It hadn’t been long since she'd first stirred awake.
Kagome had grown used to being acutely aware of Inuyasha's aura, his presence overriding wound-inflicted unconsciousness or plain deep sleep at times. She guessed it worked much the same with him as well, given her track record of awakening the half-demon from the dark confines of his mind when his darker half refused to be confined.
And a gut feeling told her the way his aura was nervously tugging at hers, like a fidgeting puppy coaxing its owner into paying it attention, had much to do with her awakening.
Because she would much rather be sleeping the head and heartache gnawing at her away.
But he'll know I’m not asleep anymore… she thought to herself with a mental grimace. And with demonic senses as sharp as his, their weird radio wave synchronization would have little to do with it.
“Kagome,” he called hopefully. “Are you awake?”
What use would it be to play dead? Maybe she'd get a couple extra minutes alone with her thoughts, but not much more. Enough to smile, barely enough not to cry.
With a final steadying breath Kagome opened her eyes groggily. Even through the haziness, she immediately found his red-clad form leaning towards her, ears twitching atop his head. It was one thing to hear his voice, but to see him, flesh and bones and undivided attention solely on her…
“Oh, I see,” she allowed herself to smile easily at the wave of relief that washed over her. It wasn’t a dream. “You did come for me, Inuyasha…”
The half-demon crouching by her head instantly reached for her shoulders as she unsuccessfully tried to sit up, her elbows giving out on her. “Careful, clumsy. Take it easy.”
Kagome whined at the soothingly teasing way in which the insult had rolled off his tongue. She didn’t need this right now. That or the added pressure of his arm curled protectively around her back, holding her to his chest. She really didn't need this.
“I'm fine, Inuyasha,” Kagome assured, her palm pushing lightly against him to get him to understand she needed a bit of space more so than to physically make him budge. “Just get the brick off my head, please…”
He smiled at her whining, taking her hand from her forehead so he could replace it with his own. “You don't have a fever, at least.”
“No, I don't think so,” she agreed, her voice still soft from tiredness. “How long was I out for?”
“Couple hours…” Golden orbs watched her carefully, waiting for her to add to the conversation as she usually did. But she didn’t feel like she usually did.
“So, did you wanna ask about dinner or…?” Kagome smiled at the way his eyes narrowed and his mouth parted in disbelief at her lack of faith in him.
“Sure, you idiot, that's what's on my mind right now,” Inuyasha groaned in annoyance. “I…didn’t want ya wakin' up alone, is all.”
No. There was no way she was going there. Kagome saw the uneasy tremble in his voice and the way he gulped, waiting for her to start chewing him out. His beautiful ochre eyes told an entirely different story, though. Determined, battle-ready. It didn't seem like he cared in the least about the flood of worms that were about to spill from the can he wanted to open and it scared her how unprepared she was for it.
“Well, I'm thinking quick and easy ninja food,” she cleared her throat and offered as brightly as her voice permitted.
“I can go get the beef-flavored kind, if you want. I think Mama bought some extra but I couldn't fit all of them last time I was home.”
“Unless you wanna go all out on the cholesterol and chow down the rest of the ham chips.”
“Cole-stroll? Wha- Wench, would'ya shut up about dinner already?” Inuyasha interrupted with a hand to her wrist, his words lacking any of their usual bite at her nervous rambling. “You know we need to talk.”
Kagome breathed heavily. “I don't, actually. Just- just not now, please Inuyasha…”
“Nah, fuck that,” he dismissed, his arm closing around her waist to lift her from the futon. “Not giving ya a chance to mull it over yourself. Can we go for a walk?”
She startled him by jerking away from him. “That’s hardly fair! You've had the last couple of hours to get a head start.”
“Keh. You're clever wench, you'll catch up on the way there.”
“Inuyasha,” she sighed, trying not to meet his intense gaze. “I just need a little while to collect my thoughts, okay?”
“That’s the thing, I don't want ya collecting shit,” he groaned and knelt in front of her. “We need to talk now while you still haven’t had time to numb it down in that stubborn little head of yours, even if it means I'll have to clean dirt off my ears 'till next week.”
That was a stupid idea. As meek and vulnerable as she felt at the moment, she knew the probability of tempers flaring was about as high as the sun rising the following morning, and she hadn’t had time to apply her compassion-infused ointment to her open wounds yet.
“I feel bad enough as it is,” she tried to reason with him, her voice much mellower than before. “So, please, don't try to force a reaction out of me…”
“You feel bad?” Inuyasha bellowed like she’d just told him Sesshoumaru came to visit. “What’re ya on about, Kagome? Are we even talkin' about the same thing? Wasn’t it me who left you?”
“Wasn’t I the one who told you to go?”
