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Circling high between the peaks of the tall rock formations, Kagura watched as the two-tailed cat shrunk down in a burning flurry and ran off to rub her now-tiny body against the nearest tree. The sun was disappearing behind the rocky horizon, turning the sky into a firework of red and purple and orange, and a thin white sliver of moon was already visible, which was the humans’ cue to begin their nightly rest. They were far enough down the mountain ridge for vegetation to begin reconquering the terrain, although they hadn’t traveled much further today after the confrontation with Sesshoumaru. Still, the air up here was noticeably thinned. Kagura could feel it, knew that if she were to swing her fan here the power of her attack would be a fraction of what it was down in the flatlands. The humans relied on it even more strongly than her, being bound to the physical world as they were, so it was only to be expected that they would grow exhausted.

Each of them was only a small dot of color from Kagura’s vantage point. Not that they were doing anything particularly noteworthy: Inuyasha and Miroku were half competing and half helping each other with starting the night’s campfire while Sango was removing her armor and stretching, and Kagome and the little fox demon sat together and chatted. It was an amiable scene, if one was into such displays of… humanity. Kagura decidedly wasn’t. She had detached herself from the rest of the group as soon as they got back on their feet after Sesshoumaru had walked away. She usually took on the role of scout, but this time she genuinely needed the distance. So much had happened today, and very little of it bode well for her. Glancing up at the pale crescent moon, she frowned without quite noticing it. Now that she had a heart, she felt much more than before, and often in ways she would never have expected. It was very exhausting to deal with, and she often wondered how humans, who felt even more strongly than demons, managed to get anything done at all with this constant internal racket.

But hovering up here was not the place to sort out her newfound feelings. If she lingered too long, they might even remember her and try to call her down, and there was only so much chatter she could stand in one day. She had always had her siblings, but they had been a miserable, taciturn bunch compared to Kagome and her companions, and even then she had preferred to spend her time soaring through the skies alone—Kanna being the exception. But Kanna was dead now.

Kagura remembered that she had seen a river snaking through the tall rocks a small distance to the east. The wind was blowing in that direction too, and she let herself drift off and be carried across the cliffs and sparse, crooked trees gently. There was a good chance the others would seek out the water tomorrow given that the humans needed to drink and wash, which was all the more reason to keep it to herself for a little while yet.

As she sailed down, she saw that the river was smaller than she had thought, more a creek really, but it served her purposes. One advantage of these heights was that the water ran clear and untainted, even if the air was full of dust. Kagura leapt off her feather in a place where the riverbed was a little broader between the tall stone ridges on either side and did not try to slow her short fall while she tucked the feather back into her hair. She landed in the middle of the tiny stream with a splash that soaked the seams of her kimono, the water cold and silky around her bare feet. She relished in the feeling of the water moving over her skin for a bit, making tentative steps along the flow on the rocky riverbed until she found a tall boulder breaking up the stream large enough for her to sit on.

Along the sides of the creek grew small white flowers, the first ones she had seen ever since they had entered the mountains: no bitter roots or prickly, tough weeds, but lush water-flowers whose long leaves waved prettily in the stream. Kagura wondered if this creek had a spirit to protect it, and hoped that it would recognize her as only a resting traveller. She wouldn't run from a fight, but she wasn't really in the mood for it either. It was so difficult to know when to strike and when to keep her distance, now that she didn't have to obey Naraku's orders anymore. Kagome had tried gently to impart on her that most people who spoke to her didn't have bad intentions. She wasn't so sure about that yet, but now that she was fragile, even she could see the sense in not seeking out every fight.

The sand that she had stirred up by walking through the riverbed had almost settled again, rendering the water as clear as if it came fresh from the source. There were a few small silver fish zooming around between the stones that she hadn’t noticed before. Even now in the sunset, their scales still caught the fading daylight and threw it back in small glints, like sunlight on steel. Like the midday sun had flashed off Sesshoumaru’s armor when he had descended upon them out of nowhere. She had almost managed to banish him and the riddle he had posed her from her mind with the small, mundane day-to-day tasks that travelling with humans involved, and then he had appeared out of thin air. She hadn’t even recognized him at first because the glare was so bright—that and the foul air that clung to his hair, his fur. Kagura had known something was wrong from the very first moment. She would never be able to forget the sticky feeling of Naraku’s aura wafting through the air again, and it had surrounded him like miasma even before Byakuya had shown up.

