A/N: Welcome back my dear readers! For those of you finding this story for the first time please know that this is part two and you should really read The Return first or this will make little sense. We continue on with our favorite pair's journey to the west. What adventures await for them, their friends and family? Read on and find out! This will be a once a week update until I have more written, most likely Sunday night so you can have something to look forward to on that dreaded day of the week… Monday. Enjoy!

It had been a little over a month since Kagome had returned to InuYasha and in twelve days the second full moon since their mating would cross the sky. Sesshomaru had requested that they be presented to the court now that InuYasha's place was without question due not only to the arrival of Kagome's Shadow Hound but also to the inheritance left to his brother by their father. As the next Inu no Taisho InuYasha needed to assume his place and be acknowledged at court for what he was, youngest son of the first Inu no Taisho and the guardian of the west. Where Sesshomaru ruled the lands, InuYasha would protect them and the people of those lands needed to get used to the idea. The sooner the better.

He wanted them there before the full moon when InuYasha power flared high and his strength would be without equal, other than Sesshomaru's own. They were a match, he and InuYasha, thanks to the soul bonding his little brother shared with Kagome, and the alpha InuYasha had found and accepted. Once they had completed his transformation and had called InuYasha's true-form out, his brother had become what their father had most desired, a son of the west and the protector of Sesshomaru's lands.

Coming here was imperative but he was concerned for Kagome. His court could be a cold and calculating place where the only worth one held was what your status could offer to another, what favours you could gain from bribery, and what renown you could claim by whom you knew. Mated to InuYasha and with her hound at her heels she held a very high place in his court. She was equal in status to that which would one day be held by his own mate and her friendship would be highly sought after but as she was pregnant, with triplets of all things, her emotions fluctuated easily and he did not want to see her upset, or hurt, when the 'friendship' offered turned into nothing more than a youkai seeking favour. Her humanity would have discord running through the halls as it was and even InuYasha would not be without prejudice being a hanyou; though it was questionable at this point whether that half demon status should still stand. He was more powerful than any full bloodied youkai Sesshomaru had ever come across and his beast was larger in comparison to any other inu-youkai with a true-form. If he was honest with himself, InuYasha's true-form was larger than even his own.

Then there was the question of what the hell was going on with his wards and in his castle. Shinobu and Yuzuki had come to him young for training and protection, their parents having died in an ambush, but when he had used them to help release InuYasha's true-form he had not expected Kagome to reveal so much treachery surrounding the twins. Shinobu was being emotionally damaged by those youkai who were to see to his training and Yuzuki had been poisoned and a spell had been set against her. His Imouto was sure that in some way it was related back to him, to someone wanting to cause him harm and if that was the case, he needed Kagome and InuYasha here now.

Kagome's soul bound allowed her to see so much more than the rest of them. She could heal wounds that most had long forgotten existed inside themselves, settling the pain carried within the soul, and in the case of those who needed it she could heal wounds of the heart and mind as well. Once the bond she shared with InuYasha had come to light Sesshomaru's perceptions had shifted and she had healed the deep wound in his own soul over the loss of the last soul bonded pair. Chiyoko, the white dragon, had been a balm to his life as a puppy but her loss, her murder by the Shi no Keshin, had turned him into the cold daiyoukai that all knew him to be today. One touch by his Imouto, his little bird, had opened his heart and she had snagged a piece of it easily. So many times in the short month she had been back had she touched him or seen into him, the last time sharing her joy, that he felt he was in a constant race to keep up with her. Kagome had known right from the start that he did not hate his brother, that it was the choice their father had made, one he had not understood at the time, that had caused him to constantly take it out on InuYasha and she had offered him a chance to right the wrongs he had inflicted. His brother had shown his own strong character and the faith he had in his mate by accepting his help and protection for Kagome. Then, the Shadow Hound Kemuri had made his presence known and the shockwave had rippled through the west.

