Chapter Eleven

Damnit. Kouga watched Kagome with Inuyasha, ignoring the urge he still felt to pant. He hoped like hell nothing went wrong while he was gone, because he'd be too tired to deal with it when he returned. Avoiding Inuyasha's sword had been hard enough, and then that thing Kagome had done. At least he couldn't smell hurt on her anymore, or fear, though that had been brief anyways: she really was a strong bitch.

They're still staring. He'd been expecting this ever since Kagome's telling display during the battle with Naraku, but when nothing had happened by the spring, and shit for all by the fall, he had thought that maybe...damn it. Glancing away, he caught the quick jerks of faces turning away from him and felt like biting something. Well, Inuyasha didn't have a tail, but he was still handy. "Dog turd," Kouga said, and then tried again more loudly. "Oi!" The two hanyou across from him finally broke their staring match, and damn if Inuyasha hadn't been the one to do it first.

"Fine," Inuyasha said to Kagome, straightening.

Kouga gritted his teeth as the asshole continued to keep his back turned, however. "Oi, dog turd, am I going to have to wait all day? I want to head back today, not the next new moon." There. That ought to get his attention; he wouldn't like notice being drawn to his human days.

Kouga felt a momentary rush of vindication as Inuyasha did shift to face him in a quick jerk. "You'll talk, and then leave?"

Kouga frowned, and crossed his arms to hide his uncertainty. No response to the new moon thing? "Yeah." Well, Inuyasha was rather slow on the uptake at times: just look at how often he'd let Kagome stray into trouble. Kouga would have kept her safe with his pack and not let her wander, and she could have used her powers to help them. As long as he was with his pack, they were all safe. Damnit, Ginta, Hakkaku, where the hell did you go? There's no-one with them now.

"That's it? You'll leave."

The priest made an odd noise, but when Kouga looked at him, he was only sneezing. He turned back to Inuyasha with a glare. The stinking dog turd must have been so muddled by Kagome that he missed the new moon comment. Unless he was purposefully trying to irritate Kouga by ignoring it--that must be it. He smoothed the grimace from his face and replied calmly, "That's what I said, dog turd."

Inuyasha first frowned and then demanded, "So what is it?" It had worked.

Kouga's sense of triumph faded, the words coming slowly to him. He'd managed to say it earlier when trying to get Inuyasha to stop attacking him, but having to repeat himself was galling. Fuck dogs for being so easily distracted that they missed the really serious things. "I . . . want a favor."

The others were quiet, reminding him of his own pack's intensity when on a hunt. He shifted uneasily, focused on Inuyasha and Kagome as always; the hanyou's humans had held mostly little interest. The hanyou had narrowed his yellow eyes, glance flicking to each of the humans and the kitsune before he returned his attention to Kouga, looking rather sour about something: probably remembering the offer he'd made the night after Naraku's defeat.

Loud in the silence were the peepings of tree frogs searching for mates down in the rice paddies. Kouga could see Kagome's ears twitch as she, too, caught their rainfall of sound. She even had the smell of the dog turd over her now; it hadn't been like that this past autumn. Why Inuyasha was taking so long to go about mating her, however, was lost to Kouga: he would have done it ages ago.

When Inuyasha didn't try to bluster about not doing any favors for wolves, Kouga began to relax slightly, just the faintest release of tightened muscles. His shoulder twinged, healing. Finally, Inuyasha conceded to the silence with a cranky, "And?" His face was half-turned toward Kagome, as if he would have been looking at her had Kouga not demanded his attention.

Kouga tightened his hands into fists, feeling the blunt nails of his fingers press against his palms. He almost twitched his tail in irritation before he caught himself back. "Hakkaku and Ginta are missing." The offer Inuyasha had made that night after the final battle with Naraku had originally meant nothing to Kouga; he hadn't joined in with Inuyasha in order to assist the hanyou, but because that was the only way he was going to be able to avenge his pack on Naraku. But now he had no other option but to hope the dog turd would make good. Ayame's pack had shifted territories to somewhere; and there was only himself left with the pack now.

Kagome opened her mouth in dismay; Inuyasha repeated, "And?" earning himself thereby a downwards turn of Kagome's lips.

"Damn it," Kouga exploded in a release of frustration, leaning forward towards Inuyasha angrily. "They've been gone too long, and it's our first spring in a new territory; who knows what the fuck might show up: but maybe other youkai. How long do you think my wolves would last, if some youkai comes sniffing out another youkai den?

"You may not care," he continued, shooting the indifferent Sesshomaru an acidic glance, "but our senior bitch will pup again this spring; they know as well as I do that you don't leave the bitches alone when they're like that." Kouga knew the others could smell his agitation, but he was past caring. Just talking about it made him more anxious; he'd come as fast as he could, but his pack was going to be alone for three days at least before he got back, and that was enough for some youkai to enter their territory and get to the den. They were all that he had left, thanks to Naraku; and damned if he would let anything happen to them.

"They probably saw another youkai and ran away," Inuyasha muttered, then fell back with a spat curse as Kouga leaped forward and slammed him onto his back, pinning him by the shoulders.

"You fucking dog turd, don't you get it?" Kouga snarled, "I can't leave the pack to look for them, and the pack can't travel because of the pups that'll come. Their scent left the territory. By the time I started trying to find them, it was too stale for me to follow."

"Kouga-kun," Kagome began, before Inuyasha interrupted whatever she had been about to say by lifting his legs and kicking Kouga in the gut; that sent Kouga crashing backwards against one of the porch supports.

When he picked himself up with a shake, Inuyasha was glaring at Kagome again, but spared Kouga a brusque, "Kohaku can go back with you. He's good enough at tracking, and--"

"Damn you dogs and your fixation on humans," Kouga said with a bitter growl in his voice. "He killed some of my pack. I know what was going on, but my wolves won't. They won't stand him in our territory." Were the dog turd's brains so distracted by Kagome that he wasn't thinking at all, or had he always been this stupid?

Kouga could hear indrawn breaths from the humans but ignored them, keeping his gaze on Inuyasha and Kagome. At least Inuyasha was indicating that he'd help.

Inuyasha had reared back angrily, spitting out a piece of his hair that had fallen across his mouth in the grappling with Kouga; before he could speak, however, Kohaku had taken the initiative into his own hands. From where he sat next to Kagome, he bowed low. His forehead pressed against the wooden slats of the porch floor. "Please accept my regrets for the harm I have done you."

