Holy smokes! Inuyasha (the manga) is nearing its end. The final battle is about to begin, and yet I am still five chapters away from finishing my story! Note to self: stop being such a damn perfectionist and get sorry, lazy butt to write.

And before I forget, thank you everyone for still reading my story. I truly appreciate your kind words and understanding. All your reviews mean so much to this humble authoress. Sniff. Sniff.

This chapter makes references on events that took place in the previous chapters. You should probably brush up on chapters one, nine, seventeen and nineteen to understand or appreciate the scenes more. Hehe. Even I had to reread the previous chapters to make sure I got the details right.

Caution: Chapter contains lots of drama and "angsting" (I just invented a word). I threw in a bit of humor because I can't stand an extremely dramatic story (that, and writing drama and angst is so hard…you need to get into a certain mood and all). You have been warned. ::creepy organ music suddenly plays in the background::. Mwahahaha.

So here's the latest chapter. Hope you enjoy it.

The Substitute
Chapter 20
Reminiscing the Forgotten

Kagome excitedly skipped down the shrine steps, softly humming to herself. It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning. Kagome was thankful that the weather was cooperating. After all, this was the day she and Inuyasha were going to Kaze no Kizu, the new amusement park, courtesy of her win at the archery game against Kikyo last Culture Day.

Kagome knew this did not qualify as a date, so she dressed as casually and simply as possible, with a simple white shirt, denim capris and navy-colored canvas shoes. Her shiny raven hair was tied back by a silver clip, the same clip she had first worn during her makeover.

Her breath hitched in her throat when she spotted Inuyasha at the bottom of the shrine steps. Just when she thought he could not get anymore gorgeous, he had to go and prove her wrong. His dark pants and sleek black leather jacket gave him an air of mystery and irresistible charm. His silver hair and golden eyes contrasted his dark attire, making his beautiful features stand out even more. Kagome was just slightly disappointed that she could not see his adorable ears, since they were currently hidden under a red bandana.

Inuyasha smirked at her. "Hey, miko-chan." He uncrossed his hands on his chest and straightened up. He had been casually leaning on a gleaming black Ducati motorcycle as he waited for her.

Hiding a blush, Kagome frowned slightly in amusement. "Why do you call me that?" She asked when she reached him. "I'm not a miko."

Inuyasha shrugged. "You live in a shrine."

"That doesn't mean I have spiritual powers or anything," Kagome replied with a grin.

Inuyasha snorted. "Would you rather be called 'butt-ugly-chan' instead?" He teased, smiling insolently. "But then again, that would be one syllable more than 'miko-chan' so it would take more energy to say."

Kagome giggled and hit him lightly on the arm. "How about just 'Kagome'?" She suggested.

Inuyasha pretended to look defeated. "Fine," he conceded. "But miko-chan sounded cute."

Kagome's cheeks burned.

"It was just too bad the person wasn't as cute as her nickname," Inuyasha added slyly.

Kagome pouted, feigning a look of annoyance. "Well, excuse me for not being cute," she responded lightly. "At least I'm not called 'Inu-chan' so I'm spared of being mistaken for a pet dog."

"Touché, Kagome," he remarked, beaming. He then held out a smaller helmet. "So let's go?"

Kagome received the helmet with hesitation. "Why didn't you have a car with you?"

Inuyasha had just put on his helmet. "I just felt like riding something different today," he answered. He raised a brow suspiciously. "You're not scared of riding motorbikes, are you?"

Kagome vehemently shook her head. "Of course not!" She answered heatedly, blushing. Her voice turned to a low murmur. "Even if they don't have seatbelts and have higher accident rates than cars," she mumbled to herself. "Not to mention someone here sometimes likes to drive like a lunatic…"

Inuyasha got on the Ducati. "So you are scared," he pointed out, amused at how Kagome was trying put on a brave face. "We could always take public transportation. We'd probably get to Kaze no Kizu in two hours that way."

"N-no, I'm fine," Kagome replied. "This is fine." She put on her helmet and shakily got onto the bike. Inuyasha suddenly revved the engine, making Kagome squeak and cling to him like a leech.

Inuyasha chuckled. "You sure you're not scared?" He asked, although the answer was already fairly obvious. He revved the motorcycle again and felt Kagome's grip on his torso tighten even more. Yep, the girl was really fun to tease, not to mention he secretly enjoyed her holding onto him. But there was no way he was going to admit that out loud.

Kagome suddenly gave a terrified 'Eep!' as the motorbike sped forward. She closed her eyes and prayed to all the Shinto gods she knew that they make it to the amusement park in one piece.

Sango stared at the dustmoats that flitted in the beam of sunlight that peeped through the curtains. She was at one of the guest rooms, sitting the edge of the bed where Miroku currently slept in. She closed her eyes forcefully, ignoring the painful sensation that accompanied the blinking of tired, dry eyes from lack of sleep. It was morning already and it was only now that she had noticed.

She cast an eye over the electronic thermometer on the bedside table that read 37.8oC. Miroku had mild fever. After hours of enduring the wind and rain, Sango was a bit surprised he was not in a worse shape.

"You are such an idiot, Kanzaki," she whispered, frowning slightly. Her hand gently slid down to cup his cheek. "But I'm an even bigger idiot," she thought to herself. She blinked back her tears. Miroku, in his sleep, leaned closer to her touch.

Sango's brown eyes became downcast and she quietly pulled her hand away from his face. Miroku grunted softly in response to the sudden loss of contact, but otherwise did not awaken.

Sango stood up from the rattan chair she had been sitting on and carefully sat at the edge of the bed. She looked down at Miroku, her brown eyes confused.

"Why are you doing this, Kanzaki?" she whispered. "Why do you have to go through great lengths just to get me to talk to you again?"

Unresponsive, Miroku continued to sleep.

Sango bowed her head, smirking. How pathetic. Here she was, trying to illicit answers from a sleeping person. She swallowed a painful lump in her throat. Looking back at him, she gently combed the raven locks that fell on his sleeping face. Whether awake or asleep, Miroku's good looks never failed to show. His black hair was unkempt and he looked pale but he was still very handsome, still capable of sweeping any girl off her feet. She idly marveled how he could still be so good-looking even when sick and asleep. Sango idly wondered how many girls have seen him asleep like this, wondered how many girls he has slept with…

Sango closed her eyes painfully. She should stop deluding herself with false hopes. She was only going to get hurt if she got more involved with Miroku. She had seen first hand how he treated his girlfriends. How sure was she that she would not be treated the same way?

Could someone like him really change just for her? She was nowhere near as beautiful or as sophisticated as his past girlfriends. Compared to them, she was nothing special. She was ordinary and tomboyish. What could he see in her?

A pained smile found its way on her face. She reached out to brush away an unruly lock of hair on his face when a sudden knock on the door made her retract her hand hastily.

"Takeda-san called," their maid informed her as she half-entered the threshold. "He said he will pick you up in an hour."

Sango nodded in acknowledgement. "Thanks for telling me," she said sincerely, grateful that Kuranosuke had called in advance. She had almost forgotten her date with him today with the events that took place last night. The maid gave her a kind smile before she closed the door behind her.

Sango turned back to Miroku and sighed deeply. "I know you can't hear me," she began, "but it's better this way. It's easier." She smiled ruefully. "I might not be as coherent if you were awake. You're well aware how your presence can easily dazzle me."

"That stunt you pulled last night was extremely stupid." Sango said as she gently pushed a lock of his stray raven hair away from his face. "But it was also very touching. No boy has ever gone to great lengths just to make me talk to him again." She felt her brown eyes filling with tears. "But I don't know Miroku…I want so much to believe you did that because your feelings for me were sincere…But when I look back at it now, I'm doubtful. It seemed so theatrical, something too good to be true."

A bittersweet smile lingered on Sango's lips. "And if your intentions were indeed true, I keep fearing how long it will last before you grow tired of a plain girl like me and look for women far more beautiful than I could ever be. So this time I will be rational. This time, I'm going to follow my logic instead of my heart."

Sango took a small envelope from inside her robe and placed it on the bedside table. It had Miroku's name neatly written on it. She held back her tears. No more. She was not going to cry over a boy. Not this time.

"Goodbye, Miroku."

And with that, Sango stood up and closed her heart.

Unknown to her, her father was listening at the slightly open door.

