Continuing Tales

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 30 of 42

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Tales from the House of the Moon

Especially at night, I worry over situations that
I know will be all right; perhaps it's just my imagination
Day after day reappears
Night after night, my heartbeat shows the fear
Ghosts appear
and fade away...

- Colin Hayes, "Overkill"


"I'm dying," Kagome moaned into the slippery material of her sleeping bag. She was curled in a fetal position, face pressed to the ground as she gripped her still-turning stomach, and was apparently laboring under the delusion that she was the most unfortunate creature to walk the planet despite ample evidence to the contrary. Had she not spent all afternoon burying creatures more unfortunate than she?

Sesshoumaru sighed. "You are not dying," he said automatically for what seemed to be the twentieth time. "You are merely ill."

"I'm dying," she insisted miserably, lifting her head to glare reproachfully at him as though he were the cause of her current misery. Her skin looked remarkably pale and sickly in the firelight even though she had washed up only twenty minutes ago.

"Perhaps," he said pointedly, "you should change into something warmer."

He watched as her face twisted a little with annoyance. "I already told you, this is not indecent. Don't think you can trick me into changing back into those stifling clothes."

Sesshoumaru looked away, slightly guiltily. "That is not what I meant." "Whatever," Kagome muttered, letting her forehead touch the ground again. Since the moment she had stumbled back through the trees from her bath the youkai lord had been hinting rather strongly that she was dressed improperly, though she noted with some satisfaction that he had first done a rather satisfying - though subtle - double take at her clothes before choosing to reprimand her for them. True, the tank-top and pajama pants were scantier than her haori and hakama, but at the moment she didn't really care; the traditional clothes were hot and stifling, and her stomach couldn't take much more abuse. In the thin cotton, the fire warmed her skin and relaxed her muscles well enough without forcing her to be bound about the waist. Sesshoumaru could just deal with it. After all, he himself had seen her in her school uniform, and she considered that to be more revealing.

Not that it mattered. She was going to die anyway. Maybe she'd at least make a reasonably attractive corpse.

"I'm dying," she said again, withdrawing a hand from where it was pressed to her abdomen only long enough to pass it across her forehead and wipe away the thin sheen of cold sweat that had gathered there.

"You are not dying," he replied, sounding tired.

"How do you know?" she demanded, not feeling at all well-disposed towards his world-weary know-it-all attitude.

"You do not smell as though you are dying."

That brought her up short. Oh yeah, she thought. That whole dog-thing.

Blood rushed to her cheeks at the thought that he could smell the state of her health; it smelled bad enough to her that she could only imagine how it affected him. "I didn't give you permission to smell me!" she snapped, not caring that she was being unreasonable. The sudden flare of indignation caused the muscles slung low across her abdomen to tense, and she winced, doubling over again. "Oh god," she muttered. "I feel horrible. Awful. Disgusting, miserable, bad, crappy, uncomfortable, terrible, in agony - "

Sesshoumaru made a sound in his throat that sounded suspiciously like a growl. "I lied," he said abruptly. "You are dying."

"I knew it! I am dying!"

"Sorry, my mistake," Sesshoumaru replied. "You are not dying." Then he added, almost to himself, "Though you are very close to it."

He sounded unhappy. Kagome decided that she had wrung the last bits of entertainment from this particular charade and shut her mouth before slowly drawing herself into a sitting position. Moodily she stared at the fire and reflected that things were not going as planned. At all.

Still, to Kagome's grateful surprise - or rather, she would have been grateful if she had not been so sick, and she would have been surprised if she'd had the energy - they finished the burial just as the last orange rays of the sun disappeared beneath the horizon, saving her the burden of looking forward to more of the same tomorrow. What had seemed like an impossible number of corpses had merely been a difficult number of corpses, and more than half of them had been buried already, presumably by Fuyu herself and her league of helpers the day before. Small favors, Kagome thought, annoyed.

After her rather rude wake-up call, she'd spent over an hour in the stream that fed both the shrine and the village several miles to the east of them. It ran close to the campsite Sesshoumaru had picked out, convenient for water and bathing, and happily upstream of any major settlements so it was mercifully clean.

At some point during her bath Kagome had stopped trying to throw up and had started weeping, even though she didn't feel particularly sad or upset. She suspected it was merely a defense mechanism designed to relieve the stress of the day, though the fact that it clogged her nose and caused the skin around her bloodshot eyes to flush and puff up seemed pretty stressful in and of itself. Quietly Kagome had cursed whoever had designed the human body so poorly as she dunked herself in and out of the cool water, trying to wash away the red ugliness of her face.

When she returned to the campsite her mood had been further soured by the fact that Sesshoumaru talked her out of burning her outfit. She had wanted to put the clothing to the flame, as she was certain she would never get the corpse smell out if it and she had extras anyway, and besides, it would have been remarkably therapeutic to do so. He had not agreed.

She hadn't even seen him move. One second she was holding her arms out, ready to toss the fabric into the fire, and the next her wrists were caught in his hands and he was staring down at her with something like amusement. He hadn't even said anything.

She'd squirmed for a moment, feeling strangely fluttery under his gaze before she had capitulated. "Oh, all right," she'd scowled at him, disappointed at how easily she had caved to what he wanted. He let her go, turned around, and walked back to his tree where he settled down into his former posture. Her subsequent, obscenity-laden expedition back to the stream to do her laundry seemed to have only left a faint, amused smirk on his face.

So he didn't so much talk her out of it as startle her out of it, but that wasn't the point. The point was she hadn't burned her clothes, and she wasn't entirely certain she would ever be able to forgive him for forcing her to be sensible.

Now, clean and fresh and still nauseous beyond belief, Kagome propped her head on her hand and decided that she didn't want to be sensible. She wanted to throw a fit, have a nervous breakdown, and spend the rest of her life under a tree attempting to peel bits of sunlight off the ground and eat them. It would be like a vacation! And after today, didn't she deserve a vacation? Though now that she came to think of it, did heroes - or heroines, as the case might be - get vacations? Had Inuyasha?

Deep down inside, Kagome was aware that she was only attempting to distract herself from thinking of what she had done today, but she didn't care. So... vacations. Worriedly, Kagome frowned. Now that she was thinking of it, the only time she had ever really seen Inuyasha at rest was when he was in her home in the modern era. Or staked to Goshinboku, which seemed infinitely worse - would she have to seal herself away just to get some peace?

How depressing, Kagome thought glumly. As if I weren't depressed enough.

Sighing, she poked moodily at the fire.

From his comfortable position under his chosen tree, Sesshoumaru watched Kagome from beneath half-closed eyelids, studying her profile in the firelight; she was not facing his direction, so he took this opportunity to study her at his leisure. Slowly his gaze wandered over her, taking in her still-damp hair - gilded gold and glossy in the light of the flickering flames - then wandering lower to absorb the warmth of the skin of her face, and then to the soft, elegant curve of her throat as it swept downwards to the gentle swell of her breasts, covered in that strange, clinging fabric, and he couldn't help but wonder what it felt like, if the cloth was as soft as the body beneath it -

Sesshoumaru tore his eyes away and jerked his gaze to the leaves above, mouth curiously dry.

Ridiculous, he thought to himself. These stray thoughts seemed to be getting more and more insistent and he was becoming increasingly anxious about them. It was obvious that the pressure was beginning to affect him if he was letting himself find any sort of pleasure or comfort in her; he simply couldn't allow that. He couldn't allow himself to slip so badly, just like everyone expected him to do, couldn't allow himself to be so foolish as to strip away his own defenses again.

Clearly he had to think of something else. Something that wasn't Kagome ten feet away from him, barely covered by her soft, flimsy clothes, because he wasn't having this. He had more important things to think about. Like his home.

Oh, yes.


The word splashed over his heated mind like ice-water, and Sesshoumaru felt himself become sane again, pondering it.


He shifted uncomfortably against the bark of the tree, trying to dislodge the disquieting feeling that had settled in the base of his skull. It felt to him as though there was a tiny part of his mind missing, accidentally knocked loose in haste and left behind in the House of the Moon while he had taken Kagome and slipped away into the world. Now he felt its absence, and it left an itch at the base of his spine, urging him to turn around and go back for it, to assure himself with his own eyes that his home that he had fought so hard for was still standing.

Try as he might he could not shake the sense of foreboding that plagued him, that when he returned, his home would once again lay in smoking ruins. The only difference this time and the last would be that he had removed the things he valued before he left, instead of leaving them at the tender mercies of whoever decided to rise against him.

