Continuing Tales

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 32 of 42

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Tales from the House of the Moon

"To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved."
- George MacDonald

x X x

Gazing down the long wooden shaft of her arrow, Kagome leveled her sight at her age-old enemy and took careful aim.

All right, she thought with determination, I don't like you, and you don't like me, but only one of us is going to walk away from this, and I'm going to make damn sure it's me.

For some reason, this did not sound quite right. She paused.

Well, okay, she conceded after a second's thought, I guess no matter what the outcome, only one of us is going to walk away because you're a tree and trees can't walk. And if they did I wouldn't want to know about it, because that would just be creepy.

Still! The fact remains that I have to shoot you with this arrow, and I'm probably going to do it badly and then get hit with the spoon. Which is made of wood. Which was once a tree.

So it all evens out, I guess.

Satisfied, Kagome fired.

As predicted, she felt a nice, solid thwap on her upper left arm.

"Ow!" she protested, letting her bow fall to her side as she lifted a hand to rub the spot. Well, that one is going to leave a mark, she thought grouchily. Just like... well, all the others, really.

"No good!" Fuyu snapped, her voice cracking across Kagome's ears like a whip. "You still aren't concentrating!"

Kagome glared at her resentfully, still rubbing the forming knot on her bicep. "Yeah, well," she said, "maybe if I didn't live in constant fear of getting hit when I did something wrong I'd be able to concentrate better."

The old woman sighed with an exasperation usually only seen in parents of small children, and it had the suitable effect. Kagome felt six years old. She fought the childish impulse to make a rude face.

Fuyu shook her head. "If you can't focus properly with a little pain," she said with mock patience, "how do you think you're going to win? Going to talk the spirit into standing still for five minutes while you think about possibly considering to concentrate?"

To her dismay, Kagome considered this alternative for almost two seconds before realizing that her mentor was merely mocking her. Slightly annoyed with herself, she turned back to the tree against which she had pitted all her strength and cunning and still entirely failed to beat into submission. "I'll have you know that I'm very persuasive when I need to be," she muttered under her breath.

"Maybe you can persuade yourself to do it right," Fuyu replied.

Kagome cursed the old woman's preternatural hearing and tried to ignore her as she lifted her bow and prepared to try again.

Gazing down the long wooden shaft of her arrow, Kagome leveled her sight at her age-old enemy and took careful aim.

All right, she thought with determination, I don't like you, and you don't like me...

She fired.

There was an impatient sigh from behind her.

"All right, you're getting better," Fuyu piped up, "but it's still not strong enough. You should see the ripples."

This was perhaps the twentieth time Kagome had heard this exact same sentence. Repressing the urge to scream, she nodded and kept her eyes trained on the seal arrows embedded in the trunk of the tree. The poor thing looked like it had grown a set of bristles, like a toothbrush. Kagome felt ever so slightly bad for using it as target practice, but, as Fuyu had pointed out, there seemed to be a definite lack of available youkai on which she could practice.

"Take a break," Fuyu ordered. Wearily, Kagome nodded and walked over to her backpack, where she withdrew a bottle of water, unscrewed the cap, and gulped it noisily. Reaching up, she rubbed the sweat from her forehead and looked around.

It was late afternoon; the time when they would stop for the day was drawing closer. If Kagome had to guess she would have estimated that it was probably nearing the end of June now; the light had that long look to it, as though it were stretching out over the world, lounging about and in no hurry to go anywhere. The hot afternoons were an itchy, annoying time to stand out in the sun, but at least it moved her combat practice to morning, even though Kazuo's morning persona was less than amiable; she'd even offered to make something for his headache, but he'd just snarled at her to mind her own business.

At any rate, Kagome had been at this for three days now and it was beginning to get frustrating. Well, to be fair, it had been frustrating for a while, but now it was starting to get on her nerves in the worst way possible. In the back of her mind, Kagome knew that she should have started on this training sooner rather than later, but the fact remained that she had put it off and Fuyu was entirely disinclined to take the initiative, so here she was, five days to the end of her four weeks and struggling to learn how to seal supernatural beings.

"Can't I just kill the thing?" she'd asked plaintively yesterday when she had pulled off a rather spectacular failure to perform a proper sealing.

"I don't know, can you?" Fuyu had responded, sounding bored. Kagome didn't blame her - she was bored with her failure, too, though experience told her that she would probably get somewhat hysterical about it fairly soon.

"I don't know," Kagome told her, "that's why I asked you."

The old woman had scratched her chin with the tip of her spoon for a moment before replying. "It takes less power to seal than to kill. If you can't kill it, sealing is the better, more accessible option. Unless of course you want to take your chances...?"

Kagome hadn't.

It really shouldn't have been that hard, but she was finding it difficult to rechannel her powers from destructive purity to containing magic. She'd never been properly trained, and her purity arrows were something that came naturally to her; she just wasn't sure how she did it.

It was different from learning to ignite her bow, too - that, at least, had been on the same principle as her arrows - but instead of a matter of summoning at will it was a matter of both will and focus. The power had to take on an entirely different shape and serve a completely different purpose; the contrast was like the difference between a noose and a net, and she was so used to tying that she almost couldn't conceive of the different principles involved in weaving.

Well, all right, it was a little more complicated than that, but it was the best analogy she had been able to come up with to help herself out. Net, not noose, she would think to herself as she released her arrow, but no matter how many nets she envisioned, the strange ripple of air that signified a well-made seal completely failed to materialize, and Fuyu did not take kindly to this. Kagome was positive that her upper arm was a permanent bruise by now, which didn't seem quite fair. It wasn't like she was failing on purpose.

Taking another gulp of water, Kagome thought back to lunchtime three days ago when she'd finally mustered the necessary courage to ask Fuyu about her end of the bargain.

Kagome wasn't entirely certain as to why she hadn't brought up the subject of her training before, but as she and Fuyu ate lunch together a thousand and one thoughts crowded at the front of her mind, struggling to be heard, and the loudest ones seemed to explain her curious reluctance.

Well, to be honest, her first and foremost thought was, god, I am sick of plain rice, but right on the heels of that thought was, maybe, just maybe, if I never learn how to seal, I'll never have to go fight.

It was specious reasoning at best, but the small hope did remain that if she avoided the problem forever she would never have to face it, though she knew from experience that this was most likely not the case. Still, she was nothing if not an optimist; one of these days avoiding the problem had to work, right? It was statistics. Or something.

Looking over at the old woman who was ferociously chewing her lunch and staring at the floorboards in front of her as if she and they were not on speaking terms, Kagome took a deep breath.

"Are you going to teach me to seal demons?" she blurted, almost wincing at the blunt demand. Oh yes, she thought, I'm just that smooth. There really was no other way to phrase it - time was running out.

After a moment of contemplation, Fuyu nodded.

"You'll be training with me today instead of Kazuo," she said.

Relief washed over her. "Thank you, Fuyu-sama," Kagome said sincerely.

Fuyu simply nodded, acknowledging her own graciousness.

After another long moment, Kagome swallowed her current mouthful of rice with difficulty, and gathered her courage to ask her other question.


"What is it now, girl?" Fuyu seemed to tear her gaze away from her stare-down with the floor in front of her.

Feeling her eyebrows twitch in irritation, Kagome lifted her chin so that she might look a little more confident than she actually felt. "Shouldn't I have learned this a little... sooner?"

The old woman shrugged her bony shoulders. "Maybe. I was simply waiting for you to mention it."

Kagome twisted her mouth into an approximation of a displeased grimace. "Is this one of those silly mystic things?" she asked. "Like, you would know that I would be ready when I asked you?"

"Don't be stupid," Fuyu advised her. "I was just putting it off. Frankly I was wondering if you were ever going to mention it. Thought I might get a month of free servitude out of this deal." Setting aside her bowl, the old woman climbed to her feet.

"Well," she said, moving to the door to gather her bow and arrows, "let's get this over with."

Feeling peevish, Kagome scrambled after her and followed her into the sunlight.

The few soldiers that remained - there were probably less than a dozen left - were seeking respite from the noonday sun beneath the shady trees that crested and spilled over the alabaster walls of the shrine. They found Kazuo snoring beneath the branches of a particularly impressive beech in the far southeast corner. Kagome watched as Fuyu gave him a kicking and informed him that he could drink the afternoon away if he wanted because Kagome was coming with her, you lazy bastard, and he replied, somewhat indistinctly, that he was planning to do that anyway, you pushy bitch. Were it not for the fact that Fuyu had about forty years on Kazuo, Kagome would have sworn that they were flirting; sadly, the mental image that followed fast on the heels of this idle thought made her wish that she were blind in her inner eye. She was still reeling from the disturbing little picture show in her head as they crossed the wide expanse of grass between the shrine and the woods.

Little insects jumped and leapt out of the way of their feet as Kagome followed her to the line of trees that marked the beginning of the large forest, and Fuyu ordered her to stay where she was before turning to the towering oaks and maples. Kagome watched as the old woman began to walk up and down the line, looking for just the right tree to use as target practice. Fuyu's bearing put her in mind of a general or a sergeant, and any second now she half-expected the old miko to bark, "Men!" in a clipped, commanding voice before delivering a speech about the glories of war and dry socks.

Sighing, she turned to the sky and studied the feathery edges of the treetops. It was hot, and she wanted to sit beneath one of them, but Fuyu had ordered her to stand still and she had received enough spoon for one day. Longingly she cast a glance over her shoulder at the shrine, where at least there was shade.

The white shrine lay back against its hill, just as serene as ever, but for some reason the vista before her gave her a sudden, dizzy spot of deja vu. It took a moment for Kagome to realize that the scene looked so familiar not because she saw it every day, but because right here was where she and Sesshoumaru had emerged, almost three weeks ago, from their short journey through the forest.