She realized it had disappointed her to see that he had allowed himself to be tainted by it, and wondered why. Were feelings really so sticky? It wasn’t like she had any sort of claim over him, and she knew it all too well. It was the reason she had chosen to go along with Kagome when the priestess had repeated her offer, standing over her in that flowerfield and holding out her tender human hand.

Oh, what was she doing, sighing over that haughty dog as if she were some kind of human maiden. Moonstruck, they called that. She was Kagura of the Wind, she was beholden only to herself, and she was smarter than to give anyone the power to hurt her. If that damned sword was so important to Sesshoumaru he would ally himself with Naraku for its sake, even if it was only temporarily, that was his decision to make, and she had better not go about trying to make it hers. The only conclusion for her to draw from that was that she couldn’t trust him, but she should never have thought otherwise in the first place.

With that, she reached up into her hair and unbound it, tucking the feathers and the ribbons away safely and carding her hands through it to bring down the stiff strands. Washing it wouldn’t hurt; the sand in the air here was so thick that it was accumulating faster than her body could repel it. She certainly didn’t have anything better to do, and maybe the cold water would help clear her head. She missed the cool darkness of the cave pools sometimes, black glittering water spanning out underneath rocky domes. Every word spoken in those caves carried, and the tunnels all led back to Naraku at the heart of it, sitting in the deepest one like a spider in the center of its web. The darkness had been oppressive, stifling, sometimes literally choking when he was angry, but before she had started to struggle against it, she remembered it had felt safe and tucked away in those tight spaces. Here, out in the open air, she was free, but she had nowhere to hide either. That was something she would have to contend with. Freedom was like that, and she'd rather be sorry than safe.

Kagura unpinned her earrings and removed the two outer layers of her kimono and set it all to the side, moving onto the riverbank so she could reach the water better. She felt a little too exposed for her taste like this, but she couldn’t detect the aura of a single sentient being around her within a good few miles. She would be done quickly.

The water was not only cold, but unforgivingly icy when she poured the first handful over the back of her neck. She allowed herself a small shiver and then submerged her entire head all at once. No use shying away from the inevitable. She hadn’t brought anything like soap with her, but there was plenty of fine grey sand at the bottom of the stream that would do well enough. Massaging it into the roots of her hair, however, it turned out to be far more coarse than she would have liked. All in all, this didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore now that she was actually doing it. If it hadn’t been quite so heavy-handed, she would have taken that thought as a gentle nudge from the gods.

When she first began to feel that she wasn’t so alone anymore, she dismissed it as a flight of fancy. But the presence was strong and insistent and above all painfully familiar, and Kagura couldn’t deny that when she finally allowed herself to recognize it, her heart made an odd little leap. The damned thing kept scaring her at the worst times, and she could never tell what to make of its curious palpitations.

She sat up, sending rivulets of water streaming down over her face and neck, blinking it out of her eyes to see clearly. There he was indeed, standing motionlessly at the bend of the creek at a polite distance, long hair blowing gently in the ever-present breeze, white on white on white against the by now mostly dark blue sky. Something was different, though; she had become well-acquainted with his habit of standing around wordlessly, but right now his silence seemed surprised rather than chosen, as if he hadn’t expected to encounter her like this.

Well, it was too late for either of them to change that now. Kagura wiped the water out of her eyes. “What are you doing here?”, she asked, none too friendly. She did not owe him anything. Let him know she was angry, even if he likely didn’t care, she thought, and then wondered why she cared about this. She could not remember being so genuinely affected by anything he—or anyone else—did before her death.

Sesshoumaru’s answer was silence. “I did not realize you were bathing”, he said finally, a little stiffly.

“It keeps happening, doesn’t it.” Kagura combed her fingers through her hair to check for sand, and found quite a bit left in the section above her right ear. There was enough time to take care of that later, though; for now she was more interested in the mystery of Sesshoumaru’s appearance here. He must have known it was her, but what was there that he could want from her now? She had thanked him for saving her life, and they had gone their separate paths. There was nothing left to say that she could think of. Another feeling mixed itself into the whirlwind: She could not help but be intrigued.

Again, he avoided answering her directly. “I have disturbed you”, he said, and after another moment, turned away as if to leave.

Kagura had risen to her feet before she knew she was doing it. “Wait”, she called out. A gust of wind rose up, rushing through her wet hair, pulling at the seams of her last layer of clothing.

