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Trembling fingers curled around a blood spattered palm as amber eyes watched wearily as the flickering of flames danced on the cave wall. What was the point in running anymore? Of fighting? Naraku had won and with his victory, Inuyasha had lost everyone he cared about. Everyone he loved. The decade that followed that day was a blur of grief and pain. Of loneliness. Chaos was everywhere. War was everywhere.

Today he’d gotten sloppy. For so many reasons. Kagome always assumed he’d forgotten or couldn’t keep track but he knew. He knew her birthday. So like an idiot he’d tried to steal something nice to put on her grave this year. But, of course, the village priestess felt his aura snooping about the village late at night. Probably assumed he was there to kill everyone. Three poorly charged spiritual arrows had embedded in his back - not immediately lethal but debilitating nonetheless. He’d probably just bleed out - the second he’d torn them out the pain increased tenfold. Probably ripped something vital.


And all of this started because he wanted a comb. He’d seen the merchant traveling with it and followed. Kagome cooed over one like it all those years ago and he’d told her it was a waste of money. 

A shuddering sob escaped him as a tear broke free and he watched the shadows grow larger. Against his will, an image of her unseeing blue eyes open and wide - blood trickling down her mouth with her arms out at irregular angles. 

She’d been the first to fall.

And after Kagome was gone, Inuyasha didn’t have anything left In him. He could barely move. Barely breathe. Barely think. 

The others didn’t need to die but they did. Because of him. When he turned to face down Naraku, filled with rage and grief, his legs had felt like lead and his stopped working the second Kagome left this world.

Inuyasha let out a shuddering breath as he pushed himself up against the stone wall and winced in pain. Wet hot blood drenched his back and was pooling beneath him - his body was starting to feel numb. Cold. Maybe death was finally coming for him. 


Naraku didn’t even bother killing him. Living was a far greater punishment. Death would’ve been too generous. Oh, Inuyasha had tried killing himself a few times but somehow always recovered. Always. After the last time, though, the idea that maybe killing himself would send him somewhere else rather than reunite him with Kagome stilled his hand. That such an act would stop him from reincarnating or something. Not that he knew that for certain but fear was motivation enough. That and the realization that he didn’t want to have to explain what he’d done when he did see Kagome again. Which hopefully one day he would.

Besides maybe he’d live long enough to stop Kagome from ever coming through the well. Just let her live. The result would be better for all of their friends. Well, except Miroku but he was dead either way.

Closing his eyes, Inuyasha leaned his head against the cold stone and willed away the pain. At least it would be over soon. That was something he’d wanted for a long time now.

Forget that you were bitter enemies,” Kagome’s muffled and distant voice began ringing in his ears, “Kikyo died long ago, right?”

Inhaling sharply, Inuyasha opened his eyes and looked around the still empty cave. Was he officially going insane? This was happening more and more recently. Louder whenever he was injured - the memories of her and even the scent taunting him. Maybe because Kagome was waiting for him and wanted him to die faster.

Since yesterday, you’ve been avoiding looking at me!”Kagome’s faint voice accused and Inuyasha let out a bitter watery laugh. Ah, so his mind was replaying that day was it? Things would’ve been so different if he’d just let that old hag have the ashes. Or if he’d sent Kagome home until he dealt with the witch himself. Without Kikyo getting in the way, maybe something could’ve happened but there was no point dreaming about ‘what ifs.’ 

Kagome was dead. 

And it was his fault. 

“What is your problem?!” Kagome bellowed in his ear firmly grasped in her hand and Inuyasha choked as his eyes flew open and met her angry blue gaze, “It’s because I look like her isn’t...”

Forgetting how to breathe, Inuyasha tried to wrap his mind around the situation - one hand patting his shoulder to see whether the wound was still there while the other pressed against his neck to check for a heartbeat. One was present. The other was not. 

Even though his heart seemed to be beating, he had to be dead, right? He knew this conversation. Knew what happened next. He’d just been thinking about it after all.  

Trying not to think too much about the strangeness of it all, Inuyasha spent the next few moments memorizing the details of Kagome’s face. 

“Wait, Inuyasha are you okay?” Kagome asked worriedly as she quickly released his ear and cringed, “Oh I’m so sorry. I didn’t think...I shouldn’t have...”

“When...” he began hoarsely as he sat back and tried to stay calm, “When is this? How long have we known each other?”

Kagome blinked a few times at the strange question before pressing her palm against his forehead.

“Are you okay?”

“How long have we known each other?” Inuyasha repeated a little desperately and Kagome’s eyes widened.

“A month or so,” she replied slowly, “Maybe...”

Whatever this was, Inuyasha had no intention of wasting a precious second in Kagome’s presence. Maybe he’d been given a second chance. A second chance to do things differently. Maybe...maybe everything had been a premonition. Maybe it hadn’t actually happened and now he could just avoid all his mistakes. 

A grin slowly began blooming on his lips and Kagome looked even more afraid.

After over a decade of waiting, they could finally be together. They’d been reunited! A disbelieving laugh escaped him making Kagome look more alarmed. Without Kikyo their relationship could actually happen because he’d make damn sure Kagome lived this time and...and...

“Long enough,” he laughed shakily and then his mouth was on hers. His arms pulling her to straddle his lap. Lips hot, fiery, passionate and demanding. Arms wrapped around her body pulling her as close as he dared. When she whimpered, he smirked against her lips and adjusted the angle to deepen their meetings. This was what should’ve been happening all that time. This right here. A soft moan escaped him when her arms slowly draped around his neck and she pressed herself against him. This was what he should’ve had.

When he reluctantly pulled away to breathe, he panted as he grinned at her flushed face - a clawed finger brushed a few ebony hairs behind her ear.

“ is that why you weren’t looking at me?” she teased shakily, “Because you wanted to kiss me so bad?”

Inuyasha chuckled good-naturedly and nodded seeing as how that was as good an explanation as any. 

“Well there you go,”she laughed softly before leaning in to give him a quick kiss that he happily returned. Pulling back, she frowned though which almost had him panicking.

“Well...We should probably go get Kikyo’s ashes back,” she began as she tried to compose herself, “You know...”

Inuyasha shook his head as his heart began racing.

“No, why don’t you go back,” he offered as calmly as he could, “Just for a few days. I’ll come get you when it’s over.”

“Because you don’t want me to come?” Kagome asked in a hurt and confused tone, “But...”

“I just worry that this witch might try to hurt you,” he tried to explain as one hand cupped her chin to force her to look at him, “People think you might be Kikyo’s reincarnation. I don’t want her getting any ideas.”

“Is that why you kissed me?” Kagome asked as she paled considerably, “Because I look like...”

“No,” Inuyasha laughed once despite himself - his fingers still supporting her chin, “No, not at all.”

“Then why...”

“You mean a lot to me,” he hummed as he leaned forward and pressed his forehead against hers, “More than anything. Thought I should show you since you were getting the wrong idea and all.”

Kagome was quiet for a moment as she considered this.

“But I look like...”

“If anything that’s was a score against you,” he admitted begrudgingly, “I don’t want a copy or something. That’s weird.”

“You sure? You said I wasn’t as cute,” Kagome teased and Inuyasha sighed shakily.

“I was lying,” he hummed before dipping down to kiss her again - breathing the last thought against her lips, “You’re prettier.”

All in all, Inuyasha thought he was doing a pretty good job so far. Surprisingly so. Which was suspicious and probably meant he was, in fact, dead but seeing as how he was in the process of making out with a seemingly alive Kagome, he honestly didn’t see a problem with that.

“But I don’t want you getting hurt, okay?” he sighed dejectedly - really not wanting to let her out of his arms, “So go home for a few days. I’ll come get you. I promise.”

Kagome seemed to be gauging his sincerity before humming and getting to her feet.

“Are ye coming?” Kaede called out, “Ye two need to do such things in private. Children reside in this village.”

“In the future we will,” Inuyasha teased and Kaede gaped for a moment before collecting herself.

“So are ye coming then?” Kaede asked and Inuyasha sighed.

“I’ll go. You need to stay here,” he offered, l’ll get Kikyo’s ashes and bring them back. I owe her that much.”

“And why is that?” Kaede countered as she gave him a disapproving look which quickly changed to shock.

“Because I loved her back then,” he offered as he helped Kagome to her feet, “And she doesn’t deserve to have her grave destroyed.”

Kaede examined the boy for a moment before asking straight out.

“Were ye the one who injured her?” Kaede asked and Inuyasha shook his head, “Then who did?”

Inuyasha had to consciously stifle his grin as a chance to rewrite certain things presented itself yet again.

“I smelled another demon on her,” Inuyasha offered by way of explanation, “Didn’t recognize the scent.”

“Another demon,” Kaede repeated skeptically and Kagome gave him a strange look.

“So why did ye steal the jewel?” Kaede challenged and Inuyasha shrugged.

“People do stupid things when they’re hurt,” Inuyasha answered dismissively, “She tried to kill me so I stole the jewel.”

“So ye did not attack her?” Kaede asked skeptically and Inuyasha bristled slightly.

“No. I would never have hurt her,” Inuyasha clipped back defensively, “Never.”

Kaede nodded wisely and began walking towards them.

“I had my suspicions,” Kaede admitted, “About who truly killed my sister. I never believed it to be ye. There was no blood on the hands or clothes. And the timing was irregular. I suspect the same could be said for my sister. She would not have attacked ye either.”

Inuyasha was pleasantly surprised by the old woman’s observations. Maybe that was why she’d always been kind to him. She knew something didn’t add up and wanted to give him a chance to redeem himself - which he ultimately did but not so early in the game. This whole second chance thing so far was fairly good. So far. Watch him go to get Kikyo’s ashes and die for the effort. That would be...

“I think you’re right. I don’t think it was her that tried to kill me either. Wasn’t like her,” Inuyasha conceded like he hadn’t heard of that before - which was completely untrue. All in all he was hoping he managed to pull that lie off. He was a lot of things but a good liar wasn’t one of them.

Kagome suddenly took his hand and squeezed - whether to reassure him or herself Inuyasha wasn’t sure but he’d gladly accept the token of affection.

“There is something strange about that as well,” Kaede hummed in agreement, “It was quite unfortunate what happened. Did ye smell the demon on her when she attacked ye initially?”

Furrowing his brow, Inuyasha honestly hadn’t thought about that before. Which was strange. He’d thought back on that moment more times than he could count and yet he’d never thought about the smell.

Because there hadn’t been one. His eyes widened slightly at the realization.

”She...what attacked me didn’t have a scent,” Inuyasha began slowly, “It looked like her but I never...”

Inuyasha shook his head before standing a little taller. He has just started something with Kagome and Kikyo was not about to ruin it a second time dammit. Stupid woman Kagome was would start getting jealous or think he needed time to recover or try to slow things down or...

Besides the old bat was building towards something. Trying to get under his skin so he’d let her go. Which he wasn’t.

“I want Kagome to go to her world and for you to stay here,” Inuyasha instructed firmly, “I don’t want to take any risks. I’ll go and get the ashes back.”

“But it is my sister,” Kaede argued and Inuyasha gave her a patient look.

“Kaede I was going to be your older brother, wasn’t I?” Inuyasha asked - trying a different angle with a smile playing on his lips while the old lady looked shocked stupid, “I want to make sure you’re safe. I failed Kikyo. I don’t want to fail you too.”


“While ye’s words are touching, the fact remains that Kikyo is my sister, Inuyasha,” Kaede countered as she visibly bristled, “I need to be the one...”

“I just want you to be safe,” Inuyasha argued gently, “And going with me with you being injured...I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I lost you too. I might be a jackass but I do care about you.”

Both Kagome and Kaede gaped at him like he’d grown a second head. Flustered Inuyasha released Kagome’s hand and folded his arms in front of his chest.

“What?! A guy isn’t allowed to care?! That ain’t a crime!” Inuyasha snapped and Kagome laughed.

“And there he is,” Kagome teased as she tweaked his ear, “You scared me a little. You’ve been acting weird today.”

Inuyasha blushed and tried to brush off the observation. It was going to be hard to remember the order of things. Miroku was with them before they met Sango, right? And shit, where did they meet Miroku? He was crucial to finding out it was Naraku and setting them on that path. Although if he got to Sango first, he might be able to save her village and, importantly, Kohaku but then...

“Just go home,” Inuyasha snapped half-heartedly before pointing at Kaede, “And you stay put. Either of you die and I’ll bring you back to kill you myself.”

Inuyasha winced as soon as that left his mouth but otherwise managed to keep his composure. They both, of course, did end up dying. And he’d begged and begged and begged Sesshomaru but they daiyoukai went a little insane after Rin perished in the battle and, well, yeah....he was pretty much useless. 

In hindsight Inuysha realized it would’ve just been easier to take the sword and try to do it himself but, in his defense, he‘d gone a little insane too. That simply never occurred to him for some stupid reason.

“Okay, well go and I’ll have some ramen waiting for you when you get back,” Kagome offered after a moment as she began walking down the path and Kaede followed behind her, “But if you aren’t back tomorrow morning I’m coming back for you.”


“What about the word stay did you two not understand?!”

When the two women merely laughed at his obvious upset, Inuyasha rolled his eyes even as wave upon wave of relief washed over him. He had a fresh start. A very good fresh start if he said so himself. Like five minutes in he’d established a relationship with Kagome and kissed her like he’d wanted to do way back when. By sending Kagome back, he’d basically stopped Kikyo from being brought back which was the one thing that had always killed the possibility for a relationship with Kagome in the first place and which was a cruel fate he was kinda responsible for. At least now he knew not to say Kikyo’s name if the witch found a way around all this nonsense.



And sure, he hadn’t been sent back early enough to stop the jewel from shattering but he knew where all the shards were. They could get them all before Naraku even got his hands on most of them. This was going to be an easy, quick, pain-free quest. They’d pick up Miroku in about a week. Sango a few weeks after that. Hell if they moved fast enough, they could save the slayer’s village and just come up with some way to convince Sango to join them. If not, she’d get to live a long happy life with her family.

They already had Shippō so it was a little too late to save his dad but everything else would go great. Well not great but they’d all live was the point.

What could go wrong?

Chapter Text

A lot of things could go wrong apparently


Apparently with Kagome not physically present in this world at the moment Kikyo’s soul was able to be united with the plaster body.


Apparently Kikyo was still very pissed about how things went down.


And last, but not least, apparently Inuyasha had forgotten how dangerous an opponent a fully charged Kikyo could be.


“You betrayed me Inuyasha!” Kikyo screamed angrily as Inuyasha dodged an almost unfortunate attack.


“Bitch I wasn’t the one who killed you!” Inuyasha snapped as he skid to a halt before immediately launching again to avoid being barbecued, “I didn’t...”


A brief insane thought stilled his tongue before the idea was quickly dismissed. Sure, the time he was inadvertently turned human in the past at Mt. Hakaruei didn’t exactly kill him and he didn’t stay human for long but it’d hurt like hell. And he wasn’t really in the mood for pain or taking such a risk at the moment. Even if her purifying him human was temporary, Kikyo would probably make sure whatever she did made him bleed out.


Mistakes had definitely been made here.


Inuyasha glanced at the setting sun mid-flip and cursed his luck. Today should’ve been a good day.  


“You struck me...”


“I didn’t do that. That Onigumo bastard you helped did,” Inuyasha hissed - forgetting for the moment that he should not have known that much, “Sold his soul to some demons and...”


It was only after he landed that he realized Kikyo had stopped firing.


“How do you know that name?” Kikyo asked acidly, “You should not know that name!”


“And you shouldn’t’ve kept that a secret!” Inuyasha snapped back before inhaling sharply when he realized that statement had come from somewhere deep he hadn’t explored before. Why that hadn’t bothered him before he wasn’t sure but…he always said he should’ve trusted her more but then she apparently never trusted him. Kept things from him.


He had wasted so much time…


Kikyo breathed heavily as her eyes betrayed the way her mind was racing.


“It did not concern you,” she finally replied in a dark even tone, “Who I heal or do not…”


Inuyasha shook his head slowly as hurt bloomed in his eyes – long gone were the feelings he once held for this woman but time itself doesn’t bring closure and the fact that he was having to deal with this hot mess of a situation again wasn’t sitting well.


“Did it concern me when you sealed me to a tree because of what he did?! Was it concerning when he pretended to be you and tried to kill me!?” Inuyasha barreled ahead. Kikyo blinked once and furrowed her brow.


“So you were attacked as well,” she tried to clarify as she relaxed her posture somewhat, “You were attacked by someone who looked like me.”


“And just like that you assumed I was just playing some long game. I’m not that patient woman. You know that!” Inuyasha snapped as he remained crouched in a defensive position, “Only reason I stole the jewel was because I thought you betrayed me.”


Some of the anger faded from Kikyo’s face as she considered this.


“How is it you know of this?” Kikyo asked quietly, “Have you met the creature Onigumo has become?”


“Yeah,” Inuyasha replied evasively, “Goes by Naraku now.”


“Naraku,” Kikyo repeated before she made a strange face, “And you believe he is the one who attacked us?”


Inuyasha’s eyebrows rocketed up into his hair at the ready acceptance Kikyo was giving this admission.


“I know he did that,” Inuyasha replied honestly as he remained tense in the event Kikyo started attacking again, “Wanted the jewel for himself.”


“Did he obtain it?”


Inuyasha paled as the memories of bloodshed and death flashed through his mind before shaking his head to rid himself of the images.


“Not yet,” Inuyasha managed hoarsely and Kikyo gave him another strange look.


“I have a memory,” Kikyo began slowly, “But it does not appear to be my own which is strange.”


Eyes widening in horror, Inuyasha began panting lightly as he turned a sickly shade of green.


“Of a strange demon, this Naraku of which you speak,,” she continued as her eyes went out of focus, “And you were there…”


It was becoming hard to breathe. The possibility of getting a play by play of Kagome’s final moments stealing the air from his lungs and the strength from his legs.




The hoarse word left his lips before he could stop it – his hands trembling as he tried to stop the building panic. Kikyo would lie and twist whatever that memory was to inflict as much pain as possible. Tell him Kagome blamed him for failing her – a fear that had plagued his every waking moment – or worse tell him that the miko had never loved him in the first place. He’d hoped…


Kikyo paused as she gave him a strangely sympathetic look and sighed despondently.


“There was a moment…”


Inuyasha flinched as the little color in his face fled and his heart struggled to beat.


“When I knew you loved me. Right at the end.”


Face crumpling in pain, Inuyasha wanted to argue. Wanted to beg her to stop. Almost, almost moved to wrap his hand around Kikyo’s neck and squeeze until she crumpled into dust. The only, only reason Kagome didn’t know was because Kikyo made it impossible for him to convince her otherwise. Every single time he went to see the undead miko it set him back to square one. Looking back, he wasn’t even sure why he’d done that. Why he’d gone. It wasn’t like he enjoyed it and yet he’d gone. Maybe…maybe if things had been different…


A dangerous gleam suddenly flared behind his amber eyes as a fierce determination overcame him.


Things would be different this time. Kikyo was not about to ruin this second chance he’d been given. She wouldn’t ruin his life and Kagome would not die thinking he didn’t give a shit about her. If he had any control over his destiny, Kagome wouldn’t die at all. He’d save her. At all costs.


Kikyo seemed to notice this change as well as the sudden spike of his aura but that didn’t stop the words coming out of her mouth. Her face peaceful – eyes closed and lashes fanning over her cheeks.


“It would appear I did not contribute,” the miko continued softly, “That my only purpose was so sew chaos and destruct…”


“IT WASN’T HER FAULT DAMMIT!” Inuyasha bellowed angrily – presuming, perhaps immaturely, that Kikyo was referring to Kagome shattering the jewel, “SHE DIDN’T MEAN TO DO IT! AND SHE DID CONTRIBUTE. SHE SAVED ME. SHE SAVED OUR FRIENDS! SHE…”


“Curious that it sent you back to this moment,” Kikyo hummed quietly as she ignored his continued mindless ranting before sighing and looking up at the sky, “I imagine that was not his intention.”


Inuyasha was too far gone to register what she was saying – the fact that the undead miko had the audacity to insult Kagome. To say that all of the heartbreak was somehow Kagome’s fault. It wasn’t her fault. It had been an accident. And yeah, if she hadn’t shattered the jewel, if she hadn’t come back, a lot of things would’ve been better for a whole lotta people but…but shit happens and…and…


Destiny was a funny thing.


“I always loved this time of day,” Kikyo mumbled despondently as she smiled sadly up at the pinkish sky, “The colors…”


“Kagome…Kagome is the best thing that ever happened to me. Without her…”


Kikyo closed her eyes and inhaled deeply before opening them again and giving him a strange look that made him infinitely uneasy.


“I do not belong in this world,” Kikyo opined quietly as she turned to leave, “Live well Inuyasha. I pray the world is kind to you.”


Flinching as what she meant and was saying finally hit him, Inuyasha watched with wide eyes as Kikyo continued walking – stumbling slightly with her face looking upwards before she slowly crumbled to dust before his eyes.



Kaede watched as a shell-shocked looking Inuyasha slowly walked into the village – his mind obviously a million miles away and his face pale. His attempts to retrieve the ashes, she imagined, had been unsuccessful and rather disturbing. An unfortunate thing to be sure but it could not be helped.


“Inuyasha, did ye manage to retrieve the ashes?” Kaede asked reduntantly even though the answer was plain on his face.


“She…she got brought back in a clay body and then….then just kinda dissolved,” Inuyasha muttered quietly as wavering amber eyes looked up at the old woman, “I tried…”


Letting out a shaky exhale, Kaede nodded her acceptance of the situation before turning back towards her hut and gesturing for him to follow, which he reluctantly did. Today had been an emotional rollercoaster and honestly, all he wanted to do was find Kagome. He was not a touchy feely person but…but he could use some comforting today. From bleeding out to being sent back to gaining some strange unwanted closure with Kikyo…


He was exhausted.

“I do realize that not much time passed for ye,” Kaede began softly as she pushed back the mat covering her door and gestured for him to enter, “To lose her twice…”


“It’s not…I came…I’ve come to terms with her death,” Inuyasha admitted shakily as he settled across the wall – his mind too frazzled to still his tongue, “It was just…it wasn’t…”


“Kagome is a special child,” Kaede replied knowingly and Inuyasha closed his eyes and leaned the back of his head against the wall, “She soothes the soul, does she not?”


Inuyasha let out a slow breath before nodding weakly.


“It is no wonder ye fell for her so quickly.”


Inuyasha laughed softly and sighed.


“That obvious?” he asked as his lips quirked upwards – glad at least someone knew this go around instead of being questioned at every turn.


“Ye have a soft heart Inuyasha,” Kaede hummed before groaning as she knelt down by the fire in a very elderly fashion and began stoking the fire, “Despite ye’s attempts to prove otherwise.”


For a long moment, the fire crackling softly was the only sound and a comfortable silence fell between the pair.


“Do you…do you think she knows?” Inuyasha asked as he cracked one eye open to gauge Kaede’s reaction.


“If Kagome does not, she will soon,” Kaede hummed, “But perhaps it may be in ye’s best interest to tread slowly. Ye do have an intensity about ye…”


Inuyasha snorted once but didn’t otherwise argue.


“You just said I fall fast and now you’re telling me to go slow?” Inuyasha teased bemusedly and Kaede chuckled.


Ye are a fool big brother,” Kaede murmured so quietly he expected she didn’t mean for him to hear and for whatever reason, that softly  statement tugged at his heartstrings. She’d never called him that….at least since before he was stuck to that stupid tree. A part of him regretted being so callous towards her but back then, he’d been a fool and kept everyone at an arm’s distance. She was a tough old bird though and no amount of insults ever seemed to upset her so…

You'd think someone would've noticed how strong she was and locked her down. That kind of woman didn't come around every day. A girl who could protect herself? That was indispensable in times like these. Wasn't a popular opinion, sure, but there had to be someone out there who...


“Why didn’t you marry Kaede?” Inuyasha asked curiously – although he imagined he knew the answer, “Because you’re a miko?”


Kaede’s arm stilled for a moment before she sighed.


“Tsubaki cursed my sister that she may never marry or it would end poorly,” Kaede admitted quietly, “I imagine I was afraid that I would meet a similar fate.”


Inuyasha furrowed his brow as he sat up and gave the old woman a strange look. Man, the books really were stacked against Kikyo and him weren’t they? Why didn’t he ever know that tidbit? With a roll of the eyes, Inuyasha figured he knew the answer to that one. Kikyo had other secrets she kept. Surprise, surprise.


“So it wasn’t because you’re a miko?” Inuyasha tried to clarify and Kaede shook her head with a sad little smile.


“My mother was a miko,” Kaede explained with a nostalgic hum, “Died giving birth to me and my father followed shortly thereafter from disease. Perhaps my fear stemmed from that as well. I wanted to live a long life and so I have.”


Inuyasha nodded sympathetically at her tale before looking towards the door.


“I should go get Kagome,” he said quietly, “I’m sure she’s worried.”


“I imagine so.”


“Its not too late for you though,” Inuyasha chuckled once as he got to his feet and stretched one arm across his chest, “If you tried, I’m sure some old geezer would take a liking to you.”


Kaede gave him a chiding side eyed glare but otherwise didn’t comment.


“Shippo is in the meadow I believe,” the old miko called after the half-demon as he exited the hut, “Will ye send him here?”


Inuyasha nodded and he ran.

Chapter Text

"Slow it down," Inuyasha instructed himself firmly as he made his way towards the well, "Do. Not. Scare. Her. Don't mess this..."

"If you keep talking to yourself, people are gunna wonder," Shippo's teasing voice suddenly came from up ahead.

"Kaede wants you. Scram," Inuyasha barked angrily as a faint blush appeared on his cheeks and he continued trying to formulate a way to win over Kagome in a more natural way. After all, in this timeline they'd just met a few weeks ago. She didn't know he knew her like he knew his own mind. She sure as hell didn't love him yet. Coming off too strong, which he'd been doing, might scare her away and then he'd be royally screwed. She clearly was already weirded out by his impromptu kissing earlier even if she didn't say as much.

"You love her don't you?" Shippo suddenly asked with a mischievous grin as Inuyasha stopped short of the well and took a deep breath, "If you promise not to hit me anymore, I could help you."

Inuyasha rolled his eyes as yet another person realized right away that he had arrived back in this time with more than a decade's worth of pent up longing. That...that wasn't great. He was going to come off desperate or something and then she'd never...

Inuyasha swallowed thickly as his heart dropped and he stared at the well with wavering eyes. What was he supposed to do here? If he went to see her now, Kagome would probably be afraid he'd try something. After all, given everything, it was rather surprising she'd kissed him back like she did. Maybe things would be awkward now.

The fear he'd already screwed up was paralyzing. Breath shaking, Inuyasha couldn't force his feet to move. What if the way he'd just jumped the gun ruined everything? What if he'd changed the timeline, and in this new reality, Kagome ended up hating him? The very idea made him feel ill.


Maybe he should wait a little. Get her tomorrow. Give her some space to process everything. But then, if he did that, she might come to the wrong conclusion. Decided that she didn't want him. That it was too much and she would refuse to come back. If memory served, she didn't like coming back right now. There was no Sango. No Miroku. Only him and if memory served, she wasn't fond of him at the moment. In terms of things motivating her to stay, Shippo didn't count. Kagome had barely gotten attached to the kid and would probably assumed this new version of him would serve as the brat's guardian - which honestly was fair whether she knew that or not. Inuyasha would rather die a million deaths than let any of his friends die a second time.

Maybe he'd screwed up everything.

"Are you gunna go get her or not?" Shippo asked nervously as he hopped onto the frozen half-demon's shoulder, "She told me she was supposed to wait for you. Why wouldn't you go get her?"

"I...get off. I'm going to go get the stupid wench, okay?" Inuyasha huffed as he grabbed the kit by the tail and held him up, "And if you even do much as tell Kagome I love her, I'll beat you bloody. Got that?"

Shippo gave the half-demon a patient glare before shrugging.

"You really are an idiot. You know she's waiting."

Inuyasha's resolve began to waiver. If Kagome was waiting for him, if she found out he'd left her hanging and worried, that would be bad too. There was no way he could win.

"Fine. I'll...I'll go get her.”

Kagome groaned in her sleep as her eyes danced behind their lids. Inuyasha's face filled with despair and grief hovered over her as he moved to cradle her body. Begging her to stay as tears cascaded over his cheeks. Her lips moved but she couldn't comfort him. Couldn't tell him how much she loved him or that she forgave him or anything. The scene shifted into him standing next to a makeshift grave - silver blowing in the breeze as Inuysha knelt as placed a small stone at the top of it. The heart wrenching sob he made - an almost inhuman cry as his arms curled around his stomach and he doubled over. Apologizing over and over and...

Gasping awake, Kagome blinked up at the ceiling of her room as a tear of her own slid down her cheek. It felt real. A little too real truth be told. Like a memory more than a dream - although how would she watch what she imagined was her own funeral? It made no sense.

One thing was certain though. She never wanted to see that look on Inuyasha's face. The raw pain and heartbreak - the hollow broken look in his normally expressive eyes. It was too vivid to be a dream but it had to be didn't it?

Running over hand over her face, Kagome closed her eyes and tried to block out the image to no avail. There was no way that happened. That she died or that Inuyasha felt that deeply. Except...

Except it was strange how he'd reacted earlier that day. The way his eyes drank in her face. His strange question about when this was and how long they'd known each other. And the desperate way he kissed her like a man being given water when he was dying of thirst. The intensity behind it.

Heart plummeting into her stomach, a terrible possibility occurred to her.

Maybe Inuyasha had wished on the jewel to bring her back. Maybe he really did love her - enough to throw away his chance to to become a full demon. A wish to save her life because her well-being meant more than...

A familiar aura blipped on her radar signaling his arrival and her heart sank. Would Inuyasha have wasted his wish on her? Why would he do that? The only reason he wanted the jewel was to become a full-fledged demon. Everyone knew that. It was the reason he was on this quest to begin with. Why would he throw away that chance over her? Unless something had changed between what she knew as now and whenever he'd made that wish – if he did make a wish. Maybe…

The window slid open and Inuyasha effortlessly dropped into room with the most anxiety ridden expression she'd ever seen. Lolling her head towards him, she searched his face for a sign before asking her question.

"If I died, would you try to bring me back?" Kagome asked suddenly and the immediate flash of pain in his eyes told her the answer - even though his mouth said otherwise.

"You ain't gunna die so why would I wish for that?" Inuysha scoffed in why was clearly meant to be an indignant, indifferent tone but rather came across somewhat desperate, "I want to be a full demon, remember? Why waste a wish on you?"

Noting his subtle cringe at the end of his speech, Kagome narrowed her eyes for a moment before taking a deep breath and pressing forward.

"Just wondering. I had a weird dream that I died and you were there and…"

The effect of her statement was instant. Face turning a nasty shade of green as his body went rigid. Head subtly shaking in the negative and looking like a man sentenced to death even as he stayed frozen to the spot. Amber eyes screaming resignation and defeat – mouth opening and closing like a fish struggling for air.

"I didn't wish on the jewel," he suddenly blurted as his chest heaved and he turned paler still, "I swear I didn't."

Kagome blinked rapidly as she tried to wrap her mind around what he'd essentially admitted. To hear him so readily admit what she dreamed was true…even if he didn't actually say it so bluntly. Pain flashed behind his eyes clear as day - hollow and devastating. Even if he wasn't the one to make that wish, Kagome realized he would've done it if given the opportunity. The heartbreak and longing and love in his gaze made it clear that, at the end at least, he'd loved her more than life itself and a part of him died when she had. In those expressive amber orbs, there was so much guilt and pain and heartbreak. So much longing and resignation. Kagome realized she alone had the power to destroy him and a strange feeling bloomed in her chest. A fierce possessiveness and an almost overwhelming desire to make sure he never made such a face again.

"So I did die?" she asked breathlessly as she searched his face and Inuyasha literally sagged – his heart shattering behind his eyes before he turned and fled out the window ignoring her call to return as he rushed for the well as quickly as his legs could carry him. He should've seen this coming. He should've known this was too good to be true and now…

Kagome would never love him now. Stupid dreams. Stupid jewel. Stupid Naraku. Stupid time travel. Stupid

"Sit boy!" Kagome bellowed as she leaned out of her window and he skid to a halt face first – the hard tile making the fall that much more unpleasant. By the time he pushed himself up so he could continue running Kagome was kneeling next to him and had said the word again.

Inuyasha clinched his eyes shut as he willed his heart to give out. This couldn't be happening. This shouldn't be happening. Things were supposed to be better. Things were going to be better. Kikyo was gone. They should've had time. Kagome should've been his…

"You didn't even let me tell you what I dreamed," Kagome began softly as she gently scratched the base of one ear and a whimper escaped him as he wished for the earth to reach up to swallow him whole. As bad as it was that his plans were ruined, being tortured and forced to hear her side of that day was a new level of horror previously unimaginable.

"I know what it was," he finally croaked as his fists clenched so tightly his knuckles turned white, "I can't…just don't. Please don't."

Kagome's heart ached as Inuyasha's body shook – probably from the effort of holding back tears.

"Okay," she replied softly as she trailed her fingers through his hair – earning an involuntary shiver, "Were we together? You know at the time when I died?

Inuyasha choked and miserably shook his head. Kagome tilted her head to the side in confusion before sighing and whispering the word again when he suddenly tried to make a run for it. Moving the short distance he'd made, Kagome knelt down beside him again.

"Were you with someone else?"

Flinching, he shook his head again. Technically he hadn't been. That much was true.

"Did you love me though?" she asked softly and Inuyasha hit one fist against the ground as a choked sob escaped him.

"Just let me go," he pleaded hoarsely, "I'll…I won't bother…"

"I guess that answers my question," she continued as she used her thumb to brush away the tear streaming down his cheek, "In my dream, or I guess memory maybe, I could feel how much I loved you and you…"

Inuyasha froze and panted shakily before slowly prying himself off the ground to get a better look at her face.

"What…" he managed after a moment before shaking his head and trying to clarify, "You love me?"

"In the dream I didAnd well, I mean now we just met," she amended sheepishly and the hopeful look in his eyes vanished instantly. Letting out a shaky breath, Inuyasha looked up at the sky before biting his lip and closing his eyes.

"We…I don't want you to…" he began shakily after a moment, "Just because…you don't hafta if you…"

Kagome leaned forward and pressed a soft kiss against his lips – earning a relieved sigh.

"I imagine whatever you did…"

"I didn't do this," Inuyasha tried desperately to explain as he stumbled over his words, "I…I was dying and then…then I just…and then you were there…"

"Did we die at the same time?" Kagome interrupted and Inuyasha winced before shaking his head.

"N-no. it was ten…" he had to pause to clear his throat after a long painful moment as he stared down at his hands, "Ten years later. More or less.”

Given his behavior, Kagome almost, almost asked if he'd committed suicide but stopped herself short. That was something she imagined he'd tell her in time.

"And after all that time…"

"Yeah," he cut her off shakily as he glanced up at her, "But…but I don't want you to only love me because…because you feel obligated or something. If you do, ya know, one day…"

Kagome smiled as him before reaching up to wipe away a lingering tear welling in his eye.

"Hey," she asked quietly and amber eyes reflected his resignation as he waited for her to continue, "You don't need to change into something you think I'd like better. When I did die, in the memory at least, I loved you. I could feel how much I loved you. If we weren't together, if we were just friends – officially anyway – I think that says I loved you the way you are."

Choking back a sob, Inuyasha gave her a strangled smile as those words did wonders to soothe one of his fears that Kagome never loved him in the first place. It also did a lot of damage as well. That she'd died never knowing how he felt. That he felt the same way. Things should've been so different. And they were supposed to be but now…

"And you know, being sent back, for whatever reason, could be a good thing," she continued as she mimicked his earlier action and placed two fingers under his chin to force him to look at her, "Should make hunting the jewels easier, right? You remember where they were?"

Inuyasha nodded before sighing and amending.

"Most of them," he admitted, "Some…someone else got the rest."

Couldn't change too much now. Admitting he knew Naraku was involved this early in the game might cause problems of its own. Although with Kikyo gone…

Shit, did Kikyo leaving this early change everything? A lot of the jewels that Naraku gained were because of her. And she'd saved them a few times. She'd done a lot – both good and bad. Was this…

"I don't want you to tell me too much," Kagome reassured him as she continued holding up his chin, "But I also want you to be honest with me. If I ask you something, I want you to tell me."

Inuyasha's heart plummeted to the bottom of his stomach as he waited for the question he knew was coming.

"Did you tell me to come back to my time because, in the past, something happened with Kikyo's ashes?"

The pain in his eyes gave her the answer she was looking for and she nodded once to herself.

"Did I get hurt? The first time. Did I…"

Trailing off, Kagome took note of how miserable and shell shocked Inuyasha appeared. How lost. Which made sense and honestly, it was strange that she felt so calm about all of this. How confident she was that this life wasn't the underworld or something. Inuyasha had been sent back in time. Pure and simple. That much was obvious and maybe the Sacred Tree was involved but time travel was indeed a thing with which she was intimately familiar. What did concern her, however, was that she suspected he wasn't being completely honest with her – out of fear or something else she wasn't quite sure. She believed him when he said he didn't wish on the jewel – for a number of reasons – but there was something he was keeping from her. Something important. Right now, though, he genuinely looked like he was going into shock and it wouldn't do anyone any favors to keep probing.

"Come on," Kagome offered then with a kind smile and Inuyasha looked up at her with somewhat glazed over eyes, "I need to study anyway. Why don't we get something for you to eat? I promised you ramen, didn't I?"

Inuyasha nodded slowly as he unsteadily got to his feet and tucked his hands into his sleeves – amber eyes watching her wearily as she brushed off her skirt and gave him a warm smile. How could she just be okay with this? With him. Learning that she had legitimately died a very gruesome and tragic death then just bouncing back? That wasn't a normal reaction, was it? Although, she did time travel back five hundred years, learn demons existed and that she had powers and handled that well. Most humans from this time would've had a nervous breakdown.

"Are you…are you okay?" Inuyasha asked hoarsely as he followed behind her, "About…about, ya know, dying and all?"

"Whatever happened was a future that someone wanted to change," Kagome sighed as she glanced over her shoulder, "For whatever reason. I've got to trust they knew what they were doing."

Inuyasha averted his eyes and fidgeted slightly.

"You trust too easy," Inuyasha pointed out dourly, "You need to be more selective."

"Selective," Kagome repeated with a curious hum, "Look at you. Using big boy words."

Inuyasha immediately bristled.

"Oi! What the hell is that supposed to…"

"And there he is," Kagome teased with a playful grin. Inuyasha set his jaw and narrowed his eyes before huffing once in frustration that she managed to get a rise out of him so easily. She might have him wrapped around her little finger but that was definitely a little out of character. Since when did she goad him like that on purpose?

Amber eyes widened as something dawned on him. Did she…did she enjoy pissing him off? Get a kick out of it or something? Although, he'd be the first to admit he sometimes did that too and it was admittedly fun but still…why was she being such a…

His eyes narrowed and a scowl marred his features.


Kagome glanced over her shoulder and raised a single brow in silent challenge. The half-demon didn't so much as flinch as he shrugged indifferently and responded to her unspoken question.

"I said what I said and I'm not taking it back."

Sighing, the miko rolled her eyes as she continued walking towards the house rather than argue further. Her silence was unnerving and Inuyasha quickened his pace to walk next to her – every so often glancing over to gauge her expression.

"What?" Kagome laughed softly as she caught one of his many glances and he quickly averted his eyes back towards the house.

"Are you mad at me?" he asked wearily before admitting with a resigned sigh, "You know, finding out you died and all. I didn't think you'd be so calm. Makes me nervous. You're not a calm person."

"I guess I just adapt well. I mean, I spend most of my time five hundred years in the past now," Kagome hummed before making a strange little face and moving a little closer to him, "A world where pretty much anything can happen. And its so different. You know, cooking raw food over a fire. Lack of bathrooms…"

"Lack of bathrooms. Woman you bathe every day," Inuyasha groused good-naturedly as he gave her a chiding side-eyed glare, "Who does that?"

"I do not and a bathroom is more than…" Kagome protested and Inuyasha snorted before cutting her off.

"Yeah. Ya do," he paused before laughing nostalgically, "You know once you convinced me to take a shower with your brother so I'd appreciate 'modern conveniences', whatever that meant. Nearly boiled the skin off my bones. Just admit hot springs are better.."

Kagome stopped and gave him a strange look.

"I convinced you to take a shower with my brother?" she giggled as she gave him an incredulously look and Inuyasha's faint smile faded as he shrugged. Maybe…maybe keeping tidbits like that to himself would be a good idea.

"Said I smelled," he mumbled before clearing his throat and turning back towards the house, "Now where's that ramen you promised me?"

Kagome tilted her head to the side as she studied his ears – currently folded back on his head although not completely flat. They must have gone through a lot together. Been very close. A part of her hoped she lived up to his expectations while another part was very weirded out. What if him coming back changed history? What would happen to him if she didn't fall in love with him like she had in the timeline he'd fallen in love with her? What if she was different than that version? Would he still love her?

Little did she know that Inuyasha, and with Kikyo gone would never know, that he'd follow her to the ends of the earth no matter how much she had changed. Even if it killed him inside to do so. It was him coming to terms with the fact that Kikyo was in fact dead – even if she walked the earth that made him know he needed to move on. That and Kagome made him feel like he deserved more. That he deserved the same things everyone else took for granted. Love. Kindness. Encouragement. Support. Which felt like an odd realization to him and with that realization, he finally had made his choice. Which one of the pair someone like him truly deserved. Who he wanted to live with. He'd made his choice. Just in time to not be given one. Now he had a second chance and he'll would freeze over before he let Kagome slip through his fingers. In all honesty Inuyasha would understand and accept it if she didn't love him in the end. He loved her and that was enough. To know that he was capable if feeling something real.

Also Kagome gave him ramen. That was definitely a perk.

"You fixing me my ramen or not?" Inuyasha huffed in frustration as he turned to face her with an annoyed look on his face and Kagome rolled her eyes before heading towards the door. And how she fell in love with someone who talked to people like that she'd never know. Inuyasha smirked at her expression.

"Hurry up woman. We ain't got all day."

"Jerk," Kagome clipped as she made her way into the house and gave him a chiding glare, "Shouldn't you know how to make it yourself by now."

Inuyasha sniffed once and shrugged.

"Tastes better when you do it," he replied bluntly as he followed her inside before remembering one specific instance where he'd eaten dirt. Watching her mill about the kitchen he added, "And that fluffy egg thing you make. One of those."

Kagome paused and gave him a curious look.

"An omelet?" she clarified and he nodded as he sank into a chair and scratched his nose, "If that's what you call the fluffy eggs then yeah. Wasn't half bad."

Kagome gave him a suspicious look before accusing, "You didn't eat it the first time, did you?"

"I ate it," he replied defensively, "And add some of those purple things. The crunchy ones."


"That's the one."

Kagome rolled her eyes and began boiling the water.

"I'm not your servant Inuyasha," she chided and he snorted.

"No shit. You gunna make it or what?"

She would indeed and he ate every bite.

Chapter Text


It had been two, maybe three weeks after they were supposed to meet Miroku and the monk still hadn't appeared. What had Inuyasha most concerned was that he believed it was around this time that the wind tunnel ripped and Miroku almost lost the battle. Worse yet, Sesshomaru should have appeared by now to steal the sword. Unless, of course, his recollection of the timeline was wrong and it happened much later. Honestly, ten years had made everything kinda blur together but he knew those two things, at least, had happened before they met Sango. Eyes moving subtly as Inuyasha tried to remember the worm incident with greater detail, his heart sank as he realized that Sango had been with the group when Mushin got possessed. Mainly, he knew this because no less than a week later Sango had stolen Tessaiga to save Kohaku's life in the long series of dumb shit she did over the course of their journey. How that woman survived so long never ceased to amaze.

Then again, Sango didn't survive in the end but that wasn't her fault.
It was his.

Ears drooping slightly, Inuyasha lightly squeezed Kagome's hand and tried to stave away the lingering guilt and grief that still hit him on occasion. Even though being reunited with Kagome was bliss in and of itself, the half-demon did miss his friends. Missed the dynamic of the group. Of his family.

And even if they didn't know him anymore, he knew and he worried...

"So…was this one of the jewel shards we collected?" Kagome asked curiously as they continued down the path and Inuyasha shook his head with a dejected sigh.

"I never heard this rumor," he mumbled miserably, "Maybe…maybe I changed things. You know, like maybe this is one Kikyo got and I just never knew."

"That's fine," Kagome reassured him, "I mean, you have to expect things will happen differently. That's why you got sent back, right? To change things?"

Inuyasha's grip on her hand tightened incrementally as he whispered 'you'd think.'

As they came down the mountain and headed towards the village, Inuyasha's heart skipped a beat as two very familiar scents tickled his nose. Well, it was now or never he supposed. If this was the order things happened this time around, so be it. One less person to find.

"I'll take this as payment. It's only right," Sango's voice hit his sensitive ears, "The jewel originated from my village after all."

Slinging Kagome over his back, Inuyasha didn't exactly think things through as he bolted into the village and slid to a stop right in front of the very shocked looking slayer still kneeling down and fingering the jewel.

"You're a slayer, right? We need a slayer to join our quest," Inuyasha blurted earning surprised glances from both Kagome and Sango, "We're collecting jewel shards."

"I imagine you are half-demon," Sango replied suspiciously as her chocolate eyes drifted up to Inuyasha's inhuman ears, "But if you want this shard, you'll have to take it by force."

As Kagome slid off Inuyasha's back and studied his face, her sapphire eyes widened at the desperate look in his eyes. It was similar to the one he'd given her when he first saw her face again right before he kissed her albeit this look was much more subdued. This girl must've been one of his friends. Someone he lost. Sighing slightly, Kagome suddenly realized what type of things Inuyasha was hiding from her. Things like this – not wanting to tell her to expect people who might not be with them this go around.

"We don't want to fight you…" Kagome cleared her throat as she turned her gaze at the slayer whose hand was twitching over her sword, "I'm, um, the reincarnation of the priestess Kikyo who used to guard the jewel fifty years or so ago. She's dead now. Obviously. So, um..."

Sango looked nonplussed. Kagome giggled nervously.

"So, um, anyway we're looking to purify it and make sure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands. if you have shards..."

The slayer looked even more skeptical.

"Why are you traveling with a demon?" Sango interrupted suspiciously and Kagome nodded.

"I mean there's safety in numbers, am I right?" the miko joked weakly – trailing off into a very forced laugh, "And we, um…need a slayer friend?"

Honestly, while Kagome had always figured there had to be people making a living off of slaying demons, she honestly didn't even know what to call them much less how many there were. After all, there seemed to be a lot of people making a living by killing demons but when Inuyasha said 'slayer' like that was an official title, it'd thrown her for a loop. Professionals that only did slayings to the exclusion of all else. Must be like mikos and monks and priests, right? Except 'slayers' were people who just didn't have any powers and used brute strength instead.

If a slayer's number one skills was muscle, it was very surprising that a woman held that type of position. Not that women couldn't do it. It was more this was a time period that really didn't advance the rights and liberties of women. "Decent" women were expected to marry young and pop out babies until their eggs dried up and fell out unless they were spiritually inclined in which case you couldn't have babies. Restrictions pervaded every facet of life. Female life anyway.

Kagome's eyes drifted up to the monstrous and extremely heavy looking boomerang. Maybe this woman punched her way through the glass ceiling. This girl would probably give Olympic weight lifters a run for their money.

"We heard there's a village of slayers and we've been trying to find it," Inuyasha supplied – though it was obvious that wasn't quite true. Sango pursed her lips, tucked the shard into her kimono and got to her feet.

"A half-demon would never be able to purify the jewel," she opined scathingly in a tone that had Inuyasha cringing subtly, "As for you, even the most powerful of mikos would have trouble keeping the jewel pure so…"

At the insult, Kagome reached into her shirt and pulled out the bottle indignantly, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Of course Inuyasha isn't here to purify the jewel. That's my job. I mean, come on, it's not like I can fight everything by myself. Not all of us are you!"

Sango blinked a few times at the statement – chest puffing a little at the backhanded praise. Every time she was sent on an errand, it was an uphill battle to get the villagers to agree to let her help them and sometimes she just had to deal with the problem before they gave her a chance. Even then, a lot of them would chalk it up to luck rather than skill and Sango would up getting paid half the commission that they'd offered her father. To have someone presume that she was fully capable of handling a demon on her own from the first moment they met filled her with a feeling of vindication that felt foreign.

"And so you are seeking a slayer to accompany you for added protection," Sango clarified and Inuyasha nodded once as hope bloomed in his chest. Sure, somehow they'd missed Miroku but if they could get Sango on board then they were one step closer. After all, Kagome kept saying things might be different this go around. Maybe the order was off but the result would be the same.

Inuyasha had to consciously best back the anxiety that surged with that awful thought. The result would not be the same dammit. That was the entire point of all of this. Or at least he hoped it was.

"Last priestess given the jewel got herself killed over it," Inuyasha clipped back with a little bit of bitterness, "Went it alone and paid the price. That won't happen this time."

Sango set her jaw and gave Inuyasha then Kagome a speculative look before her lips twitched upwards.

"Very well. Come with me," Sango sighed – figuring since it was highly unlikely Inuyasha was suicidal and given the fact that those two were a little too familiar with each other, there was probably some romantic connection, there was little risk in bringing them back to the village for her father to make the final judgment call. Inuyasha sighed shakily as he knelt down for Kagome to get on his back and Sango got onto Kilala before they both took off.

"And you want a slayer to join you in your quest?” the village headman asked wearily as he glanced at his daughter who clearly was reserving judgment. Sango's instincts were usually spot on so when she arrived with a half-demon and scandalously clad miko, he wasn't too concerned. What he didn't like, however, was the look in the half-demon's eyes when he looked at his daughter. Almost affectionate but that was nothing compared to the way the half-demon looked at the miko. The headman knew that look all too well having sported it himself once upon a time. While comforting in a way that the half-demon had eyes on another, it left him anxious that were Sango or Kohaku to be recruited, they may be sacrificed if the half-demon calculated their death meant his woman would live.

"We have many capable warriors," the headman sighed then, "My men…"

Inuyasha rolled his eyes and nodded towards Sango.

"Nah. We don't want a man. We want her," he huffed in frustration and the headman cast his daughter a concerned look.

"You'd take a woman over one of the men?" another one of the elders clipped back despite the fact that Inuyasha had just said as much. Rolling his eyes, Inuyasha nodded.

"Saw the tail end of her fight," he bluffed, "And we liked what we saw."

Sango furrowed her brow at the obvious lie but didn't point it out. Honestly, it was rather flattering that she was being singled out as the most capable warrior – which while true, had never been acknowledged so openly unless said by her father to convince some lord who believed women were only good for breeding sons.

"But she's a woman," the elder pressed and Sango's father gave the man a side-eyed glare but didn't speak up.


The elder blinked a few times and set his jaw.

"Women are too fragile for long journeys such as yours. Sango is capable of doing local or group efforts but not…"

Inuyasha choked on the laugh that wanted to break free – these people had no idea what they had in her. To say that Sango was fragile was like saying poison won't kill you. Completely laughable and obviously wrong.

"That woman is anything but weak," Inuyasha managed in a bemused tone, "Are you blind or just plain stupid? There's a reason she carries that monstrosity instead of one of your 'men'. We want her. She's clearly the strongest."

"It is her family's weapon. She inherited the right rather than earned..."

"Yeah, okay," Inuyasha snorted, "You pick that thing up then."

"My days as a slayer are over. In any case, we have many capable warriors who would be honored to join a quest to preserve the Sacred Jewel," the elder continued and the headman sighed heavily – honestly not wanting to send his beloved daughter off with strangers on what sounded like a suicide mission. He knew Sango was the best slayer they had – having fought tooth and nail to prove anything the men could do she could do better. The fact that some of the villagers still hadn't gotten the memo baffled him but, then again, that didn't mean he was going to argue when the elder's words were achieving what he wanted himself. Even if what he wanted wasn't a consideration. The headman knew Sango would be leaving with them. He knew but he hoped maybe...

"I don't give a shit about numbers," Inuyasha argued condescendingly before he pointed at Sango, "We. Want. Her."

Kagome bit her lip to keep from grinning at Inuyasha just forging ahead and trying to buck the suffocating patriarchy that clearly existed in the village. Kagome would bet her left arm that Inuyasha didn't even realize what he was doing by insisting the most capable warrior in this village was indeed a woman. Sango was clearly the only female slayer in this village and if she wasn't, she was the only one given liberties like running errands unaccompanied. Lips twitching upwards, Kagome imagined that, back in his timeline, Sango had won Inuyasha's respect by being the only human ever to kick his ass. Probably bashed his head in with that monstrosity of hers. An image of Inuyasha getting up after such a thing, rubbing his head and declaring that Sango was alright had Kagome biting back a giggle.

"But again, she is a woman…"

"And so is this bitch," Inuyasha huffed exasperatedly as he gestured at Kagome – who gave him a slightly offended look, "She does fine."

"Women have special circumstances that slow them down," a different elder tried to clarify the asinine point– speaking slowly and clearly like he expected Inuyasha to acknowledge what a terrible idea it was or for Kagome to agree that she herself slowed down their journey.

"You've clearly never fought a woman when her 'circumstances' are in full swing," Inuyasha snorted dismissively, "Believe me, it does not slow them down and it sure as hell does not stop them from fighting. If anything, makes them a fiercer opponent."

Blushing furiously, Sango merely gaped before her eyes whipped towards Kagome who had just buried her face in her hands and was groaning. Turning her gaze towards the villagers, she took note of their scandalized look before her lips twitched upwards at the number of men nodding in agreement – like that was the point that struck a chord with them. Sango scowled. Of all the things…

It said a lot about the patriarchal nature of this village when they allowed the male demon to speak rather than letting the human woman do so. The most important factor clearly was who was a man and who was not. Which wasn’t surprising but still...

"Surely you jest…"

"Why are you still talking?" Inuyasha clipped exasperatedly, "And why am I even talking to you?"

Looking to Sango, Inuyasha raised a single brow.

"You coming or not?"

Looking at her father, the elders and the onlookers in turn, a faint blush appeared on her nose before she looked back at Inuyasha and took a steadying breath.

"I will need to be compensated for my time and efforts," she countered and Inuyasha smirked. So, Sango was in a negotiating spirit was she? That was fine.

"We split everything equally. If we've gotta be housed, it comes out the pot. Food same thing," he offered earning a surprised glance from Kagome, "In exchange, we'll expect you to have our back and we'll have yours."

Shifting her weight, Sango narrowed her eyes.

"And the jewel shards? Who keeps them?" she tried to clarify as she took a few steps closer and Inuyasha gestured to Kagome.

"When all is said and done, Kagome here'll keep them. I touch them and I go nuts and far as I know you can't purify them. She's the only one to touch them. The only one to keep them. That's not negotiable."

The miko gave him a somewhat startled look – he'd never touched one before as far as she knew which meant he had in the other timeline and judging by his statement, it had ended badly. All this time she wondered whether he was lying about not wishing but that one admission killed that possibility.

"How are things decided?" Sango asked as she folded her arms across her chest and Inuyasha shrugged.

"How is anything decided? We discuss it and make a decision," he scoffed like that was the dumbest question he'd ever heard. The woman slayer's face softened slightly before she nodded like that was an acceptable answer.

"I'll join you," she affirmed, "We can leave…"

"Sango, you cannot leave in the morning. We've been summoned to a nearby castle which has been plagued by a spider demon recently," her father interjected and Inuyasha paled as his ears drooped.

"Spider demon?" the hanyou repeated wearily and the headman gave him a strange look.

"Yes. The lord sent a messenger asking for our assistance."

Sighing heavily, Inuyasha tried his best to remember everything Sango had told him about that day but unfortunately his memory wasn't as good as he hoped it would be."

"Did you get a name?" Inuyasha asked quietly as he reached over as subconsciously grabbed Kagome's fingers. This did not go unnoticed by literally anybody. Several of the villagers suddenly looked scandalized but he'd just dropped his pants and exposed himself.

Heckles raised, Kagome squeezed Inuyasha's hand back and purposefully scooted closer to him. Bigoted people just made her so mad. Let them look offended. If they couldn't see how good a man Inuyasha was, that was their problem not hers.

"Naraku," the headman answered slowly as his eyes flicked towards the intertwined hands, "Are you familiar with him?"

"Yeah. Had some bad dealings with him. Killed…" Inuyasha paused and let out a shuddering breath as he plowed ahead. The truth was probably the only thing that could save these poor people even if he technically wasn't supposed to know it yet, "Killed people I care about. Likes traps. Tricks. Curses. That type of thing. Bet my life on it that spider is an illusion."

The headman considered this for a moment before glancing at his daughter.

"And you say these two just appeared?" he asked skeptically and Sango nodded.

"Don't you even think we're involved with him. I'd rather cut my own dick off than help that bastard!" Inuyasha huffed angrily as he pushed the envelope further still, "Send some people if you don't believe me but send the assholes you don't like because I bet they'll be dead before morning."

"Inuyasha, no one is saying you're involved…" Kagome chided softly and he gave her a glare that actually frightened her before it relaxed and he shook his head.

"They were thinking it," Inuyasha hissed defensively – just loud enough for her to hear - as he sent the onlookers a withering glare, "They only came to watch because they think me getting killed would be fun to watch."

"Inuyasha they might be jerks but they only brought us here to talk. Not to..."

Scowling, Inuyasha pointed at his ears and Kagome slowly closed her mouth.

"They brought us here to pass judgment as to whether I'm a threat," Inuyasha accused softly before nodding at Sango, "Even her."

"Well why do you want someone who doesn't accept you to join us?" Kagome sighed exasperatedly, "Isn't that dangerous? What if she hurts you?"

"Sango wouldn't..."

"This isn't last time Inuyasha. You obviously knew her back then but this is already different," Kagome huffed and his eyes widened incrementally, "This girl is a wild card. You don't know her and she doesn't know you. Maybe you'll find someone else. Someone better."

Inuyasha paled and let out a shuddering breath as he looked over at Sango who was giving them both a speculative look. Maybe Kagome was...

"I believe him," Sango suddenly opined as she looked at her father, "What would he gain by lying?"

Giving her an approving smile, albeit a somewhat resigned one, her father stood and nodded at one of the other slayers who left to go do something he'd just non-verbally been instructed to do.

"We'll send a messenger declining the assistance," he opined as he gave Inuyasha a stern look, "And you come with me."

Casting Kagome a somewhat nervous glance, Inuyasha did what he was told as Kagome got up to go speak with the new recruit.

"So your name is Sango," the miko began sweetly as she held out her hand, "I'm Kagome. I'm glad I won't be the only other girl anymore."

Sango laughed softly as she accepted the strange gesture.

"So how did you wind up teaming up with a demon?" Sango asked curiously as she watched her father lead him towards the cave which housed Midoriko.

"Fell down a well. Found him pinned to a tree," Kagome hummed, "Put some beads around his neck and the rest is history."

"So you control him," Sango tried to clarify and Kagome shook her head.

"No one can control that man. At first it was because he kept trying to steal the jewel," Kagome admitted and Sango's eyes widened before the miko added, "But some people he loved got killed and it changed his way of looking at things I think."

"Did he kill them?"

Kagome chewed the inside of her cheek as she shook her head.

"No that Naraku guy did I think," Kagome sighed evasively, "A long time ago."

"Well we should slay this Naraku then," Sango hummed as she glanced over her shoulder at her little brother who was munching happily on some type of fruit and giving her a very pleased smile.

"That's the plan. That and getting the jewel back together."

"How did it shatter in the first place?" Sango asked curiously and Kagome blushed furiously.

"So I kinda maybe sorta hit the jewel with a sacred arrow. By accident. Some bird stole it and..."

Laughing out loud, Sango gave her new friend a bemused look.

"So you're trying to put it back together to fix your mistake?" Sango giggled before giving the miko a knowing look, "And he's helping because he loves you?"

Kagome's smile faded as she averted her eyes.

"Yeah. I mean, we're together obviously but you know, it's new and...," Kagome began opening up before gasping and backpedaling, "I just...I know with you being a slayer and all you might disapprove but..."

"No. No. I'm not bothered. You're lucky. Most men wouldn't want their wives to be doing dangerous things like this," Sango mused earning an even more scarlet blush, "One day I'll either have to put down my weapon and become a good little wife or maybe, if I'm fortunate, I'll find a man like him. Who supports me for my strength and doesn't hold me back."

"Oh I'm not his wife but..."

Kagome blinked a few times before glancing at the slowly retreating crimson dot.

"You know maybe one day," Kagome mumbled curiously as her lips twitched upwards.

"You looked worried when I demanded I be paid," Sango added almost as an afterthought, "It was more to see how serious he was. Him saying it would be split equally was sufficient. When all you have is nothing, there's a lot to go around, don't you think?"

Clearing her throat, Kagome smiled and nodded gratefully.

"We don't really get paid," Kagome laughed, "Not with money anyway. Usually we get paid with food."

"Food is good," Sango hummed as she breathed a long sigh of relief, "Do you know I've...I've wanted to travel since I was small. Wanted to see the world."

"Well this is your chance," Kagome laughed softly as she grinned up at the woman Inuyasha had just forcibly recruited, "Welcome to the team Lady Sango."

"Sango. Just Sango," the slayer corrected.

"Please follow me," Sango's father ordered gently as he entered Midoriko's cave and Inuyasha realized what the guy was testing. Whether he was only searching for the jewel for himself or whether he was doing it for the reasons he claimed. Once long ago, Inuyasha had failed that test but things were different now. He was different now.

Exhaling slowly, Inuyasha crossed over the threshold without issue and the headman nodded once in approval before turning and walking down the long path.

"The jewel was originally from our village," the headman explained over his shoulder and Inuyasha nodded, "The priestess Midoriko..."

"I've heard this story," Inuyasha murmured quietly, "But I don't believe Midoriko did it on her own. She probably had help."

"You're correct. She did," Sango's father laughed, "My daughter is now the guardian of Midoriko's companion, Kilala."

Inuyasha smiled faintly at that new knowledge.

"In any case, I brought you here because I had a dream," Sango's father sighed and Inuyasha's face fell instantly. What was the deal with everyone having dreams now? Was that just some side-effect or something worse? Maybe it wasn't time travel.

Maybe this was hell and no one knew it. Just having dreams of their terrible, preventable...

"Six stones perched atop a mountain cliff," the headman began as he continued walking, "Five fell and one pushed them back up again."

Okay, so this was more weird than he expected. Not unwelcome but definitely weird.

"One stone pushed other stones?" Inuyasha repeated with no lack of condescension.

"The first stone that fell was adorned green moss," he hummed in lieu of replying, "The second colored with bright orange mushrooms . The third illuminated with various blue and purple gems. The forth littered with coral. And the final one appeared to encase an opal."

"And let me guess, the stone that pushed the other stones had red on it?" Inuyasha supplied wearily.

"That stone appeared to be made of amber actually. In any case, the dream seemed to be an omen," the headman continued before stopping dead in front of the stone remnants of Midoriko's final battle, "So I came here for guidance."

Inuyasha's ears were flat against his head at this point.


"She gave me a vision of you," the headman sighed heavily as he pointed to the hole where Midoriko's heart once was, "There."

"Of me? Like my face or..." Inuyasha blurted incredulously and Sango's father nodded sagely.

"Yes I was very confused as well," the headman hummed bemusedly before turning to face the anxiety riddled half-demon, "I do not like that you have arrived here and demanded my daughter but it seems it was meant to be. You have the green and orange rocks already. You need the coral and the opal do you not? Who will be the gem stone I wonder?"

Inuyasha tried to figure out how to answer that strange statement or what an opal even was. He'd never heard of such a thing. But if Sango was the coral, which duh, then maybe Kilala was the opal? opal must be like a tan rock?

"I'm...I'm not collecting people or anything..." Inuyasha replied uneasily, "We just...we just needed a slayer is all. Strength in numbers. I'm not enough on my own."

The headman gave Inuyasha a somewhat chiding look.

"I know who you are son of Inu No Taisho. When I was a child, your village called my father to come inspect the demon sealed to the Sacred Tree," the headman hummed, "Supposedly he killed a priestess to whom he was betrothed."

"I didn't do that! It was..." Inuyasha snapped impulsively and the headman held up his hand.

"Naraku I presume?"

Inuyasha nodded curtly as his heckles remained fully up.

"One of your late father's vassals, Myoga, assured my father that you were no threat and that it must have been a misunderstanding," the headman continued softly, "So we let you remain sealed to that tree rather than slaying you while immobilized."

Well look at Myoga doing something useful for once. Although, the worthless coward probably downed a whole liter of blood after the slayers left his 'lord' to rot. What's the harm in draining a corpse, right? A half-corpse, anyway, that hadn't been murdered by some assholes hired to kill it a second time for good measure. Inuyasha would bet a lifetime of ramen that Kaede probably didn't say a word in his defense. Maybe she even hired them.

Shaking his head, Inuyasha stopped himself before he could dwell on that thought further. Kaede was a good woman and they'd had some bonding time recently which was nice. It wouldn't do him any favors to get pissed at her over something that happened decades ago. He was over the whole tree thing anyway. In the long line of shitty things that happened to him, being sealed to a tree for fifty years was at the bottom of the list. A good long nap at worst.

"Well thanks for not killing me I guess."

"You're very welcome although I cannot take the credit," her father laughed softly before sighing, "As I said, I know who you are. With your lineage, I imagine you're more than capable of protecting the miko on your own. While it confuses me that you have sought my daughter out and I do not want her to go, I know Sango does not belong here. She deserves recognition and you have given her that. You have pushed her rock up to the cliff to stand beside you as an equal in battle."

Inuyasha cringed which thankfully was missed. More likely that dream was how everyone died and his rock's stupid attempts to...

Wait, if that was a prophetic dream, did that mean he succeeded? That the others wouldn't die this time around? Plus it meant they would find Miroku somehow which definitely took a load off his mind. Inuyasha's heart began to speed up as true hope bloomed in his chest.

"All I ask is that you protect her," Sango's father requested softly, "Midoriko has determined your heart to be pure and lack selfish motive. Otherwise you would have been prohibited from entering. That is enough for me to know your character."

Inuyasha almost, almost admitted he knew what happened when Midoriko disapproved but thankfully stopped himself. Being nauseatingly chucked through the air once was more than enough for one lifetime. An altogether unpleasant experience truth be told that Inuyasha did not want to relive.

The headman nodded once before turning and beginning to head back towards the entrance.

"I'm serious about not sending your people out there. If Naraku's involved it's a trap," Inuyasha warned as he followed, "And you guys need to make sure someone is always here. Or put up a barrier or something. I don't know. Something."

"It seems this Naraku seeks the Sacred Jewel," the headman acknowledged, "It makes sense our village would become a target given our affiliation. I will take your advice into consideration half-demon."

"Don't call me half-demon. My name is..."

"My apologies Inuyasha," the headman corrected himself as they exited the cave and moved back towards the village.

Chapter Text

Inuyasha leaned his head up against the tree as his anxiety continued to swirl through his veins. His heart was pounding and it was impossible to relax much less sleep. For a moment earlier this morning, just a moment, Kagome had smelled like she used to - that extra edge to it that made him feel invincible. Sure, Kagome smelled like Kagome – that had always been the case - but...but he'd been chalking the subtle difference to ten years of pointless longing and an overactive imagination. And then her scent today shifted and as much as he hoped it meant what he thought it meant, a part of him wondered if the change meant he was doing this all wrong. If this was how she smelled last time then that could be a huge problem. Her smelling like this...

But things were already different and he had enough to worry about besides whether Kagome's scent was a sign of something both good and nefarious. Slowly rapping his head against the bark, Inuyasha sighed miserably. A month. Another month without any sign of Miroku. No rumors even. Not that he could tell the girls or Shippo that he was looking for the monk. Couldn't even say anything that might tip them off. At a certain point, he'd just need to assume Miroku wouldn't be with them this go around but the thought made him ill. That wasn't the only thing that had Inuyasha anxiety spike.

There had been no sign of Sesshomaru which totally should've happened by now. Not one attempt to steal Tessaiga. Not so much as a distant whiff of the bastard and no sign of Naraku either. What were those two even doing?

On top of the suspicious lack of assholes, the jewel shards weren't where Inuyasha knew they should be and so the process had been awkward. Him suggesting they go to one place only to leave empty handed. Every time something was not where or how it'd been Inuyasha turned a little green. Too much was different now and some things were the same which meant he might fail again. Might lose Kagome again and now that they were together Inuyasha knew he wouldn't survive losing her but it might not be preventable. No matter what he did he could still fail...

Letting out a shaky breath, Inuyasha tried go focus on the soft repetitive sound of the crickets to distract him or at least help him get to sleep but the season was changing and it was getting colder. The crickets weren't as loud as he'd like them to be.

The fact that the season was changing made the monk's absence more noticeable.

It was usually Miroku who got them housing indoors this time of year and without him their group was stuck out in the cold. Inuyasha missed the indoors. It'd been far too long since he'd gotten to enjoy luxuries of any kind but at least he knew where his next meal was coming from and the fact that said meals typically included ramen was enough for the time being. Even though back in the day, he'd lived off what he could find, the past ten years had made him realize he was incapable of fully embracing roughing it any longer. He couldn't sleep in the rain. He'd gotten particular about food and couldn't settle for half-rotten meat in a bind. Really couldn't eat vegetables that hadn't been roasted first. Eventually he'd gotten over the need for luxuries like that as something to expect but it'd been harder than he'd expected. Took maybe four or five years before he'd given up and ate boiled tree bark during one particularly bad famine. Cried like a little bitch after too which was pathetic but that hadn't been about the bitter mush he'd gagged down. Just sitting there, by himself, in a damp unlit cave…the quiet and misery of it all hit him hard. His greatest fear long since realized but, for some reason, he'd been too consumed by grief to really focus on any selfish emotion. Ever since those wonderful beads got slapped on his neck, Inuyasha realized he was afraid of being alone again. Of dying alone with no one to care about his passing. Of fading into nothingness. No one would cry for him or comfort him or even show him the minimal amount of pity. Before Kagome, he hadn't cared one way or another. Everyone died so why fear it. Life was simply something to survive. With people who loved you, life was easier and after he learned that lesson, he simply was incapable of coping as he once had.

If he hadn't failed…

Inuyasha let out a shuddering breath and adjusted himself on the branch.

Not that it mattered what happened during the decade that passed by in a blur. Things were different now and that's what mattered. Being able to see Kagome every day. To be able to kiss her and hold her and show her know how much she meant to him. That opportunity was worth everything. So long long as she lived this time, even if he died in her place, that would be enough. He'd be satisfied.

And in the meantime, he'd keep her happy. He'd make sure she smiled and laughed and had everything she wanted or needed – even if she didn't know what that might be. Kagome had asked him earlier if he'd been so hellbent on getting Sango not because she was an undoubtedly fabulous fighter but because of how well the two women got along. He'd denied it but yeah, that was exactly why he wanted Sango and he wanted Miroku because as perverted as that monk was, Inuyasha didn't really fancy being outnumbered by the women/Shippo. That and both the slayer and the monk were part of the family so, of course, he wanted them for that reason too but mainly he wanted Sango for Kagome.

And sure enough, by the end of the first week, Kagome and Sango were thick as thieves and you'd never know they'd only met a very short time ago. By and large, Sango was still the same person she had been back in the day but definitely seemed happier and more confident. She'd started asking Kagome if she could get cherries and soaps of a specific scent and all sorts of trivial little things. During the first quest, Sango never asked for anything ever but maybe that was because she felt like a burden. Admittedly, the slayer had done a lot of stupid shit over Kohaku. Stealing the Tessaiga being the most prominent bad life decision. Maybe Sango had never felt like she had the right to ask for things she wanted.

Inhaling deeply, Inuyasha furrowed his brow as a faint scent of salt water hit his nose and amber eyes blinked open before glancing down at the floor below where a miserable Kagome stood arms outstretched towards him. Immediately rolling off the branch, Inuyasha was about to ask her what was wrong before she launched into his arms and held onto him like she was afraid he'd disappear.

"I...I had a d-dream again," she sniffled as she buried her face and whined, " were hurt in a c-cave. D-dying I t-think and... and...there were these people chasing you and I couldn't...I w-wanted to help you but I was stuck. I was stuck and I was trying to get to you and...and I c-couldn't..."

Inuyasha paled as he wrapped his arms the crying girl and squeezed her tightly. What the hell was even happening anymore? That had been ten years after she'd died. The day he died or at least the day he assumed he died. There was absolutely no way she could've been watching. That...maybe it was just a vision and she was confused but either way...

"It wasn't real. It was a dream," Inuyasha soothed even as his mind began racing. But what did it mean when she said 'stuck'? And what did Kikyo mean when she said 'he'? Sango's father was having weird prophetic dreams and...and...

Kagome sniffles continued before she pulled back and took his hand to lead him back to her sleeping bag.

"What're you doing?" Inuyasha whispered quietly when the miko knelt down, unzipped her sleeping bag before reaching up to yank him down.

"Lay d-down with me," Kagome ordered as she crawled in and tried to drag him in beside her. Inuyasha's eyes bugged at the implication before he hesitantly complied. Amber eyes drifting closed and lips twitching upwards when Kagome moved so she was securely spooned. Her hand grabbed his and pulled the arm attached to drape over her waist while the hand itself as forced to rest securely against her sternum.

"I didn't like that dream," she mumbled hoarsely as Inuyasha's heart ached, "I need to know you're okay just stay here, okay?"

Inuyasha couldn't find it in him to refuse but his breath did catch and his heart did race as she wiggled against him so she could get more comfortable. Yes, her heart was racing too but that was from fear...or that's what he told himself. This was going to be the longest night of his life. Her hips rocked back and it was all he could do to remember how to breathe.

"I-I'm fine," Inuyasha promised shakily as he buried his nose in her arm and squeezed her lightly - both of which were a mistake and he winced as his choices made his predicament worse, "Just sleep Kagome. It was just a dream."

Kagome let out a shuddering breath and leaned back into his warmth.

"I thought the other was too..."

Kagome huffed softly as Inuyasha dipped down to kiss her cheek with a strange nervous energy before heading out to find some firewood. Why did he have to make it so hard to stay mad at him? That kiss made her want to melt, his slight hesitation was adorable and it was infuriating. Almost as infuriating as him getting mad at her for being upset when he'd been injured - especially in light of her dream a few nights ago which he knew upset her enough to want him to cuddle her all night long. Sure, he'd been rather flustered the next morning and yeah, he'd run off shortly thereafter to do god knows what but he wasn't that emotionally dense, right? Even if he healed quickly, Inuyasha knew or should have known it was upsetting when he got hurt and the injury earlier was disturbingly gruesome. That sickle that caught him in the shoulder must've nicked something because it literally gushed for a good hour and yet Inuyasha still acted like it wasn't that bad. The demon hadn't even hit him that hard and his shoulder looked like it exploded. Hell, Inuyasha even seemed concerned at first but after a few moments, he'd brushed it off as nothing. Told her to quit blubbering over him. Which he amended to crying when she insisted she wasn't 'blubbering.' It'd turned into a shouting match and he'd eaten dirt. She'd patched him up and it quickly became clear how quickly he healed - there wasn't even a cut by the time he stopped fighting her. And after all that...

He had to go and do something sweet that turned her into a puddle of goo. Kagome's scowl grew more pronounced as she watched him head into the forest between narrowed sapphire eyes. How was it that he had that much power over her already? He was doing it on purpose – she was sure of it but whatever he was doing was proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that love was a weird animal. And the strangest part of all was that it wasn't him kissing her or holding her hand that was winning her over – although those things were nice. It was the passion he put into everything. His determination. His wit. The way he wrinkled his nose when Shippo annoyed him. How he danced slightly in his seat and looked borderline euphoric when presented with ramen. The face he made when he thought something smelled bad - one eye twitching a little, a subtle shake of the head and his tongue poking out ever so slightly between his lips. How his ears betrayed his every emotion. God those ears...

"I'll go into the village up ahead and see if there are any rumors," Sango suddenly offered as she came to walk beside her - snapping Kagome out of her own mental ranting with a visible jump, "We've had some bad luck recently."

"That's probably a good idea," Kagome sighed as she sent one more withering glare towards Inuyasha's general location, "We haven't found a jewel shard last few days and we all know that makes him cranky."

"That it does," Sango laughed softly as she removed the boomerang with ease and glanced towards the village in the distance, "If this Naraku is truly as bad as you say, the more shards we collect the better."

"I've heard he's pretty bad," Kagome hummed thoughtfully, "But honestly I've never met him. I'm sure we'll meet him sooner or later."

"I saw him," Sango sighed as she adjusted her hold on the boomerang of unusual size, "A baboon demon or at least he appeared to be. Rather strange but a very powerful aura."

"I don't look forward to fighting him then," Kagome admitted wearily, "We've had a couple battles with some pretty strong demons so far but their auras weren't what I'd call strong."

"You never said who it was that Inuyasha lost?" Sango asked barely louder than a whisper as she glanced into the tree-line and Kagome sighed before answering evasively.

"I don't know all the details but I do know it was two girls he loved," Kagome replied quietly, "One fifty years ago. One ten years ago. I think some friends too along the way. He only found out what happened a little bit after we met and that changed him."

"I imagine it did," Sango hummed sympathetically, "I can't even imagine what that must feel like. No wonder he's so protective of you."

Kagome nodded her agreement although she had a very faint inkling of the pain Inuyasha must have felt. Seeing him dying in that cave and not being able to do anything had felt...

And that stubborn jerk wouldn't tell her how he did die which meant that dream wasn't a dream at all. Above all else, she wanted those visions to stop. They were all awful and painful and heartbreaking. The image of him doubled over and sobbing uncontrollably burned forever in her mind's eye.

The look of unfathomable pain and grief in his features...

The broken look on his face in that cave like he was tired of living...

The way something shattered behind his amber eyes when he realized she wasn't going to make it...

"He's taking too long. I'm going to go find him," Kagome suddenly breathed as she began walking quickly to the tree-line leaving the slayer looking on with a sympathetic smile. Sango imagined it had to be hard for him to have lost so much. If she lost people she loved, it would probably destroy her so the fact that he still managed to be so strong was inspiring. Maybe...maybe if the worst did come to pass, she could be that strong but hopefully she'd never find out.

"Inuyasha?" Kagome called out as she entered the tree-line and the half-demon instantly appeared.

"Whats wrong?" he breathed worriedly as his nose went into overdrive - she was sad. Why the hell was she sad? Had something happened or was she hurt or...

"Nothing. You were just taking a long time," Kagome lied and Inuyasha gave her a skeptical look.

"Right," he snorted softly, "Now tell me what's wrong."

"Nothings wrong," Kagome huffed defensively and Inuyasha rolled his eyes.

"You do realize that if you wanted to come with me, you could've just said that," Inuyasha chided as he turned and started heading back to where he'd been hacking up a branch, "You know I wouldn't care."

"Who said I wanted to come with you?" Kagome clipped back and Inuyasha laughed softly.

"Okay then why'd you follow me then? I've been gone a few minutes at most. There's no way you were worried."

Kagome glared and folded her arms across her chest.

"You were taking forever. How long does it take to pick up a few dry twigs?"

It was disturbing how familiar this conversation seemed except, for Inuyasha, the shoe was on the other foot. Instead of being the one worried for absolutely no reason, coming to make sure she was indeed fine and refusing to admit it, it was ever patient Kagome worried about him for whatever reason. If anything, this conversation was making Inuyasha realize how perfect they really were.. They were both stubborn idiots fighting all the time both against and for each other in the same breath.

But instead of saying as much…

"You're so stupid. It takes more than a few minutes idiot," Inuyasha clipped, "If you think you can do it faster, then next time you get the firewood."

Kagome set her jaw as she wondered why she'd even gotten worried about this asshole in the first place but then he sent an affectionate smile over his shoulder and there she went melting again.

"What's Sango doing while you're out here worrying about twigs?" Inuyasha asked playfully as he stopped and knelt down by the dead tree branch he'd been working on.

"She's going to go check the village for jewel shard rumors since we haven't found any recently," Kagome huffed and Inuyasha paused before picking up the branch.

"I just...they're not where I thought they'd be," he replied in a hurt albeit defensive tone, "I'm trying my best but..."

"I'm not blaming you," Kagome sighed reassuringly, "Besides if things were exactly the same, wouldn't it end the same..."

"Don't," Inuyasha interrupted tersely as he ripped the branch clean in half before doing it again and again until there was a good quantity of firewood to be had, "Just don't."

Kagome cringed as she belatedly realized how insensitive her comment had been. He didn't want to talk about what happened when she - and presumably Sango as well - had died and it was clear he couldn't handle the mention of their death if he could avoid it. Just last week she'd done something or another that triggered him and he'd frozen. Just zoned out and gotten shaky before brushing it off like it was nothing. Denied he'd done such a thing but even Sango got concerned. All Kagome had done was hesitate for a moment to fix her aim. The demon wasn't even that bad. Sango took it out in one blow while Inuyasha was temporarily rendered useless. The only explanation she could think of was some type of PTSD maybe or...or...

"Come here," Kagome ordered gently when Inuyasha remained facing away from her instead of collecting the firewood like one would expect - the way his hand trembled slightly by his side gave her everything she needed to know. With a resigned sigh, he did face her and as hard as he was trying to seem cocky, the smirk looked forced and his eyes hard.

"I'm already here. How much closer do you want me to get?" he huffed before gasping softly when Kagome quickly crossed the distance and hugged him tightly. Squeezing her to him, Inuyasha inhaled her natural scent and allowed it to soothe the ache in his heart. At first, it hadn't bothered him all that much but as more time passed, the more little things were affecting him. Just last week they'd been in battle and he'd glanced at her. The stance was the same. The expression the same. Her slight hesitation the same. Even the mountains and the forest were the same...

It was the second that he realized that this seemingly random meadow was where she fell that his mind flatlined and he forgot how to function. By the time he recovered, the demon was defeated and both Kagome and Sango were looking at him with concern. That was something he definitely needed to work on. That couldn't be allowed to happen again. Sure, the demon they defeated was weak but what would happen if he froze like that when they were facing Naraku?.

Kagome pulled back slightly before standing on her tiptoes and pressing a soft kiss against his lips which he returned with a happy hum.

"Come on. Let's go back and I'll make you some ramen," she offered and Inuyasha smiled. Firewood picked up, they began heading back walking side by side in companionable silence. Noticing how Inuyasha would on occasion sigh and furrow his brow, Kagome reached up to scratch the base of one ear earning a soft smile.

"I like when you do that," he admitted as he tilted his head into her touch, "Use nails though."

She did and he shivered.

"That's it," he practically purred with a faint blush before noticing Sango watching them and pulling his head away.

"I'm going to head into the village," the slayer called out, "Is there anything we need?"

"Nothing comes to mind," Kagome called back before noticing how Shippo was perched atop the slayer's shoulder, "Are you taking him with you?"

Sango nodded and Shippo waved. The poor little kit had basically hidden behind Kagome the entire encounter with the slayers - wanting to be out of sight - and was initially very weary of Sango but now if Kagome wasn't around or a little too occupied by Inuyasha, Shippo wanted to be with the slayer who cooed over him and would clap at all his tricks. Shippo adored Sango and Sango adored Shippo. It wasn't surprising that he wanted to go with her. He'd probably begged.