Sighing, Sesshoumaru shook his head very slightly and wished that he had accidentally left behind the part of his brain that insisted on worrying about things over which he had no current control. He was too far from it to do anything, and, entirely aside from that, whether his house was burned or overrun was not of any consequence; it would be easy enough to take it back. Truly, he need not worry. A movement from the corner of his eye dragged his attention from the darkness of his head to the light of the fire once again, and he found himself watching as Kagome reached back and began to comb her fingers through her hair, arching her back slightly and wincing at the sensations the gesture produced. Aside from her nausea she was obviously still sore from dragging corpses around.

Unfortunately, to his deep displeasure, the dejected look on her face did not fade even when she slumped into a more comfortable posture; instead the shadows of her eyes grew deeper as her brows drew fretfully together.

She was clearly unhappy about something. Frowning, Sesshoumaru cast about in his head, searching for something to say in hopes of clearing the distressing look from her face.

For her part Kagome was still moping about the cruel fate of heroines without pension plans when Sesshoumaru's voice cut through the quiet, surprising her slightly.

"You did well."

Kagome glanced up, mildly irritated at the interruption of her fascinating self-pity session, only to feel immediately guilty about her reaction.

She turned toward where her reluctant protector reclined at the edge of the small clearing, watching her, and caught his gaze. Blinking, Kagome let herself observe him.

She noted almost absently that the light of the fire turned the gold of his eyes to burnished amber, the silver of his hair to pale gold, transforming him into a creature of warmth rather than of cold. He had also shed his armor in order to sleep, so he looked smaller again, but she was certain this was only an illusion caused by the thickness of his clothes - the heavy fabric of the collar of his kimono and under-kimono fit loosely at the base of his throat, giving the impression that he was scrawny inside his clothing even though Kagome knew for a fact that this was not the case.

Unbidden a vision of him, slightly sweaty and bare to the waist, flashed across her mind, and for a brief moment she gave in to the pleasing memory, feeling that she had earned it.

Maybe being a heroine didn't pay very well, she decided, but at least the eye-candy was nice.


Realizing that she was staring at him with what might or might not be an embarrassing expression on her face, Kagome blushed. "Sorry," she muttered. "What did you say?"

He did not seem to have taken offense to her ogling. "I said that you did well today," he repeated for her. His voice was soft and soothing. For a brief moment Kagome felt the corded muscles wrapped tight across her back release just a little bit, until her stomach twitched in another spasm. She winced. "Thanks, but you don't have to lie," she said, turning back to the fire.

She didn't have to be looking at him to know that he was frowning. "I do not lie," he said, lightly indignant.

Despite her mood Kagome couldn't help but smile. "That's not what I meant," she said. "I meant that you don't have to flatter me. I can handle the truth." She glanced at him from the corner of her eye.

He had tilted his head, as if she had spoken in a different language, and Kagome wondered if he knew how utterly endearing his perplexity was to her. Her fingers twitched with the urge to reach out and smooth his lightly wrinkled brow - his expression of confusion was so subtle that one had to be looking for it to see it - but she refrained. Instead she smiled wanly. "I mean, I know I didn't do very well. I lost my breakfast and put my hand through some guy's stomach."

She watched as a tiny smile bloomed on his lips, making him more breath-taking than usual. "No," he said, "you did well. Most humans, upon coming across a battlefield, would most likely faint from the smell. You were only ill." His eyes narrowed a little as his gaze slid a foot to her right, to focus on the fire. "You may have even managed to make a good impression," he ventured blandly.

She grinned. "Now you're lying."

His smile widened, just a fraction. "Perhaps. But you should not worry overly much about it. I, myself, have put my hand through many stomachs."

Kagome felt her face twist. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?" she asked. "Because I have to say it's not very comforting to be reminded that you like stabbing people with your hands when you sleep ten feet away from me."

Pursing his lips, Sesshoumaru appeared to contemplate this point. "Really?" he said eventually. "I would have thought it would be reassuring."


He smirked a little, the minute flow of his expressions melting fluidly into each other. "Clearly it would be better to be able to kill with one's hands than not; that I am here should be comforting, as if we are disturbed I will be able to adequately dispose of the problem."

Dispose. He makes it sound so nice.

This conversation seemed to have taken a turn for the macabre, and Kagome went back to staring fixedly at the fire. Sometimes, she reflected gloomily, it was really unpleasant to remember that he was a youkai who, pretty hair and pretty body aside, happened to be very, very good at killing things. It was even in his name. Even more disturbing than this, however, was the fact that, in remembering this, she found him even sexier in that weird, power-trippy way that up until now she had not really considered to be appealing.

Stop that, hormones, she scolded herself. This is getting pathetic. Why the hell was she so fixated on him? Clearly, she needed a boyfriend. Preferably one that didn't enjoy going in through the ribs and rummaging around. Unless he was a surgeon. A rich surgeon. And not at all a deadly youkai with pretty hair.

Kagome suppressed both a groan and the urge to bury her face in her hands.

Who's hopeless? she thought almost giddily. It's me! Totally me. I need therapy.

She giggled out loud. God, she could only imagine how that session would go.

So you say you were once in love with a hanyou?

Why yes, doctor, but now he's dead. Incidentally, his half-brother is pretty smokin', seems to enjoy cutting people's heads off, and I think I have a crush on him.


Another small spasm squeezed through her abdomen, and Kagome shut her eyes tightly until the pain passed. She didn't dare look at Sesshoumaru, suddenly feeling irrationally embarrassed that he had witnessed her sickness. It was disgusting, sure, but he'd lived for... ever. Obviously he'd seen such things before. She just wished, at this moment, that he hadn't seen such things connected to her.

Kagome sighed. This was all getting too complicated, and the obvious solution was to stop thinking about it entirely and ignore it. Ignoring problems made them go away, right?

"Why do you laugh?"

She lifted her head and looked at him, only slightly startled. "Did I?" she said. In her head she began to retrace her mental steps, looking for something funny.

Sesshoumaru was staring at her with a peculiar expression on his face; like all his expressions it was subtle, though she was unfamiliar with this one and was therefore unable to pin down what it meant. "You did," he informed her, just as she remembered the whole therapy thing, which she certainly could not share with him.

Kagome giggled again, this time out of nervousness. "Um," she ventured, searching for the right words, "I was just thinking of what I'm going to do once I get home again." Safe! "And what is that?" he wanted to know.

Not safe! Kagome tried again. "I was actually thinking of all the therapy I'll have to go through when I get back."

The youkai tilted his head, and she couldn't help but stare as an errant tendril of hair brushed against his neck, the muscles beneath the skin thrown into sharp relief by the movement and the firelight. Kagome scooted away from the fire so she could have a better view.

"What is therapy?" he asked.

My, but he was chatty tonight. Kagome gave him a smile before she looked away and pursed her lips, trying to think of some explanation that would make sense to him.

Sesshoumaru watched as her mouth pouted slightly, and wondered, eyes glazing a little, exactly what she was thinking. She appeared to be pondering deeply over her answer, so he assumed that it was one that required a bit of an explanation - more, perhaps, than she was qualified to give - and she was trying to think of how to phrase it. He already knew that things in her time were far more complicated than they were here, so he decided not to pressure her further and instead settled for observing her as she licked her lips and contemplated.

For a long moment, watching as she ran her little pink tongue over the pouting flesh of her lower lip in pursuit of an answer for him, Sesshoumaru found himself transfixed by its motion. Over and over it swept - there was no harm in watching, right? watching meant nothing - before slipping back between her lips. Over and over, again and again, and then he slipped and for a hot, dizzy moment he could not stop himself from imagining chasing that little tongue with his own.

But no, no, no. That was not allowed. And yet he was so tense and she was so terribly distracting that he could almost forget the problems surrounding them. She relaxed him.

Until, that is, he felt, at least one of their problems begin to assert itself at the corner of his consciousness

The unwelcome pleasure he found in watching her faded immediately, leaving behind only anger with himself and the tickle of danger at the edge of his mind. A frown began to tug at his features.

Kagome, oblivious to his sudden distraction, finally alighted on a proper explanation. "Therapy is..." she started, then paused, frowning. "Therapy is when you go to a doctor and you talk about your problems."

Sesshoumaru, only half-listening, dredged a vague response from his divided brain. "Illness?" he asked absently.

At the edge of his mind, something he knew all too well, something that up until now had never been a problem, was stirring coldly, creeping ever closer.