"We're here!" Kagome gave a delighted squeal and started checking out the various booths and rides within a hundred foot radius around them. Inuyasha sweat-dropped as Kagome kept tugging him at different directions.

"Ooh, we should go here first!" She exclaimed, pointing at a rollercoaster. A shiny thing suddenly caught her attention. "Wait! This ride's better!" She then tugged Inuyasha at the opposite direction. "Wah! I want that cute plushie!" She suddenly sniffed the air and dragged Inuyasha to a food stall. "Those takoyakis smell good!"

Inuyasha, tired of being towed around by a suddenly hyperactive Kagome, did not budge when she tried to pull him towards the Maze of Mirrors. "Make up your damn mind already," he growled.

Kagome blinked and realized what she was doing. "Oh, sorry," she apologized, sticking her tongue out impishly. She then pulled out a map of the amusement park from her small yellow backpack.

"Let's see now," she mumbled thoughtfully as she unfolded the map. "Where should we go first?" She skimmed over the rides in contemplation. "Do you want to go on Kazaana, the fastest roller coaster in the park; Hiraikotsu, the one with the tallest drop; or Tokijin, the newest one?" She looked over the map at him.

Inuyasha looked uninterested. "Whatever," he answered with a shrug. He deftly sidestepped when some children ran past them with a huge clump of dinosaur shaped balloons. "Whatever ride will do."

Kagome's perkiness dropped down a few notches, affected by Inuyasha's lack of enthusiasm. "Did you feel forced to come with me?" She asked quietly, trying not to look sad. "I can understand if you want to spend your day doing something else with someone else."

Inuyasha suddenly flicked her forehead lightly.

Kagome pouted, rubbing the spot. It did not hurt but still… "What did you do that for?"

"You were being melodramatic," Inuyasha replied simply. "No one forced me to come with you. I came because I wanted to. It's just that…" he sighed and looked away. "I have never been to an amusement park before. All of this," he gestured to everything around them, "is new to me."

Kagome gave him a soft, understanding smile. "I forgot," she answered. "You're so rich that amusement to you meant going yachting at the Mediterranean or skiing at some Alpine resort."

Inuyasha snorted, amused that she was partly correct. "I was rather sheltered as a child," he explained. "I usually didn't go to crowded places too much. I still don't, if I can help it."

"Did it have something to do with you being a hanyou?" Kagome asked quietly.

Inuyasha slipped his hands into his pants pockets and smiled bitterly. His eyes took on a faraway look, not bothering to answer her question.


Six year old Inuyasha climbed up a chair and peeked through the curtains. His golden eyes brightened as he watched children playing at the nearby public playground just a stone's throw away from their house. His bright eyes focused on a father playing at a sandbox with his son and felt a twinge of envy. He watched as the little boy laughed as his father carefully placed a small triangular flag on top of their humble sandcastle.

"Why don't you go out and play, Inuyasha?" A voice asked kindly behind him.

Little Inuyasha looked over his shoulder to see his mother's older sister, Saya, smiling down at him. He had heard her coming but he had been too engrossed at the father and son playing to fully acknowledge her presence.

He shook his head at her in response. He did not like going out much. He did not like the look some people gave him. It did not happen always, but when it occurred, he wanted to disappear. Why were some strangers angry with him? What did he ever do to deserve their scathing looks?

"What are you saying, Saya?" His mother suddenly appeared behind his aunt, laughing lightly. "We're heading for a get together, remember?" She winked down at her son, who was quietly watching.

Saya looked a lot like his mother, with her flawless milky skin and lavender eyes. She, however, had shorter shoulder length hair and was not as vivacious as Izayoi.

"Are you sure you want to take Inuyasha there?" She asked, her lavender eyes worried.

"Don't worry, onee-chan." Izayoi gave her a reassuring smile. "We'll be okay. He's there." She looked at Inuyasha. "Come on, Inu-chan," she called cheerfully. "We don't want to be late."

Inuyasha threw the playing children one last longing glance before he timidly took his mother's outstretched hand.

End of Flashback.

Inuyasha suddenly spotted Bakuryuha, a free fall ride, where people are lifted into a high tower and then suddenly plunged ten storeys, before coming to a gentle stop at the bottom.

"How about we take that ride?" He suggested all of a sudden, pointing at Bakuryuha's general direction.

Kagome, who was looking at him with a mixture of sadness and worry, did not budge.

Noticing Kagome's troubled expression, he gave her a sly grin. "What's wrong, Kagome?" He taunted. "Are you too scared to try the ride?"

A grin spread on Kagome's face as she rose to his challenge. "You wish," she said, brightening up. She looked up at him with determination. "I promise you, Inuyasha, I'm going to make this one of the happiest and most memorable days of your life." She pumped her fists in the air with conviction. "Yosh!"

"Sure you will," Inuyasha responded patronizingly, amused at her antics.

Kagome laughed. "Come on then!" She tugged him towards the ride.

Inuyasha sighed and allowed her to lead him through the buzzing crowd. "You're so childish, Kagome," he commented as she expertly weaved through the sea of people with ease. "But I wouldn't like you any other way," he whispered to himself.

He smiled fondly down at her, enjoying her tinkling laughter. "Thank you."

Sango pulled her hair up into her trademark high ponytail. She stared at her reflection in her full-length mirror and practiced a smile. However, it never reached her hazel eyes. Her heart and her mind were not in synch, and the melancholy look in her eyes were a clear giveaway.

She shook her head. No, she was not going to let Miroku ruin this outing with Kuranosuke. She took a deep breath to clear her thoughts. She was going to enjoy herself. She was not going to spoil her date with Kuranosuke on Miroku's account. She was better than that.

Bounding downstairs, she greeted Kuranosuke with a smile, something she hoped was convincing. "Were you waiting too long?" she asked apologetically.

Kuranosuke fondly beamed at her. He did not seem to notice the disconcerted look in her eyes. "Not really." He gave her a quick once over. "You look great," he complimented, his tone sincere. He held out an arm for her. "So, ready to go San-chan?" It was the pet name he used to call her when they were classmates in Taekwondo class. It had been years since he last called her that.

Despite Sango's inner turmoil, she could not help but beam sincerely this time. This was what she liked best about her Kuranosuke-sempai: he never failed to lift her spirits.

But as Kuranosuke's car pulled away from her house, Sango could not help but feel that she had left something important behind.

Her heart.

Miroku's brow creased as he tossed and turned in his fitful sleep. His eyes suddenly opened and he placed a hand over his eyes. His breathing was uneven and his head throbbed.

"It was just a dream," he told himself. He swallowed thickly. In the haziness of sleep, he could have sworn that he heard Sango's voice bidding him goodbye.

"Please no," Miroku prayed. "Let it be just a dream."

"You're awake I see. Good."

Miroku removed the hand from his face and turned to where the voice came from. The bright morning sunlight illuminated the edges of the figure. From the broad shoulders and the deep voice Miroku realized it was Sango's father.

He quickly sat up in bed, making his head throb even more from his sudden movement. He was immediately able to piece two and two together. He was at Sango's house, probably in one of her family's guest rooms. Mr. Miyabe was here…but where was Sango? He scanned the room, secretly hoping she was sleeping at his bedside, but she was nowhere to be found. His heart beat painfully, a sense of foreboding rising in the pit of his stomach.

"She's not here." Masahiko Miyabe turned around as if reading his thoughts. "She went out with Kuranosuke Takeda. I'm sure you know him, Miroku-kun." He headed towards Miroku with purposeful, unhurried strides. His voice was calm, without a hint of rebuke as Miroku was anticipating. "I'm sorry if I disappointed you."

Miroku tried to smile. However, the disappointment of not seeing Sango in addition to hearing that she had gone out with Kuranosuke had somehow robbed him of his little strength. He slouched and closed his eyes painfully. "No, it's okay, Mr. Miyabe," he managed to drone out, trying to be polite.

Masahiko sat on the rattan chair beside the bed. "You're just like your father," he commented with a wry smile. "Both of you are not very good liars when caught off guard."

Miroku released a soft snort in response. It was the only sound he could make. He could not speak anymore.

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence.

"You broke your word," Masahiko noted, breaking the tensioned stillness. His brown eyes focused on Miroku's face, intent on reading his expression.

