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The Ronin

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Inuyasha came to just as something hard and heavy slammed into his ribs, not for the first time by the feel of it, and he couldn't hold back the coughing grunt of air in response. A gush of warm blood ran down his chin and dripped onto the ground, but he was unable to move his hand to wipe it away. His eyes nearly rolled back in his head again - his head was throbbing and the pain in his ribs made it difficult to breathe.

He kept his eyes shut as he fought to stay conscious. He was laying on his side, hands and feet tied with what felt like rough hemp rope. He could smell dirt close to his nose; either they were still outside or the floor must be made of dirt... and what the fuck? His heart started hammering as his brain finally came up to speed with his situation. Why was he naked? And where in the hell was Kagome?!

He'd must've blacked out for a while; the last thing he remembered was that bastard appearing out of nowhere near the edge of the village they'd been passing by and clubbing him on the side of the head with the butt of his katana. He'd better not have hurt her! A muffled whimpering sound came from behind him, and he sighed in a mixture of consternation and relief. She was still nearby, not locked away somewhere else where he couldn't find her. That small sound nearly broke his heart, but at least it proved she was still alive. He tried to pull his knees towards his chest to cover his nakedness, and earned a hard kick to his shins for his efforts.

"Why the modesty? Dogs don't wear clothes!" a rough male voice sneered. "Not so tough now, are you? Just a pitiful excuse of a human, easily dealt with. I'd been told you were strong." Inuyasha involuntarily flinched as he heard a scuffing sound close to his head, and he tried to blink open his eyes. One eye was swollen almost shut, but he could blearily see out of the other, and he did his best to glare up at the man standing over him, who scuffed the front of his wooden shoe on the dirt floor as if to clean off something disgusting.

"I will have to reward the yamabushi that gifted me those protection ofuda if I ever see him again – who would have known they had the power to strip a hanyou of his youki?"

Inuyasha grunted, noticing for the first time the strip of paper stuck to his naked chest. The bastard's damn ofuda had nothing to do with it. It was just bad luck that they'd been passing this village just before sunset on the night of the new moon. He and Kagome had been scouting on the far side of the river for any sign of Naraku. They would have made it back to the village in plenty of time, but a landslide caused by the heavy summer rains had knocked out the bridge spanning a wide crevasse, cutting them off from the others and slowing their return to the village. His waning sense of smell and hearing meant he hadn't realised they were being followed by this bastard. They'd been ambushed.

Inuyasha did his best to take in details of the man's appearance in the dim light provided by the lantern on the wall. Hair pulled back into a chomage topknot. Dark blue hakama. Black silk kimono, though it was soiled and worn. Dirty white tabi socks and wooden geta. And only a single sword. A samurai? But during these unsettled times a samurai could always find a new lord to serve. A disgraced samurai then - a ronin. Bastard. He couldn't wait to wipe the smug smile of that fucker's face come sunrise. He just had to hang on until then. He heard the man walking behind him, and strained his ears, trying to work out what was going on. He heard Kagome whimpering again, and he gritted his teeth in anger.

"Don't waste your time worrying about the dog, sweet thing" the Ronin crooned. "As we've already discussed, the local teahouse will have a special place for you in their back rooms come morning. Judging by the style of clothing you're wearing; you'll enjoy the experience." He heard a rip of fabric and a pained gasp from Kagome. "My my, what interesting undergarments - much more enticing than what the other sluts in the teahouse wear. Just look at you!" the rough voice crooned. Inuyasha heard a wet sound and a muffled grunt from Kagome. "I'll be sure to visit often, so you won't be lonely. Maybe I'll even pay to be the first, now I know what you've got to offer." Another pained gasp, and whimpering. "But for now, you can stay here with what's left of your dog – he won't last much longer. Sweet dreams, princess."

Inuyasha blinked, trying to focus. He watched the Ronin walk towards the door and close it behind him, taking the lantern with him, a smug grin still on his face. Come sunrise, that bastard was gonna pay.

He rolled onto his other side, choking back a groan as his ribs moved painfully, trying to work out where Kagome was. The room was dark with no moon, but he could see her in the small amount of starlight that was filtering in through the storm shutters. She was hunched over on her knees with her arms tied behind her back. Her shirt was torn open, and there seemed to be a dark bruise on her cheek.

"Kagome…" he whispered, his heart breaking at her frightened whimpers. He would get her out of here if it was the last thing he ever did. She continued to whimper, but then shook her head, wiggling her eyebrows, then winking at him. What the fuck?

He watched, perplexed as she wiggled her arms, shuffling so her hands went under her bottom. She winced in pain, but kept wriggling them forward, then leaned and folded her legs, finally managing to get her hands past her feet and up in front of her. She wriggled her wrists, twisting and turning her hands, one ear tilted towards the door as she continued to make whimpering sounds.

Inuyasha blinked at her groggily. "What're you…?" She shook her head frantically, making a quiet 'shh' noise. Finally with a wince, she managed to pull one hand free – her wrists were bruised and bleeding, but free of the rope. She tiptoed over to the door, listening for a few moments, then moved quietly over to him, and began working on the ropes tying his arms and feet. It took a while in the near total darkness away from the window, but she finally managed it. He groaned when she finally freed his numb legs of the rope, and she began rubbing his ankles, trying to help bring back the circulation.

"Do you think you'll be able to walk?" she whispered anxiously. Inuyasha shrugged.

"I'll give it a fucking good try to get the hell outta here", he grumbled quietly, impressed by her efforts to free herself from the rope. He could hardly make out the details of her face in the darkness with his human eyes, but he turned his head away, not wanting to be reminded of her bruised cheek and open shirt at the moment, guilt churning in his stomach. "How'd you learn how ta do that?"

"Survival books", she whispered. "I borrowed some from the library - I wanted to know how to free myself if I ever got stuck somewhere without you. Sorry about the crying - I know you don't like it, but I was playing the 'weak little girl' card, hoping it would mean he wouldn't tie the ropes as tightly, and it worked. Sucker!" She snickered a little. "I found out why he attacked us too. Apparently, he has a protection racket going in the towns in this area, and thought we might damage his source of income. He'd heard of us somehow, maybe from one of the other villages during market day."

He heard her rummaging in the corner of the room, then felt the rough nap of his robe of the fire rat and hakama next to him. His clothes - thank heavens for small mercies. He sat up slowly, his head thumping, and grunted his thanks as she averted her eyes to give him privacy while dressing, even though the room was almost pitch black and she wouldn't have been able to see much anyway.

He ripped the ofuda off his chest, crumpling it in disgust, then clumsily tied his fundoshi and dragged his kosode and hakama on, a pained hiss escaping his teeth as the cloth touched various bruises. From the sound of it, Kagome seemed to be collecting the scattered items discarded by the Ronin after he'd ransacked her backpack for anything valuable.

He heard Kagome stamp her foot a little on the dirt floor. "Damn, he must have taken my bow and quiver. And I just spent all that time making those arrows too! At least he didn't take Tessaiga. He said it was a useless sword – shows how much he knows, huh?" She moved towards him, and placed his sword into his hands. He shoved it into his belt gratefully.

"He didn't get the jewel shards, did he?" he asked in sudden apprehension.

"Nope." He saw a faint flash of white teeth in the darkness as she grinned. "I managed to hide them inside my bra before he tied my hands." He heard her shuffling around a bit more, it sounded like she was down on her hands and knees. "I was a bit worried he'd find them when he groped me though. I feel like I need to have a soak in the hottest hot spring ever, to get rid of the feel of his gross hands. Pervert!" He heard a slight rattle as she shook something. "Aha! I found my matches. Fire's a good diversion, right?"

"Yeah, as long as you don't cook us along with everyone else", muttered Inuyasha gruffly, easing his suikan over his shoulders with a pained grunt and tying the cords with clumsy fingers. Fuck his ribs hurt. Sunrise couldn't come soon enough. He couldn't see, he couldn't smell, and everything hurt. He was damn near useless.

"Good point. Okay, let's just concentrate on escaping then. Do you know how to open the storm shutters?" she whispered, moving over towards the small window. "We're in a storeroom at the back of the inn. I could see the forest through the open shoji screens when he first brought us in here. There aren't many buildings that I noticed on this side, so hopefully no one would see us if we climb out the window and run into the forest. We can find somewhere to hide until sunrise.

"And then I can come back and kill him?" asked Inuyasha hopefully, grinning for the first time since sunset. Kagome huffed.

"And then, we can go find the others, and see what needs to be done about putting an end to the protection racket he's running. No more talking. Who knows when someone's coming back? We need to hurry."

Kagome tried sliding the wooden lock, but it was wedged tight. Obviously, this shutter wasn't opened very often. Her hand slipped, banging into the edge of the window frame, and she bit back a yelp.

"You okay?" whispered Inuyasha.

"Yeah", she grumbled, sucking on the knuckle of her forefinger. "I got a splinter. Stupid window."

"Here, lemme try." He staggered over to the window, and shoved the heel of his hand at the wooden latch. It had swelled a little in the weather, but with a bit of brute force, he managed to push it back. He slid the shutter sideways, pausing momentarily to listen as the old wood creaked, then pushed it into the cavity.

"You first", he motioned to Kagome.

"But you're more injured than me Inuyasha!" she protested.

"Then you can catch me when I land on my worthless human butt! Hurry it up wench, before someone notices the window's open!" he hissed, giving her a little shove.

Grumbling, she grabbed what was left of her backpack and squeezed through the small opening, then landed with a small grunt in the bushes outside. Inuyasha was quick to follow, swallowing his moan of pain as he landed in a clumsy heap, arms wrapped around his ribs for support. Gathering what was left of his strength, he lurched to his feet and pulled the shutter back into its closed position.

They staggered from tree to tree as quietly as possible in the darkness, then managed to find a small fissure in a cliff face, big enough for the two of them to squeeze into. Between them, they managed to stack some of the rocks in front of it to make it look like a natural landslide, mostly blocking the entrance.

"Do you think it's long until dawn?" asked Kagome quietly, her voice sounding loud in the darkness. They were sitting side by side, knees up towards their chests, with Tessaiga balanced across both of them.

"Your guess is as good as mine at the moment – I don't know how long I was out for." He moved slightly to try and get more comfortable, then wished he hadn't. He was pretty sure at least one of his ribs was broken.

Kagome sighed, then rested her head gently on his shoulder. "I'm glad you're mostly okay – I was so worried when he knocked you out."

Inuyasha grunted. Stupid fucking human night. "m'sorry Kagome", he said softly.

"Why are you saying sorry! He's the one that hit you from behind like a coward! You have nothing to be sorry for! I was worried because you were hurt!"

Inuyasha grunted again. A worrying thought suddenly occurred to him, one that he couldn't let go, remembering the sound of Kagome's torn shirt.

"Kagome, he didn't do anythin'… bad… while I was knocked out, did he?"

Kagome sighed.

Inuyasha managed a very good approximation of his usual hanyou growl.

"Did he?!" he yelled in sudden rage. "Because if he did, there's nothin' that's gonna stop me goin' back in the morning and gutting that prick!"

"Shhhhh! Not so loud! We're still hiding, remember?" she hissed. Kagome moved her hand around in the darkness until she found his, stroking his fingers until he unclenched his fist enough to allow his fingers to intertwine with hers. "He roughed me up a bit, touched me a little inappropriately, but it's okay, he didn't do anything like you're thinking. It's alright", she soothed.

"It's not alright Kagome! None of this is. He hurt you!"

"You're hurt too, more than I am", she pointed out.

"Yeah, but I'll be fine as soon as the sun rises. You're all banged up, and I couldn't stop it. I hate this! I'm gonna make him pay Kagome, I swear it!"

"Inuyasha", said Kagome softly, "you don't kill humans, remember?"

"I'm willing to make an exception in his case!" he snarled. "He fuckin' deserves it!"

A pale solitary sunbeam found its way through the piled rocks. Inuyasha shivered slightly as the change came over him, flooding him with strength, restoring his senses and easing away almost all the aches and pains from the abuse he'd suffered, and he let out a relieved sigh, his head thumping back against the rock behind him.

"Welcome back", smiled Kagome. He sniffed, then snarled, realising her usual sweet scent was marred by the cloying smell of salt tears and blood. Now that he could examine her properly with the return of his hanyou senses in the dim light of a new day, his anger returned tenfold.

There was bright red marks in the shape of fingerprints above her barely covered breasts where that asshole had obviously groped her. His eyes travelled down to her dirty scuffed and bruised knees that were beginning to scab over, and then back up to her bruised and rope burned wrists. There was a dark purpling bruise marring her pale cheek and underneath her eye which was a little swollen, and her lower lip was cut and bruised. She dropped her head, turning her injured face away to the side, her tongue licking at the cuts along her lip.

"Kagome! Look at me!" he said fiercely. He let go of her hand to pull his fingers against her chin, carefully but insistently, turning her face towards him. She blinked rapidly, her eyes filling with tears as she sucked her swollen bottom lip into her mouth.

"Don't", he said softly, pulling down gently below her injured lip so it was released from her mouth. She looked upwards, trying to stop the tears from spilling down her cheeks. Her lips wobbled, and she breathed in shakily.

"Please, don't go back there. I just want to leave. Don't go back!"

"Shhh", he soothed, gently rubbing his thumb over her injured cheek, and wincing with her as she flinched in pain.

"Sorry for crying", she huffed, sniffling back tears. "I know you don't like it. Guess I am just a weak little girl, huh?"

"No." He stroked her fringe out of her eyes, wiping away her tears with his thumbs. "We got outta there because a you, Kagome. While I was lyin' there, passed out on the floor, you were payin' attention, makin' plans. You found out why he'd attacked us in the first place – that took some guts. I wouldn't have known how to do that trick with the rope when you got it off. I'm so used to relyin' on my brute strength all the time; when I'm human I'm less than useless. You're not some weak little girl – you never have been. Ya did good, Kagome!"

Kagome smiled wanly through her tears, wincing a little as her swollen lip pulled. "That's high praise coming from you, dog boy."

"Sure is. You know me wench, I tell it like it is."

She rolled her eyes at him, then sighed. "I'm still annoyed about my bow. And it took me ages to make all those arrows!"

Inuyasha grinned at her showing his fangs, and the grin was not pleasant. It was bloodthirsty and wicked; a youkai grin that promised vengence. "If ya want, I can just go back over there now an…"

"No!" She shut her eyes in pain after moving her jaw a little too vehemently. "Ow."

"Fine", Inuyasha growled. "But this is only postponed, right? That prick's gonna get it." His eyes roved over her face again, her features more familiar to him than his own. Even now, bruised and battered, she was utterly beautiful to him, not because of her pretty face, but because she was Kagome. Before he could lose his nerve, and while Kagome had her eyes shut, he leaned forwards and placed a gentle kiss on her uninjured cheek. "Ain't many people I'll postpone a fight for Ka-go-me", he whispered gruffly.

Kagome's eyes fluttered open in surprise. "Inuyasha?"

Greatly daring, his heart beating rapidly in his chest, he kissed her forehead, and then her chin, smiling at her wide eyed expression. He paused for a moment, hesitating, then slowly leaned in to kiss her gently on the mouth. He couldn't help his small sound of relief as she kissed him back as best she could, her fingers sliding into the silver hair that covered where his human ears were just minutes before. He kept the kisses soft and light despite their combined eagerness, wary of her injured lip and cheek, but eventually pulled back at her whimper of pain when her cut lip stretched too far.

"Guess we can postpone that too huh?" he sighed, stroking her uninjured cheek. "Want me to find ya a hot spring to get all cleaned up before we find the others?"

"Yes please", she whispered, her eyes shining at him, lit by the early morning sunlight.

Turning in the cramped space, he kicked out the pile of stones, and stood up. Kagome followed him out slowly, whispering a lot of 'ow's as her bruised and battered knees straitened after being bent for a while. She slung her damaged backpack on as he squatted down in front of her, then climbed on his back a little clumsily, draping her arms around his shoulders.

"Let's go Inuyasha", she whispered, and he nodded. He would make sure Kagome was okay first, see to her hurts, but nothing was going to stop him coming back and dealing out some well-deserved justice.

Chapter Text

Inuyasha could feel Kagome's weight slumped against his back as he jogged through the thinning forest. Usually when he carried her, she moved with him as he ran, shifting her weight to help him as he jumped or turned. It was only the slight movement of her fingers on his shoulders and her head still being upright rather than resting against him that told him she was awake. He kept his pace at an easy lope as he looked for the promised hot spring, not wanting to jostle her too much.

Her lack of movement worried him, but he reasoned that she was probably exhausted after being awake all night. Awake, and trying to deal with whatever that sick bastard had put her through while he was knocked out. He could still smell the faint metallic scent of her injuries and the taint of male sweat on her skin. He could still smell the bastard, and he pushed away the rage that was threatening to overcome his senses. Kagome came first; her needs were much more important than thoughts of revenge. His stomach roiled with guilt and fear. Guilt that he hadn't prevented her getting hurt and fear now that the danger had passed. Fear that it could have been so much worse; just another reminder of how fragile her life was in comparison to his.

Thanks to his half-demon heritage, his own injuries had nearly all healed as soon as the sun had risen – there was a vague ache that pulled around his ribs and in his gut where he'd been kicked repeatedly, but other than that, he was good as new. Kagome would have to wait weeks for her human body to completely repair her cuts and bruises.

He was inordinately proud of her – she'd managed to handle herself well in what must have been a terrifying situation; finding out information and planning for escape when he wasn't physically able to help her, but still… It shouldn't have happened at all. He was seething with rage that she'd been hurt, and he'd meant it when he said to her that retribution against the Ronin that had attacked them was only postponed. But it could wait. He wanted, no, he needed to take care of her first.