Shaking her head, Kagome rolled her eyes. "No. Yes. Well, sort of," she fumbled, still staring at the flames. "Sort of like illnesses in the head, but not really. I mean, you talk about your relationships with other people, and the things that bother you, and bad things that happened to you when you were five and that make you wake up at night, or whatever." When he spoke again, he sounded even more distant and scattered than before. "Relationships?" The puzzlement beneath his voice, spreading out like cracks on a frozen lake, inspired a giggle to bubble in her throat. Kagome squashed it ruthlessly; she wanted to encourage his questions, not discourage them.

She pressed her lips into a thin line and stared at nothing. "Yeah. Like..." She squinted, trying to think of an example. "Like... okay, you know you and Inuyasha? You guys had a bad relationship, and so one or the other of you, or both of you, I guess, could go and talk to someone and try to work out your problems with each other."

Sesshoumaru didn't say anything to that, but Kagome was suddenly aware of a thickening of the air between them. Sliding her gaze to the tree where he sat, she saw his face growing darker, drawing down with displeasure until he looked positively menacing.

Hastily she turned away again and tried to amend her explanation. "I mean," she continued, voice gaining a slightly shrill edge, "Inuyasha would go to the therapist, and he'd say, 'my brother hates me and tries to kill me,' and the therapist would say, 'why do you think he does that?' and then Inuyasha would say, 'because he envies my sword -'"

Kagome was dimly aware she was babbling, but she couldn't seem to stop. With fascinated trepidation she listened to the suicidal diatribe spilling out of her mouth.

" - and then he'd break down crying and be forced to pay the therapist twenty thousand yen for an hour, and eventually he might ask you to come with him to therapy and you might be forced to talk about how much you hate your father and you would both hug and cry and end up recon - "

There was the sensation of whiteness, of wind, and silk, whipping past her face - on her nose she felt the sharp sting from the lashing of the hem of a sleeve - and then she was alone in the clearing.

" - ciling," she finished dejectedly.

Well, what had she expected would be the result of that little speech? Miserably, she folded herself into an upright fetal position again, though this time the pain was centered in her chest. Stupid.

The fire crackled loudly, and she felt very alone. First burying dead bodies, now this.

There was a lump in her throat.

"And then I would go to a therapist and wonder why I always manage to sabotage all my relationships with men," she muttered darkly, letting her head come to rest on her knees, hugging her legs to her.

Stupid, she thought. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid. Miserably, Kagome squeezed her eyes shut. And in the darkness of the forest beyond the firelight, Sesshoumaru let his mind go blank until he knew nothing but the bite of the earth beneath his boots, the wind weaving through his hair, and the sudden, sharp smell of -

After a long moment there was the crunch of a footfall on a branch.

Kagome's head snapped up, every muscle in her body tensing, as Sesshoumaru emerged from the trees around her and back into the circle of firelight.

"Um..." she said.

The youkai lord's eyes fell on her, pinning her to the ground.

He had a very thoughtful look on his face.

Swallowing hard, her own eyes widening, Kagome attempted damage control. "I'm sorry!" she said desperately, unfolding to her knees and leaning toward where he stood, nearly begging. "I didn't mean to offend you! I know you and Inuyasha had a terrible relationship and you would never have it any other way and he was a stain on your honor or something and you didn't hate your father and wouldn't cry or hug Inuyasha, and I just wasn't thinking!"

He said nothing.

Kagome felt tears swelling up. "Sesshoumaru," she said softly, "I am so, so - "

Deliberately, Sesshoumaru raised a glistening, claw-tipped hand, and flicked blood from his fingers.

Kagome shut up.

He was still looking at her thoughtfully as he lifted his fingers to his mouth and sucked the blood away, very deliberately, and once again she found herself struggling to keep her writhing stomach in check.

Then, very as though finally deciding on something, he strode to where she sat, bent, and snaked an arm around her. Ignoring her surprised squeak he lifted her easily in one hand before gathering her sleeping bag in the other and walking back to the tree where he had been sitting scant moments before. With a quick snap of his hand, the sleeping bag was laid out beneath the tree, and he was lowering her to the slick fabric.

"Hey - " she protested feebly. She was tingling beneath the pressure of his hands, and his long hair brushed over her skin as he set her down, causing her to shiver.

Then he straightened, took one step to the side, and lowered himself against the tree, resuming his former position and not seeming to care that his knee was actually brushing against her leg. "You will sleep here with me," he said.

She could tell that it wasn't a question or even a statement, but an order, and something snapped.

"Excuse me!" Kagome retorted sharply, suddenly rankled by his attitude. She pushed herself into a half-sitting position, propped up on one elbow so she could better yell at him. "That was really rude! I like sleeping by the fire. What the hell?"

The youkai lord next to her spared her a startled glance, as if he were surprised that she would take issue with his sudden manhandling.

For his part, Sesshoumaru was attempting to order his thoughts into some semblance of coherence and managing to fail rather spectacularly. Swiftly he closed his eyes and tried to block out all outside distractions, a task that was suddenly much more difficult than it had been two seconds ago due to the fact that Kagome seemed disinclined to move away from him.

So, he thought to himself, struggling to ignore both the fact that Kagome was practically sitting in his lap and his disappointment that she was not doing so, what do we have here?

We have one dead youkai. He concentrated on the sobering thought.

One dead, stupid youkai that he had vaguely recognized, as he had run across him once or twice while patrolling his lands. This particular demon was - no, wait, had been, Sesshoumaru corrected himself, this particular demon had been - high level, but only barely. His human form was only human in the loosest of senses; he still retained most of his serpentine features - eyes bugged and slitted, tongue long and limber, slight brown-green cast to his skin - and was rather thick, as only a fool would approach Kagome while he was at her side.

Or rather, only a fool would approach her with the kill on his mind, unless they believed him to be so weak as to be incapable of defending her. Which was foolish.

Foolish and insulting.

Well, no matter, he supposed glumly. The lizard was dead and was no longer around to insult him, but the fact that he'd had only one night of respite before the hunt had begun did not bode well for the next month. While normally he would look forward to a month of diverting engagements such as this, for some reason Sesshoumaru found himself disheartened rather than invigorated by the prospect. There was, of course, the enjoyable knowledge that he was essentially crushing all who opposed him, but under that was the less-than-enjoyable knowledge that 'all who opposed him' was probably a very large number. He did not foresee much rest in the coming weeks.

The very thin and quite tarnished silver lining to this cloud seemed to be that his life was interesting again. Indeed, even the very immediate future promised to be full of incident. Which brought him to Kagome.

What else do we have? We have one vulnerable miko. One vulnerable, maddening miko to whom he had devoted far too much of himself. It was somehow worse to know that, while he was not entirely certain how much too much happened to be, it was most certainly still too much for his own good.

And we have one foolish inuyoukai, incapable of learning from his mistakes.

Apparently he truly was an idiot. Who would have guessed?

But even though he knew exactly how to rectify this problem that still did not mean that he was going to do so.

With melancholy resignation Sesshoumaru found himself assuming a state of suicidal calm concerning the situation, seeming to accept the fact that, one way or another, he was headed straight for calamity.

There. Simple.

She was still glaring at him, demanding to know why she had suddenly been subjected to forcible relocation. Sesshoumaru blinked beneath the weight of her gaze.

"Apologies," he said abruptly. "It is not safe for you to be far away."

To his surprise, he felt her relax a little, her body draping more comfortably against the ground. "Oh," she replied.

"You understand," he said.

Kagome, still a tad stunned, blinked at the sound of his voice.

You understand.

It wasn't really a question, but it wasn't a statement either. It sounded almost like a plea, as if he were worried that she would be angry, or upset with him. She wasn't quite certain what he wanted to hear from her.

Somewhere in the trauma of the day, Kagome had forgotten that she was in danger. The events of the past five minutes - his extreme displeasure, his rapid departure, the blood on his claws - made sense to her now. He had killed a demon that had been hunting them. Or her.

Kagome shuddered, and suddenly his hand was resting against her face, high on her cheekbone, long fingers subtly weaving through the hair at her temple. Her eyes snapped to his face, and she could not turn away from him. She watched as, very, very slowly, Sesshoumaru ran his thumb over the arch of her eyebrow and stole her breath. He was staring at his own hand as though it were foreign to him, as if he had no control over it, as if he were surprised that it had fastened itself in her hair; he looked as though he had no idea how he had arrived here, at this time and in this place, with her.

"You understand," he repeated, and the strange, pleading note strung through his words tugged at something deep behind her chest.

"Yes," she finally said, feeling somewhat helpless.