The seeings she had, the instincts of her dragon blood blending with her Inu from her mate bond to InuYasha along with her own powers, showed her things that he could only guess at. InuYasha walked the pathways of her mind and could see most of what she could but even he was astounded by what she was able to accomplish. The little female could bring even the strongest battle hardened warrior to his knees with the light of her pure soul. She was Tamashi no Chiyu no Hikari, the Soul of Healing Light, and his little sister.

He would do whatever it took to keep her safe and if that meant he needed to cleave a bloody swath through his court… then so be it. They would be arriving soon and a wicked grin tugged at his mouth when he thought about the disturbance they would cause. InuYasha's status had been changed with the arrival of Kemuri but he had not revealed the extent of his little brother's power increase, his alpha, or the fact the InuYasha had a true-form to anyone and neither had his wards or Jaken. His court knew only that InuYasha was coming to be acknowledge as a legitimate prince of the west, to take his place as the youngest of the Inu no Taisho's sons, but when his brother arrived it would be to take his place as the Great Dog General. This was as yet unknown for Sesshomaru wanted to gage his courts reactions without his people having time to fabricate a response. The more honest the reaction the easier it would be to find the traitors under his roof and remove the threat to his home, lands and pack.

Originally he had told his wards that they could speak of these things but once he returned home after the moonless night he had decided to caution them against it, as he had already discussed with InuYasha. They had been locked in isolation with Jaken and had not seen or spoken with anyone since they had returned home. As powerful as he was it was simple to slip in and out of the castle grounds without anyone noticing him, which should have been disconcerting but as he had yet to meet another youkai with the ability to slink past his guards he did not let it concern him. The pups had been happy to see him and Jaken had been relieved thinking he was going to be released from his duties but the Kappa was sorely mistaken. He left Jaken in his role as their keeper for a while longer but also released the twins back to their lessons after warning them to keep quiet about InuYasha and for once he explained himself. Yuzuki had readily agreed with the plan and had shyly asked if they would be allowed to be present when InuYasha and Kagome were revealed as she, too, would like to see the response.

Intrigued by the idea Sesshomaru gave his consent but tacked on an assignment for the pups. They would be his eyes and his ears within the crowd. Yuzuki was especially observant and Shinobu had a nose on him that was a rarity in itself. The boy could be useful in scenting through the crowd for the more negative emotions that came with treachery.

Now, as he stood before the gift he had waiting for his brother and Kagome he felt the twitch as his smirk wanted to spread. He was going to enjoy hunting through his nobles, seeking out the traitors and making examples of them. It was time to shatter the illusion of stability the more powerful members of his court carried and show them who truly ruled in the west.

Jinenji looked down the rows of his field when his ears picked up the quiet sounds of approaching footsteps. The attire of the male screamed daiyoukai and had him rising quickly to his feet to see what he wanted. Hanyou were not well received by most youkai and he hoped he would not be required to defend himself. However, he had not expected to hear a happy squeal of excitement and squinted a bit to look closer at the woman next to the armor clad male. Recognition had him breathing out a startled, "Kagome?"

She practically danced in her excitement, her smile wide and cheerful, and he looked back to the male she was with and for the first time past the clothing he wore to see the tale of long white hair and triangular ears. "Inu…Yasha?" The change in the Inu-hanyou was startling! From his clothing and armor, to the mokomoko that flowed from his back, something life altering had changed for the dog demon and when the large hound appeared from behind Kagome, Jinenji gasped. She had a Shadow Hound! Sinking to a knee, he bowed his head in respect for the Inu royalty that walked towards him but InuYasha was still InuYasha even if he looked like his half-brother.

"Cut that out Jinenji." Embarrassed to be greeted in such away InuYasha crossed his arms and tried not to blush. Kagome's happiness was a constant barrage over his senses but he could also feel how tired she was from their journey. The distance was harder on her than they had expected and once the greeting was over he wanted her to sit down. She hadn't traveled like this in over three years and to do so now, in her condition, was difficult.

Kagome grinned at InuYasha and then up at Jinenji. "It's so good to see you again!" She wanted to reach up and take his hand but the stiffness of her mate held her back. He had gotten progressively more protective since the revelation of the triplets and really disliked it if she got too close to any other males. Even the ones she knew from past days.

