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Kintsugi

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Chapter 1 - Of insecurities and change

The altercation had dragged out long enough for her leg muscles to throb and clench from the constant anticipation of an attack and the need to leap away from harm. Her arms were undergoing sporadic spasms from drawing the bow one too many times. A sudden gust rushed by her side. She jumped, but none too gracefully, landing on an unstable log, her ankle caught in a bramble of dry branches and sent her sprawling face down on the dirt. She was busy trying to regain her senses when that nagging dark presence loomed in her head, a damp, putrid breath at the back of her neck. She rolled, her heart pounding.

Her timing wasn't late, but it was far from perfect. The youkai's pincer came crashing down, and the sharp edge of it sliced a nicely sized gash across her left arm. Cursing, she spared it a glance, and instantly regretted it after seeing the green slime oozing out of the rip in her robes. She scrambled up in haste, taking advantage of the time the youkai needed to pry its front forearm out of the mud. Quickly, she prepared the spell in her head, picturing the symbols mechanically. She was drained, the pool of her reiki feeling rather dilute. If she missed— well, she wouldn't miss.

White, glowing energy hurled itself at the gigantic youkai, forming bright threads akin to a net around it. She pulled back her bow, arrow aimed at the struggling creature's heart. The bowstring snapped back to nick her finger, as the arrow flew true to its course. Glowing with an energy identical to the one of the net, although tinged with an ethereal blue, the shaft buried itself in the creature. With a howl, it disintegrated. Purified.

She heaved a sigh and sank down weakly. She ripped off one sleeve of her destroyed suikan and got to work tying a strip tightly around her right ankle. She used the rest of that sleeve to clean off as much of the green goo as possible and formed a crude bandage. It just wasn't her day. That youkai was ten times stronger than the ones usually found around the village. And she wasn't in top shape either. Somehow, she felt uneasy, as if something was going to happen.

Supporting herself slightly with her bow, she got up carefully from the forest ground. Much to her relief, the injured ankle could walk close to normal with the bandage on. With her mind attuned to any possible new attackers, she made her way slowly back to the village gate.

"Kagome-chan, Kagome-chan!" A familiar shrill greeting tore through the air to assault her ears.

She looked up from the ground, to see a small girl of no more than seven years, fly down the road to meet her. She smiled tiredly and raised her good arm in greeting. Sen was an orphan whose parents both sadly perished during the wave of winter sickness last year. The village had taken it upon themselves to raise her but she took to Kagome the most.

"Hi Sen, how was your day?" She looked down at the little child with a disheveled kimono and tangled hair.

"Very well, Kagome-chan! You'll never guess what Sen found! Come, come, Sen will show you!" A warm, sticky hand latched itself onto her left arm and pulled.

"Sen…" She grimaced. The girl turned to her and seemed to notice for the first time that her left sleeve was ripped and sported a sickly red and green bandage.

"Oh, Kagome-chan! Are you hurt? Were you fighting a youkai again?" Her little hands gripped her arm in a much more gentler way and steered her carefully towards the wooden hut with an herb garden nearby.

"Hai Sen, I was."

"Was it really big? It must be very strong to hurt Kagome-sama. Is it going to be your helper now?" Sen asked her in a hushed voice as they entered the entrance of the hut.

"No. What a strange thing to ask." She pulled the child down to sit with her on the tatami mat. She was fidgeting uncomfortably under her gaze.

"Sen didn't mean to eavesdrop on Nakamura-san!" She explained in a rush, small hands twisting nervously around each other in her lap. "Nakamura-san was saying how there are so many youkai working in Kyo now. Sen was just wondering why Kagome-chan couldn't have a youkai too, to help fight other youkai. Then you wouldn't get hurt all the time!"

Kagome smiled gently in return, reaching out to smooth down the child's unruly bangs to show she was not displeased. Nakamura-san was a travelling merchant whose family lands resided in her village. He would always regale them with tales of the cities he trades at. The children always loved his stories of the grand sights and the newest and latest trends bound to filter down to them at some point. Kagome wondered what these youkai helpers were all about. Maybe the cities were becoming much more progressive in their beliefs. She had always felt distinctly uncomfortable with the duality of the teachings she was once immersed in day and night. How youkai and humans were two sides of a coin, like oil and water never to mix. After all, the land under the kami was so wide and vast, why could there not be a compromise, another way?

The rustle of the door covering drew her attention. An old woman called out a soft greeting and stooped stiffly to duck inside the hut.

"Run along and play Sen. Kagome has to rest." The newcomer ushered the child outside with a good natured pat on the head.

"Child, come here." The voice was gentle and comforting, and it reminded Kagome of those nights when she was a small child woken by a nightmare. "Let me tend to you." Obediently, Kagome rearranged herself closer to the banked fire where the older woman was deftly rehydrating a few dry leaves in a small bowl.

No matter that Kagome was now a woman almost beyond marrying age; being addressed like that still brought a certain nostalgic warmth.

"Sen told you about Nakamura-san's return this mornng?" A gentle hand startled her as it moved to undo the makeshift bandage on her arm, and started cleaning it with a rag soaked in hot water.

"Yes she sure did. What is this about youkai helpers?" She hissed as the rag came in contact with raw flesh.

"That," The older woman sighed heavily. "Is an unfortunate development. The signs were there but I had hoped it would not be so."

Kagome's heart sank. She had hoped it would be some sort of peaceful coexistence even though her logic told her there had been no precedent in history. And it wasn't about to start now.

"So what? We're using reiki to enslave now? What about the Balance?" A clean piece of cloth was being wound around her arm. "Are we all just hypocrites?"

"Kagome!" She felt the bandage tighten uncomfortably as Hatsue admonished her before she could let loose her tirade that usually did not end with portraying their village miko in a good light.

Kagome bit her lip and didn't say any more. The argument wouldn't go anywhere, it always ended with Hatsue-obaa-san telling her that she must be careful in words and deeds alike. Silently, she watched the old woman finish binding her wound.

"Obaa-san, I'm going for a walk." As Hatsue turned towards the fire, Kagome stood up carefully, paying extra care to her injured ankle.

"Now child? With those wounds you should be resting."

"I know. I won't be long." She slipped under the doorframe, leaving the Hatsue's heavy sigh behind her.

She breathed in the fresh breeze that brought along the smells of sod and hints of salt, as they weren't too far off from the coast, making her way slowly to the elevated path surrounding the rice paddies. The village men were still hard at work in the late afternoon sun. She continued steadily along the dirt path, letting the wind clear her mind and ruffle her hair that was coming loose from the green tie that bounded it back.

She really ought to be nicer to Hatsue-obaa-san. From what she gathered from the villagers, a young woman gathering berries had found her alone and abandoned beside the dry well. Tucked into the swaddling cloth was a torn piece of parchment with her name. She was no more than a few moons old and they assumed her to be an illegitimate child of some noble, seeing as she was abandoned by someone who could write. The village healer, Hatsue, who had never married, had adopted her and raised her as her own.

Hatsue was a kind lady who cared for her as well as any mother would her child. And because she was the village healer, Kagome learned of the herbal lore and everything regarding remedies and injury treatment at a young age. Her childhood was peaceful and happy, although it never felt has if she belonged completely in that village. Mostly it had to do with her strange arrival the village. If the people knew the parents of the orphan, they'd treat the child nicer in respect for the dead at least, but no one knew hers. And imagination flies wild. Kagome was a very outspoken child when she was younger and it offended many of the adults. Even if she was right, they weren't going to be lectured by a kid. But her life was relatively pleasant, and she stayed under Hatsue's roof until she turned thirteen.

That spring, a miko passed by their village. At the time, all the villagers knew was that she was an esteemed miko who had a considerable amount of influence in the city. Hatsue was summoned to replenish the miko's medicines and Kagome had come along. After all was said and done, the miko chose Kagome and Noriko, the daughter of the wealthiest landowner in the village. They were to study under the miko's care, learning the art of magic and purification to help defend and guide the village. It turns out that Kaede-sama was the high priestess of Kyo and the surrounding domain, and she had became the pupil of a famous priestess.

Noriko and Kagome stayed in Kyo for five years and in the forests outside of the city, they practiced their spells and archery. But when their training came up, only one could be chosen to assume the position of village priestess back home. In all aspects, they were equally matched, both excelled in archery and magic. Foolishly, Kagome thought she had one up on Noriko, because it was she who stayed by Kaede's side the most, listening to her teachings about life and justice. But when the high-priestess announced her choice, it was not Kagome. She tried to bear it with grace, but eventually, on the night before they left for home, she asked Kaede for a reason as to why she was less suitable to be a priestess. The only answer she got was: "Child, it is as it should be. In spite of all my careful detachment, I still adore you too much."

She had never figured out what her teacher meant by that.

When the two girls returned to their village, Noriko was received with a big welcome, because everyone assumed she would be the perfect choice and indeed she was chosen. She was now the village priestess and possessed the right to wear the traditional robes of red and white. And Kagome became the 'shrine-maiden', a catch-all title for a girl who did everything that the priestess didn't want to do around the temple. Kagome wouldn't have minded so much if Noriko became a good priestess, who upheld all the values she was taught. Kagome only pretended to be ignorant of all the secret bribes she received. And the person who protected the village and destroyed the demons was she, not Noriko.

The only thing that plagued her most was a constant question of what she lacked; in strength, in character, in will? What made her not good enough? She didn't care for the title or the fame, but she wanted to know why.

Kagome sighed heavily, trying to dispel the same thoughts she'd been mulling in since her return to the village, it was a resentment she knew she needed to put to rest somehow. Thoughts like these never brought any good. Shielding her dark eyes from the setting sun, her gaze went to the fields below her, in the valley where the men were slowly trudging home to their wives. And behind them, odd creatures with bizarre coloured fur and sharp horns followed, with tethers made out of shining rope. A binding spell woven into normal cord. Youkai.

She felt her stomach drop at the sight. Sen's innocent words from earlier in the day suddenly made ominous sense. Noriko, if nothing, was a trend chaser. And a fast one at that.

It was nearly dark when she trudged wearily into the warm hut. A thick stew was cooking over the small fire. Sen was already asleep under a pile of blankets in her corner. Hatsue looked up as Kagome settled herself close to the fire and warmed her hands.

"Thought things through?" She inquired quietly, while ladling out a large portion into a bowl. "You must eat more tonight." Gesturing to her wounded body.

"Hai, obaa-san."

"Oh, it almost slipped my mind," She got up hastily and went digging on her shelf to produce a letter written on fine paper. "Nakamura-san passed by when you were gone. He said to give you this letter. Someone in Kyo asked him to bring it to you."

Kagome put down her bowl and reached for the letter. Flipping to the front of the unadorned envelope, she saw her name written in definite, refined strokes of a brush. It couldn't be. She tore it open and unfolded the parchment. It held only two lines and was not signed, but she knew for certain who it was. She had spent years diligently copying out formulas written in this script.

"What is it, child?" Hatsue asked her worriedly after seeing the surprise on her face.

"Obaa-san, Kaede-sama wants me to make a trip to the city."

Kagome forcefully expelled the air from her lungs and then inhaled again, but failed to keep her breath steady. The air moved in shakily once more as it weaved around her heightened nerves. Again, she tried to go back to a moving meditation as she focused on her steps, one foot in front of the other, her footfalls producing a rhythmic thud on the wooden planks of the bridge. What on earth was wrong with her? She was such a mess and was only becoming more unravelled as she got closer and closer to the city's outer border. Once she crossed the bridge fully, she would be in Kyo land. Provided it would still be half a day travel to the city proper; the farmland and forests claimed by the city was vast.

Many thoughts chased themselves around her head, amongst them was a replay of her farewell at the village. Hatsue-obaa-san had heavy brows when she saw Kagome off but no matter how hard she tried prying, the old woman insisted she was not worried. Kagome, on the other hand was. She could see all the different scenarios of youkai attacking the village without her there. Hatsue, had read her mind and reassured her that although Noriko did not like to sully her own hands, she did invariably possess reiki and the training to protect the village if need be.

Sighing, Kagome returned her thoughts to the present and to her rapidly approaching destination. Nakamura-san had parted with her at the last major intersection, his caravan of goods headed further north, leaving Kagome to make the rest of the trip on foot to Kyo. It was a long but pleasant journey. She'd always loved the land around here, mountainous and heavily forested. She had spent long years wandering and exploring in the rare time she had off from her studies. What bothered her is why Kaede-sama would send for her now, after no correspondence for years? And what made it so important that she had to be told in person without a hint in an unsigned letter? And to be perfectly honest, Kagome was a bit surprised. Why her and not Noriko? Although somewhat self-deprecating, the day her teacher deemed her unworthy to be the village miko, she had thought she had outlived her use. She was a humble village herbalist who happened to have some modest reiki at her disposal, what possible use would the head priestess of Kyo have for her now?

It was early afternoon when she passed the main gate of the city. She'd made good time thanks to her anxiety killing her appetite. Aside from a couple of short breaks to hydrate, she'd been walking non stop. Swallowing past the tightness in her chest, Kagome quickly navigated her way on the quickest route to Tenrinji, the main shrine of the city, set on one of the two crests the made up the hilly terrain of Kyo. The city had changed dramatically in her absence, so she was pleased she could still find her way.

The long flight of steps leading from the first torii was achingly familiar, the same stippled pattern of sunlight filtering through the grove of towering, solemn trees lining the path up to the shrine. It was largely deserted though, her only company the series of moss covered tōrō bordering the steps. The shrine was usually much busier in the afternoons, but perhaps it was market day.

Breathing slightly faster, Kagome shifted the weight of her travel pack on her shoulders as she arrived at the inner courtyard. Making her way to the temizuya, she carefully rinsed her hands and mouth in the practiced steps that always brought calm to her mind. Straightening, she spotted a young acolyte diligently sweeping under a nearby tree.

"Good afternoon, excuse me." Kagome greeted the young boy as she walked towards him. "I'm here for an attendance with Kaede-sama. She is expecting me."

The boy's eyes darted up to quickly assess her and Kagome fought the ridiculous urge to smooth down the wrinkles in her green hakama in response to the weird expression on the child's face. Before she could take a closer look though, the boy had adverted his eyes to the ground again.

"Please follow me." He whispered.

To be honest, Kagome knew the layout of the shrine like the back of her hand. It was once her old stomping grounds after all. So many hours crammed in the inner rooms learning the teachings, meditating, observing prayers. As the acolyte lead her along the engawa, further and further away from the main courts, she become a bit unsettled.

"Has the head-priestess court moved?" She inquired politely, hoping to come off as mindless small talk.

The boy gave her another strange glance but quickly avoided eye contact again.

"This way. Kaede-sama tends the archives."

Kagome felt her eyebrows raise incredulously but bit her tongue before she said anything stupid. The old archives were stores of scrolls and manuscripts usually meticulously maintained by the archivist. Why would the head-priestess need to do it herself?

They had stopped in front of a small wooden building, visibly older and less well maintained than the rest of the shrine. She bowed to the acolyte in front of the still closed shoji doors before he retreated back the way they came. Without paying formal greetings or even announcing her. What was going on?

Kagome removed her shoes and carefully drew back the entrance doors, trying to slide the screens open without making a racket. Inside, the room smelled musty with the scent of aged papers. Dust flecks drifted in the beams of sun streaming in from a far window.

"Um… hello?" Her voice cracked embarrassingly with nerves. "Kaede-sama?"

There was muffled shuffle in the room beyond the entrance area, and a soft tap of a brush being set down on the table. Kagome held her breath, but simultaneously annoyed at her anxiety about seeing her teacher again after years apart. Still, that day she said good bye and the desperate way she had begged for the reason she was not chosen was still fresh in her memory.

"Kagome. Child, come here." Her voice was calming and slow, and so familiar. The gentle eyes of her teacher, set in a face lined with age and the small smile.

Taking a few long strides, she reached the old woman who had emerged behind a screen. And, though perhaps not proper etiquette, she found herself wrapping her arms around Kaede's shoulders in heartfelt greeting.

"Kaede-sama!" Kagome's voice was muffled in the fabric of her teacher's robes.

"It is good to see you." Kaede smoothed her hand down the back of Kagome's head to pat her back gently. "I had no doubts you would understand my letter."

"Wait actually," She drew back with furrowed eyebrows. "I don't understand at all. I knew your script, so I knew I had to come but…"

The old priestess interrupted her ramble with a raised hand.

"I will explain. Let's have some tea shall we?"

She knew the measured sequence of the tea ceremony, the importance, the ritual behind it but man, can her teacher move any slower? Kagome was naturally an emotion driven girl and this moment was taking all she has to not demand answers outright, tea be damned. Maybe it was just as well that she wasn't a miko; she would've been rubbish at all the ceremonies. Kagome watched quietly as her teacher set each piece of delicate pottery in its accustomed place, wizened hands gliding through each step of the traditional ritual. Utimately, she couldn't help her fingers from fidgeting in her lap, as if she'd instantly reversed three years of her life, feeling very much the part of an inpatient pupil again rather than the grown woman she'd become.

"Firstly, you should know, I'm no longer head priestess." Kaede dropped that bit of news serenely, raising her cup of tea to her lips for her first sip.

"What— you what?!" Kagome on the other hand almost spilled all of hers, the vessel dropping back to the wooden table with a clunk, sloshing a bit of tea over the lip. "But how—"

"It was deemed that I was no longer suitable for the position."

That was preposterous! Head priestesses, once selected by the Kami were to serve up till the moment they return to the gods. That was the way it has always been. All of a sudden, Kagome's eyes sharpened on the duller, coarser weave of the fabric of Kaede's robes. Miko robes yes, but no longer the material that denoted a higher esteem.

"But Kaede-sama! No mortal can do that!" She exclaimed, getting more indignant by the minute and truthfully, kind of irritated at her teacher's apparent nonchalance.

"As it was," Her dark eyes rose up to meet Kagome's, serious and intent. "I returned back to the residence in the forest, surely you remember your home here? My intent was to focus on our medicine stores and of course, with the growing season coming, there are many herbs that may be amenable to cultivating. That way, we would be less dependent on our foraging fortunes. Alas, it has not been a moon before my services are once more required here at the shrine."

She waved her hand to gesture at the surrounding shelves of scrolls.

"And that is where you come in Kagome."

"I still don't understand, what is it you want me to do for you?" She sputtered, mind not catching up at all to the turn of events Kaede had just explained to her.

"The apothecary and the garden cannot be unattended. You of all people should know we need a trusted stockpile of medicines for a city this size."

"But, surely there are tenant farmers—"

"Farmers are not herbalists. Hatsue-san has trained you all your life."

"You sent for me after all this time to grow plants?!" She asked again, exasperated and frankly, a little disappointed.

"Kagome." Kaede cut her off, her voice quiet but stern. "Trust me."

Her wizened hands grasped her own tightly and Kagome looked again into her face. The expression Kaede now wore was uncharacteristically grave and held a hard urgency. And suddenly, there wasn't any argument to make. Her teacher's mind was set. Whatever it was, there wasn't going to be an explanation. At least not right now. And her teacher was more serious than she ever remembered her being. She would have to wait it out or try and find more clues.

Defeated, she bowed slightly.

"Yes, Kaede-sama."

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A/N: There you have it! First chapter of a long conceived story that's been lurking about in the back of my head for the better part of a decade. As you will soon see, it is a personal challenge to write my version of a classic fanfiction trope. One I've always found equal parts guiltily fascinating and cringe-y. Feel free to guess as the story unfolds :)

I will need a little time setting up this AU but fear not, our beloved hanyou should make his appearance soon!

Also, this story will not follow strict Shinto traditions; the main religion in this world will be an adapted version to fit. Nor will it be historically accurate. My apologies.

As always, constructive criticism is much appreciated (I don't have a beta). I love knowing that people are actually reading my work! Traffic stats are just not the same.

EI


Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. However this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2 - Of stolen prey

Kagome kicked moodily at the tufts of grass encroaching along the border of the path, reclaiming old territory. She knew she was being a child and throwing a tantrum but honestly, it was kind of justified. After finishing tea yesterday afternoon, Kaede had made arrangements for her to stay the night in the guest quarters of the temple. She had hoped for more details perhaps over breakfast the next morning, but there was no summons awaiting her when she woke up. After a simple temple breakfast of rice gruel and pickled vegetables, she dallied for as long as she possibly could before finally leaving the grounds for the home of her teenage years. Kaede had left her instructions and some coin to pick up a few supplies before leaving the city, at least to tide her over until their little abode in the forest was fit for occupancy again. The old woman seemed to have been pressed to vacate rather abruptly.

Sighing loudly, Kagome tried to stretch out her hunched shoulders, clasping her hands together behind and tilting her torso backwards. On top of her travel pack she had brought into the city with her, there were several additions from purchases in the city and a long bow with a quiver of arrows to boot. She supposed Kaede had her reasons, she was heading into densely forested backcountry after all. Exhaling with a little more ease this time, she looked up through the gaps of the canopy at the cheery blue sky. It was early spring still and the towering trees had just pushed out their new coats. The foliage was that fresh, bright green, just unfurled from their buds. Breathing in deeply, Kagome felt herself smile. It was really nice to be back actually, she really missed these ancient forests. Her home village was nestled into the foothills, so the surrounding forests were less dense and impressive. Eyes drifting closed of their own according, she sent her reiki out in a gentle, benign mist to the edges of her range. It may be unorthodox for a once-miko-to-be to like this but the small pulses of lower youkai in the area always calmed her. There were so many, a shade above their base animal counterparts, just living their lives. Just like she was.

Opening her eyes again, the girl refocused her attention to the physical world. Her destination was not frequented by any means, partially due to the fact it was deep into the heart of Goshinboku Forest. The path leading to the small dwelling was hardly a path. Since Kaede had declared she will no longer take any more apprentices after Noriko and herself, there likely would have been no traffic except the old priestess. Squinting slightly at the landmarks she knew by heart, the girl kept her focus on navigating. One wrong turn could get her lost for hours in the understory.

Soon enough, the massive trunks started thinning out into a small clearing. The clustering of younger saplings on the edges of it was so familiar, as was the scruffy groves of bushes crowding the far bank of a tiny stream that ran behind the back of the house. Kagome felt the tell-tale whisper of Kaede's reiki as she passed through the barrier that protected the dwelling and the little clearing around it. Suddenly, she felt slightly overcome by nostalgia. This place, equally and if not more so than Hatsue's, was her home. She had overcome a lot of challenges here and came of age here.

Picking her way through the mixed grasses and low lying plants, Kagome headed towards the wooden hut locate on the far side. It was shabby looking but a very sturdy house. At one point in time it was only a one room building, probably belonging to a woodcutter. Which would also explain the presence of such a large glade in the midst of towering trees. The previous owner must have been a hobby carpenter because several other additions have been added to the little hut to transform it into the slapdash look of the house now. They definitely did not have a care about traditional styles and rules because each new addition seem to have a different look to it. Whatever they fancied at the time she guessed. The result was homey and whimsical nonetheless.

She put a good shove with her shoulder into the heavy wooden amado that guarded the front entrance and it budged open with a low groan. Slipping into the narrow strip of packed earth just inside the door, Kagome carefully untied her sandals and stepped up into the well-worn wooden platform. Everything looked almost exactly the same since she last set eyes on it. The sunken hearth in the middle of the small room, with the sturdy metal cooking pot suspended from the ceiling over it. The far corner was a low bench where a couple of large basins sat. And lining the walls behind it were neat stacks of pottery and simple cookware. She ran a finger along the surface of the table and was happy to note only a fine coating of dust. Setting down all her parcels in a tumble, and carefully propping the bow and quiver against a nearby wall, Kagome fished a long strip of cloth from her robes to tie back her sleeves. She had some work cut out for her.

In no time, she had flitted around this main room, and slid open the wooden guards from the windows. With the musty air of the room chased out by a nice cross breeze, the house started to regain some of its former liveliness. Finding the broom still in its customary place from her apprentice days, Kagome made quick work of sweeping the floors and some light dusting. The bowls and cooking items will have to be rinsed in the stream though. Doing an inventory of her food stocks, it was a nice surprise to find the recessed storage under the kitchen area to contain quite a few root vegetables from last year's harvest, a tightly wrapped package of dried meat, as well as jars of preservatives. The heavy chest also contained a decent supply of rice and grains. Pleased, she went about settling her purchases from the morning into their proper places.

With mild hesitation, Kagome reacquainted herself with the rest of the new additions to the main hut, connected in a half-horseshoe shape extending from the right and back to enclose a little garden in front of the stream. It was mostly a rock and moss garden, designed to help focus the mind when meditating. As a child, she would sometimes find pretty pebbles in the nearby river and give them a home in the garden. The room adjacent to the kitchen and hearth area is a narrow one, filled with shelves of scrolls on one side and the other wooden drawers holding prepared and sorted medicinal herbs. It was where they spent most of their time with their theoretical studies. The last room looked the newest, lined with a crude approximation of shoji doors. Not nearly as grand as the temple but painstakingly crafted from materials sourced from the forest. This was where they all slept, with a simple privacy screen between Kaede and her pupils. At the most crowded period, there was Noriko, herself and Kikyou, a senior apprentice. But the older girl had moved to the Capital to pursue more intensive training shortly after the two younger ones' arrival.

Her old bedroom looked quite bare now. The privacy screen folded up near one corner opposite the wall with the recessed display, adorned by a single ink painting of bamboo. Kaede lived a very simple lifestyle. Kagome was again happily surprised by the near pristine state of the futon folded up in the closet. The little satchels of sharp smelling herbs tucked within the folds apparently did a stellar job of warding away moths and unwanted insects. She took the bedding out to air in the afternoon sun though, just to rid it of that slightly stuffy smell.

Satisfied with the condition of the washing room as well, she decided to ride this streak of energy and finish off one more chore on Kaede's to-do list. Actually, it was the number one chore on the list but she had skirted it because it seemed a little excessive at the time. But, Kagome respected her teacher a lot, even if the logic behind it often failed her. Feeling a touch guilty, she rooted around in the study for a sprig of the fragrant herb she would need for the spell. The sun had dipped below the tree line already, making dusk fall earlier in the clearing.

Quickly getting the dried branch to smoulder a little with the help of the small fire already built in the main room, she ran outside with a perfumed plume trailing after her. Sending her power to fan out in front of her, the kekkai anchors at the forest borders became clear beacons in her mind's eye. Walking over to where the nearest one was buried deep into the earth, Kagome pressed her palms in front of her chest, with the smoking sprig pressed tightly in her palms. Reciting the spell and impressing her reiki into the anchor, she proceeded to add her own barrier layered on top of Kaede's. Why? She had no idea. Kaede's spell was plenty strong alone. Stringing the spell along from one point to the next, she made quick work encircling the small clearing in protection against jyaki and youki, the latter they had never used to stop coming into glade before when she lived here as an apprentice. The next barrier however, she quickly realized she'd forgotten how to do erect. It was a spell she'd learned but never used, essentially the same sort of idea as the first one but designed to ward against humans with ill-intentions. It was a finicky spell and less reliable because unless said human was downright evil, there was no guarantee they wouldn't cross. Again, why she would need such a thing in a secluded area such as this, Kagome was at a lost. After scampering back inside, rifling through the scrolls to locate the specifics of the spell, it was already close to nightfall. By the time she successfully sealed the second kekkai, she had to squint to get back into the house without a lamp.

Thoroughly exhausted from the cleaning and then the spiritual workout, Kagome ate the last of the onigiri she got from the temple that morning and promptly passed out.

The morning sun streamed gently through the shoji screens, tinting the room in a warm, neutral colour. Opening her eyes to the latticed patterns cast on the walls was nostalgic, so was the earthy scent of moist foliage in the morning dew all around her. Yawning, Kagome sat up and stretched her arms up above her, having a habit of sleeping in a tight curled ball. Breakfast was a quiet affair, eaten peacefully looking out into the glade. It was definitely a contrast to the usual morning bustle of the village and the clamour of the children. Here, it was just the light chatter of the birds.

Kagome had her day's work all cut out for her. First, since the official task assigned to her by Kaede was to tend the 'apothecary', she would have to take an inventory of the garden. She found it amusing that her teacher would call their little home in the forest that. It was hardly even a homestead. But the study did always have a meticulously stocked collection of medicinal plants, down to the rarest one. Tying up her sleeves and catching her long, unruly hair in a scarf knotted close to her crown, Kagome set off to locate some tools stored in the shed on the other side of the garden.

When she finally juggled the door enough for it to pop open, she was totally unprepared for the small, furry creature that pounced on her, tiny paws launching off her chest to tumble down into a nearby bush. Cautiously parting the leaves, Kagome was delighted to find a tubby cat with a lovely coat of black, tan and cream, peering up calmly at her.

"Buyo!" She exclaimed happily and wasted no time in scooping the feline into her arms. "Have you been here all this time? How do you manage not to get eaten by anything out here?"

It was a legitimate question. Although she'd never detected a hint of youki on the creature, it was either extreme luck that not one wild predator had snatched up the lazy morsel or Buyo was blessed by the gods. The cat meowed lazily in reply and true to how he'd always been, completely uninterested. He put up no resistance when Kagome produced a tiny bell with a charmed red and white cord to tie around his neck, even though he clearly did not need extra protection from harm thus far. Happy to have her old companion back, Kagome proceeded to do some light weeding up and down the short beds with a tinkle trotting beside her. Kaede seemed to already have planted the annual herbs and the perennial shrubs only needed a light prune.

Pleased with her progress—much of the gardening was done already before noon— she decided on fishing down at that river. With some luck, she might have a big, tasty lunch with leftovers for dinner. Dropping a dirty bowl into the shallow divot, dug out a little from the bank of the stream for washing purposes, Kagome went to retrieve the foraging basket from the shed. The straps of the tall woven basket was deftly secured over both of her shoulders in no time, with a crude fish net lobbed into its depths.

The walk to the river was a decently long one but very pleasurable. Kagome hardly had to consciously find her way, the path long ingrained into her memory. Buyo had opted to stay curled up in a patch of sun on the inner porch, so she was left to her own devices. The forest was crisp and lively with the sounds of creatures out and about. Not wasting a good opportunity to forage, she kept her eyes peeled for any useful plants peeking out from the residual mulch while humming a catchy tune.

In no time, she had located the usual narrow bend in the river which sported handy jagged rocks lining the banks. There she secured the net, submerging the thin, translucent cords into the shallow waters on the side. Accustomed to the wait involved in the process, Kagome plopped down under a nearby tree, the canopy not yet fully grown out, letting down dappled warm sun into her lap. She sat there relaxed, enjoying the weather and nibbling on a few fresh shoots she had spotted along the way. Abundant in spring, a little tart but full of nutritious juices and good fibre too!

Thus, she was wholly unprepared for a high-pitched squawk sounding close overhead that made her jerk back in surprise. The sweep of muffled youki signaled a weak demon of sorts. Dislodging the pile of bark she'd been stripping from her lap, Kagome leapt up. Cursing her stupidity for leaving her bow at home, she grasped around for a nicely sized rock from the abundant pebbles strewn about the bank. Channeling a small amount of reiki into the projectile, just-in-case, she tensed— and there! A large, black bird, the size of a horse swooped down where her net was strung. The nerve!

"Leave that alone!" She shouted at it, at the same time throwing her stone at the crow-like youkai, purposely missing so as to scare it off, not harming it.

The bird banked to head back towards her. It had three eyes but they all seemed to be focused at a point beyond the canopy. And then everything happened at once. The bird screamed, and something else growled viciously and then the loud crack of a branch severed above her with the accompanying rustle as it came careening down towards the earth. Kagome only had a split second to throw herself at the ground, rolling over her shoulder to safety right before the splintered wood crashed into the space where she used to be.

"Hey asshole, hands off! I tracked it first!" Came an angry voice in the air above her, followed by a string of expletives.

Scrambling off her butt and a touch clumsily back on her feet, Kagome couldn't even quite get her bearings before the wave of youki hit her. Deep and complex, the new arrival was no weak creature. In a blur, alighting in front of her in a flutter of bright red and shining silver, the demon touched the ground gracefully, facing towards the river.

"What the fuck?" He growled, voice low and harsh. "You helped it escape!" He whipped his head around to face her and Kagome was momentarily arrested by the sight. Brilliant, flashing golden eyes, set in a sharp masculine face. And the ears. Oh, the ears! Fluffy, white triangles flitted about in the snowy mane.

And just as abruptly, he launched backwards from her to land in a low crouch, body poised to attack.

"Miko bitch!" His eyes narrowed and deadly, lips drawn back in a snarl, displaying prominent sharp fangs.

Things were happening fast enough to give her whiplash. Wha-at? Dumbly, she could only stare at the man. Then her eyes travelled to her right arm, noticing that she was still glowing a soft ethereal blue from channelling her powers to the surface. Hastily, she extinguished it, her skin returning to normal.

"There! Is that better?" She asked cautiously, hand raised with the palms towards him in hopefully a placating gesture.

The threatening rumbles from the man stopped. And he straightened, but still coiled to strike on a moment's notice. Kagome, against all her better judgement, stepped closer, just a little bit.

His golden eyes narrowed. His gaze was appraising as he took in her ruffled appearance.

"You made me lose the damn bird!"

"Uh… I'm sorry about that." She swallowed back her irritation, indignant at the offensive name for her he'd uttered twice now. "There can't be much meat on that thing anyways. Here, how about I give you a fish. I'm sure there's at least one in the net by now."

"I don't want your fucking fish." He spit back at her.

"What is your problem? I'm trying to be nice to you!" Kagome yelled right back at the infuriating man without a second thought, her temper finally snapping. Probably ill advised— if she was in her right mind. Here she was weaponless and yelling at a youkai. He'd probably decapitate her before she could even pick up another rock.

"Crazy bitch." He muttered. Letting loose another low, frustrated growl, the demon shook his head vigorously, as if ridding himself of some nuisance, sending his hair flying in a glimmer of movement. Then, with incredible speed, he launched himself straight up through the trees and was gone.

Her previous good mood evaporated, Kagome stomped over to rescue the overturned basket. At least it was still intact. Finding that there was actually not a single fish in her net, she sat down on the water's edge to wait once more, pelting pebbles into the river to vent her anger.

Thoughts straying back to the creature she had just met and his startling features, Kagome wondered what he was. His youki was certainly deep but he looked human enough. And even though it made her squirm to admit it, he was beautiful.

She'd never seen higher youkai before.

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A/N: Enter Inuyasha :)

Reviews and technical suggestions welcome, as always.


Amado - heavy wooden storm shutters that can cover both doors and windows. Kinda like extra security.

Jiyaki - similar to youki but distinctly malevolent energy

Kekkai - barrier

Reiki - spiritual, pure energy

Youki - the energy extruded by youkai

Youkai - demons


Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. However this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to.

Chapter Text

The Forest of the Goshinboku was named after none other than the ancient tree hidden deep in the wooded mountains. Although considered sacred and thought to be a source of considerable spiritual power, it is not frequently visited by pilgrims that came to visit Tenrinji and the collection of sacred relics it housed. A large part of the reason was that the narrow plateau was a couple of hours away from the city, and the hike up the mountainside was quite steep and strenuous.

Kagome made it a priority to visit the tree now that she'd returned, so after the must-do's around the house, she headed out not long after dawn. It was a fair trek away but it doubled as good physical training, scrambling uphill at a decent pace. The mountainside was bursting with spring growth which made it a forager's dream. Kagome was excited to spot a bush of early fruiting plum and another laden with bright, tiny berries. Wading in a shallow pond not far off the trail, she located water chestnuts and fresh shoots of a vegetable that spreads underground. It was in a fantastic mood that she skipped into the clearing where the Goshinboku lived. The sight of it never failed to take her breath away, the impossible girth of the tree, the spiral of branches into the sky and the sunlight filtering down through the lush canopy. Quickly paying her respects at the pair of large stones encircled by shimenawa, she made her way over to mass of giant roots. Scrambling up one with more grace than usual, she laid her fingers lightly on the thick bark. With her eyes closed, she could just feel that hum of energy trickling along the xylem and phloem, saturating every part of the tree. It felt so subtle but the depth of power likely rivalled that of its roots.

Tucking herself into one of the many comfy spots formed by the roots, Kagome settled down for a quick break and morning meditation. Her back supported by the trunk, she regulated her breathing in the practiced pattern, inhale, exhale. Just as her mind expanded out and reined back in to sink into the desired calm, she felt it. A brush, some distance above her, youki skimmed her mind. And the particular feel of that aura was familiar— she'd felt it before —just yesterday as a matter of fact. Jumping to her feet, she craned her neck to squint up into the leaves, looking for the distinct red of his robes. Nothing. Fanning out her reiki carefully, she was disappointed to find nothing.

Maybe she'd imagined it? Unable to resist a pout, she flopped back down onto her previous perch, and gave up on meditating. Her mind couldn't be farther from calm. It was bad enough that after seeing that youkai man yesterday, she couldn't stop thinking about him. He was incredibly rude yes, but he didn't seem to mean her any harm. Well, after she stopped channeling her reiki outwards that is. He was certainly menacing, those claws and fangs seemed pretty lethal but for some ridiculous reason, aside from the initial surprise, she couldn't dredge up much fear. There wasn't any of the usual tense anticipation she got from fighting youkai either. Really, all she wanted was a little more time to look. She'd only caught a glimpse of those fluffy ears and the particular shade of his eyes. It was so intriguing. What kind of youkai is he? And what's his name?

Berating herself silently for such silly preoccupations, Kagome sighed. Maybe this quiet life was too boring for her overactive mind. Getting up and dusting off the rear of her hakama, she hopped off the root. Should make herself useful and get back; she was planning to squeeze in a quick trip into the city. Kaede had asked for her help as an herbalist— although it sure sounded like a ruse— she really should at least do a good job of that. Of course her brain was not quite done with silly ideas yet. Following a sudden impulse, Kagome fished out the cloth-wrapped bundle of breakfast she didn't finish. It was nothing fancy, just handrolls filled with grilled fish and quick pickles she'd whipped up yesterday night. Making sure the knot was secure, she climbed all the way back up again to settle it snuggly in the crook of a low hanging branch. On second thought, she retrieved a couple of the small fruits she'd foraged on her way here, and tucked those in on top too. In all likelihood, it's all going to one lucky rodent.

Shaking her head, noting how foolish she was being, Kagome left the clearing. If the presence she'd sensed earlier was really who she thought it was, hopefully that's good enough for a peace offering. He did say she'd scared away his prey after all. And fair's fair.

She may or may not have semi-consciously said a prayer to the Goshinboku for them to meet again.

— — —

Kyo had definitely gotten much busier since she'd left. The land clustering around the mountain base, just inside the city walls where the commoners populated had filled in significantly. It became quickly apparently that she no longer knew her way around. The buildings she had used as landmarks are now largely hidden between the new structures crammed wherever there was room. The people seemed a lot less friendly than she remembered too; the young girl she'd stopped to ask for directions was terse and vaguely annoyed.

Casting about to find the narrow side path she was told to follow, Kagome was unprepared to be grabbed by the shoulder roughly and yanked backwards.

"Hey, watch it girl!" The voice belonged to stern faced man, dressed in the crude uniform of the lord's house. "You're not allowed to pass."

Flabbergasted, Kagome backed up to wait with the throngs of people now lining the street. What was passing through seemed like a long procession of mules and donkeys ladened with packs of all shapes and sizes. Probably a merchant's caravan. Must be some merchant though, to have their way cleared by the lord of Kyo's soldiers. Idly, she watched them go by with disinterest until a horse, a proper horse came into her line of vision. Actually, it was a quartet of horses, which is highly unusual given the expense of these animals. They were hardly used to haul goods. These were well groomed, with matching bridle and caparison in the lord's colours and emblazoned with the corresponding crest.

Following the line of their tether, she spotted a massive wagon of sorts and almost stumbled. It was essentially a wooden box on large wheels, a very narrow slight of an opening at the very top, barred and ran parallel to the roof. But what made her stagger was the long, narrow stripes of white paper, sporting a single line of symbols uniformly down its length. These crisscrossed each other, forming giant crosses that covered all the surfaces of the box. With her gifted vision, it burned. They were sutras without a doubt, imbued with spiritual power. But something was terribly wrong. The black tint they gave off, and the feeling of the energy they exuded, felt sinister, as if they were sucking her in. Reflexively, she staggered backwards.

"Miss," A soft concerned voice sounded beside her as she felt a warm hand clasp her elbow. "Are you feeling alright?"

Turning, Kagome blinked rapidly to clear her vision, trying to see through her eyes again instead of her mind. In front of her was the worried face of an older woman. She managed to pull herself together and utter her thanks before escaping.

Weaving through the dense neighbourhood once again, she tried to focus on getting to the infirmary. It should be located near the base of the city walls on the same side as the approach to Tenrinji. Her stomach was still unsettled and her heart was still beating rather frantically. There was something almost evil about it, a writhing sort of presence etched in those sutras that sealed the box. Getting herself somewhat under control, she managed to find her destination without further delay and was ushered into a small room to wait, away from the area that housed the sick.

Thankfully it wasn't long before an elderly man arrived in plain robes tied with a narrow deep blue obi. As she bowed in greeting, Kagome noted the faint silver thread decorating said obi, denoting the status of master healer. Straining her memory, his face did not seem familiar from her apprentice days.

"Good afternoon," He began, voice very quiet. "I am Hisaishi Yoshi, the current master healer. Kaede-sama had sent word to expect you."

"Hisaishi-sama," Kagome replied politely. "I am trained as an herbalist, Kaede-sama requests that I aid you in that regard."

They spent the next half an hour discussing back and forth on what sort of tinctures and herbs were of need at the infirmary. Kagome carefully repeated back each request, clarifying the intent the healer had for its use and the estimated quantities required. Finally, they prioritized the list such that she would know which to start preparing first. When it was all finalized, Kagome was surprised at the sheer amount of work set out for her. It would take her well into late summer, especially with some plants not ready to be harvested until then. That's not taking into account that certainly, other items will need to be replenished at regular intervals. Maybe Kaede really did just want her to come work as an herbalist, with the other in the city being more inclined toward commercial clients.

Reading through the list once more to make sure there weren't any discrepancies, Kagome noted for the first time the strange requests. Many of them were rarely used, of which a few portions of each were habitually kept in the temple or infirmaries for emergencies. Things such as antidotes for rare youkai poisons, and large quantities of mixtures used to treat serious burns. Her face must have betrayed her thoughts because the man beside her cleared his throat slightly.

"Higurashi-san, you must be wondering about the peculiar items on the list."

"My apologies," Kagome dipped her head a touch. "I am not as seasoned as my teacher but I do admit, I am surprised. I was expecting more along the lines of cures for simple and common ailments."

"Alas, would that be true," The healer sighed heavily. "we would all rest much easier. These days, every man, woman and child fancies themselves Taijiya. And who can blame them with the amount of coin involved?"

"Uh," Kagome stuttered, wincing inwardly at the ungraceful sound. "Pardon my ignorance, master healer, I do not understand." And suddenly her mind caught up to speed, flashing an image of the wheeled box. "Oh! Would this have to do with that caravan I passed by on my way here?"

At the prolonged silence, Kagome snuck a look at the elder. He was rubbing slowly at the space between his eyebrows and down the bridge of his nose, seemingly troubled.

"I'm sorry." Kagome back-pedalled. "It's not my place to ask."

"Nay. Kaede did mention that it has been some time since you've been in Kyo." His brown eyes suddenly grew rueful. "Many things have changed. Yes, that caravan you saw would have contained youkai. Likely a powerful one as tribute to the capital."

He said no more. And Kagome dared not ask again, watching dumbly as he folded up the parchment for her to take back with her.

The things that almost made her sick were indeed sutras then. She didn't imagine the aura of them. They weren't ordinary sutras though. Certainly nothing she or Noriko were ever taught to make. Nor have she seen Kikyou channel that kind of power, and the older girl was way more advanced in her studies. Kaede was unlikely to answer her questions even if she marched up to the temple to see her again. But judging from the clipped tone of the master healer, and the cryptic nature of Kaede's reception, perhaps it's not a topic she won't speak of, it's more like she can't.

— — —

The next day, Kagome hiked all the way back up to the Goshinboku. Her excuse was to get more of the plums she'd found the day before; they turned out to be a perfect ume substitute. In actuality, it was to investigate what had become of the small meal she'd left. She was being foolish but the blame was on her lack of social contact with the current living arrangements.

All the way there she'd been scaling down her expectations to what was reasonable. Really, what she would mostly find when she arrived is nothing. A wild animal would've made off with the food and there would be no trace left. That was that. It didn't stop the anticipation from building though as she clambered once more up to reach the branch that was barely accessible given her slight stature.

She gasped.

There, sitting innocuously on the tree limb was the cloth she'd used to tie it up, folded back into a neat little square with a heavy rock balanced on top so it wouldn't get blown off. Somehow she didn't think squirrels had the ability to do that.

Fishing out the package from her robes (not because she planned ahead for this or anything mind you!), she left the paper wrapped chestnuts she'd roasted extra this morning, and left it exactly where the previous gift was tucked.

Kagome found herself grinning randomly the rest of that day.

— — —

This pattern continued for a few more days, each day she'd book her way halfway up the mountain then back down early in the morning. She was getting so much fitter with the extra exercise. The rest of the days were spent foraging for the ingredients to sell at the apothecary in the city for extra coin. On top of that she had to find the components of the first batch of poultices required at the healers'. Between that and prepping said plants— be it drying or roasting or shaving or crushing— in precise quantities and binding them into cloth bundles, it kept her ample busy.

Each visit to the Goshinboku, Kagome made sure to bring a little bit of food for her elusive stalker. She hadn't tried to fan out her reiki again like the first time but with each passing day, she grew more confident that he was really there. It felt as certain as one would know they're being looked at. She felt her senses tingle in the back of her mind. But she was getting impatient. It's either he was as curious about her as she was him, or her cooking was spectacular. Somehow, Kagome really doubted it was the latter. She wanted to meet him properly! And today was the day she'd lure him out of the annoyingly dense canopy.

"Hey!" She called upwards, raising her voice to carrying through the trees. "I know you're up there!"

She paused. Only the sound of birds and usual forest happenings.

"Hello!" She shouted again, louder this time.

And still nothing. Kagome was beginning to feel very foolish. She supposed she could send out her reiki and flush him out but judging from his harsh reaction their first meeting, she doubted that would start her off on a very good note.

"You know," She tried again, taking on a coaxing tone. "I did bring you breakfast all these days, don't you think you could at least come thank me?"

And whoosh. That did the trick. With hardly a rustle of leaves, a red blurb materialized a distance away from where she sat, almost on the other side of the Goshinboku but still visible. His landing was graceful and effortless. When the curtain of hair fluttered back down with gravity, it revealed him crouched on all fours, like she remembered. This time not so tense, but obviously wary of her. From this far, she could still see the brilliant amber of his eyes.

"You left that shit on your own!" He retorted. "I ain't thanking you for nothing."

To her surprise— and evidently to his too as his golden eyes widened— she burst into loud giggles in response. She'd never thought a youkai would sound more like a teenage boy from the village! But his voice, she noted absently, was low and pleasing to her ears.

"What're you laughing at wench?" He growled at her, unsettled and still suspicious.

Well, better than 'bitch'. Making some progress.

"Ok, ok I'm sorry." Kagome appeased, still a little breathless from her laughing fit. She held her palms up in the air, repeating the same placating gesturing from that day by the river. "I just wasn't expecting you to say that. That's all."

He grunted at her but straighten up, sitting lightly back on his haunches. His expression was guarded though, eyes darting to assess the degree of threat she posed, as she caught him glance at the bow and arrows she'd left lying on the grass a little to her left.

"So…" She began, surprised to find her voice assuming a teasing tone. "About the 'shit', did you like it?"

He made a rude noise and rolled his eyes at her, shuffling from foot to foot uneasily. Just as she saw the telltale flex of his body heralding his imminent leap up and away, she yelled hastily.

"Wait!"

He froze.

"What's the catch huh?" He snarled. Without the menace of the first time they met but not exactly friendly either. "What the fuck do miko have to do with youkai that doesn't involve them dead." His eyes went haunted for just a brief second. "Or worse."

Thrown off and frankly, very confused, Kagome blurted out. "I'm not a miko!"

"A little food ain't gonna make me forget that easily bitch." His eyes narrowed, and to her dismay his expression grew harder again, speeding towards the offensive.

"I'm not!" She insisted again, hating how her voice got higher but in a hurry to turn the conversation back around. "I was going to be ok? But I wasn't good enough! I'm just a girl with a bit of reiki."

She suddenly glared at him, her trustworthy temper rising to the occasion, especially with the mention of her sore spot.

"So drop it ok?!" She demanded, arms flailing about in frustration, gesturing to her plain clothing to emphasize the absence of miko robes. "I'm not going to hurt you. If I was, I would have already!"

"As if a puny human like you could!" He snapped right back.

Taking a visible deep breath to calm herself, Kagome made a show of clasping both hands demurely back in her lap.

"Look," She exhaled slowly. "I didn't come here every day this week so we could have another shouting match. I just wanted to meet you. I know we got off on the wrong foot."

Remembering the item she had brought along today, she quickly retrieved the fragile treat. After collecting her earnings yesterday, she'd treated herself to tea. And thinking of him, she'd saved one of the two delicate sweets. Unveiling the botamochi wrapped in a sakura leaf, she held it out to him with both hands.

"I brought this for you."

She saw his nose twitch as his gaze focused on the sweet rice confection, and seemed to relax a little again. She made a little motion with her hands, encouraging him to take it from her. Faster than her human eyes could track, he'd leapt close, swiped the mochi from her palm without even touching her and landed back on the ground. She was pleased to note he was a smidge closer now; she didn't have to shout at him anymore. He sniffed again at the morsel captive between two clawed fingers, then tilted his head back and popped it into his mouth, canines glinting in the light.

"Truce?" Kagome asked, a smile twitching at a corner of her lips as she watched him swipe his lips with his tongue.

"Keh." He crossed his arms, jamming his hands into the sleeves, and turned his face away from her. But it sounded suspiciously like a 'yes'.

"I'm Higurashi Kagome." She continued happily, bobbing a little bow, as much of one, being seated and all. "What's yours?"

He turned back to look at her intensely for another long moment, seeming to deliberate silently. It was kind of unnerving to be pinned with those eyes. She tried to appear as friendly and unthreatening as possible, not entirely sure why she was so obsessively driven to befriend this man.

"Inuyasha."

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A/N: Thank you for those who've read and left me such encouraging reviews! I'd forgotten how much motivation one needs to write multiparters, been too used to writing drabbles :P


Botamochi - a confection made of ball of sticky rice (usually in an oblong shape) and classically covered in sweetened azuki bean paste. Mochi basically is a ball of sticky rice.

Shimenawa - a straw rope with white zigzag pieces of paper bound to it. It's usually used to mark the boundary of something sacred.

Taijiya - demon slayers

Ume - a variety of asian plum, specifically Prunus mume

Youkai - demons


Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. However this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to.

Chapter Text

 

"Uh, wench, you look pretty stupid."

She had been so intently focused on her task that the sound almost made her tumble off head first. Granted she was in a rather unconventional position, balanced on her tummy on the log (it's rather painful putting so much weight on one's chest) and angled slightly down to bring her face in close proximity to the green carpet thriving under the shelter of the decaying wood. She wiggled a bit to push her torso back upright with the weight on both her palms to locate the intruder.

"Urg, Inuyasha," She mustered an impressively lethal glare at his smirking face given how awkwardly contorted she was. "Don't scare me like that!"

"Not my fault your human ears are so shit." His amused drawl floated down from above her.

She looked back down at the spongy earth beneath the log, trying to resume the tedious chore, secretly hiding her smile behind the curtain of hair that fell over her shoulder. She had missed seeing him yesterday, so intent on catching up on her work that the sun was settling before she even registered the passed time. She was behind on the deadline for the first poultices for the healers and was trying to haul ass to get them finished. There was still a few outstanding ingredients to locate.

"So this is what you've been doing the last couple of days." He taunted, trying to catch her attention again. "Squinting at the ground?"

"What? Did you miss me?" Kagome retorted cheekily, easily reading between the lines. It was surprising given the short amount of time she'd known him, how effortless he was to read. He was the most honest person she knew.

"F-fuck no!" He exclaimed, his expression one of mild panic.

"Wow thanks." She rolled her eyes at him as she swung around on her hip to sit back securely on her bum. There wasn't a chance she was going to get her focus back with him around. She gave him a meaningful look.

"Uh," He fidgeted a little, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, not meeting her eyes "So whatcha doin'?"

Deciding to be nice and let him change the topic, she hopped off to kneel on the ground, bringing the two small baskets closer to her.

"I'm gathering these two plants. See here," She brushed one palm across the blanket of lush plants low to the ground."From far away these all look like the same plant but if you look very carefully, one has these scalloped edges." Kagome leaned in close, nose almost skimming the foliage and picked a tiny peltate leaf in each hand.

Inuyasha had crouched closer to her, hands planted between his knees, expression surprisingly intent on her words. She brought both leaves up to his eye level for inspection.

"See?" She smiled gently. "This one helps with lessening bruising," She shook the leaf with the smooth edge. "And this one, will make people bleed more." In turn, she motioned with the other captive leaf. "So I have to be really careful not to pick the wrong one. Too bad they always grow together like this!"

He was still watching her as she placed each leaf in their respective baskets.

"So basically your eyesight also sucks." Inuyasha concluded smugly, smirking at her.

"I give up." Kagome deadpanned. "Just let me get back to work. I need this done today or I'm definitely going to be behind!"

Huffing, she made a show of bending back down to inspect the plants. Might as well stay seated like this until her neck starts hurting again. Suddenly, a voluminous red sleeve appeared in her field of vision, and then was promptly elbowed (gently) aside.

"Wench," Inuyasha muttered. "You're gonna go blind at this rate and still not have enough. Say when."

Then in a blur, his hands weaved in and out in front of her, the movement smooth and precise. Kagome's jaw dropped as she watched the little piles of green literally grow in front of her eyes. Within minutes, he had gathered the amount that would've taken her until sundown.

"W-whoa! That's good Inuyasha!" She finally recovered her wits to stop him.

He stilled, darting a quick glance her way but she was still focused on his hands. They were long and tapered, elegant in contrast to the jagged claw tips. Noticing her scrutiny, he snatched them away and hid them in his sleeve again. Kagome jerked up to search his face. Did she embarrass him?

"Keh." He growled softly. "Whatcha staring at?"

"Inuyasha, that was really amazing!" Unthinkingly, she reached out to close a palm reassuringly on his forearm. She felt him tense, but didn't shake her off. Somehow she felt very much compelled to dissipate the sudden cloak of self-consciousness she sensed about him. "But you are such a show off!" She squeezed his arm for emphasis.

"You know it wench." That did the trick, bringing back a tooth flashing smirk.

She giggled. He was always such a blur of opposing moods that in turn sent her tumbling from one emotion to another. If nothing, her new friend certainly brightened up her day. Taking the baskets from his side, she bound a light cloth snugly around each opening. The leaves were so small, she couldn't risk losing any of the precious bounty on the transport home. Arranging the them into the bigger carry basket, she rummaged about and was dismayed to find she'd left her lunch behind.

"Oh Inuyasha… " She turned to him again and was immediately captivated by his ears. Both appendages flicked towards her, one, the right one seemed to be funnily drooped to one side, as if overextending to reach her. "I didn't bring any food with me today…"

"Keh. " He scoffed, crossing his arms tighter against his chest. "I get my own food!"

"I know, I know," She wagged her hand downward a little; a placating gesture. "But I like bringing you something."

"You are one weird wench."

"I have a name you know." On impulse, she reached over for him before giving it a second thought. She felt him stiffen but didn't move a muscle when she grabbed two good handfuls of his generous forelocks to gently tug his face towards her. "Now repeat after me: Ka-go-me!" Her eyes met startled gold, a split second before he made his signature noise and swatted her hands away.

Hah. At least she got to touch his hair! Now how to get at the ears?

"Oi, hands off wench!" He snarled half heartedly, quickly leaping up and turning his back towards her but not before she noticed his cheeks. Were they a little pink? Or did she imagine it?

She sighed dramatically. Again, roller coaster moods much? Shaking her head, she got up to her feet, securing the handle of the carry basket securely into one crook of arm. Promptly, her stomach let out a loud gurgle.

"Heh." Kagome laughed sheepishly. "I guess I better get some food in me."

The silver haired boy turned to roll his eyes at her. Then just as he appeared, he shot back up into the canopy without warning.

"Bye to you too Inuyasha!" Kagome hollered up into the trees, once again a little miffed. "You're so damn rude!"

It was a much more manageable away to handle things. She had to bite her tongue a few seconds earlier, barely catching herself before she invited him over for a meal. But then again, why couldn't she?

