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Metamorphosis

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It started out as a normal day in the feudal era.  The sun was shining brightly, the birds singing merrily as if rejoicing in nature’s beauty.  One couldn’t help but smile on a day like this, not even the normally surly hanyou who lounged against the ancient tree standing proudly next to a clearing within which sat an innocent-looking wooden well. 

 

Of course, Inuyasha’s good mood might have had more to do with what day it was, or more specifically, who was supposed to return that day.  He grimaced.  Her departure had been marked with an argument, abruptly ended by the dreaded ‘osuwari’ command.  He scowled as he remembered exactly why Kagome had thought it necessary to utilize the kotodama rosary’s subduing power.  It had been nearly dusk, while they were on their way back to the village so she could take some more of her ‘test’ things, when Kikyou’s shinidamachu had made their appearance.  He hadn’t even glanced at Kagome as he disappeared among the trees.  He didn’t need to; he could sense her sadness, her heartache without the use of his eyes.  If he looked back at her, saw the hurt in her normally dazzling expression, there was a very real possibility that he wouldn’t have been able to go at all.  But of the many things he owed Kikyou, the first was his attention when she called.  So, heedless of the angry glares and cold shoulders he would undoubtedly receive in the morning, he left. 

 

The meeting had been short; he and Kikyou didn’t have much to say to each other anymore.  He did notice something different about her, however.  Flashes of contentment, the subtle and momentary softening of her eyes, fleeting glimpses of the old Kikyou he hadn’t seen in over fifty years.  More of Kagome’s influence…just what happened to Kikyou at that lake, where Kagome purified Naraku’s poison from her body?  She had changed, though only to someone who knew her well.  Even so, he still saw far too much of the frigid, bitter, dead Kikyou for his liking.  When she once again asked if he remembered his promise to her, he hesitated in answering.  His heart rebelled against the notion, but his mind, his deep-seated honor quashed it.  “If it comes to that,” had been his soft-spoken reply.  She nodded, apparently accepting his less than enthusiastic answer for what it was, the temporary outcome of an inner battle, fought within a man wavering in his once iron-clad convictions. 

 

He departed soon after, but did not return to camp.  At times like these, when his emotions were in utter turmoil, he sought out his old childhood refuge—the trees.  When he was young the trees had been his only friends, the wind his only comfort as it wrapped around him.  It was different now, in large part because of the kind miko who had shown him how to trust again.  The miko he had abandoned to go see his former love.  Sighing in self-disgust, Inuyasha sat down on a branch and stared wistfully at the near-perfect half moon.  He thought about many things: Kagome, Kikyou, what he wanted, what he should do…  Answers eluded him, and hours later he knew no more than when he first began reflecting.  When he finally returned to camp, he found Kagome propped up against a boulder, fast asleep, her math book in her lap and a burned out flashlight lying next to her open palm.  The scent of her tears and the fact that she had tried to wait up for him filled him with guilt, and he gently placed her in her sleeping bag, his fingers lingering on her cheek in a soothing caress before he caught himself.  Growling at his indiscretion and wondering what had come over him, he leapt into the tree overlooking their camp and remained awake, eventually watching the sun rise on the eastern horizon. 

 

As he suspected, the others had given him the icy treatment the entire next day.  It was clear that they, Kagome included, simply assumed he had been with Kikyou all night.  And with as sour as his mood was, he wasn’t about to correct them.  They wouldn’t have believed him anyway; they never did when it came to Kikyou, and it pissed him off to no end.  So when they reached the village, and Kagome spoke up, having apparently decided that his nightly absence entitled her to an extra day in her time, he snapped.  Fortunately, Kagome was at her breaking point as well, and she brought the argument to a thundering halt before Inuyasha could shove his foot too far down his gullet. 

 

So here he was, waiting for her, on the fourth day since her departure, not the three they had originally agreed to.  He had not gone after her, vowing to give her the time she needed to pass her tests, not to mention cool her temper.  That was not to say it hadn’t been difficult; it always was, when she was gone.  Kagome...  The sound of her name, those three exquisite syllables, was enough to bring a small upturn to the corners of his lips.  His heart always beat just a little faster when she was near, her scent invading his nostrils and dominating his senses.  And yet, when he was with her, he had never felt more relaxed.  Such conflicting sensations, but so wonderfully balanced by her simple presence. 

 

Things were entirely different when she was gone.  He found himself constantly on edge, and if he wasn’t sitting in Goshinboku brooding, he was probably either eating, sleeping, or grouching at his companions.  He knew his anxiety was foolish, but whenever Kagome left a small part of his mind couldn’t help but wonder if she would come back.  But she had always returned, never failed to forgive him, and for that he was eternally grateful.  Sometimes he would travel to her time with her, and she didn’t seem to mind, as long as he ‘behaved.’  But times like these, where he had done or said something stupid, he couldn’t, wouldn’t follow.  And the guilt made the waiting all the more intolerable.  Yes, even if he could only admit it to himself, he missed the wench…a lot. 

 

*Tap, tap, tap*

 

The soft sound of his foot repeatedly impacting the ground reached his ears, lending a rhythmic cadence to the otherwise jumbled sounds of nature.  His arms folded over his chest and an irritated scowl plastered over his face; he was the picture of impatience.  Come on, wench!  You should have been home from that ‘skool’ thing of yours by now.  Let’s go!  Grumbling under his breath about lazy wenches and their stupid modern responsibilities, he resolved to give her a little while longer before going through to retrieve her.  Suddenly a strange scent reached his nose, and he pushed himself upright while laying a cool hand on Tetsusaiga’s handle.  He stood calmly, eyes scanning the surrounding forest for signs of a foreign presence.  Inhaling once more, deeper this time, he frowned in consternation.  What the…a neko youkai?  The scent was unlike Kirara’s, however.  It was more powerful, less animalistic, and more closely resembled the scents of those rogue panther youkai he had fought months ago.  Sure enough, a feline youkai emerged from the foliage a moment later.  Dressed in black clothing that perfectly matched his hair, he stood proudly, his smug expression lending itself to the utter contempt dripping from his yellow eyes.  He was not a panther youkai, but his gait was predatory, and he moved with a sort of grace that only cats seem to possess.  He stopped short of Inuyasha, eyes raking over the hanyou, sizing him up as his sneer grew. 

 

“Ah, the hanyou Inuyasha, just the…creature I was looking for.” 

 

Inuyasha bristled at the offhand comment, but remained externally impassive.  He did, however, tighten his grip on Tetsusaiga before responding. 

 

“Who the fuck are you and what do you want?” 

 

The strange youkai chuckled.  “I’m sure you’ve entertained this demand before.  Your shards of the Shikon no Tama—you will give them to me.” 

 

Inuyasha smirked.  Good…I could use a distraction.  “You’re right, I have heard that before.  Tougher bastards than you have tried to take the Shikon shards from me, and they all died.  Why don’t you go back where you came from before you get hurt, pussy.” 

 

If the youkai was bothered by Inuyasha’s defiance, he didn’t show it; his wicked smile never wavered.  “And yet I don’t sense the power of the jewel coming from you.  It is rumored you travel with a miko…could the jewel shards possibly be in her possession?” 

 

Inuyasha growled fiercely, tearing Tetsusaiga from its sheath and brandishing it in front of him.  “The jewel is under my protection, as is Kagome.  Attempt to touch either one of them and I will slice you to pieces.” 

 

“Kagome, is it?  What a pretty name!  I only hope she is as pleasing to the eye as her name is to the ear.” 

 

“I’ve had just about enough of you, bastard!  Kaze no Kizu!!” he screamed as he slammed Tetsusaiga into the Earth, sending rippling waves of energy tearing toward his opponent.  The youkai easily leapt out of the way, landing effortlessly on a nearby tree branch. 

 

“Is that the best you’ve got, puppy?” 

 

“Kongousouha!!” 

 

With the diamond spears aimed upward at an angle, the youkai dove for the ground, avoiding the attack.  Just after the last spear passed he leapt to his feet and charged Inuyasha, very nearly severing his neck from his shoulders.  Only instant reflexes honed from years of combat allowed him to dodge the swipe, though he did receive a small gash on his neck. 

 

“Aww…puppy’s already bleeding, is he?  I had hoped you’d be more of a challenge.” 

 

“I ain’t even gotten started yet,” Inuyasha replied, quickly taking stock of the situation.  This fucking cat was fast, and the odds of hitting him with Tetsusaiga were slim to none.  Besides, if the fight moved any closer to the village, all the inhabitants were at risk of suffering collateral damage from the sword’s stronger attacks.  Inuyasha sheathed Tetsusaiga, relishing in the opportunity to fight an opponent hand-to-hand.  Normally he wouldn’t dare, not with Kagome and the others under his protection, but none of them were here, and the only one in danger was him.  And he had no intention of letting the bastard draw any more of his blood. 

 

“Giving up already, half-breed?  It’s a wonder you’ve survived this long.” 

 

“Feh!  All I need to defeat a bastard like you are my claws.”  Inuyasha lunged, aiming a swipe at his enemy’s torso, but the youkai dodged.  He continued to avoid Inuyasha’s strikes, his contemptuous expression never vanishing.  He’s toying with me…fuckin’ bastard!  I’ll teach him to underestimate me!  Digging his claws into the wound on his neck, Inuyasha flung his arm forward and yelled, “Hijin Ketsusou!”  This time the youkai was a little too slow to dodge the unexpected attack, and one of the blades tore into his shoulder, sending him flying backwards only to land on his feet with true feline agility.  When he raised his eyes they were narrowed, his face no longer amused, but quite irritated. 

 

“You’ll pay for that, filthy mongrel!” 

 

Inuyasha was about to reply in kind when a flash of light to his left and a delightful scent alerted him to Kagome’s arrival. 

 

“Inuyasha,” she called tiredly, “help me up!  This bag weighs a ton!” 

 

Moving to position himself between the well and the cat youkai, he called back, “Quiet, wench!  Stay in the well!”  Then, once more wielding Tetsusaiga, he turned his full attention back to his opponent.  Damn…she makes me wait four fuckin’ days and then spoils my fun!  Gotta finish this quickly now. 

 

“Ah, now I sense the Shikon jewel shards!  I’m feeling generous today, Inuyasha.  Hand over the shards and the woman and I’ll let you live.”  He spoke haughtily, as if he was making an offer too good to refuse. 

 

“Fuck off!!” Inuyasha yelled as he once again unleashed the Kaze no Kizu.  The youkai leapt into the air, twirling above the turmoil as he expertly flung a short sword hidden behind his back.  The blade glowed red as it came on, wisps of youki trailing behind it.  Inuyasha tried to elevate Tetsusaiga to block it, but he could see the effort was useless; the blade was moving too quickly.  He could only brace himself for the pain. 

 

“Osuwari!” 

 

The command sent him slamming to the ground, the blade slicing his billowing hair on its way by.  Furious, he raised his head, but his retort died on his lips as he glimpsed a scene that made his blood run cold.  The youkai was darting toward Kagome, who was struggling to notch an arrow in her bow from her place next to the well.  It wasn’t going to happen; the youkai would be on her long before she was ready.  Unable to rise because of the cursed spell, Inuyasha did the only thing he could—he flung Tetsusaiga with all his might, praying to every Kami imaginable that it would strike home. 

 

For once, his prayers were answered, as his desperate heave cleaved the youkai clean in half, spattering the shocked miko in blood even as the youkai’s body dissolved and dispersed to the winds.  Instantly Kagome unleashed a bloodcurdling scream.  She screamed like she had never screamed before, her head thrown back and eyes bulged impossibly wide.  Then, as if her body had suddenly shut down, she stopped, wavered for a moment, and toppled forward.  Inuyasha, who had been cringing from her high-pitched shriek, broke the spell’s weakening hold and caught her just before she hit the ground.  His ears would be ringing for awhile, but that was not a concern at the moment.  No, at the present, his primary worry was the miko in his arms, and just what the hell had happened to her.  Gathering her up bridal-style, he took off at a sprint toward Kaede’s hut, not even bothering to pick up Tetsusaiga beforehand.  Miroku and Sango had just mounted Kirara when he arrived, apparently having heard the scream themselves.  Then again, half of Musashi had probably heard it.  Inuyasha brushed past them into the hut, ignoring their questions and forcing them to follow in his wake. 

 

Kaede took one look at the frantic hanyou, and the unconscious miko in his arms, before motioning to the pallet in the center of the room.  She was alarmed at the amount of blood on Kagome’s blouse, but a quick lift of the garment revealed that it was not her own.  Kaede frowned; it appeared the girl had no physical injuries whatsoever. 

 

“What happened, Inuyasha?” she asked calmly. 

 

“I don’t know!  Fuck!  A youkai attacked, but the bastard didn’t even touch her!  Some blood splattered on her, then she screamed bloody murder and passed out!” 

 

“Calm down, Inuyasha, I’m sure it was just fright,” Miroku chimed in, attempting to placate the anxious hanyou. 

 

“I’m not so sure about that, Houshi-sama,” Kaede replied as a disturbing thought occurred to her. 

 

“What do you know, Babaa?” Inuyasha growled dangerously.  Under the circumstances, Kaede let the disrespectful term go.  Kagome wasn’t awake to sit him for it anyway, which brought her back to the problem at hand. 

 

“About fifty-five years ago, before she met ye, Inuyasha, the same thing happened to my sister, Kikyou.”  No one in the hut dared speak, each waiting for the old miko to continue her story.  “She slayed a youkai, some of its blood got on her, and she screamed before falling unconscious.  She awoke later in the day and was finally able to tell us what had happened.”

 

Kaede sighed wearily, and the entire group knew they weren’t going to like what she had to say next.  “Apparently some youkai have a strange power Kikyou simply called ‘Rebirth.’  It is a very rare power, and those youkai who do have it are usually unaware of it.  But at the moment of death, these fortunate few are able to launch their spirits inside the body of whoever wears their blood, and attempt to take over.  The youkai Kikyou slew tried to possess her, but after a long battle within her, my sister was able to purify it.  I fear this is what happened to Kagome, and at this very moment she is fighting to keep control of her body and mind.”  A long, heavy silence engulfed the hut, as all the members of the Inu-gang tried to digest this new information. 

 

“Is there anything we can do?” Sango asked.

 

Kaede shook her head.  “I’m afraid not, child.  We can make her as comfortable as possible, but I’m afraid the rest is up to Kagome.”

 

“But Kagome’s strong!  She’ll be ok, right?” Shippou said hopefully.  This time the old miko smiled reassuringly, but her expression was hollow, her eyes belying the confidence of her words. 

 

“Ay, young fox, Kagome is strong.  If any of us could pull through this, Kagome can.  Now, why don’t ye go gather some flowers for Kagome; it may aid her recovery.”  Shippou nodded and bounded out of the hut, and Kaede once again allowed her worry to show. 

 

“Give it to us straight, Kaede-sama.” 

 

The old miko started, taken completely off guard; as far as she could remember, Inuyasha had never addressed her as ‘Kaede-sama’ before.  But as she looked at the hanyou she could see the guilt written on his face, his eyes locked on the floor, ashamed to make eye contact with anyone. 

 

“If things happened as you say, Inuyasha, there was nothing more you could have done.  There was no way to prevent—”

 

“I shouldn’t have let the youkai get so close!  Now just shut up and tell us what you really think!” 

 

So much for respect… Kaede thought, sighing.  “My sister, Kikyou was able to purify the youkai’s spirit because she had been trained.  In terms of pure strength, Kagome rivals my sister, but she knows not how to properly channel it nor how to deal with threats of this kind.  Kagome probably has no idea what has happened to her, and she may not be ready to deal with what the youkai will show her.  I do not know what Kikyou saw as she was battling the youkai, but for a long while afterwards she was sad, distant.  She only began to come out of her depression when she met ye, Inuyasha.”

 

“What happens…if Kagome loses?” Inuyasha asked in a voice barely above a whisper, hiding his face behind his bangs. 

 

Once more Kaede hesitated before answering.  “The youkai will possess her mind, and her body will slowly transform back into his original form.  She will become the youkai whose blood she wore, and the rebirth will be complete.”  Once again silence gripped the inhabitants of the hut, as everyone tried to control their fragile emotions.  Finally, Inuyasha spoke up. 

 

“That won’t happen.”  Eyes blazing, daring anyone to object, he picked Kagome up and settled against the wall, the miko nestled in his lap.  Shocked by his uncharacteristic display of affection as well as the open concern in his gaze, all of the humans stared at him.  A slight flush rose to his cheeks but he tamped it down, fear overriding embarrassment. 

 

“Kagome will win,” he declared.  She has to… 

Chapter Text

*Beep!  Beep!  Beep!*

 

Kagome jolted awake to the persistent chirping of her alarm clock.  Groggily, she tried to sort through her jumbled thoughts.  I’m home?  But wasn’t I just in the feudal era?  A quick look at her clock revealed that it was in fact Friday, the day she was supposed to return to the past and make up with Bakayasha.  She sighed; despite how frustrated and angry he made her, she could never stay mad at him for long.  She had missed him these past few days…a lot.  Still, as she got ready for school, she couldn’t help the feeling that something was amiss.  She could have sworn she had been in the feudal era recently, but it must have been a dream, right?  It was really foggy, and she couldn’t even remember what happened.  She went through the well, then something bad…  Shrugging, she resolved to give the mysterious dream no more thought, as she finished getting ready, grabbed a bite to eat, and scurried off to school. 

 

Her day was…odd would be the best way to put it.  For one, Hojo didn’t ask her out, even though it was Friday.  In fact, he barely even looked at her.  Kagome wasn’t sure how she felt about that.  On one hand, she wasn’t interested in Hojo and was glad that he had apparently given up on her.  On the other hand, she was now realizing that some part of her had enjoyed the romantic attention, even if it wasn’t from the person she loved in return.  Eri, Yuka, and Ayumi acted even stranger.  They kept talking about Inuyasha, and that one time they had met him at the shrine.  Even weirder, they kept praising him, tossing around adjectives like ‘perfect,’ ‘boyfriend,’ ‘hot,’ ‘sexy,’ etc.  It gave her a headache, not to mention rosy cheeks, though she couldn’t say she disagreed with them.  Okay, maybe she didn’t agree with ‘perfect.’

 

And throughout the entire day she couldn’t shake the foreboding sense that something was seriously wrong, despite the number of times she tried to reassure herself.  All in all, it was an exhausting morning, and Kagome was only too happy to flop onto her bed after trudging home.  She hadn’t intended to fall asleep, but that never seemed to matter much when she lay down on her comfy mattress.  She roused some time later to the tender touch of fingertips on her forehead, brushing a few unruly strands of hair behind her ear.  Thinking it was her mother, and not fully cognizant of when it was, she snuggled further into the comforter. 

 

“Ten more minutes, mama…” she moaned sleepily. 

 

“Kagome.” 

 

It took her a few seconds to figure out who the speaker was, but when it finally clicked she bolted upright, the last vestiges of slumber pushed out by rising panic. 

 

“I-Inuyasha?!”  Oh, no…I fell asleep!  I was supposed to go back today!  A quick look out the window confirmed what she already suspected; it was dark already.  Hoping to stave off the inevitable tongue-lashing, she hurried to explain herself.  “Inuyasha!  I’m sorry…I didn’t mean…I fell asleep…I’ll make it up to you!  I’ll bring you extra ramen, and potato chips—”

 

“Kagome.”

 

“And I won’t ‘osu—’ you for a whole day—”

 

“Kagome.”

 

“And—” 

 

Inuyasha finally cut her frenetic tirade short with a gentle finger to her lips.  Kagome’s eyes crossed then widened in shock; he had never touched her in such an intimate manner before.  And the look in his eyes had countless butterflies fluttering in the pit of her stomach, creating an all too pleasing sensation.  Then he smiled—not his usually fanged smirk, but a real smile—and she swore her heart almost leapt from her chest.  She could hear it thundering in her ears, a testament to the effect this one man could have on her. 

 

“It’s ok, Kagome, I’m not mad.”  He removed his finger, but Kagome still lacked the ability to speak at the moment, leaving a silence that was somehow comfortable and nerve-wracking at the same time.  Still grinning, Inuyasha sank down to one knee, bringing his eyes to her level.  If Kagome didn’t think her heart could beat any faster, that simple act had done it.  She unconsciously licked her lips while simultaneously trying to convince herself this wasn’t what she thought—hoped it was. 

 

“Kagome,” Inuyasha continued, never breaking eye contact, “there’s something I’ve wanted to tell you…”  Kagome held her breath, afraid to do anything to break the beauty of the moment.  “I love you.”

 

And she was struck still, unable to move or even make a sound.  She wanted nothing more than to leap into his arms and tell him his love was reciprocated, but something stopped her.  The instant those three delightful words passed his lips, the feeling of wrongness returned full force.  Torn between her deepest desires and what her instincts were telling her, she remained motionless, even as Inuyasha leaned forward and brought his lips to hers.  The kiss was warm and gentle, and the passion behind it nearly overrode her enigmatic reservations.  As he cupped her cheeks in his hands she couldn’t help but lean into him, even respond hesitantly to the soothing undulation of his lips against her own.  But when he slowly pushed forward, laying her down on the bed and placing his hands at her waist, she could contain her anxiety no longer.  Breaking the kiss, she pressed lightly but firmly on his chest, and the feel of powerful muscle under her hands as well as the disappointed look in his eyes nearly shattered her resolve once again.  But she couldn’t deny her feelings, and as much as she wanted to go further—much further—with Inuyasha, she knew she would never enjoy it with so much unease hanging over her head. 

 

“I’m sorry, Inuyasha,” she muttered, brown orbs pleading, willing him to understand.  “I’m just not ready…” 

 

He tried to hide his pain, that much was obvious, but the unmistakably fake smile he adopted only served to increase her already overwhelming guilt.  Nodding once, he rose to his feet before stalking to the window. 

 

“You know, you could stay…” Kagome suggested hopefully, eyes shining with unshed tears. 

 

“No,” he replied with a shake of his head, amber orbs locked on the wall, the floor, anywhere but her.  “I should go.”  And with that, he was gone. 

 

It took only a few seconds for the proud miko to break down completely.  Sobs wracked her thin frame, and it was a long while before she calmed enough to think clearly.  What the HELL is wrong with me?!  I finally get what I want, and I blow it!  Inuyasha tells me he LOVES me, and I can’t even say that I love him back!  Why do I feel this way?!  WHY?!!!  She had never before experienced such a level of self-disgust, but a small part of her, the part that had stopped her from enjoying Inuyasha’s company that evening, assured her she had done the right thing.  But why was that?  She wasn’t afraid of having sex with Inuyasha, and it wasn’t because they weren’t married.  How many kids these days waited until they were wed, anyway?  And no thoughts of Kikyou had ever crossed her mind.  If anything, the dead miko’s continued “survival” assured her that Inuyasha had truly chosen her, Kagome, and that she wasn’t just some replacement for Kikyou.  So what was it?  Why couldn’t she follow her heart?  What was holding her back? 

 

Kagome sighed heavily, drying her tears with a handy kerchief.  Judging from his reaction, I don’t think Inuyasha understood.  I need to see him, to explain myself.  Ugh…how am I going to do that?  I can’t even explain myself to…myself!  But I can at least tell him that I love him.  Maybe then he’ll understand.  I just need some time to figure out what the hell is wrong with me.  Nodding in determination, Kagome leapt from the bed and rushed down the stairs, out of the house, and into the well.  The normally comfortable sensation of the time warp did nothing to calm her suddenly raging nerves.  Deciding to confess her feelings to Inuyasha was one thing, but actually doing it was another altogether.  Just do it, girl!  You can’t possibly screw things up any more than you already have.  After taking a deep breath to regain her scattered composure, she heaved her way out of the well.  The melodious chirping of the crickets helped calm her, bring her peace within the serenity of the clearing.  The moon cast more than enough light to see by, but a soft glow from the direction of Goshinboku drew her attention. 

 

She started toward the ancient tree then abruptly halted.  Her heart seized and lodged in her chest as several familiar youkai soared into view, their long bodies bathing the trees in an eerie radiance.  Kikyou’s shinidamachu!  Wh-what are they doing here?!  An all-encompassing dread gripped her as she crept inexorably closer, hoping against hope that she was wrong, that Inuyasha wasn’t there.  The logical part of her argued that she would be better off not moving any closer, but she was drawn in like a moth to flame, and the hot, searing pain was worse than she ever could have imagined.  For when she glimpsed her hanyou, the man who had just told her he loved her, holding Kikyou against the tree in a passionate embrace, his lips locked with hers, she felt her very soul cry out in indescribable anguish.  When Inuyasha’s hands drifted downward to rest on her hips, massaging her belly, Kikyou responded by throwing her arms around his neck, leaving his hands to do as he saw fit.  Finally, Kagome tore her gaze away; if she observed the two lovers any longer, she might die on the spot.  Though under the circumstances, she would be lying if she said that thought didn’t appeal to her, at least somewhat. 

 

Heart beyond shattering, its bloody pieces dripping downward into her gut, she stumbled backward.  Then she turned and ran.  She had no particular destination in mind; she just ran, away from the man who had betrayed her, away from the pain, and away from the final resting place of her unrequited love.  Nature seemed to share her grief, as a downpour opened up, soaking her to the bone.  A tree root came out of nowhere, taking her feet out from under her.  She made no attempt to break her fall, nor did she get up.  What was the point?  I’m such a fool…I thought he really loved me.  But in the end, it had been Kikyou who held his heart.  It had always been Kikyou.  Dammit!  I never had a chance…Kikyou was always better.  I wish…dah!  I don’t want to think about him anymore!  I just want to forget…

 

“I wish I never met him!” she cried aloud, as a clap of thunder boomed to punctuate her statement.  The rain continued to fall in torrents, the cool night air causing her to shiver violently.  Still she lay unmoving, wallowing in her despair, not caring in the least about her body.  Eventually Kagome stopped shivering as her heartbeat slowed, and she closed her eyes, waiting for blissful darkness to take her. 

Chapter Text

Inuyasha stared off into the sunset, his shimmering golden eyes reflecting deep emotional trauma though his face revealed nothing.  Glancing down at the girl in his arms, he silently pleaded for her to wake up.  As with the first several hundred times, his soundless entreaties went unanswered.  Kagome had been asleep for two days and two nights; tonight would be her third.  ‘Asleep’ being the operative word, because he didn’t want to think about her forced unconsciousness as anything else.  People woke up from sleep. 

 

It was like that run-in with the Band of Seven all over again.  Back then, there was so much shit going on that he hadn’t had long to dwell on the thought that Kagome, Miroku, and Sango might not survive Mukotsu’s poison.  He had been able to keep his emotions mostly in check, until seeing Kagome awake again, knowing she would be alright, caused a few stray tears to sneak past his carefully woven countenance.  This time, however, there was nothing to distract him from his worry, his pain, or his guilt.  All he could do was stay by her side, hold her close, and pray. 

 

He had been doing that for the better part of two days, only leaving when Kaede and Sango kicked him out of the hut so they could clean her up and change her clothes.  Otherwise, he was always there, supporting her while Sango tried to get her to eat, watching over her as she slept, his nose and ears constantly on alert for any change in her condition.  He even stole her away from them and brought her to Goshinboku, hoping the magic of the ancient tree would help.  But still there was nothing.  She hadn’t uttered a sound since that bloodcurdling scream, hadn’t even altered her hauntingly blank facial expression.  Dammit, Kagome!  Wake the fuck up!  If anything happened to you…  He scratched that thought, not wanting to think about the possibility that he had seen the last of the Kagome he knew.  The next time she opened her eyes, those beautiful brown orbs might not belong to her anymore. 

 

And he wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.  Even if the youkai succeeded in taking over Kagome’s body, he knew his claws would be stilled.  The thought of tearing into her flesh, even if it was permanently occupied by another’s soul, filled him with intense nausea. 

 

“Come on, Kagome,” he whispered softly, “you have to fight him.  You have to…come back.  I can’t…I need you.”  The last part was barely audible, as he realized for the first time how true the statement was.  He needed her.  It should have made him feel vulnerable, to need someone so badly that it hurt when they were gone.  And yet, at this moment, when she was in his arms yet so hopelessly out of reach, he couldn’t remember ever having felt so vulnerable, so alone.  It was a far cry from how he felt when she was smiling at him, laughing, yelling, even subduing.  He drew strength from her, and when she was weak or injured, he suffered along with her.  For more than a year, she had been his greatest strength, and his greatest weakness.  (1)

 

“Inuyasha…no.”  The sound of her voice startled him from his musings and nearly caused him to topple out of the tree.  He lowered his gaze to her face, and he was shocked to see it twist in a pained grimace.  He had seen that look before, and instantly knew that her pain was emotional, not physical.  He also had a fairly good idea what she was seeing behind her eyelids.  Her next mumbled query only confirmed it. 

 

“Inu…how could you?”  His ears drooped; she looked and sounded absolutely miserable, and he was not surprised to see tears streaming down her cheeks.  He considered taking her to Kaede as he had promised to do if her condition changed, but decided against it.  The old miko wouldn’t be able to do shit anyway, and the others would just glare at him for causing Kagome pain.  No, he had created this insecurity within her, this ‘darkness in her heart,’ as Naraku’s creepy baby had so eloquently put it.  And he would be damned if he didn’t at least try to offer her comfort.  Awkwardly he wiped her tears away, whispering encouraging words. 

 

“Shhh, Kagome.  It’s alright.  It’s not real.”  His reassurances had no effect, and Kagome continued to cry unceasingly as seconds turned to minutes, all the while murmuring her softly spoken pleas.  Inuyasha was rapidly becoming frustrated; he could only take so much of hearing his name spoken in such a dismal manner, as if he was the one causing her pain. 

 

“Dammit, wench!” he yelled as he shook her firmly, “I’m right here!  I ain’t fuckin’ goin’ anywhere!  Whatever you’re seeing in that STUPID head of yours ISN’T REAL!” 

 

If she heard his frantic cries, she didn’t show it, and Inuyasha found himself quite suddenly at a loss.  Drawing her into a powerful embrace, he held her tightly to him as he felt moisture begin to gather in his own eyes.  Blinking back the useless drops, he gritted his teeth and struggled to reign in his unruly emotions.  He wouldn’t shed tears for her now, not while there was still hope!  Not while his Kagome was still in there somewhere, fighting for her life.  She had never given up on him, and he wasn’t about to relinquish his faith in her. 

 

His resolve wavered as an unwelcome scent reached him.  Seeking the source, he found his nose buried in Kagome’s hair, and a feeling of overpowering dread settled in the pit of his stomach.  Pulling back to look at her, his eyes widened in alarm.  Kagome had stopped sobbing; in fact, she had gone deathly quiet.  A dark, malicious aura flared around her, growing ever stronger and more intense.  The scent of youkai, the youkai, hung heavily in the air, rising in vigor even as Kagome’s own scent began to fade.  Her eyes flashed open, revealing nothing but white, empty shells.  Her expressive brown pupils, the windows to her soul, were gone.  Reality set in slowly for Inuyasha.  The demon was taking over.  Kagome was losing.

 

“Shit!  Kagome!  You’d better not give in that easily!  Didn’t you hear me?  I said I needed you!  You can’t leave...you can’t…I can’t…live without you…” 

 

He’d never know why he did it.  Perhaps it was merely the act of a desperate man who could do nothing else.  Perhaps it was something more, a final farewell, a confession, an apology…  Either way, as he brought his lips to hers, he knew he was losing his best friend, the one person who made his life worth living.  He slumped against her chest, all light, all energy deserting him.  And he finally allowed his tears to fall. 

 

* * *

 

  Cold. It gripped her, filled her, was her.  She was cold, and that’s all she was.  And yet, she welcomed it, even as grogginess invaded her mind, and it began to shut down.  A voice, faint, too faint to worry about.  Too sleepy to care, she slipped further into oblivion. 

 

  Warmth. It burned, scalded, drew her out even as she fought against it.  Her lips tingled, shooting heat throughout her body and setting it aflame.  Then the sensation was gone, but the warmth remained.  She could no longer feel the night’s chill, hear the patter of the rain against he grass.  An unfamiliar pressure against her chest, warm arms wrapped around her.  She could feel these, but not see them.  Gradually she came to realize that her eyes were closed.  Opening them, she glimpsed the familiar canopy of the Goshinboku above her, though the foliage shook periodically for some reason.  Or rather, she shook.  Looking down for the source of the motion, she spied a white head of hair, with her favorite two dog ears perched atop it.  Inuyasha…  He was holding her tightly, almost painfully so, his face planted on her sternum, shaking her ever so slightly. 

 

“Inuyasha?”  His head snapped up, nearly smashing her chin on its rapid ascent, and seeing his visage wrung a stunned gasp from her throat.  He was, to put it simply, a mess.  Track marks marred his normally smooth cheeks, and blood leaked from a wound in his lip where a careless fang had punctured.  His eyes were shining with unshed tears, the amber orbs conveying disbelief, then hope, and finally something else, something that had the butterflies in her stomach fluttering all over again.  She reached up and wiped away the evidence of his sorrow, but before either of them could say anything, she felt herself being pulled back into unconsciousness.  She thought she heard him call her name as the blackness took her once more. 

 

When she woke, she was no longer sitting in the tree with Inuyasha.  In fact, she wasn’t entirely sure she was…anywhere.  Everywhere she looked was gray, the gloomy dye even covering the floor where she apparently sat.  Rising to her feet, she tried to gather her bearings. 

 

“Damn, bitch.  You’re a hard one to crack, aren’t you?”  Smothering her gasp, Kagome spun sharply to face the owner of the strange voice.  Her jaw dropped as she realized just who had addressed her. 

 

“Y-you?!  How…you’re dead!  Inuyasha killed you!” 

 

The cat youkai chuckled venomously.  “You’re right.  I am dead…but not for long.” 

 

A cold shiver ran down Kagome’s spine as he eyed her intently, and she struggled to staunch her rising panic.  I’m a miko!  I’m not helpless!  Without her bow and arrows, however, things were not looking good.  Yet the youkai made no move toward her; he just stood there and stared.  Thoroughly confused, Kagome was about to ask what he wanted when the substance of his words sank in.  W-what?  He’s dead?  But how—why can I see him now?  Am I *gulp* dead as well?  She remembered the youkai lunging toward her, too quick for her to target with an arrow.  Then, just as he was upon her, Tetsusaiga flashed across her vision, slicing the youkai in two.  She remembered looking down at the blood staining her blouse…then pain, blinding, excruciating agony.  Pain so unbearable it felt like her bones were melting.  She had screamed…then nothing.  Kagome frowned; something here didn’t make sense.  How could she be dead when she hadn’t even suffered any wounds? 

 

“Where are we?” she growled, allowing her miko aura to flare just slightly, hoping to intimidate the arrogant youkai standing before her.  The jerk just smirked even wider. 

 

“What, you don’t recognize your own mind?  Though I suppose you wouldn’t, considering how I’ve made a few…slight alterations.” 

 

More confused than ever, Kagome tried futilely to make sense of the situation.  Inside my mind?  So…are we not really here?  Seemingly oblivious to her consternation, the youkai continued his conceited speech. 

 

“This rebirth power is really quite wonderful, you know.  And I didn’t even know I had it!  All that’s left to do is quell that rebellious will of yours, and my original form will be restored!” 

 

And suddenly, it clicked.  The blood on her shirt, the searing pain, her strange encounters with Inuyasha, waking up in the hanyou’s arms…  Somehow, this demon had gotten inside her body, and he was trying to possess her mind so he could return to his original form.  Nothing that had ‘happened’ since the battle by the well had really happened.  The only thing she knew for certain was that Inuyasha’s embrace, his tear streaked face—those had been real.  How she knew this was a mystery, but the conclusion that followed filled her with righteous rage.  Everything else was just an illusion…

 

“You…you BASTARD!” she shrieked, earning a startled look from the youkai before her.  “It was you the whole time!  You made me see those things!  In my room, Inuyasha and Kikyou.  Why?  How could you toy with somebody’s emotions like that?!” 

 

The youkai responded with a humorless chuckle.  “Isn’t it obvious?  If you became lost in the illusion, your mind would lay dormant forever and your body would be mine for the taking.  And it would have worked too, if that damn half-breed hadn’t interfered.” 

 

Kagome’s expression turned contemplative; she remembered lying face-down on the ground, nearly slipping into unconsciousness before something stopped her.  Some unknown force, strong and resolute, had gripped her, forcing warmth into her frozen limbs and dragging her back toward the light.  The feeling had centered on her lips…  Her eyes widened, her hand coming up to touch her lower lip.  He kissed me…and he was crying for me.  Her smile was small and brief, her principle emotion soon shifting to anger once again.  This rotten bastard!  How dare he?!  How dare he cause Inuyasha so much grief!  It was bad enough when the youkai had just wronged her, but now her fury had doubled, even tripled.  Her miko aura flashed and sparked around her, beginning to push back the gray, revealing a luscious green patch of grass beneath her feet.  The youkai took a nervous step back, before going on the verbal offensive once again. 

 

“Don’t look so mad!  I showed you exactly what you wanted didn’t I?  You could have been happy; you could have lived your entire life with your pathetic hanyou, the man you supposedly love.”  At Kagome’s shocked expression, he continued to berate her.  “Oh, yes, young miko.  I’m inside your mind, and all your memories are open to my gaze.  It’s sad, really, your shallow, deceitful notion of love.  You claim to love Inuyasha, and yet you wouldn’t even tell him, let alone show him, when he told you he loved you.  You are a liar, little girl.  And you just let the poor puppy believe you care for him, stringing him along for the ride as y—”

 

“Shut up!” Kagome yelled, trying not to let the youkai’s harsh words get to her.  But there was a measure of truth behind them, a truth that weighed heavily on her.  No!  I refused Inuyasha because I had to…something deep inside told me it was wrong.  And I was right!  “You’re wrong!  Me stopping Inuyasha had nothing to do with my feelings for him!”

 

“Ha!  Your feelings are weak!  ‘I wish I never met him!’  Sound familiar?” 

 

Kagome gasped, remembering with crystal clarity how she’d screamed that cursed phrase just before giving up, waiting…waiting to die?  She suddenly felt so ashamed, and the youkai showed her no mercy. 

 

“Your faith in Inuyasha is just as fragile.  Tell me, why was it so easy to believe the sight of him making love with Kikyou?  How could you doubt the man you claim to love so much, to think that immediately after confessing his feelings to you, he would run back to his former love?  You are pathetic, Kagome.  Inuyasha would be better off without you, and your incessant weakness of both body and soul.” 

 

Kagome closed her eyes, tears falling freely as the bitter accuracy of the man’s accusations set in.  When she opened them again, the gray had returned full-force, growing ever darker.  The youkai was wavering before her, slowly fading into the distance as blackness closed in on her.  His diabolical laughter drifted to her ears, as well as what was intended to be a final comment. 

 

“That’s right, little girl.  Just give in; I promise you will feel no more pain.  Be at peace…” 

 

Peace.  The notion was so tempting, to run away from her shortcomings, her pain, her guilt.  Inuyasha really would be better off without her. 

 

A single image passed her mind, causing her to cease her descent into oblivion.  The vision of Inuyasha, staring at her with tears in his eyes, shining with pure emotion.  The feel of his lips on hers…  The memories gave her a reason to live, a reason to fight.  Her miko powers surged to life, spiraling around her and granting her an entirely different kind of peace.  They caressed her, spoke to her, reassured her that everything was alright, that everything she had done today she had done out of love.  It was them…it was my miko powers that stopped me from doing anything with Inuyasha!  Deep down, at the most instinctual of levels, her inner miko had known the truth, that Inuyasha’s confession of love was nothing more than the perverted adaptation of her own dreams, created by an evil youkai.  And somehow, feeling that way about his declaration had made his being with Kikyou that much more believable.  I ran.  I ran because I’ve always known that things could turn out that way.  I want Inuyasha to be happy, and if he needs Kikyou for that…  And if things do turn out that way, then I have every right to be heartbroken!  But I won’t force Inuyasha to choose between us.  I’ll stay with him as long as I can, because…I really do love him

 

The reaffirmance of her deepest feelings gave her strength, and she summoned the full measure of her miko powers, fueling them with the purity of her heart, the love she stored there.  Quickly the curtain of black surrounding her turned to gray, then an opaque white.  The youkai was there, and Kagome took small delight in the look of fear gracing his features as he struggled to maintain the integrity of the bubble he had enclosed them in.  But it was futile; bursts of miko energy punched through as if it was made of paper, revealing all manner of vibrant colors in the background.  As the shield imploded and finally collapsed completely, Kagome’s breath hitched in her throat.  Laid out before her was the single most beautiful, breathtaking landscape she had ever seen.  It was truly a spectacle of nature, the wide flowing valley, covered in lush green.  Rolling hills stretched for miles until the edge of a distant forest, which slowly climbed upward to the bases of picturesque mountains, rising gracefully to snow-capped peaks that disappeared into the clouds.  She felt humbled as she took in the magnificence, the sheer vitality of it all.  So this is what the inside of my mind looks like...I should come here more often!  Remembering why she was here, Kagome turned to regard the youkai once more, the fury radiating off him standing in stark contrast to the tranquility of the valley. 

 

“Damn you, bitch!” he growled, brandishing his razor sharp claws menacingly.  “I tried to do this the easy way, but it looks like I’m going to have to use force after all!  Prepare yourself!” 

 

Kagome didn’t flinch as the youkai charged, didn’t react as he leapt in preparation for a single, killing blow.  She raised her hands just as he swung his arm.  A horrid screech of pain broke the silence of the valley, the smell of charred flesh overpowering even Kagome’s human nose.  For several seconds the youkai just hung there, suspended inches from her outstretched palms by a fiery torrent of miko energy.  Then he was flung back, his body landing bonelessly in a heap and rolling to a stop some fifty feet away.  He lay there unmoving as wisps of smoke continued to rise from his broken form.  Kagome stumbled back, nearly falling as strange images rushed past her eyes, visions of things she’d never seen before. 

 

Orphan.  A young boy, weeping silently over the remains of his parents.  Loneliness.  Searching for kin, but finding no soul willing to take him in.  Survival.  Killing, growing, learning.  Others, strangers who became friends, brothers, sisters.  Power.  No mercy, slaughtering humans, burning villages.  Seeking the Shikon no Tama.  Power.  The power to protect those held dear, to ensure that neither he nor they would ever be lonely again…

 

Kagome choked out a sob as she rushed over to the fallen youkai.  He lay there in his true form, a giant black cat, about eight feet long from head to tail.  His chest was as still as Kagome’s heart, and tears flowed freely down her cheeks.  He had seen inside her soul, and when she had attacked, engulfing him in the full might of her miko aura, his soul had been bared to her as well. 

 

“Why do you cry, miko?” 

 

Kagome gasped sharply and looked up.  There, hovering a few feet away, was the young boy she had seen, the child the dead youkai lying before her used to be.  He was a spirit, his body transparent, but he was smiling nonetheless.  Kagome lowered her eyes, unable to meet his gaze. 

 

“So…so sad,” she mumbled.  A gentle hand raised her chin, urging her to look at him.  Still he smiled, eyes shining with an inner serenity. 

 

“Don’t cry for me.  My life has been difficult, but I’m not alone anymore.  Somehow I found others like me, and we created a family.  I only regret the last few years.  Somehow I forgot how it felt to be an orphan.  I killed…how many humans did I slaughter in the name of power?  How much misery have I caused in the name of becoming stronger?”  Now the boy’s eyes were closed, and Kagome stared at rapt attention.  Then he opened his yellow eyes, and a grin returned to his countenance.  “But you have saved me, miko.  You purified me of my hate, took away my lust for power.  Thank you,” he said, bowing low.  “But now I must return to my body, and you must purify me.  Only then will you be completely free of me.” 

 

“B-but if I do that, won’t you go to hell?”  The boy chuckled, amused by her concern, considering how he had just tried to kill her. 

 

“It matters not.  I must pay for the sins I have committed.” 

 

“No!  Y-you’re just an innocent kid now!  Like you said, I purified you of your evil.  Why should you have to suffer now?” 

 

“Because you cannot rid yourself of my youkai essence unless I am purified along with it.  The moment my spirit leaves you, the youki I leave behind will completely dissolve.  It will remain inside you forever, and you will never be able to rid yourself of it.” 

 

Kagome gave herself no time to reconsider before she gave her answer.  “Then let it stay.” 

 

The spirit’s eyes hardened in anger, then softened as he realized just how determined Kagome was to not let a child suffer.  Kagome, for her part, was thinking back to her adventure with Mayu.  She refused to let the spirit of a child burn in hell before, and she wasn’t about to let it happen now, no matter what unknown consequences awaited her decision.  Reluctantly, the boy nodded his consent. 

 

“Very well, miko.  Thank you.  You are truly amazing…I have never before met a heart so pure.  Who knows?  Perhaps you will make better use of my youkai essence than I ever did.  Farewell.” 

Kagome smiled and waved as the youkai’s spirit vanished, and just as he predicted the giant cat melted instantly, and was absorbed into the earth beneath it.  And Kagome was left in blessed solitude, her mind finally free of foreign influence.  Suddenly she felt very tired, and she surrendered to fatigue, lying down in the soft grass.  When she awoke, she knew she would be in the real world again. 

 

* * *

 

“Kagome!” Inuyasha called as she slipped back into unconsciousness.  Dammit!  He took a deep breath to calm himself.  Kagome had woken up, she seemed back to normal, and she was no longer emanating a dark aura.  She still smelled a little of that bastard cat youkai, but it was very faint.  He had to have faith; Kagome’s ordeal was not over, but he knew she would overcome.  That confidence was very much shaken when it happened again—her eyes going blank and the dark aura gripping her.  But it was over before he had time to react, and from that point on her miko aura steadily grew in strength, eventually driving out the last speck of evil.  He was very surprised that he himself was not being purified by her unruly powers, but he hadn’t even felt a tingle.  He would worry about that later, he decided, after she woke up.  Finally, after what seemed like hours of waiting, she stirred in his arms and opened her eyes.

 

“Inuyasha…” 

 

The hanyou felt his mouth go dry.  Relief had never been such a powerful emotion before, one that threatened to reduce him to tears again.  But he held back, not wanting to show that weakness twice in one evening. 

 

“Are you okay, Kagome?” 

 

“Yeah.”  Comfortable silence fell between the pair, each contemplating their own thoughts about the events that had just taken place.  Gratitude welled up inside Kagome, too strong to be kept quiet.  “Inuyasha?” she asked nervously. 

 

“Yeah?”

 

“D-did you kiss me?” 

 

He stiffened and stuttered, his reaction confirming what she already knew to be true.  She could tell he was about to say something stupid, something he didn’t really mean, something that would definitely ruin the atmosphere of the moment.  She didn’t give him the chance. 

 

“Thank you.” 

 

Inuyasha’s gruff reply died on his lips as his eyes widened impossibly.  He found himself questioning his demonic hearing, before she continued.  “You saved me.  I…I was lost in the illusion.  You brought me back.  And…you shed tears for me.”  Inuyasha tightened his grip on her.  Normally, he would deny them—either kissing her or crying for her—but tonight, after everything that had happened, after almost losing her, he just couldn’t. 

 

“Yeah, well, you’d just better keep all that shit to yourself.” 

 

Kagome giggled, and Inuyasha couldn’t help but grin in response.  Talk about ruining the moment...  Kagome shivered, and Inuyasha shrugged off his haori to drape it over her bare legs. 

 

“You wanna go back to the hut?” he asked, secretly hoping she would say no.  When she shook her head vigorously, he drew her closer until her head was resting comfortably on his chest.  As the sound of his heartbeat lulled her to sleep, Kagome couldn’t help but think that maybe Inuyasha hadn’t ruined the moment after all. 

Chapter Text

Inuyasha woke with a start, temporarily blinded by the bright sunlight that had roused him.  What the…I fell asleep?  That in itself wasn’t odd; even hanyou needed some sleep.  The strange part was that he’d apparently slept through the whole night, not even waking at dawn like he normally did.  The last time he slept so soundly had been on Kagome’s bed, after a battle with Naraku.  At the time, he realized the depth of his slumber had much more to do with being wrapped in Kagome’s scent than the softness of her mattress, and it appeared last night had been no different.  Hell, he could probably sleep with a hundred Shippous dancing on his belly, as long as Kagome was close.  Expanding his lungs, he drew in the soothing scent of the girl still snuggled against his chest…and nearly pushed her out of the tree in his alarm. 

 

Kagome awoke to the unpleasant sensation of being jostled, and not the kind of gentle motion her mother would wake her up with.  Instantly alert, she opened her eyes to find Inuyasha, holding her at arms length, staring at her as if she’d just sprouted another head. 

 

“Inuyasha!  Wha-aahh!”  Clenching her teeth, Kagome covered her ears with her hands, trying to get them to stop ringing.  Oww!  Why was my voice so loud?  Taking a deep, steadying breath through her nose proved even more painful.  She sputtered and sneezed, trying to fight off a rising sense of panic.  Her nose felt like it was on fire!  She slammed her eyes shut and curled in on herself, trying to fight off the alien sensations as they pounded against her skull.  Suddenly she was pulled against a strong chest, her nose pressed firmly into the fabric of his haori.  She started to struggle, but his words stopped her. 

 

“Don’t fight it, Kagome!  Just relax.  Focus on me, just my scent.”  His words were nearly whispered, yet they still rang loudly in her ears.  Inuyasha, for his part, had realized what was happening as soon as he snapped out of his shock-induced stupor.  Her scent had been his first clue; Kagome smelled like a youkai.  And it wasn’t the same as when she smelled like him after riding on his back.  No, her very being smelled of youkai, as if the scent was coming from deep within her flesh.  One look at her confirmed his worst fears.  There, standing proudly atop her head, were two black, triangular ears.  That in itself filled him with dread; only one kind of creature had ears of that type…  The sight of Kagome’s hands flying up to cover the fuzzy appendages bought him back to reality, as he observed her struggling to cope with the new information the world was hurling at her.  She looked to be on the brink of passing out when he took action.  He would have been lying if he said he knew what he was doing, but it was all he could do to keep her new senses from overwhelming her. 

 

Kagome did as she was told, concentrating on Inuyasha’s scent.  He smelled of so many different things: woods, sweat, dog.  But his scent was entirely masculine, and despite how strong it suddenly was, she found it anything but unpleasant.  Gradually her breathing slowed, and she relaxed, leaning bonelessly against him, physically and mentally exhausted.  As time passed, a new nuance snuck into his scent, one that made her very anxious.  She didn’t know what it was, but she knew she didn’t like it.  Eventually, she grew comfortable enough to remove her hands from her ears.  Her headache returned full force, but she focused on Inuyasha, his breathing, his heartbeat, and slowly the background noise faded to a more manageable level.  How long had they been sitting there like that, twined around each other with her face nestled against his chest?  To Kagome, it seemed like hours, and in fact it had been almost an hour.  Finally feeling more like herself, Kagome pulled back only to have Inuyasha tighten his arms around her.  Feeling the beginnings of a blush start to form on her cheeks, Kagome realized the full extent of their compromising position.  She was sitting on his thighs, one knee planted firmly on either side of his abdomen, her legs bent and folded underneath her.  Again she tried to extricate herself and again she was denied. 

 

“Inuyasha,” she said, a little annoyed, “you can let me go now.”  Instead of complying, he gripped her even tighter, and shook his head vehemently.  Her exasperation and embarrassment melted away, however, as that strange nuance in his scent intensified.  Then, somehow it clicked, something deep inside told her what it was—fear.  Fear?  What’s he afraid of? 

 

“Inuyasha,” she asked, much gentler this time, “what’s wrong?” 

 

He shuddered as the scent of his fear continued to strengthen.  Finally, he spoke in a barely audible whisper. 

 

“D-don’t hate me.”  The pleading in his tone, the desperation there made Kagome’s heart ache. 

 

“Hate you?  Why would I hate you?” she asked, genuinely confused.  Unable to form words, he settled for reaching down and grasping her hand.  Hesitantly, he brought it up until it rested on top of her head.  Kagome gasped as she realized what her fingers were touching.  Somehow, in the chaos she had been too distracted to notice that her ears were not where they should be.  And they weren’t human anymore; that was abundantly clear.  Now she knew why Inuyasha was so afraid; she felt no small amount of trepidation herself. 

 

“Inuyasha,” she inquired in a shaky voice, “what happened to me?” 

 

Finally he pulled back to gaze at her, and the haunted look in his eyes, as if he knew what he was about to say would ruin their friendship forever, cut her to the core. 

 

“Kagome…you got demon blood inside you.  You’re a hanyou.” 

 

Kagome stared at him, contemplating his words for a moment before the stress of the morning finally caught up with her.  Her eyes rolled back and she fainted. 

 

* * *

 

When she came to, she was lying on the ground, her head propped up on something warm and comfortable.  Ugh…what a crazy dream.  Still, as she opened her eyes and slowly blinked the haze of sleep away, she couldn’t help but feel that something was off.  The smells and sounds of the world bombarded her senses, and she turned her nose into her Inuyasha’s leg pillow to escape the onslaught.  The situation baffled her; in fact, it all too closely resembled that of her dream, where Inuyasha told her she was a hanyou.  Kagome’s eyes widened as reality set in, and she inched her hand upwards until it made contact with the furry appendage she was afraid she would find.  Bolting upright in shock nearly knocked her unconscious again, but Inuyasha’s firm hands on her back supported her as she adjusted to the incredibly loud and stinky world around her.  Finally, when the cacophony that was nature had regressed to a more bearable level in her head, she dared a glance at the hanyou behind her.  His expression was guarded, as if he had resigned himself to something.  She had never seen him look so defeated. 

 

“Inuyasha, what’s wrong?” she asked, wincing at the sound of her own voice.  Inuyasha didn’t respond, merely looking away, refusing to make eye contact.  Kagome was beyond confused; just what had gotten into him?  It was she who had been suddenly turned into a hanyou!  But maybe that was the problem.  H-he can’t accept me like this?  But why?  I’ve always accepted him!  How can he…reject me?  Tears sprung to her eyes, but she blinked them back as another thought, a memory, occurred to her.  “D-don’t hate me.”  That was what he said.  Is that why he can’t look at me, ‘cause he thinks I hate him?  His response to her earlier question of why she would hate him confirmed her suspicion. 

 

“Inuyasha,” she said gently.  No response.  “Inuyasha, look at me.”  Still no response.  Kagome reached out to gently caress his cheek, tenderly turning his face toward her.  As his eyes became unhidden by his bangs, she gasped at the moisture she glimpsed in his amber depths.  She let her fingers linger on his cheek as she endeavored to offer some much needed reassurance. 

 

“Inuyasha, I don’t hate you.” 

 

Finally his eyes snapped to hers as he sat up straight, breaking their intimate contact.  His face revealed unabashed confusion, and his scent spoke of surprise, and tentative hope. 

 

“Why?” was all he was able to articulate. 

 

“Why should I?” 

 

That did the trick, as Inuyasha’s golden orbs filled with anger and frustration, and he quickly launched into one of his trademark tantrums, though he did remember to keep his voice down. 

 

“Why should you?  Because it’s MY FAULT you’re…like THAT!!”

 

“It’s not your fault,” Kagome cooed softly, placing her hand comfortingly on his.  But he jerked it away as if her touch burned him. 

 

“Yes it is, wench!  If I had protected you better, you—”

 

“That’s enough!” Kagome yelled, her own frustration rising.  For once, Inuyasha did not further escalate the argument.  In his mind, he deserved far more than a painless tongue-lashing.  Seeing his chastised silence, Kagome took a deep breath to calm herself.  “Look Inuyasha,” she continued, in a voice that was equal parts comforting and firm, “it’s not your fault.  I should have stayed in the well like you told me.  AND” she raised her voice to curtail his protest, “even if it was your fault, even if I died under your protection, I could still never, ever hate you.” 

 

The look of wonder and gratitude that graced his visage at that moment was one Kagome would never forget.  Inuyasha was humbled, utterly and completely, by the sheer kindness and forgiving nature of this girl, this one human who could not hate him, even when she had every conceivable reason for doing so.  It was his fault, no matter what she said, that she had been turned into a monster, an abomination rejected by human and youkai alike.  After she fainted, he had relived memory after painful memory.  Taunts, insults, attempts on his life, they all beat him down, so much so that at some points he had wished for nothing more than a merciful end to it all.  But his will to live was strong; at times it had been the only thing that kept him going over the years, back when he had no one else to live for. 

 

But things were different now.  Kagome was continuing what Kikyou had started.  He now had friends, other people to live and die for; the concept was still somewhat foreign to him, even after more than a year in their company.  None of them see me as a monster.  They all accept me, even as a hanyou, and Kagome…she even said she loves me.  Yes, perhaps the other humans hadn’t heard it, but Inuyasha’s sensitive ears allowed him to easily pick up Kagome’s exclaimed confession just before he crashed through the door and rescued her from Naraku’s infant.  He thought of her words and her feelings regularly, but never mentioned them, or what he knew.  It wasn’t because he doubted Kagome’s sincerity; she wasn’t the type of girl to say something like that without really meaning it.  No, it was himself he was unsure of.  Even after months of searching his feelings and grappling with his emotions, he couldn’t say he loved her in return.  On the other hand, he couldn’t say he didn’t love her either.  He just didn’t know, and Kikyou’s presence among the living only complicated matters.  Inuyasha had concluded long ago that it would be best to focus on gathering the jewel shards and destroying Naraku, and let the rest sort itself out. 

 

Now, it seemed like he would have to add something else to his list of priorities.  Kagome may accept me as a hanyou, but she has no idea what I’ve been through.  I can’t let her go through that…she’s always been loved, and everyone who meets her likes her.  Inuyasha growled internally as he thought of how much he hated that sometimes, especially when other males were involved.  Kagome doesn’t know what it’s like to be shunned, to be so completely alone you start talking to the trees…  I can’t allow her to experience what it’s like to be hated just for being alive.  It would break her.  No, Inuyasha vowed then and there to find a way to change Kagome back to her human self, no matter what the cost.  He would do everything he could to shield her from the hate, the loathing that faced every hanyou.  He just hoped he could accomplish his task before her gentle spirit was permanently scarred. 

 

“Inuyasha?”  Kagome’s worried voice brought him out of his musings, and he realized he had been staring at her for longer than he should have.  Quick as a flash, he enfolded her in a powerful embrace, as much to hide his lone falling tear as to assure himself that she was really there, forgiving him. 

 

“Thank you,” he uttered in a near whisper.  Then, pulling back to gaze at her determinately, he pledged, “Don’t worry Kagome.  I promise I’ll find a way to change you back to normal.  We’ll go to Totosai’s and see if he or Myouga know anything.”  For some unknown reason, his words caused a slight pain to materialize in Kagome’s heart, but she pushed it aside, deeply touched by the fact that he was apparently prioritizing helping her over finding Naraku. 

 

“It’s ok, Inuyasha.  We don’t have to put off our quest.  I’m not dying here.  It’ll be an adjustment, and my head is still killing me, but I’m already doing better than befo—”

 

“No, wench!  We’re going to see Totosai right away, and that’s final!!” 

 

“Ok, ok, you don’t have to yell!” Kagome shouted, lowering her ears.  

 

“Sorry,” Inuyasha replied quickly, as Kagome blinked in shock.  Her hanyou friend just continued to surprise her today. 

 

“Is it…really that bad?” he asked guiltily. 

 

As she looked at Inuyasha, his own ears lowered, probably in shame, Kagome couldn’t help but smile at his concern.  “No, it’s not that bad.  The hearing gives me a headache, but I haven’t noticed much of a change in sight.  The smells are the worst.  But you really helped me out when you told me to focus on you.”  She flushed lightly, both because of the reminder of their close contact that morning and because of the question she was about to ask.  “D-do you thing you could…maybe, teach me how to use my senses?” 

 

Inuyasha’s shoulders slumped incredulously in relief; when he sensed her nervousness, he expected her to request something either embarrassing or difficult. 

 

“Of course, baka,” he replied, a small smile working its way to his lips, letting her know he didn’t really mean the insult.  “Just keep practicing focusing your senses on one thing.  I’ve lived with mine for so long that the things I need to hear are clear, and everything else just fades into the background.  And you probably won’t notice the change in vision until tonight, especially since you’re a cat.”  He spoke the last word with just a hint of disgust. 

 

Kagome chuckled.  “Well, I suppose we fight like cats and dogs anyway.”  Inuyasha snickered as well, still unbelievably happy she was even speaking to him at the moment, even if it was to tell lame jokes.  Comfortable silence fell until another related thought struck Kagome. 

 

“Inuyasha, before…I could smell your feelings, your emotions.”  She wisely made no mention of the hanyou’s fear; Kagome knew better than to tell Inuyasha he had ever been afraid of anything

 

“Yeah, so?  I’ve been able to do that my whole life.” 

 

“But how did I know what each emotion was?  It was like something inside me told me what I was smelling.”

 

Inuyasha merely shrugged.  “Maybe you have youkai instincts, too.”

 

“Do you have them?”

 

“Feh!  Bloodlust ain’t the only thing that takes over when I transform…”  His voice cracked with old remorse, and Kagome placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.  He grasped it in his own and held it there, adding full-demon transformations as another reason why he had to change Kagome back as quickly as possible.  Then Kagome spoke as if she had been reading his thoughts. 

 

“I don’t know if I could transform.  I am a miko…”  She trailed off as an alarming thought occurred to her.  Am I still a miko?  Did I lose my powers?  Can I sense the jewel?!  Fighting off a sense of rising panic, Kagome focused her concentration, summoning her powers in the same way she always did.  To her surprise and immense relief, it worked.  Her hands glowed with the same pure, pink light, as if she didn’t have cat ears and claws.  Claws?  Examining her fingers, she observed that her nails had sharpened and elongated, narrowing down to fierce points.  They were still clear like fingernails, but much thinner and rounder, and if she flexed her muscles the right way they disappeared into her flesh.  Retractable claws…I really am I cat!  This time it was Inuyasha who interrupted Kagome’s musings, as he continued their previous line of conversation. 

 

“Earlier, when you were asleep, your powers came out…but you didn’t purify me.  Why?” he asked, utterly stumped.  Kagome thought about it a moment, then shrugged. 

 

“Well, I would never want to purify you, so I guess my miko powers reacted to that.”  Remembering the second part of her earlier concern, Kagome once again focused her powers, searching for a familiar presence.  There!  “And I can still sense the jewel shards.  Thank the Kami!” she sighed in indescribable relief.  Inuyasha frowned, sensing there was more to her reaction—over-reaction—than met the eye. 

 

“Kagome,” he said firmly, waiting for her to look at him before continuing.  “Even if you couldn’t sense the jewel shards, it wouldn’t change anything.  I wouldn’t make you leave.”  His tone suggested he was mildly offended, and Kagome mentally berated herself for thinking that for even a second.  The old—very old—Inuyasha might have abandoned her in that situation, but they were friends now, good friends, and she should have known better. 

 

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed—”

 

“Keh!  Damn right you shouldn’t have!  I’m not a complete bastard, you know.” 

 

“Yeah, I know, it’s just…”

 

“Don’t worry about it, alright?” he interrupted, already tired of her remorse.  Why could he never stay mad at her when she said something stupid to him.  It happened far less frequently than a similar exchange the other way around, so he should be using this chance to wrangle a sympathy promise from her, damn it!  Maybe no visits home for a lunar cycle, or no ‘osuwari’ for a week.  And yet… 

 

“It’s no big deal, ok?  Now, quit blubbering and tell me what the hell went on inside that head of yours.  The babaa said you were either supposed to purify that youkai or he was going to take over your body, so how in all the layers of hell did you wind up as a hanyou?” 

 

Kagome glared at him as she ceased her ‘blubbering.’  Honestly, I haven’t even started crying yet.  Though she had a feeling that might not last too long.  She was not looking forward to this part of the conversation. 

 

“Well, when I fell unconscious, the second time,” she said, blushing as she remembered the glorious sensation that had saved her the first time.  Inuyasha had the good graces to blush as well.  “I was able to summon my powers and purify the demon.  Only he didn’t vanish.  His spirit separated from his youki, like what normally happens when you slay a youkai, but neither one disappeared.  Apparently, I accidentally purified his spirit of its evil.  And…when I read his mind, and saw how much he had suffered in his lifetime, I just couldn’t let him go to hell.  He was just an orphan, a lonely kid searching for somebody to care for him, and when he found friends, he came after the jewel to gain power to protect them.  I know he was evil; he killed humans without hesitation, but his purified spirit was just a child.  I couldn’t do it, Inuyasha.  I couldn’t let him merge with his youki, because then he would end up in hell.  The only way to save his soul was to allow his pure spirit to go to heaven.  I told him to leave his youki behind.”  Kagome waited with baited breath for a long moment, not daring to elevate her gaze from the grass underneath her feet.  “You probably think I’m a huge idiot.”  Uncomfortable silence settled as Kagome held her breath, dreading the inevitable explosion. 

 

“BAKA!!!”  Kagome winced, but made no move to argue.  “I already told you, I’m not that much of a bastard!”  Now her eyes snapped up, to see an irritated—but not angry—Inuyasha gazing sternly at her. 

 

“Wha-?”

 

“How can I be mad at you when you just wanted to save the soul of some little kid?”  She heard the words he didn’t say: who was once just like me…  And for the second time that day, Kagome berated herself for underestimating the strength of Inuyasha’s heart. 

 

“Sorry,” she said, sniffling. 

 

“C-cut that out!  It ain’t a big deal!  I didn’t used to care about…things like that, until you came along.”  His voice trailed off and the last word was spoken barely above a whisper, but he met her eyes and stood by his confession.  Kagome managed a watery smile in response.  Sure, the brash, surly hanyou before her would sometimes hurt her feelings, but he always knew how to make her feel better, even if it was just by being there. 

 

“Thanks, Inuyasha.” 

 

“Keh!” he replied, a light dusting of pink gracing his cheeks.  Kagome chuckled, amused by his typical oh-so-eloquent reply.  “Come on, let’s go fetch the others.  We’re starting toward Totosai’s this afternoon, even if I have to drag them out of the babaa’s hut.”  The idea of setting out on a journey caused Kagome to remember something, something she probably would have been better off forgetting. 

 

“Inuyasha,” she asked nervously, “how many days ago did that youkai attack?”

 

“Three days.  Why?” he inquired suspiciously, suddenly aware of Kagome’s apprehension.  Let’s see, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday…oh, crap! 

 

“What’s the matter, wench?” 

 

Kagome flinched, recognizing that tone.  The one that said he knew she was hiding something; the one that also told her she was about to have one hell of an argument on her hands. 

 

“Well, you see…”

 

“Spit it out already, wench!” 

 

Kagome narrowed her eyes, managing a very feline snarl in response.  “I failed one of my tests last week, so the professor offered to let me take a makeup…tomorrow.” 

 

“WHAT!!!  Oh, HELL no!  No fuckin’ way!” 

 

“Inuyasha, please, be reasonable!  I have to take this tes—”

 

“No, wench!  Your mother is never going to find out about…this!!” he yelled, motioning wildly at her with one hand.  Kagome’s retort died on her lips as Inuyasha’s words sunk in. 

 

“Inuyasha, you’re not worried that my mother will…reject me, are you?”

 

“Fuck!  I ain’t worried about you!  Your mom will love you no matter what you look like.  I’m worried about ME!  Kami, Kagome, do you have any idea what your mother is going to do to me?  She’ll probably rip off my ears and nail them to the wall!” 

 

Kagome just shook her head.  Somewhere in that sea of profanity and bellowing, Inuyasha had said something amazingly sweet.  Of course, a diamond in the rough is still a diamond. 

 

“Thanks, Inuyasha.  And relax, it was my fault this happened, and I know my mom won’t be too mad at you.  And besides,” she teased, “I’ll protect you from my big, scary Okaa-san.” 

 

Inuyasha glared at her, even as she tried to reign in her giggles and keep a straight face. 

 

“I’m not afraid of your mother!  Just don’t expect me to listen if she says I can’t ever see you again.” 

 

Truly touched, Kagome flashed him a positively brilliant smile.  “Deal.  Now come on, we need talk to the others so I can go home and study.” 

 

“Keh,” he mumbled as she dragged him off toward Kaede’s hut. 

 

* * *

 

“Inuyasha, what are you doing?” Kagome asked, more than a little irritated at the hanyou currently blocking her exit from the well house. 

 

“Just hang back awhile.  I’ll talk to your mother so she doesn’t freak out.  You remember what happened at Kaede’s hut, don’t you?” 

 

Kagome lowered her ears, remembering just how painful that experience had been.  As soon as she and Inuyasha entered the hut they had been bombarded with questions and greetings from their friends, who were obviously surprised and glad to see Kagome up and well.  Then everything paused for a moment, as they took in her altered appearance, and the questions began again at an even higher decibel level.  Kagome’s ears had instantly plastered to her skull, the pounding in her temples returning full force.  Her friends weren’t yelling, but they weren’t speaking softly either.  Her shouting match with Inuyasha by Goshinboku had bothered her, quite a bit actually, but she felt the conversation was too important to let it show.  Besides, back then it had been only one person speaking at a time, and now it was three, even four, at once.  And with the noise bouncing off the walls of the enclosed room, the roar was deafening to her not-so-well-adjusted senses.  She was just about to turn around and retreat outside when Inuyasha came to her rescue. 

 

“Shut up!  All of you!”  When the room was quiet, he continued, “Kagome hasn’t mastered her senses yet, so if you’re gonna talk to her, you gotta be quiet.”  After flashing Inuyasha a grateful smile, Kagome proceeded to relate all of her adventures since the youkai attack.  She left out certain parts, of course, much to the relief of her hanyou companion.  The others expressed amazement at the kindness of her heart, and Kagome found herself blushing from all the attention.  She flushed even deeper when she felt the somewhat familiar sensation of a hand on her backside.  The lecherous monk backed away quickly as he found himself confronted by two snarling hanyou, as well as an irate taijiya. 

 

“Now, now, everyone.  I was just checking for a tail.”  Kagome blanched at that.  She wasn’t an animal, and she certainly didn’t have a tail! 

 

“Bouzu!  Touch her again and you won’t have anything to ‘check for a tail’ with!”  After that remark, Kaede steered the conversation back to the original topic, expressing amazement that Kagome could still use her miko powers and sense the jewel shards. 

 

“By all rights, such a thing should not be possible.  Then again, many things I would not have thought possible have come to pass since ye first arrived through the well, Kagome,” she said, eyeing Inuyasha, leaving both hanyou to wonder what she meant.  Then little Shippou just had to go and make that joke—“you guys fight like cats and dogs anyway”—and everyone laughed, except Inuyasha.  If it wasn’t funny the first time, it definitely wasn’t funny the second time.  There had been some discussion as to what their next course of action should be, but after Kagome assented to Inuyasha’s ‘suggestion’ that they go see Totosai, the group agreed.  They would leave tomorrow afternoon, after her test.  Secretly, Kagome was hoping to persuade Inuyasha to let her have an extra night in her nice, comfy bed, but that was a worry for another day.  Currently, her primary concern was how to break the news of her ‘predicament’ to her mother. 

 

“Alright, just try not to scare her too badly,” she reluctantly replied. 

 

“Keh!”  Then Inuyasha was gone, strolling across the shrine grounds to the front door.  He knocked, and exchanged pleasantries with her mother before being invited inside.  As soon as the door was closed Kagome darted out of her hiding spot, running up to the door and placing her ear against it.  Just because she didn’t want to be seen yet didn’t mean she had to stay in the well house.  Souta was at school and she could hear jii-chan puttering around in the shed somewhere, so if she was careful there was very little chance of getting caught.  Her increased hearing easily picked up the muffled conversation inside the house. 

 

“Uh, Mrs. Higurashi, I have to tell you something…about Kagome.” 

 

“Oh, Kami, what happened?  Is my baby hurt?!  Is she—”

 

“No!  She’s fine!  Just, uh…something happened.”

 

“Inuyasha…” 

 

Kagome gulped; she knew that tone of voice.  Her mother didn’t get angry very often, but when she did, everyone in the Higurashi household knew to keep their distance, jii-chan included.  And if Inuyasha didn’t spill the beans very soon, he would be learning that lesson firsthand.  But that was the problem; he was trying to break it to her easy, not come right out and say “your daughter is a hanyou.”  Deciding it couldn’t be helped, Kagome sighed, opened the door, and stepped into the kitchen. 

 

“Kagome!  Wha…”  Mother and daughter stared at each other as Mrs. Higurashi trailed off, her cup of tea falling from her grasp.  Neither noticed as Inuyasha snatched the cup out of the air, nor his hiss of pain as some of the scalding liquid splashed on his hand.  Swearing softly, he padded to the sink and put his hand under the cold water as the two women continued their staring contest.  Kagome broke her gaze first, unable to take the oppressive silence any longer. 

 

“Hi, Mama.  It’s a long story…”  As if hearing her daughter’s voice was the only thing needed to snap Mrs. Higurashi out of her trance, she rushed forward, running her hands along Kagome’s cheeks. 

 

“Kagome,” she whispered, still apparently in complete shock.  “You have ears…”

 

“And claws,” Kagome replied, raising her hand and deploying her new weapons.  Mrs. Higurashi jumped slightly, but seemed to come back to herself after that. 

 

“So…you’re a cat?” 

 

“Cat hanyou, actually.”  What happened next was the last thing Kagome expected.  Her mother grabbed her ears and began massaging them.  And it felt good.  Her whole body was relaxing, and Kagome couldn’t help it.  She purred.  A choked sound, a mixture of a laugh and a cough, from Inuyasha jolted her back to the present, and she blushed like a tomato.  Inuyasha was standing at the sink trying not to laugh, and her mother was looking confusedly back and forth between the two of them.  Kagome glared daggers at her red-clad friend; he would pay for that later.  Mrs. Higurashi intervened at that point, sitting them down at the table and calmly demanding an explanation.  Inuyasha was content to let Kagome do all the talking.  Her mother listened attentively, her expression rising and falling with each twist and turn of the tale.  When it was done, she nodded thoughtfully, then inquired as to what they were going to do now.  Inuyasha spoke up then, informing her of their imminent quest to return Kagome to her original form.  Mrs. Higurashi actually chuckled at that, flashing the ‘I know something you don’t know’ look, and effectively breaking whatever tension had still remained in the room. 

 

“Well, you two fight like cats and dogs, anyway,” she said, laughing at her own joke as Inuyasha and Kagome rolled their eyes.  “Would you like to take a bath, Kagome?”

 

“Oooh, that would be—ah!  It’s almost four o’clock!  No time for a bath, Mama, gotta go study!”  With that, Kagome flew up the stairs into her room, leaving Inuyasha alone with her mother.  The hanyou excused himself, preparing to follow her, but Mrs. Higurashi stopped him. 

 

“Inuyasha,” she said in a tone that left no room for argument.  “Kagome wasn’t telling me something.  What was it?”  The sudden uneasy feeling in his gut prompted Inuyasha to wonder if perhaps he really was afraid of Kagome’s mother. 

 

“H-how did you know?” 

 

“I’m her mother.  It’s my job to know these things.  Now what wasn’t she telling me.” 

 

Inuyasha sighed, admitting defeat.  “It was a close thing,” he muttered, eyes closed.  “I—we almost lost her.”

 

“And you saved her?”

 

“I helped a little, I guess.  She saved herself.”

 

“Thank you, for taking such good care of my daughter,” Mrs. Higurashi said quietly after a moment. 

 

“Uh, sure,” Inuyasha replied awkwardly.  Mrs. Higurashi let him go, and he quickly jetted up the stairs and flopped on Kagome’s bed.  This was the scene that greeted Souta a few minutes later, as he accosted Inuyasha for his monthly dose of hero worship, catching a glimpse of his sister in the process. 

 

“Whoa, what happened to you, Nee-chan?” 

 

Sighing, Kagome launched into the very brief explanation, anxious to get her brother, and Inuyasha for that matter, out of her room so she could concentrate. 

 

Souta grinned to himself as he thought of something funny.  “Well, you guys fight like ca—”

 

“DON’T SAY IT!!!!” 

Chapter Text

“Rolling around won’t help,” Inuyasha said exasperatedly.  “You can’t fall asleep because you don’t need to sleep.” 

 

Kagome growled in annoyance, opening her eyes to glare at him in his spot under her window.  Her feline eyes glowed forebodingly in the darkness, easily taking in every detail hidden by the night from human eyes.  Her night vision was truly amazing, she reflected, but to this point her new senses had proven more of a handicap than a help.  She had been able to manage her nose and ears while studying, mostly because she had secluded herself in her room, which was quiet and smelled predominantly like her.  Aside from Inuyasha’s scent, her own was the only scent she was able to easily handle thus far.  She had stopped studying sometime around ten o’clock, and had gone to bed soon after.  Inuyasha had resumed his customary resting pose, sitting cross-legged watching over her with Tetsusaiga leaning against his shoulder.  She appreciated the gesture, but now the conceited jerk was starting to get on her nerves.  For the past hour, he had been periodically informing her that her attempts at falling asleep were useless.  And she still hadn’t forgotten about the purring incident…  Finally giving up, Kagome sat up straight and flung back the covers in frustration. 

 

“Well what am I supposed to do?  Stay awake all night?!” 

 

“That’s what I do sometimes,” he answered calmly. 

 

“Well I’m not!  I have a test after school tomorrow, and I need my beauty sleep!” 

 

Inuyasha bit back a snide comment, deciding not to stoke the already powerful flames of Kagome’s ire.  Besides, what was the point in telling her she wasn’t beautiful when nothing could be further from the truth?  Even in the beginning, he had always thought so.  Even when he used to call her ugly…  Inuyasha’s ears lowered slightly.  No, he wasn’t proud of how he had acted back then, but he was almost glad he had been such an ass.  That Kagome stayed with him, even with how he used to treat her, showed him more about friendship than he had ever known.  They had become closer as a result of those early days, and maybe that was why he could now admit that she was beautiful.  He was attracted to her, and he had eventually realized that was okay.  He wasn’t some lowly, disgusting half-breed to Kagome.  She saw him as a man, and men had certain urges, whether they chose to act on them or not.  He wasn’t a pervert like that lecherous monk, but at least now he wasn’t above admitting—to himself—that he liked how Kagome looked.  He liked her hair, her eyes, her figure…

 

And it wasn’t as if she didn’t like the way he looked, either; his nose told him as much.  Every once in a while he would catch her staring at him, her scent spiking slightly.  It wasn’t much, just a small change in her natural fragrance, but it was enough to let him know she liked what she saw.  Then she would blush and look away, and he would pretend not to notice.  It was a little game they played, but only he knew about it.  That was the way he wanted it.  He had decided long ago to focus on the mission at hand, and shift the determination of his feelings to the proverbial back burner.  Still, that didn’t mean he wasn’t happy that Kagome was also attracted to him.  He attributed it to male pride, an ego that had gotten much larger since he met the young miko from the future.  In the beginning, he really had been all talk.  He claimed he didn’t care when others put him down for being a hanyou, but it wasn’t until Kagome came into his life that he found he truly didn’t care.  As far as he knew, he was the only male Kagome developed that faint, spicy aroma around.  Perhaps that was the reason he was able to tolerate that damn wolf now, at least more than he used to.  He actually believed Kagome wasn’t interested in the fleabag now, though he could still only take so much of that ‘my woman’ bullshit…

 

“Hey!  Don’t ignore me!” 

 

Inuyasha cringed at the vehemence in Kagome’s tone.  Apparently she had taken his silence the wrong way.  But as he finally glanced at her, observing her pouting lips, narrowed eyes, and drooping ears, he lost his momentary apprehension.  She looked so damned adorable!  How was he supposed to resist teasing her a little?

 

“Quiet wench, I’m trying to sleep.” 

 

Grrrrrr.  Kagome opened her mouth to spit out ‘the word,’ then snapped it closed.  She settled for an icy glare instead.  “You are so lucky my family is asleep on the same floor.” 

 

“Keh!”  I bet!

 

“Uh!  And why is it so hot in here?” Kagome growled, running her finger inside the collar of her flannel pajama top. 

 

“Hanyou don’t get co—”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” she interrupted, “I forgot.  The ‘Mighty Inuyasha’ never gets cold.”  Sarcasm was dripping from her voice, but Inuyasha chose to ignore it. 

 

“Hmmm…I like the sound of that.  You should call me ‘The Mighty Inuyasha’ from now on,” he replied with a smirk. 

 

“The ‘mighty pain in the butt’ is more like it,” Kagome mumbled, drawing an even larger smirk from the male hanyou.  Rising to her feet, she shuffled over to her bureau and ruffled through the contents of the top drawer before finding whatever she was looking for.  As she glanced over her shoulder expectantly, Inuyasha got the distinct impression she was waiting for him to do something. 

 

“What?” he grumped, not liking how dumb he felt at the moment.  Kagome held her hand out to the side, revealing the mysterious object to be a shirt. 

 

“Close your eyes,” she said in a warning tone.  Inuyasha wisely did so, and kept them closed until the rustling of her clothing ceased.  If she caught him peeking there was no way he would escape the ‘osuwari’ command, even if it meant waking up the entire city.  Even so, it was still tempting…  He felt his cheeks heat as he turned his mind away from those thoughts. 

 

And yet, when he opened his eyes, his mind swung right back to its previous direction.  He stood corrected; that thing wasn’t a shirt.  It was a half-shirt, the most revealing article he’d ever seen her wear, not counting that swimsuit thing she’d worn way back when.  And he was only a little attracted to her back then.  The garment covered her torso, but left her shoulders and upper chest bare, and was held in place by two thin strings of fabric that went over her shoulders.  The things looked like they were ready to snap any moment, which would result in the garment pooling around her hips.  The fact that he’d seen her naked before, and knew what lay under the cloth, didn’t help his situation any.  After what was probably only a second of staring, but seemed like a lot longer to Inuyasha, he tore his gaze away. 

 

Kagome was trudging back to bed when Inuyasha’s scent drifted to her nose, and she paused mid-step.  She sniffed again, using the focusing technique Inuyasha had shown her, and was able to confirm the alteration.  It was very slight, and if she hadn’t been so familiar with his scent from their contact that morning, she probably wouldn’t have noticed it.  A smile rose unbidden to her lips as she her ‘youkai instincts’ told her what it meant, though Inuyasha also reeked of embarrassment.  Kagome moved toward the bed, deciding the best course of action was to let it go, lest she make her hanyou feel uncomfortable.  He never reacted well when he was embarrassed.  Still, her grin just refused to leave, even as she laid back down facing away from him.  He was attracted to her.  He thought she looked good.  Kagome was suddenly very giddy, and barely managed to restrain a girlish giggle.  It was nice to know, especially since he used to call her skinny and ugly.  But it had been such a long time since he had insulted her like that, though he never did call her beautiful or pretty either.  Regardless, Kagome liked to think she knew him better now.  He wasn’t the kind of guy to dole out compliments.  He wasn’t a sweet talker, and in her book that just made him even more special.  When he did say something nice, she knew he really, truly meant it. 

 

They said in school that body language is an essential part of communication, and Inuyasha’s body, his scent, had just told her more than his mouth ever had.  He wasn’t aroused; the spike in his scent seemed too minor for that, but he was appreciative.  Sure, he was embarrassed about it, but then she had also been embarrassed when she first began appreciating how good Inuyasha looked.  That thought caused her smile to wane, as a flush appeared on her own cheeks.  As a dog hanyou, he probably had an even better sense of smell than she did, which led her to the obvious conclusion.  He’s known this entire time!  Kagome took a deep breath, trying to calm her nervousness.  So they were both attracted to each other.  There was nothing wrong with that.  Considering Inuyasha had never berated her about it, he didn’t seem to mind, and she definitely didn’t.  Then again, she knew how she felt about Inuyasha.  What she didn’t know was how he felt about her. 

 

But that was a worry for another day.  Inuyasha had just made her very happy, whether he realized it or not, and she wasn’t about to ruin the moment by making herself depressed.  Grinning again, Kagome rolled herself over to face him before breaking the silence. 

 

“Hey, Inuyasha?” 

 

The hanyou started, having expected her to resume her efforts to fall asleep.  He had detected the slight falter in her step, and was absurdly relieved when she hadn’t mentioned his reaction to her ‘shirt.’  Either she hadn’t figured out what the change in his scent meant, or she…didn’t mind?  At this point, he wasn’t quite sure which thought appealed to him more. 

 

“Yeah?” 

 

“What do you do at night, when you can’t fall asleep?” 

 

He shrugged.  “Sometimes I think about things, but most of the time I just doze off.  I’m not awake, but I’m not asleep either.  The time passes quickly, and I can keep my ears open for danger.  Feh!  I already told ya, you don’t need to slee—”

 

“Yes, I do!” 

 

Inuyasha just gaped at her incredulously.  I’ve been a hanyou my whole life, and now she’s trying to tell me she knows more about being a hanyou than I do?! 

 

“Look, Inuyasha,” Kagome continued before he could retort.  “I’m really tired.  I feel tired.  Heck, I just spent five hours studying, and my brain is fried!  It’s just that every time I’m almost asleep, I hear a new sound, or catch a new scent, and then I’m wide awake again.  If I don’t get some rest, I’m gonna fail my test tomorrow for sure!” 

 

Inuyasha’s eyes softened in sympathy.  Kagome looked positively miserable, the prospect of failing her test weighing heavily on her.  Trying to think of a way to help her, his mind supplied an answer, a long-forgotten memory.  Ages ago, in the happy days of his youth, days which had only been happy because she was there, he never went a night without sleep.  When the echoes of the night were too foreboding, when the taunts and insults of the villagers were too fresh in his mind, she had always been there for him.  He would slink into her chamber in the dead of night, and was always welcomed with open arms.  She would hold him, tell him he was cherished, that she loved him, and touch him in a manner that compelled him to believe every word.  She had been his entire world, and when she passed… 

 

He shuddered, burying thoughts of his mother’s death within the depths of his memories.  He had long ago given up grieving, but he would never, ever forget the sound of her voice, the way her eyes shined so brightly whenever he smiled, and the way her love made the cruelties of the world bearable.  Most of all, he would always cherish her unquestioned acceptance, her total devotion, and the love he held in his own heart in return. 

 

“Inuyasha?” 

 

He jumped at the sound of Kagome’s voice, drawing him back to the present.  She wore a worried expression, obviously wondering where he had been just now.  Automatically, his mouth opened to deliver his normal dismissive remark, but he stopped himself.  Tonight, alone with Kagome, revealing some of his past, something he’d never been fond of doing, just seemed…right

 

“My Okaa-san,” he said, a small, sincere smile forming on his lips.  Kagome was stunned speechless, not quite knowing what to make of Inuyasha’s odd behavior.  It was even stranger that he was referring to his mother as ‘Okaa-san,’ when in the past he used the slang term ‘Ofukuro.’  She waited patiently, hoping he wouldn’t lose his nerve and slam the gate on his past once again. 

 

“Whenever I couldn’t sleep, she always knew how to comfort me.” 

 

“You loved her, didn’t you?” Kagome asked into the ensuing silence.  Inuyasha studied the rug for a moment before answering. 

 

“Feh.  ‘Course I did,” he replied, his gruff voice at odds with the peace reflected in his features.  At that moment, the hanyou and the miko locked eyes, and they both saw complete understanding reflected in the other’s gaze.  The two souls, hopelessly mismatched yet so perfectly aligned, shared something in that moment that nearly brought tears to Inuyasha’s eyes.  She knew.  Kagome understood what it was like to lose a parent, the loss, the guilt, the overpowering emptiness.  But she’d always had her mother, her brother, her grandfather.  She had never known the hell he’d gone through after his mother’s death, and as long as he could find a way to reverse her transformation, she never would.  Having had enough of conversation, Inuyasha rose to his feet. 

 

“Lay back down, wench.”  Confused, Kagome just quirked her head at him, a movement Inuyasha couldn’t help but find adorable.  She looks like a curious cat.  Folding his arms across his chest, he said, “What now?  Do you wanna go to sleep or not?” 

 

Kagome didn’t have to think about his question twice, and she quickly lay down on her side facing him.  Still, as Inuyasha stalked forward and plopped himself down on the bed next to her, she couldn’t help but feel a little nervous.  Now, it was the good kind of nervousness, but still…

 

Sensing her discomfort, Inuyasha smirked, revealing a pearly white fang.  “Relax, wench.  I ain’t gonna bite.”  Kagome frowned.  Sometimes I’m not so sure.  Nevertheless, she did unclench her tense muscles, easing her body into the mattress and closing her eyes.  She trusted him completely, though there wasn’t much he could do at this point that she would seriously object to.  She loved him, after all. 

 

The feel of his fingers gently rubbing her ear sent a jolt of adrenaline running through her, but it didn’t last long.  Soon she was purring, and this time she couldn’t bring herself to care.  His tender ministrations sapped all the energy from her body, as she felt all her worries desert her.  How could something so innocent feel so good?  Well, now I know why he doesn’t let anyone rub his ears… 

 

In minutes she was sound asleep, her purrs replaced by gentle breathing.  And Inuyasha was truly glad, happy that he had been able to help her.  He would do anything for her; holding her in his arms as she slipped away had reminded him just how badly he needed her.  He stroked her hair gently, and Kagome snuggled further into her pillow, mumbling something that sounded suspiciously like his name.  Face flushing, Inuyasha rose to his feet and dragged the sheets up to cover her.  Then he returned to his post under the window, feeling more content than he had in a long time. 

 

* * *

 

*Beep!  Beep!  Beep!*

 

Kagome smacked the button on her alarm clock with practiced ease, stopping the incessant beeping.  Memories of the previous night came back to her, and she flashed a brilliant smile as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes.  Thanks to Inuyasha, she had slept through the night, and felt refreshed and ready to take on the day.  Now if she could just get her ears to stop ringing…

 

Kagome flung back the covers and sat up, only to bring her hands to her mouth in a futile attempt to stifle a giggle.  There stood Inuyasha, in the center of her bedroom, the transformed Tetsusaiga held in front of him.  His ears were swiveling left and right, scanning his surroundings, at least until her amusement made itself known.  At that point, Inuyasha focused his attention on her, and understanding dawned in his eyes as he blushed furiously.  He glared murderously down at her alarm clock as he resheathed Tetsusaiga, mumbling curses under his breath.  Laughing even harder, Kagome pushed him out the door before he could take out his frustration on her hapless alarm clock. 

 

Inuyasha was still pouting when she came downstairs after getting ready, but a quick breakfast of bacon and eggs cured that.  Watching him wolf down the succulent strips, Kagome was reminded of a very old commercial she had seen once.  He devoured almost the whole package, and Kagome was suddenly glad they didn’t have refrigerators in the feudal era.  Otherwise, she’d be lugging back additional pounds of processed meat in her already overstuffed yellow bag.  Surprisingly, however, the thought of ingesting all that grease didn’t make her sick.  Instead, she found the bacon even more appealing than ever before, but managed to hold herself to two pieces.  She chalked it up to the carnivorous nature of their youkai halves.  After finishing her breakfast, Kagome stood and turned to address her satiated friend. 

 

“Inuyasha, I’m leaving.  Stay here and be goo—”

 

“Feh!  Fuck that!  I’m going with you.” 

 

“No way!  You’re staying here!” Kagome declared, her anger rising. 

 

“I said I’m going, wench!  You think I’m gonna let you pass out in the street?  You’ll get trampled by one of those aw-toe-mo-beel things!” 

 

Kagome’s irritation withered as quickly as it had grown.  He’s worried.  Grinning now, she watched as he crossed his arms over his chest, glaring as if he was daring her to point that out.  She knew better. 

 

“Okay, you can come.  But you have to promise to stay outside the school, and I don’t mean right outside, either.  Don’t let me catch you peeking in through the window again.  You got me in trouble that time!” 

 

“Keh!” he replied, but Kagome knew grudging agreement when she heard it.  So, after grabbing her backpack, she linked arms with the now flushing hanyou and escorted him toward the door. 

 

“Uh, Kagome…” her mother called from behind her. 

 

“Yes, Mama?”  Instead of replying, Mrs. Higurashi just smirked, pointing delicately to the top of Kagome’s head.  It took the miko a second to catch on. 

 

“Ah!  My ears!  How could I have forgotten?  How am I gonna hide them?”  Kagome’s voice faded as she bolted up the stairs to her room, leaving Inuyasha and Mrs. Higurashi to chuckle in amusement.  The hanyou’s mirth didn’t last long, however, as he soon found himself wearing the dreaded hat with orders not to remove it under any circumstances.  He did a bit of grumbling about that. 

 

One level up, Kagome was frantically fussing with her hair, trying to find a bearable way to hide her ears.  She quickly discovered bobby pins just wouldn’t cut it—ouch!  Her teachers would make her remove a hat, and if she wore a bandana the same way Inuyasha wore them, she would just look goofy.  The real problem wasn’t hiding the ears, it was concealing the bare patches of skin that resided where her ears should have been.  I can hear it now…  What happened to my ears?  Uh, I had earlobe cancer and they had to be amputated.  Why aren’t there any scars?  Um…

 

Finally, she settled on wearing a wide black headband which pushed down on her ears but didn’t bring her to the point of tears like the bobby pins had.  Additionally, since her normal hair style would reveal her lack of human ears, she used the headband to position a couple forelocks to drape over the front of her shoulders.  That did the trick, and it didn’t look half bad either!  In fact, her hair style now resembled Inuyasha’s to some degree, which definitely wasn’t something to complain about.  She had always loved his hair.  Unfortunately, the alterations had taken time she didn’t have. 

 

“Oh, no!  I’m gonna be late!” she lamented as she vaulted down the stairs.  She had taken two hurried steps out the door when she found herself lifted and placed against a strong back.  “Inuyasha!  What are you doing?!”

 

“What’s it look like, wench?!  You definitely won’t be able to handle running through that smelly city in your condition.”  With that, Inuyasha took to the air, leaping from building to building toward the familiar white structure in the distance.  Kagome held on for the ride, loving every moment of it, especially since the foul odors of the city streets were many stories below.  They arrived just as the final bell sounded, and Kagome sprinted toward the doors, yelling parting words as she went. 

 

“Thank you!  Now stay outside and be a good boy!” 

 

Inuyasha growled at that remark, but the wench was already gone.  Feh!  She’s gonna get it later for that one.  Treating me like a dog…  While plotting his revenge, Inuyasha leapt to the nearest roof and moved to the one that was adjacent to the room he knew to be her classroom.  She had told him not to let her catch him peeking through the window.  So she wouldn’t, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t keep an eye on her.  He still wasn’t convinced her going to school was a good idea, but Kagome was as stubborn as she was beautiful.  He nearly tripped over his own feet at that thought, and was glad there was no one around to see him blush.  When he reached his post, Kagome was indeed sitting at her desk, her attention on the uppity prick at the front of the room.  Hmmm, I wonder…if I strangled that guy, would Kagome have to go to school anymore?  He snorted.  Probably.  Would it be worth the thousand ‘osuwari?’  Probably not.  Not that he had any intention of letting the stupid rosary interfere with his job of protecting Kagome.  She looked fine now, but if he thought she was in the slightest trouble, he’d bust through that flimsy glass and grab her before she could even think about saying ‘the word.’

 

Kagome remained blissfully unaware of Inuyasha’s presence on the rooftop, though she checked periodically.  Her friends barely had a chance to greet her before the teacher strolled in, and for that Kagome was grateful.  It gave her a chance to adjust to the new smells and sounds of the school before being interrogated.  The whole place reeked of rampant hormones, for lack of a better term.  By lunchtime, by matching scents with eye direction, Kagome acquired a fairly good idea who everyone liked, didn’t like, thought was cute, etc.  To her surprise, she caught several boys eyeing her as their scents spiked in appreciation.  A couple even bordered on full-blown lust, the definition ‘helpfully’ supplied by her youkai side.  She made a mental note to avoid those boys, not that she had ever flirted with anyone, though a certain hanyou would have you think differently.  He thinks I flirt with Kouga?  He has no idea how some girls flirt in this era.

 

Still, despite the continuing and acute sense of discomfort that came with her enhanced senses, the whole experience had an inflating influence on her ego.  She walked with just a little extra wiggle in her hips toward the stairwell, intent on sharing her lunch with Inuyasha as a reward for carrying her and behaving himself so far.  At least, she assumed he had been behaving himself.  Unfortunately, the dreaded call of her name assailed her ears before she got there.  Turning, she groaned inwardly.  There was Hojo, followed closely by Eri, Yuka, and Ayumi.  So much for a nice, peaceful afternoon meal.

 

“Hello, Hojo-kun.  What’s up?” she asked, plastering on a fake smile. 

 

“Not much, Higurashi.  How are you?” 

 

“I’m fine,” she replied while discreetly sniffing in Hojo’s direction.  With as many times as he’d asked her out, she expected him to smell like those boys from her class.  But Hojo didn’t really smell like much of anything.  He clearly found her attractive, but the corresponding scent was very faint.  Mostly, he smelled of happiness and contentment.  Talk about boring… 

 

“Really?  What about your—”

 

“Nope.  I’m fine!” Kagome interrupted, not wanting to hear what insane illness her grandfather had concocted for her this time. 

 

“Well, if you’re feeling better, would you like to go to a movie on Saturday?” 

 

Kagome had to struggle to hold back her grimace.  She really should have expected this, right?  And yet, here she was, stuttering as she tried to come up with a halfway decent excuse, other than, ‘I’m going to be five hundred years in the past on Saturday.’  Fortunately, it turned out the effort was unnecessary. 

 

“Oh, Kagome,” Eri spoke up for the first time, “don’t you have to go to Osaka for some medical tests this weekend?”  Kagome was stunned speechless for a moment, but quickly recovered. 

 

“Uh, yeah!  Sorry, Hojo-kun, but I’m not going to be around on Saturday.” 

 

“Oh.  Okay, maybe next time!” Hojo said, only slightly less cheerily, as he departed.  And the best part is, Kagome thought, *I* didn’t lie to him.  Turning to meet the three grinning faces of her friends, Kagome found herself stuttering once again. 

 

“I…you…we…”

 

“Come on, Kagome!” Yuka chided playfully, “we’re not gonna set you up with Hojo when you’re clearly more interested in that Inuyasha guy.”  Beaming now, Kagome embraced her friends in a warm hug. 

 

“I love you guys!” she exclaimed, to which the girls giggled. 

 

“Speaking of Inuyasha,” Ayumi chimed in, “it’s been two months since we last saw him.  Is he around?” 

 

“Yeah, when can we see him again?”

 

“We’ve gotta make sure he’s treating you right, Kagome!” 

 

The miko laughed merrily at their antics.  “Don’t worry, guys.  Inuyasha treats me just fine, trust me.  Although…”

 

“What?!” all three girls demanded, suddenly concerned.  Kagome waved her hands to placate them. 

 

“No, no, no, nothing like that.  It’s just that I think he’s planning to meet me here after my makeup test.  So if you guys want to see him, I guess you can wait.” 

 

The three girls looked at each other, nodding in determination.  “We’ll stay, Kagome.  Girls always need their friends to help keep their boyfriends in line.” 

 

Kagome blushed as the three sirens dragged her off to eat lunch, but she didn’t bother to tell them that Inuyasha wasn’t her boyfriend.  They spent so much time together that he might as well be.  Though perhaps that was just wishful thinking on her part.  Scratch that; she knew it was wishful thinking.

Chapter Text

Inuyasha was bored.  Very bored.  After the school had largely emptied, he decided to go wait by the entrance to Kagome’s classroom.  He had a rough idea of where it would be, and his nose would guide him the rest of the way.  He almost left that cursed hat up on the rooftop, having removed it once he arrived.  “Don’t take it off under any circumstances,” my ass!  Now he found there wasn’t much else to do but sit.  He couldn’t even watch Kagome from his spot outside the door, but her scent told him she was concentrating pretty hard on something.  That older guy was in there with her, too.  Inuyasha growled low.  As much as he hated leaving Kagome alone with any guy, this one didn’t seem to mean any harm.  Good thing for him.