"And you Kagome. Or is it Lady Kagome now?" She smiled and nodded yes to his question. The hound wore his warning ruff but even if he had not Jinenji could see the rounding that proclaimed Kagome pregnant and hear the rapid flutter of three little beating hearts. "Congratulations on your mating and impending arrivals." He said quietly and lumbering to his feet invited them into his home as Kagome looked tired.

Sitting down and leaning back into InuYasha, Kagome sighed in relief. Her little bundles of joy got heavier every day and were making this journey harder than it should be. Jinenji put on water for tea and as they had arrived shortly before dinner he offered them some of the delicious smelling stew he had cooking. Happy to accept Kagome looked around the large space and smiled. "The villagers did a good job with the rebuilding of your home." It was a few years now since it had burnt down and been rebuilt but the roof had been raised so that he no longer had to hunch over when he walked. "How is your mother?" The elderly woman hadn't made her presence known and that in itself seemed strange as she was almost always near her son.

His eyes sadden but only a little as he sat to eat with them. "Mother passed on about a year ago." She had come down with a lung fever the winter before and no matter what he had tried it hadn't been able to cure her of her sickness. "She went peacefully and I buried her under a Sakura tree east of the fields. She liked to sit there when the blossoms bloomed as it reminded her of my father." Many times he had sat with her and listened as she describe him in such detail it was almost as if he stood before them.

Kagome read him gently and found him sad but strong. Many of Jinenji's wounds had healed over years ago when he had defeated the attacking youkai and saved the villagers. He had succeeded in changing their opinion of him and they had stopped being so mean and ignorant. Gradually, they had come to respect him for his knowledge and eventually some had grown to like him for his abundance of kindness. "I'm so sorry for your loss Jinenji."

InuYasha rumbled a sound of agreement. "As am I Jinenji. She packed quite a wallop." He smirked a small twitch of his mouth at the other hanyou with the memory. The old woman had hit him rather hard when they had first met.

"That she did Lord InuYasha. That she did." Jinenji's own small smile touched his mouth. "May I ask what brings you to my home?" He handed Kagome a large bowl filled to the brim and flushed when she thanked him.

"I was hoping you wouldn't mind a visit and, if it isn't too much trouble, to spend a few days learning from you about your fields before we continue on? Your plants are so different from what Kaede has." Much of what he grew was geared towards youkai as well as human and she wanted to learn all she could in the next few days. The stew smelt amazing and she dug in with enthusiasm, a pleased hum passing her lips with the flavour. He and his mother had always been amazing cooks.

Surprised but delighted, Jinenji blushed a little brighter. "It would be my pleasure Lady Kagome but where are you heading next?" For InuYasha to be taking her on a journey of any kind in her condition seemed highly unlike an inu, hanyou or not.

"We go west." Jinenji's eyes shot quickly to his and then away. He knew coming here it would be initially uncomfortable for the large male for, as a horse-hanyou, Jinenji was feeling the weight of his alpha more easily than another predator youkai. He may be a demon but he was still technically of the prey variety and Kemuri, who was watching alertly from his left, wasn't making things any easier as the shadow hound never blinked. The swirling silver eyes were incredibly disconcerting to most people. "It is essential that I assume my place before Kagome gets any bigger." He let his hand shift to rub soothing circles over the sore spots that he could feel from her.

"And what place is that Lord InuYasha?" This change was so unexpected in the other hanyou and he could feel the increased strength of InuYasha's aura. The heavy weight that brushed against his own was new and uncomfortable, forcing him to recognised the Alpha in the male Inu. He had only ever seen an Alpha once and that had been when the Lord Sesshomaru had passed this way. It had been frightful to him then and the Lord of the West had done nothing more than look through him with those cold golden eyes.