He nodded, suddenly withdrawing and folding his hands into his sleeves, as if he had never touched her.

"Go to sleep," he commanded.

She felt the rumble of his voice roll through her and she shivered again, though this time it was not out of fear.

Taking a deep breath, Kagome lowered herself again to the sleeping bag beneath her and closed her eyes, but she could not escape the fact that he was so close to her and yet still so far away. She felt exposed.

She could hear him breathing.

Troubled, Kagome let her fingers creep across the ground, almost of their own accord, until her fingertips brushed over cool silk. She heard his small intake of breath as he tensed when she let herself grab his sleeve and drag it closer to her body, resting the hand attached to it against her chest. After a moment she heard a long, low sigh, and felt him relax.

She was glad he was not going to reclaim his clothes. Connected to him now she felt... safe. Protected. Absently, she wove the white trailing fabric of his sleeve through her fingers, drawing it around her hand like a shield and, for the first time in a long while, when she finally sank down into dreams, Kagome slept truly peacefully.


Very calmly Kagome reflected that today had really not lived up to its promise upon waking, though as she had essentially awoken curled up against a very finely shaped leg, there had been very few ways for the day to get any better so she should probably not have been surprised. She sighed and suppressed a yawn. Poorly.

Then, for the thirteenth time that day, Fuyu hit her over the head with a wooden spoon.

"Ow!" Kagome cried, snatching her hands away from the bandage she was securing. Unfair! her mind protested. It was just a yawn! A yawn. Give me a break! Miserably she shied away, throwing her arms up to protect herself, though even that gesture seemed to take reserves of energy she didn't have. She wasn't a machine, after all, and considering the way she felt Fuyu should just be happy she wasn't nose down in maggoty wounds. Dammit, the woman was lucky she was only yawning!

At the thought of yawning, Kagome suppressed another yawn.

God, but she was so tired.

It wasn't even that she hadn't slept well - she had slept marvelously, in fact - but that she had not slept much; it had been quite late when she had finally drifted off and she had been exhausted to begin with. That in and of itself would not have been so bad except that Fuyu had demanded that she be up and about before dawn, and though Kagome had found a great deal of vaguely illicit pleasure waking up next to Sesshoumaru, she had also found a great deal of extraordinarily cranky displeasure at being woken while it was still dark.

There had been hand on her shoulder, gently shaking her awake.

Her limbs were heavy and sore, and her stomach was still upset. No, she had thought sullenly. She was still so tired...

As though reading her mind the owner of the hand had paused in its movement, and Kagome began to sink back down into slumber.

The shaking started up again, more earnestly this time.

"No," she mumbled petulantly to her tormentor.

"Yes," Sesshoumaru murmured.

At that low rumble of his voice the more wanton parts of her brain had decided that she was just sleepy enough to claim ignorance of anything she did while half-conscious, and so she scooted closer to him and latched on to his hakama - in addition to still holding his sleeve - before pressing her face against his thigh.

Oh wait. Yes, she agreed with him, in the privacy of her head.

It was - it felt - so nice and she was so tired that entirely unconsciously she squirmed a little against him in an attempt to burrow. It was so nice, in fact, that she almost missed the strange stiffening of his limbs before his hands moved to hers in an attempt to carefully disengage her fingers from the folds of his clothing. This only made her cling tighter. After a minute of this small battle of wills she had felt him shake her one last time, but, as she was too busy snuggling further against him to respond, he finally sighed and stood up. She was holding his clothes so tightly that she pulled herself into a half-sitting position before her sleep-slackened limbs failed her and she hit the ground.

That woke her fully.

"Ow!" she protested, glaring at Sesshoumaru as if it were his fault.

"You told me you needed to be up before dawn," he informed her blandly as he straightened his clothing. Secretly, Kagome found herself mildly disappointed to see that she had not managed to divest him of his shirt in her undignified tumble, but reluctantly nodded her head.

"Right," she said. "Sorry." Absently Kagome flexed her fingers - how tightly had she been holding his sleeve anyway? Had she really held it all night? - before bringing her hands to her face and rubbing vigorously in an attempt to work some life into herself. She felt like a zombie.

After a few moments of unsuccessful attempted resurrection, she climbed to her feet despite the screaming protests of her body and tripped to her backpack. Blearily she had rummaged around in its depths for a long moment until she suddenly withdrew triumphantly, holding aloft the scrap of rough fabric she used to wash herself. Grabbing her clothes and the bar of soap that she had left out to dry, she began to stumble in the general direction of the stream.

Kagome was almost at the water before she realized that he had followed her.

"Excuse me?" she said turning around to glare at him. "It's rude to watch a lady bathe."

Sesshoumaru only shrugged, a strange, absent look in his eyes, as though he were not really seeing her. Kagome let out a huff of annoyance. "Hello?" she said, taking a step toward him.

With a little tremor, the youkai lord appeared to shake himself out of his strange, faraway trance. "What?" he said, as though he had not heard her.

She ground her teeth. "What are you doing here?" she demanded.

He shrugged, though this time she could tell that he was answering her question and not merely executing a reflexive gesture at the sound of her voice. "Youkai," he said simply.

Kagome recalled the blood and flushed in exasperation as she suppressed a shudder.

"Fine," she had said. "But can't you at least give me some privacy?"

She watched as he blinked, and then turned and walked back into the trees. He had effectively ruined the last of her languor. Hastily she scrubbed herself down and changed into the sturdier, warmer haori and hakama before she had hurried back through the trees to their little campsite. She found him standing under the tree beneath which they had slept, appearing to sniff the air, entirely failing to acknowledge her presence.

More discomfited than ever, Kagome had bent down and quickly removed as many extraneous items as possible from her backpack, setting them down next to her sleeping bag before shouldering the green monstrosity and turning in the direction of the shrine.

Sesshoumaru said nothing when he drew alongside her. In fact, he resisted all her attempts at conversation and had remained silent during the entire trek through the trees and across the field to the shrine, not taking his eyes off the path in front of them except to lift his head and sniff the air from time to time.

All of this had conspired to make Kagome a nervous wreck by the time they had reached the long flight of steps leading up to the main building. He hadn't even said anything when she had cheerfully bade him a wavering goodbye; instead he only looked at her intently before nodding his head in an absent-minded way and turned his back on her. She watched as his white figure floated across the field to disappear into the forest, where he would probably to catch up on all the sleep he'd missed out on by waking her. But she wasn't bitter about that. Not at all.


Even so, Kagome was deeply regretting telling him that she had needed to be up before dawn as clearly she was not energetic enough to last the day. The moment she had crested the shrine steps, already weary, her mentor had greeted her with a sharp rap on the head and a scolding for being late. Now Kagome found herself nearly dead on her feet, but she didn't even care if it earned a beating with an even larger and more lethal kitchen utensil from Fuyu - the extra sleep might have been worth it.

As it was she was already developing an almost Pavlovian reaction to the spoon, so that even when Fuyu lifted the hand that held it to do something else - use it to root through the basket next to her, or to scratch her back - she flinched.

Why a spoon and where the hatchet-faced miko had acquired it was a complete mystery to Kagome, but aside from its use as crevasse-scraper it seemed to be the sour woman's favorite toy. Each time Kagome slipped or failed to do something perfectly the old miko would whack her across the crown of the head with it, usually accompanying her assault with the words, 'pay attention,' or 'foolish girl,' or 'no! no!' as if she were no more than an errant puppy. It was beginning to get annoying, and Kagome was certain that she would have an impressive collection of knots on her scalp by the end of the day. She did not look forward to trying to sleep that night, nor to the amount of aspirin she would be forced to inhale.

Kagome sighed as she winced at this newest insult to her person. At her reaction to Fuyu's correctional methods the samurai whose injury she was currently attending gave her an unkind smirk, and only with truly monumental self-restraint did Kagome decline to squeeze down on the festering wound in his arm that she was attempting to bind. Admittedly a lot of her restraint came from the knowledge that if his wound were not better tomorrow then Fuyu would be forced to cut away the green, runny bits from the man's arm, but she still felt miffed.

She settled for wrinkling her nose at him. He leered at her.

"Foolish girl!" Fuyu squawked, ignoring the hostile engagement occurring between her patient and her assistant. "Pay attention!" She raised her arm as though to strike again.

Quickly Kagome covered her head with her arms, the ends of the bandage loosening when she let go. "What the hell did I do now?" she said plaintively.

