In the end, the fight was surprisingly easy. Inuyasha tore the demonic spider limb from limb from limb until all eight were lying on the ground while their owner howled in agony just seconds before Inuyasha tore him in two, retrieving the Shikon shard the spider demon had held.

Sango hadn't even been forced to resort to using the Hiraikotsu.

After the fight, the small quintet of shard hunters cleaned up, resuming their journey to hopefully find a decent campsite for the night. Once there, Kagome stood and announced she was going to go bathe. Inuyasha replied that he would be going with her to stand guard, which promptly earned him a faceful of dirt when Kagome sat him, walking off through the woods without him. "If I want a guard I'll call for Sango, you pervert."

Inuyasha scowled, muttering swearwords into the earth while he waited for the effects of that abominable submission spell to wear off, and then sat up, pointing a fist at Miroku. "I swear, bouzu, if you say one fucking thing, I'm going to do to your fucking face what Kagome does to MINE every time I get sat. And I'll enjoy watching your flimsy human nose break."

Shippo hid a snigger behind one hand. It was always fun for him to watch Inuyasha get sat...especially when Shippo'd gotten a pounding from Inuyasha earlier in the day himself.

Inuyasha stood, marching off through the brush. "She's gonna catch you!" Shippo called after him. "She always does!" He looked suddenly thoughtful. "I wonder if his face will flatten if she says it enough," he pondered.

Sango laughed. "If tonight is any sign, we may just find out, Shippo-chan."


Kagome returned from the spring about forty-five minutes later, dragging Inuyasha by one ear. "I swear, you idiot, I TOLD you to stay here!" And she shoved him away. "Sit!"

He slammed face-first into the ground once more, setting Shippo off in a new peal of chortling laughter. "I TOLD you, baaaaka. She ALWAYS catches you, don't you, Kagome-chan?" The kitsune hopped down from his perch on a fallen log and scrambled up onto Kagome's shoulder where he knew Inuyasha couldn't get at him.

Kagome nodded. "You'd think he would have learned some manners by now."

Inuyasha shot to his feet the moment the spell wore off. "You idiot woman, I told you I was standing guard! I wasn't even WATCHING you do...that bath stuff!" He snorted. "Like I even care."

Mixed emotions hit Kagome like a ton of bricks. Her first thought was along the lines of 'Oh, good, he wasn't watching', closely followed by 'He wasn't watching?' and then a quick mental slap for the deviation of her train of thought. She couldn't afford to lose the good anger now.

Inuyasha was glaring at her, ears flattened back against his head. "And I'm damn well going to stand guard!" he continued his tirade, obviously unaware that Kagome's attention had diverted even for a moment. "Because that fight was too fucking easy, and I doubt we're any of us going to get to have a full night's sleep!"

"Then why don't you quit shouting," Miroku said calmly, "and let us get what sleep we can, while you and those hanyou senses stay on guard?" He was leaned up against the trunk of a tree and hadn't so much as opened his eyes to say this.

"Stay outta this, bouzu," Inuyasha snarled, baring his fangs at the monk. "Kagome's got to figure out that I'm not some pervert just because I'm trying to keep her safe. You, on the other hand, might have an ulterior motive."

Kagome scowled at him. "Inuyasha, just stop, okay? I'm tired. It's been a long day, and I'm sore all over. I just want to get some sleep."

Deflated suddenly, Inuyasha turned back to her and scowled. "Don't think we're done talking about this," he said, jabbing a clawed finger in her face, and before she could retort, he was gone, bounding away into the treetops to keep his watch for the night.

And sulk. Kagome sighed. There was always the sulking.

Sango smiled in faint amusement. "He always seems to know when he's lost an argument," she observed. "Goodnight, Kagome-chan." She laid down against her bedroll and became still.

Miroku nodded his goodnight to Kagome and laid down as well; and when Sango's fist connected with his face moments later, he turned over with his back to her.

"Damn it, Miroku, can't you go twenty-four hours without trying to feel me up?" she growled at him.