Using his nose, it didn't take him long to find the promised hot spring – only a small one, but plenty big enough for Kagome to soak in. The steaming water had a slightly pink tinge; the smell of iron and other minerals in the water was what had helped him find it in the first place. It was secluded, surrounded by towering pine trees and protected by black volcanic rocks on the eastern side.

He nodded. The rocks would provide shade from the mid-morning sun and protection from the cool mountain breeze, and the minerals in the water would help speed the healing of Kagome's injuries. He squatted down next to the spring on a flat platform of rock, waiting for her to slide off, but there was no movement from her.

"Kagome?"

"Yeah, I'm still here", she said quietly. She slid off his back slowly, staggering a little as she stood, and he turned quickly to grasp her arms to prevent her falling. "Sorry", she said, with a small smile that didn't reach her eyes, "I'm a little tired I guess."

He didn't quite know what to say to that, so he remained silent. He wanted to snarl when he saw the bruising on her face again – her swollen eye, the mottled bruising on her cheek, the fat lip stretched over the cuts near the centre and in the corner of her mouth. He swallowed down the angry words and sounds, squeezing the tops of her arms gently before letting go. Instead, he squatted down near the water to test the temperature with his hand, watching out of the corner of his eye as she sorted through items in her backpack.

She pulled out her towel, a slightly dirty but unripped t-shirt and a pair of shorts. His ears twitched in sudden surprise when she angrily shoved the backpack aside with a word that often came out of his own lips, but sounded forced coming from hers.

"For fucks sake!"

She tried to close the backpack, but the now broken clasp resisted her efforts, and she growled at it, as if her annoyance would make it suddenly comply.

"Kagome, what's wrong?"

"Nothing!", she hissed, turning her back to him and sitting down on the flat section of rock, kicking off her school shoes and pulling off her socks.

"Don't sound like nothin'."

He edged a little closer, trying to read her emotions, sniffing as quietly as he could. She was obviously upset; anger and… embarrassment? Anxiety? He could hear her heart rate escalating, the slight salt tang of tears in the air.

"Talk to me Kagome. Tell me what's wrong."

He edged even closer, shuffling so that he was sitting shoulder to shoulder with her. She hiccuped a small laugh that sounded suspiciously like it could be the beginning of a sob.

"I don't… There's no clean underwear in my backpack."

Oh. Well, that was a problem he couldn't really help her with. It wasn't like he could share his fundoshi with her – she didn't even wear underclothes like that. He'd seen them in her backpack on more than one occasion while he looked for ramen and ninja snacks, they were nothing like anything he'd seen in his time period before. He rubbed his nose a little self-consciously.

"Could ya wash some in the hot spring, maybe?"

She huffed out an angry noise. "No. I don't have any in my backpack. He pulled everything out, and I couldn't find it all in the dark."

That's right. The Ronin had gone through her bag, looking for valuables. He remembered how she'd been crawling around on her hands and knees in the darkness, trying to find items to help them escape. He guessed it would have been difficult; and right then, their focus had been on survival rather than possessions. He knew she had plenty of those things she called panties in that clothing chest in her bedroom. She just needed something to get by until they returned through the well, he guessed.

"What about the one's ya wearin' – could ya wash those?" he tried helpfully, turning his head to look at her profile. He was totally unprepared for the way her expression suddenly crumpled, the back of her hand coming up to hide her mouth as hot tears ran down her cheeks.

"Th-They're t-torn", she sobbed, and a cold bolt of pure horror stabbed through his gut. He moved to kneel before her, hands hovering, wanting to hold her. Comfort her. Then the horror was pushed aside by the heaviness of guilt. His fault. He hadn't been able to protect her from this. She would never forgive him.

"But you said he…" He could hear his voice quavering. "Kagome…"

She shook her head. "Wasn't him", she managed to get out between sobs. "Owner of the b-brothel. Wanting to ch-check her new merchandise!" she spat vehemently, raising her eyes to his. He was caught by those luminous brown eyes, unable to pull away. "She paid him money for me, then gave me a f-fat lip when I refused to undress for her. A-and then h-he held my legs o-open while she looked and touched. She said she w-wanted to make sure I w-was a virgin so she c-could sell m-my first time!"

Her chin dropped, hands twisting violently in her lap, knuckles white, nails scratching. Tentatively he reached out to place his larger hands over hers, gently prising the fingers apart before she could do more damage to her already abused wrists. Wordlessly, he pulled her into his lap, tucking her under his chin, curling himself over her as if to hide her from the cruelty of his world.

Her hands scrabbled in his suikan, grabbing handfuls and holding tight as she sobbed into his chest. He began rocking, rumbling a soft growl within his chest, hoping to calm her. He dropped soft kisses onto her hair, murmured her name. Fuck, he would do anything to take this away. Erase this from her memory. He'd failed her.

After a while, her sobs calmed, and she was silent, only the occasional hiccup from her and the wind through the pines breaking the silence.

"In a way, I was lucky", she murmured, softly, her hands gentling their hold on his fire rat, stroking the slightly furred surface. "It was a busy night at the teahouse apparently. Some sort of local celebration and all the rooms were booked out. So they didn't need my services last night. Lucky me."

"Kagome", he said brokenly. She looked up, eyes widening at the tears in his eyes.

"Hey", she said softly. "Don't cry." She shrugged, then reached up to stroke his cheek. "I'll get over this. It's not like I was raped or anything. In the scheme of things, it was nothing. I mean, so many women have it worse than me – so many girls in this era get pulled into that sort of life through no fault of their own, and never manage to get out of it. It's just…" She sighed. "Last night I was so focused on trying to get away, make sure we both got away safely, that I didn't think about it too much. And then, this morning when I had time to think about it, I sort of got stuck on what might have happened, and I got frightened. Let's not waste any more time on this. It's no big deal, right?"

She plastered a ghost of a smile on her face. "Smile with me Inuyasha?" She tugged at his cheek. "Just smile, I really need to see you smile right now." Her eyes filled with tears again and her smile wobbled, until he managed to produce a wobbly half grin of his own.

He knew what she was doing, because he had done it so often himself. Denial. Diversion. Pretending that it wasn't so bad, even though the pain was crippling. But even if she forced the memory away because it was too painful for her, he wouldn't forget what had happened. He would remember, for her.

"Let's get you cleaned up", he whispered, his own voice seemingly blocked by the harsh knot of emotion in his throat.

"Ugh. I'm so stiff, I don't think I can move right now", she muttered, burying her face into his suikan.

"Then let me help." Dark brown eyes stared up at him, examining his expression, then she nodded, giving him a tiny but genuine smile, the first real smile he'd seen from her since dawn.

He picked her up, cradling her to his chest, then eased them both slowly into the hot spring, fully clothed. The spring wasn't too deep, so he was able to sit on the bottom, resting his back against the rocks, with her cradled in his lap. She hissed a little when her injured knees and wrists went under the water, then leaned against him. They stayed that way for about half an hour. Occasionally Inuyasha would drop his cheek onto her hair, rubbing gently, but mostly they sat in comfortable silence, finding no need to fill up the emptiness with meaningless words.

Finally, Kagome shifted in his lap. "I think I'm ready to get clean now", she said softly. He helped her take off the ruined shirt and dirty skirt, wringing them out and placing them flat on the dark rocks behind them to dry. He took off his suikan, kosode and hakama, rinsing the dried blood from them, stretching them out on the rocks as well, leaving on his fundoshi.

Kagome made him stand still for a moment to make sure he had healed properly, and he rolled his eyes at her, but acquiesced grudgingly. Her fingers traced gently over where he'd been kicked the night before, pleased to see that there were only a few pale yellowing bruises to show for last night's previously severe injuries.

He reached over towards her backpack, rummaging in it carefully, trying not to get things wet. He kept his back to her as she carefully removed her underwear, ducking down into the water so only her shoulder's showed above it. He placed both pieces onto the rock to dry without comment, swallowing the growl that wanted to escape when he noticed the tear down the side seam of the panties, only a hastily tied knot in the fraying waist elastic holding them together.

"There's no soap", she said resignedly as he continued his search, "I already checked."

"Wasn't lookin' for soap, I was lookin' for this", he said triumphantly, dragging out her second smaller first aid kit from a side pocket of her backpack. "Guess he didn't find this one."

"Do you know what you're doing with that?" she teased, as he plonked it on the rock next to her.

"Keh. I been watchin' you use it often enough. How hard can it be?" he grinned back. The grin faded as he looked at the bruising on her face again. He sighed, pulling a saline wipe from the packaging, then wiped it gently over her bruised cheek, and the cuts on her lip. She winced, and he couldn't help the small whine her movement of pain pulled from him, his pointed ears flattening against his hair.

"I'm so sorry Kagome", he said softly, dabbing at her lip with a gentle touch.

Kagome frowned at him. "Inuyasha", she said sternly. "Are you the one that backhanded me? Did you punch me? Was it you that treated my body with disrespect?"

His eyes flicked downwards to the bruising finger marks on the tops of her breasts, clearly visible under the water, then flicked away again, off to the side. He shook his head jerkily, ears still flattened.

"Then you don't owe me an apology", she said firmly. Her smaller hands moved to his cheeks, making sure he couldn't turn his head away from her. "You are my friend Inuyasha. I care about you, so very much." She smiled a wobbly smile. "You do a lot to look after me, protect me. And sometimes, not so very often, I look after you. I get to try and protect you. And I'm happy to. It means a lot to me that sometimes you need me too. That's the way it works, okay?" Her eyes held his. "I will not allow you to blame yourself for this. Are we clear?"

"Yeah…" She pulled his head towards her, coaxing him downwards, and placed a soft butterfly kiss on his lips, then nuzzled her nose against his. He pulled back, searching her face, her scent, for any sort of condemnation and found none. She didn't blame him. It was so like her, ready to forgive others their mistakes. But he would have a hard time forgiving himself. Not until that bastard had paid.

"Right then", she smiled softly.

He sighed, then turned his attention back to the first aid kit. He found a tube of ointment she'd often used on his injuries and rubbed it carefully onto her cheek and lip. Kagome restrained herself from telling him antiseptic cream would do little to help a bruise, knowing that he needed to do something physical to help. It couldn't hurt, and if it helped him, then where was the harm?

They lingered in the hot spring until their clothes had dried, Kagome joking that usually he would have come and told her to get her lazy human butt out of the spring by now.

He mock glared at her. "Cheeky wench. It's only because you and Sango sit in there and gossip. And there's only so long I can keep a leash on Miroku ya know."

Kagome giggled, only wincing slightly, and his heart suddenly felt lighter. He got out of the hot spring, making her giggle even more as he shook out his hair, shaking water droplets everywhere like a dog would. He silently placed a safety pin from the first aid kit on top of her torn underwear, then turned his back, shrugging on his own clothes.

As soon as Kagome gave him the all clear to turn around, he made her sit down on the flat rock near the hot spring, and cleaned her knees and wrists with saline wipes, trying to ignore the dark bruising fingerprints on her thighs. Anger churned in his gut again, but he forced it down. Kagome first. The welts on her wrists still seemed angry and red, so he applied antiseptic and a bandage to each one, kissing each wrist carefully, wishing he could do more.

"Ready to go find the others?" he asked, his voice much more gentle than his usual gruff tone.

The wide smile she gave him this time was genuine. "I'm ready."

Chapter Text

They finally caught up with the rest of their group much later in the day, on the outskirts of Kaede's village. The look of dismay on Sango's face as she took in Kagome's battered appearance, and the concern on Miroku's shook Kagome's slowly rebuilding confidence a little, but she smiled gamely, sliding off Inuyasha's back as he gently released his hold on her legs.She forced a cheerful tone into her voice.

"Glad to see you guys made it around the landslide okay!"

Shippou launched himself towards her, but he was caught mid-flight by the swift intervention of Inuyasha's clawed fingers.

"Oi! What have I said about leapin' at Kagome?!" he growled protectively, holding up Shippou by the back of his vest.

Kagome reached out her hand, trying to stop the argument before it gained traction. His mood had worsened as the day had progressed; for the last half hour he had answered any questions with an irritated grunt. She could only assume it was because they were heading away from the person he wanted to beat to a pulp rather than towards him, and she didn't think Shippou was a viable alternative.

"It's alright Inuyasha", she said softly, taking the tiny fox kit into her arms, ignoring Inuyasha's irritated huff. "Hey Shippou", she said warmly, nuzzling against his face a little, "I missed you. Did you have any trouble on the way back?" Shippou shook his head, his wide green eyes locked on Kagome's bruised cheek and swollen lip.

"Our return trip was trouble free, but it appears yours was not Lady Kagome", said Miroku in an even tone. "Are you… well? Should we hasten our return to Kaede's so you can receive treatment?"

"Oh, I'm a little knocked about, but perfectly fine", she said breezily, waving her hand at him in a placating motion. "We ran into a little trouble, but it was nothing Inuyasha and I couldn't handle. Right Inuyasha?"

All eyes were drawn to Inuyasha as he rumbled out a terrifying sub-sonic growl which raised the hairs on the back of Kagome's neck. He turned on his heel and stormed off towards the village. After a few moments hesitation, Miroku started off after him, the rings on his shakujo jangling.

"Miroku!" called out Kagome urgently. He turned to consider her suddenly anguished expression carefully. "Please don't make him feel bad about not protecting me. It was the new moon. It wasn't his fault!" He nodded, sudden understanding crossing his features, then turned to continue the slow pursuit of his friend.

"Kagome?" asked Sango gently, taking note of her friend's bandaged wrists and bruised and battered knees as well as the purpling bruises on her face. "Are you sure you're okay?"

Kagome nodded, a real smile suddenly splitting her face as Kirara bounced down Sango's arm to lick the back of her hand above the bandage, but wincing slightly as her injured lip pulled.

"Nothing a good night's sleep won't fix!" she replied in an overly bright voice, scratching Kirara behind a tiny black tipped ear and receiving a soft 'mew' in return. "I'm starving. Let's get back to the village and see if Kaede needs any help preparing dinner. I'm sure the boys will be hungry, especially Inuyasha. Right Shippou?" She tickled his tummy, an action that would usually have the tiny kitsune giggling in fits of laughter. Instead, he shared a quick concerned glance with Sango, then forced out a small chuckle in response to her wriggling fingers.

"Ha. Right Kagome."


 

Inuyasha snarled as he picked up speed. He could hear Miroku following behind, but had no desire to talk to him at the moment. He needed to go somewhere to calm down before he said or did something he would regret.

It had been so hard trying to suppress his rage while he cared for Kagome, keeping his movements soft and gentle when all he wanted to do was rip and tear, ever since he first saw the damage to her face at sunrise this morning. At first, he'd been able to push the urge away because his concern for her physical safety and emotional well being was uppermost in his mind. But once he'd seen to her hurts and comforted her, his thoughts had become fixed on bloodthirsty vengeance. He could feel his youkai half rising too close to the surface, and it frightened him; he needed to get away from all of them until he was back in control of himself.

Usually when he felt like this, being near Kagome would help, but right now her scent was the problem. When she'd climbed down from his back and he'd seen her face again, the bruises even more prominent in her pale complexion than they had been this morning, then brushed off her experience as nothing to worry about, he had nearly lost himself. She was doing that thing she did where she forced all the negative emotions down and put that fake smile on her face. And it gutted him that once again he was partially to blame. Not even keeping the scabbard of the Tessaiga clenched in his fist had calmed his rage, and he'd had to run.

That bastard had hurt Kagome. He'd punched her, molested her, sold her to a brothel. Restrained her and allowed some hag from a brothel to touch her - if they hadn't escaped and she had been… he couldn't even think the word, let alone say it, without his vision blurring red. At least it was mostly Kagome's own scent he could smell after the soak in the hot spring. The mineral laced water had washed away a good deal of the Ronin's smell, but a faint trace still lingered. That taint to her usually comforting smell, along with the faint smell of her blood, had kept him simmering with a rage that had only built as the day progressed, shredding his self-control.

Now that Kagome was safe back with the others, all he wanted to do was sprint back and tear that bastard with his claws until he was nothing more than a bloody smear on the grass. But he was worried if he went now, his demon would take control and he would raze the entire village to the ground. Innocent people would die. He would never forget the horror of that day, coming back to his senses and seeing the bloodbath that he was accountable for while under the sway of his youkai side. Never again.

There was only one place he could think of to go right now that would help.

Inuyasha began to run as fast as he could, putting the suppressed adrenaline to good use. He didn't even pause as the well came into sight but leapt straight down, feeling the feather light weight of centuries as he dropped through time. He jumped up to the top of the stairs and paused at the well house door – he didn't want to see anyone if he could help it. Didn't want questions because there was no knowing what would come out of his mouth if her family asked where Kagome was. Thankfully, no one seemed to be home.

Moving cautiously he rounded the side of the house and leapt up to Kagome's window, relieved to find that it was still ajar. Once he was inside, he squatted down on the floor next to Kagome's neatly made bed and pulled her pillow over to himself, hugging it tight and burying his nose in the sweet unsullied scent. This is what she should smell like. Sweet and warm, like the sun coming out of the clouds on a stormy day. Not frightened. Not bruised and bloodied. Just herself.

He let his mind drift as he breathed in her scent, opening his mouth and letting it wash over the back of his tongue so he could practically taste it. The scent was a little stale, because she hadn't been home for a while, but he could feel himself calming. He was still furious, but in a much more focused way, and didn't feel like he was about to snap out of control.