Kouga could scent his distress, and clamped his teeth shut to hold back a retort. What did stupid human gestures like that do? Even if they did look uncomfortably like those of a pup begging forgiveness. In the past he would have simply killed the boy and let his pack make a meal off him--which was only fitting, the taker of pack lives supporting pack lives as food. But they'd stopped preying on humans to please Kagome; and even though it hadn't helped his courtship, he didn't want to upset her by starting again now. Besides, trying to take down a member of Inuyasha's pack with the hanyou in reach was not a move guaranteed for success; and he'd known the boy had been with them ever since Naraku's defeat when that fucker Sesshomaru had revived him with that sword of his, then refused to bestir himself for Kouga's wolves.

"You idiot," Sesshomaru pronounced in a bored tone. "The boy was controlled."

Kohaku kept his face pressed to the floor as he said, voice muffled, "Their deaths were still at my hands. I'm responsible for them."

Holding her pup so tightly that it squalled, the female taijiya broke out with a, "Kohaku, no!"

"They're my pack, it's up to me--" Kouga snapped in reply to Sesshomaru.

"Wimpy wolf, you can't just--" Inuyasha began at the same time.

"Human morals are so tedious," Sesshomaru said as casually as if the bastard expected them to stop fighting in order to hear what he had to say. The fucking inu youkai could just sniff Kouga's ass if that's what he wanted; Kouga would fight Inuyasha has much as he cared to.

When Sesshomaru followed this up by leaning away from the porch support and stepped onto the ground, however, Inuyasha scrambled to his feet. "Oi, oi," Inuyasha protested. "That's it? You're leaving?" Kouga's head started to ache; he just wanted to be back with his pack where humans didn't try to throw themselves at his feet and inu youkai siblings weren't continuing the latest round of their fucking weird rivalry. If Inuyasha really wanted his brother gone, he shouldn't sound so pissed like he was trying to pick a fight. "I thought you had some business with me, you asshole!"

Sesshomaru paced on towards the forest where that odd retainer and the human girl waited with the two-headed beast--possession of which alone had been enough to convince Kouga that Sesshomaru was as foolhardy as his brother. His voice was cool with negligence when he replied, "When has this Sesshomaru ever desired anything to do with you? Later, Inuyasha."

Inuyasha jerked up short at the edge of the porch; Kouga huffed a breath to keep his nose free of the scent coming off the hanyou. But Inuyasha's ears did nothing more than twitch. Instead, he yelled angrily, "What the fuck do you mean, later? Aren't you going back to Kyushu, asshole?"

Sesshomaru didn't stir himself to raise his voice as the distance grew, so the humans were left to demand a repeat from the kitsune--they'd tried asking Kagome, but she had simply shook her head and kept her eyes fixed on Inuyasha, her brow puckered--when the other youkai replied, "Too many humans there. I will be looking for the wind user."

Kouga slewed around and bit his tongue, nearly choking when the descending swallow met the rising snarl in his throat. "That bitch? That bitch? What, so she can kill off all the humans for you? If you find her, I'll kill her!" His whole pack. The bitch had killed off his whole pack, but for the few with him. The boy had been so controlled as not to have a choice, but she. . . . He would kill her himself, no leaving it to Ginta and Hakkaku this time around. Between her and Kohaku, he had been lucky that any of his pack was left.

"It is sad to note that your pack's inability to travel, however, will no doubt interfere with that goal."

"Fucking shit!" Kouga leaped off the porch and managed a stumbling run after the other youkai as muscles stiff from rest after overuse tried, and failed, to bring him to his knees.

Behind him, Inuyasha gave another shout. "Oi, Kouga! Wait! You haven't said where their trail led, you dimwit!"

Kouga tossed over his shoulder as he made the best speed he could towards the forest into which Sesshomaru was leading the his own pack, "Southeast out of my territory. Let me know when you find them, dog turd!" He turned his attention back to Sesshomaru. Dammit, he had better be willing to tell Kouga whenever he found the wind user. She was going to die, die, die, because he, Kouga, would kill her.

* * *

Inuyasha swallowed against the throbbing growl low in his throat as he turned back to the others gathered on the porch. Crossing his legs as he dropped to a seat next to Kagome once again, he refused to meet anyone's eyes. Instead, he shoved his hands up his sleeves and fell into a truculent silence.

"Some food, perhaps?" Sango asked weakly as Tenichi finally hiccoughed his wails into snuffling whimpers. She passed the baby to Kaede's competent arms and got to her feet. Making her way behind Miroku and Kagome to Kohaku, she drew her hand gently across his hair; Kohaku flinched and dropped his gaze to his clenched hands.

"That is an excellent idea," Miroku endorsed heartily, getting to his feet with a little too much eagerness. "Why don't I lend you my assistance with that?" He took Sango's hand and, sliding the paper screen to the side, led her into the house. Watching them in preference to looking at any of the others who were probably staring at him, Inuyasha noticed the monk's hand slipping lower as the two walked off the porch. Shit. He had wanted to be doing something like that today to Kagome, only not so perverted; but look at what had happened: the best day of his life had turned into a farce.

Shippou fidgeted, then leaned forward onto his hands. Peering up at Inuyasha's face, he burst out with a, "Dog breath," as if he had been bottling up his words like Kagome used to bottle the shikon shards. "Are we really going to help Kouga?"

Inuyasha drew his lips back from his teeth. "That's what I said, isn't it?" he replied belligerently. He flicked an ear towards the kitchen; he could hear a faint sizzle of something moist approaching fire. Fish, probably--Kohaku and Miroku both smelled of such, so they had probably brought some back with them. Damn Kouga and his problems, taking up time Inuyasha could have used to figure out what to do about Kagome. Tetsusaiga didn't help her; it might happen again.

"You didn't say," Shippou began, then shut his mouth at the glare Inuyasha gave him. He tried again. "But if he doesn't want--" Shippou stumbled to a halt. "Um. . . ."

"If he doesn't want me there," Kohaku said clearly, staring across the porch, "whom else do you mean to send, Inuyasha-sama?"

Beside Inuyasha, Kagome sucked in a breath. She had been too quiet all through the shit with Kouga just now, though her scent had been fluctuating from sick to the tang of guilt to the scorched bitterness of anger; but over the past few minutes it had settled--who knew what she was thinking now. She should have listened to him when he told her to stay put. Then this wouldn't have happened.

"Kohaku-kun," Kagome said, drawing her knees up and resting her chin on them, "it's not you; it's what Naraku did." She looked off towards the forest, not intruding on Kohaku with her glance; she was really picking up on some of the details: she'd stared him down earlier, too. And also with Kouga, damn it--the bitch was taking the lead female thing too far.

"With my hands," Kohaku said, and clenched them. "Sometimes . . . he let me remember it all, but I--" He cut his words short, closing his mouth abruptly.

