tried to remind herself.

"I was just keeping watch over you," he grumbled, obviously as mortified as she was. His voice shook a little and the two triangles on top of his head, barely visible in the darkened room, were moving madly, just like his youki.

"Oh," she whispered, still hidden under her blanket. 'He was just looking out for me,' she thought and felt a bit better. "Was it you who brought me to bed?"

"Keh, did you think your grandfather could heft you up the stars?" Inuyasha growled, still facing away from her. Kagome sat up in her bed, glaring at his back.

"Hey! I'm not that heavy!" she exclaimed.

"Keh," replied the hanyou, his tone of voice suggesting otherwise. She actually could hear amusement at her outraged tone in his voice. "Just go to sleep."

"What? With you here?" Kagome asked, raising an eyebrow. How could she fall asleep with a man sitting in her room, watching her? It would be awkward! Besides, didn't he need any sleep? She felt herself blushing again at the thought that Inuyasha, this pretty handsome boy with cute ears, was in her room late at night, but she didn't have to force this realization out of her mind, because something else caught her attention.

Inuyasha's ears suddenly hid in his unruly mane and the dog guardian stood up abruptly. His youki flared and tensed around him as if to protect him from something. Kagome blinked at him.

"I'm leaving," he growled lowly and before Kagome could do more than just outstretch her hand and gasp in surprise at his sudden change in attitude, he was gone. The miko's hand fell back to the blanket folded around her waist.

'Hey, Inuyasha!'

Silence. Kagome glared at the closed shoji and tried again.

'Inuyasha, tell me what's wrong,' she demanded. 'Did I say something wrong?'

The answer came after a while. 'Nothing's wrong. You didn't want me there so I left. I won't come in uninvited again.'

'Feh!' she scoffed. 'It wasn't like that! Just you sitting here and staring at me would be creepy!'

'Who said I was going to stare at your ugly mug?' Inuyasha grumbled, but it sounded a tad less annoyed and agitated than before.

'Ugly mug,' Kagome repeated, her hand pressed against her chest as if his words offended her greatly. 'I don't have an ugly face, dog-boy!'

'Hey, don't call me that!' Kagome giggled at the infuriated hanyou and removed all the clothes she had been planning to before pulling her blanket over her again.

'You know, you can come here,' she said softly as she shifted to find a comfy position. 'Just knock on the door and don't scare me like tonight.'

'I was more scared than you, wench,' came the reply, calmer than before, from the shrine guardian. Kagome snickered in embarrassment before falling asleep.

The last thought she had was about the hanyou, who was annoyingly confusing and hard to read.

The hanyou sitting on the engawa near the shoji to her room was thinking about the miko who was damn confusing. 'I guess she wasn't disgusted by a half-breed staying in her bedroom,' he wondered. So, maybe he jumped to the wrong conclusions a bit too fast, but could anyone fault him? There had been Higurashis in the past who had prohibited him from even touching them, let alone to be in the same room with them at night. Kagome most definitely wasn't one of them, it seemed. She was the first miko who started to undress around him.

A hot blush rose to his cheeks when a memory of her pale shoulder came to her mind. Inuyasha gulped and shook his head to make the vision go away. He really had to make sure the next time he watched over her that he would warn her about his presence at the first sign of waking from her.

A/N: Poor confused babies :D

Chapter Text

The next time Kagome woke up it was morning. It was already hot and when she went to open her door to the engawa to let in some air she spotted her watchdog slumped against the wall near the shoji. Kagome smiled when she remembered the event that had occurred the previous night.

The shrine guardian was sitting with his sword resting against his chest. Kagome had never seen him without it, even if he wasn't using it. 'I guess he must feel very attached to it if he carries it around in this time,' she decided. It was nice to see his face relaxed in sleep, he looked young and serene. Just as Kagome decided to leave him be and move back in to change into a fresh kosode, one of his ears twitched and swiveled to face her.

'What? You thought I could sleep when you make all that noise?' came an amused, cocky mind voice of the hanyou when she gasped in surprise and ducked inside.

'I'm not that loud!' Kagome objected and covered her belly when it decided to rumble rather loudly.

"Keh! Just dress and go eat already! And remember my ramen!" Inuyasha called from outside and went away. Kagome listened for a moment to the sound of his bare feet hitting the wooden planks before she went to prepare for the day.

Today was the day of the week when the shrine was closed for visits, so she was free to wear whatever she wanted. Once her grandfather relinquished all his priestly duties she'd have to perform the morning prayers, but now she had the whole day to herself. Or rather to do things like shopping or seeing around.

Dressed in a pair of jeans and a shirt saying 'I'm a cat person' Kagome walked in the kitchen to make breakfast. Her grandfather came in just as she was finishing heating up miso soup from yesterday.

"I see you're already rested after yesterday," the old shrine keeper smiled. "Your reiki is still not up to it's normal level, but it won't take long. I'm glad."

"Oh, I just needed a good night’s sleep," Kagome shrugged. She felt much better than before and she was in a good mood. While she finished putting food on the table, Hiro shook his head and poured himself tea that she had made just a few minutes earlier.

"Ah, the fast recovery of youth," he sighed and blew at the steam coming from his cup. Kagome giggled and opened the cabinet containing the ramen supply.

"Oh," she gasped.

"What's wrong?" her grandfather lifted his eyes from the newspaper he picked up.

"No ramen," she turned to look at him. "I was sure there was some left..." The old man grunted and hid behind his newspaper. "Hey, grandpa, don't tell me you ate the last cup!"

"You were asleep and I wanted some food before bed," came from behind the wall of paper. Kagome looked to the ceiling and sighed.

"You should've just woken me up or eaten something healthier like a sandwich or something. There are rice balls in the fridge. Ramen is a last resort food and to bribe Inuyasha," she reminded him.

Hiro's eyes met hers just above the edge of the newspaper.

"I'm not sure even I could get around Inuyasha to wake you up when you fell asleep," he said bemusedly. "As depleted as you were after feeding Tempest so much of your reiki, it made him most adamant about not waking you up before you could replenish some of your power."

"Uh..." Kagome remembered the hanyou who had been keeping watch over her at night and blushed. Was her grandfather aware that she had had a man staying in her room at night?

"You see, you're the shrine keeper now. If you don't have enough reiki to produce and hold a barrier Inuyasha will shield you with his body," Hiro said, suddenly serious. "This is yet another reason we should start a rigid training of your powers as soon as possible."

"Yes, grandpa," Kagome nodded. She hated the thought that Inuyasha could get hurt if she couldn't use her reiki effectively. "But you still shouldn't eat ramen if there's other food in the fridge."

The old man grumbled and hid back behind his newspaper, eating his food. Kagome sighed and sat down to eat just to be spooked by the sudden appearance of a certain hanyou complaining that he can't smell his breakfast.

That led to a short, but eventful discussion during which Kagome not only proclaimed she was going to do some shopping, but also that she needed help with it.

The poor hanyou never expected to meet a Higurashi so disrespectful of rules set ages ago by her ancestors.

.

The pretty girl was standing next to the shelf with shampoos. A half-filled cart was standing next to her. A tall man in red traditional clothing and with exotic looking long pale hair stood with his arms crossed just a step or two away from her. His face was shadowed from the light of the store lamp by a straw hat that went well with the traditional look he was sporting.

Tom watched the pretty girl turn towards her companion and ask something, holding up a shampoo bottle. The man grumbled something and she put the bottle back in its place before picking up another and placing it in her cart. Then the pair moved forward to the soaps.

It was that girl, Tom was sure of it. She had her hair in a ponytail and seemed more talkative than she had been when he had approached her, but it was her.

The girl who had a yama inu stalk people who were too close to her.

Tom wasn't the best of dudes, but he knew that he should warn the other guy. So when the girl went to dig in a fridge for something the foreigner approached the man in red who was standing a bit away from her.

"Hey, fellow," Tom started. The other man didn't say a word, but his shoulders tensed. "I won't take long. I wanna warn you. Don't go near that girl. A youkai is..."

Tom's voice failed when the man finally looked his way from the shadow of the hat he wore.

A pair of deadly yellow eyes shone in the shade with malice of a cornered dog ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness.

"You were saying, stinking human?" Inuyasha growled.

He smirked when the man who had approached him now fled. It made him feel a tad better.

'What possessed me to agree to come here with her?' he wondered, looking back at Kagome prancing between shelves with various items, adding some to their cart and asking about his opinion on other items. He didn't care if she bought strawberry or raspberry yogurt, he wanted out of this smelly place, out of the place where everyone could see him, back to the safety of his forest and the shrine grounds.

He stole a glance around to see that no one was paying attention to him. People who looked his way, if they did at all, just gave him a raised eyebrow and went on with their lives.

That was... Unexpected.

"Say, Inuyasha," Kagome chirped beside him. "Wanna get chicken or beef ramen?"

His ears perked under the straw hat.

"Why not both?" he asked with hope in his voice.

This girl, shaking her head, but putting both ramen packages in the cart, she was turning his world on its head. But...

He moved to the shelf and when she was busy with noodles a few steps further down the aisle, he added a few more packages to their cart. No one started screaming at the sight of his clawed hand when it moved deftly between the piles of instant food and the cart. No one seemed to care that a youkai was among them. Maybe... Maybe he could come here with Kagome sometimes and nothing bad would come out of it? Maybe he could, if he wanted, just casually walk among people without the fear of being revealed, scorned, attacked? Maybe...

"Hey!" he tensed at the gasp from beside him. Inuyasha barely controlled his urge to leap away and hide with the speed that made him seem like he disappeared into thin air. Was he wrong to think all that? Was he about to be put in his place by a command like he had been in the past? He turned his eyes that way and saw Kagome glaring at the extra ramen. "What made you think I'll pay for all of this?"

He blinked. She wasn't angry with him for being in the shop - it was stupid to think that when she was the one who had dragged him to this stinking place. He schooled his face in a scowl and put a hand on the pile of ramen protectively.

"I'm gonna bring it back to the shrine," he grumbled. "I ain't doing it for free."

When the girl grabbed his hand - again without fear or any thought about his claws - he felt a faint, shy smile on his lips. 'I guess I'm getting used to this crazy wench,' he thought, putting in some effort to defend his ramen.

Chapter Text

Kagome took her grandfather's words from this morning to her heart. She really didn't want Inuyasha to get hurt because of her not being trained well enough. Of course, she had been doing some training in the past, when she had been visiting her grandpa, but she guessed she had a long way to go still. She had to meditate and practice, so she could get better. After all she was a Higurashi, tasked with the safety of the shrine and gifted with the assistance of the hanyou.

She looked at the man walking beside her down the road out of the village and up the mountain to the shrine. He was pulling the small cart full of their shopping bags. The cart was just a wooden box around a meter long and wide, with two wheels and a long handle. Her grandfather had used it for years to carry stuff from the village and now Kagome found it more comfortable than to just hang bags on the handle of her bike.

Besides, now it wasn't her who did all the pulling, since in her wisdom and cunning she had goaded Inuyasha to do it for her. And he didn't even look like it was that heavy! He was walking with ease at the same pace she did!

She smiled when she got an idea. She could improve her original plan!

"Inuyasha, stop for a moment," she said. Inuyasha grunted, pulled out of his thoughts, and stopped on the side of the road. They were near the end of the village, houses spread comfortably far from each other, lovely gardens and fences surrounding them.. Kagome moved to the cart and started to shift the bags and boxes.

"Okay, done," she smiled brilliantly at the hanyou staring back at her. "We can go."

He mutely scowled at her, sitting among the bags and boxes, a bag of rice in her lap.

"Hey, I'm gonna meditate when you pull this thing, so it's not like I'm gonna take a nap or something," she tried not to look too smug. He still didn't move. "I'll do something nice for you, okay?"

He tilted his head.

"Like what? You already owe me ramen," he pointed out.

"Well, yeah, but it will be something different. But nice, promise," she tried to convey her honesty, despite the fact she wasn't sure what she could do to bribe him. Her grandpa usually had used food, but she wanted to find another thing he liked.

He shrugged and started to walk again, obviously not burdened by the added weight of his miko. Kagome waved at a kid watching them go from the front yard of one of the last houses in the village. The boy stared after them and Kagome wondered briefly if he was jealous of her neat vehicle.

Then she closed her eyes and focused.

Oh, a part of her just wanted to be lazy and let Inuyasha drag her back up the mountain, but it wasn't that big - at least that was what she told herself. She really wanted to try and meditate for a while. She was just being resourceful...

She opened one eye and looked at the waterfall of white streaking down Inuyasha's back. He was pulling the cart with one hand and walking in a steady, rather fast pace. The forest was surrounding them now, but he was still wearing his hat.

"Done already?" he asked, not looking back.

"Oh, no, I just..." she blushed, realizing that she had been staring at the sunlight dancing over the white mane. Blushing, she hurriedly closed her eyes and resumed focusing her reiki. Inuyasha just snorted, but didn't argue.

As they walked away from the village, leaving it behind a gentle curve of the road, they didn't notice the boy moving so he could see them for a while longer, his eyes narrowed as he looked after them and bit his bottom lip.

When they were out of sight the boy returned to the hole he had dug near the house door out and put an egg inside before covering it with dirt and grass. He kinda regretted he wouldn't be around when the egg went bad and started to stink.

.

Kagome sighed as she pulled a big cake from the oven. She put the cake on the counter nearest to the opened shoji - both to help it cool off and to use the scent to entice Inuyasha into coming back from his forest.

She had wanted to repay him for doing all the heavy lifting, bringing their shopping and herself up the mountain. He had scoffed that it was nothing, but she still had decided to do what she thought would be the perfect thing.

She had drew him the perfect bath. She had filled it with hot water and had added some pine scented bathing salt. She had laid out fresh towels and a bathrobe for him, planning on washing his clothes. Then she had pushed Inuyasha inside the steam filled room, telling him to just enjoy the bath.

She guessed that the problem had been that she hadn't predicted the pine fumes would make him a bit dizzy and his pride wouldn't let him tell her about it in time.

Judging from the splashes of soap foam Inuyasha had successfully soaped himself before he had turned on the shower to rinse himself before entering the bath.

It was just an unfortunate thing that Kagome had left the shower on the hot setting, with all the water in the pipes borderline scalding.

It had took her a while to wipe up the Path of Destruction, as her grandfather had called it, leading from the bathroom through the living room outside and into the forest. According to Hiro, who had witnessed the great dog fleeing, he had been a sight to behold, with all that fluffy fur dripping water and foam, in clouds of steam clinging to his form.. Kagome had been in the laundry room, so all she had seen was the result of Inuyasha's hasty retreat and her grandfather chuckling over his soaked newspaper.

'I guess it's a good thing in this whole event that Inuyasha had shifted into a form that didn't require clothing,' Kagome thought sheepishly and glanced outside, to where she could see Inuyasha's clothing drying on a line. The idea of a handsome man with cute ears and no clothes on sitting somewhere in the forest and dripping foam was... Well, it didn't want to leave her mind, no matter what she did.

She just hoped that Inuyasha couldn't learn about that.

She set about making some tea to go with the cake. From the array of boxes she picked up the one with white tea and prepared a kettle. It was just when she poured some of the tea to a cup that she found out that it was way too dark for a white tea. A sip later she realized that the boxes were probably mixed, because that was black tea with orange bits in it. She shrugged, it would be just as nice to have this type instead.

She turned to see if the cake was cool enough to be cut and a brilliant smile spread across her lips.

She spotted a white dog sneaking behind a path of flowers. His tail was dragging behind him and he was hunched down,, but his stark white fur was still giving him away. He was close enough to see that his golden eyes were focused on the cake.

'Stalking food again, eh?' she inquired, giggling when the dog suddenly froze and plastered himself to the ground.

'N-no!' his eyes laid back and Kagome shook her head, still giggling.

"Come here, the cake's actually for you, so you have the right to stalk it. I still hope you'll share a piece or two with grandpa and I," she added when she watched the dog leap the distance between the flower path and engawa. "I made it as an apology for the shower mishap" she added to clarify. Inuyasha rested his paws on the edge of the counter and peered at the heavenly smelling food. His eyes glowed when he looked back at her.

'For me? All of it? Not like just a small piece?' he asked. 'A... gift?'

"The whole thing," she smiled and smothered a giggle with a hand when she saw his tail start to wag. His nuzzle hovered over the cake. "As I said, I'm sorry I left the water on super hot and didn't warn you..."

'It was a while since I had one of those...' he sounded mesmerized by the scent of the cake. 'And the water... I put in on cooler when I went to shower, but after a few seconds it went boiling.'

Kagome tilted her head. It was sometimes hard to read the emotions behind the mind voice, but he sounded hesitant when he told her that. As if he was afraid she would change her mind about the cake, knowing that it hadn't been her fault. So, when he glanced her way again, she smiled warmly.

"Wanna me cut it into pieces for you?" she asked and reached for the knife. "You can dress up when I do it."

'Keh,' the dog left the kitchen to pull the red kimono from the line and duck behind the corner of the house to put it on.

Kagome opened the drawer where they held all the cutlery and stared at it,

For some reason instead of chopsticks, knives and other things the drawer was full of acorns. Slowly she closed and opened the drawer again just to find it still filled with acorns.

"Huh?" That was weird, to say the least. She heard Inuyasha when she heard him come in and was about to ask what was going on, but at the same time he growled low. He was back in his red clothing.

"A kitsune," he glared around the kitchen and walked past her.

"A fox?" Kagome blinked at the hanyou.

"There's a fox somewhere, I can smell his stinking ass," Inuyasha stomped towards the shoji, as if to shield the cake from the possibility of being stolen by a youkai.

"Oh... Is it a bad fox? I mean kitsune can be both good and evil, right? And... What should we do with it?" she asked.

"Chase the stinker away, of course. Good or bad, foxes are wreaking havoc and pranking everyone, we don't need one in the shrine," he grumbled and looked back at her. "I will follow his trail, stay in the house.

"Uh... Alright, but..." Kagome stopped talking because something caught her attention. There, on a tree on the edge of the forest across the yard, she saw something pale. It was a long strip of white linen. The fabric swayed on the wind, held by a shadowy figure standing on a branch. Kagome frowned, she had seen this piece of fabric recently somewhere...

Inuyasha looked that way as well and for some reason his face turned as red as his kimono.

"You furry bastard!" he practically roared and leaped to rain pain and death upon the shadowy figure, who shrieked in a high pitched boyish voice and started fleeing, the strip of fabric waving like a banner after them. "Give it back, dammit, it's mine!"

''Mine... A long strip of linen...' Kagome thought as the chased and chaser disappeared in the forest. Then suddenly she felt heat coming to her cheeks. 'Oh!'

She covered her mouth with her hands A heartbeat later she heard a low, weird voice hissing from her side. A strong smell of smoke filled the air.

"Now, I will exact my revenge on you, miko."

At the same time a howl of rage could be heard from the forest.

Chapter Text

Inuyasha growled as he leaped forward, wind whipping his hair behind him as he ran across the yard and into the shadow of the forest. His cheeks no longer flamed with embarrassment of seeing his underwear used as a flag by this stinking asshole.

Now he was burning with the flame of just rage.

The youkai encroached on his domain without asking, played his vile pranks on him and humiliated him in front of his shrine keeper.

Blood was going to spill, and fast. He almost felt the taste of it running down his fangs.

The kitsune was fleeing in panic, shrieking as he dodged. The fundoshi was long lost in a bush, but Inuyasha didn't stop his pursuit.

He was going to make sure there wouldn't be enough fur to make a lucky fox charm for the gift shop.

Trees were moving fast past him as he leaped from branches and ran across the leaf-covered ground. The little stinker's orange tail was getting closer and closer, his shrieks of fear ringing in his ears.

The fox reached a stone wall of a cliff and with a yell of fright started to leap upwards it, climbing up it from one ledge to another. He threw a bunch of acorns at Inuyasha, who didn't even bother to dodge, small bursts of fire unable to harm him through his kimono. There was no way Inuyasha would let the brat get away.

Then, as the smoke started to clear from around him, Inuyasha pushed himself off of the rock ledge on the base of the cliff and...

...And felt a painful tug. Instead of propelling himself up a couple of meters he hit the rock that his hand was resting against.

With a confused, angry growl Inuyasha lifted himself up, but when he tried to move his hand away from the stone he found it stuck to it, his fingertips plastered over a paper tag with some scribbling on it. Blood dropped from his temple down the side of his face, but he ignored it, along with the pain.

"Heheh, stupid dog," the kitsune boy laughed from the ledge overhead. "Now you won't interfere! I'll kill the miko!"

With a roar of rage Inuyasha lashed out with his free hand, sending a youki infused attack at the cackling thing, that disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

Inuyasha howled, realizing that he had been chasing a copy and that now Kagome was unprotected. With a growl he resumed his attempts to free his hand from the stone.

His miko, his shrine keeper, his Kagome was the fox's target. Inuyasha had a duty to protect her, more, he had this overwhelming desire to see her happy and safe, much stronger than all sense of affinity and obligation he had towards any shrine keeper that had come before her.

He glared at the enchanted paper that held him away from his precious charge.

Blood was going to stain the ground.

.

She covered her mouth with her hands A heartbeat later she heard a low, weird voice hissing from her side. A strong smell of smoke filled the air.

"Now, I will exact my revenge on you, miko."

At the same time a howl of rage could be heard from the forest.

With a gasp Kagome looked to the side to find a fox with its fur fluffed out and bushy tail held low, glaring at her from the counter. He stood on the cake tray, his paws blazing with blue fire that was burning Inuyasha's gift. When he saw her look his way he snapped his tail.

The drawer with cutlery opened and the acorns started to jump out of it, each changing in a cloud of smoke into a copy of the fox Staring with wide eyes Kagome took a few steps back, Her heart sped up and she felt a shiver run down her spine at the sight before her.

"What... What are you doing?" she asked. The ever growing group of foxes were following her steps, growling and baring their teeth at her.

As she walked backwards the foxes started to pour out of the kitchen, filling the engawa with fuzzy fur and deadly looking teeth. Green eyes were flashing with anger.

"Tell me what you did to my father, miko! Did you kill him? Did you let loose your worthless mutt at him?" the first fox leaped off of the ruined cake to join the pack.

"What? No, I didn't kill anyone!" Kagome cried out and barely dodged a spinning ball thrown by one of the foxes.

"Lies! You lying human!" the foxes ran after her, yipping and barking, and promising to burn her bones.

According to her grandfather there were two places in the shrine where youkai couldn't enter at least without permission. One was the inner shrine, where the deity resided and even priests couldn't just casually walk in. The other was the Sacred Tree meadow - and that was where she ran in panic trying to follow the guidance of her grandfather from the past. 'Inner peace,' she muttered to herself. 'Inner peace, otherwise the barrier will shatter...'

The pack of foxes snapping at her back and making all kinds of noises, weren't helping her concentration.

It quickly became clear to her that running into a forest while being chased by a pack of small and nimble predators wasn't a good idea. She was stumbling, her blood pounding in her ears and almost overpowering the sounds made by the noisy foxes.

One leaped at her and grabbed hold of her shirt sleeve, tearing a big chunk of it.

"Inuy-" the miko lost her balance and when her leg caught in a tree root she fell to the ground. The foxes almost immediately surrounded her, cackling and sneering.

"The mutt's not gonna help you, you dark priestess, you!" they cried. She looked up at them just in time to see a whole bunch of them leaping at her, claws and fangs glimmering in the dim forest light.

'Inner peace...!'

Without thinking she raised her hands to shield herself from the attacking youkai. Blue light flashed in between them and all the foxes were suddenly flying back, some disappearing in clouds of smoke after hitting trees or the ground.

"Huh?" Kagome looked at her palms, that no longer glowed. Her muscles felt a bit heavy, just like the day before, but she wasn't drowsy.

Oh no, she was very much not sleepy right now. Her heart was pumping adrenaline all through her body.

"Evil human!" the fox yelled at her and then a ball of blue fire appeared in his hands. "Try to stop this!"

The blue flames burst towards her and she screamed.

Then warmth engulfed her, but it wasn't nothing near that hot. Carefully, Kagome lifted her head and found herself covered with a red cloth, a few stray blue flames dying down in the wrinkles.

"Hijin Kessou!" the man standing over her roared and swiped his hand. Kagome gasped when she saw youki infused red projectiles fly off of his hand and hit almost all the foxes, causing them to explode in puffs of smoke and short yells of surprise and pain.

'Inuyasha!' she felt a wave of relief wash over her. She knelt up, holding the kimono around her. She knew that she had only known the hanyou for a short time, but somehow he provided her with a sense of safety, of everything being right in the world. After being pursued by a blood thirsty fox pack the sight of the pale mane and fluffy ears almost made her cry and cling to the hanyou's back.

"You mutt! How did you get free...?" the fox yelled down at them from a high branch. Inuyasha lifted the same hand he had used to attack earlier. It was bloodied and still dripping. The hanyou smirked a wicked grin. Kagome's eyes widened and she breathed out his name in a whisper, covered by the fox's gasp. "Holy shit... What kind of a half-breed are you?"

'Stay under my robe, Kagome,' the shrine guardian ordered and flexed the fingers of his other hand. His youki was making the air around them stuffy and heavy. "Time to die, brat."

"Help!" the fox suddenly changed into a form that resembled a boy Kagome had seen somewhere before, orange hair tied in a ponytail, tiny face now twisted in look of terror. He retained his tail and little paws instead of feet. The moment Inuyasha leaped towards him the boy took off, wailing for help. The last of the blue fire around her died down as she stared in the forest, now full of screams.

'It was just a boy...' she thought numbly. A child had attacked her, set on avenging his father. Father that, Kagome was sure of it, hadn't been slain by herself. After all, a miko who could handle an adult kitsune would have defeated the kid with her eyes closed.

It was clear to her that the boy was mistaking her for someone else. And judging by the sounds deep in the forest, if she didn't do anything, he would die thinking she was responsible for his parent's death. Kagome took a deep, albeit bit shaky breath and wrapped the borrowed kimono tighter around herself. For some reason having the thick red cloth wrapped around her she felt calm and safe. She was alright, just had a few scrapes here and there. She could just imagine the pain, fear, sorrow and distress the boy had to feel. Was he now alone? Could they offer him any help? It'd be best to start with leashing Inuyasha's blood lust, before the boy got injured.

'Inuyasha," she called out with her mind voice, backing it up with her reiki. He didn't reply, but she could sense him listening. 'Bring him to me and don't you dare hurt him.'

'Damn you, I wanna shred his fur!' he barked back at her, but she didn't argue with him, simply waiting on the forest floor, her legs folded under her. The yelling in the distance suddenly stopped and she lifted her head, worriedly butting her bottom lip. 'Got him, knocked him out.'

It was like not even a minute passed between that grumbled statement and the hanyou was leaping down from a tree limb to put the unconscious kitsune on the ground in front of her. Kagome smiled thankfully at the hanyou, who scowled at her darkly and glared at the fox. He pressed the boy's fluffy tail to the ground with one hand, obviously to prevent any escape attempts.

"It was just a misunderstanding, Inuyasha," she tried to reason with the hanyou, growling under his breath. "We both know I didn't kill his dad and when we straighten things up he won't be trying to harm me. I'm sure that when we talk he will change his thinking."

"His tail should be sent to Inari's shrine," Inuyasha growled. "You're my shrine keeper and I don't care what the brat thinks."

"I do care. Losing a parent is hard, especially since he's so little," she said, looking at the lax expression on the boy's face. "I mean... I was much older than he is when my dad passed away. Just think how sad and lonely he must feel," Kagome felt a pang of sadness when she thought about her own father, but refused to dwell on it, as always trying to focus on good memories she had with him. She had had her family to turn to in the months that had followed that day, but what if this boy had no one to lean on, to share memories of his dad? She could just imagine how distressed the fox boy had to be and prayed they could straighten things out. Maybe she could help him feel better? Or offer him a place in the shrine, so he'd be around friendly people?

"And losing a parent as a kid entitles you to attacking people, how?" Inuyasha asked, his voice uncharacteristically indifferent. She looked up to see him staring into the forest, his ears laid back.

"Inuyasha..." she started and reached for his free hand. Just as she touched his palm the hanyou hissed and pulled his whole arm away from her, close to his chest. She blinked at him and that's when she realized that his fingers were still covered in blood. "You're hurt!"

"Keh! The poor innocent boy you're so bent on keeping away from his punishment stuck me to a rock so he could kill you!" he growled, losing the aloof mask in favor of his previous angry expression. "Had to tear myself away before he could actually do that. Lost some skin on that fucking rock."

"He... did what?" she stared at him as he started to carefully lick his hand, wincing. 'He had to do... what?' "Hey! Don't lick it! We should disinfect and bandage it! Or go to the hospital!"

"Stop yapping and focus on the brat!" he growled, again pressing his limb to his torso when she tried to grab his wrist and see the injury. She blinked and glanced down to see wide, frightened and wet green eyes looking up at her.
'
"Um, hey, little kitsune," she smiled her best smile. "I'm Kagome and this is Inuyasha. Don't be afraid and tell me, what is your name?" she tried to speak softly.

"Do you need my name to purify me?" the boy asked, his voice high pitched.

"Oi, brat, she couldn't fend off your puny fox fire, do you really think she could purify your stinking ass? Or your old man's?" Inuyasha barked and the kit flinched at his outburst. "Instead of training she wastes her free time on some stupid writing!"

"Hey! Don't call my writing stupid, dog-boy!" Kagome cried out, blushing at the idea that the hanyou could read her works. 'That's it, no drafts and plot plans left where he could find them!' she decided. She ignored Inuyasha's scoffing at her nickname and looked back at the confused boy. "But he's right, I'm not very strong. Surely not on the level that I could take on an adult kitsune."

She looked at the hanyou bristling at her still and a memory came to her mind.

"But... We met a kitsune a while ago, his name was... Sha? Or Shen?" she tilted her head, trying to remember that encounter, but all that came to her mind was Inuyasha butting the fox mailman's tail and getting his fur electrified in retaliation. The boy's eyes lit up.