Sesshoumaru threw her a glance over his shoulder.

“You came here for a reason.”

He turned away again, raising his face to the moon as he spoke. “It can wait.”

Kagura tried her best not to snort and failed. “Since when are you so noble and patient?”

Had Jaken been here now, that remark would have earned her a lecture and a half. She was right, though, and although the opposite would probably have served her better, she simply couldn’t bring herself to find Sesshoumaru very intimidating. She had no illusions about the extent of his powers even now that he was without a sword, but it was hard to imagine he would use them against her, not after all the trouble he had gone through to keep her alive. Another example of what Jaken had called her boundless arrogance, maybe, but it wasn’t that she thought herself so terribly special. She knew she wasn't that. Sesshoumaru merely wasn’t half as merciless as he would like to believe, and hadn’t been for a long time. Even Inuyasha could tell as much.

Sesshoumaru raised his eyebrows at her remark, but gave up his spot at the very end of the narrow valley nonetheless. He came closer until he settled down on the flat rock Kagura had occupied before and tucked his right hand into his empty left sleeve as he watched her silently.

Kagura pushed her face underwater again, half to rinse the remaining grains from her hair and half so he wouldn’t see the color rising to her cheeks. She had done it, she thought: She had convinced him to stay and now she had to deal with it. Surely she was going to make a fool out of herself again, one way or another. Flirting with him when she had still belonged to Naraku was one thing; back then, nothing had mattered to her. Now, things were different. She did not remember dying, but she remembered whose voice it had been that called her back, who she saw standing by her when she came to. And yet he had joined forces with Naraku. Who knew a single person could feel so many different things at once? Who knew what depths lurked in others’ hearts?

But she had to come up eventually. Not looking up yet, she wrung out her hair as best as she could and then summoned a stiff breeze to help dry it. It wasn’t as warm as she would have liked, but it was better than nothing. After she had put her earrings back on, she reached for the rest of her clothing, too. This was not the occasion to be coy. Sesshoumaru looked away when she stood up to dress herself, but until then, she felt his gaze upon her like a physical weight. She wondered why.

Kagura closed the final bow on her belt and sat down on the riverbank again, dipping her toes back into the water. While her hair was drying, she tied her hairband with the feathers on it around her wrist instead. “There, all done”, she said. She did not look at him directly. Instead, she gazed at the rippling reflection in the water, the white sheen dancing on the tiny waves. She could see herself too, her dark hair floating on the water, barely touching but not quite. Then an overambitious fish surfaced and the ripple it caused destroyed the picture.

Sesshoumaru did not bother with niceties. “You are terrified of Naraku”, he said, without forewarning. It wasn’t a question.

Now Kagura couldn’t help but stare at him unfetchingly. What was she supposed to say to that? Of course she was, and if it had been Sesshoumaru in her place, he would be as well. Naraku’s physical hold over her was broken, but that didn’t mean there weren’t a thousand ways to punish her for managing to escape.

But while she was still trying to find the words to express that, Sesshoumaru continued. “I could smell it on you today.”

“Well, congratulations on your nose”, Kagura snapped. It wasn’t her smartest comeback, but she had to say something. What was he trying to imply? He might have started by apologizing for needlessly endangering her by leading Byakuya to her instead, but of course that was not a concept Sesshoumaru would understand.

Sesshoumaru ignored her comment. “Why do you fear him?”, he asked. His tone was almost the same as ever, detached and cool, but only almost. It mattered that he asked, she thought. That didn’t mean it was a good question, but it meant that he was genuinely curious and could not think of an answer on his own. It was better than nothing, and likely as much as she could expect from him.

“What reason have I not to fear him?”, Kagura said, drawing her arms closer around her body. She didn’t know why, but every time she thought about Naraku for too long, she began to feel weirdly dizzy, as if her soul were moving away from her body. She had always managed to shake it off so far, but it was still deeply unsettling. “He’s all I know. Is that why you came, to ask me that?”

“In part”, Sesshoumaru said.

Kagura threw a pebble into the water. If only she had something to keep her hands busy with, this would not be so bad. She began to rub her thumb over the hilt of her fan where it peeked out from her belt, trying to concentrate on the way the paper and wood felt under her skin.