— — —

They settled into an unspoken pattern the following days. Since she had a rush of work to finish, she'd told Inuyasha that she wouldn't be able to make their morning breakfast meet ups until she was done. And to her surprise, and secret pleasure, he had been making a habit of randomly appearing during some part of her day. Sometimes he would badger her, trying to taunt her into bickering with him. Other days, like today, he would merely show up and hang around in her vicinity.

Speaking of, currently, the subject of her musings seemed to be napping. Not far from where she was kneeling on the river bank, about half way up on a sturdy alder was a large branch. And draping off that branch, was a billowing red hakama leg and a bare foot. If she looked carefully, she could see the shiny tips of his long mane dangling near the trunk. He looked completely in his element despite how strange it was for her to see a boy so far up a tree.

Smiling, Kagome returned her attention to the shallow waters, looking for the last set of roots she'd need. Plunging her chapped hands into the still fairly cool water, she deftly located the targeted tangle. Fingertips carefully feeling around, she found the slight protruding rhizomes along the gnarled lengths and pinched them off. Victorious, she sloshed back to the bank and lobbed them into the basket to join the remainder. Reaching down to untie her hakama legs and release them back to her ankles, she felt a familiar gaze settle on her.

Wandering over to the his tree, she peered up him but all she could see from this angle was dark red robes, silver hair and crossed arms.

"Say, Inuyasha," She started mischievously. "You seem to like your naps... are you a cat youkai?"

He raised himself up on one elbow, and glared down at her.

"Dog." He clarified, clearly annoyed. "I'm half inu-youkai wench. It's in my damn name even."

Kagome was actually surprised he'd answer her so straightforwardly. She'd been expecting a 'keh' or 'bitch mind your business.' Wait, half?

"What's the other half?" Too late, she realized she'd accidentally voiced her thoughts out loud.

He leapt down to settle himself at the base of the tree, crossed arms and she thought she heard a mumble.

"Come again?" She asked feebly.

"Human." He barked, golden eyes blazing at her briefly and then dropped to glare hard at the ground in front of him. "I'm hanyou." He spat out with disgust, tugging harshly at one ear.

Uncertainly, she walked over slowly, closer to where he sat.

Belatedly, she winced, recalling her teachings in the past about the youkai and hanyou, the offspring of human and youkai, and how to differentiate the respective auras. Strange, when she had felt it the first time, when he was flaring his youki while hunting the demon crow, it had definitely felt substantial enough to be full youkai. She'd never really seen an hanyou of course, being cloistered out here as an apprentice and with her home village so remote, no one of interest ever passes by.

"I think you're pretty great!" Kagome blurted out, except it came out all wrong; she'd meant to tell him he had great abilities so why did it matter that he was hanyou?

His eyes fair bugged out his face in disbelief, jaw slack. But he quickly recovered, his favorite expression of vague annoyance back in place.

"Keh. That explains why you're not a miko."

That stung. And as much as Kagome noticed he'd revert back to snarky, angry mode as his comfort zone when their conversations strayed beyond safe territory, this was a bit too far. Not saying a word, and pursing her lips to keep it that way, she turned on her heel away from him to walk back towards the river.

She heard a shuffle as he made to follow her.

"I-it's a good thing wench!" He blustered, finally having come up with something to say that didn't sound overtly weak.

She pointedly ignored him, swiping the fishing net from her belongings and continued to march over to where she would secure it. Then, unannounced, he flew up in an arc over her to land with a splash the river. Transfixed, she watched him roll up his bright red sleeves, revealing toned, sinewy forearms. And with two fluid movements, his hands consecutively cut in and out of the water.

Stalking out and walking towards her, his expression was disgruntled and his golden eyes darted to meet hers then off to the side. Tangling off his fingers, wedged in by the gills were two large fish, their twitching bodies gleaming in the sunlight.

It was an apology if she'd ever seen one.

When she held out a basket to accept the fish from him, Kagome swore she saw a corner of his mouth pull up. Hanyou huh? That explained how much he liked her human food.

— — —

When she went to drop off the completed poultices the next day, Kagome was disappointed to find Hisaishi-sama away from the infirmary. She was greeted by one of his senior apprentices instead. She was hoping to somehow engage him in conversation to find out more on the situation in Kyo. She couldn't quite put her finger on it and everyone seemed to skirt around the subject, especially those with connections to the temple and its spiritual subdivisions.

Since finding out Inuyasha's heritage again, she'd gone home to rifle through the old texts in the study to refresh herself on what she had learned as an acolyte. Well whatever mysteries the spiritualists over the years have discovered anyways. And that was very little, overall the youkai race was largely an enigma still, and even less were known about hanyou. She did manage to find some tidbits on the nuances of their aura that would be useful when she manipulated barriers again. Reading well into the night, musing till the candle burned down to a little nub, she almost fell asleep on the table. Kagome had forgotten how strange her viewpoints were in contrast to most other spiritualists. The overarching theory of her religion were dualistic, as in youkai bad, humans good, which put hanyou in this no-man's land bordering an abomination in many's regard. She wasn't naive and acknowledged that some may be the result of rape but even so how would these children be any different that those conceived by the same crime committed to a human woman by a human man? And surely, surely, not all hanyou were conceived thus. She refuse to believe that!

Smiling ruefully she remembered the many lashings she'd nursed as a child for her sharp tongue and preposterous ideas. Once, during a group teaching at the temple of many acolytes, she'd tried to reason with one of the elders that it just wasn't logical that all youkai would be bad. Because there were definitely humans who commit atrocities and if the youkai were indeed universally evil, then why wouldn't they have wiped out the human race already? She was bed bound for a day after that beating. Kaede, while having zero tolerance for insolence but had always adopted a more liberal attitude in her thinking, but only in private. They had had many late night philosophical debates in this very study.

It was a shame that she knew next to no one in the city despite having lived here for years. Her and Noriko were deliberately sequestered out in the forest so they would focus on their studies. And being essentially miko-in-training, none of the normal children wanted to associate with them, thinking they would be spies for the adults. But oh! Since it was market day, there might be someone she could find. There was an old lady that always made killer senbei with her secret blend of sauce that glazed perfectly over the rice crackers. She was born in the same village as Kaede-sama and took a special liking to Kagome. She'd always come away from the markets with her robes padded with fresh senbei that she'd try and hide from Noriko. Her mouth started watering thinking of the snacks. It would be great to bring some back for Inuyasha to try!

Kagome made her way down to the largest square along the main street not too far for the city's South Gate. The streets were bustling with the extra traffic, many carting loaded baskets and cloth bundles of wares either on their way to sell or back from a substantial shopping trip. Some bigger merchants had stalls set up with signage and pricing, while others were selling smaller inventories spread out on bamboo mats on the ground. She scanned the goods absently, trying to think of anything else she may need be running out of at home.

Looking up at the sudden increase in decibel of the background noise of chatter, she noticed a large ring of people surrounding the pen that housed large farm animals in the past. Curious, Kagome rose up top her tip toes to see if she could catch a glimpse of what the fuss was about as she passed by. Sometimes, there were rare animals at the markets; she'd seen a beautiful black stallion on sale once. She almost trampled a person that cut in front of her when she caught sight of the animals. The two oxen had three eyes.

Unconsciously, she wormed her way into the crowd, trying to get closer to the fence. The wide eyes of the youkai were tinged red, crazed with fury yet also reminiscent of the panic in spooked horses. There was thick cord -probably if she wrapped her hand around it, she wouldn't enclose it all the way - braided of white and black material. It looked exactly like the kind you would see on temple grounds, except not the red and white, this was black gleaming oily. There was an intricate knot, not one she recognized, that sat right at the creatures' throats. The rope wound around their necks, around their torso, circling the higher joint of each limb and ran back a long their spine back to join the knot.

Calling to her reiki, but just a smudge of it, not enough to distress the captive youkai any further, she examined the bounds. She'd braced herself mentally, knowing instinctively that it would likely feel like the sutras on the cart last week. Sure enough, it was, but weaker, probably proportional to the youki it was suppressing. The aura of it was just as sickening though, filling her with a cold hollowness.

"One hundred silver! Demon oxen, thousands times strong than your animals. You can work them to the bone and they'll be fit as a fiddle to go again the day!"

"Fibber!" A sturdy man with a weathered face spat from the other side of the circle. "This is just some plaything for the rich."

The youkai chose this moment, when the spindly man holding the spelled reins was momentarily distracted to buck wildly, small licks of flame flickering at their hoofs. The man, surprisingly stable despite how weak he looked, gave a snap of the cords, and they flared black to Kagome's gifted sight.

"Behold you fool." He scoffed, eyes mean and glittering. Then he flung his left hand forward, sending the flogger across the pair of youkai.

In unison, the crowd gasped. The backs of the youkai were flayed open, the thick muscles along their spines neatly cut through exposing a gleam of bony white. Oh kami, she felt sick. The flogger was tipped with uncommonly long blades. Blood, thick and red, the colour not so exotic, welled up and oozed down their sweaty flanks. Who in their right mind would treat their own animals like this?

The air grew uncomfortably silent, then murmurs rose slowly as the bleeding slowed and stopped, clotting in front of their eyes. The flesh was still gaping but obviously if these animals were not demonic, they would likely die from such a fatal wound.

"Fifty silver." The same voice from that man, the one who'd called the seller a liar.

Unsettled, and having had enough of the disgusting sight, Kagome turned to elbow away from the throng. Her original destination, if still in operation would be hidden in the outer rim of the square, wedged between two food stalls. Brightening just a touch, Kagome spotted the rickety, slightly lopsided cart and made her way to the bent over silhouette manning the booth.

"Yanagi-obaa-san," A bit shaken still, she stepped up to the figure, so short she could only see the light grey hair gathered into a voluminous knot on the back of her head. "Good afternoon."

The pair of keen eyes peered up at her from the small, wizened face.

"Kagome! Child," The woman exclaimed brightly, voice loud and substantial for such a tiny person. "Is that really you? Come here and let me take a better look at you."

She hobbled out and around the perimeter of the cart, wiping her hands on the cloth tied around her apron. Kagome obediently bent down, letting the wrinkled palms settle on either side of her face, inhaling the delicious scent of sweet soy sauce. After a moment of scrutiny, she felt two firm pats from said hands and was released.

"Good." Yanagi nodded satisfactorily. "You've grown into quite the beauty. Did I not say that my senbei is good for you?"

"Hai hai!" Kagome giggled, pink colouring her cheeks.

The elderly woman's gaze roamed down and back up her body, registering the attire of dark green hakama and un-bleached linen. The significance of this registering in the slight flicker of her eyes made Kagome squirm in discomfort.

"Child, if you are not a miko, why have you returned?" Yanagi murmured.

Although it sounded harsh, Kagome understood what she was asking. If her past digging was correct, Yanagi and Kaede both have spiritual powers. Yanagi chose not to become a miko.

"I-" Kagome cleared her throat, suddenly embarrassed without reason to be. "Kaede-sama requested my return. She needed a herbalist."

Yanagi's darted up to meet hers squarely, the look searching and intense for a brief moment. Then, without an explanation, she dropped her attention back to the assortment of rice crackers she was assembling.

"I see." She replied evenly. "Well this old woman is glad to see you. You must visit often."

Kagome nodded, worrying her lip as she silently debated whether to steer the conversation towards an uncomfortable topic. Her gaze darted over to the slowly expanding crowd around the corral in the middle. The pearly glint of what must've been the creatures' spine flashed unbidden in her mind again. She winced, unable to stop herself.

"Are you alright child?" Nothing escaped those sharp eyes.

"Yeah." She swallowed nervously. "Obaa-san, you know... did you, um, happen to see what they're selling over there?"

"The bound youkai." Came the quiet reply. A statement, not a question.

"Yes. That's not r-, I mean, you shouldn't-" She tripped over the words, not really actually even sure of what she was trying to say. What she wanted to say was that's plain wrong. You kill youkai if they threaten you, but even animals, plain animals were treated with more respect. They were taught that all beings were from the kami! But she was in public and not a child. That kind of brazenness would not go unpunished. Especially with how unfazed people in Kyo seemed with this practice. Not before she found out more details and what supported this- whatever this was - and inside she shied away from calling it what she knew deep in her gut it was.

"Yes." The older woman was still calm, her tone light, as if chatting to a regular customer about what flavours they preferred. "It has gained momentum at incredible speed. In a blink, it was more common place than we had expected. And more entrenched than we knew. She was so confident in the sanctity of the teachings and that righteousness blinded her."

Kagome could only listen, hoping she would divulge more. Who was 'she'? Could she mean Kaede?

"Every fortnight, on the Saturday evening, there is an auction. At the old granary." Yanagi continued evenly. "So, still have a soft spot for the nori senbei Kagome?"

"Huh?" Kagome floundered, noticing a larger group of people was exiting the eatery beside the stand. "Uh yeah! I love those."

She watched with nostalgia as the familiar hands bundled the seaweed wrapped circles into a cloth sack she'd brought along. The conversation was over. And there was enough information in those short sentences for her to digest. Plus, Yanagi-obaa basically handed her a big hint going forward.

"Um, obaa-san, could I get a couple more nori ones?" Kagome piped up sheepishly.

The old woman raised an eyebrow in question.

"I have a friend, he is thin as a nail and could use some of your senbei magic." Kagome laughed. Really she could imagine the dog-boy scarfing down her share of the snacks and wanted to make sure she squirreled away extra!

"He, eh?" Yanagi grinned slyly.

"Obaa-san!" Kagome groaned.

Sometimes, she swore Yanagi was almost like Kaede's alter ego, except less proper and much more prone to tease incessantly. The two women had the exact uncanny knack of reading her mind at times.

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A/N: There we have it folks! I will try and get another one out before the holidays. Drop me a review and let me know what you think :)


Inu-youkai: dog demon

Hai: yes

Hakama: wide legged pants

Hanyou: half demon

Nori: seaweed

Senbei: rice crackers of different shapes and seasonings


Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. However this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to.

Chapter Text

 

At first she'd meant to ignore it. It wasn't a rare occurrence, sensing stronger youki in the forest. After all, she had made her home in their territory and as long as they didn't bother her, the energy staying benign, then she would leave well alone. Even as the aura flared strong into the offensive, Kagome tried her best to keep her focus on the forest floor for the plant she was out searching for. There was constantly youkai hunting and territorial spats deep in the forest. Actually now that she thought about it more closely, it seemed there's way less youkai activity than there used to be back in her student days. The variety and pulses of youki used to be standard background noise whereas nowadays, the appearance of any was noticeable. Maybe it had to do with rapid expansion of the city; most youkai just want to be left alone to be honest.

A deafening crack rent the air, with an ensuing chorus of startled birds shooting out of the canopy. It sounded like a tree just came crashing down in the direction of the Goshinboku. And then, unmistakably, glancing off her mind's eye like a shooting star, flared Inuyasha's youki. Fierce and aggressive.

Kagome debated back and forth for a moment whether it would be wise to go see what's going on. She haven't forgotten how mad he got the first time they met and she'd scared off his prey. Didn't want a repeat of that considering the amicable pattern they've fallen into the last few weeks. Well, relative for the brash hanyou anyways. Truthfully, his straightforwardness was refreshing given how strictly polite temple folk tend to be.

Mind made up, she wedged her foraging basket for safekeeping in between some rocks. Grabbing the bow and quiver, Kagome set off in the direction of the commotion. She was just gonna go look, stay out of sight, couldn't hurt right? She broke into a steady jog in order to get to where Inuyasha was as quickly as possible. But as soon as she got relatively close, she would have to slow down and then try to keep herself scarce. He would definitely, a hundred percent have her head if she got in the way. All she wanted to do was you know, hide behind a rock and make sure he was ok. Which was absolutely absurd because he was hands down the strongest person she knew. Not that she'd tell him that in a million years of course.

The escalating sound of destruction signalled her to exercise more caution and start hunting for a safe space to hide. A near perfect place was quickly spotted a bit further ahead and Kagome hurried to wedge herself neatly under the narrow rock overhang before she could be discovered. She was on a slightly higher elevation from where she estimated the youkai to be fighting, so hopefully she could still see a bit of what's going on. So intent on peering through the tree to catch a glimpse of his bright red clothing, she almost screamed when a high pitch splinter rent the air close above her as one of the trunks that sheltered her hiding place snapped from the weight thrown into it. Luckily, she'd slapped a palm over her own mouth before she made a sound. Darting a quick glance out from underneath the rock, she caught a glimpse of a long flailing body, plated exoskeleton underside with a pair of spindly legs extending out of each section in grotesque points. The youkai thrashed violently, snapping the remaining fibres that were the remains of the tree. Slithering smoothly on the ground to right itself, Kagome could only see the tail end of it with three dripping stingers. So a massive centipede youkai. Lovely. Insect youkai were her favourite.

"Hanyou, you killed my mate!" A gravelly female voice hissed outside her view. "I will make you pay!"

"As if you could, hag!" Inuyasha's voice, snide and taunting came closer. Bright crescents of energy whizzed past her eyes, then a scuffle and the sound of likely more unfortunate trees being felled.

From her vantage spot, she could only see bits of pieces as the fight carried on. Swatches of the same arthropod and glimpses of Inuyasha as he weaved through the air, the swipes of his arms smooth and calculated. His movements were practiced and flawless and for some reason it thrilled her to watch him dance in the air.

Then a scream of agony. And a "See? Too fucking slow bitch!"

A massive coil of legs and body sections writhed in the air as the owner crashed backwards on her posterior side, a gaping slash opened on the lower part of the belly bleeding bright green insides. Kagome could finally see the demon in her entirety. The creature was about four-fifths a magnified centipede but the insect body blended into a human female's naked torso, with three sets of arms. The skin was ghostly pale and where her face should be was only a rough human skeletal structure with protruding eyes and a wide jaw glistening with fangs. Her hair was limp and messy, strewn across the earth as she lay unmoving on her side.

Inuyasha leapt down into her field of view, the lines of his limbs fluid with the energy of the hunt. He landed on all fours into a crouch, then stalked smoothly towards the felled youkai like the predator he was. Somehow, with their easy interaction she'd never really thought of him as dangerous, just a rude, but well-meaning boy.

Right as he reached out a bare foot to kick at the flaccid form, and Kagome felt the spark in youki. But there was no way she could react fast enough to warn him. Just as she registered what it meant, Inuyasha crashed down hard before her eyes. The thick, multi-legged body of the youkai wrapped several times around him, almost completely obscuring the red of his robes. Crimson liquid began to seep out from around the insect's coils. The youkai had bled green earlier, which means that blood was Inuyasha's. Her pulse thudding in her throat, Kagome felt for her bow and unslung it from her shoulders. With what she knew of his personality, he would not react well to her help. And he was powerful… but she had to be ready just in case.

"You are a traitor, hanyou." She rasped lowly. The loops of flesh around him loosened as she replaced the restraints with her arms, one hand around his neck, one grinding his head into the ground. The other set pinned down his arms and torso, while his legs remained wrapped up by the insect part of her. "The taint of your blood is the travesty of your parents but you sold out to them. To hunt your own. That makes you worse than the filth you are."

Kagome eased out silently into a stooped kneel, giving herself some room to draw the bow but still be as inconspicuous as possible. Her fingers felt for an arrow and notched it. Even though her inner voice was frantically screaming for action, she would wait. This was his fight.

"I will bleed out every drop of your blood to avenge my mate."

He struggled and his arms kept thrashing upwards in bursts of effort, but his hands grasped nothing but air. The youkai was strategic, feigned inferiority to play on his arrogance and then exploiting the consequent carelessness. The growls did not cease but he couldn't attack in this hindered state. Then his head was wrenched sharply to the side, his throat bared.

The youkai lunged. And Kagome released the hama-no-ya.

The creature howled as the arrow skimmed across the coils bounding Inuyasha's legs. Once freed, he bucked upwards and in a flurry of limbs and blades of youki, the centipede woman's head came clean off her neck.

Inuyasha still had his back to her, body heaving with quickened breath. Green blood was dripping from his arched claws to the ground. Slowly, he turned towards her but did not meet her eyes.

"Wench," he growled, voice cracking from the abuse earlier. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

"Inuyasha…" She began cautiously, a little breathless still from the adrenaline. "I—"

"You're fucking sticking your nose in places you shouldn't be!" He snarled at her, the golden irises flashing an emotion— she hoped to god it wasn't shame— an instant before they solidified into an angry glare. "I had it under control!"

From the youkai's words, Inuyasha had killed her mate. She was justified in seeking her revenge against him. The demon had done nothing to personally threaten Kagome herself. That's why she hadn't aimed the arrow at the heart to purify her immediately even though it was a clean shot. But the creature would've done serious damage to Inuyasha if Kagome hadn't intervened.

"I know!" She yelled back, now a little pissed after the fear at seeing him pinned down like that and bleeding was subsiding. She rushed furiously downhill to where he was.

"Fucking mind your own business next time, idiot!"

"I was trying to help you!" Kagome marched right up to him, hands balled tight by her side, bow swinging wildly on her shoulder. "We're friends Inuyasha!"

He stilled at that. Clearly stunned by her comment. In the split second of silence, she noticed that he was pressing his palm to the side of his head. Somehow, she hadn't noticed at all while she'd been yelling at him but he was very bloody.

"Let me see that." Kagome softened, reached up to glance her finger tips against the hand he had on his forehead.

That seemed to snap him back into defence mode as he swatted her hand away. Without the pressure, the long gash starting at his temple and winding god knows how far into his hair line began to ooze. From her experience, scalp bled a lot and took longer to clot. He growled warningly at her, and began to back away, making to escape. Bright red drops dribbled past his dark brow and into his left eye.

"Gods! Inuyasha, stop!"

"What? You gonna make me?"

"I'm asking you." That seem to throw him for another loop.

She took advantage of this and tugged on his sleeve, drawing him down to sit on his haunches. She kneeled beside him to take a closer looking at the gash. It seemed to already have slowed but it was very deep, and would need stitches. She'd have to convince him to come back to the house with her, where all her healer supplies were. She was now primarily an herbalist but had some basic training preparing for a miko's duties once upon a time. Fishing inside a sleeve, she located a handkerchief and proceeded to wipe off the blood that got into his eye.

"Wench, will you leave me alone?" He grumbled moodily but didn't try to push her away again. "I'm not useless."

"I know you're not, Inuyasha." She sighed, pressing the folded square with even pressure against his skin.

Idly, her eye wandered across his left ear hidden in his red splashed tresses. A rather nasty blue-black bruise stained the little appendage. The discolouration formed an oddly uniform shape, square-ish with lined impressions. And did it look the same on the underside of his ear too? Ducking her head a little, but still not quite getting a clear view, she reached out with her free hand. Just as her fingers skimmed the silky fur, he jerked his entire body backwards.

"Fuck! What are you doing now?"

"I'm sorry!" She apologized hastily. "I think you hurt your ear too, I was just gonna take a clos—"

He growled a bunch of barely comprehensible words at her then, saying it was nothing, face red and flustered. He didn't move close enough for her to inspect again.

"I think you need that sewn." Kagome told him evenly after his tirade dwindled.

"My body is built different than yours!" He snapped back. "See, it's healing already."

"I can't if you're that far away." She retorted. She leaned in once more and sure enough, the gash seemed much shallower then it appeared just minutes ago.

"See? Told you."

"Would you at least come with me to a stream so I can wash it out?" Kagome pinned him with a steady look. Hopefully later on she could lower his guard enough to see how badly he was hurt where she couldn't see. There had been a lot of blood leaking from beneath the centipede's coils earlier.

"Would it stop you from bitching?"

"Uh-huh."

"Keh. Just don't mess with the ears."

— — —

It was well into dusk when Kagome walked through the city gates. Most of the traffic was going against her, loaded carts and working folk traveling home after a day's work. She wore the plainest robes she had with her, leaving her usual distinct green hakama at home. Her hair was bound in a tight braid and pinned up at the nape of her neck. Not sure how much sneaking around she would be doing tonight but she figured the slimmer her silhouette, the better.

The old granary was on the east side of town, where the city was built further into the gorge between the two mountains on the foot of which Kyo sat. It was also the oldest settlements and as such, most of it had fallen into disrepair as the more affluent populations started migrating further uphill. She'd always been told to avoid this part of town and as such have never really gotten to know it. Making her way through the much narrower streets, it was pretty obvious that there wasn't much of a plan when they were laid, making it a confusing maze of broken footpaths. The buildings were a haphazard mix of occupied and decrepit but the people seemed fairly ordinary. Rumour was the rougher crowd made their base near the abandoned coal mine at the depths of the east city.

The sky had completely darkened by the time she reached the building. It was massive, as expected given its original intended use, made of large planks of sturdy timber. One side of the roof and the back loading area was partially collapsed, large chunks of the ceiling caving down and the section of wall nothing but rotten splinters. Firelight spilled out of the gap between the twin closed doors and the hushed murmur of a crowd could be heard. The auction had already begun then. Quickly but with care, she squeezed between the broken down gap in the far back and crept in.

Sending a quick prayer to the kami to protect her from getting buried by fallen timber, she wove around all the decaying wood. It seems like this corner of the granary was a dumping ground for trash. Crumbles of mud and grass that used to cover the ceiling lay in drifts, as with large rotting beams, creating quite the obstacle course. Working inwards and stopping just short of the debris to remain well hidden she finally caught a glimpse of what she came here to see. She was just off to the right and behind the cluster of people ringed around a somewhat raised platform, crudely hammered together from scrap wood. They were dressed like normal folk but she supposed no one wanted to stand out in these kinds of situations.

Diagonally across from her was a makeshift corral for lower youkai, those that looked more like animals but with demonic features. It seemed like the last of them had just been auctioned off. Each sported similar harnesses that she'd seen before on captive youkai both on the streets of Kyo and at the market last week. Her attention was stolen abruptly by the sound of a cow bell of sorts, rung impatiently on the stage.

"Now, for the prized goods for the night," Came a reedy voice, and sure enough, it was the same spindly man with beady eyes she saw at the market. "first of two exquisite specimens."

Kagome strained to get a better view from her hiding place. Due to the awkward angle, she was forced to crouch behind a beam. A large crate, bound by the same foreign sutra was wheeled onto the platform. The man sauntered over with a sadistic grin on his face.

"Behold." With that he ripped off one arm of the spelled paper.

One panel of the box was immediately blasted off, and out rolled a petite girl. Straightening out, her crimson eyes glittered dangerously, surveying the room. Other than the obviously demonic eyes, she looked wholly human. Straight black hair cut in a short bob and while her clothing covered very little of her, nothing seemed out of place. Actually, it might be to her disadvantage that she looked so perfect.

"You filthy humans!" She sneered. "I'll kill you for doing this to me!"

From around her came great swathes of what looked like human hair, darting towards the crowd with lethal intent. Before Kagome could intervene however, the man snapped sharply. The girl gasped, clutching her chest. With her gifted sight, she felt the swelling tide of her youki suddenly flash black for split second, then pulse weakly in decrescendo succession. It felt the like the equivalent of a wounded animal, the aura crying weakly for help. The higher youkai fell to the floor on her side, gasping.

"Well, I apologize for that display. Starting bid is one hundred gold. As you can see, this one is very…" The auctioneer smiled creepily. "Well endowed."

If that wasn't enough, he pulled at the cloth that bound the girl's chest, widening the collar to further expose her breasts. Kagome dug her nails into her palm, trying to calm herself as the bidding progressed. Finally someone won and the youkai was dragged back into the crate and sealed. Somehow, she managed to stay quiet through the last auction, although one side of her cheek was gnawed raw in agitation. This was a youkai with the appearance of a young boy, barely beyond puberty. He was shockingly beautiful, with translucent hair that held a hue of blue that complimented the pale milky colour of his eyes. If the female youkai before him was fierce, he was the polar opposite. He looked terrified. Feeding off his fear, the man seemed all the more enthusiastic in his insinuations as he pushed the bids higher, goading the crowds by saying what pleasure it would bring to their masters or mistresses to break him.

She wanted to yell, storm up to the people and demand what the hell was wrong with them. But she couldn't. She couldn't. Because all that would come out of that was getting herself heavily beaten at best and worse yet, she wouldn't be able to free the youkai. All this time, she'd been desperately trying to figure out what bound them. What made it such that they couldn't just unleash their attacks and break free? Youkai could slay humans with such ease in the wild. The female one did but was incapacitated by that stick of a man. How? Trying desperately with her reiki, she couldn't find anything with a spell on it other than the sutras and the harness on the animal-like group. The two higher youkai had not a trace of anything that remotely resembled a bond on their person. So all Kagome could do was hug her knees as tears leaked silently down her face while she watched that beautiful boy get sold to a brute of a man.

It was hard to keep track of time, huddled just inside the crack leading out of the building but when at last the area beyond emptied, Kagome slipped out into the night. It was pitch black now and judging from the position of the moon in the sky, it was well into the evening. Luckily there was still a few households awake and she was able to navigate the unfamiliar streets back towards the south gate by the dim glow from lit windows. Since she was travelling light, she only had a small nub of candle that should hopefully last her all the way through the forest and back home if she hurried.

The forest was alive with the chorus of nightly insects. She kept her senses sharply tuned to her surroundings, hoping that nothing will decide to make her a midnight snack. If anything, the worse that could happen is a larger wild animal. Youkai would be unwelcome but manageable; she could flare her reiki even without her bow on her person. As her pace quickened on the familiar path, she gradually became aware of a shuffle, sounding a little too long after her foot made impact with the ground. The more she thought about it, the more her heart rate quickened. Something was tracking her. Or maybe she was just imagining it?

Oh kami. Kagome focused on her breathing and tried to calm her mind down from racing through all the possible ways she could die horribly tonight. She was just psyching herself out, probably. An animal would've already pounced if was big enough to take on a creature her size. A cursory sweep of the area found no youki. But that doesn't mean it couldn't be human though.

She wasn't a fool. There were plenty of bandits around. And the crowd she witnessed tonight, not to mention the ones running the show likely consisted of a fair share of unsavoury characters. If they were gutsy enough to supply youkai slaves at the auction, fresh girls for brothels would be staple inventory. Maybe someone saw her leaving the granary. She shuddered at the thought.

Kagome quickened to a light jog. And sure enough, whoever was behind her also hastened to keep up.

For the umpteenth time in the last few minutes, she cursed her luck. If she hadn't made the decision to leave her weapon behind for the sake of being inconspicuous, then she wouldn't be defenceless now. God, she was an idiot. Could've hid it somewhere in the trees or something. Even if she had less firepower at her disposal given her pursuer was human, an arrow to the throat is an arrow to the throat. She didn't spend her youth slaving away at target practice for nothing. Slipping the abysmally short utility knife from her obi, she grasped it firmly in her palm. If worse comes to worse…

Then suddenly she felt her body pitch forward, toe caught by a root. At the exact same time, a hand closed tight around her upper arm.

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Hama no ya: arrow imbued with spiritual power for purification


Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. However this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to.

Chapter Text

 

Kagome stumbled, left leg staggering to catch her weight as she blindly threw her captive arm backwards, whirling to jab her short blade into her assailant.

Well, she would've landed, had they been human. Instead there was a rush of air as they spun away from her, uttering a familiar string of curses.

"For fuck's sakes woman!" A rough voice growled not far from her. "Teaches me to save your sorry ass. Should've let you fall on your face!"

"Inu—" She sputtered, squinting into the dimness of the forest around her. "Inuyasha?"

"Who the fuck else?" Came the annoyed grumble. "Wench, what's gotten you smelling like a spooked rabbit?! It's reeking all the way across the forest." There was no way that could be true but he would rather be caught dead than admit he worried about her. Nor explore why he worried in the first place.

There was a pause where Kagome didn't reply, focused instead on the surroundings. The shuffling footsteps that had spooked her up till then was gone, replaced by the bright and comforting flare of Inuyasha's youki. Said hanyou was about to say something to break the awkward silence, when Kagome's voice came in a whisper.

"Did you see anyone following me?"

"What?" He barked. "I didn't come from the city. But this road always stinks of a lot of humans. Wait, some bastard was tailing you?"

"I don't know." She sighed tiredly, sheathing the little knife she just noticed was still gripped tightly in her hand. "I could've just been imagining it."

Breathing a little deeper, she turned back towards what she thought was the direction home, and promptly smacked into a solid warmth, getting a face full of rough fabric.

"Oi." Inuyasha muttered. "Your human eyes can't see shit right now. Get on."

"Wha?" She leaned back to find a pair of amber eyes looking down at her, glowing warmly in the rapidly fading light. He held her gaze for a half second, before darting his glance sideways and down, seemingly uncomfortable.

"Um, what do you mean?" She tried again, brain a little slow in the uptake after the emotional drain from the night's events.

The hanyou merely grunted and she heard him shuffle around and bend down slightly.

Oh.

Somehow, after a few bungling and awkward attempts, she managed to clamber up onto his back, legs hooked around his hips, arms looped loosely about his neck. To say she was embarrassed was an understatement. For once she was glad that it had gone pitch black. She did not want the hanyou to witness her flushed redder then the colour of his clothing. She was a grown woman dammit, not some pubescent child; she can handle proximity to men. She'd seen more than any unmarried woman while training and assisting as a healer. And this current set up was strictly a practical matter to get her transported home quickly now that night has set.

The unfortunate, or fortunate thing, depending on how one wants to view it, is that Inuyasha was not just any man. With his part demon blood came very striking features indeed, and the physique to boot. And though she'd been trying to skirt around this observation for pretty much the entire time she'd known him, she found him beautiful. And well the thing is, Kagome was a woman. A tiny, wicked part of her was very glad indeed that she was not a priestess. Whoa.

Gods help her.

Refocusing back on the moment, in a monumental effort to keep her thoughts from running away from her, Kagome noticed how fast they were going for the first time. The night had been still when she was walking, so judging from the healthy breeze whipping past them, Inuyasha must be going at a decent pace. But the ride was quite smooth nonetheless, probably due to some effort on his part. She could tell how tightly controlled he was from the tension of his body. Sighing, she relaxed onto his back, exhaustion quickly catching up to her. Unthinkingly, she laid her cheek against the back of his suikan. The fabric, on second inspection was not actually that coarse. It was heavy and had an interesting texture to it. She hadn't come across it before. Maybe some sort of wool. Turning her face a bit, she unconsciously burrowed further into the warmth of his thick silver mane, smelling of pine and earth. With the rocking motion of the hanyou running them through the trees, her eyes drifted closed of their own accord.

A rustle, then a small jot made her head bounce a little on its current resting spot.

"Oi," A rumble underneath her that she both heard and felt. "Wake up woman."

Blinking, it took Kagome a full ten seconds to realize what she was waking up to. That she was still on Inuyasha's back and had gone as limp as a sack of rice.

"Oh," She murmured blearily, lifting her head up. "I'm so sorry I fell asleep Inuyasha."

"Keh. Where the hell is your house? Your scent always ends he—" He cut himself off hastily. "I think I'm going in circles."

"Right. I forgot you haven't been here before." She adjusted her left arm more securely around his shoulders for support, and reached out to the air in front of them. "Can you move forward a few more steps?"

Her fingers became visible as they were enveloped in the thinnest of pale blue reiki. She felt her friend immediately tense up beneath her.

"Inuyasha, I wouldn't hurt you." She reassured him quickly, the palm against his upper chest stroking lightly for emphasize. "My reiki won't hurt you unless I put intention behind it."

"Just get on with it, would ya?"

As her skin made contact with what she was looking for, the air in front of them glowed the same colour briefly, illuminating a wide barrier. Inuyasha watched intently as the girl's fingers pulsed in a gentle rhythm, the intensity varying with each pulse. And as quickly as it began, the lights all winked out and they were surrounded by the velvet dark of the forest again.

"There. I reconfigured it a little. You should be able to pass through now." Kagome chirped from behind him.

"You better not take this chance to fry me." He muttered.

"Nah." She laughed. "I don't want to be dropped."

True to her word, a few more steps brought him into the large clearing. The sliver of moon became visible through the gap in the canopy, illuminating the little hut on the far end. He let her scramble off his back and graciously did not move away until she regained feeling in her legs to support her own weight again. As he turned to disappear back into the trees, the soft call of his name led him to look back once more.

She stood there in the faint moonlight, wisps of wavy hair having escaped from her braid. And then she bowed to him.

"Thank you Inuyasha." She straightened again with a smile. "For coming to get me. I'm not sure how I would've found my way back otherwise. You're welcome here anytime."

He gave his usual one syllable reply and was gone in a rush. Not before she caught a glimpse of his face though. And Kagome was pretty sure his cheeks would be pink if she could see properly.


Holding her aura close and tight within her — not unlike the way she'd done a hundred times before when tracking youkai — Kagome was instead struggling profoundly today. Her frayed concentration kept slipping when the other other part, a regrettably larger part was busy silently flogging itself with criticisms. What in the heavens was wrong with her? Why is she acting like a child? She could very well just approach the hanyou like an adult and ask for a favour. But nope. Truth was, she was still a little disconcerted from her misadventure last week. Kagome had hoped she would be able to find out what she needed this time before the sunset and still be able to find her way through the forest. But… in the event she got delayed, she wanted a back up this time.

Back up in the form of a certain doggy eared, grumpy individual. If he agrees that is. What she didn't really want to outright admit was, truthfully, a tiny, super really small part of her did want another reason to catch a ride on the hanyou's back again and this time, not fall asleep, to really experience it. Her thoughts were confusing, and she was wholly inexperienced with how to deal with them. Sure there were many eligible men seeking wives back at her village but she never paid them any mind. Or perhaps, they could never hold her attention.

Ugh! Shaking her head furiously with so much force it sent the tail of her braid to whip against her cheek, Kagome steeled herself to the task at hand. She was getting close to the spot where Inuyasha liked to nap most afternoons. With the rising temperatures, the little ravine shielded by a shallow rock face seemed to be his favourite. It wasn't far now. She could feel the brush of his youki. All she had to do was to walk very, very softly.

"Wench," Drawled a deep voice, with a hint of amusement. "I can smell you."

Kagome groaned and dropped the grip on her spiritual powers.

"For starters, stand down wind, dummy…"

Gods! What a rookie mistake! She couldn't believe herself.

Unable to resist a pout, she stomped the rest of the way to the base of the pine he was currently lounging on only to be stopped by a light object bouncing off the top of her head.

"Wha—" She fumed, squinting up to catch a glimpse of the infuriating boy. "Damnit, wha—"

Another something ricocheted off her hair to land on the ground in from her with a crackly pop. A pine cone.

"Inuyasha, I swear, I'm going to zap your ass out of the tree if you keep it up." She shouted angrily at the leaves, where a slip of his red robes could be seen.

A rush of air and rustle of the boughs and he materialized in from of her, slouched and relaxed and leaning against the trunk with a lazy smirk.

"Why were sneaking around woman?" He drawled, golden eyes warm with amusement. "Not that it worked…"

"Oh shut up you!" Kagome narrowed her eyes and resumed stomping over to him. "I have something to ask you."

"Eh?" One dark brow raised in question. "And you can't just talk normally?"

"Forget it." Kagome couldn't resist rolling her eyes at him but not wanting to admit that she herself also didn't know the reason for her behaviour. "Can I ask a favour?"

She watched his golden eyes narrow a fraction as they held her gaze. A short jerk of his chin signalled her to continue.

"Tomorrow night, I have to go into the city again. And," She paused, then bravely rambled on. "I might be gone until after dark, and I was wondering if you could, that is if you were free, to, you know— "

"First crossroads after the exiting the main gates."

He was carefully not looking at her, chewing on the long blade of grass caught between his teeth, making the wide fluffy end wave about. Kagome felt the nervousness drain from her in rush. Why had she been so weird about asking him in the first place? They were friends right? She'd just have to gather her wits about her and be mature about sorting out her morphing feelings towards the hanyou.

"I'll bring back something tasty, I promise!" Kagome exclaimed in gratitude.

"You better, wench."


This time around, she made it to the granary much faster, already having picked her way through the maze of narrow streets the week prior. And as an added bonus, she was arriving a good two hours earlier which should hopefully prevent a repeat of last week's debacle. Her stakeout for the day was a large pile of detritus collected in the fall corner of the loading area. Broken crates, rusted tools and discarded pieces of timber that had separated from the building itself. Aside from the musty smell, and the uncomfortable scurry of small rodents it wasn't too bad of a hiding place. It would mask her scent.

Now all she needed to do was wait. Fidgeting slightly, she scanned the junk around her again, hoping she'd resealed her entryway in a convincingly random manner. It was decidedly hard not to zone out while waiting for something out of the ordinary. So far her watch had consisted only of labourers shuffling items in and out of the building. A handful idled by the fence, filling the air with obscene chatter. Kagome had almost dozed off, aided by the stuffiness of her hiding place when the woman entered the courtyard. She made a very striking first impression which promptly pulled Kagome back into full alertness.

The woman did not seem much older than herself but was definitely taller, by at least half a head. She was lean and her lithe form lent well to the skintight dark leather armour worn by taijiya. Hers was accented by deep red and a simple gold trim on her left breast. The patterns, from what Kagome knew, was unique to their clans. Metal plates protected high impact areas and a long sword adorned her left hip, secured by a red sash. Her features were delicate, framed by dark hair swept up high on her head. Kagome felt her cheeks flush a little. It was hard not to appreciate how beautiful the lady was; beautiful but likely deadly in combat.

"Who is in charge here?" She called out to the group of gathered men, voice quiet but carried easily in the empty space.

A man, dressed in discernibly finer robes separated from the crowd. Spindly with beady eyes — the same man she kept seeing around, the one that's likely the head trader.

"Are you lost little miss?" He approached her, visibly straightening his back to stand a little taller but failing to reach her height.

"I was told you are looking to buy?" She promptly ignored him, features schooled to cool indifference.

"Depends on what you got, love." He made a show of scanning the empty space around her and then suggestively trailing his gaze up the slayer's body.

"They're secured outside the walls. Three black birds, each bigger than a dog with two pairs of wings. A stag with the torso of a man. A cobra with a woman's face."

"Keep your chickens. No idiot will buy them; we still have a backlog of those beasts we need to get rid of. The others," He tapped his fingers on his chin, explaining to her in a condescending tone. "Well, it depends on if they look more human or more beast." He turned around, motioning roughly to his underlings. "Sato, you escort this lady to inspect the stock."

A thickset man, stepped forward slightly.

"The other ones," She began evenly, having not moved a muscle. "What is done with them?"

"Hmm?" The man sneered turning back around, smile lewd and mocking as he peered up at her with morbid interest. "Wouldn't you like to know? A taijiya! Hah. Don't tell me you feel sorry for them."

Her chestnut eyes steeled and narrowed at the man. For a second, Kagome thought the lady would lash out and knock him a good one. Frankly, that disgusting man needed to brought down a peg or two. The tension was palpable for a moment longer before the slayer released a deliberate slow breath.

"Very well. We best hurry then." She glanced up briefly to check the sun's position in the sky.

"No need." The man scoffed, already turning and waving her away dismissively. "They will need to go through a cleanse. Won't be ready for sale for tonight."

After the taijiya left, there was nothing else of interest. Kagome noted that the youkai being auctioned off that evening came into the courtyard in ofuda sealed crates. She spent the time postulating what the 'cleansing' involved. What is it that they did to the youkai to make them so easily subdued. If there was a way she could sneak out of her hiding place unseen, it would've been so much more useful if she tailed the slayer and the lackey back to the captive demons instead. Although she would've risked being caught following by the taijiya. Actually, for a few moments, when she walked past Kagome's hiding place, she could've sworn the other woman had paused for just a fraction of a second before moving on.

When the few remaining stragglers filed into the granary at last, the door was rolled closed. With the coast clear, Kagome eased herself out as quietly as possible. She hurried away back towards the city gates, as much as she could without drawing too much attention to herself. It was early still and had it been a clear day there would be plenty of light. As luck would have it though, clouds had begun rolling in mid afternoon, thick and heavy, full of the promise of rain. Maybe she would be able to make it home before it started raining proper. Once out of the main gates, Kagome switched to a light run to the predetermined meeting place before it was too dim to see anything. She wanted to be able to keep somewhat of an eye on her surroundings while she waited for Inuyasha to show up. Youkai she could handle, humans, less so.

Setting her sights on a sturdy tree just off to the side of the road, she nestled herself into the duvet made by the oddly shaped trunk. It provided a sort of semi circle shield around her. Good defensive position and not a bad lookout spot. Getting comfortable, she leaned back with a tired sigh and promptly screeched.

The dark blur that plummeted straight from the canopy mere inches from her face blocked her way of escape. And then, the glimmer of a fang, peeking out from a familiar smirk.

"Inuyasha!" She shrieked. "You scared the soul out of me!"

The mop of silver hair swayed as he taunted her with gleaming golden eyes while swinging upside down. Then unfairly fast, the hanyou flipped off to land upright again.

"You're the worst!" She stepped up towards him, arms crossed in front of her chest in an indignant pout. "And how come I didn't sense you?"

"I have my secrets wench." He was still grinning smugly, amused by his childish prank.

She muttered irritably below her breath as she turned to pick up the small carry sack she'd dropped when he scared her, taking time to brush off the dirt and debris clinging to bottom. He was doing her a big favour after all, coming to get her. The least she could do was let him have a bit of harmless fun.

"Oi, let's go, Kagome."

She whipped around to gape at him. Casual, nonchalant; her name. For the first time ever spoken by his voice.

"What?" He shot her an annoyed look.

"You just said my name!"

"Keh." He scoffed dismissively. "You coming or not?"

She darted forward to follow, cold fingers closing around his arm. Surprisingly, he tensed but did not shake her off. Kagome told herself it's because it was getting to be too dark for her to see where she was going. It could potentially get dark quick enough that she'd have to ride on his back again. Hopefully.

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Ofuda - charmed seals

Taijiya - demon slayer


Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. However this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn't for a lack of trying that Kagome found herself in the present predicament. This is after all her last resort. What self-respecting pupil would want to crawl back to a teacher they've been trying to impress for a good chunk of their life and admit that they were too dull to figure out a puzzle said teacher had tasked. Way to go Kagome. Enforce the fact that Kaede-sama was right in not deeming you miko material. Well, maybe she needed to reign in her pride (hah, or self pity) a little bit more this time.

Wiping her sweaty palms on her hakama, the girl continued the long climb up the steps to Tenrinji. The day was actually rather cool for early summer, feeling more like spring with the chill in the morning air. For the better, otherwise she would be even more of a sweaty mess in addition to the nerves. She had avoided attempting to contact Kaede after the first visit, hoping that she would be able to puzzle out what exactly it is that Kaede needed her for. It couldn't be just to be a herbalist, could it? There was enough people in the city that it wouldn't be too difficult to locate one. But was it something to do with the unsettling practices involving youkai? The more she thought about it, the more uncertain Kagome became. Maybe that was just her own curious self, sticking her nose where it had no business meddling in. She did have a penchant for finding trouble.

Arriving at the temple, Kagome went about the usual rites, cleansing rituals and praying for some time before making her way to the main hall. Usually, there would be a cluster of acolytes there, attending to any issues that may arise with the visitors to the temple. Rounding a shoji, she spotted a small boy copying prayers neatly onto a fresh sheet of paper.

"Good morning," Kagome greeted quietly, so not to startle anyone. Having caught the attention of the acolyte she continued. "I seek an attendance with Kaede-sama."

For an instant, the child's eyes seem to widen and freeze up. And then he collected himself and made to dart though to the inner recesses before hastily remembering he had forgotten to reciprocate her bow. Mystified, Kagome settled down to sit near one of the hanging scrolls, tracing with her eyes the strong brush strokes of the kanji. It was one of the core prayers, one she had copied painstakingly many times over as an apprentice.

After some time, longer than she would've expected, the boy returned, looking visibly nervous.

"It is with sincere apologies that Kaede-sama cannot grant an attendance today." He basically whispered to her, bowing low and remaining so.

"Ah, I see." She replied evenly. "Would tomorrow be more appropriate, or perhaps the day after. I am able to accommodate any time that Kaede-sama deems suitable."

"Uh," The poor child stammered. "Kaede-sama is not seeing anyone at this time."

That made her raise her eyebrow. What?

"To clarify, you mean to say that Kaede-sama will not see me no matter how many times I return?"

She wasn't sure what exactly it was that made her push the issue like that. Maybe it was the way the acolyte couldn't hold her gaze, instead shifting their eyes guiltly downwards, or the way the younger child was hunched, trying to make himself unobtrusive as possible.

"Very well. Thank you for your assistance." Kagome got up and bowed again before exciting the hall calmly.

Somehow she didn't think Kaede was actually the one refusing her. The whole thing, the atmosphere in the temple since her return, was oddly charged, disconcerting to say the least. She really could't be sure the message was even delivered to Kaede proper. The reason why anyone, let alone a simple acolyte, would deliberately obscure communications was beyond her.

Arriving back at the main courtyard, Kagome quickly glanced around, noting no one else in the vicinity, she darted into one of the small passageways. This was her old stomping ground after all and no measly little kid was going to stop her getting to where she wanted to go. But, she was a little too grown to be caught sneaking around, so some discretion was definitely advised. In no time she came around the back end to the archives, assuming that was still where Kaede was stationed. Creeping carefully following the perimeter of the engawa, she let herself pad quietly along the gravel, ducking slightly as to avoid standing out too much above the raised platform should anyone be paying attention. Pausing under the windows that should be where the workroom was, Kagome stood still straining to listen for any sounds of rustling paper or clacking of bamboo scrolls. Nothing. All the screens were battened shut, which was very strange in high morning.

"Kaede-sama!" She tried to whisper, as loudly as she could hopefully without drawing unwanted attention.

Defeatedly, Kagome slunk back away after several long minutes of silence, meaning to leave the temple grounds. She had no way of accurately predicting where Kaede's quarters could be now that she was no longer head priestess and that meant further snooping around unlikely to be conducive to the cause. Lost in her thoughts, she carelessly rounded a corner and belatedly noticed that she had put herself dead centre in the trajectory of the oncoming entourage.

Kami have mercy on her poor soul.

There was not much to do now but to hold her ground and pretend nothing was amiss. Clasping her hands demurely in front of her, she bowed respectfully towards the group that had since paused after sighting her.

The woman at the front of the group was, without a doubt, the current head priestess. Dressed in the familiar robes Kagome was used to seeing her teacher in, this woman looked remarkably young. Likely not more than a few years older than Kagome herself. She was decidedly beautiful, dainty features on porcelain skin. Her dark hair was bound in the traditional way of the miko, but the locks of hair framing the sides of her face were threaded through a tiny golden cuff of sorts before being pulled back to form the single tail at her back. Similarly surprising were the woman's eyes, naturally slanted upwards in a feline way, was lined with dark kohl, further accentuating the shape to a point. Her thin lips were stained a bright red.

Traditionally, all temple folk were dressed and styled plainly, all to further compliment the teachings of a humble life, directed away from the self but instead to the aid of humanity and the worship of the kami. Kagome had never seen a miko wear the face of higher classed ladies. Quickly taking in the rest of the group around her, it too was all very odd, the flanking of the high priestess in an unfamiliar configuration. This one looking more like retainers for a noble than how she was used to seeing Kaede in her childhood, walking beside other temple folk or intermingled unobtrusively.

"Hello." The woman spoke, her voice sounding steely, incongruent to her appearance. One of the holy men behind her rushed forward, seemingly intent to convey something. She raised one poised hand in the air, effectively freezing the man in motion.

"Good morning," Kagome replied, praying that her voice would not betray her inner distress. "I apologize for the disruption. If you would excuse me, I will take my leave."

With that, she gave one more respectful bow and hurried to skirt pass the group. From the edge of her eye, she saw the man now whispering something in the priestess' ear. Before she could clear the short passageway however, the same voice rang out behind her.

"Higurashi Kagome is it?" The priestess had turned around, the escort effectively parting wordless aside to allow her an unobstructed view. "I understand you used to train under the former Kaede-sama?"

Former? What does she mean by that? Quickly filing that for later perusal, Kagome reluctantly adjusted to face the miko squarely.

"Yes miko-sama, you are correct. It seems it truly has been too long since my last visit, I am slightly turned around." Kagome wince inwardly at the excuse, sounding thin even to her own ears.

"Ah," The lady continued, humming thoughtfully. "That is to be expected of course. How long has it been?"

"Three years."

"Indeed." She started to walk forward slowly through the small parted crowded. Kagome found that the miko's eyes were uncommonly dark as they held her gaze. "Kaede-sama has spoken very highly of you. I am pleased to have finally met you."

The miko stopped a few feet from her, appraising her in silence. Kagome had no choice but to remain still. Her aura tingled unpleasantly, feeling what must be the miko's own reiki skim hers. Subconsciously, Kagome reigned her own powers more tightly around her core. It's never a good defence to show all your cards before you know what you're dealing with.

"I am called Masae. You may address me as Masae-sama. That is less formal, would you not agree?" She continued, gesturing briefly to her robes, ones that belayed her rank in the temple. "You will find the way I have been guiding Tenriji very different than what you were used to with your dear teacher. I hear you yourself was rather progressive in your days as an apprentice here. It would be a delight to acquaint ourselves on an occasion that's less—shall we say— confined."

Somehow, looking into those eyes, Kagome highly doubted the woman was being sincere. The miko raised her hand again, making a minute gesture in which another retainer, dressed in non-temple garb rushed forward.

"It would please me to see you again," She paused. "Kagome."

The way her name was spoken, in that calculating voice and without a honorific, even though they were far from being familiars, sent a shiver down Kagome's spine. But outwardly, she had no choice but to offer a polite smile. Besides, now that push comes to shove, this could be a good chance to figure out where Kaede was.

"That would be my honour, Masae-sama." Kagome complied with another small bow.

With that the miko turned to leave. Before the entourage filed into place behind her, Kagome caught a glimpse of her back. Sure enough, in place of the traditional white tie that bound the long tail of hair, there was yet another gold cuff, this one thicker than the other two, inset with a central band of glimmering black material. The one retainer that Masae had gestured to stayed behind motioned for Kagome to follow him in the opposite direction back towards the main gates.

What had she gotten herself into now?


Kagome had had enough.

It felt like all she'd been running into walls no matter what turn she took. And frankly, she never had that many turns to begin with. Yesterday's temple visit was horrendous, landing her in what is to be determined, but steadily feeling like a mess she might have trouble extracting herself from. Sneaking into the Saturday night auction was not going to give her any more answers at this point. It was obvious that whatever was done to the youkai and where they were kept was far away from that warehouse. On top of that, every time she dropped off the commissions at the healers, the master healer, Hisaishi-sama seemed to never be around either. Even Yanagi-obaa would only give her a somewhat strained smile with sealed lips, stuffing more rice crackers into her hands but not offering anything further. If only she could find Kaede, Kagome might feel a little less directionless. Better yet, she almost preferred to be told off. That she was barking up the wrong tree and the honest-to-goodness truth was that she only needed to fulfill an herbalist's role here for however long and then go home.

It was frustrating as hell and not for the first time, she wished she could be like Inuyasha and take it out on an unsuspecting tree. But alas, she was but a mere human. Glancing at the decent sized stone in her palm, she flung it over the cliff edge, straining to hear the clack as it hit the rocky bottom. Kagome had thought to cheer herself up by coming up here to see the sunset. The day was beautiful, sky full of fluffy white clouds that would surely look beautiful lit up in oranges and pinks. Her temporary home was set in the forest which meant it was impossible to the see the horizon. This rocky ledge offered a great vantage point and was close enough that she could still make it back to the house before it got proper dark.

She sighed heavily, pulling her knees up to rest her chin upon and idly lobbed another rock over the edge. Warm brown eyes trained on the horizon, Kagome focused on each inhale, exhale, trying to bring herself back to being mindful in the moment. It really was beautiful, the hues of dark orange to a light yellow, and the edges of the clouds lit a vivid pink. Gradually, she could feel her thoughts slowing down and diffusing from the whirlpool it was before. She just had to enjoy this moment, and make space for the solutions that may or may not come.

What she didn't expect to pick up was that slight shimmer in her senses, the feel of Inuyasha's placid youki Somehow, she'd gotten so used to his presence that his aura had ceased to alert her, instead blending into her norm. He'd been a regular part of her day, lounging in the trees where she was working on the selected task. And she'd see him pretty much every day more often than not, especially the past week. And if she was being honest with herself, he was a highlight. It wasn't only because she was feeling lonely—and truthfully she was— missing the people that would surround her in the village. But the way he interacted with her, the kind of unbridled, honest manner he had about him was what she valued the most. No stiff politeness because she was a herbalist, a minor but respected position in the village, nor any veiled pity because she left with the intention of becoming a miko and returned decidedly not. Maybe if she was a 'proper' kind of girl, she'd find his way of hanging around her unbecoming, creepy even but somehow, she knew it was just likely he didn't know how to go about it. Besides, especially with how things were looking in Kyo, she was honestly impressed he seemed somewhat ok with associating with a human.

"Inuyasha?" She called out in a normal voice, knowing that even if he was hidden in the trees quite a ways behind her, he would easily hear her.

