Author's Notes: There are two people without whom Fugue would never have been written, nor ever been published.

The first is technoelfie (technoelfie on LJ and deviantart), who both suggested to me that Sesshoumaru and Kagome were ripe for lots of wild sex, and drew beautiful pictures of them both, inspiring me to write a story in response to her unbelievable talent. If you want to blame someone, blame her,

The second is ReWhite (re white on LJ), without whom this story would never have seen the light of day. When I thought it was dead in the water at 50 completion, she gave me the feedback and encouragement I needed to keep going, and after I was goosed into continuing she gave me suggestions, and little pushes in the right direction, and all the right things at the right time. Without Re, you wouldn't be reading this story. Thank you, Re. Let's make a baby. Preferably one without flippers this time.

Update October 6, 2004: New version of part I. No change to the storyline, but it has been polished and refined.

Anyway. Enjoy.

Fugue
by
Resmiranda

Revolution (n.) -
1. The completion of a course; a full circle.
2. A sudden, radical, or complete change.

. . .

There once was a girl named Kagome...

Hiking up a sunny mountainside, surrounded by her friends from college and a decade removed from her last moments in the past, Kagome suddenly felt the familiar and unexpected creeping cold of youki poured over her naked brain, seeping down through her throat to settle sullenly around her heart.

The shock was so great that she stumbled against a rock and nearly cracked a bone in her pelvis.

"Ow!" she cried, pushing herself away from the offending boulder and landing heavily on her unwounded hip, hand flying to her side to rub the injured spot. She went through the mundane motions to soothe her wound, but in her head she was instinctively concentrating, seeking out the source of demonic power, trying to get a lock on the position and assess the danger. She was dimly aware that ahead of her on the trail her three friends had whipped around at her utterance.

"Kagome!" exclaimed Arisu, wide eyes filled with concern. "Are you all right?" Without waiting for an answer, the other girl skidded down the rocky trail to land in front of her. "What happened?" she demanded, crouching in front of Kagome.

Shaking her head, Kagome tried to control her breathing. The youki was becoming neither stronger nor weaker, so the youkai - how? was the question in the back of her mind, how could there be youkai here and now? - was not moving. It was powerful, but muted. Kagome blinked and focused on the face of her friend and tried to smile. "Nothing," she said. "I just slipped, that's all, and I hit that stupid boulder."

"Do you think you can walk?" Kayoko piped up from further up the trail.

Kagome nodded distractedly, pressing her fingers into her hip and wincing a little at the dull pain that answered her probing. If nothing else, the sensation served to ground her a little more, and she worked her tongue around her answer. "Nothing's broken, just banged up pretty badly."

Arisu batted Kagome's hand away impatiently and pressed her own fingers to the spot, seeking out injury.

"Arisu! I'm a med student, just like you," Kagome said, forcing herself to laugh. The feeling of youki was still there, but it seemed there was no immediate threat, so she allowed herself to focus on the situation at hand. "Stop that! I can tell if my own bones are broken," she scolded her friends.

"Yes, but would you tell us?" Arisu replied. She grinned the little half-grin that she flashed when she found humor in something that was otherwise unamusing. "Remember when you came down with pneumonia and refused to go to the hospital because midterms were coming up? You're lucky it was only walking pneumonia and not a more serious infection."

"Ahaha..." Kagome replied, flushing with embarrassment. She squirmed with discomfort. "Er, that was an isolated incident."

From further up the trail, she heard Kayoko give a snort, and Miyu giggled like a madwoman.

"The cut on your arm?" Miyu piped up. "That you said was just a scratch?"

"It was," Kagome insisted. "How was I to know that it would degenerate into a staph infection?" Studiously ignoring the cold that had invaded her chest, she gingerly drew her feet beneath her and stood, testing her injured joint. "Ooooh," she hissed as another wave of dull pain spread from the already-forming lump.

Arisu sighed and rolled her eyes. "Right," she said, popping up from her place on the ground with a bouncy intensity that made Kagome's hip hurt more just by watching it, "I'm taking you back."

"But what about our hiking trip?" Kagome insisted, trying to focus. "I thought we all needed this to unwind. I'll be fine, I promise!"

The chilly feel of youki was tugging her up the trail, drowning out the voices of her friends. Kagome kept her face carefully schooled in a worried wince, but her mind was whirling with both curiosity and incredulity. Could there be a youkai just up the path? Could one of them have survived?

But no – it couldn't be possible.

They all died long ago, she thought. They died. They're gone.

There has to be another explanation for this.

The feel of youki pooled in her stomach, and Kagome pressed a hand to her belly as she teetered on the edge of nausea.

From far away, Arisu was shaking her head. "Kagome, you are going to listen to me," she was saying. "We can relax just as well at my flat, eating ice cream and watching movies. And we can get some ice on that hip."

Kagome turned her head as she opened her mouth to protest, but the words died in her throat. Arisu had her hands fisted at her waist, and her eyebrows were drawn in an angry, protective frown that brooked no argument. It was a very motherly look that Arisu pulled out when she was at her most stubborn, and Kagome felt herself warm a little, and the chill in her belly waned slightly.

Kagome concentrated on the emotion, and the feeling of youki faded.

She blinked hard as the world righted itself, and she turned to Arisu and mustered a wan half-smile. "Oh, all right," she agreed. "I'm really sorry about this," she said to Kayoko and Miyu, who were already making their way back down to her. "I didn't mean to - "

"Kagome, do be quiet," Kayoko said as she reached her. "At least in front of the TV, we won't be eaten alive by bugs."

"No snakes, either," Miyu interjected, and Kagome felt a smile threaten to bubble up. Miyu, never fond of reptiles to begin with, had nearly fallen off the steep side of the trail due to a snake scare a scant five minutes earlier.

Arisu gave voice to Kagome's amusement with a badly-muffled snort. She forcibly looped Kagome's arm around her shoulders before remarking sardonically, "Oh, please. It was just a little one."

"Incorrect," Miyu replied.

"I saw it, too," Kayoko reminded Miyu. "It really was just a little one."

"It was not!"

Ignoring the small fight breaking out behind her, Kagome laughed nervously at Arisu. "Um, you don't have to do this," Kagome told her friend as they started back down the mountain trail.

"Shh," Arisu told her patronizingly. "No need to fret. Arisu will take care of you."

Rolling her eyes, Kagome allowed herself to be escorted the half-hour back down the mountainside and to Miyu's car, where, after a brief scuffle between Kayoko and Miyu as to who would drive, they set out for Arisu's apartment in the city.

Kagome clambered stiffly into her seat, but she could still feel the ghost of a demon and the memory of things past plucking at her heart and whispering in her ear. She was quiet all the way home.

. . .

Kayoko poked one long finger into Kagome's side. "Earth to Kagome! Come in!"

With a flash of irritation and guilt Kagome realized that she had spaced out again for the fifth time since the movie had started. Her mind felt scattered; she just couldn't concentrate on the pictures playing across the screen, and her chocolate marshmallow ice cream had since melted into a cool ice cream soup. "What?" she said, a bit too harshly.

Kayoko gave her a look that clearly said 'chill out,' but out loud she laughed. "Have the aliens brought you back yet?"

"No," Kagome replied. "And we're having a wonderful time in my head."

Gently, Arisu knocked on Kagome's skull, and then pressed her ear to it. "Hm," she said thoughtfully. "I don't hear any sort of party going on. Perhaps you've found an imaginary boyfriend and aren't telling us?"

Kagome heaved a sigh. She loved her friends - without them she would never have survived her first three years of medical school - but sometimes they just tried too hard. There never seemed to be enough time to be alone with her thoughts. No sooner would Kagome settle down in a darkened room with a cup of tea to think than Arisu would call and ask her for help on homework, or Miyu would call to complain about her latest boyfriend, or Kayoko would show up unannounced to drag her to the newest club. It was a difficult, and often lonely, position in which to be - it was hard loving people that she didn't even like most of the time.

Shaking her head, she gently removed Arisu's arms from around her neck. "I'm just tired, that's all," she assured them, shifting uncomfortably on the sofa.

"You've been acting strange ever since you took that spill," Miyu pointed out from her spot on the floor. "Sure you didn't hit your head?"

Kagome stuck out her tongue. "Quite sure," she said, but her voice was quiet and lost in the laughter.

Grabbing the remote control, Arisu unpaused the film and they settled back. Kagome tucked her feet beneath her on the sofa and forced herself to concentrate. The movie was some supposedly deep and interesting art house film that had won a metric ton of awards in France, though Kagome could not see why. She suspected that the fact she had spaced out during the first half of the movie was severely hampering her enjoyment of the last half. Regardless, she at least found that it distracted her from the empty place in her chest, but still breathed a sigh of mingled relief and resignation when it was over.

Arisu switched off the television, and Kagome stood and stretched. Miyu and Kayoko had apparently also found the movie too pretentious and were snoring gently, drooling into Arisu's raw silk cushions. "What did you think?" Arisu asked, padding over to the television and popping out the DVD.

"It was pretty good," Kagome said, hoping that there would be no follow up questions. Tired and still nursing a sore hip, she just wanted to go home and climb into bed.

"I liked it! I think it was a really interesting exploration!" Arisu gushed. Arisu fancied herself a film buff since she had once dated a film student of dubious talent.

Don't ask, don't ask, Kagome told herself. You'll regret it.

She asked anyway. "Exploration of what?"

"Oh, you know!" Arisu waved a hand airily. "Modern life."

Kagome assumed that because the film did, in fact, take place in modern times, that it could reasonably be called an exploration of modern life. She nodded as she gathered her purse and slipped her shoes on. "Thanks for the movie and the ice cream," she said.

"Thank you for visiting," Arisu replied. She walked Kagome to the door and embraced her.

Kagome hugged her back, a little awkwardly. "Take care of yourself," Arisu cautioned. "Call me if you need anything."

Kagome forced herself to smile. "Sure thing," she replied. She quickly turned away and headed down to her little '88 Honda and slid into the driver's seat with a sigh of relief. Home, she thought as she let out the clutch and coasted onto the street to drive the short distance to her flat.

When she arrived, she walked through the front door and tossed her keys on the end table before bending down to stroke the cat, who yowled softly.

"Hey Kirara," Kagome whispered. "Hungry?"

Kirara meowed. Kagome smiled what felt like her first genuine smile of the day and moved into the tiny kitchen. She grabbed a can of cat food from the cupboard and opened it, dumping the contents into the bowl that sat on her table. Following the time honored ritual, the cat leapt onto the tabletop and began to eat. Kagome was aware that most people would find a cat on the table to be strange – and possibly unhygienic - but she figured that she had no one to impress but herself, so she did what she pleased. She found it funny that what she pleased rarely made her happy.

