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Clapping one hand against his mouth, body quaking and sweating uncontrollably, Inuyasha slowly slid down the wall of the storeroom until he made his way into solid ground. Overall he was rather proud of himself for holding it together until now but now that night had fallen and everyone else was asleep, the sheer panic he’d suppressed was overwhelming him.

Miroku had inexplicably survived his ordeal - although he seemed rather worse for wear. Not physically but emotionally. A hollow look had replaced his normally playful gaze. Sango’s new confident behavior had been replaced by skittishness. Shippo continued to be scared out of his wits and even Kagome’s normally optimistic energy seemed frazzled. Someone had to be strong. Hold everyone together and for whatever reason, that task had fallen to him.

A hot mess of a person who could barely function. Who was currently losing his ever loving mind while hiding like a god damn coward. Unable to breathe or think or...

Gasping painfully, Inuyasha kept his trembling hand clamped tightly around his face to hold back the scream that wanted to break free.

The jewel was complete. Or at least it appeared to be. Kagome wanted to put the pieces together tomorrow and instead of spending quite possibly her last night on earth tucked safely in his arms, she was alone while he was here unable to cope with the harsh realities forced upon him in such quick succession.

They should’ve had more time. They’d only been married - what? Five days? He needed more time but time was up. He...he was...

“Inuyasha?” a weak shaky voice called out softly into the darkness and the half-demon flinched.

A sigh before the sounds of someone stumbling awkwardly towards him somehow hit his ringing ears but it was impossible to move - held captive by his terror which only reached new heights. What if this didn’t go away? Naraku could attack right now and he’d be useless. Unable to lift a finger to defend...

“Shippo should’ve have given you time to adjust to this,” Miroku opined hoarsely and the weak sound to his voice momentarily distracted the panicking half-demon. The monk had been fine - like nothing had even happened. Had he been putting on a front too?

“I think you will find being in Kagome’s presence will improve your state of mind,” the monk offered cryptically as he slid down the wall himself to sit beside his shaking friend. One hand gently rubbed the half-demon’s shoulder as Miroku rested the back of his head against the wood and closed his eyes.

“I...I c-can’t...”

Biting his lip, the monk weighed the pros and cons of divulging the suspicions more or less confirmed during the course of his recovery before thinking better of it. Informing the poor boy of one more shocking twist would undoubtedly send him over the edge and, truth be told, even when his friend was falling to pieces, the fact that Inuyasha was there with him served as a great comfort. The past week had been torture of the acutest kind.

“I want to apologize. For how I reacted to your behavior towards Kikyo,” Miroku offered instead and Inuyasha’s breathing hitched painfully as his clawed hand gripped his mouth tighter.

“I didn’t understand what it must’ve been like for you but I think I...I get it now,” the monk continued - much less formally than usual which only sent the half-demon spiraling even faster. This change in behavior - however subtle - adding confusion to the dangerous emotional cocktail clouding his mind.

“Sango, as I knew her, died that day. This one...this one shares her face. Her identity. It’s painful to be around her and yet I...” Miroku let out a long shuddering sigh, “And yet I still...I do not know if I...”

Inuyasha let out another painful gasp as every muscle in his body continued to spasm out of control. Biting his lip once more, Miroku hesitated before wrapping his arm around his friend’s shoulder and pulling him closer - taking Inuyasha’s weight and simply offering support. The fact that Inuyasha didn’t resist spoke volumes about how lost to his fear his friend currently was - how terrified of both the known and unknown.

Even though his own body felt weak and fragile, that he was risking a great deal by being here, there was no place Miroku would rather be than here. Present and attentive to his friend’s own struggles. Too often in the past he’d taken the friendship between them for granted. Pointed out weaknesses and even exploited them for his own amusement. Judged something instead of making an attempt at understanding.

No longer. Inuyasha, for all his faults, was someone who was very precious. And in this moment, desperately in need of reassurance. But what could one say in the face of the unknown? Empty promises accomplished nothing.

Thankfully, whether from being comforted or the distraction caused by the awkwardness of the situations, Inuyasha’s tremors had begun to subside even though his hand was still clasped tightly around his mouth.