A muffle whumph beside her signalled his arrival as he landed in his signature stance, sitting on his haunches, hands planted between his bent feet. And not looking at her. Figures.

"Hey you." Kagome greeted, not bothering to hide the tiny smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. "How long were you planning to just lurk in the trees?"

A grunt was heard in response as he shuffled a bit from one foot to the other beside her.

"The sunset is gonna be lovely today. It's a much better view up front, don't you think" She continued amicably as she turned her attention back towards the palette in the sky, deciding to spare him any discomfort. Also, selfishly, so he wouldn't feel the urge to flee. He tended to do that if the interaction got awkward or he didn't know what to say in response to her comments. But if she lapsed into a rambling sort of general commentary, he seemed to be happy with that. It would probably sound like she was talking to herself most of the time but Kagome was ok with it. And she knew he was listening to her. Those adorably flickering ears of his told no lies.

Kagome felt around the inside of her sleeve for the cloth pouch, extracting it and deftly untied the slip knot binding it closed. Inside were little cubes of fruit leather, ones she'd been accustomed to make for small children to go with the medicinal tinctures and bitter cures she would supply them. The main ingredient of course, would depend on the season. These ones were mostly currant based. She herself secretly loved making them to snack on as it was handy to carry around while she bustled about the wilderness. Popping one into her mouth, she held out the pouch in front of the grumpy hanyou in an unspoken offer.

"I ain't a dog wench, you don't got to feed me all the time." He grouched predictably, but clawed hands had already darted in and retrieved a few morsels.

She flashed him a quick admonishing glance, pointedly ignoring his comment.

"I'm sharing Inuyasha," She replied evenly. "That's what friends do. Besides, you share with me."

And isn't that the truth? It'd been a new development but nonetheless welcome. Ever since the night he'd delivered her home and she'd ensured the barrier around the clearing would admit him, Inuyasha has been leaving her things. She wasn't sure what exactly to call them. Maybe it was perhaps his way of ensuring their relationship was reciprocal. Sometimes it would be a skinned kill left at her door step (which did freak her out the first morning she came out of the hut and almost stepped on it) or the growing pile of chopped firewood by the shed. Kagome was more than happy with the arrangement, if it meant simply that they could continue this unconventional companionship. She hoped he considered her a friend too.

In comfortable silence, the pair watched the sky shift to an increasingly deeper, richer magenta until at last the glowing orb dipped below the horizon. Flocks of blackbirds rose and fanned across the clouds in their angled formations as they headed home for the night. It was very peaceful sitting here like this. As she nibbled on another bit of dried fruit, Kagome couldn't help but notice the glimmering silver that fluttered just in her peripheral vision. It was always an exercise in self discipline to not unabashedly admire his non-human attributes. Inuyasha's hair was probably her third favourite thing about him if she had to rank them. It was then that her brain suddenly clicked. Why hadn't she clued in earlier? He wasn't all human! If anyone would have plausible theories on how the youkai in the city were being controlled and how to go about potentially breaking their hold, it would be him!

"Say, Inuyasha," She began slowly, turning towards him. He was lazily stretched, legs sprawled out in front of him, propped up on his elbows.

"Yeah?" Amber eyes slid sideways to glance at her.

"You know those—uh, um, tethered youkai in the city," she paused, heart racing all of a sudden in a nervous beat, fighting from flinching as her voice tripped out of her, getting more feeble by the word. "Would you know how they manage to control them?"

In a split second, he whipped his whole torso to face her, silver strands whirling from the motion. His eyes had narrowed and turned hard, brows pulled low. He was, by far, much angrier than when they first met. Before she could even utter a syllable or dart out an arm to stop him, he was gone. Only a brief rustle and then nothing. The evening soundscape continued as if nothing was amiss.

Fucking hell.

Kagome shot up, cursing loudly and started a mad dash into the forest, praying to whichever and any kami who might be listening that she had not mistaken the direction he'd gone. He was a predator in essence, with demonic abilities that made him insanely fast and silent. And he could somewhat muffle his youki. It was just so easy to forget this because most of the time he wanted her to find him. And belatedly she realized, it was a courtesy to herald his presence so she wouldn't be startled.

In hindsight when every inch of the half-demon had seized up completely at the opening of her question, she should've shut up then and there. But no, she had to nervously, stupidly prattle onwards. He'd been set off about more trivial things before, what possessed her to bring this obviously controversial subject up and shatter what delicate peace built between them? Kagome desperately hoped she could still repair this. Or get him to listen to her explain herself at the very least.

Breath coming now in gasps, she pelted on through the underbrush, trying her best to be nimble and avoid getting snagged by the wayward branches. But the sun had set and evening was rapidly descending, made especially worse since she was under the canopy. Pretty soon she won't be able to see.

"Inuyasha!" She gasped out, trying to project her voice upwards even as her lungs burned. "Inuyasha please, you didn't let me explain!"

She kept calling his name as she went forward, stubbornly ignoring the sinking feeling that this was perhaps futile, she was going to get herself lost without being able to find her way home at this rate. Because if he was actually avoiding her, there was no chance in hell she could find him at night.

Kagome tried fanning out her reiki in search of him. The night was alive with lower youkai and if his was muffled deliberately, it would be difficult to sieve through the noise. Her right foot landed on a fallen log, a rotted one, collapsing to one side, tilting her balancing and throwing her off her running gait. She was going to fall. And that she did, crashing down hard, and her right hand shot out blindly to collide with a sharp, splintered branch. Kagome laid there, crumpled for a bit before the shock subsided to sit herself up. Gingerly, her fingers brushed the ripped edges of her hakama on the side of her knee. It was damp. More likely blood than mud. Apparently using her reiki, squinting to see, breathing and coordinating her body to maintain a near sprint simultaneously proved too much for her abilities.

A loud rustle to her left got her tensing, eyes stretched wide to try and locate what had joined her. And then, golden eyes framed by white locks, ghostly luminescent in the twilight appeared. He was still glaring hard at her, face frozen in a stony scowl.

"Inu—" But before she could even complete his name, Kagome had found her breath knocked out of her again as she was once more in motion.

Inuyasha had evidently picked her up like a sack of potatoes and thrown her over his back. His shoulder dug sharply into her diaphragm, jolting up with each stride making it difficult to breathe. And he was going so fast, the wind lashing both his hair, hers and their clothing into her face as she dangled helplessly upside down.

Just when she thought she might actually pass out or vomit, the world righted itself again. Her rump met solid ground, and she stretched out her arms behind her to stop from falling back, wincing when her injured palm grazed against the gravel. Inuyasha had deposited her abruptly, but all things aside, not too roughly.

"Inuyasha," She managed to wheeze out, still breathless from the whirlwind flight. "I'm sor—"

"Save your breath, wench." He grounded out lowly.

He didn't even turn to look at her. All she got was the rigid line of his back, the pulled back triangles of his ears and the full mane of silver that glowed in the moonlight just cresting the tops of the trees into the clearing.

And he was gone.

Picking herself up carefully, favouring the knee she crashed down on, Kagome made her way back inside.

All she wanted to do was curl up and cry.

.

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.

.

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A/N: Well folks, finally! Here we are. My brain kept wanting to jump ahead to the first major turning point in this story and could not for the life of me write the in-between parts. Buuuuut… as you can tell from the lack of fluff in this chapter, we are getting very close. I am SO excited.

Thank you as always for your readership. Do leave a comment good or bad, so I can improve as we move forward :)


Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. However this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8 - Of horrors revealed

 

She hadn’t seen him since that night. Nothing. It had almost been a full week and Kagome was starting to lose hope. Several times she could've sworn she saw a glimpse of red up in the trees but when she paused to scrutinize, there was nothing to be found. She even made a trek up to the Goshinboku one morning in a futile attempt to try her luck, but was also disappointed. Briefly, Kagome had considered leaving Inuyasha food like she used to but now that she'd gotten to know him a bit more, she had a sneaking suspicion that would probably piss him off more than do any good. Not before she could somehow pin him down long enough to listen to her explain.

 

She'd not meant anything malicious by her question but thinking back, the way she phrased it had sounded awful. Inuyasha could've easily mistaken it as her wanting to bind him and worse yet, maybe assumed that up to this point, she was only trying to butter him up before going in for the kill. It probably spoke volumes to how much, prior to this, he actually did trust her to a degree that they'd kept up such a light companionship even fully knowing the dark state of affairs in the city. There was just this mutual curiosity between them, she supposed; one Kagome hoped desperately wasn't destroyed by her careless words.

 

It upset her more than she thought. Actually, who was she kidding? From the safe confines of her own mind she could honestly admit to herself that in truth, it was devastating. She missed him more than she'd ever thought possible and it'd only been a couple of months since they've met. She missed his smug smirks, the peace that she felt just working in silence while he was lounging near and his brash attempts to throw her off his roundabout ways of caring for her. Even that last night, he could've easily let her fend for herself without a weapon or a light to guide herself home. Instead, he'd brought her back. So there had to be some hope for the situation right?

 

How the frequently aggravating hanyou got under her skin so quickly and effortless was beyond her. She’d spent the better part of her young adult years trying to rein herself in to portray the image of the ideal, tranquil miko-in-training, but one snarky remark from this hanyou set her off in a full blown shouting match. Even if they had an audience in the middle of the village square, she most likely still wouldn’t have refrained from lashing him with her tongue. He riled her up and that flare of emotions he elicited was somehow liberating and addictive. Around him, she never had to really watch her words, her demeanour; she got to be just Kagome.

 

Sighing dejectedly, Kagome returned her attention to the task at hand. Running her fingers through her unruly fringe once more, she got up from the edge of the water, satisfied that her hair was as tidily bound as she could get it. Now she'd have to change into her newer, washed set of clothing before she headed off. And really that's the best she could do. Normally, there wouldn't have been the need to worry about this sort of thing with Kaede. A meal at the temple was just like any other meal. But the directions from Masae's retainer was for an evening meal at one of the great manors located on the high reaches of Kyo where the nobility and of course, the daimyo's castle lay. Honestly, she had no idea what to expect.

 

It was a sound decision to have left early since the climb up the city slopes on the winding main road took some time. Especially with it being market day and Kagome had to weave through the crowds and dodge carts and pack animals. At last she came to the address given to her and sure enough, she was not wrong in her assumptions. The estate she was staring up at, and trying not to be too obvious in her gaping, was one only a couple switchbacks down from the castle's outer walls. Kagome had only been inside properties of this caliber a few times in her life, all of which were when she had assisted Kaede on an official summons.

 

Passing through the low decorative outer walls, an attendant led her through to the courtyard past a section of an impressive garden that wrapped around one of the big buildings likely to offer a view for tea rooms. There was a sizeable koi pond and manicured miniature maples. Up a sculpted slope, she thought she could see a moss garden in the most vibrant hues of green that rivalled even the wild forest floor. If only she could just ditch this whole anxiety-inducing meal and just explore the place.

 

Removing her footwear in the spacious genkan, Kagome continued along the engawa winding further into the complex. It was decidedly a very large house; shoji screens left open revealed glimpses of a labyrinth of rooms. There were also many small groups of servants that passed them, bowing low to her, making the walk fitful and prolonged as she paused to reciprocate. Finally, they stopped in front of a long line of closed screens, the top panel above the frame was decorated in an intricate etching of clouds extending down the long hall.

 

The large room indeed opened into a section of the garden that was previously hidden from view. Kagome was shown to the remaining vacant seat and with one more bow, her guide left the room quietly. Thank goodness the soft sounds of the wind and insect life in the garden was allowed to filter in, otherwise the awkward hush would be even less bearable. Arranged in a rectangular ring around what is noticeably a larger, more cushioned setting was a series of low tables. Discreetly, Kagome attempted to check out the other guests. They were all dressed in the traditional red and white attire of miko and all around her age, if not younger. She didn't recognize any of the faces though, but that was not surprising. Tenrinji was the main shrine of Kyo but the city was dotted with countless smaller shrines. The majority of the apprentices she had studied with years ago would've returned to their home towns and villages after successfully completing their respective rites. As much as she wished it wasn't so, it was fairly evident she stood out like a sore thumb, the only green in a sea of red. A marker of clearly not belonging in this crowd. Hopefully the evening would pass by painlessly and she could just go home.

 

The swish of the fusawa once again sliding open sent all the eyes in the room to focus on the newcomer. Just like the previous time Kagome saw her at the shrine, Masae's hair was arranged and features were highlighted in the same manner but this time what was shocking was her dress. Instead of the miko robes with the discrete pattern on the tie denoting her title, Masae was sporting a kosode in a rich deep blue with a thin honeycomb pattern in silver twining up the garment. Honestly though, Kagome shouldn't have been surprised considering the magnitude of the manor presumed to be the residence of the current head priestess instead of at her presiding shrine.

 

The ring of women stood to bow to her, murmuring greetings before Masae gracefully motioned for them to return to their seats. The evening meal was served in a flutter of activity by a flood of servants immediately following the head priestess' arrival. While the food was exquisite beyond Kagome's daily fare, she could barely keep it down with her stomach in knots from the nerves. It was ungracious of her, she supposed, but Kagome couldn't help but wonder if this whole affair was just to showcase Masae's apparent higher class status despite also holding the contradictory title of the city's spiritual leader. Traditionally, the head priestess should be humble and attentive to those in need. What she also couldn't understand was, why her, why Kagome? She was essentially a nobody so why bother inviting her when she had no title, no power and wasn’t even a miko? Could it be Kaede's doing? But on second thought, there was no way. Her teacher was unwavering in her beliefs, incredibly strict in the traditions and especially regarding morality and how spiritualists should behave. And frankly, if Kaede even had a remote say in this, she would've been livid in this blatant deviation from custom and flaunt of privilege.

 

"Kagome," The call of her name jolted her back to the present conversation to find, to her dismay, Masae was currently addressing her. "Was dinner to your liking? I noticed you did not have much to eat.”

 

"O-oh," Kagome inwardly winced at the slight stutter, hands smoothing out imaginary wrinkles on her hakama. "Thank you for your concern Masae-sama. I assure you the meal was delicious. My stomach is slightly off today so I thought it prudent to regulate my portion is all."

 

"Understandably. Tell me, how have you been adjusting to life in Kyo since your return?"

 

"Very well. I have been kept quite busy with commissions and summer is peak season for the cultivation of many herbs." She responded, hoping to keep her voice from dwindling in volume. The other miko had been reporting on their advanced training and here she was talking about her garden patch.

 

"Fascinating indeed. Kaede-sama did mention you have exceptional talent as an herbalist." Masae fixed her with a minute smile, her eyes however were appraising.

 

"That is too kind." Kagome inclined her head in thanks, secretly hoping that the miko would divert her attention to someone else. Some of the gazes in the room were now focused on her, the weight of their gazes not particularly friendly.

 

The relief was palpable when the head priestess returned her attention to the tea freshly poured by an attendant at her side. She lifted the earthenware for a delicate sip, setting it down solidly as to pause the concurrent side conversations.

 

"You must be curious as to why I invited you here today." Masae began, arranging the sleeves of the embroidered kosode to drape over her lap. "Regretfully, the transition of leadership from Kaede-sama to myself was rather abrupt in the winter, in addition to being called away in the spring, there really wasn't an opportunity to properly introduce myself. However, these last few months in the capital has proven very fruitful indeed and I am pleased to be able to remain in Kyo for the foreseeable future."

 

"We are so honoured for you to receive us so soon, considering you only arrived back in the city last week." The miko seated across from Kagome gushed abruptly, and promptly flushed.

That means the day Kagome ran into Masae at the temple mostly likely had been the first day she got back. Just her luck, of course.

 

"It is my pleasure." The head priestess dipped her chin in the younger girl's direction before continuing. "I wish to continue regular meetings with all the shrines in the city of course, to better share the knowledge I have gained at the capital. In the past, I understand that not everyone has seen eye-to-eye with Tenrinji's way of practice, but my hope is for us to be closer acquainted under my tutelage. I also trust that my judge of character," Pausing, the miko gestured slightly around the room. "Is sound."

 

Murmurs of gratitude rippled across the room. Kagome ducked her head in the guise of a bow, hoping to hide her face. What was going on? It seemed like Masae was subtly amassing the loyalties of those gathered tonight. Although there seemed to be a broad representation of the shrines in the city, the miko themselves were surely too junior to hold any sort of position of authority at their respective sites.

 

"Ladies," Masae rose graciously from folded knees, gliding around the low table out towards the open shoji. "Please join me for a walk around my humble garden. I have just acquired a new gardener and would be delighted to hear your thoughts on the plantings."

 

Like a gaggle of excited geese, the girls rushed out to trail behind the head priestess as she continued along the engawa almost tripping over each other. Kagome lingered at the end of the line, not following the conversation regarding the latest improvements. The other miko seem to do a fine enough job of playing the enraptured, appreciative audience. It sounded increasingly hopeless that she would be able to somehow mention Kaede, let alone see if she could gain any clue to where the elder was. It would be too disgraceful to admit she couldn't find her own teacher.

 

It was too late to stop when Kagome looked up to find it was no longer the line of red and white in front of her. She plowed straight into a group of servants carrying laden trays rounding a corner of the walkway. The clatter of wood and vessels was jarring in the quiet evening, making her flinch at her stupidity. Wetness seeped onto her skin, as a result of a spill on her front. Looking down, she noticed with relief that at least it was just water and she was spared the embarrassment of walking around the rest of the night sporting a bright stain.

 

"Oh dear."

 

Kagome looked up to find that Masae had doubled back around the corner, her elegant robes drifting around her legs.

 

"Masae-sama," Kagome rushed to apologize. "It was my fault; I should have been watching my steps."

 

"Nonsense." The priestess drew a delicate handkerchief from one sleeve and pressed it into her hands. "I am in the process of replacing the servants. These have such slow reflexes."

There was frantic bowing and profuse apologies as Masae sent the group a reproachful look. Kagome felt awful as she obligingly dabbed at the damp spot on her front with the expensive feeling cloth.

 

"Well, let us continue Kagome."

 

The miko swept forward to resume her position in front of the other girls, most of whom were sending begrudging glances at Kagome. Not for the first time this evening, she resisted the urge to physically squirm from the attention. Masae was addressing only her on a first name basis; the rest of the junior miko in a more formal way, suffix included. Instead of making her feel comfortable in the familiarity, Kagome felt inexplicably patronized. But obviously, the rest of the group thought otherwise. If she didn't know better, she'd say some of them acted borderline jealous. Maybe because she'd always been somewhat sequestered from the other acolytes in her training of yore, but she couldn't recall this kind of vying for Kaede's attention before.

 

Shaking her head, Kagome tried to focus on the present, determined not to make a fool of herself again and worse, get other people in trouble. Having retrieved their foot ware to continue the tour up close, the group meandered through the manicured pathways in the approaching dusk. The manor was definitely bigger than at first glance, with the sizeable garden wrapping around the two main residences. Peeking from the cleverly arranged plantings, she could see stables and ample servant quarters—built in a decidedly more modest fashion— and what seemed to be a kitchen garden. Now that kind of garden she was definitely curious about.

 

Masae was interrupted mid-sentence from her musings about expanding the koi pond by a loud shout and crashing sound of something heavy splintered and falling. It seemed like a scuffle had broken out somewhere in the less presentable parts of the estate. Her carefully lined eyes sharpened and rouged lips thinned with mild displeasure. Without a word, she made her way to the source of the commotion, gait faster but no less composed. For a few comical seconds, the entourage of guests froze, Kagome included, uncertain if they should wait or follow. And then, someone jumped the gun and hurried after the head priestess, spurring the rest to shuffle along.

 

As they approached a big building with a tall barn-like opening, distinct snarls rent the air. Some of the miko shrank back, fearing unruly animals but Kagome had a different theory. To her senses, the prickle seemed almost like youki but rather distorted. As if there was some sort of barrier between her and the subject in question. Why the bona fide miko didn't clue in was a mystery. Why on earth would there be youkai in a priestess', let alone head priestess' residence, was definitely beyond her. Nonetheless, here she was, without her bow, again. It was the running theme for her of late. Cautiously, Kagome reached inward and brought a touch of her energy to the surface, just in case.

 

Once again, the throng of young women was immobilized a step beyond the entrance, posing yet another obstacle for Kagome to wrangle through. Just as she managed to find a short enough shoulder to peer over, a heavy body slammed into the ground a short ways in front, the dust rising in billows. A head of cropped olive-green hair rose inches off the ground, facing away from her, but the snapping of teeth relayed a challenge loud and clear.

 

In a swift motion, something black and gleaming swiped downwards into the field of view, colliding with the prone figure's skull in a sickening thud. Dark red liquid billowed under the wavy strands, dribbling over the ridge of a pointed ear. The hand attached to the weapon belonged to a middle-aged man—human—who came to a stop in front of the still body. Chest heaving from exertion, he swiped at the edge of his mouth roughly, where his lip had been clearly split. Dressed in similar colours as the rest of the manor's household staff but wearing a sparsely decorated haori, it was safe to assume this man held some position above a mere servant.

 

"Learn your fucking place." The man ground his right boot hard into the nearest shoulder blade of the still motionless body. Then with one more cruel twist of his foot, stepped off to face the thus far, silent figure of the head priestess.

 

"I apologize deeply for you having to witness that, miko-sama." He bowed low and stayed bent over.

 

Masae stood poised and out of place in the musty structure, kosode still immaculate and expression undisturbed. Behind the man stood a group of what looked to be higher youkai, taut and glaring at the ground, barely maintaining their motionless stance.

 

"Ah, Ito-san," Masae replied calmly, her voice however, took on that steely quality that had been absent all evening but had stood out to Kagome upon first meeting. "I see you have been much too understanding in my absence. An admirable trait, but as you see, not particularly effective."

 

The man made a noise of assent and dipped even lower.

 

Turning elegantly to face the youkai behind her retainer, Masae glided a few small steps closer to the group, causing the sleeves of her robes to flutter as she switched the fold of her hands.

 

"What unbecoming behaviour especially in front of my guests.” She admonished quietly, tone uncomfortably incongruous to the tension in the air. "But I feel you must have learned your lesson, correct?"

 

From somewhere in the far back line of figures came an impossibly familiar scoff.

 

Instantaneously, two sets of eyes snapped to the offender. And with a speed Kagome had previously thought impossible for a man of his girth, the human man weaved to the back and the sound of the baton on flesh thudded out.

 

"Not the face now..." Masae implored with the barest hint of amusement.

 

A low growl. Then a sudden swell of spiritual energy in the air. Fearing purification powers from the priestess in front of her, Kagome was blindsided by the subsequent implosion into a flash of black. She felt the constricting impact on the targeted youki, the weakening, decrescendo pulses. Same yet many times stronger than what she had felt at the illicit auction. But what gripped her insides in a cold fist was not any of those sensations, but the unmistakable feel of that specific youki.

 

Kagome strained higher onto her toes, then decidedly leveraged her hand on the shoulder of the girl in front of her in barely concealed panic. There on the ground, crashed to one knee and one clawed hand supporting the weight. Robes that were too bright red, tangles of hair too silver. His face became visible between the gaps in the legs of the front row.

 

She choked back a horrified gasp. No one around her reacted but it did not escape demonic senses.

 

His gaze snapped up and locked squarely on hers. She could only watch helplessly at the way those luminous gold pools widened in shock, then brows pushed down, hardening, closing off and shutting out. Deep lines creased his normally boyish features, casting his face in rippling shadows.

 

With that, everything, all those little clues she'd tenaciously gathered since Kaede called her back, all the scraps that didn't quite make sense, clicked brutally into place. Acrid bile swelled in a wave up her throat, threatening to empty the night's dinner at her feet.

 

She could only stare back, immobilized by those darkened eyes. The usual gold in them tarnished by burning betrayal.

 

Her mind now blank—having shied away from the awful truth in front of her—was increasingly overcome by one repeating, moaning realization:

 

No...No...

 

.

.

.

.

.

.

 

 

 


 

Daimyo - powerful lords who ruled over vast, consolidated land holdings

 

Genkan - a small entrance space in which outdoor footwear is removed before entering the rest of the house

 

Shoji - sliding wooden frames with translucent paper, allowing light to shine through. These can serve as interior partitions rooms or can be opened to make wider, flowing spaces. They solely make up exterior walls to let light in. 

 

Fusama - same as a shoji except these are opaque and used as interior doors.

 

Haori – outer jacket that is about mid-thigh length and open; it doesn’t overlap in the front.

 

Kosode - a garment that has evolved throughout history, initially more of an inner garment in the Heian Period but evolved into outwear, adopting colours and patterns during the Muromachi Period. Sort of like a predecessor to the modern-day kimono.

 

 


 

A/N: With that dear readers, fully reveals the fanfiction trope this story is attempting to explore.

Several points to be addressed: 

  • The religion to which Kagome, Kaede, Masae belongs is aesthetically described as similar to the Shinto religion; however it will remain theoretically ambiguous in this AU. There will likely be elements of western religions mixed in as well.
  • Especially in light of current events and BLM (it is August 2020 at the time of this writing), I would like to stress that I will attempt my hardest to write about slavery in a respectful and hopefully, constructive manner. The seeds of this story was born in 2004 after reading multiple fics with this trope and feeling like I could do it differently, portraying it in an AU with its due gravity and respect. If you have any constructive feedback, please send my way.

 

Credits:

  • Thank you to the kind host of Chayatsuji Kimono (a quick google should bring the blog up) for deciding what would be a loosely historically appropriate dress for Masae in this chapter
  • A BIG thank you to Dawnrider for beta reading

Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. However this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to.

Chapter Text

 

At the sound of Masae's voice, Kagome tore her eyes away from him, however unwilling. The constricting cage of her chest made breathing normally a gargantuan task.

She couldn’t show she knew him. Must not. If Masae were to detect even a hint, Kagome instinctively knew it would not be good. Even though she had only been in her presence for barely an evening, it was without doubt, that this woman had a cruel and sadistic edge swimming just under the surface. So far, the nature of Masae's interest in her was indecipherable, and that in itself was another cause for concern. Not that she really needed anything other than what she had just witnessed. Regardless, Kagome did not want to find out what this woman was capable of doing, and definitely not at the expense of further injury to Inuyasha.

 

A calm determination flooded in with that thought, stilling her quivering nerves. Kagome had no idea where it came from, but so long as it left her carefully detached and the emotions off her face, she would take it. Outwardly, she resumed the somewhat timid, polite mask; her safe go-to when she was an apprentice. The metallic taste in her mouth was also an effective point of focus, she found. The skin of her inner cheek was already bitten through in an effort to stay still, stay silent.

 

"Well," Masae clapped her hands softly together."That is decidedly enough unpleasantness for the evening.

 

"You may report the details later to me." She turned slightly to address the human male, who'd returned to wait obediently at her side. "We have already disgraced our house enough with these domestic matters in front of our guests.”

 

She walked forward, signalling the girls to turn and exit ahead of her. Kagome had contracted her neck muscles so tightly to prevent her eyes from straying to check on Inuyasha, even though it was the only thing she wanted in that moment with every fibre of her being. As such, she did not turn quite as fast as the others and from the corner of her eye she saw the head priestess draw one pale finger down the side of a youkai male's cheek as she drifted past. One corner of her lips flickered upwards in an almost imperceptible chilling smirk.

 

Cold swept through her, as if a bucket of freezing water was abruptly upended on top of her head, leaving her in a clammy sweat. In her initial dismay Kagome had not noticed the stark, physical allure of the group of mostly male higher youkai behind the head miko. It didn’t take a genius to connect the common denominator between those on display and the possible reasons for such. Before her mind could string together a coherent response, her heart was already shrinking away in horror. She could not think about him. Not yet.

 

Mutely, she managed to walk with the group all the way back to the room in which they had originally congregated. In a daze, she somehow was still able to make appropriate non-committal responses to conversations she was definitely not following. The dishes from dinner had long been cleared and freshly steeped tea along with some delicate sweets were arranged at each setting.

 

"It was not my intention for such a crude introduction as the one you unfortunately witnessed tonight." Masae resumed talking again after they had a few initial sips of tea. “While I was at the capital this spring, I was involved in extensive meditation with key spiritualists there and it appears that we have made a breakthrough in aiding all beings to move towards mutual enlightenment.

As you know, youkai are inherently wicked, being born seamlessly entwined with evil spirits, and commit atrocities beyond belief both to humans and amongst themselves. So many lives needlessly lost. So many terrestrial sins. However, there has emerged a new way for us to help them transcend this. We—" She proceeded to gesture lightly at her audience. “Are intimately familiar with the harae. Which, of course, purifies the evil spirits from humans. With this new spiritual Cleanse, youkai can be Pledged to us. And we, as humble vessels of the kami can act as guides for them. We can teach them the righteous way, and then as atonement for their transgressions, they will complete a period of service. After which, it is believed that they will then be redeemed.”

 

There were no words. Kagome couldn't even process it. She could only blink rapidly at the faintly self-assured expression on the beautiful face of the head priestess. What in the world? How did any of that even fit into the teachings? Nothing in her entire course as an apprentice under Kaede remotely pointed to what Masae had just calmly proclaimed. The terms, the phrasing gave off the superficial semblance of reason, but her gut knew it wasn’t right. Undeniably, she never completed the rites as a miko, but she had finished all the prerequisite training to a tee.

 

"Miko-sama, your generosity of heart is truly astounding!" the girl seated at the table beside Kagome exclaimed after a long pause from everyone present. She, like her fellow younger miko, although still looking visibly shaken from the events of the night, had not taken long to resume almost sickening levels of eagerness.

 

"You are too kind." Masae replied with a small smile. "I know my trust in your assistance was not misplaced. Together we will redeem so many. I will be in touch and arrange further gatherings. We will likely need to ensure everyone's spiritual aptitude is suitable for this task before commencing the detailed training.”

 

To avoid attracting attention to herself, Kagome let a vague comment of her own join the fray. Her voice sounded alien but surprisingly calm and steady, mixing in with the susurrus in the room. After several more volleys of saccharine compliments from the girls, Masae bid them a good evening and departed.

 

It was only by the grace of the kami that she was able to somehow remain in her careful state of mental numbness for so long. The image of his stricken eyes burned a cold hollowness in her chest, like the spots seared on the underside of your eyelids after gazing directly at the sun. But she was going to crumble to pieces very soon. Kagome found herself almost unable to stop the trembling of her knees as she gave one last bow to the escorts who'd shown her to the front entrance. In dismay, Kagome realized she did not have it as together as she thought. The other miko had long since disappeared down the road, leaving her straggling behind. The gaze of Masae’s servants bore holes into the back of her head as Kagome turned away and their scrutiny continued for an agonizingly long moment before, at last, she heard the sound of the gate closing. Still, she took one measured, unhurried step after another, carrying her down the main road, away from the estate. After an eternity, she reached the bend in the road, leaving the sight of any remaining observers. Immediately her lips started to tremble, and the welling tears rendered her vision completely useless, washing the world in wavering shapes. Somehow, she managed to keep her shaking body upright, tripping blindly down a random side street, past all the dwellings and into the safety of surrounding forests again. Only then did she let herself collapse roughly to her knees, and sobbed, breaths coming in ragged gasps, tearing at her throat. Oh kami, how? How could her wild, spirited friend be captured?

 

How could that happen to Inuyasha?

 

Now that she knew, certain observations fought their way up to the forefront of her mind. There had been subtle hints, and sparse words that stuck out here and there. Why had she been so stupid to not have noticed something had been amiss all along? Kagome drew a sleeve up to wipe carelessly at the remnants of tears on her face and her nose too for that matter. Now that she’d released some of the emotions, her rational self began to surface again. There were too many questions, too many unknowns. The only thing that mattered was one gruff, golden-eyed, silver-haired hanyou. She would have to go get him somehow. Never mind that she had no idea how the youkai were incapacitated, how to release him, how to get back into the manor even. She just needed to get him out of there. Kagome knew without a doubt that if the situation were reversed, Inuyasha might put up a good show, but he would definitely come for her.

 

Rising to her feet again, Kagome broke into a light run coming as close to the main street as she dared before pausing. The zori had to go. The loud clack of the wood on the stones might as well announce her arrival. Ignoring the sharp jabs of gravel through the thin tabi socks, she resolutely climbed back up the hill, sticking close to the bordering buildings dripped in shadow as the sun sunk low in the sky. It wasn’t until she’d walked quite a few steps beyond the intersection that she doubled back to consider the option. There, previously unnoticed on her first trip up, was a narrow alley skirting the outer walls of Masae’s estate. It would make sense that this house, like the others around it, would have access for servants and supplies to be delivered without marring the pristine presentation of the front entrance. In any case, she couldn’t damn well march up to the gate and demand someone hand over Inuyasha to her. This newly coalesced plan was as good as any.

 

Moving as fast as possible while dodging the unmistakable smears of manure and rubbish on the path, Kagome arrived on the far side of the estate. If her sense of direction was correct, she should be directly behind the servant quarters and the non-ornamental garden. That meant she’d have to make her way left after passing through the walls to get to the big building where she saw Inuyasha last. Eyes narrowed in concentration, squinting at the plain servant’s gate to determine if there was a lock or simply a mechanism to keep it closed. Kagome was nearly there, hand extended to test the sturdiness of the bolt before she inexplicably stilled. A firm pull, deep in her core behind the umbilicus and her eyes snapped to focus beyond the gloom of the woods behind her. She didn’t even register the semi-conscious scan of her powers before her feet were already propelling her forward, dashing madly into the trees. Her eyes barely had the chance to adjust to the substantial decrease in light before she noticed the pale form on the ground not far ahead. 

 

Gods... 

 

She came to a crash on her hands and knees in front of the prone figure, oblivious to the cut of the rocks.

 

"Inuyasha?" Her voice cracked in a whisper.

 

He was sprawled almost face down, rolled on his right side. The generous mane of silver hair tangled and spilled over his shoulder to the dirt below. Her eyes couldn't make out much detail but there were darkened splotches marring the sections of his robes that were visible. He was too still, too quiet.

 

For a moment, Kagome forgot to breathe.

 

Shuffling sideways on her knees, she positioned herself close to his shoulders and head. Gingerly, she wiggled her right hand under his chest, flinching as she felt the unmistakable stickiness of cooled blood. He was heavy—predictably so judging from the lean strength of him— and Kagome had to lean down, bracing her own chest against his back and clamped her arms tight to turn him around to land partially in her lap.

 

Her fingers were shaking abysmally as they brushed back the sweat-damp strands of his bangs. His skin was much cooler than the normal heat she was used to the few times he carried her. One arm circled his shoulders to keep him from sliding off, while the other hand travelled from his forehead to cup his cheek gently, his skin surprisingly soft and supple beneath her finger tips. She swept her thumb a few times under his closed eyes. Wryly, a part of her lamented that the first time she touched him this intimately was under such circumstances.

 

"Inuyasha," She entreated, a little loudly this time. "Inuyasha open your eyes! Can you hear me?" Punctuating her pleas with several solid shakes.

 

No verbal response. She might have seen an ear flick but couldn't be certain. Evening was rapidly settling. It was bad. There was no way to start a fire to keep him warm or to inspect the extent of his wounds without drawing unwanted attention. She had no bandages, no supplies, no water even to clean off his injuries. Angrily she felt the telltale start of moisture pooling in her eyes. How dare she resort to crying again instead of something remotely constructive? Her fingers wormed themselves to the hollow between his jaw and neck, desperately needing to assure herself of his pulse. She clutched him to her chest, pressing his face tightly to her as she screwed up her own eyes in an attempt to suppress the tears. She was going to have to move him somehow. If she got a firm hold under his armpits, she could probably drag him. Where would they go? Would Hisaishi-sama permit her to bring a hanyou into their infirmary? ‘Healers know no divide’; that was their guiding principle right?

 

A sudden rustle in the shrubbery made her pulse jump. Sensing the youki, her powers flared unbidden, already high strung with her current distress. Something hissed disapprovingly in response. Kagome took a deep, albeit shaky breath, holding her reiki steady. More disturbance of the underbrush, and a very small creature emerged. It was a tiny demon cat, eyes glowing bright red in the dark. As she approached cautiously, one dainty paw in front of the other, Kagome could just make out two tails held regally behind her. The cat stopped just in front of Inuyasha's body, seeming to give Kagome a once-over. Not knowing what to expect, she held the youkai's gaze.

 

After a moment, the small creature meowed quietly in approval. Hot orange flame instantly burst into life in front of her, sending Kagome scrambling backwards, desperately hauling Inuyasha's upper body with her. The woods around them were now awash in harsh light, her own eyes blinded momentarily. When her vision resettled, Kagome found that the cloud of fire had subsided to small flames flickering brightly, adorning each of the youkai's paws and tail tips. In place of the tiny kitten seconds prior, stood an impressive nekomata easily bigger than a common head of cattle, crimson eyes almost the size of her own face. She gulped, uncertain, eyeing the massive fangs that curved over the creature's lips to end in lethal points extending below the jaw.

 

A rough call came from the cat and a jerk of the giant head as the youkai stepped closer to them, crouching lower. Understanding dawned on her, and she rushed to roll the still unconscious hanyou from her lap onto the generous back of the nekomata. Kagome was again reprimanded by a short growl from their unlikely saviour when she stilled after settling Inuyasha. Shyly, making sure her movements were slow, in case she'd mistaken the youkai's intentions, she made to climb on behind the hanyou. Pressing her torso over Inuyasha’s back to offer extra security, Kagome grabbed hold of two handfuls of cream colour fur around the cat's mane. Then they launched upwards into the air, although still discreetly hidden by the canopy. The feeling was similar to when Inuyasha would give her a lift but more of a floating sensation.

 

"Um," Kagome began hesitantly, unsure if the youkai understood human speech. "I live in the forest west of the city. It's down the slope from the Goshinboku—you know that giant tree—, it's close to the biggest bend in the river.”

 

Kagome hoped her message had been received, otherwise she could try leaning down and gesturing. Evidently, the cat did understand as it corrected their trajectory to match her directions, giving a short trill that sounded reassuring.

 

It didn’t prove too difficult to direct their flying escort to the clearing. Even though the barrier should allow peaceful youkai to pass through, Kagome paused to ensure it, as she did the night when Inuyasha first came through. Relieved beyond all telling, the nekomata got her and their precious cargo through the front door and was even able to help nudge the hanyou up onto the raised platform around the fire pit.

 

If the situation wasn't as dire, Kagome would've found it quite adorable when she turned back from starting a fire and saw that the nekomata had resumed kitten form. A cute train of purrs came from the cat as she gave Inuyasha's cheek a few dainty licks. Then jumping off delicately, it proceeded to walk out of the hut, two fluffy, black striped tails swaying behind.

 

"Wait," Kagome called, hurrying out into the night in pursuit. "I don't know who you are. But thank you, so so much. I don't know what I would've done without your help.”

 

The youkai now back in the larger form, presumably to take flight once more, paused at the sound of her voice, twisting around to face her again. Kagome reached out slowly towards the giant face, and gently placed a palm on the dark diamond pattern of its fur.

 

"Please, if there's anything I can do, you know where to find me.”

 

The furry head tilted up, nudging the underside of her arm with a dark nose.

 

"I'll take good care of him." Kagome whispered, glancing back inside.

 

The feline looked at her a moment longer before it leapt up and disappeared into the night.

With no time to lose, Kagome rushed back inside, overturning several items to locate a strip of cloth with which to tie back the sleeves of her suikan. After setting a pot of water to boil and retrieving the requisite bandages and salves, she turned her attention on the crumpled body lying next to the fire. While they were airborne, she'd taken the opportunity to check Inuyasha's back for injuries. Though he hadn't responded to her touch at all, which made it hard to assess, it didn't feel like there were any obvious damage. Thus, she felt somewhat ok to turn him now to lie fully on his back so she could examine his front. His features were still strangely blank with not even minuscule movements of the skin. No one was that still, even if they were sleeping. As her eyes trailed down to his chest, Kagome belatedly spotted the crumpled, muddied piece of paper half hidden in the folds of his clothes. Godsdamnit. She should've known! Angrily she tore the ofuda off and in her ire the paper burned to a crisp with her own energy. 

 

Her dark gaze locked back onto his features. Sure enough, his face had regained movement, but not in the way she was hoping. His brows knitted down, furrowed in a grimace.  He didn’t make any audible sound but his breathing sounded abnormal and stilted to her ears. He must be incredibly strong though—she knew this already of course, from the few times she'd witnessed him fight— to have made it out of the estate to the woods out back before finally succumbing to the sutra. That, or it was made defective. Whichever the case, she was grateful it allowed him at least to go as far as he did or she might never have found him. 

 

Brow furrowed in concentration, Kagome untied his suikan and efficiently removed the tucked fabric from under his obi. Loosening the blood-soaked hadagi beneath and drawing it over his shoulders, she sucked in a breath when finally she saw his torso marred in deep purple bruises. In several areas, the skin had been split, gaping grotesquely. Carefully, she ran her hands following his collarbones to his shoulders, probing gently down the sternum, then splaying a palm on each side of his ribs to check for any asymmetry with each inhale and exhale. Thankfully, also all intact.

 

Her mind had slipped into the narrowed state that enabled her to focus on the task at hand without any stray thoughts or emotions hindering her progress. Otherwise, she might've spent some time hesitating on undressing him or admiring the shape and feel of his body versus solely determining the clinical condition. A quick inspection of his lower half revealed two slash wounds to the back of his legs, just above the ankle, but his hakama were relatively unstained, so she'd left them on for now, since she could easily untie the cuffs to treat the lesions that were there. Plus, knowing Inuyasha, he would probably go ballistic the moment he woke up. Him being near naked would not be in anyone's favour right now.

 

Kagome moved on to cleaning the open wounds thoroughly with hot water, as hot as possible without scalding him but hopefully enough to disinfect. Meticulously she bounded his chest and arms with clean bandages, keeping the healing salve in contact with his skin. The deep gash and the sizable lump on the side of his head she couldn't bind properly though, not with the satiny strands in the way. That wound she just opted to take a double folded cloth soaked in herbal tonic and hold it to his scalp after she was done with everything else. It was worrying that he was still oozing sluggishly in places though. He should've at the very least stopped bleeding by now, if not healed over some of the shallower areas. The day he'd fought the centipede demon, he'd basically recovered before her eyes in a matter of minutes. 

 

Kagome sighed out a long breath, finally letting some of the tension dissipate. She slumped over Inuyasha slightly, shoulders sagging inwards in exhaustion, but still she maintained even pressure on the pad pressed to the side of his head. Tired hazel eyes trained in front of her, Kagome watched the light of the fire throw flickers on the walls. The hanyou's face remained creased in a grimace. Other than stroking the hair from his face, caressing his temples lightly, there was nothing more she could do. At last, her mind began to process some of her emotions as she slowed down. Truth was, she knew hardly anything about him, of his past, and he spoke precious little of himself while she had blabbed on when they were together. He obviously had not deemed her trustworthy enough to share his predicament. It hurt to realize how disproportionate her own feelings toward him were, as she was quickly realizing. She had known him for barely two moons, but that deep terror of losing him was unlike anything she’d ever felt. The feeling had almost swamped her the moment she realized he was the one floored by the twisted energy Masae wielded. No matter what the nature of the feelings she felt for him, it was undeniable that he had become very important to her.

 

Abruptly the wrist against his head was gripped painfully— the pressure so intense she was afraid it would snap— causing her to gasp and the wad of bandage she was holding to fall to the floor. Kagome's alarmed eyes searched his face. He was awake, but she couldn't be sure if he was aware. She deliberately stilled, biting back a whimper at the sustained vice-like grip on her arm. Then his nostrils flared twice, sending wild eyes flicking to her face. The golden pools were dazed, a flash of confusion, then something too fast to discern before she found herself yanked roughly away from him. Her palms slammed hard against the floor to break her fall, the abused wrist throbbed sharply with the impact. Frantically pressing herself up to locate him, Kagome found he’d somehow managed to stumble out of the hut in the seconds she was down. So great was his haste to flee that he’d left his fire-rat suikan behind.

 

For the umpteenth time, Kagome stumbled out into the night. If Inuyasha managed to run into the forest, there would be no way of finding him. It was like a ridiculous encore of the previous time she'd see him actually. Kagome would have laughed if she wasn't in danger of doing the exact opposite at this point. In the back of her mind, Kagome briefly weighed the option of sending out a simple net of reiki, one that she'd used many times while fighting youkai to immobilize her opponents. But as swiftly as the idea came into her head, she banished it. She no longer knew where she stood with Inuyasha, and an entrapment spell would send all the wrong messages especially considering the context of tonight. 

 

Just outside the rectangle of light that spilled out through the door into the clearing, she could barely make out a collapsed form in the dim. Wasting no time, she pelted out towards the hanyou, calling desperately.

 

"Inuyasha! Don't go."

 

Chest heaving, she came to a hasty stop at his side, having overestimated his distance from her. He leapt back but landed clumsily, dropping to his knees again. 

 

"Fucking stay away from me, wench." He snarled harshly, his voice strained. Even she could tell he was having trouble staying upright.

 

A sliver of pain unexpectedly split her chest, the thoughts she’d had staring up the wall just moments ago about losing him welled to the forefront of her mind. The stress of their misunderstanding all last week, combined with the emotional and physical toil of the night hit her like a blow. Kagome's eyes began to water, and she was helpless to stop the tears from rising to spill over the edging of her lids down her face.

 

“Please Inuyasha, j-just let me help you. You can leave right away when you get better but just—” she faltered, her voice drowned in an effort to choke down a rising sob. 

 

Even though he was clearly struggling, the hazy eyes that were laboriously narrowed in warning widened at the sight of her falling tears. Almost subconsciously, he rose into a high crouch and took half a step towards her, one clawed hand twitching up in the air between them. 

 

Kagome actually did sob out loud then, launching herself forwards to throw her arms around him, locking her hands as tightly as she could behind his back to stop him from fleeing. He went entirely rigid for a moment before she felt a defeated sigh fan out beside her face, stirring the stray strands of her hair. And then his head dropped to the crook between her shoulder and neck, his nose pressed to the skin just under the collar. 

 

For a few moments she just sat there, crushing him to her like she did in the woods when she'd found him earlier. Just feeling his breath huff warmly against her skin gave her a disproportionate amount of relief.  Vaguely, Kagome could hear her own voice mumble his name nonsensically over and over. Eventually she came to her senses, the rational part of her demanding she bring both of them back to the warmth of the fire. Inuyasha—fortunately or unfortunately depending on which way you viewed it— made very little fuss as she slung one of his arms over her, tucking herself against his side to support him in the short walk back to the hut. To her dismay, when he finally reached the platform beside the fire, he was unconscious again.

 

Kagome reexamined his bandages, biting her lip as she noted that he'd made things worse with the stint he pulled. Something was wrong though. The bleeding was not stopping and although his injuries were serious, the effect on him—especially on his mental acuity—was exaggerated. She was pretty sure there were no more ofudas on his person, even if she didn't personally check under his pants.

 

Although she was no official healer, miko-in-training were taught a general array of medical principles. After all, most of the villages they would be stationed at after finishing final rites would not have the privilege of a separate healer. Kagome's home village was an exception not the norm. Kyo was a large city, thus being able to support the healers guild, having personnel that were skilled and specialized, serving as an educational centre. She had spent the bulk of a year training part-time along with the junior apprentices at the guild so there was no way there was something amiss in the way she'd treated Inuyasha's wounds.

 

Frustrated, she tore open the bandages again. Unsure of what possessed her to do so, but as her eyes raked over the seeping lacerations, her vision gradually shifted to the slightly off-focus slant she used whenever she concentrated on the non-physical plane. A black tinge began to manifest faintly on the wound edges, and materialized further when she fed in more mental effort. It looked as if it was some sort of inky residual transferred from the weapons, like black paint smeared on flesh, but not nearly as opaque. Her mind flashed back to the baton Masae's servant had used to hit the youkai, and Kagome suddenly realized what this could be. The weapon had been covered in something black and gleaming, closely resembling the seals and the ropes binding the lower youkai, now that she thought about it closely. The aura of it was certainly malevolent but unlike the feel of jyaki. 

 

What she was about to do next would be a gamble, for sure.

 

Since her return to the village she’d only been using her spiritual powers in spells specifically for battle when she was forced to protect herself or someone she loved. Everything else she had learned in her training she had not practiced for years, given the fact that all the religious rituals and non-urgent spells should be performed by a miko. Who, in this case, was Noriko in her village. What Kagome now had in mind was to attempt to purify the black stains from Inuyasha's injuries. She couldn’t shake the hunch that she'd stumbled upon what was preventing Inuyasha’s youki from restoring him like normal.

 

After a moment of deliberation, Kagome decided she would attempt to purify the wounds the way she would a cursed object. Banishing the evil aura without destroying its host. She sent a whisper of reiki across his skin like a breath, focusing hard on what she wanted purged and maintained the intention that she did not want to harm him. She was surprised to find that the technique came back to her easily, committed to spiritual muscle memory so to speak.  Kagome only released her breath when it was clear there was no harm to Inuyasha, his face not contorting in any sudden distress. 

 

Several more times, she went over each area of broken skin, the head wound proving particularly resistant to clearing. At long last satisfied she rebound the wounds, reapplying the herbal salve just in case. Couldn't hurt. Wearily, the girl trudged into the sleeping room in search of something clean to change into. Reemerging in an old, threadbare kosode, Kagome threw her bloodstained robes beside Inuyasha's discarded clothes, meaning to wash them in the morning. 

 

Kagome tucked a spare pillow under the half-demon's head, and threw a woollen cover over his exposed upper half. Kneeling down to check on him once more, she was so glad to find his forehead had smoothed out, no longer looking pained. The bandages remained clear of new blood. In the pre-dawn glow of the sky filtering through the window, she tenderly swept the soft errant threads away from his face.  A sudden wave of exhaustion caught up to her then, and she barely registered that her body had slumped to the floor next to him before her eyes fluttered closed.

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Harae - Shinto purification ceremonies for the removal of sin, pollution or misfortune. This allows the mind and body to be restored to a condition worthy of approaching the gods. (Although the religion of this story is not specifically Shinto, I’ve adopted some of the ceremonial names).

Nekomata - demon cats usually born in the mountains as opposed to bakeneko that is thought to be once domestic cats.

Zori - sandal like footwear. Can be constructed of different material such as weaved straw or wood.

Tabi - socks that have a divide for the big toe which allows wearing comfortably with thronged footwear.

Hadagi - the long white undershirt Inuyasha wears under his fire-rat clothing.

Ofuda - a spiritual talisman commonly of an inscription on a paper imbued with spiritual power.


A/N: In this chapter I’ve started to go into the ‘religious’ rationalization for slavery in this world. In Shinto religion, there is a concept of ‘kunitsu-tsumi’ or terrestrial sin which include inflicting injury, murder, immodesty, and killing of animals. There is no concept of original sin which means the aforementioned sins are largely influenced by evil spirits. This, of course refers to humans. Youkai, at least in this story, are inherently deemed evil spirits.

I was looking for the concept of atonement/penance akin to that in Catholicism but did not find anything similar in Shinto. The closest are the ‘harae’ (see definition above) which are ceremony based and less the ‘complete x task to earn forgiveness’ that I’m familiar with. So I’ve merged the two concepts in this story.

Main reference: https://www2.kokugakuin.ac.jp/ijcc/wp/bts/index.html

Credits: Many thanks to Dawnrider for beta reading!


Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. However this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10 - Of a step closer and two back

 

The morning sounds of the forest filtered gently into his consciousness. The scurry of small animals and the chirp of birds were bright amid the rustle of the leaves in the canopy. His ears swivelled around lazily, noting how the familiar woodland backdrop was more muted than what he was used to. Surprisingly, his sleep must have been rather deep. The light further roused him with a flood of warm orange behind his eyelids–a direct sunbeam being the likely culprit. Man, he must've picked a shitty-ass branch last night. 

 

Last night… fuck!

 

Inuyasha lurched up, flaxen eyes bursting wide open as the flood of memories from the previous night overwhelmed him, banishing any residual inertia. His system now on full alert, with one clawed hand firmly anchored in the wooden floor behind him, he made to survey the surroundings in a wild frenzy. Instinctively noting no threat in the vicinity, he calmed somewhat to find his apparent location rather bewildering in an entirely different way.

 

Belatedly, he noticed that he was enveloped in a comforting scent, so familiar in fact that it had not stood out in his half-conscious survey. Now that he was focusing on it however, the scent saturated the small space and even more unsettling was the fact he could smell her on his own skin. It was diluted by the stronger stench of herb mixtures but it was there nonetheless. Trailed along his forehead, his cheeks, neck and his body… 

 

What the fuck?

 

Jerking his head down, he noted the scratchy cover that had fallen off his chest to bunch around his waist. What it revealed was a patchwork of bandages crisscrossing his torso; it was from these that the smell of the herbs, and of Kagome, was strongest. Then, just above the level of his hip, his eyes sharpened on a tumble of raven hair, curled gently but in disarray, invading the edges of the blanket. How the hell had he not noticed her immediately is beyond him.

 

She looked like she'd just collapsed rather than laid herself down. Her head was pillowed on the back of a hand, more dark locks hiding her features from view. In her sleep, she'd curled herself into a tight ball, making her frame even smaller than normal. The corners of his mouth unknowingly pulled down in a disapproving frown when he noted the thin robe she wore and the fine tremor of her narrow shoulders. 

 

Stupid girl.

 

Inuyasha growled irritably—but quietly—as he carefully untangled the cover around himself to flip it over Kagome, taking care to tuck in the fabric around her form. He only hesitated for a second—because no one wants to be touched by a half-breed—but continued when a rational part of his brain reminded him she'd had no problems being carried before. With the utmost care, he slid a palm under her cheek, fingers rather tense with caution to not touch her with his claws, he shifted her into a less uncomfortable looking position. Her skin was warm and pliant, so much softer than his own. His fingers twitched subconsciously as he savoured the contact.

 

If you'd asked him beforehand, Inuyasha would not have guessed that guilt would top the list of emotions he felt about her after last night. But there it was, along with worry, clambering for his attention. For the brief second he'd leaned in to adjust her, his nose had picked up the traces of his own blood and sweat. Honestly, who the fuck else other than this baka would bother to patch up a hanyou? Then be stupid enough to overexert herself to end up shivering and passed out beside him. Kagome was a frail human and damn if he got blamed for her getting sick or something.

 

Scoffing, Inuyasha looked around him some more. They were on a raised wooden platform circling a fire pit. On the other side of the room was an area crammed full of baskets and bundles of cut plant material. Some of the crockery seemed to have been hastily pushed out of the way. He was most likely inside her home then; it would explain the thickness of her scent around the place. How the hell she was able to get him here was another matter altogether. 

 

His thoughts made a dark downturn recalling the events of the night. He was shocked to see her frightened face peering from the crowd of miko. And while he did initially assume the worst, her expression, her eyes begged to differ. Somehow, it was almost worse. In any case, he should've been fucking able to sniff her out earlier but he hadn't. There were too many smells, too many youkai and shitty humans in that barn. Then that miko bitch had to show up with her little power play. It was his own fault; he'd gotten complacent after the priestess had been gone for moons. He'd hoped to buy his time, string the asshole human steward along until he could find out how to break the cursed hold on him. That Ito bastard was a proper low-life too. So long as they brought in somewhat close to quota, then he was content to drink away his days in the brothels. It suited Inuyasha fine. But the moment the bitch came back to the city, it'd been a hell hole all week with Ito putting on a show. He still didn't know what game she was playing, but sure as hell that reminder of her control over him stung like a motherfucker.

 

Inuyasha gnashed his teeth absently at the thought. Of course, it had to be when he was down and grovelling in the dirt when he noticed Kagome. Fuck if he didn't get any weaker than that. And now Kagome knew. Knew that on top of being a half-breed, he'd proven he was as useless as his heritage guaranteed and gotten himself captured by a miko. 

 

He caught himself before he could slam his fist into the floor. Shooting a glance at the girl, Inuyasha made sure she was still asleep, her chest rising with deep, even breaths. He could very well just get up and show his ass out right now. That way he wouldn't have to face the pity in her eyes, or worst—disgust. But fuzzily he recalled doing that already last night. How that almost landed him face down in wet grass. And he also remembered the softness of her chest when she pressed him to her, burying her face in the crown of his head. 

 

Keh. His cheeks suddenly felt warm. 

 

He sighed, deciding to stay put. His mother had raised him better than that. He'd be a massive dick if he ditched and although normally he wouldn't have given a fuck, somehow if Kagome was on the receiving end of his shitty attitude, he did actually mind. Maybe just a bit. A very small bit. Unless he was prepared to never see her again, then it wouldn't matter what he did. With that thought came a pang of something unnameable in his chest and was swiftly pushed aside. 

 

Inuyasha glanced at her slumbering features again. What did he have with her anyhow? He liked pestering her for sure, and having her around eased the boredom between hunts. Maybe it was because she was naive to the way of the world that she treated him no different. Was it so wrong to take advantage of that though? To want to be treated like an equal? To exist beside her like a regular person? If only to himself, it could admit he treasured his time with her. 