"Fuck it," Inuyasha snapped, taking in Kohaku's strained features. He should be saying something helpful: he was pack leader; but hell if he knew what. "That bastard Naraku liked to screw with people's minds." All the scents tracked back to that bastard Naraku in the long run. If it hadn't been for him, Inuyasha wouldn't have given the damn jewel to Kagome and then she wouldn't have--then today's shit wouldn't have occurred. When Kagome and Shippou gave him expectant looks, as if they anticipated a follow-up to that comment, he unclenched his teeth and, ears flattening further, snapped, "What?"

"It is said that the body is tortured only by the demon of the mind," Kaede commented.

"So what's that mean?" Shippou demanded impatiently while Inuyasha set his teeth again until his entire jaw locked tight. Sesshomaru was being a fuck, and now he had to deal with Kouga's problem, and Kagome--shit, Kagome as a youkai. This is what she got for wanting to stay with him: a fine protector of his mate he was going to be. Though she had said--but what the hell did she think she was doing?

"It seems to me that it was what Inuyasha was trying to say: that we suffer from the consequences of our own faults, but should not take those of others onto ourselves. It was once told me by Miroku," said Kaede.

"Miroku?" Kohaku said questioningly, looking up from his hands at the old woman.

Inuyasha held back a snort as the paper screen slid to the side and the priest entered, saying cheerfully, "Did I hear my name? I hope it was in reference to something positive." He was carrying a tray with a platter and several square plates on it: Miroku was rather finicky, when he had the luxury, about fooling around with what he called "presentation." Kagome had said once that monks assigned meanings to things like arrangements of flowers and the placement of bowls and plates around a meal: just one of those weird ass things Inuyasha had learned to ignore over the seasons because otherwise you'd be driven crazy, as you would if you listened to Sango polishing Hiraikotsu with that edgily grating strop strop strop noise every fucking night for almost three years. And the odor of that putrid oil she put on it! Inuyasha inhaled deeply to draw in the scent of the fish so he could get that of the oil out from his mind.

"Of us all," Sango said, bringing in a bowl of some soup with noodles in it and the fish, "Inuyasha, Kohaku, Kagome-chan, and I are the ones who know how to track." She sounded like she was continuing an earlier conversation, and things were back to fucking Kouga again. And if he hadn't come, maybe then Kagome wouldn't have--hell, not that it made a difference. What mattered was what he was going to do about the wimpy wolf, and about Kagome, who had at least always had that last resort of her miko abilities. Now, she just had another hanyou weakness. Inuyasha bit angrily into the fish, the sweet flesh of the aya lost beneath the sourness of his own thoughts.

"But you have Tenichi, Sango-chan," Kagome said. Inuyasha stole a narrow- eyed look at her. She was eating the soup with a calmness that had him biting his tongue. The only signs he could see that she was troubled was the pucker creasing her brow, and that might have just been about Sango. Didn't she understand that she was weaker now--and with her running off with no more sense than to interfere in a fight, how the hell he was going to protect her escaped him entirely.

"Inuyasha has been teaching me how to track, too, not just Kagome. I could go," Shippou suggested, his tail fluffed as he flipped it back and forth in excitement.

"Keh!" Inuyasha scoffed, then bit off the fish's head with an angry jerk, crunching it only briefly before swallowing.

Miroku said diplomatically, "If their trail led near any of the villages, it might be a difficulty to convince any of the adults there to share gossip or news with you, Shippou."

Shippou scowled, his tail flopping to a halt. He brushed some rice grains off his cheeks before answering, "I could use an illusion."

"No, Shippou-kun, not this year," Kagome said firmly. She hesitated. Then, her ears flattening to the sides, she said, "I could."

"What the hell do you mean by that, Kagome?" Inuyasha spat, slamming down the cup of tea Miroku had passed him with a bang that sloshed the hot liquid over the floor.

Kagome flinched at the noise, but said with a persistence that made his temper flare further, "I think it would be something useful that I could do."

"Leave?" Inuyasha fisted his hands, ignoring the bite of claws into palms. "And you think you'll be just fine? Just as you were fine when you interfered in the fight? Look what happened with that, and now you think you can head off alone? Where the fuck are you getting these ideas?"

Twitching his tail in confusion, Shippou asked, "But hasn't she been learning to fight and track and do stuff on her own?" Inuyasha heard the ceramic thunks of bowls against wood as Sango and Kaede and Miroku set their food aside to watch openly.

"The things you teach encourage assertiveness, Inuyasha," Miroku said.

"That's not what I meant, bouzu," Inuyasha snapped. He glared at the priest, but shifted his attention back to Kagome in a hurry when he caught the spike of irritation tangling into her scent; he flinched in a conditioned reaction to the "sit!" that remark should have earned him. "Shit."

Kagome showed him her teeth and narrowed eyes. "What did you mean, Inuyasha."

Inuyasha's roil of anger and worry evaporated under the sudden sunlight of relief. No more rosary. Emboldened, he said less harshly than before, "You're not leaving. It'd be dangerous, and you can't--"

"I can," Kagome replied flatly. "You've been teaching me, haven't you? And I'm well able to make decisions for myself."

Dark clouds hove back into sight, then drenched him. "Decisions, like the one you made with Naraku? Don't say a word," Inuyasha gritted out as she opened her mouth to reply, leaning towards her angrily. Her shoulders tightened but she didn't look away from him, her mouth setting in a stubborn line. He cursed to himself. "You think that's a good example."

Kagome set her teeth then retorted, "If I hadn't, you'd be dead, Inuyasha."

But she was the one who had died. And now--she hadn't any business haring off by herself. "Damn it, you can't keep doing stuff like this, Kagome. Don't you understand? Sesshomaru didn't want to revive you!" His voice was edged with a snarl. "The asshole only agreed because he'd decided to do it for Kohaku. And now you want to go off alone. Bitches stay with the pack."

Beside Kagome, Kohaku shifted in startled uneasiness. "Inuyasha," Sango said in a subdued tone; his ears flicked at her voice, but he kept his eyes fixed on Kagome.

Kagome returned his gaze unwaveringly, though her ears flicked back and her scent fluctuated: shocked, then, to his disgust, angered once more. Her ears turned forward aggressively. What he wouldn't give to have a rosary for her sometimes. "Let me share an equally absurd phrase with you, Inuyasha: barefoot and pregnant. I can track, and I can move around quickly. It makes sense for me to go, even if you--"

"Kagome, fucking listen to me!"

"What, then?"

"It's dangerous. Do you get that?" Still feeling provoked, he spat out, "Any youkai who catches a hanyou alone will pick on you. You still suck at fighting. And if the wimpy wolf couldn't track them because the trail was too old, you won't be able to. You don't know shit about tracking except by smell." Inuyasha glared at her; she better not keep pushing her idea.