In the back of her mind Kagome felt the tickle of nervous recollection at the sight; she knew that somewhere beyond the woods at her back lay the House of the Moon, and that knowledge sat heavily in the base of her mind, weighing everything else down and drawing all her worry to it. Sesshoumaru was right - she needed to be focusing on her own predicament - but every time the memory of his home trailed through her head she couldn't help but remember the danger it was in. She was in danger, too - youkai, battles, fatigue and sickness - but knowing that all this was her fault and, worse, that she had chosen it freely made her sick to her stomach.

What a mess she'd made.

Suddenly feeling rather more disheartened than she had been a moment ago, Kagome turned back around to see Fuyu standing in front of a particularly large and imposing tree, inspecting it with a critical eye. Kagome couldn't imagine why the old woman would have to choose their target with such care - one tree seemed as good as another - but she assumed her mentor had her reasons. She wasn't going to ask, anyway.

After a moment Fuyu jerked her head in a curt nod and pivoted neatly in the grass, striding with purpose to a spot fifty feet or so from the tree. Casually she raised a bony arm and snapped her fingers at Kagome as though demanding the attention of a waitress in a restaurant.

Anything else I can get for you, ma'am? Kagome thought as she trudged through the long grass toward her.

"Shoot the tree," the old woman said when she arrived. "Let's see what sort of power you have."

With a feeling that was almost relief Kagome nodded and unshouldered her bow. Carefully she nocked an arrow and took aim.

Now this she could do. She was not a master archer as Kikyou had been, but she was still pretty damn good if she did say so herself; something about seeing jaws full of needle sharp teeth coming straight for you was incredibly motivating. At the tips of her fingers she felt her power build, and in her hands the arrow glowed.

She fired.

The arrow hit its target perfectly, right in the middle.

Beaming, Kagome turned to Fuyu, who, for a change, seemed to be nodding her head in approval.

"Right," the old woman said after a moment. "You have power, I'll give you that, and that's good. Now you just have to channel it differently. I'll tell you right now that sealing isn't very hard, it just takes concentration. Sealing takes less power than straight purification, too, so if you have a strong opponent that isn't as susceptible to your purity as others you can seal it instead of kill it. You think of hitting your target when you release your arrow, yes?"

Blinking, Kagome nodded; this was the longest she had ever heard Fuyu speak without an insult of some sort tumbling out of her mouth. It was a little unnerving. On the other hand she was sure the old miko would be back to her barbed comments soon enough, so she just listened, trying to enjoy it while it lasted.

Fuyu, oblivious to the fact that her pupil was feeling a tad dumbfounded, continued on, drawing an arrow from her own quiver and aiming carefully.

"Good. All you have to do is think differently. It's the same with any art - a small change can make all the difference. Instead of thinking of piercing your target, instead imagine yourself surrounding it with your arrow." With that, Fuyu released.

The arrow hit the tree with a solid thunk. Kagome frowned and looked back at her mentor.

Fuyu was nodding sagely. "Mmm," the old woman said, "that was a good one."

"Er," Kagome said, bewildered, "how can you tell?"

Predictably, Fuyu turned and gave her a haughty look. "You didn't see?" she asked, as though to suggest that only the most retarded person would not be able to discern between a seal and a normal arrow.

"No," Kagome replied sullenly. "What am I supposed see?"

With a sigh, Fuyu drew another arrow. "Look at the air around it, not at it." With that she nocked the arrow, aimed, and fired again.

This time Kagome understood what she had been talking about, though if she hadn't known where to look she would have completely missed it. Instead of the bright light of a pure arrow, the sealing arrow was plain and simple and looked exactly like a regular arrow, except for one thing: sweeping out and forward from the tip was a strange rippling of the air, expanding outwards like a net until it hit the tree. For a split second she saw the trunk shimmer as though it were merely a projection or mirage before it became solid again.

"Ah," she said.

"You see? Good. Now you try."

The old woman moved away and nervously Kagome stepped up to take her place. Slowly and deliberately she reached back and withdrew another arrow. Taking careful aim, Kagome let her eyes lose focus as she tried to concentrate on changing the nature of her arrows, though truth be told she had very little idea how she created purifying arrows in the first place. Frowning, she tried to think of how it felt to gather the power at her fingertips, and then tried to think of it expanding outwards.

She fired. There was no wavering air, and no sealing arrow. Damn, she thought angrily. Did I not concentrate hard enough?

She heard the old miko shift behind her. "No," Fuyu said. "Again!"

Nodding obediently, Kagome nocked another arrow, concentrated, and fired.

"No. Again!"

Kagome did it again. And again. And again.

And again and again and again until here she was, two days later and on the verge of maybe possibly performing a successful seal, though a the odds heavily favored a mental breakdown instead.

Sighing, Kagome capped her water and stood again, stretching out her tired body. She was definitely more in shape than she'd been at the beginning of the month, but that didn't mean she wasn't sore most of the time.

She walked back to take her place in front of the target. Fuyu was standing a little ways off, looking at the sky and frowning.

"Er," Kagome ventured, "shall I do some more?"

For a moment the old miko didn't answer. Then she abruptly dropped her chin and glared at the ground, as though the landscape were a bit too cheeky for her liking.

"No," she said.

Confused, Kagome stood where she was, a little awkwardly, and watched her mentor think in the fading light.

"All right," Fuyu finally said, "let's try something different."

Kagome, who had been expecting something a little more violent and a bit spoonier simply blinked. With what was perhaps an unreasonable degree of optimism, she decided that this idea sounded almost promising; at this point she was willing to put on a giant rabbit suit and sing Beethoven's Ninth if it would help her get it right. She was so willing to do anything that she didn't even shy away when Fuyu strode over to her and put her hands on her shoulders.

Then the old miko looped one of her legs around the back of Kagome's knees and twisted.

There was a loud crack, not unlike the popping of a sheet of bubble wrap.

"Ow!" Kagome shrieked, jerking away. "What on earth was that for?"

"Felt that, did you?" Fuyu asked unrepentantly.

She had felt it all right - felt as though someone had just jumped up and down on her spine. "Obviously I did!" Gingerly she worked her shoulders, testing to see that she still had all her vertebrae.

The sharp pain was fading now, and Fuyu was looking insufferably self-satisfied. "Good," she announced, "because that's what you're going to be thinking about when you fire."

"What, back pain?"

"No, girl!" the old woman barked. "Loose! Free! Relaxed! You keep wanting to hit something when you need to grab it instead. Like an open hand instead of a fist."

"That was not relaxing," Kagome shot back, "and what the hell are you talking about?"

"Bah!" Fuyu shouted, throwing her hands up in the air in disgust. "Think about releasing what is tight! Like cracking your back, which I just did for you. You're mighty tense," she added gratuitously.

"Really?" Kagome asked snidely. "I can't imagine why."

"No complaining, girl," Fuyu admonished, turning smartly on her heel and walking behind her. "Now think about that as you concentrate."

Obediently, albeit with no small amount of exasperation, Kagome did as she was told, drawing the bow back and taking aim. For a second she looked at the tree and didn't move.

"Um..." she said.


"How am I supposed to concentrate on relaxing?"

Fuyu made a threatening noise. "Just do it!" she said. "Or you'll feel the back of my hand!"

Considering how hardy the old woman was Kagome estimated that getting a sharp cuff along the head from her would be something akin to getting hit by a two-by-four. She clamped her mouth shut and stared at the tree, trying to shut her head down... to calm down... and just... release...

Kagome released.

She watched with fascination, almost in slow motion, as the air rippled around and out, in an ever expanding net until it hit the tree and she could almost see it wrap around the trunk with the impact of the arrowhead burying itself in the wood.

Oh, she thought. Was that all I had to do?

"Finally!" Fuyu snapped. "Try it again."

She did.

The next three tries yielded the same result, though with varying degrees of success. She couldn't seem to get a grasp on how to control the strength of the seal; she couldn't even tell that there was a difference, though Fuyu swore that there was.

"No, no, no," the old woman snapped after the fourth successful seal. "Too weak, too weak."

Kagome made a frustrated sound in her throat. "How am I supposed to make it stronger?" she asked.

The old woman gave her a look. "You have to release everything," Fuyu replied, then shrugged. "I can't explain it better than that. It would help if there were any strong youkai around for you to practice on, but I think someone has been killing them all."

Ehehe, Kagome thought, looking away and wondering what Sesshoumaru was doing right now. "Yeah, he's kind of... protective," she muttered.

"He is a dog," Fuyu replied almost flippantly. "That is his nature."

Kagome just nodded.

There was a moment of quiet while both mikos stood in the fading light of the sun and contemplated this problem. At the edge of her mind, Kagome felt the familiar, comforting wave of Sesshoumaru's youki as he traveled in her direction, heading back to camp for the night. More than anything right now she wanted to sit with him next to the fire and just be, not fight or think or try to be the heroine of a story with an ending that still felt uncertain. She just wanted to be Kagome, with Sesshoumaru. It seemed impossible to be anything but only herself with him, and right now she needed that badly.

She felt tired, and wished she were already by the fire.


Jerked away from her contemplation Kagome's eyes snapped to Fuyu, who was looking at her contemplatively. "Yes?"

"You'll bring your youkai with you tomorrow," she said. In the red sunset, her eyes shone dully, like a strange, hard fire.

"He's not mine," Kagome said automatically.

She saw Fuyu's lips twitch at the corners, the strange smile of one who is amused by a humorless situation. "Yes, he is," she replied. "Bring him."

Blinking, Kagome shook her head. "Why?" she wanted to know. There was a certain strangeness to the older miko's voice that ran like cold water into the pit of her stomach.

"I think you know, girl," she said, turning away and beginning to walk back to the shrine. "Go get some rest. You'll need it tomorrow."

The tiny sliver of anxiety twisted inside her. "Why?" she cried. "Why do I need him?"

"Practice!" Fuyu called.

Practice. The word floated through her mind, and for a moment Kagome stood still as glass before she realized just what the old miko meant. "No!" she shouted suddenly. Her legs jerked and she began to run after her. "No, you don't understand, I can't do that!"

Fuyu whipped around and pinned her with a glare, causing Kagome to stumble to a halt, staring at her in horror.