He lost track of how long he sat there, but the lengthening shadows in the room made him realise he should probably return and make sure Kagome was okay. Maybe he could make himself useful and bring back things she might need, seeing her backpack was broken and a lot of the clothing and other items she usually carried in it were missing.

Inuyasha ignored the schoolbooks on her desk, immediately giving that up as an impossible task, and opened the top drawer of the wooden chest, trying to think of what clothes she usually carried in her bag. She had so many clothes, more than anyone he had ever met – most people he knew had two or three outfits at the most. This drawer looked to be filled with the small clothes that she wore under her uniform skirt. He hooked one clawed finger into the soft white fabric, which seemed to be patterned with tiny butterflies. He held them up, trying to work out which way they would fit. Just a tiny scrap of cloth compared to his fundoshi. What would they look like with Kagome in them? His imagination began to work overtime, and he snorted, flushing slightly. "Keh."

"Kagome, are you home?"

Inuyasha dropped the underwear as if it had seared his skin, and pushed the drawer firmly shut. Dammit. Mama Higurashi was home, with food from the market by the crinkling sounds of those shiny bags he'd helped her carry at other times. He heard the soft sound of her footsteps as she climbed the stairs. It was too late to leap out the window without scaring her.

"Oh, Inuyasha! Hello! Did Kagome come back with you?"

Inuyasha shook his head. "No. Just me."

Mama looked at him quizzically. His ears flattened as the silence between them lengthened.

"Inuyasha? What's the matter dear?"

"I, uh…" Perhaps a half-truth would be best. "Her bag got ripped and some of her clothes and things got lost", he volunteered. "It was sorta my fault. I was gonna get some more for her."

Mama smiled at him. "That's a very kind thought Inuyasha." Her understanding smile turned into knowing grin. "And I'm guessing she's annoyed at you at the moment, and you're hoping this will help her forgive you a little faster?"

"Yeah, somethin' like that", he muttered, not meeting Mama's eyes. He didn't like lying to her. Mama Higurashi and Kaede were the only older women in his life that halfway cared about him, and while Kaede's care was well meant, it was often stern and gruff. Mama's was warm and comforting, similar to how he thought his own mother's might have felt had she lived.

Mama began opening drawers, piling an assortment of neatly folded clothes on Kagome's bed.

"I know my daughter has quite a temper Inuyasha, but she'll come around. I was similar when I was younger."

Inuyasha snorted. "Keh, I don't believe it. Nobody loses it like Kagome."

"No, it's true. In fact, I think my temper was a little worse."

Inuyasha shook his head doubtfully, and Mama smiled. "I think my late husband would beg to differ", she said a little wistfully. "You said her backpack was torn?"

"Uh, yeah", said Inuyasha gruffly, looking downwards. "The bastard probably ripped it when he was goin' through her stuff. It won't close anymore." Mama's hands stilled.

"Kagome is okay, isn't she?" Mama's usually calm voice had a quiet undertone of panic.

Inuyasha's ears lowered. Dammit. He hadn't meant to say that. Mama always being so nice to him had the side effect of him lowering his guard and making him flustered. "She's okay", he muttered, keeping his eyes firmly on the carpeted floor. "I just didn't think she'd be in the right kinda mood to come back through the well now, not with me anyway. She was pretty upset about her bag."

Mama Higurashi gave him a small relieved smile, and reached out to pat his arm. "I'm sorry. Of course she would be okay if she was with you." Inuyasha flinched and kept his head down, feeling a wave of guilt swamp him.

Mama's face suddenly brightened. "I think I have just the thing. I don't know why I didn't think of it before now!" She went into her own room across the hallway; Inuyasha could hear her moving things around. She came back carrying a large red object with straps and lots of pockets, dusting it a little with her hands. "This is my husband's hiking backpack. All his camping things are still in there, including his medical kit and sleeping bag, so we'll just add Kagome's clothes and you'll be all set. I think there's even some ramen and chips in the pantry we can top it up with."

She scooped up Kagome's clothes and deftly packed them into the bag as Inuyasha watched. Her hands were small; delicate and nimble, much like Kagome's. She stroked each item of clothing softly before placing it in the bag, as if she were somehow infusing them with a mother's love and care. Mama had the same kind and trusting nature as Kagome. She had done nothing but welcome him into her home, even though he looked like a dangerous predator, an inhuman freak. This woman trusted him to look after her precious daughter. And Kagome kept getting hurt. It didn't make sense.

Without thought, the words slipped out of his mouth. "Why are you so kind to me?"

Mama straightened in surprise. "What? Why wouldn't I be dear?"

His head dropped even further. Hands clenched by his sides; all his swirling thoughts of self-reproach combined with his repressed anger to spew out ugly words. "If not for me, Kagome'd be goin' to school every day, like you wanted. She'd be safe! She wouldn't be getting' all dirty an' scratched, an' scared!" he retorted heatedly. "She'd go be with some human boy. Someone better, someone who made her happy all the time, not a worthless half-breed mongrel." His voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. "Someone who deserved her."

Mama Higurashi put her hands on her hips. "Inuyasha! I would not allow Kagome and Souta to talk about themselves like that, and I won't let you either!" she exclaimed. "Did Kagome say those things to you?" she asked with concern. Inuyasha shook his head, eyes still downward, and Mama sighed in relief.

"Come downstairs with me. I'll make you some ramen and you can sit and eat it while I finish packing this." She picked up the bag and headed out of the room. He hesitated for a moment, then followed her down the stairs to the kitchen.

Mama put on the kettle for the hot water, and got a noodle cup out of the cupboard. "Inuyasha", she said gently, sitting down at the table and gesturing for him to sit across from her. "I can't say that I totally understand why my daughter was drawn back into the past. Sometimes it frightens me, and I worry, not only for Kagome, but for you too. But I have never once thought that anything about this whole situation is your fault." She reached across the table to pat him on the hand, and he resisted the urge to pull his hand back. If only she knew.

"Kagome hasn't told me exactly what goes on in the past, but I know there is real danger. Even though I don't know much about youkai and your quest to collect pieces of the jewel, I know enough about that era from history books to have an idea of how much bloodshed there was… I mean is, for you. And I know you protect her, along with your other friends. She may not have told me in so many words, but I only have to see the way she looks at you to know how much she trusts and cares for you, how much she values your friendship."

She looked out the window, towards the well house. "There are larger things at work here; fate has tied you and my daughter together to achieve some purpose, and there is no point fighting it. Sometimes things happen that are dangerous and difficult. All we can do when faced with those odds is examine our heart and reach for our courage, and then do the best we can."

The kettle whistled, and she got up to pour the hot water on the noodles, then pushed them across the table to Inuyasha with a pair of chopsticks. "Eat, while I finish doing this."

Mama's words pushed their way around Inuyasha's thoughts. 'Yeah, but what if the best I can do ain't good enough?' he thought morosely, slurping noodles and watching as Mama packed instant ramen and potato chips in the top of the bag. He swallowed, suddenly remembering something.

"Do ya think you could put soap in there too?" he asked. "And the hair stuff? Kagome's not real happy when she can't get clean."

That remark earned him another warm smile from Mama. "Of course. I'll just go get some from the bathroom." When she'd returned, Inuyasha had finished his ramen, and was standing near the door looking out towards the well house. She placed the toiletries in the top of the backpack and closed it.

"Time to go back?" she asked cheerfully.

"Yeah. Thanks for the ramen, and the bag", he said, lifting it onto his shoulders. He shifted nervously from one foot to the other, ears lowered, and his eyes flicking to Mama's face and away again as if wanting to say something more. Finally he dropped his gaze and bolted out the door.

Mama watched as a faint glow appeared from the open well house door, signalling Inuyasha's departure into the past. She dropped into a chair, like a puppet with its strings cut, her stomach churning with anxiety. She had never seen Inuyasha so upset – usually he was all bluff and bluster. Something bad had obviously happened. If Kagome was unhappy with Inuyasha, which was often the case to be honest, it was usually her that came through the well to stew about things, leaving Inuyasha in the past. Inuyasha had never come by himself before, unless it was to get Kagome. And he'd let slip that a man had been going through Kagome's things, and had destroyed her bag. Thoughts whirled through her head, each more frightening than the last.

"Mama, I'm home!"

Mama pushed down her worry and fixed a warm smile on her face as Souta walked in the back door, ready to welcome him home from school. She could only hope that Kagome would confide in her the next time she came home. She would be waiting and praying for her safe return, as she always did.


 

Inuyasha leaped out of the well, unsurprised to see Miroku's seated form waiting against the wooden surrounds.

"You have been gone for some time my friend", said Miroku, using his staff to push himself to his feet. "I was beginning to think you were staying in Kagome's time for dinner."

"Needed to get stuff for Kagome", said Inuyasha gruffly, jerking his head towards the backpack on his back and striding off towards the village.

"I see", said Miroku evenly, hurrying after him. "So, has punishment already been dealt to the one responsible for Kagome's injuries? If not, I would like to offer my assistance."

Inuyasha growled. "He's not a demon, monk. He's human." He breathed deeply, trying to hang on to the self-control he'd just managed to claw back. "But he won't be alive for much longer. He's not gonna get the chance to do what he did to Kagome to anyone else."

Miroku's stride faltered. "He didn't…"

"He laid his filthy hands on her, but he didn't… no one did what you're thinkin' of, but he woulda. He told her he was going to. I was right there, Miroku, and I was fuckin' useless… tied up as a pathetic beaten up human and havin' to listen to that filth threaten her and put his hands where no one should unless she wants 'em to!"

Inuyasha panted, pausing for a moment to grip Tessaiga tightly in his fist again. He couldn't lose control. He needed to stay calm. A low rumbling growl leaked past his teeth. "Fuck knows how many other girls he's done it to. Kagome found out he's got control of the surrounding villages; some sorta protection racket. He needs to be put down Miroku. And I'm gonna enjoy doin' it."

Miroku stood next to him silently. It hadn't escaped his notice that Inuyasha had been close to losing control of his demon previously, and that he was still having difficulty – the surge in his youki before he ran was impossible to miss, and he could still feel rising ripples every time Inuyasha almost lost his temper. Miroku was pretty sure Inuyasha hadn't told him everything, but no matter. Whatever had happened had obviously been bad and had affected both of them – Inuyasha usually pulled his punches where humans were involved.

But Miroku had been around long enough to know that the country was crawling with thieves and bandits who had abandoned all sense of humanity, preying on the weak and defenceless while those in positions of power turned a blind eye.

"I would still like to accompany you", he said in a calm tone. "It would be good for you to have someone to watch your back, in case he has armed supporters."

Inuyasha growled savagely. "Fine; we'll leave first thing in the morning. But I'm not changin' my mind about killin' him. He's already dead, he just don't know it yet."

Miroku imagined Sango being put through something similar to what Kagome had been, in a position where her attacks would be ineffective and without the strength to defend herself, alone and frightened, and hot anger simmered in his veins. Some humans were just beyond saving; time to send him back on the wheel to his next life. He reached out and squeezed Inuyasha's shoulder firmly.

"I wouldn't expect you to, my friend, I wouldn't expect you to."

He half expected Inuyasha to reject his attempt to show solidarity, but was surprised and pleased when Inuyasha's hand settled on his briefly before he pulled away and moved forward again, his youki a little calmer than it had been.


 

Kagome stirred the stew pot, a bright smile plastered on her face. She could feel Sango's concerned eyes on her, but she couldn't stop her mind racing and her worries building. Inuyasha had been so angry! And his youki had been building all day after they left the hot spring. She'd been able to feel it, but hadn't been sure how to help him – he'd pushed away her questions in a voice that she knew brooked no argument.

What if he'd gone back to fight the ronin alone? She knew that he would beat him easily – a human was no match for Inuyasha when he was in possession of his usual hanyou strength, but she was worried more about his mental state. If he couldn't keep his emotions in check and went too far, he would hate himself. It had taken him months to get over that confrontation with Gatenmaru where he'd lost control of himself and slain the bandits in his full youkai form.

"Kagome, will you be alright if I leave you alone for a moment?" asked Sango quietly. "That stew is nearly ready, so I should probably go find Shippo and the others." Shippo had gone off to play with the village children, no doubt troubled by the tense atmosphere inside the hut. Kaede was still delivering a long awaited baby on the other side of the village, and they hadn't seen Inuyasha or Miroku since they'd returned.

"Sure Sango", Kagome replied brightly, knowing she probably wasn't fooling Sango in the slightest, but continuing with the smiling mask anyway.

As soon as Sango left the hut, Kagome's smile instantly dropped away from her face, and she sighed, her worries tying her stomach up in knots. Knowing Inuyasha, he would be blaming himself, no matter what she'd said to him earlier today. He took his role as a protector so seriously – it was part of him, linked to his inuyoukai heritage maybe. No wonder he'd run away from her. He probably couldn't stand to look at her at the moment.

Her bottom lip trembled, and she sucked it into her mouth to hide the tell-tale quiver, wincing as her tongue instinctively probed the cuts. She wished she'd been strong enough to prevent the injuries to her face at least, so Inuyasha wouldn't have seen them. But her defensive skills as a miko were useless against a human, apart from her bow, and that ronin had overpowered her pretty quickly once he'd knocked Inuyasha out.

She tried not to, but her thoughts slipped back to those moments of pure terror when she and Inuyasha had been ambushed. They'd been walking past a small village at a quick pace, trying to hurry. Inuyasha had guessed that there was under an hour until sunset, but they'd hoped to find the others soon, now that they were around the landslide, and head back to Kaede's village together.

She'd been humming, enjoying the breeze through the trees after their hot sweaty climb through the uneven rubble at the base of the landslide. Inuyasha was half a step behind her. He'd wanted to carry her on his back, but she knew he got tired more easily when the night of the new moon was approaching, even though he'd never admit it. It would be good if they could find the others before sunset, but she was sure they'd be fine if they didn't. Inuyasha put so much emphasis on saying he was a 'weak human' when in reality he was athletic and wiry, much stronger than herself. Silly boy.

She heard a twig crack behind them, and as she turned, she saw a man leap out of the cover of the trees, the butt of his sword connecting with Inuyasha's temple with a loud thud. He groaned, staggering a little, and the man hit him again. His eyes rolled back in his head as he slumped to the ground, blood trickling from wound at his temple, staining his white hair. Kagome had nocked an arrow in moments, ready to fight. But the man was too quick for her, grabbing her wrist and dragging her off balance to punch her in the face so hard that her vision blurred. She dropped to her knees, fighting to stay conscious.

She was being dragged, strong fingers digging into her upper arm. The dappled grass of the forest was now a rough dirt path, and she could feel the stones and dirt grazing her knees. Inuyasha was being dragged too. How strong was this man to drag both of them as if they were nothing? At least Inuyasha's legs would be protected from the rough stones by his hakama. It was hard to see anything at this angle; her vision was still blurred, her eye was throbbing and her cheek felt huge and hot.

Inuyasha was still unconscious. It must be nearly sunset, usually he'd be able to shrug off a blow like that long before now. What should she do? She had no idea what was going on. No idea what this man wanted with them. There were village huts around them now, and people.

"Please…", she called out weakly, "where are you taking us? We've done nothing wrong." She caught the eye of a woman with a small child, standing outside a hut. "Please help us!" The woman's terrified gaze flicked to the man dragging them, and she quickly moved back inside her house behind the door screen.

Other doors and windows closed as they were dragged down the dirt road. Everyone in the village was obviously afraid of this man for some reason, and unwilling to risk themselves for two strangers. That, more than anything, helped her to stay awake, terrified at what might happen if they were both totally out of it. It looked like she was on her own until Inuyasha regained consciousness. She would have to do her best for them to try and find a way out of this.

They came to a stop at what seemed to be an inn, fairly prosperous by the looks of the furnishings. A man appeared in the doorway, bowing low at the man that held them captive.

"Fetch Aguri", the man holding them had growled to the innkeeper, his fingers digging harder into her arm, making her whimper. "I found something she may have an interest in."

He hauled her up by her arm, dragging her to her feet and leered at her as she staggered upright; she'd got her first good look at his face. Strong jaw, dark eyes, unpleasant expression. There was a jagged scar near his scalp, pale and white, so he must have received it some time ago. His hair was pulled back from his face like most men of this time period. He stank of stale sweat and sake and she did her best to lean away from him as he jerked on her arm.

"You'll do Pretty, I should get a good price for you." Before she could react, he'd hauled her forward again, forcing her to follow him down the narrow hallways as she struggled, unable to pull away when she was kept continually off balance. He'd thrown them both into that storeroom, then loomed over her, trapping her hands behind her and reaching for a rope.

"You won't get away with this!" she'd yelled angrily, doing her best to slow him down, trying to look past him to see Inuyasha. She was worried that he hadn't made any sound when he'd hit the floor. "I'll scream the place down, and someone will come running!"

He laughed menacingly, one hand around her wrists, the other holding her face, fingers digging into the soft skin of her jaw. "I own this town and all the villages surrounding it. I say jump, and they stand in line to do it. There's no one within half a day's walk that would dare to cross me little girl, so you can kiss any plans of escaping goodbye. Now that you're here, I own you too. I've heard of you and your pet youkai - there's no way I going to let you spoil all my hard work. I make an easy living parting people from their money for the boon of my protection, and it's going to stay that way. "

Damn. That explained why the villagers had looked so frightened. He probably had men that would beat people up or kill them if they tried to go against him. So she'd decided to play the weak girl, allowing tears to roll down her cheek as he tied her hands behind her back, telling her in detail all the things he was going to do when he got the chance, while her mind had worked frantically, trying to think of any trick that would get both her and Inuyasha safely away. There was a clear run to the forest, if only they could get out the window.

