The soft breeze that stirred the treetops held a touch of a chill, though the young man that crouched upon a massive limb high above the ground showed little discomfort from it. He had one hand above him bracing himself on another massive limb, his long silver hair blowing slightly with the breeze. He looked into the night, bathed in the silvery light of the moon, straining his eyes, ears and nose to their utmost to detect anything that might be out of place. Sesshomaru, Rin, Ah-Un and Jaken camped to the west, just in range of his ability to hear Rin's scream should she utter one. Kouga and the remnants of his pack were to the north, just within hearing range, as well. Kikyo was to the east, though her soul catchers weren't with her, most likely they were out gathering the souls she needed to survive. For the present at least, all was normal. The tentative truce still holding as they drew nearer to Naraku's stronghold. No words had ever been uttered to that effect, yet nothing had been done to resist it. They traveled separately, yet oddly together, always in range of the senses of the others. An attack upon one group was taken as an attack upon all. They would fight as a unit and then go their separate ways again, once injuries had been taken care of and Kagome felt that they were well enough to go. The hanyou let the situation tumble through his mind a bit. He hadn't liked it at first, but Kagome's patient logic had made him see things differently. Well, that and a couple of "sits." There was safety in numbers, and each of these groups that lay around them had more reason to work with them than against them. Besides, Kagome cared what happened to Kouga and his pack, and to Rin. And, since she was still under some misconception that he cared for Kikyo more than he cared for her, she took care of her when necessary, if only for him. It had left him confused, but it shouldn't have, now that he thought about it, that she would heal the one person that she had the most right to hate. After that he had let it be. Whatever issues needed to be dealt with could and would wait until the final battle was over. Besides, he was too tired to fight anything that didn't have to be fought anyway.

"This will be the final confrontation," he murmured to himself. There was not the force behind those words he would have used if the others had been awake, only resignation. Resignation brought on by the fact that they were being worn to a thread by the constant attacks, they were going to this confrontation at much less than their best. They would either win now, or be killed. There was no way around it. The confident face he showed the world shadowed with weariness and a touch of fear, not for himself, but his pack mates. It felt strange, though, even now as he sat here alone, to drop the mask. As they drew closer to Naraku's stronghold the skirmishes they fought came more often, and intensified in their attempt to stop their progress toward their goal, leaving all involved weary to the bone, emotionally fried, to use Kagome's term, and piling injury on top of injury. And if he was feeling the effects, he hated to think what effect these battles were having on his pack. His mood was pensive, and his thoughts traveled to less worn paths than planning for the battle and trying to out think the bastard. The concern and worry and compassion he felt for those he traveled with coming to forefront of his thoughts. It wasn't like him to admit these things, even to himself, but he too was tired and his heart was just too achy right now to prevent this new line of thought. He spared a glance for the camp below. His pack mates slept a wary kind of sleep, weapons at hand and ready to go into action at a moment's notice. It was not the rejuvenating rest needed, it was just enough to keep them headed for tomorrow and whatever new horror Naraku had to throw at them. His pack was battered, inside and out. Each skirmish got more vicious and each left them with more injuries to tend. Yet, with each one they became more resolved, their strength of will increasing and the need to overcome all obstacles and see the fucking bastard rotting in his grave crystallizing within them. They found themselves being drawn tighter together instead of pulled apart, each taking and giving what he or she could. The bonds that held them together, now, were the strongest he had ever known. His pack was a group of survivors. Even if they lost the battle ahead, he would die with the knowledge that he had been proud to fight at their sides, to have shared their lives, to have been thought of as their friend and that he had been cared for and loved for who and what he was for the first time.

He settled back against the trunk of the tree and stretched out upon the limb, bringing Tessaiga around to settle it on his lap. It was going to be a long night. He looked up at the sky again. The moon was full; it seemed for some reason uncommonly large, as if it were looking down upon them, watching over them as they rested. Hopefully they could finish this by the next new moon. One way or the other, he wanted it over and he wanted Naraku dead. End of story. They'd been playing at this game for way too long now. Naraku's games had gotten old a long time ago, and then when the jewel shattered, it was as if all their lives had begun to march in place. There was no forward, no back as long as Naraku still drew breath and the jewel remained shattered. Some days, he just wanted to find a nice high tree and climb to the top, never coming back down. And then some days, he wanted to move again, going forward. He wanted to say all the things he needed to say, making for himself the life that he had always wanted, sharing it with the person, he had already chosen, although he had yet to make her aware of it. But he wouldn't, couldn't do it. He knew that she already planned on going back to her time when this was all over, and that he would never ever see her again. The thought made him inhale deeply to prevent the tears that were suddenly threatening to fall. So, he kept it all inside. She had promised. always, to always stay at his side. yet he had heard her tell Shippou that when this was all over she had to go back to her time, the runt had cried for two hours solid. Gods, he had to get off this train of thought or he'd be howling soon. He rubbed a weary hand across his amber eyes, and looked down at the camp. The scowl on his face slowly left him as he listened to their even breathing, and his expression softened to an almost smile as looked down upon them, trying to assess the damages they'd taken and coming up with something else entirely.