Kagome held his glance until the silence began to stretch, then dropped her eyes. Inuyasha held back a sigh of relief as he saw her ears ease flat in the first sign of capitulation; the anger didn't fade immediately from her scent, but at least she was listening to him once more. And if he could only train her to obey, he wouldn't have this problem again.

"Inuyasha," Miroku said, sounding awed. "That is . . . that is actually reasonable."

"Yes, and they're not yelling insults and creating craters in the ground," Sango said with a smile.

"It is a small improvement," Kaede agreed. Shippou just looked between them both, wearing a betrayed expression as if some favorite toy had broken.

Inuyasha slid a glance at them, saying in a low growl, "You guys. . . . "

Kagome said in a tired tone, "Do you all have to talk about this?"

Sango's smile faded, her hands moving restlessly before she picked up her bowl of soup once more, "This doesn't answer whom we should send, however. Inuyasha, you wouldn't be a good choice for the same tracking reason that applies to Kagome-chan."

"Keh! I don't want to go looking for wolves anyway," Inuyasha said. Now if he could just figure out what to do about sealing her. Maybe if he ripped out one of her fangs, Toutousai could make another sword like Tetsusaiga. Only she had as much business with a sword as she had traipsing around where any fucking horny youkai might run across her trail. It might give her worse ideas than that self-sufficient shit she seemed to have in mind already. Did she think he had been joking about the twenty years?

A few moments later, "If you weaned him, you could leave Tenichi with me, Sango," Kaede said.

"I . . . suppose," Sango said with reluctant unhappiness. She set her bowl aside, then picked it up again. Miroku looked equally perturbed. Inuyasha agreed with him: Sango was still nursing; she shouldn't have to leave the kid. And again they were back to the wimpy wolf and his problems. He hoped Kouga choked on some fish bones soon. Or got fleas.

"Inuyasha-sama, what did the wolf say about the trail?" came the voice of another type of flea; Inuyasha spotted the old youkai clinging to the small Kirara's ear.

Inuyasha jigged a knee impatiently--the cloth of his hakama was wet there, where he'd managed to get it in the spilt tea--and folded his arms with his hands up his sleeves. "That he couldn't follow it," he sneered in reply. Stupid wolf to have waited that long to see what was going on.

Miroku sighed, picking another morsel of fish from his plate and eating it with a resigned air. "Maybe reasonable was too optimistic," he commented, ignoring Inuyasha's snort. "Myouga-sama, he said that the trail left his territory. To the southwest."

"Southeast," Kaede corrected as Sango reached over to take Miroku's empty bowl and stack it inside her own. The warming heat of the day made the fish smell hang heavily in the air for Inuyasha, strong enough to cover the musty smell of silkworm eggs one of the nearby villagers had set out in the sun; it would probably be before the next new moon that the silk larvae would start to hatch and the air would be thick with the sounds of their jaws munching ceaselessly on the mulberry leaves the village women would feed them. And then there would be days and days of stench later when the cocoons were roasted. Kagome hadn't liked the odor of that either. They should make a point of having fish often then.

The priest nodded agreeably, "Southeast, then. I was rather distracted by his chasing after Sesshomaru."

"Aa, southeast," Kohaku confirmed, placing his chopsticks in a neat line across his empty bowl.

Kirara shook her head and gave a hiss as the flea sampled a drink from her, making a sucking noise louder than might be expected from his small size. He popped free just as Kirara lifted a hind leg to swat at him, nimbly hopping to her other ear. "Then Kohaku could still go, couldn't he?"

"Oi, how long have you been listening, Myouga-jijii?" Inuyasha asked crossly. Sango's and Kohaku's eyes widened, their mouths kicking up in the same way when they smiled; their scents even smelled a bit alike in their excitement. Inuyasha hoped like hell that he smelled nothing like Sesshomaru.

Shippou said excitedly, "Kohaku wouldn't be in Kouga's territory! So what Kouga said doesn't make a difference."

Sango leaned against Miroku's shoulder, taking the drowsing Tenichi from Kaede and looking down at his face. "Someone should still go with him, though. In case information was needed from Kouga or something."

The kitsune almost choked on his chopsticks. "Let me go," he suggested, opening his eyes wide with eagerness. Damn puppy face. Inuyasha looked away before Shippou could turn it on him; instead, the kitsune looked at Kagome with pleading eyes. "Pleeeeeeease."

Kagome shifted, drawing her knees up to her chest again. She hadn't even eaten half her meal, Inuyasha noted: the fish had only been picked at and at least two-thirds of the soup was still in the bowl. Her mouth turned down at the corners. "I said no, Shippou-kun."

"But that was before. This time I'd be with Kohaku," Shippou said, a whining note entering his voice. He scooted over next to Kagome and tugged at one of her hands. "Please please please."

With a growl, Inuyasha picked up the boy by the back of his hakama and pulled him away from Kagome. Shippou let out an indignant yawp, his heels dragging along the floor. Giving the kitsune a shake, Inuyasha dropped him; Shippou landed on his rear. "Kagome said no, so let it alone, runt. You're still too little."

"Dog breath," the kitsune began, smelling infuriated.

"Myouga-jichan, you could go, couldn't you?" Kagome said over the kitsune's protest. Inuyasha's knee stilled in surprise; she hadn't been sulking. He looked at her more closely. Her skin was still taut and reddened, but beneath that--maybe she was tired. He recalled the time Kikyou had tried to seal him. Hell, of course she was tired. He'd felt like shit afterwards. Shit with burns.

Agreement strongly colored Sango's voice as she said, "That would be kind of you, Myouga-jii. If Kohaku needed more details from Kouga . . . or if some other youkai had seen the two. . . . You're so good at gathering news." This was laying it on a little thick, but Inuyasha could see, along with the others, how some of the tension had lightened from Kohaku's expression at the prospect.

"Ah . . . er," Myouga mumbled, his gray whiskers dipping with uncertainty.

"Sounds like you guys could leave in the morning," Inuyasha said, trying not to seem as satisfied as he felt. No reason for Kagome to leave, and a solution to the wimpy wolf's problem. Keh. He shoved the remains of his meal at Shippou, who scowled. Stretching out in a patch of sunlight along the edge of the porch, he propped his head on his arms as if he were going to take a nap.

"Inuyasha-sama," the flea said in resignation.

Kohaku gathered his things together and stood, saying, "I'll start to get ready, then." Inuyasha followed his movement with one ear as the boy went into the house.

With a bound, the flea followed after him. "Kohaku, I have many years of experience gathering all sorts of information . . . " Inuyasha heard him say before tuning out the sound of the flea's voice. "Oi, bitch," he said when Kagome didn't move as the others began to get up and Shippou darted off after Kohaku, telling the older boy to wait up for him, "if you're going to bathe, better do it now." He could hear her start, then get to her feet and pause.