Inuyasha went rigid at her side. For a moment there she thought that was the extent of his nagging and that he'd given up. It felt wrong leaving the conversation at that because there was so much more to it, but she didn’t have the mental strength to deal with it right away.
From the corner of her eye she noticed his shoulders slumping, which usually meant she could let out a sigh of relief.
Of course he'd take it. Like many other times when she'd brush her tears off with a smile and he'd accept it as closure for whatever angsty chapter they'd been writing that day.
“I'm not gonna force you,” Inuyasha's soft voice broke her out of her pity-induced stupor. “But after what you just said I'm actually begging you to talk to me…”
It wasn’t fair how deftly the half-demon had her stone-hard resolve in mush and ready to concede. Whenever she doubted he'd relinquish their days' worth of progress in favor of letting her return home for a test or yield when faced with the group's more than earned request for a quick stop at the nearest onsen, Sango always reminded her how tightly wrapped and knotted around her finger she had Inuyasha, apparently.
If she had him wrapped around her finger, he had her safely tucked inside his hip pocket without any prospect of letting her come out.
“Okay,” Kagome assented quietly, knowing he'd hear. “I, uh, don't know if I can walk yet. Graciously, at least.”
Inuyasha raised a playful brow at her. “Like you ever do,” he chuckled lightly when she poked his ribs in response. “May I?”
It was downright embarrassing and utterly ridiculous how her cheeks tinted themselves pink against her will at his simple request. There was that tug again, soundless and invisible, his aura reaching out to hers even if his body remained still at her side. Any other day he would be making use of his physical superiority and dragging her to her feet before swooping her in his arms despite any protest she might curse out. Was he that afraid she wouldn’t want him carrying her anymore?
With a shy nod Kagome pushed the blanket down so she could squirm her legs out, a light breeze that blew between the cracks of the hut's door screen tingling her skin.
“Inuyasha?” Her voice was a tad squeakier than she would have liked, but she couldn’t help it as he removed his fire-rat robe and draped it over her shoulders before slipping one hand around her back and the other under her thighs to hold her against his chest.
Stupid, get a grip, would'ya? Inuyasha has carried you like this plenty of times, why are you getting the heebie-jeebies now?
“Aren’t ya cold?” he asked nonchalantly in response to her calling of his name.
The proximity of his breath to her face reminded her exactly why it was completely justifiable for her to morph into pudding. Although it wasn’t that uncommon for him to carry her in his arms like he was currently doing, the position was usually saved for when he had to quickly move her in battle, and in the throes of demon-slaying Kagome had little time to notice how easily he maneuvered her as if she weighed nothing, or how his woodsy scent was stronger the closer she got to his collarbone…
I would be sinking through the floor if I was on my feet… she thought with a shaky breath, head buried in his chest even if she knew it hurt her more than provide her with comfort given her current predicament.
So she chose to rip the band-aid and shake herself back to reality.
“Did you find Kikyou?”
Inuyasha gripped her closer to him and she wasn’t all too sure if it had been in response to her sudden question or because they'd set foot in the cool outside.
“No. It was a ruse,” he mumbled, eyes lost somewhere in the rice fields ahead of them. “I couldn’t track her scent and no one in the nearby villages has seen a priestess.”
Kagome trailed her eyes curiously up to his. “You didn’t actually see her at Mount Hakurei. She may still be alive, Inuyasha.”
He shook his head warily. “She couldn’t wash up much further from where I searched.”
“So… You're not gonna keep looking?”
It had become second nature to her to raise her walls, as paper-thin as they were, whenever the topic of her preincarnation came about. Half-expecting him to say something that would tear her from the inside out, Kagome clasped her now clammy hands together, careful not to let tension flow to any other part of her body so he wouldn’t notice.
“I've told Kaede,” he answered solemnly instead. “She’s made her peace with it, as well. Most I could do now would be to find her remains and return ‘em to her grave…”
Kagome went quiet against him, focusing on the late afternoon scenery moving slowly around her as he walked them towards the forest.
It surprised her how easily he seemed to be grieving, his voice a low respectful murmur but nothing else to attest to his pain.
He doesn’t want to hurt you, of course…
Gulping down her own throbbing ache, Kagome tilted her head back so he'd glance at her. He's masking his pain for my sake, he deserves the same kindness.
“I hope you believe me when I say I'm truly sorry, Inuyasha. From the bottom of my heart,” she whispered, even though there was just the two of them and the creeks' burbling sounds.
“I know you are, Kagome,” he assured her both with his voice and the tightening of the hold his left arm had around her back. “Despite everything that's happened, you can't find a speck of darkness in your heart.”
She went rock-still in his arms, said heart stopping for a second like it had hit a bump in the road. A gelid shiver travelled down her spine at his words, a sore reminder of what the demon that had been thrusted into her arms that morning had been trying to grasp at so he'd gain control over her.