Kagome shook her head, deeply amused by the constant back-and-forth banter beetween the demon hunter and the monk. She walked over to her bedroll, kicked her shoes off, and slipped down into it, and had Shippo curled up against her stomach moments later. She stroked his fuzzy hair for a moment before lying back against the ground, and was asleep moments later.

Shippo seemed content to stay where he was for a short time, but then sat up, sniffing curiously at Kagome's stomach. He crawled carefully up to her hair and sniffed at her again, frowning. Kagome didn't smell right, and now he was worried.

The little kitsune very carefully made his way around the camp, and followed Inuyasha's scent to where he sat in the tree a few yards away.

"Inuyasha," Shippo called, flinching back when the amber eyes turned to him in the dark.

"What is it, pipsqueak?" the hanyou asked sullenly.

Timidly, Shippo inched closer on the tree branch. "Kagome-chan doesn't smell right," he blurted finally, his fear for Kagome's welfare outweighing his fear of another pounding. "I think she got hurt in the fight today and didn't tell anybody. Can you go see if she's okay?"

Inuyasha snorted. "She's fine. You're probably just smelling that bath stuff she always uses."

Shippo shook his head. "I know what that smells like. I like that smell...this one's different." He shuffled one small toe against the tree bark. "Scary," he finally admitted.

Inuyasha watched the kitsune for a moment, his eyes softening almost imperceptibly. "Go back to sleep, Shippo. I'll come check in a few minutes."

Shippo nodded, darting out of the tree and back to camp, where he snuggled down once more against Kagome's stomach in a tight little ball, nuzzling his cheek against her before dropping into a fitful, restless sleep.

Inuyasha dropped out of the tree about half an hour later and padded on silent feet back to the camp. He leaned down beside Kagome's forehead and sniffed at the air around her. A scowl hit his face and his ears flattened back, and Inuyasha was forced to resist the urge to snarl as his fangs bared in the moonlight. So the runt had been right...Kagome was hiding something from him...something serious. She wasn't fine like he'd thought, and now there was something to worry about.


The morning came and the explorers were soon packed up and ready to go.

Kagome looked decidedly ill. Her skin was pale, and, Inuyasha soon found, clammy to the touch. So Shippo had been on to something. He scowled, one ear twitching when Kagome, as the group was walking along, stumbled over a tiny rock and, instead of regaining balance easily like she usually did, nearly fell over.

"Kagome-chan!" Sango cried, rushing to her aid. She held the girl up. "Are you all right?"

"I think I just spent too much time in the hot water last night," she said, though her quiet voice belied her discomfort. "I'm sure I'll be fine."

Sango didn't look like she was so sure. Neither, for that matter, did Miroku. There was genuine concern in his eyes. "Maybe we should stop and rest."

Inuyasha remained silent, looking to be lost in thought for several moments. "Maybe we should. No sense pushing it."

Kagome shot Inuyasha a wary - if somewhat weak - look. "You never agree to stop," she said tiredly.

He shrugged. "Maybe I'm just in an agreeable mood," he shot back with a degree of his usual flippancy in his voice.

Sango led Kagome over to a nearby tree and sat her down against it. "Let's get your bedroll out, you're shivering," she decided.

At which point, Inuyasha handed her the already-retrieved sleeping bag.

Sango raised an eyebrow in curiosity, but the golden-eyed half-breed turned away.

Kagome was also looking strangely at him as she crawled down into her sleeping bag, petting Shippo's hair absently when he snuck down inside almost on reflex. "What's with you?" she couldn't help asking.

"Did you get hurt while we were fighting that spider demon?" Inuyasha asked quietly. His ears were flat against his head, as though he already knew that answer.

"Just a tiny bite," she confessed. "I didn't say anything because it was so small."

"Get some rest, Kagome-chan," Sango said then. "We'll worry about it when you wake up."

Kagome nodded, her eyes sliding closed. Soon she was asleep.

Inuyasha scowled. "She's NOT all right," he growled softly. "Tiny bite my ass."

Sango sighed. "We need to find an antidote to whatever poison she might have," the exterminator replied to Inuyasha's mutterings. "We can't do any good for her unless we find something."

Inuyasha nodded. "Will you and Miroku go to the nearest village and see if you can find someone to help?"