"Take those, please?" Sango said to Miroku. Her footsteps approached Kagome. "Kagome-chan, do you mind if I join you?" Miroku stepped into the house. Inuyasha felt the tread of the priest's steps through the floorboards of the porch, the sound mingling with the reverberations through the wood where his stomach and arms and thighs pressed against it. If he shifted and pushed his toes against the floor, he'd feel it that way, too.

Kagome stirred, with the sound of her hair slipping over her shoulders, as if she'd shaken her head to wake herself up. "I'd like that," she said, her voice warming slightly. "Kaede-bachan, would you . . . ?"

"A bath would be enjoyable," Kaede agreed, her knees cracking as she stood.

"I'll get our things--Miroku can watch Tenichi," Sango said, stepping into the house.

Inuyasha twisted his ears back to follow her progress; his curiosity was rewarded with a smooth murmur of, ". . . Of course. Though some recompense shall be necessary--but we can talk that over, can't we? This evening. Late." It was followed by a thump and a groan. Inuyasha shifted his head, nesting his face in his arms so that Kagome and Kaede wouldn't see him snickering. Perverted bouzu.

Only moments after the women left, however, Miroku's steps returned to the porch. "Inuyasha." Inuyasha tried to keep his ears from twitching; he could tell from the tone of the priest's voice that he wanted something, and if Miroku thought he was asleep, perhaps he wouldn't be bothered. "Inuyasha." That hope was proven false when Miroku nudged him in the ribs, and not gently, either.

"Oi, bouzu!" Inuyasha reared up, turning a glare on Miroku. "What did you do that for?"

Miroku shoved the baby at him. Tenichi's chin was all wet with drool. Inuyasha eyed him distrustfully. "Either take the baby, Inuyasha, or wash the dishes."

Inuyasha's attempt to recoil was thwarted when Miroku dumped the baby in his lap. "Shit!"

Miroku thumped Inuyasha on the head with the heel of his palm. "Watch your language around my son, Inuyasha. I don't want him growing up to follow your example."

"So he's going to follow yours, then?" Inuyasha retorted rudely.

Miroku headed back towards the kitchen, tossing a smug, "I am the better man," over his shoulder as he went.

"Keh!" Inuyasha stared at the baby in his lap. Tenichi raised a hand, fingers splayed. He had fat arms, Inuyasha observed, with creases around the wrists and elbows as if his hands and lower and upper arms were separate pieces just hinged together by thick pads of skin. The baby looked like a miniature sumo wrestler, a very bloated Miroku. Inuyasha slid a glance at Kirara; the firecat passed one ruby eye over him before curling up and tucking her tails over her nose.

The baby's immobile weight reminded Inuyasha of that cat at Kagome's old house. Tentatively, he encircled Tenichi's wrists with his own hands, and hefted the baby up by them so as to balance him on him on his rear. The small eyes widened and the mouth fell open. "Eehee." It wasn't a noise of distress; emboldened, Inuyasha raised one fat arm, then lowered it and raised the other. The noise was repeated. Inuyasha see-sawed the arms back and forth a bit more. It was a lot like Kagome's cat. Except, he thought as a sour odor assailed his nose, that cat didn't stink. "Miiiiirokuuuu."

* * *

"Sango, come to bed," Miroku said from behind her. The lantern he had brought with him, in addition to the shine of the waxing moon's crescent through the open window, provided just enough light that Sango could see the dark fringe of Tenichi's lashes against his round cheeks.

"In a moment," she said absently, brushing back the baby's dusting of hair.

When Miroku set the lantern down, the shadows slid along the wall and over Hiraikotsu like the silhouettes of dancers Sango had once seen at a festival just after her father had first allowed her to fight with the other taijiya. She lifted her eyes from Tenichi to them, the Miroku-shape approaching the Sango-shape in a flickering glide. Dropping to his knees behind her, he lifted the heavy tail of her hair to one side. "I want to show you something," he said, the movement of his breath across her skin raising the fine hairs at her nape.

She leaned back against him as his hands moved from her shoulders to her breasts, stroking through the thin fabric of her sleeping kimono. "I was going to nurse the baby," Sango replied, her voice falling as Miroku's touches became more insistent.

"You can do that later. Come to bed."

Sango shivered at the sensitive trail of a finger along the line of her jaw. Following its encouragement, she turned her face towards Miroku, her eyelids drifting shut. "He'll wake up just as we start to sleep if I don't."

His lips brushed hers, teasingly. "Then we'll stay up. Sango, I have something I want to show you."

Sango opened her eyes and slid a glance at him over her shoulder, stifling a betraying flicker of amusement. He'd said not that long again that he wanted to hear her laugh while he was inside her; she had decided to see how long she could make him wait. Or maybe get him to laugh first, though it was hard to think of something witty at the called-for moment. He had an edge on her in that. "I've seen it already," she said, attempting to sound nonchalant despite the blush that wanted to rise in her cheeks. Besides, if he did succeed, he'd probably brag about it to Inuyasha. Or, worse, her brother.

His mouth quirking up at one corner, Miroku raised an eyebrow at her in the manner that so often served to fluster her when he did it in front of others: it had been when they were together, like this, that she'd first seen that look on his face. He caught the hand she lifted to tug at his hair. "Not this, you haven't," he said fervently, rising from his knees and urging her to follow him to the futon.

Curious, she sat beside him; he had already dropped her hand to pick at the ties of a silk-wrapped, squarish bundle. "What is it, Miroku?" She was baffled; he was stalling--things--to show her this object?

"I got it today," he replied, slipping a bundle of paper out of the wrappings.

Feeling cold, suspicion had her asking, "You bought it?"

"No, no," he replied breezily, then caused Sango to stiffen when he added, "I took it in trade for that exorcism this morning."

"You got a book--instead of money, or rice, or even some cloth?"

"Just look at it, Sango," Miroku said, unfolding the pleated strip of thick paper. She had only heard him sound more excited than this a few times, a number low enough that she wouldn't even need the fingers of a single hand to count. "It's a sutra."

We could have used the money or the cloth. Tenichi grows so quickly, Sango thought with flash of resentfulness as she bent her head to look at the sheet Miroku was stretching across her thighs. "But you know I can't . . . read . . . kanji," she began, trailing off as she took in the sketches on the pages. The drawings. Men and women together. They were--one of the women was-- Sango gasped and jerked her eyes away from the pages to look at Miroku in accusation. "You traded an exorcism for a book of dirty pictures?" she asked incredulously, her voice climbing.

Miroku said in an injured tone, quickly gathering the book from her with careful fingers when Sango twitched, "I said it's a sutra! Part of one, at least," he amended.