Sesshoumaru didn’t seem to have anything more to say for the moment, although she was sure her answer had been anything but satisfactory to him. She did, though. “Why did you let him use you?”, she asked before she could stop herself. All of her bitter disappointment shone through in her voice and she knew it, but that was also something that having a heart entailed, apparently, her control eluding her. Let Sesshoumaru think her stupid and weak, then; it wasn’t his business what she felt, and she didn’t answer to him.

“I have nothing to fear from him”, Sesshoumaru said.

Kagura threw another pebble. “Maybe you do”, she said quietly. “Naraku isn’t like you, or anyone else. He doesn’t fight for the sake of fighting, or winning. He fights to make his enemies suffer, and he’ll do anything if it lets him cause pain to someone else. He’s very good at it.”

“I will not cower from that half-breed”, Sesshoumaru said with deep disdain.

Kagura had expected him to say as much. Still, she hoped her words would take root. Underestimating Naraku’s capacity for wanton destruction only served his purpose, and the one who would pay the price in the end was Rin. Kagura doubted Sesshoumaru would be able to bear it if he failed to protect Rin because of his own pride, although it came down to him to realize that.

She leaned back and gazed up at the sky. The sun had disappeared completely, and the crescent moon shone pale amidst a sparkling sea of stars. It was waxing like the moon on Sesshoumaru’s forehead, she realized. As if she didn’t have other things to worry about. This surely wasn’t what he had meant, but Sesshoumaru had raised a good point after all. What she was going to do with herself once Naraku was dead for good? (She didn’t let herself think of it in terms of if; in that case, she might as well crawl underneath the nearest rock and hide there forever.) She hadn’t been able to come up with a good answer to that question yet. The truth of it was that she had never in her life known what it was to follow her own desires, never mind having them in the first place, and now that she was, it overwhelmed her completely. She just didn’t know enough about the world yet to be particularly intrigued by anything. Nothing she could have, anyway. The only thing she felt certain about was that she couldn’t stay with Kagome and her friends. They were alright for being mostly humans, but she had overheard Miroku and Sango wistfully whispering to each other about children one night. She could imagine any future for herself but that one.

Kagura sat up straight again, and noted with surprise that Sesshoumaru was still exactly where he had been the last time she looked. She had been sure he would have vanished into the thin air right now like he usually did once a conversation was over for him. He had said asking her about Naraku was not the only reason he had sought her out, but he had not made it sound like he planned on divulging the other parts. So did he have something more to say—and if so, when was he going to do so?—or did he just not feel like getting up? Kagura half expected to hear the heavy trot of the dragon-horse around the corner, accompanied by a sleepy little girl's voice asking whether he was coming. Either way, he seemed as lost in thought as she had just been, staring straight ahead at the horizon as if the answer to all of life’s questions was hidden there. He even had the audacity to glow faintly in the moonlight, now that night had fallen around them.

Kagura realized they had never been this physically close before. If she were completely mad, she might reach out and run her hand through his hair. She wondered what she smelled like to him now, whether Naraku’s stench still clung to her because she was his creation after all, or whether dying had taken it away. Then again, if it had, it had probably been replaced by the scent of a lot of humans and his brother by now, which was hardly better. But, she reminded herself, there was no reason why it should matter.

Kagura reached for her mirror, an early model of the one Kanna had been using that hadn’t proved stable enough for the task. It had a few cracks, but it could still serve a more mundane purpose. Her make-up hadn’t survived submerging her face in the stream and apart from how badly she needed something to distract herself from how heavy the silence was growing, she didn’t want to miss the opportunity to reapply it once there was still clean, fresh water available. Putting water on her face that came from a container someone else’s mouth had touched before wasn’t something she wanted to do unless it was absolutely necessary. It did admittedly feel a little strange to be painting her face in front of Sesshoumaru, but he had already seen her barely-clothed and barefaced, so there was little left to be prudish about even if he were paying any attention to her.

Kagura unwrapped her brushes from the sturdy white cloth she kept them in, and took out her beni. The container was old and battered and didn’t close very tightly anymore; she would have to get a new one soon, though she had no idea where now that she had stopped routinely murdering humans and the option of taking what they left behind wasn’t available anymore. Maybe she could ask Sango.

Still, what was left in it would last her a few more days. She laid out her things neatly on the cloth beside her and placed the mirror on her knees, and finally took the beni and dipped the tip of the small, flat brush she used to paint her eyes into the stream. It was surely close to midnight now, but she could see in the dark.