"What about you?" Miroku asked curiously, standing and gathering his staff into one hand.

"I'm going to do the only thing I can," Inuyasha replied, and it was almost eerie to see him be so serious, "I'll protect her."

"Come on, Houshi-sama," Sango said. She slung the Hiraikotsu over her shoulder and started walking away down the path. "We'll hurry back, Inuyasha," she promised. Kirara trilled in agreement, the little firecat bounding along behind her mistress. Miroku nodded, waving as the pair left.

Inuyasha sighed, turning his attention back to Kagome. He hadn't wanted the others to see...that he was terrified. Kagome seemed to get paler and paler by the moment, and if they didn't find something soon, she...

Inuyasha shook those thoughts off and sat, eyes and ears alert, for anything that might try foolishly to injure them.


It was dark before Kagome awoke, her eyes opening almost painfully slowly. Inuyasha had been poking at their small campfire with a stick, keeping the small logs alive in the flame. Sango and Miroku had yet to return, and he was even more unsettled now than he had been when Kagome nearly fell that morning.

"Inuyasha?" Kagome murmured, her voice a dry croak.

He turned immediately. "When did you wake up?" he said, cracking a faint smile.

"Just now..." her eyes closed again, and for a moment, the hanyou thought she'd fallen asleep again. "Where's Sango-chan and Miroku-san?"

"I sent them to find the nearest village to get you some medicine," he replied. "I guess the village was farther away than I thought."

"Oh." She sighed, pushing the sleeping bag off herself. "It's hot in there," she mumbled, still sounding sleepy. She tried to get to her feet and stumbled, headed for the ground.

Inuyasha knew she'd only hurt herself if she hit in her weakened state, and in a flash was to her, catching her as she fell. He lowered them both to the ground and pulled her carefully into his lap in a surprising display of careful tenderness. "Careful," he said curtly. "Don't hurt yourself worse."

She nodded, too weak to even be embarrassed by his behavior, and curled in against him, shivering.

One eyebrow went up. "I thought you said you were hot," he remarked dryly.

"I I'm cold," she admitted sheepishly.

He rolled his eyes and reached over, grabbing up her sleeping bag, much to the sleepy grumbles of a certain kitsune youkai, who instead padded numbly over to the fire and curled up beside it, dropping off to sleep almost immediately. Inuyasha rolled his eyes again and opened the sleeping bag all the way, wrapping it around Kagome while she sat in his lap. "Let me know if it gets too hot again," he said quietly.

Kagome nodded. "I should've told you," she mumbled then, and he could tell it was hard for her to retain any sense of coherent speech or thought. The venom was beginning to affect her more deeply, and Inuyasha swallowed, fighting to keep from showing any sense of fear. "About the bite...but it was so small, didn't think it mattered..."

"Next time," he growled, "you tell me if ANYTHING is out of place after we finish a fight. I don't want you sick, woman."

She giggled faintly, settling down against him. "You're comfortable," she murmured. "Soft..." her breathing evened out after a moment, and he knew she was asleep again.

Instead of setting her down against the ground, Inuyasha simply held her, his face pressed into her dark hair. His amber eyes stared blankly at the fire, the fear that he'd hidden for her benefit raw and on the surface now. If Sango and Miroku didn't come back with help soon...


Kagome didn't wake up the next day. Or the day after that. And when she did wake two days later, it was only briefly. Inuyasha sat by her side, cursing Sango and Miroku for their slow movement and for their lack of arrival as Kagome's condition steadily worsened. He remained by her side, often clutching her hand in both of his own clawed ones, eyes barely ever leaving her face.

He sighed as the day wore on. Kagome's breathing was erratic and shallow, and there had been a few heart-stopping moments when he thought she'd quit breathing all together.

As the night neared, the fear eating at Inuyasha's heart finally got the better of him. He lifted Kagome into his arms again, cradling her close as he rocked back and forth, looking much akin to a very lost, heartbroken child. He buried his face in her hair and held her tightly, ears pressed as flat back against his head as they could possibly be. "Don't leave me," he murmured softly. "Please, Kagome. Don't leave me."

