Disclaimer: I don't own InuYasha. All rights belong to Takahashi Rumiko.

A/N: I wasn't going to post stories on this site again after what happened, but a dear friend who isn't familiar with other sites asked me to do so as a personal favor. Since this story is being written as a birthday present for her, I made an exception. For those of you who wondered what happened to my stories, but didn't check my profile for an explanation, you can find links for the rest of my works there.

I'm going to give warnings for this story because it touches sensitive matters. The vignettes at the beginning of each chapter aren't in chronological order on purpose. It's more thematically connected. Chapter length will vary and updates will be once a week for the time being.

Warnings: Domestic violence, child abuse, postpartum depression, drug addiction, escapism.

Kagome is eight years old when she feels the brutal side of her mother's touch. It is swift and unexpected and – it burns. Her neck snaps and she's hitting the floor before the slap has fully been perceived. It's much later that the recoil sinks inside and becomes vibration in friable bones. The cause is forgettable – Kagome is tired and she has to feed Sōta and she's got studies and in between all that she's forgotten to do the laundry – but the effect is something she can never forget.

She lies where she falls and just stares up into her mother's eyes – glazed with something less lucid, unfocused, as if she can't recognize her own daughter, what she's done. Her mother's breathing comes fast and frantic. She's hyperventilating, collapsing to her knees, reaching out with blind eyes, shaking arms. Kagome barely breathes, hunches back on instinct. Her cheek burns…but she fears that it'll burn a thousand times worse if those hands touch her now.

Her eyes sting more than her skin. She whispers sorry and picks herself up. She must feed Sōta and finish her studies and – do the laundry. Her mother's cries reach her ears, but she tunes the sound out. It's…pitiful. She's learned the word but hasn't known what it means until now.

She hates pity.

It's close to midnight and the newspaper is almost empty. Kagome and Sango are the only ones left in the editorial department, making some last minute edits. Sango's husband has called four times by now, only to receive the same cranky lines Sango always hisses, flushed, flustered – I'll be done soon and go to sleep already and stop calling every twenty minutes. Kagome shakes her head, offering to shoulder the rest of the work. Not much is left, and unlike Sango, no one waits for her back home.

"You sure you can finish up all on your own?" Sango grimaces, seemingly torn, but Kagome can tell she really wants to go home, if only to berate her worrywart of a husband for always making such a big deal out of her overtime.

"Yeah, I'll be fine." Kagome sighs, all but shoos her away. "Go home before your husband comes to take you by force."

"Alright, thanks. I'll see you tomorrow." Sango's smile is full of gratitude and relief. She's halfway out of the office when she turns around with another smile. "Oh, and lunch is on me."

Kagome waves absentmindedly. Being treated to lunch is nice and all, and she doesn't dislike Sango, but that's not why she's offered to take on the extra work. She just likes working alone. It's quiet and calm and she doesn't have to deal with other people. Her coworkers think she's a perfectionist. An overachiever. A workaholic. Someone who has no life outside of work. They aren't wrong…but they aren't right either. She works long hours because she has to pay for her brother's tuition and she has no social life because she can't stand most people.

It's half past one when she finally finishes, gathers her things, and locks up. The security guard nods at her as she leaves the building, and Kagome can see pity in his eyes. She's always the first to come to work and the last to leave. She's also the only one nearing thirty who isn't married with kids or planning to do so. It doesn't matter what the old man thinks, and she can't tell him what to think, but he shouldn't pity her so easily. Not when he probably doesn't even know what real pity is. But she supposes that's how humans are. They need to pity someone else to forget how pitiful they are. They need to focus on what goes wrong in other people's lives to forget all the things that go wrong in theirs.

The streets are practically empty and the ride home doesn't take longer than half an hour. Finding parking space close to her apartment building though is another matter. By the time she does, less than two blocks away, fatigue has seeped into her bones. Kagome can barely keep her eyes open and all she wants to do is shower and sleep. Her steps are sluggish, her heels clacking in the silence, dragging on the concrete. She shouldn't be able to hear anything else in her exhausted state – but she does.

A low growl filters in her ears, raises gooseflesh on her arms. It comes from deep inside the nearest alley and it isn't a human sound. She should keep walking, or better yet run, despite that she will most likely trip and fall on her heels. But there's something in that sound, something familiar. She stretches her ears, tries hard to place what that thing is, where she's heard it before. It strikes her like the first strike she's ever felt.

Something wounded that doesn't know what sound to make. It still isn't human but there's something humanly vulnerable. It's the same sound she remembers crawling out of that eight year old's throat, mixing with the noise of the laundry machine. More growling than crying. More animal than human.

Kagome knows she shouldn't – but her feet are moving…and she is walking inside that alley. It's a narrow space, littered with garbage, air dank and nauseating. Her neighborhood is better off than others but not by much. There are still places like this, dark tunnels, filled with shadow and decay, danger slithering in quiet corners. She stays close to the wall the deeper she goes because it's tangible and gives her some feeling of safety.

Carmine gleams in the dark, breaks through the dimness in her eyes, and for a moment, Kagome thinks what she hears is the blood-pulse of some feral beast as it writhes and gurgles in its death throes. Her feet come to an abrupt stop mere inches away from the blood-red-mass. She stands petrified, stunned. Curled into a corner, curled into himself – is a boy. A boy dressed in all red sweats, barefooted, with white-colored hair, rocking back and forth and muffling his growl-like cries between his knees. Kagome can't tell his age for sure with the way he's made himself into a tight ball, but judging from his size, he can't be more than five years old.

Kagome is dashing forward before she's cogent of the movement until she's kneeling above his trembling form. Cautiously, she's reaching out an arm, but before she can touch him, the boy makes another inhuman sound. Teeth pierce through the thin skin of her wrist. Sharp pain, sharp bite. It's much sharper than it should be, much stronger. A yelp spills past her lips and she tries to make him let go but the boy's jaw is locked around her wrist. Hot saliva pours into the holes his teeth tear, trickles down her fingers with her own blood. These are not teeth…but fangs.

Panic coils around her nerves, numbs the fear, the confusion, the disbelief. If she keeps struggling, it's possible that he might mangle her wrist, crush her bones. She pulls him closer then, wraps her other arm around his shoulder, fingers buried in the thickness of his hair, and shushes him with sweet nothings in his ear. Slowly, the sounds shift lower, his aggression ebbing, the grip of his teeth slackening, enough that she can pry her hand out of his mouth.

Kagome doesn't know how much time she spends in that filthy alley just holding him, but she knows it's dangerous to stay there for long at this hour of the night. With wary, tender motions, she gathers him in her arms and makes to stand. Something fur-soft brushes the underside of her chin. She lowers her eyes to the top of his head, sees animal-shaped ears, but the shock is lessened at the discovery. The human throat can't make such sounds. The human denture doesn't have such teeth. She's already known before she sees his ears that he is something other. Something quite-not-human.

And still…she takes him home.