Disclaimer: Inuyasha and company are not mine. The plot, however, very much is.

Chapter One: It Begins

"Enter."

The large mahogany doors swung open to admit an impish little man with beady eyes and perennially pursed lips. He scuffled across the marble floor of his superior's office, coming to a stop before his massive desk. The imposing figure sat, almost regally, facing the picture window of his thirtieth story office.

"Well?"

"I've found her, Lord –"

"Sir," the figure interrupted sharply, turning to regard his subordinate. "Should I have to remind you again, you will not make it to see another sunrise."

"Yes, of course, Sir. As I was saying, I found her. She's living in Tokyo, as you suspected."

"How old?"

"Her second birthday passed just this Spring. Shall I send your associates after her?"

"She is practically an infant yet, and in no position to give me what I seek. Go alone, and maintain a vigil."

"But, Sir, I thought—"

"You thought wrong. Watch over her, and nothing more. I've waited many years; I can wait a bit longer. Still, I will not abide interference. Not after all that I have sacrificed. "

The powerful figure, shrouded in the darkness of twilight, stood straight as a reed. Still, a sense of heavy foreboding seemed to permeate the very air around him, lending a certain weariness to his bearing.

"I will not risk changing the past."

The small man frowned in confusion. "Isn't that the point? I thought you wanted to change the past?"

"Go," the larger man thundered, his patience worn past its breaking point. "Watch over her and if you discover the object, report back to me at once."

Without a second word the imp skittered out the door, bringing it to a close behind him with a resounding click that echoed throughout his master's office chamber.

"Change the past?" the man answered to his empty office. "Hn.

"I'm trying to change the present."

* * * * *

"Dinner!"

Rin glanced up from her spot in the wildflower field, smiling at the thought of a hearty dinner. She leaned down to pluck one last, perfect blossom for her bouquet before walking back to camp.

How long had it been since she'd had regular access to normal, human food? Weeks and weeks of handpicked mushrooms, berries, and the occasional spit-roasted newt flooded Rin's memory. It was no matter; before Him, she was lucky to snatch a scrap of bread from an unguarded table, or a scraggly carrot at the edge of the village field. Even luckier if she did not pay for it in blood, later.

Studying her fistful of flowers, Rin began pondering its intended recipient. Normally she'd foist them on her Lord Sesshoumaru, who would then promptly toss them aside like so much detritus. Nonetheless, his cold demeanor never seemed to faze Rin, who was thoroughly convinced the demon appreciated her effort all the same.

Still, there were others to consider now. Jaken had always been a part of her small wandering troupe, but his reactions to her gifts had proven even less satisfying than that of her beloved lord. Perhaps one of her newer companions would be a suitable recipient?

It had been only a few days since her lord and his hanyou brother had struck a tenuous alliance in the name of defeating the evil half-demon Naraku. Inuyasha was brash, crude – the utter opposite of his older brother. Easily baited by the elder inu into fits of petulant rage, the hanyou had already provided hours of entertainment. His best friend, the miko Kagome, was undeniably warm and kind – and she seemed to like pretty things (bizarre attire notwithstanding). Then there was Sango, whose aura swirled with mourning, even as she smiled. Maybe a bouquet would chase away the demon slayer's sadness?

As she neared the camp, Rin caught the scent of rabbit stew. Her stomach rumbled in anticipation, hastening her resolve to deliver the bouquet to a worthy recipient post haste. Still, who should it be? The ebullient trickster, Shippou? The meditative, but perverted monk?

"Inuyasha-sama!"

"What?" Inuyasha stared down at the little human girl standing beneath the old oak tree in which he was currently sulking.

Rin thrust up a weed-filled fist, smiling up at the hanyou cheerfully with her signature toothless grin.

"Don't want it," he replied.

"Inuyasha, stop being a jerk."

Glaring daggers at Kagome, Inuyasha heaved a sigh before snatching the proffered bouquet with a half-hearted "thanks" and ascending higher into his tree.