And, as much as Kagome loved Shippo, he did tend to gag whenever Inuyasha kissed her and given the depressed mindset Inuyasha was in that type of reaction might end poorly.

"I should be back by sundown," Sango spoke at a normal volume as the couple came closer, "I don't imagine it will take very long."

Inuyasha nodded as he watched the slayer head out before turning back towards Kagome.

"So you going to tell me why you chased after me?" the half-demon asked curiously before regretting pressing the issue when Kagome cringed. Probably another dream and with how he'd been acting, she was afraid to bring it up.

"Did you have another dream?" he pressed wearily and Kagome shook her head, "Okay what then?"

"Same dreams. I just...I got worried about you is all and you've been acting a little weird so…," she mumbled sheepishly and Inuyasha sighed before kneeling down to arrange the firewood.

"I'm not weak," Inuyasha huffed as he piled the bark face up and scowled, "I know...I know I've been having some issues but you don't need to worry I'm sitting around feeling sorry for myself or..."

"It wasn't that," Kagome interrupted exasperatedly, "Just...just the faces you made in the dreams…"

Inuyasha paused and glanced up at her.

"The memories," Kagome amended softly as she knelt down beside him and pressed one hand to his cheek, "Whenever I think about it, I just want to make sure you're okay."

"I'm fine," Inuyasha scoffed as he went about his work with his cheek still pressed into her palm, "It's just...hard sometimes."

Moving her hand under Inuyasha's chin, Kagome gently forced him to look up at her which he did. Amber eyes glowed with resignation and defeat like he wholeheartedly believed she was about to rip his heart out and crush it in her palm. A strange reaction given everything but the reaction he had nonetheless. Maybe it was something in her expression? Who knew really...

Running her thumb over his chin, Kagome smiled at him before leaning over to kiss his temple earning a long relieved sigh.

"You don't have to deal with all of this on your own," Kagome sighed as she pulled back, "I know what happened. More or less anyway. You can tell me if you're having a hard time you know. It's okay to be weak sometimes."

Inuyasha winced and lifted his chin out of her grasp.

"I cant…" he huffed as he got to his feet, "I can't be weak this time."

"Grief isn't a weakness," Kagome pointed out as she followed suit, "No one expected you to brush it off. That's probably why Naraku killed me first. He knew…"

Inuyasha let out a shuddering breath before clamping his hand over her mouth and shaking his head.

"This time will be different," he interrupted, "It won't happen again."

It killed him to see the pity and sympathy in her expressive eyes.

"Don't look at me like that," he ordered gently as he removed his hand and blushed, "I…"

Didn't know what to say honestly. She'd seen his reaction. Guessed what he'd become in the ten years that followed their defeat although she didn't know the half of it. He'd basically stopped functioning – just aimlessly wandered without feeling much of anything except general despair. How he survived as long as he had was anyone's guess. He'd forgotten how to be alone and it had terrified him to find himself in that situation again. By the end of their quest, Inuyasha had grew to rely on his friends. Had a home in them. In Kagome. Without them he was lost.

If anything, though, as utterly broken he'd been was nothing compared to Sesshomaru. Last time he'd seen the bastard he'd basically gone insane without Rin. Had straight up murdered Jakken and anyone who'd encountered him. Gone was the emotionless asshole Inuyasha knew and, maybe, loved. As much as he'd like to say he hated his brother, the truth of the matter was that Sesshomaru was the only blood family that the half-demon the first year, he'd sought the bastard out if for no other reason than he'd hoped the daiyoukai would let him tag along – as a vassal, a servant, a slave, anything really. The crushing loneliness had gotten to him but Sesshomaru was even more broken. Obsessed with finding a way to bring Rin back to the point of insanity. Threw away his title, his lands, his very being.. As miserable and heartbroken as Inuyasha had been; he had managed to keep his wits about him. Sesshomaru…

Was nearby?

Sniffing a few times, Inuyasha furrowed his brow and looked into the distance. The girl was with him too which seemed off for whatever reason.

"I'll be back," Inuyasha breathed distractedly as he took off without further explanation. Maybe Sesshomaru was the reason he'd been sent back in time but why would the bastard do anything for him? If there was one truth, it was that Sesshomaru…

Inuyasha ran faster as he realized his brother had stopped. That he must be waiting for him. The only explanation…

"Rin. Leave us," Sesshomaru ordered as Inuyasha slid into the clearing and the little girl complied instantly. Mind and heart racing, Inuyasha struggled to control his breathing as amber eyes looked for any sign he was wrong. The scent gave the bastard away though. Even from the distance, there was no denying the putrid stank that Sesshomaru had acquired on his rapid descent into madness. Distinct from the old in every way imaginable. Their scents used to be relatively similar back then – although admittedly Inuyasha would begrudgingly say his scent was of a less choice cut of meat. Too much iron from the human side. Not that it mattered what the scent differences used to be dammit. The point was Sesshomaru smelled like he did for the better part of his batshit crazy period albeit…

Less so?

Inuyasha let out a shaky breath as his eyes flicked towards the girl then back towards his patiently waiting brother.

"You did this then?" Inuyasha began awkwardly as he relaxed somewhat, "You know…the thing with the, um, lack of…shit…this…whole…thing…? With the not death and..."

Sesshoamaru's eyes narrowed slightly as his nostrils flared.

"Is that a yes?" Inuyasha pressed a little too desperately for his own liking. It was growing increasingly irritating that Sesshomaru wasn't reacting or using words.

"So you sent me back to do what exac…"


Okay, that was better. Words were being used.

"So you didn't send me back?" Inuysha tried to clarify before groaning when that didn't garner a response of any kind. No response. None. The bastard didn't even bat an eyelash or seem flustered. Not so much as a subtle change in his emotionless expression.

"Did you defeat Naraku?" Inuyasha tried again even though it felt like beating his head against a stone wall and Sesshomsru's nostrils flared..Turning away, the daiyoukai said no more but was forced to stop as Inuyasha moved to block his path.

"Did you defeat…"


Inuyasha blinked once as his heart sank.

"What do you mean no? How did you get the jewel?!"

Sesshomaru side stepped the half demon who once again blocked his path.

"Did you wish on the jewel?"

"Move aside" Sesshomaru ordered dismissively before his eyes flicked over the half-demons shoulder for a split second with some emotion that could only be described as concern flashed. What was more eerie was that the daiyoukai didn't even threaten him in any way. Didn't resort to violence or insults or…

Inuyasha's eyes widened in horror as he glanced over his shoulder at the small frightened girl peering out from behind a tree. This hadn't been about him or changing history or anything other than saving Rin. Useless, annoying Rin.

"Why did you bring me back here?" Inuyasha muttered in a horrified tone as he turned panicked eyes back on the minimally annoyed daiyoukai who for once in his miserable life talked like a normal person. Well…as close to normal as the bastard was capable.

"Why would I bother doing such a thing?"

"But you had to, right? You wished on the jewel and…" Inuyasha pressed as he continued to obstruct Sesshomaru's way forward, "And I'm here. I remember so…so it had to be you. Had to. So…you wished on the jewel and…"

"Step aside."

Inuyasha almost wanted to intentionally elicit a more Sesshomaru-like reaction. Some violence. Incur some terrible injury. Anything to prove things might be even remotely the same. That the bastard was lying or…or anything. Any possibility was better than there being no point to any of this.

"Is this the underworld then?" Inuyasha managed in a small voice, "Are we dead?"

For the first time quite possibly ever, a smidgen of pity flickered across Sesshomaru's face.

"No," the daiyoukai sighed – actually freaking sighed! – before amber eyes once again flicked towards the small child who remained poorly hidden, "No we are not."

Inuyasha felt like puking.

"So why am I here? did I get here?" Inuyasha mumbled miserably as haunted eyes stared blankly ahead.

It wasn't surprising that Sesshomaru didn't bother answering that question. That the bastard just side stepped him and moved forward towards the only person the emotionless asshat had ever loved. Inuysha watched numbly as his brother gently commanded the girl to take his hand and off they went

Inuyasha vision blurred as he belatedly realized he'd forgotten to breathe while Sesshomaru slowly continued until he was almost out of eyesight. What was the point of all this then? Was all of this really over that child? Did that mean he hadn'tbeen sent back to change history? That this was all pointless and his own fate was just a happy coincidence? That…that…

Closing his eyes, Inuyasha let out a shuddering breath. It was true that he was an inherently selfish bastard. It would be easy – too easy – to just say to hell with the quest and settle down with the woman of his dreams. Basque in her love and experience a life he'd never expected much less deserved. One day soon Kagome very well might love him. If he was fortunate enough, Inuyasha would spend every minute of every day showing her how much he loved her.

But the truth remained that by doing so, he'd condemned someone he thought of as a brother to a fate worse than death. To be consumed by his own hand and banished god knows where.

"Well shit," Inuyasha cursed under his breath as he turned and began running back to Kagome. All this meant was that he was on his own and that bastard would be no help at all. It also meant that he hadn't been sent back to change what had happened.

Inuyasha quickened his pace as his heart ached. He needed to get to her. He needed….

"Inuyasha, where did you…"

Kagome was unable to finish her question when his lips crashed down on hers and he guided her into the ground. Every meeting of their lips had a manically desperate energy as his hand brazenly moved to fondle her breast and his unoccupied hand pinned her wrists above her head. Body laying flush against hers, Kagome could barely suppress her panic. A soft moan spilled over his lips as the hand on her chest moved to spread her legs – his hips moving to settle between them. Was he planning on….

Pulling back, she was alarmed for so many reasons. One, he was basically trying to seduce her forcefully and two, there was such resignation in those expressive amber orbs.

"I love you," he murmured breathlessly, "Say you love me too. Just once. Even if you don't mean it. Please?"

"W-what are you planning to do?" Kagome asked wearily and Inuyasha panted lightly.

"It wasn't what I thought," he admitted thickly as he released her wrists and pressed his temple against hers, "There's no point to this. I'm…I'm going to fail and I…I can't do that again. I…"

Hyperventilating slightly at what he was about to do, no amount of heartbreak would stop him from doing the only thing he could think of to guarantee Kagome's survival. The rest he'd deal with on his own if need be but…

"I n-need you to leave," he ordered shakily, "You need to go home and forget all of this. Forget me. You need to…"

Pulling his face down, Kagome pressed her lips against his earning a soft whimper.

"Look at me," Kagome ordered gently and shaky amber met her gaze, "Now what happened?"

Inuyasha swallowed convulsively before shaking his head.

"The wish…the wish wasn't…I'm not here to change what happened to you," Inuyasha choked bitterly, "Sesshomaru…Sesshomaru did something…"

"Sesshomaru said he wished on the jewel?" Kagome asked as her eyes widened in shock and Inuyasha paused.

"Yeah. N-Not that he said but…"

"So it's entirely possible that he didn't wish on the jewel?" Kagome pointed out and Inuyasha sagged in defeat.

"How else would I be here?" Inuyasha argued before whimpering again when Kagome pulled his face down to kiss him – he didn't have the strength to fight her.

"Inuyasha I time travel all the time," Kagome pointed out as she guided his face onto her chest and tried to coax him into laying down, "Maybe Sesshomaru found a way to bring himself back and you got caught up in whatever he did since you're brothers. Maybe it was a blood thing,"

Inuyasha sniffled and melted into her embrace when her fingernail scratched lightly at the base of the nearest ear. The miko could feel his heart pounding and his quick panting breath against her torso and knew what he needed to hear.

"I love you so I'm not leaving," Kagome began slowly and Inuyasha let out a long sigh as he nuzzled her chest – obviously believing she was only saying that because he'd asked. The strange thing was as soon as she'd said those three little words Kagome knew she'd meant them. The surge of emotion that hit her at that realization was shocking. Like her heart or soul had known the truth all along and wanted to make sure she didn't doubt the depth of her feelings for an instant.

"Thank you," he breathed hoarsely as one arm curled beneath her body, "For saying that."

Kagome hummed as her hand moved to passively run across his back.

"You don't need to send me home," she continued affectionately and she felt Inuyasha taking several deep calming breaths, "This time will be different. I promise."

"You can't promise that. Y-You need to go home,," he mumbled miserably and Kagome sighed.

"Things are already different which means other things will be different," she pointed out, "You won't lose me again."

"You need to go home," Inuyash argued weakly, "That's…that's the only…"

"You can't make me stay there. I'll just come back," Kagome teased and Inuyasha made a weird choked sob-like sound.

"I know."

The way he'd said it – just resigned and defeated and miserable. Like he'd tried to send her away and failed before. Almost like he expected that response. A long uncomfortable silence followed before Inuyasha let out a shuddering sigh and adjusted himself into a more comfortable position atop her

"Would you…would you say it again?" he pleaded softly, "I…I know I said once but…"

"I love you," Kagome murmured affectionately and Inuyasha let out a long relief filled breath as he relaxed completely with a appreciative hum.

"I know you said you'd come back but I need you to go and not come…"

"I love you," Kagome cut him off sweetly and she felt his heart speed up even as a long exasperated sigh left his lips.

"You don't have to keep saying it. I'm not that pathetic woman,," Inuyaha huffed before whimpering when she pressed her lips against his temple.

"I know," she admitted softly and the arm beneath her flexed as Inuyasha bit his lip before inhaling deeply.

"Kagome I just wanted to hear it once before you left," Inuyasha huffed, "I know you don't meant it so…"

The miko but her lip before saying something she knew would change everything.

"What if I do mean it?"

The loud exasperated groan followed by his sagging against her and pressing his forehead against her shoulder was not what she anticipated.

"Dammit woman," Inuyasha groaned miserably, "Why'd you have to go and say that?"

"Because I meant it," Kagome huffed and Inuyasha groaned louder.

"You always make things complicated," the half-demon chided bitterly, "I need you to go home. I need you to be safe and you had to go and make it that much harder to do."

"Would you prefer I didn't mean it?"

"I mean no but…"

"Inuyasha who cares if you being sent back was a coincidence?" Kagome argued affectionately as she scratched the base of one ear and he huffed in frustration, "Things are different. You don't know…"

"I know what will happen if you stay. We. Do. Not. Win."

"Not with that attitude we won't," Kagome snorted and Inuyasha scowled.

"This isn't a joke," he snapped as he fully pushed himself off her and glared, "It destroyed me last time. The only way I won't fail you is if you leave and never come back."

"Or maybe you sending me back will set me on a path where a bus crushes me to death. Maybe a satellite will fall out of the sky and smush me like a bug. Maybe there'll be a plague which will kill me dead," Kagome countered and Inuyasha gaped in confusion.

"What does that even mean?" he breathed anxiously, "Is that normal?"

"I just mean you can't control what happens to me. No matter where I am," Kagome explained, "You can't control the future. Sending me back might do nothing. Where there's death there might always be death."

In retrospect that was the wrong thing to say as Inuyasha eyes glazed over and his skin turned clammy.

"Why would you say that?" Inuyasha asked in a hollow tone of voice and Kagome cringed.

"Okay scratch what…"

"I mean, of all the dumb ass things you've said…"

"I'm sorry, okay? I was just trying to…"

"Why are you so stupid?"

Kagome visibly brístled.

"Excuse me?"

"You're usually good at this stuff," Inuyasha huffed as he ran one hand over his face, "And you just went and said that."

"I was trying to be comforting and show you that…"

"That was supposed to be comforting?!"

"I said I'm sorry!"

"That doesn't make up for being a…a…" Inuyasha snapped before he froze, blinked a few times and laughed. The affectionate grin and bemused sigh that escaped him only served to get Kagome's heckles up.

"What is even happening?" Inuyasha mumbled as he rolled his eyes and sat back on his haunches, "You're turning into me."

"I'm sorry, what?" Kagome huffed and Inuyasha's strange grin widened as he gestured to her general person.

"This. Saying the wrong thing. Worrying over nothing and trying to find me to make sure nothing happened," he explained as the tension melted out of his muscles, "You're turning into me."

Kagome scowled.

"I am not!"

"Yeah you are," Inuyasha snickered, "Now I'm the mature one and you're the asshole."

"Know what? I take it back. I don't love you," Kagome huffed prettily as she folded her arms across her chest and Inuyasha's eyes sparkled with silent laughter.

"Doesn't work like that," he teased and Kagome stuck out her tongue.

"Does too and I take it back," she grumbled good-naturedly.

"That so? You can just turn it off," Inuyasha asked as he raised a single eyebrow, "Just change your mind and it's a done deal?"

"Yup," Kagome clipped as she got to her feet and Inuyasha had to bite his lip to hold back his grin.

"Fine then. Go home."

"I'm not going to do that just because you told me to do it," Kagome humphed as she set about starting a campfire, "So you'll just have to put up with me."

"Okay," Inuyasha sniffed as he too got to his feet, "Seems easy enough."

Kagome was quickly losing the battle to keep up this farce as Inuyasha merely stood over her in his trademarked cocky stance. Arms folded, attitudinal shifting of weight to one side, oozing with confidence.

"You don't have to watch me," Kagome groaned and Inuyasha shrugged.

"I know."

"Why do you have to be so contrary?"

"Who says contrary?" Inuyasha snickered and Kagome rolled her eyes.

"People who don't love people who don't say contrary," she quipped and Inuyasha snickered louder.

"Like I said. Doesn't work like that," Inuyasha chided gently, "Can't just turn it off."

"It does and I can," Kagome clipped and Inuyasha knelt down next to her. When she turned her head, he dipped over and pecked a chaste kiss against her lips that she reluctantly returned before pulling away and pouting.

"I love you," Inuyasha teased and Kagome sighed in defeat.

"I love you too I guess," she grumbled and Inuyasha nuzzled her nose.

"I swear you're turning into me though," he teased before kissing her again with a happy hum, "Guess I'm a bad influence."

"Yeah well…at least you admit it."

Inuyasha laughed. Things were definitely different and maybe she was right. Yeah so Sesshomaru was the reason he was given a second chance. Maybe the world didn't revolve around him. That didn't mean he wasn't meant to change the past. It seemed to have already changed for the better anyhow.

This could work. Besides if things went south, he could always just push Kagome into the well and blow the damn thing into smithereens.

Chapter Text

Yawning Inuyasha adjusted himself into a more comfortable position - one arm moving so his hand rested under her leg rather than on it and his hips were at a slightly irregular angle. Pushing his face, a little closer to her stomach, Inuyasha sniffed once as Kagome gently played with his available ear with one hand while the other was busy holding a book her school insisted, she read. All in all, the position was rather relaxing and lazy and there'd been a few times Inuyasha knew he'd dozed off. Wetting his lips once, he sighed contentedly and enjoyed the absently given attention to his ear.

"You awake?" Kagome asked softly and Inuyasha pouted. That sounded like she was about to ask him to move which he had no intention of doing. Maybe he could just pretend he was asleep, and she'd leave him alone. Purposefully making his face neutral, Inuyasha decided the most logical course of action would be to pretend he was asleep.

"You fool no one," the miko teased good naturedly as she fondled his ear with a little more pressure and his toes curled as a soft moan escaped against his will. By the time she started using her nails at the base, he was very nearly coming undone.

"Sango isn't back yet," Kagome continued and Inuyasha sighed heavily. Her fingers stopped moving and his sigh suddenly had an annoyed edge to it.

"She's on her way," Inuyasha mumbled as he tried to press his ear into her palm, "You're worried over nothing."

"You can smell Sango is on her way back?" she pressed and Inuyasha groaned as he rolled onto his stomach and buried his head in her thighs.

"She's fine Kagome," Inuyasha's muffled voice huffed before he turned his head to face away from her, "Just keep reading your stupid book."

"Well it shouldn't be taking her this long," Kagome clipped as she set her book down and Inuyasha knew this peaceful afternoon was effectively over. Stupid woman was going to make him get up and do things. Sango was probably fine, but his woman was going to force him to run all the way to the village or, at a minimum, to proper scent range just to double check. Sometimes he swore Kagome did things like this just to annoy him. God forbid he relax.

"I'm sure she's fine," Inuyasha groaned as Kagome pulled her legs up and he rolled bonelessly onto his back. Civil disobedience seemed warranted under the circumstances and if she wanted to go and check, that was her business.


Inuyasha sighed heavily once more as he cracked one eye open and watched Kagome pack up her school things. Technically Kagome's well-being was his business and if the dumb bitch wanted to run all the way to the village, she'd undoubtedly fall on the way being the clumsy oaf she often was.

On the other hand, he was relaxed - or had been - which was a rare occurrence. Almost as rare as just getting to bask in Kagome's presence without a snot nosed brat or a somewhat prudish slayer lurking about.

"Kagome be reasonable. It's nowhere near sunset," Inuyasha argued as he reluctantly pushed himself into a sitting position, "You're worried over nothing."

"Don't make me say the thing," Kagome huffed as she straightened up and placed her hands on her hips and Inuyasha rolled his eyes.

"Since when did the threat of a sit stop me," Inuyasha countered lazily, "Doesn't motivate me either. So, go right on ahead."

Kagome set her jaw before letting out a defeated sigh and plopping back down.

"You're going to feel really, really bad if something went wrong," she warned and Inuyasha ignored her in favor of crawling back over and curling up with his head securely in her lap.

"Sango's fine. She can handle herself," Inuyasha mumbled contentedly as he glanced up at the very annoyed Kagome, "If she's not back by sundown I'll go look for her but right now, you're just being paranoid."

"Well we'll just have to wait and see now won't we?"

"No shit stupid," Inuyasha snickered before laughing outright when Kagome smacked him lightly upside the head. Down at the relatively large village, Inuyasha was correct and Kagome was indeed being paranoid. Sango was technically fine. She'd sustained no injuries and even had gained some intel as to a potential jewel shard in the village. It was just unfortunate that the intel came from a man who simply could not take a hint.

"You misunderstand. I never meant to imply that you were incapable of seeking jewel shards on your own," an ebony haired monk continued to follow the slayer as she milled about the marketplace and pointedly ignored the man, "Nor was my request intended as an insult."

'Was that supposed to make it better?' the slayer thought in disgust as she gave the monk a sour condescending look before picking up a few pieces of fruit and inspecting them. They looked somewhat like something Kagome brought with her last time she went through the well. Above all, the fact that the miko was from the future motivated Sango's very sharp and blunt refusal to have this pervert join them. Someone like him could not be trusted to keep that a secret and undoubtedly, he was a con man who would try to use future knowledge to his advantage. Although the couple with which she traveled hadn't said as much, it was clear that they possessed some knowledge as to events that would transpire, and it didn't take a genius to put two and two together. Giving this selfish man access to that knowledge would be a mistake.

That and refusing to let him join would be the merciful thing to do. Inuyasha would beat the pervert bloody the second he tried to grope Kagome and if the monk was stupid enough to proposition her? They'd be finding body parts all over Japan for years to come.

"You spoke of Naraku," the monk tried a different angle in the hopes that the slayer would accept his proposal, "My primary purpose is to find and kill a demon who goes by that name. That terrible demon left me with a curse in my right hand and it is my life's mission to put an end to him."

"And that pardons your behavior how?" Sango huffed and Shippo looked equally non-plussed from his position on the slayer's shoulder.

"My grandfather battled Naraku long ago," the monk explained quickly, "Over fifty years ago. The battle ensued for several years. Each time they encountered one another, Naraku would take on the appearance..."

"I fail to see how this excuses..." Sango interrupted acidly and Miroku bristled.

"Naraku pierced my grandfather's right hand with his own sacred seals," Miroku cut her off impatiently, "The curse is passed down through generations until none remain. In order to defeat Naraku, each generation takes on the task. With my own time running short, I must produce an heir."

Shippo huffed in disgust and Sango gaped at the monk in mild horror.

"I can't believe you!" the kit clipped back with no lack of distain, "You'd make a cursed baby on purpose?!"

Miroku paled and shifted his weight uncomfortably but didn't exactly deny it.

"Naraku is a shape shifter. Unless you possess that knowledge inherently, it will be difficult to defeat him," the monk countered defensively, "Passing down the curse is terrible, yes, but Naraku must be defeated. He leaves a trail of destruction in his attempts to possess the Jewel of Four Souls. I've even heard he killed the former guardian fifty years ago and..."

Sango's eyes widened in sudden understanding. Kagome had spoken of the woman Inuyasha had loved fifty years ago and the miko went so far as to introduce herself as the reincarnation of the former guardian of the Shikon Jewel. No wonder the half-demon was so protective of Kagome although that raised many more questions as to whether Inuyasha was projecting the memory of his feelings towards the former guardian onto Kagome herself. Perhaps his love wasn't genuine but merely the result of a hope and prayer that, as Kagome was indeed a reincarnation, he could pick up where he left off.

That new information didn't… sit… well.

"I normally operate on my own but given the number of shards collected by your group, and presumably yourself as well, it would appear joining your quest is the most likely path to victory," Miroku finished and Sango set her jaw. Despite the monk's cocky attitude as he spoke those words, a flicker of raw emotion shone behind his blue eyes. Fear and desperation. Of pain. Her face softened. It reminded her of the look Inuyasha had given her when they first met, and it was that image that gave her pause. There may very well be more to this 'monk.' Not much more but more than she was currently giving him credit.

And... even if the half-demon was using Kagome, he was still the de facto leader of their group and had been looking for strong warriors to join their journey. Besides, to his credit, Inuyasha had sized her up almost instantly and was correct in his assessment. Despite the attempts by the elders to convince him otherwise, Inuyasha knew she was the best fighter. Perhaps he should be the one to make the final call – after a short, blunt interrogation of course. Especially since Kagome seemed to love everyone and only saw the good in people. As much as the slayer had come to adore her, that aspect was both a blessing and a curse. Then again, that particular personality trait seemed to have made Inuyasha softer hearted or perhaps he had always been that way and simply felt free to expose it in Kagome's presence.

Sango sighed heavily as she picked up a different piece of fruit and inspected it. It didn't make sense that Inuyasha's feelings towards Kagome weren't genuine and anyone with eyes knew there was clearly some lingering trauma he was working through. Perhaps she was just making assumptions that the woman who had died fifty years ago and the former guardian were the same person. Maybe his relationship with Kagome was just a happy coincidence.

Either way, the deal remained that all things were decided by the group. She would not betray that deal over a personal dislike of the individual. Who knows? Maybe this lecherous monk had some redeemable quality buried deep, deep down.

"Wait in the forest," Sango sighed, "A fair distance away from the village. I cannot make such a decision unilaterally."

"So, it is true. Your group is the one collecting shards," Miroku stated more than asked and Sango nodded once.

"My companion is the..."

"You're married?" the monk asked wearily, and Sango scowled even as he added almost as an afterthought, "Well then this is awkward."

Rolling her eyes, Sango could read between the lines. The monk was afraid her husband would come and beat him senseless for propositioning her. Although she wasn't married, the slayer knew Inuyasha could probably be prevailed upon to do the task if she asked but Sango was sorely tempted to do the beating herself.

"It's only awkward because you propositioned me!" she clipped back and much to her shock and horror, Miroku instantly lit up. In hindsight, she really should've just said yes.

"No. No... You misunderstand. As I explained, I only propositioned you to ensure this Naraku's defeat," the monk clarified and Sango's right eye twitched, "I merely thought it was awkward insofar as I did not wish to be a third wheel so to speak. In any case, my curse unfortunately…"

"A curse which you claim exists yet failed to show any evidence for," Sango huffed in as cold a tone as she could muster, "We already have a spiritual person in our group. We don't need another."

"I assure you my curse is very real. I haven't demonstrated its power as I would prefer not to lay waste to this village," Miroku replied pointedly, "I would be more than happy to present my abilities away from the village if it truly is necessary."

Sango rolled her eyes as she continued to the next booth and absently surveyed the wares while Shippo followed her lead. The kit was behaving for once and had stopped acting rude which was strange as well. Perhaps the little boy's instincts could sense how dangerous a man this was and didn't want to antagonize him.

"As I said wait in the forest," Sango sighed dismissively, "If my companions decide you're worth our time, we'll find you."

Miroku fingered his staff for a moment before nodding and walking away. Overall, it was a rather unpleasant encounter but…

"Inuyasha's going to kill him," the kit opined lazily, "There's no way that pervert isn't going to ask Kagome to have his kid."

"Or grab her," Sango laughed softly as she inspected a rather pretty comb, "Maybe the curse in his hand will go away if that hand gets ripped off."

"Problem is Inuyasha gets these ideas about who he wants," Shippo hummed thoughtfully, "Like with you. That was random."

Nodding in solemn agreement, she considered the intricate comb more closely. It was quite pretty, and she did have a little bit of spending money. A bribe may very well be in order. After all, she only needed one of the adults on her side to get the majority vote.

The kit glanced at the comb and then up at the slayer's face like he was reading her mind.

"It won't work. Kagome might like it but she'll agree with him if he says yes," Shippo warned and Sango sighed as she dug into one of her many pockets and produced a few coins before handing it to the merchant.

"Well desperate times…"

Moaning quietly, Inuyasha's toes curled as Kagome gently scratched the base of both ears with the lightest of pressure using her nails in just the right way. From the way his breathing hitched on occasion to the steady thrum of his heartbeat, vulnerability and trust oozed out of his every pore. At first, Kagome had gone right back to studying while Inuyasha somewhat awkwardly forced his head into her lap. While very, very annoying at first, when she finally did look down at his expression her breath caught. It was that same peaceful yet subtly forlorn look he'd been sporting when she found him sealed to the tree that morphed into a purely and utterly content expression when she gently traced his cheek with her fingertips.

Every time she wanted to be mad at him, like now with his stubborn refusal to acknowledge Sango might be in danger, he went and did something like that. The rest of the afternoon, of course, devolved from there - with Kagome trying to elicit other adorable reactions and Inuyasha happily complying with whatever she wanted to do. In all honesty, she couldn't find it in herself to really be mad at him. Inuyasha had been...clingy since finding out that being sent back might just have been an accident. Taking every opportunity to be near to her. Not in front of the others, of course. He waited for moments alone even if just for a few minutes, but it was clear he was anxious and desperately wanted reassurance that everything would work out. At night he was more brazen - especially if there had been no alone time that day. God forbid two days sans contact went by. Caution and propriety were thrown to the wind. That and any semblance of calm. Once he even woke her up late at night, when Shippo had curled up on Kilala rather than the miko, to gently yet firmly force his way into the sleeping bag. His choice of cuddling position was surprising - he wanted to curl up against her side with his head on her chest and his arm curled across her stomach and torso but eventually he settled for the much more comfortable loose spoon. The next day he was normal again, but they had all suffered in the days beforehand.

As much as Kagome loved that man, he could be a right asshole when he was stressed out. Gave high strung a whole new meaning. No stopping. No breaks. Barking orders right and left. Picking fights and cursing up a storm. By the end of the second day, he'd even suggested they skip dinner and march straight through the night. It was only after Kagome went up, grabbed him by the forelocks and pulled him down for a long, lingering, awkward kiss that he'd calmed somewhat and begrudgingly acknowledged that setting up camp was a good idea.

In hindsight, Shippo, Sango and she should've just mutinied and set up camp. What was Inuyasha going to do about it anyway?

"It's almost dusk," Kagome sighed heavily and Inuyasha pouted against her stomach.

"Sango and Shippo aren't back yet," she added. Inuyasha not so subtly curled his arms more firmly around her waist in a clear demonstration of civil disobedience.

"We need to go find them," Kagome pushed. Inuyasha shrugged and merely adjusted himself to a more comfortable position.

"You can't just lay here forever you know."

"Says you," Inuyasha teased before rolling onto his side and curling up between her legs while using her thigh as a pillow, "You're just a weak little human. What ya gunna do? Push me? Good luck with that."

"I could just say the word."

"Sure. Go ahead," Inuyasha yawned as he slightly adjusted himself.


"Kagome..." he parroted playfully and Kagome's eye twitched.

"I'll say it. Don't think I won't."

"If you want my face between your thighs, you could just ask ya know. No need to resort to violence," Inuyasha hummed as he cracked one eye open - hoping that the mortification that statement would bring would put an end to her attempts to get him to move. Sure enough, her face turned beet red and she gaped at the lewd statement - literally rendered speechless -before collecting herself.

"That was inappropriate," the miko huffed as her blush stayed firmly in place, "You can't just say that."

"Well I did so, ya know, there's that" the half-demon replied lazily as he rubbed his cheek against her leg, "What's so bad about saying things like that anyway? I mean, in this time you should've popped out two, three kids by now."

Almost immediately Kagome scoffed and tensed beneath him.

"Okay well I'm not from this time and…"

Inuyasha's lips twitched upwards as she continued explaining how she was still considered a minor child in the future instead of telling him to get up. Distraction achieved, Inuyasha let her rant a little longer before Sango's scent mercifully began drifting on the breeze. They had maybe five, ten minutes tops before…before...

Oh no.

Oh no, no, no, no

Inhaling sharply, a subtle addition to the slayer's general odor caused the half-demon's anxiety to spike dangerously out of control because Sango had found the monk first. It'd be a miracle if the pervert was still alive and given the unmistakable scent of that woman's indignant range, Miroku had engaged in his usual backwards ass way of making an introduction.

"Shit," Inuyasha breathed as he pushed himself up and scrambled to his feet causing Kagome to cut off her rant mid-sentence. As his sensitive ears began picking up bits and pieces of the conversation, panicked amber whipped towards the miko.

"Do you trust me?"

Chapter Text

Inuyasha was this close to literally shaking some sense into this infuriating woman. Here he was trying to get her to understand that she wasn't some replacement for Kikyo, which Sango was intending on interrogating him about, so when he inevitably said the exact wrong thing which he was known to do, Kagome wouldn't leave him over it. Instead, Kagome was just acting like it wasn't a big deal or saying she 'already figured' despite him never saying anything. Because the stupid woman would say one thing and do another. She was always thinking and getting dumbass ideas in her head. They couldn't afford doubt in each other. Over anything. She needed to understand how much she meant to him. What she meant to him. That he didn't just love her because she was a reincarnation. He loved Kagome for so many reasons. Somehow this irritating wench made it possible for him to forget how the world saw him – if only for a moment. Gave him a home when he had none. Made him feel incredibly powerful and yet vulnerable all at the same time. She was his sanctuary. His everything.

And yet sometimes she was so unfathomably stupid, he'd come this close to strangling her.

"You're not listening to me," Inuyasha huffed in frustration as Kagome continued to give him that infuriatingly patient smile, "I almost got you killed over her. Several times. That's how bad it was."

Very early in this conversation, Kagome had realized that arguing with him over this was pointless, because his retort was based more in his own emotions than the quality or intention of her response . So instead of being defensive, she was trying to show him she accepted and understood how he came to feel things were as he clearly believed they were. Inuyasha appeared to be seeking condemnation - which was completely irrational but made sense given the life he'd been forced to lead. In his hundred plus years, the only thing that life had taught him to expect was pain, disappointment and rejection. Whenever he'd dare imagine his life might not suck after all, that he might've found a home in her or even a fledgling hope that he'd found a place to belong in Kikyo , that got taken away too. Brutally and mercilessly both times. Anyone would have a mental breakdown under the circumstances he was describing.

In short, it seemed what he needed was validation and reassurance that she wasn't going to voluntarily leave him. For any reason. So, he was just putting all the bad things he'd ever done out there to make sure they wouldn't come back to bite him later. Which why he felt the need to do this she had no idea but apparently that's what he decided they were doing right now.

"Honestly Inuyasha it all sounds understandable to me. I mean, come on, you obviously (a) were grieving (b) are afraid of being alone (c) were craving closure (d) were seeking validation that the relationship you thought you had was real and not just your imagination (e) have incredibly low self-esteem after being told your whole life you don't deserve basic human decency (f) were wallowing in regret because you make it a habit to blame yourself for every bad thing that happens (g) trying to save her because your default setting is try and save all the things..." the miko hummed bemusedly as she ticked off each observation on her fingers, "Do you want me to keep going? I have more."

Inuyasha growled in frustration at her flippant dismissal of what he was telling her. The fact that she died thinking he didn't love her was entirely his fault. And he didn't particularly like how she painted him. Like a pathetic, irrational, desperate person - which was fair truth be told - but he didn't like hearing it.

"What about I almost got you killed did you not understand? It wasn't just once! It happened a couple times," Inuyasha huffed as he raked his claws over his scalp, "Hell she even tried to kill you and that didn't make me stop going to her."

"Well, that's not great but again, I wasn't there for all of that," Kagome sighed heavily, "What are you wanting me to do here?"

Running both hands over his scalp, Inuyasha occupied his hands so he didn't shake her so hard her head fell off. They didn't have time for this. They couldn't afford her doubting him for even a second. Naraku would use that against her. Again. Naraku's infant almost ate her soul or something because the only piece of darkness or anger or resentment she had in her was caused by what he'd done. He couldn't lose her again. Not now. Not ever. If she didn't survive, he wouldn't either.

"Okay. Let's try this again," he finally huffed, "I'll use small words so you understand. Do. Not. Ever. Believe. I. Do. Not. Love. You. Got it?"

Kagome nodded as her lips twitched upwards and Inuyasha's eye twitched.

"No matter what anyone says," he continued harsher than he intended, "You are not a replacement. Not a back up option. None of that. You are everything to me because you are you and for no other reason."

Again, Kagome nodded before leaning forward and giving him a long lingering kiss that somehow made him feel like she was taking a little bit of his soul. His stomach clenched, his heart skipped a beat and some indescribable feeling washed over him blocking out all else. Like she was trying to pour all her love into him and draw his out to make up the difference. When she finally pulled away, he panted for a moment before dipping down to recapture that feeling – blind and deaf to the sounds of the slayer coming in for a landing.

"Ahem," Sango cleared her throat and Inuyasha cursed softly against Kagome's lips before pulling back and glancing over his shoulder. The slayer's eyes seemed to be taking in the intimate moment – a faint blush on her cheeks – before clearly coming to a decision.

"I found a lead," the slayer began with a resigned sigh and Inuyasha subtly furrowed his brow. That was unexpected. The entire flight home, or at least the parts he could hear, consisted of her saying she was going to get to the bottom of his former relationship and whether he was using Kagome. Maybe she planned on getting to it later or something.

"That's good," Kagome hummed as a faint blush appeared on her cheeks, "So where are we heading next?"

"Well…the lead was more a person than a location," the slayer admitted begrudgingly, "A monk in the village wants to join us."

Again, not how he was expecting this conversation to go but the less resistance Sango had to the idea of Miroku joining them, the better.

"But before I tell you more," the slayer continued, "I have some questions. Things I need to know that will affect my decision."

'Ah, here it comes,' Inuyasha sighed mentally as he slowly got to his feet and prepared himself for a verbal lashing, 'The wench better not get ideas.'

"Since I joined you, there's been some things that have made it clear you two know what happens in the future," the slayer began slowly, "I want to know how and why."

Inuyasha blinked in surprise as Kagome got up and stood beside him. That was the last thing he expected her to ask. Shippo seemed to be waiting for an explanation as well which meant he'd been wondering about it as well.

And Inuyasha had no idea where to even begin explaining what was happening here which meant he'd undoubtedly screw this up. As his mind reeled, however, Kagome per the norm always seemed to know what to say.

"Inuyasha got sent back in time by persons unknown. We don't know why. We don't know how. So, we've been trying to change what we can for the better," Kagome explained casually like she was commenting on the weather. Sango furrowed her brow at this unexpected admission. All this time she'd assumed Kagome was the one with the knowledge since she was literally from the future. The fact it was Inuyasha was strange and alarming.

"Is that why you found me?" Sango asked for lack of something better, "And told my village not to respond to Naraku's summons?"

Inuyasha nodded once as he blindly searched for Kagome's hand only to discover she was already searching for his own. Glancing at the miko, Inuyasha offered her a small appreciative smile which she returned with an affectionate one.

"I'm guessing Naraku won the first time then," the slayer finally sighed after a long moment of tense silence, "Did we all die?"

The depth of pain that flashed behind Inuyasha's eyes was somewhat shocking but not as shocking as what he said next.

"Everyone but me," Inuyasha offered shakily as his hand gripped Kagome's hand so tightly it hurt.

"How did you survive?" Shippo asked with no lack of suspicion and it took a lot of convulsive swallowing for Inuyasha to find his voice.

"Naraku…Naraku thought letting me live was a worse punishment," he finally managed hoarsely, "Dying would've been mercy."

Chocolate eyes flicked to Kagome. Given what she'd seen so far, Inuyasha loved Kagome more than anything in this world. Naraku probably made her death extremely traumatizing. Maybe even drew it out for the sole purpose of torturing Inuyasha. Of breaking him. It probably had been a worse punishment to force Inuyasha with that memory rather than putting an end to his suffering. Sango had seen firsthand the desperation in his amber eyes. The fear. The pain. Naraku had succeeded in breaking that half-demon who was now struggling to put himself back together again. Even now when he'd been given a second chance, the trauma still lingered…

"How is it you don't know how you got sent back?" Sango asked quietly – strangely accepting of the concept of time travel. Perhaps it was because she knew Kagome did so on a regular basis or perhaps she had come to trust these new friends of hers. They wouldn't lie about something like this – no matter how fantastical it sounded.

"Last thing I know I was dying," Inuyasha sighed shakily, "And then…then I was here."

Sango sighed heavily as she put two and two together. If Naraku didn't kill Inuyasha, someone else must have or, alternatively, he did it to himself. Neither were palatable options.

"Well…I guess that explains that," Sango sighed heavily before glancing at Shippo who also seemed to be handling this news relatively well. Except…

"So, you didn't have any control over when you came back?" the kit asked in a small voice, "None at all?"

Inuyasha slowly shook his head as he tried to figure out where the little boy was going with this.

"Why…if this person wanted to change things, wanted to make sure we didn't die, why didn't they want to save my father?"

You could've heard a pin drop in the silence that followed.

"I…" Inuyasha tried before clearing his throat and trying again, "I don't know. I don't even know if that's why I got sent back."

Those little emerald eyes watered slightly as he visibly deflated.

"That's…that's not fair," the little baby sniffled as he struggled to hold it together, "Is it because of me? Did I do something wrong?"

"Oh Shippo no," Kagome soothed as Inuyasha released her hand so she could rush to comfort the child, "You didn't do anything wrong."

Squeezing the kit tightly, the adults watched on with heartbroken eyes. Inuyasha especially. In all honesty, he felt like a piece of shit. The fact that it was too late to save Shippo's father came and went in the same breath without even the slightest bit of remorse. It hadn't even been a concern. After all, Shippo was the only one who lacked any outward signs of trauma. He'd been a hot mess. Sango had been a hot mess. Miroku was borderline suicidal or, at a minimum, resigned to death. Kagome didn't have any trauma herself but she was constantly stressed about how disrupted her normal life had become. But Shippo…

Shippo always seemed to be a normal, happy, healthy little kid. Not even the slightest hint that he was still grieving or hurting or anything. It was easy to forget the fact that he'd seen his father murdered right before his eyes. The knowledge that he'd been orphaned not a source of any real concern.

It should've been.

As the kit continued to whimper and cry into Kagome's chest, Sango took a few steps closer to continue the conversation privately. Some things might be better said to Inuyasha alone in any case.

"The monk said something about the former guardian," the slayer whispered softly as she glanced at the sobbing little boy with sympathy lacing her features, "And Kagome mentioned that fifty years ago Naraku killed the woman you loved."

"I know where you're going with this," Inuyasha sighed wearily, "Yeah, the former guardian and the woman I loved were the same person. Kagome is her reincarnation but they're not the same person. I don't love Kagome because...because I'm trying to rebuild what I had or somethin'. I don't want what I had. I want Kagome."

Sango considered this for a moment and almost argued further before deciding it wasn't worth the effort. Only a fool would believe Inuyasha's love for the miko wasn't genuine. In fact, she'd never seen anyone so in love and knowing what she did now, she had no doubt that losing Kagome had destroyed him. Speaking of which…

"You said you died and that Naraku thought death would've been mercy," the slayer continued quietly, "Was it suicide?"

Wincing, Inuyasha slowly shook his head.

"Did you ever try?" Sango pressed and Inuyasha averted his eyes which was all the response the slayer needed. He gave her one anyway.

"Don't tell her," Inuyasha pleaded, "I don't want her to know."

"I won't," she promised before sighing heavily, "You know the monk I spoke of?"

Inuyasha nodded.

"I think…I think he might be like you," she informed him, "The first thing he said was that he longed to see me again. Like he knew who I was."

"I'm sorry, what?"

Miroku waited miserably in the small clearing idly playing with the beads covering his right palm. Why had he assumed Sango would know who he was? That any of them would know who he was? Maybe…maybe he was just insane and had imagined the whole thing. A delusion concocted by a lonely mind to escape his imminent demise. That would make far more sense than being sent back in time for no apparent reason.

At least he remembered, by and large, what convinced Inuyasha and Kagome to let him accompany them the first time around – even if it wasn't exactly word per word. Maybe it had been enough to undo some of the damage he'd done when he stupidly rushed up to Sango, declared how he 'longed to see her' like the idiot he was and done everything wrong. He could've been a gentleman, won her over by being charming but oh no…he thought he'd be funny. A terrible, terrible miscalculation on his part. Made worse by subsequent statements and explanations and…

Even if he did join their group, he'd ruined any chance he had to win the slayer over quickly. Quite possibly ruined every chance he might've had with her. Honestly, when he arrived in the demon slayer's village seeking her out, he had been shocked that it was still very much there and that Inuyasha, Kagome, Shippo and Sango had already been reunited. Sango had come after he had joined the others though. Why would they have skipped him if they knew he existed? The villagers didn't give him much information either – other than the female slayer had left with a half-demon and a miko a few weeks prior.

As Inuyasha's aura came into sensory range, the monk raised his indigo eyes to watch for the half-demon's approach. Maybe he could make a better impression this time. He didn't know what he'd do with himself if they sent him away. Die alone and miserable like his father and grandfather before him, he imagined. It would probably be better anyway. If the cursed ended with him. There was no winning this war.

Clearing his throat, Miroku held himself as confidently as he could as Inuyasha slid to a stop in the clearing.

"Are you one of the slayer's companions?" the monk asked quietly, and the half-demon nodded once but otherwise didn't comment.

"Have you decided whether I am to join you then?" Miroku pressed. Still no reply but there did seem to be a suspicious, calculating look in those amber eyes that shone clear as day in the darkness. Unnatural eyes that should've struck fear into his heart, but the monk knew his friend far too well to be afraid. Worst case scenario, Inuyasha would cuss him out and leave. As good as the half-demon was at his job, killing needlessly wasn't something the man enjoyed doing.

"I…I do apologize for how I acted," Miroku added a little desperately, "I mistook your companion for someone I once knew. It was an honest mistake. I hope that didn't have any bearing on..."

"From what I hear, you do that type of thing to every woman you meet," Inuyasha finally spoke – an almost bemused edge to his voice that had hope blooming in the monk's chest.

"I...haven't said that to anyone in quite some time. Except to the woman, I intended to marry, of course," Miroku offered – hoping that Inuyasha would take the bait and admit he also remembered. Unless he didn't in which case, that was a strange statement to make given everything that had transpired that day.

"Well don't tell her that," Inuyasha chuckled, "Wouldn't do you any favors right now."

Miroku smiled faintly as he barely allowed himself to hope.

"I realized that shortly after a weapon crashed down on my head," the monk chuckled nervously before adding for good measure just in case he wasn't reading the conversation as well as he thought, "You know, I recently visited a demon slayer's village."

"That so?"

Clearing his throat, Miroku nodded and continued, "It still exists. I presume you had something to do with that?"

Inuyasha smirked like that was what he'd been looking for all along.

"Cut the crap and be honest with me," Inuyasha snapped a little harsher than he intended and the monk flinched, "And don't act like that either. You know I'm not going to hurt you."

Miroku blinked a few times before wilting in relief. Inuyasha remembered as well it would seem which was endlessly comforting.

"It's so good to see you my friend. I was beginning to think I was insane," the monk laughed softly.

"Yeah, well, it's been a weird couple months for all of us," the half-demon sighed heavily as he took a few steps forward, "Listen, I want to believe you are who you say you are. That you remember everything. Really I do but given the clusterfuck all this has been and the ever-growing pile of bullshit that keeps happening I need to make sure before taking you back."

Smiling, Miroku nodded once in understanding, "By all means, ask away my friend. I have nothing to hide."

"Where've you been?" Inuyasha asked and Miroku's smile faded.

"Primarily near the ravine where we first met," the monk replied like it was the most obvious thing in the world, "Or at Mushin's temple. If you knew who I was, why didn't you seek me out there?"

"I'm the one asking the questions," Inuyasha huffed as a faint blush bloomed across his nose, "And it wasn't a ravine you idiot. It was the mountains."

"I assure you it was not," Miroku huffed defensively, "That village housed the most unattractive women I have ever seen in my life. There was no mistaking it and the ravine was a stone's throw away."

Inuyasha had to bite his lip to keep from laughing at how, exactly, the monk figured out the correct location.

"Wait that's how you knew it was that particular ravine?" he finally managed, "The geishas?"

"They were…memorable," Miroku sighed heavily as he winced at the memory, "In any case, yes, I am certain it was that ravine and not the mountains."

"Fair enough," Inuyasha sighed bemusedly as he cracked his neck and tried to think of a different question, "How did you get here?"

"By here do you mean this particular location or here as in a time and place prior to meeting you," Miroku tried to clarify.


Miroku scowled at this little game Inuyasha was playing before sighing heavily, "I heard rumors that a small group of questionable individuals were searching for jewel shards. They matched our description…."

"Our description?" Inuyasha asked as he raised a single brow and Miroku gave him a withering look.

"Yes. The description of our group," the monk clipped back, "In any case, I heard they were seen heading north so I followed rather than waiting as you clearly had no interest in finding me."

"Not true but continue," Inuyasha corrected and Miroku rolled his eyes.

"In any case, I was in the village seeking rumors when low and behold Sango and Shippo appeared," the monk continued exasperatedly – more than a little irritated that Inuyasha was playing games, "I assumed, incorrectly, that Sango was searching for me because the headman with whom she was talking pointed in my direction. I later discovered, upon asking the headman, that he only pointed at me as a potential lead given my introduction earlier today."

"Let me guess, you told him you sensed an ominous presence?"

Miroku narrowed his eyes slightly but didn't deny it.

"After my faux pas, I explained my situation to her as I did to you when we first met," the monk continued, "And Sango told me to wait in the forest. Which, as you can see, I have done. Is that sufficient?"

Inuyasha idly scratched his neck as he continued 'contemplating' his response. Maybe it seemed underhanded to force Miroku to explain himself, but truth be told, it was a little too convenient that Miroku remembered. A little too suspicious. Sesshomaru and himself he could kinda explain away but Miroku? Why Miroku?

"You didn't answer my question. How did you get here?" Inuyasha hummed in a bored tone and Miroku scowled.

"Don't you know the answer to that? All I know is one moment I was dying and the next I was listening to one of Mushin's drunken rants," the monk huffed exasperatedly.

"I don't have an answer actually," Inuyasha admitted as he slightly narrowed his eyes at that unsatisfactory response, "Show me the curse you say you have and then maybe, just maybe, I'll believe you."

Miroku winced and began playing with the beads.

"About that," he began awkwardly, "The curse may be gone."

"Come again?" Inuyasha replied as his nostril's flared and his hand flew to his sword. Of course Miroku appearing and remembering everything was too good to be true. This had to be an imposter of some kind. Maybe whatever sent him back here wanted to mess with him for god knows what...

"No, no you misunderstand," Miroku scrambled desperately as he began pulling at the beads - his hand facing straight at the quickly panicking half-demon, "Here let me show you. It is still very much present but..."

"Well don't point that thing at me!" Inuyasha screeched as he scrambled backwards, "Shit I know you dying was my fault but I'm trying to change that…"

Miroku blinked a few times and stopped right before the beads were completely off.

"I don't understand. What do you mean it was your fault?" the monk asked in a confused tone, "Naraku killed me. Not you."

Inuyasha cringed and shook his head.

"Doesn't matter. You were talking about your hand..." he tried but Miroku seemed much more concerned with whatever Inuyasha believed happened.

"Inuyasha how was my death your fault?" the monk tried to figure out exactly why Inuyasha believed what he did.

"I said it doesn't matter," Inuyasha replied evasively, "Just...just show me your hand."

"I remember your sword wouldn't transform. Is that why you feel blame?" Miroku pressed as he glanced down at the hilt, "Does it work now?"

Inuyasha bristled and glared, "Yeah. It does."

"Well, that's good at least," Miroku sighed before shaking his head, "In any case, I'm not going to be upset with you for grieving my friend."

"Just shut up," Inuyasha demanded angrily, "Show me your hand."

"Inuyasha do you know how terrified I am that Sango blames me?" Miroku offered quietly as he pointedly ignored the command, "She fell before I did. I held her…"

"I said shut up!" Inuyasha hissed miserably as he refused to break down like he'd been letting himself do recently. He needed to be stronger. To not react. Naraku would use that against him. Do the same thing or something worse if he knew a stupid memory could render him useless. That couldn't happen anymore and this...this could all just be some type of test to see what made him crack.

"Do you blame me for taking that time to be with Sango rather than fighting on as though nothing had happened?" Miroku pressed and Inuyasha furrowed his brow in confusion despite himself.

"Neither of us were of any use to anyone," Miroku explained, "I saw you stand, draw your sword which did not transform, you looked down at it, then at me and shortly afterwards I was hit. There was nothing you could've done."

Despite himself, Inuyasha looked somewhat stricken and Miroku cringed at the haunted expression in his friend's eyes. There was much more to that memory. Even now he could hear his friend's grief ridden voice like it was only yesterday. Offering Kagome the world and everything he could think of to convince her to stay like she had any control over her imminent demise. The details of the half-demon's incoherent pleas were a little murky given the ferocity of his own grief but there was no possible scenario where the monk would have expected Inuyasha to brush off Kagome actively dying and continue to fight like nothing happened. And yet...

It almost seemed like Inuyasha believed that was the rational thing to have done.

"Nothing I would've approved of anyway," he amended gently, "It was a calculated attack and it worked. That was not your fault."

Inuyasha had to set his jaw from trembling as he averted his eyes and shrugged.

"Just show your stupid hand already," the half-demon ordered thickly as a means to stop this discussion, "What's wrong with it?"

Realizing Inuyasha wasn't in a place to accept that truth quite yet, Miroku smiled sadly and nodded as he continued unfurling the beads.

"The curse is not gone entirely," Miroku explained quietly as he held his closed uncovered fist out to the side, "But watch."

As the palm opened and nothing happened, Inuyasha seriously thought twice about his life decisions. Reacting to that comment had been a terrible knee jerk impulse. Maybe he just gave an enemy or god forbid Naraku something to use against him later. Kagome was going to die, again, because he couldn't handle something that technically hadn't happened yet and...

"See, nothing," Miroku sighed shakily - oblivious to his friend's inner turmoil, "But watch now."

A slight flex of his fingers and slowly but surely the wind tunnel appeared until it reached the full force of its terrifying glory.

And then it stopped. Another flex and the whirling vortex started back up again before Miroku covered it back up and waited for Inuyasha's verdict.

"You…you can control it?" Inuyasha breathed before furrowing his brow and snapping, "How?"

"I don't know," the monk sighed heavily, "Perhaps Naraku wants to lower my guard and convince me to leave it uncovered but that's just a theory..."

For a long moment Inuyasha merely stared at him before cursing loudly and running one clawed hand over his scalp.

"What am I supposed to do with that?" Inuyasha spat angrily and Miroku startled at the unexpected berating, "Dammit I want to trust you but…but that…that makes no sense unless you're an imposter or some shit."

"Well then question me until you feel as though you can trust me," the monk insisted exasperatedly, "Something only I would know. That Naraku wouldn't."

"I can't do that either. Maybe he wants that information," Inuyasha hissed as he began pacing anxiously, "All you had to do was open your stupid hand and show me the curse was still there. That's all you had to do."

"How on earth would that prove anything? Naraku gave me this curse. I am certain he could replicate it," Miroku groaned, "What do you need me to say? I could give you details about our day-to-day activities. Or…"

A very lecherous grin grew on the monk's face as an idea occurred to him.

"Perhaps I could repeat certain fantasies you confided in me," Miroku teased, "I've been told you are married after all."

Inuyasha froze in horror.


Miroku smirked and suddenly Inuyasha felt extremely nervous. There had been many conversations the monk had forced him into when the girls weren't around. Some of them innocent. Others...

Not so much.

"In my recent travels, I have found myself in need of some rope. I imagine you must have some lying about for...various reasons," Miroku hummed knowingly and instantly, Inuyasha flushed a deep crimson.

"Oh no…"

Miroku's responding grin sent a shiver down the half-demon's spine.

"Oh yes…"

"I will kill you. Don't think I won't," Inuyasha snapped nervously.

"So, you remember the conversation then?"

Nodding curtly, Inuyasha scowled even as his blush reached his ears.

"And we were quite alone when that was said, correct?" Miroku added and Inuyasha seriously considered ripping out the monk's tongue.

"If you ever tell Kagome I'll make damn sure you never produce children," Inuyasha threatened and Miroku held up his hands in surrender.

"I would never betray your confidence my friend," the monk promised before adding pointedly, "But since we are quite alone at the moment, I could continue demonstrating my..."

"Don't bother. You pass," Inuyasha snapped as he began to walk off before pausing and glaring over his shoulder, "I mean it though. Not. One. Word. You are not screwing this up for me."

"I would not dream of it. However, I am curious," Miroku hummed as he caught up with the angry half-demon, "How far have you gone with Kago…"

The monk really should've seen the fist coming.

Chapter Text

If there was something to be said about Miroku, it was that he was a damn good scam artist. These past few months had been filled with stays at inns, lots of free food and many cash advance payments for work that didn't even need to be done. Tonight, for example, each of them had their own room, had been fed a very rich supper and all they had to do was make sure nothing attacked the fortress while the lord's daughter gave birth. Supposedly, there'd been a few sporadic attacks by both bandits and demons recently – enough for the lord to immediately believe there was, in fact, an ominous presence cursing them. Kagome wanted to care that all of this was a giant scam but given the rain, freezing cold and general misery that would've awaited them had they camped outside, she honestly had no complaints.

Inuyasha had though but that was only because the others had insisted he stay in his room, by himself, for propriety sake to which he had said 'screw that' and plopped down in Kagome's room refusing to budge. Normally he had no issue with keeping his distance from Kagome in foreign villages as being discovered and her getting hurt as a result wasn't a risk he wanted to take but for whatever reason, he didn't care today.

"You really need to go back to your room. It's getting late," Kagome hummed as she turned another page of her textbook.

"I'm fine here," Inuyasha huffed as he leaned up against the wall with his sword across his lap. While Miroku was usually full of shit and there typically wasn't an ominous presence to be felt, this place felt different. It felt familiar.

And Inuyasha hated anything that felt familiar anymore. Made him nervous and think he'd done something wrong. Something that had set them all down the same path as before and Kagome was the only thing that helped him stay sane.

"You going to tell me why you're upset at being here?" Kagome asked casually as she turned another page and continued reading, "Or are you just going to sit there in sullen silence?"

Smirking, Inuyasha rolled his eyes as he effortlessly got to his feet and moved to sit beside her – one hand absently stroking her thigh as he mulled over his answer.

"Just feel like I've been here before," he replied quietly, "Can't place it though."

"And it has nothing to do with the new moon tomorrow?" Kagome hummed and Inuyasha blushed.

"That too," he admitted, "But you and I can leave and go somewhere else for that if the bitch hasn't popped by then."

"Can you smell if she's close?" Kagome asked curiously and Inuyasha sighed.

"It'll probably be tomorrow night," he admitted wearily, "Unless something changes between now and then."

"Well, most likely nothing will attack, and we can just stay in here," she offered and Inuyasha sighed before pulling her into his lap and holding her close.

"I'd agree with you, but I know…I know something happened here," he mumbled, "Maybe…maybe Miroku remembers."

"Do you want me to go ask?" Kagome hummed as she leaned back into him and Inuyasha shook his head as his arms tightened around her waist.

"No, not right now. We can ask in the morning," Inuyasha mumbled as he rested his chin atop her shoulder and glanced down at her textbook, "What're you studying anyway?"

"Biology," Kagome murmured as she tilted her head so their cheeks touched, "The study of the human body more or less."

"Anything in there about demons?" he asked curiously, and Kagome shook her head.

"There aren't demons in my time," she hummed before making a face, "Well, except the soul piper was there so maybe they just all stay hidden and I just don't know."

"Wonder if I'm still around," he mumbled tiredly as he felt his muscles relax from the warmth and scent from her proximity, "You know, if we win this time."

"You'd be old," Kagome teased and Inuyasha shrugged.

"S'long as I'm with you s'fine," he mumbled as his eyelids began to droop as the arms around her waist dropped slightly.

"Is that possible? For me to live that long?"

It had recently become a concern of hers that she would outlive him. Why it only recently bothered her she wasn't sure but better late than never. Especially given how he'd already lost her once and from the sounds of things, fell to pieces over it. Was still falling to pieces even though he had been given a second chance. The ever-present anxiety he had over potentially losing her again was almost tangible.

"If I can get sent back in time, don't see why not," he hummed dismissively before clearing his throat and shaking his head to clear the drowsiness away, "Anyway, so biology is the study of humans?"

"Yes and no. Its the structure of all things. Like…like things called cells and stuff. How bodies are built," Kagome tried lamely as she shifted her hips into a more comfortable position before sighing heavily, "We need to go to bed soon though. It's getting late."

"Are you…are you saying you want me to go?" Inuyasha asked quietly as his heart sank, "I just…I wanted some time alone with…"

"No. No it's not that at all," Kagome reassured him as she leaned her head back to kiss his cheek, "If you want you can stay here. I doubt anyone will come looking for you."

Breathing in relief, Inuyasha squeezed her lightly and buried his nose in her neck.

"And I know you haven't been sleeping as much since Miroku joined us, so I want to make sure you actually, ya know, sleep," Kagome added knowingly as she lightly stroked his arm and leaned back into his embrace, "Want to tell me why you've been having trouble?"

Inuyasha blushed but didn't answer. Honestly, now that everyone was together, the pressure to make sure they all survived made it hard to relax at all. It seemed like with every step forward there was about a hundred steps back. Somehow with very little effort on their part the jewel was almost complete. Equally bizarre, there hadn't been any sign of Naraku which had Inuyasha constantly on edge. Every sudden noise sent him into a panic that, once again, Naraku would appear out of seemingly nowhere and kill them all. If he was still around, that is, which was an issue all and to itself. The only reason any of them thought Naraku fully capable of controlling it. No Kagura. No Kanna. No dozen or so other incarnations that caused problems. There were no rumors even…

It didn't make sense. None of it did. With each passing day, Inuyasha felt like he was slowly slipping into madness and the only thing anchoring him in sanity was Kagome. Today had been especially trying too. A loud explosion nearly had him turning full demon when his survival instinct rushed to the forefront and nearly overpowered him. If Kagome hadn't been the stupid bitch she was and cupped his face in her hands, who knew what would've happened?

And what could've been the end of everything turned out to be just some stupid ogres bickering amongst themselves. They didn't even notice, much less care, about the people who came to investigate. Didn't care they almost caused someone to turn and kill everyone he cared about…

"Just a lot going on," Inuyasha sighed as he straightened up and cricked his neck while Kagome set down her textbook and made to get up.

"Well, it is getting late," Kagome sighed and Inuyasha hummed as he began shrugging off the top of his fire rat then flopped his back with a soft smile, "Go change and come back here."

Kagome rolled her eyes as she deposited her textbook into her backpack and rifled through the ten-ton monstrosity for her pajamas. Maybe it was a little risky letting him stay but Inuyasha needed some time to relax. Nearly everything made Inuyasha nervous anymore and he was so high strung it was a miracle he hadn't had a stroke yet. As it was, he was getting headaches – which she tried to alleviate whenever she got a chance. Letting him rest his head in her lap while she massaged his temple and scalp. Anyone who didn't know him would assume the scowl and narrowed eyes was just his usual expression, but it was the occasional wince when the others were talking and the hand that came up to press against the soft spots on his forehead when he thought no one was looking that gave him away. Kagome was sure not sleeping was making those stress headaches worse and he did always seem to sleep more soundly by her side.

Finished and changed, she came back and Inuyasha sighed in relief when she nudged his head up and began messaging the base on his neck and in turn, his claws reached up to gently trail up and down her arm with the lightest of pressure. It never ceased to amaze him how she just knew things. Knew how to calm him. How to comfort him. How to help him relax. To sleep. To breathe. Like now…with each gentle knead he felt his consciousness ebb and the tension in his muscles melt away.

"I'm gunna fall asleep if you keep doing that," he mumbled as his head lolled to rest his cheek on her thigh.

"That's the point," she cooed. Fingertips still gently caressing her arm, Inuyasha nodded before sighing contentedly when her fingers moved to squeeze his shoulders before fanning out onto his chest. Quiet moments like this had been rare lately. Just him and her doing nothing important. By themselves. It was nice.

"Where do you think we'll live? After all of this I mean," Kagome asked quietly as her fingers began trailing back up his neck and Inuyasha blushed faintly.

"Together you mean?" he asked as his blush deepened, "I…I haven't really thought about it."

"The meadow by the well is big enough. And I mean, if we're done collecting jewel shards by the end of the year I might as well drop out of school. You know, just stay here full time," she opined thoughtfully and Inuyasha felt a little sick. Just because Naraku wasn't a big player this time didn't mean he wasn't out there. Waiting for the right moment to swoop in and get the jewel. Maybe that was his plan. Wait for it to be completed and then kill everyone. Probably would wait until the most painful moment to do it.

"It's getting late," Inuyasha mumbled as he pushed himself up to a sitting position and cleared his throat, "And I know you'll be useless tomorrow until you get some rest."

Sighing, Kagome scooted closer before wrapping her arms around his chest and giving him a light awkward squeeze.

"What're you doing?" Inuyasha laughed softly as he glanced over his shoulder, "Stop it."

Kagome only squeezed harder and tried to use her body weight to get him to topple over. Which in hindsight was an impossible task. Sure, there were occasions that he let her do things, but he was a hundred times stronger than her and if he didn't want to be moved, there was no way someone like her could do it.

And the bemused twinkle in his eye made it clear he was doing his subtle best to remain stationary – biting his lips to keep the shit-eating grin in check and watching her out of the corner of his eye.

"Just. Lay. Down," Kagome huffed as she readjusted her hold and pulled harder. For the hell of it, he relaxed and let her move him slightly before locking his muscles back into place.

"Let. Me. Comfort. You," she chided playfully as she got her legs into it and Inuyasha rolled his eyes at her feeble attempts.

"I'm starting to think you don't know what that word means," he snickered before suddenly complying and flopping back to knock the wind right out of her. It's true what they say. It's all fun and game until someone gets hurt. As Kagome gasped painfully for air, Inuyasha absolutely panicked as his improving mood quickly took a nosedive.

"Shit," he breathed as he effortlessly flipped onto all fours and cradled her rasping form, "Are you okay? I didn't…"

"S'fine," she coughed as she gave him a bemused strained smile, "You…need…to…loose…some…weight…though…"

Inuyasha immediately dropped her with a scoff.

"You sayin' I'm fat?" he clipped back in mock offense and Kagome grinned despite still panting rather heavily.

"You…do…eat…a lot of…ramen," she rasped playfully, "It's catching up…up to you."

Inuyasha's eyes widened in horror as he glanced down at himself.

"You serious?"

"Of course…" Kagome had to pause to clear her throat, "Of course not."

Poking his stomach experimentally, he frowned slightly before glaring up at her.

"That wasn't funny," he hissed as he raised a single brow and Kagome had to bite her lip to keep from laughing.

"Was a little," she hummed with wry amusement, "But ramen isn't good for you. Has too much salt. Gives you high blood pressure."

Inuyasha smirked and rolled his eyes, "Don't know what that means but it won't stop me from eating it."

"Why does…" Kagome coughed lightly as some residual hoarseness crept into her tone, "Why does that not surprise me?"

Inuyasha snickered before using one hand to force her back onto her back.

"You talk too much, you know that?" he laughed softly – stretching out next to her and settling on his stomach, "Just be quiet and go to bed."

"I'm in…" Kagome began before Inuyasha moved his hand to cover her mouth earning a surprised falsely indignant look.

"I meant sleep and you know…," he teased before releasing her like it burned when he tongue suddenly ran up his palm, "Ew! Why would you do that?!"

"You asked for it," she giggled as he repeatedly tried to wipe his moist palm on his top and gave her a perturbed look.

"I'm going to lay down now," he began slowly as he did just that, "But don't you lick me again. That was nasty."

"Says the guy who can stick his hand up a demon's nose," Kagome teased and Inuyasha sighed heavily before wrapping one arm around her waist to pull her closer.

"Yeah, well, you licked that hand so who's the one with a problem?" he quipped back as he somewhat firmly arranged her into a comfortable spooning position, "Now shut up and let me hold you."

"Such a gentleman," Kagome mumbled as she did some arranging herself and Inuyasha snorted.

"That's why you love me."

It was early the next morning that the reason why this stupid fortress seemed familiar crashed down. Literally. One second, it was a beautiful morning. A casual patrol of the perimeter after breakfast at the request of the lord. Initially pleasant. Laughter and joking. A lovely start to the day.

And then a dark cloud appeared on the horizon and that beautiful moment went to shit.

"How did we kill this guy again?" Inuyasha snapped angrily as he slid to a stop and looked to Miroku, "Did we kill this guy?"

"I don't believe so," Miroku called back and the half-demon cursed before unleashing the wind scar at the seemingly endless strange demons, "This encounter was much earlier, was it not? Shortly after we initially met?"

"I hate this," Inuyasha mumbled before slamming down his weapon again and wiping out around hundred of the irksome demons which immediately busted and even more foul smelling ink raining down. Motivation did wonders though and despite the desire to pass out from the stench, Inuyasha was actually doing a relatively good job pushing the falling sensation to the back of his mind. It was actually rather impressive but Shippo too seemed to be doing a good job even if the kit looked a little green around the gills. All the humans though seemed to be doing just great.

Humans. Getting to enjoy muted senses. Lucky bastards.

"The ink destroyed him if memory serves," Miroku offered after a moment, "Shortly after the first attack."

"But they've said it's been happening for months now," Inuyasha snapped in frustration before dodging another horde that was quickly sucked into the wind tunnel, "And that sometimes it humans!"

"Another painter then perhaps. A new victim," Miroku opined before his head whipped towards a soft cry of pain. As the slayer groaned and got back to her feet, Inuyasha felt a stab of sympathy as the monk continued watching Sango - obviously torn. The last thing Sango would want was for him to come to her rescue. Miroku had tried a few times before and she'd only gotten upset with him. She was different now. More confident. Didn't doubt herself for a moment.

And the monk was afraid. Afraid that Sango had settled for him the last go around. That she had never loved him the way he had loved her. So the poor letch had been bending himself into a pretzel trying to be someone he believed this happier, confident version of Sango wanted. A true gentleman. No groping. No perverted comments. Trying to be polite and chivalrous. Complimenting her whenever he could.

Which wasn't going well...

It seemed to make her like him less somehow.

"She's fine Miroku," Inuyasha comforted awkwardly as the monk let out a shuddering breath, "You need to focus. We need to find the idiot who has that ink well."

"Yes, yes of course," the monk muttered as he reluctantly turned his gaze away and shook his head to clear it, "Kagome should have sensed the shard by now. Strange it..."

"I sense a jewel shard! Over there!" Kagome called out suddenly - earning two amused male glances.

"Right on cue," Miroku laughed softly and Inuyasha hummed in agreement before calling back, "Don't just say 'over there'! Point..."

A split second later Inuyasha realized what an extremely unfortunate moment it had been to have his mouth open. There had no way to avoid the putrid black waterfall that rained down onto his head, into his throat, his nose, his ears. No way to prepare himself for the way the ink tore at his insides like it was trying to wring him dry. No way to scream as it flooded his lungs, his mouth.

And then it rushed back out in one fell swoop forcing up a torrent of vomit that wouldn't stop.

"Inuyasha!" Kagome screamed as she rushed towards his violently ill form - his entire body shaking as everything he had in him spilled out onto the damp ground beneath him. Blood accompanied the bile. Every inner piece of him that had been filled ripped to shreds. When the violent episode finally waned, watery amber eyes shakily met her gaze for just a moment before the light behind them went out and he collapsed onto his side - moaning softly as his consciousness ebbed and flowed.

"As he said, point," Miroku breathed as he covered his own nose to escape the putrid stench emanating from the pile of vomit Inuyasha had fallen into. As Kagome slipped and staggered over the oily puddles to get the half-demon out of his own mess, Miroku suddenly remembered what ended this madness. Just in the time for the slayer to start heading their way.

"Sango! We need to get the ink well away from him!" Miroku bellowed to Sango who merely looked confused by this instruction.

"From who? From Inuyasha?" she replied loudly and Miroku's eye twitched. That was a fair question honestly. The villain had yet to expose himself after all.

"It's a painter!" Miroku tried to explain, "A man."

"How is that helpful?" the slayer mumbled to herself before steeling herself and coming closer. Surely, the monk wouldn't send her on this stupid mission with such vague instructions unless the location was obvious, right?

"Perhaps the ink well has fallen into the hands of another," Miroku huffed in frustration before looking at the very green half-demon and deciding Sango might need his assistance more if that was indeed the case. This honestly was the first and only familiar scenario since their abrupt return to this time. By now they should've encountered all manner of demons and situations, but it had been relatively smooth sailing. The demons they encountered were weak. There had been no dire turn of events. And more time had passed. They were fast approaching a year now. Only a few more months and he would outlive himself. Something about all of this was very odd. It was almost as if Naraku was not even here. Wasn't influencing events as he once had.

But if he was gone, why did the wind tunnel remain?

"Which way?" Sango huffed in frustration as she came closer before choking on the smell that awaited her. Again, Kagome pointed, and the slayer looked in that direction.

"Well come on then," the slayer huffed as she took off but Miroku hesitated. Inuyasha was still gagging and retching on all fours as the slayer rushed past him – his mind swimming as Kagome tried to get him to his feet. The smell hadn't been this bad last time. Inuyasha was sure of it. It wasn't just human blood and ink this go around. A little bit of vomit escaped him as he gasped for air and struggled to stay conscious.

"You two stay here," the monk ordered firmly before wincing when Inuyasha lost the battle and once again emptied the contents of his stomach while Kagome thankfully pulled those silver locks back just in time. As he retched and spewed, Inuyasha lost a different battle. Tears were now slowly streaming down his cheeks as defeat weighed heavily on his heart. This…this was a problem. A huge problem. For all he knew Naraku was watching. Naraku would know. All it took was something invading his body to bring him to his knees. To give that bastard the opportunity to take everything away from him. To ruin this second chance. This…this was quite possibly the worst thing that could have happened.

Motivation to not give Naraku so much as an inch was enough to kick Inuyasha's time tested ability to act fine into gear even as anxiety through his veins making his already sickly state so much worse.

"I-I'm f-fine," Inuyasha slurred as he pushed himself into a seated position before his head lolled and a slight gag escaped him, "Oh shit..."

So much for pretending he was fine. Even motivation wasn't enough to stop the torrent but thankfully Kagome was able to tug his hair out of the way this time. After what seemed like an eternity, Inuyasha made a sudden hoarse gasp for air before moaning softly and leaning back against Kagome for support oblivious to his puke covered robe which immediately began soaking her uniform.

Panting for breath, Inuyasha mentally checked out - too far gone to focus on anything except avoiding emptying the extremely limited contents he had left.

It shouldn't've surprised the monk, given what he knew, that this wasn't the man they'd fought what seemed like a lifetime ago. The first villain they fought hadn't lasted very long. The inkwell had sucked the poor man dry. Instead, it seemed that a demon, a much heartier breed, had gotten control over the stupid ink well and was using it to attack that particular fortress for reasons unknown.

Or rather, that's what the situation appeared to be at first. The high-pitched screams of how the lord needed to pay for killing her mate and infant that made it clear what the real motivation was. An eye for an eye. Heartbreaking too as the petite and very gaunt looking demoness struggled to retain a modicum of control over what she'd unleashed. A little fox demon by the looks of it too – her coloring very similar to Shippo. She clearly didn't have enough power on her own to unleash destruction on her own.

And the ink well – or more likely the jewel - had no problem taking advantage of her grief.

"We need to move fast, or it will consume her as well," Miroku bellowed as he rushed forward to try and do just that – Sango shouting back that the demon would probably continue her attack with or without this added power. The monk's showing of mercy made no sense truth be told. This demon…

"I understand your pain and frustration," Miroku tried valiantly to speak some sense into the grieving demon, "I do. To bear such a loss is torture in and of itself but what you wield will kill you. Hand it over."

"And why would I listen to a monk like you? You're here to kill me. They sent you to kill me," the demoness hissed as she backed away and clutched the small bamboo cylinder to her chest, "T-they took everything from me. Everything!"

Miroku subtly cringed – praying that the demon would see reason before it was too late. Honestly, he had no interest in killing her. Hoped that once they got the jewel away, she'd show some remorse and leave of her own accord. If she didn't, that was a different matter and she would need to be slain but…but Inuyasha had confided in him, in the past, that when he touched the jewel it took over. Clouded his reason. Which was obvious by the demonic markings and even the full turn that tended to happen. But his half-demon friend had also admitted that even close proximity to shards sometimes affected him. Made him more irritable without a good reason to be. Made bad thoughts and impulses harder to fight. The same could be happening here and the monk…

The monk had an inkling of what this woman was living with. Of the overwhelming, blinding pain and grief even if he'd only suffered it for a few minutes at most. Such pain multiplied unnaturally? He could hardly imagine.

On top of that, Miroku imagined this wasn't the only individual who'd taken control of the cursed paint. The attacks had gone on for far too long. In the course of trying to find the culprit, the monk imagined many demons – and undoubtedly humans as well - had been wronged by the lord's desperate attempts to keep his pregnant daughter safe. The ink growing stronger and more potent as it stole the life force straight from its wielder…

The priority needed to be destroying that container.

"Put that down and then we'll talk."

"We didn't do anything to them!" the little fox continued to scream, "We didn't…"

The monk cursed softly under his breath when the woman's nostrils flared and her eyes glowed red.

"They need to pay!"

Sango was moving before the fox had the time to open the container once more – one solid kick and the small object went flying. In a last act of desperation, the demoness lunged forward her hand fumbling with the ink cartridge which sensed her presence and made the decision that this new host was no longer useful. One moment the demoness had a feral grin as she rolled to the ground and popped open the lid. The next she was screaming. Devoured alive despite her presumed foes attempts to get to the ink well in time to save her.

For a moment, both the monk and slayer stared – shell-shocked at the gruesome and disturbingly quick end to the encounter. Miroku in particular was horrified – the air stolen straight from his lungs. The painter had been a disgusting man. Someone clearly evil or, at a minimum, pathetically desperate. His motivation had been rejection. A strange man who became obsessed with a woman who had shown him kindness. Who mistook kindness for something more.

This…this was something else entirely. A tragedy of sorts that could perhaps have been avoided if things happened as they did the first time.

"We need to destroy that," the monk murmured as he stared numbly at where the little fox had been moments before, "Or else it will find another host."

Nodding in understanding, Sango approached – casting a nervous glance at the monk as she drew her sword.

"Will it attack me as well?" she asked as she moved closer – her heart breaking behind her eyes. It seemed the world was made of varying shades of grey. That…that had been painful to watch, to hear. This demon had been trying to get her revenge against those who had wronged her. Tried to avenge her husband, her baby. In her grief, she'd resorted to violence. The strangeness of the situation had some disturbing parallels to their own journey. Not that the villagers were anywhere near as evil as this Naraku they sought but this mother wanted revenge and was willing to use violence to achieve that end. Grief had consumed her.

This turn of events struck another chord as well. How many demons had her fellow demon slayers, had she, slain that had been like her? Just a demon whose family had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and paid the price? A spouse, a parent, who wanted murderers to pay.

"No," Miroku sighed wearily, "I don't believe it will."

Trying to force her dark thoughts to the farthest part of her mind, Sango nodded numbly as she drew her sword.

Chapter Text

A silver beam of moonlight illuminated the small, abandoned shack, entering in pristine silence, igniting every crevice of what was allegedly the original ink wielder's hut. The moonlight wasn't enough to devour the darkness that had fallen and yet was enough for her eyes to bathe in it and momentarily expand her perception of her surroundings.

Miroku was positioned by the entryway – guarding his vulnerable friend. Sango was occupying herself by sharpening her weapons while Shippo held up a tiny blue flame to help her see what she was doing. Kagome wanted to say it looked like it was going to a uneventful evening which was something sorely lacking recently.

Unfortunately, however, it was didn't seem like an uneventful evening was in the cards.

Dried blood, congealed and cracked, adorned the bottom of Inuyasha's nose and along the side of his cheek where it had drizzled down his face like so much rain down a windowpane. His sore body curled up in a fetal position – one arm curled around her outstretched leg while the other curled inward towards his chest. His normally silver hair - now jet black - was still damp from the meticulous washing of the mangled, vomit covered and ink-soaked mess. An alarmingly high fever made his body feel like a furnace and the harsh painful sounds of his breathing grated against Kagome's nerves. Of course the sun set before he'd fully healed because it would. She honestly hadn't realized how late it had gotten until Inuyasha transitioned to his human state when they were half-way to the nearest body of water...

And along with his youkai, any strength Inuyasha had summoned to move instantly vanished. His legs buckled and his condition went from bad to worse quicker than Kagome could blink.

And while all that hurt her, the muttered apologies and terrified glazed look in his expressive eyes as she fixed him up hurt so much more. She knew why he was so afraid or, at a minimum, she had an inkling. That small encounter had exposed a weakness. All Naraku had to do, in theory, was find a way to essentially drown him and Inuyasha would be reduced to a vomiting, weak mess. An easily defeated foe who wouldn't stand a chance.

One mumbled almost incoherent comment in particular- uttered as Kagome had him lay on his back to soak his hair in the small stream - was excruciating to hear. Hesitant and quiet but also resigned. Accepting even.

"If I die you'd be okay, right?"

It was obviously spoken in the midst of a fever state – slurred and somewhat detached - so Kagome tried not to take it too seriously and yet her soft reassurances that they both would live were shaky and worried. Not because she believed or was even the least bit concerned that what he was saying might be true but because…

Because Inuyasha clearly still believed the finale of their journey wasn't going to change from last time.

"Has his fever gone down at all Kagome-chan?" Sango whispered into the tense silence that had fallen over the hut and the miko slowly shook her head as she continued fondling Inuyasha's human ear lobe – the action seeming to calm him and bring him some relief. Or at least that's what she assumed based on the way his toes curled and the little pleased moans escaping his lips in his sleep.

"He'll be alright in the morning," the miko finally offered quietly as Inuyasha shifted and his hand flexed against her leg, "Right now he just needs to sleep."

Sango nodded in agreement as she ran the stone over her sword.

"It seems cruel," the slayer offered vaguely after a long moment, "The jewel I mean. It seems to thrive off of suffering."

Agreeing completely with that assessment, Kagome let out a shaky sigh as she lightly scratched Inuyasha's scalp.

"Seems like it," Kagome agreed, "It'd be better for everyone if it just disappeared."

"Well, if we ever complete it, that's what we need to wish for so no one is ever harmed by it again," Sango hummed thoughtfully as she inspected her work, "Don't you think?"

