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Midnight Bruises

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Fire crackled as it devoured it’s sacrificial logs, their short thin branches popping and thumping as the fire’s flames shifted. Tendrils of arcing light and heat twisted upwards like an exuberant dance to the Heavens where the Kami resided. The smell of burning wood filled the air with a thick combination of dense heat and leaving behind a slightly bitter taste of metal. The wood burned into tiny splinters, crumbling into flakes of ash. Those particles of ash coated the base of the campfire beneath the steadily roaring flames. The forest yawned out to the right, a dark foreboding dwelling where all manner of beast and monster lurked to devour the unsuspecting and the unprepared. A well beaten dirt path, upraised by a short hill, twisted and curved on the left through the countryside racing towards towering mountains on the horizon.

Above the fire, an inky darkness coated the sky. Small lights glittered, peeking out from the blanket of night and lighting up the way for those who were lost and alone. Then again, if you were out here in the dead of night alone, Inuyasha scoffed because if you were alone at night in these times, you were as good as dead. Especially defenceless, weak humans. Without him, he knew one human who would already be dead. As his shoulders tightened they rubbed into the firm bark of the tree against his back and he winced, small white fluffy ears atop his head flicking at the jolt of unease flying down his spine.

Muscles bunched and shifted as the Inu-yokai repositioned himself. It wasn’t that he was uncomfortable, and despite his Inu heritage, Inuyasha loved trees so perching in one for the night wasn’t what was causing that itch tingling across his skin. He knew damn well what was causing him discomfort and he didn’t like it. Exhaling sharply he ignored the pull of the heat of the campfire and the rhythmic thumping encased in a body made of tender flesh so easily destroyed. It wasn’t any of his fucking business how the woman decided to die. She wasn’t his responsibility, she wasn’t his, well, anything and he had no ties to her other than collecting the fragmented shards of the Shikon No Tama that she shattered.

But it wasn’t like they were a pack or anything! Hell no, she was way too annoying for his liking, and when he became a full-fledged demon he would forget all about her.

That tingle was back and Inuyasha nearly wanted to rip his skin off to get rid of it. The bitch could go and die whenever, just not near him. Beneath layers of sun kissed skin, rushing hot blooded veins, and the cloying youki of the demon within, there was a heart and this heart pinched at the thought of the woman being gone.

His head fell back with a quiet thump into the wide steady trunk of the tree he was perched in. Strands of thick but smooth silver hair dangled from his scalp, swaying against the sturdy branch beneath him. Firelight lit up the smooth, thick strands into a glowing silver like a liquid star cascading towards the Earth. Soft, triangular ears listened attentively to the surrounding sounds for any hint of danger and when Inuyasha realized what his own traitorous ears were doing, he grumbled softly. Okay so he couldn’t just let her fucking die but damn it, she could be a bit more grateful!

As the sounds of the forest echoed into his enhanced fluffy ears, they flicked twice in acknowledgement. Deer tread in soft, careful steps over fallen leaves and softened soil as snakes slithered with a rustle through the under brush. Rabbit feet thumped in hollow burrows and the night was filled with soft chitters, quiet footsteps, and the buzzing of loud insects. Then there were the other sounds that no human or animal could ever make: yokai. Pungent odors of the yokai traversing the fathomless maw of the forest filtered into his nostril, his ears registering the forests many vocals. Inuyasha was used to all the noise, all the surprises and the unknown, but the stupid wench sitting at the campfire didn’t know just how dangerous his world was.

Most yokai wanted one thing and one thing only: power. The half-demon hated how the full yokai paraded around like they were above all else including their own kind and he despised the humans for their destruction. All they wanted was power to destroy each other and one of Inuyasha’s soft white ears flicked in annoyance. Earlier was a perfect example of the hatred between yokai and humans, the destruction that power wrought on the world. His power would change that. He would get strong enough to stop the fighting, to make a place for himself where he could be safe from both yokai and humans.