Miroku covered his face with his hands and sighed tiredly. "I did," he replied morosely.

"I told you to stay away from my daughter, Miroku-kun," Masahiko reminded, his voice even. But there was no trace of anger in his voice, as if he was studying Miroku, trying to gauge his reaction. "You gave your word a year ago, but it seems you changed your mind and decided to pursue her. Why? What made you break your promise? Was she that irresistible a challenge?"

Miroku lowered his hands and fisted them over the sheets. "I'm very sorry, Mr. Miyabe," he replied quietly. He then lifted his head up and looked at the older man straight in the eye. "I wasn't strong enough. In as much as I wanted to stay away from Sango, I couldn't help it. Everything about her draws me in; her smile, her personality, her eyes, everything." He smirked and looked away. "But I guess I could never win her heart."

The image of Sango's hurt, crying face replayed in his mind, quickly to be replaced with the image of Sango laughing alongside Kuranosuke. "But I guess it's all for the better."

Masahiko placed his palms together. "What you did last night was, to put it simply Miroku-kun, stupid," he commented. Miroku snorted as he hung his head. "Did you actually think you would impress her with a stunt like that?"

Miroku did not reply.

"But it certainly impressed me."

Miroku's head snapped up and looked at Masahiko with surprise.

Masahiko closed his eyes, an amused smirk on his lips. "It was completely idiotic, but you proved your point."

"My point?" Miroku frowned with confusion.

"That you truly loved my daughter." Masahiko opened his eyes and gazed at him with those wizened hazel orbs. "It took a lot of courage to go against me Miroku. But I realized your intentions were true when you willingly stood out there for God knows how long. You could easily have given up and found yourself an easy girl in her place, but you didn't. Frankly, only someone who is clearly love struck or unquestionably stupid would do that to themselves or go against a father's wishes even when he knows what the consequences are." A crooked smile appeared on his face at the dry humor.

This time Miroku was speechless from shock.

"Do you actually think I didn't know the great lengths you did just to be close to Sango?" Masahiko continued, amused at Miroku's expression. "I have someone at school that keeps track of her, don't be so surprised." He pressed his fingers together. "You passed Miroku."

Miroku looked on incredulously. "Passed?" he echoed, unsure what to make of it.

"I was testing you," Masahiko explained nonchalantly as if this was a normal rite of passage for teenage boys. "You passed."

"Aren't you the least concerned about my reputation?" Miroku inquired, still unsure if this was real or a trick.

Masahiko stood up. "Not all playboys remain playboys for life," he replied cryptically. "Like father like son, they say." He turned to leave the room. But before he reached out for the door knob, he looked over to Miroku. "But this time, it's not me who you should convince but Sango."

Masahiko motioned to the bedside table. It was only then that Miroku noticed a pale yellow envelope with his name leaning on the lampshade.

Miroku swallowed painfully as he reached out for it. The envelope was sealed, an indication that Sango's father had not read it.

"She's looking for something she feels you could never give her," Masahiko continued. "It's the reason she chose to go with Kuranosuke-kun." His brown eyes became serious and grave. "So if you truly love my daughter, you can do one of two things: you can either prove her wrong or let her go so someone else can truly make her happy."

Masahiko twisted the knob and left, leaving Miroku alone with his jumbled thoughts. One part of him wanted to rejoice that he got Sango's father's approval, but the other part simply wanted to break down as the odds of winning the girl of his dreams seemed slimmer than ever.

Miroku carefully pried the envelope open. It contained a familiar handkerchief and a very short note.

Kagome emerged out of the ride, knees wobbly and looking a bit green in the face.

Inuyasha looked at him from the corner of his eyes. "Are you okay, Kagome?" He worriedly inquired. She looked really sick.

Kagome suddenly clapped her hand on her mouth and gagged. Dashing to the nearest trash bin in sight, she retched. She groaned weakly before another wave of dizziness came over her and made her puke again.

Inuyasha was instantly beside her. "I told you it was a bad idea to go on all those thrilling rides," he scolded her. He opened her backpack and handed her the small box of tissues he saw her use earlier. "On the seven fast rides we've had, three of those were roller coasters. You went into all those rides when you can't even tolerate the speeds and dizzying revolutions. Are you an adrenalin junkie or something?"

Kagome pulled her head out of the garbage bin and shakily sat down on the bench nearby. She groaned some more. "I swear," she muttered, "that's the last time I go into a ride involving spinning tea cups."

Inuyasha sweat-dropped beside her. "It was your idea that we go on that ride," he told her, leaning on the bench and resting his hands behind his head. "It's your fault you're currently puking your internal organs out."

Kagome looked at him dejectedly. "I only went to those rides because this was your first time in an amusement park," she explained. "I didn't want you to get bored so I took you to all the exciting rides."

Inuyasha's eyes widened, her words tugging at his heartstrings.

Kagome laughed sheepishly. "But I guess that wasn't such a good idea." She glanced at him, her eyes hopeful. "But so far though, are you enjoying our little outing? Did you like the rides?"

He snorted in amusement. "Yeah, I'm enjoying immensely," he answered as he ruffled her hair a bit, receiving a small cry of protest from Kagome. "But next time, let's go on less thrilling rides for your sake."

"But how about--" Kagome protested when Inuyasha cut her off.

"Look, Kagome," he interrupted gently. "You don't have to go out of your way just to see if I'm having fun or not. I'll enjoy whatever ride or attraction you choose. Don't worry about me so much."

His ears pricked up under his bandana when he heard Kagome's stomach grumble. He chuckled a bit. "I heard that, Kagome."

Kagome turned beet red in embarrassment and defensively clutched her abdomen.

Inuyasha suddenly grabbed her wrist. "Come on," he pulled her up. "Let's get you something to eat."

Little Inuyasha was on his hands and knees as he weaved through the rosebushes. Not far, his sharp ears could hear laughter and the harmonious duet of the grand piano and violin playing in the background.

But despite the seemingly gay atmosphere and beautiful music, he did not feel at ease. He wondered how long he and his mother were going to stay here. Every youkai he met here were giving him looks of disgust and contempt. The bushes he was hiding in gave him momentary refuge.

As if to cheer him up, a blue butterfly appeared all of a sudden and softly landed on his nose. Blinking with surprise, Inuyasha stared at it for a few seconds, cross-eyed, before giving off a quiet laugh.

A soccer ball rolled to his leg, making him look down. His abrupt reaction caused the butterfly to flutter away and Inuyasha watched with sad golden eyes as it disappeared beyond the hedges. His ears drooped. He wished that he had wings just like the butterfly so he could fly away from this place. He was not comfortable here.

"Hey, you!"

Inuyasha turned to see a wolf youkai just about his age bounding over towards him. He timidly looked around, half expecting another youkai to be standing beside or behind him. Seeing no one, Inuyasha turned his gaze back at him, just in time to see the little wolf youkai skid to a halt a foot away.

"Didn't you hear me?" The youkai looked a bit cross. "With those ears I would have thought you would have heard me a mile away." He tried to poke one of Inuyasha's dog ears for emphasis but Inuyasha hesitantly pulled away.

The little youkai's bright blue eyes scanned him curiously as he hunched over to give Inuyasha a closer inspection. "Haven't seen you in any of the past family get-togethers," he noted. He sniffed at him. "You smell different too. Are you some very, very, very distant relative or something?" He continued to ogle at Inuyasha, making the hanyou feel uncomfortable.

In an effort to shift attention away from him, Inuyasha picked the soccer ball and hesitantly offered it back to him. The little wolf youkai straightened up and, much to Inuyasha's surprise, burst into a wide, toothy grin.

"You're not very talkative, are you?" He observed with an amused smirk. He took the soccer ball and tucked it under his arm. "I'm Kouga," he said as he extended his hand out to Inuyasha. "I'm the fastest runner in our kindergarten too, did you know?" he added boastfully. "And you're?"


Kouga casually tossed and caught the ball on his right hand. "You wanna play?" he asked.

A smile slowly crept on little Inuyasha's face. "S-sure."

"Great!" Kouga's toothy grin became even wider. He excitedly grabbed Inuyasha at the wrist and started pulling him. "But we can't play in the bushes. Soccer should be played in a wide space." He looked over his shoulder at the hanyou. "You do know how to play soccer, right?"