 

But that dream was shattered now. What did Kagome want from him? She sure as hell would figure out that he was not as strong as she might've thought before. She did call him a friend a few times before, yes. But from painful experience, humans can lie. And what was she even doing at the estate yesterday following the priestesses around like that?

 

He didn't want to think Kagome meant him harm. The last time they had seen each other, he'd been livid. He didn't want her to find out he was leashed like a common dog. Didn't know how to react. He just wanted everything to stay simple and comfortable between them. But when he'd calmed down some, he'd recalled that she'd smelt totally normal when she asked the question, no malicious intent underlying her scent. Even so, Inuyasha had to be prepared. So he could protect himself if Kagome turned out to be nothing like what she seemed.

 

---

 

Gods, her neck was really hurting. Kagome tried to wiggle around a little bit to ease the discomfort but only succeeded in making it worse. Why was the futon so hard? Oh. 

 

Kagome gasped and shot up in a panic. Bleary eyes opened to bright, late morning light and promptly squeezed shut against the sudden intrusion. With some effort, she forced them open again to search for a certain half-demon. She had meant to stay awake. The baka better not have left, but she definitely wouldn't put it past him. It's just the sort of thing Inuyasha would do. Did try to do. 

 

A short grunt beside her made her snap around to locate the source. There, propped casually against the wall was Inuyasha, somehow fully dressed with a miraculously pristine red suikan. Rubbing her eyes to clear them, Kagome quickly scanned what she could see of his person to check on his progress. From the corner of her eye she spotted a pile of used bandages lying innocently beside the blood-stained laundry.

 

The nerve.

 

Kagome scrambled up, ready to give Inuyasha a piece of her mind, dislodging the blanket she'd passingly noted had ended up on her. The fear and worry of last night crept back like a sour taste in her mouth. As she approached, amber eyes cracked open and one dark brow arched up at her. 

 

"Inuyasha, you idiot!" Her finger latched onto the collar of his suikan, fisting the thick fabric and yanked his robes open in one fluid motion. In her single-minded need to lay eyes on the severe wounds she spent all last night tending, Kagome did not realize exactly how aggressively she was undressing him. Inuyasha however, did, and was momentarily stunned frozen. "Why the hell did you take the bandages off, do you know how…”

 

Her movements stilled as she took in nothing but tanned, unblemished flesh. She could feel the firm muscles gliding under warm, taut skin beneath her fingertips. Just like that, the clinical mode of her mind was swiftly overwhelmed by maidenly sensibility. Kagome could feel heat bloom in her chest, threatening to creep up her face. Why is it only this one exasperating half-demon amongst scores of male patients who can render her to a blushing idiot? Inuyasha took advantage of her pause to twist away, closing his hands around hers to lightly dislodge her grip.

 

Unexpectedly, Kagome hissed, and pulled her left arm against her chest. Golden irises sharpened on the cradled limb and noticed, with dismay, the ugly bruise wrapped around the delicate wrist. Although the frayed sleeve of her kosode still obscured parts of it, the mark was most definitely of fingers clamped too tight around the joint. 

 

"Shit!" He spat in disgust, putting even more distance between them, gaze guiltily glued on the greenish-purple mark. "Did I do that?"

 

"What?"

 

Momentarily, she looked confused but as understanding dawned on her features, she hastily pulled at the worn fabric, trying to cover it up. 

 

"Inuyasha," Kagome began hesitantly, wetting her lips. "Look, it's noth–"

 

"The fuck it is, Kagome! You're lucky I didn't fucking break your arm you idiot!" 

 

"It's not that bad. Plus, you couldn't have known it was me before you woke up." She rushed on to reassure him. "You were injured and not in the right mind, anyone in that position would've..."

 

Her voice trailed off as his glare extinguished and he broke eye contact when her words brought last night events to the forefront of their minds. Although scattered and a bit hazy at points, his recollection was largely intact.

 

"I–" Kagome faltered, swallowing nervously. "Inuyasha–"

 

"Just shut up ." He muttered, having backed away from her some more.

 

"No." The surety of her command surprised even Kagome herself. Inuyasha darted a quick glance at her before resuming a glower at a point on the ground to her right.

 

Her voice softened as she continued. "Are you alright now?" 

 

"I ain't weak like you humans." He scoffed, attempting to sound closer to his normal self. "I heal fast, remember?"

 

"Well you weren't..." She whispered, blinking fiercely at the floor, trying to reign herself in before she started tearing up again. "Those wounds you had, they weren't normal. They…wouldn’t stop bleeding. And I couldn't figure out why you wouldn't wake up. That's exactly it, Inuyasha, as bad as they were, it didn't look like injuries that should've affected you that much."

 

Inuyasha stayed silent through her softly spoken ramble, only the muscles around his jaw clenched in response. His eyes glittered, hard and angry. Kagome looked up when the conversation stalled, her liquid eyes begging a response from him, but he stubbornly refused to stray from the focus on the floor.

 

"Do you know why?" She tried again, tentatively hoping to prod him into a verbal response. 

 

After a few uncomfortable moments, his gruff voice muttered. "What did you do to them, wench?"

 

"Huh?" Kagome blinked. "You mean the wounds? Um–I, well I–I purified them." She admitted somewhat sheepishly.

 

"You what?" He barked, this time provoked enough by her answer to land bewildered eyes on the girl.

 

"I don't know what it was. It definitely doesn't feel like any miko or spiritual energy I've come across anyway. Not jyaki either. But I've seen it before," Kagome paused, twisting her fingers uncomfortable. "On the seals and tethers on some of the youkai in the city. I saw something similar on your wounds and I thought maybe that's what was preventing you from waking up or healing like usual. So I gave it a try. Couldn't hurt right?"

 

"Being purified would've hurt, yeah."

 

"It worked didn't it?" She snapped back, rich brown orbs flashing with a hint of her usual fire at his tone.

 

"Keh." He chuckled sarcastically, flashing a glimpse of fang.  "Figures. Fucking miko shit only cancelled out by miko."

 

Kagome gasped at the implication. "Wait what?" She closed the gap between them, grasping at his sleeve in fervour. "So the weapon that man at the estate used, those harnesses, they're all made by spiritualists?"

 

"Yeah, that's what I'm telling you, woman."

 

"But that can't be right. There's something…tainted about the energy. And surely the teachings wouldn't allow... And I'm not a miko, so how did I neutralize it?"

 

"You obviously have the same power, Kagome." He interrupted her tirade quietly and the look he gave her seemed faintly proud. The intensity of those molten eyes in that second made her heart leap into her throat.

 

"Um," She gulped audibly, swallowing down the lump in her throat, which caused Inuyasha to break eye contact again, to her disappointment. "I'm just glad it worked. I tried so hard to not hurt you but get rid of the blackness."

 

He nodded, then clamping his mouth closed like he meant to say something but thought better of it. Kagome shuffled from side to side, fidgeting with the tie around her waist. Suddenly the atmosphere morphed into something rather awkward. The half-demon looked torn between embarrassment and irritation. Meanwhile, Kagome was caught in an internal struggle whether or not to broach the subject with Inuyasha. On one hand, she should seize the opportunity to get some answers, figure out how to help. On the other hand, if there was a surefire way to send him running, this would be it.

 

Taking a quick second to steel her resolve, Kagome went for it. “Inuyasha," She stepped towards him a little. "What's going on? What happened?"

 

As predicted, she could literally see Inuyasha tense up, amber orbs flaring just a fraction wider. 

 

"What, it wasn't obvious enough?" He sneered back at her, a corner of his lip pulled up in a mocking expression that made him look suddenly foreign. "I got my ass beat."

 

"No–I," Kagome hurried to explain before they tumbled head first into yet another misunderstanding. "Can you tell me why– I mean, will they hurt you again? Are you somehow under their contr–"

 

"You mean how your miko friend collared me?"

 

He'd cut her off but his voice was chillingly quiet. The tone made the back of her neck tingle with discomfort. He was oddly still except for the one muscle by his jaw twitching minutely. He was glaring daggers but somehow it didn't seem like he was focused on anything external. The golden eyes she'd grown fond of were hard, lined deeply with the intensity of an unknown emotion. He looked simultaneously upset and dangerous, but all Kagome wanted to do was somehow comfort him. Even though her life's training warned against provoking an already provoked youkai.

 

"I swear, Inuyasha. I don't mean you any harm. You know that don't you? I know we haven't known each other for that long, but surely you know I–" Kagome broke off, suddenly exhausted by the seemingly insurmountable complications that have invaded their simple friendship. A tiny part of her was still in denial of the truth and she was desperately trying to find another explanation somehow for the events of last night.

 

"You can't even call it what it is can you?" He growled softly. And all of a sudden, she could name what she saw in his eyes. It was self-loathing. "Come on, Kagome? Say it. What am I?"

 

He chuckled again, an awful, self-deprecating noise that made her heart wither.

 

"Inuyasha–"

 

"I'm a fucking slave." He spat in disgust. "If you think I can protect you, or whatever the fuck else you want me to do for you, it ain't happening."

 

Kagome inhaled a shuddering breath, swallowing down something that felt a lot like a sob. She knew her eyes were welling up again and there was nothing she could do to quell the myriad of emotions battling inside her.

 

"You're right, Inuyasha. It's on me. 'One cannot face what one cannot name’. I've been tiptoeing around this pretty much since I got to Kyo and saw that it was happening." She searched his face with her watery eyes, hoping to find some purchase. "You're a slave. There are a lot of youkai slaves in Kyo. And somehow the temples are involved. I don't know what's going on though, Inuyasha, please believe me."

 

She went right into his personal space then, daringly grabbing hold of a red-clad arm with each hand, gently cradling just above his elbow and held on. Finally, after a long moment he deflated, sighing out in surrender. His body relaxed a fraction. He shrugged her off one of his arms to bring the clawed hand to rub tiredly up and down his face, dragging it roughly through silver bangs. 

 

"Look, Kagome," He mumbled, his free hand came to rest lightly on her upper arm, mirroring her gesture. 

 

It looked like he was about to continue right before he let out a pained grunt. His body collapsed inward as he jerked in lurching movements out of her range. Kagome cried out in panic just as he groaned again and she felt it. His youki flared in alarm, while a black aura pulsed around it, stifling it. The intensity was much less than the night prior but unrelenting. It was a summons. She watched helplessly as his claws dug into his chest, looking deep enough to draw blood, in an attempt to stop the pain.

 

Inuyasha stumbled towards the door and Kagome could only follow, futilely calling his name while the black energy constricted faster, the frequency between flashes increasing in an impatient tempo. He almost lost his footing halfway across the clearing before one shaky leap shot him up through the canopy. Kagome slowed to a standstill, having run out behind him.

 

For a long time she just stared at the last place where he stood before disappearing, eyes dry and face blank. The night, the morning, it was all too much to process. Numbly, she went back into the hut–because what else could she do?– and sat down heavily, burying her face in her hands. Then, as something clicked, she glanced up again. Beside her sat the pile of dirty bandages and the soiled clothing from the previous night. 

 

There was a borrowed handkerchief in there somewhere. 

 

Well. She knew who held power over Inuyasha. And if that person summoned the half-demon, there was likely only one destination. And Kagome had an excuse, however feeble, to return. It was probably the flimsiest plan in the history of the world but even if it was a shot in the dark, if she had a shot, she would take it.

 

---

 

Thank the gods for the heat of the day, which enabled her to have the delicate piece of silk laundered and dried in record time.  There was no way she could handle waiting another day to return. Her mind seemed to be operating on a single track, grasping at any solution, any way to get back to Inuyasha. It was with this focus, and close to zero consideration for a viable strategy, that Kagome found herself in front of the head priestesses’ estate for the third time in less than twenty-four hours. 

The servants stationed at the gate had stopped her to ask what her business was, and she'd tried her best to not sound like an idiot announcing she was here to return a kerchief to the lady of the house. Perplexed, one of the young men disappeared within, presumably to ask for further direction on the odd matter. Kagome was left standing awkwardly beside the entrance, trying to not outwardly display her anxiety. Kami, please just let her get in and then she'll figure out something. Casting her reiki out to search for Inuyasha would be the easiest option if only the place wasn't potentially packed with spiritualists. If she didn't want to draw attention to herself, Kagome would have to find another way. The situation frustratingly mirrored last night's predicament. Was it really only last night?

Her thoughts were interrupted by two sets of footsteps approaching and she looked up to see that the attendant had returned with none other than the man she saw last night. The one who brutally struck the youkai to the floor. In daylight, he wore a pleasant expression, hands folded in polite deference as they exchanged pleasantries.

"Good afternoon, I am Ito, the steward of the house. I understand you are looking for my mistress?" His voice was subdued and he smiled faintly, giving off a welcoming air. If Kagome did not see him before, she would not have pegged them for the same man. He was one hell of an actor.

"Good afternoon, Ito-san. I do not need an attendance with Masae-sama, but only to return this handkerchief she had so kindly lent me yesterday" Kagome held up the folded cloth with both hands.

The man in front of her frowned slightly before taking it from her. Then his eyes darted from her robes to the basket hanging from her elbow, filled with random plant material. Kagome had brought the props along so it wouldn’t look like she was making a special trip to the estate.

"By any chance, would you be Higurashi-san?"

Kagome couldn't help the look of surprise that flitted across her face.

"I am, yes." 

"Ah, how fortuitous. My mistress had given specific directions to relay a message to you, Higurashi-san. I was just contemplating where to deliver a message but now here you are." Ito bowed again, turning to the side to sweep an arm towards the courtyard beyond. "Please, follow me. I will explain further."

Kagome, however perplexed, was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Perhaps her prayers have been answered.

"Our esteemed mistress has been planning to have an herb garden installed within the estate.  You see, the new gardener we've acquired hail from the South where many unfamiliar but potent medicinal plants grow. And he has a talent for growing many difficult plants. But," The man paused, a trace of contempt creeping into his previous mundane tone. "As you will unfortunately see shortly, his nature is severely lacking and thus cannot be trusted entirely. My mistress would like to inquire whether you would be able to extend your services as an herbalist to assist the cultivation of our garden. She believes that with your previous, uh, background, it would be a definite bonus for keeping any–vulgarities of the gardener in check."

As the man continued his speech, the dread in Kagome's stomach grew. What the hell was he talking about? There was definitely a reference to her past miko training. Accepting this offer would give her a legitimate reason to be at Masae's estate, but what kind of job would she be signing up for?

"Of course, your services will be compensated fairly and our mistress would like me to emphasize that you are most welcome to discuss the details with her." Ito weaved his way in front of her, leading her out past the vast ornamental garden to the domestic areas behind the estate. "Please, grant us some of your time for a tour before you consider the offer?"

The dim light, plus competing anxieties of last night had prevented Kagome from taking a detailed look. The kitchen garden, as she thought it was before, was actually quite large in comparison to most estates of the nobility. Arranged in isolated beds connected by a footpath were many young seedlings of different sizes and colours. Some she recognized but some she had never laid eyes on before, not even in the study scrolls. A part of her was elated at the thought of new knowledge and had already set her mind to accept the offer regardless. 

"Wretch!" The man shouted at her side abruptly, jolting her out of her intent observation of the flora. "Get your hide out here at once."

Kagome laid surprised eyes on the steward, who up to this point had maintained his guise of polite quietness of those who served the nobility. Sensing her gaze, Ito bowed again to her.

"I do apologize for offending you Higurashi-san. I am sure a lady of your delicate sensibility is unaccustomed to such force. But please heed me when I say you must be firm with these creatures."

At his gesture, Kagome focused on the previous unobtrusive shed at the back of the field. At a glance it looked like any other wooden shack, sturdily made and necessary but upon further inspection, she found that beside it was a round, tanned form. It appeared to be covered in rags and shaking violently even from this distance. It towered easily over the roof of the small structure but Kagome couldn't make out any distinct features. The pit of her stomach dropped with new understanding. The gardener was a youkai slave.

"I will not repeat myself another time!" The steward threatened again louder. At this, Kagome moved half a step in front, raising a hand to interrupt him. 

"Ito-san, please do not trouble yourself for my sake. I am rather intrigued by this project and would be pleased to accept Masae-sama's offer." She continued smoothly, hoping to dissuade the man from dealing any punishment. She did not want an encore of the previous night. "Please relay my gratitude to your mistress for this interesting opportunity."

The man paused, shrewd eyes regarding her hesitantly, obviously weighing her small stature with the lumbering giant behind the shed.

"I am sure the mistress will be glad to hear. The gardener is usually very well behaved and knows his place. His demon magic seems to only work on plants but if he gives you trouble, do not hesitate to call. I will be sure to put him in his place."

Kagome dipped her head to avoid letting any conspicuous expression show. "My thanks, Ito-san. I would be glad to survey the garden today, since I'm here, to get a better idea of what needs to be done."

The man nodded. "Is there anything else you require of me today, Higurashi-san?"

"Only a hat if you have one to spare." Kagome handed over the handkerchief to the man. Then, quickly adding, hoping to avoid unwanted interruption. "Please have it left by the fence if possible.”

Ito replied with a few more formal pleasantries before bowing goodbye. Kagome made certain to linger, pretending to be studying the set-up of the field until she was sure the man and other servants had truly departed. Only then did she allow herself to turn her attention to the youkai still cowering behind the shed. Cautiously, she made her way towards the building, making sure not to approach too fast for fear of startling him further. As she neared, the details became more apparent. The rags she saw from afar were actually in a rough form of a shirt and pants, barely containing the darkly tanned bulk. To her dismay, the rich brown skin of his exposed limbs were crisscrossed with thick scar tissue, too numerous to count, the uneven ridges a sharp contrast to the otherwise smooth flesh. It seemed the majority of the markings were old and completely healed but there were some areas that seemed angry red. She couldn't be sure though because the demon seemed to be trying his best to hide the area.

Unsure of what to do, Kagome licked her dry lips nervously. The only non-human she'd actually conversed with was Inuyasha. How does one begin? Like one with any other person, she supposed.

"Um, hello." She managed to greet uncertainly. "Hi, um, I'm Kagome. I'm here to help out?"

Silence. Kagome stared awkwardly at what she presumed was his back, waiting it out. Maybe he hadn't heard her?

"I think we're meant to work together. Would you mind showing me around?" She tried again, just a little louder this time but still at a much reduced volume than her normal.

Maybe it was the phrasing or maybe it just took some time but the mass in front of her ceased trembling. Very slowly, the youkai moved and a disproportionately small tail of hair became visible. A long elongated face, reminiscent of a horse’s muzzle extracted itself from the crook of his elbows. He regarded her with those big fearful eyes. A mixture of human and youkai features, and belatedly Kagome felt the specific pattern of the youki and gasped. The man in front of her was also hanyou. Like Inuyasha.

"Um," The voice that issued forth was hesitant and soft, incongruous to his bulk but somehow, studying the expression in a startlingly gentle face, Kagome was not surprised. 

"I'm Kagome." She offered, extending an open palm into the space between them, hoping to further emphasize her goodwill. Looking around them as discreetly as possible, and seeing no one else within hearing distance, she continued. "I'm not going to harm you, I promise. What's your name?"

It would seem impossible, but the massive blue eyes widened further at her question. Just as the pause stretched long enough for Kagome to think he was not going to reply, a mumble came forth, so quiet she had to lean in to make out the sounds.

"Jinenji." 

"It's good to meet you Jinenji-san!" Kagome smiled widely, delighted that he had finally responded to her. Her apparent enthusiasm sent a flush of pink across the hanyou's snout.

"Ye-es, y-you too." He mumbled back, but was not able to maintain eye contact with her for more than a second.

"Jinenji-san, I am going to be working with you for a while." Kagome continued, however her smile dimmed a little with the next thought. "I need a reason to be here."

Thankfully, the half-demon seemed to understand her or perhaps just did not wish to clarify further but he unfold himself fully from the shadow of the shed. They made their way carefully out and he proceeded to show her the arrangement of the beds. His speech was slow and hesitant but as Kagome listened, she became incrementally impressed with the depth of his knowledge. The cultivating patterns and using secluded beds like that was unfamiliar to her but made perfect sense with Jinenji's patient explanation. He spoke briefly of his farm where he discovered these techniques, with a sadness that made her pause. Before she could say anything though, he’d moved on. He was easily her superior in herbal knowledge and Kagome found herself genuinely excited about the project she had agreed to take on. And as she listened with rapt attention to his halting words, Jinenji continued to relax in her presence, no longer seeming as tense or hunched in on himself, for fear of her lashing out.

It wasn’t until they were crouched awkwardly, trying to inspect the base of a small shrub that Kagome caught sight of the inner aspect of his left ankle. There, wrapping around the giant limb, was a gash the length of her arm and at least a few finger widths wide. It looked awfully similar to Inuyasha’s wounds from the previous night. Jinenji paused in his explanations, noticing her poorly suppressed gasp.

“Jinenji-san, you’re hurt.” 

“U-uh yes.” The half-demon shied away from her, trying to hide the leg in question behind the other, away from her concerned gaze.

“Why isn’t it wrapped? We can stop.” Kagome looked up at him and frowned at the clear discomfort in his expression.

“No, it’s alright. It’ll heal.”

“It doesn’t look like it’s healing. Can I take a look?” Kagome would bet on the reason it wasn’t healing.

"Maybe I'm hanyou, I don't heal right.” He ambled further back from her. She heard the excuse that was unspoken. This man with his vast knowledge of medicinal plants and part youkai abilities not heal? She opened her mouth to protest before being cut off abruptly by a child's voice.

“Hanyou aren’t usually good for anything.”

The voice belonged to a tiny little boy who emerged from a gap in the ledge bordering the garden. A shock of black hair escaped the hood of tan fur that matched the tunic the child was wearing. The distinct impression of pointy ears hidden under the hood betrayed his non-human nature. Kagome was having trouble processing how such a cruel statement could come from a childlike face with wide innocent eyes. If not for this fact, she was certain she would given him a piece of her mind already. 

He came up to them, brushing chubby hands over his robes to dislodge the twigs stuck to it. “They don’t have many hanyou here either. Only the ones strong enough or useful enough to overlook how disgusting they are.” His high voice continued good-naturedly, as he peered up curiously at her. Kagome threw a look over her shoulder at Jinenji. The look of shame on his kind face only made it that much harder to control her outrage.

“Who told you that?” Kagome asked, trying her best to keep her tone neutral. 

“Oh, I just hear grown ups say it. And the mistress who owns me.”

There were so many alarming things about those few words. Firstly, the fact they came from an innocent child–who looked barely over four years old if he were human– was plain wrong. Secondly, it was now apparent that they were taking children as slaves. Thirdly, and perhaps the worst was the casual cruelty directed at hanyou. Kagome suddenly recalled the disgust in Inuyasha’s tone when he had spat the word ‘hanyou’ at her, when they first met. She didn’t understand it at the time but from just the brief interaction just now, it was apparent she was much too ignorant to the viciousness of the world.

Kagome took a deep calming breath, pressing both her hands to her temples for a brief moment before attempting to smile. A genuine smile. Dropping to squat in front of the child so she didn’t have to loom over him, she tried to restart the conversation on a better note.  

“Hello, my name is Kagome. What might yours be?”

“I’m Shinta!” The boy beamed, his eyes big and wide, excited at the attention he was receiving.

“That’s a great name. Do you live here too?”

“No. I live down the street but I come here sometimes.” 

“Is that so?”

“Yeah!” He padded over to where Jinenji was, bent over a nearby bed, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. “I come visit Jinenji all the time!” To emphasize his point, he patted Jinenji’s foot good-naturedly.

Kagome paused. Clearly the child was only repeating the cruel things he’d been taught about hanyou then, if he was friendly with the kind giant.

“So, you don’t think Jinenji-san is no good then?” Kagome asked tentatively, shooting an apologetic glance at the man.

“No, Jinenji is smart!” Shinta piped. “And he lets me play here.”

“That means what you hear about hanyou isn't true then right?” Kagome prodded gently, unable to stop herself from correcting the young youkai.

He hummed thoughtfully, little mouth upturned in contemplation. “I guess not!” 

“That’s good.” Kagome praised happily, and with only a brief hesitance, reached down to pat the little boy on the shoulder. He grinned up at her.

With a little more careful coaxing, Kagome found out that Shinta’s so-called mistress was a noble woman who lived several estates down. He apparently was the only youkai on that estate. From the way he described having to perform tricks with the lady’s exotic dogs, Kagome guessed that Shinta was probably captured and sold as a trophy pet. It was disgusting but unfortunately not surprising.

He took to her remarkably well after the initial tense moments, eager to please and quick to smile as he followed the two of them around the garden. Maybe it was because the boy was so young that he didn’t seem to notice her spiritual energy and wasn’t immediately repulsed by it like other youkai. He chatted more freely to her as the afternoon waned, and she found out tidbits of his life. That he had an older brother, whom he adored greatly. He didn’t elaborate on where his brother was now and Kagome didn’t feel comfortable to pry. Sitting back and watching the enthusiastic youkai interact with the hanyou gardener brought unexpected joy to Kagome’s turbulent day. Despite the harsh words, Shinta seemed to admire the older man quite a bit. And in turn, Jinenji was abundantly patient when the child kept mistaking seedlings for weeds. 

It was exceedingly difficult to stomach the fact that these two beings in front of her were slaves.

She admitted she was selfish; she only cared about Inuyasha. Up until this point in her life, the only non-human she’d known personally was him. Other youkai were either something to be cautiously avoided or a threat to be eliminated. Hanyou were unheard of beyond a cursory academic review. Admittedly, Kagome never tried to get to know any youkai, only vowed to not harm if not absolutely necessary. While she wanted to blame it on general society frowning upon mingling of species, the truth was she had to shoulder some of the blame too. Maybe if she’d approached youkai with as open of a mind and the same curiosity as she had with Inuyasha, then she would be a better person. And now in front of her was the undeniable truth that these beings, however different from her in appearance and ability, had the same important things. Jinenji called somewhere else a home, and Shinta had a brother he loved. What she was trying to do for Inuyasha, she was now going to do for as many of them as she could.

It was fortunate that Shinta was there to help persuade Jinenji to let her look at his ankle wound. Given the fact it was late afternoon and nearly all of the estate’s servants were inside either the main buildings or the kitchen to prepare for the household’s evening meal, the herb garden was deserted. With the additional precaution of moving closer to the shed to shield them further, the hanyou reluctantly agreed.

As she had predicted, his injury was also contaminated with the dark aura. Kagome was immensely relieved that Jinenji seemed to trust her after she explained what she would do to purify the wound. His round, watery eyes looked terrified as he curled up everything other than the injured leg, as if he was expecting substantial pain. It made Kagome nervous but she tried to focus on the fact that Inuyasha seemed to fair ok when she performed the same. Shinta was relegated further away from them just in case. When she looked up from the intense focus on his leg, the last whispers of her reiki retreating back inside her, Kagome was met with twin gazes of faint awe.

Cheered by the apparent good will that had developed between herself and her new unexpected acquaintances, Kagome braced herself to ask the question that underpinned the whole point of her visit. She hadn’t dreamed it would work out like this but she couldn’t leave the estate today without something to grasp onto.

“I–” She began, catching their attention as the two looked up from inspecting the newly purified gash. “If I may, could I ask a question?”

“Sure Kagome, I know lots of things!” Shinta chirped at her, little hands clasped in front of him, looking excited to show her just what he knows. Jinenji merely gave a small nod.

“I want to know where,” She paused, swallowing the lump in her throat, while the memory of Inuyasha’s angry accusation echoed through her head. “the slaves are kept here.”

Although she was prepared, Jinenji’s flinch at her words felt like a blow. Shinta’s face dimmed slightly, shifting to look at Jinenji for guidance. She hurried to explain.

“I–I’m looking for someone.” She whispered, suddenly intensely aware of her location and repercussions if they were overheard. “I want to know if he’s here.”

At that, Jinenji removed his face from behind his large palms, settling his wide gaze on her. Kagome held his gaze, waiting hopefully, by now accustomed to his long silences before speaking. 

“No. Only me and a few others work here all the time. Most of them, they call only if they want something from them. Sometimes they stay for a while depending on what the task is.” He dropped her gaze sadly. “I don’t know where they go the rest of the time.” 

Kagome’s heart fell at the answer. She was hoping it would be easier. A small part of her actually, stupidly hoped that Inuyasha would just be milling about somewhere here and she could somehow easily sneak him out with her. She was such an idiot. 

“It’s ok, thanks for telling me.” Kagome reassured the hanyou, patting his forearm gently. “If you happen to see another hanyou with silver hair, dog ears, dressed in red, would you tell him Kagome is looking for him?”

Shinta nodded eagerly, while Jinenji mumbled an assent. 

“But please,” Kagome turned to look at the youkai child especially, more worried about his potential indiscretion than Jinenji’s. “Don’t tell anyone I asked you this. None of the humans especially can find out about this, understand?”

“Uh-huh.” Shinta tilted his chin vigorously, little face suddenly serious. “If they find out you won’t come back to play with us and your friend might get hurt.”

“Yes, but I don’t want you or Jinenji-san to get hurt either, Shinta.”

“I know. Don’t worry Kagome, my brother says I’m good at hiding!” 

Before Kagome had a chance to reply, Shinta abruptly bid them a hurried goodbye. With an impish smile, he explained that his mistress usually looks for him around this hour. It was rather quiet after he left. Kagome took advantage of the uninterrupted time to review with Jinenji a mental list of supplies to bring on her next visit. The afternoon was rapidly dissolving into early evening and Kagome figured she should leave herself time to walk home. As she bid the gentle hanyou a good night, she couldn’t resist repeating her request one more time.

“Please keep an eye out for me.”

With that Kagome left for home, mind still occupied with thoughts of Inuyasha. She hoped desperately that he was safe somewhere and that she could find a way to see him again soon.

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Baka - translated to ‘fool’ or ‘idiot’

Jyaki - evil energy


A/N: This chapter debuts Inuyasha’s POV! Let me know if you think it adds to the story or you’d  prefer to stick with Kagome’s POV. Thanks for reading and for leaving me so many kind comments!

Credits: @Dawnrider for beta-reading


Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. However this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to.

Chapter Text

 

As difficult as it was, Kagome realized she was still going to have to keep up her usual duties. After all, she needed to earn a living. Sitting around useless wasn't going to help her find Inuyasha or figure out this mess faster either. Besides, if she were to continue enforcing her herbalist role here in the city, it would allow her to maintain friendly relations with people who might be able to divulge useful information. But really, beneath it all she needed a distraction  from being constantly worried about Inuyasha. It'd been a few days since her exchange with Jinenji and still no sign of the hanyou.

 

After allowing herself one foolish [act] of writing a message and leaving it weighed down near the base of the Goshinboku, Kagome got back to work. It was a pretty far reach given she had no idea if the hanyou read human languages, and that the note would stay intact. Regardless, it at least made her feel she'd done everything she could for the time being. 

 

Summer was finally here and the field required a lot of work. It was always a delicate balance of keeping insects from eating all of the plants she was growing. Plus, with the weather getting hotter and drier, she spent a good portion of each morning lugging water from the stream to keep the more finicky herbs from wilting. In addition to that, the demand from the healers seemed to only increase. It would be the second delivery she was making in under a week. The medicines they've been asking her for were hard to come by and generated low yield even if cultivated. Sometimes Kagome wondered if perhaps Kaede really had intended for her to come maintain the herb farm out in the forest, but with recent events, even she couldn't convince herself of that entirely.

 

Sighing, and trying to steer her thoughts to a less pessimistic place, Kagome continued her trek up to the healer's guild. The stacks of paper-wrapped packets tied together with string were starting to cut into her palms. With both her hands full there wasn't really an option to shift around the weight either. Passing through the open doors into the main courtyard, it was immediately noticeable how abnormal the atmosphere was. The air was tinged with a faintly frantic feel, and strangely, she could hardly see any people around. Some muffled commotion drew her a few steps down the lane leading to the infirmary. Maybe that's where everyone was?

 

Hurried footfalls sounded behind her and Kagome turned to find one of the healers heading straight for her, or rather, trying to head past her. It was the familiar posture and gait of the man that finally clued her in. It was Yoshi-san, a senior healer, and one of her favourites who taught her years ago. His teaching style was no bullshit, down-to-business and Kagome always preferred working with people with little pretence. But maybe because of this, he would frequently get in trouble for not being deferential enough for the higher class patients. His expression at the moment looked rather harried though, the corners of his mouth downturned and lined. 

 

The man's tired eyes seem to suddenly notice her hovering nearby and locked onto her face with recognition. "Higurashi?" 

 

"Yes. Hi, Yoshi-san." She bowed in greeting.

 

His quick gaze located all the strings of bundles dangling from her arms. "Another delivery eh? Can't say we don't need it."

 

"Is there something going on? Can I help with something?"

 

"It's a handful but we got it under control" He sighed exasperated, with a faint roll of his eyes. "A bunch of idiots thought it was a good idea to raid a youkai nest. Teenage boys I tell you. I've been there and I'm glad it's done."

 

"What?"

 

"Yeah. You heard me." He huffed. "Why don't you just go ahead and pop those in the store room. If you don't mind, can you put them away too? I got no extra hands right now. You do remember where everything still is right?"

 

"Nothing's moved around since I was here?"

 

"Nope. Don't fix what's not broke." He waved quick goodbye to her before hurrying down the alley towards the infirmary. Then he paused as if he forgot something and turned around.

 

"Hisaishi-sama stepped out so I have no idea what else he'd meant to ask for, medicines wise. While you're at it, if you see anything that's running low, can you top us up next time?"

 

"Yes, of course. That's no problem." He nodded and hurried away, leaving Kagome to her own devices.

 

Kagome hadn't been in the store rooms since she was an apprentice. Thus far since returning to Kyo, all of her interactions had been purely transactional and handled in the front receiving room of the guild. Coming around to the main buildings and easing her way into the private structure felt a little like sneaking around, even if she was given full permission to. That thought was quickly replaced by a pleasant sort of nostalgia when she found the medicines room to look exactly as she remembered. Tall, wooden cabinets of neat grids of drawers spanned the back wall. The massive, well-worn table in the middle of the room was still strewn messily with hand scales, mortars and pestles, and other tools. 

 

Fluently, Kagome fell back into the practiced rhythm of untying the bundles, carefully unfolding the packages and sliding the contents into their respective drawer. Even as an apprentice, she'd always gravitated towards the herbs and medicines. The other students were more than happy to trade duties with her, since this task can be difficult–dried leaves look very similar. Looking through, she made note of the items that were running out and documented them on a scrap of paper from the pile on the table. The task soothed her into such a deep meditative lull that the creak of the door opening almost startled her into dumping a whole packet on the floor.

 

After floundering briefly and making sure nothing was displaced, she looked up to find the master healer looking at her contemplatively from the entrance. "Higurashi-san, my apologies for the abrupt entrance. Yoshi informed me you would be here. He had taken a liberty in putting you to work, I see. I beg your pardon for that."

 

"Oh," She wrung her hands in slight embarrassment. "None needed. I am more than happy to assist since everyone is busy. I studied here as a child, so really it is no trouble.”

 

"Ah yes, that you did." He hummed. "Kaede-sama did mention that. It was before my tenure here, I believe."

 

"H-have you seen Kaede-sama recently?" Kagome blurted out and then promptly winced. His greyed eyebrows raised just a fraction at her outburst.

 

"Yes. She is somewhat–“ He replied, tone not betraying any emotions at her odd outburst. "indisposed at the moment. But she is well, if that is what you are asking."

 

Kagome fidgeted slightly, hoping to the gods that she wouldn't do something more humiliating like blushing. "Yes. Thank you for telling me."

 

There was a few seconds pause before the master healer gestured for her to continue her work. He, himself, went around to the far corner of the room in search of something. When he seemed satisfied with his findings, Hisaishi came back to the center table to catch her attention again.

 

"Yoshi mentioned the–unfortunate circumstance of the new patients?"

 

"Not in detail, Hisaishi-sama."

 

"Well, the boys caught wind of a youkai nest apparently and decided to try their luck. Thank goodness there were no casualties but significant poison burns. Unlucky for us, we used up most of our saxifrage reserve."

 

Saxifrage was an alpine plant that could be used as a general mitigating agent when poison is involved but no direct antidote is known or available. Results are varied though, since it isn’t a straightforward neutralizer. Because it is an alpine plant, the conditions for its growth meant that it has to be foraged and cannot be domestically grown, unless one lived high up in the mountains. Kagome could guess what would be coming from that statement.

 

"I'm assuming that you'll be needing a restock of it then?" She couldn't help but sigh lightly.

 

"Yes." The man gave her an apologetic look. "You will, of course, be compensated fairly."

 

"I had no doubts about that, Hisaishi-sama." She turned back to scan the cabinets behind her once more, then gestured to the paper in front of her. "I'm nearly done here. I did keep a list of the low stock, do you want to review it for completeness?"

 

He nodded, taking hold of the proffered list. Kagome busied herself with gathering the loose string and paper packing to be reused while the healer pondered her charcoal scrawls. After a moment, the older man smiled and handed back the paper with his alterations. 

 

"Is there anything else you require?" Kagome asked politely, as she prepared to take her leave.

 

"Well," Hisaishi started, and then paused, seeming to debate whether to continue.

 

"Please don't hesitate to ask. I'm proficient enough in simple healing as well, if you need a hand in the infirmary..." She trailed off, watching the curious expression on the normally stoic man's face. It betrayed some sort of inner struggle which made her even more curious about what it is he was contemplating asking of her.

 

"Higurashi-san," He cleared his throat, and the placid expression smoothed once more over his features. "If it is not too much to ask, I need something delivered in the city. It is a bit out of the way, so I understand completely if you decline."

 

It was a struggle not to keep the disappointment from showing on her face, but Kagome felt she had embarrassed herself enough today already. It did feel like a swift kick to the gut to hear the unspoken dismissal of whatever humble healing skill she possessed and be relegated to an errands runner. 

 

"It's no trouble. Just let me know where to take it." Kagome managed to hold herself together enough to reply. Hisaishi nodded, his eyes trained on hers speculatively.

 

He excused himself briefly then to receive the package in question, leaving her to idle in the store room alone once more. When the healer returned, he pressed an unobtrusive packet in her hand, wrapped in plain cloth, about the size of her palm. Slipping it into the folds of her robes for safe keeping, Kagome  bid the man farewell with the promise of returning as soon as she can acquire more medicines.

 

Feeling decidedly sorry for herself, Kagome stopped to pick up a treat to soothe her bruised ego before venturing out to complete the assigned task. Though the master healer did not outrightly say so, the slight shift in tone made her sense that whatever she was delivering might require greater discretion. She shook it slightly and the subsequent rattle sounded like dried seed or nuts perhaps. Discreetly raising the package to her nose for a sniff, Kagome was disappointed to discern no distinct scent. Short of opening it, she wouldn't know what it is. 

 

The destination for the mystery package was a shrine, in the older east side of town. Instead of heading downhill to the gorge where the shady auction was held, she took the right of the fork that wound uphill to then twine down a very narrow track along the rocky ridge following the path of the river below. The name of the shrine was foreign to her. Once, in her ambition to become a miko, she'd made it a personal mission to learn the name of every shrine in Kyo, and the kami they honoured, so it puzzled her that this shrine existed without her knowledge. From the directions on how to get there, it didn't seem like it would be a newly built location either, not with it being far away from the new developments in the city.

 

The path eventually moved away from the rather precarious ledge and wound into the forest proper. The trees were just as tall and diverse as the forests around where Kagome lived but because this side of the mountain is always shaded by the surrounding peaks, the understory consisted of mostly lush, low-light ferns. She continued on through the verdant growth as the track became less and less distinct while the grade increased. It took her to the bottom of what could still be somewhat distinguished as stone steps leading further uphill. On either side were two vertical stumps of what Kagome guessed once held up the torii gates marking the start of the steps. The stone had crumbled in places where the plants slowly reclaimed them into the earth but it was still easy enough to find a purchase to climb. Along the sides were small stone lanterns, edges now blunted by the elements, covered in moss. Kagome found she quite liked forgotten shrines. It was in places like these, almost reabsorbed into the forest that felt like the kami were most present. 

 

Arriving at the top, past the slightly bigger rock hewn masses that she assumed were a pair of komainu once, Kagome found herself staring at the remains of an abandoned shrine. With how much plant life could be seen swallowing the structure, she was pretty surprised the roof more or less looked intact. The faded inscription of the sign mounted on the lintel matched the name given to her by Hisaishi-sama. Question was, who is even here to accept a delivery?

 

She wasn’t scared though. Only curious. Living largely on her own in the forest had dulled any aversion to wilderness. Kagome casually walked over the threshold and immediately felt a twinge across her shins. It felt as if she stepped through a fine piece of twine across the doorway and snapped it. Only it wasn’t a physical feeling. There must be some sort of spiritual ward on this shrine. As if on cue, a faint jingling of what sounded like metal-on-metal came from the inner chambers of the shrine. Kagome tensed, slipping the bow off her shoulder and closing her hand around the grip just in case.

 

The clinking came closer, along with a quiet thud of something hitting the ground in time with the footsteps. With a swish of dark purple robes the figure of a tall man rounded the corner. The metal sounds came from a brass shakujo he carried, with several small rings strung through the circular head of the staff. He looked young, likely a few years older than herself, with clean, handsome features and dark hair pulled back into a small tail at his nape. 

 

“Good afternoon.” He smiled warmly at her, nothing particularly [alarming]. “What brings such a lovely lady like yourself to a place like this today?”

 

Kagome kept up her guard for the moment, suspicious despite the stranger’s apparent friendliness. From his garb, one would infer he would be a Buddhist houshi, which did not add up to his presence in a shrine like this. An abandoned shrine at that. 

 

“Would you be perhaps expecting something from the master healer?” Kagome replied politely, grip still firm around her bow. 

 

“Oh yes, the good Hisaishi-sama sent you then.” He bowed briefly. “I thank you for the trouble of coming all the way here.”

 

“It is no trouble.” Kagome clipped, fishing out the packet from one of her baskets and stepping closer to hand it to the monk.

 

Before she had time to react, her left palm, along with the packet, had been firmly encased in both of the man's hands. “Such gentle hands, my lady. Would you be interested in bearing my children?”

 

What the hell?

 

Kagome swung her bow up and deftly rapped him on the knuckles with the sturdy arch of the riser. The shock of it made him release her immediately. She glared at him while making a point of setting the envelope of herbs down on a nearby ledge.

 

“Ah, I take that as a no then?” The man had the gall to grin at her, albeit a little sheepishly.

 

“I will be taking my leave now.” Kagome replied tersely, still glaring at him for a few seconds longer before she turned to exit the way she came. 

 

It wasn’t her place to question the character of people the master healer kept company with but it certainly didn’t escape her attention that the two of them were very much alone. Against a youkai, she stood more than a chance. A human man though, especially one who’d already demonstrated questionable intent, it would be safer to just put as much distance between them as possible. 

 

She managed to clear the front entrance when his calm voice called out to her again. “Wait, my lady! I didn’t mean to offend.”

 

Kagome turned, shooting him a sarcastic look daring him to defend himself. 

 

He hurried forward, the staff making hurried jingles. “I apologize for the abruptness, but my lady has spiritual abilities?”

 

Kagome stiffened, recalling that feeling of crossing through the threshold both times. Of course this houshi would be able to sense auras just as clearly as she could sense his. The unspoken question in his voice was clearly, but why are you not dressed as a miko? It was rare to possess spiritual powers and thus any users were meticulously sought out and trained to their full utility. People like herself were definitely an oddity. Would this matter never cease to plague her life?

 

“What is it to you?” She asked, eyes trained on the man’s face warily.

 

“I merely wondered why Hisaishi-sama would deem it wise to send someone here, let alone someone with reiki.” The monk explained carefully, holding the palm of his free hand up and open in a gesture of peace. 

 

She paused, slightly thrown off, but searched his expression for an explanation. There was definitely something he was saying in between the lines that Kagome was not getting. His attractive features were arranged in a neutral expression but his dark eyes were attentive and observant. 

 

Kagome remained silent for a while longer, debating whether to engage further with this strange monk. Remembering that there was something just faintly peculiar with the exchange with the master healer she had brushed off earlier, she decided to go out on a limb.

 

“Dare I ask why it would be unwise?” She ventured, eyes trained on the houshi’s face for any more non-verbal clues.

 

In response, he gestured casually at their surroundings with an unreadable smile. Something clicked, and Kagome fanned out her powers to cover the shrine grounds. There, on the far edge, towards the back was the telltale whisper of a barrier. Her brows shot up without her permission–gods she was awful at this– and the man in front of her smiled with understanding. 

 

“Would my lady like a tour?” He offered, still smiling good-naturedly. 

 

“What makes you think I can trust you?”

 

“Ah, well that makes both of us. But it seems to me that Hisaishi-sama is not a man of thoughtless action, so I will follow my intuition on this matter.”

 

With his analysis seeming rather appropriate, Kagome agreed to follow him but still maintained a good distance in case he felt like invading her personal space again. She followed as he led them through the empty shrine building and out the back entrance.

 

“I feel we really have gotten off on the wrong foot, my lady.” He sighed dramatically beside her. “You’ll find I’m really a respectable man if you get to know me. I’m just a little out of practice with the fairer sex, being out here and all.”

 

She scoffed lightly. “Pray, tell me why are you out here?”

 

“Let’s just say I got on the wrong side of some powerful people and also felt compelled to repay a very esteemed lady for her help when I was in dire need.”

 

More riddles. Kagome chose to ignore him for now as then came to a small opening in front of a rock face. If not for the stones encircled by shimenawa she would’ve easily glossed over the indiscrete crevice overgrown with vines. Perhaps this is what the shrine was once built to honour– a particular stone or crystal? In any case, the barrier she felt was erected across the entrance.

 

Kagome shot the man a questioning look before he swept in a bow “After you, my lady.”

 

“No, I really think after you.” She replied with some irritation. It felt like walking into a trap already, there was no need to go first.

 

He smiled graciously and bent down, ducking his head to slip through the narrow opening. Taking a deep breath and hoping to the gods she won’t regret this, Kagome followed swiftly. The barrier whispered across her skin, sending the fine hairs on her neck on end, but admitted her with no fuss. The low tunnel continued for a few minutes requiring her to awkwardly shuffle along, bent over. When she straightened again to look around her, the sight took Kagome’s breath away. From the outside, there was no way she’d have guessed this place existed. It seemed like a cone of rock enclosed the sizeable space, the walls tapering up to a roughly circular opening to reveal some high tree branches and the sky. Although dimmer, the area was still lit by natural light. It was all in all, a rather unique and beautiful location. No wonder it merited a shrine at some point. 

 

Distracted, Kagome barely had time to register a cluster of small, but bright balls of youki and catch the houshi assuming what looked to be a defensive stance from the corner of her eye. He was angled towards her though, not the approaching demons at his back. Reflexively, Kagome grabbed an arrow and notched her bow, keeping it en garde by her side. She wasn’t going to aim until she got a sense of what’s going on. 

 

The scampering group stopped a distance before the two humans. Without the luxury of being able to decipher all the details, Kagome noted there were a couple of little youkai, roughly the size and maturity of Shinta. Immediately, Kagome’s eyes flashed with anger, as she turned to stare accusingly at the monk.  Thoughts arose rapid fire in her mind: they were small cute demons, he wielded spiritual power with the barrier sealing this place likely of his making, his mention of doing an esteemed lady a favour and an image of the slave auction. There was only one logical conclusion.

 

“What do you mean to do with these youkai, houshi?” Kagome demanded, shifting to aim her bow at the ground slightly to the front of him, ready to whip up and shoot if necessary.

 

Before he had the chance to reply, a tan fluff ball landed between them shooting a tiny plume of blue flame at her.

 

“Kitsune-bi!” A high pitched voice yelled simultaneously with the monk’s voice shouting in the background “Shippou, wait!”

 

A short wave of reiki neutralized it easily and Kagome turned to regard her assailant. It turned out to be a small boy, even shorter than Shinta in stature. The tan fluff she saw earlier was a large fox tail bristling behind a cute face topped with bright, red hair. Emerald eyes glared at her angrily, with tiny fangs bared completing the picture. And then unexpectedly, his little nose twitched slightly and his expression morphed into one of comical confusion.

 

“Wait. You smell like him.” He mumbled, then catching himself, schooled his expression into looking half stern again and demanded. “Why do you smell like him?”

 

Kagome blinked. “What?”

 

“Shippou, come here.” The monk she’d forgotten about momentarily was gesturing to the kitsune sternly, while the other youkai child seemed to have already hid behind his robes.

 

“Houshi, are you a youkai supplier?” Kagome challenged, once more turning her attention to the monk for the time being. There were children here and no time to waste pussyfooting around. “I won’t let you sell these children. Let the other one go or I will shoot.” 

 

To her utter surprise the infuriating monk grinned at her words, the expression looking genuinely pleased for the first time since meeting him. Perplexed, Kagome watched him bend down and place his shakujo gently on the ground. Then straightening back up, he held both hands in surrender. 

 

“My lady, please, let me explain”

 

She narrowed her eyes and made no move to relax her stance. “Then explain.”

 

“There is clearly a misunderstanding. I mean these little ones no harm.” 

 

“I’m not little!”

 

“Shippou, please.” The monk shushed the kitsune with a look then met her gaze again. “When you said Hisaishi-sama sent you, I knew there must be a reason, but I had to see for myself. The barrier here is meant to protect them, keeping their youki in versus keeping it out like what I’m sure you’re used to. That way unless someone specifically knew to sense a barrier, their youki would not be apparent. The favour I spoke of is to help maintain this temporary shelter for those with demonic blood, especially injured youkai, away from those that seek to enslave them.” 

 

Kagome regarded him warily, still not trusting his words fully. He obviously was a smooth talker so she couldn’t let her guard down just yet. She crouched down to address the fox demon looking up perplexed at their exchange. “Your name is Shippou? 

 

“Ah-huh.”

 

“Is this man telling the truth? Has he hurt you in any way? Is he keeping you from leaving here?”

 

He shook his head at her, walking a few steps closer to take a couple more obvious sniffs in her direction.

 

“No. Miroku doesn’t keep me here. I can leave but it’s not safe out.” He answered her, his face still scrunched up like he was figuring out a puzzle.

 

Kagome tried to look for the other youkai but the only glimpse of them was a little squirrel-like tail peeking from behind a fold of purple fabric. She stood back up and sent the houshi a measured look. “Ok, I believe you for now. But I want more explanations.”

 

“Of course. I believe some introductions are in order as well.” He smiled at her, looking faintly relieved.

 

After the subsequent awkward introductions, Kagome let the monk lead her deeper into the natural enclosure they were in. The kitsune boy took to her rather enthusiastically, curiously hopping up to inspect the contents of the basket she carried on her back, reminding her of Shinta. Sadly, Kagome reflected that Shippou probably would be in a lot of danger if he left the protection of the barrier, what with his lack of reservations about a stranger with reiki. He’d be captured in ten-seconds flat. His youkai friend was very shy in contrast and hadn’t spoken a single word, opting to peer at her with big, shy eyes instead. She was apparently a squirrel youkai according to Shippou.

 

Miroku led them to an enclave in a natural hollow along the stone perimeter where a shabby low table was set up along with several fraying straw mats for sitting. There was a banked fire with carefully protected coals nearby. But Shippou took the opportunity instead to show off his kitsune-bi, instantly heating the water Miroku needed. In no time, he had served her tea in a simple earthenware set. The exchange had morphed to something rather cozy.

 

“Now, Kagome-sama, do tell us a little about yourself. Since you now know a little of my situation.” Miroku encouraged, while carefully refilling her tea cup.

 

“There’s not much to tell truthfully. I trained under Tenrinji as young girl, hoping to become a miko. It didn’t happen. I went home to my village until I was called back to the city by Kaede-sama to fill in as an herbalist for the time being.”

 

The houshi’s eyes had sharpened a little at the mention of her teacher’s name. “Ah, Kaede-sama. That explains so much actually.”

 

“It does?”

 

“Oh yes. She is the lady I mentioned owing much thanks to. You see, I’d gotten in a bit of trouble with the current head priestess and Kaede-sama was kind enough to vouch for my character. It would also explain why Hisaishi-sama is acquainted with you and sent you here.”

 

Kagome wondered ungraciously if he’d asked Masae to bear his child too, but thought better than to ask aloud. Now that Miroku mentioned it, those two elders do seem to be in closer communication than what one would assume superficially. “Do you know where Kaede-sama is right now?”

 

“Unfortunately, no. I haven’t seen her since late winter. She’s been keeping strictly within Tenrinji since the winter solstice and I’ve been wondering if that is solely her own doing.”

 

“I’m not so sure she’s there anymore. I obviously can’t search freely but last time I was there I tried looking to no avail.” Kagome sighed heavily. Things were getting more complicated by the day and she was not getting any wiser.

 

“I could track her!” Shippou piped up from his spot, sprawled on a cushion. “But I need something with her scent.”

 

Almost as Kagome opened her mouth to dissuade the boy Miroku cut in. “No.”

 

“I just want to help. It’s so boring here.” He sulked, throwing a pebble idly across the room.

 

Kagome turned back to the houshi. “So Miroku-sama, the only reason you’re staying here and helping the youkai is because of Kaede-sama?”

 

“Yes and no. I’m here also as a matter of principle. My beliefs,” He paused, gesturing at her. “are different than yours, which I’m sure you’re aware, Kagome-sama. But we believe that all life is to be protected. Not only that but enslaving youkai is a deed that can only beget more evil, and the karmic repercussions will be unimaginable if this is to go on. My religion is uncommon, even in a city such as Kyo. And to my knowledge, the other houshi and ama that were here have either been threatened or driven out because we have been rather outspoken about youkai slaves in the past.”

 

Kagome nodded. “It’s just a little hard to believe is all. You, being a monk but helping hide youkai.”

 

He wagged his eyebrows at her suggestively. “Unconventional yes, but I am an unconventional kind of man.”

 

“How long has this been going on?” Kagome swiftly carried on, effectively ignoring his innuendo.

 

“Certainly grumblings of it began last autumn. Most likely earlier than that in ultra secrecy. It really didn’t pick up the momentum you see now until Masae arrived in Kyo. She was a stranger and then, overnight it seems, wrangled substantial authority.”

 

“What happened, do you know? With Kaede-sama I mean.” Kagome rushed to inquire [earnestly]. “She was supposed to remain head priestess until she dies!”

 

Miroku shook his head sadly, brows knitting in consternation. “The details of that, I’m afraid I’m not privy to, Kagome-sama.”

 

“No matter.” Kagome sighed, and reached for another sip of tea. Then her gaze strayed to the kitsune currently playing with a top he’d procured out of nowhere. “Say, Miroku-sama, do you know how they’re controlling the youkai?”

 

It was Miroku’s turn to sigh heavily. “I’m afraid I have to disappoint you once again. But no, that is a puzzle I have yet to solve. I have not been able to investigate up close, an enslaved youkai’s aura, but from what I can scan afar, there’s nothing glaringly obvious.”

 

Kagome shared her own observations, including divulging her recon trips to the auction, to which Miroku looked impressed and worried at the same time. She mentioned the obvious seals and tethers for the lower youkai and the transport crates, which Miroku also concurred. But the biggest puzzle that eluded both of them was how the higher youkai were controlled. There is never any outward physical restraint, which meant the method of subduing them would have to be directly linked to their spirit or youki. When the houshi mentioned not having actually stripped anyone to confirm the lack of physical tether, Kagome shot him a reproving look but kept her mouth shut. She wasn’t about to tell anyone about Inuyasha. Not if she can’t be completely sure it wouldn’t put him in more danger. Besides, the image of him still and bleeding have been haunting her dreams relentlessly. Kagome wasn’t sure she could even talk about him without getting emotional. 

 

Miroku filled the morose silence by fussing with the teapot and topping up their cups. No one said anything for a while.

 

“Hey, Kagome,” Shippou piped up all of a sudden, abandoning his toys to plop down next to her. “You still haven’t told me why you smell like him.”

 

Miroku grinned at her from across the table and wagged his eyebrows. The lecherous air from previously returning to his mannerism. “Him you say? Ah, Kagome-sama, is this why you so heartlessly turned me down?”

 

She did remember the strange question that had thrown her for a loop earlier, but was nowhere closer to understanding the context. “What do you mean Shippou?”

 

“You smell like dog. A dog hanyou.” 

 

Kagome dropped her cup in her lap, tea soaking through her clothes. Good thing it was lukewarm by this point because she made no attempt to blot away the liquid, instead just stared at the kit, dumbfounded. Instantly, Miroku grew concerned upon seeing the stricken expression on the girl’s face.

 

Oblivious to the humans’ reaction, the fox continued on. “It’s not very strong but your hands and your arms carry the scent.”

 

Kagome paused, and then whispered “How do you know him?”