The old miko's face twisted in clear distaste, an action that caused her old, sun-weathered features to crease even further into their well-worn wrinkles, and left Kagome with the impression of a pointy, constipated raisin. "Tie it tight!" Fuyu squawked. "Tight, girl, tight! What do you think you're doing, tying up your hair?"

"But - " Kagome began.

"And why isn't your hair tied anyway?" she added, not allowing Kagome to protest the order with words like 'circulation' and 'tourniquet' and 'nerve death.' "Go tie it up!"

When she hesitated, Fuyu whapped the spoon against her arm, causing her to yelp and tumble sideways.

"Now! Now!" she barked.

Hurriedly, Kagome scrambled the ten feet to her backpack. Rooting around inside, she reflected for the umpteenth time that she was glad she had thought to bring the enormous bag with her; at the very least her wide collection of bandages and strange, medicinal unguents had caused Fuyu to grunt her grudging approval.

The second her fingers closed on an elastic band, she hauled it out of the depths, as she was too annoyed and too tired to bother fishing out a more acceptable ribbon. Raking her hands through her hair she pulled it back into a high ponytail and savagely bound it, gritting her teeth at the bangs that fell in her eyes. It had been a while since she'd had a trim, and now she found herself a little peeved that she had failed to find the time to see to it before she'd jumped into the well.

No scissors, she thought idly. Just one of a myriad of things she lacked here in the past. Fluffing them as best she could she quickly turned back to Fuyu and the samurai with the infected arm, drawing up next to the old miko who was currently finishing Kagome's clearly inferior mummification job.

"This is how you tie a bandage on a wound like this," Fuyu said authoritatively. "None of your weak little knots." With this announcement, she yanked on the ends of the bandage, tightening it. The man's face twisted in pain, and Kagome could see that he was clenching his teeth in order to keep from crying out. Glaring down at him, Fuyu stood and brushed the detritus of the courtyard from her knees. "That wouldn't hurt so much if you'd kept it clean like I told you," she said. Kagome thought this was only rubbing salt in an already grievous wound, but kept her thoughts to herself.

From the corner of her eye, Kagome watched as Fuyu surveyed the gathering that had filled her shrine with the air of one who was itching to do some painful good in the world. Suppressing a grimace, Kagome let her attention likewise wander to the activity that was going on around her.

It was mid-afternoon. She should have been learning combat at this point in the day, but the sun had already passed the midpoint in the sky and Kagome had yet to find a suitable stopping point in their work so that she could excuse herself and go begging for instruction. She sighed with regret as she watched the samurai around her.

Some of the soldiers were already packing up and getting ready to leave - their injuries had been minor enough for them to depart after they had finished with the battlefield - and Kagome could see that some of them had loaded pieces of scavenged armor onto their backs, no doubt to sell or trade on their way home or on their way back to their daimyo for the next battle. She couldn't help but feel a tiny twinge of distaste at the idea, but she knew that such things were the way of this world.

Less cheering were the other soldiers up and about, stretching their limbs, moping over their wounds, or helping with the upkeep of the shrine that had sheltered and healed them. Still others were reclining quietly in the shade, too hurt to move, sleeping through their pain. She knew she would have to tend most of them before her time here was finished.

And here she was, moaning about a few lumps on her head. It was all rather depressing.

From the corner of her eye, Kagome caught the slight twitch of Fuyu's spoon-hand, and hastily she bent to gather the basket full of medical supplies to her chest; after all, even if she couldn't tie a bandage to satisfaction, she could at least make a good pack horse.

The older miko looked almost disappointed that Kagome had thwarted her rod of correction, but the look was so brief that Kagome was uncertain whether she had seen it at all. Swiftly Fuyu turned around and strode along the row of soldiers, her eagle eye singling out those who needed her help most today, and Kagome found herself stumbling along behind, shuffling to keep the unwieldy, overflowing basket steady in her arms. Only about fifteen meters away Fuyu found someone else who needed to suffer her attention, and Kagome almost ran over her when she knelt down next to a man who was clearly favoring a black and blue arm.

Fuyu didn't spare her a glance.

With as much dignity as possible Kagome knelt next to her as the old miko inspected the forearm of the older man with one long, pointy finger. With each poke, the man winced and let out a whimper of pain.

"Why didn't you say something before?" Fuyu demanded sharply.

The soldier just shook his head; if Kagome hadn't known better, she would have sworn that he was wary of Fuyu..

"Hmmph," the miko replied, clearly displeased. She turned to Kagome and gave her an appraising look before her eyes flickered to the sky.

Kagome held her breath.

Fuyu lowered her eyes to her face again. "Found someone to teach you swordplay yet?" she demanded.

Blinking at the non-sequitur, Kagome mutely shook her head. "I haven't had any ti - "

"Good," Fuyu cut her off. "Because I'm going to need you this afternoon, too."

Kagome's heart fell. "Oh," was all she could think to say.

She watched as the old woman lifted her arms and shook the long, bell-like sleeves of her haori down to her elbows.

"So," she said bluntly, "how would you like to learn how to set a bone, girl?"

"Uh," Kagome said intelligently.

Fuyu ignored her. "Here, take his wrist."

Gingerly, Kagome moved forward, noticing that the soldier was eyeing her with great distrust. The feeling was entirely mutual.

Please don't hit me when I do this, she thought fervently as her fingers wrapped tentatively around the man's wrist. His skin was cool and dry under her slightly sweaty palm, and Kagome found that she had to withdraw her hand and wipe it on her hakama first before reclaiming the appendage. "Tighter, girl," Fuyu snapped. "Now grab him here." With a long bony finger, the old woman poked at the fleshy part of the man's forearm, just below his elbow.

"Miko-sama," the man said nervously, "is this girl - ?"

"She's my assistant," Fuyu said, cutting him off. "Is that not good enough for you?"

The man seemed to quail beneath the stony glare she trained on him. "Never mind," he muttered, looking away.

The old woman just nodded, and placed her hands on Kagome's own. "Good," she said, adjusting her grip to be firm against Kagome's fingers. "You feel that little bend, where the bone's slightly off?"

Frowning, Kagome looked intently at the man's arm, trying to see the break.

Abruptly one of the hands left hers, and Kagome winced. Her expectation was satisfied when she felt the sharp rap across her crown.

"Ow," she muttered reflexively, and she heard the man snigger. Suddenly she felt a lot less uncomfortable jerking his bones back into place.

"Don't look," Fuyu instructed, placing her hands back on those of her apprentice, "feel."

Kagome jerked her head in a quick nod, tightening her grip.

There was only the slightest intake of breath to warn her.

"And - " Fuyu muttered, and then her strong hands wrenched and twisted.

The man shrieked, his eyes rolling back in his head, and Kagome dropped his arm as he snatched it away, afraid that she would hurt him further. The sounds of his pain made her skin bunch together and try to crawl off the top of her head.

"Damn!" the old miko exclaimed over the man's groans. "Didn't I tell you to grip him hard?"

"Oh god - " This was her fault? Great. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean - "

"Again! Grip him again!"

Behind her, Kagome heard a chorus of lascivious giggles bubble up from the surrounding men, clearly entertained by this unintended double entendre. Face flaming scarlet, Kagome reached out and grabbed the man's wrist again, clamping down so hard she thought she might cut off his circulation. Fuyu's hands went around her own again, but this time they didn't feel as tight. "Now pay attention!" the woman barked.

Together their hands tensed, and beneath her fingers Kagome felt the man try to escape one last time before Fuyu jerked her arms, bringing the two pieces of bone together.


Kagome's stomach turned violently at the sound, but the man had nearly passed out from the pain and Fuyu had already drawn a thick splint from the bottom of her basket. Kagome watched as she placed it against the man's arm and began to wind length after length of bandage around it.

"Ugh," was Kagome's comment when the old woman finished. Fuyu just gave her a disdainful look.

"I've a lot of things to do this afternoon. Think you're ready to set bones on your own?" she asked scornfully.

Closing her eyes, Kagome groaned.

Fuyu hit her with the spoon.


The slight drag of skin pulled at his fingers, and then the youkai's head was rolling down the slight incline of the hill, the muscles of its neck already being eaten away with poison and glistening in the late afternoon sunshine.

There really was nothing like the feel of flesh parting beneath his claws, Sesshoumaru reflected as he surveyed his gruesome handiwork, and the extra shot of poison released - which, for some reason, always seemed doubly relaxing - was just a bonus on top of it. And yet there seemed to be little joy in this exercise today, and, now that he thought of it, the slaying of the lizard last night hadn't held much satisfaction either; normally Sesshoumaru would find himself reveling in the defeat of his enemies, but at the moment he only felt a little tired, as though the task of slaughter had become tedious to him.