His eyes flickered across them.

Sango and Miroku lay opposite one another, with just enough distance between to prevent his wandering hands from touching her as they slept. But, that had not stopped him from touching her, since her own body betrayed her almost every night. As she slumbered she never seemed to fail to stretch her own arm out across that divide, and most nights now, they slept, with fingertips just touching. They had no idea it was happening, and he had chosen not to tell them. The few nights the ritual had not occurred they had been restless and their bodies had not rested as they needed them too. This simple touch calmed them, allowed them peaceful, if wary sleep and he was more interested in them staying alive just one more day to bring it up. Maybe if they all lived, he'd tell them the secret he held. He looked them over, sniffing the air as he did so. And as he did so his feelings for the two came unbidden, and even as he tried to push them back to their little corner, his thoughts circled his head demanding release. Growling a low rumbling growl, finally, he just gave up. Apparently, his recalcitrant thoughts were going to have their way tonight, so why not just let them. He could put them away tomorrow, into that deep hiding place within himself that only one other had ever touched.

Sango wore blood stained bandages on both arms, and one of those large bandages that Kagome brought with her from her world decorated her forehead. But, she seemed to have little discomfort. A couple of those cuts on her arms had been deep, but as Inuyasha sniffed the air, he could smell them healing, with no infection threatening. The "stitches" that Kagome had carefully sewn into her flesh making the process faster. She stirred a little, as if the intensity of his gaze was something she were aware of, the hand that lay on her boomerang flexing and then relaxing, Her hair was down, and had settled onto her shoulders, just shadowing her face. The thoughts came unbidden. "She is a strong fighter, with a will to live that is almost as stubborn as my own. With her at my back, I have never feared that I would be betrayed. She would go down fighting with the same ferocity that she has displayed in her losing battle with her own heart." Her feelings for the monk brought her strength even as she fought to keep them at bay. It was a new feeling this trust in someone else to watch his back. This knowledge that if he fell, she could and would pick up where he left off and never hate him for falling. She would protect what he protected with the same vigilance and heart as he did. Even if he fell, he believed with all his heart, with Sango's protection, Kagome would live on, and really, when it was all said and done, that was all he really cared about anymore. Inuyasha's gaze flicked to the man who lay next to her, yet so far from her.

Miroku. He was a true study in contrasts so calm and logical, yet unable to keep his hands from touching. Or was he? Was this lecherous, womanizing façade he showed the world just that, a façade? It seemed, to Inuyasha, as he looked down at the young monk, the bandages on his chest, showing beneath his robes, that most likely it was all just a pose. His lecherous ways kept females away, for the most part, instead of attracting them. He didn't want a family to have to deal with the pain of his loss when that hole in his hand finally ate him alive, or to pass it on so that the pain just continued down through the generations. He had barely even tried to touch Sango in the past month. Maybe he was starting to have some kind of hope that they could actually win this, and he didn't want to drive her any further away than he already had. Or perhaps, that it was simply that when the time came for him to pass on, he didn't want her angry with him. The monk knew that Sango tended to brood. And if he did pass from this world when she was angry with him, she would never forgive herself. The monk's spiritual powers had grown in their time together, and he fought to protect the pack, in his way, as fiercely as Inuyasha and Sango did in theirs. The kazaana had grown to double it's original size since the day that he and Kagome had first met the monk. It had been over used and roughly used since they had started this journey of theirs, and with each use it seemed to grow. Yet even with the seeming inevitability of his curse finishing him off, the monk never wavered, he stood his ground and fought be it with staff, kazaana or his spiritual powers. And for the more mundane things, he had a good head on his shoulders. He gave advice, mostly unasked for, yet sometimes heeded, and he loved the girl that lay across from him more than his own life, of that Inuyasha had no doubt. Maybe it was the fact that he tormented her so much with his hentai ways, pushing her away so as to not hurt her in the end, that showed the true depth of his feelings. Somehow, though, it hadn't worked that way, the monk was as entwined in Sango's affections as she was in his. Strange, how these things worked out.

His eyes roamed across the group to the next pair. With Kagome's ribs cracked, the young fox and Kirara had begun sharing space. She was in her battle form, her fangs jutting out from her jaws and her eyes closed. Her ears, just as his, rotated with each sound in the night, constantly at least semi-alert for danger. Curled upon her hind leg was Shippou, her tail covering him providing both warmth and protection. A soothing purr emanated from her, vibrating into the kit. He looked oddly content for a child who was living in a perpetual war zone. A peaceful tranquility lay on his features. Inuyasha wished he could remember days when he had felt like that. He wished that the kit was not with them at all, but in the end there really hadn't been a choice. Kaede could not keep up with him and Myouga had all but deserted them again, only showing up when he had a piece of information to pass on. Some damned retainer he had proven himself to be. Pulling his thoughts back to the two youkai curled like a mother with her kit, he couldn't help but smile.