 

“Oh, Kami, look at his hair!  I want to touch it!” 

 

“It has to be dyed, but it looks so natural!” 

 

“I wonder if only the hair on his head is silver?” 

 

Inuyasha nearly choked at that comment, as the gaggle of girls down the hall began giggling hysterically.  Damn humans!  They have no idea I can hear everything they’re saying!  He was quite certain his ears were burning under the hat, his teeth grinding together in an effort to reign in his desire to go ballistic.  Those stupid girls kept saying how exotic he looked, among other things.  Inuyasha smirked.  Oh, if only they knew how exotic I really am.  Without this stupid hat, I’d have them running for their lives with one growl.  And yet, he couldn’t do that.  One reason was obvious; Kagome would blow a stack.  The second reason took him by surprise, but there was no denying it.  He…liked it.  He liked having people talk about him without using any number of the less-than-flattering adjectives he’d been hearing since his youth.  He liked having strange girls call him ‘cute’ or ‘hot’—whatever the hell that meant—even though they thought he was human.  It was refreshing to say the least.  Of course, if any of them came up to him, he would promptly tell them all to go to hell. 

 

Fortunately, it was only a few minutes longer before the group of girls dispersed and wandered away, apparently deciding that the silver-haired, barefoot boy dressed in ancient clothing and a baseball cap was a little too exotic for their tastes.  That suited Inuyasha just fine too.  But with the hallway now deserted, boredom again reared its ugly head, and the hanyou sat there tapping his fingers for a few minutes before heaving a cavernous yawn.  Drawing the brim of the hat down over his eyes, he dozed off, keeping his senses alert. 

 

“Hey, Inuyasha!”  The somehow familiar voice had him shooting to his feet, spinning around to see three more girls skipping down the hallway toward him.  Great…  But then he recognized them, and relaxed slightly. 

 

“Hey,” he replied, folding his arms in his sleeves.  “You’re Kagome’s friends, right?” 

 

“Yeah, do you remember us?” asked the one with the yellow thing in her hair. 

 

“Uh, yeah.  From that one time at the shrine.”  Deciding to be friendly, not wanting to alienate Kagome’s friends, Inuyasha scrambled to try to remember their names.  “Um, Emi?”

 

“Eri.”  Close enough.  Turning to the one with short hair, he thought for a moment, then said, “Yuki?”

 

“Yuka.”  Also close enough.  Finally, the one with the long, wavy hair. 

 

“Ayumi?”

 

“Ayu—hey!  You got mine right!” 

 

“Well, I guess one out of three isn’t too bad,” Yuka stated amicably.  Inuyasha could hear Kagome snickering from inside the classroom, her hanyou ears making her privy to this conversation.  Feh!  Get back to work, wench.  I wanna get the hell outta here! 

 

“So, Inuyasha, what are you and Kagome doing after she’s done her test?” Eri asked. 

 

The hanyou shrugged.  “Going back to the shrine, I guess.” 

 

“Wanna come to WacDonald’s with us?” 

 

Now, Inuyasha had no idea what this “WacDonald’s” was, but he knew the safest answer to a question like that. 

 

“If Kagome wants to.” 

 

They chatted pleasantly for a few more minutes, just passing the time, until a silent signal seemed to pass between the three girls.  All conversation stopped, and Inuyasha felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.  Oh, they hid it well, but these three chicks were definitely up to something. 

 

“So…” Yuka drawled, “how long have you known Kagome?”

 

“Uh, a little more than a year.  Why?” 

 

“How long have you two been going out?” she continued, completely ignoring his question.  What kind of stupid…wait!  Isn’t there some modern meaning to the phrase ‘going out?’  Did Souta tell me about that?  But his memory wasn’t cooperating, so Inuyasha just went with the literal meaning of the words. 

 

“The whole time, I guess.”  Three sets of eyebrows raised at that, and Kagome choked slightly in the background.  Why do I get the feeling that I just fucked up big time?

 

“Reeeeally?” Eri interjected, an evil twinkle in her eye.  “Have you kissed her yet?”  Inuyasha’s eyes widened as he gasped, and Kagome launched into a full-blown coughing fit, prompting her teacher to ask if she needed to get a drink.  To Inuyasha’s dismay, Kagome declined, saying she was fine.  If she had come outside, her friends would have realized that their little private interrogation wasn’t so private.  And it would have stopped!  But as it was, Kagome had abandoned him to face her three harpy friends on his own. 

 

“I knew it!” Ayumi chirped happily, folding her hands in front of her chest and staring wistfully off into space.  “Your face says it all.  I bet it was in the middle of a beautiful field, with sakura blossoms floating all around you.”  She signed melodramatically as the other two girls shook their heads. 

 

“Well,” Yuka asked, smirking, “was it like our hyper-romantic friend here says it was?” 

 

Inuyasha frowned.  Not exactly…  Both times we’ve kissed, one of us did it to keep the other from losing their mind.  He wisely kept these thoughts to himself.

 

“Have you guys done anything else?” Eri posed suggestively, causing a furious blush to erupt on Inuyasha’s face and yet more coughing inside the classroom.  Despite the acute embarrassment, Inuyasha felt his irritation rising rapidly.  He had tried to be civil to Kagome’s friends, but if they were going to keep asking these invasive questions, then all bets were off.

 

“That’s none of your damn business,” he replied gruffly.  The three seemed slightly taken aback at his sudden mood swing, but otherwise remained unperturbed. 

 

“It is,” Yuka growled out, softly but firmly, still apparently believing that Kagome couldn’t hear everything they were saying.  These deaf humans probably can’t even hear her choking in there.  “We don’t want Kagome to get hurt.  And speaking of that, what about that other girl you’ve been two-timing her with?” 

 

This time, no coughing sounds reached Inuyasha’s ears.  In fact, it seemed as if the entire world had gone deathly silent, anxiously awaiting his response.  Never had he wanted to crawl into a hole so badly.  But this time, he knew a dismissive comment wasn’t going to cut it, especially with Kagome eavesdropping.  So, with no better option, he spoke from the heart, laid the truth on the line. 

 

“Look.  Things are…complicated, between me and Kikyou.  But I’m with Kagome now, and I don’t regret it.  So get off my fuckin’ back already!”  The three girls studied him seriously for several moments, before coming to a conclusion. 

 

“Good,” Yuka replied, as the three of them broke into smiles and resumed their carefree bantering as if the last five minutes had never happened.  How do they do that?  Women…I’ll never understand ‘em.

 

When Kagome emerged from the classroom about twenty minutes later, her excitement spared them what Inuyasha was sure was going to be quite an awkward moment. 

 

“Eighty-six!!” she yelled, raising her arms above her head in triumph as her friends cheered.  Well, I guess that means she passed her test. 

 

“Alright!  This calls for a celebration!  Come on, Kagome, we’re going to WacDonald’s.  Our treat!”  Her three friends dragged her toward the exit, but Kagome broke away just long enough to grab Inuyasha’s hand and pull him along as well. 

 

The walk to the restaurant was mercifully short, and Kagome stuck close to Inuyasha.  Whenever the scents and sounds of the city became too much, she would close her eyes and press her nose into his haori, trusting him not to let her walk into a streetlight or a fire hydrant.  Inuyasha put his arm around her shoulder, his face nearly matching the color of his haori, especially with Kagome’s three friends continually glancing back at them and shooting conspiratorial winks his way.  But truthfully, he didn’t mind the closeness or the attention, as he took the chance to relish in Kagome’s scent as well.  She did smell much better than anything else in the area.  Anything else, period

 

And then there was WacDonald’s.  The twin odors of processed meat and grease assailed his senses, and Kagome had to turn her head away as he led her to the booth. 

 

“Kagome, are you ok?  You don’t look so good,” Ayumi said, her voice full of concern.  Kagome nodded, flashing a reassuring smile. 

 

“You’re sure?”

 

“Positive.  I’m just a little dizzy.  Nothing a cheeseburger wouldn’t fix.”  Satisfied, the three girls went up to order their food, leaving Inuyasha and Kagome alone in the booth. 

 

“Ugh!  How do you stand it, Inuyasha!  This city smells like so many things!” 

 

Inuyasha just chuckled at her complaints, earning a heated glare.  “Deal with it, wench.  It’ll get better as you get used to your senses, but you’ll always hate it.” 

 

“Hmph,” she grouched, folding her arms and turning away.  Inuyasha just smirked.  Apparently that wasn’t what she wanted to hear.  Kagome’s sour mood vanished as soon as the girls returned with burgers, fries, and sodas.  Inuyasha marveled at the thing they called a “Big Wac.”  It didn’t look good, it didn’t smell good, but man, did it taste amazing!  One bite and he was hooked.  He added the “Big Wac” to his short list of benefits of allowing Kagome to go home.  Now, he just had convince her to get him one every day on her way home from school…

 

Ideas that would get him ‘osuwari’d’ aside, Inuyasha found himself mildly enjoying his time in the restaurant, even after he had devoured his Big Wac.  Kagome’s friends were gossiping about stuff he didn’t understand, so he placed a hand over his sated stomach and let his gaze wander.  There were a few parents with small children in the place, and several larger groups of young people like his.  What really intrigued him was how openly the young men and women showed affection.  He blanched at the things some of them were doing—in public no less—but other guys were just sitting with their arms around their girls.  That he could do without suffering death by mortification, and he found himself wondering what it would be like.  He had never dared touch Kikyou in such a manner.  Their moments of physical affection had been few and far between, to say the least.  But he put his arms around Kagome all the time when he carried her, and she didn’t seem to mind.  And if she loved him like she said she did, wouldn’t it be ok?  That, however, wasn’t the reason he was hesitating.  He wasn’t stupid, and he knew putting his arm around Kagome in this situation would send a message to her and everyone who saw them.  People only did that when they were together, after all. 

 

But the more he thought about it, the more Inuyasha realized that they already were together, in a sense.  They spent more time with each other than any other person, and he chased away any other males that came sniffing around her.  They were both attracted to each other, and after more than a year in her presence he had finally grown up enough to admit that something romantic could develop between them.  At the very least, she was his best friend, and he cared about her above all others.  And Kikyou…he still loved her, but he no longer hoped for a future with her.  The only future he could have with Kikyou involved joining her in hell, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to do that anymore, either. 

 

So, before he could change his mind, Inuyasha raised his arm and wrapped it gently but firmly around Kagome’s shoulders.  The sudden contact startled Kagome, who glanced up in time to see Inuyasha look away, red staining his cheeks.  She couldn’t help but blush as well, even as a brilliant smile blossomed on her face.  She leaned into him and rested her head on his shoulder, listening as his frantic heartbeat slowed and his tense muscles relaxed. 

 

*FLASH*  Click. 

 

Startled by the sudden light, two sets of hanyou eyes turned toward the source, only to find all three of Kagome’s friends grinning at them.  Ayumi was in hopeless romantic heaven, Eri was simply smirking, and Yuka was holding a camera.  Kagome held out her hand, her eyes promising pain if the camera was not immediately placed into it.  Unfortunately, Yuka had seen those eyes before, and knew her friend was all bark and no bite. 

 

“No way, Kagome!” she exclaimed, putting the cursed piece of electronics back in her bag.  “You two looked so cute!  I just had to get a picture.” 

 

Shoulders slumping in defeat, Kagome leaned forward and rested her forehead on the table.  Inuyasha just sat there looking confused.  Somehow, he knew better than to ask Kagome what a camera was in front of her friends.  The group dispersed shortly after that, and the two hanyou began making their way back to the shrine.  There was a couple walking in front of them, and Inuyasha couldn’t help but notice the way the guy’s hand was placed down at the girl’s waist.  And since Kagome was already nestled against him, still struggling with the odors of the city…

 

The miko stiffened at the contact, and Inuyasha started to remove his hand, but Kagome reached around herself to stop him.  Smiling shyly up at him, she replaced his hand on her lower back.  And for the umpteenth time that day, both of them blushed hotly.  But they found the situation anything but awkward; it was far too comfortable for that. 

 

“Oh, look!  What a cute couple.  They even have matching hair styles!  Hey!  Can we get matching hair styles, too?”

 

“Sure, if you wanna cut your hair short like mine.”

 

“Awww, you’re no fun.” 

 

Well, if they didn’t think their faces could get any redder, that passing couple had done it.  And for the umpteenth time that day, Inuyasha wished these stupid, dumb, loud humans would realize he and Kagome could hear everything they were saying.  For Kagome, in addition to stirring up the butterflies in her stomach, the conversation reminded her of another conversation she had inadvertently overheard today.  

 

“Hey, Inuyasha?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Why…um, why did you tell my friends we were going out?”  If Kagome was looking at Inuyasha, instead of staring at the sidewalk, she would have seen a flicker of understanding, a forgotten recollection flash across his visage. 

 

“Nosy bitches.  Feh!  You spend most of your time with me, so…we’re going out.”  He said it as if it was the simplest thing in the world.  And to him, it probably was.  Calm down, Kagome, he can’t possibly understand what that means in this time.  He doesn’t like you that way!  Still, as much as she tried to convince herself of this, Kagome couldn’t help the hope that welled up inside her.  With the way he had put his arm around her, she could pretend, just for today, that he really was her boyfriend. 

 

Kagome wasn’t the only one who became lost in thought.  Inuyasha had, in fact, remembered exactly what Souta told him about ‘going out’ the instant Kagome popped her question.  How guys and girls ‘went out’ if they liked each other, and how they would spend time together to see if they were ‘right’ for one another, and whether a long-term relationship could develop between them.  And yet, even after recalling all of that, he still told Kagome they were going out.  Am I insane?!  It finally happened, didn’t it?  I got hit on the head one too many times, and my brains turned to shit!  His reasoning at the time had been simple; wasn’t that what he was doing with Kagome already?  Plus, Souta told him most people went out with one person at a time, and neither of them were ‘going out’ with anybody else.  He griped when Kouga came sniffing around, but Kagome had never shown any real interest in the wolf.  And she definitely wasn’t ‘seeing someone’ from her time; no sensible guy would let his girl vanish into thin air for weeks at a time without explanation.  Ultimately, the deciding factor had been his sense of smell.  It was subtle, but each of them had left their scent on the other through months of close proximity and physical contact.  He had marked her, and she had marked him, and in this one, small way they belonged to each other. 

 

So, without giving himself time to consider Kagome’s reaction, he told her they were going out.  He regretted it at first, but then she seemed happy, and he knew he wouldn’t take it back if he had the chance. 

 

“Kagome!”  Both hanyou looked up to see Kagome’s grandfather hobbling toward them.  Looking around, they were shocked to find themselves on the shrine grounds, having been spacing out too much to realize where they were.  The old man stopped in front of Kagome, staring at her with an unreadable expression, before reaching up and removing her headband.  He gasped as her ears sprang into view. 

 

“So it is true…” he said quietly, then his eyes hardened in determination.  “Youkai be gone!” he yelled while flinging a whole pile of sutras upon his hapless granddaughter.  As usual, the things had no effect, but they stuck to her clothes, her hair, and her face.  Inuyasha took a step back, not wanting to get scorched by the flames that were sure to come spouting from Kagome’s ears.  So he was astonished when instead she merely turned and walked into the house.  But he didn’t miss the way her head lowered, or the scent of her tears. 

 

“Kagome!  Wait!  I have more ofud—”

 

“Let her go, jijii.  You’ve done enough already.” 

 

“What are you talking about?  We must ch—”

 

“We’re gonna change her back!  In the meantime, try not to make her feel like shit!” 

 

“What?!  Kagome’s mother said you and I have the same goal, so how—”

 

“Yeah, except I didn’t try to purify her as soon as I found out!  I didn’t reject her.  Stupid old codger,” he muttered under his breath, though he was quite sure the jijii heard him.  And apparently his words sunk in, because suddenly the old man looked crestfallen.  Silently, he turned and followed his granddaughter into the house.  Inuyasha was content to let him go, and leapt into Goshinboku to give them some privacy.  I’m giving you one chance to not fuck this up, jijii.  If you make her cry again, I’m tossing her over my shoulder and taking her through the well, and I guarantee you won’t see her again for a long while. 

 

Later, figuring he’d given the old man enough time, Inuyasha vaulted down from his perch and jumped up to Kagome’s window.  He found her lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling.  She wasn’t crying anymore, but the scent of her tears still permeated the room. 

 

“You alright, wench?” he asked gently, though he still managed to startle her.  Sitting up, she nodded, even managing a small smile which he saw right through.  Her grandfather had come up and apologized, told her she would always be his granddaughter, no matter how much youkai blood she had in her.  But the truth was his actions had shaken her, and she didn’t object when Inuyasha told her they were going back to the Feudal Era.  In the past, she knew her friends accepted her unconditionally.  She didn’t have to hide what she was from them; they judged a person by how much good was in their heart, not how much youkai blood flowed through their veins.  That wasn’t exactly being fair to her modern friends and family, since none of them had ever met a modern demon before, but she couldn’t help how she felt.  And right now, she just wanted to return to the past for a while. 

 

After packing and saying goodbye to her family, the demonic pair leapt into the well together, Inuyasha holding Kagome in one arm out of habit.  He was about to spring them out of the well on the other side, but she stopped him.  Handing him her overstuffed backpack, which he shouldered, she crouched down, then leapt with all her might.  Part of her expected to only go up a few feet, but her momentum carried her sky-high, a good twenty feet above the grassy ground.  She squinted her eyes shut, anticipating a painful landing, but when her feet hit the ground, her knees bent and she hardly felt anything. 

 

“Woooowwwww!!!  Did you see that?!  That was amazing!”  Flush with adrenaline, she continued to test her new hanyou strength, jumping around the clearing like a hyperactive kangaroo.  Eventually, she realized Inuyasha had yet to emerge from the well. 

 

“Hey, Inuyasha!  Are you coming out or what?!”

 

“In a minute, wench!” she heard him respond.  Shrugging, she skipped off toward the village without waiting, too exhilarated to care why he was suddenly so grumpy.  When Inuyasha finally did climb out, his face was still slightly pinked.  Kagome had unwittingly given him quite a show when she exited the well.  That damn skirt is going to be the death of me…and of anyone else who looks under it! 

 

A short while later, the intrepid group of travelers was on the road again, heading for Totosai’s.  The humans, and one former human, had wanted to stay in the village for the night, and had only assented to leave when Inuyasha agreed to find them a hot spring when they made camp.  Miroku said he wanted a nice, relaxing soak as well, but Inuyasha knew he just wanted to spy on the girls.  And the girls knew it too, which is why the hanyou found himself on babysitting duty while they were bathing.  Look at him, sitting there looking all innocent.  Feh!  If I take my eyes off him for one second, he’ll be gone! 

 

* * *

 

“Kagome-chan, what are you doing?” Sango asked, genuinely confused.  Kagome was just standing there at the edge of the spring, buck naked except for a towel she clutched to her front for modesty’s sake.  And she looked absolutely petrified.  The instant her toe had touched the water, she had sprung back involuntarily, as if the hot liquid burned. 

 

“Oh, come on Kagome-chan!  It’s not that hot.”  To Sango’s continued surprise, the miko just shook her head, her ears moving wildly back and forth as if twitching in fear.  Her ears…cat ears.  And as understanding dawned, Sango couldn’t hold back the giggle which quickly escalated to full-on guffaws.  The idea that Kagome, who enjoyed baths more than anyone else she knew, was now afraid of water…well, it was just too much for the poor taijiya.  Kagome, on the other hand, was not amused one bit, as Sango realized when she finally calmed down enough to reopen her eyes.  By then, Kagome had wrapped the towel around herself, and was leaning sulkily on one leg with her arms crossed over her chest.  Her fierce pout almost made Sango burst into laughter again, but her sympathy allowed her to restrain herself. 

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, Kagome-chan,” she said, hiding her smirk behind her hand. 

 

“It’s not FAIR, Sango-chan!  Why couldn’t I have been a tiger hanyou?  They love the water!  Now I’ve got these stupid youkai instincts that won’t let me do one of my favorite things!”  She looked longingly at the shimmering waters of the hot spring, and stuck her toe out once more. 

 

“Dammit!” she cried as she pulled the appendage back.  Now Sango felt really bad for laughing.  If Kagome’s swearing, this is starting to get serious!  That didn’t stop a deliciously evil plan from forming in her mind, one that would help Kagome, of course. 

 

“Kagome-chan, just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and take your time getting in.” 

 

The miko’s glare told Sango exactly what she though of her idea, but she complied nonetheless.  The deep breath actually did much to calm her frayed nerves.  And closing her eyes meant that she couldn’t see the water; she could only smell it.  Slowly, Kagome relaxed, and began to think that she might actually get a bath after all.  Then all hell broke loose. 

 

Just as Kagome was getting ready to try to put her foot in again, she felt strong arms wrap around her knees and pull her forward.  She toppled off balance, and her scream was literally drowned out by the warm waters of the hot spring she suddenly found herself immersed in.  Her youkai half took control at that point, as she let out a positively feline screech and launched herself straight up a good fifteen feet out of the spring.  An overhanging branch passed in front of her nose, and she grabbed it with both hands, hanging on for dear life. 

 

This was the scene that greeted Sango when she came to the surface.  Kagome hanging from a tree, her eyes shining with a disturbing blend of fear and malice.  If looks could kill…  Sango tried not to give in to the urge to chuckle, she really did.  But when the soaked towel, which had somehow stayed wrapped around Kagome’s body during her acrobatics, slipped open and fell into the spring, she lost that battle. 

 

“Come on, Kagome-chan, let go!” she said between ragged breaths.  Kagome shook her head vigorously, and Sango opened her mouth to ask something like “what if Inuyasha sees,” when lo and behold… 

 

The sound of something crashing through the underbrush had Sango swiveling her head around, only to see Inuyasha emerge from the foliage, ready and looking for a fight.  That is, until he spied Kagome hanging from the tree.  His jaw dropped so low it must have come unhinged, and his eyes widened impossibly, as if he had permanently lost his ability to blink.  He had at least temporarily lost his ability to think; all he could do at the moment was stare.  At her eyes, glimmering with shock, her cheeks, colored with embarrassment.  Down past her shoulders, to pert breasts, nipples fully erect due to the effects of cool air on wet skin.  His gaze followed the droplets moving down her body, to her thin waist and over wide, elegant hips to the nest of curls that hid her most secret spot.  And further still, down long, succulent legs and finally, back up again.  Oh, yes, he could see everything.  And apparently Kagome realized this as well, because she “eeped!” and released her grip on the branch, dropping back into the spring with a small splash.  Ultimately it was the monk who broke Inuyasha out of his daze, as he came crashing into the hanyou’s back, nearly knocking them both into the water.  Miroku didn’t even get a chance to look at the lovely ladies before a clawed hand began dragging him back to camp by the collar of his robes. 

 

Silence descended on the hot spring once more, broken only by the grinding of teeth.  Turning nervous eyes back to her friend, Sango saw Kagome standing in the waist-deep water, stalking her way.  Her eyes carried murderous intent, and her whole body was flushed beat red.  Usually not one to back down, Sango retreated anyway, holding her hands up in an effort to mollify her irate companion. 

 

“K-Kagome-chan, wait!  I, uh…it worked didn’t it?  I got you in the water!” 

 

Kagome was not impressed. 

 

“Sango-CHAAAAAAN!!!!!!” 

 

* * *

 

“Inuyasha,” Miroku sighed, prying uselessly against the hanyou’s iron grip.  “Why must you spoil my fun?  You got to look, did you not?” 

 

“I didn’t see nothin’!!!” 

 

Startled, the monk took his first good look at the flustered, flushing hanyou.  “Ahhh, I see.  You saw Kagome naked, didn’t you?” 

 

Inuyasha faltered in his step, just enough to let Miroku know he’d hit the nail on the head.  Yeah, he saw Kagome naked.  He bolted out of camp as soon as he heard her scream, thinking there was danger.  She had screamed, after all, and now the girls were screaming and splashing around again, but there was no way he was going back there.  Because there hadn’t been any danger; Kagome was just…hanging there.  Completely nude.  Shame washed over him.  He had been so entranced by her beauty, he hadn’t even thought to look away.  Ugh, she’s gonna ‘osuwari’ me straight to hell when she gets back to camp.  Miroku frowned, noticing his companion’s sudden change in demeanor. 

 

“Relax, Inuyasha.  I’m sure Kagome doesn’t mind as much as you seem to think she does.” 

 

“I already told you!  There’s nothing to mind, because I didn’t see anything!” 

 

“Really?  Your attitude suggests otherwise.  Tell me, did you like what you saw?  What does Kagome look like covered in only beads of water, glistening on her smooth skin?”

 

“Bouzu…” Inuyasha growled menacingly, raising a clenched fist while simultaneously trying to tamp down on the delightful images the monk’s words were conjuring up. 

 

“Why, Inuyasha!  I don’t think I’ve ever seen your face match the color of your robes before.”

 

Grrrrrr.  “Bouzu!  When I’m through with you, your whole body is gonna match the color of your robes!!” 

 

A few minutes and cranial lumps later, peace settled on the two men, kitsune child, and fire cat who sat by the small campfire as they waited for the female members of their company to return.   But with as insane as the day had been so far, Inuyasha should have known the peace wouldn’t last.  He shot to his feet the instant the shinidamachu appeared overhead.  Kikyou…what is she doing here?  We just spoke a few days ago.

 

“Will you go to her?” Miroku asked, his tone suggesting he already knew the answer.  Inuyasha sniffed the air, coming to a worrisome conclusion. 

 

“There’s no need.”  He paused a moment, giving the monk a chance to stare at him in shock before continuing.  “She’s coming here.” 

 

Miroku took a moment to digest that information, wondering the same thing as Inuyasha.  Why is Kikyou coming here?  She couldn’t possibly know about Kagome, could she? 

 

Kagome and Sango were still giggling when they returned to camp a minute later, but that quickly ceased as they noticed the somber atmosphere and the snake-like demons whose presence explained everything.  And Kagome knew—her day of pretending Inuyasha was her boyfriend was over, kaput, and totally finished.  Old pain rose up inside her, the familiar darkness worming its way further into her heart, even as she tried to put up a brave front.  But then, the sight of Inuyasha staring off into the forest nullified her best efforts in that regard.  Why is he still here?  Why can’t he just leave instead of drawing this out?! 

 

“Inuyasha,” she said, a small amount of irritation leaking into her voice.  “It’s okay; don’t hold yourself back on my—our account.”  Inuyasha didn’t respond, the flicker of an ear giving the only indication he’d heard her at all. 

 

“Apparently,” Miroku interjected, “Kikyou-sama is coming here.” 

 

Kagome gaped at that, but her hanyou senses told her the same thing.  The foul odor that could only be bones and graveyard soil, ever increasing, and the soft sounds of a body moving through the undergrowth confirmed Miroku’s suspicions. And now that she took the time to really look at them, Kagome noticed that the shinidamachu were merely circling around the campsite, instead of beckoning Inuyasha to follow them.  But why?  Why is Kikyou coming here?  Does she know about what happened to me?  Either way, Kagome realized with a grimace, this was sure to be a very unpleasant meeting. 

 

The seconds ticked by at an agonizingly slow pace, and it felt like hours before the dead priestess finally emerged from the vegetation.  She didn’t even glance at anyone else; her cold eyes instantly bored into Kagome’s, causing an involuntary shiver as her ears shrank back.  Nevertheless, Kagome steeled her nerves and forced herself to maintain eye contact, refusing to show weakness in front of Kikyou of all people.  Eventually, the dead miko broke the silence, though she did not break her gaze. 

 

“I had to see it for myself to believe it.” 

 

“What?  Kikyou, how did you find out about Kagome?” Inuyasha asked, causing his former love to finally tear her eyes from her reincarnation. 

 

“Well, Kagome, how did I find out?” she asked, her voice full of barely disguised contempt.  When it became clear that Kagome had no answer for her, she didn’t even bother to hide it anymore.  “I’m not surprised an untrained miko would fail to sense it, but because we share the same soul, there is a connection between us.  So I can sense when something truly horrible happens to my reincarnation.” 

 

Kagome bristled at the quasi-insult, and didn’t miss how Kikyou’s words made Inuyasha’s ears lower slightly.  At this point, she didn’t know which one pissed her off more. 

 

“So, you foolish girl,” Kikyou continued viciously, “tell me the story that youkai spun for you to get you to let him live.  Let’s see if it pulls on my heartstrings as it clearly did yours.” 

 

Kagome sputtered for a moment in shock, wondering if Kikyou could read her mind through this supposed connection.  “How…?”

 

Kikyou scoffed.  “Please.  I sensed when the youkai’s spirit entered your body using the rebirth power.  Normally when that happens, only one of two things can result.  The youkai can take over the human’s body completely and transform it to his original form, or the human can defeat the youkai and drive the spirit to the netherworld.  Two spirits cannot peacefully coexist in one mortal body.  The only way you could have wound up as a hanyou was if you failed to send the youkai’s soul to hell.  And in that case, you truly are a fool.” 

 

Kagome felt her anger building, but she tried to keep her temper in check.  She had never forced Inuyasha to choose between her and Kikyou, and she wasn’t about to make him pick sides in a fight if she could help it.  “So, you’re going to judge me because I showed a child mercy?” she ground out, glaring daggers at the dead miko.  Kikyou actually laughed at that, a disturbing sound that held no humor. 

 

“Mercy?!  Youkai are undeserving of such an emotion.” 

 

“Oi!  Why I oughta—eep!”  Shippou’s indignant outburst was quickly silenced by a chilling glare, one that sent him scurrying to hide behind Sango.  The small interruption did nothing to break the tension between the two miko. 

 

“Inuyasha,” Kikyou spoke angrily, “you should send this useless girl back home where she belongs.  Though she was of little help to you in your quest before, she could at least sense the Shikon jewel shards.  Now, she cannot even do that anymore.” 

 

“That’s not true!” Kagome yelled before Inuyasha could reply.  “I can so sense the jewel shards!”

 

“You lie,” Kikyou said dismissively.  At that moment, Kagome could think of nothing she would like more than to wipe that smug, conceited look off Kikyou’s face.  Shaking with fury now, she ripped the bottle of Shikon shards from around her neck. 

 

“Don’t believe me?  Here!” she yelled, tossing the bottle to Kikyou, who caught it in one hand.  “I guarantee you I’ll be able to see it no matter where you put it.” 

 

The other miko studied her for a moment, then turned her back on them briefly before spinning to face them once more. 

 

“Very well,” she said, holding each arm out to the side.  “Which hand is it in?” 

 

Taking a deep breath to calm herself, Kagome summoned her powers.  She looked at the right hand…nothing.  She looked at the left hand…nothing.  What the—I know I could sense it before!  Pushing back her rising panic, she expanded her focus, and sensed a glimmer from somewhere further south.  Honing in on that faint signal, she found what she was looking for. 

 

“It’s not in your hand.  It’s in your robes, near your left hip.” 

 

Immediately Kikyou’s hands flew downward to cover the spot as if it had been scorched.  Slowly she drew the bottle from her robes, and tossed it back to Kagome. 

 

“Lucky guess,” she managed, though her voice lacked the confidence it had exuded before.  For Kagome, that last, flippant remark was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Marching over to where her stuff was, she snatched her bow and notched an arrow.  Taking careful aim, she let fly, putting as much spiritual energy into the projectile as she could.  The arrow lit up the clearing as it flew, casting a powerful pink glow that could be seen and felt from many miles away.  It penetrated the rough bark of the unlucky tree, scorching the surface before the light faded.  Kagome’s smirk widened as she turned to gauge Kikyou’s reaction.  The older priestess was aghast; never before had Kagome seen so much shock on her normally stoic countenance.  But before she could further revel in her victory, Kikyou lashed out again in anger, the kind that arises from denial and deep confusion. 

 

“What trick is this?!  This is impossible!  Youkai and miko are fundamental enemies.  It is impossible for one being to contain the energies of both!  You should have lost your miko abilities the instant your body was no longer free of youkai taint.  A miko’s strength is linked to her purity, so how can y—”

 

“Kagome’s heart is pure.  Maybe that’s enough.” 

 

The substance of those words did not surprise Kagome; not two days ago her friends had determined that her pure heart was the reason she still had use of her powers.  What did stun her, leaving her standing there absolutely flabbergasted, was who had uttered them.  All eyes turned to Inuyasha, who was staring at an imaginary spot in the forest canopy, not looking at any of them.  As the haunting glow of the shinidamachu faded, the group once again turned their focus to Kikyou, just in time to see her disappear into the foliage.  She had left without a word, and for a brief moment Kagome was afraid Inuyasha would go after her.  Instead, the hanyou settled down against a nearby tree, closing his eyes so the others couldn’t tell whether he was deep in thought or just dozing.  Either way, it was getting late, and the various members of the Inu-gang settled down for the night. 

 

Sleep eluded Kagome, however, and it wasn’t because the smells and sounds of the night were keeping her awake.  “Kagome’s heart is pure.  Maybe that’s enough.”  Did he really mean that?  Her heart fluttered in her chest at the thought that Inuyasha had complimented her, actually defended her in front of Kikyou.  Now she had to know what he really thought; she would be able to think of nothing else until she did.  Climbing out of her sleeping bag slowly so as not to disturb Shippou, she crept over to where Inuyasha sat and plopped down next to him.  She studied his peaceful face in silence until he cracked one eye open. 

 

“Whaddya want, wench?” he mumbled drowsily. 

 

“What you said before…did you really mean it?” 

 

Inuyasha met her gaze, reading the need for reassurance in those breathtaking chocolate orbs, and sighed in resignation. 

 

“Yeah, I meant it.  Hell, Kagome, you’ve got the purest heart of anybody I’ve ever met.”  Pausing, and having apparently just reached his quota for kind words in one day, he continued, “Now quit fishing for compliments and go to sleep!” 

 

Kagome, who was still trying to wrap her head around the first part of what he said, didn’t seem to mind his gruffness.  She enfolded him in a quick hug, then pulled away enough to plant a warm kiss on his cheek before releasing him. 

 

“Thanks, Inuyasha,” she said before rising and returning to her sleeping bag.  This time, she had no trouble slipping into slumber. 

 

Inuyasha was glad it was dark and no one was awake, because his cheeks were suddenly very red.  Even so, he couldn’t help the small grin that quirked his lips.  He had seen Kikyou, and Kagome wasn’t mad!  In fact, she appeared to be quite the opposite of mad, if that kiss had been any indication.  And she hadn’t ‘osuwari’d’ him either.  Yes, it had been one hell of a day, one that had him feeling closer to Kagome than ever before. 

 

And you got to see her naked…  He groaned, bashing his head against the bark to clear his mind of that image, to no avail.  He wouldn’t be getting much sleep tonight.

Chapter Text

Inuyasha was happy to note he had been wrong in predicting a night of little sleep.  The image of Kagome in the hot spring had been persistent, but eventually he pushed it away with thoughts of his favorite foods from her time—ramen, those crunchy fried potato crisps, and the Big Wac.  He dozed off, only waking during the night when his ever-alert senses picked up a disturbance.  He roused at dawn as he normally did, but was surprised to see Kagome stirring a few minutes later.  Usually she was the last to wake, but today she sat up in her sleeping bag, moving her eyes over the humans still slumbering around the burned-out embers of the fire. 

 

“You’re up early, wench,” Inuyasha said from his perch in the tree, causing Kagome to jump.  Glancing up at him, then at the position of the sun, still hidden by the trees, she shrugged. 

 

“Yeah, but I feel well-rested.  I guess you were right about me not needing as much sleep.”  She climbed out of the bag, careful not to disturb Shippou, and stretched languidly.  It started with her hands over her head, then morphed into a full-body stretch.  Her movements were completely feline, as she pushed her hands out in front of her as far as they would go, her back arching from her kneeling position.  All this was accompanied by a cavernous, fang-bearing yawn.  Inuyasha’s mouth was open just as wide, but he wasn’t yawning.  He was gaping, unable to tear his gaze away from the vixen below him, who had no idea just how enticing she was making herself look.  He found himself unconsciously shifting to get a closer look, then closer…closer…  A weightless feeling enveloped him, but at the moment he lacked the mental capacity to figure out what it meant. 

 

THUD!!

 

Kagome jolted upright at the sudden noise, only to find Inuyasha lying face down on the ground a few feet away.  And as he peeled his face from the dirt, Kagome couldn’t help her giggles, though she did try to hide them.  His glare, made less intimidating by his reddened cheeks, only made her laugh all the harder. 

 

“Inuyasha,” she breathed, trying to control her mirth, “how’d you fall out of the tree?”

 

“I…I…” the hanyou stuttered, “I didn’t!  You said ‘osuwari’ by accident!”

 

“I did?”  Kagome replied, mentally going over the previous few minutes in her head.  She’d woken up and spoken to Inuyasha, then stretched before finding him sprawled out next to her.  I know I didn’t ‘osuwari’ him when we spoke, so how…wait!  He fell out of the tree as I was stretching…like a cat!  Kagome felt her own cheeks flushing as she recalled just how she had gone about working the sleep out of her body.  I can’t believe I did that!  I never would have stretched like that before, not with people watching!  But it had seemed perfectly natural, so natural, in fact, that she hadn’t even thought about it.  Stupid youkai instincts!  Then the implications of her deduction set in, and Kagome suddenly felt lightheaded.  I made…I made Inuyasha fall out of the tree?  Just by arching my body and making my shirt ride up a little?!  Glancing back at the hanyou, who was now sitting up and staring pensively at the remains of the fire, caused her to grin. She learned a few days ago that he was attracted to her, but she had never known she held such a power over him.  It made her heart swell.  Still, looking at Inuyasha and taking in his nervous scent, she knew she had to let it go.  Eventually she would reveal what she knew, but now clearly wasn’t the time. 

 

“Well, if I did ‘osu—’ do that to you,” she corrected, earning herself a heated glare, “then I’m sorry.”  Then, to complete the unnecessary apology, she reached up and gently massaged his ear with one hand.  He leaned into her for a few seconds, his eyes almost drifting shut before he came back to himself. 

 

“C-cut that out, wench!” he ordered, swatting her hand away.  “Feh!”  With that, he leapt up into the tree once more, alighting to the higher branches so he was no longer visible from the ground.  Kagome lay back down on the sleeping bag, smirking and chuckling merrily. 

 

The rest of the morning was peaceful, and a bowl of ramen for breakfast cured Inuyasha’s embarrassment-induced grumpiness.  They reached the edge of Totosai’s domain around noon, and the rest of the group agreed to set up camp while Inuyasha and Kagome went to see the old swordsmith.  Inuyasha offered the miko his back, but Kagome wanted to try out her new hanyou legs. 

 

“It ain’t as easy as I make it look, wench,” he said with just a hint of arrogance.  Kagome scoffed.  It’s just running.  How hard can it be?  But in a short while, she found herself wishing she’d just hopped on his back like usual.  Maybe it would have been easy if the land was completely flat, but it was rugged, covered in rocks and small hills and valleys.  Every five or ten steps brought a stumble, and Inuyasha, running dutifully at her side, was forced to snatch her out of the air more than once.  How he managed to weave so effortlessly through the obstacles, even while much of his attention was focused on her, was a mystery.  Out of courtesy he avoided the thickest undergrowth, but even so Kagome’s legs looked like a chess board by the time they arrived at their destination. She was eternally grateful for the quick demonic healing ability.  And yet, even though their journey had been several kilometers, Kagome found she wasn’t very tired.  Her youkai half had rejoiced in the exercise, the chance to stretch its muscles, and she knew today would not be the last time she ran.  I’ll have to bring some more appropriate clothes from my time.  This skirt isn’t exactly built for hanyou-speed running.  I’m just glad nobody was running behind me today. 

 

“Not bad for your first time, wench,” Inuyasha said as they walked toward the cave entrance.  Kagome gaped at him.  Did he just compliment me?  “Maybe next time we can take it up a notch.”

 

“Y-you mean you go faster than that?!” 

 

“Keh!  Are you kiddin’?  Today’s pace was like walking for me.” 

 

Kagome suddenly felt a little deflated, but she comforted herself with the knowledge that it had taken years of practice for Inuyasha to become as graceful as he was now.  And he did compliment me.

 

“Oi, Totosai!  You in there?!” Inuyasha yelled into the cave. 

 

“Inuyasha?” came the reply.  “What did you do to my beautiful Tetsusaiga this time?”

 

“I didn’t do anything to it, jiji.  Get your wrinkly ass out here!” 

 

“Ah, sometimes I think I prefer Sesshoumaru’s company,” Totosai mumbled, his voice nevertheless carrying to their ears.  Inuyasha’s response was cut off when Kagome cried “Ouch!” and slapped her neck. 

 

“Myouga!” he growled when Kagome held out her hand, “I thought I told you never to suck on Kagome!” 

 

The flea, however, completely ignored him, focusing his attention on said miko.  “Why, Kagome-sama, your blood tastes diff—Kami!  What happened to your ears?!  I knew I tasted youkai blood!” 

 

“Can it, flea,” Inuyasha interrupted.  “That’s what we came here to talk about.” 

 

Totosai had by this time emerged from the cave, but wisely kept his questions to himself.  He invited everyone inside, and when they were settled Kagome launched into the slightly edited version of events she had related to her mother. 

 

“The rebirth spell, you say?” Myouga repeated thoughtfully when she was finished.  “A very rare power indeed, one that Inuyasha-sama’s father never had to face.  And you are able to use your miko powers without purifying yourself or Inuyasha-sama, for that matter?  The size of your heart is truly amazing, Kagome-sama.” 

 

Kagome blushed under the praise.  “Why does everybody keep saying that?” she wondered aloud.  “All I did was spare the soul of a child the torment of hell, something any decent person would do.”

 

“Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong, Kagome-sama.  In this world, there are many perfectly decent humans who would care not for the fate of a youkai’s soul.  The ones who do are truly rare, and to be cherished, as Inuyasha-sama’s father cherished his mother.  Because those souls who judge others by the strength of their hearts, and not by the substance of their blood; I believe they will someday help bring about a world where humans and demons can coexist peacefully.”  Myouga directed his piercing gaze at Inuyasha as he said this, but the dense hanyou either didn’t get the message or chose to ignore it. 

 

“Alright, jiji, enough of your philosophical crap.  Is there a way to reverse it?” 

 

The flea sighed.  “I know not, Inuyasha-sama.  I have never heard of anything like this happening before.  Nor have I heard of a youkai wishing to purge herself of her youkai blood and become human.  Most youkai consider their status a privilege—”

 

“Feh!  Trust me, being a hanyou ain’t a privilege most days.” 

 

Totosai, who had up until this point been sitting quietly, reached out and pulled Tetsusaiga out of its sheath.  Inuyasha let him, figuring it was the swordsmith’s right to inspect his creation.  The old youkai looked the rusty katana up and down, then turned his ear toward it. 

 

“Tetsusaiga says you are a fool, Inuyasha.  It says you should let Kagome decide whether she wants to transform back or not.  It also says you should draw Totosai a hot bath.”

 

“You’re fucking hilarious, jiji.  Now did Tetsusaiga really say I was a fool?”

 

“Say what?” Totosai answered, scratching his head in confusion. 

 

“That’s it!  Come here so I can pound some memory back into that empty head of yours!”  As Inuyasha chased Totosai around the cave, Myouga hopped onto Kagome’s shoulder and spoke softly. 

 

“Kagome-sama, is this what you truly want?  Do you wish to return to being human?” 

 

Kagome frowned.  “Yeah, I guess so.  I hadn’t really thought about it.”

 

“Fair enough.  I will visit some old friends of mine to see if they can help you.  It will take several days, perhaps more, and then I shall meet you back in your village.  Promise me you will at least think about what I said.”

 

“Deal,” Kagome replied.  Then, deciding that Totosai had enough lumps on his head, she called Inuyasha’s name in the tone of voice she only used right before osuwari-ing him.  Inuyasha growled in annoyance, but lowered his fist nonetheless, and turned to storm out of the cave. 

 

“Come on, wench.  I don’t wanna spend all freakin’ day with a couple of useless old men.” 

 

“Goodbye!” she called hastily before hurrying to join her companion.  “Inuyasha!  You shouldn’t call Myouga and Totosai useless.  They’ve both helped us a lot, and—”

 

“Feh!  Totosai forgets what he said a few seconds ago, and Myouga runs away whenever there’s even a hint of danger.  They sound pretty useless to me!”  The sounds of arguing slowly faded out, leaving the two ‘useless old men’ in silence. 

 

“So, Totosai, what do you think of this turn of events?”

 

“That young whipper-snapper will find a way to screw it up, as always.  He’s too headstrong, too much like his father in his younger days.”

 

“I’m not so sure, Totosai.  I trust Kagome-sama will make the right choice in the end.  As for whether or not Inuyasha-sama will accept her decision…”

 

“We’ll have to wait and see,” they both said at the same time. 

 

* * *

 

The next few days passed peacefully as the Inu-gang wandered without aim, searching for rumors of Naraku, since the dark hanyou probably had all the jewel shards that weren’t in Kagome’s or Kouga’s possession.  They had no luck in that regard, but they did stumble across a village in dire need of a youkai extermination.  Driven by hunger, a swarm of giant cricket youkai had emerged from the forest and begun devouring crops.  They were otherwise harmless, but the blunt tools of the villagers were no match for the insects’ tough exoskeleton.  The same could not be said of Inuyasha’s claws, however, as he and Sango made short work of the bugs and Miroku sucked up the remains with his kazaana.  The village headman offered the whole group free room and board for the night, though he did cast several wary glares in the direction of the two hanyou.  Thus, Kagome was treated to a phenomenon that she realized Inuyasha must have gone through at nearly every village he had ever been to. 

 

The whispers.  They started out positively enough, as each villager whispered to his neighbor how grateful they were to the strangers, and how they could have starved to death during the winter if not for the extermination.  Then, one by one, they would notice that at least two members of the group were not human, prompting a round of observations and arguments over what exactly the two animal-eared strangers were.  Not for the first time, Kagome’s clothing helped lump her in with the demonic crowd.  In the end, the general consensus was that both were youkai of some kind, and that they could only be trusted because they traveled with a houshi and a taijiya, who could surely be relied upon to “keep them in line.”  The whole experience left Kagome harboring an odd mixture of irritation and sympathy.  Irritation because Inuyasha had slain as many youkai as Sango, if not more, and hadn’t so much as raised a finger to threaten anyone, but the villagers still judged him by his appearance, his youkai blood.  And sympathy because this wasn’t the first time he had been treated that way, if his placid indifference to the whispers was any indication.  She waited until everyone was asleep that night before rising from her bag and moving to sit by his side.  He looked at her quizzically, but otherwise made no move to accept or reject her presence. 

 

“I’m sorry,” Kagome said, voice cracking slightly with pent-up emotion.

 

“For what?” he asked, his eyes reflecting genuine confusion. 

 

“Them!” she cried, waving her arms toward the village proper.  “What they said about you.  What all the villages must say about you.” 

 

“Feh!” he replied gruffly.  “Don’t worry about that shit.  I haven’t cared what humans say about me since I was a kid.  I just ignore it now.”

 

“You don’t care…what any humans say about you?” Kagome asked shyly.  Inuyasha paused for a long time, considering his response, and whether it was okay to finally take down this barrier.  If he admitted he cared what others thought about him, then he also admitted they could hurt him, something that should terrify him.  And yet, he couldn’t bring himself to fear Kagome’s rejection; in fact, the only thing he was afraid of at the moment was pushing her away. 

 

“I care…what some humans—and maybe one hanyou—think about me,” he ground out softly, looking away from her with a light flush on his cheeks.  Grinning, Kagome leaned her head on his shoulder.  Instinctively, Inuyasha’s arm came up to wrap around her own shoulder, pulling her closer. 

 

“Well, if you care what this hanyou thinks, then I think you’re brave, honorable, strong and kind, and I l—really care about you.”  Kagome blushed, hoping Inuyasha missed her near-Freudian slip. 

 

“Alright, wench, that’s enough of your female mushy shit,” he replied, though his tone suggested amusement rather than annoyance.  Inside, however, he was deeply touched.  Oh sure, he knew Kagome and the others thought pretty highly of him; otherwise, they would surely find someone else to travel with.  He also knew they thought he was arrogant, selfish, and inconsiderate, among other less-than-flattering adjectives.  But to hear his good qualities stated so openly like that, by Kagome no less!  He would be repeating those words inside his head for a long while.  Perhaps that was why he didn’t pull away when he felt a small hand begin to tentatively massage his left ear.  He closed his eyes, giving into the sensation as the hand grew bolder, and another gave his right ear the same delicious treatment. 

 

His breathing evened out, and Kagome concluded that he’d fallen asleep.  Still irritated at the villagers, but otherwise deliriously happy, she returned to her sleeping back and had no trouble finding slumber herself.  Inuyasha cracked one eye open when he sensed her slip into unconsciousness.  He knew he could not afford to fall asleep tonight, in the middle of a potentially hostile village.  Sighing, he tried to push back poignant memories their discussion had dredged up.  What would Kagome do with the knowledge that it gets a hundred times worse than just whispers? 

 

* * *

 

The following morning, after they departed the village, Kagome brought up the always sensitive topic of returning to Kaede’s village.  For once, Inuyasha did not object, though he did threaten to pound Myouga into a flea-pancake if the older youkai wasn’t waiting for them when they arrived.  Secretly, Kagome hoped to go home for another night in her own bed, but she would keep that to herself for now.  There was, however, one thing she couldn’t keep to herself.  It had been bothering her all morning, this strange scent coming off of Sango.  Her youkai instincts told her that distinctive odor could only be one thing, and it filled her with concern.  Any wound, no matter how small, carried with it a risk of infection, after all. 

 

“Sango-chan, are you bleeding?” she asked, sidling up to her friend, who was currently walking next to Miroku.  The taijiya gasped, halting mid-step as her faced turned beat red. 

 

“Uh…yep!  I cut my hand while polishing my katana this morning!  I’m so clumsy!  It must have reopened!” she yelled, flashing her hand in front of Kagome’s face so quickly that the miko wasn’t sure she saw a wound.  Kagome frowned; this loud, motormouth behavior wasn’t like Sango, though she chalked it up to the embarrassment she could feel flowing off the older girl in waves. 

 

“Oh, well will you at least let me clean and bandage it when we stop for lunch?”

 

“Sure, Kagome-chan.” 

 

By this point, Miroku was chuckling quietly to himself, which was really pissing Sango off for some reason.  It wasn’t until twenty minutes later, when Sango pulled her aside, that Kagome understood why. 

 

“Kagome-chan,” the taijiya whispered, face heating again.  “I didn’t cut my finger.  The scent you smelled was my…feminine blood.” 

 

Kagome’s eyes widened comically, her hands flying up to cover her own reddening cheeks.  Oh, no!  What have I done?!  I blurted that out in front of Miroku, of all people!  Gah! 

 

“Oh, Sango-chan, I’m so sorry!  I—”

 

“It’s okay, Kagome-chan.  You didn’t know,” Sango interrupted, chuckling at her friend’s panic. 

 

“Still!  This stupid nose!  There are things I just don’t want to know about people!” 

 

“Relax, Kagome-chan.  It’s just a natural part of having youkai blood.” 

 

Kagome’s reply died on her lips as a new, horrifying thought occurred to her.  Natural part…  If I can smell Sango’s ‘time of the month’ now, then that means… 

 

“INUYAASHAAAAAAAA!!!!!”

 

* * *

 

Inuyasha cringed.  He didn’t need to turn around to know Kagome was storming his way with fire in her eyes, lightning in her hair, and thunder in her steps.  He had been waiting all morning for this explosion, from the moment he caught the scent of Sango’s blood on the wind.  Not quite resigned to his fate, he turned to face his angel of death, hoping she would let him plead his case before making him ‘one with the Earth.’ 

 

“Wench!” he yelled, stilling her tongue just as it was about to form the dreaded word.  Satisfied, he lowered his voice so only she would be able to hear it.  “Wouldn’t you rather tear my head off about this in private?” 

 

Turning, Kagome glanced at the other members of their group, who were watching the two of them with varying degrees of amusement. 

 

“Fine,” she growled out, stomping into the forest without waiting for Inuyasha.  The male hanyou knew better than to not follow.  Once they were a suitable distance from their companions, Kagome spun around and folded her arms in front of her chest, favoring Inuyasha with a look that told him he had about five seconds—and counting—to explain himself. 

 

“Feh!  So I can smell when you bleed.  What’s the big deal?”  If the searing glare she sent him was anything to judge by, perhaps that hadn’t been the wisest thing to say. 

 

“It’s private, Inuyasha!  Why didn’t you tell me you could smell…that?!” 

 

“Two words, wench!  Self.  Preservation.” 

 

“That’s garbage!  I wouldn’t have been so angry if you’d told me in the first place!  Instead, you’ve been hiding this behind my back for a whole year!” 

 

“Bullshit!  You would have sat me straight to hell back then, too!  You probably would’ve accused me of being a pervert or something, even though I can’t help what I smell.” 

 

“That’s not—”

 

“Really?  You fuckin’ ‘osuwari’ me for everything, Ka-Go-Me!  You’ve gotten better recently, but back then you were really bad!  Whenever you got embarrassed, whenever you got mad at me, whenever I saw Kikyou!  How can you say you wouldn’t have said it back then, when you used to use that damn word all the fuckin’ time?!” 

 

All through this tirade, which was obviously long in coming, Kagome felt her anger turn to shame.  It was true; she really did abuse the rosary.  How many times had she slammed his face into the dirt out of anger, or because he was rude, or on some other flimsy pretext?  And I claim to be his friend?  She lowered her head, her ears drooping pitifully. 

 

“I’m sorry.”  The apology caught Inuyasha by surprise, but his anger evaporated as he took in Kagome’s slumped posture and the scent of her sadness and guilt.  He felt an overpowering urge to embrace her.  In the past he might have restrained himself, but he saw no reason for that anymore. 

 

 “All those times,” Kagome whispered against his shoulder, deep in thought.  “I never realized…friends don’t do that to each other!”

 

“Keh,” Inuyasha replied gently, shifting his tone dramatically.  “I was a jackass back then, and sometimes I deserved it.  Besides, this rosary is the only protection you’ve got if I transform.  If I really lose myself, you have to use it to stop me.  And you’re right,” he confessed, “I should’ve told you back then.  But it’s not like it’s something you just come right out and say!” 

 

Kagome actually laughed at that, and Inuyasha felt the tension in the air begin to dissipate. 

 

“I can imagine you coming right out and admitting something like that,” she said, finally lifting her head from his chest.  And whatever crazy hypothetical her mind was concocting amused her greatly, as she continued to giggle, chasing away the last traces of melancholy from her beautiful face.  It was then that Inuyasha noticed how close they were, noses only inches apart.  Kagome noticed it as well, her laughter abruptly dying away as she felt Inuyasha’s hot breath mingle with her own.  Golden amber met chocolate brown, and neither could look away.  Time seemed to stretch infinitely, as they leaned closer…closer…

 

“HOOT!!” 

 

The sudden noise caused them to launch apart just before their lips could meet.  They turned and glared at the offending owl who, upon being awoken by the sounds their argument, had climbed outside its hole and decided to voice its displeasure.  In doing so, the damn bird had ruined the moment, broken the spell they had cast over each other, and left the missed opportunity hanging tauntingly in the air for both of them. 

 

“Come on, let’s head back,” Inuyasha said gruffly, masking his disappointment behind his customary grumpiness.  Kagome heaved an exasperated sigh, but followed him back to the road nonetheless. 

 

The remainder of the day was uneventful, though the rest of the group did notice an odd sort of tension hanging between the two hanyou.  Perhaps an hour before dusk, they stumbled upon an abandoned hut, and were able to persuade Inuyasha to stop for the night.  The hanyou grumbled doubly because he knew they were going to make him stop at the hot spring near the village the next night.  The same hot spring where he had seen Kagome naked…

 

Inuyasha stepped outside, needing some fresh air, especially considering their near-kiss.  It baffled him, how easy it had been to hold Kagome close, to try to kiss her, and how furious he’d been when that stupid owl interrupted them.  I should’ve caught that thing and eaten it for dinner!  As for why he wanted to kiss her so badly, well, that just led to a bunch of questions he didn’t have answers for. 

 

Inuyasha bolted to his feet as a strange scent reached his nose.  Youkai…two of them.  Sure enough, two figures appeared on the darkening horizon, speeding towards him.  Inuyasha rested his hand on Tetsusaiga’s hilt as the strangers came to a stop.  The male was an inu-youkai, perhaps resembling what Sesshoumaru would look like as a peasant.  He wore no decorative robes, nor was his clothing immaculate white, but his forehead did bear a single crest in the shape of a diamond.  The other youkai was a bird of some kind, probably a hawk.  Her wings were folded behind her, and her hands and feet bore oversized talons.  She was also dressed plainly, in the same shade of black as her companion. 

 

“Well,” the inu-youkai spoke, “since I have never heard of another inu-hanyou, you must be Inuyasha.” 

 

“Who’s asking?” 

 

“Watch your tone with me, cretin.  My name is Takehiko, and this is my sister Sora.  Some weeks ago, our brother Minoru left us to seek you out and claim possession of your jewel shards.  We have come to ascertain his whereabouts.”

 

Inuyasha smirked.  “Sorry to disappoint you, but your bastard of a brother is dead.  I ran him through with my sword.  If you don’t want to meet the same fate, I suggest you leave while you can still stand.” 

 

Both youkai became understandably enraged at this.  “Damn you!” Sora cried.  “How could a half-breed like you defeat our brother?!” 

 

“Come at me and find out, bitch!” 

 

“Very well.  Come, Takehiko, let’s tear this hanyou limb from limb.  Takehiko?”  But the inu-youkai wasn’t listening; his focus was entirely on something behind Inuyasha, something that caused his eyes to widen in absolute shock.  Turning back to Inuyasha, his rage returned full force. 

 

“What have you and that woman done to our brother?!”

Chapter Text

“What have you and that woman done to our brother?!”

 

Kagome, who had rushed outside as the sounds of an argument passed through the doorway of the hut, groaned inwardly, recognizing the two youkai before her from the vision she had seen of Minoru’s past life.  As she had separated his body from his spirit and purified that spirit of evil, all within the confines of her mind, she had seen these two.  The orphan neko youkai’s memories became her own, and she had witnessed the moment when he met Sora, his future sister, for the first time.  The young demon, only a little bigger than Shippou, had been desperately hungry.  He watched as the graceful hawk-girl snared a rabbit in her powerful talons, and he brazenly tried to steal it.  Though she was not quite his size, Sora easily overpowered the starving neko, pinning him to the ground.  She could have killed him then, but something stopped her.  Something in his eyes, something that showed her that this boy understood loneliness, the unrequited and despairing desire for some type of companionship.  She let him live, and ended up surrendering most of her meager meal to his ravenous appetite.  She taught him how to hunt, and they became inseparable.  Later, they came across a miserable inu-youkai in a sorry state indeed, and nursed him back to health.  Thus, the trio was created, and indissoluble, unbreakable bonds formed as they became the family that all three had once had, and lost. 

 

But something had gone wrong as the three youkai got older.  Centered in his desire to protect his family, to never again know the icy grip of bone-chilling loneliness, a lust for power grew in Minoru.  And for the first time, he found himself taking human life.  Slowly, the poison, the malice that had matured in their brother spread to Takehiko and Sora as well.  As she looked at them now, Kagome was reminded so much of the Thunder Brothers.  Two siblings, completely devoted to each other, but regarding the rest of the world with utter heartlessness, an absolute lack of caring.  Still, Kagome couldn’t help the remorse that welled within her.  She had broken their family, destroyed a part of their pack, and eliminated a full half of each of the survivor’s worlds.  Logic told her it wasn’t her fault, that Minoru had attacked her, tried to kill her, but that provided little comfort the raw guilt welling inside her. 

 

“Please,” she pleaded, locking cheerless eyes with each youkai in turn.  “Let me explain.” 

 

Brother and sister regarded her solemnly, but both nodded, remaining in silence as Kagome told her story.  She told them about the rebirth spell, how she had defeated Minoru, how the neko’s spirit was finally at peace, and how his youki had come to reside in her body.  By the time she was finished, she could no longer look at them, and lowered her gaze to the grass.  The spiking scents told her all she needed to know about their reaction, as did Inuyasha stepping directly in front of her, shielding her from the unbridled hatred pulsing in the air. 

 

“You little bitch!  You killed our brother!  I don’t care if he is at peace!  He’s still dead, and I shall have my vengeance this day!” 

 

“Wait, brother!” Sora cried out, latching onto Takehiko’s arm before the inu-youkai could attack.  He bared his fangs, turning his rage on his sister, but the hawk didn’t even flinch.  Instead, she leaned up to whisper in his ear so quietly that not even Inuyasha could pick it up.  All eyes focused on Takehiko’s face as it shifted from fury to shock, and finally to a wicked smirk that sent a shiver coursing down Kagome’s spine. 

 

“We’ll leave for now, bitch,” he snarled menacingly.  “But we’ll be back!”  With that, the two youkai turned and departed the way they came, an action which soured Inuyasha’s mood. 

 

“Oi!  Get back here and fight me!  Cowards!”  The belligerent hanyou had good reason to be upset; he had been expecting a fight, dammit!  He’d gotten all worked up, his blood heated in anticipation, for nothing!  Swearing colorfully under his breath, Inuyasha thought of another reason why he’d prefer to fight them now.  If they were anything like Naraku, they would have concocted a devious plan by the time they returned.  He hated that kind of battle; didn’t anyone just straight-up fight anymore? 

 

“You didn’t happen to catch what that falcon youkai whispered, did you Inuyasha?” Miroku asked into the silence.  Inuyasha merely shook his head.  “I was afraid of that,” the monk continued.  “Whatever those two are planning, I don’t like it.  If they were simply after revenge, they wouldn’t have left.  You’d best stay close to us, Kagome-sama, since they seem to be after you.” 

 

“Alright, Miroku-sama.  Let’s go inside and eat,” Kagome replied exhaustedly.  Sometimes she grew tired of being a target.  Unfortunately, for the Shikon miko, that came with the territory. 

 

“And maybe we can figure out what those two youkai want with Kagome-chan,” Sango interjected as they made their way towards the hut.  The resulting discussion yielded few concrete ideas, though several theories were floated around.  In the end, they decided to take the same approach they used with Naraku—wait and see, because you never knew what evil scheme the dark hanyou would come up with next.  The inu-gang settled down for the night, and the emerging stars found Inuyasha lounging on the rooftop, the hanyou much preferring the open air to the stuffy atmosphere of the one-room hut.  As he gazed up at the moon, his eyes widened fractionally and he cursed softly.  Shit…the moon is barely a sliver.  Tomorrow night must be the new moon.  And with that in mind, he resolved to try and get some sleep, since he wouldn’t be getting any while he was human. 

 

* * *

 

“Inuyasha, may I ask what the hurry is?  You’ve been driving us mercilessly all morning!” 

 

Inuyasha grimaced.  What Sango said was true; he had been keeping a brisk pace ever since they started walking a few hours ago.  Usually, Kagome would be the first to complain about something like that, but her hanyou legs allowed her to keep up with him effortlessly.  The same could not be said of the group’s two humans, who knew they would be bone tired and very sore by the end of the day if they didn’t slow down. 

 

At their normal walking speed, the Inu-gang was probably about a day and a half from the village.  With his dreaded night of mortality imminent, Inuyasha fully intended to be in Kaede’s village by dusk, and through the well by nightfall.  He had always hated his human nights, partly because they were one of the rare times he felt fear.  When he was alone, he feared for himself, that some youkai would slaughter him in his weakness, and all his years of struggling to strengthen himself would be for naught.  Now, however, a different kind of fear loomed on the horizon.  He didn’t fear for himself anymore; he feared for Kagome, that he wouldn’t be able to protect her.  Kagome was the only one of their group who truly needed protecting.  She was a miko, an archer, but she didn’t have the battle experience of Miroku or Sango, nor the escapability of Shippou or Kirara.  At least, she didn’t used to.  But the last thing Inuyasha wanted to rely on for Kagome’s safety was her new, untested hanyou powers.  Hell, she hadn’t even been able to jog without tripping over herself! 

 

No, it was far better to spend the evening in Kagome’s time, where in all likelihood he wouldn’t have to protect her from anything.  Besides, all manner of shit had happened on his human nights in recent memory, and they were heading toward the village anyway.  Not to mention the new enemies they met last night.  Of course, Inuyasha had no intention of telling his companions any of this.  Just the thought of doing that was enough to send his delicate pride into a frenzy.  So, he did the next best thing—he told a half-truth. 

 

“Feh!  Just wanna hear what Myouga has to say, that’s all.  Now come on, you lazy humans, let’s go!  And no more bitching!” 

 

“Bitching?” Sango repeated incredulously, brandishing hiraikotsu.  “I’ll give him bitching.  Right upside the head!” 

 

“Now, Sango, you know how our confrontational friend here reacts to violence,” Miroku assuaged.  “Inuyasha!  Sango and I are slowing down.  If you are in that much of a hurry, please feel free to go on ahead.” 

 

Inuyasha swore under his breath, but slowed his pace nonetheless.  Kagome was gazing contemplatively at him, obviously wondering what had him so antsy, but he’d be damned if he was going to tell her.  The sad thing is that if he came out with the truth, she would probably agree with him.  They could run the rest of the way and be back in Kagome’s world for dinner.  Too bad his pride squashed that idea.  Admitting the truth would be admitting his fear, and he just couldn’t do that. 

 

As predicted, Kagome wanted to stop at the hot springs on the way back, and Inuyasha had no reason to refuse her since they were definitely not making it back to the village before nightfall.  That didn’t stop him from putting up a fight, or grumbling after the argument turned against him.  Whether this was out of spite, or for show, he didn’t know.  What he did know was that he was damn hungry, and he let everyone in the camp know it. 

 

“Why don’t you go catch some fish, Inuyasha?” Shippou inquired timidly, hiding behind Kagome’s leg in case the volatile hanyou decided to take exception to his suggestion. 

 

“I’m pretty sure I won’t be catching anything tonight, runt,” Inuyasha replied bitterly as he stared at the last hint of sunlight barely visible over the horizon.  Noticing the direction of Inuyasha’s gaze, Miroku was the first to put the pieces together. 

 

“Is tonight the night of the new moon, Inuyasha?” 

 

The hanyou merely grunted, choosing not to favor that question with an articulate reply. 

 

“Oh, is that why you’ve been grouchy all day?”  Shippou teased, emboldened by his victim’s pending transformation.  Inuyasha growled, but the effect was ruined by the glow that enveloped his body as his ears, hair, eyes, and claws shifted.  And as the debilitating numbness of his senses fully set in, he repressed the urge to pound the kit for making fun of him.  He didn’t think Kagome would ‘osuwari’ him while he was human, but he knew from past experience that he would just make an ass of himself chasing Shippou around without his demonic speed and agility. 

 

Kagome, as always, was mesmerized by his metamorphosis.  She preferred his hanyou form, but he looked no less dashing as a human.  Still, his doggie ears were one of her favorite features, and she would miss them terribly if they were gone for any serious length of time, especially since he had allowed her to touch them.  Her heart skipped a beat at the memory, as she wondered when he would indulge her again, and for that matter, when he would rub her ears like he did that one time in her room… 

 

Shaking her head to clear it, Kagome tried to focus on what Shippou had just said.  That’s right; he has been grumpy all day.  She had noticed the change in his scent, signaling the beginning of the recession of his youkai blood, perhaps a half hour ago, but had not immediately recognized it for what it was.  By the time she did, it was too late to do anything about it.  The time of the month perfectly explained his negative attitude, but there was something else that had been bothering her.  It had to do with why he had wanted to move so quickly today…  Kagome gasped as the realization struck her, followed by a wave of anger.  Baka!  Why can’t he be more open?  Not being honest with me about his human night almost got him killed before! 

 

“Inuyasha,” she said sweetly, immediately putting the hanyou-turned-human on edge.  He knew that tone of voice, the one that told him he was about to have his head bitten off.  It was the same tone she had used after he not so subtly asked her if she’d fooled around with Kouga in the wolf’s cave. 

 

“Yeah, wench?” he asked as she stalked up to him, grabbing both forelocks and tilting his head up to look at her.  He gulped. 

 

“Do you realize how much of a BAKA you are?!  If you wanted to spend the night in my time, you should have said so!” 

 

Inuyasha stuttered, taken aback by just how well this girl could read him.  Getting no response, Kagome continued more calmly, “you would have been safer in my time, so why didn’t you tell us tonight was the new moon?” 

 

“K-keh!  I don’t care about me!  You’re the one with jewel shards hanging around her neck!  You’re the one I constantly have to watch over, and you’re the one I can’t fuckin’ protect when I’m like this!” 

 

By the time he was finished, Inuyasha was standing, looming over her as her own anger receded.  The unguarded concern in his eyes belied the harshness of his words, and Kagome was once again reminded of the old adage, ‘a diamond in the rough is still a diamond.’

 

“Well you still should have said something,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. 

 

“Ah, quit bitchin’ about it, already,” Inuyasha replied, causing Kagome’s brow to twitch in irritation.  He’s soooo lucky he’s human right now.  “Besides, unless you’re gonna carry me, we ain’t makin’ it to your time tonight.” 

 

He said the last part as a joke, something that shouldn’t even be seriously considered, but Kagome found herself doing just that.  Hmmm, let’s see.  Benefits?  Warm bed, home-cooked meal, alone-time with Inuyasha.  Negatives?  One furious hanyou.  Meh, he’s crabby anyway.  So, before she could question her sanity, Kagome leapt into action.  In a flash she flung Inuyasha over her shoulder, surprised at how effortlessly she could lift him, and took off into the trees. 

 

The two humans and two youkai left in camp were stunned speechless for all of a three seconds, then burst into laughter that went on long into the night.  Inuyasha’s face as it vanished from view had been utterly priceless, and as long as they lived they were never going to forget it.  Said hanyou, however, was far from amused. 

 

“Ah!  Wench!  What the fuck are you doing?!  Put me down!” 

 

Kagome didn’t reply, suddenly very glad she couldn’t see his face.  The wind was whipping past them, but she could still smell his outrage and embarrassment.  She felt a small twinge of guilt, but what was done was done.  Steeling her concentration, she focused on the ground in front of her, seeking to avoid stumbling and throwing her precious cargo into a tree.  If anything could piss him off more than he already was…

 

When he realized Kagome was no longer listening to him, Inuyasha too became aware of the precarious position he was in.  In all likelihood, he was going to end up sprawled in the dirt, covered in cuts and bruises.  So, despite how incredibly humiliating this was, he clammed up and let Kagome concentrate.  They arrived at the well a little less than an hour later, and Kagome would never be able to explain how she managed to get them there without falling.  Well, they said a mother could lift a car off her child, so maybe it was strength of will that kept her from dumping Inuyasha.  That inner resolve vanished as soon as she set him down and looked at him.  He was not blushing, but his entire face was flushed red in anger.  His lips were a thin line, and his eyes burned with the force of a thousand suns, though they lacked their normal amber luminosity.  His whole body was tense, drawn tight as a bowstring, and the creatures of the night went silent at the ominous sensation invading the atmosphere.  Kagome gulped; she had never seen him quite so livid before. 

 

“Wench,” he said quietly, “if you ever do that again, I’ll…I’ll…I don’t know what I’ll do, but you won’t like it!”  By the time he finished, he was screaming at the top of his lungs, and Kagome’s ears were plastered to her skull. 

 

“Relax, Inuyasha!  A little role reversal never hurt anybody.” 

 

“Roll reversal?” he repeated incredulously.  “Fuck, Kagome!  That wasn’t ‘role reversal!’  It was YOU tossing ME over your shoulder and taking off!” 

 

“So?  You carry me all the time.  How is that any different?  And don’t even think about telling me you’ve never carried me over your shoulder,” she ordered, pointing a finger at him.  Inuyasha hesitated; that had been exactly what he was going to say. 

 

“It—it just is, ok?” he replied, folding his arms and looking away. 

 

“No!  It’s not ok!  I knew you’d be embarrassed, but I didn’t expect you to be this pissed at me!  What’s your prob—”

 

“You’re the helpless human, not me!” he blurted out, surprising both of them.  But Kagome recovered quickly, her ire rising to do battle with his in a familiar clash. 

 

“Oh, so I’m still helpless, am I?  And I’m probably such a burden, too.  In that case, I won’t be requiring your services any longer.  Maybe I’ll go collect the jewel shards myself!  See how strong these hanyou powers really are!  Maybe I’ll—”  Kagome was cut off suddenly, her face mashed into a hard chest. 

 

“Don’t even fuckin’ think about it, Kagome,” Inuyasha voiced softly, his tone deadly serious.  “Stay with me and let me protect you.”  Kagome’s eyes widened; she hadn’t meant what she said, but apparently Inuyasha had taken her seriously.  Pulling back and peering at his face, she confirmed it by the pleading look in his eyes. 

 

“I’m sorry, Inuyasha.  I didn’t mean it; I was just angry.  I’ll stay by your side as long as you’ll let me.” 

 

“I’m sorry too,” Inuyasha answered, finding it much easier to apologize because of the relief and gratitude flooding his human body.  For a split second there, when he though Kagome was going to leave…desperation wouldn’t begin to describe what he felt.  “You’re not helpless.  You were once, but even when you were human you got stronger.  You’re a miko, Kagome; that’s your job.  You’re the only one who can fire purifying arrows, the only one who can purify the sacred jewel, and the only one who can sense the shards.  That’s what you do.  Me?  I’m a big fuckin’ ass-kicker.  That’s what I do.  I don’t want you trying to fight like me, or charging into battle.  Stay back and help us like you always have, ‘cause it’s worked just fine so far.” 

 

Kagome almost laughed at his description of his ‘job,’ but was deeply touched by his assessment of her skills and role in battle.  Stepping out of his embrace, she managed a sincere smile.  “Deal.  And I’m sorry I picked you up like that.  I probably should have warned you first.”

 

“Feh!  Just don’t ever do it again.  And I’m definitely paying you back for that.” 

 

Chuckling, Kagome brushed off his threat and grabbed him by the hand, proceeding to drag him towards the well. 

 

“Wait, wench!  What about Myouga?”

 

“Myouga will still be there in the morning.”

 

“But—”

 

“No buts!  I want a bath now, and I’m not leaving you here!” 

 

Sighing, Inuyasha gave in.  Kagome seemed hell-bent on going through the well, and he much preferred traveling there on his own two feet, thank you very much. 

 

Mrs. Higurashi was surprised to see them again so soon, and shocked to find Inuyasha human.  Dinner included a nice, long discussion on why Inuyasha lost his powers, when they would be back, and some of the adventures he had been on while human.  Somehow Togenkyo came up, and though Kagome conveniently left out the part about Inuyasha finding her naked in the tub, neither one could keep from blushing.  Mrs. Higurashi gave them a knowing look, Souta demanded more stories, and her grandfather kept muttering about how ‘young people belong in school, not gallivanting around with demons,’ yada yada yada.  Eventually, Kagome was able to excuse herself and take a bath, and to her astonishment she was actually able to get in the tub.  Apparently, the small body of water didn’t alarm her youkai side as much as a hot spring would.  The long, steamy soak left her feeling completely relaxed, and very drowsy.  She emerged from the bathroom dressed her in pajamas and ready for a good night’s sleep.  She groaned as soon as she entered her room and found Inuyasha on her bed.  He was lying on his back near the edge, hands folded behind his head, one knee raised up and the other ankle resting atop it.  It was a posture which suggested that he hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but the gentle rise and fall of his chest as well as the peaceful expression on his face said he had.  This had happened before, and now, like then, Kagome didn’t have the heart to wake him.  Last time, she had surrendered the bed and slept in the chair while trying to study.  But this time, she had no studying to do, and really desired the feel of her cushy mattress underneath her.  Besides, she liked to think they had both matured a little since then, and grown closer to each other.  And it was a big bed…

 

So, before she could convince herself it was a mistake, Kagome closed her door, turned off the light, and tentatively climbed onto the mattress.  She lay on her side, facing toward him with her back against the wall.  There was about a foot of space between them, so it wasn’t like they were lying on top of one another.  Though that would certainly not be unpleasant.

 

“You know, you could have woken me up, wench.”  Inuyasha’s soft voice startled her, and she glanced over into amused eyes. 

 

“I know,” she said, grinning sheepishly.  “But you looked so peaceful.”

 

“Keh.  I’m never peaceful,” he replied jokingly before moving to stand.  Kagome’s hand shot out and grabbed his wrist, halting his progress. 

 

“Stay,” she whispered, cheeks heating to a rosy hue.  Inuyasha blushed as well.

 

“I shouldn’t.”

 

“There’s plenty of room!  I’m not letting you sleep on the floor while you’re human.  You may not get a backache when you’re hanyou, but you will tonight.” 

 

Inuyasha briefly considered arguing with her, but decided against it.  What was the point?  There was nobody else around and he definitely didn’t mind the idea of sharing a bed with Kagome.  That thought darkened his face to a deeper shade of red, his mind toying with the not so innocent connotations of the phrase.   

 

Kagome watched him as nervously eyed her, considering her proposition.  She was just about to tell him to forget it when he gingerly settled down, lying on his side facing her.  His eyes met hers for a moment before closing, expressing a flash of gratitude.  Kagome grinned stupidly.  You’re welcome.  Still, sleep alluded her, and she spent the next half hour fidgeting, trying to get comfortable.  Finally, she gave up. 

 

“Hey, Inuyasha?” she whispered, just to see if he was still awake. 

 

“What?” he replied a little snippily, tired of being constantly torn back from the brink of slumber by her moving around. 

 

“Oh, didn’t realize you were awake.”  Hurriedly she tried to think of something to say, voicing the first thought that came to mind.  “Do you still hate your human nights as much as you used to?”

 

Inuyasha thought about that for a moment.  “Well, being around a campfire with you lot sure beats sitting in a tree alone.” 

 

“I’m glad.”  A few more minutes of silence passed, and Inuyasha once again nearly dozed off. 

 

“Hey, Inuyasha?”

 

“What, wench?” he replied, a little more irritably than before.  Her comment washed all his exasperation away. 

 

“You smell nice.” 

 

“K-keh!” 

 

Kagome giggled at his embarrassment, and decided to tease him a bit more.  “I like your hanyou scent better, though.”  At this point, Inuyasha’s face vanished into his haori, and Kagome had to forcibly stifle her amusement. 

 

“Damn wench,” he mumbled, “thinks she’s so damn funny.”  Inside, however, he was floored.  Nobody had ever told him he smelled nice before.  Most youkai hated his smell because it marked him as a hanyou.  He mentally added it to the list of things Kagome had done first for him.  After the girl’s subsequent laughter subsided, several more minutes of silence passed. 

 

“Hey, Inuyasha?”

 

“Dammit, wench!  Go to sleep, already!” 

 

“One more question.”  When Inuyasha didn’t reply, she continued, “Do you still like my smell?” 

 

Again Inuyasha hesitated, not because he didn’t know the answer, but because he wasn’t sure how much to reveal.  Even after her transformation, Kagome’s scent was the single most tantalizing fragrance in the world.  It put him at ease and electrified him at the same time.  But he certainly couldn’t tell her that, so he toned down the truth a little. 

 

“Your scent didn’t change a whole lot when you got youkai blood.  You still smell like you, just with something extra added on.  I can smell your youkai, but it’s like it’s yours now.  You don’t smell like that bastard, if that’s what your wondering.” 

 

“You didn’t answer my question.” 

 

Inuyasha grimaced.  Damn.  “Yes, I still like your scent.  Now.  Go.  To.  Sleep!” 

 

“Okay, okay!  Goodnight, Inuyasha.”

 

“Feh.” 

 

And so the couple returned to trying to fall asleep, with Kagome having no more luck than before.  She was getting frustrated; she knew she was tired, but something didn’t feel right. 

 

Inuyasha started to think that he was going to have to rub her ears again.  But would the fact that he was in bed with her make that more awkward?  He hesitated, and in the intervening few minutes he thought of another possible reason for her sleeplessness.  He yanked the covers out from under Kagome’s body and placed them over her, all while keeping himself above them.  Kagome snuggled into the familiar weight of the sheets and mumbled her gratitude, drowsiness already calling her.  In moments she was sound asleep.  Shaking his head, Inuyasha settled down and followed her into slumber soon after. 

Chapter Text

Inuyasha woke at dawn, the return of his demonic powers rousing him.  It was just about the happiest time of the month for our hanyou; he didn’t have to worry about turning human again for a whole lunar cycle.  Still, the sensation was strange, considering he usually didn’t fall asleep on his human nights.  Brain still fogged with the remnants of slumber, he couldn’t comprehend why he had fallen asleep, but he did know that he was far too comfortable to get up.  Yawning tiredly, he pressed closer to the warm body lying next to him.  Wait…warm body? 

 

Inuyasha shot off the bed, so quickly that he lost his footing and toppled over backwards.  Raising his head, he climbed to his feet and tiptoed back toward the mattress.  He released the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding when he saw that Kagome was still asleep.  The miko chose that moment to stir, rolling over to face him, his name a whisper in her soft exhale.  Inuyasha recalled the position he’d woken up in.  They had been lying spooned together, her back to his chest, his arm draped possessively around her waist.  And though she had been below the blankets and he above them, it had still been the most intimate embrace he had ever shared with anyone.  Hugging someone was one thing, but cuddling them while they slept was quite another.  He was both mortified and eternally grateful Kagome had not woken up first, but he couldn’t say he was angry at either her or himself.  Secretly, he wondered if she would have minded waking up with him like that.

 

Shaking his head and deciding he wasn’t going to ask her, Inuyasha settled down on the floor, back resting against the mattress.  The morning was bright and peaceful, the merry chirping of birds drifting through the open window.  Grinning as the cheerfulness of the avians proved infectious, the hanyou prepared to relax for a couple hours until Kagome woke.  Of course, it seemed fate didn’t want him to relax—ever

 

*Beep!  Beep!  Beep!*

 

As always, Kagome’s cursed alarm clock had him leaping to attention, though he did manage to refrain from pulling out Tetsusaiga this time.  Instead, he settled for crossing his arms over his chest and glowering down at the woman whose delicate hand shot out to silence the infernal contraption.  Something was amiss. 

 

“Kagome,” he ground out, “why is your alarm clock on?” 

 

Said miko looked at him, wearing a smile that could only be described as sheepish.  “Because, I thought that since I was home…Idecidedtogotoschool!” 

 

It took Inuyasha a moment to decipher her gibberish, but he became pissed as all hell when he did. 

 

“Fuck no, wench!  You’re not going to school!”

 

“And why not?” Kagome replied indignantly, her anger rising to match her companion’s.  “You don’t even know if Myouga is in the village yet.  And besides, we can’t go anywhere until the others get back.  So why, Inuyasha?  Give me one good reason I can’t go to school!” 

 

Inuyasha’s retort died on his lips as the full weight of Kagome’s impenetrable logic fell upon his shoulders.  She wanted a good reason, and he didn’t have one.  And he knew from past experience what would happen if he just ordered her to stay.  Ah, crap.

 

“Fine,” he mumbled, looking away petulantly. 

 

“Inuyasha!  I’m going and that’s fin—what did you say?” 

 

“Keh!  Don’t look so shocked!  You were right; there’s no reason why you can’t go.  Unless you think I’m staying here, that is.”

 

“But—”

 

“No buts, Kagome!” he imitated, mimicking her tone from the night before.  “The odors from that smelly city could still overwhelm that sensitive nose of yours.” 

 

Kagome smiled at the concern he was trying to hide.  Yes, her hanyou senses had been bothering her less and less every day, but they still occasionally gave her headaches and made her feel faint.  A really strong odor could probably still knock her out.  Hell, the ink from that hell-painter had put Inuyasha completely out of it!  And it wasn’t as if she didn’t enjoy having Inuyasha accompany her to school.  She would always worry that his brazenness and lack of familiarity with the modern world would get him into trouble.  But he had been fine the last time, and she would just have to trust him.  Better than fine, she thought, recalling everything that had gone on that day.   I wonder if I could get him to put his arm around me again.  Snapping back to reality, Kagome swooped in for a quick hug before spinning him around and pushing him out the door with a soft “thank you.” 

 

“Oi!  What the hell did you shove me out here for?” Inuyasha demanded. 

 

“I can’t change with you in here, can I?  Hentai.”

 

“I am not a hentai!” 

 

Kagome’s giggling behind the door told him she had merely been joking, but that didn’t help his suddenly sour mood.  He stormed downstairs, scowling and grumbling about ‘sneaky wenches’ the whole way.  And once again, Kagome was forced to serve bacon to get him out of his funk. 

 

“You’re up early, Kagome,” Mrs. Higurashi observed as she breezed into the kitchen.  “Going to school?” 

 

“Mm-hm,” Kagome replied, not wanting to stop eating for even a second lest she be late. 

 

“Is Inuyasha going with you again?” 

 

This time Inuyasha, who had long since finished his breakfast, answered.  “Yep.  I still don’t trust her not to hurt herself.”  Pointedly ignoring Kagome’s glare, he stood from the table and turned to see if he could find that fat cat, Buyo.  The butterball was fun to play with, if nothing else. 

 

“Inuyasha!” Mrs. Higurashi called, stopping him in his tracks.  “I have something I may need your help with this morning, so could you please come right back after dropping Kagome off?” 

 

Inuyasha was about to protest, but this time he couldn’t ignore the look Kagome shot him, one that promised a meeting with the dirt in his future if he didn’t help her mother.  He sighed; yeah, it was boring watching Kagome sit at a desk all day, but it was better than not watching her at all.  Trouble seemed to follow her around constantly.  At least, that was the reason he told himself he wanted to stay with her. 

 

“Alright,” he agreed reluctantly. 

 

“Oh, thank you!” the older woman replied with a smile.  There was also a slight twinkle in her eye, one that had a sinking feeling settling in the pit of Inuyasha’s stomach.  What have I gotten myself into?

 

The walk to school was peaceful, and Kagome arrived with a few minutes to spare.  The miko was disappointed when Inuyasha didn’t put his arm around her, but he didn’t pull away when she took his hand.  She departed with orders to “be a good boy” for her mother, or else!  Damn wench still treats me like a dog!  It’s not like I’ve ever been an ass around her mother.  I’ve been a good bo—ah, dammit!  Now she’s got me saying it! 

 

And so the intrepid hanyou returned to the shrine.  “You needed me for something?” he asked upon entering the living room, where Mrs. Higurashi was watching that strange ‘telavision’ box.  She didn’t reply, but stood and turned to face him with a huge grin plastered to her face.  The sinking feeling deepened as she took the hat from his hand and replaced it upon his head.  Then, she turned and dragged him out the front door and toward the shrine steps. 

 

“Where are we going?” he inquired nervously as they descended to the street. 

 

“We, Inuyasha, are going shopping!” 

 

The hanyou shrunk back from the excitement flowing off her, even as she continued to haul him off to who knows where. 

 

“For what?” he demanded, not liking the strange looks they were receiving from the rest of the mortal population.  Finally, Mrs. Higurashi stopped, turning the pouty, ‘you dare spoil my fun?’ look on him. 

 

“Inuyasha,” she asked seriously, “do you intend to continue walking my daughter to and from school?”

 

“Uh, only until I know she won’t be overwhelmed by her senses!” 

 

“I’m sure,” Mrs. Higurashi responded, not quite believing his defensive assertion.  “Well in that case, I think we should get you some modern clothing to help you blend in better.” 

 

Inuyasha grimaced; the clothes he saw men wearing in this time looked so tight and uncomfortable.  And he knew they weren’t free, either. 

 

“That’s not necessary.  I fit in fine here.  Don’t waste your money on me.” 

 

“It’s not a waste.  But if you don’t want them, then that’s too bad,” Mrs. Higurashi replied with exaggerated disappointment.  “I know Kagome would love to see you in modern clothes…” 

 

Inuyasha’s ears perked up at that, and Mrs. Higurashi smirked in victory.  “Come on.  We’ll just try some on, and if you don’t like them we don’t have to buy anything.  Okay?”  Inuyasha thought about that a moment, then grudgingly nodded and was dragged off again.  Mrs. Higurashi was incredibly giddy, and it was all she could do to keep from giggling like a schoolgirl.  It wasn’t often she got to surprise her only daughter, after all.  And this really was all about giving Kagome the shock of her life, and a very pleasant one at that.  Inuyasha already stood out like a sore thumb due to his long, silken silver hair and amber eyes, so the modern clothing probably wouldn’t help much.  That had just been a little white lie to get the hanyou to cooperate.  And in the end, all I had to do was tell him Kagome would like to see him in modern clothing.  How can love be so blind?

 

She had watched them closely over the past year.  She watched as her daughter fell in love with a half demon from five hundred years in the past.  She watched as he broke her heart, then built it up again.  She watched as they drifted ever closer, yet still too distant to see what was obvious to everyone else who saw them.  She caught the way they looked at each other when they thought no one was watching, twin gazes filled with longing, love, and devotion.  She knew Kagome loved him, and she knew Inuyasha loved her in return, even though neither of them realized it yet.  To have such love, such adoration go unrealized was a crime, one which Mrs. Higurashi hoped to soon see rectified.  But that was not her privilege; all she could do was nudge them in the right direction.  Her daughter could do much worse in a man, on either side of the well.  From the moment Inuyasha had stormed into her house demanding Kagome’s return, she had known he was a good man.  He was too honorable to take advantage of her fifteen-year-old daughter, to serenade her with sweet words just to earn some physical pleasure.  And he was strong, strong enough to protect her, shelter Kagome from dangers that she herself could never comprehend.  So she let Kagome go through the well, skip school, basically throw away her future in the modern era.  She did it because it made her daughter happy, but she was not an irresponsible parent.  If Inuyasha was anything less than the man she knew him to be, she would yank Kagome back by her hair, lock her in her room, and detonate so much C-4 in the well that the people on the other side would feel it. 

 

But that would never be necessary.  Ever since the accident that left Kagome a hanyou, it seemed like Inuyasha had been extra nice to her.  Whether this was brought on out of the necessity of helping her cope with hyperactive senses, or out of guilt, Mrs. Higurashi didn’t know.  But it was a change for the better, and it gave her hope that someday soon they would realize just how much they truly meant to each other.  And maybe I’ll get some puppy-eared grandchildren.  Yes, soon her two little birds will have flown the nest, and jii-chan wasn’t getting any younger, so having adorable grandchildren to dote on would help her ease the loneliness she could see on the horizon.  If her late husband was still alive, she would have asked for another baby long ago.

 

But this day was about new love, and she refused to feel any of the melancholy that normally came with thoughts of her deceased spouse.  He had been her one and only love, and there would be no other.  And she didn’t regret a moment with him, even though their time together had been cut almost unbearably short.  To find true love, even for such a brief time, was worth all the heartache.  And that was why she was taking Inuyasha shopping, to help her daughter discover what true love was like.  She could only hope that they had many more happy years together than she and her husband did. 

 

A soft gasp behind her jolted Mrs. Higurashi back to the present, and she was startled to find that not only had her absent-minded autopilot taken her to the mall, but it had also directed her to the clothing store she normally took Souta to.  Inuyasha was blushing, staring at something over her shoulder.  Turning around, she almost laughed outright.  A simple display of bras had embarrassed her companion so.  He was so innocent, this hanyou, yet another reason she adored him and knew he was perfect for her daughter.  Gently she led him to the left, towards the men’s section, smirking the whole time.   I suppose they could have put those in a better place rather than right in front of the door.    

 

Inuyasha relaxed as he was no longer confronted by hundreds of articles of women’s underwear.  Mrs. Higurashi was just going about her business, taking things off the shelves and hangars and handing them to him.  Some of them he recognized, like pants and shirts, but others were unfamiliar. 

 

“What are these?” he asked, holding up a rectangular package wrapped in clear ‘plaz-tik.’ 

 

“Boxers.  You put them on under your pants.” 

 

“Oh,” he mumbled, feeling foolish once again.  But Mrs. Higurashi didn’t even pause; she treated it as if it was a perfectly reasonable question for a young man to be asking.  Maybe that was why he liked her—because she treated him like a normal human even though she knew otherwise. 

 

“Alright, I think we’ve got enough for the first batch.  Go in the changing room and put on an outfit.  Then come out and let me see when you’re finished.” 

 

Following her instructions, Inuyasha found an empty stall easily enough, and set about removing his fire-rat clothing.  That done, he stepped into one of the pairs of ‘jeenz’ Mrs. Higurashi had picked out, and pulled them up to his waist.  And they fell right back down again.  He pulled them up, and they fell right back down again.  Growling in annoyance, he yanked them up and looked more closely.  Oh, that’s right.  You have to fasten these stupid things.  Quizzically he examined the fastening, unsure how to proceed.  Keh!  Come on, you’re smart.  Figure it out.  I am *so* not asking Kagome’s mother for help! 

 

It took some struggling, but eventually he managed to get the pants buttoned and zipped, though he did very nearly catch ‘little Inuyasha’ in the sharp metal teeth.  He made a mental note to be much more careful in the future.  That must be why men wear those ‘boxer’ things—to keep their wangs safe.  Next he chose a shirt, a plain crimson muscle shirt because the color most resembled that of his haori.  Glancing at himself in the full-length mirror, he had to admit he didn’t look half bad, though the shirt especially was uncomfortably tight.  Just before he left the stall he remembered one other thing Mrs. Higurashi had told him, and tied his hair in a ponytail with the white string she had produced from her purse. 

 

Mrs. Higurashi was busy looking through sandals for a pair the perennially barefooted hanyou would tolerate.  She chuckled to herself; picking out clothes and eyeballing sizes for Inuyasha had been just like doing the same for Souta.  Well, maybe not exactly the same.  She certainly had never shopped for clothing that would show off her preadolescent son’s figure, for one thing.  Speaking of which…

 

“How do I look?” came the nervous voice behind her.  Spinning, Mrs. Higurashi felt her mouth go dry.  There stood a gorgeous silver-haired man she could only assume was Inuyasha.  The red shirt fit him perfectly, framing his well-built torso and revealing broad shoulders and muscular arms.  His waist was slim and compact, and the jeans hung low on his hips.  There didn’t seem to be an ounce of fat on his toned frame.  In short, he was absolutely immaculate, and she suddenly lacked up the cognitive capacity to muster a response.  Taking her silence the wrong way, Inuyasha turned to slink back into the changing room. 

 

“W-Wait, Inuyasha!  You look good…really good,” she gushed, somehow managing not to blush. 

 

“Really?  Thanks,” he replied sincerely, uncomfortable with the praise but grateful for it nonetheless. 

 

“Go back inside and try on some other clothes.  I’d say those are keepers.” 

 

When the hanyou was safely back in the dressing room, Mrs. Higurashi started fanning herself lightly.  Oh yes, Kagome was definitely going to enjoy her surprise. 

 

* * *

 

Kagome counted down the seconds until the final bell, preparing for the mad dash to the school’s main exit.  She had somehow managed to avoid Hojo all day, even though she wound up having lunch with her friends, and wasn’t about to give the boy a chance to proposition her now if she could help it.  With any luck, she could escape before running into him and having to turn him down. 

 

*Briiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!!!!!!!*

 

Kagome jolted from her thoughts and bolted out of the classroom.  But as she moved hurriedly down the hall, she spotted Hojo emerging from another room, and turning her way.  Frantically she looked for an escape route, and dove through the door of the girl’s bathroom on her right.  She shuffled to the sink and examined herself forlornly in the mirror.  What is wrong with me?  Why am I running from Hojo?  It wasn’t that she was afraid of him, or that she was afraid she’d be tempted to accept his invitation; she just hated the thought of hurting his feelings, seeing the disappointment written on his face.  Her hope was that if she showed no interest he would eventually get the hint and move on.  But after more than a year of excuses, dodging, and flaking on dates, it was becoming apparent that this wasn’t going to happen.  It was inevitable really, hurting his feelings.  How much longer could this charade go on, anyway?  Kagome sighed.  Maybe I should have a talk with him.

 

When she emerged from the restroom, the hallways were mostly deserted, and Hojo was nowhere to be seen.  Slowly she ambled toward the exit, quickening her pace when she remembered that Inuyasha was supposed to be there to meet her.  When she emerged from the building, however, she didn’t immediately spy her hanyou anywhere.  Perhaps that was because her mind was predisposed to look for a full-body set of red clothing.  She scanned the grounds again, subconsciously widening her search, and gasped at what she saw. 

 

Kagome felt her eyebrows twitch in irritation.  There was Inuyasha, with several girls from her grade standing around him trying to engage him in conversation.  At least he didn’t seem interested, though that didn’t mollify her jealousy very much.  Kagome gritted her teeth and fisted her hands at her sides, resisting the urge to smack one girl in particular who was clearly trying to make a move on her hanyou.  He was hers, dammit!  Ok, well maybe not, but he was still more hers than theirs!  And it was high time to make that abundantly clear. 

 

“Inuyasha, darling,” she called as loudly as she could.  “There you are!” 

 

The girls stepped back as she drew closer, embracing him tightly and leaving a lingering kiss on his cheek.  “Come on, let’s go back to my house.”  With the competition suitably chastised, Kagome proceeded to drag him off toward the street.  Halfway across the school grounds, she suddenly halted and spun around to regard him angrily. 

 

“Inuyasha!  What did you do to draw so much at…ten…tion…?”  Kagome trailed off, gaping hopelessly as she noticed his new attire for the first time.  Inuyasha looked…amazing, breathtaking, hot, and any number of other adjectives her muddled mind was tossing around.  His chiseled chest, one she had seen many times while bandaging it, was covered only in a thin, scarlet muscle shirt.  And somehow, all those previous times didn’t seem to count; it was like seeing his chest for the first time.  He was just so perfectly proportioned, his lean body well-toned but not overly beefy.  His arms, much more powerful than they appeared, tensed and corded as he folded them against his chest.  Lowering her gaze, Kagome found his jean-clad lower body no less appealing, the denim outlining his strong hips and thighs in ways his hakama never did.  His normal wardrobe didn’t reveal nearly enough of his figure, she reflected.  Moving her eyes upward, she noticed his long hair was tied back in a luxurious ponytail before reading the smirking, amused expression on his face.  It was then that she realized she’d been ogling him for the better portion of a minute, and flushed beat red. 

 

Inuyasha smirked wider as she looked away, hands coming together to fidget nervously in front of her.  He could care less what anyone else thought, but getting that reaction from Kagome made all the fuss and unwanted attention worthwhile.  She reeked of strong attraction, a scent that he was embarrassed to note was starting to affect him as he looked at her adorable face, long legs…  Shaking his head, he began walking toward the shrine, allowing her to trail behind until she composed herself. 

 

“Kagome!” three shrill voices called.  Groaning, she turned to greet her friends, who nevertheless flew right past her. 

 

“Wow, Inuyasha!  You look good,” Yuka spouted, eyeing him up and down. 

 

“Yeah, you should wear modern clothes more often!” supplied Eri. 

 

“Thanks,” the hanyou replied, his whole demeanor practically oozing confidence. 

 

“For a minute there we thought you were two-timing Kagome again,” Ayumi interjected, earning blanches from both hanyou.  “But I’ve never seen a guy stonewall Maeda like that!” she exclaimed, referring to one of the girls by her family name. 

 

“Maybe that will take her down a peg,” Yuka muttered sarcastically.  “Now that there’s at least one guy in the world who’s not drooling over her.” 

 

“Keh.  I’d drool over ramen sooner than I would her.” 