"Rin, go fetch a bowl and come get your dinner." Kagome dipped into the stewpot, pulling up a ladle full of fresh vegetables and rabbit. Smiling kindly at the little girl, she poured the mixture into her bowl, her heart warming at the eager grin in Rin's eyes.

Poor girl probably hasn't had a decent meal in ages, she thought to herself. The young miko served dinner to Miroku, Sango, and Shippou before turning to her newest companions. The demon lord and his simpering imp had spent four days traveling with her small group, but she'd yet to see either of the demons eat. Despite her palpable nervousness in Sesshoumaru's presence, she could not be so rude as to ignore his needs entirely.

"Ano, Sesshoumaru-sama, would you or Jaken like some stew?"

"Hn." Sesshoumaru considered the priestess briefly, before turning what may have been a smirk toward his younger brother. "I have no need of your human food, woman. Demons hunt their food." The indignant growl that emanated from above confirmed Kagome's suspicions – he may have hidden it well, but it was clear that Sesshoumaru enjoyed poking at Inuyasha's pride.

"Suit yourself," Kagome replied, pouring two last bowls of stew and heading toward Inuyasha's leafy sanctuary. She set his bowl down beside herself – he would join her when the sting of Sesshoumaru's insult dissipated. Or when his stomach rumbled, whichever came first. Kagome blinked in surprise when at last he descended, sheepishly handing her the bouquet Rin had given him.

"Arigato, Inuyasha."

"Keh." The hanyou began inhaling his dinner at rapid speed. When at last his bowl was empty, he tossed it aside and leaned back against the tree's trunk. "I still don't like this."

Kagome rolled her eyes, finishing her own stew and retrieving his abandoned bowl before reclining herself. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend, Inuyasha."

"Huh?"

"If we are going to succeed in wiping Naraku off the face of the Earth anytime in this century, then it only makes sense to gather together as much of his opposition as you can, right?" Inuyasha grunted in reluctant agreement. "So," Kagome continued, "it seems to me that playing nice with your brother isn't so big a sacrifice in order to reach our goal."

"I could do it myself," Inuayasha stubbornly asserted, folding his arms into his haori. "I don't need him."

"Well, humor the rest of us," Kagome replied with a smile.

Shadows fell upon the small camp and the first twilight stars began appearing in the sky as the two Shikon seekers gazed up at the darkness above. Each was lost in thought as minutes passed in companionable silence. In the heart of camp, Sesshoumaru slipped away for a quick hunt, Jaken tottering behind him. Shippou started up a game of Go Fish with Rin, and Sango studiously avoided the wandering hands of Miroku the Lecher.

"Ne, Inuyasha?" Kagome tore her gaze from the sky and directed it toward the hanyou at her side. "When this is all over, what do you think will happen to everyone?"

"Happen to…?"

She blushed, turning her gaze inward and avoiding the golden eyes upon her. "Just that, when we've defeated Naraku, and the sacred jewel is whole again… the quest will be over. Sango and Miroku will get married, and I guess Sesshoumaru will go back to doing whatever it is that he does…"

Inuyasha remained silent, her unspoken question hanging almost tangibly in the air between them.

Kami, is he truly that dense? Kagome glanced back at him for a second, and found genuine confusion on his face. It was so frustrating she could almost laugh. "So… what about Shippou? What about you," her voice dropped to a whisper so soft and tentative that even Inuyasha strained to hear, "and… what about me?"

Inuyasha heaved out an annoyed sigh, and returned his focus to the stary sky. "Keh, you worry too much. Whatever will happen, will happen."

So that's it, huh? Life goes on. Fighting back the tears that began to sting the corners of her eyes, Kagome pulled her legs up to her chest and hugged them tight. "Mm. I guess I'll go home. Senior year isn't far away, and I have a lot of schoolwork to catch up on if I want to get into a good college."

Silence fell between them again, heavy with the priestess' disappointment and the hanyou's impotent frustration. Kagome released the death grip she had on her legs and made to stand when Inuyasha spoke.

