Continuing Tales

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 21 of 42

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Tales from the House of the Moon

"They served haggis at the last dinner I attended. I didn't know whether to kick it or eat it. Having eaten it, I wished I'd have kicked it."
-Steve Turner

. . .

Sesshoumaru stood in his bloody, stinking borrowed clothes, and watched as Kagome picked dragon intestines out of her hair. Very quietly he reflected that he should have seen this coming, as the day had begun rather inauspiciously when he gained consciousness. He wished he had taken the hint and refused to move instead of giving in and waking up.

When he had surfaced in the world of the waking, there had been a curious weight in his lap that hadn't been there the night before. It was self-contained, and situated entirely on his armor.

Without stirring or otherwise indicating that he was awake, Sesshoumaru puzzled for a moment. Breakfast, he thought for no particular reason.

Tiny hands found their way to his chest, pressing down lightly.

Midget, he thought. For a moment he contemplated the various reasons why he would have a midget in his lap, but ceased this exploration when his hazy musings grew a little too sharp. He gave a mental sigh. Midget. Which, he thought, slightly hopeful, might not be entirely incongruous with breakfast.

He could feel someone staring at him, drawing closer, and there, there, he smelled something not unlike rancid meat and animal corpses left in puddles for several days, and he began to reconsider the value of mental exercises.

Zombie midget? he wondered, then gave up. Sesshoumaru opened his eyes.

A very sticky wolf child was standing on his lap, leaning against his chest, and inspecting his down-turned face far more closely than he was entirely comfortable with. He watched as the child's mouth slowly spread into an enormous, toothy grin. It giggled madly before toppling gently backwards onto Sesshoumaru's legs and squealing with a delight that seemed, to Sesshoumaru, completely inappropriate to the given circumstances.

"Eeeeeeeeee!" it announced.

"Gnuh," Sesshoumaru replied, not entirely certain anyone deserved this sort of treatment upon entering the world of the waking. He shifted slightly, causing the delirious child to tip to his right, soft skull perilously close to the stone floor. With resignation, he caught it before it could go any further, grasping it beneath its arms and lifting it into a sitting position on his lap. The little wolf seemed to think this was the best thing to happen in its short life - possibly even better than excreting, which, to judge from the undertones of its scent, it had done quite recently - and pitched its voice into a higher, more piercing register.

"!" it declared joyously to the world, and began to bounce where it sat.

Sesshoumaru stared at it, and tried to decide what to do.

He was still contemplating the many ways he might silence the squealing, bouncing cub when a footstep caused him to glance up, only to see Kagome, grinning nearly as toothily as the child in his lap.

"I see you made a friend," she said. Darkly, Sesshoumaru thought she was being a tad too flippant about the situation for someone who routinely compared waking to torture, though in truth it always felt more like torture for him to listen to her go on about it. Still, he thought he might, perhaps, endure her complaints with better humor next time, as he was currently considering death as a viable option. The dead, after all, were able to sleep all the time. How he envied them all in this moment.

Oblivious to his vaguely morbid musings, Kagome plopped down next to him, still grinning. "I'm impressed. I don't think I'd be able to take this nearly as well as you are. How are you doing it?" she asked cheerfully.

He blinked, uncomprehending, mind fuzzy at the edges. "Doing what?"

"Not exploding in rage."

He tilted his head to the side as he considered this. "Through deep meditation," he said after a few seconds' contemplation. It was partially true - his mind was fairly blank at the moment.

She laughed as she took the baby from his hands. It didn't seem to mind the transfer, and blew little bubbles at her as she helped it stand on two feet. Sesshoumaru watched her play with it, still half-dreaming in the darker spaces of his mind.

To his still sleep-drugged eyes, she looked almost matronly, almost childlike herself. She looked pure and sweet, the strange half-light of the cave darkening her form, painting her in inky shadows and unmarked parchment, and her still-bandaged hands against the baby's tender flesh were soft and smooth and strong. Strangely, for some reason, he suddenly remembered that she was human, and those hands, floating like pale wings beneath the baby's own, were so fragile that even this infant could break them, if it thought to do so.

Carefully, suddenly bizarrely mindful of how breakable she was, he reached out and separated them, parting their hands, tipping the child onto its rump and holding the miko's still bandaged fingers in his own. He heard her sharp intake of breath, as if in surprise, or perhaps in pain. He wondered if he held her too tightly.

Now sitting on the cold cave floor, the baby began to wail.

From somewhere else in the chamber, he heard its mother coo. "Oooooh," Rei said, and Sesshoumaru frowned, turning his eyes to watch her bustle around the flames to snatch it up from the floor, "Ryuji, don't bother people when they're sleeping! You know better than that!" She took the baby in her arms, barely casting an apology over her shoulder as she hastened away, back to whatever chore she had been tending to, and Sesshoumaru heard the medicine woman's husband - Haru, his mind supplied - give a laugh far too hearty for someone who had drank so much last night.

He blinked and turned back to Kagome.

Her hands were still captured in his own, and she was staring at him. He gazed back, wondering why she wasn't pulling away, or, for that matter, why he was not either. Perhaps he should.

Before him, Kagome seemed to catch her breath.

"Wow," she said finally. "You're weird in the mornings. I'm glad you always wake up before I do."

Kagome watched as his face melted into a thunderous scowl before his customary arrogant expression slid smoothly into place. She giggled, which seemed to make him even more peevish. His hand around hers tightened. "I am not weird," he said haughtily. "I am merely looking out for your best interests."

There was a dizzying moment of deja vu. "Oh god," she said despairingly, "don't say that. You sound like my mother, and I thought I left her a few hundred years in the future."

He gave a long-suffering sigh which endeavored to suggest that, in all his incredibly long life, he had never engaged in any activity nearly so trying as speaking to her. Behind her breast, she felt a small but intense twinge of satisfaction.

"I am," Sesshoumaru said with as much dignity as he could muster, "only concerned that your injuries will be exacerbated."

Kagome felt warm. "You're concerned about me?" she asked.

He made a strangled noise in his throat and adjusted his grip on her fingers, refusing to answer. Instead, he pulled her right hand toward him, deftly removing the bandage that circled her index finger.

She'd awoken that morning earlier than normal - even Sesshoumaru had not yet stirred from his spot - and stared sleepily at the low warmth of the fire in front of her, the once raging heartbeat of the flame now fluttering faintly beneath the embers. She had dreamed of... something strange, but now she couldn't remember it clearly. It had been a dark and warm dream, with soft corners and the scent of purple, or what she thought purple might smell like - though it was not something she could ever know - and now that she was awake she wished only to drift back into it. The previous day was floating beneath the pink dust of the dreams that had fled, and she remembered that she did not want it to be the first thing she remembered in the morning. Involuntarily, her fingers twitched, and the stiffness in them drew her further out.