"Shi! My dad's name is Shi!" he exclaimed. "And I'm Shippou!"

"Shi," the miko nodded. "He said he was taking an exam and was going to stay around for a while, he was working as a postman. Inuyasha bit him on the tail and got zapped."

"Feh!"

"So... You didn't purify him?" the boy asked, tentative hope in his voice. She shook her head and smiled.

"I didn't. He promised not to cause trouble, so I wouldn't do it even if I could. I don't know why you assumed I'd hurt him," she said gently. "The last time I saw him he was fine:

Shippou's eyes got tearful and he blinked rapidly. "You... you're saying the truth? Dad's okay?" he asked in a tiny, hopeful voice. She beamed.

"Yes. He's alright, sweetheart," she assured the kitsune.

"And that thunderstorm was not from dad's battle with you?" he continued.

"No, it was something else. Not a battle, I promise. So you see, you don't need to try and harm me. Inuyasha, can you let go of his tail?" she asked the hanyou, who was mutely glaring at her. The shrine guardian didn't move, but looked at the boy under his hand.

"How did you get here? What assurance can you give that you will behave?" he asked.

"I ain't telling you anything, half-breed! Aah!" the boy first tried to look aloof, but then yelped when Inuyasha suddenly assumed his huge dog form and started growling and barking down at him. The boy tilted his head to the side, looking away and stopping his brief struggle for freedom.

"What are you doing?" Kagome gasped when Shippou replied to Inuyasha's growling with a whine.

'Silence. Teaching the pup to not offend those stronger than him,' Inuyasha replied, one ear tilting her way. 'Won't hurt him, you ordered me not to.;

"Oh," the miko sat back on her legs, relieved. A moment later Inuyasha was again in his humanoid form, crouching over Shippou.

"I came through a burrow in a valley to the South," the kitsune said. "And I promise to be good, I won't attack anyone and will not play big pranks. I swear!"

Inuyasha's hand lifted after a moment and the boy immediately leaped a few paces away. The miko let out a deep sigh of relief, glad that it all went so smoothly. Now they were going to be alright.

"Alright, now that this whole shit is sorted out, I'm going to go and eat my cake," the shrine guardian declared and stood up.

Kagome remembered the burnt thing on the counter and realized that Shippou would soon get another chance to run through the shrine forest.

Chapter Text

"Wash this bowl too, please," Kagome put a mixing bowl dirty with some dough in the sink. Two little clawed hands armed with a sponge reached to take care of the vessel while the miko put the cake in the oven.

"Yeah," As a penalty for all his wrong doings in the shrine, Shippou was washing all the things she needed to make a new cake for Inuyasha.

The hanyou was sitting by the table, crushing nuts into tiny bits with his uninjured hand. It was a penalty for trying to skin the kitsune after finding the first cake burnt and on the floor. He was glaring and growling at them both now, because Kagome had used the kotodama so she could dress his other hand, now safely hidden in his sleeve. Beside growling the sound of crushing nuts was all the noise he was making.

Shippou, on the other hand, turned out to be a chatty fellow. In the short time that passed since he had learned that his dad wasn't purified by Kagome, he did a total shift in attitude. Gone was the vengeful fox, now he was a cute, happy boy. Well, maybe not that happy while washing the kitchen tools and vessels.

"So, how come you harbor a hanyou?" Shippou asked Kagome. "I thought humans were terrified of youkai and thought hanyou were abominations."

"Shut up, brat!" barked Inuyasha from his seat by the table. Kagome ignored him, looking at the boy.

"Inuyasha is the shrine guardian that agreed to form a bond with my family. Now he's my partner and I don't want you to be mean to him or call him names. He's a person and he didn't do anything to warrant your disliking him," she said firmly. She missed the vision of Inuyasha's stunned face, his jaw hanging for a moment as he stared at her back.

"Yeah, he did! He hit me on the head!" Shippou disagreed. "And we foxes don't hate hanyou and humans that much, he wouldn't get hurt if he didn't..."

"Only because you were trying to harm me," Kagome pointed a finger at the pouting boy. "And you ruined my gift for him too."

"Uh..." Shippou looked away. "Sorry for that."

"You should apologize to Inuyasha, not me," the miko continued he scolding. The little boy looked from where he stood on the edge of the sink towards the pouting hanyou.

"Uh, sorry," the kitsune muttered without any enthusiasm.

"Feh," Inuyasha shrugged. Kagome smiled, realizing that it was the best she could expect from them right now. She turned to make some tea for them while they were waiting for the cake to bake.

"So, Shippou, you came all the way here to find your dad?" she asked.

"Yeah!" the boy put away the last bowl and wiped his hands before he leaped to an empty chair by the table. All the way from the youkai lands and across the human land!"

"How did you cross the barrier?" Inuyasha asked before Kagome could voice her own curiosity. The miko looked at the scowling hanyou and raised an eyebrow.

'What do you mean?' she asked. One ear cocked her way, but otherwise he was focused on the tiny fox.

'There are two worlds and a barrier between them,' the shrine guardian explained. 'There are points where you can cross or breach the barrier. One's the dry well. If not for the seal youkai could pass here and humans go there. You would've known that, were you raised properly;'

'Hey! I was raised properly!'

Their quick talk went unnoticed by Shippou, who shrugged at Inuyasha's question.

"There's a cave at the foot of the mountain. The kitsune inn dad left me in before coming here is located next to it and we call the cave the Mountain Ass. I went through there."

"It's called the Mountain Pass, moron," Inuyasha growled while Kagome tried not to giggle. Pondering over the new information had to wait for a calmer time, she knew that if she spaced out the two youkai would do some crazy stuff. Just as she thought that Shippou stuck his tongue at the shrine guardian. And since Inuyasha no longer had nuts to crush Kagome decided to quickly direct the talk towards a new subject. She walked to stand behind Inuyasha and reached to a high shelf for cups, resting her hand on his shoulder as if she needed support and not that she wanted him to stay seated.

"So, you were waiting for your dad at an inn?" she asked Shippou, who nodded and stuffed a handful of crushed nuts from the bowl on the table into his mouth.

"Yeah," the boy swallowed and smiled. "The innkeeper is my great uncle."

"And... Where's your mom?" Kagome asked gently. The whole time Shippou had been only talking about his dad, so she wondered about his mom. She was a bit afraid it'd be a delicate topic, but she decided it was better to ask.

"Mom works away and rarely visits home," Shippou shrugged. "I've been with my dad since he gave birth to me, so I guess it's fine she works far away and we don't see each other often."

"Since birth?" Kagome repeated. Families split because one parent had to work abroad weren't new to her and she was glad that the boy didn’t seem to be bothered by not seeing his mother often. The shocking part was that the boy claimed to have been born by his father.

"A funny tale," Shippou giggled and stuffed his face with nuts before continuing. "The previous time my parents took the tail exam they both had to seduce a human. They both switched sex and luck had it they stumbled on each other and didn't notice that the other was a kitsune in disguise. The next morning my dad found out he couldn't change back to his male form and some months later I was born. Neat, eh?" the boy grinned at the stunned miko and Inuyasha who forgot to scowl at him.

Kagome stared at the happy boy, who so casually admitted to being born by his father and seemed to be pretty amused by his parents' antics. The kitsune continued as if this was totally normal.

"Of course they both failed their tests," he said. "After all, they both got tricked and didn't recognize another kitsune."

"Uh," Kagome uttered and turned to pick up the kettle to pour water in the prepared cups. She had to focus on it very hard, because her mind was running towards imagining the fateful encounter where both participants were pretending to be the opposite sex.

"So," Inuyasha cleared his throat. "You disobeyed your father's orders and crossed to the human lands. Don't you think it’s dangerous for a baby youkai here?"

"No way!" Shippou bounced on his chair. "It's not that dangerous when you’re a kitsune! Everyone likes a prank or two from time to time! And you know, since I'm a full-blood I can always turn into my true form and pretend I'm a mortal fox!" then he looked at the hanyou curiously. "How come you can turn into a true form? You're a hanyou."

"I'm way stronger than a regular hanyou, kid," Kagome smiled when she heard more than a bit of pride in his voice.

"So how come you're living in the human world?" Shippou asked "If you're so strong, you could just live in the youkai world. It's sure less smelly and you don't have to hide that you're not human."

This piqued Kagome's curiosity. The miko sat down by the table, pushing the cups of tea towards the two boys. Shippou immediately leaped to the table top to walk across it to the sugar bowl and put some of the sugar in his cup. Inuyasha didn't reach for his drink.

"I chose to live on this side," he said after a moment. "I can go there whenever I wanna," he added.

"I'd like to see the youkai world one day," Kagome chimed in when Inuyasha grabbed his tea and started to drink it. "It must be a lovely place."

"Oh yeah! You must visit the Kitsune Inn!" Shippou nodded. "And you don't have to worry, kitsune are usually friendly towards humans, so no one will try to eat you!"

"Feh! She ain't going without me, so no stupid youkai are gonna eat her!" Inuyasha barked, but was ignored by the boy describing to the young woman the wonders of the youkai world. She watched him walk around the table, barely avoiding stepping into their cups and the sugar bowl, gesturing with his hands and tail as he depicted the place where he lived.

From his words she gathered that the youkai world was somewhat similar to her own, but wild and inhabited by all kinds of weird and often scary creatures. According to Shippou, humans were rare there - most of those that passed by the barrier ended up as some youkai's meal.

"But don't worry, most youkai don't even eat humans," Shippou smiled up at her. "From what I heard you taste rather bad."

"Uh..." Kagome wasn't sure if she should be more relieved or offended.

"Anyway, there are a few places where humans actually can live in the youkai world," Shippou added as an afterthought. "If we kitsune find a human that stumbled in our world we bring them to those dwellings. Of course after pranking them.”

"Um, that's good," Kagome smiled at the boy giggling behind his little hands. Then she looked up to the hanyou who sat quietly, looking into his cup. "Will we go there one day?"

"Keh! Not before you get some training done," Inuyasha grumbled, his ears perking up a bit. "It's dangerous and despite what the brat says many youkai would want to eat you because you’re a reiki user. They'd get stronger that way."

"What is this heavenly scent?" came an old voice from the main doors. "Kagome, are you baking?"

The miko turned her head towards the door and saw her grandfather walking in.

"Yes, grandpa," she nodded. She was about to introduce Shippou to him, but when she looked to the boy she didn't find him where he had been. She glanced to Inuyasha, who pointed with his nose to a bowl of cookies standing on the table. It wasn't standing there a minute ago and it had a lovely acorn design around the blue-colored rim.

"Ah, tea and cookies, just what an old man needs after a long visit to a friend!" grandpa said and reached for a cookie. As soon as it was right in front of his face it disappeared in a puff of smoke. "What...?"

"We have a kitsune," Inuyasha growled. "And if he doesn't cut the pranking shit he’ll be missing a tail."

Kagome giggled and hurried to do some damage control before the situation got out of hand.

Chapter Text

Inuyasha was in hell. It had to be hell, no other place could be so terrible. It smelled of foxes, the weird shrieks filled his ears and since Shippou had stuffed a fox treat in his pocket the little shits were practically hounding him, despite the fact that he got rid of the damn fox food.

On the other hand, Kagome seemed to have the best time of her life.

After Hiro learned how mischievous their guest was, Kagome had scolded Shippou to not prank the family. The boy had listened, but the next day he had pranked a couple of visitors, once almost being caught by an old lady's talisman.

Kagome had called the post office to ask about Shi the very next day and had learned that he no longer worked there. According to the woman Kagome had spoken to, the man was now employed at a different place. She had even supplied the miko with the address.

And so, with Hiro's blessing, Kagome had went on an adventure to rejoin the split family. Shippou hadn't wanted to go back to the Kitsune Inn, so it had been the only option, leaving him to roam the shrine freely would probably make Inuyasha's head explode.

Of course, the shrine guardian had went with her, refusing to allow her to travel alone.

Kagome glanced his way from where she was cooing at a particularly cute fox pup. He was standing a few paces away, arms crossed. He still l looked otherworldly, despite being dressed in jeans and a button up shirt. The top of his head was covered by a baseball cap, but it did little to cover the luscious thick braid of silver hair. Kagome glared at a girl standing behind him, who was obviously taking a picture of him with her phone.

'Can we go?' Inuyasha's voice was as close to a whine as it could get. The miko giggled and shook her head.

'Come on, it isn't that bad,' she replied. 'Can't you enjoy yourself just a bit?'

'Here?' he raised an eyebrow and glared at the pens and cages where young foxes were held. Their mothers were close by, observing him with intense eyes and perked ears. Pups were paying him little attention.

"What are you two doing, come on!" Shippou ran from where he had been talking to a staff member selling fox treats. "Ina says we can go and look around while she looks for my dad!"

"But..." Kagome started, looking towards a girl not much older than her. She had black hair with a few strands having white ends. Her green eyes were full of life and kindness.

"Don't worry, lady miko," she waved a hand. "Just enjoy our village and we will contact you soon."

"Thank you!" Kagome smiled and walked towards where Shippou was dragging her. 'Shippou told her I'm a miko?' she wondered, looking at the boy, who had his lower half covered by an illusion to hide his tail and paws.

As she turned around she missed the look Ina sent Inuyasha, one of utter mirth and curiosity. Then she shrugged, flickered her tail behind her counter and turned to greet the approaching patrons wanting to buy a fox treat.

Kagome happily allowed Shippou to lead her behind another set of doors that led to a wide open area with trees surrounding it. Paths were crisscrossing between the trees, signs pointing to various places tourists may want to visit.

And there were foxes everywhere.

The animals in various sizes and colors were warily and curiously observing the visitors that were focused on taking pictures and admiring them as they walked around. Kagome went to a board with a map, quickly deciding their route. Shippou was cheering on each and every stop she was pointing out while Inuyasha was glaring.

Inuyasha was more grumpy these past few days, thanks in great part to Shippou's antics, but Kagome was a bit surprised that he was still scowling, after all they reached their destination and soon Shippou would be with his dad while they'd be on their way back home. The young miko guessed the shrine guardian was like this because he wasn't used to leaving the holy grounds and the solitude of his forest. She made a mental note of trying to goad him out of his safe zone at a slower pace, not throwing him in the center of a tourist-filled zone again. 'Well, he could stay if he didn't want to be around so many people,' she thought. 'It's not like we're going to stay here for long. And the forest is really nice, not mentioning all those cute, precious foxes.'

And just like that the young woman's attention was drawn from the gloomy male walking a few paces behind her to the foxes playing around, digging fox holes, cautiously approaching some people, taking naps in spots of sunlight between the trees or doing other fox things. Shippou was also a part of this, happily posing for pictures, waving at some foxes and cheerfully chatting with her. They walked all around the kitsune village, admiring the shrine and other features.

They fed the fox treats to the foxes, Kagome laughing at the animals trying to catch them in mid-air and then coming to sniff around her hands for more. The foxes were skittish if she moved suddenly or too fast, but when there was a possibility of food they were braver. Or maybe it was because of Shippou's encouragement, the boy seemed to have some power over the animals and briefly Kagome wondered if it was a youkai thing. Maybe kitsune could command foxes? She had to ask later, since at the feeding platform and around it there were too many people who could overhear them. 'I wonder if Inuyasha can command dogs...' she wondered and glanced back to where Inuyasha stood, his arms crossed, looking at the foxes pushing each other to get to the treats offered by a group of tourists nearby.

"What's wrong with you?" Kagome asked the hanyou when he glared at a staff member, a middle-aged man, that was walking nearby with a box, followed by at least five adolescent foxes hot on his heels. Shippou was nearby, snapping photos with her camera as they were standing on the edge of a big clearing with some people taking pictures of a couple of staff members fixing a fox house. The wary, agitated shrine guardian's aura was slowly making her own fun dwindle. "Relax, there's no reason to be so tense!"

"Use your damn reiki and look around," Inuyasha crossed his arms in front of himself.

"Huh?" Kagome blinked up at him. For a while she had forgotten all about things like youkai, reiki training and her usual worries, more focused on admiring the lovely woodland scenery, cute fox houses and even cuter animals slinking through the shadows of the trees, making those weird noises and playing around. Now she frowned, reaching inside herself to the energy in her core to draw it out, just like she had done during those few sessions with her grandfather.

She opened her eyes at the sound of a few gasps and at the sudden touch of Inuyasha's hand grabbing her wrist. He shook her, efficiently making her lose her focus. The power rising within her settled back down.

"Stupid!" Inuyasha hissed. "What do you think you're doing?" he glared at her, moving his face close to hers.

"What.. What do you mean?" Kagome glared back after a second of surprise. "You told me to!"

"I told you to look! I didn't tell you to purify the damn place!" Inuyasha growled. She could see Shippou looking at her from behind a tree and a few of the foxes were there with him. All the staff members working on the fox house were looking at her too and Kagome felt just like she had felt when a teacher had asked her to solve a hard equation on a board in front of the whole class.

Kagome was about to answer when she saw one of the staff members approach them cautiously. She blinked and blushed, hoping that they weren't too loud or something. Inuyasha didn't let go of her hand.

"Um..." the man with a short ponytail said, looking between the two. "Lady miko...?" Kagome looked at him in surprise when he addressed her. "Could you... um... refrain from using your power while visiting the village...?"

"Huh?" Kagome blushed. "Um, yeah, sorry," she added, her cheeks hot. She looked towards Inuyasha, who stepped a bit forward as if he wanted to stand between them. "I... Didn't expect that someone would notice..."

The man stared at her mutely.

"She's not able to see through your illusions," Inuyasha stated in a silent voice. "Your suppressing youki magic made her think there are only humans here. Do you have some glasses or something so she can see?"

The man tilted his head and then chuckled

"Oh, I see now," he said, less tense and uncertain now. He offered Kagome a wide smile and then pulled out of one of his many pockets a pair of glasses. "Here, you can use those during your visit, lady miko," he winked.

"Uh, thank you?" Kagome took the offered glasses and put them on, feeling as if she was missing something important in the conversation. As soon as the lenses were in front of her eyes she realized what it was.

Foxes were foxes.

But some were not ordinary animals, but youkai in disguise. And the staff members, including the one lending his glasses to her, were kitsune. Her jaw hit the ground when she realized that all those people looking at her were youkai 'And I probably scared them with my reiki while they weren't doing anything wrong,' she thought as guilt and embarrassment painted her cheeks pink again.

"Oh, goodness, I'm sorry for scaring you," she gasped out. The fox in front of her smiled and waved his two tails in a shrug. He looked just like Shippou, a man with fox paws sticking out of his pant legs, his fur much darker than Shippou's.

"It's fine. We don't have many reiki gifted visitors, I guess we could've warned you," he said and then looked at Inuyasha. "We're good, right?"

"Mine and I mean you no harm as long as you behave," Inuyasha shrugged. "We're of Higurashi Shrine and we brought Shi's pup."

"Shi's pup? That's neat!" Kagome watched as the man clapped his hands. "Where's the little... Oh, you're so tall, young one!" he exclaimed when Shippou approached them, is bushy tail fluffed out.

"You know my dad? Is he here?" he asked, hopefully. The man grinned.

"Shi and I are friends and he showed me your pictures from when you were tiny. Yeah, he works here now and I'm sure he's on his way to see you," he said and ruffled his hair. Then he looked back up to Kagome. "He isn't in trouble, right?"

"No, not really," Kagome shook her head. Over the kitsune's shoulder she could see that the others stopped paying attention to them just after Inuyasha had assured the man that they weren't going to cause trouble.

"Did you see the whole village? Maybe we could go to a less... exposed place where we could wait for Shi?" the fox suggested. "By the way I'm Natsu. And let me add that mine and I obviously mean you and yours no harm. We're running a business here."

"Uh, alright," Kagome smiled and nodded. "My name's Kagome and this is Inuyasha." She blushed yet again when she noticed that he was still holding her hand. Sadly, he had to realize it at the same time, because just then he let go of her wrist and crossed his arms again as if pretending that he had never held her hand.

"Splendid! Now, let's go where ice tea and cookies are served," Natsu said generically snapping his tails and gesturing to a small path leading into the forest.

'Is that some kind of code or something?' Kagome asked as they followed Natsu, Shippou asking him for tales about his dad and him when they were younger.

'You can say it's a vow,' Inuyasha replied. 'You say it when you really mean no harm and don't want to fight. If you attack without a reason afterwards you get killed.'

'Oh.'

"Feh, don't worry, you don't need to swear this, it's a youkai thing. And I sure as hell won't attack without a reason. And, anyway, I would be the one killing, not the other way around,' he said with more than a hint of arrogance. She glanced at him as he walked beside her down the forest path, tall and handsome, his eyes focused on their surroundings.

'I don't want you to fight and get hurt,' she confessed softly.

'Silly miko, I fought and won battles before your grandfather's grandfather's grandfather was ever born,' he smirked.

Soon after they reached another meadow, this one housing a few buildings that were clearly offices and other staff-only places. Natsu showed them to a small cafeteria where a couple of other kitsune were having a lunch break. There were a few vending machines and a coffee maker scattered under the walls and the window to the kitchen was closed, but on the sill under it Kagome spotted a big bowl with tiny cookies.

"We run the village in this world because, honestly, it's more fun," he was telling them as they settled down around a table standing near a coffee maker. "As I said, we're just doing our job and not even pranking humans that much, so not many reiki users have a reason to come over."

"Not pranking humans? This whole place is one big prank," Shippou giggled. "All those humans walking around and knowing no better!"

"We stick to harmless illusions. Well, maybe occasionally we steal stuff to bury it and let humans chase us for a while," Natsu pointed to the coffee maker and the vending machine that stood a few meters away from it. "If you want some you can use those. I’ll just go quickly check where the balding tail wandered off to. He should be here by now!"

"Goodness, we pulled you away from your work!" Kagome covered her mouth with a hand when she realized it. "I'm so sorry!"

"Don't worry, lady miko. Skipping work is what I live for," Natsu said with a wink and left them in the cafeteria. The group of other kitsune gave them curious looks, but otherwise left them alone, talking quietly among themselves.

"So," Shippou looked at Kagome expectantly. "Buy me a coffee?"

"No can do, mister," Kagome wagged a finger at him. "You can get tea or soda."

"Oh come on, after the scare you gave me, flaring your reiki like that! You almost burned my tail off!" he pointed to his perfectly fluffy tail. Kagome could see he was exaggerating things, but she couldn't help the feeling of embarrassment and guilt. But before she could cave in, Inuyasha stood up from his chair.

"No guilt tripping the wench, brat. You get tea or nothing. Choose," he barked and ignored the tongue Shippou stuck out at him. Kagome nodded, agreeing with Inuyasha with renewed resolve. Coffee was bad for kids, at least that was what her mother always said.

"But I still can get cookies, right?" the boy asked after looking between the two.

Chapter Text

Kagome watched Shippou as the boy made his way back to the table, holding a small paper tray with some of the cookies he had taken from the bowl.

The kitsune eating their lunch didn't pay much attention to him as he walked near them, a few animal ears cocking towards the sound of his footsteps was all. She guessed they weren't wary or confused by seeing the kit and his companions. 'I guess it makes sense. We're not screaming in denial at them and the mere fact that we were led here by one of them proves we're alright,' she thought.

She glanced to Inuyasha, who slumped in the chair next to her. He seemed alert and annoyed, but not agitated, which was a good sign. She had to trust the shrine guardian's instincts, after all he was her partner and friend.

Shippou made it to the table and put the plate on it, jumping to his chair and snatching a cookie. Kagome almost reached for one herself, seeing as the boy was happily munching on it. But their shape and color - and more importantly, Inuyasha's warning - gave her pause.

'Fox treats,' the hanyou named the cookies and glanced her way. 'I didn't know you dig in fox biscuits?'

'Oh, hush!' Kagome blushed and shook her head, clasping her hands together on the edge of the table top.

"Shippou!" called a voice from behind the miko and before Kagome could turn her head to look that way, the said kitsune leaped to the table top, half-eaten cookie in hand.

"Daddy!" the boy exclaimed happily and from his high spot leaped at the approaching fox, that resembled a human only by wearing a shirt and a pair of jeans. The fox grabbed the boy in his paws and nuzzled his hair. Kagome smiled at the joyful yips both exchanged, then looked to a woman that entered the cafeteria after the kitsune

She wore the same type of comfy, not expensive attire as the fox, but retained human features. Appearing young and with ginger hair tied in two ponytails, she looked a lot like a foreigner from Ireland, with freckles and green eyes completing the look. The woman grinned down at the two hugging in front of her.

"Um... Shi?" the miko asked, turning her eyes back to them as well. "Is that you?"

"Oh, Miss Higurashi!" the fox's ears perked up and in a poof of smoke he assumed the visage of the post man she had met. Shippou climbed up his body to his shoulder from where he leaped at the female, who giggled and kissed the top of his head as she hugged him. "Nice to see you again! And you too, fluffy tail," he winked at Inuyasha, who shrugged and grunted.

"Hey, Kagome, this is my mom!" Shippou waved his little hand from where he sat in the woman's embrace.

"I'm Uka," she introduced herself. "I must say we didn't expect Shippou to wander in the apparent world and cause you trouble. I hope he behaved."

"Like hell he did," Inuyasha grumbled while Kagome waved her hand in front of him, shaking her head.

"Don't listen to him, he's just grumpy," she said. "I'm Higurashi Kagome and he's Inuyasha. And Shippou was just a bit too eager to prank the patrons at my shrine, nothing more."

"Naughty fox, eh?" Shi sat on the chair Shippou had been sitting on while Uka pulled out a new chair, sitting down with her son in her lap.

"We're thankful you didn't purify him and went to such lengths to bring him back to us. I must say, I'm surprised you didn't take him to the Kitsune Inn, it's way closer," she said in the same kind, polite tone.

Kagome was about to answer when Inuyasha spoke again.

"The miko went out of her way, left the shrine to bring your pup to you. Don't dig holes in hillsides about it and just be thankful," he said and crossed his arms over his chest. His voice wasn't as rude as it usually was, but it was far from being on the same level as Uka's. The woman gave a small nod and stroked Shippou's hair before the child wiggled out of her grasp, snatched a cookie from the bowl and went to sit in his father's lap.

"We are indeed thankful," Shi replied and hugged Shippou before giving him a tug on his ear. "You should be at the Inn, kid."

"I missed you. And I was worried something bad happened to you!" Shippou whined, rubbing his ear.

"How can we repay you for your kindness?" Uka asked, tilting her head. "You brought him safely to us while so many others would seal him away or purify him."

"It was nothing, really," Kagome smiled warmly. "I'm not the kind of person to harm a child."

She had just a vague sense of how to purify or seal away youkai, so it never had been an option, but she decided not to reveal how much she had to learn.

"Just take the brat and don't let him wander to the shrine like this again," Inuyasha grumbled. The pair of adults looked down at their son and then at each other.

"Is it a sign that the shrine guardian of the Sunset Shrine allows kitsune to visit his domain?" Uka asked in a playful tone.

"Feh. As long as you bring offerings and pray instead of pranking others, all are allowed to visit the shrine," Kagome was pretty surprised to hear that. She had expected him to violently decline and tell them to keep away from his domain, but it seemed he didn't care as long as the visitors were behaving.

It made sense, youkai weren't often going to see sacred places, but as long as there was no special barrier to keep them out they could enter the shrine grounds.

"We will visit then, to pay our respects to the deity that has such a kind miko in their service," Uka gave a small nod. "And to place in your hands a gift for overseeing our unruly son's venture through the apparent world."

"Yes," Shi patted Shippou's shoulders. "I am terribly sorry for the trouble Shippou caused you," he shook his head. "And after I swore not to cause you any when you allowed me to keep my disguise and stay in the human lands."

"So, about that," Kagome turned to look his way. "What made you stop working as a mail man? I hope you weren't scared I'd change my mind or something?"

"Oh, no!" Shi shook his head. "I mean... I got spooked by that huge weird storm and decided it'd be better to stick to my own kind," he grinned sheepishly when Uka raised an eyebrow. "Yes, I know, love, I know."

"I never took foxes to be scared of storms?" Kagome tilted her head in confusion.

"It's because daddy has a special tool that he took from the thunder youkai!" Shippou exclaimed proudly. "He probably thought they wanted it back!"

"Well, yes. I have a powerful family heirloom named the Raigekijin," Shi elaborated. Kagome noticed that Inuyasha's ear twitched his way, otherwise the hanyou stayed still. "Thanks to it I can work as an electricity manager here at the village."

"I still think you should just destroy the thing," Uka commented.

"Oh, but it's a family heirloom, love!" Shi gasped at the suggestion. His wife just rolled her eyes.

"Do you two have a place to stay for the night, or will you take the night train?" Uka asked after a while of casual talking. "We could find a place for you two to stay."

"Um, we should be going," Kagome bit her bottom lip. "We don't want to inconvenience you."

"Yeah," Inuyasha stood up. "We have to get back to the shrine."

Kagome wished she could argue, but she knew he was right - they had to come back home and take care of the shrine and her grandpa. Besides, she didn't want to trouble the young parents. She was pretty sure now they'd have to accommodate their little son in whatever quarters they had in the village.

"I see. In this case let us escort you to the gate," Uka stood up and patted Shippou on the head. "Show me your disguise, squirt."

"Yeah!" Shippou nodded and in a poof of smoke changed his looks to resemble a regular human boy. "See?"

"You even managed to hide the tail this time, you made a lot of progress," Uka praised and then the whole family went to show Kagome and Inuyasha the way to the gate, leading them down a path meandering between the trees. It wasn't the same one that they had used on their way in, so Kagome was about to ask Uka how to get to the nearest station after saying goodbye to Shippou. But when she put the boy on the ground after a big hug, she found herself in front of a huge white dog, plastered against the dirt road. Both adult foxes stared at Inuyasha as he nudged Kagome's side with his nose.