InuYasha frowned and held up a hand. "First, let's drop the Lord crap Jinenji. You're our friend and that ain't changing just cause of this." He waved the hand to encompass the hound and his attire. "Sesshomaru and I have reached an understanding because of Kemuri's arrival and with that decision some other things came to light. My father had left me not only Tetsusaiga but also this." The split tail slid around to wrap over Kagome's leg and make her giggle as she ate. "It has allowed me to reach my deepest level of strength and has let me find, and release, my true-form. I'll be the new Inu no Taisho from now on."

Jinenji was stunned and reared back slightly in reaction. "How… how is that even possible? Hanyou don't have true-forms." But then InuYasha had always felt like… more… than just a regular hanyou.

Shrugging, InuYasha accepted the food handed him but set it down at his side until Kagome was finished. Feeling her slow in her eating he rumbled a quiet sound to continue. "Don't start. It's a big bowl." Her hair was still in the long braid from when they had left that morning and he kissed the side her neck in apology. "It just was. Once my alpha surfaced… the beast wasn't far behind. This is my inheritance and was our father's wish." Kemuri's head twisted towards the door and he gave a growl of warning. Someone was coming and InuYasha was instantly on his feet with his hand clenched around Tetsusaiga. "You expecting anyone?" He asked Jinenji quietly in his deadly alpha voice.

Jinenji's eyes widened with his surprise at how quickly InuYasha had moved and at the fact that Kagome continued to sit and eat in calm reflection as if nothing dangerous was possibly occurring right behind her. Shaking off his shock Jinenji lifted his head and tried to scent past the Inu's powerful alpha. The smell of cloth and dyes and the softly singing voice had him panicking a little. "That's Ume-san… she… she's… ni-ni-nice."

InuYasha frowned at the blushing and stuttering hanyou. "Then why's he so nervous?" Kagome's exasperation swept over him and she rolled her eyes.

Turning her attention to the nervous hanyou, Kagome smiled gently. "Jinenji… do you like this girl?" Big blue eyes met hers before sliding quickly away.

Nodding a small motion of his head Jinenji sighed. "She is very pretty but…" She was human and not for him.

"Jinenji… you will not know who is for you until you try." Returning to her meal Kagome called Kemuri to her side and slid her fingers into his ruff, encouraging him to relax and be still. "Don't terrify the girl watashi no kokoro." Her hound settled down with his head in her lap and closed his piercing silver eyes. His nose was twitching at the edge of her bowl and seeing a chunk of meat Kagome scooped it out with her fingers and touched it to his mouth. Kemuri's tongue swept out and the morsel disappeared without him ever opening his eyes and made her giggle softly when he rumbled a delighted little sound.

"When have I ever?" The smirk tugged at his lips as InuYasha watched Kagome feed her hound and he removed his hand from Tetsusaiga's hilt.

Footsteps approached, crunching in the dry earth, before a knock sounded at the door and a sweet voice called out, "Jinenji-san? Are you home?"

Lifting the reed mat to the side InuYasha scrutinized the girl before him and was surprised by her appearance for Jinenji had called her pretty. She was tall for a female, much taller than women of this era normally were, and she had a distinctly foreign look. Big green eyes were set into a face of cream colored skin with a smattering of freckles across the pert, upturned nose, and offset by the vibrant red hair that curled in heavy ringlets to her waist. For a female she was anything but delicate with her wide hips and full bone structure and he in no way would have said she was pretty. Different sure, even unique, but to him she was definitely not pretty. "Something yah want?" He asked rather gruffly and felt the displeasure from his mate hit him through the bond and pin his ears back. "What? Ain't like I scared her."

"InuYasha! Stop being impolite and let the woman in!" Kagome snarled as her eyes flashed her annoyance. She could smell Jinenji's concern and smiled at him gently in apology. "He's gotten worse since we found out about the triplets." It was the best way to explain about InuYasha's rudeness as he had gotten more insistent about her care and the protection of his pups.

"Feh." Stepping to the side he held the mat for the woman and frowned when all she did was stare at him with her mouth slightly agape. "Well? In or out already!"

"In-u-yash-a!" Kagome growled in warning, saying his name in the same tone that would have once been followed by the word sit. His temper and the ease in which he could become irritated was scraping at her own short fuse and making her alpha rise in response.