I burned my fingers, she thought. Rei said they would be healed by now, and I don't want to look and see if she's wrong. The cold anxiety that had crept into her bed, around which she had curled all night, made itself felt in the hollow of her throat, and in the half-conscious world between sleep and waking she thought the skin there might split and gape if she made the wrong move. She still remembered that the blade of dread could cut as deep as the blade of memory.

Struggling to push it aside without catching herself on the sharp edge, Kagome tried to sink down and down again into sleep, but exertion and effort defeated her, as though she were trying to escape from quicksand in reverse.

She gave in and sat up, wiping the sleep from her eyes with the back of her sleeve before untying the ribbon that had loosened as she shifted in slumber. Gingerly she crooked her stiff fingers and ran her hands through her messy hair and tried not to think about how difficult it was to do this simple action. She decided to leave it down, and wound the ribbon around her hand before setting it aside and glancing around at her morning surroundings.

The air in the chamber was cool but not cold, and the borrowed kimono was thick enough to keep her warm, but at the moment, even if she were to die of hypothermia, Kagome fervently wished to strip herself of her clothes and the furs across her legs and take a bath. Absently, she scratched her itchy scalp and yawned.

A soft footfall behind her made her turn to find Rei standing a few feet away and smiling. "Good morning," she said quietly. "I was wondering when you would wake up."

Kagome frowned. "Is it late?" she asked.

Rei shrugged. "That depends on how early you usually rise."

"Dawn," Kagome told her, the memory of many days shaken into consciousness by the clearing of a throat giving her voice a rueful cast.

"Well, not terribly late, then. I was just wondering if you wanted some breakfast. It's rabbit."

'Rabbit' turned out to be just that - rabbit, raw, and still with bits of snow-white fur clinging to its sad, bedraggled carcass. The little wolf cubs next to her were tearing off bite-sized pieces before sticking them in their bloody mouths and sucking on them with relish.

Kagome could almost hear her mother's voice echoing in her head. Kagome, she would say, it is never polite to gag on food that is served to you in someone's home. Smile, eat as little as possible, and compliment your hostess. She watched as the little female cub tore a small chunk away from the flank and offered it to her with a wide, red smile.

It's just raspberry jam, it's just raspberry jam, Kagome thought desperately. And those little bits stuck in between her teeth are pips. Oh, I really hate seeds. Because that's what they are. Seeds. Not, in any way, shape, or form, raw bloody meat crawling with botulism and I wish I had some alcohol because maybe that would kill the worm eggs that are no doubt hiding in there somewhere I think I'm going to be sick.

If only being sick weren't so damn impolite.

Kagome took a deep breath and extended a hand so reluctant she thought she might be forced to pull it forward with her other hand, and took the meat from the chubby, bloody fingers. It felt like... well, like raw meat. Cold and slightly squishy, yet firm and wet. The two children were staring at her, as though waiting for her to perform a trick. Before her throat could close, Kagome popped the meat in her mouth and began to chew.

She had been hoping to chew it quickly and swallow as soon as possible, but it turned out that raw rabbit was as chewier than rice cakes and, as an added bonus, full of blood. It took only an eternity to mash it up enough to swallow, and when she did, she found she wasn't nearly as hungry as she had been when she had awoken.

"Good, eh?" Rei said cheerfully.

Desperately Kagome cast about. "Filling," she said finally. If Rei suspected any falsehood on her part, she made no sign of it, merely grinned her own crimson grin, and Kagome decided that as soon as she was home, she was going to become a vegetarian. Radishes, at least, did not squeeze blood down her throat, and had never been cute, ever.

She managed to force two more chunks down her throat before her stomach rebelled and she sat back, wishing fervently for a glass of water and some rice. She stared at the tiny ridges and chips that made up the uneven floor, and felt, abruptly, cut adrift, as if she had followed a tiny mountain brook on a lazy spring day, and was now surprised to be floating aimlessly in an autumn sea she had never meant to find. For a moment she was mesmerized by the blood on her fingertips.

"Are you feeling well?"

Startled, Kagome glanced up to see Rei looking at her with concern, and she swallowed the bile gathered in her gullet before smiling, smoothing over the loneliness. "I'm fine, Rei. Thanks for your concern. I was just..." She trailed off, wondering if there was any hope for a hot bath at all.

"Just...?" Rei prompted kindly.

Why can't you just be a little annoying, or cruel, or something, so I don't feel so badly about being unhappy? Kagome thought, slightly miserably. "Um," she said, her hesitation caught in her shoulders, "there's... there aren't... um, I think I need a bath." Her cheeks flared a little.

The wolf pursed her lips, tilting her head to the side. "Well," she said after a moment's contemplation, "there's snow outside."

Kagome groaned inwardly. "That's what I thought," she said, and she couldn't keep the frown from her face. Rubbing snow all over her body seemed like an invitation to pneumonia, and would make her cold to boot. "You wouldn't happen to have any pots or anything? To hold snow in so it could melt?"

Rei appeared to think before she clapped her hands. "Of course!" she cried. "There's always the stream! That's where we get our drinking water. It's cold though."

Kagome thought she could handle that. "No! That's fine! Where is it?"

She watched as the other woman's brow furrowed. "Are you sure you want to bathe before you get all mucky with dragon blood?"

Why, Kagome despaired, does this not sound like what I signed on for? Just like every damn thing that's happened since I jumped down that well? But what she said out loud was, "What? I thought all I had to do was purify the corpse!"

"Well, yes, but you have to get to it in order to do so," Rei said cheerfully. "And your companion made quite a mess of it."

Of course. Kagome sighed. "I suppose I will wait, then."

Rei smiled, sharp teeth queer in her nearly human face. "That's probably best, dear. Now, would you please watch the children as I tidy up? They're always under foot."

This was how Kagome found herself chasing after two rambunctious children who managed to be both sticky and wet at the same time, and who thought everything was a toy, especially each other's tails; she was almost gratified when Haru sauntered inside and shook the snow from himself.

"Eh?" he said looking at Kagome, whose hair was sticking out and who was propping his progeny on her hips, before bursting into laughter.

"Are they a pain in the ass today?" he asked, grinning as he extended his hands to take the little girl from her.

"They're... excitable," she told him, gratefully passing one of her charges off to someone with slightly more experience, and who had to love it by order of the universe. Haru had laughed again and swung the little girl around over his head.

"Do you have any yourself?" he asked her as the little girl gave a squeal of delight.

"Er," Kagome said, "not yet, no."

"You should, you should!" he told her, rubbing his daughter's nose against his own.

"Eventually," she'd replied. "I think I'm just happy, uh, borrowing them right now."