Power and the need to prove themselves above humans is what ultimately destroyed the Thunder Brothers – but Inuyasha took ending their lives with a vicious glee. His shoulders tensed and the rich red cloth of his Fire Rat haori rustled with the movement. Back firmly pressed into the sturdy tree, Inuyasha perched with one leg laid out on the branch and the other bent at the knee. Claws on the ends of his toes dug into the bark of the tree branch, keeping him from wobbling. One of his dangling sleeves draped over his bent knee, claw-tipped fingers barely visible, and the other hung loosely off the side.

Two thick strands of silver hair fell over his cheeks down to his collarbone and shifted slightly as his gaze fell from the dark forest to the campfire. Fiery claws raked at the air and twisted out of the burning logs in an uncontrollable fury. Wisps of dark grey smoke curled into the sky carrying the lingering scent of heat, burning wood, and dry ash. A small bird yokai in the form of an owl called out in a deep grumble and Inuyasha’s lip twitched at the corner when he saw the wench jump in surprise. Wavy black hair whipped in the wind when her head darted towards the voice, pathetic human sight searching futilely for the source of the sound.

He exhaled sharply and rolled his golden gaze at the thought of her seeing the yokai. Eyes trailed from the woman whose scent was caressed with the nip of fear and found the shiny red orbs of the owl yokai as it met his own. Slitted gold met slitted pools of blood and the two stared at one another, unblinking and unflinching. Gold gaze narrowing, Inuyasha’s chest rumbled with a small, guttural warning growl. This may not be his pack and she wasn’t his responsibility, but….He would be damned if she died on him.

With a squawk, the owl spread it’s black and red feathered wings before taking off with a mighty flap of it’s wings. Inuyasha waited until it’s youki faded into the forest, it’s screech far off in the shaded depths, before he was able to relax. Sinking back into the tree, he shuffled his body until he planted more firmly and turned his gaze back down.

The rotted aroma of fear had left her scent and Inuyasha was both pleased and surprised at the rush in his blood from knowing he had eradicated it. Scruffy bangs grazed his forehead as he shook his head in disbelief at the protective surge that flooded him, wide golden eyes blinking rapidly. What the fuck was wrong with him? How could some measly bitch from the future invoke these….These….Feelings inside him? Snorting, Inuyasha, anxious to get rid of the strong emotions he couldn’t explain, lifted his other leg so both of his knees were bent and rose up, digging the sharp, elongated points of his claws into the branch.

Claws tore through bark and wood like it was soft, tender flesh with a quiet crunch as he pulled himself up onto his haunches. An urge overcame the inu half-demon and, following his primal, baser instincts – as if he had a choice anyway – with an exhaled huff, he shook his body. From his small ears down to the claws of his feet, he shook out his body, his white ears twitching continuously. The Beads of Subjugation clacked around his thick neck, the small round spheres warm with power and heavy with Miko magick.

He cast a quick baleful glare at the Beads and bared his fangs, as if expecting them to fall away from his neck in terror. They didn’t and this served to piss him off even more than the fight with the Thunder Brothers or the ‘Sit’ he had endured after telling the stupid brat to get lost. He wasn’t some fucking hero and it wasn’t his duty to protect the Miko with her oddities and unusual way of thinking or the orphaned kitsune brat. Who, let alone a human girl from another timeline, takes on a yokai child that is not their own on a quest to retrieve fragmented shards of the Shikon No Tama she broke?

There was one goal, and one goal only, in Inuyasha’s mind: retrieve the broken shards of the Shikon No Tama and make the wish to becomea full fledged demon, leaving his hanyou life behind. He wasn’t some guardian and protector of the lost and lonely! Even if he was, it’s not like anyone else had ever bothered to protect him when he was alone, when he lost his Okaa-san and had to survive in a harsh world where either half of him belonged. Half-human and half-demon, hanyou were disparaged and ridiculed for their very existence.

