So. 8 months, huh? Fuck.

.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

Winter passed. That final snow storm blanketed the land, and when it settled, the warm winds came down. Kagome remembered the morning she had walked outside her hut, and under the melting snow, she could smell soil – like the earth yawning, sweet fragrant air. For a month, the snow dropped from her calves to her ankles, flowing in icy streams toward the rivers and rice fields. The air still bit at her nose and cheeks with cold – but the wind was warm.

Spring saw the number of soldiers around the village increase. Every morning it was the same, from the drum calling their entrance to their overcrowding the streets, and their lewd comments. Even those villagers that had welcomed them in the beginning seemed to grow tired of them. Little by little, the tension in the village grew. Any day, or even any hour, that the soldiers didn't spill down into the village meant fresh air. Those first clear days of the season, thankfully, were spent away from the village center. Now that the ground was thawed and the winter stores were dwindling down, most time was spent in the rice paddies, in the fields, and in the gardens planting crops and herbs.

Spring didn't come all at once. It never does. Days of bitter cold were broken up by rainy mornings when fog would shroud the village. Kagome would stand in the doorway of her hut, with the warm fire crackling behind her, and the cool breeze brushing over her face. Those days were her favourite. They were silent. She would cradle a cup of steaming green tea in her hands and lean against the door frame. The fog was so thick she couldn't see the fortress up the mountain.

Little by little, the cold retreated to the snowcaps of the mountains, shrinking up the rocky hillsides. The mud hardened. Grass sprouted. Kagome had walked out one morning barefoot just to stand in the garden. When Takuya had come out to ask her what she was doing, she had said that she loved the scent of chlorophyll in the air when the plants began to grow again. He'd told her that he didn't know what Clor was or how it filled the air, but she was going to get sick if she kept doing that when it was still wet out.

Sango was showing. Rin guessed her at about six months, two months when she first told them since there was really no way to tell. The girl was extremely knowledgeable about being a midwife, and in turn was teaching Kagome - ever patient in departing what she'd learned from Kaede.

As the warmth came back, so did Kagome's training with Takuya. She was more or less responsible for her full duties by now, running the Shrine with the priest, but every day there was something new to learn. Or so he insisted.

The quiet melancholy that had enveloped Kagome all winter slowly began to seep away. However, even on lively nights with Miroku and Sango over with the kids, crowded into their small hut with laughter filling the room, Rin noticed that Kagome's gaze would drift longingly toward the door. Between gaps in the swaying doormat, she would look out past the horizon, to the forest, waiting for a lantern to glide into the stars.

It had been months since Inuyasha had last come back. When Rin asked, Kagome told her that she wasn't worried, that she knew Inuyasha could take care of himself, but it wasn't entirely convincing. Rin could tell. She missed him. Winter had made travel difficult no doubt, but that didn't seem to bring much comfort.

Rin found Kagome in a similar state late one night, standing on the top of the Shrine stairs. She had a shawl draped over her shoulders and down to her knees to keep warm.

Kagome looked down at the younger girl as she saw her climbing up the stairs. "Rin, where's your shawl? It's still cold enough to get sick," Kagome admonished as Rin raced up the final stretch.

"It's okay, the walk up the steps kept me plenty warm," Rin smiled, only to shiver not five seconds after.

Kagome rolled her eyes, laughing nonetheless as she opened her own shawl. Rin's smile grew wider. She hurried over, standing with her back against Kagome so the priestess could wrap her arms and the thick blanket around the both of them.

Rin snuggled back against her. Behind them, a soft murmur of voices drifted from the walls of the shrine house, followed by quiet bells and slight movement. Rin looked back at the shrine house. The lamps inside were dark, but small flames flickered through the windows. Even from this distance, it was difficult to tell that there was anyone inside. "How long have they been inside?"

"A while now, they should be done soon. You could go to bed if you're tired, I don't mind cleaning up on my own," Kagome replied.

Rin shrugged. "That's alright, I'm not tired," she yawned. "I'm glad they have somewhere to pray. But I always thought that Buddhists didn't normally pray in groups like this, only on special occasions."

"That's right," said Kagome, "but because all of their idols have to be hidden, and it's so dangerous to be caught doing Buddhist prayers, they're coming together at one time to protect themselves. Miroku was telling me before they went in that it felt odd because it is such an individual faith. Even growing up in a temple, he'd never lead prayer or meditation like this. It is nice, though. There is more solidarity between them as a group. Strangely enough, I think the village is getting along better than it ever did before."