She wished, very vaguely, that the children were just a little older, and understood commands like, sit still, and, don't eat that, and, fire bad! She'd set the little boy down for one second as she hastily pulled her hair back into its customary low ponytail, and when she'd turned around again he had clambered into Sesshoumaru's lap and had become the gleeful recipient of the youkai's puzzled stare. Kagome had taken the moment of respite offered by the assault on her companion before she smiled and wandered over to rescue him.

Apparently Sesshoumaru was really intense in the mornings, and even more taciturn than usual. When he'd grabbed her hands she had hissed in surprise; she was unused to his touch, and to have him catch her fingers with such familiarity was, quite simply, odd, though not at all unpleasant. Neither of them seemed inclined to break the contact, and Kagome was surprised that it felt both natural and slightly awkward, just like his declaration that he was concerned. When he had told her that, it seemed that the only logical thing to feel was a strange and breathless warmth, the compulsion to return such care. She felt gratified. Clearly, though, he was unused to voicing such things aloud as she had always done with her friends. Now Sesshoumaru was ignoring her question and deftly removing the thing she had managed to forget about with an air that was almost, but not quite, clinical. The worry that had settled in the corners of her mind like dust stirred.

"Um, please - " she began, but got no further as he slipped the bandage from her finger and held her hand close to his face for inspection. She bit her lip and held her breath.

"Hmm," was all he said.

It was too much. Kagome tugged on her hand and he released her before she brought it in front of her face for closer examination, heart dropping to her knees.

Her wounds were certainly healed, but instead of the smooth skin she had been hoping for, there was a thin, bubbly film of shiny scar tissue gracing the base of her finger. As she pulled the rest of the bandages off, she saw that each finger had the same faint disfigurement, and there was a lance of disappointment through her chest, so intense she lost her breath for a moment. Regaining it, she inhaled deeply and flexed her hand, experimentally testing the range of motion.

The skin stretched and pulled, but other than that slight discomfort her fingers appeared to be completely normal in all but appearance. They were entirely functional, just a little uglier.

Which, she thought, emptying her lungs in one long, dejected stream, is better than having ugly fingers that are also useless. That's something, at least. She tucked her lower lip between her teeth and worried it, pressing it between her tongue and upper teeth, as she flexed her hands and watched her new skin smooth and stretch and pull against her movements.

After a few moments Kagome sighed again and let her hands fall to her lap before looking up to see Sesshoumaru staring at her with that look of vague puzzlement that he seemed to wear most often in her presence. It wasn't much different from his normal look, but she found it to be an improvement over boredom, because it meant that he was actually paying attention to her instead of finding her insufferably dull.

Unfortunately he didn't seem to think it was necessary to enlighten her as to the source of his confusion, or perhaps he just enjoyed being confused. After a second she grew slightly uncomfortable gazing back into his inscrutable golden stare, and shifted slightly where she sat.

"What?" she asked him nervously, gaze darting away from his.

She saw him shake his head very slightly from the corner of her eye. "What is wrong?" he asked when she looked at him again, and she noted that his eyes narrowed slightly. She couldn't tell if his change in expression was borne of irritation or concern, or maybe he just needed glasses. He certainly seemed to narrow his eyes often enough; she was surprised that he hadn't developed a permanent squint.

He was waiting for her answer. Kagome's gaze flickered down to her hands again before she licked her lips. "It's just... the scars," she said. "I was hoping that I wouldn't have them. But," she looked up, pushing a smile across her stiff features, "it doesn't matter. My fingers still work, so there's no real harm done." As if to prove her point, she lifted her hands from her lap and flexed her fingers, wiggling the joints to show him that she was as good as new, save a little wear and tear.

One miko, gently used, she thought, a sardonic chuckle grinding from her throat.

Sesshoumaru quirked an unamused eyebrow and his lips twisted slightly, but he said nothing further on the matter. Instead he stood, long body unfolding in one fluid movement, and shook out his sleeves before running his long, elegant claws through his perfectly ordered hair. Irrationally, Kagome felt annoyed. Didn't he ever need a shower like everyone else in the universe? She scrambled up after him, the push of her newly stiff fingers against the floor of the cave causing a hitch in her chest as she did so.

He melted into his normal stance. "Well," he said, bored again as she bounced - deceptively perky - into a standing position beside him, "are we going to attend to business today, or shall we further discuss my attitudes upon waking?" He sniffed, as though to emphasize his weariness with the world.

The change in mood was so drastic from his vaguely concerned posture before, that Kagome wondered if she hadn't inadvertently hit an on-off switch somewhere. She wasn't even certain what his comment meant, but it was probably safe to assume he was making fun of her. "What?" she spluttered in generic outrage as she took a step back from him, off balance and feeling not a little defensive, though she didn't know why.

Ignoring her angry demand, Sesshoumaru shrugged regally, his chin tilting upwards to indicate he was in Cower, Lowly Peons mode. "I realize that I am a fascinating subject of conversation," he said in conciliatory tones, clearly suggesting that while his graciousness toward his subjects was deep, it would be best for all involved to remember that it was limited as well, "but I suspect that continued exploration of the subject may grow tedious." He gave her a sidelong glance, sighing as he did so.

An angry gasp caught in her throat, and for a second Kagome wanted to slap his pretty face, until she noticed the almost imperceptible twitch of an eyebrow, and she realized he was merely winding her up.

Her disappointment concerning her injuries forgotten, she kicked herself for not realizing that he was teasing her, so instead of committing a poorly-planned and ill-considered attack on his person, she drew back and sniffed theatrically. "I hate to tell you this," she said, and she was secretly pleased that she sounded almost as insufferably snobbish as he did, "but I believe that the subject of you is tedious, regardless of the extent of exploration."

The imperceptibly quirked eyebrow ratcheted up a few notches. "Is that so?" he asked coolly.

She almost smiled. If she hadn't been looking for it, she would have missed the slight, amused quirk of his mouth that sparked in and out of existence so quickly that she would have never seen it if she had blinked. Giving a sigh, she nonchalantly brushed imaginary debris from the front of her kimono as she thought up a suitable rebuttal, finding one at the last moment.

Kagome cleared her throat. "I'm afraid it is," she informed him airily before pivoting smartly on the balls of her feet and marching around the fire, toward the cave entrance. "And as it grows more tedious by the second, I think we should abandon it altogether and get to work."

For a moment she was worried that she might have pushed it a little too far before he gave one of his humorless chuckles behind her, and she heard the soft fall of his footsteps as he trailed after.

She allowed herself to smile, just a little. If he wanted to shift the subject from her discomfort by annoying her, she decided, then she was actually quite happily inclined to allow him to do so. Besides, that was the best comeback she had invented yet. Still smiling her secret grin, Kagome mentally patted herself on the back for a sharp jab well delivered as she flounced in the direction of the snowy world outside, and the task ahead of them.