Stomach tossing, Inuyasha swallowed past the thick ball in his throat at the memories of his past. There was no place in this world, in this time, for half-demons where they were safe, where he was safe and if no blood was ever going to accept him, he had to become stronger. If he didn’t, he would die. Hanyou were a disgrace to both bloodlines and neither wanted them. Humans feared them, their eyes laced with disdain, and yokai hated them, despised them. Both never hesitated to kill them no matter their pleas or their age. Even hanyou children were not spared by the hatred, their bodies mutilated and destroyed.

Where was their protector, their guardian, to guide them out of their loneliness and away from their kind’s bloody past to a brighter future?

Was it too much to ask that he leave his past behind – of grey orbs filled with warmth now rotted and reincarnated into light earthy brown and lost wishes?

Apparently the Gods decided that, yes, this was too much to ask for from a lowly half-breed because somehow, he ended up shouldered with a stubbornly clumsy Miko and an irritating brat that often caused said bitch to activate the Beads around his neck, forcing him to eat dirt – which, by the way, tasted fucking nasty. A hot rush of burning red blood flooded his veins causing his glowing golden orbs to narrow and seek out his nemesis.

Gold pools were slashed, scarred by a slit of deep black, and the slitted crack fell to the blazing campfire below.

And there they were.

Wavy black hair cascaded over small, round shoulders, falling over the front of her chest in loose strands. Thick bangs covered her forehead, shielding her downcast gaze but Inuyasha already knew the colour of her eyes – he had them memorized after that first look into the eyes so much like hers and yet so completely different – and knew they were a captivating, familiar chocolate-grey, fluctuating in the myriad of emotions she could summon through her tiny body. It was astounding watching Kagome’s facial expressions because the multitude of emotion that flowed through her.

Emotion played out well on her rounded, heart-shaped face full of innocence and free of the stress of the Feudal Era. Large, bright round orbs reflected the flickering light of the flames that danced in the grey-earthy irises. Streaks of light flashed over her eyes and brightened them, bringing out the grey into a shiny silver like the stars dotting the chocolate sky of her eyes. A slender neck dropped into small, round shoulders and lean arms dusted with a very light tan. Small and dainty, her fingers ended in short, blunt nails that Inuyasha found completely mind-boggling. What kind of place did the bitch live in that she didn’t need claws?

His silver bangs brushed his forehead as a light breeze blew over the small travelling party and, feeling the breeze on her barely clothed arms, Kagome’s small hands rose and rubbed repeatedly on her upper arms to try and warm them. The white and green collar of her weird shirt lifted in the breeze and the bright red bow ruffled in the small wind. The tiny, dark green thing that covered her legs – though it didn’t do a very good job of covering anything! – rustled as the wind passed by and revealed to Inuyasha’s wandering gaze the pale untouched skin of her thighs. Kagome was lean and slender with rounded curves and soft muscles, untouched by sunlight but with volatile emotions twisting inside of her small frame.

Something swelled and Inuyasha’s ears fell flat, burying themselves in his long, thick silver hair. A growl rumbled up in his belly at the familiar feeling he knew well, buried in a past of betrayal and lies, of broken trust and a love that could have been but was buried in chocolate-grey eyes that glittered like stars.

If he had known this is what would have happened, that this is where his life would have ended up, he would never have saved her. He would have watched as the Centipede Monster ate her and destroyed the Village, leaving nothing but ruin and a whole, unbroken Shikon no Tama. Thinking back, he wished he had never stopped and noticed the Miko in the forest, in white and red, with the scent of forlorn longing and loneliness hanging over her own grey pools like shadowy curtains. He’d pulled them away, opened her to him and given her his light, and in the end, she had betrayed him. Now she was dead and her reincarnation was sitting beneath him.

Irony wasn’t lost on Inuyasha. What a cruel joke the Kami thought of by sending the same woman reborn to free him when it was the woman born once before that had sealed him. He’d loved one and though he imagined what his life would be like without the Beads, without an angry demanding wench shouting his damn name every 5 seconds, Inuyasha couldn’t fight off the feeling wedged instinctively inside of him.