"Mhm," Rin nodded, her thoughts already drifting off. "You were looking at the forest again."

The corner of Kagome's lips turned up. "Didn't know that was a crime."

"You're waiting for him?"

"Not really," Kagome sighed. "If I was waiting for him all the time, I'd drive myself crazy. I'm just... watching. Not anticipating anything."

Rin nodded, pretending she understood. "You miss him?"

"A lot."

"I bet he misses you too."

"He'd better."

That got a laugh out of the both of them. Kagome tickled Rin's sides under the confines of their blanket, causing the girl to squeal and squirm her way out of Kagome's hold. As she stumbled away, the shrine house doors opened, and a trickle of villagers spilt out and toward the stairs. Kagome and Rin stepped aside to allow them by, saying their goodnights and accepting the gratitude of the Buddhists as they passed. Miroku was the last one out, with Umeko clinging to the side of his robe. The other twin and toddler were both with their mother at home (Sayuri didn't like to sit still for too long, while Umeko loved to sit with her Daddy and listen).

Kagome met Miroku with a warm hug. The Monk still smelled of incense. Miroku returned it with a strong squeeze. "Thank you again, Kagome."

"It's no trouble," Kagome said as they parted. "I just wish this wasn't needed.'

"As do I," Miroku replied as he watched the villagers trickle back to their homes in the dark. "But we will do what is necessary until Masao is gone." Kagome remained silent. It didn't go unnoticed by Miroku. "Something wrong?"

Kagome chewed on her bottom lip for a moment, turning over her shoulder. "Rin," she called, "if you get started on just sweeping, you can go to bed without me and I'll finish up."

Despite her earlier argument that she wasn't tired and wanted to help, Rin could hear the undertone in Kagome's voice. Any argument she had fall silent off her tongue as she nodded and headed into the

shrine house.

Once the girl was out of sight, Kagome's gaze drifted back to the Monk, and out to the forest. "Until Masao is gone, you said..." she played with the ends of her hair. "It's just... we do what is necessary, yes, but I still just can't understand how he could possibly separate Shintoism and Buddhism. Sometimes even I don't know where one begins and the other ends."

"I'm sure he has some insane justification," Miroku replied. "But that justification has no place here, or anywhere. Masao is such a bastard, I'm sure there is resistance in every village he's taken." Kagome laughed, though quiet and slightly bitter. Miroku did the same. "Progress is slow, but it is progress. Any way we can defy him is something."

With that Miroku said his goodnights and hefted his half-asleep daughter into his arms. Kagome watched him carry her down the stairs to the shrine before her eyes slowly rose toward the forest. Gaze lingering, Kagome turned back toward the Shrine house.

.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

That morning was the first time in months that Kagome woke up warm. That sunlight slipped through the cracks at the closed window, pooling on the blankets, her skin, the floor. Still drifting on a slow current of sleep, Kagome stretched, sighed, and curled up on her mat. Across the room, the dogs, both piled o top of Rin, did the same with soft whines. Outside, bird and scattered voices sounded the start of the day. Kagome didn't fall asleep so much as wad back into it, the sounds around her growing faint and distant.

So, it was no wonder that he didn't hear when Takuya came inside, hefted a water bucket over his head, and dumped it on her. Kagome jolted up with a screech, sputtering as she pushed her soaking hair out of her face.

"Takuya!" she coughed.

The old priest stood unphased by her indignance. "You slept in," he shrugged.

Kagome groaned, standing up the escape the puddle she'd been sitting in. "I thought we were over this."

"Just be glad I didn't do it in the winter," he grinned. "I'm not entirely heartless."

Wringing out her kimono sleeves, Kagome glared at her teacher. "Has there ever even been a point to this? Some training secret, ancient tradition?"

Takuya shook his head. "No, don't be stupid. It's just the quickest way to get you up in the mornings."

He left at that, with the silent expectation that she follow when ready.

Kagome glared, pouted, at Takuya's retreating back, her hair dripping on her face, clothes dripping on the floor. On the other side of the room, Rin was sat up, and giggling at her. Kagome wrung out her hair on her head.

The two of them soon dried off, dressed, and went out. Takuya had breakfast ready in his hut next door. They ate quickly, Kagome pointedly ignoring Takuya's attempts at conversation for the first ten minutes. When breakfast was cleared, it was out to the shrine. Routine. Monotonous. Comforting in some ways and frustrating in others.

By early afternoon, chores at the shrine were finished. It was never much, just sweeping, cleansing rituals, a few modest offerings and the like. In all honesty, most of the work was to make sure that the Buddhists' belongings weren't found in the storehouse, and that all evidence of their praying on Shrine grounds carefully swept away. It had been going well these past few months, but they could not afford to take for granted that they would not be caught.