Thirty minutes later and Kagome was mounted on Sesshoumaru's back, and he was bounding lightly across the shallow valley in the direction of yesterday's triumph. They would have been on their way long before, but Rei had waylaid them halfway to the door and pressured them into changing clothes. Kagome capitulated easily, and had ended up in old, oversized blue hakama and a navy kimono culled from the dustiest corner of the caves. At least they were warmer. Sesshoumaru, on the other hand, was slightly more difficult, and only after much cajoling had he allowed Rei to convince him that dragon blood stank, and would seep into fabric in no time, and he didn't want to go around smelling like one for the rest of his journey, did he? He donned black hakama - faded - and dark grey kimono - slightly threadbare - before Rei had deemed him acceptable. Kagome was secretly surprised that he had acquiesced to their hostess's wishes with such relative grace, until she remembered that he could be polite if he wanted to be. She was in the middle of heaving a resigned, self-pitying sigh when Rei surprised her by pressing three or four tasuki cords into her hands.

"But - " Kagome had begun, attempting to grab them through thick fabric before shaking the long sleeves of the kimono away from her hands and down around her wrists with frustration.

"No buts!" Rei had interjected imperiously. "How many times have I sent young men off to clean up their own messes?"

After a significant pause, Kagome realized that this was not a rhetorical question. "Um - " she cast about, clueless. "More than a few?"

"More than a few!" Rei grabbed the answer and held it aloft as she would a trophy, metaphorically speaking. "That's exactly right! And who would know more about cleaning dragon innards out of rocky cracks?"

Behind her, Sesshoumaru snickered. "Er," she said, deliberately avoiding his gaze. "You?"

"Exactly, my dear," Rei exclaimed as if she had just proved a point. "So you listen to me and just take these. You won't be sorry that you did!" Kagome gave in, just to get out of there.

Now the icy wind was slipping over her skin and into her clothing. Kagome huddled against Sesshoumaru for warmth, and was glad that he had left his armor behind - the metal could get cold in the frigid air, and she was not keen on revisiting the numbness of yesterday. Not to mention that her fingers were already stiff with cold if not with injury, and she was only barely able to repress the urge to stick her hands down his neck to warm them. Pressing her face against his shoulder, Kagome tried to close around him so she could steal his heat before her nose started to drip in earnest and she would be forced to find something with which to clean it. She closed her eyes, and tried to think of something to talk about to break the silence.

Her mind wandered listlessly. She already felt tired, even though it was probably only about ten in the morning, or a little after. It was probably all the chasing around after baby wolves, she reasoned. Enough of that would make anyone tired within the span of a quarter hour, and, she realized, it was probably not the most pleasant way to wake up.

"Sorry I let Ryuji wake you up," Kagome said, yawning against his back.

For a moment she thought he hadn't heard her when he turned his head slightly. "Who?" he wanted to know.

Kagome rolled her eyes. "Never mind," she said, exasperated.

Sesshoumaru was not easily dissuaded. "Who?" he asked again.

"The little wolf that woke you up? You know the one," she said, lifting her chin to rest it on his shoulder for better access to his ear. "Small, high voice, really liked your lap for some reason?" she prompted.

"Ah," Sesshoumaru said after a second's pause. "Is that his name?"

"No, I made it up."

She could feel his confusion despite the bored expression on his face. "All right," he said eventually.

Sesshoumaru heard her giggle. "I didn't really," she told him between chuckles. "That really is his name."

It slowly began to dawn on Sesshoumaru that she might be making fun of him, which was not the way the universe was supposed to work. "All right," he said again, just to irritate her.

"Oh, never mind," she grumped.

"All right," he said absently for the third time, glad that she seemed to have decided to abandon her confusing efforts for the time being.

She was quiet for a long few minutes before she spoke again, her voice hesitant, which made him suspicious and slightly anxious. "Sesshoumaru?"

After a moment he realized that she required a response from him to continue, and he entertained the passing fancy that if he did not acknowledge her then she would be silent forever. He found the prospect boring, which was much worse than potentially upsetting. "Yes?" he replied finally, slightly apprehensive. She wasn't the most tactful of people he had met, so if she was nervous about asking something, there was probably a reason.

She didn't respond, and he was about to repeat his answer when she sighed. "Did you - " she began, stuttered, and then started over. "Did you mean what you said? About how I... how I smell?"

The question was perplexing. What would be the point in lying about something like that? "Yes," he ventured, wondering why she would ask.

"Oh," she said and fell silent for a moment, her fingers on his shoulders twitching.

Sesshoumaru gave up trying to follow her chain of thought and turned back to the path in front of them. They were well within range of the dragon's former nest, and would be there in a few more minutes. The scent of dragon's blood was already curling in his nose, and Sesshoumaru was chagrined to find that Rei had not exaggerated about the stench; it didn't even smell like blood now, but something rank and unappetizing. He sighed with resignation as he made his way across the snow.

"Sesshoumaru?" Kagome said suddenly.


"What do I smell like now?"

He shrugged. "Like a wolf that needs a wash," he told her.

He felt her jerk in surprise. "What?" she exclaimed. "I do not!"

"I have no reason to lie," he sniffed, "and you most certainly do." This was only mostly true of course. Her own scent was beneath the smell of the wolf den, but it was faint at the moment, especially in her borrowed clothes.

She huffed in his ear, sending his flesh shivering. "Yeah, well, you don't smell that great either," she said petulantly.

"Oh, really?" he said mildly. "Why would I care what you think I smell like?"

There was a pause. "Wait, maybe that isn't you. It kind of smells like... rotten eggs. Do you smell that?"

Sesshoumaru had no idea - he had not smelled rotten eggs very often in his life, but he suspected that she was beginning to catch wind of the dragon's corpse. "I do," he told her.

He listened as she snuffled by his ear, and then buried her face against his back, inhaling mightily, as if she could smell his liver through dint of sheer effort. After a second she lifted her face again. "All right," she announced. "That's not you. Forget I said anything."

Sesshoumaru felt strangely pleased, and he turned his attention to the task at hand.

The rocky incline above them was slippery with ice and snow, and Sesshoumaru fell silent as he navigated his way up and over, avoiding the red trench that had been burned through the snow by the heat of the dragon's blood coursing from its neck. With one final push, he rose into the air over the nest.

"Ew," was Kagome's only comment as he crested the ridge of the valley and she saw the body beneath them.

Despite the cold the corpse was already starting to decompose a little, so the edges of its skin where he had sliced through were already looking ragged, and the inside of a throat is not the prettiest of sights in the first place. Sesshoumaru studiously avoided the severed head, opting to touch down lightly on the twisted curve of the neck. The body shifted slightly beneath his weight, but did not tip them over and off into the bloodstained snow beneath them, for which he was rather grateful.