And then Inuyasha had moaned. She remembered she'd felt overjoyed that his head injury wasn't as bad as she'd feared. He'd been so still up until now. Perhaps the two of them could overpower this man and get away. But then she'd watched in horror as the man had abandoned looping the rope around her ankles, and instead stripped Inuyasha as he struggled to regain consciousness and tied him up, placing the ofuda on his naked chest.

The sun had finally disappeared moments later and so had Inuyasha's hanyou features, leaving him as a comparatively much more fragile human, and their position had instantly seemed even more precarious. The man had crowed in triumph, beating Inuyasha savagely, ignoring her screams to leave him alone. He'd only stopped when that woman arrived. Aguri he'd called her. And then…

Her eyes filled with tears and she blinked them away furiously. No crying! She didn't want to make him feel worse when he returned.

The door covering twitched, and Kagome turned, hitching the fake smile back in place. Inuyasha hovered in the doorway, shadowed by Miroku, and Kagome leaped to her feet.

"Inuyasha! You've been gone so long; I was worried that you'd gone to…"

He kept his distance, dropping a hiking backpack on the floor of the hut near the door, and sitting down beside it to lean against the wall.

"Not yet", he said gruffly. "I just thought you'd like some clean clothes. And some soap and hair stuff so you could have a proper wash."

Her heart twisted as Inuyasha continued to keep his distance, his eyes lowered to the floor. He still wasn't looking at her. And then she realised he was holding his breath, trying not to breath in her scent. Even after washing in the spring she must still smell like… The penny dropped, hard.

She hiccuped a small sob, then swallowed the next, smiling, still smiling, anything rather than weeping in front of him.

"I… I'll just go to the river before dinner and wash up then. Can you two keep an eye on the stew and make sure it doesn't burn? Sango will be back with Shippo any minute."

She grabbed the large backpack resting near the doorway, avoiding Inuyasha's outstretched hand. She ignored his repeated calls for her to come back and hoisted the bag on her back as she ran towards the river, stumbling a little at the extra weight, finding it difficult to see straight as hot tears flooded her vision.

Chapter Text

Sango began her walk back to Kaede’s hut with a sigh. Shippou was saying goodbye to his friends and would then be on his way back for dinner, but she hadn’t been able to find Inuyasha or Miroku at all. She could tell Kagome was worried about Inuyasha’s absence; she had been jumpy and anxious all afternoon, so whatever had happened last night had really upset her. Maybe she could try to coax whatever happened out of Kagome this evening, after everyone had eaten. 


She rounded the corner of the path that led to Kaede’s only to have Kagome nearly knock into her as she ran past.

 
“Kagome? Kagome!”


Kagome kept going, head down as she sprinted towards the river, and Sango lost sight of her as the twisting dirt path took Kagome in behind the trees and out of her sight. Before Sango could even turn to follow, Inuyasha barreled into her, grabbing her arm to stop her being knocked to the ground. 


His nose twitched frantically. “Sango, did Kagome go this way?” His head was already turned in the direction she’d taken. 


“Yes, it looks like she’s headed to the river.” Sango narrowed her eyes at him, then poked him in the chest with a stiff forefinger. “What did you do, baka?! She looked really upset!”


Inuyasha huffed angrily, ignoring her question. He had already turned to continue his chase after Kagome, but then he stopped, turning slowly back to her. Sango was taken aback at his suddenly serious expression. 


“Sango, you’re a woman.”


“Your powers of observation grow stronger everyday Inuyasha”, Sango said dryly. 


He growled angrily. “Shut up! I mean… Kagome, she’s upset about… and I don’t… she just might need to talk to a woman Sango, after what happened last night”, stuttered Inuyasha. He was avoiding her gaze, eyes and ears lowered. 


“Oh no!” Sango’s hand reached up to cover her mouth in horror.


His voice was almost a whisper. “I went back to her mother’s house to get her new clothes and soap to wash with, because I thought it might make her feel better, and get rid of…”, his fist clenched around the hilt of his Tessaiga and his jaw bunched. He let out a deep breath. “Anyway, it made her upset. I thought I was bein’ helpful, but I made her cry. That’s the last thing I wanted.”


“I’ll go” she breathed. No wonder Kagome was so anxious and upset. No wonder Inuyasha was beside himself. She hesitantly reached out a hand and placed it gently on his forearm. “Inuyasha, I need you to tell me. Was Kagome raped?”


She ignored his deep low growl and gnashing teeth, and waited patiently for his answer. If she was going to comfort her friend, she needed as much information as possible so she didn’t say the wrong thing. She would not walk into this blind.


“She says no”, he ground out after a few moments. “But that fuckin’ bastard touched her. I can still smell him, even after takin’ her to a hot spring this morning after we got away. And she said there was a woman too, a brothel owner.” His ears flicked toward the river. “Sango, go! She’s… she’s cryin’.”


“It will be okay, Inuyasha”, Sango said softly, her heart twisting a little at the broken look on Inuyasha’s face. “We’ll help her through this.” And she took off at a run towards the river, unheeding of the white and red shadow following close behind.


The scene below her nearly broke her heart. Kagome was sobbing, crouched naked in the water where the river ran deep enough to cover her thighs. Her hands were frantically scrubbing at herself with the soap, her usually pale skin reddened by the cold river and the friction of her fingers. 


Sango slid down the embankment, kicking off her zori before wading out into the water.


“Kagome, stop! It’s okay”, she called out, trying to keep her voice calm.


Kagome kept scrubbing. “No, you don’t understand!” she sobbed. “Inuyasha, he could still smell him. I could tell. He wouldn’t come near me. He won’t come near me until the smell is gone. What if I can’t get rid of it Sango? I don’t think I could bear it if he kept away.”


Sango’s hands reached out to gently grab Kagome’s shaking hands and keep them still. She averted her eyes from the livid fingerprint sized bruising on Kagome’s breasts, and kept her eyes on her face. “I don’t think there’s anything alive or dead that would keep Inuyasha away from you Kagome.”


“You didn’t see!” Kagome moaned. “You didn’t see the way he wouldn’t look at me. He was holding his breath Sango, like he couldn’t stand to smell me.”


She slumped into the water, her shoulders shaking as Sango cradled her wet body against hers. “There was a man last night. He knocked Inuyasha out, and dragged us both back to his village. I tried so hard to fight that man off Sango, but I’m not as strong as you are. And then he was hurting Inuyasha. He was beating him up while he was unconscious, while he was human. I was so frightened for him, I thought the man was going to kill him. I would have done anything to keep him safe, even let him… but I didn’t want that. I didn’t want it.”


Sango drew in a deep breath. She knew reacting to the stranger’s unwanted scent on Kagome’s body wasn’t entirely Inuyasha’s fault, but he was such a baka to let her see his revulsion when she didn’t understand! She stroked Kagome’s damp tangled hair. 


“It’s going to be okay Kagome. Will you let me wash your hair for you?” Kagome had washed Sango’s hair for her on occasion with her modern soap in a bottle, and Sango had found the experience very relaxing. She hoped it would help Kagome calm down before they talked about what had happened.


Kagome nodded, hiccuping back her tears, and Sango retrieved the bottles from the red backpack on the bank of the river. Resting the bottles on a handy rock close by to where Kagome was still slumped in the river, Sango poured a palmful of the sweet smelling soap into her hand, smiling at Kagome’s gentle sigh when her fingers stroked against her scalp, working the slippery shampoo into a lather.
Kagome seemed calmer now the frantic scrubbing with the bar of soap had stopped, and her previous sobs were now sniffs and broken sighs. Sango knew Inuyasha had to be somewhere close, to keep a watch on Kagome. There was no way that he would leave Kagome unprotected after what had happened, especially not when he’d heard her crying. 


As she massaged the shampoo into Kagome’s long dark locks, she thought about Kagome and Inuyasha’s interactions over the last few months. It was very clear to both her and Miroku that there were strong feelings between the pair. They’d both been keeping an eye on things, ready to tease a little on occasion, but also ready and willing to encourage the growing attraction between their friends. 


They’d both noticed the words of praise, the deliberate touches and shared blushes. Sango had even seen Kagome tweak his ears once or twice and she’d had to stifle her giggles at the sudden redness of Inuyasha’s cheeks. And despite his verbal complaints, it was amusing to watch Inuyasha bend over backwards to make sure Kagome’s every need was met. Not to mention the way that he carried her around to ensure that his scent was covering both her and her backpack completely. And who could forget his aggressiveness towards Kouga anytime he put his hands on Kagome. 


Sango nodded to herself. She needed to clear this misunderstanding up for them. It wasn’t Kagome’s fault she had no knowledge about youkai, and it wasn’t entirely Inuyasha’s either. It was pretty clear the big baka didn’t know what was going on himself, which was no surprise considering his isolation from other youkai as a young child.


“Hey Kagome, has Inuyasha ever explained anything to you about how youkai use scent?” she asked gently as she massaged the last bits of shampoo into her hair.


Kagome sniffed. “Uh, no, not really. I mean I know he has an excellent sense of smell, and he uses it for tracking. It’s saved all of us at one time or another. It’s pretty amazing how he can do that.”


Sango grinned despite her current empathy for Kagome’s situation, her fingers coaxing Kagome to lean back and dip her hair into the water so she could rinse the shampoo. She’d just heard a rustle in the branches close by, and she was pretty sure the slight movement had been caused by a puffed up inuhanyou reacting to the praise of his intended. Time for big sister Sango to push these two pining lovebirds a little closer together and help ease the hurt over what she was sure was a misunderstanding.


“That is true, Inuyasha is an excellent tracker. But I was talking about scent marking.”


Kagome stiffened. “Like dogs do when they pee on things? Sango, surely you’re not suggesting that…”


Sango couldn’t hold back the cackle of laughter that escaped. “No, no, not like that!” She reached for the conditioner and began gently combing it through Kagome’s hair with her fingers, being sure to ease out any tangles. “My father taught us that everyone, both human and youkai, has a signature scent. A base scent which alters slightly based on emotions and health. We humans don’t use our sense of smell like that, but to a youkai, this personal scent is vital. Any possessions of importance will always be covered in their scent, to signify ownership to other youkai, but it goes further than that. If a youkai found someone that they considered as a potential mate, someone they cared for very much, then they would want them to wear their scent too, at every opportunity.” Sango’s voice took on a slightly teasing tone. “Why, they might even go so far as to carry them around to ensure that person were covered in it.”


Kagome stiffened under Sango’s gentle touch, and a sudden rustling of leaves, followed by a thud and a grunt came from the trees behind them. Sango’s mouth twisted in her effort to contain a sudden burst of laughter, and she continued talking as if she had noticed neither the noise or Kagome’s tension. 


“And it works both ways – that person’s scent would be important to them also. It would help to calm them if they were upset or angry. Even if they were at the point of losing control, their intended’s scent could bring them back. And helping their loved one wash away the scent of pain, upset, or injury is the role of a mate - it creates a loving bond between them to be only covered in the scent of the other.”


“Do… all youkai… do this?” asked Kagome hesitantly.


“As far as I know”, said Sango. “It would be something that would be taught at a young age, I think - learning the combined scent of their parents as the ‘family’ smell of safety. But also, I’m pretty sure it would be instinctive - even if a youkai had never been taught about scent marking as a child, they would still want their intended to be covered in their scent.”


“What if… that person smelt like someone else. Would it make them angry?” 


Kagome’s voice was shaky, and Sango made her answer very clear, leaning forward to wrap her arms around Kagome’s shoulders. 


“I am certain that their anger would only be directed at the person who had wronged their loved one, not their intended themselves. Their only wish would be to help them, to get rid of the scent of fear and upset, to make them feel loved. And they would want their loved one’s scent free of the other person’s scent to derive comfort from them, because they would also be upset.”


She coaxed Kagome back to rinse the conditioner from her hair. “Let’s get you dry and into some clean clothes. If you feel ready to talk about what happened, I’m happy to listen, always.”


Kagome pulled on clean underwear, and a soft pair of pants and a shirt that Sango recognised as one she often wore to bed. She sat behind her, drying Kagome’s hair with a towel as Kagome told her everything that had happened the previous night, and then right up until she’d run out of Kaede’s hut. Sango was quiet for a moment. 


“Kagome, I’m so sorry for what happened. But you should also be very proud. You did everything you could; you knew you didn’t have the physical strength to fight back, so you used your mind.” Sango’s voice grew very stern and clipped. “It sounds like this man has done this more than once, and will keep preying on those weaker than himself. I know that Inuyasha will want to go back to avenge you, and to tell you the truth, this man deserves everything that’s coming to him.”


Kagome sighed. “I know he deserves to be punished, but Inuyasha going to kill him just because of revenge doesn’t sit right with me”, she said softly. “I know I won’t be able to talk him out of it either - the only reason he didn’t go back right away was because he wanted to take care of me. I wish I was stronger. Sometimes I feel like he must be so tired of looking out for me. He was so angry, Sango.”

Kagome’s eyes filled with tears, which slowly spilled down her cheeks, and she briskly scrubbed them away with the heel of her hand.


“Kagome, Inuyasha isn’t mad at you”, she said softly, braiding Kagome’s damp hair in a long loose plait down her back. “He’s probably feeling very guilty about not being able to protect you, and afraid of losing control - even I could feel his youki flaring this afternoon when we first saw you. I’m just guessing, but I think he has a lot of instincts he doesn’t quite understand, because he had no one to teach him, apart from Myoga. Inuyoukai are very protective by nature.”


“You really don’t think he’s angry at me?”


“No.” Sango helped Kagome to her feet. “He got the clothes for you, and the bathing things, because he thought you might want them. Yes, he was being a baka about the scent, but I think you should forgive him, because he didn’t mean it the way you thought he did. He just wanted to make you feel better, that’s all.”


Kagome’s bottom lip quivered. “And I ran away.”


“You ran away, but I’m sure he understands Kagome.”

A rustling in the bushes nearby had them both turning their heads. Inuyasha slowly stepped out from the shadows, his eyes averted from both of them. 


“Oh good!”, smiled Sango. “Inuyasha can walk you back Kagome. I’ll go on ahead and make sure there’s still stew left for the two of you. Shippou seems to be going through a growth spurt at the moment - he’s getting too greedy for his own good.” 


She brushed past Inuyasha, whispering “be gentle” to him as she walked back towards the village. She had done the best she could for them. Now they needed to sort the rest out for themselves.

Kagome gave a slight involuntary shiver. She wasn’t sure if it was a reaction to the cool breeze drifting across her chilled skin, or the determined gaze now directed at her from Inuyasha. 

“I didn’t mean to run” said Kagome in a small voice. “I just… you were so angry earlier today, and I could tell you were holding your breath at Kaede’s.” She shifted her feet anxiously, unsure whether she should move closer to him or not. “Inuyasha, I’m…”, she began, but he held up his hand and she faltered into silence. 

“You don't have ta say sorry Kagome. That was all my fault. I didn’t really think things through - and I’m sorry you thought that I didn’t wanna be near you. Never doubt that.” His voice lowered as heat flushed his cheeks. “The moment you’re outta my sight, I want you back.” His fists clenched at his sides momentarily, then released. “Like Sango, said, I’m angry, but not at you. And”, he turned his head aside, his ears lowering, “I can’t blame you for runnin’ away, when I did the same before”, he said shamefacedly. 

Hesitantly she reached out her hand, wanting to be close to him, but still unsure. “Do I smell okay now?” A small squeak left her lips as he pulled her towards him, bringing his nose into her still damp hair. She sighed in relief as he entwined their fingers and tucked her head under his chin, a rough rumble echoed through his chest. Kagome burrowed her face into his fire rat, nuzzling her uninjured cheek against the rough nap of the tanned fur and wrapping her arms tight around him, trying to get as close as possible. The backs of her eyes burned, and she swallowed a small sob, followed by a soft giggle.

“I didn’t know about the scenting thing”, she said, her voice muffled. “I guess now I know why you always wanted to carry me after I bathed in the hot springs, huh?”

The grumbling rumble intensified, and she dared to take a quick peek up at Inuyasha’s face. His cheeks were still pink, but he was looking down at her. 

“How do ya know it wasn’t me recognising how lazy you can be wench?” he said with a smirk. Kagome swatted him on the chest, then rubbed her cheek against him. 

“Jerk.”

He dropped his cheek to rub against her damp hair, breathing in deeply to let her clean scent comfort him, and then let out a ragged sigh.

 “That makes two of us that didn’t know about the scenting thing wench.” He chuckled ruefully. “I’m fuckin’ useless Kagome. Don’t know how to be a human, don’t know how to follow youkai instincts. No wonder I never fit in anywhere.” He couldn’t prevent the surprised yelp escaping as Kagome poked her finger hard into his ribs. 

“Oi! Quit it!” he grumbled. He looked down at her upturned face. Her previously hesitant expression had been replaced with anger.

You quit it! I don’t want to hear you talk about yourself that way! Of course you don’t understand when you didn’t have anyone to teach you Inuyasha!”

“Kagome…”

“I don’t care that you don’t know about your youkai instincts. I’ve never…” she took a deep breath to steady herself and then continued, “I’ve never been in love with anyone before, and I have no idea about what I’m doing either!” Her expression softened, and she reached up to smooth her hands over his cheeks, twining her fingers in the long silver locks that covered where his human ears would be. “But I do know this - you want to look after me and I want to look after you - we will figure all this out together, okay?” She tugged on his forelocks, bringing his face down to hers, then placed a gentle kiss on his lips. She pulled back enough to smile shyly at him.
“Thank you for getting me the clothes and everything; I do really appreciate it. I feel much better.”