"You want to die?" the old woman demanded, and the hard fire in her eyes flickered.

Blood draining from her face, Kagome shook her head. Fuyu gave her a curt nod.

"All right then," she said, and without another word she turned and began the walk to the shrine, leaving Kagome standing in the falling night.

x X x

All around Sesshoumaru the night was a warm and quiet one, a soft blanket of darkness illuminated by the welcoming glow of the fire. In the folded, shadowy depths of the forest, illuminated only by the waxing moon, Sesshoumaru could hear the nightbirds call to each other, and out in the field the fireflies were no doubt winking in and out of existence, dancing through the curtain of the world and back again, looking for each other. It was a fine night.

Except that Kagome was upset, and he had come to terms with the fact that he didn't like it when she was upset; it made him... concerned.

Slightly disturbed Sesshoumaru resumed unstrapping his armor - the change in her scent had caught him in the act of removing it - and put it to one side. Toukijin and Tenseiga were already lying within easy reach of his normal spot and the fire was burning brightly once more. Gracefully he sank to the ground and leaned against the trunk of the tree as Kagome emerged from the forest and into their clearing. Sesshoumaru quietly studied her face, wondering if he could discern what was bothering her from her bearing alone.

She definitely was acting differently. Since Kagome had begun her combat training the two of them had settled into a pattern that was both comfortable and disquieting; comforting, because they seemed to have slid smoothly and seamlessly into each other's lives with a minimum of disruption, and disquieting precisely because it was so easy for them to do so. In fact, everything about Kagome seemed easy - she was easy to talk to, easy to tease, easy to miss, easy to admire - and yet because it was all so easy it was all so difficult as well. It pleased him to be with her, yes, and he always did what he pleased, but it was beginning to dawn on him that what pleased him was not necessarily what would be best.

Of course he still wasn't thinking about all of this since whatever conclusions he might draw would probably disquiet him more than he was already, but he had to admit that trying not to think about it probably took up just as much time and caused just as much distress as if he just gave in and examined the situation. On the other hand, he was good at not thinking about things. He'd had a lot of practice, after all.

One of the things he certainly wasn't thinking about was the incident seven days ago when Kagome had been injured and he had also become... concerned.

Yes. Concerned. That was what it was. After gingerly mulling it over in his mind Sesshoumaru had concluded that, despite all evidence to the contrary, he had not panicked, because he was Sesshoumaru and panicking was simply something that Sesshoumaru Did Not Do. This conclusion was immensely reassuring to him. Of course, there was a myriad of things Sesshoumaru Did Not Do, so no matter what happened, clearly he Had Not Done these things, even when he had. The very long list of things Sesshoumaru Did Not Do included panic, fail, scratch himself in public, and paperwork.

He also Did Not Speak of such incidents, and to his grateful, if pathetic, relief, Kagome Did Not Speak of the incident either. So it had Not Been Spoken Of.

There remained, however, a slight tension in the air since that evening, stretched between them like the string of a bow. This was another thing that was Not to be Spoken Of, even though it was clearly there - the feeling was tense enough that one could hear it hum in their quieter moments, but slight enough not to be noticeable most of the time.

He couldn't feel that certain tension now, though, because it had been replaced with something else. As she drew closer into the circle of firelight he could see a very fake smile plastered across her face, and there was a thin line of tension running through her normally smooth throat.

"Good evening!" Kagome said brightly as she dropped her backpack to the ground. "How was your day?"

Sesshoumaru cocked his head to the side, listening to the tightness in her voice. "It was not objectionable," he replied absently.

He watched as her face melted into a frown. "God," she exclaimed, seeming to be momentarily distracted from her worries, "you are so boring sometimes." Sesshoumaru raised a brow as she flopped down in the dirt. "In fact," she continued, seemingly grateful for the unwitting diversion he had provided, "and don't take this the wrong way, but I think you might even be anti-interesting. Like you suck all the interesting out of anything that happens to you."

Sesshoumaru had been called many things in his life, but boring was never one of them. Anyone who had been acquainted with him for any period of time tended to quickly acquire a life suddenly filled with terribly interesting things indeed, though as events played out such excitement also tended to be regrettably short as well. Yet here she was, informing him that he was, in fact, the antithesis of engaging. His lips curled slightly.

"And why," he wondered, "would you possibly think that?"

"Because," Kagome cried in despair, "no one, and I mean no one, in the history of the world, has ever had sixteen days in a row that can only be described as 'not objectionable!'"

"I merely find it to be an accurate summation," he replied mildly. She was right, of course - his days were actually far more exciting than they had been in a long time, what with all the bloodshed and worry - but it would not do to have her know that. He had an image to maintain, after all. Unfortunately, he suspected that Kagome already knew that his grasp upon omniscience was far more tenuous than he let on and was merely keeping his secret to herself. In fact, he was beginning to entertain the terrifying possibility that she might have him almost figured out, a state of affairs that he found particularly unfair as he usually had problems figuring himself out, and as such he felt entirely unqualified to even attempt to return the scrutiny. He could sense her changes in mood, but as to her motivations he usually remained in the dark, even when she patiently explained them to him.

Kagome, for her part, was now feeling not only tense but exasperated as well.

Honestly, he always made things so difficult; he always acted as though she had asked him an intensely personal question, like what color boxers he was wearing, rather than a simple, polite inquiry about his day.

Taking a deep breath, Kagome tried to expunge the irritation from her system.

He's not human. He's youkai, remember? He doesn't think about all that sympathy crap very often, she said to herself. This, at least, was true; he'd yet to express any interest in her days, though that was probably because he kept such a close eye on her and knew everything she did anyway. It wasn't as if she had particularly interesting days, either: wake up, get hit with a spoon for six hours, have lunch, dodge katana for the rest of the day. On the other hand she couldn't help but think that sometimes it might be nice if he acted like he cared what she felt, though to him it probably didn't matter how she felt about the state of affairs since her feelings wouldn't change her circumstances.

Then again, maybe he cared but didn't know how to show it; perhaps she could send him to obedience school for a little bit of his own training. For a second she entertained a rather pleasing vision of Sesshoumaru sitting on his haunches the way Inuyasha used to do, balancing a dog biscuit on his nose. He would be allowed to eat it only after he inquired, solicitously, as to how her day had gone, and complimented her on her new haircut, which of course he had noticed without being told.

On the other hand, she was glad that he did not ask her such things today, since she wasn't sure she would be able to lie to him if he did, and she was most definitely not going to tell him about Fuyu's ridiculous command. When she went to train tomorrow she would simply inform the old bag that he had refused and that she could not persuade him; surely Fuyu would understand that when a daiyoukai made up his mind there was probably no way to force him to change it.

And, of course, there was no way to change her mind, either. She would rather take her chances and fail than "practice" on him, and she was baffled as to why Fuyu might have ever thought otherwise. If she hadn't been so shocked Kagome was certain she would have hauled off and punched her mentor in the nose for the suggestion, old woman or not.

Wearily, Kagome pinched the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger and tried to massage out the ache that wasn't there.

From his spot beneath the tree Sesshoumaru watched as the lines of her body grew rigid again beneath the weight of whatever problem it was that plagued her mind. Not for the first time Sesshoumaru wished that he had the ability to read her thoughts, though, now that he was seriously wishing for such a talent, it dawned on him that any information he would be able to glean from Kagome's head would probably be far more confusing than any answer she would give him anyway. He would just have to settle for the old fashioned method.

"What is troubling you, Kagome?" he said abruptly, voice cutting through the crackle of the fire.

At the sound her head shot up and she looked at him with wide eyes before she sat up straighter, tucking her legs beneath her almost skittishly, as though she were coiling for a spring for safety. "Nothing!" she said, a little too brightly. "I was just... thinking about what I wanted for dinner."

Sesshoumaru frowned at her reaction. "You have the same thing for dinner every night."

Kagome tittered nervously. If Sesshoumaru had indeed received his wish, the thoughts he would have been reading at that moment were, Damn! I guess he's not as dumb as he acts.

"Yeah, well..." she fumbled. "I was thinking about what I wanted, not what I was going to have."

One eyebrow rose slightly higher.

Kagome squirmed.

Sesshoumaru briefly considered telling her that he could smell a lie, but that was untrue; she was just so fundamentally honest that he could see through her on a cloudy day. He liked that about her; she wasn't a straightforward creature by nature as he was, but she, too, found it difficult to tell an untruth, and everything betrayed her when she did. She was hiding something from him. He didn't like it.

Nervously, Kagome shifted where she sat. He was staring at her. Of course, he'd done it before, but she hadn't been lying to him then; already there was a hot, miserable coil of guilt settling happily into her stomach, probably to have a little chat and a spot of tea with the cold feeling of dread that had been curdled there for months.


She didn't dare respond for fear that she would blurt out the horrible thing Fuyu had told her to do. Somehow just the mere knowledge of the order made her feel complicit, as though just by knowing of it she was partially responsible and he would blame her for it. No, she couldn't look at him.

"Kagome," he said again.

Her mouth remained shut and her eyes averted. Hey, there, hakama, Kagome thought, staring at her knees, haven't seen you in a whole two minutes. How have you been?


She wished he would stop saying her name.

When she heard the intake of breath for a fourth repetition, she clenched her teeth tightly.

"I'd rather not talk about it," she blurted, then cursed herself for tacitly admitting that there was, indeed, something bothering her. Damn! She was never any good at this sort of thing.

"And I would rather you did," he replied calmly.

She didn't want to keep things from him, but she just... couldn't. Desperately she lifted her gaze to meet his.

Sesshoumaru stared back at her, and the haunted, hunted look on her face turned his blood to lead, as his concern mounted higher and higher. "Kagome," he said, and he was unable to keep the small note of urgency from his voice, "you must tell me."

He watched as she gulped and turned away again. "It's nothing," he heard her say, so softly that he would have missed it if he had been human. Sesshoumaru said nothing in reply, merely left the space between them empty and waited for her to fill it.