 

That statement was no joke to the hanyou, but Kagome’s friends took it as one.  They all laughed, causing said miko’s jaw to drop.  Or maybe it had never closed in the first place.  Inuyasha told a joke?  What’s next, reciting poetry and singing karaoke?  Still, it was a nice change to see in him.  For a boy who had hardly ever been told he was beautiful, or even pleasant to look at, today must have been one hell of a pick-me-up.  She growled at the thought of other girls paying that kind of attention to him.  It irked her to no end that being fawned over by some strangers had seemingly inflated his ego so much, when she had always thought he was gorgeous.  Jealously reared its ugly head all over again, but she tried to console herself with the knowledge that he had ‘stonewalled’ the other girls, as Ayumi put it. 

 

“So, red is your favorite color?” Ayumi said as she took Inuyasha’s arm and led him away, giving her two co-conspirators the chance to have a ‘private’ conversation with Kagome as they trailed behind.  

 

“Kagome!  Why didn’t you tell us your boyfriend was so good-looking!”

 

“Yeah, I mean, Hojo’s handsome, but he’s got nothing on Inuyasha.  Check out that butt!” 

 

It occurred to Kagome that her friends were just having a little fun with her, trying to embarrass her a little, and in this they certainly succeeded.  But judging by the barely noticeable hitch in Inuyasha’s step, it appeared they succeeded in a lot more than they realized.  Oh, no.  This is great, just great.  My two baka friends don’t realize he can hear everything they’re saying!  She could practically see his ego ballooning, so much so that his head might start floating away any second.  Desperately she tried to think of something to steer the conversation away from her hot-butted ‘boyfriend.’  Fortunately, fate decided to help her out. 

 

“Higurashi!” 

 

Upon hearing her name, Kagome hung her head in exasperation.  Apparently her friends hadn’t been the only ones who saw her little display with Inuyasha.  What am I thinking?  The whole school saw it!  Sighing and wondering when, if ever, she was going to catch a break, Kagome turned and plastered on a fake smile for the new arrival. 

 

“Hi, Hojo-kun, how are y—”

 

“Kagome, can I talk to you for a minute?” 

 

Kagome froze, eyes widening as she gazed at the serious expression marring the normally cheery boy’s face.  She had never seen him look that way before, nor had he ever addressed her so familiarly. 

 

“Sure, Hojo-kun,” she replied, shooting a glare Inuyasha’s way, a silent warning not to follow.  The hanyou growled, but vowed to give her the space she wanted—as long as she and that wimpy human stayed in sight, that is.  Her friends tried to involve him in another conversation, but eventually gave up and settled for watching the two unrequited-lovebirds.  Hojo turned to face her after a few steps, but Kagome kept walking until she was sure they were out of Inuyasha’s hearing range. 

 

“Kagome…is that your boyfriend?” he finally asked after several seconds of gathering his courage. 

 

“Um…”  Kagome hesitated, finally realizing where this conversation was headed.  This was Hojo realizing for the first time that there was another male intimately involved in her life.  This was her chance to tell him she would never be his, and she knew she couldn’t miss it. 

 

“Yes, he is,” she said evenly. 

 

“I see,” Hojo replied, failing to keep the disappointment from his tone. 

 

“Oh, Hojo-kun!  I’m so sorry!  I should have told you sooner, but I didn’t want to hurt you.  I guess I ended up doing that anyway,” she lamented shamefully. 

 

“It’s alright, Higurashi,” Hojo reassured her, cracking a wry smile.  “I suppose I should have known all along.  You never did seem that interested in me.”  He paused a moment, regarding her seriously once more.  “Does he make you happy?”

 

“Yes, he does,” Kagome answered, beaming. 

 

“Then that’s enough for me.”

 

“Oh, Hojo-kun.  Thank you.”  With that, she enfolded him in a warm embrace before leaning up to place a peck on his cheek.  Said cheek reddened, and Hojo stammered for a moment before recovering himself.  Turning and waving, he shouted a goodbye before jogging toward the bicycle rack.  Kagome felt immense relief, an enormous weight lifted off her shoulders since Hojo had taken it well.  Apparently they could still remain friends, though she didn’t expect to see too much of him, not with her adventures in the feudal era taking up much of her time.  Her good vibes vanished as she turned back toward her friends, only to see Inuyasha storming off down the street.  Eri, Yuka, and Ayumi seemed just as confused as she was, and she hurriedly waved farewell to them before scampering to catch up with him. 

 

Kagome frowned as she walked behind him, craning her neck to try to catch a glimpse of his face.  But he was marching too quickly for that, his whole body tense, fists clenched at his side.  What’s his problem?

 

Inuyasha was fuming, absolutely livid.  That wench.  I can’t believe her!  First she had embraced him, and then she had kissed him on the cheek.  Then she had gone and done the same to that puny human runt!  What was he, chopped liver?  Just what had she said to that boy?  Was he her boyfriend?  The thought filled him with a maddening combination of rage and envy.  He left their usual path, taking a detour through the ‘park,’ the quiet, wooded area the perfect place for the fireworks that were ready to shoot out his ears.  At the sound of her voice, he snapped. 

 

“Inuyasha, wha—”

 

“Shut up, wench!” he snarled, the sheer vehemence in his gaze causing Kagome to take a step back.  “Why don’t you save it for that human boy you seem to like so much?!” 

 

Kagome bristled at that comment, her eyes flaring to bore holes in his skull.  “If you must know,” she growled, “I just told Hojo-kun I wasn’t interested in him!” 

 

Inuyasha scoffed, though a small amount of relieved doubt did manage to creep into his subconscious.  “Oh, stupid me!  How could I have missed that?  So tell me, do all girls in this time kiss a guy when they tell him they’re not interested?  Who’s two-timing now?”  

 

Kagome gasped.  She had tried to be patient, tried to explain her actions, but that last comment had landed like a punch in the gut.  Inuyasha looked primed for detonation, his amber eyes ablaze with enough fire to scorch the whole Earth many times over.  And suddenly Kagome realized what the problem was.  I…I kissed Inuyasha, and then I kissed Hojo!  Inuyasha’s not from this time, so he doesn’t know that a kiss on the cheek is almost like a hug.  No wonder he thought I liked Hojo.  She knew she needed to fix this, to make Inuyasha realize that he was the only man in her life, but words just weren’t going to cut it.  Well, a kiss had gotten her into this mess…

 

So, not giving herself time to second-guess, she firmly grasped Inuyasha’s forelocks in both hands and planted her lips on his.  She meant it to be brief and chaste, but when she moved to pull away Inuyasha followed her, maintaining contact.  He deepened the kiss, moving one hand to cup her neck while the other found purchase on her lower back.  Kagome opened her mouth to receive him, her arms winding around his neck to pull him closer.  His tongue tangled with her own as she melted against him.  Conscious thought completely deserted them; they were two souls, intimately connected, operating on a whole new level.  Only lack of air could break through the utter bliss they had created between them. 

 

When they finally did pull away, both were panting heavily, inhaling the scent of mutual arousal hanging in the air.  They were powerless to look away, as four orbs shone with an unnamed emotion, a singular desire heating their blood and making them ache for more.  But it was not to be.  The sounds of the world gradually filtered back into their private universe, shattering the moment and allowing sudden awkwardness to hit them full force.  Both looked away at the same time, and neither knew what to say, or even if they should say anything. 

 

“Inu—”  “Kag—”

 

Both chuckled nervously at their simultaneous attempts to break the tension, but after several more seconds of just staring at each other, Kagome could take it no longer. 

 

“Come on, let’s head back to the shrine,” she said, resuming their journey without checking to see if he was following.  Oh, Kami, I’m such a fool!  What must he think of me now?  He probably hates me!  But…he did kiss me back.  Unbeknownst to Kagome, Inuyasha’s thoughts were running along very similar lines.  What the hell just happened?  Is she mad at me?  How could she be, when she kissed me?!  Is she regretting?  Inuyasha took a good look at her, noticing that she seemed sad more than anything else.  So at least she wasn’t pissed at him for taking the kiss much farther than she obviously intended.  He grimaced; he didn’t even know why he’d done it.  His mind had barely wrapped itself around the fact that Kagome was kissing him when she pulled away, and he knew he just couldn’t, wouldn’t allow it to end so soon.  No, he didn’t know what was bothering Kagome, but he could comfort her, be there for her just as he had always been.  Quickening his pace until he was right beside her, he looped his arm around her waist, praying she didn’t push him away. 

 

Kagome was startled, but that one simple gesture had assuaged her fears, and she relaxed bonelessly into him.  This wasn’t going to ruin their friendship, or hang over their heads for all eternity.  They weren’t mad at each other, and would move on, hopefully to similar moments in the future.  As they walked back to her home, the tension in the atmosphere finally dissipated completely.  And they remembered why they had been arguing in the first place. 

 

“So you’re really not interested in that guy?”

 

“No.  Are you interested in any of those girls?”

 

“Hell no.” 

 

Twin smiles graced their faces, and one widened as the owner recalled something else that had been said that day. 

 

“So, wench…” Inuyasha said neutrally, causing Kagome’s anxiety to spike anew.  “Do you like my butt as much as your friends do?” 

 

Kagome tripped and would have fallen if not for Inuyasha’s strong hand.  Her face vanished into his crimson shirt, and his chest rumbled with amusement.  It was a strange sound, coming from him.  Not a chuckle or a snicker, but a genuine, full-bodied laugh.  Kagome’s heart swelled at seeing him so happy, squashing her embarrassment and emboldening her to respond to his teasing in kind. 

 

“Yeah, but,” she replied, craning her neck to look at his behind.  “I’ve seen better.” 

 

“WHAT?!!!” Inuyasha yelled, his mirth a distant memory.  “You’d better not be looking at other guy’s asses!”  Kagome took off through the trees, her giggling making her very easy to follow. 

 

“Wench!  GET BACK HERE!!!!” 

 

* * *

 

With her head start and the short distance to the shrine, Kagome was able to dart into the safety of the kitchen just as Inuyasha was about to catch her. 

 

“Relax, Inuyasha!  I was only kidding!” she cried, still laughing.  The hanyou scowled, but she could tell he believed her.  He stomped up to her room, no doubt grumbling about her the whole way.  Turning, Kagome greeted her mother, who had been watching the proceedings with some amusement. 

 

“Hi, Mama!” 

 

“My, Kagome, you seem cheery today.”

 

“Well, let’s just say it has been a very interesting afternoon.” 

 

“So…” Mrs. Higurashi inquired, sitting down at the table and pouring Kagome a cup of freshly-made hot tea.  Kagome took a seat and gratefully accepted the brew.  “Did you enjoy your surprise?” 

 

Before replying, Kagome looked around and stretched out her senses, trying to determine if Inuyasha was in a position to eavesdrop.  That had gotten her in enough trouble today already.

 

Satisfied, she answered, “Yeah, he looked amazing, Mama.  Thank you so much!”

 

“Sure, Kagome.  I don’t get to spoil you enough since you’re always away.”

 

Mother and daughter settled into a comfortable conversation; both missed these moments when Kagome was in the feudal era. 

 

“Oi, wench!” Inuyasha called, vaulting down the stairs, once again clad in his usual fire-rat garb.  “I almost forgot.  We have to go see if Myouga figured out a way to change you back.” 

 

Kagome smiled ruefully at her mother, but the older woman simply waved her away.  “Have fun, you two!” 

 

“Bye, Mama!  We’ll probably be back for dinner!”

 

“The hell we will!  We’re leaving tonig—”

 

“You think Sango and Miroku are going to want to leave after walking all day to get back…”

 

The sounds of their arguing faded out and vanished altogether, leaving Mrs. Higurashi alone with her thoughts.  She frowned; Kagome had left something out, something important.  There had been just an extra little twinkle in her eye.  Ah, well, those two are acting normally, so it couldn’t have been anything bad.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll get those grandchildren sooner than I thought.

 

* * *

 

“Jiji?  You here?” 

 

“Ah, Inuyasha, making a loud and uncouth entrance as always,” quipped Kaede from her spot by the fire pit. 

 

“Can it, babaa.  Any of you lot seen Myouga around?” he asked the rest of the Inu-gang, who were all sitting inside Kaede’s hut. 

 

“No, but Kirara’s been scratching a lot since we got back,” Shippou replied.  Just then, a tiny dot leapt out of the fire cat’s fur and bounded up to Inuyasha’s nose.  The flea’s attempt to suck blood was quickly smashed, literally. 

 

“Ah, Inuyasha-sama!” the flea complained.  “I thought you’d be happy to see me.”

 

“Feh!  The only reason I’m happy to see you is because it means there’s no danger around and I can relax.  Now spill!  Can we change Kagome back or not?”

 

“But it was such a long journey, even by crow, and I had nothing to eat the whole time…” 

 

Rolling his eyes, Inuyasha gave in and held out his wrist.  Myouga jumped at the opportunity, gorging himself until his belly was full and distended.  “Ahhhhhhh,” he sighed contentedly, “tasty as always, Inuyasha-sama.”  Seeing that the temperamental hanyou was rapidly losing his already tenuous patience, the flea hurriedly got to the point. 

 

“As to your question, no one I spoke with had the ability to reverse this kind of transformation.  However,” he stated, heading off Inuyasha’s objection before he could voice it, “an old friend of your father’s said he might know of a way.” 

 

“So?  How do we do it?” 

 

“He wouldn’t say.  He wished for you to travel to his home.”

 

“What?!  Why didn’t he just tell you?”

 

“I know not why Daichi-sama insisted on meeting you in person, but I suggest you do not hold it against him.  He is, after all, the only lead you have.” 

 

“Daichi…” Inuyasha repeated contemplatively, “why does that name ring a bell?” 

 

Myouga chuckled.  “Perhaps you will recognize him when you see him, Inuyasha-sama.” 

 

Inuyasha shrugged.  “Whatever, flea.  Just make sure you stick around so you can give us directions.  We leave in the morning.”  He uttered the last part somewhat grumpily, having once again lost an argument to Kagome on the matter.  Kagome was just about to tell everyone she was heading back to her time for the night when Shippou’s voice stopped her. 

 

“Oi, Inuyasha, what’s that on your hand?” 

 

Curiously, the hanyou raised said appendage, noticing the small design written on the back in blue ink.  Miroku leaned in closer, inspecting the mark. 

 

“It appears to be some kind of number…and a girl’s name.”  Smirking, the monk opened his mouth to deliver a hentai comment, but the suddenly stormy atmosphere of the hut stilled his tongue.  Kagome had risen to her feet, and was glaring at the offending mark so intently that her eyes appeared ready to pop out of her skull.  A dark, frightening aura swirled around her, causing even Inuyasha to shrink back in alarm.  Then she proceeded to stomp forward and drag the confused hanyou out of the hut. 

 

“What did Inuyasha do now?” Shippou inquired. 

 

“I haven’t the faintest idea, Shippou, but I hope for his sake Kagome’s anger is directed elsewhere.”

 

* * *

 

Kagome was incensed, fuming, raging, and downright pissed!!!  Some hussy had written her name and phone number on Inuyasha’s hand.  If that skank was here right now, I’d show her something she’d never forget, and she’d never mess with me or *my hanyou* ever again!  Inuyasha was content to allow himself to be pulled along.  He could tell Kagome was seething at someone, but he was fairly certain it wasn’t him.  He remembered when one of the girls had written on his hand at the school.  He had been distracted by her friend at the time and she had done it too quickly for him to react.  And it was no surprised that Kagome was not happy about it. 

 

So he didn’t protest when Kagome yanked him through the well, into her house, and into the bathroom.  Nor did he complain when she grabbed a washcloth, squeezed a boatload of hand soap onto it, and proceeded to practically scrub the skin off his hand.  He looked at her, cleaning furiously, her eyes hardened and every muscle tensed with anger.  Finally, he dared to speak. 

 

“Kagome—”

 

“I’m not jealous!” she shrieked, her expression challenging him to say otherwise.  Inuyasha quickly shook his head vigorously, and Kagome returned to her scrubbing.  I never said she was…  Holy shit!  She really is jealous!  The realization filled him with warmth, but he also felt sorry for her.  He knew jealousy well, and he knew exactly why she was feeling that way.  It wasn’t because she feared he would ditch her and chase after schoolgirls.  It was because another girl had marked him, placed a claim on him, unofficial as it might have been.  He went through the same thing every time that wolf came around and held her hands, leaving his scent lingering on her, faint as it might be.  It bothered the hell out of him, even though he was sure Kagome had no idea what was going on. 

 

“Dammit!” Kagome swore, gritting her teeth as she put even more effort into removing the stubborn smudge.  That was the last straw for Inuyasha, as he wrenched his hand from her grip and deftly sliced into his skin with his claws.  When he was through, none of the blue-dyed skin remained. 

 

“Inuyasha!” Kagome cried as he moved his hand so the blood would drip into the sink.  “Why’d you do that?!” 

 

“It was bothering you, so I got rid of it,” he said simply. 

 

“Well, you didn’t have to maim yourself!” she scolded, though her wavering tone revealed just how strongly his action had touched her. 

 

“Keh!  Well, I did.  So are you gonna bandage me or what?” 

 

Shaking her head at his antics, Kagome nevertheless patched up his wound, a tentative smile gracing her features. 

 

As she lay in bed that night, Inuyasha having resumed his customary position under her window, Kagome reflected on the events of the day, and what they might mean for her—their future.  It could mean so many things, the possible fulfillment of all her dreams and fantasies, or it could mean nothing.  But even if things did not work out the way she hoped, she would always carry the memory of their first real kiss.  And with everything that had happened today, it somehow seemed less daunting to ask for something she’d desired for the better part of two weeks. 

 

“Inuyasha, will you rub my ears again?” 

 

Amber eyes opened, studying her for a moment before he rose to his feet and wordlessly moved to sit beside her.  He used both hands this time, and the dual sensations nearly had Kagome moaning in blissful pleasure.  Ohhhhhhh, that feels sooooooo good…  Within seconds she was fast asleep, her dreams taking her to a place where Inuyasha truly was her hanyou, and he wasn’t satisfied with just one kiss. 

Chapter Text

Kagome roused from very pleasant dreams a little after dawn, feeling completely refreshed.  After a hearty breakfast, she changed into jean shorts and a plain yellow blouse.  The shorts, which went down almost to mid-thigh, probably covered more than her normal skirt did, and with them she wouldn’t have to worry about flashing her panties every time she used her hanyou abilities.  The tight-fitting material did show off her butt more, but she considered it a fair tradeoff.  The downside was that her clothing would seem even more bizarre to people from the feudal era, but she expected strangers would judge her by her youkai blood, not by how she dressed.  That unpleasant evening in the village they rescued not too long ago came to mind.  After packing several changes of clothing in her monstrous yellow backpack, she carried it downstairs to stuff the remaining space with food. 

 

Inuyasha’s breath caught when he saw her, but he wasn’t sure he liked her new attire.  The hentai in him was glad the strange garment still showed off her long, luscious legs, but the material also hugged her hips and molded to the gentle contours of her ass.  The shirt was tighter as well, outlining her slender frame and making the soft swell of her breasts much more noticeable.  Inuyasha gulped, then turned away.  Fortunately, Kagome was too distracted with getting ready to leave to notice his attention.  And while she wasn’t looking, her mother slipped some of the clothing she had bought for him yesterday into the bag, sending a conspiratorial wink his way in the process. 

 

“Alright, Inuyasha, I’m ready,” Kagome said, hoisting the bag up to her shoulder.  Inuyasha snatched it out of her hand, slipping his arms through the straps as he shouldered it. 

 

“You know, I can carry that now, Inuyasha.  It isn’t really heavy to me anymo—”

 

“I’m still stronger than you are, wench.  Let’s get a move on.” 

 

Kagome rolled her eyes.  So much for being a gentleman.

 

The others met them on the other side of the well, all prepped and ready for the journey.  Miroku grabbed Inuyasha’s hand and examined it, his face showing disappointment that the mysterious girl’s name had turned into a healing wound. 

 

“Inuyasha, what did you do to your hand?”

 

“Keh.  Only a hentai like you would want some strange girl’s name on his hand.” 

 

“So you gouged it out?”  Miroku sighed dramatically.  “And here I was, under the impression that you were flirting with the women in Kagome-sama’s time.  You’re hopeless, you know that, Inuyasha?” 

 

To the monk’s surprise, the hanyou simply smirked.  With as many times as Miroku had teased him over the years, Inuyasha decided a little revenge was in order. 

 

“I wasn’t flirting with them, bouzu, but they sure as hell were flirting with me.  Hanging all over me even,” he declared, not hesitating to embellish the truth.  “I tried to get them to leave me the fuck alone, but I couldn’t get them to stop throwing themselves at me.” 

 

Miroku gaped at his hanyou companion, who was currently wearing a huge shit-eating grin.  He sensed Inuyasha was exaggerating, but he had clearly received some attention yesterday.  What a lucky bastard.

 

“W-well,” he replied in his normal cheery voice, “we shall just have to figure out a way to expand the abilities of the bone-eaters well.”

 

“What was that, Houshi-sama?!” Sango growled, brandishing hiraikotsu menacingly.  Up until this point, the taijiya had been watching Kagome, ready to bash Inuyasha over the head if his words appeared to be upsetting her.  But the younger girl seemed genuinely amused over the boy’s antics, and not in the least bit angry or sad.  Good, at least he’s not three-timing her. 

 

“Why, Sango, I was merely expressing my desire to verify Inuyasha’s story.”

 

“Verify his story, huh?  You just want to flirt with all the girls from Kagome-chan’s time!”

 

“Think about it, Sango!  If Inuyasha could attract a few women, how many might I be able to—” 

 

*Bonk!*

 

Sango stormed off, the old flea riding on her shoulder pointing her in the right direction.  And though he was hungry, Myouga knew better than to attempt to sneak a mid-morning snack from the irritated woman.  Miroku rubbed his head, feeling the beginnings of a sizeable lump forming as Inuyasha snickered at him.  Kagome promptly elbowed him in the side, effectively silencing him. 

 

“Don’t be too impressed, Miroku-sama.  Girls from my time don’t worry nearly as much about talking or flirting with strange men as women from this time do.”

 

Inuyasha sputtered.  “Wench, you didn’t have to tell him that.” 

 

Kagome shrugged and scurried off to join Sango and the others. 

 

Miroku shook his head.  “I believe Kagome-sama meant to make me feel better, but now I’m even more envious.” 

 

“I dunno, bouzu.  I think you’d get into a lot of trouble playing grab ass in Kagome’s time.” 

 

“Ah, but it would be fun while it lasted.”

 

Inuyasha rolled his eyes and left the pervert to his hentai daydreams. 

 

The next hour or so was uneventful as the group traveled slowly across the feudal countryside, but as the sun rose higher in the sky, Kagome’s sense of well being sunk lower and lower.  It started with a headache, which she passed off as something upsetting her hanyou senses.  But the sensation only intensified as time went on.  She had never had a migraine before, but she now believed she knew what they felt like.  And it wasn’t just her head that was throbbing.  The soreness enveloped her entire body as her limbs filled with lead.  Then her stomach began churning, as nausea and dizziness struck her.  It was all Kagome could do to stay on her feet and keep her panic at bay.  Hanyou weren’t supposed to get sick, right?  And yet, here she was experiencing the worst set of symptoms she had ever known. 

 

“Wench, what’s wrong with you?” Inuyasha asked gruffly from up ahead, having sensed her discomfort.  Lifting her eyes, Kagome saw the entire group staring worriedly at her, and she shook her head in an effort to reassure them.  But that simple act caused the world to spin as her body collapsed underneath her.  Only Inuyasha’s lightning-fast reflexes saved her from a sharp impact from the ground, and he gingerly laid her on her back. 

 

“Kagome!  Kagome!” Shippou’s high-pitched voice was like a knife piercing straight into her skull, and her ears hid themselves in her hair.  Inuyasha quickly got everyone to shut up, but it didn’t help.  The pounding in her cranium was like a drum beat, gradually increasing in tempo and ferocity.  She squeezed her eyes shut, unable to bear it any longer.  What’s wrong with me?!  Why won’t it STOP?!!!!  Then she felt something snap inside her, and everything was quiet once more.  Too quiet, in fact.  She could hear her own breathing, but not much else.  It was as if someone had stuffed cotton in her ears, and she could no longer smell everything about the world around her.  Hesitantly opening her eyes, she stared into the shocked faces of her friends, thinking how much less vivid the world looked. 

 

Sango was the first to break the stunned silence.  “Kagome-chan, you’re human!” 

 

Kagome sat straight up at that, nearly knocking foreheads with Inuyasha in the process.  Sure enough, her questing hands told her that her ears were back on the sides of her head, and her fingers were tipped with nails once again rather than claws. 

 

“H-how?” she asked, totally stumped. 

 

“Kagome-sama,” Miroku spoke up, “why don’t you tell us what happened.  Then maybe we’ll have a better chance of figuring out what’s going on.” 

 

“Well, I got a headache, then body aches, and then I started to feel really queasy.  Then I got dizzy and collapsed and now I’m human again.” 

 

The group sat, silently digesting this information, for several long moments. 

 

“Inuyasha,” Miroku asked, “as a hanyou yourself, do you have any idea what happened?” 

 

Inuyasha shrugged.  “Every hanyou has a time of weakness.  Maybe this is hers.”

 

“But that’s so weird!” Kagome exclaimed.  “In the middle of the morning on some random day?” 

 

“At least it explains why you were feeling sick, Kagome-sama,” Miroku observed.  When the rest of the group regarded him quizzically, the monk continued.  “We all know hanyou have a time of weakness, but have you ever wondered why?”  A collection of shrugs and blank stares greeted his question, so he carried on with his explanation.  “I believe it is because the bodies of hanyou are unable to constantly cope with the strain of the youkai blood flowing through them.  So periodically, hanyou lose their demonic attributes in order to allow their bodies to rest and recuperate.” 

 

“So…when I felt sick, that was my body telling me it needed a break?”

 

“That is what I believe, Kagome-sama.” 

 

Kagome frowned.  “I just hope I don’t have to go through that every time it happens.  And how often is this gonna happen, anyway?  And how long is it going to last?” 

 

“Keh!  Who knows?  You can still walk, can’t ya?  So let’s keep going.” 

 

Miroku sighed.  “Even though he is a baka, Inuyasha is right.  Only time will tell how long it will take for your demonic powers to return, and how often you will need to lose them.” 

 

“Maybe you can change from hanyou to human and back whenever you want, Kagome!” 

 

“I don’t think so, Shippou-chan,” she replied.  But upon seeing the kitsune’s disappointed expression, she hurriedly added, “but as soon as my youkai blood returns I’ll test it out, okay?”

 

“That would certainly be an interesting ability to have,” Sango interjected. 

 

“Oi!” Inuyasha yelled from fifty feet ahead.  “You lazy humans can walk and talk at the same time!” 

 

Miroku smiled ruefully while standing and offering Kagome a hand up, which she gratefully accepted.  “Just like old times, isn’t it?”

 

“Yep.  I’m back with the ‘lazy humans’ again,” Kagome lamented in mock despair.  The group shared a laugh at that comment, tuning out the continuing sounds of Inuyasha’s blustering.  Then they resumed their journey, though the hanyou did set a slightly slower pace than before.  No one dared point that out, however, especially not Kagome, who was probably the most appreciative.  Perhaps Sango and Miroku would have been insulted that he slowed down for Kagome but not for them, if they didn’t already know the reason why he gave her that small special treatment.  It seemed like those two were the only people who remained in the dark about the truth of their relationship.  But for better or for worse, they needed to figure it out for themselves. 

 

Kagome’s youkai powers returned in a rush about an hour before dusk, and the world was suddenly there again.  She hadn’t realized how much she’d gotten used to her youkai senses until they were suddenly taken away.  All things considered, she was glad they were back, a conviction which confused her greatly.  Weren’t they trying to return her to being human full-time?  That thought prompted her to recall her promise to Shippou, but focusing her concentration yielded nothing, not even a glimmer.  It seemed her youkai blood had a mind of its own when it came to coming and going. 

 

“Oh, Kagome-chan, you’re hanyou again.” 

 

“Yeah, Sango-chan.  It was a lot easier changing this way than it was the oth—”  Kagome abruptly cut herself off as a positively delightful scent drifted past her nostrils.  Water.  Hot, steamy water.  Following her nose, she swerved left off the path and into the nearby forest. 

 

“Where are you going, Kagome-chan?”

 

“Oi, wench!  Get back here!  We are not stopping at a hot spring!  There’s too much day…light…left?”  Inuyasha trailed off as Kagome loomed over him, storm clouds rising around her as she glared at him. 

 

“You mean you knew there was a hot spring nearby, and you were just going to lead us right past it?  Is that what you’re telling me, Inuyasha?”

 

“…”

 

“Osuwari!” 

 

*Thud* 

 

Kagome stormed off, followed by Sango, Shippou, and Kirara.  The monk was the only one remaining when Inuyasha peeled himself out of his self-made indentation. 

 

“Damn bitch.  What the hell was that for?”  His rhetorical question was really just for show, however, as he knew exactly how he had brought on Kagome’s wrath.  Maybe I did deserve that one…but haven’t they had enough fuckin’ baths lately?

 

“You should consider yourself lucky, Inuyasha.  In the past, I’m sure your little indiscretion would have earned you more than one meeting with the earth.” 

 

“Shut up, bouzu,” he grouched, stomping after the rest of their companions. 

 

“And once again I’m disappointed in you!  I know we men don’t enjoy a soak as much as the women seem to, but there are other benefits.  Take the lovely view, for example…”

 

“Feh!  You won’t be getting any ‘lovely view’ tonight, bouzu.  Not on my watch.” 

 

“Ah, Inuyasha, be reasonable!  You could join me.  I’d promise not to look at Kagome, and you’d promise not to look at San—”

 

“And what makes you think I want to look at Kagome?!” Inuyasha growled, keeping his voice down as he spun to face him. 

 

“Well, that red face of yours for one thing.” 

 

Said visage darkened further before the owner turned and resumed stalking through the foliage.  “You’re imagining things,” he barked. 

 

Miroku chuckled amusedly at his evasiveness, but wisely decided to end his teasing, lest he wind up with another lump on the head. 

 

After over a year of traveling with Kagome, Inuyasha was sure he’d been to every hot spring in Japan, but not this one.  It really was a perfect campsite; a large clearing, with the spring in one direction and a small river in the other.  Hopefully they would be eating fish tonight.  And as he looked at the shimmering surface of the sluggishly-moving waterway, a devious smile worked its way to his lips.  He had promised the wench some payback, after all.  And she really does want a bath…

 

Kagome was minding her own business, helping Sango set up camp, when she suddenly found herself flung over a shoulder and whisked off to some unknown destination. 

 

“Inuyasha!  What are you doing?  Where are you taking m—AH!” 

 

*Splash!* 

 

Kagome came up sputtering, and started shivering immediately.  “Kami, that’s cold!”  Anger bubbled within her as she glowered at Inuyasha, who was looking quite pleased with himself.  “I-NU-YA-SHAAAA!!!” 

 

He cringed, well familiar with that tone, and what it meant.  “Don’t even think about it, wench!  That’s payback!” 

 

Kagome lips had already formed the ‘o’ shape to utter the first syllable of ‘the word,’ but she stopped herself.  And as much as she really wanted to say it, Inuyasha did have a point.  Fine, Bakayasha, you get one freebie.  Pouting, she folded her arms in front of her chest and looked away.  So she was understandably surprised when Inuyasha’s low snickering turned into a surprised yelp and a loud splash. 

 

“Whoops!  Sorry, Inuyasha!  Didn’t see you there!” Sango exclaimed, smirking and winking at Kagome.  The miko covered her amusement as Inuyasha emerged coughing and spitting. 

 

“Sango!  What the fuck was that for?!” 

 

“I told you, Inuyasha, it was an accident,” the taijiya replied innocently. 

 

“Bullshit!”  But though he knew Sango had pushed him in on purpose, he also knew that doing the same to her would not be worth the subsequent hiraikotsu-inflicted pain.  At the same time, he couldn’t just sit there and do nothing in retaliation; that just wasn’t his style.  So he leapt out of the spring, flying over the taijiya in an impressive display of agility, and landed in a crouch behind her.  Then he shook like a dog, spraying water everywhere and dousing Sango, who was none too pleased with this new development, if the downward slash of her hiraikotsu was any indication.  

 

*Bonk*

 

“Baka!  Kagome and I are going to the hot spring now.  And if anyone peeks at us, I’m holding you responsible, Inuyasha!”  With that, the slayer stormed off toward the campsite, followed by Kagome, who was tickled by the whole situation.  Inuyasha looked distinctly nervous, but then again, Sango was pretty scary when provoked.  They could probably trust him to keep Miroku in line tonight.  The hanyou trailed her back into camp, and she took pity on him.  He looked, and even smelled a little like wet dog, so she tossed him a spare towel before joining Sango in the hot spring. 

 

Inuyasha muttered his thanks as she departed, and glared at the monk, daring him to move from his spot by the fire.  Sighing, he started drying his hair, wishing he could get out of his wet clothes.  Struck by sudden inspiration, he dug through Kagome’s bag until he found what he was looking for.  Moving behind a tree to preserve his modesty, he quickly changed, and emerged wearing a pair of dark gray sweatpants.  Man, these things are great!  Screw those jeans; these are a hundred times more comfortable.  But as he hung his fire-rat clothes over a low tree limb to dry, he couldn’t help but feel that something was missing from the campsite, something that really should have been there… 

 

“Dammit!” 

 

 

“Ahhhhh,” Kagome moaned as she sank into the warm waters of the spring. 

 

“Mmmm…you said it, Kagome-chan.” 

 

“And that Bakayasha was going to deny us this?  He’s lucky I only said ‘the word’ once.”  Both girls chuckled at that before comfortable silence settled in. 

 

“So, Kagome-chan,” Sango asked, “anything interesting happen in your time?”  She wasn’t really expecting an affirmative answer, but Kagome’s blush sparked her curiosity.  “Oh, something did happen!  Spill!  Spill!” 

 

“Nothing happened, Sango-chan!  Really!” Kagome protested, waving her off. 

 

“Kagome-chan,” the taijiya said seriously, “you can’t hide the truth from me.  I’m your friend, so you can tell me anything.  Okay?”  At Kagome’s reluctant nod, she continued worriedly, “It wasn’t anything bad, was it?” 

 

“No,” Kagome replied sheepishly, her flush deepening, “it definitely wasn’t bad.”  At Sango’s confused look, Kagome put her head in her hands.  “I kissed Inuyasha.”  Her words were muffled, but Sango’s gasp indicated she’d heard them.  But she waited for Kagome to explain herself, knowing the younger girl wouldn’t appreciate a bombardment of questions. 

 

“We were arguing, and I got jealous, and then he got jealous, and…I wanted—needed to show him that I wasn’t interested in anyone else.” 

 

“So did he get the message?  You know how dense he is.” 

 

Kagome giggled at that, thankful that Sango always seemed to know what to say to make her feel better.  She was as close to a sister as Kagome was ever going to get. 

 

“Yeah, I think he got it, Sango-chan.” 

 

“Is that all that happened?  He didn’t yell at you, did he?” Sango asked dangerously, raising her fist. 

 

“No, no, he definitely wasn’t angry.  He…kissed me back.”

 

“What?!  He did?”

 

“Yep.  He deepened it too; we even tangled tongues.”

 

“T-tongues?”  Sango had heard of such a thing, but had never even thought about doing it with anyone.  She wondered what it would be like, a certain lecherous monk worming his way into her thoughts.  She blushed crimson. 

 

“It was amazing, Sango-chan,” Kagome continued, completely lost in the memory.  “I’ve never felt so alive, so connected to Inuyasha.” 

 

“That’s probably because you’ve never been more connected with him.”

 

“Sango-chan!” 

 

Now both girls were flushing a pretty shade of red, but both were smiling and content. 

 

“Good for you, Kagome-chan.  I’m happy for you.”  And though she was truly happy for her friend, Sango couldn’t keep just a hint of jealousy from her voice. 

 

“Don’t worry, Sango-chan.  He’ll come arou—”  Kagome paused mid-sentence, a familiar scent causing her eyes to widen in alarm.  He’ll come around, alright.  Discreetly she motioned for Sango to stay in the water.  Catching on, the taijiya sunk down until only the top half of her head protruded.  Kagome reached for a towel, wrapping it around herself as she stepped out of the spring. 

 

“Alright, Sango-chan!  I’m heading back to camp!” she called, louder than she needed to.  Then, picking up hiraikotsu from where it lay on the bank, she circled in a wide arc, heading for the area the scent originated from.  Sure enough, there was the lecherous monk, lying on his belly and staring through a bush.  He was engrossed by whatever he was looking at, as if there was any doubt what that was, and completely oblivious to the world around him.  Good, Kagome thought, slinking closer.  The monk was about to get a painful lesson in not spying on bathing women.  And then Inuyasha’s getting osuwari’d again for letting him out of his sight.  But just as she raised hiraikotsu to thump Miroku on the head, rustling to her left stilled her forward motion.  Inuyasha dashed out of the foliage, pushing the monk’s face into the ground and grabbing the back of his robes. 

 

“Dammit, bouzu!” he whispered, still hoping to avoid discovery.  “I can’t let you out of my sight fo—”  He broke off, noticing for the first time the presence hovering not six feet away, his eyes widening in shock as he tuned to stare at her.  She was just standing there, an equally bewildered expression on her face, her arms raising hiraikotsu over her head.  And she was wearing a fluffy white towel; that’s it.  Beads of water glistened on her bare shoulders, flowing down to the lip of the towel covering her chest.  They disappeared into her prominent bust, and he traced their imaginary path down her body, his eyes moving lustfully over her hips.  Droplets emerged from underneath the bottom of the cloth, which revealed most of her thighs to his hungry gaze.  Then they wove their way down her beautiful legs, completing both the journey and his delightful visual torture. 

 

Kagome found herself just as enthralled by the object of her attention.  He was crouched down on one knee, clad only in a pair of gray sweatpants.  His pale skin glowed in the dappled moonlight filtering through the canopy.  His entire chest and abdomen was bared to her gaze, and his muscles seemed to ripple with a mind of their own.  The sweatpants rested scandalously low on his hips, but she wanted nothing more than for them to slide lower still.  The air was perfumed with mutual arousal, the clearing pervaded with the scents of overpowering desire.  Ultimately, it was this that brought Inuyasha back to reality, enabled him to tear his gaze from the temptress standing before him.  Abruptly he leapt to his feet, marching back into the trees and dragging Miroku, who was just now wiping the mud from his eyes, behind him. 

 

“Ah, Inuyasha,” he lamented, “must you spoil all my fun?” 

 

Inuyasha didn’t respond; he kept his focus straight ahead, trying with all his might to keep his mind off what he had just seen.  But it was futile.  The image of Kagome standing there in nothing but a towel had been permanently burned into his consciousness, taking its place alongside all the other images he kept of her in various states of dress and undress.  But this one was different.  This was the first time that he had been equally unclothed as she, and the tantalizing scent of her arousal almost drove him to do something he would regret.  How badly had he wanted to rip the towel from her, take her in his arms, kiss her senseless? 

 

It scared the shit out of him, his desire.  That was why he’d left, because to crave something—someone so intensely inspired an immeasurable fear in him.  It was many-faceted, this fear; part of it stemmed from the unknown, the fact that he had never before been gripped by such longing.  The need itself was frightening, past hurts and betrayals weighing heavily on his heart.  But just the thought of his happiness riding so much on one person, this light amongst the darkness, filled him with dread.  Most of all, however, he feared rejection, that Kagome would finally realize that he was a dirty hanyou unworthy of her love, her desire.  And yet, he couldn’t regret his vulnerability, his unbreakable attachment to this girl.  She who returned everything he felt for her, and perhaps more.  But how much did he feel for her?  The answer seemed to dangle just out of reach, teasing him with promises of bliss, but remained elusive.  Tossing Miroku back into camp, he leapt into a tree, praying to every Kami imaginable that Kagome did not realize what the scents in the air meant. 

 

Kagome quickly retreated to the hot spring, her breathing ragged, her body flushed with a combination of lust and embarrassment.  She had wanted to leap on top of him, trapping his hard, powerful body beneath her as she plundered his mouth with her own.  She was throbbing, aching with need of an intensity that blew her away.  And…he had felt the same way, the delicious scents in the air telling her as much.  She beamed at the thought, but it only served to remind her how much she yearned for him now.  The warmth of the water could never compare to the heat of his back as she rode him, the feel of his hands as he carried her, the sensation of his lips brushing against her own… 

 

She shook her head, trying to cool down, vowing to sit in the uncomfortably warm water until she composed herself.  Unfortunately, a certain taijiya decided not to cooperate. 

 

“Well, that certainly was interesting,” Sango stated slyly.  “Inuyasha must have gotten those pants from your time, huh?” 

 

Kagome blushed furiously and glared at her friend, who was currently foiling her attempt to forget what Inuyasha looked like in those pants.  Just those pants. 

 

“He looked pretty good, didn’t he, Kagome-chan?”

 

“Sango-chan!”  At this, the taijiya cackled, her amusement at the expense of her flushing friend finally bubbling over.  And surprisingly, it helped Kagome relax, though that was mostly because annoyance proved to be a welcome distraction from her embarrassment.  And the ensuing splashing fight helped too, especially since she had the mortal woman begging for mercy through her giggles by the end of it. 

 

By the time dinner was served and most of the group had gone to sleep, however, Kagome was no longer content.  Inuyasha had been skittish the entire time, barely looking at her and fidgeting nervously whenever she looked at him.  That he donned his soaked hakama and haori was indicative of his discomfort.  But what truly bothered her was his scent: embarrassment mingled with fear and shame.  Maybe she would have let his behavior go before the acquisition of hanyou senses allowed her to read his emotions, but not now.  She couldn’t let him feel this way about their encounter, their physical feelings for one another.  They definitely needed to have a talk, one which was probably long in coming. 

 

“Inuyasha?” she called up to him, but received no response.  “Inuyasha, please, come down.  We need to talk.”  She used her most beseeching tone this time, and heard a sigh before he dropped down right in front of her.  His face was hard, his emotions masked, but his eyes revealed great inner turmoil.  Kagome walked a little ways beyond the reach of the campfire, knowing he would follow.  She sat down in the grass, motioning for him to do the same.  He did, but kept a noticeable distance between them, looking away with a small frown marring his features.  Kagome sighed inwardly.  He’s not going to make this easy, is he? 

 

“Inuyasha,” she breathed helplessly, searching for something to break the ice.  “Are you…mad at me?” 

 

That got a reaction out of him; it was shock, but at least it was something.  “Wh-what?!  Mad at you!  Why would I be mad at you?”

 

Kagome shrugged forlornly.  “I don’t know.  You’ve been ignoring me since we…since the hot spring.” 

 

“Well, I’m not mad at you.  If anything, you should be mad at me.”  His voice sank low as he finished, and Kagome heard the remorse, the self-degradation in it.  She studied him, the way his eyes were downcast, his ears drooped in resignation like a whipped puppy.  She resisted the urge to shake her head.  He thinks I resent him for wanting me.  Baka!  Can he truly not see how much I love him? 

 

“Why should I be mad at you?” 

 

Inuyasha remained silent as the countless reasons why Kagome should leave him and never return flashed through his mind.  But he couldn’t voice them aloud, these insecurities, lest he give up all hope and forever damn himself to a life of crushing loneliness. 

 

“Look, Inuyasha,” Kagome continued at his silence.  “I know you feel…attraction towards me, even” she gulped, “lust.  And I’m not mad.  I know you’ve probably never been told this before, but it’s okay to feel that way about someone.” 

 

“Why?” was all the stunned hanyou could muster, but Kagome heard the questions he didn’t ask.  Why is it okay that a filthy hanyou is lusting after you?  Why don’t you run away?  Why don’t you find me disgusting? 

 

“Because I feel the same things for you,” she answered, to both asked and unasked questions. 

 

Inuyasha was floored, frozen in place as Kagome’s words sunk in.  Sure, he knew she was attracted to him, but nothing could have prepared him for the feelings that would bombard him upon hearing her admit it.  Relief was probably the foremost.  She wasn’t ashamed to feel that way about him; even now, she was smiling at him.  And slowly, his lips quirked in a smile as well, as he raised his head to meet her gaze.  And looking into her eyes, he felt all his tension, his fear melt away.  Perhaps it truly was okay, after all. 

 

“So, wench,” he said, clearing his throat as he attempted to change the subject.  “How was it being human again?”

 

Kagome made a face.  “Actually…it was weird.  I actually missed my hanyou senses a little.” 

 

“Keh!  I know what that’s like.  I feel naked without my senses.”  Inuyasha smirked as Kagome’s face reddened; she was no doubt remembering what he looked like sans clothing from any number of times she had seen him naked or near so.  Yes, it was…freeing, to be able to tease her like that, and to know that she didn’t mind.  She could do the same to him, and probably elicit the same reaction. 

 

“Come on, baka,” she said, grinning despite her blush.  “Let’s get back to camp.”  She held out her hand, and Inuyasha took it, not releasing it until he returned to his position in the tree.  As he surrendered to contented slumber, he reflected that things were changing rapidly now.  His relationship with Kagome had opened, moved to the next level, and he had never felt so close to her—to anyone—before.  It truly was freeing.  There was no other word to describe it.    

Chapter Text

“Oi, Myouga!  How much farther, already?” 

 

“Patience, Inuyasha-sama.  Daichi-sama’s cave is another two or three days journey by foot.” 

 

  “I’m gonna give that jiji a piece of my mind when we get there!  Makin’ us walk all this way…” 

 

“Relax, Inuyasha,” Miroku interjected.  “There really is no need to rush.  Our friend’s hanyou transformation isn’t hurting her, is it, Kagome-sama?” 

 

“Nope.  I’m finally starting to get used to it.” 

 

Inuyasha scowled.  It had been three days since they left Kaede’s village, and they didn’t seem to be getting any closer to achieving their goal.  And as far as he was concerned, there was substantial reason to rush.  He could already see it happening; Kagome was starting to appreciate her hanyou powers.  And how could he blame her?  He loved his senses, his strength, his agility, and hated losing them, even for one night a lunar cycle.  But there was a darker, more sinister side to being a hanyou, one that he didn’t like to talk about.  Perhaps if he was more open with his past, it would be easier to get the humans in the group to understand his urgency, the reason why he so adamantly wished for Kagome to permanently return to her human form as soon as possible.  His memories were like poison, the passage of time barely dulling the sounds of his cries, the yelling, the agony, and the blood.  Eventually he had hardened, years of loneliness and torment layering themselves over his heart in a near impenetrable wall.  Kikyou had cracked that wall, and Kagome had penetrated deeper, brought it to the brink of shattering.  Kagome… 

 

She was a delicate flower fluttering in the breeze, her mind free from taint.  If he ever lived to see the day when she wilted, spirit broken, and began constructing her own wall…  He shuddered, knowing that witnessing the destruction of such a beautiful soul would kill him.  His heart clenched upon imagining what she would look like.  Her dazzling brown eyes would darken as the light inside her faded.  She would become a ghost, a shell of her former self.  She would become…like Kikyou.  He gritted his teeth at the realization.  No!  I won’t let that happen!  Kagome was so full of life, and he would do everything in his power to make sure she stayed that way.  He would shield her from anything, all the prejudice, all the hate of the world if he could.  Kagome would not become like Kikyou. 

 

So lost in thought was Inuyasha, that he almost missed the familiar scent on the breeze.  Perhaps he would have if the smell wasn’t so pungent, and didn’t inspire feelings of jealousy and irritation within him.  Kagome’s declaration that she sensed approaching jewel shards only confirmed what he already knew.  This was about to get ugly. 

 

“Hey, Kagome,” Kouga greeted, leaping out of his tornado to land right in front of her.  As always, he grasped her hands and stared into her eyes as he spoke.  “How’s my wom—” 

 

Kagome might have laughed at the wolf’s expression if she wasn’t suddenly so unbearably nervous.  Kouga’s eyes widened to an impossible degree, his jaw dropping as his nose worked overtime to verify again and again what his eyes were telling him.  His gaze drifted to her ears, and he stared at them as they twitched anxiously under the scrutiny, his arms falling to hang limply at his sides.  His mouth worked silently for several long moments, trying and failing to form words.  Finally, he seemed to gather himself as another emotion swiftly replaced shock. 

 

“Inu-kurro!” he yelled, darting over to confront Inuyasha eye to eye, less than a foot between them.  “What.  Did.  You.  Do.  To.  MY.  WOMAN?!!!!” 

 

“Feh!  I didn’t do anything, you mangy wolf!” 

 

At this, the rage burning in Kouga’s eyes only deepened.  “Then what did you let happen to her?!” 

 

Inuyasha didn’t have an answer, and Kouga’s anger boiled over as he swung his fist, which the hanyou easily dodged. 

 

“I’m going to kill you for this, Inu-kurro!” 

 

“Oh, yeah?  Bring it on!  I’ve wanted to tear your lungs out ever since I met you!” 

 

“Inuyasha!  Kouga-kun!  Please!” Kagome screamed, placing herself between the two glaring males, one hand on each rival’s chest.  Both growled low, but backed off, for the moment at least.  Kagome turned to face the new arrival, her hands clasped pleadingly in front of her. 

 

“Kouga-kun, it’s my fault this happened, not Inuyasha’s.” 

 

“Don’t defend him, Kagome.  He’s not worth it.  If he was a halfway decent protector, this,” he spat, waving his hand at her, “would never have happened.” 

 

“No, Kouga-kun,” Kagome replied hastily before Inuyasha could.  “It really was my fault.  Inuyasha told me to stay out of the way, but I didn’t listen.” 

 

“Th-that doesn’t matter!  Dammit, Kagome!  I knew I shouldn’t have left you with that incompetent moron!  I should have been there to—”

 

“Well you weren’t there, were you, wolf?  You were off sniffing around the countryside with your flea-ridden buddies!” 

 

“You want I should take Kagome with me?  I’d be more than happy to take her as my mate right now!  And then she’d never need to be near you and your rancid stench ever aga—”

 

“THAT’S ENOUGH!!!!!” 

 

Kagome’s incredible outburst silenced not only the two bickering males, but the entirety of the surrounding forest as well.  Not even the smallest creature dared to move or make a sound, lest it draw the formidable ire of the enraged woman glaring death at her two companions.  She was blushing head to toe, but the hotness of her cheeks only served to make her seem even more incensed. 

 

“Inuyasha, osuwari!!” 

 

*Thud* 

 

“And you!” she yelled, rounding on Kouga, whose snickering abruptly ceased.  “I am NOT your woman and I’m DEFINITELY not going to be your ‘mate!’” 

 

Once again, Kouga’s jaw dropped to his knees, but he quickly slammed it shut.  Turning his head away, he changed the subject.

 

“So what are you planning to do about this?” 

 

“We’re going to meet someone who might know how to change me back,” Kagome answered, softer this time as a twinge of guilt struck her. 

 

“I think that’s for the best.”  Then, in a flash, Kouga was in front of her once more, holding her hands.  “Kagome, you are my woman, and you will be my mate.  You just don’t know it yet.”  With that, he leaned down, placed a peck on her cheek, and dashed off. 

 

“Oi!  I saw that!” Inuyasha bellowed from his prone position on the ground.  “Get back here and let me rip your lips off!” 

 

Unbeknownst to the hanyou, the rumbling volcano that was Kagome had not yet erupted.  If he had known, he would have covered his ears. 

 

“GAH!  I’M SURROUNDED BY THICKHEADED BAKAS!!!!!” 

 

After she finished her deafening cry to the heavens, Kagome stood stock still, breathing heavily and trying to regain her composure. 

 

“Well..,” Sango said after awhile, being the only one brave enough to break the silence.  “That was interesting.” 

 

At her words, Kagome felt all her anger melt away, to be replaced with remorse and guilt.  Oh, no!  What did I do?  I never meant to say those things to Kouga! 

 

“Oh, Sango-chan!  I don’t know what came over me!  When he said he was going to…mate with me, I just felt this incredible urge to punch him in the head.  It was all I could do to just yell at him instead!”

 

“Uh, Kagome-chan, he wasn’t just propositioning you.  I don’t know a whole lot about it, but apparently for a youkai, properly ‘mating’ someone is like marrying them.” 

 

“Either way, we don’t blame you for telling him off, Kagome-sama,” Miroku responded seriously.  “No man has the right to claim a woman as his own without her consent.  Perhaps Inuyasha could shed some more light on what he meant by you becoming his ‘mate,’” the monk proposed, anxious to see what stuttering, awkward comment the hanyou would come up with on such a sensitive subject. 

 

But Inuyasha wasn’t paying attention; he was staring off into space, a small, contented grin tugging at the corners of his lips.  He was repeating Kagome’s words to that self-righteous prick Kouga over and over in his head.  “I am NOT your woman and I’m DEFINITELY not going to be your mate!”  Keh, about time she put that fleabag in his place!  Too bad he’s too stupid to get the message.

 

“Inuyasha?” Kagome tried, drawing him from his daze. 

 

“Alright, enough time wasted.  Let’s go,” he ordered, effectively covering his embarrassment.  The others were content to let the uncomfortable subject drop, and no more was said on the matter. 

 

To his surprise, Kagome sped past him and proceeded to walk ahead for the next several minutes.  It baffled him, and he as he tried to figure out the reason behind her actions, he took a deep breath and noticed that they had just about left the foul stench of wolf behind them.  At that moment, Kagome began drifting back until she resumed her customary position among the humans.  Now he was truly mystified, and he knew he would find no peace until he got to the bottom of it.  Then, as he reconsidered what had transpired in the past few minutes, a thought struck him.  A positively delightful thought, one that caused his visage to twist in a smile so evil it would have put Naraku himself to shame. But he had to be sure, and to that end he stopped directly in front of Kagome, staring at her when she came to a halt before him. He searched her eyes, scanning for anything to confirm his theory.  Finally, she cracked, lowering her head and averting her gaze.  Inuyasha nearly whooped in victory. 

 

“I knew it!  You hate that mongrel’s scent too!” 

 

“I do not!” Kagome yelled, though her voice lacked its usual conviction. 

 

“Do too!” 

 

“Do not!”

 

“Come on, Kagome!  I can tell you’re lying.  It’s as clear as day!” 

 

Frowning, Kagome finally gave up the charade.  “I don’t hate his scent.  I just don’t like it.” 

 

At this, Inuyasha could contain his glee and amusement no longer, as he cackled merrily while adopting a big, shit-eating grin.  The other members of the Inu-gang backed off a step, finding the hanyou’s bubbly behavior decidedly creepy. 

 

“Oh, I can’t wait to rub his nose in it!”

 

“Inuyasha!  If you ever tell Kouga-kun, I swear…I don’t know how many times I’ll say ‘the word,’ but I promise it will be a new record!” 

 

But even that threat could not dampen Inuyasha’s good mood, though it did cause him to reconsider his plan of exposing Kagome’s secret to the wolf.  Though it might be worth the pain just to see the look on his face.

 

* * *

 

“Dammit!” Kouga swore as he sped away from his woman.  A riot of emotion flowed through him, hopelessly jumbling his feelings.  Ever since he had first fallen for Kagome, there had been a plan, one that was supposed to go off without a hitch.  He had been completely honest when he had declared his love for her the day of the battle with the Birds of Paradise.  Never had he met a woman more worthy of his hand.  But because she was human, he vowed then and there to be patient with her.  She wouldn’t understand youkai customs, that his claim on her was binding, and that he was seriously defying convention by allowing her to remain in the company of that half-breed mutt.  But for whatever reason, she wanted to stay with her friends, and he respected that. 

 

He scoffed.  Any youkai bitch would be glad to have me, so why is the one woman I want not interested?!  Kagome’s harsh words came back to him, ricocheting around in his mind and shooting straight through his heart.  His carefully laid plans creaked and buckled, threatening to crash down around him.  He shuddered at the thought of what Kagome had become.  Having hanyou children was one thing, but mating one was another entirely.  Hanyou were tainted, impure, proof that two beings had blatantly broken the laws of nature.  They were to be hated, ostracized, even killed, and the world would be better off without them.  Most were weak to begin with; how Inuyasha had managed to survive as long as he had was a mystery.  Probably because of that sword of his. 

 

It was not lost on Kouga that he was planning to shatter those very laws of nature by mating with Kagome.  He would love her, cherish her until the end of her days.  He would remain faithful to her even as she became old and weary, but when her mortal lifespan was finally used up, he would move on.  He would give her children to make her happy, and they would know no harm while he was alive, but he would never truly consider them his heirs.  For that, a proper youkai mate was necessary.  But he had hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years to find one of those, and he wanted to enjoy a mortal lifespan with the first woman he had ever fallen for. 

 

Unfortunately, fate had continually interfered with his plans.  It started with Inuyasha, and Kagome’s incomprehensive attachment, even affection for the ingrate.  He had no idea why she even bothered to care for the bastard, especially considering how he treated her.  He offered her protection, but the price for it was insults, sadness, and tears.  He didn’t shower her with words of affection as she deserved, though perhaps that was because Inu-kurro was still hung up on another woman!  And yet, Kagome had made it perfectly clear that she cared deeply for the jackass, perhaps even loved him.  She certainly seemed to prefer the mutt’s company over his own. 

 

But Kouga wouldn’t—couldn’t give up.  He loved her far too much for that.  Kagome would change back into the human form he adored so much, and then he would slay Naraku, proving once and for all that he was the only man deserving of her hand.  And she would come to him willingly.  This he had to believe, despite the way she and Inu-kurro seemed to be drifting closer every time he saw them, or how his logical mind told him she was already lost.  To believe otherwise, to throw away his faith in himself, would be to admit defeat.  And that was something he would never do, especially to a worthless half-breed. 

 

* * *

 

Inuyasha’s pleasant mood slowly dissipated as the day wore on.  It wasn’t that he began feeling bad for the wolf; that certainly was not the case.  But how was he supposed to be happy when Kagome obviously wasn’t?  He had a fairly good idea what was bothering her, and it pissed him off to no end.  I always knew he was an asshole, but this is bad even for a bastard like him!  He didn’t know what stirred his ire more: Kouga’s harsh reaction or the fact that it affected Kagome so much. 

 

Dinner was a quiet affair, as everyone in the group sensed that their miko companion wasn’t in a mood for conversation.  Finally, just as the tired members of the Inu-gang were settling down for the night, Inuyasha snapped.  The scent of her melancholy had been bad enough, but ultimately, what pushed him over the edge was the soft, despondent sigh she heaved as she slipped into her sleeping bag.  Grabbing Shippou by the tail, he tossed the runt across the campsite, ignoring his high-pitched protests.  Then he snatched up Kagome, still encased in the sleeping roll, and darted into the forest.  She didn’t protest his actions, and her silence only fueled his anger.  Reaching a suitable distance away from camp, he set her down against a tree, the gentleness of his movements belying the turmoil raging inside him.  He began pacing back and forth, trying to come up with something to say.  Kagome merely sat watching him, her eyes dulled by dejection. 

 

“What the fuck is wrong with you, wench!” was what he finally settled on, though her cringe and the way her ears lowered suggested that perhaps that hadn’t been the wisest choice of words.  Taking a deep breath, he plopped himself on the ground, sitting cross-legged a few feet in front of her. 

 

“Look, Kagome,” he continued, his tone much softer this time, “I have no fucking idea why, but you seem to value that fleabag wolf’s opinion of you.  But I can’t believe you let him get to you this much!  If he can’t accept you for who—what you are, then he’s not worth your fucking time or your friendship!” 

 

That got a reaction out of her, though he still saw the hurt in her eyes.  Today, this innocent young woman had experienced her first taste of real rejection, and it had inflicted deep wounds.  Days ago, her grandfather had immediately apologized for his outburst, and Kagome could have faith that he meant it when he said he would always accept her.  Kouga had given no such assurances, nor earned any faith on her part.  And it got worse; Kouga hadn’t insulted her, called her filthy names, or tried to kill her.  But those things could happen in the future, and Inuyasha once again reaffirmed his promise to return Kagome to her human form.  This goal was really the only thing he and Kouga agreed on, but he wasn’t like that bastard.  Whereas Kouga wanted Kagome to transform back for his own selfish reasons, for Inuyasha it truly was about what was best for her. 

 

“Did you see how he looked at me, Inuyasha?  Like he couldn’t stand to look at me?!”

 

“You think I haven’t seen that look a thousand times?!  You know what I say about the people who look at me that way?  Fuck ‘em.  Just fuck ‘em.  You find people who accept you for who you are, and you care about what they think.  The rest of the world can go to hell.”  By the time he finished, Inuyasha was no longer gazing at her.  Instead, he was staring at the ground, lost in memory, and Kagome finally understood why he dragged her out here tonight.  Oh, Kami, the way I’ve been acting…Inuyasha must think that Kouga’s opinion is the only one that matters to me!  It hurt so bad, but Inuyasha’s right.  I can’t let Kouga get me down, not when my friends and family still accept me.  Choking back a sob, Kagome launched herself out of the sleeping bag, enfolding the surprised hanyou in a warm embrace. 

 

“I’m sorry, Inuyasha.  You’re right; I shouldn’t have let Kouga-kun get to me.  I didn’t mean to belittle you, or make you think—”

 

“Alright already, wench!  Quit your blubbering,” he ordered, gently pushing her away.  “Just promise me you won’t keep moping around.  You’ll slow us down,” he added reflexively, but Kagome just smiled at the lame attempt to cover his concern. 

 

“Ok, Inuyasha.  I’ll be fine, as long as you accept me…” she trailed off, her unspoken question hanging in the air. 

 

“Feh!  You don’t even need to ask.” 

 

Then she flashed him that smile, that dazzling look, the one she only showed when he’d done something to make her deliriously happy.  The one that turned his legs to jelly and his insides to mush.  Unwilling to let her see how glad he was to see her smile, he leapt to his feet and turned his back on her. 

 

“N-now get back to bed!  You’ll be no good to us in the morning if you don’t sleep.” 

 

Kagome merely chuckled at his retreating form as she bent to retrieve her sleeping bag, reading his embarrassed escape for what it was.  Inuyasha still wasn’t comfortable with revealing his softer side, but that side of him seemed to be coming out more and more regardless.  There was an extra bounce in Kagome’s step as she returned to camp.  Though Inuyasha and her friends wanted her to revert to human form, she knew they accepted her as she was.  Their attitude toward her hadn’t changed.  These were the people she would place her faith and trust in, and no one else’s opinion mattered. 

 

* * *

 

A lone figure moved leisurely through the trees, silhouetted by the glow of her eerie servants slithering overhead.  Her face was stoic, a finely-tuned mask of indifference, but confusion and unrest wracked the inner workings of her mind.  How long had it been since everything she thought she knew had been thrown to the fire? 

 

Her childhood, her years of training, her time as a practicing miko…all these had impressed upon her one central truth about the world: that youkai were impure, and miko were pure.  The powers of the miko were inexorably opposed to youki, so that one must inevitably triumph over the other.  To that end, youkai should be purified at every opportunity, a mission Kikyou fulfilled faithfully until that day.  The day she met Inuyasha.  His humanity had saved him, stilled her arrow, even allowed them to become companions.  But his youkai side haunted her as her professional convictions would not allow her to look past his taint.  As they became closer, her miko powers became increasingly dormant, and she began to feel the weight of helplessness upon her shoulders.  If this hanyou should seek to betray her now, would she be able to defend herself and the Shikon no Tama?  Eventually, the jewel itself provided her with a solution, one which would benefit all parties.  But it was not to be; betrayal did indeed strike, whether it was from Inuyasha or a thief named Onigumo, whose wickedness she had greatly underestimated. 

 

Kikyou had known all these things as surely as she knew that Inuyasha owed her his life.  But when Kagome located the hidden jewel shards, fired an incredibly powerful arrow in spite of the youkai blood running through her body, everything came crashing down upon her head.  For days afterward she had wandered, trying to convince herself that it was a trick, but no plausible explanation presented itself.  Finally, she had realized the truth, that Kagome truly was a hanyou miko, the first in the history of the world.  And with that realization came the superfluity of questions which had been plaguing her thoughts ever since.  The first was, quite simply, how was this possible?  To this day she had no answer, though Inuyasha’s explanation seemed reasonable.  But if that was the case, and the purity of a person’s heart determined her overall purity, then what did that say about her own heart?  Was it not pure to devote one’s life to slaying youkai?  Was it not pure to look past the tainted half of another, and hope for a future with him should he rid himself of it? 

 

At one time in her life—both her lives—she considered herself at the highest pinnacle of purity.  But now, evidence to the contrary had begun to stack convincingly against her.  And most of it stemmed from a comparison between herself and her reincarnation.  She started to lose her powers by merely associating with Inuyasha, while Kagome, who had probably gotten closer to the hanyou than she ever had, showed no sign of weakening.  Even while harboring youkai blood within her body, the younger miko had managed an impressive display of miko abilities.  So why had she, Kikyou, lost her powers?  Was it Inuyasha’s fault, as she had always assumed, or was it something else, something wrong with her? 

 

It had taken many days for the answer to truly sink in, and it nearly brought her to her knees when it did.  In her brief time with Inuyasha, she had never fully accepted him.  She had always regarded his youkai side as a danger, a defect that needed to be removed.  She had never trusted him, accepted him for what he was, as Kagome did.  That was why she lost her powers; because she judged him by his blood, not by his actions and the content of his heart.  That was true purity, to look past all physical manifestations and only see a person’s soul.  She had always criticized Kagome for her lack of training, but in this, that very amateurism helped her reach a level of purity that Kikyou herself could never hope to achieve.  For she knew she could never completely banish her rigid training, her inflexible beliefs about right and wrong, miko and youkai.  But she was at least coming to terms with her fallacies, the tragic mistakes of the past, as her wounded soul slowly healed.  Day by day, a warm sensation of peace wrapped itself more snugly around her.  And so she continued her aimless wandering, longing for the day when her soul would perhaps finally find the complete peace it desired. 

Chapter Text

“Ouch!” 

 

*Slap*

 

“Dammit, Myouga!  How many times do I have to tell you not to bite Kagome?”

 

“But, Inuyasha-sama,” the flea whined pitifully from his place between the hanyou’s fingertips.  “It’s been such a long journey, and Kirara won’t let me take any of her blood.  I’ve had nothing to eat for days!”

 

“Go suck on Shippou.”

 

“Oi!” the kit protested. 

 

“But Inuyaaashaaaaaa-samaaaaa,” Myouga moaned, putting on his most sympathetic air.  “The blood of beautiful young women always tastes the best.  Add in the distinctive flavor of youkai…oh, Kagome-sama’s blood must taste heavenly!” 

 

“Too bad.  You’ll have to find another one.”

 

“Oh...becoming…dizzy.  Can’t…remember…directions.  Must…have…nourishment.”  Myouga swooned, drawing an exasperated growl from Inuyasha.  Nevertheless, the hanyou bared his arm, and Myouga attacked it with vigor.  When the flea had taken what Inuyasha deemed to be a sufficient amount, he was unceremoniously flicked off. 

 

“There, ya fuckin’ pest.  Now get us to Daichi’s quickly or I’ll turn you into a Myouga-pancake!” 

 

“Pan-cake?” Miroku questioned curiously, causing Inuyasha to stare off into space as a memory came to mind.  The flat, circular disks, covered in butter and syrupy goodness…it had been almost as good as ramen, or bacon! 

 

“Kagome’s okaa-san made them for us once.  They’re really good.” 

 

Miroku’s eyebrows raised in surprise.  Okaa-san?  Since when does Inuyasha address *anyone* so respectfully?  Kagome’s mother must have made quite an impression on him. 

 

Inuyasha snapped out of his daydream when he felt eyes boring into the back of his head, and turned to see Kagome gazing at him contemplatively.  “What are you looking at, wench?” he grumped, though there was no real hostility in his words. 

 

Kagome shook her head and smiled wider.  When Myouga called her beautiful, she had cringed, mentally preparing herself for a snide remark from Inuyasha, somewhere along the lines of ‘Beautiful?  I don’t see any beautiful girls around here.’  When this customary, caustic reply never came, but was instead replaced by ‘You’ll have to find another one,’ she turned to stare at him in amazement.  For he had just directly implied that she was in fact beautiful, and apparently didn’t even realize it.  Over the past few weeks, her nose had informed her that this is what he thought, but actually hearing him state it aloud, though in not so many words, was entirely unexpected.  She chuckled lightly.  Yes, Inuyasha had changed.  No longer was he the brash, insulting, infuriating hanyou he had been when they first met.  He still charged recklessly into battle, swore like a sailor, and could stoke her ire like no other, but he had certainly mellowed.  He no longer insulted her at every opportunity, and his overall mood had greatly improved.  Having friends he could trust had probably been the biggest factor in these changes, but Kagome liked to think that she had helped him in other ways as well.  She was the only one of the group who loved him, after all, and the first one to grant him unconditional acceptance.  Overall, he had become much happier since that first night by Goshinboku.  His eyes were brighter, and he no longer carried the burden of Kikyou’s death on his shoulders constantly. 

 

Inuyasha arched an eyebrow but otherwise let her reaction go.  That was another thing that had changed; a year ago, he probably would have made a scene, demanding to know what she found so ‘damn funny.’  Again, he had mellowed.  But when danger came around, he was still as ready for a fight as ever.  That was fortunate, because a sudden scent in the air had Inuyasha snapping to attention, their conversation forgotten.  This time, Kagome doubted their guests would be content to just talk. 

 

“Heh.”  Inuyasha smirked, cracking his knuckles as the two youkai skidded to a stop before them.  “I was hoping to see you bastards again.  Will you stay and fight, or will you run off with your tails between your legs again?” 

 

“Believe me, cretin, fear had nothing to do with our hasty departure following our previous encounter,” Takehiko replied easily, not in the least bit bothered by Inuyasha’s posturing.  In fact, both he and his sister seemed extremely confident, which immediately put Kagome on edge.  “Stick to the plan, Sora,” he said before both attacked. 

 

Takehiko shot straight toward Inuyasha, slashing in a downward arc with a long, curved blade that widened slightly at the end.  The weapon crackled with youkai energy, but Tetsusaiga had no problem meeting the attack head-on and repulsing it.  After several moments of heated exchanges, it appeared that Inuyasha had the advantage in both physical brute strength and the power of his sword.  But what Takehiko lacked in power, he made up for in grace, agility, and swordsmanship.  Inuyasha found himself on the defensive, barely able to keep up with the swift strikes that tore several slices in his haori.  Finally, the hanyou regained his proverbial footing, lashing out with the Kaze no Kizu.  His opponent dodged effortlessly, but Inuyasha followed up, attacking with measures swipes of Tetsusaiga, careful to avoid overswinging and leaving his enemy an opening.  The mass and force of his sword strikes compelled Takehiko to dodge or parry, as he seemed reluctant to block the attacks directly.  He continued dancing, counterattacking where he could, but mostly staying just out of killing range.  The two drifted farther and farther away from the rest of the combatants as Inuyasha doggedly pursued, his irritation increasing exponentially with each missed stroke.

 

Meanwhile, Sora had immediately taken to the air, unfurling her large, powerful wings and hovering in place.  Each flap sent hundreds of small shards of youkai energy toward the Inu-gang, like white-hot bullets cutting through the breeze.  It almost appeared as if the was flinging her feathers at them, but that was not the case; she was using her feathers to manifest her youki into an energy attack.  Her targets scattered, and Sora ceased her harassment, biding her time.  Sango was the first to respond; she leapt on Kirara, flinging hiraikotsu straight at the hawk’s neck.  A flap of Sora’s wings sent the weapon off course, the boomerang skidding to the ground off to the side.  As the taijiya flew to recover her weapon, Miroku stepped forward and opened his kazaana.  Sora’s expression revealed her shock, but another mighty beat of her wings gave her just enough time to launch an energy attack in the monk’s direction.  This time, Sora condensed her energy, firing several larger orbs instead of a hundred shards.  Miroku closed his kazaana just before lunging to the side to avoid being burned to a crisp where he stood.  This was the opportunity Sora had been waiting for, and she took it without hesitation, diving toward her true target—the now-unprotected miko-hanyou bitch. 

 

Kagome, startled by the sudden change, fumbled the arrow she had been notching.  The weapon clattered uselessly to the ground, and Kagome watched with wide eyes as the hawk youkai bore down on her.  She leapt away at the last second, launching herself backward in an attempt to avoid impalement by the sharp talons she could see glistening in the sunlight.  But it was futile; the bird’s momentum was too much to overcome, and her expertise on the wing was extraordinary.  Sora grabbed Kagome’s shoulder, the claws piercing her flesh and holding it like an inescapable vice.  Then, before the miko had even registered the pain, Sora drove a dagger into her gut.  Oddly, Kagome felt no pain.  She could see the silver hilt of the weapon protruding from her stomach, but there was no accompanying sensation that would tell her the rest of the weapon was even there. 

 

Then, it happened.  Blinding, burning agony exploded throughout her body, and an anguished scream escaped her throat.  She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think; it felt as if her body was being torn asunder, ripped apart from the inside.  The darkness closed in swiftly, beckoning her to surrender to the strange power invading her.  But at some level, in some stubborn corner of her mind, she refused.  Her miko powers surged unbidden within her, the last, automatic defense of their mistress, who found herself on the very precipice of death.  And suddenly the blackness was gone, as was the tortuous agony, and she collapsed forward, another’s scream replacing her own. 

 

Inuyasha spun around upon hearing Kagome’s cry, nearly having his head lopped off as a result.  But he ignored Takehiko now, and charged back toward his comrades with the inu-youkai hot on his heels.  For a brief moment, Kagome and Sora were locked together, then there was only pink.  Out of the blinding flash shot Sora, screeching at the top of her lungs, her cry sending all the creatures of the woodland and the plain running for cover.  She trailed acrid black smoke, her wings ablaze with unquenched flame as she plummeted to the ground.  Over and over she rolled, her battered body absorbing the impact, the unforgiving earth nevertheless putting out the fire that tormented her.  Thin bolts of purity still crackled around her, even as she lay motionless in a heap. 

 

“Sora!” shouted Takehiko as he sped by Inuyasha to reach his sister.  He checked on her quickly, snatched up the dagger lying nearby, then gathered her into his arms and sped off at a speed none of the Inu-gang could match.  Not that any of them intended to give chase. 

 

“Kagome!” sounded four voices, more or less in time with each other.  To their surprise and relief, her eyes fluttered at the noise, and she slowly sat up.  She wobbled slightly, and appeared confused at first, but as her short-term memory returned, her eyes darted all around in alarm. 

 

“Relax, Kagome-sama,” Miroku said, “they’re gone.  You made sure of that.”

 

“Yeah,” Shippou enthused.  “I’ve never seen such a strong miko attack!  It made the hairs on my tail stand on end.” 

 

Kirara, in her small form once again, mewed in agreement.  Kagome frowned, brows furrowing in consternation. 

 

“But what happened to me?  Why did my miko energy explode like tha—”  Kagome cut herself off as Miroku knelt before her and lifted her shirt enough to expose her stomach.  Her first instinct was to push the garment back down, and maybe smack the monk, but she tamped it down upon seeing his astonished expression and remembering the knife wound she surely must have down there.  There was a brief scuffle as Miroku was quite literally tossed aside by the back of his robes, his hand replaced by a clawed one. 

 

“Fuckin’ hentai!  Stay away from Kagome!” 

 

“Inuyasha, I assure you, my intentions were honorable.  I merely wished to check Kagome-sama’s wound.”  The hanyou spared a glance at Kagome’s stomach before returning his glare to the monk. 

 

“What wound?  I don’t see anything.”

 

“Which is very odd, considering the fact that I swear I saw Sora shove a dagger into Kagome’s gut.” 

 

“WHAT?!!  You better not be fuckin’ with me, bouzu!” 

 

“Do you think I would joke about something so serious?” 

 

“Wait, Inuyasha,” Kagome interrupted before the hanyou could respond.  “It’s true.  She really did stab me.  About here,” she said, using one finger to point out the approximate point of entry.  Inuyasha studied the small patch of skin; it looked just as smooth and flawless as the rest of her flesh!  And with that in mind, he couldn’t help but zoom his eyes out a bit, the flat, toned expanse of her stomach mesmerizing him completely.  

 

“It was really weird,” Kagome continued, oblivious to his distraction.  “It didn’t hurt at all where she stabbed me, but the rest of my body was on fire!  Like I was being torn apart from the inside…” she trailed off, noticing the all too pleasant sensation of gentle fingers caressing her belly.  She flushed lightly as she noticed whose hand it was, and the glazed-over look swimming in his amber eyes.  “Uh…Inuyasha?  You can put my shirt down now.”

 

Inuyasha blushed crimson, and withdrew his hand instantaneously, making Kagome wish she hadn’t said anything.  His embarrassed eyes met hers for a moment before he looked away.  The movement caused him to notice the flow of blood still trickling from her shoulder, and he leapt to his feet and walked away.  Kagome was immensely relieved when he returned with her first aid kit, having at first believed that he was too mortified to remain in her presence for the time being.  Then she remembered the wound herself, and glanced at her shoulder, the corresponding pain finally working its way into her consciousness.  She grimaced as she took in the damage; Sora’s talons had torn several holes in her blouse and sheered right through the strap of her bra. 

 

“Damn!  That was my favorite bra!  And I liked the blouse, too.”  The wounds themselves were not too severe; they would only have been serious if she was human.  As it was, they were already healing on their own.  Nevertheless, Inuyasha delicately cleaned and bandaged the punctures, as she had done for him countless times.  He wore a look of intense concentration, his inexperience with the art of healing evident in his expression.  But surprisingly, the bandaging turned out fine; Kagome felt that she couldn’t have done a better job herself.  “Thank you,” she said shyly when he was finished.  He merely grunted before standing and looking around, swearing under his breath about the cowardly flea who had obviously run off at the first sign of danger. 

 

“Are you sure there’s nothing wrong with your stomach, Kagome-chan?” Sango inquired, prompting Kagome to lift up her shirt and examine the area one more time. 

 

“Yep.  There’s nothing there, and I don’t think there ever was.” 

 

“That’s so strange, though!  A dagger that doesn’t cut?  I don’t like whatever those two are plotting.” 

 

“It must have something to do with their desire to get their brother back,” Miroku stated.  “We must be extra cautious the next time they come around.  You are their true target.  It would be best if some of us kept that in mind.”  His inflection rose, making it perfectly clear just who he was referring to.  Inuyasha pointedly ignored the jibe, but Kagome noticed that his ears did droop slightly.  Maybe that was why he bandaged her wounds instead of letting someone else do it—because he felt guilty for leaving her unprotected?  But he didn’t leave me unprotected.  He took Takehiko out of the fight, and it was three—four counting Kirara—against one!  He can’t possibly blame himself, can he?  She knew the answer to that question.  Inuyasha never had problems placing blame for something upon his own shoulders.  He blamed himself for Kikyou’s death, and her near-second death, and for any number of times she herself had been injured or put in danger.  Most of the time, it wasn’t his fault at all; such was the case here.  But he didn’t appear to be too bummed, and Kagome didn’t think it would be a major issue.  

 

“Where is that damn flea?” he griped aloud.  “We’ve wasted enough time today!” 

 

Kagome arched an eyebrow.  Hmph, some of that ‘wasted time’ was you staring at me.  But she wisely kept such thoughts to herself, knowing that being reminded of his momentary indiscretion would put her hanyou in a sour mood indeed.  And it wasn’t like she really minded the contact…  Raising her shirt again, she examined the part of her that had kept Inuyasha so enthralled.  She was pleasantly surprised at what she saw.  Since when do I have abs?  Now, she had never been too pudgy, and the last of her baby fat had vanished sometime around her fourteenth birthday, but she had never been blessed with perceptible muscles either.  Yet, there they were, not overly pronounced, but clearly visible to anyone who gave her more than a passing glance.  She had to admit she liked the view.  Another benefit of being a hanyou, I guess.

 

“Oi, wench!  You gonna sit there staring at yourself all day?  Let’s go.” 

 

Kagome scowled at him, barely holding back the reflexive ‘osuwari’ that came to her lips.  She settled for sticking her tongue out at him. 

 

“Where are we going, Inuyasha,” she asked dubiously.  “Have you found Myouga yet?” 

 

The hanyou sputtered for a moment, then huffed haughtily.  “Keh!  He’ll find us if he knows what’s good for him.”  As if on cue…

 

“Ouch!” 

 

*Slap* 

 

“Kagome, wha—oh, I’m gonna fuckin’ kill that flea!”  Said flea popped back into form, rubbing his tummy happily, the picture of contentment. 

 

“I was right!  Kagome-sama’s blood is absolutely divine!” 

 

“I don’t care, pest.  You’re dead!” 

 

“W-wait, Inuyasha-sama!” Myouga exclaimed from his place on Kagome’s palm, waving his arms in an attempt to placate the irate hanyou bearing down on him.  “I have something very important to ask y—”

 

*Clap*

 

“Oooooh, such is the life of a flea.”  Myouga once again popped into his normal, rounded shape, and Inuyasha grasped him firmly between two fingers. 

 

“Now tell us what’s so important, and then get us to Daichi’s, or I’ll squish you about a hundred more times.”

 

“No need to resort to threats, Inuyasha-sama.  I am your faithful servant.”

 

Inuyasha scoffed.  “Faithful?  Where were you when the fighting started, huh?  Hiding in a bush?”

 

“Where I was watching the battle from does not matter.  But who you were fighting…that’s what’s so important!  Who was that Inu youkai, Inuyasha-sama?  Do you know his name?”

 

The hanyous shrugged.  “Takemiko…Takehiro…”

 

“Takehiko?” the flea supplied.

 

“Yeah, that.  Why, do you know him?” 

 

“I suppose you could say that,” Myouga sighed, his eyes glazing over as if gazing upon a distant memory.  “Come, everyone.  Sit around Kagome-sama and I will tell you everything I know about this Takehiko.”  When the Inu-gang was settled, Myouga began.  “It must have been over a hundred years ago, soon after Inuyasha-sama’s father met his mother.  Word got out that the Inu no Taisho was infatuated with a human, and many sought to challenge him for the Western Lands, believing him to be weak.  Most found otherwise very quickly.  There were others, however, who were actually strong enough to be a threat to your father.”  Here, Myouga paused, his face wilting as if the next part of the story caused him great sadness.  “One of those few was an inu-youkai named Yuudai.  He was one of your father’s most trusted advisors.  I was there when word of his betrayal reached your father.  The only other time I saw the Inu no Taisho look so incensed was right after the battle with Ryukotsusei, and that was because your mother was in danger.  Of course, Yuudai’s wicked actions also placed your mother in grave peril.  He waited like a snake in the night, biding his time while hiding his hatred of your mother and her relationship with your father.  While the Inu no Taisho was away, he tracked down your mother and sought to kill her.  Only Sesshoumaru’s intervention spared your mother that fate, an—”

 

“Hold up, flea.  Did you just say that Sesshoumaru saved my mother?”

 

“Yes, I di—”

 

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!” 

 

“It isn’t, Inuyasha-sama!  Yes, Sesshoumaru resented your mother, perhaps even hated her, but your father asked him to watch over her while he was away.  It was his duty as a son to protect her, and Sesshoumaru always took his duties very seriously.”

 

“Keh.  He’s still a bastard.” 

 

“Quiet, Inuyasha!  I wanna hear the rest of the story!” Shippou spoke up, feeling secure in his place on Kagome’s lap. 

 

“Why you little—”

 

“As I was saying,” Myouga interrupted loudly, effectively reducing Inuyasha’s outburst to quiet grumbles.  “Sesshoumaru was not strong enough to take on a youkai of Yuudai’s caliber, but even back then he was one of the fastest youkai alive.  He whisked your mother away and brought her to your father, with Yuudai in hot pursuit.  The ensuing battle was one for the ages, I assure you.  It took almost a full day, but the Inu no Taisho finally emerged victorious, and Yuudai was slain.  However, the entire turn of events shook him to the core.  Fearing for your mother’s life, he was prepared to cut all ties with her and never see her again.  That night, he took her into his chambers to inform her of his decision.  I know not how she persuaded him otherwise, but when they emerged the next morning, they were full-fledged mates and your mother was carrying you, Inuyasha-sama.”

 

“Wow…” was all Kagome could say, but in doing so she merely expressed what everyone else was thinking.  “That’s an amazing story, Myouga-jiji, but what does it have to do with Takehiko?”

 

“Yuudai had a son.  In those days, it was customary to kill the family of traitors.  But Yuudai’s mate had already passed on several years before, and the Inu no Taisho could not bring himself to slay the orphan whelp—your mother’s influence, no doubt.  So, over Sesshoumaru’s objections, he banished the boy from the Western Lands, to let nature do with him as it saw fit.  That boy’s name was Takehiko.” 

 

“So he’s got a grudge against me for something my old man did to his old man?  How stupid.” 

 

“I’m not so sure, Inuyasha,” Miroku spoke up.  “Takehiko has never given any indication that he holds the past against you, has he?”

 

 Inuyasha shook his head in the negative. 

 

“It is possible that he simply does not know that you are the son of the Inu no Taisho,” Myouga said.  “He was long gone by the time you were born, and your father was very careful to keep your arrival in this world a secret.  To this day, few individuals know you are his son.” 

 

“If that is indeed the case, then it would be best to keep it that way,” Miroku supplied, his tone making it clear that he expected an argument.  He was not disappointed. 

 

“Why?  Either way, we’ve got a score to settle.  I’ll beat his conceited ass no matter what!”

 

“I do not believe our opponents need any more motivation, Inuyasha,” Miroku replied.  After a couple more minutes of persuasion, and some gentle coaxing on Kagome’s part, they got Inuyasha to agree not to exacerbate the situation by throwing the past in Takehiko’s face.  Then, true to form, he rudely ordered them to get off their ‘lazy human asses’ and resume their journey.  Sango rose and pulled Kagome to her feet.  The miko staggered, a wave of dizziness washing over her as she leaned into the slayer. 

 

“Kagome-chan?  Are you alright?” she asked, her voice revealing genuine concern. 

 

“Yeah, I just feel woozy.”

 

“Hm, well you were wounded, and we don’t even know what that dagger did to you.”

 

“Anyone would feel drained after emitting a purification blast of that magnitude,” Miroku said.  “Inuyasha, why don’t we wait here for a while.”

 

“Keh.  Fuck that!  Kagome, get on.” 

 

Kagome raised her eyes to find Inuyasha kneeling down in front of her in his classic ‘get on my back’ pose.  So she did.  She sighed deeply as she settled her body against him, his hands securely holding her thighs as he walked.  How long had it been since he carried her?  A month?  She had missed this, the simple pleasure of feeling him so close to her, their bodies pressed intimately together.  The only place she felt safer was in his arms.  Resting her cheek against his haori, she let the gentle motion of his gait soothe her into slumber.

 

She woke to the delectable scent of roast rabbit.  Opening her eyes, she was startled to find that it was dusk already.  Sango and Miroku were sitting by the fire eating, while Inuyasha and Shippou lounged against a nearby tree, probably having already scarfed down their portions of the meal.  Shippou was eyeing the remaining meat hungrily, the stick that spitted it placed just close enough to the fire to keep the meat warm.  Inuyasha just looked indifferent; his eyes were closed and his expression peaceful.  But one of his ears was quirked in Shippou’s direction, and Kagome knew he would be on the kit if he took even one step towards her share of the meat.  He wasn’t wearing his fire-rat haori, and she briefly wondered where it was before realizing it was on her.  That he had thought to remove it and lay it across her like a blanket warmed her heart and brought a brilliant smile to her face.  It was such a little thing, but all of his small gestures of friendship meant the world to her.  She stood, and her glee waned as he turned to gaze at her.  She gasped, instantly knowing something was wrong.  His eyes lacked their normal fire; there was something ominous lurking behind those normally bright amber orbs, haunting them. 

 

“Thanks,” she said, handing him back his haori. 

 

“You better eat that before the runt gets his paws on it,” he grumbled, pointing to the meat by the fire.  Then he stood, shrugged on his haori, and padded softly into the forest.  Kagome watched him go, desperately wanting to follow but needing some answers first. 

 

“What’s wrong with Inuyasha?” she asked, her anxiety apparent in her voice. 

 

“We’re not sure, Kagome-sama,” Miroku answered.  “He’s been like that ever since this afternoon.”  It took a few seconds for the light to go on in Kagome’s head.  Of course!  Hearing Myouga talk about his mother today must have been hard for him.  Inuyasha’s mother had always been a sensitive subject, one rarely discussed.  He loved her—he had said as much before—but thinking about a deceased parent always brought up painful memories.  Kagome could verify that with absolute certainty.  Now that the detective work was over, Kagome wolfed down some of the rabbit meat and gave the rest to Shippou.  It took her only a few minutes to find Inuyasha, her nose having little trouble following his trail.  He was sitting hunched-over on a gentle rise near the edge of the forest.  His long, luxurious hair trailed in the breeze, glinting in the young moonlight and giving him an ethereal quality.  She could sense the sadness in his aura as she approached, and he did not acknowledge her when she sat down next to him.  After several minutes of oppressive silence, Kagome gave up trying to come up with something to say.  If Inuyasha wanted to talk about what was bothering him, then he would.  If not, then he wouldn’t.  All she could do was be there by his side, and hope her presence soothed the turmoil in his soul. 

 

“I wonder,” he mumbled after what seemed an interminable amount of time, startling Kagome.  “Would my mother have been better off if she’d never met my father, or had me?  They were together for such a short time…did she regret?  She was always so sad…” 

 

“I once asked my mother the same thing,” Kagome replied softly, recalling unpleasant memories long-buried.  Inuyasha looked at her for the first time, watching as her eyes brightened slightly, and her lips quirked in a tentative smile.  “She told me she didn’t regret meeting my father, and even if she knew how short their time together would be, she still would have married him.  I bet your mother felt the same way about your father…and about you.” 

 

Inuyasha was silent for a long time, and Kagome eventually stood up and turned to head back to camp. 

 

“Kagome.” 

 

She stopped, the hint of desperation in his voice making her heart clench. 

 

“Thank you.” 

 

Kagome nodded, flashing him a small grin, before resuming her trek.  He joined her, and they walked back to camp together, hand in hand. 

 

* * *

 

“Well, Kagura?  See anything interesting?” 

 

The monotony of life was suffocating.  Confined to yet another one of Naraku’s castles, waiting for the cold bastard to give her something to do or decide she was no longer useful and end her miserable existence.  Some days she preferred the latter.  Finally, when she thought another day cooped up in the dreary complex would drive her insane, she swallowed her pride and asked—begged—to be allowed to leave, promising to behave and not go far.  She had apparently caught her master on a good day, because Naraku sent her out to check up on the Inu-gang.  With most of the Shikon jewel in his possession, he grew more arrogant and self-assured every day, and had neglected to keep an eye on his enemies.  He confidently predicted their demise when he deemed the right time to go out and meet them.  For Kagura, the job was just what she needed to break the tedium of her existence. 

 

So she trailed Inuyasha and his companions all morning, staying downwind and out of sight.  The exercise in stealth was also immensely enjoyable, at least compared to how she usually spent her days.  A couple of times she got too close, and Inuyasha would stop and spin around, sniffing the air.  But he could never catch more than a passing whiff of her, and probably thought he was imagining things.  What confused her was the first time Kagome also looked back and scented the air.  She gasped loudly when she saw the black, triangular ears atop the ex-miko’s head, nearly giving away her hiding place.  She didn’t know how such a thing came to pass, but Kagome was a hanyou.  She sat contemplating this in a tree as the group ate lunch, and was still deeply confused when two strange youkai, an inu and a hawk, assailed them.  She found herself rooting for the Inu-gang, since they were some of the few individuals who stood any chance of defeating Naraku.  She despaired when the hawk youkai zeroed in on Kagome, closing for the kill, and was dumbfounded into a slack-jawed stupor when Kagome repulsed the attack with an incredibly powerful blast of miko energy.  How could Kagome, a hanyou, still have the use of her miko powers?  It should have been impossible, but she had seen it with her own two eyes.

 

That thought caused a sinister smile to form on her lips, and she hurried back to Naraku’s castle.  So here she was, telling Naraku almost everything she had seen, but leaving out one very crucial detail. 

 

“So Kagome is a hanyou, huh?” he reflected aloud, grinning maliciously from ear to ear.  “Excellent!  Her miko powers have always been a thorn in my side, quite literally in at least one instance.” 

 

With that, he waved Kagura away, and the wind sorceress gratefully took her leave.  She didn’t know how much longer she could keep a straight face.  Yes, Naraku knew Kagome was a hanyou; he would have found out eventually and she had no choice but to tell him.  But he didn’t know she still possessed miko powers.  Hopefully, the day he found that out would be his last. 

Chapter Text

“OW!!!  Dammit, Takebaka!  Be more careful!”

 

“If you would just sit still and grit your teeth we would be done already,” Takehiko replied, resisting the urge to fling the bandages at his sister and tell her to dress her own wounds.  The seriousness of her burns forced him to put up with her whining, as she wouldn’t be doing much of anything for a few days.  Bitching was really all she was capable of, and boy had she been doing a lot of that lately.  There was something, however, which he would not tolerate. 

 

“How many times must I tell you not to call me that?!”

 

“Call you what?” Sora asked innocently. 

 

“Takeb—I won’t say it.”

 

“Well how am I supposed to know what you don’t want me to call you if you don’t tell me, Takebaka?” 

 

  “There, you’re done!” he growled irritably tying the last bandage into place.  Rising, he stomped off to calm down, and hopefully to keep himself from strangling his sister, whom he had just spent the whole of the afternoon and evening patching up.  Her genuine, if not somewhat strained, laughter rang out behind him. 

 

“Come on, Onii-chan!  Lighten up!  I’m burned to a crisp here and in excruciating pain and I still have a sense of humor.  Where the hell did you leave yours?”

 

“Oh, let’s see…I probably lost it when you almost got yourself killed today!” he yelled, rounding on her.  “What the fuck were you thinking?!” 

 

“It’s not my fault!  How was I supposed to know she had miko powers?”

 

“She told us, that’s how!  You stupidly assumed that she lost them after assimilating Minoru’s youki.”

 

“Don’t give me that bullshit!  Tell me you didn’t make the exact same assumption.”

 

“…”

 

“That’s what I thought.”

 

“Yeah, well at least I didn’t nearly get myself purified.” 

 

“That bitch is gonna pay for that, believe me,” Sora sneered.  “Just look at my beautiful wings!  I look like somebody roasted me over a fire!”

 

“I noticed.”

 

“You’re a real asshole, you know that, right?” 

 

“Would an asshole have bandaged you up so nicely?  And while listening to your non-stop bitching?” 

 

“Bitching, huh?” she asked, a playful glint in her eye.  “Well at least I’m not a stinky ass-sniffing little puppy.” 

 

Takehiko shook his head, a low chuckle rumbling in his chest.  He could never hope to win a verbal insult contest against Sora.  She was the youngest of the three of them, and though they had all grown up quickly, she was the only one who allowed her youthful side to show often.  Plus, she was certainly the most talkative of their trio.  Duo, he mentally corrected, at least for now

 

“Sora,” he said, the light bantering replaced by deadly seriousness.  The hawk looked at him quizzically, but did not interrupt.  “When we go back into battle, just…be careful.” 

 

Nodding, she cracked a solemn smile.  “You too, Onii-chan.  Neither one of us wants to end up alone again.” 

 

A somber, oppressive atmosphere descended on the siblings, and neither dared break the silence.  Lost in thought, they didn’t notice as night fell and the rest of the world went to sleep.  They could only hope the sun would rise on their trio once more, someday. 

 

* * *

 

“There it is—Daichi-sama’s cave.”

 

“About time,” Inuyasha grumped.  It was mid-morning, the day after Takehiko and Sora’s latest attack, and the hanyou’s already short supply of patience was wearing thin.  He was really the only one of the group with any sense of urgency, for good reason.  He didn’t want Kagome’s return to being human to be a decision, but a foregone conclusion.  And yet, he could see it shifting towards the former as Kagome became more comfortable with her hanyou senses and abilities every day.  Now that they were finally here, he hoped he could nip that problem in the bud and reverse her metamorphosis today

 

The cave entrance was large, at least fifty feet in diameter, and carved into the side of a small mountain.  The area around the base was clear of trees for at least a hundred yards in every direction, and covered in lush grass and wildflowers.  Larger beds of flowers were dispersed throughout the clearing, expertly maintained by loving hands.  Kagome was overwhelmed by the beauty of it all, stopping to sniff at the brilliantly colored blossoms as they wove their way through the maze.  In hindsight, that probably wasn’t the best idea. 

 

“ACHOO!” she sneezed, a full body motion that nearly knocked her off balance.  It happened again.  And again.  Inuyasha laughed at her, staying well away from the aromatic blooms.  She might have osuwari’d him had she been able to draw in the necessary breath.  Finally he took pity on her, walking back and tossing her over his shoulder, backpack and all, before resuming the trek.  It was a good two minutes before Kagome was able to calm down, and she grimaced in disgust at the slimy mucus on her hands.  She wiped them off on the only thing handy. 

 

“Oi, wench!  What did you just put on me?”

 

“Nothing.” 

 

Inuyasha narrowed his eyes.  Her voice was just too innocent…  Setting her down at the edge of the field, he quickly removed his haori, glaring daggers at her the whole time. 

 

“Ah, gross!  I don’t want your fuckin’ sticky nose shit on my back!” 

 

“Here, Inuyasha,” Kagome offered, handing him a baby wipe she had produced from her bag.  “And that’s what you get for throwing me over your shoulder.” 

 

“Ungrateful bitch.  So much for ‘thank you Inuyasha for saving me from the smelly flowers,’” he declared in a high-pitched voice, which Kagome belatedly realized was supposed to be mimicking her own.  It was an extremely bad imitation, and it had the added effect of making him seem about twelve years old.  Sometimes I think Souta’s more mature than he is. 

 

“I do not sound like that, baka.  And I am grateful!  You didn’t have to carry me like that, though.  We all know how much you like it,” she added sarcastically. 

 

“Keh!” 

 

Kagome was satisfied with that answer, knowing it constituted an admission that she was right.  But Inuyasha barely missed a beat. 

 

“Now, if the wench is done sticking her nose where she shouldn’t, we can go.” 

 

Kagome had to literally bite her tongue to keep from uttering ‘the word.’  No, bad Kagome!  Remember what you promised yourself.  I will only use it when he really deserves it.  I will only use it when he really deserves it.  I will only…

 

A low growling from up ahead stopped them in their tracks.  Inuyasha drew Tetsusaiga and motioned for everyone to stay back.  He carefully picked his way along the path, the snarling increasing as he neared the entrance to the cave.  Kagome was gripped by trepidation, but it subsided when Inuyasha relaxed his posture and sheathed Tetsusaiga.  The rest of the Inu-gang hurried to join him, only to find an angry youkai guarding the entrance to the cave.  It was small, probably about three feet tall at the shoulder, and fox-like, resembling a miniature version of the large youkai Tsubaki had produced from her eye.  Inuyasha shuddered at the unpleasant memory; he would never be able to forget the way Kagome had looked as she aimed her arrow at him.  The youkai paced the entrance to the cave, as if daring any of them to come closer.  In fact, the most intimidating thing about it was its demeanor. 

 

“Shut the fuck up, you sorry excuse for a youkai!” 

 

Kagome sighed as the youkai’s growls intensified.  Leave it to Inuyasha to get into a shouting match with an animal

 

“What the hell is going on out here?!” came a deep, booming voice, the effect amplified by the echo of the cave. 