“I just realized I never congratulated you on your nuptials,” Miroku offered quietly as he gave his friend a light squeeze, “I could offer a blessing if you wish.”

He felt Inuyasha’s brow furrow against his shoulder and at the lack of a further response, Miroku took his silent as permission.

“ Bless them as unmoving and eternal. May their lives flourish like luxuriant trees,” Miroku began quietly and Inuyasha’s hand finally released its purchase - if only slightly, “May they, bride and groom, together with heaven and earth, with the sun and the moon, continue to give out light and radiance. Thus we do reverently pray.”

“S-sounds l-like h-horseshit,” Inuyasha laughed shakily although his made no effort to move - a both odd and endearing reaction. The old Inuyasha would’ve balked at being held but Miroku knew better than to make sure a comment. Much had changed and stranger things had indeed occurred.

“Ah well, most blessings are but it is how I’ve made my living,” Miroku hummed and finally Inuyasha pulled back with a shaky sigh.

“You did nothing wrong.”

At the strange statement, Miroku made a small noise of confusion and surprisingly the half-demon made a point to explain.

“About Kikyo. T-took me a while to r-realize she wasn’t the same. She did all sorts of...batshit things and f-felt...I j-just wanted h-her to l-love me again. D-doesn’t make a-any sense l-looking back,” Inuyasha admitted, “I d-don’t know i-if I ever loved her in the...”

“You did and it was wrong of us to dismiss the fact you were grieving,” Miroku soothed earning a faint yet bitter smile, “We humans are flawed you see.”

Inuyasha snorted before he miserably shook his head.

“I loved Kagome too ya know,” the half-demon offered - like he was trying to redeem his pathetic behavior, “I did.”

“No one doubts that,” Miroku placated before taking a deep breath and plowing ahead, “If It’s any consolation, I do believe you are the best man I have ever encountered but good men are not perfect men and oftentimes, must overcome more than most.”

“Sometimes you say shit that makes no sense,” Inuyasha chided playfully as he ran his hand under his running nose before adding, “Makes you feel better I think you’re probably the best guy I know.”

“Both of us frauds. Attempting to hide our true nature,” Miroku tried but his usual aptitude for coherent intelligent thought had seemingly flown the coop. Inuyasha seemed to notice this as well given the suddenly concerned look he was giving.

“You look like shit,” the half-demon observed bluntly, “Instead of hunting down my sorry ass, you should’ve been sleeping or something.”

“Alas I have found rest elusive,” Miroku admitted evasively as he played with his still bruised hand, “The slayer has been showing interest.”

Inuyasha incrementally wrinkled his nose before his face crumpled in sympathy as he read between the lines.

“Thats why you understand about Kikyo.”

The monk subtly nodded but otherwise didn’t react. Inuyasha let out a shaky sigh before returning the monk’s earlier gesture and rubbing his friend’s upper arm.

“Well...I wish I had advice but I don’t,” Inuyasha laughed ruefully, “And you know, there are plenty of other bitches out there. You don’t have to be with her if it hurts too much.”

Miroku’s cringe and shifting didn’t go unnoticed. This reaction confused the half-demon immensely.

“What? There are...”

“It would appear I...I am tethered to her in some way,” the monk interrupted miserably, “While I was wounded, when she...when she maintained distance, my condition deteriorated but when we maintained contact, my recovery accelerated. Even now, I feel myself weakening...”

Inuyasha tensed.

“That doesn’t mean anything. Shit, you were dying,” Inuyasha argued lamely, “I’ve had that happen. It gets pretty touch and go when you take a hit like that. Could just be her timing...”

Miroku smiled faintly at the encouragement.

“Maybe so. Only time will tell I suppose...”

For a long comfortable moment, the two men were silent before Inuyasha awkwardly cleared his throat.

“We’re not telling the girls about this, right?”

Miroku’s lips twitched upwards as he cast his friend a curious look.

“Are you referring to...”

“Just saying no one has to know certain things...”

A tired grin began to bloom on the monk’s face making the poor half-demon extremely uncomfortable.