Inuyasha bashfully shook his head.

Kouga shrugged it off. "Don't worry!" he exclaimed, exuding confidence as he released him. They had just emerged out of the bushes. "I'll just teach you! My teacher said I'm good in sports."

Little Inuyasha watched as his new playmate placed the ball on the ground. "First rule: Never touch the ball with your hands," Kouga began, wagging a finger authoritatively.

Inuyasha's gold eyes widened, curious. "Why?"

Kouga face-faulted. "I dunno," he admitted, scratching his cheek. "That's just the way it goes. Anyway--"

"Kouga-chan!" A sharp, stern voice suddenly called out from the distance.

The two boys turned to see a female youkai walking over to them. She looked a bit like Kouga, making Inuyasha assume that she was Kouga's mother. She gave Inuyasha a scathing, once-over look before pulling at her son's ear. Kouga howled with pain.

"How many times have I said not to wander off?" she reprimanded, not even bothering to keep her voice down. She pinched Kouga's ear even harder. "And haven't I told you not to talk to someone like--" she gave Inuyasha a look of disgust, "--him."

Kouga tried in vain to escape from her grasp. "I didn't know this was the person you were talking about!" he said defensively, tears spilling from his blue eyes from the pain.

The female wolf youkai released her grip on her son's ear and harshly brushed away the tears on Kouga's face. She turned to Inuyasha for a moment and gave the six-year old an icy, condescending glare, making Inuyasha flinch as if she had physically hit him.

The female youkai then stood up. "Come Kouga," she said, her voice suddenly calm and cold.

Kouga, sniffling, grudgingly picked up his soccer ball before frowning at Inuyasha's direction. "Dog turd," he muttered with spite. He then took his mother's outstretched hand and headed off to where the rest of the guests were.

The commotion seemed to have gotten the attention of the other youkais, who were all giving Inuyasha looks of disgust and revulsion. He could hear them whispering and knew they were talking about him.

Inuyasha stood there, numb. His vision started to get blurry as tears threatened to spill from his golden orbs. Why were these people so mean? What did he do to make them so angry?

Izayoi suddenly appeared in front of him, knelt down and engulfed him into a tight hug.

"It's okay, Inuyasha," Izayoi comforted him. "It's okay. I'm here." Picking him up, she took him away from the crowd, away from their discriminatory looks, away from their harsh words.

His eyes suddenly widened. Tears. He could smell tears. But these were not his own. He hesitantly looked up but stopped halfway. He didn't want to see her crying.

Inuyasha balled his fists. He rubbed his eyes clear of his unshed tears. He was going to be strong--strong for his mother's sake.

It was the last time he ever cried.

"Hey, Inuyasha." Kagome waved a hand in front of his face, making Inuyasha blink.

He nonchalantly looked over to her and raised his brows in question.

"Are you okay?" she asked as she swirled her smoothie with her straw. "You've been spacing out."

Inuyasha snorted and took a large bite of his hotdog sandwich, which had everything on it. "It's nothing," he shrugged off. Seeing the skeptical look on Kagome's face, he washed his food down with large gulp of soda. "I was simply wondering how someone as small as you could eat so much."

Kagome glowered at him while turning into various shades of red. Inuyasha idly enjoyed seeing her embarrassed. It was amusing.

"Well, since I puked all of my breakfast, I got really hungry," she retorted in defense.

Inuyasha smirked, a nonverbal gesture suggesting that he didn't believe her. "Right," he answered. He finished his lunch. "Whatever you say, Kagome."

The pretty raven-haired girl puffed her cheeks in annoyance.

Inuyasha's gaze then wondered off into the distance, making Kagome stop and wonder what he was so preoccupied with.

Little Inuyasha looked up timidly from his hiding spot behind his mother. He had seen this male youkai with silver hair only twice or thrice before. He looked kind and good-natured, unlike the majority of the youkais he had encountered in this mansion.

Izayoi bent over to him. "Go on, Inuyasha," she prodded him gently. "Go to your father." Inuyasha hesitantly stepped forward from behind his mother's legs. "Go on, Inu-chan."

The handsome youkai in front of them crouched down and outstretched his arms, a quiet gesture for Inuyasha to come to him. He gave Inuyasha a warm smile.

Inuyasha slowly headed towards him and tentatively reached out for his extended hand.

"My, how much you've grown," his father voiced out affectionately. He put a hand on Inuyasha's head and ruffled his silver hair. "And you look just like me too," he added, giving Izayoi a wink, making her smile.

Inuyasha found himself grinning, quickly feeling at ease with him. He looked down at his father's hand and realized it was just a bigger version of his own.

"So how are you, Inuyasha?" his father asked, making him look up. His could see his reflection clearly in those honey-colored eyes, eyes that completely mirrored his own. They were warm and kind, and full of affection.

"W-well school's oka--"

Inuyasha's reply was suddenly cut short by a harsh, rough scream. "What is the meaning of this, Akira?!" The clap of a cane pounding down on the marble floor echoed throughout the room.

Inuyasha, who had jumped at the sudden sound, looked over the doorway to see an old female youkai, bent with age and holding a cane on one hand for support, looking angrily at his father. Without warning, she was suddenly overcome with a fit of coughing from the exertion. A helper immediately rushed to her side.

The old youkai violently motioned the maid away as she regained her composure. Her look was steely and piercing. "You are the sole heir of the vast Takahashi empire," she ground out, her voice scratchy and hoarse. "You have already put our family to shame by divorcing Sesuna. Sesuna, who came from a noble youkai family! And now you even dare to bring the human you are having an affair with in this house?!"

Akira stood up and clenched his fists but said nothing. Inuyasha noticed his expression had become stony. The spark in his eyes had disappeared.

The old female youkai's golden orbs flickered down at Inuyasha. Unlike Akira's, her eyes held no warmth at all. Her topaz eyes felt like steel, cold, hard and uncaring.

She gave off a snort. "So that's the hanyou, eh?" she sneered.

Inuyasha felt small and vulnerable under her gaze and quickly dashed behind his mother. Izayoi put a hand gently on his head, a gesture of her motherly protectiveness. Inuyasha noticed that his mother's hand was trembling slightly. Whether it was from anger, fear, or some other emotion, he could not tell.

The old youkai continued to look at Inuyasha. Her gaze was scathing. "Your illegitimate son, I presume?"

Akira turned to her. "Yes, okaa-sama," he muttered quietly. His voice was clipped, as if he was trying to control himself from doing anything brash.

The old youkai's expression darkened even more and her sharp claws dug into her wooden cane from her iron grip. "If it weren't for you father's will, I would have disinherited you a long time ago!" she growled. "If only your father could see you now, Akira! You're a disgrace to the Takahashi name! You even taint our noble blood by having a--a--" she seemed utterly repulsed to say the word, "--hanyou son!" Before she could rant any more, she burst into more coughing fits. Her violent hacks echoed through the large room.

It was only then that Inuyasha noticed that he was clinging to his mother's skirt tightly. The old youkai, even as she was bent with age and sickly, still frightened him. Inuyasha wondered if this old youkai was indeed very powerful, as no one seemed brave enough to stand up to her.

He suddenly felt a soft hand encircle his and realized his mother was gently pulling him along. Izayoi had found this time appropriate for them to leave.

Inuyasha turned back to see Akira watching them go, his golden eyes pained. Their identical eyes locked on each other for a brief moment before Akira bowed down, hiding his eyes with his thick veil of silver hair.

Inuyasha stared down as he allowed his mother to lead him away. Was that really his father? If he was, why couldn't he protect his family?

Why couldn't he protect his mother…or him?

Inuyasha's reverie was interrupted when Kagome tugged his arm.

"Is something bothering you, Inuyasha?" she inquired, her beautiful features etched with worry. The large, pink cotton candy on her other hand forgotten as she stared up at him intently. "Aren't you feeling well?"

Inuyasha snorted. "I'm fine," he retorted, his answer coming out harsher than he intended. He mentally hit himself when he noticed Kagome flinch. In a gentler voice he added, "You worry too much. I'm okay, really."

Kagome timidly took a small bite of her cotton candy. "You look like something's troubling you," she observed. "Did I do something to piss you off? I'm sor--"

Before she could finish her apology, Inuyasha cut her off by placing his index finger softly on her lips, effectively shutting her up. Her cheeks immediately flushed red at the unexpected contact, her blue eyes wide with surprise and embarrassment. Inuyasha, just realizing what he just did, pulled his finger away, an identical blush rising on his cheeks.