 

All eyes raised as a large figure stepped into view.  He was a youkai, humanoid in shape but not in size.  He stood at least twenty feet tall, wearing a plain ensemble consisting of mostly furs.  His skin was a tawny brown, his eyes a darker shade with pitch black pupils.  Jagged markings adorned his cheeks, revealing him to be a youkai of some status.  He stood for a moment examining them until his gaze fell upon Inuyasha.  Recognition flared in his eyes and his lips quirked in a smile. 

 

“You must be Inuyasha!  I’d recognize that fire-rat haori anywhere!  How is it after all these years?  Still holding up well?  That’s what I designed it for, you know.  When your father commissioned me to make it…” 

 

Inuyasha looked to Kagome for help, but she was just as confused as he was.  Where had the deep, booming baritone gone?  Why was this guy babbling on and on about Inuyasha’s haori in rich tenor?  What the hell was going on? 

 

“Oi!  We’re here to see Daichi.  Are you him?” Inuyasha spoke up irritably, finally silencing the loquacious man. 

 

“Oh, forgive me!  Where are my manners?  Please come inside and make yourselves comfortable.  We have much to discuss.”  With that, he picked up the small fox youkai, comforting it with soothing strokes of his large hand, and went inside.  The Inu-gang stared at each other in bewilderment for a moment, then shrugged and followed the mysterious youkai into the cave.  They settled down on what seemed to be a designated sitting area, where the floor had been smoothed out and covered in lush furs.  Their backsides certainly appreciated the amenity.  They sat in a half-circle, with the large youkai at the open end.  He held the fox in his lap, petting it.  The animal seemed content, though it still glared daggers at all of the visitors in turn. 

 

“Now,” said the tall youkai, “let’s get down to business.  I am Daichi, a bear youkai in case you’re wondering.  I believe you’ve already met Sakura.” 

 

Kagome blanched.  That thing was named Sakura?!  That name was perfect for adorable little girls, or beautiful women, not vicious youkai who looked like they wanted to eat you!  Talk about a misnomer…I was expecting something like ‘Bastard’ or ‘Shredder.’ 

 

Daichi chuckled warmly at their incredulity.  “Yes, I always get that reaction the first time people meet Sakura.  She’s very protective.  But once you earn her trust, she’s actually very sweet.”  The ‘sweet little youkai’ continued to send death glares their way regardless. 

 

“I am Miroku,” the monk stated, taking his usual role as group spokesman.  “And this is Sango, Shippou, Kirara, Inuyasha, and Kagome.” 

 

Daichi nodded and smiled at each person in turn, but his gaze lingered on Kagome, who surprisingly did not feel uncomfortable under the scrutiny.  Her instincts told her this Daichi could be trusted, and she considered herself a good judge of character. 

 

“It’s nice to meet you all,” Daichi replied, shifting his gaze back to Inuyasha.  “I hope you don’t take offense, but your little group is the single strangest collection of individuals I have ever seen.  Humans, youkai, a—two hanyou…it’s nice to see humans and youkai who don’t have an inherent disdain for each other, or for hanyou.  There are too few of us out there.  And I assume you have that crazy old codger Myouga with you as well.  Where is that flea, anyway?  Ah, well, I’m sure he’ll turn up when he’s hungry.” 

 

“Oi, jiji.  Are you gonna give us what we came here for or are we just wasting our time?” 

 

Far from being offended by Inuyasha’s rudeness, Daichi chuckled lightly.  “As coarse as ever, eh Inuyasha?” 

 

“Quit talking like you know me.  I’ve never met you in my life!” 

 

Daichi’s smile faded at that remark.  “You don’t remember, do you?”  At Inuyasha’s blank look, he continued.  “I’m shouldn’t be surprised.  It was a long time ago, and you were still young.  As a matter of fact, you are still young.  Kids these days…they think they’re all grown up, ready to take on the world when they’re barely off their mother’s teat.  Running around, swinging huge swords without the maturity to wield them properly.  My son was the same way.  Oh, you should have seen some of the stupid, infantile things he di—”

 

Inuyasha’s fragile temper finally snapped, and his irritation boiled over.  “Dammit, would you SHUT UP!  You’re like a gabby wench!  Now tell us whether you can help us change Kagome back or I’m gonna fuckin’—”

 

‘Osuwari.’ 

 

*Thud*

 

“What the fuck was that for, bitch?!” 

 

“You were being rude.  You shouldn’t threaten our host!” 

 

Chuckling again, Daichi hurried to reassure her.  “That’s quite alright, my dear.  I have a bad habit of getting off track and rambling about something totally unrelated to what I’m supposed to be talking about.  Like this one time, I—”

 

“AHEM!” Kagome interrupted, sensing that Inuyasha was about to blow a gasket. 

 

“Oh, there I go again!  Ok, back to business.  Um…what were we talking about?” 

 

“Why you—”

 

“I believe,” Kagome interjected, curtailing any further outburst from her hanyou, “that Inuyasha was wondering how you knew him.” 

 

“Oh, that’s right.  Let me start at the beginning,” he said, the unvarying amusement that seemed to constantly grace his features vanishing abruptly.  “I was a close friend of the late Inu no Taisho, and one of the few he trusted with the knowledge of your existence, Inuyasha.  He told me your mother was carrying you when he asked me to make the fire-rat armour you still wear to this day.  Your father feared, rightly so, it would seem, that harm would come to you should he pass away before you were grown.  He desired for you to live with your mother in her human village.  In the event that something were to happen to him, he asked me to keep tabs on the two of you, and to take custody of you myself should something happen to her.  And then, he died.  Things were fine for several years, as you grew up in the human village.  When I heard your mother was ill, I hurried over to the village, but by the time I arrived it was too late.  She had passed on and you had run off.  I searched for you, but even back then you were an expert in concealment.  It was two years before I finally found you, and by then you didn’t want my help.  When I told you who I was, I believe your exact words were, ‘Go to hell.  And if you see my father there, tell him thanks for nothing.’” 

 

Silence pervaded the cave after Daichi finished speaking.  The wind wisping past the mountain, the slow trickle of water dripping at the back of the cave…all of these sounds could be heard, but not even the cheerful chirping of the birds outside could break the somber, oppressive atmosphere that had descended upon them.  Kagome watched Inuyasha’s eyes as they filled with old pain.  She watched as the emotion was buried, blinked away, as his eyes hardened in anger, then softened in understanding.  He lowered his head, his hair forming a shimmering silver curtain around his face. 

 

“Is that why you made us come out here?  To tell me that?” he rasped, his voice blank, holding no discernable emotion. 

 

“Yes,” Daichi replied solemnly, “and no.  I also wanted…to apologize.  I failed my duty, the promise I made to your father.  I’m sorry for the life you’ve liv—” 

 

“Don’t.” 

 

Daichi gulped, looking absolutely crestfallen at this demand.  “I truly am sorry, Inuy—”

 

“I said don’t!” Inuyasha yelled, raising his head.  His eyes glowed with fiery passion, anger, regret.  In that moment, they were a reflection of everything he ever was and ever would be.  “You’ve got nothing to be sorry for!”

 

Daichi could only stare in shock as his mouth worked uselessly.  “But…but…”

 

“Kami, do you ever shut up?  I said there’s nothing to forgive!  For the longest time, I cursed my lot in life, but now…  All that shit I went through made me stronger, strong enough to protect this gang of helpless humans and youkai that like to follow me around.” 

 

None of the ‘helpless’ appreciated Inuyasha’s disparaging assessment of them, but no one dared interrupt his monologue.  They all knew from experience that he didn’t really mean it; it was a defense mechanism, a way for him to hide what he was truly trying to say. 

 

“So if you’re looking for me to cry, wail, or lament my fate, you can forget it.  I wouldn’t change a single fucking thing!” 

 

Silence reigned once again, but this time it was of the shocked variety, touched with a flavor of awe.  Kagome beamed, for she heard what he didn’t say, what had been going through his mind as he spoke.  If the past had been different, I wouldn’t have met the friends I have now.  She felt the irrepressible need to touch him, to offer him comfort, to let him know that she loved him just as he was, past and all.  She only hesitated briefly before placing her hand gently on his shoulder, unsure if he would allow such a display of affection in public.   She was relieved when he merely turned toward her and smiled, placing his own hand upon hers.  It wasn’t much, just a small upturn of the corner of his mouth, but it was enough.  And I wouldn’t have met you, Kagome. 

 

A low chuckle broke the moment, as Daichi’s laughter bled away the tension that had built up in the cave.  “You are young of body, Inuyasha, but perhaps you are not so young of heart.”

 

“And just what the fuck is that supposed to mean, huh?  If you’ve got something to say, just say it!” 

 

Kagome sweatdropped.  He was saying that you’re more mature than you look, baka.  So much for that idea… 

 

“Never mind, Inuyasha,” Daichi replied good naturedly.  “Now, on to the real reason why you’re here.”

 

“Yeah!” Inuyasha exclaimed, irritation forgotten—for the moment.  “Can you change Kagome back or not?”

 

“No, I cannot.” 

 

A third deafening silence descended upon the gathering.  Indeed, the only sound that could be heard was the grating of a certain hanyou’s teeth. 

 

“But,” Daichi continued, “I know someone who can.” 

 

Far from being mollified by this news, Inuyasha’s angst continued to rise.  “You’d better not fuckin’ tell me that we have to go see this someone now.”

 

“Well, I suppose you don’t have to…” Daichi said thoughtfully. 

 

“Damn fuckin’ son of a BITCH!!!!  You’ve gotta be shitting me!  First we have to wait for Myouga, then we have to come here, and now we have to go there!  Are we getting anywhere at all?  Why does it feel like we’re just chasing our tails?” 

 

“Yes, yes, you’re in a hurry.  I know the drill; my son was the same way.  Everything always had to be done quickly, with no time wasted.  I swear, some days I thought he was trying to rush past me into the grave!  Like this one time…” 

 

“Where are you going, Inuyasha?” Kagome called after the swiftly departing hanyou, who was stomping toward the entrance to the cave. 

 

“Getting the hell out of here before I end up throttling that bastard!” 

 

Sighing, Kagome favored Daichi with an apologetic look.  “I’m sorry for him, Daichi-sama.  He’s just a little…”

 

“Don’t worry about it, my dear; I understand.  He wants what he thinks is best for you.”  He studied her for a moment, and Kagome wasn’t sure she liked the mischievous smirk that worked its way onto his expression.  “You know, Kagome, you are very beautiful, and I’ve seen plenty of your good character this day.  Perhaps you would permit me to introduce you to my son?  He could accompany you on your quest.” 

 

Kagome, who had been blushing at Daichi’s compliments, didn’t have a chance to reply before her vision was blocked out by red cloth. 

 

“She ain’t fuckin’ interested, bastard!” 

 

Daichi had the decency to look surprised, but Kagome could still see the smirk lurking just below the surface. 

 

“No need to be jealous, Inuyasha.”

 

“I’m not!” 

 

“Pardon me, then.  I must have been mistaken,” he said slyly, his loaded tone revealing what he truly thought.  And that smugness, along with what he had been proposing, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. 

 

“That’s it!” Inuyasha yelled, spinning and marching stiffly toward the outside world.  “We’re leaving.  NOW!” 

 

“Calm down, Inuyasha,” Miroku called back, “we still have to get directions to…who did you say we had to see next, Daichi-sama?” 

 

“I didn’t.  Her name is Aoi, and she lives several mountains over.  Her mountain is the one with the purple ring around it; you should be able to see it from here.  I put in a good word for you, so you should have no problems.” 

 

The monk nodded his thanks and stood to leave, as did most of his companions.  The only one who remained was Kagome, who felt compelled to try to explain why she didn’t want his son to accompany them, and why nothing romantic could ever develop between them. 

 

“Daichi-sama, I’m sure your son is great an all, but…um…”

 

The tall youkai just laughed, a genuine sound, not in the least bit forced.  “Don’t worry about it, my dear!”  Then, lowering his voice to a level that only she would hear, he continued.  “Besides, my son is happily mated.  But it is fun to tease Inuyasha, is it not?” 

 

At his conspiratorial wink, Kagome found herself smiling as well, glad that he hadn’t been serious.  She had recently dropped Hojo as a potential suitor, and didn’t need any more popping up. 

 

“Well, I’d better be going before Inuyasha tosses me over his shoulder aga—”  Kagome’s reply was cut short by an annoyed growl.  Sakura, who had been contentedly dozing on her master’s lap, despite Inuyasha’s blustering, suddenly bolted upright and began scratching furiously at her flank with her hind leg.  Daichi watched closely, hand poised expectantly, and then it shot out and closed it in mid-air.  Kagome thought she heard a small cry of pain.  Sure enough, when he opened his hand, there was Myouga lying flattened on his palm. 

 

“Hey, Inuyasha!” he called.  “Do you mind if I feed your vassal to Sakura?”

 

“Keh.  Go for it.” 

 

“WHAAAA!!!  Inuyasha-sama, how could you?!” Myouga cried as he leapt away from the jaws of death.  “Your ever faithful servant!  What ingratitude!  All my years of service…”  The flea’s lamentations faded out as he bounced along the floor of the cave, Sakura following close behind.  She returned several minutes later, still looking around for the small morsel that had escaped her grasp. 

 

They determined, over Inuyasha’s objections, to have lunch before departing.  Miffed, the hanyou went off by himself because he ‘wasn’t hungry,’ though everyone knew he was just pouting.  With the amount of time he had already spent pissed off today, few would dare to approach him, but Daichi did just that.  He sat down right next to the brooding youngster, who pointedly ignored him.  He apparently hadn’t yet been forgiven for trying to set his son up with Kagome.  Inuyasha clearly didn’t know it had been a joke, and Daichi wasn’t about to tell him either.  He had known Kagome for less than a quarter of a day, and already he could see that she only had eyes for Inuyasha.  He figured a little jealousy on the hanyou’s part was a good thing, especially since he suspected that deep down he felt the same way. 

 

“Well, now that I come out here, I think it’s going to rain tonight,” he said thoughtfully. 

 

Inuyasha looked at the sky, sniffed the air, but could pick up nothing that would tell him as much.  He sent a dubious glance Daichi’s way. 

 

“Yep.  Definitely going to rain,” the bear youkai repeated.  “When you’ve lived out here as long as I have, you can just tell these things.  Are you sure you don’t want to stay here for the night?”

 

“We’ll manage.”

 

“But you have humans in your group!  If they get wet, they’ll get sick, and—”

 

“I said we’ll manage.”

 

Daichi sighed heavily.  “You know, Inuyasha,” he said, catching the hanyou off guard with his sincerity, “I still made a promise to your father that I can never fulfill.  If you ever need anything—and I mean anything—I want you to come to me first.” 

 

Inuyasha didn’t reply for the longest time, but sat and stared at the ground, weighing Daichi’s words in his mind.  Finally, he raised his head, met the other’s eyes, and nodded. 

 

“Are you sure you won’t reconsider?” Daichi pressed.  “The cave is very warm and cozy once you get a fire going.  And I’ll even cook you dinner!” 

 

“Think you can stop being a jackass?” 

 

Daichi took that as the grudging acceptance that it was, and brightened immediately.  He waltzed over to the rest of the Inu-gang, quite gracefully for a big man, to inform them of the news.  Inuyasha sighed, flopping down on the grass and putting his hands behind his head.  I’d better enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasts.  He scowled, not believing for a second that Daichi would stop getting on his nerves.  It’s gonna be a long evening.

 

* * *

 

“Onii-chan!  Get me some water!” 

 

“You’re not dying, Sora.  Get it yourself.”

 

“But Oniiii-chaaaan, I’m wounded!” 

 

Takehiko groaned, banging his head against a nearby tree.  His sister was in fact almost fully recovered, but you wouldn’t know it by the way she whined constantly.  He knew most of it was just to get under his skin, but that didn’t make him feel any better.  He decided to try counting to ten, even though that usually didn’t work. 

 

“Oniiii-chaaaan…”   One, two, three, fo—

 

“Oniiii-chaaaan…”  One, two, thr—

 

“Oniiii-chaaaan…”  One—oh, I’m gonna fuckin’ kill her!  Wait…

 

“Onii—”

 

“Shut up, Sora,” he said quietly but commandingly, and his sister instinctively knew there was trouble.  Indeed, Takehiko’s sharp inu nose had picked up something, a strange, foreign scent.  Dark and malicious, it made him sick just to breathe it.  And it was getting stronger.  Sora rose effortlessly to her feet and stood beside him.  He glared at her, and perhaps would have made a remark about her supposed infirmity if a figure had not emerged from the trees just ahead.  It was a man, wearing the most elaborate kimono and armour they had ever seen.  An enormous eye sat in the center of his chest, peeking out through a crack in his armour.  But that wasn’t even his most striking feature; no, that distinction belonged to the eyes on his head.  They glowed red, as if the fires of hell burned in this man’s soul, a walking embodiment of hatred, malice, and suffering. 

 

“Who are you and what do you want?” Takehiko asked, hand drifting up toward the sword strapped over his shoulder. 

 

“Kukuku,” the figure chuckled, “there is no need to draw your swords.  I did not come here to fight; I came to offer my assistance.” 

 

“What makes you think we need your help?” Sora asked, a challenge in her voice. 

 

“The charred tips of your feathers, for one thing.” 

 

Sora fumed, but the stranger continued before she could respond.  “It matters not whether you admit you need my help, for I would still offer it.  We have a common enemy, you see.  You seem to hate Inuyasha and his friends as much as I.” 

 

“How would you know such a thing?” Takehiko growled. 

 

“I have my ways.” 

 

“If you hate Inuyasha so much, then why haven’t you gotten rid of him yourself?”

 

“I have tried, many times, in fact.  But the filthy hanyou has proven most resilient.”

 

“Then why should we accept help from a weakling who cannot even do his own dirty work?” 

 

The stranger’s face twisted in a snarl, but it was gone in the blink of an eye, as if it had never been there in the first place. 

 

“Because I can offer you these,” he said, holding out his hand. 

 

“Shards of the Shikon no Tama!” Sora exclaimed.  “Where did you get them?” 

 

“It matters not.  I shall allow you to borrow these shards to help you kill Inuyasha and his friends.  If you succeed, they are yours to keep.  Do we have an accord?” 

 

The siblings looked at each other, suspicion present in each gaze, but they could think of no legitimate reason not to accept other than it seemed too good to be true. 

 

“Very well,” Takehiko agreed hesitantly.  “You still have not given us your name.”

 

“Oh, forgive me.  You may call me Naraku.”

 

“Alright, Naraku, you have a deal.”

 

“Excellent!” Naraku said as he tossed Takehiko the shards.  “I also have one other thing that may be of use to you.  If you have not already seen it, the monk has a very powerful weapon in his right han—”

 

“Trust me,” Sora interrupted, “I’ve already dealt with that.” 

 

“Fair enough.  The next time he moves to unleash it, use this,” Naraku told her, tossing her some kind of rounded object that almost looked like a hive.  Shrugging, she attached it to her obi.  “One more thing.  I have more enemies besides Inuyasha.  If you eliminate an ookami called Kouga and an inu-youkai by the name of Sesshoumaru, there are more jewel shards in store for you.” 

 

“Did you say…Sesshoumaru?” Takehiko ground out between gritted teeth, his anger flaring at just the mention of that name.  Naraku seemed not to notice. 

 

“Yes.  Why, do you know him?”

 

“How is he involved in this?” Takehiko demanded hurriedly, completely ignoring Naraku’s question.  

 

“Why, he is Inuyasha’s older half-brother, and a vindictive pest.  Kill him and your rewards will be great, indeed.” 

 

Then he was gone, vanishing into the wind.  Takehiko’s eyes were still riveted to the spot, his clenched fists shaking with rage.  The scent of his blood, from where his claws punctured the skin of his palms, wafted to his nose, but he was too lost in wrath to care.  Yes, he knew who Sesshoumaru was.  He was the son of the bastard who murdered his father and kicked him out of the Western Lands to die, starving and alone in the wilderness.  He had desired revenge on Sesshoumaru from the beginning, but his father had taught him many things in their short time together, and one of them was never to fight a battle you couldn’t win.  This was the reason he had not approached Sesshoumaru yet, even though every fiber of his being screamed at him to do so.  But now, with jewel shards in his possession…perhaps he would finally be strong enough to defeat his nemesis. 

 

And Inuyasha…  A wicked smile formed on his lips.  So, the Inu no Taisho had a whelp with a human bitch, did he?  All the better!  Yes, now he would have the pleasure of exacting his vengeance not once, but twice. 

 

“Takehiko,” Sora said, breaking his train of thought, “do you trust this Naraku person?”

 

“Not for an instant.  No one surrenders shards of the Shikon no Tama that freely.  I have no doubt that Naraku plans to reclaim these shards the instant we are no longer useful to him.” 

 

Sora smirked.  “Then we’ll just have to waste him, too.”

 

“Exactly.  And Sora,” he said seriously, “Inuyasha is mine.”

 

“You don’t have to tell me that, Takehiko.  I know your history, remember?  He’s yours as long as you agree that Kagome is mine.”

 

“Deal.”

 

Yes, they would worry about Naraku later.  For now, they would focus on the task at hand—getting their brother back.  And then, with jewel shards in their possession, he would seek his own personal revenge.  Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru would pay, dearly. 

Chapter Text

Sometimes Inuyasha hated it when he was right.  Daichi had stopped annoying him for all of twenty minutes, and then had started up again.  Teasing, making clever remarks at his expense, and insinuating things about his relationship with Kagome that he wasn’t ready to admit.  The worst part was that he kept trying to push his son on the wench, who just sat there looking amused by it all.  It pissed him off to no end that she was doing the same thing she did with Kouga, never saying ‘no.’  Finally fed up, he had called her on it.  He grimaced at the memory; he had earned himself a good ‘osuwari’ for that one.  Kagome yelled at him for not having more faith in her, and for thinking she would just run off with some total stranger.  And then the coup de grace—she told him Daichi’s son was already mated, and the asshole was just fucking with him.  Only another ‘osuwari’ prevented him from slicing the bastard in half with Tetsusaiga. 

 

He went out and sulked in the rain after that.  His ears were burning as a result of all the criticisms of his ‘childlike behavior,’ but he shrugged them off.  How would they know anyway?  Daichi hadn’t turned their evening into a living hell.  A little after that, Kagome came out and draped a blanket over his shoulders.  He wanted to stay outside, but the wench turned her doe eyes on him and he allowed her to drag him back inside.  Things got better after that.  Daichi apologized for taking his teasing too far, said he didn’t have many visitors these days and wanted to have some fun, blah blah blah. 

 

The really interesting part of the evening came after he changed out of his wet fire-rat clothes into some modern sweatpants and a tank top.  It was funny watching Kagome try to study that science book of hers when she obviously just wanted to study him.  Every time he caught her staring, he would smirk, she would blush, and his ego would inflate a little more.  Her attraction was a palpable thing, and he stoked it without mercy, stretching, subtly flexing his muscles…  Of course, in watching her squirm in her own deliciously form-fitting jean-shorts and blouse, he couldn’t help but experience much the same reaction himself.  In the end, Kagome went to bed early, and he got a nice confidence boost. 

 

It rained intermittedly during the night and well into the following morning.  The storm let up in early afternoon, and they were finally able to set out on the next leg of their journey.  They didn’t reach the mountain with the purple ring around it by nightfall, but it certainly appeared larger than it had the day before.  They made camp near a stream and settled down for the night amidst the lush forest greenery.  Now it was late afternoon of the next day, and it looked like it would take them another day to reach their destination.  Inuyasha was impatient as ever, silently cursing the weather and the wasted time spent in Daichi’s cave, as well as the weakness of the mortals slowing them down.  So when two now-familiar scents came to him on the breeze, he welcomed the upcoming battle as a way to release some of his pent-up irritation.  Little did he know that far more than his frustrations were about to be taken away from him.   

 

“Back for more already?” he taunted as the two figures emerged from the forest, drawing Tetsusaiga and leaning the large blade against his shoulder.  “I thought you’d be down for at least a week, bitch.  All your feathers grow back yet?  Any bald spots?” 

 

“Silence, half-breed,” Takehiko ground out.  Inuyasha took an involuntary step back.  Before, the inu-youkai had always been willing to engage in banter before battle, but now there was only pure, unfiltered hatred in his eyes and his voice was void of any hint of amusement.  Idly, Inuyasha wondered about the reason behind the change, but dismissed those useless thoughts.  His opponent was a good fighter, and beating him would require all his focus. 

 

“Inuyasha!” Kagome exclaimed behind him.  “They have jewel shards!  One in each forehead, and one in the dagger at Takehiko’s waist!  I think it’s the same one I was stabbed with before!” 

 

“What?!  Where did you get those?!  Are you working for Naraku?!” 

 

“Ha!  We would never lower ourselves to doing some filthy hanyou’s bidding,” Sora replied.  “But that does not mean we are above accepting aid from others, especially since these jewel shards are much better off in our hands than that beastly Naraku’s.” 

 

“So you are Naraku’s allies!  In that case, don’t expect any mercy from us!”

 

“The only thing we require from you, cretin, is your death,” Takehiko said darkly.  “And I am going to enjoy it immensely.  The soft, yielding resistance as I shove my sword through your heart, the heat of your blood flowing along the blade, watching the life bleeding out of your wide, frightened eyes…do you have any idea how long I’ve waited for this?  When I slay you and your half-brother, my father’s unjust demise will finally be avenged, and I will have my revenge for your bastard father’s banishment of me!” 

 

“Heh,” Inuyasha smirked.  “So you heard about that, huh?” 

 

“Indeed.  When the time comes, I will at least give Naraku a quick, painless death for revealing your lineage to me.  If I had killed you without truly savoring the moment, I never would have forgiven myself.” 

 

“Keh.  Still think you can take me?”

 

“There isn’t a doubt in my mind.  Though you wield your father’s fang, you are nowhere near as strong as he was.” 

 

“Wrong, asshole.  This is my fang!  And I’ve surpassed my father!” Inuyasha yelled as he launched himself forward, swinging Tetsusaiga downward in a heavy arch.  To his surprise, Takehiko didn’t leap out of the way.  Instead, he raised his own blade and held it horizontally.  The two swords came together in a violent crash, but Inuyasha didn’t hear any sounds of cracking metal coming from his opponent’s weapon.  With a mighty heave, Takehiko shoved Tetsusaiga back, and Inuyasha leapt away to avoid the inu-youkai’s counterswing.  He stared aghast at his enemy, who was now sporting a rather arrogant grin.  What the fuck?!  How did he suddenly get so strong?  The jewel shard in his forehead!  Sure enough, his opponent’s youki was surging, flowing into his weapon and strengthening it as well. 

 

“What’s the matter, half-breed?  Shaking with fear?”

 

“Fuck no!  Just glad you finally decided to stand and fight!”  Inuyasha charged again, Tetsusaiga speeding toward his opponent’s side in a cleaving blow.  Takehiko swung fiercely, the clash of the blades deafening, as he once again forced Tetsusaiga back.  Reversing his motion, he slashed at Inuyasha’s exposed neck.  The hanyou ducked, losing a few hairs as he barely dodged blow.  Leaping back a step, he smashed Tetsusaiga into the dirt, the Kaze no Kizu tearing gaping rivulets in the earth as its deadly energy sped toward its target.  At that close range, there was no hope of avoidance.  A blinding flash signaled the impact, and when the dust cleared Takehiko was crouched some fifty feet away, his head down and sword held protectively in front of him.  Inuyasha smirked at the scent of the youkai’s blood in the air, but the expression didn’t last long.  Takehiko stood slowly, wearing an arrogant sneer, looking with disdain at the small trickle of blood running down his arm. 

 

“Is that the best you’ve got, half-breed?”  Then, before Inuyasha could respond, he said, “My turn.”  He dashed forward, letting loose a thunderous battle cry as he swung his sword with all his might.  The blade crackled with blue-black energy as Inuyasha blocked, the force and power of the attack sending him tumbling backwards, Tetsusaiga falling from his grasp.  Instantly he was up again, but Tetsusaiga was out of reach, too close to the youkai now leering at him.  Cracking his knuckles, he prepared to finish the fight with his claws.  Takehiko began to move in for the kill, but suddenly leapt skyward as a mass of pink light passed through the spot he had just occupied, the arrow decimating an unfortunate tree.  Turning, Inuyasha saw Kagome already notching another. 

 

“Dammit, wench!  Stay out of it!”  But she wasn’t listening to him.  Behind her, Miroku, Sango, and Kirara were working together to battle Sora, and appeared to be holding their own despite the presence of Naraku’s insects. 

 

“Would you dare to fire another one at me, miko bitch?” Takehiko challenged from across the open grassland.  Kagome narrowed her eyes, clearly not seeing what Inuyasha did.  Takehiko’s right hand had dropped to his side, and he now held the blade of the dagger in thumb and forefinger.  Before he could tell her not to, Kagome had fired, and Inuyasha raced toward her, knowing what was coming.  Takehiko spun to his left, avoiding the arrow and flinging the dagger in one smooth motion.  The projectile’s aim was true, and the light of her purifying arrow kept Kagome from noticing it until it was far too late.  Just before the dagger struck her in the stomach, Inuyasha dove. 

 

*Thunk*

 

The weapon penetrated straight through the palm of his outstretched right hand, but amazingly the tip did not protrude from the other side.  It was as if the blade had simply disappeared into his flesh, though the hilt remained attached to his body as if that was not the case.  But that was the least of his worries.  He gritted his teeth against the pain he knew was coming, but nothing could have prepared him for the searing, indescribable agony that lanced through his body, ripping a tortured scream from his throat as he collapsed forward.  His body…oh, had his body ever been under such duress?  He could feel it tearing, coming apart at the seams, and yet…not.  The pain was physical, but the damage was not.  His blood pounded in his ears, so loudly that he almost missed the agonized howling of his youkai side in his mind.  He wanted an end, and that was all he wanted.  That darkness in the distance seemed so appealing, a land where everything was nothing, and nothing was everything.  Simple emptiness was his deepest desire.

 

Dimly he felt the dagger being drawn from his hand, but he ignored the sensation, knowing that to ascend from the depths toward the light would only bring more anguish.  He disregarded the cries of those around him, the mysterious voices of those he felt that he should have known.  And yet, there was one voice he could not ignore, calling his name, pleading with him to return.  A great urge, and compulsion more powerful than the forces pulling him downward, arose in him as he struggled back toward the voice.  Kagome…

 

Then he was there, breaking the surface, the world plunging back down on him again.  He treaded water, knowing that he was fighting a losing battle to stay afloat, to draw breath and fill his body with life.  She was hovering above him now, her watery eyes overflowing with equal parts worry and relief.  The latter vanished as his body seized again, his youkai howling all the louder.  It was the same sensation he experienced at sunset on moonless nights, only more violent, more brutal.  His youkai was being torn from him, and instinctively he knew that if he let it go this time it would be the end of him.  Frantically his mind searched for a way out, even as the waves crested higher, threatening to pull him under again.  The voice—Kagome’s voice—sang out again, giving him the inspiration he needed.  

 

“Kagome,” he rasped.  Or at least he thought he did; his ears were unable to decide if he had actually spoken or not.  Still he continued, praying for the strength to make his thoughts known.  “Purify me.”  Evidently, she had heard him. 

 

“What?!  No!”  She might have said more, but her voice had drifted so far away, and he lacked the strength to find it again. 

 

“Just do it,” he mumbled as he slipped beneath the waters, the blackness pulling him inexorably downward.  This time, there would be no ascension.  Then, it happened.  A jolt.  It stunned him, left him hanging as everything around him was driven away, the darkness replaced by brilliant white light.  A different kind of pain engulfed him, causing him to cry out once more.  Then it ceased, as did the desperate articulations of his youkai.  He was finally alone, half of himself, but still whole.  He drifted into peaceful unconsciousness. 

 

* * *

 

Kagome removed her hands from her hanyou’s shoulders.  Her Inuyasha, her only love, the man she had just purified.  She placed her hands in her lap and stared at them, not quite believing what had occurred in the last few minutes.  When he had first ordered her to do it, she had refused, utterly repulsed by the idea.  Then she remembered her own feelings when she had been stabbed by the same dagger.  She recalled thinking that she was being torn asunder, and instantly realized what was happening.  There was no other way to save him, and even if there had been they had no time to think of it.  He was being split in twain, his soul and mind torn to pieces…he was dying.  That thought alone was enough to spark her resolve, and she set to her task.  Her miko powers had previously refused to harm him accidently, but surely that didn’t mean he was completely immune should she intend to use them on him.  Doubt in her abilities flooded her, but she pushed it away as something she could not afford.  Inuyasha believed in her; he would not have asked her to purify him if he did not. 

 

So she did it.  She thrust her miko powers into the man she loved, as her eyes flooded with tears, several of which wove their way down her cheeks.  Her vision blurred until all she could see were smudges of red and white, and she didn’t let up until the white had completely faded to black.  She dried her eyes, checking for signs of life.  He was breathing, the gentle rise and fall of his chest the only thing that kept her from giving in to the self-loathing that threatened to overwhelm her at any moment.  She moved several strands of black hair away from his face, and wanted nothing more than to look into his dark eyes, even though they would surely reflect the hatred she was currently feeling toward herself. 

 

“Well, bitch,” Takehiko observed, “you sure did a number on him!  Are you sure he isn’t dead?” 

 

Kagome kept her head down, the caustic remarks and amused laughter of the two siblings inflaming a fury within her that she had never felt before.  It was their fault!  She had hurt Inuyasha because of them.  They would pay!  They deserved to DIE!  Something arose within her, something vicious, something dangerous.  Perhaps under different circumstances she would have pushed it back, but now…the desire for blood—their blood—was too strong.  Her lips curved in a sneer, baring razor sharp fangs, as her enemies continued to prattle on and on. 

 

“Yes, Sora.  He’s a mess, but at least I’ll still get to kill him.” 

 

“You will stay away from him!” Kagome growled, silencing the siblings’ laughter.  Slowly, she rose to her feet, taking a position in front of the fallen body of her love.  Her head was the last thing to come up, and a string of gasps were heard when it did.  Her eyes glowed crimson, the irises swollen so they covered almost the entire eye.  Her black pupils were drawn into vertical slits; in short, she looked every bit the neko-youkai from hell.  Her mouth was pulled into a snarl, enlarged fangs glistening with saliva.  Long, curved markings resembling claws adorned her cheeks, their blazing pink color at odds with the utterly demonic aspects of her appearance.  Takehiko stared in shock for a moment, then smirked. 

 

“Well, this is interesting.  You may be all youkai at the moment, bitch, but you’re still a half-breed, and you still have no chance of defeating me.” 

 

“Have you forgotten about our deal, brother?  She is mine!” 

 

Takehiko smiled and nodded, and Sora stepped forward.  But Kagome kept her eyes trained on the inu-youkai, her eyes boring holes into his head.  He was the one who had thrown the dagger, injured her mate… 

 

She leapt forward, shooting straight toward her prey, but the hawk moved to block her, swooping in with talons bared.  Sora anticipated a duck, and came in low.  Kagome leapt straight upwards at the last moment, dragging her claws along her enemy’s back before somersaulting and placing both feet on the hawk and bearing her to the ground.  Kagome didn’t waste time on a killing blow, but instead leapt toward Takehiko, who barely managed to dodge the first swipe of her claws.  The second strike caught him on the arm, and he leapt back to give himself a brief reprieve.  The wound on his arm burned terribly, and he could smell his own flesh charring.  Kagome cracked her knuckles menacingly, showing off her claws, the tips of which glowed a pure pink.  How is this possible? Takehiko wondered desperately.  She is full youkai and still wields her miko powers!

 

But Kagome didn’t give him much time to ponder.  She attacked relentlessly, her movements too quick for even the inu-youkai to keep up with, each hit leaving behind bloodied wounds and scorched flesh.  Finally his sword was knocked from his grasp, and Kagome rammed her hand straight through his chest, reveling in the look of shock and agony that graced his features. 

 

“The soft, yielding resistance as I shove my hand through your heart, the heat of your blood flowing along my arm, watching the life bleeding out of your wide, frightened eyes…” she said, grinning maliciously as she threw his own words back at him.  “You’re right.  This is fun.” 

 

“Too bad you missed,” Takehiko replied as he pulled his arm back, preparing to sever her neck.  He never got the chance; a surge of Kagome’s miko powers had him screeching in agony as he was purified from the inside out.  Only Sora’s interference saved him; she came from the side, forcing Kagome to pull out and leap back.  Takehiko crumpled to the ground, the gaping hole in his chest bleeding freely.  Kagome went to attack again, but Sora pulled a large gourd from her obi and threw it to the ground, smashing it as putrid black smoke filled the air.  Heedlessly Kagome charged into the cloud, but upon taking one breath, everything went black. 

 

* * *

 

Inuyasha awoke slowly, groaning as he did.  His body ached, as if he’d just spent the afternoon as a punching bag for his brother.  It certainly didn’t help that he was human, and felt the pain more acutely as a result.  He pushed himself to his hands and knees, fighting back the wave of dizziness that accompanied the action. 

 

“Inuyasha, are you ok?”  It was Shippou’s voice; the runt was looking up at his face, eyes shining with unabashed concern.  It was then that his short-term memory returned, and he remembered why he was in this predicament.  Kagome did it.  She purified me.  She…saved me.  That dagger surely would have killed him had Kagome not intervened.  He would have to thank her later, when he could get her alone.  Raising his head, he glanced around for his companions.  Miroku and Sango were staring at something with rapt attention, and his jaw dropped when he turned to see what it was.  Kagome was fighting Takehiko, moving with such fluidity, such grace that it looked like she’d been a hanyou all her life.  Her back was to him, so he couldn’t see her face, but he could see Takehiko’s, his jaw clenched from the exertion of his defense.  The sight filled him with apprehension, but also awe and more than a little pride.  He had no idea how Kagome learned to fight so well, but he desperately hoped she continued to do so.  He was in no position to save her this time. 

 

It appeared his worries were for naught when Kagome shoved her hand through Takehiko’s chest.  She said something to him, unintelligible at this distance, at least to his human ears.  Judging from Shippou’s reaction, the kit heard it loud and clear.  His eyes widened to saucers, and his face turned a ghostly pale.  A moment later, as Kagome leapt away from Sora’s counterattack and he saw her face for the first time, Inuyasha wore much the same expression himself.  One of his greatest fears had come to pass—Kagome had become full youkai.  By the time he had wrapped his head around this new development, it was over.  Smoke had erupted around the trio, and he saw Kagome collapse just before the thickening haze blocked her from view.  Takehiko and Sora could be seen escaping overhead, borne away by the hawk’s powerful wings. 

 

“Kagome!” the entire Inu-gang cried at once, Shippou racing into the fog before anyone could stop him, Kirara close behind.  Inuyasha tried to rise to go to her, but his body was not up to the strain, and he stumbled.  Miroku dashed past, into the cloud, and then he was gone as well.  Inuyasha wasn’t even sure it was smoke anymore; it was more like a miasma.  It stayed low to the ground, maintaining a maximum height of about ten feet, and spread outward quickly.  The grass withered and died as it came into contact with the leading edge. 

 

“Come on, Inuyasha!  We gotta go!” Sango yelled, placing his arm around her shoulder to support him. 

 

“But Kagome—”

 

“Houshi-sama will get her out!  He has the training to survive in there, but you don’t!  Grab Tetsusaiga and let’s go!” 

 

He looked longingly at the spot he had last seen Kagome, but he knew Sango was right.  If a mortal could save her, Miroku would have done it already.  Swiftly he located Tetsusaiga and snatched it up along with Kagome’s backpack, bow, and quiver, all of which had been lying nearby.  Then Sango was underneath him again, urging him to hurry.  As they hobbled away, some of his strength came back to him, and he was able to run on his own.  And none too soon; the first wisps of the smoke caught up to them, causing both of them to cough violently.  A desperate burst took them out of the danger zone, but they dared not stop running. 

 

He didn’t know how long they ran, but it was probably close to a half hour.  They were pursued by the menacing cloud the whole way, biting at their heels and invading their lungs when they slowed.  Finally, blessedly, the fog seemed to dissipate, and then it stopped spreading outward altogether.  They looked back on a wasteland; not a single green thing was alive behind them.  The smog, or miasma, or whatever it was just hung there, unmoving.  It had diluted as it spread over the large area, but visibility was still only fifty feet or so.  They leaned down, hands on bent knees, and breathed heavily for several minutes.  Inuyasha was the first to catch his breath. 

 

“What the fuck was that?!” 

 

Sango shook her head.  “I don’t know, Inuyasha.  Such an amount of…whatever this is, packed into a small gourd.  Only a youkai could have done this, someone with hundreds of years experience in the black arts.”

 

“Could it have killed us?” he asked.  Sango saw the fear in his eyes, but knew it wasn’t for himself. 

 

“Don’t worry, Inuyasha.  If it was strong enough to kill a youkai, we wouldn’t be standing here now.”

 

“Yeah, but we only breathed in a little.  Kagome—”

 

“Is fine.  It probably just overwhelmed her senses.  Houshi-sama is a trained monk, and has a high tolerance for this kind of thing.  I’m certain he got her out, and Shippou and Kirara too.” 

 

Inuyasha looked skeptical, but decided to put his faith in Miroku as Sango had done.  The monk had never truly let them down in the past. 

 

“So what now?” he inquired. 

 

“Well, I guess we could start working our way around this giant cloud.  There isn’t much we can do except find a good place to make camp.” 

 

“Keh.  Good thing I grabbed Kagome’s bag.  I don’t think I’ll be catching any fish tonight.”

 

“It is weird seeing you human during the daytime.  Will your youki come back?”

 

“I think so.  It came back when I was purified at Mount Hakurei, so it should come back soon.”  He paused, narrowing his eyes in deep thought.  “I can’t really explain it, but it doesn’t feel like it’s gone for good.”

 

“I’ll take your word for it.  Now, shall we?” 

 

With that, they set off at an easy pace, both still tired from the exertion of their escape.  They covered some distance before stopping at dusk and making camp, helping themselves to a hardy ninja food dinner.  There wasn’t much conversation, but then neither of them were big talkers.  The silence wasn’t uncomfortable; it was just two fighters sharing a meal around a campfire.  Suddenly Sango stiffened, then sprang up and stomped out the fire. 

 

“Sango, wha—”

 

“Shh!” she ordered, staring pensively at the sky overhead.  There, illuminated by the pale moonlight, a writhing mass of flesh slithered across the sky.  Youkai… Sango realized.  Shit!  They must have been stirred up by the smoke and started swarming.  And judging by the direction they were headed, her attempt at hiding their location had been too late.  The horde of youkai would be upon them in moments.  Frantically she looked around, scanning her surroundings.  Spotting a hollow underneath a nearby tree, she dragged Inuyasha over and threw him inside. 

 

“Sango!  What the fu—”

 

“Stay here.”

 

“What?!  No way!”

 

“Inuyasha!” she whispered, the pure command in her voice silencing his protests.  Her eyes were hard, the eyes of a warrior, and they compelled obedience.  “I can take them if you stay hidden, but if I have to worry about protecting you too, then we’re both gonna die!” 

 

He couldn’t argue with her logic, nor her authoritative manner, so he simply nodded his assent.  Sango nodded back, then turned and strode toward the center of the clearing.  The demons surrounded her, their serpent-like bodies undulating elegantly as they circled at a distance of about thirty feet, sizing up their prey.  Then, they attacked.  Sango flung hiraikotsu with a mighty cry, the weapon tearing through countless youkai.  She sprinted to catch it in the air, using her katana to decimate any youkai that got in her way.  She was constantly in motion, and watching her fight was like listening to the finest poetry.  Inuyasha found himself in awe. 

 

Suddenly, a youkai appeared in the entrance to his hollow, its grotesque face little more than a snout and teeth…very large teeth.  It lunged inside, and Inuyasha dodged the snapping jaws, drawing Tetsusaiga.  The youkai recoiled to strike again, and Inuyasha knew he couldn’t stay in the hollow any longer; it had become a deathtrap.  The youkai attacked again, and he batted it away with a powerful swing of Tetsusaiga.  But in its rustic form, the blade was little more than a club, and Inuyasha took the chance to scramble aboveground, the youkai snapping at his heels. 

 

But this created all new problems, like the hundreds of youkai now eyeing him hungrily.  He ran, juking left and right, knowing that he could only evade his pursuers for so long before they sunk their teeth in him.  He dashed into Sango’s line of vision, and the slayer almost let a youkai past her defenses in her surprise.  Anger flashed through her mind, but there was no time to wonder why he had disobeyed her.  Inuyasha was about to be devoured, the youkai behind him moving in for the kill.  Several were closing in on her as well, and in that instant, she made her decision, knowing full well the consequences.  She flung hiraikotsu with all her might, not surprised in the least by the feel of jaws clamping around her midsection as the youkai bore her to the ground. 

 

Inuyasha felt more than heard the whoosh of hiraikotsu passing over his head, slaying all his tormentors in a single stroke.  He turned back to Sango to thank her and his blood ran cold.  Yelling like a banshee, he charged to her and beat the youkai off her prone form.  It only took one look to know that she wasn’t fighting any time soon. 

 

Holding his blunt sword before him, he raised his eyes to the youkai, which were circling once more.  So many of their number had been slain, but there were at least a hundred still remaining, more than enough to finish a helpless mortal and his wounded companion.  Shit…how the hell do we get ourselves out of this one? 

Chapter Text

Miroku collapsed to his knees, barely managing to keep from dropping the precious cargo in his arms.  He set Kagome, with Shippou and Kirara resting on her stomach, down gently before leaning to the side and surrendering to the coughing fit that he had somehow managed to hold back as he ran.  Whatever that smoke was, it was nasty.  It instantly incapacitated anything with a strong nose, and had nearly knocked him out before he could gather up his fallen comrades and escape.  He was ever so glad that Sango had kept Inuyasha from charging in after him.  Rolling over on his back, he breathed the fresh air deeply, letting his aching arms and legs rest.  He figured he deserved a breather after carrying his friends a good distance to safety; in their state, he knew they wouldn’t mind.  They were all sleeping peacefully now, their breathing deep and regular, but he couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if they had stayed in the fog for more than a few seconds.  It wouldn’t have been good, that much was for sure. 

 

Sighing, he rose to his feet.  He didn’t want to stay next to this dead wasteland any longer, and thanked the Kami that Kagome was light.  He also thanked them that she had returned to normal, or at least what was now considered normal.  The pink markings on her cheeks had disappeared, and her fangs were hidden by her lips again.  It should have baffled him, how completely Kagome had assimilated her youkai side.  It seemed her miko powers and youki worked in harmony, which should have been impossible.  But Kagome was doing ‘impossible’ things left and right nowadays.  She certainly was one hell of a woman, one any man would be unbelievably lucky to have.  Now if he could just get Inuyasha to realize that…

 

Gathering his friends in his arms once again, he set out.  His original goal was simply to find a suitable place to make camp for the night, and maybe some wild fruit to eat, but that mission was derailed quickly.  The scent of roasting meat, fish, bread…the smells of a nearby village wafted to his nose.  He heard Kagome’s stomach growl hungrily, and she stirred slightly but did not wake.  Miroku grinned; it seemed his unconscious companion thought staying in the village was a good idea as well. 

 

It was a rather large village by the standards of the day, the many huts kept in good repair.  People were out and about, taking care of their late afternoon business.  He stopped a young woman carrying a basket of clothing, flashing his most charming smile. 

 

“Young miss, could you direct me to where I might seek lodging for the night?”

 

“A-at the inn, o-over on the h-hill,” she stammered, blushing, before scurrying away.  Miroku smirked.  I still haven’t lost my touch.  Finding the inn, he went inside and inquired for the innkeeper.  He was a round, balding man in his forties, a natural-looking scowl on his face. 

 

“Whaddya want?” he grumped, eyeing Miroku condescendingly. 

 

“Good sir, I seek lodging for the night.  I would be more than happy to bless your inn, and drive out the evil spirit I sense emanating—”

 

“You got money, houshi?  I ain’t interested in no phony exorcisms.” 

 

Miroku sweatdropped, suddenly glad his companions were asleep.  If anyone found out that his ‘evil spirit’ trick hadn’t worked, they would never let him live it down.  Supporting Shippou, Kirara, and Kagome’s upper body with his right hand, he reached into his robes with his left, pulling out a small pouch. 

 

“This is all I have,” he said, handing it to the innkeeper.  The man dumped the contents out onto his palm and rolled his eyes, mumbling something about never getting any rich customers. 

 

“Alright, houshi.  This amount gets you a small room with one futon.  You and your lady friend got a problem with that?” he asked, eyeing Kagome appreciatively.   

 

“No, my wife and I will manage,” he lied, not liking the look in the innkeeper’s eye.  The ass even had the gall to look disappointed at Miroku’s declaration. 

 

“Fine.  Go down the hallway, and it’s the last door on your right.  You’ll have to leave those youkai outside though.” 

 

“Excuse me?” Miroku asked incredulously.

 

“You heard me.  Youkai stay outside.”

 

“These youkai are quite harmless, I assure you.  If you insist, then I would like my money returned to me.”  Miroku subtly raised his sleeve to cover Kagome’s ears, which the innkeeper apparently hadn’t noticed yet, partially hidden by her hair as they were.  The innkeeper’s tune changed after that.  Evidently, he was willing to bend his rules a little if it meant making money. 

 

“Fine, but if they cause any trouble, I’m holding you responsible.” 

 

“Yes, yes, they will be on their best behavior.  Thank you.” 

 

The innkeeper waved him off, and Miroku turned to find their room before the man’s voice stopped him.  “Your wife, huh?  Why do you let her go around dressed like that?  She looks more like a whore than a married woman.” 

 

Miroku didn’t miss the salacious inflection in his voice, nor did he fail to see the irony in that this man had just insinuated that the purest person he knew was a whore.  He forcibly reigned in his anger, wondering if the innkeeper was trying to infuriate him on purpose.  Fortunately for all parties involved, he possessed a monk’s restraint, in some areas more than others.  If he did punch the corpulent ass like he truly wanted to, the villagers would probably tie him up for attacking one of their own, and who knew what they would do with two small youkai and a hanyou.  Turning slowly, he favored the innkeeper with a fearsome glare, and spoke with bone-chilling seriousness. 

 

“My wife has quite a temper, so I would not let her hear you say that.  I won’t come to your rescue if she decides to teach you a lesson.  In fact, I might just help her.  Do we understand each other?” 

 

The innkeeper scoffed, refusing to back down, but Miroku sensed he had been effectively put in his place.  The monk held his eyes for a moment longer before turning and marching down the hallway.

 

Sliding the door to their room open with his foot, he sighed heavily.  The enclosure, since it could only very generously be called a room, looked like it had gone twenty years without maintenance.  There were several holes and stains in the floor, and the lone futon took up almost half the surface area.  Its saving grace was that it wasn’t dusty; it had apparently received some use recently.  Setting Kagome down on the futon, he closed the door and sat down cross-legged by her side.  He stared at her peaceful face, recalling how she looked a few hours earlier as she tore into Takehiko.  Vicious, bloodthirsty, rejoicing in the wounds and agony of her enemy, she had been something out of a nightmare, but still undeniably beautiful.  Thinking of the way she looked, so different from her usual bright, cheerful visage, would forever send a chill up his spine.  And yet, she hadn’t completely lost herself.  She had maintained her coherency, and her protectiveness over Inuyasha.  He couldn’t know for sure, but if any of their group had confronted her, he believed she would have recognized them as well.  A low groan interrupted his thoughts and drew his attention toward Kagome’s stomach. 

 

“Ah, Shippou, I was wondering who would wake up first.” 

 

The kit looked decidedly disoriented, glancing slowly around the room, then up to Miroku’s eyes.  “Where are we?” he asked. 

 

“In a village.  I carried you three here after pulling you out of that smoke.” 

 

At the mention of ‘you three,’ Shippou looked down, his gaze traveling up to Kagome’s face.  He jumped, letting out a small cry of fright, and landed squarely on Miroku’s shoulder.  He continued to stare at Kagome’s countenance with wide eyes, his tail vibrating in apprehension. 

 

“Relax, Shippou,” Miroku soothed, patting the fox on the head.  “Kagome-sama is back to normal now.” 

 

Shippou just shook his head, his fearful gaze never wavering.  Miroku could see the nightmare being replayed before his eyes, and perhaps his ears as well.  Whatever Kagome said to Takehiko had spooked the kit badly.  He placed Shippou in his lap, continuing to rub his head.  It was all he could do; Kagome was the only one who could restore the lad’s confidence in her.  Kirara stirred a short while later, and immediately hopped onto his thigh, demanding the same treatment.  The sun was low in the sky by the time Kagome woke, moaning and placing her hand to her head. 

 

“Ugh, my head.  What happened?” 

 

“Think, Kagome-sama.  What do you remember?” 

 

Kagome frowned in concentration, pausing for a moment before answering.  “I remember fighting Takehiko and Sora…they hit Inuyasha with that dagger, and I had to purify him!  Where is he?  Is he okay?” she asked, frantically looking around the room. 

 

“I’m sure he is fine.  He was able to stand afterwards.  We got separated, but Sango is with him.  What else do you remember?”

 

“We have to go look for them!  Come—”

 

“Please, Kagome-sama, humor me,” Miroku requested sternly.  “This is important.  Now, what else to you remember?”

 

“After…after I purified Inuyasha…Takehiko and Sora were laughing.  I remember getting so mad…”  Here, she broke off, her eyes bulging as the realization struck her.  “I-I turned full youkai!”

 

“Yes, you did,” Miroku echoed grimly.  “You went after Takehiko to protect Inuyasha, and—”

 

“I tried to shove my hand through his heart,” she interrupted. 

 

“So you do remember?” 

 

“Yeah, it was really weird.  Like I was in control of my body still, but there was an urge, a drive, something compelling me to fight.”  She paused again, additional parts of the memory filtering back to her.  “I can’t believe I said that,” she lamented, hiding her face in her hands. 

 

“Said what?”

 

“She said that it was fun spilling Takehiko’s blood,” Shippou answered quietly.  All eyes lowered to him, and Kagome gasped at his vacant eyes and tear-stained cheeks.  He looked completely traumatized, haunted by fragments of the distant past.  That’s right, Shippou has had plenty of experience with demons who kill for the sake of enjoyment.  One of them murdered his father before his eyes.  And now, I…oh, Kami!  What have I done?! 

 

“Oh, Shippou-chan,” she tried, reaching for him, only to pull back when he flinched away.  Hands dropping to her sides in defeat and despair, Kagome hung her head and gave in to the sobs that soon wracked her small frame.  Miroku, feeling powerless to comfort either of them, spoke up. 

 

“Did you recognize us, Kagome-sama?  I know you recognized Inuyasha.”

 

“I did!  I was mostly thinking about killing Takehiko, but deep down, I knew that I had to protect everyone—not just Inuyasha, but you guys too.  I could never hurt you, not my little Shippou-chan…” 

 

At this, the kit raised his eyes and looked at her, seeing her remorse, her shame, and hearing the honesty of her words. 

 

“Kagome!” he cried as he leapt into her arms.  They clung to each other tightly, crying together, healing the open wounds that had festered since her transformation that afternoon. “I thought you were gone, Kagome!  I thought you were gone forever.” 

 

“I’m not going anywhere, Shippou-chan,” was her watery reply.  It took several long minutes for the pair to calm down, but eventually they pulled away from each other, each smiling hesitantly. 

 

“So your miko powers kept you from losing yourself, Kagome-sama,” Miroku observed.  “I’m glad.”

 

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.  I was still able to use them, wasn’t I?” 

 

“That you were.  To great effect I might add.”

 

“So what happened after that?  I remember that awful-smelling smoke…”

 

“You blacked out, as did Shippou and Kirara when they went to rescue you.  I picked up all three of you and ran from the smoke.  Eventually, I found this village and rented a room for the night.  Unfortunately, it cost me all the money I had, so we’ll have to go hungry tonight.” 

 

“Thank you, Miroku-sama,” Kagome replied, grateful for the rescue. 

 

“Think nothing of it, my dear.  You’ve saved all of us on more than one occasion.” 

 

“Hm.  But why didn’t you just tell him there was an evil aura hanging over this building and get a free room that way?” 

 

Miroku had the acting skills to look aghast.  “Why, Kagome-sama!  I’ll have you know that I only perform exorcisms with the purest—”

 

“He wasn’t buying it, was he?”

 

“…”  Sighing, Miroku gave up the charade.  “No, he was not.” 

 

Kagome chuckled.  “I think you might be losing your touch, Miroku-sama.”

 

“I’m not!  I’m still as unbelievably charming as ever.” 

 

“If you say so, Miroku,” Shippou interjected.  “I’m going outside to play while it’s still light out.”

 

“Wait, Shippou!” Miroku ordered, halting the kitsune in his tracks. 

 

“Why, Miroku-sama?  He just wants to go flirt with some village girls.  You’d be a major hypocrite to refuse him.”

 

“It’s not that, Kagome-sama,” he replied.  “The innkeeper was decidedly hostile to the idea of youkai staying here.  I’m fairly certain he would have kicked us out had he realized you were a hanyou, and there’s a good chance he isn’t the only one in this village who feels that way about youkai.  I think it would be best if we just laid low tonight.” 

 

“Awwww, but I’m bored!” 

 

“Sorry, Shippou-chan, but Miroku-sama is right.  We don’t want to stir up trouble.” 

 

“That brings me to another point, Kagome-sama,” Miroku said, a familiar, lecherous gleam in his eye.  “Until we leave this village, we are married.” 

 

“What?!  Why would you say something like that?” she asked, not so much upset as she was suspicious. 

 

“Let’s just say I wanted to curtail any unwanted attention on your part from a certain corpulent innkeeper.” 

 

“Oh,” Kagome uttered, shivering slightly.  “Thanks for that.” 

 

“My pleasure,” he teased seductively. 

 

“Hmph,” she grumped, crossing her arms over her chest.  “Just don’t think you get any special privileges because we’re fake married.” 

 

“Ah, I’m so misunderstood,” he lamented, the picture of innocence.  Kagome snorted, not in the least bit fooled.  She would have to watch her backside extra carefully tonight.  Or perhaps not.  She stood, remembering her earlier declaration. 

 

“Come on, let’s go find Inuyasha and Sango.” 

 

Under other circumstances, Miroku might have tried to persuade her to remain in the village.  But with Inuyasha human for an undetermined amount of time, and only Sango there to protect him, he knew he had no chance of convincing the worried miko to stay.  It was getting dark out, but that would be no hindrance to Kagome. 

 

“Kirara, can you transform?” he inquired.  The fire-cat tried, but the flames which normally leapt to engulf her during her transformation sputtered out and died.  Kirara coughed violently in her small form, and collapsed onto her side, breathing heavily.  Miroku picked her up and began petting her again, knowing what her incapacity meant. 

 

“Well, it seems you will have to go alone, Kagome-sama.  I cannot keep up with you in the daylight, never mind the dark, and you will move much faster if you are not carrying us.  I will stay here and watch Shippou and Kirara.  Please, be careful,” he finished gravely.  It was difficult to let her go, but he could see no other alternative.  Inuyasha could be in serious danger, and Kagome could take care of herself. 

 

The hanyou-miko nodded once, then was gone.  Miroku sighed worriedly, his anxiety spiking.  Inuyasha, Sango…be safe. 

 

* * *

 

Shit…how the hell do we get ourselves out of this one? 

 

Inuyasha had no idea.  Sango still struggled to rise, but even if she did manage to stand she wouldn’t be able to fight with her wounds.  Barring a miracle, both of them were going to die.  I always knew I’d get killed in my human form.  He gritted his teeth, downright pissed at his fate.  Over fifty years ago, there were times in his life when he wouldn’t have cared one way or the other whether he lived or died.  But now that he had friends, people to live for; now that he had Kagome…the Kami were taking it all away from him?  Fuck that!  It can’t end like this!  And yet, despite his objections, his time was running short.  The youkai were circling, slowly drawing inexorably closer with every revolution, watching Sango to see if she was really down for the count.  It was only a matter of time before their courage returned and they attacked again.  And that truly would be the end.

 

A pulse. 

 

It sent a shockwave through his body, tiny sparks of electricity dancing along his nerves.  Another pulse.  And another.  Coming closer together now, growing in strength.  They emanated from his sword and he held it up, even as the blade continued to throb.  Tetsusaiga…what’s going on?  A final pulse, greater than any of the others, reaching deep inside him.  Grasping, pulling, bringing something to the surface.  And then Tetsusaiga shifted, transforming into its large, majestic form, and he understood.  Tetsusaiga is calling my youki!  Sure enough, his own metamorphosis came on seconds later, as his youkai blood roared to life in his veins.  Smirking, he brought Tetsusaiga to his lips and planted a kiss on the blade.  I fucking love this sword! 

 

The rest of the battle was a cakewalk; a couple Kaze no Kizu decimated the remaining youkai, leaving just a handful to dispose of by claw.  Sheathing his sword, he knelt by Sango’s side. 

 

“You okay, Sango?”

 

“Yeah,” she rasped, clearly in some pain.  “They’re just flesh wounds.” 

 

Inuyasha examined the injuries, immediately concluding that she was understating things.  She had two rows of tooth-shaped puncture wounds in her back, and a matching set on her stomach.  The wounds were bleeding, but not quickly enough to be life-threatening.  She was lucky whatever had bitten her had relatively small teeth.  That didn’t mean she could go without medical treatment, however.  Inuyasha grimaced; this was going to be unpleasant. 

 

“Alright, Sango, take your armor off so I can bandage you up.”

 

“I’m fine, Inuyasha.  They’re just fl—”

 

“They are NOT flesh wounds, taijiya!  Now quit being so stubborn and let me bandage you, or I’ll knock you out and do it anyway!” 

 

Sighing, Sango gave up, knowing deep down that she did need to be patched up.  “Got anything in that bag I can wear?” she asked. 

 

As Inuyasha went to retrieve some clothes and the first aid kit from Kagome’s backpack, Sango stripped her black bodysuit to the waist, hissing as the cloth pulled at her open wounds.  Inuyasha turned and froze, gulping at the sight.  On the one hand, he wasn’t attracted to Sango that way, but on the other, there was a gorgeous woman sitting half-naked before him.  Shaking his head, he got down to business.  It actually wasn’t as uncomfortable as he feared.  Sango was a good patient, not even complaining when he cleaned her wounds.  He bound her midsection tightly, satisfied that the bandages would stop the bleeding and facilitate healing.  That done, he helped Sango into the hooded sweatshirt Kagome’s mother had purchased for him, and she also replaced the rest of her suit with a pair of draw-string sweatpants.  She was actually pretty funny to look at, the clothes being several sizes too big for her.  But Sango didn’t look like she would be amused by such an observation, so he kept it to himself.  He hoisted hiraikotsu and Kagome’s backpack over one shoulder, and Sango climbed onto his back.  They needed to find shelter, somewhere warm and away from the stinking carcasses of several hundred youkai 

 

“Thanks, Inuyasha,” Sango mumbled as they walked. 

 

“Feh.  I should be thanking you.  Why did you do it anyway?  Saving me when you needed hiraikotsu to save yourself?”  He felt her shrug against his back. 

 

“That’s my duty as a taijiya, to protect the innocent from youkai, even at the cost of my own life.  Besides, you’re my friend, and I could never look Kagome in the eye again if I let something happen to you.” 

 

“Yeah, well, the same thing goes for you and the bouzu,” he replied thoughtfully.  Sango didn’t point out that he had just compared her pending engagement with Miroku to his own relationship with Kagome.  She shook her head; the dope didn’t even realize how hopelessly in love with her he was.  A comfortable silence settled in, not broken until Sango’s teeth started chattering.  The adrenaline of battle had faded, and the cool night air seeped through the fabric covering her, chilling her weakened body.  Fortunately, Inuyasha soon located a cave, and built a fire.  Sango wrapped herself in Kagome’s sleeping roll and slipped into an exhausted slumber, watched over by ever-alert amber eyes. 

 

* * *

 

Kagome dashed through the forest, a blur in the darkness.  Her step was quickened by a foreboding sense, deeper than mere worry.  She knew something was wrong, with the certainty that she knew her own name.  The source of this knowledge was a mystery, but that did not change its indisputable nature. 

 

Never had she been more grateful for feline night vision.  It wasn’t hard to find the site of that afternoon’s battle; she just followed the malodorous scent of dead and decaying vegetation.  The problem was detecting Inuyasha’s scent over that smell.  Progress was slow as a result, as she worked her way around the edge of the desolated area, searching for any trace of her lost friends.  She traveled at a snail’s pace to keep from missing anything, and the night was mostly gone before she made it even halfway around the huge circle.  The overpowering sense of certainty that Inuyasha was in danger had subsided long ago, but she plugged on doggedly, refusing to give up.  Then, at long last, she found the scent she was looking for.  She almost couldn’t believe it, but a second sniff confirmed that she had discovered Inuyasha and Sango’s trail. 

 

She quickened her pace, the possibility of actually finding Inuyasha sending her adrenaline surging.  Twice she lost the trail due to her hastiness, and had to backtrack.  Eventually she made her way to a clearing, and her heart lodged in her chest.  The burned-out remains of a campfire were surrounded by the dismantled bodies of countless youkai.  It was nearly impossible to pick out the scents of her friends through the overwhelming stench, but she managed nonetheless.  If her stomach contained any food, she probably would have thrown it up upon setting one foot inside the ring of death and destruction.  But she pushed through; Sango’s scent in particular was emanating from a certain spot, a dark patch on the earth.  Kneeling down, she realized with a sinking feeling what it was.  Blood…Sango’s blood!

 

She forcefully reigned in her panic.  It didn’t appear to be too much blood, and Sango herself was nowhere to be found.  If the youkai had eaten her, they would surely have eaten Inuyasha as well, and she could detect no traces of his blood at all.  No, they had somehow managed to escape the swarm.  Reassured, she continued her search, and came upon another trail moments later, this one leading out of the battlefield.  It was perhaps an hour after dawn when she came upon the cave where they must have spent the night.  Their scents were fresh now, easy to follow, and she launched herself into a sprint, eager to verify with her eyes what her nose had already told her.  This last part of the journey seemed the longest, though it did in fact take the least amount of time.  She was so close, so close to seeing him alive, to confirming that she hadn’t killed him with her own stupidity and carelessness.  Guilt and hope fused to fuel her tired body, driving her until the trees became a greenish blur and her feet flew over the ground.  Then, he was there, walking ahead of her, heavily burdened by both human and inanimate cargo. 

 

“INUYASHA!!!” 

 

He had barely turned before she was upon him, twining her arms tightly upon his neck, her momentum causing him to stumble and nearly drop Sango on her ass.  As it was, the slayer had another problem. 

 

“Aack!  Kagome-chan,” she wheezed.  “I can’t breathe!”

 

“Oh, sorry Sango-chan!” Kagome exclaimed, releasing her hold on both their necks.  Stepping back, she peered into Inuyasha’s eyes, deeply afraid of what she might see.  But instead of anger or hatred, there was only confusion, and perhaps a hint of happiness that pulled up the corner of his lips to a barely noticeable degree.  Still, Kagome knew she needed to apologize quickly; she couldn’t wait any longer to find out if they were still on speaking terms, or even still friends at all. 

 

“Inuyasha, I’m so, so sorry…” 

 

Now he just appeared even more perplexed.  “For what?” 

 

Kagome stared at him, her contrite expression morphing into bewilderment and then irritation.  “For what?!  For purifying you, baka!” 

 

Inuyasha just stared at her for a moment, trying to figure out what the hell was going on.  What the—first she hugs me, and now she’s yelling at me?  What gives?! 

 

“Uh, in case you’ve forgotten, wench, I fuckin’ told you to do that!” 

 

“So what?!  You wouldn’t have had to tell me to do it if I hadn’t been so careless!” 

 

Inuyasha’s heated reply died in his throat as he realized what this was truly about.  Idly, he wondered why he hadn’t noticed her obvious remorse sooner. 

 

“Yeah, well if I had just taken care of that bastard in the first place, he wouldn’t have been able to throw that dagger at all.” 

 

“Still…”

 

“No, wench!  There’s nothing to forgive, so don’t apologize!”

 

“But I still hurt you!  How can you forgive me!”

 

“Y-you saved me, Kagome.  Get that through your thick head of hers.”  He grimaced inwardly, thinking of all the times he had hurt Kagome, even if none of them had been physical.  Even if he wanted to hold her actions against her, he couldn’t do so in good conscience.  She had always forgiven him, stayed by his side no matter how much of an ass he made of himself, no matter how many times he abandoned her to see Kikyou… 

 

“D-did it hurt badly?” she asked, interrupting his thoughts.  It was clear that she had taken his words to heart, but the remorse hadn’t totally left her eyes.  He searched for something to make her feel better, and blurted out the first thing that came to mind. 

 

“Keh.  You purifying me felt like an ear rub compared to what that dagger was doing to me.”  The moment the words ‘ear rub’ left his mouth, he regretted them.  Kagome’s eyes shot up to the fuzzy appendages, and he was helpless to deny her when she was wearing that pleading look.  Sighing, he lowered his head.  Her hands immediately latched on, her questing fingers massaging his ears in just the right way.  A pleasured growl escaped him even as he fought to remain standing.  All he wanted to do was lay his head in her lap and have her rub his ears all day. 

 

Sango watched the entire scene curiously, biting her lip as she gazed at Kagome’s fingers working her hanyou’s furry triangles.  She had always wondered if they were as soft as they looked.  Kagome caught her eye, and nodded her head, removing one of her hands as she passed her a knowing smirk.  For once, Inuyasha was grateful to have someone else touching his ears.  Sango’s inexperienced hand broke him out of his Kagome-induced daze and returned him to reality.  It wasn’t that the new sensation was unpleasant, it just wasn’t Kagome’s hand working her magic.  After indulging them for a few more seconds, he raised his head abruptly, breaking the contact. 

 

“Alright, that’s enough of that!  What is it with you women and my ears, anyway?” 

 

Kagome saw right through his feigned anger, knowing that he was just covering up his embarrassment at enjoying it so much. 

 

“They’re cute, Inuyasha.”

 

“Feh!  My ears are not fucking cute!”  Said appendages twitched in annoyance, completely ruining the effect of his words, as Sango and Kagome giggled at his expense.  He scowled, but otherwise remained silent.  Evidently, Sango laughed a bit too hard, because she suddenly clutched at her stomach. 

 

“Ouch,” she moaned, hissing through clenched teeth. 

 

“Sango-chan!  Are you alright?”

 

“Yeah.  Just don’t make me laugh for a while.” 

 

“Oh, your wound!  Well, let’s bandage you up,” Kagome said, moving around to get a better look.  Sango’s voice stopped her in her tracks. 

 

“Inuyasha already did it.” 

 

“H-he did?” Kagome wondered, utterly astounded.  Lifting the back of Sango’s top, she examined the bandages woven cleanly around her midsection.  It didn’t at all resemble the messy, hackneyed job she expected to find.  “Wow…great job, Inuyasha!  Where did you learn to do that?”

 

“Keh.  Probably from all the times I watched you patch me up.” 

 

Smiling, Kagome pulled Sango’s top back down, only then realizing what the fabric actually was. 

 

“Sango?  What on earth are you wearing?”

 

“Well, my armour had teeth-holes in it, so—”

 

“So I gave her those to wear.  With the amount of blood she lost, I knew she would freeze if I gave her any of your skimpy clothes.” 

 

Kagome’s eyebrow twitched as she completely forgot her previous line of questioning.  “And what’s wrong with what I wear?”

 

“Nothing.  Nothing at all…” Inuyasha said softly, and Kagome swore she saw just a hint of something lecherous in his eye.  But it was gone too quickly to be sure.  She gaped at him.  Was he just flirting with me?  The thought stirred up the butterflies in her stomach, and brought a silly grin to her face.  It seemed their relationship was changing every day.  If I asked him a question like that before, the conversation would have end with me saying ‘osuwari.’  Unfortunately, her empty stomach chose that moment to let out an obscenely loud growl, spoiling the moment. 

 

“You hungry, Kagome-chan?” Sango teased. 

 

“Uh, yeah.  Haven’t eaten anything since yesterday at lunch.” 

 

As the trio settled down for their modern-era meal, they took turns filling each other in on all that had transpired since they were separated.  Inuyasha went to fill the water bottles, and Kagome took the chance to lean over to Sango and whisper in her ear. 

 

“Thanks for taking such good care of him, Sango-chan.”

 

“Don’t sweat it, Kagome-chan.” 

 

When Inuyasha returned, he did so with an angry expression, as if an upsetting thought had just occurred to him. 

 

“So you went out alone looking for us, wench?” he demanded furiously.  “Are you fucking stupid?!”

 

Kagome took a deep breath to keep her temper in check, knowing that his ire was born out of concern.  “The smoke was still affecting Kirara, so she couldn’t transform.  I knew you were human and that you might be in danger.  And it turns out you were in danger.  Did you honestly expect me to sit in that village and wait for you?” 

 

“It would have been smarter,” Inuyasha muttered, but couldn’t really argue with her reasoning.  If their roles had been reversed, he would’ve done the same thing.  He had to forcibly remind himself that Kagome was not helpless.  He had been the helpless one last night; Kagome had almost found the scraps from two recently devoured human corpses in that clearing instead of just a bloodstain on the ground.  Another thought occurred to him, which made him gaze at the hanyou-miko in a new light. 

 

“So you tracked us all that way, huh?  Not bad, wench.” 

 

It wouldn’t seem like much of a compliment to someone who didn’t know him, but Kagome did, and she knew it meant a lot more than the words would normally in and of themselves comport. 

 

“Thanks, Inuyasha,” she replied, genuinely touched.  And with everything that had gone on in the past twenty-four hours, she couldn’t help but feel that today was going to be a good day.   

Chapter Text

“Sora, could you get me some water?” Takehiko gasped out. His sister nodded; she was willing to do almost anything for him now that he was finally awake. He had been unconscious for almost two full days since their most recent battle with the Inu-gang. She had treated his wounds, but it had been touch and go as to whether he would survive Kagome's attempt to purify him from the inside out. She was convinced he would have succumbed to the purifying poison in his body had it not been for the jewel shard in his forehead. She had also let him borrow her own as well as the one from the dagger. Now he was recovering, albeit slowly. He still bore a gaping hole in his chest, the lingering effects of Kagome's powers hindering his natural demonic healing ability. Sora growled angrily; this was just another thing the miko bitch would have to pay for.

 

“How did we get out of that mess, anyway?” her brother asked, apparently feeling up for conversation. “The last thing I remember was collapsing in a pool of my own blood.”

 

Sora shuddered at the mental image her brother's words conjured up. As long as she lived, she would never forget the sight.

 

“You remember that gourd, the one you told me not to take? I used it to make an escape from that crazed youkai…miko…whatever the fuck she is!”

 

Takehiko chuckled, clutching at his chest when the movement caused him pain. “I guess it's a good thing you didn't listen to me then.”

 

Sora's eyes watered, the anxiety and unbridled emotion of the past forty-eight hours finally catching up to her. As her brother lay there, barely breathing, she had staved off madness by telling herself over and over again that he would recover. It had become a rallying cry, the only thing keeping her soul from shattering into a million pieces. But now, now that it appeared she had been right, the reality of the situation set in. Just how close she had come to losing him…to finding herself alone again…

 

With a gut-wrenching sob, she threw herself against her brother's chest, her tears soaking the bandages there. A muffled “oomph!” was all that escaped him, as he wrapped his arms around her. The façade of strength they exhibited to the outside world didn't matter when it was just the two—or three—of them. All they had was each other; trust and love did not stray outside their small family to anyone else. When they were children, they had banded together against the world that shunned them and carved out a niche for themselves. Losing one of their trio had nearly broken them, and perhaps it would have if there was no hope of getting Minoru back. To lose two siblings, to be the only one left…that was something they dreaded above all else, even death. So Takehiko did not judge his sister, or lament her female sensitivity. He himself had nearly cried the last time Sora was wounded. Eventually her sobs turned to hiccups, and she pulled away, drying her eyes with the back of her hand. Takehiko laughed at the image, earning himself a glare.

 

“You look just like you did when you were a brat,” he observed, grinning in amusement.

 

“Shut up, Takebaka!” she replied, but there was no real bite to her words. Returning her glare now, Takehiko nevertheless chose to let her favorite nickname for him slide. They had more pressing matters to discuss.

 

“Sora, what are we going to do about this? Twice now we've escaped by a hair's width, and I believe we've just about used up our good luck.”

 

“What the hell are you talking about? We're going to kill them, that's what! The only reason they're still alive is because that miko bitch keeps surprising us, wielding miko powers when she shouldn't be able to. Now that we know what we're up against, we'll definitely be able to beat her!”

 

“I still believe we need a better plan. As much as you want to kill Kagome—”

 

“Killing doesn't begin to describe what I want to do to her.”

 

“Regardless, we need to focus on Inuyasha. He is the strongest of their group, and that sword of his would be truly formidable if it wasn't wielded by someone with the fighting skill of a wet kimono.”

 

“But if he goes down, won't Kagome transform again?”

 

Takehiko sighed. “Probably, but that could work to our advantage. She is more powerful and aggressive in that form, but also reckless. As you said, now that we know what she is capable of, we can defeat her.”

 

“I wish we didn't have to use that fuckin' dagger,” Sora pouted. “It would be so much more enjoyable to rip out her entrails by hand, don't you think?”

 

“Be that as it may, the dagger is the only way to bring Minoru back to us. You were very smart to pick it up off the battlefield.”

 

“Tch. Just lucky; I nearly fell on the stupid thing when that bitch shoved me to the ground.”

 

Takehiko's reply was forestalled by the ominous scent that reached his nose. The stench was so pungent that even Sora's weaker sense of smell could pick it up. Narrowing her eyes in recognition, she stood and turned to face the intruder. Naraku descended from the sky moments later, his protective barrier shimmering in the sunlight. He wore the same benevolent expression he had at their first meeting, but this time there was something darker, more sinister in his eyes.

 

“You two are quite difficult to find,” he observed casually.

 

“Forgive us for not wishing to share your company,” Sora answered tersely. “Now, what do you want?”

 

“I want my Shikon jewel shards returned to me.”

 

“Not a chance.”

 

Naraku smirked, several bony tentacles writhing their way outside his barrier. “I'm more than happy to take them by force, if necessary.”

 

“Try it!” Sora yelled, lowing herself into a combat stance, wings flared behind her.

 

“Now, now,” Takehiko's annoyingly placating voice called out. “Let us try to be civil about this.”

 

Sora scoffed. Sure, it's easy to say that when you're physically incapable of fighting.

 

“There is nothing to discuss. You two failed in your task, and that means our deal is off. And not only that, you somehow slew the insects I sent to observe the battle and report back to me.”

 

“Fuck you, Naraku!” Sora retorted. “We don't like going into battle with some jackass looking over our shoulder. And we didn't fail; we just suffered a setback. Besides, if Inuyasha and his friends are so easy to get rid of, why haven't you done it yourself?!”

 

Anger flashed across Naraku's visage, and Sora knew she had hit a sore spot. Her brother interrupted before she could exploit it and rile the dark hanyou any further.

 

“Though she speaks in the manner of a common ogre, my sister is right,” he said, pointedly ignoring the glare Sora shot his way. “In a few days, I will be completely recovered, and we will be as strong as ever. Kagome can't possibly have any more surprises in store f—”

 

“What kind of surprises has she given you so far?” Naraku interjected suddenly, his interest obviously peaked. Takehiko grinned. Got him.

 

“You'll never find out unless you allow us another opportunity to complete our side of the deal. Or perhaps you will, but only when you experience them first-hand. I can tell you that being caught unawares is not pleasant, nor good for one’s health. As for your insects, many of them were slain by Inuyasha's cohorts. We used a powerful smoke potion to make our escape, and the rest must have succumbed to it.”

 

Naraku was clearly unhappy with this development, but was somewhat mollified by the prospect of learning new, exploitable things about his enemies.

 

“Very well. Tell me what you know about Kagome.”

 

“We succeeded in incapacitating Inuyasha, and were about to finish him off when Kagome stepped in. She was a full youkai, and a most worthy adversary, as you can see,” he added motioning to the bandages on his chest. Naraku's eyes widened slightly, and Takehiko could see the wheels turning in that screwed-up head of his.

 

“How did she act when she was transformed?”

 

“She came after us with savage abandon and singular focus, though she retained her ability to speak. She seemed incredibly protective of Inuyasha.”

 

Silence reigned for several moments as Naraku digested the new information. “Interesting. Is there anything else I should know?”

 

“No, I don't believe there is.”

 

Nodding, Naraku turned to depart. “Do not fail a second time. There will be no more opportunities.” With that, he was gone.

 

“What an arrogant prick!” Sora shouted, causing her brother to sigh.

 

“Yes, but a necessary one, nonetheless.”

 

At this, Sora turned her ire on her brother. “Oh, is that why you were treating him like your fuckin' master? `You'll never find out unless you allow us another opportunity to complete our side of the deal.' What the fuck is that?! Why didn't you just get on your knees and beg him to lower his hakama?!”

 

“Please. We've dealt with his type before. If you don't appeal to their arrogance, you won't get anywhere. I did what I had to do to undo the damage caused by your thoughtless blustering!”

 

“Oh, yeah? Well I always thought you were the one with the balls in the family, but I guess it was me!”

 

“At least my oversized ego doesn't prevent me from using my brain once and awhile! Do you think you can take Naraku yourself? We have no idea what he is capable of. And besides, we cannot afford to fight him until Inuyasha and his friends have been eliminated.”

 

Sora snarled angrily, but conceded to her brother's point.

 

“And if you were paying attention, you would have noticed the thing I didn't tell Naraku.”

 

“What was that?” she asked sulkily, though her eyes revealed her interest.

 

“That Kagome still retains her miko powers, even when she is full youkai.”

 

“Huh? Why didn't you tell him that?”

 

Takehiko shrugged. “He came to take our jewel shards away and basically threatened to kill us. If he wanted that information, he should have been less of a…what was it? Oh, yes, an `arrogant prick.'”

 

“Heh. Maybe you're not such a pussy after all.”

 

“Apparently, using your head before your sword makes you a pussy around here,” he muttered under his breath.

 

“What was that?”

 

“Nothing, Sora. Now I believe I asked you for some water?” Grinning, Takehiko watched as his sister stomped irritably to a nearby stream. These next few days were going to be fun.

 

 * * *

 

Kagome grinned sardonically. So much for this being a good day…

 

Things had immediately gone south when she led Inuyasha, still carrying Sango, back to the village she and Miroku had found shelter in. The whispers had started before they even set foot in the village proper, and her ears were burning so hotly that it was a wonder they didn't suddenly burst into flame. Her thoughts drifted back to the village they had rescued after their last meeting with Totosai, but the reaction they were getting from these people was completely different. Instead of suspicion, there was downright hostility. The word ‘youkai’ wasn't spoken so much as it was spit out, as if it pierced the tongue to form the two filthy syllables. She kept her eyes on the path, trying to avoid meeting the hateful glares she could feel burning holes in her skin. Loathing saturated the air, leaving it to hang oppressively down upon her shoulders. She had never in her life felt so abhorred, so detested.

 

A slight nudge on her arm brought her attention to the side, where Inuyasha was gazing at her with a mixture of anger and concern. She pressed closer to him, linking her elbow with his as she accepted his comfort. Inuyasha growled in frustration. He wanted so badly to reach out and touch her, clasp her hand, shelter her from the hate. But Sango was asleep on his back, and if he released one of her legs it would end up dragging on the ground. More whispers drifted to his ears, drawing his attention back to the villagers who passed by on either side. He met their glares with one of his own, the thought of backing down never crossing his mind. It gave him grim satisfaction that not a single human managed to look away after he did.

 

But that was a small victory, barely a ripple in the great sea of his fury. He had been in villages like this before, where the humans wished him a horrible death the moment they laid eyes upon him. Fortunately, these were very rare. They usually occurred because of bloody problems with youkai in the recent past. There were also villages that openly accepted youkai, or at least tolerated their presence without prejudice. Kaede's village was becoming one of these, but they were also few and far between. The vast majority of human settlements were somewhere in between these two extremes. Most humans in Japan regarded youkai with suspicion, even contempt, but were content to let them alone. They took a ‘you don't hurt me, and I won't hurt you’ approach to youkai, one which suited Inuyasha just fine. They feared him, openly wondered if he would turn on them and start a slaughter, but didn't voice hatred or wish him dead.

 

The last time he had been in a village of the first variety was almost a hundred years ago. He shuddered at the memory. He had been just a boy back then, barely on his own, looking for a place to stay. How naïve he'd been, seeking shelter in a place where youkai were lower than dirt. And if those villagers had their way, underground was exactly where he would have ended up. He could still hear his own cries, his pleas for them to stop, all in vain. Their eyes, glowing crimson with malice, as they punished him for being born, for being alive. His panic, his desperation to escape rising out of control as he could no longer stomach the scent of his own blood… He never again put himself in such a situation. The next time he had been at the mercy of anyone, it had been Kikyou's arrows pinning him to a tree by his clothes as the miko contemplated whether or not to finish him off. And when she lowered her bow, it had been the first time in his life that anyone had shown him mercy. And so it had begun, his journey of companionship, heartbreak, and…love? Did he still love Kikyou? He used to be so sure of that one simple fact, but now he felt doubt, and it made him uneasy. Perhaps he would have continued to contemplate these questions, but there was one word in the cacophony of verbal abuse he was tuning out that he could not ignore.

 

“Whore!”

 

Kagome's outraged gasp was like a knife through his heart, and if he ever saw that look on her face again, he would personally rip out the throat of whoever put it there, even if it was himself. Spinning toward the offender, he let loose a feral snarl. Every human in the area backed up a step, and the speaker, a short, wrinkly woman who did a little more than fill out her kimono, quickly lost her courage and scurried into a nearby hut.

 

“Fucking nasty old skank!” he cursed quietly. “If she wasn't so fat and ugly there wouldn't be a problem. She's just jealous that she doesn't look like you anymore. Fuck, she probably never did!”

 

So enraged, so engrossed was Inuyasha with his seething, that he didn't realize what he had just said until Kagome leaned closer to him, raising herself up to place a kiss on his cheek. More accusations deriding her chastity reached her ears, but somehow they didn't seem to matter as much anymore. Inuyasha grinned, quite satisfied with himself.  He couldn’t stop the insults, but he at least made Kagome feel better about them. 

 

“Where are we?” came a drowsy voice behind him.

 

“Oh, Sango-chan, you’re awake.  How are you feeling?” 

 

“Alright, I guess,” the taijiya answered weakly. “Is this the village Houshi-sama is staying at?” she asked, perking up suddenly.

 

“Yep,” Kagome replied with a knowing smile.

 

Sango looked around, frowning. “Why is everyone glaring at us?”

 

“Oh, trust me, Sango. They're not glaring at you,” Inuyasha spoke up bitterly. Sango glanced at Kagome, confirming Inuyasha's words, then leaned her head back down against him.

 

“Bastards,” she said tiredly.

 

“You got that right, taijiya.”

 

“Kagome-chan,” Sango tried, “why don't we just grab the others and leave?”

 

“Not a chance, Sango-chan. You need the bed rest.”

 

“I'm fine!”

 

“You're not. You're too weak to walk because of all the blood you lost, and you need to stay warm and indoors or you might get sick. Besides, Inuyasha and Kirara don't need to be lugging you all over Feudal Japan.”

 

“Houshi-sama could car—” Sango cut herself off, realizing the absurdity of her statement before she had completely uttered it. Just how long would the monk's hands stay under her knees where Inuyasha's were? Ten, maybe fifteen seconds? No thank you. Her butt was not a handhold, at least not yet. Sighing, Sango relented.

 

“Inuyasha,” she said seriously, “if things get too bad, I want you to just stick me on Kirara and drag Kagome out of here by the hair if you have to.”

 

“No problem,” he replied, enjoying the scandalized look Kagome sent his way.

 

“Good. Now get me to a bed so I can sleep some more.”

 

Inuyasha smirked; Sango had just given him permission to do something he was planning on doing anyway. Kagome might be ignoring the insults and threatening glowers now, but there was no way they were staying here if things didn't die down. In two days he had failed to prevent Kagome from experiencing two of the curses of being a hanyou, and he was none too pleased with himself. Hopefully now she would realize to a fuller extent what life was like for hanyou and change back into a human as she belonged.

 

Kagome sighed in relief as they finally entered the inn; she didn't plan on going outside again until the next morning. The innkeeper's eyes widened as he spied Inuyasha standing beside her, and even further when he noticed her ears.

 

“You crooked monk!” he yelled. “You didn't say anything about more youkai…” His voice faded out as he stormed off down the hall. A short, muffled conversation later, and he was back, pushing past them without making eye contact. Kagome felt sorry for the next person to cross his path; he smelled absolutely livid.

 

“What the fuck is his problem?” Inuyasha asked.

 

“Just another bigot in a town full of them,” came Miroku's voice just before the monk emerged from the doorway to their room. “I am sorry about your reception, but…I…” He trailed off as Sango's head came up and they locked eyes. Miroku was at her side in an instant. “Sango, are you alright?”

 

“F-fine, Houshi-sama,” she replied, stiffening as the monk's hand came to rest upon her lower back. In her current position, her butt was especially vulnerable, and Kagome was watching the wandering appendage like a hawk. But Miroku appeared to have other things on his mind at the moment, like the bandages visible on the exposed portion of Sango's back, as he began to lift the sweatshirt she wore to check her injuries.

 

“Don't worry, Miroku-sama,” Kagome said, swiftly pulling his hand away. “The wounds aren't that serious. Sango-chan will be fine in a few days.”

 

Frowning, the monk relented reluctantly. “Well, then come inside and lay her down. I managed to…persuade the innkeeper to grant us another night.”

 

Following him inside the tiny room, Inuyasha placed Sango down on the futon, and Miroku drew the blankets up over her. Sango pulled them up to her nose, blushing prettily at the action. But the pleasant mood their reunion had created was short-lived. Miroku rose to his feet, brushing off his robes.

 

“I'm going to see if I can't find us some more suitable lodging for the night. This room would be very cramped for all of us.”

 

Kagome couldn't argue with that logic, but she almost protested anyway. There was something mischievous in his tone and demeanor. If Sango's rising irritation was any indication, she hadn't been the only one who noticed it. Sure enough, moments after the lecherous monk departed, a young woman's voice rang out into the silence.

 

“Oh, Houshi-sama! You're such a tease!”

 

Kagome was glad she couldn't make out Miroku's suave reply, and even more grateful that Sango couldn't hear it. But both she and the slayer knew what her fiancé was doing, and Kagome fully expected Sango to start fuming any second. Instead, to her everlasting shock, the taijiya merely heaved a heavy sigh and stared at the ceiling, the scent of her grief perfuming the air inside the room. Kagome groped blindly for something to make her friend feel better.

 

“Um, Shippou? Has Miroku-sama been behaving himself?” she asked, silently praying for an affirmative answer.

 

“Actually, yeah, he has. Some girls tried to talk to him this morning, but he ignored them. Mostly he just sat around meditating.”

 

“There, you see Sango-chan?! He was too worried about you to flirt with anybody!” Kagome declared, beaming. Her face immediately fell when the older girl simply scoffed at her.

 

“Oh, so now that I'm fine, he goes off to womanize instead of spending time with me? Gee, Kagome-chan, why doesn't that make me feel any better?” she bit out sarcastically.

 

“Um…” Shippou interrupted, “I'm going outside.”

 

“Yeah…me too,” Inuyasha reiterated awkwardly. Both of the boys were obviously becoming uncomfortable with the ‘girl talk,’ and Kagome certainly wouldn't mind the privacy.

 

“Alright, but don't go far, especially you, Shippou-chan. This village is dangerous.”

 

“Okay, Kagome,” the kit agreed, grabbing his crayons and coloring books from her bag before following Inuyasha out the door. Now the miko found herself in a familiar quandary—trying to think of something to buck up Sango's spirits. Finding nothing, she sighed in defeat.

 

“I know it looks bad, Sango-chan, but he really does care about you.”

 

“I know.”

 

“Yes, he does. He—wait, you do?”

 

“I know he cares, Kagome-chan, and that used to be enough for me. But he proposed, Kagome-chan!” Here, Sango paused, her lips quirking in a wistful, if not sad smile at the memory. “You know, he asked me to live with him and bear his children, but he never asked me to be his wife. At the time, I thought that question was implied, but now I'm not so sure.”

 

Kagome gasped as the implication of Sango's words set in. “You can't think that he would have you as a…mistress, can you?”

 

“Why not?” Sango growled, her frustration returning full force. “Do you think he would marry any of the other girls he asks to bear his children? I will not be some man's toy, Kagome-chan, to be used and then thrown out and replaced by younger flesh. It's marriage or nothing!” Taking a deep breath to calm herself, Sango resumed her staring contest with the boards of wood overhead. “And I'm just not sure Houshi-sama is, or ever will be, capable of being a faithful husband. Nothing has changed since the day he proposed to me, and I'm beginning to suspect it never will. I've thought…I've considered taking back the answer I gave him that day.”

 

Kagome could only gape at her friend; she had no idea Sango's insecurities concerning Miroku ran so deeply. Then again, it appeared no one knew, especially not the monk himself. Sango was a warrior, and like many warriors she concealed her emotions and true feelings behind a well-crafted mask of indifference. Sympathy and anger gripped Kagome, the latter slowly blocking out the former. Rising stiffly to her feet, fists clenched, she turned to give a certain baka houshi a piece of her mind.

 

“Where are you going, Kagome-chan?” Sango didn't need a response to draw the correct conclusion. “You can't tell him anything! Promise me you won't speak a word of this to him!”

 

“But—”

 

“No buts, Kagome-chan. Promise me!”

 

Shoulders slumping in dejection, Kagome plopped back down on the floor. “Alright, Sango-chan, I promise. But you need to talk to him! You two belong together!”

 

“That's a nice thought, Kagome-chan. But what do you think happens every time I get him alone and actually have the courage to bring it up? Grope! Slap! End of conversation!”

 

Now Kagome was even more furious with the monk, if that was even possible. “I have an idea. I'll tie him up and stick a sock in his mouth. Then he'll have to listen to you!”

 

“No, then I'd be too tempted to leave him like that,” Sango replied, cracking a tentative smirk.

 

“Oh, well then I'll just have to remove his right hand.”

 

“It would probably still find its way to my butt. `It has a mind of its own,' you know,” Sango mimicked, a fair imitation of the wayward monk. Both girls let loose genuine, if not strained, laughter at the joke. That is, until Sango hissed and clutched her stomach.

 

“Ow…”

 

“Alright, Sango-chan, let's change your bandages.”

 

The slayer grimaced. “Do we have to?”

 

“Yep. Now's the perfect time.”

 

“Yeah, `cause we know Houshi-sama will be gone for a while,” Sango said bitterly, her brief good mood dissipating.

 

“Oh, Sango-chan…don't worry. Things will get better soon.”

 

“If you say so,” Sango replied, though she didn't really believe it. Kagome helped her lift the sweatshirt and began removing the old bandages. Some blood had leaked through the inner layers, but overall her wounds were closing up nicely. As the miko rewrapped them, Sango spoke up again. “Thanks for trying to make me feel better, Kagome-chan.”

 

“No problem. What are friends for?”

 

“Hm. So…how are things going between you and Inuyasha?”

 

Kagome's hands paused noticeably, the question catching her off guard, as she contemplated her answer.

 

“Uh…nothing new to report, really. We haven't kissed again or anything like that.”

 

“You sound disappointed.”

 

At this point, Kagome lost her inner battle to keep her cheeks from reddening. “S-so what if I am? Is it wrong of me to want him to kiss me, to love me?”

 

“Of course not, Kagome-chan,” Sango hurriedly stated, deciding to take the conversation in a different direction. “How about in general then? You two seem to be getting along well.”

 

Kagome grinned contentedly. “I feel closer to him every day. Ever since I became a hanyou, I've learned things about him, come to understand him better. And he's been more open with me, too. I guess I just feel like I know him better now.”

 

“Oh, yeah?” Sango asked with genuine interest. “What things do you know about him now that you didn't before?”

 

“Well, there's the reason he doesn't like his ears rubbed, and he's…” Kagome trailed off, blushing even harder at what she'd almost blurted out, and hoping Sango would let it go. No such luck.

 

“What are you embarrassed about? Spill! Spill!”

 

“Alright, Sango-chan! I…well, he…feels attracted towards me.”

 

Sango rolled her eyes. “That's it? Tell me something half of Musashi didn't already know.”

 

“Well, I didn't know!” Having had just about enough of this particular conversation, Kagome finished re-bandaging the slayer's wounds and turned to leave.

 

“Wait, Kagome-chan! I'm sorry for teasing you. I really am happy for you,” Sango said, even as a few tears escaped her. She couldn't say whether they were products of her jealousy or her self-reproach for being jealous in the first place. Either way, Kagome seemed to understand, as she dropped down to the floor and enfolded the older girl in warm embrace. Maybe it was the physical weakness, but Sango could no longer hold back the dam on her emotions. It had been so long since she cried, since she vented her pent-up frustrations concerning her relationship with the monk. She didn't know how long she wept on Kagome's shoulder, only that when she pulled away she felt totally drained, yet somehow in better spirits than before.

 

“Sorry,” she sniffled, motioning to the wet spot on Kagome's blouse.

 

“That's ok. What are friends for?” she joked, finally earning a genuine smile from the taijiya. “You know,” she continued, “when Inuyasha always ran off to see Kikyou, I would find myself jealous of your relationship with Miroku-sama. So don't give up hope yet, okay?”

 

Sango nodded, and this time Kagome could see the hope in her eyes, that she truly believed that things might work out in the end.

 

“Now, go to sleep. You need your rest.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Sango was asleep the instant her head touched the pillow. Kagome tiptoed out of the room as quietly as possible, closing the shoji door behind her. She had a determined glint in her eye, and a mission in mind. Sango made me promise not to talk to *Miroku*, but she didn't say anything about *Inuyasha*. Upon emerging from the inn, she scented the air, discerning that her hanyou was close by.

 

“Inuyasha?” she called. A low groan sounded above her, and moments later a dog-eared head popped into view off the side of the roof. His eyes were droopy, as if she had just woken him from a nap. Poor guy…he probably didn't get a wink of sleep last night, she thought, stifling a yawn herself. We both need some shuteye.

 

“Whaddya want, wench?” he inquired tiredly. Kagome thought about asking him to come down, but reconsidered. Instead, she leapt up to the roof and sat down next to him.

 

“Did you hear any of that?” she asked.

 

“Keh. I wasn't eavesdropping, wench. I was trying to sleep.”

 

If that behavior seemed odd, he had a perfectly good reason for it. There was no way he was allowing himself any sleep tonight. This village was openly hostile to them as it was, and in his experience nighttime seemed to bring out the darkness in people. He was fully expecting trouble sometime after sunset. He listened idly as Kagome recapped her conversation with Sango, leaving out the parts about him. Inuyasha could tell she'd left something out, but didn't press her on it. He was only half-listening anyway.

 

“So I need you to go talk to Miroku-sama, okay?”

 

That got his attention. “What? Why would I want to talk to that hentai?”

 

Grrrrr. “Have you been listening to a word I've said? You need to tell him that Sango-chan is at her wit's end. If he doesn't stop womanizing, he could lose her forever!”

 

“And I care because…”

 

Snarling, Kagome grabbed him by both forelocks and dragged his face down until it was an inch in front of hers. He gulped at the fierceness of her gaze.

 

“Don't even think about trying to tell me you don't care, Inuyasha! I know you. Drop the act!”

 

Inuyasha sighed, lowering his eyes as Kagome released him. “Alright, wench. I'll talk to the bouzu. But that doesn't mean I'll do it today!”