The moment they were finished, Rin was off to catch up with friends, a few girls were who going to teach her how to plate her hair, while she taught them to catch fish with their hands in the stream. She'd been chattering on about it nonstop all morning. Kagome, however, took a moment to lean against her broom and look down over the village. Though work in the fields had begun, the trees were still bare, the grass brown and world surrounding them colourless. She closed her eyes, breathing in the warm breeze. The air was fresh, scented with the promise of green buds, but there was still a ways to go.

Enough reminiscing about the warm weather, she decided. For now, at least. She always got so nostalgic in the spring.

Putting her broom away, Kagome headed down the steps and into the village. The market was beginning to fill up, she realised with subdued glee. Just a few stray carts selling the final stores of last year's rice, perfumes, pottery. It would be months until there was any food to sell. Kagome passed through the street, stepping over mud puddles and smiling at the villagers who bowed her good mornings.

"Lady Kagome," someone called from behind her. It was the old farmer who she'd spoken to at the midnight meeting of village Buddhists in the winter. Kagome stopped and smiled, bowing in greeting before popping up again. The previously disgruntled man gave her a minuscule but warm smile in return. "How are you this morning?"

"I'm doing wonderfully, thank you. Enjoying the sun," she said. "And you?"

"Fine, just fine," the farmer replied. They began to walk toward the centre of the sparse market. "It is nice to feel the sun again, isn't it?"

Kagome nodded, sending and odd side glance at her momentary compassion. She was on friendly terms with fairly well everyone in the village, but this man had never exactly been the talkative type. "Yes, it is."

"Now that spring is here, the roads have cleared up," he commented, keeping a casual gaze forward. "Travelling is easier again. News travels just as quickly," the farmer bowed his head respectfully to a passing soldier, then subtly diverted their course down a less populated path. "In fact, just this morning I heard from a merchant a remarkable story of a village that," he cleared his throat, "dared to stand against Lord Masao's army some weeks ago. Just as soon as a bloody battle began, a hoard of demons seemed to charge in to interfere. They were more interested in Masao's army than the villagers, it seems. Of course, they were no match for the Godstone. Or at least most of them weren't."

Kagome listened intently, keeping her gaze forward as well. The tension and secrecy rolling off the old farmer made her throat tight and her heart beat just a little faster. "Is that so?"

The farmer nodded. "Yes. As the merchant told me, apparently there was, at the height of the battle, a tremendous howling that roared through the valley. The fighting stopped, and between the mountains, the apparition of an enormous white dog came appeared. It came down the hillside, and was not affected by the Godstone," he stopped then, eyeing a few soldiers who peered at them from the other end of the path. "What an unfortunate turn of events."

Kagome, not daring to look behind her for fear of looking suspicious, kept on a concerned and shocked facade. "Yes, let's hope that creature doesn't come back any time soon."

With a smile in her eyes and a silent thank you, Kagome parted, heading back toward the village centre and the market place. She did not know if that farmer, or anyone who had heard Rin's slip that night, suspected what she and Inuyasha were doing - or that Inuyasha was alive at all. Maybe it would be safer if she didn't know. Regardless, that information struck a chord with her, sometimes she couldn't shake until she made it to the market again.

Lost in her thoughts amoung the meagre yet lively crowd, Kagome nearly passed the stall. If it weren't for the bright colours, she might have ignored it entirely, but the vibrancy and the intricate designs caught her eye. Kagome stopped and looked back over her shoulder to see a modest little stall all strung up with lanterns.

A spark burst in Kagome's chest. She walked toward the stall in a sort of trance, fingertips reaching up to brush against the ink painted onto the accordion paper surrounding one of the lanterns.

"Beautiful, aren't they?" grunted the merchant woman. She sat on a small blanket beside the cart, working away at embroidering.

"Yes," Kagome smiled breathlessly when she found her voice again. "Where did they come from?"

"Not too sure," she shrugged. "I bought them off another merchant on the other side of Fuji, who said he got them from some young artisan in the north. Apparently, he is some sort of traveller, I've seen the same work sold to a few different merchants working their way south, now."

Kagome pursed her lips to keep from grinning. "Well, he seems to be a busy man."

The merchant gave her an odd look. "I suppose so."