Ume stared at the hanyou in open shock, for half-demon he obviously was with those ears, as he held the door for her. It was rare for Jinenji to have guests, customers or people seeking his help yes, but never had she arrived to be greeted by someone in this manner. "I… I'm… looking for Jinenji-san. Is he home?" The grip she had on her basket tightened as she found the intense, glittering gold eyes disconcerting.

"Keh he is." Reaching out he grabbed the girl by the arm and pulled her into the house. His grip wasn't overly tight but she squeaked out a startled sound and stumbled into the room. The angry snarl that rolled through the hut at his back had him turning to face Kagome and releasing the girl quickly. "Well she was just standing there." He grumbled and moved towards his annoyed female cautiously. The heavy displeasure she was feeling with him was a cold wind of fridged ice through his mind as she glared in his direction.

"Behave yourself mate." Shifting her attention to the young woman Kagome was slightly startled by her appearance as she had a distinctly Germanic look that belayed her foreign heritage. When Ume blushed brightly along her cheeks Kagome gave a tiny jolt of embarrassment before offering an apologetic smile. "Excuse my rudeness! I did not mean to stare and make you uncomfortable." Glancing towards Jinenji she could tell that the large hanyou had reverted into shyness and uncertainty and would be no help in making introductions. "I apologize for my mate's rudeness as well but he gets a little protective." She drew her hand over her burgeoning stomach and her smile softened with her joy. "My husband InuYasha and I'm Kagome. It is nice to meet a friend of Jinenji's."

Realizing that he was being rude Jinenji rose to his feet and gave Ume a small bow. "This is my f-f-friend Ume-san from the village. Please Ume-san, join us for dinner. The Lord and Lady were telling me of their upcoming journey."

The lady seemed nice enough and she didn't miss how the woman had made simple introductions but Jinenji had included the formal titles. The way the woman, Kagome, had looked at her when she had first been dragged in the door had made her slightly uncomfortable. but it wasn't as if she was unused to the attention. Being of mixed heritage Ume was often ridiculed for her strange looks, though it seemed the lady had to be somewhat accepting of such things if she was so comfortable with not one but two hanyou. The male, InuYasha, had an air about him that was incredibly intimidating and she wasn't sure if she could make it through a dinner with the piercing eyes watching her but she didn't want to offend these obviously important people so she nodded. "I would be honored Jinenji-san." Glancing up at the horse hanyou she flushed a little brighter. No he would never be considered handsome in the traditional sense but she found him so anyway. Not for his looks but for his soft spirit, his kind and generous heart, and his keen mind. He worked the land with such compassion, such understanding, that she had fallen for him quite easily.

"She likes him too. Will you please stop looming over there and come eat!" The hovering he was doing was driving her crazy! The girl was in no way going to jump up and try to hurt her or their pups.

Knowing she was right didn't help negate the driving instincts but he went and joined her, picking up his own dinner and letting his alpha recede slightly to remove some of the discomfort in the room. "I never said I was rational koi. Just overprotective." He sat with his knee raised behind her back, giving her something to lean against while he sat at her side and ate. She was sandwiched between himself and Kemuri in a manner that helped appease his need to see her safe and protected, and dropping his eyes to his bowl he began to eat quickly.

Ume knelt down across from the visitors and accepted the bowl from Jinenji but did more pushing of the food around than actual eating. Glancing at Jinenji's guests she tried hard not to be rude and stare back but she had never seen two people like this before in her life. The woman was beautiful, serene and had kind eyes. Though the look she had sent her husband had been rather icy with the way the black glittered with gold. He was also startlingly good looking with his heavy tail of silver hair, fur and elegant attire, but his attitude was rather unpleasant. Unlike the giant hanyou this one seemed anything but kind, more abrasive and quick to anger than sweet. The smoky dog at her side was huge and when the eyelid lifted she caught a glimpse of swirling silver before it closed again and realized that it too was a youkai and not just a regular dog. Frowning a little she wondered just who was this strange woman?