It was a terrible feeling.

There had never been a time when he could not find some scrap of pleasure in laying low those that sought his downfall, and the fact that he failed to do so now was plaguing him. He had entertained and then discarded the notion that since these particular enemies were there for Kagome's blood and not his own the joy was leeched from the kill, but as she was under his protection it stood to reason that anyone who attacked her attacked him as well. Then he had thought it might be because he knew there were many more waiting to replace these, but that idea should have filled him with relish instead of this strange ennui. He could not figure it out, and all day his mind had been straying from his patrol to Kagome, and then to his home, and then back to Kagome again. In many ways he was a very single-minded man, and this feeling of being split between loyalties was strange and disconcerting to him; his home was his land was his charge to protect, and yet she was...


For the millionth time, Sesshoumaru gave up on trying to define her. Surely he was far too invested in one human girl, and he knew all too well where this road led; why he had let this happen again - and, worse, why he allowed this to continue - was a mystery to him, but all his half-hearted struggles to change the strange tug she inspired were in vain. Kagome ruined his world, tossed it all into disarray, and yet he couldn't get rid of her no matter how badly he wanted to.

He couldn't even find any joy in slaughter. His satisfaction in the kill was so terribly grim, and there were more coming didn't inspire in him any anticipation; on the contrary he found that he dreaded it.

Deeply disgruntled, Sesshoumaru lifted his head and sniffed the wind. There had only been the scent of one hostile youkai all day - the tiny, harmless spirits that lived in trees and rocks could be safely left alone - and he could not smell another one. He did not know whether to be grateful or suspicious of this fortuitous occurrence, and, growling, he wondered why he was making himself so miserable for such an insignificant human woman.

He could still kill her. He could simply abandon her. Every day spent with her just caused them to become more and more entangled, caused him to think of her more and more, and things became progressively worse. She was such a huge problem; he couldn't afford to get any more involved with her for many reasons, and yet he just couldn't walk away.

There was a cold feeling in his gut whenever she crossed his mind. Had he killed all the threats to her? Had he ensured her safety sufficiently? What if she was under attack at the shrine and he had not detected it?

Why did this bother him so much more than the thought of his home which was, at this moment, only half-way defended?

Why was he doing this again?

Unease crept through his chest, chill and hollow.

He felt the pull of his home at the base of his spine, but he could also smell, on the wind, the scent of the shrine, full of holy power and sickness, and somewhere within it, so lost that he could not sense her, was the woman.

For a long moment his feet twitched as he felt himself tugged in two different directions before he sighed in defeat.

Sesshoumaru turned toward the stronger pull and leapt away.

Back at the shrine and oblivious to Sesshoumaru's inner turmoil, Kagome watched with exhausted amusement as their current patient strove to make himself more trouble than he was worth. He was a nondescript samurai, with black hair and brown eyes and a strangely sardonic face, and he seemed to be deliriously intoxicated. Fuyu was attempting wrestle a bottle of sake out of his hands but, unfortunately, he didn't seem to want to let go of it.

"Stop it!" she snapped as Kagome knelt behind her mentor and hovered. Her hard, bony hands slapped at the man's fingers. "You need water, not sake!"

Kagome stole a glance at the recalcitrant man. His skin appeared waxy and drawn, but his face was lively enough as he smirked at the older miko and he did not seem to be particularly ill or in any pain, though the fact that he was drunk might have had something to do with that. She wondered what was wrong with him.

"But miko-san," he said lightly, though his hands on the bottle were like a vise, "water doesn't drown the pain as well."

"You'd have less pain sooner if you stopped drinking sake!" Fuyu almost shouted. "Where do you get this stuff anyway? I told you no more!"

Kagome watched as the man's lips parted in a strange grin full of bizarrely pearly teeth, and she realized that he was still very young. "It's a secret," he whispered almost maniacally.

Fuyu's eyes narrowed dangerously. "If I ever find out who's bringing you all this sake I'm going to skin them alive. Then I'll skin you alive!"

"Why don't you skin me alive now, miko-san?" the samurai suggested, sounding almost sincere. "Then I'd be out of your hair, and you wouldn't have to yell at me for drinking."

"Because I have a duty, whelp! As much as I wish your tongue would rot out of your head, I have a duty to see to your well-being!" She tugged harder on the bottle, and involuntarily Kagome scooted backwards, away from the struggle. "As undeserving of that well-being as you may be!" Fuyu added, sniffing.

"Yes, miko-san," the man said. "And if you would let me drink sake in peace, my well-being would be secured."

The old woman was livid. "You ungrateful - !" she began.

"Oh my, miko-san, temper! I didn't know holy women were allowed such language."

"Bah!" she cried. "I didn't know samurai lacked such self-control!"

"It takes much self-control to put up with your nagging." Fuyu gave another ferocious tug on the bottle. "You keep this up and you'll drink yourself to death," she snapped.

"If only you would let me," he remarked mildly.

"Maybe I - " Fuyu began.

Without warning the samurai let go of the sake and Fuyu, overbalanced from her tugging, jerked backwards. The bottle flew out of her hands to drift through the air, over and over, until it came down to smash against the stones, and Kagome flinched at the sound of shattering pottery. There was, quite obviously, no more liquid left in it.

"Stupid," Fuyu muttered before turning to Kagome. "Go clean that up."

Speechless, Kagome nodded and shot to her feet, shuffling anxiously away from them, though she could hear Fuyu scolding the man - you drunk bastard - and the man responding to her accusations - heartless bitch - as the squabble continued behind her.

I am so out of my league, she thought miserably. Dead bodies, gangrene, surly patients, wooden spoons. This was so not part of the plan.

When she arrived at the scene of the crime she realized that she couldn't very well pick up the sharp pieces one by one and carry them out of the way, and she frowned in annoyance. Glancing around quickly Kagome finally spotted an empty basket someone had left at the side of the main house, and she retrieved it before kneeling down next to the broken bottle. To her relief it hadn't broken into very many pieces - one of the advantages of pottery over glass, she supposed - and the pieces weren't as sharp as she had expected. She sighed with relief as she gathered the large shards and placed them in the basket, though the smell of alcohol that still clung to them made her stomach, which seemed to have settled into a permanent state of delicacy, turn over just a little.

She coughed, loading smooth curves of clay onto the stiff woven grass, until the stones beneath her feet were completely clear.

For a moment, Kagome sat quietly and stared at the broken bottle, her fatigue nearly overwhelming as the bright, sinking sun casting the chunks of pottery in sharp shadows that made her eyes hurt. She wondered what to do with it now.

Over her shoulder, Fuyu and the ill samurai were still sniping back and forth at each other, and Kagome felt almost grateful to the man for being so unwieldy that even Fuyu had trouble with him, because it meant that she was safe from the spoon for another minute or two. Heaving a sigh, she looked up to study the shrine around her and, entirely unexpectedly, her eyes fell upon the white-clad figure of Sesshoumaru, perched gracefully in one of the towering trees overshadowing the opposite wall - the eastern wall - across the compound. She almost gasped in surprise before reining herself in.

He was looking at her strangely, and even when she caught his sharp gaze he did not look away, merely narrowed his eyes.

Normally she would have skipped a few heartbeats to be the object of such intense scrutiny, but the peculiar look on his face was so queer that she couldn't help but catch her breath at the low stirring in her stomach. In her cheeks she could feel the blood prickle as her mouth went dry.

His expression was so odd, as if he had suddenly found something thought forever lost, and yet he was still dissatisfied -

Kagome blinked, and the moment was gone. His eyes slid away from hers and in a whirl of white silk and silver hair he was gone again. Kagome stared after him, captivated and trying to catch her breath.

Still kneeling on the stones of the courtyard, Kagome was dangerously close to losing all forward momentum and becoming entirely sedentary, and she would have if it hadn't been for Fuyu's watchful eye.

The sharp thwap of the spoon brought Kagome back to the land of the living.

"Ow!" she squealed, hands flying to the impressive knot of bumps that she had collected since dawn.

"Stop that!" Fuyu squawked, waving the spoon in perilous circles. "I've lost most of my apprentices like that!"

Kneeling in a defensive position, peace shattered, Kagome gave in to the urge to snap back. "Like how?" she demanded to know. "By giving them all concussions?"

"Of course not! None of them were as stupid as you!" Fuyu retorted. "I lost them because they wouldn't stop doing what you were doing!"

"Resting?" Kagome asked snidely, reaching for the basket of pottery shards.