“Are you ashamed to have been in need of comfort?”

Inuyasha both blushed and blanched - creating an amusing blotchy appearance.

“I didn’t need it. You came up with the whole holding idea.”

“You didn’t resist if memory...”

Nothing happened. If anyone asks, we...we were discussing the jewel and shit...”

A full grin was now firmly present on the monk’s face.

“I for one am not ashamed of comforting a friend in...”

Inuyasha set his jaw and gave the monk a glare that would've scared the bravest of men.

“Don’t make me hurt you.”

Sesshomaru felt out of sorts as he arrived at the pearly gates amidst the clouds with his most precious possession in tow along with his excess baggage. Undoubtedly his reception would be cold and his motives questioned at every turn. So far removed from his previously apathetic character that he was unrecognizable, the woman who birthed him would most likely dismiss him as a fraud or, worse yet, proclaim him a berserker, declare him a liability and order him killed. Especially considering what he was about to request.

And yet there were precious few alternatives left at his disposal. Rin was his only concern and nothing was worth losing her. Hiding her with a powerful daiyoukai blessed with the power of concealment was undoubtedly the safest option - were it available - but said daiyoukai had an inherent distain and even repulsion towards humans for just cause. The humiliation his father had inflicted when he bedded a human had only evolved into rage - although she had shown her son mercy over his affinity towards the girl once before. Perhaps she would acquiescence to his request out of the love she harbored for her son buried deep, deep beneath her cold, unyielding surface.

However, given how she had not lifted a single finger to comfort him during his rapid descent into madness it was entirely possible that her actions so long ago had been simply to demonstrate that she alone had the power to truly overcome death or simply out of a desire to have him gone as expeditiously as possible.

Inhaling deeply, Sesshomaru watched with trepidation as the gates slowly opened before taking his daughter's small, fragile hand and guiding her inside.

The translucent stairs seemed to go on much longer than he remembered. The palace much larger and more ominous. Regret began occupying every fiber of his being and the desire to flee was awe-inspiring. Where had the confident demon who believed himself invincible gone? Had he truly been destroyed so completely?

As his mother came into view, perched on her throne and clearly anticipating his arrival, a cold feeling of dread settled in his gut. Perhaps she already knew why he had come. Clairvoyance was not one of her many gifts but she often kept lesser demons possessing rare abilities on staff. It was entirely...

"Tell me why you've come," his mother asked in a bored detached tone before he even made it onto the courtyard before her cold eyes flicked to the human girl under his care, "Is that creature an offering?"

Sesshomaru barely checked his cringe and quickly yet subtly moved to partially obstruct Rin from his mother's curious gaze.

"The child is under my protection," he managed in his usual monotone manner, "This Sesshomaru comes seeking sanctuary."

"Sanctuary," she repeated with no lack of condescension and distain, "How disappointing. Are you so weak Sesshomaru?"

Unsure of how to respond, Sesshomaru remained silent and awaited her verdict. The only virtue his mother possessed was decisiveness and given her attitude, her decision had likely already been made.

"Is this human your pet?"

A flicker of anger and offense flashed through his eyes before he could prevent it. Almost immediately, his mother had a similar uncontrollable reaction. One he knew too well. Disgust.

"You would bed a human so..."

"This Sesshomaru would not debase his daughter in such a way," he corrected - his voice carrying a hard edge and his mother's eyes widened incrementally in uncharacteristic surprise, "One named Naraku wishes her harm."

Shockingly, the cold exterior the formidable maternal daiyoukai possessed softened slightly.

"And so you came here. For my protection."

Rin's small face peeked out and much to Sesshomaru's shock, his mother's face softened incrementally more to an unnerving degree.

"My son rarely visits me and now comes before me with fear in his eyes. This...Naraku must be formidable. Have you faced them before or is your request merely peremptory?"

"Twice has the child died. Once by his hand," Sesshomaru replied after a long tense moment in which he questioned his own sanity, "Unnatural forces returned her to me."

Thin eyebrows incrementally raised.

"Unnatural forces? Of what kind?"