“I gonna make him pay Kagome, I swear it”, Inuyasha growled. He nuzzled his nose downwards, until it was resting in the soft curve where her neck met her shoulder, and breathed in deeply, letting her untainted scent wash over him. Kagome pulled away a little. 

“Okay, we definitely need to discuss that”, she said firmly. Inuyasha glared at her.

“There’s nothin’ you can say that’s gonna change my mind Kagome. Miroku and I are leavin’ at first light tomorrow.”

“Alright, but I’m coming with you, and so is Sango.”

“Bullshit you are!” He jerked backwards from her, but Kagome grabbed onto his kosode, keeping him close.

“Is it true what Sango said? That my scent can help you?” Inuyasha snorted, but the fact that he didn’t verbally dismiss her comment made her believe that it was true. “So, I’m coming with you. There’s no way I’m letting you go back there alone. I would be worried about you the whole time. And I know you can defeat him easily, but we both know that’s not what I’m worried about. Besides, this isn’t totally about you, you know. Yes, something bad happened to me, but that doesn’t mean I need you to fix it.”

Inuyasha looked at her incredulously. “You’re protecting him?!”

“NO!” she yelled. Inuyasha could scent her anger rising. “What is it about men when women are raped or molested that makes them think them throwing a few punches is going to fix everything and make it better? It happened to ME Inuyasha, not you! You killing him is not going to make it like it never happened. The reason we’re going back there should be that we want to help the people left in the village that he’s still hurting, not because you have some ego driven need to avenge me!”

“But…” She watched him clench his jaw, trying to hold back his temper, then release his anger with a snarl. “Kagome, he HURT you! How can I live with the fact that he almost… did THAT to you and let him walk around unpunished?!”

“I didn’t say unpunished”, she replied quietly, rubbing her hands soothingly across his shoulders. “We capture him, capture his men, let the village elders decide what should be done to him.” She reached up to softly stroke his cheek. “You’re not a murderer Inuyasha. You’re my protector. You’ve killed before, but only in defense, to save yourself or others weaker than you. Let others judge him for his crimes. I’m sure he’ll get what he deserves.”

“I can’t promise anythin’ Kagome”, Inuyasha snarled. “If he moves to touch you again, there’s nothin’ that will save him.”

Kagome sighed. “I guess that’s as good as I’m gonna get, huh?” She stood on tiptoe to wind her fingers around the back of his neck, trying to massage away the tension she felt there, and that contented rumbling in his chest started up again, making her giggle. “We should probably walk back before it gets too late if we’re leaving first thing in the morning.”

Inuyasha stroked a clawed finger gently across the bruising on her face, frowning at the cuts on her lip. “Before we go back, can I..?” He grunted then shook his head. “Never mind.”

“What were you going to say?”

“It was somethin’ Myoga told me when I was a pup, somethin’ my father could do, an somethin’ that works on me. But I’ve never tried it on anyone else, and I dunno if it would work. It’s probably stupid.”

Kagome smiled at him. “Well, after an explanation like that, you’ve got to tell me now.”

Inuyasha stroked her lip softly, his eyebrows furrowed in concentration. “Okay. Gimme your hand.” 

He reached up behind his neck to clasp one of her smaller hands in his, then carefully unwound the bandage that he’d wrapped it in earlier in the day. The skin on Kagome’s wrist was still bright red, scabbing in a few spots where the blisters from the rope burn had popped. She hissed a little; some of the damaged skin had caught on the weave of the bandage as Inuyasha removed it. He brought her wrist up to his mouth and kissed it tenderly, and then she felt the wet stroke of his tongue against her skin. His eyes closed in concentration as he lapped at the reddened skin, slowly dragging his tongue over her tender flesh. He glanced up at Kagome mid-lick as she made a small noise.

“You okay? Am I hurting you?”

“No?!” she squeaked. Inuyasha sniffed the air suspiciously, then the corners of his mouth turned up in a knowing grin, which widened as the blush intensified on Kagome’s cheeks. He looked down at the wrist he’d just tended to - the scabs remained, but much of the redness was gone.

“Other hand, Kagome”, he rumbled, his voice taking on a darker timbre. A deeper flush spread across Kagome’s face and neck as she thrust out her other wrist. He unwound the bandage slowly, then bent his head, this time keeping his eyes focused on hers. Kagome swallowed, then bit her bottom lip as he laved her wrist slowly and carefully with his tongue, a soft rumbling purr echoing from his chest. He continued until the redness was gone, leaving only a few scabs and pale glistening skin.

“I wish I could fix the cuts on your lip and the bruises, but it don’t really work like that”, he sighed, dropping another kiss to her wrist. “It just sort of helps healing get started; stops it swelling and gettin’ infected.”

Kagome ran her fingers over her wrist; all the stinging soreness was gone. “That’s amazing! Why haven’t I ever seen you do this before?” Inuyasha rolled his eyes.

“It’s not like I do it when anyone’s lookin’!” he huffed. “And don’t be gettin’ any ideas that I’ll be doin’ it for anyone else either, okay. Only for you! No way am I puttin’ my mouth anywhere near Sango, or that stupid monk”, he muttered.

“Fair enough”, Kagome smiled. “Thank you for doing it for me though - my wrists do feel a lot better.” She stood on tiptoe to brush a soft kiss over his lips. 

Inuyasha stroked her injured cheek softly, his expression suddenly serious. “I told ya before Kagome, that I’d protect you with my life. I’d die to keep you safe and whole.”

Kagome huffed out a heavy sigh. “Yeah, about that. I've decided I don’t like that idea much.” She giggled at the sudden consternation on Inuyasha’s face, taking pity on him instantly. “How about this. I don’t want you to die for me. I want you to promise to live for me instead.” She moved her lips to kiss the palm that cupped her cheek, then smiled up at him. “Time to go back?”

Inuyasha nodded. “We good now?” He reached out his hand and entwined their fingers, pausing momentarily to pick up the backpack.

Kagome butted her head softly against his shoulder, then followed his lead back to Kaede’s, swinging their clasped hands between them as they walked through the gathering shadows of twilight. “Yeah, Inuyasha, we’re good.”

Chapter Text

“But I wanna go too!” Shippou whined, rubbing his eyes tiredly as they stood in the cool morning air in front of Kaede’s hut. “I promise I won’t get in the way!”

The sun had just peeked over the horizon, making Shippou’s fluffy hair appear even more flame coloured than usual. Kagome bent down to pick him up and squeezed him tight, ruffling his fringe affectionately.

“Not this time Shippou. We should be back tomorrow at the latest.”

It had been Inuyasha’s decision that the kit stay behind, and Kagome agreed with it, but not for entirely the same reasons. Inuyasha was just concerned that Shippou might get himself into trouble, and he would be one more thing to worry about when they were heading into an uncertain situation. Kagome just didn’t want him to know the whole story of how she’d been injured.

Sango knew what had happened, and she was pretty sure that Miroku had some idea, based on his concerned glances towards her whenever he thought she wasn’t looking, and the way he had completely dialed back his usual flirty manner with both herself and Sango. But Shippou didn’t. She knew he was a lot more worldly than a human eight year old, but she didn’t want to see the look in his eyes if either the ronin or that woman said something. She just couldn’t bear it.

“Everything’s gonna be okay, right Kagome?”said Shippou in a small voice, nuzzling into her hand. She hoisted a smile onto her face, not wanting him to worry in their absence.

“I’m sure it will be Shippou”, she soothed, quick to reassure him, squeezing him in a hug which was just as much for her as it was for him. “Do you know what would be really helpful? We’ll probably be really hungry when we get back, and I know you’ve been practicing your hunting skills with the village boys. Do you think you could catch some fish or rabbits for a stew to help out Kaede?”

He stared at her uncertainly for a moment, then nodded.

“Sure, I can do that.”

Kagome glanced at Kaede, and the old miko nodded, confirming that she would do her best to keep the kit out of trouble.

“Travel safely, all of ye”, Kaede said, looking warmly at them. Kirara jumped down from Sango’s shoulder and transformed into her larger nekomata form, allowing Sango and Miroku to climb onto her back. Kagome took a deep cleansing breath of the crisp morning air, then climbed onto Inuyasha’s back as he bent down a little.

“Alright, I’m ready as I’ll ever be. Let’s go.”


 

The sun was well above the horizon when they began to approach the forest not far from their destination. The mist had all burnt away an hour or so ago, although the air was still chilled. Miroku and Sango flew above on Kirara and Kagome snuggled in tightly on Inuyasha’s back, thankful for his warmth. She yawned, wishing she’d managed to get more sleep. She’d been too keyed up to doze off, her mind racing. So much to think about. And not only about their mission. About her and Inuyasha.

She replayed their conversation at the hot spring over and over in her head. She’d told him she loved him. And even though he didn’t say the words back, everything in his expression, his body language, his tenderness told her he felt the same. In the months since Kikyou’s passing, he’d begun to return those little touches and looks in response to her own, as if he were now free to do so. Words had always seemed to trip Inuyasha up, but when you paid attention to what he wasn’t saying, he could speak so eloquently.

When she’d finally managed to get to sleep, she’d been woken by a nightmare. And he’d been there almost before she’d been able to get her eyes open, picking her up, still cocooned in her sleeping bag, and carrying her back over to his usual position against the wall of Kaede’s hut. She’d spent the rest of the night cradled against his chest, that soothing rumble of his allowing her to get back to sleep for a few hours at least.

The weight of her father’s backpack on her shoulders was comforting. He had often walked mountain trails with friends, and his bag was just as he’d left it. For the first time in a while, she felt closer to him, almost like he was hugging her close. She had felt almost naked without her bow and quiver, but having her father’s backpack helped a little. Kaede had offered hers, but Kagome worried that might leave the village defenseless against a random youkai attack.

“Don’t do anythin’ stupid today Kagome, do ya hear me?” Inyuasha rumbled, his voice barely affected by the ground eating pace he’d been setting. They were getting closer now, the large trees of the forest surrounding the village slowing Inuyasha’s pace and forcing Kirara to fly above with Sango and Miroku.

“Shouldn’t I be saying that to you?” she replied in a teasing tone.

“I mean it wench! I got that feeling in my gut and it ain’t good.”

Kagome sobered immediately. They’d all grown to trust Inuyasha’s ‘feelings’ – he seemed to have an innate sense of when trouble was headed their way; it was probably what had kept him alive so long.

She leaned forward and dropped a light kiss on the side of his neck, sniggering a little as Inuyasha almost missed a step.

“I’ll be careful, but that goes for you too, okay? Don’t underestimate him just because he’s human – we don’t know very much about how many people he’s got working for him. Most of the villagers I saw seemed terrified, but he wouldn’t have so much power over them if he were working alone. He obviously has help.”

Her thoughts drifted to that woman, her expression ice-cold as she’d slapped her, demanding submission, and the probing feel of her fingers as she was held down, the first time anyone else had ever touched her there. She couldn’t help but shiver. She didn’t know what she feared more, the violence of the ronin or the emptiness of that woman’s expression, totally devoid of feeling, like she’d abandoned every ounce of empathy and compassion long before.

Inuyasha’s rumbling purr vibrated against her chest through his back, bringing her out of her thoughts.

“Don’t think about it Kagome”, he said quietly, his thumbs caressing the sides of her thighs.

“How did you know I..”

“Your heart’s beatin’ like a scared rabbit’s, your fingers are pinching my shoulders and you smell of fear” he said gently. He slowed his pace to a halt. “I ain’t gonna let anythin’ happen to you okay?”

Kagome sighed, loosening her grip, and she rested her forehead on his shoulder, sliding down off his back. “That doesn’t seem entirely fair you know”, she smiled, “you being able to work out how I’m feeling without me telling you.” He turned to hold her close, tucking her head under his chin to rub his cheek against her hair.

“Well, I don’t think it’s fair that you smell so damn good. It’s distracting, but you don’t see me holdin’ that against you now, do you?” he replied.

Kagome snorted, not being able to help the blush that tinted her cheeks. This was obviously Inuyasha’s version of flirting.

“Well, I guess we’re even then, because…” Her reply was cut short as Inuyasha suddenly grabbed her around the waist and juked to the right, an arrow passing by his shoulder.

He shoved her behind him snarling, his ears twitching and nose working to find out where their attacker was. He could smell a few men in the area, but it was hard to pinpoint their exact location in the trees above. They watched Kirara swoop down, and there was a startled yelp from a branch not too far away. The nekomata dropped an older man at Inuyasha’s feet, purring at Sango’s praise as she scratched the feline behind her pointed ears.

“Please, don’t kill me, I missed on purpose. I didn’t want to attack you!” The old man sunk to his knees, his bow clattering to the ground. “None of us want this but he has all of them, women and children, locked up in the head man’s house. He’s threatened to burn them alive if we don’t bring you back. Please, have mercy!”

Miroku and Sango approached with Kirara riding on Sango’s shoulder in her tiny kitten form as Kagome turned her horrified gaze to Inuyasha.

“Still want me to go easy on this asshole when we get there Kagome?” he snarled. The man shrunk back a little at the sound of Inuyasha’s snarl, and Kagome squatted down to the older man’s level.

“Be at ease”, she said gently. “We came back to offer our help.” The older man gazed into her smiling face, the bruising still vibrant against her naturally pale skin.

‘Thank the Kami”, he breathed. “They must have brought you to us. Nothing has gone right in our village since we took in this man. Truly you are heaven sent.” He dropped his forehead to the ground, which had Kagome flushing furiously in embarrassment.

“Please, don’t” she murmured, waving her hands in front of her. “It’s just the right thing to do. I could just see how frightened everyone was.”

Miroku stepped forward. “Perhaps you could explain what has been happening in your village, so we know how best to proceed?” he asked.

The man sighed, still looking uncertainly at Inuyasha’s angry expression, then sat up. The three humans sat down near him to listen, Inuyasha choosing to remain standing. Kirara dozed off in Sango’s lap.

“My name is Kenta. Last year, just before the first snow, a man came out of the forest. My wife Haruna found him laying near the stream when she went to do the washing. He was wandering in his wits – he had a head wound that was healing badly and infected. She took pity on him and brought him into our home.

It was clear to me that he was a samurai; he wore silk, and had two swords and armour. But the insignia on his equipment was not that of this land’s daimyo, and we had no idea of how far he had travelled with his injury. The village council decided we should help him. We did not think he would survive, truly there was a night where his fever raged so badly we began making preparations for his burial.

But then the fever passed and he began to regain strength. My wife nursed him back to health. He was a man of few words, but he told us his name was Eto Shinpei, that he was a samurai of a lord far to the north. He said there had been a skirmish with no survivors other than himself - he had been injured and left for dead, and then lost his way. We expected that he would leave to rejoin his lord as soon as he was able. But he made no move to leave the village. Perhaps that should have alerted us as to what was to come.”

The man hung his head and sighed. “I am not sure where he got the money from, but he moved out of our home as soon as he was able and took a room at the local inn. He began inviting men to his room, handing out sake like it was water, drawing followers to his side. He said he would train them before returning to his lord, in thanks for his rescue. Some believed it was a good thing, that he would be able to protect us from the bandits that had roamed the area the previous year, but others were not so sure.

 It became apparent soon enough what sort of man he was. Previously our village had been quiet and peaceful, but he began recruiting outsiders, men with an evil reputation. Fights began to break out, and it was not safe for our women to be out after dark. One of the younger village lads, who had initially joined eager to be part of the militia and learn the skills to defend his home, overheard a conversation and went to warn the headman. He had learned that Eto was planning to set himself up in a position of power in the area, and that he planned on never leaving.”

Miroku interrupted. “Could you not have sent someone to alert your lord of this man’s transgressions? Surely he would want to defend such an attack on his land and people?”

Kenta shook his head. “I am a member of our village council. Our daimyo has long been focused on major conflicts to the east, and allows his villages to self govern, as long as we supply him with his dues at tax time. It seems Eto had figured this out, and decided to take a chance to elevate himself. It is clear to me now that he had disgraced himself in some fashion and been exiled, had become a ronin. We may never truly know what happened.”

Miroku nodded. “My apologies for the interruption, please continue.”

“The headman invited Eto to his home, wanting to get to the bottom of things. Before we knew it, Eto had slaughtered the head man and his sons. The boy who had warned the head man was also hunted down and killed by Eto’s men. The women in the head man’s family were kept in the compound, no one has seen them, even though we have tried to approach. Anyone who tried to stand up to Eto was beaten, with threats made against their family.”

His fists clenched tightly. “The members of the council met in secret, and we decided to oust this man and the outsiders he brought into our village. There was a skirmish, but not everyone has weapons. My sons…” his voice caught, and he took a deep breath before continuing. “My family are confident using archery, but we are a farming village – many men had only their farm tools. It was over quickly. Eldest sons from any family that had participated were executed.”

He looked up at Kagome’s anguished gasp, his gaze bleak. “My eldest son. My Daitaro. He was one of the men killed. Nine men in all. All of them good, strong boys, who did not deserve such a fate. My daughter-in-law a young widow, with two even younger mouths to feed. So much pain and suffering as a reward for saving this man. I wish my wife had never found him.” His head bowed lower, his fists clenching on his knees.

“You said he had the women and children?” Miroku prompted. He sighed and nodded.