"Sorry," he mumbled, jamming his hands to his pocket. "But you were going to apologize again for something you didn't do." He sighed before a small, crooked smile appeared on his gorgeous face. "What am I going to do with such a worrywart?" he wondered aloud, flicking her nose playfully, gently. Kagome pouted at him in response. "What I was thinking about has nothing to do with you. Don't worry yourself too much for my sake. Next thing you know you'll be blaming me for your premature frown lines."


Inuyasha chuckled. "I promise I won't space out again." He eyed her bundle of cotton candy. "Geez, Kagome, I swear you're going to get cavities from eating too much sweets."

Kagome stuck her tongue out in retaliation. She then spotted the line of stalls offering fluffy stuffed toys as prizes for winning games.

"Since you owe me for spacing out, what do say you pay for all the games I'm going to play?" she proposed with a sly smile.

Inuyasha rolled her eyes. "I already paid for all you ate, might as well pay for everything else."

Kagome grinned. "These are the times I'm happy to have a such a rich person as company."

"I'm sure you do."

Inuyasha let himself get dragged by Kagome to the stall lined with plushies of all colors, shapes and sizes.

"Yosh!" Kagome psyched herself as Inuyasha paid for her game. "I'm going to win that plushie, mark my words!" Inuyasha looked over to where Kagome was pointing at and smirked when he saw that she was aiming to win the three foot replica of the plushy cat at Tensaiga Malls. Figures. He should have known Kagome was still obsessed with that large stuffed toy.

Inuyasha watched with mild interest as Kagome was handed five rubber balls. The game was simple enough. All she had to do was knock down three rubber duckies moving on a conveyor belt. To make the game a bit challenging, rubber swans and chickens were also added along with the ducks. Inuyasha crossed his arms on his chest. This was simple. He gazed at Kagome and was amused at her intense concentration. Surely with her amazing marksmanship in archery there was no way she could miss.

How wrong he was.

Inuyasha forgot that archery and hitting small plastic ducks on a moving treadmill were different things altogether.

When Kagome's first try, which seemed to defy all laws of physics as it ricocheted about the small stall, landed on the ice cream cone pile of a kid innocently walking past them, Inuyasha could only blink in disbelief. Kagome was utterly and hopelessly pathetic at hitting moving targets. Even if they were six feet tall and standing just a foot away from her, the ball she threw would probably skew and boomerang back to her.

"Nooo!" Kagome's agonized scream rang in his sharp ears.

He sweat-dropped. Unbelievably, Kagome managed to miss every duck, swan and chicken on the conveyor belt, even managing to hit the stall owner standing on the corner twice. He wondered if she had forgotten to wear her contacts or was missing on purpose. No one could possibly be this bad. But then again, with Kagome's horrendous record in hand-eye coordination (or the unbelievable lack thereof) in PE class, this was probably expected.

As he paid for another round of the game, Inuyasha sighed.

By the determined look on Kagome's face and her bad aim, Inuyasha had a feeling they were going to be here for a long, LONG while.

Kuranosuke watched as Sango concentrated on the 14th hole of the mini-golf course. With practiced control, she hit the golf ball and watched with baited breath as it just barely got through the windmill blades, zigzagged about the plastic houses, circled around the hole…and then just stopped short of going in.

Kuranosuke stifled a chuckle as Sango groaned. He watched as she stomped over to the stubborn golf ball and easily putted it down the hole. Heading back to him, she ticked her score card and took a peek at his.

"I'm just two hits behind you, sempai," she announced brightly. "I will pass you, just wait."

Kuranosuke's coffee-colored eyes twinkled. "You can try," he returned, feigning an air of bravado.

Sango laughed before she bounded over to the next hole while Kuranosuke stayed behind, watching her retreating figure. His eyes became worried, uneasy. Although Sango acted bubbly, something felt wrong. Her smile and laughter felt forced. He had known her for years since they went to the same Taekwondo school during their elementary days and could often detect the subtle hints if Sango was not feeling well.

Kuranosuke could not help but speculate that Miroku Kanzaki had something to do with Sango's current behavior. His grip on his golf club tightened and he yearned to use it to smash a certain playboy's head with.

"Damn it, Kanzaki," he mentally swore. "What did you do to her this time?"

His angry musings were interrupted when Sango called his attention. "Sempai!" she waved at him. "What are you waiting for? It's your turn."

Kuranosuke gave her a soft smile and headed over to her, all the while making a mental vow. He was going to do everything in his power to make sure Miroku would never hurt her again. Sango was too good for the likes of Miroku. She deserved better. She deserved to be happy.

And he was going to do everything just to make her happy.

Inuyasha tapped his foot impatiently. After eight tries, the most Kagome could do was hit one measly duck. Sure it was hilarious in the beginning to see her miss but after several more tries, it was starting to become annoying and boring.

"Another round!" Kagome announced as her last ball hit a plastic chicken.

Inuyasha groaned. "That's enough, damn it!" Paying the stall owner for a fresh batch of rubber balls, he wasted no time hitting five ducks (even if he only needed to hit three). Yanking the large plushy from its display area even before the stall owner realized he had hit more than the desired number of fowls, he shoved it into Kagome's hands. "Here's your blasted cat."

Kagome scowled at him. "I wanted to be the one to win the plushy!" she protested.

Inuyasha's eyes turn half-lidded with annoyance. "With the way you were aiming, we'd probably be here all night," he countered.

Kagome huffed, unable to refute his logic, before staring down at the stuffed toy in her arms. "This isn't the one I want," she murmured when she realized the plush she was holding.

"Weren't you pointing at the cat?" Inuyasha asked, brows furrowed.

Kagome gave him a mysterious smile as she shook her head. She turned back to the store owner and pointed at another stuffed toy close to where the Tensaiga cat was located. Inuyasha looked on with bewilderment as she turned around and showed him the plushie she wanted. It was a snow white plush dog with pointed triangular ears and butterscotch eyes.

"Inuyasha, meet Inu-chan," she giggled, holding the dog up to him.

Inuyasha's lips curled into an entertained smirk. "Pretty original name for a dog, don't you think?"

Kagome hugged the plushy tightly. "He reminds me of someone," she answered simply. She pressed her cheeks against the toy doll's fur and laughed. "Wai, Inu-chan is just so cute!" she gushed. "And he's so soft too!"

Inuyasha could not help but blush. He knew Kagome was referring to the plushy, but still Inu-chan is his nickname. And he could not help but think he was the person Kagome was reminded of. He suddenly snorted; he was being narcissistic. Kagome knew a lot of people. She was probably referring to another person. But something inside Inuyasha badly wished that that person was him.

"Thank you, Inuyasha," Kagome said. She flashed him a grateful smile.

Inuyasha suddenly found his heart beat speeding up and a new blush spreading on his cheeks. "Yeah, well…" he grasped for words. "You have a bad aim. Someone needed to interfere eventually." He forced a cough to hide his embarrassment.

Kikyo let the serenity of the gurgling stream bring her inner peace. She was hunched over the small koi pond in their large garden. She tossed a few breadcrumbs and watched the blur of white, orange and red colored fishes swarm beneath her hand, eager for food.

It was calm here, quiet. It was far better than staying inside the house and listening to her mother argue with her stepfather. This was one of those rare occasions when her mother had the courage to put her foot down against her stepfather's will. It was not pleasant and she did not want to stay and watch them hurl hurtful words at each other.

A shadow appeared behind her. From the reflection in the water, Kikyo immediately recognized who it was. But she was in no mood to humor him so she remained oblivious to his presence. She sprinkled a handful of crumbs at the koi again, internally grateful the ripples they produced removed Naraku's watery reflection.

"Jealousy is a powerful emotion," Naraku said as he casually stood behind her. "Don't you agree, dear sister?"

Kikyo did not reply.

"Jealousy is a dark and ugly emotion that brings out the worst in people," Naraku continued, unperturbed by the cold shoulder Kikyo was giving him. "At other times it can make people realize their hidden feelings. But if you play your cards right, you can use jealousy to your advantage too."

He picked up a stone and threw it directly at the koi gathered near Kikyo. The fish scattered, making Kikyo look up at him coldly.

