8 September 2003

A very heartfelt arigatou to Logan Kale to all his tireless help with getting me through my walls (literally) in writing this fic. Most of this story would have never been written without your cracking of the whip, biting of my shoulder, and constant growls in the background.

If ever a better inspiration of Inuyasha existed I haven't met him yet

Domo Arigatou!!!

Souto, Houshi, Bouzo - monk ---- Kami - God ---- Otouto - younger Brother ---- Aisai - beloved wife ---- Untenshi - mate ---- Onna - woman ---- Hanshu - General ---- Aniyome -Sister-in-Law ---- Osanago - little child ---- Hanyou - half demon ---- Youkai - demon ---- Iie - no ---- Oniisan, Nii-chan - older brother ---- Onesan - older sister ---- Hai - yes ---- Onegai - please ---- Demo - but ---- Gomen nasai - forgive me ---- Gomen ne - sorry ---- Sayonara - goodbye ---- Nani - what ---- Mou - sound accompanying a pout ---- Arigatou - thanks, thank you ---- Oi, Ooi - hey ---- Ne - right, hey ---- Ohayo - hello, hi ---- Matte - wait ---- Ihyou - surprise ---- Honto - really ---- Reijin - beautiful woman ---- Shan - beautiful ---- Koi - love ---- Koishii - beloved ---- Sugoi - amazing ---- Koibito - lover ---- Anchi - disliked person ---- Aishiteru - I love you ---- Baka - idiot ---- Ja-ku - jerk ---- Jinkouteki - unnatural ---- Ikeike - bitch ---- Kokuhyou - Hell ---- Kaibutsu - monsters ---- Shimatta - damn it ---- Seppuku - suicide ---- Chikushou - damn ---- Hentai - sexual, sex obsessed ---- Oushikuso - bullshit ---- Kuso - shit ---- Teishu - master ---- Kobushi - feudal warrior ---- Domo Arigatou - thank you very much ---- Dorei - slave ---- Hi-Nezumi - fire rat ---- Haori - formal coat ---- Hakama - formal shirt ---- Taiji - exterminator, extermination ---- Hiretsukan - bastard ---- Shatei - my younger brother ---- Tanechigai - half brother ---- Ojiisan, Jii-san, Jii-chan - grandfather ---- Odoufa - spell scroll ---- Obocchan - son ---- Otome - daughter ---- Otousan, Tou-san - father ---- Okaasan, Kaa-san – mother

Bond of Blood

Written by : The MOUSE

Co-written by : Logan Kale

With the long sleeves of his Hi-Nezumi haori billowing in the wind around him, Inuyasha stood on the highest of the shrine's roofs and stretched his arms out as far as his muscles would allow him, taking a deep breath of the cold winter evening air. He filled his lungs until he thought they would burst, exhaling loudly in satisfaction. It felt good to finally be able to get outside, even if he was under Miroku's watchful eye. The monk would no doubt scold him for going so high up on the shrine, but Inuyasha didn't care.

He needed air and he needed to get away from his keepers.

Miroku and Sango were far too careful of his movements. He didn't mind their attention towards Kagome, but Inuyasha was hanyou. His wounds had healed the day after Kagome had awakened. True, his scars were fresh and still sore, but at least he didn't have to worry about them opening up unless he had to fight a warrior or youkai.

Not much chance of that happening for a while, he reasoned.

With all the youkai the bugs killed before they killed themselves, it's almost going to be too quiet.

"Inuyasha!" a distant voice called to him.

Shimatta

The hanyou's arms dropped to his sides with an annoyed grunt.

Not quiet enough.

Far below, standing in the center of the ground to be certain to be seen from the top of the shrine, stood Miroku. Inuyasha was almost certain he could see the bouzo's frown of worry and annoyance even from so far away. The hanyou would get an earful for defying his suggestion not to exert himself, though it had sounded suspiciously more like an order. And climbing this high was hardly an exertion.

"Inuyasha! Come down from there!"

Inuyasha growled, glad Miroku couldn't hear him. He would not dignify yelling back like some petulant child to the mother hen he had become.

I finally got away from you, bouzo. What the fuck makes you think I'm in a hurry to get back?

"Don't think I'm coming up there to get you if you get stuck!"

Inuyasha smirked.

Good. And who the fuck said I was going to let myself get stuck? I don't get stuck.

"Get down from there!" the monk insisted.

Fuck off, I'm staying up here, he grinned proudly as he inhaled deeply once more.

Four walls surrounding him made him antsy.

"… Kagome…"

Inuyasha whirled around, his ears snapping forward to catch any small or distant sound. He had heard it, as clearly as if the speaker had been next to him. Someone had spoken his mate's name. He dashed to the other side of the roof and hopped down to the lower few levels, listening intently.

"… know why you want to go outside." he heard more distinctly.

Sango.

"I've been cooped up inside for too long, Sango. I need air."

His smile came unbidden.

Kagome.

He leapt down a few more levels until he was crouched on the last roof before the ground, over a door leading to a private yard. From that position he could hear the two women walking ever closer, their light steps shuffling against the wooden floor as the light of the lamp grew brighter.

"You should at least give yourself more time." he heard Sango protest. "That wound isn't healing as well as I know it should."

"It'll be alright, demo I really need to get some air. I've been breathing incense for far longer than I care for. It's making me lightheaded."

"You can sit on the steps out here, demo no more."

"Hai, hai, you don't want to stitch anything up again, I know. Kami, you'd think I was a paper doll or something."

Inuyasha smiled, smothering a chuckle. His mate was just as annoyed from all the attention their friends were giving them as he was. No one in their right mind enjoyed being fussed over constantly. It made them feel useless. He heard a rustle of thick fabric, and then a tiny pained whimper that was quickly followed by a sigh. His ears flattened back in sympathy. It was hard to hear her in so much pain when he could do nothing to alleviate it.

"So," began Sango. "… you never did tell houshi-sama or I about you and Inuyasha."

"Hai." There was an obvious smirk in her voice.

"Kagome…"

"Inuyasha answered you both already… sort of. Why is it you're so keen on knowing more?"

"Because his answer was cryptic. I will only tell you my news until I hear yours. And… and I just don't want to see you get hurt."

Annoyed at the taiji relentless questioning, Inuyasha leaned over the edge of the roof and growled at her.

"What the fuck makes you think I would willingly let her get hurt?"

Sango all but jumped in surprise at his sudden appearance while Kagome favoured the hanyou with a patient smile. She wasn't startled to find he had been listening in on the conversation. Kagome knew he was always nearby, whether he intended it or not. To her, it was the most comforting of thoughts knowing he was never really far away, always within earshot and, for him, an earshot was still quite a distance by any human standard.

She giggled lightly at the sight of Inuyasha hanging upside down over the edge of the roof. Despite his exasperated expression, the way his silver hair hung down in a long stream nearly to the ground made him look almost boyish.

How could one man be so impossibly adorable without even trying?

"Needed air too?" she questioned sweetly.

Inuyasha looked at her, noting the robes she kept wrapped around her form to block out the cold. Souto robes of gold and dull red. He nodded to himself in appreciation. Kagome could wear a burlap sack and still make it look like the finest of gowns by her brilliant presence alone.

His eyes twinkled at her, his expression softening.

"The bouzo's going to give me a holy beating when he catches up to me."

"As well he should." Sango admonished. "What are you doing up on the roof in your condition?"

"Don't you start too." he snarled.

Kagome shook her head in serene disbelief. "Sango, don't think we don't appreciate you and Miroku looking out for us after everything that happened, we know you mean well, demo…"

"Demo…?"

"Demo I'm about ready to go mad if you don't ease up already!" the hanyou answered quickly.

He froze abruptly and began sniffing the air, raising back into a crouch on the roof to look around. The look that crossed his face was one of both concern and rising anger. A new scent was approaching and approaching fast, but for the moment it was still too far away for him to get a clear read on the scent. For now, all he knew was it was someone he was familiar with.

He growled low.

He didn't like surprises like this.

Kagome saw the sudden change on his face before he pulled back out of sight. There was a kind of worry there, a look she recognized. He had sported that air before every single battle he had entered with her at his side. Kagome managed to get to her feet rather quickly and dashed into the snow, turning to see her koibito standing tall and defiant to whatever was coming.