Kagome was still a mystery to him but not in the way she was now with the fire licking trails of heat and light over her pale skin, but in the way, even after death and despair, she seemed to keep glowing. There was an unearthly glow about the time travelling woman that drew his gaze to her, slitted gold pools drawn to the image of her bathed in orange-yellow and smiling softly into the fire. It was moments like this where Kagome’s humanity shown out at him that he hated her because she needed him, and needing him meant he had to protect her.

Not only had she been kidnapped by Maten but….A low, deep growl vibrated into his throat at the thought of that bastard’s meaty hands wrapped around her small, slender neck, choking the life out of her and throwing his bald, ugly head back to laugh. He hated her for the rush of fear he had felt then, the infuriated anger and the fear that clogged his throat when she stuttered out through breathy gasps his name. She called for him to save her, him, the hanyou she had only just met and who had tried to kill her. It was his name she had called and he had heeded that call with a power that surprised even himself.

He hated her because she made him feel human too.

His already flattened ears burrowed into his silver hair, his growl rumbling off at the memory of her suffering and the vivid scent that had wafted into his nostrils. Inuyasha had smelled fear many times, including his own, but he had never hated a scent more than when Kagome’s fear entered his enhanced nose. It wasn’t special, all fear smelled the same, tinted with emotions but Kagome’s twisted his gut into knots and made his blood pound in his veins in an angry, panicked rush like bees angrily buzzing beneath his skin.

But it wasn’t just the fear that had caught him – Kagome’s fear had been soaked in panic and desperation. She had wanted to live but knew she was going to die but she hadn’t been afraid. Being fearful and being afraid are two different things, they smell different and have different causes. Kagome had been fearful because it wasn’t for herself. The stupid Miko had been afraid of what would happen to him and the stupid Kitsune, but had no fear of what would happen to her even though she was the idiot being choked!

The tops of silver, furry ears perked up, letting in a small sliver of sound. At the sound of her soft, steady breathing, a knot he hadn’t even known existed unravelled in his spine. His curved spine relaxed and his shoulders loosened, falling from his ears, tension draining out of him and falling into the fire below. His claws, dug into the tree branch, retracted and tiny splinters rained into the fire with tiny crackling pops Kagome’s human ears would never hear.

Why should he care what happens to this strange girl? When the Shikon No Tama was made whole they would part ways, she back to her time in a place Inuyasha didn’t belong just as she didn’t truly belong here, he would make his wish to become a full demon so why did his gut twist so horribly at the thought of her death on that barren battlefield, chubby hands and thick fingers squeezing the life from her slender neck? Why did he care so much he willingly sacrificed his only weapon to save her?

Why had his heart squeezed, racing, in his chest when she rushed after the small kit into the midst of battle, protective over a yokai?

But, most infuriating, why had he felt so overcome with grief and rage that he could have ripped Hiten apart with his bare claws, ripping into the Thunder yokai’s soft flesh?

His golden gaze refocused with a snap of clarity at the small, fearful whimper from the curled up kit nestled in her lap. And there lie his second misery, one the stupid wench insisted on even though Inuyasha seriously debated scaring her enough to drop her hold and let the brat roll into the fire. He’d live but it would be funny and sweet revenge. The only thing stopping him were the warm, heavy Beads hanging around his neck.

Tufts of bright orange hair poked out from Kagome’s safe, warm arms, tiny clawed fingers dug into the smooth silk of her white blouse. His small nose was scrunched up and his tiny fangs were bared, hind paws twitching from whatever nightmare that plagued him. His light beige, fluffy tail shook from his night terror, another, softer whimper slipping into the night air. Inuyasha narrowed his slitted pools on the kit, Kagome’s small hands clasped together and holding the small kit to her. This was how the world worked, his world, and it was a cruel one. Shippo would never be safe in this world full of demons and humans, a child fated to death, and Inuyasha, though not full demon, still knew what it felt like to lose a parent.