Reaching into the fold of her kimono, Kagome pulled out a small drawstring pouch. A few small coins fell into her palm. "Should this be enough for that one?" she asked, pointing to the lantern that had caught her eye. It was salmon coloured, with dark vines and red flowers crawling outwards. Looked like someone else had been thinking a lot of spring.

The merchant took the money and inspected it in her hand before nodding and looking back to her embroidery. Kagome could hardly contain herself as she took the lantern down and walked back to the outskirts of the village with it swinging at her side.

.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

When Takuya returned to Kagome's hut that evening, there was a lantern hanging at the apex of the roof, just over the door. The pretty little thing was lit with one small flame, dancing in the light wind. He shook his head as he ducked beneath it to get inside. "Kagome, what is that?"

Looking up from the fish she was cooking, the young woman shrugged. "That would be what we call a lantern, Takuya. Perhaps you've heard of them."

Takuya shot her a look. "Yes, I know it is a lantern. It just seemed like a silly thing to spend your money on," he said as he slipped out of his shoes and stepped up onto the floor.

Kagome smiled to herself as she looked back to the spit she was using to roast. "Well, I think that sometimes it's nice to treat yourself to silly little things like that."

Takuya's eye narrowed as he sat down beside her. "You're hiding something."

"Not hiding anything," was Kagome's sing-song reply. "You're just not asking the right question."

"Then what is this right question?"

"Not that."

"Spare me."

The priestess laughed. "It's one of Inuyasha's," she said. Lifting the lid off the pot hanging over the fire, Kagome dished out a ladle full of broth and rice noodles, before sliding a piece of cooked fish on top. She passed the bowl to her teacher.

Takuya accepted the bowl with a frown. "One of whose what?"

"The lantern," Kagome rolled her eyes. She kept her voice quiet, conspiratory and thrilled. "I found it in the market today. The merchant said it came from a young artisan in the North."

Takuya nodded, finally catching on. He raised the bowl to his mouth. "And you're certain it's Inuyasha's?"

Kagome nodded without a moment's hesitation. Her gaze shifted longingly toward the door, where she could see the glow between slits in the door mat. "I'm sure. I can recognise his work anywhere."

"Well, if you wanted one of his lanterns, why not just wait until you saw him next? I'm sure he would make you one."

"He'd make me a thousand if I asked," Kagome replied as she dished out her own meal. "That's not the point. The point is..." she trailed off. "The point is that some part of him made it back to me without either of us knowing it. I saw the lantern in the market, and I knew that he was safe wherever he is, and thriving, and thinking of me."

"Thinking of you?"

Kagome smiled at him. "Call it intuition." Finding that she just couldn't sit still, Kagome set her meal down and rose to her feet, walking and spinning in aimless circles around the hut. "Takuya, for the first time in so long I feel like there's something more to look forward to. More than the drums in the evening, telling the soldiers to go home, or even the next lantern over the horizon. I feel like there's something beyond that. Maybe it's just the weather, I don't know, but - I feel like something is starting, for the better. There's something beyond all of this."

Takuya watched her fondly. "This is a welcome change in you, Kagome. I'm glad to see you have your spirit back."

Kagome ended up at the door, peering through the door mat. The setting sun threw bars of light and shadow over her face. "I know," she sighed. "The past few months... they were hard. I always had hope that things would get better, but sometimes the hope wasn't enough. I was - depressed, I guess. Everything around me was dead, and sometimes I felt the same."

"But now?"

Kagome turned back to her teacher. "But now, it's like you said. I have my spirit back. I'm taking action, even if it's in a small way, and it feels good."

Takuya was silent for a long moment. He seemed to study her with a soft gaze, with the golden light of the early evening shooting into the hut like muted beams. Then, without explanation, he set his half eaten bowl aside and stood, walking toward Kagome at the door. "I will be right back. Wait here," he said as he passed her.

Kagome was left more than a little perplexed. Her teacher was an odd man, that much she was quite used to, but even this was unlike him. However, her mood was too high to let it bother her. Returning to the fire, Kagome picked up her own bowl and began to eat. She had just finished her meal by the time Takuya returned.

"Do you have water boiling?" Takuya asked as he bustled inside, carrying something in his robe.

Kagome blinked. "I- yes, of course, I do. We always have tea after dinner."

"Good, good. Now just let me- where are-" The priest began rummaging through the low cupboard against the back wall.

Kagome frowned, reaching down beside her to pick up what she assumed he was looking for. "The teapot and cups?"

Pulling his head out of the cupboard, Takuya looked at her hands. "Yes! Why didn't you say you had them?"

"You didn't give me the chance."