The fire leapt and subsided before her eyes, and Kagome gazed into the heart of the flame with an almost hypnotized fascination; she could hear the heavy silence he had left behind in the air, and he knew that she hated such uncomfortable gaps that left people always at odds with each other, unable to fit together around the voids left by words unsaid.

Her voice crowded at the front of her mouth, gathering on the tip of her tongue and begging for release. The crack of wood consumed by flame sounded very loud in the night.

Kagome shut her eyes.

"It's... Fuyu," she said haltingly from behind the curtain of her eyelids, as though somehow shutting out the world outside her head had somehow unlocked her voice.

Sesshoumaru continued to say nothing, and Kagome could think of nothing to tell him but what she wanted so badly to avoid.

"She wants you to come with me tomorrow, while I train."

Slowly, the youkai lord blinked, not comprehending the reason she seemed to think this to be such a calamity.

"Why?" he wanted to know.

And there, he saw her begin to pluck at the cuffs of her sleeves. She still refused to look at him.

"Practice," she muttered.

For a moment he still did not understand until it dawned upon him all at once.

Ah, he thought, curiously detached from the implications. "I see," he said out loud.

Kagome's slender fingers were working at the red stitching at the cuffs of her bell-like sleeves, gently loosening one stitch while simultaneously pulling all the others a little tighter, scrunching up the edges. "I wasn't going to tell you," she said quietly. "I wish you hadn't asked."

Sesshoumaru wished he hadn't, either.

For a long moment neither of them said anything until Kagome shifted where she sat.

"Maybe..." she said, then stopped and swallowed. "Maybe," she tried again, "if you could find a youkai, I could... practice... on it?"

"No," he said immediately.

Against her will her eyes snapped to his, and Kagome almost gasped at the strange, hard expression on his face - not because she hadn't seen it before, but because it was the same one that Fuyu had worn. The strange, eerie hollows cast by the firelight gave him a queer, alien appearance; the thin line of his lips and the hard, strange arch of his brows sent shivers down her spine. He looked so... determined, as if he could see something she could not, and was wondering when she would open her eyes.

"Why not?" she demanded, and there was a thin string of desperation under the question.

He merely closed his eyes and gave a short, sharp laugh. "As if I would allow another youkai that close," he replied.

You'll have to some time, she thought miserably, but didn't voice her thoughts out loud. Instead she abruptly stood and began to root through her backpack, not looking at him. "Forget it," she said briskly. "I already decided that I'm not going to do it, so there's no reason to think about it any more."

She kept digging for her toiletries as she heard him shift against the trunk of his tree.

"And what will you tell the miko?" he asked her.

Surprised, she paused for a fraction of a second before resuming her search. "I'll tell her that you said no," she informed him as she pulled out her soap and shampoo, then tucked her towel and pajamas beneath her arm. She turned toward the stream, determined to stay true to her word and expel the thought from her mind.

"So you will go into battle untested?"

Kagome stopped in her tracks. She looked back over her shoulder and smiled at his solemn face. "It wouldn't be the first time," she said flippantly before beating a hasty retreat into the trees, not wanting to think about that either. When she returned he was sitting with his eyes closed, hands folded into his sleeves. He ignored her as she cooked her dinner, ate, and crawled into her sleeping bag.

They went to sleep without exchanging another word that night.

x X x

When Kagome woke up the next morning she felt as though she had reached a very good place to be, which was the land of Not Caring What Fuyu Thought. Here in the land of Not Caring What Fuyu Thought, Kagome could rest assured that even if Fuyu thought she was being an idiot, she, Kagome, was not obligated to care and thus there was no reason to feel at all guilty or unhappy about anything the old woman might say regarding Kagome's intelligence, intentions, or parentage.

It was grand.

With a spring in her step, Kagome jumped out of her sleeping bag and bustled about, preparing for the coming day of Not Caring At All, Nope, Not At All, Really.

For his part, by the time the world had turned toward the predawn hours, Sesshoumaru had made a decision: he was going to do something that would seem, to the outside observer, to be really stupid.

Of course, Sesshoumaru had decided to do many, many stupid things in his life, but, by all outward appearances, this seemed to be the dumbest one.

It seemed ridiculous. Utterly moronic. In fact, it appeared to be such a stupid thing that the casual observer would conclude that he had gone completely insane; even considering such a move seemed to indicate that he was several miles over the border between 'sane' and 'barking mad' and accelerating. Of course, looking back on everything he also knew that the casual observer would conclude that he had obviously not been in his right mind for a while.

Clearly, a casual observer would be wrong, of course, because here on the inside of his head it was all very logical and made perfect sense, and therefore did not warrant any second guessing. He was perfectly sane. Clearly.

Definitely not at all crazy, in any way.

Swishing red hakama passed across his field of vision and Sesshoumaru realized that he had been staring off into space. He raised his eyes to see Kagome standing a few feet away, her backpack slung over one shoulder and one hip cocked rather saucily. She had a very large, very fake smile on her face.

"Ready?" she beamed at him, smelling nervous.

For a long moment he looked at her before nodding and rising to his feet, falling into step behind her as she strode into the trees toward the large meadow that led to the shrine.

As they had strolled this way many times over the past few weeks Sesshoumaru felt that the view, never anything terribly special to begin with, could be safely ignored in favor of watching Kagome as she walked ahead of him. Tilting his head, he studied her gait closely with as clinical an eye as he could muster, and decided that the confidence radiating from her stiff spine was almost convincing. If she only had fifty years or so, he reflected, she could probably learn to control the scent she gave off and conceal her anxiety completely.

If only.

Something inside twisted up and over itself at this thought. She was in such danger...

Well, all the more reason for him to go through with this very, very stupid plan.

They were nearing the shrine now, and Kagome was slowing to a stop as she turned to say goodbye.

"Have a good day!" she told him brightly.

"I will," he replied.

They stood there for an awkward moment in the grey light of predawn; the silvery field stretched behind them, the shrine in front. Kagome shifted from foot to foot.

"O...kay," she said eventually.

Sesshoumaru stared at her, waiting for her to ascend the steps ahead of him.

She gave him a severe look. "Good day," she repeated, rather more pointedly than necessary.

"Thank you," he said. He didn't move.

"Aren't you going to... you know, go? And have a good day?"

He raised an eyebrow.

"Somewhere else?" she added, her voice tinted with a light exasperation.

Sesshoumaru shrugged. "Eventually," he said. "Right now, I will come with you."

Blinking rapidly at this declaration, Kagome thoroughly failed to get it.

"What?" she said, and he could not tell if she was displeased or merely disbelieving.

"I said that I am coming with you."

She still didn't seem to comprehend his words. "No," she told him, shaking her head as though to clear it. "No, we already went over this - I'm not going to goddamn practice on you!"

He blinked at her. "Why have I gone to all this trouble if you are willing to fail at the last?" he asked. Really, it wasn't that hard to understand at all - he wanted her alive, and Sesshoumaru was not in the habit of not getting what he wanted. Therefore obviously he was willing to do anything to ensure that she stay just how he liked for as long as he liked.

"I'd rather fail than seal you. I told you that."

Sesshoumaru kept his face carefully neutral. "I'd rather you succeed."


Frowning, he looked her up and down, taking in the shaking fists and rising color in her cheeks. He had expected resistance - was, in fact, counting on it - but this level of vehemence was almost excessive.

He sighed.

When he landed at the top of the steps of the shrine with a kicking and screaming Kagome tucked under his arm the old woman merely looked at them both before giving a curt nod of the head. Then she strode past him with a purposeful step and descended to the field below.

He followed her.

After a few moments of watching - and yelling - helplessly as events spun out of her control, Kagome informed him of her displeasure over this state of affairs by attempting to hit him in a very sensitive area. Fortunately she only succeeded in bruising her fist against his armor, but nevertheless the blow was an impressive one, and unexpected at that.

Feeling slightly uneasy Sesshoumaru decided at this point that it might be prudent to relocate her; the fact that the impact of her stomach against his armor-plated shoulder effectively silenced her was just a happy consequence.

For a minute Kagome merely dangled limply down his back, but when she regained the use of her lungs he heard her begin to mutter terribly unladylike curses under her breath. The old miko was still walking a few yards in front of him, apparently uninterested in the girl and the youkai behind her.

"You know," Kagome said as they neared the line of trees, "this isn't going to work. You can't force me to shoot you."

"Hn," Sesshoumaru replied, wishing she would be quiet. He knew that.

"And I'm not going to shoot you," she reminded him, just in case he had forgotten.

"Hn," he postulated. He knew that, too.

"What if something goes wrong? What if I purify you?"

Repressing the urge to roll his eyes, Sesshoumaru didn't even bother to answer, simply trudged on.

Feeling increasingly distressed Kagome rummaged around in the depths of her dirty trick box, desperately searching for something to deter him from this ridiculous fool's mission. That he had attempted on numerous occasions to dissuade her from similar pursuits and met with similar reticence was incidental; clearly this was different because now it was she who was being sensible. When she was being the sensible one it was probably for a good reason, and now he wasn't listening to her.

She thought frantically, her heart racing. "What will all the other youkai think?" she demanded suddenly.

For a moment she thought it might have worked as the youkai lord paused for a fraction of a second, but her hopes were quickly dashed when he continued. "At this point there are no other youkai nearby," he informed her. "I have killed them all."

Which was how she found herself in this position in the first place, and Kagome could not decide whether to curse this fact or feel grateful. It was only eight or so in the morning, and already her entire world had inverted itself, and it wasn't just because she was upside down, nose-to-obi. Biting her lip and staring at the bright yellow fabric in front of her eyes, Kagome searched with mounting despair for something that would dissuade him from this horrible task.

Without warning the world tipped and she was standing dizzily on her feet as Sesshoumaru brushed past her. Kagome turned in time to see Fuyu drop her finger from where she was pointing and Sesshoumaru following her directions to stand in front of one of the trees at the edge of the forest.