She stirred, blinking open tired eyelids. "I-Inuyasha?" she whispered.

He lifted his head, casting her an openly fearful look. "They're going to come back with help," he promised hurriedly. "Just hang on." And she was crushed to him once more. "Just hang on."

Kagome wrapped her arms around his waist, holding on as much to try and steady him as herself. "I'm trying," she promised weakly...I don't know how much more I can hurts...and I'm so tired," she admitted, sagging against him.

He held her all the tighter. "Rest for now, koi," he said, uttering a word he'd always been skeptical about using. But there was little time left. Inuyasha could feel it deep inside, just like he could feel her slipping away; the time for hesitations was past. "Just rest, Kagome." He resumed rocking her gently, blinking rapidly.

She didn't reply; in between his admission of feeling and order to rest, she'd slipped out of consciousness once more.


Kagome never woke up again. Inuyasha stayed by her side through the very end, finally giving in, tears slipping free and falling down his face as he held on tightly to her limp hand. Her body had already begun to cool by the time Sango and Miroku returned; neither one of them was in the best physical condition. From the looks of things, they'd had their hands full on their way to and from the village, having dealt with dozens of demons both large and small. Both were severely beaten; bruised and bleeding from a dozen different places and holding each other up. They tore into the clearing where they'd camped out when Kagome had first taken ill, and stopped, frozen at the sight beside the campfire.

"No..." Sango's heart sank, eyes stinging.

Inuyasha was still sitting there with Kagome cradled in against his chest, face down, tears soking both his haori and her hair. He rocked back and forth still, as though he could give her life again, seeming very much a broken man. "Kagome-chan, no..." Sango shook her head again, tears beginning to fall from her own eyes.

In a moment of surprising - and rare - pure intent, Miroku had pulled her in against his chest, his own deep eyes infinitely sorrowful as he held the weeping girl in his arms. He noted almost absently that Shippo was nowhere to be found.

Inuyasha finally lifted his anguished face. "You're too late," he accused bitterly. "You didn't even TRY!" and as his pain got the better of him, he set Kagome's body gently, almost reverently, to the ground and tore off into the undergrowth, disappearing before he could be stopped.

Miroku just sighed as he watched his friend flee, holding Sango close while the pair mourned for the loss of a dear, dear friend.


Inuyasha ran until he couldn't see anymore, blinded by his tears as he was. He dropped to his knees, claws digging great holes in the earth. Finally, he threw his head back and let out a roar of pure anguish.

"Well, well well..."

A familiar, deeply unwelcome voice made Inuyasha's head snap up to see the wolf prince, Kouga, standing on a large boulder not far away. "Looks like somebody upset the puppy," he said with a smirk.

"Don't fucking start with me," Inuyasha snarled madly, face streaked with the tears that had fallen, that continued to fall.

Kouga frowned. As much as he enjoyed their friendly - well, at least these days, it was friendly and not so much violent - rivalry, he could sense that now was not the time to push things. And so he hopped down off the boulder and wandered over. "What the hell's wrong with YOU, Dogface?"

Inuyasha shot to his feet, hauling off, and slammed a fist into the side of Kouga's head.

The wolf youkai staggered, one hand coming up to wipe at the trickle of blood from his newly-split lip. "OI! What the fuck was that for?!" He scowled darkly. "We get into it and it's REALLY going to piss off Kagome, you know."

"SHE'S DEAD, YOU MORON!" Inuyasha roared, the agony rushing right back to the surface. He stumbled backward for a moment and then dropped to the ground again. This time, however, there were no tears to shed. No tears left to shed. He simply sat there, almost numb from the depths of pain he never thought he'd feel again.

"Sh...what?" Kouga's blue eyes were wide and disbelieving. Disbelieving until, that is, Inuyasha looked up into them again. "No...fuck were supposed to PROTECT her...we were supposed to keep this from HAPPENING." Before Inuyasha could remind him that he had no claim on Kagome in the first place, the wolf youkai had turned, sprinting away into the undergrowth in his own sudden pain, leaving the half-breed alone once again.