Sesshoumaru knelt and let his passenger clamber off, though the effort was hampered by her unwillingness to lower her sleeve from in front of her nose. When her feet were finally as firmly planted on the dragon's skin as possible, he rose, trying to keep his breath as shallow as possible.

"Um," Kagome said from behind the barrier of her hand, "this is probably not the best place to stand, if I'm going to be purifying things. We'll fall."

He hadn't thought of that. Sesshoumaru sighed as he threw her over his shoulder and hopped gracefully down to the outer rim of the nest, only losing his grace when he discovered no good footholds. At the last moment he grabbed the ledge and held on, eyeing the tip of the dragon's tail with suspicion. For some reason, he thought he had seen it move.

Kagome was not having that trouble - she wiggled against his shoulder in an effort to get down. Sesshoumaru sighed again and tipped her into the cradle of his other arm.

"Eep!" she squeaked before she seemed to regain her grasp on the situation. "What the hell?" she demanded. "Warn me before you do that!"

Sesshoumaru shrugged. "I suggest getting to it," he said blandly. "I don't want to hang off the edge of a cliff all day. I might accidentally drop you."

Kagome didn't take the bait, merely rolled her eyes and twisted in his grasp, reaching up to the cold, white scales by her head. He watched as her brows drew down in concentration, and he smelled the bright scent that caused his blood to quicken with anxiety gathering at her edges, gilding her with gold. He waited.

After a while he grew tired of waiting. "Well?" he said after what he felt was a suitable amount of time had passed.

Kagome had been wondering the same thing. The scales against her hands were cold and unyielding, and even though she could feel her power gathering and grounding itself in the flesh beneath her fingers, nothing was happening. She made a noise of frustration in the back of her throat. "I don't know," she said. "I'm zapping it pretty well, but nothing's happening."

She looked back at him to see him raise a brow in disbelief. "Why not?" he asked, clearly unhappy about the alternate solutions for dragon removal. Kagome didn't blame him; she had already begun to think about them, and none of them seemed pleasant.

"I don't know," she said again. She sucked her lower lip into her mouth and bit down, trying to think. She couldn't remember any time that her purification didn't work on monsters; even if they were strong, they always did something, always burned them or cut through their skin, but never had it not worked. Anxiously, Kagome wondered if she had done something wrong, and now her purification would no longer respond to her. The thought was frightening.

"I wish Miroku were here," she said out loud, and suddenly she remembered, guiltily, that she was supposed to look for him and Sango while she was here. She should have asked Kouga if he knew where they were. The loop of sadness in her chest tightened just a little.

"Who?" Sesshoumaru asked, breaking into her small reverie.

Kagome shook her head, as though to shake off her guilt. "The monk," she said sadly. "He would know what was wrong. I've always been able to kill demons and monsters with my powers, so I don't know why they aren't working now. I can feel it, but it's not doing anything."

"Have you never purified a dragon before?"

"That's just it, I have. That one disintegrated just fine when I shot it," she said. "What's different about this one?"

Kagome felt her back shift against his arm as he shrugged. "Perhaps," he ventured slowly, "you can only kill things that are alive?" Then, because that sounded stupid, "Dead flesh need not be purified, maybe?"

Sesshoumaru watched as her face fell rather spectacularly. "Oh, god, I hope you're wrong," she moaned, bringing her hand to her forehead and rubbing her fingertips against the skin there in small, soothing circles.

"Why would you hope that? Is it not better to have your power still than to have lost it?"

Her chest rose and fell in a sigh. "Well, if you put it that way," she said, "I guess I hope you're right. I just don't want to move this thing by hand."

Sesshoumaru knew exactly what she meant. "Still," he said, "it is better than being suddenly defenseless, yes?"

Her lower lip stuck out in a slight pout. "Oh, stop trying to make me look on the bright side," she grumbled. She crossed her arms and proceeded to stare off into space.

After a moment Sesshoumaru cleared his throat, causing her to look up. "If you don't mind," he said dryly, "I would like to relocate before my arm falls off."

"Again?" Kagome teased. He shot her a glare and she grinned back.

"But yeah," she continued, "that sounds like a good ideaaaaaeeeeeeeeeeek!" Her acquiescence was lost as he tightened his grip and pushed off from the mountainside, rising to a handstand before flipping over and landing just inside the rim of the dragon's nest. He flexed life back into his fingers as he set her down in the snow next to him. On his other side, the sinuous tail lay languorously over the edge of the cliff.

Kagome figured that she deserved that, so she didn't bother getting angry. Instead she watched as he straightened while she regained her breath. After a moment they turned back to the corpse next to them.

It was huge, and mostly curled in on itself, like a particularly large snake with arms and clawed fingers, and now that she was close to it Kagome found it difficult to hold it all in her sight at once. She had to tilt her head before its different parts fell into place - a lump high above on the other side of the tail became a hip, a towering peak became a knee. She doubted that even Sesshoumaru, in his true form, could budge it very far while it was still in one piece, and she severely doubted he would want to put it anywhere near his mouth once it was sliced up and its sulphuric-smelling blood was leaking out.

Stupid dragons, she thought. "I guess," she ventured slowly, "that we'll have to cut it up and toss it into the valley."

Sesshoumaru turned and looked at her, slightly surprised. "We?" he said.

Kagome frowned and lifted her chin. "Yes, we. I can't move it all by myself."

"I was not suggesting that. I was expressing surprise that you would wish to assist me."

Kagome felt annoyed. "Why? Do you think I'm too weak to even do this?" she demanded.

The demon shook his head. "No," he said, "I thought you would foist this task off on me, and I would do it alone."

That had not even occurred to her, and now that he had mentioned the idea she felt rather silly for not thinking of it first. Still, she wasn't going to make him do all the work. It wouldn't be fair. "Of course not," she said with as much dignity as she could muster. "I'm not going to leave you to do this all by yourself. Now are you going to get to slicing or what?"

She watched as he turned, bemused, to the tail in front of him and inspected it. It was enormous, the circumference extending to at least twice his height, and for a moment Kagome wondered if he would even be able to cut all the way through it before he lifted his claws and tilted his head, as if calculating. Then he shrugged, and his hand went to Toukijin and removed it from where it rested at his hip, drawing the blade above his head before bringing it down in one sharp movement.

The dragon's tail exploded.

It was a rather spectacular eruption, mostly away from them but, as is the nature of explosions, out as well. And up. Kagome blinked, staring at the spray of dragon chunks against the opposite wall of its nest as a very gentle rain of soft tissue began to fall from the sky.

For a moment neither of them said anything until Sesshoumaru took a step backwards, his silver hair slowly becoming streaked with red, and turned to her, looking slightly dazed.