 

Kagome smirked, content to let him have that small victory. She had won the war, after all.

 

“Thank you, Inuyasha,” she said sweetly.

 

“Keh. Now either be quiet or beat it. I'm tryin' to sleep here.” With that, he flopped back down on the roof, resting his hands behind his head. Kagome glared at him for a moment, but then a rogue thought entered her mind, something crazy that she never would have considered doing until very recently. Then again, they had already shared a bed in her time…

 

Steeling her rebellious nerves, she gingerly laid down against Inuyasha's side, resting her head on his shoulder. He stiffened underneath her, but made no move to push her away. He relaxed soon enough, bringing his arm down around her shoulders, pulling her closer. Matching flushes graced their cheeks, but matching smiles as well. They stayed like that for several hours, dozing the afternoon away in peace.

 

They awoke a little before dusk to the sound of Miroku calling their names. It was then that they realized that Shippou had disappeared. Kagome wanted to go look for him, but Inuyasha persuaded her to let him be, and that he was just off playing. Evidently, the monk had managed to perform an ‘exorcism,’ and procured for them lodging at one of the largest residences in the village. The owner was so grateful that he even welcomed Inuyasha, Kagome, and Kirara indoors, though he did so through uncomfortably clenched teeth. Upon entering, the two hanyou realized that someone in the household really had been possessed by a youkai; the lingering scent was unmistakable.

 

At dinner, they learned from Miroku that the victim had been the owner's daughter, and that she was recovering nicely. Very nicely, it seemed. Just as they were settling down for the night, a gorgeous, breathtakingly beautiful young woman dressed in ornate robes opened the shoji door to their room. She wore a sultry smirk, one that could only mean one thing, and directed her heated stare straight at Miroku. The monk stood and followed the little vixen without a word or a look back.

 

Inuyasha had to physically restrain Kagome from going after him, she was so incensed. Any hope she had managed to restore in Sango that afternoon perished instantly, and she could tell the slayer was completely heartbroken. Fortunately, or unfortunately, they didn't have much time to dwell on the infidelities of the lecherous houshi. Inuyasha bolted upright, listening intently as the sounds of an angry mob slowly grew in volume. He and Kagome rushed outside, followed by Kirara with Sango on her back. Torches dotted the clearing before them, and the air was thick with threats of death, but the most frightening sight of all was wielded by one man at the head of the group. It was a long pole perhaps the length of a man, and tied to the end of this pole was a thin rope. And tied to the end of this rope by the tail, hanging limply in unconsciousness, was Shippou.

Chapter Text

Shippou was bored, just plain bored.  After he and Inuyasha made their escape from the “hypersensitive bitch zone,” as the hanyou had so eloquently put it, he settled down on the rooftop with his art supplies.  Coloring was fun for all of ten minutes, but then he set his crayons aside with a heavy sigh.  He just wasn’t in an artistic mood today.  Glancing at Inuyasha, he saw that the hanyou was dozing, and would be even less fun than he normally was.  Kagome hadn’t come outside yet, so she and Sango were probably still talking.  With nothing else to do, he crawled over to the edge of the rooftop to see what he could see. 

 

He groaned; the sights that greeted him only increased his boredom.  Just a bunch of normal humans going about their daily business.  The only thing that was mildly interesting was Miroku giving palm readings to a group of single women on the far side of the village.  But that was nothing unusual either, and Shippou rolled lazily over to the other side of the roof to get a different view.  Instantly he perked up, his eyes widening as he spotted a girl kneeling in a field about a hundred yards away.  A very pretty girl at that.  She was picking flowers, her long mahogany hair swaying gently behind her.  She reminded him of Rin; she looked to be about the same age, and the style of her kimono was the same, though hers was an off-white with pink highlights here and there.  He caught himself staring and tore his gaze away, glad that no one was around—or awake—to witness his enchantment. 

 

Yet, his eyes seemed to have a mind of their own, as they soon settled on the girl again despite his mind’s feeble protests.  What was it about girls, anyway?  Why did he feel compelled to look at them, talk to them, become friends with them?  It had started with Satsuki and her stone flower, and since then he found himself compelled to seek out the company of pretty girls at many of the villages they stopped at.  He usually did so in secret to avoid the teasing Inuyasha and the others would lay on him, whether they meant well or not.  He still didn’t understand why they made such a fuss about the first time he “fell in love.”  Did he fall in love with Satsuki?  Probably not, but he had certainly liked her.  And from his understanding, his attraction to girls was nothing unusual, just a sign of him growing up.  Maybe the more you liked girls the more grown up you were?  If so, then Miroku was the most mature man he ever met.  That didn’t explain why the monk couldn’t get a woman to bear his child, though.

 

Trying to figure out adults made Shippou’s head hurt.  On paper, things appeared so simple.  When they were old enough, men and women fell in love, got married or mated, and did something together that nobody had told him about yet.  Whatever it was, it must be something really good or really bad for the adults to keep secret.  And somehow, he knew that mysterious something was a large part of the reason why the relationships of his friends were so strained at times.  He thanked his lucky stars that he wasn’t grown up yet, and that he didn’t have to worry about any of that stuff yet.  After all, he hadn’t liked girls for very long.  When he was younger, living with his kitsune family, most of his playmates were boys his own age.  Girls were sissies, too wimpy to play with the boys, and to be avoided at all costs lest they rope you into playing some girly game with them.  But now…

 

Now he had to go talk to this girl or he was going to go crazy!  Kagome’s warning rang in his head, but he ignored it, telling himself that he would stay in sight of the inn.  He leapt down from the roof, scurrying across the open ground excitedly.  He slowed as he approached her; he didn’t want to seem too excited, after all.  She was so engrossed in selecting the choicest flowers that she didn’t notice him.  He took the chance to study her face, deciding she was even prettier up close. 

 

“Whatcha doin’?” he asked, causing the girl to jump slightly. 

 

“Picking flowers,” she answered kindly, though Shippou could have banged his head against a wall for the foolishness of his question.  Smooth Shippou, real smooth. 

 

“Um, what for?”

 

“Oh, they’re for my Okaa-san.  She’s sick, and I thought they might make her feel better.  I don’t recognize your voice.  Are you from…around…here?”  The girl trailed off, having finally raised her head to look at whoever she was speaking to, only to see nothing but blue sky with the village in the background. 

 

“Down here,” Shippou said, a little peeved by his short stature.  The reaction he received was the last thing he expected.  When the girl looked down, her eyes widened in horror and she screeched before falling on her backside and backing hastily away from him.  The flowers were flung up into the air in her fright, brightly colored petals scattered by the wind.  Shippou could only stare dumbfounded at the child before him, quivering in fear.  She looked like she wanted to run away, but her legs were frozen in terror. 

 

“Please,” she begged, “d-don’t hurt me.” 

 

By this point, Shippou’s chin was nigh touching the ground, and he almost had to close his mouth by hand so he could speak. 

 

“I’m not gonna hurt you,” he soothed, taking a step toward her.  But she only whimpered, scooting back another step to maintain the distance between them.  She shook her head violently, clearly not believing him. 

 

“J-just leave me alone!  Please don’t eat me!” 

 

That comment was the last straw for Shippou, as his temper at what this girl was accusing him of finally boiled over. 

 

“I’m not gonna eat you, stupid wench!” 

 

Apparently yelling had been the wrong strategy, for the girl curled into a ball, squeezing her eyes shut as a few tears escaped them.  Shippou took a deep breath, mentally berating himself.  Great, baka, now she’s even more afraid of you!  And did I just call her a wench?  Inuyasha would be proud. 

 

“Look, I’m sorry I yelled at you, but I’m really not gonna hurt you.  I don’t eat humans,” he said in disgust, the idea sickening him to the core.  Slowly, the girl removed her hands from her face, and dared a peak at him. 

 

“B-but you’re a y-youkai.  My Otou-san said all youkai are bad.” 

 

“Well, you’re Otou-san is wrong.  Do I look like a bad youkai?” 

 

The girl raked her eyes over his small frame, perhaps truly seeing him for the first time.  “You look like a kid,” she said, frowning. 

 

“I am a kid!” 

 

Just as it appeared he had finally gotten through to her, another thought struck her and she shrank back.  “B-but youkai are tricksters!  You could be a big hulking ogre in disguise!” 

 

“Oh, for the love of—all youkai aren’t tricksters either!  I am…”  Seeing her cringe at this revelation, he hastily added, “but this is my true form, I promise!  I’m a kitsune, and I can do magic, but it’s all illusion.” 

 

The girl seemed to digest this information, seeing the truth and genuine concern in his eyes.  Finally, she sat up and faced him, drying her tears with a delicate hand. 

 

“So…you’re really not gonna hurt me?” 

 

“I don’t hurt girls,” he replied smugly, crossing his arms over his chest, still a bit annoyed with the whole situation. 

 

“What kind of tricks can you do?” she asked suddenly, utilizing the quintessential children’s power to change focus in the blink of an eye.  Finally, we’re getting somewhere!  And as he gazed at her, her eyes puffy from crying but filled with youthful brightness, he couldn’t help but remember why he came over here in the first place.  She was very pretty.  He looked away, his cheeks heating as he stammered out a reply, trying to sound more confident than he actually was. 

 

“L-lots of them!  You know…I can multiply, or use a giant spinning top, and I can even change into a big, scary youkai!”  He regretted that last part, fearing he had taken his boasting too far, but her reply nearly dropped his chin to the dirt again. 

 

“Can I see?” 

 

With her hands folded in front of her, and that pleading look on her face, Shippou found he couldn’t deny her even if he wanted to.  Crap, this isn’t good.  I don’t even know her name yet and I already like her! 

 

“Promise you won’t get scared?” 

 

She shook her head in the negative, and the ghost of a smile on her lips let him know that she trusted him not to hurt her.  Without further ado, he popped into his large, pink balloon form.  It was the same form he used to scare off the kids beating up Satsuki, but this time he tried to appear as unintimidating as possible.  Apparently it worked, because the girl before him definitely didn’t appear frightened.  Shippou transformed back into his kitsune form, shoulders slumping in disappointment as he gaped at her.  This was not the reaction he had hoped for.  She was supposed to be looking at him with awe, not giggling behind her hand! 

 

“What’s so funny?” he grumped petulantly.  It took her a moment to get her mirth under control. 

 

“That wasn’t scary!  That was…cute!” 

 

Shippou’s eyebrow twitched.  If there was one thing he hated, it was someone making fun of his kitsune abilities.  A good storm-off was in order, and he turned to do just that. 

 

“Wait!” the girl cried before running around and placing herself in front of him again.  “I’m sorry I laughed!  I’m really glad you’re not a scary youkai.” 

 

Shippou tried to stay angry, he really did, but found it impossible.  Ah, crap…I must really like her.  And I still don’t know her name!  He opened his mouth to ask her but she spoke up first. 

 

“Aww…I lost all my flowers.  Wanna help me pick some more?”

 

“Sure,” he replied automatically, not caring in the least that picking flowers was ‘girly.’ 

 

“My Okaa-san’s favorites are these little yellow ones that look like this,” she said, picking one up and showing it to him.  It quickly became clear that the yellow flowers were difficult to find, but Shippou wasn’t so much looking for them as he was gathering the pieces of his scattered courage. 

 

“What’s your name?” he finally asked. 

 

“Tamiko.  What’s yours?”

 

“S-Shippou.”

 

“Well, S-Shippou, it’s nice to meet you.  I’ve never met a good youkai before.  Do you have a family?”

 

“Well no, but—”

 

“You must be pretty strong to live out there by yourself.” 

 

“Well, I used to live alone in the woods,” he said, puffing up his chest.  “You know, finding my own food, chasing off youkai, just typical kitsune stuff.  Now I travel with some humans and hanyou, plus another youkai.  I look out for them so they don’t get themselves killed.” 

 

“Wow, that’s really brave.” 

 

Shippou blushed under the praise, but decided a little exaggeration couldn’t hurt, unless of course Inuyasha found out about it.  The last thing he wanted was to end up getting thumped in front of Tamiko.  Tamiko…what a pretty name… 

 

“I think we picked all my Okaa-san’s favorite flowers in this field.  Come on, I know of another one!”  Tamiko beckoned him to follow, but Shippou hesitated, remembering that Kagome had told him not to wander.  He debated with himself, but was strongly leaning toward going with Tamiko. 

 

“Come on, Shippou!” 

 

That did it, as he scampered to catch up with her.  Eh, what’s the worst that could happen?

 

They picked flowers and played games for the rest of the afternoon, and Shippou even got to show off some more of his illusions.  Tamiko enjoyed riding on his wooden horse, but her favorite trick was his “big pink blob” form.  He didn’t even mind when she laughed and called him cute; making her happy was enough of a reward.  And just as he was thinking that he was completely smitten with this girl, her fear returned full-force as she stared at something behind him.  Before he could turn around, he felt a blow to the back of his head, and then nothing. 

 

* * *

 

“Hmm…this is a good palm.  I see years of happiness and many children in your future.  Tell me, would you like to start by bearing mine?” 

 

“Oh, Houshi-sama!  Surely you jest!” 

 

Miroku sighed.  Why do they all think I’m joking?  Evidently, these women had never met a monk like him before.  They probably only had contact with ‘true men of the cloth.’  He snorted.  As if there was such a thing.  As far as he was concerned, all men had urges; it was just a matter of how good you were at repressing those carnal desires.  And how good or bad you were, or whether you even tried to repress your urges in the first place, had nothing to do with how powerful of a monk you were. 

 

That hadn’t stopped him from staying up all last night praying.  Even in the morning, when the damsels were out and about, he had no trouble suppressing his mild inclination to go womanize.  If Sango was no longer in this world, what was the point?  He had settled on the woman he wanted to spend his life with, and she was the only one he wanted to bear his children. 

 

That, of course, begged the question of why he was out here asking pretty girls to lie with him.  He reflected that it probably boiled down to having fun.  After being gripped by heart-wrenching anxiety for almost a full day, he figured he deserved it.  He liked flirting, and was very good at it.  He liked eliciting gasps of shock and excitement from blushing beauties.  He liked pushing society’s boundaries and playing the role of the charming rogue, the charismatic scoundrel.  Hell, he even enjoyed the jealous glares he often received from the significant others.  It was fun.  And it was harmless.  In his time with Inuyasha and the others, he had been stuck on one hell of a dry streak.  With a few exceptions, no woman was willing to bear his child.  Except Sango, of course, and that had to wait until after Naraku was defeated.  He sometimes wondered what he would do if another woman actually accepted his proposal, but had no answer as of yet.  It would probably never happen, so there wasn’t much point in dwelling on it. 

 

He read palms for a little while longer before the crowd started to disperse.  Truth be told, he didn’t know a thing about palm reading.  But he liked to think that what he was doing gave people hope.  Maybe if they thought they would live happy lives, they would try a little harder to make it so.  Either way, he certainly wasn’t hurting anybody. 

 

“Excuse me, houshi-sama.” 

 

Looking up, Miroku spied the speaker standing in front of him, a tall, well-built man in his thirties.  His voice and demeanor exuded authority, and Miroku reasoned that this must be a man of high standing in the village. 

 

“Yes?” 

 

“I am in need of your services.  My daughter has been possessed by a youkai.  If you drive it out, you shall have free room and board for the night, a hearty meal, and as much sake as you can drink.” 

 

Miroku smiled; that was a very nice offer, indeed.  The sake especially sounded heavenly.  But his face fell as he realized that he might not be able to enjoy it after all. 

 

“You are aware that I travel with two hanyou and two youkai?  If you cannot provide for them as well, then I shall be unable to accept your offer.”  Miroku hoped any prejudice the man had toward youkai could be overcome in light of his daughter’s health.  If he refused, Miroku would go help the girl anyway; it was his duty as a monk.  But this villager didn’t need to know that.  His uneasy expression revealed his discomfort with the extra guests, but he reluctantly assented. 

 

“Well, I suppose they haven’t caused any trouble so far…”

 

“Excellent!  Your daughter is as good as cured!  Lead the way, good sir.”  He followed the man toward the center of the village, and into a very large, ritzy house.  Servants could be seen doing various jobs on the grounds, and it appeared his initial impression about the man had been correct. 

 

“Here is my daughter, Chiyoko,” he said, leading Miroku into a secluded room.  Immediately the hairs on the back of the monk’s neck stood on end; there was a discernable youkai aura coming from somewhere in the room. 

 

“I will need privacy,” he told the father, who shot him a harsh look.  He had seen the wayward monk flirting with all the village girls while giving ‘palm readings,’ and wasn’t stupid.  He didn’t need to voice his warning for Miroku to receive it loud and clear.  Miroku breathed a sigh of relief as the overbearing man departed.  Honestly, as if I would do anything inappropriate while she is unconscious.  Maybe when she wakes up…

 

The youkai was fairly easy to dispatch once he got down to business.  A loud hiss sounded as he approached the girl, so he instantly knew what he was dealing with.  A snake youkai, invisible to the untrained eye, had snuck inside the house and coiled itself around the girl’s body, slowly feeding off her blood.  It was a relationship that could have gone on forever; the youkai was only taking what the girl could afford to give.  If her caretakers kept feeding her, the girl would continue to produce blood, and it would have been many years before the youkai released its hold.  But such parasitic youkai were never very strong, and this one was no exception.  A sutra and a swipe of his staff was all it took. 

 

“Ugh,” Chiyoko groaned as she stirred.  And for the first time, he noticed how beautiful this girl—woman—was.  She looked to be about Kagome’s age, and her sleeping kimono revealed a well-proportioned figure that would make any man salivate.  She opened her eyes, a deep sapphire hue, and blinked up at him in obvious confusion. 

 

“Who are you?” she asked with a dangerous glint in her eye.  “Did my father try to marry me off to some loser again?” 

 

Miroku sweatdropped; apparently, this wasn’t your typical Japanese girl.  She wasn’t the typical wealthy man’s daughter either, content with an arranged matrimony to strengthen a relationship with another well-to-do family.  She had some spunk in her, and he already knew he liked that in a woman. 

 

“No, no, I am but a humble monk.  You were possessed by a youkai, and I exorcised it.”

 

“Oh,” Chiyoko said sheepishly, “I’m sorry.” 

 

“Think nothing of it, my dear.”

 

“Do you have a name, Houshi-sama?”

 

“Forgive me, Chiyoko-sama, it is Miroku.”

 

“Well, Miroku-kun, thank you very much for saving me.” 

 

Miroku’s eyes widened slightly.  She’s calling me “-kun” already?  The Kami are trying to tempt me.  He became further convinced of that fact when the temptress before him raised her arms over her head and stretched languidly.  Her chest pushed forward, the folds of her kimono separating just enough to reveal a tantalizing view of her cleavage.  She rolled on her side, rubbing one fist against her eye in one of the most adorable gestures Miroku had ever seen.  If he didn’t know any better, he would swear that she was flirting with him on purpose. 

 

“Thank you again, Miroku-kun.  I wish there was some way I could express my gratitude properly…”  Well, the monk thought, so much for knowing any better.  That scintillating smirk she wore could only mean one thing, and the man in him was, quite literally, standing at full attention.  And whatever objections the moral, loyal side of him could conjure up were outweighed by habit and a long-deprived libido.  Reaching down, he grasped both her hands in his own while peering deep into her gorgeous eyes. 

 

“Would you bear my child?” 

 

“Yes.  Yes, I will.” 

 

Miroku knew what her body language was telling him, but still found himself utterly flabbergasted by her response.  What surprised him the most was that her answer didn’t make him feel elated.  Far from it actually; he felt positively rotten.  What was this feeling, this dirty sensation?  Was it…guilt?  Chiyoko’s father chose that moment to reenter the room, forestalling any further thought on the matter. 

 

“Chiyoko, my darling daughter!  You’re awake!”  The two shared an embrace, and Miroku began to back away, hoping for a silent exit.  Perhaps Chiyoko would forget about this whole bearing his child thing.

 

Or perhaps not.  Just before he made his escape, she glared at him over her father’s shoulder, that lustful look in her eye piercing straight through his heart.  Her delicate tongue snaking out and sensually wetting her lips went straight to another part of him.  Never had he been more grateful for baggy robes.  Yet, his body’s reaction to her just made him feel even more like a colossal jackass.  He swiftly retreated from the house, finding a peaceful spot outside to meditate, hopefully to shed some light on his strange emotions. 

 

Did he want to sleep with this girl?  That seemed to be the most elementary question, but it shocked him deeply to discover that the answer was just as obvious.  No.  No, he did not.  His body wanted to pound into her all night long, and his ears desired to hear her throaty moans and pleasured cries, but his mind and heart were sickened by the idea.  Even if they could be together with one hundred percent certainty that she would not get pregnant, that it would just be a one-night stand with no strings attached, he still didn’t want to spend the night with her.  But why?  Why was he going against his urges as a man and relinquishing a goal that had been central to his life for years?  Why was he wasting such an opportunity?  He only needed one word to answer all these questions—Sango.  He had chosen Sango the day he proposed to her, perhaps before.  Unwilling to abandon his lecherous ways, he had continued to behave toward women as he always had.  But there was no doubt in his mind now that asking any other woman to bear his children was a futile gesture.  He cared too much about her to go through with it, to betray his lovely Sango.  The revelation filled him with warmth, and his guilt finally vanished.  All was right with the universe again.  He was not going to lose Sango due to his own foolishness. 

 

Standing and dusting himself off, he went to retrieve the others.  No doubt they would be glad to get out of that stuffy inn, especially with the promise of a good meal and warm beds waiting for them.  And at least Inuyasha would partake in the sake with him.  Miroku smirked.  The dope would probably end up drinking too much, because ‘hanyou don’t get drunk.’  And in the morning, he would deny his hangover and all the stupid things he had done while intoxicated.  Yes, it was going to be fun night. 

 

And it was, up to a point.  The food was delicious, and the drinking was about to commence when the door to their room slid open, revealing a sight that put a sinking feeling in Miroku’s stomach.  It was Chiyoko, leaning sensuously against the doorframe, her face sporting an alluring ‘come hither’ look.  He sighed inwardly, knowing what he had to do and hoping she would take it well.  He rose to his feet and strode out the door, not needing to look back to know that Sango was incensed.  Hopefully she would understand when he returned in a few minutes, and not hours.  Perhaps if he had looked back, he would have seen that instead of anger, the taijiya’s expression reflected only sadness. 

 

He followed Chiyoko down the hallway and into another room, this one smaller with a single, large futon located in the middle.  There was no doubt what she was planning to do on said futon, as she spun around and moved to kiss him.  He placed his hands gently but firmly on her shoulders, causing her to look at him in confusion and irritation. 

 

“Chiyoko-sama…we need to talk.” 

 

“Don’t wanna talk,” she breathed, leaning forward, but again he held her back.  Huffing, she withdrew a couple steps and crossed her arms over her chest.  “What is it?” 

 

“I-I can’t do this.” 

 

“Why not?  You know you want to,” she drolled, tracing a delicate finger along his cheekbone down to his lower lip, playfully flicking it.  He shook her off, though his horny body forcefully berated him for it.  If my penis could talk… 

 

“Chiyoko-sama…I just can’t.  I am already promised to someone.” 

 

The girl’s face fell, and Miroku’s heart went out to her.  Is there a bigger bastard in this entire world than me? 

 

“One of the women you travel with?” she asked despondently. 

 

“Yes.  I’m sorry, Chiyoko-sama.  I didn’t mean to hurt yo—”

 

“Oh, yeah?  Then why the hell did you ask me to bear your child in the first place?!”  Her sudden fury took him by surprise, and it took him several moments to think of an answer that had a chance of satisfying her.  In the end, there was only one true answer. 

 

“Because I’m an insufferable baka.” 

 

She scoffed.  “Tell me something I don’t know.”  Turning away, she strode purposefully to the futon and plopped down facing away from him.  “Fine!  Just go!”  Perhaps he would have, but her slumped posture made him reconsider.  Her shoulders were shaking with sobs, and he knew something else was going on here.  Gingerly he sat down beside her, and she curled further into herself, hiding her face from his searching gaze. 

 

“Come on, now.  Why don’t you tell me what this is really about?” 

 

Her head snapped up, surprise evident in her tearful visage.  “H-how did you…”

 

Miroku chuckled.  “My dear, I know I am attractive, but I don’t think a woman would cry just because she didn’t get to spend the night with me.  I don’t have that high an opinion of myself.” 

 

Chiyoko cracked a smile at this, drying her tears before sighing heavily.  “It’s not you…it’s my father.  He keeps trying to marry me off to these rich snobs who’ve never had to work for anything in their lives.  I don’t want to marry someone who’s used to having everything handed to him on a silver platter!  I want someone strong, someone who’s had to work to make his way in the world, someone who might actually care about me as more than someone to bear his children!” 

 

Finally, understanding dawned on the monk.  “So you thought that if you became pregnant, your father wouldn’t be able to marry you into any respectable rich family?” 

 

“Exactly.” 

 

“Why did you choose me?” 

 

Chiyoko laughed outright.  “Come on, Miroku-sama!  Why do you think?” 

 

He smirked.  “Because I’m extraordinarily good-looking, unbearably charming, and the greatest lover Musashi has ever seen?” 

 

“I don’t think so.  An attractive young man had just rescued me from a youkai, and I guess I was a bit smitten.  Besides, I could tell you were a good man.  I thought that maybe if we spent the night together, I could convince you to stay with me…permanently.” 

 

Miroku’s pity for this girl grew; she was so desperate to avoid a loveless marriage that she was willing to bed a total stranger in the hopes of at least finding some passion in her life.  Her heart was in the right place, but she was going about things the wrong way. 

 

“Have you spoken with your father about this?” 

 

“He knows I don’t want to wed any of the losers he drags in here.  So far, I’ve been able to scare all of them off.  They want a nice, quiet, obedient wife, not an outspoken and willful woman like me.  But sooner or later, I know one of them is going to accept my father’s proposal, and that will be the end of it.”

 

“If he knows your wishes, why will he not let you at least try to seek a husband on your own?” 

 

“Because I’m his ‘only heir, and I have to inherit the family name a fortune,’ yada yada yada,” she mocked. 

 

“You have no siblings?” 

 

“No.  My mother had…complications when she gave birth to me.  She survived, but has been unable to carry a child since then.  My father loves her too much to seek another wife or a mistress.” 

 

“Your father is an honorable man.  There are too few in this world who would remain loyal to a barren woman.” 

 

Chiyoko shrugged.  “Their marriage wasn’t arranged; they chose each other.  That is what I want, the opportunity to seek a husband that will treat me the same way my father treats my mother.  Even after all these years, they are still madly in love.” 

 

“Well have you tried telling him that?  Perhaps he thinks that you are only objecting to his matches out of spite, or immaturity.  If you explain yourself to him, he may reconsider.  From what you have told me, I gather that your father cares very much about your happiness.” 

 

Chiyoko stared off into space, carefully weighing his words.  “Maybe…” she said simply, but it was enough for Miroku to know that he had gotten through to her. 

 

“So,” he began, the lecherous glint in his eye returning, “do you have anyone in mind?”

 

Chiyoko blushed.  “Maybe, but he’s the son of a poor farmer!  My father would never let me marry him.” 

 

“Have you asked?”

 

“…” 

 

“Look, Chiyoko-sama, you will never know what your father might say unless you sit down and have a serious talk with him.  You are grown up now, and if you wish to be treated like an adult, you must act like one.” 

 

She sighed, grinning sheepishly.  “Well, I guess my behavior has been pretty juvenile.” 

 

“There, you see?  Everything will work out, just as long as you don’t go luring any more strange men into your bed, that is.  Speaking of which, just what would this farm boy you fancy think of you if you got pregnant?”

 

“I guess I hadn’t thought of that…  I haven’t even had the courage to tell him I like him yet.” 

 

At this point, Miroku smacked himself in the forehead, shaking his head at her antics. 

 

“Hey, you’re one to talk!  A lecherous houshi who asks pretty girls to bear his children even though he’s already promised to someone!” 

 

“Yes, but we’ve already established that I’m a baka.”  He held up his hand to cut off her reply, listening intently to the ominous sounds coming from outside.  “Do you hear that?”

 

“What is it?” 

 

“It sounds like a bunch of angry people.  Stay here; I’m going to check it out.”  As he made his way through the house, a feeling of dread settled in the pit of his stomach.  Given this village’s obvious disdain for youkai, he could imagine only one reason why they would gather in force.  This does not bode well.

 

Inuyasha, Kagome, Sango, and Kirara were already outside, their backs to the wall of the house, and the crowd of club, sword, and torch-wielding humans surrounding them in a wide half-circle.  He followed Kagome’s horrified stare to the man holding Shippou tied to the end of a pole.  He was swinging the kit around in a slow arch, and the threat implied by that gesture only incensed Miroku more. 

 

“Youkai filth!” the man called out.  “Be gone from this village at once, and never return!” 

 

Inuyasha was the first to break out of the shocked stupor that had settled over them when they saw their friend in such a predicament. 

 

“We’ll be glad to leave this fucking shit-hole of a village, bastard!  Just give us the runt back!” 

 

“Ha!” the man barked out.  He swung the pole downward, smashing Shippou’s tiny body against the ground with a sickening thud before flinging him into the air again.  A choked cry was wrung from Kagome’s throat, and the sound of Inuyasha’s teeth grinding together was audible. 

 

“What are you doing?!” Kagome cried.  “How can you be so cruel?!” 

 

“I caught this youkai with my daughter!  Who knows what unspeakable things he was planning to do to her?!” 

 

“He’s just a child!  I’m sure they were just playing!” 

 

“Do you expect us to believe you, half-breed?!  This youkai will die!  And so will you unless you remove yourselves from our sight at once!” 

 

“I’m warning you, human,” Inuyasha growled with deadly seriousness, flexing his claws menacingly.  “If you harm another hair on his head, there will be no mercy.” 

 

The man smirked in response, and the rest of the villagers readied their weapons.  He pulled back his arm, preparing to plunge it forward and crush Shippou into the dirt again…

 

It happened so fast.  A dark-haired blur flashed past, giving no one any time to react.  Into the silence of the night echoed the sickening sounds of tearing flesh, a single, agonized shriek followed by the screams of women and the outraged cries of men.  The man fell back in horror, his bloody stump waving frantically, spurting crimson vitality everywhere.  The severed limb was snatched out of the air and tossed aside, as was the pole their kitsune comrade had previously been tethered to.  The crowd backed away, leaving the wounded man to suffer alone, the scents of their fear and fury increasing astronomically in strength.  But even this could not drown out the scent of blood.  It was that scent more than anything else that convinced Inuyasha that the scene before him was actually real, and not some perverse nightmare pulled from the darkest, most deranged corner of his mind.  For in the middle of the carnage, standing with her back to him, was a youkai, one that inspired a fear in him greater than any he had ever before experienced. 

 

“Kagome!” 

 

She turned to him then, slowly, grinning maliciously from ear to ear.  Her fangs glistened in the moonlight, her red eyes sending a chill up his spine.  She appeared exactly as she had the day before, with one notable exception.  The pink markings on her cheeks, which had previously glowed so brightly, were now dull and lifeless.  That, and the entire front of her blouse was stained scarlet with the blood of her victim.  The only thing indicating that she hadn’t completely lost herself was the way she delicately cradled Shippou’s limp form in one arm.  Kneeling, she placed the kit gently on the ground, running her clean hand along his cheek, mindful of her deadly claws.  Then she turned back to Shippou’s tormentor, raising her arm to deliver the killing blow. 

 

That was enough for Inuyasha.  Leaping forward, he sprinted the short distance between them and tackled her before she could lop off the man’s head.  Over and over they rolled, each trying to establish dominance, but she didn’t turn her claws on him, even though she had ample opportunity to do so.  Finally, his combat experience won out, and he pinned her on her back, holding her hands over her head as he straddled her waist.  She snarled up at him, her black pupils boring into his own. 

 

“Release me, Inuyasha!” she commanded, her voice low and menacing. 

 

“Calm down, Kago—”

 

“No!  That bastard will die!  I’ll fucking kill them all!”  She struggled mightily, nearly dislodging him.  He threw his whole body into the effort to restrain her, but knew it was only a matter of time. 

 

“Get him out of here!” he called to the stunned villagers.  When they hesitated, he yelled more forcefully.  “Now!” 

 

They complied, grabbing the wounded man, whose thrashing and moans had greatly diminished, and carrying him away.  Seeing her prey escaping, Kagome redoubled her efforts, tossing Inuyasha aside and scrambling to her feet.  But she wasn’t fast enough.  Again Inuyasha tackled her, bearing her to the ground, this time wrapping his arms around her and trapping hers at her sides.  He curled his legs around hers to stop her kicking, and met her glare with one of his own, their faces only inches apart.  She rebelled at her helplessness, but no matter what she tried Inuyasha held her fast.  Her breasts heaved against his chest, but she refused to calm down.  She snarled at him again, everything in her demeanor an overt challenge. 

 

“Dammit, Inuyasha, you fucking bastard!  Let go of me!” 

 

“Not until you calm down, bitch,” he replied easily. 

 

“Fuck you!”  That was the last straw for Inuyasha.  Her behavior was sending his own youkai instincts into overdrive, and he couldn’t help the fearsome growl that welled in his throat.  It was a sound that any youkai in their right mind would heed, a demand for submission voiced in the strongest possible terms.  But Kagome was not in her right mind.  She shrank back a bit, her eyes widening, but continued to fight his hold. 

 

“Kagome!” he tried again.  “You need to stop this!  You have to change back!” 

 

She ceased all movement abruptly, and Inuyasha felt relief until her body started shaking with mirth.  Her laughter was dark and chilling, quite possibly the most disturbing thing he had ever heard.  That is, until her next words passed her lips. 

 

“You want me to return to being a filthy hanyou?  I’d rather die!” 

 

Inuyasha seized as if physically struck.  Of all the times he had been insulted or derided for his hanyou heritage over his long lifetime, none had hurt as much as this one did.  Never before had his heart been torn from his chest and impaled, still beating, on a pike.  And yet, the gaping hole in his chest cavity still screamed, wept, wailed in unfathomable sorrow.  His mind tried to reassure him that this wasn’t really Kagome talking, but nothing could take away the sting of her words or undo the carnage they had wreaked on his psyche.  Desperate to return Kagome to normal, he did the first thing that came to mind.  It had proven to work in this situation, and was just about the only thing he was physically capable of doing at the moment. 

 

This wasn’t like the previous times, however.  This time, fueled by the pain of his freshly opened emotional sores, he slammed his lips onto hers in a bruising kiss, swallowing her outraged growls.  His mouth moved harshly over hers, forcing it open so he could shove his tongue inside.  He plundered her, ravaged her, not letting up until her rumbles quieted and then ceased, and she became pliant in his arms.  He continued to tenderly explore her warm cavern until her tongue shyly rose to tangle with his own.  After a few more seconds, he pulled away, relief flooding him as he was reunited with her beautiful chocolate orbs.  Her cheeks were flushed, her lips swollen, and she gazed up at him with something akin to wonder.  But then other emotions began flickering across her visage: recognition, horror, remorse, expressions that made him willing to do anything if he could only take the past five minutes away.  Unfortunately, he could not.  Kagome had at the very least maimed someone, and she would have to come to terms with it.  But first, they needed to get the hell out of this village. 

 

“Come on,” he said to the others, gathering Kagome in his arms.  “We’re leaving.” 

 

Miroku and Sango followed blindly, the monk carrying the still unconscious Shippou and the taijiya riding on Kirara’s back, still stunned into silence by what they had seen.  It had all happened so fast…

 

As they made their way into the forest, guided only by the pale moonlight, Inuyasha dared a peek at the woman in his arms, afraid of what he might see.  She was staring off into space; he had never seen her eyes look so blank.  And yet, tears were still flowing freely down her cheeks.  Inuyasha steeled himself for the upcoming battle, knowing it was going to be difficult to convince Kagome that this was not her fault.  He prayed she wasn’t permanently traumatized by the experience. 

 

Reaching a suitable distance from the village, so he could no longer hear the lamentations of its inhabitants, he set Kagome down against a tree, since it didn’t look like she was about to support herself.  She continued to stare unblinkingly straight ahead, seeing the nightmare she had lived over and over again on a continuous loop.  Her friends stood around looking at each other; no one knew what to say.  Surprisingly, it was Kagome who broke the oppressive silence. 

 

“Is he dead?” she asked in a vacant monotone.  And as much as he wanted to, Inuyasha couldn’t bring himself to lie to her.  She would probably see right through it anyway. 

 

“Probably,” he answered grimly.  Finally, Kagome raised her teary eyes to his, and the deep remorse and self-loathing he saw in them nearly brought him to his knees. 

 

“But there’s a chance he survived, right?” 

 

He grimaced.  She was pleading with him, begging him to rebut what her logical mind was telling her.  Kagome wasn’t stupid; she knew that a human would have to get extremely lucky to survive a wound like that.  He was losing blood so quickly, and the only chance would be to tie a rope around the stump within minutes.  Otherwise, he would bleed to death.  And even if his cohorts managed to stop the bleeding and he clung to life, his weakened body would be open to infection and disease.  No, the chances of that man surviving his wound were slim to none, but Inuyasha couldn’t bring himself to tell Kagome this.  He couldn’t be the one to crush her hope in his hands, and tell her that she was a murderer.  So, after much consideration, he settled on the simplest answer he could give. 

 

“Maybe.” 

 

But Kagome knew him too well, and she immediately picked up on what he didn’t say.  Sobbing, she drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, burying her face in shame as a new wave of tears assaulted her. 

 

“Kami, Kagome-chan,” Sango said softly.  “What happened?” 

 

Kagome shook her head visibly, her voice muffled by her arms.  “I don’t know!  I don’t know!  Seeing Shippou-chan get slammed into the ground like that…and then that bastard was gonna do it again…I-I couldn’t control myself.”  Her head shot up suddenly, worry replacing guilt for the moment.  “Where is Shippou-chan?!  Is he okay?!” 

 

“Relax, Kagome-sama,” Miroku soothed, holding the kit out so Kagome could see him.  “He is just sleeping.  He has some bumps and bruises, maybe a cracked rib or two, and some head trauma, but nothing his youkai blood can’t fix.” 

 

Kagome sighed in relief, slumping bonelessly into the tree.  But her self-reproach soon settled down upon her again, as did the uncomfortable silence in the clearing.  Once again, Kagome spoke up first. 

 

“You should all leave me here.  It’s not safe being near me right now.” 

 

“Kagome-chan!” Sango gasped.  “That’s crazy!  Where would you go?” 

 

“I don’t know.  Not back to my family, or I might go insane and kill them too.” 

 

“Stop being ridiculous, Kagome-sama,” Miroku ordered gently.  “In case you’ve forgotten, you saved Shippou.  You were as protective and tender with him as ever.” 

 

“It doesn’t matter!  Dammit, can’t you see?!  Look at my hand!  It’s covered in blood!  I’m a monster!  I shouldn’t be around anyo—”

 

“Shut the FUCK up, bitch!!”  Inuyasha’s outburst had its desired effect, as Kagome and everyone else were now staring at him with rapt attention.  His anger had been rising steadily throughout this entire conversation, and that ‘monster’ remark sent him over the edge.  It was clear that Kagome wasn’t going to get talked out of her shame spiral by kind words and reassurances that her friends still loved her.  She needed some tough love.  And who better to give it to her than the toughest son of a bitch this side of Goshinboku? 

 

“So you’re a monster now, huh?” he sneered.  “Tell me, Ka-go-me, what does that make me?” 

 

Kagome’s eyes widened even further as the implications of her words set in.  Patiently, Inuyasha waited for an answer as she stuttered repeatedly. 

 

“T-that’s different.”

 

“Oh, really?  How is me slaughtering bandits any different from what you just did?”

 

“I…you…”

 

“There is no difference, wench!  It’s the same fucking thing!”

 

“B-but—”

 

“No, wench!  What we did was the same!  I wasn’t myself, and neither were you!  We both have blood on our hands, but it wasn’t really us killing anybody!” 

 

Kagome glared at the ground, seething with fists clenched at her sides.  She wanted to curse herself as a monster.  She didn’t want to believe his words, that she was mostly innocent in this.  He could see the wheels turning inside her head as she tried to come up with a way she could condemn herself.  Sighing, Inuyasha decided to try a new approach, though perhaps it wasn’t so new after all.  Sitting down next to her, he drew her into his lap and enfolded her in his arms.  She remained stiff, refusing to relax, but to his relief she didn’t fight him. 

 

“Look, Kagome.  Do you remember what you did for me that day?  When I was washing the blood off my hands in the river?  I said you didn’t have to force yourself to say beside me, and you hugged me.  You hugged me and told me that you understood.  You…you didn’t think I was a monster, a mindless killer.  And you didn’t put those people’s deaths on my head.  Do you have any idea what that meant to me?  You forgave me…and because of that I was able to forgive myself.  Now, you need to forgive yourself.” 

 

Slowly, Kagome raised herself up, turning her head to meet his ardent gaze.  He smiled at her; the light was back, the light that had vanished completely from her beautiful face.  It was back, shining tentatively, but still there.  But Kagome still had one more condemnation left in her. 

 

“But I could have rescued Shippou without tearing someone’s arm off!  I could have just snatched the pole from his hands!” 

 

“And I could have protected you and the villagers by just scaring those bandits away.  It doesn’t matter.” 

 

Fresh tears welled in Kagome’s eyes, and as his words sunk in, she flung herself against his chest, clinging to him for all she was worth.  He reciprocated the gesture, swathing her within the generous folds of his haori.  She wept bitterly, wailing her despair and relief into the night as most of her guilt left her.  She would always carry some around with her; he knew he did.  It was part of the reason he worked so hard to strengthen Tetsusaiga, to ensure that never again would he spill human blood unnecessarily.  Slowly his focus drifted off the distraught girl in his lap, and he noticed Sango and Miroku standing there looking down at him with relieved smiles.  He blushed, having forgotten all about them as he was comforting Kagome.  Never before had one of his glares so clearly meant ‘get the fuck out of here!’ 

 

“Come, Sango, let us set up camp,” Miroku said.  But as they worked, neither could resist peeking back at him periodically when they thought he wasn’t looking.  Feh, nosy humans.  Gradually, Kagome’s sobs became sniffles and hiccups, and finally just random shivers.  Even then, she remained nestled against him, and Inuyasha almost decided she had fallen asleep.  But when the scent of freshly cooking fish drifted to their noses, both of their stomachs grumbled at once, and Kagome let out a choked laugh.  She pulled back, wiping her eyes, still red and puffy from an evening’s worth of waterworks.  But even so, when she smiled hesitantly at him, she took his breath away. 

 

“Sorry,” she muttered, running her fingers along the wet spot on his haori. 

 

“Keh.”  He helped Kagome out of his lap and stood, offering her a hand up, which she gratefully took. 

 

“Inuyasha,” she said, holding his hand in both her own.  “Thank you.” 

 

Maybe it was the nearby firelight flickering in her mahogany eyes, or maybe it was the intimate embrace they had just shared, but they were drawn inexorably to each other.  Neither could look away as they came closer, nearly touching but still miles apart.  His gaze lowered to her lips, then back up to her stunning orbs, which were glowing with emotions he didn’t dare name.  But he would be a fool not to recognize the open invitation he swore he saw, and fully intended to take advantage. 

 

“Fish is done!”  Sango’s voice was like a bucket of ice water, dousing the flames of their passion, leaving only the ashes of longing in their wake.  If looks could kill, the slayer would have been slain…twice.  But the moment was gone, and they reluctantly released each other. 

 

Inuyasha led her to the stream, supporting her with a hand on her shoulder as she rinsed the blood off her claws, reminding him once again of that afternoon not so long ago when their positions had been reversed.  He retrieved a new blouse for her, and the blood-stained one was tossed in the fire.  Dinner was quiet, but not uncomfortably so, and everyone turned in as soon as it was finished.  Shippou still had not awoken, but he was breathing easily and Inuyasha was confident it was only a matter of time before the kit would be annoying him once again.  He wasn’t so sure about Kagome; something was still bothering her.  So it didn’t surprise him when she got out of her sleeping bag in the middle of the night and left camp, heading in the direction of the village.  She probably wanted to know the fate of the man she had wounded, and he couldn’t blame her for that.  He only hoped the answer didn’t undo all the progress he had made with her earlier that evening. 

 

Leaping down from his perch, he scratched Kirara under the chin until she roused, then told her to watch over the humans while he was gone.  The fire cat understood, and sat herself up dutifully.  Inuyasha threw a couple more logs on the dying fire to make it more comfortable for her, then strode purposefully into the forest. 

Chapter Text

It was with a sense of growing trepidation that Kagome quickly made her way through the trees.  It had seemed like such a good idea, to find out for sure whether she had killed Shippou’s tormentor.  But now…did she really want to know? 

 

Steeling her resolve, she pressed forward.  As much as an affirmative answer would hurt, not knowing would probably cause her more angst in the long run.  Slowing as she approached the edge of the forest, Kagome looked out on the village.  It was mostly quiet, the people having retired to their huts, but small parties of men still milled about with torches, keeping vigilant watch in case of another youkai attack.  She grimaced; that’s how these people would see it.  A youkai attacked them for no reason, and they did nothing wrong.  And as much as she wanted to curse them for their prejudice, she couldn’t.  Racism, whether it was against humans or youkai, was an integral part of human history.  The Americans and thousands of other civilizations before them could tell you that.  Sixty years earlier, her own countrymen had invaded China and treated the Chinese as less than animals.  In this case, however, she couldn’t really blame the villagers for their bigotry.  She really had become the stereotypical, mindless youkai that haunted their nightmares.  Her memories of those few fateful seconds would surely revisit her during slumber for many years to come. 

 

Two problems quickly became apparent to Kagome.  The first was how to move around without being spotted.  The last thing she wanted was another confrontation; her goal was to find out what she needed to know and then leave.  This difficulty could probably be overcome with caution and stealth.  The second problem was that she had no idea where the wounded man lived.  The only way to track him would be by scent.  Another option would be to just eavesdrop and hope one of the sentries spoke about what happened, but Kagome rejected that idea.  She wasn’t going to be satisfied with hearsay; she had to know for sure

 

So as much as it sickened her, she raised her right hand and sniffed deeply.  At the stream, she had discovered the same problem Inuyasha had after he killed the bandits—blood washed off easily, but its scent did not.  So now she knew what to smell for, and wasted no more time before starting the search.  Immediately she encountered another impediment; there were so many scents around, human and otherwise, that she would easily miss the one she was looking for if she moved too quickly.  It was both tiring and tedious, but Kagome searched hut by hut, crouching low on the rooftops to avoid detection.  It was probably at least an hour or two before she finally found the one she was looking for. 

 

Unbeknownst to Kagome, a pair of golden eyes was attentively observing her progress.  Inuyasha was impressed with her choice of search tactics, and even more amazed that she was able to sneak around so surreptitiously without being noticed.  Then again, cats were naturally stealthy, and apparently so were cat hanyou.  She moved with true feline grace.

 

Kagome froze on the rooftop.  This particular hut carried the heavy scent of the man whose blood she had spilled.  It was fairly fresh, but it didn’t smell like he was inside now.  Kagome assumed the worst when she detected the salty aroma of tears and heard a woman crying.  Making sure the coast was clear, she leapt down to the street and cautiously peered into the hut.  A woman, suffering from some kind of illness by the smell of it, was lying on a futon, weeping into a cloth.  With a cold, numbing sensation in her gut, Kagome realized she recognized that fabric.  It was the same plain haori her victim had worn just a few hours earlier.  The bloodstains were still clearly visible. 

 

Kagome fell back a few steps, nearly collapsing as her knees shook violently.  She thought she had prepared herself for this, but now she couldn’t help the bile that rose in her throat.  Getting down on all fours, she heaved it onto the dirt as quietly as she could.  It wasn’t quiet enough.  A soft gasp alerted her that she had company, and she looked up to see a young girl, probably not more than ten or eleven years old, staring at her with wide eyes.  Said eyes narrowed, and the girl favored her with a hateful glower. 

 

“What are you doing here?  You already murdered my father.  Are you planning to kill the rest of us, too?” 

 

At this final, damning confirmation of her deed, Kagome wretched again, her tears dripping into the puddle of vomit rapidly forming below her.  She didn’t feel worthy to raise her eyes as she attempted to make amends. 

 

“I’m sorry,” was all she said.  After a long silence, she finally raised her head and looked at the girl again.  She was frowning, her eyebrows drawn closely together, deep in thought.  Finally, she spoke. 

 

“I’ll never forgive you.” 

 

Kagome shook her head.  “I don’t expect you to.  I-I never meant to hurt him.  I just wanted Shippou back, and I…I lost control of myself.  I’m sorry,” she repeated, sitting back on her heels with shoulders slumped pitifully. 

 

“How is Shippou?” the girl asked suddenly.  At Kagome’s dumbfounded expression, she sighed.  “I’ll never forgive you for killing my father, but…it was wrong of him to hurt Shippou just because he’s a youkai.  Is he okay?” 

 

“He’s fine, and I know he’ll be glad to hear that you were worried about him, uh…”

 

“Tamiko.” 

 

“Thank you.”  Then, sensing there was nothing else to say, Kagome stood to leave.  “I really am very sorry,” she said, bowing deeply at the waist.  Tamiko’s eyes softened slightly, but still maintained their hard edge. 

 

“I know you are.  Now get the hell out of here before my mother sees you.”  With that, she vanished inside the hut once more, leaving Kagome standing outside by herself.  Or at least, that’s what she thought. 

 

“You alright, Kagome?” 

 

The miko jumped at Inuyasha’s voice, having been so distracted by Tamiko and her grief that she hadn’t noticed Inuyasha’s scent on the breeze.  Not trusting her voice, she shook her head in the negative.  Sighing, Inuyasha placed his arm around her shoulders and started leading her away.  He had to scoop her up in his arms as he leapt from rooftop to rooftop toward the tree line, not particularly caring if anyone saw them now.  When he set her down again, she resumed walking, her distracted wandering taking her to no place in particular.  She was staring off into space, lost in her own depressing world.  Inuyasha was helpless, at a complete loss for words, but after a good amount of time had passed he tried again. 

 

“What’s wrong?  I thought we talked about this.” 

 

She sniffled.  “I guess.  I know it’s not really my fault, but to find out that I actually killed someone…it’s hard to deal with.”

 

Inuyasha nodded in sympathy.  “I know it is.  Believe me, I know.  But that bastard had it coming to him, hurting the runt like that.  If you hadn’t done it, I might have.”  Inuyasha blinked repeatedly as another thought occurred to him.  “Let me ask you something, Kagome.  Whose life do you value more, Shippou’s or that bastard’s?” 

 

Kagome frowned in consternation.  “I don’t…I value all lives the same.”

 

“Bullshit.” 

 

At this, Kagome’s ire rose, and she glared at him in irritation.  Well, at least I got a reaction out of her

 

“Excuse me?” she asked incredulously, an ‘osuwari’ on the tip of her tongue. 

 

“I said bullshit, Kagome.  It’s impossible to value all life the same.  You care about your kid more than other people’s brats, you care about your husband more than other men, and you value your friends more than strangers.  You think I give a flying fuck about those villagers compared to you lot?  Feh!” 

 

Seeing that she wasn’t going to respond, Inuyasha growled, but was determined to get his point across.  “If you can honestly tell me that you value that bastard’s life the same as you do Shippou’s, then you don’t deserve to call yourself his friend.” 

 

Kagome returned to staring into space, but Inuyasha could see that she was weighing his words carefully.  She was still waging an inner battle, self-condemnation warring with logic and reason.  But eventually the assurances from him and her other friends won out.  Perhaps if even one person close to her had blamed her, or expressed reproach at her actions, she could have crucified herself for this.  But if no one she cared about condemned her, then how could she condemn herself? 

 

“That still didn’t give me a right to kill him,” she answered softly. 

 

“No, it didn’t.  But it gave you a damn good reason for it!” 

 

Kagome made no reply, but she did relax noticeably.  She reeked of sadness, but there was life in her eyes.  She was going to get over this.  She was going to be okay.  And if she slipped into depression, he would be there to pull her out. 

 

“You wanna go back to camp?” he asked. 

 

She shook her head.  “No, just walk with me.” 

 

She delicately removed his hand from her shoulder and clasped it between them as they meandered through the forest.  Neither could say how long they walked before they came across a large clearing.  They sat down together against a tree, watching as the moon slowly made its way across the night sky.  No words were spoken, and none were needed.  They were lost in their own thoughts, but both silently rejoiced in the presence of the other.  That night, they were each other’s lifelines, and nothing could separate them.  The night passed quickly for the contemplative duo, and the sunrise seemed to dawn on a whole new world, where the tragedies of the past were memories rather than haunting nightmares.  And as she watched the propitious sun claw its way into the sky, still nestled against the man she loved, Kagome smiled. 

 

* * *

 

Miroku coughed, clutching his bruised stomach.  The morning had begun normally enough, with him groping Sango as she bent over to fix breakfast.  This time, however, instead of a slap he received a fist to the gut.  To an innocent, uneducated in the ways of the hentai, such a small difference might mean nothing.  But to Miroku, it meant everything.  A slap usually meant ‘How dare you?!’  Many times it indicated that the woman was at least partially receptive to his advances, as what used to be the case with Sango.  A blow to the abdomen, however, said ‘Do that again and I’ll fucking kill you!’  It was to be understood as a sign that the woman held no interest in you.  A slap was given in embarrassment, but a punch was delivered in disgust. 

 

So why wasn’t Sango slapping him like she should be?  Surely it didn’t mean she wasn’t interested in him anymore?  No, she must just be extremely pissed at him.  He could guess why.  He had hoped to only spend a few minutes letting Chiyoko down easy, but had become engrossed in talking about her problems, and then the angry mob had shown up.  So how was Sango to know that he hadn’t gone with Chiyoko to sleep with her? 

 

“You know, Sango, it was not my intention to bed Chiyoko-sama last night.  I went with her to explain that I was already promised to someone.” 

 

Sango eyed him critically, then looked away.  “It’s none of my business, Houshi-sama.” 

 

“Yes, it is,” he replied seriously, grabbing her hands.  “You promised to live with me and bear my children, so it is your business, Sango.” 

 

The slayer finally met his eyes, and Miroku was shocked by the warring emotions he glimpsed within her dark orbs.  But then the moment was over, and Sango was staring into the fire, having offered only a brief nod in response to his words.  He was baffled by her behavior, but quickly came up with a plausible explanation.  Perhaps she is just worried about Kagome-sama. 

 

Shippou groaned suddenly, startling both humans as they rushed over to where the kit lay.  The fox’s eyes fluttered open, and he rolled over to shield them from the light, covering his head in the process.  “Ugh…why does it feel like Inuyasha stomped on my head a few hundred times?” 

 

It was then that Miroku realized what he was going to have to tell little Shippou, and how unpleasant the task would be.  He and Sango shared a look, but neither could muster up a response. 

 

“Guys?  What’s wrong?” Shippou asked, picking up on their discomfort. 

 

“What do you remember from yesterday, Shippou?” Miroku asked grimly. 

 

The kit frowned, examining his surroundings and realizing for the first time that he wasn’t where he had fallen asleep—or unconscious.  Something had happened in the meantime, and judging by his friends’ expressions, it couldn’t have been good. 

 

“I was playing with Tamiko—she’s this girl I met—and then…I don’t know.  Something knocked me on the head, and I woke up here.  What happened?” 

 

Miroku sighed, rubbing his temples.  “The person who knocked you out was Tamiko’s father.  Last night, he and a bunch of villagers confronted us, threatening to kill you.  When he went to smash you against the ground, Kagome-sama…Kagome-sama lost herself.  She transformed into a full-youkai and lopped his arm off.” 

 

Shippou gasped, raising shaking hands to cover his gaping mouth.  No.  What had he done?  In protecting him, Kagome had…  What have I done?!  He dimly felt himself being pulled into Sango’s lap, Kirara nuzzling his chin, but no comfort could make him feel better now.  But why were they comforting him?  Why didn’t they blame him for this?  They should, damn it!

 

“It’s my fault,” he whispered, barely loud enough for the humans to hear.  “Kagome told me not to wander off, and I didn’t listen.  Just leave me here!  Just leave me and go!” 

 

“You know, Shippou,” Sango spoke up, “Kagome-chan said the same thing last night.  I’m going to tell you the same thing I told her.  That’s crazy!  You’re staying with us; you don’t have a choice.” 

 

“B-but—”

 

“No buts!  I’m not gonna lie to you, Shippou—this is party your fault.” 

 

The kit lowered his head, tears flowing freely from his eyes. 

 

“It is partly Kagome-chan’s fault as well,” Sango continued.  “But most of the blame rests with those bigoted pigs!  When I lived in the exterminator’s village, even we distinguished between malevolent and benevolent youkai.  But these people, they don’t see a difference at all!  All they see is a dirty youkai to kill, no matter if it’s a child!  I wish I could—”

 

“Now, now, Sango, let us remain calm,” Miroku interrupted, placing his hand on her shoulder.  Sango heaved a deep breath, reigning in her desire to beat some sense into those people.  Miroku took over her part of the conversation. 

 

“Shippou, I assume you weren’t doing anything with Tamiko that would anger a reasonable father?”

 

“No!  I swear!  We picked some flowers for her sick mother, and then just played for awhile.  I promise!” 

 

“Alright, Shippou, we believe you.  You can rest assured that you are mostly innocent in this, and we will not hold it against you.” 

 

Shippou couldn’t believe his ears.  His friends forgave him.  They forgave him, even after all the trouble he had caused.  But…would Kagome forgive him? 

 

“Did he die?” he asked solemnly. 

 

“We’re not sure, Shippou,” Miroku answered.  “I assume Inuyasha and Kagome left last night to find out.” 

 

Now Shippou nodded, and joined Sango in staring into the dancing flames.  Everyone seemed to be doing a lot of that lately, worried as they were for Kagome and her mental health.  Some time later, the approach of a pair of familiar demonic auras signaled the return of their departed friends.  Kagome didn’t make eye contact with anyone; instead, she rummaged through her bag for a change of clothes and went into the woods to change.  All eyes turned to Inuyasha, asking him a single silent question.  The hanyou’s grimace and sharp nod provided the answer.  The man was dead. 

 

Shippou wailed in despair, and Miroku would be lying if he said he didn’t feel slightly ill.  How would Kagome react now that she knew?  Inuyasha had gotten her to return to camp; that was something.  But would she be able to deal with it?  That question was answered when she emerged from the trees, and Shippou flung himself into her arms, apologizing profusely through his tears.  Kagome cried as well, clutching him tightly and telling him it wasn’t his fault.  Miroku found her tears oddly comforting; if she was crying, then she was still the Kagome they all knew and loved.  She wasn’t going to turn into a shell of her former self, as so many victims of traumatic events did.  She wasn’t going to become…like Kikyou. 

 

Kneeling, Kagome dried her eyes and smiled down at the kit, which just made Shippou cry harder.  She knew exactly what he was going through; guilt would not give way so easily to the solace of one’s friends.  But eventually he stopped and sat up on Kagome’s lap, looking miserably happy, if that made any sense.  Miroku cleared his throat.  As much as they all wanted to just forget about this unfortunate incident, there were things that needed to be said. 

 

“So…do we have any idea why Kagome-sama reacted the way she did?”  When only confused expressions greeted his question, Miroku continued.  “I have a theory.  Both times Kagome-sama transformed, she did so to protect someone she cared about.  And both times, that person was helpless, unable to protect himself.  That’s when I believe Kagome-sama’s youkai side emerges—when her friends are hurt, and incapable of defending themselves.” 

 

“Keh!  I could have defended myself,” Inuyasha stated automatically, eliciting several rolled eyes from his companions.  There were times when the hanyou really was the biggest baka alive.  But evidently he had done something right, because Kagome was actually able to talk about this topic of conversation. 

 

“I think you’re right, Miroku-sama,” she said.  “When it happens, I just get so…angry that someone is hurting my friends.” 

 

“Yes, you are not motivated by bloodlust.  Instead, you are guided by your heart, which is why I know that you will never turn on us in your full-youkai state.” 

 

“But even so, don’t you think we need to do something?!  Maybe I could get something to seal my youkai blood, like Tetsusaiga?” 

 

“What’s the point?” Inuyasha interjected.  “If we just keep going and see this Aoi person, we can change you back in a few days.  Going all the way to Totosai’s will take a lot longer, and the old fart will make us wait for days while he makes the damn thing.” 

 

“Hm, Inuyasha makes a good point,” Miroku declared.  “We can’t be much more than a day’s journey from the mountain with the purple ring around it.  Why don’t we just go see what Aoi-sama has to say?”  A lecherous smirk wormed its way to his lips as a new thought occurred to him.  “Besides, Inuyasha already discovered a perfect way to reverse Kagome-sama’s youkai transformation.” 

 

Both hanyou’s cheeks flamed at this comment, and Kagome raised her hand to her lips at the memory.  Inuyasha just raised his fist. 

 

“Bouzu,” he growled threateningly. 

 

“Don’t be angry, Inuyasha!  I was merely stating a fac—”

 

*BONK!!!*

Chapter Text

After Miroku picked himself off the ground, rubbing the rather large lump on his head, things almost returned to normal for the Inu-gang.  Inuyasha marched at the head of the column, hands folded in his fire-rat sleeves, with Kagome and Sango bringing up the rear.  Somewhere in the middle of the group had become Miroku’s customary place ever since Sango had caught him foolishly staring at her ass months ago.  But could he really be expected to do otherwise?  Could any man, for that matter?  If he asked the girls that question, they would probably point to Inuyasha, but that was only because they didn’t know how often he caught the hanyou looking at Kagome.  Oh, it didn’t occur that frequently, but when it did, there was no doubt what Inuyasha was thinking about.  And every time he would catch himself and look away blushing, and Miroku would shake his head.  Just go for it, man!  She totally digs you!  But alas, the dense hanyou seemed, and probably was, totally oblivious. 

 

Then again, Miroku didn’t feel especially enlightened at the moment either; he still couldn’t figure out what was wrong with Sango.  He had explained himself to her, hadn’t he?  So why was she moping along at the back of the group, a pensive look on her face?  Why was she walking with Kagome instead of by his side?  Maybe it’s to keep Kagome from beating me into a pulp.  The miko looked like she wanted nothing more than to do just that, and Miroku had first gathered that impression several hours ago.  Yet, Kagome appeared as mad as ever, still glaring daggers at him.  If her eyes had any destructive power, he would have two circular bald spots on the back of his head.  He had hoped Sango would tell her what happened, and thereby mollify her anger, but the taijiya had yet to speak a word.  Finally, Miroku decided he had to take the matter into his own hands.  Turning, he prepared to face down his demon. 

 

“You know, Kagome-sama, it was not my intention to spend last night with Chiyoko-sama.  There was a…misunderstanding, and she got the wrong idea.  So I’d appreciate it if you would stop trying to incinerate me with your eyes.” 

 

Kagome studied him for several moments, but she could detect no deceit in his eyes or scent.  “Fine, houshi,” she responded curtly. 

 

Miroku cringed, knowing that Kagome must still be pissed at him if she was calling him “houshi.”  But she didn’t seem that upset anymore, so he turned and resumed walking.  When his back was turned, Kagome grinned and elbowed Sango in the side. 

 

“See, Sango-chan!” she whispered excitedly.  “He really wasn’t cheating on you!”  To Kagome’s surprise and dismay, Sango merely scoffed. 

 

“So what, Kagome-chan?  ‘She got the wrong idea’ is monk-speak for ‘I asked her to bear my child and then changed my mind.’  It still doesn’t change the fact that he’s an unfaithful lecher.” 

 

Now aghast, Kagome tried again.  “B-but, he didn’t—”

 

“Yeah, this time.  What about next time, huh?  Face it, Kagome-chan; he’s never going to change.” 

 

“I refuse to believe that,” Kagome replied sternly. 

 

“Maybe that’s the only reason I haven’t broken it off with him, because you see something in him that I don’t.  I want to see what you see, but…”

 

“It’s okay, Sango-chan,” Kagome comforted, wrapping her arm around the older girl’s shoulder.  “Don’t give up hope.” 

 

Sango nodded miserably, but Kagome was confident she wouldn’t go do anything crazy, like tell Miroku she didn’t want to be with him anymore.  Such a thing would never be true; if they did break up, it would be completely the monk’s fault.  If it wasn’t for her promise to Sango, Kagome would already have talked some sense into him.  Glancing at Inuyasha, she caught him gazing back at them with half an eye.  She and Sango had spoken softly enough so Miroku wouldn’t hear, but Inuyasha had been eavesdropping with his canine ears.  She smirked as he wrenched his head back around to look forward again.  He can say he doesn’t care, but I know him.  He cares about Sango’s happiness as much as I do.  I’ll have to remind him that he agreed to talk to Miroku.  But she couldn’t do it now; it would be too obvious.  No, her whole plan rested on not letting Sango find out that she had confided the situation in Inuyasha.  Sure, Sango had only made her promise not to tell Miroku himself, but that was a sneaky loophole, and Kagome knew the slayer would not be impressed by it.  So she would have to wait for a good opportunity to remind the hanyou of his obligations. 

 

The day seemed to fly by, but that’s what happens when you’re practically sleepwalking.  An afternoon nap was all the sleep she and Inuyasha had gotten in over seventy-two hours.  Even the normally resilient hanyou was showing signs of fatigue.  The humans were better off, but they needed rest every day, and didn’t object when Inuyasha called an early halt to their trek.  Kagome prepared some ramen for everyone, and retired to her sleeping bag immediately after dusk.  Inuyasha propped himself up against the soft fabric of her backpack, not even bothering to leap into a tree before dozing off.  They got a late start the following morning.  They would easily reach Aoi’s mountain that day, and for once Inuyasha didn’t feel like rushing. 

 

The mountain with the purple ring around it was not that large at the base, but it was extremely steep, which explained its height.  Sheer cliffs greeted them, but eventually they found a path winding its way up the mountain.  At its narrowest, it was barely two feet wide, and they had to travel single-file.  They made sure to tread carefully as well; one slip and you could be in for a very long fall.  They passed through the ring about halfway up, discovering that it was actually a thin band of flowers, a special kind that seemed to thrive in the thin upland soil.  The edges were perfectly linear, so it definitely wasn’t a natural formation.  The path ended in a small valley about three quarters of the way to the summit.  Sitting in the middle of the clearing was a large, well kept mansion, a far cry from the cave they had been expecting.  There were three small children playing in a green field, two girls and one boy.  All were youkai, and as soon as they noticed the newcomers, they dashed inside the house.  The inu-gang slowly made their way toward the building, getting closer and closer to a strong demonic aura.  Moments later, a beautiful woman emerged from the house, waving at them in a friendly manner before striding to meet them.  Her robes were long and elegant, but her luxurious light blue hair was unbound.  Her eyes were a bright cobalt hue, and her lips were quirked in a genuine smile, revealing small fangs.  She was a youkai, and a powerful one at that, but she seemed kind enough.  The three children trailed along behind, peeking out from behind her legs. 

 

“You must be Inuyasha,” she said in a rich, harmonious tone.  Inuyasha could only nod.  “I am Aoi.  Daichi told me to expect you sooner, but no matter.  My mate is out at the moment, but it is I you wish to speak with anyway, correct?” 

 

“Yes, Aoi-sama,” Miroku said.  Introductions on both sides followed, and the Inu-gang learned that Aoi was in fact the mother of the three children, who had become less shy in their mother’s presence. 

 

“Why don’t you take Shippou and go play?” she said to them.  Nodding, one of her daughters grabbed Shippou by the hand and dragged him off.  “Come inside and make yourselves at home,” she told the remaining members.  She seated them around a large table, with plush cushions supporting their backs.  Then she served them tea that smelled so divine, even Inuyasha couldn’t resist having some.

 

“Alright,” she began, “now that we’re all settled, the first thing I want to know is why you’re all looking at me funny.” 

 

“Forgive us, Aoi-sama,” Miroku said sheepishly.  “You…just aren’t what we were expecting.” 

 

Aoi chuckled.  “What were you expecting?” 

 

“An old hag,” Inuyasha replied tersely. 

 

“Inuyasha!” Kagome whispered furiously. 

 

“What?  Tell me you weren’t expecting the same thing.”

 

“…”

 

Miroku cleared his throat.  “What my ill-mannered friend means is that we were expecting someone who resembled Daichi in age, since he spoke so highly of your expertise.”

 

Aoi laughed easily.  “That old bear is like a father to me,” she said fondly.  “And I may not look it, but I am well over two hundred years old.  We turtle youkai tend to age very slowly.”

 

“T-turtle?” Inuyasha choked.  “Wouldn’t have guessed that.”

 

“Well, some youkai are better at concealing their true form than others.  Would you guess from looking at him that your brother is an inu youkai?” 

 

“I guess not.  How do you know that bastard, anyway?” 

 

“Inuyasha!” 

 

“That’s quite alright, Kagome-sama,” Aoi interrupted.  “Besides, Sesshoumaru is a bastard.” 

 

Three mouths gaped at this comment, and Inuyasha smirked.  “Lady, you and me are gonna get along just fine.” 

 

“Of that I have no doubt.  Now, on to business.  Why don’t you tell me of your travels?” 

 

It was Kagome who took up the challenge of recapping their adventures, leaving out all but the most relevant details.  Aoi listened intently, only interrupting to ask questions.  When the story was complete, she nodded thoughtfully.  “So now you wish to change back into a human, Kagome-sama?”  

 

Kagome opened her mouth to respond, but something stopped her from just coming out and saying “yes.”  Maybe…

 

“Can you help us?” Inuyasha spoke into the silence, effectively breaking Kagome’s train of thought.

 

Aoi sighed.  “Normally, it would be a relatively simple thing, but unfortunately the tool I would use has been stolen.  So I’m sorry, but I cannot help you until I get it back.” 

 

Inuyasha was infuriated for half a second before a light came on.  “Tell me, Aoi-sama,” he said, surprising everyone with his politeness.  “Is this tool a dagger that doesn’t cut flesh?” 

 

The turtle youkai’s eyes widened in shock.  “Yes!  You have seen it?” 

 

Inuyasha scoffed.  “Seen it?  Try gotten stabbed with it!” 

 

“And you’re still alive?  You must be very strong or very lucky.” 

 

“Feh.  Kagome’s miko powers saved my ass.” 

 

At this, Aoi turned her attention to Kagome, grabbing her hand.  “Please, Kagome-sama, summon your miko energy.  I wish to see it for myself.” 

 

Reluctantly, Kagome did so, exuding just enough power to scorch Aoi’s palm.  The youkai pulled her hand away, staring at the burns with an amazed smile on her face.  “Fascinating.  But how did these powers save you from the effects of the dagger?” 

 

“She purified me,” Inuyasha replied.  “I told her to do it,” he stressed, sensing slight melancholy from Kagome at the reminder of what she had done. 

 

“Ah, I see…a very wise strategy indeed.  That dagger was ripping your youki out of you, and by purifying you Kagome placed it beyond the dagger’s reach.  That’s what it does; it separates youki from living or dead beings.  It’s very useful in my line of work, for extracting the youki I need for various potions.  But when it is used by an untrained hand, it can go out of control and destroy both the wielder and the victim.”

 

“You use youkai?” Kagome asked, inwardly appalled. 

 

“Don’t worry,” Aoi hastily assured, “I only use low-level youkai, the kind that don’t do the world any good and are missed by no one.” 

 

Inuyasha relaxed visibly.  “So…if you had this dagger, you would be able to help us?” 

 

She nodded.  “It would be a relatively simple matter.  Tell you what; retrieve my dagger for me, and I will gladly use it to restore Kagome to her human form, if that is what she truly desires,” she said, eyeing Kagome intently. 

 

Kagome frowned as a new thought occurred to her.  “Aoi-sama, if you did this, then what would happen to the youki?  It originally had another’s soul attached to it.” 

 

“I see…it is not within my power to bring that youkai’s soul back from the afterlife.  I could harness the youki for one of my potions, or we could simply allow it to disperse and disappear.”

 

“Is that what you’re worried about, Kagome?” Inuyasha asked, flabbergasted.  “Bringing that bastard back to life?” 

 

She shook her head.  “I just wanted to know if it was possible, because that’s what his brother and sister are trying to do.” 

 

“Well they’ll just have to fuckin’ deal with it,” Inuyasha said gruffly.  Turning to Aoi, he stood to leave.  “You got a deal, lady,” he declared. 

 

“Where do you think you’re going?  It’s late afternoon, and what kind of hostess would I be if I didn’t make you stay the night?” 

 

“We do not wish to impose,” Miroku stated. 

 

“Nonsense!  My mate will want to meet you, and I still want to hear all about the youkai who robbed me.  Speaking of which, there was something else that was stolen: a gourd containing—”

 

“Fucking putrid black smoke?” Inuyasha finished for her. 

 

“Well, that’s one way of putting it.  I would very much like that returned to me as well.” 

 

“Too bad.  The assholes already used it.” 

 

“Dammit!  It took me weeks to get that potion right!  And I was going to barter some nice fabrics for it, too…” 

 

The conversation continued until just before dusk, when Shippou and Aoi’s children entered the house escorted by a tall male youkai.  He was Aoi’s mate, and seemed to be the same type of youkai, thought they couldn’t really tell.  He was kind and relatively soft-spoken, and seemed content to defer to his mate’s judgment most of the time, a refreshing sight to see in any day and age.  The entire family appeared to have found true happiness, and none of the Inu-gang were without jealousy.  All four adults could imagine raising a family someday, together with the one they loved.

 

The only one who was surprised by his imagination was Inuyasha; the others had already come to terms with who they wanted to spend their lives with, at least internally.  But it wasn’t so simple for Inuyasha, and this was the first time he had imagined living with Kagome, having children with her, being her…mate.  He was surprised that the thought filled him with warmth, and very confused.  Did he love Kagome?  Was it possible to love two women at the same time?  He still loved Kikyou, didn’t he?  These questions had been coming up more and more often lately as his relationship with Kagome intensified, but still he had no concrete answers.  But he knew how strongly her sadness or happiness made him feel, and he knew how his blood heated with desire when he gazed at her, kissed her…  That would have to be enough for now. 

 

The evening was pleasant, made all the better when their hosts produced sake.  Miroku and Inuyasha were far too ‘polite’ not to accept the drink when offered.  Neither overindulged, but both went to bed on a very satisfying buzz. 

 

The Inu-gang set out in the morning, though no one could say for certain where exactly they were going.  All they knew was that the odds of Takehiko and Sora returning to the scene of their crime were slim.  Kagome, after mulling over the possibilities for awhile, broached the subject first. 

 

“Hey, Inuyasha?” 

 

“Yeah, wench?” 

 

“I-I think I’d like an item to seal my youkai blood.  Why don’t we go see Totosai?” 

 

Inuyasha looked at her, taking in her downcast expression.  “If you want to,” he replied evenly. 

 

“Really?  You don’t mind going out of our way?” 

 

“What way?  This is just like Naraku; we can’t do shit until those fucking cowards decide to come out of hiding.” 

 

“Oh, in that case…isn’t Totosai’s mountain on the other side of Kaede’s village?” 

 

“Yes,” Inuyasha growled, already knowing what Kagome’s next question would be. 

 

“Do you think we could go to my time for a few days?” 

 

Inuyasha choked back a harsh reply as Kagome’s words—one word in particular—set in. 

 

“We, wench?” 

 

“Well, there’s really no reason for you to stay here,” Kagome said, feigning nonchalance.  “I certainly don’t have to hide you from my friends anymore; they seem to like you.  So yes, you can come with me.  Unless you don’t want to…”

 

“Keh!  I’ll go.  Someone’s gotta keep you out of trouble.”  His reply was delivered with his usual gruffness, but inside he was deeply touched.  And Kagome knew it too, if that secretive smile on her face was anything to judge by. 

 

“How long do you think it will take to get to the well from here?”

 

Inuyasha shrugged.  “Dunno.  Two, three days maybe?  Why, you in a hurry?” 

 

“Nope.  Just wondering.”

 

“Good, ‘cause you’re only getting one day in your time.”

 

“Three!” 

 

“One!” 

 

“Three!”

 

“One, wench!”

 

“Osu—alright, baka!  We’ll compromise—two days.” 

 

“Dammit…  Fine,” Inuyasha relented, recovering from his cringe upon hearing the first syllable of ‘the word.’  “But not a second longer!” 

 

“Okay, Inuyasha, you’re the boss!” 

 

“Keh.  Sometimes I wonder.” 

 

Kagome snickered; her plan had worked to perfection.  More than a year of dealing with Inuyasha’s ‘separation anxiety’ meant she was quite good at getting what she wanted while letting Inuyasha think he’d won at least a partial victory.  In reality, she had only wanted two days at home.  But it was fun to let Inuyasha think he was the boss, even when that rosary around his neck and her own fiery personality clearly said otherwise. 

 

They took their time traveling, as there was really no reason to rush.  There was a general feeling that Takehiko and Sora would confront them again long before they reached Totosai’s domain.  Sure enough, just as they were nearing the edge of Inuyasha’s forest on the afternoon of the second day, it happened. 

 

The attack came from out of nowhere, and without warning.  One moment Kagome was walking amidst her friends, and the next she was flying, held aloft by several razor sharp talons driven clean through her shoulder.  Sora had approached from behind, like a hawk stalking an unsuspecting rabbit, then dove on her prey with dizzying speed and absolute stealth.  Dimly Kagome heard the cries of her friends over the wind whipping past her ears, but their voices were rapidly fading into the distance.  And then she was free, released to plummet toward the unforgiving earth.  She landed on her feet with feline grace but couldn’t halt her momentum, rolling over and over to lessen the impact until she crashed into a tree with a muffled thud.  For a moment, she just lay there, trying to gather her bearings and ignore the pain that wracked not only her shoulder, but the rest of her body now as well. 

 

Movement to her left had her scampering out of the way just in time, as Takehiko drove Aoi’s dagger into the earth where she had been.  Now she comprehended their plan completely; Sora would snatch her and drop her near Takehiko, who would stab her with the dagger.  Perhaps in her best fighting condition she might be able to defeat the inu youkai alone, but not now, when her concentration was shaky at best and she was still dizzy from the fall and subsequent tumble.  No, her goal had to be simply to stay alive until her friends arrived. 

 

Even that task appeared as if it was going to be extremely difficult.  Takehiko attacked again and again, not giving her a moment’s respite.  It took all the agility she had to avoid impalement, and probably some she didn’t have.  She dodged as best she could, but as time wore on the blows came closer and closer to landing.  Thin red lines appeared on her legs and arms, and small rips in her clothing, testaments to tired, weary muscles.  Finally, an unseen tree root caught her foot, sending her tumbling backward even as her attacker raised the dagger for the final plunge into her flesh.  Unable to do anything else, Kagome raised her hands, closed her eyes, and prepared for a horrifying end. 

 

Instead, there was a flash of blinding light, and an agonized scream.  The scent of burning flesh filled the air, prompting her to open her eyes.  Takehiko was kneeling ten feet away, holding his right arm and glaring at her with abhorrence in his gaze.  Between them, shimmering in what could only be called deadly beauty, was a barrier.  It took her several seconds to realize that it was of her own creation.  A barrier?  H-how?  How did I do that?  Then again, her miko powers always seemed to emerge when she needed them the most.  But it didn’t really matter how this barrier came into being.  It was now the only thing shielding her from her enemy, and she would do her damndest to maintain it. 

 

Standing, Takehiko drew his sword, wielding it in his uninjured left hand.  His scorched right arm hung limply at his side, the dagger still clutched tightly by thumb and fingers.  The first blow nearly shattered the barrier, and Kagome hurriedly poured all her energy into it.  It strengthened momentarily, but after a dozen more sword strikes it was once again close to collapse.  Never before had the use of her miko powers drained her so, and when combined with her injuries, the effect was that her body itself was almost at its limit.  If help didn’t arrive soon…

 

* * *

 

“KAGOME!!!” 

 

Inuyasha swore under his breath before taking off after her.  He had sensed Sora’s approach, but barely had any time to duck his head let alone warn any of the others.  And now she and Kagome were little more than a rapidly vanishing speck in the distance. 

 

“Inuyasha!” Sango called from behind him.  Taking the offered hand, Inuyasha vaulted himself up onto Kirara.  With three full-grown adults on her back, the fire-cat was still losing ground to the swift-winged hawk.  Suddenly, the speck on the horizon stopped shrinking, and began growing larger.  It was Sora, alone, heading straight for them.  As she closed, Inuyasha leapt forward off Kirara and launched the Kaze no Kizu in midair.  The streaks of energy were easily dodged, but the attack served its purpose in forcing Sora to veer off course.  Inuyasha landed in a crouch, and Kirara dropped down beside him. 

 

“Go, Inuyasha!  We’ll take care of her!” Sango ordered, brandishing hiraikotsu.  Miroku and Shippou leapt down to avoid hindering the taijiya in any way.  Nodding, Inuyasha took off at top speed.  He had gone perhaps a hundred feet when a warning shout from Miroku gave him just enough time to dive to the right and avoid having his head lopped off.  Sora dropped out of the sky, landing in front of them. 

 

“Sorry, half-breed,” she spoke dangerously, “but none of you are getting past me.” 

 

Inuyasha grimaced.  Shit.  Under normal circumstances, they would just split up; Sango and the others would hold the enemy off while he went after Kagome, or vice versa.  But that wasn’t going to work here.  The humans had obviously tried to keep Sora busy, but she had used her blazing speed to just fly around them.  One thing was becoming clear—if they turned their backs for even a moment, they would end up with holes in them. 

 

“Bitch!  Where’s Kagome?!” 

 

Sora chuckled.  “Don’t worry; Takehiko will take good care of her!  In fact, he’s probably already killed your miko and returned our brother Minoru to life!” 

 

“Listen, you fucking moron!  That won’t work!  Even if you use the dagger, there’s no way to bring your asshole of a brother back!” 

 

“Ha!  You expect me to believe you, half-breed?” 

 

“The rightful owner of that dagger said it!”

 

“It matters not.  Even if we cannot bring Minoru back, we will take great pleasure in slaughtering you lot for all the trouble you caused us.  We have not forgotten about our revenge!” Sora cried.  Their collective revenge, that is.  Each of them had forgone personal vendettas in the interests of victory; she would not hold it against Takehiko if he killed Kagome, and he would not be angry at her for slaying Inuyasha.  There was no room for selfishness if they were going to get their brother back. 

 

By this time, the humans had come up to flank the hanyou, and Sora stared them all down without blinking.  Inuyasha swore inwardly.  Dammit!  I’ll have to kill this bitch or we’ll never get past her.  Kagome…be safe.

 

* * *

 

Kagome’s barrier shattered in a flash of tortured light.  Takehiko raised his sword once more, this time blade-down, as he prepared to plunge it through her, anchoring her to the ground for an easy strike with the dagger.  It was when the weapon was on its way down that Kagome had an epiphany.  No one was coming to rescue her.  Tetsusaiga wasn’t going to magically appear out of nowhere and block her attacker’s katana.  Hiraikotsu wasn’t going to come whizzing over her head, forcing Takehiko to leap into the air to avoid being chopped in half.  This time, she would have to save herself. 

 

The thought filled her with trepidation, but also gave her an extra burst of adrenaline, which she put to good use.  She dove to her left, feeling the sharp edge of the blade slice into her bicep.  Blood trickled down her arm as she rolled to her feet, but the flesh wound was the least of her worries.  Takehiko resumed his relentless assaults, and Kagome doubted she could muster up the concentration to throw up another barrier.  Hell, she didn’t even know how she had done it the first time.  What she did know was that she was tired of retreating.  Her youkai was screaming at her to fight back, and she didn’t particularly feel like resisting its demands. 

 

Exuding a feral snarl, she ducked a swing and swiped with her claws, causing Takehiko to leap back from sheer surprise.  He studied her for all of a second before charging forward again, but Kagome was ready.  She hadn’t lost control, but her youkai blood was surging in her veins, her instincts moving her body with feline ferocity.  Her claws glowed with purifying energy, proof that her miko powers were willing to fight alongside her youki once more.  She had the added advantage that her opponent could only injure her, not kill her outright.  If he did the latter, he would throw away any chance of returning his brother to this world.  She at least needed to stay alive long enough for the dagger to do its work.  According to Aoi, such a thing was impossible anyway, but Kagome was not about to enlighten the man trying to impale her. 

 

Her inexperience with hand-to-hand combat was almost her undoing.  She spied an opening and lunged, but Takehiko easily sidestepped her out-of-control attack.  Spinning, he brought his sword down in a cleaving blow meant to slice off her arm at the shoulder.  Unable to evade, Kagome brought her hands up and summoned her miko powers, hoping they would at least deflect the katana.  It worked; pink lightning crackled as the blade was thrown back, the sudden movement throwing Takehiko off balance.  Kagome didn’t waste the opportunity, swiping at the retreating Inu youkai with her claws.  He managed to dodge the brunt of the attack, but still received a set of scorched slashes running from chest to abdomen.  Growling, the two adversaries resumed the battle. 

 

The melee went on for several more minutes, with each party receiving wounds.  Blood now trickled from several deep gashes in Kagome’s legs, as well as a thin cut across her cheek.  Blackened claw marks crisscrossed Takehiko’s front, and Kagome took satisfaction in his heavy breathing.  Every slice pumped just a little more purifying energy into his body, and it was clearly affecting him.  The problem was that, when combined with the physical exertion of the battle, it was quickly tiring her as well.  But she had no choice but to use her powers; they were the only reason she was still in one piece.  They forced her enemy to use caution, and saved her when her raw, unpolished combat abilities put her in jeopardy.  They were still standing apart, sizing each other up, when the cavalry arrived. 

 

“Kagome!” Inuyasha yelled as he crashed into the clearing.  He had feared the worst when he caught the scent of Kagome’s blood, and he and the others were immensely relieved to see that she was still standing.  Understandably, Takehiko was not as happy to see them. 

 

“You lot?!  Where the fuck is Sora?!” 

 

Inuyasha smirked.  “Dunno.  Last time I saw her she was running off to go bleed somewhere.  Who knows, maybe she’s dead?” 

 

“Why you,” Takehiko growled.  Inuyasha was bluffing, convincingly so by the look on the other youkai’s face.  He had managed to catch Sora off guard with the Hijin Ketsusou, inflicting some serious, but not life-threatening, wounds.  The hawk had retreated, probably figuring she’d bought her brother enough time to finish off Kagome.  Shippou and the others were under orders to keep a watchful eye out for her, leaving Inuyasha free to focus on rescuing Kagome.  Stepping in front of her, he whipped out Tetsusaiga. 

 

“So you like using a sword on an unarmed woman, asshole?  Well, how about fighting me with this sword?!  Or are you too much of a spineless cowa—”

 

“Inuyasha.”  Kagome’s voice was soft and low, but it carried with it unquestioned authority.  “Step back, please.  This is my fight.” 

 

His first instinct was to yell at her, tell her how ridiculous that was, but one glance in her direction stilled his tongue.  She was staring at Takehiko, all uncertainty, all hesitation gone from her gaze.  She looked absolutely incensed, the overwhelming desire to finish the battle swimming in her fiery eyes.  The last time her expression had been so serious, her demeanor so fierce, she had made Naraku pay dearly for forcing Sango to steal the Tetsusaiga, nearly destroying him in the process.  This did not bode well for Takehiko.  And as much as Inuyasha wanted to tell her to wait on the sidelines, to shelter her and protect her, this time he couldn’t.  This really was her fight, and he would be a cruel hypocrite indeed if he denied her the chance to end it.  He drifted back a few steps, and Kagome smiled gratefully at him.  Nodding grimly, he resolved to stay on his toes; the instant Kagome needed backup, he would be ready. 

 

“Listen well,” she addressed her enemy, “I know you think you can bring your brother back, but the true owner of that dagger said it’s impossible.  His soul was sent to the netherworld, and I don’t know if there’s anything in this world with the power to bring it back now.  Besides, your brother was happy when he passed.  I know; I spoke to him just before his soul made the journey.  You should cherish your brother’s memory, but he’s gone!  There is still time for you to give this up.  Walk away now.  I don’t want to have to kill you, but I will.” 

 

Takehiko’s lips curved in a sneer.  “Even if what you say is true, do you expect me to forget who it was who killed Minoru?  You and the other half-breed must pay for his life, and the life of my father!” 

 

And so the battle resumed, two equally determined opponents locked in mortal combat, each fighting for their loved ones.  The spectators could only watch anxiously from the sidelines as more flesh was rent and more blood was spilled.  Kagome was nearing exhaustion, having to constantly use her miko powers to ward off Takehiko’s youkai sword.  Her reaction time was slowing, and the close calls were increasing in frequency.  She needed to end this fight, and soon.  Her bow, miraculously still in one piece, was lying where she had landed after plummeting to the earth.  The quiver was broken, but she was willing to bet that at least a few of the arrows had survived the fall.  The trouble was getting over there; Takehiko was positioned between her and the weapons. 

 

The inu-youkai came on again, but this time instead of stepping back and blocking the sword, Kagome dove forward underneath the blade.  Rolling to her feet, she darted over to her bow, snatched it up, and turned back to face her enemy with an arrow notched and ready.  Takehiko lowered his sword to his side, and for a moment Kagome though he was giving up.  Then he started twirling it around his finger with a wicked smirk on his face. 

 

“Heh.  You must be really desperate if you went for those.  Look at you!  You’re shaking!  You can’t even hold your string back.” 

 

Kagome gritted her teeth; what he said was true.  Her arm really was shuddering in fatigue, but that didn’t mean she lacked the strength to finish this fight. 

 

“This is your last chance, Takehiko.  Don’t make me kill you,” she warned, fully prepared for the answer she already knew was coming. 

 

“Don’t make me laugh!” Takehiko exclaimed, pointing his sword at her.  “No dirty hanyou could kill m—”

 

With a mighty cry, Kagome released her arrow.  She was tired of being demeaned for what she was now, and equally sick of hearing Inuyasha insulted for what he had always been.  She poured all of her remaining strength into the arrow, which glowed and crackled with blinding purity.  Is soared straight and true, and moved with such speed that not even Sesshoumaru would have been able to avoid it.  But Takehiko had no intention of dodging. 

 

What happened next seemed to occur in slow motion.  Takehiko blocked the arrow cleanly, but was unable to sweep it aside as he anticipated.  The tip continued to press forward with irresistible force, pushing toward his body even as every muscle strained to keep it at bay.  Cracks appeared all along the katana, and the weapon was a breath away from shattering when a fearful cry sounded from off to the left.  Sora flew in, placing herself between the arrow and her brother just as the tortured blade fractured into a million pieces.  She probably meant to take the arrow and save her brother, but it was not to be.  The projectile passed straight through both of them, burning a gigantic hole in each torso, before impacting an unfortunate tree and destroying it as well.  They didn’t even have time enough to hit the ground; their bodies immediately disintegrated to dust in the wind.   Completely spent, Kagome collapsed onto the dirt.  She remained conscious, however, and rolled over on her back to stare reassuringly into the worried eyes of her friends.  It was over. 

 

“Inuyasha,” she rasped as Sango helped her sit up, “get the jewel shards.” 

 

Inuyasha appeared startled for a second, then went to retrieve the shards.  In fact, he had forgotten all about the stupid things.  Two were just lying on the ground, and one was embedded in Aoi’s dagger.  Inuyasha smirked victoriously as he held the weapon aloft. 

 

“We got it.” 

 

But Inuyasha’s elation was short-lived; no one felt much like cheering when Kagome was so beat up.  If a human had suffered her wounds, they would have been in grave danger of bleeding to death.  As it was, Kagome’s hanyou blood had sealed up many of the smaller cuts, but the larger ones still bled freely.  Miroku and Inuyasha were ordered to turn their backs and stay that way on pain of death while Sango bandaged her up.  Then the taijiya helped her into her pajamas and the sleeping bag, where she was quickly out like a light.  The rest of the gang wanted to follow suit, but the scent of blood that saturated the clearing would attract predators and youkai.  They certainly didn’t need any more excitement today.  So Inuyasha picked up Kagome, encased in the sleeping bag, and led the way to a more suitable campsite about a mile away.  He stayed awake all night, keeping vigil over her.  As the night wore on, and the color slowly returned to her pale skin, his anxiety faded away, but it wouldn’t completely vanish until she opened her eyes and told him she was fine.  He was pleasantly surprised when Kagome stirred just after dawn the following morning.  She sat up quickly, a little too quickly it seemed, and hissed as the wound in her shoulder reopened. 

 

“What are you doing up, wench?” Inuyasha asked, masking his concern with annoyance.  “Lie back down!” 

 

She glared at him.  “Unless you want me to wet myself, you’d better shut up and help me.” 

 

Grumbling, Inuyasha went to her, steadying her as she wobbled on her feet.  Fortunately, she gained her balance, sparing Inuyasha the incredibly awkward task of helping her urinate.  He blushed just thinking about that prospect.  Evidently, taking care of nature had alleviated Kagome’s early morning irritation, because she returned with a contrite look on her face. 

 

“Sorry I snapped at you, Inuyasha.” 

 

“Keh.  How’re you feelin’, Kagome?” 

 

Kagome smiled.  He was feigning nonchalance, but she knew better.  The way he pointedly glanced away from her when he asked the question, that small frown he made when he was hiding something, how he had used her name instead of ‘wench’…  She wasn’t surprised that he had been worried about her, but it delighted her nonetheless. 

 

“Fine, Inuyasha.  I feel a lot bett—”  She punctuated her statement with a cavernous yawn, causing Inuyasha’s frown to deepen. 

 

“Go back to sleep, wench.  I’ll wake you up when breakfast is ready.”

 

“M’kay.” 

 

After a short nap and breakfast, Kagome was able to walk when the Inu-gang set out, though they did travel at a noticeably more sedate pace than usual.  It was going to take them several days to get back to Aoi’s home at this rate, but Kagome was grateful for their slow progress for several reasons.  First, she didn’t have to push herself physically.  But more importantly, it gave her plenty of time to think about where they were going, and what she was going to do when they got there. 

 

“Promise me you will at least think about what I said.”

 

“Deal.”

 

Yes, she had promised Myouga she would think about whether she really wanted to change back into a human, hadn’t she?  It shamed her to admit that she hadn’t yet fulfilled that promise.  Well, better late than never.

 

In the beginning, her hanyou powers had been such a hindrance.  She really had wanted to get rid of them, or at least had gone along with Inuyasha’s strident demand that she do so.  It had been so easy to just defer to the judgment of her strong-willed protector.  Looking back on it now, it was hard to believe she had ever thought of her hanyou powers as anything but a blessing.  After barely a month, they were as much a part of her as her heart or her brain.  

 

“Trust me, being a hanyou ain’t a privilege most days.”

 

Inuyasha had been wrong about that.  In her short time as a hanyou, Kagome had experienced some of the things that had driven Inuyasha to make that claim.  She had been distrusted, reviled, insulted…but surely those hostile villages were the exception, right?  Surely Inuyasha’s life hadn’t been a living hell?  How much worse could it get?  No, she spent most days in the company of her friends, and genuinely enjoyed having youkai blood.  Being a hanyou was a privilege a majority of the time. 

 

“We both have blood on our hands, but it wasn’t really us killing anybody!”

 

She grimaced.  Her biggest worry these days was losing control and murdering someone else.  She would never completely forgive herself for what happened, but she had moved on.  With the support of her friends, she had realized that it wasn’t really her fault; the blame rested on close-minded individuals who would persecute a child just because he was youkai. 

 

“You find people who accept you for who you are, and you care about what they think.  The rest of the world can go to hell.” 

 

Kagome smiled as she thought of that day, when Inuyasha had reassured her after Kouga’s cruel reaction to her metamorphosis.  Ultimately, Inuyasha was her greatest inspiration.  He was so strong, yet blessed with a pure heart, one he tried his best to conceal behind a mask of gruffness.  But she knew it was there; she saw it whenever he let his guard down, whenever he dropped his tough façade.  And that seemed to happen more often since she became a hanyou.  How much had she learned about him since that fateful day?  How close had they become?  How many times had they kissed, or come tantalizingly close? 

 

She didn’t want to go back to the way things used to be, with an impassable distance between them and Kikyou hanging over both their heads.  Somehow, after their last confrontation, the dead priestess didn’t seem like such an obstacle anymore.  It didn’t feel so foolish to dream that Inuyasha loved her as much as she loved him.  There were no guarantees; Inuyasha would still probably end up joining his true love in hell.  Life rarely offered certainties, but Kagome was faced with one now.  Changing back into a human would be a mistake.  How she knew this was a mystery, but she knew it as surely as she knew her own name.  She wanted this, to remain a hanyou; she truly, truly wanted this. 

 

“Ok, Inuyasha.  I’ll be fine, as long as you accept me…”

 

“Feh!  You don’t even need to ask.”

 

Her smile turned brilliant as Inuyasha’s words came back to her.  She knew, beyond a doubt, that her friends and family would accept her no matter which form she chose.  With her decision made, all that remained was to inform them that their entire quest over the past few weeks had been for nothing.  Her face fell slightly; Inuyasha would probably be pretty pissed about that.  He seemed dead set on restoring her to full humanity, but she was sure he could be persuaded.  In the end, he would accept her decision.  So why was she feeling so nervous all of a sudden? 

 

“Inuyasha?” she asked, having finally gathered up her courage around noon. 

 

“Yeah, wench?”

 

“Um…” she began, before steeling her resolve.  “I’ve made my decision.  I want to stay a hanyou.” 

 

Several gasps sounded from behind her, but Inuyasha didn’t turn around at first.  He froze, not making a sound as the air around them seemed to take on a foreboding chill. 

 

“No.” 

 

That single-syllable answer sparked a disturbing mixture of fear and anger in Kagome.  She had expected him to argue, maybe yell at her, but this cold shoulder was too much.  He wouldn’t even look at her, as if she was below him. 

 

“No?” she questioned incredulously.  “That’s it?  Just ‘no?’” 

 

 

“Who do you think you are?!” Kagome yelled.  “You have no right t—” 

 

Snarling, Inuyasha finally spun to face her, the rage in his expression causing Kagome to take an involuntary step back.  Perhaps if she had been calmer herself, she would have noticed the other emotions hovering just below the surface. 

 

“NO, wench!  You are NOT staying a hanyou!” 

 

“Inuyasha!  Be reasonable!” 

 

“Reasonable?  Fuck, bitch!  What happened to preferring death over being a ‘filthy hanyou?’” 

 

Kagome gasped, having in all honestly forgotten about that remark.  “I…you know I didn’t mean that!  I’ve never judged you for being what you are!” 

 

“Feh!  It don’t matter.  This ain’t up for debate, bitch!”

 

“Inuyasha,” Kagome said darkly, “it’s my body.  You can’t tell me what to do with MY body!” 

 

Inuyasha shrunk back slightly, and for a moment Kagome thought she had gotten through to him.  That is, until his next words passed his lips. 

 

“You’re right.  I can’t make you change back.  But there’s only room for one hanyou in this pack, and it ain’t you.” 

 

Kagome felt tears spring to her eyes.  Never in a million years had she expected to receive such an ultimatum from the man she loved.  Nearly heartbroken, she tried once more to plead with him. 

 

“What happened to accepting me no matter what, without question?” 

 

A long, uncomfortable moment passed, and Inuyasha’s face hardened into a nearly unrecognizable mask before he finally spoke in a voice barely above a whisper. 

 

“I lied.”

Chapter Text

“I lied.” 