She plopped into a chair and absentmindedly scratched Kirara's ears as she looked out the window. There wasn't anything to see - her flat was directly against another building - but she found that looking out a window always helped her to think. Now that she was home, she could think about the day without anyone distracting her.

Slowly she let her head loll against her shoulders, working out the knots and kinks as she gazed through the glass at the brick wall. Placing a hand on her heart, she thought back to the mountain trail, and the strange, unsettling youki that had ambushed her.

Now that she was alone she could assess it. There hadn't been any threat to her and her friends - of that much she was certain - but the aura had been powerful, yet dulled by something. She couldn't tell what had blanketed it, though, or what kind of youkai it was. It was like listening to a voice from underwater; the cadences and tone were recognizable, but true appreciation was impossible. She couldn't tell much except that it was a static presence. She wanted to know more. If, that is, it hadn't all been in her imagination.

Rising from the table Kagome bit her lip and fiddled with her blouse, carefully unbuttoning and discarding it as she walked from the kitchen to the bedroom - a distance of about five feet - where she paused and peeled off her socks. It was dark in the room, but she didn't turn the light on, instead opting to divest herself of her clothing in the gloom before moving into the bathroom to absently inspect her hip.

Wincing, she worked her shorts down over her pelvis and let them pool on the floor. Standing in a bra and panties in the unforgiving light of the bare bathroom bulb, she inspected the damage: sprawling across her skin was an enormous black bruise that would likely not heal for two weeks or more. Kagome gritted her teeth as she massaged her tender flesh and let her mind wander.

Youkai, she thought. Mentally, she palmed the idea. Unfortunately the word didn't seem to have any weight in her mind. Licking her lips, Kagome said it out loud.

"Youkai."

The word left her cold. The fingers working at her hip slowed in their motions.

There weren't any youkai in her time. They had been wiped out, or lost their power, or simply moved to the forgotten parts of the world. They shouldn't be on a mountain in the modern day, so close to Tokyo. They shouldn't be that powerful.

They were so real in the past - they weren't supposed to be here. People still believed in them, but in all her time in the modern age, she had never found one. In a way, their absence delineated her past life from her present one; a lack of the fantastic, the loss of the amazing defined her existence now. In the world of almost five hundred years ago, she was a mystical figure who fought demons and purified evil and befriended hanyous and kitsunes and monks and youkai taiji-ya, but in the here and now she was just Kagome, struggling medical student in a Tokyo flat with a car and an adorable, overweight cat.

There shouldn't be youkai here. That part of her life was gone. She should forget about it.

Looking at her tired face in the mirror, she pressed her lips together and swallowed her hope.

Resolutely, Kagome walked back to the kitchen and removed an ice pack from the freezer. Wrapping it in a dirty towel that she found under the sink, she padded back to her bedroom and laid down in the dark, not even bothering to take off her bra. She kicked the covers onto herself and pressed the ice pack between her injured hip and the mattress.

Within a minute she felt the heavy, comforting weight of Kirara hop onto the foot of the bed. She let her eyes fall closed, and slid into a fitful sleep.

. . .

"Go home, Higurashi-san."

"I'm fine, Sensei, I'm just tired!" Frustrated, Kagome looked up into the eyes of her academic advisor, and knew she had lost the battle.

"You are making an unforgivable number of mistakes, Higurashi. You need to go home and get some rest," Aitoshi-sensei said sternly, his wizened face wrinkling into a passable resemblance of a prune. "You're grades are good enough, but if you keep making mistakes you are going to hurt yourself or someone else!"

Grimly, Kagome glanced down at the scalpel in her right hand and the cadaver beneath the other. She hated working with the dead, but considering how many times she'd nicked a major artery today she was glad it was a cadaver. If the body had been living when she started on it, it certainly wasn't now. All things considered, her patient had already died about five times.

Concentration shattered, Kagome looked up at the kindly, grandfatherly face of her instructor. "Forgive me, Aitoshi-sensei," she said, ashamed.

The old instructor patted her hand. "Do not trouble yourself further," he said. "Please take the rest of the week off. A doctor must always be alert and on their feet so that she can do her best."

"I know," Kagome replied. She'd heard the same little speech a million times, but somehow the words always seemed to slip her mind.

"Go home, Higurashi-san. Get some fresh air. Sleep in."

Nodding, Kagome left the small lab, glad that there were only three other students in lab today so her embarrassment was at a minimum. Peeling off her gloves and apron, she disposed of them before scrubbing down. Swinging her satchel onto her shoulder, Kagome left the room. She wanted to do nothing more than crawl into her car and sleep, but she knew that she wouldn't be able to do so.

She hadn't slept soundly in four nights. She'd awoken, tired and sore, on Sunday morning, and had spent a day in and out of the tub, soaking her body and trying to lift her spirits. It hadn't worked; no amount of raspberry bubble bath would soothe her nerves, and she spent the day jumpy and on edge. Every time the cat brushed against her she started, and from the corners of her eyes she thought she saw shadows lurking against the walls of her flat.

Sunday night she lay awake until the small hours, staring at the ceiling, and when Monday dawned the sky was grey and sinister, and she found herself waiting to feel the chill of youki against her heart. Unbalanced, unsettled, and unhappy, she trudged through the next few days, fending off her friends' comments, unable to sleep well, unable to eat, and barely staying alive on coffee and chocolate bars.

She was going to die at this rate, and all because of some stupid feeling that she was now almost positive she had imagined. The more she thought about it - and she thought about it all the time - the more convinced she was that she had made it up, or had mistaken one feeling for another. There weren't any youkai any longer. She was being stupid.

"Higurashi-san!"

Kagome turned tiredly, registering the voice as that of Yoshi Morhei, whom she dated once her senior year in college before they both entered medical school. They'd had a bad break up, but remained friends, even though sometimes she found herself missing him. She smiled at him tiredly as he skidded to a halt in front of her. "I'm glad I caught you," he wheezed, bending over and propping himself on his knees. Kagome suspected he was going to ask her to go to another damn club this weekend. He loved clubs but never wanted to go with someone to whom he was attached, preferring instead to go with friends and go home with strangers. She was just not in the mood.

"Yoshi-kun," she began.

"No, no! No clubs!" he huffed quickly. "I was just wondering if you had time to study next Wednesday for the Pharm exam."

Kagome was feeling thoroughly sick of everyone. Just say no, she told herself. You don't need to study, and he should be studying on his own anyway.

She smiled at him. "Sure, no problem. What time and where?" Mentally, she kicked herself.

"Eight, at the library," he answered looking up at her happily, making her flutter and miss him, just a little bit more. "Thanks, I'll make it up to you."

"Yeah," Kagome said as he jogged away. She kept her head down the rest of the way to the cramped parking garage.

Dropping into the front seat of her car, Kagome threaded her fingers through the hair at her temples and let her head fall forward against the steering wheel. Her forehead met it with a dull thunk.

It took a second for the pain to set in. "Ow," she finally moaned. Leaning back, she opened the visor and looked at herself in the spotty mirror.

Dark circles ringed her eyes, and she could see the blue veins in her throat.

"You look like death warmed over," she told her reflection. "And now you're talking to a mirror. It's time to do something about this situation."

Her reflection nodded back. Kagome hurriedly flipped the visor back up and focused on her white knuckles gripping the wheel.

"But what to do?" she asked out loud, moving her car into gear. "You're going crazy, you think there's a youkai in the modern era, and you can't sleep." And oh, sleep sounded so good right now. There was a fog inside her brain. Her head was fuzzy, covered in cobwebs, difficult to engage.

She pulled into the street with painstaking care and made her way toward her flat, train of thought slowly chugging out of the station.

"You just imagined it," she mumbled out loud, carefully maneuvering the car around corners and avoiding other vehicles, driving through a dream. "Just imagined it, just imagined it."

Repeating it like a mantra, she parked her car and stumbled up the narrow stairs. "You just imagined it," she said to herself as she opened the door. "You just imagined it, it wasn't real, and even if it was..."

Kagome trailed off, standing just over the threshold. She tried again. "Even if it was..."

And that was it. Even if it was... what? You'll ignore it, go to school, let it slide? Kagome closed her eyes tightly, then opened them again, and looked at her existence.

Small, cramped apartment, small, cramped car, small, cramped friends, small, cramped life, and a demon on a mountainside.

Brushing her bangs out of her eyes, she made a sudden, giddy decision.

Without even closing the door, Kagome ran into the bathroom and dug her shorts out of the hamper. Divesting herself of her slacks, she pulled the shorts on and fastened them. Grabbing a rubber band, she pulled her hair into a ponytail, kicked off her shoes and pulled on her sneakers. Giving Kirara - Kirara! she thought somewhat hysterically, how sad is that? - a pat on the head, she jogged outside, closed and locked the door, and ran down the steps to her car.

"You just imagined it," she said as she slammed the car door. She suspected, as she jammed the keys into the ignition and started the car, that she hadn't had enough sleep, but curiously she didn't care.

"But if you didn't..." she told herself, and laughed.

. . .

The sun was hanging low in the sky as she pulled up outside the park and climbed out of her car. Ahead of her was the trail she and her friends had traveled last Saturday. It hadn't even been a week since she'd last seen it, but it looked strange in the dying light, like a place in a foreign country she'd never seen before.

Kagome wished that she had a bow with her; she'd always felt better with a quiver on her back and a smooth, wooden weapon in her hand. But she hadn't shot an arrow in years. Sighing, Kagome popped open the glove box and grabbed the Swiss army knife she kept there for emergencies. Slipping it into her pocket and grabbing a bottle of water and her emergency flashlight, she clambered out of the driver's seat and stood up. Taking a deep breath, Kagome set out up the mountain.

Night fell silently but slowly around her as she trudged up the path. It was more difficult going with her injured hip and fatigue, but she made good time, and before she knew it she was rounding a bend that she recognized and up ahead sat the rock she had fallen upon.

It sat innocuously by the trail, but a feeling of intense apprehension seized her, sending her heart into her throat, and she froze in her tracks. For a moment, she stared at the boulder, and tried to turn around.

"Stupid rock," she mumbled aloud, trying to discard the feeling.

In the back of her mind, she wondered what had happened to the girl who was never afraid of anything, who had taken on an evil monster and won, who had saved the world.

She set her jaw and continued forward.

The closer she got without a trace of youki, the easier her breath came. Kagome reached the boulder without incident.