"No matter," Takuya waved her off. He returned to his previous seat at the fire pit, adjacent to her. "This is just perfect," he said as he reached into his robe. Takuya pulled out a wooden cylinder, the contents inside its hollow body rattling with his movements. He seemed almost excited.

"What is that?" Kagome asked.

Takuya pulled the lid off and let a green sphere roll out into his palm. It was small, made of dried leaves, and gave off a fragrance Kagome couldn't place. Taking one cup, he set it in front of his pupil and dropped the little ball into the centre. "Kagome, will you pour the water over it?"

"Sure," Kagome replied slowly as she took the kettle and carefully poured hot water into the cup. It could have been her imagination, but she could have sworn that the ball began to move. "You didn't answer my question. What is it?"

Takuya sat back, holding up the container for her to see. "These, Kagome, are Dragon Pearls," he answered. Rolling out a few more of the spheres into his palm, he held them out for her to see. "You remember that as part of your early training last summer, I had you practice healing energy on flowers and plants."

"Of course I do," Kagome nodded.

"This is tea made from the flowers that you grew, cared for, harvested, and dried. All while channelling pure thoughts."

Kagome's eyes widened. "I remember you rolling tea leaves last fall."

Takuya nodded. "I have been waiting a long time to give you these," he said as he held a pearl between his thumb and forefinger. "I wanted to give them to you when I felt you were ready. As a reminder that though something may appear dead, there is always new life to wait for. You must remember that there is balance in life and death, as in despair and hope, as in the seasons. Look," he gestured down to the cup. Beneath the steaming water, the green pearl was beginning to unfurl its leaves. "Winter can only last so long, Kagome. Spring is worth the wait. You had to learn that on your own."

Kagome nodded, entranced as she watched the leaves bloom. The hot water brought colour back into the leaves, slowly staining the water a pastel green while the leaves themselves became vibrant. Finally, the last layer uncurled, and a beautiful jasmine flower blossomed in the basin of the cup. Its petals were the purest white. It looked like it could have been picked just yesterday.

"Takuya... I don't know what to say," Kagome breathed.

"Don't say anything. Drink. It's very good," he smiled. "I used my finest batch of tea leaves."

It was very good. The taste was sweet, refreshing, flooding Kagome's senses with calm. She drank it over dinner, and again later that evening after pouring more water over the same pearl, wanted to get as much out of the few she had as she could.

Kagome leant against the wall outside her front door, holding the steaming cup close to her chest. The shawl draped over her shoulders kept out the chill as the sun set, but it didn't hurt to have a bit of extra warmth. Rin had returned about an hour ago, devouring her meal and almost immediately after passing out on her futon with the dogs piled on top of her. She had a lot of luck in her adventures that day if the messy braids in her hair and the fishy smell of her kimono hung up outside to dry said anything about it. She'd gushed to Kagome about the pretty lantern outside for just a few minutes before succumbing to exhaustion.

So, Kagome had a quiet evening. If it weren't for little moments of solitude like these, she'd never get a moment of peace. Raising the cup to her lips, Kagome sipped at her tea and felt the hot water slide down her throat. Above her, the lantern swayed and danced, the light inside flickering with every moment.

Takuya's words had a tremendous impact on her. She didn't mull them over or really think of them, so much as feel it in her every breath. It was calming. For the first time in a long time, Kagome was content.

Maybe that was why, when she spotted the speck of light rising up from the forest, she thought at first that it might be a star. As the light rose higher, Kagome slowly lifted her head along with it. As the lantern grew brighter, so did Kagome's smile.

.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

Inuyasha could still see the lantern rising into the sky through the bare branches of the sacred tree. He leant back against the roots, stretching out against the cool park, gaze drifting between the distant point of light and the scar on the tree trunk above him. 50 years, he spent here, but a few months away felt like an eternity. It wasn't long before he became restless. Pushing himself up, he began to pace aimlessly just to pass the time.

It really did feel like more than just a few months. The last time he'd returned had been the winter solstice, the night he'd taken Kagome to the cave and - well, it'd been the hottest night of the winter, that was for sure.

Though he found himself reminiscing of the precious few times he'd been able to meet Kagome like this, he wasn't lost to the world entirely. Which was why, when a body leapt out and latched onto his back, Inuyasha didn't so much as twitch. He craned his neck to look back at the young woman currently piggybacking him with a savage grin on her pretty face.

"Gotcha!" she squealed.

"Yeah," Inuyasha rolled his eyes as he reached behind him and pulled her off, sliding her down in front of him. "You might have if I hadn't heard you hide in the bushes five minutes ago."