 

Upon hearing those two dreadful words, the remnants of Kagome’s fractured heart shattered into countless pieces.  It was a gut check, one which tore the breath from her lungs and the life from her soul.  And with the demise of her heart went the only thing keeping her from recognizing the reality of the situation.  Inuyasha didn’t accept her.  He didn’t love her; he didn’t even like her.  Who knows, perhaps he even hated her.  He had given her an ultimatum, not in as many words but still clear as day: ‘change back into a human or go live in your time, and never return to the past.’  Briefly, she considered acquiescing to his demand, changing herself to be what he wanted her to be.  But it wasn’t that simple anymore.  Could she ever look at him the same way again?  Could she ever forgive him?  Was their friendship ruined?  Had there even been a friendship to begin with?  Could she…still love him?  The answer to the final question was frustratingly clear.  Deep down, she knew that even after the pain he had caused her, the feelings she held for him remained constant.  Maybe that was what hurt the most. 

 

Crippling uncertainty descended upon her.  She had been wrong about Inuyasha, about his pure heart.  What else was she wrong about?  Did Sango feel the same way?  What about Miroku, or Shippou?  She didn’t know, and it was killing her.  But she did know one thing, and that knowledge cast a small light into the shadows shrouding her existence.  The person she had known longer than any other, the one being she was absolutely certain would never reject her.  No matter what she did or who she became, she would always be her mother’s daughter.  Mama…  Yes, her mother would accept her.  That’s what she needed now, someone to grab her hand, prevent her from falling into the bottomless pit she was teetering over.  With a choked sob, she was gone, heading for sanctity, the arms of her angel. 

 

* * *

 

 “I lied.” 

 

Inuyasha knew exactly what he was saying.  He expected Kagome to be crushed, but nothing could have prepared him for the look of absolute misery that settled on her features.  All of the life seemed to leave her eyes, the dejection and sorrow he saw swimming in their depths cutting him to the core.  It nearly shattered his resolve.  But he forced himself to remain where he was, to not rush over to her, hold her, comfort her.  He was almost relieved when she turned and ran, probably heading for the well.  At least there she would be safe from him, his betrayal, and his deceit. 

 

He had lied.  He had lied straight to her face.  In that moment, the term ‘bastard’ would not begin to describe how he felt about himself.  He was the most colossal jackass the world had ever seen or ever would see.  He had lied.  To Kagome.  He had told her he could not accept her. 

 

It was killing him, this one untruth, but it was necessary.  How else could he prevent her from making the single biggest mistake of her life?  How else could he stop her from living the life of a hanyou, the kind of existence which would break her fragile spirit?  He had always known it might come to this.  He loved his own hanyou powers, and the thought of giving them up filled him with revulsion.  How could he be surprised that Kagome had reached the same opinion? 

 

But there was a major difference between them—he had grown up a hanyou.  From birth, he had been baptized by fire in a world that loathed his kind, and often tried to wipe it from existence.  Neither youkai nor humans welcomed his presence.  He was cast adrift on his own private sea, riding the stormy currents alone for the longest time.  When he met Kikyou, the rain let up, and the furious roar of thunder subsided.  Only recently had the clouds parted, allowing the sun to shine through for the first time since his mother’s death.  Now, the storm clouds were again gathering overhead, blotting out the light once more.  He was very close to a return to the crippling loneliness, the unfathomable darkness. 

 

It was indescribable, this loneliness, the years upon years of solitude where his only interaction with others involved defending himself from attack.  That was how he had lived, and understanding what he’d been through required that one actually experience it firsthand.  He could not allow Kagome to subject herself to that. 

 

Inuyasha was no fool, and he knew Kagome well enough to be able to predict how she would react if he just came out and told her that.  She would probably brush him off, thinking that she could deal with it, and that being a hanyou couldn’t possibly be as bad as it sounded.  But it was!  For the longest time, being hanyou was the worst kind of curse.  Kagome had no idea what it was really like.  The worst she had done was kill one human in defending a dear friend.  Big fucking deal!  How many humans had perished by his claws over the years?  That last night in his home village came to mind…and he had been just a child.

 

No, Kagome had no idea how fucked up the world was, how much shit got dumped on the head of every hanyou each and every day.  And he didn’t want her to find out!  She was a naïve human wench, and he wanted her to stay that way.  He had been telling the truth when he told her he would always accept her, but that wasn’t the issue here.  The problem was that Kagome couldn’t make an informed decision.  She had no idea how hard life could get for a hanyou, and he lacked the power to tell her.  His experience defied description, at least to a man of few words such as himself.  So his hand had been forced; he had to give her another reason to become human again.  He had to lie to her.  Now, as he watched her vanish through the trees, he wondered if perhaps he hadn’t hurt her more than all the insults and bigots of the world ever could. 

 

He stared unblinkingly at the dirt for an interminable amount of time, almost wishing the earth would simply swallow him up.  When green cloth entered his vision, he finally raised his gaze, meeting the enraged, tear-filled eyes of the taijiya who had become his companion.  She reared back and slapped him.  Hard.  His face snapped to the side, and he silently rejoiced in the sting.  Pain was good; it meant he hadn’t gone completely numb. 

 

“Bastard,” Sango snarled, using every ounce of restraint she possessed to keep her temper in check.  “I would beat the shit out of now if I didn’t think it would hurt Kagome-chan even more.” 

 

Inuyasha could tell she was dead serious, but didn’t reply.  He closed his eyes, not needing them to know what his friends thought of him.  Shippou said he hated him, and even Kirara hissed at him.  Then they left, leaving him standing there alone.  It was nothing he didn’t deserve, or already think about himself.  Not for the first time, he wondered if he’d made the right decision in forcing Kagome to revert to her human form.  At the very least, he’d gone about it the wrong way.  But at the time, he hadn’t been able to think of another way to get that stubborn wench to do what he knew was best for her.  He did know what was best for her, didn’t he? 

 

Questions bombarded his conscience as he slinked along the path, following his friends toward Kaede’s village.  They reached the old miko’s hut by nightfall, but Inuyasha did not enter.  Instead, he wandered in the forest, eventually finding his way to Goshinboku.  The old tree didn’t seem as welcoming as it usually did; he did not feel worthy to leap into its branches.  So he slouched down against the trunk, watching as the sun slowly made its way below the canopy.  The creatures of the night stirred, emerging from their nests as the day-dwellers retired for the evening.  How could nature be so tranquil when his soul was in such turmoil?  To make matters worse, he received a visitor just before dusk.  The annoying jingle of Miroku’s staff seemed incredibly loud in Inuyasha’s ears, though perhaps that was because he was alone.  Sounds always seemed more piercing when one was by himself. 

 

“You gonna yell at me too, bouzu?” he asked without turning to face him.  Miroku sat down cross-legged beside him and heaved a heavy sigh before replying. 

 

“No, Inuyasha.  You look like you’ve been berating yourself enough.” 

 

“Keh.” 

 

“I merely wish to understand.  Why?” 

 

It was a simple question with a simple answer.  Why did he tell Kagome he could not accept her?  And yet, it was one of the most complicated queries he had ever contemplated.  ‘Why?’  Why did he constantly hurt Kagome?  Why was he such a jackass?  Why…ANYTHING!  Inuyasha’s head hurt, though once again he welcomed the pain.  He did not, however, offer his companion any response.  After waiting several moments, Miroku tried again. 

 

“Why, Inuyasha?  Can you honestly tell me that you would reject Kagome-sama because she refuses to become human again?” 

 

Inuyasha thought about lying.  He thought about taking off.  He even thought about telling the wiseass monk to go to hell.  But in the end, he didn’t do any of these things.  Miroku was the only person in the world willing to talk to him at the moment, and he would be an even greater fool if he alienated him too.  Besides, maybe his rationale would seem less ridiculous if he said it aloud. 

 

“It ain’t that, bou—Miroku,” he admitted, his choice of moniker reflecting the seriousness of the conversation.  “I…she…”

 

“Just spit it out, Inuyasha.  I am willing to listen to you, but even my patience is wearing thin.” 

 

Inuyasha winced at the chastisement, but again, it was nothing he didn’t deserve.  Swallowing his pride, and the sizeable lump in his throat, he attempted to explain himself. 

 

“She…she needs to change back, Miroku.” 

 

“Why?”

 

“S-she just does, okay?” 

 

“Not a chance, Inuyasha.  You’re going to have to do better than that.” 

 

“Dammit!  You people have no idea what it’s like being a hanyou!  None of you!”  By now, Inuyasha had stood and was pacing back and forth in agitation.  “Do you have any idea how many close calls I had?  How many times where if I had been just a little slower, or weaker, I would have been killed?  Sometimes…sometimes I even thought of taking my own life,” he mumbled quietly.  Snapping out of his daze, he yelled, “I won’t let Kagome live like that!” 

 

“You are right,” Miroku answered softly.  “None of us really know what your past was like, including Kagome-sama.  And it doesn’t matter.” 

 

“What did you say?” Inuyasha growled low, with venom in his voice. 

 

“I said your past doesn’t matter.”

 

“Why you—”

 

“Inuyasha!” Miroku yelled suddenly, finally directing his gaze at the hanyou.  His eyes glowed with unbridled fierceness, and his lips were drawn in a tight line.  “Right now, I’m your only friend in the world.  So you’d better sit down and shut up!” 

 

Thoroughly stunned, Inuyasha complied.  Miroku took a deep breath to calm himself.  “Now, what happened to you, how you grew up; these things are unimportant to Kagome-sama’s decision.  Your circumstances are entirely different.  How can you be so sure Kagome-sama will experience what you did?” 

 

Inuyasha frowned, his eyebrows drawing together in consternation.  He had honestly never considered how different his past situation was from Kagome’s. 

 

“Let me put it another way,” Miroku continued.  “Do you intend to let anything bad happen to Kagome-sama?  Are you going to allow anyone to persecute her, to do to her any of the horrible things that were done to you?”

 

“Fuck no.” 

 

“You see?  Kagome-sama is already vastly better off than you were.  She has you to protect her, and the rest of us as well.  She has a loving family to return to should anything happen to us.  And she is strong; she alone defeated two youkai today who have been giving us trouble for weeks.  She has great inner strength as well, shown by how she dealt with killing that villager.  Kagome-sama isn’t going to break because some strangers insult her or try to hurt her because of what she is.  Inuyasha, she is strong.” 

 

Inuyasha considered the monk’s words carefully; Miroku had just given voice to the thoughts that had been swimming around in the back of his mind for the past several hours.  Was it really alright?  Was it possible that Kagome could remain a hanyou and still live a happy life?  Could he protect her?  Did he even need to protect her, or was she strong enough to protect herself?  Kagome was as willful and resilient as he, and he had survived…

 

“And besides,” Miroku continued, “it is Kagome-sama’s decision.  We can only advise her, but the ultimate choice is hers, even if her decision is the worst she will ever make.  Personally…well, let me tell you something my father told me long ago.  He said ‘sometimes in the winds of change we find our true direction.’  I don’t think I ever fully understood what he meant, but Kagome’s transformation has opened my eyes.  This was meant to happen, Inuyasha, as surely as you two were destined to find each other.” 

 

For a long time, Inuyasha said nothing, but Miroku gave him time to ponder.  Everything the monk said made perfect sense.  And it was easy to accept, because his conscience had been trying to tell him the same things.  But there was still a small part of him that rebelled, the part that was submerged in his past.  He pushed it down; it was time for the truth.  He would always accept Kagome.  She was his best friend, perhaps more, and he would never turn his back on her again.  He would support her in her decision without objection, and do his best to protect her from the ramifications.  He sighed, slumping in relief as a great weight was lifted from his shoulders. 

 

“Alright,” was all he said, but it was enough.  Smiling, Miroku patted him on the back amiably. 

 

“When will you go talk to her?” the monk asked. 

 

Inuyasha shrugged.  “Dunno.  I’ll probably give her some time to cool down first.” 

 

Miroku nodded.  “Just don’t wait too long.  Sango has been polishing hiraikotsu, and I don’t think I can keep her from coming after you if you drag this out too long.” 

 

“Thanks for the warning.”

 

“Anytime, my friend.”  The serious part of the discussion long over, Miroku decided to have a little fun.  “So…which Kagome to you prefer?”

 

“I don’t.”  And it was true; he really didn’t prefer Kagome one way or the other.  She was just Kagome. 

 

“Well, I suppose there isn’t too much difference in appearance, at least not below the neck.  Though you would be able to judge that better than I…” 

 

Inuyasha choked, and Miroku clapped him on the back as the hanyou sputtered, glaring at him the whole time.  The effect was dampened by the redness of his face, however. 

 

“Damn bouzu!  Why am I even listening to you?  A fucking hentai who can’t keep his woman from leaving him!” 

 

That comment sucked all the amusement right out of the atmosphere, as Miroku’s eyes widened, then narrowed. 

 

“What are you talking about, Inuyasha?” he queried sternly.  For a moment Inuyasha regretted his remark, but then he remembered his promise to Kagome.  This was as good a time as any for a discussion.  Though there was no harm in playing hard to get first.

 

“Hm?  What did I say?  I can’t seem to remember.”

 

“Inuyasha, I have been reigning in the desire to whack you over the head with my staff for most of the day, so it isn’t wise to test me.” 

 

Inuyasha snickered.  Okay, so maybe there was harm in being evasive.  The topic of conversation turned his mood somber before he spoke. 

 

“Sango is thinking about leaving you, bouzu.  She’s considering not bearing your children.” 

 

“WHAT?!” Miroku yelled, utterly shocked.  “B-but she—”

 

“Yeah, I know what she said that day!  What I’m saying is that she’s just about changed her mind.” 

 

“But why…”  Miroku didn’t even bother to finish that sentence; the answer was painfully obvious.  I had no idea my womanizing was affecting Sango so.  This was definitely something that needed to be addressed between them. 

 

“I see,” he said firmly, “thank you for bringing this to my attention.” 

 

“Feh.  Just remember you didn’t hear it from me.” 

 

“Well then who did I hear it from?” 

 

“No one!  You figured it out on your own with that pea-sized brain of yours.” 

 

“Hm, a bit hypocritical, aren’t we?” 

 

“Hypo-what?”

 

“Never mind.”  Suddenly, another thought occurred to Miroku.  “Hey, how did you know what Sango said that day?” 

 

“Um, the wench was spying on you.” 

 

“Just Kagome-sama?”

 

“Well somebody had to keep her out of trouble!” 

 

“Uh-huh.  Remind me to tell Sango you two were eavesdropping.  I’m sure she’ll be very amused.”

 

“Oh, come on!  Tell me you’ve never spied on us.” 

 

“…”

 

“There!  You’re just as guilty as we are.” 

 

“Have you ever asked Kagome-sama to bear your child?”

 

“Wh—NO!!!”

 

“Then it’s completely different.”

 

“Whatever, bouzu.” 

 

Chuckling, Miroku stood to leave.  “Go talk to her, Inuyasha.  Don’t procrastinate,” he said as he departed.  Miroku made his way back to Kaede’s hut.  His mood was just as bad as it had been when he left, but for completely different reasons.  Could Sango really have so little faith in him?  And could he blame her for it? 

 

“Did you talk some sense into that asshole?” the taijiya asked as he came through the doorway. 

 

“No, I just helped him find the wisdom within himself.  Please don’t be too hard on him.  He has a good heart; he can’t help it that he’s a huge baka.” 

 

Sango snorted, and went back to sharpening hiraikotsu.  Her movements were tense and jerky, and Miroku could tell she was still immensely worried about Kagome.  Now was definitely not the time to confront her insecurities concerning their relationship.  Sighing, he settled against the wall, readying himself for a long night. 

 

* * *

 

Kagome slowed to a stop as she neared the old well.  The physical exertion had cleared her head, and now she felt quite foolish.  Not for overreacting; no, she definitely had every reason to be heartbroken.  But she did feel like a fool for making those awful assumptions about her other friends.  Sango, Miroku, and Shippou hadn’t given her any reason to doubt their acceptance of her hanyou form.  But her confidence in Inuyasha, the person she thought she knew better than any other, had been shaken to the core.  She figured it was only natural to distrust her other friends in that situation.  Natural, but wrong.  She would apologize to them, and hopefully they wouldn’t hold it against her. 

 

As for running, she had been afraid, terrified really.  And this wasn’t a youkai you could slay, or an enemy you could defeat by standing and fighting.  Fleeing had seemed like the only option at the time, and it probably was the best thing she could have done.  The thought of remaining in his presence after he spoke those words sickened her.  No, she needed some time alone, to reflect if nothing else.  Looking at the sky, she saw that it was still mid-afternoon.  She came here to take comfort in her mother’s embrace, but now she didn’t particularly feel like facing anybody.  So she wandered into the trees, heading no place in particular and not caring either.  Her nose would guide her back to the village, just as it had led her there in the first place.  It was some time before she stopped, leaping into a tree near a small stream.  The water cascading gently down the rocks resonated with her for some reason, and she found the soft gurgling sounds oddly soothing. 

 

Her thoughts were anything but.  Inuyasha’s behavior still baffled her.  How many times in the past had he called her a ‘weak human wench,’ or insulted her on that general theme?  And now he wanted her to return to being a helpless mortal woman?  That was the height of hypocrisy!  Granted, in recent months, even before her transformation, those comments had become less frequent.  But still, she couldn’t think of a legitimate reason why he would prefer her as a human instead of a hanyou.  What right did he have to order her to change?  She would never ask him to change for her!  It probably hadn’t even occurred to him that the dagger could be used to make both of them human.

 

But again, she would never want him to change.  She loved him just the way he was.  My modern friends were right…I should have just kicked him to the curb and gone out with Hojo a long time ago.  Yet, the thought of doing that filled her with revulsion.  Damn my feelings!  Why did I have to fall for an asshole like Inuyasha?! 

 

Time passed quickly for our frustrated miko, and it wasn’t until the owls began hooting that she realized how late it had gotten.  The last of the sun’s rays were just barely clinging to the forest, and she thanked the now visible stars for her feline night vision.  She had officially exhausted her mental capacity for thought for the day, and a nice hot bath sounded divine.  Unfortunately, fate had other plans.  As she was slowly making her way back toward the well, a brilliant blue ball of light shot out of nowhere.  She dodged at the last moment, and turned into the direction of the attack.  For a full minute she saw nothing, then a hulking figure revealed itself.  It was humanoid in shape but little else.  It stood three to four times taller than she, and had dappled brown skin resembling the bark of the surrounding trees.  Even its green eyes blended in with the foliage, but its camouflage was no defense now that Kagome’s keen vision had locked onto it.  It moved sluggishly, at a speed even humans would be able to outrun.  It was clear the creature would catch nothing to eat if not for the blast of energy it could apparently exude.  When it spoke, its voice was gravelly but contained a certain intelligence, one that belied the creature’s ugliness and sluggishness. 

 

“You dodged that, huh?” it said.  “So you’re not a normal human.”  Taking a closer look at Kagome, it smirked, revealing dual rows of large, sharp teeth.  “A hanyou, huh?  You don’t see many of those around.  Good!  I was hungering for youkai blood tonight.” 

 

“You eat humans?” Kagome posed dangerously. 

 

The youkai shrugged.  “Humans, youkai; I eat whatever I want.” 

 

Kagome’s eyebrow twitched, her anger toward a certain hanyou rapidly transferring toward the youkai before her.  With the mood she was in, she had no problem purifying some arrogant, ugly bastard who liked to snack on humans, especially when the nearest settlement was Kaede’s village. 

 

“So, hanyou,” the youkai continued, “do you intend to fight me or run away?” 

 

Kagome’s didn’t answer, at least not verbally. She suddenly dashed forward, easily avoiding the energy ball the youkai hastily threw at her from its mouth.  She leapt up to his chest, raking her claws down the surface.  To her surprise, the weapons didn’t penetrate, nor did the purifying energy they emitted do anything more than inflict minor burns.  Kagome jumped away, narrowly eluding the massive open palm the beast had attempted to smack her with, as a man might swat an annoying fly.  Now the advantage of surprise was squandered, and the youkai kept Kagome at bay, continuously firing those balls of shimmering blue light.  Kagome didn’t know what would happen if she got hit, but she knew it wouldn’t be good.  Eventually, as the misses became nearer, and the close calls became more frequent, Kagome realized she was in over her head.  She didn’t have her bow and arrows with her, as they had been discarded at the well before she wandered into the forest.  She deeply regretted that decision now.  Deciding to make her escape and call in reinforcements, she leapt up to a low-hanging tree branch, intending to use the natural cover of the canopy to conceal her movements and get away.   

 

Unfortunately, her chosen branch, although seemingly sturdy, had been eaten away on the inside by insects of some kind.  A foreboding crack was all the warning she got before her platform fell away, leaving her to plummet toward the ground.  The youkai didn’t even give her a chance to land on her feet, nailing her with a clean shot in the chest as she fell.  The blast flung Kagome backward, and she skidded to a stop on her back.  Surprisingly, there was no pain.  She got up and dusted herself off, eyeing the youkai warily.  He smirked and settled on his haunches, as if waiting for something.

 

Then she felt it; a numbness that started in her toes and rapidly worked its way up her body.  She could no longer move anything the sensation touched, as if the nerves connecting her brain to her body were being systematically shut down.  Already her feet felt disconnected from her, as if they were frozen solid.  She could see them there, but they might as well have been attached to someone else.  Panic set in quickly for Kagome; never before had she felt so helpless.  So, without thinking, she did what she had always done when she found herself in grave danger.  It was an automatic response, one that was just about hired-wired into her consciousness. 

 

“INUYASHA!!!!”

Chapter Text

“INUYASHA!!!!”

 

As soon as the cry left her lips, Kagome regretted it.  How could she possibly have called out his name after all the angst he had put her through in the past few hours?  What the hell was wrong with her, shouting for the man who had ripped out her heart and stomped it into a puddle of goo?  But it had seemed so natural, calling for her savior, the one who had always been there when she really needed him, albeit in some cases more promptly than others.  This time, however, she found herself truly doubting whether he would even come at all.  Was their relationship already so fractured that he would forsake her in her hour of need?  No.  Surely, it was not.  He had promised to protect her, and Inuyasha was a man of his word.  Even if saving her was nothing more than an obligation to him, he would do it.  This she had to believe, or else completely give up hope that they would ever be together, and to do that would crush what was left of her already wounded soul. 

 

Regardless of the reason, she could not take back her desperate cry now.  Nor could she call for anyone else, not that they would hear her with their non-canine ears anyway.  She was lying in the dirt, face down, completely paralyzed.  Her heart still pumped—very quickly—her lungs still heaved, and her eyes still blinked, but all voluntary function was cut off.  She couldn’t even twitch a finger, nor was she able to summon her miko powers.  Evidently the energy attack had shorted those out as well.  She heard the youkai lumbering closer, chuckling as he came. 

 

“Tough break, hanyou.  If it will make you feel better, I’ll knock that tree down after I’m through eating you.”  The youkai found this very amusing, and spent a good minute laughing at his own joke.  It pissed Kagome off to no end, but you wouldn’t know it by her blank expression.  Finally the mirthful rumbling stopped, and Kagome found herself clutched loosely in a large, clawed hand.  The youkai brought her up to eye level, turning her over and looking at her from every angle. 

 

“I hope your ‘Inuyasha’ friend gets here soon.  I don’t think you’ll be enough to satisfy me this evening.”  The youkai shrugged nonchalantly.  “Ah, well, what can I do?” 

 

He’s so casual about this… was Kagome’s thought as the youkai lowered her toward its gaping maw.  Inuyasha, where are you? 

 

* * *

 

“INUYASHA!!!!”

 

Inuyasha bolted upright.  That cry had been faint, but he would recognize it anywhere.  Shit!  He cursed as he dashed to the well, Kagome’s scent trail confirming what he now knew.  She didn’t go home?  Dammit!  I should have checked!  And now Kagome was in danger—grave danger by the sound of it—and he wasn’t there to protect her.  He darted into the forest, following her scent.  Hang on, Kagome! 

 

His progress was slowed by the fact that the trail was several hours old, and fading into the smells of the surrounding forest.  He had to be methodical; he couldn’t risk losing the trail.  As a result, it was several minutes before he came to the spot where Kagome’s scent abruptly ended and that of a strange youkai began.  The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as he scanned the trees, searching for the owner of that malevolent odor.  All of his senses were tuned to the finest movement, and he needed every one of them to dodge the ball of energy that came flying at him from behind.  He rolled into a crouch, spinning to face his attacker. 

 

“Another hanyou, huh?  You must be Inuyasha,” the youkai observed calmly. 

 

“Where’s Kagome, you ugly bastard?!” 

 

The youkai smirked.  “Kagome, was that her name?  She’s in my belly.” 

 

Inuyasha could only stare slack-jawed.  No...Kagome can’t be…  He couldn’t even think it.  She can’t be gone!  She has to be alive!  All at once the world seemed to close in on him, smothering, suffocating, overwhelming him with despair.  His soul cried out in horror, but wretched fate gave no reply.  Hot tears sprung to his eyes, but he pushed them back.  He would grieve later—for the rest of his life, perhaps—but vengeance would come first.  He tore Tetsusaiga from its sheath, only his iron grip on the sword preventing his youkai from completely taking over.  As it was, his eyes flashed rapidly between crimson and amber. 

 

“Fucking bastard.  I’ll kill you!” 

 

“I’d put that sword away if I were you, hanyou.  Who knows?  She might still be alive in there.  But if she is, then you’re running out of time.”  The youkai chuckled darkly, grinning widely as his opponent sheathed Tetsusaiga. 

 

With renewed hope and determination in his heart, Inuyasha’s youkai blood receded.  He could think clearly again, and realized in frustration that he couldn’t risk hurting Kagome, if there was even the slightest chance she was still alive.  That meant no Tetsusaiga, no Hijin Ketsusou, and being very careful with the Sankon-Tetsusou.  That youkai looked like it had a tough hide, so this was going to be difficult.  But failure wasn’t an option.  A slow victory wasn’t an option either.  He had to get Kagome out now, before she was digested alive.  With a desperate cry, he hurled himself toward his enemy. 

 

* * *

 

It was dark, but not cold.  In fact, the inside of the youkai’s stomach was uncomfortably warm.  The youkai had swallowed Kagome head first, but somehow she had gotten turned around on the way down its esophagus and wound up sitting more or less upright in its stomach.  Now she could do little more than slump against the inner wall, submerged to the neck in the worst smelling stuff she had ever seen.  The stomach acid positively reeked, and the air was stale, barely breathable.  But asphyxiation was the least of her worries.  Already her clothes were sizzling, starting to dissolve, and her skin was beginning to tingle.  In a scant few minutes, that tingle developed into a sting, then an agonizing burn, as if each individual layer of skin was melted away.  Not even her face was spared, as the bubbling cocktail constantly splashed her.  A human would probably have already perished.  Her hanyou blood was proving both a blessing and a curse; her tougher hide would allow her to stay alive in here longer, but that in turn would subject her to more pain.  If she could somehow survive the ordeal, however, it would all be worth it. 

 

Her hopes were raised when she heard the youkai speak, followed by a very familiar voice from outside.  Inuyasha!  Her ears, sharp as ever, could make out the conversation clearly.  That bastard!  He’s using me to force Inuyasha to—OW!!!  The pain was getting worse, in some places more than others.  The area between her legs was on fire, and not in the good way.  She could only hope none of the acid got inside her; she didn’t want to be sterilized for life.  But you couldn’t have children if you were dead, and she didn’t know how much longer her body would hold out.  Inuyasha, please hurry…

 

* * *

 

Inuyasha growled in frustration as he continued to dodge the seemingly endless barrage of energy blasts the youkai was putting out.  Shit, how the fuck am I supposed to get through?  He had already tried blocking with Tetsusaiga, but the shots were too powerful.  They burst into an explosion when they hit the sword, and he found he couldn’t block more than one in rapid succession.  Suddenly, inspiration struck, and he stopped maneuvering.  He stood still, facing his opponent with sword raised, waiting for the right moment. 

 

“Heh.  Giving up already, hanyou?  So be it!” the youkai yelled as he let loose an especially large ball. 

 

Inuyasha smirked.  Perfect.  Just before impact, he shoved Tetsusaiga into the ground and leapt backward.  The energy ball hit the blade and detonated in a great flash of light, so bright that the youkai had to shield his eyes.  This is what Inuyasha had been counting on.  The instant after impact, he had dashed to his left, taking cover in the trees.  Using every ounce of stealth he possessed, he continued to work his way around the youkai even as his enemy scanned the forest in every direction.  The attack came from behind.  Before the youkai could even react, his head had been neatly severed at the neck by Sankon Tetsusou.  As its eyes darkened to lifelessness, the detached head barely had time to repeat the last words of countless youkai before him. 

 

“No…how could I…defeated by a hanyou…” 

 

The body collapsed forward in a great crash.  Wasting no time, Inuyasha sliced open the belly and stomach, not caring in the least as acid and gore spilled out onto his feet.  Sticking his whole upper body in the organ, he found her.  She was an absolute mess.  Her skin was badly discolored, and it appeared as if several layers had been melted away.  His prime concern at the moment, however, was determining whether she was still breathing.  When she inhaled deeply and opened her eyes, his knees nearly buckled in all-consuming relief.   But something was wrong; her eyes were still clouded with agony.  When the palms of his hands started to tingle, he realized why.  Shit!  She’s still covered in acid!  Gathering her in his arms and urgently sniffing the air, he darted toward the nearest water source. 

 

It was only a small pond, but it would have to do.  He charged in without removing his clothes, submerging Kagome in the cool liquid.  After a few seconds, he lifted her out and sniffed, grimacing when the scent of acid still clung to her skin.  Evidently a simple dip in water would not be enough to remove it.  He started with her left arm, rubbing the tortured skin as gently as he could, but still knowing that it must hurt like a son of a bitch.  He was almost glad Kagome was unable to move—he had figured out what the purpose of the youkai’s energy attack was—because at least he wouldn’t have to see her face contort in anguish.  And as he massaged her skin, he noticed for the first time that she was naked.  Oh, sure, her lack of clothing had registered in his consciousness before, but it had been merely a passing observation in the frenzy of activity that had accompanied her liberation from the youkai’s stomach.  Now, he gulped audibly as the situation fully set in.  He was holding Kagome, totally nude, in his arms.  She was completely helpless, and her entire body needed to be cleansed of the last vestiges of acid that stubbornly clung to her skin.  Whoa, boy… 

 

For Kagome, from Inuyasha’s hands lanced the worst pain she had ever experienced.  But afterwards, after he had cleaned a particular area, the sting lessened noticeably.  She found herself relaxing slightly in his embrace as he took some of the pain away.  He carefully scrubbed her arms, legs, back, and face.  Of course, it was hard not to notice that he was avoiding several particular areas of her body, and she realized with a sinking feeling that they needed his attention too. 

 

“Kagome…” he spoke into the awkward silence, his face flushing hotly.  Kagome felt the blood rush to her own cheeks as she nodded her consent, having regained some very basic voluntary functions in the time since her rescue.  She still couldn’t speak, but her nervous system was starting to come back online as the effects of the youkai’s paralyzing energy wore off.  While still in the stomach, she had been able to hold her breath and squeeze her eyes shut when the youkai’s headless body toppled over. 

 

Inuyasha began with her buttocks and the backs of her thighs, probably the “safest” starting point.  After all, Miroku had grabbed her ass at least a handful of times, albeit not hand-to-skin.  Next he worked on her belly, massaging the soft skin.  He couldn’t help but be impressed with the hard muscle he could feel pulsing underneath.  Kagome had certainly become physically stronger, even before her hanyou transformation.  It was definitely a change for the better.  From her abdomen he could go in one of two directions, neither of which were very “safe.”  He went up first, intent on procrastinating as long as possible on her most intimate area.  As he cleaned her breasts, Kagome couldn’t help but reflect that she’d always fantasized about Inuyasha touching her like this.  Never in these circumstances of course, and she had always imagined feeling pleasure from the action.  There was nothing erotic about his touch now, though.  He was soothing an ache, nothing more.  The look of embarrassed concentration on his face was adorable, and she might have been amused if she wasn’t so mortified herself.  But it had to be done; her demon blood wouldn’t really start to heal her until all traces of the stomach acid were gone. 

 

Finished, Inuyasha trailed his hand down her body, coming to a halt on her lower belly.  He locked eyes with her again, nearly stumbling at the look of absolute trust she gave him.  He was utterly humbled that even though she was totally powerless, and currently had every reason to doubt him, she still had faith in him to take care of her, to protect her.  He would do nothing to betray her trust.  Not breaking eye contact, he moved his hand between her legs and started to rub.  Again, there was nothing arousing about the action, for either of them.  Kagome’s pain soared to a whole new level, but after he was through she felt much better.  She was still very aware that her entire body had been doused in acid, but at least now the sting had dulled to a throb.  She could feel her youkai blood humming in her veins, and her instincts were telling her she would make a full recovery.  A human would probably be scarred for life, unable to have an orgasm or children, but she was confident that even her most sensitive flesh would heal.  And it seemed that none of the acid had gotten inside her; the interior of her vagina was just about the only part of her body that didn’t hurt. 

 

“Do you feel any more acid on you?” Inuyasha asked.  Kagome shook her head and even managed a small, grateful smile.  It was returned, though the other hanyou quickly looked away in embarrassment.  Climbing out of the spring, he shrugged off his haori and shook it violently in one hand, getting as much of the water off it as he could before wrapping it around her.  Next he set her down and moved a few paces away, squatting and shaking like a dog.  Kagome giggled silently, still making do without a functioning larynx.  Inuyasha glanced at her, and she gasped at the emotion in his amber orbs.  Relief warred with guilt and sympathy, and Kagome was suddenly very glad she didn’t have a mirror handy.  Kami, I must look like hell.  Well, I guess you look how you feel.

 

Inuyasha gathered her up without a word, starting the trek toward the well.  At least, that’s where she thought he was taking her.  She couldn’t really be sure, especially when he kept stopping to sniff certain plants, stuffing some of them in his haori.  After maybe a half hour of this, Kagome was starting to get more than a little agitated.  And she finally had a working voice box to communicate her impatience. 

 

“Inuyasha,” she rasped, startling the hanyou.  “What are you doing?” 

 

“Quiet, wench,” he replied absently.  Kagome huffed, but remained silent.  He seemed to be concentrating pretty hard, and she did trust that he would take care of her.  Finally, perhaps ten minutes later, Inuyasha broke into a run, crossing the remaining distance and leaping into the well.  The time slip activated, and Inuyasha entered her room through the window as he always did.  He crept to the door, inching it open as he scanned the hallway.  Deciding that the coast was clear, he dashed into the bathroom and gently shut and locked the door behind them.  Seeing her own reflection for the first time, Kagome could understand his desire for secrecy.  She didn’t want to face her mother in this condition, either.  It was pretty late, so the older woman was probably in bed, but one could never be sure.  No, they would see her mother in the morning, after they had given her youkai blood a full night to work on her tattered skin. 

 

Inuyasha set her down against the wall and began filling up the tub.  It took him a minute to get the temperature right, but when he did he started adding different plants to the water.  He removed his white kosode, vigorously stirring the mixture as the tub filled up. Kagome couldn’t help but admire him as he worked, the taut muscles of his back rippling sensuously.  He probably didn’t smell her attraction, however, because the entire bathroom started to stink something awful.  Kagome wished fervently for the ability to cover her nose, or chop it off.  She had a sinking feeling…  Sure enough, when Inuyasha was satisfied he turned off the water and faced her. 

 

“Can you get in yourself, wench?” 

 

Kagome tested her legs, but still got no response.  She shook her head.  Sighing, Inuyasha helped her upright and removed his haori as Kagome got her first glimpse at her ‘bath.’ 

 

“W-wait!  You can’t possibly expect me to get in that!” she cried.  The liquid formerly known as water had turned a nasty brown color, like mud on a rainy day. 

 

“Yes you will, wench.  It’s good for burns.  It will help your skin regrow.” 

 

Kagome’s retort died on her lips.  How could she refuse when he went through all the trouble?  Seeing her grudging acceptance, Inuyasha lowered her into the mixture, keeping his eyes respectfully averted the whole time.  

 

It didn’t make sense; warm liquid should feel horrible on scorched skin.  And yet, this stuff actually felt good.  Kagome wondered how many other medicinal remedies Inuyasha knew. 

 

“You gonna be able to hold yourself up if I leave, wench?  It’d be pretty shitty to drown in a bathtub after surviving getting fuckin’ eaten alive.” 

 

Kagome flexed her arms, discovering enough strength in them to keep her head above water.  Her muscles were slowly but surely coming back under her control now. 

 

“Yeah.  Wait!” she called as Inuyasha stood to leave.  “Stay.  Please…” 

 

“I shouldn’t,” he replied uncertainly. 

 

“Come on,” Kagome said, cracking a wry smile, “it’s not like you haven’t seen everything.  Repeatedly.” 

 

Inuyasha flushed scarlet; he had done a lot more than that.  He studied her for a moment, but finally nodded and settled against the wall of the tub with his back to her.  And now that the adrenaline of battle and rescue had faded, and she was just sitting and relaxing, Kagome remembered why she had been alone in the woods in the first place.  Her mood fell instantly.  For just a couple hours, she had forgotten about Inuyasha’s rejection, and things had gone back to normal between them, or as normal as they could be under the circumstances.  How she wished she could permanently erase that conversation from her mind, make it so it never happened.  But unfortunately, she could not.  Well, I got what I wanted.  He saved me, fulfilled his obligation.  Now…  Dammit!  Why did I ask him to stay? 

 

“Inuyasha,” she said, the sorrow in her voice putting the other hanyou on edge.  “You don’t have to stay.  I-I can take care of myself from now on.  Just leave me here.  Go finish the jewel quest with…someone else.”  The name wasn’t spoken aloud, but both of them realized who Kagome was referring to. 

 

“Kagome, I—”

 

“Just go!” Kagome yelled as hot tears sprang to her eyes.  She had vowed not to cry until she was alone, but as usual her hanyou companion had to go and make things difficult.  Though he wasn’t really hers anymore.  Had he ever been? 

 

“No way!” Inuyasha retorted. 

 

Kagome sobbed, and turned away.  But she had little choice except to listen; she couldn’t exactly make him leave in her current condition.  As for Inuyasha, it was time to suck it up and explain himself. 

 

“Look, Kagome, I…what I said before, I didn’t mean it!  Y-you’ve always accepted me just as I am, so I can’t do any less for you.”  Far from reassuring, Inuyasha’s words only hurt Kagome more. 

 

“Dammit, Inuyasha!  Another fucking obligation?!  Is that all there ever was between us?!  You were obligated to find the jewel shards, you were obligated to protect me, and now you’re obligated to accept me as a hanyou?!  Fuck you!  I don’t need your pity, or your bullshit acceptance!  Now leave, and don’t come ba—”

 

“Shut the fuck up bitch!”  Inuyasha cut her off, leaping to his feet.  Kagome’s tongue was stilled by the fierceness of his expression.  His eyes were wide with panic, a desperation she had never seen in him before.  Seeing that she had gone silent, Inuyasha took a deep breath and settled on his haunches.  He anxiously ran his hand through his unruly mane as he gathered his thoughts. 

 

“Kagome, that’s not what I meant.  I…uh…” 

 

Kagome huffed, crossing her arms over her chest and looking away. 

 

“Dammit!  Look at me, Kagome!”  When she refused, he growled, grabbing both her hands and holding them tightly between them.  That did the trick, as she turned shocked and slightly fearful eyes his way.  He gazed intently into those chocolate orbs, hoping to convey to her everything he couldn’t say.  “Kagome…I’m sorry for what I said.  You’re my closest friend, and I will always accept you, even if you do to stay hanyou.  No matter what form you choose, I…I want you by my side.” 

 

Kagome just stared.  A large part of her—the wounded, bitter part—wanted to brush him off, kick him out of her life forever.  But her heart flared back to life at the honesty in his words, and the absolute truth and conviction in his eyes.  He was telling the truth, and that was how he truly felt.  She believed him.  How could she not, when his very soul was bared to her? 

 

“Why?” she asked quietly.  It was one simple question, but in it Inuyasha heard all of the questions he had asked himself a few scant hours ago.  Why did he lie?  Why did he constantly hurt Kagome?  Why was he such a jackass?  He released her hands, slumping down onto the bathroom floor.  He stared forlornly at the tiled surface as he spoke. 

 

“I thought I knew what was best for you.  I didn’t…I didn’t want you to go through what I did.” 

 

“Why didn’t you tell me that?” 

 

“Cause I’m a fuckin’ baka,” he growled.  “I didn’t think you would understand how bad life can be for a hanyou.  So I tried to force you to change.”

 

“Tell me.”

 

Inuyasha shook his head.  “I can’t.  You wouldn’t underst—”

 

“Then help me understand.  Tell me…tell me about your past, Inuyasha.” 

 

He stared at her, grappling with her demand.  Could he really take such a monumentous step?  He never spoke about his past to anyone.  Yet, opening up to Kagome at this moment just seemed right.  He sighed, eyes glazing over as he returned to another, darker time. 

 

“I spent the first eight summers of my life in my mother’s human village.  We were disliked, and no one would associate with us, but we were happy.  Then, she…she fell ill and died.  The villagers said I could stay, on the condition that I looked like them.  When I refused…”  He gulped, the memory just as poignant as ever.  He felt a pressure against his fingers, and looked up to see Kagome’s hand resting on top of his own.  She smiled encouragingly at him, and he grabbed her hand tightly, taking from her the courage to continue. 

 

“When I refused, the villagers locked me in a hut.  I don’t know how many days the beat me, whipped me, but eventually they got tired of waiting and just decided to take my ears by force.  They held me down, and when I saw that katana…something inside me snapped.  By instinct, I lashed out.  It was the first time I used the Hijin Ketsusou.  I ran, and never looked back.  I never found out how many villagers I killed that day.  After that, I was alone.  I wandered for decades, defending myself, getting stronger.  Eventually, I met Kikyou, and you know the rest.” 

 

By the time he was finished, tears were streaming down Kagome’s cheeks.  At least now she understood why he lied to her.  He had hurt her deeply, and her wounded heart wasn’t ready to forgive him, but it would heal.  They would heal, together.  Hesitantly, she reached out her free hand, latching onto the fuzzy appendage that had caused Inuyasha so much trouble, the symbol of his tainted blood to those who would hate him for it.  As she massaged the ear, he leaned into her hand, rumbling in contentment.  After several blissful minutes, he pulled back, breaking the contact. 

 

“Inuyasha, I know it was hard for you, but it will be different for me.  I’m not a child, and I’m not alone.  I have my family, my friends in both eras, and I have you.  I do have you, don’t I?” 

 

Inuyasha grinned timidly.  “You don’t even need to ask.” 

 

Laughing, Kagome lunched herself out of the tub and wrapped her arms around his neck, not caring that water splashed out onto the floor or that she was still naked.  Inuyasha returned the embrace just as tightly, not pulling away until they heard a soft knock on the door. 

 

“Kagome, is that you?” her mother called in a tired voice.  Groaning, Kagome settled back into the water as Inuyasha grabbed a towel to wipe up the mess. 

 

“Yes, Mama, it’s me.  I’m just taking a bath.”

 

“Oh.  What’s that awful smell?” 

 

Kagome grinned to herself.  Oh, sorry Mama, Inuyasha went number two in the hallway.  I’ll be sure to rub his nose in it.  That’s what it smelled like, anyway. 

 

“Just some bath supplies I wanted to try from the feudal era,” she replied, glaring at Inuyasha, who just smirked at her.  That look turned to panic when Mrs. Higurashi posed her next question. 

 

“Is Inuyasha here?” 

 

Kagome could have chuckled at how Inuyasha suddenly went stiff as a board.  Apparently he didn’t want her mother to know he was in here with her.

 

“He stayed on the other side of the well, Mama.” 

 

“Oh.  Well, goodnight then.  I’m going to bed,” Mrs. Higurashi answered through a yawn. 

 

“Goodnight, Mama.” 

 

Inuyasha slumped bonelessly against the wall, and Kagome shook her head.  “Sometimes I think you’re more afraid of my mother than you are of any youkai.” 

 

“Keh!  At least I can kill youkai.  The best I can do against your fucking mother is run and hide.” 

 

“Don’t use ‘fucking’ and refer to my Mama in the same sentence, baka.” 

 

“Feh.  Oi!  Where’d you learn to swear like that, anyway?” 

 

“Just ‘cause I don’t usually swear doesn’t mean I don’t know how.  I just save it for extreme circumstances.” 

 

Inuyasha grimaced; there was nothing about this night that wasn’t extreme.  Kagome was able to get out of the tub herself, but was still shaky on her feet and had to be supported as she dried herself off.  What little modestly she still owned was preserved by Inuyasha averting his eyes again.  He carried her to her bedroom, and she changed into a set of loose-fitting flannel pajamas.  She was feeling much better, but sleeping sans undergarments was probably the best thing for her skin.  That she could even stand to have anything covering her was surprising, but Inuyasha’s medicine and her youkai blood had done wonders to alleviate the worst of the pain.  It would take awhile, but she would probably be able to fall asleep.  Slumber eluded her for at least a half hour; she had too many things on her mind. 

 

“Hey, Inuyasha,” she finally asked. 

 

“Yeah, wench?” the hanyou inquired from his spot under her window. 

 

“Since I’m going to stay a hanyou, could you maybe…teach me how to fight?”  There was a long pause as he thought it over, but eventually the answer came. 

 

“I guess.  As long as you promise not to go charging into battle when you don’t need to.” 

 

“Deal.” 

 

Sometime later, Kagome was almost asleep when Inuyasha rose to his feet and opened the window.  “Where are you going, Inuyasha?” she wondered aloud. 

 

“Don’t worry about it, wench.  I just have to take care of something.  Stay here for a few days.” 

 

With that, he was gone, leaving Kagome to ponder why he needed to leave so suddenly in the middle of the night.  And did he just tell me to stay in my time for a few days?  What gives?!  She tried to stave off the doubt, but it came undeterred.  Rational reassurances could not completely blot out emotional pain, and what Inuyasha said in the bathroom could not mollify her uncertainty concerning what he said that afternoon.  She had been so sure he was telling the truth when he swore he would always accept her, and yet…  But no, if she couldn’t forgive him, the least she could do was not judge him prematurely.  She would wait for his explanation.  That didn’t mean she wouldn’t worry about it, though.  So much for getting any sleep tonight. 

Chapter Text

“Kami, Kagome!  What happened?!” 

 

Kagome sighed; she had known her mother would react like that.  Her youkai healing powers had done wonders on her skin, but she still looked like her whole body had been badly sunburned.  Her face was almost back to normal, having endured the least contact with the acid.  She had been very lucky that none of the noxious stuff had gotten in her eyes.  Even so, it appeared as if she’d spent an entire day lying on the beach without any sunscreen.  Her clueless friends might buy that cover story, but it wasn’t going to cut it with her mother. 

 

“Nothing serious, Mama.  Just a small…accident.” 

 

The older woman frowned skeptically.  “A ‘small accident?’  I thought youkai healed faster than humans.  If this happened yesterday, it must have been pretty bad for you to still look like that.  Now tell me the truth!” 

 

Kagome sighed again.  Her mother was far too observant sometimes.  Seeing no way around it, she related the events of the previous night, starting with the youkai attacking her in the forest.  Her mother interrupted her partway through the story. 

 

“He swallowed you?!  As in my little girl was eaten alive?!  Where is that Inuyasha?  We need to have a nice, long talk.” 

 

“No, Mama!  It wasn’t Inuyasha’s fault!  I…I wandered off into the forest by myself.  Inuyasha thought I’d come through the well.  I called for him, and he saved me.  So if you should be mad at anyone, it’s me.” 

 

“Believe me, I am.  Come on, Kagome!  I thought you were smart enough to not go wandering around the feudal era by yourself.” 

 

“I know, I know!  It won’t happen again.  I just…needed to be alone at the time,” she mumbled solemnly. 

 

“Why?  Did you two have a fight?” 

 

Kagome nodded.  “The biggest one ever.” 

 

“Ah, I see.  So that’s what you two were yelling about in the bathroom.” 

 

Kagome seized violently; her mother just had to say that as she was taking a sip of her tea.  And now she was choking on it. 

 

“Breath, Kagome,” her mother teased, earning her a spiteful glare from the miko. 

 

“You knew he was in there with me?!” Kagome asked, flushing more from indignation than from embarrassment. 

 

“Kagome, you two were so loud that I think the whole neighborhood knew.  What I want to know is why he was in the bathroom.  You were bathing, weren’t you?” 

 

Now Kagome was blushing entirely from embarrassment.  But she was reassured by the total lack of censure in her mother’s tone.  The older woman appeared to be simply curious. 

 

“The youkai hit me with a kind of temporary paralysis attack, so I couldn’t move.  And I was covered in stomach acid, so Inuyasha had to…wash it off in a pond.  Then he brought me here and made a medicinal soak in the tub.  That’s what that awful smell was.” 

 

“Hmmm,” Mrs. Higurashi pondered thoughtfully. 

 

“Don’t worry!  He didn’t do anything inappropria—”

 

“Of course not.” 

 

“Mama?” Kagome questioned, surprised by such a confident declaration.  Mrs. Higurashi favored her daughter with a serious smile. 

 

“Kagome, if I thought Inuyasha was the type of man who would take advantage of you, do you really think I’d let you go through the well?  What kind of mother do you think I am?”

 

“Uh, the best ever!”

 

“Flattery will get you nowhere, dear.  So, are you two going to be okay?” 

 

“I think so.  Eventually.”

 

“Good.  And I guess you’re right; Inuyasha didn’t do anything wrong.  You need to be more careful, young lady!  Now go to school, and try to have a good time.”

 

“Yes, Mama,” Kagome replied, relieved that this conversation had gone so well.  She was still apparently allowed to go back to the past!  Not that she was sure a parental prohibition on the action would stop her at this point.  Did anything in this world have the power to prevent her from seeing Inuyasha? 

 

“And Kagome?” 

 

“Yes, Mama?” 

 

“Don’t let me hear you swear like a drunken sailor ever again.” 

 

Kagome sweatdropped.  “Yes, Mama.” 

 

* * *

 

Inuyasha cruised through grassy fields and lush forests, practically gliding over the ground.  He ran at a fairly good clip, and would probably reach his destination in a few hours.  It was around noon when the cave finally came into view.  He slowed as he reached the entrance, standing his ground as the guardian growled at him briefly.  But then she recognized him, and approached to sniff his hand.  Apparently once her master admitted a stranger to his cave, that person was no longer on Sakura’s ‘tear to shreds’ list. 

 

“Oi, Daichi!  You in there?” 

 

“Inuyasha?” the bear youkai inquired as he emerged from the cave.  “It is you!  Come on in.  What brings you to these parts?  Where is your pack?” 

 

“They stayed behind.  I came alone ‘cause I didn’t want to spend days getting here.  I’m calling in that debt you owe me.” 

 

“Oh?” Daichi wondered as the two men settled comfortably on the fur-covered floor.  “How can I be of service?” 

 

“Kagome decided to stay a hanyou.” 

 

“I see,” Daichi replied, appearing not the least bit shocked.  Apparently, that announcement wasn’t the bombshell Inuyasha thought it was. 

 

“Wh-why aren’t you surprised?” 

 

“Because I’m not an ignorant dope.  Only a complete baka wouldn’t have seen her decision coming.”

 

Inuyasha’s eyebrow twitched dangerously.  “A complete baka, huh?” 

 

Finally, Daichi seemed to realize the peril he was in.  “Well, I…ah, what the hell.  Yes, you are a complete baka for not foreseeing that this would happen.” 

 

“Oh, and I suppose you knew all along that Kagome would choose to remain hanyou?” 

 

“Of course we did,” came a familiar voice from Inuyasha’s shoulder, just before he felt a pinprick on his neck.  *Smack*  He pulled his hand away, revealing his old flea youkai vassal. 

 

“Myouga!  What are you doing here?” 

 

“He’s been hanging around ever since you last left,” Daichi answered.  “I don’t know how he’s avoided Sakura for so long.” 

 

“It’s easy when you’re a flea.  You must have noticed that I had stayed behind, Inuyasha-sama.” 

 

A blank look from the hanyou was his only reply. 

 

“Come now, Inuyasha-sama. Surely you must have realized that your loyal servant was no longer by your side?”

 

*Blink*  *Blink* 

 

“Waaaaaa!  I am so unappreciated!  All my years of service wasted!  What cruel and ungrateful master—”  *Smash*  “Ugh…such is the life of a flea.” 

 

Inuyasha flicked the flattened flea off his palm onto Daichi.  “There, now he’s yours to deal with.” 

 

“Gee, thanks.” 

 

After a moment of silence, Inuyasha spoke up again.  “So you guys really knew Kagome was going to end up wanting to be hanyou?” 

 

Daichi nodded.  “Don’t feel too bad, Inuyasha.  It’s probably something that becomes harder to see the closer you get to a person.  I’m sure you were opposed to the idea at first, what with your past and all,” he said, Inuyasha’s grimace confirming that suspicion.  “And I suppose you had a big fight about it, too.”  Again, Inuyasha’s forlorn expression verified that notion.  “And now you want me to make her some clothes, right?  Oh, how romantic!  You want to get her a present to make up with her!” 

 

“I-it’s not—”

 

“Oooh, are you two getting closer?  Have you asked her to be your mate yet?” 

 

“Wh—  NO!!!” 

 

“Why not?  You shouldn’t wait too long, you know.  Honestly, my son courted his mate for years before finally gathering up the courage to ask her.  I thought they’d never—”

 

“SHUT UP!!!!!!”  When his own mortification-induced heavy breathing was the only sound in the cave, Inuyasha took a calming breath and continued.  “No, I haven’t asked Kagome…that.  And it’s not a present!  She asked me to teach her how to fight.  And if she’s gonna fight like a youkai, then she’s gonna need some tough clothing.  It’s not a fucking present!” 

 

Daichi grinned.  You know, Inuyasha, the more you say it, the less convincing you are. 

 

“But you sprinted all the way out here.  Did you even tell her where you were going?  Does she know why you’re here?”

 

“Uh…no.” 

 

Daichi smirked.  “I see.  So it’s a surprise, but not a present.  Uh-huh.” 

 

“Shut the fuck up,” Inuyasha growled.  The damn bear’s irritating chuckle almost drove him to screw the whole plan and storm out of the cave.  But imagining the look on Kagome’s face as he handed her new clothes to her stopped him.  As much as he wanted to deny it, Daichi was right.  It really was a gift.  Just thinking of her reaction made him break out in a cold sweat.  Why?  Why was he so nervous?  Why did he care whether she liked her present or not?  Why had he been so damn excited last night when he came up with the idea?  In retrospect, it probably hadn’t been the smartest strategy to leave in the middle of the night without giving a reason, but hopefully she wouldn’t hold it against him when he returned and explained himself. 

 

“Very well, Inuyasha.  I shall make Kagome the finest clothes she has ever seen!  She will have armour rivaling your haori and hakama in strength!” 

 

Nodding his thanks, Inuyasha stood to leave the weaver to his work. 

 

“One one condition,” Daichi’s voice boomed, stopping him in his tracks. 

 

“A condition?  No fucking way!  You owe me, bastard!” he seethed. 

 

“I was only going to ask you to keep me company.  It gets lonely around here with only me and Sakura,” he lamented, ignoring Myouga as much as Inuyasha had.  “I just wanted someone to talk to.” 

 

Inuyasha scowled, feeling waves of guilt wash over him.  “Fine, dammit!” he yelled, plopping down on the floor, arms and legs crossed and a pout adorning his features. 

 

“And I wanted to ask you a few questions,” Daichi added mischievously. 

 

With a sinking feeling, Inuyasha got the distinct impression that the interrogation had been the older youkai’s goal the whole time.  Had the whining about loneliness been just an act?  Shit, what did I just agree to? 

 

It wasn’t so bad at first.  Daichi asked about the Inu-gang’s recent adventures as he looked through his collection of furs and fabrics at the back of the cave.  He was happy to learn that Takehiko and Sora had been defeated, and Aoi’s dagger recovered.  He even offered to take the cursed thing off Inuyasha’s hands and return for it him, an offer the hanyou readily accepted.  He figured the weapon had been stuffed inside his kosode for long enough.  Of course, the conversation didn’t remain within Inuyasha’s comfort zone for long. 

 

“So,” Daichi began, “how is Kagome?” 

 

“Fine,” Inuyasha replied grumpily, hoping Daichi would drop this line of questioning.  No such luck. 

 

“Are you two…getting along?” 

 

Inuyasha hesitated for a moment.  “More or less.” 

 

“What does that mean?”

 

“Well, like you said, we got in a fight.  And I did something really stupid,” Inuyasha admitted, his ears drooping.  “I hurt her, and I don’t think she’s completely forgiven me yet.” 

 

“Oh, well I’m sure she’ll forgive you soon,” Daichi replied, smiling reassuringly. 

 

“Keh.” 

 

By this time, Daichi had selected some fabrics and was beginning to work.  He did everything by hand, cutting with his claws and measuring by eye.  His large hands, seemingly so ungainly and maladroit, moved with great speed and precision.  His movements with thread and needle were almost too quick to discern. 

 

“So, Inuyasha, are you looking for something with long sleeves or some garments similar to what Kagome was wearing the last time you visited?” 

 

Inuyasha frowned; there were good arguments for both alternatives.  A set of hakama and a long-sleeved kosode would certainly offer more protection, which would be important during her training and any future battles she might get into.  On the other hand, he would miss those long, luscious legs if she covered them up.  He blushed furiously, and unfortunately Daichi noticed, chuckling in amusement. 

 

“You were thinking something hentai, weren’t you?” 

 

“N-NO!”  Somehow, that retort lacked Inuyasha’s usual conviction.  Daichi smirked, but decided to let it slide. 

 

“Hm, I suppose I could make a couple sets of each.”

 

“Just how long do you think I’m staying here?” Inuyasha inquired irritably. 

 

“How long do you think it takes me to make a set of clothing?” Daichi challenged. 

 

Inuyasha shrugged.  “Dunno.  I want to be back in two or three more days at the most.” 

 

Daichi nodded.  “That’s plenty of time to make several sets of garments.” 

 

“Really?  You’re that fast?” 

 

“Inuyasha,” Daichi admonished, “I’ve been doing this for hundreds of years, so of course I’ve become proficient at it.  I made the clothes you now wear, and who do you think made Sesshoumaru’s outfit?  Basically, if you see a high-ranking youkai today, chances are he or she is wearing something I fashioned.  I’m that good.”

 

“A little full of yourself, aren’t you?”

 

“You’re one to talk.  Now, do you have any preference in color?” 

 

Inuyasha shrugged.  “Not really.  Oh, wait!  No red hakama and white kosode!” he exclaimed.  The ‘darkness in Kagome’s heart’ concerning Kikyou hadn’t reared its ugly head in quite some time, and he wanted to keep it that way.  Getting Kagome clothes that would make her look like the dead miko definitely wouldn’t help matters.  The last thing he wanted was for Kagome to be like Kikyou.  They were so different. 

 

Daichi spared him a quizzical glance, but otherwise didn’t comment on this strange request.  “Okay, does Kagome always wear that dark blue and yellow ensemble?  Those would just be horrible colors for traditional clothes.” 

 

“Nah, she only started wearing those recently.  She always used to wear green and white.” 

 

“Ah, much better.  Green and white it is!” 

 

So engrossed had the two men become in discussing fabric that Inuyasha had almost forgotten his previous apprehension regarding Daichi’s line of questioning.  He was rudely reminded. 

 

“Hey, Inuyasha, how do you feel about Kagome?” 

 

Inuyasha nearly bit his tongue off as his whole body went rigid in shock and dread.  He had been afraid Daichi would ask something like that, but he hadn’t expected it to come so suddenly out of the blue.  Of course, his answer was going to be the same either way. 

 

“None of your damn busine—”

 

“You’re right,” Daichi interrupted, “it isn’t any of my business.  But I think it would be beneficial for you to think about the answer for a change.”

 

“What the hell are you talkin’ about?” 

 

At this, Daichi set aside his work and turned to face the hanyou fully.  “Answer me this, Inuyasha.  How long have you known Kagome?” 

 

“More than a year.  Why?” 

 

“And you two are more than just simple friends?”

 

“Uh…I guess.” 

 

“So how close are you?” 

 

“…”

 

“See!  You can’t even give me a straight answer!  Kami, Myouga was right!  Your head is so far up your ass that you’re starting to digest your own ears!” 

 

Inuyasha winced; Daichi didn’t realize how close to home that comment hit.  He didn’t want to think about anything or anyone getting digested for awhile.  It just added to his rapidly mounting irritation, a large part of it directed at his blabbermouth of a vassal.  That flea is so dead.  But for the moment, he had bigger fish—or bear—to fry. 

 

“Why the hell do you care?  You barely even know me!” 

 

It was clear Daichi wanted to continue the shouting match, but he forcibly reigned in his temper.  “Sorry,” he murmured, shoulders slumping.  “You’re right; I don’t really have a right to be lecturing you.  I hope you’ll listen to my advice anyway, though.”  Not hearing any objection from the hanyou, he sighed.  “I already told you about my son.  The baka almost let his soul mate slip through his fingers.  He was like you, content to let things go on as they were, infatuated with the status quo.  And his mate almost settled for another man because she didn’t think he would ever want to take the next step in their relationship.  If I hadn’t intervened, and yanked his head out of his ass, then he’d probably still be living here, moping around the cave all day and pining for missed opportunity.  So that’s why I’m being hard on you, because I see a lot of my baka son in you.” 

 

Daichi glanced away, staring at the cave wall with sorrow in his eyes and a miserable expression on his face.  “I also know what it’s like to lose a mate,” he confessed.  Inuyasha could only sit there stunned as the other man choked back his emotion.  “She died about thirty years ago.  Sometimes I wonder how I’m going to live for another few hundred years without her…”  After a few seconds of silent reflection, he started and came back to himself.  “The point is,” he declared, meeting Inuyasha’s gaze once more, “that you can’t afford to waste any kind of opportunity.  If you love someone, you need to act on it.  Cherish every moment with them, because once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.” 

 

Inuyasha couldn’t help but sympathize.  He knew loneliness well, and it appeared Daichi did too.  Normally hidden beneath the cheerful, upbeat exterior was a man still mourning for the loss of his soul mate, and a devoted father who didn’t want see anyone else experience his pain.  In the end, Inuyasha couldn’t think of anything to say, so he waited for Daichi to break the now stifling silence.  And when he finally did, it was a bombshell. 

 

“So…do you love her?” 

 

And there it was, the question Inuyasha feared the most, the one he had been dancing around for so long.  When had he first realized he might love Kagome?  He couldn’t say exactly; after awhile it had just become obvious to him, as clear as the necessity to put any determination of his feelings aside and focus on the quest for the Shikon no Tama.  But was that really the right thing to do?  Was he hurting both Kagome and himself by being, as Daichi put it, ‘infatuated with the status quo?’  He knew ‘I don’t know’ was the easy answer, a way to avoid truly considering his feelings for a change.  Yet, his life had been incredibly difficult, so he felt justified in seeking simplicity wherever he could find it.  Well, maybe things weren’t so hard anymore.  It was easy to be in Kagome’s presence, to comfort her when she was sad, fight with her when she was angry, or smile when she was happy.  Hell, even getting ‘osuwari’d’ couldn’t make him stop experiencing the simple joy of being by her side.  It was true that thinking about his feelings definitely had the potential to complicate things, but was that really bad?  Perhaps it was time to ‘pull his head out of his ass’ and do some serious soul searching.  But at that moment, Daichi was waiting for an answer, and Inuyasha had only one to give, even though it shamed him to speak it. 

 

“I…I don’t know.” 

 

Daichi nodded, no judgment present in his brown eyes.  “Fair enough,” he said.  Then the bear turned and resumed his project, seeming to understand that Inuyasha needed some time to himself. 

 

So how did he feel about Kagome?  It was such a simple question, yet it conjured up a full array of emotions.  Happiness.  Being with Kagome made him happy, plain and simple.  She could turn his insides to jelly with just a smile, or set his heart beating a mile a minute on the smallest pretext.  Tranquility.  She calmed the stormy seas of his past, tamed his wild nature.  With Kagome, he could relax and be himself.  Acceptance.  Kagome accepted him as no other had since his mother.  Because of her, he had friends he would give his life for, and he knew they would do the same for him.  She knew more about him than any other, and he could be confident in claiming the same about her.  He even knew that she loved him, which added a whole new layer to his conundrum.  But there were many different meanings to the word ‘love.’  Love among friends, love among family members, love among lovers, or love among mates; Kagome could have meant any of these when she declared her love for him to Naraku’s baby that day.  Fear.  This was by far the most unsettling of the emotions that flashed through his mind.  It was old, grounded in his past, and multi-layered.  He feared his feelings, that he would discover something that would lead to him getting hurt.  What if he had misread Kagome, and she didn’t desire him in the way he thought?  Attraction didn’t mean she wanted to spend her life with him.  The fear of rejection had indeed burrowed deep into his heart. 

 

But he realized now that such a fear was ridiculous.  How could Kagome reject him if he never told her he loved her, if that was even true?  She certainly wouldn’t reject him for being a hanyou; the fact that she wanted to remain one told him as much.  But he had already known that beyond any shadow of a doubt, which only made him feel all the more guilty for throwing her full-youkai comment back in her face during their argument.  It had been a split-second decision, and a stupid one at that.  He wondered how she could continue to forgive him even after all the stupid shit he’d done.  Maybe she really did love him enough to want to spend her life with him.    

 

That thought once again returned him to the question of what he wanted.  He sighed wistfully.  It would be so easy to do what he usually did when his musings became too tough—procrastinate.  Put it off for another day, until after the jewel quest was completed.  But this time he refused to do that.  He needed to clear all the clutter away from his heart and truly look at it, discern what he really wanted.  Not for Daichi, not for Kagome, not for anyone else, but for himself, for the simple reason that he had never done it before.  Okay, maybe it was a little for Kagome.  After all, she wasn’t going to stay in the feudal era forever.  She would go back to her world and live a normal life, unless someone gave her a reason to stay.  He knew he could be the one to give her that reason.

 

But did he want to?  The thought of Kagome marrying some puny human, lying with another man, having his children…it boiled his blood, made him want to tear something to shreds or bash his head against a tree to knock the horrible images from his mind.  He couldn’t believe he used to deny his jealousy.  Had he really tried to convince everyone—and himself—that he wasn’t jealous of the attention Kagome gave that stinking wolf?  Had he really been such a fool?  The answer was glaringly obvious.  But was it just jealousy, or was it something deeper?  Was it just physical attraction, or something more passionate?  Was it friendship, or was it…love? 

 

And what of Kikyou?  Was what he felt for Kikyou love?  At one point in time he had thought so.  She too had accepted him in a way that he had not experienced since his mother’s passing decades earlier.  And Kagome had taken that acceptance to a whole new level.  He had become close with Kikyou, but never too close.  She would not have tolerated any of the casual touching he enjoyed with Kagome; her status as a trained miko would not have allowed it.  Except for a few exceptions, he had always maintained a respectable physical distance from Kikyou.  And that in turn reinforced the emotional gap between them.  It helped lead to an incomplete sense of trust, and left them easy prey for Naraku’s sinister tactics.  Yes, Kikyou had accepted him, but only because he was part human.  He had no doubt that she would have killed him without blinking an eye if he was full youkai.  He shuddered at the thought of Kikyou witnessing one of his full-youkai rampages.  If she somehow wasn’t driven to kill him, she would at the very least no longer associate with him. 

 

Yet, Kagome had not only seen him slaughter humans in bloodlust, but had comforted him afterwards.  She hugged him, told him she understood, and even aided him in his quest to grow stronger and keep his youkai blood under control.  She stayed by his side, even though she knew he could transform into a mindless beast any time Tetsusaiga was knocked from his grasp.  She did all this, not caring for her own safety, but only thinking of him.  Even when she was planning their future together, Kikyou had never been so selfless.  Asking him to become human for her was, on the surface, a way to discharge her duty to guard the jewel and allow her to be with him as a normal woman.  But they both knew the real reason; she would never agree to be his mate.  She would be his wife only if he first removed the taint of his youkai blood.  Kagome had never been so selfish. 

 

And she had never forced him to choose between her and Kikyou, either.  With Kagome, he got to have his cake and eat it too.  Even though it was extremely unfair to her, she actually asked him if she could remain with him despite his obligations to Kikyou.  Obligations…  Had his relationship with Kikyou devolved to mere duties and responsibilities?  He embraced his duty to protect her, but what of his other self-imposed responsibility to join her in hell?  Would he really abandon everything he had in this world, everything he had gained since Kagome freed him from Kikyou’s seal, to follow his former love into hell?  Again, the answer was painfully clear. 

 

No, he would not.  He now realized that his obligations to Kikyou did not extend nearly that far.  Her death had been her own fault as much as it had been his.  Naraku’s trick would not have worked if Kikyou did not already harbor the belief that her hanyou companion could betray her.  Their suspicions of each other had cost them dearly.  Kikyou had been struck down by Naraku’s hand, and she in turn had pinned him to the tree.  And what of that arrow?  Even mortally wounded, Kikyou should have had enough strength to completely purify him, and the shaft of an arrow through his then-mortal chest would have ended his life.  So why had she instead plunged him into eternal sleep, to hang in limbo for all time, never to pass on to the afterlife?  He used to think it was because of their connection that she was unable to kill him, but now another possibility entered his mind.  What if Kikyou had chosen to deny him the afterlife on purpose, to condemn him to an eternity of nothingness as punishment for his betrayal?

 

Either way, it didn’t really matter now.  He was definitely not going to hell with her.  They barely had a relationship anymore as it was.  If he could go back and change something…he wouldn’t.  He surprised himself with that realization, but it was the truth.  He bemoaned Kikyou’s awful fate, but he could not bring himself to regret the collapse of their dream of living together as man and wife.  Not when he had Kagome, with whom he shared a companionship that was closer in every way.  Even in his darkest moments, he could never doubt Kagome.  She had proven that she would never betray or abandon him, sticking by him even in the most frightening circumstances.  She had brought him back from the brink on more than one occasion, at great risk to herself.  She was the first person since his mother to learn of his human night, just one of many reasons the young miko held a special place in his heart.  And if he and Kikyou could turn on each other so easily, and he could now cast her aside, then was what they shared really love?  He needed to stop asking himself these obvious questions. 

 

No, it was not.  How could it have been?  Long-lasting relationships were not founded on mutual loneliness, and they certainly weren’t poisoned by prejudice and lack of trust.  If you loved someone, you didn’t ask them to give up half of themselves for you.  Still, hadn’t he done just that to Kagome yesterday?  But that was different; he thought forcing her to change was for her own good.  He now fully supported her decision to remain hanyou, and would never again let her think otherwise.  She was the center of his world, and last night his existence had nearly ended.  For those brief moments when he thought she was dead…his world had literally been collapsing around him.  His anguish at Kikyou’s second passing paled in comparison.  He felt guilt for Kikyou, but he felt soul-crushing sorrow for Kagome.  Maybe that was taking it too far.  Kikyou’s death had saddened him greatly, but that didn’t change the fact that he had felt so much more when he thought Kagome was gone.  Similarly, he also felt so much more for her at every other time as well.  When had it happened?  When had Kagome become such an integral part of his life?  When had she become more important than Kikyou?

 

Inuyasha started, realizing what he had been thinking about.  Whoa, whoa, whoa!  What the hell am I doing?  Why am I comparing Kagome and Kikyou, saying Kagome is ‘better?’  He knew the answer; it went back to his feelings toward both miko.  It was almost as if he was trying to convince himself…  His eyes widened as his musings finally reached that inexorable conclusion he’d been seeking.  Holy shit…I…I love her.  He loved her.  He loved her, and now that he had admitted it, he knew it with absolute certainty.  He loved her, and wondered why it had taken him so long to realize it.  Why had he been so damn stubborn!  He had clung to the past like an obstinate child, refusing to let go and move on.  His attraction, his jealousy, his level of care and concern for her, their closeness…all of that made sense now that he knew.  I love her. 

 

He continued to repeat that amazing thought over and over again as he went back through his entire reflection, looking for anything that could have given him the wrong idea.  It was a wasted effort; the instant those three wonderful words crossed his mind, his heart flooded his entire being with indescribable warmth.  There could be no doubting his feelings now, and it felt incredible to finally be the master of his own emotions.  This revelation created another problem, however: what to do about it.  His old fear of rejection and Daichi’s words of wisdom hit him at the same time, and for a moment he wrestled with crippling uncertainty.  But eventually he conquered his fears.  He needed to tell her.  She deserved to know, and he wanted to know whether she loved him in return.  He smiled ruefully; it was funny how quickly a person could go from embracing the status quo to hating it.  He knew now that just friendship would never be enough.  If she said yes, if she agreed to be his mate…  His breathing accelerated just thinking about the possibilities.  Would it happen right there, or would they wait awhile?  Would he disappoint her, or would he make their first time a night she would always cherish? 

 

Inuyasha shook his head vigorously to clear it.  There was no sense in thinking about any of that now; he didn’t want to get his hopes up.  It was futile, however, as the rebellious thoughts and images kept returning despite his best efforts to keep them at bay.  Eventually he rose to his feet, hoping to distract himself with some more conversation with Daichi.  It was then that he noticed how dark the cave had gotten.  Emerging from the entrance, he glimpsed the sun making its way below the western horizon.  Holy crap!  How long was I sitting there thinking?  He grimaced; if Miroku or Shippou had seen that they would tease him mercilessly about it.  Thinking about things calmly and rationally wasn’t exactly his specialty, but he had just proven that he could do it for something truly important.  And that something was Kagome, his Kagome.  Well, not yet, but hopefully she soon would be. 

 

“Ah, Inuyasha, you’re back!” Daichi exclaimed as he spied Inuyasha ambling towards him.  “For a while there, I thought you were going to become a permanent fixture in my cave.  You looked pretty dead to the world,” he teased.  “I hope you didn’t think too hard and fry your brain.” 

 

“Feh!  Shut up, bastard.” 

 

“So,” Daichi continued, ignoring the insult, “did you find the answers you were looking for?” 

 

“I already told you that’s none of your damn business.” 

 

“True, but I’m just going to keep bugging you about it until you tell me.  Are you willing to put up with another two days of that?” 

 

Inuyasha grimaced, conceding the bear’s point.  I’d rather drink tea with Sesshoumaru and Kouga than listen to Daichi’s constant pestering.

 

“Fine.”  Still, he hesitated, more out of habit than anything else. 

 

“Yes?”

 

“…”

 

“Just spit it out already!”

 

“Shut up!” 

 

“Inuyasha…”

 

“I love her, alright!” 

 

“Who?” Daichi asked with a mischievous grin. 

 

“…Kagome.”

 

“Ohhhhh,” he drolled dramatically, pretending it wasn’t obvious.  “Now put it all together.”

 

“You’re a real bastard, you know that?”  When a smirk was all he received in return, Inuyasha gritted his teeth and tried to reign in the desire to wipe that look off his face.  “Fine!  I love Kagome.  Are you fucking happy now?” 

 

“There, now don’t you feel better?” 

 

“Bastard…” 

 

The funny thing was that Inuyasha really did feel better.  Admitting his feelings out loud like that made them seem all the more real.  He was actually going to tell Kagome he loved her.  Of course, saying that and actually doing it were two very different things, but he had never been one to back down from anything.  He certainly wasn’t going to start now, when the only enemies were his own fears and insecurities.  If nothing else, the benefits of confessing would urge him to do so.  To finally be able to act on his attraction, even if it was only a simple kiss…  He couldn’t say whether that would ameliorate the ever-increasing sexual tension between them or exacerbate it, but he would love to find out.  He sighed and rose to his feet, stalking toward the cave entrance. 

 

“Where are you going, Inuyasha?” 

 

“Hunting.”

 

“But we have meat…”

 

The rest of Daichi’s response was drowned out by the sound of the wind whipping past Inuyasha’s ears.  He could smell that Daichi had dinner covered, but he needed to clear his head.  If he didn’t do something to take his mind of Kagome, he would end up thinking about her all night.  It was amazing what a little enlightenment could do to a man.  He always missed Kagome when she wasn’t by his side, but the next couple days were going to be pure torture.  Never had he felt such a strong compulsion to see her, and such an immense apprehension as well.  Right now the yearning outweighed the fear, but he could only guess how long that would hold true. 

 

The rest of the evening was quiet.  He didn’t put much effort into the hunt, and came back empty-handed.  He didn’t like to kill when it wasn’t necessary, and Daichi had plenty of fish caught in a nearby stream that morning.  Inuyasha promised to snag them a nice juicy boar the following night.  Surprisingly, he had little trouble falling asleep, probably because his subconscious already knew what he was going to dream about. 

 

By the time his third day at Daichi’s rolled around, Inuyasha was starting to get very antsy.  Part of the reason was those dreams; they had been noticeably more…intense the past two nights.  Intimate dreams about Kagome were nothing new, but never had they been so detailed, so passionate.  He could almost feel her there, pressed up against him, surrounding him as they moved together…  He smacked himself in the head to chase the images away.  This was another reason he was on edge; he just couldn’t stop thinking about her.  And it was driving him insane, sitting here twiddling his thumbs while she was on the other side of the well.  Daichi’s obstinate refusal to let him see any of Kagome’s gifts didn’t help.  The stubborn bastard insisted on an “unveiling,” to occur when everything was finished.  But the bear provided companionship, and kept Inuyasha busy by asking him to relate tales of adventures in their fight against Naraku.  Myouga wasn’t much good for that since he necessarily left out the battle scenes, and the flea always blustered and pouted when one of them made fun of his cowardly nature.  Daichi seemed to know when Inuyasha was trying to peek over his shoulder and catch a glimpse of what he was making, however, and the hanyou never got more than a passing glance.  After putting up with all of this, Inuyasha hoped whatever Daichi was making was good. 

 

He wasn’t disappointed.  Far from it, actually; he couldn’t have been more impressed, or grateful.  The two sets of long hakama and kosode were beautiful.  One was a simple, forest green hakama matched with a plain, white kosode.  The other was a swirl of color, the same green and white mixed with deep blue, all three colors criss-crossing the garments in a spectacular pattern.  It looked so random, yet seemed to make perfect sense at the same time, and Inuyasha knew he would never grow tired of looking at it.  Especially if Kagome was wearing it.

 

“Wow,” he muttered, stunned close to speechlessness.  “Thank you.”

 

“I didn’t say I was done!” Daichi proclaimed giddily, truly enjoying himself.  For the master seamstress, nothing brought more joy than the satisfaction of a client, especially if the client was someone he actually liked.  Next he produced two sets of clothing of a type Inuyasha had never seen before.  “These are a new design.  I tried to base them off what I saw Kagome wearing before.  I hope she likes them.” 

 

Now Inuyasha felt even more humbled; Daichi had custom designed a whole new ensemble just for him.  They did resemble the blouse and shorts Kagome had worn that day.  The tops were almost exact replicas; they would go over her head instead of folding in the front, a highly unusual trait for this day and age.  The neck was v-shaped but not too low, probably just enough to hint at cleavage.  The bottoms would tie around her waist, and were baggier and longer than her modern shorts, extending almost to the knee.  They didn’t look like cheap knockoffs of modern apparel, however.  They had been made by professional hands and it showed.  Inuyasha knew they would look damn good on Kagome.  He suspected the modifications to make the garments less skimpy had been primarily for added protection, but perhaps Daichi had been taking a small mercy on him too.  He could only imagine trying to train with Kagome while she was wearing her modern clothing.  Showing so much skin, beads of sweat dripping down her arms and legs… 

 

“Hey, Inuyasha.  You awake in there?” Daichi asked amusedly, snapping his fingers.  The hanyou blushed hotly but turned his attention back to the garments in his hands.  One set matched the blue and yellow outfit Kagome had worn that day.  Heh, and he said those colors would look bad.  Inuyasha spent several moments running his hand gently over the surface of the other set, staring in awe.  It was deep red, the same color as his fire-rat haori, and there was no doubt the effect had been purposeful. 

 

“Now you can be twins!” Daichi exclaimed, causing Inuyasha to flush once more.  He couldn’t help but smile as well, imagining what Kagome would look like wearing his color.  And still Daichi wasn’t done.  The final item was the most remarkable of all.  It was a bathing yukata, white in color but made with silver highlights so the garment seemed to shimmer with every movement.  Hesitantly he took it in his hands, feeling the softest of silk between his fingers.  He gasped as he unfurled it.  The garment was plain except for the back, and the scene there literally stole Inuyasha’s breath away.  The sun was high in the sky, overlooking a green meadow where two sleeping creatures dozed, nestled together.  The one in the back was a white dog, its tail wrapped protectively around its companion, a brown cat.  The symbolism was not lost on Inuyasha, and he turned astonished eyes up to meet Daichi’s pleased gaze. 

 

“You might want to save that one for a special occasion down the road,” the bear said.  Inuyasha could only nod dumbly in response as Daichi took the yukata from him, folded it, and placed it with the other items in a carrying bag.  This was beyond his wildest dreams, simply amazing.  He didn’t know how Daichi had been able to get Kagome’s measurements from memory alone, but everything looked like it would fit perfectly. 

 

“T-thank you,” he managed finally.  “All this?  I don’t know what to say.” 

 

Daichi waved him off.  “You can say that Kagome will be your mate the next time I see you.  How about that?” 

 

Inuyasha’s face vanished into his haori, but Daichi made no mention of it.  “Everything but the yukata was made from the fur of the elusive swamp fox.  I know how it sounds, but they’re actually very clean creatures, with excellent fur.  After Kagome wears them a few times, each of the garments will bind to her youki and become self-repairing, much like your haori.  The yukata was made of the finest moth youkai silk I could find, but be careful with it!  It’s just normal cloth so it won’t repair itself.” 

 

“Moth youkai?” Inuyasha asked with raised eyebrows. 

 

“Oh, right.  You told me you’ve had some problems with them before.  But don’t worry, not all of them feed on humans, and some are actually very nice.” 

 

Satisfied, Inuyasha’s mood returned completely to gratitude.  “Seriously, Daichi, thank you.  Now I feel like I owe you a debt—”

 

“Not a chance, boy!  I can never make up for the years of suffering I could have saved you…but that’s in the past!” Daichi exclaimed, snapping out of his momentary depression.  “And this,” he said, holding up the carrying bag for Inuyasha to take, “is about the future.  Now go, and start your future.” 

 

Taking the proffered bag, Inuyasha nodded once in determination, and took off.  He was finally heading home. 

 

The journey seemed to take forever, but in reality it lasted only a few hours.  He was charging through the familiar confines of his forest just as the sun sank below the horizon.  His three-day separation from the woman he loved was almost over.  The woman he loved…it was going to take awhile to get used to that. 

 

A familiar scent stopped him in his tracks, filling him with a sense of dread.  He immediately felt guilty for that, but that was just how he felt.  And as the Shinidamachu slithered their way across the sky, Inuyasha realized for the first time that he didn’t particularly want to see Kikyou.  Again, remorse struck him hard at that insight.  What was wrong with him?  It had been months since Kikyou had shown the slightest hostility toward him.  He still cared deeply about her, and he knew she still harbored similar feelings for him.  So why was he so reluctant to go to her?  The answer probably lay in his most recent revelation; he didn’t want to have to tell Kikyou he was in love with her reincarnation.  He didn’t want to break what was left of Kikyou’s heart, or tell her she would have to go to hell alone.  But it had to be done.  If either one of them were to truly move on, these things needed to be said, and now was as good a time as any.  Now that he really thought about it, Kikyou deserved to know of his feelings for Kagome before he acted on them.  She was his first love, and he would not forsake her before informing her of his decision.  He owed her that much at least. 

 

He trudged through the trees, his sluggish pace allowing him time to gather his thoughts.  His biggest concern was how Kikyou would react.  She had been calmer in recent months, more like her old self, but he couldn’t help but worry that this would cause her to revert back to the way she had been immediately after her resurrection.  He had no idea what he would do if she went berserk and tried to purify him or take him to hell.  Suddenly, there she was.  Standing in a moonlit clearing, the picture of tranquility.  It had been more than fifty years since he’d seen her look so serene.  The only other time had been the night he agreed to become human for her, the last night he had ever seen her alive.  He gasped as she finally turned her dark eyes on him, swirling with emotion.  They were soft nonetheless, and she even managed a small smile.  It was just a tiny upturn of her lips, but clear as day to Inuyasha.  If her scent didn’t tell him otherwise, he would have sworn she had returned to life. 

 

“I’ve been looking for you, Inuyasha.  I thought you were spending the days with my reincarnation on the other side of the well.” 

 

Inuyasha’s jaw dropped; he was completely astounded by the utter lack of bitterness in her tone.  Sure, there was some, but it was minute compared to the serenity that dominated her demeanor.  And he could tell she wasn’t just hiding it or putting on an act; it just wasn’t there.

 

“Oh.  No, Kikyou, I wasn’t.” 

 

“Talkative as ever, I see,” Kikyou quipped with a grin as Inuyasha stared slack-jawed.  Okay, this is officially weirding me out.  Perhaps it was time to get down to business. 

 

“Kikyou, I have something to tell you…”

 

“What’s in the bag, Inuyasha?” she asked, ignoring him.  Again, there was no animosity in her voice, only genuine curiosity.  But he had decided this was a good thing, and really wanted to avoid tempting fate by revealing Kagome’s presents.  When he didn’t reply, Kikyou strode closer, opened the bag and peered inside herself.  As she gazed at the folded fabric, her scent changed, but not in the way Inuyasha expected. 

 

“For Kagome, I assume?” she asked, waves of sadness rolling off her.  Inuyasha panicked, completely missing the fact that Kikyou had referred to Kagome by her name, and also that there was still no jealousy in her tone. 

 

“I—she decided to stay a hanyou and wanted me to train her and I said I would and she needed some tough clothing—”

 

“Relax, Inuyasha!” Kikyou interrupted.  “You make it seem like it’s a horrible deed for you to get Kagome a present.” 

 

Inuyasha was going to start catching flies in his mouth if he left it open much more tonight.  But he couldn’t help it; he was finding it near impossible to fully wrap his head around Kikyou’s strange demeanor.  Her scent was solemn now, but not angry or jealous.  Just sad. 

 

“Good,” she declared softly after a long, uncomfortable silence. 

 

“Kikyou?”

 

“I’m glad Kagome decided to stay a hanyou.” 

 

And that might have been the single most surprising thing Inuyasha had ever heard. 

 

“Why?”

 

Kikyou sighed, the sorrow pouring off her now.  “Do you remember out last encounter, where you told me Kagome kept her miko powers because her heart was pure?”  At Inuyasha’s nod, she continued.  “It took me so long to accept that, and even longer to accept what it implied about me.  I…I always thought I lost my powers because you were impure, but in reality…it was me.  Between the two of us, I was the impure one.  It was my fault Naraku’s trick worked.  I’m sorry, Inuyasha.”  Kikyou sobbed, a single tear working its way down her cheek.  Inuyasha hadn’t even been aware her clay body could cry, though perhaps these were not tears of the body, but tears of the heart.  He reached a hand up and gently wiped the moisture away, staring deep into her eyes.  These eyes…it had been over fifty years since he’d last seen them.  But here was the sad, lonely priestess who became his first friend, his cherished companion.  The bitterness and hate that had haunted her brown orbs since her resurrection had completely vanished. 

 

“Don’t say that, Kikyou.  It was as much my fault as it was yours.” 

 

“Do you still plan on accompanying me to hell, Inuyasha?” she queried, looking away.  Inuyasha mirrored the action, unable to look Kikyou in the eye as he gave his answer. 

 

“I’m sorry, Kikyou, but I’ve decided to stay here…with Kagome.”

 

“I see,” Kikyou replied with a cheerless smile.  Stifling silence hung between the two, until finally Kikyou broke it.  “Do you love her?” 

 

It took Inuyasha several moments to get over his shock and many more to gather up the courage he needed to give his answer. 

 

“Yes.” 

 

“I see,” Kikyou said again.  Then, after another period of silence, she uttered perhaps the most astounding thing of all.  “Then I can let you go.” 

 

This time Inuyasha almost collapsed in his astonishment.  “Wha—?  Kikyou, you—”

 

“She loves you, Inuyasha, as I never did.  She accepts you, as I never did.  She deserves you…as I never did.”  Kikyou lowered her gaze, staring at the ground as fresh tears sprung forth.  It took Inuyasha only a moment to envelop her in a warm embrace.  She returned it, her tears soaking into his haori as she silently vented weeks of pent-up emotions.  For Inuyasha, this turn of events was beyond comprehension.  Kikyou was letting him go, and he could do the same.  Part of him was happy, but he swiftly kicked that sentiment out the window.  Mostly, he felt sorry for Kikyou.  Fate had been so cruel to her, in both her lives.  Kikyou turned her head to the side so she could speak, but did not pull away. 

 

“After Naraku is defeated, I will return to the netherworld.  You are free to live…and love.” 

 

Inuyasha released her, only to gently grip her chin and place his lips on hers.  It was a chaste kiss, and short, but in it they communicated everything that couldn’t be said in words.  It was goodbye. 

 

“I’ll never forget you, Kikyou.  I promise.” 

 

“Nor I you, Inuyasha.” 

 

They embraced again, regrets evaporating into the wind as both simply enjoyed the moment.  Kikyou pulled back first, beaming as they gazed at each other.  Her aura still contained sadness, but she was even more serene than before.  Then she turned away, and vanished into the trees without a look back.  Inuyasha stared at the spot for the longest time, as the light from the Shinidamachu slowly faded.  Gradually, the implications of what had just happened filtered through to his muddled mind.  Kikyou had released him.  He was free to be with Kagome.  Without further ado, he sped off toward the well. 

 

* * *

 

Kagome leapt easily out of the well despite the heavy backpack she carried, grateful again for hanyou jumping abilities.  Tonight would be the third night since Inuyasha’s curious departure, and she was glad to be back in the feudal era.  Three days of school had been a drag.  Her friends hadn’t been too bad; they accepted her sunburn excuse pretty easily.  But classes and homework were nothing to jump for joy about.  At least Hojo was no longer asking her out every time she showed up in modern Tokyo.  As she entered Kaede’s hut, the first thing she noticed was that Inuyasha wasn’t there, and judging by his faded scent, he hadn’t been for some time.  The second thing was that while everyone else was happy to see her, they were acting suspicious for some reason.  Curiosity sparked, she vowed to find out why. 

 

“Where’s Inuyasha?” she asked, figuring that was a good place to start. 

 

“That baka!” Shippou yelled.  “He’s out with K-mmphph!”  Miroku cut the kit off, but Kagome heard what he had been about to say.  Her heart clenched as she asked her next question, dreading the answer. 

 

“Did Inuyasha…see Kikyou?”

 

“We don’t know, Kagome,” Sango replied, though it was clear that she didn’t really believe that.  Miroku and Shippou wore the same look.  “Shippou saw him at the well the night he came back through, but none of us have seen him since.  And I saw Kikyou’s Shinidamachu three days ago…and every day since.” 

 

At this, Kagome lost all the strength in her legs, slumping to the floor.  Somehow she managed to hold in her tears, probably because she was used to this by now.  But this time was worse than any of the others.  He abandoned me.  He ditched me in my time to go spend three days with Kikyou!  How can he be so heartless?  Why does he have to sneak around behind my back?  It was ridiculous, really.  It wasn’t like they were together, and this made it more than apparent that they would never be.  She recalled the illusion Minoru had shown her after she had been hit with the Rebirth spell.  Inuyasha pressing Kikyou against a tree, kissing her passionately as they slowly slid into vice.  Perhaps that wasn’t an illusion after all, but a premonition. 

 

The mood was grim inside the hut for the remainder of the evening.  So caught up were the four friends in their assumption that they didn’t even realize it was an assumption.  That Inuyasha had ditched Kagome in her time to see Kikyou became irrefutable fact.  So when said hanyou raced through the doorway, grinning in high spirits, it was understandable that nobody greeted him. The hostility in that room was nearly suffocating. 

 

“Alright, what the hell is wrong with you lot?” he grumped. 

 

“You know damn well what’s wrong, Inuyasha,” Sango growled, the ice in her tone chilling his blood.  He bared his fangs, responding to fury in kind. 

 

“If I knew, I wouldn’t be asking, bit—”

 

“Inuyasha.” 

 

Kagome had spoken his name in many ways in the time they had known each other, but never like that.  Such hardness, such hostility, such bitterness…the only other person who had ever spoken to him in such a manner was Kikyou.  Now he was truly frightened. 

 

“If you didn’t want to be with me,” Kagome continued, “you should have just said so.  Go back to her.  We’ll collect the shards.”  She said nothing else, and Inuyasha’s eyes widened then slowly narrowed as understanding dawned on him.  Kikyou had been looking for him around the village.  Kagome said ‘go back to her.’  Everyone was pissed at him.  All of it led to one conclusion.  They saw Kikyou’s Shinidamachu, and now they think I left Kagome in her time while I spent the past few days with Kikyou?  What the fuck is wrong with them!  Anger and hurt blossomed within him.  He felt betrayed, deserted by his friends.  He felt alone.  He glared at each of them in turn, his emotions clearly apparent in his golden orbs, but no one would meet his gaze.  That was the last straw. 

 

“So is that what you people think?  That I fucking ditched Kagome on the other side of the well so I could see Kikyou?  Is that what you’re telling me?!” 

 

Silence was his only answer, but the message was loud and clear.  Without another word, he turned and left. 

Chapter Text

Inuyasha stomped into the night, his movements stiff with rage.  What the fuck is wrong with those guys?!  After all I’ve done for them, how can they so easily assume I’m such an incredible bastard that I’d ditch Kagome in her time and spend three days with Kikyou?  I’m not that much of a prick!  And Kagome…  Her rejection hurt the most, especially after his recent revelation.  He had looked to her last, hoping to see some skepticism in her eyes, some sign that she was about to intercede on his behalf.  But her expression contained nothing but hardness, and he hadn’t been able to stand it.  He fled out of necessity, feeling as if the oppressive weight of the hostile stares from his so-called friends would crush him if he did not. 

 

What really cut him to the core wasn’t the fact that they were pissed at him, or even that they doubted him.  It was their complete lack of faith that gouged the greatest wound; they wouldn’t even entertain the possibility that his whereabouts over the past three days had been completely innocent.  Again, the worst sting resulted from Kagome’s scorn.  She had earned his trust when he swore he would never again give it to anyone, and she didn’t trust him.  The sheer hypocrisy was mind-boggling.  But the most disturbing part was not what she was doing, but who she was acting like.  Kagome, the very women who had taught him what love was, and how to feel it, was behaving just like Kikyou had over fifty years ago.  She didn’t trust him, and automatically assumed the worst of him without considering that there might have been another explanation.  And the truly strange thing was that Kikyou, in their most recent encounter, had behaved more like Kagome than ever!  Her kind heart shone through brightly as they shared their goodbye, and there had been no doubt in that moment that Kagome was her reincarnation.  The sudden role reversal had nearly put Inuyasha at his wit’s end.  It was downright bizarre, and very unsettling.  He didn’t quite know what to think.  The Kagome he had fallen in love with had vanished into thin air, and he almost didn’t know who was sitting in her body back at Kaede’s hut. 

 

But that was too harsh.  Even as he tried to stay angry, guilt began to gnaw at his consciousness.  He hadn’t exactly given Kagome and the others a reason to trust him when it came to Kikyou.  From almost letting the dead priestess take him to hell, to going to see her when he was gravely injured, to nearly losing Kagome to Naraku in pursuit of a rumor of Kikyou’s whereabouts.  He grimaced; that last one was probably the absolute lowest point of his long life.  He would never know how she had forgiven his reckless failure, but was eternally grateful for it.  But apparently that forgiveness didn’t translate into faith, and he really couldn’t blame her for that.  Maybe it was all his fault.  Clenching his fists hard enough to draw blood, he realized for the first time that something was clasped in his right hand.  Lifting it up, he observed the bag of clothing, almost rolling his eyes at his absentmindedness.  He had forgotten all about Kagome’s gift in the storm of chaos and emotions that engulfed him at Kaede’s hut.  He dropped the bag on the ground and continued on without looking back.  What was the point of keeping it?  No material gesture of kindness was going to patch the giant hollow in their relationship, or undo the damage his past foolishness had caused. 

 

He snarled with conviction; there was more to it than that.  They had wronged him, and he was the one feeling guilty?  What the hell?!  Maybe his past indiscretions with Kikyou had caused his friends to doubt him, and with ample justification, but he had given them no reason to suspect that he would abandon Kagome in her time like that.  They should have had much more faith in him, dammit!  Then again, it probably shouldn’t have surprised him that they did not.  Mistrust was nothing new when it came to his rendezvous with Kikyou.  It seemed like whenever he went to see her, he would at the very least get the cold shoulder in the morning.  Other times it got worse.  A prime example occurred soon after Kagome purified the miasma in Kikyou’s body.  He had gone to meet her, and when he returned he was questioned about what happened between them.  He told the truth, that they just talked, but no one believed him.  Kagome even had the gall to order him to “tell us what really happened.” 

 

And that hadn’t been the only time, not by a long shot.  What do they think Kikyou and I do together?  Make sweet love all night long?  As if she would ever want to do that with a hanyou!  And that wasn’t even considering his own revulsion at the idea, a feeling which had nothing to do with her cold clay body.  Okay, maybe a little.  But mostly it was because he no longer felt the drive to become close with Kikyou, and hadn’t for some time.  He couldn’t even remember the last time they had kissed or shared an embrace before earlier that evening.  And that’s all he had ever done with Kikyou, a few rare kisses with occasional hugs mixed in.  No, his friends were completely wrong to suspect him of any impropriety when he met with Kikyou. 

 

Fueled by righteous anger and indignation, Inuyasha continued to push through the underbrush until he broke out into a very familiar clearing.  The bone-eater’s well sat innocently in the middle, taunting him with a reminder of how much he already missed the person connected to it.  Why did his unconscious wandering take him here, of all places?  Spending the night in Goshinboku was appealing, but he wanted to get away for awhile.  He was not going to be found until he was damn good and ready!  For once, the weather decided to cooperate with him, laying down a fine drizzle that would cover his scent.  Plus, it suited his dreary mood perfectly.  Not wanting to add wet clothing to his ‘why I’m miserable’ list, he broke into a sprint, reaching his destination after about ten minutes of running.  It was a small cave, but a comfortable one.  It had been a safe haven for him when he was a child; he had used it for a couple months before moving on.  He had rediscovered it one day while patrolling the forest for youkai while Kagome was in her era.  Growling to himself, he tried to push thoughts of her out of his mind, but knew it was futile.  He would be up all night thinking about her.  The rain intensified, relentless and unceasing. 

 

* * *

 

Kagome sat stock still in Kaede’s hut, staring at the door flap, still undulating from Inuyasha’s departure.  Her calm exterior belied great inner turmoil; logic and reason, feeling and emotion warred within her, swirling together in a convoluted jumble that she was hard pressed to make any sense of.  Not ten minutes ago she had been so sure Inuyasha had betrayed her, but now…  If that was true, then his words made no sense.  “So is that what you people think?  That I fucking ditched Kagome on the other side of the well so I could see Kikyou?  Is that what you’re telling me?!”  Kagome frowned; that was something only an innocent person would say, right?  And he sounded innocent.  She suddenly wished she had been able to look into his eyes, because then she would have seen the truth.  But she had been too afraid, petrified that peering into those golden orbs would only confirm her worst fears.  Perhaps she had been too hasty.