"A sutra," Sango repeated disbelievingly.

"Yes. It's called the--"


"Yes, and--"

This was what he wanted for having watched Tenichi all afternoon? Sango was never, ever, ever going to let her son take after this man. "You are such a pervert!" she cried, and shoved her elbow sideways, planting the blow solidly in his solar plexus.

His breath rushing from him in a pained wheeze, Miroku folded over like the accordion-pleated pages of his little book, which slipped from his grasp to the floor. "Sa--sa--"

Ignoring him, Sango untied the plain ribbon holding back the tail of her hair, then slipped past Miroku to the far side of the futon. "Poor Kagome- chan," she said over the choking noises of her husband attempting to catch his breath in feeble gasps. Tenichi would be fine for a bit longer; it rather pleased her to talk to Miroku as if nothing was out of the ordinary at the moment; although, from one angle, nothing really was.

"Sango, I--" Miroku said, sounding surprised and a bit desperate.

Sango lay back, pulling the light blanket up to her waist. "She didn't say much at the baths today, but she felt just horribly, I could tell." Her brow had been furrowed the whole time, even when they were soaking in the hot water and Sango had tried to tell the joke of the oni and the baths attendant. Kagome hadn't even noticed when Sango realized partway through that she had forgotten the point of the joke and had to trail off lamely. That had been obvious after Kaede chuckled and Kagome joined in with a belated laugh and a compliment on the joke.

With an apologetic sigh, Miroku stretched out beside her. Hesitant still, he slipped one of his arms under her head and the other around her waist. "She has had a lot to which to adjust."

Sango shifted, debating it, then tucked herself closer to Miroku. She picked up his right hand from her waist and smoothed the fingers flat, placing her palm to his as she'd done almost every night since the last fight with Naraku, when that last final devastation of the air rip had torn apart the courtyard and then, when the earth had closed behind Kikyou and Naraku, had stopped with silence. Their palms were about the same size, though his fingers were longer, broader. "She . . . really needs Inuyasha."

Miroku's breath puffed in a quiet laugh, stirring some of her hair. "It's all certainly a change of pace for the two of them."

Sango clasped his hand between the two of hers, pulling them up and tucking them between her breasts. He laced his fingers with her own. "She left her mother . . . her brother . . . behind for him."

Miroku kissed her near earlobe. "Kohaku is going only on a brief trip," he said in a murmur, raising himself above her with a shift of the arm under her head.

She turned her gaze from the ceiling to his face, studying the way the hairs of the broad end of one of his eyebrows splayed in a miniature cowlick. With the hand not twined with his, she reached up and smoothed the line of that eyebrow with her fingertip, then traced the shallow curve of the other as well. "This time." They had had other versions of this conversation before. Sango felt heavy; there really wasn't anything she could do but wait and see. Nothing she could think of seemed appropriate to help him, though most days Kohaku seemed as cheerful and delighted with things as he had when a boy.

"But what about you, Sango?" Miroku kissed the line of her jaw.

Her eyes closed, she tipped her head back to expose her throat. "Me?"

"You. Sango, wife. My wife." His mouth trailed over her neck and to her ear again. "It's been a year. Do you . . . regret staying?"

Letting go of his hand, she lifted hers to his neck, toying with the short hairs there. "No." She sighed; what he was doing felt particularly nice. "I like being a family. I like having a family." With the pressure of her hands, she urged him closer until she could feel the warmth and weight of him against her. "Taijiya--we always left family at home when we went out for a job."

His fingers roved the neckline of her kimono. "Sango . . . " A wheedling note entered his voice.

Resigned, she said, "You want us to . . . do those sutra things." He kissed her again, taking it deeper in affirming response. An image of the woman that had caught her eye flashed in her mind. "May I choose which one?"

"Mmm." She told him. Miroku blinked, breaking the rhythm of his kisses to stare down at her. His eyes, the same lovely dark blue of the sun striking a centipede youkai carapace, were wide with surprise. "Sango, that. . . ." Her cheeks stained red, but nevertheless she flexed beneath him, the muscles from years of training allowing her to reverse their positions smoothly. Looking dazed and rumpled in a way that made her blush all the more, he gazed up at her. "And to think I thought you'd prefer the conservative ones. "

"Father taught me to live strongly," she said, her hair sliding over her shoulder; a few loose strands tangled with his eyelashes as she bent to capture his lips.

He chuckled ruefully. "As long as I survive, then." Eager, his hands reached up as her mouth came down, fingers feeling the way through the ties of her clothes.

* * *

Kagome woke with a jerk, feeling something pricking her cheek. She slapped a hand to her skin, looking at the lip of the well against which she had fallen asleep. Splinters. It stood to reason, with a day like today. Carefully, she rubbed at her cheekbone with the pad of her index finger until she could feel the sliver shift; then, even more gently, she used the edge of her claw to scrape it away. Sighing, she brushed her finger off on her trousers. Her cheek felt a little abraded, but at least the splinter was gone.

She stared at the well apathetically for a minute, ears swiveling as she took in the evening noises: muted voices from behind closed doors in the village, the shifting of leaves in the forest and a small animal's cry-- either an owl or some other night bird, she couldn't quite tell. The moon was well up in the sky: she must have missed dinner, but she wasn't very hungry anyway. She wasn't aching, either; the sun-burnt feeling of her skin had faded, which was a small consolation. Kagome held back a noise of pained disgust as she leaned away from the well. Things had seemed so promising this morning, but then Inuyasha had been a baka about Kouga, and she--Inuyasha was right, she had been an idiot as well.

Her ears flattened guiltily. She had been angry because it felt like Inuyasha had been throwing back in her face her attempts to help him--but hadn't she done the same thing in refusing to listen to him? Trying to argue with what he had said she was and wasn't ready for, wasn't that sort of like throwing his help back in his face, too, by trying to overdo things?

Kagome winced and looked down into the blank darkness of the well. Mama. It had been about a year since she last . . . it was almost her birthday, though Kagome had lost track of the specific calendar date months and months ago; but Souta's would be not long after. Another year more and he'd be in middle school. Kagome stood. Mama wasn't there for advice anymore, and she didn't really want to talk to anybody else just yet, so going back to the house was out. Same with the thicket. Her ears caught a flutter of sound; she looked up to see a pale moth fluttering by, its flight erratic. Just beyond it was the God Tree.

Spurred by a sudden idea, Kagome headed toward the tree, leaping carefully onto the low, broad branch where Inuyasha liked to rest. His scent still marked it clearly, though not freshly; he hadn't been there since last night, when she had made the first moves that had ended with--with. . . . She wasn't exactly sure how to phrase it. Much more serious than dating, but still. . . . But still, he hadn't needed to laugh at me, she thought with a renewal of indignation. She moved quickly to a higher branch, her nervousness buried beneath a sense of injustice. Surely, if he could keep her from doing things because he didn't think it wise, she had the same responsibility towards him. Preventing the fight with Kouga from continuing had been entirely justified.