'Jump on, wench. We're going home and you ain't dragging me to ride in those crazy trains again,' the dog said in her head. Kagome giggled and mounted the canine, before he stood up and swished his tail. With a bark Inuyasha leaped forward, following the imaginary line straight towards the Higurashi Shrine.

Shippou looked at his parents - his father looked mostly amused, but Uka seemed stunned.

"What's wrong, mom?" the boy asked.

"I never thought Lord of the West would produce a hanyou heir," she uttered and shook her head, grinning. "That sly dog, hiding his pup in the apparent world."

"The Western Lord's heir?" Shi pointed at the thick forest that wasn't a part of the Kitsune Village grounds and where Inuyasha couldn't be seen anymore, obscured by the foliage. "Are you sure?"

"How many silver inu do you know, love?" Uka giggled and bent down to pick up Shippou. "Now, young man. You disobeyed your father's orders to stay at the Inn with your cousins and study. This warrants a punishment."

"Oh, mom, no..." Shippou whined and tried to wiggle out of her grasp, to no avail.

Chapter Text

When Kagome woke the next day, it was in her own bed, once again in her clothes, sans socks. Groggily, she rolled her head to the side, half-expecting Inuyasha to be sitting and watching over her.

But he was not in her room, she guessed it made sense. After all, this time she hadn't lost consciousness by giving away too much of her reiki. She frowned - so how did she get in the bed in her clothes then?

She remembered visiting the Kitsune Village, all the fun she and her friends had there. She smiled when she remembered Uka and Shi, Shippou constantly crawling from the lap of one parent to the other and back, hugging and nuzzling them. The memory of how she'd came back home followed those sweet images.

The ride on Inuyasha's back was like soaring through a dream. At a speed that Kagome suspected was his full speed, Inuyasha was practically breezing through the forest, the labyrinth of branches and leaves, undergrowth and meadows seemed to blend together in a bizarre, otherworldly image of green and sunlight. The wind blew past them, whipping her hair as she pushed her face into the soft fur of his ruff to protect it from getting hit by a twig. Inuyasha was leaping in huge strides, his paws seemed to touch the ground just for the briefest moment before his muscular legs carried him forward, his ears leaning back. She had been gripping his flanks with her legs as tightly as she dared to, her hands gradually had gone from holding onto the ruff over his shoulder blades to wrapping around his neck.

She remembered what he had told her then. 'Don't worry, I won't let you fall.' There had been no teasing, no cockiness in his mind voice when he had said that. A warm, gentle smile spread across her lips when Kagome thought about this bit. Soon after that assurance she had fallen asleep, lulled into dreamland by the rhythmic motion of the graceful canine running smoothly.

At the start of their wild run she had been afraid someone would see them - a girl riding a humongous white dog. She had told Inuyasha about her worries just to receive a scoff in return. The hanyou somehow had managed to stick to the deep forests, only once crossing an abandoned village with its buildings empty and forgotten. And, as the day had changed into the night, the worry in her heart had subsided.

And now she was back home. Kagome sighed and stretched before she finally left the bed. It was probably high time to get up, make breakfast and go to do her work. 'When the visitors are gone for today I need to type down the experience,' she decided. She had a vague idea of a series of short stories with supernatural creatures in them. Kitsune were sure to be one of them - with her newly acquired knowledge she was sure she could make at least a handful of cool stories.

'It'd be fitting, after all I'm going to inherit the shrine, so creating a collection of youkai stories feels natural,' she thought as she was taking a quick shower.

An hour later, refreshed, dressed in her miko attire and with her belly full, Kagome went about her shrine duties. She paid her respects to the deity and thanked them shortly for the blessing that Shippou's visit - and safe return to his family - had been. Inuyasha had already swept the whole place, but there were other things she had to do.

Hiro approached her around midday, followed by a pair with a child, a girl not older than ten. The pair introduced themselves and told her that they were visiting the shrine annually since their daughter's birth, as a show of gratitude to the deity that granted them their wish of having a healthy baby.

"But this winter Ami got really sick and since then she easily gets tired," the father of the girl confessed, looking at his baby. The girl was pale and her eyes were tired as she looked up at Kagome shyly. "We asked doctors, but they say she's fine."

"Please, can you cleanse her?" the mother asked. "We're afraid she's under an influence of something..." she glanced to Hiro, obviously uncertain, but hopeful.

"I will do what I can," Kagome nodded firmly before she knelt before the girl and smiled warmly at her. "Hi there, Ami. I'm Kagome." She outstretched her hand towards the kid.

"...Hi," the girl said shyly, clinging to her mother's leg. The woman offered a small, soft smile to encourage her daughter to take the hand. As soon as Kagome felt the tiny, dry hand in her grasp, she felt that the suspicions of her parents were right, there was something wrong.

'Look at her,' she heard Inuyasha's voice and realized that he was somewhere in the forest behind her, observing them. She blinked at the girl, but she looked just like most children would, only very tired. 'Silly, focus on her aura. Like... Look around her body, not at it And beyond the illusion it put on her.'

There was an annoyed growl in his voice and Kagome wasn't sure if he was angry with her not knowing this, or with the youkai that tried to hide itself from their eyes. She did just as he told her, gently rubbing Ami's hand and trying to keep her relaxed smile in place.

It looked like an octopus with eyes on the tips of its tentacles. All those eyes glared at her from where the thing not bigger than a cup sat on Ami's left shoulder. Kagome gasped and almost dropped Ami's hand

"What is it?" asked the parents in unison, the girl taking a frightened step back towards her mother, her lower lip trembling.

"It's a youkai," Kagome muttered. "But it's not big, so don't worry. I will take care of it, listening to the gruff voice whispering in her mind. Following the instructions, she imagined her reiki flowing into her hand and patted Ami's shoulder where the youkai sat. The thing leaped off of Ami's shoulder in the last possible moment before Kagome could purify it. Kagome half turned to chase it, but the youkai was already running away, moving surprisingly fast on its tentacles. In a matter of seconds it reached the tree line.

'Inuyasha!' she called, just as she saw a white dog leap from a shadow of a tree at something on the ground. Then the canine vanished in the forest.

'Done,' came a satisfied voice of the shrine guardian. 'Take care of the humans.'

Kagome gave a nod, not even thinking if he could see it or not, then she smiled back at the spooked family huddled together a few steps away. Hiro raised an eyebrow.

"The youkai is gone and won't come back," Kagome said with joy before she stood up and brushed off her hakama. She tried not to react too surprised and overjoyed at the effectiveness of her performance. They didn't have to know that it was her first time. "Ami needs some rest and to eat a lot of healthy food, so she can replenish her energy, but she is alright now."

"Thank you," the father of the girl bowed, followed by the mother. The girl looked to her shoulder, a bit afraid, then to Kagome, with a bit more confidence.

"The ugly dreams won't come?" she asked, hopefully. Kagome nodded.

"No bad dreams for you, Ami," she assured the poor child and chuckled when the child let out a relieved sigh. "But you're going to eat a lot of veggies."
The girl groaned and made a face, causing her parents to laugh. As Kagome looked at them she could almost see them all relax and straighten their backs as if a weight had been lifted their shoulders.
"
"I told you, my granddaughter is a promising miko," Hiro preened. "She's still new to the spiritual work, but she's a fast learner. Now, would you like to purchase a talisman? Or maybe a vial of essential oils that help replenish energy and fend off bad dreams?" Kagome shook her head and grinned when she saw her grandfather casually leading the family towards the gift shop.

'Inuyasha?' she whispered, resuming walking towards the washing basin to make sure it was in order.

'Hm?'

"Thank you for helping me. I couldn't have done it without you.'

'Feh. You'd figure something out, wench. Besides, you are sloppy and slow, we will have to work on it. You must use your reiki without thinking if you want to catch those stinking bastards before they run away. I won't always be able to finish the job.'

'Oh, hush,' Kagome wagged a mind finger at the dog, getting in return a scoff.

Chapter Text

Kagome sighed happily as she sat down by the low table in her room, intending to write for a while. She'd already made the supper and Hiro was watching TV downstairs, the shrine was closed for visitors for the evening and the sun just disappeared behind the mountain. Knowing Inuyasha, he was probably taking a nap on a tree limb in his forest - Kagome was still unable to goad him into coming to sleep in the house.

Last few days had been busy, with Tempest and Shippou, with the journey to the Kitsune Village and the banishing of Ami's youkai - it had been hard to find a while to write. She did her best to make notes on her phone, but writing on a normal-sized laptop keyboard was more comfortable.

She knew that she had lots to learn and that the festival was drawing near. Soon, she was sure of it, she wouldn't have much time, with all the preparations and training. She just hoped that the villagers would come as always to help them. It was supposed to be the first time she'd act as the real shrine keeper - performing the kagura dance and bringing offerings to the deity. She was going to meet and form ties with all the people her grandfather had been working with for years and the patrons that supported the shrine - she had to make a good impression on them... somehow. Kagome shook her head - thinking of it would just make her more anxious for the event.

The woman focused on her writing for the time being. She could worry about her ties to the local community later. Besides, she had grandpa to show her the ropes and Inuyasha, who was a good advisor - which she was learning each and every day. It had been him who'd told her what to do with the baby dragon, and it had been thanks to him that she'd helped Ami.

Not even twenty minutes had passed when she heard her grandfather's quiet voice and a tapping on her door.

"Kagome, dear? There's a man in the shrine," he said and peered inside.

"Huh? At this time? Maybe he needs help?" Kagome closed her laptop and stood up. "Or maybe it's a pilgrim who arrived late?"

Grandpa just smiled and shrugged, walking slowly after her when she went downstairs and out of the house.

When the young miko made her way outside, she saw that the colors were still bright and vibrant in the sky, the western part of it blazing orange and violet, green and yellow, with smudges of clouds, while the east was dark and with stars coming to view.

As she followed Hiro's words she went from the private grounds to the shrine. She easily spotted the stranger and sighed, seeing that he was busy purifying his hands. She could allow him to pray quickly and go back to the village to find some lodging. He looked like a pilgrim in his traditional red clothing, but his dark hair was long and somewhat messy, like a rock star's.

A silent bell followed by a clap made her come out of her musings. The man was now bowing his head in front of the shrine, obviously deep in his prayer. She allowed him a moment of silence before she stepped closer. Right in time, because he finished his prayer as she stopped a few meters away from him.

"The shrine is closed for visits for today," she announced. She probably scared the poor man, because he yelped and leaped back, his hands flailing as he spun around to face her.

"Crap!" he cried out. "Kagome, don't sneak up on me like that!"

She was about to berate the man for using such foul language in front of the deity's dwelling and for using her name in such a familiar way, but something made her pause.

She stared in the fading light at the young man in front of her. His dark eyes were big, innocent and wide in shock, shining from under his unruly bangs. His voice was softer and he lacked dog ears and fangs, his hair was jet black instead of silver white, but...

She had to make sure she wasn't dreaming.

'Inuyasha...?' she tentatively asked in her mind. The boy in front of her flinched. Something pale on his chest caught her attention - it was a magatama bead of Inuyasha's kotodama no nenju. "It's you," she added, this time out loud. How could it be? The supernatural shrine guardian appeared to be as human as she was. That couldn't be right...

"Keh," he shrugged, but his trademark noise sounded odd as well. Still, it was her friend and Kagome relaxed when it was confirmed. He looked unusual, but it was him. No one could copy their telepathic bond.

"You scared my grandpa," she smiled at him as they moved towards the back of the shrine, from where they were just a short distance from the house. "What happened to you anyway?"

"I sure as hell didn't scare the old fart! He knew and he sent you to witness my disgrace!" this time Inuyasha's voice was more like his usual one, full of agitation. He even stopped walking, instead just glared at the Higurashi house with a deep scowl. Following his lead she stopped walking. Kagome frowned at his words and turned to look back towards the house.

"He... He knew?" she repeated after him, thinking about how her grandpa had asked her to deal with a trespasser in the shrine. He was nowhere in sight and there was no light in the windows, so maybe he was looking from a darkened room?

Then the second part of Inuyasha's outburst finally registered and she once again stared at the shrine guardian, halfway turned away from her, his shoulders slumped and his face hidden in the shadow. For some reason reading his emotions without the helpful - and cute - fuzzy ears on top of his head was harder than one would think.

"Your disgrace? What do you mean, Inuyasha?" the miko asked, confused. The boy turned her way and glared straight at her, lifting his hands and gesturing at himself.

"I'm useless like this!" he growled. "Can't you see? I'm a half-breed and tonight I can't do shit, like the whole lot of you humans!"

"Well, thank you kindly, Inuyasha," Kagome said sourly and crossed her arms over her chest.

'"You know what I meant!" he added hurriedly, his hands moving in a gesture that looked like an attempt to calm her down. "I can't protect the shrine and you like this. I'm worthless during the moonless night."

"You aren't worthless, Inuyasha," Kagome said and grabbed his hand, so she could lead him to a small bench under a maple tree shadowing the torii gate that separated the shrine grounds from the house yard. "The barrier around the shrine still holds, yes?"

"Feh, of course!" he sat down beside her on the bench, but was tense and refused to look at her. He snatched his hand away from her as soon as her grip on his fingers loosened a bit, but she didn't mind. He was not that fond of touching in his hanyou form, it seemedthat as a human he treasured his personal space even more. She wasn't going to make him more upset and uncomfortable than he already was.

"Then there is no need to be worried," she said. "We will just stay in the shrine every new moon night, alright? I mean it's night so we wouldn't be going anywhere anyway."

He grunted and for a long while they sat in silence, Kagome watching the stars light one by one overhead as the western side of the sky darkened. Inuyasha sighed and hung his head.

"What is it?" she asked, trying to pour as much of her kindness in her words as possible.

"I didn't want you to find out like this, so soon. I... I wanted you to first get to know that you can rely on me, trust me, trust that I can protect you as a hanyou," the boy beside her - to her surprise - answered, his voice quiet and resigned. "I wanted to prove my worth before you could see how pathetic I am."

"You know," Kagome leaned against the back of the bench, looking at the boy in the growing darkness. "I already trust you and think you're really... really cool. And I don't think less of you because you have a human side that isn't that badass hanyou fighter with cute ears," she added with a blush and a tiny smile.

"Keh! My ears ain't cute!" he barked, a glimpse of his usual cocky self in his voice. Then he turned away from her again. "Are you.... Are you one of those people who feel... more comfortable around me when I'm like this/?"

Kagome bit her bottom lip, her fists clenching. What had he experienced in his past that now he saw himself as weak only because he was human for this night? And what had been his relationships with her predecessors that now he worried she'd like him more as a human? It left a bitter taste in her mouth when she thought of her ancestors. It was hard to accept the fact that they could be mistreating the hanyou shrine guardian because of his mixed blood, that they could make this strong man feel useless because he had weaknesses.

She wasn't thinking when she put a hand on his shoulder, rubbing the tense muscles there.

"I like you as Inuyasha," she declared, blushing when she realized that he could misunderstand her and think that she had feelings for him or something... Well, maybe she had a tiny crush on him, but he didn't have to know about it just yet, right? "I mean you are a good friend. You support me, you keep me safe, you dedicated your whole life to guarding the shrine and my family," she added hurriedly, biting her bottom lip as soon as she said all that.

She couldn't see his face from the veil of his hair. Honestly, it was longer and thicker than hers and she felt a bit jealous about it. "Keh."

"And," she continued after a moment. "I hope I will be able to return your dedication and protect you. From whatever you need protecting from. And, since as this mighty hanyou shrine guardian you are practically invincible for most of the time, I am perfectly fine keeping guard for a night," she said honestly.

In the dim light his big eyes looked almost black as he lifted his head to look at her with an expression she couldn't name. Then he scoffed.

"You, protecting me? Fat chance, even in this weak form I'm stronger than you, wench!" he declared.

"Oh yeah? Prove it!" she demanded, jumping at the familiar invitation to a bickering match. She shrieked and laughed when the boy leaped to his feet and picked her up from the bench bridal style. "Inuyasha! Put me down!"

"Your kotodama ain't working on me in this form, wench!" he chuckled, carrying her towards the house. "Stop wiggling or I'll drop you!"

"No, no, no, don't drop me!" Kagome wrapped her arms around his neck, looking at the stone path leading to her house. Her movements probably weren't helping Inuyasha keep his balance as he wobbled his way towards his destination, at the same time trying to find the way in the darkness and not drop his cargo.

"Then stop wiggling! Damn, woman!""

Kagome shrieked when Inuyasha tripped over something, probably an uneven edge of the stone, and fell down. The boy merely cursed as he awkwardly fell to his back.

"Goodness, Inuyasha, are you okay?" Kagome asked in concern from where she sat across the poor boy's chest.

"Gods, you're gonna kill me, ain't you?" he moaned and reached to the back of his head, wincing. Kagome could already imagine the bruise growing there.

"I'm so sorry! But I told you..."

"Oh, shut up!"

.

Inside the house, sitting beside the opened shoji to the living room and listening to the pair, Hiro smiled.

He thought back to that night when Inuyasha had revealed his secret to him, after 'just' two years of partnership. It had been a troubled time and the revelation had startled him quite a bit. Hiro thought that Kagome was probably the first Higurashi who was able to treat the hanyou the same after learning his secret, no matter in which form he walked at her side. She was already on much friendlier terms with the elusive shrine guardian than many that had come before. Briefly, he wondered if he could have been such a partner to the hanyou, if not for the war and the darkness that had followed it, with the increase of youkai activity in the following years.

When he heard a phone ring, Hiro stood up to answer and dropped those musings. Inuyasha, his old friend, was entering a new chapter in his life, with a new shrine keeper to look after. And, hopefully, Kagome would manage to make him let her look after him, too.

Chapter Text

He smiled. It was a perfect day for a trip - and a visit to a dear friend. Once he'd had a crush on her, but they weren't of compatible souls. Which wasn't any surprise, if you just looked at their zodiacs - she was a Taurus while he was a Virgo. The truth was plain as the stars.

He looked up. The stars were coming in to view on the eastern side of the sky, despite the west being still aflame from a lovely sunset. 'A pretty sunset,' he thought. 'How fitting, since it's Higurashi Shrine.'

He turned to look back at a pair of old people and offered them a warm smile.

"Thank you for the directions!" he said.

"Are you sure you don't want to stay the night, good man?" the old man asked.

"Oh, it's fine. I will be at the shrine in no time, so don't worry!" the young man in black jeans and purple button up shirt sent them a radiant smile and bowed. "Good night to you and pass my wishes for good health to miss Kaguraya."

Smiling widely, the young man left the house of the locals and walked towards the gate in a tall garden wall to follow the directions to the shrine, The sky above his head was darkening, as was the forest that surrounded him soon after leaving the village, so he switched on his flashlight.

Back at the house the old wife looked at her spouse.

"We should call priest Higurashi," she said and when he nodded, she went to make the phone call. Upstairs, a red-eyed girl sat in the open window, watching the handsome boy disappear in the dark forest, Then she closed the window, deciding that she should go visit the shrine too one day. For some odd reason, despite living here for all her life, she couldn't remember going there.

.

The sun was still well over the horizon when the bus arrived at a bus stop in the center of a small village. A few people exited it before the bus drove away.

Among the newcomers was a young man in black pants and a purple shirt. He ran a hand through his dark hair, breathing in the fresh air, sweet after the stuffy inside of a bus or even the air of the big town near the foot of the mountain. He smiled and looked at the forest that covered the higher part of the mountain, almost to where its top disappeared in the clouds like Mt. Fuji. 'Such a fantastic scenery, so serene and beautiful,' he thought. 'Now, to get some directions...'

He turned to the side where a pair of old people were talking. The man had been on the bus with him, presumably returning home from a trip. An old woman was greeting him, she was for sure his wife. Beside them stood two big luggage bags. The man was about to ask them for directions, but upon seeing the heavy bags he knew he should do more than just that. His backpack looked almost weightless beside those two.

"Hello, may I help you with your luggage?" he offered with innocent, kind smile. The pair looked at him in surprise.

"You're not from around here," the man pointed out, a bit suspicious. The young man nodded.

"Yes, I'm visiting a friend and wanted to ask for directions, but I noticed your heavy luggage and thought I could offer some assistance. My friend lives at the Higurashi Shrine," he added and then introduced himself. "I'm Hojo Keichi."

It took a bit of convincing, but after a few minutes the old couple allowed him to help them. He walked with them towards their home, which was a lovely two story building hidden in a small garden shielded by a tall wall. They had a pleasant conversation, Hojo telling them about his college plans and asking how the life in such a beautiful little village was like.

"You should stay the night in the village," said Mrs. Ito, the wife of a retired bamboo cutter. "It's dangerous in the forest after dark. The shrine is called Sunset Shrine because the sunset is a magical time. As the sunset gates between the apparent and supernatural world open youkai roam the wilderness. There is such a gate on the mountain and Higurashi shrine keeps it safe and fends off the vile youkai."

Juju, her husband, nodded vigorously and held the gate for Hojo.

"Yes, it's dangerous out there. And beside youkai, there are some wild animals roaming the woods too," he said when Hojo walked past him, following his wife towards the small lovely house. "Well, where wild animals usually don't attack people, youkai can."

Hojo smiled at the man walking beside him towards where the woman was opening the house door. He guessed it was no surprise that those people so strongly believed in youkai, after all it was a remote place and they were old. It would be rude to tell them that that was just a superstition. He put the bags beside the opened door of the house.

"Here you go," he said with a smile to the old man.

"Thank you, young Hojo," he said. "Come inside, let's have tea. San and I will tell you the directions to the shrine.

"That'd be great, thank you," Keichi said with a bow and followed the man inside. They removed their shoes and walked to a small, tidy kitchen where Hana was already making tea. A plate of cookies sat on the table.

Keichi sat down and smiled at them, Mr Ito sat next to him and moved the plate closer to him, taking a cookie for himself. His wife went to the interior of the house, leaving them alone for a moment.

"So, what youkai dwell on the mountain?" the boy asked to continue the conversation and humor the superstitious old people. The smile offered to him by Mr. Ito was a sign it was a question he appreciated.

"Oh, many. There are kitsune and tengu, kappa and oni, and a bunch more. And the okuri inu," he added with a sage nod. glancing at Hojo. "You should just spend the night in town and go to visit the shrine tomorrow, when it's safe."

"Did I hear you spout the rubbish about okuri inu again?" Hojo turned to the kitchen door to see Mrs. Ito coming back and prepared an extra cup of tea before she poured the boiling water into their tea. She put the cups on the table and sat down.

"The okuri inu, he's real. I know I saw him escorting priest Higurashi back to the shrine ten years ago," the aged man pouted. Hojo smiled politely, not voicing his opinion that it probably had been a stray dog following a kind man who probably gave him some food. The old lady shook her head.

"It was Higurashi no Inugami, I'll say," she lifted a finger and looked at Hojo. "Be careful, young man, when you are at the shrine. The mountain kami has granted a real inugami to protect their dwelling, the mountain and the Higurashi priests. The inugami might appear before you as a white akita, but don't be fooled, it is a youkai of formidable power. Be polite when you meet it."

"I will," Hojo gave a solemn nod. He wasn't a dog lover, but he didn't mind dogs. And this looked like a rumor told to outsiders to add some mystery to a Higurashi family dog. Actually, Hojo found it lovely how much folklore stories could enhance the atmosphere of a place, giving it a supernatural vibe. It was just another way of making this little village far from everywhere stand out and have its own identity. "I will make sure I won't cross any mononoke. Or make an inugami angry with me while I'm visiting the shrine."

"He doesn't believe a word you say, mother." a soft and lovely voice spoke from the kitchen door. Hojo gasped at that statement and turned yet again to see the person for which the extra tea cup had been prepared.

It was a girl not older than him, with porcelain skin and dark hair pinned up with a kanzashi resembling a fan of feathers. She wore a traditional yukata with grace and elegance. She was easily one of the prettiest girls Hojo had ever seen. He stared at her, forgetting to deny her claims.

"Kaguraya, dear, don't say that!" Mrs Ito wagged her finger at her and looked at the stunned boy. "Our daughter, Kaguraya."

"Oh, nice to meet you, I'm Hojo Keichi," Hojo stood up to greet the girl, blushing when he saw her raise an eyebrow. She had probably noticed him staring. He supposed she was pretty used to it, being so beautiful. A girl like her usually wanted to become a model or an actress, not stay in some lost countryside village.

"Hello to you too," she replied, her voice not quite carrying the politeness of her words. She sounded bored and tired as she moved to the kitchen counter where the extra cup of tea waited for her. "Anyway, don't mind me, I just came to take my tea, that's all. Besides," she looked back at Hojo, her almond eyes locking with his. They were an unusual shade of rusty brown that looked like red in the dim light coming through the window. "I don't like when people try to fool my family."

Hojo blushed hotly at the girl's rather harsh words. For a moment he stared at Kaguraya picking up her cup and heading towards the door.

"Uh, miss, I'm sorry, but..." he started, uncertain what to actually say. She glanced at him with a look of disinterest and indifference, as if she didn't deem him worthy of her annoyance at his behavior. Which, on one side, wasn't wrong, in his opinion. He had been just politely playing along, not seeing any reasons to argue about the existence of supernatural beings with a pair of nice old people.

"I hope that you get a good chase from an ayakashi, if any bothers to show up around you," the beautiful girl said coolly. "Then you will know that it's not polite to mock other people's beliefs. Especially when you're not from here."

"Oh, dear, don't say that!" Mrs Ito gasped. Her daughter smiled at her gently. "It's not polite to treat a boy, who went out of his way to help us today."

"It was nothing, Mrs Ito," Hojo hurriedly assured her. The girl eyed him from where she stood in the doorway.

"Too many people make fun of old people believing youkai exist," she said, it was not a real apology, but it explained why she was so cold at first. "I will retire now, mom, dad, I'm not feeling well."

"Alright, dear, call if you need anything," Mrs Ito said and the young woman went away.

"Don't mind Kaguraya's brash words," Mr Ito spoke from where he sat, causing Hojo to stop staring after the girl. "She is fair like the moon itself, but she's frail and I guess she grew bitter over the years, being stuck with us and no one else to keep her company."

"I'm so sorry to hear that," Hojo said honestly. That poor girl, being unable to pursue her dreams and being stuck in this little village while she had the looks of a top model.

"Anyway, if you want to stay in the village for the night, we can find you a nice accommodation," the aged bamboo cutter suggested.

"Oh, no, I'll be just fine, I promise," Hojo shook his head. He didn't want to impose, besides it was a lovely evening for a walk in a forest. "Just give me the directions and I will be on my way."

"Are you sure? Today is the new moon." Mrs Ito said, but Hojo just assured them he would be fine. After all, what bad could happen to him? If he needed to, he knew some karate moves, had his phone and flashlight - he felt ready to brave the wilderness.
,
.

Holding his phone to his ear, his hand slippery with sweat, he realized he so wasn't ready to face the wilderness.

"Am I pretty?"

"...Kagome... Kagome, I'm on the shrine road and there's this woman...."

Chapter Text

Kagome couldn't stop a sigh of envy as she ran her fingers through the windblown black mane. It wasn't fair - as far as she knew this hair saw no conditioner and rarely saw a brush other than a set of claws combing out some twigs and leaves. And yet, somehow, this hair was healthier than hers. It was also soft, unlike his usual white hair that was rough like a dog's
fur.

"What is it?" the boy sitting on a chair by the kitchen table grumbled. After his failed attempt to carry her home, Kagome had made him come with her so she could tend to his bruised head.

Hurriedly she parted the outlandishly pretty hair to reveal the injury - according to Inuyasha it didn't hurt and would disappear at dawn. She poked the swollen flesh with a finger and got a hiss from the boy.

"You said it's not hurting," she said, partially to apologize, partially to jab at his tough dude mask.

"Keh! It doesn't when you don't poke it!" he barked back. Shaking her head Kagome put an ice bag against it, applying just a bit of pressure. She sighed when she heard a mumbled curse, when she rested a hand on his shoulder to help her straighten up, his muscles were tense. She rubbed his shoulder.

"This is your punishment for showing off," she said with just a hint of teasing. It was actually nice to think that Inuyasha'd tried to impress her even in his human form. Well, he'd failed, but it still made her want to smile. Inuyasha grabbed the ice bag and held it against his head for a while before throwing it in the sink, barely missing the tower of dishes in need of washing.

"Feh! Not my fault you wiggled and fought me like a fucking kappa taken from a freaking pond!" Inuyasha complained and she playfully swatted his arm.

"You, mister, are lucky you didn't say anything about my weight!" she lifted her nose in the air. It had been his fault, he'd startled her. And he'd refused to put her down when she'd asked him to.

"Your weight? Wench, your weight is just fine, your attitude is the problem! Don't you trust me?" Inuyasha glared at her from under his black bangs, his eyes human-like, but carrying the same burning intensity of his usual gaze. She froze at this question. "I didn't drop my charge since that one time when Aki barfed on me three centuries ago!"

"Of course I trust you!" she growled at him. She didn't like the idea of him thinking she didn't - it wasn't true. But then the last bit of information registered and she froze yet again, her finger pointing at the boy. "What? Why?"

"Feh! You'd barf too if you saw that pile of shit that sick bastard kept in his basement!" Inuyasha declared and looked away. Kagome's hand rested on his shoulder of its own volition, rubbing soothing circles.

'You saw a lot during your service at the shrine, komainu,' she thought, her heart squeezing. She couldn't even imagine his life back then, battling vile youkai, serving her ancestors and being kept in the forest, away from people, because he was of the same blood as the ayakashi. He was like a guardian on the border between the light and darkness. She imagined him, his white hair flowing on the wind, as he stood in the torii gate, watching the sun set over the mountain and the village, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword, his ears alert, eyes blazing with determination.

'Keh!' she blushed when she realized she spoke to him those words and he saw the mental image she had conjured. Hurriedly, she stepped back and turned around to hide her blush. 'I've seen some shit. You'll see your share too, just wait, wench.'