Who or what did he smell?

"Your hanyou awareness remains as assuaged and pathetic as always, Inuyasha." a calm and smooth voice echoed behind her.

Kagome squeaked, whirling around to come face to face with the imposing Lord of the Western Lands.

"Se… Sesshaumaru…" she managed meekly.

The youkai looked at her in disdain for a brief second before frowning and gripping her chin, all in the blink of an eye.

"Get away from her, you hiretsukan!" Inuyasha roared, leaping down from the roof, prepared for a battle with his tanechigai.

Sesshaumaru didn't move from his contemplation of the Miko.

"Her scent has changed."

Inuyasha came to a skidding stop in the snow still at some distance from the pair, startled at the half-whispered comment. The elder youkai had smelled it too. Inuyasha hadn't been dreaming when he had noticed the new scent on his mate for the last two nights.

He heard Sango make a move behind him to help Kagome, but he held a hand up to her to stop her. He could feel her reluctance, but she trusted the hanyou enough to accept that he seemed to know what he was doing. The jangle of the rings on Miroku's staff reached his ears next and he repeated the restraining gesture to stop any action on the part of the monk.

"What do you smell?" Inuyasha questioned the older being.

"Much to my revulsion, you primarily. Demo there is something else there as well."

Kagome wanted to squirm under the gaze of the daunting youkai. The intensity of his gold eyes and the subtle strength of his fingers on her chin held her firmly in place. She had no idea what they were talking about.

What had changed about her scent?

Why were they so intrigued by this change?

Sesshaumaru's eyes widened marginally for the briefest second, as if momentarily taken off guard, then he made a sound akin to a grunted sigh.

"How pathetic. Even your mongrel brood will be closer to being true youkai then you, Inuyasha." and his hand dropped away suddenly.

Inuyasha blinked. "Na- nani?"

Any children Inuyasha would have with Kagome would be more youkai than hanyou?

Then, that would mean… Kuso!

"I was right." he breathed to himself.

He shook himself suddenly at a thought, seeing Kagome inch herself away from Sesshaumaru, casting an anxious glance at her koibito from over her shoulder. Inuyasha held out a beckoning arm to her and she all but ran to him, pressing close to his chest in relief to be away from the creature she had known as both ally and enemy.

"Why are you here?"

"Word reached my territories of a threat moving across the land. I came to stop it."

"Stop it?"

Inuyasha could barely contain his laughter. It was just so unbelievable the way the elder youkai stated it. Stop the wave of scorpion hanyou. Him, all by himself. No, laughable was just too soft, too inadequate a word to use to describe it.

"They would've made short work of you."

"I am not in the habit of fearing trash that worship hanyou. Perhaps this was an epic battle for the likes of you... but it would have been far beneath this Sesshaumaru."

Inuyasha's arm tightened on Kagome's waist.

"For your information, they took on bigger youkai than you and won. And we took care of those bugs easily! In fact, Kagome was the one who did in their queen."

"Indeed."

The hanyou frowned. It was time to end this conversation before the urge to rip out his throat got too strong.

"Was there anything else?"

Sesshaumaru paused for a moment, considering the pair.

Then, with his voice dropping to just above a bare whisper, "Is she aware of what to expect now that she is your life-mate?"

Kagome was mildly surprised he knew until she remembered what Inuyasha had told her several weeks ago. Youkai seemed to have an otherworldly sense when it came to their kind, no matter how thinned the blood became. They could tell who mated with who, when, where, and what species that mate was even if they were miles apart at the moment.

She felt a slightly twinge of fear deep within her.

That same sense had been what had enabled the youkai to find Inuyasha's Okaasan all those decades ago, insulted that one of the most powerful of their kind had mated with a human. That same youkai sense was what now made Kagome a target.

"He told me what could happen." she heard herself whisper in reply, feeling detached from her words.

"Her change may ensure they leave her be." Sesshaumaru mused softly. "If not, you must be prepared to defend her." he directed to Inuyasha.

"They won't touch her..." he growled, also keeping his voice low to have this conversation remain private.

"Hai. I suspect, at least, that you are not as epic a failure as a mate as you are a youkai."

He made a move to turn, then stopped.

"Despite my distaste of your existence, Inuyasha, I do understand your affections for these humans now."

"You? As if!"

But Kagome quickly tugged on Inuyasha's sleeve to stop any more insults on his part.

"Rin." she whispered to him.

The briefest of frowns touched Sessaumaru's features at the whisper between mates.

"Believe what you will. Merely know that if the time should ever arise, you will not be protecting her alone."

The half-breed gave him a strange look, skeptical of this offer.

"Why?"

"You are shatei and my tanechigai."

Inuyasha resisted the urge to blink in slight surprise. The silver-haired youkai had never once referred to him as anything so remote as a brother. Yet here he was calling him little brother and half brother.

"The right is mine alone to kill you at the time of my choosing." Sesshaumaru continued. "That time has not yet come."

"Keh. You're just all heart."

Sarcasm dripped from Inuyasha's words.

The barest of grins curled the corners of the youkai's lips.

"I know."

Then, in the mere blink of an eye, he was gone. With a heavy sigh, Kagome let her shoulders droop out of their tense bunching. She had been certain there was going to be more trouble, but wasn't about to complain now that she had been proven wrong. She braced a hand against her injured side to still the throbbing she felt from it.

"Just enough to put us on edge." she whispered, more to herself.

An angered rumble sounded in the hanyou's chest.

"Next time he shows up like that he won't be able to walk away so easily."

In an almost subconscious move she reached up and gently scratched him behind an ear in an effort to calm him. The move was second nature to her now, knowing how sensitive they were to touch. A soft scratch was often all it took to change his mood from stark raving mad to gentle puppy-ness.

True enough, the moment he felt her fingers brush the base of his ears, the angered rumble dipped a few octaves to a low purr, his eyes closing as he tilted his head down to her touch.

"Inuyasha?"

He half-grunted, half-purred.

"What did he mean about my scent having changed?"

He snorted derisively.

"Sure, ask me something like that when I'm enjoying myself here."

She smirked.

"It's the only way I know to have your undivided attention."

"Keh."

"Demo, what did he mean?"

He sighed gruffly.

"He meant it changed." was his simple reply.

"Changed how?"

"It's not…"

He paused and looked at her seriously.

"You don't smell human anymore."

"Nani?"

"Then I was not mistaken in what I have felt." Miroku voiced as he and Sango approached the pair.

The Miko's brows furrowed marginally. "You knew too?"

"Suspected, only. I was waiting to have more proof that this change was not merely a figment of my imagination or some magical trickery."

She blinked.

"Magic?"

She stomped a foot in the snow in growing frustration.

"Someone tell me what the hell is going on!" and she winced from the move, her hands flattening to her side in pain.

Inuyasha's hands covered her own in worry, a chiding growl rumbling in his throat as he moved in close to her side.

"Easy, Koi. I don't want you re-opening that wound."

"Then tell me what's going on."

"I wouldn't mind knowing what all this is about myself." Sango piped in, an eyebrow arching at the hanyou's pet name for the Miko.

Inuyasha went tense suddenly, looking up at the darkening sky as if he abruptly remembered something.

"In the morning."

Sango near pouted, once again thwarted in her attempts to get more on the pair's relationship.

"Why not now?"

He frowned at her sternly.

"In the morning." he repeated slowly, an air of finality to his tone.

"The encounter with Sesshaumaru has put you on edge, my friend?" Miroku thought to question.

"Iie, it's not that." and he cast another look at the sky.

Kagome gazed at his features for a long few seconds before a moment of clarity invaded her senses.

"Oh!" she exclaimed in realization.

They looked at her quizzically and she merely smiled in an enigmatic fashion.

"We tend to lose track of the time." was all she offered as an explanation.

Night hung heavy and quiet over the monastery, those within somehow finding a perverse comfort in knowing a powerful and potentially dangerous youkai was out in the surrounding wilds and protecting the shrine from other youkai. Although no one quite understood his reasons for doing such a thing, nearly all were confident enough to truly relax and sleep deeply if not for one night.

Even Inuyasha felt more at ease with that thought… sort of.

Although the larger part that decided Sesshaumaru was the fact that he kind of respected Kagome enough to want to help protect her, there was an ulterior reason for the Lord of the Western Lands to offer his protection at that moment and he knew it.