"No! Staring at men!"

Kagome froze and, with great effort, she concentrated very, very hard on disappearing. She was deeply disappointed that it didn't seem to work.

Come on, random bolt of lightening! she thought. Come on, alien abduction! From the corner of her eye, Kagome saw the wooden spoon twitch in the old woman's bony hand. The sight spurred her into action. Hastily she grabbed the basket and stood, trying to ignore the fact that her face was burning so brightly she could have guided planes in for landing, but even though she was blushing, she wasn't going to give Fuyu the satisfaction of seeing her bow her head in embarrassment.

Kagome lifted her chin and glared at the older miko.

Fuyu scoffed and turned away, shaking her head and sending her grey hair tossing. "So prideful," she muttered. Without another word she began to saunter off, back toward the line of convalescents shored up against the western wall of the shrine. Kagome stood, rooted in place.

After about six or seven steps Fuyu slowed and looked back over her shoulder. "Well?" she said. "Put those pieces by the main house. I'm sure we'll find a use for them. Then it's time you learned how to stitch up a stomach."


Kagome stumbled into camp just as the sun sank below the horizon to find Sesshoumaru, armor already discarded, propped against a tree. A fire was already crackling cheerfully. Unceremoniously she dumped her backpack on the ground and flopped down in the dirt.

"This job sucks," she announced.

Sesshoumaru didn't say anything, merely cracked his golden eyes and gave her a knowing look.

She stuck her tongue out at him.

He smirked, the strangeness she had seen in him at the shrine seemingly gone or buried. "I would put that away, unless I were meaning to use it," he said mildly.

Unfortunately, Kagome had been listening to the vague sexual suggestions of the soldiers all day, and was completely unfazed by his clearly teasing innuendo. She wasn't certain when, exactly, their banter had taken on sexual undertones, but with him she wasn't going to complain. It was everyone else she was annoyed with. "Hah!" she barked. "This is a perfectly acceptable use. I am expressing my annoyance with you."

She saw his eyebrows hike up fractionally. "Oh, really?" he said. "Why is that?"

"Because you got to sit around in a tree all day and I got used for piñata practice!"

"Piñata?" "Never mind," she replied, brushing him off. "I thought you were supposed to be out and about, on the prowl for youkai! Don't you have things to kill?" Though she couldn't sense any other demons nearby that did not necessarily mean there weren't any, and even if she was correct there were always wild animals to play with.

Play with. Yes. Distantly Kagome felt her eyes lose focus as she entertained a brief vision of Sesshoumaru, vaguely puzzled look on his face, batting a bear around and wondering why the bear didn't seem to be enjoying itself.

In front of her he shrugged, drawing her back into the present. "There was no current threat," he informed her mildly, obviously content with this state of affairs. Clearly he didn't think the constant abuse of her person by spoon-wielding mikos constituted a threat. Darn. No threat indeed.

"That's not the point!" she snapped at him, temper short. "The point is..."

She trailed off, frowning, trying to think through the pain and the fog.

Pain and fog? she thought. Oh, yes... "The point... the point is that my head hurts, I'm tired, I had to do a lot of really gross things, and I'm never touching a man again because all they do is give me creepy looks!" Kagome crossed her arms in a show of towering petulance. "I thought people were supposed to respect mikos! I was given no end of respect on my way over here, but now I just get innuendo'd at and you sit in trees! And I'm the one dressing their stupid wounds! What the hell?"

Feeling she had adequately expressed her displeasure, Kagome hugged her legs to her, rested her chin on her knees, and pouted at the fire, as though trying to garner its sympathy.

It crackled merrily away. Stupid fire, Kagome thought, and poked it.

Sesshoumaru had found her little diatribe slightly difficult to follow, but he thought he had the general idea. She was unhappy about the less savory things soldiers tended to say to women they suspected of being less than chaste. Yes, she wore the miko outfit, but they had all seen him arrive with her; it wasn't difficult to figure out what they were thinking. After all, the thought had most certainly crossed his own mind once or ten times, though it was always ruthlessly quashed before he could pursue it. Well, before he could pursue it much, at any rate.

He frowned, unwilling to dwell on that, instead entertaining the notion that maybe she just didn't understand the implications of their situation. Hadn't she run into this sort of thing when she traveled with the half-breed and the monk?

Sesshoumaru studiously ignored the strange swell of possessive irritation that arose at this thought.

Abruptly Kagome lifted her head and announced to the world: "Men suck!" before letting her chin fall back down to rest on her knees and resuming her pout. Obviously she did not, he concluded with a tiny bit of satisfaction. Frowning a little, Sesshoumaru chose not to enlighten her as to the reason for this treatment as it would probably only upset her, and she would find out soon enough anyway, he was sure. And if she didn't... well, that was all the better. He could only afford periodic checks on her well-being at the shrine - seeing her safe and relatively lively had soothed him more than he cared to admit this afternoon, but he couldn't spend all his time watching her - and he didn't want to think about worrying over her safety amongst her own kind as well.

Sighing, the youkai lord lifted a hand to his head, slowly massaging a temple as he tried to coax his thoughts into some semblance of order.

Kagome glared at the flames as she attempted to find the energy in her to get ready for bed. Couldn't she just fall over right now and slip into unconsciousness? Couldn't she just get a little shut-eye before she began the horrible, onerous task of preparing to sleep?

No. I can do this, she thought. I set a bone today. It went crunch. If I can set a bone - crunch - then I can certainly handle standing up and taking a bath.


With a dreadful certainty, Kagome knew that she was going to have nightmares about this quest for the rest of her life. Sometimes she had dreams with Aiko the dragon, and she frequently had dreams of the last battle - except in her dreams, things went wrong - but she knew that it would be a long time before she would be able to sleep peacefully again.

In fact, she was probably going to have nightmares tonight, no doubt about crunching bones and squelching corpses and oozing wounds that were going to have to be cut away and god she was so glad this wasn't her career. She would have never made it in medical school. Could not set bones for a living.


She was going to hear that tonight, she was sure of it.

Dammit, she mentally groaned as she heaved herself to her feet. Damn, damn, dammit. Kagome leaned over and wrenched her bag open before she grabbed her pajamas, soap, washcloth, and shampoo. Tossing her towel over her shoulder, she turned to the youkai still sitting passively against his tree trunk.

"I'm going to go take a bath," she announced. "If I fall asleep and drown, tell Fuyu I never liked her."

Sesshoumaru raised an eyebrow. Then, to her surprise, he gracefully unfolded his body and rose to his feet.

"Lead the way," he said. "Ah-haha," Kagome replied. No! she thought. Bad dog! Briefly she considered hitting him on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper, but the fact that he would not take kindly to that sort of treatment deterred her.

That, and she had no newspaper.

Sesshoumaru just stared at her, oblivious to her sudden desire for a copy of the Tokyo Times.

"You're being paranoid," she said finally.

"Simply because there was no threat this afternoon does not mean this state of affairs will continue. So lead the way," he replied blandly.

He seemed unfazed by her glowering. "Fine," she napped, "but you have to keep your back turned like you did this morning." Refusing to meet his answering smirk, she turned and stalked away, not looking back to see if he followed.

When they finally returned to their fire, Kagome found that her mood was worse than before. Cold baths coupled with constant glances over her shoulder in fits of paranoid modesty apparently tended to do that. Face scrunched in a cranky expression, she slammed her toiletries back in her backpack before stomping over to her sleeping bag and dragging it back to the fire.

Sesshoumaru watched her as she shook it out and spread it on the ground. Groaning a little, Kagome lowered herself down to sit on top of it and, crossing her legs, she propped her elbows on her knees and buried her head in her hands.

His eyes narrowed as he studied her; she appeared to be thinking, which was never good.

Suddenly she sat up and looked at him.

"Teach me to fight," she said.

Sesshoumaru blinked. Then he chuckled.

Kagome liked it when he laughed - he looked relaxed and handsome, younger and kinder - but right now she wished he would just shut up. She liked it when he laughed, but she did not like it when he laughed at her.

"Hey!" she half-shouted, glaring at him. "This is serious! I have to learn to kick some ass or I, and by extension all of Edo, am screwed! Besides," she sniffed, "you're so freaked out about youkai attacks, you might as well make sure I know how to defend myself, right?"

He shook his head, still chuckling. His eyes were closed, mouth twisted in a sardonic smile. "Did we not already go through this a few days ago?"

"Well... yeah," she conceded. "I..."

She stole a glance at him, only to see him waiting patiently.