"Jealousy, my dear sister, can be your weapon or your downfall." Naraku's dark red orbs glinted, as if he was on the verge of spilling a juicy secret. "Do you want to know how your beloved Inuyasha used jealousy, Kikyo?"

Kagome shifted her weight from one foot to the other and waited for Inuyasha to come back. After his awkward reaction with the dog plushie, he deftly changed the topic by asking if he could get her anything. Suddenly feeling embarrassed by Inuyasha's reaction to her calling the stuff plushy "Inu-chan," she told him she was hungry for pretzel. Faster than you can say "Kaze no Kizu" Inuyasha had disappeared into the crowd.

Kagome looked down at the stuffed toy she was cradling. "Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to call you 'Inu-chan' in front of him," she realized as her cheeks grew hot. "He probably thinks I was teasing him." Or worse, he probably suspected that she liked him. Kagome hid her burning face behind the plush. She suddenly felt mortified beyond belief. Why did she have to blabber like that? She should have kept that to herself. Stupid, stupid.

"Hey, girl with the dog plushy," somebody suddenly called.

Kagome peeked from the fur to see a woman in her twenties calling her from a nearby stall. Lowering the plush , she pointed at herself as she blinked curiously.

The woman maintained that jovial smile. "Yes you."

Kagome headed over to the lady's stall and noticed it did not contain any parlor games, just a poster of the possible prizes, which included among other things, more stuffed toys, three foot long chocolate bars, goodie bags and a grand prize of a trip for two to Hong Kong with pocket money to boot.

The lady began her rehearsed speech. "On its opening month, Kaze no Kizu aims to give its first customers not only the best amusement rides and entertainment around, but a chance to win fabulous prizes as well!" She pointed at the large poster behind her before peering down at Kagome. "It's free. All you have to do is draw out a ball from the box. Everyone's a guaranteed winner!"

Kagome shrugged. What has she got to lose? After getting her amusement park ticket stamped, the lady held out a cardboard box to her. She would win a prize depending on the color she pulled out.

Dumping her hand inside the box, Kagome bit her lip as the marble-sized plastic balls passed through her fingers. Picking up a random ball, she pulled it out and showed it to the lady. It was a gold-colored one.

"Aw," the lady's face pouted in disappointment. "Too bad it wasn't the crystal one. You could have won the trip." Her face lit up. "But you got the next best thing."

The lady disappeared into the back of the stall and reemerged carrying a small blue velvet box. Eyeing the box with curiosity, Kagome lifted the lid. Her eyes widened.

"If you're wondering, yes that is authentic," the lady explained. "It's almost as expensive as the trip itself. You're a very lucky girl."

Kagome smiled. She knew exactly what she was going to do with this.

"Oi, Kagome! There you are!"

Kagome stifled a surprised squeak before she hastily shut the box and tried to inconspicuously put it in her yellow backpack. She ended up looking like someone having a spasm attack. She zipped her bag shut just as Inuyasha reached her side.

"Do you want to know how your beloved Inuyasha used jealousy, Kikyo?"

"No," Kikyo deadpanned. She did not want to know, if it came from her Naraku, at least.

Kikyo was in no mood to talk to her vile stepbrother, not now, not ever. But much as she wanted her stepbrother to leave, a part of her wanted to listen to what he would say regarding Inuyasha. As expected, Naraku did not get her hint that she wanted to be alone, or he simply ignored the undertone she tried to convey.

"In Inuyasha's case, he used it as a weapon," he continued as if he did not hear her. "Are you a jealous person, Kikyo?"

"No," Kikyo answered stiffly. She did not like where this was heading.

"Are you sure? Operation MKJ seemed to be going smoothly as planned if you ask me," Naraku drawled.

Kikyo hated the way he seemed to know so much; hated the way he baited her and lured her in with bits of cryptic information. But now that she thought about it, she had heard Miroku mention this operation once to Inuyasha when the former visited them in class.

"Tell me honestly, aren't you even just a bit jealous of Kagome Higurashi?" Naraku's tireless taunting continued. "What was that rooftop incident about, or that archery competition? That wasn't very friendly behavior towards your ex-boyfriend's new girl."

Kikyo's jaw tightened inconspicuously. Guilt seeped into her when she remembered what she did to Kagome at the rooftop. She didn't even know what came over her to make her do such an unbecoming act. Maybe she was a jealous person as Naraku said.

"Inuyasha's scheme of making you jealous using Kagome is working perfectly." Naraku's dark red eyes danced at her discomfort. "It's not hard to do, especially since you still have feelings for that half-breed."

Kikyo stiffened, to the point that she had not noticed Naraku's racial jibe at Inuyasha. After their talk at the coffee shop, she had suspected that Inuyasha and Kagome were simply pretending to make her jealous, but it seemed so silly that she disregarded the idea. Why would they go through the trouble? Kikyo was about to find out.

"What some would do to get back people they love are pathetic." Naraku chuckled darkly. "I have to give that hanyou some credit. The scheme was so simple and moronic but it worked."

Kikyo's usually cool façade broke. Her usually stoic features were filled with disbelief. So that was what MKJ meant. Make Kikyo Jealous. Make her jealous. Even after what she did to him, Inuyasha still wanted her back. Flattered as she was that Inuyasha went to all that lengths to win her again, guilt and regret also gnawed her inside.

Naraku placed a hand over his lips. "Oops," he said without a tiny hint of contrition. "I slipped."

Kagome rested her chin on top of her dog plushy's head as she stared at Inuyasha, who was sitting oppisite her on the Ferris Wheel cabin. He was absently looking at the view outside as the Ferris Wheel slowly ascended. The soft, late afternoon sun filtered through the glass windows, bathing Inuyasha with an ethereal golden glow. Despite the fact that Kagome was not the type to stare, she could not help but do so in Inuyasha's case. He just looked so beautiful and princely. He was handsome as a human, but as a hanyou, he seemed liked chiseled perfection.

"When you're done staring, just let me know."

Kagome blinked and realized Inuyasha was looking at her from the corner of his eye. Turning to face her fully, he looked at her with an amused expression, his lips curled into crooked smile.

Kagome hastily bowed and muttered a quick apology, before hiding behind her plush dog from mortification. He had caught her staring at him. Again. As if it wasn't humiliating enough to be caught staring at him while he pretended to be asleep.

Inuyasha tilted his head. "Is my face really that alluring to you?"

His voice alone told Kagome he was extremely amused. Kagome wanted to sink lower into her seat. If only it was possible to escape…except she was suspended a hundred meters above ground.

Kagome squirmed in her seat, aware of his topaz eyes on her. "It's just amazing how you look so different," he answered, not looking at him. "It's like I'm looking at another person altogether. You look so flawless and beautiful it's almost unreal…almost godly."

"Godly, huh?" Inuyasha tried to stifle the amused grin on his face.

Kagome felt her face heat up. Sometimes she wished she was more articulate. Godly. What was she thinking? "But when I look closer, your eyes, your smile tell me you're still the Inuyasha I know." She found the courage to look up at him and noticed he was listening closely. "It's just remarkable to me how one person can look so drastically different and yet be the same."

"So you think I'd be different just because I'm in my hanyou form?"

"Not really," Kagome admitted. "It just takes a bit of getting used to. Human or hanyou form, I don't really mind." Her fingers traced small circles on Inu-chan's soft fur. "But I'm just wondering though why you would want to hide who you really are. You're fine the way you are as a hanyou."

Inuyasha leaned back on his seat and sighed deeply. "It's a long story, Kagome," he told her, looking outside the window. He grimaced as he reached for the base of his neck where the beaded necklace was currently absent. "Not everyone is as kind as you are."

Seven year old Inuyasha watched in fascination at the strange beaded necklace that dangled in front of him.

"Are you sure this is what you want, Inuyasha?" Kaede inquired. Even as she was stooped with age, the wrinkled hand that held the necklace remained steady. The beads looked harmless, but Inuyasha's hanyou senses told him of the great power they contained.

At one corner of the room, Izayoi watched on intently as Kaede talked to her son. The old woman was a miko who owned a growing ramen eatery. She was also Izayoi's godmother.