 

“Even though he’s a hanyou, he saved me. He distracted them enough for me to get away.” Shippou mumbled, voice getting softer as he looked down into his lap. “After my parents were killed.”

 

“Oh, Shippou!” 

 

Kagome impulsively scooped the kit up into her arms when she caught sight of the fat tears rolling down his cheeks that he was trying to hide by looking down. “I’m so sorry! What happened?”

 

The fox demon squirmed a bit to allow himself to wrap his stubby arms comfortably around her neck, allowing himself to be comforted.

 

His voice murmured quietly near her ear, trying to sound less affected than he was. “They were youkai that didn’t belong to themselves anymore. They came and raided the dens in the area, saying they need to bring back more slaves. My ma and pa tried fighting them off, but they weren’t strong enough. I don’t know what happened because I was hiding but they died instead of being taken away. Then the dog hanyou in the group said something, there was a lot of noise and fighting but I saw him point to an opening and I just ran.”

 

Kagome swallowed hard, and tightened her hold on the boy, patting his back gently. Oh Inuyasha. Her chest hurt.

 

After a time, she whispered. “He’s my friend.”

 

Miroku–who’d been respectfully silent, watching their exchange all this time– whipped around sharply to look at her. Kagome, sensing his attention, looked up and held it over the small mass of snivelling kitsune.

 

“You didn’t ask, but that’s why I’m staying in Kyo, why we’re having the conversation we’re having.”

 

He studied her for a moment–fine features dropping the faint smile he seemed to wear most of the time–observing her seriously.

 

It didn’t take long, but somehow, within the scant hours of that afternoon, they formed a sort of unspoken camaraderie. For the first time since moving back to Kyo and discovering the practice of slavery that had taken exponential hold, Kagome no longer felt lost and alone. Well, maybe a little lost but not so alone anymore. Maybe there were more people in the city that felt strongly against youkai enslavement. Maybe if there were more people, together they can find a way to reverse this burgeoning trend. 

 

She left the abandoned shrine that day feeling more hopeful than she had in days. Miroku and her made a promise to inform each other of any new findings as they continued their search separately. They also made plans to sit down and work out possible ways youki can be controlled like it seemed with the slaves. Although their spiritual backgrounds were drastically different, reiki and houriki should be derived from similar roots and their disparate training might actually complement gaps in each other’s knowledge. The hardest part was saying goodbye to the kitsune, still teary-eyed and–Kagome’s suspected–using it to his advantage to persuade her to stay and play. She did, however, fold rather easily, and promised to bring him sweets next time she visited if he behaved.

 

-–-–-–-–

 

Kagome’s lifted spirits lasted through the evening, given a considerate boost when she noticed a certain piece of male undershirt missing from her clothesline. It could only mean its rightful owner had come to retrieve it, which in turn meant that said owner was well enough to move freely. This good cheer, however, did not carry into the night. She startled awake more times than she could count, heart pounding in her ears. The details of the dreams were hazy but she had a sneaking suspicion they concerned Inuyasha. This was how she found herself in a foul mood, trudging up a mountain at an ungodly hour the following morning. 

 

The saxifrage she was tasked to restock was not an item that should be completely depleted. Usually only urgent cases would require use of it so it would be best if she could find some as soon as possible. It was rather strange the guild was going through it like candy, since the expertise of the healers stationed would ensure accurate diagnoses and thus, the use of specific antidotes. Throwing it at anything that looked like a poisoning was usually frowned upon. It was the equivalent of killing a cockroach with a hama-no-ya. Excessive and ineffective. Which meant there had been many desperate cases at the guild lately that had the healers throwing in a last ditch effort. 

 

Kagome had never personally gathered this plant before, only heard of it academically. She’d hastily copied down a sketch from one of the scrolls in the study and brought it along with her. She did know it was strictly an alpine plant which meant she’d have to climb above the tree line at least before she could find it. If she was lucky, she might not have to completely summit.  The trip was going to take her the full day as is. 

 

She shifted the straps of the carrying basket on her shoulders a bit, trying to find a more comfortable fit as she continued uphill. The hike was rather pleasant, with the morning mist drifting low down amongst the trees and the air smelled like damp greenery. Her favourite smell, although most people might find that odd. It was still cool being early morning making the strenuous incline somewhat more tolerable as Kagome kept her pace steady even if her breathing was a bit heavy. Hopefully the weather would hold out as she gained altitude. The mountain tops were notorious for unpredictable weather; whatever conditions in the valley held no forecast for the high passes. She did come prepared for bad weather though, just in case.

 

It was at least midday when she broke the tree line but Kagome couldn’t tell for sure since it’d gotten progressively more overcast. Picking up the pace, she hurried up through the loose rock, skirting the stunted shrubs that took over from the trees. The footing was awful, which meant she would have to be extra careful on her way down, and that would take longer than what she’d originally hoped to be a quick descent. Trying to keep an eye on where she stepped, Kagome scanned her surroundings in search of the elusive plant. It should be a tufted, grey-green plant, growing in a mounding habit which helps it blend into the rocky landscape. 

 

At last, after having to climb further up into the steep crags, Kagome spotted a cluster of tiny white flowers on attractive red stalks. Letting out a whoop of celebration, she wasted no time scrambling over to it. Precariously balanced on a ledge, she swung the basket around and wedged it in a crack. She decided it was probably best to don the oiled cloak she had packed since the moisture of the air was getting stifling and it would be a matter of time before the clouds released a flood of rain. Finding the cloth bags at the bottom, Kagome set to work carefully collecting some of the plants in the area, making sure to only dig up at most half of each mound to allow it to regrow. It was important as a forager to make sure you always leave sustainable stock. You have to respect what the earth gives you.

 

Thinking better of letting the small bags slosh around in the massive basket, Kagome tucked them into her robes for safe keeping. Like hell she was going to lose them having taken all the trouble to collect them. As she was getting ready to turn back around, a crack of thunder rippled through the air, the resulting echo through the rocky crags amplifying the sound further. Kagome winced, clasping her hands over her ears and as if on cue, it began to rain. Not a gentle patter mind you, downright pouring immediately. She had been so intent on gathering the herbs properly that she’d failed to notice how dark and looming the sky had become. A storm had rolled in and it didn’t look like it was going to be a passing shower. 

 

Shielding her eyes from the water, Kagome tried to pick her way down from the steep bluff but it was difficult to see. There was so much rain coming down and the clouds were oppressively thick, making the light levels closer to that of evening. Her right foot slipped on a slick rock, and Kagome yelped as she went down. Panicked, she was helpless as she slid down the loose rock, now hopelessly slippery combined with the trickling rainfall. As she shot out her hands to try and stop her fall, the sore wrist bashed hard against an outcrop, and she cried out from the pain. Luckily, her other hand found a purchase, stopping her from tumbling the rest of the way down. 

 

It was a rather large boulder and Kagome shakily pulled herself to huddle down at its base. It wasn’t nearly enough shelter but better than nothing. At least it blocked the worst of the gales. The rain was coming down in sheets now, and Kagome was starting to feel moisture seeping in through the cloak. It was well made from tightly woven reeds layered with rendered grease but it wasn’t made to withstand full on storms.

 

Miserable and now trying to stop her teeth from chattering, Kagome pressed herself tighter into the space between the boulder and the ground. Attempting to ignore the cold, she stared miserably ahead, blinking to clear the water from her eyes. The saxifrage remained tucked safely against her chest, so at least there was one positive. Then, Kagome heard a call of what might be her name in the wind. She hadn’t really been there for long enough to start hallucinating right?

 

There it was again, and this time closer and more distinct. She could’ve sworn it was her name.

 

Red dropped down into her field of view. “Bitch, what the fuck, why didn’t you answer?!”

 

Kagome could’ve cried with relief if it wasn’t for what he called her. He hadn’t used that derogative in a long time now. Dashing her hands against her face to wipe away some of the water, Kagome was ready to give him a good talking to. She might have spent days hoping to see him again but that doesn’t excuse the rudeness. The first of her angry reprimand died a swift death on the tip of her tongue when he squatted down to look at her. 

 

His long hair was sodden and clinging everywhere, ears pulled back tightly against his head. The image that did her in was the apparent distress in his wide golden eyes. He was worried about her. 

 

“Do have any idea how fucking hard it is to track scents when it’s raining this hard?” He continued to berate her roughly even as the arms that reached to gather her up was infinitely careful. “You baka! How did you stay alive for this long before?”

 

Before he came along, is what Kagome heard unspoken. 

 

She made no objection even if it did surprise her when–after extracting her from under the rock– he picked her up fully. With one arm securely around her shoulders, the other hooked under her knees, Inuyasha took off. She had no idea where he was taking her because he was still going on about her apparent stupidity in an array of creative phrasings. With a relieved smile, Kagome tucked her face against his shoulder, pleased to feel the robe drier than expected. She couldn’t find it in her to be mad at him anymore, not when she’d figured out his attitude for what it truly was. His concern for her fuelled the pleasant little flutter in her stomach even more as he transported them to an unknown location.

 

It wasn’t long before her feet touched solid ground again and Kagome found herself in a shallow cave, almost like a cavity under a rock promontory. The space was perhaps as deep as the main room of her hut but the stone ceiling arched high above them, outfitted with stalactites of varied lengths. 

 

“You, stay here.” Inuyasha’s familiar timbre groused behind her. Before she even had a chance to fully turn around, he’d shot back out into the rain. 

 

Kagome deposited the basket near the ledge, and stripped off her cloak, laying it to dry as best as she could. Fortunately, while a bit damp in places, she did manage to stay fairly dry– her top half anyway. There wasn’t much to explore, so she settled down on the far end of the cave, furthest away from the small amounts of rain slanting diagonally into their temporary shelter. The wait was brief before Inuyasha reappeared with firewood, which he threw carelessly down closer to her. She was rather impressed he’d found dry tinder in this kind of rain. Then, he shook himself vigorously, sending tiny droplets of water flying everywhere, his body a blur of silver and red. He looked so much like a wet puppy that Kagome couldn't help but giggle out loud. At the sound, Inuyasha stilled, then wordlessly, he stalked towards her. She gazed at him curiously then almost let out a squeak when his clawed hands came up to untie the strings that held his suikan closed, untucking it from his hakama. Wide-eyed, she remained frozen as he whipped off the garment to drape it over her, the heavy red fabric settling comfortably on the crown of her head, shielding her entire body in a warm makeshift tent. 

 

“It’s fire-rat fur. It’ll stay dry on its own.”

 

She nodded. The half-demon regarded her with pursed lips but his amber eyes seem to be satisfied with the arrangement. Kagome blinked. Her fingers reflexively drew the material closer to her, bunching the sides of it closed in front of her body. It really was untouched by the rain, still retaining much of Inuyasha’s body heat. Certain that his attention was focused on starting a fire, Kagome dared to bury her nose briefly in a fold by her face and inhaled the pleasantly masculine scent mixed with pine and spruce. A flush rose on her cheeks. 

 

“Hey,” Kagome called to him softly. “I’m happy to see you again, Inuyasha. Thanks for coming to get me.”

 

“Keh.” He looked up from the surprisingly strong flame he’d coaxed from the wood. “You’re nothing but trouble.”

 

“What were you doing around here?”

 

“Only you would be running around this shitty place.” He rolled his eyes before they widened a little, registering the fact that he might’ve just given himself away. Then he harrumphed, winding his arms tightly and settled back into his signature cross-legged slouch. It was less dramatic than usual without the billowing suikan sleeves to jam his hands into. Kagome hid a  smile at the thought that she was indeed correct in guessing Inuyasha had taken back his undershirt. Pondering it some more, he’d probably been secretly keeping an eye on her whereabouts to know she was up in the mountains today. It reawakened the previous flutter in her stomach with vigour.

 

After a comfortable pause, Kagome spoke up again. “Are you ok, Inuyasha?”

 

He scoffed. “As good as it gets, given what I am.” 

 

“So... I heard you don’t stay at the manor?” Her voice petered out a little towards the end of the question, already bracing for his reaction.

 

He pinned her with a narrowed gaze. “How the hell do you know that, woman?”

 

“Um, well, you see…I-might’ve-went-back-and-secretly-asked-around-for-you?” She squeaked.

 

“You did what now?”

 

“You left ok? In a lot of pain. I freaked out!” Kagome had no idea why she got so mad all of a sudden but here it was. “What the hell did you expect me to do huh? ‘Oh well, guess that’s that’ and go on my merry way? NO! I hauled ass back up there. Thank gods they wanted me to work on their garden. I met Jinenji-san, he told me some things and promised to look out for you!”

 

“You should learn to leave well enough alone, ok? That’s a stupid fucking thing to do!”

 

“I’m not dropping this, Inuyasha. You’re just gonna have to deal with it.”

 

She glared at him fiercely, breathing a little fast from the impromptu shouting match. To her surprise, he made no retort but instead, rubbed his forehead with one hand. It was such a non-Inuyasha-like gesture that he must’ve been extra exasperated with her. 

 

“If you know what’s good for you, you’d seal that barrier around your house.” He grounded out at long last. “Use it to keep me out. No one knows about the place but with how much you keep sticking your damn nose into this shit, it won’t be long till the bastards come sniffing.”

 

It was too bad for the hanyou that Kagome had never once been known to know what’s good for her. 

 

“You wouldn’t hurt me Inuyasha.”

 

“If you haven’t noticed, I don’t exactly get to call my own shots right now.” 

 

“It doesn’t matter. I trust you.” He stilled, giving her a searching look, something unnamed swam beneath the amber depths. He didn’t seem so angry anymore. She held his gaze, somewhat defiantly, lips pursed upwards. 

 

“Fuck.” He mumbled. “You’re so damn stupid.”

 

Kagome flicked her chin upwards in a sharp movement, non-verbally daring him to bring it on. When he remained quiet, she cheered inwardly. She knew what Inuyasha was doing. He was trying to goad her into keeping away. He was worried about her. But Kagome wasn’t worried. Not as much anyway. Now that she’d met Jinenji and Miroku, and presumably the master healer secretly being an ally, she was sure there was something they could figure out together.

 

Their conversation eased back into less incensed territory while she dug up the soggy but still edible lunch she’d brought for the day. Inuyasha stubbornly refused to accept any of the food she offered so Kagome resigned to eating in silence. Being very aware of his preference of being around but not necessarily entertaining conversation, Kagome relished in the reassurance of simply having Inuyasha beside her, whole and unharmed. What she wouldn’t give for the easy afternoons of the past month to come back, with him lazing in the tree tops while she worked, his youki a comforting smoulder in the back of her mind. The rain continued to fall, but maybe not quite as hard, outside. The sound was a soothing backdrop that lulled her into a nap, nestled in Inuyasha’s clothing and scent. The rest was much needed given how sleep deprived she’d been for days. The hanyou remained silent, sneaking periodic glances at the slumbering girl and poking at the fire to keep it burning. It was a few hours before Kagome found herself being gently shaken awake. 

 

When the storm finally abated, it was close to sunset. She’d apparently slept the entire day away. But with Inuyasha’s superior abilities, they made the descent in no time, with her perched securely on his back. Like many times before, he deposited her home, on the outer edges of the clearing. This time though, Kagome was even more loathed to see him go. Reluctantly, she returned his suikan, hardly noticing the chill of the air, lost in her thoughts. The inner debate she was having with herself was so consuming he’d almost slipped away before she blurted out in a panic.

 

“Can you at least come say hi every day? Any time is fine.” Kagome cringed, knowing it was a stretch asking him for that. They hadn’t seen each other everyday prior, very nearly but not quite. And they were careful to maintain the pretence of it being a random encounter versus a deliberate engagement. It came off weird to ask for a check-in but she hadn’t ever had to live in constant fear that he was bleeding out and possibly dead somewhere and she just didn’t know.

 

His expression hardened at her words, some of that self-loathing ghosting into his eyes. “The fuck, woman, I’m not your dog.”

 

The way he emphasized the word ‘your’ and calling himself a dog, split her breast with sudden pain, threatening to usher in an immediate rush of tears. She gasped, “Inuyasha! That’s not–you’re not–“

 

His amber gazed softened, faint regret for causing her distress colouring his features. “I know.”

 

She looked up hopefully then, hand unknowingly grasping at one red sleeve. 

 

“I’ll see what I can do, Kagome.”

 

Then he was gone, fading into the trees like he’d done countless times before. But it didn’t used to cause her this much anguish watching him leave. Honestly, what she wanted to ask him– but chickened out from saying last minute– was to just come stay with her all the time. It was wildly inappropriate but a hundred percent what she wanted.

 

 

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Torii - the gateway that symbolically marks the entrance to the sacred boundaries within a shrine.

Komainu - comes in pairs. Comes in many different forms but the more commonly portrayed ones look like lion dogs. They guard entrances either to the shrine itself or to certain parts of the shrine.

Shakujo - the gold staff that Miroku carries with him everywhere

Shimenawa - ropes usually made of hemp or rice straw usually festooned with the zig-saggy looking strips of white paper (called shide) that mark the boundaries between the sacred and the mundane. In the Higurashi shrine in modern day, the Goshinboku is seen with this wrapped around its trunk.

Houshi - a buddist monk

Ama - a buddist nun

Houriki - the Buddhist flow of energy; the spiritual power that Miroku possesses.


A/N:

In myths written by cultures with Buddhist influences, usually creatures are lumped into three categories: ‘higher beings’ usually thought to be good and have magical powers, ‘man’ denoting mortal humans (normal animals probably also fall in this category), and ‘demons’. But these demons can actually do good and accumulate good karma to move out of the demon category. In general, the religion does believe that all life is sacred and should be preserved.

If anyone happens to be a plant nerd like me, the plant in this chapter is saxifraga cespitosa found in subarctic-alpine climates in the world, which means it might not naturally grow in Japan? But hey, it’s also not some kitchen-sink antidote so… xD

Finally, for concrit. I’m ALL FOR IT. If you’re polite and just trying to help me improve as a writer,  send them my way! For this chapter, if anyone finds the characterization of Miroku/Shippou a bit off, let me know. It’s been a while since I’ve wrote them.

 

Credits:

@Dawnrider for her support and being there as a sounding board for my crazy ideas.

@Kirin for taking the time to give me detailed concrit.


Disclaimer: I do not own  Inuyasha However  this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to.  

Chapter Text

 

Kagome found herself at the herb garden of Masae’s estate for the third day in a row. Thankfully, after checking in once, the steward left them well alone. Working side by side with Jinenji was a calm and pleasant affair. The gentle giant was one of few words, preferring to work in silence. In that aspect he was similar to Inuyasha. Inuyasha. Whom she hadn’t seen hide nor hair of since the night after the storm, even though she’d explicitly, embarrassingly asked. The jerk. If she wasn’t worried sick, she could be properly ticked at him.

 

Jinenji and Kagome had both agreed that it would be best to get as much of the seedlings into the ground and established as soon as possible. They were well into the growing season and needed as much time as they could get to ensure a decent harvest before first-frost. Because a good portion of the plants were from the South, they will not survive winter and will have to be planted annually. The unspoken clause of course is whether either would be here to maintain this garden come next spring. But, it was best to ignore that for the time being, opting to enjoy the process in the present.

 

Kagome was wrangling a particularly gnarly weed out of the ground when Jinenji's hesitant voice came out whisper-soft beside her. "Um, Kagome... did you end up finding your friend?"

 

"It was more like he found me." She scoffed. "He didn't stay for long though... have you seen him around?"

 

"He's very strong. I guess he would be made to hunt with the rest of them."

 

Kagome cocked her head. "Hunt?" 

 

"Yes... they've been bringing in many more demons lately. They replaced some of the household servants."

 

They lapsed into silence again, resuming their respective tasks. Kagome had adjusted rather quickly to this pattern of conversation with the half-demon. The unspoken meaning behind Jinenji's words were that they may have to be even more careful with their communication from now on out. If there were more servants with demonic senses, they could be easily overheard or spied on from a distance. 

 

Kagome should've known something was up when Jinenji had abruptly ambled to the back of shed with an abnormal speed for him, but she was so engrossed in her pruning that she made no issue of it.  It was with hands caked in mud, hair coming loose from its braid and clothing smeared with dirt that Kagome greeted the head priestess. Masae had glided gracefully up the fence behind her in crisp ceremonial miko robes.

 

"Good afternoon, Kagome."

 

"Miko-sama!" She startled, the shears slipping from her hand to land with a thud in the dirt. "Forgive me, I did not see you approach."

 

"You were very focused on your work." She smiled slightly, folding her hands together in front of her. "It is I that should apologize for interrupting you."

 

"No, not at all. Is there something I can assist you with, Miko-sama.

 

"Remember I said I wish for us to be more familiar, Kagome?" She chided gently.

 

"Ah, yes, Masae-sama." Kagome winced inwardly, wishing the older woman to be on her way already.

 

"Are you almost finished with your tasks today? I came to invite you to accompany me to the tsukinamisai at Tenrinji this afternoon, if it piques your interest of course."

 

Tsukinamisai, the monthly rituals held at the main shrine of the city always drew a decent crowd of worshippers. It was an afternoon of ceremony and group prayers. Kagome had rather lost track of the temple comings and goings, having been somewhat dissociated from that world now. Although the head priestess phrased it as an offer, Kagome made no mistake that it was an invitation she cannot realistically decline. Especially since Masae had come in person to ask her.

 

"That is very kind of you. I would very much like to attend." She replied, bowing to the miko. "If you could allow me a few moments to clean up and delegate?"

 

"Of course."

 

Keenly aware of the weight of Masae's gaze at her back, Kagome hurried to the end of the garden where a trough of water lay. Washing her hands vigorously before trying to discreetly tame her wayward hair, she then turned to Jinenji. She called out a terse summary of what she'd left off doing and what must still be done that day without addressing him by name. Kagome hoped he'd understand her rudeness given their audience. Then she made to depart from the manor with Masae and the entourage of servants trailing behind them. 

 

Sneaking glances at the miko, Kagome was hit again with a queasy wave of inadequacy. While Kagome herself was still trying to rub away smudges of dirt from her green hakama, Masae looked effortlessly divine. Donning the ceremonial overcoat that was worn for slightly more distinguished services–but not nearly as decorated for main festivals– she looked impeccable. Fine features painted as usual with the dark hair, combined with the assured grace, Kagome was not surprised Masae was able to command the admiration of so many in such a short amount of time. What Kagome would really like to gauge though, is what Masae could do with her spiritual powers. Little did she know, her companion was thinking the exact same thing.

 

"Kagome, I must say, I am very pleased you agreed to assist with the construction of the herb garden." The priestess slowed her steps slightly such that Kagome was walking beside her, versus a few steps behind, as etiquette dictated. "The gardener has not been giving you any trouble has he?"

 

"Oh no, not at all." Kagome rushed to reassure her, but silently kicked herself for being too obvious.

 

"Good. I had reservations." She turned her head just a fraction to lay eyes on the long bow and quiver of arrows slung casually over Kagome's shoulder. "But I must know, if he does forget his place, are you able to defend yourself."

 

Kagome could feel the miko's eyes on her bow. It was rather unconventional for a woman other than a miko to regularly carry such a weapon. Most women her age would be married; anything other than demure and subdued mannerisms would be frowned upon, let alone blatantly flaunting potential for violent behaviour. But, Kagome hadn't fit into that category, nor one of a miko. She was comfortable with her bow, and needed it living alone in the forest, so she wasn't about to give it up any time soon. That's not to say Masae needed to know the full extent of that.

 

"Masae-sama, I assure you there is no need. But I am very grateful for your concern." She murmured instead.

 

The woman nodded. "I heard that you had trained under Kaede-sama years back, is that right?"

 

Therein lies what this conversation was really about. Ever since Kagome had gone back to the village, and did not become a miko, she'd almost reflexively drew back her reiki tight within herself whenever she was in the company of other people, to the point it was hardly detectable. She was doing it now as they spoke. Maybe it was a coping strategy for the shame she still felt about failing somehow, and not being able to achieve her childhood dream of being a priestess. But right now, she was incredibly thankful for that habit, because somehow, she knew that Masae knowing the depth of her spiritual abilities would be a disadvantage. It would be much better if Masae underestimated her instead. That way, the miko might actually let her guard down enough to reveal hints of how she was controlling the youkai. 

 

"Yes, you are correct. It was a long time ago."

 

"Pray tell, Kagome, why did you not complete the final rites to be a miko?"

 

Kagome did outwardly flinch then. She couldn't help it. Those words hit her in her sore spot. "Um, my spiritual powers are lacking at best, Masae-sama. So it was best I didn't continue."

 

Masae paused, turning to look at her thoughtfully, one manicured eyebrow delicately arched. "You are aware that that is an immensely uncommon practice. Even if you only had a drop of reiki, surely that should be more than enough for a small village miko. Do you mean to tell me, Kagome, that you're incapable of producing a hama-no-ya?"

 

Kagome shrugged her shoulders meekly and then lied straight through her teeth. "No, not effectively against most youkai, Masae-sama. I'm just so used to using a bow, but mostly as a regular tool." 

 

The dark eyes scanned Kagome's face searchingly for a few more seconds. "Ah, forgive me Kagome. I did not mean to pry. But perhaps I can look into the specifics of what occurred at the end of your training. I would hate to see any talent go to waste."

 

Kagome almost sighed out loud with relief when the miko let the matter drop . She did recognize the woman's tone as one she'd used that night talking about training the group of younger miko. What would be in the interest of the head priestess to attempt to win over Kagome's loyalties?

 

It wasn't until they were climbing the steps up to Tenrinji that Masae spoke up again and Kagome found she was very much not off the hook.

 

"I've been meaning to arrange training sessions for other miko in the city. It would please me to have as many spiritualists as possible for the enlightenment of youkai. I would like you to join us–“ She shot a sharper glance sideway when Kagome drew in a breath to protest. "Regardless. Where should I direct the servants to send further details?"

 

This was bad. Kagome cannot let her know about the hut in the forest, especially if Inuyasha might be in the vicinity.

 

“I will be working on your herb garden.” She blurted out quickly. “It will save everyone a trip if I just pick up your messages whenever I’m at the estate.”

 

The priestess gave her the same searching look that made Kagome's palms sweat profusely. "Very well. I trust you will attend?"

 

It was basically a losing battle. If Kagome refused, the woman might continue to probe where she actually lived.

 

"Yes, of course. It would be my honour."

 

They made the rest of the way up to the shrine in silence, as the long flights of steep steps was no easy task to climb. Passing through the second torii, Masae excused herself to make preparations for the tsukinamisai and Kagome found herself blessedly alone again. As tempted as she was to flee immediately, there was no doubt that the head priestess would note her absence during the actual ceremony. She was stuck for the rest of the afternoon. 

 

After making her prayers to the kami, Kagome wandered around the shrine grounds waiting for the ceremony to begin. Worshipers were beginning to filter in, some bringing offerings of various kinds to the offering hall. Maybe her memory was lacking but it seemed like that a significant portion of the people flooding into the courtyard were of the higher class nobility from the rich dress and the extravagance of offerings. Darkly, Kagome wondered if this had anything to do with the current head priestess’ apparent class or if it was simply that Kyo had grown. It would be a shame if the working class believers felt ostracized and that Tenrinji was a shrine that was exclusive. That was not what her religion was supposed to promote. But then again, it wasn’t supposed to support enslaving a whole species either.

 

Following the masses, Kagome filed into the haiden where the worship rites were held. The hall–true to the grandeur of the Tenrinji– was accordingly elaborate, boasting high ceilings and floors of pristine tatami mats leading up to a raised dais with the ceremonial altar. It could comfortably fit fifty people, more if everyone sat closer together. Masae was already stationed in the front, with half a dozen senior priestesses flanking her. Rows of candles set on their brass holders were lit, illuminating the altar. 

 

Kagome found an inconspicuous spot in the far right, hidden behind rows and rows of worshipers. She had never been very good at paying attention during these ceremonies, at best letting her mind wander, at worse falling asleep. What she had an issue with, is that these formal rites sometimes felt more of a show than actually true commune with the kami. Surely there is better use of the time that would still reflect respect for the gods? How about nurturing plants or animals? It had always been these vaguely radical ideas that got her in trouble with Kaede-sama, who was a stickler to tradition. Now that she was no longer striving to win points with her teacher, Kagome preferred coming to the shrine in the early mornings for her own solo worship.

 

While Masae went through the methodical stages of the tsukinamisai prayers, Kagome felt her eyes habitually wander the room. She studied the clothing of a group of women in front of her, then moved on to ponder the relationship between two vastly different looking people that sat together before her attention landed on a young woman seated further down to the side but  one row ahead. It was hard to be completely sure based on her profile alone but the girl’s face struck a bell. One with such graceful features were far and few in between so Kagome was sure she’d either met or at least seen her before. Her long hair skimmed the floor while she sat, the ends of it gathered by a simple tie, with a full fringe and short locks of hair that fell to ear-length framing her face. The magenta two-toned kosode and complimentary green maekake seemed well made but functional, which meant she likely still belonged to the common class. Kagome was so fascinated to find another working woman, travelling alone like herself that she did not notice how long she’d been staring.

 

The beautiful woman must’ve felt her intent scrutiny though, as she turned her head a fraction to make eye contact with her. Kagome quickly averted her gaze, flushing lightly. Subtlety was something she definitely needed to work on. The rest of the ceremony passed by rather quickly after that, with her brain occupied trying to pinpoint where she’d seen the girl before, to no avail. As the rites concluded and the believers got up to exit the hall, Kagome tried to look for the stranger with the familiar face again but couldn’t locate her in the sea of people. Shrugging, she wandered back out into the courtyard, navigating around the queues formed to offer prayers or purchase wooden plaques on which to write their wishes. 

 

It was all a bit too crowded for her tastes, so Kagome thought perhaps she’d take the back way out of the shrine. There was a very narrow gap, obscurely hidden in the bordering fence behind the honden. By the looks of it, the opening was an intended construction but for what, she had no idea. She’d found it by chance one day as a child and used it often when she wanted to sneak away, so hopefully Kagome hadn’t grown too wide to fit through. Past the fence, it was an easy scramble around the forested area to join up with the main road past the first set of Torii. 

 

Quietly, Kagome padded down the lane that ran parallel to the engawa of the honden, ducking a little to stay out of sight. She rounded the corner to the back successfully before she swiftly doubled over, luckily biting her tongue in time to keep from crying out. It felt like someone had sucker punched her in the gut, but her incorporeal self. Even if she tried, Kagome wouldn’t be able to describe the feeling to anyone, especially if they didn’t have spiritual powers. The closest would be if she suddenly got hit with something that felt like someone else’s reiki and it opened up a temporary hole in her. It felt like parts of her were sucked into it, hollowed out. What mattered most was the overwhelming ominous feel, the undeniable wrongness. Casting about helplessly, Kagome pressed a fist in the centre of her torso just under her breast. It seemed to relieve the feeling some. The sense of it somehow had a direction and it came from within the honden itself. 

 

The only people that should be in the honden right now would be Masae and perhaps the miko who had assisted her. The honden was the most important structure of all, enshrining the kami within. Only very select, high ranking spiritualists were allowed inside. Whatever was happening, it might have to do with Masae. It might even be a link to how the twisted spiritual energy was formed to power the tethers and weapons. Kagome had to see.

 

With the horrible feeling now dissipating, she was able to carefully lift herself up to the engawa with her arms, awkwardly swinging one leg up followed by the other. She crept forward to the closed screens, hoping to find one that might have a tear or a small crack large enough for her to peek through. Before she could get close enough though, there came the unmistakable sound of footsteps approaching, and the murmurs of conversation got louder.

 

Crap!

 

What the hell was she going to do now? There was zero chance she could bullshit out of this one if she was caught. Kagome vaulted back down from the engawa as quietly as she could then broke into a shuffling run down the lane to muffle the noise. Where to hide, where to hide??

 

A hand closed on her wrist, yanking her bodily sideways through a narrow archway she hadn’t previously known to be there. A small, calloused hand pressed firmly over her mouth, tucking her flush against the wall. Kagome blinked, stupefied at a pair of large hazel eyes, that were highlighted with magenta colour and gently slanted at the corners. It was the same woman she’d been staring at the entire service. Up close she was even prettier but looked younger and Kagome finally remembered where she’d seen her. 

 

She was the taijiya she saw the second night at the auction.

 

Kagome’s eyes widened with the revelation but made an effort to remain quiet. Luckily, it didn’t seem like her attempt at spying had been noticed and whatever group that exited trailed along the engawa back to the front of the structure. Only when there were a few sustained moments of quiet did her companion release her hold on both Kagome’s arm and face. 

 

“I–” Kagome started but was immediately cut off by a sharp gesture from the person in front of her. 

 

“Later.” She mouthed and turned, motioning Kagome to follow.

 

Following her rescuer’s lead–who, true to her profession was many times more stealthy in comparison– Kagome successfully blended back into the throng at the front of the temple. Sticking together but not yet speaking, the two women successfully left the main shrine, walking calmly back down the long steps leading back out to the city. Even then, the slayer in regular clothing discouraged any talking, merely gesturing for Kagome to follow until the two of them downright exited the city gates proper. 

 

She led them to a small outpost not far from the gates. It was one of those stands that offered basic refreshments for travellers, simple services for mounts and temporary stabling while their owners conducted business in the city for the day. Purchasing a pot of tea, the taijiya chose the farthest table from the stand to sit. 

 

“Um,” Kagome began, after taking a polite sip of tea from her cup. “Thank you for your help back there.”

 

The woman looked up, eyeing her with faint amusement. “You seem to make a habit of spying on things you probably shouldn’t, don’t you?”

 

It took a minute for the implication of those words to set in before Kagome blurted out. “Wait, what? You saw me?”

 

Her companion smiled, but not unkindly. “Not you per se, but the cuff of your hakama. The style and colour isn’t very common.” She laughed a little at the expression on Kagome’s face. “Fortunately for you, those dimwits wouldn’t have seen you even if you sat on top of those crates and waved.”

 

Kagome slouched lower in embarrassment. She wasn’t sure if the latter statement made her feel better or worse.

 

“Well, I appreciate you not pointing me out anyway.”

 

“So, what’s your gain in this?” The taijiya set her cup down and levelled Kagome with a serious look. “It’s obvious you don’t have an in with the slavers, otherwise you wouldn’t have to sneak around. You want in though? Is that it?”

“What?! No!” Kagome sputtered indignantly, almost spitting out her tea. Then sheepishly looking around to make sure she hadn’t drawn any attention with her outburst–they were alone– she continued. “I want to know how they control the youkai.”

 

“Heh. I guess we’re in the same boat.”

 

“But you...well, you supply them with slaves, don’t you?” At this comment, the woman beside her clenched the hand that was resting to table into a tight fist, pulling taut the curious black wrappings that extended from out of her sleeve, around her wrist and secured to the centre finger. 

 

"My companion is a–“ She paused, as if to consider whether to divulge the information. Then her expression grew hard as she ground out the latter part of her sentence. "is a lower youkai. Although there is nothing lower about her. They abducted her, right under my nose and I couldn't stop them."

 

“I’m so sorry.” Kagome gasped. “But if that’s the case, then why would you sell to the slave drivers?”

 

"If someone dear to you was taken, what would you be willing to do?" Faces flashed in Kagome’s mind, of Hatsue-obaa, Kaede-sama and then stopped to linger on a smug, fanged smirk and eyes of the most golden shade she'd ever seen.

 

The slayer continued on, not waiting for a response. "I vowed to respect my opponents. Kill if given a just reason to. I don't toy with my prey. But I will do whatever it takes. I won't attempt to hide the fact that what I'm doing right now, for these bastards, goes against our family's taijiya code. But if I have no choice but to sacrifice other youkai for the freedom and safety of my companion, I will."

 

Those beautiful eyes looked up directly at Kagome, as if daring her to say something in reproach. And Kagome, if she was asked prior to this, would've thought her heart would rail against this notion but surprisingly no words came to her. She was afraid to elucidate if she herself would do the same if push came to shove. If she was backed into a corner, what would she resort to?

 

“I–my apologies. It’s not my place to pass judgement on you.” Kagome sighed out at last. “While I can’t agree with your methods, I understand completely. Well–I, I also have someone I care for who’s a slave. That’s why I was trying to peek into the honden today.”

 

Now that both women had laid their cards on the table, the tension between them seemed to drop down a notch. They regard each other appraisingly for a moment.

 

“Have you found anything out yet? Is your friend in the city?” Kagome was the first to break the silence.

 

“I’m sure they took her here but I haven’t found her yet.” The slayer’s fisted hands now, trembled at her sides and Kagome felt the urge to reach out, to comfort her, but refrained. “Make no mistake though, I’m getting her back. Free. They can try to stop me."

 

“I’ll help you when you find her, in exchange for whatever information you uncover.” Kagome blurted out impulsively. She really had no clue how to disarm the spelled tethers on lower youkai, but the taijiya wouldn’t know that. Kagome will cross that bridge when she gets there.

 

“What can you, as a simple human woman, do?”

 

Kagome bristled. “I may not look like much, but I can use reiki.” In response, one elegant eyebrow raised at her. “Look, I obviously can’t show you here but if you don’t believe me we can go somewhere more secluded.”

 

“It’s fine for now; time will prove. Until then, my enemy’s enemy is my ally and two heads is better than one. Let’s pool our findings then.” The taijya paused, then pinned Kagome with a shockingly threatening look.  “Do know that if you attempt anything funny, you will regret it. I won't kill you but I can hurt you. Severely."

 

She gulped, then nodded. The woman stood up, gathering the cloth bundle she’d set down earlier and began to re-tie it around her shoulders.

 

“Good. Let’s meet again when I locate my companion.”

 

"Wait," Kagome called after the older girl before she could fully turn around. "What's your name?"

 

Magenta lined eyes combed over her once more. When it seemed like Kagome might've passed her last internal test, the slayer responded.

 

“Sango. And I am not giving you my family name. Should I die in this foolish endeavour, it will not be traced back to my family."

 

"That's not what I meant, Sango-san. Please, call me Kagome.” She placated. "How would I contact you?"

 

"No need. I will find you."

 

With that Sango turned and walked away, continuing out on the main road away from the city. Kagome watched until the tall, slender silhouette was lost among the trees, contemplating what Sango’s youkai companion looked like. If she had thought of it sooner, she would’ve asked for a description. That way she could keep her eye out.

 

-–------

Damn it! After all of that, the bastard got away. 

 

Inuyasha hated to admit it but he’d miscalculated, gotten a bit prematurely confident that the cat was already in the bag. He had cut it a little short to begin with, thinking this one would be an easy catch and he’d have enough time before sunset to heal. Not only was he wrong on that account, the youkai was more adept than he looked, dealing Inuyasha several crippling blows. The assigned quotas have tripled since the head priestess came back into the city and all of them were having trouble keeping up. Honestly, any free youkai with an ounce of survival instinct would’ve long migrated out of the region. It wasn’t like he was betraying his own kind per se; those full-blooded bastards never once thought of a hanyou like him as kin. It was just not a honourable thing to do, aiding the humans to enslave more youkai– a fate worse than death. He hated both sides, but Inuyasha didn’t have a choice anyway. Another day he could stay alive was another day to find a way to break free.

 

He was limping quite badly now, but still tried his best to make his way amongst the thick tree roots. His senses and strength seem to trickle away like water through a sieve approaching the time of sundown. The sun was barely a sliver above the horizon and he felt the loss deep in his soul. If he was lucky, his demon blood would’ve at least stanched the worst of the gashes and he wouldn’t bleed out before morning. Cradling his useless right arm closer to his torso, Inuyasha gritted his teeth. Fuck, he can’t even really see anymore. He’d been heading the proper direction so as long as he kept going relatively straight, he should make it to her clearing.

 

Kagome.

 

Since that day on the mountaintop, he’d made a concerted effort to stay away from her. She was the only person on earth to care about him–fuck if he knew why– and he wasn’t about to repay her by leading harm to her doorstep. He wouldn’t draw anymore attention to her little sanctuary in the forest. He’d reached record levels of paranoia the previous week, running perimeter check after check in wider circles around the ramshackle homestead. He neither saw nor smelt anything out of the ordinary but Inuyasha knew better than to assume the miko bitch wouldn’t sic youkai slaves on each other, even if they were all owned by her. The least he could do, and the most important thing he could do, was keep Kagome safe. After her bold request, if his avoidance made her hate him, that was fine by him. She can hate him as long as she’s safe.

 

It wasn’t like Kagome made it very easy for Inuyasha to stay away though. At the most random times his mind will bring up the image of her big brown eyes looking up at him from beneath wet curls of hair stuck to her forehead. His damn fire-rat took on a deeper jewelled tone when contrasted against her pale skin– how she managed to keep it that way while running around doing her plant stuff was beyond him. After she gave his clothes back, it was utterly saturated in her scent. It was hard enough that his undershirt already smelled like her, having been cleaned by said girl. Now he was properly swathed in her scent and fuck if it didn’t mess with his head some.

 

The woman was probably the stupidest, least self-preserving human to walk the planet. No matter what he did, how much he yelled at her, she just doggedly came after him again and again. With him being a inuyoukai, that was not a bad thing. On the contrary, loyalty was an extremely endearing quality and maybe that’s why she’d capture the attention of his deepest instincts. To form a pack. To protect. That’s what Inuyasha tried to tell himself anyway. 

 

He promised he’d stay away but there was no time, and he was in no shape to head to his usual safe spot. Her home was the closest place nearby that was safe. Hell, even if the girl didn’t keep the barriers strict enough to his liking, it was still extremely warded. It kept a human like her safe and would keep an extra human safe tonight. He still hated to have to resort to this though. There was a shed at the end of her garden. It’ll do.

 

A chill rippled up his spine and diffused across his skin, instigating a wave of gooseflesh in its wake. He felt the last of his heightened senses fade away as the youki drained from his blood for the night. He brought hand up to wipe away the sweat dripping into his eyes, scowling when he caught sight of the blunted nails. He couldn’t help the relieved sigh when he broke through the trees and took in the familiar silhouette with its faint curl of smoke rising into the air. The shed was only a few more steps ahead.

 

Almost collapsing right into the door, Inuyasha managed to undo the simple latch. The interior was small but fairly tidy; otherwise he would’ve been stumbling into everything by now. He all but fell into a pile of empty burlap sacks in the corner. Groaning, he adjusted his bummed leg with the one functioning arm, while the other hung uselessly onto the floor. The bones should still set correctly regardless come morning. They usually do anyways.

 

Listlessly, he braced himself for the long night ahead. That’s when he noticed the small pair of glowing eyes regarding him from the opposite corner, and he nearly yelped. There was a delay–fucking human eyes– but when he adjusted completely to the darkness he could make out a fat lump of cat. Kagome kind of kept a cat. He assumed she’d made some sort of claim on it from the collar with a bell around the chubby neck. She’d leave food out and sometimes Inuyasha would see her play with the animal on the makeshift engawa of the house. He liked cats a lot. Not that he’d tell anyone. What a joke, coming from a dog demon. The calico padded closer and after studying him for a moment, settled in his lap. The extra warmth was welcome and the hanyou started to stroke the soft, squishy feline. 

 

There was a nekomata that lived somewhere in the neighbourhood around the estate too. Enslaved too, from the looks of the cuffs on her tails. She was friendly and would always keep him company when he was stuck there and she happened to come through. Demon pets have surged in popularity lately and he too had been tasked to bring in specifically cute looking youkai. Fucking disgusting.

 

His head felt a bit woozy, and maybe his leg felt way wetter than it should. Inuyasha hoped he wasn’t bleeding too much. His fingers stilled, buried in the generous furry folds of skin on the cat’s neck. There was a faint meow of complaint.

 

He wasn’t supposed to sleep tonight. He had to stay awake. 

 

Inuyasha’s eyes fell closed and he slumped bonelessly into the cobwebbed corner of the shed.

 

 

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Tsukinamisai - means ‘monthly worship/rites’. Thought to have originally been monthly rites that eventually morphed into modern biannual festivals. Some small modern sub-sects of Shinto do still hold monthly celebrations.

Torii - the gateway that symbolically marks the entrance to the sacred boundaries within a shrine

Honden - sometimes called ‘shinden’. It is the heart of the shrine where the deity is enshrined. It’s protected from public access.

Haiden - the worship hall or oratory. Usually situated in front of the honden.

Taijiya - demon slayer


A/N: In this chapter, the tsukinamisai is a combo of the shinto tradition, plus evening prayers (Buddhism), and mass (occurs daily - Catholicism).

 

I know it’s a cliffie but I won’t leave you hanging for long. The next chapter is written and should be fixed up and out in a week’s time. A whole chapter of InuKag goodness; I can’t wait to share with you!


Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. However this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to.

Chapter Text

 

There was an insistent scratching noise that pulled her increasingly away from the depths of sleep, but it was the impatient meow that finally did the trick, rousing her fully. A tad annoyed, Kagome sat up and folded the blankets down. She felt around the edges of the futon for the folded shawl to wrap around her shoulders. Although it was summer, the nights tend to still carry some chill in the mountain side. At the sound of louder meows, Kagome padded to the closed shoji, deliberately kept that way to keep out the abundance of insects in summer. When she slid the screen open, in the very dim light of the candle stub she kept burning on moonless nights in the hall, she spotted her chubby cat.

 

"Buyo!" She bent down to ruffle the beloved feline's head. "What are you doing?"

 

While she thought of the chunky calico as her cat, truthfully he was a creature of the wild, only deigning to visit her on his own terms. She would sometimes put out a little bit of food, when she had extra fish bones and the like, out by the shed in the garden. Who knew if Buyo ended up getting to it or if a passing rodent got lucky. He usually stayed away for long stretches of time in the warm months but when Kagome recalled the long winters as a student, she remembered Buyo curled up inside the hut when it got cold out. Finding him here in the middle of the night and also actively calling for her attention was very out of the ordinary.

 

Buyo kept chatting to her in 'cat', making stern sounding reprimands when she tried to pacify him with a few chin rubs and then slip back inside to sleep. Finally, Kagome gave up and followed him out into the landing as he kept calling, walking a few steps then looking back at her meaningfully. They played this game all the way out to the main room, past the low burning fire before Kagome stopped.

 

"Seriously, Buyo, I'm not following you out. It's the middle of the night, you weirdo!" 

 

The cat would have none of it though, as he circled her legs persistently. When Kagome made to step back up to the raised floor, he batted at her legs, even going as far to use a little claw. 

 

"What is wrong with you?" She made little shooing motions at the paws latching onto the hem of her sleeping kosode. "I thought it's the full moon that makes animals go crazy. Ugh... you're not going to stop this, are you?”

 

The cat gave a particularly loud yowl. Shaking her head, Kagome gave up and tucked her cloak closer around her. Then she lit the lantern in the genkan and shuffled into a pair of sandals. She, like most cat owners, often wondered who actually owned who in this relationship. Here she was, trudging outside in pitch darkness like a dummy, because her darn cat won't leave her alone. Buyo was going to showcase a dead rat or something and then maybe he'd let her go back to sleep. 

 

The night was just a touch chilly, but pleasant. The sound of cicadas was almost deafening and the grass felt slightly damp with dew against her sock-less feet. Carefully, she padded behind her cat, who'd quieted since getting his way, but did turn back around every so often to make sure she was indeed following along obediently. They travelled all the way down the footpath to the garden. It was then she saw the smears in the dirt. That gleam, too thick, too dark to be a puddle from the last rainfall, closer to trailing streaks like something was dragging. The marks intersected the path and then seem to lead right into her shed. 

 

Foreboding sunk her stomach like a rock, and Kagome had to fight her gag reflex the longer she looked the substance mixed in with the dirt. This was way more blood than a rat. What on earth did Buyo do?

 

The door of the shed was slightly ajar, presumably how the cat slipped in and out. Said cat looked at her once more before disappearing through the gap. Kagome really didn't want to go in there. It can wait till morning right? This seemed like the ideal horror story set up, just like the play she saw once at a festival. Buyo meowed again, loudly, from inside. 

 

Heart thumping wildly from all the possibilities her vivid imagination offered up, Kagome took a deep breath and eased the door open with a creak. Her hands were shaking so much that she'd better calm herself before the oil sloshed enough to risk extinguishing the flame. She stuck the lantern through the frame ahead of her. Even with the extra illumination, the interior was still drenched in shadow, everything in values of grey. On the far corner, slumped over the pile of empty produce sacks was the rough silhouette of a human, surrounded by blots of blood, some even handprint shaped. Oh gods. This was definitely a horror story. 

 

She crept closer to the person. Buyo was sitting on their lap, stretching up to nuzzle the person's face, presumably that was what was hidden under a mess of dark hair. When Kagome finally detected their laboured breathing, she sighed out a breath she'd also been holding. She was so scared that she'd have to somehow deal with a dead body in her shed. However, if she didn't start doing something really soon, that would be exactly how it'd pan out.

 

It was rough going to say the least, swinging the limp body around and hooking her hands under their armpits. Kagome basically half lifted, half dragged them back to the house, her chest heaving with the exertion of shouldering all the dead weight. Well, not dead yet, if she can help it. The person made it with her to the hut, a little worse for wear, hair strewn about their face, and likely with a few tender areas on their backside come morning. If that was all they'd have to worry about, then it'd be fortunate indeed. 

 

Hoisting them up to the raised floor, the man–she’d now deduced– flopped down not far from where another unconscious someone had lain a few nights prior. What was with her knack for finding injured men anyways?

 

Kagome sat, bent over her knees, huffing and puffing a little while before she got her breath back. Turning to assess her new patient, she froze. In the much brighter light of the fire, the person's clothes were no longer grey. Instead they were a bright red, imbued with a smidge of youki. No wonder it had felt familiar to touch. But those robes were definitely not a dime a dozen in any shop on the main streets of Kyo. In fact, she'd only seen them on one person.

 

In a sudden blind panic, Kagome's hands fell to the person's face, frantically pushing dark locks of hair aside. Her movements stilled, but her hands still trembled with nerves. She stared, shocked, down at the known features of the man in front of her. The strong lines of his face, the high cheek bones and the proud nose– there was no mistaking him. This clearly human man was Inuyasha. Kagome's fingers went to grasp at his ears, on the sides of his face, identical to her own and inspected the blunt fingernails of his hands. 

 

She cried out in distress. "Inuyasha! Wake up!" Taking hold of his shoulders, she gave him a few solid shakes. "What happened to you?"

 

The only explanation she could come up with was that he must've been purified. Due to his hanyou nature, it was possibly why he didn't perish on the spot. Why he'd dragged himself, gravely injured, into her shed was a whole new level of stupidity that only Inuyasha was capable of. 

 

Looking down at him like this, it was like one of her many nightmares coming true. She dreamt almost every night of finding him lying in a pool of his own blood. And here she was.

 

In a way, Inuyasha was not quite as gravely injured as the last time she saw him, but in another way he was worse. This time he had a potentially broken arm, which, given the lack of options, she was only able to position correctly and secure it to his torso by slinging it on one shoulder. The other concerning injury was his leg. While she couldn’t feel and protruding bone, the slash wound was long and wide, sluggishly oozing. A few inches further to the side and it would've opened up a major artery and he would've bled out on the spot.

 

Kagome said a quick prayer to thank the kami.

 

The wound itself seemed to be pretty straightforward this time, with no underlying aura to it. With how deep it was though, she should probably sew it shut, but she didn't have the proper equipment. She could probably make do with plain old sewing needles but decided to try pressure and tight bandaging first. After some time, it did seem to stop bleeding but Inuyasha was looking deathly pale, his lips now completely blanched. 

 

What scared Kagome witless was that Inuyasha seemed to be completely human currently, which meant she couldn't bank on his superhuman healing abilities to kick in. Which also meant there was a decent chance he could die. 

 

After patching him up as best as she could and piling blankets on to keep him warm, she stroked his black hair fondly, running through the fringe to trail her fingers light against his temples, the sides of his cheeks. Confirming there was no more she could do but wait, Kagome treated herself to a nice cry. She definitely thought she deserved one.

 

A soft meow of concern made her smile waveringly at the feline. Curled up into a ball, tucked between Inuyasha's ribs and arm was the calico cat. He'd settled in soon after Kagome finished her ministrations. 

 

“You are definitely not a normal cat, Buyo." She whispered, wiping away some more tears from her face. "Thanks for bringing me to him though. I owe you. How about a nice juicy fish next time I get some, huh?"

 

This time around, Kagome was more prepared. She too, brought out a cocoon of spare blankets. Wrapped in those, she tucked herself in the corner, with a full view of the hanyou-turned-human's face, to monitor him as needed. Leaning against the wall, she closed her eyes, meaning to doze lightly while waiting for him to wake. 

 

–-–-–-–-–

 

"Wha–where the fuck?" 

 

The bewildered sputter jolted Kagome from her light sleep. Inuyasha had bolted upright, disturbing the careful blanket nest she'd built around him. He was looking about in a panic.

 

Kagome hastened to reassure him. "Inuyasha! Inuyasha, look at me! It's Kagome. It's safe, you're ok.”

 

Wild, dark eyes swung around to land on her. He seemed visibly to calm for a second before he froze, then a look of object horror washed over his face. He tensed, attempting to scoot backwards out of the rest of the bedding before discovering one arm was bound immobile to his body. By this time though, Kagome had already darted forward to lay her hands on his shoulders, hoping to reorient him.

 

"Hey, stopping moving so much, dummy. You're gonna hurt yourself more. It’s ok. I’ve got you.”

 

He looked at her for a few long seconds, breath seeming to calm a bit, then glared back at the floor, looking rather angry. "Damnit Kagome. You weren't supposed to see me like this."

 

"Like what?" She tilted her head, confused. “I’m glad to see you like this! If you weren’t a hanyou, you… wouldn’t have survived the purification.”

 

It was Inuyasha’s turn to look at her with furrowed brows, until Kagome plucked a lock of black hair from his side and dangled it pointedly in front of his face.

 

“I wasn’t purified, woman.” He gruffed.

 

“Then why do you look and feel human?”

 

He gave a long-defeated sigh, his head tilted towards the floor to hide his face as if avoiding her gaze was simply not enough. To Kagome's surprise, Inuyasha actually continued to speak after a moment's pause. She'd expected to have to pester the words out of him like normal. "I turn human once a month. It's a hanyou thing."

 

“So you’ll turn back?” She asked intently.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Oh thank goodness!”

 

Inuyasha looked taken back as he stared at her.

 

"I can't believe you, Inuyasha!" Kagome's rapid change in mood jolted him back into motion. He did not seem prepared for her simultaneously irritated and hurt tone right after the previous happy statement. "If you knew this would happen, why didn't you take better care of yourself? Why would you not just come into the house? I could've patched you up so much sooner. Why didn't you tell me? I thought we were friends..."

 

He grunted noncommittally.

 

"Don't you trust me?"

 

"I don't trust anyone." He growled, sounding odd with his human voice. "Moonless nights are a dangerous time for me."

 

"I wouldn't tell anyone. I could help if any youkai happened to come across you when you're human." Kagome promised quietly.

 

“I ain’t weak! And you’re already getting into more danger than you know, Kagome."

 

Kagome was nothing if not stubborn. “It'd be ok if we stuck together." She insisted.

 

He looked up at her then and Kagome held his gaze. His eyes were so much darker than what she was used to but what she saw swim in their depths were the very same. She might be imagining it but they seemed to be more open when he was like this. Maybe this was the time for her to ask what she'd been trying to build up courage for for some time now.

 

Just as the first word was tumbling off her tongue, a burst of youki brushed across her senses, stuttering and sputtering to life. Her eyes flew open and she gasped as she met Inuyasha's equally wide eyes before his gaze darted to the brightening sky outside the window.

 

His body language spoke of how much he wanted to flee yet again but this time, Kagome was ready. She fisted her hands securely in the generous folds of his sleeves and held on. 

 

His youki pulsed again, in waves, starting and stopping in a regular rhythm, but each wave stronger than the last. Inuyasha's hair was lightening at the roots, bleeding silver from his scalp and traveling down to the tips of the locks falling around his shoulders. With fascination, Kagome watched his human ears morph and ripple, dissolving into his skin before twin lumps tunnelled under his hair to bloom into the furry, doggy ears she secretly loved so much. She edged her hand that was near his wrist further, looking and then hesitantly feeling across each distinct, rough claw tip.

 

When both his aura and appearance seemed to settle and stay in his hanyou state, she looked up at Inuyasha, beaming. Kagome was so glad to see him normal again. It also meant he would heal up in no time.

 

Inuyasha seemed temporarily arrested, eyes dropping to linger on her smile. When he shook off the daze, the expression that replaced it was unexpectedly determined and grim.

 

"Look, I didn't mean to come here last night" He told her roughly, but his hands were contrastingly gentle when he dislodged her grip on his sleeves. Deftly, his claws sliced through the sling around his arm and he adjusted his suikan as he stood up. "And I'm not coming here ever again if I can help it."

 

Kagome leapt to her feet in response, opening her mouth to counter but no words came to her readily. He was going to leave. Again.