"No," Kagome shook her head. "I got you."

Inuyasha knew a lost cause when he saw one. He shrugged, arms sliding around her waist. "I'm totally at your mercy," he grinned.

Kagome was caught somewhere between laughing and crying. Her eyes glistened, lips quivered, as she threw her arms around Inuyasha's neck and pulled him down for a kiss. Inuyasha's hand rose to the back of her head, carding through raven tresses. Kagome sighed against his mouth. The two of them just - held each other. It was all they could do to keep themselves together, literally and figuratively.

When Kagome pulled back, she was starry eyed and breathless, smiling up at him. All, of course, before she smacked him lightly on his bicep. "Where the hell have you been?"

Should've known that was coming. "Busy. Dealing with shit. Making progress. And travelling in the snow was near impossible," he stumbled over his excuses.

Kagome's lips, slightly swollen and pink, formed a pout. "I guess that's fine... but I missed you."

Inuyasha's smile was subdued this time, a slow breath escaping him as he leant down to kiss her forehead. "I missed you too."

"You better have."

Inuyasha lifted a brow. "That so?" Inuyasha's attempt to grab her tightly was thwarted when Kagome squealed and ducked, slipping out of his grasp and attempting to 'run away'. Inuyasha quickly overtook her, tackling her to the ground beneath the tree. Kagome lay on her back, slightly out of breath, her heart racing for an entirely different reason. Once again, her arms shot out to pull Inuyasha to her, catching his lips with every intention of making up for lost time. Inuyasha seemed happy to oblige. His hand slide down to her hip, resting there as his knee came up between her legs. She laughed - not the reaction he'd expected.

Sliding out from beneath him, Kagome sat cross-legged against the trunk of the tree and tugged Inuyasha onto his back, so that his head rested in her lap. Inuyasha anticipated what she was doing, but it still didn't dull the tranquil shiver that ran dow his spine as she began to knead his shoulders.

Inuyasha let out a long sigh as he went slack to her touch. "Been a long time."

"Enjoy it then," Kagome hummed under her breath.

Inuyasha nodded, his eyes drifting closed as he focused on her ministrations. "Had a dream about this a while ago..." he mused. "You came into my room and the pillow became your lap. I could feel you just as real as right now."

Kagome's heart stuttered. Really, she shouldn't have been surprised. "You were in a castle... there was a standing lamp with one candle in the corner, but it was still dark. Shippo and Koga were arguing about something outside."

Inuyasha sat up, twisting around to look at her. She smiled. "I had the same 'dream'."

"So, that was you," he murmured.

"Mhm," Kagome leant forward for a peck. Pulling back, her smile melted into a frown, the memories seeping back to her. She lifted her hand to brush his fringe to the side. "You looked sick... what happened?"

Inuyasha hesitated. Lowering himself back into Kagome's lap, his gaze fixed on the stars. "Guess I should start from the beginning. After I left you the last time, I went back to the North to try to talk Koga out of starting a war. He was meeting with leaders of other clans, forming alliances... that was fine, but the damn idiot was fixated on a battle solving all of this. Anyway, we were hunting one morning, and Sesshomaru fucking blasts in out of nowhere-"

Kagome cringe. "Actually, that might have been my fault." Seeing Inuyasha's confusion, she continued. "He showed up in the village. Caused quite a scene, too. Rin helped me fool the soldiers into thinking I was going to slay him, and when we made it to the forest, I had to tell him what was going on. He didn't seem that happy when he left."

"He definitely wasn't happy," Inuyasha nodded. "He dragged us to the Inu Yokai castle and dropped me before their leader... his mother. At least I know now why Sesshomaru is so weird. There was this - trial that they both insisted I do, some Inu Yokai tradition. It was supposed to pit me against my greatest enemy and grant me ancient power or some bullshit. It - well, it kind of worked. I did it, and at the end," he reached into his haori, beneath his kimono where a Godstone lay against his chest, "I realised that the only way to overpower the Godstone was to make it a part of me."

Kagome frowned. Seeing that she didn't quite understand, he held the stone up to her. Its colour had changed, the previously icy blue now a searing crimson. The moment it touched Kagome's palm, the crystal pulsed with vibrant light, as if in recognition.

Inuyasha smiled. "Guess it always belonged to you."

Kagome's fingers slowly curled around the crystal. "You... you channelled your soul into the Godstone."

"Part of it," Inuyasha corrected. "Just which part exactly, I'm not sure."

Kagome leant over, holding the crystal as high as it would go on its chain so she could press a kiss to it. "It's so warm..."