"Hn," he said finally, as though he were merely an innocent bystander with no vested interest in the events going on around him, "that was not the intended result."

Kagome felt that this was possibly an understatement. "Yeah," she replied as a fairly large bit of dragon landed on her shoulder, "I didn't think so." Together they stared at the mess in front of them, contemplating a future that was looking rather bleak and dirty indeed.

Sesshoumaru tried several dragon slicing techniques, but all of them gave him the same result - airborne filet of dragon, flying dragon liver, dragon pate - so he eventually gave up and trudged miserably through the snow and the stench, slicing haphazardly in the direction of the corpse and walking on as it exploded behind him. There was nowhere to hide from the inevitable shower, so in the end Kagome stayed next to him, marching mutely through the snow by his side in what was possibly misguided solidarity while he went about his repulsive duty.

Neither of them said anything, and Sesshoumaru was at least mildly surprised to find that Kagome refrained from complaining about the mess he was making. She didn't even berate him, for which he was extremely grateful.

It was odd - he had never seen a dragon explode before, so the consequence of his actions were entirely unexpected and extremely unwelcome, but like Kagome he had never had to deal with a dragon that was already dead. All the ones he had met were very much alive - though of course they did not stay that way - and after they had been dispatched he had never stuck around to see what happened next. He suspected that the suddenly volatile properties of the corpse were the natural outcome of the decomposition process, but in the end it was of no real importance. The only thing that really mattered was that they were both covered in dragon entrails, and were destined to stay that way for the next few hours as they tossed the corpse into the steep valley below.

After a while they reached the head, the last bit needing liquidation. Sesshoumaru sighed and slashed at it, and Kagome watched as the head seemed to expand outward, suddenly sending an explosion of bone and brain into the surrounding air. When it finally settled Sesshoumaru nodded with a grim and resigned satisfaction and turned to her. "Let us get down to business," he said, holding out a hand. It took her a moment to realize that he was waiting for her to hand him a tasuki cord. Mutely she removed one from where they hung at her waist and passed it over. Gripping one end of the cord between his sharp teeth, Sesshoumaru looped it around his shoulders and over his sleeves before tying it into place. Kagome attempted to nonchalantly observe how nice his bare arms looked, but in the end she looked away, slightly embarrassed. He didn't seem to notice, instead testing the bonds. Apparently satisfied, Sesshoumaru then bent at the waist before lifting what had once been the right front quarter of the dragon's face into the air. Kagome tried not to look at the quivering mass of frontal lobe still couched in the skull. "Shall we?" he asked.

"Sure," she replied, suddenly extremely nauseous. She gazed after him as Sesshoumaru leapt away through the gory debris to toss his burden into the valley beyond before letting her shoulders fall as she looked at the slices of meat all around her. Bodies, it seemed, contained quite a bit more than what they appeared to be able to hold. Still, she couldn't let him do this all on his own. Resignedly she separated another tasuki cord from the bunch and roped it around her kimono to secure her sleeves before sticking the others back in her waistband. Stomach roiling, she bent and picked up a bit of dragon with the skin still attached and began to slog toward the steep cliff, trying not to think of the squelching beneath her shoes.

An hour and a half later Kagome stood in what had once been the dragon's stomach and found herself about to burst into frustrated tears. Intellectually she knew that their job was about half finished, and in another hour and a half they could start back toward a bath, but right now it seemed that she would never escape this hell, would be forever trapped in an endless cycle of tossing stinking bits of carcass over a cliff. Kagome stamped her foot in despair, which turned out to be a miscalculation. Beneath the sole of her shoe, she felt something give and slide, and in slow motion she fell into a pile of small intestine.

At this point Kagome abandoned all pretense of even attempting to be serene about the situation.

"ARG!" she shrieked, not caring that her mouth was now full of foul air, and not caring that Sesshoumaru would hear her. She folded her body, struggling to get her feet beneath her, her fingers sinking into the rubbery guts under her hands. "Arg!" she reiterated as she scrambled to her feet. "This is the worst job ever!"

Behind her she heard Sesshoumaru land in a squishy pile of innards and she turned to see him, covered in blood and looking almost downcast. There was a streak of blood down the side of his face, and the gore on his hands reached almost to his elbows, layered on so thickly she could no longer see the stripes on his wrists. He didn't even look her in the eye, just stared at the ground when he spoke. "I know," he said to her. "I did not anticipate this eventuality."

Kagome tried to wipe her hands off on her hakama, but the gesture was in vain - every inch of her was messy - so she settled for picking bits out of her hair instead. Perhaps if she didn't have stinking pieces of bowel in her hair she would feel a little less repugnant. "It's not your fault," she told him, removing a rubbery bit of intestines and letting it join its brethren at her feet. "It's just... ugh." She wrinkled her nose. "This is just absolutely disgusting."

Sesshoumaru watched her remove bits from her hair, and felt bizarrely unhappy that she had to be subjected to this. He wished, fervently, that he had never awoken that morning.

Kagome waited, but he didn't appear to have a reply for her, and she suspected that he was feeling a bit of a blow to his pride; he was a warrior, not a laborer. This sort of thing was beneath him.

She sighed.

"You know," she said conversationally as she scooped a mass of wiggling intestines into her arms and headed in the direction of the cliff, "I told Kouga that when I got back I would kick him where it hurts. But now I think I'll just kill him."

She heard him shift behind her before his footsteps fell into line with hers. "You would not, perhaps, be desirous of assistance in that endeavor?"

Kagome pretended to think as he drew alongside her, a particularly impressive expanse of rib cage dragging behind him. "It depends," she finally said.

"On what?" he wanted to know.

"On how much it costs." They reached the edge, and Sesshoumaru watched as she heaved the pile in her arms over the side as best she could.

"I believe," he said as he tossed his own armful after hers and watched it tumble down, over and over itself, to rest far below them at the base of the mountain, "that I would be willing to aid you free of charge."

Kagome turned to him. "Oh, you misunderstand me," she said.

The look on his face seemed to say, it wouldn't be the first time, but out loud he simply replied, "Do I?"

"Oh, yes," she sniffed. "It's not how much you would charge me, but how much you'd be willing to pay for the privilege." She grinned. "Something so fun is definitely not free."

For a moment he blinked at her, and then his mouth curved, and he chuckled.

It was the first time she'd ever heard him really laugh, genuinely, without malice or dark amusement.

She thought it sounded nice.

Content to stare up at him and replay his laugh in her head, Kagome didn't move when he lifted a clawed hand and reached toward her, his fingers drifting to rest on her hair, out of her line of sight. Curious, she twisted her head slightly, trying to see what he was doing when he drew back, a lock of her hair following his hand, still molded to the sticky sliver of viscera he was removing. Almost ruefully he separated it from the strands clinging to it before tossing it over the side of the mountain to be lost in the snow before turning back to her.