That reason: to have the pleasure of killing the hanyou with his own hands.

Sitting against the wall of the small room, Inuyasha sighed heavily, a hand going to the healing scars on his chest when they stretched painfully from the breath. He kept his eyes closed, his muted senses attuned to everything around him. He hated this time of month. Tonight, more than ever, he was vulnerable if his dear Oniisan decided tonight would be his last night alive. None of Inuyasha's senses worked right. It was as if someone blocked his nose and stuffed cotton into his ears. Not to mention that he was defenceless as well.

No claws.

No fangs.

Tetsusaiga wouldn't work.

He rubbed his scars absently.

I might as well be a cripple.

He wouldn't even be able to properly defend his Kagome if he had to. For one, if a youkai attacked he would easily be killed before the morning light could make him hanyou again. Second, he was still healing.

"Do they hurt?" a timid voice asked through the silence.

His eyes opened slowly, near black meeting slate blue amidst a play of shadows and lamp light. Kagome was lying on her stomach on her bedding, wrapped tightly in thick blankets and the robes she had been supplied in an effort to keep warm. She was staring at him intently with curiosity and worry.

"Nani?"

"Your scars. You're human now. Do they hurt?"

A tiny grin turned up the corner of his lip at the concern her saw on her face, and he shook his head in a negative.

"It's not so bad, Kagome." he murmured.

Relief flitted across her features before she simply paused and stared at him as if in wonder. Inuyasha blinked at her.

"Nani?"

She blinked out of her contemplation.

"Oh, gomen ne, Inuyasha. It… it's just…" She smirked. "After all the times I've seen this happen, I still can't get over how different you look."

He, too, smirked and tugged a lock of his now black hair.

"Nani, my being human is freaking you out?"

"Iie, not really. It's just… different."

"Different… Hai, I guess it is at that. Which do you like best?"

"Does it matter? Youkai, hanyou, human… you're still Inuyasha. It's who you are that I love, not what you are."

He looked at the floor with a shy smile. With words alone, she could often turn his insides to cotton. Inuyasha had long ago learned to fight it, but Kagome had somehow managed to make him forget how to stop a blush before it showed. At the sound of shifting fabric he looked up to see Kagome kneeling up and then move towards him. Before he could protest her moving with her injuries she settled herself in his lap, her head nestled under his chin and her arms around his chest. Inuyasha froze for a second before wrapping her in his arms, smiling down at her warmly.

"What's this for?" he questioned softly.

"You were too far away." she murmured, closing her eyes contentedly.

A small chuckle sounded in his throat.

"I was just across the room from you."

"Still too far."

He nuzzled her hair in amusement before they both settled into a comfortable silence.

Then, "Kagome?"

"Mm?"

"You never did tell me why you stayed away for so long and why you came back to me."

She considered his words for a heartbeat.

"Mama wouldn't let me."

"Why?"

"When I got home way back when she saw all the cuts and bruises I got from that last battle. I guess she got scared. I guess she didn't want to risk letting me come back and get hurt again or worse."

He growled as best he could as a human, his arms tightening around her.

"Doesn't she know I would never let anything get close enough to hurt you that way if I could help it?"

"Hai, I think she does, demo I also think she didn't want to risk even a fluke happening. Okaasans are like that, they're always terrified for their children. Some more than others. I hear Otousans can be the same too."

"Not that I'm complaining or anything, demo what made you come back?"

"It hurt too much being away."

"Hurt?"

"I was missing everyone here, you most of all, too much to continue staying away."

Her arms tightened around him.

"I needed to be with you again."

He could only stare at her in complete awe for the longest moment before crushing her close, cuddling her to his heart in comfort and adoration. It had been a secret fear of his, that she had forgotten about him with the time spent in her world. He had been afraid that she had sought out that weakling, Hojo, to assuage her pain and loneliness.

But she hadn't.

Kagome had stayed faithful, if not subconsciously. Part of him had known her heart belonged to him. Now he was absolutely certain.

Fate and Kami had made her just for him.

He swallowed hard.

"I needed you too." he whispered in her hair.

Her arms tightened some more, painful against his still healing injuries, but he didn't care about the pain too much so long as he had his Kagome in his arms.

He sighed a smile.

His Kagome.

He must have pleased some god or goddess out there somewhere to have been granted that immense blessing.

Then, "Speaking of changes…"

"Nani?"

"Did you notice a difference in Miroku and Sango?"

"Difference? Like what?"

"How much closer they seem now, how his hand doesn't seem to wander as much anymore…"

She frowned a bit and nodded.

"Now that you mention it. Why do you ask?"

"Because I smelled something different on them also. His scent is all over her, just like hers is all over him."

She chuckled lightly.

"About time."

He, too, chuckled.

"Agreed."

"I bet that's the news Sango has been dying to tell me all this time. Demo her condition is we tell her what's changed between us before she tells us anything."

He groaned.

"I sense a long conversation when that time comes. I'm just surprised they agreed to leave us alone tonight."

Inuyasha looked down in time to see her stifle a yawn behind her hand. He cuddled her closer carefully.

"If you're tired you should go to sleep."

She rubbed her cheek to his heart.

"Can't sleep anymore when you're not there."

"Oh?" and he arched an inquisitive eyebrow.

Her eyes disappeared behind her hair as she lowered her head a bit in embarrassment. But he would not let the subject just die there, crooking a finger under her chin to force her to look up at him.

"Why can't you sleep when I'm not there?"

"I… I just can't."

"Kagome…"

"I…"

He chuckled softly at the feel of her whole body warming from a deep blush.

"Mou… I… I miss… I miss feeling your teeth." she finally blurted, her hand unconsciously going to the mark she sported on her shoulder, the mark he had given her.

"Ah."

His chuckle grew a little louder as he gently nuzzled a spot behind her ear.

"You miss this." and he lightly nipped at the same spot.

Kagome couldn't hold back her gasp even if she had wanted to, a wholly pleasant shiver racing through her body. This merely caused his laughter to grow. Recovering, she frowned at him and lightly slapped his chest.

"Mou, don't laugh at me."

"Wouldn't dream of it, Koi." yet laughter was still present in his voice.

She sighed abruptly.

"Are you ever going to tell me what Sesshaumaru meant earlier, about my scent having changed?"

He too sighed, his expression falling at the change in mood. He had been hoping for a relatively quiet night with his mate, their first night alone together as a bonded pair during his monthly change. Truth be known, he had almost been looking forward to it to be able to experiment a little.

But she had a right to know something that so obviously affected and involved her.

"I should tell you first, before we get cornered by the happy new couple."

Inuyasha paused in consideration of his words.

"That bug queen… What did you call her?"

"Akuma."

"Hai, Akuma… I think she did something to you when you fell into the well."

"Did something?"

"Hai... some spell or something. She changed you. You smell sort of like a hanyou now."

She blinked and pulled back to stare at him.

"Nani? I… I smell like a hanyou?"

Inuyasha merely nodded. He had to chuckle when she stared at her hands and arms as if she could see this change. She blinked at him in confusion, making her look so painfully adorable that he smiled easily.

"You can't see a scent, Kagome." he told her matter-of-factly, lightly tapping her nose.

"Mou, demo what did she do to me?"

He could only shrug.

Kagome steepled her fingers before her in deep thought. The answer was buried in her fuzzy memories of after she fell into the well with Akuma. It had to be there. The hanyou had told her something, or had tried to tell her something. Her eyes shut tight.

Perhaps if she dug deep enough in her memories…

Time and destiny will not tear apart those two souls which I have ultimately chosen to favour.

Her eyes flew open with a gasp, startling Inuyasha.

"Nani? What's wrong?" he demanded.

Kagome's eyes were wide as her hand went to cover her own mouth.

"Oh, dear Kami, she didn't!"

"Nani? She didn't what? What did she do? Dammit, Kagome!"

He gripped her arms to force her to look at him.

"What did Akuma do to you?"

"Time and destiny will not tear apart those two souls which I have ultimately chosen to favour." she murmured.

"Nani?"

"It's what she told me… when we were in the well. I think…"

She looked at her hands for a brief moment, a slow smile appearing on her lips as the implications sunk in. Kagome couldn't stop the giggle that bubbled forth, her hands covering her mouth in an attempt to sober herself.