"Well, that's to be expected, dummy. I've been carrying it against my chest for weeks."

"Not what I meant," Kagome rolled her eyes. She turned the crystal over in her hands a few times before tucking it back into his robes, her fingers lingering a moment against his chest before coming up to knead from his neck to his shoulders again. "So that was you. I heard a rumour about a dog apparition who fought against Masao's army and won. You're getting a reputation."

Inuyasha frowned. "I've always had a reputation."

"Yeah, well, technically you're supposed to be dead," she shrugged. "So, that's two reputations."

"Sweet."

Kagome laughed. "That must have been the battle that Koga and Shippo were arguing about in the dream, then... I was - I think I must have been spiritually charged or something. I'd just gone through a past life regression with Takuya-"

"You what?" Inuyasha interrupted, alarmed.

Kagome only nodded, her fingers moving up to the base of his skull. "I thought that maybe if I remembered my life as Kikyo, it might give us some clue. The spirits I've seen in the forest, the song, the quilt - it was like Kaede was pointing us toward something in her past, but I couldn't figure it out. I thought that Kikyo might have known..."

"And... did she?"

"Not exactly," Kagome sighed. "I learned a lot about her... what made her, y'know? In the end, though, it wasn't something she knew, it was something she heard," Kagome chewed on her bottom lip for a moment. Inuyasha's thumb was nudging it out before she realised she was doing it. She continued. "Kaede had a childhood friend named Masao."

Inuyasha's eyes snapped up to catch hers. "It can't be the same one. He looks like he's barely thirty."

"But - it is, I know it is, I just don't know how. It's not possible, I know, but... there's so much about him already that isn't possible."

"I guess," Inuyasha replied, eyes lulled by the massaging of his scalp. "Looks like we're getting somewhere, though."

"If only," Kagome sighed. Her fingers paused. "I mean, yes, we're making progress. But I'd like to get somewhere. I've been in this village for months with nowhere else to go. I'm going crazy just sitting around here. It's making me stir crazy."

Inuyasha chuckled under his breath. "That's funny," he muttered. "You're stir crazy... I'm homesick."

Kagome's expression fell. They were stuck on two opposite sides of the same problem - too far away from each other.

Inuyasha pushed himself upright without warning, rising to his feet and brushing the dirt and dead grass off himself. "Well, if you're stir crazy for a bit of space, why don't we go somewhere? The sun only just set, we have plenty of time to get back before dawn."

Kagome stood. "I thought you said you were homesick," she said. She figured he'd want to say here while he could.

Inuyasha's knowing looking look, however, said otherwise. Slipping his hand to the back of her neck, Inuyasha leant down to kiss her chastely. She hardly had a moment to understand, much less respond, before the hanyou pulled her onto his back. In a split second, they were off racing through the trees. It was all Kagome could do not to scream out of both surprise and delight as she clung to Inuyasha's shoulders. The wind as they moved was cold, nipping at her cheeks and the tips of her ears. Kagome huddled down against Inuyasha's back, pulling her shawl tighter around her shoulders.

She hadn't realised how much she missed the exhilarating feeling of flying through the forest on Inuyasha's back. The adrenaline rush made her chest tingle, pulsing through her entire body and making her head feel wonderfully light. It was a few minutes before Kagome got a hold of her senses enough to speak. "Where are we going?!"

"Don't know!" Inuyasha shouted back. "Haven't decided yet!"

They were a blur over the hillsides. Kagome caught a glimpse of Masao's Fort looming over the village. Just as quickly, it disappeared behind a low mountain peak. For however long they were travelling, Kagome's face became numb to the wind and the cold, even as she ducked her head down behind Inuyasha's. She didn't know how far they'd gone until Inuyasha suddenly skidded to a stop, and she was assaulted with the sound of distant waves. Kagome slid down off of Inuyasha's back, picking tried twigs out of her hair. "You might give me a bit of warning next time."

"Don't pretend you didn't like it," Inuyasha replied as he helped her brush out her hair.

"Besides the point," said Kagome. She stopped to look around. They were at the edge of a forest, not too far from home, she guessed. Through the line of bare trees, she could just barely see waves glistening in the clear moonlight, lapping up at the shore. Taking Inuyasha's hand, they walked out onto the sand.

"Is this enough space?"

Kagome walked out ahead of him, stretching her arms out to the bay. "I think this'll do."

Inuyasha watched her. She began to turn in slow circles, breathing like she'd been suffocating and hadn't noticed until now. Her head leant back, neck, smooth jawline, and porcelain face squared up against the stars. Arms wide like she could reach up and pull them against her chest.