It seemed to be happening so quickly. One moment she had been tranquilly crossing the field before dawn and now she was about to put an arrow through Sesshoumaru. She was being swept along, the tide of the universe swift and inexorable. Her fingers itched to grab something, anything, and hold on.

"What if I leave you like that?" she demanded, the frantic feeling of helplessness clawing up her spine. "What if I seal you and leave you?"

"You won't," she heard him say.

Kagome shut her eyes. Arrogant bastard.

It had all gone so wrong so fast. Very quietly, she wondered what deity had it in for her and what she had done to deserve his anger. She could feel the past and the present piling against one another; she could feel her heart running dry.

She opened her eyes again to find the world a blur, and Kagome immediately thought it odd that she hadn't even known that she had started to cry.

Angrily she scrubbed her face before she unshouldered her bow and let it drop to the ground. The distant white figure of Sesshoumaru stood placidly in front of her, and ten feet away Fuyu was giving her that strange, hard look again.

"Girl," the old woman said.

"Shut up," Kagome snarled back.

She was so angry.

How dare you ask me to do this? she demanded, lost in the darkness of her head. How dare you ask me to do this to him?

"I'm not going to. I can't."

"You can and you will."

Everything in her balked. "I can't and I won't!".

Fuyu crossed the distance between them in a heartbeat and backhanded her across the mouth.

Shocked, Kagome brought her hand to her face, felt the dampness of shed tears on her tender skin. With wide, disbelieving eyes, she turned to Fuyu.

The old woman was red in the face.

"You have no time!" Fuyu yelled, and the sharp sound seemed to slice through Kagome's skull. "Do you understand? You have nothing! You told me you were willing to do anything to defeat this evil, now do it!"

Trembling, Kagome took a step backwards, shaking her head.

For a long moment the old woman stared at her. Then, with determined movements, she removed her own bow and drew an arrow from the quiver on her back.

"Fine," she said. "Then I will use him as a demonstration."

She slotted the arrow and began to draw it back.

"No!" Kagome shrieked, lunging forward. Desperately she grabbed the bow, tried to wrench it out of the old miko's hands, but Fuyu had a grip like the snap of predatory jaws.

"You choose who does it!" Fuyu shouted. "But he is getting sealed, one way or another!" Then her diamond-hard eyes narrowed. "And I'm getting old," she added in a low hiss. "Who knows how much my hand might slip, or what I might do in a second of absentmindedness."

Kagome froze in horror.

"No," she gasped. "You wouldn't."

"Go ahead and tempt fate, girl. Go ahead and toy with all those lives. Choose to take that chance, just like you chose this task. Or did you think it would be easy?"

I don't know! she wanted to scream, wanted to cry. I don't know!

But she was silent. Slowly, Kagome swallowed hard and released the wood clenched between her fingers.

"Your youkai understands," Fuyu said as she drew away. "Do you?"

Dumbly, Kagome nodded.

"Good. Pick up that bow!"

With numb fingers, Kagome did as she was told.

"Now do it."

Kagome nocked an arrow and brought the bow level, drawing the string back to her shoulder.

She stared down the wooden shaft and felt her heart breaking.

Sesshoumaru stared back at her.

There was, in the tiniest corner of his mind, a small, shining fear that she would actually go through with it, but he brushed it aside, dismissing it only slightly uneasily. Really, she'd never given him cause to doubt her; the only reason he was standing here at all was because he knew that her powers always flared under duress - she had told him that herself - and this conflict between her heart and her rational mind would most likely help her summon the power required. From experience, Sesshoumaru knew that once one had the feel of a move, it was much, much easier to duplicate it again.

She just needed to do it once. Then he could start being sane again, not that he wasn't already. Just... even more sane. Yes.

So really, it was fine. Sesshoumaru was almost entirely confident that her tender nature would win out over her self-preservation. The Kagome that he knew would never, in a million years, do anything to injure him.

Of course, she could not know that he knew this, or it wouldn't work. In the pit of his stomach he felt a slight twinge at the emotional turmoil he knew she was experiencing.

His gaze traveled down the trembling shaft of the arrow to her wide, burning eyes. The harsh edge of her breath dragged its jagged edge across his ears.

"Sesshoumaru," he heard her whisper. "Please..."

He felt the quirk of a sardonic smile lift the corners of his lips. She was so scared, but there was nothing to fear.

Across his mind drifted a vision of his half-breed brother staked to a tree. It had been the work of the priestess who had been Kagome's predecessor.

He thought he might feel history fold back on itself once more, over and over again, but he knew it wouldn't go that way this time. Just like he would not wander the lands in mourning, unable to reclaim his house should it fall, Kagome would not stake him to a tree and leave him there.

Things would be different.

And perhaps, he thought, she was afraid that it wouldn't be.

Teetering on the edge, between success and failure - and both seemed exactly the same as the other - Kagome saw the fractional softening of his face, the tiny melting that she knew only she could see, that he reserved only for her.

She saw him open his mouth.

She heard his voice.

And he said, very gently, as though he were speaking to a child:

"You are not her, Kagome."

She wanted to scream.

Sesshoumaru watched as her jaw clenched, and somewhere behind her eyes he saw some old, badly healed wound tear wide open. He remembered, too, what it felt like to be mistaken for someone else, to stand in perpetual shadow.

So what she said next surprised him.

"Baka," she whispered harshly. "I already knew that."

Kagome fired, and the arrow flew straight and true.

Strangely cold, Sesshoumaru watched it approach.

Then he heard a loud, wooden sound as it hit a tree five yards to his left, and the impact of the seal caused the air to waver so violently that Sesshoumaru would almost have sworn that the small section of the forest next to him, for the briefest of moments, had winked out of existence and then back in again.

Kagome was standing frozen in place as he strolled back to where she stood, trembling.

"That was quite satisfactory," he murmured to her when he reached her. He stretched his hands out and gently peeled her clenched fingers from her bow before letting it drop to the ground. Shaking, she looked up at him.

They stared at each other for a long moment before Kagome punched him in the chest.

"You idiot!" she cried. "You stupid, stupid bastard - what the hell were you thinking? Why did you - what are you - GOD!"

She punched him again.

He frowned at her slightly resentfully before deciding that she was probably under a lot of pressure and should not be held responsible for assaulting his person. He shrugged.

"It worked," he said simply. He was... surprised, but gratified; now that it was over and she had been successful, he thought he might be returning to his senses, which were sensibly suggesting that no youkai, no matter how strong he thought he was, would ever place such trust in a mere human being. His senses were also remarking insistently that he was, as Kagome had suggested, an idiot. By the way, his senses added, he certainly should be at least slightly unsettled to have been so close to a spell of such power, and only an idiot would be so glib about it.

Sesshoumaru told his senses to shut up.

Looking down at Kagome he quirked a brow, as though to ask her what she thought.

She stared at him.

"Yes, it worked quite well," came the voice of Fuyu. Both Kagome and Sesshoumaru turned to see her standing a few feet away, looking at them contemplatively.

Strange, Sesshoumaru thought to himself. He had forgotten she was there.

"Congratulations, girl," the old woman continued, "you performed a seal strong enough to bind almost any demon you choose."

"Almost?" Sesshoumaru asked frigidly. It seemed like a pretty thorough seal to him. Though he would never admit it there was a high, thin shriek of adrenaline weaving its way through his system; were he a lesser youkai, his hands would be shaking at the thought that he had deliberately put himself in the path of such a powerful spell.

"Yes, but that is very impressive," the old woman said. "I bet that seal would have almost worked on you, and if she could seal you she could seal anything."

Satisfied, Sesshoumaru nodded before turning back to Kagome, who was still staring at the old woman with a look of angered anguish on her face. She was upset. He still didn't like that, but it didn't seem to matter - the task was over, and she had succeeded. Her chances of survival were suddenly exponentially better than they had been only an hour ago, and that was what he wanted.

He turned towards the trees again and the warmth of her hand on his chest fell away. He looked back at her where she stood, staring at the ground. She didn't lift her head to meet his gaze.

In a moment of rare intuition, Sesshoumaru concluded that it was time to get out of there before the old woman decided she needed to practice on him some more, or Kagome killed him. As he suspected that both options were very real possibilities, he beat a deliberate retreat into the forest.

Kagome saw, from the corner of her eye, his soft black boots shift on the dry grass as he continued toward the trees; there was only the slightest of rustling sounds as he moved away.

She stood there for a long moment, unsure that she would be able to walk or speak - everything inside her was twisted around and over everything else, leaving her in a painful knot. Her head ached badly.

She heard Fuyu sigh.

"You did well, girl," the she said, the first real praise Kagome had ever heard from the old woman, but somehow she just could not bring herself to take pleasure in it.

"I commend you," the miko continued. "You'll defeat your enemy when you meet him."

"He wasn't my enemy," Kagome whispered in a strangled voice.

There was a pause. "No," Fuyu said, "he is not."

Kagome swallowed around the lump of misery clenched tightly around the base of her throat.

"Why - " she began, then stopped and licked her lips.

"Why... why did you do this to me?"

She could hear the rough, sore edge of her voice, quiet and raw.

There was a silence. In the trees, a small breeze fluttered through the leaves.

"To make you strong," Fuyu replied softly, finally.

Sadly, Kagome nodded.

And that seemed to be all there was to say.

x X x

It was evening, and Kagome was feeling at her least chipper.

She'd spent the entire day feeling miserable, while the hot sun beat down on her back as she pulled weeds out of the vegetable garden. Surprisingly only a small fraction of her misery was caused by the annoying torture of weed-pulling; the majority of it was a direct result of the mountain of fear and regret that had built up in a shatteringly short amount of time since she had almost shot Sesshoumaru with a sealing arrow. Every time she closed her eyes she could see him standing there, looking bored, just waiting for her to get it over with; it was seared into her memory.

Until that very moment, Kagome had not understood how deeply she had drawn him into her heart.

And she had fired. Admittedly she had not fired at him, but - god, what if she had missed? What if her hand had slipped? What if ten thousand things had gone wrong in that moment?