Narrowed gold orbs softened at the edges and his deep frown pulled into a thin line as he gazed at the human woman holding onto a lost, whimpering yokai child and for a moment, Inuyasha wondered if there could ever be a world past this campfire like the one created by Kagome’s kindness and Shippo’s lonely heart.

Without thinking, his eyes, trained on the small kit, trailed up to Kagome’s smooth, round face and nearly fell out of his perch in the tree.

A shiny tear rolled slowly down her cheek, glinting orangish-red from the light of the fire, and panic rushed into him. Blinking quickly, he tried to sense the source of her distress but there was no danger, no sign of any dangerous yokai, and the only thing remotely–

This time, he blinked much slower and stared at the girl from the future with new, glowing eyes. Could it be….She was crying….For a yokai?

Those bright grey pools, gleaming with tears still unshed, slowly closed and from the depths of her very soul came a vibrating hum of music Inuyasha had never heard before. Whatever it was calmed Shippo’s fit in mere seconds. As the vibration of her voice washed over him and the music flooded the turbulence of his mind, his paws twitched once and then stopped, his tight fluffy tail loosening enough to droop into her bent knees. Tight claws pierced through her silky blouse retracted, Shippo’s small hands curling into his chest. Curled into a relaxed ball, Shippo’s lips fell into a slight part where his breath easily flowed. His scrunched nose instantly softened and he sighed, a peaceful wisp of air as the nightmares left him.

One of Kagome’s hands rose, the other protectively nestling Shippo to her abdomen, to shift through the kitsune’s tousled hair in slow, steady strokes. A sweet smile curved her lips as she looked down at the child in her arms and Inuyasha’s heart stumbled.

This was what he hated….

That he couldn’t hate her.

There were things he hated about her and moments where his inner yokai demanded he make her submit to him but he didn’t hate Kagome. And he hated that he couldn’t make himself hate her. It would be easier if he could just fucking leave the bitch! He hated that she was the reincarnation of the woman he had once loved, once betrayed, and he hated the way her eyes burned when she looked at him. Because he could see it in the bright river of her eyes: she trusted him, believed in him, and he hated that he couldn’t hate her for it.

In between releasing him from a spell from the woman she had once been, shattering the sacred jewel, nearly dying by his brother and any other yokai they crossed paths with so far, Inuyasha found himself wanting Kagome’s presence. It was odd smelling Kagome’s scent on the wind when it brushed her scent up to his nose and the smell of burning wood because Kagome didn’t smell like anything he knew. If he buried his nose in her hair and took a long, deep whiff, a faint trace of purity and air was Kikyo’s soul.

But she didn’t just smell like Kikyo.

“I’m not Kikyo! My name is Kagome. Ka-Go-Me. Kagome!”

Hands on her hips, she had vehemently denied being Kikyo – which wasn’t exactly true as that was who she had once been and that was still a part of her soul after it had branched off into it’s next life – and at first, Inuyasha had had a hard time believing it. Now, staring down at her in the glow of fire’s light with a kitsune cuddled in her lap, he didn’t see Kikyo at all.

He saw Kagome.

There was a fire, a light, in her grey eyes that sparked a fire in his belly, demanding he answer her, fire with fire. A faint, ghost of a smile touched his lips at the way those grey pools could light up, burning with a fire more powerful than the one below. Silver strands of hair shifted to the right as his head tilted gently to the side, ears perked up, and chest leaning forward to get a better angle on Kagome’s scent.

Heat wafted up, a tangled wisp of smoke filtering into the air, bringing with it fiery heat, burnt wood, and the dry hint of ash. Through the smoke twisting into the sky, past the innocent, metallic-laced scent of Shippo, there was the aroma of fresh air and her Miko powers, of purity and innocence. But beneath those layers he inhaled Kagome’s natural aroma. Floating from her skin was a sweet gentle aroma but it was her the enticing scent of her soul that drew him in. Between all the smells that clung to her skin like the heavy fume of the ‘gas’ she said fuelled ‘cars’ whatever that meant, there was the underlying scent of light.