Kagura had just dissolved enough of the beni to lift the brush up to her eye when she saw Sesshoumaru turning his head ever so slightly to look at her.

Trying to pay him no mind, she leaned forward over the mirror, tilting her head back so she had better access to her lash line, and drew the first narrow line along the outer corner of her eye. Her eyebrows were naturally full and shaped like half moons, so they didn’t need touching up, but she liked the red. It complimented the color of her eyes and made her look a little less ordinary; Kagura had no claws or fangs or markings on her skin to prove she was more than a mortal, so she had to employ a different strategy.

Sesshoumaru kept glancing at her from time to time, but she managed to get both her eyes done well enough even though she found it terribly unnerving. When someone like Sesshoumaru was looking at you, you didn’t have to look back to know. You felt it. But he kept his silence until she was well into layering the color onto her mouth. Of course he’d had to wait until it would be an inconvenience to her to actually reply.

“You do not trust the half-breed to protect you, then?”

Kagura moved her head to the left a little to check whether she hadn’t gone too far out. “You mean Inuyasha?”, she said and rubbed her lips together to spread the color evenly. “Of course not.” Though that was less because of what she thought of his abilities and more because she knew for a fact that if Naraku’s revenge came, it would be too swift and harsh for anyone to be able to save her. Besides, Inuyasha was already too occupied with Kagome when it came to protecting to spare her any mind.

To her surprise, that response seemed to make Sesshoumaru angry, judging from how much more intensely she felt his gaze now. She had expected him to be at least a little gratified she didn’t seem to think quite as highly of his brother as everyone else did.

Kagura looked up at last and saw that he was openly frowning, his pupils narrowed to black slits. This was surprising, she thought, and then she was surprised he was holding himself together so well. Naraku would have already been inflicting pain on her.

“Then why do you follow him?”, Sesshoumaru asked. A great deal seemed to depend on the answer, but that Kagura didn't understand. To her, it was perfectly obvious.

She loaded color onto her brush again. “Kagome asked me to come with them, and I had nowhere else to go.” She also hadn’t wanted to bother him, given that he already had two human children and Jaken to take care of, but there was no need to tell him that. She couldn't think of a reason why he would even ask. If he had wanted her to come with him, he could have said so, but he hadn't, and there had been nowhere else to go.

Sesshoumaru rose to his feet. “Is that the freedom you were imagining? To follow at the heels of another half-demon and obey the whims of humans?”

It wasn’t the fact that he was unable to understand why she couldn’t just shrug off Naraku now that she had her heart and her life. He had never been forced to spend his days as a puppet, as merely the extension of someone else, Kagura knew that. How would he know what it was like? But he had no right to sound so contemptuous—as if she was failing to meet some implicit standard of his, as if he was disappointed by her. And because of what? Because she wasn’t above refusing help when it was offered to her and she needed it? She couldn't afford that kind of pride. Maybe she would, one day, but that was far away. She had promised him nothing when he saved her life. Soaring along after Kagome and her incredibly talkative friends wasn’t the way she planned to spend her life, no, but the priestess’s offer had been kinder than Kagura deserved, and for the time being, it wasn’t half as terrible as Sesshoumaru was making it sound. He had to know she didn’t care one bit about who counted as a real demon and why when she was barely one herself.

Kagura laid down her brush and her mirror and stood up as well. It didn’t reduce the amount she had to tilt her face up to be able to meet his eyes by as much as she had hoped; she had never realized just how tall he really was when all their conversations had been led across clearings in the wood. Now, they were barely further apart than the length of a blade of her fan. She could see where the purple lines on his cheeks disappeared underneath the fine hair at his temples. “And since when do you care?”, she asked.

“I fail to see why you submit yourself to the leadership of someone you do not think capable of leading.”

Kagura laughed, a short, bitter sound. “So what? It’s not like I had any other choice.”

“I gave you that choice”, Sesshoumaru said. “You made it seem like you wanted to obey none but your own ambition, and I gave you the opportunity because I had not expected a sharpness like yours among Naraku’s ranks and I was curious to see what you would do with it. But I can see now that I have overestimated you.”

Kagura found her hand seeking out her fan. “You think I stayed because I was too scared to make up my own mind?”

Sesshoumaru raised his eyebrows ever so slightly. “Am I mistaken?”