That's right… the darkness in my heart…my feelings towards Inuyasha and…
“Where’s ya head at?” Inuyasha asked with concern as he set her down on the grass carefully, the hilltop he had chosen safely concealed by the foliage but still overlooking the village.
Kagome only lowered her eyes in response before folding her legs up to her chest so she could curl herself into a ball.
“Kagome?” Inuyasha sat beside her but hesitated on pulling her against him like he wanted to. “Are you alright?”
She lifted her head to show him a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “You were right after all. Maybe all I needed was a little fresh air to sweep the headache away.”
Inuyasha watched her with caution. “Did they hurt you anywhere else?”
“No, they only tied me up after separating us,” she uttered back, her eyes widening a fraction. “Sango? Miroku?”
“Keh. They're fine. They said there were going down to the stream with Shippo,” he said, happy to see her taking a deep trembling breath of relief. “Guess the real target was you…”
Sparkling grays looked back at him, half-hidden under her lashes. “I’m sorry…”
Inuyasha stiffened, claws digging into the ground beneath him. “Stop it! Don't apologize! I'm the one who let ya get in harm's way.”
“It’s okay, don't worry.”
“It’s not okay! Any later and…” he drifted off when it hurt too much to think of what could have come after.
“I told you to go, Inuyasha,” she reasoned. “That's why I'm so upset at myself… I- I'm mad at you right now, you know?” Kagome turned to him then, her face marred with regret. “And it makes no sense that I am. How can I resent you for leaving after I told you to go?”
“That doesn’t matter! Of course you should resent me, and hate me, or worse! I promised to protect you and I wasn’t there for you!”
Kagome shook her head. “You tried to send me away before. Because you knew there would come a time when you'd have to choose and I still asked you to let me stay. I knowingly came back just as I knowingly sent you after Kikyou. It's not your fault…”
Inuyasha shuddered at the words he was about to profess, but he needed her to understand. “I…I would have gone after her even if you didn’t tell me to.”
Kagome winced and he felt her physically pulling away from him. It was unintentional but much like a knee-jerk reaction to getting burned, she couldn’t help herself. Even if she knew he didn’t mean it to hurt her. He never meant to hurt her.
Inuyasha stalked closer in response, golden eyes desperately searching hers. “So I'd rather admit that I screwed up and promise that I will never let you fall into his hands again.”
Kagome couldn’t help but let out a whimper. “You can't promise me that, Inuyasha…”
“Fucking try me!”
Her eyes closed for a brief moment before she turned back to him with a feeble smile, letting him know it'd be okay for him to agree with her and move on with life.
“But if it doesn’t turn out to be true… If Kikyou survived and you hear news of her whereabouts, you'll go off to look for her again, won’t you?”
Inuyasha growled. “No, I won’t! I'm never leaving you again, Kagome.”
“You’re a liar,” she answered, raising her brow in disbelief.
“I am not!”
“Just who do you think you're kidding!? How long do you think I've known you for now? You would definitely go!”
The half-demon leaned back defensively at her outburst, his chest grumbling with a groan.
“And when you do go, then I'll be upset. But that's to be expected, right?”
Inuyasha heard her voice softening to a defeated whisper and her eyes losing their crackling fire, which reminded him of why he had so desperately needed to get her to open up with him. They couldn’t leave it at what was expected.
“You’re wrong. That doesn’t solve the problem,” he pressed on. “That creepy bastard said he'd nearly gotten to you, and that there would be many ways for Naraku to corrupt you. As long as- I couldn’t forget Kikyou.”
Clutching the robe of the fire-rat tighter around herself like armor, Kagome turned to admire the faded pink horizon. She was finding it harder than usual to look into the deep pools of his eyes, so perhaps a less mesmerizing view would allow her to calm herself down. He was right, they needed to talk about it. Thinking about it rationally, she realized it was no different from discussing the group’s plans for Inuyasha’s human night or their carefully mapped out schedule to allow Sango to occasionally take care of her weapon in need of repairing. They needed to assess and handle their weaknesses strategically. And that was hers.
Except it was different. So different.
“He said Naraku wanted my eyes. With Kikyou gone I'm the only one able to see the jewel shards,” Kagome spoke after a while. “This incarnation of his is dangerous… It probes into your heart to grasp at whatever darkness you have plaguing your thoughts and amplifies it to render you powerless.”
Scooting back closer to her, Inuyasha listened to her carefully. “How did'ya manage to not let him in?”