Kagome ran her hands back through her hair. Gods, she glowed in the moonlight. "So, what now?"

Inuyasha shook himself from his reverie. "Figured we'd find something to pass the time," he sent her a smirk. "If not, we could always go back to the cave."

Kagome returned the flirtatious smirk, stepping up against him. "... I like the beach just fine."

Inuyasha shrugged, unphased. "Worth a shot."

"Maybe late," Kagome laughed. Looking out across the wide expanse of curving shoreline, her eyes fell on a hut sitting not too far away. A small boat had been pulled up on the beach, sitting in the sand next to tangled nets and traps. "Come on, I've got an idea."

Inuyasha followed her to the boat, standing back with his arms crossed as she tried to push it toward the water. "You want to steal a boat?"

"It's not stealing," Kagome grunted. "It's - it's borrowing. We'll have it back be - before dawn, so - could you please quit standing there and help me with this?"

Finally relenting, Inuyasha lifted the boat single-handedly and carried it to the shoreline. They'd put it back exactly as they found it and no one would know. Harmless. Still, it gave Kagome a little thrill of excitement, of danger. She giggled quietly as she hopped into the wooden boat, taking the oars and helping Inuyasha push it into the water. He joined her with a splash. "Fuck, it's cold."

"So no tipping it," Kagome replied.

"Hadn't thought of that." Inuyasha took the oars from Kagome. They were soon gliding out over the gentle tide and onto the glassy bay. The water could have been a mirror. If it weren't for the shoreline nearly surrounding them, it would have been difficult to tell where the sky ended and the water began.

Kagome dipped her finger in the water, watching as a ripple glided out from her touch. It really was cold. Kagome tugged at her shawl. "It's so beautiful."

"Yes, you are," Inuyasha replied.

Kagome made a face. "Really? Did you really just say that? That was so cute I might throw up."

Inuyasha retaliated by flicking his finger through the water to spray a few droplets at her. Kagome shrieked, wiping herself off with her shawl. She glared at him from over the ridge of the fabric, falling victim to his smile. With a resigned sigh, she leant forward with her elbows on her knees. "We've changed so much," she mused.

"You think so? I wouldn't say that was much different from the usual," Inuyasha replied as he set the oars down.

"Not that, just - in general," said Kagome. "It's been a long year. I feel like we've - matured. Not sure I like it."

Inuyasha rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, maybe..." he trailed off. Kagome's attention had been drawn out toward the edge of the bay, where the water spilt out toward the ocean. "Kagome?" Following the direction of her gaze, Inuyasha's eyes landed in a strange shape gliding either through the air or the water. The bay was so calm, he couldn't tell. The stars parted ways for it. Tall sails billowed out, its massive body dotted with twinkling lamplight. "What is that?"

Kagome's face was hard. "It's a ship. People from a country very very far from here - the Dutch I think. They're the ones who come to sell guns. The Dutch, the Portuguese - all of them." Kagome stood abruptly, rocking the boat and forcing a shout out of Inuyasha as he tried to stabilise it. Her eyes searched for something, anything, in the bottom of the boat that she could use. A few broken fishing spearheads. She picked one up, reared her arm back and threw. It created a large ripple on impact with the water, but only landed ten feet from the boat.

Inuyasha quirked his brow up at her. "Try again, you only missed by a few leagues."

Kagome frowned down at him. "I know, but - it's the gesture. It's symbolic."

"Symbolic my ass," Inuyasha as he rose to his feet as well. "Sit down before you knock us over."

Kagome listened, taking up her seat again. When Inuyasha held his hand out, it took her a moment to connect the dots. She passed him one of the spearheads. With all the grace that she didn't have keeping the boat steady, Inuyasha reared back, took a moment to assess his target, and threw the sharp rock. A moment of silence passed before they heard the echo of it hitting the wood of the ship, following by a chorus of confused, foreign voices.

Kagome slapped her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing too loudly. All pride and amusement, Inuyasha grinned as he took his seat across from her. That wouldn't do, though, Kagome shifted carefully across the bottom of the boat until she was leaning back against Inuyasha, stretching her legs out to keep the weight balanced. She pressed her head back against his chest. "Can we stay out here forever?" she muttered. "Just float away?"

Inuyasha pressed his mouth to the top of her head, as he reached for the oars. He began to row them back to shore. "Maybe next time."

.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

I'm trying to start back up again, but updates will be slow. Just hopefully not that slow again. You know what's great motivation, though? Reviews.