Sighing, InuYasha could smell the girl's discomfort and knew through Kagome's gentle reading that he was the cause. It wouldn't do to leave the girl in such a state as the silence in the room was becoming uncomfortable and causing his hackles to rise. With a quiet sigh he swallowed his pride. "Ume-san, as my wife said I can be… quick to act when it comes to new people around her. I apologies for my earlier actions. It was poorly done of me." He gave her a small nod of contrition and a little smile.

The smile warmed his golden eyes and softened the glittering that was making her so uncomfortable. "Oh, I…" She flushed across her nose in a blaze of red that quickly spread to cover her whole face. "It is forgiven." Picking up her chopsticks she began to eat hoping to cool her flaming cheeks. Perhaps she had judged to harshly.

Jinenji slid a side long glance at InuYasha. The Inu had changed in more ways than just his appearance for he never thought he would hear such an apology come from the dog demon. It was startling this difference in him for it showed a level of maturity that he had previously lacked, almost as if putting on the marks of his status had allowed him to truly become the royal Inu he was. He had seen glimpses of it many years ago when the hanyou had been here before but only glimpses and they had been quickly covered with gruff sarcasm. Kagome, too, had changed, not only from their mate bond but in her own maturity as well. The growl she had issued had made him flinch but she hadn't issued the command for the kotodama InuYasha still wore once. It was surprising to see the serenity she carried and her grace of movement when before she had been a little bit clumsy and so quick to anger. They seemed… softer somehow, better connected then before and it dawned on him suddenly, as Kagome's soft scent lifted to blend with InuYasha's, that they had created a full bonding. His breath caught with the implications as his eyes shot to InuYasha. The Inu's glittering gold lifted and stared into his own for a moment before the smirk twitched at his mouth in understanding. A double bond… no wonder they had changed so much. Still, the difference was so pronounced that he wondered at the changes in the two of them but it had been over three years since he had seen either of them and with so much time together it only made sense that they would grow closer. Returning to his own meal he decided he would have the time to ask Kagome about it in the next few days.

"Ume-san? I'm sorry if I speak out of turn but…" Kagome smiled softly, wanting to ask about her appearance but not wanting to offer offence.

"You wish to know about my father." Sighing, she set her dinner to the side as her appetite vanished. It always came back to her odd looks with people. "He came on a ship with the Portuguese traders. I… I know little of where he came from only that he wasn't like the others. My mother… she was a servant in a lord's house who in a moment of carnal weakness gave in to her flesh and ended up with me. Her red haired, ox of a cursed daughter." It used to come out bitter, the hate she had felt for her own existence, but now it was said with a sad and resigned voice. "I left once I was old enough, came here to my obaasan, and have learned to weave on the loom from her. Oh! Jinenji-san I brought you this." It was the reason she had come and she had forgotten in all the commotion. Reaching for the basket beside her she handed it to the large hanyou.

"Do you see?" The sadness and pain behind Ume's words was apparent even without her instincts rising. Letting her eyes drift down to hide her golden gaze Kagome watched through her lashes as Jinenji blushed and took the basket with hesitant fingers.

Finished with his own dinner InuYasha shifted around until Kagome was cradled back against him, Kemuri shifting his position to lay his head on InuYasha's thigh, and called for her softly, more vibration than sound, to help soothe her heart. "I do see saiai. Her mother was not a nice woman and in her disgrace has punished her daughter for it for a very long time. It is good she left." His mate's sorrow was great and he merged with her lightly, working to push it aside, and set his fangs under her ear to distract her with the gentle scraping.

Unaware of the silent conversation Jinenji lifted the cloth out of the basket by his fingertips and had it unfold to reveal a kimono made from hemp in pale grey and black. It had long full sleeves and a length that would hang to mid-thigh once worn while an obi of matching grey, embellished with fancy black stitching, lay in the bottom of the basket. Holding the clothing with both hands his mouth opened and closed a few times with his shock before he could find his voice. "Ume-san… I… what is this for?"