It seemed as though she had used him, and the fact that he had been an entirely willing participant just made it worse; she felt dirty, inside and out, but no matter how much she had scrubbed in the stream she couldn't seem to get herself clean. Even more disturbing, she had sporadically found herself wishing with just a tinge of desperation that she could have spent some time with Kazuo today, and she had very little idea why. The stray thoughts that trailed their smoky fingers through her mind suggested sake and a sympathetic ear, and if it hadn't been for Fuyu's light warnings against that sort of temptation she would have leapt from the garden and run to him for the comfort she needed so badly. Now that she thought she might, perhaps, have an inkling of what strange nightmares might fill his head he seemed... safer. Less volatile, more logical. It all seemed to make a horrible sort of sense in a way that it hadn't before.

Now, curled inside her sleeping bag, she saw Sesshoumaru standing there at the edge of the trees, patiently waiting to be bound. Again and again, she saw the slightest look of surprised fear in his eyes when the spell hit. Over and over, she imagined what would have happened if something had gone wrong.

Why did he agree to such a stupid thing? Why did I let him? The questions chanted on an endless loop. Of course, there had been a certain amount of coercion involved, but that didn't change the fact that she had taken even that tiniest of risks.

For the first time since they had begun to travel together, he had not been at camp when she had returned, and she was pathetically grateful that he had not. She had quickly eaten dinner and dressed for bed, racing for her sleeping bag when she felt a slight swell in the faint, strange chill of his youki. Now he was coming closer.

Kagome shut her eyes.

Sesshoumaru came through the trees.

Pausing just inside the edge of the clearing, he listened to her soft, slightly tense breathing as she lay quite still. She was only distinguishable as a soft mound beneath her blankets, and he knew she was just pretending to sleep. Still, he was inclined to let her continue the charade as an unusually perceptive part of his brain was telling him, very insistently, that any conversation attempted tonight would be awkward. After all, what would they say to each other?

Oh, I say, I was nearly sealed today!

I know, dear. I was there, remember?

Ah, yes, now I do. If I recall correctly, it was you who almost bound me with a spell. How very odd!

Oh, yes, I did, didn't I? Well, ahaha, forgive and forget, I always say!

...Yes, I can see why you would.

No, Sesshoumaru concluded, that would not do at all.

Sesshoumaru bowed his head and brought a clawed hand to his temple, letting his fingers massage the skin there in slow, semi-soothing circles. He tried to think.

After a moment he reached a decision that was not, for a change, a stupid one. He decided, very sensibly, that what they both needed now was a good night's sleep; she was so terribly sensitve that she probably needed to distance herself from the fact that she had shot an arrow, if not at him, then at least in his general vicinity, and he definitely needed to distance himself from the fact that he had let her do so.

Yes. He had simply stood there, almost entirely confident that she wouldn't go through with it; of course, there had been a tiny doubt, squeaking in the shadowed corners of his head - after all, her predecessor had sealed his brother without a thought - but he had ignored it. He refused to be ruled by such things. Besides, Kagome was not Inuyasha's woman; it stood to reason that she would not act the same. He had counted on that.

In fact, thinking back on it, the amount of trust he had placed in her was actually downright embarrassing, and now that it was over he wondered what had actually been going through his mind. He had never, ever allowed himself to be so vulnerable. What if he had been wrong? The only people in the world who had seen him in a comparative state of weakness had been his father, his mother, and Rin.

He didn't want to think about the things he might have done for any of them, either, though whether he was afraid that he would have done something similar or whether Kagome was unique in that regard, he could not say.

Maybe he had lost his mind.

Very quietly, Sesshoumaru walked to the tree where Kagome was feigning slumber and removed his swords from his hip, setting them as far away from her as possible before he unstrapped his armor. The fire behind him was already dying, but he could see her quite well in the fading light as he went through his evening routine.

Or, rather, he would have been able to see her if her head had not been buried beneath her pillow. Still, he imagined she looked as troubled as he felt.

He was probably as stupid as she told him he was. What had he been thinking? Did he really want her to survive that badly?

He dropped his armor to the ground, heard the soft thump as it hit.

Do I really care that much? he wondered, gazing at the lump of girl swaddled inside the strange material.

Did he really want to know?

She was going to leave soon - she would go off to battle and either die or go home, but she would not return to him afterwards. Maybe some far off day in the future they would meet again, but their time together was running out, and that knowledge lay cold in his chest, sat heavy on his lungs, restricted his breath.

Abruptly, almost angrily, Sesshoumaru shook his head, as though to dislodge the strangeness that had settled there. It made no difference, of course; all he had done was strengthen the odds that she would survive when he was no longer with her. That was all. He owed her that much, at least.

Almost morosely he lowered himself against the tree and closed his eyes.

Perhaps, he thought, and even in his head the hope seemed merely to be an empty gesture, tomorrow will be better.

Disturbed and unhappy, Sesshoumaru slipped off into troubled sleep.

x X x

In the small, dark hours of the morning Kagome woke up and knew immediately that something had gone terribly wrong.

Her eyes flew open with a gasp and she sat bolt upright in her sleeping bag, her eyes darting around her, flying over the clearing, looking for the danger, looking for the terror that had awoken her.

She could see nothing, even in the dim moonlight. Beyond the clearing nothing moved, and over the pounding of her heart the forest was silent.

Breathing heavily, Kagome slowly and carefully slipped out of her sleeping bag and backed up until she felt herself bump against Sesshoumaru.

"Sesshoumaru!" she hissed quietly, nerves jangling. The sound of the alarm bells in her head shook her brain, vibrated down her spine.

Behind her, the youkai didn't move.

"Wake up!" Kagome whispered urgently. "Something's wrong!"

There was still no answer from behind her.

She turned clumsily, bumping against him again as she did so.

Sesshoumaru fell over.

In the ghastly silver light of the moon his white clothes were stained black with blood.

An arrow protruded from his chest.

Kagome screamed -

In the small, dark hours of the morning Kagome woke up and this time it seemed real, but the high screaming note of terror in her head drowned out her rationality. Frantically she struggled out of her sleeping bag and launched herself across the small space between herself and Sesshoumaru - who seemed asleep, or dead, or asleep, or dead - and landed next to him, her fingers already fumbling in the folds of his clothing before she was able to rip his haori open and expose his bare chest. Desperately she pressed her hands against his skin in the dark, searching for the wound she knew had to be there.

Groggily, Sesshoumaru reflected that while this was not the first time a woman had awoken him from a deep sleep by tearing his clothes off, this was certainly the last woman he had really expected to do so.

He'd hoped she would, though, just a little. Hypothetically. Now the very unhypothetical sound of her gasping breath sent a flood of warmth from his head to his groin, and Sesshoumaru opened his eyes, suddenly very awake indeed.

Fortunately - or unfortunately, he really couldn't tell which at this point - the look on her face was not one of passion but of terror, and now that he was fully conscious the silver scent of her fear was permeating the air all around them, both enticing and disturbing at the same time. Nervous and perplexed and entirely unsure as to what was going on or what he should do about it, Sesshoumaru watched as she traced her fingers over his chest.

Her fingertips left little trails of fire where they went.

He heard his own sharp intake of breath at the sensation, and she immediately looked up, her wide eyes and open mouth the picture of shock.

She was definitely not trying to seduce him, which was both a pity, since physically it had worked so very well, and a relief, since it was exactly what, intellectually, he didn't want happening.

She had better have a very good explanation for doing this.

He stared at her intently as she looked for her voice.

"I'm - " he heard her gasp. "I'm sorry! I just..."

She closed her mouth and swallowed hard, her head drooping just a little as she shut her eyes.

"I had a bad dream," she said, a little calmer than before.

Slowly she opened her eyes again, staring at the smooth expanse of his skin beneath her fingers.

"There was so much blood..."

Ah. She'd dreamed he was wounded, and had wanted to make certain that it was not true.

How... disappointing? Touching? Er, how... something...

Thinking had become very difficult - even more difficult than usual, which was quite a feat – so Sesshoumaru gave up and waited for her to realize what she was doing.

Yet as the seconds ticked by she made no move to remove her hand, and, with a strange, delicious despair, he noted that he was growing warmer and harder by the second.

This is a very bad development, he thought distantly.

Sesshoumaru willed himself to push her away.

The seconds ticked by. He stayed still.

The night was very warm, the air was thick, and, high above, the moon shone through the branches of the trees, splashing across her lovely body. He felt compelled to stare, fixated, at what it revealed to him.

She was hypnotic. One strap of that flimsy shirt she wore had fallen down her shoulder, and he wanted to hook one claw into the fabric and pull it down the rest of the way, to expose her body to the moonlight. He ached to taste the silver swell of her breasts, itched to pull her in and rub himself against her, and those delicate little fingers, those delectable, calloused warrior's hands should be exploring his body, tracing across his back, over his hip, down -

No. Stop.

Sesshoumaru swallowed, hard.

Struggling, he tried to think cold thoughts, clinical thoughts, safe thoughts; he was teetering dangerously on a precipice, one that he had known was there but that he had refused to acknowledge in the vain hope that if he ignored the sudden drop, he could walk on air.

It was his own fault, too - the fall was not unexpected, and yet it was unwelcome all the same. He had been avoiding his desire for her for nearly a month - maybe longer, he didn't know - but now that she was so close, so delightfully framed in the glow of the night, so innocently exploring his skin, there was no way he could deny it any more.

He wanted her, badly.

Very, very badly.

And it was all wrong, so very, horribly, terribly wrong. He couldn't have her, was not supposed to want her, and, more importantly, he didn't even want to want her. To want her would be to enjoy her completely, to desire everything, to lose himself entirely. He was already inextricably bound to her in that strange, intangible way of words and thoughts, of honor and debt; to take that final step would be disastrous. To close that one last space between them would be to grow into her, to entangle himself with her so thoroughly that to escape with all of himself would be impossible. He would mourn it; he would regret it so bitterly that he would never return to himself, ever.

To have her, and then to release her - worse hell than never having her at all.