She took a shuddering breath, not knowing if she was relieved or disappointed. "See?" she said aloud, her voice sounding small in the empty wilderness. "It was all in your head." Giving a nervous laugh, she propped herself against the rock in the fading light of the day. Beneath her, the stone was still warm from a day in the sun, and she let the residual heat seep into her skin and relax her a little. Smiling at the feeling, Kagome felt she deserved a good, leisurely five minutes before she went home to collapse on her bed. With luck, she mused as she took a sip of water, I won't wake up until next week.

She replaced the cap on her bottle and turned to go.

A cold, invisible hand plunged through her chest and squeezed her heart in fingers of ice.

Kagome cried out and went to one knee to the ground, gasping. The feel of youki was stronger than before, almost coming in waves, as if it was being consciously controlled, and she lifted her head and tried to focus on its direction.

She'd never been the best at detecting demonic aura - her area of specialty had always been the shards of the Shikon no Tama - but the more time she had spent in the Sengoku Jidai the more she had been able to detect it. Weak youkai were difficult, but a strong youkai was usually easy to pick out if they weren't behind a barrier or masking their youki in some way, and this one was strong. Scrambling to her feet, Kagome brushed the gravel from her knee and glanced around, frantically trying to get a feel for the location.

The growing shadows of the night were making it difficult for her to see, but she didn't really need her eyes. Glancing up the mountainside, she felt a pulse in the cold.

Up there, she thought. It still wasn't moving, and a small but insistent voice in her head was very quietly suggesting that it might, perhaps, be waiting for something. Against her better judgment, Kagome reached up and grabbed a tree root and began to climb up the steep incline.

It was slow going, and even discounting the times she stopped to rest and reassess her direction in the thickly forested landscape, it took her maybe twenty minutes of scraping against sharp branches and strange plants before she felt the pulse, very close, and looked to her left and saw the entrance of a cave only a few meters away. She felt her eyebrows rise up beneath her bangs.

"Huh," she said out loud, her pulse pumping in her neck. "That's unexpected."

The entrance was hidden by heavy growth, and would have been invisible from any other angle. Kagome let herself marvel nervously for a minute before realizing that she was spacing out again, and then carefully began to edge her way across. Beneath her hands, the damp earth moved, and Kagome found that there were plenty of rocks embedded in the ground for her to stand on, so it was easy to reach the rocks that ringed the entrance.

With a grunt, she pulled herself inside. The mouth of the cave was maybe one meter in diameter, so she pulled the flashlight out of her pocket and switched it on. On her hands and knees, she slowly advanced into the darkness.

In the silence, the only sound was her heavy breathing. Nerves and fatigue made her pant heavily as she crawled her way through the long tunnel. It felt to her that the youki was holding steady, though she was shivering with the chill of the cave and the vague fear and excitement of whatever lay in front of her. She stuck the flashlight in her mouth to light the way ahead, but there was only darkness beyond her small circle of illumination, until after only two minutes she nearly ran into something very unexpected.

There was a barrier.

Kagome sat back in shock. She hadn't touched it, but she could feel its presence across an opening into what appeared to be a wider cavern. She could sense, behind the barrier, a demonic presence, but to get to it she would have to go through the mystical wall.

Not so hard, she thought, trying to dispel her anxiety. It feels youki-based. Maybe if I touch it...

Putting a hand out, she tested it. To her surprise, her fingertips tingled where they touched, and it began to dissolve beneath her hands.

"Wow," she said out loud to dispel the strange feeling of purification that she hadn't experienced in years. "I can't believe that finally came in handy again." Unfortunately, she sounded rather ridiculous because she had forgotten to take the flashlight out of her mouth. Kagome was quietly grateful that no one was around to witness her being so foolish. Except, perhaps, the youkai who was now free to go wherever it wished.

The entire experience was becoming surreal, and once the barrier had dissipated the strangely muted youki hit her full force, making her shiver a little bit. It was no longer an unpleasant feeling, merely odd. Kagome felt a little strange, restless inside her skin, as she inched into the space beyond.

Removing the flashlight from her mouth, Kagome aimed the beam of light upwards. Here the ceiling seemed higher, so she stood up and slowly walked on.

Kagome gazed around her, wondering which direction the attack would come from. Without conscious thought she slipped her hand into her pocket and fingered the knife she had stored there. Her breath was coming in short pants, and down the side of her face she felt a slim trickle of sweat fall. Running her forearm across her forehead, Kagome nervously flashed the beam of light into the corners, looking and searching.

You won't have time to get the knife out, she thought. You'll never survive. Where is it, and what the hell is taking so long?

And then it caught her eye.

In a far corner of the cave was something too pale to be a rock, though Kagome couldn't make out any distinct features.

She took one step toward it, and the youki grew fractionally stronger.

She took another step. Again, it grew.

The lump wasn't moving.

Kagome bit her lip and forced herself to walk steadily toward it and reached out a hand.

It also had a hand, seemingly coming out of nothing, except if she squinted she suddenly saw.

What had only been a rock before became a knee, and the strange texture was a bowed head covered in hair, and the hand on the knee was connected to an arm that disappeared into a sleeve - and all of it was covered in a layer of dust. Growing in the folds of the clothing was dull green lichen.

Kagome didn't know whether to be disgusted or fascinated, so she settled for horrified. The youkai had been here for a long, long time, unmoving through the centuries since it last crawled inside the long tunnel of stone. She wondered why it was there, and who had sealed it.

One thing was certain, though - it only slumbered. It was still alive. The youki was enough to tell her that.

Fascinated, she reached out a hand to touch what she could barely make out as a sleeve, but without warning it crumbled a little beneath her questing fingers, and the thick dust flew up into a cloud. Kagome coughed and choked. She waved a hand and peered through the fog before deciding to leave the clothes alone. Hefting the flashlight to her shoulder, she reached up.

Her hands touched the curtain of hair. It seemed that it hadn't stopped growing since the youkai had been interned, and a heavy pile of it spilled onto what seemed to be the other leg. Slowly, Kagome lifted the heavy mass - it was stiff and difficult to manipulate - and saw the bowed face beneath.

Even in the dim light, there was something familiar about it, and her heart caught in her throat.

"No," she whispered. "Oh, no."

Pulling herself up to straddle its leg, Kagome jammed the flashlight between her teeth again and raked her fingers through the thick, grimy locks, pulling back the demon's head. Beneath her frantic hands the dust cleared from the still, marble face, stripes emerging from the blanket of grime, and on the smooth brow a half-moon shone. But she didn't need those things to tell her who this was.

Even dirty and grimy and in the darkness of a cave, she recognized the face of Sesshoumaru, still as a statue, cold as ice.

Still alive, but dreaming.

Kagome began to cry.

It was too much - the fatigue, the loneliness, the constant annoyance - and now the past, trickling down a mountainside, had turned into a flood.

The barrier had been based on youki. He had been sealed away by a youkai, sealed in a cave, for decades, maybe centuries, dirty and cold and deep in sleep.

It wasn't right that he should be like this.

Through a film of tears, Kagome withdrew her knife and clicked it into place. Then she grabbed a handful of hair and began to slice.

When she was done his face was once again visible, and she propped his head against the wall as the momentary madness that had possessed her passed. She tossed the grimy locks away and tried to assess the situation.

She was in a cave with a hibernating youkai that she had known, once-upon-a-time, and it was now dark outside and pretty soon she would have to go back if she didn't want her flashlight to lose power. If she had any sense at all, she would leave now and let Sesshoumaru wake up on his own. He would wake up eventually, yes? And she certainly didn't need to be around when he opened his eyes and saw the world again. She could be far away.

And yet she couldn't do that. Leaving someone behind was not something of which she was capable.

Kagome turned back and let her hands wander over his features. With care, she placed her palms on his cheeks, thumbs trailing over his eyelids, clearing away the detritus of centuries.

"I don't want to have to carry you out on my back," she told him, matter-of-fact. "You should wake up."

And then he did.

. . .

There once was a hanyou.

Fifteen and scared, she was pressed up against a boy she barely knew and in the process of being crushed to death by a giant centipede. She cried out. Golden eyes glared down at her with disdain.

"Hey," said the boy with long white hair and dog ears perched atop his head.

Through a haze of pain, Kagome looked up at him. In any situation other than this one, she would have been embarrassed by the proximity of her face to his crotch. Some distant part of her mind made a note of it, but kept wisely silent. She could be embarrassed later, if she got out of this alive.

Against her back, she felt the carapace of the centipede grate and move, and she ground her teeth together.

His lips were moving, but his voice was difficult to focus on through the crushing pressure. "Can you pull this arrow out?" she heard him say, voice dulled as if through a sheet of water.

"What?" she wheezed.

"Can you pull it out?" he snapped.

Grimly she focused on the shaft that poked out from the soft, fleshy part of his shoulder, seemingly pinning him to the tree. With great effort, she unclenched her hand from his red haori and unbent her arm, even though all she wanted to do was curl around the pain in her side, shut out the agony of the crushing weight. She reached up -

"No!" cried a voice from behind her. It sounded like the voice of the old miko who had greeted her - Kaede, her mind supplied superfluously - and fed her at her fireside. "That arrow is Inuyasha's seal!"

Doubt flooded down. What do I do? she wanted to cry. She couldn't find the breath, and in her eyes she could feel the heavy, pounding pulse of her heart.

"Hey!" the boy shouted. "If that thing absorbs the Shikon no Tama, we're all finished! You want to be centipede food?"

Then there were golden eyes, so angry and familiar, glaring down at her. "And what about you?" he demanded, white hair falling over his shoulders and brushing against his face. "You wanna die here, too?"

She was dying. Her bones were grinding against each other, life leaking from her side, pain consuming every cell of her being.

"Die?" she choked. Die here?

Vision blurring, the world spun itself into a tiny moment. Die, without Mama, or Souta, or Jii-chan? At fifteen? She was dying, dying, dying, in a strange time and place, all alone.

An angry face was blinking down at her, waiting.

She forced breath into her lungs. "Die here?" she ground out. Seemingly of its own accord, her left hand fisted itself in the thick fabric of his haori, and she felt the muscles in her arm bunch and move, pulling her up, up. Slowly, she slid up the boy's body, striving, reaching for the shaft in his chest.

"In this place... I don't even... know?"

Smooth wood brushed her fingertips.

One more try, she thought dimly. One more try. A sob gathered behind her clenched teeth.

One more heave, and she was there, hand firmly around the arrow.

"No!" she screamed, and pulled -

The arrow vanished, and from the boy came a pulse of cold.

. . .

As though they were moving through water, clawed hands on her shoulders bore her to the ground, and then there were golden eyes, so angry and familiar, glaring down at her in the dim light of the fallen flashlight. Kagome tried not to choke from the dust he shed, and her eyes watered with the effort.