Kagome smelled like a star, full of fire and pure light, with bright-brown grey pools and a sweet smile.

Seeing that same sweet smile curling gently along her mouth now brought forth the horrible thought of what it might be like without that smile if she had died today, on the battlefield, choked to death by Maten and then burned by Hiten’s lightning. Claws digging into the tree bark with a crack and spine tightening, there was no way in hell that stupid girl was dying, no fucking way was she leaving him!

….To find the Shards! He needed her, infuriatingly, to find the Shards, that was all, that was the only reason he needed her for anything! Casting a baleful glare down at the cause of all his distress he finds she’s twisting her head from side to side with a small wince. The growl building in his throat cuts off at the painful grimace and his golden slits rove her body for any sign of damage he missed but there’s nothing unusual. Narrowing his golden orbs, thin black slits focused in on Kagome’s face, watching the corners of her eyes crinkle and her mouth twitch in discomfort. Anxiety pounded like a drum in his skull, pooling from his head into his stomach, forming a hard ball of dread.

Something wasn’t right. Something was wrong. Kagome’s scent was invaded by twinges of sharp, hot pain but Inuyasha couldn’t see any signs of blood or any visible wounds. But his instincts told him that something was wrong, she was in pain, and for some unknown reason, his inner youkai demanded he find it and fix it.

He watched her, waiting and analyzing quietly, the sounds of foxes chattering in the forest and the crackling pops of the fire the only noise. Inhaling deeply, Kagome rolls her head to dislodge the kinks before slowly tilting her head back, her jaw tilted to the starry sky and even Inuyasha’s blood freezes over. Soft ears flatten into silvery moonlight hair, his body frozen but his blood pumping slow and hot. It’s pure, boiling rage, simmering beneath his skin, and he thinks he might just be burning hotter than the lit campfire.

His blood is rushing so fast he can hear it in his flattened ears, pounding steadily in his head until he feels almost dizzy. Heart a heavy, empty knot, Inuyasha ducks into the tree branch, claws dug into the bark and chest lowered to the thick sturdy perch before he launches himself upward, breaking through the boughs of the tree in a silent whoosh. He’s suspended above the forest, above flickering flames, looking down at a girl that should mean nothing to him and yet means much more than he’s willing to admit.

For a long moment, he’s weightless, gravity lost and his stomach flying in the nightsky and then he’s falling through time, rushing back to Earth with a nauseating image haunting his mind. He lands on all fours with a quiet whoomp, right in front of her, tendrils of heat and light flicking at his back like fiery whips and wide grey orbs full of surprise but not fear burning into his own. They stare into each other’s eyes and for once, he doesn’t look away from the way her wide orbs furrow and her nose scrunches into confusion, her mind trying to puzzle out what he’s up to.

Huddled in her lap, Shippo mumbles incoherently as if sensing Inuyasha’s unnerving presence on Kagome and he shifts in his sleep, turning from the kitsune ball and onto his back, seeking the comfort only a mother can provide. His nose twitches twice and his little tail flicks but Inuyasha pays him no mind, concentration solely on the confused and quickly becoming concerned woman right in front of him.

There’s small flash in the light brown pools of her eyes and her mouth parts but before she can speak a word of nonsense, a clawed hand snaps up to her jaw. Despite the intensity and the speed of his claws, his grip on her jaw is soft and gentle and she doesn’t even feel his claws’ deadly points. One of his hands is large enough to hold her chin and half of her jaw and he gently tips her head back.

From his perch in the tree it could have been a play of shadows from the light or a trick of his mind but down here, Kagome’s soft, sweet smelling skin in his hand and her neck bared to him, there isn’t a way to deny what he’s seeing.

What he sees makes him feel absolutely sick and livid and if he’s honest with himself – which isn’t often or at all really – just a tiny bit guilty.