Never alone…

Inuyasha gave her a strange look.

"Kagome?"

"She gave me a gift." she abruptly blurted with a bright grin.

He blinked rapidly, a flash of understanding firing off in his mind.

"You're…"

She giggled at his confusion.

He slowly shook his head, still not quite understanding or believing what she was implying.

His Kagome…

Dear, sweet, beautiful Kagome was now…?

By what miracle…

"Demo… why?" was all he could say.

"She was hanyou too, Inuyasha. She knew how long you would live, that you would outlive me. She knew how much it would hurt to be alone because she lived her entire life alone. I think she didn't want you to feel what she felt."

She caressed his cheek tenderly.

"I know I didn't want you to be alone and I think, somehow, she knew that."

Again he blinked quickly, his mind beginning to fathom what this meant.

"So she did this…"

Kagome nodded.

"Absolution."

A small grin was fighting hard with his shock to spread across his face.

"And now you'll live…" he stated carefully, more to himself.

She smothered a giggle.

A strange look passed over his face for a fleeting second, too quickly for her to determine the emotion behind it. She barely heard the soft growl before she was flattened to her back with Inuyasha looming above her. Unfortunately, she was caught so off-guard by his lunge that she didn't have the time to brace herself, her head smacking hard to the bamboo floors with a loud thwack.

"Ow!" she groaned, cradling the new bump, unable to stop herself from laughing nonetheless.

Genuine remorse covered his face for a moment, his hands braced on her either side, then confusion replaced the look. He was wondering what was so funny to her at that moment to be laughing. Kagome saw his puzzlement and managed to regain her breath enough to speak.

"Relief. It's relief." she panted between fits.

"Relief for what?"

She sobered enough to touch his cheek.

"For knowing that you won't be alone…"

He blinked, then smiled in understanding.

"Oh. Gomen ne about your head."

"It's nothing."

"Honto?"

"Hai."

A wide grin plastered itself across his face.

"Good! Now where was I?" and he buried his face into the crook of her neck with an almost feral growl.

Kagome stifled her shriek as best she good, letting out a squeak of surprise anyway as she began laughing breathlessly, her skin warming from the insistent nips and licks he was tracing along the arch of her neck. She gripped his sleeves and tugged him closer to herself when his hands began tracing her curves through her clothing. A throaty chuckle escaped her lips.

"If this is how you react to this news I wonder how you'll react when I tell you I'm expecting."

He froze above her, pulling back to stare down at her in shock. She bit her lip and favoured him with a patient and apologetic smile.

"Iie, not yet."

Disappointment flitted across his features before being replaced by a purely roguish grin, his hands tugging at the ties of her robes.

"I like that word." he purred.

Her hands returned the favour, tugging loose the many folds of his haori and hakama.

"What word?"

"Yet."

Time seemed to stop, drawing out the moment of release for what seemed an eternity before finally releasing the lovers to enjoy the aftershocks of the experience. They panted hard, desperate for air, hands caressing moist skin and threading through damp hair lovingly.

Inuyasha suddenly sighed heavily.

"Shimatta…" he breathed.

Kagome blinked, then turned her head slightly to look at him.

"Nani?"

He gave her a coy smirk.

"My human form has absolutely no stamina to start that over again."

She blinked repeatedly for a moment, then chuckled warmly.

"You can make it up to yourself in the morning."

The semblance of a purr rumbled in his chest, his arms wrapping comfortably around her lithe form, his cheek rubbing to hers tenderly.

"You just might regret that, Aisai."

He could hear the smile in her voice.

"Never. Aishiteru."

Inuyasha's arms tightened and he stared at the ceiling somberly. Part of him desperately wanted to return the voiced affection, to shout it from rooftop and treetop for the whole world to hear. He wanted his mate to know just how deeply he cared for her, to tell her everything she made him feel in his heart and soul. He knew she needed to hear it. From what he had heard in the village and from conversations about the fairer sex with Miroku, human females needed to know how their mates felt. They needed to hear them return their affection from time to time.

But showing and voicing feelings was all new.

Too new.

He felt more than saw her drift off into a much contented sleep. Being careful not to wake her up he shifted to be able to stand, rather awkwardly as he tried to keep Kagome pressed to his chest. Silent as only he could be he slipped under the covers of their shared bedding, lying so the dozing Miko was on top of him still. Inuyasha let his hand toy in her hair in a tender caress, lost in his own thoughts. He abruptly set his jaw as the decision came to him.

He would tell her what she meant to him.

He just had to figure out how.

With the sun high in the sky, the winter's cold had let up for the moment in favour of a Spring-like warmth. Ice and snow melted from the shrine roofs, filling the air with the gentle drip and trickle of water falling to snow or exposed ground below. Contemplative of all these calm sights and sounds, Miroku walked along one of the shrine's many walkways, smiling every so often at the miracles of Kami upon the earth. He stopped at a spot near one of the numerous frozen reflecting pools and merely stood there, still, quiet, introspective.

Moments of peace such as this were always welcome to the warrior monk. He had spent too many years battling youkai and misguided armies. Respites were an accepted change of pace.

I know Sango and Kagome are enjoying this peace, he mused silently.

A frown marred his features.

Now why can't Inuyasha just sit still for more than a breath?

He sighed to himself and continued on his way to the pavilion the shrine monks had given to the quartet for their stay. As he drew nearer he could hear the familiar sounds of Sango going through her daily katas, honing her skills as a youkai exterminator. Her sense of duty to her long dead clan was admirable and Miroku had long ago vowed to respect it no matter what.

He turned the corner in time to see Sango's weapon make short work of several wooden pillars before return docilely, yet powerfully, to her hand. Sitting on the short steps leading up to the pavilion, Kirara sitting up in her lap rather proudly, Kagome clapped in awe.

The hanyou was nowhere in sight.

Miroku sighed again in slight frustration. Following the half-demon around to keep him from re-opening his wounds was almost futile seeing as he had the uncanny ability to completely disappear from sight within the blink of an eye. Keeping his outwardly appearance calm and composed, the monk made his way slowly to Kagome's side. He stood there a moment, certain she had noticed his presence, and watched Sango launch her weapon at another set of wooden pillars.

"Inuyasha is not here?" he questioned absently.

Kagome's eyes never left the practicing exterminator.

"Iie, he went hunting this morning. He should be back soon."

Miroku's eyes widened in concern.

"Hunting? In his condition?"

"Hai. The food here is good and all, but sometimes you need something a little… heartier."

"He'll re-open his injuries. No doubt he is too far away for us to get to him in time if that does happen, or if he gets himself in trouble."

Kagome smiled gently, almost whimsically.

"He's not far."

"He told you where he was going?"

"Iie."

"Then how do you know how far he is?"

"Because I'm never far away." Inuyasha abruptly voiced from behind him.

Had it not been for his years of tireless training in self-control, the young monk truly believed he would have jumped out of his skin in surprise. Standing there in a purely arrogant pose was the hanyou in question.

Miroku frowned at him in chiding.

"If you disappear like that again I will simply have to seal you away in a room until I am satisfied you are completely healed. I swear, you are like a child sometimes."

"Keh, you get locked away and see how you like it." and he absently licked at his claws.

"I trust you had a good hunt, though."

"Iie. The bugs scared away most of the good prey. Barely any large enough critters left around here to pick your teeth with."

Kagome offered him a sympathetic smile.

"The hunting was better back home, ne?"

"Hai. At least there I had a choice of something bigger than a mouse."

Sango approached them at that moment, a confused expression on her features, Kirara leaping into her arms with effortless ease.

"You said home, Kagome. You mean your time?"

"Iie." Inuyasha answered for her. "She means the castle we've all been living in these last few weeks."

The monk nodded to himself silently in a decision.

"I believe now as is as good a time as any to discuss all the changes that have occurred since Kagome's return."

Inuyasha groaned. There was the long conversation he was dreading to have. He couldn't understand why everyone had to know everything at every moment of the day. It wasn't enough that they saw it happen or saw a person, they had to get every last detail until there was nothing left to know.

Humans! he self-growled in annoyance.