"I seriously doubt it'd follow that instruction," the miko snorted once before wrinkling her nose, "Its like telling someone to kill themselves. They aren't going to listen to you."

"Worth a try though," Sango argued gently before glancing at the doorframe and frowning almost imperceptibly, "I…"

"Can you both shut up? I'm tryin' to sleep," Inuyasha suddenly groaned hoarsely as he buried his face into Kagome's thigh, "Like clucking chickens I swear…'

"Rude," Kagome chided gently – feeling his lips twitch upwards against her skin in silent reply. It was times like this when she wondered what Inuyasha had been like the first go around. Probably the same as he'd been up until his sudden shift in personality. Obnoxious, constantly rude, and hell bent on keeping her at arm's length. The way he'd demanded she trust him before launching into the whole he had always loved her speech. So desperate to make sure she understood that point. Like there was an actual possibility that she'd think otherwise based on her experience. Todays misadventure had been taxing on all of them. Miroku and Sango hadn't said much when they came back after telling the lord they'd been successful and received quite a handsome reward from the lord who'd hired them. Despite the amount which would set them up all month, both had been lost in their own thoughts whatever they might be.

What was especially heartbreaking was the way Miroku kept glancing at Sango all evening– clearly wanting comfort but afraid to ask for it. A few times he'd opened his mouth or started to get up before sagging in defeat and opting for stroking one finger over his palm. It was clear he was as desperate as Inuyasha had been when he'd first been sent back. Miroku must have loved Sango very much and the slayer…the slayer wasn't reciprocating. When Kagome asked her about it, she'd changed the subject and avoided answering. Perhaps she was weirded out by it all.

"S'not rude if its true," Inuyasha finally teased back earning a light smack on his shoulder that had him chuckling until said chuckle launched a coughing fit that sent spackles of blood across her skin. The raw rasping interludes in between his hacks making everyone's skin crawl. As Kagome tried patting his back to loosen whatever was stuck, she bit her lip and sighed.

"You're okay. You're okay," she whispered encouragingly when she felt something drip onto her skin and slide down. The shuddering breath that accompanied made it clear that the liquid was most likely a tear – of pain, of defeat, of resignation. His fingertips began gliding up and down as a faint almost inaubible sniffle escaped him. And then he tried to sit up.

"You have a towel, don't you?" he muttered as swallowed convulsively and turned watery eyes towards her face, "To clean…to clean that up?"

"I do," Kagome hummed, "But, um, why don't you stay here. I'll get that and my sleeping bag, okay?"

Inuyasha's face crumpled slightly as he nodded and averted his eyes. This was pathetic. Utterly pathetic. He'd literally been impaled and shot up with acid before but still had the energy to get up and pound things. Sure, he was human right now but that wasn't an excuse. What if Naraku attacked on his human night? They'd all lose. He would fail them. He'd be right back. All alone. Everyone he loved dead.

His already hoarse painful breathing began hitching as he struggled to keep his composure and not devolve into a full blown hysterical fit. Judging by everyone's reactions, however, it seemed like he was doing a piss poor job acting like a normal mortally injured person. Both the kit and slayer were exchanging nervous glances with visible cringes playing on their lips. While he normally wasn't great at reading people, Inuyasha knew, just knew, they could tell a meltdown was incoming which did nothing to help his nerves.

"I'll give you some privacy," Sango offered awkwardly as she set down her weapon in favor of scooping up Shippo and leaving, "To get settled."

"I don't need fucking privacy!" Inuyasha spat hatefully - his nerves getting the best of him as he whipped his anguished gaze towards the slayer who had frozen, "Stay right the hell there! I'm fine!"

"Inuyasha she was just trying to..."

"I know what she was trying to do!" Inuyasha snapped as he tried and failed to get to his feet - his leg folding the instant he put pressure on it, "I'm fine dammit! I get injured all the time! I know my limits!"

Kagome rolled her eyes as she easily pushed him down onto his butt.

"Stay," she ordered firmly earning a withering glare but he did as he was told with no lack of attitude. Humming in approval, the miko then did something that offended every sense of pride Inuyasha had left in him. The bitch patted his head tenderly and cooed an affectionate 'good boy.'

"Go fuck yourself Kagome."

"Watch your language," Kagome clipped as she grabbed her sleeping bag and began laying it out, "Now you're going to get in here and you're going to let me hold you and then you're going to sleep."

"I'm not tired," Inuyasha hissed angrily as he folded his arms across his chest, "Besides I don't sleep on my human night. You know I don't."

Unzipping the sleeping bag, Kagome threw back the flap and stood - her finger forcefully pointing at the soft, comfy interior.

"Well you were sleeping on your human night so save it," the miko clipped back as she lost all patience, "It's okay to be weak sometimes Inuyasha! That's not a crime! Now. Get. In."

"Make me," Inuyasha snarled and Kagome snorted.

"Is that a challenge? Because we all just saw you couldn't even stand!"

Kagome instantly regretted that comment when Inuyasha paled - his eyes wavering slightly as he sagged in defeat.

"I'm fine," he insisted miserably, "I could fight if I needed to."

"But you don't need to right now. Worst case scenario we're all staying up to protect you," Kagome reminded him gently. That didn't have the effect she wanted as Inuyasha somehow got paler, nostrils flaring as he clearly struggled to keep his composure. Ten years had probably, no definitely, changed him. Broken him in many ways. His face in her lingering nightmares – lifeless and flat in every new scene that danced behind her eyelids broke her heart. More and more he'd been seeking her out at night. Wanting to snuggle up and hold her close. It was the only time he seemed to sleep honestly. Even then she'd feel his startled gasp and subtle jerk as he woke up from a nightmare or memory - unfortunately waking her up in the process. His heart beating heavily against her back as his arm flexed and twitched. Eventually he'd fall back asleep – usually enveloping her a little closer and she was glad she was able to soothe at least some of his anxiety away just by existing.

More and more though, she'd gotten unwanted glimpses of those ten years he'd spent alone while slept. Images of his sunken eyes staring blankly into the horizon - completely void of emotion. Lifeless. Doll like. The most disturbing image she'd been given was him breathing heavily before digging his claws into his wrist. Kagome couldn't bring herself to ask about any of them but that one especially she kept to herself. It didn't surprise her that he'd tried that option. His face, his body, seemed to have aged dramatically in that momentary glimpse. He'd been so thin. Skin grey and sunken…

"I told you I'm fine..."

Kagome winced as a tear slid down his cheek before he quickly wiped it away and sniffled.

"Stupid human night," he muttered before glancing over at the others who were all dutifully averting their eyes. Well, almost everyone. From his place in the doorframe, the monk glance over his shoulder and locked eyes with his defeated friend. Reassuring him with a meaningful expression and a purposeful glance at the sleeping bag.

"Rest while you can. You need to recover your strength," Miroku offered gently.

Narrowing his eyes, Inuyasha gave the monk a hate filled glare before it faded for a look of defeat. Honestly, his lungs felt like they were on fire. His stomach raw and tender. The crusted blood on his face hard to ignore. Sniffing once, Inuyasha held out his hand and sent a withering glare Kagome's way.

"Wench, you going to help me up or not?"

"Rin does not mean that she is ungrateful," the little girl quickly backpedaled when Sesshomaru merely stared at her with his usual passive expression, "She does not. She is very grateful. Its just that…that Rin is confused why my Lord choose her. Rin is not useful. She cannot fight."

It took everything in the daiyoukai not to sigh or immediately rush to comfort the girl. Which was strange in a way. Never in his life had he loved anyone but he knew he would do anything for her. Die for her. Kill for her. Relinquish all his titles. His land. Anything. Why he had absolutely no idea. It confounded him immeasurably. And worst of all, he had no idea what to say to her quandary that didn't sound insane. After all, Rin was correct. She wasn't useful but children hardly ever were. And honestly, he didn't know why he cared for her as he did. Perhaps it was some dormant instinct he'd buried away. A paternal instinct. After all, in his lifetime he'd witnessed – from a distance – many a parent who had lost a child. Their grief which bordered on insanity, in retrospect was very relatable. Especially when it had been their own actions that had led to such a loss.

"Rin is very sorry to ask," the child added quickly – anxiety and fear radiating off her in waves, "It was not her place to question…"

"Don't ask such ridiculous things," the daiyoukai finally replied quietly, "Whether you are able to assist in battle is not the measure of your worth."

Rin looked even more confused and upset by this response while Jakken looked like he was about to have a stroke. Clearly the kappa was still coming to terms with the sudden change in his lord's behavior which bordered dangerously on warmth and affection.

"Rin…Rin does not understand," she finally murmured worriedly, "What is Rin's worth my Lord?"

The daiyoukai struggled to maintain his calm façade at her intense gaze filled to the brim with the need for reassurance. This random line of questioning most likely Jakken's fault. There had been moments where the kappa had been left with her under his protection. Foolish moments in retrospect. While she had not been physically injured, there was undoubtedly damage done. Sending a terrifying glare the kappa's way, Jakken seemed to realize that this uncomfortable exchange was being blamed upon him. His little body quaking with fear as his small hands gripped his staff so tightly it threatened to snap clean in half.

"Do not speak of such things. You are Rin and that alone has value," Sesshomaru finally supplied after a long tense moment – his cold serious gaze still fixed upon the kappa who looked like he might pass out from nerves.

"Yes m'lord," she replied quietly – his entire posture relaxing before she took a deep breath and extended her arms, "May Rin apologize?"

Nodding once, Sesshomaru knelt down and allowed the small girl to give him a brief, very awkward hug before standing gracefully and taking her hand much to the utter horror of his subject.

"Tell this Sesshomaru who gave you such ideas," he asked quietly and the immediate squeak Jakken emitted proved the girl's ideas were planted by none other than himself.

"They were Rin's," the child quickly reassured her father figure as they began walking, "She can be very silly."

Another week, another scenario where something familiar happened that turned out to be something different. An unpleasant experience with some dark priestess who, for some unfathomable reason, decided that she had a bone to pick with them. Had her weird snake thing bite Kagome's ankle, maybe to get the jewel or maybe to hurt Inuyasha, but the whole encounter seemed pointless. Of course, that was only the opinion of those who didn't know who Tsubaki was or the background that had led to the attack - although the details were a little fuzzy on the catalyst for her sudden appearance. Last time, if memory served, Naraku had been the instigator. Either assisted during the battle or admitted as much or something. Honestly, it all kind of ran together into one big blur. All Tsubaki had said this go around was that she had possession of one shard and wanted more to keep her eternal youth.

Made sense. Seemed suicidal to challenge a group of battle hardened warriors alone but honestly, the encounter was no different than any other they experienced this far. Regardless of the lack of intelligence behind the attack that led to her demise, the whole thing did a good job of scaring the shit out of the half-demon and now he'd turned into the world's strictest physician. He'd been the one who'd bandaged Kagome up. The one who was forcing her to rest and drink some putrid concoction from hell that Inuyasha spent the greater part of the morning making with ingredients he refused to disclose. The smell alone was heinous and the taste worse.

"Keep still," Inuyasha hissed angrily as he pressed one hand firmly down on Kagome's chest, "You're still recovering."

"It wasn't that bad. Just a little curse," Kagome huffed as she gave up her struggles, "And I feel fine."

"You're neck still looks like shit so until I say you can get up, you're going to stay put," Inuyasha snapped angrily, "And you smell off so don't tell me you're fine you dumb bitch. I can tell you're not."

"Stop calling me names," the miko argued exasperatedly, "You've only let me up to pee. Shouldn't I exercise or something?"

"Stay. Put."

"You're not the boss of me Inuyasha."

"Wanna bet?"

Miroku chuckled softly as Inuyasha and Kagome did another round of pointless arguing. Inuyasha was indeed giving over-protective a new definition and honestly, the monk understood his strictness. The encounter with the ink demon had ended rather poorly and there was no reason to believe that the encounter with Tsubaki would wind up leading to unexpected consequences. Everything had been so different thus far…

And it concerned the monk enormously what would happen if the battle with Naraku ended the same way. Not for himself. He'd accepted an untimely and unexpected death long ago. Inuyasha, however, seemed more in love with the miko than ever. He'd even confessed as much when it was just them while the ladies went off to bathe. The tenor of fear in the poor man's voice as he offered up that tidbit. The shuddering breath Inuyasha had released. It had been clear to anyone with eyes that Inuyasha had loved Kagome back then. Masking as best he could by still being reserved and controlled. When Kagome had died, it was clear the half-demon had died with her. His normal fire extinguished. His power diminished. Inuyasha simply wouldn't survive losing Kagome a second time. He'd most likely die of a broken heart. Just waste away and…

"I know how to knock out a human and I will do it unless you follow directions," Inuyasha threatened suddenly and Miroku winced. While the half-demon had changed, he still managed to find a way to say exactly the wrong thing.

"I'm sorrywhat?! Did you just threaten me?!"

And Inuyasha quick as lightning suddenly moved onto all fours above the miko.

"Yeah. I did. Go ahead and sit me but all it'll do is keep you right where you are."

Kagome glared as her mind raced to find a solution. Honestly, he was just being way too overbearing and paranoid. The tainted jewel shard hadn't even bruised her skin and the bite from the Shikigami didn't even draw blood. She was perfectly and completely fine.

"Get. Off."

Inuyasha scoffed and lowered his face until they were nose to nose.

"You're such a hypocrite," he accused acidly, "Made me rest over a stupid bloody nose but I'm the bad guy when you get cursed and I make you do that same."

Sango suddenly let out a choked laugh at the scene unfolding earning a hateful glare.

"You got a problem?"

"Not a problem just a correction," Sango teased as a bemused grin bloomed on her lips, "I believe you were vomiting and coughing up blood. That was a little different."

Ignoring the observation, Inuyasha set his jaw and whipped his head back towards Kagome who had begun trying to move out from under him.

"Stay. Put," he ground out angrily as he grabbed her wrists and held them above her head, "You don't get to tell me what to do and then not give me the same courtesy. I've earned the right to take care of you dammit."

Sighing heavily, Kagome nodded earning a satisfied huff as Inuyasha slowly released her wrists and swung his leg off her.

"So, when I say you smell off and you need to stay put, you need to," he added as he crouched beside the miko and gave her an irritated glare, "And that's the end of it. No arguing. No…"

"Okay, okay, okay," Kagome sighed heavily as she settled back down with her arms folded across her chest, "See? I'm resting."

"Thank you," Inuyasha hummed approvingly before his lips twitched upwards and he dipped down to kiss her forehead earning a somewhat disapproving growl.

"You're impossible," Kagome chided gently and Inuyasha shrugged as he scooted back to settle against the wall. For a moment there was a companionable silence, everyone setting about random tasks. Sango sorting the various politices she carried. Shippo coloring his usual depictions of a dog and cat. Inuyasha taking the opportunity to doze light as Kagome lay on her side trying to read her textbook. Miroku using his elegant hand to restock his sutras.

As his brush lifted off the final sheet, however, Miroku cleared his throat.

"It would seem Naraku wasn't involved. Don't you think that odd?"

The effect was instant – Inuyasha literally jumped in his seat while the girls exchanged confused glances.

"Was Naraku involved with Tsubaki last time?" Sango asked curiously - that tidbit having been suspiciously omitted during the hastily given summary they'd all been given by the men.

"Yes he was along with, um, other parties," Miroku admitted and Inuyasha suddenly looked like a man condemned to death. Which Kagome knew could only could mean one thing. Kikyo must have been involved as well somehow. Despite so many reassurances, it was clear Inuyasha still expected Kagome to be upset by the mere mention of the dead miko which clearly had been an issue last go around. But Kagome had no reason - this time - to doubt the depth of Inuyasha's love. No reason to get jealous. The fact that the half-demon kept making Kikyo an issue was only troublesome because it meant he believed, on some level, that Kagome would randomly stop loving him or something over his ex-fiancé. That was the only aspect of her predecessor Kagome had an issue with and it was getting old.

"How is that a bad thing? That Naraku was involved last time I mean. The fact he wasn't should be a good thing, right?" Kagome asked curiously as she pushed herself into a sitting position, "We got two shards out of Tsubaki. Sure she got one good..."

"As far as we know, Naraku has not been involved in any encounter we've had," Miroku interrupted casually like he was commenting on the weather, "And aside from Sango's one sighting, we haven't seen hide or tail of him."

Sango furrowed her brow slightly before making a noise of understanding.

"You think he might remember," the slayer stated more than asked, "That's he waiting for the right moment to attack."

"A completed jewel is far less work," Miroku hummed darkly – confirming her suspicion as Inuyasha visibly bristled, "And he knows who possesses it."

Kagome let out a long slow breath as she watched Inuyasha's horror-stricken face. She could almost see the cogs whirling in his mind as he tried to find a counter argument that would make this theory go away.

"That's…" the half-demon began hoarsely as he tried to feign indifference, "That's stupid. Why wait for us to get it all? We could just destroy it and then he'd have nothing."

"Unless he already possesses the final fragments," Miroku pointed out and Kagome groaned when Inuyasha looked a little sick.

"Or maybe he's just dead or not around," Kagome piped up earning a nervous but hopeful glance from a set of amber eyes, "Sango saw him, sure, but when the slayers sent someone to decline, the village straight up wasn't there. Couldn't find it. Maybe…oh I don't know. Maybe it was just…just a…"

Trailing off, Kagome sighed and gave the crestfallen Inuyasha an apologetic shrug.

"Maybe we don't have to worry about him this time is what I'm trying to say. Maybe Naraku just doesn't care. Could be that he was the one who sent you two back."

For a moment a silence so thick it could be cut with a knife filled the hut before Inuyasha abruptly stood and left the hut without another word.

"Why would you say that?" Kagome hissed angrily as she pointed at the door, "You know that's a sensitive subject."

"Inuyasha cannot avoid the topic indefinitely," the monk huffed defensively, "You do not understand. Constant encounters pervaded our original quest. Every other day Naraku appeared in some form or another albeit more commonly by proxy. Some incarnation he'd created solely for the purpose of destroying us. Not once have we met him or anyone affiliated with him since I joined you. Not once."

"Okay, I get that," Kagome huffed as she folded her arms across her chest, "But mentioning it does not help. Just because things go different doesn't mean its some evil masterplan. Whoever or whatever did this meant to change things. That's all there is to it. Maybe it did us all a favor and just killed off Naraku or, I don't know, crippled him or something. Speculating doesn't do anything except drive Inuyasha crazy."

Huffing again, the miko began to get to her feet in clear defiance of the command to stay put.

"Now I'm going to go find him and when I come back, I don't want to hear anything other than polite small talk, got it?"

Holding his hands up in surrender, the monk watched the miko go before turning to Sango with a somewhat nervous look in his eyes.

"What is your opinion on the matter?" the monk asked hesitantly, and the slayer sighed heavily as she focused her attention on the small piles she'd made.

"You're probably right. Naraku probably is waiting," Sango opined begrudgingly, "Which means we need to be prepared. Take precautions. Be vigilant."

"Excellent suggestion," Miroku praised earning an eye twitch, "Which precautions do you suggest?"

"Moving at night for starters. Less visible. Harder to track," Sango sighed heavily as she moved one of the shells into a different pile with a single finger, "Alter our scent so its harder to track. You know, mud. Vinegar. That type of thing."

"Very smart," the monk compliment with a little too much enthusiasm and the slayer's jaw jumped. He was just going to agree with everything she said, wasn't he? Well, there was a way to test whether he was just being a brown noser.

"We'll need to cover our tracks. For every step we take, we need to brush them over," Sango added as she cast the monk a side-eyed glance and he nodded although she could tell he disagreed with her proposal by his strained smile.

"We'll discuss these options with the others, shall we?" Miroku offered hopefully and Sango rolled her eyes. It was infuriating that he never took her seriously. Only asking her opinion to agree with whatever she said no matter how asinine. It was obvious he didn't hold her expertise in high regard. Treating her like a child who needed constant affirmation. Or in battle acting like she was some porcelain doll who couldn't hold her own. Every time something threw her, instead of trusting that she was fully capable of defending herself, the monk flew to her rescue. Acting like she hadn't trained her entire life for her profession and her aptitude in battle arose from a hobby. With the proper motivation, Sango knew in her heart she'd be able to keep fighting even if she had arrows lodged in her back but did the monk realize that? No. She was just some fragile creature who needed protecting.

Glancing up at the door, Sango prayed Inuyasha's latest panic attack didn't take too long. She wasn't sure how much longer she could go without literally beating it into the monk that she was not some delicate flower.

"Inuyasha," Kagome sing-songed as she walked into the tree line with her hands behind her back, "I'm up and out of bed. Just wandering around. In the cold. Not following instructions."

The watery sounding laugh that sounded from the canopy ahead had her gaze traveling upwards and soon her eyes found him. Looking down at her affectionately with a bemusedly chiding smirk.

"You just love pissing me off," Inuyasha replied a little hoarsely as he quickly ran his hand over his face a few times and rolled off the branch to land before her, "Not scared of my wrath at all."

"Nope," Kagome cooed as she shifted her weight playfully and Inuyasha gave her an affectionately disapproving look.

"You need to go back and rest. I'm just watching the perimeter," he chided as he tucked a loose strand of hair behind her hair then moved to press his palm against her forehead. Feeling his own forehead a few moments later, he let out a long disapproving sigh.

"You still have a fever so get," he ordered gently as he nodded towards the abandoned hut, "I'll be back when the sun sets."

"But I'll miss you," Kagome pouted prettily and Inuyasha snorted – revealing the large amount of mucus that was present in his nose. Blushing slightly, the half-demon cleared his throat and resigned himself to ignoring the clear evidence that he'd been almost in tears a few moments ago.

"It's only a few hours Kagome. You'll manage," Inuyasha chided thickly before sighing in defeat. Honestly, he needed her nearby. Needed to know she was alright – albeit a little sickly at the moment. It had been around now that she'd gotten that cold or whatever the hell she'd gotten the first time around which was the entire reason he'd been forcing the tea of many horrors down her throat. Take precautionary measures so she didn't get as bad as she did the last time. Her family had told him she'd be fine. That modern medicine was more than sufficient but he'd smelled that illness before and seen it wipe out entire villages. And five hundred years in the future that particular illness might not even be around so modern medicine wouldn't know what to do. It was fine in the end, of course, and Inuyasha took full credit for Kagome's rapid recovery even if he never said as much out loud.

"Its too cold outside. It'll make you worse," he argued and Kagome's adorable pout intensified wearing down his resolve.

"Well come inside with me then," she countered. For a moment, she thought he'd disagree and send her back alone and then he sighed.

"Fine. You're too stupid to take care of yourself so guess you need a babysitter," he huffed in frustration as he scooped her up and carried her bridal style back towards the hut, "But you need to take it easy. I'm serious. You smell off."

"I feel fine Inuyasha."

"Why do you make it so hard to help you?" he groaned as he jolted her a little on purpose, "You feel fine now but I guarantee you'll have your ass kicked by tonight. Starts with a fever. You'll develop this god-awful cough and…"

"Let me guess. Past life me got a cold and it upset the big bad demon," Kagome teased and Inuyasha snorted.

"You got something but it wasn't a cold," he chided gently, "Its common here. Gets bad sometimes. We're a good two day's journey to the well so your modern medicine isn't available this time. We've got to make do and..."

Kagome's eyes widened as she searched his face.

"Do I have the plague or something?" she asked in a scared tone and Inuyasha shook his head with a frustrated sigh.

"I think your mom called it influence," he tried as a faint blush appeared on his cheeks knowing he'd probably mispronounced the term, "And she said you got shot to prevent it, which why, but it didn't matter. You got influence anyway. You got it here. So…so it was probably some type of it most people in your time don't get so…"

Kagome's heart absolutely melted at his concern and at his very cute explanation of the time she must've gotten the flu despite being vaccinated.

"Anyway, I think…I think the thing with Tsubaki might've made you vulnerable and…and I just need you to take it easy until you smell right again," Inuyasha finished lamely as his arms flexed to hold her a little closer.

"Well, if I do have the flu Miroku and Sango should probably stay away from me then," Kagome hummed thoughtfully, "It's contagious you know. They could get it just from being close by."

Inuyasha paused mid-step and frowned.

"You serious?"


"Shit. And they haven't been shot so…so…I guess…I guess you and me need to stay away, huh?" he offered awkwardly as he set her down before making an executive decision, "Stay here. I'll go get your bag and we'll figure out something."

As he hurried off to gather the things he deemed necessary for her comfort and safety, Kagome felt her heart burst with affection and love. And also concern. Was he expecting both of them to share the sleeping bag while perched in the tree or was he just going to hold her or…what? A soft laugh escaped as she heard him order the others to take a bath and heard various objections given the very chill weather outside. A short argument ensued, which Inuyasha lost apparently given his harsh 'die then'- a surprising retort given everything but Kagome was not about to point that out.

A few moments later, he came back with her sleeping bag and backpack, Kagome bit her lip to keep from laughing as he mumbled to himself and cast a concerned look back at the hut. Even if she did have the flu, at least it gave him something other than Miroku's insensitive question to focus on.

And Inuyasha sorely needed a distraction.

"Okay so…so I've got things," he began as he dumped all of it onto the ground and began sorting through it, "I think…I think you'll need this."

The first aid kit was removed.

"And…and this."

A small washrag and a bottle of water.

"And, um, I guess this but I doubt it."

snack bar. Kagome snickered a little at that one.

"And…and I guess your matches and stuff and then I'll leave this here. In case you need something else."

Yes, this was serving as an excellent distraction although Kagome didn't exactly look forward to having the flu if Inuyasha's paranoia was right on the money. But...having the flue was worth it if it meant he didn't dwell on worst case scenarios. Morbidly, he needed this. Needed to feel like he was being helpful. Have a task to occupy his mind.

"And I'll just hold you until sundown so you don't get cold then we'll use the sleeping bag," Inuyasha continued distracted as he collected the things and nudged her to move with his elbow, "How far can that shit spread anyway?"

"Aren't you concerned you'll get it?" Kagome giggled as she complied.

"Nah woman, I'll be fine. You know I don't catch shit like you weak humans," Inuyasha groused as he nudged her to go faster, "Now tell me how far we've gotta go."

Chapter Text

Okay, would you rather give up ramen forever," Kagome continued their little game - cringing at the hoarseness already creeping into her voice as she snuggled back into Inuyasha's warm chest, "Or let me kiss someone else?"

Inuyasha groaned playfully as his arms tightened around her waist.

"Neither," he scoffed after a moment, "I choose neither."

"You have to pick one," Kagome teased and Inuyasha snorted.

"No, I don't."

"Yes, you do. That's part of the game."

"What if I refuse to play the game?" Inuyasha chided playfully, "What'll you do?"

"Please?" Kagome pleaded as she leaned forward and gave him the best pleading doe eyes she could manage, "I just really want to play this game with you."

Scowling, Inuyasha set his jaw and glared for just a moment before huffing in frustration.

"I need more facts. Like who are you kissing? Why are you kissing them? How are you..." Inuyasha argued miserably and Kagome snickered.

"Romantically. A romantic kiss. One time. With tongue. And someone attractive," Kagome clarified and Inuyasha wrinkled his nose.

"What is wrong with you?" Inuyasha huffed in amused annoyance, "Fine. You know what? I pick ramen. Go stick your tongue in some bastard. See if I care."

"You'd pick ramen over me?" Kagome gasped in mock offense and Inuyasha shrugged.

"Better seeing you kiss someone else one time than go without ramen," Inuyasha teased, "Besides not like you'd actually kiss someone else. It's just theoretical."

A moment passed while Inuyasha chewed the inside of his cheek as he tried to match Kagome's awful question with one of his own.

"Would you rather...have your weirdly shaped head be bald the rest of your life," he proposed wickedly, "Or never wear clothes again."

"I have a weird shaped head?!" Kagome squeaked hoarsely as one hand shot up to squeeze her skull.

"Oh don't have a weird head, okay? I was trying to make the choice harder," Inuyasha huffed in frustration, "Why you gotta be so sensitive?"

"You're the one who..."

"You started this stupid game so you aren't allowed to get mad," Inuyasha clipped defensively, "Hell woman, you told me I was short a few questions ago!"

"I just asked if you'd rather be taller. That doesn't mean you're short," Kagome corrected with a wheezy sigh, "Who sensitive now?"

Inuyasha rolled his eyes before glancing up at the skeletal canopy above. The nakedness of branches equal parts beautiful and sinister. Snow would be coming in the next few weeks. He only knew that because he remembered snow had fallen the day after he buried everyone and the ice left behind had glazed over the small freshly carved stones.

The fact that they'd made it to the end of the natural progression of things was part of what had panic attacks washing over him in waves. The only comfort was that he couldn't remember if they'd made it this deep into winter during the first quest. Or even how long the quest had been. Maybe it had been longer. The weather something beneath his notice before.

Except Kagome had been talking about changing up her wardrobe since it was getting cold. Had asked him what she wore last time that helped on the journey and he honestly didn't know what to say. After some painful mental calculations, he'd realized they'd only been together roughly nine months - which had come and gone since he got sent back - and that short period of time had been more than enough to get him to fall irreversibly in love. This go around he loved Kagome way more than he had the first time. Which was a problem. A giant, terrifying problem. More and more he found himself almost begging Kagome to do something to awful so at least he'd get a chance to breathe before getting pulled in deeper. All things considered, Inuyasha did not want or need to love her more. The level he had when he first got sent back was more than enough. And no amount of reassurances that this ending would be happier could convince him that being more in love with the miko was a good thing. Yes, finding jewel shards was taking longer, yes; the journey was easier, sure; but things were all out of order and the problem was similar events were happening with more and more frequency and that wasn't necessarily a good sign. It could just be that Naraku was out there plotting and the longer everything took the more time that bastard had to plan. The more jewel shards they got the more likely it was that Naraku would show up! 

If their journey ended the same...what would happen to him this time? He'd all but died last...

"Listen I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings. I didn't mean...mean..." Kagome treated before a rasping wet cough escaped her and she groaned in disappointment, "Oh no."

"Told you," Inuyasha agreed as he mentally shook himself and drew Kagome's small form closer to his chest, "It doesn't take long to recover though. Don't worry."

"I'm not worried," Kagome managed hoarsely after a moment, "I know you'll take care of me."

A faint blush and strained smile were her reward for the compliment.

"Always," he promised - however shallow a promise that was. After all...

He had failed to take care of her. He had let her die on his watch. Horribly and painfully and...

Closing his eyes, Inuyasha tried to focus on his breathing like Miroku had been training him to do whenever something hit him the wrong way - meditation being one of the monk's areas of expertise. In the past, Inuyasha had often wondered why anyone would waste their time sitting under a tree doing nothing quietly for hours but Miroku had given his friend the key to keeping one's sanity. Meditating was apparently what kept the monk sane in the face of his inevitable and imminent demise. Since then, sitting in silence under trees focusing on breathing had been the two men's dirty little ritual while the girl's went to bathe. Most days anyway. It struck the half-demon as strange how much things had changed since his friends had come into his life all that time ago. Even with Kikyo he was always skittish. Distrustful. Afraid that she'd change her mind about him and decide to purify him.

So he spoke softly when spoken to. After the first few encounters, once he realized he had feelings for the late priestess, he'd never raised his voice. Honestly, Kikyo's ability to purify the ever living daylights out of his controlled much of his behavior both before and after her death. Especially when it came to Kagome truth be told. For all he knew, Kikyo was both insane enough and powerful enough to find a way to take all of Kagome's soul and there'd be nothing to be done about it. Mix in a little guilt and self-loathing and Kikyo found herself a sad little guardian who both hated and loved her. A blindly loyal, pathetic idiot who wasted good and invaluable time doing…

"It's getting late," Kagome mumbled lazily as she settled back down and tucked her head beneath Inuyasha's chin, "We should probably get down. Set things up."

Exhaling slowly, Inuyasha tried to slow down his mind and keep it firmly in the present. This go around would be different. It had been different. Thinking back to things that weren't happening this time didn't help anyone. If the final battle was supposed to end differently, he'd need to be focused. Clear headed. Calm.

"Sun won't set for a while. We've got time," Inuyasha hummed as he passively drug his fingertips across her stomach - his eyes still closed as he focused on controlling his breathing.

"We'll need a fire," Kagome reminded him gently and Inuyasha nodded absently. Rolling her eyes, the miko pressed back into him and a pleased hum which wasn't her desired reaction.

"Fires take time to get started," she added and, again, Inuaysha didn't react other than a flex of one arm across her waist.

"Since the sun is setting, maybe we should…"

"I will fix the fire woman but it doesn't need to be done right this minute so shut it," Inuyasha huffed in frustration, "Besides we have that fluid shit you bring over to get it going. In case you forgot, instant fire is a thing."

"The lighter fluid is for emergencies only," Kagome teased hoarsely, "Me being sick…"

"Counts as an emergency far as I'm concerned," Inuyasha interrupted, "So calm down and wait. Sun won't be going down for a while."

"We could go back inside where there's already a fire," Kagome pointed out and the half-demon's eye twitched.

"You told me the others would get this shit if you were nearby. We're out here because of you woman!" Inuyasha scoffed, "Some friend you are."

"I beg your pardon!"

"You heard me. Wanting to get everyone sick so we don't waste fluid. Get your priorities straight," Inuyasha clipped before rolling his eyes and scooping her up, "Fine. Know what? Fine. You want a fire. I will make you a god damn fire. There."

"Why do you have to be so dramatic all the time?" the miko breathed irritably as the half-demon none too gently deposited her onto the forest floor.

"You're the one who…"

"Yes yes I'm sick but you've just got your panties in a twist over god knows what so…" Kagome interrupted hoarsely as she rubbed at her increasingly sore chest before a loud, obnoxious snort cut off her train of thought.

"My what are what now?" Inuyasha snickered as he folded his arms across his chest and bit his lip to keep from grinning like an idiot.

"I just meant…"

The smile broke free but somehow the half-demon was keeping his laughter in check despite visibly shaking from the effort.

"Okay so…" Kagome sighed as she clapped her hands together just under her chin before pointing her touching fingertips towards the half-demon, "That is something people say when…"

"Wait, people just go around saying that?" Inuyasha snickered as his grin widened to the point of becoming painful, "Like they'll just go up to people and ask them about their undergarments?"

"Okay that is not the…"

"You didn't answer my question…"

Realizing that under no circumstances would Inuyasha let this go and focus on the matter at hand, Kagome covered her mouth with her clasped hands before clapping again once and sighing.

"Just make the fire."

"Well, I'm gunna," the half-demon clipped with a bemused sigh as he knelt down and looked over his shoulder to give her a quick wink, "So don't go twisting your panties."

It seemed rather strange - truth be told - to know from whom you came and why you were created. To know if the heartbreak and agony that once pervaded moment of your corporeal existence. To know that this was not the way it had been .

In many ways, her existence was borderline torture. She really should've realized all wishes come with a price. Yes, her wish had been granted and certain events had indeed been avoided thus far but in their absence, consequences accrued. More had died- not that she necessarily cared about that but someone must have suffered that loss in exchange for the salvation of others - for where there is death there will always be death. The end true to its nature - fickle, arbitrary, unfair. Entire villages that survived the previous events decimated in a single evening. Others spared in the absence of outside interference. A life for a life. Just different lives so it would seem. Not that she ever kept track of them all but most everything seemed unfamiliar the more time went on.

The fact that so much had changed begged the question on who would die when Naraku made his final move. After all, the way the jewel had phrased her wish seemed, in retrospect, rather ominous and far too vague. Desperation and heartbreak had not been her friend in that moment which felt like a lifetime ago. Made her accept something she didn't fully understand. Made her help certain people she'd didn't particularly wish to help. All in all mistakes were most certainly made. She should've been more specific. Clarified a thing or two. Especially considering Naraku remembering was most certainly not part of her wish but lo and behold the bastard knew far too much for her liking. That unwanted and unforeseen side-effect – one among many - seemed to entirely defeat the purpose. The only thing that brought her any sort of comfort, albeit the most confusing piece of all, was that Naraku hadn't killed her before she could warn...

"It's in Naraku's hands. Both life and death," a small emotionless voice suddenly whispered from beside her as empty black eyes glanced up in a face devoid of color, "We are all merely Naraku's tools..."

"Naraku controls nothing" the wind sorceress spat hatefully as she gracefully got to her feet and let out a long disgusted sigh, "We're not his tools any longer. I'm certainly not his..."

"He is us," Kanna corrected as she turned to walk away, "And we are him. One cannot exist without the other."

"The wind will always exist," Kagura corrected defensively - turning to follow the small little girl with an irritated huff, "With or without that bastard."

"The wind but not you," the void-like girl countered tonelessly and Kagura immediately bristled but soon settled for a disgusted glare rather than escalate their conversation into a one-sided brawl. As much as the wind sorceress found the porcelain child annoying, she would begrudgingly admit she loved the little urchin and it was clear that Kanna loved her big sister in her own way. As much as she was capable of feeling anyway. It was a nice feeling. To know someone, at least, cared…

"Well, it doesn't matter. I got what I wanted and..."

"Wishes are never truly free," Kanna interrupted eerily - her feet still walking soundlessly across the leave covered forest floor, "Of responsibility, of consequence or of cost. All wishes come with a price."

Kagura snorted derisively but didn't otherwise argue as they continued their aimless wandering.

"The question is who pays it..."

"Kanna please be quiet."

Miroku fancied himself a man who knew how to read a room. A very capable converser and usually very charming when he wasn't…being himself. Maybe that was the problem. While Sango had never truly been appreciative of his typical aggressive techniques, on some level he suspected she liked them which was entirely the reason he had kept doing it for so long. There was something in the way her lips twitched upwards afterwards although that might simply have been because she'd cracked his skull.

Or maybe it was because, despite the brutal beatdowns, he kept coming back for more. Maybe it was the fact that her strength and agility wasn't a deterrent but honestly, now, he was too terrified to test out that theory. As far as he could tell, Sango tolerated him at best and loathed his presence at worst. And the most painful part of it all was that his theory that she settled for him way back was quickly becoming the most likely scenario. There were absolutely no signs that she even found him the least bit appealing.

In some ways, Miroku now understood some of Inuyasha's hesitancy about expressing his affections back in the day. Better to have Sango be a friend or even an acquaintance than lose her entirely. The risk was too high and honestly, the monk didn't have it in him to walk away from her. He wanted every moment he could get before…well before this ended. However it ended.

"May I help you?" Sango sighed exasperatedly as she glanced up from her little potions which she was still meticulously organizing.

"Simply wondering how I could assist," the monk offered with what he hoped was a charming smile, "You are determining which ones you need to replenish, no?"

"I'm perfectly capable of…"

Miroku's smile faded as he winced in pain and averted his eyes – missing the way the slayer's face softened and a twinge of regret played behind her eyes.

"Do you know where hemlock grows?" she finally amended as a peace offering and Miroku glanced up with a short nod, "Good. I need as much as you can find. That and pieris. Both might be hard to find this time of year but…"

"I'm also familiar with pieris but I doubt it grows in this region. Perhaps at a village…"

"You think your usual village marketplace will sell poison?" Sango scoffed as she shook her head like that was the stupidest thing she'd ever heard, "If you can't find it, we'll need to go back to the slayer's village. I'm running low on some other things as well so that's probably what we need to do in any case."

Wincing again at the utterly defeated and miserable look on the monk's face, Sango cursed herself for her quick temper and wicked tongue. All he was trying to do was be helpful but something about the way he was going about it was absolutely maddening. She hated how afraid of her he was. How intimidated. Even back home, the men didn't seem all that worried about her strength but Miroku…

Miroku seemed to be walking on eggshells at all times. For once, she'd like him to argue with her or do something that showed he wasn't afraid of her. Just once. Instead, he acted like she was more terrifying than this Naraku fellow even. This monk was boring and dull and…and just seemed so weak. There was no way she would have ever fallen in love with someone like him. Losing her village must've broken her in unimaginable ways for that to have happened.

Except…except a small part of her wondered whether he was acting this way because she was different. If he was unsure how to respond. How to react. Perhaps he was doing things that worked between them last time which didn't work this time and now…now he was floundering. There were times she could see how deeply he loved her – little glances when he thought she wasn't looking. Once she'd even came upon a written prayer for her safety that he must have dropped by accident – she'd noticed him patting inside the front portion of his robe the rest of that day with a very disturbed expression and that evening had set about the task of writing many new 'sutras' just in case. Still, it was hard to imagine how he acted now would have ever been appealing. Why would she want someone who didn't think of you as an equal. He obviously thought very little of himself.

As Miroku got to his feet with a sad little sigh and was walking out the door with a miserable expression, Sango felt a little stab of pity.

"Be safe, okay?" she offered and he gave her an adoring glance over his shoulder with a little nod of thanks.

Chapter Text

It was rapidly becoming clear, in the few weeks since Kagome's brush with illness, that Inuyasha had lost all control of his journey through the past. Or present. Whichever. Point was that nothing was the same, which was both good and bad. One it supported the theory that this hot mess would end differently. On the other hand, though, some things were far worse than he could ever imagine. For example, apparently Kagome's medicine played a huge part in her recovery the first go around. Those tiny little capsules worked unnatural magic on her fever and somehow suppressed the grating mucus filled hacking that the miko devolved into by the end of the first night. As much as he wanted to give credit to the medicine his mother taught him how to make for her quick recovery, it was clear that the concoction only pushed her over the edge last time because this time that potion had been as useless as tits on a boar. All in all, however, Inuyasha's strangely oppressive brand of love had gotten Kagome through the worst of it. There had been a moment though, a fleeting unwanted moment one night when Kagome's fever got terrifyingly high, when the thought of death crept into the half-demon's mind. Luckily the panic inducing thought came and left quickly. If anything, that unwanted blip in his thought processes made him double down his efforts with a ferocity hitherto unimaginable. No unnecessary movement was permitted and the movement that was necessary was monitored heavily. The one and only time Kagome had sat him in many, many months was when he insisted he carry her while she went to the bathroom. How that would've worked the miko had no idea but whatever Inuyasha had been thinking was rejected wholeheartedly much to his ire.

Despite the terrifying (to him) hacking and fever and chills and all things bad, Kagome kept insisting she was doing alright and that he was overreacting which made him look back on all his previous injuries with new eyes. Maybe, just maybe, she hadn't been ridiculous when she fretted over him and told him to sit still. Ultimately, however, it didn't matter what was ridiculous and what wasn't because Kagome recovered completely and this past week had mercifully been uneventful. No battles. No triggering events. Just calm, peaceful, aimless wandering. As such, Inuyasha felt somewhat more at ease with the differences in the timeline - mainly because nothing else had gone differently at all and there'd been no concerns raised which helped immeasurably. Unbeknownst to Inuyasha, there was a reason the monk didn't dare voice so much as an innocent observation out loud. Kagome had promised Miroku - through a series of written notes which had since been burned - that she'd talk to Sango about him and report back in exchange for him not mentioning Naraku for two weeks.

But that pact was hard to follow when Inuyasha himself brought up the topic. Technically though, Miroku hadn't initiated the off-handed comment about not missing having to deal with Naraku's incarnations. Kagura especially was not missed by the half-demon although she did prove useful towards the end once she'd turned on Naraku.

"Know who else I don't miss?" Inuyasha commented with a satisfied hum while he poked at the campfire, "Koga. Don't miss him at all."

"You must admit he was useful at times," Miroku chided gently before taking a sip of his tea and furrowing his brow, "He was most helpful when we faced the Infant if I'm not mistaken."

"Helpful and useful ain't the same thing and I don't think he was either," Inuyasha sniffed pointedly, "Besides, I've got a good thing going here. I don't need that mangy wolf messing things up and giving me competition again. She already wants me to be taller and Koga's got a good head on me so..."

Miroku coughed lightly in an attempt to cover up the choked laugh that escaped him at Inuyasha's admission. Unfortunately, Inuyasha recognized the noise for what it was and gave the monk a side-eyed glare.

"You got something you wanna say monk?" Inuyasha hissed as he narrowed his large amber eyes in silent challenge and Miroku quickly shook his head.

"I was simply wondering whether he remembers these events as well…"

"Naraku or Koga?" Inuyasha asked wearily.

"Koga," Miroku offered uneasily before deciding to lean into this loophole in the miko's conditions and throw caution to the wind, "Do you not think it strange that we have encountered very few of our old allies and foes?"

"Honestly I try not thinking about it," Inuyasha admitted softly after a long moment, "I did…at first but…but Kagome says that this time is different and she's right. There's no point worrying that things aren't happening the same way."

Miroku made to grin but recovered quickly.

"It never ceases to amaze how much you've grown," the monk hummed playfully, "Admitting that…"

"Yeah, well, ten years will do that," Inuyasha spat harshly and Miroku's amusement immediately faded.

"Of course," he mumbled in response as his eyes softened in sympathy. His dear friend had confided in him some of the things that had transpired during his decade of solitude. Many admissions were to be kept in strictest of confidence. Snapshots of what was clearly the lowest point in the half-demon's life. Other admissions had been surprising and made it clear that Inuyasha was much more observant than the monk would have ever believed. He'd buried them by the Sacred Tree. Meticulously - from the sound of it - made headstones he'd thought best reflected their contributions to the poor survivor's life. Gifts had been routinely placed on the graves or other significant locations were always thoughtful and timely around events he knew had transpired. There was incense placed at the crater by Mushin's temple. Flowers placed on the graves at the demon slayer village. Kagome always received something on her birthday – which how Inuyasha managed to keep track seemed like a mystery until the half-demon admitted that he kept her school calendar and just adjusted it as time went on. Something thoughtful was, of course, left with the others on the the anniversary of Kagome's birth. Gold. Toys. Knives.

It all made the monk feel like a terrible friend honestly but perhaps he could make up for the deficit during this second chance he'd been given.

"Have you made much headway with Kagome?" Miroku changed the subject, "Any nuptials to look forward to?"

"Things are good..."

"So I've noticed," the monk hummed encouragingly as he cast a glance over his shoulder to make sure they weren't going to be interrupted, "Come now. Do tell. Are you betrothed and simply waiting for the opportune moment to announce it or...?"

"We aren't..."

Inuyasha let out a long sigh and scratched his nose.

"I haven't asked her yet. And we haven't done much," he admitted sheepishly as he glanced towards where the girls had gone off to bathe, "But…but we've talked about…stuff."

"Have you now?" Miroku asked curiously as he straightened up and leaned forward, "Such as?"

"A while back she asked me where we'll stay after this is over," Inuyasha offered as a faint blush bloomed across his nose, "Said she thought it'd be nice to live by the well or the Sacred Tree."

"Why not ask her to marry you then? It's clear she would say yes," Miroku prodded and Inuyasha's face subtly crumpled in pain.

"Its not that I don't want to. Its just that, right now, we don't know how…" he paused to clear his throat and amended, "I'm just waiting for a good time. She'd want it to be special or some bullshit."

Pointedly ignoring what he knew his friend was about to say, Miroku nodded sympathetically as his blue eyes flicked towards his own hand.

"I'm certain any proposal you make will be special in her eyes," Miroku offered gently, "There are worse things than marrying a woman you love who loves you just as fiercely. You deserve happiness. By all accounts you have earned it."

Inuyasha scowled as he muttered almost hatefully, "Can't settle down when bastard might still be out there. Not until we know he's gone."

"Naraku's absence is noticeable," the monk opined knowingly as he lowered his cup into his lap, "The jewel is almost complete and yet not one attack. Not one encounter. Not even so much as a rumor. Perhaps whomever sent us here dealt with him."

"Sango says she saw him so he's still around somewhere," Inuyasha pointed out earning a relieved sigh that thankfully was missed, "Maybe he's the one who caused all of this. Who sent us back…"

"Perhaps," Miroku replied slowly, "But doubtful."

Lifting the cup, the monk took a long sip as he furrowed his brow and stared off into the distance. Pulling the cup back, he made a small curious sound before looking at the half-demon idly tracing his the curves of his palm – his mind obviously a thousand miles away.

"Who survived? Other than yourself and Sesshomaru," Miroku asked quietly and Inuyasha let out a long sigh.

"Lets see. Koga did but he ended up dying about seven, maybe eight years later when he refused to bow down to Naraku like an idiot. Don't know what he thought would happen," Inuyasha huffed before shaking his head and continuing, "Soten and Shiori were doing fine last time I saw them, you know, back then but I doubt…"

"We encountered those two once, why would they do such a thing?" Miroku pointed out and Inuyasha rolled his eyes.

"I'm just saying that's how far removed we've gotta go to find someone who might give a shit," the half-demon clipped, "Everyone that would've cared what happened to us is dead. Or was dead. Whatever you want to call it. Point is no one cared…"

"Someone we never met yet then. Someone who wanted to prevent Naraku getting the jewel," Miroku offered and Inuyasha shook his head.

"Then we'd all remember. Not just you and me," Inuyasha huffed in frustration, "Maybe…maybe the jewel thought Naraku was an asshole and decided it could do better."

"Are you suggesting the jewel wished on itself?" Miroku asked curiously and the half-demon shrugged before glancing at his friend with a weary glare.

"Any particular reason we're talking 'bout this?"

"I believe you initiated this discussion. Besides, the others are bathing and this is a prime opportunity to discuss things that would otherwise require an explanation."

Inuyasha scowled.

"There are no answers. None of this makes sense. For all we know, we're all walking back into a slaughter and…and…" his voice cracked and with a shuddering breath, he got to his feet, "I don't want to talk about this anymore. I'm going on a run."

As he watched Inuyasha rush into the tree line, Miroku knew that his usual teasing needed to be kept to a minimum after dinner. It had become very clear very quickly how to tell his friend was anxious. Well, more so than usual in any case. The old Inuyasha would snap at everyone and be overall unpleasant. Now he sought out Kagome – pulling her into his lap and resting his chin on her shoulder or atop her head. Either that or he'd crawl into the sleeping bag when he thought everyone was asleep only to vacate shortly before dawn. It had initially taken some getting used to but anymore it just made the monk extremely jealous. Despite being nothing but the perfect gentleman, Sango still didn't seem interested. She was aloof and distant. After several months it was clear they were friends but nothing more and truth be told, his palms were beginning to itch. The slayer was worth the discomfort, obviously, but Inuyasha was doing so well while he was failing miserably at achieving his own happy ending.

A happy ending which was now further out of reach since the deal he'd made with the miko had just gone up in flames. Kagome was many wonderful things but she did tend to hold a grudge...

"He's just so religious Kagome-chan," Sango huffed as she slid down into the water and gave her friend a pleading look, "Always meditating. Praying. And aside from his first advances, he barely does anything even remotely inappropriate."

Kagome had to bite her lip to keep from laughing before finally managing, "Would you like Miroku better if he grabbed you more often?"

"No?" the slayer sighed as she sat up slightly, "He's just so proper and I'm not proper. I'm a demon slayer. A female demon slayer."

"Okay he's not that proper. You have to admit he's very good at scamming people," Kagome tried – thinking it was a very odd thing to argue as a positive, "We've stayed at an inn at least once every week."

"Again, weeks, months, years don't have the same meaning to me as they do to you," Sango teased as she avoided responding to that statement, "And all that means is he is a walking contradiction."

"That's fair."

For a moment, the girls were silent.

"Just admit you think he's cute," Kagome teased, "Don't lie to me. I've noticed you staring."

The slayer huffed miserably before dunking under the water. Bemused smile playing on her lips, Kagome watched as Sango stayed under for probably an unhealthy amount of time. From what Inuyasha had told her, Miroku used to be very hands on and asked literally every woman of 'breeding' age to have his kid. The change in his behavior obviously arose from the poor man's belief that this new him was what Sango wanted. Which clearly wasn't true.

Maybe an intervention was warranted. The question was whether she could get Inuyasha to do it or whether she should just do it herself.

"He is good looking," Sango admitted begrudgingly once she popped out of the water with a very flushed face, "But…but looks aren't everything and I don't like how he acts around me. I want someone who thinks of me as an equal. Miroku...Miroku doesn't take me seriously at all. How could I marry someone who doesn't respect me?"

"Well, if you had to describe your perfect husband, what would you say?" Kagome asked curiously and Sango clearly put some serious thought into whatever she was going to say.

"Someone that understands the importance of family," the slayer began slowly, "Who isn't intimidated by me. Active. Intelligent."

Nodding, Kagome gestured for the slayer to continue but Sango merely stopped and shook her head.

"Just because Miroku is the only available man in our group doesn't mean I have to marry him Kagome-chan," Sango finally huffed, "He's too boring. Too traditional."

"So…what can he do to be more interesting?" the miko tried – struggling not to laugh out right, "In theory?"

"I'm not telling you because you'll go straight to Inuyasha and those two will come up with some half-brained idea," Sango replied defensively.

"Guilty as charged," the miko admitted sheepishly, "But come on, Miroku isn't boring."

"I want someone who doesn't treat me like a delicate little flower," Sango met the miko half-way, "Miroku is too old fashioned. Inuyasha argues with you. Treats you like an equal. Miroku acts like he's afraid I might break."

"I'm sorry, what?"

"For example," Sango tried to clarify, "The other day I wanted someone to spar and he declined. I ended up sparring with Inuyasha."

"And you pinned him down. I remember. It was beautiful," Kagome laughed at the highlight of that particular day. Inuyasha had been so upset he'd stormed off and pouted in a tree for the rest of the evening.

"Maybe Miroku knows you need more of a challenge. He's not exactly a hand-to-hand combat type of guy and that's what you excel at," the miko offered and Sango sighed.

"Its more than that. He…he always insists on pouring my tea or…or plating my food," she complained, "Offers to carry my weapons. And he talks to me differently than he speaks to you and Inuyasha. Always defers and agrees with whatever I say."

"I think he's trying to be considerate. That thing weighs a ton," Kagome snorted and Sango gave her friend a withering glare.

"I want someone who thinks I won't break. That's all," Sango huffed, "After Inuyasha I'm the best warrior and you all know that. What makes Miroku think…"

"Okay, okay, so Inuyasha told me that…well in the past future before times," Kagome tried awkwardly as she made a face, "That Miroku was quote unquote a pervert..."

"Other than that first day, Miroku has done nothing to…"

"Let me finish," Kagome interrupted, "So, in theory, maybe Miroku thinks you want him to act like this. Thinks you'll like him if he acted like you're a…um…"

"Delicate flower?" Sango supplied acidly and Kagome sighed.

"I'm trying to say I think he's trying too hard to be something he's not," the miko pointed out, "But you might not like how he used to be either. Inuyasha won't tell me whether you two got together or not after all. Maybe you just don't like him and that's that. After all, he's been with us for months now and you still..."

Sango scoffed and cut the miko off.

"Have Inuyasha do his thing and let me find out for myself. I can't stand Miroku now so he can only improve."

"Be careful what you wish for," Kagome teased playfully. Sango simply stuck out her tongue in reply.

The daiyoukai smiled softly as he gently ran his fingertips through his daughter's hair while she slept atop his mokomoko. It seemed like a mystical fairytale that he had been reunited with her. A dream. A gift. One hundred years had changed him greatly. A hundred years filled with fear and regret and grief. As much as he cared for her, as much as he knew she loved him, he'd be distant and cold. Cruel even at times. While he knew…he knew Rin was aware that he cared for her on some level, whether she knew the depth of his affection, his love, for her was something that had ate away at him. Nothing had been worth losing her. He would have gladly traded away his life if it meant she lived. Would've done anything…

But there was nothing that could be done. He'd tried – oh had he tried – to do something, anything to bring her back but eventually her flesh melted away. Her corpse decayed until there was nothing but bones and they too began crumpling into dust.

So far his plan to not antagonize Naraku, to not bring attention to himself, appeared to be working. It was entirely possible that Rin's death could be avoided and she could live a long, happy human life. Eventually she would be gone and he accepted that. He did. But at least, it wouldn't be a death filled with pain and agony. Naraku had made sure that she suffered. Not to punish her but to torture a sworn enemy. There had been nothing he could do. Nothing to stop the pain from the miasma the bastard had injected her with. Inuyasha hadn't been punished in that way and the daiyoukai hated him for being granted that mercy. That miko's death had been relatively quick. His friend's death relatively quick. Rin…Rin suffered for weeks afterwards and there had been nothing to alleviate her suffering.

Sesshomaru leaned his head back against the tree and closed his eyes. This time would be different. There was no point in dwelling on the past when it had been set right again.

"Lord Sesshomaru, I…"

"Be quiet," the daiyoukai ordered in his infuriatingly emotionless tone.

The kappa fretted for a moment as he tried to see whatever he was supposed to have seen. And then those beady little eyes landed on the sleeping urchin.

"My apologies, my Lord," Jakken whispered nervously, "I was unaware Lady Rin was sleeping."

"What is it you want?" Sesshomaru sighed heavily and the little man shifted anxiously before bowing low.

"I received word that a demon who controls the power of the wind has requested an audience," the kappa murmured almost inaudibly, "Should I extend an invitation?"

The daiyoukai raised a single brow at the asinine and bizarre question. First of all, since when did anyone request an audience with him? More importantly, why was one of Naraku's minions seeking him out? He hadn't encountered Naraku or any of his spawn since he'd been returned to this time nor had he given them any reason to even notice his presence. It was suspicious and he had no intention of putting Rin at risk. Despite his best efforts, however, it would seem the inevitable had finally caught up with him.

Naraku was seeking him out. Or rather Kagura was. The daiyoukai knew...he knew Kagura had been watching over his descent into madness. Even in death, in her existence as the wind, sometimes he could've sworn...

But any inkling he had felt in the century he'd struggled was probably just the effects of insanity. It was highly unlikely the wind sorceress was involved in Rin's return or his own knowledge of events as they had transpired. Undoubtedly she was still at Naraku's bidding and, as such, was still very much a threat. Meeting with Kagura was a risk he would rather not take.

"Say nothing. This Sesshomaru has no interest in such a meeting," the daiyoukai replied quietly, "Now be quiet."

"Yes m'lord," the kappa mumbled as he bowed before immediately slapping his hand across his mouth.

A fair distance away from the campsite, but not far enough for him to be out of sensory range, Inuyasha sunk down against a tree with his hands cupped over his mouth and nose. Breath shaky, heart racing, it was all he could do to close his eyes and stay upright. Miroku meant well. Inuyasha knew he did and just wanted some answers but the problem was that there were no answers. There were no guarantees. Tomorrow the half-demon could be right back to the same exact hell he'd been in for the past decade….

And he couldn't go back. He couldn't do that again. Especially with how well things were going with Kagome. It was already dangerous that he was allowing himself to rely so heavily on her and the worst part was that he couldn't stop. Way back when he already relied upon her, he'd needed her but this…this was a different animal entirely. He couldn't sleep without her. Couldn't make it more than a few hours without seeking some type of physical contact. The only reason he hadn't gone to find her and was out here by himself panicking like a whiny little bitch was because she was bathing and he didn't enjoy pain if he could avoid it.

Raising his hands to cover his eyes, Inuyasha tried to stay calm. By himself. Because that had always worked great. Honestly, that conversation shouldn't've bothered him that much but it'd already been eating at his sanity that there hadn't been any sign of Naraku. Where was the slimy little bastard? What was the evil prick even doing with his life? Every single battle they'd had was all out of order. Each encounter they'd had noticeably different. Shiori for example. They'd arrived way too late to prevent her from becoming a slave to her grandfather but in the end, it'd worked out. They'd saved her. He'd gotten his sword ability. Good for him. Great. Wow. That stupid ink incident happened just last month but a whole bunch of people died that shouldn't've. About a week after that sobering encounter, Tsubaki showed up and was a pain in the ass for different reasons than last time. Another change for the worse. Naraku suspiciously wasn't involved but she'd still been a bitch to fight. Literally and figuratively. If he thought dealing with Kagome being cursed was hard last time, he'd been so wrong it wasn't even funny. Shook like a leaf for a solid week afterwards every time he let go of his miko which thankfully she didn't want anyway so the moments there wasn't contact was rare. Then to make matters worse that stupid curse got Kagome sick and sure, she'd gotten better but still...

There’d been no sign of Sesshomaru. No Band of Seven. No Koga. No chicken fire woman thing or portal to the underworld. Which seemed important. The crystal skull guy was down there wasn't he? How else was he supposed to get adamant barrage? And at some point wasn't he supposed to fight that dragon and meet the dish rag? How exactly did he get dragon scale Tessaiga? Shouldn't that have happened already? That seemed like an important thing he shouldn't skip. As much as Inuyasha wanted to blame the decade for his poor memory and confusion, Miroku knew something was off and kept asking questions...

In any case, for all his dumb ass knew, tomorrow it'd all be over and hopefully Naraku kill him along with everyone else this time.

The air felt like it was getting thin and the ringing in his ears definitely wasn't helping him stop shaking like a leaf. He couldn't go back to the others like this. They needed him to be strong. To be calm. They needed him to protect them. They needed him to do better this time. But how was he supposed to do that when he couldn't even handle a stupid theoretical conversation? Going back now would only make them worry for no god damn reason. They'd think something was going wrong and when actually everything was going reasonably well. It was just…just…

How long he sat there – knees pulled up to his chest and breathing into his hands Inuyasha wasn't entirely sure but what he did register was a pair of soft warm hands pulling his own away from his pale, clammy face.

"Hey," Kagome cooed softly as she knelt down before him with a reassuring yet concerned smile on her face, "Dinner's ready. Do you want to head back?"

"I'm fine. Just...just have a headache is all," Inuyasha blurted hoarsely and Kagome nodded.

"Oh I'm sorry. Just wondering whether you're hungry," she promised – although that confident statement didn't quite reach her eyes as she ran her thumb over his right palm. For a moment she seemed to be mulling over something before she smiled.

"You know I do need to ask you something. I have a test in a few days. I was going to head back tomorrow but I'd really like to get some extra studying in," she began slowly, "Would it be alright if I went back tonight? I'd need you to take me though."

Inuyasha furrowed his brow before glancing up at the sky. Night had already fallen – which meant he'd been out here way longer than he realized – and they were a fair distance away from the well. He'd need to run until morning to get there.

"Maybe…maybe you should take Kilala," he began awkwardly, "Its...its too far to run...I think..."

Kagome's eye twitched before she cleared her throat and tried again, "But you always come with me. We can both take Kilala if you think it'd be too far."

Nodding weakly in understanding, Inuyasha unsteadily got to his feet and gave her a somewhat concerned look.

"Is it…is it that calc…calculus thing you've been working on?" he asked somewhat shakily– silently praying he didn't just make a fool out of himself – but mercifully, Kagome nodded as she intertwined her fingers with his.

"Oh yeah. It's the worst," she groaned as she began walking back to camp and Inuyasha followed after her, "I just really want to make sure I pass this test. I'm so sorry to be dragging you all the way home on such short notice. I would've asked earlier but…"

"Don't worry about it. It's not a problem," Inuyasha interrupted hoarser than he would've liked, "You need to pass this one or else you fail that class, right?"

"Exactly," the miko hummed as she gave his hand a gentle squeeze, "Thank you so much. I've been really worried about it and I didn't know how to ask."

"You don't need my permission to go home Kagome," Inuyasha grumbled.

"I like to get it anyway," she replied honestly as she grinned over her shoulder, "Because then you'll come with me."

The half-demon blushed slightly at that.

"Oh, you want to know something funny?" Kagome asked after a moment of companionable silence, "Get this. Sango thinks Miroku is boring."


Kagome's lips twitched upwards at the amusement in his voice.

"She said he's too religious and too proper," she explained and Inuyasha began snickering as she continued, "And she thinks he treats her like a 'delicate flower'."

"Oh, that's going to kill him," Inuyasha chuckled as he quickened his sluggish pace to walk next to her, "He can't win. She doesn't like him no matter what he does."

"I don't know about that. She did say he's cute…"

Their entertaining speculation continued as they came nearer to camp and - aside from a silently mouthed 'don't leave me with him' and a 'sorry he's having a bad day' between one very judgmental angry glare which earned a guilt cringe - no one had any issue with the pair taking off towards the well.

Chapter Text

Soft grey-violet eyes reflected the flickering light of the campfire as they stared into the warmth. As much as the monk wanted to believe otherwise, Inuyasha was right to be worried. Not necessarily to the level the half-demon had taken his anxiety but Inuyasha's concerns were not unfounded. It seemed like everything they'd encountered was off. Different. Strange. Naraku's marked lack of presence was disturbing to say the least. Even more so because it was abundantly clear the evil man still existed here. The more time passed the more questions arose without answers. As much as Kikyo had caused problems, there were many events which she had set in motion. The same could be said of Naraku. The world as they had known it was radically different and, in many ways, more dangerous.

"What was I to you?" Sango's voice suddenly spoke – cutting through his thoughts like a cauterized knife and causing the monk to startle subtly at the unexpected question.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Back in the time you and Inuyasha are from, what were we?" Sango clarified as she raised a single eyebrow and gave him an appraising look, "Friends? Acquaintances? Lovers?"

Miroku choked and shockingly a faint blush adorned his cheeks against his will. Hearing Sango, of all people, suggest so casually that her arguably modest self freely gave her body to a stranger while they were relatively unattached shocked even his perverted sensibilities. Even if the comment was thrown out there merely as a possibility.

"We were friends. At first," the monk replied slowly as his brow furrowed slightly in pain, "And at a certain point, something changed. It became more."

"What changed?" Sango pressed as Shippo slowly sat up from where he was laying atop Kilala with a look that could only be described as horror.

"Oh look. A beetle," the kit chuckled awkwardly as he quickly hopped down and began scrambling away, "Better go get it."

Miroku gave the retreating Shippo a withering glare before setting his jaw and turning his gaze back onto the slayer.

"I cannot explain what I do not know," the monk replied a little bitterly, "I'm unsure what changed. All I know is that something did."

Sango seemed to digest that explanation for a moment before continuing this bizarre form of torture. In the monk's opinion anyway. This was not a conversation he wanted to have truth be told. He had been hoping a relationship would manifest naturally as it once had. Forcing the issue seemed like it would hurt more than it would help. Sango was obviously attempting to figure out how someone like her could have ever fall in love or even tolerate someone she clearly loathed which killed any hope this conversation would end desirably.

"I've been told my village was destroyed and everyone in it," the slayer changed the subject, "Was I different?"

Miroku wince.

"Yes and no," the monk replied with a resigned sigh, "I am grateful Inuyasha had the foresight to prevent such an event from occurring twice. You are as strong as you ever were but more confident. Happier. There were times I was concerned…"

Trying to put the brakes on his little explanation, Miroku cleared his throat and shifted.

"In any case…"

"Why were you concerned?" Sango asked and the monk wished a stray demon would burst out of the tree line to prevent an honest explanation.

"Your brother was captured and enslaved by Naraku," Miroku replied in a strangely detached tone, "You were willing to sacrifice yourself to save him. Which was admirable in some ways and terrifying in others. Often there was concern that you would end your own life."

Sango paled a little but appreciated his blunt honesty truth be told. Perhaps he didn't think she was too delicate to handle hard truths after all.

"So I was weak," she concluded and Miroku scoffed.

"Sango you were many things but weak has never been one of them. You were in pain and you blamed yourself. Not unlike Inuyasha has been doing," the monk snapped harsher than intended, "The most notable difference between you and our friend is that you handled the loss with more grace."

Sango recoiled from that statement with a look of disgust.

"What is that supposed to mean? Is that why you've been so hard on him? You've been comparing him to me?" Sango asked with no lack of distain.

"Inuyasha is allowing his grief and guilt to consume him instead of focusing on the task at hand," Miroku tried to explain with a loud huff of frustration, "You used your grief to push yourself further. Harder. You were open to discussion on difficult topics. He refuses to acknowledge them."

"Everyone processes grief differently," Sango clipped back, "Inuyasha and my circumstances sound entirely different."

"I'm aware of that," Miroku snapped as his usually calm exterior began cracking, "I am also aware that you and, for that matter, Kagome only know Inuyasha as he has been since our unnatural return. You did not know him as he once was. Inuyasha used to be confident and fearless. Now he…"

The monk groaned and when he spoke next it was soft and controlled, "Whatever is occurring may ultimately be his undoing and I am afraid for him. In many ways, I wish your prior self was here. You had first-hand experience and would've known what to say to…"

As Miroku trailed off with a huff in frustration, Sango blinked a few times before she set her jaw and pressed the monk further. This seemed to be the first and only time the monk was opening up to her and, for that matter, being somewhat hostile. Much to her horror, she actually preferred this version of the normally controlled monk. It gave him depth she didn't think he had.

"Inuyasha has been…struggling," the slayer agreed awkwardly, "But in battle…"

Sango wanted to say that he'd been coping and doing what needed to be done but that wouldn't be accurate. More than once he'd frozen for some unknown reason or taken unnecessary risks when he felt Kagome might be in danger. It had been getting worse lately too which didn't bode well but she had never taken it for the warning sign the monk believed it to be.

Perhaps she should have.

"I understand your concerns," the slayer amended before sighing and shaking her head, "Thank you for voicing them."

Miroku closed his eyes and let out a long slow exhale.

"I would ask that you keep this conversation between us," the monk spoke after a long moment, "It…"

"Why keep this from the others?" Sango interrupted and Miroku had to bite back the urge to scream.

"By others do you mean Kagome, who shelters Inuyasha to an unhealthy degree, or Inuyasha himself who falls to pieces if you so much as mention Naraku in his presence?" he snapped bitterly, "Or should I confide in a child, a cat…"

"Shippo is…" Sango began knowingly as she glanced over at the kit who was waving his arms in a frantic silence motion which screamed 'do not involve me' and so the slayer amended, "A child. Yes. I can see your point."

The monk rolled his eyes as he glanced over at the little boy who was making an exceptionally good show of inspecting the grass for insects.

"I forgot myself for a moment," the monk admitted bitterly, "Forgive me."

"No, no that's not…" Sango tried to explain, "Its just you're usually so careful around me. This is the first time you've been honest."

Averting his eyes, Miroku laughed once - the bitter edge subtle- but didn't deny it.

"Were you always this careful around me?" Sango asked curiously when he didn't reply and Miroku laughed again – this time with obvious bite.

"No. No I was not," the monk admitted as he closed his eyes once more, "Is there a reason you're asking these questions?"

"Is there a reason you're avoiding answering what we really were to each other? More can mean a variety of things," Sango countered and Miroku sighed heavily as he ran a finger over his palm.

"We were engaged," he replied quietly as he got to his feet and looked to the treeline, "If that answer is sufficient, I believe I need to check the perimeter before we retire."

"Engaged? To be married?"

"Yes," the monk replied in a voice softer still before squaring his shoulders and adding with no lack of bitterness, "You saw no better alternatives and I was all too happy to agree. Now if you will excuse me…"

As the monk walked away, Sango stared after him with her mouth hanging slightly open. That…that didn't seem right. At all. As soon as that last statement was uttered, a part of her mind started screaming in frustration and the random urge to slap some sense into him became almost overwhelming.

"Miroku wait!" Sango called out, "Are you saying I settled for you or something?"

The monk paused but remained facing away. The slayer quickly got to her feet and moved until she stood before him and obstructed his path.

"That doesn't feel right," the slayer admitted awkwardly as she bent down slightly to look into his bowed face, "And that's not something I would do to someone if that's any consolation."

Miroku laughed under his breath and side-stepped her only to stop when she moved to block his way forward.

"Let me pass Sango."

"Not until you explain what you said," she insisted a little desperately, "Why do you think I settled for you back then?"

"Your family died," Miroku reminded her gently before a little bitterness entered his tone, "And you wanted a place to belong. I provided security."

"So I was like everyone else in the group then," Sango corrected before sighing and rolling her eyes, "Except Kagome. But, unless I'm mistaken, everyone else - you, Inuyasha, Shippo - had their family die and want a place to belong. What about that made you think I settled for you?"

"Because you despised me!" Miroku snapped angrily, "You left me with enough bruises and concussions to make that point clear. One day it changed, I don't know why, and then..."

Sango's lips parted as her eyes widened in horror.

"I beat you?"

"No!" Miroku hissed, "The point is that you disliked my behavior and it disgusted you to..."

"I want to be clear," the slayer pressed in an infuriatingly calm tone, "You said I left you with bruises. How?"

"When I would do something inappropriate you usually resorted to violence," the monk explained coldly, "Usually your hand or Hiraikotsu was aimed at my head. Not unlike the sit spell Kagome still uses on occasion."

"Did I ever knock you out?" Sango asked in a frightened tone and Miroku sighed heavily.

"Sango you did not abuse..."

"You didn't answer my question," the slayer pointed out a little desperately, "And it sounds like I did abuse you so I need to know what all I did."

Miroku felt his heart crumple up and die as Sango stared at him with something akin to pity and horror but notably without genuine affection. Yes, it was true that he was often the recipient of pain at her hands but she was blowing this wildly out of proportion.

"Sango it wasn't..."

"I'm sorry," the slayer blurted awkwardly, "I'm sorry I did that."

"I'm not," Miroku huffed as he attempted and failed to move around her.


"Because you made me a better man and I will not stand here and listen to you berate yourself over a situation you do not understand," Miroku snapped as he tried to move again, "Now if you will excuse me..."

For the life of her, Sango couldn't wrap her mind around what he was telling her. Surely she wouldn't have just beaten him over a few inappropriate comments. Sure, he saw it differently but...

"Well then make me understand because what you're telling me sounds like a ringing endorsement of my character," Sango replied acidly as she once again moved to intercept his path, "Nothing you could've done justifies..."

"I groped you constantly. Flirted with other women and groped them as well. I habitually lied and schemed and conned," Miroku scoffed as he sidestepped her once more, "You did what was necessary to curb that behavior and it worked."

"Again, that doesn't...why would you even love me after..."

"I have no explanation you would find satisfactory," Miroku snarled, "I was mistaken."

"About what?!" Sango hissed angrily as she followed him, "You want me to understand and I'm sorry I'm not like Kagome. I don't have dreams about what happened between us that would help. I'm sorry. I am but that doesn't mean you get to characterize my actions for me. They were my actions. Mine."

"You're right. I can't explain the differences between you now and then," the monk snapped as he finally stopped his attempts to leave, "You are clearly a different person."

"And that's probably a good thing! I don't beat you regularly. Isn't that a good thing?" Sango snapped without thinking, "And regardless of that, has it ever occurred to you that I might've actually wanted you the way you used to be? That the only reason I haven't liked you this time is because you're acting like I might break! Like you're afraid of me! Maybe I liked that you weren't afraid and that's why I did what I did!"

In her desperation to find an palatable explanation for her violent past, she hit a nerve she should've realized was raw and the monk visibly bristled.

"If I am afraid of you, it is only because you treat me like I am nothing. Less than an ant in comparison to yourself," Miroku damn near snarled making Sango's eyes widened in surprise, "The woman I knew was humble and knew her limits. Understood our group was a unit. A team. You act like every battle is a challenge for you to prove you're superior to us all. You refuse to accept help from anyone but especially not from me."

The slayer recoiled at the brutal observation that wasn't even true. She didn't believe she was better than them. She didn't.

"Miroku I don't..."

"I do not know you as you are. I have not known how to act in the face of the unknown," Miroku continued heatedly as his anger and hurt overrode his natural character, "I apologize if my actions have offended you. It was unknowingly done."

"Then act like you did back then," Sango interrupted softly – Miroku's breathing uneven and heavy as he tried to reign in his temper, "If you don't know how to act, act like yourself."

With a derisive laugh, the monk gestured like he was offering her to walk ahead of him.

"After you."

And with that the monk side stepped the slayer and quickly moved into the forest beyond.

"Welp that was weird," Shippo hummed as he suddenly jumped onto the slayer's shoulder making her jump, "I've never seen him get that angry before."

Sango nodded miserably before furrowing her brow and glancing at the kit, "Do you think I act like I'm better than all of you?"

"Sometimes," Shippo admitted with a wise nod, "He had a point. And you are mean to him for literally no reason."

Shifting her weight awkward, Sango rolled her eyes and sighed. Trust a child to just come out with the truth in blunt fashion.

"I didn't realize that...that I was cruel to him in my past life."

"He didn't seem to think you were," Shippo pointed out with an indifferent sniff, "Maybe it wasn't that bad."

Sango winced.

"I hope it wasn't."

"Well I mean, maybe after all this is done you two can..."

"But when this is done, I'll be back at the slayer's village. He wouldn't follow me there," Sango muttered distractedly as her mind replayed the altercation to see if maybe she misunderstood something and blindly headed back towards the campsite, "But I'd hate to..."

"Guess I was wrong about you," Shippo hmphed loudly as he jumped off her shoulder and bounded up to the fire, "I didn't realize you thought we were just a job."

A sick feeling settled in Sango's gut as she sat down and glanced into the tree line. It hadn't really occurred to her but that was the approach she'd been taking this whole time. This was a job. A task that would eventually end and she'd go back to her village. But that wasn't how anyone else saw it. Shippo, Miroku and Inuyasha had nowhere else to go. This was their family. The only family they perhaps ever had.

And in her past life, given that her home and everyone she knew had been destroyed, she must've thought of the situation in the same way. There was no going back. No next assignment. Rather than a group of allies for future battles, she'd found a family. In them, she'd found a home. Something permanent rather than a temporary situation.

Perhaps, given everything, that was a state of mind she should start adapting especially considering there was a lot of repair work to be done.


It was close to midnight by the time Inuyasha and Kagome made it to the well. Although the weather had gotten considerably warmer than it had been a few days prior, the miko's cheeks were chapped a rather ugly shade of pink and her nose was definitely flaking from the dryness in the higher altitudes. Strangely, her skin discoloration went completely beneath the half-demon's notice. Eye glazed over, Inuyasha appeared to simply going through the motions – helping her off Kilala, grabbing her backpack, heading to the well, kneeling down. Silently. Stiffly. Mind obviously a million miles away as his eyes focused on something only he could see.

That…that wasn't a good sign. Not terrible but not great.

"Thank you so much for letting me come back," Kagome hummed affectionately as she gently scratched the base of his ear earning a long-relieved sigh.

"Any time you want to go back is good by me," Inuyasha admitted distractedly as he subconsciously leaned into her touch, "Safer here."

Crinkling her brow a little at that strange comment, Kagome nodded before climbing onto his back and together they leapt in – the blue ethereal light surrounding them before they appeared back in the noisy, thick air of the modern era. Honestly, Kagome had never noticed before the quest but it was actually kinda gross here. It did smell even to her human nose and the air almost felt dirty. Slimy even.

Feudal era definitely had fresh non-polluted air working in its favor. She didn't remember it smelling this bad before. A wave of sympathy washed over her when she tried to imagine how heinous it must smell to him and yet he always came. For her. It boggled her how, according to him, she didn't know he loved her the first go around. If anything, coming to a world that smelled like death just to be near her should've at least given her some hint how deeply he loved her. Hell he almost died for her every other day and judging by how hard he took 'failing' her that reckless behavior was happening way back when. Surely she wasn't that blinded by Kikyo no matter what Inuyasha said the situation had been. It straight up wasn't possible.

"Why don't we go to my room and I can work on that headache, hm?" Kagome offered sweetly as Inuyasha leapt up into the well house – turning to head up the stairs before his hand took hers and tugged.

"It…it wasn't a headache," he admitted softly before adding hesitantly "And I think you know that. You didn't need to go and trick me or anything. You could've just asked."

Cringing Kagome slowly turned to face him with the guiltiest expression he'd ever seen on her face.

"I'm not mad," he amended quickly as his heart visibly broke behind his eyes for some unknown reason, "Just saying you don't have to lie to me."

"I wasn't lying. I do need to study," Kagome tried miserably, "But I thought you needed a distraction. Some time in a place you felt safe."

Inuyasha gave her an adoring yet chiding look.

"Its not my safety I'm worried about. You know that too," he snorted softly before shaking his head and taking a deep breath, "Its just...I was thinking about stuff is happening wrong and because of that my sword doesn't have the attacks I need. And...and I mean what am I going to..."

"Inuyasha I…wait what?" Kagome blurted as her apology came to a full halt in the face of this random bit of information, "Your sword doesn't work or…?"

Swallowing thickly, Inuyasha was strangely relieved she'd interrupted when she did. In his sluggish mental state, he'd almost confessed his selfish terror about what would happen to him if he failed again. That he was scared shitless about how much he loved her and the very idea of what hell awaited him nearly had him in tears.

"That's…that's why I was getting…upset," he tried to explain - his voice shaking from the effort of keeping his composure or, at least, what was left of it, "Before... last time we killed some people and…okay this one guy was already dead but…the point is I think Kikyo and Sesshomaru and even Naraku had a lot to do with what attacks I got. Powerful attacks I need to beat Naraku. Kikyo's gone. Sesshomaru is doing whatever the hell he's doing and Naraku hasn't shown his face. I just…

Mentally and emotionally exhausted, Inuyasha was struggling to keep his deepest fear hidden. Not that they were a secret per se. Everyone snd their mom knew losing Kagome was definitely up there but he was selfish, so selfish. What was he going to do, going to become, if he lost her again? He couldn't go back to that existence. To that feeling. So many times he'd screamed to the wind, condemning his everything for leaving him when she should've known how much he needed her. Sanity was gone within the first year and after that he was...functioning maybe. Organs still worked at least. Not well, his body slowly started to wither away which arguably was due to forgetting food was necessary, but his heart kept beating long after he'd begged it to stop. Thank the powers that be someone eventually killed him.

"I guess I'm confused?" Kagome interrupted awkwardly, "You're saying your sword is different this time?"

"Not really its just that…well….my sword absorbs things. Other attacks. Demonic energy," Inuyasha tried to clarify as his hands trembled, "So I'd gotten a couple attacks…"

"And they were useful," Kagome concluded effectively cutting him off mid-stream, "Okay that sounds like an easy fix then. We just need to find the things that…"

"There were events that happened that led to me getting the attacks," Inuyasha countered a little desperately as he visibly wilted and began breathing heavily, "Events that aren't going to happen because Kikyo isn't here and Sesshomaru…"

As Inuyasha continued rambling, he began running his claws through his hair. Breathing hitching as he spiraled out of his control. In response, bizarrely, Kagome's sapphire eyes suddenly widened as a strange grin bloomed on her lips and her hands clapped together.

"You could try the tree!" she gasped excitedly earning a startle and one very concerned look. Inuyasha was still panting as his mouth hung open and his mind struggled to make sense of her comment.


"The tree. The Sacred Tree!" Kagome explained excitedly and Inuyasha's gave her a panicked once over.

"Are you feeling okay?" Inuyasha breathed as he anxiously followed her up the steps, "Like…like did you hit your head maybe or…or did something happen while you were with Sango and..."

"Weren't you sealed to that thing for like fifty years or something?" Kagome sighed exasperatedly as she turned to face him with her arms folded across her chest, "Doesn't it see everything? It could show you exactly where to go!"

The half-demon set his jaw as his breathing began evening out.

"What do you think I was doing all that time?" Inuyasha snorted as he rolled his eyes, "I was basically dead. You sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine Inuyasha. Its a good idea. Admit it," Kagome hummed as she turned to open the wellhouse doors. As he followed the miko into the courtyard, Inuyasha looked entirely unconvinced and a little disturbed. Strangely though, he did seem to perk up a bit and so the miko secretly smiled. Redirection was a beautiful, beautiful thing.

"Trees don't talk Kagome," he tried to explain – slowly and carefully like the miko was a five year old child, "They're...well they're trees."

"Normal trees maybe but this is the Sacred Tree of Ages," Kagome corrected defensively, "Its unique. Special."