"There are no answers This Sesshomaru can provide. The forces have yet to identify themselves and their motives are beyond his understanding."

The silence that followed caused tension so thick it could be cut with a knife before his mother let out a long sigh and beckoned him closer.

"My life would have been simpler if you had simply accepted the woman I procured for you," his mother commented absently, "It would have been an affable match but you have always been a stubborn, headstrong child. Endlessly  disappointing."

Sesshomaru moved closer - all the while keeping himself between his mother and the most important being in this earth. The irritated glare the threat gave him confused and alarmed him endlessly.

And his confusion only escalated into unbridled panic at her next demand.

"Move aside and let me assess my granddaughter," his mother sighed in her usually bored tone, "Given your off putting demeanor and strange habits, it seems unlikely I will have another and despite her undesirable lineage, I wish to know if she is pretty."

'We don't know these are the last shards,' Inuyasha sternly told himself as his entirely body shook violently and he watched Kagome with no lack of despair, 'There could still be more. There could still be more time. Oh god please let there be more time.'

"Here it goes," Kagome breathed before closing her eyes and clasped the two pinkish chunks together between her palms. For a moment, there was dead silence. Even the birds stopped chirping and the wind ceased to blow. Then like a giant play button had just been pressed and fast forward was selected, Kagome felt the jewel snap together then fuss before she could blink. She could hear Inuyasha struggling to breathe and one quick glance had her panicking about whether he'd stay conscious. Honestly, she couldn't bring herself to look even as her palm unfurled and so she closed her eyes and held up her palm so someone else could tell her whether her worst nightmare was true. Maybe Inuyasha had been onto something when he'd suggested they stop searching. All she wanted to do is live the rest of her life by his side. Two more months and she would've been able to fully embrace what should've been the happiest times of her life. More than anything, she wanted a life, a full life, to be with him and just live. To see him smile. To see him happy. Despite his gruff demeanor, she knew he would be an amazing father. She was selfish too. She wanted to experience the happiness he brought her. To wake up in the comfort and security within his arms. Inuyasha wasn't the only one who needed someone to shoulder burdens and calm the soul. What she did for him, he did for her as well. There was nothing better than the quiet moments they shared. Than their petty little squabbles and his special little smiles that had her turning into a puddle of goo. Than seeing him all flustered in the most adorable way. Yes, he was broken and struggling but he was also so loving and...

A watery somewhat crazed laugh interrupted her thoughts as the sound of someone crumpling to their knees hit her ears.

"Oh thank fuck," Inuyasha mumbled somewhere between a laugh and a sob, "It's not whole. Oh shit..."

Another muffled laugh escaped the half-demon who had buried his face in his hands and Kagome heard Miroku unsteadily approach with what sounded like Sango either supporting his attempt or hovering to catch him if he fell.

"He's right," Miroku sighed miserably - which was odd, "It appears there are some missing."

Kagome open her eyes and a relieved sigh escaped her. Looking at Inuyasha, her heart ached at the sight of his trembling form with his face buried in his hands.

"This is excellent news. As it is not complete, it will give us more time to prepare," Miroku continued in a numb tone after a long moment, "Inuyasha and I will need...need to compare and determine which shards may have been...been missed."

Kagome looked up at the monk's pale face with the guiltiest look the monk had ever seen and in return, he offered her what appeared to be an attempt at a reassuring smile.

"I have recovered. There is no need to be concerned on my account," Miroku reassured her, "I am certain..."

A loud groan interrupted the monk's train of thought and all eyes whipped to the half-demon who was still kneeling on the ground.

"Oh fuck me. I know where the shards are," Inuyasha sighed heavily as he lifted his face and sagged in defeat, "There should be three there."

For a moment everyone looked confused as they awaited further explanation before Miroku let out a short laugh.

"If It's any consolation, I highly doubt he would attempt anything untoward," the monk offered in a weary mixture of amusement and sympathy, "And it's equally possible he possesses no shards at all."

"Who are we talking about?" Kagome asked curiously and Inuyasha set his jaw.

"Let's just call him your stalker..."