"Shall we continue?" he asked. "We are almost finished."

Kagome looked over her shoulder at the carnage. "I wouldn't say almost," she said. "I'd say a little over half-way."

He shrugged as he turned away from her. "If you wish," he said. "But almost means a bath is just that much closer to our reach, whereas half-way means just that much more dragon to remove. I know which one I prefer."

Who would have thought he would be an optimist? she thought, a small smile winding over her lips. Sesshoumaru cast a look back at her.

"Well, miko?" he prompted. "You say we have work to do, and it will not get done with you loitering around." He turned back and lifted one of the enormous clawed feet into the air before lobbing it high over her head to arch down into the valley below. Nodding in satisfaction, he returned to the task at hand, picking his way over the gruesome landscape.

Kagome giggled, and trailed after him.

. . .

Another hour and a half later they trudged back, bloody but satisfied with a job completed. It was only early afternoon, but Kagome thought she might sink down into the snow and sleep for a day, except she wanted to be clean first. Also, sleeping in the snow would probably kill her, but really, that was only incidental. What she really wanted was a bath.

"Well," she said perkily as they neared the caves. "That was rather fun, I thought." She cast a sidelong glance at her companion, just in time to catch the confusion flitting over his features.

"If that is so, then you are employing a definition of fun of which I have previously been unaware," he replied.

Kagome laughed at that, as it was a fabulously pompous way of saying 'what?' "I might as well pretend it was fun," she clarified, "since I just wasted three hours of my life - which I will never get back - doing it. I want it to have been worth it."

Sesshoumaru just shrugged, as though to indicate simply being done with the task was reward enough itself, which, she reflected, it probably was. She smiled and turned back toward their destination.

"So what's on the agenda for the rest of the day?" she asked brightly.

Sesshoumaru frowned and peered at her from the corner of his eye. She was entirely too upbeat for someone who had just spent three hours slogging through a pile of dragon. He opened his mouth to reply, but she began to speculate out loud before he could answer.

"Go back to the caves, get a wash, get some dinner and some sleep, and then head out tomorrow morning?" she said, as though trying the plan out on him.

He arched an eyebrow. "We leave today," he informed her. "I do not wish to linger here longer than necessary."

"Today?" she exclaimed, clearly dismayed. "Why today? I'm exhausted!"

"That may be so," he replied, "but we will extend our journey by at least half a day if we do not leave immediately. Besides," he sniffed, "you will not be carrying another person on your back, although you are certainly welcome to try."

This was very true, and Kagome felt rather petty and mean for complaining about being tired when she wasn't the one who would be lugging her sleepy butt around. "Er," she said, "I think I'll pass on that, though thanks for the offer."

"That is disappointing," he said. "I was looking forward to being the lazy one for a change."

"Hey! I am not lazy," she told him. "I'm just easily tired. There's a difference."

"Of course. One makes you lighter, I suppose?"

"Oooooh," Kagome exclaimed, half caught between amusement and frustration, "No. But one makes me quieter!"

Sesshoumaru cast an interested glance in her direction. "Indeed?" he said.

She grinned at him and nodded. "When I'm tired, I stay quiet. If I were lazy, I'd talk a lot more."

"Gnuh," he replied, obviously disheartened by that prospect.

"Oh, you like my conversation," she teased as they neared the cave. "You don't have to say anything, I can just tell. I am a fascinating individual, and everything I say is a nugget of gold."

He snorted as he swept aside the furs covering the entrance, standing aside to let her go inside. "A nugget of something, to be sure," she heard him mutter. She let that slide as she stepped past him and into the warmth of the front chamber; the heated air on her icy face and arms almost burned, but it felt so good she didn't care. Kagome stood just inside the door and stamped life back into her feet as she heard Sesshoumaru draw up behind her.

From the other side of the fire there was a rustling before Rei came bustling around it, a look of surprise on her genial features. "Oh my!" she said. "You had to do it by hand didn't you?"

Kagome just nodded. Rei shook her head. "That's unfortunate," she said, sighing. "I was hoping your powers would make short work of it, but it doesn't matter I suppose. Would you like to wash up?"

"Yes," Kagome replied, and she felt a rush of relief as if someone had just lifted a stifling blanket from her face and she could breathe again. She sagged where she stood.

Rei smiled and gestured that they follow her before turning and walking toward the back of the caves and to the left. They trailed after her.

An hour later Kagome - her hair and skin scrubbed free of all gore - huddled in her miko outfit as she sat next to the flickering flames and dried out. She was still suppressing shivers from the icy water when Sesshoumaru emerged from the dark chamber through which the underground stream ran, gleaming a little wetly but once again in his pristine white clothes, and definitely clean. She watched as he ran his claws through his damp hair before he wrung it out on the cave floor. Mournfully he tried to fluff it into a semblance of its former self, but it hung heavily, and finally he sighed as he strolled over to sit next to her, letting it pile in his lap when he lowered himself to the ground.

"Feel better?" she asked. Unfortunately she was trying to rub some life back into her nose when she spoke, so it sounded more like, "beer batter" but Sesshoumaru pretended not to notice. He just nodded as he slowly combed his fingers through the length of drying hair over his shoulder. Kagome almost offered to help him with it, but decided at the last moment that such a gesture might be a little too forward. Instead, they sat in companionable silence for a while, enjoying the novel feeling of cleanliness, and Kagome closed her eyes to relish the quiet moment.

She started awake when she felt a hand brush her knee, and for a second she was disoriented, thought she was young again, thought she was sitting at a campfire and Sango was shaking her awake - but no. The fingers withdrawing were clawed and the hand was striped, and Kagome blinked rapidly, looking up at Sesshoumaru. "What?" she asked groggily.

"You are dry," he told her, and for some reason, to her sleep-addled mind, she didn't understand what he meant before she remembered that she had bathed. She shifted, trying to move her hair behind her shoulders, but a sharp pain stopped her. Wincing, she lifted a hand and rubbed it over her stiff neck as he continued. "I have the herbs. It is time to go."

"Already?" she asked, a little dismayed. He said nothing, only pressed a small package into her hands before standing and tossing his own dry hair behind him. Kagome watched dumbly as he strode to the side of the cave and began to strap his armor into place.

She looked back at the package in her hands. It seemed so small, so inconsequential. It was strange that they had journeyed all this way, defeated a dragon and removed its corpse - which she would never forget as long as she lived - just for this soft little parcel. It was so small; it could be so easily lost. Her fingers tightening on it, she looked back at Sesshoumaru, who was tying his obi into its elaborate knot, and noticed that they were alone. "Where's Rei?" she asked him.

"Outside," he answered. "I believe she is giving her children a breath of fresh air."