Inuyasha regarded the beaded necklace again. He had expected something more impressive looking and was disappointed when Kaede presented him with this horrendous looking string of beads. But then again, he was not after the necklace for its appearance. He was after it for what it could do.

"Are you sure, Inuyasha?" Kaede repeated.

Inuyasha took a deep breath, remembering all the scathing looks, the insults and other acts of cruelty he and his mother had received. But the most vivid memory that came into his mind was his father just watching…watching while an old youkai verbally maltreated him and his mother and he did nothing to defend them. Absolutely nothing.

Inuyasha clenched his fists. "I'm sure." His voice held no trace of uncertainty.

Kaede glanced at Izayoi, who nodded.

"How strange that this is what you want on your birthday," the old woman mumbled. She bent down and easily slipped the necklace around his neck.

"I'm sorry," Kagome murmured.

Maybe it was not such a good idea to have brought up that topic regarding Inuyasha's lineage, or his choice to remain human instead of hanyou. It was a sensitive issue that Inuyasha obviously did not like talking about, and now he was probably angry with her for intruding. Kagome hugged her plushy tighter, feeling guilty. The silence that hung between them felt stifling.

Inuyasha gave off an exasperated sigh. "There you go again, apologizing." He looked at her, slightly annoyed. "You should really stop doing that. You didn't do anything wrong."

Kagome remained quiet.

Inuyasha suddenly stood up and knelt in front of her, much to Kagome's surprise. "Look, I'm sorry if I'm such a moody, obnoxious bastard," he muttered. "I can't help it sometimes. But please don't assume that you are to blame, because you're not. Stop being too hard on yourself." A smirk formed on his lips. "It's getting on my nerves watching you squirm. You look like an annoyingly uncute jellyfish."

Kagome could not help but giggle. Of all the possible objects, he had the gall to compare her to a jellyfish. She then remembered something and placed the dog plush beside her as she rummaged through her backpack. She held out the velvet box to him.

Inuyasha blinked. "What's that?"

"I won it while you were out getting me a pretzel." She opened it up, making the heart-shaped gold pendant glow brilliantly in the sunlight. "It's my way of saying 'thank you' for your company."

Inuyasha looked taken aback. "You really didn't have to," he responded. He glanced at the jewelry again. "And it's too…girly."

Kagome pouted, looking extremely disappointed. "I see. Well…" she faltered.

Inuyasha resisted the urge to throw his hands up in the air. Damn this girl's power over him. "Fine, fine. I'll take it."

Kagome could not help but beam appreciatively. "Open it," she instructed.

Inuyasha did as he was told. So it was not simply a heart pendant, he realized as he took it out of the box, it was a locket. He admired the intricate flower engraving on the cover before carefully prying it open. Much to his astonishment, he saw his picture on one side of the locket. The other side remained empty.

"You should place the picture of the one you love on the other side," Kagome told him. She was about to mention Kikyo but she caught herself in time. She did not want Inuyasha going into one of his depressive moods again, since the mere mention of Kikyo's name had that effect on him. "That way, you can always have that person close to your heart wherever you may be."

"Where did you get this picture?"

Kagome stiffened. That was certainly not the question she was expecting. The portrait of the human Inuyasha that she had placed on the locket was the printed photo of the wallpaper she used on her cell phone. It was her favorite picture of Inuyasha. A candid shot she took when Inuyasha was being dragged away by Shippou. Despite his protests that he did not want to play with the fox kit, the fond smile that appeared on his face when he thought no one was looking told her then that Inuyasha was nowhere near as obnoxious as he made himself appear to be.

Kagome twiddled her fingers nervously. "Ah, well, I had some pictures in my wallet…lying around." Inuyasha looked at her with eyes half-lidded, clearly not buying her explanation. "Given by Miroku…and, erm…Izayoi-san…To make it more believable that I'm your…girlfriend. Pretend girlfriend, I mean," she added hastily. No way was she going to admit she took that picture of him. She'd rather be thrown into a snake pit than be on the hot seat.

Inuyasha let it slide and moved to put the locket around his neck. Seeing he had trouble attaching the lock, Kagome did it for him.

"And I guess while you can't wear your beaded necklace yet, this will be its substitute for the time being, neh?" Kagome said lightly.

Inuyasha snorted, smirking.

The door of their Ferris Wheel cabin opened unexpectedly. The two suddenly found themselves being ogled at by people lining up for the ride.

"Did he just propose to her?" One woman in the front of the line asked the Ferris Wheel attendant. More heads popped in to see what was going on in their cabin.

"I think they were making out," another voice supplied.

The two teenagers suddenly realized their compromising position. He was kneeling in front of her. She still had her hands on his shoulders since she had just put the necklace on him. They looked very intimate, as if sharing a complete lovey-dovey moment.

Inuyasha and Kagome immediately turned into perfect tomato imitations, their faces filled with horror.


It took only five milliseconds for them to be ten feet away from each other.

Sango turned to Kuranosuke and flashed him a brilliant, genuine smile when his car slowed to a stop by the Miyabe gates. "Thank you very much, sempai," she said, unbuckling her seatbelt. "I had a great time." She meant that.

Surprisingly, after a rough start, her date with her sempai turned out to be better than she expected. For the whole day she had forgotten her personal troubles as Kuranosuke, after their mini-golf tourney, treated her to lunch and took her to a butterfly sanctuary and garden at the outskirts of the city.

Kuranosuke gave her a small smile. "I'm glad you enjoyed it. Until next time then?" he asked hopefully.

"Of course." Sango nodded.

She waved goodbye and watched him speed off before letting out a sigh. Now that their date was over and she was once again back home, the light fuzzy feeling in her chest evaporated. Returning home meant being reminded of Miroku, someone she wished she could forget.

Speaking of Miroku, she wondered if she was still in her house. She crossed her fingers secretly and hoped not. Her traitorous heart, however, was wishing the opposite.


She instantly froze on her tracks and her pulse sped up. Why was he still here?

She looked over to the garden chairs at their front lawn corner. Miroku had just stood up from one of the chairs and was now walking towards her. How long had he been waiting?

Sango stood rooted on the spot, watching him cross the distance between them. He had probably gone home to change, seeing as he had different clothes on. In the late afternoon sunlight, he looked as if he was giving off on orange glow. He looked perfect, as usual, but his face looked troubled. His eyes had lost their luster and he did not have his usual confident smile. It was as if he had grown older overnight.

A gentle breeze blew, sweeping some stray locks of Sango's hair across her face. Much to her surprise, Miroku reached over and tucked the loose locks behind her ear.

"I love it when you have your hair down," he told her quietly, a small gentle smile on his face. Much to Sango's chagrin, a traitorous blush colored her cheeks. She hoped that the orange light hid how flustered she was.

Miroku's smile suddenly faltered and he put down his hand. "I'm not a very patient person," he began. "Did you know that? I'm used to getting what I want immediately. And I always get what I want…until I met you."

Sango did not reply.

"Do you remember when we first met? It wasn't in school." Miroku looked to the side, a bittersweet smile in his lips as he reminisced. "I don't think you remember though. It was during Inuyasha's mother's party more than a year ago. We were reaching for the same champagne glass, remember?"

Sango's eyes widened in response. He was right. She didn't remember it at all. She was too preoccupied with her date then, Kuranosuke. How could Miroku even remember such a fleeting meeting?

"When I saw you then, I remembered thinking that you were the most beautiful girl I have ever laid my eyes on." His blue eyes focused back on her. "You still are, in fact."

If it was even possible, Sango's eyes widened even more from disbelief.

"But your father noticed, and made me promise never to pursue you." Miroku's eyes became downcast. "But I wanted so much to see you. Even if I couldn't have you, I just wanted to be close to you. I wished to see you smile, laugh and even glance my way just once."

"I was thrilled when you enrolled in Shikon Gakuen. You know that bastard who switched sections with Kagome? That was me." Miroku looked at her guiltily. "And I wasn't truly being honest when I said I enrolled in the same cram school as you because my father made me. In fact, I was the one who pestered him to enroll me there. The circumstance that none of my fan girls went there was a mere coincidental plus."

Sango could not move. He had been admiring her for that long?