A small hand slipped into his. Kagome gave it a gentle tug to have him sit near her, having felt his reluctance to speak about new developments. He held the past bottled up so tightly, afraid to let it out in case someone found a way to use it against him.

She knew him so well.

He hated to appear weak, to even be weak.

Inuyasha crouched close behind his mate, his chest to her back, growling softly at what would soon be said. She knew his growl and glare would last the entire conversation unless she did something.

Kagome smirked and reached up to gently scratch one of his ears. It had the desired calming effect, his chin dropping to her shoulder, his eyes closing as he purred his contentment. She continued toying with his ear, placing a tender kiss on his temple. His lip curled in an attempt at a snarl, but he failed miserably, enjoying himself far too much to make a case out of her tiny show of affection.

Sango chuckled lightly.

"You have him wrapped around your little finger."

Inuyasha wuffed in an attempt to shut her up, again failing.

"So I take this to mean that, earlier, when you said you were closer, you actually meant you were openly affectionate now, ne? Um… aside from not being concerned about being nude in each other's presence."

"Closer." the hanyou muttered, his arms snaking around the Miko's waist.

Miroku and Sango gave their friends a puzzled look, to which Kagome giggled as she continued to toy with the hanyou's sensitive ears. The monk managed to blink out of his confusion to stare at the young Miko questioningly.

"Kagome…?"

She smiled enigmatically at him and settled herself back comfortably against Inuyasha who cuddled her warmly, titling his head into her touch to allow her to continue lavishing attention to his ears. Miroku straightened as realization began to sink in, his jaw dropping just enough to show his surprise in the matter.

"Well…?" Sango prompted impatiently, not having noticed the monk's expression.

Kagome's smile became almost timid.

"I'm Inuyasha's mate." she voiced softly, a hint of loving adoration sneaking into her tone.

Sango felt as if her jaw had hit the floor. The words played over and over in her mind as she attempted to fully understand what it was Kagome had just said, what those words truly implied. Suddenly, those three simple words explained everything, from their open affection to the matching marks both of them sported. Sango berated herself for not having figured it out before.

The shock remained written plainly on her face.

Cracking open an eye at the abrupt silence, Inuyasha noticed the looks his friends were giving them. He grunted, reluctantly pulling his ears away from his mate's touch to raise his head, offering a fixed stare at both Sango and Miroku before cracking a coy smirk.

"Don't look so shocked, we just followed your example."

Sango gasped a deep blush as Miroku hunched in on himself shyly, also blushing. Hoping to cool the burning in her cheeks, the youkai exterminator covered them with her hands.

"You… you knew…?" she asked meekly.

Inuyasha snorted.

"You smell like each other. Doesn't take a genius to figure out what that means."

If it was possible Sango's blush deepened as Miroku blinked in stunned silence, recovering slightly to clear his throat in embarrassment. Both had forgotten about the hanyou's well-developed sense of smell. After having spent so many years with him they had gotten so used to him just knowing about people and their activities.

Kagome giggled at them.

"I can only say it's about time you two finally got together."

Miroku's expression became placid, if not sly, his posture taking on a classic meditating Buddha pose.

"The same could be said about you both. We almost believed you would pine away for each from afar for the rest of your natural lives."

"Keh, from the horse's mouth…"

He frowned unexpectedly, releasing his hold on Kagome to close the distance between himself and the taiji. Sango leaned away from him, as confused as her friends about the hanyou's reason to begin sniffing at her. Inuyasha blinked and sat back on his haunches.

"Does he know yet?" he asked her, motioning to Miroku with his chin.

Sango bit her lip nervously, to which Inuyasha grunted and returned to his place at Kagome's side.

"Guess not."

"Inuyasha?" Kagome queried softly. "What is it?"

He cast a quick glance to Sango for confirmation that voicing the secret he had discovered was alright with her. She merely nodded, urging him to go ahead.

"You know that line the bouzo used on women? The one about bearing his child?"

"Hai."

He grinned. "He won't have to use it again for a while."

"Nani-"

Kagome's mouth dropped open, her head snapping around to gape at Sango. She squealed and launched herself at her long-time friend, hugging her tight in happiness.

Miroku merely sat there, dumbfounded, his head spinning.

"I'm…?" but he couldn't finish his question to the hanyou, a goofy grin plastering across his face.

Inuyasha felt like laughing at him. For once, the usually composed and wordy monk was reduced to nothing more than a simpering idiot who couldn't babble more than two coherent words together.

"Otou-ou-ou-san." he jabbed verbally.

Miroku didn't seem to notice the tease, turning to Sango who was laughing in giddy joy with the young Miko. She blushed at the shining wonder in his eyes. Sango had hoped Miroku wouldn't be angry with her for having withheld this news for so long. She was annoyed with herself for her lack of trust in his love for her. He had once told her that it was near impossible for him to ever be mad at her.

"You're not showing yet, which means this will be a summer birth, ne?" Kagome bubbled. "I'm so happy for you, Sango."

She beamed proudly, then smirked tauntingly at the girl she considered a member of her family.

"Can we expect a playmate for our child from the two of you?"

A light blush touched the Miko's cheeks as she smiled shyly at Inuyasha. He returned her grin in arrogant confidence, causing her blush to deepen. The hanyou chuckled with pride.

"I don't think our having pups will be too much of a wait." he assured almost lazily.

"Inuyasha!" Kagome hissed in shock.

He failed to suppress his chuckle, gazing at her both fondly and confidently. She pouted against her own rising laughter, playfully swiping at his leg.

"Hentai." she accused.

"Keh. I have five years to make up for, woman."

"You don't have to make up for it all at once, you know. We actually have plenty of time ahead of us to plan for children." she told her friends as she turned away from her mate.

"Ah, so we are having more that one pup?" Inuyasha continued, his smile broadening coyly.

Kagome wrinkled her nose at him. "At your rate, we'll have enough children to take over the country."

He smirked. "Maybe in fifty or so years."

Miroku shook his head. "Kagome will be much too old then to bear more children, Inuyasha."

Kagome hunched her shoulders. "Um, actually…"

The monk stared at her for the longest time as if he were sizing her up while Sango blinked in confusion.

"This has something to do with the change in your scent, ne?" the taiji finally found the courage to ask over the silence.

The Miko merely nodded.

"What did Inuyasha and Sesshaumaru smell?"

Kagome tugged at the sleeve of her robe nervously, considering how she was going to break this news to her friends.

Inuyasha sat by silently, understanding that she needed to tell them what happened. Besides, she was better at explaining things than he was. They stood a better chance of understanding why things were now as they were if she calmly and carefully explained everything as only she could.

The young Miko swallowed hard. "What… what changed in my scent is… is that I'm… not completely human… anymore." and she looked up at her friends slowly, meekly.

Sango blinked quickly in an attempt to recover from her shock.

"Not… human…?"

Higurashi Kagome sighed blissfully as she settled herself comfortably on the mattress, arms stretched out at her sides. It had taken nearly a day in the thick snow to trek back to the castle from the shrine. Probably it would have taken less time had Miroku and Sango not insisted on taking an ox-drawn cart along for the journey. Their reasoning had been that if either she or Inuyasha got too tired from walking with injuries, they could just hop on the cart. The hanyou had scoffed at the idea that his wounds bothered him, but he had agreed to the cart merely for Kagome's sake.

The trip had been uneventful. The four had spoken of trivial things, of the past, and of things they hoped would come in the future. But most of the time was filled with a companionable silence.

Kagome had found it heartwarming how easily they had all dropped back into their friendships as if no time at all had passed.

Kagome was shocked when she saw the castle. No trace remained of the scorpion hanyou, something Kaede had explained. The wolf youkai had refused to let their festering bodies stay where they lay, dragging them well beyond the castle walls and burying them in a deep mass grave.

The welcome they had received at the castle was beyond anything she had imagined. All the villagers had turned out to greet the returning travelers, pleased beyond belief that Kagome and Inuyasha were still alive after so long. Even Kouga seemed relieved to see the dog hanyou. The celebrations had lasted well into the night, everyone thrilled beyond compare that peace had once again returned to the land.

"If you continue to think so much you'll get all wrinkly." a voice teased gently from nearby.

She opened her eyes to find Inuyasha peering down at her from above her head. Kagome smiled at him, reaching up slightly to toy with a lock of his hair.