"The tree ain't a god," Inuyasha chided affectionately, "It's a fricking tree."

To be fair, Inuyasha knew that the large ominous plant had some special abilities. He knew that better than anyone. The tree's powers were probably why he didn't die from the arrow that pierced his heart. That and there had been a few times when Kagome had communicated with him through said tree. However, the tree itself didn't go around talking to people. That wasn't how trees, power infused or not, worked.

"Where did you even get this hair-brained idea?" Inuyasha groaned as Kagome grabbed his hand and led him through the courtyard.

"Well I've actually been thinking about it a while. Seems like some supernatural thing we'd do, doesn't it? I mean, I'm sure we must've used it at some point, right?" she hummed thoughtfully and Inuyasha's eye twitched.

"Once. We used it once. Maybe twice and we didn't talk to the tree. We talked to each other through the tree," Inuyasha corrected begrudgingly and Kagome grinned.

"Like a phone through time which means the tree knows what's going on between now and then," Kagome chirped and Inuyasha was beginning to feel like this might be a fever dream.

"You just need a nap or something," he sighed as he glanced nervously around the courtyard in the hopes her sane mother would come out and save the day, "You're acting delirious."

"Just try it. If it doesn't work, you can call me an idiot and we'll call it a night."

And damn it all if this stupid woman didn't stop dead in front of the tree, grab his hand and try to force it onto the bark.

"Stop that. This is stupid."

"Probably," Kagome giggled – happy to see that he was coming out of his little daze and seemed more like himself. Whatever happened was worth seeing more pep in his step.

"Can't we do this in the morning," Inuyasha argued awkwardly as he effortlessly resisted her tugs.

"We're a tourist attraction. People might see and ask questions," Kagome pointed out even though Inuyasha knew from personal experience no one ever saw the batshit things he'd done here before and if they did, they thought it was some showpiece her grandfather put on. He'd even gotten compliments before on his 'historical cosplay'- whatever that meant - and one guy even wanted a picture. Handed him money and then asked if he took costume orders.

"Fine. Let go and I'll touch the stupid tree," Inuyasha snickered as he pulled his arm away and raised a single eyebrow, "But when this doesn't work, we're sharing the bed and I get the good pillow. You get the shitty one."

Kagome's lips twitched upwards at his demand and nodded her consent. She knew, full well, that this was a stupid idea but Inuyasha needed something to distract his frazzled mind. What better than something non-sensical and random to snap him out of his funk? Once he was more calm and not so dazed, they could have a conversation about his concerns and how to alleviate them but given that he was hyperventilating by himself a few hours previously and was still rather out of it when they first arrived, any discussion they could've had would have gone nowhere. Inuyasha would've gotten more upset and any comfort she could've offered would've gone in one ear and out the other.

And at the very least, she'd earned a genuine smile and even a laugh. That alone was worth every comment Inuyasha would undoubtedly make about her intelligence.

"Well, if it'll shut you up..."

Chapter Text

Several hours came and went. The fire was now simply burning embers and yet Sango remained awake. Her mind replaying the conversation from earlier on loop in her mind while the monk somehow slept soundly like it didn't bother him in the slightest. Maybe it was a trick. A lie. After all, she might have a violent profession but she wasn't a violent person.

Except she did technically thwack him - hard - the first time they met. It was a knee-jerk reaction to having her ass grabbed and fondled by a complete stranger but...but given everything...knowing now that they had been engaged to be married and horrifically separated, his reaction was understandable. Somewhat. On the other hand, by his own admission, he'd done that kind of thing with other women all the time. How on earth had someone like that won her over? Maybe he was right. Maybe she had settled for him.

"You need to sleep," Miroku's weary voice ordered although he remained facing away from her where he lay, "We have a long journey ahead of us. You want to visit your home do you not?"

The hardness of his voice as he referenced her 'home' didn't escape her notice. Neither did the thickness in his throat that indicated he'd been crying recently.

"I can't sleep," Sango admitted quietly as she drew her knees up to her chest, "Can't stop thinking about earlier."

"I didn't mean to upset you," Miroku sighed as he propped himself up and shook his head, "Or to lose my temper. Forgive me."

Sango sighed softly and shook her head.

"You did nothing wrong so there's nothing to forgive."

Miroku subtly rolled his eyes but elected not to argue. There was no point going down that road. Nothing, nothing hurt more than seeing the look of pity on her face and seeing the self-loathing which bloomed behind her eyes. Yes, she'd smacked him around a few times but that was just their dynamic and he didn't mind it. Most of the time he groped her knowing full well how she'd react. Arguably he was asking for it. A quick cost-risk analysis was routinely made and it was always worth the risk of a brain injury if it meant he'd get to fondle his favorite thing in the world. Looking back, a part of him cringed at how utterly disgusting he'd been back then. What had he even been thinking?

"I think...I think I know why I loved you," the slayer offered randomly after a long moment as she plucked a blade of grass and inspected it under the moonlight, "Although I don't understand why you'd love me, I think I understand what must have happened."

Momentarily distracted from his own awkwardness, Miroku glanced over his shoulder and waited for her explanation.

"Men are usually afraid of me," she began softly - and a little bitterly truth be told, "They're intimidated I guess by a woman stronger than them."

"Then they are fools. You'll find someone..." Miroku began as his throat tightened, "Someone worthy of you."

"That's just it," the slayer continued with a dejected sigh, "I think...I think I fell in love with you because you weren't intimidated. I struck you, which was wrong, but you kept coming back. You knew I was strong and saw that as a virtue rather than a threat. My strength wasn't seen as a danger to your masculinity."

Miroku snickered once despite himself.

"Why would it be?" he admitted with wry amusement, "And your blows were deserve..."

"They weren't," Sango interrupted, "You can say that all you want but what I did was wrong. I'm sorry for that."

Miroku didn't have a reply for that.

"I accept your apology," he finally sighed - hoping it would assuage her misplaced guilt, "Do not feel as though you must love me simply because a different version of you did so. Our relationship...well it was unconventional. Circumstances have changed. You are a different woman who will want a different man."

"Am I really that different?" Sango asked in a somewhat hurt tone.

"As I said you have changed but...but in good ways," Miroku admitted quietly as he looked down at his hands, "I am glad for the differences. Your suffering has been avoided."

"And yet you still love me," Sango stated more than asked and Miroku sighed.

"I just want you to be happy."

As Sango nodded like she knew that was what he'd say, a quiet followed that was strangely comfortable. A warmer than seasonal wind rippled the fledgling grass under the moonlight. Crickets chirped in a steady rhythm. An owl hooted in the distance.

"In the final battle, what happened?" Sango asked suddenly, "No one has really said...other than that we died of course. But other than that..."

Glancing at the slayer, the monk would admit he was surprised by the question.

"What more is there to know?"

"Inuyasha once said it was an ambush," Sango pointed out, "And I overheard you mention being distracted. Perhaps knowing what occurred would help us avoid those mistakes."

Miroku laughed bitterly and shook his head.

"Unless you want to characterize our group's day to day activities as mistakes and make radical changes to our eating habits, I doubt you will find much to alter," the monk clipped back much harsher than intended.

"So we were eating?"

Swallowing thickly, Miroku managed to nod as the scene played in his mind's eye. Honestly, it had been a beautiful day up until Naraku appeared. A perfect day.

"It was early autumn," Miroku began quietly as he looked up at the sky, "Kagome had brought some food from her time that she'd prepared."

His lips twitched upwards at the memory.

"If I remember correctly, it wasn't especially good but she was so proud of it. An egg of some kind. A few sausages," he laughed as he idly traced the palm of his hand, "And Inuyasha has insulted it in his way. She was upset and they were arguing."

Sango smiled sadly at the image.

"We exchanged an amused glance. You squeezed my hand," he sighed, "I made some comment. You laughed. And then a moment later the sky turned black."

Letting out a shuddering sigh, Miroku averted his eyes.

"Kagome didn't even have time to reach for an arrow when she was hit," Miroku explained softly, "A tendril pierced her chest. Inuyasha..."

The monk shifted and cleared his throat as the image of his friend's agony and terror flashed behind his mind's eye.

"Inuyasha was, of course, devastated. His brother had arrived and drew his attention away. I don't think he realized Kagome was a target until it was too late," he finished quietly as he willed the image away to no avail, "There wasn't even a moment for her to scream. I don't see how he could've foreseen such a deviation from Naraku's usual course or action but much of his guilt originates from that if I'm not mistaken."

Sango frowned as a tear welled in her eye.

"We were in shock, you and I," Miroku continued shakily, "It was so unexpected. The whole affair. Naraku targeted you while we were distracted and grieving ourselves."

Sango swallowed thickly.

"With you gone, I lost the will to fight," the monk added bitterly, "Naraku made a point to end you just as quickly. I believe that was due, in part, to the fact that you survived horrendous injuries in the past and still found the strength to fight. He wanted...he wanted to injure you do you it..."

Miroku cleared his throat, "In any case, once Kagome passed, Inuyasha stood and looked at me. His sword refused to transform and then I knew no more. I woke up in my master's temple listening to him explain the fine distinctions of sake."

Biting her lip, a few tears streamed down Sango's cheeks at the imagery his story invoked.

"I apologize if I...if I have been acting strangely," the monk offered after a moment, "You always disapproved of my behavior. I thought...I thought if I acted more appropriately, what changed between us would occur more quickly but there was little efficacy of my actions. I was mistaken."

"Did we ever kiss?" Sango asked thickly and Miroku gave her a strange glance over his shoulder.

"No, of course not," Miroku replied with a soft resigned laugh, "You are very reserved. That is an aspect of yourself that is still very...very much..."

Trailing off, violent eyes widened as the slayer got to her feet and moved closer. Was she intending to...

"Can I offer you an apology?" she asked sheepishly and Miroku found himself nodding as his heart raced. Kneeling down in front of him, Sango gently cupped his face before dipping down to give him a chaste kiss with the lightest of pressure that had him melting. If this was the only token of affection he ever received from her, it was worth every moment no matter how much it might pain him later.

"I want you to act like yourself," Sango whispered as she pulled back and Miroku was stunned into silence, "I'll try not to hit you this time."

It was that statement that shook the monk out of his shock.

"I have no intention of behaving the same..."

"I know that," Sango reassured him as she caressed his cheek with her thumb and he subtly leaned into her touch, "But the way you've been acting hasn't...hasn't seemed natural. Maybe we have a chance if you don't try to be someone you're not."

Weary eyes searched her face for a moment before a soft smile graced the monk's lips.

"I will try."

"Good night Miroku," the slayer whispered with what the monk prayed was affection, "I look forward to meeting you."

Melting at her statement, the monk watched her move over to Kilala and smiled genuinely for the first time since his return.

Kagura was convinced she must be insane but until someone proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt, her plan was to just keep playing along with the blind ignorance Naraku was feigning. It seemed like every time Sesshomaru should have been on his radar her creator failed to notice. For that matter, he seemed blind to Inuyasha's little group as well.

Where the hell did Naraku think the jewel shards were going if not with that rag-tag commune of idiots? He knew they existed. He bragged of defeating them often but then it was almost like he was incapable of seeing them. Even when Kanna showed him images of the group finding a new shard and those morons were depicted clear as day, Naraku would play dumb like he'd never seen them before in his life. It was maddening. He knew who they were. By name. He knew what happened during the final battle. But somehow it was always a surprise that someone was hunting for jewel shards. Almost like he was seeing strangers in the mirror and their appearance changed depending on the hour of the day. Kanna had also noticed this uncharacteristic and frankly bizarre behavior. Kagura knew she had and for that reason alone, Kagura knew her suspicions had a basis in concrete evidence rather than just pure speculation. The little girl didn't speak much and rarely if ever reacted to odd events but just earlier that day, even the normally unresponsive child made a comment about Naraku's ignorance being by design.

Regardless of whether his ignorance was the product of something intentional, eventually Naraku would act and the final battle in which the bastard obtained ultimate power would occur, wouldn't it? After all, the jewel would very soon be complete and true to form, Naraku would inevitably go after the one who held it. Not that Kagura particularly cared what happened to that group of spoiled teenagers. It was more of a concern about how the emergence of a fully empowered Naraku would affect the people she'd wanted to save in the first place. Sure, they weren't targets right now but who knew what would happen to them in the century that followed Naraku's rise to ultimate cosmic power. There had been so much war and bloodshed in the years that followed. So many things that could go wrong and there was a distinct possibility that it wouldn't matter that she'd fixed the one thing that had sent that man on a downward spiral into madness because what Naraku didn't break this time, a stupid human battle could end in the blink of an eye. By the end of the century, due in large part to Naraku himself, demon kind was suffering terribly. Many of the powerful demon tribes refused to bow down resulting in eradication. Human hunting parties and raids took out the rest. A few rouges who went it alone still survived and here or there a few managed to find a relatively safe place in the world but most who teamed up might as well have painted a target on their back. Even if war, hunting parties or Naraku didn't get that little girl, old age would eventually get the brat and then...

Trying to stop herself from worrying about things that might not even be, Kagura shook her head and sighed.

What may or may not happen in the future aside, the only plausible explanation for Naraku's strange behavior was that the jewel got tired of being Naraku's prisoner and installed a failsafe to prevent him from obtaining it twice. But why send Naraku back if that was the objective? Why give him any memories of what happened? For that matter, why did those two insufferable teenage mercenaries make the cut? So they could defeat Naraku with the power of friendship? Or maybe, using their combined defining qualities of immaturity and depression, they could kill their enemy with cringeworthy smack talk? The only reason they'd gotten as far as they did was that combined they were a veritable four man army but all Naraku had to do to win was kill one and their whole unit fell apart. They were simple and co-dependent and weak. Anyway, none of that mattered because the point was she didn't make the wish for them so why had they been included? The only thing they did succeed in doing was help Naraku expedite his ascension to ultimate power.

Scowling into the darkness, Kagura couldn't help but feel cheated. She'd wanted one thing and one thing only. One. Damn. Thing. The jewel was the one who offered the rest. Who'd clarified. Probably to suit its own ends. Why else would it have reached out to the wind? How else would people she didn't care about be brought back like a package deal? It was maddening. All of it.

Sighing heavily, Kagura squared her shoulders and turned a corner while Kanna followed close behind. Casting a glare over her shoulder, an eye twitched at the little porcelain doll who had been glued to her side. Probably on Naraku's orders but a part of the wind sorceress had an inkling Kanna's stalking might have been out of affection. They'd been bound at the hip the first time after all, although for different reasons. And for someone who was supposed to be a void, there had been subtle signs of grief and this time around Kanna had been actively preventing her sister from straying too far off the beaten path and engaging in acts of rebellion. Almost like she thought...

In any case, the only blessing was that this go around Naraku had refrained from the one thing he'd always held over her after all. She had free will. She had her heart beating steadily in her chest. Maybe he knew it didn't matter one way or another or maybe it was because he clearly believed he was invincible with or without the jewel. There was no motive to keep her on a leash either because this go around she hadn't so much as thought of something truly treacherous. No insurrection was being plotted. Kagura fully intended to remain by Naraku's side. At least for now.

There was no other way to protect the man she'd wished for. It wasn't like he'd given her an opportunity to warn him. Maybe if he did, he could talk that little brat and flee before it was too late. This could all be a trap. Maybe it was Naraku she'd been speaking to and she just believed like the desperate idiot she was that her wish would be granted.

Maybe it hadn't been granted at all and this was just everyone's personal hell.

As they resumed walking through the dark cavernous tunnels towards where their master lurked, Kanna spoke to Kagura's silent ravings - making the wind sorceress jump.

"Your wish was granted Kagura."

"How would you know what I wished for and what I didn't?" Kagura snapped angrily before setting her jaw and gesturing towards the darkness ahead of them, "Say it was granted. What's the point if he remembers everything?"

"We are him and he is us," Kanna replied stoically - moving past her big sister and carrying on through the twists and turns of the mountain, "There cannot be one without the other."

"What does that even mean?" Kagura groaned in frustration at the random response - her hand clenching her fan so tightly her knuckles turned white, "I wished for him to get that stupid child back. That's all I..."

"That was not what you wished," Kanna pointed out in her usual tone and demeanor - her small feet continuing to move mindlessly forward - and Kagura bit her lip to keep from screaming.

"This one is yours," Inuyasha snickered as he thwacked Kagome upside the head with the pillow that smelled like decade old mold, "Deal with it."

"There's nothing wrong with this pillow," the miko giggled softly as she fluffed it and placed it under her head, "Its nice and soft and I'm happy to accept it."

"Good because you're gunna," Inuyasha snickered happily as he draped his arm around her waist and rolled his eyes, "I don't know why you thought touching a tree would do anything. Sometimes I wonder if you're just insane."

"Well, it has to have some type of power right?" Kagome replied with a bemused hum as she snuggled closer, "Why else would it be called a tree of ages?"

"Don't know. Don't care," Inuyasha teased as he scooted closer until their foreheads touched, "All I care about right now is that I get the good pillow."

"They're the same pillow," the miko argued with a happy hum and Inuyasha made a show of snuggling his head into his pillow before nudging her to signal she should roll over. And so she did and soon found herself in a loose spoon.

"Shows what you know."

It had been a good idea to distract him with something so stupid he wouldn't be able to resist finding humor in it, Kagome decided as Inuyasha snuggled a little closer on the too small for two pillow with their own pillow twin bed. His anxiety really was getting out of hand – not that he necessarily had control over it but at the same time, he had been letting it control his life for too long. Maybe while she was here she'd try talking to someone who would know what to do and do a little research at the library. Both things were probably long overdue anyway. While she'd gotten pretty good at snapping him out of his funks, it wasn't really helping him.

Maybe Mama would know something. Or Gramps. Gramps actually seemed the more likely candidate for helpful advice regarding trauma being a war vet and all but also seemed like someone who wouldn't handle the situation well. Probably would stage some type of intervention or try to force Inuyasha to talk to him or…

Regardless, even if Inuyasha did remain an anxiety ridden hot mess his whole life and nothing really made him better, one thing was certain. She loved him. More than anything. And she'd spend every minute of every day for the rest of her life trying to get him to smile and forget the bad things even if just for a moment…

Speaking of which…

"I love you," Kagome hummed happily as she lifted his hand and placed a kiss on it, "So, so much."

"You're only saying that because you want the good pillow," Inuyasha teased with a gentle kiss to the neck, "But no amount of I loves you will get it back."

"Again, they're the same pillow," the miko teased softly – her hand reached up to scratch the base of his ear making his eyes flutter closed. Toes curling, Inuyasha tried to keep his wits about him as his hand flexed around the edge of his fluffy prize in the likely event Kagome grabbed it out from under him.

"Don't you even think about it."

"About what?" the miko snickered. Opening his mouth with the intent of detailing how the shitty pillow smelled like ass, the words were plucked from his throat before they could escape. Inuyasha's breathing hitched slightly as her talented fingers hit the sweet spot at the base of his ear and a muffled moan soon followed.

And then he was lost when she dipped down and began placing linger kisses against his throat.

"You just..." he tried distractedly as his toes curled, "Smells like.."

"Same pillow. Just admit it," Kagome breathed against his skin earning a needy whimper and a not-so-subtly baring of his throat in a clear plea for her to continue.


The miko giggled softly at how desperate that sounded and with a truly wicked smile leaned back to sit on her ankles.


With a groan of frustration, the half-demon reached back, gripped the 'shitty' pillow and chucked it as hard as he could across the room.

"There. Now you have no pillow," he hmphed indignantly as he settled angrily and glared over his shoulder, "Serves you right."

"Jokes on you," Kagome teased before laying down as close as humanly possible to his backside – her arm wrapping around his stomach, "Now we're have to share the 'good' pillow."

Sighing heavily, Inuyasha knew when he'd been beaten. There was no way he was going to give up this position just to prove a point and she knew it too. It didn't help his cause when her fingertips wormed onto the bare skin of his chest either – tracing his collarbone with the lightest of pressure while her lips began teasing his shoulder. If Kagome wasn't so innocent, he would've assumed she was trying to seduce him and he was fairly certain he wouldn't have it in him to say no.

"Stop that," Inuyasha tried to snap as he reached up to grab the offending hand and arched his back away from her, "Its late and you need to sleep."

"But I love you," Kagome giggled as he firmly guided and held her hand against his chest so she couldn't continue.

"If you loved me you'd sleep so you don't get hairbrained ideas like talking trees," the half-demon scoffed as he tried to settle down to sleep himself, "Or stealing my pillow."

"How many times do I have to tell you old man? They're the same pillow," Kagome snickered– her voice muffled from where her face was buried in his back, "I..."

"Oí! I'm not old!" Inuyasha huffed indignantly before his breath caught and his eyes widened in horror, "Wait, you think I'm old?"

"Aren't you a few centuries old?" Kagome laughed tiredly as she nuzzled his spine, "That makes you older than me, doesn't it?"

"I mean...I mean really I'm your age just half-demon years," Inuyasha argued weakly before sighing and trying to push his fears that this would be the thing that convinced her to leave to the farthest darkest corner of his mind. She wouldn't leave him over something that stupid especially given that she was the one who brought it up. Kagom didn't care about that so getting worked up over it was stupid. That knowledge didn't do a thing to stop his heart from racing though.

"Worst case, I'm like... twenty in human years."

"Well if you are twenty that still makes you older than me," Kagome pointed out as she began her routine and pressed her back into his chest, "Good news is I always had a thing for older guys."

"You've been with other guys?" Inuyasha breathed while the thought of Kagome being with literally anyone else sent his heart plummeting. Which seemed pretty hypocritical given the whole Kikyo situation but that didn't change how he felt about it.

"Oh yeah totally what I meant," the miko snickered sarcastically before a particularly drawn out yawn escaped her, "But no, I...I never even went on a date before you."

Inuyasha scowled at her teasing and also at the fact she was so damn tired yet refusing to sleep. Watch her dumb ass get sick all over again because she would.

With that in mind, he rolled away and maneuvered her so he was the one doing the spooning.

"It was a fair question. Now sleep," Inuyasha sighed heavily as she leaned back into him. There were many things he'd come to expect from sleeping next to Kagome every night. The manner in which the miko cuddled was like clockwork. She'd coo happily when his knees cradled hers and flex her legs to move them where she wanted. The fingers of their free hands would intertwine and she'd hold them against her chest. There would be a few leans into him while she got settled and after the third or fourth time, she'd be out like a light. Without fail Inuyasha had found if he matched her breathing and focused on her steady heartbeat, he'd drift off shortly thereafter. The only downside was he'd gone from an extremely light sleeper who startled if an owl so much as hooted to one who wouldn't notice if a bomb went off in the distance. Bigger things, like demons or approaching footsteps, still woke him up but instead of being instantly alert, he'd wake up groggy. Normally, he'd be concerned about this new state of being but he couldn't find it in himself to care. Every moment he got with her was a gift and he wasn't going to let a few quirks get in the way of the privilege of holding her as she slept. Especially here in her time where no one was waiting in the shadows to kill them.

"Can I ask you something?" Kagome asked suddenly and Inuyasha let out an exasperated sounding sigh. What was with her tonight?

"You need to sleep. It can wait," Inuyasha chided - his arm gently trying to force her to snuggle further into him only to freeze when fear crept into her scent. Not just any fear either. He'd only gotten a whiff of it once and that's been more than enough. Right when they first met and she was running for her life with the jewel. When she thought he was going to kill her.

"But I...oh never mind," she mumbled tiredly as her fingers intertwined with his and she began her final lean, "Was a stupid thought anyway."

When Kagome's heart beat slowed and her breathing evened out, Inuyasha smiled softly and nuzzled the side of her neck with the lightest of pressure.

"You're such an idiot," Inuyasha laughed tiredly as he began to drift off himself, "Thinkin' your thoughts are stupid..."

Chapter Text

"Ye make a very pretty girl Inuyasha," Kaede teased as she cradled the small infant in her arms and ran a wrinkled finger down the little newborn's cheek. They had left the hut for a moment to allow Kagome some rest and had since came to rest beneath the mighty boughs of the Sacred Tree. Unfortunately, the birth of babe had been quite strenuous and the poor young mother needed some time to recover in silence. Inuyasha, of course, took his wife's exhaustion as a dangerous sign but with some very firm reassurance, he'd calmed somewhat. It helped that the elderly miko was very interested in having some time alone with her young niece although she understood that the very protective and, at times, paranoid father refused to let the child out of his sight for one moment. Still, the fact that he trusted his sister by choice to hold the baby only proved to further the truth that the blood of the covenant was thicker than the water of the womb.

"Can't even tell who she looks like much less if she's pretty," Inuyasha snorted softly as his amber eyes drank in the sight of his first and so far only child. Not that one was bad or nothing but he definitely had plans to build an army if Kagome let him. They'd discussed it at length and an agreement was reached. Three was the maximum number of kids Kagome would allow them to have. Period. More than once over the past few months he often joked with his wife, given how enormous she'd gotten, that somehow she'd found a way to have triplets just to hit her quota early. Kagome had not been amused but he amused himself so...

Life was such a strange animal. Who would've thought that he, out of all people, would be married and a father? Not just at this point in their lives but just in general. He - the foul mouthed, rude, obnoxious, at times murderous asshole - had become a family man.

And to his horror, he found himself loving every second of it.

"Her youkai is surprisingly strong," Kaede commented off-handedly, "And her reiki as well."

"Well she'll be able to defend herself then, won't she?" the half-demon sighed thoughtfully before his soft smile fell and anxious played behind his eyes, "Do you think…"

The elderly miko made a face and glanced up at him with concern in her eyes.

"That its really all over," he asked worriedly, "Its been a couple years now and there haven't been any rumors. No one's heard nothing. Maybe...maybe I messed up…"

"The child will be safe Inuyasha. There is no need for ye to be concerned," Kaede soothed affectionately before humming, "But if ye must worry, be ye concerned about the young boys in the village. Ye made a very pretty…."


Inuyasha's free arm shot out blindly - ready to defend if necessary - as the jarring sound continued until it finally clicked in his mind what exactly that abrasive sound was and that where he'd been moments earlier had only been in his mind. Wincing as the sound somehow became louder, Inuyasha's arm returned to wrap firmly around his woman's stomach as he buried his face into her hair.

"What the fuck? Why..." Inuyasha whined as Kagome's alarm continued blaring right before the sun rose over the horizon and the woman in his arms stirred, "Turn that shit off..."

This rude awakening was especially irksome because he'd been having a good nice dream that didn't involve death or replays of trauma for once. Or at least he didn't think it did. With an exasperated sigh, the more he tried to remember the finer details, the more the images disappeared like water in a sieve. What he could remember seemed strange. Unnatural or rather, supernatural. Feeling and knowing emotions and thoughts, both his own and of others, while being completely he was watching from across the way...

Maybe that was the future and he was being given a snapshot? That'd be nice. Unlikely but nice. More likely it was just a weird dream. A weird, very vivid, very realistic dream.

"I've got to get up. I need to study," the miko sighed wearily while trying and failing to wiggle out of his arms. The half-demon wasn't having it - although he let her move just enough to turn off the incessant ringing. There were very few things he enjoyed about this time period but being able to cuddle in an unnaturally comfortable bed was always the highlight of their visits. That and he was still bone tired.

"The sun isn't even out yet," the half-demon argued as he demonstrated his flexibility and wrapped one of his legs around her waist, "And we got back so late. Why'd you even set it? What's wrong with you?"

"You can keep sleeping," Kagome pointed out, "Nothing is stopping you from..."

Wrinkling his nose, Inuyasha stood his ground and held her tighter still, "But you're so loud and when you're studying, you're going to smell upset. You know I can't sleep through that."

"Then go to the guest room and sleep there," Kagome offered as she pushed against his arms. Inuyasha groaned.

"It won't smell like you. Why don't you study there and I'll sleep here?

"Just take the 'good' pillow that smells like me," Kagome argued and Inuyasha blushed as she so blatantly called out what made the good pillow 'good'. Sometimes he could swear that woman could read his mind. That was indeed what made that pillow the preferable one - it was the one she typically favored and even though she hadn't used it in several weeks, she also didn't wash that pillow often so her scent still clung heavily to it. The other one smelled like the synthetic fibers on the ground and, honestly, a bit like dust and mold from non-use. Nonetheless, using the nice-smelling pillow wasn't the same as being in a room saturated with her scent and so he pouted heavily.

"Why can't we both just be in here?"

"Because you're precious, you snore and therefore you are distracting." Kagome teased good-naturedly and Inuyasha released her like it burned.

"Excuse you? I don't snore! How would I have survived so long if I..."

"You don't normally but here you do," Kagome sighed as she sat up and stretched her arms over her head, "Probably because of the pollution."

Inuyasha considered this as he stubbornly burrowed under the blankets - fully intending to stay there as long as possible.

"Is it loud?"

"Don't worry about it" the miko yawned before glancing over her shoulder to give him a reassuring smile, "I kinda like it actually. Your chest rumbles and it feels nice on..."

"You didn't answer my question," he insisted - one clawed hand pulling the blanket up to his chin, "Is it loud? Do I sound like Sango?"

Choking on a laugh, Kagome absolutely loved how the slayer was his point of comparison. While Sango was feminine , her snores were just as powerful as her battle tactics. The only frame of comparison the miko herself could use to describe the sound was that of a delivery truck who needed some engine work done. The weirdest part, though, was how Miroku obviously thought it was the most adorable sound he'd ever heard while the rest of them tried to ignore it and took measures to stay far away. Inuyasha swore up and down that the slayer hadn't made that 'god awful' sound the first go around and visibly cringed when the hellish noise began but not Miroku who for some unfathomable reason clearly thought it was the cutest thing he'd ever heard. The first time it'd happened, for it was a relatively recent development, the monk had visibly melted and given the slayer's sleeping form an adoring smile.

The rest of them were horrified. Love really was blind and deaf.

"No. It's soft actually. Barely noticeable," Kagome comforted as she leaned over to kiss his temple and Inuyasha hummed happily at the token of affection.

"How about this?" the miko offered as she pulled back, "I'll give you one more hour..."

Inuyasha gave her a withering glare to indicate that word meant nothing to him so she amended, "I'll give you until I'm done eating breakfast and getting ready which will include taking a shower. And then you have to get up and let me study."

Chewing the inside of his cheek, Inuyasha mulled over this proposal before sighing and snuggling under the covers.

"Take your time," he mumbled as he closed his eyes and adjusted himself into a comfortable position, "Go slowly."

"Is that…"

Miroku nodded faintly as his heart plummeted to the depths of his stomach and his blood turned to ice in his veins. For a demon that was not very formidable, it carried on its person what appeared to be the remaining jewel fragments. There might be one or two more that they were missing but this was not a good sign by any stretch of the imagination.

"Well, Kagome will be gone a week at least. We've got time," Sango offered as Miroku continued staring at the pink crescent in his palm with something akin to despair, "Let's continue to my village. I'll need to make sure my weapons are ready if the battle is soon."

Letting out a shuddering breath, Miroku swallowed thickly and raised his violet eyes. Just when things appeared to be moving in the right direction, his time was being cut short and she was nowhere near loving him. Naraku, should he still exist, would be coming for them. Sango could die tomorrow or, for that matter today.

Suddenly, he understood why Inuyasha acted so desperate and terrified all the time. It could be over at any moment. Especially now that the jewel was near completion. In just a few days, hellfire could be raining down on their heads. This second chance, this reprieve from death, could be over before...

"Miroku? Are you alright?" the slayer asked quietly. Startled slightly, the monk tried to keep from spiraling further and even managed to give a good-natured nod. Offered Sango a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. After a moment, however, he cleared his throat and began walking – tucking the chunk of pink stone safely over his heart.

"We're not far from your village," Miroku began in a forced mechanical tone, "Once your weapon is fixed we'll…"

"Stop," Sango ordered and Miroku had to bite his lip to keep from screaming. Things were finally going well. After months and months of going nowhere, Sango was finally giving him a chance just in time for her not to be given one. Truth be told, he had not asked for much out of life. Before he'd met her, Miroku always assumed he would die young and never thought about the future. Everything he did was about enjoying creature comforts and vices. Temporary happiness to sate himself and distract from his inevitable demise. It wasn't until Sango came into his life that he allowed himself to hope for more. To dream about a little house and a calm stable life. Maybe Inuyasha was on the right track by avoiding such thoughts if he could help it. For whatever reason, this unwanted discovery had panic and despair permeating every fiber of his being. If this feeling was what Inuyasha lived with on a day-to-day basis, the monk deeply regretted chastising him for it.

"Look at me," the slayer ordered and it was only then that Miroku realized Sango was standing before him. Blinking a few times, he strangely found it difficult to make eye contact as his mind raced and the air became impossibly thin.

"I said look at me," Sango laughed sadly before both hands came up to cup his face. Thumb caressing his cheek, the slayer lifted his face and gave him what she hoped was a reassuring smile.

"It's going to be okay. This could be a good thing. You don't need to worry about it."

Closing his eyes, Miroku allowed himself a moment to lean into her touch before clearing his throat and removing his face from her reach. This version of Sango couldn't possibly understand the fear of losing someone she cared about. Not with any context to know the feeling herself. While it was sweet that she was trying to offer him comfort, her words felt hollow. Not that he was upset with her for trying. Quite the opposite in fact. The knowledge that Sango had never known such crushing loss was worth everything. At least, this time, should the worst come to pass…she would never have been subjected to such pain.

"Let's keep going," he insisted a little hoarsely, "The sooner we arrive at your village the better."

As Miroku began marching ahead, Sango watched him go with a worried, mournful look. For all his talk about how Inuyasha was not processing his emotions, the monk was probably just as bad, if not worse. Not once had she ever seen him even attempt to process what happened to him. Not once. Just like everything he did, apparently, he believed staying calm and 'letting go' of world troubles was the best way of dealing with them. Ignore the bad feelings and they'll go away, however, was a plan of action that had never worked for any being quite possibly ever. In fact, it typically led to more problems than it solved. In her lifetime, she'd seen a few men who were in traumatic battles who hid their anguish over it quite well until they simply couldn't anymore. One of them mentally snapped and during a particularly difficult battle ended up turning on his battalion. After he was subdued, with difficulty, he simply refused to calm down and, in fact, was never calm again. Sango was sure that, even as they stood here, that once valiant warrior was still ranting and raving in his very secure position as the village crazy person. The other...the other eventually took his own life. No one would have suspected a thing up until the moment everything came to a head but they'd all suffered when the tragic consequences came to light.

Finding the last remaining pieces of the jewel shards certainly seemed like a catalyst for insanity. One could only keep emotions like that inside for so long before you started to lose your mind. At some point, you had to confront those types of things or else...

"Miroku wait, we need to talk about this," Sango insisted as she caught up to him and blocked his path. Strangely, the monk seemed both annoyed and amused by this action.

"If you want my attention, you've gained it," the monk laughed - the sound forced and harsh, "But there is little to discuss. The jewel appears to be very close to completion. We need to make haste."

"No. We need to talk," the slayer insisted as she narrowed her eyes and took a large step when he tried to move around her, "You're driving yourself crazy. I can see it in your eyes."

"Then look elsewhere," Miroku huffed in exasperation, "Let me pass. We must continue."

Bouncing one leg, Sango set her jaw as she tried to find the words to sensitive express her concerns before she shook her head and came out with it.

"You haven't dealt with what happened," she accused, "You talk about Inuyasha not facing what happened but you haven't either."

Miroku scowled at the insinuation.

"You have made no effort to know me so how would you know my inner most thoughts?" he spat acidly, "Let me pass."

"And go where? My village?" Sango chuckled darkly, "I'm going there too and unless you want to go it alone, you won't be able to escape me. We need to talk about this."

Inhaling deeply, Miroku straightened up and belatedly Sango realized how much taller than her he actually was when she had to tilt her face up to look at him.

"There is no point focusing on the past. It only takes my strength from today. We must continue."

"Yes and you're doing a wonderful job acting normally after finding the last shards of the jewel," Sango chided. Miroku set his jaw and glared.

"We need to focus our attentions and efforts in anticipation of the upcoming battle," the monk opined scathingly, "A battle which..."

"Might not even happen," the slayer interrupted as she gestured towards the treeline, "You and Inuyasha are paranoid! This Naraku fellow hasn't shown any interest in the jewel. I've only seen him one time! He might be dead and you're acting like its inevitable that..."

"Naraku is a cunning, manipulative opponent who is happy to let others do the work for him," Miroku snapped angrily - his voice growing in volume with every word, "I would not doubt if this discovery was by design. In one battle, with a demon who was suspiciously weak, we have now all that is needed to complete the jewel! This is no coincidence. We must be prepared. We cannot..."

"And we will be prepared," Sango tried to diffuse the situation as she held up her hands in surrender, "We will be. That's why we're going to my village. But you're letting your emotions get the better of you. You're not acting like yourself."

"How would you know?" Miroku hissed as he pushed the slayer out of his way and stormed ahead. As Sango watched him go, she realized part of where his anxiety lay came from the recent development in their relationship. He saw himself on the precipice of getting what he wanted and now, in less than a day, that hope has been stripped away from him.

But all was not lost simply because they'd found that particular chunk. It was entirely possible that there were still jewel shards to be found. That Naraku would be involved too was speculation at best.

In his current state of mind, she had no doubt that he was going down a dark path that would only lead to ruin.


"Give him some space Sango," Shippo sighed wearily as he jumped atop her shoulder and shook his head, "Maybe he needs some time to process this."

"I don't think he'll put in that effort," the slayer murmured worriedly, "But maybe...maybe there's still some time to..."

Slowing the rhythmic swaying of the poor captive feline's paws, weary amber eyes glanced up at the matron of the Higurashi family as she milled about the kitchen. Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't hurt to go ahead and get things in motion. Lock his woman down so there'd be no escaping him. That dream gave him a glimpse of what his life could be and even if that was just a dream, it was a very pretty picture. A picture he wanted. Besides, it wasn't like Kagome would say no although she'd probably want to wait until she finished school. And who knows? Maybe he'd be a very, very lucky half-demon and Kagome would say to hell with school and they could get married now and...

Shaking his head, Inuyasha turned his focus back towards something that made him happy rather than continuing to focus on things that only made him anxious. Kagome would undoubtedly feel the shift in his aura and get distracted. Also how often was it that he got to play with a cat? One day he was going to have a cat of his own and no one could tell him he couldn't. Not that Kagome would tell him no seeing as how she owned this fat feline but owning a cat was a condition he'd definitely have if one day they did get married.

"You're so sweet. Yes you are," Inuyasha cooed happily as he wiggled his prisoner's paws in the air, "You love me and I love you."

For all the love being forcibly showered upon him, Buyo most certainly did not love Inuyasha in that moment. Or any moment honestly. Everyone else left the poor chonk alone but not the half-demon. Oh no. His arrival meant an inevitable session of being subjected to cruel and strangely oppressive love that even a dog would grow tired of. Growls didn't do anything to deter the treatment - in fact, it seemed to amuse him and earned many cooes about being 'so mad' like it wasn't abundantly clear. There even were moments when he attempted to bite this evil creature but alas...

The creature often bestowed upon him offerings of treats his normal humans declared to be adverse to his health. In the end, a decision was made long ago to endure this torture knowing there was a reward for compliance.

"Good kitty kitty," Inuyasha hummed happily before dipping down to kiss the cat's forehead, "You're a good kitty. Yes you are."

Despite knowing eventually this abuser would give him strips of sweet lunch meat when no one was looking, Buyo could take no more and meowed for salvation. Thankfully, the main human woman came through the door at that exact moment.

"Inuyasha, will you be a dear and help me in the kitchen?" Mama Higuarashi asked sweetly and Buyo saw his opportunity to escape. And escape he did - scrambling away like a bat out of hell as his half-demon tormentor sighed and got to his feet.

"Yeah," Inuyasha offered - following the matriarch into the kitchen and glancing around the spotless room. How anyone kept something so pristine was beyond him and he found himself shuffling his feet - subtly now - across the rug to make sure he didn't inadvertently leave footprints. For a while now, he'd been trying to pluck up the courage to ask permission. Just to have it in his pocket. Just in case. While fairly confident Kagome's mother would indeed give her blessing, a part of him was terrified to even broach the subject. Not because he thought the woman would say no. He was fairly confident she'd let him marry Kagome. It was just...up until very, very recently - as in today - he couldn't quite admit to himself that it was an option. The very idea seemed like an unobtainable prize being dangled out of reach so he'd been doing what he considered the closest thing in the hopes that it'd stave away the longing by giving him tastes of what the real thing might be like.

But then last night had been so perfect. This morning had been so perfect. That dream had been so perfect.

And he realized that there was no real point in delaying things longer than he already had.

Inuyasha knew exactly what he wanted or, more specifically, when he wanted it. Strangely, despite the general panic that consumed his every moment, the second it clicked in his mind a calm washed over him. A sense of right. His little world aligned, his way forward made clear as glass and shockingly he wasn't afraid to take that leap.

At any rate, what he'd realized is that he wanted, more than anything, some real definition to their relationship and there was only one thing that would reflect the depth of his feelings for her. Well, okay, there was more than one but if the monk threw the term 'soulmate' out there one more time Inuyasha was seriously going to puke. That word rubbed him the exact wrong way. It implied that the only reason he loved Kagome was because of her soul. Which was problematic seeing as he'd loved Kikyo way back when and it was the same soul. There wasn't any predestination involved in this and if there was, he refused to acknowledge it. The very idea that he had no control over who he loved made his skin crawl. He loved Kagome because she was Kagome. It wasn't fate or anything. It just was.

In any case, he wasn't afraid of what the future might hold anymore. For months now he'd wanted more definition but he didn't want to jinx anything. He'd been scared and for whatever reason, he wasn't anymore. Something snapped into place in his mind and now the urgency to get that bitch locked down threatened to consume him. Why the sudden change he honestly couldn't say but he'd never felt so confident about something in his life. Sure, he knew it was possible things might go sideways but that wasn't what he should be focusing on. No matter what happened Naraku couldn't break their bond. No matter what happened their love couldn't be stolen. No one could say that it wasn't real.

So, long story short, Kagome needed to be his wife. She needed to be his wife now. After she died...

Wait, if she died...


Worst case scenario, should that happen, he'd still have a title that marked him as hers. A definition that would adequately label the depth of his grief and let people know who she was to him. He'd be a widower not some sad poor pathetic guy who couldn't move on from a girl he once knew. It'd be different than last time. Less regret at a minimum. There's be something more than miko and friend to carve on her tombstone.

Adding 'wife' would let the world know how deeply she'd been loved.

In all honesty, the inability to define his relationship had been part of his hang up about Kikyo way back in the day. Him and Kikyo hadn't exactly been a couple. There was no definition to what they were. Not really. Arguably she could've been classified as his fiancé but it was never acknowledged aloud. Honestly, Inuyasha suspected that they were technically nothing when she died. She wanted him to be human before making any real commitments, which was fine by him since being human meant he wouldn't outlive her by centuries and thus never be alone again, but because of marked lack of definition the entire relationship felt fragile and confusing even when things were good. Shameful even. It was clear his feelings ran much deeper than hers ever did but in her defense, she had loved him as much as she'd been able. Point being he loved her and after she died, he always caught shit for that because she was just some girl. Part of what rubbed him the wrong way was how everyone, friends and Kagome included, acted like he should've been able to bounce back. Like it was just some fling. No one cared they'd almost gotten hitched. They'd literally been a few hours away from having a wedding when everything went to hell but, oh no, he was just grieving some random dead girl he'd loved once instead of...

Basically it just went to show how properly labeling a relationship was crucial. For that matter being proper and shit mattered. With Kagome, he'd been doing all sorts of inappropriate things honestly and he could see how people might get the wrong idea. As it was, some of the villagers back home had started giving him some major side-eye. Social norms dictated that his extremely physical way of being affectionate was obscene and questionable at best. None of them would say it to his face and they all assumed he didn't hear but the rumor mill had been spreading that a brat out of wedlock was incoming if you caught his drift. Some defended Kagome and speculated they'd been married in secret but others labeled her as a mistress.

Mother had been a mistress.

She'd admitted as much herself but always made a point to say that they loved each other very much and that his father would've chosen them if he could. It was just that his father had already been married and couldn't get out of it for political reasons whatever that meant. Always sounded fishy and like bullshit but there was nothing a toddler could say about it and the man himself was dead so whether what Mother said was true could never be questioned. But he'd seen, heard and experienced how people treated a woman with that title. Knew part of the treatment he'd received had nothing to do with his blood status and everything to do about how he'd been conceived. Part of why he never argued when Sesshomaru called him a bastard - at least not really. It was true. He was a bastard child by definition but that didn't mean the word didn't sting.

Anyway, maybe now was the right time given they were three or four jewel shards away from completing the jewel. If only to make sure no one thought less of the miko for that reason. That and for months now, he'd been wanting to call Kagome something that didn't have the word 'friend' in it. They were way more than friends and the current title Kagome had bestowed upon him honestly felt like an insult. Being husband and wife was much more appropriate. Perfect and even if it wasn't, it was a hell of a lot better than what they were.

"Can you boil some water for me while I get dinner started?" Mama asked sweetly officially shaking the half-demon free from his inner monologue and he nodded.

But didn't immediately do as she asked. Glancing over his shoulder to make sure they weren't interrupted, Inuyasha figured now was as good a time as any while the idea was fresh on his mind. Swallowing convulsively his mind scrambled to figure out the best way to argue his case.

"B-before I do that," he began awkwardly, "I-I wanna ask you s-something important. A-about Kagome. A-and me."

Mama smiled knowingly and set down the knife she'd picked up. While Inuyasha knew that it wasn't a menacing action, the presence of a sharp instrument didn't instill confidence.

"I'm listening," Mama hummed. Exhaling slowly, Inuyasha found his tongue quite tied and instead of actually saying anything, he quickly rushed over to the kettle and began filling it. The soft laugh he received made him feel lower than dirt and the sound of chopping made it clear his strangeness wasn't being questioned.

"Kagome is a lucky girl," Mama offered suddenly as Inuyasha skittishly moved the kettle onto the stove, "My husband never even tried to ask my parents to marry me. Convinced me to elope. Said it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission."

Flinching, Inuyasha fiddled with the burner before giving up on figuring out the damn thing and turning to face the one person who could break him in that moment.

"I..." he cleared his throat, "H-how'd you know?"

"Mothers just know these things," Mama hummed with a wide nod, "That and what else could you have wanted to ask me?"

Inuyasha smiled faintly at the warm tone of her voice. Maybe this wouldn't be as bad as he'd feared it could be. She was obviously going to say yes, right?

"Just wanted to do it right," Inuyasha sighed shakily, "M-my sister said humans..."

Screaming internally at his faux pas, Inuyasha cleared his throat and amended, "That men asked for the family's blessing a lot of the time before registering with the headman."

Mama blinked in surprise making his heart sink. He didn't want to give her a reason to say no but pointing out he wasn't quite human seemed a sure fire way to get that result. Little did he know it was the absent minded mention of a sister that threw the matriarch for a loop rather than the reminder he had demon blood. The latter was fairly obvious after all.

"I didn't know you had a sister," Mama admitted with a soft laugh and Inuyasha choked as he realized with no lack of shock what he'd said. Sure, when it was just the two of them that's what he called Kaede anymore but he'd never said it when other people could hear. Frazzled or not, he needed to be more careful what he said before he dug himself a hole.

"Not by blood or nothing," Inuyasha managed evasively, " know a, um, sisterly figure."

How could he explain that he'd almost been married before and as a result, he ended up calling his dead fiancé's sister his sister? Explaining the whole Kikyo fiasco would make him look like an asshole who might turn on Kagome at the drop of a hat and also bring attention to all the bad things he'd done in the past. The last thing he wanted was for Kagome's mother to believe he was only after the jewel.

"Most men ask for permission. Even in this time," Mama brought the conversation back as she casually continued mincing an onion, "But I'm surprised you asked me instead of Grandfather."

Blushing faintly, Inuyasha belatedly realized that's probably what he should've done but, for various reasons, he associated women as the head of household rather than the men. Was it because he'd been raised by a single mother and women were the only authority figures he'd ever respected? Maybe. More likely, though, he was because, subconsciously, he thought Mama would give her approval while the old man was a wild card. Mama was clearly the safer option and his internal risk analysis dictated that he ask her for permission instead.

"You just seem more in charge," he mumbled awkwardly before clearing his throat and endeavoring to poorly plead his case, "I know I don't have much. Or...or anything actually. But I love her. And I can provide for her. Build her a house and make sure food is on the table. A-and I can p-protect her..."

The way his voice wavered and the slightly green color he'd turned at the last part didn't go unnoticed.

"I don't doubt you love her and can provide," Mama replied vaguely as she moved the onion to the side and grabbed a cucumber, "And I know you'll protect her this time."

And just like that his heart sank into his stomach and his throat grew tight.

"T-this time?"

"It slipped out one day," Mama continued sadly as she watched him sag in defeat, "You were acting oddly and she tried to explain why you were. I made an admittedly insensitive joke about you were acting like she may die at any moment and she said she believed you were afraid of that happening. Again."

The air seemed to grow impossibly thin.


"Kagome also told me she's considering dropping out of school. I'm guessing you two have talked about that," the matriarch tried to change the subject away from the memory that obviously killed him inside- her hand steady as she created paper thin cucumber slices for the salad. Inuyasha's heart dropped further still.

"No we never...why w-would she do that? She's worked..."

"She came up with some excuse but I know exactly what she wanted," Mama laughed softly before setting aside the cucumber and moving towards the lettuce, "When you know where your future lies, you want that future to begin as soon as possible. Especially knowing that life is short."

Ears ringing from stress, Inuyasha nodded faintly instead of arguing. In that moment, for the first time in over a century, he desperately wished his mother was here. She'd always known what to say. How to calm him and in one of the most important conversations of his life, he craved motherly reassurance. Needed it to get him through this.

"I...I'll die before I let her get hurt again" he tried miserably before closing his eyes and letting out a shuddering breath, "I will."

Mama glanced up at him with nothing but sympathy as his whole being trembled.

"The only reason I'm hesitant to say yes is out of concern for you," Mama spoke quietly, "Whatever happened clearly traumatized you. Was she your wife then?"

A whimper escaped against his will as he slowly shook his head.

"Doesn't m-matter. I w-won't let that happen again," Inuyasha managed barely above a whisper while the urge to pass out had static fogging his mind.

"I know you would never let something like that happen if you could prevent it," Mama soothed before letting out a soft sigh and setting down her knife, "But I'm going to tell you what Grandfather told me when my husband died. Don't..."

Mama swallowed and shook her head.

"No amount of guilt can change the past. You must keep moving forward," Mama offered, "It happened and it was awful but you aren't perfect. No one expected you to be."

Letting out a shaky sigh, Inuyasha bit his lip as he fought back the urge to explain how he'd failed Kagome. A part of him wanted condemnation rather than forgiveness. She couldn't understand how much he was to blame. What happened...

"Kagome's father died because I asked him to run out in the rain to get ice," Mama continued, "The electricity had gone out because of the storm. I was afraid the food in the fridge would go bad. The rain was so heavy the car couldn't stop. It slid into him full force..."

Exhaling slowly through her mouth, she paused for a moment.

"For years, I blamed myself for making him go out," Mama concluded shakily, "If I hadn't, he'd still be here. You'd be asking him instead of me."

Eyes softening and breathing evening out, the half-demon didn't know what to say. Maybe she did understand more than he was giving her credit for. He could see why she'd blamed herself but it wasn't like she could've known that would happen. Blaming herself for something so out of her control...

A sharp but soft inhale passed over the half-demon lips as a missing puzzle piece fell into place in his mind.

Just...just like he couldn't've known. In fact Naraku counted on it. He wanted to take them by surprise so he could take advantage of their shock. The entire attack was calculated to make sure he'd win. Naraku knew...

Eyes widening, a giant weight lifted off his chest and the sudden urge to cry in relief almost overwhelmed him as realization and understanding hit him with the force of a double decker bus.

Kagome's death hadn't been his fault.

Naraku knew going for Kagome immediately and eliminating her would guarantee his victory because the seemingly emotionless bastard knew what love was. Knew how to manipulate people. How to break people. Naraku hadn't given them any time to defend themselves on purpose and their battle tactics were predictable by that point. There'd be a moment when Inuyasha would set her down to draw his sword and brace himself for an attack. There always was.

Kagome's death hadn't been his fault.

The fact he couldn't fight once he lost her was the reaction Naraku expected. The bastard knew that was how he'd react. Knew Tessaiga was fueled by the desire to protect the people he loved. And Naraku knew how much Inuyasha had loved his miko. How much he loved his friends. Eliminating the motivation and drive ensured victory...

It wasn't his fault. None of it. And given this realization, he could avoid playing into Naraku's hand this time. There was a distinct possibility things could be different.

Kagome's death hadn't been his fault.

A tear slid down his cheek and his legs threatened to give out as the guilt and fear-induced tension he always carried seeped out of his muscles.

"Now I'm going to give you permission to marry my daughter," Mama offered softly before moving across the kitchen and reaching up to firmly hold his chin in her hand, "But on a condition. If you lose her again, you will come here and you will let me take care of you. You will listen when I say not blame yourself and you will agree with me. Do you understand?"

Choking back a sob, Inuyasha nodded jerkily before a soft whine passed over his lips.

"Come here," Mama offered as she drew him into a tight hug which he surprisingly returned. As he shook in her embrace, Mama gently stroked his hair in a soothing pattern, "You're alright sweetheart. You're alright."

And in response, he held her tighter.

To an outside observer and even to the man who agreed to it, Mama condition seemed a strange one. Spoken in a straight forward, calm even tone, you would have thought the idea of her daughter dying would bring her to tears and it had when she'd first learned of it. She didn't need to know how or when it occurred or why her daughter was still seemingly alive. In all honesty, given the quest and the feudal era itself, she'd accepted the risk of an untimely death as par for the course. Mama hoped it wouldn't occur, naturally, but just like anyone who sends their child to war, you know it's a possibility they won't come home.

All of that being said, should the worst come to pass and Inuyasha was left behind, he'd be the latest Higurashi in a long line of Higurashis who had their spouse taken from them far too young. In that car accident, Kagome's father died in his late twenties. Kagome's grandmother died in childbirth when she was barely twenty three. If memory served, a great-grandfather perished in war and so on and so forth. It was unfortunate but it was part of life. Sometimes things just simply weren't fair.

And Mama knew all too well when you're faced with the unimaginable, you need someone else to take over for a moment. Grandfather had taken over the children, the cooking, the cleaning. Everything. She could barely move, barely breathe, couldn't eat, wouldn't shower. Without Grandfather, every aspect of her life would've fallen to pieces. She would've fallen to pieces and never recovered. Guilt and grief would've consumed her. It was years before she could truly smile again. Before she could get through the day without finding herself sobbing in the bathroom.

Grandfather had once told her that his own mother in law had done the same for him as he was doing for her. That it had made all the difference in the world. Losing someone you love so deeply was the worst feeling in the world and no amount of words could adequately describe that pain. The shock.

And Inuyasha was a proud man who would try to put on a brave face and brush it off until his mind splintered. Mama had a sneaking suspicion that there was more to the story. That a long stretch of time lapsed after Kagome died the first time during which time he'd suffered alone. That would explain his behavior. His almost tangible anxiety. How he clung to her daughter like he was afraid she'd disappear if he left her alone even for a moment. Perhaps he'd wished on the jewel to set things right but it didn't matter.

Whether Kagome died tomorrow, a year from now or ten years from now, Inuyasha deserved to be cared after when he couldn't take care of himself. Someone who wouldn't blame him and offer him sympathy and understanding. Who would make sure he ate and bathed and didn't get trapped in his own mind. And if children were in the picture when the worst came to pass, if he arrived broken and defeated with a baby in his arms, Mama would look after her grandbabies too. Just as grandfather had done for her and a mother had done for him, she would care for Inuyasha.

Chapter Text

Sesshomaru did an excellent job hiding his fear and the depression that still hit him on occasion. Not that he was anywhere nearly as skilled as he had been in the past. One hundred years had made him forget himself. Forget who he once had been. No longer was he the fearsome Lord of the West, although he still protected his domain when called upon to do so….

With one notable and blaring exception.

Logically, he should be looking for Naraku. Be more proactive in discovering the half-breed's whereabouts. After all, the repeated indications of Naraku's incarnation's continued existence made it clear that particular adversary was still very much alive and plotting. Even more troublesome was it seemed highly likely that Naraku was aware, at least to a degree, of what transpired. Of the events that sealed his victory. Rumors had reached him from various sources which indicated as much. Typically dead sources which were intentionally set on his path. There was no doubt in the daiyoukai's mind that these random messengers – men and women who spoke far too loudly whenever he was in their proximity although they never spoke to him directly – could only have been sent by Kagura. The question became why she felt the need to do such a thing. It was relatively clear what the warnings were meant to convey although the warnings themselves seemed to be rather direct and poorly written transcripts from the world's worst theater. Aside from the cringeworthy dialogue, the message conveyed was always blatantly clear. Avoid the mountains. Avoid seeking jewel shards. Stay beneath Naraku's notice. Each warning similar to the last and yet each week a new pair with the same message would arrive. They began arriving shortly after he instructed Jakken to refuse a meeting with her. At the time, it seemed much too high a risk but a confrontation with Naraku appeared to be imminent given the constant attention Kagura was showering upon him. That being said, Kagura always did have a rebellious streak and when she died, she had seemed rather fond of him.

Perhaps she was simply trying to help. That was a distinct possibility. Looking back, there had been that incident in the mountains shortly before his unnatural return. The wind took guard at the entrance to his cave - preventing the cold and ice from intruding upon his life in squalor. For a moment, in the midst of the insanity that plagued his every moment then, he had been so certain it was her but more likely, he had simply been grasping at straws. A sign that someone still existed, in some form or another, who cared what happened to him.

A fool's hope.

What transpired during the greater part of a century had been a lonely existence he had brought upon himself. The first ten years or so he killed any man or demon who came near him. Well, almost any. Inuyasha had sought him out numerous times. Just as lost. Just as detached from reality. A pale imitation of the cocky half-breed he once had been. Weak, frail but still able to defend himself as was demonstrated the dozen or so times where Sesshomaru attempted to kill him for daring to intrude.

Inuyasha had understood the pain the was slowly ripping his older brother apart. It could very well have been that the half-breed wanted to help him but more likely, Inuyasha's desire to stay by his side came from his deep seeded fear of abandonment. Of being alone. The year or so that his brother had been with the miko had brought with it a greater understanding. Of why the sword had been bequeathed to Inuyasha rather than himself. For the first time, Sesshomaru saw Inuyasha for who he really was and while he didn't particular like what he saw, he understood his brother a little better. His feelings for the half-breed shifted from hateful murderous intent to something more akin to indifference and, at times, even a minimal amount of respect. There was also a strange trust he had in the young man. If Rin had needed protecting and there were other things that the daiyoukai must address, Sesshomaru had known that Inuyasha would have accepted the task and taken it seriously. No harm would have come to her regardless of Inuyasha feelings towards his brother. Not if the half-breed could prevent it.

When the daiyoukai learned that Inuyasha had been killed by a worthless human hunting party, that had been the first time in years the daiyoukai had a clear mind and acted with purposeful intent Those who killed the youngest son of InuNoTaisho were executed for their crime. Mercilessly. In a few cases, slowly and painfully over several days. The last being on this earth, aside from himself, who knew of Rin's goodness was stolen from this world. For a moment, just a moment, there had been a twinge of regret for not keeping Inuyasha closer but if he had, Inuyasha undoubtedly would have died by his hand instead. Not that the massacre had been motivated by anything even remotely reeking of brotherly love or affection. It was only after the boy was dead that the realization concerning Rin had hit him and after that…

After that, the next thirty years or so were a blur. Trying to remember what occurred during that period of time was pointless. All he knew was that the next time he was aware of himself, it was a new world. A different world. One ruled over by the man who had stolen everything from him.

And he was left without the will to continue living much less avenge his daughter. He allowed himself to succumb to madness and depression. He, the Great Lord Sesshomaru, had been weak.

"Lord Sesshomaru, are you sad?" a little voice who was supposed to be sleeping suddenly asked – her tiny hand reaching up to press against his stomach while her small fragile body lay atop his mokomoko. Letting out a soft single laugh, the daiyoukai shook his head while Jakken looked like he was about to have yet another stroke. The poor Kappa was absolutely beside himself with his Lord's change in behavior. With his lack of interest in what was considered his "normal" activities and absolutely no mention of the sword that had been his obsession these past two hundred years or so. Still, Jakken had sworn devotion and that had not wavered. Nothing, short of death, would ever force him to leave his Lord's side.

"Why do you ask such a question?" Sesshomaru asked evasively as his claws gently stroked through the little girl's mousy brown locks.

"My Lord was making a face," Rin hummed tiredly before doing his best imitation of it making the daiyoukai swallow the laugh that desperately wanted to break free. Her brown eyes were wide, her head sucked into her neck making a little double chin, and her nostrils flared. To be sure, it was an inaccurate portrayal of whatever face he had been making, if any, but it was such a strange look on the small child that it actually took surprising effort not to react in a way that would make her feel ashamed or embarrassed. For decades, he'd promised himself he would bestow upon her only the love and affection she deserved were they ever reunited. That he would make sure she knew just how much she meant to him and laughing at her or getting offended would undoubtedly make her doubt the depth of his…

"RIN! Lord Sesshomaru most certainly did not make such a…"

In regards to Jakken, however, the daiyoukai had made no such promises. The only reason he hadn't abandoned the kappa was due to the fact that he would never betray him or anything he cared about. That and for some unfathomable reason, Rin was fond of the urchin.

"Quiet. Or I shall kill you," the daiyoukai ordered firmly and the kappa scowled but muttered an apology. Barely keeping his normally emotionless exterior together, the daiyoukai looked down at the somewhat worried child and offered her what was meant to be a smile but instead his face looked like absolutely nothing had changed.

"Sleep Rin," he ordered while stroking her hair in what he prayed was a soothing fashion. Awkwardly, it seemed everything he tried to do that seemed paternal or affectionate felt forced. Like he wasn't doing it correctly or even worse, completely wrong. Rin never seemed to mind his lack of ease, however. She truly loved and accepted him as he was. In all his life, Sesshomaru had never had anyone who he knew loved him unconditionally such as Rin clearly did. His own mother made it very clear from the time he was born he was unwanted. Her servants raised him out of obligation. He was trained by demons with no blood relation. His father always seemed to be away and had very little to do with him until he was older. It honestly wouldn't shock him if there were other sibling out there he didn't know about or perhaps his father had simply been careful to hide his transgressions. Not too careful, however. Inuyasha clearly existed. And yet all of the Great Dog Demon's vassals thought he walked on water. That because his eldest son didn't worship the ground his father stood upon that he was an ungrateful child.

And perhaps he was but that didn't excuse how his father always made it clear he'd rather be anywhere his first born son was not. In retrospect, the Great Dog Demon was running from a life he did not want and chasing after something better. Freedom perhaps. A life free from obligations. Like the political marriage to his mother. The only favor the Great Dog Demon ever did his son was keeping his union intact. Leaving formally would ultimately make his only legitimate son lose any rights he had to the Western Lands. Perhaps in a way his father had loved him. Enough to put his own pursuit of happiness on hold and accept second best. Sesshomaru had no doubt if he was able to replace his first wife without consequence and replace her with the human woman who birthed Inuyasha his father would have done so. Instead, he simply died for her. Loved her. Even bestowed his most powerful weapon to the bastard child of that union.

'Have you someone to protect?'

Sesshomaru scowled – just enough to alter his emotionless mask – and once again Rin stirred. What a pathetic and tone deaf thing to say. To an outside observer, it would appear that it was a statement made out of wisdom. Fatherly advice. Honestly, though, coming from a man who was never at home and who willingly left his own family to pursue making another the old man found more appealing, it came across like an insult. A slap in the face. The times they had met, once Sesshomaru was old enough, were few and far between. Even then their discussions were primarily regarding the safety of the Western lands and never about his own personal life. Perhaps it was out of regret the question was posed. A hope that his son had made better choices and a desire to hear that Sesshomaru had someone he loved waiting for him somewhere.

It also served as a warning in a way – though Sesshomaru imagined it was not meant as such. Love could be a weakness. His father died for his mistress. Spent his life searching for meaning. For his "someone to protect." It was for exactly that reason Sesshomaru had refused to take an arranged marriage when offered one. He had no interest in becoming his father. No interest in being trapped in a situation he'd consented to.

Ultimately, however, he had become his father. He'd been given the gift of a child and had taken the situation for granted. While Rin loved him and knew – hopefully- that on some level her father loved her, she'd been subjected to the same distant, disinterested parenting he'd suffered through. With any luck this second chance would give him the opportunity to change it but honestly, he had no idea how to parent in an acceptable manner. No idea whatsoever. The last go around, he'd made it a point to always be there when she needed him. Gave her the confidence he never received that she would never be left to sink or swim. The affection part, however, was lacking. Severely.

But he was trying now. For her sake.

It was also for her sake that Sesshomaru was considering abandoning the Western Lands entirely and heading to the continent. Especially in light of the poorly executed warnings. Nothing was worth losing Rin a second time. Nothing. Besides, the title of being Lord of the Western Lands had little meaning and came without any benefits. His mother's estate, which one day in the far distant future he would receive, could burn to the ground for all he cared. Due to her selfishness and general indifference towards her son, his entire adult life had been one without luxury and therefore, he had learned to not need such things as glittering palaces. The surviving spouse took all the spoils and benefits until they too passed from this world. Something about maintaining their standard of living. Aside from the fact that it had always been emphasized that the ruler of the Eastern Lands had ideas of world domination, there was no real reason to stay. However, if that was the case, Naraku must have defeated the Eastern Lord as well or else, the rumors were without a basis in reality. What the Panther Demons wanted they could have. In terms of…

"My Lord is upset," Rin murmured as she tried to sit up – her little fist rubbing her eyes as her lips formed a tiny pout, "Does my Lord need a hug?"

Somewhat startled by the request but grateful for the distraction nonetheless, a true smile graced the daiyoukai's face – the reaction causing some discomfort as muscles that had never been used were forced to comply – and he nodded once while Jakken choked. The hug was awkward – as they normally were much to his displeasure – but Rin made up for the skill he lacked. His arm might be stiff and unmoving but the little girl's arms squeezed his neck for all it was worth before pulling back and giving him a soft kiss on his cheek.

"Did Rin help?" she asked nervously before gasping softly when the realization that what she had done might be inappropriate hit her . Had her suddenly reek of fear – but when the daiyoukai nodded, she relaxed. Foolish child. Like there was anything she could do that would displease him.

Yes, leaving would definitely be in this precious creature's best interest. He would wait, however. For the time being. After all, Naraku did seem to be biding his time and aside from Kagura's strange interest in his well-being, there had been no sign of...

Sesshomaru blinked once as his eyes momentarily widened in dawning realization. Could it be that all of this Kagura's doing? Even more far fetched, had this all been for his benefit? She clearly remembered what occurred and was taking an avid interest in ensuring his survival. Her motivation was fathomable. Kagura had always seemed to think highly of him. She smiled and was at peace simply because he arrived as she sat in that field dying. Perhaps she had loved him. Enough to change the fate's design just to save him from himself...

The Great Lord Sesshomaru was…unsure how to feel about such a possibility.

There was some level of affection he reciprocated to be sure but if Kagura was hoping for a relationship of any kind, she was going to be sorely disappointed. Although she had no control over who created her or what scent she carried, the fact remained that she was born of Naraku. The beast that had destroyed his life. His sanityEverything.

Shaking his head to break that troublesome thought free, Sesshomaru knew the idea that Kagura was behind everything simply didn't hold water. She had become the wind and while he, in his madness, believed she was watching over him, that didn't make it so. The strange weather events could arguably just have been an hallucination born of the insanity that plagued him. Even if it was true that she watched over him, how would the wind have been able to make a wish? More than that, if Kagura was the one behind everything, why were the warnings concerning Naraku necessary? Why not just eliminate him? It made no sense. More likely than not, she was like him. Knowing what occurred and not understanding how she came to be in this alternative timeline. But then, if that was the case and she had no part to play, why the avid interest in his well...

With a small sound of disapproval, Rin suddenly hugged him tighter still shocking the daiyoukai from his troubling thoughts.

"Rin will hug my Lord until he is no longer upset," she hummed as she momentarily increased her grip, "It must be very bad. Rin will make it better."

Wrapping his arm around the small child, in a much more natural way this time, Sesshomaru allowed her to do just that.

Over the years Miroku had trained in the art of meditation. As a result of hard work and much dedication, he'd become a master at blocking out the world around him in favor of finding inner peace and tranquility. However, regardless of his impressive skills, at this moment he was physically unable to block out the cacophony of wet, open mouthed mastication.

"Is there any particular reason you're so interested in what I'm doing?" Miroku asked wearily as he dipped his quill into the ink pot and grabbed a fresh sheet of paper.

"I've never really seen someone make sutras before," Kohaku replied through a mouthful of apple – the subsequent smacks making the poor monk wince, "Just find it interesting."

"It is a practiced art that requires the preparer to be focused," Miroku sighed before adding pointedly as he expertly drug the quill across the small rectangular parchment, "Silence is preferred so as to allow the brush strokes to remain smooth and uninterrupted by…."

"Yeah I can see that. I mean you wouldn't want someone to scare you," the young boy commented thoughtfully as the subtle suggestion went right over his head, "The ink would get everywhere and it'd be ruined."

Eye twitching, Miroku dipped his quill in the ink again and cricked his stiff neck.

"That is why silence is preferred."

Nodding wisely, Kohaku took another bite of the apple before sniffing. Loudly. While Miroku was happy that the young man was a perfectly normal eleven, almost twelve year old who was innocent and happy and seemingly very sweet natured, Kohaku was also a perfectly normal eleven, almost twelve year old and with that came certain social immaturity. Like not understanding when someone should be left alone and not having the awareness to realize when someone was trying to brush you off. While that opinion might be rather generic and overly broad, that assessment most certainly applied to Kohaku.

For a moment, just a moment, Miroku wished that the stoic growth stunted obedient child was who he was accustomed to dealing with was present at the moment but as soon as that thought crossed his mind, the monk's stomach churned and he wanted to burn it from his mind. What a terrible thing to do wish for...

"Do you wish to learn more about sutras?" Miroku asked as a manner of trying to assuage his guilty conscience and Kohaku nodded excitedly before glancing around at the dozen or so different stacks. Smiling faintly, Miroku once again dipped his quill before explaining the basic science behind his current task.

"Sutras themselves have no inherent power," the monk began to explain as he finished an elegant flourish, "The writing written upon them is activated by using spiritual power. Each sutra requires a different…"

"How do you know what to draw?" Kohaku interrupted curiously as he wiped his juice covered hand on his clothes and reached out to grab the nearest pile with very sticky fingers.

"Please do not touch those," Miroku gasped in mild horror before cringing at the harshness in his voice so he amended evasively, "They are still drying. You will smudge the ink."

"Sorry, sorry," Kohaku apologized sheepishly as he once again tried to wipe the stickiness off hand using his shirt, "So…so what does this pile do then?"

Miroku's eye twitched and as the boy continued smacking on his apple, a sudden rush of heat entered the hut. Glancing at the doorway, he noticed a few sunbeams were bursting through and attributed the sudden rise in temperature to the light he saw. It seemed rather stale in here at any rate. No real air flow. Rather muggy. Which was strange seeing how high up into the mountains the demon slayer's village was located. It should be dry...

Shaking his head, Miroku turned his attention back to Kohaku's question and ignored the strange sensation.

"Those are offensive sutras," the monk sighed miserably as he set aside the parchment he finished and grabbed a clean sheet, "They can be used to attack. Purification, paralysis, sealing and that type of thing."

Kohaku nodded in understanding before straightening up to better see the sutra being drawn out.

"What about the one you're working on now?"

Pulling once at his collar to try and cool himself down, Miroku cleared his throat and dipped his quill.

"This is a defensive sutra. It will create a barrier if two or more of its kind are thrown into the air," Miroku explained - a little hoarsely which he found odd, "But the barrier produced can only withstand one physical assault. It is imperative, when used, that…"

"Oh, like a shield," Kohaku concluded thoughtful and the monk nodded while dying a little inside. Every time he tried to explain the poor boy interrupted or changed the subject. More than anything, Miroku wanted to kick the boy out so he could work in peace but alas, he could not, would not raise his voice at Sango's little brother. Oh, the things he did for love that wasn't reciprocated.

Biting his lip, Miroku pulled at his collar again as another sudden influx of heat surged into the hut.

"It'd be nice if they lasted more than once though," Kohaku hummed thoughtfully - his eyes still focused on the sutras rather than the man who seemed to be fading fast, "Is that why you've made so many? How will you carry them all?"

Cricking his neck to mask his annoyed wince, Miroku cleared his throat and sighed.

"I have various pockets within my robes. I can carry much more than it appears I am capable," Miroku explained as he continued absently pulling on the collar of his robes, "I will simply need to remove other items I carry with me."

Kohaku gave the monk a curious yet skeptical once over, "How many pockets do you have in there?"

"Enough," Miroku countered before setting down his quill and looking around at the various piles, "It is better to be overprepared than under."

"Why so many though?" Kohaku asked curiously, "I mean, it just seems like a lot to make all at once."

Eye twitching at the redundant question, Miroku wouldn't argue with the boy's assessment. After hours of writing, his right hand was miserably sore and stiff. Throbbing even in time with his heartbeat. It seemed to be getting worse now that his mind was focused upon it and with a resigned sigh, the quill was deposited into the inkwell.

"It is better to be prepared. I am taking the opportunity to attend to this task I have neglected," Miroku explained while absently massaging his hand and glancing around the various piles, "While Sango is busy repairing her weapons, I thought it would be…"

"Sango's not repairing anything. She's been cooking all afternoon," Kohaku snickered, "Told me to hang out with you and leave her alone. She said she'd get you later."

Furrowing his brow in confusion, the monk opened his mouth to inquire more about Sango's intentions before his vision blurred for reasons unknown. Perhaps he'd been sitting in one position far too long. And this heat. It made him feel like he was being suffocated. With each passing second, the hut felt as if it was growing smaller and the air impossibly thin. Now that he was no longer abusing his writing hand, it was screaming in protest to his efforts and punishing him dearly for it.

"You said Sango has been cooking?" the monk managed absently and Kohaku shrugged - oblivious to his guest's inner turmoil.

Another strange rush of heat overwhelmed the monk's system as a high pitched ringing blared to life in his ears. It was getting difficult to keep his eyes open and his sore hand cramped painfully. Some unknown force pressing down against his chest making his normally loose clothing feel constricting. Tugging on the collar of his robes with his left hand in an attempt to lessen the pressure, Miroku closed his eyes and tried to remember how to breathe. Everything had been fine a few seconds ago. Kohaku seemed unaffected. Perhaps it was a sudden onset of illness. Could it be the higher altitude was affecting him?

"Is it hot in here to you?" Miroku rasped and for the first time, Kohaku seemed to realize something was wrong. Distantly, the monk heard him asking whether he was alright but for the life of him, he couldn't find the words to respond to that question. After all, it was obvious he wasn't well. The question was why...

"Why don't I get Sango..."

Shaking his head in protest to the idea, somehow the remaining air vanished as the fear that Sango would arrive intending on cornering him and forcing him into a conversation he desperately wanted to avoid made his already swimming head somehow murkier. Love her he may but this was not the woman he knew. For starters, it was clear he annoyed her. That he disgusted her. That she didn't understand him and couldn't even if she tried. Any conversation they might have would be pointless. There was no way she...even though...even though they'd made some progress, the fact real interest in... wouldn't even begin to know how to comfort...whatever she had told say would...would...

Kohaku's eyes widened in alarm as faint red marks began appearing around the areas the monk was currently clawing. Dark purple bruises were forming on fingers of the man's right hand and wrist. It looked like he was having trouble breathing as well and shaking like that couldn't be good.

Something was wrong here. Something was very, very wrong.

"Listen I'm going to go get Sango. You're obviously sick and..." the boy tried nervously but Miroku violently shook his head. Panting slightly as his face turned a sickly shade of green, the monk continued tugging at his clothing. Sango would be upset with him for becoming ill. Would tell him...

Squeezing the sides of his neck, the monk gasped for breath - entirely apathetic towards what Kohaku might think. If the boy wanted to judge him , after all the asinine and bloodthirsty things Miroku had seen him do that were outside of his control, that...that...

Maybe this reaction was something as simple as needing some fresh air. As needing less restrictive clothing weighing him down. Something to occupy his mind and increase the blood flow.

"Is there…" Miroku tried miserably as his mind filled with static, "Is there a training facility here? A place to…"

"Yeah, yeah there is," the young man offered desperately and the sounds of the boy getting to his feet hit the monk's ringing ears, "But...but I don't know if exercise is a good idea. I think you need to take it easy."

With a faint shake of his head, Miroku unsteadily tried to get to his feet before immediately crumpling to the ground.

It was a very pleasant day. The weather was fair and mild. Lingering traces of snow were melting away and the cold front that had been plaguing the area had mercifully dissipated. With all that considered, the elderly miko had decided to rummage for herbs – should any have survived – and was having a quite relaxing time.

She should've known this wasn't meant to be.

"Where's the registry kept?" Inuyasha barked from directly behind her and the shock of his sudden proximity nearly had the poor woman dying of a heart attack. Dropping her basket, Kaede clutched one hand to her chest as she glanced up at her brother with wide, confused eyes.

"What do ye mean?"

Setting his jaw, Inuyasha glanced down at the herbs that were just unceremoniously displaced before kneeling down to collect them himself. Throwing handful by handful back into the small basket, he was oblivious to the elderly woman watching him intently. Eyes bloodshot. Nose running. Face blotchy and pale. It looked as though he had been crying recently. What on earth…

"Are ye alrigh…"

"The reg-is-try," Inuyasha enunciated slowly as he gave her a irritated glare and thrust the basket into her lap, "Reg-is …"

"I am well aware of what the registry is, little brother," Kaede sighed as she got to her feet in a very elderly fashion and turned to face him, "It seems as though I was not clear. Why do ye need…"

"I need to look at it. Make sure I'm on it" Inuyasha huffed , "I'm going to…"

Kaede laughed once effectively interrupting his explanation.

"Of course, ye are not in the registry. Ye do not reside here and ye are unrelated to any family."

Setting his jaw, Inuyasha gave the old woman an appraising look before shifting his weight and mumbling something she couldn't make out.

"Speak up lest ye be a half…"

"Can you add me under your family then?" Inuyasha asked through gritted teeth, "So I am in the registry. One of us has gotta be."

"I don't under..."

"I need to be in the reg-is-try. That's what you said," the half-demon hissed as he began counting points off with his fingers, "Gotta get the family's consent. Gotta change your status in the registry."

Gasping softly, a puzzle piece fell into the old miko's mind. As the initial surprise faded, Kaede's lips twitched upwards at that terrible misunderstanding but was touched that he trusted her to speak for him nonetheless. What she had said, which he obviously misinterpreted, was that families were required to formally give their consent to the unions – if there were families to be had – but normally the only formality was changing their status on the familial registration sheets. Somehow something had gotten crossed and Inuyasha presumed that the consent must be given to the headman or else...

That and he assumed he was on the registry which in hindsight was a task she probably should've taken the very first time he'd begun asking such things.

"Ye wish to marry young Kagome," Kaede breathed knowingly and Inuyasha scoffed like it was obvious because, to be fair, it was. In a way.

"Her mom consented so I've got that. I just…"

Putting the breaks on his explanation, Inuyasha cleared his throat and amended, "Doesn't matter. Will you do it or not?"

"I will speak with the headman about adding ye to my family's records," Kaede offered with a warm hum, "Ye are my brother after all."

Inuyasha smiled and opened his mouth to thank her before a terrible, no good, very bad thought crossed his mind. It had never occurred to him that it might be impossible to add him to the registry at all. Whether his heritage would prevent him from…

Trying to keep himself under control, he took a long calming breath.

"So it won't be a problem. No one's gunna stop you from adding me?"

Kaede paused and gave him a strange look that quickly turned into one of understanding, "Ye are concerned whether the headman will allow ye to register and remain in the village. Because of what ye are."

"Or, ya know, marry a miko. Or anything honestly. I destroyed this shithole. Caused problems," he added awkwardly - running a hand harshly over his face, "Fuck I didn't even think about..."

"Ye have nothing to be concerned over," Kaede soothed and Inuyasha gave her a look that screamed uncertainty.

"Easy for you to say. You haven''ve done nothing to anybody here that'd piss them off," he argued as he began pacing , "I burned everything to the ground. Not on purpose, obviously, but I still did it. And sure, they like Kagome now but..."

"To be honest, there are rumors that young Kagome may be with child and that ye are doing her a dishonor by not marrying formally," Kaede laughed softly - her eyes following his anxious movements, "That is the only complaint against ye that I've heard."

Pausing mid-step, the half-demon sent her a withering glare.

"I've heard that one," Inuyasha huffed before continuing his pacing and adding with a blush, "For the record, we haven't done anything like that. Sure, I mean, I've been…I've been doing things I shouldn't but…"

"Be calm. I meant ye no offense," Kaede reassured him, "This is wonderful news. Will young Kagome wish for a ceremony or would she…"

Wincing, Inuyasha stopped dead and wrapped his arms tightly across his chest.

"I haven't asked her. I want to make sure that I can do it right," Inuyasha interrupted miserably, "That...that everything is in place. I can't mess this up or have it undone over a technicality or some bullshit and you told me that...that I needed the family's consent and I had to register with the..."

Kaede's lips twitched upwards as he continued repeating the 'requirements' that had already been said. His nervousness was precious but it appeared he was focusing on the wrong things. Like asking the bride to be.

"How are ye intending on asking Kagome for her hand?" Kaede interrupted and Inuyasha groaned miserably.

"I..I don't know. Just...just ask her if she wants to get married," he replied miserably as he looked at her in a silent plea for assistance and Kaede felt her heart swell with affection. And sadness.

"That's wrong, isn't it?" he pressed anxiously - his ears immediately flattening against his head - but Kaede shook her head and gave him a reassuring smile.

"I am confident whatever ye say will be fine Inuyasha," the miko began affectionately before making a small thoughtful sound, "But given how Kagome is from a different time, perhaps something more is required, hm? Something unique."

Nodding in agreement, Inuyasha averted his eyes for a moment before huffing in frustration, "Like what? Flowers?"

Setting his jaw, Inuyasha shook his head and continued naming off things he could do before dismissing the ideas just as quickly.

Again deeply honored that he would trust her so fully to make sure everything went as he hoped, Kaede once again felt a slight mourning for how she was deprived of such a brother almost her entire life. To have someone willing to open up to her. Who genuinely wanted her opinion and valued what she had to say. Sister Kikyo truly had done him a disservice. Not once during the courtship had her sister mentioned they were a couple much less engaged. They were... close. That much was clear to anyone with eyes but Kikyo had never suggested there was anything even remotely romantic about their relationship. But there must have been in retrospect. When Inuyasha had first been reborn, his explanation concerning intending to be her big brother had been shocking to say the least and judging by what she had seen of his love for Kagome, he had a very soft, loving heart. One that had endured far too much pain for one lifetime. Although it would not be a popular opinion, he deserved far better than her sister could have ever provided. Kikyo was cold and distant even when she did love. Very controlled and controlling. She had her virtues, yes, but she would not have made him happy. Not in the way he needed. He gave and sacrificed everything of himself for those he...