 

He leapt lightly down from the raised platform, then seemed to hesitate before turning back to face her. His eyes wouldn't meet her hurt gaze.

 

"You should leave. Go back to your village, Kagome."

 

Her indignant anger surged to life at his words. Who did he think he was to tell her what to do? And by now, Kagome knew that the half-demon was awful with his words, and almost always, there was something else he wasn't saying. But, that didn't mean he didn't piss her off like no one's business.

 

"Inuyasha! Don't you dare. You stay right here and finish the conversation like a decent human being." She shouted at him, watching with a tiny amount of satisfaction as his ears folded down at the sound.

 

Kagome darted forward to intercept his path, arms held up to physically bar his way.

 

"Good thing I'm not human then." He scoffed. 

 

"I don't care. You can't just leave like this!"

 

"What are you gonna do about it Ka-go-me? Subdue me?" Inuyasha taunted, his handsome face twisting into the sneer she hated to see directed at her. It was an expression he frequently hid behind, especially the times she’d seen him in a fight. "Are you gonna use your miko powers to teach the bad dog his place?"

 

Kagome knew exactly what he was doing. They'd danced to this tune before. He was so good at riling her up. And before she knew it, they'd be shouting at each other and she'd have forgotten the important or sensitive subject that had come up in the first place. Oh, Inuyasha had it coming for him. She wasn't letting him off easy this time. She was damn sick of the helpless waiting around the last couple weeks have been. 

 

She marched up to him, getting right in his face, and pulled up her petite form to stand taller against his.

 

"Do you know how it feels?" Kagome demanded fiercely, as she jabbed a finger hard into his chest for emphasis. “It seems like every time I see you now, you’re bleeding and so close to dying. Do you know how worried I am? Do you know how it feels to just sit there and watch you struggle and hope you don’t die? And that if you don’t show up for days I’m so scared you’re dead or dying somewhere! “ He opened his mouth to protest but she just brandished her free hand at him savagely, effectively shutting him up. “Don’t you say a goddamn word to me Inuyasha! Don’t even try to deny it. I’m right. What happened last night? I found you, again, in a pool of your own blood! How many more times are you going to make me go through that?”

 

Her emotions caught up to her and before she knew it, Kagome was hiccuping over her own words. Inuyasha was just a red blur in front of her now, the hot tears streaming down her face made it hard to see. But still she gave the blur the best talking to of her life, eyes flashing angrily beneath the sheen of liquid.

 

He made her so angry, and upset, and worried and every other cursed emotion all rolled up into one giant knot in her gut. He was pig-headed and stupid and the only person able to illicit such intensity in her.

 

“Do you know that I can’t sleep anymore without dreaming of you covered in blood? I’m so tired, Inuyasha, I’m damn tired of this.” She sobbed desperately, anger finally extinguished by the flood of anguish wracking her body. Kagome collapsed inward, wrapping her arms around herself as she let herself sob. “And the worse part is, you don’t care. You don’t care enough to even show me you’re ok when you can. You don’t even need to stay! I just want to lay eyes on you. That’s all I ask. Is it really so hard?”

 

Whatever words that followed devolved into unintelligible sounds as Kagome began to cry in earnest. Cutting through the haze of her emotions, she felt long fingers close around her wrist, the tips of his claws whisper-soft across her skin. Then a firm tug and she found herself stumbling into him. One of his arms wound around her shoulders, pulling her flush against the firm plane of his chest, while the other hand buried itself in her unbound hair, cradling the back of her head. Kagome’s tears intensified and she outright bawled into his shoulder, making a mess of his clothes. He let her cry, tucking her under his chin, and his claws trailed soothing shapes along her scalp. She stayed there, sniffling for some time, trying to clear her nose enough to take in his scent again, the one she detected from wearing the fire-rat robe earlier. The comforting texture of his clothes, combined with the steady warmth of the hanyou, chased away the last of her tears. 

 

“You stupid woman,” He sighed defeatedly into her hair, his voice low and hoarse. Somehow those soft words sounded the furthest from an insult. “What am I supposed to do with you?”

 

That brought a wet giggle to her lips, effectively breaking through her sorry state. As much as she loathed to leave the circle of his arms, Kagome eased herself back, swiping roughly at her cheeks. She needed to ask him now, while she'd breached a little of his defence mechanisms.

 

"Come stay with me Inuyasha." His floundering look would've been comical at any other time. Golden eyes wide and his mouth opened and closed, gaping like a fish. She hurried to lay out her offer, so there would be no mistaking her meaning. "Live with me. There's more than enough room in this hut– there used to be four of us here." 

 

The hanyou blinked a few times before seeming to regain his bearings. Then his brows pulled down heavily over serious, amber eyes. He looked at her squarely, the hands that had lingered around her shoulder blades, now slid down to hold onto both her forearms sternly.

 

"You don't know what you're saying, Kagome." Inuyasha grumbled roughly, shaking her a little. "You're an unmarried woman. You can't just ask a male to live with you alone. You know what people will think of us."

 

"I know exactly what I'm saying, Inuyasha." 

 

"Damnit, woman, do I have to spell it out for you?!" He barked back, freeing one of her arms to run his claws through his own hair in frustration. "People will think we're fucking, ok? That you're fucking a half-breed! Did you think that far, huh?"

 

Kagome was surprisingly unfazed, her chin tilted up stubbornly as she replied. "Don't call yourself that! And I am well aware of the fact, Inuyasha, thank you very much. In case you haven't noticed though, no one lives around here. And even if someone does find out, they can think what they want. I. Don't. Care."

 

"You fucking should! Even you aren't stupid enough to not know what would happen. You'd be defiled. Impure. I wouldn't let any of the bastards touch you, but humans and youkai will want to kill you just for being with me!"

 

Kagome inhaled sharply, his last retort successfully getting to her. Not because of the danger he'd implied she'd be in, but because it was apparent that Inuyasha must, to some degree believe his words. It must be impossible to spend your entire life being ostracized and not internalize, at least partially, what the world said about you. 

 

She smiled softly, even though her heart hurt for him. "I don't believe that, Inuyasha. There's nothing wrong or impure about you. And I know there might be trouble, but if I got to make sure you're ok, that would be worth it to me."

 

Inuyasha dropped his gaze momentarily, as pink crept across his cheeks and made its way down to the tip of his nose. He sighed again. Kagome was beginning to think maybe she had more sway over the surly half-demon than she'd initially thought .

 

"What about your dreams of being a miko, Kagome?" He grumbled at last.

 

She paused to contemplate it. She had been so sure it was what she wanted and had wanted it for so long. Since she was a child, she'd worked to be a miko, lived and breathed that dream. Yet, now, when she tried to paint her future in her mind, those red and white robes with the blurry background of a generic temple were surprisingly absent. For the first time, her future was in broad strokes, defining general outlines but the details were yet to be filled in. It was scary, but oddly exhilarating. One thing she did know, even if voicing it was still tentative at best, she wanted Inuyasha in it, one way or another.

 

“I..." Kagome shook her head slightly, still smiling gently at Inuyasha. "I don't think I really want that anymore.”

 

He said nothing for a while, as his intense golden gaze raked across her expression searching for something. "I don't want your pity, Kagome."

 

Kagome exhaled a long breath. Then, she boldly tucked herself back against his chest, arms wiggling over the folds of his clothing to encircle his waist. "I'm not pitying you. You are my friend. My best friend. You don't have a hidden agenda to be with me and you let me just be me. I like that. Say you'll stay with me." She laid her cheek against his shoulder and closed her eyes, just enjoying being in his embrace. It was something she hadn't dared to even daydream about before.

 

Slowly, she felt the hanyou relax against her, his arms trailing around her again to hold her like she was holding him. Kagome couldn't help but grin into his shoulder when she felt his chin drop to rest on the crown of her head, his breath stirring the loose strands of her hair.

 

"Damnit, woman."

 

"I don't expect anything from you Inuyasha. You can literally come and sit in a corner. Or you can sleep in any room you want. Or…”

 

"Shuddup already." He grumbled into her hair. "I get it."

 

To Kagome's absolute delight, the usually grumpy hanyou didn't shrug out of her embrace as quickly as she thought he would've. Instead she stayed cosseted in his arms, deliciously warm and secure. It was a feeling Kagome knew she'd crave endlessly now that she'd discovered its existence.

 

After a while, they did reluctantly pull apart. Inuyasha looked vaguely flustered, while Kagome just grinned at him sheepishly.

 

"I'm gonna go for a run." At the shadow of doubt dimming her smile, he added hastily. "Get us some breakfast. If I'm gonna stay here, I'm sure as hell gonna pull my own weight."

 

Kagome’s expression perked up again as she nodded. After assuring him that fish was indeed a suitable breakfast item, she watched his familiar red clad form fly out of the clearing. His arm seemed to be well on its way to a full recovery. The knowledge that he would return, that Inuyasha agreed to return to her, whenever he could, dispelled the anxiety that had plagued her for the long weeks prior. Smiling softly, she went back inside to set some rice and vegetables cooking in preparation for his return with his catch.

 

 

–-–-–-–-–

 

That woman was going to be the death of him. Inuyasha was sure of it.

 

The wind rushing past his face, combined with the morning mist worked wonders to clear his head. The moonless night and the accompanying transformations always threw him off. Waking up to interact with Kagome as his human self, however, was a whole new beast. 

 

In short, Inuyasha had grossly underestimated Kagome's hold on him, especially when he only had the weak-ass defence of his human mind to fall back on. Here she was, a deceptively small and harmless human woman, but somehow had broken down damn near every wall he had built carefully around himself. 

 

He was actually rather pissed with himself and his incredible lack of restraint. He had sworn not to see her often anymore, not to lead any danger to her and keep her safe at all cost. That was supposed to be the number one priority. So what does he do? First, he drags his sorry ass into her shed, close enough for her to find him. Then he fails spectacularly to persuade her to keep her distance from him. Or better yet, leave Kyo and its dangers behind. 

 

In hindsight, it was a clusterfuck of several factors that did him in. One, he had just turned back to hanyou, likely still suffering the hangover of his weak human state. Two, after he told her that he was only temporarily human, Inuyasha was definitely not prepared for the amount of relief Kagome had exhibited. It had sent a thrill of warmth through his core, that thawed something in him that he hadn’t known the existence of before this moment. The fact that someone actually was happy he'd go back to being a hanyou should've been impossible. Still, he’d thought that Kagome might’ve preferred he stayed a human. It would make things so much easier between them. It would mean–Inuyasha stopped those thoughts in its tracks. Maybe when he belonged to no one but himself again, he could entertain those thoughts.

 

Three, there was her stupid smile. She kept smiling at him like that. And he, being the fool he was, couldn’t stop staring at her when she did, finding it hard to believe that he was the one that put that smile on her face.

 

Then lastly, she’d dealt the critical blow of bursting into tears. Like what the fuck was he supposed to do? So he’d made the idiotic move of hugging her and that was the final nail in the coffin. If he stayed any longer in that alluring cocoon of her scent and her soft, cuddly body, if it meant that she would keep subtly snuggling into him, making that near inaudible happy noise, he would promise her anything. Even if she demanded he cut out his own heart, he'd probably nod and respond with an "ah-huh, yeah, ok” and hand it over.

 

And that was how he promised to live with her. Like what the actual fuck? How did he go from trying to keep her safe to endangering her even more. Even if he was free, and there were no slavers, no messed up miko, the world they lived in would still hold zero tolerance for a human who willingly took a hanyou to her bed. Not that Inuyasha entertained any idea that that was what Kagome offered. But an unmarried young woman, spending night after night alone with him, any one would assume they were husband and wife. And that could easily get Kagome killed.

 

Fuck.

 

Inuyasha splashed into the middle of the river, the cold water blessedly welcome against his sweaty skin. He slashed through the current letting his body and mind work out his frustrations. He’d said this to Kagome pointblank too but the baka just kept resolutely on track. As if it didn’t matter to her that people might think her his wife, if any were to find out. He would be a stain on her honour and the stupid girl didn’t care. She almost–almost seemed to want it even. And well… hell if he didn’t want it too. She was a beautiful woman, and powerful in her own right. And truth was, he’d also grown to lik– not mind her around. If Kagome truly wanted his company and made him this offer, then Inuyasha would greedily snatch it up. The thought of returning to her, at the end of each day, of spending so much time with her, without having to make up an excuse or pretending to run into her, was an irresistible one.

 

Inuyasha knew his life was not his own. And he shouldn’t have made that promise to her until it was. Kagome deserved better. But now that things have progressed this way, no matter what they did to him or what atrocities he was forced to do, if anyone wanted to hurt Kagome, they would have to do it over his dead body. Now that he would be living with her, it might make protecting her actually easier, if he was always within sensing distance. That conclusion finally made him feel more at ease.

 

The turmoil in his head having abated somewhat, the hanyou leapt back onto the river bank with fish dangling off his claws. He shook the water vigorously out of his hair and clothes before starting the run back to the hut.

 

–-–-–-–-–

 

To be completely honest, it was a tad awkward when Inuyasha came bustling back into the house. Normally the hanyou was all fluid grace in his movements but currently, he looked like he was having difficulty deciding where to put his limbs. The poor boy looked so flustered and weirded out that Kagome took pity on him. Hiding her grin expertly behind a sleeve, she’d shooed him away, dripping fish guts and all, to cook them outside.

 

That seemed to do the trick, sending Inuyasha rushing about with purpose.

 

Breakfast was a tasty and pleasant meal. He’d brought back so much fish that they had plenty of leftovers which she left marinating in salt and a dash of sake in earthenware jars stored in the cool cellar. They were set for a few days worth at least. It was far from the first time Kagome had to plan and cook for multiple people, but it was the first time it would be for a man. She would have to observe how much he ate compared to her to properly gauge the appropriate portions to cook. The thought made her weirdly happy for some reason. She was still surprised that she’d actually been brave enough to ask him to stay and that he agreed, more so. 

 

Kagome smiled to herself as she added another tiny glob of miso to the soup and ladled out a small amount for a taste test. She’d noticed that Inuyasha seemed to be extra sensitive to flavours that seemed fairly mild to her. It could probably be chalked up to his superior senses. That face he made, with the scrunched up eyes, his tongue sticking out of his mouth while trying to yell at her for attempting to kill him, still made her giggle. Yanagi-obaa had a spicy soy flavour of rice cracker which she’d brought for him to try one day. He was definitely not a fan. 

 

The soup passed the test, a little bland for her but she could always just add extra miso into her bowl. After two generous bowls were filled, she loaded them into the serving tray and made her way out to the engawa. Lacking housemates, she was accustomed to skirting propriety and not eating at the lower table in the main room. Given how uncertain Inuyasha seemed to be about their new arrangement this morning at breakfast, she wanted dinner to be an unfussy affair, to put him further at ease. 

 

They’d spent the afternoon apart from each other, him disappearing into the forest while Kagome caught up on maintenance work on the field that she’d been putting off. She was careful to not pry or ask what he was up to, knowing he was an extremely private person. Inuyasha would share with her when he wanted to. Although that didn’t mean she wasn’t a little nervous about him not returning in the evening, but he did promise her and she believed him.

 

Sure enough, he’d reappeared not too long ago with a contribution to their meal, which Kagome happily prepared. With him around, she was likely to be much better fed than normal. Living alone, she tended to skip meals or eat random items she had on hand if she got busy or stressed.

 

The hanyou leaned casually against one of the pillars that supported the roof. One knee raised, with an arm propped on top while the other leg rested crossed on the floor. He was looking out and away from her when she approached but one fluffy ear swivelled around to train on her. Smiling, Kagome bent down and set the tray down, beside the two that held the other dishes and utensils.

 

They settled on the engawa facing the small rock garden as the sun sunk below the tops of the trees. Sitting there with him, eating a simple but delicious meal, felt wholly domestic and it filled Kagome with a delicious warmth all the way up from her toes. She hadn’t thought she was particularly one to want this homey life but somehow right now, with Inuyasha, it felt immensely satisfying. It felt right. 

 

Humming her satisfaction, Kagome set her bowl down, now emptied of rice. She grinned as she watched Inuyasha shovel down what was probably his fifth bowl and nudged the tray with the remaining food towards him.

 

“Here, you finish it, Inuyasha.” She offered. He seemed a little embarrassed when he spied her empty bowl, so she rushed to reassure him. “It’s fine. I don’t usually eat that much.”

 

He shot her a quick glance, before snatching up the last slice of meat. “Well, you should eat more, woman.” 

 

She gave her belly a few pats to emphasize she’d had plenty to eat already.

 

“Thanks for the meal, Kagome.” He mumbled into his bowl.

 

She smiled even wider. “My pleasure, Inuyasha.”

 

Kagome leaned back fully against her pillar and observed him with sleepy eyes. He handled his chopsticks so delicately and it made an interesting contrast to his brash demeanour. 

 

Finally, when the light began to fade in earnest, she got up and gathered the dirty dishes with Inuyasha’s help. They were deposited in a tub in the kitchen to soak overnight, to be cleaned in the morning. Wanting to spend some more quiet time with Inuyasha, Kagome attempted to stifle a yawn discreetly. However, demon senses are not to be trifled with, as his sharp eyes missed nothing.

 

After a somewhat petulant response on her part to Inuyasha’s insistence she go to bed, she acquiesced. Partially, it was because she was now having a hard time keeping her eyes open. It didn’t feel like just that morning when Buyo interrupted her sleep.

 

However, Kagome wasn’t too tired to fuss over Inuyasha some more, offering to bring out extra bedding and blankets. He, predictably, would have none of it, and plopped down against the wall by the banked fire, closest to the door. 

 

The futon felt like heaven as Kagome burrowed deeper into her blankets. Eyes drifting closed, she could feel the bright spark of Inuyasha’s youki just in the other room. It was this snug feeling that lulled her into the most peaceful sleep she’d had in a long time.

 

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A/N: Bahahaha… an entire chapter of domestic, relationship-levelled up InuKag! I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I indulged in writing it :)

 

I will try to stick to biweekly updates through Inuvember, but I have a few one-shots cooking so hopefully I don’t get too sidetracked!


Disclaimer: I do not own  Inuyasha However  this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to.  

Chapter Text

Kagome didn’t think Masae would put her words to the test. But when Ito came to usher her to join Masae and the rest of the miko guests, his request that she bring her bow along filled Kagome with a sense of foreboding. The worried look Jinenji trained on her as she departed did not help things one bit either.

 

A few days prior when the invitation had come, stating the time for the next meeting, Kagome had dismissed it to be a mere inconvenience. She assumed it would be another one of those affairs where she would only need to sit through another round of the head priestess' boasting and perhaps a lecture on the religious justifications of youkai slavery and be done with. Gods, she was a fool. It was a clear reminder that the head priestess was a character to be reckoned with.

 

Like the previous time, Kagome trailed along behind the rest of the miko, painfully conscious of the dirt on her clothing and under her nails. Masae was leading the small group out of the estate and into the undeveloped back woods sloping up the mountain side. It wasn't until they'd reached the cover of the trees, away from the city folk that the head priestess began to speak.

 

"Ladies," She twisted to glance serenely for a moment at the group behind her. "I do apologize for the wait. I had not anticipated such a long stretch of time between our last meeting and this one. I have been rather overwhelmed by the lapse in management while I was away. But I trust you have utilized this time to prepare for the important task that lies ahead of us. For one, Yui-san, you’ve mentioned your studies?”

 

The young miko in question, perked up excitedly at the mention by name. “Oh yes Miko-sama, I was reviewing the harae, and–it might be due to the humble library at my shrine– I was unable to find details of the ritual you had spoken of. I was hoping you could direct me to the proper scroll, so I may further my study?”

 

“Ah, I must commend your dedication, Saito-san, but this harae is a breakthrough from previous spiritual knowledge. You will not find note of it documented.” Masae paused, smiling at the disappointed priestess beside her. “Fear not, I will be explaining the details in the days to come.”

 

They came to a spot newly cleared of trees. At the far end of the space were wooden posts with targets nailed to the top. It must be some sort of practice range. Before Kagome could scrutinize the details however, Masae waved her hand to gesture at the short, upright logs arranged close to the path they had entered through. The tops of these looked roughly sanded, hinting at the purpose for being used to rest on briefly.

 

Kagome watched as the group of women hurried to arrange themselves, making no attempt to disguise the fact that they were vying for the seats closest to the head priestess. Barely able to resist rolling her eyes, Kagome plopped down on a log on the opposite side of the path, effectively distancing herself from the rest of her peers. Might as well, she thought, since she was the odd one out anyway. There was no use pretending otherwise.

 

Masae smoothed out her red hakama and rested her bow gracefully in her lap. 

 

“As you recall, at our last meeting, I had spoken about the unique characteristic of this harae in that it is more than a one time ritual. For us to be able to cleanse the youkai of their taint, we, as enlightened practitioners, must lend them some of our light. During the time the youkai are Pledged to us, we will be maintaining this binding using our spiritual energy. Youkai are stubborn and many still remain blind to their inherent evil, so we must enforce their learning in their period of atonement. This also will require a level of spiritual aptitude.”

 

The younger girls were either nodding zealously in response to Masae’s words or looking rather confused. Kagome though, heard her loud and clear. The new revelation was beginning to dissipate the thick haze around the nature of what bound the youkai slaves.

 

“The kami are mysterious in their gifts so it is only natural that some of you may only be able to guide one or two youkai in this form of harae. While others,” At this point, Kagome swore the head priestess had thrown a quick glance at her direction. “May prove to be blessed with depths of power that could guide many demons to salvation.”

 

Kagome pointedly trained her eyes on the tufts of grass growing from the bare patches of ground in front of her. Finally, she was beginning to understand this strange behaviour from the head priestess. While at first she assumed Masae was gathering support and perhaps enjoyed the attention of the other miko, it was clear now that what she was doing was amassing power. If the underlying meaning beneath the fancy explanation is that each spiritualist can only enslave so many youkai, then Masae cannot expand her hold alone. Meaning she is trying to indoctrinate miko who would hold more youkai slaves but still answer to the head priestess herself. 

 

The thing that still did not make sense to Kagome was speaking of reiki as finite. Sure, one can definitely overtax oneself, but their powers regenerated, as surely as tired muscles rejuvenate after rest. Kagome did not have the luxury to ponder further this moment however, because she’d realized that Masae had gotten up again and motioned to the group to follow. 

 

As they approached the practice targets, two other miko stepped out from the trees behind the posts. Kagome squinted behind the group, trying to catch a glimpse of their faces. The two women had their heads slightly bowed so it was difficult to recognize if they were miko who served at Tenrinji or not.

 

Masae raised her hand and one of the miko approached a log post that did not sport a wooden target. From a previously unnoticed basket at the base, the woman withdrew a writhing, twisting shape, gleaming pearly white in the sunlight. There was a collective gasp, as the small group recognized it as a youkai, struggling valiantly against the miko’s firm grip. It was deftly lashed to the post by a long length of spelled rope. The oily blackness of the bindings was becoming synonymous to Masae’s particular brand of youkai suppression and slavery.

 

It was a shinidamachu, an insect like youkai that collected dead souls. As far as Kagome knew, they kept to themselves and never instigated any violence against humans. She had seen them in the wild before but left them alone, rather like she would leave common animals such as bats alone, to mutually go about their own business.

 

The head priestess coughed lightly to halt the murmurs that had erupted at the sight of the subdued demon. “Now, the simplest way for me to gauge your spiritual aptitude is for you to demonstrate it. Please kindly produce a hama-no-ya at the indicated target.”

 

“Y-you want us to shoot it?” One of the girls squeaked nervously. 

 

Masae’s eyes seemed to narrow for a millisecond in displeasure before melting back to her usual serene expression. It was so fast Kagome thought she might’ve imagined it.

 

“Not merely shoot it.” She mused quietly. “The objective of a hama-no-ya is to purify the target.”

 

Once again there was a shared gasp from those in the group that failed to bite their tongue. It was a common precept in their teachings to not take life needlessly. What Masae wanted them to do was kill a youkai that was clearly subdued and could do no harm even if it was in their nature to do so, which it wasn’t for these soul-collectors. To shoot and kill it now would be in direct defiance of that principle. They would be killing it simple because they could. What part of getting purified out of existence equalled ‘salvation’ in Masae’s reasoning?

 

Another voice firmly punctuated the muttering. “I’ll do it.”

 

After that, it seemed like the rest of the miko were swayed into falling in line, not wanting to be showed up by their peers. One by one, they each set off a purifying arrow dispelling the requisite shinidamachu. The miko stationed by the post stoically produced another to replace the previous one, not at all outwardly fazed by the glare of light resulting from the death of each youkai. 

 

Kagome held back and watched, feeling sick to her stomach. The hand that gripped her bow was sweaty and sore from the prolonged tension. Please, kami, please don’t let her make me do this, she repeated like a mantra in her head. 

 

“Kagome, your turn.” Came the calm command from the head priestess.

 

She dragged her feet slightly as she walked up the spot where the others had taken their shot.

 

“Masae-sama, I…” Kagome tried to reason. “I’m not trained for this. I hope you might remember our previous discussion about my spiritual powers.”

 

“Nonsense.” Masae smiled in encouragement and lightly touched her shoulder. It was such a convincingly kind gesture, but Kagome knew better. The head priestess was truly a formidable woman. “I still am unclear of what transpired at the end of your training, but surely Kaede-sama must have sensed some potential in you to have taken you for a pupil in the first place. She, as we all know, do not lightly take apprentices.”

 

Damn it. Kagome was cornered and she knew it. It was she either throw up her hands, refuse this twisted game and march out of there or she kill the demon. If she were to leave now, it would negate any future opportunity to discover the secret to the spell that held the youkai slaves. And what source of information better than the priestess that enslaved them in the first place? 

 

Taking a grounding inhale, Kagome ran her fingers against the bowstring and checked the tension. Then nocking an arrow, she gauged her target and released. The top of the wooden post burst into a shower of sparks. Kagome closed her eyes and swallowed.

 

“Very good!” Masae pressed her hands together as she assessed Kagome’s work. “You have excellent form as well. Kaede-sama’s discipline is apparent.”

 

Somehow, Kagome was able to force her face to give a polite, empty smile at the compliment.

 

To her abject horror, the cruel test did not end there. Next, from behind the trees, the two miko under the head priestess’ direction brought out more youkai. These were massive animals, looking like a cross between a beaver and a wolf but the size of an hefty bull. The way the whites of their eyes showed and the panicked froth foaming at their mouths reminded Kagome of the demon livestock on sale at the market. Similarly, one of these were now chained to another target post, this one enforced with foreign looking sutras.

 

Again, one by one, the miko were tasked to eliminate this youkai. This time, it was allowed to be in motion and one of Masae’s assistants was clearly tracking how efficiently each of the young miko worked to purify the stronger youkai. Kagome was far from a good actor but her desire to not make the youkai suffer unduly fuelled her determination. When it was her turn, she tried her best to seem like she had poor aim, feigning fluster as she shot and missed, one arrow after another landing in the dirt. Silently saying a prayer for forgiveness, she let loose the arrow that would purify the youkai, doing her best to make it look like a lucky shot.

 

Masae’s eyes glittered when she turned towards Kagome to give praise again, but her true thoughts remained difficult to elucidate.

 

Just when Kagome was letting herself relax somewhat, Masae snapped her fingers. This time, Kagome herself couldn’t help the gasp that tumbled out her throats to join the exclamation of the others in the group. 

 

At the opposite end of the clearing, a youkai man was approaching. His steps were stilted, as if he was fighting someone pushing him forward from behind, but there was only empty air behind him. The two miko had retreated to stand calmly back against the tree-line again. As he came into view, Kagome recognized the short wavy crop of green hair. He was the slave from the same night she first saw Inuyasha at Masae’s estate. This youkai was the one that was beaten in front of them. 

 

Jerkily, the demon continued to walk closer, until Kagome was able to make out his eyes. They were a very light milky green in contrast to the darker shade of his sclera, and they burned with rage staring right at the head priestess. It seemed like his arms were bound behind him but every so often he struggled to break free only to fall back as if struck across his chest, collapsing inwards with each blow. 

 

“You fucking whore!” The youkai snarled as he got within a few arm lengths from them, his voice prideful and strong despite how much he was struggling to fight her control. “I’m going to rip you limb from limb. Just you fucking wait.”

 

“Enough.” Out of seemingly nowhere, an ofuda flew from Masae’s sleeve. Upon landing on the man’s mouth, it hissed black fumes and the smell of burning flesh poisoned the air. 

 

As if nothing at all unpleasant had just occurred, Masae turned again to face the shocked group of miko and smiled. Though it was still the same calm, polite curve of her lips, contrasted to the circumstance, it looked downright wrong. Kagome shivered from the sense of foreboding that crept up her spine.

 

“Ladies, this is the last test for today. You may use your arrows or any other means of purification you so wish.”

 

From how close the higher youkai was standing relative to them, it was clear this was not a test of archery but of simply spiritual clout. And perhaps it was a test on how far they were willing to go.

 

Somewhat to Kagome’s surprise, the group of miko were less enthusiastic than on the previous two occasions. In part, she suspected, it had to do with the fact that other than the pointed tips of his ears and distinct colouring, this youkai looked mostly human. It was one thing to shoot something that looked like a beast but another to kill a young man. That, and although it was an unkind thought, miko in the city shrines generally had less contact with youkai anyway. While they had to be better versed in the rituals and festivals pertaining to the vast numbers of worshipers at the shrine, it would be odd to have youkai attack the city without a very compelling reason. The path of least resistance would be smaller villages should any develop a taste for human flesh. There would be little chance of needing to defend against higher youkai.

 

The miko did try one by one, all opted to back up and use their bows. Some only took one shot, all of them wounded but did not kill. Kagome didn’t know whether they wished to purify the youkai but just couldn’t or if perhaps they were like her and was hoping to get out of this ordeal without compromising too much of their integrity. However, there was a few miko who did truly seem to want to kill said youkai, but just could not muster up the power, shot after shot. 

 

Long before her turn, Kagome had decided she was not going to kill this demon man. She couldn’t. Every time she stole a look, all her mind could supply was that it could easily be Inuyasha in his place. The same impossibly flawless facial features, the eye colours no human possessed. 

 

She’d never had the need to take down a higher youkai but she’d certainly killed demons with youki roughly the same strength as this youkai before her. In all her years of training, she’d worked only on focusing and increasing the reiki loaded onto her arrows, but she’d never tried channelling less power. Now though, she would have to try on the spot and succeed. Because if she didn’t, that demon man would die and Masae will find out the extent of her powers. Which was also why Kagome opted to stick with her bow and arrows versus channel her power into something a bit more suited to close combat. The less that was known of her abilities the better.

 

Kagome prayed fervently in her head as she loosed the arrow, allowing just the tiniest spark of reiki to manifest on the shaft. It glanced across the demon’s left shoulder, the blue light burning away a chunk of flesh. He staggered, grunting. And Kagome had to bite down hard on the inside of her cheek to keep from uttering a sound. 

 

One could argue the more merciful thing for her to do was to end this youkai’s life cleanly versus aiding in his torture. But surely, if none of them succeeded in purifying him, Masae would just dismiss him back to whatever duties she’d assigned previously right? 

 

Before she had the time to recover though, there was a burst of energy in front of her. Eyes flown wide, she whipped her head up only to watch helplessly as a cloud of black energy materialized seemingly from within the pelt clad chest. His pearly eyes widened a fraction before the blackness gave an inward suction quality and the youkai man collapsed.

 

Kagome couldn’t help but cry out this time when his body hit the ground bonelessly. Her startled eyes kept darting about until she finally saw some sort of convincing movement from his chest. It took all her willpower to remain motionless and not reach out to try and help, which was her instinctive impulse.

 

From beside her, Masae’s voice mused, calm and collected as ever. “Sometimes, we have to remember, we can’t save those who do not want to be saved. So we need to encourage them along the way.”

 

Kagome wanted to vomit. From the reaction to Masae’s comment, from what Kagome herself had just done and maybe even from the sheer effort of hiding her true thoughts.

 

After that, Kagome honestly couldn’t recall the details. Maybe everything else blurred in contrast to the impact of the events before it, but Masae did not divulge anything noteworthy after that. Kagome apparently, was getting rather good at going through the motions without drawing too much attention to herself. It was in this way that she followed the group back to the estate. The head priestess dismissed them shortly after with the promise of another meeting and Kagome returned to the herb garden in a near trance.

 

Jinenji had taken one glance at her and ambled off. When he returned, he’d come with her carry basket and the rest of her things. Tucking a few leaves into her palm, he’d softly shooed her away to rest, saying he could manage planting the rest of the seedlings they had planned for the day on his own. Crushing the leaves to release the scent, Kagome inhaled the minty fragrance which thankfully did wonders to calm her stomach. The effects hopefully would last at least until she got home.

 

Unfortunately, her hope to have a restful remainder of the day soon proved to be futile.

 

It was shortly after passing the last service outpost outside the city gates that she first began to notice the nagging feeling of being followed. Trying to maintain a steady gait as to not alert any potential pursuers, Kagome strained her hearing to catch any footsteps or other telltale signs. There had been one person walking behind her but they’d turned off down a different direction a few intersections back. Now that she’d taken the fork into the forest, there were no visible travellers on this road. 

 

Vaguely, she began to notice a hint of youki. It was faint, but it followed her steadily. Kagome continued on further into the thick of the forest before confirming that indeed, that youki was following her and wasn’t just part of the hum of youkai inhabitants in the wilderness. Slowing her steps just a touch, she slipped the bow from her shoulder to have it ready in case she needed to defend herself. 

 

“Come out.” She called loudly, letting her voice ring through the tree trunks in the direction of where she felt her stalker to be. “I know you’re following me.”

 

Kagome held her breath as she waited and sure enough, a few counts later, something rustled behind the trunk of a tall pine. Stepping out onto the path proper was a lean figure dressed in tight leather armour. In her taijiya garb and fully armed, she looked rather imposing.

 

“Sango-san?” 

 

The older woman nodded curtly, the movement swaying her high ponytail behind her. 

 

“Is something wrong?” Kagome pressed.

 

“No…” Sango’s hand came up to grip at the knot of the carry-cloth tied around her shoulders, as she scanned their surroundings quickly.

 

Kagome could tell the slayer was uncomfortable talking while they were out in the open, and honestly, so was she. But the only safe place nearby would be her home. Kagome wasn’t sure she could completely trust the other woman, especially since Inuyasha was staying with her now; there was a lot more at stake should she make a decision thoughtlessly. Though they’d not interacted for long enough to make a solid judgement, Sango came off as someone who might be rather morally ambiguous, especially when it came to youkai slavery. True, she definitely seem fiercely loyal to her own but Kagome was far from acquainted with the slayer. At best, they were just business partners, essentially. 

 

But looking at her more carefully now, Sango’s composure was different from previous, more worried perhaps, with her delicate brows drawn low. Thinking of their conversation about her demon companion being taken from her, Kagome felt herself soften. The faint youki was still there, in close proximity to Sango. Could it be she’d found her friend? There probably weren’t many other people who were open minded enough to view youkai as kin. If their situations were reversed, Kagome would be relieved if she had someone to extend a helping hand too. 

 

Decision made up, Kagome offered. “Sango-san, I live nearby. Maybe if you feel it would be more appropriate, we can continue there?”

 

Her magenta lined eyes landed on Kagome for a few seconds, considering, before she replied. “Yes. I think that is best. Thank you.”

 

Kagome turned to continue the way home, with Sango falling easily in line beside her. It was rather impressive how effortlessly she travelled given the amount she was carrying. The strange curved weapon strapped to her back would’ve likely crippled Kagome if she tried to carry it.

 

It didn't take long before they neared the clearing and Kagome halted her companion from going further before she adjusted the wards temporarily. If her suspicious were correct, then Sango must be either hiding a youkai on her person or said youkai followed them very discreetly. In any case, it would not do to accidentally zap them.

 

Walking out into the open, Sango studied the hut and the flourishing garden beside it. After seeming to deem it safe, she made her way over to a large boulder near the stream and set her large weapon down carefully against it. Kagome, meanwhile, having noted no hanyou swooping down on them, concluded that Inuyasha was probably still away. It was just as well. She definitely would’ve had to explain the demon slayer’s presence had he been around. It’s not that she minded, but she was tired and if things went simply, who was she to complain? 

 

Sango untied the carry-cloth around her shoulders with the utmost care, before settling it onto her lap. Looking mildly put out, she glanced up at Kagome as she approached. “Tell me, how did you know I was following you.”

 

Caught by surprised, Kagome paused slightly before she let out a short laugh. “Sango-san, you were silent, trust me. If I couldn’t sense youki, I wouldn’t have noticed anything amiss.”

 

The older girl’s expression was a tad sheepish at her comment. She probably hadn’t made the immediate connection between her barrier manipulating abilities and sensing auras. 

 

“So you weren’t lying then.” She muttered. Kagome resisted making a face at the accusation.

 

Shifting her attention to her lap, Sango began unfolding the cloth carefully. When she lifted the last fold of material obscuring the precious cargo, Kagome gasped, covering her mouth with one hand.

 

Sango’s gaze sharpened on her reaction. Kagome’s attention however, was solidly focused on the small youkai lying unconscious. In the light of day, the kitten’s fur was a much lighter cream colour, but the twin tails and diamond pattern on its forehead was unmistakable. 

 

“This is your friend?” Kagome whispered, reaching out to lay her fingertips on the small flank. She could just make out a streak of rust red, and wanted to see if the demon was injured.

 

Before she could make contact however, a vambrace-clad arm shielded the tiny body protectively. “You know her?”

 

Kagome’s gaze shot up to meet the narrowed one of the taijiya. “Yes. She, right? She helped me one night. Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to get my friend to safety.”

 

Sango relaxed again somewhat, letting her arm retreat to her side. Kagome felt bad for the older girl; she must be so worried, trying to protect her own but also keeping up a strong front.

 

“Her name is Kirara.” Sango offered, stroking her fingertips gently between the nekomata’s ears. “I ran into some trouble while trying to make off with her… she got hurt in the crossfire. And I can’t get these damn rings off!”

 

At Kagome’s questioning look, Sango gently maneuvered the feline to show her hindquarters. A braid of black rope wrapped in the form of a figure eight around the base of her tails. In the dimness of the evening, when Kirara had helped her carry Inuyasha home, she must not have noticed it. 

 

“I’ve tried cutting it but it won’t even fray. My weapons are not normal steel… they should’ve been able to break it.” 

 

Kagome nodded. Taijiya was known to carry weapons that were either made from youkai sourced material or impregnated with extra qualities to give them an edge over their supernatural opponents. 

 

“Sango-san, the bindings are imbued with some sort of spiritual power. I’m sure you’ve seen them on the youkai being sold in Kyo.”

 

“I feared as much. You did say you have a way of breaking it right?”

 

“I think so. Let me go grab a few things.” Kagome got up from where she’d knelt beside the slayer. “Do you think you can get Kirara to transform to her bigger self? It might be easier to get at the bindings without hurting her accidentally. And is that just a simple cut?”

 

“I’m not completely certain, but I don’t think it’s poisoned. Just deep.”

 

Kagome nodded and hurried indoors. It wasn’t like she’d lied to Sango. She’d never tried breaking the tethers on the enslaved lower youkai before but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t. If she was able to purify the tainted wounds on both Inuyasha and Jinenji, she could probably improvise something now right?

 

Quickly gathering some bandages, a vial of hamamelis solution, a branch of hanoki cypress and a whittling knife–she had no other blade besides the kitchen knife – Kagome headed back outside. It seemed like the taijiya was successful at coaxing Kirara to assume her full-sized state, with her large head now pillowed on the woman’s lap. 

 

Kagome set the basket of supplies aside, drawing out the knife and tearing off a sprig of cypress needles. The hanoki cypress was used in many purification rituals and amplified spiritual power; it might give her a boost if she wrapped it around the knife. While Sango maneuvered herself into a better position to keep Kirara immobile should she wake up, Kagome closed her eyes. Trying to regulate her breathing and calm her mind, she reached out to her reiki.

 

Completely making it up as she went, Kagome focused on infusing the small blade in her hand with spiritual power, like she would when shooting her arrows. Impressed at the steadiness of her own hand, she guided the blade under one of the loops of blackened rope, careful not to touch the nekomata’s skin. With her other, she gripped the tether. Although physically, she was holding on as tightly as possible, in her spiritual sense, the material felt slippery, evasive, as if it knew what she was attempting to do. Taking a deep breath, she pressed the knife into it and immediately felt the resistance.

 

Gritting her teeth, she tried to saw back and forth, and was rewarded with a few frayed threads, but no meaningful progress.

 

“Damnit.” Kagome gritted her teeth, trying to apply even more pressure against the blade. She could see sparks of her energy glancing off the dark bindings now.

 

An armoured hand entered Kagome’s field of view and closed around the top of her hand and the topmost part of the handle where it met the knife. Sango’s grip was incredibly strong and sure. 

 

“I’ll cut, you do the light thing you’re doing.” Sango commanded. “On my count, one, two, three!”

 

This time with the added strength of her companion, Kagome felt the knife sever further. Encouraged by this, she fed in a little extra energy, trying to direct it on the edge of the blade. 

 

With a loud snap, the tether gave, and Kagome saw flecks of dark energy fizzle out in the air. The rope slackened and slid from between Kirara’s tails, the material now devoid of the distinct greasy blackness. Breathing a sigh of relief, the two girls smiled happily at each other. 

 

After that, Kagome set about the much easier task of seeing to Kirara’s wounds. Like Sango had concluded, the gash was deep but should not pose too much difficulty for youkai blood to heal up. She was gently dabbing the hamamelis tincture on the nekomata’s side when she felt eyes studying her. Looking up, she met Sango’s thoughtful gaze.

 

“Something wrong, Sango-san?”

 

The slayer smiled. For the first time it seemed, the smile reached her hazel eyes. Actually, it was probably the first time Kagome had seen Sango look softer. She’d been on guard the entirety of the time she’d known her. Like this, the other girl didn’t actually seem that much older than her or that foreign really.

 

“I was just looking at how you’re treating Kirara.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“I just…” Sango cleared her throat, trying to find the right words. “It’s rare to see humans treat youkai with anything better than cautious tolerance.” 

 

Kagome sighed, understanding where she was coming from. “To be honest, if you asked me last year, I would’ve never thought I’d be how am I now. It doesn’t help that most humans grow up being taught very narrow views about the species.”

 

“True.”

 

Now moving to bandage the feline up, Kagome worked while Sango helped maneuver Kirara. 

 

“Sango-san, will you be heading back home with Kirara then?”

 

There was a bit of a pause before the slayer answered. “No. I still have my end of the bargain to uphold.”

 

Kagome finished the last knot on the bandage and looked up. “What bargain?”

 

“We agreed we would help each other free our companions. What about your friend, did you manage to free him yet?”

 

Her mood plummeted at the mention of this, Kagome sighed. “No. I haven’t. He’s a higher youkai. There’re no physical bindings, so I’m still at a loss as to how they’re being controlled. But it’s very real, I saw him being… summoned.” She shuddered at the memory. “And it was not a laughing matter.”

 

“Then I’ll stay until we figure it out. I gave you my word.”

 

“We promised to trade intel. I–I wouldn’t make you stay. It’s dangerous and you just got Kirara back.”

 

Sango didn’t reply, merely gave her a look, lips set on a stubborn tilt. 

 

“Thank you. I really appreciate it.” Kagome sighed at last. “Where are you staying? You could stay here if you like.”

 

She’d have to let Inuyasha know and pray no one gets into a fight. But it would be manageable. Probably. Then a thought came to her.

 

“Or there’s one more place in the city. It’s also heavily warded and there are youkai there to keep Kirara company as well.”

 

Sango gestured vaguely back in the direction they’d come “I’m camping out in the forest. While it would be pleasant to stay out here with you–and I appreciate it– it would likely be more effective if Kirara and I were in the city. It would make recon a lot easy to do.”

 

“True.” Kagome mused. “How about we go there tomorrow? I can introduce everyone and you can decide which place suits your needs better?”

 

The one worry Kagome didn’t voice aloud was whether it would be wise for Sango stay with Miroku. She had zero doubts the monk would refuse to host the beautiful taijiya; it was more like if Sango could put up with Miroku’s… personality.

 

That being decided, Sango took her leave, with Kirara cradled in her arms. Although Kagome had tried multiple times to persuade her to at least stay the night in her home, the slayer had refused, claiming she had to gather a few belongings she had stashed. They did make plans to meet the next day. Kagome also made sure to send some extra medicines and bandages with Sango in case Kirara needed it. 

 

–-–-–-–-–

 

Her arm had gotten tingly approximately thirty-seconds after she’d flopped over onto her left, but sleeping on the other side felt like her heart was beating funny. Sleeping on her back was out of the question because it hurt. Truth was, Kagome had been tossing and turning since she’d gone to bed. Her mind was whirling and as a result, her body would not settle either. In the dark spans of her eyelids, all Kagome could see were two pairs of eyes, of colours and luminescence that no human could have. They were menacing, the threat veiling the fear, then flared briefly in pain. Before her arrow rendered them out of existence.

 

She had needlessly taken two lives today. They were most likely just lower youkai, at the wrong place, wrong time. Masae needed fodder for her demonstration and Kagome had gone ahead and killed them. They were not a threat and the act served no honourable purpose. 

 

Now feeling as if her breath had caught in her throat, Kagome sat up. Frustrated, she flung the blankets aside and stood up exhaling audibly. She wasn’t going to be able to fall asleep like this. Her foot steps rustled across the tatami mats as she walked over to the shoji. Kagome made her way quietly into the main room, and brief disappointment flashed across her mind, when she noted the absence of the hanyou by the fire. 

 

After his reluctant agreement to her proposal, they’d spent the last three nights in the house together. Kagome could only speak for herself, but the arrangement felt surprisingly natural given the newness of it all. Not that Kagome expected anything less, but Inuyasha had been a perfect gentleman. He had made a point of not even stepping foot into the sleeping chamber. Kagome had zero doubt that he would do anything untoward; he was honourable and much too protective of her. Even if he tried valiantly to pretend otherwise.

 

She sighed. Maybe having not seen Inuyasha at all today was also compounding her anxiety.

 

Throwing a new log into the low fire, Kagome poked at it to revive the flames so she could heat up some water. She was generally strictly against medicating herself but tonight was clearly an exception. A handful of dried chamomile blossoms and a pinch of ground valerian root made its way into a mug topped with boiling water. This, and maybe some night air would dispel the tangle of her thoughts enough for sleep to take hold.

 

Kagome padded softly back to the engawa bordering the rock garden, and sat her tea down carefully. Tucking her legs up and wrapping her arms around, she rested her chin on top of her knees. The night was tranquil, the light from the candles she'd lit cast flickers on the rocks, making shadows that looked like a mountainscape. She brought the cup to her mouth to blow on it gently. Just as she was about to take a sip however, a rush of air whooshed down beside her, accompanied by a dull thud of feet on the wooden planks.

 

It was a miracle she didn’t choke on her tea. 

 

Kagome coughed and turned to glare at the intruder. “Gods, Inuyasha! Can you ever just say ‘hi’?”

 

An answering smirk adorned his face, the peek of an incisor highlighting his roguish expression. It was unfair how attractive he could look. “Keh. What fun would that be?”

 

Kagome rolled her eyes and went back to her beverage, taking a careful sip as to not burn herself like with the last one.

 

“So…” His pleasantly low voice prompted. “Whatcha doing banging around the house in the middle of the night?”

 

“I wasn’t banging.” She mumbled grumpily. “I couldn’t sleep. So I decided to make some tea to help.”

 

The hanyou picked up the cup she’d set aside, gave it a skeptical sniff and immediately expressed his disdain. Kagome giggled at the scrunched up, disgusted expression on his face, and then giggled more when he shot her a glare for daring to laugh at him.

 

“You better not drink any of that. I can’t guarantee effects on hanyou.” She teased good-naturedly.

 

Beside her, Inuyasha rearranged himself into his favourite cross legged slouch and looked out at the night. “Next time, try the roof. It’s less stuffy.”

 

“Uh, I rather not break my neck trying to get up there.” Kagome wrinkled her nose. “Is that where you were?” 

 

He nodded. The momentary quiet between them was comfortable. 

 

Maybe the tea was kicking in or maybe it was just Inuyasha’s presence, but she was feeling much calmer. Instead of a writhing mass of negativity, Kagome was getting a better sense of what exactly it was that made her feel so unbalanced tonight. It was guilt.

 

“Inuyasha… something happened today.” In a flash, she felt his golden gaze sharpen on her, serious.  She regretted her poor choice of words. “I– I killed these youkai.”

 

He seemed to loosen slightly. “Keh. How is that anything new? You’ve killed youkai before. I’ve seen you do it.”

 

“No.. it was different this time. I–” She cringed, hating the way her words sounded but needing to voice it still, to admit what she’d done. “I killed them because I could. That’s all. It’s not like they were going to harm me, or others. Masae, she was watching all of us.”

 

She found her hands had gripped themselves into tight fists at her side, caught up in the well of her emotions. After the events of the day, Kagome found she no longer could attach an honorific to the head priestess’ name. There was nothing respectful, nothing honourable about what Masae was doing. No matter how serene she acted outwardly. Somehow, before today, although intellectually Kagome knew that woman was secretly running the slavery trade in Kyo, knew she held Inuyasha’s fate in her hands, there had been a disconnect. But it was there no longer. 

 

“I don’t know what she knows about my history, or what she thinks she knows about me. Or what she may have heard from Kaede but it feels like she’s probing me somehow. Like trying to trick me into slipping up. 

 

“I told her I didn’t have much spiritual power but she doesn’t believe me. Not completely. She was testing everyone’s abilities today by purifying youkai. I–I had to kill at least a couple or else it would make it even more suspicious that Kaede would take me as an apprentice if I was completely useless.”

 

Kagome paused, finally taking a much needed breath between her hurried speech. She wasn’t sure if she should confess the rest to Inuyasha though. He would not be pleased.

 

“I… I also kinda want to stay in her good books, so… well, so I can maybe figure out how to break her hold on you.”

 

The sound of his fist hitting the floor made her jump. “Fuck! Kagome, why do you do this? She’s one hell of a bitch. How many times do I have to tell you not to get mixed up in this shit?”

 

“As many times as I’ve told you to get used to me wanting to help.” Kagome shot right back, determined to not repeat this dance they’ve been doing. “Inuyasha… it’s not just you either. I’ve gotten to know some of the other… slaves under her control. None of them deserve this. Also, I don’t even know what she’s done with my teacher. Because no way in hell would Kaede-sama be this absent when Masae is clearly warping the teachings."

 

Kagome beat herself up inwardly for still shying around the word ‘slave'. It was like a part of her brain was still hoping that by not saying it, somehow it wouldn’t be true. She needed to do better.

 

“Fine, but just…” Inuyasha exhaled loudly beside her. “Be careful would ya’?”

 

She turned to beam at him. He was, as usual, avoiding eye contact with her. His amber eyes were dulled with a troubled look, lips pursed.

 

Reaching to give his forearm a gentle squeeze, Kagome reassured him. “I’ll be extra careful. I promise.”

 

“If anything happens, I’ll protect you, Kagome.” 

 

Shocked–because she definitely did not expect to hear that, Kagome only gaped at him. Inuyasha scanned her face, then gave a hint of a smirk before training his attention to the tiny sliver of moon in the sky. For a while there was silence except the chorus of night creatures. At last, Kagome recovered her wits, filing away his pleasant declaration to ponder in private. Her brain right now, it seems, did not want to deviate from the events of the day. If Masae was able to manipulate her so easily, what awful deeds did she demand from those under her control? And would Kagome be able to handle this knowledge even if Inuyasha would tell her? 

 

Tentatively, her hand drifted to hover around the hanyou’s arm, fingertips barely pressing against this clothing. “Say… Inuyasha?”

 

“What?” 

 

“Will you tell me what happened?” Kagome asked hurriedly, hoping that if she got the words out in a rush, he wouldn’t react badly before she could finish the question. “How did she get you?”

 

He shot her a quick look, his glowing eyes seem to pierce her soul before turning sharply away. But not before she saw a glimpse of what she’d come to realize, was shame in his gaze. Kagome hated that look. She would do anything to wipe it off his face.

 

There was a long moment of uncomfortable silence before the stiff arm under her hand began to forcefully relax. His eyes dropped to the garden in front of them, trained on something in the shadows she couldn’t see.

 

Inuyasha licked his lips and swallowed roughly, before he began. “ ‘Bastard caught wind of Tessaiga and decided to liberate it from the half-breed.”

 

“Tessaiga?” She echoed.

 

“My sword. The only thing my old man left me, that and the fire rat robe.” He shook one of the red sleeves for emphasis.  “Bastard calls himself a daimyo but can’t fight worth shit, so he brought his little army with him. It was a joke. What did me in was the miko hiding in the trees. That was a dirty move.”

 

“Masae?”

 

“Yeah. Arrow got me good. When I woke up I was chained up, human, swordless and carted off like some animal. My youki did return eventually though but a lot of good that did. Bitch’d already cast her curse or whatever on me.”

 

Kagome fell silent in horror. So she’d actually stumbled upon the truth last moonless night, just not quite the right instance in time. He had been purified but his mixed blood saved his life. They’d stolen his inheritance and freedom in one go. To top it off, Inuyasha had been unconscious so he wouldn’t have known the specifics of the spell cast on him.

 

“We’ll find Tessaiga. It’ll be next on the list, after we break Masae’s hold on you.”

 

He blinked at her, perhaps not expecting that from her. “Uh–yeah. It’s probably more dangerous for me to have it when I don’t know how far she can control me.”

 

Kagome nodded. She could also imagine a number of scenarios where it would go badly.

 

Well, the new information changed a few things. For one, the web of underground slave trade stretched further than Masae and whichever spiritualists and temples involved. The daimyo could just be in for appearances and monetary gain but not have direct knowledge of the mechanisms that controlled the youkai. Or he could be in on that as well. Masae had bragged about some sort of ‘training’ she had attended all winter and most of spring at the capital, so who knows how deeply it was entrenched there too. A violent shiver wracked Kagome’s frame, either from the sudden breeze or from dread at the new revelations.

 

A rustling sound interrupted the downward spiral of her thoughts, and she looked up to see a red swathe of fabric cast around her. Inuyasha had loosened his suikan to wrap her up in it again. In her periphery she saw his clawed fingers pull the sides of the robe together at her front. Her fingers reached up reflexively to take over his hold.

 

“Woman, how do you even get cold in the middle of summer?”

 

Kagome smiled sheepishly but didn’t reply. She wasn’t actually all that cold, but she rather liked the warmth and scent of his suikan around her to give it up. The fact that they were mere steps away from a room full of blankets and shawls of her choosing but he decided to take off his clothing for her, did not escape her notice either. They were bright thoughts in the somber sea of their conversation. 

 

Emboldened by his covert gesture of affection, Kagome scooted a tiny fraction closer to the hanyou’s side. If he noticed it, he didn’t show it.

 

“Inuyasha, how long ago was this?”

 

“What? That she collared me?” He scoffed, his voice a bit rough. “Late fall, last year.”

 

Kagome tried, but failed to muffle the small sound of upset that escaped her. He’d been a slave for three seasons already. During that time, how many unspeakable things had he been forced to do against his will? And like Jinenji, though Inuyasha did not say it outright, she inferred he was also ripped from his home. Suddenly, it made her feel even more grateful he’d agreed to come live with her. 

 

He nudged her sharply with his shoulder. “She fucked off somewhere since winter and didn’t show up again till now. Oi, quit it! I don’t want your pity, ok?”

 

“I’m not!” She retorted half-heartedly, knowing he probably detected the moisture collecting in her eyes. She blinked some, hoping it would reabsorb. “I– we’ll figure it out somehow Inuyasha. I’m finally getting somewhere. Once I piece more of it together, I’ll share it with you?”

 

“Keh. Whatever. Just don’t do anything stupid, Kagome.”

 

She nodded. 

 

They fell quiet again, looking out into the night sky. After some time, Kagome found herself yawning widely. Now drained of the thoughts that plagued her all evening, Kagome’s eyelids grew heavy from the encroaching sleepiness. Inuyasha was so close, so tempting and before she could stop herself, her head landed softly on his shoulder. She felt him shift such that his arm was wedged more fully behind her, and his hand planted on the floor close to her side to support the addition of her weight. 

 

Just like that day up on the mountain, Kagome was surrounded by his woodsy scent and fire-rat fur. Better yet, this time, Inuyasha’s solid warmth was tucked at her side. All these newfound comforts lulled her quietly into oblivion.

.

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Harae - shinto purification ceremonies for the removal of sin, pollution or misfortune. This allows the mind and body to be restored to a condition worthy of approaching the gods. (Although the religion of this story is not specifically Shinto, I’ve adopted some of the ceremonial names).

 

Shinidamachu - soul collector demons. The ones that follow Kikyou around in canon.