"I won't have to worry about wrinkles for a good long time, remember?"

He chuckled, kissing her brow, then sitting to have his back against the bed's headboard.

"Hai, hai, I remember. Good thoughts, though?"

"Of course. I also realize we have a few decisions to make… well… maybe four at most."

"Nani? What decisions?"

"Now that the scorpion hanyou are all gone, where are we going to live? I heard the villagers talking about going back to Musashi and rebuilding the village."

"Mm, they can do that."

"And us?"

He cocked his head to one side. "Can't we stay here?"

A slow smile appeared on her lips as she warmed to the suggestion. "Hai, I guess we could. I have absolutely nothing against living in a castle… so long as you don't expect me to clean the place."

"Now why would I ask you to do a thing like that?" he chuckled.

"You warmed up to this place after all, ne, Inuyasha?"

He shrugged absently, looking around the room. All the decades he had spent avoiding his childhood home because of the memories he had of his Jii-san, a man he had always believed had hated him and his Okaasan. Kagome had dispelled those thoughts, proved to him that the old daimyo had not been the evil man he had thought him to be. Her warmth and bright spirit had filled every dark space the castle may have held.

He sighed a small smile.

"You were right, Kagome."

"Nani?"

"You said we would chase away all the old ghosts from this place, that we would fill this place with happy memories. You were right."

Kagome moved closer to him and lightly warmed his lips with her own.

"This is our home now." she whispered softly. "A home should always be a happy place."

The barest of smirks curled his lips.

Then, "You said we had four decisions to make. What are the other three?"

She near giggled softly, a light blush touching her cheeks. He blinked, curious as to the reason for the color to rise to her cheeks.

"Nani?" he probed.

She bit her lip, bolstering her resolve.

"How soon do you want to have children, how many to start, and do you want an Obocchan or an Otome first?" she stated quickly, a bright smile plastered on her face.

He blinked once.

Twice.

A chuckle began to shake his frame.

The chuckle became a laugh.

He sighed contently when he had reigned in his laughter.

"My Aisai." and he tenderly nuzzled her cheek.

"Aishiteru." he breathed.

Kagome's breath locked in her throat in surprise. Happy tears sprung to her eyes and she valiantly fought against them to keep them from spilling down her cheeks. She embraced him tight, her lips meshed to his as her heart soared.

Who knew that one word could make even the darkest night seem like midday?

He left her lips to gently nuzzle the base of her jaw, dipping lower to trace the arch of her neck to his mark on her shoulder. Inuyasha smiled when he felt her tremble slightly as he nipped the permanent scar. Someday soon he would have a family, a real family that didn't care if they were human, half-breed, or full youkai.

Life was good.

"Aisai…" he purred against her skin.

Kagome smirked, nuzzling his ear.

"Is that your new pet name for me?"

"Until the day I die." he husked, then smirked. "Aisai."

She giggled lightly. "You are just too sweet sometimes."

"Keh, repeat that to anyone and I'll deny it."

"I wouldn't expect anything less."

Kaede would forever remember the last few days spent at the castle as bittersweet ones.

Sweet because both Inuyasha and Kagome had returned alive and safe, if not just a little injured and accompanied by the youkai exterminator and the young Buddhist monk. It was such a heartwarming sight to see the once brash hanyou being so tender and attentive to the strange girl from the future. Despite his own still healing injuries he made it a point to see that her every whim was attended to, whether she voiced them or not.

Bitter because the pair would not be joining the villagers on their return to Musashi Country. It seemed that during the small group's journey to Inuyasha's childhood home, the four had decided that the castle was as good as any place to live out the rest of their days and it was large enough to raise both of their families. She would never voice it, but Kaede would miss the four terribly. Kagome had no doubt sensed this, despite the old woman's attempts to hide it, and promised to visit the new village they would build as often as possible.

Kouga had been a surprise on the day the villagers prepared to leave.

He had boldly strode up to Inuyasha and Kagome and made a vow to them both that he would have his pack patrol the area surrounding the new village, to protect it from future attacks. The hanyou had been too shocked by the wolf youkai's offer to come up with a response, though Kagome's bright smile of gratitude had seemed to be more than enough thanks for Kouga.

"You are sure you four will be alright here?" Kaede asked yet again of her friends.

Inuyasha snorted. "Keh, that's the fifth time you've asked that this morning, Baba."

"I cannot help but worry."

"We'll be fine." Kagome assured patiently. "Besides, if we have any trouble, the village is only a few hanyou hops away."

The old Miko had to chuckle at that.

"Miroku will use some of his odoufa to keep unwanted youkai out." Kagome continued. "And Inuyasha has Tetsusaiga if anything makes it by those spells. I can't see how any youkai can get to us with those kinds of defences. Also, the villagers for miles around think this place is cursed, so I doubt very much anyone will try to come here and cause trouble."

Kaede gave her a strange look as she shifted her pack on her shoulder.

"You are merely saying all these things to alleviate my fears for you."

"Maybe." she grinned.

She smiled. "You are a good child, Kagome. Once you are all properly re-settled here you simply must come for a visit. I wish to see your child when he or she is born, Sango-sama!" she called over her shoulder to the taiji.

Sango blushed in the middle of loading some bags onto a departing cart. She then smiled at the aged Miko, bowed quickly, then raced off to help another cartload of travelers. Calling over one of the village boys to lean on for support as she walked, Kaede bid her farewells to the couple before her and then set out of the snow covered road leading back to her birth land.

Cresting a hill, the boy looked back over his shoulder and set his jaw.

"I'm going to honour them." he voiced.

"Nani? What are you talking about, Chiisai?"

"Kagome-sama and Inuyasha-sama. They saved us, demo no one ever gives them more than an arigatou."

"Hai, that is true."

"Well, I'm going to make sure everyone remembers what they did for us."

"Honto ne? How?"

"I'm going to build a shrine in their honour."

"A shrine? A mighty undertaking, Chiisai."

"Maybe, demo it'll be worth it. I'll build it around the Hone Kui no Ido. Someday I'll make it big enough so that the Go-Shin-Boku will be in it too."

"Gracious, child, it will take you years to build it, even with the help of the villagers."

He almost looked defeated at this.

"Demo, they will help me, ne?" he questioned with some trepidation.

She smirked. "Of course. I will see to it."

He smiled brightly. "Arigatou, Kaede-sama!"

"Tell me, now. Have you thought of a name for this mighty shrine?"

"Hai… um… Did Kagome-sama ever tell you her full name?"

"Hai."

"Onegai, what is it?"

"Higurashi Kagome."

"Higurashi… Hai… I'll call the shrine Higurashi in her honor. I'll preserve the entire glade where they met, Kagome-sama and Inuyasha-sama."

Kaede chuckled lightly. "I am sure they will simply love the idea, Chiisai."

"Honto ne?"

"Hai, I'm almost certain of it."

In the company of good friends and deeply cherished ones, time can fly by so fast one often feels that if they blink they could miss entire seasons.

That was how Inuyasha felt with his mate and friends within the walls of his new home. One moment they had all been in the grips of a deep and frigid winter, the next moment the snow had melted away to reveal flowers and grasses anxious to reach for the Sun. That early thaw had given him the perfect excuse to begin repairing the castle's outer battlements. The scorpion beasts had done a lot of damage to the walls, leaving many areas open for future attacks.

And there was no way he was going to leave himself or his mate open to any more attacks. Once was more than enough.

Repairing all the damage had taken a lot longer than the hanyou had expected though. What he had hoped would last only a few days had turned into a full-blown project spanning a few months. Both he and Miroku had fashioned makeshift cranes to help them lift some of the heavier stones back into place. Some were far too heavy for even the powerful hanyou to lift. And the encroaching summer's heat made the work gruelling, easily tiring the pair long before they normally would. But Inuyasha would not be stopped from ensuring his mate's safety. She was his world, his one weakness, and he wouldn't let anyone near enough hurt her in any way.

Thankfully, this was the last wall to repair.

Winding the rope around his forearm, the hanyou pulled with all his might to lift the largest of the stones to the right level. Standing on the edge of the breach, Miroku guided the stone into place, carefully nudging it over to have it fall snugly into the spot they had prepared for it. Feeling the rope finally grow slack in his hands, Inuyasha let himself relax, straightening and wiping away a thin film of sweat that had formed on his brow with the back of his hand.