“All the women and children are there in the head man’s compound where Eto has taken up residence – he and his men ambushed our homes and took them by force during the night. My wife, my daughters-in-law, my grandchildren. Eto was raving, demanding that he would not allow you to escape, not at any cost. I fear the head wound he received has made him unstable, although I do not know for sure, not knowing what he was like previously. But he is a violent, unscrupulous man, who has decided his word is law. We were told that we needed to find you and bring you back, or they would be burned.”

“Even though your Lord is too far away to assist you, could you not request help from a nearby village?” asked Sango. The old man shook his head.

“He has a foothold there too. No one has been able to get far enough away to ask for help, without Eto’s men hunting us down.”

“Don’t worry”, Inuyasha snarled, “it will be my pleasure to help you clean up the filth in this village.” His voice had taken on a deeper tone, and Kagome could feel his youki pulsing. She stood, standing close by and he wrapped his hand around Tessaiga while the other drew her back against his chest. She rubbed the fist clenched around Tessaiga’s hilt soothingly.

“If he has the village men out looking for us, where are his men?” asked Kagome.

“Most are out here in the forest, and some are there guarding the compound, at least five. I’m not exactly sure how many there are,” said the old man apologetically, gazing at Kagome and Inuyasha in wonderment.

Sango nodded. “It sounds like we need to split up. Miroku and I haven’t been seen previously. We could head through the forest and gradually alert the village men and take out the outsiders, and then work our way back to the village. Inuyasha and Kagome can head to the compound so Kagome can get the women to safety while Inuyasha deals with the rest. We just need to figure out how to assure the village men that we are on their side.”

The man let out a low warbling whistle, that sounded similar to one of the many small birds that lived in the Japanese countryside. A tall burly man carrying his own bow dropped out of a tree nearby and jogged over to them. Inuyasha gave a rumbling growl, and Kagome squeezed his arm. He huffed and rolled his eyes, but ceased the growling.

“Did you hear everything Chojiro?” the old man asked.

“Yes Otousan – I will help the monk and the taijiya alert the men loyal to the village, and then we will double back to oust the outsiders”, he said, bowing low to Miroku and Sango.

“What about us?” asked Kagome. “What if we pretend that you caught us – wouldn’t that get us straight into the compound? Then we could easily capture Eto and…”

“No.”

“But Inuyasha, it would…”

“I said no Kagome. I will find a way to get you inside to help the trapped women and children and then guard your escape. You will not be getting within inches of this fucker, do you hear me?” She looked up at his face, and was a little dismayed to see the pale lavender of his youkai markings on his cheekbones, so faint that if someone was not familiar with his usual appearance they would not notice them. She sighed, then nodded her agreement.

“Alright then, let’s go.”

The walked together with the old man through the forest. Occasionally they would hear a low whistle, which Kenta would reply to, and a villager would appear out of the trees approaching cautiously. Kenta would explain the situation, sending them off to find Miroku and Sango. He led them around the periphery of the village, staying out of sight under the shadow of the trees, until they reached the back of the headman’s compound which backed onto the river.

“We’ll take it from here”, Inuyasha grunted. The old man looked at him beseechingly, and he softened his expression. “Don’t worry old man, we’ll get them all out.” Kenta bowed, then disappeared off through the trees.

“I still got that bad feeling Kagome, so don’t do anythin’ ridiculous, okay?” whispered Inuyasha. She smiled at him, reaching up to place her palms on his cheeks then drawing him down for a soft kiss.

“I’ll be good.”

She moved to pull back, but his mouth followed hers, his kiss insistent. He backed her up until they were underneath the cover of the trees again, his clawed fingers cupping the back of her head, his tongue lapping at her lower lip, taking away the faint swelling that remained from her cuts, then nibbling gently with his teeth.

“I mean it Kagome”, he groaned, his mouth dropping to press against the soft skin underneath her ear, taking in deep breaths of her scent. “I’m only just hangin’ on here. I need you safe, and I won’t be able to hold back if he touches you again.”

“Inuyasha, please”, she whined softly as he nibbled at her throat, her hands clutching at his collars as her head fell back against the rough bark of the tree. The rumbling in his chest increased at the sound of her voice, and his tongue lapped at the soft column of her neck. How could him touching her there feel so good? It was just her neck. What would it feel like when they finally ventured into touching other places? She wanted nothing more than to push herself up against him, to kiss him, to explore these new feelings. But now was not the time. “I don’t want to stop this, I really don’t, but we need to go.”

“Just gimme one more minute. I need this.” He eased the collar of her shirt to one side, biting down gently on the corded muscle between her neck and shoulder, fangs pressing gently. This obviously meant something to him, but what? She let her head fall to the side, letting him do what he wanted, and the rumbling purr increased.”

“My Kagome.” Inuyasha released his hold on her, standing up straight, and cradled her face in his hands. “Saiai, please be safe.” He kissed her one last time, his focused gaze burning amber, then turned to squat down in front of her so that she could climb on his back.

He leapt up to the top of the nearest tree, then went from rooftop to rooftop, landing almost soundlessly on light feet, until they were on the roof of the main building in the compound. No one looked up.

“Idiots. There’s no one guarding the back”, Inuyasha snorted softly.

“Maybe because they don’t think anyone will be able to get across the river?” suggested Kagome, keeping her voice to a low whisper.

“Feh. There’s bound to be guards in the room where they’re holding them, so I want you to let me handle it, okay?” Kagome nodded, squeezing his shoulder to show her agreement.

Inuyasha leaped down from the roof, landing almost silently in a small landscaped garden near a covered walkway. Kagome slid off his back, standing up to take in their surroundings. Almost immediately there was the sound of running footsteps, and Inuyasha spun to backhand the man moving to attack them so hard that he flew back against the wall with a crash, his unconscious form crumpling on to the ground.

“Oops?” he chuckled as Kagome glared at him. Another guard appeared, and Inuyasha punched him too. He toppled like a felled tree, and Inuyasha stepped over him to guide her over to the covered walkway.

“A little overkill, don’t you think?” she muttered, as they walked quietly, her attention focused ahead of them.

“Nope.”

She rolled her eyes, poking him in the ribs and ignoring his almost silent snigger. At least punching a few people had improved his temper a little.

“Which way?” she asked, when they came to the end of the path. He placed his hand on the small of her back, guiding her to the left.

“I can hear little kids cryin’ over this way.”

Her heart in her mouth, Kagome walked with him, doing her best to walk as silently as possible. She wished she had her bow – that always made her feel braver. She knew she would never be a physical close range fighter like Sango, but at least with her bow she could protect people she cared about, and fight back. When they reached the corner, Inuyasha motioned for her to stop, then disappeared. There were a couple of thumps, and then he reappeared, his smile wide, holding up two things she recognised instantly.

‘Look what I just found.”

Kagome almost squealed out loud, covering her mouth to stop the sound coming out. “My bow! Where did you find it?”

“One of the goons at the door had it. Don’t look like he used it yet.”

With a beaming smile Kagome took her quiver from him and shrugged it over her shoulder, then grabbed her bow and knocked an arrow in readiness.

“Better?” he asked, a small crooked smile lifting one corner of his mouth.

“Much”, she agreed, taking a deep breath.

They stepped over the two unconscious men, and Inuyasha opened the door. A burly man with a sword swung at him from the side, but Inuyasha had him disarmed and unconscious in moments. Kagome breathed a sigh of relief, and placed her arrow back in her quiver. She padded quickly over to the group of huddled women and crying children, who were looking at Inuyasha in alarm.

“Is there a Haruna here?” she asked quietly. An older woman looked up, surprised to hear her name mentioned. Kagome smiled. “Kenta sent us. He and your son, Cho… Chojiro was it?” The woman nodded, tears coming to her eyes as she heard the names of her husband and son. “He and Chojiro are working with friends of ours to disarm the outsiders. If you come with me, Inuyasha and I will guard your escape. We need to take you a little way from the village, until it is all safe again. Is there a hill or a clearing nearby that would be a good place?”

Another woman spoke, cuddling a baby tightly to her, while a toddler huddled into her lap. “I know of a place. There is a clearing not too far from the river, where Daitaro…”, her voice cracked a little, and then she continued, “where Daitaro used to practice his archery.” The arm of the older woman went around her shoulders, and they shared a look, both blinking back sudden tears.

“C’mon, we gotta move, this ain’t no picnic”, muttered Inuyasha. The group of women rose cautiously, gathering their children and making shushing noises when the children began asking questions. Kagome scooped up the toddler of the woman who spoke, so that she only had her baby to carry, and Inuyasha stooped down to pick up two little boys, who looked at him with wide eyes and then back at their mother. She hovered anxiously for a moment, then nodded, her arms already full of two smaller children. He led them out into the vegetable garden at the back of the compound, halting them for a moment to sniff the breeze, then gesturing them to follow along the river bank. The little girl Kagome was carrying tugged on her shirt.

“Why does he have puppy ears?” she whispered around the thumb in her mouth. Kagome looked down at the small child in her arms. She guessed she was three or four at the most, her dark eyes round with wonder as she gazed at Inuyasha's ears, hair pulled back in small pig tails, and chubby pink cheeks streaked with dried tears. Kagome glanced up at Inuyasha too and almost giggled when the ears in question swiveled back towards them, obviously listening.

“They help him hear better”, she whispered back with a smile, shifting the toddler onto her hip.

“Will he hear the bad men that killed Papa?” A faint rumble was heard coming from the hanyou in front of her, and Kagome swallowed before answering, her throat constricting.

“Yes. That’s why we’re here to help.”

“Good.” The small child snuggled in tightly against her, her eyes leaving Inuyasha to focus on the woman walking beside Kagome. “Mama?”, she asked sleepily.

“I’m here Akiko”, the woman said quietly. She hesitated for a moment, then spoke to Kagome. “I am sorry I could not help you the day he brought you to the village.” Kagome’s eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement, and the woman continued. “Eto was dragging you along the street. You looked at me and asked for help and I turned my back on you.” She bit her lip. "I am ashamed", she whispered.

Kagome suddenly remembered the terrified woman standing in front of her home with a child, who ducked behind the door covering.

“It’s alright,” she replied, giving the woman a small smile. “There is no need for shame. You are a mother – your children should always come first.”

“Thank you for understanding”, she whispered. “If Daitaro had been there, maybe… maybe…” She closed her eyes, pressing her lips tightly together, unable to stop her bottom lip trembling.

Kagome’s breath caught in her throat. She had been going to say ‘everything will be okay’, but for this family, it wouldn’t be. Things would never go back to the way they had before. She took another deep breath.

“When my father was killed, my mother was sad for a very long time”, she began hesitantly, keeping her voice to a whisper. “But Mama said talking about him helped. Talking about all the silly things he did and said, all the things we loved about him, kept him alive in here”, she said, gesturing towards her heart. “I only have a few clear memories of my father, because I wasn’t much older than Akiko, but those precious memories I do have survived because even though Papa was gone, we still talked about him all the time.”

Kagome focused her gaze on Inuyasha’s strong back and the pointed white ears twitching on his head, trying to give the woman as much privacy as she could. Even now they were under the shadows of the trees as they approached the clearing, the tears trickling down the woman’s face were clearly visible. “I am so sorry this has happened to your family”, she said, her voice determined, “but we will do our best to make things as right as we can.”

They entered the clearing, and the women sat down, gathering in a circle with their children in the centre. Inuyasha was pacing nervously and she moved towards him.

“Is everything okay?” she asked. She almost giggled when he sneezed violently, but then she caught his expression. “What’s wrong?”

“I can smell somethin’ – it ain’t a smell I know, but I don't like it. We need to be ready.” Kagome was about to put Akiko down and let her toddle back over to her mother, when Inuyasha suddenly snarled.

“Kagome, get back, he’s here!” He pushed her backwards, away from him, and she only just managed to keep her footing with the added weight of Akiko in her arms.

A small clay pot flew through the air, smashing in front of Inuyasha, and dark yellow smoke billowed out, the stench making him stagger back.

Kagome coughed, doing her best to tuck Akiko’s face into her chest closely to shield her. “Everyone cover their face and try not to breathe in the smoke! If you have a scarf, wrap it around your child’s mouth and nose!”

Inuyasha dropped to the ground, retching suddenly, and with horror, Kagome realised that whatever had been thrown at them was probably targeted to him. Sango carried powdered youkai poisons which she burned to immobilise youkai. Many only stunned but a few were deadly - what had been thrown?

She squinted into the smoke, coughing as it irritated her own throat. Putting Akiko down so she could knock an arrow, she aimed desperately from one point to another, trying to find a target, but it was impossible. She could hear the frightened wails of small children behind her, feel the frightened grip that Akiko had on her leg. Her mother was calling to her frantically, but it appeared the small child was too frightened to move. Inuyasha retched again and Kagome knew they needed to end this fast, so they could find Sango and hopefully administer an antidote.

“Show yourself, you coward!” she screamed, her bowstring pulled taut and ready for release, her weeping eyes focused on the direction of where the clay pot had come from. There was a startled scream from Akiko, and the small child was wrenched away from Kagome’s side making her stagger.

The wind shifted, blowing some of the smoke away, and Kagome blinked in terror. He was there, the ronin, and he had Akiko, one arm wrapped around her waist, and the other holding a short tanto blade against the girl’s neck, the cold metal glinting in the sunlight.

“I’ll cut her throat”, he snarled, shaking the small girl like a kitten as she struggled to get free. At the touch of cold metal on her neck the child froze, her wide eyed stare frozen on Kagome’s face. Kagome could hear the stifled wail of a woman behind her, and the little girl whimpered, slow tears streaking down her face.

“Mama.”

The word was faint, like a whispered prayer, hardly audible over the coughing growl of Inuyasha as he struggled to clear the putrid smelling smoke from his lungs. If her nose and eyes were streaming, he must be in agony. She hoped with all her might that the others might have seen the sudden plume of smoke and would come to investigate. As far as she knew, Sango, Miroku and Kirara were still leading the villagers in an attack against the ronin's mercenaries. Kagome focused on the man and child in front of her, blocking out the sound of Inuyasha’s coughing snarls and the frightened women and children behind her.

She slid her quiver slowly off her shoulder, freezing as the burly man pressed the short blade closer to the child’s neck. A thin rivulet of blood trickled down her pale throat, and she heard the mother moan behind her.

“A child makes a very poor hostage”, Kagome said, trying to keep her voice steady.

“You offering to take her place woman?” he leered. “You very rudely left before we could start anything fun. You coming back for more?”

Kagome’s back stiffened as she heard the frenzied growling from behind her. Inuyasha was obviously trying to stagger to his feet, but then fell again, hard. She had no idea what it was that had been thrown at him, whether it was meant to poison him or just slow him down. She wanted more than anything to turn to him, make sure he was okay. But a child’s life was at stake here. Maybe if she could keep Eto talking…

“What if I did agree to go with you. Would you let the child go? You know she’ll only slow you down.”

She dropped her bow on the ground, and stepped forward, holding her hands up in a gesture of surrender. Her heart was beating so fast she could practically feel it like a hard ball of muscle bouncing in her chest. The little girl blinked at her with wide frightened eyes; she’d stopped moving as if knowing it was useless to fight against the strong grip that held her. Kagome strengthened her resolve. This was the right thing to do. She could not stand by and see a child injured when she could do something about it.

“I promise, I’ll let you take me without a fight. Just let the girl go.”

In a movement that was so fast she hardly had time to gasp, the girl was thrown aside, and the ronin had hold of her, one fist wrapped around her hair, extending her neck so that her face tilted upwards, the other pressing his tanto close to her throat. She could feel the cool sting of the metal against her skin and she froze.

“See that dog? You’ve lost.” The ronin yanked back on her hair so her face was tilted skyward, and she had to struggle to keep Inuyasha in view. “My men are scattered. I will have start over again at another village. You might have destroyed everything I’ve worked for, but you’re going to be the loser. Because I’m going to take this girl of yours and ruin her beyond recognition. That poison should paralyze you for an hour or so, and my men will keep the other two busy while I make my escape. By the time you find her, there’s not going to be much left.”

Kagome’s eyes widened when she saw the pure fury on Inuyasha’s face. He tried to stand, and dropped again, his claws scrabbling convulsively in the earth. Drool dripped from his mouth as he snarled out her name.

“Inu…”, she whispered. “I’m sorry.”

She hissed as the ronin yanked on her hair again. “Not as sorry as you’re gonna be, bitch. Time to leave - you and I are going to get much better acquainted”.

The ronin laughed as he backed them into the trees, away from the clearing. Tears slipped down Kagome’s face as she watched as Inuyasha kept struggling to stand, his frenzied howling of her name growing louder. She tried her best to keep her eyes on him, wanting to convey to him her sorrow that she had been unable to follow his plea that she keep herself safe. The ronin sheathed his blade, then wrapped his fist around her wrist, dragging her off into the shadow of the trees.

 

Chapter Text

Sango glanced up at Kirara’s sudden sneeze and growl, moving her attention from the knot she had just tightened around the groaning man’s wrists, to the dark yellow plume of smoke on the other side of the village, close to the river.

“Miroku, do you see that?” she called out, hoping he could hear her over the din, as the captured man yelled curses at her. Most of the outsiders had been caught and subdued. There was only one left unaccounted for, as well as the leader, Eto.

Miroku glanced up from his own knot, smacking the shakujo down on the man’s head in retaliation for him trying to kick him, then frowned. “Doesn’t that look like one of the youkai repellent’s you use?”

Sango nodded grimly. “Yes, it does. I’m going to go check it out – I’ll leave Kirara here with you, just in case.” She stroked the nekomata’s fur as the big cat snarled at the man being restrained. He shut up immediately, and Kirara purred. “You stay here and help Miroku okay? Don’t let any of them get away.”