Kaede wrinkled her brow as something that very well might work for this occasion popped into her mind.

"I have an idea. Come with me."

Chapter Text

The trees were silhouettes against a newly pinkish sky, its blue hue almost gone until dawn. The first sound of the nocturnal animals arrived, a hoot of an owl, creatures skittering across dry leaves.

A single crimson clad man walked through the rice paddies with one hand clutched tightly against his chest while muttering to himself.

Watching Inuyasha nervously head towards the well with the tiny trinket in hand, Kaede's heart warmed when he paused right before the tree line and glanced over his shoulder for reassurance. Goodness he was such a sweet boy underneath all the cursing and anger and marked lack of social skills. While the elderly miko knew he had cause to bury his soft heart deep, deep down after a lifetime of hardship, she truly hoped she would get to see it come forth more often. Most of the afternoon had been spent with him trying out his proposals on his sister and taking her criticisms surprisingly well. By the mid-afternoon, he had four or five possible options but at a certain point, however, one must realize they cannot achieve perfection. With that in mind, Inuyasha reluctantly admitted that he'd be away from Kagome's world long enough.

"Never would I have imagined the mighty Inuyasha would look nervous in my presence," the headman chuckled as he came to stand beside the old woman who seemed rather startled by his sudden appearance, "To get me to behave as a child, my parents would tell me spooky stories about the evil demon who killed the village miko and destroyed the village. Told me he woke up from his slumber to eat naughty children. I used to be terrified of him."

"Ye speak too loudly," Kaede chided with a heavy sigh - giving the newcomer a side eyed glare, "To learn his image was used to scare children would hurt him deeply."

"Truths like that cannot be helped and I'm fairly certain he already knows. Probably hears everything the villagers say," the headman replied - though his tone was much quieter, "I imagine that is why he has decided to make Lady Kagome his wife now rather than wait for their quest to end."

"Ye speak of the rumor," the old miko laughed softly and the headman nodded as he watched the sky turn a gorgeous crimson.

"In any case, my wife has already begun organizing a sewing circle to prepare the Lady Kagome a proper wardrobe," he spoke evasively with a bemused sigh, "Not just for wedding clothes either. I've been told that a full wardrobe is necessary and that I am to fund the endeavor."

Kaede gave the middle-aged man a strange side-eyed glance. Yasaburo had never been much of a talker. He spoke only when necessary and had won his title as headman with kindness, generosity and genuine interest in everyone's well being. His leadership style too was rather hands off and behind the scenes. Preferring to delegate rather than take the reigns. For example, his respect and trust in the village miko was clear by his habitual deferral to her experience in the areas of defense and medicine. All in all, his leadership worked nicely for a village of a dozen or so families. Maybe less. Given his usual silent approach, which had been demonstrated earlier when he simply nodded at their request and handed the record over to Inuyasha so he could write his own name under her family's line, it was curious that he'd sought her out to chat about Inuyasha's proposal in the first place. Very curious indeed considering upon hearing that Inuyasha intended to propose the man had not asked a single question about it. That being said, the headman was a rather shy man so perhaps he simply felt more comfortable discussing this turn of events with the only other authority figure in the village. An authority figure who was older than him by many, many years.

"Ye are exaggerating surely," the old miko chided then and the headman sighed.

"I wish I were but adding a miko and a half-demon guardian to the village comes with many benefits that justify such a cost," he offered before adding with an amused hum, "So my wife has pointed out."

Kaede imagined his wife pointed out a great many things about the upcoming union seeing as Hisa talked enough to make up for her husband's legendary silence. Silence that seemed to be going by the wayside for this discussion. How curious.

"Young Kagome is a miko by trade," Kaede reminded him gently, "More likely she will wear priestess robes..."

"Ah yes for Lady Kagome wears them now," the headman snickered before shaking his head, "Word does travel fast though. My sons are already asking about the raising. I imagine the eldest will harass Inuyasha for details soon enough."

"Word traveled fast courtesy of ye's mouth," Kaede pointed out and the headman scoffed in mock offense.

"Inuyasha came to see me, with you in tow, and he seemed skittish as a cat," the headman replied defensively, "Everyone saw this coming and knew what that meant. When I arrived for dinner, plans were already in the works."

The headman paused before suddenly laughing once and glancing at the old woman.

"Speaking of word traveling fast, tell me honestly. Is Lady Kagome with child?"

"No. No she is not," Kaede dispelled the rumor once and for all with a not so subtle roll of the eyes, "So ye may tell the wife that she does not need to prepare infant clothes as well."

"That will disappoint her. Hisa was very excited by the challenge of making a infant head covering that accommodated those ears," the man laughed good-naturedly.

"Inuyasha has not even asked young Kagome whether she would marry him. I imagine Hisa will be disappointed for quite some time."

Yasaburo gave the elderly miko a long side-eyed look and arched a dark brow in silent challenge, "Do you think there is even a remote chance Lady Kagome will refuse him? In any way?"

"Aye ye have a point," Kaede hummed before turning to return to her hut, "But ye need to tell everyone to hold off of the preparations. Those two still have the quest to complete after all."

"That task falls to you I'm afraid. You know no one listens to me," the headman chuckled softly before he nodded to the retreating old miko, "You have a good evening Lady Kaede."

Sango's guilt didn't come from what she had said to him. It arose from her blatant disregard for the life threatening curse the monk had carried with him every single day of his life. A curse that was actively killing him. A curse that Naraku was now manipulating to accelerate his already imminent demise. Well that made the first thought ring false, didn't it? Her guilt also came from her words. Her actions. Even from the fact that she didn't love him.

She told him he was being paranoid...

When she first saw his unmoving body, the world seemed to stop in that place and time. Everything grew dim and the ground felt like it was spinning from under her. The only thing she could see was him. All sound was muffled like she'd been trapped under water - distant, quiet, muted. But one voice rang clear in her mind. An echo of an agony laced conversation she knew came from a place and time she would hopefully never know.

'...don't be afraid. I'm here. I'm right here. I won't leave you...'

The unwanted glimpse was followed shortly by the urge to scream. As she watched his unmoving body, she could almost hear her very soul calling out to his. Hurting because he was suffering. Stranger still, for the briefest moment, she could've sworn she felt his soul crying out for hers as well. A tendril probing and praying for her proximity before vanishing entirely.

She told him he was being paranoid...

And since then, she couldn't find the will to leave his side. Her heart and soul simply wouldn't allow it. Could it be she was, in fact, intended for him? Her father had often said the same souls were reborn time and time again. Always seeking to be reunited in every cycle. Sometimes as a mother and son. Sometimes as friendships that transcended lifetimes. As enemies. As lovers. Each intertwined soul meeting over and over to leave an impact on another, even if just for a moment. A stamp on a heart.

Perhaps she really was born for him and he was born for her. If so, that was a cruel fate indeed. Not because she was opposed to the idea but more because it seemed like he deserved someone better. Someone who didn't treat him like he was 'less than an ant' or like he was 'nothing.' Honestly, up until very recently, she'd told herself she was a good person. A fair person. A sweet person. Someone who treated everyone with kindness. But then she'd realized how terrible a person she actually was. She was cruel to Miroku. She'd corrected him by force. After all, self-hatred was the best vehicle for making people comply because it made them hungry for approval. Started with physical beat downs, next using words and now here they were.

She told him he was being paranoid...

Like there was no tangible evidence of Naraku's continued existence. Of their enemies intention of killing every last one of them. It never even occurred to her that Miroku, more so than the rest of them, was in danger. Sango wouldn't blame him if he hated her now. Kohaku had said Miroku had refused her assistance in his hour of need. Probably because the monk assumed there was no point. Miroku simply didn't trust that she would rise to the occasion because he'd been right. She didn't know him and she certainly made it seemed like she wasn't particularly invested in what his fate might be.

Closing her eyes, Sango absently played with the sleeve of her kimono while her heart sank to the bottom of her stomach.

She told him he was being paranoid...

He was actively dying and she told him he was just being paranoid...

How tone deaf. How cruel. In many ways, Sango wished her worst crime was occasionally beating him. It would've been better than what she'd done.

Gently pushing Miroku's sweat laden bangs away from his face, Sango sniffled lightly at the sound of his labored breathing. At the faint whistling emanating from his palm. At the dark black spider-like markings tracing every vein on his right arm and creeping slowly towards his heart. At the deep purplish green bruises left in their wake.

Earlier that day, out of desperation, she'd sent men to fetch Mushin. Sent Shippo to fetch their friends. Neither would come in time to make a difference. With each passing moment, Miroku was fading. His skin more waxen and grey. Breathing slower and more labored. His dangerously high fever mounting ever...

"I DID IT!" Kohaku bellowed proudly as he slid into the hut and held several pieces of rectangular parchment into the air, "I MADE IT WORK!"

Blinked rapidly, a single tear slid down Sango's face as she gaped at her brother in outrage. It was far easier, in that moment, to focus her anger on someone else rather than her own wrongdoing. Anger was also easier to swallow than complicated emotions like grief or guilt.

"What are you even doing here?! Can't you see I'm busy? I don't care about...about," Sango let out a shaky raged filled breath as she gestured at the items in his hand, "Whatever that is. Go!"

Rolling his eyes, Kohaku ignored her command with a smirk and began fanning himself with the pieces of parchment. Maybe he was being cocky but the boy knew he couldn't show even the slightest inkling of doubt. Sango was too far gone, too depressed to think rationally and actually hear him out. He had been small when their mother died but he remembered very distinctly that Sango didn't take the news well. Part of why she'd been trained as a slayer was because their father wanted Sango to focus her rage in a more constructive manner. It worked and she'd eventually calmed back down into the sweet sister she'd once been but that didn't mean her brother didn't remember the three or so months where he'd been terrified of her. Given that knowledge, Kohaku knew he needed to act with at least some childlike innocence so if Sango did lose control, she wouldn't beat him senseless. Hopefully, he could even get her to laugh but that seemed a doubtful outcome.

Sango historically went a little crazy when she was grieving.

"I'm so glad you asked what I made work sister," the little boy laughed nervously before clearing his throat and adding in a much more confident tone, "Turns out anyone can get these stupid papers to activate if they focus long enough."

Kohaku's eyes flicked to his sisters hands which were slowly clenching into a tight fist but he kept his confident smile in place even as his heart beat out of his chest.

"I don't care about papers. What about leave did you not..."

"Do you even know what these particular papers do?" Kohaku continued cockily as he began strutting up to his sister and her patient, "Shall I demonstrate?"

Knuckles turning white, Sango's rage held all the power of a wildfire and Kohaku could practically see the flames roaring in her eyes. Still, he was undeterred. He didn't spend the greater part of the afternoon studying his butt off in the records archives for nothing and even his hot tempered sister wasn't going to ruin all the hard work he'd done. Especially because he'd done it for her.

That being said, he was seriously regretting not bringing a weapon along. If looks alone could kill, he'd already be a dead man.

"Leave. Now."

Kohaku set his jaw in annoyance but with a soft sigh, he immediately perked up and tried to stay positive. Putting his best smile on, Kohaku figured he might as well keep the humor up. Sango would be less likely to slug him if he was smiling, right? She might even calm down a little bit however unlikely that seemed.

"According to the text I just read, this sutra, if I drew it correctly, is designed to be a counter curse," Kohaku announced in a showman style voice as he knelt down and placed it onto Miroku's heavily abused forearm making Sango nearly vibrate in anger, "Specifically, its purpose is to prevent a curse from spreading. Pick a curse. Any curse and it should counter it. Thus the name."

"Don't touch him! Can't you see it hurts? What are you..."

"Oh but that won't solve all the problems you say? Never fear," the boy increased his volume to his speech to better talk over his sister and another sutra was added down on the victim's arm earning a involuntary flinch of pain, "This one purifies miasma. The healer said his injuries looked like damage from miasma so if it is, this should fix it."

That flinch was the breaking point of Sango's patience. At that moment, she became blinded by a five-course serving of rage that tasted bitter, yet surprisingly satisfying. One second she was sitting and the next she was in a lunge position ready to tackle her brother with an excessive level of force. Seeing her aggressive movements, Kohaku cringed, furiously rubbed his palms together and, right before his sister could reach him, Kohaku thrust both hands down onto the sutras...

Which shockingly flared to life.

Hand outstretched and eyebrows arching for the sky, Sango's brain stuttered for a moment while her eyes took in the blue light she never expected. It takes a second or two for thoughts to come, for belief to strive, even though the truth was happening right before her eyes. This shouldn't be possible. Spiritual powers were hereditary, weren't they? You were either born with them or you weren't. Never had she heard of someone able to just will powers into existence. That was like saying you could convince your body to take flight without wings or youkai. It just wasn't possible. It just wasn't and yet there he was, doing the impossible right before her eyes.

"See?" Kohaku chuckled awkwardly in a an apologetically playful tone, "Any idiot can make a sutra work."

Still shaking from the effort of keeping whatever powers he'd discovered from flickering, the young man gave the comatose monk an apologetic smile, "No offense."

Eyes widening in shock, Sango watched with morbid fascination as the black markings began to recede before her eyes flickered towards the clearly struggling Kohaku.

"What...when did you..."

"I need absolute silence," Kohaku ordered half-playfully, half deadly serious before he added for Sango's benefit, "The monk told me he needed silence to do his work. I'm going to trust him on that."

Nodding slowly, Sango nearly wilted in relief as the pain induced tension in Miroku's body visibly melted away. The more grotesque symptoms of the curse receding with ever increasing speed leaving raw purplish green bruises in their wake.

"This is impos..."

Snapping her mouth shut at his responsive side-eyed glare, Sango swallowed and elected not to question this miracle any longer.

"No point using the word 'impossible' to describe something that is clearly happening," Kohaku breathed shakily while sweat condensed on his brow, "Besides I'd never heard that it was impossible for people to do thisI think it just has to do with training..."

Sango shook her head and doubted her brother's sanity. And intelligence. A truly sweet child Kohaku might be but he wasn't exactly the brightest candle in the bunch. Saying spiritual power came from training was like saying pigs could fly if they tried hard enough.

"It...I don't think it works like that...I think you're either born with powers or you're..."

Kohaku gave her another side-eyed glare and scoffed while his arms trembled from the effort of keeping up...whatever he was accomplishing.

"Well when he wakes up we'll ask him," Kohaku scoffed hoarsely as he set his jaw and with a sneer, he gave his sister a classic brotherly glare, "Bet I'm right."

Kagome massaged her throbbing temples as she glanced at another flash card. After hours of looking at formulas, the words and symbols were blurring together. Her calculus teacher, claiming she needed to catch up and that illness was no excuse, was planning on giving her, no one else, an exam to end all exams. Supposedly, it would take the place of literally every other test she'd missed. Kagome felt like she should've known something was weird when he kept telling her not to worry about the tests. He'd seemed kind and understanding but really it was because he planned on zinging her in the end.

Rat bastard.

Shaking her head miserably, Kagome pressed her forehead onto the card praying that maybe she could absorb the information by osmosis but her mind had been elsewhere for hours now. When Inuyasha popped his head in earlier to tell her he was going to visit Kaede, she'd known something was wrong. Aside from his aura fluttering, his face had seen better days. Blotchy and red. Eyes bloodshot. Nose running. He'd obviously been crying but then he'd been smiling and seemed actually more calm than he'd had in a long while. She hadn't been concerned after that.

But that had been shortly before lunch and the sun was dipping below the horizon. Maybe she needed to go make sure he was alright or maybe there was a reason he was taking so long. It could be he'd lost track of time and couldn't risk...

As soon as that thought crossed her mind, sapphire eyes widened in horror and she whipped her head towards the calendar she'd specifically bought because it had the phases of the moon on it before letting out a sigh of relief. Three more days. They had three days before the new moon. Thank goodness. She'd never forgive herself if she forgot to be there for him on that night.

Still, maybe she needed to check on him...

Right before Kagome gave up entirely on studying, she felt the aura of her biggest distraction blip in the direction of the well and shortly thereafter, there Inuyasha was prying her window open and crawling inside.

"You're still studying?" he asked in disbelief - walking over and peeking over his shoulder at the weird symbols and haphazardly stacked cards scattered all over. Given the stress and fear radiating off the poor miko, he imagined her efforts weren't exactly being rewarded. Sighing, Inuyasha dipped down to press a kiss against her cheek before crouching down next to her.

"You should take a break," he suggested wisely, "You're gunna hurt yourself thinking that much."

Kagome sent him a side-long glare over her shoulder.

"What? Its true," he clipped defensively before sniffing a few times to see whether there might be a good excuse for her to stop, "Besides your mom is almost done with dinner. You'll need to stop soon anyway.

"I just need a few more hours..."

"How about this? I'll hold up the flash cards and you do the thing with the scribbles and I'll tell you whether its right or not," he offered and Kagome blanched earning a somewhat hurt look.

"There's no point Inuyasha. You can't read them because..." she tried to explain before trailing off when his look of hurt increased ten-fold. In hindsight, she should've phrased that differently because he immediately railed against her. She should've started with something along the lines of 'I can't even read or understand them so there's no point' but no, she instead made it sound like she thought he was illiterate. Oh boy...

"I can read! Maybe not as well as you but I can read. You saw! I read that stupid book and liked it. We had whole discussions about the plot and...and the characters and everything for your test and you said it helped so you know I can read dammit. Why do you have to put me down like that? That's a bitch move over something not even true," he huffed defensively and Kagome let out a somewhat amused sigh.

"You finished?"

Inuyasha scowled which she took as a yes.

"I know you can read Inuyasha. It's just...I barely understand how to read these things much less the answers so I doubt it'd help," she admitted miserably, "Its sweet for you to offer though."

For a moment, Inuyasha searched her face with a strange calculating look before clearing his throat and shifting his weight.

"You don't like studying, do you?" he changed the direction of this debate and Kagome nodded with a sigh.

" you want to keep going to school after this year?" he asked a little too calmly for her liking. Honestly, she'd been putting off talking to him about this because she expected him to blow up on her. Inuyasha had been so supportive about her schoolwork and even had taken to trying to study the things she'd been learning if only to quiz her at random. Like the Tales of Genji which he'd read in its entirety just to surprise her and he proved, as if there was any doubt, how intelligent he truly was which turned out to be a lot smarter than she was. Somehow he'd managed to glean all the important nuances of the text and had insight that dwarfed anything she could come up with. Still, given how much he'd encouraged her, Kagome honestly thought telling him she was even thinking of dropping out would undoubtedly...

"Because if I heard right, it'd be three more years if you keep at it. Three long years," he pressed and Kagome blinked at his somewhat hopeful tone. Hopeful about what though she wasn't quite sure. Did he...did he want her to drop out?

"I've...I've been wanting to talk to you about that," she admitted awkwardly as she set down her cards and turned in her seat to face him, "I've been thinking of leaving school after I finish this year. I...I haven't really done what I.."

She cleared her throat and amended, "So, for example, last fall, I put off this thing called an entrance exam. I mean...I mean I can still take it this summer but, um..."

Inuyasha's face fell slightly at this information before he subtly shook his head like he was trying to clear his mind.

"The one you need to go to the next school? You just...didn't take it? Did you just assume I wouldn't know? That I'd just believe you if you said you were done with school?" he clarified through clearly checked anger and Kagome cringed while her stomach fell out at how his eye twitched. Of course he'd know about the stupid entrance exams. She'd probably made a big deal last lifetime.

For a moment, Inuyasha was genuinely and irrationally angry that she'd made a decision that could've jeopardized her future without consulting him. A decision that actually made him happy. But this wasn't like last time when they were just friends. They were together. Their relationship was serious. He damn well would've consulted with her before doing something life changing like that. He would've wanted her input and taken it into consideration. The fact that she'd just done it without so much as mentioning it for no damn reason hurt him. But maybe she had a reason or didn't have a choice but to not take the exam. Maybe they'd been in a battle or something and she'd...

Closing his eyes, Inuyasha set his jaw a few times as he tried to get control of his knee jerk reaction. If he didn't, he might as well kiss any opportunity to ask her to marry him goodbye and instead have to deal with a full blown war over something that ultimately didn't matter. He was actually fine with her stopping school. When her mother had said school lasted three more years, he very nearly fell over in shock and any desire for Kagome to finish out her education fled for the hills. Besides, it wasn't like she'd need it where they'd live. Kagome would never make him move here and besides, she'd been hinting about where they'd build their house for months now.

Still, the anger remained that she'd kept secrets from him. This wasn't how he wanted today to go. Kagome would never lie to him or keep secrets. She probably just didn't think it was important enough to mention or, alternatively, she only kept it to herself because her missing the test was somehow his fault.

"Inuyasha I...I just missed the one last fall. I can still take it," Kagome tried weakly as she began to nervously play with her hands, "I only missed it because it was right around when the ink well almost killed you and I just...the test didn't matter to me as much as you did. I couldn't just leave you."

Nodding like that explained everything, amber eyes searched her face for a moment before his anger seemed to subside and he let out a long sigh.

"Next time you have something important, you're going to talk to me about it, got that? I don't care if I'm dying or what at least ask," he sighed heavily and Kagome nodded her agreement with such intensity Inuyasha was momentarily afraid her head might fall off.

"Okay. you're thinking about stopping school," he continued in a clearly checked tone, "Want to tell me why?"

There was something in the way he asked it. Like he was looking for affirmation of something he already suspected.

"I..." Kagome paused and tried to think of a less sappy way to say what needed to be said but failed miserably. Taking a calming breath, she at least tried - her voice shaking as she began pleading her case in a rambling disjointed manner, "I just...I really was going to talk to you about it earlier. School's just getting in the way and I...I don't think I'll need it if, you know, we, um, we're still... together. And I think we're going to be together a long time I just...I mean if its not that way I can still take it. There's another one scheduled this summer and I mean, worst case, I just won't get into a good high school. Besides, people drop out all the time. It' won't, um..."

When his face morphed into something akin to melting, her nervousness vanished and she offered him a shy smile.

"Anyway...I was thinking of stopping after this year. To, um, be with you."

Amber eyes glowed warmly and he smiled that like was exactly what he wanted to hear. Which was strange.

"Fine by me. Your choice. How much longer do you got left?" he replied casually as he effortlessly stood up and folded his arms across his chest.

"Two months," Kagome admitted as she made to stand up as well - one hand nervously playing with her hair, "I'm sorry I never discussed it with you. I..."

"Don't worry about it. S'not like I gave you an opportunity," Inuyasha cut her off with a dejected sigh as he dropped one arm to better scratch the back of his head, "I never wanted to talk about the future before...before now."

He paused and let out a shaky breath. His unoccupied fist fell to his side and he fingered the small item clasped within it while he chewed the inside of his cheek and started trying to think of a segue into why he'd come back in the first place.

"Still should've said something," Kagome countered weakly - her hands still wringing her hair as the desperately tried to change the subject, "So, um, where did you go today? What'd you do? Anything exciting?"

For some strange inexplicable reason, the half-demon immediately lit up like the sky on new years eve - his amber eyes sparkling with a strange excitement while his breathing got a little sharper. Straightening up, Inuyasha gave her an adorably nervous grin before suddenly getting very serious and counting off each event the fingers of his closed fist.

"Well lets see."

Letting out a shaky breath, Inuyasha pulled up his pointer finger and hummed, "First, I got woken up by my stupid woman who set her alarm clock. She said she was going to give me some time to sleep but then didn't. Typical."

Kagome blinked rapidly at his tone, his aura, his body language...well all of him really. This...this radical change in behavior seemed almost rehearsed. There was no other way to describe it. His explanation was smooth, just a hint of humor but completely lacking a natural flow. His aura was pulsing with a positive yet extremely nervous energy that had her hair standing on end. It was unlike anything she'd felt from him before and to be honest, it was uncomfortable.

When he noticed her unease, his ears drooped slightly and he seemed to have lost the confidence he'd held seconds earlier. After a moment, though, Inuyasha closed his eyes and swallowed before pulling back his middle finger as he continued counting down his day, "Had breakfast, played with the cat. Asked..."

He let out a long controlled breath before finishing barely above a whisper, "A-asked your mom for permission to marry you."

Immediately, the miko's brain stopped dead with the force of a freight train and her sapphire eyes widened in shock.

"Wait, what?"

Pulling up his ring finger, Inuyasha inhaled deeply and continued on like he didn't hear her - the confidence in his tone growing with each word.

"She said yes so I've got that going for me. Then I went to Kaede and told her I was going to ask you and the old bat gave me her blessing."

Kagome inhaled softly as her mind refreshed and tears began welling in her eyes. At the scent of her tears, amber eyes opened and flicked up to hers anxiously before he relaxed and offered him a faint smile. Pulling his pinky back, he averted his eyes towards his hand as his cheeks bloomed into a violent shade of pink. His voice soft and shaking as he began again.

"Talked to the headman and I got on the village registry so we can get married formally if we want. One less thing."

Licking his lips, Inuyasha gave Kagome a nervous but loving smile as a strange happy whimper escaped his beloved woman. Palm fully extending towards her, Inuyasha removed his thumb and for the first time, the miko noticed a small white shell held together with a red ribbon. Closing his eyes again, Inuyasha took several shaky breaths before closing his fist over the shell and placing it over his heart.

"Came here. Got into a fight with my woman over something that didn't really matter because that's just what we do apparently."

Tears were streaming down her cheeks as Inuyasha hesitated - turning the shell over and over in his hand - wanting to make sure he got this right first time. Watery eyes glancing up at his ears which were slowly lower down against his skull, Kagome could tell the consequences of what he perceived as an error would forever haunt him and somehow Kagome knew, instinctively, to wait for him to speak. While reckless and impulsive, Inuyasha was a low key perfectionist when it came to things like this and he'd obviously spent quite a bit of time preparing for this moment.

But Kagome knew it'd be perfect. Anything he did would be perfect.

"So anyway, this was my mother's," he began hoarsely as he opened his hand and offered the shell up to her, "I don't have much. Anything really but...but I've got this. And I took care of it for a long, long time."

As Kagome let out a choked sob, she desperately wanted to him to hurry up before she lost it completely. For an impatient person, Inuyasha was really dragging this out.

"I was careless and lost it," he continued - his eye flicked down to the small object before looking back up at her, "Then I found it again. Just like I found you. And that's okay I think because..."

Inuyasha took a long steadying breath before offering her a nervous sweet little smile - his face officially the same color of his robes.

"Because I'll never let myself lose either of you ever again."

Laughing tearfully, Kagome waited to see if that was the end of his speech before giving him the answer to his technically unspoken question.

"So if…if its alright by you," he concluded shakily as he took her wrist and placed the shell in her palm. Closing her fingers around it, he put on what she imagined was supposed to be a winning smile but it looked more like he was scared shitless.

"Want to be my wife?"

"Mmmhmmm," Kagome managed to squeak over the lump in her throat before launching at him and knocking backwards onto the bed.

"So I'm guessing that's a yes?" he asked with just a hint of anxiety before humming happily when she pressed a long lingering kiss against his lips.

Clasping her wizened hands behind her back, Kaede stared up into the branches of the Sacred Tree. It was late but she felt the need to get away for a moment until the rest of the village was fast asleep. It had been a rather busy evening after all.

By the time she returned to her hut after seeing Inuyasha off, several villagers were already lingering around outside waiting with surprisingly eager and curious smiles. The inquisition had begun shortly after her arrival with the people wanting to know everything from whether the soon-to-be married couple intended on staying in the village, whether Inuyasha would be amenable to accompanying the village merchants for added protection, whether Kagome would be willing to teach the children how to read, and a litany of other random things that apparently had been on the villager's minds for quite some time. Kaede eventually managed to disperse the crowd by repeating the statement multiple times that their inquiries were better directed at the couple themselves – which seemed to disappoint them all. Undoubtedly, the villagers had no fear approaching Kagome but Inuyasha was unpredictable simply because the boy wasn't as open as his intended bride. The elderly miko - or his soon-to-be bride - seemed a far safer bet when it came to their proposals for the irritable half-demon. The mikos had Inuyasha's ear after all and would most likely convince him to comply or at least consider what the villagers wanted done. Still, it would offend and hurt him to learn no one wanted to talk to him directly - regardless of their motivations.

The villagers needed to ask him directly. Hopefully, the old woman had made that point clear but more likely it went in one ear and other the other. Crinkling her nose, Kaede laughed softly at the image of the deceptively hostile but honestly eager to please half-demon being bombarded by a dozen villagers wanting to know whether he'd do them all favors. Most likely he'd agree to the first three requests and then get overwhelmed - eventually hiding behind Kagome or herself so they could protect him from the big bad social interaction. The requests would make him happy though even though the elderly miko doubted he'd ever admit it.

Inuyasha had a home. A place to belong at long last. A place where he was respected. Somewhere he could exist in peace and truly live without fear.

And soon he would have a wife to complete the pretty picture. Provided he didn't arrive and immediately initiate a fight over something trivial out of nerves.

"Just breathe little brother," Kaede whispered as her palm pressed against the rough bark. Silently she she prayed the Sacred Tree would send her words of comfort and reassurance to Inuyasha in the future, "Kagome loves ye and will accept ye as her husband. There is no need to be afraid."

Chapter Text

Inuyasha couldn't even begin to describe what he was feeling on this moment. The stillness, the movement, the pressure, the rhythm, the breathing. The way her fingernails dug into his skin. The way they molded together, fitted against one another with stunning perfection.

Inuyasha soon found himself moaning as his arms curled beneath Kagome's body and his lips captured hers. Slowly but surely, his movements were becoming less fluid and more erratic. More desperate. There was no way for him to even begin to describe what this meant to him. What it felt like to be hers and hers alone. To know she was equally his. Nothing could have possible meant more to him. Nothing could have more beauty. In seconds that felt like eternity, the earth suddenly stopped its endless cycle, the stars imploded, the sun shone brighter than ever and the infinite universe ceased to exist.

The only being left was the only one that mattered. Shimmering blue eyes that held a world made for him and him alone. A world without danger, jewel shards, demons or Naraku. A world held up by a trademark smile, made warmer by the way she whispered his name…

He smiled. A special smile reserved only for her.

As the actual world around him came into brighter focus, a suddenly strange urge to cry threatened to overwhelm him. Not of sadness or fear but of peace. For a blessed moment, the gods had taken pity on him and allowed him nothing but happiness and love. More happiness and love than he had ever known. And that knowledge humbled him. He certainly didn't deserve all of this. Even though he was different now, for a while he was every bit the demon they fought on a regular basis. Fueled by anger and bitterness and hatred and fear. It'd been a lot for a child to handle. Literally being thrown to the wolves and left to fend for himself. It had taken a long, long time for him to realize who he wanted to be. To find his humanity again.

In response to the slowly fading smile, Kagome's fingertips came up to caress his cheek and his smile slowly returned as leaned into her touch. With a content, tired sigh, Inuyasha lowered himself flush against the woman who had saved him in every possible way - trying to ignore the prickling at the back of his eyes. Small kisses were placed along her neck as he settled against her chest but when she whispered she loved him, despite the happiness flowing through his veins, he lost the battle to keep his emotions in check. 

"I love you. So much," he whispered even though his throat grew tight and the wholly unwanted urge somehow grew more intense, "That...that was..."

A barely audible whine escaped him against his will when Kagome hummed happily and whispered how much she loved him in return. For whatever reason, even though Kagome had been the one to set them down this path for reasons unknown, he felt a slight twinge of guilt that made his throat that much tighter. Honestly, sex hadn't even on his mind when he'd decided to take the leap and propose. In retrospect, it probably should have been since it was an integral part of the whole marriage thing, but the only thing he'd been focused on were the form requirements. Maybe Kagome assumed that was why he was asking and decided

A pit landed in his stomach and Inuyasha tightened his hold.

"We didn't have do this, ya know. That's not why I asked," Inuyasha managed thickly as tears began to well behind his eyes and his nose quickly became congested, "I..I would've been alright waiting. N-not that I'm complaining. I'm not. I'm grateful but I'm just...I wasn't asking for..."

With a soft sigh, Kagome pressed a kiss against his temple while her fingers gently combed his hair. A part of her wasn't surprised that he was already trying to apologize for something she initiated. To be honest, she'd been thinking about doing this for a while now and the moment felt right.

And she wasn't stupid. She knew part of why he'd asked her to marry him came from his fear that she'd die not knowing how much he meant to him. Like it was actually within the realm of possibility that she didn't know. At a certain point, given how desperate he was to prove he loved her, she started to wonder whether he knew how much she loved him in return. Whether he'd silently reasoned that not being loved as fiercely was acceptable so long as she didn't leave him.

Yes, despite her constant affirmations of love, it was obvious he didn't quite believe she loved him. At least not as much as he loved her. Naturally there was some insecurity seeing as how he'd waited ten years for her while she'd only loved him for a couple months but that didn't mean she didn't love him more than life itself. There was only inequity because she died. That wasn't her fault or his and it certainly didn't mean she loved him less. Just for a shorter duration of time. His insecurity was made worse because of the name she'd given him which in retrospect was a mistake. Every time she'd called him her 'boyfriend' she could tell he died a little inside. Noticed the subtle set of his jaw and heard the nearly inaudible dejected sigh. It was beyond obvious to anyone who knew her adorable hanyou that the term bothered him. Not a little but a lot. It wasn't often that the phrase got tossed around but what else was she supposed to call him when people asked what he was to her? This guy I'm seeing? That explanation wasn't worse at all now, was it?

In light of all of that, among other things, the fact that he wanted to skip the engagement period and jump straight to the marriage bit wasn't surprising either. Every day was precious to him and he didn't know how many more they would get. Neither of them did. Even though she'd never say it out loud, she was afraid of dying too. Not for herself, she knew in her heart that Inuyasha wouldn't let it happen twice, but she was terrified the shoe was going to be on the other foot. That instead of him losing her, she would be the one who lost. In the upcoming battle, which she'd begrudgingly admit was going to happen, she knew he'd die to make sure she lived. That he'd take every blow meant for her. That he'd suffer so she didn't have to.

So, just in case tomorrow never came she wanted him to know how deeply he was loved. Inuyasha's love language was undoubtedly touch. Words mattered to him, yes, but he was a very physical person when it came to receiving and showing love. Maybe the first go around she simply didn't understand him. Took the fact that he didn't really say things out loud as a sign he didn't love her. Wires got crossed and misunderstandings about crazy ex-girlfriends made her blind. Knowing him like she did now, there was no better way to show him how deep her feelings ran than the ultimate expression of physical love. There might be consequences of that but she accepted that risk without any regret. She needed him to know. To understand.

Just in case.

"I know that wasn't why you asked or even what you were asking for. I wanted this because I love you and I wanted to love my husband," Kagome soothed affectionately and her half-demon let out a watery laugh.

"How do you do that?" Inuyasha managed thickly, "Make me love you more. S'not fair. I want that power."

Much to his humiliation, despite his attempts at subtly, a wet sniffle echoed loudly in the room and he found himself being pulled tighter into Kagome's warm embrace.

"Who said you didn't?" the miko soothed - her fingertips gently stroking his hair and back as Inuyasha's heart absolutely melted.

Unfortunately the sudden rush of love also made his strange urge to cry rush through him just as fiercely. Chest shuddering from the effort of holding back sobs, Inuyasha's humiliation to reach new heights. Men weren't supposed to cry after sex or realizing the depth in which someone loved you. Shit no one was supposed to cry after things like that. Maybe he was broken or, at least, more broken than he'd realized. She'd given him the world and he...

"Inuyasha, you are the best thing that has ever happened to me. You mean everything to me," Kagome cooed causing his breathing to hitch, "Now I get to call you my husband. Nothing is better than this. Nothing."

Inuyasha whined softly and buried his face into her chest. For the longest time, Kagome felt his chest shuddering as he tried to compose himself before a watery laugh suddenly escaped him.

"Technically not your husband yet," he joked weakly before a few more tears fell when he felt the need to explain what he meant, "I asked your mom, yeah, but...but we'll need to register..."

"Oh you're my husband whether we register or not. No backing out now," Kagome laughed softly before pressing her lips against his temple earning a relieved yet bemused sigh. That was a fair assessment. It didn't matter whether or not they were registered because in his mind, they sure as hell were hitched now, though technically not officially but he was fixing that first thing in the morning. He'd waited ten long ass years waiting for his life to finally begin. For the first time in what seemed like forever, he felt content. Secure.

Like the future he wanted was attainable.

Despite his mental image of what he wanted, he weirdly found himself blissfully unafraid of what the future might hold. In some ways anyhow. Technically the fact that they'd done, well, this could have some unintended baby shaped consequences but strangely he was excited about that possibility. And nervous, that too, but it wasn't like Kagome didn't know that could happen, right? After all, she went to school. She knew things. Laughing tiredly, Inuyasha snuggled his woman closer as he tried not to get ahead of himself. It wasn't the right time of the month for her anyway - not that it made much of a difference sometimes but it was highly unlikely that anything would come from this. Otherwise he maybe could've sorta put up a fight but what was done was done. Maybe he'd just need to ask her about her thoughts. They'd never really talked about kids...

Inuyasha cringed once and wrinkled his nose.

That seemed like something they should've done beforehand. Yeah...

Definitely something to have been discussed...

Did they teach things like this in schools? What if she really didn't know...

She had to know right? She'd demonstrated knowledge of all sorts of things over the the last few hours after all.




"Shit," he murmured to himself before letting out a somewhat frustrated groan and wrapping one arm around her back.


"I just...I didn't even..." Inuyasha tried to explain hoarsely courtesy of his congested nose, "I wasn't, ya know, careful. Didn't think. And we've never really talked about...things. Things that might happen...."

Kagome made a strange guilty groan and she felt Inuyasha let out a chiding sigh.

"I'll take that as you knew the risk and don't care," he accused with no real bite before snuggling further into her embrace, "You're crazy. You know that, right?"

When he didn't tense or even seem remotely upset, Kagome sighed and held him tighter. To be honest, that possibility didn't seem to scare him which she found a little odd. As for herself, well...having kids was part of why she wanted to drop out of school anyway. She wanted a family and, even though they'd never talked about it, which in hindsight might end up being a problem, if it did happen, her only request was that their child had his eyes, his ears and maybe her hair color. Not that disliked his hair color but she wanted something visible that marked her contribution to their babies DNA. Honestly she'd even take his eye color off the table so people would at least say the baby had their mother's eyes.

"Do you not want kids?" Kagome asked after a long moment and she felt Inuyasha's hot breath fan across her chest.

"I never really...I didn't want to think about it," he amended as he brought his hand up to trace her shoulder blade, "Guess I should start, huh?"

"Well, what are your first thoughts?" she pressed hesitantly and to her utter relief, she felt his lips twitch upwards against her skin.

"I hope it looks like you," he hummed contentedly, "Has both of our powers. Be a force of nature."

"It'd be a quarter youkai," Kagome added thoughtfully and Inuyasha snorted.

"Or it'd just be human," he countered - his finger tips continuing to rub absent circles, "Or maybe it'd be like me or maybe it'd be whatever. I don't know how it works."

"So long as it has your ears I'm fine."

At that Inuyasha fully melted into her with a satisfied hum before he tensed slightly and snickered, "Wait, so you won't love it if it doesn't have my ears?"

"I'll love our baby no matter how it looks but yeah, if I had a choice, I'd like it to have..."

"I need to start making a list of shitty things you say," Inuyasha interrupted her - his snickering growing in intensity, "Hey child, guess what? Mother doesn't love you as much because you don't have ears and your brother does. I know. She told me."

"Oh so we're having more than one baby?" Kagome teased and Inuyasha immediately lost any amusement he found in the situation as cold reality settled back upon him. For a blissful moment, he'd been able to forget but the painful, agonizing truth that all this speculation might be a pipedream and with that harsh realization, the air grew thin.

Still, he managed a softly yet hoarsely spoken, "Dunno."

The silence that fell after that was...awkward for lack of a better way of describing it. That wasn't to say that the love and commitment had faded. Inuyasha was doing his best to permanently fuse with her body and was placing tiny kisses against her neck both to reassure himself and her. Kagome was passively running her fingers through his hair and down his back and pressing kisses against his temple.

And then Inuyasha spoke.

"If this ends up the same, I'm gunna find every god there is and kill 'em. Shit. I'll just go around murdering everyone right and left until I find the fucker who did all this," he tried to joke but it came across more of a desperate threat, "Maybe I'm the reason there are no demons left. Just went around killing every last one of them."

"That' theory," Kagome sighed awkwardly and Inuyasha held her a little tighter.

"We could stop looking for jewel shards," Inuyasha offered after a long moment - his tone hopeful and hesitant , "The village wouldn't mind if we stuck around."

Kagome cringed. For the longest time, she'd expected him to ask something like this. Every single time they found a jewel shard he'd go a little pale and move a little slower for at least three days. Like he was trying to delay things for as long as possible. It made sense why he'd want to stop looking but that didn't mean they had that option.

"You know we can't stop..."

"Why not? We don't hafta finish it," Inuyasha argued weakly as he finally pulled back and propped himself up on one elbow, "No ones said it's our job. We could just chuck our pieces into the ocean and..."


"What if you do end up, ya know, pregnant? What? We're supposed to just put you in danger? Put the baby in danger? We'll have to stop anyway," Inuyasha pleaded desperately as his amber eyes searched her face with a frantic energy, "And Naraku isn't looking for jewel shards anymore. We haven't seen hide or tail of him. We could just stay in the village or...or we could even just move here and not worry about it."

"Inuyasha we have to finish and get rid of the jewel," Kagome argued but Inuyasha simply shook his head and whined.

"No we don't," he argued before pushing himself into a full sitting position, "We don't have to do any of that. We could just stop. We're volunteering to do this. It used to be about revenge but it's not. Sango's fine. Miroku has control of his wind tunnel. Kikyo's at peace. We don't..."

"I broke the jewel. Its my job to put it back..."

"It's not your fucking job," Inuyasha snapped shakily, "It breaking wasn't your fault. It was an accident..."

"An accident I caused. I need to fix it," Kagome groaned as she too sat up and pulled the blanket over her chest before realizing there really wasn't a point, "I have to do this. Why else would the well let me through?"

"To meet me! It let you through because...because I need you," Inuyasha clipped miserably, "It knew I needed you. I'd still be stuck to that god damn tree. You were born for me just like I was born for you so the well sent you back. Jewel had nothing to do with it."

Kagome was hard pressed not to roll her eyes at that bullshit explanation even if parts of it were sweet.


Shaking his head furiously, Inuyasha let out several harsh breaths before flinging off the blanket and scooting off the bed.

"We don't have to finish it," he snapped as he roughly collected his clothes, "We don't have to do anything. Its not our job."

"Where are you going?"

"I can't be here," Inuyasha panted heavily - his clothing being pulled out with rough rigid movements before he let out a shuddering breath, "I need to go."

Kagome's heart plummeted to the bottom of her stomach, "Y-you're leaving me?"

Inuyasha blinked a few times and whipped his head in her direction in mild horror, "What?! No! I just...I just...I just need to run, okay? Clear my head. I'll be back."

When Kagome looked unconvinced and extremely hurt, Inuyasha bit his lip. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he gently ran his hand across her leg and averted his eyes.

"I'll never leave you," he promised before swallowing thickly, "If don't trust me, you know because I'm upset or whatever, why don't you come too? Its just a run. Won't take long."

It was clear that his upset wasn't because he thought she was wrong about their obligations to the jewel. Like every outburst he'd had recently, it stemmed from his fear that the final battle would once again destroy his life. If it ended the same way, Kagome knew he simply wouldn't survive her by long. It'd break him. More so than the last time. Especially now.

Maybe what they'd done was a mistake.

Before she could reassure him of her trust and love, his nose twitched once and he sighed.

"I don't regret this," he offered solemnly after a moment - his eyes distant and downcast, "Any of it. And I don't want you to either. I'm just..."

As the urge to cry returned, Inuyasha sighed shakily and shook his head.

"I just don't want this to end. I don't want to lose you."

Nodding in understanding, Kagome reached out for him with one hand and he willing followed her back onto the bed. Cheek resting against her chest, Inuyasha snuggled as close to her as he dared while a single tear broke free and trailed down his cheek. It surprisingly didn't take very long at all before exhaustion began washing over him in waves as his anxiety slowly seeped out of him. Almost like Kagome was drawing it out and taking the burden for him. It was a strange sensation but a welcome one. Like a warm blanket wrapping around his very soul.

Violet eyes fluttered open then widened at the sight of Sango’s sleeping face mere inches from his own. Dark circles shadowed her eyes and the dry tear tracks had him endlessly concerned. The last thing Miroku clearly remembered was asking Kohaku not to touch his sutras with his disgustingly sticky hands and yet here he was, sore, exhausted and a little nauseous. Perhaps he’d gotten altitude sickness? Or maybe just heatstroke. It had been unnaturally warm...

Laughing softly when a very loud snore suddenly escaped the slayer, essentially interrupting his thoughts, the monk allowed himself a moment to imagine Sango was sleeping next to him for an entirely different reason before his face crumpled in pain.

This wasn’t Sango. Not the one he knew anyway. She had her face. Her voice. But it want the Sango he had loved. This was a stranger.

Perhaps it was time he moved on and stopped chasing after a memory. After all, any feelings he had were born of a woman who simply no longer existed. Strange how much pain accompanied realizing the truth. The intensity of grief he’d been ignoring stole the very breath from his lungs.

The woman he loved was gone and she was never coming back. Sango never existed. He...he wouldn’t even get to see her again if he died. Never get to talk to her and tell her how sorry he was for failing her. How much he had loved her. Her soul was altered. Changed.

Which was...better for her. In a way. Sango was happy and apparently, a confident happy Sango would never have fallen for him. Who would fall for someone like him if there were literally any other options? it was true. The original Sango, the one he knew, had settled for him after all. This version of Sango never needed to worry about being alone because she hadn’t suffered and lost everyone she had ever known. Sango had been like Inuyasha in that way. Being alone was her greatest fear above all others. So she settled for being with him for the sake of convenience.

She only loved what he represented.

It didn’t satiate his own grief and misery to know Sango was happier. If anything, it made it worse. Because it proved once and for all that the only thing she loved about him was that being with him meant she’d never be alone.

Letting out a shuddering breath, Miroku tried to push such selfish thoughts to the back of his mind. Tried to ignore them entirely. To want the Sango he knew to return, he would essentially wish her pain. He was just being selfish. Wanting back what they’d shared was selfish. Cruel even.

A tear slid down his cheek and he made no move to wipe it away. The worst part, the very worst part, was that he had been genuinely happy right at the end. For all his seeking of enlightenment, for his carefree lifestyle and constant philandering, the truth was he had always been miserable. For a moment, he’d been looking forward to an actual future. One where he, you know, didn’t die a tragically young death by being swallowed into his own hand. Into some void. It was entirely possible his soul would vanish along with his body. In fact, that was one of his deepest fears. That his entire being would cease to exist. That this was it. But with Sango, he’d thought...he had hoped...

Strangely, in that moment, he felt a wave of sympathy for Inuyasha. What a terrible fate it was to see a face that had once brought you such joy look back at you with apathy. To meet them again and see only hatred in their eyes. Just another thing proving what a terrible a friend the monk had been. Not once had he offered any sympathy or understanding. Only condemnation and disapproval.

What a terrible creature he was. A selfish creature. It was a wonder any of them tolerated his presence at all. Perhaps it was his grogginess talking but it didn’t...

It simply didn’t...

Closing his eyes, Miroku set his jaw and tried to will away the urge to mourn. The Sango he knew would want him to be strong and as that crossed his mind, a new wave of self-loathing crashed down on him. It was unfair to say she didn’t love him. Maybe she did. No she certainly did. There was no mistaking the look of love in her gaze. Despite his efforts, his jaw trembled and his chest flexed from the effort of holding back a sob. His mind spiraling out downwards like a fighter jet doing a nosedive. It was simply because he was ill that his thoughts and emotions were getting the better of him and yet...

Sango had died in his arms. In pain and there had been nothing he could do to truly comfort her. She was gone. Sango had died...

It was suddenly rather hard to breathe...

“Miroku?” the last voice he wanted to hear in that moment asked barely above a whisper, “Here I’ll get you something for the pain. Just stay still alright?”

“Pain?” Miroku managed hoarsely - confusion swirling in his mind as he tried to swallow past the lump in his throat, “No, no I’m doing quite well. Simply tired.”

He heard Sango sigh and the familiar sound felt like a thousand daggers in his heart. Some things were very much the same and her exasperation with him apparently never changed.

“You almost died Miroku. It’s okay to say you’re in pain,” the slayer chided gently before he heard another familiar sigh - different than the first and yet heartbreakingly the same as it once had been. She was concerned for his well being. More than anything he wanted to send her away. To never have to look upon this imposters face again. And yet his broken heart simply wouldn’t allow it. Even though she was different she was still very much the woman he had lost. Despite how much it hurt, he desperately wanted her nearby.

Wait, did she say he almost died?!

“I beg your pardon?” he asked in a confused tone as his eyelids fluttered open and he tried to focus his surprisingly blurry on her face, “I don’t under...”

“Naraku appears to have made a move,” Sango laughed bitterly as she averted her eyes, “You were right. Finding the last shards did seem to garner his attention. I’m sorry for...for telling you there was nothing to be concerned about.”

Miroku glanced at his outstretched arm which swam nauseatingly before his eyes. It looked like he’d taken in poison of some kind or miasma.

“Were we attacked?” he asked softly and Sango shook her head despite the fact his gaze was elsewhere.

“You were with Kohaku and then...and then you collapsed,” Sango tried to explain, “Kohaku...Kohaku made sutras and managed to counter whatever was happening before it reached your heart.”

Flexing his hand experimentally, Miroku felt his heart sink at the marked lack of sensation. Perhaps that was why he felt little pain in comparison to his injuries. He wouldn’t be surprise if Naraku took away his ability o control the curse and probably made the void spread for good measure.

And then the last part of her explanation finally registered.

“Kohaku made sutras?” he asked numbly as he reluctantly looked up at the slayer and immediately regretted it. That face still brought him peace in that moment and he despised the imposter’s ability to manipulate him so. An imposter who wasn’t an imposter at all...

“...and found a way to use them,” Sango finished her explanation awkwardly as she squirmed under Miroku’s strangely hard gaze. Usually his eyes were soft...

The monk let out a long sigh before slowly and painfully rolling away from her.

“Perhaps you both share an ancestor then,” Miroku opined in an emotionless tone, “Midoriko was from this village was she not?”

“Yes but...”

Cranking his brow in pain, the last thing he wanted in that moment was to hear her voice any longer.

“It is late. You need to rest,” Miroku interrupted coldly as he held his injured hand before his face, “Go be with your family. I will be fine on my...”


Surprised and strangely angered by the declaration, Miroku set his jaw and huffed.

“Whatever Kohaku managed to do has been successful in...”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Sango interrupted heatedly, “I know you must think I don’t care what happens to you but I do care. I don’t hate you.”

“I would prefer to be alone nonetheless,” Miroku chuckled hoarsely as another tear slid down his cheek without permission, “Please leave me.”

“Look I’m sorry that I’ve been cruel. I never should have treated you like I did ,” Sango snapped desperately as she folded her arms across her chest and glared, “I know we were engaged and I’m...I’m...”

The slayer took a deep calming breath and finished softly, “I’m sorry I’m not her. I know... and I’m sorry I’m not...that I’m not...that I don’t remember or...”

As Sango trailed off with a huff of frustration, Miroku blinked a few times before painfully propping himself up on his good arm and looking at her over his shoulder. Even in his own despair, he couldn’t allow himself to be a source of her misery.

“Sango you are happy. Confident. You do not need to apologize for such things. By no means does it make you poorer to have them.”

Sango narrowed her eyes and let out a shaky sigh.

“I was scared. When they found you I was scared,” she admitted after a long moment, “And I heard your voice telling me not to be.”

Miroku blinked and tried to force himself into a sitting position but found his strength to be lacking for such a maneuver. Much to his dismay, Sango immediately assisted and the assistance made his skin crawl. Still, he wanted an explanation.

“What do you mean...”

“I could hear you,” Sango explained awkwardly as she pointed vaguely at her temple, “You told me not to be afraid because you were there and you wouldn’t leave me.”

Miroku paled somewhat but didn’t reply. Most of that moment was hazy and disjointed but he did vaguely remember trying to comfort her as she lay dying in his arms.

“I know...I know you don’t want me,” Sango continued after a moment, “You want her. And she does sound...better in some ways. She...”

Miroku’s stomach churned.

“Being different does not...”

“Yes it does,” the slayer interrupted wearily, “The rest of you see each other as family. You all have a bond. I’m an outsider...”

“Because none of us have anywhere else to go,” Miroku explained bitterly, “Be grateful that you are not alone in this world. You do not want...”

The monk set his jaw and sighed, “There is nothing wrong with having a home. Inuyasha, Shippo and myself have nowhere else to go. That is why we have a connection. Our group is the only place we belong.”

“Kagome has a place to call home and she still considers you family,” Sango pointed out with a dejected sigh, “She even told me she intends on asking Inuyasha whether she can stay here permanently rather than returning to her village. Said she doesn’t feel like she belongs there any longer. The group is her home.”

Miroku swallowed thickly.

Inuyasha is her home,” he corrected, “There is nothing wrong with...with not feeling as though we are your family. Your family is here. In this village. It would be strange to believe otherwise.”

“The Sango you knew...”

“The Sango I knew watched her entire village murdered in cold blood,” Miroku countered heatedly as he averted his eyes and huffed, “Watched her brother’s dead body be used as a puppet against her. Was tormented. Afraid.”

He paused and hit his lip - adding for his benefit and his benefit alone “And still found strength when all hope was lost...”

Sango’s eyes widened in horror as her her lips parted and her blood ran cold.

“Kohaku was...”

“I will be fine,” Miroku interrupted thickly - trying to find the inner strength the Sango he loved always managed to hone, “Thank you for healing me. I appreciate...”

The slayer physically shook her head clear before trying to circle back to what she had been rehearsing most of the night before she fell asleep. It needed to be done. She needed to make this right.

“Tell me about yourself,” Sango cut him off - a little desperately truth be told, “Your childhood. Your likes and dislikes. Anything. Even...I know I’m not her. That you see me as a replacement. But everyone knows replicas aren’t as good as the original maybe even if I’m not her, we can still be friends.”

“You are not a replacement,” Miroku offered thickly as he inhaled deeply and attempted to stay calm, “I promise you that. However this ends, you are a distinct individual. I...”

He let out a shuddering sigh.

“I miss her,” he admitted as his throat grew tight, “I do. And I apologize if you’ve been the victim of my grief. It was unfair of me to attempt to impose it upon you.”

“Grief affects everyone differently,” Sango offered after a long moment, “And it’s not like my face helps anything.”

At that Miroku lay back down for lack of anything to say.

“Do you want to talk about her?” Sango offered after a moment, “Maybe it would help.”

Miroku tensed.

“I fail to see...”

“Sometimes it helps to talk things out. To keep the memory alive. My father told me that when my mother left us. Stories are how we kept the dead with us. So they’re not forgotten,” Sango offered quietly, “I want to know more about her. Unless it hurts too much that is...”

Letting out a longs shaky sigh, Miroku shook his head faintly. This not the woman he had known. For all intents and purposes this was a stranger.

But honestly, he desperately wanted to speak with someone...anyone who at least understood that Sango was a different woman than the one sitting on his death bed. That his Sango never existed...he wanted someone to admit that she had existed. Separate and distinct. That she was real...

Not even Inuyasha could truly make the distinction, he could barely admit to himself that his love was someone else, and honestly, Kagome - in either timeline - was essentially an extension of Inuyasha in many, many ways...

Letting out a long controlled exhale, with that in mind, Miroku swallowed thickly and began...

He wanted someone to know her...

To admit she was gone...


After all, who knew how long he had left...someone needed to understand...

To remember...

“The first...the...the...”

It was hard to breathe for a moment but he pushed forwards nonetheless.

“The first time we met, I...I want to say she could’ve defeated Inuyasha,” he laughed tearfully as the memory played out in his mind’s eye, “Not that he ever would have admit as much. Being defeated by a woman who had just crawled out of her own grave would have been quite the blow to his ego...”

“I can imagine his face...” Sango offered with what she hoped sounded like encouragement.

“He claimed he was lenient and was showing mercy...” Miroku admitted shakily, “And in a way that was true. There was so much blood but I have no doubt she would have soundly defeated him...”

As Miroku began detailing what he remembered of the woman he loved, Sango smiled softly and gently coaxed him to lay his head against her chest. Gently stroking his hair and massaging his heavily bruised arm as he described the fierce, strong warrior that had won his heart while his tears soaked her yukata. In a strange way it was nice. To hear the amount of love in his voice as he described their various adventures. Of how they had fallen in love. Some of it was rather funny and he seemed to appreciate when she laughed. All night they spoke. Him explaining various events and her asking questions to clarify points that were unclear.

In the end, it sounded like a slow burn. A situation filled with heartbreak that turned into something wonderful...

Almost like a tragic fairy tale...

Just before dawn, after many hours of tales, both the slayer and the monk drifted off into a peaceful sleep...

Curled up in each other’s arms.

Chapter Text

Over the better part of two centuries, Naraku had learned how to talk straight into his enemies' subconscious minds, bypassing their decision making process, and manipulating them into behaving how he wanted them to. Most, he had found, were predictable beasts. Most could be brought to their knees by the simplest misfortune.

And, of course, it almost went without saying that he discovered killing someone usually was the easiest and most efficient way to ensure victory. It didn't necessarily need to be the enemy himself either. It could be a friend, a family member, a child or even complete strangers to break someone to the point of no return.

Naturally leaving anyone alive this time was out of the question. Clearly that half-breed had found a way to wish on the jewel after procrastinating for decades on end. Impossible though it seemed. For months, he had tried to determine how exactly that had occurred for the jewel had never left his possession. No one had entered his body and, as far as he knew, Inuyasha himself had died almost ninety years prior. Still, there was no other explanation.

Especially considering that the little group had not only been reunited but had found a way to avoid him intentionally and with marked success despite the fact they should not have known of his existence. The fact that the demon slayers refused to offer aid was proof enough that someone in that group remembered what had occurred the first time. Combined with other purposeful changes over the course of this past year, that irksome little group had managed to collect the shards beneath his notice, managed to hide their faces and avoid detection but their illusion, while impressive, had finally been shattered.

He knew who they were no matter whose faces they may hide behind. Just in time to realize that the jewel was almost completed. One shard, perhaps two, remained to be found and as such, the time for action was now.

The monk was naturally the easiest target. The most accessible one. Naraku had to assume that this illusion meant this group was more formidable than the last time he encountered them. More prepared at a minimum. Without the slightest bit of effort, however, he could still deal them a crushing blow. After all, it had only taken a few deaths to win the day the first time.

And yet…

And yet somehow, the amount of miasma he'd deposited into the monk's system appeared to have wrought minimal damage. It crippled him, yes, but only momentarily and he was recovering. Quickly. Even now, Naraku felt the pressure that had hitherto prevented him from controlling the wind tunnel as he once had the ability to do. Somehow the monk had found a way to block him out upon their mutual unexpected return and was surprisingly capable of thwarting any attempt to hasten his demise. More troublesome still, while he had been able to manipulate the curse inflicted upon his foe to a degree, he had been unable to use such manipulation to pinpoint his exact location. Or the location of any of his pathetic comrades for that matter. Perhaps it had been this difficult in the past and their meetings were purely coincidental but that couldn't be right. There had been many times back then when he sought them out and managed to find them with ease.

But no longer.

It was a conundrum to be sure but one that Naraku imagined would be resolved in time. Perhaps they had an ally he could not see. Someone providing the protection those irritating weaklings lacked when he first encountered them. It mattered not, however. Someone else doing the work for him was worth every minor annoyance or misstep in the interim. Despite the attempts of those pesky teenagers to change fates' design, the jewel once whole would serve as a beacon and then…

Then he would ascend once more.

Inuyasha took a deep breath of relief as he emerged back on the modern side of the well. It was official. He was married. After a very surprising and love filled morning, he'd gone and registered with the headman who seemed inappropriately amused that Inuyasha had returned so quickly. Kaede, of course, was overjoyed though she too seemed rather bemused by something. Several villagers had approached him nervously to confirm that him and Kagome had married and much to his shock, the random villagers seemed rather relieved when he answered that he hoped to settle in the village if they were welcome. Turned out, they were not only welcome but that the villagers had job after job lined up for them already. In less than an hour, he had a way to provide if he wanted it as did Kagome and a house raising was even offered. The relief and foreign sense of joy that development caused almost brought tears to his eyes. Not only was he married but he had a place to truly belong with people who actually wanted him there and everything he could ever ask for.

Best of all, he had a wife now with which to share all these blessings.

His grin widened to the point it was somewhat painful.

He was married. A privilege he never thought he'd be afforded. If he was lucky, one day he might even get to be a father. Have a home in an actual village where he was not only welcome but with people who offered him a respectable way to provide without blinking an eyelash. It was suddenly within the realm of possibility that he'd get to experience the things he'd been deprived of most of his life. Everything he had ever wanted but was too afraid to ask for or thought he didn't deserve. In this moment, the ten years he spent alone and miserable no longer mattered. In fact, it no longer bothered him at all. It had just been a means to an end. Nothing more. Nothing less.

A shaky laugh escaped him as the weight that normally sat on his chest stopped suffocating him. There was absolutely no way his life could turn out this perfect and for it all to be a cruel joke. Why he wholeheartedly believed that all of a sudden he wasn't quite sure but he knew it as surely as he knew the sun would rise tomorrow.

Everything was going to be perfect. Absolutely perfect and nothing was going to ruin it. Not Naraku. Not the stupid jewel. Not the mysterious person who caused all this to happen - which bless the person who sent him back and may they live many, many years- or...or...

Inuyasha paused and ran his hand over his face with a strange laughing hum.

He was married! In every sense of the word. He had a wife and that wife was the most amazing person he had ever met. She'd saved him from dangers both seen and unseen. In battle. From himself.

And no one was going to take her away from him ever again. Not so long as he had breath in his body.

Opening the front door, Inuyasha glanced at the staircase with a happy disbelieving smile before heading into the kitchen and immediately coming face to face with Kagome's mother who took a long sip of tea while giving him very uncomfortable direct eye contact.

"Did you have a good evening?" she asked innocently as she arched a single brow and Inuyasha's eyes widened in horror.

Oh sweet merciful heavens, she knew what happened last night, didn't she? How did she know? Why was she letting him know she knew? A thousand humiliating possibilities flooded his mind as she took another long sip of tea. This wasn't the worst thing that had ever occurred in his life but it was definitely up there.

"Y-yeah," he replied with an awkward chuckle as he side stepped her and entered the kitchen, "I'm real grateful you all approved of...of us getting hitched. Last night was a nice, um, dinner. T-that meal that made...was...was really good..."

Clearing his throat, Inuyasha began trying to sniff out the potato chips as a blush began forming in his cheeks. She knew. The only way she'd know was if she heard and if she heard, probably everyone in the house heard and...

Wrinkling his nose, Inuyasha found his appetite diminishing quickly. Still, maybe he was just reading too much into it. It could very well be that she meant that dinner was a nice affair. She had seemed very happy and even teased him some about her approval burning a hole in his pocket. Which was a stupid thing to say seeing as how his clothes couldn't burn even if he wanted it to. That had to be what she was referring to. He was just jumping to conclusions was all.

"And I'm assuming you had an equally enjoyable morning?" Kagome's mother asked with no lack of amusement and Inuyasha visibly flinched. Well there went that theory. It had to be that she heard them, right? The walls here were thin and...and maybe they'd been loud or...

InuYasha shivered imperceptibly.

God knows how she knew. Each possibility was more horrifying than the next. Swallowing down bile, Inuyasha absently opened and closed a few cabinets in search of something he no longer wanted for lack of something better to do.

"Yeah," he tried to control the conversation with some semblance of tact, "J-just registered in my side of the well. So it''s official. We're...we're married."

Mama made a knowing hum as she shadowed him around the kitchen while he continued to absently search which made his stomach churn uncomfortably and a scarlet blush rise on his cheeks. Was she wanting him to admit to it? Or was she just toying with him? The latter seemed more likely. She didn't smell pissed. She almost smelled amused.

And knowing.

His blush deepened.

Either way, she didn't have any room to judge or tease. The only reason she eloped was because she and Kagome's father had made Kagome out of wedlock. Feeling slightly better about the situation, Inuyasha tried his best to act like nothing out of the ordinary was occurring.

"Well, I'm glad to hear things went well. I heard something last night that had me concerned and you've got something on your neck there," Mama hummed in a falsely innocent tone as she gently tapped the side of her neck in the general vicinity of the object of her comment, "They look like little bruises. What on earth happened?"

Nostrils flaring, Inuyasha died a little inside and nervously glanced at the mother of his wife with utter mortification. Now that he thought about it, Kagome had been a little attentive to that particular spot this morning. More than a little and he'd been too distracted to slow her down. Mainly because the second she'd pinned down his wrists he was lost. If Kagome had managed to leave a love bite, that might explain the amused look Kaede had been giving him. The villagers too seemed a little too interested in what he was doing and one or two of the young men had given him a strange nod of approval that didn't make any sense.

Until now.

Also since when did he bruise?! Of all the moments for that to start...

But that didn't matter. None of it really mattered because there was nothing to be ashamed of. Him and Kagome were married. Married people did that type of thing and it wasn't anyone's business that married people did the things they did. In fact, it was expected. He'd technically done nothing wrong so there was no reason for him to be embarrassed right now.


No reason to be humiliated that Kagome's mother knew what they'd done.

Or that they'd technically had done it before he registered their union.

Besides, Kagome's mom told him she only got married because she got knocked up so she had no room to judge a few hours difference and...and that was that.

Unfortunately, for the first time in a long time, his 'normal' reaction to things that made him uncomfortable emerged like a phoenix from the ashes and he couldn't control what came out of his mouth as a result.

"It's none of your god damn business what happened, bitch. Leave me alone and shut the hell up," Inuyasha snapped angrily as his cheeks discovered a new shade of red. Mother of Kagome or not, she didn't have a right to mock him or shame him for doing things with his wife. They were married. So what if he had markings proving he was hers? Wasn't that big a deal or nothing.

Other than the fact that he'd never really bruised before but that was a different issue.

Soon after his knee jerk anger and righteous indignation faded, the potential ramifications of what he'd just said hit him full force and his nostrils flared in panic. He had just called his mother in law a bitch and told her to shut up. Amber eyes dilated in panic as he body tensed and his breathing grew sharper.

Much to his ire, relief and humiliation, however, Mama smiled and laughed. Actually laughed. Which was somehow creepier than her less than subtle comments and borderline stalking through the kitchen.

"You're right it's not my business. I apologize," Mama hummed affectionately as she gave him a guilty smile, "I couldn't help but tease."

Blushing deeper and utterly mortified by well everything, Inuyasha let out a long exasperated sigh and began fumbling with the bag of chips he'd procured.

"I don't normally bruise," he offered evasively in an attempt to make peace while also avoiding talking about more awkward topics, "And I heal fast. They should've been gone..."

"I know you don't. That's why I assumed they must have happened this morning," Mama let out a bemused sigh, "I'm sure they it will fade soon but if they don't by the time you want them to, I still know a few tricks to cover it up. If you want of course."

Inuyasha opened the bag and chewed on his bottom lip.

"Thanks I guess," he finally replied before taking out a few chips and popped a few into his mouth. For a moment, an awkward yet amiable silence fell between them before Mama cleared her throat and took another quick sip of tea.

"I know it's not necessarily my business but I need to make sure," she began hesitantly, "You do know how babies are made, don't you?"

Inuyasha instantly asphyxiated on his chip and began struggling to cough the fried potato out of his lungs.

"I think it''s pretty damn clear I know what... what makes babies," Inuyasha wheezed hoarsely as he glanced towards the kitchen door and seriously considered running to Kagome for protection from her mother who was doing an excellent job being inappropriate, "You do not need to..."

"What I mean is that you took precautions then?" Mama asked bluntly and Inuyasha wanted to die. Or murder his way out of this situation. Still, he couldn't very well punch the woman and causing a scene would start the first day of married life off on the wrong foot. Completely torn, Inuyasha tried to find a more socially acceptable way of ending this terrible no good conversation.

"My nose is really sensitive I can tell when it''s safe and when it isn't," he began awkwardly as he glanced towards the kitchen door and began subtly moving towards it, " I guess the answer is yes?"

Mama looked unconvinced and somewhat disapproving but also strangely amused.

"You can smell... fertility?" Mama asked skeptically as her lips twitched upwards and Inuyasha's impulsive rage returned full force.

"Yes I can fucking smell when she's fertile, alright? That good enough for you?!" he snapped as his attempts to leave became more pronounced and desperate, "So if that's all..."

Sighing heavily, Mama gave him a somewhat dejected look before taking another sip of tea and setting down her cup.

"I'm going to the store. Is there anything you'd like dear?" she asked casually and Inuyasha paused in the doorframe as he tried to reign in his anger. This was a peace offering so it would seem. Maybe even an apology for upsetting him. And this awkward conversation aside, she had always been kind and accepting of him. Even went so far as to offer him a place to go if everything went south. Clearly thought of him as a son. Maybe...maybe she just wanted to make sure that...that she wouldn't have to take care of him and an infant. That was fair. Babies...

From what he'd seen, babies were a lot of work. And everyone knew if something happened to Kagome, he'd be pretty useless. Mama was probably just trying to make sure that...that...

That there wouldn't be two invalids or maybe more she'd wind up caring after. That was a reasonable concern. A valid one.

And for that reason and so many others, he had no room to question her or get upset. He should be licking her feet for even...for even thinking to offer a half-breed some place to go. For allowing someone like him to marry her daughter.

Exhaling deeply to get his nerves under control, Inuyasha turned to face her. He needed to try and fix everything he'd just done wrong (or perceived to do wrong). The last thing he wanted was for his safety net to be taken away. Kagome would want him to keep going if...if bad things did happen to her and he really wouldn't be able to survive on his own if it did. Even...even if he felt confident right now that the worst case scenario would never come to pass, he still wanted to know he'd have somewhere safe to go. Wanted to know that someone would take care of him. That he wouldn't live the rest of his probably extremely limited days all alone.

"Ramen would be nice. Don't care which flavor," he mumbled quietly as he anxiously rubbed his upper arm, "Look I didn't mean to snap at you. Or offend you or anything.'ve been really...really nice to me and...and accepting so... I know...I know that..."

"You don't need to apologize," Mama reassured him with an apologetic smile, "I'm the one in the wrong. For that I am sorry."

He nodded and gave what he hoped was a grateful smile before clearing his throat and heading towards the stairs. Kagome woukd make this awkward feeling go away. Would make him forget what he'd done. Wincing as he crossed the living room, he noticed a bit of a headache coming on too which didn't help things at all. Maybe he could sleep these feelings away or, at a minimum, banish his growing migraine straight to hell where it belonged. It'd be all good again once he woke up. A fresh start to what should've been the best day of his life.

His lips twitched upwards even as his headache worsened and a faint yellow aura danced in the corner of his eyes. Awkward assault aside, this still technically was the best day of his life. Maybe he'd even look back on that conversation and laugh.

Although he'd probably spend many nights in the future laying awake thinking about that time he called Mama a bitch.

He opened Kagome's bedroom door and the sun shining through her window felt like a knife being driven into his skull making his already rattled nerves reach new heights.

"Oh you're back. How did it go?"

Inuyasha shut the door and growled.

"I can't believe you didn't tell me."

"What on earth are you...oh! Oh..."

"Yeah 'oh'!"


Closing his eyes, Miroku was grateful he was on dry land for if he was under water he was fairly certain he wouldn't have the inclination to swim upwards for air. In many ways, he felt like he was trapped inside a cage without a key. A prisoner in his own body with no way to escape. At least before, he'd come to terms with his demise. Found a way to feel...something but now the very thought of doing much of anything had the same appeal as pushing bamboo beneath his fingernails. At least, for the moment, there was an excuse not to move. Part of him hoped this latest injury would've killed him but alas no such luck. Mushin had arrived earlier that morning and was currently in the process of fixing what he could. Sango was...

Miroku wrinkled his nose slightly and his lips turned incrementally downwards.

The slayer. Slayer was a more palatable name for the woman who shared her face. It was almost painful to think the name much less say it aloud which made his predicament even more precarious. Undoubtedly, the slayer would become upset with him for not calling her by her true name. Especially since it had been established they were two very different people, they were still...

The same.

Very much the same.

A single tear slid down his cheek unnoticed and unbidden earning a concerned glance from his mentor who shook his head and hastened completing the suture.

"I know this is uncomfortable Miroku," Mushin tried to comfort as he glanced down at the soothing herb mixture which he would apply once the process was complete, "But it is almost done."

Miroku simply nodded to at least appear that he was listening while his glazed over eyes continued to stare blankly up at the ceiling. Mind going over and over what had occurred that previous evening with ever increasing apathy. When he first woke that morning, he felt relatively normal. Relieved even. However, as time marched on, utter mortification hit him. The fact that he'd said any of that to begin with and to what amounted to his love's reincarnation was almost too awkward to stomach.

Suddenly his cathartic outpouring of grief, which should've brought him a modicum of relief and ushered in healing, tore him wide open and destroyed whatever he had left inside him.

Ever since that devastating final blow, Miroku began to wish it had been Sango who retained her memories. She had inherently possessed a strength of mind he was simply incapable of achieving. Were the tables to be turned, he would've been by and large who he had been when they first met. A philandering, pathetic excuse of a man living moment to moment in search of meaning. She would've saved him and changed him into a better man. Would've had the patience to see that transition through knowing the potential was there.

Or she simply would've gone her separate way and he would've lived the rest of his life in blissful ignorance that there could be more. That he could hope for more than an early death all alone. Such a life would have been acceptable because one cannot miss what one does not know.

It was a selfish wish to be sure and one he regretted instantly. Sango had lost everyone she had ever loved and had suffered terribly. She had died a terrible slow death while his demise had been quick to the point he couldn't even recall pain. No, upon further reflection, he was glad morbidly that he was the one who knew.

The only Sango that existed now was…

That was a strange thought and a wrong one. Sango no longer existed.

Another tear slid down his cheek and dampened his hair.

Almost instantly, the slayer made a small noise of concern from her place in the corner and the monk distantly registered her approaching footsteps. What he registered fully, however, was the slayer kneeling down beside him and taking his hand in hers to give it a gentle squeeze. Her thumb caressed his palm reassuringly and when he looked at her, she gave him a strange smile.

It was then and only then that he realized something was different but it took far too long for his sluggish mind to pinpoint exactly what had changed.

"You cut your hair," Miroku whispered hoarsely and the slayer shrugged as her freehand moved to gently toy with the length sitting a few inches above her shoulder in a clean bob. Vaguely, his realization gave rise to another. Namely, that this development should've garnered more of a reaction. Elicited some type of emotional response. Concern perhaps. Maybe anger. There was even a distinct possibility for arousal as this new styling was actually flattering. Something, anything that his mind knew should've been normal. Instead the only reaction he could muster was an emotionless…


"Well I've...I've been considering cutting it for a while," she offered by way of explanation with a faint blush, "In battle, having it up like it was could be used against me by an enemy. Could get caught…"

Accepting this evasive explanation without question, the monk nodded wearily before turning his vacant gaze back towards the ceiling. At this non-reaction, the slayer seemed crestfallen.

Still a sad smile graced her lips as she gave his hand another gentle squeeze. Truth be told, last night had revealed much about this man and she truly hoped that her past self had seen his good heart. Had appreciated how deeply she was loved and reciprocated that love. A part of her truly believed she must have known. There was no other way to explain the affection that was slowly building in her own heart. Unwelcome in its suddenness and its timing.

It would be that she began to fall for him right as any chance they might have had crumpled into dust. He loved someone who never even existed. Who looked like her. Sounded like her. His heart shattered beyond repair as he struggled to distinguish them fully.

With each new wave of affection, heartbreak crashed shortly thereafter. Miroku would never feel the same way. Not now. Perhaps...maybe if she'd opened herself to this possibility sooner, things would've been different but...but…

Sango squeezed his hand again.

It was hard to grieve, to move on, when the person you loved was seemingly alive and well. When they were staring at you in the face every day. A cruel and unusual form of torture to be sure. The fact that she'd been so cruel - which wasn't a fair assessment not that it made a difference - made a knot twist in her stomach in an almost constant way.

So she'd cut her hair to make things easier for him. So her appearance was not so jarring or painful. The thought of doing other more drastic measures even crossed her mind but honestly she didn't want to come across insane.

And, as Kohaku pointed out, shaving part of her eyebrow, even if in a somewhat stylish way, was an insane thing to do. Her brother, upon hearing the truth of what was occurring, had been the one to suggest cutting her hair and to do less extreme alterations to her general appearance. Her outer kimono, with the permission of her father, had been retrieved from storage. Despite not having been worn for over a decade, the light aqua color her mother favored still held its original hue and fit surprisingly well. Her slayer garb had been stripped of its usual unique appliqué and replaced with jaded beads which she had spent the better part of Mushin's treatment sewing in a basic pattern that could be expanded on at a later date.

Three maybe even four hours she'd spent on this new look...

But the monk was too lost in his depression to even have noticed. His gaze doll-like and hollow. Empty even. Like there was nothing left inside.

Still, she knew…

She knew her predecessor wouldn't have given up on him so, for her sake, she would try to help him smile once more in her stead. Even if he didn't want her help.

Maybe she could enlist Inuyasha to do most of the legwork. The half-demon knew him better than anyone after all. Maybe he'd know what to do or say.

But Inuyasha was not expected to return to this world until the day after tomorrow. And would probably not arrive for a few days after that. Until then the task fell solely on her unqualified shoulders….

"Do you need anything?" Sango asked shakily as she gave his hand another light squeeze, "Water. A…"

"He should not eat anything until the sedative fully wears off," Mushin interrupted wearily and the slayer gave the old man a withering glare before clearing her throat and trying another approach.

"Well would anything, other than food, make you more comfortable?" she amended cautiously before biting her lip and waiting for a response. Any response. Much to her utter relief and also chagrin, his hand squeezed back even as another tear slid down his cheek.

"This is sufficient," he reassured her barely above a hoarse whisper, "Thank you."

This was true much to his surprise. Even if this wasn't the woman he wanted it to be, it still was a friend offering this small token of comfort and affection. Someone who at least knew the true depth of his grief. Who understood what he had lost. Realization filtered down into his mind that she must have cut her hair to bring him some comfort. To distinguish herself and make it less painful to be around her. Glancing at her, his heart ached when he finally noticed the other changes she had made for his benefit. Her clothing had been exchanged for starters. Even the slayer garb underneath, what limited parts he could see, appeared to have different embellishments. She had done all this for him. Changed her appearance solely for his benefit.

Miroku's jaw began to tremble while his throat grew tight and a few more tears escaped.

"You…" he began hoarsely and she gave him a worried look.

"Just wanted to change things up," she interrupted and Miroku visibly trembled. Perhaps now was as good a time as any...

"I made something for you," she continued nervously before releasing his hand and fumbling with some imperceptible pocket, "It's meant to be worn in the hair.'s not traditional or anything like that but…"

Sango paused and glanced at Mushin who was looking at her curiously but she decided to ignore his presence. The elderly monk seemed to realize he needed to complete his work so as to give them a private moment and he began working on the sutures with more haste.

With trembling fingers she removed two thick strands of wrapped twine making the monk for who they were intended wrinkle his brow in confusion.

"They're meant to be worn in the hair. I'll braid them in," she offered hesitantly, "If you want. I...I know I'm not her but I wanted you have something I know we shared. Something of hers to carry with you."

Miroku paled but remained quiet until it occurred to him what it was she had done.

"Your hair," he whispered before an almost silent whisper escaped him against his will and she nodded wearily.

Had she not admitted it, he would've assumed the interior of the tightly wrapped dark turquoise strands were composed of twine but it was endlessly more meaningful for it to be something that had belonged to the woman he loved. Different as the two women might be, he couldn't deny that they shared identical physical attributes. The hair, in a roundabout way, was his Sango's hair. It was a piece of her.

"You said its to be worn?" he managed and the slayer seemed to relax somewhat before he added, "The color…"

"The thread was from what was left over from a Kohaku's armor," she admitted nervously, "I...there was no more red left...or gold...or even navy..."

She let out a shuddering breath as she held the items against her chest.

"You don't have to accept them. I just thought…I'm so sorry. I could try…"

Miroku shook his head and offered her a strangled smile.

"You misunderstand. I..."

"That should do it," Mushin interrupted as he finished tying off the sutures and began to apply the salve, "You need to take it easy for the next few days. It's honestly a miracle it didn't consume you. I would've given you one or two days to live but thankfully your injury appears to be healing so we will wait and see."

Turning his head towards Mushin, Miroku tried to read the old man's face to gauge his sincerity. This was far from the first time such a dire warning had been uttered…

Mushin met his gaze with nothing but sympathy and an attempt at knew that, for once, such a prophecy was not being offered in jest. Suddenly it was rather hard to breathe and he was forced to set his jaw to keep it from trembling.

It may not be so. We should move you to a secure location nonethe..." Mushin offered before glancing at the slayer who seemed to be experiencing a mixture of concern and rage.

"What do you mean move him? He's hurt" Sango hissed, "You just stitched him up! Moving him is the last thing he needs."

"Young lady. I would still advise moving him. It's not safe for him to remain here," Mushin sighed shakily, "Are there any outposts? I will gladly accompany him..."

Rolling his head towards the ceiling once more, Miroku thankfully missed the rest of the conversation as his ears began to ring. The prospect of death strangely didnt disturb him as deeply as he expected it to. Death actually seemed the most appealing option at this point.

And yet he found himself afraid.

"...and I don't care. I'm going," the slayer's voice concluded, "I'm not leaving him alone out there with you. You've clearly given up on him when he could be fine but…"

"I don't believe you understand the danger…"

Miroku wrinkled his brow as what the slayer was saying filtered down into his muddled mind. Was she...was she planning on staying with him? But why would she do such a thing? The old Sango he could've understood but this new friendship with the slayer was fragile and new and…

"Enough of this. Stop. Talking," she finally hissed and Miroku blinked a few times at her expression. He recognized it oddly and with a surprising wave of amusement, actual amusement, he imagined Mushin was about to be on the receiving end of a fist.

"Young lady, I have been caring for him, his father and his grandfather all of my life. I know the signs and…"

Miroku's lips twitched upwards as Sango's hand gripped his so tightly his hand might break. Obviously trying to reign in her temper and not be violent. But the look in her eye…

Miroku knew it all too well and the familiarity didn't bother him as much as he thought it would. Her reaction was undoubtedly a result of Mushin's blunt honesty and lack of tact. Her defensiveness was most certainly appreciated. The old lush definitely had a knack for saying the exact wrong thing and tended to exaggerate in any case. Mushin also tended to have a defeatist attitude. Case in point, other monks were being murdered and then Mushin told god and everyone he was dying.

He was not.

"This conversation is over. I'm going and that's final," she huffed before she paled slightly and glanced down at Miroku, "Unless...unless you don't want me to…"

"No. That...that would be fine. Just keep your distance if...if it worsens," Miroku offered brokenly and she nodded her acceptance of that condition. Mushin's eye twitched when it became crystal clear his objections were being overruled.