A few more smaller stones and it would all be done.

"I'd call you Bob Villa, demo the reference would be lost on you." Kagome quipped as she approached her hanyou koibito.

"Keh. Bet whoever he is couldn't do half as good a job as us."

"Especially since his forte is more houses than castles. How does it look?" and she handed him a bamboo canteen filled with water.

He took a long drink before answering.

"I figure maybe two more days and that's it. It'd take an army of dragons to knock it down again."

She nodded a pleased smile, watching him easily toss the canteen up to Miroku.

"Just in time to make sure Sango's baby will be born safe." she voiced.

He snorted.

"I'm doing this for you and our pups more than for Sango and the bouzo."

"Honto?"

"Hai! No human or youkai, dead or alive, is going to harm one hair on any of you. Not if I can help it."

"You know, you can be really over-protective sometimes, demo I wouldn't change that for the world."

"Keh, part of my charm." he smirked arrogantly.

This won a light giggle from Kagome. Then, "By the way, I have some interesting news for you."

Inuyasha blinked.

"News?"

For the life of him he couldn't figure out what she might have to say. After all, she spent every waking moment either in Sango's company or with him, and she slept at his side every night. There wasn't much happening within the castle that he didn't know about.

Kagome saw the confused frown forming on his face and giggled with some trepidation.

How would he react?

Still unsure, she reached over and closed slender fingers around his wrist. He let her guide his hands as he watched her carefully, still trying to determine what her news could be. It was still a mystery…

… until she laid his hand flat to her abdomen.

He blinked once.

Twice.

Three times as he felt the bottom slip out from his stomach.

Inuyasha could only stare at her stomach beneath his hand for the longest moment. When he finally met her eyes he saw nervousness, joy, and apprehension all swirling within the slate of her eyes.

"You're…?" he heard himself say, oddly detached from his words.

She nodded, her bottom lip becoming wedged between her teeth. She nearly missed the ecstatic smile that plastered itself to his face so much he moved so fast to wrap her in his arms for a crushing embrace. But there was no missing the giddy laugh that shook his frame. Her tension melted away at that and from his gentle nuzzling of her throat. She had been so afraid of his reaction, not sure how youkai or hanyou usually reacted to news about their first child. Part of her was terrified that his feral side would reject her; that it was too soon.

I can be such a baka sometimes, she self berated.

He pulled back to see her face.

"How long…?"

"I suspected… demo I'm absolutely sure now. Three months."

Inuyasha laid a hand to her stomach in awe and wonder.

"Three months…" Then, staring at her in pure adoration, "Kagome…"

A bright smile illuminated her face and she giggled.

"You're going to be an Otousan."

Surprising everyone within earshot, the hanyou howled his elation to the sky, scooping up his mate to twirl around with her in his arms.

Definitely, life was good.

Looking up from his work tending to a small patch of bamboo, an old Shinto monk noticed a weary group of travelers just entering the enceinte of the shrine, looking around in wonder and thinly veiled awe. He smiled in wry amusement. It always amazed him how awestruck people got when they saw his shrine rising up from the lush green glade, nestled amidst a dense forest. He straightened from his task with a groan, muttering how the many decades had not been kind to him as he would have liked.

"Demo, I'm not complaining, Kami-sama." he continued to mutter as he hobbled towards the travelers. "Iie, I would never do that. I merely wished your load had been a little lighter on these old bones."

He paused to straighten, his back cracking loudly from the move, and then he approached the travelers.

"Welcome to our humble shrine, noble travelers." he greeted merrily. "I am Somatsu, the shrine elder. From whence to you hail?"

"From the South." one of the younger strangers replied. "Our Lords sent us this way to scout out possible sites for a vast city they wish to build."

"A vast city, ne? Your Lords sound as ambitious as Chiisai-sama had been all those years ago."

"Chiisai-sama?"

"The builder of this shrine. He was but a boy when he began his task. Those of the villages nearby join in soon after when they learned of his reasons. Demo, this is a story for later. Come. You are wary. Come rest in one of the guest pavilions."

"Arigatou, Somatsu-sama."

The aging monk led the group of a dozen or so towards the quaint pavilions and spent most of the early afternoon helping them settle to rest. Through what scant information these men were willing to give, Somatsu learned that this group's Lords lived in the most southern tip of the country, a land of stifling hot summer seasons and generously mild winters. These Lords had recently agreed to a tentative peace if a suitable neutral ground could be found where a great city would be built. It seemed the Emperor had granted the title of Shogun to one of his warriors, Tokugawa Ieyasu, for a victory in the Battle of Sekigahara, defeating Ishida Mitsunari's army from the West and bringing almost all of the land under the Emperor's control. Not even Oda Nobunaga or Toyotomi Hideyoshi, great daimyos in their own right, had been able to achieve such a feat despite their own victories. This new city would house the Shogun's extended families with their servants and serve as a reminder to themselves and to others that peace was possible after numerous years of bitter wars while the Emperor himself would remain in Kyoto.

A shogunate… Incredible!

The travelers' young leader, Sagasu, was the Obocchan of one of these Lords under the Shogun. By what Somatsu observed, he was a cunning young man. Very reserved in his ways, he came off as almost overly cautious when one could clearly see the sense of duty he harbored shining in his black eyes. He treated his men well, making sure they had all they needed before tending to himself.

Somatsu nodded to himself.

He would make a fine governor for this new city.

"Somatsu-sama?"

"Hai?"

"You had started telling us about the history of this shrine. I am curious to know more."

Somatsu chuckled.

"Hai, young Lord. Onegai, sit. Enjoy your meal and sake while I tell you the tale."

He paused long enough to wait until they were all comfortably seated around him in the pavilion's open doorway before he began.

"This is still a fairly new shrine, barely some hundred years now."

"Only?" one of the men marvelled. "Demo it's so huge!"

"Hai, it is. It shows the love of the people who built it. This place was built only a few shorts days after an epic battle against scorpion beasts led by an evil hanyou queen."

"I remember that story." another man piped up. "They numbered as many as the stars in the sky and had armour stronger than the hardest steel or stone."

"Hai. Demo they were defeated by only two individuals: a strange, dark-haired young Miko with blue eyes and her hanyou mate, a silver-haired half-dog demon. You mention the names of Kagome-sama and Inuyasha-sama anywhere in these lands and you will hear one hundred and one tales of their adventures and the people they saved. Young Chiisai-sama felt the need to properly thank the pair for saving him and his family. He felt we owed them more than words. For what I've heard they did, I have to agree."

He took a short break to go around the room lighting small lanterns.

"So he built this place." another traveler asked, hoping he would continue.

"Hai. An old Miko from a nearby village, Kaede-sama, encouraged all those of able body to help him. Kaede-sama is buried on the shrine grounds in gratitude to her dedication to see this project completed. She was a kind old woman, everyone saw her as a member of their family even if there were no blood ties. It took Chiisai-sama three decades to build up this shrine to what you see today. He had sworn that one day the walls would encompass both the Hone Kui no Ido and the Shin-Go-Boku, both important items in the lives of Kagome-sama and Inuyasha-sama. It is said that, long ago, Inuyasha-sama had been sealed by a Miko, to the Shin-Go-Boku, for trying to steal the Shikon no Tama from her. Five decades passed before Kagome-sama emerged from the Hone Kui no Ido."

"She was made from the youkai bones thrown into it? She was Miko-youkai?"

"Iie. Story has it she is from our future and the well is the path to her time, demo only she and the hanyou may cross through this gate. Some say it was because Kami-sama had destined for them to be together no matter the time while others say it was because of their connection to the Shikon no Tama. In any case,… Kagome-sama was being chased by a youkai who felt she then possessed the Shikon no Tama. To save herself she freed Inuyasha-sama who easily took care of the youkai. Story has it that a few days later the jewel was shattered when they tried to take it away from a carrion crow and they had to recover the pieces. When all the pieces were finally put back together, Kagome-sama returned to her world. She returned five years later to find our lands overrun by the scorpion men."

Somatsu paused dramatically, sipping slowly from his sake.