Inuyasha slumped down against the tree at his back, staring up into the sky. It was bad enough living with what had happened over fifty years ago with Kikyou. He'd sworn to protect Kagome better than he'd been able to watch over Kikyou.

And now it was as though he'd lost her all over again.


Come night, Inuyasha still hadn't moved from that spot. Shippo had returned to the campsite after his self-initiated temporary exile, and now clung to Sango's chest and cried brokenly over the loss of his surrogate mother. The demon-hunter herself was in no better shape, and was still leaning heavily upon a surprisingly well-behaved Miroku for support.

Cut back to Inuyasha. He was so lost in the pain of losing Kagome like he had that he didn't even notice the twig that snapped underfoot of a surprisingly careless Sesshoumaru as his elder brother approached.

Inuyasha didn't look up from the ground until Sesshoumaru was standing over him, claws extended. The claws bit into his skin and he didn't stop his brother, didn't so much as make a sound.

Sesshoumaru, blinking, suddenly felt as though the fun had been taken out of the fight. "You seem distraught, little brother."

Inuyasha stood, sighing, ignoring the blood that was starting to run down his chest from the new wound. "Fuck off, Sesshoumaru," he said plainly, and turned his back, walking away through the small grove.

One of the elder youkai's eyebrows shot up. Never before had his half-breed brother been so blatantly suicidal.

But then, who was he to argue? Sesshoumaru was never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and therefore decided to use Inuyasha's despondant state to more easily rid himself of the tiresome nuisance.

Too bad that beating the hell out of someone who isn't trying to stop you gets tiresome after a while, even to the most sadistic of creatures.

Inuyasha was, after the beating he hadn't tried to stop, leaned against a tree, panting with the effort of not swearing at the pain. It didn't even come close to blanking out the agony inside, but it was a good start. "You finished?" he spat.

Sesshoumaru raised an eyebrow at him. "I must admit that I find your behavior deeply curious, Inuyasha." He seemed to feel no threat from his younger brother. And really, what threat was there? Bruised, battered, and bleeding, Inuyasha couldn't have threatened a gnat, let alone his older brother.

"Oh really," Inuyasha sneered. "That mean I'm not quite the entertainment you were hoping for tonight? Sorry to disappoint."

"That display is more fire than you've shown in the entire fight. What's going on?" Sesshoumaru seemed interested sincerely enough. Truth be told, he didn't WANT Inuyasha to be quite so easy to finish off. He did enjoy a challenge. "Do I need to go threaten your friends again? That human girl you're so taken with?"

"No need," Inuyasha laughed shortly, bitterly.


"She's dead, you bastard. And I just BET it was one of your hired hands that did it."

Sesshoumaru gazed curiously at him. "I have sent no one after Kagome. She is of no interest to me. What happened?"

"Spider demon," Inuyasha spat bitterly. "Bit her. Poisoned. Dead. End of story."

Sesshoumaru watched his brother closely, the wheels in his mind turning. "Have you forgotten that while Tetsusaiga is a sword of destruction, that Tenseiga is a blade of rebirth?"

Inuyasha stared at him. " have the Tenseiga. And I'm not stupid enough to think you'd do something to help ME with it."

"Hn...indeed I wouldn't." He turned, starting to walk away, and stopped. "Unless..."

Wild hope, unwanted and involuntary and suspicious, sprung up inside Inuyasha. "Unless what?" he snarled.

"I want us on even ground...therefore, I will do something for you if you pay a price in return for it."

"Just spit it out," Inuyasha said tiredly. "I want to go back to camp and clean up so I can stop bleeding all over."

Sesshoumaru smiled then, a mere ghost of the expression; for last-minute ideas, this one wasn't too bad. "I will use the power of Tenseiga to restore your precious Kagome."

"What's the catch?"

"In return, I take one of two things."


"Your left arm, or Tetsusaiga."


It was with much hesitancy, and many misgivings that Inuyasha led Sesshoumaru back into camp. "Don't," he said when Sango reached for the Hiraikotsu and Miroku started unwinding the beads around his cursed hand. "He's not here for that."