Just for a second, before the vision in her imagination fizzled away, she saw herself standing on the other side of the red gate, leaning against the pillar, her miko robe completed with a bow and a quiver of arrows, a branch of the Sacred Tree with little bells tied to it held in her hand. The Kagome in the vision seemed to radiate soft light and was smiling. She also looked prettier than Kagome remembered her mirror reflection to be.

Surprised by this addition, she looked back at Inuyasha, but couldn't see his face, because he lowered his head. And, sadly, there were no ears to betray his mood. Was it how he saw her? A fuzzy feeling filled her and she found herself smiling, feeling a bit too warm on her face than she should be.

"Well, well, we have a guest," the miko looked up to see her grandfather standing in the doorway. "Is this man the mysterious late visitor maybe?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Oh, grandpa, it's alright, it's just..." Kagome tried to explain, but Inuyasha's gruff voice stopped her, the boy glaring at her grandpa.

"He knows who I am, Kagome," Inuyasha crossed his arms in front of his chest. "He sent you to see my weak form before I was ready to show it to you."

"Well, of course I know," Hiro smiled. "I would never send my granddaughter to face a stranger. Besides, we both know that it'd take too long for you to be ready," Hiro pointed a finger at the boy. "I saw it in my tea leaves, today was the best day to do this."

"You and your stupid tea leaves!" Inuyasha groaned and rolled his eyes.

"Grandpa, you should've just told me," Kagome pouted while Inuyasha just scowled at him. "And I think it was Inuyasha's decision when to show this form to me, it wasn't too nice to rob him of this choice."

She smiled at the still seated boy, who gazed at her with wide, dark eyes. Before she could name the emotions shining in them, grandpa spoke again.

"I'm glad to see that the bond of friendship and respect is strong within you two," Hiro praised, resting his hands on his obi. "On the matter of sending you to meet strangers, Kagome. Mrs. Ito from the village called to inform us that there is a young man called Hojo coming up the mountain. According to her, he claims to be your friend. They tried to convince him to stay the night in the village, but he refused..

Kagome's heart stopped beating for a moment.

"What? Hojo's coming to visit?" she gasped and frantically looked around. The house was in no shape for visitors, they didn't have any gluten-free food Hojo ate because of his diet, the guest room wasn't prepared and... and... the dishes in the sink were still not washed! He'd think she turned into a sloth! And...

Kagome glanced towards the top of Inuyasha's head and sighed when she remembered there were no cute ears she'd have to hide. Instead she saw his dark scowl targeted at her.

"Who's Hobo?" he asked.

"A friend and his name is Hojo Keichi, not Hobo. I mean we went on one or two dates in high school, but it never went past that," she realized she was babbling and shut her mouth. It looked like with every word she spoke the spark in Inuyasha's eye dimmed until the boy looked away from her.

"Anyway," Hiro looked towards the window. "It's dark out there and the boy left the Ito house just a few minutes ago. Who knows what things can lurk in the dark. Maybe it'd be wise to go and..."

Kagome gasped at that - the boy was helpless against youkai, just like most humans were. Heck, she was a miko and she was pretty sure she was no match for many of them. Before she could say anything, Inuyasha jumped to his feet, knocking the chair he'd been sitting on over.

"No fucking way! She ain't trained enough to go out of the barrier!"

"I believe she can brave the night," Hiro looked at the growling boy in front of him. "The forest was quite peaceful lately, so I don't think Kagome can't handle it. Besides, it's just a small distance down the road and back, not an endeavor into the youkai domain."
.
"Old man..." Inuyasha clenched his fists.

"I..." Kagome started and swallowed when she realized both males looked her way. "I could use the protective talismans I wrote as a part of my training lately," she suggested. She knew that in the dark her bow would be useless, but to just ward off some mischievous youkai her ofudas could be enough.

"No. You ain't going anyway. I am not risking your well-being for a stupid human!" Inuyasha declared.

"Yes, it sounds like a good plan," Hiro agreed with his granddaughter. Kagome smiled in relief upon that and walked towards the living room where she had her ofudas stored in a drawer. Inuyasha stomped after her and grabbed her wrist when she reached in the drawer to retrieve them. Kagome looked up in his face.

"You can't go, Kagome," he half ordered, half pleaded. "It's the new moon..."

"I'll be fine, Inuyasha," she smiled at him soothingly. "But Hojo is a bit dense at times and I don't want some youkai to take advantage of him. I will go and fetch him as fast as I can, promise."

Those dark brown eyes stared at her and Kagome felt the grip on her hand tighten.

"Hojo's my friend, Inuyasha. I won't abandon him," she declared, preparing for his harsh retort and hoping she could somehow end their argument soon.

To her surprise, Inuyasha let go of her hand and... The woman blinked when she saw him shrugging off his kimono. With a grim expression on his face he draped it over her shoulders and stood up to glare at her.

"Then move your ass. I can't carry you in this form so you will have to run to keep up with me," he grumbled. The miko's lips spread in a wide, grateful smile and the shrine guardian quickly looked away, scoffing. She grabbed a handful of her ofudas and hurried after her partner.

She'd been anxious about going in the forest at night, especially since there was a big chance she was going to fight youkai, but with Inuyasha at her side she was no longer afraid. She rubbed a hand against the rough fabric of his kimono and went to grab a flashlight and her phone before she ran after her friend to save another.

.

Hiro looked after the pair as they disappeared into the darkness of the forest following the barely visible road. True to Inuyasha's words, they were moving at a pace closer to a run than to a walk.

"I can't help, but feel a bit jealous," he muttered as he switched on the lamp that would show them the way when they came back. The lamp light couldn't offer more than guidance, but he knew it would be helpful. "He wouldn't do that for most of us."

"It couldn't be helped," said a gentle voice near him. He turned around to see an old miko standing on the edge of the light cast by his lamp. one eye covered while the other gazed down the road. "There's a human in need of saving and if his miko deems the human worthy of saving, Inuyasha will go. Even in his weakened state. After all, even as he is right now, he still can aid her."

"Lady Kaede," Hiro bowed his head politely. "What made you come here tonight?"

"I merely came to redo the seal on the well," she pointed to the well house. "You must remind them that it needs a current Higurashi to cast it, otherwise it will need redoing."

The old shrine keeper nodded. "I will tell them to do it as soon as it's possible, thank you for your help."

"It was the most logical thing to do," the woman looked to the top of the mountain. "The youkai world is... not peaceful right now. The Western Lands suffered a great blow from the South and the Western Lord is... frantic."

"The Western Lord? Frantic?" Hiro raised an eyebrow. "Like how?"

"You, my dear descendant, don't want to know the answer to this question," Kaede sighed. "I'd better go now, my village needs me."

Hiro bowed and when he looked up the woman was gone. All that remained was the silence of the moonless night and one lamp to keep the darkness at bay.

.

Kagome ran after Inuyasha, his white kosode flashing in the narrow beam of her flashlight dancing in front of her. She was thankful that the road was relatively smooth, but it was pretty steep for mad running in the middle of the night.

"You remember how to use these ofudas, right?" the boy in front of her asked.

"Of course!" she panted out. He was human now, but he still sounded less breathless than her, running a bit ahead of her. She frowned when she realized he slowed down to run beside her.

"Good. Then charge one or two and give them to me!" he demanded.

"What, now?" she gasped. She'd put her reiki in the talismans before, but not while running down a forest road in almost complete darkness.

"And when would you prefer it to be? When we come across a youkai?" he asked sourly. "I'm not exactly fit to fight youkai like this!"

"You have a sword!" Kagome pointed out. Inuyasha rarely parted with his katana, insisting on keeping it at his side even when he was doing chores around the shrine. But, to be honest, Kagome never had seen him train or even draw it.

"And it's useless!" he barked at her. "Just do what I say!"

"Okay, okay," she muttered, reaching her free hand in her pocket to pull out two crumpled pieces of paper. She squeezed them in her fingers and tried to reach her reiki, force it to flow into the kanji.. It was hard to divide her focus between the road and this task. A few stumbles later Inuyasha grabbed her arm and forced her to stop, so she could focus on the talismans. She gave him a grateful glance, but he wasn't looking her way.

The boy's eyes and the flashlight he held were turned towards the walls of the forest, trees towering over them and almost blocking the faint starlight. He was silent and tense, like a watchman expecting an ambush. She could sense tendrils of youki, thin and distant, so she wasn't surprised he was on edge. After all, for tonight, he was not this powerful being, but an ordinary boy.

Kagome closed her eyes, trying to focus on her ofudas, sending her reiki to them as fast as she could. Now, when she was standing still, it didn't take long.

She felt a pang of guilt when she looked at Inuyasha again, he probably felt vulnerable and uneasy, but still he went with her. He had made it clear he didn't want to, that he didn't want her to go, but when she'd explained to him she had to go, he didn’t try to keep her in the shrine. Not only that, he actually joined her, despite his weakened state, because he didn't want her to go alone. Gratitude filled her heart and Kagome promised herself to reward her friend for accompanying her. He was not as invincible as his usual self, but he cared. And with him Kagome felt as if she could fend off a hundred youkai with ease. With Inuyasha at her side, watching her back, she felt she could brave the moonless night.

As soon as her reiki surrounded the papers with soft light, the ofudas were snatched from her grasp. She was about to complain, but a soft flute tune made her pause with her mouth open. Inuyasha glared at her and Kagome hurriedly fished her phone from another pocket. In the silence of the dark forest the ringtone sounded eerie and otherworldly. Kagome swallowed and started to walk again down the road.

"Hojo, is that you?" she asked worriedly. Was he lost? Or were there youkai stalking him? Where was he?

What answered her was a breathless, fearful voice of her old friend.

"...Kagome... Kagome, I'm on the shrine road and there's this woman...."

Chapter Text

Kagome gasped when she heard Hojo's voice.

"A woman?" she asked and looked to the shrine guardian glaring at her. She could hear a faint feminine voice somewhere in the background of Hojo's side. She was asking about something.

"Keep him talking to you," Inuyasha growled and tugged Kagome down the road at a brisk pace. She was thankful for his steadying grip on her hand as they hurried down the mountain road.

"Um... Yeah, Hojo, what a surprise... What made you come here so suddenly?" Kagome tried to sound natural, but it was quite a challenge. "I'm on my way to get you right now."

"Oh... Well, you know, the girls told me they already visited you, so I thought I'd surprise you," Hojo sounded confused, but easily switched to his usual tendency to talk a lot. "So I came here today, but I kinda got sidetracked. I met a nice family who told me a lot of supernatural stories about all kinds of youkai living in the forest. I didn't know that people still believe in folklore beings."

"And he didn't think it's because they're real," Inuyasha grumbled. "Stupid human."

"Well, people here are more traditional, I guess," Kagome ignored Inuyasha's remark. "So, what happened next?"

"I went up the road the nice people showed me and... Wow, Kagome, this forest is thick! It must be a great place for walks, I mean during the day. But you must be careful, I saw a bunch of blue fires in the distance. You know, the gas might be coming up from the ground... Is the mountain a volcano? I bet it is, most mountains here are, but from the look of it, this one is dormant... I mean maybe not so dormant, since the gas is leaking... I'm sorry, lady, I'm talking to a friend right now... Anyway, you sure it's safe living in this area?" Hojo's voice was distracted as he addressed someone else for a moment, easily switching back to his previous subject. "Anyway, then I got some chills going down my spine, is the mountain snow not melted during the summer? Maybe there's some left in a deep ditch or somewhere?""

"I... I'm not sure, Hojo," Kagome managed to mutter back between his lines. Inuyasha let go of her hand and pointed towards something. They just cleared a road bend and had a long stretch of straight path in front of them. "Oh, I see your flashlight!" she announced with relief, starting to move faster. At Hojo's next words, Inuyasha glanced her way before he ran ahead, leaving her to follow at her own pace.

"I see yours too!" Hojo replied cheerfully when she waved her flashlight over her head. "Anyway, this lady is still following me and she is a bit creepy," he added in a hushed voice, as if trying to make sure only Kagome heard him. "She wears a mask, so I think she might be sick. And she just asks me if she's pretty all the time. I know it sounds silly, but I feel kinda odd, as if something bad was going to happen. You know, it's like after you watch a horror movie and you feel observed and pursued by something lurking in the dark, while it's just your imagination? Yeah, this one. I mean I guess it's because I listened to all those youkai stories, because I feel this way ever since I entered the forest, but now it's kinda overwhelming..."

Kagome didn't respond. She was close enough to see more than just Hojo's flashlight. She saw the dark silhouette of her friend and beside him a tall presence that made the moonless night darkness pale in comparison. And in the center of it stood a woman, her hair flowing down to her knees, her kimono dragging after her as she stepped in the beam of Hojo's light.

"Am I beautiful?" Kagome heard a sweet voice through her phone.

"Yeah, sure, you're pretty, lady. Now... My friend's coming to get me, so... Oh, goodness!" Hojo gasped in shock and trepidation. Kagome's heart jumped to her throat when she heard that and the hateful laughter that followed.

"You lie! And you'll look like me now!" the woman lifted her hand, something similar to huge scissors catching the light.

"Hojo, no!" Kagome screamed. At the same time the boy stumbled back, his flashlight dropped to the ground. A shadow passed in front of it, tackling the woman to the ground and rolling almost entirely out of the light.

Kagome reached her old friend, sitting on the road, pale and motionless as he stared at the other side of the road. Kagome looked there, her attention drawn by growling and hissing.

It was Inuyasha, kneeling on top of the woman. A white mask was hanging around her neck, revealing her mauled face. Her mouth was cut on both sides, blood dripping from partially healed wounds, her teeth glimmering in the light. Her eyes were perfectly black and full of malice as she struggled with Inuyasha, trying to kick him off of herself.

"Let me go!" a high-pitched, inhuman voice shrieked as the woman fought to get free.

"What..." Hojo whispered, but no one paid him any attention.

"Inuyasha?" Kagome was unsure what she was supposed to do now.

"Stay back!" the hanyou barked and put a knee over the woman's arm, freeing his hand, so he could plaster one of his ofudas against her face. A terrible wail cut the air and a putrid stench of fried meat spread as the paper burst into flames. The woman doubled her efforts, cursing and promising painful death to the man over her, but Inuyasha just punched her a couple of times before he put the other paper against her head.

"What is he doing to her!?" Hojo exclaimed, his hands covering his ears when another piercing wail cut the air.

"Don't move, Hojo," Kagome demanded and squeezed yet another talisman in her hands, focusing her reiki in it. Then she leaped towards the pair.

During the struggle, the youkai woman managed to free her right hand and deal a blow to the side of Inuyasha's head, her fist reinforced with the scissors handle. Inuyasha grunted and wobbled on top of her, trying to keep her pinned down, but it was obvious her punches were more effective. Soon she freed her other hand and sneaked it between them, her long, thin claws digging in the boy's chest before she pushed him off of herself.

With a painful curse Inuyasha rolled off of her, his white kosode stained dark where her hand had rested, He rolled away when her scissors swept at him.

"Don't fight, boy!" the woman followed on her hands and knees, moving just a bit not like a human being should. Stinking smoke rode from between the strands of her hair, that covered her face now, her eyes glowing as they reflected the flashlight lying on the ground. "I'll cut you first, then do the others!"

"Damn you, bitch!" Inuyasha yelled as the youkai leaped on top of his legs, keeping him in place. He tried to block her, but Kagome didn't wait to see what would happen. Without thinking too much she grabbed a handful of the woman's hair and pulled with all her might, trying to drag her off of Inuyasha.

"You wretch!" the youkai screamed and swung her scissors at Kagome. The miko yelped and tried to cover herself with her arm. She felt the hit that made her stumble back, but there was no pain afterwards. Instead she heard a noise of metal pieces falling to the ground.

When she opened her eyes she saw the woman staring at the scissors, the thin, sharp blades no longer crowning them.

Inuyasha pushed the stunned youkai off of himself and kicked her for the good measure before he leaped towards Kagome and ripped the ofuda out of her hand while shoving her away. Armed with a new talisman he pressed it against the youkai's chest, pushing her to the ground.

"Damn you, human!" the youkai howled, her limbs flailing, as she tried to get away from the burning light that rose from the spot where the ofuda was held against her sternum. Inuyasha got a few more scratches on his arm and torso, but he pushed away most of the attacks. A cloud of smoke rose from the woman's chest, enveloping them two. The boy cursed and the woman screamed for a moment before the area was quiet again, a cool breeze blowing the smoke away.

"Inuyasha...?" Kagome whispered. Something moved in the smoke and a head of dark hair came visible. Inuyasha looked back at her and shook his head.

"Don't come closer," he warned her and crawled out of the smoke on his hands and legs. Now Kagome glanced behind him and saw a pile of burned clothes, but no body. There was no youki lingering around too, so she guessed that the woman was purified. She moved to kneel beside Inuyasha, when a sudden cry stopped her from checking up on the wounds that she knew were under those dark spots on Inuyasha's kosode. The shrine guardian didn't move after escaping the smoke, just stayed motionless with his head low, breathing heavily after the struggle. The final struggle took just a minute or two, but she was sure fighting a youkai in his human form wasn't exactly a walk through a park.

"What... What was that?!" the miko glanced back to see Hojo, still sitting on the ground, staring between the pile of still smoking clothes and them. His face was pale, his eyes wide with fright and confusion, his body trembling. Kagome felt sorry for him, at least her introduction to the supernatural world had been gentler. "You... and him... and that woman... is she...?"

"Listen, Hojo..." Kagome shifted where she stood. "I'll explain everything to you, I promise.:

A shaking finger pointed at the smoke and the clothes. "She...?"

"It was a Kuchisake onna," Inuyasha panted out. "Dontcha know you ain't supposed to answer them? Ignore or say you don't have time and get your ass away, Don't you know any shit?"

That explanation was followed by a fit of coughing that pushed him to the ground. With a gasp Kagome knelt beside the boy and rolled him on his back. The youkai's claws left gashes on his body, bleeding and visible though the rips in his kosode. He was panting heavily, squeezing his eyes shut, a wince of pain on his face.

"Stupid... weak... humans..."

"Okay, we'll explain everything to you, Hojo, but I need to patch Inuyasha up first," she declared and grabbed the sleeve of Inuyasha's shirt and after some struggling, managed to tear it along the already existing rip. She wrapped it around the first of the wounds, one on his shoulder. "Can you help me?"

"Oh... Yes, of course," Hojo seemed to jump at the chance to focus on something else. Together they wrapped most of Inuyasha's wounds to keep him from bleeding out, but Kagome was still worried about him.

"Should we call an ambulance?" Hojo asked, looking at the man lying between them, his torso wrapped in pieces of his kosode that already seemed to soak trough in a few spots.

"No!" Inuyasha barked before Kagome could decide. His voice was pained, but determined. She wished that they could follow Hojo's plan and get Inuyasha into a hospital, but explaining how he got the claw marks all over him and, at dawn, how he healed, would probably be more troublesome than a home treatment."I'll live. I just have to stay alive till dawn. Now. you two... You go to the shrine."

"What? I'm not leaving you here!" Kagome glared down at those dark eyes focused on her. He scowled. She didn't want to admit it, but she was afraid to not have him at her side on the way back. The logical part of her knew he was too injured to fight and probably knew what he was doing, but she couldn't leave him behind. She had this feeling deep in her gut that if she did he wouldn't come back.

"You go. Just... Go. I'll rest and follow"

"We'll take you with us or we stay here till dawn," she declared, gripping his hand. He shook his head. "Inuyasha..." she started firmly.

"Not gonna work tonight, wench," he chuckled dryly and glanced to the other male. "Hoho."

"Hojo," Hojo corrected reflexively and looked between them. Kagome was leaning over the handsome stranger, fixing a bandage that was tied too loosely. He could read in her expression, her brows frowning, her lower lip between her teeth, it was easy to see how worried she was. He noticed a hint of affection there too and it made him happy that his friend found someone for herself. He made an internal note to ask this boy for his birth date, so he could make a horoscope and see if their relationship would work. The man, now looking at him, looked fit and reasonably handsome, but his long hair was a bit weird. And he'd fought that terrible... being.. that got burned away by what looked like white talismans. In his eyes and face Hojo saw pain, but also urgency.

"Whatever. Take her to the shrine. Make sure she gets there. You fail and I come back as an inugami and bite you for the rest of your life," the man Kagome called Inuyasha declared. Hojo paled and Kagome wondered if he believed this threat.

She didn't dwell on it long, she poked Inuyasha's uninjured arm.

"You're not staying behind, dog-boy. Accept it and we will not be wasting time, instead we'll be going back to the shrine," she pulled his hand. "Come on, can't you stand up? The cuts aren't that deep, aren't they?"

She ignored the fact that her voice was shaking. Over her short time as a miko she grew to rely on Inuyasha, she felt safe with this strong man, with his seemingly vast knowledge about all and every things and beings in front of her. It had been him who gave her directions and warnings. Seeing him weak, injured and in pain was... unsettling. Seeing him like this away from the shelter of the shrine's barrier, knowing that there were probably more youkai as dangerous as the one that had been following Hojo... It was scary.

One glance at Hojo told her that he wouldn't be much help when it came to battling youkai. She had a handful of ofudas, but she was still new to all this. Inuyasha was her anchor, her guide, her guardian.

And she brought him there, when he was weak, to fight a youkai anyway.

"Did you have to ignore.the warnings of the locals?" she grumbled at her friend. Hojo glanced up at her, then back at Inuyasha.

"I..." the boy started. The hand in Kagome's hands flexed and Inuyasha sat up slowly.

"Have it your way, wench," he growled, gritting his teeth. "We're all going back. But if I slow you down you will leave me and go back to the shrine You can't stay in the forest when I can't protect you," he said.

"Deal," she felt relief when she saw her friend struggle to his feet and without thinking she found her way under his shoulder to support him. He scoffed and tried to move away, but she held onto him. "Hojo, can you pick up your flashlight? We're going home."

She felt reassured when Hojo grabbed his bag and flashlight without a word. Inuyasha starting walking made her smile. His wounds weren't that serious, he was her invincible shrine guardian. They were going to go back to the shrine, have hot tea and vanilla cookies.

They were walking at a rather brisk pace, Inuyasha leaning a bit on her, Hojo walking beside, his eyes wide and dazed. No one talked.

Then she heard a voice.

A feminine voice, sharp and angry.

'Inuyasha, you can't pray as a hanyou. You need to wait until you transform to your human form, so you don't insult the kami with your impure blood.'

She frowned at the voice and felt the arm she held over her shoulders shake a bit.

Chapter Text

Inuyasha was a heavy man, all that muscle seemed to weigh a ton. Soon after they started their ascent, Hojo had to help her support Inuyasha and now they were practically dragging him. He was trying to walk, but it looked like with every step his legs were weakening.

His eyes were closed, brow knitted, his breath growing louder as his head drowsily lolled to the side.

Hojo tried to talk, probably in an attempt to keep their wounded companion focused, but Inuyasha was replying in monosyllables and grunts. Kagome tried to keep up the conversation, but it was hard to focus on anything other than supporting the man that was injured because she broke her promise not to bring him out of the barrier on the new moon night.

With every minute it was more and more clear to Kagome that he was slipping into unconsciousness. Whatever was the reason for it, she didn't know. Were the youkai's claws poisonous? Was there a spell cast on him? Maybe it was the result of inhaling the smoke that had surrounded them when the youkai had been purified?

Moving one step at a time, climbing back to the safety of the shrine, she did her best not to allow panic and dread to take control over her. She had to stay focused, to keep moving, to encourage Inuyasha and Hojo on.

The forest around them seemed darker than it should be, the grim silence filling the air. The beams of light that swept across the road and the shadowed trees seemed weak and fragile.

And then came the voices, soft and loud, feminine and masculine, old and young. There were at least ten distinctive people talking and had only one thing in common.

They were talking in her head.

Or, as she assumed, in Inuyasha's.

As the shrine guardian grew weaker and less responsive to Hojo and herself, the voices grew in number.

Then came visions.

Glimpses of various places - some of which she knew, some she didn't -- seen by eyes that weren't hers. People dressed in traditional robes of priests and priestesses, various expressions written across the faces that held some resemblance to her own. They'd flash in front of her just to fade away in the image of the road and forest during the moonless night.

'Inuyasha... You cannot interact with the villagers. You're scaring them. From now on, stay in the forest...' a middle-aged woman with one eye covered by a patch pointed to the forest surrounding the shrine grounds. 'Maybe one day you will be free to come out, but not now.'

'I don't want to see you! You're ugly! You let aunt die!' cried a boy not older than Souta, tears running down his cheeks. 'You should've died instead of her!'

"So this is your human form. Such a pity you are forced to spend the rest of the month as a hanyou,' an old man with long thin beard, looking like an advisory at an imperial court, shook his head. 'To think for so many years you hid this from me.'

'Mother...' a woman knelt down to stroke the face of a child asking. 'What's a half-breed?' tears start running down her face and she pulls the child in a hug.

'Inuyasha, you can't leave the shrine grounds and the forest without permission. If you do, it's only to assure the safety of the keeper,' ordered yet another woman.

'Inuyasha, you're not allowed in the household. We can't purify it every day because you come in.'

'Inuyasha, kill.'

'Inuyasha, you are not to speak of that man to anyone, especially my husband.'

'Inuyasha...'

'...Inuyasha...'

'...'Inu..'

'Come and become our komainu. Come and we will grant you our divine blessing. We will make a place for you under our roof. We will grant you power, if you swear to stand guard to our dwelling and priests. And if you serve us well, we will grant your deepest wish. Surrender your name in the service of our priests and in return find a place where you can live, prove that you are more than the world thinks of your kind. Your breed is known to be territorial and fierce, we will allow you to consider our shrine your territory. Protect it against those who want to take control over it, who want to steal the artifacts stored here, who want to kill our chosen priests.'

'Care for a game of Go? I know you don't like to stay in the house, but I figured that maybe we could play on the engawa?' this was her grandfather, but much younger, sitting on the engawa of the living room, a board ready at his side. 'Winner gets this lovely bowl of rice cookies.'

'Thank you for helping me. I couldn't have done it without you," this time it was her own voice, she could see herself walking towards where the purifying water basin was.

Between those visions she saw flashes of fights, blood and severed limbs, the odor of death, pain and sweat. She fought to take another step just to find herself facing a huge oni that dug its claws deep in her thigh - the pain was there despite the fact that she knew it all wasn't real. She saw priests purifying crowds, miko shooting arrows at youkai, she saw her ancestors falling in battle, playing around the shrine as kids, performing their duties, creating families, dying of old age, coming and going like waves.

It was beyond her power to stop the flow of memories that weren't hers. As painful as it was to see, a part of her was thankful to see. She just hoped that Hojo could lead them - after all, all he had to do was to follow the road that led straight to the shrine. She vaguely felt herself walking, but the sensation was akin to the sensation of motion one got while dreaming.

It was like walking through a storm, when you could see only glimpses of your surroundings in the flash of a lightning. She was panting, unable to collect her own thoughts, overcome by the flood of jagged memories, some too horrible, some bitter. She stalked a deer just to eat its meat raw, she fought, she obeyed orders, she traveled in a dog's form at the heel of one of her ancestors to battle a river dragon. She had to lick her own wounds heal before running after the priest who didn't wait for her. She watched the pilgrims going up and down the mountain, slinking between the trees. She felt the biting cold of the mountain snow in the winter and the humid air of the summer as she raced through the forest, leaping from tree to tree, jumping over the streams. She was a child chased by a mob with torches and sticks, away from her dead mother. As the same kid she was hanging from a clawed hand, held by her throat, staring in eyes the color of sun, so similar to Inuyasha's, but holding only cold anger.

'You aren't even worthy to be killed by this one. How could this one's noble father steep so low to sire such an abomination.'

'...Come and become our komainu...'

'...Inuyasha... I'm sorry for offending you. Please, accept this peace offering and don't stay away. I'd really like to talk to you...'

"Uh... Kagome..." Hojo's voice came as if from a great distance, almost too weak to reach her ears. It was full of confusion and trepidation, which made her manage to latch onto it, before she was swept away by another wave. "The road disappeared,"

Her eyes opened and she gasped. They weren't walking anymore. The beam of her flashlight swept from her left to right, showing only countless trunks and tree limbs, no road. She glanced back to see Hojo's flashlight shining in the direction from which they came.

There was no road there too, they stood in the middle of a small meadow in the middle of the forest.

A crow call came from over their heads and Kagome gasped, sensing youki from where she could see a dark shadow against the starry sky, approaching them fast.

Chapter Text

A crow call came from over their heads and Kagome gasped, sensing youki from where she could see a dark shadow against the starry sky, approaching them fast.

A quick scan of the nearby area showed no good shelter, just trees. Hojo looked at her, pale and confused, when she started to pull Inuyasha off of the island of gravel under their feet towards one of the trees.

"What are you doing?" he gasped.

"A youkai comes. We need to hide."

"A... youkai?" he repeated, his voice weak. "Youkai are just folk tale stuff."

"Really?" she glared at him. They were wasting time! "And what was that woman that almost cut you open with her scissors? That was burned away by my white talismans?"

"A figment of imagination?" Hojo tried meekly. A part of her felt sorry for the boy, so desperately trying to cling to his logical, reasonable and realistic beliefs. "I mean... Maybe it was just a dream? I could've fallen asleep on my way? Like, dozed off while walking? I heard fresh air can do that to you."

"And who wounded Inuyasha?" Kagome growled at him, managing to somehow pull the uncertain friend to help her practically carry her unconscious friend towards the nearest thicket of bamboo. He didn't answer. "Listen, Hojo, it's not a dream. It's all real and if you want to survive, you have to do what I tell you to, okay?"

She didn't tell him that she herself didn't know what to do.