Sesshoumaru, dirty and grimy and strong, straddled her, knees trapping her hips against his, sharp claws digging into her flesh. She felt his heavy weight bearing her down into the cold stone floor, and struggled to breathe. There was a rhythmic pressure in her throat, and it took a second for her to realize that it was her pulse, hammering out of control.

She watched, fearful, as he bent his head to her neck, and inhaled.

It was silent in the cave, except for the sound of her panting. Then he spoke.

"Miko," he murmured into the crook of her throat, voice hoarse, a shadow of the one she remembered, "you died."

Her hands were flat against his chest - no armor, her mind noted, distantly - pushing against him ineffectually, but at his declaration she paused.

"What?" was all she could think of to say.

The demon was sagging into her. "Didn't you die?" he murmured again, voice tired. She could feel his lips and breath stirring her hair.

Tired and confused, she told the truth. "No," she answered.

There was a long pause. "Ah," he sighed, and then the pressure was gone and she was free as he rolled away from her to lie on his back.

Kagome waited for him to elaborate, but instead he was silent. After a moment she sat up and looked at him.

He lay on his back and gazed at his own dusty hair, strung between his claws. Kagome saw that it was much longer than his bangs had been, though she couldn't have reached it to cut it because he had been against the wall. She tried not to breathe for a full minute, just watching him as he let his hair fall through his claws, until he appeared to reach a decision.

Painstakingly, Sesshoumaru pulled himself into a sitting position, and then rose to his knees. Swaying, he ran his hands through his hair, sweeping it over his shoulder. Kagome watched in fascination as he gathered the mass in his hands.

His fingers blurred, and then the heavy locks were falling away.

Sesshoumaru turned and looked at her, but he seemed awkward. His clothing was stiff, his hair was a mess, and he moved with a heaviness she had never witnessed in either him or his brother.

She was about to ask if he was all right - a ridiculous impulse, it seemed - when abruptly he rose to his feet, turned his heels, walked to the opening that led to the outside, and bent at the waist and exited.

Kagome was left staring at the hole in the wall and wondering how anyone could ever be so rude.

"Hey!" she cried. Twisting where she sat, she made a grab for her flashlight, but it skittered away from her grasp. Sighing angrily, she got to her feet, scraping her leg against the floor of the cave in the process, grabbed the flashlight, and ran to the exit. Already, the demon was out of sight, and suddenly Kagome was questioning the wisdom of unsealing the cave. Whoever had sealed him obviously hadn't wanted him to be disturbed, but now that she had awoken him visions of Sesshoumaru rampaging through downtown Tokyo in full demon form were insistently drawing attention to themselves in the darker corners of her mind.

"Wait!" she called down the corridor.

Clearly, he wasn't going to.

Panicking, Kagome dropped to her hands and knees again, shoving the flashlight into her mouth, and beat a hasty exit, the stinging of her knees against the rough rock making her eyes water.

"I'll purify that bastard if I have to," she said out loud. "I will, I will, I will- " She was uncertain as to who she was trying to convince, but it certainly wasn't herself, because she was positive she wouldn't be able to do such a thing. The past hurt too much for her to erase it that way.

After a brief eternity in the tunnel, she finally burst into the fresh air and almost killed herself with a tumble down the mountainside. At the last second, her fingers grazed a root sticking out beside the cave entrance and she stopped her fall before it became terminal. Unfortunately, her flashlight jerked from her mouth and rolled and bounced, end over end, into the trees below.

"Damn!" she blurted out loud. "Damn, damn, damn!"

Sesshoumaru was nowhere in sight.

Cursing, Kagome swung herself over until she thought she was at the place where she had climbed up. From between the branches above her a full moon shone, and she used its silvery light to glance down into the foliage. Slowly, she lowered a foot onto a heavy root, and carefully lowered herself down the incline.

Half an hour later, scratched and bruised, she landed at the trail that she left a million years ago, and found the demon crouched atop the very boulder that had assaulted her. He was braced on his hands, feet beneath his body with one knee drawn up to his chest, like a marathon runner about to take off. Tenseiga gleamed at his hip. In the moonlight he seemed to glow.

"Miko," he rasped, presumably by way of greeting.

"Youkai," she replied snidely.

He shifted slightly, and Kagome found her gaze moving to his arms. They were curiously bare, muscles quivering beneath his luminous skin, as though he was about to leap from his perch. She realized that the fabric, centuries old, was crumbling before her very eyes. Almost embarrassed, she looked down at the path and moved a pebble around with her toes.

"Why did you wait for me?" she asked.

Sesshoumaru ignored her. "What time is this?" he demanded. She could hear him sniffing the air, as though he were trying to identify a scent that was altogether new to him.

Kagome wondered what he would do with the truth. "Over four hundred years since we last saw each other," she replied. She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, gauging his reaction.

To her surprise, he only nodded, accepting this fact. "Good," he said, and slowly toppled off the rock.

"Oh!" Kagome cried, rushing forward, hands outstretched. She stopped before she touched him. "Are you all right?" she asked anxiously, hovering over his fallen form.

The youkai, curled on his side, only gave her an appraising, sidelong look. He apparently didn't deem it necessary to answer her, and Kagome bit her lip as she looked at him. He was so dirty, it just didn't seem right, and his ancient clothes were disintegrating into dust. His sleeves were tatters, and his hakama hung in rags to his knees. The shoes he had been wearing were gone as well.

He was a total mess. He needed somewhere to rest, food to eat, new clothes, and it was beginning to dawn on Kagome that the only person he knew in the modern era was her.

Haha, she thought. The very thought. It is to laugh!

But her vocal cords disagreed. Seemingly of its own accord her mouth opened, clearly not about to take any guff from her brain about uppity demon princes who didn't care for humans.

"I have a home. Not far from here." The words came out, falling flat in the night air.

Sesshoumaru said nothing.

Kagome suppressed a frustrated sigh. "Can you move?" she asked him.

Golden eyes slid away from her. Painstakingly, he tucked his feet beneath him. She watched as he steadied himself with his hands and then slowly rose, occasionally pausing as if the act caused him discomfort. When he was finally standing, tattered clothes and all, his eyes found hers.

So similar, she thought. In her chest, her heart hitched painfully. Quickly, she turned away. If he wanted to stay on the mountain, he could. If he wanted to follow her... well, she probably couldn't stop him, even if she wanted to.

Resolutely, Kagome set off down the mountain trial, and she didn't look back to see if he followed.

. . .

Sesshoumaru, shedding dust and pieces of clothing all over the ugly burgundy interior of her car, kept his face turned away from her. The glances she snuck from the driver's seat gave her a magnificent view of the line of muscle in his neck and the shape of his jaw, but what concerned her most was his hair. The very sight of it reminded her so sharply of Inuyasha that she bit her lip so hard she drew blood. The long strands spilled over the car seat, catching against the fabric, and if she blurred her eyes just a little bit, she could imagine that the man who sat next to her had little ears perched atop his head.

A stab of longing lanced through her chest, and Kagome turned her eyes back to the road.

She was having severe difficulties wrapping her mind around the situation, but she felt that she was beginning to understand. Sesshoumaru had been sealed by another demon into the side of a mountain for several centuries. He was exhausted, weakened, out of sorts, and he remembered her. And now he was in her little Honda, gazing out the window at the passing lights that signaled other vehicles and towering buildings. She wondered what he made of them, and if he found any fear of the present world in his heart.

She wished his clothes would stop disintegrating, but there seemed to be little she could do about that.

Of course, she had never really questioned Inuyasha's presence in the modern world whenever he came through the well, but Inuyasha had been her friend. He had seemed to fit in where she wanted him to fit, although her very longing for him probably had something to do with it.

Sesshoumaru didn't fit, perhaps because she didn't expect him to do so.

Either way, the silence was oppressive and awkward inside the car, and Kagome suspected that any attempt at breaking it open would be met with a glare. Sesshoumaru had never been the sort of person to whom one could talk openly, regardless of whether or not he was currently trying to kill one.

Kagome shifted uncomfortably and tried not to think about the situation she had thrown herself into - like the old her would have done, she realized with a small start - until she pulled into her parking spot, opened her door, and clambered out. Walking around to the other side of the car, she pulled the door open and found Sesshoumaru fast asleep.

"Didn't you have enough sleep in that cave?" she muttered under her breath.

He opened his eyes and pinned her with a calculating look.

Taken aback and mildly embarrassed, Kagome took a quick step back. "Er, sorry," she said, putting out a placating hand. "I... thought you were asleep again."

Silently, the youkai lord unfolded himself from his seat and stood in the light of the street lamps, pale skin, pale hair, pale, tattered clothes.

He looked positively alien.

Kagome whirled around and stalked away, refusing to speak to him, determined that a night of sleep would set her right. Distantly, she wondered what had possessed her to actually believe that taking him home with her would be a good idea, especially when she desperately needed sleep herself. She doubted he needed any rest, but he could sit and stare at the wall of her sitting room if he wanted. Fumbling with her keys, Kagome opened her flat and ran inside to flip the lights on, leaving the door open behind her.

He entered only a few seconds later, silent and imperious, and shut the door behind him.

"A bath," he rasped. It was the first thing he'd said since the mountainside.

Kagome wondered if he knew how rude he sounded. "Sure, just a second," she said tightly. "Have a seat wherever you want."

He remained standing, staring at her. Those strange, familiar golden eyes were making her squirm unhappily, and Kagome turned around and ran to the bathroom to escape the sudden, uncomfortable curl in her stomach. Suddenly feeling like a stranger in her own home, Kagome shut the bathroom door and turned on the water in the tub.

As she waited for it to fill, she grabbed her only extra towel and laid it out on the sink. She had no idea what he was going to use for clothing once he was done, but she snatched the small trash can from beneath the sink and pulled it out for his crumbling garments. Seeing nothing else to be taken care of, she turned and exited the bathroom.

Sesshoumaru had chosen to sit with his back against the couch, right arm propped against his bent knee, just the way he had been in the cave. Kagome cleared her throat.

He didn't turn to look at her, but raised his head slightly, listening.

"Um..." she said, her words dying on her tongue. She cleared her throat and tried again. "It's almost ready. There's soap, and... shampoo. For your hair."

Sesshoumaru rose and pivoted in place. Without a word, he padded toward her. Stunned, Kagome barely had time to get out of the way before he brushed past her, what was left of his clothes catching against hers and seeming to pull her along with him. She almost followed him before she caught herself and planted a foot firmly against the floor. Oblivious to her, he walked into the bathroom and shut the door.

Sourly, Kagome hoped he would figure out the knobs and faucet soon enough before he flooded the apartment.

"Jerk," she whispered under her breath.

. . .