She turned to leave and was surprised by a sudden tug on her fingers. Miroku’s gaze was serious, his dark violet eyes filled with concern.

“Sango, be careful. Inuyasha told me a little of what happened to Kagome, and the thought of something like that happening to you…” his fingers caressed hers gently. “Watch your back, and return to me safely.”

A sudden warmth filled Sango’s heart, and she smiled at him, shy but pleased. Every now and then, he would drop the projected façade of the lecherous monk and show his true self, a kind and caring man who she had grown to love dearly. It was an unspoken agreement between them that their duty would come first. But after Naraku was defeated, should they survive was hopeful for more, very hopeful. She squeezed his fingers in return before letting go. “Always.”


 

Kagome tried to keep her balance as she was dragged along, the ronin’s tight grip causing the joint in her wrist to make a cracking sound. They were moving so fast, it was difficult to focus on much more than the burning in her lungs. Her mind was racing, thoughts jumbling one over the other. She wasn’t sure if he was going to make good on his threats, and she really didn’t want to find out.

There had to be some way out of this. Surely Kirara would hear Inuyasha, even if Miroku and Sango didn’t. Sango carried several youkai poisons and their antidotes, just in case Shippou or Kirara got into them, so she just had to hope that this was one of them. Maybe if she could stall Eto, get him talking, she could buy some time. ‘Please’, she prayed, ‘please let Inuyasha be okay!

She couldn’t regret going with him, even though every touch of Eto’s fingers made her skin crawl. Her actions had saved Akiko from what she was sure would have been a brutal death - that poor little girl and her mother had been through enough already. She tried not to think of Inuyasha’s expression as she’d been dragged away, the pure fury burning in his amber eyes, the spittle dribbling down his chin as he snarled, unable to even stagger to his feet.

The memory made her throat constrict, and she pushed it away. She would apologise later, as much as he wanted, for as long as he wanted. She just had to make sure she survived so she could apologise. ‘Focus, Kagome!’ She needed to pay attention to what was happening in front of her, right now. She had to stall Eto, annoy him, ask him questions. Even if it made him angry enough to pause in their escape to hit her, at least those would be moments where they weren’t moving further away from Inuyasha.

“These people welcomed you into their village, helped you!” Her voice sounded a little hysterical even to her own ears, and she did her best to take deep breaths to centre herself, find her calm. “Why are you hurting them?”

“You think you can shame me woman?”, he grunted, his fist squeezing even tighter around her wrist, forcing a whimper past her teeth as he pulled her through the thick underbrush. “I have no honour.”

“But you’re a samurai? I thought bushido was meant to be all about honour?” She yelped as he yanked on her arm, picking up the pace. “I just want to understand”, Kagome panted, tripping over branches but managing to keep her feet. She would not be dragged along the ground by this man again. Think Kagome, think!

“The villagers”, she continued, ignoring another angry tug on her arm, hopeful that it meant she was getting to him, “one of them told me you were left for dead. I can understand that you would be angry, and might not want to return, but why not make a new life for yourself? Why continue living in violence?” She leaned back a little, digging her heels in and trying use her weight to slow him down, but it hardly made a difference.  

He turned to look at her over his shoulder and the feral grin that rolled across his face made her shiver. “Because I like it.” He turned his gaze away from her, his eyes constantly darting between the trees as they ran towards the river. “I like the fear in people’s faces when they realise there’s no escape; when they realise that death is coming for them, and I’m the one that’s going to deliver it.” He scoffed. “I’m already goin’ to hell; I was trained to fight and kill and I enjoy it. Just because I’m no longer a samurai doesn’t mean I can’t still do what I do best.”

“What do you mean, you’re no longer a samurai?”

He grunted. “Quite the chatterbox aren’t you? Don’t think I don’t understand what you’re trying to do.” He stopped suddenly, causing her to fall against him. His strong hand grabbed her face, fingers digging into her cheeks. Spittle landed on her cheek as he spoke, his tone savage.

“I wasn’t born into the shimin class, I was just lowly rank and file, but that fucker was quick to take advantage of my skill as soon as it was convenient. All that talk about honour.” He spat on the ground, just missing her feet. “They might have called me samurai, but it didn’t mean shit to those born to that class. They still treated me like dirt under their feet. They cast me away like rubbish, no one came looking for me.” He shoved her face away and grabbed her arm again, tugging her along. “Just like no one will be coming for you, so you can stop trying to stall me and shut the fuck up.”

Kagome grabbed at a branch with her free hand and clung on, hooking her elbow around it and bracing her feet solidly against a root. She had to slow them down, give the others more time. A hard yank on her hair made her squeal and trip forward, her arm pulling free.

“Let me go”, she hissed, trying to twist out of his grasp, despite the pain in her head. “Run now, before Inuyasha finds us. I’m warning you, if he sees you hurting me again, he’s gonna tear you to shreds!”

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you men don’t like women who talk too much?” he chuckled. Still holding onto her tightly with one hand, he unknotted the scarf around his neck with the other, then paused for a moment to force it in between her panting lips, tying it tightly at the back of her neck, then produced a short length of cord from his pocket, which he used to tie her hands behind her back. “That should shut you up for a while.”

Kagome almost retched at the smell and taste of stale sweat on the scarf as he dragged her onwards again. Well, that plan had backfired spectacularly. Now she’d lost the use of her hands and was unable to take a deep breath from her mouth, forced to breathe through her nose only. She could see sunlight glinting on water, which meant they were almost at the river. A feeling of dread felt like a lead weight in her stomach. What was he going to do when they got there?


 

Inuyasha struggled to stand. His lungs and eyes were burning, and he couldn’t get the stench out of his nose. But none of that mattered. Kagome was gone. She had promised to stay out of danger, and instead she’d dived headfirst right into it, ignoring him and leaving him behind where he couldn’t protect her. His fucking wench always stepped up to help people, never thinking about the danger to herself - one day her bleeding heart would get her killed.

He swayed on his feet, locking his knees as he took great gasping breaths of air. Black dots crowded his blurred vision and his ears began to ring. He shook his head determinedly. He would not pass out. Not when Kagome needed him. Not when he’d failed her last time.

He could feel the rapid rise of his youki, his rage wanting to feed his transformation now that Kagome’s calming presence had been taken away from him, and as always, he tried to fight it off, but he was almost at the point of no return. He didn’t want to black out and find himself surrounded by slaughtered women and children, leaving Kagome to her fate. He shut his eyes, his fist gripping Tessaiga tightly. He would not lose himself. He refused.

A sudden light touch on his arm had him snarling, almost falling as he drew Tessaiga blindly. He couldn’t see very well, he couldn’t smell anything apart from that damned youkai repellent, and the ringing in his ears was currently affecting his hearing.

“Inuyasha, it’s me, Sango.”

His shoulders sagged in relief, resting the transformed blade of Tessaiga on the ground.

“Sango, quick. If you’ve got the antidote for this stuff, give it to me. He’s got Kagome.”

“What?”

Before he could respond, he heard a faint whistling noise. He just had time to recognise the sound as an arrow slicing through the air as Sango tugged him sideways, and he felt the sharp pain of metal embedding itself in his tricep. Sango pulled him downwards, yanking him behind a fallen tree. He could hear the women and children screaming.

“Sango, what’s goin’ on!” He blinked at her, but could only see light and blurred shadow, his streaming eyes unable to focus on anything. He could feel the heat of her body next to him, and hear the whistle of another arrow overhead.

“I think we just found our missing mercenary”, she said, her hands on his upper arm, trying to free the arrow embedded in the muscle. He tugged his arm away.

“No time”, he snarled, his lungs still burning. “I gotta go after her Sango – she needs me. But I can’t fuckin’ smell anythin’ and I can hardly see. If you’ve got an antidote to this give it to me.”

Sango sighed heavily. “I don’t think I have. I have another which might counteract it, but it would take time to work, and the herbs in it have side effects. It would make you drowsy, which is exactly what you don’t need right now.”

Inuyasha’s head slammed back against the rock. ‘Fucking wench. Why didn’t you listen to me, Kagome? Please, please be okay.’ His youkai gave another massive pulse and he panted, forcing back against it, gripping his sword so tightly in his fist that his knuckles showed pure white.

“Inuyasha! Inuyasha, listen to me. You’ve always fought transforming. What if you just let it happen?”

“Are you fucking insane?” he snarled, shoving Tessaiga back into its scabbard and gripping the hilt. “You were there when I killed all those bandits Sango. I slaughtered them, ripped them apart. My youkai is nothing better than a rabid animal!”

“Maybe that’s only because when it finally overcomes you, there’s no one mentally controlling it”, Sango suggested. “You’re so much stronger now than you were then Inuyasha! Maybe there’s a way for you to remain in control, and use the heightened speed and agility of your youkai, while still being you.”

Inuyasha shook his head as if trying to clear it. “I can’t risk it.”

“Listen”, she continued, talking quickly while another arrow whistled over their heads, “I’m pretty sure I recognise this repellent – it’s one used for lesser youkai. If you were at your full strength it wouldn’t effect you.”

“Are you willing to gamble your life on it Sango?” he growled. “Willing to risk the lives of all those women and children?”

“Are you willing to wait and risk Kagome’s?” she countered heatedly. “I have to deal with this mercenary first, before I can go after Kagome. I want to go after her, right now, but he could pick off everyone here in the meantime. Anything I give you will take time to work, time we don’t have. I need to protect these women and children, and you need to go after Kagome and keep her safe.” He felt her jump to her feet, and her loud cry of Hiraikotsu right next to him made him flatten his ears as she unleashed her bone boomerang.

Inuyasha panted, trying not to panic. She was right, he couldn’t wait any longer. He wasn’t exactly sure how much time had passed since Kagome disappeared through the trees. He needed to try this. He took a deep breath, trying to concentrate as he heard Sango throw her Hiraikotsu again, then the pounding of her feet against the earth as she ran off.

‘For Kagome.’ He breathed deeply, his hand resting gently on his Tessaiga for reassurance, no longer clenching it like a frightened child. He could do this. He had to do this. He used the pain in his shoulder as a focus, letting his youki rise gradually in small pulses, instead of letting it tug him under like a huge wave and drown out his sense of self, letting it settle.

He opened his eyes. Every individual leaf was suddenly clearer. He could see different auras surrounding plants, see the heat trails of animals that had been in the clearing. His sense of smell intensified. He could smell Kagome. He could smell her fear, her terror. He could hear her screaming. He got to his feet, his breath now easier, and yanked the arrow from the back of his arm, throwing it aside, and sprinted off into the forest.

When Sango came back into the clearing a few moments later, dragging the unconscious man behind her, Inuyasha was gone. She called out to the women and children hiding in the trees, letting them know it was now safe, checking minor injuries. She hoped her suggestion had worked, and that he would find Kagome in time.


 

Eto leered at Kagome over his shoulder, as he dragged her along.

“We’re nearly to the river”, he said in a sing song tone of voice, making the hairs on the back of Kagome’s neck rise. “Once I get you to the other side, I think we might make a stop at the next village.” His thumb rubbed against the bare skin on her arm, and she quickly blinked back tears. She would not cry again in front of this man.

“I’ve been a little busy lately, village responsibilities and all that”, he continued.
“I think I deserve a relaxing stop at an inn, and the use of a comfortable futon.” He rubbed his thumb against her arm again, and her urge to vomit increased, a sense of overwhelming panic making her heart race faster. “There’s a few men in that village that I owe a favour to. Maybe I should invite them as well, I always seem to perform better with an audience.” He chuckled, his grip on Kagome’s arm tightening again. “You could pour the sake for us after I’ve finished with you, make yourself useful. I might leave you behind then, as a little bonus for all their hard work. They won’t mind sloppy seconds.”

They moved out into the sunlight from the cover of the trees. Kagome blinked furiously, trying to find anything to slow them down, but there was nothing, just a grassy bank with a few willow trees, and tall reeds growing near the edge where the water current flowed slower. He dragged her over to the riverbank, her shoes sliding on the damp grass, any effort she made to dig in her feet useless. Kagome noticed a small flat bottomed boat near a little jetty with a long paddle, only big enough for two.

She struggled even harder, twisting and turning, trying to kick him in the shins, but he just laughed at her, picking her up and dropping her into the bottom of the boat, forcing her face down. Before she could even sit up, he was using the long handled oar to punt them across the river, standing over her at the back of the boat.

‘Shit, shit, shit’. The further they got away from Inuyasha, the more panic crawled up her throat, threatening to strangle her with fear. She couldn’t let him take her all the way across. A sudden idea occurred – she was a strong swimmer, but was he? Not everyone could swim. What if she tipped the boat?

She sat up and braced her feet, trying to take deep and slow breaths to calm herself, fill her lungs with oxygen. She waited until they were out in midstream, where the current was strongest and all his attention was focused on the water. Taking a deep breath and holding it, she heaved her body weight to one side, and then the other. With him standing, it was easy to make him lose balance and to make the boat flip. He didn’t even have time to yell.

As soon as they hit the water, she dove down as deep as she could, flicking off her shoes and kicking strongly towards the riverbank they’d just left. Her clothing was heavy, and without the use of her hands it hampered her swimming even more, but she kept going, bobbing up to the surface and then turning over to float on her back so that she could breathe easily through her nose, kicking as hard as she could. She needed to get back to Inuyasha, make sure he was okay. Surely the others had found him by now. He was going to be so angry at her, but at the moment that didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except getting back to his side.

As soon as she reached the reeds, she staggered to her feet, throwing herself against the bank and somehow managing to get herself up out of the water, staggering to her feet on dry land. She was gasping for breath around the scarf knotted in her mouth, and the rocks and sticks were cutting into her bare feet as she ran, but at least she’d managed to get away from him.

She’d almost reached the trees when she felt something grab at her tied hands, yanking her backwards, and was then winded by a sudden punch to her side.

“Going somewhere?” he snarled, his fingers twisting into her hair and yanking back her head.

His breaths were coming out in rasping gasps, and he was coughing hard, but Eto’s grip on her was almost as strong as before. She tried to duck under his arms again, staggering, out of breath as she struggled to keep her feet, wet clothes hindering her. She knew this was it. If he got her to the other side of the river, it would be harder for the others to find her. She had to stay on this side, no matter what.

Kagome yanked away from him, leaving a good handful of her hair behind, then scrambled to her feet, trying to run back towards the forest again, but Eto grabbed her arms.

“Now now, you’re not playing nice”, he hissed, water dripping down his face and landing on her neck as he leaned over her. “I thought you said you wouldn’t struggle, bitch. What do you call this?”

She drove her head backwards, hoping to connect with his nose and break it, but connecting with his hard chin instead. Dammit, he was too tall. He pressed himself against her, grinding into her backside, and bile burned her throat as she felt hardness under his wet clothing.

His face pressed close to hers, and she could feel the chill of his breath across her wet cheek. “You’re just making it better for me. I like it when my women put up a fight.” She screamed against the gag again as she felt his teeth close down hard on her earlobe on the same side as her bruised cheek, a sharp pain and then warm wetness trickling down her neck. She struggled harder, and then screamed again as he pulled them both upwards, her voice muffled by the gag still in her mouth. The pain in her arms was excruciating, but she continued to twist wildly, dropping her shoulder and managing to wiggle free.

She was running again, but hit the ground with a thud when he grabbed her by the ankle, tasting blood when the cuts on her mouth reopened. He flipped her over, sitting down over her hips and placing one hand around her neck.

“Maybe you’re a little too noisy to keep around. What a shame. Looks like this won’t be a long term relationship after all.” He increased the pressure on her neck, his face split by a horrifying grin as he looked down at her, watching with glee as she slowly choked. Her body was beyond her control, trying to thrash frantically against his weight as she fought for air, but she was too light to buck him off.

“That’s it, pretty, just like that.” She could feel him grinding himself against her, and her throat gurgled as she tried to call for Inuyasha, even though it was probably no use. He wouldn’t find her in time. He would find her dead, and she had only just told him she loved him. She wanted to howl, but couldn’t even manage that, barely being able to breathe.

The terrifying sound of a subsonic growl stilled the gurgling noises from her throat momentarily. That sounded like Inuyasha, but it was so much deeper. She couldn’t see anything, restrained as she was by the ronin’s choking hold, but the sound of that swelling snarl gave her one last ounce of strength. She twisted frantically, still trying to get away.

All of a sudden the weight from her was removed, and she coughed, unable to do anything else but breathe now the pressure had been released. Her vision was blurring, but she couldn’t pass out now. She struggled to sit up, rolling on to her knees.

She could see Inuyasha from behind, stalking towards the ronin, who was sprawled on the ground where he’d been thrown. He struggled to his feet and backed away, staggering, panting heavily with his sword drawn. In total contrast, Inuyasha’s pace was measured and graceful, and she breathed a coughing sight of relief. Sango must have administered the antidote. He was going to be alright.

She didn’t know if she really wanted to see what was going to come next. She knew she wouldn’t be able to stop Inuyasha, even if she had the voice to call out to him. She watched as Eto steadied his stance and then slashed at Inuyasha, the sunlight glinting off the blade. He was fast, but Inuyasha was faster, batting aside his sword strokes like they were nothing, his claws slicing thin cuts into the ronin’s flesh. None of what he was doing was lethal, and Kagome could see that Inuyasha was toying with him, not even bothering to draw his own sword.

She’d never seen him fight like this before. There were none of his usual taunts, no over the top bravado, just silent fury. Was this her Inuyasha, or had he lost control? But his actions spoke of nothing but control. The last time his youkai took over, he had ripped and torn those bandits to pieces with no restraint, he was a frenzied, snarling beast. This was different. This was calculated revenge.