'What is the jewel doing in your paws?' at the same time as she and Hojo laid Inuyasha on the ground where the bamboo could hide him, she heard another voice, feminine and beautiful, but cold and angry. She felt her mouth move, despite not moving, and more felt than heard the reply. In the memory she heard Inuyasha's voice barking that he'd caught someone called Muso sneaking away with it. She saw a glimpse of a young miko, angrily snatching something from her hand. 'How dare you accuse my beloved! Inuyasha, you'll bite your tongue before you speak lies of those better than you!' She felt pain in her mouth and an irony taste of blood before she heard Inuyasha yelling that it was all true, that he'd caught her lover stealing artifacts from the shrine. She felt searing pain in her left shoulder when the miko from the past pinned Inuyasha to a tree with her arrow. 'Inuyasha, you will stay here until I see fit to release you, you ungrateful mutt!'

She gasped and heard a - real this time - whine from her friend. She glanced down to him and shuddered when another memory flashed in her mind.

'Inuyasha...' a girl not older than Souta, one eye covered by bandages, stood right in front of her. She reached a hand to touch his rosary, a bead of blood where her skin was cut.. A spark of reiki went through her. "Kikyou is dead. I am now your miko, Inuyasha. Your suspension is no more.' Kagome gasped when she felt her body - now kneeling on the ground - ripped the arrow off and leaped up to the trees.

"Kagome?" Hojo whispered and she sniffed, wiping the tears that were running down her cheeks with the red sleeve of her jacket. Her shoulder still ached and her mind was shaken by all the memories that had been flooding it for gods knew how long. She bit her lip, knowing it wasn't the best of times to allow the waves of fever sweep her back in the river of Inuyasha's memories. She had to see him safe and well before she could sort through all the jagged and incomplete pieces of memories, shadows of feelings, visions of long gone people that had come before her. That had hurt her brave, handsome and fierce shrine guardian.

Something thrashed against the branches somewhere above them.

"I can sense the youki! I can sense the blood! Oh, gods, how many years had passed since I tasted the great Inu no Taisho's blood!" sang a voice from above the trees, The crow cawed again and again. "I can sense the fabulous Fang of Destruction singing! Oh, such a glorious night! Where is he? Where is the one that I long to find?"

"What do we do?" Hojo asked, kneeling beside her. He glanced worriedly at the unconscious male laying on his back beside them. Kagome felt pity for the man she knew since kindergarten. She'd told him that youkai were real and that he had to listen to her, so now she should come up with an idea how to keep them all safe.

And keep the bloodthirsty crow youkai away from Inuyasha. She didn't know what Fang of Destruction and Inu no Taisho were, but it was clear the creature knew of Inuyasha's canine youkai heritage.

When the crow found its way towards the small alcove under the taller growth, Kagome and Hojo were armed with two half-dried bamboos not longer than a meter and a half. Each had a white talisman wrapped around it, dry leaves shaking as they flailed their weapons, trying to bat the bird away. Wings flapped as the crow flew away for a while to return, cawing and trying to dodge.

"Let me to him!" Kagome growled when she heard the voice from before, old and dry like the leaves that rained down from their weapons.

"No! You leave him alone!" Kagome yelled back, panting. She was swaying on her feet, feeling tired after the onslaught of emotions. Inuyasha's memories were still flashing before her eyes, blinding and making her deaf to the real world for short instances. Hojo was actually a better defender, since he was able to focus on the task. Whatever was going through his head, he wasn't trying to deny the existence of a crow loudly demanding to be let to an unconscious man and almost singing about his blood. The flashlights were stuck in the ground, providing enough light to bat at the bird, but the darkness around seemed to push on them.

'...Komainu...'

'...Abomination...'

'...Disgraceful mutt...'

'...Half-breed...'

'...Friend...'

Kagome blinked away the tears that came with the visions and the visions themselves, just to see Hojo hitting the crow as it tried to fly by him. The bird fell to the ground and rolled a few times before it got to its feet, flapped its wings a couple of times, tilted its head this side and then, cawing in what sounded like surprise. Then the crow noticed them, crouched and ready to attack.

With startled cawing the crow flew away.

"It... flew away," Hojo stated the obvious, shocked. The crow had been rather insistent on getting past them until now. He looked at Kagome. "It's good, right?"

She gave him a weak smile. "Yes. It's over." she assured the boy that so bravely fought off the youkai.

"Oh, poor, poor boy," exclaimed the old, dusty voice from behind them. "Let me end your suffering!"

With a startled gasp Kagome twirled around to look at Inuyasha. The hanyou turned human lay where they'd left him, his body shaking, sweat covering his face. His mouth hung open, as if in a voiceless cry.

Something was attached to his neck, pulsing bigger and bigger as it drank his blood.

Chapter Text

"What is it?" Hojo gasped, horrified at the sight of the creature feasting on the other male. Kagome felt a wave of trepidation and panic wash over her as the sound of a woman singing a lullaby in Inuyasha's memory faded away into silence in her head. She had to act, and fast - she wasn't going to allow a youkai to harm her friend more than he already was. She'd told him she wanted to protect him and she was going to purify that sneaky bloodsucker.

Somehow charging the paper she held in her hand went much faster than ever before. The reiki cracked around the edges of the talisman as the paper stiffened in her grasp.

"A youkai," she growled and cleared the distance between herself and the creature in two steps. She was leaning in to plaster the talisman against it when it suddenly stopped sucking and sighed.

A tremor went through Inuyasha's body and the man let loose a heavy sigh of relief, after which his breathing returned to a deep, calm pace, not this labored gasps. His skin seemed to get less pale, too. These changes made the miko pause and look in surprise and confusion at the youkai.

He - it was a male, and an old one at that - resembled a ball now, his kimono stretched to accommodate his suddenly expanded body. His big round eyes were sizing her up, four hands resting on his sides, in a parody of an angry stance. It'd have been more effective, hadn't he been so round.

"You!" he pointed one finger at her. "Miko! Do you have any idea who you have purified with your power? How dare you trespass through the barrier and assault my master, already weakened by poison? And how dare you steal his precious kimono? You humans, you shouldn't be in this area and cause harm to others!"

"Uh... What?" Kagome asked. Was this youkai... scolding her...? She glanced to Inuyasha's face and back at the youkai. "Listen here, you attacked us first!"

"Because you harmed my master!" the man pointed his finger down, at the bandaged chest of the hanyou.

"Master?" Hojo uttered, voicing Kagome's surprise at this reveal. The fuming youkai, who was slowly shrinking to his original shape during their talk, glanced at him.

"Well, actually, he is not technically my master," he confessed. "My name is Myouga, a flea youkai. For many years I was his father's retainer. I've been searching for the pup for countless years after the boy had fled his brother... And now, when I heard kitsune gossiping about a silver inu hanyou I knew I had to check the rumors out. I was on my way to the Mountain Pass when I sensed the Fang and found my master," he glared Kagome's way. "Stripped of his youki, poisoned and unable to resist an attack."

"I didn't purify Inuyasha!" Kagome growled, glaring straight back at him. "And he is my friend, I'd never hurt him!"

"So, how is my poor master in such a bad shape and you don his hi nezumi no kawagoromo?" the youkai argued, gesturing towards her jacket. Kagome hugged it to her, the touch of the rough fabric calming.

"He gave it to me when we went out to help Hojo," she pointed to the boy, who watched the argument in silence. He blushed and looked down when the youkai glanced his way. "There was a youkai, Inuyasha called her a Kuchisake-onna... And she scratched him. We were on our way back to the shrine, but the road... It disappeared... And Inuyasha has a fever... And it's because I made him go out of the barrier tonight.." her voice shook as she confessed, looking back at Inuyasha's face. "He's hurt, because I didn't put enough reiki in the talismans to purify her instantly..."

Hojo looked sadly at his friend, her eyes fixed on the other male's face. There was guilt in her gaze, concern and regret. Suddenly he felt as if he was seeing her for the first time. Youkai were real and she knew about it, for gods knew how long. She'd kept this knowledge hidden, trying to live a normal life, but now it seemed she embraced the life of a shrine keeper, dealing with supernatural, that was a part of the world, a part hidden from the rest of the society. Was he a bad friend for not noticing her leading a double life and supporting her? Who else knew that the beings from folk tales were real? The village people, for sure, now he understood why they had been so persistent in their attempts to keep him from climbing up the mountain.

And, from what he'd gathered, this man, this Inuyasha knew about youkai too, was her partner, one she was very attached to. Hojo sighed, feeling remorse for putting these two in danger - as the fighters of good they were honor-bound to save humans and risk their lives.

The youkai was observing the miko as well, he seemed no longer angry and ready to argue, but thoughtful and almost serene as he stood on Inuyasha's chest.

Kagome blinked away the tears that came to her eyes when she looked at Inuyasha. He'd suffered so much during his countless years of service to the shrine and now she went and pushed him to go out and get injured on his human night. She just wanted to go back home and wait for the dawn to come, bringing along the hanyou she knew and... liked very much.

"Oi... wench..." Inuyasha's head turned towards her and she gasped, seeing his eyelids lift. He glared at her, but she found it hard not to smile at this familiar expression on his face. "Why ain't your fat ass at the shrine?"

"My ass ain't fat, komainu!" a scowl replaced the smile, but she was still thankful for him being awake and strong enough to talk. He frowned.

"You were crying?" he mumbled, his voice sounding stunned. "What's wrong?"

"What's wrong?" she gasped in exasperation. "Just look at yourself! You're hurt and you had a terrible fever and I..."

She paused. How was she going to tell him about all those dark and sad memories she'd witnessed? How was she going to apologize for centuries of prejudice and abuse from her own ancestors?

She was spared coming up with a way to approach the subject, because Inuyasha blinked a couple of times, as if surprised she'd been distressed by his wounds. Then he did as she'd told him to and looked at himself

"My lordship..." the tiny flea youkai whispered when the brown eyes of the man landed on him. Kagome saw Inuyasha's eyes widen before he clasped his hand around the youkai and... squeezed.

"Inuyasha!" she gasped. The hanyou turned human growled and threw the poor youkai away in the bamboo thicket before he sat up, swaying and muttering a curse. Immediately, she moved to stabilize him with her hands on his shoulders. "Easy!"

"We need to move. We need to go, fast. If he's here, it means the asshole is here too and if the asshole finds us, we're all dead," the hanyou explained without actually making things any clearer to her.

Kagome bit her bottom lip, the same urgency as before was now present in his voice. As if the only concern in his mind was if she was back at the shrine. She gripped his shoulders.

"Listen, Inuyasha, you got poisoned by that youkai, you can't overdo it. Besides... We're kinda lost."

"Keh! You close your eyes and focus on the Sacred Tree," he replied with a shrug. "We'll go through the forest until we find the road and go back home."

"The road disappeared," Hojo supplied and looked at his feet when Inuyasha sharply glared at him. "You were unconscious and Kagome was... Kinda zoning out... But she said it'd be fine as long as we followed the road. But it disappeared. Like... It was there and then when I blinked... it wasn't... It's very confusing," the boy finished.

"Dammit!" Inuyasha barked. "Oi, flea!"

Kagome looked back to where Myouga stood between the bamboos, dusting himself off. "My lord, don't fret. Your brother is not yet aware of your presence in the Western Lands. I am here because I was about to cross the barrier and confirm kitsune rumors..."

"Fuck!" Inuyasha turned to look at Kagome. She gulped, the expressive brown eyes looking at her from under the unruly bangs were full of determination and urgency. "Kagome, listen. It's the new moon and the shadows are deeper tonight. You ain't trained to pick on the depth of them yet, so I guess you didn't sense it when you crossed the wrong shadow, but... We're not on the same mountain."

"How is it possible?" she asked. "Do you mean we walked right into a portal to a different world or something like that?"

"There's another world?" Hojo inquired, but was ignored.

"Exactly. We're on the Higurashi mountain, but the one in the youkai world. And this means that we're in danger, no matter where the asshole is," Inuyasha grabbed her hand when she shivered. Kagome swallowed, unsure what to do now. She wasn't prepared to go to the youkai world, not with her training not being finished and her only ally powerless and hurt. Cold fingers of fright ran down her spine when she realized that they were all in danger. Who knew what youkai were lurking in the darkness, ready to pounce on them? Her reiki and Inuyasha's blood were probably easy to sense for them, not mentioning all the noise they were making.

And she, the Higurashi miko, didn't know how to keep them safe, how to find their way home.

Her gaze dropped to her hand held in Inuyasha's. She was a failure, now she knew how much, how inferior she was to the other priests of her family. She'd saw many of them battle youkai, defending humans and wielding their power with efficiency and easy grace. Compared to them she was like a stumbling child. Inuyasha squeezed her fingers again, causing her to look up.

"Focus, wench," he muttered. He was so amazing, determined and focused, not letting his pain and fatigue stop him from thinking of a solution to their situation. "The mountain is not that different from the one in the human world. It has the well and the Sacred Tree of its own. Try to locate them. We can go towards them and... We'll be okay."

'How couldn't they see how amazing you are, Inuyasha?' she asked herself and nodded. "Okay. I will try."

She closed her eyes and instinctively wrapped her fingers around the hand holding hers, calloused and rough, but warm and giving her a sense of security and comfort she desperately needed.

The forest was dark and deep, youki flashing here and there among the trees, indicating that there indeed were many youkai around them. Most were weak or not interested in them. She knew that there were youkai living or visiting their mountain, but never in such big numbers, and so many diverse kinds. She frowned and pushed this matter aside, she had to hurry before a youkai that would be stronger and interested in them came along.

She had to find the Sacred Tree. How to find a tree, even an ancient one? How was she supposed to do that? She sent her reiki outwards, sensing in a way she did to find youki, allowing it to spread wide, but thin. It wouldn't be wise to alert something.

She gasped. It was like hitting a brick wall face first and she swayed at the feeling, even if it was not physical at all. The presence was ancient, serene and... soothing. It was like a cool shade during a hot afternoon, a ever-whispering canopy of leaves overhead when the summer rain came. It was... Somehow, it reminded her of the voice from Inuyasha's memories - the one that had called him komainu - despite not being the source of it.

Kagome opened her eyes and pointed towards the presence. "That way," she said. Inuyasha gave a sharp nod and tugged at her hand, coaxing her to stand up. He followed her, moving painfully slow for someone who was capable of speed and grace much more than hers.

"We're going then. Hobo."

"Hojo," Hojo corrected him, but his voice sounded distracted. Kagome glanced his way to see her friend pale, obviously overwhelmed and confused. She had to sit down with him and explain it all to him, but she didn't know how.

And she didn't know how to talk to Inuyasha about all the memories she'd seen, memories that - she suspected - were too painful, too personal, for him to share. Would he think that she did something akin to spying? It wasn't like she'd had any choice in the matter, but would he believe her? After so many years of abuse, could he trust her, a descendant of those abusing him? How many of his actions were the result of a command? Would he stay with her if not for the kotodama binding him? Was he hating her deep in his heart, but unable to voice his true feelings, bound into servitude?

"Don't stay behind," Inuyasha told the other man and started walking in the direction she'd pointed to. He'd have fallen on his face, but she grabbed him in time and wrapped his arm over her shoulders like before. Shyly, she glanced up to him and saw him give a stiff nod. "Keh. Let's just go."

"My lord," Myouga landed on Kagome's sleeve, out of Inuyasha's reach. "Don't forget about your faithful retainer!"

"You still here? Feh, it means it's safe," the shrine guardian grumbled, but did nothing to throw him away again. Kagome sighed as they started their walk, meandering between trees and through the undergrowth, Hojo hot on their heels.

Inuyasha was leaning on her, but now, as he was conscious, it was easier to walk. He was weak and stumbled from time to time, but at least they didn't have to drag him. But this time they had no easy road to follow, only short distances of animal paths that led to nowhere.

The Sacred Tree shone in her mind's eye in the distance, like a beacon of hope, a lantern brighter because of the dark forest around them.

The dark forest in which youki was glimmering like St. Elmo's fires. Some of them started to follow them as they were making their way up the mountain, creeping and slithering through the shadows of the trees, unnoticed by the humans stranded in the world that lived by different rules.

Chapter Text

Walking through a deep forest was no picnic, especially when you had to support an injured and weakened shrine guardian, who refused to stop to rest and denied being unwell, brushing his wounds off as scratches. Well, technically they were scratches, but from a youkai who had claws longer than even Inuyasha's in his hanyou form.

Briefly, Kagome wondered how long they had been trying to get out of the woods. Her body felt tired and sluggish, even after a few short breaks that she and Hojo managed to convince Inuyasha to take. She felt as if they were taking a few steps back for every step forward. It was like back on the road, when she felt as if they had been walking for hours suspended in a timeless moment, not making any real progress, It was only strengthened by the terrain she didn't know, obscured by the trees and darkness. Only the glimmer of the Sacred Tree somewhere ahead of her was keeping her from panicking. This, and the fact that she wasn't alone.

As they walked, Myouga explained to her that the youkai woman had some type of poison coating her talons, one that had brought the fever. But he assured her that he'd sucked it all out of his master.

"Along with a mouthful or two of my blood," Inuyasha muttered sourly.

"Well, yes, my lord," Myouga agreed. "I can't deny it, the taste of the silver inu blood was always my favorite. But your blood tasted nothing like it used to, because of your... condition," he glanced between the hanyou and Kagome. "Speaking of which, your lady miko said that she didn't purify you, my lord, but you are clearly devoid of your youki. What had transpired?"

"Not your business," Inuyasha barked. Kagome bit her lip. This youkai acted as if he knew Inuyasha and Inuyasha seemed to know him as well. But while Myouga spoke with respect and called the hanyou his master, Inuyasha didn't trust him at all. Shouldn't his vassal have known about the new moon?

She'd ask Inuyasha about it, but she was afraid to mind talk to him. What if he realized she'd seen all those memories brought forth by his fever? It was no time to deal with gruff, pouting hanyou, out in the middle of the forest. And it was also not a good place to discuss the details of Inuyasha's form, not when something could overhear them.

"Um," she glanced around as much as she could, but the trees were silent and nothing seemed to be around. "Can we focus on getting to safety? You said this mountain has a Sacred Tree and its presence is just like the aura of the meadow housing our Sacred Tree, but... How can it be? And why did you tell me to find it? Is there a shrine like ours?" she asked.

"Will we be safe there?" Hojo added from behind them. She felt sorry for him, he probably felt overwhelmed even more than her, not having any powers to fend off youkai, with the darkness of the forest almost breathing against his neck while he followed them stumbling and meandering around and under trees that often looked as if they were reaching to grab and hold them.

"The apparent and hidden worlds are mirror images of each other," Myouga said. "Well, at least when it comes to the landscape, unless humans did something drastic to their world like building a tame and flooding an area."

"There's a small village. And a friend dwells there, one that keeps up a barrier against evil around the village," Inuyasha replied. "It... It reaches the Sacred Tree, so yeah, if we get to it, we'll be safe."

His words made Kagome sigh in relief and double her efforts. The Sacred Tree was much closer than before, she knew they could make it to the barrier before anything bad sniffed them out.

.

Of course they didn't make it.

Somehow the distance from the shrine to where they'd met Hojo back in the normal world, there was like a half-day trip up the mountain. Encountering a huge ditch they had to walk around and wasting at least an hour didn't help any. All of them were tired and just wanted to sit and rest for a while, but Inuyasha refused to let them, barking and cursing despite swaying on his feet.

It was the dim, almost shy light of the predawn that saved them from getting caught in a trap. As they walked between the trees, Myouga spotted something between the trunks where they were headed.

"Stop for a moment!" he gasped and Kagome lifted her head from where she was drowsily looking under her feet to avoid tripping over roots. Her eyes followed where the flea was pointing and she gaped at the white netting spread between the trees.

"Fuck," Inuyasha grunted beside her and looked around. "There are more over to the right."

"What is it?" Hojo asked and moved closer to the thick strands.

"You touch it, Holo and you will have to cut your skin off to get you free," Inuyasha barked. The boy leaped back in a hasty retreat. "Spiders are playing with us. The game is to make puny humans try and run while they surround us with their webs. If we get stuck or don't have anywhere to flee, the fuckers will come to paralyze us and wait until we're nice and defenseless before they eat us alive."

Hojo grew green in the face and stepped even more away from the web.

"Gods that's terrible." Kagome swallowed hard. The supernatural could be beautiful, but it could also be dangerous and terrible. "We need to hurry.”

"At least they don't wait until you die and get.. easier to eat," Myouga winced at his own words. "Master, I don't sense any ahead, maybe we can make it to the Sacred Tree."

"There's no other way," Inuyasha nodded and looked to Kagome. "Don't worry, I'm dying before they can lay a finger on you."

Somehow this fierce assurance didn't lift her spirit. "I don't want you to get hurt," she whispered, thinking about all those people who'd sent him to fight alone or made him endanger himself for no reason.

They started moving again and Kagome spotted more and more screens made from the sticky, thick threads. They were at first connecting two trees here and there, but soon they started to join in longer screens, usually on their sides, but sometimes ahead of them. They had to watch out for them and walk around them. Hojo kept close to Kagome, and she cast a few concerned glances at his pale, frozen face.

"Will we really be safe from those apparitions when we reach that Tree?" the man asked in a hushed voice. Inuyasha nodded.

"Yes. Nothing vile can approach it and its aura purifies the meadow around it - I think the radius is a few meters longer than the spread of its branches. So, when we're close to it, I want you to grab Kagome and run to it."

"Hey, I can hear you! And I'm not leaving you!" she glared between both males when Hojo inclined his head. "I don't give a damn about that weird chivalry thing you two have, but..."

"But from us three you have to survive no matter what," Inuyasha cut her off. "Spiders infested the forest and you have to dance the Kagura, with a branch of the Tree to ward them away. Besides it's not a matter of chivalry or shit, it's just how it has to be."

"I must agree," Hojo whispered. "We must do our best to stay safe."

Kagome grit her teeth. She'd expected many things, but for those boys, so different from each other, to agree on something so easily.... Well, at least Inuyasha seemed to have a plan. She could purify the youkai as soon as she danced with the branch of the Sacred Tree..

It took her a few steps to realize something. 'Inuyasha, I don't know the whole dance yet!'

'Keh, figures. I'll lead you.' was his response and Kagome relaxed. It wasn't the first time he was going to guide her. She was thankful for his help and ashamed she needed it, that she wasn't as skilled and knowledgeable as some of her predecessors.

To push away the dark thoughts about her incompetence she focused on the Sacred Tree, its aura soothing even from afar. She smiled and pointed her hand a bit to the left of their current path.

"There! It's not far now!" she informed the men.

"Thanks gods!" Hojo sighed, but Inuyasha scoffed.

"Don't lose your focus. They will ambush us before we get there," he said and glanced down at Kagome. "You know, what to do, right? If shit gets sideways, you have to wait in the meadow until my friend comes. Her name's Kaede. She can escort you to the well and with her tutoring you can get the well resealed when you go back to the human world."

She eyed him through narrow eyes, but he was looking at the forest, where screens of spider webs were surrounding them in a distance. She couldn't see a gap in the wall of dull silver.

"I am not leaving you behind, Inuyasha," she said firmly. This sounded a bit too much like the last advice of a man planning on doing something extraordinarily stupid.

"Mhm. When I give you a sign, you two go for the meadow. I will be right behind you."

"You're hurt!" she argued. This line sounded even more like a roundabout way to say 'I wanna go die while you run away' and she wasn't going to let that happen. He was going to get to the Tree and not get hurt anymore, even if she had to carry him the rest of the way.

"And yet I am the best fighter among us," he shot back sourly. "Hodo."

"Hojo," Hojo corrected him automatically, with a hint of resignation in his voice. Throughout the whole night Inuyasha had not ever once got his name right and Hojo would be annoyed if he wasn't tired and scared.

Kagome wondered why Inuyasha was intentionally mispronouncing Hojo's name as well, he'd never done that before with anyone else.

"Prepare to run for the big ass tree when we get around this wall," Inuyasha pointed to the long strip of netting that had been shielding them from the left. Kagome's gaze slid over it until she saw a hole, not wider than five meters, not that far away from them. She felt anger rising in her as she watched the passage - the youkai were herding them where they wanted them to go, the walls of their webs restraining them and making it impossible to go anywhere else. She didn't enjoy feeling like a sheep, especially after hearing Inuyasha's short explanation about this particular kind of youkai. They were probably enjoying tormenting them, making them feel trapped by moving their screens closer to their path and without any gaps. Hojo bit his lower lip and nodded, anxiety and fright in his eyes, but also determination.

"I can't sense any spider youkai," Myouga mumbled from his spot on Kagome's shoulder. "They aren't from this area, maybe they're busy cutting off our way behind, not knowing about the Tree's influence?"

They were now maybe ten meters from the gap. She could see the field that was spreading behind it, probably the meadow was much bigger in this place than it was in her home. That was when she suddenly felt a wave of youki coming from behind. She tensed and looked back to see that there were at least a dozen human-like dark shapes running towards them.

"Inuyasha!" she gasped. The beings looked human, but something in their movement was amiss, their limbs bending like they shouldn't and their midsection bulged out in a weird way.

"Horo, go!"

"It's Hojo!" Hojo whimpered as he looked back and saw the beings approaching. Then he bolted towards the gap in the fence. Inuyasha pushed Kagome after him, but she dug her heels in the ground, just for a moment.

'Inu-'

"Go! The Tree!" he barked back at her and gave her a firm shove, making her stumble forwards.

"Yes!" Myouga called urgently. "You have to dance the Kagura, my lady!"

She cast a last glance at the shrine guardian's face, before she gave a sharp nod and ran after Hojo. Behind her, beside the sound of crashing branches and heavy footfalls, she heard the sharp sound of a sword being drawn. Myouga sitting on her shoulder, had tears in his eyes as he gazed upon the bloodstained shirt of his master's youngest son, standing in the middle of the path on wide spread feet, intent on fighting despite his obviously weakened state.

"Oh, master..." he whispered, his voice too low to attract the attention of the woman.

Kagome couldn't look back to check if Inuyasha was really following her, not with what was happening in front of her.

Hojo reached the gap in the web and was about to run through it - 'When did he get so fast?' - when suddenly something stepped in his way. Kagome called his name, her heart pounding as she tried to come up with an idea to save him and the other male behind her.

It was just like the creatures behind - tall, with limbs bending oddly, too slim for a human, but oddly wide around the hips. And from where it's mouth wasa two tusks protruded, under multiple eyes of a spider. It outstretched its arms as if to catch Hojo, revealing that it had more hands than was humanly decent.

Hojo had no chance to slow down. He had no chance to do more than shriek in fright, duck his head down and reach his own hand towards the youkai.

A hand in which he clenched a strip of white paper tied around a piece of bamboo.

The shriek that the creature let loose made Kagome's head hurt and she covered her ears with her hands, slowing just for a moment. Hojo screamed in return, his voice pitched much higher than usual, as he watched from up close the youkai bursting into eerie flames and turning into ash.

The moment the youkai was gone, her legs brought her to Hojo, who was hesitating in front of the pile of pale dust. She grabbed his arm and tugged.

"The Tree!" she called and together they stumbled into the wide field in the middle of which stood the majestic and familiar Sacred Tree. There were no more webs in their path, but she spotted a few creatures running towards them.

Hojo seemed to see them too, because he suddenly pulled her towards the tree. Myouga's urgent voice rang in her ear as she ran after her friend.

A sound made her froze and then turn on her heels.

The creatures weren't all following them, two of them were finishing a new path of web, one sealing the gap in the fence.

The sound came from behind the barrier - a pained cry, as close to a howl a human could get.

"Inuyasha!"

"My lady, hurry!" Myouga hit her shoulder with all his hands and she gasped. She had no time to stand idle, she had to get to the Tree, she had to dance the Kagura, she had to...

'Inuyasha!'

There was no answer.

Chapter Text

"Inuyasha!" she called, both aloud and in her mind.

Tears blinded her as she took a step in the direction of the ash-colored webs that separated her from the one she so desperately wanted to be free and well. She heard Hojo screaming behind her back, Myouga begging her to follow him, so she could purify the area as she had been told, but she couldn't go that way.

Inuyasha wasn't that way.

She couldn't hear the sounds of struggling from behind the webs that were too tightly wound to let her see, to let her through. How could she leave him behind when he was hurt and unable to fend off multiple attackers?

"You idiot!" she screamed. It had all happened so fast, their panicked dash towards the passage, the youkai that Hojo had purified with her talisman,, she hadn't had a chance to see if that stubborn moron was running after them.

"My lady!" Myouga pinched her ear to get her attention. "Please, don't make master Inuyasha's sacrifice go to waste!"

Kagome glared at him and growled, effectively scaring the flea enough that he fled. Then she looked where the idiot dog was, hidden from sight by the webs. 'I bet the whole Kagura thing was a lie, too!' she fumed.

At least ten creatures were running to cut her off from the Tree and Hojo, who safely made it there. A small voice yelled at her from his shoulder, along with him. The beings hissed, probably to intimidate her.

None of them expected her to run towards the wall of sticky webs and the pair of creatures, along with some friends, standing there, adding finishing touches to their work.

And that was exactly what Kagome wanted to do.

After all, behind that wall - one she didn't know how to dissolve yet - was a person she cared for.

She took a few shaky steps towards the forest line and stopped, her hand reaching that way. She wanted to go to him, but how was she supposed to go past the creatures and the tightly wound netting? What would any of her predecessors do?

The hesitation in her heart grew as she saw the last gap in the webbing disappear - now the youkai were free to join their friends. Dread filled her heart - was he even alive? She shook her head, clenching her fists and jaw. She had to do something, and fast, before she was trapped between two groups of youkai. Inuyasha, that idiotic moron, had tried to buy them time to get to that damn Tree.

"Inuyasha, you better be alive when I get to you and tug your ears for this!!" she called out, hoping against all odds he could hear her. 'What did he say? They paralyze their victims and then wait until they can't move anymore... So maybe there's still time to...' The only thing she could think of was the initial plan he told her, even if it had been just a lie to make her go ahead.

Her train of thought was stopped when the beings in front of her turned to face her. They made a clicking noise to which the other ones replied. There was amusement and hunger in their voices.