The youth of today had absolutely no respect for their elders. Just wild and rebellious and believing they knew better...

"Very well," the old monk huffed as he got to his feet, "I'll fetch Haichi then."

Glancing over her shoulder at the half-demon napping soundly on her bed like he'd been doing all day, Kagome couldn't help but feel the tiniest bit salty about his attitude earlier. Last night, he'd been completely on board with her dropping out then this morning he'd done an about face and after terribly awkward negotiations, it was now decided - by him - that she would keep going to school until she got kicked out. Failing grades were mentioned as a potential catalyst as was too many absences. And he'd very hesitantly listed pregnancy so quietly she almost missed it. Honestly she wasn't even sure he'd meant to say that aloud. His ears had lowered. He'd been playing with his hands and his eyes glazed over as he watched something only he could see. Despite his body language screaming defeat, his lips twitched up a little...

Before he quickly got serious and insisted she needed to continue her education. That she very well might need it. When she didn't argue, he smiled and gave her a quick kiss before going to register their marriage with the headman with almost giddy excitement. Leaving her to study for her stupid test. For the education he wanted her to continue for god knows what reason.

Kagome wrinkled her nose and sighed. Okay, fine, she knew why he wanted her to continue. The well may close, something about not bringing dishonor on her family, her being from this era originally, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Either way, him basically making the decision for her, just assuming that she was dropping out because of him was way out of line. Sure she hasn't been particularly eloquent in explaining her thoughts on the matter but...

Okay, fine. To be fair, she'd basically said that she was dropping out for him so he was obviously trying to be considerate. Trying being the operative word. He was also afraid she'd regret stopping her path to a GED and resent him for it when he didn't meet the expectations he assumed she had.

That and he desperately wanted to create a family with her and despite the possibility it might get taken away from him, for the first time quite possibly ever he had actual hope that it'd happen. The fact that he mentioned pregnancy at all was shocking considering he assumed she was going to die a second time. Then again he had proposed to her and they were formally getting married tomorrow. Some switch had flipped in his mind to be sure...

Shaking her head, Kagome sighed heavily. In any case, maybe he knew he didn't have a choice in the matter and he was just accepting pregnancy was a possibility. They sure as hell rolled the dice last night and this morning their attempt to be cautious backfired spectacularly. At some point she'd pinned him down and after that he seemingly lost all impulse control and the rest was history. Still, their actions so far didn't mean they shouldn't at least try to take actual precautions in the future. Something that was possible now that her mother decided to make things awkward and buy enough condoms to fill up her daughter's ten ton backpack. In any case, babies might be something they both wanted but this wasn't exactly the time to start actively trying. Having children needed to wait until after they got settled and the jewel was behind them and Inuyasha was a little more...stable to put it nicely. Not that he'd be a bad father, he'd definitely rise to the occasion, but his current particular brand of strangely oppressive love would definitely not be suited for a toddler or even a newborn. He'd probably insist on wearing the baby sling like a second skin...

Chewing her bottom lip, Kagome's sapphire eyes searched Inuyasha's maddeningly adorable face. No matter his reasons, Inuyasha needed to get through his thick skull that the world didn't revolve around him. Not everything was about him. Being sent back in time didn't mean he was meant to fix everything he perceived as a mistake like bitching about her education. It was her life and her decisions were her own.

Truth was that as much as she loved Inuyasha and wanted to be his wife as well as keep an eye on his deteriorating mental state, that was only part of the reason she wanted to drop out. Really, and not to sound like she was using him, but wanting to be with him was more of a justification. More than anything she wanted to live by his side forever and ever amen but she could do that and keep going to school. The two options weren't exclusive.

It was just...

And it wasn't necessarily because of him...

Or that she was using him as an excuse to drop out but...

Rolling her eyes, Kagome turned back to her desk and scowled. Just like Inuyasha had to hide his ears and what made him special, here in this world she had to suppress what she was. Pretend like she was just your average naive little high school student. Like any of her teachers had room to tell her about how scary adulthood was. Sometimes she conjured up an image of them facing down a demon just to prevent a dip in her self-confidence after being told, yet again, she'd never make it in the 'real' world. More than once she wanted to say 'well you'd never survive what I encounter on an almost daily basis' but always managed to hold her tongue.

The thing about it was...

Kagome cricked her neck and sighed again.

The thing about all it was that she didn't belong here. In this time. In this place.

Every single conversation with her friends made that abundantly clear.

Once you've killed a man or two - no matter how evil they might be - the intricacies of what hairdo was in style did not appeal to you in the slightest. Nor did what movies were coming out or what the latest hot new restaurant might be. It infuriated her that every single teacher treated her either with kid gloves or with the obvious belief she was an idiot. In this world, in that school, she was just a nameless face. There was nothing special about her.

And she was special.

In the feudal era, she was powerful. She had the ability to change the world. She could make a difference. It didn't matter that she didn't understand complicated mathematical formulas because one day, if she actually had time to study them, she'd be able to look at a random weed and know what medicinal properties it held. She would be able to make barriers that could protect those around her. Instead of focusing on honing her actual gifts, however, she spent her free time studying things she'd never even use.

The realization she needed to stop trying to salvage a normal modern life hit her way before she'd even considered dropping out. A few months back she'd gone to lunch with some of her former friends and found herself internally screaming at the asinine topics of the day. She couldn't care less about what the latest celebrity gossip was or what movies were coming out. She didn't care about the school festival. Had zero interest in being in a school play and negative interest in having to learn lines for the main role in less than an hour. Really didn't like having to learn at the lyrics to a terrible middle school rendition of Ode to Joy. About the Sacred freaking Jewel no less. Who wrote that anyway and how did they know? It was a pretty obscure legend after all. One she hasn't even heard until she got sent through the well...

Momentarily distracted by that memory, that song and its disturbingly relevant lyrics seemed to be something that should have bothered her lyrics had been way too particular. Too specific. There were too many details that seemed written for her and her alone. The fact that she missed that tidbit showed how checked out of the situation she had been. Just going through the motions to get through that day as quickly and painlessly as possible. Still, now that she was actually processing that terrible day, it seemed just plain weird.

Exhaling slowly and blowing up her bangs, Kagome shook her head yet again to clear her mind. Oddly specific songs aside, the point was that she didn't exactly appreciate being forced into a day of superficial meaningless extracurriculars. They served no purpose. Every ounce of effort put into gong through with it was a total waste.

Although she'd admit it was pretty hilarious when giant fungi started running around. The second best part came when Inuyasha randomly appeared to take down the scampering demons looking completely flustered. Face beet red from embarrassment and trying to apologize for forgetting this happened until it was too late. Trying to comfort her and with the most adorable shy little smile, promising that he would do best not to destroy the ceiling off her auditorium - a word which he tragically yet adorably mispronounced - this time.

Kagome snickered to herself as she picked up a flash card.

This time.

Oh to have seen everyone's faces when Inuyasha blew the roof off. Would've been priceless.

The whole food demon fiasco had been a point of concern though. She and Inuyasha spent that evening going through all the food and antiques in the house to make sure there weren't any other edible dried demons just laying around. Yeah technically she'd brought these particular food stuffs with her but it was entirely possible there were some just laying around waiting to be exposed to water. Gramps might believe his sutras did things but they were about as useless as the paper they were written on and clearly his training was lacking.

As was hers. She didn't recognize the dried food for what it was either. Yet another example of how it'd be useful to spend her time learning priestess things. Or slayer things seeing as how it was Sango who recognized the seemingly benign jerky for what it really was.

'I need to focus on what I really am,' Kagome thought miserable as she fingered the corner of her flash card, 'A miko. Plain and simple.'

Her bad mood immediately returned when Inuyasha let out a soft snore and fidgeted slightly in his sleep.

He kept getting these ideas about what was best for her. About what she wanted. His fear that he'd screw up and hurt her pervaded every aspect of their relationship including this but screwing up was an inherent part of life. They could fight - and often did - without their relationship imploding.

Over most things anyway. This particular fight rubbed her exactly the wrong way.

Primarily because he'd changed his mind and gave her whiplash. The only thing that made sense about his 180 turn about her education had to be because Inuyasha was willing to put what he wanted on hold so she achieve what he perceived to be her goals. It was blatantly clear he'd been beyond ecstatic that she planned on dropping out. Like that was exactly what he'd wanted to hear - not just in that moment but for a long, long time.

Letting out an exasperated sigh, Kagome really wanted to visit her past self and kick her in the face.

Clearly school had been made the number one priority and Kagome was pretty damn sure that her past life hated school with the same passion. Whatever she'd said or done had obviously given him the exact wrong idea. Maybe if her past self had just said she didn't intend on staying in the future, Inuyasha would've found the confidence to make a move. Probably spent all that time thinking she wouldn't stay and it was beyond obvious Inuyasha had abandonment issues that began way before he'd even met her or Kikyo. Why say anything if she was going to leave him for a world he didn't understand and would never belong in, right? Or maybe she'd even stupidly thought that Inuyasha didn't love her so school needed to be completed as a backup option. Maybe it all would've made more sense if she'd actually lived it but with the extremely limited facts she had and Inuyasha unable to explain the situation with any amount of clarity, she most likely would never understand why things had gone the way that they had.

'Still, I couldn't've been that stupid, right? What was I? Blind?!' Kagome cursed silently before turning back to the equations with resigned determination. Once she finished this test, she and Inuyasha were going to have a long talk about school and not making decisions for her.

Setting her jaw, Kagome fingered her notecard for a minute before setting it down and turning in her chair.

Then again, there was no time like the present.

"I'm dropping out and that's final. I don't belong here and I don't want to belong here so you can take your stupid idea about me remaining in school and throw it in the garbage," she announced loudly and a little bitterly truth be told. Inuyasha's eyebrow furrowed and his ears folded back.

"You do realize I was sleeping, right? What if I hadn't heard you?" Inuyasha teased tiredly as he cracked one eye open and frowned, "Besides it was just an idea anyway. Why're you so pissed?"

Kagome's nostrils flared and her uncharacteristic rage boiled over.

"Why am I pissed?! Oh I don't know. Could it be that you don't have the right to make decisions for me?! That you went from agreeing with me to changing your mind for no reason?!"

Inuyasha rolled his eyes and adjusted himself back on the bed fully intending on falling asleep once this pointless battle was over.

"I'm not making decisions for you and I don't want to make decisions for you. You didn't talk to me about this. At all. We need to actually talk about it," he argued with a no lack of exasperation, "School was real important to you the first time and seemed to be important until yesterday. Maybe you'll change your mind."

"About you?"

Inuyasha snorted softly and shook his head.

"You're stuck with me whether you like it or not. The time for you to get out of this has come and gone," he teased before sighing and adding dejectedly, "I just don't know...I don't know what ending your education will mean for you. What if the well closes when this is over? Will you be able to make it here without finishing out your schooling?"

Despite her anger, Kagome found his concern somewhat endearing.

"The well isn't going to close," Kagome huffed, "And if it does, shouldn't I be on the right side of it? So I get stuck where I want to be?"

Realizing that this discussion was not going to be over quickly and also unable to ignore how utterly stupid she was being about the well, Inuyasha cracked one eye open and gave her an impatient look.

"The well closing is a thing that could happen. And if it does, and you get stuck here, what will you even do if you're not in school?"

It was hard to understand how he could calmly and rationally discuss the possible outcome where they were separated forever while he couldn't even broach the subject of death but…

Kagome's anger subsided at the thought of what he'd do if the well shut her out and they were separated. He seemed to read her face and knew the direction her thoughts went.

"I'd be okay, ya know, if...if the well closes and you're here," he explained in a somewhat resigned tone, "I wouldn't like it but at least you'd be somewhere safe. You wouldn't be gone forever, just...existing somewhere else. And if that happens, I don't want you to be in a bad position just because of me."

"If that happens, which I refuse to believe it will, I still wouldn't need school," Kagome countered and Inuyasha looked rather confused so she elaborated, "The shrine is a built in job. I was probably going to end up working here anyway honestly. That's what my dad did. What his dad did. What his dad's dad did and so on and so on. Somehow has to take over eventually. Might as well be me."

"So you'd be here," Inuyasha tried to clarify, "If the well closes, you'd stay here at the shrine."

There was something strange in his tone and it didn't take a genius to figure out he hoped that, worst case scenario, he'd be able to see her again. Because he'd definitely outlive her…

Kagone's anger subsided at that unwanted and upsetting thought. For all his concern and anxiety over losing her in battle, he would have to live without her eventually. He'd be left behind eventually whether she liked it or not.

Unless they had children. Then he wouldn't necessarily be alone and hopefully their babies would watch over him in her stead. Make sure he was okay. Well okay as he could be in that situation.

"Listen if you want to drop out of school, drop out," he sighed before shaking his head and getting back on topic, "I won't stop you. It's not my decision anyway."

Kagome nodded gratefully before glancing back at the flashcards waiting atop her desk. Speaking of decisions, she had half a mind to just give up on studying for her test entirely and focus on something - or rather someone - else.

Seemingly sensing that the argument was resolved, Inuyasha rolled onto his back and curled one arm around his head while the other idly scratched at his chest. It was a bit concerning he seemed so exhausted. Although today had been filled with both excitement and horror. Horrors like Mama leaving a bag full of condoms outside her bedroom after basically trying to give Inuyasha a sex talk. In all the time she'd known him, Kaogme had never seen him look quite that shaken and mortified before. And it wasn't even about the awkward topic itself.

Apparently what upset him most was that he'd called her mom a bitch. Inuyasha could be a very strange bird. There was no rhyme or reason to what upset him and what didn't.

"Are you feeling okay?" Kagome asked quietly and Inuyasha sighed.

"Just a little headache. Trying to sleep it off," he admitted lazily, "Probably pollution."

Kagome sighed and stood up to approach the bed.

"Scoot," she ordered affectionately and Inuyasha opened his eyes to glance up at her before smiling gently and moving over. When Kagome sat down with her back against the headboard, he rolled to place his head on her lap knowing full well she was going to exercise his headache with her fine tuned skills.

Her left hand began to gently assault the usual culprit where the back of his skull met his neck and he sighed in relief. The gritty feel of his knotted muscles proved this was most likely the cause of his discomfort. The other side was probably just as bad to except she couldn't reach both villains in his current position.

"Move between my legs," she ordered softly and with a soft sigh, he awkwardly complied by rolling into position. Her fingers immediately went to work while his right hand moved to glide up and down her forearm. Their ritual was firmly in stone after months of routine.

"I love you," he murmured tiredly and Kagome smiled as she whispered the sentiment back while her fingers gently began working across his scalp.

Kagome knew she'd resolved the issue when his face began to go slack. Moving to massage his jaw she took note of his tired smile as his breathing evened out and finally, a soft snore began to escape him.

Just like always the knowledge that she had the power to soothe him made her heart swell with both pride and love. No matter how badly he'd annoyed her moments earlier. Love was such a strange animal.

Kaede bit her lip to keep from smiling as villager after villager ignored her insistence that they speak with her brother and his wife directly and approached her instead. Many had sought her guidance on what gifts the couple may enjoy. The colors Kagome favored. Whether Inuyasha was opposed to all spices or just some. The headman even arrived to gloat over the fact that there had been obvious signs that Kagome and Inuyasha were indeed intimate and therefore, children may in the very near future contrary to what she had told him the night before.

It had been a most auspicious day.

A sudden pulse of a panicked aura, however, killed any amusement she felt however.

"KAEDE!" Shippo screamed in a dead panic as he scrambled inside the hut and began looking around with wide, desperate eyes, "W-where are they? Inuyasha was here. I...I can smell him. He was just here. I…"

"Be calm and speak slowly," Kaede instructed as dread settled in her gut, "What has occurred?"

"Miroku...Miroku, he's d-dying. I need I-InuYasha and K-Kagome to come with m-me," Shippo breathed shakily, "Where...where d-did t-they go?"

Lips parting in horror, the old woman's heart sank to her toes before deciding to focus on calming the poor child so more details about this development could be retrieved. Perhaps things were not as dire as he believed. A child's imagination, after all, could be a dangerous thing.

"Ye need to stay calm," Kaede murmured affectionately as she gestured for him to come closer, "Inuyasha and Kagome are on her side of the well at present. I do not expect they will return for a few days at least."

"I...I need to try get to them," the fox kit muttered to himself as his entire tiny being trembled uncontrollably, "They need to come b-back before...before s-something happens. We n-need them there. I...I f-flew a-all this way. I...I w-was t-too slow a-and..."

Before Kaede could react, Shippo was racing towards the well obviously intending on bringing the pair back by force. Even though such a task was impossible.

Kaede wilted visibly before getting to her feet in a most elderly fashion.

Today should've been a good day.

Chapter Text

Setting her jaw, Sango watched with no lack of disgust as Mushin continued slamming down glass after glass of sake. Which seemed moronic given the task at hand. After all, it wasn't like the drunkard was the primary physician for a potential dying man. Or that this Mushin fellow wasn't the only person in the entire country who was intimately familiar with Miroku's highly specific form of injury. Just made total sense to get plastered right before they unnecessarily relocated their patient who was in both emotional and physical pain.

It seemed highly inappropriate to drink that much first thing in the morning. Or quite frankly ever.

And now the raccoon had procured yet another jug of sake. Lovely.

Just as Sango's feet began moving to rip the jug of rotgut out of the lush's hand, a firm hand reached up to grip her shoulder and Kohaku's weary voice spoke.

"Let him drink himself to death Sango," her brother opined gently before he removed his hand and sniffed once, "You'll be there in case Miroku needs something. All by yourself. Without any support. What could go wrong?"

Setting her jaw, Sango absently played with the strangeness of her short hair before shaking her head.

"I know what you're doing."

Kohaku shrugged and feigned innocence, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"You can't come with us. It's too dangerous," Sango chided.

"You trust him to be your support?" the pre-teen scoffed, "To be able to protect you?"

"His purpose isn't to protect me," the slayer huffed before gesturing at the hut where the monk was being kept, "Miroku needs someone who is familiar with..."

"All the more reason to go with you," Kohaku argued, "I have powers! You saw! Maybe..."

"Powers you have no idea how to use. The answer is no," Sango chided gently before chewing the inside of her cheek when Mushin clearly stumbled. Honestly, it wasn't the worst idea in the world to let Kohaku come with them. As far as she could tell, the elderly monk was a healer by trade. If this Naraku attacked them, she'd be on her own. Having backup would be helpful. That being, if Naraku attacked them, she wanted Kohaku on the other side of the world held up in an underground bunker when it happened.

"I've been reading scrolls on barriers," Kohaku argued, "All night. I've even made a few!"

"Studying for a few hours doesn't equate to years of study," Sango pointed out wearily, "You don't understand the situa..."

"I know what you told me," Kohaku countered, "If this Naraku is as bad as you say he is you can't face him alone."

The young man squared his shoulder and glared.

"And I don't want to be in a bad position," he challenged, "You honestly think Naraku wouldn't try to use your dead body to torture me and all these friends of yours? Toying with people's emotions seems to be his whole gimmick."

"That and murder," Sango corrected wearily, "Kohaku..."

"I'll just follow you," her little brother challenged, "I'm not going to leave you alone out there."

"Naraku would kill you and use you against me," Sango snapped, "Its out of the question Kohaku and that's final. Besides someone needs to be here when our friends come back. To explain everything. They're supposed to come back today and it's entirely possible they'll make good time."

Kohaku set his jaw and glared.

"Even if they do manage to make it here, I have no doubt that Inuyasha will smell where you are. They probably won't even make it to the village," the boy countered before huffing, "Fine. But I'm bringing you supplies if you're not back by tomorrow."

"What happened to my sweet little brother?" Sango teased wearily, "Now you're just..."

"Just taking after you," Kohaku snorted, "Neither of us are sweet under pressure."

Rolling her eyes, Sango shouldered her weapon as the raccoon grew into its large true form and several of the demon slayers helped lift Miroku onto the creatures back.

"I need to go," Sango sighed heavily before casting her brother a weary glance, "Please don't follow us."

"One day. You've got one day."

Exhaling softly, Inuyasha closed his eyes and smiled to himself as Kagome arranged herself comfortably against his side. The house had been quiet for a few hours now and Kagome, despite her general attitude towards her education, had put in the time and effort on her calculus studies. But she had now finished and now it was his favorite time of the day when it was just them. Together and in each other's arms. One thing he would say about being married was that his wife was much more bold in her attentions than she had been and the change made the whole marriage thing seem that much more distinct. Almost immediately her fingertips wormed beneath his robes to gently caress his bare skin earning a soft hum of appreciation. Instead of maintaining some distance, her chest was pressed almost flush against his side. Rather than donning baggy pajamas, she was relatively underdressed and large swathes of bare skin were exposed for his viewing pleasure. All of these were subtle but noticeable differences. Little things that made him want to crawl into this moment and live here forever.

"Tell me about the shell," Kagome murmured tiredly and Inuyasha had to consciously bite back his cringe, "How did you lose it?"

Inuyasha cringed while his mind raced to find a way to explain the situation without ruining everything. Not that he actually believed Kagome would be upset with him but irrational fears were still fears nonetheless.

"I..." the half-demon tried before chewing on his bottom lip and trying to think how to phrase what occurred without the mention of Kikyo. Almost instantly, however, Kagome put the pieces together.

"You gave it to Kikyo, didn't you?" the miko hummed knowingly, "And Kaede found it, right?"

She felt the subtle shifting of his body as he tried to fight against the urge to squirm under the spot on conclusion.

"Was she nice?" Kagome asked lazily and the barely noticeable squirming stopped.


"Kikyo. Was she nice?" Kagome clarified as her hand began caressing his stomach to reassure and distract him, "You know, before she got brought..."

"S-she wasn't..." Inuyasha began shakily as he tried to figure out what exactly this was being addressed the day before their actual wedding, "She wasn't mean or anything but I wouldn't call her nice. More...why do you want to know?"

"Because she was part of your life and I want to know about how your life was before I came into it," she explained like it was obvious before sighing, "And I want to know about her. She seems like she important to you."

"Not as important as you," Inuyasha countered quickly - a little too quickly.

"Thank you but that doesn't mean..."

"And I told you the important bits already," he tried miserably.

"Okay so clearly this was an issue before," Kagome sighed, "But seeing as how we are married and she's not around, Kikyo is clearly not an issue this time. I'm just curious."

As Inuyasha's free hand combed over his scalp and anxiety radiated off him in waves, Kagome's hand moved slightly lower and his muscles cringed beneath her touch. It was at that point that his hand reached down to grip her wrist and raise her wandering fingers up to the safety of his shoulder. 

And Kagome was pleased when her attempts to distract him from his own mind were by and large successful.

"Stop that," he laughed softly as he gave her hand a gentle squeeze earning a playful pout.

"Since when is it a crime to touch your husband?"

"There'll be time for that later," Inuyasha snickered, "Know what? Fine. Do want to hear about her or not?"

"Of course I do. You only ever say bad stuff about her but I mean..." Kagome hummed with a roll of the eyes, "If you were so hung up on her last time, there had to be a reason."

"There was," Inuyasha admitted as he began passively gliding his fingertips up and down her back, "But..."

He licked his lips as he tried to find a way to adequately describe what had happened. Which was hard considering he didn't even understand it.

"It'll sound stupid," he finally sighed before turning his head to bury his nose in her hair, "I was different than this."

"Well yeah we're married so..."

"It's more than that," he interrupted quietly, "I thought being with her was what love felt like. She was my best friend. My only friend."

Inuyasha let out a shaky sigh and pressed his lips against Kagome's temple, "Then I met you. And...and the more time went by I realized...I realized that what Kikyo and I had wasn't what I thought it was."

Kagome nodded as her hand once against began to wander aimlessly. This time he didn't stop her.

"I thought I was doing life right for once," he breathed against her skin, "You know, what normal people did when they get feelings. Get married. Settle down. I wanted...I wanted that. To be normal."

"It's okay to say you loved her," Kagome hummed tiredly, "I'm not going to get jealous. Why would I?"

"I...I know you won't," Inuyasha laughed shakily as he made a strange face, "I just don't want you to get mad at me. Old habits die hard."

"Yeah you've already given me the 'I abandoned you for her' speech," Kagome yawned, "Sounds like I was the jerk though. Took things personally. Trying to force the issue."

"You didn't..." he began to argue.

"You were engaged and she got murdered but yes, I wasn't being insensitive at all," Kagome interrupted with a bemused sigh, "Just tried to force you into picking me and loving me through petty..."

"But I did love you," Inuyasha mumbled worriedly and Kagome sighed.

"I know you did," Kagome reassured him earning a shuddering sigh, "But I still should've been better. I was just being stupid."

Inuyasha pressed his lips against her temple with a somewhat dejected hum.

"You aren't stupid, stupid," he offered before yawning and rolling towards her, "But all that doesn't matter anymore."

Kagome nodded before pressing her forehead against his temple.

" gave the shell to Kikyo...when? Why? How..."

Inuyasha sighed.

"She told me she had a special gift for me. I thought...I didn't have anything else to give," he explained - strangely relieved to discuss that moment so openly with someone who used to recoil at even a vague reference, "And she did keep it. Died with it in her palm. That's where Kaede found it."

"What did she give you?" Kagome asked curiously and Inuyasha applied the lighted of pressure against her forehead as he furrowed his brow in concentration.

"You know, I don't remember," he snickered before adding almost as an afterthought, "Whatever it was I don't have it anymore."

"I bet it was food," Kagome opined wisely and Inuyasha had to admit that was probably the nature of the gift.

"Probably," he admitted before adding with a weary sigh, "You know, I am grateful I met her. Kinda. If I hadn't and things hadn't gone the way they did, I wouldn't have this. Wouldn't be normal. Probably still be on my..."

"You still aren't normal," Kagome teased and Inuyasha bristled slightly.

"What the hell does that mean?!"

"It means you aren't normal. Which is good. Normal is boring," Kagome hummed playfully, "If you were 'normal', you wouldn't be able to protect us. Probably be a farmer or something."

Inuyasha relaxed and smiled.

"I'd be a shit farmer. Probably starve to death," he snickered, "But I could've been a mercenary or something interesting."

"That wouldn't be normal either," Kagome pointed out and Inuyasha nodded as he considered that.

"I do want something kinda normal now though," he admitted sheepishly, "Go to work. Come home. Have a garden."

"A garden?" Kagome giggled and Inuyasha nodded with a faint blush.

"Like radishes and beans and shit," he explained awkwardly, "Be in the same place long enough to grow something. I've seen all there is to see. Been pretty much everywhere. Just want to stay put for once."

Kagome smiled as her fingertip began gliding up and down his side leaving his skin tingling in their wake.

"Besides, kids need stability you know? And we want kids, right?" he added suggestively before cracking one eye open to gauge her reaction, "And I'm tired of fighting battles all the time. Just because I'm good at it doesn't mean I like it."

Much to his relief and joy she smiled and seemed to be thinking of the image of their children with fondness.

"Babies do need stability and you do get injured a lot..."

"And it sucks every time," Inuyasha added before humming appreciatively when her hand moved to caress his neck.

"Besides I want more times just like this," he breathed shakily. Kagome hummed contently before inhaling slightly when his hands worked under her nightshirt and his lips descended on hers.

"Oh! You mean..." she gasped in surprise and with a gentle nod, he smiled against her lips. It wasn't until later that she realized Inuyasha managed to evade discussing Kikyo herself in more depth. Really he'd only discussed her actions. Only mentioned vague, non-controversial aspects of this past relationship. Knowing that Inuyasha had to be confident and secure in their brand spanking new marriage, Kagome didn't really understand why he seemed reluctant to tell his new wife about his...

Wrinkling her nose, Kagome was woman enough to admit that the whole tell me about your ex-girlfriend thing had been weird. She was being weird. Why did she care anyway? Other than that they were on a quest where Kikyo kept getting brought up and Inuyasha had made her past involvement an issue.

Either way, talking about an ex-girlfriend on their first true night of marriage was probably not the best thing to do. It was something only a terribly awkward person would do in fact.

"Why am I like this?" Kagome groaned under her breath before cringing when Inuyasha stirred slightly at the statement.



Inuyasha yawned while his hand passively ran over her back a few times.

"Well do nothing quieter then."

Sango let out a shaky breath as for the umpteenth time Miroku's chest appeared to be unmoving. Infuriatingly, the worthless monk who was overseeing his care once again seemed to write this off and acted like there was nothing to be done. Just seemed to accept that Miroku was dying without questioning his defeatist conclusion.

Or simply was too drunk to notice which was a distinct possibility.

It was Miroku's sudden painful gasp for air that had her moving to take his healing into her own hands. Tucking her irritatingly short hair behind her ears, Sango got to her feet before kneeling down and arranging Miroku's head into her lap - taking a moment to glance at the colored braid she'd so carefully done earlier that afternoon and which was currently tied back with the rest of his hair. With him settled, she took note of the heat radiating off his body which was definitely a concern but his painful gasps for air significantly lessened the moment his head was supported. Such a radical change for such a minimal shift. And yet this simple, seemingly beneficial action seemed to have been an affront to god and everyone in the elder monk's opinion.

"Young lady! You should not move..."

"Oh just be quiet," Sango hissed as gently traced Miroku's jawline, "You might've given up on him but I haven't. We need to make sure he's breathing. Keep an eye on his fever. If I'm holding him, I'll be able to feel those things and then we'll know."

Mushin looked unconvinced by this plan. And surprised by her continued protectiveness. It was a little too intense for someone who proclaimed herself to be nothing more than a friend.

"What are you to him? Honestly," the elderly monk asked with a somewhat amused smile, "I only ask because you have been acting rather...possessive."

Sango scowled and rolled her eyes.

"Possessive," the slayer snorted, "If by that you mean actually caring whether he lives or dies..."

"How dare you. I raised Miroku on my own since his infancy! I love this boy like he was my own. I have simply accepted what is. The miasma made its way to his heart. There is nothing to be done but make his last moments comfortable," Mushin slurred sympathetically and without any true bite, "Jostling him needlessly..."

The elderly monk trailed off at the fearsome glare he received that would've scared even the bravest of men. It also didn't go beneath his alcohol-induced mental state when Miroku's tremors abruptly ceased once the girl had gotten him settled. Or that the clammy corpse like texture to his skin seemed to be transitioning into a more natural appearance.

Almost instantly.

Curious. Very curious.

Somehow this girl was managing to take some of the burden away from Miroku's abused body. But that could not be so. More likely this was the end and his body was shutting down. Such a thing could be measured. Tested.

When he moved closer, the slayer curled her arms defensively around her patient and glared daggers.

"I am simply monitoring his condition," Mushin reassured her and the slayer narrowed her eyes in suspicion.

"One second you're drinking and yelling at me and now all of a sudden you care?!"

Nodding in lieu of anything else to say to that assessment, Mushin moved closer and knelt down beside them - taking Miroku's wrist and pressing two fingers against his pulse point.

One heartbeat was thready, weak, struggling but the second that followed was steady, strong…

It was a few moments later that Mushin realized he'd gotten the order in reverse. The stronger heartbeat would pulse and the weaker one seemed to respond to it in a fluttering uneven manner. For every strong rhythmic heartbeat, two uneven beats ones followed - always out of sync. Faltering but clearly trying their best to follow the rhythm.

Taking stock of Miroku's general appearance, Mushin noticed that Miroku's chest was rising and falling at the same pace as the slayer's almost down to the second. They were matching each other...

Or rather, Miroku's body was matching this girl's. How absolutely fascinating.

"May I?" Mushin asked as his freehand hovered over Sango's wrist and the slayer furrowed her brow in confusion.

"You want to check my pulse? Why?"

"For comparison," Mushin explained evasively.

"You haven't done much healing have you?" Sango replied wearily, "We do have healers in my village. If you're out of your depth..."

Mushin gave her a patient look while leaving his palm extended.

"If I may..."

With a scowl, Sango rolled her eyes and extended her wrist. As his fingers wrapped around and his mind took note, his suspicion was confirmed.

It did appear her heart was beating for Miroku's or, at a minimum, was providing something for the young man's heart to follow when it had lost its way. Her heartbeat matched the steadier one. That much was certain.

"Fascinating," Mushin breathed as he released their wrists and sat back, "How did you do it?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"There is no need to play coy. Dark magic such as this may garner censure from some but…"

Sango gaped openly as her mind tried and failed to put context on the situation before realizing what exactly was being implied. Nostrils flaring, the slayer began to visibly vibrate with indignant rage.

"Are you insinuating I cursed Miroku?! That's…"

Holding up his hand for peace, Mushin laughed and shook his head, "Not at all. You're ensuring his survival. I've never seen such a thing. I simply want to know how it was done."

For a moment, Sango searched the man's clearly drunken facade before sighing and shaking her head.

"Sleep off your drink old…"

"You're ignorant of this then?" Mushin interrupted with no lack of disbelief, "How can that…"

When Miroku groaned and subtly buried his face into Sango's thigh in his sleep, Mushin lowered his voice and amended so as not to disturb his healing patient.

"Your heart is guiding his. Tethering him to the land of the living," Mushin explained with no lack of awe, "I don't understand how this is possible."

Blinking rapidly, Sango's mouth opened and closed several times like a fish out of water before she finally managed a somewhat coherent sentence

"You don't understand because it's not possible. You.."

"Normally I would agree but here we are and so it is," Mushin whispered with no lack of awe, "I've never seen anything like it."

"And that's why you wanted to feel my pulse?" Sango asked hoarsely and Mushin nodded. Surely this could be attributed to his inebriated state. This was pure nonsense. Mushin gave her a strange look before pressing his fingers against Miroku's wrist once more and letting out a short laugh.

"It's simply fascinating. And fortunate given the circumstances. So long as you live I imagine he will also," Mushin sighed as he scratched the top of his bald head, "But there is no way to know that for sure."

Unsure of what to say or even if she believed the lush, Sango elected to run her fingers against Miroku's scalp earning a tired subconcious sigh of relief.

"It could simply be the proximity that renders it effective," Mushin offered after a long moment, "Or the fact that he's injured that this phenomenon is occurring…"

The slayer didn't have a reply for that but if that was true and this wasn't the concoction of a drunken mind, it would explain a few things. Something sent Miroku's soul back in time after his death. Just as it had Inuyasha and even that Sesshomaru fellow. All three, as far as she knew, had lost the woman they'd loved in a tragic way because of or during the final battle with Naraku. All three retained their memories of said woman. It would make sense that there was some connection more tangible than mere memories.

Something subtle that was meant to go undetected.

Something that could very well be a curse. A price to be paid for the magic that caused all of this.

Take Inuyasha. Any extended lack of physical contact - and by extended she meant a few hours - seemed to result in the half-demon struggling for days. Less emotionally stable to be sure. Vulnerable to ailments like the headaches he seemed to get on a routine basis. There were even times she'd noticed him massaging his hands like they were sore. By all accounts, Inuyasha subtly grew weaker if he wasn't in almost constant contact with Kagome.

And it was getting more pronounced as time went on. More noticeable. In the beginning, even as needy as he had been, Inuyasha could keep his distance in foreign villages. At least for a time. Inuyasha was capable of spending the night away from Kagome no problem - although that rarely, if ever, occurred. Then as their relationship progressed the number of headaches increased and the less emotionally stable he became whenever they were away from one another for any amount of time. Perhaps the connection grew in strength in tandem with their love for one another.

Perhaps it was a weakness destined to kill him.

Except, on the flip side, whatever was occurring seemed to give him strength as well. Inuyasha should not have survived the injury inflicted by the inkwell on his human night. The amount of blood he'd lost was shocking and while, at the time, they chalked his recovery up to half-demon physiology, it could very well had been that Kagome's heart guided his through that night.

It was all speculation really but then, if that was the case, if proximity and contact was needed for the two men to survive, how on earth did Miroku survive all those months they were apart at first?

Sango had her suspicions. If Mushin was correct...

Everyone was different. Unique. Maybe the discrepancies between the two men could simply be chalked up to differences in what they respectively craved.

Inuyasha had, by and large, lived and struggled by himself and Sango seriously doubted he'd survive that way any longer. In short, Inuyasha needed someone to be physically with him. Without Kagome nearby, his body - and his mind for that matter - began to grow weak. Parting with her for more than a day or two at most may very well be lethal but maybe she was exaggerating the direness of that situation.

In any case, Miroku's needs were different than Inuyasha's needs. Instead of needing physical contact, perhaps Miroku needed an emotional one. After all, Inuyasha was a man of action while Miroku spent countless hours looking inward. It was entirely possibly that the absence of an emotional connection made his body vulnerable to attack. Maybe Naraku had been trying to kill him all along and was simply unable to do so until Miroku felt alone in the world. 

And maybe, just maybe it wasn't their current proximity that was turning the tides in the monk's favor but rather the building affection she felt for him that was resolving his current weakness. 

Which was an issue for another day.

But all of that was based on the assumption that what Mushin suspected had a basis in reality.

Miroku let out a broken groan as the arm tucked beneath his chest slowly began to unfurl across her body before curling against her side.

"I'd keep him close until he's fully healed," Mushin opined softly, "Perhaps, at present, his heart is simply not strong enough to reach out to yours for guidance. The distance may have been too difficult."

Seeing as how Miroku was improving in this position and seeing no reason to argue if there was even a remote possibility the old lush was right, Sango nodded as her fingertips continued massaging the monk's scalp.

"What could've caused this I wonder," Mushin breathed, "It's truly fascinating. One of a kind if I had to guess."

"We don't know if you're right," Sango sighed heavily. If Mushin was right, it wasn't one of a kind because Inuyasha was probably also affected. And if she has to guess, if all of this was true, whoever wished upon the jewel was to blame for this occurring.

Growing up, Sango had always been told the jewel was much like a succubus. Drawing in man and beast with the promise of power only to destroy them in the end. If it was the jewel who sent the men back, perhaps there was a trick to it. Gifting them what they wanted but also making the gift their weakness. Their downfall.

If that was true and she had listened to the old drunkard and stayed behind, it seemed increasingly likely the monk wouldn't have survived the night. He needed her. Truly needed her. 

Whether he liked it or not.

Given everything, if they were connected in such a way, this was definitely a problem Miroku would most certainly not like.

It was in that movement, the fates decided to put that thought to the test as Miroku awoke, gasped loudly and tried to scramble of our her lap. He didn't get far, however, a few feet at most before his entire body jerked and his head lolled sickeningly.

"Miroku you need to..."

"I...I apo... for…" the monk slurred as his face turned a sickly shade of green and his arm trembled from the effort of keeping himself upright, "I was...I...the... is...what...wha..."

It was clear he was struggling to breathe much less talk and his face was growing paler by the second.

"Just breathe and come back here. You're not well," Sango offered awkwardly and the monk's unfocused eyes betrayed his confusion and pain.

"You're not...not her," he managed to rasp in a very confused and delirious tone, ""

With a strange mixture of a sob and painful gasp, violet eyes began to roll back and Sango dove to catch him before he hit the floor.

"Yes proximity does seem important," Mushin sighed heavily, "This is unfortunate."

The slayer sent the old man a withering glare as she struggled to arrange Miroku back against her and scoot them both towards the futon.

"He does not appear to be fond of you..."

"Thank you for the observation," Sango snapped as she reached up with one hand to tuck her hair behind her ear, "Most instructive. Very helpful."

It seemed to dawn on Mushin that he should probably be helping her drag Miroku across the floor or, at a minimum, simply make it more comfortable to cradle him where he lay.

"It will be a long night," the elderly monk offered awkwardly as he rose and made his way over to the very flushed slayer, "Why don't you lay out with him so you can both rest?"

When Miroku began to tremble and his struggles with breathing racked his unconscious body, Sango sighed heavily before nodding her acceptance of this proposal. Even if the lush's assessment was completely and utterly wrong, even if her heart wasn't beating for his and she had no hand in his survival, her presence did seemed to bring him some level of relief from the pain. And she didn't want him to suffer more than absolutely necessary. Within minutes, Miroku was cradled securely against her side with his cheek resting just above her heart while her fingers gently stroked his hair.

When he subconsciously nuzzled her in his sleep, Sango pressed her lips against his temple while cursing the irony if it all. It would be when all hope was lost that she began to love him. Or at least be in serious danger of being so.

It actually made her feel somewhat disgusted with herself. That it took Miroku succumbing fully to his grief and despair to warm her heart. But there was something moving about the level of passion in his voice. Listening to the eloquence that he managed which betrayed his intelligence and depth to his character. His ability to spin a tale that invoked raw emotions and descriptive enough to give her a mental picture. She'd never encountered anyone who could do that so expertly and just like that her heart shifted. Then something inside her snapped when she saw his depressed state that morning. A desperate desire to protect him from himself and see him smile.

He'd never really smiled after that first day but because she'd been there she knew what happiness looked like on him. Gave her an idea of what to strive for.

Sango gently fondled his earlobe as she closed her eyes and tried to go over that moment. That was probably the only time she'd seen him. Truly seen him. Michevious and playful. Slightly inappropriate but clearly bursting with affection and joy. Laughing. Genuinely laughing like it was the happiest moment of his life.

Maybe it had been the best moment of his life this go around.

Inuyasha had implied very briefly once that Miroku had assumed at the time that his friends had abandoned him. Even after he'd gone to the slayer's village and learned that Inuyasha had sought her out - which apparently happened later the first time and which had to have hurt - Miroku didn't give up and assumed the best of his friends. He followed rumors and attempted to find them on his own since they clearly weren't able to find him or, alternatively, simply weren't looking. Sango could hardly imagine how that had felt to learn he'd been skipped over in the timeline. Her brother mentioned that Miroku seemed rather crestfallen the fist time he'd come to the slayer's village. Depressed was the word used actually.

What must he have thought?

Yet it was clear by Miroku's behavior that he forgave them instantly. Evidenced by his excitement when the headman pointed at him that day. How he immediately rushed towards her. One had to assume by he quickness of his reaction that he'd been watching her since she first entered the village. Maybe she'd even made eye contact and inadvertently ignored him. Then the headman pointed and he immediately came to the conclusion it was just a happy misunderstanding.

Then when it was clear they hadn't been looking for him, that they didn't remember him, rather than go on his separate way, Miroku desperately tried to convince them he was worthwhile what he'd done using the worst possible argument which - if Inuyasha's brief mention was to be believed - was almost verbatim to his Miroku's first introduction.

Because if it worked once, surely it'd work again, right? A tale of being cursed and seeking revenge and making a cursed baby or two along the way. Not the best job application or interview tactic to be sure. Didn't exactly make him seem like a team player and definitely made him seem like a selfish liability.

In any case, it was clear now that Miroku loved unconditionally. Forgave unconditionally. Sacrificed unconditionally. That would explain how her past incarnation could do so much wrong, made so many poor decisions, put everyone in danger, put herself in danger needlessly, beat him unconscious and how he loved her despite all that.

Inuyasha had also mentioned in passing that Miroku was rather guarded at first. Maybe Miroku realized his selfless tendencies and had been burned before. The way he told it his love story occurred over many months. Slowly and methodically but Sango wondered whether he was editing himself at times. Many times he implied or flat out said that her incarnation didn't love him. But looking back he never said when he had first fallen. Only that he was never sure of her incarnation's feelings until quite late.

Never... sure.

Sango bit her lip and gently pressed his head into her chest. That seemed to imply he had loved her quite early on, didn't it?

Her fingers gently moved to trace his jaw and she felt his lips briefly twitch in silent reply.

His philandering was described in great detail but there was always a bite to the tales. A subtle comment about how it for his own comfort.

Comfort. There were many ways to take that. Sure there were comfort women but seeing him in such pain made her guess that he was seeking something more than just pleasure.

Miroku had also joked that his father - and Mushin - had warned him against getting attached to anyone. Miroku hadn't said as much but Sango assumed that, while such advice had been said under the guise of spiritual growth, the warning was more likely given because falling in love would make his inevitable death more difficult to face.

Fooling around without attachment would fit the bill although, surprisingly, Miroku admitted that he regretted not being more straightforward with her reincarnation.

For all his perverted comments and behavior, he'd never actually slept with anyone. Could never bring himself to purposefully bring a child into the world the way he had been. That would explain how he'd paled and seemed hurt when Shippo accused him of wanting just that. It just was for appearances that he propositioned every woman he just met. Appearances and a desire to get rejected. Sango had no doubt Miroku could be smooth enough to seduce a woman if he wanted. He was both eloquent and intelligent enough to make it happen. After all, he'd semi-bragged that he was a fairly good flirt and had given her incarnation reason to be jealous more than a few times.

And yet he'd never used his flirtatious skills to get a woman into an actual bed. While he was an excellent con man and an excellent storyteller, that admission had been made amidst a nervous break down. With tears and bitterness. Not because he'd hadn't been successful but because he'd never confessed as much to the woman he loved. She had no reason to doubt his quiet confession.

Then again maybe she was giving him a little to much credit. Sure, he'd said no one had ever said yes but he didn't necessarily say he would've said no if a woman accepted.

And he did enjoy entertaining perversions judging by the number of times they'd returned from bathing to a very amused monk and a very red faced Inuyasha.

Miroku suddenly flinched in her embrace and his breathing hitched slightly but when her lips pressed against his temple and she gently shushed him he seemed to calm.It was strange but the possibility of an incredibly awkward morning when Miroku did wake was the least of her concerns. Especially when death was on the line.

Slowly and despite being the only one capable of protecting the outpost, Sango found herself falling asleep in the somewhat uncomfortable position and soon she did.

It was shortly thereafter that Mushin found himself shaking with silent laughter when a horrifically loud snore suddenly echoed in the previously silent hut.

The necessity of close proximity was indeed unfortunate.

Chapter Text

True to his word, Kohaku gave his sister exactly one day before he arrived with supplies and food and a few sutras in hand. Currently said surprisingly punctual little brother was excitedly listening to Mushin's teachings about the ways of monkhood and in a way, Sango was grateful for the distraction. Miroku had been sleeping on and off all day and the times he was awake he somehow managed to embed himself more deeply into her heart. From his surprisingly mischievous teasing about waking up in the arms of an attractive woman to his somewhat exasperated chiding of the amount of drink Mushin had consumed, it was the little things that were causing...issues.

Very problematic issues that would not have been issues a few days ago.

It was the subtle things that always fell beneath her notice that were doing her in. The way his lips quirked up into a partial smirk when he thought he was being funny. That he always had a perfect witty remark up his sleeve and let out little breath sighs when he realized his joke didn't land. How he'd offered his advice as Mushin taught his new student and seemed genuinely interested in helping her little brother.

And other things that made her feel like a monster. There were subtle indications that he wasn't as recovered emotionally as he was attempting to portray. His eyes going slightly out of focus before he gently touched the braid she'd woven into his hair like it gave him strength and then he'd seemingly improve. Meditation - or what appeared to be meditation at any rate - had been used and the somewhat shaky exhale made her heart ache. It made her want to gather him against her and make the pain go away.

But he didn't want her to touch him and seemed uncomfortable with her proximity. He couldn't even look at her.

Sango supposed this newfound affection and related rejection as a bit of divine justice. Punishment for her past sins and a taste of her own medicine. Destiny had literally rewritten the stars for him to return to her and yet she'd disparagingly dismissed his advances until the witching hour when the tables were turned and he realized she wasn't who he wanted.

Chewing on her lower lip, Sango absently tucked her irritatingly short hair behind her ears and focused on Kohaku excitedly interrogate the old drunkard about some type of technique. Which served as a very poor distraction as her mind was completely elsewhere and refused to be moved in any other direction.

It had to be her soul pushing her heart in this wholly unwanted free fall that had only heartbreak on its trajectory. A soul that decided to stay silent for so many months and allow the mind to write the monk off before she'd gotten a chance to know him. Admittedly it wasn't entirely her fault. Miroku wasn't being himself and hadn't processed her grief. Had been confusing her for someone else but maybe...maybe that wouldn't've mattered if she'd reciprocated his affections. Maybe...maybe if she'd given him a chance he would've dropped the poor attempts at chivalry and been himself.

Miroku decided in that moment to utter the most adorable contented hum and Sango had never wanted to punch something more. Because apparently - and much to her utter disgust - she was an inherently violent person. How else would one explain her actions in another life. Another life where her...fondness had been reciprocated.

An unfortunate feeling as it had been made obvious that Miroku wasn't going to fall for her any time soon. It was clear he wanted to keep her at an arm's distance which was problematic in many ways. By some unspoken agreement between the slayer and the much older monk, no explanation was given for her near constant proximity and she could tell it was beginning to bother him. He seemed rather confused and irked that she was sitting so close to him and would subtly withdraw his hand when she tried to hold it. Regardless of whether he knew a potential connection existed, what mattered is that she knew - or rather suspected - that their proximity was necessary to encourage his healing and so she continued staying a little too close for his comfort.

After all, there had been a few moments the previous night and even early this morning when he stopped breathing because she needed to use the restroom. Just a few minutes of her being out of arm's reach had almost been fatal.

Would he be less offended by her presence if he knew there may be something else at play? Or would it make him hate her more? After all, there was only so much one could do to change their appearance and while she'd done quite a few drastic changes, the impact was minimal at best. By all outward appearances, he could barely stand to look at her and when he did glance at her, it was for a few seconds at most. Even when addressing her, he had not once referred to her by name - only 'you' or 'she' or 'slayer'. The last one made her skin crawl. It sounded unnatural and forced and entirely too awkward for her liking.

But she couldn't fault him for it. The grief was still fresh - it had taken months but he finally accepted the Sango he knew was dead and could never be replaced. Something that even Inuyasha couldn't acknowledge about his miko and would never be able to face. For the half-demon Kagome was the same Kagome he had known. By all accounts, though, Kagome was by and large similar to her previous self based on what she was told. Although...and maybe Sango was misunderstanding in some would appear that she didn't go home all that often and she cared very little about the schoolwork both the monk and half-demon insisted she was obsessed over. To be fair, there were no radical changes to the miko unlike the slayer who had been prevented from suffering the trauma she once had but...

That didn't change the fact that both Inuyasha and Miroku had full heartedly believed they were the same woman they'd loved. And that simply wasn't true. It just...wasn't. Yes, they were technically the same women but...but they weren' wasn't like...and things were...

A subtle flinch and somewhat nauseated look out of the corner of her eye brought Sango's attention away from her thoughts. Currently she was sitting a little further from the monk than she had been - mostly because she didn't want to incur his wrath or ire. It was clear that her presence bothered him - which was unfortunate seeing as how it was entirely possible her proximity was crucial to his recovery and continued existence.

Even now he was suffering - whether from his injuries or her distance it wasn't clear. Still, it wasn't a risk she wanted to take and when it came down to being completely wrong about their connection and the worst thing that happened was causing him to be annoyed by staying nearby or, alternatively, dismissing the idea of being connection and unwittingly causing his death, Sango knew which one was more palatable. He already hated her anyway.

As subtly as she could, Sango moved slightly closer to him and almost instantly, Miroku sent her a somewhat annoyed glance before intentionally moving a fair distance away. Averting her eyes, she followed moments later under the guise of reaching for a piece of blank parchment nearby.

"Any particular reason you're staying so close by?" the monk asked much harsher than he intended, "If my well being is your concern, you should know that I'm feeling quite well. There is no need to hover."

"I..." Sango began before Mushin made a frustrated grunt, turned towards the pair and launched into the explanation which somehow made everything completely her fault.

"The young lady has good reason to be concerned seeing as she placed a spell upon you," Mushin hummed and Sango choked as her eyes bugged out of her head, "Quite a..."

"How many times do I have to say it old man?! I didn't do this!" the slayer bellowed angrily before realizing Miroku hadn't reacted yet. Glancing at him, she noticed much to her dismay that the hollow look in his eyes had returned and his face was stuck in a strange mildly horrified expression.

"I don't understand," Miroku finally managed thickly as he glanced between his two primary caretakers, "Why do you believe she..."

"I didn't do anything!" Sango very nearly screamed in frustration while one hand pointed at the old man, "He thinks whatever sent you back gave us some type of connection."

If anything, Miroku looked more confused and his general demeanor slowly faded back into what it had been the day before. Exhaling softly, Sango realized his mood this morning hadn't been his mood at all but rather the result of hiding his true feelings behind a mask that was cracking before her very eyes. And with that, her heart broke. He'd been trying so hard and all it took was being connected to her to shatter his attempts to keep his depression hidden.

With his eyes averted, Miroku's non-injured hand absently reached up to touch the braid pulled back against his scalp before closing his eyes and sighing.

"I still do not understand," the monk finally muttered in a very tight tone - looking more miserable with each passing second, "What do you mean by connection?"

Sango cleared her throat and fidgeted as she tried to find a rational way to explain the irrational suspicions.

"The thing is..."

"Whatever she did," Mushin interrupted again and Sango's eye twitched, "Aided in your survival. You had two heartbeats last night."

Glancing between the three others in the room in pure confusion, Miroku wilted visibly as he awaited a better explanation that never came.

"That statement does not make things any clearer," he admitted in a dejected and resigned tone, "Perhaps if you could give me some context so that I may..."

"After we moved here, you were getting worse and..."

Sango's attempt to explain was interrupted by Mushin beating a dead horse rather than giving the context his apprentice clearly needed.

"Her heart beat inside you. Guided your own. Somehow the two of you became connected and that, my boy, is how you survived," Mushin attempted and after a long tense moment, his apprentice exhaled softly as the gravity of the situation hit him. Glancing at Sango, his mouth moved wordlessly for a moment before he bit his lip and averted his eyes.

" I was getting worse, she placed...except...except no that can't be...can't be right..."

His voice faltered to a stop. Fear and confusion clutched at his throat, and suddenly he was finding it quite difficult to breathe. Closing his eyes and swallowing convulsively, Miroku tried to find the question he wanted to ask and thankfully, Sango realized that he was struggling.

"We don't even know if there is a connection or a spell or anything. It's just a guess," Sango rushed to reassure him, "You seemed to improve when I was nearby is all so I held you, as a friend, just in..."

"I wouldn't characterize whatever we share as friendship," Miroku interrupted a little harsher than he intended, "Until yesterday, you could barely tolerate my presence."

Sango recoiled like she'd been slapped, "That's not true at all. Well, okay, I..."

"It is," Miroku countered in an even more resigned tone before swallowing thickly and staring down at his hands, "I'd ask you both to leave me for a moment. To allow me process this but...but I agree it would be too risky under the circumstances given that...that there appears to be dark magic involved."

The silence that followed the bitter statement was deafening before Miroku cut through the tension with a knife as a somewhat strangled smile on his lips, "Even though I disagree with the process, should one exist, I imagine I should be grateful. After all, who wouldn't want the burden of having a pretty girl hold you in her arms?"

Sango cringed at how forced and miserable that joke sounded - even though Mushin seemed to have no problem laughing at the awkward, strange statement and wholeheartedly agreeing. Sending the old man a side eyed glare, the thought that many times people with issues have parents to blame for them came to mind. Of course the old lush brushed off any signs of despair. Probably the only positive reaction Miroku ever got from anyone came by way of laughter.

And given Miroku's attitude and obvious discomfort with their possible newfound connection, she was completely at a loss for what to say.

"Well, why don't I try staying right outside the door?" Sango offered after a tense moment, "Give you a moment alone. But if you start feeling weak, you need to tell me, okay?"

Miroku glanced up at her with something akin to gratitude in his eyes and he nodded his consent to this condition.

"Young lady..."

"Call me young lady one more time. I dare you," Sango clipped and a loud snort suddenly reminded the trio that a fourth person had been in the room the entire time.

"When choosing your next words, know she hits hard," Kohaku advised sagely as he began quickly yet casually exiting the hut, "Don't antagonize the crazy person."

"I'm not crazy!" Sango hissed and strangely Miroku smiled faintly at the exchange instead of appearing to be disturbed by it.

"I mean, you are a little..."

Mushin cast the bickering siblings each a glare in turn before shaking his head and interrupting the petty argument with that misguided confidence that comes from drinking, "Young lady, it's too dangerous to leave him unsupervised in his..."

If Miroku didn't reach out to grab her wrist, Sango would've beat her point into the old man's head but thankfully he did and the action released butterflies in her stomach. And dread and guilt and self-loathing because her default reaction to mildly annoying things was apparently violence. Which in turn, of course, made her remember how she supposedly beat Miroku senseless on a daily basis in her past life.

All of which was problematic because she wanted to be a better person and to maybe give Miroku a chance but the time for that had come and gone without her having any say in the matter. All because...

Shaking her head and gently removing her wrist from the monk's hand, Sango cleared her throat.

"We will be right outside the door. He deserves privacy the same as anyone else. If he says he needs a moment to process this then we should give him one," the slayer ordered firmly as she got to her feet and gripped the old man by the collar of his robes to drag him out by force. Pausing by the entry, she cringed slightly as her ears registered a faint sniffle before literally tossing the old lush out the door.

What seemed like hours later, Miroku slowly emerged from the small hut that served as a look out post with bloodshot eyes before offering her an apologetic half-smile.

"Thank you," he murmured hoarsely as he sat down next to her with a shuddering sigh.

"For what?"

"For giving me a moment to myself," Miroku replied with a grateful nod, "For..."

He paused and swallowed thickly, "And for taking precautions I know you must have found unpleasant. Well... if this theory about proximity is to be believed, it seems you saved my life."

"It wasn't a problem Miroku and I didn't really do anything. Just stayed nearby," Sango sighed dejectedly before tucking her hair behind her ears for the umpteenth time, "I'm just glad you're alright."

Miroku smiled softly and nodded his agreement.

"The whole situation is strange," he admitted after a long moment, "But that doesn't excuse what I said to you. You've been far more understanding of my situation than the others and I...I am grateful to have a friend such as that. I am sorry."

"To be fair, I only started being understanding very recently," she acknowledged and he let out a somewhat biting laugh.

"Ah well, I wasn't being very understanding myself," he countered, "Perhaps it's time we begin anew. Leave our preconceived notions about one another behind us."

"I'd like that," Sango hummed, "I'd like that very much."

Miroku wrinkled his nose slightly before reaching out to gently squeeze her wrist and sighing in relief.

"I do believe Mushin was correct however," Miroku laughed shakily before explaining when Sango gave him a strange look, "I remember some of what was said last night. I just hoped it was the result of a fever state."

Sango sighed, "What makes you think Mushin..."

"I began feeling rather dizzy after you left the room," Miroku explained in a resigned tone, "Now that I'm touching your wrist, the world has slowed its spinning."

Biting her lip, Sango couldn't help but once again adore his way of describing things.

"It's unfortunate," he sighed shakily though he didn't remove his hand, "But perhaps it will fade or vanish once I've recovered."

"And if it doesn't?"

Miroku averted his eyes and wrinkled his nose.

"You owe me no favors," he sighed, "Your life is your own and while we are...friends, you will eventually find a husband. Continue doing an excellent job as a demon slayer. I have no place in that life."

"Well our village is sorely lacking a spiritual presence and Kohaku needs a teacher. You could stay," Sango pointed out hesitantly even as her heart sank but Miroku shook his head.

"As I said this issue may be temporary," he mumbled dejectedly, "Hopefully I will no longer need you and..."

Sango's heart cracked despite her best efforts to keep her emotions in check and Miroku cleared his throat at the slightly inappropriate implications that could be taken many ways.

"Need you to be close by," he amended quickly, "And you will be able to live independently. I do not wish to be your burden."

"You're never a burden Miroku," she reassured him and he gave her a skeptical side eyed glance.

"That isn't what you thought..."

"We've left the past behind and started fresh or did you forget?" Sango cut him off with an awkward laugh, "As of this moment, all you know is how I feel about you now."

'More or less,' she added silently. It really did make her a little sick that it took him crying and being in the depths of despair for her to catch feelings for him. Seeing him in pain somehow appealing on a subconscious level. What did that say about her? If only for her sake, she prayed it was temporary. God forbid he fall in love with her again and be stuck with someone who apparently enjoyed his pain on some level. She really was a loathsome creature.

"Very true," he agreed before releasing her wrist and closing his eyes, "I guess we will have to wait and see what the fates have designed but I pray they aren't that cruel."

Humming in agreement, Sango couldn't argue with him there. Praying silently that her ever increasing adoration for this man was simply passing fancy, the slayer rearranged the hand gripping her wrist like a lifeline to intertwine her fingers in his.

"It'll be okay," she promised as she gave his hand a light squeeze, "We''ll figure this out. Either way."

Squeezing back, Miroku gave her a somewhat perplexed look before shaking his head and turning his gaze towards the forest.

"For my own understanding, what did happen that shed light on this development?"

"I...I'm not sure," Sango admitted quietly, " were..."

She sighed and tucked a few stray hairs behind her ears.

"You were having problems breathing so I tried elevating your head by putting it in my lap," she continued with a faint blush, "And it seemed to help. Next thing I knew Mushin was taking your pulse and announced you had two heartbeats."

Miroku scoffed in an amused fashion and nodded.

"He came to the conclusion that quickly?"

Sango nodded and sighed.

"He doesn't like me very much. Probably thinks I'm a witch or dark miko even though I'm...," she trailed off before adding absently, "And the timing...maybe it's just because I was nearby."

She fidgeted slightly in her seat.

"The rest of the night I...I kept you close because every time I moved you got worse. could be coincidence. Even now. were confused and you're not fully healed so..."

"Something powerful sent my soul back through time and space. To be with...with the woman I loved," Miroku interrupted in a tight voice, "And while you are not her, you..."

"Inuyasha said he doesn't know why you two were sent back. Maybe it isn't for that rea..."

"Inuyasha assumed that we were sent back to prevent untimely deaths but where there was death there will always be death," Miroku mused in an emotionless tone, "The Kagome he loves is a different woman from her predecessor in many ways and Inuyasha has always struggled to..."

The monk trailed off and sighed dejectedly.

"Inuyasha fears being alone and is willing to overlook or ignore facts to ensure he will not be left to face the world's scorn and derision once more," Miroku concluded, "He will never admit this Kagome is not the woman he knew. In the past, he did the same with Kikyo."

Blinking a few times, Miroku cast Sango a strange glance.

"You do know who Kikyo is, correct?"

The slayer nodded so the monk continued, "Kikyo attempted to kill him and us many times. Joined forces with Naraku. Intentionally caused discord among our small group of friends. She did the latter, I imagine, in the hopes we would abandon Inuyasha and his crippling fear of abandonment would lead him back into her arms. I think her intent was to break him in that way but perhaps I'm believing the worst in her."

Sango nodded her understanding before blowing her bangs up and sighing heavily.

"If we are connected in some way, how did you manage before we found you? Why wasn't this an issue?" Sango asked though she supposed she knew the answer, "And look at Inuyasha, he's never had an issue."

Miroku was quiet for a long moment as his hand flexed slightly around hers.

"Inuyasha..." the monk began quietly, "Inuyasha has changed. His healing has slowed. It took him days to recover from the ink incident whereas normally it would've taken...well, that's not entirely accurate. Some more severe..."

Sango noted his evasive response failed to address how he managed during his rebirth and that day in the village but chose not to point it out. Meanwhile, Miroku chewed the inside of his cheek before shaking his head to clear it.

"I'm not sure why this...why this suddenly has occurred," he admitted, "By all accounts, it makes no rational sense. Nothing has...has changed."

"Some things did change. You accepted my...Sango's death," the slayer amended awkwardly, "And realized I'm not her. And we found the remaining jewel shards. Maybe..."

Miroku shook his head and released her hand.

"It is most likely the jewel shards that drew Naraku's attention. Mushin must be incorrect," Miroku interrupted evasively, "It must be coincidence. Perhaps I became dizzy due sitting too long in one attitude or perhaps I simply needed fresh air. Mushin was influenced by his sake and in his altered state concocted things that weren't there."

Sango nodded in an attempt to pretend she agreed even as her heart ached.

"And Inuyasha is much more high strung than he had been. That would explain his strange behavior and symptoms," Miroku continued shakily, "Especially considering how their relationship has grown in depth and strength. There is nothing that indicates an unnatural connection between them. No, Mushin must be mistaken. No connection exists."

Not trusting that assessment in the slightest, Sango bit her lip and shrugged.

"If you say so" was the only reply she could think to say.

Inuyasha wasn’t quite sure to describe the pain he was feeling which seemed strange considering he had suffered through almost every injury imaginable. And he knew all too well that the unseen wounds can be more hurtful than any that bleed. Invisible wounds that scabbed over and became a scar on that part of his soul that survived. For ten shockingly quick years he’d lived with a pair of boiling hot tongs clamped tightly around his heart – the excruciating pain stealing the breath from his lungs and the strength from his legs.

This feeling wasn’t the same.

For starters, there were still shadows of joy and peace and excitement lingering around in his increasingly cloudy mind. Some selfish notes of anger that his short-lived happiness was being ruined because the monk couldn’t be bothered to stay healthy and whole. That Miroku had managed to tarnish the happiest days of his friend’s life by dying actively. And Inuyasha was disgusted with himself for being so selfish, so angry, so betrayed over something so terrible. To be upset with someone over their own life or death struggle. An evil feeling. One that ebbed and flowed - replaced more and more by despair.

Miroku was dying…

The image of those normally expressive violet eyes staring blankly up at him – unblinking and hollow – flooded Inuyasha’s mind eye. A phantom feeling of the corpse’s texture on his hands sent goosebumps rippling across his skin. The half-demon turned a sickly shade of green as his claws accidently dug into the hand he was gripping like a lifeline – the ringing in his ears drowning out Kagome’s surprised gasp of pain.

“…need to go. Now,” Shippo concluded his semi-hysterical ranting while amber eyes tried and failed to focus on the kit’s face. While the kit vibrated with sheer adrenaline and the half-demon seemed to be suffering from shell shock, Kagome was concerned for an entirely different cause.

This was supposed to be a quick visit to share the news with their friends. Not for a single second had they thought they’d stay for very long. The one and only reason they'd brought her bag was to leave it with Kaede so they'd have one less thing to carry back and so their friends could have some treats to make up for the additional delay. Mama expected them back within the hour. Her family had a ceremony all planned...

To top it all off, tonight was Inuyasha’s human night so they couldn’t very well go galivanting about the country with an almost complete sacred jewel. As much as she loved Shippo and Kilala, they weren’t the best backup and her own skills were lacking because she spent all her free time studying for tests that didn’t matter.

Blowing up her bangs, Kagome was about to counter that they necessarily had to wait until tomorrow before Inuyasha seemed to partially snap out of his trance.

“Yeah. Yeah we’ll…we should go,” he mumbled absently before pulling Kagome’s hand up to his face and pressing a kiss on the back of it. For the span of about thirty seconds, the miko waited for the timebomb to go off while Inuyasha’s clearly sluggish mind seemed to be trying to process what exactly that smell and taste had been.

In his confusion and heightened panic, his claws unwittingly dug deeper into the back of Kagome’s hand earning a muffled cry of pain that shockingly was missed. Blood flowed freely coating her hand and dripping slowly onto the grass below. The sudden puncture had a flash of strange cold dash through her.

How Inuyasha hadn’t noticed her injury was beyond her. At this point, her hand was absolutely coated in fresh blood as was his and yet he hadn’t reacted to this development at all. Well, mostly. There seemed to be a strangely distant confusion in his eyes - his brow wrinkled like he was trying to figure out what was off - while the kit continued demanding they leave immediately in the background.

“Of course Shippo but, um, can we get a minute?” Kagome chuckled nervously as Inuyasha continued staring blinking into the distance while his claws inadvertently embedded deeper in her flesh earning another muffled cry that shockingly went unnoticed.

No! It might already be too...”

Trailing off, Shippo’s panic stricken gaze finally landed on the blood steadily dripped off his surrogate mother’s palm and took note of the shell shocked expression on Inuyasha’s face. Which meant the half-demon would be useless at the moment or worse yet, had gone insane.

“A minute?” Shippo asked slowly before wrinkling his nose, “How long is that?”

Sighing heavily, Kagome felt rather stupid for even using that turn of phrase and also for forgetting that unit of measurement wasn’t used in this time.

“Until I come get you,” she finally sighed before nodding at the borderline comatose half-demon.

The kit didn’t move.

“But he hurt you.”

It was then and only then that Inuyasha seemed to come back to reality - his hand releasing hers with a barely audible squelch that had shivers running down his spine.

“Why...why didn’t you say something?” Inuyasha asked shakily before his legs seemingly gave out and he landed on the grass cradling her bloodied hand in between his palms, “Oh shit, I’m so sorry. I didn’t...”

“I'll give you a minute,” Shippo acquiesced awkwardly as Inuyasha continued rambling apologies, “But if you’re too long, I’m coming back.”

Kagome waved in clear dismissal while her focus remained on the utterly devastated man inspecting her injury. And so the kit left.

“ brought your aid box, right?” Inuyasha finally managed - his voice hoarse and rough - before the softest whine escaped him and he looked up at her with watery eyes, “You did?”

“Yes but it's fine. Really it’s...”

“Bullshit. These are deep,” Inuyasha snapped before he glanced over at the ten ton backpack and scowled, “See this is why I said...I said to bring it. You never...why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you pull away!? You should know by now..."

Closing his eyes, his face contorted in rage before his expression faded and whined again in frustration.

“Inuyasha, you’re acting you hurt me frequently. You’ve never hurt me befo...”

“I used to hurt you. A lot. Not on purpose but...” Inuyasha groaned as he shakily got to his feet and moved towards the backpack, “Just dammit, why didn’t you pull away?!”

“Inuyasha, again, in this lifetime you have never hurt me so I have literally no idea what you're talking about..."

“I know you’re different woman. I’m just giving you some context,” Inuyasha hissed as he rifled through the bag, “And no it wasn’t on purpose then either but that doesn’t excuse it. I can’t believe I... I should’ve...”

He pulled out the ‘aid box’ and scowled.

“You know, at least smelled it or something,” he finished as he pulled out the water bottle and some extra bandages, “This...this can’t happen again. Me just...I wasn’t...”

He huffed loudly.

“ I should just cut my claws. They’ll grow back.”

“Don’t cut your claws Inuyasha,” Kagome sighed exasperatedly as she knelt down and held out her hand so he could fix it best he could, “It wasn’t your fault. You were...well it was a bit of a shock. We weren’t expecting this and...well it doesn’t matter. I forgive you, okay?”

“You always do. I’m not worried about being blessed by your lack of common sense,” he clipped - the response seeming rather random and choppy, “I need to do something or else this might happen again and you’re too stupid to be careful on your own.”

“I’m glad you think so highly of me,” Kagome mumbled with a roll of her eyes, “This was an accident. As I said, I forgive you. It’s not a big deal.”

“I swear you have the survival instincts of a gnat,” he huffed in a much gentler tone as he pour some water to wash away the blood, “Its a good thing I’m strong or you would’ve...”

He paled slightly and amended, “Just you need to be more careful is all. And I do too.”

Taking a moment to open the box and inspect the contents, he licked his lips a few times before picking up the packets and holding them up one by one.

“It’s this one right?” he asked with a faint blush as he showed her the tiny tube of antibacterial ointment, “The one to stop infection?”

Kagome nodded earning a somewhat proud albeit defeated smile.

“You should...I’ll go tell your mom to hold off on the ceremony. We were only supposed to be gone a little while,” he sighed heavily as he fiddled with the cap and began applying the ointment onto the still bleeding wound, “But...but even if we aren’t married in your time, we’re still married here it’s fine. It’s fine. You’re my wife.”

Furrowing her brow slightly at this statement, Kagome opened her mouth to confirm before Inuyasha interrupted distractedly while applying her bandage, “You’re my wife. They’ll know. Everyone will know.”

“Yes I’m your wife,” Kagome replied cautiously before wincing, “Not so tight.”

“Sorry,” he mumbled as he loosened the now stained white cloth.

“You know we have to go,” Inuyasha mumbled in defeat as he inspected his handiwork, “But if Miroku’s gone don’t make me be the one who buries him. And don’t make me look, alright?”


“I just can’t...I’m not ready to do it again,” he mumbled by way of explanation, “Not yet.”

“Miroku could be fine,” Kagome soothed before pressing the palm of her non-injured hand against his cheek and closing his eyes, Inuyasha leaned into her touch.

“Sure but if he isn’t, if he's still actively dying right now, I don’t want him to die with only Sango there,” Inuyasha admitted as he cracked one eye open to look at her, “He should be with people who give a shit. I need to be there. She..”

Inuyasha cleared his throat.

“I’m just saying. We’ve gotta go.”

“We need to stay the night. It’s the new moon,” Kagome pointed out and Inuyasha closed his eyes once more.

“We’re flying. No one is gunna see,” he argued weakly, “And it’s at least a day or two to get to Sango’s village. We need to leave here as soon as possible.”

“Makes me wish we had cell phones in this era,” Kagome hummed as she brushed her thumb across his cheek, “We would know right away whether to hurry or not. Just a quick call and that’s all.”

Inuyasha nodded absently at the reference to technology he barely understood before covering her hand with his own.

“What...what if things end up the same?” he finally asked in a small voice, “What if it’s worse? Miroku...this didn't happen last time..."

“By worse, do you mean us all, um...with us losing?” Kagome asked and Inuyasha laughed shakily but nodded.

“Losing is a nice way to put it,” he hummed before leaning forward and pressing a quick kiss against her lips earning a content sigh.

“I love you,” he breathed as he pulled back and gave her a small defeated smile, “Things are different. In a good way. You know this time so if things...if we lose, you'd know."

Kagome nodded and barely suppressed the urge to roll her eyes at his defeatist attitude. Obviously he was still rattled so his disjointed thoughts being mostly said out loud, while strange and random, was understandable. Still, if he kept up this 'everyone is going to die' attitude, it was going to end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Things are different. We’re all different,” she began slowly, “So it stands to reason how this ends will be different too.”

Inuyasha seemed somewhat comforted by this explanation before letting out a bitter chuckle.

“We have to go but I wish we had more time,” he continued as he turned his face to nuzzle her palm, “But...but you and I had a few days to ourselves. That’s...that’s already more than...than I expected.”

“You need to stop,” Kagome chided, “We still have time. Miroku probably has more time. There is time to be had."

“If you say so” was the only reply Inuyasha could muster before he turned to glance at the well, “I should go tell your mom to hold off.”

'Oh yes because you totally seem sane right now,' Kagome thought dourly, 'Not at all suspicious.'

“I should be the one to...”

“Three days into marriage and I nearly take your hand off. You go back and you’ll have to explain this away,” Inuyasha sighed exasperatedly, “I’ll go.”

“Again. It. Was. An. Accident. Acc-I-Dent,“ Kagome countered but Inuyasha simply rolled his eyes.

Chapter Text

It was close to midnight when Sango tiredly woke up to the sensation of something brushing up against her hip with the lightest of pressure. Trailing up for the briefest of moments before something large and wide suddenly pressed against her back. A something she instinctively smacked with the back of her hard probably harder than strictly was necessary due to her muddled mind assuming there was a threat that needed to be addressed.

Once she realized what - or rather who - had caused the disruption to her fought trip to dream land, she was horrified for more reasons than one. Of course she hit him. Donned in the white yukata he'd been in since he first was injured and his surprisingly long hair was out of its normal ponytail and landing to rest just below his shoulder. Even with the differences from his normal appearance, he was instantly recognizable.

"Miroku! I'm so sor..."

"I should be the one apologizing. I did not intend to wake you," Miroku whispered his evasive apology – his still turned from her as he looked up at the small, uncovered window before sighing and giving her an explanation as to his proximity, "The lighting is better here, and I did not wish waste fuel simply because I could not sleep."

Looking over her shoulder, Sango set her jaw as her eyes glanced over the monk's posture. If there existed a way to sit with perfect balance of grace and intelligent poise, the monk had mastered it. Because he would. Even looking down at her over his shoulder emulated the ease and elegance of a swan.

In that moment, Sango wished she was literally anyone else or, at least, she hadn't been so unnecessarily cruel that past several months. Now that she was actually paying attention to him - actually paying attention - every little thing sent butterflies fluttering in her stomach.

Mistakes had definitely been made and now it was too late. Although, to be fair, Miroku had only been chasing after a ghost. It wasn't like he could actually love her. Only the memory of what he once had.

"I could move if I'm in the way," she offered barely above a whisper - an audible edge to her tone as she pushed herself into a sitting posture. Before she could move, however, his hand reached back to stop her.

"If it's alright, I would prefer if you stayed," the monk admitted wearily as he released his gentle grip on her shoulder and for a moment, Sango dared to hope there was still a chance. It was endlessly depressing how quickly feelings had come. Pathetic really.

"Is something..."

"You were right."

The silence that followed was deafening.

"I'm sure I am but about what?" Sango teased awkwardly in an attempt to cut the tension and Miroku let out a long despondent sigh.

"About a connection. I think one exists but I'm unsure the extent of it," he admitted as he hand released her and returned to his lap. It was impossible to read his expression and when she moved to sit next to him, he kept his face turned away.

"What changed your mind?"

She could see his jaw jumping as his injured hand absently reached up to touch the braid before lowering once more.

"The pain is lessens the closer I am to you," he continued dejectedly, "And my injuries fade at a faster pace. I documented it."

Sango finally turned her focus on the small table which had been placed nearly flush against the wall while a small ink well and parchment which had been brought for messaging purposes, lay atop the rough wooden surface. Even with the extremely limited natural light, it was difficult to make out the markings…

But there were many. That much she could tell.

"Can I see..."

"That is not for your eyes," Miroku clipped back harsher than he intended as one hand moved the paper and the other reached up to grip the wrist of her slightly extended arm, "That..."

Almost as quickly as he'd caught her, Miroku released her with a sigh so long and heavy that it spoke volumes about his lung capacity.

"It's nothing," he offered miserably before clearing his throat and gently placing the paper just out of view, "You should sleep. Based upon my calculations, I should be better in the morning if...if you stay nearby."

"How did you calculate that?" Sango breathed in awe but he offered no explanation and simply shrugged. A long awkward silence followed before Miroku sighed and cut the tension by changing the subject away from whatever it was he had been writing.

"You've been injured on our journey," he finally offered as he continued fidgeting in his seat, "As has Kagome and yet neither Inuyasha or myself were impacted in any way. Neither of you have been impacted by anything that has occurred to ourselves either. You have no memories of the events that transpired whereas Inuyasha and I are fully aware. This leads me to believe whatever is occurring is unilateral in nature. But it's strange. Inuyasha is injured frequently and nothing has ever been out of the ordin..."

Sango's eyes widened and without thinking, she blurted out her thought.

"There was one time," she breathed as she revisited the memory of one of Inuyasha's more severe injuries, "Inuyasha caught a sickle in the back. Bled so heavily it was dripping but a few moments later, when Kagome finally got him to sit still to treat was fully healed. Like he'd never been hit at all. It was the strangest thing I ever saw."

Miroku frowned incrementally.

"Was she touching him? Between the injury and..."

"He wouldn't sit still so she tried to force him to...yes, yes she was," Sango admitted before furrowing her brow and trying to bring back more memories, "But maybe he always healed quickly?"

Biting his lip, Miroku shrugged even as his heart plummeted to the bottom of his stomach.

"Not as quickly as that," was the only true and correct answer he could muster.

"Well that's still possible that it's all a coincidence," she argued hesitantly, "It seems strange that you'd heal just because of me. And then you were far away for a long time before you joined us without an issue. There doesn't seem to be a reason for this...this to only start now..."

Trailing off, Sango kept her theory that the reason Miroku had become so vulnerable was attributable to him no longer loving her. Well, not the her that existed anyway. For a long moment, the monk was silent before he finally offered a logical explanation. Or at least logical to him.

"Spells often come with a price," he sighed dejectedly, "We were given a second chance courtesy of someone playing god."

A shuddering sigh escaped him before he rolled his shoulders, his pained expression faded and he continued in a much more even tone like he could somehow just flip a switch and be fine. Sango watched the transformation out if the corner of her eye with weary apprehension. One day he was going to explode if he kept burying how he felt and god help whomever he took his suppressed rage out on.

"Perhaps it was intended as a gift," he explained - his tone calm and neutral despite his own internal screaming, "We all know Inuyasha suffered a great deal and I imagine he would welcome death if that is the nature of the spell. I'm surprised he never tried to take him own life out of despair."

Sango cringed but didn't betray her friend's trust. She was most likely the only other person who knew Inuyasha had indeed tried. And he asked her not to share that tidbit. So she did the logical thing - seeing as how the statement was not poised as a question but rather an...

Either way, she wouldn't offer the information. Miroku's neutral facade cracked for a moment as he glanced at her and read that face he knew far too well for his own liking. Inuyasha must have confided in her - which hurt him for some reason. That his best friend wouldn't tell him such a thing but confide in someone who was for all intents and purposes a stranger cut him down to the quick. Perhaps Inuyasha felt that a monk would judge him for taking such extreme arguably condemnable action but Inuyasha knew him. Why wouldn't he have said...

"I don't understand. Neither of you made a wish..."

Grateful that nothing was offered on the topic churning his stomach, which was a credit to the slayer's character, Miroku nodded and wet his lips.

"Most spells are curses in disguise," he offered quietly, "Those seemingly blessed with a gift often live to regret it. It's entirely possible that my life is tied to yours whereas you could easily outlive me. A failure on my part to protect you or Inuyasha to protect Kagome would undoubtedly result in our own demise. Perhaps...perhaps because neither Inuyasha nor I have been injured quite this severely until now, there has been"

"Again, it's just a theory," Sango soothed as she noticed a single tear dripping off his chin, "Maybe the miasma..."

Miroku shook his head and furrowed his brow in concentration.

"Or there is a trick to it. Something that causes weakness in certain situations," the monk interrupted bitterly, "But not in others. I'm certain whomever designed this particular spell intended to prevent it from being undone. Undoubtedly it had an ulterior motive."

"If you're right, and that you two can't outlive Kagome or me, Inuyasha would see that result as mercy," Sango admitted and Miroku nodded absently in agreement. The silence that followed had a knot twisting on her chest. Talking about these things was doing Miroku no favors and making a comparison to someone who had received a happy ending definitely was the wrong thing to say.

"I'm sure it'll make sense eventually. So what is it you've been writing?" she asked as she tried to change the subject and Miroku let out a bitter dark laugh.

"Why are you do interested in what I am doing?" he asked evasively and Sango hummed as she made a show of stretching her neck to catch a glimpse of the paper which he not so subtly moved further away.

"Well you seem like a man who writes pretty poetry," she tried her hand at a compliment - which of course backfired spectacularly when he gave her a disgusted glance.

Sango could take a thousand falls and hits in battle, the pain, the pressure but that one look cut her deeper than any blade. She should've known any attempts to flatter him or try to ingratiate herself would never work. Regardless of how she felt, given everything, she knew any relationship they embarked upon wouldn't end well.

She both was and wasn't the woman he had loved in every wrong way possible.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled as she quickly ran the back of her hand under her suddenly running nose and cleared her tight throat, "I didn't mean to..."

Miroku's angry facade faded slowly as he took notice of her damp lashes glistened in the extremely limited light. This reaction confused him endlessly as had most of her behavior since his injury. At first he assumed it was due to her feeling guilt or blaming herself somehow - especially after learning a connection theoretically existed. But he recognized these tears, this expression...

After all, he'd seen that face many, many times.

Running his teeth over his lower lip a few times, Miroku turned his gaze to the window and reached up to absently play with the braid hanging limply by his ear. Underneath his currently calm exterior, he was haunted by the memories, by his recent realizations and as such, his heart and soul were completely in pieces. It would be a cruel twist of fate for her to start...not loving him but...starting an attraction when...when it could never work. She was an entirely different person than the woman he knew and worse yet, she shared the woman he loved's face. Had her voice. She was her. And yet she wasn't...