"You mean she got tired of chasing them around the caves?" Kagome asked.

"That as well," he replied, sliding Toukijin and Tenseiga into place at his hip. "Are you ready?"

Nodding, she scrambled to her feet and gathered her bow and her quiver, strapping both to her back before turning away from him and slipping the package into her clothes where it came to rest against her stomach. It felt weird and probably made her look fat, but since her backpack had melted she had no where else to put it. She turned back to face him, hastily tying her hair back and quickly jogging after his already retreating back, following him through the labyrinth of caves.

Kagome felt a pang of disappointment at the loss of the fire when they emerged once again into the frigid air. Sesshoumaru did not seem inclined to say any sort of farewell - she noticed that he never seemed to say hello, either, going and coming when he pleased - but Kagome felt grateful enough to give Rei a hug and plant a kiss on each little wolf pup before they departed.

"Thank you," she said to Rei as she stepped back. "I hope I'll see you again some time."

"That would be nice," Rei agreed, drawing back as well, balancing her babies on her hips. "I wish you a good journey."

Kagome smiled, climbed onto Sesshoumaru's back, and they were off again, into the late afternoon light.

. . .

"We have to stop here?" she asked through chattering teeth. Sesshoumaru gave her a long-suffering glare.

"Unless you wish to continue on," he replied. "Though as the temperature is dropping rapidly, I suggest you get inside. Leave your bow and quiver." He raised his hands to the leather straps holding his armor in place and began to undo them. Kagome silently groaned with despair before bending down and peering into the cave once more. These mountains, she thought, are very poorly designed.

There was room for both of them, but just barely. The low, sloping ceiling and the shallow bowl of the floor hardly qualified this as a cave at all - more a cubbyhole - but she was freezing, and at least she could be warm inside. Sighing, she set her bow and arrows aside before crouching down and crawling inside, wedging herself as best she could into the tight corner in the back. There was barely enough room to stretch her legs out, and the low ceiling sloping downwards seemed to hang heavily above her. She shuddered and closed her eyes, listening to the sounds of chunks of armor hitting a thick blanket of snow outside. Kagome heard a scraping sound, and she peeked from beneath her eyelashes to see Sesshoumaru arranging his swords just inside the entrance before crawling in after her.

It was a tight fit, though it wasn't nearly as awkward as it had been the first night. Kagome thought this might be attributed to their shared ordeal concerning dragon guts. Once you'd seen someone towing a giant bladder behind them, there was little that could embarrass either of you. She didn't even blush as he slid in beside her, his side pressed against hers as he rearranged himself so that he was blocking the opening as he did the first night, though now that they were side by side his body prevented most of the cold air from reaching her.

Kagome shoved her hands inside her sleeves to keep them warm as she settled back in the darkness, bone-tired. They hadn't spoken much during the return trip - Sesshoumaru seemed lost in thought, and she hadn't really had the inclination or the energy to try and draw him out of his shell. Besides, she was comfortable just keeping her face out of the wind and quietly thinking about nothing in particular. They didn't have to talk all the time, after all.

They sat in comfortable silence for a long moment before Kagome cleared her throat. "We'll be back at the wolf's den tomorrow?" she asked.

She felt Sesshoumaru shift beside her. "Yes," he said.

"When do you think we'll get there?"

The silken sound of hair sliding over his shoulder told her he was tilting his head as he calculated. She could almost picture his 'thinking' face in her head: pursed lips, slight frown, faraway look in his eyes, as if he could discern the answer he sought by scaring it out of the nearest object to fall under his stare. After a second he sighed. "Before midday, perhaps," he said. "But we will not stop there."

Kagome frowned. "What about Myouga?"

Sesshoumaru snorted. "Well, perhaps we will pause long enough to collect him, but we should make all due haste. The longer we take, the harder it becomes to deliver the baby."

Bleah, Kagome thought as she ran across a problem in their plan. "How will we find her?" she wondered out loud.

Sesshoumaru shrugged, his shoulder rubbing against hers. "Scent," he said. "Perhaps Kouga will have found her by now. It won't take long, I should think."

Kagome just nodded. They were silent again until a thought struck her. There didn't seem to be any reason to not voice it, so she did. "I think," she said slowly, "that I will miss Rei."

He was quiet for a moment, until he said, "Why?"

She would have looked at him in vague surprise if she could have seen his features in the darkness, but such a gesture seemed futile. "Because she was nice," she replied instead. "I liked her a lot."

"You barely knew her," Sesshoumaru pointed out.

"Well, yeah, but that's the point of meeting new people - you meet them, then you get to know them."

He grunted, neither in agreement nor disagreement.

Kagome smiled faintly. "What, you don't like meeting people?"

"It has its advantages," he conceded, "but it is not terribly enjoyable to me."

"Why not?" she wanted to know. The air in their little nook was beginning to warm, and her eyelids were growing heavy. She could feel her body relaxing into the shape of the stone beneath her, her head tilting to the side as sleep slowly wound its sinuous tendrils around her and drew her down. Kagome yawned.

She was almost asleep when he finally answered, though he did not answer her as she thought he would.

"You travel through time," he said instead, his voice soft. "You should know why not."

Kagome blinked slowly, suddenly thinking of Sinayo and Amaya and Sango and Miroku and Shippou and Inuyasha - each of them dead or gone somewhere where she could not find them, leaving holes in her that could never be filled by anyone else. "Oh yes," she replied quietly, sadly, "I remember now."

Next to her, he sighed and was still. Slowly, she sank into the darkness of her head.

It was... difficult, she decided. It was very difficult to think that Rei would be gone when she got back to her own time. She had really liked the wolf, had found her almost sisterly. She wondered if the little babies would grow up strong, or if they would die young, or if they would have babies of their own. She wondered if Kouga's grandson would survive, if Akiyama would be there for him like Inuyasha's father was never there for him. So much was uncertain, especially the ending...

She swallowed, and wondered if Sesshoumaru was dead as well in her own time.

For a brief, dizzying moment, she wanted to ask him, if he were still alive, to come and find her when she returned to her own time, but then she stopped, swiftly deciding that she would rather not know his end, if indeed he had ended by the time she was born. Even if she never saw him again, even if it was an illusion, she wanted to think he was still alive. She wanted to believe that he continued.

The thought carved her out and left her hollow.

But there was no use thinking about that, was there? Slowly, Kagome disentangled a hand from her sleeve and placed it against her heart, as though to chase away the emptiness she suddenly found there before she lowered it again and, impulsively, leaned against the demon next to her and let her head rest on his shoulder.

He was still and made no action to remove her, though she could hear a small sigh escape from him. As she let sleep come up to claim her, she wondered what he was thinking about, if he regretted knowing her. She wondered if she had been worth it for him.

Kagome hoped so.

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 21 of 42

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