Shippou stirred slightly in his sleep, causing the fur on Kirara's tail to tickle his nose. He "battled" the hair for a moment or two, and then slipped back into peaceful dreams. Inuyasha felt a strange camaraderie with the kit, since he too had lost his parents at a young age. There was in him, a strange desire to protect this child. There was a compulsion, it almost seemed, to make sure that the kit never had to see the things he had seen or know the pain he had known. Sometimes he succeeded, sometimes he failed. His emotions toward the kit were odd, someplace between those of a Father and those of a brother. He felt responsible for the kit; a weight that had gotten heavier once this last stretch of road began and the skirmishes they fought became more frightening and dangerous. The bandage currently wrapped around his little arm told the tale of how quickly things could get out of control, and of how very hard it was going to be to keep track of him in the near future. The more Inuyasha thought about it, the more he believed it was time to send Rin and the kit elsewhere, with Jaken and Ah-Un to protect and guide them. Four less people to worry about was a good thing, especially when two of those people couldn't take care of themselves. Shippou would protest loudly though, saying he could help, even citing examples of things he had done before. But this time it wasn't worth the risk, unless there was truly no other way, he wanted the children gone from here. This was no place for a child to be. He was so brave, and so loyal. And while they might fight a lot, he was also the closest thing that Inuyasha had to a little brother or a son, very possibly would always be the closest thing that he would ever have of either of those things. He wanted the kit safe, in a place where there was no threat to him. one less worry on his mind.

Kirara was another story entirely. He was glad she was with them, for more reasons than just the fact that she made a good alternative to Kagome for a bed. She fought loyally by her mistress's side. And though, at one time or another, they had all taken advantage of her loving nature without ever realizing it, she gave of herself freely time after time. If they should need a to make a hasty retreat, she would be ready and able to make that happen. She had let him practice with here, honing his skills with this father's fang. For all that she didn't speak, she was capable of more loyalty and honor than most of the human or youkai populations.

Finally he looked down. Kagome lay in her sleeping bag, here hair fanned about her face, almost directly beneath the branch where he currently sprawled. Just looking at her brought an ache to his heart that he knew no amount of time was ever going to mend. He jumped down from the tree, landing near silently at her side. Crouching down, he ran a claw along the outline of her face, almost but never quite touching. He breathed in her scent, feeling its calming effects waft over him. For all that they bickered constantly, and that it seemed like at times she had truly wanted to see his back broken, he cared more for this girl than he had ever cared for another living being. She had a stubborn streak as wide as his own and a heart large enough to encompass the whole of Japan if she were to choose to take it. She cared for all of them, nursing them, hugging them, giving a shoulder to cry on and ear to listen. She was so very determined to right the mistake that had been made. She had very nearly given up her life in her own time to be here. The responsibility of putting the shards back together weighed on her enough that it brought her back to him time after time. And each time she came back, he thanked the gods for her return. He'd been hiding his feelings from her for so long, afraid to care, yet afraid not to care. She'd hammered down wall after wall as if they were nothing, placing herself squarely at the center of his existence. She had become his world, yet she was the only one that seemed unaware of that fact. She'd broken five ribs in that last skirmish they'd had. Being backhanded into large trees could do that to a human, try as he might, he'd failed to protect her again. (Oh the beast was dead, it's last sight had been a very angry hanyou screaming "Kagome!" and then "Kaze no Kizu!") Her body was covered with bruises and there were large dark circles beneath her eyes, that told him that she needed rest and time to heal a bit, she was clearly exhausted. Time, unfortunately, was against them in this venture. When she awoke, she would simply put on a smile and deal with the consequences later. She, too, seemed to have decided that arguing was not worth the pain of knowing if those words were going to be her last. She simply nodded at him when he ranted and laid a hand to his arm if she wanted him to desist. No sits, no screams, just a sad eyed look that tore his heart out. She shivered in the night air, despite the sleeping bag. He considered the situation and decided that the chance to hold her close was worth her possible wrath tomorrow. Carefully, so as not wake her, he picked her up and gently leapt back to his seat on the limb above. Positioning her across his lap, her head on his shoulder, he wrapped her within his haori. Within seconds, the shivering stopped. He looked around him, and in the distance saw Sesshomaru land in the branches of a tree. His watch was over. "I love you, Kagome," he whispered so softly her human ears wouldn't pick it up. Holding her tighter, he closed his eyes knowing that all too soon the dawn would arrive.