Kagura opened her mouth to tell him just how mistaken he was and realized in the same instant that she had no interest in trying to justify herself to him. “Don’t think you know me, Sesshoumaru”, she said simply but none the less sharply for it, and bent down to gather up her belongings. The beni was still wet and she hadn’t cleaned out her brush, but that wasn’t important now. She was reaching up to her hair for her feather when she rose up again—it wasn’t there, it was still tied around her wrist, but before she could reach there, Sesshoumaru’s hand closed around her forearm.

“What—!“ Kagura yanked her arm away from him, putting her body into it, and stumbled back when he let go without resistance. She caught herself quickly enough, but she couldn’t help running her fingers over where he had touched her. Sesshoumaru’s skin had been much warmer than she would have thought.

Her heart was hammering in her chest, so hard that she could feel it in her throat. She didn't know how to process this. He had held on to her, but then let go. If he had let go so easily, if he hadn't meant to restrain her, why reach for her in the first place? She was angry, she thought, and scared, but she didn't think he had actually intended to harm her. She also wanted him to touch her again because he was warm and it was him, but not like that, and she didn't know what to think, and it must all be painfully obvious to him now, and that brought the heat of tears into her eyes for a reason she could not name.

In the end, Kagura settled on spite, like the years had taught her, and glared at him. “I thought about running away. I could have gone all the way across the sea on the wind, and I wanted to, but I didn’t, because I knew that no matter how far I’d go, I’d never stop being afraid Naraku would find me after all unless I put an end to him myself. So I stayed. Does that satisfy you, Sesshoumaru?”

Sesshoumaru’s gaze wavered. “Why Inuyasha?”

“Who else was there apart from you? You don’t expect me to try and bring Naraku down on my own, do you?”

This time, Sesshoumaru looked down before he answered. It began to dawn on Kagura that this exchange might have held a real meaning to him from the beginning; it would certainly explain the strangeness of it, and his hesitation right now. She had never seen him evade anyone’s gaze before. He didn't seem very used to any of this, either. Kagura didn't think he shared many of the thoughts that meant something to him with Jaken or Rin.

“Do you think I would have returned your life to you if I hadn’t intended to protect it?”, he asked finally.

Kagura couldn’t help it, she gaped at him. There he was, bright and glorious in the fallow moonlight, and he said he wanted to protect her. It was hard to believe she hadn’t suddenly gone mad. This felt exactly as it had when she had been about to die and he was there in front of her from one moment to the next because he had known she was dying. There was no need to doubt him, either: He had no reason to lie to her. If only he had said it then, when they were still in that field. How could she have known?

But she remembered his tone earlier, the way he had looked down on her, and the reason she had been so furious in the first place. Now she realized why it bothered him: He had wanted her to follow him, but he hadn't thought to say so because he expected it to be self-evident that she would, and now his pride was wounded. Why he had thought she would be so wide-eyed and desperate for direction was beyond her, though. If she were that woman, she would still be Naraku's puppet. The beat of her heart did not slow, but it became steady. Two could play at that game. So Kagura only lifted her fan to her face and tipped it against her mouth, and said, “You, protect my life? Don’t make me laugh, Sesshoumaru. It’s only because of what you did today that Naraku now knows I’m still alive, and in these mountains.”

Kagura could tell she had hit the mark when she met Sesshoumaru’s eyes. She felt almost sorry, too, but it wasn’t her who had started it. So she held his gaze every bit as stubbornly and defiantly as she needed to in order to counter his silent anger, and finally it was him who looked away.

“I see”, he said very coldly. “Is that what you think?”

“It is”, Kagura said without missing a beat.

He lifted his chin imperceptibly. “Then we are done here.”

“We are.”

He walked past her without another word, and she resisted the temptation to let her eyes follow him as he disappeared into the air. She noticed her hands were trembling a little when she reached for her feather and threw it. All in all, now that he was gone she didn’t feel very triumphant. She didn’t feel anything at all.

Kagura took to the air swiftly, leaving the little canyon behind her as fast as she could and only slowing down once she was so high up she couldn’t make out the water’s silver gleam between the rocky peaks anymore. The rush of the wind against her face and in her clothes didn’t succeed in calming her down like it usually did; her heart was hammering as if a drunk ape were in charge of it, which didn’t make her feel better at all. She was thankful she had her heart, but she hated that it was making itself such a chore to manage.