Two hours later, Kagome had unearthed a thin cotton yukata from the back of her closet that her mother had insisted she keep in case of unexpected guests, and Sesshoumaru was still in the bathroom. Absently, she wondered if he had drowned, and then immediately felt bad for thinking of him so callously. In the intervening time, she had switched her tiny television off and on at least fifty times, and had pretended to read twenty pages of a book, though she had absorbed none of it. She just wanted to sleep, but the bathroom was connected to her bedroom, and she felt distinctly uncomfortable just knowing that the youkai was in her house, let alone in her private sanctuaries.

She was all out of sorts, as if she had unzipped her skin and stripped it off at some point, but when she stepped into it again it didn't fit. Absentmindedly, Kagome rubbed her arms and decided to get her guest situated.

Cautiously, she stepped up to the bathroom door and tentatively knocked.

Through the wood, she heard him rasp, "Enter."

Twisting the knob she stepped inside, only to see Sesshoumaru still in the tub, completely nude, with his silver hair spread out across the porcelain, soft and shining once again.

Kagome was mortified. Granted, the water was cloudy with the grim sloughed from his skin and as medical student Kagome had seen hundreds of naked people, but it was the principle of the thing. Without a sound, she turned her back on him.

"I brought clothes," she informed him, staring into the darkness of her bedroom. "It's not great, but it should be good enough."

Behind her, she heard the sucking splash of a body removing itself from water. Dropping the yukata on the sink, Kagome beat a hasty retreat to the sitting room, where she sat and waited for him to emerge bright and shiny new.

Half an hour later she was still waiting, and the thoughts in her head were taking strange, loopy turns from the norm. She suspected that she was too tired to really think straight when she found herself wondering which of the little porcelain figurines that she had carefully lined up on the windowsill would taste the best, and, impatiently, longing to be in bed, she rose from the couch and marched into the bathroom.

"What's taking so long?" she demanded, opening the door.

Sesshoumaru sat, fully dressed in the yukata, on the bathroom floor, staring listlessly at the ceiling with his still sopping hair in the tub. He looked exhausted, arms crossed at the wrist and resting on his bent knees. The sodden towel was hanging over the edge of the sink.

Kagome bit her lip.

"Do you need help?" she asked.

Sesshoumaru didn't move or speak, but she thought she saw his eyelids flutter.

Grabbing a wide-toothed comb and her own dry towel from the small rack, Kagome stepped into the tub, noticing that he watched her bare legs swing by him as she did so. Knowing that he was looking at her body made her feel strangely warm and uncomfortable.

Stop it, she scolded. He's been asleep for hundreds of years and hasn't seen a woman since he entered that cave. The thought of Sesshoumaru even touching a female was strange, so Kagome shoved it away and tried to think professional thoughts.

Gently, as though she were caring for a patient, she towel-dried the silvery locks before carefully running the comb through them, from the scalp to the tips.

The demon seemed unconcerned by her proximity, though he swallowed whenever she accidentally touched the pointed tips of his elven ears with her fingers.

"Sorry," she muttered as he again seemed to shift uncomfortably under her touch.

His hair was drying quickly, and in half an hour it was heavy and silky again. Kagome gathered it into her lap so that it wouldn't touch the still-damp porcelain of the tub.

"Tired?" she asked him, carefully tossing the heavy hair over his shoulder.

He surprised her by answering. "A little," he replied, though he sounded as though he were coming from far, far away.

Kagome stood, wobbling a little beneath the heavy mantle of exhaustion, and stepped out of the tub. She noted with irritation that while the demon's hair might be dry, it had left wet trails over her khaki shorts and all down her legs, and her grand total of two towels were soaking wet. Gesturing for him to follow her, she stomped out of the bathroom and into the sitting room again and pointed to the couch. He stood in the doorway of her bedroom, looking ridiculous in his white yukata and tired face.

Kagome ignored his appearance. "That's pretty comfortable," she told him. "And there's a blanket on the back, just in case you get cold."

He padded into the sitting room, nodding. "I see," he said quietly.

"I'm..." She bit her lip again. "I'm going to sleep as well. Um. In there - " she waved at the bedroom door. "Um... I'll see you in the morning, I guess."

He said nothing, and Kagome felt a tendril of tension wrap around her spine. She suddenly realized that she didn't know if she trusted him.

Irritation lanced through her. It's probably too late to think of that now, she mentally scolded, and reaching out she flicked off the light.

Darkness fell on the room. Through the small window, the moon glimmered dimly, casting everything in a sad, sullen light, muting everything to blues and greys and blacks.

Her breath caught as the figure in the middle of the room shifted; soft silver hair gleamed, and flat yellow eyes regarded her.

She knew the man who was standing in her living room, but in the dark he became someone else.

. . .

There once was a dead miko.

Beneath the water, caught in the stinging arms of the waves, Kagome looked at the face of the woman who was her, but wasn't.

Kikyou's eyes were closed, and she looked so sad and dark in the water, surrounded by painful miasma, so like herself, that Kagome felt a curious tickling in her stomach. It was an almost hurtful empathy, piercing through her entrails, slicing through her bowels to rest in her heart. Beneath her fingers, the older woman was hard and cold, and blackness leaked from a horrifying crack down her shoulder.

I have to heal her, Kagome thought. I can't leave her here.

And she couldn't. But there was something underneath those thoughts, a thin current of consciousness that unsettled her. Why...?

Pushing away other thoughts, her hands moved of their own accord, worming their way into the other woman's haori. Kagome suppressed a blush as she brushed across the upper swell of Kikyou's breasts before she was able to press her fingers to the horrible wound.

Save her, she thought sadly. Her fingertips grew warm as from somewhere deep within her, her soul swelled and poured out, into the dark chasm of Kikyou's chest, coupled with the purified burial soil, and time stretched out.

Beneath the endless undulating waves, Kagome stared into the face of her former life, of her old life. Dark lashes brushed lovely, high cheeks, and her long, straight, beautiful hair spread around her like a black star. Her lips were ever so slightly parted, shining pink even beneath the murky waves of the pool, and Kagome could see the gleam of pearl-white dew-drop teeth just beneath those lips. She was beautiful, even recreated, even dead in the water, even with a fraction of a soul. Even in the gloom, sadness and loss lived in the lines of her face.

Looking at her, Kagome wondered if this was what she would look like when she was dead, and her fingers itched to pull the other miko close and hold her. Irrationally, Kagome wanted to cry, to pour out her own happiness, to bring her old self, her other self, a measure of peace. It hurt to see her like this, because it wasn't just Kikyou suspended in the water, suspended in time - it was also herself.

Before her eyes, the miasma swirled and darted away, as though it were alive and pained by her presence.

And then beneath her pain and sadness, Kagome split into two, and the surface Kagome kept thinking about sadness and loss, wanting to comfort and heal the woman in her arms, but the Kagome underneath was wondering just what it was that made them different.

The Kagome that whispered beneath the other thoughts asked why Inuyasha couldn't forget this one. The Kagome underneath wondered why neither of them seemed to be enough. Buried deep, she wanted to know what Kikyou had that she didn't, and vice versa, because they were the same person, but not.

Above her, sunlight poured down.

And then she was closing her eyes, so tired and confused, while gentle hands drew her up and up and into the air and light.

When she awoke, she was on the grassy bank, and Kikyou was nearby, looking at her with her usual solemn face.

"Why did you save me?" the miko asked, and Kagome felt herself tumbling into a trap.

"Because... there wasn't a choice, was there?" she said. It was the wrong answer.

And right then, she knew that she would never understand Kikyou, and Kikyou would never know her. They may have the same hair and eyes and face, the same body, the same soul, the same life and love, but they could never be reconciled. The time when they were one was gone, and could never be regained.

She tried to explain, tried to make Kikyou see, but between them she could feel the earth open up, into a chasm that could never be crossed, and all around the emptiness echoed.

In the dark, chaotic spaces of time and memory and lives half-lived, the one named Kikyou disappeared, and the one named Kagome was left alone.

. . .

The next day, Kagome woke up and remembered that she didn't have to go to school today, by order of her advisor, and a sudden warm feeling of well-being spiraled through her limbs as she stretched languorously beneath the sheets.

"Unnnnnnh," she groaned happily. Today, she would relax, because she hadn't been sleeping well, and she was still feeling gloriously sleepy. Yes. She would get up and read the paper, maybe watch a bit of tv, feed the cat, and maybe take a bath -

Memory crashed into her full force like a train, and Kagome choked on her own breath. She sat up, coughing violently, wondering if the demon, whose youki had already faded into her own background awareness, was awake or not, and if he was, what he was doing in her tiny flat to keep himself occupied.

Rolling to the side, she noticed that she had slept in her clothes that were now scratchy from air-drying after the incident in the bathroom. Pulling them off, she ran into the bathroom and scrubbed her face vigorously, hoping to make herself presentable. As she pulled on fresh clothes, she realized that Kirara wasn't in the bedroom with her.

Somewhat giddily, Kagome hoped that Sesshoumaru didn't have the same sort of relationship with cats that his brother had. She suspected that Buyou had never fully recovered from the psychological damage inflicted by Inuyasha.

She paused as she buttoned up her blouse and frowned, mentally mulling that idea, and then bit her lip. Though if I ever gave anything more than two stupid seconds' thought, she berated herself, forcing her fingers to move faster in their fastening, I might realize that Inuyasha's attitude toward cats was just fine and dandy compared to anything his brother might do.

Then again, if I ever gave anything more than two stupid seconds' thought, I wouldn't have brought him home in the first place. Ah, well, it was too late for that now. Brushing her hair out frantically, Kagome finally deemed herself decently clad. She ripped open the bedroom door and tumbled into the living room.

Sesshoumaru was propped against the side of the sofa, in profile. Next to him a book lay open, turned to somewhere in the middle, and in his lap Kirara purred like a diesel truck as he ran his clawed fingertips through her thick fur.

Kagome felt vaguely betrayed.

"Um," she said.

The demon looked up.

At a loss, Kagome felt her brain kick into automatic. "Do you want breakfast?" she asked brightly.

Sesshoumaru seemed confused. "Breakfast?" he asked slowly. His voice was better today, but it was still rough and dark and soft from centuries of disuse.

She felt her mouth thin into a flat line. "Food," she told him. "And sorry my cat is bothering you."

Glancing down at the cat in his lap, Sesshoumaru gave her the distinct impression that he had executed an elaborate shrug without actually doing so. "She is not," he informed her, "and no."

Kagome walked the short distance to the kitchen. "Are you sure?" she asked, looking over the half-wall that separated the kitchen from the living room. "Aren't you hungry?"

The demon leveled a cool gaze at her. "No," he said.