It would've been easier if this had occurred before he realized what he had. The transition simple. He never would have questioned any of the differences but Miroku imagined one day he would have come to the same conclusion and the damage would have been far greater. At least now he could distinguish them. That was little comfort, however, and perhaps he was reading too much into her expression. It could simply be that she was attempting to make amends and was distraught that he seemingly hated her.

The cruelest twist of all, of course, was that he did not hate her. Not even in the slightest. What he hated was the fact he could not bring himself to hate her. Hatred and anger were a far easier tonic to swallow than love and grief. That, despite his realizations and the knowledge this was not the woman he had known, a part of him still loved this version as much as he ever did the original made him wish it was possible to tear out his own heart just to stop the pain.

As Miroku continued sorting through his internal struggles, Sango simply wanted her heart to stop whatever it was doing. Wanted to go back in time and beat the ever living shit of herself for all the months she wasted driving him away. Being a replacement would have been far more palatable than her current predicament which literally happened overnight. Meanwhile his hatred had simply been building slowly over time. His bitterness and resentment brewing under the surface until it boiled over. Even now, she knew..

"I am attempting to write something for Inuyasha," Miroku suddenly admitted as he finally turned his head enough for him to gauge her expression. Watery chocolate eyes briefly met his gaze before the slayer...

Before Sango averted her eyes and quickly wiped away the evidence of her own distress just enough for her to then offer a strange forced yet hopeful smile.

"For Inuyasha?"

Miroku's eyes softened at her attempt to seem positive for his sake before he nodded and procured the parchment which had a few ink droplets - a few signs he'd begun writing something but no actual words had been drafted.

"If something happen should happen to me, if my condition worsens and I do not recover, Inuyasha will blame himself for not having been here," the monk replied after a somewhat uncomfortable moment, "I wish to write something to ease his conscience and allow him to find peace, but I find myself short of words at present."

Sango's heart constricted and cracked slightly at his explanation. Of course. He had to go and phrase it like that. Why did everything he say have to sound so elegant? So beautiful? Each statement like a intricate dance with each word weaving together in perfect precision. It used to annoy her. Oh, what she would give to go back to those days. For so many reasons. It was far easier to hate him than…than whatever this feeling was.

"I pray he isn't traveling here on this night of all nights," Miroku finally added bitterly as he glanced up at the vast black sky, "Hopefully Kagome possesses enough sense to realize the danger. We all know Inuyasha lacks such foresight and that he is a selfish being."

Pursing her lips at this rather harsh characterization of their half-demon friend, as well as the sudden shift in his posture, Sango cleared her throat.

"I wouldn't say Inuyasha wanting to be here for you is selfish," she finally offered - clearly checking her tone and attempting to sound reassuring rather than chiding, "It means he cares for you a great..."

"His motivation is endearing but his recklessness is not," Miroku offered tensely after a moment - the anger in his voice increasing with each word, "Putting Kagome in danger. Shippo in danger. Kilala in danger. He cannot protect them in his human form. You know this as well as I and yet I imagine this either didn't occur to him or worse, it did occur to him and he decided to take such a risk despite there is now irrefutable proof Naraku is..."

Trailing off with an irritated huff, Miroku closed his eyes and shook his head.

"Forgive me. I did not mean...I simply feel powerless. Trapped in the valley between expectation and reality. My words stemmed from fear but that does not excuse them," the monk finally replied in a miserable tone, "Inuyasha...Inuyasha is suffering. Governed by terror at losing any one of us and my injury, I imagine, has done far more damage to him than me. I do not want him to come and yet I expect he will feel as if there is no choice. I want to write the words I wish to tell him in the event I never get the opportunity to speak them aloud. They will exist regardless of whether he ever reads them."

Nodding in understanding, Sango felt rather honored that Miroku was being so open with her but, at the same time, she felt like the last person who deserved such an honor. And the worst person to be flung into the position of emotional support. She wasn't the understanding type and normally she wanted things done her way. She hated being inconvenienced and honestly could vastly improve on her communication skills. Her own emotions were usually extreme - her anger flared hot for example - and half the time she regretted what she said. Spent hours with her stomach churning while her mind replayed conversations over and over again. She rarely knew the right thing to say and never communicated very well. If she ever was to become a wife, she'd probably punish her husband with glaring looks without explaining what they did wrong leaving the poor man constantly confused.

Wiping away a stray treacherous tear she'd apparently missed, Sango tried to stay calm and be strong. Right now, Miroku was afraid - afraid of dying or of having his friend die attempting to save him - and people often said things they didn't mean when they felt like that.

Honestly it was shocking he was able to keep his composure.

Given the last few days and all the days before them, she wouldn't hold it against him if he wanted to just scream. At her. At the wind. After all he'd been through, he definitely deserved to just let it out.

But that wasn't his way. She knew it wasn't.

"Maybe...maybe we could talk it out? Take notes?" Sango offered quietly after a long awkward moment, "And then we can..."

"How can you say I do not want you to come for me without it does?" he interrupted with a dejected sigh, "How do you write that you are not worth the risk without sounding self-depricating? How do you lie and say you do not want someone present when in reality..."

Wetting his lips, the monk cut himself short and turned his face away once more.

And Sango knew what he most likely wanted to say but felt he couldn't.

The last person he wanted at his deathbed was her and if he could trade her for Inuyasha, she had no doubt Miroku would do it in a heartbeat. He wanted someone he knew cared for him to be here and instead he'd been saddled with someone whose presence only added pain on top of pain.

Laughing once, Sango had to admit that was a completely fair and normal thing to want. If you were going to die, what better way to go than surrounded by people who love you, no?

"Kagome will stop Inuyasha from coming tonight. If they even know you've been hurt. They might have stayed in her time even if they were expected today," Sango offered after a long moment before humming thoughtfully and tucking her annoyingly short hair behind her ears. Closing her eyes, she tried her best to think of a way to say what Miroku wanted to say - even though she was nowhere close to his expertise with words. Still, she could try.

The woman he loved would want her to try.

"Well why don't you use what you said? The..."

She let out a long breath and tried again in a very good imitation of his voice - albeit hesitant and unsure and maybe trying a bit too hard.

"In this moment, I know not...not what to write properly and Express my inner most..."

As a monk, Miroku found most things were relatively easy to let go. Some things, like his inevitable death which had looked over his head since his infancy, had been harder to ignore. To accept. But whatever was occurring was not the slayer...Sango's fault. Her initial dislike of him was not something to be held against her - especially when he had been acting so strangely. Honestly, he had not liked himself these past many months either. It felt unnatural. Forced. Wrong.

While he seriously doubted he would ever be able to love her, it took far more energy to hate someone than it did to simply accept what was. Perhaps they could be friends.

Brow furrowing incrementally, he once again considered the possibility that she was falling for him and wished there was a way for him to go across the world so such a development did not come to pass. Unrequited love was something he did not wish upon any man or beast. Perhaps though she was simply feeling guilty for her behavior in the past and wanted to make amends. Something he had not been permitting as of yet.

That seemed a much more logical explanation all things considered. After all, for the life of him, he could never explain why the woman he loved so deeply ever loved him in return. Many things he may be but...

Pushing away such dark thoughts, Miroku's lips began twitching upwards despite himself as he gently corrected one aspect of this woman's attempts to help.

"Succint, not succintively. Other than that, you are doing quite well thus far."

Sango was blushing and cringing as she amended, "Sorry. Succinctly express my inner most thoughts. But I shall try. Recently I have found myself trapped in a valley of disappointment that exists between my reality and my expectations. I expected this second chance to be..."

Sango bit her lip for a moment and cast him a quick glance.

"To be much different. At first I, exuberant?"

She glanced again and noticed how an actual smile was playing on his lips as he shook his head and gestured for her to continue. At least he was playing along with this wreck.

"Try a different word," he offered in a warmer tone than she'd heard him use towards her, "Something much less formal."

Swallowing thickly, Sango tried to take that criticism in a positive light but couldn't quite shake the feeling he was making fun of her. The strange kindness in his expression though gave her the confidence to continue.

"Oh. Um. I looked forward to this second chance to regain what I had but the reality is what I lost cannot be returned. Except for you. I...I am grateful for you my friend and..."

"Do I really speak like that?" Miroku interrupted softly - a hint of actual amusement in his tone, "Surely I don't sound so condescending and formal."

Sango snorted despite herself.

"Please tell me you're joking."

"Sadly no. Ah, well I will aspire to be less so in the future," Miroku hummed in amusement - a faint sparkle in his eye as he gave her a tired looking smile, "Or rather I suppose I should say that I will..."

Furrowing his brow slightly, the monk made a strange face as his lips parted like he was searching for words.

"I will not...I won't say things in a that. I will not talk like that," he concluded awkwardly before sending her a playful grin, "Maybe my manner of speaking is why I am so frequently misunderstood."

"Miroku, no one has trouble under..."

"I realize the joke has gone over your head and I accept this," he interrupted with another bemused sigh before his smile faded and he chewed the inside of his cheek, "It's rather difficult to speak plainly and for the life of me, I don't understand why."

"There's nothing wrong with how you speak," Sango offered before adding hesitantly, "I...I l-like it actually. You make things sound prettier than they are."

Miroku face softened for a moment as he took that comment into consideration before he shook his head and laughed once.

"You only say that because I have not demonstrated why I once frequently declared myself misunderstood," Miroku offered with a wide nod, "Believe me when..."

Pausing for a moment, he amended, "I used to be a very different man. I would most certainly have groped you a dozen times by now just in the course of this conversation. Surely that admission does not make things sound prettier than they were."

"Yes and no," Sango admitted truthfully before doing a rather good job emulating his tone and manner of speech, "The message behind your words, good sir, does nothing of the...does not change my mind on the matter. You speak..nicely."

"I do not speak like that," Miroku sighed as he rolled his eyes, "Yes, I may..."

"You speak like that and you know it," Sango cut him off before noting the bags under his eyes and the way he looked a hair away from vomiting due to exhaustion, "How far away from me can you be before it gets worse?"

Miroku flinched slightly at the reminder and the not so subtle call out concerning his calculations. He also knew why the subject had so abruptly returned. To say he did not feel well was the understatement of the century. Emotionally. Physically. Just in most general terms, he felt like his entire being was conspiring against him.

"An arm's length," he admitted with a faint blush - strangely not as embarrassed by this as he thought he would be as he lifted his sleeve and he continued, "I made notations on my skin documenting the speed of my injury receding compared to the distance."

"What did you use for measurement? For distance I mean?" Sango asked curiously and as he lowered his sleeve, Miroku nodded to his staff leaning against the wall

"I'm fortunate you are all heavy sleepers. I dropped it more than once," he sighed before glancing at her and offering a conciliatory smile "It is no matter. You should sleep. I will be okay."

The slayer's lips twitched upwards at his clear attempt to be less formal.

"You need to sleep too. Just lay down an arm's length away," Sango offered with a faint blush, "Or maybe we could sleep back to back. So there's contact. I'm guessing that helps since you were rubbing my hip."

Miroku gave her a somewhat guilty look before sighing heavily and nodding.

"Contact has the best results," he admitted before making a strange face, "Do you know this is the first time a lecherous thought has not crossed my mind when a woman suggested I sleep with her?"

In that moment, Sango couldn't help the words that spilled out of her mouth at the comment.

"Pervert! I did not offer for you to sleep with..."

Trailing off when Miroku gave her a playful smile - a true smile - Sango huffed once at having being triggered so easily and moved to lay down.

"That wasn't funny."

"It was a little."

As she settled down with a deep pout on her lips, Miroku let out a bemused sigh before laying down with his back pressed up against hers.

For a moment, as he felt the warmth radiating off her body and the subtle rise and fall of her breathing, Miroku allowed himself to accept the situation for what it was and in the warmth her proximity brought into his heart rather than cursing its existence, he fell into the deepest most restful sleep he'd had since before his return.


"And I can't watch you die!" Inuyasha snapped and for a moment, the ever present noise of the modern era went silent as those words hung thick in the air. The clock stopped ticking. The cars ceased to beep. Even the continuous hum of the electricity fueling the lights chose that moment to be silent.

Kagome let out a shuddering sigh and the world began moving. Inuyasha had actually been somewhat cooperative with the plan at first. Well, as much as someone a hair away from having a complete mental breakdown could cooperate in a calm and rational manner. During Inuyasha's surprisingly long visit with her mother, the miko had quickly made a beeline towards the semi-hysterical kit to explain why they couldn't leave despite the frazzled half-demon's statement agreeing that was exactly what they should do. Upon learning that the possibility he'd lose not one but two friends – one of which he considered an awkward step-father in a warped backwards way - the kit had been the one to demand they stay the night in her time and insisted that she keep Inuyasha from coming back. If Naraku knew of Miroku's weakness, they had to assume he also knew of Inuyasha's most vulnerable time. While the bad guy had been by and large absentee, they all knew what happened last time courtesy of Inuyasha's near constant meltdowns and Miroku's very blunt yet detailed explanations.

And for a little baby, who'd seen far more hardship for an old man much less someone so young, it simply wasn't worth risking one friend's life for another's. It came down to a terrible choice – between a friend who might be crazy nuts but otherwise was healthy and one that might already be dead. A tough decision for someone so young and yet one Shippo had made without hesitation.

After all, he'd already waited this long for them to come back. What was one more night?

Of course, Inuyasha had ultimately come back but the argument that ensued had been short lived.

And then the sun went down.Then - oh and then -despite Inuyasha agreeing - albeit begrudgingly - that traveling during his human night was indeed too risky, as soon as that sun dipped beneath the horizon Inuyasha's moods and mental state started swinging wildly like a toddler not knowing what he wanted. It didn't help things that he insisted on allowing Mama to witness his transformation for the high suspicious purpose of 'she just needs to know' and then subsequently snapping at Mama for gasping in surprise. It all spiraled from there with him ultimately huffing and puffing and storming up to her room making demands like the moody, hormonal teenager he, in fact, was. Demands like them needing to go back to the feudal era, fly out in the open and hope for the best. Not that he necessarily phrased it that way but that was the gist of her somewhat hard to follow arguments.

In his opinion, they needed to go to Miroku because quote 'he'd take that risk for me.'

Well not so much 'they' as 'he' needed to undergo this unnecessary and highly risky maneuver. Among Inuyasha's arguably suicidal demands was one that Kagome was to stay in this time until such time he deemed it safe. Which was pretty much guaranteed to be never. Why on earth would she agree to that? Why would he even suggest something like that?

Well aside from the fact some – but not all - of what he said had some basis in reality. That whole little incident earlier exposed how easily he could be rendered useless.

They might need to work on his panic attacks given the seemingly imminent final battle. The internet had to have some tricks and tips up its sleeve, right?

"Inuyasha I am not going to stay here," she responded slowly and deliberately as her weary sapphire eyes took in the very human half-demon donned only in the pajama bottoms Mama had so generously provided, "First of all, I am not going to leave you and…."

"I'm not saying leave me. I said stay put," Inuyasha huffed as he gestured at the salmon pink room around him, "This time is safe. Secure. No one is going to hurt you here."

As Kagome barely suppressed the urge to roll her eyes, Inuyasha set his jaw and began his incessant pacing once more, "I don't see what your problem is. I'll come visit you. All the time. You know I will. I just think...and you know it's dangerous. You even got the brat being paranoid but I'm just being ridiculous for saying the same…."

"Shippo just didn't realize what night it was. He didn't want to risk us getting hurt or exposing a weakness. His words, not mine," Kagome countered with a long drawn-out sigh, "What he suggested is very different than..."

"He only suggested waiting because you got inside his head," Inuyasha accused acidly as he set his jaw in anger and sent a piercing glare her way out of the corner of his eye, "And you only suggested waiting because you agree with me. Naraku is going to attack. It's not a question of if but when."

"And we should face him together. I need to be there..."

"Over my dead body," Inuyasha hissed as he let out a shuddering sigh and quickened his pace, "You aren't getting near that bastard."

Kagome set her jaw and continued watching his anxiety fueled treks up and down the length of her room.

"Okay. So I hear and understand your concerns," she tried to offer, "But we're both strong. We have knowledge we didn't have last time and I know you'll protect..."

"Oh I will, huh? Like I did last time?! Look how that turned out," Inuyasha cut her off almost hatefully, "I'm not doing it again. I'm not...I can't. I'm not…Look, I just need to know you're safe and you staying here is the only way I can guarantee that. Why are you even fighting me on this?!"

To be fair, Inuyasha didn't even know why he was fighting her on this. It wasn't like anyone else was capable of purifying the jewel. He sure as hell couldn't touch any of the shards, much less the completed jewel directly, and the only other person in their group with even a semblance of spiritual powers was probably dead. Besides, the fact that the modern era hadn't changed pretty much at all suggested that no matter what they did or who ultimately won, it all worked out in the end. Their contribution to history – and Naraku's apparently- had been utterly and completely insignificant.

It didn't matter whether they lived or died. Completed the jewel or said to hell with it. None of it mattered so why even bother…

He let out a shuddering breath and rolled his eyes. This right here was why he hated being human. How did they all go around feeling like this all the time? Was this normal? It was hard to keep his thoughts straight much less...

"What if I stay here with you? We both stay here indefinitely. Would you agree then?" Inuyasha offered desperately as he changed his tactics mid-argument and Kagome gaped at him.

"Wait, what? I thought…we've gone over why we can't do…"

"I need you to stay here," Inuyasha growled as he began running his hands over his scalp and looked a hair away from cracking, "I need…I need you to be safe. Why can't you just do this for me? S'not like its hard!"

"Because, as I've said before and I'll say it again, I am Kikyo's reincarnation and therefore, it is my job to protect and complete the jewel," Kagome sighed heavily, "And besides, whoever sent you and Miroku back must've had a reason to send you to exactly that place and time. It couldn't just be…"

"They also sent back Naraku. If they wanted to change your death, why send him back!?" Inuyasha snarled as he quickened his pace and his chest heaved, "Whatever did this…"

"Well, if there was no Naraku, you never would have met me. Maybe they knew that us" she countered in a somewhat calm tone as she gestured between them, "Being together is important. Without Naraku, you would have been happily married to Kikyo as a human and died peacefully after long healthy life. Honestly, if that person had any mercy at all, it would've sent you back to save Kikyo. Not me. You definitely would've been happier. Living a…"

Freezing instantly, Inuyasha stopped his pacing as he listened in mild horror to Kagome casually describing a life, without her in it, that honestly would've been hell. First of all, that possibility had never even occurred to him and if he so much as remembered Kagome, he probably would just let what happened happen all over again just to see the love of his life again – Kikyo, Naraku and the jewel be damned. That was probably why the person who wished for all this went ahead and just let things happen. Still, the omnipotent wisher could've just sent Naraku backs without his memories. That would've been useful. In any case, back to the current morbid topic Kagome was still describing for god knows what reason, Kikyo wishing him human probably wouldn't even work and if it did, he'd be walking around with a target on his back. That wish would've been selfish no matter what Kikyo said and he would've ended up like ever other demon who ever wished on the damn thing. Eventually someone would cut him open to get the jewel and Kikyo would've spent the rest of her life exactly where she didn't want to be. Defending the jewel until the day he did in fact drop dead or until she did anyway. They both wanted a different life. An easier life.

Wishing him human would've done the opposite. The jewel never seemed to grant anyone their real...

Inuyasha blinked a few times and his mouth hung partially open. The jewel didn't grant whatever the real wish had been or maybe it warped the wish to suit its own ends. That could be true. Then again, kt was entirely possible that they were dead and this was hell – which would make sense seeing as how he was basically insane. Maybe he was just insane and all of this was only in his mind as he sat wasting away in some cave. That'd explain a lot actually.

Shaking his head, Inuyasha tried to clear his disjointed thought process and focus. Which was hard when Kagome shifted to how everyone's life would've been easier if just had shacked up with a woman who saw him as an easy way out of a life she hated. Not that he was any better. And they both kept secrets from...

Focus. He needed to stay focused.

In any case, whether the jewel granted a wish or whether he was just insane, what any of it meant he didn't have a clue and it was impossible to figure it out when Kagome seemed to be getting a little too into her fantasy about what his life could've been like without her in it.

"None of that matters," he snapped as he folded his arms across his bare chest, "My life is better with you in it. End of story."

"I'm just saying without Naraku probably all our lives might've been better," Kagome sighed heavily, "Or worse depending on the person. You would've…"

"I will use the bad pillow to shut that mouth for you," Inuyasha hissed as his frazzled nerves spiraled out of control, "Wait, you really think your life would've been better without..."

Kagome started bristling.

"I'm sorry, did you just threaten to suffocate me?"

Cringing subtly, Inuyasha rolled his shoulders and wrinkled his nose.

"Maybe but...but the hell you mean your life would've been better if we never..."

"Don't even try turning this back on me! You just threatened to..."

Shifting his weight, Inuyasha averted his eyes and pulled his arms tighter against his chest for lack of something better to do.

"I just don't like you talking about how I'd be happier without you or how you'd be happier without me," he cut her off with a dejected tired sigh "That's all I meant."

"Not liking something doesn't mean you can threaten to murder someone with a pillow," Kagome countered – no real bite in her tone but Inuyasha looked stricken nonetheless.

"I didn't mean murder you! I'd never...I just…just you know smush you with it or something," he tried miserably – every so often his dark eyes flicking up at her before he circled back to the original topic in the meekest voice she'd ever heard him use, "I…I just need you to be okay. Why won't you just stay here?"

"Because even if you defeat Naraku without me, there will always be battles. There will always be danger. Am I just supposed to sit by the window for the rest of my life and wonder when my husband is coming back for a quickie before he goes off again to do god knows what?"

Inuyasha blinked and was amused despite himself.

"Comes back for a what now?"

"Doesn't matter," Kagome huffed - even as her lips twitched upward as Inuyasha visibly got distracted trying to decipher that particular phrase, "In any..."

Inuyasha's eyes widened in horror as he finally made the connection.

"Wait, that's not even why I married you," Inuyasha visibly bristled as he belatedly realized what she meant, "Why would I only come back for that?!"

"Okay you're focusing on the wrong..."

"Oh I'm not focused. I'm pissed," Inuyasha snapped as his charcoal eyes screamed hurt and anxiety, "Do you really think I want you to stay here? Because I don't. There's a difference between me wanting something or needing it. And I need you to... I need..."

It was strange but for a long moment, Inuyasha bit his lip and looked a mixture of losing his train of thought and coming to an epiphany at the same time.

"I know what I need and that's what I'm afraid of," he finally began again – slowly and deliberately before letting out a strange frustrated groan and closing his eyes, "I want you to stay here but I need you with me. I need you to be safe but I don't want..."

Setting his jaw, Inuyasha continued to look more miserable by the second. This right here was why he hated being human. More than the physical weakness and the undeniable vulnerability, it was dealing with emotions he didn't understand that made this night a living hell. Half of the things he was feeling he didn't even have a name for. Human emotions were consuming. Take anger for example. He knew what that emotion felt like on a normal day and could recognize all of its varying shades but anger made him focused. Made things clearer. Anger while human felt like he'd drank a cup of mud despite it drowning him then took the remnants and rubbed the gunk in his eyes just for good measure. Fear in his normal state, aside from certain triggers, made him hyper aware and focused so he could see the solution to his problems. Gave him a course of action and inspired courage rather than...than whatever human fear was doing to him. Every thought became disjointed and his mind was filled to the brim with paranoia. Just skipping around and missing all the important things he should've noticed. It made him feel like he was losing his mind and while he was having some issues in the sanity department, he wasn't crazy. At least, not really.

In any event, crazy or not, right now when he was terrified out of his wits, instead of seeing a logical option or even trying to argue his case like he normally would, all he wanted to do was end this fight and be held. To just spend the night cuddled up against his wife and forget he ever even suggested being away from her for even an instant.

It was stupid idea anyway. He wouldn't survive two seconds away from her. What he needed was for her to be with him. All the time. Not here where she was safe and protected by a distance of five hundred years. He needed her like he needed oxygen and water. Sure, he wanted her to be safe, but…

Being away from her seemed wrong. Being with her seemed selfish. Both options seemed suicidal. Keeping her with him would undoubtedly mean he'd lose her without ever even trying and...

But maybe he was getting carried away. Maybe he could protect her. Except for the fact that he his brain literally shut down for a moment there and...

Stupid human brain. It was hard to stay on any one train of thought much less come to any rational conclusions. The only thing clear was that what he needed, in the here and now, was for her to hold him. That was the only thing he needed and maybe, if he got that, he'd be able to focus on what actually needed to happen in order to keep her safe because right now, he had no idea what on earth to do and his humanity was clouding his judgment.

"Whatever," he huffed exasperatedly as he took a step forward and cupped her face - earning a slightly startled look of surprise, "Let's just go to bed."

"Are you...are you feeling okay?" Kagome asked worriedly and Inuyasha snorted as he gripped her hand tightly.

"Not really sure to be honest," he admitted with an awkward yet bemused sigh as he began leading her to bed, "All I need right now is you maybe once I get that I'll be able to think better."

Kagome gave him a sour look and stopped dead.

"Seriously? You want that?" she sighed and Inuyasha sent her a confused look over his shoulder before his eyes widened in mortified understanding.

"No! That isn't…I just need you, okay? I need you beside me. All the time. Day. Night. Whenever. And right now I need to hold you. There. Happy?" he snapped impulsively as he gave her hand a hard yank before his eyes widened in mild horror and his jaw dropped.

He shouldn't've said that. He should not have said...

"So...I'm not staying here?" she asked curiously - with an unnecessary level of amusement.

"I didn't say that," he hissed defensively before giving her hand another yank, "Just that..."

The amusement in her tone only grew.

"It's kind of hard to be with you all the time if I also have to stay..."

"Why do you have to be" Inuysha huffed before he made a face and gave her a surprisingly bemusedly superior look, "Contrary all the time."

"Who says contrary?" Kagome sighed heavily and Inuysha grinned like a school boy giving his poor wife even more whiplash.

"People who don't love people who don't say contrary," he parroted back from a conversation his wife had almost forgotten. As it clicked, Kagome rolled her eyes and followed him to the bed with a amused groan. His moods were all over the place tonight. It was even hard to follow his arguments much less figure out what on earth was going through that head of his. Not that she normally could tell but at least, she had more or less cracked the half-demon code.

But he was always this hard to follow on his human nights. Always this irritable. This random.

Not too long ago, out of curiosity, Kagome had done a bit of research and theorized that demons were really only different in one of two ways. One, demons, while capable of feeling every bit as deeply as humans, lived permanently in a state of fight or flight - with a hardwired preference for fight - as a result of evolution. Maybe at one point humans and demons were one in the same but for whatever reason, they evolved. Demons weren't so much demons but rather mutants. Something changed giving them heightened senses and awareness along with powers to match. Brings with matching powers had babies and different races were born. That was theory one and the research on that had primarily come from a mixture of Sota watching the X-men cartoon and her biology textbook. It would explain why he was so out of sorts while human. Probably every human night he struggled through adrenaline withdrawals which would make anyone cranky and irritable. Granted, this wasn't the best theory but it was one.

Second, and far more likely if she was being honest especially given the strange extremes Inuyasha was currently demonstrated, demons experienced emotions differently because they were a completely different species - distinct from humans. Which, if that was the case, meant InuYasha was sterile just like mules and many other hybrids but that was beside the point. Point being, demons still experienced emotions and those emotions ran deep but, while the common feelings may be similar, they simply weren't the same. It was like the difference between someone who saw color and someone who didn't. How they experienced the world was just different and while you could imagine it, a colorblind person would never really understand what the color green looked like to everyone else and someone who did see in color could never understand how the world looked like to someone who lived in a world of varying shades of black and white. Another way to put it would be to say it was like not speaking the language in a foreign country. You still knew your language, you were just ignorant of what others were saying around you. In any case, the feelings demons felt were simply a different way of feeling just like being colorblind was a different way of seeing and speaking Japanese was different than speaking French. It wasn't good or bad, it just was. So, for Inuyasha, having to experience one night a month how the other species lived without time to fully process what was happening was like a baby bird getting kicked out of the nest and being told to fly before they were ready. Sometimes the baby bird flew and other times the baby bird plummeted to an inescapable death.

And sometimes the baby bird just flopped around hopelessly trying to figure out exactly what it should be doing with its life.

In any event, Inuyasha's strange moods swings and altogether erratic thought patterns could be attributed to him not knowing what the hell was happening - like watching a foreign language movie without subtitles. The basic premise was recognizable and, at times, even the plot but he was just guessing about the finer details. Or like how she had been winging it in most of her classes. Whenever he turned human in the past he never seemed to move or say much if anything except to glare at someone if they do much as sneezed in his presence. Maybe that had been a defense mechanism. It was easier just sitting quietly and not saying anything than actually trying to be a functioning human male. Primarily because he was not a functioning human male. The necessary programming was inherently faulty simply because he had never been an adequately programmed human. Probably couldn't keep a thought straight to save his life. Which would explain so much and yet so little.

"Is it hard?" Kagome asked quietly after Inuyasha roughly flung back the covers, pushed her into the bed, and crawled in next to her.

Making a small noise of confusion, Inuyasha paused for a moment before getting into position.

"I don't understand the question," he mumbled tiredly as he curled up against her side and pressed his cheek against her chest while his arm snaked across her body to pull her as close as he dared.

"Being human," she pointed out as she began to comb her fingers through his hair earning a soft sigh of relief, "It must be hard for you."

"It's not..." Inuyasha breathed as his eyes fluttered closed, "It's hard to think I guess? This...this makes it easier."

Humming in understanding, Kagome pressed her lips against his temple earning a long sigh of relief.

"I am glad we're here though," he breathed as he gave her a light squeeze, "You were right. It would've been too much."

"I'd like it in writing that you agreed with me," she teased before gently fondling his ear lobe - his breath hitching slightly when she tugged.

"You liked that, huh?" Kagome asked mischievously and she could practically feel his responding blush.

Maybe being human wasn't all bad, he reasoned silently as Kagome pushed him onto his back and began using her talented lips to assault the most notable change in his physique. Random, confusing and maddening - yes - but there were definitely some perks.

Panting heavily, he managed a lop sided grin and allowed his human self to get however lost it wanted.

Chapter Text

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..."

Chapter Text

Panting heavily, Inuyasha shakily adjusted himself so his back was supported against the nearest tree. The lingering bile he wiped off with his sleeve while his unoccupied hand applied a gentle pressure against his abused stomach. How stuff kept coming up was beyond him. The last few days he'd even stopped eating just to keep the nausea at bay and yet his body always found something to expel.

There was one solution he hadn't tried yet but that solution was also the source of his problems at the moment. A solution he couldn't risk until Kagome went back through the well where he knew she'd be safe. Besides, he'd gone longer without sleep before. Once he even went two whole weeks and right now, he was only one week in. After they met with Koga, he could convince Kagome to go back through the well and then he could sleep to his heart's content.

Until then, this was fine. Everything was fine. All he needed to do was take a moment to collect himself and then he'd sneak back to the campsite without anyone being the wiser.

Inuyasha let out a miserable groan as acid began tickling the back of his throat again. This symptom of exhaustion was definitely going to be harder to hide than the others. Being slower to react during battle could be brushed off. His headaches could be denied. Even the times he'd stumbled or swayed could be blamed on uneven surfaces.

Nobody had to know. All they needed to know was that they were safe.

A particularly nasty gag escaped him before he doubled over once more and expelled a substance that reeked so badly, its only purpose seemed to be calling forth more of the noxious soup.

"You fool no one," Kagome's weary voice rang out and bleary amber eyes tried to focus on her presence before another torrent poured forth from his mouth.

A cold hand was suddenly pressing against his heated temple and honestly, he didn't have the strength to bat it away. Barely had the strength to keep himself from collapsing onto the contents of his stomach. It felt like the world had tilted and was swirling out from under him and…and…

Oh god…

This time, thankfully, the miko managed to pull his hair back even though that was pretty much a lost cause at this point. Everything on his person was soaked and smelled and..

"Okay, so this is what we're going to do," Kagome hummed as her anxiety riddled husband dry heaved, "First, we're going to clean you up. Then, you're going to come back to camp with me, get in my sleeping bag and sleep. Sound like a plan?"

"Can't…can't sleep," Inuyasha managed in between great gasping breaths, "Risky."

"And being exhausted to the point you're throwing up isn't?" Kagome chided exasperatedly norted before wrinkling her nose at the gruesome sight around her, "How are you supposed to fight anyone if you can't even stand Inuyasha?"

"Can do it," he panted heavily before making the mistake of removing one of his supports to wipe his mouth. Thankfully, his wife caught him before he landed face first in bodily fluids.

"Look, I know you're scared," she tried to soothe as she used her fingers to gently flick away the pieces of digested food off his cheek, "But staying awake forever isn't going to help anything. Its only making you sick."

"Been sleeping," he mumbled as his eyes fluttered closed and he prayed the world would stop spinning.

"Yeah, the few times you've passed out against a tree," the miko huffed, "So what? Five. Ten minutes maybe in the past week?"



For a long moment, Kagome glared down at him before setting her jaw and awkwardly yanking him upright.

"Know what? I've been babying you too much," she hissed as she gripped him firmly by the shoulders and looked him dead in the eye, "And if you want to act like a toddler, I'm going to treat you like a toddler. What I say is the law so if I say we're going to take a bath and then go to bed, that's what we're doing. Got it?"

Amber eyes simply blinked at her in a sluggish manner so, to get her point down his sleep deprived mind, she shook him once.

"We're taking a bath. We're going to bed. Say yes ma'am."

"You're a mean mom," Inuyasha mumbled deliriously before his head lolled and the poor miko couldn't move fast enough to prevent him from falling right smack dab in a puddle of his own making. For a long, long moment, Kagome scratched the side of her neck unable to really figure out how to handle this development. On the one hand, Inuyasha was laying on his side so there was no real risk of drowning. The fact that he passed out too meant he was sleeping. On the other hand, Inuyasha was laying on his side in a puddle of vomit which was definitely not great even if he was finally sleeping. Blacking out counted as sleeping, right?

Rolling her eyes, Kagome bit the bullet before getting down in the muck and hooking her arms under his armpits with the intent to literally drag him somewhere with water. Sure, she probably needed soap to get the stench out but…

"Well that's lovely, isn't it?" Miroku's voice sighed wearily as he glanced around at the utterly destroyed clearing and shook his head, "Shall I fetch the soap from your supplies?"

"I'd much rather you drag him," she grunted as she struggled to move backwards, "Except…except I don't even know where we'll find enough water to get…get all this off him."

"I'm sure the slayer wouldn't mind ferrying him to a source," Miroku offered as he glanced back towards camp, "I'll go wake her."

"You getting up didn't already do that?" Kagome panted heavily as she took a break from trying to drag the deceivingly heavy half-demon all the way back to camp. Miroku narrowed his eyes incrementally at the comment which wasn't necessarily unfounded but which, at the same time, implied there was a reason other than ensuring survival at play. To be fair, they had decided to keep that last bit to themselves but…

Turning away, Miroku bit back a cold "I'll go fetch her" earning a surprised glance from the miko who then began attempting to turn Inuyasha's body towards camp.

"When…when you wake up, we're getting you all the therapy," Kagome grunted as she began the tedious task of pulling a man twice her weight over an uneven forest floor, "I'll sutra you to the chair and lock you in the…in the room until you crack and talk about your issues. B-better yet. I'll f-find you some Xanax and pour it down your throat. Can't b-be anxious if you're passed out, am I right?"

Inuyasha faintly wrinkled his brow and a faint moan escaped his lips.

"Don't you fight me," Kagome breathed heavily as she tried to shake her hair away from her face, "You just…just lay there like a good boy and then…then we're giving you a bath and I'm sutra'ing you to the sleeping bag or I'll just…just s-i-t you into oblivion 'til you can't move."

"I'll come willingly," came Inuyasha's barely audible retort as his previously limp head attempted to right itself into a more comfortable position, "Put me down. Can walk."

"Yeah, no. You can't," Kagome huffed before blowing up her bangs and continuing to drag him slowly over the ground, "What were you even thinking?"

"Been 'wake longer before," he countered as he weakly tried to escape her hold, "M'fine."

"Why is it…" Kagome huffed – somehow mustering up the strength to move faster so she could get him closer to camp before he decided to make a run for it, "Every time something happens, you have a 'its been worse' story, hm? And it always sounds like…like bullshit if I'm being honest."

Inuyasha's lips weakly twitched upwards at her use of language before he managed to break her grip. An unfortunate decision in hindsight because as soon as he hit the ground, the force with which he hit forced up round eight of the vomit fest.

"See? This is what happens when you make bad choices," Kagome groaned before kneeling and rubbing soothing circles on his back, "Now are you going to listen to me?"

Somehow Inuyasha managed to nod in between his painful sounding dry heaves.

"Bath first. Then bed," Kagome ordered and satisfied this latest round had subsided, Inuyasha let out a hoarse sigh before shakily laying down onto his side.

The mountains in the distance seemed much….larger than Inuyasha remembered but that might just be because he felt rather fragile at the moment which was something he would never say aloud. Sure, he'd slept from one sunrise to another but his stomach still felt abuse and he definitely wasn't at his full strength. While true he could rally if called upon, he sincerely hoped Koga didn't put up a fight. And that the wolf didn't have the remaining jewel shards. Why the hell did he think not sleeping was a good idea?

"So…this is where the stalker lives, huh?" Kagome asked casually as she came to stand beside him and took his hand, "Makes sense that I wasn't interested. Who wants to live in a cave? Or the mountains?"

Inuyasha's lips twitched upwards as he gave his wife an affectionate glance.

"Koga is the leader of the wolf demon tribe," Inuyasha hummed before he frowned slightly, "Last I heard, he refused to bow down to Naraku so him and his whole tribe got wiped off the face of the map."

"Well, he's brave. I'll give him that," the miko acknowledged before glancing over at the monk who was following the slayer – both of which looked more miserable than ever, "What's going on with them, do you think? At first I thought they were together but they seem to hate each other."

Wrinkling his nose, Inuyasha knew from scent alone that wasn't quite true or fair to either party. Sango, it would seem, had finally fallen for the monk a second too late and Miroku…Miroku didn't hate her but didn't particularly fancy her either. None of which explained why they'd been inseparable these past few days while both looking like they'd rather be doing anything else.

"I'm not sure," the half-demon replied slowly, "I'll try to find out next time you two…."

Inhaling sharply, Inuyasha quickly pushed Kagome behind him and drew his sword. Of course, Koga was coming. Had probably been watching them from some perch wondering what the hell a random group of people were…

Sure enough, the wolf demon appeared a moment later with his tornado in full force – which of course made Kagome squeak once in surprise. In hindsight, Inuyasha would admit he should've given a better description of the wolf but even after all this time, it still made him sick just to think about how no one ever doubted whether that stupid asshole loved the woman Inuyasha now called his wife. Unlike him where literally no one really knew and it was a…

"You look like shit mutt-face but I've seen you worse," Koga scoffed as the wind suddenly dissipated and emerald eyes glanced at each member of the shocked looking group in turn, "What? You all know who I am, right?"

Mouth moving wordlessly, Inuyasha's mind reeled at the apparent fact that the wolf too knew remembered what had occurred. Which made absolutely no sense. None. Glancing over at Miroku, the monk seemed to be of the same opinion and seemed rather shaken by this development.

"Welp, then this is awkward," the wolf huffed uncomfortably when absolutely no one acknowledged what the wolf assumed was common knowledge before clearing his throat and trying again, "I am Koga. Leader of the Wolf Demon Tribe. Unfortunately, if you're looking for shards, I don't have any so I would ask that you leave…"

"How the fuck do you remember?!" Inuyasha finally blurted incredulously as he stuck his sword back into its sheath and glared, "I kinda get us but you?! Why you!?"

"Glad you think so highly of me," Koga hissed sarcastically before setting his jaw and adding begrudgingly, "The ancestors jogged my memory to serve as a warning. How do you remember?"

Inuyasha blinked a few times before whipping his head towards Miroku who continued looking like he'd just been hit upside the head with a frying pan.

"Your...ancestors…" Miroku finally managed casting a somewhat disgusted look at the slayer who seemed very confused as to what exactly was happening, "But your rebirth has still not been explained?"

"No. If you've got any answers, I'm all ears," Koga clipped before rolling his shoulders, "Besides, my only job right now is to protect my tribe and avoid Naraku if I can. I don't have jewel shards so if that's why you're here, I'll ask you to leave. Right now Naraku doesn't so much know my name so…"

"We think he remembers. Naraku I mean," Kagome offered suddenly as she peeked around Inuyasha's body and something strange flickered through the wolf's eyes. Whatever it was, for Inuyasha had no idea, he didn't like it.

"Got no plans to take her away mutt-face. Don't worry," the wolf addressed Inuyasha directly, "Just want to see her if that's alright by you."

"She's my wife," Inuyasha huffed impulsively as he pushed Kagome's head back behind him, "I decide who can see her and who can't."

"Can't control people mutt," Koga groaned with a roll of his eyes, "Only weak men try to do that and given what I know happened when she died, you…"

As this stupid newcomer continued to describe Inuyasha's grief stricken phase in an almost taunting manner and Inuyasha grew more and more rigid rather than defend himself, the miko finally decided to take matters into her own hands.

"Okay obviously you two have issues," Kagome huffed as she stepped out and gave the now pale Inuyasha a worried look before turning her ire on the wolf, "I don't know you but my first impression is that you're a jerk. Lay off of him. So, what if he was grieving?"

Instead of looking embarrassed or even slightly ashamed, the wolf instead looking rather defensive and immediately launched into a verbal assault.

"He was weak, Kagome!" the wolf spat venomously - much to the shock of literally everyone, "I used my grief to avenge my tribe. He didn't even think to avenge you! Spent all day every day crying in trees like a little…"

In all honesty, Koga really should've seen the reiki charged slap coming. Just as Kagome raised her hand for another, though, Inuyasha, in a blind panic, grabbed and literally threw her behind him.

Much to everyone's surprise, however, Koga didn't seem the least bit put off by the attack which left a burn mark on his cheek. If anything, the look he was giving what he could see of the miko was...surprised perhaps? Maybe a little impressed. In any case, it was strange for the two men who had known him previously - even though the elder of the two seemed to be more focused on his internal demons than giving that reaction much thought.

"That only works when you do it I see," the wolf addressed Inuyasha bemusedly as he scratched the back of his head, "Never stood a chance."

"No you didn't! If you were…"

"Woman shut up," Inuyasha barked gently before trying to look intimidating even though Koga's words had the lingering nausea in his stomach roaring to life.

"Always so spirited," Koga snorted before wincing and gently probing his cheek before seeming to smirk of all things as he continued, "No wonder Naraku went after her first. God the blood left behind alone. That bastard really wanted her dead, didn't he? I never did get the full story. I heard that.."

This series of statements that followed seemed to be raising alarm bells for Miroku - though he couldn't quite put his finger on exactly why this whole encounter seemed odd. Aside from the fact that Koga almost seemed to be a different person entirely. Such a change could be the result of Koga held some bitterness towards the situation - given that their failings had ultimately led his tribe to ruin or perhaps that Kagome was already taken. Given that this was the wolf's first appearance, however, the latter seemed unlikely. Still something needed to be done to interrupt the borderline cruel breakdown of the final battle as Inuyasha had suddenly turned that sickly shade of pale he normally did when he was triggered. A reaction that bothered the monk more so than usual. Koga posed no real threat. Loved Kagome dearly and was a rival when it came to winning over her heart. Perhaps it was the fact that Inuyasha's anxiety induced behavior had been more intense as of late or perhaps it was due to the fact the slayer was trying her hand at flirting but either way, Miroku could only take so much. If Koga was allowed to continued taunting Inuyasha, there'd be no living with the half-demon for the next few days and with the jewel nearly complete...

"Enough," the monk huffed as he held up his hands and gave the wolf a withering glare, "If you do not have any jewel shards, do you have any leads?"

"Birds of paradise have a few still. Three last count," Koga offered before giving the subtly shaking half-demon an apologetic yet chiding smirk, "Look, the best thing is probably to just chuck the jewel in the ocean and…"

"I already told him no to that plan!" Kagome called out with a frustrated huff and chest heaving, Inuyasha began blinding reaching for her hand – a gesture the miko fortunately picked up on.

"Well maybe you're not the stupid one after all mutt face," Koga snorted, "Which makes sense since she choose you."

"Are you calling me stupid?!" Kagome snapped – her aura flaring slightly in response to the slight. At her upset, Inuyasha gave her hand a weak squeeze while Koga...merely shrugged. The fact that Koga had just insulted Kagome rubbed the monk the wrong way and even the slayer seemed perturbed despite never having met the wolf prior to this moment.

"All I'm saying is that its a stupid plan and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot," the wolf chuckled darkly before giving the heavily breathing Inuyasha a semi-concerned once over, "What's wrong with him?"

"None of your business," Kagome snapped heatedly as she took a step forward and squared her shoulder, "Now if you're done, I'll ask you to leave."

"No. Seriously. What's wrong with the mutt?" Koga asked again as he look to the monk, of all people, for answers, "Does he have brain damage?"

"Are you quite done?" Miroku huffed exasperatedly, "We came here seeking jewel shards or a lead. You have given us the latter. Our business here is over. As Lady Kagome said, we must ask you to leave."

"I mean, what is this?" Koga continued to press the issue much to the shock and confusion of everyone, "I know he went off the deep end after, you know, Kagome died in his arms. Totally understandable, don't get me wrong, but…but this…I mean, he can't fight Naraku like this. Just all pathetic and frozen and…"

Again, Koga really, really should've realized that Kagome was armed and dangerous and that he was crossing into suicidal territory.

An arrow grazed his cheek before anyone realized Kagome had moved.

"You need to go."

Koga gaped as he gently probed the fresh wound and rubbed the blood between his fingers, "Did you just try to shoot me?"

"I won't miss the second time," Kagome snarled as she nocked another arrow, "Go."

For a long, agonizing moment, the wolf simply stared her down before shaking his head and giving her a begrudgingly impressed look.

"You would've made a very good alpha female Kagome," Koga laughed cockily, "I was always good to you. We could've been…"

"If memory serves, you attempted to eat her when you first met," Miroku interrupted coldly, "And from that point forward, you only occasionally arrived when the fancy struck you. You are doing no better job ingratiating yourself than the last time we encountered one another and I assure you the only reason you're alive in this moment is due to the fact she intentionally missed. Now leave."

With a withering glare, Koga finally heeded the command and as soon as he was out of hearing range, Kagome turned her attention to Inuyasha who looked a hair away from passing out.

"Look at me," Kagome ordered firmly as she cupped his chin in her palm, "That guy is a total butt hole, okay? Don't listen to anything he said."

"He's r-right," Inuyasha managed shakily – his amber eyes dilated in panic, "I c-couldn't…I couldn't even move and…the jewels almost…"

Kagome blinked when Inuyasha's body was forcibly yanked to the side by a very irritated looking monk.

"Stop feeling sorry for yourself! You are not the only one who lost everything that day," Miroku hissed as he pulled Inuyasha a few inches from his face by the collar of the fire rat, "Do you know how many people I would personally kill to be given the opportunity you have been? And yet all you do anymore is allow yourself to succumb to your fears. Make a fool out of yourself."

"Miroku! What are you…"

"Stay out of this," the monk snapped at the slayer in a more harsh and bitter tone than anyone present had ever heard him use before turning his wrath back towards the shocked stupid half-demon and giving him a light shake, "Yes, the jewel is almost complete. Yes, Naraku is most likely aware of what occurred but we have that same knowledge. I have been preparing for that exact possibility. What have you been doing other than making yourself ill?"

"That's enough!" Kagome bellowed as she tried to pry Inuyasha out of the monk's vice grip since the half-demon didn't seem to be fighting this beat down at all. Breathing heavily, Miroku let out a frustrated sigh before releasing his friend of his own accord and storming away.

"What was that about?" the miko asked breathlessly as she cradled the trembling half-demon and looked at the slayer, "Didn't that seem random to you?"

"I'll go talk to him," Sango offered meekly, "Though I imagine it won't do much good."

Nodding, Kagome watched her friend chase after the clearly disturbed monk before pushing Inuyasha up to better look at his face.

"Why did you let him do that?" Kagome hummed sadly as she moved a few stray hairs away from his shell shocked face and Inuyasha shrugged.

"What was I supposed to do? Hit him?" he replied weakly before closing his eyes and letting out a shuddering breath, "Besides…both of them are right but I don't…s'not like I can control it. Just...just happens and I don't..."

Nodding in understanding, Kagome pressed a kiss against his temple which earned her a frightened whimper.

"I've been wanting to talk to you about that," she began slowly as she gently stroked his cheek, "So…in my time there are these things called, um, counselors. They help people who have, um, experienced trauma and…"

"What the hell was that?!" Sango hissed at the monk – her finger jabbing into his chest, "You know he can't control it. There's no need to take your issues out on him."

"It was Koga! Do you have any idea how ridiculous it is that Inuyasha allowed that demon to get inside his head? They used to be rivals. Fought constantly! Their banter….How…How is Inuyasha going to handle meeting Naraku who will undoubtedly bring up our deaths in excruciating detail?" Miroku snapped in pure unbridled rage, "Instead of focusing on making himself stronger, it would appear Inuyasha has already given up! Taken asinine precautions! Freezes at the mere mention of something that no longer matters!"

"Don't act like what happened doesn't bother you too," Sango countered angrily, "You lost her in that battle and you are having the same issues he has but unlike you, Inuyasha lived ten years knowing what you found out about a few weeks ago. Alone. Without anyone!"

"Even more reason that's not an excuse. Inuyasha had ten years to come to terms with our death and Kagome has been returned to him," Miroku spat acidly, "There is no reason for him…"

"Think about how you'd feel if you were the only survivor of a battle you thought you'd win," Sango cut him off, "If you lost the only people who ever cared whether you lived or died, huh? Inuyasha was alone his entire life before he met us. You have people, outside of us, who love you. Someone who would have taken care of you in that situation and told you it wasn't your fault! He had no one and if this…"

She gestured vaguely in the direction they'd just come from.

"Is what he's like when he's trying to be more open, I bet your everything my village owns that he was the most emotionally constipated person that ever lived and probably didn't know where to even begin when it came to coping with that loss."

Breathing heavily, Miroku simply glared.

"Inuyasha suffered loss before and didn't crumble. His mother. Kikyo," he replied instead, "And as you pointed out, he had ten years to come to terms with…"

"Yeah, ten years living with guilt and grief. We don't know how he dealt with his mother's death but with Kikyo, he had us there to help him and even then, from what I've been told, he handled that situation poorly,"" Sango once again interrupted, "I mean, just look at the fact he tried to kill himself multiple times after we died. That more than anything shows how he didn't..."

It was then and only then that the slayer realized she was probably the only person who knew that last tidbit of information judging by how pale and horrified the monk suddenly looked.

"How is it that you, of all people, know of this?"

The slayer cleared her throat and swallowed, "I asked when I first found out he knew about the future but…that doesn't matter. Not really. Point is that you keep expecting him to be someone who no longer exists. Expecting everyone to be the same but they're not. You should know we've all changed better than anyone. I…I'm not her, remember?"

A flash of hurt and pain shot through his eyes even as a frustrated sigh escaped his lips.

"Inuyasha's attitude towards the upcoming battle is just simply beginning to irritate me," the monk grumbled before rolling his eyes and shaking his head, "I should have handled the situation better. I should go apologize."

"Give it a minute," Sango advised sagely before taking a steadying breath and addressing a different issue, "I want to talk to you about that demon. I find it suspicious that the he remembers. You don't think that was a trap, do you? I believe you've said before that Naraku could take many forms and I found it odd how…cruel he was. Was this Koga always that way?"

Miroku's eyes bugged slightly at this suggestion, especially considering how uncharacteristic the encounter had been, before he turned his gaze towards the mountains in the distance.

"No. He wasn't."

Chapter Text

Whatever they were expecting to find in the Eastern mountain…

It wasn't a veritable graveyard of unburied corpses.

The ground glistened like rain had fallen, the liquid wasn't clear but crimson. What remained of the wolves littered the ground. All of the victims had clearly been caught by surprise. Men trying to cover their wives and mothers their babies - a few of which were still holding their toys in their rigid, cold fingers. Although Inuyasha, Miroku and even Sango had at some point encountered the gruesome aftermath of an ambush, nothing had prepared the miko who seemed to realize, for the first time, that this was not simply some quest comprised of a random smattering of seemingly unconnected battles that were easily resolved. This realization seemed odd and the fact she knew it was odd made her horror escalate to new heights. How many times had she simply brushed off the nameless victims of an attack? Acted cavalier when she happened upon a graveyard - feeling nothing except disgust. Responded to news of a massacre with a flippant 'that's terrible'. Not even given the fallen a second thought.

A soft cry escaped her when her watery eyes landed on a small infant still swaddled and cradled in his mother's arms.

Terrible didn't even begin to describe what happened here.

This was war.

"O-oh god," Kagome half-sobbed before covering her mouth and sinking down to the ground - too shocked to cry and too horrified to look away. For a long moment, the others seemed equally transfixed with both men looking especially shell shocked. Miroku was rigidly trying to take stock of the damage- his neck jerking his head this way and that in a robotic-like motion. His violet eyes wide. Pupils dilated like he was trying to enhance his vision and chalk this whole event up to an illusion. Inuyasha seemed lost for words, which was not unusual per se, but out of all of them, the whiplash of finding the wolves slaughtered seemed to affect him the least...

It was almost like he'd seen this level of carnage before and seemed resigned to this turn of events like he knew this would happen all along.

"We should check for survivors," Inuyasha managed hoarsely as he looked to the slayer whose horror was laced with a subtle hint of guilt and remorse.

"I'll go," Sango murmured quietly and with a subtle shake of his head, Miroku volunteered to join her – both of them carefully stepping over body after body, hoping beyond hope that even one poor soul had survived.

"This looks recent," Inuyasha breathed numbly as he glanced around at the carnage – one hand pressed tightly against his stomach like that action would somehow hold him together, "A few days ago at most. Naraku must've known we were coming."

"S-so he killed everyone?" Kagome managed to choke before her eyes landed on a toddler, no older than two, and the scream-like sob she'd been holding back broke free. With a shaky sigh, Inuyasha knelt down and collected her into his arms – gently stroking her hair while a morbid part of him tried to figure out why this gruesome scene hadn't triggered him. By all accounts, it should have. A clear sign that the final battle was probably on the horizon. The implication that Kagura had probably possessed Koga's dead body to gather information should bother him. That she took note of their weaknesses and sized them up.

Most of it, it should have bothered him that Kagura had done what she did to verify that they remembered what happened and send the message Naraku remembered as well.

Pressing his lips firmly against Kagome's temple, Inuyasha felt his heart beating out of his chest like he did before any major battle. Felt all the tell tale signs he used to feel and manage back in the day. Hell, he felt all the symptoms that usually accompanied him freezing. All but one. His mind was mercifully clear. Why his mind decided to cooperate in this moment he wasn't quite sure and he certainly didn't know what to think of it.

Well, that wasn't quite true. There was an unwanted peace acceptance flowing through his veins. Over the past year, he'd changed what he could but where there was death, there would always be death. With this massacre, so similar to the last, he'd finally accepted the inevitable and made an unconscious decision to make the best of the time they had left. Be present instead of fighting against reality.

But this wasn't exactly the time for more self-introspection. Not when so much blood had been spilled and the dead were all around them. The scene only served to bring back memories which he now felt strangely detached from. How he discovered Koga had died so long ago arose from an act of desperation. Hoping beyond hope that Koga would take pity on him. Be kind to him. Understand his pain. His despair. Inuyasha knew he needed someone to stay his hand. Convince him to keep going. Perhaps even help him come to terms with what happened then nearly eight summers prior. Maybe that was why the words of the imposter had hit him so hard. To hear the man he once hoped would bring him a modicum of peace reaffirm how weak he had been and still was in many ways. Mock him for his pain...

But while Koga was a rival, he was always fiercely protective of those he loved. Beneath all the sarcastic jabs and Koga's wicked tongue, there was always an underlying respect for Inuyasha's strength even if he disagreed with what the half-demon did in his personal life. More than that, while Koga might have been vicious in so many ways, the wolf demon was never intentionally cruel.

And above all else, Koga had loved Kagome. That much they shared. If even for one second Inuyasha had believed they differed on that point, he never would have tried to seek sanctuary with the man who was once his rival. 

Inuyasha wrinkled his nose as he passively rubbed his wife's back.


The fact that Koga insulted Kagome, of all people, should have made him realize it was a trap. Koga never, never would have called her  ‘stupid’. In the last life, the wolf believed the woman walked on water and was practically perfect in every way.

"B-but we s-saw him," Kagome sobbed miserably as she clutched at his robes in almost instinctive desperation, "We…we saw that K-Koga guy a f-few hours ago. He was a-alive."

"Naraku has an incarnation who can manipulate corpses," Inuyasha muttered into her hair as he gently ran his hand up and down her back, "It's fooled me before. I should've realized something was off. Koga...well, he might have been an asshole sometimes but he...he was always a good man. if you ever think of him, don't judge him by what you saw, okay? That wasn't what he was really like."

Satisfied that he’d done right by the wolf, who had been useful on occasion, Inuyasha gently rocked the sobbing Kagome and tucked her head beneath his chin. Miroku reappeared a few moments later looking rather defeated and green.

"We found one survivor thus far. A child. Sango's tending to her but it looks like some of the wolves might've gone deeper into the mountain. It is our hope that there are more survivors to be found," the monk sighed shakily before looking up at the dwindling daylight, "If you are up to assisting, while the girls help the child, we should bury the fallen before nightfall. In the morning, perhaps, we can pursue the others."

"Are you up to that?" Inuyasha asked Kagome – nuzzling the side of her face in what the monk assumed was meant to be a comforting manner – and the miko nodded before wiping the tears away from her face. Letting out a soft sigh, Inuyasha pressed his lips against her cheek before helping her to her feet and turning her over to the similar shaken slayer cradling what looked like a blooded toddler to her chest.

"She's mainly scared," Sango whispered to Kagome, "Has a few cuts but other than that…"

Biting his lip, Inuyasha watched as Kagome wiped away her tears before doing what she did best. Putting on a smile on her face to comfort someone in need. This right here was why he loved her so much. Always wanting to help everyone around her, no matter what she was going through, and being so damn good at…

"You're handling this development surprisingly well," Miroku commented quietly and Inuyasha blinked before turning his head.

"Seen this before," Inuyasha mumbled dismissively before sniffing and looking around at the carnage, "We'll need to dig a pit. There's too many of them. Did you see any tools in there?"

"A pyre might be more efficient given the number of bodies," Miroku countered wearily, "Would you be comfortable procuring the wood?"

Inuyasha's ears flattened incrementally before he asked the question on everyone's mind.

"Any sign of Koga in there?"

"No but…but I found Ginta and Hakkaku near a suspiciously clean area where I imagine Koga fell," the monk replied with a depressed sigh, "I would wager that Kagura had a hand in what occurred earlier."

Inuyasha nodded in agreement before glancing around the mountain face for wood sources, "Figured that much out on my own."

For a long moment, Inuyasha's eyes desperately searched for a patch of green or something flammable - needing something else to occupy his thoughts. Thankfully, he saw just that in an alcove a short distance away.

"Looks like firewood on the ridge up there."

Letting out a steadying breath, the monk looked around at the devastating scene before shaking his head at the misery of it all.

"I'll begin moving the bodies then…"

"Her manner of dress was unacceptable," the daiyouakai replied apathetically as she followed her son's stoic gaze and took a sip of tea.

Amber eyes flicked over to his mother who had decided, apparently, that his daughter should emulate her own appearance in miniature form - although Rin's hair being as short as it was, had been placed in two high buns rather than pigtails. All in all, the whole situation was as bizarre as it was disturbing.

It was seeming more and more recently that his mother considered Rin a plaything. A doll she could dress and manipulate at will.

"Oh come now Sesshomaru, do not look at me so. You came seeking my aid and I have accommodated," the demoness hummed with a nonchalant shrug, "You were always an ungrateful child though so I do not know why I am surprised."

"Rin is very grateful," the small chimed in as she tried to sit properly at the elegant oak table. The demoness didn't react aside from a subtle narrowing of the eyes and a barely noticeable look of disgust.

"Why does she speak in this way?"

"Rin tries her best to be like her Lord," the girl chirped cheerfully and the demoness' neutral façade cracked ever so slightly. Turning her emotionless gaze back towards Sesshomaru, the demoness took an irregularly long sip of tea while making extremely uncomfortable eye contact.

As if she had any room to judge another for their parenting. In all honesty, Sesshomaru would never understand why she was allowing him to stay nor why she seemed to readily accept Rin. Neither he could complain about per se but it was highly unusual. Not once had she ever shown any interest in his well being. Blatantly ignored and rejected him in so many...

"She cannot read," the demoness finally spoke as she set down her cup- seemingly changing the subject to what she considered matters more pressing than her son's strange habits, "You have neglected her education."

A muscle jumped in her son's jaw but he otherwise did not react to this observation.

"Rin can read a little," the girl offered hesitantly before biting her lip when the woman simply cast her an apathetic glance.

"No you cannot" came the short blunt reply before the demoness once again took a long sip of tea and gave her son a disapproving once over. After an uncomfortable period of time, the tea cup was set down and his mother began picking at the various tea cakes in front of her, "I have arranged for tutors. They arrive later this evening."

"Such a thing is not necessary," Sesshomaru finally spoke as he too sat but strangely was unable to meet his mother's gaze. The tenseness of his body language, however, spoke volumes. Or it would to someone intimately familiar with the foolish boy throwing away his kingdom for a mole hill.

A very useless mole hill at that.

"If you wish to stay here, you will do as I say and I say it is necessary for her to be able to read," the demoness replied with a strange little hum, "You are free to leave at any point if you disagree."

This was, of course, something Sesshomaru had no intention of doing and his mother knew this. Whatever was occurring clearly had her normally detached son scared out of his wits and it clearly had something to do with this child. He was his father's son it would seem and given how his father perished, she had made the decision to swallow the bitter pill that her son had a human daughter rather than fight reality. The attachment was done whether she liked it or not and it was better to keep Sesshomaru close rather than learn he had died over such a pathetic mortal.

A mortal who was repulsive yet strangely compelling in her own way. Given more time, perhaps she would understand what her son saw in this small insect.

"Of what race are these tutors?" Sesshomaru finally asked - his tone emotionless and flat despite the way his nostril slightly flared in a blatant attempt to keep himself in check.

"All of them hold affection for humans," his mother offered as she absently handed one of her tea cakes to the delighted Rin, "I would not endanger your pet."

Sesshomaru bristled subtly at the term and his mother's lips twitched upwards - not that the slight twitch could be discerned by human eyes - before handing the very thankful little girl another treat.

"That was not what This Sesshomaru asked," the younger daiyoukai corrected after a moment before amending his earlier question, "Are all of these tutors previously known to you?"

"What a disappointing question," his mother replied dismissively before handing Rin yet another sugary treat which the girl nearly inhaled.

To any outside observer, this exchange would on its face be a series of strangely detached statements spoken in monotonous tones by two unnaturally still and emotionally stunted persons. Which, in many ways, was completely fair. Even Rin was having a difficult time figuring out whether this was a fight or simply a casual conversation concerning her well being. The reality of the situation, however, was that this mother and son might as well be be having an all out brawl. Each subtle movement and slight emotional emphasis a dagger being thrown. In so many words, Sesshomaru was exuding enough venom to melt through the table at the insinuation he had thus far been a poor father neglecting his child whereas his mother was beyond hurt that her only son doubted her intentions. That he truly believed she would intentionally put something he loved in danger. That she didn't care and wasn't trying to be helpful. If that was the case, she would have sent him away immediately. Instead, she had taken them in. Was attempting to dress her disgusting adoptive daughter in clothes befitting of their station. Had her servants ensure that all protections were in place to soothe away her son's unspoken fears. It hurt her deeply to know he thought so little of her.

But again, to any outside observer, this was a quiet albeit somewhat tense tea between two mechanical robots.

A long moment passed in silence before Sesshomaru bit the bullet and decided to admit exactly why he'd come in no uncertain terms.

"This Sesshomaru would prefer that no one be near her. There have been threats regarding her well being. Threats that could no longer be ignored," he admitted vaguely earning a surprised look from Rin who previously had been completely and blissfully unaware that she was being hunted while his mother's eyes flashed as she understood what remained unsaid. Whoever this person was would use this tiny urchin to manipulate him...

More disturbing still, without question, her son would comply or get himself killed over this little cockroach. They must be fearsome indeed if they could strike fear into the heart of the Son of InuTaisho. Still, it seemed like Sesshomaru had already worked himself into the quite the hysterics over the matter and acknowledging such news was concerning would surely do more harm than good. He had always reacted to everything with rash, extreme action. Was far too emotional for her taste but alas, such things were to be expected given how utterly wild his father had been.

"We will observe any interactions," she hummed apathetically before subtly wrinkling her nose and glancing over at the kappa who was silently sulking in the corner in an attempt to bring the conversation elsewhere, "The girl I understand but the toad I do not. Does he serve a purpose?"

Rin had to bite her lip to keep from smiling at the indignant spluttering that ensued.


"You're quite small," the demoness interrupted in a tone Sesshomaru often used when he threatened to murder the kappa earning another round of incoherent spluttering and, eyes taking on an amused glint, Rin lost the battle to keep her grin in check. A mannerism that did not go unnoticed and earned her a modicum of respect. There was an edge to the insect that was pleasing. Very pleasing indeed.

"Master Jakken may be little in many ways," the small girl suddenly offered sweetly, "His height, his heart, his personality but he is very strong. He has protected Rin a few times."

Sesshomaru gave Rin a subtle glance which the girl did recognize for the disapproval that it was and with a mumbled apology, she folded her hands neatly in her lap. This interaction too was noticed. For a long moment, the only sound was Jakken's protests - which the two daiyouaki ignored - before, much to Sesshomaru's shock and horror, the woman who lent her son a large swath of her personality gave the small girl a genuine smile.

"We shall be friends," the daiyoukai hummed before placing a soft pat atop Rin's head and giving her the very last tea cake.

Evening fell but the cave mouth was brightly lit by the pyres set around the cavern. The small little girl hadn't spoken and seemed particularly fond of Kilala for some reason. Curled up on the fire cat's warm fur, the baby sniffled and mumbled soft pleas for her mother who was most likely in the fire being burned with everyone else. Kagome and Sango had taken it in turns to lay with her – petting her hair and singing lullabies in an attempt to comfort. The men, meanwhile, were standing guard – Miroku having created a barrier and Inuyasha prepared to defend them all if the barrier somehow failed.

None of this was made any easier by the smell of cooked flesh on the wind but that couldn't he helped.

"Ayame is in the northern mountain, isn't she?" Inuyasha asked quietly as he glanced over at the trembling toddler, "Maybe we could take her there if we can't find anyone else to take her."

"You suggest traveling all that way with a child in tow?" Miroku chuckled darkly as he flexed his hands around his staff and cleared his throat, "I think it would be best if you left me with her. I'll travel to the northern mountain while you three continue your quest. I'm a liability. Naraku has clearly begun…"

"We're not leaving you," Inuyasha chided before shifting his weight, "Besides I think the Northern mountain is only a two-day journey from here. If we keep moving, we could probably cut that time in half. So long as we keep our eyes peeled, he won't be able to sneak up on us again."

Blowing his lips out, Inuyasha glanced back at his wife before making a request, "I want you to teach her how to make barriers. She's a fast learner. I bet it'll only take a few hours."

"Ah and so the true reason you want me to stay is revealed," Miroku teased back weakly before gesturing for the half-demon to sit beside him. Once Inuyasha had settled, the monk inhaled deeply – an action he deeply regretted given the burnt meat smell – and decided there was no time like the present to relay his suspicions concerning their rebirth.

"You must be wondering about the development between myself and the slayer," the monk began softly and Inuyasha grunted as a sign of affirmation.

"Figured it was something weird since you've been refusing to say her name," Inuyasha admitted with a concerned sigh, "Among other things. You both look like you hate being around each other but you're never apart…."

"We have a theory about why my injury was so severe," Miroku offered as he cast his friend a weary side eyed glance, "One that may explain your frequent headaches as well."

Inuyasha tensed slightly at the reminder.

"Haven't had one in a while," the half-demon replied defensively as he tried to force his muscles to relax, "Not since…"

"Not since you and Kagome shared a bed. Fully," Miroku supplied and Inuyasha flushed a deep crimson, "In any case, our theory is one of proximity. Although I think what that means varies based upon our nature."

"Our nature?" Inuyasha groaned as he rolled his eyes, "You mean I'm a half-demon, right?"

"Not at all. You are motivated by action. Touch if you will," Miroku attempted to explain the theory that now sounded absolutely bonkers when given to a third party, "I am more introspective. My injury, I believe, was…"

For a moment, the monk's face crumpled in pain - his eyes glazed over and distant – before he shook his head and continued, "I realized Sango never returned to me and never would. It was shortly thereafter Naraku took action. I believe I inadvertently created an opening."

"If it's an emotional thing, why stay so close to her?" Inuyasha asked as he tried to wrap his mind around this so-called theory, "Thought my thing was touch or whatever."

Swallowing thickly, Miroku adjusted himself and let out a long steadying breath, "I only began to improve when the slayer began showing interest. As it is not a strong attachment, it would appear that closing the distance amplifies the benefit. It allowed me to heal more quickly."

"So why did you want us to leave you then?" Inuyasha asked with a frustrated huff, "Are you trying to die or something?"

"As you are aware, Naraku is clearly becoming active once and has already targeted me once," Miroku replied evasively, "In any case..."

"You're so full of shit" Inuyasha scoffed, "Looks like I'm not the only insane one around here."

"No one believes you are insane Inuyasha," Miroku chuckled darkly, "Traumatized yes but not insane."

"I am insane. You all know it," Inuyasha mumbled dejectedly as he scratched at hide nose and added, "Besides, your theory doesn't make sense. Its just a coincidence. That's all."

Licking his lips, the half-demon added for good measure, "Whether you two are connected or not... if you don't love her, if it hurts too much, you don't have to be with her just because she is technically the same person. Doesn't end well. Trust me."

Nodding in understanding, Miroku flexed his hands around his staff once more and the two men sat quietly for a moment.

"Say you're right and there's some type of weird connection, do you think it's just us or do the girls have that too? Inuyasha asked suddenly.

"It's only a theory but I believe only we are affected. We possess memories after all. They do not," Miroku sighed as he chewed the inside of his cheek.

An uncomfortable excitement flickered behind Inuyasha's eyes that made the monk endlessly nervous.

"So...if Kagome dies, I'd die but if I die, she'd be fine."

Miroku flinched at where his friend's mind had gone.

"Again, its only a theory…"

"One you presented as fact," Inuyasha pressed with a twinge of hope that had the monk's stomach churning, "If I need her to live, then I'd die if she dies, right? In theory."

Miroku was trying to find an answer that was palatable when mercifully Sango arrived and informed Inuyasha that Kagome needed him. Information which had the half-demon immediately running to his wife.

But instead of mercifully being left to his own thoughts, the slayer simply took Inuyasha's place.

"I heard the tail end," she commented as she gave the monk a side-eyed glare, "I thought we weren't telling them."

"Ah well, given that we just found a cave filled with corpses, it seemed as good a time as any to warn him not to put distance between himself and his wife," Miroku countered a little defensively as he began picking some dried blood off his robe, "Inuyasha would gladly throw Kagome into the well and destroy it if given the opportunity. Such an act may be fatal to him."

"And to her," Sango countered, "We don't know how it affects Kagome and I yet."

"Or if it does at all."

Nodding begrudgingly, Sango scratched at her nose for a moment before tucking her infuriatingly short hair behind her ears and clearing her throat.

"We didn't have to give them a funeral," she changed the subject, "I think she would have been proud of you for thinking of it."

"She would have thought of it first," Miroku countered with obvious bite before sagging and shaking his head, "I apologize. That…that was uncalled for. I did not mean to insinuate that you…"

Sango held her hand up and gave him a sympathy laced smile.

"No, no you're fine," she reassured him – hoping the pain in her heart didn't reflect in her eyes, "She would have been proud of you anyway."

The pain laced smile and gentle nod physically hurt.

"Thank you for saying that."

After a long tense pause, Sango glanced over her shoulder where Kagome, Shippo and adorably Inuyasha were currently curled around with toddler who finally seemed to have drifted off to bed. While Kagome's focus was on the girl, Inuyasha eyes were focused on his wife's face like he was trying to commit every detail to memory - a sad smile playing on his lips.

"Kagome thinks that girl was clinging to Kilala because of her youkai. Something familiar," Sango sighed sadly, "Adding Inuyasha and Shippo seems to have done the trick."

Miroku looked over and hummed.

"So it has. I imagine having two spiritual persons and a slayer coming to the rescue was most likely confusing and terrifying rather than comforting," he acknowledged before adding with a melancholy sigh, "Inuyasha wants to take her to the northern mountain. There's a wolf demoness there who we both believe will accept her."

"I'm shocked that Inuyasha doesn't want to just dig in his heels," the slayer chuckled darkly, "If you taught Kagome how to create barriers, in theory we could just wait Naraku out."

"He did ask me to do such a thing," Miroku laughed once, "Though I do not imagine it was for that reason. I have been wrong before, however, so that very well may be the case."

Another tense silence lingered after this brief interaction before Sango cleared her throat and absently picked up a rock. Turning it over in her hand, she ran her teeth over her lip a few times before speaking.

"You know...I've been a slayer all of my life. Killed hundreds if not thousands of demons. I've been the cause of an event like this. Been the one eradicating a colony," she admitted dejectedly, "Since I joined your group, I…I realized that I've probably killed so many of them for absolutely no reason. Like that fox just trying to avenge her family. She didn't deserve to die. Her family didn't deserve to die. They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. How many of them were like her? Like Inuyasha? Like Shippo?"

"I've asked myself that question a hundred times," Miroku sighed miserably at this strange turn in conversation, "The sad truth is that we will never know and the only hope for redemption is that we try to do better from this point forward. Be more discerning."

"It might be too late for me. Looking around, I just keep thinking...I'm probably the Naraku in someone else's story. A villain that keeps children awake at night," she murmured after a moment - her eyes distant and sad.

"You're being too hard on yourself" Miroku chided gently.

Sango held up the rock up to examine it for lack of anything better to do and sighed, "Once this over I'm going to leave being a slayer behind me. I don't want the guilt hanging over my head. It's getting to be too much."

Miroku gave her a surprised glance.

"What will you do?"

Shrugging, the slayer didn't offer an explanation and simply set the rock down before getting to her feet and walking away - leaving the very confused and perturbed monk behind.

Sowing seeds of doubt into the hearts of his enemies had thus far been far more effective than confirming their suspicions. Inuyasha had, by and large, been driven mad by the conspicuous absence. Having already been well on his way to such a state, if not there already, the paranoia and seeds of doubt planted in the half-demon’s mind took root with surprising ease. As such, the miko was much more concerned with her love's well being rather than their so-called quest to the point she was ostracizing the others. The monk and the slayer much less of a threat at odds with each other than a singular unit. Especially considering the slayer had no personal stake in the upcoming battle and no heartfelt motivation to ensure the monk's continued survival. Gone was the group who worked as a team with seamless perfection. In its place were a smattering of acquaintances growing tired of one another.

And now that the first portion of his plan was complete more seeds of doubt were being sown. Upon finding the massacre, the slayer would undoubtedly seek out her village. Most likely refuse to leave her precious family for something as trivial as a quest that could only end poorly. As for the monk, he was by far the easiest threat to address. The wind tunnel which he had now become accustomed to being within his control now a weapon to be used against him at will. Eventually he too would leave those he called friends out of fear that he would consume them all.

As for the half-demon and his miko...

Well they had been eliminated with relative ease. The plan for them was very much the same.

The only wild card that caused Naraku any amount of discomfort was the daiyoukai who had, up until recently, been playing it safe. Avoidance had been his modus operandi. Clearly obsessed with keeping that human child alive rather than seek revenge.

Still, as the only possible party who could have achieved this strange reversion into their past selves, the only one with motivation strong enough, Sesshomaru needed to be eliminated so as to mitigate a repeat occurrence.

But now he had disappeared without a trace. Even Kanna could not track his whereabouts.

Most concerning...

"They remembered more than that wolf," Kagura informed Naraku in a bored tone as she came into the room, "But those idiots didn't have any answers. Wasn't them."

Ah yes, the wolf prince. Who knew and remembered nothing or, if he did, he had taken those secrets to the grave. Torturing him had been very satisfying though it would have been more so if the wolf had known why pain was being inflicted. Regardless, the sound of his screams...

Very pleasurable indeed. Especially considering that the wolf had obtained no shards whatsoever...

But that already fractured group clearly assumed he did. More seeds of doubt. More unknowns. With so few jewel shards left to find, for them to believe that he, Naraku, was in possession of them...

Their fear was almost tangible. Naraku could nearly taste that delicious emotion on his tongue.

"Sesshomaru," Naraku hummed with a sadistic smile, "That fool cannot hide forever."

Kagura seriously hoped Sesshomaru had heeded her warning and never re-emerged but managed to keep her face neutral. Someone must be looking out for her because it had not even occurred to Naraku that she had been the one who made the wish. Had not occurred to anyone it would seem - aside from Kanna who was a particular useful ally. Apparently the void had some control over her mirror and could alter what was being shown. Omit entire swaths of time while simultaneously presenting events as current. Seamless.

Born of evil Kanna and Kagura might be, creatures of evil too but even they had certain lines they refused to cross and were in possession one certain emotion Naraku would never full understand. Even Kanna was capable of feeling it and the fact Naraku was too blind to see that fact spoke volumes.

Kanna and Kagura knew love. Knew what it meant and reaped the benefits. Loyalty for one. Something Naraku would never elicit from anyone. He controlled and manipulated others through fear. Love was much more reliable.

Glancing at Kagura with thinly veiled suspicion, Naraku narrowed his eyes and hummed with arrogant confidence, "He will show himself. Until then we wait."

Chapter Text

Letting out a sigh to end all sighs, Miroku turned towards the wall and tried to mediate away the sounds of the slayer pacing the floor. All he had wanted was a single night of semi-luxury. A warm meal. A roof over his head. Perhaps even a small glass of sake. Maybe even, if he was lucky, a change to sleep away from the woman who could make mountains quake in her sleep. Have his own room. A chance to be alone with his thoughts. He'd become accustomed to the obnoxious sound the slayer emanated when she slept, of course, but more and more it was irking him. Was it because he was forced to be in such close proximity? Perhaps.

But even her horrifying snores were better than the little sighs of depression and worry she kept making while she stomped up and down the room like a giant oni with flat feet.

Were it not for the fact that he had zero interest in dealing with a cranky child awoken from his slumber, Miroku would've firmly told the slayer to lay down and go to bed but alas, there was a small child currently passed out on the bottom of the futon.

Another epic sigh escaped before he propped himself up and glared over his shoulder.

"Do you have any idea how late it is?" the monk whispered acidly. Instead of responding with words, Sango sent him a withering glare before running her hands through her infuriatingly short hair and heading towards the door.

"Where are you going?" Miroku asked exasperatedly as he fully sat up and rubbed at one eye.

"Anywhere you're not," the slayer bit back as she hoisted her boomerang over her shoulder, "Go to sleep."

Opening the door, the slayer left and closed the door behind her with a sharp thwack.

On the one hand, this solved his immediate problem. The room he'd lobbied so hard to get now quiet once more. On the other, it would appear that he'd done something wrong. Other than phrase his request that she be more quiet poorly. She'd become more and more irritated with him recently. A reflection of his own attitude towards her no doubt.

Or his attitude towards everyone honestly.

The issue he had with Kagome was, by and large, a byproduct of his current anger towards his half-demon friend. Inuyasha…Inuyasha was and had always been one of his closest friends and confidants but this defeatist attitude going into what would undoubtedly be the final battle was infuriating. It wasn't necessarily Inuyasha's seemingly uncontrollable quirks per se but…but if the monk was being honest, what bothered him the most was that Inuyasha had everything the monk sorely wanted and was simply taking it for granted. While the monk was stuck tied to a woman he could barely stand, a woman who was different in almost every way from the Sango he had known, and who didn't seem to hold any affection for him until he'd been broken, Inuyasha had managed to flawless slide into the relationship the half-demon always wanted to have with his miko who, while different, was also very much the same.

In so many words, any issues that the monk had with Inuyasha arose out of jealously.

And also hurt.

Inuyasha had ample opportunity to confess his past attempts on his life but instead of confiding in him, Inuyasha told the slayer. A woman who could not possibly understand the significance of such an admission. Who had no idea how far Inuyasha had truly fallen. No frame of reference. Perhaps she didn't even care what the world would have lost had Inuyasha been successful. Probably wouldn't….

If the slayer was the only other left standing, would she even bother trying to still the half-demon's hand? Would she stay with him? Care for him?

Would anyone?

It was just a theory...

Chewing the inside of his cheek, Miroku mulled over that particular thought for a moment more before letting out a resigned sigh and moving to get up.

This entire rebirth was just a nonsensical mess. Each and every one of them rendered useless. Their once unbreakable bond fractured. The family they had built turned to ash. It would have been better if things had simply remained the same, if Naraku followed his old path, if Kikyo was still involved even, but instead, they were each of them broken and lost and rather than coming together like they once would have done…

Grabbing his robe, Miroku haphazardly put it on before going towards the door to find the slayer.

Gasping awake, the first thing Kagome noticed was that the warm body which should've been spooned up against her was gone. Ever since the incident with the wolves, she'd been having increasingly violent nightmares and the only thing that stopped her racing heart was knowing he was right there. Usually, her startles startled him awake as well and he'd nuzzle her neck, let out this low growl before pulling her more securely into him...

Why that particular incident was bothering her so much was…

She didn't even know what to think about it other than….

Sure, it'd be gruesome but…she'd seen…

And there were survivors which was good…

The little girl wasn't alone in the world...also good...

It didn't matter. For whatever reason, the wolves were strangers comprising a relatively small number of murders she'd encountered since being flung into the feudal era and yet their deaths were literally keeping her up at night. Had her shaking randomly when they were making their way across the country. To say she'd suddenly become paranoid too would be an understatement. At all times, she was acutely aware of their surroundings - half expecting this Naraku to descend from the heavens to murder them all. Something which had already happened apparently so that didn't exactly make her feel any better.

It didn't help that Inuyasha had changed up his usual behavior either. Yes, he was still hyper vigilant and having panic attacks and freezing at random intervals but before this incident, he'd seem relatively normal in between. Could rally and interact and hold a conversation….now he…it was almost like he…

It was almost like the light had gone out behind his normally warm eyes. Most of his reactions were delayed - like it was taking actual effort to do literally anything. Speak. Stand. Walk. Breathe. On top of that, he'd been more submissive. Doing everything she asked him to do without complaint. Taking every opportunity to compliment her awkwardly or give her tokens of physical affection. He'd given her flowers a few times - something he had never done - and, most recently, with half-hearted confidence, informed the inn keeper that she was his wife. The announcement unprompted and very, very awkward. Extremely so. Enough to elicit a subtle cringes from his friends and definitely uncomfortable for the innkeeper who seemed to think the statement was an unspoken challenge of some kind.