She realized that her moment of hesitation, albeit short, could cost her dearly and a new wave of fright washed over her.

"Kagome, watch out!" Hojo called and she looked back over her shoulder. The ones between her and the Tree stood in a line, wicked amusement etched on their inhuman faces. One wiggled his long thin fingers.

"Two tasty morsels," he cooed. "We can afford letting that third live until lunch if we get you and that other as a breakfast," he pointed a hand behind her. "Don't struggle, little lamb, it won't hurt, promise."

"Fuck off!" she yelled at the being and instinctively jumped to the side when she felt a surge of youki. A mass of white substance landed on the spot where she had been standing, spat out by one of the youkai that were moving to complete the circle around her.

There was no time to form a strategy, because other youkai started targeting her with that white goo that solidified in familiar ropes - it took all of her focus to keep dodging them and stay out of reach of those long thin arms. A few times the substance brushed her, but it seemed it couldn't stick to Inuyasha's kimono she wore. She managed to throw two ofudas on the youkai and one actually hit the target, purifying it. The other managed to dodge and almost grabbed her.

Adrenaline kept her up, her heart pounding in her chest, cries of Hojo and Myouga mixed with the noises made by the youkai, who were slowly tightening their circle around her. She cursed, because as she dodged the last youkai trying to grab her, she stumbled and fell to her hands and knees. She rolled away from at least three threads shot at her back, panting as she tried to get to her feet in time to move again or to charge one of her three last talismans.

Inside, she berated herself for hesitating, now she was not only going to be unable to save Inuyasha, but also unable to save herself. It was just a matter of time before there was nowhere to run and no ofudas to use - and the cackling youkai knew it as well as she did.

Suddenly something glimmered golden and automatically Kagome lifted her head to see what it was. From the east came a yell and a huge object, spinning and seemingly radiating light as it went, headed towards the youkai. It cut two of them right in half and knocked several others aside, opening the path towards the Tree for her.

For a second, speechless and stunned, Kagome could just follow the giant boomerang as it traveled at high speed, completing the circle of destruction and returning to be plucked from the sky by a deft, steady hand.

"Go to the divine tree!" yelled the woman riding a huge saber tooth cat soaring through the skies. Kagome gasped and followed her order, leaping over one of the youkai climbing to its feet. The others were brought out of their staring and tried to catch Kagome, but the boomerang came again to claim their lives or make them rear back.

"Goodness, Kagome!" Hojo gasped as he grabbed Kagome's wrists and helped her when she stumbled on the edge of the Tree's shadow.

"My lady, it's so fortunate that you wear master Inuyasha's robe of fire rat fur!" Myouga sighed from his shoulder. She was panting heavily, blood rushing in her ears as she lowered her head. Relief that she somehow was spared washed over her, but it didn't last long.

Kagome looked back towards the youkai, congregated in the field, more of them coming over the webs spread between the trees. There, behind them, was Inuyasha.

A heavy thud alerted Kagome to a new arrival. The miko looked to the side, where the huge cat landed. It was cream colored, with black paws and ears, with stripes adorning its twin tails. The woman wore an odd outfit completed with pieces of armor. Her eyes were hard and focused as she looked at Kagome. She didn't look much older, but there was an air of confidence and experience about her. She hefted the huge boomerang as if it didn't weigh more than a few kilo and Kagome noticed a short sword on her hip.

"You are unharmed?" she asked.

"N-no..." Hojo uttered, stunned. His eyes were wide and somewhat adoring as he gazed upon the stranger. Kagome took a shaky breath to steady herself. She looked back to the field, where at least a couple dozens of the spider youkai were glaring at her from a safe distance to the Tree. Their shadows were long and dark against the lush grass.

"Good. Then jump on Kirara, I'm taking you to safety," the woman said, patting the cat's flank, causing it to purr pleasantly. Hojo stepped towards them, but Kagome shook her head.

"I can't go. I must help a friend. He's there," she said, pointing a shaking finger at the forest. How was she supposed to purify all those youkai without Inuyasha? Maybe she could use a branch of the Sacred Tree to ward them off and go to him, but what then?

"There?" the woman turned her head, her ponytail swaying behind her back as she did so. She bit her bottom lip and frowned, probably thinking how to help them.

Before any of them came with a plan, a sound tore through the air,

It was a howl as similar to a 'damn you, you fucked up bastards!' as it was canine-ly possible

Something pulsed in the forest, waves of youki that caused goosebumps to cover her skin as they hit her.

"Kaze no Kizu!"

Kagome gasped when she heard something crashing in the forest. Then a blast of yellow light tore through the ground, eradicating a huge part of the treeline, taking down with it the cursed web.

The youkai cried out in outrage, but the yell came back, angry and familiar. The light burst out of the cloud of dust and leaves left behind the first one, the blindingly bright youki tearing deep ditches in the field and practically vaporizing the youkai, ending their existence in clouds of ash and echoes of screams full of outrage and shock.

Myouga screeched in utter delight and leaped from Hojo's shoulder before the man dashed to hide behind the Sacred Tree's trunk. The strange woman tensed, her cat on alert again. Kagome was able to just stare when she noticed a dark figure making its way through the wreckage, yelling, cursing and slamming the huge fang shaped sword at the remaining youkai, sending blasts of youki at them and destroying the field.

In the rain of torn dirt, trees and grass, illuminated by the rays of the rising sun a new youkai made his entrance.

He walked with a strong limp, his left arm hanging at his side. His white shirt was stained with blood and there were threads of the spider web flying about him as he made his way towards the center of the field.

The spider youkai had no chance, they tried to fight back, scattering to avoid being taken in bigger numbers by the giant katana. It was no use, Inuyasha was in no mood to let some youkai flee his wrath.

"Inuyasha..." Kagome sobbed at the sight of silver hair, dog ears and fierce scowl. The curses he yelled were echoed by the waves of rage coming to her via their mental link.

'You dumb wench!'

He was alive, his left leg not bending, his left hand hanging stiffly at his side, but he was alive and... well, royally pissed.

She didn't realize when she started walking towards him. Kagome suspected he was going to scold her for not following his instructions and stupidly getting herself surrounded. She had panicked and hesitated, wanting to save him while she wasn't able to handle the situation.

"Hey!" the other woman grabbed her shoulder before Kagome could approach the edge of the Sacred Tree's protection.

"You idiot! You're in no shape to deal with those fuckers after a whole night of running!" Inuyasha barked as he stalked towards them, sword pointed to the side. The woman with the boomerang pulled Kagome back towards where Hojo was.

"Don't approach the divine tree, youkai," she warned. "You helped us, so I don't want to fight-"

"Fuck off, wench!" he growled at her, following them in the shade of the Sacred Tree. The woman gasped and pushed Kagome back, despite her trying to stop her. Kagome knew she had to soothe Inuyasha's ire somehow, but before she could come up with an answer, the woman charged.

And as Inuyasha leaped awkwardly back to avoid the deadly boomerang, Kagome realized that she could deal with the scolding later. Now she had to make sure her friend and the strange rescuer who had aided them didn't kill each other.

.

The chamber was big and had been a beautiful one, with touches of Chinese influence in the otherwise traditional setup. But now it looked as if a tornado had went through it - tatami mats upturned and torn, a pile of broken pieces where a lacquered table once had stood. A futon, bearing scarred marks from acid and cut in multiple spots by claws, lay in one corner. Broken shoji opened to show a magnificent view of a garden and mountains in the distance, basking in the first rays of the sunlight. Yet, despite the surge of fresh, sweet air, the room smelled of acidic smoke, distress and pain. And barely controlled ire.

Among it all sat a man. Cross legged, his kimono pristine white and his armor spotless in contrast to the destroyed chamber. He had two swords at his hip and kept his eyes closed, his youki on an iron leash as he inhaled.

In his long, elegant fingers he held an opened fan.

In his mind he still could hear the voice of the messenger: 'You will never be whole again. And when our king comes to claim your land and put you down you will wag your tail at him like the stupid dog you are.' The body of the messenger was now scattered across the throne room, unless some of the servants were brave enough to go there and clean it.

As he sat there, meditating and trying to focus on the upcoming battle and controlling his anger, he suddenly flinched and opened his eyes to look down, at one of his swords.

It pulsed, as if in greeting. His eyes snapped to the opened shoji and the distant mountains.

Chapter Text

Inuyasha was barely managing to dodge or block the huge boomerang, his left side too stiff to allow him the usual agility and speed. The woman on the other hand was fast and obviously experienced with her weapon as she swung it, barely missing Inuyasha's head.

"Calm your tits, bitch!" Inuyasha yelled, catching the flying weapon on the flat side of his sword. The boomerang flew off course, digging in the already plowed ground to the side.

"Did you harm the other human? Were you hunting them down before the spiders went after them?" The woman spared only a short glance at her huge weapon before she charged at Inuyasha again, this time wielding her sword and throwing small projectiles at him that looked kinda like bone shuriken.

"What? Fuck!" Inuyasha barked when one of the shuriken whistled dangerously close to his ear. Kagome took a step towards him, but stopped when she heard his growl. 'Stay back!'

He stumbled back, his left leg barely able to support him as he dodged and deflected the woman's attacks. Somehow he managed to keep her at a distance, the size of his sword helping him. Then the female reached into a small pouch on her belt and threw a tiny ball - but this time under his feet, not at him.

As soon as the ball hit the ground, it exploded in a cloud of green smoke and... A stench akin to rotten eggs wafted towards where Kagome stood. The woman calmly put a mask over her mouth and nose, watching Inuyasha, who swayed on his feet.

'Inuyasha...?' Kagome asked, confused. What was going on? The next moment the hanyou fell to the ground, his huge sword transforming to a much less impressive, battered katana. He tried to say something to her, but all she got was a broken word before his mind went silent. The stranger stepped forwards, sword ready to strike. "Inuyasha!"

Later, when she thought about it, she couldn't recall how she managed to cross the distance. One moment she was standing near the Sacred Tree, the next one she was laying across Inuyasha's back, coughing in the revolting odor of the smoke.

"You can't hurt him!" she cried out, her eyes squeezed shut so she couldn't see the blade falling on her. But the blow never came and she realized there was an echo to her voice.

The echo sounded differant thanit should be, there was no desperate determination in it, just a calm warmth. And it sounded old.

Carefully, she lifted her face from where she had been pressing it against Inuyasha's neck.

The smoke was scattering on the breeze. The strange warrior stood just a meter away from them, frozen with her sword above her head.

Something hovered in between them. Something red and white. Kagome blinked at the miko that somehow materialized in front of them, a long ponytail of silver running down her back. The warrior relaxed and lowered her weapon.

"Lady Kaede," she said. "Is it not my duty to fight youkai?"

The old miko chuckled. "Not this one. This one is special. Can't you tell from the way this young miko is trying to protect him with her body?" She said in amusement and Kagome blushed hotly. Still, she didn't move from where she was, just in case.

The aged woman turned her head to look at her. She had one eye covered, but the other peered down at her with wisdom, kindness, and amusement.

"You know he will bark at you for being a stupid moronic idiot if he learns what you had done, child," she pointed out in a casual tone.

"Huh?" Kagome blinked at her, rising to sit on Inuysha's back, her hands clutching onto his hair. As she stared at the priestess, she noticed something unsettling - the woman appeared to not have feet. She was just hovering a few centimeters above the ground. Yet, her aura was warm and gentle, her reiki somewhat similar in feel to Kagome's own power.

"I am happy to, finally, officially meet you. I am Kaede of Higurashi shrine," the miko smiled at her "And even if I wish we could've met in a much more... orderly manner, let me greet you in the hidden realm."

"Uh... Thank you?" she uttered. Inuyasha had mentioned this name, had told her it belonged to a friend, but Kagome hadn't been expecting a ghost of a Higurashi miko.

A sudden realization came to her mind as she looked at the pale, wrinkled face. She had seen her, in Inuyasha's feverish dreams, she had been one of those few kind to him, concerned with his well-being as much as she had been with the humans. A smile found its way to Kagome's face, the first real one since the whole affair had started.

"It's nice to meet you, granny Kaede," she said and bowed her head in respect. After all, this being was the yurei that had once been her ancestor. Kaede chuckled, obviously pleased with her reply. Then she turned to the other woman, standing with her weapons hidden and mask down. The smoke was long gone.

"You already met Sango. She's the newest addition to our little community on this end of the Bone Eater's Well," the young fighter bowed, still looking confused. "And they, Sango dear, are Kagome of Higurashi shrine, the current miko there. And her most loyal and fierce komainu Inuyasha, known to those who are in the know as the Destroyer of Cities."

Inuyasha let out a moan, but Kagome knew it had nothing to do with the conversation. He was awake now, but dizzy and subdued. Without thinking, she stroked his hair in a soothing manner.

"I'm terribly sorry for assaulting your youkai companion, lady miko." Sango said with genuine regret. The huge cat rubbed her flank against her thigh and she put a hand between her ears. "I'd be angry if someone attacked Kirara by a mistake, thinking she was a vile youkai, too."

"It's fine. And thank you for saving us." Kagome beamed at her and saw the other woman relax and smile shyly back at her.

"It's what we taijiya do, lady miko," she said humbly and glanced down to the moaning Inuyasha. 'If you let me, I can help him get better."

"Oh, just call me Kagome," the miko waved a hand and considered her suggestion. She opened her mouth to thank her for offering help, but suddenly a tremor went through the body under her. She squealed and clung to the shrine guardian's back as he rose to his knees and hands. He somehow managed to fit his sword in its scabbard and then transformed into his huge dog form. Feeling his body shift under her and grow fur was weird, but the wash of familiar youki was highly welcome. Somehow it was the surge of his power that finally cued her body to relax and sag as she sat there, clutching his fur.

Was it her imagination or was he much bigger than usual? She was pretty sure he could peer into the second story windows if he wanted to. Sango gasped and took a step back, her feline laying her ears back, but staying her ground. Kaede smiled and shook her head. From the direction of the Sacred Tree came a muffled cry and a dull thump of Hojo finally giving up and fainting.

"A true form!" shrieked Myouga, but no one paid attention to him, nor to poor Hojo, forgotten in the grass.

'You stay away from me with your dumb potions!' Inuyasha growled, laying his ears back in intimidation. Kagome giggled and patted his shoulder as the voice in her mind sounded more like the complaint of a dog that didn't want to take medicine than an angry growl.

"You know they can't hear you, right?" she asked, lightly, wanting to show through her voice that there was nothing to worry about. Kaede didn't look any bit surprised by the sudden transformation, but Sango relaxed upon seeing Kagome's reaction to him. The wary look changed into one of curiosity and awe.

"You managed to tame a silver inu to be your companion?" she said, her eyes trailing over the canine.

"Oh, no," Kagome shook her head. "I hardly did anything. Inuyasha here has been the most esteemed shrine guardian of the Higurashi shrine for centuries and recently allowed me to be his partner. He's very much not tamed."

Inuyasha snorted and it sounded much like a muffled 'damn right!'

"We used to play when we were kids," Kaede added. The dog flicked his tail at her, but it passed through her form without causing her any discomfort. Sango stared at her in shock.

"What silver inu dame allowed her pup to play with human kids?" she asked, looking back to Inuyasha, who pretended not to pay any attention to the discussion, exchanging sniffs with the nekomata. Kagome guessed he had to pass her test, because the feline butted his foreleg with her head

"None. His mother was human," Kaede shrugged.

"Impossible! He's way too strong for a hanyou! And he has a true form!" Sango argued.

"He is a dai hanyou," the yurei corrected. "His father was the West's daiyoukai lord Touga."

As if on cue the huge dog shrank down to a smaller size and then transformed back to his humanoid form. He stood up, making Kagome stumble back to her feet to avoid being dumped on her butt.

"Are we done with discussing my lineage now?" he barked. Kagome grasped his arm to help her stand straight. "We gotta go."

"Aye. Come back later," Kaede nodded, her eyes turning to the west. "It might be wise to take Sango and Kirara with you."

"What? Where are you going?" Sango inquired.

"There is no time to linger," Kaede sighed and favored the taijiya with a kind smile. "Don't fret, child. You two will visit the other world for a while. Learn and get to know the new Higurashi miko."

"Uh... Alright, I guess. If it's okay with you, Kagome?" Sango turned to Kagome.

"Sure," she nodded. "It will be fun. I mean after some rest. It was a hard night."

She was so tired after the whole night on her feet, trying to run to safety. Now they all were safe and Inuyasha was back to his normal self. She could go to bed soon... She had been on edge, using her reiki excessively during the night, trying to keep Inuyasha and Hojo moving towards the shrine and safe, and...

"Hojo!" she shrieked, finally remembering about her friend. The ghost and warrior blinked at her confused.

"What about Hujo?" Inuyasha asked, but Kagome just patted his arm as she looked around to spot the passed out boy under the Sacred Tree.

"Goodness, Hojo," she groaned and walked to check up on him. Behind her back Inuyasha and Kaede exchanged looks and glanced towards the west. Kagome crouched by her friend and touched his cheek.

"He is only unconscious," the yurei informed as she started moving towards the other side of the field, the one where an old well was standing. "Sango, dear, you and Kirara have to jump inside the well. You will have to climb out of it afterwards and wait for Inuyasha and Kagome," she said as her pale fingers touched the wooden structure. Pure light rose from the wood, glowing faintly blue.

"Lady Kaede..." the warrior started, concerned and confused.

"It will be fine. I assure you it will all be fine. You can trust Inuyasha with your life and to explain the basics. You will come back in a few days. I will keep everyone safe, don't worry. Besides, I will have Kohaku to help me."

"Alright," the fighter sighed and stroked Kirara’s head. The nekomata shifted to a small feline form and leaped into her arms. The exterminator glanced at the old miko, the Sacred Tree and the other people approaching before she nodded sharply and easily leaped over the lip of the well to disappear in the darkness lingering inside.

Meanwhile Inuyasha crouched beside Kagome and grunted.

"We gotta go, wench," he reached his hands and grabbed Hojo to throw him over his shoulder. "We can deal with this later."

"What's going on?" Kagome asked, following him as he walked after Kaede and Sango. The two women exchanged a few words and the younger one jumped in the well that looked just like the one in Higurashi shrine. "Gods!"

"Calm down," Inuyasha put a hand on her shoulder. "She's fine. I told you, the well is a gate between the worlds. She's at the shrine. We will have to jump in too."

"Uh..." she bit her bottom lip. She wasn't sure she could just do it with the easy faith Sango had exposed. After all, it was still a deep well... She didn't want to break her leg or worse.

"Keh, I'll hold you, so don't worry," he grumbled, guessing her sudden anxiety.

"But... Why the haste? You're back to normal and not paralyzed by the spider venom anymore," she said, stopping by the well. Inuyasha shrugged. His face was frozen in a determined, tense look and she didn't like how tight his youki was to him, as if he was trying to hide it.

"I just went overboard with the sword and now we don't have time to linger. We will come back some time later," he assured her. Kaede nodded and offered Kagome a soothing smile.

"See you soon, child. Hiro is probably worried sick for you," she patted the well. Kagome gulped at the thought of her poor grandpa waiting for her at home, but she still tensed when she felt Inuyasha's arm wrapping around her. "Be sure to bring some of the coffee for me next time."

Something had been nagging at her senses and suddenly, as Inuyasha leaped on the lip of the well, balancing her and Hojo as he did, Kagome realized what it was.

'Youkai!' A terribly strong one, coiling like a tornado of immense power, approaching with lightning speed from the west. Her head snapped that way, but all she could glimpse when Inuyasha jumped in the darkness of the well, was a cloud-covered sky. 'Inuyasha, what is that?'

Inuyasha's reply came to her when he landed lightly on his feet on the bottom of the dry well. It sounded tight, almost frightened, annoyed and disgusted.

'My brother.'

.

Kaede's ghostly fingers lifted from the lip of the well, the power in it fading into slumber again. She had been the one to seal it the last time, and even if it had been from the other side, she could lift the seal just enough to allow others to pass.

She let her reiki flare out in a gentle wave, cleansing the field around the Sacred Tree from any leftover signs of Inuyasha's youki. His scent was already lost to the faint, but terrible odor of Sango's stink pellet.

Sadly, she had no time to do anything about the distinct scars on the ground.

The youkai descended from the sky as lightly and gracefully as if he weighed nothing. His golden eyes were rimmed with red when he mutely scanned the area, taking in the Tree, the well, the battlefield and the ghost of a miko watching him. When his eyes landed on her, Kaede offered a polite bow.

"Lord Sesshomaru," she greeted kindly, but with no sign that she deemed him her lord. She was in her domain and held great power herself. Still, the man in white was not his usual calculated, controlled self.

"Old miko," he growled out. His usually cold and flat voice held now a hint of tension and roughness, a clear warning. He always was able to keep his youki on a tight leash, so no one could guess his power but now that leash was failing and sensitive people could sense his approach, especially if they knew what to look for.

"What has brought the Lord of the West to the Sunset Mountain? I can assure you that my village and I do not ally ourselves with the cats, nor with the moths. The kitsune from the inn at the foot of the mountain are your allies." Kaede spoke softly, choosing her words carefully.

"This one doesn't doubt your loyalty," he glared around again, his nose lifting up as he inhaled, probably trying to pick a scent. "This one sensed power that rightfully belongs to him being used here. He came to claim it."

"The power that is rightfully yours, my lord, is at your hip, as it had always been."

The daiyoukai sneered at her, his mokomoko fluffling out in anger. He rested his hand on the hilt on one of two swords he carried.

"The swordsmith told this one that the Tessaiga was lost and that this one could never wield it." he growled. "But today it was used to destroy this field. You will tell me where it is and what worthless scum stole it from the rightful heir of Inu no Taisho."

"My lord," Kaede lifted her hands in a calming motion. He could sense a lie, so she had to word her response carefully. "I do not possess the Tessaiga. When I arrived here the field was already in the state you can see. I cannot sense any youki beside yours, so there are no trails for me to follow the one who had done it. Can you waste your time on trying to catch what might be just a mirage of your own making?"

He glared at her, but stood motionless. He couldn't sense youki that had been purified and the scents that lingered in the area couldn't tell him much. Kaede thought that it was partially a blessing that Inuyasha had been a human when he had come to this place. Sesshomaru knew his hanyou sncent, but had never met him in human form.

"My lord, let me give you my most sincere assurance that I pray that your mate is returned to your side," Kaede added quietly. His eyes narrowed. "We all know that she has been kidnapped on her way from Lord Naraku to your palace. It is the work of the foes of this land and we at the Sunset Mountain want them all punished accordingly. Please, my lord. Let go of your old obsession with the sword that was never meant for you and focus on more pressing matters. Lady Kagura and the West are your treasure, not a rusty katana."

"You are correct, they will pay for assaulting my mate and being so arrogant to think they could bring the West to its knees." he declared. It looked like her words reached him, at least partially. She doubted he would let go of his old desire to claim all three swords of his father, but at least he chose to forget it for now. "You are also bold."

"This happens when you are dead for centuries," she chuckled dryly. Without a warning or a word of goodbye, the daiyoukai ascended to the skies and disappeared in the clouds rolling in from the west.

Kaede sighed in the silence of the serene Sacred Tree meadow. Then she chuckled again, with more mirth, when she heard a tiny, awed voice, shrieking from under the ageless tree. She also thanked the gods it hadn't spoken earlier.

"A true form...!"

Chapter Text

A young woman, frail and delicate, walked beside her mother across the shrine grounds. They just finished their prayers and were going to have a little walk through the area. The girl's mother seemed happy to see her daughter outside of the house and looking more healthy than in previous months. A part of the girl wondered what had happened to the young man that had went up the mountain the previous evening.

The girl's rusty-brown eyes swept across the small shrine, modest buildings and the lush green of the forest surrounding the place like a soft cushion of nature. Somehow she felt better in this place than anywhere else. It felt almost as if this place had an aura of serenity and healing.

Suddenly the girl stopped, looking at a man sweeping the far side of the yard. His red traditional robe seemed to almost glow in the low rays of the morning sun. Or maybe it was because his hair was the most unusual shade of silvery white.

The girl found herself wanting to reach her hand and comb her fingers down that waterfall of hair. He wore a rice straw hat on his head, completing the look that made her immediately feel like she'd stepped back in time to long passed ages.

The man moved with efficiency and effortless grace, step after step, his broom moving in an almost hypnotic motion.

As if feeling her gaze on him, he lifted his head and the girl gasped.

From under the rim of his hat, she could see a pair of stunning fiery golden eyes looking straight at her from a young, handsome face.

The girl gaped at him. She didn't know him, yet she felt as if she knew those intense yellow eyes. She'd never spoken to him, yet she somehow knew his voice was cool and indifferent, strong and full of authority. She didn't know his name, but somehow she was sure that he loved to watch storms rolling over the forests and mountains. He looked so exotic, yet at the same time his looks didn't startle her as much as the fact that she felt... familiarity with this man she'd never seen before. And yet... there was something that didn't look right in how he looked. There was something different, she knew it. These eyes were too expressive, too innocent. The hair was too unruly. The clothing was too plain.

And, no matter how hard she thought about it, she couldn't come up with any idea why she felt this way.

"Kaguraya?" asked her mother, worried. The girl glanced to her mother to soothe her concerns. When she turned back to look at the man, he was already gone, his work finished.

.

The forest felt ancient and otherworldly. After visiting the other world it was hard not to compare the forests in both places. Yes, the forest of the youkai world had been shrouded in darkness, with danger lurking in every shadow, but she could remember the tall, ancient trees, so similar to those surrounding her as she walked under their swaying limbs, dappled light filling the air with spots of gold and yellow, and rich brown. She was pretty sure that both forests shared the ethereal beauty and hoped one day she could have a walk through the other forest without worrying about spider youkai, poor Hojo and Inuyasha.

When they'd jumped in the well, her shrine guardian had held her tightly to himself, as if he'd been expecting her to try and struggle to get free. She'd been caught off guard by his reveal that it had been his brother approaching. Thanks to this, she'd cried out in surprise only when he'd landed on the dry floor of the well, just to leap out, the air rushing past them, free pf the heavy weight of the approaching youki. She'd wanted to ask about that, but there hadn't been enough time.

The miko had had to deal with putting the unconscious Hojo in bed, with Inuyasha's help. She'd had to explain everything to her grandfather, who had been worried for them and had been up for the better part of the night. And finally, she'd had to find a place for Sango and Kirara to stay. The other woman had been stunned with the shrine, but had tried to contain her curiosity and wonder for the time being. After performing the shrine duties for the morning, finally, Kagome had collapsed onto her bed for a much needed nap, Inuyasha demanding that he could deal with the visitors and call her if needed.

After waking up a few hours later, feeling much better, Kagome had prepared a simple, quick meal for everyone, It had been nice to have everyone at the table for lunch... well, almost everyone.

Inuyasha, the benevolent shrine guardian who had made sure they could catch a few hours of shuteye, had been missing. So now,, certain that the others could take care of themselves for a while, with a haphazardly made bento box, Kagome walked in the shadows of the forest, headed towards a very specific tree.

Since her awakening her mind had been drifting back to the events of the night, to the dark forest, the fight and escape, to the spider youkai sneaking on them in the gray light of predawn. Her mind had been lingering on the shattered memories that she had glimpsed in Inuyasha's feverish thoughts. Even now, as she was walking through the forest she came to know and love, she was deep in thought, thinking about all the terrible commands, all the pain and prejudice Inuyasha had suffered in his years as a shrine guardian. The deity that had once offered him a roof to stay under surely wouldn't approve of the continuation of this abuse. She remembered how her grandfather told her about the kotodama, how he made it clear she knew it was a last resort thing and not just a lever to keep the inu hanyou controlled. She totally agreed with him, using spells to make others do your biding was not the right thing to do. Now she was perfectly aware how much her ancestors had abused the kotodama of the one who should be their partner, not a living tool.

It was no wonder Inuyasha was so antisocial, unwilling to trust and had attitude issues. He was like a dog that was chained to a fence post instead of being taught trust and companionship.

She wasn't sure what kind of miko she was going to be, but she was sure that she was going to make some changes around the shrine. Starting with the most noble and powerful komainu. From what she had gathered from Lady Kaede's words, Inuyasha was of noble blood - not that it mattered to her - and had a good heart - something she already knew well - and Kagome wanted to make him show that side of him, lose some of his hostility and step into the light beside her instead of lurking in the shadows.

Kagome had no doubt in her heart that together they could brave any rampant youkai. The decision solidified in her mind and she lifted her head, smiling and taking in the ambiance of the forest, relaxing her shoulders and walking a bit faster.

It happened like it could in a dream. One minute she was walking alone, dry leaves crunching under her shoes, the other there was a shadow walking next to her, his head on similar level to hers, white like fresh snow and just as silent. He seemed right where he belonged as he walked beside her under the ancient trees.

With the corner of her eye she observed him walk, an otherworldly canine, that carried within himself a heart and soul of a human. There was no falter in his step, his lean body flexing under his fur coat as he walked, tail low, ears alerted, red and golden eyes looking straight ahead. His youki was tightly kept to him, as if he was trying to hide his presence from her. Or just was anxious about something.

She could remember him as a human, head of dark hair tilted forwards as he labored every step, breath ragged. She remembered him as a hanyou wielding a magic sword, an image of power and anger. She remembered his hold on her, secure and warm as he jumped in the well.

The Sacred Tree meadow looked eerily calm and tiny after what had transpired in the meadow beyond the barrier between worlds. There were no scars on the ground, no big stretch of grass that led to the old well. Yet, the Tree was the same, welcoming them both, sharing its serenity.

"Inuyasha..." she started and turned to look at him. He sat on his hind legs
- a perfect replica of the komainu statues guarding the shrine. It was hard to read his furry face, but in his eyes she saw wariness and annoyance. "I wanted to talk to you."

'You can always tell me what you want,' came his mind voice, tense and low. She guessed he could sense her uncertainty and that made him tense up like this. 'We share a mind link, so you don't have to haul your ass into my forest.'