By the time Inuyasha had backed Eto to the edge of the river, he had blood oozing from wounds too numerous to count; there didn’t seem to be even one part of him that wasn’t bleeding, his kimono shredded and chest slick with blood. The ronin’s sword play had lost most of its previous finesse, now he dealt desperate hacking strokes as he backed away from Inuyasha and into the shallow water near the riverbank.

Inuyasha tore the sword from Eto’s grasp and snapped it, then picked the ronin up by the throat, holding him aloft despite the human’s taller height, so his toes kicked against the surface of the water. His hands scrabbled at Inuyasha’s as he tried to free himself, his throat gasping.

“Not so nice when it’s happenin’ to you, is it ya freak?!”

Kagome could hardly make out the words – Inuyasha’s voice was distorted, deep, the volume and intensity pressing on her ears.

“Inuyasha…” Her voice came out as a raspy whisper around the gag, and she saw his ears swivel backwards at the sound of her voice. The ronin’s feet began to slow their struggling, and Kagome felt conflicted. She wanted the ronin gone. She never wanted to see him again – after what she had learned from the villagers and after what he had almost done to her she had no qualms any longer. But her sense of modern justice still lingered. She didn’t know what to do, whether she should try to calm Inuyasha or stay silent. Unwanted tears worked their way down her cheeks, and she couldn’t help the small sob that worked it’s way out of her damaged throat.

A snarl erupted from Inuyasha’s lips, and without warning he hurled the ronin out into the river, like he was throwing away a piece of trash. He didn’t even wait to see the man hit the water before he was back at Kagome’s side.

His claws made quick work of the gag and the cord tying her hands. She reached trembling fingers up to touch the vibrant stripes patterning his high cheekbones, marvelling at his eyes. Red sclera and blue iris ringed by gold. Somehow, he had managed to hang on to his sanity by the skin of his teeth so that he could come to her aid.

“Are you okay?” she whispered, voice rasping, barely above a whisper. “I was so worried about that poison. Did Sango have an antidote?”

He shook his head, and without a word lifted her, cradling her against his chest, his nose tucked into her neck, breathing deeply, then walking away from the riverbank. It was a few moments before she realised they were headed not back to the village, but to the clearing where they had led the women and children.

“Inuyasha?”

“Need your bag”, he rumbled. His voice was still deep with a rough edge to it, and slightly indistinct, no doubt due to him being unused to the more prominent fangs jutting out over his lip.

“But what about the others? Are they okay?” She wheezed a little, the roughness of voice making her cough.

“Shh. Fine. Saw Sango.”

“But…”

“Hush Kagome. I need ta look after you right now.”


 

Miroku was worried, the rings on his shakujo jingling as he paced backwards and forwards. Sango had not returned. There had been no sign of either Inuyasha or Kagome. Everyone was accounted for, apart from Eto and one mercenary, and there had only been minor injuries to the village men. It appeared that adding their fighting skills to the villagers had tipped the balance in their favour. He approached Kenta, the old man they had met in the forest.

“What are you going to do with these men?” he asked, indicating the large group of men sitting in a circle, tied together and being watched closely by a grumbling Kirara.

The older man was sitting down on a bench, taking a well deserved rest. He’d received a glancing blow to the head, and would have a fine bruise for his wife to fuss over when she saw him again, but was otherwise uninjured.

“Many of them are from the neighbouring village. We will send them back there, so that they can be judged by their own village council.”

The rings on Miroku’s shakujo jingled again. “And what of Eto, when we find him?”

The old man’s expression hardened. “He will be ours to deal with.”

Kirara purred suddenly, stretching and yawning, then jumped into the air and flew off in the direction of where they had seen the yellow smoke rising. Miroku breathed a sigh of relief. The smoke had been blown away by the breeze, so Sango must have whistled for her, knowing it would be safe for her nekomata friend to approach. It also hopefully meant that Sango herself was fine. He kept watch in that direction, eager to see the evidence for himself.

He didn’t have to wait for long. Kirara touched down, with Sango sitting astride her, and an unconscious mercenary held by his collar in her fangs like a wayward kitten. She dropped him on the ground near the other bound men and then twitched her nose, sneezing suddenly and sticking out her tongue repeatedly, as if carrying him had left a bad taste in her mouth.

“Are you injured anywhere Sango?” asked Miroku, hurrying to her side. “Did you see Inuyasha and Kagome?”

Sango looked him worriedly as she jumped off Kirara’s back, biting her lip. Kirara transformed into kitten size, and Sango held out her arms. Kirara immediately jumped up and snuggled against her, yawning and purring.

“I saw Inuyasha. He’d been affected by the youkai repellent, and Eto has taken Kagome.”

“What are we waiting for, let’s move!” Miroku was ready to run after their friends, but Sango shook her head. “He was having trouble Miroku. Even I could feel his youki rising. I think it would be better for us to stay away from Inuyasha for the moment, and get the women and children back to the village, as a precaution. He managed to overcome the youkai repellent by allowing his youki to rise. He has gone after them.”

“But what about Kagome?”

“All he wanted was to save her Miroku. I am hoping that even in his fully youkai state, he will recognise Kagome as his chosen – that is what all his instincts have been leading towards. And what is his youkai state but pure instiinct? I am sure he will protect her.”

They both looked back towards the forest, the densely packed trees revealing no secrets.

“Very well”, Miroku sighed. He had wanted to be there for his friend, support him in avenging Kagome, but he would bow to Sango’s superior knowledge in this case. “Let’s move the women and children back to the village and out of harms way, just in case. And may Kannon have mercy on Eto’s soul, because I am sure Inuyasha will have none.”


 

Kagome lapsed into silence as Inuyasha cradled her in his strong arms. He had refused to put her down, and she decided to just let him have his way. His fangs had returned to their normal length, and the redness was receding from his eyes, but the blue iris and stripes on his cheeks remained.

When they emerged from the forest and Inuyasha strode into the clearing with Kagome in his arms, all the women immediately huddled around them. His irritated huff as he stooped to pick up Kagome’s bag sent most of them scurrying backwards, but Haruna and her daughter remained, Akiko clinging to her mother’s leg, with her baby snuggled tightly against her back in a wrap.  

“What did he do to her?”

“Is she injured?”

“What can we do to help?”

He hoisted Kagome’s backpack over one shoulder, her weight cradled against his chest with his other arm.

“Just let the monk and taijiya know that I am looking after Kagome, and that we’ll return to the village soon.” His words came out as harsh and guttural, but Kagome could sense that he was doing his best to keep his temper with them, he was just on edge. She reached up one hand to stroke his cheek, and he sighed, looking down at her face.

Haruna piped up. “There is a hot spring not too far to the east if she wants to wash”, she said, her eyes full of concern. She bowed down low, her hands resting on her thighs. “You were injured helping our village. Please, don’t hesitate to let Kenta or I know if there is any way that we can assist you. Whatever you need that we can offer is yours.”

“Thankyou”, Kagome whispered, her voice strained.

Before she could say any more, Inuyasha was off, and she recognised he was going in the same direction they went yesterday, probably to the same hot spring. Only yesterday, but so much had happened since then. She wasn’t exactly sure how she should feel at the moment. Her emotions felt like they were swirling – the only one she could truly identify was a huge sense of relief that it was all over. That, and a feeling of safety. She felt safe being carried in Inuyasha’s arms.

Before long they came again to the small hot spring. Inuyasha put her down on the flat rock at the water’s edge gingerly, handling her like broken china that would shatter at the slightest touch, then squatted down in front of her, his eyes roving over her body looking for injuries.

“Inuyasha, I’m okay”, she whispered.

He shook his head, his expression stern. “You made a promise to me Kagome. A promise that you would stay out of danger. What the fuck were you thinking? You nearly got yourself killed!”

“I couldn’t bear to see him hurt Akiko when I could stop it”, she began, her strained voice cracking a little, but he silenced her by placing a finger against her lips.

“Stop talking, you’ll hurt your throat even more” His hands moved to cradle her cheeks, and he looked at her intently, the heat and heartbreak of his stare making her own eyes fill with tears. “What am I supposed to do with all these feelings Kagome? Am I supposed to be okay with this? Watching you break a promise and decide to sacrifice yourself right in front of me? Watch you walk off to nearly die?” She shook her head, her bottom lip beginning to tremble as silent tears rolled down her cheeks.

He licked the tears away, then buried his nose into the soft skin directly underneath her ear, breathing in deeply, then sighing. “This conversation ain’t over. We’re gonna talk more about this when you’re feelin’ better.” Kagome sighed too, but nodded. She knew he was going to be angry. She couldn’t think of any other way she could have handled the situation though.

He pulled back, his eyes roving over her again, then tilted her head to try and get a closer look at the injury to her ear. There was too much dried blood for him to see it clearly. Cupping a little water in his hands, he rinsed her ear, his ears flattening as she winced.

“He bit you.” His voice was hard again; and the blue flashed in his eyes; it seemed his anger was pulling his youkai a little closer to the surface again.

Kagome shrugged, unsure of what to say. She could see his jaw bunching as he tried to control his ire, then he dipped his head. She felt the warm soothing wetness of his tongue.

“Feels nice”, she whispered, tilting her head to the side to make it easier for him. He licked at the re-opened cuts on her lips, and then his head dipped down further to place featherlight kisses on her neck, which just a short time before had been pale and unmarked, and was now wreathed in bruising finger marks.

“I can’t do anything about the bruises”, he said, his voice breaking a little. “I can’t fix this.”

Kagome thought back to what Sango had said last night, when she was explaining youkai scent marking to her. “You could help me take a bath?” she suggested, her hand reaching up to stroke his cheek, and he turned his head to kiss the centre of her palm. “Help me wash the pain and fear away Inuaysha.”

He sighed, then tugged a little on her shirt, stained and ruined by mud where she had fallen at the riverbank and blood from her ear. “Is it okay if I take this off?”

She nodded, silently raising her arms to make it easier for him to pull the shirt off over her head.

“Fuck. I should a killed the bastard. I should a gutted him like a pig” he snarled when he saw the bruises to her ribs where she’d been punched. His fingers trailed over the purpled skin, feather light, and she shivered. Then her eyes widened as her brain processed the words he’d just spoken.

“You didn’t kill him?”

“Fucker was still alive when I threw him in the river. Barely. The current was headed back towards the village. That’s what you wanted wasn’t it? For the villagers to deal with him?”

The smile Kagome gave him was brilliant. “Thank you”, she whispered.

“Don’t know why you’re thankin’ me.” His voice was still gravelled around the edges, still a little deeper than usual. “He deserved death Kagome.”

She nodded. “I know. But I also think you did the right thing.”


 

Sango and Miroku were gathering together a small party of men to help walk the women and children safely back to the village, most of them husbands and fathers. There was a yell from the river bank. A lookout had spotted a body floating downstream, drifting in the centre of the current. Miroku and Kenta ran to find out what was going on, while Sango began to lead the men in the direction of the clearing, Miroku promising to catch up in a moment.

“It’s Eto”, someone shouted. “Should we pull him in?”

“Let him drown”, yelled another.

The seemingly lifeless body suddenly thrashed, the head rising up to gasp deep breaths of air. Eto’s arms windmilled in the water as he struggled to get to shore.

Kenta stooped to pick up a sizeable rock from the riverbank, a rounded egg shape the size of his palm, smoothed by the river’s flow. He hefted it in his hand, testing its weight, then threw it towards Eto, where it glanced against the side of his cheek. Another villager picked up a stone and hurled it, and then another. Eto would sink under the water, blood from his injuries spilling in the river, but then he would rise up again, only to be hit by more stones thrown by the village men. Eventually he did not rise again.

“Judgement has been made”, said Kenta firmly, crossing his arms.

Silently, Miroku folded his hands in prayer, thankful the whole affair had finally been dealt with, and then hurried off to find Sango, ready to assist the men in getting their families back home.


 

Inuyasha helped Kagome to ease off the rest of her clothing, his face full of worried concern. When he pulled away her bra, after she'd shown him how to release the front opening clasp, and bent his head so he could inspect the bruising that travelled up above her ribs closer, she froze. For a moment she wanted to pull away and hide, the memory of Eto grinding against her with that sick leer on his face rising up and superimposing itself over the beloved face in front of her. But Inuyasha was not Eto. Could never be him. Even though she stood mostly naked before him, the way he was looking at her was not sexual. He wasn’t leering. He didn’t look at her like she was purely for his pleasure alone, a thing to be used and discarded. Lust was not driving his actions, only his need to care for her, to wash away her pain, ease her hurts, to build the closeness that was still developing between them.

She tugged on his suikan. “Can you take this off.”

“Are you sure?” he said. No doubt he’d smelt that moment of fear, and she smiled.

“You’re not him”, she said softly, resting her forehead against his chest, and feeling his arms wrap up around her. “I could never be afraid of you Inuyasha. I just want to feel close to you, as close as I can be.”

He shrugged off his clothing quickly, stripping down to his fundoshi, ignoring her sudden dismay as she finally noticed his wounded arm. It was an injury that was rapidly healing and that he’d mostly forgotten about. He took her hand, helping her into the water.

Inuyasha sat down in the spring, pulling her into his lap, his arms holding her close, and she sighed against him, surrounded by the warmth of the water and the heat of his arms and chest. She was safe.

“Does your throat still hurt?” he asked. She nodded, and he bent his head, tilting her chin back, sniffing carefully. “I can’t smell any blood clotting, so I think it’s just bruised on the outside. But if ya have trouble breathing, you gotta let me know okay, so I can take you back through the well.”

Kagome shook her head. “I don’t want to go back home looking like this”, she whispered. “Mama will worry.”

Inuyasha grumbled, tapping his finger softly on the forehead in reprimand, then kissing the spot softly. “Idiot. She already worries Kagome. She wouldn’t be your mother if she didn’t.”

Kagome turned her head into his chest, and he sighed, letting it go for now. For the moment, he was content to sit with her, cradle her in his arms. He could still feel his youkai form simmering underneath his skin, ready to leap forward to protect her if necessary. He didn’t want to think about that too much at the moment, and the risk he’d taken. He had always feared his instincts, feared the unknown, and perhaps that had been part of the problem. But until Kagome was ready to move, he was content to stay here with her, and focus his attention totally on her.

When she was ready, he washed her with the soap from her pack, cleaning away everything until she smelt only of herself. Thankfully, Mama had remembered to pack the non-scented soap and shampoo, so there was nothing to mask what he needed. He dried her carefully, then helped her into the loosest clothes in her pack, the ones she often wore to bed at night. Then he picked up his fire rat and pulled it over her shoulders. Kagome couldn’t help but smile at him.

“A little overkill, don’t you think?” she whispered teasingly.

“Nope.”


 

When they returned to the village, Miroku and Sango were waiting anxiously for them, crowding Inuyasha as he carried Kagome snugly in his arms, bundled in his fire rat over her clothes. She looked bruised and tired, but peaceful.

“Inuyasha, it’s perfectly safe to put me down now”, she whispered. He ignored her, tightening his arms around her protectively.

“That fucker dead?”, rasped Inuyasha to Miroku, a hint of blue ringing his pupils and youkai markings flaring on his cheeks. Miroku took a step back cautiously, then nodded the affirmative.

“I assume you tossed him in the river for the villagers to find?” Inuyasha nodded, a low growl leaking past his clenched teeth.

“Then rest assured, the matter has been taken care of. Judgement has been passed, and any trouble he tries now will be confined to one of Enma Daiou’s hell cauldrons.”

“The outsiders that he hired to do his dirty work?” asked Inuyasha.

“Taken to the next village, where judgement will be passed on them also.”

“What”, Kagome whispered, her voice trembling a little, “what about that woman?” Miroku raised his eyebrows in puzzlement, and Sango made a soft noise of recognition, stepping forward to squeeze Kagome’s hand.

“Her name was”, Kagome closed her eyes, trying to calm down her rapidly beating heart, “her name was Aguri.”

“It appears mistress Aguri decided that she needed a change of scenery”, said Kenta, moving out of the shadows, and bowing low before them. “I do not know where she went, but it is doubtful she will be returning.”

Kagome slumped in relief in Inuyasha’s arms, and he rumbled soothingly, rubbing his cheek on top of her freshly washed hair. “It’s all over Kagome. Don’t cry saiai, it’s all over.”


 

Mama Higurashi chopped the vegetables for the evening dinner, doing her best to keep busy. The kitchen had never been so spotless – she’d sorted the pantry, cleaned the oven, taken everything off the high shelves and scrubbed them down. Grandpa had chuckled in amusement at her sudden burst of ‘spring cleaning’ even though it was almost autumn, commenting that if she wished to extend her cleaning frenzy to his storeroom, he would not object.

The truth was, she was almost beside herself with worry. It was either constantly keep her hands busy with chores, or sit in the well house with them folded in prayer. She trusted Kagome. She trusted Inuyasha too, but something had happened. She just had a feeling, based on Inuyasha’s last visit three days ago, even though he hadn’t said anything specific. But she knew. Something had happened.

“Mama?”

Kagome’s hesitant voice from the doorway had her dropping the knife instantly and running to her daughter, embracing her in a tight hug. She was bruised and battered, but alive.

“See, told ya she’d be worryin’ about ya. It’s what Mama’s do.” Inuyasha made to take a step backward to give the mother and daughter space, but Mama was not having it. Her arm shot out to drag him into her embrace as well, ignoring Inuyasha’s squawk of surprise, and Kagome’s tearful giggle.

“You’re both safe”, she murmured, hugging them tighter. Her prayers had been answered.