Kagome turned away from him, hoping she successfully hid the frown that passed across her features. He made her jumpy, and she wasn't certain she could deal with that this early in the morning. Reaching up, she retrieved a loaf of bread from the cupboard and, studiously ignoring Sesshoumaru, she popped a few slices in the toaster before busying herself with little cleaning tasks. She cleaned out the sink, put away a few dishes, and wiped off the tiny counter top as she waited for the quiet to become less oppressive.

He was watching her. Or reading the book. She couldn't tell and she wasn't about to look at him directly, but the very idea that his eyes might possibly be on her at that very moment was unsettling to her, made her feel like a visiting traveler in her own head.

The entire situation was surreal and upsetting, and Kagome surreptitiously pinched herself, just to make sure she wasn't hallucinating. Though, she thought, she could be hallucinating that she was pinching herself, but that just opened up a whole can of worms that she didn't really want to think about because it would give her a headache. The fact remained that Sesshoumaru was in her living room, stroking her cat, and reading her copy of Gray's Anatomy.

She pinched herself again as the toaster popped up.

Kagome popped up as well, gasping at the unexpected sound and nearly falling over.

From the corner of her eye, she saw him turn his head to look in her direction. She shot him a glare, simply because she was disconcerted, but he remained poker-faced as always. Huffing, Kagome turned and buttered her toast, pointedly ignoring him.

She let the knife smooth the creamy butter over the toast, and watched as it began to melt into the crevices of the bread. Nothing untoward happened as she did so; she felt the muscles clenched at the small of her back relax fractionally. It appeared that neither she nor her overweight, useless, treacherous cat were in danger, so there didn't seem to be any point in keeping her shoulders hunched and her jaw clenched. Forcing her body to unwind, Kagome munched on her toast, popped open a can of cat food, and turned around to find Sesshoumaru leaning against the opposite wall, cat in hand, and staring at her.

"Gah!" she cried, nearly losing her footing again.

Sesshoumaru merely blinked slowly.

"Don't do that," she snapped, on edge again.

Silently, he held out the cat, who yowled happily. Kagome twisted her lips and grabbed Kirara from his grasp, clenching her teeth as her fingers lightly brushed his, and turned away to the table.

"Thanks," she mumbled.

She heard his clothes slide against the wall as he moved away.

Kagome plopped the cat down on the table in front of her food and followed Sesshoumaru back into the living room, where she found him seated as regally as possible on the sofa. Settling down on floor against the half-wall, she wondered what she was going to say to him now that she was awake and the surreal night was suddenly transplanted by the evident reality of this morning. Her mouth opened; clearly, she was about to find out.

"Why are you still here?" she asked him, then mentally winced at the baldness of the question.

Sesshoumaru, however, did not seem to care. He looked away from her, over the half-wall and out the small window in the kitchen that backed up to the neighboring building, and didn't answer.

I wonder what's so fascinating about those bricks that compels people to look at them, she thought absently. Making the best of an awkward situation, Kagome took the opportunity to examine his face.

This morning he didn't look as tired as he had when she had turned off the light, and she wondered if he'd grabbed any sleep last night. The notion crossed her mind that he may have not actually been sleeping when she found him, and absentmindedly she questioned whether or not the strange state of hibernation in which she had discovered him had been at all restful.

Her eyes narrowed, studying him as he gazed into somewhere far away. There were shadows in his eyes, in a way that there hadn't been before. She remembered him from long ago, cold and hard, but sitting in her living room he seemed to be less arrogant. Well, you did find him under a layer of dust an inch thick, she reminded herself. That sort of thing is bound to kick anyone off their high horse.

She sighed, and decided to attack from a different angle.

"Did you sleep well?" she questioned.

Slowly, Sesshoumaru shifted his eyes from the window to her, and Kagome swallowed hard at the strange, painful hitching in her chest.

He just looked so inexpressibly... something. And he was so him, still, still the demon she remembered, except different. Like a ghost come to haunt her, he stared her down.

"Yes," he said finally.

Kagome let out a breath that she hadn't even known she was holding. "Oh, good," she said. "I know that couch can be a little lumpy at times. I'm glad you slept well. Um... yeah." She beamed at him, and he looked back.

Hmm, that line of questioning was not as fruitful as I thought it would be. She licked her lips. "Um, do you need anything?" she asked.

"A kimono," he answered promptly, as though he had been waiting for her to ask the question so they could get on with it. "White, preferably."

Progress! But... Thinking of the state of her bank account, Kagome bit her lip. "Um, you don't require it to be silk or anything, do you?"

Silently, he shook his head.

Placing a hand on her forehead, Kagome swept her bangs out of the way. "Okay, I think I can swing that. Anything else?"

Sesshoumaru appeared to think, although since he did not look away while he did it he appeared to be studying her mouth. Kagome barely refrained from squirming beneath his gaze.

"Books," he finally said. "History, and about this time."

Kagome nodded. "All right, I can do that."

They held each other's eyes for a moment before Kagome looked away, down at her hands where they rested limply in her lap.

"Er..." she said, "are you planning to stay here?"

"Did you not offer your home to me?" he retorted, folding his arms. It was the longest string of words he had uttered since she had set him free. Heart sinking, she realized that yes, she really had. Once again, her lack of foresight had managed to get her into a bit of a bind.

"Just asking," she said quickly. "I didn't know what you wanted to do."

"Do?"

She twisted her fingers around themselves. "Like... I didn't know if you wanted to go kill the guy who sealed you up, or what. Because, um..." she paused, and then decided that now was as good a time as any to break the bad news, "there aren't any youkai in this era." She glanced up.

Sesshoumaru looked amused, but all he said was, "Ah," as if he had been expecting the explanation.

Kagome frowned. "You aren't surprised?"

Sesshoumaru merely shrugged. "Books, miko," he instructed. "I need books."

She nodded. "All right, I'll see what I can do."

The demon in her living room held her eyes for a moment longer than necessary before looking away again. Kagome decided that she was on the brink of throwing something at him.

"You know, you haven't even said thank you," she announced.

"What for?" he asked the wall.

"For freeing you," she told him. You big dummy, she added mentally.

"Oh," he said, and shrugged. "Thank you, I suppose."

"You suppose?" Kagome asked. "Well, you're welcome, I suppose. I guess I should have left you there to rot." She stood, feeling put out. "Would have made whoever sealed you happy, I bet, not that they're probably alive or anything."

A short, sharp laugh broke from him. "He wouldn't care either way," he told her.

"Why not?" she asked, puzzled, pouncing on the opening. "Who sealed you?"

Once again, he caught her in his stare, the shadows in him reaching across the room to draw her in. "I did," he said softly.

"Oh," she replied. "Why?"

He refused to answer.

And that seemed to be all there was to that.

. . .

Kagome watched as Sesshoumaru's beautiful, impassive face looked down at the book in his hands, which, incidentally, was about the history of Japan from the Tokugawa period to the present. She'd picked up a number of books from the local library, most of them on history or warfare, but also a few on Japanese myths so that he could see to what state his race had been relegated. He had thumbed through one of the volumes of legends, but apparently it hadn't engaged him. He seemed unconcerned that there were no more youkai. Perhaps he thought it would just be easier to take over the world without any pesky lesser youkai in his way, or perhaps he didn't believe her. Either way, myths and legends clearly didn't interest him, but he was devouring the history books.

Propped against the half-wall that separated the kitchen from the living room, Kagome nibbled on a bit of cold rice and watched him catch up with the world.

It was interesting to watch Sesshoumaru read - not so much because he was particularly interesting to look at, but because it wasn't really an activity that she associated with him. Yesterday at this time, she would never have considered that he even knew which end of a book went up, but now that she thought about it, it was only natural that he should know. He was clearly from the upper crust of society, educated and arrogant. It was only natural that he knew how to read.

It just didn't look very natural.

He held the books with great delicacy, propping them open in one hand with the other hand lying in his lap. When he turned the pages, he was deft but careful to not shred them with his claws, and he looked like he had a fair amount of practice doing so.

She wondered who had taught him how to decipher the squiggly markings, and wondered what he first read when he was younger. Almost out of nowhere, a vision came to her of Sesshoumaru, just a boy, reading a story aloud to his little brother who curled into the fluffy pelt that he no longer had.

Kagome tried to suppress the giggle that issued forth from that vision, but failed miserably.

Sesshoumaru glanced up at the snorting sounds she made, looking slightly confused at being jerked unceremoniously from the world in his head.

Immediately sobering, she covered her mouth. "I'm sorry," she said. "I was just thinking of something funny."

The expression on his face didn't change, but he also didn't pick up the book again either, prompting Kagome to squirm a little and try to break the silence.

"Um," she mumbled. "What happened to the pelt you used to carry around?"

Slowly Sesshoumaru lifted his left hand to his right shoulder, where the pelt had once sat, and she realized, suddenly, bizarrely, that his arm had grown back. She wondered why she hadn't noticed it before.

"I did not bring it with me," he said simply. He followed her gaze to his hand, pale and streaked with magenta stripes.

Biting her lip, she looked away. "I'm glad you have your arm back," she said quietly, staring at a tiny stain on her carpet. She picked at it with her finger for a while, hoping he would just turn away and forget about her. Maybe if she was very quiet he would ignore her and go back to studying, or maybe she should just throw a blanket over her head and be done with it. She couldn't take much more of this awkward silence or stunted conversation.

After a while she glanced up to find him still staring at her.

Kagome sucked in her breath.

"Hm," he said, voice noncommittal, and turned back to the book in his hands, blinking.

She rose and left the room.

. . .

Two days later, the day before her exams were set to begin, Kagome presented Sesshoumaru with a few fairly cheap white cotton-poly blend kimonos and a pair of royal blue hakama that she had been able to pick up, and he wrinkled his nose ever so slightly in distaste. She recognized the look on his face because he had aimed at her many times in the past, though this was the first time in the present that he had worn the expression. Kagome thought it was a little strange to see it again, but her indignation overrode any curiosity over his reactions.

"Well, if you don't like them, you can walk around naked," she announced, tossing them over the arm of the sofa. "It's not like I can really afford them anyway." Having grown used to his silence, she didn't wait for him to answer, merely spun on her heel and marched into the kitchen, where she stored away the milk she'd also bought on her excursion. Sesshoumaru had yet to eat anything that she could see, so she had bought enough only for herself. In a moment of more ridiculous speculation, she assumed that he got his sustenance from the air through some demonic form of osmosis; it was either that or he was going out at night while she slept and devouring stray cats.

She pressed her lips together, wondering why this had to be so difficult, and finally deciding that she should just forget about it and make something to eat. After a few moments of studying the meager contents of her cupboards she settled on onigiri and began to drag her ingredients down from their sparse shelves.