Kagome shook her head and stepped closer to the dog, her hands running from the base of his ears down his neck to where the beaded collar rested against the shaggy ruff. He looked at her for a moment, his eyes guarded and deep..

"I wanted to talk to you face to face, silly," she smiled at him, hoping to ease some of his tension. He cocked his head like a confused puppy and she found herself hard pressed not to reach and rub his cute ears. But she stopped herself before that, this talk was going to be a serious one and they didn't need a distraction. "About last night."

'Ah, yeah!' he bared his teeth at her and growled, his ears laying back. 'You didn't run to the Sacred Tree like I told you to! If not for that girl, you'd be dead by spider youkai! What were you thinking, wench?'

She didn't feel scared by the sight of his fangs and his growl. Still, she took a step back, resting her hands on her hips and glaring at him. She felt her temper rising when she looked at him, remembering him from the previous night.

"Listen, buddy, you tricked me into leaving your side! I was worried for you and..."

'Tricked!' the dog cut in with a bark. He rose to all his feet and stood in an agitated pose, tail up like a challenge. 'I gave you a legit way to get rid of the youkai before they could do me in! And you just stood there like an idiot, waiting for them to catch you!'

"No! I did not! I was going... Wait, what, so this kagura dance would've really purified them away?" she lost her focus on being angry.

The dog stared at her for a second, his tail lowering in disbelief. 'When did I give you an instruction that wouldn't work,wench? Do you trust me so little?' he added, his ears drooping ass he looked away from her.

"What? No! Of course I trust you! I was just..." she stammered, realizing how he must feel, after so many of her predecessors not trusting in him. "I just... I never did that before! And you weren't answering, so you couldn't tell me what to do! I was so scared and confused, and tired... I didn't want to abandon you... I wanted to do something to help you... And I do trust you, please, believe me... I am not like the others...""

She felt shame and guilt flood her heart at the memory of his past. She'd seen only glimpses, but it made it perfectly clear to her that things had to change. Well, they were changing with how her grandfather was already treating him better than the others, but it was too little for her. Besides, it was true - without him telling her the steps, she couldn't dance the kagura. She'd seen it done before, but had never paid much attention to which step was after which, how the hands should be and all the tiny details that for sure were important.

'Others?' his voice was uncertain and quiet. She bit her bottom lip.

"My predecessors. They were so bad to you, so cold and harsh," she blinked away tears when she remembered how they used his name to bind him so tightly with their commands. It was hard, to realize that her ancestors weren't as good as she'd like them to be.

He didn't answer for a long minute and she glanced at him. He was no longer angry at her for not following his instructions. He was sitting, stock still, looking straight at her.

'You saw.'

It wasn't a question. It was vague, but at the same time it was very clear to her, what he meant. She lowered her head and nodded, anxiously running the hem of her sleeve between her fingers.

"I did. I... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry, but... It wasn't like I could stop it," she uttered. "I'm so sorry, Inuyasha. You never deserved to be treated in such a manner. I swear, I will do whatever I can to make it up to you."

Without waiting for his answer, she reached both hands towards him and grabbed the collar wrapped around his neck. The beads were tied to his kotodama, through them her reiki influenced him. Maybe it was just her imagination, but they felt oddly heavy for a string of wooden beads, as if every command of her ancestors was weighting them down. And he had endured this weight for so long, loyal to his deal with the kami. He had had no choice in the matter, the kotodama binding him. But she - she had a choice. Even if it meant he could just leave her behind, she refused to keep her friend collared like this. They were supposed to be partners and she refused to hold this kind of power over him.

Before she could yank the collar up and over his head, the hanyou in front of her shifted forms. It felt a bit weird to feel his youki wrap around him, his change instantaneous. A pair of clawed hands grabbed onto her wrists, forcing her to lower the necklace to where it rested against his shoulders His hold was firm, but didn't hurt.

Golden eyes glared straight into hers.

"What are you doing wench?"

Chapter Text

She was sitting on the engawa, cradling a cup of tea in her hands. It was made of glass and at first she'd been shocked to see how many expensive vessels the shrine house held. But Kagome had explained to her that in this world things had different values, because the way of making them was cheaper.

It was so odd, this world. She was a human, but she'd spent her whole life in the hidden world, just like most of her family. For her this was an exotic, mysterious place.

There was a big shrine complex basically next to the Sacred Tree meadow. The dry well had a small wooden house built to shelter it and ward off trespassers. The main shrine was lovely and the house of the shrine keepers was nothing short of a mansion, at least for Sango, used to seeing small huts.

This area was nothing like the tiny village hidden near the Sacred Tree in the youkai world, protected by Lady Kaede and now also Kohaku and herself. The visitors to the shrine were wearing strange clothes, just like the pair of pants and a shirt lent to her by Kagome. Some were of youkai blood, but never malicious. They paid their respects to the deity, bought a lucky charm and went away just like the humans.

Kirara came to curl up in her lap and Sango stroked her back, her gaze following the tall figure in red. He had a straw hat on top of his head, but she knew his secret already - he was hiding a pair of dog ears.

A silver inu hanyou, half-brother to the famous and feared Lord of the West, was sweeping the yard. He seemed a bit tense, but aside of that he seemed to feel right in place, working humbly at the shrine with the diligence more akin to a dedicated shrine keeper than a youkai of noble blood. It was clear for her to see that he deemed the shrine grounds his domain and was as protective of Kagome as Kirara was of her.

Sango heard soft shuffling footsteps and turned to see the old priest joining her. Hiro, a descendant of Lady Kaede, sat down next to her with his own tea. His aura was soothing and akin to Kaede's.

"It must be quite a shock to see this side of the well," he said. "I barely remember my first time going there. We were chasing a youkai in a nearby city and Inuyasha led me after it through a shadow in a basement of an abandoned house. We came out in a cave near a river."

"Yes, it is shocking," Sango agreed and smiled at him sharing his memory with her. "This is the human world and yet it is so new and strange to me, a human. I mean, I heard stories from the ones who passed the barrier between the worlds, but it's one thing to hear about stuff, another... witnessing the stuff," she admitted awkwardly. She knew rules of her trade of the world she lived in. Here, this was an entirely new place with bizarre rules. At least she was surrounded by friendly people.

"You will learn, bit by bit," he assured her. "No need to rush. Kagome and I are here to answer all your questions."

"Thank you, I appreciate that," Sango bowed her head a bit. When she glanced towards the shrine guardian, he was already going to put the broom away in the shed. "I'm still stunned that he is working for Kagome. Silver inu are too prideful to allow others to give them orders."

"Believe me, making Inuyasha do what he doesn't want is no easy feat," Hiro chuckled and waved a hand when he saw the said hanyou glaring at them both before walking into the forest. "He sees the shrine as his domain and Kagome is not only his keeper, but also a friend. They will fight together and for each other, and it makes me happy to see the next generation of my family get along with the shrine guardian so well"

Sango nodded. She knew the hanyou just for a short time, but from what she'd gathered, he could be very stubborn. But he also was loyal and dedicated to protect the miko in his care. Which only made the exterminator's respect for the other woman grow stronger. Kagome had made the hanyou go out of the shrine's barrier during his weakest time to help her old friend. There was no doubt in her heart Inuyasha trusted Kagome as much as she trusted him. Still, the exterminator couldn't help, but find their noble decision to go to save Hojo more than a tad reckless. They had been way too close to dying back there and Sango hoped that they could learn to be less reckless.

"They are still getting used to each other and getting experience, but I expect them to be fine partners," Hiro continued. "If you ever need help dealing with youkai on your side of the well, don't shy away from asking for their aid."

"The same goes for me. I will do what I can to help," Sango smiled shyly. She hoped that showing good will and offering help would be mutually beneficial. Besides, she really hoped to make a friend in Kagome.

As if summoned by Sango thinking about the kind girl who had easily accepted a female exterminator and a youkai under her roof, Kagome stepped into the opened shoji, yawning and stretching her arms.

"Hey," she said "I'm going to make some quick lunch for us. If you want to, I can show you how some stuff in the kitchen works," she said to Sango.

"That would be great," the exterminator said and put Kirara next to herself to stand up and follow Kagome. When she looked back she couldn't help, but smile. Hiro was patting his lap, inviting the feline to curl there. What priest would show such familiarity with a youkai after just meeting them?

Sango joined Kagome in making the meal, washing and cutting things. She was amazed by the tap that provided as much water as you wanted, both cold and hot. The fridge box was a marvelous apparatus too, as was the stove. It seemed that wherever she looked she saw something new and wondrous. And Kagome was showing her how all of this worked and what not to do. It was an amazing experience and Sango was happy to learn. She didn't need to know how the things worked and how the humans of this world invented them, at least not for now. As new as it felt to her, it always felt... well, manageable. With Kagome happily sharing tips while preparing food, both girls sharing some bits about each other, the time passed swiftly and pleasantly.

Then the boy, Hojo, joined them.

He seemed well enough after sleeping. He sat at the table, drinking his tea and watching them work and explore the rice cooker. He was quiet and wasn't doing anything but... he was distracting her.

Sango bit the inside of her cheek, glancing to the table. Yes, he was still looking at her. Was she wearing the borrowed shirt wrong or something? Self-consciously she brushed the hem of the sleeve with her fingertips to find the sew inside, just like it should be, according to Kagome's instructions from the morning.

So, what was making him stare at her? He wasn't glaring like some men did after learning that she was doing 'a man's job'. On the contrary, he had this dazed awe in his brown eyes as they followed her every move. It was different from the looks some of the men gave her, it lacked the desire. She couldn't figure out what he was thinking as he stared at her and it was making her nervous.

She felt Kagome's fingers brush her wrist and whipped her head towards the miko, who winked at her. Sango blushed, realizing that Kagome knew of his staring and that she was glancing his way. 'Oh goodness, she might think I may be attracted to him... Is he her friend? Someone more?' passed through her mind.

"I want to make some coffee," Kagome said. "Do you want to try it?"

Lady Kaede had mentioned coffee before. It was supposed to be a wondrous potion of restoration, at least in her words. Sango nodded, curiosity helping her forget about the man at the table. With a shy smile she reached for the kettle and turned to fill it with the tap water.

The meal was uneventful - Kagome was glancing towards the shoji, her grandfather was happily sharing his french fries with both Kirara and a cat named Buyo, Hojo stopped staring at her to focus on retelling his adventure in the forest to the rest, ignoring the fact that most of them had been there. Sango quietly ate, marveling at the taste of the foreign food and trying not to blush in embarrassment when Hojo got to the part where she'd jumped in to save Kagome from the spider youkai.

So it wasn't a surprise, when she realized that Kagome was missing. She looked up from her empty plate to see her seat vacant. She blinked and turned to her grandfather, who offered her a small smile.

"Just put your plates in the sink," he said as he stood up to do just that with his own dish. "Kagome went to give Inuyasha his meal. You two can do whatever you want, you're our guests. Just don't go far into the forest and don't reveal that the youkai are real to the visitors." he added, looking at Hojo, who nodded eagerly.

"Of course, sir," he said. "The secret is safe."

Sango rolled her eyes. It was yet another oddity. Youkai, who were so natural and ordinary in the hidden realm, here they were a secret. Most humans had no idea they were real and couldn't sense them. That was why people like the Higurashi family were tasked to deal with the malevolent ones, who tried to prey on the human race. Well, when she thought about it, the human communities scattered across the youkai realm were just as vulnerable to youkai attacks despite knowing about them. They relied on the good will of the youkai neighbors or hired professional exterminators to deal with the vile beings.

Kirara went to nap with Buyo and Sango couldn't stop herself but chuckle when she saw the youkai cat leap easily to the pillow on a small cabinet. Buyo looked at her sprawled out on the cushion and joined her there. Sango chose to pay her respects to the deity. It was a soothing ritual to purify oneself and pray to the kami of the mountain. Lady Kaede's shrine was much smaller than this one. She decided to walk around for a bit and that's when she realized something.

Someone was following her.

She walked to the other side of the house, where between it and the forest were lines for laundry. There was also a sizable free space, perfect for training. Sango could see archery targets on one of the fence posts. She waited a moment before she turned around to face her stalker.

She felt vulnerable without her boomerang and sword, both left in the room designed for her and Kirara by Kagome, along with most of her gear. She had only a small knife hidden in a sheath strapped to her under her loose clothing. Yet, one glance told her that she wouldn't need any weapons, since her follower was not a youkai.

No, it was Kagome's dazed-eyed friend Hojo.

"What do you want?" she asked, maybe a bit too roughly. She wasn't used to talking to people who weren't frightened victims of youkai or other exterminators.

"Oh, um..." the young man smiled at her. "I thought, you know, since we don't have much else to do... Could we, maybe, train together? You know, since we both are defenders of humankind?"

"Train together?" from what she'd heard, the humans of this world didn't usually go through any youkai fighting training. From his tale and Kagome's words she'd figured out Hojo just recently learned youkai even existed.

"Yeah. I know some killer karate moves," he waved a hand. "I mean, I killed one of the spiders, remember? I want to learn more tricks, so I can be a hero, just like you. And then I could hunt down the monsters that lurk in the shadows."

As she stared at the man, a part of Sango's mind reminded her that the fence was just a handful of meters behind her and wasn't that high. She could jump over it and run in the forest in a matter of seconds.

Now she recognized the look in his eyes. She'd seen some of the village boys looking this way at her fellow taijiya, especially after seeing them in action. There was no disbelief she could be an effective exterminator, there was just amazement and will to be just like her.

"Karate?" she repeated, uncertain if she felt flattered by his awe or concerned for his well-being. If he wasn't careful he could get killed by a youkai, even in this world.

"Yeah," Hojo nodded. "It's a martial art," he explained. "I don't have a flying cat and all that gear you do, but everyone has to start somewhere."

Sango tried to cool down his eagerness but her efforts were in vain. Hojo wanted to be 'a hero like her, fighting to protect humans from the hideous youkai'. After all, as he repeated again and again, he had already slain one.

Finally she caved in and allowed him to show her his 'moves'. They could be effective against some humans, she supposed, but not against most youkai. She suggested a small spar, hoping to show him how much he was lacking in speed and skill. Suffice to say that it didn't take her long to bring him to the ground. She hoped that he'd feel humiliated, being beaten by a girl, and drop this outlandish idea.

All she had done was to make him beg for pointers.

Suddenly she realized why it was for the best that the majority of humankind of this world knew nothing about youkai and their hidden realm.

Chapter Text

"What are you doing, wench?"

Inuyasha's voice was tense and low, obviously annoyed and confused. She didn't struggle to pull her hands from his grasp, her gaze dropping to the beads around his neck.

"I wanted to remove them," she uttered.

"That's plain to see," he grumbled. "But why? Was I not a good shrine guardian? Did I break some weird rule of yours you didn't tell me about?" He sounded agitated and confused.

"What?" she blinked at him. "No, you are a great partner and you didn't break any rules. I just..."

"Then why?" he asked, tilting his head and letting go of her hands when she released her hold on the rosary. She let her hands fall to her sides. His ears hid in his hair when he took a step back. "I get it, you think I'm too weak. I knew I shouldn't let you see my human..."

"No, stop!" Kagome shook her head. He didn't even think about the right reason. It was as if he couldn't see that she wanted him to be free and not under her power. She knew that there was a chance that he could just leave her after being released, but she didn't want to focus on it. It wasn't right to keep him tied to her against his will and she would manage, somehow, if he chose to go away. Her heart squeezed briefly at that thought, but she was more focused on trying to find the right words to use to explain herself.

He glanced at her for a moment before letting his eyes drift to the side.

"Listen," she swallowed and squared her shoulders. "I want to remove the necklace, because it's not right. It's not right for me to hold power over you. It's not right to do what my ancestors did, abusing the kotodama to make you do stuff you didn't like or put yourself in harm's way. You're not worse or better than I am, a person who should be able to choose for themselves, according to their heart and..."

He was looking at her again, his eyes wide and oddly innocent, the perked ears and slightly agape mouth completing the look of utter bewilderment. She felt tears in her eyes when she thought about his past, the poor boy had been treated so badly for so long that now he looked as if he couldn't believe her words, as if he heard them for the first time in his life.

"I want for you to stay the shrine guardian and my partner, and my friend," she blinked rapidly, trying to explain what she felt the best way she could "But I want you to do it of your own will."

"I surrendered my name to your family by my own will," he interrupted. "I am allowed to live here and have a purpose in life in exchange for my assistance."

"But my ancestors, they used the kotodama to bind you, to make you do stuff you didn't want to," she whispered. "I saw, you know. I saw how they treated you, how they said all that bad stuff about you... They used the necklace not as a sign of bond, but as a collar they could yank whenever they saw fit. Nothing good came from them using it."

She stopped, staring at the shrine guardian, who shook his head. For a moment he had a grim scowl on his face, his hand reaching to touch the beads.

"Feh! They... did and said hurtful shit," he glanced at her, as if afraid she'd deny him, despite the fact that she'd said the exact same thing a moment before. "But the beads... They also grant me power. I can assume a true form thanks to them. I... I can do other things thanks to them, too. If you remove them, we can't talk in our minds anymore. We're not bound anymore."

Kagome felt her heavy heart lift at his words, so soft they were. It was quite a shock to learn that he needed the necklace to do some of his tricks, but at least it meant that he had some profits from this all. He didn't look like he hated them and when she thought about it, he never looked really angry or resentful at her, her grandfather or Kaede, despite them being related to the rest. His memories of them in his fever had been devoid of bitterness and the heavy, dark weight of pain and loneliness.

An idea came to her mind.

"Inuyasha," she said, his name laced with her reiki. He froze, brought out of his thoughts, looking at her in mild annoyance. He most certainly didn't suspect what she was about to do. "I release you from all the commands of my ancestors. You're free to be the shrine guardian, to refuse helping me, to do whatever your heart wants. Well, I hope you won't go on a ramen-eating rampage," she giggled, a bit nervously, uncertain that she was wording her wish correctly, but knowing that it was right. "You are a person who is also a hanyou, but you sure as hell are no abomination or should be hidden away. I can't promise you that I won't use your kotodama, but I promise, I will try to be more considerate than my predecessors."

The kotodama no nenju pulsed a few times and the hanyou in front of her straightened his back as if a great weight was lifted from his shoulders. He offered her a lopsided smirk.

"Silly wench, and what if I decide to leave?" he asked. She gulped, but refused to look down. She'd thought about that, but hoped he wouldn't.

"Then I won't try to stop you. I mean I really hope you want to stay the shrine guardian and work with me, but..." she couldn't help, but look at him pleadingly. He crossed his arms over his chest.

"Keh, you are helpless without me, I'm your shrine guardian and I will keep your ass safe," he declared, the tone of his voice more akin to his usual cockiness. Kagome smiled widely, happy and relieved.

"I will appreciate all your help," she assured him.

"But I am hardly free to do what I want," he turned his head to look at the Sacred Tree.

"Not true. You can do what you want, remember?" she reminded him, pointing a finger at the beads. "I mean I'd appreciate you not causing havoc and using common sense... But other than that, Inuyasha, do what you want."

It was only when a pair of strong, warm arms wrapped around her, pulling her against the rough fabric of his kimono, his nose nuzzling the side of her neck, that Kagome realized that she'd spoken the kotodama once more this day.

And, apparently, Inuyasha had wanted to squeeze her soul out of her body.

She was so stunned by both revelations, that she didn't even move, when a moment later Inuyasha, back in his dog form, fled the meadow, his cheeks probably flushing as red as hers did.

It was certain - things around the Higurashi shrine were changing.

Chapter Text

Kagome looked down to the bento box that sat in the basket standing next to her. With all that talking, she'd forgotten that she'd brought the shrine guardian food.

She pressed a hand against her cheek, still remembering the odd feeling of her skin brushing against the spot on Inuyasha's head where regular people had ears and he had just smooth skin. Some people could be weirded out by that tidbit about his anatomy, but Kagome didn't mind that - his regular ears were cute and perfect where they sat atop his head.

It wasn't the first time they touched. He'd held her and had carried her on his back, but this time it was different. This time it was not of necessity, not to remove her from a dangerous spot or move fast across the land.

He hugged her because he wanted to.

Fuzzy butterflies fluttered in her belly and she felt her mouth stretch in - no doubt - a dopey smile.

Her gaze drifted to the basket. She should at least tell him that she was leaving it for him here. She took a few deep breaths to soothe her excitement about the whole situation - his embrace, the fact that she managed to find a way to lift the commands from him and that he wanted to stay at the shrine as her partner.

'Inuyasha...' she called tentatively.

'It was a thank you hug, nothing more!' he barked back at her. He sounded almost panicked, like an embarrassed boy. Instead of feeling bad about his declaration, she giggled.

'Sure thing," she said, easily. "I just wanted to tell you that I'm leaving your lunch here. Bring the basket to the kitchen when you're done.'

All she got was a mental scoff but she didn't mind. It didn't matter if he hugged her to say thanks or for some other reason, she was just happy he did it. '

Somehow she managed to make her silly grin change to a more soft one before she exited the forest. She stopped, looking at Sango and Hojo, the pair engaged in a spar. Hojo looked excited and eager to learn, as always. but Sango had this look of barely concealed dread on her face. She glanced at Kagome and the miko giggled, reading a plea for help in her dark eyes.

Hojo could be hard to handle, especially when he got passionate about something. He just wouldn't listen to a voice of reason, single-mindedly forging his path to his goal.

Judging by the situation it seemed that now the boy wanted to become an exterminator. Kagome shook her head. He'd been lucky that one time, but Kagome wasn't sure it was his calling. For someone so smart, he could believe in things like alternative medicine and always trusted others. But maybe he could learn, after all he'd learned some karate. She decided to talk to Sango and see if this was a path for him or if she should try and redirect his attention somewhere else.

"Hi, guys!" she greeted them. Sango leaped away from Hojo and sighed, while Hojo grinned, both lowering their hands. "So, Sango, how is the training of your pupil going?"

"He is not my pupil," Sango said and glanced to Hojo, who frowned. "Kagome, a word, please." The woman grabbed Kagome's wrist and pulled the miko around the corner of the house. "How do I make him stop?"

"Is he that bad?" Kagome giggled at the slayer. Sango gave her a grim nod.

"He is not fit to be a taijiya." she said and was about to add something more, but a pair of women approached them. Kagome blinked, it was almost time to close the shrine for the visitors for the day.

"Um, miko...?" one of the women asked. Both were slender and pretty tall, wearing their hair in long braids. The one who spoke had almost white skin, while the one standing beside her had a much darker complexion. "Can we go visit the Goshinboku?"

Kagome was about to answer, when she noticed a faint youki coming out of them both. 'Inuyasha?' she asked, noticing that the pair were snakes, wearing concealing charms.

'They're fine. They've been coming here every year before summer for the past thirty years. 'Will hang a charm on the Tree and leave.'

"Sure," Kagome smiled at the pair and nodded. The women bowed their heads, visibly relaxing at her permission, before they walked towards the path to the Sacred Tree. It was plain to see they had been at the meadow before, since they didn't hesitate to go to the shortest path. Most visitors prayed at the shrine, but only a handful ventured into the forest to pay respects to the ancient tree.

"You're aware they're youkai?" Sango asked when they were gone. "You let them approach the Tree of Ages?"

Neither of them noticed a soft gasp from around the corner of the house, nor the hurried footsteps.

"It's alright, Sango. They won't cause trouble," Kagome smiled. The taijiya
frowned, but nodded.

"Your trust in youkai is admirable," she said. Many would think Kagome naive or even stupid for trusting youkai, but Sango knew many of them were harmless if one followed their rules. She had learned to trust the Higurashi miko's judgment, even if she didn't know this Higurashi for long.

"Actually, I asked Inuyasha," Kagome giggled. "He says they are alright.”

"How...?" Sango blinked at her and Kagome poked her temple.

"It must sound crazy, but we can talk in our minds," she explained. The taijiya's face lit up with understanding.

"Ah, I see. This must be very helpful," Sango said. There was relief in her voice, along with wonder. Kagome was relieved to see that she seemed not to be weirded out by that. Well, she was from the youkai world. "Coordinating actions must be much easier this way."

"Yeah," the miko grinned, fondness in her voice. "Inuyasha often gives me pointers, since I wasn't raised at the shrine and have a lot to learn as the shrine keeper. And a miko dealing with youkai. Up until recently I had no idea they were real."

"I bet he's as grumpy when he speaks in your mind as he is when he talks out loud" Sango said and Kagome laughed.

"Yes, he is, but he is a great friend, too. I hope you will see the gentler side of him. If you need to..." she leaned towards the exterminator. "You can brie bribe with food," she shared this as if it was a huge secret. Sango giggled.

"Just like Kirara. If I need to get her to do something I use food or let her sleep in my bed."

Kagome thought about it.

And then promptly turned tomato red and covered her mouth as she gasped. Sango's eyes widened when she saw that and she lifted her hands, waving them in front of herself.

"I don't mean... I wasn't implying... I wasn't implying anything!" Sango squeaked.

"Um..." Kagome tried to focus on something else than imagining herself in one bed with Inuyasha. He was her friend and protector, fantasizing about him wasn't right, right?

"Just forget that part, okay?" Sango, blushing herself, looked away.

"S-sure... No problem," Kagome said, knowing that this was going to haunt her later. She was about to change the subject to something not embarrassing, when a woman's scream froze them both in place for a moment.

Kagome realized she ran after Sango, when they were already in the forest, because a wave of disgust and anger flooded her mind. 'Kagome!' roared Inuyasha and the miko knew that whatever was going on, she had to hurry, otherwise someone was going to lose their head.

As they approached the glen, they could hear voices.

"Take it off!" they heard a yell. It was a female voice, pitched high and full of panic. There was also a second female voice, sobbing and moaning, but much quieter.

"No way! She's a youkai!" exclaimed Hojo, obviously triumphant. "And you are too, so you better watch out, because you're going to end up purified too!"

Kagome paused on the edge of the meadow, that wasn't as serene as it usually was. A youkai was lying on the soft grass, the upper body of the dark-skinned woman, with a lower half being a snake tail with an intricate, colorful scale pattern of green, blue and red. Something white was stuck to her shoulder. Hojo stood a few paces away from her, facing the other youkai - a big white snake with red eyes. It coiled and slithered, trying to move past him - or more precisely the slip of paper he held.

"It hurts," the woman sobbed. "I can't move..."

The snake hissed, baring its huge fangs dripping with venom. "Take it off of her!"

"I’ll keep the snake away, you deal with your friend," Sango said, reaching for her knife. It was shorter than the snake's fangs.

"Good idea," Kagome nodded and they both entered the meadow. They were halfway towards their targets, before they noticed them. The white snake rose, hissing furiously, obviously ready to attack if it needed to.

"What's going on here?" Kagome asked, reaching Hojo, who smiled.

"I took care of the youkai. You really should pay more attention to who visits your shrine. They could attack someone," he said.

"We did nothing wrong, miko!" the white snake hissed. "He attacked Naru out of nowhere!"

"Hojo, they aren't evil," Kagome said, gesturing to a snake the size of a bus, who was glaring at him with ruby red eyes.

"See? I told you, he isn't fit to be a taijiya." Sango shook her head.

"I am!" Hojo argued. "I was handling things until you came running!"

"You fucked up asshole, shut your bloody yap, or I will tear you from your throat to your nonexistent balls," yelled a new voice.

Kagome gasped and looked to the side, where Inuyasha was crouching beside the second snake. He reached a clawed hand and, despite the snake's hiss and the woman's sobbing, put it on her shoulder.

Right over the white talisman stuck there by Hojo.

The shrine guardian pulled it off as if it was a post it, not a paper embedded with sacred power. The woman froze and fell silent for a moment, before she looked up at him, her tear-stained face confused.

"It doesn't hurt you?" she whispered. Inuyasha shrugged.

"Nope," he said. The next second the white snake pushed him away and coiled around the woman protectively. Inuyasha stumbled back. "Oi, you!"

"You okay?" the snake asked. The woman wrapped her arms around as much of the youkai as she could and nodded.

"Good," Sango sighed and put her knife away. Kagome smiled in relief. Then she groaned when Inuyasha put in her hand the slip of paper. There was one word written on it in the crooked way of someone who wasn't used to writing with a brush, but with a pencil. It was her handwriting and the word read 'bind'.

"I apologize for Hojo's actions," she said and bowed her head to the women, who once more were looking like normal humans. "We didn't know he was going to do this."

"Don't apologize for me to the youkai!" Hojo argued. Kagome and Sango glared at him when the shrine patrons frowned at his words. Kagome planned to talk to him about his behavior later, but she didn't have a chance.

"You shut your damn trap!" Inuyasha barked and leaped in front of startled Hojo. In the blink of an eye in place of a hanyou stood a normal-sized dog, which proceeded to bite on Hojo's calf as soon as he landed on all four paws in front of him. Hojo screamed in pain and tried to make him let go, but Inuyasha only growled.

"Inuyasha!" Kagome gasped. The dog gave a last growl and let go of Hojo's leg, the man limping back, his face pale, twisted in pain and fear. Inuyasha assumed his humanoid form again and gave a bow.

"The matter is not finished yet, but as the shrine guardian I assure you, we will not allow him to continue this," he said to the snakes. "Please, don't hold his idiocy against the miko and the taijiya, they had no part in this."

Kagome could only stare at him for a moment, amazed at how formal he spoke.

"We trust in your justice, Inuyasha," the white snake youkai said firmly. Her companion held her forearm as she watched Sango, who went to Hojo to wrap his bleeding leg. Kagome could hear his panicked and pained gasps and her grumbling for him to stay still and that he'd brought it upon himself.

"I'm just glad he went after me. Even if he'd have had a purifying talisman, he wouldn't do more than turn me human, while it'd be deadly to Aki."

"Naru! Don't say that" Aki gasped. Kagome blinked at them, not certain, what they meant. How could a white talisman turn one youkai human and kill another. Her confusion had to be plain on her face, because Naru smiled shyly.