 

She shook her head vigorously.  No!  That’s wrong.  He DID betray me!  The only sense she could really trust in this situation was her nose, and the evidence that organ revealed was more than conclusive.  It was faint, but the smells of death and graveyard soil lingered near the entrance to the hut.  It was Kikyou’s scent, and Inuyasha had brought it in.  Was there any room for doubt while taking this into account?  Aside from a meeting between the two of them, what other explanation could there possibly be?  There was none; Inuyasha had met Kikyou, end of story.  And despite his fury at their assumptions, he hadn’t expressly denied this one simple fact.  

 

So why did she still feel unsure of herself, like there was something she was missing, something she hadn’t thought of, something she should have considered?  It made her uneasy, and increasingly irritated.  How was she supposed to think clearly with such doubts?  How could she make the right decision about her future now?  She had told Inuyasha to go to Kikyou, but could she really cut ties with him?  And if she did, was she doing what she always promised herself never to do: forcing him to choose between her and Kikyou?  Sniffling, she lowered her head in despair.  He already made his choice, and just I don’t want to believe it.  That’s why I’m doubting myself now, because I still love him.  Dammit!  This always happens; my emotions cloud my judgment, and I end up crawling back to him even though he’s the one running off to be with another woman.  I can’t do this anymore!  Tomorrow…I’ll tell him either he leaves…or I do.

 

Part of her mind rebelled at the idea, but she tamped it down with conviction.  She was determined now, and nothing was going to stop her from ending more than a year of emotional torment.  Her feelings had been stomped on enough over their time together, and it had to cease before she became nothing but a burned-out husk of a person, a woman incapable of love.  She already feared that she would never love another in the same way.  But that was a worry for another day.  Inuyasha had betrayed her in the worst way, and it would not happen again.  Still, as she tried to find slumber later that night, that infuriating something from before continued to gnaw at her, and no amount of self-reassurance could make it go away.  She lay awake all night, listening to the quiet snores of her friends and the pitter-patter of rain on the roof of the hut. 

 

In the morning, Kagome rose with the sun, tired of fruitless attempts to find unconsciousness.  She was mentally exhausted; her brain had found no rest last night, nor had her mind reached a consensus about what Inuyasha had done.  It pissed her off to no end that she could still have faith in him, that her heart still believed things were not as they appeared.  Kami, I’m such a fool.  She inhaled deeply, intending to release the air in a long, relaxing breath.  Instead, she choked on it.  Her nose flared as she sought out the two scents which had surprised her so.  One was Inuyasha’s, and if his had been the only scent she would have simply marched in the other direction.  But the other scent intrigued her; she recognized it as belonging to someone she had met before.  Daichi?  What’s he doing here?  True to her feline nature, she was unable to resist her curiosity, as she tracked the bear’s scent to a small, brownish lump on the ground. 

 

Reaching her hand out hesitantly, she gripped the fabric of the carrying bag, and peered inside.  White fabric met her gaze, and an inquisitive touch revealed that the garment was dry; apparently the carrying bag was waterproof.  Kneeling down in the moist grass, she carefully lifted the item out of the bag and unfolded it.  It was a white kosode, pretty standard for this day and age.  Yet there was something strange about it; it appeared more regal than the kosode a normal human might wear.  A small surge of power rippled through her as she studied it, resonating with her youki.  She sniffed the fabric deeply, frowning as a pressing question occurred to her.  What was this bag of clothing doing in the middle of nowhere with only Daichi’s and Inuyasha’s scents on it?  Hm, Daichi did say he made Inuyasha’s haori, so maybe he made these was well?  That would at least explain why the bear’s scent was heavier.  But then what the hell was Inuyasha doing with this bag of clothing?  With the recent exception of modern clothing, she had never known him to wear anything except his traditional red outfit.  As a matter of fact, the kosode looked several sizes too small for him.  So then, if it wasn’t for him, who was it for?  Was it a gift?  Her already miserable mood soured even further as she pondered the obvious conclusion.  Ugh, she already has his heart, and now he’s showering her with gifts too!  Would someone please just put me out of my misery?  But that didn’t make any sense.  If these were for Kikyou, then why didn’t Inuyasha give them to her days ago?  Why were they sitting out here at the edge of the forest, as if they had been carelessly dropped?  A horrid, disturbing thought occurred to her, one which immediately caused her heart to clench and her stomach to churn.  What if…they were for her? 

 

Like a sacrificial lamb being led to the slaughter, Kagome went through the bag, picking out one piece of clothing at a time.  The white hot light of truth began to shine into her mind, scalding wherever it touched.  She felt like she was going to throw up.  The yellow and blue ensemble in particular was convincing evidence; it very closely resembled a certain blouse and pair of jean-shorts she currently had stored in her bag.  And hadn’t she been wearing that outfit that day at Daichi’s cave?  Ultimately, however, it was the last item that drove the final nail into the coffin of her conceited self-righteousness.  The soft silk of the bathing yukata seemed to burn her fingers, or maybe that was just self-reproach playing tricks on her.  The bile rose in her throat as she gazed at the immaculate design on the back, the beautiful meadow, the sleeping cat lying next to the dozing dog…  Such symbolism could only mean one thing. 

 

Leaning dizzily to the side, Kagome heaved violently, her empty stomach rendering most of the wretches dry.  Hurriedly and haphazardly she stuffed all the garments back in the bag, not feeling worthy to touch them.  Oh, Kami…what have I done?!  Inuyasha had come bearing wonderful gifts, and she had tossed him out into the rain.  The yukata alone said more about his feelings than he had ever spoken aloud.  Her lack of faith might well have damaged their friendship beyond repair.  Why?  Why had she been so unfaithful?!  Why hadn’t she trusted Inuyasha? 

 

She was pretty sure the recent sting of Inuyasha’s apparent rejection had something to do with it.  She hadn’t yet forgiven him for that unbelievable agony, for making her think he wouldn’t accept her as a hanyou.  The pain had not yet faded, and easily poisoned her mind and judgment.  So why did that just sound like a convenient, lame excuse?  Kagome sobbed as tears continued to pour down her cheeks.  Great, now I’m trying to make this all Inuyasha’s fault.  What the hell is wrong with me?!  No matter how badly he hurt me, I shouldn’t have assumed something so horrible of him!  It had to be her, some fault she was missing.  Yesterday, when she found out where Inuyasha was, or where they’d assumed he was, she had been furious.  She hadn’t been that upset with him since Naraku’s baby had nearly broken her while he was chasing after a rumor of Kikyou.  Her eyes widened as a new realization struck hard. 

 

That was it!  She thought back to all the other times he had left her to see Kikyou, the times he made her feel like a cheap copy of the dead priestess, like she would always be second best.  Oh, Kami, I…I never forgave him for any of those times!  I thought I did, but deep down I’ve been holding those experiences against him the whole time!  Only in the deepest, darkest corner of her psyche had she harbored such resentment, so it went unnoticed by the conscious part of her mind.  But it was always lurking, searching for the perfect opportunity to rear its ugly head.  It had certainly picked the worst possible time.  No more!  This has to change; I have to forgive him, REALLY forgive him.  He’s changed.  He’s not the same man he once was; I don’t even see him pining for Kikyou anymore.  And we’ve grown so close.  My heart was trying to tell me all along that he would never truly betray me, but I didn’t listen.  Baka!  I have to forgive him.

 

And she did.  This time, however, she knew it beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Logic and reason gave way to pure emotion.  Before, she had tried to forgive him with her head, but this time she forgave him with her heart.  This only made her feel a little better.  There was still the daunting task of earning his forgiveness in return, whether or not she actually deserved it.  And to do that, she needed to find him.  Before standing, she removed all the clothes from the bag, and gently smoothed and folded each item before replacing it.  She somehow felt more worthy to touch the fabric now, but only Inuyasha himself could ease her anxiety.  Or he could shatter her heart as she had no doubt smashed his; it was entirely his choice.  Upon rising to her feet and sniffing for his trail, however, Kagome ran into an age-old problem: smells don’t cling to nature as they do to fabric.  The evening’s rain had washed away all but the faintest traces of Inuyasha’s scent, and what was left just wasn’t strong enough to follow with her feline nose. 

 

She headed for Goshinboku and, upon not finding him there, made a full circuit around the village.  When she arrived back at the sacred tree a couple hours later with no leads, she finally gave up.  Inuyasha apparently did not want to be found.  Kagome slumped bonelessly against the trunk, and took to staring off into space, contemplating how the past twelve hours had gone so terribly wrong.  That is how Sango found her sometime later. 

 

 “Kagome-chan, there you are!  Why don’t you come in for lunch?  You haven’t eaten anything since yesterday.” 

 

Kagome didn’t respond; she just drew her legs up to her chest, hiding her face behind her knees.  She didn’t particularly feel like being seen right now, by anyone. 

 

“Look, Kagome-chan, I know you’re sad, but you have to take care of yourself.  We’re all really worried about you.  Please come and eat.” 

 

Again, no response.  Sango’s anger began to rise.  “Come on, Kagome-chan!  You can’t mope around all day just because Inuyasha is a bastard!  We—” 

 

A vicious snarl cut her off, and the taijiya suddenly found herself pinned to the Goshinboku by clawed hands clutching her shoulders. 

 

“He’s not!”  Kagome yelled, hovering over her, a dangerous glint shining in her eyes.  But there was something else as well, a powerful sense of remorse that made Sango’s blood run cold.  The feeling only intensified on Kagome’s expression as the miko realized what she had done to one of her best friends.  Sango would have some bruises on her shoulders and probably on her back from where she hit the tree.  Kagome released her, seeming to withdraw into herself as she curled into a ball once more. 

 

“Kagome-chan,” Sango breathed in relief, placing her hand on the miko’s shoulder.  “What do you mean ‘he’s not?’” 

 

Without raising her head, Kagome merely pointed to the bag sitting on the other side of her. 

 

“Oh, Kami…shit,” Sango swore as she looked through the clothes, coming to the same conclusion Kagome had. 

 

“H-he wasn’t with Kikyou for three days, Sango-chan,” Kagome choked, laying her head on its side so she could meet the taijiya’s gaze.  “He was at Daichi-sama’s, getting me a gift.” 

 

Both girls were silent for a long moment before Sango spoke up.  “Don’t worry, Kagome-chan.  He’ll come back, and he’ll forgive you—us.  I’m sorry, Kagome-chan.  It’s our fault you’re in this mess—”

 

“Shut up, Sango-chan.” 

 

“But if we hadn’t told y—”

 

“I said shut up!  It’s as much my fault as it is yours!  I should have had more faith in him.” 

 

“We all should have,” Sango agreed.  The two girls sat together for most of the afternoon, sometimes talking and sometimes just reflecting in silence.  Sango retired a few hours before dusk, after eliciting a promise from Kagome to join them for dinner unless Inuyasha came by.  Alone, fatigue overtook Kagome fairly quickly, as she slipped into a restless slumber, plagued by dark dreams of Inuyasha in pain, being sealed to the Goshinboku by his closest friend.  Except this time, she was the one with the bow in her hands. 

 

* * *

 

Inuyasha sat cross-legged in the mid-afternoon sunlight outside the cave, just as he had the entire morning.  Birds twittered and flew by overhead, and small mammals scurried through the underbrush.  He glared at all of them, hating the fact that these creatures could go on with their lives while his was inescapably stalled.  He knew he had to go back to his companions, but he dreaded the reunion.  Part of him wanted to brush this aside as a simple misunderstanding, but he was hurt, and it wasn’t that easy.  They had wronged him, made them doubt his friendship.  Last night, he had been reminded what it felt like to be utterly alone in the world.  It stirred up several poignant memories, including one he clung tightly to and simultaneously wished to forget. 

 

~~~

 

His mother coughed again, gasping for air as another fit wracked her thin frame.  He had seen her sick before, but never this badly.  And there was something different this time, a scent he didn’t recognize clinging to her.  Only later would he learn that this scent, which had inspired unexplained dread in him, was death. 

 

“Inuyasha,” she rasped, startling him.  It was the first time she had been cognizant of her surroundings in almost two days.  He hadn’t left her side since she first fell ill, not even to eat. 

 

“Mama?” he replied hopefully, wiping her brow with a cool cloth.  She gazed serenely up at him, her eyes relaxed and tranquil.  At that moment, she had known what his innocent mind refused to accept.  It was her last opportunity to speak to her son, and she could not waste it. 

 

“Inuyasha, my darling son,” she said, weakly caressing his cheek with her palm.  He leaned into her touch, his eyes drifting closed as some of the anxiety that had gripped him bled away.  “I love you.” 

 

His eyes snapped open at her statement, a bone-chilling fear settling firmly in the pit of his stomach.  It wasn’t what she had said; she told him she loved him quite often, in fact.  But the manner in which she spoke was unusually serious.  It was…final.  Still he refused to believe what was happening, what his instincts were telling him.  He wrapped himself around his mother, clutching himself to her tightly and burying his face in her shoulder.  His mother’s low chuckle turned into another coughing fit, and the tears he had been holding back for two days finally sprang to his eyes.  His mother was dying. 

 

“Inuyasha,” she soothed, not voicing any complaint about the uncomfortable tightness of his hold.  Instead, she leisurely stroked his hair and placed gentle kisses on the top of his head.  When he relaxed slightly, she articulated the most difficult words that had ever passed her lips. 

 

“Inuyasha, I have to go soon.” 

 

He shook his head violently, squeezing her even tighter. 

 

“I’m sorry, Inuyasha, but I have to.” 

 

Again, he shook his head, but this time she at least got a muffled response.  “Don’t go,” he pleaded in a voice that nearly broke her heart. 

 

She sighed heavily, the action causing more hacking coughs to tear through her. 

 

“Inuyasha, look at me,” she ordered softly but sternly.  When her son obeyed, what was left of her heart shattered.  He looked so lost and alone, his normally bright eyes hollow from sadness.  She gently dried his tears, smiling lovingly at him, and was gratified when he managed a small smile in return.  “My beautiful son, you have brought me so much joy.  Know that no matter where you go, or what you do, I will always love you.” 

 

“I love you too, Mama.”  Again he pressed himself into her, trying to be as close as possible before she was gone forever.  Gone forever…that was a truly frightening thought.  “But Mama, what will I do?  How can I live without you?” 

 

“You will find your way, Inuyasha,” she assured confidently.  “You are so much like your father.  You are strong enough to make your way in this world and compassionate enough to find love.  Life will be difficult for you, but I have faith that you will one day have a family of your own.  Just remember something your father told me.  He said ‘there will be times in every man’s life when he must do or say the right thing, or lose the ones he loves.’  Follow your heart, my son, and I know you will make us proud.” 

 

With those final words of wisdom, his mother slipped back into unconsciousness. 

 

~~~

 

She passed away in her sleep a few hours later.  Inuyasha dried the few rogue tears that had surfaced; it was amazing how thinking of his mother could still make him cry, though he suspected it always would.  She had been his whole world.  There will be times in every man’s life when he must do or say the right thing, or lose the ones he loves.  Heh, you were right, Okaa-san…I finally found love again.  And he would not abandon it over some accusations and mistrust.  He would go back and try to explain things, and forgive Kagome even if she did not apologize.  Fleetingly he wondered when he had become so selfless.  Kagome’s influence, no doubt.  She had healed him, caused him to better himself in so many ways, and he would be forever grateful. 

 

He stood and headed off toward the village, traveling at a leisurely pace.  Just because he had decided to go back didn’t mean he was particularly anxious to see his friends again.  The sun was barely hovering over the horizon by the time he arrived.  He picked up Kagome’s scent on the breeze and tracked it to Goshinboku.  After hesitating for a few minutes, he eventually gathered his courage and strode into the clearing.  He was surprised to find her asleep, slumped against the ancient tree.  He sat back on his haunches, spellbound by her tranquil beauty.  But she appeared to be having nightmares; her eyes worked furiously behind her lids and periodically she would shift and mumble in her sleep.  Several times he thought he heard his name, and after a particularly bad start rocked her he decided it was time to rouse her from her slumber.

 

“Kagome.” 

 

Her eyes fluttered open in response, and she gasped as she saw him, bolting upright.  “Inu-Inuyasha!” she gaped.  Kagome was ecstatic to see him, but his guarded expression stopped her from enfolding him in a huge hug like she wanted.  She could normally read him so well, but now she couldn’t tell if he was angry, sad, remorseful, or anything else.  Perhaps he was feeling a combination of all those things.  But she knew what her dominant emotions were at the moment: shame and remorse.  Inuyasha had returned to her, and it was time to swallow her pride and act on those feelings. 

 

“Inuyasha,” she repeated, lowering her eyes and fidgeting with her hands folded nervously in her lap.  “I’m so sorry.  It was wrong of me make those assumptions.  I should have had more faith in you.” 

 

“Yeah, you should have,” he replied harshly.  Kagome’s eyes closed, tears springing forth as she bit her lower lip to keep from sobbing.  Could she really blame him for not forgiving her?  After all, holding grudges was part of the reason she was in this predicament in the first place.  She had just about lost the physical battle with her despair when Inuyasha spoke again. 

 

“But I’ll forgive you anyway.” 

 

Her head snapped up, and he grinned slightly at her astonished expression. 

 

“Wh-why?” she choked out.  

 

He shrugged.  “I realized that it’s partly my fault you guys thought I ran off to see Kikyou.  Besides, you’ve always forgiven me for all the stupid shit I’ve done in the past, and I’d be some kind of heartless bastard to hold this against you.”  To Inuyasha’s surprise, instead of brightening Kagome’s attitude and bringing a hesitant smile to her face, his words seemed to make her feel worse. 

 

“I haven’t,” she confessed bitterly. 

 

“Huh?” he asked, genuinely confused.  “You haven’t what?” 

 

“Forgiven you.  This afternoon I realized that I never forgave you for some of the things you did, like leaving me to see Kikyou.  Deep down I think I always resented you a little for those times.  And with what happened the other day…I guess it all caught up with me at once, you know?  But now, I really have forgiven you, for everything.  I promise not to hold anything in our past against you, either.” 

 

Inuyasha nodded as he digested her declaration.  He settled down next to her, looping his arm around her shoulders and pulling her gently against him.  She relaxed immediately, and much of the tension in the air vanished. 

 

“I did see her, you know,” Inuyasha declared softly.  Kagome grimaced at his admission, but said nothing.  “It was last night, on the way back.  We talked for a little while, then went our separate ways.” 

 

“That’s fine.  I can’t stop you from seeing Kikyou, and even if I could, it wouldn’t be right.  You two have a history together, and I can’t change that.  So I don’t mind if you see her.  Just don’t hide it from me, okay?” 

 

Now it was Inuyasha’s turn to grimace as the recalled all the times he had tried to do just that.  Somehow it never seemed to work. 

 

“Sounds like we need a fresh start, wench.” 

 

Finally, Kagome smiled, turning to grin hopefully up at him.  “That sounds great,” she said simply, but it was enough. 

 

A silent agreement passed between them in that moment.  There would be no more assumptions or misunderstandings; they would talk to each other, communicate about their problems.  Unknowingly, they both shared basically the same thought.  If we hadn’t been such bakas, we might have made this promise long ago.  It would have saved us a lot of trouble…and heartache.  But they couldn’t change what happened in the past, and it would do no good to dwell on it.  That’s what this fresh start was all about.  They lounged together under Goshinboku for a long time, and neither spoke until well after darkness had fallen over the land.  They took pleasure in the feel of the other pressed so close and the intermingling of their scents as they watched the beauty of nature’s sunset together. 

 

“So, Inuyasha,” Kagome said at long last, “where did you spend these past three days?” 

 

Something in her tone made Inuyasha suspicious; it was as if she already knew the answer.  Frowning, he took in his surroundings for the first time since returning, and immediately spotted the carrying bag on the ground on Kagome’s other side.  His heart lodged in his throat in sudden nervousness, and he spared a glance at Kagome only to see her beaming brilliantly at him. 

 

“Keh!” he spat out, looking away with a fierce blush on his cheeks.  She was giving him that look, the one that could turn his insides to jelly in under a second, the one that made him feel like the luckiest hanyou on earth just for being in her presence.  And if Kagome wasn’t sure the garments were intended for her before, she was now.  That was the only thing his reaction could have meant. 

 

“Thank you, but why did you get them for me?”

 

“You asked me to train you, so I figured you needed some tough clothing.  They’re like my haori; they’ll bind to your youkai and fix themselves.  D-do you want them?” he asked worriedly. 

 

“Of course!  They’re beautiful, and I love them!  Especially the yukata.” 

 

He grunted a response.  “You weren’t supposed to see that one yet, wench.” 

 

“Well, when were you going to give it to me?” 

 

“I dunno!  Maybe when you stopped being an annoying bitch!” 

 

Kagome elbowed him in the side, but didn’t follow her first inclination and ‘osuwari’ him.  She read his outburst for what it was: a nervous man lashing out in embarrassment-induced mock anger. 

 

“Baka!  You don’t have to be such a jerk about it.”

 

“Sorry.” 

 

Slightly startled, Kagome turned to study him.  He looked genuinely remorseful for his insults. 

 

“You know, you’re apologizing a lot quicker now.  Getting you to say you were sorry used to be like pulling teeth.” 

 

“Maybe I’ve just gotten better at faking it,” he defended. 

 

“Nope.  I can tell you’re sincere.”

 

“Feh.”  The worst part about what Kagome said was that it was completely true.  Damn, I’m going soft.  It’s all the wench’s fault!  Evidently, Kagome guessed what he was thinking, because she decided to tease him a little. 

 

“Aw, the big tough Inuyasha is becoming a nice guy!  You’re a regular gentleman!” she joked, smirking. 

 

“I am NOT nice, wench, and I sure as hell ain’t no fucking gentleman!” 

 

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.  You still swear ‘like a drunken sailor,’ as Mama would put it.” 

 

“Keh.  No measly human can out-cuss me, wench.” 

 

Kagome chuckled, and the laughter proved infectious, as Inuyasha joined in with a small snicker.  And that’s when they both knew for sure that they would be okay.  They really had embarked on a new beginning, inaugurated by a few minutes of playful bantering.  When the mirth subsided, Kagome remembered something she had wanted to ask since that morning. 

 

“So…can I try them on?” 

 

“Go for it,” was his nonchalant reply, but his eyes betrayed him.  He was very interested in seeing how she looked in the clothes he had brought her, and that was an entirely too pleasant observation.  The butterflies in her stomach were working overdrive as she went into the woods to change.  She modeled each in outfit in turn, sensing the now familiar scent of Inuyasha’s attraction in the air.  And as she held the yukata in her hands, debating with herself whether to try it on as well, it was that scent which ultimately led to her decision.  Inuyasha’s jaw dropped into his lap as she emerged from the trees.  The last thing he’d been expecting was for her to come out wearing nothing but the bathing yukata.  The exceedingly short bathing yukata.

 

The scent of his attraction increased exponentially, inflating Kagome’s ego just a little bit.  Encouraged, she spun around halfway, moving her hair to expose the intricate design on her back.  She glanced over her shoulder, flashing a somewhat sultry smirk.  Inuyasha gulped, shifting uncomfortably as certain parts of his anatomy came to life.  Thank Kami for baggy hakama.  Fortunately, Kagome was not especially fond of flirting, and quickly lost her nerve.  Inuyasha breathed a sigh of relief as she scurried back into the underbrush, hopefully to put on something a little less revealing.  Not that little Inuyasha minded seeing her in just the yukata.  When she did reemerge, she was wearing the all-red set of short clothing Daichi had designed for her. 

 

“Why are you wearing that, wench?” Inuyasha asked curiously. 

 

She shrugged.  “I just felt like it,” she replied, settling into her previous place against his side.  “How did everything look on me?” she inquired, grinning as Inuyasha flushed again.  Because of her hanyou nose, that question was little more than a formality, but she still wanted to hear his answer. 

 

“Uh…g-good,” he stuttered, his speech impeded by the sheer dryness of his mouth. 

 

“Just good?”

 

“Really good,” he reluctantly admitted. 

 

“Thanks,” Kagome replied, leaning up to place a kiss on his cheek.  “For everything.” 

 

In that moment, Inuyasha was reminded of his revelation, and seriously considered telling Kagome how he felt right then and there.  But the pain was still too fresh, open sores not quite healed, so he put it off for another day.  There would be other opportunities. 

 

“K-keh!” 

 

Fortunately, Inuyasha was saved from saying anything further on the matter by Kagome’s cavernous yawn.  “Go back to the hut, wench.  You need to be well-rested if we’re gonna start training tomorrow.” 

 

She shook her head.  “I’d rather sleep in Goshinboku with you.  Do you mind?” she asked shyly. 

 

Inuyasha’s heart thundered rapidly as the possible implications of her statement set in.  He was sure she meant nothing hentai by it, but even just cuddling up together for the night was a monumentous step he wasn’t sure he was ready for. 

 

“Do what you want,” he replied before leaping up into one of the higher branches, leaving Kagome to stare longingly up at him.  She sighed; his actions made perfectly clear what he thought of her idea.  Still, it would be nice to be close to him.  It had been far too many nights since she had slumbered in his soothing presence.  But sleep eluded her; she was unable to find a comfortable position on her chosen branch.  The hard bark poked into her back and buttocks, and she wondered not for the first time how the hell Inuyasha did it. 

 

Currently, said hanyou was sitting above her, mentally berating himself.  You moron!  You love her, so what’s the problem with letting her sleep in your arms?  All you did by rejecting her was hurt her feelings.  Baka!  Growling to himself, he listened to Kagome toss and turn for a few more minutes before making up his mind.  Silently he dropped down onto Kagome’s branch, startling the miko with the sudden weight on her platform.  Wordlessly he drew her away from the trunk and placed himself behind her, then pulled her back to lie against his chest.  She quickly got the idea, and turned on her side to snuggle more fully into his embrace.  Neither could help the twin smiles and blushes as their heartbeats slowed and they drifted off to neverland. 

Chapter Text

Inuyasha growled to himself, his frustrations just about ready to boil over on the slightest provocation.  Five days.  It had been five days since that night he slept with Kagome in Goshinboku, and he had yet to make any progress with her, literally or figuratively.  Well, that wasn’t entirely true, but at the very least he hadn’t confessed his feelings yet.  Coming oh so close on a couple occasions hadn’t helped his mood, and the others were giving him a wide berth this morning.  As well they should; they had all contributed in some way or another to his ever mounting sense of frustration.  He scoffed inwardly.  That first morning had started off so well, too…

 

*Day 1*

 

Inuyasha languished lazily in that delightful realm between sleep and reality for the longest time.  It was a relatively new experience for him; usually he would go from dozing to fully awake in a matter of seconds.  But this morning something was different.  His slumber had been so deep, and he felt way too warm and comfortable to get up.  It was as if some blanket of the Kami had been draped over him, wrapping him in divine coziness.  Deciding another few minutes couldn’t hurt, he drew the blanket closer.  Only, it wasn’t a blanket.  Shaking off the cobwebs as his eyes blinked open, his quickly rousing mind finally recognized the object—person in his arms as Kagome. 

 

He nearly threw her out of the tree in shock before his memory came back to him.  He breathed a sigh of relief, adjusting her more comfortably in his hold.  A fall from this height wouldn’t have even hurt her very much, but he had no doubt that awakening in such a manner would royally piss her off.  And he would probably end up following her to the ground, being yanked toward the cold, unforgiving earth by the rosary around his neck.  No, he was very glad to avoid that whole scenario.  Besides, now he could spend more time holding her in his arms, an activity he could now admit he desired greatly.  He enjoyed the simple pleasure of watching her sleep for a seemingly interminable amount of time.  But sadly, all good things must come to an end. 

 

“Kagome?  Are you out here?” Sango called from relatively close by, startling Inuyasha, who had been too engrossed in his pastime to notice her approach.  The combination of her name being called and the slight jostle finally woke Kagome.  Not yet realizing where she was, or who she was lying on, she stretched languidly.  She roused fully and pulled back her hand upon Inuyasha’s pained yelp. 

 

“Watch it, wench!” he yelled, rubbing his abused eye. 

 

“Sorry!” Kagome hastily replied, feeling unbelievably stupid.  How awkward are we?  We’re like clumsy teenage virgins getting close to the opposite sex for the first time.  She grimaced; that was exactly what they were.  Just then, Sango’s voice rang out from closer this time, again calling for her.   

 

“We’ve got company, wench,” Inuyasha muttered. 

 

“Yeah, I promised Sango I’d come back to the hut last night unless you showed up.” 

 

“I’m surprised she let you stay out at all,” he declared, realizing his mistake as Kagome’s hackles rose, but it was too late.

 

“And why is that?” she inquired incredulously, a dangerous glint in her eye. 

 

“Uh, you have the jewel shards!”  It was a decent cover, but Kagome saw right through it. 

 

“Inuyasha, I’m not completely helpless, you know!” 

 

Fortunately, Inuyasha was saved from shoving his foot further into his mouth by three sharp gasps from down below.  Leaning over the side of the branch, he spied Miroku, Sango, and Shippou staring up at them. 

 

“Inuyasha, you’re back,” Sango observed aloud, shame and remorse in her tone.  Being the most mature of her party of three, the taijiya was the first to actually attempt to voice those emotions.  “Inuyasha, I wanted to tell you…uh…” 

 

Kagome’s stomach chose that moment to growl, and Inuyasha couldn’t say he disagreed with her body’s craving for food. 

 

“Let’s eat some breakfast,” he stated loudly, cutting Sango off mid-sentence.  The three on the ground looked puzzled at first, but quickly realized that Inuyasha didn’t intend to listen to them until he had food in his stomach. 

 

“You guys can make the ninja food in my bag if you want,” Kagome said.  Miroku, Sango, and Shippou had heard Inuyasha and Kagome bickering, but it was still a shock to actually see them cuddled in the tree together.  Inuyasha glared, daring any of them to say anything about it.  But though they wanted to ask many questions, they knew that it was not their place right now.  Encouraged and hopeful, they went off to prepare the meal.  After they had gone, silence returned to Goshinboku, save for the chirping of the awakening songbirds. 

 

“You are going to forgive them, right?” Kagome wondered.  Inuyasha turned to face her, flashing the classic ‘you’re an idiot’ look. 

 

“Wench, think about what I’ve already forgiven them for.  I forgave Shippou for trying to steal the jewel shards and getting you captured and almost killed by the Thunder Brothers.  I forgave Miroku for stealing the jewel shards, trying to suck me into his wind tunnel, and being an insufferable pervert every fuckin’ day.  I forgave Sango for trying to kill me, and then stealing Tetsusaiga and fuckin’ handing it to Naraku!  I think I can forgive them for this, too.” 

 

Kagome grinned.  “That’s my Inuyasha.  Always trying to hide just how good his heart is.” 

 

Awkward silence fell between them, as the ramifications of Kagome’s words set in.  How would he react to being called her Inuyasha?  In the old days, he probably would have made a snide remark and hurt her feelings.  Would he still do that?  The answer was obvious, at least to Inuyasha.  It was true, after all; he did belong to her, even if she didn’t know it yet. 

 

“Feh.  Just don’t tell anybody.  I have a reputation to keep.” 

 

Kagome chuckled as the tension dissipated.  “Baka.”

 

“Takes one to know one, bitch.”

 

“Hey!  You’re a much bigger baka than me!  Where’d you learn that expression, anyhow?” 

 

Inuyasha shrugged.  “Souta.” 

 

“Hmph.  I’m going to have a chat with that little imp.  Living with you is difficult enough without you knowing a ton of sassy modern expressions.” 

 

“Well if I’m so ‘difficult,’ maybe you should go find someone else to use as a pillow.” 

 

“Nope.  Too comfortable.” 

 

“Mm,” he grunted, in complete agreement.  They remained there, nestled against each other, until Shippou came to retrieve them for breakfast.  It was very difficult forcing herself away from Inuyasha’s embrace, but once she did Kagome realized how badly she needed to relieve herself.  Both hanyou took care of nature’s calling before rejoining Shippou by Goshinboku.  The kit somewhat nervously hopped up on Inuyasha’s shoulder, half expecting a quick bop to the head and an unceremonious dismount.  But the hanyou made no effort to remove him, so he relaxed slightly.  He eyed Kagome’s choice of dress curiously, and the strange bag she carried, but made no comment on either.  As they neared the hut, he stood up and leaned into Inuyasha’s ear, whispering words so quietly that not even Kagome’s hanyou hearing could pick them up.  After a few seconds he settled back down on Inuyasha’s shoulder, blushing madly and staring at the ground.  Inuyasha just smirked and shook his head. 

 

“Yeah, yeah, runt.  Don’t get all blubbery on me,” he said in amusement, no hostility invading his tone.  Kagome grinned widely; it was incredibly mature of Shippou to take it upon himself to apologize alone.  And how long had it been since the spoiled—admittedly, by her own hand—kit had made a heartfelt apology?  Extraordinarily proud, she took Shippou from Inuyasha’s shoulder and hugged him.  Does Inuyasha have any idea how much Shippou looks up to him?  Does Shippou, for that matter? 

 

The three of them entered the hut and were instantly greeted by the smells of both traditional and modern cooking.  Miroku and Sango apparently hadn’t been comfortable with serving all her ninja food, so the meal was mostly standard feudal era cuisine.  The lone exception was the two cups of steaming ramen sitting in Inuyasha’s customary spot around the fire.  The hanyou was starving, having not eaten in almost twenty-four hours, and eagerly dove into the noodles, not caring if they burned his tongue.  Kagome was just as hungry, but managed to restrain herself from wolfing down her food like a savage. 

 

“Uh, Inuyasha…” Miroku tried. 

 

“Spi- ith ouw, bouzhu,” Inuyasha mumbled through a mouthful of noodles.  Miroku and Sango translated that into ‘Spit it out, bouzu.’ 

 

“We’re sorry,” they declared in unison, pinning each other with surprised looks. 

 

Inuyasha nodded, too engrossed in his meal to give more of a response.  Miroku frowned, then embarked on a more suitable apology. 

 

“Seriously, Inuyasha, you really do have our humblest apologies.  We shouldn’t have assumed that you would abandon Kagome-sama like that.” 

 

“Forget it,” Inuyasha told him after swallowing what was in his mouth.  “Just remember that I’m not a total bastard next time.” 

 

Miroku sighed and shook his head, massaging his temple with two fingers.  “I am pleasantly surprised you are forgiving us so easily.”

 

“Keh.  Want me to whack you on the head instead?” 

 

“I’d almost think I’d feel better that way.” 

 

“Suit yourself.” 

 

*BONK!!!*

 

“Owww…”

 

“Feel better, bouzu?  Any time you want me to punch you, just ask!” 

 

“That’s quite alright, my friend.”

 

“What about you, Sango?  You want some lumps, too?” Inuyasha asked half-jokingly. 

 

“Ha!  Not unless you want some even bigger lumps on your head, courtesy of hiraikotsu.” 

 

“I ain’t afraid of you, taijiya!” 

 

Sango smiled; at that moment, she knew everything was back to normal.  They truly had been forgiven, and they would try to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.  She chose to ignore Inuyasha, turning instead to a question that had been nagging her for some time now. 

 

“Kagome, what are you wearing?” 

 

“Yes, child,” Kaede spoke up, finally joining the conversation.  “I do not think I have ever seen anything like that, not from this side of the bone-eater’s well.”  They were the first words she had spoken since the previous afternoon, having kept her mouth shut while the Inu-gang was making its cruel assumptions.  She had always known that they were false and unwarranted, but the wisdom of the aged told her it would be best for them to figure it out on their own.  Now, she was glad for an old woman’s intuition; leaving things alone had been the right choice.  Kagome shifted uncomfortably under the scrutiny. 

 

“Uh, Inuyasha got it for me.  Why?  You don’t like it?” 

 

“No one’s saying that, Kagome-sama,” Miroku replied hastily.  “I think it looks very good on you.  It’s just…different.” 

 

Inuyasha, who had started growling softly at Miroku’s compliment, decided to step in.  “It ain’t that different, bouzu.  Daichi based it off her modern clothes.  She has another set that’s blue and yellow.” 

 

“So why did he go with all red?  I’ve never seen Kagome-sama wear something like that before, unless…aw, how cute!  He wanted you to be twins.”

 

“Shut up!” Inuyasha yelled, folding his arms over his chest.

 

“I must ask, Inuyasha,” Miroku continued in a more serious tone.  “Why did you have Daichi-sama make Kagome-sama clothes?  If you wanted to get her a gift, why not something simpler?  Or maybe something to seal her youkai blood?” 

 

“She asked me to teach her how to fight, and if she’s gonna stay a hanyou forever then she’s gonna need some tough clothing.  They’ll bind to her youkai and fix themselves.  Daichi said they’re made from the fur of some swamp animal.”

 

Kagome nodded her agreement.  “He’s right.  Modern cotton just doesn’t cut it in—wait!  Did you say these are made from some swamp creature?!” 

 

“Uh…” Inuyasha stalled, shying away.  Kagome looked fit to be tied, though not even a gag would keep her from flattening him to the floor.  Daichi had said something important about the fabric in question, but for the life of him he couldn’t recall what. 

 

“Wait!” Sango interjected.  “Inuyasha, are you talking about the swamp fox?” 

 

“Yeah, that’s it!  That’s what Daichi said.”

 

“Oh, then don’t worry, Kagome-chan.  The swamp fox doesn’t actually live in the swamp.  From what I hear, they’re actually very clean, and many high-ranking demonesses covet their fur.  You’ve got some really nice material here.” 

 

“Oh,” Kagome replied sheepishly, suddenly feeling a little ashamed over her outburst.  Hadn’t she promised herself no more assumptions when it came to Inuyasha?  It was only a minor indiscretion this time, but it proved that they still needed some work to fully embark upon their fresh start. 

 

“Keh!  As if I’d really get you anything that came from some gross swamp beast!” Inuyasha declared, his courage bolstered by Sango’s timely intervention. 

 

Kagome favored him with a dubious expression.  “Yeah, ‘cause you seemed real confident about that a few seconds ago when you were cowering.” 

 

The others chuckled, and Inuyasha sent them a nasty glare.  “Shut up, all of you!” he ordered, not in the least bit amused.  “I do not cower,” he mumbled, but whether he was trying to convince them or himself no one could say. 

 

“So,” Sango cut in, attempting to change the subject, “what’s the plan now?” 

 

“Inuyasha said he would start training me today,” Kagome replied. 

 

“Okay.  Well, if you need an extra hand, just let me know.” 

 

“We’re fine for now, taijiya,” Inuyasha responded.  “We’ll stay here and train for a couple days, then go see Totosai about getting Kagome a seal.” 

 

“Sounds like a plan.  I’ll come get you guys when dinner’s ready.”  

 

With that, the group dispersed; Shippou to play, Miroku to meditate, Sango to help Kaede with her duties, and Inuyasha and Kagome to find a secluded spot to train.  They chose a large field at the edge of the village, both because if was close by and because a sloping hill provided some privacy. 

 

“You sure you wanna do this, Kagome?” Inuyasha asked seriously.  “You don’t have to.  I don’t mind protecting you.  And you did pretty well against Takehiko.  You—”

 

“It’s okay, Inuyasha,” Kagome interrupted, grinning at his reluctance and concern.  “I want to do this.  I know I promised you I wouldn’t go charging into battle, and I intend to keep that promise, but I want to be able to defend myself better, just in case.  When I was inside that youkai’s stomach…I never want to feel that helpless again.  So teach me how to fight.  Please?” 

 

Inuyasha nodded.  “Alright, but I ain’t gonna go easy on you.” 

 

“I don’t expect you to,” Kagome answered, determination alighting in her gaze. 

 

“Good.  We’ll start out with some sparring.  Fists closed; no claws.” 

 

“Okay, do we just go back and for—WAH!”  Only Kagome’s feline reflexes saved her from receiving a fist to the gut, as she lunged to the side to avoid Inuyasha’s first strike.  Her training had begun. 

 

Ten minutes later, Kagome was drenched in sweat and breathing hard while Inuyasha barely showed any sign of physical exertion.  She had learned Hanyou Lesson Number One: all that stamina doesn’t happen by itself, you have to work for it.  Oh, sure, she could outrun and outwork any normal human, but she wasn’t even close to Inuyasha’s level yet.  Already her body was smarting from several nasty bruises.  They would be gone by nightfall, but that was only because Inuyasha was pulling or stopping most of his punches at the last moment.  She shuddered to think how badly it would hurt if he really laid into her.  And over the past ten minutes, he’d certainly had plenty of opportunities to do so.  But that was one of the reasons she asked him to train her, because she knew he would never really hurt her. 

 

“You’re retreating too much, bitch.  You gotta always be looking for an opening to hit back.” 

 

Kagome scowled at him.  If he was trying to get under her skin by calling her ‘bitch,’ it was working.  All she had done so far was dodge, but that was about to stop.  He came at her again, swinging high with his right hand.  She dodged to her left, sending her own right arm lashing out toward his exposed side.  He easily blocked the attack and followed up in one smooth motion.  Kagome grunted as his left fist slammed into her side, and she tumbled back to land gracelessly on her ass. 

 

“You alright, bitch?” he asked tauntingly, but his eyes belied that sentiment.  He truly was concerned.  In fact, he was quickly finding that hitting Kagome was one of the hardest things he’d ever done.  But she had to learn, and he knew from experience that actual combat was the best way to acquire fighting skills.  He couldn’t give her mortal combat, but he could at least simulate it to the fullest possible extent. 

 

Kagome nodded in response to his question, mostly because he had, once again, struck her with only a fraction of the force of which he was capable.  They spent the next half hour in the same manner: Inuyasha attacking, Kagome trying to find openings that weren’t there, and continually getting her ass handed to her.  But she was improving.  She had yet to actually land a punch, but less of Inuyasha’s were landing on her.  If nothing else, she was getting a lot of practice on her dodging today.  And Inuyasha was finally sweating!  His lungs weren’t heaving like hers, but his forehead glistened in the late morning sunlight.  Feeling confident, she abandoned the caution that had been keeping her on her feet.  The next time she spied an opening she launched herself forward, throwing all her strength into the strike.  Inuyasha was stunned into inaction for all of a split second, but responded swiftly.  He deftly dodged the blow, spinning and smacking Kagome in the back, increasing her momentum while at the same time sticking his foot out in front of hers.  The end result was Kagome lying face down, sprawled out on the grass.  She rolled onto her back with a groan, gazing up at the sky and the grinning hanyou shaking his head at her. 

 

“Nice try, bitch, but that was too out of control.  If you do that against a real enemy you’ll end up with your head rolling on the ground.” 

 

Kagome sent him a disbelieving glower.  “Oh, and you always fight disciplined and under control,” she said sarcastically. 

 

“Keh!  Have you ever seen me get face-planted using only my own momentum?  I don’t think so, bitch.” 

 

  “I do have a name, you know.  Stop calling me ‘bitch!’”

 

Inuyasha smirked.  “Ok, I’ll stop calling you ‘bitch’ when you hit me.  That sound good, bitch?” 

 

Kagome saw red at that comment.  She couldn’t remember the last time she had wanted to ‘osuwari’ him so badly, but that would only prove that she was a loser.  She wanted, needed to wipe that condescending look off his face, and she was going to do it fair and square.  The truly infuriating part was that she couldn’t even come close.  Kagome was on the offensive for most of the next hour; Inuyasha only counterattacked when he thought she was too ‘out of control.’  She started getting sloppy as time wore on, and Inuyasha called a halt for lunch.  Only when she tried to get up after their ninja food meal did Kagome realize how sore her body was.  But the day was still young, and if she wanted to get better she knew she needed to push her limits.  It helped that they didn’t start combat practice up again right away.  Inuyasha spent two or three hours teaching her some of his moves, and showing her how to use her claws.  Then it was back to sparring, and at first Kagome had as little luck as she had earlier. 

 

But then, things began to change.  The act of dodging became second nature and didn’t require much thought, freeing up her mind to concentrate on offense.  Gradually, her once erratic attacks became more coordinated, and more difficult for Inuyasha to defend against.  Several came so close, but he would always avoid her fists at the last instant.  And as her frustration rose, so did her determination to land a hit.  Finally, just as the sun was beginning to dip below the tree line, it happened.  She aimed high, fully expecting to punch only air for the ten thousandth time that day, but instead her fist impacted flesh.  She was utterly shocked, and it took her a few seconds to realize that her knuckles were still embedded in Inuyasha’s cheek.  His head was turned to the side, so she couldn’t see his face, but something about his aura made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.  It had taken on a feral edge, and when he turned his face toward her, his eyes flared crimson while maintaining their dominant amber hue.  He flashed her a fanged smirk. 

 

“Well, Ka-Go-Me, it looks like we get to take this up a notch.” 

 

Before she could ask him what he meant, it became glaringly apparent.  He attacked, his movements a blur.  Before Kagome knew it, she was lying flat on her back, a clawed hand wrapped around her neck.  Inuyasha growled down at her, their faces inches apart, and she could see the red battling with the gold in his eyes.  But she wasn’t afraid.  His hand wasn’t squeezing; it was just there, applying barely enough pressure to remind her of its presence.  In addition, his hanyou side still dominated his scent and aura.  Even if he did go full youkai, which didn’t seem likely in any event, especially with Tetsusaiga on his hip, she still would not fear him.  She trusted him without exception in any form. 

 

“Inuyasha,” she stated, calmly pleading with him to relax.  Her voice got through to him, as he stopped growling and the traces of scarlet faded from his now completely golden orbs.  He blinked a few times, and his eyes widened as he realized how close they were.  Kagome gasped as the realization struck her simultaneously.  He was straddling her hips, pinning her to the ground with his weight, his upper body draped possessively over hers.  Shocked brown met stunned amber as breath mingled in the small, ever shrinking space between them.  Eyelids drifted closed as they leaned toward each other, hearts thundering wildly in anticipation…

 

“Inuyasha!  Kagome-chan!  Dinner’s ready!” 

 

Sango’s voice nearly stopped both their hearts.  Inuyasha leapt up, landing a good twenty feet away.  Two sets of eyes turned just in time to see the taijiya crest the hill, waving amiably at them, blissfully unaware of what she had just ruined.  And she had ruined the mood.  No, scratch that; Sango had taken the mood, stomped on it, chopped it into little pieces and threw them into the fire.  Now Inuyasha could barely bring himself to look at Kagome, let alone kiss her.  His one consolation was that she appeared to be as disappointed as he.  Sighing heavily, he massaged the back of his neck with his hand. 

 

“Come on, wench, let’s go eat.” 

 

“I c-can’t feel my legs,” Kagome replied shakily, inflating Inuyasha’s ego quite a bit.  If pressed, she would probably say it was just the fatigue, but he knew better.  His own legs were still wobbling as well.  He knelt down in front of her, and she eagerly accepted the invitation, climbing onto his back.  As he stood, his hands came to rest just a little higher on her thighs than usual, but she didn’t seem to mind. 

 

“Thanks, Inuyasha.”  An unintelligible grunt was her only reply.  “Hey!  I thought you said you weren’t going to go easy on me.”

 

“Feh.  You wouldn’t have lasted very long if I hadn’t, would you?” 

 

“No, I guess not,” she muttered despondently. 

 

“Don’t worry about it, wench.  You did fine.  I didn’t expect you to actually hit me.” 

 

She smiled.  “Yeah, I was as surprised as you were.” 

 

“Well, don’t get used to it.  It will never happen again.” 

 

“Oh, yes it will, dog-boy.” 

 

“Not a chance, wench.” 

 

“Yes it will!  And next time you’d better not go all crazy pseudo-youkai on me!” 

 

Kagome made that last comment without thinking, and immediately wished she could take it back.  Unfortunately, Sango, who had been waiting for them, was now within earshot, so no more was said on the matter.  Both of them were thinking about it, however, and Inuyasha was just as confused as Kagome.  How many times in his life had he been hit, and a hell of a lot harder than Kagome’s punch?  Yet, unless his life was truly in danger, his youkai side always remained dormant.  So why had it emerged when Kagome struck him?  And for that matter, why hadn’t Tetsusaiga kept it under control? 

 

Perhaps the answer to that question was that it had never been out of control.  His youkai blood didn’t even come close to overwhelming him.  It had been an urge, a compulsion, and he hadn’t felt like resisting.  But he remembered what the surge felt like; he could have resisted.  But he was a man, and having a woman call your bet and punch you in the face was a little humbling.  His ego demanded he put her in her place.  It wasn’t that simple, however.  Underlying the wounded pride had been another urge, this one much more primal.  His youkai desired domination in every sense of the word, to possess Kagome, to make her his, and Inuyasha could not deny that the thought was very appealing.  For the first time in his life, his youkai and human sides agreed on what they wanted.  His youkai apparently didn’t feel like waiting for the rest of him to make a move.  But he would make it wait.  If, no, when he confessed his feelings, he wanted the moment to be special, something Kagome would cherish for the rest of her life.  His brash, impulsive youkai side would have to be content with observing from the sidelines. 

 

Of course, watching Kagome run and jump around all day had done nothing to temper his libido.  It was a good thing her clothes weren’t skin-tight, because his concentration wouldn’t have been able to handle it.  Dinner was a quiet affair, mostly because Kagome was so exhausted.  The sheer fatigue almost forced her to go to bed all sweaty, but the desire to be clean was too strong.  She and Sango went off to bathe after eating.  And Inuyasha would never admit it, but he was pretty tired himself.  The wench had given him quite a workout today, and he was rather sticky too.  Perhaps he would have to take a dip in the river once the girls got back.  He went outside to get some fresh air, lounging out on a nearby grassy knoll.  Unfortunately, a certain houshi didn’t see fit to let him relax in peace.  As soon as Miroku took a seat next to him, Inuyasha knew it was trouble.  He wished he had stayed in the hut with Shippou; the runt’s presence would have at least warded off some of the more intrusive questions. 

 

“So, you were getting pretty cozy with Kagome-sama last night.”  

 

Inuyasha pointedly ignored that comment, hoping Miroku would just go away.  It didn’t work. 

 

“Anything interesting happen?” 

 

Again, silence. 

 

“Come on, Inuyasha.  You can’t ignore me forever.  Why don’t you just tell me all the juicy detai—”

 

“Dammit, bouzu!  Just drop it, you fuckin’ pervert!” 

 

To Inuyasha’s surprise, Miroku’s attitude instantly shifted, becoming decidedly stern.  “Look, Inuyasha.  You may think I’m just being a pervert right now, but Kagome-sama is like a sister to me.  She cares for you more than you know, and I don’t want to see her hurt…again.” 

 

“I won’t,” Inuyasha replied simply. 

 

“What?”

 

“I said I won’t hurt Kagome anymore.” 

 

Miroku studied him for several long moments, his posture, the way his face was drawn into a remorseful frown, the absolute certainty in his gaze.  It was a look the monk had never seen on the hanyou before.  He grinned as he came to the correct conclusion. 

 

“I see.  So you finally figured it out, did you?” 

 

“Feh.  Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about,” Inuyasha answered, but the light dusting of pink on his cheeks said otherwise. 

 

“Uh-huh.  Whatever you say, lover-boy.” 

 

“Call me that again and I’ll shove your ‘cursed hand’ so far up your ass you’ll be picking your teeth with it!” 

 

“You know what this means, don’t you?” Miroku asked, unperturbed by Inuyasha’s idle threat.  “You might get an heir before I will!” 

 

Flushing in anger and mortification, Inuyasha leapt to his feet.  “That’s it!  You DIE!!!” 

 

*Whack*

 

“Ah, what the fuck was that for?!” the hanyou yelled, rubbing the lump on his head, courtesy of Miroku’s staff. 

 

“That was for not realizing your feelings for Kagome-sama sooner.”

 

“Bastard.”

“Seriously, Inuyasha, don’t delay in telling her.  She’s been waiting a long time.”

 

Inuyasha sighed, flopping back down on the ground.  “Yeah, I know.” 

 

* * *

 

Meanwhile, down at the river, Kagome was greatly enjoying the feel of the cool water against her heated skin. 

 

“How was training, Kagome-chan?” Sango asked after they were both settled. 

 

“Ugh, I’m so tired.  But I learned a lot, and I actually managed to hit him once during sparring.” 

 

“I bet he didn’t like that one bit, with his ego.”

 

Kagome frowned.  “No, he didn’t…but he was kind of weird about it afterwards.” 

 

“Weird how?” Sango inquired, concern seeping into her tone.  

 

“Well, he tackled me to the ground, for one thing.” 

 

“What?!  Did he hurt you?”

 

“No, no, nothing like that.  It’s just—it was like he let a little of his youkai side out.  He wasn’t even close to transforming, but he seemed a bit more…feral than usual.”  Yes, ‘feral’ was a good word for it.  And if she was being truly honest with herself, she could admit that on some level, she liked it.  Whether it was the position they found themselves in, the fire in his eyes, or the masculine huskiness in his growl, her body had responded, warming in that special way that could only mean the beginnings of arousal.  If they hadn’t been so preoccupied afterwards, Inuyasha might have been able to smell it. 

 

“Do you have any idea why he acted that way?” Sango wondered, interrupting Kagome’s musings. 

 

“No.  At first I thought it was just his youkai reacting to wounded pride, but he’s never acted like that before, not even when Sesshoumaru or Kouga punched him.” 

 

“Well, I’m fairly certain he doesn’t like either of those two, and we both know he likes you.” 

 

“Sango-chan?” Kagome uttered in confusion. 

 

“It’s just a hunch, Kagome-chan, but I think this might have something to do with the relationship between the two of you.” 

 

“What relationship?” 

 

“Don’t play dumb, girl.  You must have noticed that he’s been nicer to you lately.” 

 

“I guess.  Not counting a few exceptions.”

 

“Well, he’s Inuyasha.  He’s never going to be perfect.  And you two have grown closer as well, haven’t you?”  Kagome nodded.  “See!  He cares about you, Kagome-chan, even if he doesn’t realize how much.  Maybe his youkai side knows.  Maybe his youkai side already wants you as a mate.” 

 

Kagome silently digested that information.  Her first inclination was to dismiss it as too good to be true, but it made sense.  Their relationship had come so far over the past couple months, blossoming into something more than ordinary friendship.  How much more remained a mystery, but her hopes for them seemed closer than ever.  Maybe what Sango said really was true.  They had slept together in a tree last night, for crying out loud!  Speaking of which…

 

“So how’d you sleep last night, Kagome-chan?” Sango asked with a playful grin. 

 

The miko sighed wistfully.  “It was the best sleep I’ve ever had, Sango-chan.” 

 

“You think he’d be willing to do it again?” 

 

“I don’t know.  It was a spur of the moment type thing, so he might be too embarrassed.” 

 

“Hmm.  Anything else happen?” 

 

Kagome shrugged.  “Not really.  Though we did almost kiss this afternoon.”

 

“Well why didn’t you?!  Nothing but good came from that one in your time you told me about!” 

 

“Don’t yell at me, Sango-chan!  You’re the one who interrupted us!” 

 

“Oh, no,” Sango lamented as her face twisted in guilt.  Kagome felt guilty herself for throwing it in her friend’s face like that, but she had been provoked.  “I’m sorry, Kagome-chan!  I didn’t know.  I should have looked over the hill before I called you.  I—”

 

“It’s okay, Sango-chan!  If it’s meant to happen, it will happen.  Besides, it isn’t the first time we almost-kissed.  Did I ever tell you about the time an owl stopped us?” 

 

“An owl?” Sango repeated dubiously.  By the end of the story, both girls were giggling profusely at the sheer ridiculousness of what had occurred.  Funny how Kagome hadn’t found it at all amusing at the time.  But that’s what hindsight could do: paint events in a whole new light.  Well, hindsight and finally getting to kiss Inuyasha in non-life threatening circumstances.  And then he had kissed her to reverse her full-youkai transformation.  Kagome’s spirits dampened considerably as she recalled that whole fiasco.  She had largely forgiven herself for the villager’s death, but it would forever sadden her to think about it.  Sango, of course, was far too alert not to pick up on the sudden change in her friend’s mood. 

 

“What’s wrong, Kagome-chan?” 

 

“Oh, nothing!” Kagome replied, plastering on a smile that was only partly forced.  “What were we talking about?” 

 

Sango sent her a questioning glance, but decided to let the miko’s temporary melancholy go without further comment. 

 

“You kissing Inuyasha.” 

 

“Oh, yeah.” 

 

“Kagome-chan, I want you to kiss him tomorrow.  Right before dinner, Houshi-sama and I got called out to exterminate some rat youkai in a neighboring village, so we won’t be here to interrupt you.” 

 

“Ahhhhh,” Kagome observed slyly.  “And you get to spend some time alone with Miroku-sama.  You’ve been telling me to kiss Inuyasha, so maybe you should kiss Miroku-sama, too.  I guarantee he won’t look at another woman after that!” 

 

Sango scoffed.  “Not happening, Kagome-chan.  Houshi-sama’s not getting anything from me until he proves he can be a faithful husband.” 

 

“He will, I just know it!  Give him a chance, Sango-chan.” 

 

“I am giving him a chance!  ONE chance.  One chance to show that he isn’t just another womanizing lecher.  If he goes off to bed another woman again…”  Sango heaved a shuddering sigh, unable to continue.  Kagome swam over to the taijiya and looped her arm around her shoulder. 

 

“Don’t worry, Sango-chan.  I’m sure it won’t come to that.” 

 

“I hope you’re right, Kagome-chan.  I really do.” 

 

* * *

 

“So, what do you think they’re talking about, Inuyasha?” Miroku asked, breaking the half hour of comfortable silence that had fallen over the two men.  There was just a hint of lechery invading his tone to go a long with genuine curiosity. 

 

“Don’t care.” 

 

“You say that, but I know better.  Who wouldn’t want to listen to the delightful conversation of two radiant beauties, especially when both of us are, shall we say, interested in one of them?” 

 

“Feh.  Why should you give a rat’s ass?  They sure as hell ain’t talkin’ about you, hentai.” 

 

“Inuyasha!” Miroku griped, placing his hand to his chest in mock offense.  “I’ll have you know that I plan on reigning in some of my more misconstrued habits.” 

 

“Misconstrued?” Inuyasha repeated incredulously.  “There’s only one way to take a hand on the ass!” 

 

Miroku sighed dramatically.  “If you knew anything about women, you would know that there are multiple ways to interpret everything.  Women don’t play by a uniform set of rules like us men.  That’s what makes them so fun to interact with.  Sometimes, though, I think every female on the planet is borderline insane.” 

 

“Why, because they all slap you when you grope them?” 

 

“Well, that’s part of it.  What woman in her right mind wouldn’t feel complimented by a caress from an otherworldly handsome, devilishly charming bachelor such as myself?”

 

“Ugh, gag me.” 

 

“Believe me, if we could have, we would have done that long ago.” 

 

“Ha ha, bastard.  You’re just lucky I don’t feel like getting up and pounding some humility into that head of yours.” 

 

“Ah, yes, our little Kagome-sama got you all plumb tuckered out,” Miroku teased.  “Maybe you should go to bed early so you don’t wear yourself ou—”

 

“Shut up, bouzu!”

 

Chuckling, Miroku rose to his feet.  The very fact that Inuyasha was still lying on his back and not chasing him around the village proved just how tired he was. 

 

“Alright, Inuyasha, I’ll leave you alone.  I think the girls are back anyway.  Maybe I can convince Sango to follow you and Kagome-sama’s example and sleep next to me tonight.” 

 

Inuyasha scoffed, listening carefully as Miroku made his way back to Kaede’s hut.  Three…two…one…  Two more seconds passed. 

 

*Slap!!!*

 

He smirked.  Oh, well.  Almost called it. 

 

* * *

 

Kagome shook her head at her friends, the steaming taijiya and the monk nursing the red mark on his cheek while wearing some sort of ridiculously satisfied grin.  They’re such bakas.  Indeed they were, but she knew in her heart that they belonged together.  As long as Miroku restrained his groping to Sango’s behind, they would be fine.  Still she worried, because Miroku was on trial, and he didn’t even know it.  Or does he?  Did Inuyasha ever have that talk with him?  No time like the present to find out. 

 

Or so she thought.  She wasn’t counting on finding Inuyasha fast asleep in the grass.  Hmph, I guess I have more stamina than I thought.  He’s totally pooped!  He looked so peaceful, his breathing deep and steady and his hair shining ethereally in the moonlight.  He possessed an unearthly beauty in these scattered moments when he let his guard down.  She didn’t have the heart to wake him, but another thought occurred to her.  Would he mind?  How could he?  He’s asleep!  Nodding as if to reassure herself, she went back and retrieved her sleeping bag from the hut.  Sango flashed her a conspiratorial wink on the way out, eliciting a darkening of her cheeks.  She didn’t even glance in Miroku’s direction. 

 

Kagome was sorely tempted to snuggle up against him, but in the interest of not waking him up she settled for stretching out in the sleeping bag, about a foot of space between them.  For a minute or two she just lay on her side, watching him sleep.  She breathed deeply, taking in his scent, which was touched with more than a hint of sweat.  I’m definitely making him take a bath tomorrow.

 

“Yeah, I know I stink.”  His voice made Kagome jump, and when she looked to his face he was glaring at her with half-lidded eyes. 

 

“H-how long have you been awake?” 

 

“Since you first walked over here.  Come on, wench, you didn’t actually think you could sneak up on me, did you?  Feh!  Not likely.” 

 

“I wasn’t trying to!  You looked so peaceful; I didn’t want to wake you.”

 

“I told you before, wench.  I’m never peaceful.” 

 

“Well, you seemed pretty exhausted to me,” Kagome replied, pouting slightly. 

 

“Keh.  A little.  It’s been awhile since the last time I worked out all day, wench.  But you’re more tired than I am.” 

 

“You sure about that?” 

 

“Yep.” 

 

And with that, their silent game was on.  Whoever surrendered to the inexorable pull of sleep last would be the winner.  Inuyasha watched as Kagome stubbornly resisted, only to have her eyes droop until they could no longer be driven back up again. 

 

“You asleep, wench?” he whispered after a few moments.  No response.  He grinned at his victory, but it was short-lived.  He was out like a light not five minutes later. 

 

*End Day 1*

 

In retrospect, that first day hadn’t been so bad.  He hadn’t gotten to kiss Kagome, but the others had apologized and things had returned to normal.  The second day was when things started  to get a little weird.

Chapter Text

In retrospect, that first day hadn’t been so bad.  He hadn’t gotten to kiss Kagome, but the others had apologized and everything had returned to normal.  The second day was when things started to get a little weird.

 

*Day 2*

 

He had no idea how it happened, but sometime during the night he and Kagome had gravitated toward each other, ending up nestled together.  He woke at sunrise to find her resting on his shoulder, one of his arms supporting her back and the other draped possessively around her waist.  She was still in the sleeping bag, reminding him of that night they shared her bed in the modern era.  Grinning contentedly, he settle back to enjoy the morning, breathing deeply to take in Kagome’s sweet scent.  He grimaced as another less pleasant odor invaded his nostrils.  Shit, I really do stink!  He quickly buried his nose in Kagome’s hair.  At least one of us doesn’t smell like a fuckin’ armpit. 

 

“Do I stink, too?” she asked out of the blue, startling him.  Apparently either his movements or the daylight had woken her.  They turned toward each other at the same time, and Inuyasha was struck by the sheer happiness rolling off her.  Her eyes sparkled with amusement, and he temporarily lost the ability to speak.  A short shake of his head was all the response he could manage.  Giggling at his stupor, Kagome laid her head back down on his shoulder, resuming her previous position.  Neither hanyou was looking forward to getting up; both were too comfortable.  They unknowingly shared the same thought: I could stay like this forever.  Inuyasha blanched; he felt like such a sissy thinking something like that.  It made him want to go do something manly for the rest of the morning, like chop wood or beat up some other men for no good reason.  He wondered if Sesshoumaru was in the area, or better yet, Kouga.  But even if one of them did happen to be nearby, he would still have the problem of not wanting to get up. 

 

Kagome’s ear flicked at a fly in his line of vision, giving him an idea for something he hadn’t done in awhile.  With only slight hesitation he reached up and gently grasped the fuzzy appendage between his fingers, massaging in slow circles.  Kagome started purring almost immediately as nearly every muscle in her body wholly relaxed.  She felt like a boneless blob of goo, her only contact with the real world that highly skilled hand on her ear.  She wasn’t tired, so it didn’t put her to sleep, but a small nuclear device could have gone off nearby and she wouldn’t have noticed.  Then, abruptly it was over, the delightful sensation replaced by insistent prodding on the backs of her shoulders. 

 

“Get up, wench.  The others are waking.” 

 

Now that she was listening, Kagome could hear the sounds of their friends rousing inside the hut, but how the hell was that any reason to stop rubbing her ear?  She could feel the tender appendage tingling, as if reminding her body of that wonderful feeling it yearned for. 

 

“Why’d you stop?” she demanded, her irritation clearly conveyed. 

 

“Feh.  Can’t laze around all day, wench.  We’ve got another full day of training ahead of us.” 

 

Kagome grumbled about that, knowing the real reason Inuyasha was so insistent that they get up now.  But she didn’t particularly feel like dealing with her friends’ teasing either, however good-natured it might be.  Besides, she was damn hungry; all that physical exertion yesterday had built up quite an appetite.  At breakfast, no one spoke of Kagome’s absence from the hut the previous night, but any mildly observant person could tell it was on everyone’s minds.  Kagome worried about Shippou’s appearance; the kit had dark shadows under his eyes and appeared weary and listless.  Even more alarming was the fact that he curled up on her sleeping bag to take a nap after finishing his meal. 

 

“Is something wrong with Shippou?” she asked when she was sure the young fox was asleep. 

 

“No,” Sango responded grimly, “he just didn’t sleep well last night.  As a matter of fact, he didn’t sleep all that well two nights ago, either.” 

 

Kagome felt a pang of guilt.  Shippou usually slept with her in her sleeping bag, and from what she heard didn’t have too much of a problem when she was in her time.  But apparently he was having difficulty sleeping by himself while she was on his side of the well.  Sighing, she shot an apologetic look Inuyasha’s way.  They both knew what this meant: no more sleeping together, just the two of them.  Arrangements would have to return to the way they were before.  Shippou was still so young, and an orphan to boot, so Kagome wasn’t willing to kick him out of her bed yet.  Inuyasha shrugged and tried to look like he didn’t care, but even he knew he couldn’t pull off that kind of callous nonchalance anymore.  

 

“Why does he need so much fuckin’ sleep, anyway,” he grumped.  “He’s a youkai.” 

 

“He’s also a child, Inuyasha,” Kagome argued, albeit reluctantly.  “Kids need a lot of sleep.  Just look at how much of a wreck he is now.” 

 

Inuyasha snorted his displeasure, but grudgingly accepted Kagome’s decision.  I swear, that twerp is the luckiest orphan who ever lived.

 

“So what’s the plan for the next few days?” Sango interjected, changing the subject.  “Houshi-sama and I have to go perform a youkai extermination in a nearby village, but I don’t know how long it will take.  Are you two going to stay here until we get back?” 

 

Inuyasha shook his head.  “Nah, we’re leaving first thing tomorrow morning for Totosai’s to get Kagome something to seal her youkai blood.  Just meet us somewhere at the edge of his territory,” he advised, knowing the humans would be unable to handle the noxious fumes of the old youkai’s domain. 

 

“Sounds like a plan,” Miroku replied easily.  “Shall we go, my lovely Sango?”  The taijiya took the offered hand and was helped to her feet, but did not comply with the monk’s gesture to precede him out the doorway. 

 

“After you, Houshi-sama,” she said sternly.  Miroku merely smiled mischievously in response. 

 

“Ah, my dear Sango.  You are not my wife yet, and even if you were I would not have you walking behind me.”  Sango flushed crimson, but did not move from her spot. 

 

“Believe me, Houshi-sama,” she ground out through clenched teeth.  “This has nothing to do with…that!  I simply want your hands where I can see them.” 

 

Miroku grinned wryly, heaving a dramatic sigh as he trudged out of the hut.  “I am so misunderstood…” 

 

This time Inuyasha began the countdown aloud.  “Three…two…one…” 

 

*Slap!!!* 

 

Kagome burst out laughing at his perfect timing, and Inuyasha joined in whole-heartedly.  “How does he always seem to catch Sango-chan by surprise?” Kagome asked in between her giggles. 

 

“Dunno.  Alright, wench, let’s go.  You’ll never get any good if we don’t practice.”

 

“Okay—hey!  I’m already pretty good!  I did hit you yesterday, didn’t I?” 

 

“That was a fluke.” 

 

“Was not!”

 

“Prove it.”

 

“Fine!” Kagome growled, grabbing Inuyasha and dragging him all the way to their field by his haori.  She didn’t even wait for him to set his feet before pouncing.  Unfortunately, he was far too quick and agile to be taken so easily.  Still, she did manage to land a few hits in the next two hours.  The problem was that for every successful strike, she received at least a few dozen back from Inuyasha, who was still showing remarkable restraint in pulling his punches.  But even that horrible ratio was an improvement, filling her with a sense of accomplishment.  At this rate, she would be able to defend herself proficiently in no time! 

 

Of course, she still struggled with many things, including not going out of control on attacks.  Inuyasha continually chastised her on that point, but each time she would revert to the bad habit after a few minutes of relative restraint.  After viewing this self-defeating cycle one too many times, Inuyasha decided a more substantial lesson was needed.  He waited until Kagome launched a particularly sloppy assault, then swooped in and bore her to the ground.  She wound up lying on her front, both arms twisted and held behind her by Inuyasha, who was draped over her back. 

 

“Bitch!” he growled in her ear.  “How many fucking times do I have to te—ack!” 

 

Kagome surprised him then, using a leg to roll them over until she was on top of him.  Next she managed to wrench her arms free and scramble away before facing him and resuming a fighting stance.  Inuyasha climbed to his feet slowly, all thoughts of admonishing her further long gone.  He was very impressed. 

 

“Heh, not bad, Kagome.” 

 

She didn’t even grin at the compliment, but a small twinkle in her eye let him know that she was extremely happy to receive it.  Still, she was sweating and breathing hard, and it was time to call a break.  Being pressed up against her heaving, quivering body had done nothing to calm his own nerves, either.  They both needed to cool down, for completely different reasons. 

 

“Alright, wench, let’s work on your tracking.  Hang on; I’m gonna go get us some prey.”  He took off, dashing back toward the village.  Kagome collapsed onto her back, sighing in relief as her heart rate slowed and her tired muscles finally relaxed.  There had been something far too pleasant about being held down like that by Inuyasha, which was probably part of the reason she had been so motivated to break his hold.  He had felt it too, if the faint scent of his arousal was any indication. 

 

Inuyasha returned a few minutes later, a drowsy-looking Shippou riding on his shoulder.  The kit quickly came fully awake as he realized the importance of his task.  He puffed out his little chest, promising to do his best.  Kagome thought the entire scene was too adorable for words, and Inuyasha just rolled his eyes.  They sent Shippou into the forest and gave him about a ten minute head start.  It might have been easier to just have Kagome track Inuyasha, but he couldn’t very well teach her anything about following scents if he couldn’t see what she was doing.  It took only a couple minutes to disabuse Kagome of her incorrect notion that tracking was as simple as sniff-and-go.  There were techniques involved, like what to do if you lost a trail or it became jumbled with other scents.  She was really hoping to avoid prostrating herself on the ground and sticking her nose in the dirt like she had seen Inuyasha do many times before, but he insisted it was necessary.  She could only pray she would never have to use that humiliating technique in the company of her other friends.  At least Inuyasha had the decency to go down with her, teaching through example.  Little did she know that the male hanyou’s actual motives were decidedly less noble; he just didn’t want to get caught staring at her ass. 

 

After lunch, Inuyasha decided to give Kagome a real test, and the best way to do that was to have her track the stealthiest, nimblest guy in the area.  No, he didn’t have an ego.  He pulled out all the stops too, employing every trick he knew to throw her off.  He zigzagged, leapt across streams, went up and down trees, backtracked, and tried any number of other tactics too.  Eventually he stopped all that and simply worked his way back to the starting point.  From there he followed Kagome’s trail to keep an eye her progress.  He caught up with her easily enough, and kept to the forest canopy as he watched her work.  He was not disappointed.  Several times she almost lost the trail completely, but always managed to pick it up again.  His tricks would confuse her for a few minutes, but then she would figure them out and continue her pursuit.  She just kept plugging along; he wouldn’t use ‘fast’ or any of its synonyms to describe her technique, but it was effective nonetheless.  It was clear she had taken his lessons to heart. 

 

Periodically she would look around as if she could tell she was being watched, forcing Inuyasha to quickly duck behind a convenient tree trunk.  But nothing ever came of it; she would shrug and return to her task and he would resume his observing.  Though perhaps staring would be a better word.  He was utterly transfixed by her lithe form and the subtle grace in every movement.  Her clothes revealed just enough skin to tantalize and make him imagine what lay underneath.  And since he had seen her naked on several previous occasions, he had a very good imagination.  Was it a little hentai to be shamelessly ogling her like this?  Yeah, but he didn’t particularly give a damn, not when she was making herself look so incredibly enticing.  It was mid-afternoon by the time Kagome reached the area where he had stopped trying to throw her off.  At that point, he dropped down from a tree directly in front of her, causing her to yelp and fall flat on her backside.  She shot him a dirty look as he snickered at her. 

 

“Inuyasha!  Did you have to scare me like that?!” 

 

“Just seeing if you were on your toes, wench.” 

 

“I was trying to concentrate on following your scent.  Hey!  I found you!” 

 

“Yeah, too bad it took for-fucking-ever.” 

 

Kagome felt the veins in her forehead pop at that comment.  That arrogant jackass!  Where does he get the gall—easy girl, ‘osuwari-ing’ him will only make you feel a little better.  And then he’ll just go pout for the rest of the day.

 

“Well I’m sorry for being a beginner and not having decades of experience.  I guess I’ll never measure up to the mighty Inuyasha.”  Her words dripped with sarcasm, but Inuyasha simply smirked and pretended not to notice. 

 

“Probably not.” 

 

“Jerk.” 

 

“Bitch.” 

 

Snarling, Kagome took a swing at him, forcing Inuyasha to leap back to avoid the blow.  And as good as another sparring session sounded, he knew there were other areas in which she needed to train first.  With this in mind, he turned and dashed off into the trees, Kagome in hot pursuit. 

 

“Where are you going, baka!” she called after him.  “Get back here!” 

 

“Nope.  You need to work on your running, wench.” 

 

“Running?!  How hard can it be?” 

 

Ten minutes later, Kagome was singing an entirely different tune.  “Running?!  How hard can it be?”  If that’s not the stupidest thing I’ve ever said.  It wasn’t an issue of stamina; she was having no problem physically matching the speed Inuyasha was setting.  That made her problem all the more daunting.  Even at that relatively sedate pace, she could barely keep herself upright.  Maintaining foot-eye coordination demanded all of her concentration, and still she would trip over tree roots that seemed to come out of nowhere and nearly clothesline herself on low-hanging branches.  Her untrained mind just couldn’t process the incoming information fast enough to avoid every obstacle. 

 

And then there was Inuyasha, just cruising along as if their current pace was no challenge at all.  For him, it probably wasn’t.  Hell, he didn’t even have to look where he was going, spending half the time looking back at her.  He kept giving her pointers; for example, look farther ahead instead of focusing on the ground a few feet in front of you.  At first, that sounded like such a brainless idea.  If I don’t look at where I’m putting my feet, I’ll fall for sure!  But then, after nearly doing just that one too many times, she decided to try it his way.  And wouldn’t you know, it worked.  Looking ahead, she could spy the approaching obstacles and move to avoid them before they were underfoot.  Idly she wondered why she hadn’t just listened to him in the first place.  Probably because you’re as stubborn as he is, baka.  It was gradual improvement, but she and Inuyasha were able to steadily increase their pace over the next couple hours.  Fatigue was starting to set in by the time they decided to call it a night, but Kagome felt fairly confident about her running ability.  Confident enough to throw caution to the wind and make an all-in bet when she probably should have folded. 

 

“Well, you ain’t a total klutz anymore, wench.  Congrats,” Inuyasha teased, carefully stoking the flames of Kagome’s simmering ire. 

 

“Oh, yeah?” she challenged.  “I bet I could outrun you!”  She couldn’t tell if Inuyasha was more shocked or amused by that declaration. 

 

“How ‘bout a race, then?  First one to Goshinboku wins.  Do you know how to get there from here, wench?” he asked patronizingly. 

 

“Yes I know how to get there from here!  Fine, let’s do this thing.  Go!” 

 

Then she was off, darting through the underbrush and leaving Inuyasha behind.  Hey, if he was so smart he should have anticipated her quick start.  At least, that’s how she justified it to herself. 

 

It took Kagome under a minute to realize she was in way over her head.  Not only did Inuyasha pass her, but he actually slowed down after he did so, cruising along about twenty feet in front of her.  His eyes laughed at her as he effortlessly matched any speed she set.  In doing so he dashed her hopes for a tortoise and hare scenario, where Inuyasha would get so far ahead he would relax and fall asleep.  Or get knocked out by a falling tree limb; either would work just fine.  But of course the hanyou just had to be difficult, forcing her mind to scramble for another way to finish first.  She couldn’t let him win, not if she didn’t want to be reminded of her defeat every day for the foreseeable future.  The most obvious course of action was to just ‘osuwari’ him, but that would be downright cheating.  She needed something more subtle.

 

The idea came to her just after she stumbled and nearly fell flat on her face.  Inuyasha faltered in his step as if he was going to come back to check on her.  Kagome grinned deviously.  Was it sneaky?  Yes.  Was it a little underhanded?  Yes.  Did she care?  Hell no!  She waited until Goshinboku was in sight before making her move.  She purposefully lost her footing and crashed to the dirt, letting out a yelp that was in no way fake; that landing had hurt!  Predictably, Inuyasha stopped and walked back to her, muttering to himself about clumsy wenches.  Hmph, we’ll see who’s clumsy.

 

“You alright, wen—” 

 

Suddenly she was gone, and it took Inuyasha a full second to realize what had happened.  By then, it was far too late; Kagome was already halfway to Goshinboku and there would be no catching her in the short distance remaining.  All he could do was sprint after her, watching as she reached the finish line and turned toward him wearing a sheepish, but victorious grin. 

 

“Y-you cheated, bitch!!!” he bellowed, pointing an accusing finger at her. 

 

“Hey!  I didn’t make you stop, you know.  You could have kept going.”

 

“That was a dirty fucking trick, bitch, and you know it!” 

 

Kagome shrugged.  “So sue me.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Oops!  Modern expression; it means too bad.” 

 

At this, Inuyasha turned away from her, folding his arms over his chest, signaling the beginning of one of his classic full-blown pouts.  He muttered quietly to himself, and Kagome was glad she couldn’t pick up all of the words.  The ones she could make out were none too flattering. 

 

“Oh, lighten up, Inuyasha.  So you lost a race to me.  Big deal.” 

 

Apparently, the other hanyou didn’t see it that way, because Kagome didn’t even get a ‘feh’ in response.  Fine, if he wants to be that way about it.  Sticking her chin in the air with a harrumph, she strode purposefully toward the village. 

 

“Where the fuck are you going, bitch?” 

 

“To get my bathing supplies!  Speaking of which, you stink like a dirty gym sock.  You need a bath too.” 

 

“Maybe I don’t feel like taking one,” he stated petulantly. 

 

“Inuyasha,” Kagome said softly, her glower almost as formidable as the danger in her tone.  “You are taking a bath, no matter how many times I have to say ‘the word.’” 

 

Inuyasha grumbled, sorely tempted to refuse on principle alone, but the sad truth was that he wasn’t going to win this argument.  He wanted a bath, too; he just didn’t want to take one under orders.  Nodding, Kagome proceeded to gather her supplies from her bag and head down to a part of the river secluded in the forest, Inuyasha following along like some whipped puppy.  It was the same place she had bathed with Sango the previous evening. 

 

“You know, you don’t have to stay here if you don’t want to,” Kagome said as she set her soaps and shampoos down at the water’s edge. 

 

“Believe me, wench, leaving you alone in the middle of the woods would be asking for trouble.” 

 

“Hmph!  Well, no peeking then.” 

 

“Keh.” 

 

Satisfied that he had his back turned, Kagome stepped out of her clothing and into the water, the cool liquid feeling positively wonderful on her heated skin.  She checked on Inuyasha once more before closing her eyes and surrendering to the soothing lull of the river, submerging herself up to her nostrils.  It wasn’t that she didn’t want Inuyasha to see her naked; if he jumped in this river right now and told her he loved her, she would be more than happy to do anything he wanted, and that included going all the way.  But until then, until he admitted he wanted her, he wasn’t getting any free peeks.  She wasn’t a slut, and she wasn’t going to give her virginity away on a whim.  If she ever did have to leave him forever, maybe she would ask him to spend their last night with her even if he didn’t love her.  She shuddered; hopefully it wouldn’t come to that. 

 

Now that the tranquil water was calming her agitated temper, she felt a little guilty for being so harsh with Inuyasha.  Her stunt really had been a dirty trick, and she couldn’t blame him for his reaction.  Then I threatened to ‘osuwari’ him if he didn’t agree to take a bath.  And all he did was help me train all day.  Yep, she definitely needed to make it up to him.  But how?  She folded her arms on the bank and rested her chin on them, gazing contemplatively at his rigid back.  She frowned; he couldn’t be very comfortable over there, all sweaty in those fire-rat robes of his.  Plus the flies were out, buzzing around his ears and forcing him to plaster them to his head.  He smelled of irritation and anxiety.  His appearance gave her an idea, one which she hurried to put into effect before she could question her sanity. 

 

“Inuyasha, do you want to join me?” 

 

He whirled around, staring slack-jawed at Kagome.  He was actually glad he couldn’t see anything because of her position, because he was having enough trouble wrapping his head around her question and didn’t need anything else distracting him.  He couldn’t have heard her correctly, could he?  Did she really just ask him to join her in the river?  No clothes.  Bare ass naked.  No barriers keeping them from…  Hold on, Spiffy.  She probably didn’t mean it like *that.*  Still, he had to be sure. 

 

“W-what?”  

 

Given his astonishment, Kagome hastened to explain herself, waving her hands in front of her.  “I didn’t mean…I just meant you could take a bath…at the same time as me.  You looked so hot and miserable over there.  I swear I won’t peek!” 

 

Inuyasha mulled it over…for about half a second.  It was a very easy decision considering how he felt about her.  And when else might he get the chance to bathe with her, both of them naked as the day they were born?  He would be a fool to waste such an opportunity, even if nothing came of it.  He strolled slowly to the edge of the river, undoing the ties of his haori as he went.  Kagome turned her back, both to avert her eyes and to preserve her own modesty.  Inuyasha shed the rest of his clothes and waded into the water, allowing it to sap all the tension from his overheated body.  He and Kagome hovered about fifteen feet apart, facing away from each other as the minutes ticked by. 

 

“Thanks, wench,” he said at last, breaking the awkward silence that had settled between them. 

 

“You’re welcome,” Kagome replied with a smile.  Deciding to get down to business, she grabbed her soaps and started to wash.  Inuyasha remained so still and quiet that she might have thought him asleep if not for the scent of attraction in the air.  It was oddly comforting; at least she wasn’t the only one affected by their close, nude proximity. 

 

“Do you want some soap, Inuyasha?” 

“Got any that won’t make me smell like a flowery pansy?” 

 

Kagome chuckled and shook her head.  “Yeah, I have some unscented body wash.  Here,” she called as she tossed the bottle, intending to have it fly over his head and land in front of him.  Unfortunately, her aim was a little off. 

 

*Bonk!!!*

 

“Ah!  Dammit, wench!  What the fuck was that for?!” Inuyasha yelled, rubbing his sore cranium.  He turned to berate her further and stopped dead. 

 

“Sorry!  I didn’t mean it!”  Upon impact, Kagome had risen out of the water in concern, and had never sunk back down.  By the time she realized this, Inuyasha’s eyes were locked firmly on her chest and the air was becoming perfumed with his arousal.  “Eep!” she squeaked before covering herself and submerging.  Inuyasha looked away quickly as both sets of cheeks pinked. 

“Sorry,” he muttered.  Kagome could only nod in reply, not quite trusting her voice at the moment.  The scent of Inuyasha’s excitement was doing funny things to her own body, causing her to squirm slightly in unfulfilled need.  Perhaps this hadn’t been such a good idea after all.

 

Kagome took to lathering up her hair full of that berry-scented shampoo stuff, and Inuyasha waded downstream to catch the bottle of body wash before it floated too far away.  Popping open the top, he took an experimental sniff.  It wasn’t “unscented” as Kagome had promised, but the odor was benign enough to be compatible with his sensitive nose.  He stood up, the water only covering him up to his waist, and started to scrub his upper body.  It was weird, cleaning himself with something other than just water and his hands, but he decided that he could get used to it.  He kept his back to Kagome, but when he heard only silence coming from behind him he dared a peek over his shoulder.  She was staring at him, her hands poised in her hair as if her scrubbing had suddenly been put on pause, little rivulets of shampoo leisurely sliding down her arms to drip off her elbows.  She caught herself with a start, meeting his eyes for a split second before doing a quick one-eighty, but he still glimpsed the mad blush staining her cheeks.  Inuyasha smirked; at least he hadn’t been the only one caught staring.  Granted, he saw a lot more than she did, but that was nitpicking. 

 

Kagome was now even more mortified—and aroused—than before.  His hair had blocked most of her view, and it had only been his back, but the way he held himself simply enchanted her.  His muscular arms moved to and fro, reminding her of how it felt to be cosseted by them.  She longed for that feeling every day, it seemed.  It was the warmest, safest place she knew. 

 

Inuyasha was still wearing a dopey grin as he rinsed himself off and started working on his lower body.  He was happy to find that the body wash worked almost as well underwater, because there was no way he was sticking his ass out of the river.  That would be asking for trouble.  He nearly groaned as he cleaned the sweatiest, stickiest sections of his skin.  Fuck…ball sweat: the bane of every man’s existence.  Ass sweat was no cup of ramen, either.  Satisfied that he no longer smelled or felt like a giant armpit, he resumed floating on his back, supporting himself with his feet on the bottom of the river. 

 

“H-hey, Inuyasha?” Kagome called hesitantly. 

 

“Yeah?” 

 

“Do you…do you want me to wash your hair?  I have some unscented shampoo.” 

 

Inuyasha thought her proposal over carefully.  With their mutual state of undress, having her close enough to touch him was probably a bad idea.  He frowned at the stupidity of that way of thinking.  Why was it bad, because he didn’t want to grab her, kiss her senseless, and make love to her right here in the river?  He wanted nothing more that those things!  And really, what was stopping him besides his own procrastination and insecurities?  Nothing!  Well, that wasn’t entirely true, but the meddling humans were gone for a change, meaning he and Kagome were finally alone.  He shivered in anticipation at the thought.  But before he did anything too forward, he resolved to see what Kagome had in mind. 

 

“Sure, wench.” 

 

Kagome was surprised at his affirmative, almost enthusiastic answer, but extremely pleased nonetheless.  Wading over, she settled behind him and pressed gently down on his shoulders until he got the message and sank under the surface.  She started to work the shampoo into his luxurious silver hair, rubbing it tenderly into his scalp.  They both tensed immediately as she accidentally brushed her hardened nipples against his back.  The action sent a jolt straight to her core, and Kagome was amazed that such a simple touch could feel so good.  The scent of her arousal in the air doubled, and Inuyasha’s seemed to rise to meet it.  Kagome realized with a sinking feeling that they were on dangerous ground.  They were both so worked up already that one wrong move, any slight contact could send them over the edge into something that Inuyasha might not really want.  Kagome had to reiterate to herself that attraction and even lust didn’t necessarily translate to love.  That thought was quite sobering, allowing her to regain some of her composure and continue washing his hair.  Inuyasha didn’t relax so easily, but Kagome knew of a way to fix that.  And since her hands were already right there…

 

This time Inuyasha did moan aloud as Kagome’s delicate fingers latched onto his ears.  With her hands covered in the slick, silky shampoo, it felt as if the Kami themselves were worshipping the fuzzy appendages.  Daaaaaamn…how is she so good at this?  Somehow he managed to keep himself from purring.  Just barely, and only because Kagome went back to washing his hair after a couple short minutes.  The feel of her fingers running through his silken strands was almost as soothing as having his ears rubbed.  And his stubborn manhood, which had been fully erect a few minutes ago, settled down to half-mast.  Kagome pushed on his shoulders again and he went under, holding his breath as she rinsed the shampoo out of his hair.  He expected her to wade back to the bank when he came up, but she surprised him by doing something completely different. 

 

For Kagome, touching Inuyasha had proven completely addicting, and she wanted more.  His back was directly in front of her, and she worked up the courage to do something she had heard her girlfriends gabbing about on a couple occasions.  She hoped their advice would make up for her lack of experience with this.  She placed both hands on his shoulders, feeling the strain of anxiety seize his muscles once more.  She responded swiftly, digging her palms into his skin as she massaged his shoulders.  It astonished her how quickly Inuyasha became putty in her hands.  He had probably never received a massage before, but judging by his reaction this wouldn’t be the last time she gave him one.  That was fine with her; any physical contact was more than welcome. 

 

Inuyasha was anything but fine.  Most of his body had been lulled into a blob of spongy goo by Kagome’s ever-talented hands, but a certain part of him was far from relaxed.  He was hard as stone, for heaven’s sake!  As far as he knew, he had never been aroused to the point of pain before, but he was now.  It was incredibly bizarre, as if the blood was rushing out of the rest of his body straight to his engorged cock.  It wasn’t long, however, before his body began to heat up once again.  He started breathing heavily, his arousal spiraling upwards until it filled the air around them.  Kagome paused in her ministrations, unsure of herself, and Inuyasha reached a decision.  I can’t take it anymore! 

 

Kagome gasped at the speed at which he turned to face her, nearly sending her stumbling into the river.  He caught her around the shoulders, setting her skin aflame where they touched.  A matching fire danced in his eyes, and Kagome was nearly scorched by its intensity.  Need, want, lust; these things dominated his gaze, demanding a type of submission she was unable or unwilling to refuse.  But there was something else, a softness she didn’t dare try to rationalize.  Whatever that emotion was, it rose rapidly as some of the blazing desire receded.  It was still there, powerful as ever, but this new softness became dominant, making her heart flutter in a way that had nothing to do with physical arousal. 

 

“Kagome,” he whispered as his right hand reached up and cupped her cheek.  Inuyasha would never know how much that one word meant to her.  It cast light were there had been shadow, and brought hope where there had been despair.  Looking into his eyes in that moment, she couldn’t help but feel absolutely cherished, unquestioningly loved.  Her heart swelled, and she took the initiative, placing her small hand over his and leaning toward him. 

 

Inuyasha pulled away so suddenly that she lost her balance, tumbling face first into the water.  She came up sputtering, more disappointed than she had ever been in her life.  She sensed some of the same emotion from Inuyasha, but something else gripped him as well.  His face was beat red, but not from embarrassment, and his entire body had gone rigid.  He was furious, absolutely livid.  His teeth were clenched so hard that it appeared they were about to shatter, and it looked like speaking would be impossible.  Sniffing in the direction he was glaring, Kagome picked up a scent that made her want to bash her head against a rock.  Inuyasha, who had been facing the bank, must have sensed the intruder somehow. 

 

“Come on out, Shippou-chan,” she ordered in exasperation.  The kit stepped out from behind a bush, and had the good graces to look contrite. 

 

“I’m sorry, Kagome!” he pleaded.  “I was just leaving, and then I stepped on a fallen branch.”  Oh, Kagome thought, so that’s how Inuyasha heard him.  I guess I was too out of it to notice.  But then, Inuyasha had grown up having to listen to every tiny noise to survive, so she couldn’t blame him for being so attentive. 

 

“What were you doing here in the first place?” she asked, trying to keep the irritation out of her tone. 

 

“Kaede said you were taking a bath, so I thought I’d join you.  I didn’t know Inuyasha was here, too.”  Then, Shippou smirked, and Kagome knew what that meant. 

 

Mischief.

 

“So, you finally took my advice, eh Inuyasha?” the kit drolled, earning an even harsher glare from the hanyou, if that was possible.  “I told you way back when we first met that it’s more fun to bathe together.” 

 

The snapping of Inuyasha’s temper was almost audible.  “THAT’S IT!!!!” he roared as he leapt out of the river in a single bound.  Shippou literally escaped capture by the fur on his tail, scurrying off into the underbrush as fast as his four paws would carry him. 

 

“Come back here, you little shit!!!  I’m gonna skin you alive!!!” Inuyasha bellowed, vanishing after him.  Kagome sank back into the water, covering her flaming cheeks with both hands.  She had just seen enough of Inuyasha’s naked ass to last her a lifetime.  Well, maybe not a lifetime; more like a day.  It was a very nice ass, after all.  Kagome craned her neck further and leaned her forehead in her hands.  Was she really going to have to content herself with just a look tonight?  They had been so close!  Dammit!  She had been about to kiss him, and that look in his eyes…  Could it have been love?  Her heart had thought so at the time.  And then there was the lust.  She shuddered, tearing her mind away from such thoughts.  Dwelling on that moment would only make it more difficult to cool down.  Her body was all wound up, aching for something that only Inuyasha could give her.  She shook her head; she should have been ashamed for wanting sex so badly, but couldn’t bring herself to care at the moment.  No one could blame her for such desire considering the circumstances.  

 

Sighing miserably, she heaved herself out of the river and dressed quickly for fear of Inuyasha’s return.  With her arousal receding at an agonizingly slow pace, she was gradually switching back into ‘virgin mode.’  She considered grabbing Inuyasha’s clothes, but quickly dismissed that idea.  If she did that, he would need to seek her out—stark naked—to reclaim them.  That was the last thing she needed; she definitely wouldn’t get any sleep if she saw any more of him.  She was already expecting a long night as it was. 

 

Unfortunately, Kagome was right.  It took her several hours to fall asleep, though not totally for the reason she predicted.  It was so cold without Inuyasha’s warmth next to her.  Who knew two nights nestled against him would make it so difficult to fall asleep otherwise?  Shippou was certainly happy; he passed out as soon as his head touched her sleeping bag.  Getting chased around by a nude hanyou would tire anyone out, unless of course you wanted to be caught…  And there was that dirty mind of hers again, the other reason she couldn’t fall asleep.  Eventually, however, the day’s training caught up with her, pulling her into a restless slumber filled with delightfully decadent dreams that always seemed to end before they go to the good part. 

 

*End Day 2*

 

The following morning sucked for all parties.  Inuyasha hadn’t slept so well himself, perched on the hard, lonely surface of Kaede’s roof.  So naturally he was quite pissy, an attitude made all the more potent by lingering resentment at Shippou for his bad timing the day before.  For her part, Kagome didn’t bear Shippou any ill will, but lack of sleep did sour even her normally bright mood.  Fortunately, they weren’t training today; a journey to Totosai’s was on the docket.  They set out after breakfast, and reached the old youkai’s cave by mid-afternoon. 

 

“Oi, Totosai!  You in there?” Inuyasha called. 

 

“Who’s that?” came the curious reply. 

 

“Get your wrinkly ass out here, you old geezer.” 

 

“Inuyasha, be nice!” Kagome scolded.  “We’re asking him a favor!” 

 

“Feh!  He still owes me for saving his sorry ass from Sesshoumaru.” 

 

“You don’t think fixing Tetsusaiga was enough of a repayment?” 

 

“…” 

 

“I thought so.” 

 

“Kagome?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“Why you…” 

 

Luckily for Inuyasha, Totosai chose that moment to make his appearance, distracting Kagome from her mounting irritation with her hanyou companion. 

 

“So, Inuyasha, what brings you and your foul mouth to my home?” the old man asked. 

 

“Keh.  Kagome needs something to seal her hanyou blood.” 

 

“Kagome is a hanyou?  I always thought she was human.”

 

“No, you forgetful bastard.  Don’t you remember?  She was a hanyou the last time we were here.”  When all Inuyasha got in reply was a vacant look, he growled in exasperation.  Kagome chose that moment to step in. 

 

“Please, Totosai-sama,” she cooed, “do you think you could make something for me?”  No man could resist that amount of feminine charm, not even one who was several hundred years old.  Totosai was just happy to be spoken to respectfully for a change. 

 

“Of course, my dear.  Do you want a sword?” 

 

“Uh, couldn’t it be something smaller…and less sharp?” 

 

“Hm, sorry, but I’m a swordsmith.  I don’t know how to make anything else.  I suppose I could craft a short sword, something you won’t actually use for fighting.”

 

“That would be great!  Thank you so much!” Kagome exclaimed, hugging Totosai around the shoulders.  Inuyasha couldn’t help but feel a small pang of jealousy. 

 

“Yes, yes,” the old youkai brushed off her gratitude, “come inside and we’ll get started.”  The three of them went into the cave, and Totosai grabbed something from the back before settling down with the two hanyou.  Kagome grimaced as she spied the dreaded tongs in his hands. 

 

“How many teeth do you need?” she asked reluctantly. 

 

“One should do it.  Don’t worry, dear, I’ll make it quick.” 

 

“It’ll still hurt like hell,” Inuyasha interjected, earning himself two annoyed glares.  This whole situation tickled him greatly.  Kagome had rolled her eyes at the fuss he’d made when Totosai pulled his tooth all those months ago, and now it was her turn.  We’ll see who’s fussing over nothing now!  He chuckled deeply. 

 

“He he he—aaaaaAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!” Inuyasha screamed.  His hands flew to his mouth as he stared wrathfully at Totosai, who was now holding his left canine in the tongs.  “Wh-what the fuck was that for!”

 

“Well, we need your tooth, don’t we?” Totosai replied.  Inuyasha’s eyes nearly popped out of his skull.  The worst part was that he couldn’t tell if the old man had really forgotten whose tooth he was supposed to yank or if the geezer was just messing with him. 

 

“NO!!!  Kagome’s tooth.  KAGOME’S tooth!!!!”

 

“Oh…oops.”

 

“Oops!  Is that all you can say, you senile son of a bi—”

 

“Inuyasha!” Kagome shouted, cutting off his tirade.  “Shut up,” she said with a slight smirk, throwing his words back at him.  Inuyasha might have told her to fuck off, or something similar, but the dangerous glint in her eye told him he was on thin ice.  An ‘osuwari’ was in his near future if he didn’t calm himself. 

 

“I’ll shut up when I damn well feel like it,” he grumbled under his breath, folding his arms over his chest and pouting.  Kagome rolled her eyes; she could let him have that small victory.  She wasn’t an immature baka who didn’t have the patience to deal with old people. 

 

“You know, Inuyasha-sama,” spoke a familiar voice, “we probably would have needed your tooth anyway.” 

 

“Myouga?”  Sure enough, the flea leapt up from the floor onto Inuyasha’s knee.  “What the hell are you talking about?” 

 

“Tell me, Inuyasha-sama, why do you think the Tetsusaiga seals your youkai blood?” 

 

He shrugged.  “Because it’s made from Oyaji’s fang?” 

 

“Precisely.  If Tetsusaiga was made from just your fang, it wouldn’t restrain your youkai side at all.  You need outside help to do that.” 

 

“Why is that, Myouga?” Kagome inquired curiously. 

 

“Well, think about it.  If you had the power to control your youkai blood, you wouldn’t need a sword to do it, would you?”

 

“Oh, I see.  So Inuyasha needed the strength of his father.  Does it have to be a blood relative?”

 

“Normally, yes, but your case is unique.  Your family is human, so their teeth won’t help at all.  The youkai you are most closely connected to is Inuyasha-sama.  Even though you two aren’t actually related, you share a powerful bond.  And Inuyasha-sama is strong, so the strength of his youki shouldn’t be an issue.” 

 

“Will it work?” Kagome asked, flushing slightly at Myouga’s blunt description of her relationship with Inuyasha. 