Wishing she had enough money for meat, Kagome sighed heavily and began to ladle rice into the rice steamer before adding the water and setting the timer. As the steamer began to heat up, she fetched a bowl from the top shelf, added a dash of salt, then filled it with cool water and set it on the counter. Next she opened the refrigerator and rummaged around until she found a package of umeboshi in the back. They didn't look terribly appetizing, and she normally wouldn't touch the little pickled plums with a ten foot pole, but she was getting sick of plain rice. Sighing, she grabbed the package and set it beside the bowl of water. It would have to do, she supposed. Checking to make certain that the rice was cooking, Kagome turned around.

Sesshoumaru was sitting in his new clothes, white and beautiful against her ugly sofa, reading a book on 20th century warfare and petting her cat.

In her mind, Kagome went back over the events of the past few minutes, but couldn't for the life of her figure out how Sesshoumaru had divested himself of the yukata and into the new clothes that he so obviously disliked without drawing attention to himself.

"How did you get dressed so quickly?" she demanded, striding over to him. "I thought you didn't like what I brought you!"

Glancing up, he seemed genuinely confused. "I did not wish to walk around nude," he informed her.

"That doesn't answer my question!" she cried.

Sesshoumaru merely shrugged.

"Oh, forget it," she muttered, turning around and stomping into her room, determined to ignore the enigma.

She still had time before the rice was ready, and her exams were coming up fast. Placing her hands firmly on her hips, she surveyed the pile of medical texts piled in the corner of her room and tried to decide which one she needed to study the most.

All of them, she thought morosely. Sighing, she picked up her pharm textbook and several others and walked back into the living room.

"Do you mind if I sit on the couch?" she asked the still demon. "I need to do some studying."

"Studying?" Sesshoumaru wanted to know.

She smiled a little bit, because his voice seemed to echo Inuyasha's in that moment. "Yes," she replied. "I'm studying to be a doctor."

Giving her a calculating look, the demon closed the book he was reading on one elegant finger. "You are going to be a healer?" he asked her.

"Er, yes," she replied, surprised that he had asked her a question. "I am."

"Why?"

Kagome frowned. She had never really given the question much thought. It had merely seemed natural that she do something like become a doctor. "I guess... I just wanted to help people," she told him.

On his lips a faint smirk appeared. "Still a miko after all these years," he said quietly, holding her with his amber gaze.

After a moment nothing else seemed forthcoming, and Kagome shifted, acutely aware that she looked disheveled and tired. "So may I sit on the sofa?" she asked him finally.

"It is your house," he replied. "You may of course do what you wish."

"Thanks," she said. I think.

She walked around him and sat on the end of the couch furthest from him, not entirely comfortable in such close proximity. She could even smell his scent - it was clean, like rain or thunderstorms, vastly different from Inuyasha's scent. The thought made her sad and warm at the same time.

God, I must be going nuts. Experience told her that it was generally not a good idea to dwell too much that sort of thing, so Kagome ignored the splash of warmth against her cheeks and tried not to inhale through her nose. Flipping her pharmacology textbook open, she began to peruse it, wondering what would be on the exam - it was one of her hardest classes, because she was never good at memorizing things like scrips and drug interactions. Biting her lip she thumbed through the pages, trying to decide what to study first, when Sesshoumaru spoke and nearly caused her to fall off her seat.

"Thank you," he said.

Startled, she looked at him. "For what?" she queried, puzzled.

"For the clothes," he replied, not even looking up from the page he was reading.

Kagome felt warmly surprised. "You're - welcome," she said. "It was my pleasure."

Turning away from him she settled back and began to study in the first comfortable silence she had experienced since he had walked through her door, until the rice timer dinged and brought her back to the real world.

. . .

There once was a hanyou.

"What can you possibly find interesting about that book?" Inuyasha groused, looking over her shoulder. "I can't make any fucking sense of it!"

Sighing, Kagome rolled her eyes. "Well, I don't really understand it either, but if I don't pass my next algebra test I'm never actually going to graduate from high school!" she exclaimed.

"Hmph!" Inuyasha exclaimed, turning away from her, the frowning lines on his face looking deeper and angrier in the firelight. Kagome wished that the sun was shining. She hated it when he looked like that, and she could have used the extra light to study by. "You should just stay here with us!"

"Gah!" she exclaimed, slamming the textbook shut, narrowly avoiding smashing her fingers. "Look, Inuyasha, I really need to do this. I have obligations in my own time as well."

"But what good is it?" he demanded. "It doesn't make any sense, and you don't like it, so why do you study such a weird subject?" He leaned over her shoulder again, making her blush at his proximity, and flipped the book open to a random page. Inuyasha didn't seem to notice her discomfort. "You said algebra was math, but there are these little squiggles that don't look like numbers at all!"

"Those are letters," she said, trying to ignore the warmth that spread through her at his closeness. She could smell his body - like sweat and pine trees - and she wanted more in ways that were alien and scary to her. "They represent numbers."

Inuyasha sat back and scratched his head. "Then why don't they just use the numbers they mean?"

Exasperated, Kagome tried to squirm away from him. "Because it's supposed to teach you how to think," she said. "If you have only a few numbers of an equation, and you have the answer to the equation, you're supposed to be able to figure out how to get the answer with just the few numbers given!"

Blinking, Inuyasha frowned.

"I don't get it," he said.

Frustrated, Kagome waved a hand. "It's just a new way of looking at things, I guess," she told him. "You can use mathematics to describe anything in the universe, since it's a purely manmade system. And algebra is the first step. You can look at a result and figure out the cause of it from the clues in the equation."

"Like... if you find a pile of shit in the woods, you can figure out that a bear was there?" he asked, obviously only having followed part of her explanation.

Kagome looked at him hard with narrowed eyes. He always said things like that so innocently, but she secretly suspected that he cursed only to shock her. "No," she said. "It's more like if you find a pile of - of bear shit in a place where there aren't any bears, you can figure out that someone picked it up and put it there to fertilize their crops."

Inuyasha looked shocked. "Kagome!" he said, clearly scandalized.

"What?" she asked innocently, blinking at him in the firelight. Her momentary attraction to him had faded beneath her struggle to force such a rude word from her normally polite lips. She now just wanted to giggle like crazy at the look on his face. She could surprise him, too, she realized with satisfaction.

"Keh! Whatever," he said, turning away. "I still think you shouldn't have to study it if you don't like it."

"Well, that's not the way the world works," Kagome informed his back.

Sighing, she turned back to her book and tried to concentrate, but beneath her eyes and in the firelight the numbers dipped and danced and bled, until she couldn't make sense of them any longer.

. . .

Splashing water over her oily face, Kagome looked at herself in the bathroom mirror and groaned at her reflection. Dark circles clung to the skin beneath her eyes and her hair was limp and dull. Still, on the whole, she looked better than she had last Thursday so things were looking up. It was always nice to look better than death warmed over.

With a little make up and a brush through the hair, I'll look as good as new, she determined. And then it's a little bit of breakfast, and then I'll go to University, and take my biochem exam.

A fluttering in her chest belied the excruciating nervousness she felt by merely pondering the exam. Ever since her high school days, Kagome had developed a severe fear of her exams because they had so often turned out badly, but with practice and a bit of encouragement she had finally reached a state of calm concerning testing. It had been over a year since she had last run into the lavatory at school and emptied the contents of her stomach, and she was strangely proud of that.

Swirling soap over her face, Kagome scrubbed a little extra to wake herself up before smoothing a light layer of foundation over her skin and dusting it with powder. Running a quick brush through her hair, she pulled it back and twisted it into a coil at the top of her head, securing the thick rope with a few pins. After pulling on a blouse and businesslike skirt she gave herself one last look before closing her eyes and mentally composing herself.

Opening the door, she walked into the living room, head held high.

"Good morning!" she chirped to her house guest, who was once again wearing the thin white yukata, presumably as pajamas. He gave her a dubious glance before turning back to the book in his lap.

Kagome ignored him and opened the refrigerator door, pulling out a carton of milk and pouring herself a glass. Sticking a skillet on the stove, she turned on the heat and grabbed a couple of eggs, breaking them gently on the side of the pan and pouring them inside. She hummed a little in her preparations.

"Where are you going?"

Slightly startled, she turned and looked at the demon, sitting composed and cool on the sofa. "What?" she asked, confusion clouding her brow before suddenly realizing that it was early and she was dressed to leave for the first time since he had arrived. "Oh! I have to go to University today and take an exam."

No expression touched Sesshoumaru's face, but she had the distinct impression that he had raised a questioning eyebrow.

She smiled. "I have to go take a test so that I can prove I know enough to be a doctor," she elaborated.

"Indeed?" he said. "You have to pass tests now?"

Kagome nodded. "They don't let just anyone be a healer these days. You have to go through a lot of schooling so you'll be less likely to make mistakes. And of course there's a lot more to know now."

He blinked slowly. "You have to learn about anti-bio-tics?" he said slowly.

Secretly, Kagome was impressed. He hadn't been wasting his time on the couch. "Yup," she replied. "You have to learn about medicines and the way the body works. You have to learn how to take care of people who are really sick and are going to die, and what to do when they're all torn up, too."

The demon cocked his head to the side, long silver hair brushing his cheek, and appeared to consider this. "You go to... University?"

She nodded. "Uh-huh. There I go to classes and learn about all the things I have to know to be a doctor."

"Classes?"

"Erm..." Kagome bit her lip and looked up at the ceiling. "A lot of people attend a class held by a teacher, who tells us what we need to know for each subject."

"Ah," he said. "I see."

Kagome flashed him a smile and turned back to her eggs, scooping them out of the pan and flipping them onto a plate. Walking the short distance to the table, Kagome sat down and shoveled her breakfast down her throat while casting a critical eye over her notes one last time. Biochemistry had never been her best subject, but it was better than pharmacology, which was all memorization. Biochem, on the other hand, was full of equations that she could at least wrap her head around and figure out the correct answer.

Biting her lip, Kagome squinted at a particularly indecipherable squiggle in the margin that she eventually deduced was a rather poor sketch of her teacher. What was I thinking, slacking off in this class? she mentally moaned. Well, today it was time to pay the piper, one way or another. A tickle of nausea stirred in her stomach, and Kagome spat as discreetly as possible into a napkin before taking a swig of milk and rising from the table to dump the dishes in the sink.

Deep breaths, she told herself. You'll do fine.

"Nervous?"

Frowning, she looked into the living room, where Sesshoumaru sat still as a statue.

"How did you know?" she demanded.

He didn't look up from the book in front of him. "You smell... ill."