Which was a fair reaction on the part of the innkeeper honestly. The way Inuyasha said it definitely came off like he was almost asking for the poor guy to do something foolish with that information.

And it wasn't like she minded if people knew they were married. It was more...well it was just plain weird. Inuyasha was never one to offer up personal information to his friends much less to strangers and he knew better than to take such a risk in a time where most people wanted him dead and who definitely didn't want someone like him marrying one of 'their' women. And yet the man who always, always kept his distance in new villages and got mad when she threw caution of the wind had just detonated a metaphorical pipe bomb. Probably to piss people off. Which if that was his goal, it was working on at least one person. Miroku had spent the last two days lobbying for the chance to sleep at an inn and didn't seem above clocking Inuyasha if the half-demon ruined this luxury for him. 

In any case, Miroku's obvious belief that they were going to be sent away turned out to be unfounded. With a quick glance, the inn keeper sized them all up before coming to the obvious decision that it was better to just keep his mouth shut and take their money than make an issue out of who the half-demon married.

Blowing out her cheeks, Kagome reluctantly sat up with a very pronounced pout before glancing around for her husband.

Her eyes landed on the half-demon currently scribbling in one of her school notebooks. His posture slumped and defeated. Ears drooping atop his head. A hand brushed something away from his face and wiped it on his pants before he went right back to scribbling seemingly oblivious to the fact his wife woke up at all.

A wife whose own problems were suddenly wiped from her mind.

"What are you doing?" Kagome asked quietly and Inuyasha startled slightly before wiping his cheeks under the guise of moving his hair away from his face.

"Just couldn't sleep. What are you doing up anyway?" he asked - his voice cracking slight much to his chagrin before he cleared his throat and set down whatever he was working on, "Did you have another nightmare?"

"What were you working on?" Kagome repeated as she scooted to the edge of the futon and Inuyasha closed the notebook with a lightning quick motion.

"Just…drawing," he lied before taking a steadying breath and turning towards her with what she imagined was supposed to be a warm smile, "It's nothing. You should to go back to..."

Shaking her head, Kagome got to her feet and moved towards the notebook which Inuyasha shifted awkwardly to hide.

"What were you writing?" Kagome asked with a knowing hum and a twinge of fear flashed through Inuyasha's eyes.

"Wasn't writing. I told you. I...I was drawing," he very obviously fibbed before not so subtly moving the notebook further away as he added with a hint of panic, "Trees. I was drawing...trees."

Kagome gave him a suspicious look before kneeling down and picking up the book while Inuyasha looked like he was considering drastic action. When she started flipping through the pages though, Inuyasha let out a sharp breath before reaching up and ripping the book out of her hands.

"No. They're not any good," he mumbled before taking the bizarre and unnecessary action of tearing the page clean out of the journal.

"Since when do you lie to me?"

Inuyasha's attempts to crumple the piece of paper into a tight ball slowed and his ears drooped once again.

"I just don't want you to see, okay?" he admitted miserably as he cast her a pleading look.

"You know whatever it is you can tell me," Kagome offered before sitting down on her knees, "Or show me. You've..."

As she began describing the reason she'd been concerned Inuyasha chewed his bottom lip and seemed to sag in defeat.

"It's just something I'm doing stay calm," he admitted thickly, "It's stupid."

Kagome smiled sadly and nodded.

"I'm sure it's not stupid," she reassured him but instead of looking comforted, Inuyasha looked even more miserable than before.

"Can't you just go to bed?" he pleaded as his bloodshot eyes darted to the futon, "I'll be there in a little bit."

"Well if it is drawing or something, maybe next time we're in my time we can get you some..."

That attempt to be helpful seemed to be the thing that broke his resolve to keep his secrets.

"It' I r-realized I can't change...I don't know if I can change what happens" he unfurled his hand and lightly probed the wrinkled ball with one finger, "So I've been writing the things...the things I wanted to do before…before it happens."

He cleared his throat and amended.

"If it happens I mean."

Kagome blinked once at the unexpected admission before being more surprised when he began unfurling the paper.

"I did a few already," he offered shakily as his face crumpled and he looked a hair away from crying, "Told a stranger we're…that we're married. Gave you flowers that used to remind of you after...after you were gone. I thought you'd think they were...were p-pretty."

"They were beautiful," Kagome murmured affectionately. With a barely audible whine, Inuyasha nodded once with a strangled smile playing on his lips.

His jaw began to tremble as he completely unfurled the paper, flattened it out and glanced over it with watery eyes, "I...we..."

He paused for a moment to run his finger under his right eye to catch a tear.

"They're stupid. They're all stupid."

"I bet they're not," Kagome reassured him as she moved to better read his list and the next simple things nearly shattered her heart. Wake her up early to watch the sun rise. Buy something from a merchant by himself. Try something new with his hair. Go to a hot spring with her. Tell her he loved her twice a day. Not freeze in a fight. Have dinner with her family. Talk with her about baby names... about baby names?

"Baby names," she murmured quietly as she cast him a semi-concerned glance, "Am I..."

Inuyasha jerkily shook his head at her unspoken question and sniffled lightly.

"Like I said they're s-stupid," he mumbled before crumpling up the paper once more and tucking it away near his heart. With that, Kagome's eyes softened as she hooked two fingers under his chin and forced her to look at him.

"They're not stupid," she reassured him and despite his best efforts, more tears seemed to appear - his breathing becoming uneven and shaky before he lifted his head out of her grasp and lightly batted her away.

"D-doesn't matter. D-did you have a nightmare again?" Inuyasha desperately tried to change the subject before gently running his hands over his cheeks a few times, "You've g-gotta sleep. You're r-really useless when you don't..."

Gasping softly when her mouth suddenly captured his, Inuyasha didn't even bother trying to fight this token of affection. Quickly taking control, his arms reached up to pull her closer before moving to kiss down her jaw - moaning softly when her fingers wormed beneath his robes...

And then the bitch went and grabbed the damn list.

Breaking the contact, Inuyasha grabbed her wrist with lightning fast reflexes before the miko could react.

"You already saw it," the half-demon panted lightly as a flicker of hurt flashed behind his eyes, "L-leave it alone."

"Okay, okay," Kagome acquiesced before pressing a light kiss against his lips and instantly he relaxed with a somewhat pleased hum. The contact continued for a few gloriously distracting moments before the miko pulled back and ran her fingers over his neck earning a subtle shiver.

"So, do you have any ideas for baby names?" she asked hesitantly and with a frustrated sigh, Inuyasha gave her a patient albeit defeated look.

"This is why I didn't want you to see. You'd rush 'em," he groaned before humming hoarsely when she once again dipped down to give him a somewhat lingering kiss. Kagome knew he was right, of course, but the fact that he was concerned she'd rush them meant he thought there was a chance he'd have enough time to do them all at his own pace.

Realizing that the miko wasn't going to let it go, Inuyasha sagged in defeat and his watery eyes seemed to waiver. For a moment, he worried about his lip before letting out a long resigned sigh, reaching into his robes and pulling out the paper again.

"F-fine. You want to t-talk about it. Fine. That's what I was…" he paused to clear his throat as he cast her a nervous glance, "Was working on."

With trembling fingers, he began trying to open the paper and once unfurled, he flipped it over revealing two columns. One for boys. Another for girls.

"W-want things I…I can yell easy," he mumbled sheepishly before running one finger under his eye again and adding with a slightly embarrassed mumble, "N-not that I'll hurt 'em or nothin' but…but ya know…danger."

Nodding in understanding, Kagome smiled before scooting over and sitting next to him as closely as she dared.

"Eri. Ai. Aika. Aimi. Airi. Aiko. Yua. Keiko," Kagome went over the list thoughtfully before she gently took the paper and motioned for him to hand her the pencil, "So it seems like you have a theme for the girls, hm?"

Averting his eyes, Inuyasha nodded faintly and ran one finger under his runny nose.

"If somethin' happens I want them to know how I feel about 'em," he clarified softly with a faint blush, "Girls care more 'bout that type of thing."

"Boys want to know they're loved too Inuyasha. Can't name your daughter love and your son bringer of destruction. Sends the wrong message," Kagome chided bemusedly and perking up slightly, Inuyasha looked mildly offended at the insinuation he wouldn't let his son know he loved him.

"Just sayin' that...that girls..." he huffed defensively - her voice less soft and his posture improving, "They care more about what people think. Girls want to know people like them. Boys don't care as much."

"Says the boy who has wanted nothing except acceptance his whole life but do go on," Kagome hummed knowingly as she tapped the end of the pencil against her lips and glanced over the list. Inuyasha scowled but didn't deny it.

Chewing his cheek, the trembling half-demon added another condition while Kagome seemed to mull over a name to add.

"Needs to be something normal," he sighed heavily as he glanced down at his claws, "Nothing people'll think is weird."

"Thought boys didn't care what other people think," Kagome teased and Inuyasha cast her a withering glance.

"You know what I mean,"the half-demon clarified with a somewhat congested sniff, "They might come out looking like you. It'll be safer if no one knows what they really are."

Rolling her eyes, Kagome nibbled at the eraser before a small noise and wiggling in her seat.

"Okay then. What about Isamu?" Kagome offered as she looked to him for approval and with a long irritated sigh, he shook his head.

"That name doesn't mean anything," he mumbled hoarsely before clearing his throat and glancing at the two name under that column, "Needs to be more personal. Not just..."

"It means brave! We're brave," Kagome protested but Inuyasha firmly shook his head.

"So are a lot of people," he pointed out dismissively, "Just look at what I put down. Like that."

Kagome smiled sadly and rested her cheek on his shoulder with the paper in front of her face.

"Okay so we have tree and...tree," Kagome laughed softly. Inuyasha blushed.

"Itsuki and Masaki are good names," he mumbled before resting his cheek atop her head - his arm moving to circle his waist, "Besides, you know where my mind was at."

"What about Daiki then?" Kagome offered playfully, "Boys can be named for trees. Girls named for love."

Inuyasha gave her waist a light squeeze, nodded and let out a content sigh - which confused her since she'd said it as a joke.

"One specific tree so same thing really," he mumbled before turning his head and placing a kiss atop her head. Now more or less stuck with picking tree related names, Kagome worried about her lip for a second before deciding to stray from that constraint.

"Katsuro," she added - already writing before Inuyasha could shoot it down. For a long moment, he was quiet before he rubbed his cheek against her hair and sighed.

"Might be hard to yell," he critiqued gently before giving her waist another light squeeze, "But I'll allow it."

A comfortable silence fell as the couple leaned against one another - Inuyasha having closed his eyes and Kagome still looking over the list clearly trying her best to take this seriously.

"You have more girl names," Kagome hummed thoughtfully - hand lowering to lightly scratch at his thigh, "And only...a couple boy names. Seems uneven. We need to think of some more for the boys for sure."

For a long moment, Kagome continued to look over the list while Inuyasha slowly opened his eyes which held a sad and distant edge.

"We don't. I know they'll be girls," Inuyasha offered thickly as another tear unexpectedly slid down his cheek.

It took a surprisingly long time to find the slayer but when he did, his anger faded somewhat. It was almost painful to see her like this. Knees pulled up to her chest with her head bowed. Her face buried while her body trembled slightly. She'd noticed his approach surely. He hadn't exactly been subtle as he cursed to himself and stormed about trying to find her.

A sudden and softly spoken "I'm sorry" choked the remaining breath from his lungs. Not necessarily because the slayer was apologizing but due to the uncertainty over for what exactly she was apologizing. While true she had been rather snippy and abrasive, that behavior was almost to be expected honestly. From either version.

"Whatever has prompted this, I assure you it is..."

Sango made a strange sound - somewhere between a sob and a laugh - and the monk's eyes widened slightly in alarm.

"Forgiven..." he finished awkwardly before clearing his throat, "There is no reason..."

"I...I never b-believed you..."

"What exactly was so hard to believe?" Miroku interrupted bitterly, "I have been nothing except..."

A watery snort cut off his train of thought.

"Not everything is about you," the slayer managed shakily - her entire being quaking whether from fear or grief the monk wasn't quite sure, "I mean about this Naraku. It made n-no sense to me. W-why would this a-all powerful demon be s-so o-obsessed with a bunch of t-teenagers? W-we aren't the only ones looking f-for shards."

Looking appropriately ashamed at being called out, Miroku had no real answer for that opinion concerning their arch nemesis. Especially considering his first reaction to her observation was an inappropriate level of amusement. Choosing to be silent then, the monk allowed the slayer to continue her explanation.

"Every...every story s-sounded s-stupid. N-Naraku wasting s-so m-much time and e-energy. P-picking us to be his...his 'greatest' foe?" Sango continued, "It m-made him sound p-pathetic and w-weak."

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Miroku was struck by the oddest desire to laugh. This had the makings of an excellent roast of the man who had made it his life's mission to make their lives hell.

A sob like gasp escaped her as she continued, "B-but whether it's stupid or not, it's true. He has singled us out. K-killing all those people? J-just to mess w-with us? K-Koga didn't e-even have s-shards."

"It is entirely possible Koga may have acquired them recently without divulging that information to anyone," Miroku sighed evasively as he shifted his weight, "Drew unfortunate attention to himself. Naraku having two shards is something..."

"Thats not that point! It makes no sense!" Sango hissed hoarsely as she finally raised her head in favor of glaring at the monk with bloodshot eyes, "T-this...the only t-thing I can t-think to even e-explain why we w-were singled out is because...because he was jealous. We h-had friends. A family. Love. What is the p-point of power with no one to share it with?"

Any amusement he had in her analysis long since fled, Miroku pursed his lips at this conclusion and barely suppressed the urge to roll his eyes.

"Slayer we..."

"See! That! That is why he hasn't bothered showing up this time," Sango barked hoarsely, "He didn't destroy my village so I wouldn't...wouldn't fall in love with you. So I didn't need to stay because I had nowhere else to go. So I'd leave!"

At this asinine conclusion, Miroku set his jaw.

"That is..."

"And Inuyasha has lost his mind," Sango continued miserably as she glared at the inn door behind which the man in question rested, "Because N-Naraku is t-trying to drive him crazy! Will he show up? Is he dead? Is he here? Who knows! Not Inuyasha!"

"You're speaking nonsense," Miroku chided acidly, "Naraku is not above mind games but this is utterly ridicul..."

"We w-were stronger together. Could've beaten him together especially knowing what w-we do. our group is splintered. B-Broken..."

"Enough," Miroku huffed much harsher than he intended, "I assure you we did not gain Naraku's attention simply because he was jealous of what we all once shared. Naraku only focused on us because we were attempting to complete the jewel. No one else had that goal in mind. "

"W-well you're an i-idiot," Sango scoffed - every muscle in her body trembling out of control, "I bet w-whatever b-brought me b-back g-gave you memories - n-not me - for that s-same reason! So we.."

"I do notcare what It's reasons may or may not have been!" Miroku hissed loudly, "The only thing I care about in this exact moment is taking rest where I can. It has become glaring obvious that I am the only one sane at the moment. I am the only one truly preparing..."

"So g-go then!" Sango clipped back - her volume coming dangerous close to a scream, "Why waste y-your energy on someone w-who means nothing to you!?"

Miroku paled slightly but didn't correct her. Instead, he simply glared at the ground like it offended him by existing. Licking his lips a few times, the monk attempted to regain control over his anger and let out a long sigh with a shake of his head.

"You are in need of rest yourself..."

Sango scoffed and began unsteadily getting to her feet.

"This is why Naraku hid himself," she spat back almost hatefully, "He can't pull the same truck twice so he needs a different way to weaken us. You're a fool. You're allfools!"

In all honesty, the only thing Miroku wanted to do was go back to that uncomfortable futon and get some much needed sleep but he couldn't leave her like this. Different though she may be, the slayer was very much her forerunner and both, he imagined, made terrible decisions when they believed they were stripped of choice. When they believed they had the answers. When they believed they alone could negate a threat...

Miroku's eyes softened slightly and he glanced back at the door behind which their friend's slept.

When she believed she alone could save the one she loved.

"This woman will be the death of me yet," Miroku groaned as he rolled his shoulders and began his pursuit.

Letting out a soft moan, Inuyasha's lips twitched upwards as Kagome's mouth assaulted the smooth skin where his human ear should have been. Between that and her fingertips tracing his bare chest, he was almost distracted enough to forget the crushing hopelessness of despair. Which, of course, was her goal in doing this and he was fully aware of said fact. Didn't mean he couldn't enjoy it. Every second he got to spend in her presence was worth its weight in gold. The intimate ones worth...

Shifting his hips, his breathing hitched and his body jerked when those talented lips honed in on a particularly sensitive bundle of nerves.

Her breath cascaded over his skin as she laughed.

"You liked that one, hm?"

Letting out a shaky sigh, Inuyasha elected to say nothing to confirm or deny her observation. Instead, he turned his head just enough to capture her lips.

Quiet moments like this were almost enough to make him forget...

If only for a little while...

"It'll be dawn soon," Kagome cooed breathlessly when they broke for air -stretching out beside him and resting her cheek on his chest, "We should probably get some sleep."

"Half-demons don't need sleep," Inuyasha snickered playfully as he adjusted his knee so she could curl her legs around it, "We can go for days. Even weeks."

"As you so expertly demonstrated a few weeks ago," Kagome teased tiredly as she titled her face to press a soft kiss on his neck, "Took me at least an hour to get the vomit out of my hair."

Sighing bemusedly, Inuyasha was man enough to admit he'd spiraled out of control there for a bit but he'd been trying to do better. Be more positive but honestly he was just whinging everything in his life right now. The one and only reason he made that stupid list was because he wanted...

Hell, he didn't even know what he wanted. It seemed like whatever he did anymore went wrong or didn't help...

Or made it worse...

Someone else needed to take the reigns or at least teach him how to use them. He really didn't want to live like this anymore. Even existing was exhausting. In many ways, this past week would've fit right in those ten years and he wouldn't know the difference. He couldn't enjoy anything. Couldn't appreciate what he had.

And the worst part was that he wasn't sure what was wrong with him. Wasn't like he knew anything about...

Blinking a few times, Inuyasha sighed heavily and glanced at his wife.

He might not know shit about shit but...

"You remember what you said before...before we found the wolves," he began hesitantly before clarifying when Kagome made a small nose of confusion, "About people in your time that...that help people who...who are messed up like me. How does that work?"

Humming, Kagome blindly reached for the blanket and pulled it over their bodies while trying to figure out how to explain therapists and psychiatrists in 15th century terms.

"Some of them talk you through your problems. Help you make peace with what happened," she yawned before snuggling closer to him, "Others see if you have something wrong with your brain and sometimes give you drugs...herbs to manage symptoms."

"But not cure it," Inuyasha sighed despondently at what was going unsaid, "They can't make it go away."

"A lot of people who...who went through things like what you know, war, losing loved ones, that kind of thing, sometimes they have problems like you do," she soothed, "But with the help of these doctors, they get some...control. Closure. Find ways to cope. Medication...medicinal herbs sometimes make the healing process faster but that alone .."

"Do the medications work on demons?" Inuyasha interrupted before letting out a bitter sigh, "Wait no. That was a stupid question. There are no demons in your time. We're all dead."

Kagome pulled back and with one hand, forced him to turn his face and look at her.

"We don't know that," Kagome chided angrily, "They could be hiding or...or maybe they all live on some island!"

"I didn't mean..."

"Yes you did! You go around assuming the worst!" the miko hissed loudly - for whatever reason that latest defeatist statement pushing her over the edge, "Maybe we all live, huh? Maybe we win this time! Maybe..."

Shaking his head, Inuyasha's eyes wavered and he simply stared up at her face before reaching up to gently stroke her flushed cheek.

"Look I'm sorry, okay? I don't want a fight," he caved miserably - his fingers gently stroking her upper arm, "I know it doesn't seem like it but I'm trying. I am. Reason I'm even asking is because I want things to be different. I don't like being this way. I want...I want to be normal again or at least, not...not this. I just..."

Inuyasha set his jaw a few times as Kagome tried to get a reign on her knee jerk anger.

"I'll do whatever I need to do. Take all the herbs or drugs or tell some stranger all about my life," he continued with a frustrated huff, "I need to be better so I can save you. Not that I won't even if I'm batshit. I'll die trying if I need to."

The color in Kagome's face faded as she gave him a worried look.

"Is that really your plan? To die for me?"

A sad smile played on his lips as he resumed stroking her cheek, "S'not a plan but if that's what I gotta do then yeah. Where there's death, maybe there's gotta be death. Much rather it be me than you."

"And if its not?" Kagome choked and strangely, Inuyasha once again found himself strangely detached from the idea - almost numb.

"Your mom said if you died again, I could stay with her," he sighed, "So if I can, I'll probably..."

Kagome sat bolt upright and stared down at him in mild horror.

"Wait, she said what now?"

Inuyasha cringed subtly and winced. Now that he thought about it, he suddenly remembered exactly why he'd never said anything to his wife about that tidbit. While it comforted him beyond measure, he could see how Kagome would get the wrong idea. It wasn't like he was giving up knowing he had somewhere to go. Honestly, if he'd given up on anything, it was him surviving the upcoming battle. There was no way in hell he was going to let Naraku kill her twice. No way he was going to let him so much as touch her. Which meant, of course, that he had a lot of pain to look forward to on her behalf and was a large part of the reason he'd made a list of all the things he wanted to do. If he was going to go out, he wanted to go out without regret or wishing he'd done things differently. When he took his last breath, he wanted to go peacefully. Well, as peacefully as could be expected under the painful circumstances in which he would inevitably die.

"She just offered. That's all," he argued weakly - pressing himself against the hard futon in an attempt to put some distance between himself and her wrath, "B-besides, I'm hoping it doesn't come to that. Since I came back, I've...I've been trying to change things so..."

One sapphire eye twitched as the miko glared down at him and set her jaw as though daring him to lie to her.

"When did all this happen?" Kagome huffed in exasperation as she tried to sit up - beyond pissed that her own mother would only add fuel and pessimism on Inuyasha's mental dumpster fire. Offering that up was basically confirming that his worst fears would happen!

'Oh hey Inuyasha when you fail, which I assume you will, you can totally come and stay at our house! Why would I tell you something positive like this time will be different or...'

"Recently," Inuyasha provided awkwardly- his tone somewhat nervous as he realized that saying anything at all on that topic was a mistake .

"How recently?" Kagome ground out and Inuyasha cringed.

"L-last time we...were... there?"

Kagome wasn't stupid. Given how she could literally feel how fast his heart was beating, that offer was probably what gave him the confidence to propose to her which would explain why he didn't tell her . Probably thought he needed to seal the deal so to speak by truly becoming 'one of the family.' 

"How did this even come up?" Kagome asked wearily - not even sure she wanted to hear the answer - and she felt Inuyasha tense under the awkwardness of it all.

"I...I went asking permission to marry you," he admitted begrudgingly, "I w-wanted to do it right, ya know, but after she said yes, we...we got to talkin' and...and somehow she knew...knew what h-happened to you so she, ya know, offered."

Kagome blinked a few times - feeling rather guilty that she thought so little of him - before her mind honed in on an aspect that seemed incredibly suspicious.

"Did she say how she knew I died before ? Did you tell her? "

The sad little smile and dark chuckle was not the reaction she expected.

"Apparently you two were talking about my messed up brain and you told her," Inuyasha cleared his throat as some of the tension melted out of him, "That I only acted like, well, me because I was afraid you'd die. Again."

Kagome cringed.

"I don't care that you told her. I'm not looking to fight over this," Inuyasha sighed heavily before shaking his head and lightly pulling on her sleeve, " Just come here."

Rolling her eyes, Kagome begrudgingly laid back down and began tracing circles on his chest.

"Got any other secrets you want to tell me," she warned with a disapproving hum, "That's two in one night. Want to go for three strikes instead of just two?"

Inuyasha furrowed his brow at the strange turn of phrase but figured since he was in trouble in anyway, might as well get hit again.

"Miroku has a theory about why we remember and you guys don't," Inuyasha offered as he absently reached up to stroke the back of her head, "Thinks we're connected in some way. That I get headaches and...and other things because I gotta be with you know, to survive or something. Same for him and Sango. He thinks that's why Naraku hasn't been able to touch him until now."

"Well...that's a theory," Kagome mumbled as she snuggled a little closer, "A stupid one but still a theory. How does Naraku remember then? He didn't lose anyone."

"I don't know the answer to that," Inuyasha sighed heavily, "The more I think about it, the less sense it makes. How did Miroku survive all that time on his own? Headaches I got with or without you. I don't...and far as I know, Sesshomaru isn't affected like that."

She blinked at the reference to the brother she had honestly forgotten existed.

"Sesshomaru...have I actually met him? I mean I imagine he looks like you," Kagome asked curiously, "I can't remember..."

"I'm better looking," Inuyasha teased wearily, "But he's taller I guess. Doesn't have weird ears."

"Shame. I was hoping they ran in the family," Kagome yawned playfully - deciding it wasn't worth picking a fight over stupid theories at the twelfth hour, "Guess I'll just have to pray our tree baby takes after you."

"Tree baby," Inuyasha snickered softly - feeling strangely less depressed than he had before this conversation began, "Told you its gunna be a girl."

"What makes you so sure?" the miko hummed tiredly, "Do you have any other secrets to tell me?"

Blinking up at the ceiling, some missing piece suddenly fell into place in his mind. True, he knew exactly why he 'knew' it'd be a girl, why he felt so sure...

That dream had felt a little too real. Every detail had been vividly clear right down to the scent. The aura...

And he'd been there for it. Because he'd managed to save her...

He'd been worried all this time over nothing.

A short relieved laugh escaped his lips.

"You're not the only one who has dreams sometimes..."


"Leave me alone Miroku," Sango huffed hatefully as she continued to storm ahead without any real destination in mind, "I don't even want to look at you right now."

"Not until you swear to me that you will not do anything foolish," the monk countered exasperatedly, "In the past, you have made some very unfortunate..."


Miroku set his jaw and gave the slayer a withering glare.

"As far as I'm aware, he hason won quite yet and we haveon given up..."


If anything, the monk's continuing calm was only serving to make her anger burn that much hotter. He was looking at her like a parent watching a toddler tantrum snd it was infuriating.


This statement did cause a reaction albeit a subtle one. A flash of anger. A slight jump of his jaw. A momentary narrowing of his violet eyes.

"So this is truly what you think of me, is it?" he accused - his voice clearly strained as he tried to reign in his rage, "That I would not raise a finger to defend you? That your death would not weigh on my soul?"

"Would it?" Sango let out a watery laugh, "Because even if I didn't hear you telling Inuyasha that you hate me..."

"I have never said such a thing," Miroku interrupted harshly - his fists clenching and unclenching by his side, "You are simply projecting..."

"Projecting my ass," Sango clipped back and for a moment, the monk was so shocked by this language that his anger was momentarily forgotten. Continuing in a mocking imitation of his voice, she began to repeat what she'd overhead - well, more or less, "Her feelings for me are one-sided. I feel nothing for her so 'as it is not a strong attachment'..."

Miroku's eye twitched as she continued throwing aspects of his conversation back at him but he didn't exactly deny her interpretation.

"See!? You can't even tell me I'm wrong!" Sango hissed before brushing away a tear that broke free, "You know what else I'm sorry for? I'm sorry that I didn't give you a chance. I am but I also know it would never have been real. You thought I was the same woman you loved and I'm not and one day you would've realized that. You would have realized that and left me so..."

For the first time, the monk's eyes softened incrementally but unfortunately, he was at a loss for words. It was entirely possible that same scenario would have come to pass. The only thing he could think to say was...

"I do not hate you."

The slayer coughed lightly and let out a sob-like sigh.

"Thank you for clearing that up," she offered - running the back of her hand beneath her runny nose, "Glad we could have this..."

"But if I am to be completely honest, I wish I did," Miroku added as he averted his eyes and a tear slid down Sango's cheek as she froze in shock, "It would be far easier than admitting..."

Miroku let out a shaky sigh and cleared his throat, "It would seem that love is a harder habit to break than I would like and it has been unfair to punish you for...for my own struggles in that arena. I do not hate you and I apologize if I have made you feel that way. The truth is that..."

Whatever he was expecting, it was not for the slayer to rush forward and capture his lips - a token of affection he ashamedly couldn't refuse. With a soft whimper, he responded with almost feral desperation - feeling guilty and blessed all at once - before suddenly coming back to himself and pushing her away.

"N-no...that isn't...that was out of line..."

Panting heavily, the monk turned on his heel and quickly made his way back to their room while the slayer crumpled to her knees and devolved into sobs.

Parenthood had never been something one wanted. Rather, it had always been seen more of a chore. A burden. There must be an heir. A continuation of the bloodline. It was the duty of two strangers forced together by their families to bring into the world a son – at the very least – and preferably also a spare. Love had absolutely nothing to do with any of it.

Although, to be fair, she wasn't entirely sure what love even was. All she knew was whatever she felt towards her son knew no law, no pity, and requires her to ruthlessly crush anything that stood in his path. It also made her feel what she could only imagine was concern over his current state of mind. 

How odious...

Lightly tapping her fingers together, she slowly made her way down the hall towards his frazzled aura. Listening to his restless fidgeting and his soft steadying sighs. He was anxious. Afraid.

Such a weakness should bother her in a very different way. The fact that it was not out of concern for his status in life that she was wandering these halls peaked her curiosity if nothing else. 

Turning the corner, cold amber eyes gave her son a once over from his place in front of the small child's door – clearly ready to defend his ward if necessary. While true that he needed or rather took less sleep than most, this was not the first night she had felt his presence since his arrival. Awake. Vigilant. Frightened. Tonight, however, his aura was dimmed. He was exhausted and yet there he still stood undeterred.

"Sesshomaru, you need your rest," her emotionless voice opined as she moved closer, "It is unbecoming to allow yourself to grow weak."

Without speaking, Sesshomaru acknowledged his mother's presence by turning to face her – a single muscle twitching in his jaw.

"Your servants come and go as they please," he pointed out tonelessly, "It is possible there is an imposter among them."

"If you wish, I will examine them from this moment forward," she countered as she raised a single eye, "Or prohibit them from venturing beyond the gates. Whichever you prefer."

Sesshomaru narrowed his eyes incrementally at this strangely generous offer before returning to his previous position and resuming his watch.

"Do as you wish."

A long sigh was his reward for his being difficult.

"Honestly Sesshomaru, I have accommodated every request you have made," his mother pointed out – her tone as bland and milk toast to an outside observer as ever, "Yet you still hold such distain."

When she received no reply, she squared her shoulders and used more emotion than any servant had ever heard their mistress use. Which was not saying much. In fact, it said extraordinarily little. The amount of emotion being poured from her mouth would barely fill a thimble.

"If you are concerned over how I run my household, I will stand watch over the little creature so that you may rest," she ordered and despite her slight to Rin, something strange, almost warm, flashed behind her eyes which had her son biting his tongue. Instead, Sesshomaru flicked his eyes in her direction and subtly reset his jaw.

"I know you think little of me," she continued with enough emotion to fill a teaspoon, "But given that this child is precious to you, I will not allow a single hair on her head to be harm. I give you my word and if I fail to keep that promise, you are free to punish me as you see fit."

That statement did earn a most extreme reaction. Sesshomaru blinked oddly for a few moments before turning his head incrementally towards her and giving her an appraising look. He really was his father's son.

"In exchange, I ask that you rest," she continued as she met his startled gaze head on, "The diminishment of your aura reflects badly."

Sesshomaru made a face at that vague assessment which screamed exasperation and betrayed his expectation that his mother had a selfish motive for her offer – not that human eyes or even most demon ones could register the expression. Of course this offer did not come from a place of affection but rather arose out of a concern that his 'affinity' would cause him to diminish in strength and make the other inuyoukai would think less of him. Clearly, he cared what the other daiyoukai thought of his adopting a human daughter. The other courtiers might think him weak but little did they know, Rin made him stronger. More determined. More focused. It may have taken a century or two but he finally understood why his father asked if he had someone to protect. Sesshomaru would admit he had been too arrogant to understand at the time. The strength and determination one gained from love far outshone that called upon by any other motivation.

"In the event I was unclear, allow me to rephrase," his mother clipped back with a pin drop of exasperation, "The threat which brought you here intends to harm her. Allowing yourself to grow weak merely gives this villain an opportunity to move beneath your notice. Rest. I will protect the child. I give you my word."

For a long moment, Sesshomaru didn't react before he opened the bedroom door and went in while his mother quietly took his place.

A single servant peered around the corner with a mildly impressed smile playing on his lips. For centuries now he'd served this family and that, sadly, was the sweetest thing he'd ever seen his mistress do.

Inuyasha had just managed to fall asleep when a sharp rapping on the door startled him awake. For a split second, he half-thought that his risky statement yesterday was coming back to bite him in the ass but then the monk's frazzled and grief stricken scent burned his nose. Before he even had a chance to groan or get up, the need to do either was resolved. Well, more or less.

"I have paid the innkeeper for another night and a third room. We will leave tomorrow and I will not hear otherwise," the monk's hoarse voice informed the pair before the sounds of his footsteps indicated he'd walked away. While the monk's actions weren't unwelcome and Inuyasha had no intention of arguing when he was exhausted both emotionally and physically, everything about the monk was making it difficult to fall back asleep. Something was wrong and the half-demon had a sneaking suspicion that it had something to do with the fact the monk had made a classic 'dealing my dead fiancé' blunder.

Closing his eyes and groaning, Inuyasha let his head fall back on the pillow - trying to decide whether to go after the monk who had clearly been crying or whether to give the man some space.

"What's happenin'?" Kagome mumbled tiredly - stretching and groaning at having been disturbed only thirty minutes or so after she'd fallen asleep.

"Stayin' another night," Inuyasha sighed as he pressed a kiss against her forehead and gently tried to extract himself, "I'm going to go talk to Miroku. He sounds upset."

"Yeah he did," Kagome yawned before pulling the blanket up to her chin and settling back down, "Don't yell at him, 'kay? Be nice..."

Smiling sadly at the miko who rolled onto her side and curled up in a ball, Inuyasha ran his thumb over her cheek before grabbing his haori and begrudgingly shrugging it on. Of all the people in the world to try and comfort someone, it shouldn't have to be someone like him and yet it would seem this task fell upon his shoulders.

It seemed like going next door took an eternity but maybe that was only because the half-demon didn't particularly want this conversation to happen. After all, Kikyo hadn't been an issue - at least not really - this entire time and he had never been forced to discuss his regrets aloud to anyone. That being said, if there was ever a time to talk about it, it would be now. While he got everything he'd ever wanted, Miroku got stuck with a Kikyo of his own only so much worse. At least the person Kikyo used to be lived and breathed air in this world. This wish eradicated the old Sango...

Pulling open the sliding door, Inuyasha slipped inside and shut the door behind him with a soft click. Truth be told he knew what he wanted to say. Was just tried enough that he could probably get through this without an emotional breakdown of his own. Just a quick simple heart to heart because he was so good with words.

When Inuyasha scoffed at himself and rubbed at one eye, Miroku's bloodshot eyes flicked to the unwanted intruder before he continued collecting his limited belongings - stubbornly ignoring the fact that there were still dried tear tracks on his face and that the world's easiest to trigger man was standing there simply watching.

"You got a third room, huh?" the half-demon began wearily as he leaned against the wall, "Care to tell me why?"

"I am need in a private space in which to meditate," the monk lied hoarsely as he began shrugging on his robes, "The slayer sleeps too loudly."

"Didn't hear much sleeping last night," Inuyasha commented as he inspected his claws and frowned, "Heard some other shit but not snores."

Miroku tensed before glancing over his shoulder.

"Whatever you heard..."

"You know, instead of trying to sort through this cluster on your own, maybe you need to let the guy who spent ten long ass years going over every damn thing he ever did wrong give you some pointers," Inuyasha hummed as he pushed himself into a standing position and folded his arms across his chest, "My biggest mistake was never talking about what was happening with Kikyo. I thought I needed to deal with it on my own so I put up with the snide comments and resentment and everyone thinking I was a bastard when it all could've been cleared up just by being honest. By letting people help."

"If you heard, then you are aware honesty did me no favors," Miroku huffed - his voice still hoarse and cracked - as he began tying his robes together with trembling fingertips, "In any case, the world does not revolve around you. As much as I enjoy your anecdotes about how utterly miserable you were..."

"I'm saying if anyone understands how god awful you feel right now, it'd be me," Inuyasha interrupted in a calm, controlled manner, "And yeah, I know the situation's different. Sango ain't evil or insane or trying to kill everyone you care about."

It was the tone that had the monk turning to look his friend in the eyes and for the first time, he truly realized how much older the half-demon seemed. There was a weariness that often plagues the battle worn instead of the snarky arrogance Miroku had become accustomed to throughout the quest. Some wisdom too and a knowing pity that had the monk's stomach churning.


"And that's what makes your situation worse than mine," Inuyasha interrupted in that same infuriatingly understanding tone, "I never said anything to you because truth was I thought it'd work out like it did between me and Kagome. And yeah I know this Kagome is a different person. I'm not stupid. Thing is I love this version more and that makes me feel guilty but...just whatever. I want to give you some advice I wish someone had told me."

Miroku set his jaw before continuing getting ready to leave this room and be miserable in peace.

"Whatever you have to say, we are two very different people and..."

"You have every right to grieve what you lost and be angry that this is happening to you," Inuyasha interrupted with a soft sigh, "Don't try and act like you're fine when you're not. I ignored it. Tried to brush it off like it didn't bother me and...well I ended up becoming obsessed. I had to know what she was doing. Where she was. Went around questioning everything. Almost let Kagome die because I...because I...I don't even know. All I'm saying is that not acknowledging that you have the right to be upset will drive you crazy. Makes you weird. Pushes people away."

Miroku adjusted his beads and waited for the half-demon to continue.

"Which brings me to my next point," Inuyasha continued - his voice shaking slightly, "No one can ever say they handled the situation worse or better than you are. No one can criticize how you're handling things. That's the joy of being one of a kind and far as I know, we're the only two assholes who've ever had to deal with this kinda thing."

"To be fair..."

Inuyasha held up his hand to quiet whatever the monk had to say.

"Except for Sesshomaru. Yeah, I know and he doesn't count because he's an emotionless bastard who tried to kill me so he can fuck off. Point is its okay to be confused. Its okay to still love her," Inuyasha added quietly, "And this is where your situation is worse. It would've been easier for you to move on if she kept acting like she had been. Well, not really. With Kikyo, she wanted me dead. Hated me for a long, long time and I wanted her to love me again. Bent myself out of shape over it. Know what? It just sucks. All of it sucks."

Miroku's bloodshot eyes softened incrementally.

"So I guess I'll say...don't confuse how much you loved the original with the love you feel or don't feel for this version. Just because they got the same face and same soul doesn't mean you owe them anything," the half-demon sighed, "If you do love her, great, it all works out but if you don't, realize walking away is an option. You don't owe this new version jack shit. She's not Sango and she'll never be Sango."

"Then what of Kagome, hm? You only love her because of the Kagome you knew," the monk accused a little bitterly, "You are giving advice you yourself have not..."

"First off, that is not the only reason I love Kagome. This version beats the hell out of the old one. And see, here is the difference between you and me. I admit the old Kagome had problems and you act like Sango shit gold," Inuyasha clipped defensively as he idly scratched at his cheek, "That woman beat you on a daily basis over stupid shit. Didn't want to be with you most of the time you knew her but god forbid you be with anyone else. Hell, she stole my sword and tried to hand it over to Naraku. Nearly got us all killed over Kohaku more times than I can count. You loved her, you still love her but Sango wasn't perfect and its okay to say that."

"You didn't answer my question," the monk countered evasively, "Would you have 'walked away' from this Kagome if she didn't..."

"Probably not, no, because I'm a sad desperate person but you're smarter than I am. More disciplined. Less broken," Inuyasha admitted with an exasperated sigh and a gesture at the monks general person, "So if anyone can do it, it'd be you. The question is whether you want to do that."

Miroku didn't quite know what to say to that.

"Look, this whole situation is bullshit. We both know it," Inuyasha finished with a soft sigh, "And I'm so sorry that its turned out this way for you. I really am. I just want you to know that if you want to talk through what you're feeling or you just want to get drunk and bitch, I might not be the best listener but you know where to find me."

After he left the monk alone, for the longest time, Inuyasha simply sat on the edge of the small porch looking up at the sky and wondering whether he'd actually said anything of use or whether he just came across like an asshole. Miroku hadn't said anything to him when he moved to the other room but judging by the scent, the monk was pissed. At him. At Sango. At the world even. There was no real telling. Overall though, Inuyasha felt kinda proud of himself for getting through that whole ill conceived speech without panicking or crying or freezing up. By all accounts it really should have triggered something. Just like with the wolves. As much as he'd like to say his reaction to either was a good sign, really it just made him wonder whether he'd be paying for it down the road. His mind just keeping the flood waters at bay until the dam broke at the world's most inconvenient time.

Still, that smidgeon of pride, this small awkward victory, did improve his overall mood considerably. And with one more glance up at the rising sun, Inuyasha turned to head back inside.

Running a single hand down his exhausted face, he closed the door behind him and looked down at his wife with a melancholy smile playing on his lips.

A smile which dropped when she let him know that there was a distinct possibility she'd been eavesdropping.

"I do beat the hell outta her. You know how many times I wanted to go back and kick old me's butt?" Kagome snickered tiredly as she propped herself up and gave him a somewhat playful look, "Sometimes you tell me things she did and I get so mad…"

Letting out an exasperated yet relieved sigh, Inuyasha made his way towards the futon and crawled in next to her.

"Things like what?" he hummed as snuggled up against her back and placed a kiss on her shoulder.

"I don't know but I know I've thought about it," she laughed before letting out a soft sigh and reaching up to scratch at the base of his ears, "Like with this Kikyo. It sounds like you were hurting and instead of understanding that the situation was awful, she just punished you for being sad. Because logic. And the whole thing with school? I mean, come on. Sometimes I just really want to punch her in the face."

"Shut up," Inuyasha groaned good naturedly as he buried his face in her neck and let out a content sigh, "Without her there'd be no us so…just if you ever get the opportunity, don't bring me into it. Punch her and run."

Kagome snickered heavier and leaned into his warmth.

"I feel bad for Miroku though. Sounds like something went down," the miko yawned, "I'll talk to Sango later. See what she has to say."

"If she'll talk," Inuyasha agreed with a despondent sigh as he slid his arm up to rest his wrist against her sternum, "Right now though, all I want to do is sleep."

Wrinkling her nose at Inuyasha's uncharacteristic desire to stay in the same place two nights in a row, Kagome seriously regretted her life choices as she foolishly decided to ask him about it. Because apparently she enjoyed pain.

"You're really okay staying here another night?" she asked quietly and in response Inuyasha held her tighter.

"Dunno," he mumbled before placing a kiss on the nape of her neck and breathing in her ear, "Are you saying you don't want another night alone? How often do we get opportunities like this?"

As his hands began to wander to get his point across, Kagome blushed and rolled her eyes. His mood swings were going to kill her one day. Metaphorically, of course, because if there was one thing she was sure of, it was that he was going to save her this go around...

All she could hope is that he didn't die trying.

Mood slightly dampened, for her at least, Kagome reached down and brought his hand back up to safer territory.

"Later maybe. Right now I just want to sleep," she mumbled earning a mildly frustrated groan followed by a very long sigh.

Chapter Text

Never, never would he have imagined being loved could feel this effortless or that being in love could feel this wonderful. It couldn't be normal for a heart to melt this often or to experience such joy. And it wasn't even about…gifts like this - although this was definitely a perk. The security. The confidence. The trust. For the first time in his life, he'd learned what it felt like to breathe after a lifetime of suffocating.

Kagome's hand moved faster and Inuyasha bit down on his hand to muffle the whimper that broke free. It was mere seconds later that he tumbled over the edge - a faint blush on his cheeks as the impropriety and awkwardness of it all finally registered in his mind. Allowing himself a moment to catch his breath, despite his own embarrassment, a sated smirk played on his lips and a satisfied chuckle caught in the back of his throat. What the others didn't know wouldn't hurt them and they were all sleeping.

They were sleeping, right?

Panting lightly, the blush on his cheeks deepened as he focused all his sense on confirming that very thing. Heaven forbid someone had been awake that whole time. No amount of excuses in the world would ever...

After a long moment in which his heart beat so fast it became hard to breathe, Inuyasha confirmed there was nothing to worry about and allowed himself to relax. With a lazy movement he adjusted his pants before rolling over to spoon his wife who cooed happily in his embrace. A wife who was so attuned to his needs of all kinds that she'd given him this awkward, unexpected and yet welcome gift. How she even knew he wanted or needed something like this was a mystery to him. Sure, she could've just gotten the idea herself but it seemed unlikely. More likely, his wife could just read his moods like one of her textbooks. Which was frightening in a way because he never had this level of connection with anyone. Not with his mother. Certainly not with his wife's predecessor or with Kikyo. Why? Because with each of the latter he refused to let them fully in. Because he'd been cruel. With Kikyo, at least, he'd done better on that last part. He'd defended her to her dying breath. With the original Kagome?

Sighing heavily as that thought plagued his mind, Inuyasha's initial euphoria began fading into all too familiar depression.

He couldn't even defend the original now. Not even with the benefit of hindsight. She always came second. Not that he consciously made that distinction while she'd been alive. In his mind, at least at the time, Kikyo and Kagome had been equal for the better part of quest. Like an asshole, he'd wanted them both. But he didn't treat them equally. He always made it crystal clear which one he 'preferred'. Maybe he hadn't really loved the original Kagome at all. Maybe he just hadn't wanted to be alone and knew Kikyo wasn't a long-term option.

Burying his nose in his wife's hair, Inuyasha pulled her tightly against his chest and bit back tears at the thought he might not even love this Kagome. That thought was harder to believe - impossible really. He loved his wife so fiercely it was almost painful. Which terrified him. If he only thought he loved the original and it fucked him up that badly, he couldn't even imagine the horrors that awaited him.

"I love you," he mumbled - hoping his shaking voice would be brushed off as merely being the aftereffects of what she'd given him - before letting out a long sigh of relief and relaxing somewhat when she murmured the sentiment back to him. As her breath evened out and her heart rate began to slow, he tried to hold onto that feeling of comfort. Tried to melt into her as she slept. To let her presence, soothe away the pain and dissolve the pit in his stomach. But even the combination of the aftereffects of her gift and her warm body beside him weren't enough to lessen his self-loathing which had reached heights hitherto unimaginable. Burying his nose in his wife's neck, Inuyasha tried to make the sick feeling in his stomach leave through sheer willpower alone. At first, it hadn't bothered him but the more time that went by, the more he realized he was still doing the same damn thing he had always done.

He really had always put her second.

How many times had Kikyo done something shitty, and he'd defend a woman who openly admitted to doing it on purpose? Downplayed or ignored each and every single batshit crazy evil thing Kikyo did. And yet for all his efforts to do better by this Kagome, he couldn't even muster a simple 'don't talk about her like that'? They say that lies don't ruin relationships but rather truth and the truth was he was god awful to her. He supposedly loved her and yet he never took her side. Never. Not then. Not now.

Inuyasha let out a soft groan and tried to push away his guilt to no avail. Kagome probably didn't even remember making that comment which was keeping him awake at night. And he was too terrified about losing this Kagome to correct his mistake. To defend her.

A thick knot in his throat suddenly made it hard to swallow.

To make matters worse, he was the one and only reason there'd been darkness in that woman's heart. At the time, that realization had very nearly made him puke. It shouldn't've been there. Whatever she believed wasn't even true, but he didn't say that. Didn't do anything to change her mind. Not anything she believed at that point anyway. Which was fair.

Letting out a shaky exhale, Inuyasha gently began extracting himself from his wife's sleeping bag to grab some air. It wasn't helping his frazzled nerves - at all - that this stupid abandoned village felt familiar. Probably a village they had saved back then and just didn't this time because there wasn't a jewel shard involved. The number of wildflowers and vines covering every square inch of this ghost town told volumes about how long-ago shit went down. Everyone else thought it seemed like a good as place as any to wait out his human night - which was complete bullshit because he'd already had one but thanks to time travel he got to experience that twice in so many weeks - but there was something wrong here. Something off that he couldn't quite put his finger on - the answer on the tip of his tongue. Did anyone listen to him though? No, of course not, he was just the paranoid insane person who no one took seriously.

Sliding open the small hut's door, Inuyasha inhaled deeply before jumping off the raised deck and into the crimson red blossoms. To be fair, not everything they encountered was about what their little group did or didn't do. Given that Kagome existed, that her time hadn't changed, what they did or didn't do didn't change a damn thing. Logically their entire rebirth had no real point to it. They weren't sent back to stop Naraku's rise because ultimately, Naraku didn't impact the future in any material way. Kagome's time wasn't affected. Nothing changed.

Pausing mid-step, Inuyasha's heart plummeted to the bottom of his stomach. Nothing had changed. Did that mean everything was already set in stone? Their lives were inconsequential. He couldn't change what happened. He couldn't...

His heart clenched so painfully he forgot how to breathe.

Completing his step, Inuyasha tried to swallow the bile in the back of his throat before wincing and rolling his suddenly sore left shoulder. Taking a calming breath, he stretched his arm above his head and took a moment to collect his thoughts - doing his very best to ignore the pain in his heart. All he needed to do right now was to stay focused on his goal instead of getting himself so worked up. He was going to change things. All the things. Maybe Naraku was the one who didn't matter in the grand scheme of things. He could win or be defeated without impacting history. After all, Kagome had even looked for clues in her time and found nothing. Not that he cared if he upset history or anything. He was the same selfish bastard he'd always been.

Rolling his sore shoulder one more time, Inuyasha sighed and glanced around the creepy village in the near distance to distract himself. There were no bodies here. No skeletons even. No sign of any struggle. It was entirely possible that this village was just abandoned. Maybe crops didn't grow - although the soil here smelled rich and fertile. Or maybe everyone agreed they needed to move on after some shogunate or another tried to bring them into the fold.

Not that any of it really mattered at present. That was something he could worry about later or... never actually.

Despite his half-assed efforts, he couldn't distract himself for very long and his heart clenched again in his chest. No matter how hard he tried to ignore reality, the fact remained that he'd let the woman he loved down yet again. Because...him. Because he had to be the sorriest excuse of a man that had ever lived. It would be easier just to never mention the incident again rather than bring it up and risk ruining the best thing that ever happened to him.

Easier but not right. For once in his worthless life, he needed to not be selfish. For her sake. All they went through together, all her suffering, and he still didn't have the balls to defend her? Couldn't say a single word in her defense? Failing her even now.

'Surprised I don't just say it was an accident and Naraku didn't mean to kill her,' Inuyasha thought miserably as he absently rubbed at his sore chest, 'Why not? It's easy to blame someone who can't defend herself. Make her the bad guy. Just up and died for attention.'

Inuyasha's self-loathing hit new heights as he began walking through the sweet-smelling meadow. If he really wanted to fix things, to make things he'd done wrong right, he needed to start with defending her for once. Even if it meant driving his wife away. Sure, he'd done everything in his power to make sure this Kagome knew she was loved but, in the process, he made it seem like…

Like why when Kagome had died not knowing how deeply she was loved wasn't because of anything he'd done. It was entirely because of how utterly terrible he'd been. Not because he was shy or had trouble expressing his emotions or because the woman was dense. He'd been an asshole. Any sweet moments hadn't even been all that sweet.

Shit, he didn't even defend her when Kikyo tried to kill her. Even though Kikyo straight up admitted she had tried to off her. Instead, he was all 'oh that can't be true, there's no way, couldn't be that bad'. It was bad, okay? Scared him shitless. He'd known it was bad and instead of writing the undead bitch off, he acted like nothing changed. Everything changed. Not that he was putting any blame on her but if she'd said 'Yes. Kikyo did XYZ and tried to kill me' then he...

Might've done something different.

His ears plastered against his skull, and he wrapped his arms tightly around his stomach.

Given that even he couldn't say for sure he'd avenge her, Kagome was right when she believed saying something was pointless and wouldn't change anything. It was within the realm of possibility. More than that, it's exactly what happened. He should've done more. Done better. He should've reassured her it wouldn't happen again. That should've been the moment that prevented him from chasing after Kikyo ever again.

'Did Kikyo try to kill you?'

What absolute horseshit.

Inuyasha let out a bitter, watery laugh and ran the back of his hand beneath his nose. That was such a stupid question. All the evidence was there, and he'd had a confession. It was like asking if water was wet. Water was wet. Kikyo tried to kill her. He could've lost her which terrified him but instead of saying that, instead of acting like it was a big deal, he tried to get the victim to tell him Kikyo wasn't all that bad. Just rubbed salt in her wounds. It was a literal miracle she didn't hate him after that.

Sniffling, Inuyasha continued walking until he was in the dead center of the flower covered, very abandoned village.

Confusing and inexplicable mental hang ups aside, he should've said or done anything else. It was only until the second time he'd almost let her get killed over Kikyo that he got his head out of his ass but by then it was too late. Kagome didn't believe he was serious about picking her because why would she? She even said she hated him at one point and yeah, she said she'd forgotten she said that but that didn't make it hurt any less. To be honest, he had expected her to say that for a good long while and when those words came out of her mouth, he would've done literally anything to get her to change her mind which was apparently what he did when he was in love.

Again, not that he told her that. Instead, he just picked fights and tried to annoy her on purpose for fun. Which wasn't great. Wasn't all that great either that he didn't really change all that much after he'd made his little proclamation.

Everything he did was too little too late.

She never trusted that she'd choose her and even when she started to believe him, the rose demon showing him Kikyo just put the final nail in the trust coffin. Even if they'd had a hundred years more, there'd always be that doubt as to whether she was a backup option or if he'd just settled or if he really loved her. That, above all others, would've been the time to talk things out instead of just giving a lame 'Kikyo asked me to go with her' and 'I never answered you woke me up.' Could've been a little clearer there for sure. He never answered because he was trying to figure out why he wasn't jumping at the opportunity. Did he say that? Nope. He just made it sound like he would've gone with her had Kagome not woken him up. To be fair, he honestly might've gone. Wasn't like he knew anything outside of what he was being shown.

But he tried, okay? He tried to do some damage control. Something along the lines of 'I was so focused on my pain I never realized you were hurting' because that didn't make him sound like a jackass at all. Then asked for forgiveness which she immediately and unconditionally gave. If anything, her forgiveness made it worse.

Letting out a choked gasp when his heart panged again, Inuyasha ran one hand through his hair.

How he'd treated her was a large, large part of why he'd been so devastated that she...

Why he was so obsessed with having her know...

Because she didn't until...

Tears collecting the corners of his eyes, Inuyasha tried to catch his breath - still unable to truly look back and acknowledge what happened without wanting to break down. At least he was still grieving what he'd lost that day. That had to count for something, didn't it?

Probably not.

More than anything, he'd wanted Kagome to know how much he loved her. And he'd achieved that. Just too late and not with her. He'd done everything different. Right off the bat, he'd made sure Kikyo was out of the way. All the issues with that undead bitch nipped in the bud. There'd been no doubt this time. This Kagome would know how much she meant to him. Everyone would know.

Problem was everyone knew he loved this Kagome. He knew he loved this Kagome. More than he ever loved the original or Kikyo. Which was a problem. A giant problem which raised more questions than it gave him answers.

Maybe the reason last time she believed he didn't love her was because he didn't love her. Whether or not he did, she still had every reason to act like she had done. Every reason not to love him and yet she'd done so anyway which made it all so much worse. He…

Inuyasha's heart painfully skipped another beat while his body suddenly refused to cooperate. The blossoms around him glowing red while an unnatural yet familiar sensation of peace began washing over him.

'Oh, fuck me.'

As he began sinking into the ground, the last clear thought he had was that this was not how he expected to die.

Kagura hesitated, her heart thumping, at the boundary between moonlight and darkness. From overhead cold drops plopped into her hair, a water clock ticking away the precious seconds. Going in there, after what she'd just done, may very well be a death sentence. If Naraku knew that is. More and more, Kagura had a sneaking suspicion that the bastard was onto her. That he knew this rebirth had been her doing. How or why didn't really matter. And as far as she knew, there was only one more jewel shard remaining and the only way to get to it had already been defeated. Not that she could articulate that she suspected or knew that to be the case. Doing so would give too much away. May even remind Naraku where exactly he needed to look. Given what he'd told her, it appeared he'd forgotten...

Letting out a short, tense breath, the wind sorceress squared her shoulders and did her absolute best to appear confident. It was getting more difficult to mask her own anxiety in Naraku's presence. Ever since he made her single handedly wipe an entire tribe off the map. Her discomfort didn't arise from any affection for the wolves themselves but more a reminder of Naraku's ruthless nature. A reminder of what she had to lose and why she had done all this in the first place. Sesshomaru might not think of her - in any respect - but it didn't matter. She had been damned since the beginning. There had never been a chance at survival. If she really was inherently connected with Naraku, his demise would be her own. There would be no future beyond that.

"Yo," she managed to scoff in her usual tone as she entered the poorly lit cavern where Naraku sat high and pretty on his perch. It was a wonder the man had the patience to simply wait here in the darkness. Maddening really.

"So, you've found them," Naraku chuckled darkly before gesturing for his incarnation to come closer.

"I found two," she countered as she tossed them rather than complying. Distance, however small, was something she didn't want to forfeit. There was no telling when Naraku might turn on her. No telling at all.

Fingering the two shards between his fingers, Naraku smirked up at the wind sorceress who looked nonplussed, "And you're certain these are the last shards to be found."

"Shouldn't you know that?" Kagura scoffed evasively as she barely suppressed the urge to roll her eyes, "You gave me a list. I checked the places. These are the only ones I could find."

Naraku incrementally narrowed his eyes before inhaling deeply and letting out a strange short hum.

"There is one I believe you may have missed," the half-breed asshole countered apathetically while giving the wind sorceress a suspicious once over, "Not intentionally perhaps but fear not Kagura. I have another mission for you."

Sitting bolt upright with a startled gasp, Kagome's brain stuttered for a moment and every part of her body went on pause. Her thoughts desperately tried to catch up with the sensations flowing through her but, unfortunately, with her heart banging against her rib cage, it was hard to breathe much less think things through. All she knew was that something was wrong. Something was very wrong.

For the span of about five seconds, the miko's mind flatlined in sheer unadulterated panic when she sat up and glanced around the hut before her eyes focused on the open door.

"Shit," Kagome blurted as she scrambled out of her confines and frantically reached for her bow, "Shit. Shit. Shit…"

"Kagome-chan? Whats going on?" Sango mumbled as the slayer sat up and rubbed at her eyes, "Is something…"

Scrambling out of the sleeping bag, mindlessly grabbing her bow and quiver, Kagome didn't have words to even begin describing to the others what exactly had her panicking in the middle of the night. No amount of her trying to explain herself was doing any good. She didn't even know what was going on, so how could she have explained it to them?

"Inuyasha's gone," Kagome clipped as she threw open the sliding door and rushed out onto the raised porch, "Something's wrong."

"I need you to stay calm and explain to me how you know that," Sango tried to soothe as she unsteadily got to her feet and made her way over, "If something happened to him…"

"I don't have time to stay calm! Somethings wrong. just is" Kagome snapped in a half-crazed tone as she glanced around the quiet village with terrified eyes, "I...I just know somethings wrong, okay?"

While Sango tried to get the miko to expand on that statement, Miroku understood exactly what Kagome was not so eloquently explaining. He could feel it as well. Inuyasha's aura pulsed in time with the beating of his heart just as every aura did for every creature on this good earth that possessed an aura to begin with. It was a large part of why those attune to such things could differentiate between one being and the next. In truth, the monk himself came second when it came to knowing all the variants of his friend's aura. While it felt calm and steady, there was something morbidly wrong about that. Inuyasha was many things but calm was never one of them. Still, that alone was not sufficient to cause this level of panic.

"We just need to find him, okay?" Kagome managed shakily as she made to jump down before finding herself dangling by her wrist with an apologetically frustrated slayer on the holding end.

"Before we go rushing off, we need to put together what we know," Sango huffed as she singled handedly lifted the miko back onto the platform before explaining what she meant when the three other companions stared at her like she'd committed high treason, "For example, do you feel another demonic aura? Shippo, do you smell any blood or hear anything suspicious? Is there..."

"I didn't sense anything ominous in this area," Miroku's groggy voice entered the fray as he sat up with a groan and absently scratched the back of his head, "But I still feel Inuyasha's aura nearby. It's a little irregular but nothing out of the ordinary."

"I'm telling you something is wrong," Kagome clipped hoarsely as she slid open the door and peered outside into the darkness. Her eyes darting around in the moonlight before she added, "His aura puts him up ahead. I should be able to see him so unless he's laying beneath all these stupid flowers..."

As Kagome reached for an arrow, Miroku let out a soft swear and cringed as realization struck him with all the force of a double decker bus. Honestly, he would bet his weight in gold that Inuyasha had also forgotten a very important event.

"The flowers. Its the flowers. They're a trap," the monk offered numbly as he pushed himself to his feet and grabbed his staff, "We will be looking for a demon without an aura. A soul eater who feeds off his victim's despair…"

"I'm sorrywhat?!"

The already depressed looking monk seemed to wilt further as he moved to stand on the edge of the deck and gestured at the flowers still covering the vast majority of the village.

"The flowers. Touching them initially causes paralysis and…"

As Miroku continued describing how the flowers were used to kill, a disturbingly large part of the miko wanted to slap Miroku then Inuyasha then both of them again for good measure. Wasn't knowing events and recognizing places like this part of the whole-time traveling thing?! And now, because two time traveling 'geniuses' somehow failed to remember that the giant crimson blossoms ate people, Inuyasha had probably fallen into the same trap a second time with probably way more tasty baggage for the depression fueled soul sucker to feast on.

Knowing full well how utterly screwed Inuyasha probably was in that moment, Kagome groaned and looked back out into the small meadow with a shuddering sigh. There was no point wasting time beating the monk to a pulp. Right now, her focus needed to be on saving Inuyasha and saving Inuyasha only.

And once she saved him, she could kick those morons' butts from here to kingdom come.

"Where does this demon live, how do we beat him and does he have jewel shards?"

When he first found her, she was deathly still and were it not for his superior senses he would've assumed she hadn't survived the fall. It was obvious what must have happened. And by obvious, he meant there wasn't a giant crater before he went under the vine's spell and now there was one.

If they'd just let him go it alone, she wouldn't've gotten hurt. Miroku wouldn't be in shock. The others would've been fine. Naraku wanted to punish him. Only him. Sango, Miroku, Shippo…even Kagome, Naraku didn't have a personal vendetta against them. This all started because that bastard had been in love with Kikyo and jealous of him. Take away all the bullshit that came after and it really was that simple.

Why would he let his friends get hurt over that? If Naraku was going to kill someone, it might as well be him. No one else needed to suffer but no one else seemed to understand. The one and only reason Naraku gave any thought to the rest of his friends was because he was with them. Even Miroku was just the most recent victim of something his grandfather or great grandfather or whoever did to piss off the bastard. Sango's village was just collateral damage. Shippo had no connection. Kagome…well Kagome was like Kikyo, but she wasn't Kikyo. Naraku didn't want her. The bastard had an easier time telling the difference between the two than even the man who loved them did.

What did that say about him?

Rolling his shoulders, Inuyasha remained crouched before the young miko – his gaze piercing into her.

"So are you gunna tell me what happened or not?"

It seemed like an eternity before Kagome finally replied - his heart cracking more and more with each passing moment. That illusion showed you your worst fear and his had been confusing to say the least. To be honest, he wasn't sure whether it was the fear of losing Kikyo or the fear that he'd let Kagome get hurt while he was with Kikyo. There'd been a moment when he'd known he was forgetting something and once he'd remembered it was Kagome who was missing, fear the likes of which he'd never know hit him like a ton of bricks. Kikyo had done something to him again. Made him forget Kagome again. Hurt Kagome again. The fear of the truth.

He couldn't protect both. Not when he had to protect one from the other.

So, he'd made a choice and it was when he made that choice the illusion broke.

Maybe his fear was having to choose?

Inuyasha blinked a few times and internally screamed. Why the hell did everything in his life have to be complicated? Miroku got a straightforward illusion. Sango and Shippo probably did too. But maybe his illusion was straight forward, and he was just making it complicated.

Still, if everyone else's worst fear was simple, Kagome's was probably simple too.

"What did you see in your illusion? If…if you saw me doing something, you can tell me," he offered cautiously as he tried to give her a reassuring smile that looked scared shitless, "I won't get mad."

Something broke behind her eyes and Inuyasha's heart dropped like a stone.

"I didn't see any illusions," she managed evasively with a broken smile, "So I didn't see you do anything."

Inuyasha eyes focused on the bruises - invisible to the human eye - beginning to form in a pattern indicative of a vine or, at a minimum, rope encircling her calves.

"Something did happen though. You're hurt," he pressed with no lack of suspicion before reached out to run his thumb beneath the deep cut in her cheek and giving her scraped up form a once over. If there was one thing he knew, it was battle wounds. An arrow grazed her. Seeing as how Naraku didn't use arrows that narrowed down who fired it.

It was on his way back up to her face then that he realized the jewel shards were missing.

"They took the shards?!" he breathed in mild horror - a hint of rage underlying his tone as he let his hand drop, "Dammit. Why didn't you fight back?! You could've purified the vines or..."

His anger cooled when he saw the pain and hurt behind her eyes.

"I couldn't," she replied a little bitterly as she averted her eyes - the tone shocking him, "I couldn't fight back. I didn't have a choice."

"Why won't you just tell me what happened?" he ground out in a cold tone as he cupped her chin and forced her to look at him, "I can't get them back unless you tell me who they are and what happened!"

"I'm not going to tell you!" Kagome snapped defensively before she raised her eyes and saw his hurt gaze.

"I can't tell you," she amended before adding with a sad pained smile, "It's not my place."

'Kikyo then,' Inuyasha thought miserably as his amber eyes searched her face and his heart sank straight into the ground.

"Why won't you just trust me?" he breathed miserably before inhaling sharply. His face morphed into a mixture of dread and unbridled horror. As hard as he tried to hide it, the pain behind his eyes very obviously hurt the miko in turn.

"Inuyasha that's not it at all," she promised shakily but taking a deep breath and averting her eyes, "I do trust you. I just...I just don't want you to get hurt. That's all."

This was not a better response by any means.

"Then tell me what happened because whatever it is, I guarantee this hurts more," Inuyasha huffed - distantly realizing this was not a response he'd give under most - if any - circumstance, "I already figured out who did this. I just need to know what she did so I know how pissed to be."

Kagome blinked once in pure unbridled shock.

"W-who do you think did this?" she breathed - wanting confirmation before she made a mistake. InuYasha, in turn, gave her a withering glare.

" Kikyo," he replied without hesitation- the general feeling of wrong surging exponentially as his vision momentarily blurred and a wave of exhaustion washed over him, " tell me what she did."

And there it was. The engrained distrust she'd been denying existed. Yeah, she might trust him to save her under normal circumstances but when it came down to taking her side, there was no trust at all. She assumed, rightfully he might add, that it wouldn't matter what she said or how bad it'd been.

A strange flutter in his chest and a shooting pain down his left arm had him taking a desperate gulp of air which Kagome obviously took for emotional pain rather than physical. Just as suddenly as it came though - the strange sensations fled.

His vision though. It was still somewhat hazy if only ever so slightly. Maybe it was the stress?

"You're hurt" she pointed out - wanting to both change the subject and wanting to make sure he was doing alright. When her hand cupped his cheek, the strange flutter momentarily returned and the pain in his left arm made him wince. Disturbingly, he wanted to sleep or at least lay down but that wasn't an option. And it scared him. Maybe the vines had done more damage than he thought. Poison maybe?

"Don't worry about me," he managed - cringing subtly at the sudden hoarseness of his voice but suddenly more worried about his human companions who he'd stupidly left behind. If he was being affected, whatever this was would be fatal to humans.

"We should get the others."

Taking another weirdly difficult gasp of air, Inuyasha scooped her up and launched onto the edge of the cliff.

Where the answers to all his questions about why Kagome wouldn't tell him were answered.

Nothing in nature stops. What comes from the earth returns to the earth. Men. Women. Children. Humans. Demons. Animals. Bags of flesh and bones. Nothing more. Nothing less. Theirs lives matter little and all their efforts, their petty little schemes…well, they hold no meaning whatsoever. In the grand scheme of things, what he was doing here was less than a speck of dust floating on the wind. The territory he'd obtained not even a blip in history and temporary. Not even he would live forever. A few hundred years at most – assuming man did not kill him first.

Or half-demons who simply would not die.

A single vine lightly tipped the bloodied face upwards, this way and that, trying to discern how this creature's heart was still beating with so little blood remaining. He would be remiss if he did not acknowledge that this creature's despair was especially tantalizing and better yet, it seemed to be in endless supply. Still, it was the soul itself that held the most nutritional value. The sorrow was just an appetizer. If this persisted, perhaps simply consuming the heart itself would be sufficient but all beings must die and it shouldn't be too much longer.

Humming, the demon pursed his lips and continued tilting his victims face.

What dreams must this creature be having? Deepest desires? Revisionist history perhaps? To be reunited with love lost? Satiate its regrets with choices made differently? Perhaps this delay in his demise came from his despair being a complicated one. Too many facets to address. If that was the case, it would be best to be patient. Allow this remorseful soul to find peace that few creatures ever achieve.

As a creature born from evil, this was the closest to kindness he could muster. The rest of his kind simply took without giving anything in return. Merely consuming whatever soul fell pray to their trap. Some believed a hopeless soul was the best fertilizer but through trial and error, he had found otherwise.

Everyone was much more willing to die, their nutrients so much sweeter, when their unfinished business had been resolved. When they pursued their dreams and achieved them. So many had volunteered. Wishing to escape the pain that plagued them. Those who didn't soon changed their mind or, at a minimum, were so relieved fighting their demise simply didn't occur to them.

The half-demon's body jerked as a nearly inaudible groan of pain passed over his lips. His breathing becoming rapid and shallow.

The flower demon smirked.

'Won't be too long now...'

"How long can you go without the beads?" Kagome muttered hoarsely as they continued dancing around the various clumps of flowers, "We need to time this right."

"It would be easier to simply provide you with them now," Miroku admitted as he gave the miko a side-eyed glance, "During our last encounter, you possessed beads of demon repulsion which prevented this demon from attacking you."

Swearing softly at the non-answer, Kagome paused for a moment – bow still held at the ready before glancing up at the slayer who was trying to give them a bird's eye view.

"She's pointing just up ahead," the miko sighed before glancing for an opening and seeing none, "There's so many of them. You won't make it through and I don't want to risk putting you in danger. Maybe we can launch an attack from here?"

"I'm honored you think so highly of me," Miroku scoffed as he set his jaw, "Unless you have forgotten, we both have formidable spiritual powers. I am capable of withstanding his attack. We can simply purify these blossoms to get close enough to ensure victory."

"We can't just purify everything in sight," Kagome sighed knowingly as she continued looking around for the best way forward, "Look, we have the element of surprise. Blasting our way in might endanger Inuyasha."

"Inuyasha is already endangered. I know you feel his aura weakening," Miroku clipped back, "Purifying the flowers en masse was not an avenue we pursued last time. It is well worth the risk."

"Is it? Even together we can't purify all the flowers and you said there are vines too we'll have to deal with," the miko countered before groaning and seeing one potential option, "One of us needs to lure him out. Its too much of a risk to send you and you said last time, I fought him off. I'll go."

"Last time," Miroku emphasized with an exasperated sigh, "Which is not the present. You were a different person then with different experiences with different tools at your disposal. We cannot say with any level of certainty the result will be the same."

"So what then? We just use you as a sacrificial lamb?" Kagome scoffed before blinking a few times and glancing over her shoulder in mild horror. Miroku gave her a withering glare and raised his beaded hand.

"In the worst possible scenario, I take him with me on my way out," the monk sighed before glancing up at the slayer flying above, "That is why I refused to join her. She would never agree."

"This was your plan? Because you think I would send you into danger?" Kagome huffed – her eyes narrowing incrementally as the offense rightly taken, "That I'd just force you to…"

"Given that it is my idea, you can hardly say it was forced," Miroku sighed as he began fiddling with his beads and averting his eyes, "In any case, I know you will need beads to defeat this demon. I will draw him out by entering his territory and attempting an attack. Once he arrives, fire an arrow through the doorway. Aim for the head."

"Miroku, this is suicide. We don't even know if these beads will work!" Kagome huffed as she fully turned to face him only to blanch and scramble to catch the beads that he haphazardly threw at her on his way forward.

'Damn. I didn't even smell her.'

"Hand over the jewel shards," Inuyasha huffed as he stood and put himself directly between Kagome and the undead priestess, "Those aren't yours."

"What's wrong Inuyasha? Why is it I feel you're unhappy to know I'm well?"

'Oh, I don't know you stupid undead bitch. Maybe it's because you tried to hurt Kagome? Just a wild guess,' Inuyasha thought bitterly as his hand hovered over his sword. Amber eyes flicked to the miko behind him and a flicker of hurt flashed across his face. Kagome honestly thought he'd let this slide. That he wouldn't believe her. Well, if Kagome wouldn't tell him…

"Answer me. Just what did you do to her?" he snapped bitterly as he crouched into a more defensive position - one hand moving to better shield or grab Kagome if it came down to it.

"I tried to kill her. What is it that you plan on doing about it? Will you kill me?"

'Kill you. Strangle you. Beat the ever-living shit out of you. Take your pick,' Inuyasha huffed silently as his eyes tried to calculate his odds of winning against an evil rage fueled woman who could turn him to dust. If he died, Kagome would die and given his chances of surviving a head on fight were slim to none, Inuyasha begrudgingly resigned himself to taking a defensive course of action.

"Tell me - when Naraku had you under his spell, what was it you thought about?"

"Why don't you tell me?" Inuyasha snapped angrily as he risked a glance behind him and tried to do some mental calculations, "Seems like you were behind all of this not him."

Doing his best to hold back his wince of pain when his left arm throbbed, Inuyasha had to lock up his legs to stop himself from collapsing. This wouldn't be the first time he'd been forced to posture to survive. If he'd done it then, he sure as hell be able to do it now. There were too many lives at stake. Too many people to protect.

And the only reason any of them got hurt in the first place was because of his stupid ass. Another throb of pain and jerking ever so, his eyes closed briefly despite himself.

"Do you feel unwell Inuyasha?" Kikyo laughed with a cruel softness that sent shivers down his spine, "Pray tell why would I cause you pain? Did that child tell you that this was all my doing?"

'What a stupid ass question...'

When she tipped her head to look around him, Inuyasha narrowed his eyes and adjusted his body to hide Kagome from those cold undead eyes. The only real risk at the moment would be if something came from behind but the way he was positioned, he could grab Kagome if he needed to do so. Shield her if he needed to. No matter how bad of shape he might be in.

"You tried to kill her. That tells me all I need to know," Inuyasha countered – trying his best to stall until the last possible moment. Running too soon and she'd strike him in the back. Hurt Kagome. Most likely she'd leave of her own accord. She came here for two purposes. Jewel shards and to hurt whatever relationship he had or might have with the miko behind him.

"I know what you saw Inuyasha but rest assured I have no influence over your darkest fear," Kikyo laughed softly – her lips twisting into a sadistic smirk as her soul collectors began swirling around her, "Which just so happens to involve me."

Finished playing with her food, Kikyo took off into the night sky leaving a frazzled school girl and heartsick young man behind her. Slowly, ever so slowly, Inuyasha turned to face the miko who looked a hair from a breakdown. He knew what he needed to say. Kagome deserved to hear the truth. The fear he felt at having to confront this made it that much harder to breathe.

He could only hope she didn't hate him afterwards.

Courage is the mastery of fear - not absence of fear. This is an important distinction. Indeed, the absence of fear suggests a level of apathy whereas mastery allows one to show courage knowing something else is more important.

In this moment, Miroku had the clearest vision of what was before him, victory and danger alike, and yet went out to meet it. Without him, his friends could still succeed. Without Inuyasha, they might as well start digging their own graves. That wasn't to say that the monk did not believe his own life did not hold worth. That he did not contribute to the quest or to his friends' lives.

But the beads had been removed. Even now he could feel his curse taking full advantage of its newfound freedom. It may very well be that he would never get his own happy ending but hopefully his soul was capable of escaping the endless void which would undoubtedly consume him. Perhaps not today or even tomorrow but with each passing second, he could feel years of his life being stripped away. Time he otherwise would have had as his skin cracked beneath his palm.

Strangely, however resigned he had thought he had been for death in any form, he found himself terrified at the prospect. Still, Inuyasha needed to be rescued and last time, Kagome had become its focus for having a more 'delicious' brand of pain. Maybe the same would be said about him. If his despair didn't peak this demon's interest, when Inuyasha was saved, they were going to have a very long discussion on how badly his friend must have hurt the miko in the past.

Unfortunately, however, Inuyasha had been at this demon's mercy far too long and that conversation may very well never occur. The aura that had been steadily weakening could barely be felt and there was now a subtle undertone of panic, of fear. Inuyasha was dying and despite his own personal hang ups, Miroku was just as determined as his friend to change the fates design.

This would not be where his closest, most precious friend died. The monk simply wouldn't allow it.

"My, my what do we have here? Another willing sacrifice?" the demon crooned and taking a deep breath, Miroku reached into his robes to tightly grasp a protective sutra. One he didn't dare expose. Hopefully, he would retain enough wits about him to charge it. To escape if only momentarily.

All he needed was for the demon to show his face. Kagome would take care of the rest.

"Tired of living I see," the demon continued to croon from the shadows, "Grieving the woman you love. Come child. Let me take away your sorrow and pain."

Closing his eyes as he felt his body lock in place, Miroku focused all his power and let go.

"I'll tell you what I saw if you tell me what all happened," Inuyasha managed shakily as he collapsed to his knees and closed his eyes briefly in pain, "How's that for a deal?"

For the longest moment, Kagome simply stared at him - worrying about her lip as she tried to calculate the odds of his question being a trap. At the look, Inuyasha's heart constricted painfully - his breathing becoming shallow and surprisingly labored. Oddly though, the miko didn't seem too notice his pain. She always noticed his pain. Maybe she did hate him after all.

"I'll go first, huh?" he panted weakly, "So I..."

Before he could finish, the world went back and he knew no more. At least for a time. The next time his eyes fluttered open he found himself in a dark unfamiliar room. Every muscle in his body felt weak and heavy. There were no smells or sounds or anything really. The last thing he remembered was that Kikyo had tried to murder...

"'Gome," Inuyasha inhaled in hoarse panic but as he struggled to sit up, a surprisingly cold hand pressed gently on his shoulder.

"Kagome is fine," Mama's voice trickled down into his disjointed thoughts, "You just need to keep resting."

This did not resolve his confusion in the slightest. If anything it made it ten times worse.

"W-where?" he managed as his eyes fluttered closed and he let his head fall back. It felt like the room was spinning out from under him and it was all he could do not to vomit. Maybe he'd died. That would explain why everything was so quiet. Why nothing held any scent.

Mind too clouded to come up with another answer - he very distantly realized even death didn't explain why Kagome wasn't here with him. Not that Kagome would be dead. Everything was confused. 'Gome would have answers. She'd know...

Attempting to sit up once more, his wife's name kept tumbling over his lips as his breathing started to hitch - his nose desperately trying to find her scent. It wasn't there. Why wasn't it there? He needed her. Why had she left him?

"This is a very pretty hair color. It suits you ," Mama commented - clearly trying to distract him - while her hand petted his cheek and tucked a few strands of hair behind his ear, "You don't often see a true jet black but you don't often see a pure white either. Two sides of the same coin."

Honestly, it was hard to hear anything she was saying over the ringing in his ears or his harsh rasping breathing. It felt like his left arm was on fire and his chest was so tight. His hand began weakly fisting the bare skin just over his heart in an attempt to at least lessen the pain but it wasn't doing anything. Nothing at all.

"'Gome?" he mumbled weakly once more before his head lolled and the nausea increased tenfold. One gag. A surprisingly strong hand forced him onto his side. Two gags. A distant sound of rustling. Three gags. A torrent of acidic bile rushed over his lips and disgusting through his nose. How long he convulsed and emptied his stomach he wasn't quite sure but every time it stopped, the smell forced a new torrent to flow.

"Just let it out sweetheart," Mama soothed - one hand holding the trash can as the other held his long dark hair out of harm's way, "You're alright."

Panting, Inuyasha couldn't muster the strength to move - the fluttering in his chest combined with the nausea making it impossible to breathe much less anything else.

"I go to the bathroom and this is what I get" Kagome's strained voice suddenly registered in his ringing ears before he felt the mattress beneath him bow slightly and everything around him faded back into dark.

"Why would you do some thing that stupid?" Sango hissed - literally shaking from the effort of holding back. Most of the day had been filled with panic and pain. When they found Inuyasha, he was very obviously dead. His entire body deathly still in a pool of his own blood. Chest unmoving.

But Kagome insisted his aura wasn't completely gone and she'd pulled a magic trick out of her ass that had Inuyasha barely coming back to life. A few pumps to his chest and a few breaths of air into his lungs was apparently all it took for him to stay with them - if only barely.

It was only after their initial relief that's second horror occurred to everyone. Momentarily forgotten in the midst of everything that had happened. The entire reason they had even set up camp in this god-forsaken village in the first place. In just a few short hours, Inuyasha would be human. Very human. There simply wasn't enough time for him to recover fully and he was hanging on by a thread as it was.

So Kagome borrowed Kilala and took off to her world to make sure he could heal in peace. An odd idea but seeing as no one else had any suggestions, it was as good a plan as any. In the meantime, despite Miroku insisting he was fine, he too had momentarily been under that demon's spell and his wind tunnel had once again been injured. Even now Sango could hear it whistling despite the beads which were intended to keep his curse at bay and which he had so foolishly discarded.

"If you call sacrificing your own well-being to save another 'stupid', I pity you," Miroku scoffed as he prayed Kilala returned soon, "Inuyasha would not have survived at all if I had not drawn the demon out."

Sango set her jaw and sighed.

"There had to be a less extreme option," the slayer finally sighed, "You could have died."

"And yet I survived. Being placed under that spell was a mild inconvenience" Miroku countered curtly before setting his jaw and clearing his throat, "A small price to pay."

Sango's eyes softened incrementally. From what she knew, which was precious little, the flower demon showed the depressed creatures of this world images of what would bring them peace. Which would have been a blessing except for the fact that this was only done so they'd turn into 'excellent' fertilizer. Not an altruistic motive by any means. Regardless it didn't take a genius to figure out what Miroku had seen.

He'd seen her. Of course he'd seen her. She probably asked him to go with her and he would've gone, would've died if Kagome hadn't been so quick with her arrow.

Small miracles.

"I know...I know we have our differences," she sighed as she tucked her short hair behind her ears, "But if you ever want to talk, I'm here."

Shifting awkwardly in his seat, Miroku sighed and nodded an acknowledgment to her offer. An offer he'd never accept. Mainly because there was nothing to discuss. The illusion was rather straight forward. Brief. One quiet command. A soft, loving smile.

'Come with me...'

A demand he sorely wanted to accept without any hesitation. It should've been the easiest decision he'd ever made but sometimes having the strength to live, to keep going, was an act of bravery all on its own.