In front of him, Kagome bit her lip and worried it between her beautiful white teeth, and he felt a treacherous ache in his bones; he itched to reach out and run his thumb over the plump flesh of her mouth, soothe away the soreness left behind by her anxiety...

God, but he was truly insane, letting himself entertain the barest of notions of strengthening such ties even further. He had learned his lesson, after all. A human girl had already irreversibly altered him from what he was; he could not let something like that happen to him again.

He could not.

Kagome let her head droop a little further, and her hair fell away to expose the delightful curve of her jaw.

He could not look away. Oh, yes, he desired her, wanted to slide his hands over the dip and curve of her waist, wanted to cup her hips against his, wanted to trace the shell of her ear with lips, teeth, tongue, wanted to pin her beneath him and never let her get up again, but at the same time he loathed his own traitorous body, his traitorous mind that had let this happen. Or maybe he desired her because she was not allowed.

He could not tell if it mattered - either way he had let himself want her, carelessly, and only now did he realize that it was too late to turn back.

And somewhere dark and deep, at the base of his spine, in the forgotten rooms of his mind, was the part of him that had always refused to be tamed, that had eluded his hard-won self-control. Now he could feel it rise and fall as somewhere within him it breathed a whispered word.

It passed across his mind. Feather-light, shining, it floated by, and nothing he could do would unthink it again.

Perhaps... he thought.

Perhaps this, perhaps that, perhaps he might, she could, they would -


And, deep inside, Sesshoumaru felt himself take the next step towards ruin.

He closed his eyes.

He had fallen to his father's curse. He wanted a human being, so badly that he might even risk the past again just for a taste of her, just for the unhappy sweetness of holding a dying creature in his arms and making her his own.

She was so brief, and his enemies so very, very long...

They would all know his weakness. For the rest of his life, he would be known as his father's son. Everyone would know.

A frown, unbidden, unconscious, was forming across his brow, and Sesshoumaru, itching for a way out, rebelled. He reached a decision.

Sesshoumaru opened his eyes, and looked at the woman in front of him.

But, then again, what did it matter? He valued his pleasure, for it was so hard to come by, and she was nothing, nothing to him except, perhaps, that it pleased him to want her. And Sesshoumaru always did what he pleased.

And besides, he thought, almost a shade hysterically, wanting was entirely different from having. He didn't have to give in to his own disastrous desire, didn't have to take that final step; with any other female he wouldn't have hesitated, but here, now, with Kagome, he could not. She was too much for him. Too much. There was just too much, too much danger, too much desire, too much for him to risk himself just for the fleeting pleasure of her body.

But he could want her. There was no harm in allowing himself that.

Before him she sat, looking delectable and forbidden, and there was pleasure in temptation, he knew; there was pleasure enough in coveting.

He let himself want.

She was just so... her. So Kagome. Not beautiful or ugly or anything but herself, and Sesshoumaru could almost see her head thrown back, her face contorted in pleasure, could almost feel her long legs wrapped around his waist as –

"It was me," Kagome said suddenly, breaking into his spiraling reverie.

As if she had snipped his strings, he tumbled back to the earth, confused and disoriented.

Blinking, he tried to clear the red fog from his mind. He licked his dry lips and tried to remember what they had been talking about.

"What was you?" he asked, staring at the slender curve of her lovely throat in fascination.

She still wouldn't look at him. "The one who shot you," she said softly after a moment. "It was me."

The fingers on his chest were restless, roaming.

"You're really not... hurt?" she wanted to know.

The dream. Yes... Sesshoumaru remembered. He shook his head, not trusting his voice.

Her chest rose and fell in a tantalizing sigh. "I'm so, so sorry," she whispered. "I didn't even want to do as much as I did."

"It was necessary," he reassured her absently. The meandering, heated trails left by her hands were increasingly distracting. His eyes traced one long glossy tendril of hair as it curled over the soft swell of her breasts, barely covered in that flimsy fabric, and he thought, almost giddily, that he would happily give up his left arm again to be that lock of hair.

"I... I don't know," she told him. "When I saw you standing there, I just couldn't... I couldn't stop thinking about..."

He felt something twist in his chest, and he thought he understood.

Slowly, he lowered his head, trying to catch her averted eyes.

"I told you," he murmured, "that you are not her."

Kagome could feel the sound of his words rumbling through his chest beneath her fingertips, and suddenly she was no longer wondering what was a dream and what was real. All those stupid, girlish fantasies that she had entertained because they were safe, because they would never, ever happen were clamoring in her head now, suddenly more real than she had ever thought possible, and they were dangerous.

Oh. God. Her hand was on his bare chest.

Kagome stared at her fingers where they rested on his firm flesh, frozen in place, too terrified by the sudden danger, too frightened by the thought of what she might find to look into his face. Swallowing, she shut her eyes.

"Baka," she whispered, and she heard the note of despair in her own voice, could hear it coloring the night between them with a cold, indigo edge. "You think that's the only reason I didn't want to shoot you?"

There was a long pause, and she could hear him breathing. "No," he finally said, quietly.

Kagome shook her head and began to draw away.

Sesshoumaru caught her hand in his own, and then, without warning, gave it a firm tug. With a soft cry of surprise she fell against him, the fingers of her other hand finding the gentle hollow between the curve of his shoulder and the rise of his chest. Here his haori was not disheveled, and she could feel warmth seeping through the silk. Her face was mere inches away from his bare throat.

She froze.

Then she felt his hot breath ghost over the shell of her ear and her body melted.

"Why," he murmured darkly, and there was a strange edge to his voice that she couldn't identify, "did you tell me that you knew?"

For a fleeting moment she wanted to ask him what he was talking about, but she could not. She could feel his long, tapered fingers prodding her, probing her heart, begging for her secrets, and of all of the secrets he sought, this was one of the deepest.

This secret was like looking into the darkness, and seeing the darkness look back.

Swallowing hard, Kagome shut her eyes and took a deep breath.

"Because... we were never the same person," she whispered.

A pregnant silence followed.

"I do not understand."

Kagome gave a bitter laugh. "I don't know if I understand," she mumbled. It made sense, and yet it didn't.

"Try to explain anyway."

But how could she tell him? Why did she have to think about the past here in his arms?

Who did he really think she was?

"We never shared the same soul," she said.

Sesshoumaru was quiet for a long moment, before:

"You were her reincarnation."

Kagome opened her eyes and drew back, looked into his smooth, calm face; she couldn't see anything there but curiosity - no judgment, no anger, no disappointment, and she wanted to run her fingertips over the stripes on his cheeks, wanted to trace the curve of his lips. She didn't, though. Instead, she shook her head.

"No I wasn't," she told him. "It was... I was..." Why is this so hard to say? "Her soul was just dormant, in my body."

She gave a small laugh at how ridiculous it sounded, and at how much horrible sense it made. "Supposedly my soul was enormous, much bigger than the soul of a normal person. I thought I might be special or something, like maybe that was where all my power came from, but it was just two souls entwined - hers and mine."

- in her hand the jewel glowed incandescent, and all her fear and hope crowded at the front of her mouth, uncertain and wondering if she would be no more - though she hoped that a small part, oh please oh please oh please, just a small part remembered, if she wasn't - and then something happened -

- across her chest, down through her stomach, a weird peeling sensation, a sudden sense of breath, and then she fit inside her own body, perfectly, felt as though she had unfolded from an unnatural position, felt the liberation of standing and stretching out, of having room -

Miserably, Kagome clenched her teeth.

I was never anything special in my past life. I wasn't destined to love Inuyasha or defeat the enemy or be anything but Kagome. I carried Kikyou and the jewel, and that was all I did.

"We were always separate," she said softly, "so when I made my wish on the jewel, she just... took hers back - " and if we had been the same, would I have died? " - and now I'm normal."

God, she had been so young, and so stupid.

He drew back a little further, was still looking at her with that intense stare, and Kagome found herself yearning to look away, but she could not. He held her gaze for a long moment.

"It was you who made the wish?" he said finally. It was a question, but he murmured it so darkly that it seemed like an accusation.

It was not what she had expected him to say, and she was thrown off-balance. "Y - yes," she replied, uncertainty pulling the world out from underneath her. "Who else would have?"

A cloud passed across the moon, dropping them silently into darkness. The hand on her wrist tightened, fractionally.

"I have always believed it to be Inuyasha." His dark voice rose to meet the night. "Did he not wish for the dead priestess?"

Did he not choose her?

The blood drained from her face. Kagome wavered, lightheaded.

That's right, she thought, slightly hysterically, you weren't there, were you?

Insanely, she wanted to cry, or run, or sleep for years, but Sesshoumaru remained in front of her, shrouded in shadows. She wanted to touch him.

But hadn't she betrayed Inuyasha once already? That, afterwards, he hadn't felt betrayed, or anything for her at all, didn't change that. The guilt was still there; she would always carry it.

All her sins, laid out beneath the sky, and he needed no light to see them. They burned, incandescent.

"No," she rasped around the lump in her throat. "He chose me."

Sesshoumaru felt himself become very still. In his chest something burned, so coldly he almost shivered, almost lost his iron grip on himself, and the tips of his fingers tingled with the greedy, possessive urge to pull her so close that she would grow into him. It was difficult for him to breathe, as though, with her revelation, she had just chained him to the darkness beneath the world.

So unexpected and unhappily familiar was this angry, crawling feeling that he could not move.

Kagome was too wrapped up in misery to notice the temporary stiffening of his limbs. He loved me, she wanted to say, just so someone else would know that she had been cherished, once upon a time in her life. He loved me. He really did.

And the regret ran so deep she knew the hollowness it left behind would never be wholly filled again.

The cloud skittered off into the corners of the world, leaving the moon behind. Once again she was gazing into golden eyes - those golden eyes that were so like Inuyasha's, and yet they had always been colder and deeper, like the far end of the ocean.

With pale despair, she tore herself away.

And while Sesshoumaru did not like the traitorous possessiveness that threatened to overwhelm him, he liked her pulling away from him even less.