"I seemed to be a bit like a stalker, aren't I?" Miroku chuckled, but his tone seemed sad. "I respect your father greatly so I tried to honor my promise. But even when I dated socialites, models, and some of the most beautiful ladies in Japan, my thoughts still drifted back to you. I could never forget you. But all I could do was admire you from afar. It's frustrating. What made it worst is that you never even seem to notice that I existed." He forced a laugh, remembering their first year as classmates. "Pathetic that someone like me can't even get the attention of the girl I liked."

His eyes caught hers. Sango could see the swirl of raging emotions that he tried to control inside.

"I sometimes wished you were one of my fan girls, but I know you never thought very highly of me. It was my undoing, I guess. You're smart and you know better, and as such would never fall for a playboy like me." Miroku's expression was grim. "Imagine my surprise when I overheard Kagome saying you had a crush on me. My control crumbled. I saw this as an opportunity to get close to you."

"I've made lots of mistakes and I know you deserve someone better. But it hurts for me to think that I have let the opportunity to love you pass me by. I know you said in that letter that the damage has been done, but can you give me another chance?" Miroku looked at her imploringly. "Give me another opportunity to prove myself, Sango."

Sango clenched her fists. Inside, various emotions whirled, vying for dominance. Her brain was telling her one thing, while her heart another. She was confused. She shut her eyes tightly. This was not the time to be indecisive. She had already made her decision and she was determined to stick with it.

"No." Sango's voice came out clear and strong, which surprised even her. She looked straight in his eyes. "No more, Miroku."

Miroku was rigid for a moment before a tight smile flitted on his lips. "I see," he replied evenly. He bowed slightly, making his bangs cover his eyes. "If that's what you wish." He took a deep shaky breath. "I'm sorry if I hurt you. But don't worry, I won't bother you again."

He then lifted his head up, making Sango see that his eyes have become misty. He gave her a sad smile. "But for what it was worth, my feelings for you will never change. You were the girl I was searching for all this time and I was stupid to have driven you away. I'm in love with you, Sango. I always will be, that much I'm sure."

Sango stifled a gasp. Her brain was still reeling with the fact that he had just professed that he loved her. It was not the same compulsory "I love you" he said to his girlfriends. Sango's gut told her he was telling the truth. He did love her. Truly. Deeply.

Miroku took a step back. "I wish you all the happiness in the world," he said sincerely. "Goodbye, Sango."

Sango remained unmoving as Miroku left. A part of her wanted to chase after him and take back what she said, but the more dominant part of her stubbornly stayed put. When he had gone, she went directly to her room, ignoring Kohaku and almost toppling a ceramic vase in her wake.

It was only in her room did she let the tears spill.

Outside, twilight began to fall.

Kagome hummed to herself as she let the sat by the wooden walkway of the shrine building. It was a beautiful, cool night. The fireflies danced around her and the pale light of the crescent moon bathed the still grounds with a ghostly white glow. She wrapped the woolen shawl tighter around her. She wished he was here to see this.

The sound of footsteps caught her attention. She turned to see her grandfather walking towards her with a tray of tea.

"It's a beautiful evening, isn't it?" Grandpa Higurashi greeted as he set down the tray. He poured tea for the two of them.

"You shouldn't have bothered, Grandpa!" Kagome exclaimed, flustered. "You shouldn't have gone through the trouble of taking tea to me."

The old man smiled toothlessly. "It's no trouble at all, Kagome-chan."

Kagome's expression softened. It had been a while since her grandfather last called her by that endearment. She accepted the cup of tea from her grandfather with a soft 'thank you'.

"With the way you're smiling, I assume you've had a terrific time with him today," her grandfather voiced out as he took a sip of his tea. "I'm glad to know he makes you happy."

A small smile flitted on Kagome's lips. Yes, she enjoyed being with Inuyasha. He may be a little rough around the edges, but overall he was sweet, kind and protective. She suddenly felt a dull ache on her chest. But his heart belonged to someone else, and it wasn't her.

"Do you know where you got your name from, Kagome?" Grandpa Higurashi asked as he swirled his drink.

Kagome shook her head.

Grandpa Higurashi motioned towards the Goshinbuko tree a few yards away. "The miko in the legend, her name was said to be Kagome," he narrated. "But as you already know, she died in the hands of her beloved hanyou."

Kagome listened, her interest suddenly piqued. Why was her grandfather suddenly retelling her this legend?

"I never finished the story." The old man looked at her from the corner of his eye. "Overcome with guilt, the hanyou wandered the earth until he died with a broken heart. But there is a popular story that says this hanyou eventually found a youkai whom he had a family with, but he never forgot his first love, the miko.

"Through the centuries, the family he built accumulated so much wealth and power it came to be feared and respected. The later generations were proud to be youkais and upheld the superiority of having pure youkai blood. Very few in the family, and even fewer outside, knew this proud clan of daiyoukais was established by a 'lowly' hanyou."

Kagome's grandfather took another sip of his tea. "That hanyou died a few centuries ago. But before he died, he visited this Goshinbuko and vowed that he and his beloved miko will definitely meet again, at a better time and place."

Kagome stared at her tea, relishing the warmth of the cup between her hands as she continued to listen.

"Do you know the family this hanyou had built?"

The words escaped Kagome's lips even before she had a chance to think about it. "The Takahashis."

"Correct." Her grandfather beamed.

Kagome spun around. "What has that got to do with me and Inuyasha?"

Grandpa Higurashi poured himself another cup of tea. "Your grandmother was instrumental that you be named 'Kagome'," he murmured, smiling, as he reminisced. "She was a miko when she was younger and was known for her prophecies."

Kagome frowned slightly. "So you think Inuyasha and me are reincarnations of the characters in the legend?" she asked, trying to hide her disbelief. Okay, she loved the legend, but her being part of it was actually too unbelievable and convenient to be true.

"I don't know." Grandpa Higurashi shrugged. "That's why I leave it to you to decide." He offered her a plate of fortune cookies. "But you know, Kagome, there are no such things as 'chance' meetings. You are destined to meet the people you are supposed to meet."

Kagome could only smile. If only that were true. It was romantic to think that perhaps she and Inuyasha were indeed meant to meet…but them destined to fall in love, she was not so sure of. She sighed. If only it were that simple.

She cracked the fortune cookie open and silently read the contents of the small paper. She was not one to believe in fortunes coming from Chinese cookies but she could not help the feeling of apprehension that rose from the pit of her stomach after she read it.

"All good things must come to an end."

Next on The Substitute:

::A spotlight shines on the middle of the stage. Sailor Helios is tied to a wooden chair, blindfolded.::

Kagura: As you guys already know, Helio-chan here hasn't updated in quite a while. ::pokes Helios on the side of the head repeatedly with the tip of her fan.::

Sailor Helios: Ow! Stop--ow--doing that! Ow! Stop it, damn it! ::squirms in her seat:: I should have known that piece of chocolate cake was laced with sleeping potion!

Kagura: That's what you get for not updating pronto. ::turns to pale little girl on the corner:: Kanna, if you please.

::Kanna walks behind her and removes the blindfold. Sailor Helios blinks.::

Sailor Helios: Where am I? ::eyes bug out:: Am I in…

Kagura: ::rolls eyes:: No.

Sailor Helios: ::blinks again:: Er, why am I seeing dead people--er--youkai then?

::The scorpion lady, Yura, Hiten, Manten and the rest of the departed Inuyasha villains are currently huddled in a very BIG circle, playing what seemed to be strip poker. At the moment, Manten is removing his armor::

Sailor Helios: Wah! The horror! Somebody gouge my eyes out!

Kagura: ::gives off an evil laugh:: You'll be seeing more of that if you don't update soon. There are more villains where that came from.

::Sailor Helios' agonized screams echo in the background::

Kanna: ::in a monotonous voice:: While Kagura is torturing Helios-chan and scarring her for life, let me give you a preview of things to come. ::reads text appearing in her mirror:: Next on the Substitute: Second chances and sacrifices. Sometimes, loving someone means letting them go and letting them be happy. Will Inuyasha choose to remain human or will he finally embrace his true nature as a hanyou? What will Kikyo do now that she knows? And with the drama between Sango and Miroku, will they still have their happy ending? Tune in to the next chapter to find out. ::tugs Kagura's kimono:: Where did Sailor Helios go?

Kagura: ::notices empty chair:: Damn that slippery authoress! ::spots Manten waving his pants around the center of the youkai crowd, pops a vein and blows him to infinity using her fan:: Good riddance.