"You could stay here, you know."

Kagome froze in place, sure she had misheard. "Stay…?"

The hanyou continued looking up at the sky as though he'd never spoken, still he continued, "You don't really have to go back, do you? I mean, you've been with us for two years now, and Shippou would turn into a total brat if you left –"

"Maybe I can take him with me," she said lightly, a teasing grin in her eyes.

Oblivious to the joke, and eyes suddenly filled with a calm seriousness Kagome rarely observed in him, Inuyasha turned to face her. "What about Sango? Miroku? They'd miss you too," he argued.

"And you?" Kagome slapped her hand over her mouth at the words that slipped unbidden from her lips. Beside her, Inuyasha startled, his golden eyes blinking. A pause stretched seemingly for eons before he turned away again.

"Of course I'd miss you, Baka," he whispered, voice coarse with emotion. Daring yet another look in her direction, Inuyasha was stunned to see a radiant smile on Kagome's face. It lit up her very being.

"I could keep visiting," she ventured cautiously. "Kaede is getting older and she worries that no one is trained to take over her position in the village. But, Inuyasha, what about you? Are you still planning on becoming a full demon?" Kagome paused, and her smile faded, "do you still… want to join Kikyou in hell?"

Inuyasha fidgeted with the fabric of his haori, not allowing himself to meet her eyes. "I don't know," he finally answered her. "I don't think I want to do either anymore."

This admission surprised the young miko. "You don't…?"

His posture slumped and his gaze turned inward. "When my demon blood takes over," he paused, struggling to put his thoughts into words. "I don't care. I don't care about anything, or anyone. The jewel… it doesn't grant a selfish wish. If I use it to become a full-fledged demon how can I be sure it won't be the same as before? What if," he sighed, "what if you can't bring me back?" His eyes closed as if the mere thought pained him. "But I can't become a human, either. You – I could stay like this. I could stay hanyou and you – you wouldn't have a problem…"

"No," Kagome agreed quietly, her eyes shining with an acceptance that never ceased to amaze him, "no problem at all. Inuyasha, I—"

"Ka-go-me!"

Shippou's panicked wail jarred the couple into the sudden realization of just how close they were sitting. Quicker than lightning they separated, each looking in opposite directions with embarrassed red faces.

"Ka-go-me!"

"What's wrong, Shippou-chan?"

Miroku and Sango, already brandishing their respective weapons, jumped into action. "Saimyoushou," the monk shouted over his shoulder, swiping his shakoujou mere feet behind the trembling fox kit. The demon bees scattered, leaving miasma in their wake.

Their embarrassment immediately forgotten, Kagome and Inuyasha jumped up and scanned the horizon for further signs of impending doom.

"Where is my asshole of a brother?" Inuyasha growled as he joined Miroku in swatting away the deadly insects.

Shippo, still trembling with residual fear, pointed toward the opposite end of camp. Before he could say a word, he passed out cold. It mattered little -- seconds later Sesshoumaru burst into camp with the grace of a ballet dancer, Bakusaiga at the ready.

Kagome scooped up the fox kit as Inuyasha bolted past her, meeting his brother at the edge of camp.

"There are more coming from the south," Sesshoumaru announced.

The hanyou threw a considering glance over his shoulder and, coming to a decision, addressed the worried priestess, "Kagome, stay here with Shippou and the little girl."

"Inuyasha –"

"Stay, Kagome," he repeated with force. "You can sense it yourself, can't you? Naraku's nowhere near – probably using another puppet to lure us into a trap. If we go now, we can keep them from reaching camp. In the meantime, we can't risk anything happening to you."

"He's right, Kagome-sama," Miroku nodded. "Stay here, protect the children, and let us take care of this one."

"Ah-uh will remain here with Rin," Sesshoumaru added, already turning to the south.

At length Kagome nodded, hugging Shippou closer to chest and gathering Rin to her side.

"Be careful."