 

“There’s no way to tell for sure, but I believe it will.” 

 

“That’s good enough for me.  Do you still need my tooth?” 

 

“Yes, I think it would be helpful if we blended your two teeth together.” 

 

“Wow, Myouga’s actually being useful for a change,” Inuyasha interjected sulkily, still annoyed with Totosai. 

 

“Inuyasha-sama!  I am always at your service.”

 

“Yeah, right!  I guarantee you won’t be around the next time we need you.” 

 

“Hmph!” Myouga snorted indignantly.  “I’m here now, aren’t I?” 

 

“Keh.  Why the hell are you here anyway?  Weren’t you just at Daichi’s?” 

 

“I had an unpleasant run-in with Sakura,” the flea stated embarrassedly, causing Inuyasha to grin in amusement. 

 

“She almost eat you?” 

 

“I don’t want to talk about it.” 

 

Inuyasha’s reply was forestalled by a small cry from Kagome.  He looked over to see her holding her cheek, one of her fangs noticeably missing. 

 

“Wow,” Myouga observed, “Kagome-sama barely made a sound.”  Four sets of amused eyes, including Shippou’s, turned to Inuyasha at this, who could only stutter. 

 

“I-I wasn’t expecting it!” he yelled defensively. 

 

“Of course,” Myouga assured, though it was pretty clear he was just humoring the hanyou.  Growling, Inuyasha made a grab for the flea, but to no avail; Myouga hopped off and made his escape.  Standing swiftly, Inuyasha held out his hand to Kagome, more to drag her out of the cave than to help her up. 

 

“Come on, wench, we’re leaving.  Totosai, when will you have it ready?” 

 

“Have what ready?”

 

*Bonk*  “The sword you’re making for Kagome, dumbass!” 

 

“Inuyasha!” Kagome admonished.  “Punching him in the head isn’t going to help his memory.” 

 

“Feh!  Answer the question, you old fart.  And you’d better not tell me you forgot again.” 

 

“Hmmm,” the elderly youkai contemplated, scratching his chin.  “Well, it’s small, so come back tomorrow.  Maybe I’ll have it done by then.” 

 

“Good,” was the irritated hanyou’s only reply before he stormed out of the cave, Kagome in tow. 

 

“Thank you, Totosai-sama!” she called before vanishing from view.  Myouga reappeared once the coast was clear, hopping up onto Totosai’s shoulder and shaking his head. 

 

“Well, at least he made the right decision in the end.”

 

“Still a hothead though,” Totosai answered. 

 

“No doubt about that.” 

 

* * *

 

Shortly after departing, Inuyasha and Kagome reunited with their friends, who were waiting at the edge of Totosai’s domain as promised.  Sango seemed happy enough, so Kagome deduced that Miroku must have done something right.  After dinner, they went to bed in normal camp sleeping arrangements, with Inuyasha up a convenient tree.  Again, both hanyou had trouble falling asleep, but not as much as the night before. 

 

Sango took Kagome to train the following morning, saying that she wanted to show her a few things.  The problem was the taijiya made perfectly clear that his was a “girls only” training session, which left Inuyasha stuck with a certain lecherous monk who wouldn’t leave him alone.  The monk gathered that something had happened in his absence, and wasn’t about to stop bugging Inuyasha until the latter spilled the beans.  Then that idiot fox kit blurted out the incident at the river.  Needless to say, it was a stressful morning for Inuyasha, and it was no better for Kagome.  She got in her question first, asking Sango about Miroku’s behavior.  As it turned out, the monk had started flirting with the village girls but ceased immediately upon receiving an icy look from his betrothed.  Though he made no further attempts to womanize, Sango still wondered if he would behave himself if she weren’t around.  But it was progress; Miroku never used to care who was around when he flirted.  Kagome was glad to hear the monk was making some effort to control himself. 

 

Of course, now Kagome was obligated to answer Sango’s questions regarding her experiences in their time apart.  Reciprocity was indeed a bitch.  So she described the fiasco in the river in embarrassing detail, not even bothering to pretend she regretted anything up to Shippou’s interruption.  Sango was just floored that Kagome had the guts to invite Inuyasha to bathe with her in the first place.  The funny thing was that both women were left absolutely certain that the other’s relationship would work out, and less sure about their own. 

 

When afternoon came, Inuyasha and Kagome retrieved the latter’s new seal from Totosai.  It was a plain silver short sword, about half a foot long, with no guard and no decorative markings of any kind.  A casual observer would have no idea the sword was special in any way, but Kagome felt a spark of power the instant she touched the handle.  She probably wouldn’t use it in battle, much preferring her arrows, but she guessed that it might help control her youkai blood.  She sheathed it and placed it on her hip.  Feeling grateful, she coerced Inuyasha into helping her prepare Totosai a hot bath when the old youkai started dropping hints that he needed one.  Inuyasha was none too happy about that, and as a result he grumbled the whole time. 

 

* * *

 

So there it was.  Between badly-timed interruptions, annoying interrogations, missed opportunities, and two days without any opportunities period, Inuyasha had every reason to be pissed off.  It was now the fifth day since his night with Kagome in Goshinboku, and they were on the road again, heading to Daichi’s place because Kagome had expressed a desire to thank him for her new clothes in person.    Inuyasha wasn’t particularly happy with any of his friends; they were all in his dog house for something.  Sango and Shippou for trampling on ‘the moment,’ Miroku for being a hentai, and Kagome for being so damn enticing that he couldn’t think about anything else!  Well, that wasn’t entirely true.  The foul scent on the breeze certainly took his mind off Kagome, as his thoughts turned to how nice it would be to tear a certain wolf a new asshole.  In light of Kouga’s attitude during his last visit, maybe Kagome would let him get away with picking a fight this time.

 

“Hey, Kagome,” the wolf prince greeted cockily as he skidded to a halt before her.  He did not, however, grab her hands like he usually did.  In fact, he seemed almost put off by her appearance.  “So…you’re still a hanyou?” he questioned, doing a very poor job of concealing his disappointment.  Before Kagome—or Inuyasha—could answer, something else caught the wolf’s attention.  “Kagome, what the hell are you wearing?”  It was a little chilly today, so Kagome had chosen to wear the kosode and hakama with the green, white, and blue swirling pattern.  To her knowledge, it was the first time Kouga had seen her in anything besides modern clothes, so she supposed it was only natural to wonder where she had gotten something like this.  Still, to be so harsh about it…

 

“Heh.  Looks good on her, don’t it flea-bag,” Inuyasha replied.  Kouga could only stare in shock.  Did he just compliment her?  And why is she looking at him like he recited love poetry?! 

 

“Kagome looks incredibly beautiful in whatever she wears,” he answered smoothly.  He frowned when Kagome didn’t even glance in his direction.  What the fuck?!  Hadn’t his flattering been better than that unrefined cretin’s? 

 

“That’s the smartest thing you’ve ever said, wolf,” Inuyasha responded.  “Now beat it.” 

 

What the half-breed did next infuriated Kouga to the point of seeing red.  Having intercepted Kagome’s endeared look, the bastard had the audacity to loop his arm around the girl.  Kagome was his woman, dammit!  He would not stand for some dog’s claim on her, no matter how informal it was at the moment.  What really concerned and incensed him was that Kagome didn’t seem to mind; she actually appeared to enjoy the half-breed’s embrace.  Growling viciously, he lunged forward and forcefully separated the two of them, baring his teeth at Inuyasha, who just smirked at him.  The hanyou was practically oozing confidence for some reason, and it made him nervous. 

 

“Kouga!  What—” Kagome started, only to be cut off.  It was not lost on the wolf that Kagome had not used “-kun” when addressing him.  When had he lost the privilege of being referred to with an honorific?  It was all Inuyasha’s fault; of that he was certain. 

 

“Where did you get those clothes, Kagome?” he ground out through gritted teeth, trying not to take out his anger on his woman.  Kagome narrowed her eyes at him, not liking his possessive behavior one bit.  And given his past and present reactions to her hanyou metamorphosis, she was no longer in any kind of mood to be nice.  So, for the first time ever, she was rude to Kouga. 

 

“It’s none of your business, but if you must know, Inuyasha got them for me.” 

 

Well, at least Kouga now knew why the bastard had complimented her.  Inuyasha’s head was stuck too far up his ass to realize just how truly special Kagome was, and how lucky he was to have her.  But he doesn’t have her!  She’s mine!  Somehow he wasn’t as convinced of that fact as he used to be.  He took a deep breath to calm himself, laying on the charm thick when he spoke. 

 

“Kagome, if you wanted new clothes, you should have come to me.  I’ll get you garments made of the finest furs, and you’ll never want to wear anything from that half—him ever again.” 

 

Nobody missed Kouga’s near slip, though no one commented on it directly.  For Kagome, it made it even easier to finally stop placing the wolf on some sort of pedestal and treat him like the prejudiced jerk he was.  She was going to stay a half-breed, after all. 

 

“That’s not necessary, Kouga; I love Inuyasha’s gifts.” 

 

And there was that look again, that special smile that Kouga so longed to see directed at him.  But it was once again aimed at the mutt, and Kouga began to wonder if that would ever change.  He quickly banished that thought.  When I make her my mate, she won’t be wearing any of that shit anymore, that’s for damn sure.  I’ll burn all of it if I have to! 

 

“But Kagome,” he protested, “you should be dressed in only the finest furs and silks.  Once you become human again, you won’t have any need for peasant clothes like that.” 

 

Kagome was tempted to tell him off for making the pitifully false assertion that Daichi’s products were ‘peasant clothes,’ but his comment contained a more important issue that needed addressing. 

 

“Kouga, I’m not changing back.  I’ve decided to stay a hanyou…forever.” 

 

Kouga went slack-jawed for a second, but then his brow furrowed in fury.  He had tried for so long to avoid putting his foot down with Kagome, but there was no avoiding it now. 

 

“No, you’re not.” 

 

“Excuse me?” Kagome inquired incredulously. 

 

“You’re my woman, Kagome, and you’re changing back to a human.” 

 

“Why you…you arrogant prick!  What gives you the right to boss me around?!  I’m not your property!” 

 

“But you are my future mate, and as such, you have to listen to me.” 

 

At this point, Inuyasha could no longer hold his tongue.  “She ain’t never gonna be your mate, bastard!” 

 

“Shut the fuck up, Inu-kurro!  You want her to change back too!” 

 

“Not anymore!  That was a mistake,” he finished softly.  Kagome placed her delicate hand on his shoulder, rubbing soothingly as she favored him with a compassionate look.  Kouga was enraged and sickened by the entire display.  Inuyasha seemed to regain his confidence from Kagome’s comfort, and he turned fiery eyes back towards the wolf.  “I’ll stay with Kagome no matter which form she chooses.  And at least I had good reasons for wanting her to become human.  I wasn’t just being a selfish bastard!” 

 

“My reasons are selfless too!” Kouga retorted with some conviction, though doubt easily worked its way into his tone. 

 

“Bullshit!  You claim to care about her, you fucking bigot?  If you really loved her you wouldn’t ask her to change for you!” 

 

“And what would you know about loving Kagome?”  Kouga smirked at Inuyasha’s hesitation.  Heh, that’ll shut him up

 

For Inuyasha, time slowed to a crawl, as seconds seemed to take hours.  His father’s words came back to him. “There will be times in every man’s life when he must do or say the right thing, or lose the ones he loves.”  This was one of those times.  How could he deny his feelings now and then confess them later?  If he announced that he didn’t love Kagome now, he could lose her forever.  Still, his nerves and insecurities struck him hard, forcing him to reach a compromise within himself. 

 

“Maybe…maybe I know more about that than you think.”

Chapter Text

“Maybe…maybe I know more about that than you think.”

 

A virtual symphony of shocked gasps rang out behind Inuyasha, completely robbing him of his momentary bravado.  Kouga’s dumbfounded expression really brought it home to him.  This was real; he had actually said that aloud.  Nervous would not begin to describe how he felt.  All eyes were squarely on him; he could feel them boring holes in his back.  He was surrounded, backed into a corner, and natural instincts kicked in.  And since there was no enemy to fight, the only thing left was flight.  He had never been one to run from adversity, but this was completely different from anything he’d ever faced before.  This was the prelude to asking Kagome to be his mate, and he was now realizing that he had absolutely no idea what he was going to do or say.  The awkwardness and uncertainty weighed heavily upon him, and he couldn’t handle the pressure.  He panicked. 

 

“This is stupid,” he declared without turning around.  “I’m going hunting.  Set up camp somewhere that doesn’t reek of wolf.”  With that, he was gone, darting across the open ground until he reached the familiar and comforting shelter of the trees.  He glanced back over his shoulder once his body was concealed by shadow, waiting until he saw Kouga depart before treading deeper into the forest.  He had a lot of thinking to do. 

 

* * *

 

For her part, Kagome simply stood stock still, staring straight ahead in total disbelief even as Inuyasha made his hasty withdrawal.  The only thing her conscious mind was capable of at the moment was repeating his words over and over again.  “Maybe…maybe I know more about that than you think.”  The ‘that’ of course was loving her, a fact which ballooned her excitement so much that she was hard pressed not to float away on it.  The only thing keeping her grounded was past hurt, the part of her that clung despairingly to the memories of Inuyasha abandoning her to go off to see Kikyou.  But she wanted to believe him so badly; if only he hadn’t been so ambiguous about it!  If he really did love her, then everything that had occurred in these past few months made sense.  Their closeness, the kisses, the almost-kisses, the attraction, the arousal…all of it would be explained if he felt the same way about her as she did about him.  That did seem to be the only logical explanation; Inuyasha wasn’t a player, and he wouldn’t have allowed all that to happen if he didn’t have strong feelings for her.  Was it love?  She could only hope.  No, she could also ask him, communicate with him about it.  Her resolve solidified; by the end of the night, she would know for sure whether she and Inuyasha had a future together or not. 

 

“Kagome,” Kouga tried for the fifth time, but again received no response.  The miko continued to be stand there as lifeless as a statue.  He didn’t know what disturbed him more: her reaction to Inuyasha’s words or the fact that she was ignoring him to think about them.  He tried to be angry, but his heart clenched in anguish as it comprehended what his rational mind still refused to accept: Kagome was gone, her heart out of reach. 

 

“Maybe you should go, Kouga,” the monk advised, genuine sympathy leaking into his tone.  Kouga could only nod dumbly, sparing one more glance at Kagome, who was still oblivious to the world, before speeding off.  As he ran, some of the desolation that had gripped him bled away, to be replaced by determination.  He would not give up on Kagome so easily.  How did he even know how strong her feelings were for Inuyasha?  Even if she did…love the mutt, there was no guarantee that the baka wouldn’t screw it up.  Catching Kagome on the rebound was decidedly less than optimal, but it would be better than not having her at all.  He would return, and continue his courtship of his woman.  So why did it feel like he’d already lost? 

 

* * *

 

“Kagome-chan,” Sango called, waving her arms in front of her friend’s face, to no avail; Kagome remained firmly immersed in her stupor.  But Miroku had an idea, a sure-fire way to bring their companion back to reality.  He crept up behind her, and ever so slowly his right hand inched toward the gentle rise of her ass.  Unfortunately, Kagome’s hanyou senses apparently came with groping proximity sensors, because she snapped out of it before his hand made contact.  Moving quicker than the human eye could follow, she spun toward him, lashing out and pushing him in the chest while simultaneously sticking her leg out behind his.  The end result was Miroku lying flat on his back, staring up at the blue sky and wondering what the hell had just happened. 

 

“Oof!” he exclaimed as Kagome stepped on his stomach on her way over him.  She resumed their previous course, still looking quite distracted, but at least now aware of the world around her.  Sango’s lovely countenance came into his view next, as she hovered over him shaking her head.  But he could see she was trying to stifle a smile, so that was a good thing. 

 

“You got what you deserved, Houshi-sama,” she said, offering him a hand up, which he took gratefully. 

 

“My dear Sango, you misunderstand,” he replied as he heaved himself to his feet.  “I was merely trying to—”

 

“Save it, Houshi-sama.  You’re just lucky she didn’t use one of the other moves I showed her.” 

 

“You taught her that take-down?” he asked incredulously.  Sango merely smirked in response, giving him his answer.  “Remind me not to grope Kagome-sama ever again.” 

 

“Oh, I think Inuyasha will give you enough of a reminder if you ever try it.” 

 

Miroku grimaced.  “Good point.” 

 

The rest of the gang caught up with Kagome easily enough.  The miko was secretly considering tracking Inuyasha down, but decided to give him the time he needed.  He would return when he was ready.  By late afternoon, however, her patience had begun to wear thin.  They were already setting up camp, and darkness was only a couple hours away.  She was beginning to get quite edgy; it was becoming harder to sit and wait for him with each passing second. 

 

“Where’s Inuyasha?  I’m hungry,” Shippou complained. 

 

“Sorry, Shippou,” Miroku replied, “but the only thing Inuyasha is hunting for is answers to life’s most important questions.” 

 

“Aww, but he said he was going hunting for dinner.” 

 

Seeing her opportunity, Kagome shot to her feet.  “If Inuyasha’s not getting food, I will.  I’ll go hunting!” 

 

Sango and Miroku shared a dubious look, but chose not to comment on where they knew she was really going. 

 

“Okay, Kagome-chan.  Be safe!” Sango called dramatically, a poor acting job if Miroku had ever seen one.  He dared not voice that thought aloud; his head was enjoying not having any lumps on it.  But Kagome didn’t seem to care about Sango’s obvious humoring effort, as she nodded and darted enthusiastically off into the forest. 

 

“Things will never be the same,” Miroku declared wistfully as he rummaged around in the miko’s bag for some ninja food. 

 

“What do you mean, Houshi-sama?”

 

“Come now, Sango.  We both know she’s going to look for Inuyasha, and when she finds him…well, let’s just say they’ll be getting very close tonight.”  His words were vague, but his tone left no doubt as to what he meant.  Sango flushed lightly despite herself. 

 

“I-I don’t think they’ll go that far so soon.” 

 

“Really?  You don’t think they’ll be, shall we say, ‘connected in body’ by the time they come back to camp?” 

 

“I wouldn’t bet on it.” 

 

Miroku’s grin widened at this, as if a marvelous new idea had occurred to him.  Sango was suddenly very worried, and for good reason. 

 

“Bet on it, you say?  What a wonderful idea!” 

 

“W-what?!  I didn’t—”

 

“I accept your challenge, Sango.  Now, what are the terms?” 

 

“NO!!!  We are not betting on whether our friends are doing to…that tonight!!!” 

 

Miroku shrugged nonchalantly, but Sango could tell he was still up to something.  “Well, I can understand if you’re afraid, Sango.” 

 

The taijiya clenched her fists.  He’s baiting you.  Don’t fall for it!  She knew this, and yet, how could she back down from a challenge like that?  The monk was basically calling her a coward!  Her warrior pride couldn’t take an insult like that sitting down, not by a long shot.  And since she couldn’t in good conscience beat the monk to a bloody pulp for his indiscretion…

 

“Fine!  If I win, um…I’ll think of something.” 

 

Miroku chuckled.  “Fair enough.  Now, what do I get if I win?  Hmmm…”

 

“If it’s anything hentai the deal’s off,” Sango warned, reaching for hiraikotsu.  The monk waved his hands as if to physically dispel that notion. 

 

“Nothing like that!  How about…  How about a kiss?”

 

“A k-k-kiss?” Sango repeated, turning deathly pale.  Kagome’s words from the hot spring all those weeks ago came back to her.  “It was amazing, Sango-chan,” Kagome continued, completely lost in the memory.  “I’ve never felt so alive, so connected to Inuyasha.”  “He deepened it too; we even tangled tongues.”  Thinking of doing that with Miroku made Sango blush crimson, but at the same time she was more than a little curious what it would be like.

 

“Shall I take your silence as a ‘yes?’” Miroku posed, clearly amused.  Hesitating only briefly, Sango nodded, hoping that she hadn’t just made a colossal mistake.  I hope Kagome doesn’t get too mad at me for this.

 

“Kirara,” the forgotten kitsune asked, “why are adults so complicated?”

 

*Mew*

 

* * *

 

Inuyasha sighed again, not quite believing that after hours of contemplation, he had yet to come up with any real answers.  There were a thousand and one ways to reveal his true feelings to Kagome, but none of them seemed right, and he hadn’t been able to settle on one.  But was that really a bad thing?  Maybe with something like this, he was better off just winging it.  He scoffed inwardly.  Yeah, ‘cause that’s always been my strong suit.  He had tasted his proverbial foot—and quite literal dirt—in his mouth too many times to have any illusions about his speaking ability. 

 

But he couldn’t put this off any longer.  If Kagome was half as anxious as he was, she was probably pacing around the camp by now.  Leaping down from the tree he was perched in, he set off to rejoin his friends.  It was easy enough to locate the trail they had taken, and he simply followed their scents.  Suddenly a new scent reached his nostrils, causing him to stop dead in his tracks.  It was Kagome’s scent but fresher, as if he was actually smelling her this time and not merely tracking an aroma clinging to nature.  His heartbeat doubled and his breathing became rapid.  Gulping, he hesitantly swerved into the forest, pushing his way through the underbrush.  He tried to calm his nerves as he went, but was largely unsuccessful.  This was it.  Kagome was alone—he’d yell at her later for that—but this was the opportunity he’d been waiting for.  One way or another, his life would never be the same after today.  There was no room for the status quo; it was either happiness or heartbreak. 

 

He came upon her rather suddenly, but his natural stealth allowed him to remain undetected.  Or maybe that was because Kagome was concentrating really hard on something.  Regardless, the sight of her filled him with dread.  She looked to be struggling with herself, tears streaming freely down her cheeks.  He hurled himself forward, hollering as he went. 

 

“KAGOME!!!” 

 

* * *

 

Kagome kicked at a stone, mentally berating herself.  Did I really just tell them I was going hunting?  That has to be the lamest excuse ever.  I’ve never gone hunting in my life!  She knew they hadn’t bought it, but was grateful they humored her anyway.  At least she was out of camp, and could look for Inuyasha.  Now, how would she go about doing that?  One option was to backtrack to where they met Kouga, find his trail, and follow it until she found him.  But that could take hours, and she was reluctant to stray too far from camp in case he returned on his own.  So that left just searching the surrounding area and hoping he was sitting in a tree somewhere nearby.  Frustration set in after about fifteen minutes of searching and not catching a hint of his scent. 

 

Suddenly, a brown blob darted out of a bush directly to her right, startling her and sending her jumping back a good ten feet, hissing like a frightened cat.  She stopped as she saw what the creature was.  A rabbit.  A stupid, furry rabbit.  She had accidentally stumbled upon its hiding place, forcing it to scurry away.  Now it sat perched on a rock, gazing at her warily with one eye.  The insolent little rodent gave her an idea, one that revolted her at first.  It took her several minutes to talk herself into it.  Well, you did tell them you were going hunting.  Still, could she really bring herself to kill, even if it was for food?  Meat was an essential part of the diets of human and youkai alike.  And so far, Inuyasha was the only one who provided it.  He was the only one who had to take life, or get his hands dirty doing it.  Hell, he was the sole reason why any of them ever ate meat.  If it weren’t for Inuyasha, she probably would have become a de facto vegetarian by now.  Miroku’s travel funds barely covered the occasional stay at an inn, never mind hearty meals for the six of them.  That was one reason he usually resorted to phony exorcisms. 

 

Why did Inuyasha have to hunt all the time when she, as a hanyou, was perfectly capable of doing it?  In many ways, she reflected, she still behaved like a human.  And if she was going to remain a hanyou for the rest of her life, she had to start acting like one.  So now her mind was made up, but there still remained the actual catching and killing of the rabbit.  Catching the critter was the easy part; a short burst and an even shorter chase later, and she had it pinned to the ground by its neck.  But how did she dispatch it?  Claws?  Suffocation?  Why hadn’t she put any thought into this?! 

 

Then she made the mistake of looking into the creature’s eyes, and her fragile resolve collapsed like a tower of cards.  Huge and black the orbs were, but filled with absolute panic.  The rabbit’s breathing was unbelievably fast, the little legs flailing wildly as it tried to break free.  Kagome tried to hold back her tears, but they came unabated as she raised her free hand to deliver the finishing blow.  She lost count of the number of times she started to strike only to stop while her hand was still in the air.  Eventually, the rabbit ceased struggling; it was still breathing hard, but seemed resigned to its fate now.  Either that or it was too exhausted to continue.  Kagome trembled in indecision, wavering at the point of no return for what seemed like hours.  But she had to do this, if only to prove to herself that she wasn’t the most helpless hanyou to ever roam the planet.  If Inuyasha saw her like this, agonizing over some stupid rodent’s life, what would he say? 

 

That thought cinched it for Kagome, as she closed her eyes and plunged her hand downward.  She heard her name being called just before a large weight slammed into her from the side, tackling her to the ground.  The lucky rabbit slipped from her grasp and scampered in the undergrowth.  Kagome struggled for a moment before her mind caught up with her and she recognized the voice.  She went completely limp, sobbing into the familiar haori as Inuyasha carefully lifted her to sit in his lap. 

 

“Kagome,” he uttered softly, “what the hell were you doing?” 

 

It took the miko several minutes to calm down enough to answer.  “I’m sorry,” she muttered, eyes downcast. 

 

“For what?” 

 

“For being so weak.” 

 

Instantly, Inuyasha understood.  “Baka!” he spit out without thinking, only succeeding in making Kagome feel worse.  Sobering when she became even more miserable, he sighed.  

 

“Kagome,” he tried, but she still refused to raise her head.  “Kagome, look at me,” he ordered, gently gripping her chin and lifting it.  Finally their eyes locked, and he saw so many conflicting emotions in those chocolate orbs: sadness, remorse, relief, self-loathing.  Was it any wonder she was crying?  He tenderly ran his thumb along her cheek, wiping away the stubborn moisture that clung there. 

 

“You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone, Kagome,” Inuyasha continued.  “Just because you can’t kill a rabbit doesn’t make you weak.  Killing…it’s not easy.” 

 

“B-but you kill animals for food all the time!” 

 

Inuyasha shrugged.  “I do it because I have to.  I don’t enjoy it.” 

 

“I know that,” Kagome told him.  “I just didn’t realize it was so hard.”

 

“Feh.  Do you have any idea how long it took me to be able to kill?” 

 

Kagome’s eyes widened as she stared at rapt attention, waiting for him to continue.  It took a minute or two to gather his thoughts as long forgotten memories came flooding back. 

 

“My mother died in spring,” he said at last.  “All during the summer and fall, I survived on fruits, nuts, whatever edible plant life I could find plus the meat I stole from human villages.  Then winter came, and all of that disappeared.  Humans can be very protective of food when there isn’t much of it to go around.  I was nearly slain a couple times.  I knew I would have to go hunting, but I was just a brat, and I couldn’t bring myself to kill an animal that had done me no wrong.  I don’t know how many rabbits I caught and let go.  Finally it got to the point where it was either kill an animal or starve to death.  So I did.  I killed a rabbit.  Afterwards, I was so guilty that I said a prayer for it.  I don’t do that anymore, but I still have respect for all the animals I take.  And I’m still grateful.”  His story told, Inuyasha closed his eyes as poignant emotions bubbled within him.  But somehow, just the simple act of sharing some of his past with Kagome seemed to make him feel better.  Until he smelled her renewed tears, that is. 

 

“Wh-why are you crying now?” he groaned. 

 

“It’s so sad!” she balled, frantically drying her eyes.  “Almost everything you say about your past is just horrible!” 

 

“It gets better.” 

 

“Inuyasha?” she wondered.  He tried to think of something to say, but it was useless.  How could he possibly tell her how much better his life had gotten since she came into it?  How could he ever hope to communicate how much she meant to him?  For a man not skilled with words, such a task could prove impossible.  But he knew a place to start, a non-verbal way to show her everything she was to him.  He raised his right hand, caressing her cheek as he slowly leaned closer.  Kagome seemed to realize what he was doing almost immediately, as her eyes widened and then drooped closed.  She leaned forward as well, and this time there were no friends or annoying animals to interrupt them. 

 

Their lips met in a burst of effervescent heat, and it was like coming home for both of them.  It had been far, far too long.  They had reached an oasis; weeks of wandering in the desert with parched throats were at an end.  And they savored the cool nourishment, indulging in each other to their hearts’ content.  The kiss remained chaste for all of two seconds before both of them opened up at the same time.  Perhaps they were sharing some sort of mental telepathy, connected by their lips?  Or maybe it was just that they wanted the exact same thing, and were equally determined to get it.  Their tongues tangled, plundering, pillaging, fighting a battle that both wanted to win but would be equally as content to lose.  And they did lose.  They lost themselves in the kiss, the devastating passion that seemed to set their bodies and souls afire with want.  Those same souls were stripped bare when they finally pulled back to gaze into each other’s eyes.  No secrets, nothing remained hidden as they searched and found exactly what they were looking for in the other’s shimmering orbs. 

 

“Inuya—” Kagome started to say, only to be cut off by Inuyasha’s lips.  While the first kiss had been ardent, tinged with hints of longing and desperation, this one was far more languid.  They took their time, leisurely exploring, memorizing the contours of the warm caverns in which they would be happy to spend all eternity.  The languorous pace did nothing to cool the heat of their bodies or the rapid beating of their hearts.  When they pulled back a second time, Inuyasha was in a state of tranquil euphoria.  As if kissing her wasn’t enough, just a glance at her told him everything he needed to know and gave him the courage to say what he needed to say.  She wanted this as much as he did.  But he would never be satisfied with just a glance.  He wanted to look at this woman for the rest of his life.  He wanted to watch her smile, laugh, cry out in ecstasy.  He wanted to see her bring new life into the world, glow with pride as she observed their children, and finally grow old and weary as life inexorably waned.  He wanted to watch her, and be by her side through all of it.  Nothing else in the world mattered. 

 

“Kagome,” he breathed, testing out his voice to make sure he still had the ability to speak.  A bit shaky, but it would have to do.  Gripping both her hands firmly in his, he finally gave voice to his strongest desire.  “Stay with me,” he said simply.  “Forever.” 

 

Kagome lit up with excitement at that last word, but it was restrained.  “Inuyasha?” she questioned, silently pleading for something more substantial, hoping he could finally say the words she longed to hear.  He didn’t even hesitate. 

 

“Kagome, I want to spend my life with you.  I never want to leave your side.  I want to have children with you, raise a family.  I want…  Would you…would you be my mate?” 

 

As much as she wanted to say yes, and shout that answer to the heavens, there was something holding Kagome back.  It didn’t take a genius to figure out what it was, and Inuyasha soon caught on without Kagome having to voice her concern.  Far from being upset, he smiled wistfully at the memory. 

 

“The last time I saw Kikyou, I told her I wasn’t going to hell with her, and she released me.  She said I was free to live…and love.” 

 

Kagome’s eyes opened wide as saucers and Inuyasha met her stare unblinking, silently conveying everything left unsaid, confirming the deepest desires of her heart.  This time it was Kagome who initiated the lip lock, as she firmly planted her lips on his.  Inuyasha responded instantly, rising up and pulling her closer.  Unconsciously Kagome moved until she was straddling his hips, wrapped intimately around him. 

 

“Inuyasha…I love you too,” she managed to mutter before her lips were hungrily consumed once more.  No more words were spoken; the burgeoning heat within them left no room for conversation.  The spiritual combined with the physical in a single all-powerful desire.  Hips began to shift and gyrate subconsciously, the air rapidly becoming perfumed with arousal as their kiss took on a new, more carnal edge.  Their bodies knew what they were doing on some instinctual level, even if their cognizant minds were those of virgins.  An outside party might have found it comical even, when they pulled back to gaze at each other with lust shining in their eyes, neither knowing exactly what to do about it.  Perhaps it was her modern upbringing that allowed Kagome to make the first move.  Or maybe it was the fact that she had wanted this for many months, and was not about to waste the opportunity. 

 

Either way, Inuyasha was thoroughly shocked when Kagome wandered down to his neck, kissing, sucking, causing goose bumps to rise on his supple skin.  He shuddered when she grazed a fang against him by accident, hardening even further underneath her.  Reflexively she pressed herself more firmly against him, her body rebelliously seeking that tantalizing pleasure of its own accord.  Not that she had any intention of stopping it.  Inuyasha’s breath continued to hitch and heave as Kagome worked on his neck.  She smoothed her hands over his cloth-covered chest, feeling the taut muscles jump and pulse under her touch.  Deciding she wanted to feel his skin directly, she began untying the strings holding his haori closed.  Somehow she managed, though her fingers were shaking almost uncontrollably.  Sliding his shirts down his shoulder and baring his upper body was an electrifying experience for her.  How many times had she seen this chest, touched it, bandaged it?  But never in these circumstances, and never had the sight and feel of it warmed her in such a sexual manner. 

 

Inuyasha gathered a portion of his scattered wits while Kagome was occupied, and not ravaging his neck.  He quickly came to the conclusion that he was no longer content to sit back and be done to; it was time to give this little lynx a taste of her own medicine.  He lurched forward suddenly, throwing Kagome off balance as he brought both hands up to support her.  She leaned back in compliance, perfectly content to let the half-naked hanyou god before her do as he saw fit…for now.  Inuyasha didn’t disappoint, moving his hand behind her neck and pulling her in for another kiss, pouring into it all the passion she had inspired in him.  Simultaneously, he cupped her ass and drew her closer still, increasing the delicious pressure still mounting in their nether regions.  It was the first time his touch had strayed outside the ‘safe zone,’ and he was gratified when her reaction was totally positive.  For Kagome, the relentless pressure between her legs intensified the nigh unbearable heat permeating her entire body.  For a woman who had never been so hot before, even her own skin was wonderfully uncomfortable.  At the very least, her clothes would have to go. 

 

Frustratingly, her hanyou lover seemed to be too nervous to remove them.  Or perhaps he was simply taking his time, lavishing her neck with the same type of attention she had given his.  Her head rolled back as her eyes slid shut, her body continuing to subtly beg for more.  His hand suddenly landed on her breast, causing her to release a choked gasp as her back arched unnaturally, pressing herself into his hand.  Fangs on her neck sent her shivering in his grasp, delighting in the multi-pronged assault on her body.  Inuyasha continued to knead her breast through the cloth, and she groaned longingly when he stopped, undoubtedly giving his ego quite a boost.  Gaining courage, he finally began to disrobe her, gulping as he opened her kosode and took in the sight of her upper body clad only in a white cotton bra.  Kagome regained enough composure while he was staring to realize he would have no idea how to remove it.  Bringing her head back up to meet his smoldering gaze, she reached behind herself and unfastened the clasp before sliding the article from her shoulders.  Inuyasha’s jaw literally dropped, sending a surge of satisfaction straight through her.  It should have embarrassed her to have her breasts so shamelessly ogled, but somehow it only turned her on further. 

 

Again they found themselves at a crossroads, and again Kagome was the one to drive them forward.  Unfortunately, that meant prying herself from Inuyasha, which was truly difficult considering the lightning sparks still shooting through her core from their intimate contact.  Still, the arousal couldn’t completely obliterate her nerves; she had seen his chest before, but she had never taken his pants off.  She had seen him naked before, but certainly never while he was sporting an erection.  A rather impressive one at that, if the persistent tingling between her legs was any indication.  Taking a deep breath didn’t help; the scents in the air only reminded her of just how sexually stimulated they both were.  Strangely, that actually helped calm her slightly, reminding her that they both wanted this so badly.  Not that the look in his eyes wasn’t sufficient evidence of that.

 

Kagome pulled back, attempting to squat on her heels but finding that her legs were too shaky to balance her weight.  She settled for kneeling with her ankles on either side of her hips, rubbing her thighs together as her body continued to simmer despite being taken off the burner.  She reached for him, taking his hand and pulling him up until he was kneeling as well.  He seemed to get the message at that point, as he hurriedly tried to undo the ties to his hakama.  Gently she prodded his hands away, daring a glance up at him as she began to unfasten the ties herself.  He could only watch in rapt anticipation as she slowly worked on his hakama, studiously avoiding touching or looking at his prominent erection as she went.  He might have laughed at her timidity if that particular part of his body didn’t need her attention so desperately.  It had a mind of its own, throbbing and quivering as if to compel his mate to give it some of the affection the rest of his body was receiving.  It made an exceptionally powerful leap just as Kagome was moving over to work on the ties on his other hip, impacting her hand and causing her to squeak and pull back in shock and embarrassment. 

 

She felt understandably foolish after that display; it would be kind of hard to make love without touching Inuyasha’s penis at some point.  She blushed and grinned sheepishly, Inuyasha joining her as the two shared in a private joke for virgins only.  The humor made Inuyasha bolder, as he grabbed Kagome’s hand and wrapped it securely around his erection.  Her flush intensified, but curiosity and excitement as well.  Tentatively at first, she began to stroke him, running her hand along his covered length.  He tried and failed to suppress a low, appreciative growl as his hips thrust forward of their own volition.  Kagome glanced up at him, surprised to find his eyes closed, teeth gritted.  He looked like he was struggling to control himself, and she was amazed she could have such an effect on him through such a simple act.  She wondered what it would be like without the barrier of his hakama.

 

For Inuyasha, heaven and hell combined in Kagome’s gentle caress; heaven because if felt so damn good, and hell because he wanted so much more.  Luckily, Kagome didn’t make him wait too much longer before obliging.  Brazened by his obvious approval, she lowered his hakama so she could view him directly.  For a long minute she just stared, mesmerized by the pulsing mass of flesh before her.  Slowly, agonizingly so for the owner of said mass, she reached out and grasped it in one hand.  She was astonished by the softness of the skin, and how pliant it was as she resumed her gentle stroking.  It looked so hard, and yet it was incredibly soft once you got close to it.  Such an astonishing contradiction, but one could say the exact same thing about Inuyasha, a man whose tough demeanor hid a kind heart and a beautiful soul.  But he would never again be able to hide those things from her, and it thrilled her to know that he probably wouldn’t want to. 

 

Inuyasha couldn’t take much more of this.  His body was already over-sensitized by the sheer newness of all this, and Kagome’s sweet torture was threatening to push him over the edge far sooner than he would have liked.  He didn’t want his first orgasm with her to be like this; he wanted it to come when he was buried deep inside her, making her his mate.  Beyond that, his hands were practically itching to touch her in return, but he could barely concentrate on breathing with his loins afire at her skillful manipulation.  So it took a heroic exertion of willpower, but he finally managed to push her hand away.  And as he grasped her wrist, contemplating what to do next, he realized that his insecurities and inhibitions had utterly vanished.  The waves of pleasure and Kagome’s words had purged them from his being.  He hesitated no further, moving forward and taking hold of Kagome, laying her gently on her back.  He attacked her lips, nearly bruising them with intensity of his passion. 

 

Kagome melted under the assault, her eyes sliding shut as he dominated her.  She wrapped her arms around his neck, her hold providing an anchor to her rapidly fading grip on reality.  His hands again found her breasts—bare this time—scorching her skin and causing her to arch into him.  She tore her lips away and moaned loudly when he lightly pinched her nipple, rolling the sensitive bud between his fingers.  His caresses took on a rougher, more feral edge as their excitement reached new heights, but nothing he did felt anything less than divine.  Her body began to writhe like a dancing serpent as she wordlessly pleaded for the touch of her charmer where she really needed it.  Her hands flew to his shoulders, clutching so tightly that her claws pierced his skin, drawing thin rivulets of blood.  He didn’t seem to mind, and the scent of blood in the air only added to the animalistic desires of their youkai sides.  But this wasn’t about them, and neither had much trouble remaining in control. 

 

Kagome gasped, holding her breath as one of Inuyasha’s hands worked its way south.  Her stomach muscles rioted under the rough skin of his palm, and the feel of his claws sent delightful shivers cascading through her body.  Then he paused, earning himself a needy whine from the goddess beneath him.  If that didn’t lift his ego, the feel of her as he slipped his hand inside her hakama certainly did.  Her pleasured groan pierced the night air as he pressed his fingers against her junction through the fabric of her panties.  The garment was soaked through, filling Inuyasha with waves of increasing arousal and masculine pride.  She was this aroused at his touch, this wet for him and only him.  Broken versions of his name poured from her lips together with orders not to stop as her hips swayed in time with the movement of his fingers.  But he had to disobey her, if only for a moment, to pull his hand back and slip it inside her panties. 

 

Kagome trembled violently, her entire body quaking as he touched her directly.  The strange and wonderful sensations nearly obliterated her consciousness; she was nothing more than a quivering mass of flesh, sustained only by his tender ministrations at her core.   Tremors rocked her as he brushed over her clit, returning to the growing bud once he glimpsed her reaction.  Wanton mewls escaped her as she twisted and thrashed, the overwhelming heat building to new heights within her.  But just before the waves broke, sending her hurtling into oblivion, she pulled his hand away.  She too wished her first climax to come later, when they were locked together in the most intimate of ways.  Inuyasha was dismayed and puzzled for a moment, but quickly caught on as Kagome began untying her hakama.  Heart thundering wildly with anticipation, he helped her remove them and her panties before standing and ridding himself of the last of his clothing also.  For awhile he just stood there, transfixed by the woman before him.  She was staring at him with eyes consumed by lust, not even attempting to conceal herself from his fervent gaze.  Surely a mortal being couldn’t possess such supernatural beauty?  But even if Kagome wasn’t an immortal deity sent into the world to fill his life with love and happiness, he knew he would spend the rest of his days worshipping her as if she was.  And he could start by making her first time as pleasurable for her as he knew it would be for him. 

 

Inuyasha didn’t know a lot about sex; for most of the evening he had been the follower, copying Kagome’s actions and very carefully gauging her reaction to everything he did.  What he did know came from a combination of instinct and observation.  He had watched humans ‘make love’ before, not because he was a hentai, but because that was the only way he could learn.  Growing up, he hadn’t been blessed with a father to instruct him on such matters, or a bunch of male friends to talk about women with.  One thing he had discovered was that it was possible for the woman to feel the same pleasure as the man, especially when the man seemed to care or strive for her gratification.  He had also seen men just take their own pleasure without regard for their partners, who usually went unsatisfied.  There was no way he was going to be one of those bastards.  Another, more disconcerting thing he had learned was that her first time was usually painful for the woman.  The thought of causing Kagome any pain set his stomach churning, but it had to be done.  Clearly, Kagome wasn’t nearly as concerned about it as he was, if at all.  But that was the problem, wasn’t it?  He didn’t know if he could bring himself to push inside her, to inflict the pain he was sure she would experience.  Then, another memory came back to him, and the solution became apparent. 

 

Kagome raised her arms, beckoning him to join her with a brilliant smile.  Grinning in return, he settled between her legs as she expected, but then surprised her by rolling them over so she was once again straddling his lap.  It seemed so long ago that they had been in this same position, fully clothed, just kissing each other.  Now they were about to make love; he almost couldn’t believe it.  Kagome favored him with a questioning look, as if to say ‘in this position?’  He nodded, shoving down the urges of his youkai side, which was none too happy with the submissive position.  But at least now she was in control.  She could set the pace, determine what her body could handle, and hopefully minimize her pain.  She still looked doubtful, probably fully understanding of what his youkai wanted, but he forestalled any comment by leaning in for another kiss.  This one was short and relatively chaste, more about reassurance than anything else, but it did the trick.  Kagome flashed her most dazzling smile of the night, truly touched that he was being so considerate of her and ignoring his baser instincts. 

 

Using his shoulders for support, she lifted herself up on her knees, hovering over his erection.  He helpfully lined it up with her entrance, and she began lowering herself.  When the head entered her, they locked eyes, neither willing nor able to look away as she slid herself further down his shaft.  The intrusion was uncomfortable for Kagome, but not overly painful, at least not at first.  The feeling intensified, becoming a hot, burning sensation, but even then it was not as bad as she feared.  Then suddenly she could sink no further; she was pressed flush against Inuyasha, his length fully inside her. 

 

She started to rise up but Inuyasha stopped her, wanting to give her time to adjust.  He also desired to cherish this moment, and to that end he gently gripped Kagome’s chin and pulled her in for another kiss.  Before they knew it, the ebb and flow of the kiss had taken over their bodies, causing them to gyrate against each other.  Satisfied that her grunts and whimpers were of pleasure rather than pain, Inuyasha finally allowed her to rise off his lap.  He didn’t even try to suppress his low growl as she pulled halfway out and settled back down, only to repeat the motion in short order. 

 

They settled into a rhythm rather quickly, a leisurely one because of the mechanics of their position and their unfamiliarity with the act of lovemaking.  Kagome still felt some discomfort, but even that faded over time, replaced by a wondrous friction that soon encouraged her to ride him harder and deeper.  But whether it was because it was his first time, or because of Kagome’s pain, Inuyasha was far ahead of her, already nearing the finish line.  They both knew it, and Kagome continued to push him toward that mind-blowing climax while he tried to hold himself back.  He intended to keep his self-made promise to make her achieve orgasm first, even if it seemed stopping really would kill him this time. 

 

It almost did, he reflected as he held Kagome against him and rolled them over, pinning her beneath him and stifling her movement.  Suspending his orgasm at the last moment required the last ounce of his self control he possessed, plus some extra restraint he pulled from who knows where.  Lunging forward, he sank his teeth into the juncture of her neck and shoulder, not hard enough to draw blood, but enough to help him maintain his composure.  More than perplexed, but not afraid, Kagome relaxed, wrapping her legs around his waist and smoothing her hands up and down his quivering back.  Releasing his bite hold, Inuyasha started thrusting in a measured, deliberate pace.  Snaking one of his hands down between them, he found the little button that had brought her so much pleasure before.  She stiffened at the sudden contact, her whole body jolting as she cried out.  Quickening his movements, he continued to rub her pearl as those gentle caresses on his back turned to desperate scratches and her once docile legs pulled her up firmly to meet each of his thrusts.  Her breath came in short bursts, eyes screwing shut as a hot conflagration blazed within her.  They drove each other through the deafening thunder, the ferocious storm of sensation that sent shockwaves of lightning surging through their bodies. 

 

Kagome cried out to the heavens as the waves finally crested and everything went white.  She tightened and spasmed around him, pulling him almost immediately into his own climax, their cries of each other’s names blending into one.  It seemed like ages before they came down from their highs, simply holding each other as the bliss of sexual gratification subsided and a new one arose.  Lying on their sides facing each other, they basked in the afterglow of becoming mates in body, heart, and soul.  Neither could wipe the radiant smile from their face, even when they engaged in another languid kiss.  Drowsiness snuck up on them rather quickly, and they slipped into slumber snuggled together under Inuyasha’s haori.  A passing observer would have witnessed a truly stunning display.  Two glowing auras, fierce crimson and gorgeous blue, rose into the night sky, swirling around each other until they were impossible to distinguish.  Then they descended as one back into their hosts, and the darkness of night reclaimed the small clearing. 

Chapter Text

Kagome roused from slumber slowly, cosseted in unearthly comfort.  Had she ever been this warm and cozy?  No, she decided, she hadn’t.  And as her mind finally came back online, she remembered the reason why she currently felt that way.  She beamed, snuggling further into her hanyou mattress, which grunted and pulled her closer in response.  Inuyasha had chosen her.  He wasn’t going to hell with Kikyou; he wanted to spend his life by her side.  He had chosen her.  Kagome.  He had chosen Kagome.  She feared her mind would be forever stuck on that infinite loop, just chanting the message to herself over and over.  Plus, her face was going to be permanently frozen in this ridiculous grin she was wearing. 

 

Cracking one eye open, she glanced at her hanyou lover.  He was still asleep, his visage peaceful and his breathing deep and regular.  It was dark, which meant that unless they had been unconscious for twenty-four solid hours, it was still the same evening in which they had made love.  Early in said evening, if the position of the moon was any indication.  So they had probably only been dozing for a few hours, but why had they fallen asleep in the first place?  It certainly hadn’t been the fatigue factor; when you just finish making love for the first time, you don’t fall asleep right away, especially if you’re a hanyou and don’t need as much shuteye as humans.  And yet, she recalled feeling so incredibly tired afterwards that it took mere seconds for her to pass out.  And Inuyasha had apparently experienced the same thing, which made it all the stranger. 

 

She shrugged it off; it probably wasn’t important.  What was important was that she was lying here—naked—with Inuyasha—also naked—and she planned on enjoying every second of it.  Shifting away from the pebble digging into her hip, she made the mistake of moving her thighs apart for the first time.  Eeeewwww.  She was quite sticky down there, her inner thighs coated in blood and various other bodily fluids.  She needed to find her way to a bath, and soon.  She battled with herself for a few minutes, part of her wanting to just stay where she was and bask in the moment, but eventually the urge to be clean won out.  Besides, Inuyasha was hers now, so she could cuddle with him whenever she wanted.  And you can make love whenever you want too, her mind supplied, bringing a silly grin to her features as gingerly stood up and grabbed her kosode, sliding her arms into the voluminous sleeves.  She decided to just carry her undergarments and hakama; she was only going to find a body of water, after all.  The kosode was easily long enough to cover the essentials.  She would have to hold it closed, but that was simple enough to accomplish. 

 

“Where ya goin’, wench?” came the drowsy male voice behind her, startling Kagome into a gasp and spin.  Heavy-lidded amber eyes stared back at her, amusement dancing in their depths.  Damn, how does he always manage to do that, even though I’m a hanyou?

 

“Uh, just going to take a bath,” she replied lamely, praying he didn’t ask why.  She would really like to avoid having to tell him that his stuff was on her leg, and her stuff was on her leg, and it was a big sticky mess.  Fortunately, he seemed to understand without any further explanation. 

 

“Oh,” he said, blushing and looking away.  Kagome turned her attention to sniffing for a water source as he dressed himself. 

 

“Okay, I think I found something,” she declared.  “Come on.” 

 

Inuyasha made no reply, and uncomfortable silence settled on the pair as they made their way through the underbrush.  Is this awkward or what?  In retrospect, the sudden shyness was to be expected, she supposed.  Neither of them were virgins any longer, but they would probably still act like it for awhile yet.  Old modes of behavior were hard to break.  But she wanted to be open!  She wanted to start acting like a happy couple sooner rather than later.  Okay, she thought, nodding to herself in determination, I will try to not act like such a virgin!  With any luck, maybe she could pull Inuyasha out of his timidity as well. 

 

Her nose led them to a small pond, barely seven or eight meters across at its widest.  But the water was relatively clear, and it would have to do.  She didn’t need a bath, per se, just a quick rinse.  And since she wasn’t going to act like a virgin any longer…  She hesitated only a moment before shrugging her shoulders and dropping her kosode to the ground.  The reaction from Inuyasha was immediate and detectable by multiple senses.  His soft gasp reverberated throughout the clearing, and his scent spiked noticeably in excitement.  Glancing coyly over her shoulder, Kagome grinned as she glimpsed his dumbfounded expression.  He was staring wide-eyed, his mouth slightly agape, his gaze directed noticeably lower than eye level.  Her hips rolled with just a little extra wiggle as she made her way into the water.  She shivered slightly; it was cold, but she didn’t intend to stay in very long.  Wading in only up to her waist since she didn’t have a towel, she began to clean herself, and Inuyasha took notice. 

 

“Sorry,” he murmured, drawing Kagome’s attention to where he was sitting cross-legged on the bank, glaring pensively off into the forest.  She blinked and cocked her head to the side in confusion. 

 

“For what?” she asked.  He flushed at this, stammering for a couple seconds before finally meeting her eyes. 

 

“You…uh, I hurt you.” 

 

“Oh,” Kagome responded, feeling her own cheeks warm.  “Don’t apologize for that, Inuyasha.  It’s only natural.  Actually, I meant to thank you,” she confessed shyly. 

 

“Why?” he wondered, completely baffled. 

 

“Well, you put a lot of effort into making it feel good for me, and I really appreciate it.” 

 

“Keh,” was his eloquent reply, but he did seem somewhat more confident than before, as one corner of his mouth curled just enough to reveal a fang.  “Just did what any good mate would have done.”  Mate.  That was another thing they needed to talk about, Kagome realized. 

 

“So, we’re mates now?”  A curt nod was her only answer, so she continued voicing her line of thought.  “What exactly does that mean?”

 

Inuyasha shrugged.  “Dunno.  Whenever I hear demons talk about…being together, they always call each other mates.  That’s how Aoi and her mate referred to each other, remember?  Nobody ever told me if it actually means anything beyond…uh, the physical part.” 

 

“Oh, well what do you want it to mean for us?” 

 

“I already told you what I want.  This shit is permanent, wench.  You’re stuck with me for life.” 

 

Kagome flashed a positively radiant smile.  “I guess that means you’re stuck with me as well, huh?” 

 

“I’ll manage,” he joked, earning a chuckle from his miko mate.  Her mirth persisted as she climbed out of the water and saw him swiftly turn his back, his posture stiff. 

 

“You are allowed to look, you know,” she informed him, shaking her head in amusement. 

 

“Keh.”  Inuyasha had a very good reason for averting his eyes.  He figured Kagome might still be sore, and he didn’t want to engage in any more intimate activities this evening.  Observing her in the buff would increase the temptation to do just that, and make it exponentially more difficult to restrain himself.  Fortunately, Kagome decided to let it go, assuming he was just being bashful.  He listened as she got dressed, but was pleasantly surprised when she sank down on her knees behind him and wrapped her arms around his neck, resting her chin against his right shoulder.  His hands came up to grasp hers, their fingers entwining as their cheeks nuzzled together.  Kagome sighed in complete contentment. 

 

“Things are never going to be the same, are they?” she questioned, without a hint of regret. 

 

“Nope.”  Inuyasha smirked as a delightful idea popped into his head.  “There are definitely going to be some changes.” 

 

“Like what?” Kagome inquired curiously. 

 

“No more ‘osuwari-ing’ me, for one thing.”  He expected an argument, that Kagome would be less than willing to relinquish the power she had held over him for so long, but quickly discovered that not only was she willing to give it up,  she wanted to.  He was certain their previous discussion regarding the rosary had something to do with that.    

 

“I’ll just take the rosary off,” she replied. 

 

“R-really?  That easy?” 

 

“Sure.  I mean, how often do I use it nowadays, anyway?  Besides,” she cooed, her voice dropping into a lower, more sultry octave.  “Now I have other ways of getting you to do what I want, mate.” 

 

Inuyasha stifled a groan and tried to control the rapid beating of his heart, absently wondering when Kagome became such a vixen.  What am I talking about?  She’s always been a fiery temptress, yelling and fighting with me in that exceedingly short skirt of hers.  Now I get to experience that feistiness in a whole new way.  He grinned stupidly.  Oh, the fun they were going to have.

 

“Bitch,” he growled huskily, getting slightly annoyed that she was making his abstinence mission difficult. 

 

“Watch it, dog-boy,” she teased, “or I might decide to leave the rosary on, after all.”  Nevertheless, she pushed herself upright, grasping the beaded strand and beginning to pull it over his head.  Shockingly, his hands stopped her progress, pulling the necklace back down to rest upon his chest.  “Inuyasha, what—”

 

“Leave it on.”

 

Kagome blinked at him a couple times, trying to make sure she’d heard him correctly.  “Are you sure?” 

 

“Yeah.  Just don’t say the word.” 

 

“Okay,” she hedged, still perplexed as to why he would want to keep the rosary.  “I’ll try not to say ‘osuwari’ any—”

 

*THUD*

 

“Oh, shit!” she swore as Inuyasha’s face was planted into the ground, his body bending at a painful-looking angle.  She rubbed his back as she waited for the spell to wear off, and the inevitable tongue-lashing that was sure to follow.  It wasn’t as bad as she feared.  He coughed and sputtered, spitting out the dirt stuck between his teeth.  He hated getting ‘osuwarid’ by surprise; if he knew it was coming, he could at least close his mouth.  Turning his head, he glared at his sheepish mate over his shoulder. 

 

“You wanna try being a little more careful than that, wench?!” 

 

“I’m sorry!  You should just let me take it off!” 

 

“No!  You need it if I go full-youkai.” 

 

Finally Kagome understood, even if she didn’t agree with his thinking.  “Inuyasha, I don’t think you need the rosary to control your youkai blood anymore, even if you lose Tetsusaiga.  Remember against Ryukotsusei?  You went for Tetsusaiga in your full-youki form and changed yourself back.  You’ve gotten so much stronger since the day you killed that Gatenmaru creep.  I think—”

 

“I just don’t want to take any chances, Kagome.” 

 

Said miko wanted to argue further, but the look of fear and anxiety in his amber eyes convinced her to let it be…for now.  She fully comprehended his worry, the fear that he might lose control of himself and hurt someone, even someone he didn’t know.  Oh yes, she knew that feeling very well, indeed. 

 

“Alright, Inuyasha, but someday you’re going to see that I’m right.  I believe you have enough control over your youkai blood so you’re not a danger to anyone but your enemies when you transform.” 

 

“I hope you’re right, wench,” he replied seriously, before standing and offering her his hand.  “We should get back to camp.  I’m starving!” 

 

It was a blatant attempt at changing the subject, but Kagome made no comment on it.  She was very hungry as well, after all.  As they made their way back to camp in companionable silence, following the scents of their friends on the breeze, another pressing concern occurred to Kagome. 

 

“So, should we tell them?” 

 

“Keh.  Ain’t any of their business.” 

 

“Well, I suppose we don’t have to tell them,” Kagome babbled, trying futily to cover her disappointment.  “We could pretend nothing happened—”

 

“Kagome.”

 

“or come back separately—”

 

“Kagome.”

 

“or—”

 

“Kagome!” 

 

“What?!” she yelled, her frustration breaking through. 

 

“I said it ain’t their business, but I didn’t say we wouldn’t tell them.” 

 

“Y-you mean…”

 

“I’m not ashamed of you, Kagome,” he professed sincerely, gazing into her beautiful brown eyes, tinged with just a hint of moisture.  Grinning, she leaned up for a quick, but passionate lip lock. 

 

“I know, Inuyasha,” she said after they separated.  “I just thought you’d be nervous about their reactions.  Even I’m a little worried about Miroku-sama’s teasing.” 

 

“Feh.  If the bouzu says anything, it just means he’s jealous,” Inuyasha declared, smirking smugly. 

 

“Yeah,” Kagome giggled, “I guess that’s true.  Okay, so we tell them.” 

 

“You tell ‘em.” 

 

“Hey!  Why do I have to do it?” 

 

“’Cause it was your idea, wench.” 

 

Kagome grumbled under her breath about unsupportive mates, but she supposed she couldn’t really complain.  She sidled up next to him, looping an arm around his waist, and was delighted when he reciprocated the gesture.  He seemed more sure of himself after their ‘morning after’ talk, and for that Kagome was grateful.  Maybe they really could start acting like a real couple.  The true test, however, would be how he behaved in front of their friends.  Would he pretend nothing had happened and drag the group dynamic back to the status quo?  But even if he let his gruff side govern his actions in public, and kept her at arm’s length, she could deal with it as long as their private moments were like this.  No barriers, no guarded emotions, just the two of them.  She hoped he would treat her at least a little more intimately in the company of others, but if not, then she would live for these moments.  Now that she knew the contents of his heart, his tough exterior didn’t seem to matter as much. 

 

But perhaps she was making unwarranted assumptions.  She kept waiting for him to release his hold and drift away, but he never did, even as they approached and finally entered the camp.  He was somewhat tense, but they stood there together as their companions turned to regard them with shock, an emotion that lasted only a moment.  And as his trademark lecherous grin curled Miroku’s lips, and Sango blushed, Kagome knew their little argument about who was going to tell their friends was moot.  Neither of them would have to say anything. 

 

“So, Kagome-sama,” the monk drolled, “I see you found Inuyasha.”  Then, after a short pause, he sobered slightly and spoke in a serious, but still amused tone.  “It’s about time.”  The hidden meaning in his words was lost on no one. 

 

“Damn straight, bouzu,” Inuyasha replied, stunning Kagome yet again.  Miroku merely smiled in return, but the two men shared a meaningful look, coming to a silent understanding.  Inuyasha smirked inwardly.  Oh, the monk was hiding it well, but he was indeed jealous.  His thought process at the moment was probably somewhere along the lines of ‘you lucky dog.’  Inuyasha certainly couldn’t argue with that sentiment.  He did make a mental note to try to avoid finding himself alone with the monk, not wanting to answer the slew of perverted questions which would surely be posed by the hentai houshi.  Meanwhile, Kagome was attempting to gauge Sango’s reaction, and was taken aback upon seeing the slayer appearing decidedly forlorn.  Scratch that—she looked downright pissed!  Her fists were clenched in her lap, and her teeth were gritted.  If she listened carefully, Kagome swore she could hear them grinding together.  It hurt to witness this attitude, and from her closest friend no less.  She hadn’t expected Sango to be hostile to her and Inuyasha being together, and it saddened her greatly. 

 

“Sango-chan, what’s wrong?  I thought you’d be happy for us,” she muttered despondently.  The taijiya started suddenly, seeming to jump out of her mood as she met Kagome’s gaze with a cheerful smile. 

 

“I am happy for you, Kagome-chan, really.  I just…did something stupid,” she finished, glancing away in embarrassment. 

 

“There’s nothing stupid about it, my dear Sango!” Miroku declared exultingly.  Sango only blushed harder at this, her lips pursing, and Kagome’s eyes narrowed in suspicion.  If she didn’t know better, she would swear Miroku was gloating about something.

 

“What did you do, Sango-chan?” she voiced neutrally, but the slayer refused to answer.  Several seconds ticked by, and both she and monk just sat there, Miroku wearing a big shit-eating grin.  Kagome was starting to get a bad feeling about this.  She was just about to repeat her question when an unlikely informant spoke up. 

 

“They bet on whether you two would make sweet love,” Shippou stated into the silence.  “They wouldn’t tell me what that means, but it sounds really good.  I wonder if it’s sweeter than pocky!” 

 

“WHAT?!!!” the two hanyou demanded at once, before sharing a murderous look.  Inuyasha appeared as if he had strangulation on his mind, but Kagome clasped him on the shoulder. 

 

“It’s okay,” she ground out in a whisper.  “Let me handle this.” 

 

Nodding grudgingly, Inuyasha settled himself against a nearby tree to watch the show.  Kagome made her way to her yellow backpack, using the diversion to try to control her steaming temper.  How dare they?!  Taking something so beautiful like that and…and *gambling* on it!!  *deep breath*  Okay, calm down, girl.  Nothing bad came of it.  They’re just stupid bakas.  Bakas!  BAKAS!!! 

 

“Here, Shippou,” she called out with false glee, holding up a tasty treat.  “I’ll give you this whole box of pocky if you promise not to ask or talk about making love ever again.” 

 

Inuyasha choked.  “Ever, wench?” 

 

“Well, until you’re grown up, at least.” 

 

Shippou thought if over…for about half a second.  “Deal!” he shouted, charging over and leaping through the air, snatching the pocky from her hand and scurrying off to devour his booty in private, away from other hungry eyes and hands.  Kagome giggled briefly at his antics, but quickly turned her attention to the two bakas who’d forced her to part with the treat in the first place.  She glared at each of them in turn, and even Miroku looked a bit sheepish, though not nearly enough for Kagome’s tastes. 

 

“You two should be ashamed of yourselves!” she scolded furiously.  “I would expect this kind of thing from the houshi, but I honestly thought you were more mature, Sango.”  Both humans cringed at the sudden change in the way Kagome referred to them; the new nomenclature was probably a good indication of just how furious she was. 

 

“I’m sorry, Kagome-chan,” Sango replied shamefully, closing her eyes and wiping away the few rogue tears that strayed down her cheeks.  Seeing this, Kagome felt the greater part of her anger melt away.  Sango didn’t cry very often; she only seemed to shed tears when she was really broken up about something.  Sighing heavily, the miko resolved to forgive her friends.  She was still upset with them, but she had definitely overreacted. 

 

“It’s okay, Sango-chan.  There’s no harm done.  Besides, I’m sure it was Miroku-sama’s idea.” 

 

Sango nodded gratefully, and Miroku sputtered in mock indignation.  “Why, Kagome-sama, what makes you so sure this little wager came about at my behest?”  When only a collection of disbelieving stares greeted his loaded question, Miroku sighed.  “I am so misunderstood.” 

 

“So who won the bet?” Inuyasha interjected abruptly.  Once again, the expressions on the faces of their two human friends told the whole story.  Could Sango’s face get any redder?  And could Miroku’s dumb grin get any larger? 

 

“I guess that answers that question,” Kagome muttered. 

 

“Indeed,” Miroku agreed, reveling in his victory, “my dear Sango should have known better than to bet against a virile male such as Inuyasha!” 

 

“F-feh!” the hanyou stammered, flushing darkly.  Kagome’s thoughts turned contemplative.  They hadn’t been together long enough for her to see how ‘virile’ he was.  She couldn’t help but wonder when she would get the chance to find out.  She blushed as well. 

 

“What, uh…what were the stakes?” she choked out, a lame attempt to cover her embarrassment.  Her ire returned full force when Sango grimaced, this time directed solely at the perverted monk sitting across the campfire.  She advanced on him, her aura sparking and claws flexing dangerously.  “I swear, bouzu, if it’s anything hentai, I’ll—”

 

“No, no, Kagome-sama!  You misunderstand!  My prize is merely an encounter with Sango’s luscious lips.” 

 

“Just a kiss?” Kagome repeated warily, halting her forward progress.  Miroku nodded, as did Sango when Kagome glanced at her for confirmation.  If the slayer hadn’t then taken to staring at the ground, she might have noticed how the miko’s face slowly twisted into a mischievous smirk. 

 

“Weeeelllllll,” she drolled nonchalantly, “I guess you’d better go pay your debt, Sango-chan.” 

 

The taijiya’s head snapped up, her shocked and betrayed eyes locking with her friend’s.  “B-but Kagome-chan,” Sango protested, shooting her miko companion a scandalized glare.  What the hell, Kagome?  You were supposed to help me get out of this!

 

“Sorry, Sango-chan, but a bet is a bet.  You lost fair and square.”  Strolling over and plopping down next to the slayer on the pretext of giving her a comforting pat on the shoulder, Kagome whispered in her ear.  “Besides, you know you want to.” 

 

It was true, Sango realized; she really did want to kiss Miroku.  But it wasn’t that simple.  She had always imagined their first kiss being one of those earth-shattering moments, where she would bask in the glow of his love and devotion.  That dream was to take place only when their hearts were totally committed to each other.  But right now, Sango was unsure where the monk’s heart lay.  So he had behaved himself on their most recent excursion; big deal!  She hadn’t forgotten the evening he went off to sleep with that hussy in that bigoted village.  Sure, he claimed he didn’t have anything sexual on his mind, but then how did the girl get that idea in the first place?  The bottom line was that while Miroku hadn’t outright betrayed her, at least to her knowledge, she couldn’t bring herself to trust him.  And that was a problem, because she didn’t want to do anything with him until he had earned her trust.  Unfortunately, she had made a wager, and it would stain her precious honor to go back on her word.  Her romanticized vision of her first kiss would have to go the way of so many of her other hopes and dreams, like living in the taijiya village with her family and friends, and finding a husband who would love her and only her, beyond doubt. 

 

“Fine!” she barked out, not even attempting to hide how she truly felt about this.  “Let’s get it over with!”  With that, she stood stiffly and stormed off into the forest, not sparing a glance to see if the hentai was following her.  Miroku climbed to his feet, still grinning, though it somehow seemed hollower than before.  Kagome favored him with a meaningful look; her eyes said it all.  Don’t fuck this up, Miroku-sama! 

 

Miroku nodded confidently, ambling off in the direction his wayward bride-to-be had taken.  Only when he had passed beyond the reach of the light from the campfire did he allow his face to fall, revealing just how troubled he was by Sango’s attitude.  And it didn’t take a genius to figure out why she was acting that way.  Then, he saw her, facing away from him, arms crossed over her chest and foot tapping in impatience.  She became aware of his presence and turned to face him, but refused to make eye contact.  Instead, she advanced toward him, staring into his chest, eyes steeled in determination.  In that instant, Miroku knew how she intended this to go down.  She would initiate the ‘payment’—a quick and dry affair, probably not even worthy of being called a kiss—then stomp back to camp, filled with resentment.  He wondered briefly if she would ever forgive him, or if he would forgive himself for allowing it to happen.  No, he decided, he would not forgive himself if their first kiss was anything less than mind blowing, and that meant taking action.  Right now, before it was too late.  Placing his hands firmly on her shoulders, he stopped her momentum just as she was raising herself on her toes.  She frowned, but any comment she was about to make died on her lips as she finally met his gaze.  He was like a completely different person.  Where had the hentai gone?  Where was the lecher who shamelessly lured her into gambling on the sexual adventures of their friends?  In its place was a man, his expression humorless, looking at her with eyes darkened by concern and tinged with remorse.  The sudden change left her breathless, and she could do no more than wait for him to speak. 

 

“Sango,” he spoke into the silence, his tone cracking the very foundations of everything she thought she knew about him.  He paused, glancing away as if to gather his thoughts, before facing her once more.  “Sango, when I wagered for your kiss, I did so because I thought you would be willing.  If…if you truly do not wish to share such a thing with me, then I will not force you.  I will think of something else.” 

 

Sango gaped, and her heart clenched at the defeat in his tone.  But there was something else there, a desperation, almost as if he was pleading with her to correct him, to tell him he was dead wrong.  Under such an appeal, how could she deny him the truth?

 

“I-it’s not that, Houshi-sama,” she confessed, lowering her head.  “It’s just—” 

 

“That you feel you cannot trust me because of my womanizing habits?” he proposed, less a question than a statement of fact.  Gasping, Sango snapped her head up to stare at him. 

 

“How did you—”

 

“Please, Sango, any baka could have figured it out.”  Sighing, Miroku glanced off to the side, one hand coming up to rub the back of his neck.  “Unfortunately, I am no ordinary baka.  I did not understand until someone spoke with me very frankly about how you feel.” 

 

“Kagome,” Sango growled, enraged that her friend had broken her promise of silence. 

 

“Actually, it was Inuyasha.” 

 

“Inu-Inuyasha?!”  That only made Sango a little less irritated, however; she was sure Kagome still had a hand in this.  Well, I guess I don’t have to feel guilty for our bet anymore.  This makes us dead even, in my book! 

 

“Don’t be angry, Sango.  I’m actually glad Inuyasha talked to me.  He helped me see just how strongly my behavior was affecting you, how much I was hurting you.  If I had known before then, I would have started to correct my bad habits sooner.” 

 

“H-houshi-sama,” she replied, mind reeling.  Was he actually saying that he had been trying to change his ways…for her? 

 

“Please, Sango, call me by my name.  It will make what I’m about to say easier for me.” 

 

“Alright…Miroku,” Sango choked out, her insides fluttering wildly in anticipation of the words he had alluded to.  He smiled then, as if just the sound of his name from her lips gave him unbridled joy, and her mere presence filled him with vitality.  Perhaps it did. 

 

“Sango, I cannot promise you that I will never look at another woman.  Nor can I assure you that you will always be the only woman to occupy my thoughts and dreams.” 

 

Sango started to pull away at this, fearing that if she remained near him any longer she would shrivel up and die on the spot.  But he stopped her, clasping both her hands tightly in his, holding them to his heart.  She could feel the organ pounding in his chest, so fast, so fast. 

 

“But,” he declared, the inflection in his voice demanding her attention, pleading with her to hear him out.  Again, she was powerless to refuse.  “There are some things I can promise you.  I will never grope another woman.  I will never kiss, caress, or lie with any other.  You will be the only woman to know my touch, to feel my lips, to bear my children.  You are, and always will be, the only woman I will ever want.  You are the woman I have chosen to be my beloved wife, the mate of my soul.  Please, Sango, if you have any feelings for me left, give me another opportunity to prove this to you.  Give me a second cha—”

 

At this point, speech became impossible, due to the pair of lips firmly pressed against his own.  Overcoming his disbelief, he eagerly joined the dance.  They moved sensuously together, hesitant at first, then growing bolder.  Her lips were softer than the most luxurious satin, and he knew that he was already inescapably addicted to them.  He parted his own lips, allowing his tongue to emerge and taste, caress, and coax her lush petals until they opened shyly.  He delved inside, soothingly stroking her warm, damp appendage until it rose to tangle with his own.  They twisted and weaved together, entwined in body and connected in far more, as their very souls seemed to pour out and flow through them unhindered.  All the doubts and insecurities vanished from Sango’s mind; there was no room for them in this new world they had created. 

 

Finally, lack of air forced them to part, but even afterwards they clung to their own private nirvana as long as they could.  Sango was dizzy, flush, heated to the point of scorching, and she dared not open her eyes for fear that the world had not yet stopped whirling around her.  Jumbled thoughts crossed her even more jumbled mind, faster than she could or cared to keep track of.  But one stuck out above all others.  Kagome, you were right.  That was…that was…  It was literally indescribable.  No mortal words could ever hope to fully express everything that was her first kiss.  Only a memory could do it any sort of justice, and this was one experience she would never forget. 

 

“Shall I take that to mean you’ve decided to give me another chance?” Miroku’s amused voice rang out.  Finally returning to the world around her, Sango glimpsed him there, gazing down at her and grinning with dazzling light dancing in his eyes.  He was still gripping her hands as tightly as ever, and she had no notion of pulling away this time.  Nodding, she flashed a brilliant smile, causing a noticeable hitch in the monk’s breathing. 

 

“Kami…you are so beautiful,” he declared in absolute awe. 

 

“No, I’m not,” she rebutted, blushing prettily. 

 

“Yes, you are, Sango.  Kami, you are.” 

 

Sango looked away in embarrassment, but she couldn’t keep herself from beaming, nor could she deny the way his words and proximity warmed her body, heated her skin, or set her trembling slightly with barely-restrained desire. 

 

“Sango?” she heard him ask. 

 

“Y-yes?” she replied shakily. 

 

“Was that the kiss I won in our wager?” he inquired, his voice a combination of teasing and yearning.  Sango instantly knew what he wanted: another searing, passionate lip lock.  But his playful tone had given her another idea, one which caused an impish smirk to blossom on her visage.  He did deserve some payback for calling her a coward earlier.

 

“No,” she mumbled in the huskiest, most sensual manner she could muster.  “This is.”  She leaned in slowly, giving him ample time to bend down to meet her.  She could see the anticipation burning in his rapidly closing eyes, and it almost made her feel guilty for what she was about to do.  Placing a quick peck on his lips, she pulled away, practically skipping around him back in the direction of camp.  And Miroku was left standing there, lips pursed, eyes closed, brows twitching. 

 

“You coming, Houshi-sama?!” Sango called out from some distance away, more than a hint of laughter in her voice.  Miroku felt like collapsing onto the ground and curling into the fetal position.  To be brought so close to the promised land only to be torn away at the last moment…  Sango would pay for her teasing.  Oh yes, she would pay.  But he would worry about that some other time.  Right now, he was just glad the feisty slayer had apparently forgiven his previous indiscretions.  He had spoken from the heart, been completely honest with her, and she had taken it well…very well.  He would have to figure out some way to get her to kiss him again, a real kiss this time. 

 

“Houshi-sama!  I’m leaving you behind!”  The sound of her voice snapped Miroku from his musings, as he strode toward her.  She waited for him and fell in step alongside, neither knowing what to say but both feeling comfortable enough with the silence.  Miroku’s thoughts drifted back to why they were out here in the first place, and a contented grin formed on his lips. 

 

“So, they finally got together, did they?” 

 

“It seems so, Houshi-sama.  It’s about time,” Sango replied. 

 

“Indeed.  Sango, I thought you agreed to call me by my name.” 

 

The taijiya shrugged, smirking mischievously.  “Old habits are hard to break,” she said, bringing a wry smile to Miroku’s face.  I used to think so. 

 

“No, they’re not,” he countered softly, seriously.  Sango gasped, staring up at him wide-eyed as she comprehended the true meaning behind his words.  Encouraged, Miroku threw his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close.  When she didn’t protest, but only relaxed against him, the wayward monk couldn’t help but wonder what else he could get away with… 

 

“If you grope me I’m still going to slap you,” Sango stated suddenly, glaring suspiciously at him out of the corner of her eye.  This time, Miroku didn’t bother with pretenses of innocence; he merely adopted the ‘you caught me red handed’ look.  Am I really that predictable? 

 

“Someday you won’t be saying that, Sango.”

 

“We’ll see, Hentai-sama.  We’ll see.” 

 

* * *

 

Damn bouzu.  Was that ‘virile male’ comment supposed to be a joke?  Heh!  I’m a hell of a lot more ‘virile’ than him, I fucking guarantee it!  Still, Inuyasha was enjoying watching Kagome deal with their friends.  If the task had been left up to him, he was quite sure it would have descended to violence by now.  And since he didn’t hit women—at least human ones—the monk would have received double lumps, though that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The hanyou was broken from his thoughts by a small weight landing on his knee.  Glancing down, he spied Shippou standing there, pocky clutched in one hand, a concentrated frown marring his features. 

 

“Whaddya want, runt?” he grunted. 

 

“So you’re mates now?” the kit asked, earning a curt nod from Inuyasha.  “Like my parents were?”  Instantly, the hanyou realized what the fox was getting at.  Was this permanent, a basis for starting a family?  Again, he responded with a nod.  At this, Shippou puffed up his little chest, shooting Inuyasha the most intimidating look he could muster.  “You treat her right, got it?!”  He cringed when the hanyou raised his arm, but instead of bopping him on the head, Inuyasha merely ruffled his hair. 

 

“Yeah, yeah, runt.  I got it,” he replied, clearly amused by the kid’s display of toughness.  Satisfied, Shippou turned and joined Inuyasha in watching the show.  Then, the kit did something unthinkable: he offered Inuyasha a stick of his pocky.  The offer was turned down, but it still comforted the two that they could get along, at least some of the time.  And that was important, because they were now vying for Kagome’s attention more than ever, and neither of them were going anywhere.  Said miko had apparently been too engrossed in ‘bouzu-taijiya theatre’ to overhear any of their conversation.  Currently, she was whispering something in Sango’s ear, and the slayer didn’t look too thrilled about it.  Shortly thereafter, the fuming woman stormed out of camp, followed by the monk.  Inuyasha could guess where they were going, having kept one ear on the conversation while speaking with Shippou, his thought confirmed by the scent of nervousness coming from his mate.  And even he, normally the densest of their group when it came to relationships, knew that the monk couldn’t afford to mess this up. 

 

“Do you want some ramen, Inuyasha?  I’m guessing everyone else already ate,” Kagome said, grinning at him despite her worry. 

 

“Have I ever said no to that question, wench?” 

 

Kagome shook her head as she prepared the meal, two cups for him and one for her.  Finished, she ambled over and settled next to him, handing over the steaming supper to her mate’s eager hands. 

 

“You know, someday I’m going to get you to refuse ramen,” she declared. 

 

“Not *slurp* a chance, wench.” 

 

“Yes, I will!  You just wait.” 

 

“Feh.  Eat your ramen or I’m gonna eat it for you.” 

 

“Baka.” 

 

Kagome gaped as he tossed the empty cup in the fire and started on the second.  He’s already done his first cup?  I guess he really was hungry.  He was completely finished by the time she was halfway through hers, but fortunately for him, he made no move to filch what was left of her dinner. 

 

“Thanks, Kagome,” he suddenly uttered, causing the miko to stare at him in shock.  H-he thanked me?  And no ‘wench?’  Wow.

 

“You’re welcome,” she replied, leaning into him.  He reciprocated, the gentle pressure between their bodies reaffirming bonds, both old and new.  They remained like that until Miroku and Sango returned to camp, and were relieved to see that they did so on favorable terms.  More than favorable, it appeared by their physical proximity and ease around one another.  Kagome’s hackles rose, then twitched in repressed curiosity.  She wanted details.  Details!  She would have to make it a point to find a hot spring tomorrow, because some serious girl talk was in order. 

 

No words were spoken as the small group of friends went to bed, but there was plenty of silent communication, such as secretive smiles from a slayer to a miko, and self-satisfied smirks from a monk to a hanyou, who tried gamely to ignore all of it.  Eventually, the humans settled down first, noticeably closer than ever before.  If Miroku stretched out his arm, he could almost caress the curve of Sango’s backside, lovely even in the low, flickering light provided by the dying fire.  But he dared not ruin the evening with his lechery; old habits were not that difficult to break, after all.  Kagome and Inuyasha remained sitting together against the tree until well after their companions had nodded off around the campfire.  The former covered a yawn with her hand, prompting the other to stand and gently pull her to her feet. 

 

“Come on, wench.  Get to bed.” 

 

“Inuyasha, I was wondering…” she mumbled, pausing as if to gather her courage before meeting his eyes.  “Do you want to share my sleeping bag?” 

 

For a split second, Inuyasha’s mind went down a hentai road, but he quickly buried those thoughts.  She wasn’t just asking about tonight; she was proposing a permanent shift in sleeping arrangements, one which would lead him into unfamiliar ground.  He had never been comfortable sleeping prone, preferring his back to be resting against a wall or a tree.  But would he even be able to sleep now without Kagome nestled against him?  Probably not, he realized, and any negative aspect of it would be outweighed by the simple fact that he would be in her sleeping bag with her.  Kagome’s offer was indeed extremely tempting, but still he resisted. 

 

“No.  I’ll sleep in the tree.”

 

“Oh,” Kagome answered, failing to hide her disappointment as she trudged morosely over to her resting place.  Inuyasha growled to himself, hating the fact that he had been the one to make her sad.  Dammit, I guess a simple ‘no’ isn’t going to work this time. 

 

“Wait, Kagome.  Do you know why I usually sleep in a tree?”  When she didn’t answer, he continued.  “I gotta keep watch for youkai.” 

 

Kagome brightened at this, finally understanding that he wasn’t refusing her because he wanted to, but because he felt obligated by one of his self-imposed duties.  Funny, that situation seemed familiar somehow.

 

“Inuyasha, when was the last time we were attacked during the night?” 

 

“…”

 

“Exactly.  Besides, we have two hanyou and two youkai in our group, plus two humans who can sense demonic auras.  I think we’re covered.”  Seeing that her hanyou was wavering, Kagome decided to play her trump card.  “Please,” she begged, “I don’t know if I can sleep without you…”  She batted her doe eyes at him, but the gesture was unnecessary; Inuyasha had been convinced at ‘please.’  He nodded, blushing despite himself, only his amber eyes revealing how excited—and nervous—he was at the prospect of sharing Kagome’s bedding.  She went into the woods to change into flannel pajama bottoms and a tank top, giving Inuyasha a few moments to ponder what he was going to sleep in.  He considered the modern clothing lurking at the bottom of Kagome’s bag, but decided against it, settling for just removing his haori and kosode.  If a youkai did show up, he wanted to be wearing his fire-rat hakama already so he could roll out of the bag, throw on his haori, and pull out Tetsusaiga in a matter of seconds.  Kagome was right; the group’s many and varied senses would give them advanced warning of any threat, but not enough for him to feel comfortable going completely unprepared.  Perhaps in Kagome’s time he could afford to let his guard down, but not here in the feudal era. 

 

Kagome hadn’t expected him to be topless; that much was certain from the hitch in her breath and the noticeable scent of attraction in the air.  And she looked quite stunning herself, her shoulders almost bare and her pants riding low enough to reveal just a hint of navel.  They exchanged a sheepish look, but the whole turn of events seemed to help them relax, oddly enough.  Kagome got into the bag first, facing him as he climbed in behind her.  They shared a chaste, but lingering kiss before she turned her back to him, his arms wrapped around her small frame.  Kagome soon slipped into slumber, but Inuyasha remained awake for awhile, reliving the events of the past months, weeks, and especially today.  Perhaps he was afraid to fall asleep, fearing that all of it was a very pleasant dream.  Everything else that was good in his life had been taken away from him, so why would this be any different?  No, this would be different.  This was real, and he would not let anything take his Kagome away from him.  Not that asshole wolf, not Naraku, not even death. 

 

A quiet rustling drew his attention across the clearing, where Shippou was tossing and turning next to Kirara.  If the kit was asleep, it wasn’t very deeply, and Inuyasha had a pretty good idea why.  He sighed heavily. 

 

“Oi, runt!” he called in a whisper. 

 

“Yeah?” came the immediate response, confirming his suspicion. 

 

“Get over here,” he ordered, lifting up the edge of the bag.  Shippou was shocked by the invitation, but wasted no time in accepting, scurrying over and settling himself on the opposite side of Kagome, careful not to wake her.  Almost instantly, he began to nod off. 

 

“Thanks, Inuyasha,” he murmured drowsily. 

 

“Keh.  You were here first,” the hanyou replied, but even he knew that was just a lame attempt to rationalize his nice behavior.  Damn, I really am getting soft.  Sparing a glance at the woman in his arms, he shrugged.  Eh, I can deal with it.

Chapter Text

When Kagome awoke the next morning, she was not surprised to find herself alone in the sleeping bag.  Inuyasha had always been the earliest riser of their group.  Blearily blinking her eyes open, she observed her hanyou setting up a fresh campfire.  It was getting to be rather late in spring, but the mornings were quite chilly, especially before the sun rose high enough to warm the land.  It didn’t bother her much anymore, but she knew Miroku and Sango would appreciate the extra heat.  Still, nothing could beat the comfort of her sleeping bag—except maybe her bed—so she closed her eyes again, intent on pretending to be asleep for a little while longer.  Her thoughts drifted back to the very pleasant dreams which had occupied her unconscious mind.  She could still see Inuyasha, dashing around a field, chased by a giggling group of dog-eared children. 

 

She gasped suddenly, bolting upright as her hands flew to her mouth.  Ch-children!!!  Oh, no, what if I’m…  Yes, it was true that she wanted to start a family with Inuyasha, and just the previous day he revealed that he felt the same way, but that was an eventuality.  At the very least, they needed to wait until the scourge that was Naraku no longer wandered the earth, wreaking havoc and destruction wherever he went.  If she became pregnant now, it would cause major problems and jeopardize their mission.  Taking a deep breath, she tried to reign in her rising panic.  Calm down, Kagome.  You don’t know anything yet.  Taking a minute to think rationally, she breathed a sigh of relief.  Her period was only a few days away; it was far too late in her cycle for her to conceive.  For the first time, she was very grateful she had paid attention in health class a couple years ago.  Funny how she hadn’t considered the possible ramifications of their intimate encounter yesterday.  But she supposed that was understandable in light of their stormy relationship and the rampant sexual tension that existed between them recently.  Of course, Inuyasha hadn’t thought of it either, or had he?  Could someone with a strong enough nose smell when a woman could become pregnant?  She hadn’t noticed any change in her scent a couple weeks ago, when her fertile time would have come and gone.  But that didn’t necessarily mean that Inuyasha’s nose couldn’t pick up on it.  Of course, there was still a problem with relying on that to determine whether sex was safe, namely that human sperm could survive inside the woman for up to five days, waiting for an unsuspecting egg to come along.  Somehow she doubted hanyou sperm would be any more resilient; where was the fun in having sex if you got a woman pregnant every time you did it?  So even if Inuyasha could smell when she was ovulating, they couldn’t rely on that.  She would have to watch her cycle very carefully, and maybe get some condoms on her next trip though the well.  Hm, maybe I should just go on birth control.  Thinking of the modern era brought to mind the inevitable awkward conversation she and Inuyasha needed to have with her mother regarding their relationship.  She grimaced; that was not going to be fun, even though she was almost positive her mother would approve. 

 

The feeling of being watched broke Kagome from her thoughts and drew her attention to the red-clad hanyou by the campfire, who was examining her with a quizzical look, as if to ask ‘what’s the matter?’  She shook her head and smiled reassuringly at him.  He gazed at her for a few seconds longer before shrugging and returning to his task.  Whatever had been bothering her was no longer doing so; her scent told him as much.  But something else was telling him that she was happy and content, a strange intuition that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.  On second thought, he was probably just imagining things.  His curiosity was far from satisfied, but he trusted her to talk to him about it if it was important. 

 

He finished arranging the logs and sticks, and just as Kagome was wondering how he planned on lighting them—and whether she would have to get out of her sleeping roll to grab the matches from her bag—he motioned to some third party out of her line of vision.  That person turned out to be Shippou, who used his fox fire to start up a crackling flame in no time.  Again, Kagome gasped, though this time the movement was subdued with guilt.  Oh, shit!  I forgot all about Shippou last night!  And I knew he was having trouble sleeping by himself.  She took a moment to observe the kit, trying to determine how tired he was.  He seemed fine, but there was really only one way to be sure. 

 

“Shippou-chan?” she called softly. 

 

“Yeah, Kagome?” 

 

“Did you sleep well?” 

 

To her everlasting surprise, the kit nodded enthusiastically.  “Yep.  Inuyasha let me share your sleeping bag with you guys.” 

 

“H-he did?” she asked, thoroughly shocked. 

 

“Keh!” Inuyasha bit out, crossing his arms over his chest and looking away.  Embarrassed though he was, he still glanced back over his shoulder, gauging her reaction.  Kagome might have laughed at his behavior if she wasn’t so touched.  She had always appreciated the little things Inuyasha did, the small gestures of friendship and kindness in which his true nature shown through.  So was this a big deal, something to make a huge fuss over?  No, but it still meant a lot to her. 

 

“Thank you, Inuyasha,” she cooed, giggling this time when he grunted and turned away.  He still gets so flustered when he gets caught doing something nice.  Well, that just means he needs more practice. 

 

“Hentai!”

 

*Smack* 

 

“Ahhh, Sango, you woke me from a wonderful dream about you,” Miroku moaned, sitting up and rubbing his sore cheek.  Sango glared at him but decided not to answer, instead taking to muttering under her breath as she wiped the sleep from her eyes. 

 

“Damn Houshi-sama; even in his sleep he can’t keep his hands to himself!” 

 

But while Miroku’s groping and his punishment for that action were standard, slight changes were apparent to everyone.  The hand print on the monk’s face seemed less pronounced than usual, as if the slayer had gone easy on him, and Sango’s demeanor was decidedly less irritated than it normally would be after having her ass grabbed.  Inuyasha could practically see the wheels turning in Kagome’s head as she glanced from one to the other, but he resolved to leave it alone.  They had done their meddling for the time being; the two humans could figure out the rest of their relationship on their own.  Kagome, on the other hand, really wanted to find a hot spring so she could interrogate her friend. 

 

She got her wish.  After actively searching for the scent of water for the whole morning and into the afternoon, she finally struck gold in the form of a small spring about two hundred yards off the road they were traveling on, hidden by the forest.  Inuyasha wasn’t happy about stopping so early in the day, calling it ‘giant waste of time,’ and even Kagome’s doe eyes didn’t work to completely sway him.  They almost got into a major fight, but Inuyasha backed down, deciding that letting his mate have her way this time was better than having her pissed at him for the foreseeable future.  They were both stubborn, willful people, and he didn’t expect to win every battle.  If they could just talk—or even yell—things out, and he could avoid making spiteful and hurtful insults, they would get along just fine.  Of course, the side benefits of being together would help a lot, such as his new bathing privileges with Kagome.  Oh, yes, he had them, though she hadn’t specifically granted them except for that one time.  Unfortunately, the wench was too excited about speaking with Sango to care, dragging the slayer off to the spring before Inuyasha could get in a word about bathing arrangements.  Pouting, he joined the monk in setting up camp. 

 

“Shippou,” Miroku asked after a few minutes, “why don’t you and Kirara go explore the woods for awhile?” 

 

Inuyasha’s head shot up at that, and the seriousness of his situation dawned on him as he glimpsed the telltale hentai twinkling in the monk’s eye.  At least Shippou was still here, having whipped out his coloring books when it became clear that the girls desired their bath to be women-only.  The last thing Inuyasha wanted was to be left alone with the houshi and his perverted questions!  He couldn’t leave Miroku by himself, because then the monk would just make a beeline for the hot spring to spy on the girls.  And no man was ever going to see his Kagome naked again except him, dammit!  Fortunately, he and Shippou seemed to operating on the same wavelength. 

 

“Nope,” the kit replied easily.  “You just want one less pair of eyes making sure you don’t go spy on the girls.” 

 

Miroku sighed, dismayed by having his hentai habits come back to bite him.  For once, his motivation wasn’t to catch a glimpse of naked female flesh, although he knew he wouldn’t pass up such an opportunity should one arise.  Oh, well, I’ll just have to be a little more subtle than originally planned. 

 

“So, Inuyasha,” he observed after a few seconds of contemplative silence, “you looked pretty disappointed when Kagome went to bathe.  Did you want to join her?” 

 

“Shut it, bouzu,” Inuyasha retorted, trying to act as intimidating as possible even though he could already feel the blood pooling in his cheeks. 

 

“I completely understand your dissatisfaction with the current arrangements.  You know, if you could convince Sango to—”

 

“Forget it!  If you wanna see Sango naked, ask her yourself.” 

 

“I don’t think that would go over so well,” the monk admitted sheepishly.  “Come on, Inuyasha!  I was hoping we could pair up, and maybe both engage in more of certain activities.  Speaking of which,” Miroku continued after a short pause, “how was your experience with those activities?” 

 

“Feh.” 

 

“Yeah, Inuyasha, how was making love?” Shippou interjected, proving once again that he was too smart for his own good.  The hanyou glared at him, holding out his hand. 

 

“Fork over the rest of that pocky Kagome gave you, runt.” 

 

Shippou shook his head violently, his hands flying to cover his mouth.  “Never mind!  I didn’t say anything about making lo—anything!!!” 

 

“Damn right you didn’t,” Inuyasha declared.  That’s all I need—two people asking me about my one sexual experience.  It was somewhat of a comfort that Kagome was probably getting the same treatment from Sango.  Then it dawned on him that Miroku was still waiting for an answer, and sure enough, he found the monk gazing at him expectantly.  Instead of replying verbally, he let his lips quirk in a smirk that said it all and left Miroku slightly slack-jawed.  Wow, the monk wondered, that good, huh?  But after the shock of seeing Inuyasha behave so boldly and confidently wore off, he donned a smirk of his own, one which had the hanyou’s expression faltering. 

 

“So it was amazing, mind-blowing, absolutely perfect?” 

 

When Inuyasha frowned, Miroku nodded sympathetically.  “I see…would you like some pointers?” 

 

“Wh—NO!!!  I don’t want any fucking pointers!”  Logically, Inuyasha knew the previous night hadn’t been perfect.  Was anything in life truly flawless?  Still, thinking back on it now, he couldn’t find anything to regret or wish he could go back and change.  In that sense, on some deeper level, maybe it really was perfect.  Regardless, he knew exactly where Miroku could shove his insinuation. 

 

“I don’t need your advice, bouzu.  I did just fine without it.  Hell, I’ve gotten farther than you anyway.” 

 

“Indeed you have, my friend,” Miroku conceded.  “For now.”

 

* * *

 

Kagome vibrated with anticipation, sending little ripples along the surface of the water as she waited for Sango to join her. 

 

“Okay, Sango-chan!” she demanded once the slayer had settled.  “Spill!  Did he kiss you?  How was it?  What did he say?  Wha—”

 

“Do you want me to answer all those questions at once, Kagome-chan?” Sango asked, her head swimming. 

 

“Uh, maybe you should start with the first one.  Did he kiss you?” 

 

“Well, no.  I…I kissed him, actually,” she confessed, covering one flaming cheek with her palm. 

 

“Y-you did?” Kagome gasped.  She definitely hadn’t been expecting that. 

 

“Yeah.  We started talking, and he said he knew that his lecherous habits were making me lose my faith in him.  Apparently, he and Inuyasha had a chat…”

 

“Oh,” Kagome gulped, rubbing the back of her neck.  “About that, Sango-chan, I—”

 

“It’s okay, Kagome-chan.  I’m glad you broke your promise.  I should have just talked with Houshi-sama about it myself, but I was stupid.  I didn’t know he…cared so much,” she said, grinning blissfully.  Kagome smiled in return, happy for her friend and relieved that Sango wasn’t angry with her. 

 

“I tried to tell you.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, you were right.  He’s honorable enough to at least try to be a one-woman man.  You were right about the kiss, too,” Sango admitted softly. 

 

“What do you mean?” 

 

“Well, you said your first real kiss with Inuyasha was amazing…and mine was the same.” 

 

Kagome sighed wistfully as the memory returned, her lips curling as she gazed reflectively at the darkening sky.  “Yeah, kissing is…yeah,” Kagome finished lamely, having been unable to come up with an appropriately descriptive term. 

 

“Yeah,” Sango agreed, setting off a round of giggles that bled the tension from their bodies, leaving them totally unwound.  They didn’t stay that way for long, as Sango began to fidget, the scent of her nervousness perfuming the air.  Several times she opened her mouth as if to say something, then snapped it shut and went back to square one.  It didn’t take a genius to figure out the topic she was choking on.  Kagome had asked her questions, after all, and now reciprocity was rearing its ugly head. 

 

“We both know what you’re gonna ask, Sango-chan, so you might as well just say it.” 

 

“Wh-what’s it like?” the taijiya stammered finally. 

 

Kagome thought about playing dumb, maybe asking what ‘it’ was, but decided against it.  Sango looked like she was close to losing her composure as it was.  Not for the first time, she was reminded how similar Inuyasha and Sango were.  They were both true warriors, their fierceness in battle tempered by a strong moral sensibility.  Though often shy and reserved around members of the opposite sex, they sought love and companionship even if they themselves didn’t realize it.  They were fighters before lovers, though Inuyasha had proven he was more than capable of both.  And Kagome knew in her heart that Sango could be a loving wife, a doting mother, if only she was given the chance.  She also knew that the slayer probably didn’t have much background on sex, by virtue of living in the feudal era and a growing up in a probably-conservative taijiya village.  How could she possibly comprehend just how incredible it could be, when Kagome with her modern upbringing hadn’t appreciated it until very recently?  Well, she would to her best to clue her friend in, and maybe relating her experience would help with her ongoing ‘don’t act like a virgin’ mission. 

 

“Well, we started kissing, and then took our clothes off.  I was so hot, Sango-chan, like I was burning up inside.  I think if something had stopped us at that point I would have gone crazy!” she declared, grinning before becoming serious once more.  “And then, when we went to actually do it…well, I won’t lie to you, Sango-chan.  It hurt, at first.  But then…he was so gentle, so caring, and it felt so good afterwards.”  A delightful shiver crawled up Kagome’s spine, the memory affecting her more than she cared to admit.  Had that wonderful evening really been just yesterday, a mere twenty-four hours ago?  There was a long pause as the two girls sat, Sango simply watching Kagome as the younger girl reminisced. 

 

“Wow,” she said at last, awed by what Kagome had told her, as well as how happy she looked.  Kagome had always been blessed with a beautiful smile, but now it carried just a little extra glow, a joy that brightened whoever had the good fortune of glimpsing it.  Sango remembered hearing the older members of the taijiya village speak of the power of young love, and how just seeing it would warm the heart and make personal troubles seem trivial.  Now, she fully understood what they had meant.  Oh, how she desired that kind of love, though her logical mind used to tell her it would never happen.  But after last night’s rendezvous with Miroku, the seemingly impossible had become possible, even probable.  Perhaps they really could have that kind of relationship.  She knew she loved him.  If she did not, then she would have cut ties with him long ago.  Her feelings had once been a burden, a curse, but now they gave her hope, a reason to live, to survive the fall of Naraku and forge a future for herself.  All because of a few honest words, and a single, amazing kiss. 

Chapter Text

Inuyasha was frustrated again.  The entire week since his and Kagome’s first night together had been an exercise in conflicting emotions.  On the one hand, his life had never seen the level of contentment he now enjoyed.  Oh, sure, there were many things he still needed to accomplish, like collecting the jewel shards and destroying Naraku.  But those objectives were secondary, and they had been all along, though he’d been too blind and stubborn to real