Pale, smooth skin is marred and mottled with dark blue-black bruises tinged a sickly yellow-green in the shape of inhuman fingers. Thick and dark, they curve around her small neck and overlap at the base of the neck and they’re vividly burned into his retinas even though his figure is shrouding her in his shadow. They’re darker at the front of her throat and lighten as they curve around, more yellow-green rather than black-blue, but Inuyasha feels sick. His stomach tosses and turns as his golden eyes burn into the bruised flesh of her skin as if trying to find a way to deny they’re existence, to explain them as some sort of trick of the light or that they had been there before this night and he just hadn’t noticed, to deny the proof he didn’t want to admit: the thought of losing her made him see red, want to throw his head back and howl.

All he could see is the imperfection of her throat, the dark bruises and the swollen red skin surrounding them. Golden slits can only see in those dark, thick marks his own failure to protect her – and he fucking hates them. He hates the way they curve around her neck and the memory of Maten’s hands wrapped around her, and he’s suddenly glad the bastard is dead or he would have had to hunt him down again just for the sheer pleasure of watching him die, again.

“I-Inu….Yasha?” Unsure and hesitant but unafraid, her voice, shrouded in confusion, washes over ears he hadn’t known were lying flat against his head and hurting from the pressure.

With a small glance toward her rounded jawline, he notices his grip has tightened and slowly releases her, watching his fingers unfurl from the soft skin of her jaw and watches as his fingers leave her flesh – and his fingertips itch with the urge to stay connected to her skin, to feel and look for bruises, to protect her. Before she can tilt her chin back down – and he’s not ready to meet those orbs full of questions he can’t answer – he leans forward and shoves the tip of his nose into her bruised throat. As close as he is he can hear her loud swallow and the pounding escalation of her heart, snapping his eyes closed, claws digging into the soft Earth.

A desperate urge to rip Maten and Hiten apart over and over fills him until they’re bruised and bloody but not dead then he wants to brand the image in his mind before he kills them. His fingers twitch and at his hip, buried in it’s scabbard, Tetsusaiga pulses once in agreement and acknowledgement. Seems the old man left him something after all even though he doesn’t completely understand it’s power. With the gleeful image of him ripping Hiten and Manten apart over and over in his mind, Inuyasha breathes in a long, deep inhale.

Quiet settles over them, awkward and tense, and he can hear the saliva pooling in her throat. Her throat contracts and he can hear her breath hitch inward, a sure sign she’s about to say something stupid, but she pauses and then releases the breath without saying anything. Intrigued by what she didn’t say, Inuyasha tries to push his curiosity back and focus on her scent. Each breath he took was deep and filled his lungs, full of Kagome and the sensation of breathing her in isn’t exactly drowning but rather what he imagines breathing water might feel like.

Her pulse fluttered in her neck and the longer, deeper, he breathed, the more her scent rolled over him like a gentle stream. Then, finally, the smell he had been searching for but hoped he wouldn’t find.

Blood. Sharp and tangy, Kagome’s swollen blood filled his nostrils and, careful not to hurt her already tender flesh, Inuyasha pressed the tip of his nose further into the rigidity of her slender neck.

Yokai had the ability to track blood clots and swollen blood beneath skin and, if bad enough but usually reserved for close pack or mates, Inu-Yokai saliva had the power to heal. Inuyasha kept his eyes closed, eyebrows slanting and furrowing in concentration as his nose sniffed repeatedly, searching for something and hoping he didn’t find it. Her blood hummed in her veins, thick and smooth: no blood clots. But the smell of her sweet, slightly bitter blood made his tongue go dry but his mouth to salivate at the sweet metallic scent of her blood.

The youkai urge that barrelled into him – to sink his fangs into her neck and mark her, this strange girl he didn’t understand – startled him so much he nearly jumped back into the fire burning through his Fire-Rat robe. It was too hot, he was too close to her, and if he didn’t move, he was afraid of what his instincts would do to her, what he would do to her.