Sesshoumaru couldn't keep the smirk from making his lips twitch. "Indeed I'm not," he agreed. His hand went to the sheath of Tenseiga and he pulled the healing sword from its sheath.

Sango hissed out a breath in anticipation of doom while she watched him warily. Miroku set a hand on her shoulder. "If he were here to cause trouble, I'm certain we'd already be dead," he said quietly.

Sango relaxed. This was true. Sesshoumaru didn't waste time with words and pleasantries when a claw to the throat would suffice.

Inuyasha led him over to where Kagome lie, respectfully covered by the sleeping bag she always carried, and pulled the sleeping bag away from her face. Sesshoumaru gazed thoughtfully at her for a moment, watching the little creatures of death about her that the Tenseiga's power allowed him to see, and then, in a flash of light, swung the blade down and straight through the girl's middle.

Sango cried out; she couldn't help it. From her vantage point, it seemed as though the elder youkai had just split her already-dead friend straight down the middle.

Sesshoumaru sheathed the sword - strangely clear of anything even remotely resembling blood - and turned to Inuyasha. "The second half of our bargain." It wasn't a statement or plain sentence, it was a quiet demand. He turned to Sango. "Inuyasha will be coming with me for a moment. Watch your friend; she will be a trifle disoriented when she awakens." And he turned, walking away through the undergrowth.

Inuyasha turned to them. "I'll be right back...take care of her, okay?" and without waiting for an answer, he disappeared behind his brother.


Sango made sure she was right by Kagome's side when the girl came to. Kagome pulled herself upright and blinked fuzzily, looking around herself. "What happened?" she asked blankly.

" were sick, Kagome-chan."

Miroku rolled his eyes. "You were bitten during our fight with the spider demon, Kagome-sama. We had to go find help."

Sango growled at the word help. Sesshoumaru didn't "help". Unless it was himself that got "help" in return.

"Where's Inuyasha?" Kagome asked. There was a strange look in her eyes. And then she blinked. "Was I dead?" she blurted.

Sango fell over onto her rear in surprise. "Eh...hai, Kagome-chan. You were..."

"How am I not? What happened? Where's Inuyasha?! Sango-chan, please tell me!" The words came in something near akin to a panic, and Sango grabbed her shoulders. "Kagome-chan, easy! He's fine, he had something to take care of, he didn't say what it was, he'll be back soon." And then she pulled the girl in for a tight hug. "I'm so glad you're back, Kagome-chan," she murmured.

Miroku nodded, a smile on his face now at both Sango's outburst and Kagome's shocked expression. "We are very glad to have you back, Kagome-sama. And Inuyasha will be too...when he gets back."

The tiny kitsune had burrowed his way down into Kagome's lap when she'd sat up, and now hugged her around the middle. "Kagome-chan, don't DO that again, you scared me!" His little fluffy tail wagged back and forth, and she smiled softly, lifting him into her arms for a more proper hug.

"Don't worry, Shippo-chan, I won't...the next time I go back to my time, I'm going to bring you a special treat, okay?"

He smiled brightly and then hugged her neck, tears in his big blue eyes. "Treats don't matter, just don't leave me alone again!"

The bushes parted abruptly, and Inuyasha was there.

He stood hunched slightly, as though in a great deal of pain, and it seemed like he was holding one arm in very close to his body. Sango couldn't even see the fingers of his left arm poking out of the red haori's sleeve like she usually could.

Kagome's head came up and Shippo darted over to Sango's shoulder as she and Miroku stepped back, sensing that the other pair would need a few moments alone...for a variety of reasons. Miroku led Sango a ways off so that Inuyasha and Kagome could have their privacy.

Inuyasha met Kagome's eyes, just watching her for a moment, and before any words passed between them, he strode over, dropped to his knees, and wrapped his right arm around her waist, pulling her in against him. Kagome blinked, surprised for a moment before she folded in against him, arms wrapping around his waist. Inuyasha buried his face in her hair, and the pair sat in the wordless embrace for what felt like an eternity before Kagome realized what the wetness seeping through her hair was. She lifted her head, touching one of the tears that was falling down Inuyasha's face. She'd only ever seen him cry one other time in their multi-year association, and that was when he thought she'd been killed at his own hand during the times before he'd learned to control his youkai blood. "Inuyasha," she whispered.