"Reunited with her beloved Inuyasha-sama they saved what people they could and took them to a cursed castle where they would be safe. That castle still stands at a few days march from here, near the coast. They then went after the hanyou queen while a pack of wolf youkai protected their charges. Together, Kagome-sama and Inuyasha-sama defeated the hanyou queen and her legions of scorpion men in a glorious battle of evil versus righteousness, nearly losing their own lives in the process. Chiisai-sama built this place in their honour and called it the Higurashi Shrine."

A woman's voice chuckled softly in the darkness outside.

"You always make that story sound so formal and legendary, Somatsu-sama."

All eyes turned to the door to find a new group of ten gathered there. The men of this group all stood tall with stated pride. The few women stood with the grace and power of amazons. All were hooded, their faces hidden. The men wore bright colors of red, green and blue while the women's colors were darker versions of the same shades.

Somatsu frowned at the newcomers, lost for a moment.

"Don't recognize us, bouzo?" one of the hooded men questioned, the one in bright red.

The monk stiffened, smiling in recognition.

"Ah, my friends! Come, come, sit down after your long journey. Is it that time of year already? How time flies in the service of Kami-sama."

"That or it just seems to because you're becoming senile, bouzo."

One of the women, dressed in dark blue, elbowed the speaker in the ribs in chiding as the ten sat at some distance from the first group of arrivals.

"Tsk, be nice. You would've forgotten too if I hadn't reminded you this morning."

"The fuck I would've, woman, what with all those little hints you've been dropping all week."

"A girl is allowed to make sure."

One could almost see the radiant and playful smile piercing through the hood of her cloak.

"You make a pilgrimage here every year?" Sagasu questioned of the strangers.

"Hai."

"So you've heard this story from Somatsu often enough. A little fanciful, ne? I mean, stories of youkai; a girl from the future; a hanyou helping a Miko and falling in love with her; armies of giant scorpion men… pure fantasy."

There was a pause from the newcomers where Sagasu swore he could feel them frowning at him.

"What makes this story so hard to believe?" the woman questioned.

"Well, for one, a Miko would never ally herself with a hanyou. A woman of such purity would never let herself be touched by such a lowly creature."

Low growled seemed to erupt throughout the room. The man Sagasu identified as the group's leader, along with the woman at his side, turned to each member of his group and a bark-like sound, almost like a sharp clearing of a throat, from him silenced the growls. The eight bowed their heads to their leader, each muttering gomen nasai, Otousan low under their breaths.

Sagasu frowned.

Otousan?

"Anything else that makes this story a work of fiction?" the lead woman continued.

Sagasu blinked, recovering from the event only moments before.

"I have never heard of a magic or object powerful enough to traverse time."

"And because you have never heard of it, then it's possible?"

"I am the Obocchan of a powerful daimyo."

"And that means that in your twenty or so years you've heard of absolutely everything?"

"… iie."

"Don't be so quick to judge things just because you've never heard about them. I did once, a long time ago. It caused me a lot of pain which I later learned was for nothing."

One of Sagasu's men chuckled. "Women are such ignorant creatures so the folly of one shouldn't be taken as a warning."

He statement got a laugh from those traveling with him…

… a laugh which abruptly died when one of the newcomers sprang forward at an amazing speed and pinned him by the throat to the wall.

His hood had fallen back to reveal silvery white hair, tiny pointed ears atop his head, and gleaming fangs bared in a snarl. A clawed hand was held before the captive's face in menace as green eyes bore into the man's very soul.

"Speak with respect when you talk about my Okaasan!" he hissed.

Sagasu blinked as he stared at this being.

"… I--… Inuyasha-sama?"

The newcomers' leader sighed heavily.

"Iie, actually this is my Obocchan, Musha."

He pushed his own hood back to reveal featured that attested to the lineage: shock silver hair and pointed ears atop his head. His gold eyes frowned at the younger creature.

"Musha, much as I agree with you for this…"

As if hearing the threat in his Otousan's voice, Musha released the human and backed away. The patriarch cuffed him lightly upside the head in chiding.

"Gomen nasai, Otousan."

"Nah, you just got to him before I did."

"You have to forgive our Obocchan." the women apologized. "He really is a good boy, if not a lot like his Otousan use to be."

"Keh, I was never that bad."

"Hai, you most certainly were that bad."

"The fuck I was!"

"Oh, how many times have I wished I had my video camera just to prove to you now how you were back then. Musha is your spitting image, get used to it."

He growled in annoyance.

"I was never that bad." he muttered.

"You… you're all hanyou?" Sagasu wondered aloud.

Seven hoods were pushed back to reveal sets of golden green eyes staring at the humans. Somastu stood to interpose himself between both groups.

"Onegai, Sagasu, these are good friends of our shrine. They come to honour the memory of the Lady Kaede and others who have passed on. They are harmless."

"Unless rubbed the wrong way." one dark haired hanyou girl added.

"Ah, Ibara, still as brash as ever, I see." Somatsu chuckled. "Kigai has been asking about you."

She blushed visibly. "Ho- honto?"

"Hai. He's in the prayer hall cleaning the alter, I believe."

She turned to the still hooded woman in the group. "Okaasan, may I…?"

The woman chuckled.

"Go. And behave."

"Arigatou, Okaasan!" and she took off like a shot for the shrine's main temple.

The woman chuckled to the hanyou leader at her side.

"What do you think Miroku and Sango would say if they knew Kigai was courting a woman twice his age and your Otome?"

The leader gave an air of deep thought.

"Sango would probably give his Okaasan a lecture, then repeat that lecture to him."

He broke into a wide grin abruptly.

"The bouzo would just say way to go."

"Baka." she accused.

Sagasu shook his head as he and his men watched the group of hanyou in some distrust. None had ever seen one before, or been this close to one before. Yet now, here they were, in the presence of now nine hanyou, ten when the girl would return.

"You… you've visited this shrine every year?" he questioned when his voice returned.

"Since it was built." the lead hanyou replied.

"Then,… the stories tied to this place… are true?"

"Hai, very much so, though not as romanticized as Somatsu makes them out to be." the women answered.

"Oh?"

"Mm, we didn't go after the scorpion hanyou because of a good versus evil thing. Akuma Sasori had me kidnapped. Inuyasha came to rescue me. Killing Akuma was more of a secondary thing."

The travelers from the South felt their jaws begin to touch the floor. Could it be possible…?

"You… you're… you were…?"

"Hai."

"Then…" and Sagasu pointed to the hanyou.

"Don't point, pup, it's not polite." this one smirked.

The Sun struggled to rise over the distant mountains, a white mist hanging on the air as the land began to warm to the early morning. Only nocturnal animals seeking dens for the coming day and a small group of travelers were up and about in the early hours. Of this group, only one lone woman looked human compared to her companions. This one stopped at the top of a high hill and turned back to the shrine nestled in the glade so far below. It looked eerie, nearly ominous all shrouded in the mists. She sighed softly, feeling the warm presence of her mate close behind her.

"It's been a hundred years… Do you think it was safe letting anyone know we're still alive?"

"Safe enough. Almost everyone knows how long hanyou live."

"Demo no one knew about me except Sango and Miroku and their descendants."

"Keh, let them try anything. You have an entire pack to protect you now."

She smiled whimsically. "Hai, who all have their Otousan's attitude."

"Not necessarily a bad thing."

One of the younger hanyou females of the small group approached the duo and stared at the shrine as well.

"Those travelers have a pretty ambitious plan for this area, if they choose it." she voiced.

The human looked at her quizzically.

"Plan, Nobara? What plan?"

"From what I heard, they were sent to scout out the location of a city to uphold some sort of truce signed in the South. They're thinking of building it here."

The human blinked.

"A city… They didn't say what the name of it would be?"

"Hai. I think it was Edo or Edyo… or something like that."

Again the woman blinked, startled this time, as was the hanyou male at her side.

"Edo?" she questioned the girl to be sure she had heard right.

"Hai. I wonder if they'll leave the shrine and build around it."

The woman began to smile slowly.

"I'm absolutely sure they will."

The hanyou male wrapped his arms around his mate and held her close as they gazed down at the glade. Through a play of mind and mist they could almost see tall towers of steel and concrete rising high in the sky all around the shrine.

"Full circle, Kagome." the hanyou rumbled softly.

"Hai, Inuyasha." she replied. "Full circle."

THE END