 

Daimyo - lords that ruled over vast, hereditary land holdings.


A/N: Hope this fills in more blanks in Inuyasha’s back story that some of you have been wondering about. As always, thank you for your readership and taking the time to leave me your comments! Till next time, take care.


Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. However this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to.

Chapter Text

They were almost at the broken stone steps before Kagome's second thoughts overwhelmed her. 

Reaching out, she grabbed hold of Sango's arm to stop her from passing between the remnants of the torii. 

"Kagome-san?" Almond shaped eyes landed on her with slight concern. "What is it?" 

"I'm starting to think maybe this isn't such a good idea." 

If Inuyasha was with them, she'd have no reservations. Kagome had wanted to invite the hanyou along and meet some of the people working towards a similar cause as them. But alas, this morning found her all tucked into her futon and the hanyou nowhere in sight. 

Kirara, in kitten form, peeked out from under Sango's collar, and mewled. 

Kagome reached over to gently pat the little diamond shape on her forehead, happy the nekomata seemed to have recovered well. "It's not like I don't think Miroku-sama is a bad person, but he... well, he seems to be a bit forward if you know what I mean." 

"Kagome-san, trust me when I say I can handle myself around overly enthusiastic men." Sango laughs. "Did you forget I slay demons for a living?" 

"I guess... but I'm still a bit worried. He's just here by himself and you'll be left alone with him. Are you sure you don't want to stay with me instead?" 

"I've gotten a few leads here in the city and now that Kirara's herself again, we'll be able to check a few places out. It's too conspicuous for a taijiya and nekomata to keep going in and out of the gates, no matter how careful we are." 

Kagome sighs. "I guess you're right." 

"We'll be fine. If anything, you should worry about this houshi friend of yours." 

They headed up the steps to the abandoned shrine. Again, Kagome felt again the whisper of the heralding charm strung across the front entrance when she entered. Sure enough, like last time, the jingling of metal rings was soon heard from the inner reaches. 

As Miroku appeared and caught sight of her, a pleased smile stretched across his face. 

"Ah, Kagome-sama! What a pleasant surprise this fine day!" 

"Good afterno–" 

Before she had a chance to return the greeting, the houshi had somehow crossed the rest of the distance between them in a flash and clasped both of her hands tightly in his. 

Oh no... not this again. 

"I hope this means you've reconsidered my proposal, dear Kagome-sama." 

A deceptively slender looking forearm came down on both of his wrists, making him drop his hold on her. 

"Ow!" 

Kagome hadn't noticed Sango leaving her side earlier to scope out the premises. It would make sense to get the lay of the land, considering her training. 

She looked up to see the swiftly reappeared slayer glaring crossly at Miroku, who was now rubbing his wrists. His eyes landed on Sango and promptly widened. 

"Goodness, Kagome-sama, you've brought along your beautiful friend! I'm," Miroku proceeds to make a grab for Sango's hand. "Mirok– ow!" 

This time, Sango smacked him upside the head. Miroku was either very brave, or very foolish. 

Sango turned to give her a deadpan look. "Wow, you weren't joking, were you?" 

Kagome shrugged helplessly and gave a weak laugh. 

"Wait, wait! We've clearly gotten started on the wrong foot." Miroku seemed to have recovered from the blow on the head, bowing to them in a hurry. "I'm Miroku. It is my pleasure to meet your acquaintance. I'm sure Kagome-sama can vouch for my character." 

"Hardly." She mutters. "And you're really not helping the cause." 

Sango eyed Miroku's monk's attire with a touch of disdain. "Houshi-sama, do those of your vocation not usually hold celibacy as a sacred value?" 

The man had the decency to look sheepish while rubbing the back of his head. 

"That is correct my lady but there are certainly exceptions. Contrary to common doctrine, the desire for the sanctity between that of a man and a woman, does not preclude continued existence of spiritual powers." 

Kagome was actually slightly taken aback by this. Sure, there was a very small subset of miko that did marry but she assumed they simply chose to take on more of a healer role. The thought that one could have both was a relief. The details fueling this profound sense of relief however, was something to be explored at a later time. 

Miroku motioned to the back of the shrine, jostling the rings the jingle of Miroku shakujo. "I'm assuming our conversation would be better suited to continue out back?" 

Kagome nodded. "Yes. I also brought something for Shippou-chan." 

"Ah, the kit has worked his charm on your already?" 

"Kit?" Sango inquired. 

"Yeah, Shippou is a kitsune youkai. Very cute. But don't tell him!" 

Sango couldn't help but smile at her comment, drawing the rapt attention of one houshi. Noticing immediately, the taijiya gave him a pointed look. "So, you were leading the way, houshi-sama?" 

"Ah yes, of course. May I know the name of my lady?" 

"It's Sango. Do not take it as an invitation to try anything else." 

"Of course not, you have my word, Sango-san." 

Both girls snorted almost in unison at that. Miroku gave a gracious chuckle and turned to lead them through the dilapidated shrine. 

As with Kagome's last visit, they passed through Miroku's barrier at the cave-like entrance to the natural hollow. Just like Kagome, Sango was taken aback when she straightened up and took in her surroundings for the first time. The little group paused for a few moments to allow the newcomer to admire the view. 

Behind them came a streak of youki, heading full speed straight at them, accompanied by the pitter-patter of tiny feet before a blur of orange and blue became visible. Beside her, Sango seemed to instantly tense into a battle-ready stance. She shot the taijiya a quick reassuring glance. 

"Kagome!" 

A blur of paws and fluffy tail launched straight at her and she caught him in her arms, managing to not dislodge anything from the basket hooked around her elbow. 

"Hi, Shippou-chan." 

The kitsune child turned to appraise the taller woman beside them. 

"Who's this?" 

"This is Sango, she's my friend." 

"She has a big weapon Kagome…" 

"That she does." She ruffled his messy fringe. "But only for youkai that want to hurt us." 

Satisfied with the explanation, he tentatively raised a hand to touch Sango's shoulder. At her welcoming smile and the sudden appearance of Kirara from beneath the collar of her kosode, Shippou burst into giggles. 

"Oh, that's right, Shippou-chan. I have a treat for you." Kagome fished out the package of dango and handed it to the wide-eyed child. "Don't eat it all at once ok?" 

He nodded and flashed her a fanged grin. "I won't, Kagome." 

At that, the fox child scampered off, beckoning his newfound nekomata friend to follow, eager to show off the highlights of their temporary home. 

"Ah, you spoil him so Kagome-sama." Miroku commented lightly, watching the two youkai disappear around a rocky wall. 

"He's a child, Miroku-sama. I just…" She paused, suddenly somber. "I wish he didn't have to be caught up in all this." 

"That's what we're trying to mitigate, hm? I'm assuming there's more to your visit today than a mere delivery of sweets, Kagome-sama. But if it was solely to introduce me to your beautiful friend… " 

From her side, Sango raised her arm meaningfully. 

Kagome nodded, ignoring the monk's antics. "You're correct. Sango and I, we were able to break one of those tethers." At this Miroku's brows arched. Kagome continued. "I thought since we're of different spiritual disciplines, you might be able to notice things I may have missed." 

The houshi murmured in agreement. "That is wise of you, Kagome-sama. Well then, shall we?" 

He led them to the same low table near the fire, and bustled around to prepare tea. Without Shippou's help this time, the water took a while to boil. They took the chance to make introductions, with Kagome explaining how Sango and herself met, as well as their agreement to help each other. 

It did cross Kagome's mind briefly, whether it was naive of her to trust in the motives of her companions so readily. After all, she'd known them for, at most, a fortnight. It would be easy to keep up pretenses for a short period of time. But, the three of them each had the ability to incapacitate youkai beyond that of normal humans, so the fact that they're not taking advantage of this, is telling enough. 

Kagome placed the packaged pieces of the tether that once held Kirara captive on the centre of the table and carefully unwrapped it. Even though she couldn't feel any semblance of residual aura on the bindings, it was always better safe than sorry. She'd tied the frayed cords together with her own seal, just in case. 

Miroku frowned down at the object, brows drawing together. Withdrawing a long loop of prayer beads from his robes, he coiled it several times around his hand before reaching out to prod at the tether with his finger. 

Sango, possessing no spiritual power of her own, kept glancing back and forth between Kagome and Miroku, until she finally clipped. "So?" 

The monk exhaled, and unwound the beads slowly. "I can't detect anything out of the ordinary on this." 

"Same with me." Kagome sighed, honestly a little disappointed. "It just feels like the plain hemp rope we use in the shrines." 

"Perhaps once severed from the entity it's meant to bind, the spell dissipates." Miroku pondered. 

"I could catch one for us, easy. I know for a fact they're keeping lower youkai like livestock." Sango suggested. 

"The thing is, I don't think doing that would necessarily help." Miroku rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "You said you broke this the tether by physically cutting it, Kagome-sama?" 

"Sango-san said she tried to physically sever it, but it stayed intact." Kagome glanced at Sango who nodded in corroboration. "When we tried together, I did use a blade but I channeled in reiki while Sango-san did the cutting." 

"In that case, if these tethers can be broken by pure spiritual clout, then they're the least of our worries should we need to break more of them." Miroku decided. "I think what we need to concern ourselves with, is how the higher youkai are controlled. The focus of the slave trade has very obviously shifted to humanoid youkai. And that I feel, can only get worse. If the masses are accustomed to treating humanoid beings as possessions, then it will be a matter of time before disadvantaged humans are enslaved. I'm not in any sense saying that humans are worth more than youkai by any means, but just pointing out that this can get even more out of hand very quickly." 

There was a heavy silence following the houshi's words. Kagome did not think of those repercussions, but what Miroku said made a morbid kind of sense. 

"You have a good point, houshi-sama." Sango began, nodding a little in Miroku's direction, whose countenance brightened dramatically at the attention. "My family is one of the taijiya clans near the Capital. This current situation we have on our hands came out of nowhere but took the Capital by storm seemingly overnight. It's caused a rift among the clans. Some have no qualms about capturing and selling youkai to the slave traders. Our family though, has had youkai partners living and working beside us all our lives." 

Kagome found the new bit of insight into Sango's life incredibly interesting. It certainly explained her devotion to Kirara. "Isn't Masae from the Capital?" 

"I've heard of her name in passing while I was still in correspondence with the other clans. I recall something about her working closely with the court spiritualist, and was an influential character for some time." 

"Hmm... and somehow she came here." 

"I think it's safe to say it was by design she came to Kyo. Perhaps to expand the influence of whatever circle she's part of?" Miroku offered. 

Kagome shrugged. "Seems plausible, but it's all a guess at this point." 

"If we're trying to take her out, we will need to do so discreetly and cleanly. If it is true, she has some sort of court backing, then she might be able to call in reinforcements. We can't give her notice to do that." Sango's eyes were serious as she looked at them both in turn. 

Miroku grimaced. "Yes, Sango-san, that is very true." Then doing a complete one-eighty, he shot Sango an enamoured look, then proceeding to wink at Kagome. "Isn't it glorious to have a strategist on board! Thank you so much for recruiting us a taijiya, Kagome-sama." 

It did the trick to cheer them up, Kagome laughing at the taken aback look on the other girl's face. 

After a quick break to sip their tea, Miroku spoke again, addressing Kagome. "Back to the bindings though, have you had a chance to examine any of the higher youkai slaves up close?" 

"Well... I work with Jinenji-san closely. I've been trying some passive scanning, but there's honestly nothing obvious." Noticing Miroku's nodding, she continued. "You too then, Miroku-sama? The only time it's apparent that something is amiss, is when the binding is actively in use." 

"I... I've never encountered that." 

Kagome sighed, sadness filtering into her voice. "Well, Inuyasha, the hanyou friend I mentioned. I've been there when the bindings are activated to summon him back. It... it feels black, like a void is there, sucking in his youki and almost like my own senses are pulled too." She shook her head. "I don't really know how to describe it. It's similar to miko energy but not. Just overwhelmingly wrong." 

Sango looked over sympathetically, laying a hand on her shoulder. 

"I'm sorry to say, Kagome-sama," Miroku lamented, shaking his head. "It sounds almost like a curse to be perfectly honest with you. But if you explained your motives to this hanyou friend, do you think he might allow you to more aggressively probe his youki to see if there's any obscure findings?" 

The thought had not crossed Kagome's mind. "That's actually a great idea! I've never done more than kind of send some energy out his way to check. I'll do that! Also, I think if he feels comfortable, maybe I can ask him to come with me next time and you can also check?" 

"I would be honoured." 

"Good. I think we're really starting to form some sort of plan." Sango clasped her hands together, looking determined. "As far as the slave traders are concerned, they assume I'm still a supplier. I've heard them talk about taking the newly brought in youkai for a 'cleanse'. There's a few leads I want to look into with Kirara." 

Miroku turned towards the slayer, nodding. "Yes, I've heard the same as well. If we find one of these hubs, we might uncover something else. There's been an influx of household slaves the last few weeks, mostly tanuki and kitsune youkai. And I happen to be rather friendly with the tanuki. The lovely Sango-san and I will get to the bottom of this in no time!" He winked at Kagome. 

Kagome had to bite her cheek to keep herself from smiling. Miroku was unabashedly eager to be spend more time with Sango. 

"I'll keep working from Masae's angle. She seems to have some sort of vested interest in me, so much so she's inviting me to some of her intimate gatherings. I think I'll keep riding that as long as I can." 

Sango suddenly looked serious. "Kagome-san, you will need to exercise caution. From what I gather, that woman is not to be underestimated." 

"I agree with Sango-san." Miroku added, with the same worry in his expression. 

"I will be very careful. I promise." Kagome nodded. "Sometimes, I just wish I could still turn to Kaede-sama. She would have the answers to so many of our questions, I'm sure." 

At Sango's questioning look, Miroku chimed in. "Kaede-sama was the previous head priestess of Kyo. From what I gather, she's very experienced and has been miko at Tenrinji all her life." 

"Yeah. She's my teacher. But she's been incredibly difficult to find, of late. I hope she's unharmed though." 

Just as Kagome finished her sentence, a loud snap of a twig was heard from around the corner. Miroku glanced behind them in amusement. 

"Ah... I think we've made enough progress for the day." He smiled. "And Kagome-sama, I think there's a certain kitsune who's waited very patiently to ask you to play." 

Sure enough, when Kagome got up to peek around the corner, the fox child was there, blinking innocently up at her, holding a temari ball. It did not take too much convincing for Kagome to play with Shippou and Kirara for a bit, tossing the ball between them. It was a much-needed reprieve from the heavy topics of earlier. Sango and Miroku observed them in amusement from the sidelines, opting to have more tea instead. From the few secret glances Kagome snuck in their direction, they seemed to be conversing well and Miroku was thankfully behaving himself. She was glad that Sango and Kirara would likely have a decent time staying here. 

After some time, Kagome had to excuse herself from another game. Although Shippou predictably pouted, he ultimately understood that she had other duties to attend to. When she made to say goodbye though, he brought up an expected question. 

"Are you going to bring the hanyou next time?" 

Kagome frowned a little at the slight tone afflicting the term. "His name is Inuyasha, Shippou-chan. And I will, if you promise to be nice." 

Shippou's big emerald eyes locked onto hers, unblinking. For a moment, Kagome was reminded of just how not human the little boy was. Then he beamed as he scampered up to her feet, flashing her another adorable fanged smile. 

"Ok, but only because you're nice to me Kagome." He produced a small, round object from within his vest and presented it to her with an outstretched arm. "Here, this is a present for you!" 

Kagome laughed, squatting down to be on par with kitsune's height and ruffled his hair. 

"Why thank you, Shippou-chan." 

Proudly, he pressed his gift into the palm of her hand. 

Bringing it up for inspection, Kagome found he had given her an acorn. It was perfectly shaped and evenly coloured. What a sweet gift. 

And because there was no use pretending the little boy hadn't already wormed his way into her heart, she drew out the packet of dried fruit from within her robes. She could do without a snack on the way home. 

Relinquishing it into his eager hands, Kagome bopped his nose gently. "For later ok?" 

He giggled, gave a little wave and ran off. 

She straightened up and tucked the acorn into her robes for safe keeping. Then she went off to rejoin Miroku and Sango. She wanted to summarize their plan of attack before she made her leave. Most importantly, Kagome had to assure herself one more time that it was ok to leave Sango alone with the monk. 

––-–-–-– 

Inuyasha grunted, his shoulder jamming roughly into the bark as he sagged into the tree for support. 

He should really learn to keep his big mouth shut. 

He chuckled humourlessly at the thought. But if he actually managed to do that though, would he still be Inuyasha? 

Having rested for a moment, he staggered on towards to the river, lacking his usual grace. Reaching the edge, he hastily striped off this clothing and drew his hair over one shoulder with a grimace. Even with his neck craned awkwardly around, it was difficult to see the gouges he could feel blazing across his back. 

Fuck. That bitch did a number on him after all. 

Masae had been particularly prone to lashing out that afternoon, gleefully striking any of them that so much looked at her wrong. Maybe the wicked switch she brandished was a new toy she was eager to try out. It wasn't something she'd had before and it hurt like a motherfucker. 

If she had actually wanted to do some serious damage, she could always use the binding. That never failed to elicit pain the likes he'd never felt before. As if burred wire had lodged itself in his marrow and someone was drawing it out slowly. Masae liked inflicting pain, liked it more when they remained functional enough to show suffering, so she could relish in it. 

The good thing is the binding that secured them as her slaves did not seem to be able to kill them outright. At least, if it did, Masae didn't make a show of it yet. Although, he suspected, if she could kill them just like that, she would've flaunted it already. It looked like purification is still the tried-and-true method. And that is dependent on the power of the reiki user and the strength of the youkai opponent. 

Speaking of, the badger youkai– one whose runaway mouth made Inuyasha look polite in comparison– looked seriously fucked up yesterday. He was literally missing chunks of flesh all over his body. Jinenji, the fool, even offered some herbs to help speed up the healing. When is the bumbling hanyou going to get it through his thick skull that even now, even though they were all slaves to same fucking miko, the full-blooded youkai still thought they were better than hanyou. It's each man for himself. That's all there is to it. 

It wasn't until hearing Kagome's distressed confession that he figured out what exactly happened to wound the badger youkai so. 

Inuyasha cursed as pain blossomed in the wake of the hand he swiped behind his torso. Bringing it back to inspect, he found that at least the gashes had stopped bleeding, but they seeped a sickly discharge. He couldn't get a good handle on whether the whip the miko wielded was spelled or poisoned. In any case, it felt like the wounds were sucking energy from him. 

Before, he would just find a cave to crash in for however long before the next summons and let his youkai blood do its thing but now, things were... different. 

He plunged into the deeper waters of the river, hoping to wash away any poison, if that was what it was. The cool water and the gentle swirl of the current around his body soothed the stinging somewhat. When he thought it was probably good enough, he picked his way back to the river bank. Briefly, he pondered whether he would try and use some leaves as padding between his clothing and his back or something. That way, if they continued to ooze, it wouldn't stain his clothes. 

Even though it was a nuisance to hide his injuries, he wouldn't give up this new arrangement with Kagome. It was… hella nice to go home to her. Even saying that in his mind was plain weird…tentative, like if he held onto the thought too long, the reality of it might be taken away from him. Going home to someone had never been an option for him since his mother passed long ago. 

The girl was damn perceptive though and somehow gave a fuck about him. If he wasn't careful, just the slightest variance of his body language would tip her off. Then she would fret, and god forbid, cry and he just did not want to deal with that. 

Inuyasha groaned as he settled against a tree trunk to rest and wait for his freshly washed clothes to dry. 

When the hanyou opened his eyes again, it was nearly dark. The sun had long set leaving the sky faintly touched with the last of the dying light. Inuyasha eased himself up gingerly, immediately cursing up a storm. It didn't feel like he'd healed at all in the hours he'd fallen asleep; his back still felt like it was on fire. 

Since there was only a bit of gunk seeping from the lacerations, he decided to forgo padding his clothing, hoping that the undershirt would soak up the worse of it. Hurrying the best he could, without further aggravating his injuries, Inuyasha headed for Kagome's home. 

Landing in the clearing, he could see the faint curl of smoke rising from the familiar silhouette of the house. To the side was the cockeyed shadow of an enormous pile of firewood, a new addition since last week. Kagome had tried but failed to hold in her laughter when she told him that they had enough wood to last halfway through winter at least and she would prefer they still had a forest standing around them. It was a similar situation with his hunting– apparently a human woman did not eat triple the amount he did. 

Sure, he'd overdone it just a little, but–although he still couldn't quite bring himself to call it his home– this was his temporary shelter–, he sure as hell was gonna keep everything well stocked. He didn't want to be a pity case. And he didn't want Kagome to feel burdened, with him hanging around more often. One of these days, if Masae would fucking let up a little, he might be able to go and find that mineral deposit he chanced upon earlier in the year. Humans liked that kind of shit. Maybe Kagome could trade it for some rice and things she didn't grow. It just didn't feel right for him to eat her food all the time. 

He stepped into the patch of light shining out into the field. The lights coming from the house were warm and soft. Straightening up and pulling back his shoulders from the protective hunch he was in, Inuyasha sorted himself before going inside. He was not going to let on the fact he was still in pain. 

Deliberately making noise to herald his entrance, Inuyasha traversed the genkan into the main room. The smell of the fire and familiar scent of Kagome greeted him, bringing a wave of comfort unexpected in its intensity. Said girl looked up as in he stepped into the firelight and a wide smile stretched itself across her face, travelling up to melt her eyes into a warm caramel. 

"Hey, Inuyasha." Greeted him softly, tucking a lock of her behind her ear as she carefully set down the scroll she was examining. 

A blanket was tucked around her legs and her hair was unbound, falling in gentle waves about her shoulders, free from the tight plait she wore during the day. The green robes she wore for her work was already exchanged with a light kosode. Kagome was clearly waiting for him; she normally did her reading in the study. The overall effect made her look unguarded and intimate. The thought that he was privy to see her like this, to be the recipient of this kind of domestic peace, made his insides feel all weird and squirmy. 

Caught off guard by the foreign feelings, he was uncharacteristically shy in his reply. "H-hey Kagome. Uh…" 

It'd been a damn week and he still hadn't dispelled his awkwardness when he greeted her in the evening. She's not his damn wife. This was just a living arrangement. 

Her eyes twinkled with amusement but thankfully did not comment on his predicament. "Have you eaten? I saved dinner for you." 

"'s fine. Don't haveta bother." 

"It's no trouble, Inuyasha." She told him gently, having already gotten up to prod around the ashes to uncover a partially buried container. Deftly, she replaced the ceramic pot on fire. "Don't give me that demon-body nonsense. You have to eat." 

He took advantage of her diverted attention to quickly settle himself against a wall without her catching sight of his grimaces when the movement pulled on the welts traversing his back. Propriety dictated he should probably have chosen a spot opposite where she was sitting, but fuck it. Who was he kidding? It felt so much better to sit beside her instead. 

There was a rustle as she sank back into the blanket, barely an arm's length away. 

And that was when he caught a whiff of a foreign scent. It was really faint, but it was definitely present. And it was very male. 

Before he could bite his tongue, a low snarl had already escaped his lips. A scorching flame of something swept up his throat, leaving an awful bitterness on his tongue. The feeling was almost painful, and completely unrelated to the welts crisscrossing his back. Although the background throb of the slow healing wounds may have fanned the flames of his anger. 

There was a man–a human man– in her life. Said man had to be important enough to her for her to allow him to hold her hands. He'd fucking carried her, saved her ass but it's not like he's really gotten close to holding her hand. 

Inuyasha had let his cursed human heart run away from him, letting him even indulge in the fantasy that there was tiny chance in the world, against all odds that he, the hanyou Inuyasha, could have a home. And a woman that he harboured some fondness for, reciprocate likewise. But all this time it was exactly what'd only ever known– crushing disappointment. He was at best, her friend. She was stupidly being generous by nature. That was all. Why in the world would she want a hanyou as a mate? And one that's a slave at that. Easy. She doesn't. And she never will. 

He snatched up one of her arms, though his strength was tightly controlled as to not hurt her. The image of the ugly bruise around her wrist still haunted him. 

The girl's eyes widened in surprise as her brows furrowed in abject confusion. She opens her mouth to speak but he cut her off. 

"So… does your suitor know you're shacking up with a hanyou?" He spat, voice sounding horribly harsh even to his years. 

Kagome gasped, the hurt colouring her expression. "What are you talking about?" 

He made a sharp gesture at his nose with his free hand. "I can smell a human man on you, Kagome." He leapt back to put some distance between them, as if that would ease the unexpected sting in his heart. "Fuck, I told you I don't need your pity. Forget this thing we decided on. You're not gonna get him to marry you if I'm here." 

He shot up to his feet, stubbornly ignoring the waves of pain unleashed by his careless movement and made to leave. Just leave all this behind. Leave whatever fragments of dreams he'd been foolishly allowing himself to form. 

Abruptly the fiery scent of Kagome's anger exploded around him, completely overtaking the hurt that was there seconds before. 

"Inuyasha, stop being an idiot and sit down! Or kami help me…" She yelled, the sound of it sending his ears folding in protest. 

He snuck a look at her. And that was where he went wrong. Kagome looked livid. He hadn't made her this angry since the early days. Good thing she had excellent control over her powers. 

"I said sit, Inuyasha." She repeated, voice low and surprisingly menacing. 

He gulped. Then promptly plopped his ass back on the edge of the raised platform as instructed. Weirdly enough, her anger seemed to stop whatever inner pity train he had going in its tracks. 

She stalked closer to him, squatted down and stared him straight in the eye, almost shooting fire from her slightly narrowed gaze. 

"If you're done being an ass, and actually listen to me, I will tell you what's really going on." She sent him one more glare for good measure and then her ire seemed to dissolve into exasperation. "The human male, is a houshi named Miroku. Although he does have a lecherous streak, I don't think he means any harm. Or is entirely serious. I'm not interested. So quit it with whatever stupid ideas you have in your head. You're not going anywhere. I'm not rescinding my offer. End of story. Got it?" 

He nodded mutely, eyes glued to her movements as she got up again. 

"Next time, you can just ask me." Kagome chided as she retrieved the pot of food from the fire, and plunked a tray in front of him. "Now eat, baka." 

"Sorry…" He muttered, picking up the chopsticks and stuffed a bite into his mouth. "'s good." 

Beside him, Kagome gave a long-suffering sigh. 

"I meant to tell you earlier, Inuyasha, just didn't get a chance to. I actually want you to come meet everyone. Like I said, Miroku-sama is a houshi. I met him kinda through Hisaishi-sama–that's the master healer. Miroku-sama's been keeping some young youkai safe at a hidden shrine. Oh, and there's Shippou-chan. And Sango-san is a taijiya– 

"What?" 

"No, don't worry. I think she's on our side. She has a nekomata companion–actually, she helped me carry you back that first night." 

"Whoa, slow down, woman." 

Kagome laughed, mildly embarrassed at her excited rambling. "Yeah, a nekomata. Super cute when she's a kitten but she's kinda scary full sized if you're not used to it. Um, cream coloured, black markings, two tails?" 

"Huh… what do you know…" Could it be the demon cat that visited him sometimes at the estate? 

"Hmm?" 

"Never mind, go on." 

"Anyway, so Sango-san and I agreed to help each other out, because well, we each have someone who's a slave." Kagome snuck a quick look at him, then continued on, relieved at his neutral expression. "We managed to break the tether holding Kirara yesterday! So that's really great." 

There was a moment's hesitation before he muttered. "Your 'someone' is…" 

"You." She rolled her eyes a little at the obvious answer. "Now Sango-san says she wants to help at least until we figure out how to break the hold on higher youkai like you. I introduced her to Miroku-sama today and we discussed a few theories. I want to ask if you want to meet them and join forces, you know. I think we can trust them, Inuyasha." 

She looked at him from the side, a little hesitant, waiting for his reaction. Kagome never ceased to surprise him. 

"Keh. You've been busy, Kagome." 

She smiled shyly, tucking some hair behind her ear. "I've just had some luck and a lot of help. So, you'll come?" 

"Yeah." 

"Oh good! We'll just have to figure out when." She seemed relieved by his response, then catching sight of his bowl, now polished clean, she reached a hand out, wiggling her fingers. "Want more? I made extra." 

Inuyasha felt his stomach's wholehearted response in the positive, and relinquished it to her. 

Kagome returned shortly with another heaping portion. After handing it over, she sat down beside him again, sliding the blanket and scroll closer to her. 

The peaceful quiet that permeated these evenings returned and the ensuing relief was very welcome. After a moment, Inuyasha felt the slight weight and warmth of Kagome leaning into his side. Looking down, all he saw was the crown of her head bent over the contents of her reading. He adjusted his posture to better support the both of them, letting his cheek hover over her hair. 

He didn't know what it meant. Hell, being hanyou, this was not something he was experienced in. It wasn't like he would snoop around to watch random humans inside their houses either. But what Inuyasha did know was that this subtle closeness between them was soothing. If Kagome was the one to initiate it, it must mean she was ok with it right? 

Furthermore, the thought that she wanted to include him, introduce him to these other people, against all the voices of doubt rallying in his head, gave him a rebellious spark of hope. 

.

.

.

.

.

.


Shakujo - the metal staff Miroku carries around

Dango - sweet chewy dumpling made with rice flour, usually round and on a skewer. I like the three coloured ones; they look really cute!

Temari ball - a ball made by wrapping a wad of fabric in stripes of fabric in a specific pattern. They're more a folk art now with really nice embroidery! Look them up :) They're usually given to children by parents and symbolize deep friendship and loyalty.


A/N: Ahhhh! Rushed this week! This has hardly been edited, if you spot mistakes, help a sista out and let me know >_< Hope you liked anyhow. Till later!


Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. However, this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to. 

Chapter Text

 

"Kagome! This is good enough, right?" Inuyasha hollered across the field at her. "I swear you're just tryin'a kill me."

Concentrating on topping up the row she was responsible for, Kagome humoured the hanyou. "It's not that bad, Inuyasha."

Deeming it sufficient, Kagome looked up and promptly burst into laughter. Since the last time she took a look at him, he'd made another modification. Inuyasha had apparently dredged up a scrap strip of cloth from somewhere and tied it under his nose to dampen the smell. With the generous silver mane of his also bound in a messy knot on top of his head, he made for a pretty amusing sight.

His scowl was vivid even from all the way across the field. "Oi, whatcha laughing at, woman? I want to know if this is enough!" To emphasize his point, he jabbed the tree branch he was using as a makeshift rake irritably at the lumps of brown earth in front of him.

Still chuckling but taking pity on his poor nose, Kagome offered. "How about you get started on the watering and I'll finish spreading out the rest?"

A few muffled curses and then he grumbled. "I don't even get what the fuck this does."

"It's for nutrients, Inuyasha. We, lowly humans that have to grow our crops, need to add richness to the soil so the plants can grow healthily." She explained, though Kagome could've swear they already went over this earlier when he'd offered to help. "We really only need to do this a few times a year so it's not so bad."

"Yeah, says you with your weak-ass nose."

She shook her head but let that one go.

Since Inuyasha had agreed to live with her, Kagome had definitely noticed the extra effort he'd put into helping around the place. His hunting and enthusiastic wood chopping did not go unnoticed. This morning, when she begun the overdue chore of distributing rotted down steer manure around the garden, he'd offered to help.

Honestly, the material she purchased and carted back was thoroughly decomposed, really smelling like soil more than actual fresh manure, but Inuyasha's senses probably begged to differ. In any case, she did appreciate his effort. And with his help around the house, it really was a lot easier in many regards. Not to mention she enjoyed his company.

Sneaking a look at the man, now sloshing water about the rows of plants as requested, Kagome smiled to herself. Then quickly redirecting her focus back to the ground, she continued raking the added material evenly. The sooner this gets done, the sooner she can start preparing a much needed lunch.

It wasn't long before an abundant meal was cooked and eaten, sitting warm and full in their bellies. Near midsummer, they had such a wide variety of vegetables and fruit available to them. Inuyasha was flopped lazily near the stream, chewing on a long piece of grass. It was probably as good of a time as any to approach the subject.

Looking up from the last of the dishes she was rinsing in the shallow water, Kagome approached the subject lightly. "Hey, Inuyasha, what would you say...erm... if I were to, uh, explore your youki a little."

He sputtered, almost choking on the piece off grass. "You what?"

Kagome sat down on her knees beside the flabbergasted hanyou, pursed her lips and tried explaining. "So, you know that monk I want you to meet at some point? We've been trying to figure out how the spell that keeps you enslaved works." She gulped as Inuyasha's brow knitted, expression growing dark and she rushed on pleadingly. "I know it's a lot to ask, but could you let me try and feel for it spiritually? I might be able to find a clue that could help us figure it out faster."

He growled softly, glaring at the ground. Then, sneaking a look at her hopeful face, he sighed. "What do I have to do?"

Kagome brightened at his response. "Nothing! Just sit here and try not to actively block me out?"

Inuyasha grunted, rearranging himself in the classic cross-legged, arms in sleeves position he favoured.

"Ready?" Kagome chirped. Then immediately frowned when she saw him visibly hunker down, his jaw tensing as if bracing for pain. "I–it shouldn't hurt, Inuyasha..."

"Just get on with it, Kagome."

Letting go of a nervous breath, Kagome focused on her breathing, taking care to count the lengths of each inhale and exhale. Falling into a meditative space, she closed her eyes, gently letting wisps of her reiki trickle out towards the fiery, bright blob that was Inuyasha in her mind's eye. Carefully, she urged them onwards to gently skim against his youki.

Inuyasha gasped.

Startled, Kagome peeked open an eye. "What happened? That didn't hurt, did it?"

"No..." He grumbled back. "Just didn't expect it to feel like that is all."

A tiny smile hovered at the corner of her lips. "Okay. I'm gonna keep going."

Closing her eyes again, she was pleased to feel that Inuyasha had let her energy sink into his. The feel of it was like enveloping warmth, deep and rich like the honey of his eyes. Trying to refocus, Kagome sifted through gently, attempting to dive just a little deeper.

Her brows furrowed when she started to feel a bit lost in his aura. Kagome shifted closer. In a split decision, she snapped her eyes open long enough to snatch one of the half-demon's hands out of his sleeve. She missed the shock on his face as he stared at her first, and then at their entwined hands in disbelief.

Placing the back of his hand on her knee, Kagome decided on threading their digits together, she stilled her physical movements and tried to feel into his energy again.

This time, with the added anchor of being physically connected, she was able to navigate deeper and thus caught a glimpse of it. If she had to compare it to something in the material plane, it would be a knot, a very bad snare that's impossible to untangle, like the kind that formed in her own hair and she would resort to just cutting the strands. It was dark and greasy and it slipped through her hold when she tried to examine further.

It was unmistakable. Whatever spell or magic that concocted this, was the very same that made the tether that held Kirara. But where hers had been a collar of sorts, what was inside Inuyasha was some sort of hook, and it had a lead.

Ignoring the sweat beading on her forehead, Kagome stubbornly held on, doubling down on the greasy feeling cord of foreign energy within Inuyasha's youki, inching along. As she predicted, it penetrated outside the main congregation of his energy, leaving his body. Now she just had to follow it.

At a few paces outside his physical body, Kagome had an idea. Willing her reiki with the intent similar to a state needed for an exorcism, she poised to give the tether a good zap. She'd successfully conducted a few exorcisms of evil spirits, albeit from humans, but it might work. She let loose a wave of energy, enforcing her desire to protect Inuyasha's youki, but willing the foreign energy to leave.

In fierce retaliation, the cord pulsed and the end of it became blurred, almost like the lead disappeared into a void in the air. Kagome cried out, at the same time Inuyasha grunted, and she lost her hold.

She pitched forward, bracing her torso with her free hand; the other still clutching Inuyasha's tightly. Breathing heavily, she opened her eyes when she felt a tentative hand clasp her shoulder.

"Oi! Kagome! You ok?"

She looked up to lock onto Inuyasha's concerned gaze. He looked simultaneously worried and pissed, which she was beginning to discover was very him. She nodded meekly.

"Fuck. You're not allowed to do that again."

Then a sudden thought dawned on her and she gasped. "Did it hurt you?"

"Not really." He shrugged, withdrawing his hand from her shoulder but curiously left the other still trapped within her hold. "It's not nearly as bad how it normally fe–" He cut himself off abruptly.

"I'm sorry."

"'s not your fault."

"If it's any consolation, that was actually helpful." Kagome offered, fingers idly brushing against his claw tips, once more oblivious to Inuyasha's hyperawareness to her movements. "Your spell has more of a hook, like it's anchored in your youki somehow and it leads outwards. We just need to know what the outwards part mean."

He grunted, not having much input, golden eyes still glued to their joined hands.

"Anyways…" Kagome smiled encouragingly at him, returning his hand to his own knee, and leaving it there with a friendly pat on the back of it. "Thanks for trusting me enough to let me look."

"'s nothing."

Her smile grew brighter with amusement at his terse sentences. His tendency to devolve into grunts and single word replies had become rather endearing to her.

Jumping up to her feet, she beamed down at the hanyou, who was still looking mildly embarrassed.

"Come on, up!" Kagome wiggled her fingers playfully at Inuyasha. "There's still work to do!"

The rest of the day was full of garden related chores but nonetheless enjoyable, with Inuyasha had her side.

–-–-–-–-–

It seemed an eternity before Kagome was able to round the corner to a stretch of landing away from the busy parts of the estate. She stumbled over to the nearest pillar to brace herself, and leant over the sides of the engawa in case the contents of her stomach was actually going to eject themselves.

Kagome was really rather mad, at herself surprisingly, more than anything else. It was a given that the circumstances were awful, and Masae, proving to be increasingly sinister, but really, Kagome thought she was strong enough to handle herself at least. But nope, every time, she felt like throwing up everywhere.

The problem is, she can't keep running home after one of the head miko's 'lectures'. It wouldn't take a genius to spot that something was amiss. Things were getting more urgent, and she needed that 'in' with the priestess sooner rather than later.

Truth is, Kagome had been in some sort of denial. With Inuyasha living with her, they spent more time together than they had ever before and she wanted so much to hide within the comfort of that. She wanted to pretend they were in their own carefree world and she can indulge in the growing feelings she held for the hanyou. But reality was proving difficult to ignore.

Her and Inuyasha had gotten into this uncomfortable dance where every time he was summoned, she would see his face contort in agony. Yet, he would not make a sound, only grind out 'gotta go', two words and immediately disappear from sight. Kagome knew he didn't want her to see him in pain, and she tried not to make a big deal out of it to spare him any grief. But it didn't mean she wasn't freaked out every time. The summons came nearly every day now.

Having waited long enough to be somewhat sure she wasn't going to vomit all over. Kagome straightened and steeled herself to continue the walk back to the herb garden.

The meeting today with Masae was less outwardly violent, but unsettling in a different way. There were notably less miko in attendance aside from herself. Kagome can only guess that the head priestess had weeded out the candidates. It made sense that a smaller group was invited today because the head priestess had actually divulged the spell and technique to make a tether for lower youkai.

As she already found, the material itself was just standard hemp rope used in shrines. It was entirely the spiritual energy weaved in that gave it the black, ominous feel. The spell used seemed to be composed of a pattern similar to the ones used to make subjugation ofudas or the net charm Kagome was familiar with. The main difference lay in the intention behind the energy infused. With the aforementioned examples, the intent was to subdue for the sake of protection. It was supposed to contain the youki in order to protect the things outside of it from harm.

Masae's spell however, required them to focus on dominating the youki, ensnarling the will of the demon so to manipulate it to the caster's desires. That, was not something at all common in their teachings and training. Their religion prized harmony and existence with nature as a whole; possessing another living being was the polar opposite. Even if Kagome did honestly attempt the spell, she wouldn't have gotten it. She was still trying to maintain the pretence of being ungifted, so she just played along. The handful of miko did try and were able to bind some youkai birds.

The resulting fell of the reiki–if you can still call it that when suffused with ill intent– made the room feel suffocating. By the blanched faces of a few of the young women, it looked like Kagome wasn't the only one feeling nauseous.

Kagome shook her head, trying to temporarily divert her thoughts away, lest she succeed in making herself sick. Right now, she need to concentrate on talking to Jinenji about some sensitive matters without being overheard. It was blatantly obvious that within the last couple of weeks, Masae had replaced her previously human household servants with youkai. Now the maids and [butlers] hurrying about the estate where either tanuki or kitsune. Seeing the familiar colouring of red and cream reminded her too much of Shippou.

Stepping through the low gate, Kagome quickly spotted the tanned hulk of Jinenji in one of the beds far back, diligently weeding between the straggly shrubs.

He looked up at the sound of her approach and promptly frowned. "Kagome-sama."

"Jineni-san, good afternoon." Noting his intention to get up, and likely usher her home like last time, Kagome hurried to stop him. "No, don't. I'm ok. I'm staying to finish up with you."

His large eyes looked skeptical as he looked her over again but obliged, shifting over to give her some space to work.

Kagome let her hands sink into the warm earth, instantly feeling comfort from the simple connection with her work. Wanting to put her hanyou partner at ease, she piped up good-naturedly. "Have you been keeping well? Oh, and have you had lunch yet?"

Unexpectedly, Jinenji made an odd sound, like a word bitten off at the first syllable. Kagome looked up at him in concern to find his gaze serious, shaking his bulky head slightly, while simultaneously waving his hand frantically low to the ground.

Now perplexed, Kagome scrunched her brow a little, trying to ask him non-verbally what was the matter.

In response, he jerked his chin sharply at the nearest stretch of engawa, where groups of servants were bustling about.

Oh.

It'd slipped her mind how easily they would be overheard now. And not fully understanding the loyalties of the new youkai servants, it was prudent to err on the side of caution. Which meant she should't be so outwardly friendly with someone who was deemed as a lowly slave.

"Right." Kagome mumbled after letting loose a low noise of frustration.

It was an especially bad day too with additional traffic between the main building and the storehouses as the servants made preparations for Masae's departure for the three day meditation retreat on the nearby sacred mountain. It was customary for the head miko to do so before Banka, one of the major festivals celebrated near midsummer. Realistically, it would be even worse when Masae finished replacing all her human retainers with youkai. She'd meant to wait till she had a more definitive plan before asking Jinenji for a favour, but it seems like it would be safer to do so sooner rather than later.

The two gardeners wordlessly finished weeding the current bed and moved on to stake a few of the climbers. When at last they were finished with splashing the most vulnerable plants with garlic infused water to deter the slugs, they took a water break in the shelter of the shed. Settling the bamboo cup down, Kagome rummaged around for a wide seed tray, filled it with sand and picked up a sturdy twig. All the while, Jinenji watched her with a puzzled look.

She placed the supplies in between them on the work bench and levelled Jinenji with a meaningful look.

"So, Jinenji-san, there's a task I need you to complete for me." She paused, making sure she had his attention. "I need you to take a thoroughly inventory of the plants we have."

The hanyou scrunched up his face. "Kagome-sama?" He gestured to the shelf in the shed where they kept the sketches of the plantings. They had discussed the plantings together in depth when she'd first taken on the role.

Kagome shook her head slightly, and then scratched a few characters in the sand. When they were planning, Jinenji clearly knew simple characters and phrases, so she hoped to the kami, he can read the word 'youkai' she wrote. "Plants, Jinenji-san." She tapped at the tray emphatically.

It took a few long moments, but she could see the realization dawn in the giant blue orbs. He nodded hesitantly.

"Right, so I need you to count…uh, how many peas we have in what pods. The smallest peas, the tiniest ones, the…erm, Shinta like peas." Kagome stumbled onwards with the ridiculously difficult metaphor, levelling the sand, and wrote 'children'.

"Mm."

"We also need to know if possible, which plants are helpful to us if possible."

"Mm."

"I don't know when the… harvest date is yet, but when I do, we need to act fast. I want to be able to get all the important plants out when it's time." Kagome urged on.

It was so vague, the way she was putting it but Jinenji was very intelligent. Hopefully he'd understand that she wanted him to basically tally up how many slaves are in Masae's estate, if any are friendly and most importantly the vulnerable young youkai that may need protection. Kagome didn't know what kind of hell would break loose if she were to confront Masae or if they could somehow break the bonds one-by-one. In any case, they needed to not charge in blindly.

"Do you understand me, Jinenji-san?"

"Yes, Kagome-sama. We want to take out all the plants before we plant the mint in the ground for winter, after harvest time. I understand." He mumbled slowly.

Kagome exhaled in relief. He did get it!

Mint grew best in full sun of summer, and even amateur gardeners will know never to plant it directly in the ground because mint grows like a thug, choking out all the surrounding plants in no time. For Jinenji to say such blatantly wrong things to her, must mean he understood her obscure request.

"Thank you." Kagome breathed in relief, patting his arm.

Jinenji returned a shy smile.

Kagome was glad to have one more thing checked off the list. Things seemed to be taking an optimistic turn and she hoped that their luck will hold out.

It was rather brazen of her but she was also looking forward to three days uninterrupted with Inuyasha. Hopefully she was right in the assumption that Masae would not call on her slaves while she was away at the meditation retreat.

Gods, she hoped she wouldn't. What Kagome would give for Inuyasha to not have to endure any pain at least for a few days.

–-–-–-–-–

She was definitely intrigued the next morning when Inuyasha approached her awkwardly after breakfast and asked if she could pack them a midday meal to go. He'd never initiated any sort of activity together but has yet to decline her requests, after a prerequisite amount of complaining anyway. Kagome was always the one to drag him off to places, secretly loving the bonding time it gave them.

Kagome very quickly came to the conclusion that it definitely was way more interesting when Inuyasha picks their activity.

She let out a squeal which very quickly dissolved into peals of laughter as billows of silver hair was pushed upwards into her face with Inuyasha's pivot to avoid a low hanging branch. Kagome reached to gather as much of it in each hand to secure the tresses, accidentally brushing his neck.

"Oi, woman, would you keep it down? My fuckin' ears." Came an annoyed grumble from her hanyou ride, although she was pretty sure she saw the corner of his lips twitch up.

"Sorry." She chirped, without a single ounce of remorse. "Can you go higher?"

"can go higher, you though… might be too scary for a human."

Kagome stuck her tongue out at the back of his head. "Jerk."

He responded by flashing a smirk behind his shoulder and shot straight up.

She really did scream then and only stopped when they burst through the canopy in a shower of leafs and loose twigs, effectively stunning her silent.

Her arms flew up to clamp around his shoulders in an iron grip, as she tried to get her bearings. Inuyasha was making some low noises

Wait, was he laughing at her?

She released one of her hands so she could smack him on the shoulder. "That wasn't nice!"

"Careful. I could drop you."

"You wouldn't."

"Keh."

Conversation was swiftly abandoned in favour of looking around. Kagome just realized that she'd never been on Inuyasha's back doing the day before, and it was an entirely different experience altogether. After his initial antics of trying to frighten her, his gait returned to the usual smooth rhythm. He glided through the air so effortlessly, seeming to glance off the treetops with minimal force required to ascend up again. It was all very fascinating. The aerial view of the forest in full summer lushness, with the glimmers of rivers and streams twinning through was awe inspiring in itself.

Even so, Kagome found herself more enticed by something much closer in her field of view. She was seldom able to observe Inuyasha's fuzzy, doggy ears in such proximity without making him uncomfortable and embarrassing herself. They were flicking slightly now, taking in the sounds around them. Up close she could see that the fur on the back of them differed from the short, downy pink of the inside.

Her fingers twitched, and unbidden she reached out to capture on adorable appendage lightly between her fingers.

To Inuyasha's credit, he barely faltered in his steps. Alas, she was only able to give a couple of experimental rubs against the soft texture before said ear twitched out of her gasp.

"Oi! What the fuck, woman!" He growled, as expected. "You really want me ta drop you or somethin'?"

Kagome replaced her arm around his shoulders again, smirking a little. "Sorry. I wanted to know what they feel like."

"Baka." He griped back, then he tightened his hold around her legs. "Hang on, we're here."

Successfully distracted, Kagome peeked out beside his cheek to peer curiously down below. 'Here' looked non-descript. Like many other such places in the forest, it was slightly sloped, on the side of a mountain. There was, though, a rather impressive tumble of boulders from which water sprang, bubbling down over a wide creek bed.

With barely a jolt, Inuyasha landed on a wide rock, and let her slide down his back. It took a few seconds for her to shake the tingling out of her legs.

"It's pretty here." Kagome turned around to look at Inuyasha curiously.

As happy as she was that the hanyou had invited her along for the trip, even though it was probably much easier for him to come along, she doubted it was purely for pleasure. Although, she definitely wouldn't mind if Inuyasha just wanted to spend some time with her.

He merely grunted and hopped off into the slew of rocks closer to the source of the water. Kagome hurried behind him, carefully balancing her steps on the uneven rocks.

Where they got up close to the rock face, Inuyasha poked around and wiggled a few claws into one of bigger cracks. With a clack, a sizable chunk, bigger than both her palms fell into his waiting grasp, with a shower of smaller pieces falling to the ground.

He turned around and plopped it in her hands, which she'd reflexively stretched out without expecting him to give her anything. Embedded in the mundane looking rock were shards of translucent stone, gleaming iridescent in the sunlight.

She gasped, running her fingers against the shimmering parts, while looking up at Inuyasha in question.

"Humans like this shit. You'll be able to sell it in the city." He scoffed, not quite meeting her eyes.

She cocked her head, studying his peculiar expression and then it dawned on her. Was he still hung up on 'relying' on her? Sure, it was the man who would bring a woman to live with him, but–well, their arrangement was not a marriage, and to be technical about it, then, they were both bumming off Kaede. The hut and the clearing belonged to her as far as Kagome knew.

"Inuyasha..." She sighed. "Seriously, we're fine. You really bring just as much to the house as it is! We're going to have so much preserved meat to store. And with the influx of jobs from the healers being more than I can actually keep up with, we're set for money for rice and stuff like that."

His brows were still knitted as he regarded her.

"But look, this is great. We'll take this back, hide it in the house in case we need more money for the winter, alright?" Kagome pacified, smiling at him reassuringly.

He nodded, then made to pry more off the rock face before she grabbed his arm.

"Whoa! This is good! You'll remember this place if we need to come back later for more if we do need it right?"

"Yeah." He grunted, folding his arms back into his sleeves.

She beamed at him, stooping to pick up the smaller pieces that had fallen, some also containing streaks of the multicoloured rock. Those she could probably safely sell without raising too many eyebrows. Inuyasha really was sweet in his own way, trying to provide.

Then, belatedly, she realized that she'd implied Inuyasha would live with her beyond this season. While Kagome hoped they'd be able to figure out a way to free him way before then, the thought of the two of them living together even after that was... nice. She was just beginning to be able to admit, even if it was just to herself, that she saw Inuyasha as more than a friend. It was probably one of the few times she seriously considered being someone's wife, a possibility.

Kagome didn't realize she had spaced out until she noticed Inuyasha staring at her oddly. She blinked, recovering quickly.

"How about we eat? Free up some space for me to carry these rocks?" She pointed to a tall boulder almost in the middle of the creek. "I'm gonna need some help getting up though."

Inuyasha snatched her up bodily to deposit both of them on her chosen location, sending her into a fit of surprised giggles. They spent some time eating while looking down the creek. The break in the trees made it such that the view was quite far and there were plenty of wildlife that came for a drink. Kagome was feeling rather content and grateful that Masae's brief departure from the city seemed to mean that Inuyasha had some time to rest.

The trip back seemed longer than coming for some reason, but Kagome didn't mind. The rhythm of Inuyasha's steps was soothing in its own way. She rested her chin lightly on his shoulder and tucked into the space where his neck met his torso. It made a very comfortable position to travel in. It also put her very much in Inuyasha's personal space. But to be honest, he was freaking carrying her, so he must not mind that much right? She still didn't know what it is that the hanyou thought of her, he certainly tolerated her and seemed comfortable enough in her presence now. It probably best not to question it too much.

When they arrived back the house it was mid afternoon. After some debate, they decided to stash the stone in the shed.

Kagome was reaching for an empty pot and nearly dropped it when something beside it let out a screech.

And the noise did not stop. It kept going, an ear-splitting cross between a duck's quack and a crow's cry.

"What the hell is that, Kagome?" An irate hanyou burst into the shed, clasping his hands firmly over his ears. "Make it stop!"

Kagome could only stare at him, equally confused before something bounced off the shelf and landed on the work bench. They both turned to stare at it.

An acorn. Apparently making that god awful noise. And it had eyes.

"Shippou's acorn." Kagome whispered, still holding her hands over her ears.

So much for wanting to plant it.

 

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A/N: Alright dear readers, if this story was a play, then this is the 'intermission'. Grab a drink, go to the washroom.. we're ramping up from here on!


Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. However, this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to.

Chapter Text

Chapter 17 - Of foxes and reunions

"Can you get that thing to shut the hell up already?"

Kagome winced as Inuyasha's yell cut through the loud squawking emitting from her hand. For someone abjectly complaining about the noise levels, he certainly had zero qualms about adding to it. Catching eye of the two fuzzy triangles pulled low to his scalp, she felt a little bad for him. Just a little. After all, it wasn't like he was the only one suffering.

Even though her grip was tight on the tiny acorn, it did nothing to dampen the noise. She had to rub her eyes several times earlier to make sure she wasn't seeing things when the nut had sprouted two eyes. After which, it began hopping on the counter and then out the shed. In short, this is why Kagome found herself travelling on the hanyou's back for the second time that day.

"I'm trying! It might be useful to hear it."

"How?" She could practically hear him rolling his eyes from the tone of his voice.

"You're the one that said it's probably be a distress signal, and you're the one who said it's too slow to let it hop on its own. How will we know if we're off course if it didn't even make noise?"

He growled in frustration but did not make reply. The acorn though, cawed again.

Since Inuyasha was traveling in a much less leisurely fashion this time around, Kagome snaked one arm more securely across his front, holding herself steady. For added measure, she leaned in, bracing the side of her face against his neck and shoulder– hopefully he wouldn't mind. At last, feeling steady enough, she slowly unfurled her fingers from the vibrating acorn in her hand.

The increase in volume was immediate. She watched as it made a little hop from her palm to the tip of her fingers.

"Woman!" Came the expected complaint from the hanyou.

"Inuyasha, do you think we should stop and see if the direction's still right? What if it's changed since we last checked?"

"It's from a kitsune you said, right?" He grumbled irritably. "I have a pretty good idea of what kind of trouble it could've gotten into. Especially this close to the city."

Kagome grew silent at the implication behind his words. Suddenly, worry swelled up in her chest as she imagined little Shippou's big green eyes. What if the slavers got him for some reason? Did something happen to Miroku's barrier?

"Oi! Stop fretting, we're hurrying there already. Just shut that thing up."

She nodded against his shoulder and closed her palm around the acorn again. From the volume of its squawks they were getting warmer. They were headed back towards the city, not quite at the main road but the serious of barren clearings where merchants and traveling caravans parked.

"Kagome, if there's any sign of trouble, you stay the hell of the way, understand?" Inuyasha's gruff voice mumbled at the side of her ear.

"But Inuyasha–"

"No 'buts'. You fuckin' hide ok?"

After some hesitation, she replied. "...Ok."

It didn't mean Kagome was planning to do nothing though. She'd be careful and not act rashly but she had her bow and arrows with her. There was no way she was going to stand by idly if there was trouble. He could yell at her after the fact.

Inuyasha's gait slowed enough for the details of their surroundings to come into view. The trees were getting sparser as they neared the clearings. Of interest, the acorn had stopped making noise.

Wordlessly, she felt Inuyasha's shift in weight and Kagome slid off his back to trot along at his side. She let the acorn go and sure enough, it bounced off in front of them leading the way. They moved along, cautiously skirting around the trees as quietly as they could.

Kagome was hyper focused on their environment, trying to pick out anything out of the ordinary amid the greens and browns. There, mostly hidden behind a few stray boulders was something with sharp corners, gleaming black to her spiritualist senses. At the same time her eyes caught sight of this, she felt Inuyasha's grip on her forearm.

She turned, and saw his nose was twitching as he motioned for her to stay behind him.

They inched forward carefully, but when Kagome caught sight of a shock of oh-so-familiar red hair, all caution went out the window. Even Inuyasha, with his superhuman reflexes was not able to grab her in time, only able to let out a low grunt of her name.

Kagome darted forward and gasped as the blue and tan outfit came into view. She skidded to a crouch in front of the metal contraption, and laid a hand on it without a second thought. The slick feel of corrupt energy confirmed what her spiritual sense have already deduced.

Adrenaline fuelled by the sight of dark red marring the fur of one of Shippou's back paws, her mind quickly came up with a solution. Not really considering if the shaft would be strong enough to withstand this unintended use, Kagome grabbed one of her arrows, securing her grip close to the arrow head. In one smooth motion, she arched it up, simultaneously packing it with purifying energy. The tip slammed into the metal cage with a hair raising crack as the two auras collided. Kagome felt herself fly backwards from the explosion.