"I'm a half-breed," she said. "Purification is painful, but I turn back to my normal form after a while."

"Oh, a hanyou," Kagome breathed out and glanced to Inuyasha, who stood with his arms crossed. 'My reiki didn't hurt you when you took the talisman off of her?' she asked in her mind. His ear twitched.

'I'm immune to the reiki of the one who holds my kotodama,' he replied. 'Another reason why the beads ain't coming off.'

'If you change your mind about them, just let me know,' she replied easily. She trusted him and wanted him to remember that keeping them on was his, not her, choice.

"We will go now," Aki said and glanced to where a colorful ribbon hung from a low branch of the Sacred Tree, a piece of paper dangling from it. "See you in a year."

"Oh, yes," Naru nodded. "Congratulations on your new position, miko."

"Thank you," Kagome smiled brightly and watched them walk back, their arms linked. Then she turned around to look at Hojo, who was sitting on the ground, his leg wrapped with a piece of fabric. He was trying to convince Sango, crouching beside him, that Inuyasha was rabid and that he had done nothing wrong.

"I just tried to protect everyone," he said. "Keep them safe from youkai. Isn't that what heroes like you do?"

"Not all youkai are evil and deserve to be exterminated," Sango said, the tone of her voice indicating she was almost out of patience.

"I want to know," Kagome said, her hands resting on her hips. "From where did you get my white talismans, Hojo?"

"And why do you want to ruin the shrine's reputation by attacking our patrons?" Inuyasha added. Hojo looked down.

"I wanted to help..." he mumbled.

"Hojo, you can't go and assault innocent people, no matter if they are human or youkai, or hanyou," Kagome scolded. At this moment she had this weird feeling as if she was a mother scolding a misbehaving kid.

"He won't have a chance to do it again," Inuyasha declared firmly. "We will ask Kaede to wipe his memories."

"What? No!" Hojo gasped.

"She can do that?" Kagome was awed. The hanyou nodded and leaped to grab Hojo before he could crawl away..

A few hours later Kagome finally climbed in her bed. She sure deserved a good sleep, after witnessing Kaede's ghostly hand slipping inside Hojo's head and the whole event at the Sacred Tree glen.

Now, Hojo was asleep in the living room, while Sango and Kirara had the guest room for themselves. She could hear rain falling outside, the sound of running water soothing. She made a mental note to clear out one of the storage rooms, so it could become Inuyasha's bedroom. The shrine guardian shouldn't sleep in the forest, at least not during the raining season and winter. She wasn't going to let him use the shed anymore.

She gasped, when her imagination created a vision in which Inuyasha shared a room - and a bed - with her. She almost could feel the warm, firm body behind her and his arms wrapped around her. She had to use all her willpower to shoo the vision away before she could share it with Inuyasha by accident.

That'd be horrible, she wouldn’t know how to face him after that. They were friends and no matter how big her crush on him was, she couldn't just dump it on him. Knowing Inuyasha, he'd freak out or run off. She couldn't blame him, he had been mistreated by her ancestors, maybe an idea of her having feelings for him would be repulsive to him? Was it even possible he could see her as more than a friend and partner?

"Damn," she pulled her blanket over her head.

Chapter Text

Hitomiko watched the steel-colored clouds hanging low over the mountain, promising a heavy snowfall. She sighed, knowing that it meant she'd have to make sure that the water for purification was not frozen the next morning. Winter was coming to claim the land and soon there was going to be more than a tiny layer of fluffy snow covering the shrine and the village hidden in the forest.

The miko was still studying the sky when she felt a wave of powerful youki approaching the shrine at a terrifying pace. She dropped her broom and ran to where her bow and quiver waited. An arrow on the bowstring, she spun around to face the approaching youkai.

Daiyoukai.

Hitomiko swallowed as she took in the gigantic white dog looming over the torii gate in front of which it landed, after emerging from the dark clouds. In the scattered daylight, against the dark background of the late autumn forest behind it, the dog seemed to glow.

"What do you want?" she asked, making sure her voice didn't falter. She was not powerful as her ancestor Midoriko, but she was still a strong priestess in her own right, a master at casting barriers. Still, a shiver ran down her spine, one not related to the chilly air, as she wondered if any of her barriers could contain this creature.

"Relax, we didn't come to fight," the dog barked and, as Hitomiko watched, still unwilling to lower her weapon, reached to its back to carefully pick something from inside its thick fur to gently put it on the ground in front of itself. "We're on a pilgrimage. This is the hundredth shrine on our way."

Hitomiko couldn't help, but stare at a woman wrapped in a thick furry mantle. The woman threw the hood of her mantle off of her head, revealing a head of black hair and a breathtakingly fair face. Youki pulsed around her, but it was not from her - it was from the dog youkai changing into a humanoid form of a tall, silver-haired male. The youkai had glowing golden eyes and a slash of blue on each cheek, he also wore armor and three swords. Just like the woman's coat, his clothing was white. yet another sign that he was no common youkai. Yet the woman seemed relaxed and serene as he stood at her back, indicating no fear or discomfort. On the opposite, it seemed they were far closer than humans and youkai used to be.

"Can we enter?" asked the beautiful woman. Hitomiko took a breath, realizing she was staring.

"Oh, as long as you mean no ill, you are allowed to enter the shrine grounds," she uttered. She watched the pair step under the gate, the wards glowing at the passing of the youkai, but not to alarm her about his ill will. This powerful being was certainly one of those rare ones who held fondness for humans and didn't have a tainted heart.

She also realized that the woman was carrying. The youkai was most attentive, supporting her elbow with a steady hand as she walked across the grounds towards first the purification water basin and then the shrine. Was it his child? Was it right to allow a mother of a half-breed pray at the shrine? The miko finally lowered her bow and hid her arrow when the woman rang the bell and clapped her hands, the youkai standing a bit away from the praying female.

"Please, don't make our child suffer loneliness," spoke a voice just behind Hitomiko and the miko dropped all she had in her hands. She was vaguely aware of the youkai looking towards her - or rather towards the one standing a few paces behind her.

Hitomiko bowed deeply. As she lowered her head she caught a glimpse of a multi-layered kimono depicting the mountain forest, with white snow around the collar and streams running down the sleeves.

"Isn't it a beautiful prayer? And coming from a heart full of pure love," continued the voice, gentle like the breeze of the summer over the bamboo thickets scattered across the mountain. "And the youkai, he doesn't pray in words, but he has the same wish in his heart."

"I... I'm sorry, they... I didn't know she's carrying a half-breed," Hitomiko stumbled over her words that came out in tiny gasps.

"Fret not, daughter," the voice said. "The child is impure of the body and blood, but we know it will be pure of heart and soul. That and the goodness of the parents outweighs the impurity. Remember, daughter, the purity of what is within always outweighs the quality of the vessel. That is why your reiki flows despite you giving birth to little Kikyou."

"I understand," Hitomiko bowed even deeper. If that was the verdict, she was going to humbly accept and be relieved. The woman seemed kind enough and the youkai was of no ill will, they didn't deserve to be cursed for coming to pray for their child's sake.

Spring came to the mountain, covering the land in fresh green of waking vegetation, the dirt smelling with a promise of a good year. Hitomiko was walking down the shrine road to the village, where she was expected in one of the huts to purify it before the birth of the new child under that roof.

"Cast away your worries, my dear, for tomorrow comes a new day..." the miko stopped when she heard a female voice singing. She looked around, wondering at the soft song, before her eyes focused on a log near the road.

It was only a few paces within the forest, in plain sight. A woman sat there, wrapped in a red fabric so bright, that Hitomiko was surprised she hadn't noticed her right away. She was rocking forward and back a bit, holding a bundle in her arms, looking down at it as she sang. Hitomiko could sense youki coming from the bundle.

She knew this woman, she could remember her soft voice, her fair face. Now that face was thinned and dirty, but the dark eyes remained kind and stubborn.

"Lady...?" Hitomiko dared to approach, sending her senses around. There was no sight of the youkai dog anywhere near her. The woman looked up and cuddled her bundle closer. "I mean no harm. What... Where is your husband?"

There was a pause, a flash of sorrow in those dark eyes.

"He was killed," the lady said, her voice toneless and her eyes blank. "A man kidnapped me and lured him in a trap, already weakened from battle. He died protecting us."

Hitomiko thought about the powerful youkai and could not imagine how one could kill such a strong being. She looked at the lady and her baby hidden in the blanket, sleeping peacefully. How terrible it had to be, to be alone with a newborn child, alone and shunned for having a hanyou? But there was no hate, no contempt in the lady's eyes as she looked at her, only sorrow and worry.

"When my family cast me out I came here," the woman said quietly. "Toga said that this mountain has a good aura and I thought that maybe... Maybe we could live here. I can teach or tend to gardens... Or if I wasn't welcome in the village, I thought I could just live in the forest."

"I am sure we can find a place for you to stay," Hitomiko said with a soft smile. She knew how hard it was to raise a baby with the support of a husband and without hate of the whole world, she couldn't imagine how hard it was to be an outcast, fleeing and trying to survive.

"There is a hut left by a woodcutter," said a voice like the summer breeze. Hitomiko gasped and bowed to the one who stood beside her. Alarm flashed across the lady's face when she saw the newcomer, but a lifted hand soothed her fright. "Fret not, daughter. You are among friends. Hitomiko, you will show Lady Izayoi her new home and supply her with what she and her son need. And make sure to stop by the headman's home, I am sure he will be delighted to learn that there is one that can give his daughters the court training.

"Of course, Lord Yama" the miko bowed once more. The person clad in the kimono resembling a spring forest covered mountain gave them both a radiant smile.

That was how Lady Izayoi and Inuyasha came to live on the mountain, in a hut close to the village. Many a time the miko saw the person in the mountain forest kimono watching the silver-haired boy, that seemed to find more peace in the forest than in the village. His mother taught the headman's daughters how to play koto, how to write and how to act as a princess, so she was accepted and even somewhat respected, but her son was at best ignored. Even other children didn't want to play with him. Hitomiko was doing her best to make them, especially her daughters, see that the hanyou was not an impure creature, but she felt they were only tolerating him around her.

That was why, when seven years later an illness struck the village, claiming many lives, she wasn't surprised when the villagers started pointing at the boy as the reason for the illness. No matter what she told them, they just didn't want to listen.

And when Lady Izayoi died, they chased the boy away from the village. Hitomiko came too late to do more than to stop the men from following the boy into the forest. She watched the silver hair and dog ears disappear in the shadow of the trees, her heart aching.

Almost ten years passed before she saw the boy again.

She found him beside the dry well, badly injured and bruised, unconscious as he lay in the grass, his hands gripping an old sword. Little Kaede led her to him and helped her tend to his wounds, She stayed watching over him until he woke, then she ran to bring Hitomiko to him. Kikyou accompanied them, her young perfect heir miko, kind and strong, but lacking the warmth that shone in Kaede's eyes.

As they approached, they saw the person in a summer forest kimono standing over the boy, a fatherly smile on the person's face. The hanyou was crouching low next to the well, ears laid back, eyes wary.

"Come and become our komainu. Come and we will grant you our divine blessing. We will make a place for you under our roof. We will grant you power, if you swear to stand guard to our dwelling and priests. And if you serve us well, we will grant your deepest wish. Surrender your name in the service of our priests and in return find a place where you can live, prove that you are more than the world thinks of your kind. Your breed is known to be territorial and fierce, we will allow you to consider our shrine your territory. Protect it against those who want to take control over it, who want to steal the artifacts stored here, who want to kill our chosen priests."

The three females watched in silence as the person outstretched a hand towards the hanyou, who first tilted his head, ears twitching, then lifted his clawed hand to put in the grip that Hitomiko knew was strong, but gentle.

Chapter Text

Hojo left the shrine that morning, heading down the mountain road. He was limping a bit from the dog bite he'd received from Kagome's unruly dog. The canine had bit him rather lightly on his calf and according to Kagome wasn't rabid or anything, but Hojo still planned on checking in with his doctor. It was not the dog's fault, it had bit him because it had mistook him as a danger to Kagome, and Hojo was at the same time glad that she had such a protective dog and worried that it could cause trouble for her. He decided to send her some contacts to dog trainers.

The other source of relief for Hojo was the fact that his friend was not alone in the ancient shrine. She had her grandpa and a friend who was staying for a couple of days. And there was this shrine guard guy. Hojo glanced back as he walked and saw the man standing beside Kagome, who waved at him.

Hojo smiled and waved back. The dude was grumpy and a silent type, but he seemed decent enough. He was sure that he wouldn't try anything untoward. It was good to see that his friend was happy in this place so far away from civilization, enjoying nature and following the family tradition.

Overall his visit, albeit short, had been pleasant. He had wandered through the forest, had listened to many legends and even sneaked a peek at Kagome training archery behind the house. Only his dreams had been a bit troubling, full of scary youkai and dark woods. He didn't mind that, after all it was an old shrine and he was visiting for the first time. After hearing so many folk stories it was no wonder his imagination ran wild when he slept.

Hojo made his way down the road, stopping only once, when he passed by Miss and Mrs. Ito walking up the road. They were pleased to see him well, but their talk was short, miss Kaguraya was eager to go visit the shrine.

Soon after Hojo boarded a bus that carried him all the way to the city at the foot of the mountain. He spent the whole travel conversing with an old tanuki, but he never learned that.

.

Kagome waved her hand for the last time as Hojo disappeared behind the road bend.

"Good riddance!" Inuyasha scoffed and uncrossed his arms. "Back to work!"

"One could think that it's you, who runs this place," Sango teased, while Kagome rolled her eyes. "So, give me a task. I can't sit on my hands all day long."

"He's just bossy," Kagome smiled and looked to Sango. "Alright, if you wrestle the broom out of Inuyasha's grasp, you can sweep the shrine grounds."

Sango gave the hanyou a wicked grin and Kagome giggled when the man stepped fluidly behind her. Still giggling, Kagome moved away, pretending to not notice and just walking towards the gift shop to check if it was in order.

She also wanted to add a few small notes to her notebook - she was stashing it there, out of the way, so she could add notes to her writing plans without having to go to the house. Behind her she could hear Inuyasha grumbling that Sango didn't have to fight for the broom, when she swept he could check the shrine roof. Kagome adjusted a few items on display and leaned over the counter to grab her notebook.

The notebook was gone from the counter drawer. Kagome blinked at the handful of pencils and some coins there. She was sure she had put it there last time she had it in her hands...

'Inuyasha?' she called. 'Did you see my notebook? The green one?'

'Nah,' came Inuyasha's immediate, disinterested response.

'Hm. Ir couldn't have been grandpa, since he knew about it and anyway wasn't the last one at the gift shop yesterday. She decided to ask him about it anyway later, for now she went to check the offerings box.

.

Kagome walked out of the storage shed, carrying a box of scented candles. They were almost out of these and she made a mental note to order a new shipping. It was a rather busy day at the shrine, a lot of people came to pray or just hang around. She smiled as she looked around the grounds.

Sango and Hiro were nowhere in sight, but Inuyasha was near the torii gate, a trash bag in his hand. He had his straw hat on, shielding his ears from sight, but also his face from sunlight. It was getting pretty warm and humid lately.

Kagome's smile faded a bit when she saw what stopped the hanyou from taking the bag out of the shrine grounds and to the designated place.

It was a girl. A very pretty young woman, dressed in a dark blue yukata adorned with small orange and yellow flowers. She was smiling at Inuyasha, talking to him, her eyes practically glued to his face as he replied in his usual short sentences, playing cool.

Kagome felt a pang of jealousy as she watched them and immediately berated herself for that. Inuyasha had the right to talk to people - pretty women included. He wasn't her boyfriend or anything, and even if he had been he still would have the right to interact with other women.

Still, Kagome wondered what they were talking about. She couldn't see his face from this angle, but the woman's smile was radiant as she waved a hand at something he said, the gesture graceful and elegant. Did he like her? Was she an old friend of his? Maybe now, free from the ancient commands of her predecessors, he wanted to start a family? She couldn't forbid him to be happy. She should be glad that he was finally treated like a person, that he could have a life outside of the shrine.

The shrine guardian scoffed at something the woman said, waved a hand and walked away, the woman looking after him longingly for a moment before she herself walked towards where a group of middle-aged women were chatting.

Kagome couldn't stop a tiny smile to appear on her face. Inuyasha could have talked to the woman, but it looked like it was the woman who had a crush on him, not the opposite.

The miko glanced towards the girl, feeling a sense of camaraderie with her. She knew the feeling.
.

 

It was late afternoon when Kagome remembered about the notebook. She and grandpa were leading the townspeople who were going to help coordinate the festival to the gate, after their meeting. Grandpa was chatting with his old friends, most of them around his age, while Kagome was a bit awkward. She was going to get to know this community and form close friendships, the shrine needed people like them to organize the festivals, but she was still new to it all. They were friendly, some of them maybe a bit patronizing or stubborn in their old ways, but she was only mildly irritated by that. As they were walking back home, Kagome remembered the notebook and went to check out for it again. Maybe it was in another drawer? Leaving her grandpa to go to the house, Kagome walked to the gift shop and opened the same drawer, then blinked at it.Pencils, spare change.

Her notebook, back where it should be.

She picked it up and frowned. It didn't look any different than usual, there was no youki on it, indicating a mischievous entity playing tricks on her. Well, she shrugged, at least it was not lost. With it in hand Kagome went home to prepare the dinner, with Sango's help.

It was only when, a couple of hours later, Kagome finally sat at her laptop to write a bit before sleep - a habit that she had since she'd started writing, did she open the notebook.

And stared at it.

It was her handwriting, short notes, bits of descriptions, character backstories, all the good stuff.

And, on the margins, in a different handwriting, were notes.

Kagome was too stunned to even shriek in outrage at someone writing notes in her notebook. She glared at the unknown handwriting - it was steady and really pretty. She wasn't sure who was the culprit, but she was going to find out and tell that person what she thought about their addition. It was not Hojo's hand. It was too small in size for her grandfather, too neat for Inuyasha's - the hanyou wrote with the same hand he swung punches. Sango would've never taken her notebook to write in it.

Frowning, Kagome sat back on her pillow at the low table and went through the notebook, reading the foreign notes. They were short and kind in tone, pointing out some cheesy descriptions and inconsistencies.

Kagome bit her lip and sighed. It was some unknown and uncalled for feedback, but feedback nonethe less, so she decided to heed the notes. And find a new place to stash her notebook.

A/N: Oh no, someone gives Kagome feedback! Who may it be? And there's a girl crushing on Inuyasha! What's going to happen now?

Chapter Text

She knew she was dreaming. That had to be a dream - no real garden could be so beautiful. Among blooming trees, lush grass and colorful flower beds walked people in expensive robes - some fair, some bizarre, some even scary-looking, but she didn't fear their disfigured faces or forms. Scattered light of countless lamps hanging from tree limbs and the edge of the roof of a traditional manor embracing the garden from two sides, illuminated the scenery, along with the fading light of the setting sun. Overhead the crescent moon was taking its place in the darkening sky.

She sat among this splendor, but it all was a bit fuzzy around the edges, the vision lacking focus.

Only one thing was sharp and able to catch her attention - a pair of eyes as golden as the sun itself, sharp and stoic, but somehow conveying affection as they gazed down at her from the silver bangs. Her hand was held in a strong one and she felt her heart beating faster, swelling with emotions that were frighteningly strong and new.

This man - he was cold, yet warm, stoic, yet passionate, powerful, yet gentle. He was all she wanted, she couldn't stop herself from yearning to be at his side.

"Kaguraya, dear? Are you up?" A light knock to her door woke her up and she sighed, blinking awake, the dream fading into the pleasant feeling of warmth and belonging that was quickly replaced by the numb realization that she couldn't keep those golden eyes looking at her this way.

"Oh, Inuyasha..." she sighed, remembering the wary gaze the shrine guardian had given her the previous day when she had talked to him. His eyes were so unique, just like his pure white hair. It was such a shame he was hiding in the shrine, but at the same time it added a layer of mystery to his character. Him being so silent only enhanced that vibe.

Well, he didn't know her, so it was no wonder he was like that. She sat on her bed, calling out to her mother that she was going to be downstairs for breakfast soon. She was beautiful and smart, talented and witty, she was sure she could win his heart and make those golden eyes look at her with that eternal passion.

.
.

"Okay, team, we have a youkai to deal with," Kagome said to Inuyasha and Sango. The whole trio sat on the house engawa, hiding from the summer rain that poured over the mountain this afternoon.

"A youkai?" Sango asked, petting Kirara who was curled in her lap. The miko nodded.

"I was asked to deal with a youkai in the village. It's said to lurk around the hotel. The owner wants to get rid of it before the festival and the summer rush," Kagome explained. She couldn't help it, she felt a bit excited. It was the first big thing she was called to do. It was like the village folk were acknowledging her as a shrine keeper in her own right. She supposed that it was not only because of the rumors about her taking over, but also because of her helping grandpa in the festival preparations. He had been asked to perform purification by the shrine visitors and always led them to her for spiritual aid, she also had made some minor things, like removing the 'kappa' from the pond

But this time the troubled villager called her, not her grandfather. It was exciting and empowering. And made her a tad anxious, because she really hoped she could do well. One glance at Inuyasha's smirk made her aware that he was in the ass-kicking mood. Her shrine guardian could pretend he didn't care, but she suspected he itched to go to the village and do something reckless.

After all, for him it was going to be the first 'outing' where he didn't have all the commands weighing down on him.

From the three of them Sango was the calmest, looking at Kagome with the look that clearly told her that the exterminator waited for more detail.

"The hotel owner hasn't seen the youkai. But it apparently breaks in the hotel rooms and baths to steal towels, small things and shampoo. It's responsible for some personal things of the patrons missing. They thought it was a thief, but their security cameras show no one walking the corridors and there are no signs of breaking in," Kagome elaborated.

"Oh..." Sango looked down to Kirara. "Do you think... maybe... could I go with you? I mean, as a backup? I'd like to see the village, if you don't mind?"

"Oh, Sango!" Kagome smiled radiantly. "Of course you can tag along."

"We don't need a backup!" Inuyasha grumbled and snorted, when they looked at him, Kagome with annoyance and Sango with a tiny frown. "What? I ain't saying she can't go. I'm saying we don't need her fighting our battles!"

"So, it's settled, you go with us," Kagome's smile returned. "And don't mind him, he's just grumpy because he doesn't want to share a fight!"

"Damn well I don't want to share a fight with some measly human!"

"Measly?" Sango gave Inuyasha a glare that was only half mocking. Kirara leaped to Kagome's lap. "I will show you how measly I am when I drag that mane of yours through the mud!"

"Fat chance!" Inuyasha barked with a smirk that showed his fangs. There was no real malice in his yellow eyes when he scowled at Sango before the woman jumped to tackle him.

"Guys!" Kagome gasped, watching as the pair rolled off of the engawa and fell to the ground. When she looked over the edge of the floor she saw the pair rolling in the wet grass, throwing punches and kicking, not minding the rain. Kirara shook her head like an exasperated adult at the antics of a pair of children. "Hey!"

"Oh, gods, I've never seen Inuyasha so playful during such weather," Hiro muttered as he looked at them from the living room.

A gust of warm, gentle summer wind made the rainwater dripping from the edge of the roof sway and fall on top of the miko's head, making her shriek when the cool water ran down her skin. Kagome leaped away from the edge of the engawa and glared at the pair in the mud, who was watching her, frozen in the middle of a fierce battle.

"I will bring towels," Kagome grumbled and gathered herself to her feet. "We leave as soon as the rain clears out."

Chapter Text

The forest smelled of wet dirt and freshness. Here and there drops were still dripping from the leaves. Birds were chirping and flying between the branches, causing the accumulated water to fall down in tiny rains.

Kagome was glad that she and Sango managed to persuade Inuyasha to follow the road and not go running through the forest. Getting to their destination in a handful of minutes wasn't worth getting wet, since the hotel was within walking distance. Especially when Inuyasha pointed to them a bicycle path that connected the shrine road and the hotel. This way they didn't have to go to the village and then turn to the hotel.

Sango left her huge boomerang at the shrine, but to the miko she looked like a walking arsenal, a thick belt adorned with pouches hanging low on her hips. She carried Kirara in her arms, the feline looking deceptively harmless. Inuyasha walked on Kagome's other side, arms crossed and stuffed in his sleeves, a basketball cap covering his precious ears. Kagome had her bow and arrows, but also a stack of white talismans stuck in her sleeve. Between the two warriors she felt safe, but she didn't want to rely on them while doing nothing, she wanted to play her part.

Suddenly Inuyasha leaped to the side, disappearing in the forest before Kagome could react.

'Inuyasha?' she sent a confused thought. Sango stopped walking as she did, looking at Kagome with a small frown.

'The hotel is right behind the path bend,' the shrine guardian said.

"Kagome? What's going on?" the other woman asked, but Kagome didn't respond, focused on Inuyasha, hidden in the forest.

'You know that you don't have to hide from people anymore, right? I mean you can come with us,' Kagome reminded the hanyou. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Sango rolling her eyes at her.

'Yeah, I know. But that doesn't mean I will go frolicking among humans now. Even before I became the shrine guardian I wasn't exactly welcome in the village,' came Inuyasha's reply. It was gruff and grumpy, but Kagome didn't mind, glad that he shared his feelings with her.

'Sure, you can come with us next time then,' she said cheerfully.

"Keh! I am coming with you, idiot. When you need me, I will be at your side.'

What could she do when she received that message? Kagome felt a smile spread across her face, her body instinctively relaxing at his assurance. It would be amusing how easily she accepted his promise, if it wasn't making her heart beat faster and a blush dust her cheeks. She knew he meant it as a partner shrine guardian making sure his miko was alright, but she couldn't help that reaction.

She wanted him at her side, but she was afraid not in the exact same way he meant it.

But it was fine, she wasn't feeling down because of that. After all, he was still here, he hadn't left her as soon as he was freed from the commands. Maybe one day he'd mean it the way she wanted him to.

For now they had work to do.

"Inuyasha will shadow us," she finally said to Sango, who nodded. "He says we're almost at the hotel."

"Alright," Sango said and glanced at Kagome as they started walking again. "You should work on your mind speak. When you freeze like this and your face gets vacant... People can get confused and spooked."

"Uh," the miko blushed. "I guess sometimes I just focus a bit too much on Inuyasha..."

It wasn't her fault he was distracting.

The slayer cast a glance at her and then smirked a knowing smile.

"I wonder if he freezes like this when you talk to him, Kagome," she teased.

"Sango!" Kagome gasped and covered her mouth, blushing again. The older woman chuckled, but luckily didn't have a chance to tease her more, because they came out of the forest and entered a big field that contained the hotel and the hot springs that were located to the side.

.

The battle was over, the air was heavy with smoke, the stench of blood and death almost still over the ruined village. The few villagers who remained alive, were peering from behind a barrier at the soldiers in the colors of the West carrying their fallen peers to lay in rows in the village square, in front of a silent, motionless daiyoukai.

No one cheered, no one celebrated the victory. The village had been ambushed by a group of what looked like rogue youkai, but with the war hovering over the land they could have been easily troops of the enemy.

The daiyoukai with a handful of soldiers, hardly more than thirty, had come to see more than a half of the village destroyed, the inhabitants dead or running for their lives. What had happened after that had been a literal blood bath. Even the soldiers were quiet and seemed to be afraid to approach the white-clad man. Twin pools of acid burned the dirt where the green glowing liquid had dripped from his claws. His eyes never looked away from the growing amount of maimed bodies.

The village was saved, but the villagers felt only sorrow, looking at their family members and friends lying in front of their lord, who honored them with his silent presence. He'd come, but he'd come too late.

"Lord Sesshomaru!" called a bright, young voice from overhead.

A two-headed dragon landed near the edge of the square, almost boredly looking at the still smoking ruin that had been a house. The rider leaped lightly off the dragon's back, drawing everyone's attention to their petite, tiny form clad in a colorful yukata of pink and orange.

A human girl looked at the battlefield with big, innocent brown eyes. Some of the villagers looked at the smile disappearing from her open face and felt pity for the girl. She was most certainly not old or strong enough to witness the cruelty that had transpired here.

The girl breathed deeply and walked towards the daiyoukai all the youkai were afraid to approach. He didn't move when she stopped beside him, both seemingly unaware of the audience. Many were worried that the girl was not going to live long, especially when she reached up and brushed her fingers against the back of his hand.

"My lord, I talked to cousin Kanna, but it looks like Lord Naraku had no part in mother's kidnapping," she said quietly. "Rin asks for your permission to cross the barrier."

Golden eyes followed a pair of soldiers, who just put another body down, finishing another row of dead villagers. The soldiers both paled and hurried away. It looked like the search for the deceased was nearing its end.

"My lord," the girl said and smiled up at the tall man, who had yet to acknowledge her presence. "You... We need her. You can't go to war without Lady Kagura.'

Some gasps were heard when the daiyoukai reached to his obi and unsheathed one of two swords he had on his hip. The girl didn't even flinch at the sound the blade made as it left its sheath. Many felt a pang of pity at the fate the child was about to suffer.

The sleek blade seemed to glow ghostly blue in the dim sunlight filtered by clouds and smoke. Many fearful eyes followed the path of the blade as it was lifted in front of the daiyoukai.

"Go, Rin," the lord said and swung the blade at nothing that could be seen over the dozens of bodies.

"Thank you, Lord Sesshomaru!" the girl bounced and skipped happily to where the two-headed dragon waited for her. Her cheerful voice was so out of place on the battlefield, that many didn't notice that the bodies were no longer lifeless, until the previously dead villagers started to sit up, crying out in shock. More cries and shouts joined them when the barrier came down and the remaining villagers ran towards their suddenly and miraculously brought back to life peers. Even the grim soldiers smiled and went to greet the few of their comrades who had fallen in battle.

Golden eyes followed the shape of the human girl flying away on a dragon.