The fact that this had likely been the last time she and Sesshoumaru would ever speak again began to sink in slowly, though that, too, failed to reach her completely.

It was all so hard to put together in her head. Kagura had assumed him coming to see her off to the netherworld was a kindness to a stranger that had come all the easier for how cursorily they knew each other. And maybe it had been, but then he had saved her, and intended to keep watch over her. That alone was more than she would ever have thought.

She realized that if this night had gone a little differently, if she had been just slightly more pliant, she might have gotten something she'd thought she'd wanted for a long time. Another bout of arrogance, perhaps, but Kagura trusted her senses. He'd had no reason to come so close to her. She wondered if that wouldn't have been better, turning herself into who he thought she was, if she hadn't given up something she would miss for the sake of her pride. She didn't really know what being happy was like, but she thought she wanted to find out, and now her spite had created a gap between them that would likely never close. Kagura would not have admitted it under torture, but it was no secret from herself that she had often thought about what might happen if she and Sesshoumaru were to chance on each other again when she was unbound, a quiet pool under the moonlight. It hurt to know that she had come so close to this fantasy, something she had never allowed herself, only to have it taken from her just on the cusp of becoming real.

But what could she have done differently? He had to know she wasn't the obedient type, couldn't afford to be. She might as well have asked him to be less arrogant, that had about the same ring of absurdity to it. It was like asking fire not to burn. Sesshoumaru was who he was and so was she, and maybe it was better that way. There was no use in trying to force something that by its very nature could not exist. How very sensible that sounded, and how very little it did to change her mood.

Someone called out to her in the distance. Kagura slowed her flight to a lazy float to see who it was. Not Sesshoumaru, that much was certain. No, the voice came from the ground, and now it was two voices. She looked down and saw two dots, red and white and green, between the sparse trees. Kagome and Inuyasha. Talking to them or anyone else was the last thing she wanted to do right now, but they had seen her already, and knew that she had heard them. Kagura nudged her feather downwards in a wide, gentle spiral.

“Are you alright?”, Kagome asked as soon as she was within earshot. “You were gone all of a sudden, so we went looking for you.”

It was rather unnecessary of her—Kagura assumed that we in this case meant that it had been Kagome's idea, and Inuyasha had been badgered into coming along—to worry, but it was kind. Kagura gave her as much of a smile as she could come up with. “I’m fine.”

“You smell a lot like Sesshoumaru”, Inuyasha said a good deal more suspiciously and raised his nose into the wind. “I knew he was still skulking around.”

“Do I?”, Kagura said as blithely as she could and hoped that would be enough to get the message across.

Of course it wasn't. She was, after all, talking to Inuyasha.

“Did you meet him? Why?”, Inuyasha asked, although he sounded more bewildered than angry. Then his gaze went up to her damp hair, and his eyes narrowed. “Wait, what the hell happened?”

Kagome's eyes followed his, and Kagura saw her frown for a fraction of a second too as she wondered what that might mean, but Kagome only sighed. “Leave her alone, Inuyasha”, she said with a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“What? I’m only asking. I think I have a right to know what she's doing with my half-brother, given that he appeared out of the blue to attack me today.”

“There is nothing to tell”, Kagura said pointedly and, before either of them could answer, pulled her feather up again. She heard Inuyasha asking Kagome why she was so touchy, but Kagome’s reply was already lost to the wind. She didn’t fly so fast they couldn’t follow, though; she didn’t want them to think she didn’t appreciate that they had taken time away from their sleep to come looking for her.

When she reached the campsite—Miroku was reading something by the dim light of the embers, but everyone else had gone to sleep in what looked like more or less comfortable positions—she climbed in height again until she had most of the small mountain ridge in her view, and settled in for a long night. Sometimes Kagura thought sleep would be a blessing; she would have done a lot not to be alone with her thoughts right now. But someone had to keep watch over these humans while they were vulnerable in their sleep.

Sesshoumaru had no idea what he was talking about. She liked these humans. They came looking for her when she had never asked them to, never even given them reason to think of her as a friend, and they asked her about her feelings. She didn’t think she had made a mistake by going with them. Sesshoumaru was bright and proud and glorious, but they were kind, and maybe she'd had enough of pride for the moment. Maybe kindness was what she needed more right now.

Kagura brushed her fingertips over the spot on her forearm where his hand had been, and then let the lingering sensation be carried away by the gentle touch of the wind.