When her blood ran through his nose, he felt a twinge of relief. There were no blood clots and the swelling wasn’t anything to worry about. Kagome was okay, she was safe, she was alive and the relief blossomed through him, pricked with rage at who dared hurt her in the first place. His rage was overpowered by relief and he stowed away the foreboding feeling buried inside of him. Soft ears lifted up from his silvery man of thick hair and gold orbs slowly opened. Leaning back he waited for her to meet his slitted gold pools and when she did, probing him with grey eyes swimming with curiosity and confusion with a tiny hint of concern, the gold in his gaze darkened to molten amber.

Her breath hitched and he narrowed his dark gaze, gruff voice dropping into a harsh growl. “Next time I say run, you fucking run.”

Uusually they would be in each other’s faces, shouting and screaming with the inevitably end of Inuyasha slamming into the ground, but not this time. Fingers tread softly through orange hair, causing the kit in her lap to purr in his sleep, her grey orbs warm with understanding. “I’ve got your back, Inuyasha. We’re a team. It’s you, me, and Shippo and….”

Pink dusted her cheeks, making them glow in the firelight. “I know you’ll always protect us.”

Was this bitch serious? Not only did she manage to tell him to his face that she probably wouldn’t run but she had the audacity to include the runt in the pack they didn’t have! He ignored the way her words made him feel, the way her belief in him made his blood slug through his veins, hot and warm, and he would never admit to making the promise to protect her.

“Keh!”

Leaping back into the boughs of the shadowy tree, claws digging into the branch and finding the grooves he’d made before, Inuyasha lands and leans back into the trunk of the tree. There is no way he’s ever going to let that prick of contentment inside of him grow and there was no way he was ever going to let her know the effect she had on him. Like hell was a half-breed, a clumsy Miko from the future, and an orphaned kitsune brat a pack. Through the Fire-Rat robe he couldn’t feel the hard bark of the tree as he leaned into it, stretching out his legs and crossing his arms over his chest. Ears flat against his head, he refused to look down at her but he could feel warm grey eyes settled on him.

Ducking his head into his shoulders, he twisted his chest until he faced the darkness of the forest and his ear closest to the fire flicked upward at her quiet giggle.

It was quiet a moment before she whispered, “Inuyasha?”

He exhaled loudly and she took that as acceptance to continue speaking. When her voice lifted up to him, meeting him in the tree, he was glad for the safety of the tree’s thick branches and it’s leafy shield.

But nothing could have ever protected him from the warmth in her voice that burned him. “Thank you.”

He pretended not to listen to her rustling and shuffling as she retrieved her sleeping bag from the bright yellow atrocious pack settled on the back of her weird ‘bike’. Listening to her he peeked down, wondering where the brat was and huffed, rolling his eyes when he noticed she was holding Shippo with one arm and unfurling her sleeping bag with the other. Cloth rustled as she settled into the bag, Shippo chittering in his sleep. She lie him next to her and then the unfamiliar but quick ‘zwip’ as she sealed herself inside.

Before he turned around, he waited for sleep to claim her and her breath to even out in quiet exhales. Then he turned, looking down at her from the corners of his eyes. Her cheek was resting on one hand and the other was draped over Shippo who was pulled her into her chest. Purring quietly, the kit’s tiny hands were both holding tight to Kagome’s like he never wanted to let go.

Staring down at the woman who stirred feelings in him he wished he could hate and a lost, lonely kitsune who reminded him too much of himself, Inuyasha begrudgingly admitted that, okay, they weren’t a pack but he would still probably – maybe – protect her.

And the kitsune if only to keep her from fucking crying.

In the morning when Inuyasha would raise a fist to bop Shippo over the head for blasting foxfire at him in the tree, Kagome would jolt awake and shout ‘sit’ at the top of her lungs. With a yelp and a shout, Inuyasha would slam into every branch in the tree on his way to meet the ground with a loud thud, sending dust and dirt into the air. Human and half-demon would argue, their noses almost pressed together, Shippo sitting on the sleeping bag and watching with a half-smile but a light heart full of new beginnings.

They weren’t a pack.

They were brought together by so much more than that.