"My obaasan and I thought it would be nice if you had something a little more special for the upcoming festival. You… are still coming aren't you?" She flushed and turned her eyes away hoping he liked her gift. It was something she had worked on for a very long time to get the size and fit correct.

"Yes, but… I cannot accept this!" Fear filled his blue eyes and lumbering to his feet with a speed that was startling for his size, the giant hanyou fled the house.

"Jinenji-san!" Rising on her knees Ume reached out to him as he raced by but only managed to catch the discarded kimono as it fluttered down into her arms. Pulling the garment into her chest she clutched it tightly. "I don't understand." She whispered. Rejected again and this time by someone she liked and respected, hurt more than she wanted to admit. Squeezing her eyes tightly closed she forgot about the others baring witness to her humiliation.

"InuYasha go after him!" Kagome could feel his reluctance to leave her alone and turning enough to face him, she touched his cheek. "I will be fine with Kemuri. He needs someone to talk to that can relate. You're it my koi." She kissed him softly, sliding a gentle brush over his ear, and made his purr stutter. The smug smile spread before she could stop it and she nipped his lower lip. "Go."

"Alright but if you need me…" He narrowed his eyes and held hers, kissing her firmly when she nodded. A rumble of warning was all that was needed to put Kemuri on alert before he streaked out the door behind the other hanyou.

Scratching Kemuri's ears, Kagome rose to her feet and moved silently around the fire to kneel beside Ume and set her hand lightly on the woman's shoulder. "Ume-san, he doesn't mean it like you think. This is not a rejection." Letting her hand fall to join the one already resting in her lap Kagome let her instincts rise so she could see where they would lead her and stayed quiet to listen.

Opening her eyes, Ume stared into the dancing flames of the small fire and felt her shoulders slump as her hands dropped to allow the cloth to slide to the floor. "I don't know why I'm surprised. No one ever wants me." Holding back the tears she whispered, "I'm so ugly." And jolted in surprise, realizing what she had revealed to this strange woman but it was too late to take the words back now.

Kagome's soft laughter came out muffled from behind her hand. "Ume-san you are anything but ugly! What you are is special, unique and different. You simply look like your father, not so different from Jinenji or InuYasha." Lifting a hand she lightly turned Ume's chin towards her. "My mother always said that freckles," She touched one on the bridge of Ume's nose and smiled when her eyes crossed, "Are kami kisses."

Ume pulled away from the fingers on her face. "That is very kind of you Lady Kagome but I know what I am. I am a halfling that no one wants." Sighing, Ume brushed the sleeve of her yukata across her eyes and began to fold the kimono to place it back in the basket.

"Would you like to know where you come from?" With the fiery red hair, freckles, and skin tone it wasn't hard to fathom her origins and Kagome chuckled when Ume's green eyes shot to hers.

She frowned a small furrow of her brow for Ume had originally though Kagome's eyes were dark and sparkling not fully gold like her husbands. Ignoring it in light of what else she had said Ume's voice was small as she whispered, "But not even my mother…"

"Let me ask you Ume-san, did your mother describe your father to you?" The woman gave a shallow nod. "And was he a large man with vibrant red hair, a thick beard, and a strange garment that he wore around his hips called a kilt? It would have been blends of colors-"

"That he called a plaid. Yes, yes! How do you know these things?" She had never come across anyone who knew anything about where he had come from before.

Kagome held out her hand and grinned. "I know many things Ume-san."

Grasping the offered hand in excitement Ume held it tight. "Please! What can you tell me?"

The reiki drained from her in a rush, healing the wound left by Ume's bitter mother and she softened InuYasha's concern when it came. This had not been so difficult for Ume had a grandmother that was trying to show the woman kindness and love even if she was having trouble seeing it right this moment. "Why he was on that trading vessel I couldn't say but he was most likely from a place far from here called Scotland. You have the look of his people and were you to go there you would not be so different." Except for the language barrier and the lack of heavy accent. Her friend Yuka had been fascinated with highland dance as a child and had constantly been showing Kagome things of a Scottish nature, so to see someone so clearly of that decent here was quite astounding. "It is a land of mountains and ancient rock formations, green fields and wet marshes, fog and rain, and magic. It is not so different from here, colder yes, and wet more often but it is green and beautiful with its rolling hills and crags that drop into the ocean. It is an ancient land of a proud, warrior people and a heritage that you shouldn't be ashamed of."