Kagome hoisted herself up another branch, moving more slowly as the limbs became thinner and sparser the higher she went. She wouldn't look down until she got as far up as she could go. By then she should be able to see all of the shrine grounds and where her house would be and maybe even as far as the river. The leaves were thick enough at this point, still, to block much of the moonlight and make things difficult to see through the shadows, but she could still hear and smell well enough: the fresh green of the leaves and the sweet up-rushing of sap to the marks her claws left behind in the wood, and the reassuring scents of the village, smoke and rice and fresh-turned vegetable patches and people.

At least the sealing thing was an easy matter to address. Kagome grimaced, feeling cautiously for the next branch. They were starting to bend under her weight, even when she kept close to the trunk, so she tried to place her feet on different boughs, distributing her weight. It really wasn't that huge a problem, really; she just needed not to use her miko powers again, and things would be fine.

A thought struck her as she started to pull herself up another limb higher, so shattering her concentration that her feet slipped; with the slow, reluctant crack of green wood, the weight-bearing branch beneath her gave way, and the one she slipped to after that likewise, until she dangled from arms stretched overhead to an even frailer branch. Heart thumping so strongly that she could hear the blood pulsing rapidly through her in panic, Kagome scrambled to wrap her legs around the swaying trunk, like trying to pole climb in gym class. Shifting her hands-grip likewise, she sank her claws as deeply into the God Tree as possible. She should have known better than to try climbing a sacred tree in the first place. Kagome looked down through what she could see of the leaves and shadows, squeezed her eyes shut and clung more tightly to the trunk. She was stupid to have tried this, stupid stupid stupid.

After what felt like a season's passage, her heartbeat slowed enough that she felt she could breathe normally again. Determinedly not looking towards the ground, she peered up instead, past the sparse leaves towards the moon. She was no old man on the mountain; elevation did not bring revelation. It just brought dismaying possibilities. Moving one foot hesitantly, Kagome tried to feel around the trunk for branches she might step on so as to climb down. There were none, however: only the long scar of a limb that had broken beneath her already. She closed her eyes and pressed her cheek to the trunk of the tree, breathing in the smell of bark and the bugs inhabiting it; but that didn't stop the disquiet twisting her stomach. She was a miko. Shrine maidens were supposed to be virginal. What if she and Inuyasha could never do anything without unsealing her?

Kagome checked the moon again when a cool breeze shifted the leaves obscuring it. The waxing crescent had only moved a little, and she sighed. It had been--she thought back--four nights since the new quarter moon and her human night, and four nights before that for Inuyasha. Having hers in such close proximity to his was rather convenient: his served as a reminder that hers was approaching. And, thankfully, hanyou living together didn't seem to cycle together. It would have been weird, synchronizing with him like Sango and she had over the months of shard-hunting. She felt a blush rise at the thought. She hadn't realized how obvious her period would have been to Inuyasha until Sango's had started again, maybe a week and a half ago. At least he had never said anything; actually, considering his general experience with tact, it was surprising that he hadn't. She was so glad he hadn't. Kagome felt a rush of benevolence towards him at the thought.

"Kagome?" Inuyasha's voice startled her so much that her feet slipped, sending the slender trunk shaking as she scrambled to regain a foothold. A vibration shivered through the tree, Inuyasha probably landing on that low branch. "Oi, bitch, what are you doing? Thought you didn't like sleeping in trees."

All feelings of benevolence disappeared under a rush of mortification, followed quickly by a flash of dismay. Why did he have to show up just now? If he'd only come a little later, she was certain to have figured a way down. "I--I was thinking," she replied lamely, then heard leaves rustling and felt movement in the tree below her. "Don't! Stop, don't come up." She looked over one shoulder, then the other, trying to see where he was. His voice was closer--there, she could see his hair when the trunk swayed from her twisting. He was coming up after her, and he'd get her like a fireman fetching a kitten. But if she got herself down--she could do that. She could. She wasn't a child, or a puppy, or a kitten to be plucked from trouble.

"Bitch, what are you talking about? What the hell are you doing?" Inuyasha asked in irritation.

"I'm coming down," Kagome replied loudly, gathering her courage. If this doesn't work, I'll die without ever having kissed him, she told herself with morbid humor as she tried to ignore the queasiness in her stomach. She took a breath, and then another on a gasp. That's it! Oh, the idea was perfect; she just had to bring it up with Inuyasha. And to do that, she had to get down first. She flung herself away from the trunk.

Kagome fell at an angle from the tree, hearing a, "What--shit!" muffled somewhat by the air past her ears as the ground rushed up more quickly than she had anticipated; she barely got herself tucked in time, hitting and rolling over again and again before stopping in a breathless but unbruised sprawl. One point to being a hanyou: resilience. But I need to figure out how Inuyasha does that feather-like landing, Kagome decided, pushing herself up to her hands and knees only to be jerked upright by Inuyasha's hand in her collar. He dumped her on her feet. "What the fuck were you doing?"

Kagome tugged at her shirt. "Thinking," she said, feeling a heady excitement; probably all the adrenaline she'd just pumped into her system. She smiled at Inuyasha, ignoring the sharpness of his glance and the scowl drawing his brows together.

Inuyasha looked confused for the space of a second, then snapped angrily, "The hell you were."

"I was thinking," she repeated quietly, relaxing her hands at her sides as she kept her eyes on his, "that sometimes you're a baka and sometimes I'm a baka."

Inuyasha scoffed, "Like just now?" His hands clenched.

Kagome shook her head, biting her lip and then blurting, "Now, I want you to kiss me."

Inuyasha fell back a step, unfolding his arms as his eyes widened with confusion, or maybe disbelief. "A k-kiss," he stuttered, ears twitching. Kagome nodded, sure that he could smell the nervousness she felt mixing with the excitement until she wasn't sure if she was going to be sick or throw herself at him if he didn't say something right now. "Why?"

Kagome faltered, feeling some of the excitement drain away. She'd sort of expected him to jump on the opportunity, not ask questions about it. "Because . . .

Inuyasha recovered, folding his arms across his chest and giving her a pointed look, though his eyebrows were still raised a little, as if he was trying to pull the experienced-samurai-thing against a bee with a really long stinger. "Because?"

"Well, I was thinking about miko," she began, then said hastily, when she saw his eyes begin to narrow, "And about us!" Surprised, he drew back a little. She fidgeted again at the thought of explaining this. Forging onward more slowly, she said, "And I remembered that they're . . . you know," she said in embarrassment, gesturing with one hand.