Kagome gulped, her lips parting a couple of times until she finally found the right words. “I realized something…” she whispered, looking at him for a second before changing the course of her explanation. “He tried to poison my thoughts, saying I hated you and was happy Kikyou had died. And I- I almost believed him. And I realize now that that would have been it. If I had given in, I wouldn’t be here with you right now, Inuyasha. But I finally understood that I know my feelings better than anyone. That I may be in pain but I could never hate you. That I may have wished Kikyou gone at one point but that I could never be glad she had to suffer at Naraku's hands again. I guess… I remembered I am human and it's only natural to feel these things.”
Unable to stop himself, Inuyasha reached for her hand. “That’s why I- fuck, I can't have ya walking around with those unchecked, Kagome.”
It took her a few seconds but eventually his meaning caught up to her. Kagome frowned and ripped her hand from his in a moment of inattentiveness. Of course, he had heard.
“And just what do you suggest I do about my feelings, Inuyasha?”
It was his turn to scowl. “What?”
“I can't just lock them up tight or pretend they don’t exist anymore! Not when it’s something that could directly affect us and put our safety in jeopardy!”
“What the hell are ya goin' on about now, wench? I never asked you to pretend nothin'!”
“Then, what? Do you want me to go home where my heart won’t be a nuisance? Do you want me to redirect my stupid feelings towards someone else?”
That last cried out remark had his mood souring even more, his eyes narrowing dangerously. “No, you ain’t doin' none of that. Especially not redirecting shit towards wimpy humans or scrawny wolves.”
Kagome breathed heavily, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. “Then I don’t know how to deal with it…”
“Fuck, Kagome- Don't cry, please.” Inuyasha couldn’t help it anymore, pulling her arm so she'd fall forward, the need to bring her against him harder with each passing second. “I meant that my promise still stands, and you don’t have to be second-guessing anything anymore because I'm never leaving your side again. Do you understand? Never,” he explained as best as he could, clawed-hands holding her head protectively to his chest. “I couldn’t stand it if another woman died ‘cause of me.”
Kagome sniffed and lifted her head from the warmth of his embrace. “It was never because of you, Inuyasha… Kikyou died because of Naraku and Naraku only.”
“I know,” he breathed out, forehead resting comfortably against hers. “I know ya'd never hold me to that. But I couldn’t live with myself. I'd die along with you, wench…”
Kagome trembled, her eyes closing at his proximity. “You wouldn’t. It happened three times with Kikyou and you're still here.”
Inuyasha waited for what seemed like an eternity, needing her stormy gray orbs on his when he said it. When she regained some of her composure and peeked at him, he finally told her.
“You're not Kikyou.”
Her breath caught in her throat and next thing she knew she was closing the teasing distance he had been shortening between them with a sob.
She'd heard it before. How Kikyou was a master archer, but she was not Kikyou. How Kikyou was a great beauty, but she was not Kikyou. How Kikyou held his wild heart, but she was not Kikyou.
It was the first time she was not Kikyou because Kagome was first.
“Inuyasha,” Kagome whispered against his mouth out of habit of calling for him when she lost her ground.
When he gave her room to breathe and say whatever she needed to say, her hands fisted around his locks and pulled him in again. The warmth of his lips, his natural masculine scent, the way he slipped his hand between his fire-rat and her shirt to shyly hold her waist – everything around their bubble of gasps and tentative touches was clouding her vision, drugging them in a way that left them vulnerable to prying eyes or attacks, but at that moment neither of them cared.
“Kagome,” he called almost desperately as she crawled into his lap, his head tilting back to follow the insistent movements of her mouth against his.
Nimble hands went from grabbing his hair to feathering touches past the fabric of his undershirt and down his chest, their breaths mingling together as they pulled apart for air. She was trembling, her forehead against his to keep herself steady. When her eyes opened, glazed over but uncertain, they both knew it was much too fast much too soon.
“I- I just don’t want you promising t-to be with me just because-” Kagome struggled to say, from the galloping pace of her heart and fear of uttering the wrong words. “Would you still… choose me? If…”
She didn’t have the strength to finish the question and he didn’t have the heart to force her to. He knew what she meant and that he was the cause of her insecurities. So, it was only fair that he'd be the cause of her heart healing as well.
Kagome felt a surge of heat up her neck when Inuyasha took her smaller hands from where they were caressing his skin and brought them to his lips, his eyes burning with an intensity she had only ever seen in battle.
“You have no understanding of my feelings for you,” he strained to confess, his lips moving up to place a shivering kiss on her forehead that lasted longer than their previous ones.
Kagome felt it then. That usual tug to her aura, what she would normally attribute to their familiar companionship or to a need for survival at times.
It wasn’t companionship. Nor survival-driven. Nor misplaced Feudal radio frequencies.
It was what he'd been trying to show her since she'd released him from the Sacred Tree.
Kagome let out a broken, shuddering laugh, allowing her own aura to respond to his. “I’m starting to.”