"Oh… it sounds so… so lovely…" Smiling Ume could almost see the land in her head of her father's people. "So I am not so different… only living in a different land."

"Yes, Ume-san. Looks are only skin deep. They have no bearing on the person inside. I once knew a most beautiful man, long dark hair, handsome in the most stunning of ways but he was evil incarnate. You must seek past the surface but… I can see you already do." Releasing the hand she still held, Kagome retrieved the forgotten kimono. "You would not be here if you only cared about what was on the outside." Stroking the collar and the fancy stitching that matched the obi in the bottom of the basket, she lifted golden eyes to study Ume thoughtfully. "Do you care for my friend? Could you love him even though he looks as he does?"

Slightly affronted by the bluntness of her questions Ume looked away from the piercing eyes. "He may not be the most handsome on the outside, nothing like your husband, but I would rather love someone for their kindness, their gentle nature, and their generosity than be able to look at a pretty face attached to a cold heart." Her firebrand temper ignited and Ume lifted her angry eyes to Kagome's. "He is more beautiful for what he is on the inside than anyone I have ever met!"

Her smile bloomed into radiance and Kagome laughed. "Excellent! You will need that fire to convince him of such a thing! Ume-san, if you love him… don't give up. And remember your own words! It is who you are in here," She pressed her fingertips to Ume's heart. "That matters the most. If other's think you are strange or odd or, kami forbid, ugly than that is their concern. All that matters, all that should matter is what waits, what grows, on the inside. In here… is where true beauty lies." Folding the kimono Kagome returned it to the basket and set it to the side.

Watching the elegant hands with the long, slightly claw like nails carefully folding the kimono, Ume thought about much of what Kagome had to say and wondered if perhaps she was right. For so long she had been carrying around her mother's opinion of herself. The red haired cursed child of a foreigner, a bastard child with no name and no father, a woman destined to be denied an honorable marriage because of her looks and her birth. Perhaps it was time to put it behind her and choose her own path. Glancing at the Lady she asked softly, "You seem to know Jinenji-san quite well. Did I… offend him? Have I… overstepped my place?"

"Offend? Doubtful. Shocked? Oh yes!" Kagome giggled and went to retrieve her cold bowl of stew, hungry after the minor healing she'd performed. Coming back to sit next to Ume she nudged the woman's own meal towards her. "How long have you lived here? How well do you know Jinenji and his history?"

"Not long, less than a year I guess." Picking up her own bowl Ume found herself suddenly famished and began to eat quickly.

"Besides from his own mother I doubt Jinenji has ever received a gift, let alone from a woman, before today. You stunned him with your kindness Ume-san." Her eyes widened and Kagome smirked a little.

"But… he said he didn't want it! Why would he say no when…" It made no sense and Ume tapped her chopsticks against the edge of the bowl in her irritation. If he'd never received a gift before wouldn't he be happy to accept hers?

"Jinenji, not unlike InuYasha used to, can have a very difficult time expressing himself. He is shy, and can be easily overwhelmed. What you have done… it scares him because now… now he has hope. And hope can be slapped or ripped away rather easily." She had been there once when hope had bloomed to life only to have it torn from her in less than an instant. "I am right here my mate and I ain't going anywhere." The burst of determination was followed by a stroke of his love so strong it made her heart melt. "I know saiai, I know."

"Hope? Hope for what?" Ume whispered almost afraid of the answer but needing to ask it anyways.

Lifting her fingers, Kagome touched them lightly to Ume's cheek and smiled gently with her eyes gleaming, shinning with unshed tears. "For a future." Ume gasped and blushed, looking rapidly away. "Don't give up on him. It may take time but it will be worth it in the end for love… love is the greatest gift anyone can give… or receive."

A/N: R&R as always!