Inuyasha's glance flicked from it to her face. "Know what?"

"About miko and . . . their powers."

"Oi, are you trying to play guessing games or something?"

"That if we . . . did anything . . ." She couldn't bring herself to look at him, staring instead at his hands as she felt her face get hotter, her ears twisting to the sides.

"That you would purify me," Inuyasha said, enlightenment in his rough voice.

Kagome felt as if a bucket of snowmelt had been dashed in her face. "No!" She jerked her gaze up to his, horrified at the suggestion. "That wouldn't happen--I wouldn't do that. I couldn't do that. And, anyway, as long as I don't use my powers, then nothing is going to happen anyway, right?" She bunched the material of her trousers in her hands, unable to decipher the expression that flickered across his face at that. "I remembered that they're supposed to be virginal," she blurted in a rush, watching his face anxiously for reaction.

Inuyasha blinked. "Who says that?"

Kagome was taken aback in turn. "Well--well--it's tradition, isn't it? Miko are miko until they marry, and then they're not miko anymore. That's what Jiichan told me when I was little, when the miko that helped at our shrine got married."

With a snort, Inuyasha said, "Wasn't he the one that kept saying all those lines about why you were here rather than taking those stupid tests? I don't know why the hell you'd listen to anything he'd say," he grumbled, unfolding his arms and looking sidelong at her.

"He's my grandfather," Kagome explained patiently. She felt her ears flattening as her anxiety rose. Was he actually going to do it, or not? What was she going to do if he said no? What was she going to do if he--

"So what difference does this whole virginal thing make?" he asked, just sending her roiling in excruciating embarrassment. Why did she have to bring this up with the one person in her whole life who, she was realizing, had never grown up in a social situation where the issue made a difference? Why hadn't she just taken things into her own hands and kissed him first? Why-- "Oi!" Inuyasha said sharply, her eyes jerking back to his from where they'd shifted to stare at the God Tree in rising trepidation.

She forced herself to release her hold on her trousers; the cuffs were halfway up her calves with all the material she'd wadded in her hands. "I thought maybe it might unseal me," she managed, looking fixedly at the ground. Her toes were dirty again. His were just dusty. It seemed yet again appropriate for the day this had become to know that bathing just made it worse, the dampness on her clean feet turning dust to mud. Then she heard his heartbeat shift, its strong pace quickening.

It was perfect once she figured out what to do with her nose. And maybe the air thing needs improvement, Kagome thought, taking a deep inhalation of it when Inuyasha lifted his head. His chest moved beneath her hands with his own breath as he stared at her, his eyes dark with pupil, the cloth of his haori warm to the touch. "Do it again."

"Don't order me around," he retorted, the pitch of his voice equal with hers, and then obeyed. She got the breathing down this time, the headiness of his scent encouraging her to lean forward into the support of his hands on her shoulders. A few moments later, Kagome opened her eyes again when Inuyasha asked, "So?" He sounded a little unnerved, or maybe just uncertain. Her heart was going to pound its way out of her chest at any moment, as if she'd been running another training race with him. Only those never left her feeling like this, as if his scent and his touch were the glue holding her together. "That was, um, uh--educational? Wonderful. I need to sit down." Kagome could still hear the quickness of his heart's pace; she wondered if her face was red. She thought his maybe was, a little along the cheekbones, but in the moonlight it was almost impossible to tell for certain.

"Keh. If I'm teaching again, remember I'm in charge," he muttered, tugging her after him towards the base of the God Tree, but not before she saw the self-satisfied look gracing his face.

He crossed his legs as usual; she tucked hers beneath her as she sat facing him, shoulder to the trunk. "Hai," Kagome replied, calming as she breathed in the air of the God Tree, mouth curving upwards at the corners. He'd mumbled something when their noses had bumped the first time; she didn't think he had any more experience at this than she did. The thought cheered her immensely. Little bursts of euphoria kept rising within her, making her want to giggle, or--or do it again. Wonderful. Yes.

"It didn't prove anything, though," Inuyasha remarked with a dogged return to the reason for the occasion.

Kagome's smile faded. She would have thought that he might have said something--well, of course not something romantic, but--he was staring at her again. She marshaled an inquiring, "Un?"

"That miko and priest we met a couple summers ago, remember? They were fucki--oi," he interrupted what he was going to say to give her a dirty look. "That's where you got the idea, wasn't it? To put a fucking kekkai around Kouga. Wasn't it?"

"Maybe . . . " Kagome tried to imagine the pair as a couple. Sleeping together. Really? And it hadn't made a difference to the miko's powers. Wait. He'd known that, and he'd kissed her anyways? A flush of pleasure made her smile at him.

It was apparently not the reaction he was anticipating. Inuyasha blinked, then said, "How could you pick that up, but not pick up that they were fucking?" The words sounded like he ought to be exasperated, but his tone was more than a little puzzled, as if colored by some other thoughts.

Kagome said lightly, "Maybe it's because I'm not like you and Miroku." Although considering she'd asked for the kiss, on top of last night . . . she wasn't ever going to point that out to him, though. Never.

This time the irritation did surface. "Yeah, he knows when to keep out of fights."

Piqued, jolted out of her reveries, Kagome leaned forward, bracing her hands on his thigh, to glare up at Inuyasha. "You said I was yours. Didn't you?" She was going to put this out there so plainly that he wouldn't be able to question it again. "That's part of why you were fighting him, wasn't it?"

"So what if it was?" Inuyasha asked, eying her warily.

"Then don't worry that he'll take me, or that I'll leave. He can't. I won't. That's why I stopped you. Fighting was pointless. You didn't have to prove anything.

"Keh! Who said I was trying to?"

"Sometimes you're just like a junior high student," she said wearily.

"At least I know that kissing does shit about virginity!" he shot back, grabbing her wrists when a shift of her weight inadvertently sent her claws pricking through the fabric of his hakama.

"I thought it would be enough to tell!" At least she hadn't had to spell it all out to him. Arousal was arousal, right? Though the idea had apparently been flawed from the start.

He stared down at her, his hands around her wrists, then gave her a grin that made her pause as much for its suddenness as the way it lightened the usual serious cast of his features, made his mouth curl in a way that drew her eyes. "You know you still need training."

"So you said," Kagome said cautiously, feeling the way each of his words seemed to settle in her stomach.

Inuyasha nodded, and slid his hands up her arms. "We should practice some more, then."

"Now, you mean?"

"Yeah. But. . . ."


"Don't you have some of that tooth paste shit of yours left?"

Kagome looked at him in confusion. How the heck did he get from training to toothpaste? "A little."

"You said it tasted good. . . ."