Instead of landing hard on her backside, she toppled into a body that emitted a familiar string of curses.

"For fuck's sake, Kagome!" He growled. "I could've handled it!"

In hindsight, perhaps asking Inuyasha to use his claws would've been the more logical option. Then, mind rapid catching up, Kagome gasped and scrambled out of the hanyou's hold.

Lurching forward on hands and knees, she gathered up the limp fox kit. Thankfully it didn't look like the blast had done him additional damage. Kagome held him to her chest, lightly stroking the auburn hair from his face. He was out cold. Gingerly inspecting Shippou's injured limb, she found a wound that looked like it may have been from the trap closing around him.

Inuyasha landed in a squat beside her. "He'll be fine, woman. He's full youkai– he'll heal up quick."

Kagome's worried eyes moved from the fox onto him. "But he's not waking up."

"Keh. What we should be wor–" He stopped abruptly, going rigid.

Then in a flash, the hanyou shot up, assuming a guarding stance, with his back to the girl and kit.

"Well, well... what have we here." Came a raspy jeer from behind the trees. "Inuyasha... what a coincidence."

"Came to steal our quota, mutt?" The second voice was composed of snorts like an animal call, making the words barely comprehensible.

A snap of a twig heralded the arrival of the youkai. Both humanoid, but grotesquely so and one of the two was definitely more advanced. From the feel of their youki though, they were no where near Inuyasha's level.

Finding some relief from this, Kagome gathered Shippou close to her and began backing up closer to the boulders so their backs would be protected.

"Be careful." She whispered.

Inuyasha spared her the smallest fraction of a glance but she knew he'd heard. She would stay back like he'd asked and protect Shippou. He could handle those two no problem.

Still, to be safe, Kagome tucked the unconscious child in the wedge of space between the rock and the ground. Not once taking her eyes off the pair of advancing youkai, she stood squarely in front of Shippou, notching an arrow at the ready.

Inuyasha was growling lowly the entire time.

The taller of two, stepped out into the open. Not only was he built stronger but was mostly human looking– the only glaring discrepancy being the bearish snout and incisors protruding from where a human' mouth would be.

"Oh ho... maybe not. What is this, hanyou?" The youkai took an exaggerated survey of Kagome standing off to the side."You gone soft? Doggie got himself a new human?"

Inuyasha bared his fangs. "Fuck off."

The other youkai, who's back was hunched, barely standing on his hind legs with a fully boar-like head stepped closer to flank his companion.

"Oh our mistress would not be pleased to hear about this."

"There is no this." Inuyasha warned, his voice low with an underlying growl.

"It hasn't gotten to you head has it? Just because you have a pretty face compared to the rest of us doesn't mean you get a free pass."

The pig-like face jeered, beady eyes gleaming with malicious glee. "Unless of course... you're offering other services."

With that, Inuyasha snapped. With a snarl, he launched into the air, crashing straight into the taller demon's chest, barreling them both to the ground. The youkai took advantage of the momentum to launch the hanyou off with both feet, sending him hurtling into a nearby tree. The pine gave a loud creak but miraculously did not snap with the impact. The stouter of the pair ambled in, meaning to land a kick squarely on his downed opponent's stomach but the half-demon was quick to recover, dodging out of the way.

It was difficult to keep track with the shapes blurring into each other given their demonic speed. Kagome's hands were sweating as she tried to keep focused; if there was a solid opening, without fear of hitting Inuyasha by mistake, she would shoot. Yet stupidly, a little voice inside her inconveniently questioned whether it would be right of them to kill these two youkai because they had no choice but to carry out the bidding of their enslaver.

"I hit a nerve there didn't I?" The better formed of the two resumed his taunting, spitting out a wad of blood and wiping his mouth. "But I guess you wouldn't expect anything better from a hanyou, after all, it's what your pops did. Fuck a human."

Inuyasha roared, hooking his fist up under the demon's chin, causing his head to snap back. There was a pained groan. His partner leapt back into fray to defend him. The three was locked in close quartered fist fight, punctuated by grunts and the smack of fists landing on bodies. The two youkai had tackled Inuyasha to the ground, one holding him down in a headlock, the other pinning his legs.

Inuyasha snarled viciously and in a flurry of limbs, the demons were thrown off of him, hit by crescent of golden youki. He righted himself, squatted low and chest heaving with exertion, but there was a gleam in his eyes.

Kagome knew there was no way they could let the demons walk away alive. No one can find out she was releasing caught demons, and definitely not the fact that Inuyasha was helping her. The only way Masae would not find out, was if there were no witness. She knew this logically, but still, her conscience twinged.

Calmly, Inuyasha brought a hand up, fingers taut with claws bared and swiped downwards. A barrage of the same crescents of energy flew towards the moaning pair on the ground. A splatter, and two thuds as their heads rolled away.

After surveying the severed bodies for a few seconds more, Inuyasha turned towards her. Uncertainty surfaced briefly in his gaze when he caught sight of her expression but it was quickly wiped away by a careful indifference.

He was protecting them. If only Kagome could easily shake off that stupid black and white righteousness drilled into her training. She'd have to talk to him later. Tell him she was grateful for his help.

"Are you alright?" Kagome asked anxiously, lowering her bow and take a few steps towards the hanyou.

Inuyasha started walking back towards her. Simultaneously she felt a rush of youki and heard the incoming scuffle. A blur shot out to the side, headed straight for the hanyou. There was a third youkai.

Kagome cried out in warning. Inuyasha pivoted to the side at the same time a gleaming projectile cut through the air, piercing through the new attacker's throat, pinning the body to a nearby trunk.

Inuyasha whipped around, eyes sharpening on the presumed owner of the brass staff. Kagome too, turned around just in time to see purple houshi robes come into view. With a leap, Inuyasha had landed in front of her, preparing to leap into the offence.

"Miroku-sama!" She gasped, finally catching a good look at the newcomer's face.

"Ah! Kagome-sama." The man slowed to a stop a cautious distance from the growling hanyou who was clearly guarding her. He raised his hands, palms up to show his peaceful intention. "Well, I'm glad I made the correct assumption on who to throw my shakujo at."

The attempt of using humour to diffuse the tension flew over Inuyasha's head.

Kagome, having scooped up the still unconscious kitsune in one arm, reached to lay her free hand lightly on Inuyasha's shoulder.

"Inuyasha, this is Miroku-sama, the monk I was speaking to you about."

Inuyasha straightened up, and though he'd stopped growling, his narrow eyes conveyed that he was in no hurry to trust the human man.

"I think we're safe now, don't you agree Kagome-sama? I don't sense any other youki." Miroku's easy smile appeared, as he dipped a short bow in greeting both to herself and Inuyasha.

Kagome nodded after sending out her powers for a quick scan.

Meanwhile, it seemed like Miroku was sizing up the hanyou and the teasing shape his mouth had morphed into did not bode well. "Ahhh... Kagome-sama. Now I understand completely your vested interest in our joint mission." He finished the sentence with a waggle of his eyebrows at her.

Kagome flushed. Then was surprised to find herself swept behind Inuyasha's back, mostly hidden by his red sleeve.

"What kind of fucked up monk are you?" He demanded, still eyeing Miroku suspiciously.

"Inuyasha, my good man! It's good to finally meet the hanyou in Kagome-sama's life."

She groaned exasperatedly, feeling her face grow even hotter. Kagome stepped out from behind Inuyasha while giving his arm a reassuring squeeze. "Miroku-sama, do you really need to do this every time? It makes introductions extremely difficult."

"He might require another beating of some sense into him." Came a feminine voice a bit behind the houshi.

"Sango-san!" Kagome called out, happy to see the slayer.

She was dressed in her taijiya armour, with Kirara padding calmly beside her.

Poor Inuyasha however, had seized up again with yet another unfamiliar arrival. Kagome was quick to turn towards him.

"Inuyasha, this is Sango-san, she's the taijiya I was telling about. And this is–"

Before she had a chance to finish, the nekomata was about to name gave a happy snort, and trotted forward, bumping her face into the hanyou's head.

Inuyasha let out a clipped chuckle, and Kagome was momentarily entranced by the sound. She'd never heard him laugh.

"Kirara." He finished for her, one clawed hand buried in the demon cat's mane.

The bundle in the crook of her arm stirred. Kami, she'd momentarily forgotten about Shippou in the excitement.

Squatting down, Kagome laid down her weapon to better rearrange the fox child in her hold. Patting a little cheek softly, he still did not wake, only moaned.

Kagome looked up at the two humans. "Did you guys have an acorn too?"

Understanding seemed to filter into her companions' gazes. "Yes, Shippou-chan left one with Miroku-sama." Sango explained. "I'm assuming he gave you one as well."

"Yeah. I thought it was just an acorn though."

"Until it wouldn't shut the hell up." Inuyasha grumbled. He had his arms crossed now and was watching the group warily.

She ignored him. "But what happened? Wasn't Shippou-chan with you at the grotto?"

"He snuck out. I didn't even notice until the acorn 'wouldn't shut the hell up.'" Miroku shot Inuyasha a quick smile. "Sango-san and I quickly followed it out here. We split up at the fork earlier to search since the acorn stopped moving all of a sudden."

"How did you manage to not draw attention?"

"A simple sutra on it silences it." The monk smirked, withdrawing from his robes a crumbled paper ball, presumably a sutra wrapped acorn.

Inuyasha shot her an accusing look. Kagome rolled her eyes.

"How was I supposed to know?" Kagome drew her attention back to the little boy in her arms, smoothing his hair from his face. He looked asleep and didn't seem to be in too much distress. The wound on his leg seemed to have mostly healed. "What do we do about Shippou-chan? He's not waking up."

Sango walked up and knelt down in front of them. Gently, her finger tips traced his mouth, stopping at a faint stain on the corner of his lips.

"Ah." She reached inside her robes to draw out a tiny vial. "Shippou-chan must've eaten some bait. It's a very common youkai tranquilizer."

With Kagome's help maneuvering the child, the slayer was able to place two drops under his tongue.

"It's very useful because it has no colour, no scent. Kirara here have accidentally gotten into some laced game once or twice." Sango shot her feline companion a teasing smile.

Kirara grumbled indignantly from Inuyasha's shoulder. She'd since transformed back to kitten form.

"That is fascinating, Sango-san. How long till he awakes?" Miroku asked.

"Within minutes. The antidote is quite efficient."

Kagome settled down to wait, crossing her legs into a more comfortable position and cradled Shippou in her lap. True to Sango's words, the kitsune soon began wiggling about and before long, emerald eyes blinked open blearily.

"K-Kagome?" He rubbed his eyes. "You did come!"

She exhaled deeply, relief flooding her system. She hugged the little fox to her chest, all the while contradictorily chiding him. "What were you thinking Shippou-chan? You scared us half to death!"

Little hands pushed at her collarbone, trying to get away. He succeeded in freeing himself to perch on her leg. Then, comically, his little nose wrinkled and his eyes grew wide. Whipping around, Shippou's searching gaze locked onto the sullen hanyou.

"Dog!" He cried shrilly, scampering off Kagome's lap to run up to Inuyasha. "It is you!"

"Runt." Inuyasha grumbled, barely looking at the child. "So you made it out after all, huh?"

All of a sudden, Shippou seemed a bit lost for words. He nodded.

"Just so you could get your ass caught by slaver traps again. Idiot."

"Inuyasha!" Kagome admonished. But he had a point. She walked up to Shippou and squatted down, addressing the kitsune. "But he's right, Shippou. What were you doing sneaking away from Miroku-sama's barrier? You know it's not safe out here yet."

His innocent eyes turned on her, and with that suspicious sheen to them, she felt herself soften. "I came out because I wanted to get you something you really want Kagome! You always bring me things, so I wanted to bring you something too! Something really good. But apparently she can't leave. So I thought I'd come find you and bring you to her!"

Kagome's brow furrowed as Shippou continued his explanation. Sensing that this was something perhaps a lot more serious than she'd first assumed, she looked up, and caught Miroku's thoughtful gaze. He dipped his chin, confirming her unspoken thoughts.

The monk walked towards them. "Shippou-chan, let us find a more suitable place to talk before you continue, shall we?"

Sango and Kirara walked Shippou some distance away, while Inuyasha remained silent, observing the happenings from his spot under a tree. Miroku had walked back to retrieve his staff from half-disintegrated corpse of the third youkai. Kagome stepped up beside him just as he straighten up.

The houshi gave her a quick look and smiled kindly.

"Ah, a prayer then, Kagome-sama?"

She nodded, grateful for the man's observant nature.

Together they stood, silent, each saying a prayer in their discipline to rest the dead spirits.

After they were finished, Kagome smiled at Miroku, motioning for them to follow after Sango.

Feeling daggers boring into the back of her head, she turned to find Inuyasha glowering her. Still leaning defensively against a tree trunk.

"Coming Inuyasha?" She waved, grinning at the slight pout on his face. Does he even know he's doing that?

He came to walk astride her and Kagome gave his arm another squeeze. He was probably uncomfortable with the new company. After all, another spiritualist and a taijiya did not exactly scream safety to one with demonic blood.

Sango had picked an area with a felled tree and a scattering of large rocks. It would suffice for an impromptu meeting. Miroku walked a small circle enclosing the space and with a firm stamp of his shakujo into the earth, a barrier sprung up around them.

Kagome was momentarily struck with envy at how effortless the monk erected a barrier– a sound proof one at that. Barriers had always been her weak suit. She was barely able to produce one and usually need conduits to do so.

They each found a perch to rest on temporarily, with Inuyasha flopping down––not giving a damn––on the ground beside her knee. Kagome extended her hands in a come-hither fashion and Shippou quickly scampered over to her. Judging by the smooth gait, the little youkai was likely recovering well.

"How's your leg Shippou-chan?" She had to ask.

Shippou lifted his hind paw to give it a once-over. "It feels ok, Kagome. I'm full youkai, I heal fast!"

Inuyasha snorted.

"Hey!"

Hurrying to break up their weird dynamic, Kagome blurted out. "Tell us what happened Shippou-chan?"

The young fox leapt up onto a fallen log to be on eye level with the group, and assumed a serious look. But not without blowing a raspberry at the inu-hanyou beforehand.

"I was coming to find you, Kagome. But then I saw this food just sitting on the rock, so I went to investigate, you know."

"It's the oldest trick in the book, dumbass."

Kagome swatted Inuyasha's shoulder. He rolled his eyes.

Shippou made a face at the hanyou before continuing. "I had a bite before a cage thing came up from under the dirt and closed over me. I sent out my acorns and the next thing I know, I woke up and there you were!"

Miroku sighed. "You were lucky that Kagome-sama and Inuyasha got here in time."

"Not to mention that it wasn't poison in the bait." Sango added.

Shippou had the grace to look a little contrite.

"So why did you leave, Shippou-chan?"

The fox child settled his big innocent eyes on Kagome at her question.

"I wanted to go look for a present for you, Kagome! There's a lot of kitsune in the city, and you'll be surprised what people will do for a cute face like mine." He beamed.

Kagome rubbed her forehead. She actually was not at all surprised. Since their meeting, a good portion of her treats had gone to the little fox.

"And guess what! I found your teacher!"

Kagome gasped. "Really?"

She had considered this possibility when Shippou first spoke back where they had initially found him but it seemed to far fetched. When Miroku, Sango and herself had discussed details of the situation in Kyo, Kagome had thought the kit had gone off to play. But maybe he was listening in on them after all.

Shippou nodded excitedly. "Yeah! One of the female foxes told me she's at Matsuba-jinja."

Kagome furrowed her brow. "Matsuba-jinja? That's pretty obscure."

That shrine was probably one of the shabbiest in the city. After that neighbourhood declined, it lost a lot of worshippers. And because the deity it enshrined was someone insignificant compared to the other grander establishments in the city, no pilgrims ventured to it either.

"You sure, Shippou-chan?"

"Uh-uh. I talked to her too!"

"What?"

"Yeah! She's a miko baa-chan right? Kinda wrinkly?"

There was a bark of a laugh from Inuyasha.

Only Shippou would call the most esteemed, and former head priestess of Kyo, by that title.

"Now Shippou-chan, that's not a very respective way of addressing Kagome's teacher." Miroku admonished gently. It didn't escape Kagome's attention that he did not mention a name.

"But she said I can call her Kaede-baa-chan!" Shippou insisted.

Kagome didn't know what to think. Maybe it was poor judgement on her part but the Kaede she knew was not so open-minded. To be friendly enough with a youkai child to allow such a intimate address?

Kagome tried to smile reassuringly, seeing Shippou was frowning a little at her unexpected reaction to his happy news. "Are you sure the lady's name is Kaede, Shippou-chan?"

"Yeah! And she told me you live around here!"

Kagome's pleasant smile disappeared. This could be bad. If it really was Kaede, then it's great news. If it was an imposter then whoever they were or whoever was friendly with them, knew where she lived. Where Inuyasha lived.

"Why aren't you happy about it, Kagome!" Shippou leapt up to land on her chest, pushing his pouting face right in front of hers. She reached up to wrap her arms securely around his little body.

"I am Shippou. I just want to be careful." She pacified. "I'm really grateful you want to do something nice for me, but please don't do something so reckless again ok?"

"Kagome-sama's right. She definitely will not be happy if you got hurt." Miroku chimed in, making eye contact with Kagome meaningfully.

"Promise you won't go anywhere again without telling Miroku or Sango or me?"

The kit nodded, hands fisted in her robes. "I promise, Kagome."

"So... what's the plan? Are we going to meet this teacher of yours?" Sango got up from her seat and came up closer to the rest of them.

"I..." Kagome paused, looking first at Miroku and Sango. "Do you think it could be a trap?"

"Keh. Only one way to find out." Inuyasha scoffed, unmoving from his slouch on the ground.

Miroku turned to Inuyasha giving a small nod. "Inuyasha's right. We won't know without going and we can't risk not meeting Kaede-sama if it really is her. She holds many answers to our questions."

The two women murmured their assent. Kagome laid a hand on the shoulder of the hanyou beside her. "I would very much like you to come with, but of course it's your choice. It is another shrine and another miko, so I totally understand."

"Fuck if I let you run around with these people by yourself."

"Sango-san and Miroku-sama are friends."

"It's fair. Goes for me as well. We only did just meet." Sango levelled Inuyasha with a steady gaze.

"Ah... peace! We're among friends." Miroku appeased quickly.

"Um... so are we going tomorrow?" Shippou chose that moment to pipe up, effectively dispelling the tension.

"Yeah. I think that would be best." Kagome hummed. "Masae is away from the city for another couple of days on a meditation retreat. I don't think we'll have a safer time to go."

"Good thinking, Kagome-sama. That's set then. We'll go to Matsuba-jinja tomorrow. For extra measures, I think after sundown would be best."

"Yes. And it would be less conspicuous if we meet there separately." Sango added.

Breathing easier now that plans were set, Kagome took the time to sit back down, taking a look at Shippou's hind paw again. Finding that the cut had healed for the most part, she smiled and ruffled his hair. Shippou's stomach gurgled.

Kagome laughed as she poked his tummy. "Awww, someone's hungry?" She looked up at her human companions. "Why don't everyone come over for supper?"

While Inuyasha has been fairly silent throughout the entire conversation, at that he growled. "No."

"Inuyasha..." She frowned at him. "There's plenty of food to go around."

"No."

He turned to face her squarely. He was strangely expressionless for how adamant he'd put his foot down on the matter. Though the longer he held eye contact with her, the more she began to recognize the stoic look as the one that brokered no arguments. There was something serious he was considering but wasn't vocalizing. At least not right this moment anyway.

Finding her mouth still open, mid-retort, she closed it. Kagome turned to Sango and Miroku awkwardly.

"Um... I guess maybe another time? I'm sorry."

Sango gave her a small smile, shaking her head slightly to dismiss her apology.

Miroku too reassured her. "No matter. It is best we head back anyways."

"But Kagome... we haven't even had a chance to play yet!" Shippou whined, less easily to concede as the adults.

"I'm sorry, Shippou-chan… I'll make it up to you, ok? How about I bring you some mochi next time and I'll make sure I have lots of time to stay and play?"

"You promise?" He stuck out a pinky finger.

Kagome hooked hers around his and gave a little shake. "Promise"

"You're definitely spoiling him Kagome-san."

Kagome shrugged guiltily.

Inuyasha stood up, nodded once at the houshi and slayer and started walking back in the direction towards their welling.

She glanced after him for a moment before turning back to bid a proper goodbye to her friends.

"So tomorrow, let's aim to meet at Matsuba-jinja just after sundown. I don't know exactly the topography of the area but I'm guessing if we stick to the outer wall on a side street, we'll be able to find each other." Sango instructed succinctly.

"I understand. I'll talk with Inuyasha later to coordinate how the two of us will go into the city."

"Confirmed."

"Take care, Kagome-sama." Miroku said as he offered her a short bow in parting, which she quickly returned.

Turning to hurry after Inuyasha, she was surprised to find he had stopped at the far end of the grove. Shippou had landed in front of the hanyou, and was frozen, weirdly looking like he did not know how to behave all of a sudden.

Kagome walked faster but couldn't hear the fox's quiet words.

As she came within earshot she caught the tail end of Inuyasha's response. "–forget about it. Just don't pull any more stupid shit like today."

Shippou gave one curt nod. "Mmm." Then noticing Kagome, he gave her a little grin. "Bye, Kagome. I can't wait to show you baa-chan tomorrow."

She bent down to give him one more hug. "Bye, Shippou. Be good."

Kagome watched the kit scamper off to join the others waiting, and raised a hand in goodbye before turning away to continue the walk home. Only after they had continued for a good few minutes, did Inuyasha offer his back to her.

Settling for the ride home, Kagome watched his silver hair flutter with the wind. Finally mustering enough courage, she leaned closer to Inuyasha's face and asked the question.

"Why were you so adamant back there about not having them over for dinner?" She could feel his shoulder tense. "The kill you brought back yesterday was so large. It's not an issue about the food is it?"

Inuyasha let out a growl of frustration. "Didn't you and the monk both think whoever the kid found isn't the real deal? If they didn't know exactly where your house was, all they have to do is to track the fox or the humans. Are you trying to lead trouble to your doorstep?"

"I–I didn't think of that. But if someone was following us wouldn't you or Sango-san be able to detect it by now?"

"That's not the fucking point, Kagome. Having me with you is risk enough. So quit making it worse!"

"Inuyasha you know I don't think that." She insisted vehemently.

"Doesn't make it any less true."

She was about to retort but bit her tongue last minute. It wasn't like she was going to be able to change his mind on the matter. Not even if she told him in detail about the barrier that first Kaede, and then herself had enforced around the clearing. Truth is, she was worried if she pushed him too hard, his twisted logic might make him retract on his agreement to stay with her. That was the last thing she wanted.

"Ok. You're right."

Even without being able to see his face, she could feel the incredulousness he emanated with how easily she folded.

"Y-yeah! Damn straight I am"

She sighed, deciding instead to pillow her head against his shoulder as he continue to run them home. There was more she wanted to ask, especially about his history with Shippou but Kagome decided against it in the end. From the little that the kitsune had devulged, piecing it together with what Jinenji had told her about the 'hunts' some of the slaves were ordered to go on, she had a vague idea. Shippou had made it a point to talk to Inuyasha privately, so it was probably best to leave it alone until either or both of the boys wanted to fill her in.

She understood Inuyasha needed his space.

Thoughts turning to what was in store for tomorrow, Kagome sobered. She would need to try to get as much rest as she could tonight. Tomorrow would be taxing, no matter which way it went. If it wasn't Kaede, they will likely have to fight their way out of a set-up. If it was Kaede... well, Kagome wasn't sure how she would handle seeing her.

–-–-–-–-–

It was an uncomplicated journey to Matsuba-jinja. After much persuasion–most of it in the form of shouting–Kagome had managed to persuade Inuyasha to travel separately to the shrine. He was not happy about it, but had grudgingly agreed in the end. It just made more sense, because without her, he was able to move much more quickly and stealthily. And to be honest, it was actually drawing attention to him that Kagome was most worried about.

Having traded her usual green hakama for an unassuming kosode, she looked just like any other woman in the city. With the additional cover of a straw hat, she arrived without any fuss.

The sun had dipped below the mountains to the West, but the sky still retained the faint light of dusk. In this drab part of town, whatever few shops that existed were already closed for the day. There weren't many people on the streets, but still Kagome tried to not look like she was obviously lapping the perimeter of the shrine walls.

The circle of light cast by her lantern sashayed across the narrow paths as Kagome tried to discretely locate her companions. Having not previously scoped out this shrine, their meeting place was generally just outside the walls and away from the main street. Kagome passed under the heavy shadow cast by the canopy of a large maple arching out from within the courtyard, its laden branches cascading over the tops of the walls.

A hand closed around her wrist.

Kagome almost bit her tongue off to stop herself from making noise. Luckily she had quickly recognize the hold of said hand, the curve of the fingers carefully around her arm and the barely present pinprick of his claws glancing over her skin. She had become both hyper-attuned and unaware of Inuyasha's youkai somehow. On one hand she poured through the minute details of his aura, learning it like a text, but on the other, he'd become a part of her every day life, blending into the backdrop of her existence.

"Kagome, it's me." A very quiet rasp came into her ear, as the hanyou yanked her close under the narrow arch of a side door that was previously completely hidden from her in shadow.

Looking up, she met the familiar glowing embers of his eyes. Beside him, she could just make out the taller figure of Miroku and the faint gleam of emerald eyes perched on his shoulder.

They didn't make unnecessary noise exchanging pleasantries. Before long, a small pair of red eyes announced the arrival of Kirara and Sango. It was so handy to have demonic eyes; for one, it would definitely help seeing through the near darkness. With Matsuba-jinja basically deserted there was very little lighting both from the shrine and the surrounding buildings.

With their group all present, they tried the door behind them. To her surprise, it was merely latched and not locked, admitting them easily. It made Kagome uneasy though, seeing as they were almost sure this is a trap.

Aside from the lit lanterns flanking the honden entrance, the shrine was fairly deserted. The few muted lights coming from behind shoji of a smaller building to the side, which was likely the living quarters of the spiritualists serving here. To be safe though, but much to Inuyasha's chargrin, the humans headed the group, in case there was a barrier they hadn't detected right away.

Following Shippou's excited direction, they quietly approached the far corner where the shabbiest structures of the shrine was. Hidden amongst these stood what was essentially a shed, only marginally bigger than the one in her garden, and it was lit.

They slowed, and Shippou hopped up onto her shoulder, clinging to her hair for support. Kagome inched forward towards the frayed mat obscuring the hut's entrance. Her heart was racing. The prospect of it actually being Kaede was somehow more nerve wracking than an ambush. Fighting was not her favourite, but it was something she had practice doing if need comes to shove. It was clear the others were bracing for the worst, flanking her, with Inuyasha hovering especially close beside her.

All of their careful preparation went out the window when unexpectedly, the fox child leapt off her shoulder and shot past the mat, sending the reeds clacking.

"Baa-chan!" Came his excited blabber inside.

If there was time for it, Kagome would've smack her forehead in exasperation. As it was, there was not other choice but to follow close behind, bursting in to meet whatever it was that awaited them head on.

Just as the small group skidded into the tight space, she heard the all too familiar calm cadence of her youth.

"Ahh child, you've retur–"

The adults almost tumbled over each other as Kagome stopped abruptly. Sitting serenely on the tiny square of raised floor was her teacher, blinking up at the commotion.

"Kaede-sama..." Kagome managed to gasp out before foolishly, her eyes welled up.

Frozen awkwardly in place, Kagome was at a lost. Shippou came swiftly to her rescue.

"See Kagome!" He bounded off Kaede's lap to the floor in front of her. "I told you I found your teacher! Are you happy? Are you?" His little face was so proud.

There was no way she could resist him, so she smiled at his excitement, effectively breaking through her hesitance.

At the same time, Miroku, whom she'd completely forgotten was with her, spoke up after bowing lowly to the elder. "Kaede-sama. It is you after all. I am very relieved to see you are sound."

"That is kind of you, Miroku-sama. I am glad we have a chance to meet again."

Recovering her composure, Kagome quickly ushered Sango forward. "Kaede-sama, this is Sango-san. She is a new friend. And her companion is Kirara."

The nekomata curled around the taijiya's neck meowed softly.

Kaede paused to consider the young woman's armour but her expression belied none of her thoughts. The smile on her wizened face was small but genuine.

"And–" Kagome stopped, craning to look behind Sango and Miroku. The person she was going to introduce was not in sight.

She made an apologetic gesture at her teacher to wait momentarily before she darted to stick her head out the doorframe. There, in the shadows, withone foot propped up against the wall of the opposite building, leaning under the awning was the hanyou.

"Inuyasha," She beckoned, pushing her voice down to a low whisper. "What are you doing? Stop hiding!"

Even from this distance, his famed glower was fierce. "I ain't hiding." He hissed back.

Kagome waved him over exasperatedly. To her surprise, it worked. The moment he stalked close enough for her to grab a fistful of his sleeve, she did, and proceeded to drag him inside, past the faintly amused expressions of her friends.

"Kaede-sama, this is Inuyasha."

The moment he caught sight of the miko robes, it clearly triggered a reaction, causing his eyes to sharpen, and his expression hardened.

In a blink, Inuyasha was crouched a hand's breadth from Kaede, one hand held out, claws flexing meaningfully. "Baba, what's your angle?"

If Kagome hadn't spent years with Kaede she would not picked out the minute movement of the old miko as a flinch. Predictably, reiki flared from her in response to Inuyasha's provocation.

Without a second thought, Kagome hooked both arms around Inuyasha's waist, pulling him bodily away. It didn't register to her how bizarre it was she actually moved him. Then stepping in front of him, she held out both hands.

"I'm so sorry Kaede-sama, he means no harm! I promise!" She exclaimed wide-eyed, while bowing profusely.

Jerking her face back towards the flabbergasted hanyou, she hissed very quietly so to only be heard by demonic ears. "Don't look so mean!"

She turned back to the miko. "He's a good friend. I trust him completely."

Kaede softened, motioning for her to stop her frantic apologies. "No harm done, child. His caution is more than understandable given the current environment."

To her great relief, the tension abated. The small group made to arrange themselves as comfortably as possible in the small space. Inuyasha chose to glower in the corner behind her, which was also strategically closest to the door, so he can keep an ear outside.

A folded up futon was neatly stored in one corner. In another was a simple storage chest, with a teapot and cup on a tray balanced on top. Scrolls were stacked beside the chest. It was around the brazier in the middle of the room that the humans gathered, for light and a bit of warmth.

Kagome was surprised that Shippou chose to perch on Kaede's knee of all places, friendly as can be. What actually surprised her more was the ease in which the older miko allowed it. He was, after all, a youkai, albeit a child.

"Kaede-sama, excuse my bluntness, but we may not have much time to converse." Miroku began. "Are you well? No one has heard from you for quite some time."

"Aye, my health is sound." She folded her hands, and chuckled wryly. "I am in a form of soft confinement so to speak. The current head priestess do not wish me to interfere with her plans."

"What happened between last fall and now?" He pressed. "Last time we spoke, you were still head miko at Tenrinji."

"I am afraid that these dire circumstances were in part due to my negligence. Masae had arrived from the capital on the recommendation of the chief spiritualist in the imperial court. Originally her guise was to facilitate the exchange of learning between the capital and its sister cities.

Some of the elders at the shrines had reservations about the new ideas she brought from the capital, alarmed at the mention of forms of extreme subjugation of youkai in the absence of clear offence from them. "

She sighed heavily.

"I confess, I was in a way, much too arrogant. I believed blindly in the steadiness of our ethics, in the people's devotion to our sacred beliefs. When I finally understood, it was too late. She had secretly amassed loyalty with the influential figures in Kyo, and even successfully won over many of the temple' priestesses.

When the court order came for her to replace myself as head priestess, there were very little protest of the court interview in with the temples' law. What dissent there was was quickly silenced by force or threats– after all, she also had the backing of the daimyo's forces."

"Her reach is that far?" Sango spoke up from her spot beside the miko.

"I'm afraid so." Kaede exhaled. "At first I simply moved chambers within Tenrinji, but soon she realized I was not powerless simply striped of an earthly title. It was strongly suggested I leave the premises, so I retreated to our house in the woods–" Kaede smiled in Kagome's direction. "to recuperate and come up with a mitigating strategy.

It wasn't long before Masae grew troubled with the idea of my unsupervised activity and so ushered me back to Tenrinji under the guise of working the archives. This was the time I wrote to Kagome."

Shippou's eyes were enraptured as he listened to Kaede's tale. "And then what?"

"Well, she grew wary of my connections to people in Kyo and was suspicious that I was secretly amassing some sort of resistance." The older woman gave a secretive smile. "I also know too much, but she is not as bold as to kill another priestess yet. Still, she could not risk anyone talking to me, especially not young Kagome here. There was no way around it. My summoning her back to the temple was a clear oddity. After that stunt, she simply hid me away."

Kaede looked over at the girl in question, and her face crinkled.

"Kagome, you are rather silent tonight. Is anything the matter?"

Kagome started, twitching a little when she sensed that the conversation had shifted to focus on her. "Huh?"

"Child, your expression is reminiscent of when you were an apprentice pretending to understand my lesson but in fact, you had not a clue."

To Kagome's great irritation, Inuyasha had the gall to snicker behind her.

Kagome inhaled deeply. Her teacher had always preferred straightforward communication without beating around the bush, but still, there worry of offending her was there. "It's just... you seem so different, Kaede-sama."

"Go on."

"You're basically listing out all the things you think you did wrong. And for goodness sake, there's three youkai in this room and you're not even batting an eye! The old you would've reacted very different."

Kaede looked taken aback for a moment before shaking her head sighing. "You're right, Kagome. I was too fixated on the duality of things. Remember 'the unyielding tree breaks in the wind, but the supple tree will bend'? I have been taught a hefty lesson in my old age. But is never too late to learn."

"Those are very wise words, Kaede-sama." Miroku murmured.

"My views were too rigid. And I have since learned that purely black and white does not exist." The miko laid a gentle hand on the crown of the kitsune sitting on her lap. "In my hours of need, the woman that aided me turned out not to be human. She has brought me supplies and information."

"Mana! She's nice isn't she?" Shippou turned around, beaming. "Don't be fooled though, she's actually really strong, she has four tails!"

That solved the mystery of how Shippou came to know of Kaede's whereabouts, as hidden as she was. A kitsune lady had evidently come across the old miko.

"Keh." Inuyasha spoke up from his corner. "What ties you here? I don't see no chains on you. Don't tell me she's binding humans now too."

Kaede glanced up at the hanyou, tilting her head a fraction as she regarded him thoughtfully. "Indeed. There is are no barriers. I have no jailers. There were youkai she stationed to patrol this shrine at first but they've since been removed because I have made no attempts."

"But why not just leave, Kaede-sama?" Kagome echoed Inuyasha's question impatiently.

Her eyes twinkled at her the way they did whenever she had glossed over an obvious answer as an apprentice. "Tell me, what would I do if I did flee Kyo? Most importantly, what good can I do if I simply left here?" She smiled slightly. "Now on the other hand, if I stay here, though obscure, I am still in the city. I can keep track of Masae's activity through the talk of the priestesses here. And I am not without connections still. We are waiting.

You, child, have been quite industrious since we last spoke."

At that, Kagome gasped, sudden recalling the most important question she wanted to ask Kaede should they find her. With zero hesitation, she reached beside her, snatching up a forearm to an indignant 'oi!' from its owner.

As if reading her mind, Miroku nodded, immediately performing the same spell to erect a soundproof barrier as she spoke.

"Kaede-sama, this is really important. Do you know what anchors the binding spell for the youkai slaves? Do you know how to break it?" Kagome's words tumbled forth in a rush.

The miko's gaze snapped up to lock onto Inuyasha's guarded eyes. Then as the understanding filtered into her eyes, her expression grew solemn.

"It is also another regret. I should have paid much more attention to Kikyou's letters when they came last summer."

"Kikyou?" Kagome parroted. "Our Kikyou?"

Kikyou was the senior apprentice that finished her training under Kaede shortly after Kagome and Noriko had arrived. The older girl was laser focused on her studies but was always helpful. She was also immensely gifted and very skilled in the spiritual arts. Last Kagome held, she'd left for the capital to further her training.

Kaede nodded. "The same, yes. She became head priestess at the capital a year prior." Kagome almost whistled but caught herself– Kikyou was only a few years older than her! "She sought my counsel in regard to some troubling events in the capital. A spiritualist from the mainland, by the name of Naraku had obtained the Emperor's favour at an alarmingly fast pace, and successfully ousted the elderly court spiritualist. Since this questionable man obtained the position, he's been abusing his authority for nefarious purposes.

Kikyou caught wind of him secretly searching for an artifact. Something that is unknown even to most miko because anonymity is safety. Even I only know of its existence but not of the location or details. It is a powerful amplifier, using it as a conduit will boost spiritual capabilities. And it can be easily tainted, hence the reason why it is hidden away and protected by a secret sect of priestesses."

Miroku exhaled heavily. "And Kaede-sama, you believe it may be the reason the slave bindings work? Why the essence of the energy is so distinct from our own powers?"

"I do not think the two are mere coincidences. My later correspondences have been intercepted so I have not received confirmation from Kikyou."

"So how do we break it?" Sango asked bluntly, ever the practical one of their group.

"Alas, I do not know for certain. But if it is like any other conduit, then one must locate it and destroy or nullify it in order to release the spe–"

Inuyasha shot to his feet abruptly behind her. "Human coming this way. Party's over."

Frantically, the group scrambled to exit. Kagome managed to squeeze her teacher's hand once in goodbye, whispering for her to keep safe. They hid behind the building until the human who came to check on Kaede ducked under the entrance. After that, it was a simple leap over the wall courtesy of their youkai companions.

Kagome's head was reeling from the influx of answers from tonight. It was jarring to have had breadcrumbs of information fed to her painstakingly over the course of these last months to suddenly knowing significantly more. Thank the kami they were able to talk to Kaede as long as they did.

Now the obvious question was, where do they go from here?

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Baa-chan - informal way of calling an elderly woman, loosely like 'grandma'. Short form of obaa-chan.


A/N: Holy crap that was long. There were so many questions to finally answer.

Here's the chapter a little ahead of Christmas :) Thank you for all your support this year. I hope everyone has a safe and happy holidays. I will see you in 2021!


Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. However, this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to.

Chapter Text

 

[Please see chapter notes for warning.]

 

The frustrating thing about finally locating Kaede was the fact that the high only made the ensuing inactivity that much worse. Now that they finally have some answers, ironically was when Kagome couldn't do anything about it. Sango and Miroku was reinvigorated, pouring their efforts into eliminating the false leads from the promising ones they had. Even Shippou, under strict precautions, was able to tap into his kitsune social network in the city for intel. But Kagome, she was too conspicuous, especially with Masae breathing down her neck, to risk prematurity exposing their efforts.

She tried to throw herself into taking more commissions from the healer guild and focus on the work at the herb garden with Jinenji but that was now fraught with tension. With the influx of youkai house servants at the estate, they have to be cognizant of being continuously observed. It was impossible to easily elucidate the loyalties of the head priestess' slaves. But no matter how much Kagome tried to numb her emotions by busyness, she couldn't run away from the mounting anxiety about the increased lengths of time that Inuyasha had been away from the house.

Those three days, when Masae had left the city for the customary retreat before the Banka festival, had been so indulgent. For three days, Inuyasha stuck around. They weren't in each other's faces constantly but he was within sensing range. In a way it made the contrast that much more apparent compared to the days after.

This week, Kagome had to count her blessings if she could even see a glimpse of his face once a day. It was like back before she asked him to live with her, except worse, because there was no pretending that he was just hanging out in the forest if he wasn't at the house. Now, if he wasn't home, he was either out doing Masae's dirty work, or at the estate. The thought terrified her.

Kagome exhaled, trying hard to reign in her emotions. Burying her face into her hands she kneaded her temples and down the sides to her jaw, trying to loosen the tension.

"Kagome?" Shippou's worried voice came from in front of her. "Are you ok?"

She lifted her head, trying to put a smile back on her face for the little boy's sake. "Yeah, Shippou-chan. Just got a bit of a headache is all."

He nodded, though his expression held a trace of doubt. "Okay. Well, Sango and Miroku should be back soon."

"Sure. Why don't we play a game?"

And that they did, playing a few games of ball which evolved into something that involved chasing the youkai children across the grotto. The genuine laughter did help ease some of her anxiety. It also reminded her why it was so important to continue on this mission they've claimed for themselves. Most of the young youkai that Miroku took care of were either ones that had narrowly escaped capture themselves or had kin enslaved in the city. There were so many families they could reunite if they succeeded.

"Kagome-san, you're here early today!"

Kagome stopped mid-stride, pausing in her pursuit of the little squirrel youkai, who giggled and took the opportunity to make her escape.

"Sango-san, Miroku-sama!"

She made her way to the sitting area where her two friends were shedding their gear, after excusing herself with from playtime.

The taijiya was rolling her shoulders back, loosening them from the weight they carried all day. Miroku leaned back against the rock face and took a swig of water.

"Kagome-sama, it's good to see you."

"Likewise." Kagome took a seat. "Did everything go well today?"

The monk nods, sending a small smile Sango's way. "Yes. I think between Sango-san and I, we've narrowed it down to two pretty strong leads."

Kagome hummed, ushering for them to continue.

"Yes. We're down to the abandoned mine outside the Southwest gate and a derelict manor near Tenrinji. I've tracked groups of newly captured youkai to the mine and Miroku-sama has seen some suspicious activity at the supposedly empty house." Sango summarized, sounding fairly satisfied with their progress.

"That's great!" Kagome clapped her hands together. "Maybe I can help investigate that manor?"

Miroku shook his head, his expression understanding but serious. "I'm afraid not, Kagome-sama. We know for certain that the head priestess has her eyes on you. It would be best for you not to draw any unwanted attention."

Kagome sighed. She needed to think of the big picture.

Switching gears, Sango scooted closer to her, asking gently. "Any news from Inuyasha?"

She forgot to exhale for a moment, then cleared her throat, swallowing. "No. He's... not been back for a couple of days."

Sango squeezed her shoulder. "He'll be alright, Kagome-san. From the little I've seen, he's a strong fighter.

Kagome didn't trust her voice, only nodding in response. After another pause, she spoke up again.

"Well, I guess I better head out then. There's still a few herbs I need to sort before tomorrow."

After a quick goodbye to Shippou, Kagome left for home. A part of her had wanted to stay with them at the grotto, especially the last few days. It must be cozy and comfortable at night, surrounded by friends and familiar youki. The nights at the hut by herself have been fraught with unease. That being said, she had to go back every night, because she couldn't risk missing Inuyasha, on the off chance he might return.

Tonight will be another long night of staying up way past when she would've normally headed to bed, grasping at the desperate hope of seeing him trudge through her door.

–-–-–-–-–

'Masae-sama requests your presence tonight' was all the brief message delivered to her that morning at the herb garden revealed. The fact that it left her feeling antsy all day was an understatement. As if it wasn't already increasingly more difficult for her to maintain her composure around the high priestess.

Kagome returned just as the sun dipped below the line of the surrounding mountain range. She was greeted at the door and the steward of the house came to retrieve her soon after. The estate at night held an odd air– secretive and ominous. She didn't recall it being quite so bad when she was last here at night but at the same time, she'd had company before and there's a lot about Masae she'd learned since.

It might be her imagination but Ito seemed to be weirdly avoidant in his demeanour as well. Usually, the man would maintain a steady stream of pleasant small talk to play his role as host. Tonight, the man was quiet, shuffling along and almost preemptively trying to stop Kagome from conversing with clipped replies.

They took a roundabout way past the main receiving hall, the interior darkened as the guests have left for the day. The only people about were groups of servants, by now, all of youkai descent. More than a few sent hateful glares her way, no doubt feeling her reiki, no matter how hard she tried to reign her powers close to her core. They continued on, taking a detour out past the ornamental and then the herb garden. Strange. Perhaps the platformed walkways linking the buildings were usually swept this time of night.

There was no sign of Jinenji's hulking sillouhette in between the dimly lit plant beds. Kagome often wondered where he stayed at night, if he was given at least a decent place to rest after a full day of hard work under the sun. She quickly shook her head, clearing away that thought. It would only do harm to dwell on things like that as she's heading into a meeting with Masae.

Abruptly, the man in front of her came to stop, in the middle of the cramped courtyard between the servant buildings and the main house.

"Kagome-san, I will be taking my leave here. My mistress' study is just beyond here and to the right once you reorient back to the main house." The man bowed deeply to her once. "I bid you a good night."

"Wai–" Before Kagome could even utter another syllable, the man had whirled around and hurried back the way they came without so much as a backward glance.

Something was definitely off. What kind of escort leaves the guest randomly in middle of the yard?

And then Kagome heard sounds, low and garbled but definitely filtered out from the tall barn-like structure. The same place she had avoided since that first night where she saw the youkai slave getting clobbered and... when she first found out about Inuyasha.

The parallels to that night was slowly adding up. Her fingers felt cold and clammy.

The noises came again, muffled groans and then curses. A woman's voice– too low for coherent words to manifest.

This was most definitely a lure. Otherwise, why deposit her here alone? But just like Shippou, who went after the food in the traps even though he should know better, Kagome found herself taking small steps towards the building.

Noiselessly, she crept into the building, the door was sufficiently ajar for her to slip in without difficulty. Her senses prickled. There was definitely a demonic aura, and not surprisingly, bursts of spiritual energy.

There were remnants of wooden partitions that once might've sectioned off the space into stalls for livestock. But many of these have rotted away from disuse. Kagome ducked behind one and then made her way carefully to the next, approaching the back of the building were the occupants were.

At last, hidden behind a pillar and a haphazard pile of crates, was a slender figure in the signature red and white. The person Kagome knew she would find even before she had laid eyes on her.

"Have you decided to tell me what I want to hear yet, youkai?"

"Fuck you."

Masae gave no apparent reaction to the insult, merely raised her arm. A stifling pulse of energy, and the trill of the whip in her hand. Kagome cringed in her hiding place, watching helplessly as multiple parallel lines of red etched across the demon male's chest, making a crosshatch of the bloody marks already there.

The man grunted, cursing, then snarled at her. Despite this, it was obvious how attractive the demon was. He was tall and lean with a straight curtain of milky blue hair. Dark turquoise eyes set in a fine boned face, glared with hatred mixed in with humiliation. Unbidden, she recalled the off-hand comments, from Sango, Jinenji and even Inuyasha about the criteria for selection of Masae's personal slaves.

For good measure, Masae hit him again, sending the sharpened poppers tearing through the fabric of his clothing into his flesh. He hunched over, breathing heavily through what must be excruciating pain.

The priestess turned, leisurely walking over as she gathered the tails of the switch into a neat bundle and set it on a nearby crate. Maybe it was the flickering of the braziers that lit the structure, but it emphasized the shadow of the hollows of Masae's face. Surely, a few days of fasting during the meditation retreat wouldn't leave a person that gaunt?

Kagome caught the beginnings of a pleased smile on Masae's face before she turned once more to face her captive.

"Not the correct answer." She mused, taking leisurely steps to arrive uncomfortably close to the demon. "Which makes me wonder if you like me resorting to this."

The man launched into a furious struggle, as her long fingers rose and shockingly, began a slow stroke down the side of his face, from his cheek bone down to the jaw. He was bound in an elaborate net of spelled rope, all the same oily black, strung up securely to the wall. The hooks that suspended them were once used for tack and various barn tools. Now, they were reenforced with foreign sutras. His limbs were tied down, with a loop of rope drawn tight around his neck.

Kagome watched in horror, not being able to pull away, as Masae's stroked down the man's neck not once hesitating at the collar of his robes. Her pale hand disappeared inside his clothing and she made wide motions, loosening the fabric until it gaped open, revealing taut muscles.

It was hard to see the crazed desperation that was beginning to infiltrate the man's eyes. His chest was heaving from the effort at fighting the bonds, but to no avail.

Masae chuckled chillingly at the sight.

The bunching of his clothes showcased the trajectory of her hand underneath as she caressed his collarbones, gliding over his chest, perusing his ribs and abdomen. If it wasn't such a perverse situation, Kagome would've used the adjective 'gently'.

Nothing he was doing was fazing her. The growls, the snaps of his teeth, the curses and profanities. Masae only stepped even closer, allowing her arm to encircle his torso and her hand to travel to his back, dipping under the tie of his hakama.

He made an awful choked noise.

Masae pulled back, her hand now free from his clothing and coming to palm his cheek, cupping the side of his face. Kagome closed her eyes for a second when she felt the well of energy, and the resultant smell of burnt flesh.

What she saw when her lids cracked open again made her wish she'd kept them closed longer. The priestess had raised herself up on her toes, and pressed her face against the demon man. From her angle, it was fairly certain that Masae had kissed him.

Somehow, in her volatile emotional state, she'd flinched and her foot shot out, kicking over a pail. The clatter rang through the air, unmistakable for any other ambient noise from outside the building.

Kagome froze, then stepped out from behind the pillar. There was no other choice. There was no time and nowhere to run.

Masae pulled away slowly, her hand disengaging from the youkai's hair. She turned to meet Kagome's eye, expression completely tranquil.

"My apologies, Masae-sama, for interrupting. Perhaps I had misunderstood my escort's direction." Kagome managed to deliver smoothly, her voice so level that she even surprised herself. "Shall we reschedule to a more suitable time?"

The head priestess held her gaze for a few uncomfortable seconds, before responding.

"Ah, Kagome. Good evening. It seems that time has gotten away from me." A hint of a smile ghosted onto her face. "No need to reschedule. I will just be a moment, if you pardon the wait."

Kagome nodded mutely, watching as Masae walked over to a bench, where she proceeded to dip her hands delicately into a basin of water to wash them. She took the opportunity to glance at the youkai, who was now slumped over, head hanging limply from his neck. He was breathing but it looked like the fight had fled him. He didn't even acknowledge the commotion she caused.

Her eyes snapped back to the priestess as soon as the splashing stopped. Masae straightening, patting her hands with a cloth, the approached her.

"Come. I shall finish here after we've spoken."

Without pause, the priestess swept out of the barn. Kagome could only follow, sending one last worried glance at the youkai hanging heavily from his bonds.

As they crossed the courtyard back towards the main buildings of the manor, Masae spoke up again with a soft laugh.

"These days have certainly been overwhelming with the preparations for Banka. It seems like every detail of the festival requires my attention." She mused. "But as I say, it is healthy to find a release for the tension. It is rather fortunate I have access to these fine specimens. Assets that I would gladly share, should you be interested of course."

Kagome's eyes almost bugged out of their sockets. Cranking her neck even lower to hide her face from view, she was immensely grateful for the cloak of darkness around them.

What? That's what Masae is calling this? Stress relief? Sure, that poor excuse is something that Kagome most certainly had heard before. From ones who justified their drink or games of dice or frequenting the brothel, but never from a priestess and certainly not what she was referring to. There was no doubt that what she witnessed was sexual and unwelcomed.

Wait, did Masae imply the offer Kagome herself the opportunity to do the same?

She struggled to choke out an incoherent string of syllables to adamantly refuse the offer.

Masae laughed in response, sounding genuinely amused. As if they were discussing an outing to watch a noh play.

"Ah, I keep forgetting you are young, and kept sheltered for most of your years."

Kagome failed to speak yet again, managing to make a noncommittal noise.

It was taking every ounce of effort for Kagome to tamp down the instinct to flee like a frightened animal. Instead she swallowed all the words she wanted to shout at the head priestess, fixating on repeating a mantra inwardly. This was the only way she can help speed things along. The only way she could help right now. This strange role of confidante that Masae seemed to push onto her is the only way she might uncover the aspects critical to their mission.

Masae lead them to her study, which Kagome had never seen before. It was a warmly lit room with a large table stacked with scrolls and well stocked in writing implements. The room certainly did a good job of mimicking what Kaede's chambers used to look like in Tenrinji.

The priestess moved to sit behind the desk, and Kagome according sat across from her on the other side. She tucked her hands under her shins, subconsciously bracing for the shitstorm that was most definitely to come.

"Kagome, I do apologize again for my inability to find a time to speak with you during the day." The woman rested her folded hands on the table. "But I did want to inform you as quickly as possible so you have time to prepare. I have completed some investigations…"

Kagome tensed.

"Into the circumstances of your dismissal at the end of your apprenticeship with Kaede-sama. And I do not find it to be entirely warranted.

As you've demonstrated at the past few training sessions, your abilities are in no way less than those of the other miko. I believe you deserve another chance."

Masae's dark eyes flashed intently. "If I extend a personal recommendation, there will be no conceivable objection. You may join the upcoming apprentices in the preparations in the autumn and then complete the final rites to be a miko in the new year. I know how difficult it must have been for you to have spent all those years of your youth training to have been sent home falling short of achieving your dreams. How does that sound?"

As much as Kagome loathed to admit, Masae's words hit the nail right on the head. Kagome would not have been able to summarize her own feelings as accurately as the woman did with her last few sentences. And to her disgust, her reaction to the possibility of doing just as Masae suggested was not an immediate 'no'.

She could be a miko after all. All it would take is a few more months and training that she'd already completed. It would not be difficult to go through the formalities again.

Masae smiled at her, noting the receptiveness on her features. "I think you are very capable Kagome, and would make an outstanding miko. It is becoming apparent that Kyo is growing immensely and I would be most grateful were you to work with me closely."

Kagome returned the smile hesitantly. "Thank you so much, Masae-sama. It certainly means a lot to me. But... it is a big decision and I–I would like some time to consider it, if that is acceptable to you."

"Of course. There is no rush. You have until the end of summer to give me an answer. However, I must implore you that this is a rare opportunity and you would make a great miko." She moved to select a sheet of paper to set in front of her. "Now, I better not delay your evening for much longer."

"Thank you Masae-same. Good evening."

Kagome rose, taking the hint to be dismissed. She bowed lightly in farewell before turning to exit the room. Just as she reached the threshold, Masae's composed voice sounded again from behind her.

"One more thing, Kagome. Curiosity is a sound attribute. My earlier offer on our walk over, is also a standing one, should you reconsider."

Kagome was totally caught off guard again and closed the shoji to the sound of Masae's quiet laughter.

It was such a disorienting thing, to be treated almost with a kind of camaraderie by the head priestess. Maybe this is the favour that those other young miko keep vying for.

On one hand, Kagome understood the implications of the offer. In exchange for a chance for her to obtain the status of a miko, Masae would expect Kagome's obedience and loyalty to her. That would also mean, unquestioned assistance to her cause.

There was no way she could do that. Sell out to Inuyasha's enslaver. What would that mean to their mission?

Yet, as much as she wished it wasn't true, the tantalizing prize of something she had wanted for so long and denied, now gifted with another chance to materialize was still, in a small sense, tempting.

–-–-–-–-–

Kagome wasn't sure what woke her. There hadn't been any particularly jarring sound. Opening her eyes, she was greeted by the familiar sight of the rafters in shadow. Although the day had been hot, the night brought a cool breeze that drifted through the shoji she'd left open for ventilation. The nocturnal chorus of insects filtered into the room.

Untangling the bedding trapped around her hip, likely pulled down when her sleeping self tried to cool off, Kagome rolled around to lay on her other side to better face the breeze. That was when she caught sight of him.

Inuyasha had returned.

The weight that lifted off her chest at the discovery of his presence was immense.

The half-demon was propped up against the wall, just inside the open shoji. The moonlight made the cascade of his hair ethereal and casted a long shadow that stretched further into the room. His feet were planted and knees up, slightly apart, upon each an arm dangled loosely. Even though it'd only been a few days but she missed seeing his face. His eyes were closed.

Kagome couldn't be certain if he was asleep but he didn't make any motion to acknowledge her alertness. And though she yearned so much to be able to check him for injuries, more for her sake than his at this point, she would not. Whatever was visible by moonlight seemed unmarred, his robes unstained and that was the best she could hope for. She wanted him to have some uninterrupted rest first and foremost.

Furthermore, it was unspoken between them why he'd chosen, of late, to stay in the sleeping room with her when he made a point to not even step inside prior. He did, however, sit in the furthest corner from her bedding as possible. If Kagome was honest with herself, she much preferred when she could physically be in the same space as him. Never once had it ever crossed her mind that he would take advantage of her.

Kagome sent prayers to the kami that he would still be here in the morning.

Her dark eyes roamed tenderly once more, surveying the quiet half demon, before Kagome fell back asleep with a faint smile.

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A/N: Ok, this was difficult to write but I did it. This chapter is a little shorter than the rest but pace/plot wise, it makes sense to pause here.

Also, I hope no one gets too mad at this AU's Kagome. Her whole life she'd been told to be a miko and worked towards it for so long…

Happy New Year everyone :)


 

Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. However, this plot, the exact sequence of words and any original characters described therein, I reserve all rights to.