He leaned into her hand, more vulnerable in that gesture than she'd ever seen him before, and it blew her away. "It's okay...I'm here."

He nodded, pulling her tighter with that one arm, and she couldn't figure out why he didn't just hold her with both. " did you bring me back?" she asked uneasily.

"Tenseiga," he replied briefly, still holding her close.

She pulled back and took a moment to really take him in...and that was when she saw how haggard he truly was. Bruises, cuts, burns...all littered his body, and she bit her lip, reaching out to touch one. " let him do this to you?" His left shoulder seemed...oddly shaped. Wrong, somehow. And he was in a lot of pain...showing more pain in his eyes than he would ever admit to from just a typical encounter with Sesshoumaru.

He nodded. "It didn't matter were gone, nothing mattered..."

"Inuyasha," she said again, her eyes tearing up as the suspicions hit her so hard it almost stopped her heart, "hold me with both arms?"

He looked away. "I can't," he finally admitted, eyes burning with guilt that she could see even through the pain he was obviously in.

"Oh god, Inuyasha...he didn't..."

The hanyou nodded. "I had to either give him my left arm or Tetsusaiga if I wanted him to use Tenseiga and bring you back. I can't give up father created it for me...that only left one other opening for me to get you back."

She stared at him, her own eyes filling with tears. " let him take your arm?"

"It didn't hurt for long," he said bravely, but she could tell he was lying, and then he fell silent for a moment, the tears of mixed relief and bitterness and pain still falling down his face.

Kagome reached gently up and started wiping them away, and finally just turned his face back to hers, pressing a soft kiss to his lips. Before she pulled away to lay her head against his chest once more, she stepped off the metaphorical ledge. "I love you," she breathed, cheeks tinging red at the admission.

His arm tightened around her once more and he brought it up to thread through her hair. "I love you too, Kagome," he finally admitted. He'd taken a mere few seconds to reorganize his priorities while in the small clearing with his brother while Sesshoumaru was taking his half of their bargain, and had decided that life was too damn short - even for a hanyou or youkai - to worry about saving face.

Especially since he'd thought he would never see his Kagome again. "Next time something happens to you while we're fighting, please tell me...I can't protect you if I don't know what to keep you safe from."

She nodded. "I will, I promise." She couldn't stand to see how much pain she'd put him through, the guilt burning at her like a furnace flame. "I can't believe you did that for me..."

He cracked a lame smile. "I...broke. When you died, it was like..." a faint, wry laugh, "like I'd lost an I figured it was a small price to pay to get you back."

She pressed her face in against his chest, fighting to keep the blush down that wanted to come. "Mou, can be positively wonderful sometimes."

"I know," he said, chest puffing out in a small moment of his usual pride.

She rolled her eyes and slapped his good shoulder. "And then again, you really know how to ruin it." She yawned widely. "Oi...being dead must really be exhausting," Kagome said next, stretching. "Because I'm worn out."

"Sleep then, Kagome," he directed, pulling her back down against his chest, smiling faintly when her face turned red again. "I'll be here to watch over you."

She burrowed down against him and was asleep only moments later. Inuyasha pulled the sleeping bag back up over her and leaned back against the trunk of a nearby tree, holding her close as best he could. "I'll always be here to watch over you," he murmured, amending his statement of moments before.

And somewhere in her sleep, Kagome snuggled down tighter against him. A sigh escaped her lips, carrying with it a few soft words. "Won't leave you..." she mumbled sleepily.

Inuyasha brought his arm up, stroking her hair softly, amused and at the same time deeply moved that she could sense the last remnants of his tension even in her sleep, feeling the need to reassure him of her commitment. "Shh," he replied softly. "I know. Rest, koi. Just rest."

She settled down again and was still. Inuyasha watched her sleep for a moment, idly stroking her soft dark hair. His Kagome was safe, alive...and his. Even though he'd lost an arm to protect her, to pull her back from death, it all seemed worth it. And for the first time in several days....he smiled.