Kagome gasped softly as he tugged her against his chest again, letting her hide from his scrutiny, and he was so immediate. The heat of his body, the smoothness of his skin begged her fingers to close the space between them, but she was too frightened, always too frightened to try. She didn't deserve it anyway.

"And what did you wish, Kagome?" he asked. His voice was alien and rigid, and she suppressed a whimper as his lips brushed against her ear.

- the one selfless wish she could think of, because she didn't wish for it at all, really, hated it, would die inside of it -

"That Inuyasha and Kikyou..." - stupid, horrible wish - "...That they could live, now, as though Naraku had never happened to them. As if... as if it were the very next day, and Kikyou had given Inuyasha the jewel, and he had made his wish."

And I couldn't wish anyone else back into life, Kagome thought despairingly, because that would make me happy and that would be selfish, and I couldn't erase all the pain, because that would make me happy and that would be selfish, and I couldn't fix anything except that one moment in time...

She hated that wish so much. It had made her so desperately miserable, and two years later her sacrifice was negated; that stupid, stupid curse that had reached out and destroyed everything good and true even when the jewel was gone. Or maybe it had just been bad luck that had taken Inuyasha and Kikyou in a wave of sickness. Either way, it didn't really matter.

Maybe she should have stayed with him and kept fighting to keep it safe, and yet how could she, when as long as it existed it would cause so much pain? Guarding and destroying both required sacrifices, but if it stayed in this world, she would just have to fail once for it to ruin so many lives again. To destroy it was both the harder and the easier sacrifice.

So Kagome did what Kikyou had wanted to do so badly, and tried to erase it from the earth. She hadn't really known what would happen; she hadn't known if the jewel would let her die or live, but she had done it anyway, and she hadn't told anyone because she was kind and noble and stupid, and she knew she could do it, because hadn't she done it once before?

Except she hadn't, because she had never been Kikyou.

Always just Kagome, and that was what I wanted, she thought. But I wanted to be a little bit of Kikyou, too. I wanted it both ways.

Perhaps it would not have worked if she had known that; it was of no consequence, though, since what had happened hurt as badly as dying, except that dying only took a moment and this took years.

And now here she was, still caught in time, still living in the past, trying to prove... what?

Sesshoumaru was still silent, still waiting for her to fill the quiet between them. Kagome let out a watery chuckle. "That's it," she said. "That's all there was. What else is there to know?"

She saw him incline his head, just a little, and his silky, beautiful hair slid over his bare shoulder; she stiffened at the sight. Tugging, she tried to reclaim her hand to straighten his clothing, to fix her foolishness - which was what she was always trying to do - but he refused to let her go.

Over the shell of her ear, he pulled a cool, quick inhalation. "And Inuyasha became human," he said, as though it made sense to him now, "and chose the dead priestess."

"No," she said, frustrated, sad. "He didn't choose her. He just... rewound. He remembered me, but he didn't..."

Kagome listened as her voice trailed off, and she sounded far away, even to her own ears. He didn't love me any more. Somehow, it was worse that she had chosen for him.

But it had made him happy, and she had hated him for it and loved him for it, and she just wanted to scream at the unfairness of it all. Maybe he wasn't her destiny, maybe she wasn't his past love, maybe they weren't meant to be, but that didn't mean it didn't hurt.

- he looked so surprised, so shocked to see her standing there, and there was Kikyou, alive and warm and real, and Kagome couldn't do anything but watch as the priestess took Inuyasha's arm and led him away, a strange expression on her face -

- and he turned and looked at his first love as she guided him to her sister's hut, but she did not return his gaze. Instead, Kikyou held the eyes of the-girl-who-wasn't-her, and wouldn't look away, almost as if it would be dishonorable not to watch the falling tears -

And the worst part, the worst part was that only after she had returned to the present did she realize how kind Kikyou had been to her. She had thought the priestess was wary, wanted to get Inuyasha out of Kagome's sight before he remembered that he loved Kagome now, not Kikyou, but that hadn't been it.

Kikyou had looked at her with such compassion. She who had watched the man she loved in life move on led him away, so Kagome would not have to see the same thing.

If only she could hate Kikyou it would be so much easier, but she couldn't, now that she had stood in her place.

There was a silence before Kagome took one deep, shuddering breath. "So that's it," she told him abruptly. "Kikyou was made for Inuyasha, and Kagome was made for wishing."

And here I am, still trying to be something great.

Sesshoumaru said nothing. Then he inclined his head and gave his sardonic little laugh.

She gritted her teeth. "What's so funny?" she demanded.

He pulled her slightly closer.

"And yet you are here."

Frustrated, she squirmed a little, but he just held her that much more securely. "What does that have to do with anything?" she said angrily.

And she could hear the smile in his voice. "Only that wishing alone," he murmured, "never takes one anywhere."

What? she thought. What?

He seemed to sense her confusion, and inclined his head towards her. "You spent all this time trying to outrun her," he said quietly, "but even were none of this true, you still would not have been her."

There was a light prickle of tears behind her eyes. That was supposed to make her feel better?

And yet... maybe. Maybe, for once, he knew what he was talking about, because even if that wasn't her fate, that didn't mean she didn't have a destiny at all. It just wasn't what she'd thought it was.

Very slowly, Kagome let herself lean in further and further, until her face rested against the curve where his neck met his shoulder. His skin was hot, and beneath it, pressed lightly against her cheek, she could feel the staccato beat of his heart for which no music existed.

Then there was the shivery stir of breath in her hair, and the fingers resting lightly against her back seemed to tremble and glide, tracing a shuddering pattern over her flesh so faintly that it might have been her imagination.

Her mouth had gone completely dry.

Gently, Sesshoumaru nuzzled her hair, trying to command her attention, trying to keep her without holding her fast. He didn't want her thinking of the past when he was now. "You were always yourself," he said softly, his lips a hair's breadth from her ear, pulling her to him without touch. "You were similar, but you were not the same. Surely even Inuyasha could tell that."

Uncertain, Kagome almost - almost - laughed at that, but she could only force a small gasp from her laboring lungs. She just couldn't get enough air -

"Because she was dead, right?" she blurted suddenly, quietly, and the softness of her mouth ghosted against the pounding of his heart. Kagome moved back very slightly and swallowed hard. "She was dead and I was alive."

His skin vibrated with the sound of his deprecating chuckle. "Not that," he murmured. She felt his grip on her hand loosen and then he was trailing the tips of his fingers up the soft inside curve of her arm, slowly advancing upwards to her shoulder. Dizzily, she wavered, falling into him.

"Not that," he whispered again, tracing his fingers against her arm, ever closer, ever nearer. "Even without it, you were not the same. She held the scent of a mountain full of rain. But you..."

He paused, and she heard him inhale deeply. "You were never so dark."

Trails of fire ignited where he touched her, and she felt, in the tips of her breasts, in the depth of her belly, the sharp, dark burn of need. Almost casually she noticed that she could no longer get enough oxygen through her nose; she could only struggle for air through her open mouth, dragging swift streams of breath against his throat.

His hand reached her shoulder. Slowly he moved it between her shoulder blades and gently pressed her to him.

Kagome's back arched. The aching tips of her breasts suddenly rubbed against his chest, rough and raw through cotton and silk, and she fought the flood of desire between her thighs, fought not to whimper, fought for the innocent thread of conversation that had nothing to do with the sudden, growing insanity of their bodies. And it was insanity. His skin was far too hot, his breath too heavy, his pulse too quick, and she needed to ease the hunger he stirred within her so badly that she couldn't think, couldn't focus, and all she wanted was -

"And me?" she managed. Her tongue was thick around the words. "You never told me. You said you'd tell."

There was a pause, and she felt him sigh into her hair.

And in the moment it took for him to answer her, Kagome felt the past and the future spiral inwards, spiral down, felt all things lost delicately dance with all things gained, until she could no longer tell them apart and they become one and the same.

She wanted to burrow into the air, wanted to fold the moment around them and never leave it.

She wanted to kiss him. She wanted to touch him. She wanted to snake her way between his clothing and his skin, wanted to move, restless and wild, rough and dark, over his body, wanted to crawl inside him, wanted, wanted, wanted, wanted -

He had her, now. She was here again, and Sesshoumaru did not want to acknowledge the dirty satisfaction that brought. She was nothing to him, except that she entertained and tantalized, and that was it, surely.

Swallowing hard, he was skating along the high, treacherous blade of desire; his mouth was so close to her skin that he needed only to part his lips and move across the tiny space between them to taste her, and he wanted it so badly it hurt...

And yet the moment he did, he would not stop. She was warm and needy in his arms, and he was almost certain that he could have her, if he chose, but he had already decided. He could not cross over the border of wanting to having; he wanted her there, but that was all. He was not willing to give any more.

"Tell me," she whispered to him.

He clenched his teeth.

And Kagome thought his body trembled for just a moment, but then he murmured, "Not yet."

Then his powerful hands were turning her, settling her back to his chest and cradling her in his lap and Kagome wanted to both cry with the loss of the building fire and give thanks for the sudden halt to the terrifying flames as he slipped his hands around to rest on her stomach. His embrace was suddenly no longer sexual but comforting as he let her sink back against him.

Already she could not decide whether or not the past few moments - hazy with desire and knowing - had been a dream or not, could not decide whether or not he had reciprocated her wanting with his own. She was so confused.

Restlessly, she shifted in his lap, but his hands kept her in place.

"You should sleep," Sesshoumaru whispered to her, and she thought she heard something in his voice that might have been sorrow or regret, but she was too strung out, too at odds with herself to even try to decipher him.

She wanted to turn around and ask him if he was real, or if she was, but she didn't.

She felt heavy and light all at once, and the thought occurred to her that maybe, perhaps, he felt the same - or worse - than she did. The idea was strangely calming.

Kagome took a deep breath. Gently, she placed a hand across one of his and leaned back against his chest, shutting her eyes. "So should you," she told him softly.

They fell asleep, listening to each other breathe.

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 32 of 42

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