"I just really don't want to ask any of the men at the shrine. They're not very..." she trailed off. Civilized? Respectful? Sharp?

"...yeah," she finished lamely.

The youkai raised a brow. "I am certain you will find someone to teach you," he said. "I do regret that it cannot be me."

Color pricked her cheeks for some reason. She didn't know what to say to that. "Um... thanks," she mumbled.

It did not appear that he was going to say anything else so, with a sigh, she allowed herself to slump out of her defensive posture. It really was too bad - his hovering was starting to get on her nerves, but she would not have minded being with him a little more, even if he was kicking her ass during their quality time.

Oh, well. Kagome scooted over and knelt down next to the sleeping bag before she began to fluff it up a little. Maybe Fuyu has some suggestions. Though on second thought, she wasn't certain she trusted her slave-driving mentor to recommend a teacher who wouldn't accidentally kill her or slice off her nose. And Kagome liked her nose.

There was probably nothing for it, though. With resignation, she began to lower herself to the ground for some much-needed sleep.

"What are you doing?"

Kagome shot back up into a sitting position. "What?" she exclaimed, startled, before she processed what he had said. "Oh, I'm... um... getting ready for bed?"

The statement had come out as a question because Sesshoumaru had leveled a gaze at her so intense she was certain she was giving him the wrong answer.

"You are not sleeping there," he informed her.

She stared back at him for a long moment. "You're starting to scare me," she said quietly.

He blinked. "Good," he said. "Now come here."


It was noontime. If she'd had an instructor, she would have been able to escape. Unfortunately, it was impossible for her to solicit help from any of the soldiers still recovering at the shrine while Fuyu had her under her thumb, and the sour old woman didn't seem inclined to think of this fact. There was nothing for it.

"Fuyu-sama?" she ventured nervously.

The old woman looked up sharply from the kettle of lunch-time rice she was cooking for herself and her assistant. "What the hell is it now, girl?"

Kagome was getting tired of being called girl, but she was in no position to complain about it. Gritting her teeth she shifted on her knees, trying to work a little more circulation into her calves which were no doubt turning blue underneath her red hakama. "I, um..." she said.

It was a bad start.

"Don't waste my time," Fuyu said. "Either have something to say, or don't open your mouth."

Scowling, Kagome snorted. "Sorry," she said. "I was just trying to think of how to phrase this."

"You're going to ask me for something, aren't you?" the miko said, stirring the pot in front of her.

Taken a little aback, Kagome blinked. "Er, yes," she said. "How did you know?"

"No one ever wants to think about how they word their compliments," Fuyu sniffed. "What is it you want?"

Did she just make a wry observation? Kagome wondered momentarily before she determined that it probably didn't matter. Shrugging, she decided to take the plunge.

"I need to take the afternoon off to find an instructor," she said bluntly. If her mentor valued candor, then, by god, she was going to be candid.

To her surprise, Fuyu did not immediately slap her down. Instead, she picked up her wooden spoon - which, thankfully, she was not using to stir their lunch - and stuck it into her haori. After a few contortions she apparently found the spot she was looking for.

Kagome watched as the old woman scratched her armpit thoughtfully.

"So your youkai will not teach you?" she asked suddenly.

Taken aback, Kagome fumbled. "Um," she said, "he's not my youkai. And no. He said he didn't have the patience and that he might accidentally kill me."

"Mm," the miko said. "Wise."

Kagome looked away.

"So he's not your youkai," she continued, as if she were speculating about what color to paint her nails - what color best represents 'cold bitch'? turquoise? - rather than Kagome's relationship with her strange traveling companion. "Then are you his miko?"

"What?" Kagome exclaimed, rocking back on her heels in shock. "No! I mean, we don't... belong to each other. I told you, we're just allies."

The woman pinned her with a diamond-hard stare. "Is that so?"

Against her will, Kagome flushed, just a little. "We're... we're friends, too," she said faintly. Friend still didn't seem the right word, but she couldn't think of another that would fit without implying a number of suggestive falsehoods.

"Hm," the old miko said.

Kagome squirmed.

Then, as if she had suddenly forgotten all about the intensely personal question she had just asked, Fuyu leaned forward and began to scoop the rice from the pot she had been stirring into a couple of deep wooden bowls.

"Eat up," she said. "I have just the person for you."

Ten minutes later, Kagome was staring at the instructor Fuyu had chosen. Fuyu introduced him, since he was incapable of doing so himself.

"Kagome," she said, "this is Kazuo. Wake up, you lazy lout!" This last bit was directed at the sleeping samurai on the ground. Kagome watched as the old miko gave him an ungentle kick in the ribs.

He groaned slightly in response, swatting ineffectively at the old miko's toes as though she were no more than a fly.

Incredulously, Kagome glanced at her mentor, who paid her no mind and gave the man another kick.

Apparently her chosen sensei was the drunk man who had argued so charmingly with Fuyu yesterday, and, distantly, Kagome wondered just what she had managed to get herself in to.

He looked to be in worse health today than he had yesterday. Would he be all right teaching her? She shuddered at the thought that he might exacerbate whatever illness he had contracted just to make sure she knew how to handle a sword.

"Fuyu-sama - " she began.

"Relax, girl," the miko cut her off. "He's usually sober in the afternoons."

"Uh," Kagome said, "that's not - "

Fuyu paid her no mind. "Wake up!" she barked again, leaning down and giving him a light slap across the face.

Kazuo turned over, his eyes cracking open groggily. When his gaze fell on Fuyu, he grinned devilishly.

"Time for a drink?" he asked.

"Up!" Fuyu demanded.

Kagome saw the man wince at the noise, but he dragged himself first into a sitting position and then to his feet. "Yes, miko-san?" he asked sardonically.

"You're to teach my assistant how to fight," Fuyu barked at him.

A frown crept onto the man's face. "Am I?" he asked.

"If you want to stay here," she said.

He's here by choice? Kagome wondered. Blinking, she tried to get a closer look at the man, attempting to discern whether or not he was injured, ill, or merely hung over.

The man noticed her scrutiny and grinned at her. "So," he said loudly, "you want to learn swordplay?"

There was a light chuckling around them, and Kagome felt her jaw tighten as she gritted her teeth. Dimly, she wondered where Sesshoumaru was, and if he were watching her humiliation. She fervently hoped not.

"Mind your manners!" Fuyu snapped at the man.

He raised his hands apologetically. "Sorry, sorry, miko-san," he said placatingly before turning back to Kagome. "What do you need to learn to fight for?" he asked abruptly. His eyes seemed to be fading in and out of focus, and Kagome finally concluded that he was, indeed, coming down from being drunk, obviously recovering from another session with the sake bottle. Biting her lip, she decided to simply lay it all on the table. "I need to fight a sorceress," she told him. "She's cursed a village and I have to stop her."

The man raised his eyebrows. "Is that so?" He seemed amused. "And yet you are a novice fighter. So even though you are inexperienced and will likely fail, it's your job to do?"

She knew how it sounded, but he didn't have to be so rude about it. "Yes," she clipped. "It is."

He narrowed his eyes, but nodded after a moment's reflection. "Hm," he said, as though she had just imparted a great mystery to him.

Then, without preamble, he took a step toward her. He was very tall. Kagome scowled at him, refusing to take a step back even as he loomed.

"Think you're going to survive?" he asked suddenly.

From the corner of her eye, Kagome saw Fuyu turn to look at her sharply, as though waiting to see what her answer would be. She licked her lips.

"Not really," she said hoarsely.

"Ah," he said, nodding. "Pessimism. I like that."

Fuyu turned sharply toward him. "Doesn't matter what you like or not," she snapped at him. "She's you're responsibility. Every afternoon until she leaves."

Seemingly resigned, the samurai sighed and pulled back. Very deliberately he focused on her, his gaze sweeping up and down as though he were assessing a prize horse. Kagome squirmed.

"Well, girl," he finally said, suddenly sounding strong and sure of this new agreement. "I've only one question for you."

The sudden, light swell of hope in her chest swept over her, and she felt her face smooth out in relief. "Yes?" she asked expectantly, looking up at him with what she hoped was earnest receptivity.

He gave her one last appraising look. "Are you willing to work hard?" he asked, and his voice was so solemn that she couldn't help but feel the gravity of the situation.

"Yes, Kazuo-dono," she said respectfully, and gave him a quick but deep bow. When she straightened, she saw his lips curl at the edges.

"Oh, good," said Kazuo, and grinned. "At least that makes one of us."

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 30 of 42

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