Feeling her lips twist unhappily, Kagome tossed the bile-dampened napkin in the trash can. "Sorry," she said, suddenly embarrassed. She stared at her sensible shoes, and tried to quell the nervousness.

"Don't be."

She looked up, shocked. "What?" she asked, wondering if she had heard correctly.

As if making sure she could hear what he was saying, Sesshoumaru gave a theatrical sniff and delicately turned a page.

"You will be fine," he told her.

"What?" she said again.

Sesshoumaru ignored her. Not knowing what else to say, Kagome muttered a quick word of thanks, grabbed her satchel, and left to take her exam.

. . .

At her informal study session on Wednesday, Kagome looked up from her seat to find Yoshi staring at her with a weird intensity that reminded her of the time when they were dating.

"What?" she demanded. She wondered if she had a piece of salad stuck in her teeth. Lips closed, she self-consciously ran her tongue over her teeth.

"There's this girl," Yoshi started.

Here we go, she thought, annoyed. "Might I remind you that we need to be studying?" she said. "Seeing how the exam is tomorrow and all."

Yoshi huffed impatiently. "I'm going to fail it," he said flatly. "I hate pharm."

"You'll never be a doctor then," she told him.

Smacking a hand against the table, Yoshi looked annoyed. Kagome glanced around nervously, hoping that they weren't disturbing anyone else. "We're all only here because our parents wanted us to be," he said impatiently."

"I'm not," Kagome told him.

"You don't count," he said.

Her heart clenched painfully at those words. "Sorry," she said, glancing down at the book in front of her momentarily, not wanting him to see that he had hurt her.

"Whatever," he said airily. "The point is, I need to talk to you."

"Isn't this the sort of thing that's better to talk to one of your guy friends about?" she asked.

"I've never dated any of my guy friends," he told her.

Sighing, Kagome folded her hands on the table. "Yoshi-kun," she began, before what he was saying actually hit her with a little trickle of cold in her heart.

"You want to date one of my friends, is that it?" she asked.

Yoshi nodded. "I just wanted you to know first. Miyu and I are dating."

Frowning, Kagome tilted her head. "Okay," she said. "Now are we going to study or what?"

"You're okay with this?"

I don't know, she thought. Yes. No. I miss... "Yes, I'm fine," she told him. "We broke up three years ago."

Yoshi made a helpless gesture. "Well, you were always hung up on that other guy, so I didn't know if you would take this badly."

"I'm fine," she repeated.

"Great!" Yoshi said. "Then you won't mind if I skip out on our studying?"

"What?"

"Miyu and I have a date," he said, already stuffing his books into his satchel. "And I don't want to keep her waiting."

"But - "

Yoshi was already on his feet. "Thanks, Kagome!" he said, tossing her a wink over his shoulder as he walked quickly out of the library, leaving her alone.

" - what about the test?" she muttered, to no one but herself.

Weaving her fingers into her hair, Kagome bent over the textbook and tried to focus. It worked for a little while, but after finding herself staring off into space and thinking dark thoughts for the third time in fifteen minutes, Kagome concluded that she had studied enough. Sighing, she stood and gathered her things, and managed to make it out of the library just in time for her phone to ring.

It was Kayoko.

"Kagome, can you come over?" she asked. She sounded as though she had been crying, and Kagome felt her heart hitch sympathetically. Even though this happened once a month when Kayoko dumped or was dumped by her current squeeze, she always seemed so happy about her new relationships that it was a disappointment for Kagome when they ended. She suspected that she was living vicariously through the lives of her friends, but Kagome had always figured that she was due for some pleasure in a relationship, even if the relationship in question was not her own.

But even though she found herself sympathetic, the clock told her that she should be getting home and in bed.

"I'm really sorry, Kayoko-chan," she said, "but I really have to get home. I have an exam in the morning."

"Oh please!" her friend wailed, and Kagome had to wince and pull the phone from her ear.

"I can't!" she said. "I really am sorry!"

"Oh, fine." Kayoko sounded like she was pouting. "I'll just go eat a pint of ice cream and cry in the bathtub."

"Don't drown," Kagome told her absently, fumbling with the keys to her car.

"I'll do my best. Maybe Arisu loves me and will come over."

"Hey!" Kagome exclaimed. "I love you!"

But Kayoko had already hung up. Patience at an end, Kagome slammed the phone shut and slid into the driver's seat. Stupid friends, she thought.

She drove home, feeling tired and lonely and not in the mood for anyone else's drama, and more than anything she wanted to be alone, but she wasn't going to be afforded that luxury. Even when alone in her room now, she could feel Sesshoumaru's presence. Cursing silently in language that would have made her blush only a few years ago, Kagome pulled into her parking space and got out, grabbing her satchel and walking heavily up the stairs to her little flat.

Kagome withdrew her keys before pushing open the door. She didn't bother to lock it now that she had her own demon burglar alarm in residence, but habit died hard, and she still got her keys ready before entering. Tossing the heavy keyring on the small table next to the door, Kagome kicked off her shoes and let her hair down.

Sesshoumaru was sitting in the dark. Apparently he had finished all his books and had figured out the remote control for her television set. She wondered if it confused him at all to see the tiny moving pictures of people and the strange drawings flash across the screen, but she quickly decided that she didn't care. He'd probably read about it in one of the books she'd given him.

"I'm back," she said, superfluously. It was the polite thing to do, even though he was sitting only five feet away from her.

Sesshoumaru turned his head to look at her. "Welcome home," he said. "I trust your study session -" the phrase was clearly unfamiliar to him, and he rolled it around in his mouth before continuing " - was fruitful?"

Kagome shrugged. "I guess," she said tiredly. She didn't feel like telling him the polite little lies she'd always told people, because he didn't seem to care for platitudes. The truth just seemed better.

"I see," he said, though he probably didn't understand at all. Oddly, she felt a pang of gratitude that she wouldn't be forced to explain it to him.

Simply nodding, she walked to the kitchen, poured herself a glass of milk, and crossed through the living room to her bedroom.

Sesshoumaru didn't move as she closed the door behind her, trying to shut him out.

. . .

She was laying down next to a fire, with a little kitsune cuddled in her arms and another girl in her sleeping bag. Only a few feet away, in her spare bedroll, a young boy dreamed, and it made Kagome smile to know that he didn't have nightmares tonight. Sango was slumbering, as was Shippou, and Kagome found herself looking happily at their peaceful faces in the flickering light of the flames.

She would be leaving soon, too soon, and she didn't want to sleep lest she miss something. It was silly, of course, but she had that fear. Above her head, a little two-tailed cat was curled, purring gently into its own fur.

Kagome sighed, feeling content. She glanced across the little campsite to the monk who was sleeping lightly against a tree with his hands folded in his lap, and she noted with deep satisfaction that the hand that had been gloved for so long was once again bare. He had been saved, and in the firelight she thought his fingers moved with happiness, danced with joy.

Turning over, Kagome gazed up into the trees, and she knew that up there, somewhere, was a hanyou boy, watching over her. She allowed herself to sigh in contentment and stretch one arm high over her head, not wanting to move the other and disturb the little boy who slept against her.

Hovering in the back of her mind was a heavy knowledge. The hanyou boy would become a human boy. The fox kit would grow up. The huntress and the monk would marry and have children. The hunter boy would live with them and care for their children, maybe find a wife. But none of that mattered because here and now they were all together, in one place.

Along the back of her neck, Kagome felt her muscles uncoil from their resting places around her bones. It felt good to know that the enemy was gone, that no one would bother them now. She hadn't slept easy in so, so long.

A whole season. A whole season eaten away by fear and need and the end of the world breathing down the back of the neck.

It was amazing that they'd stayed awake even a second beyond the moment of defeat. It was amazing they hadn't sunk to the ground in sleep immediately. So draining.

But they had survived. Kagome smiled up into the branches above her, finally content.

She wiggled the fingers that were beneath Shippou, trying to keep them working; sometimes he could cut off her circulation, and waking up with a limp, numb hand was never fun. Slowly, she worked feeling into her digits as she gazed dreamily into the fire-gilded branches. She tried to decide what to eat first once she was back at home. Oden, of course. Then curry. And eggs. Chicken with rice and noodles would be good too, or perhaps some radish. Radish sounded really good right now...

Gradually, Kagome was becoming aware of something amiss. Frowning she wiggled her fingers again.

They were wet.

That was odd.

Brow furrowed, Kagome twisted in place and tried to get her hand out from underneath Shippou without waking him, but the little kit was out like a light. Smiling just a little at his sleeping face, Kagome pulled her hand from beneath his body and lifted it to her gaze to inspect the curious wetness.

In the flickering light, viscous red liquid dripped over her fingers and down her wrist. A coppery tang hung in the air, and for a moment Kagome couldn't breathe.

"Sango!" she hissed, high and shrill. "Sango, I'm bleeding!" With her unbloodied hand, Kagome reached across Shippou and shook the other girl.

Whose head rolled back, revealing a throat red and open, slit through to the bone.

Kagome screamed and grabbed Shippou, rocketing out of the sleeping bag, but even as she did so she felt the cold skin of the kit in her arms, and cooling blood was spilling down her front. He was dead in her arms. She dropped him in horror, and he hit the ground like a rag doll.

The coppery smell was thick in the air now, and she was crying so hard she couldn't see, but she didn't have to see, because she knew they were all dead.

She dropped to her knees. "Inuyasha!" she screamed, throat scraping raw, eyes blinded with tears, heart filled with knives, life at an end.

"Inuyashaaaaaa!"

From somewhere high above her, blood dripped down from the branches, pattering down to rest on the dead autumn leaves.

Kagome screamed and screamed and screamed.

Kagome woke up in the heavy night and sat straight up in bed, screaming.

With difficulty, she choked on the scream and stilled her throat, though her heart hammered on, and her throat burned with her heavy gulps of air.

It was always this way when she had that dream - shivering uncontrollably, sweat pouring down her body, and the past feeling so close she could touch it. Bending over where she sat, Kagome held her face and forcibly calmed her breathing as she listened to her heart pound like thunder, as though seeking a way out of her chest.

Months, she thought. It had been months since she had last dreamed that horrible nightmare. Months since she had last woken up with a cry in her throat and a blade through her chest.

"God," she mumbled. "God."

Kagome kicked the blankets from the bed and scrambled out of the tangled web of sheets. Grabbing her dressing gown, she pulled it on and knotted it at the waist before opening the door and pacing with a single-mindedness of purpose to the kitchen, highly conscious of the demon asleep on the couch.

It was dark, but she knew just what she was looking for. Above the refrigerator there was a small cupboard, and without having to look where she was going she stopped just short of hitting her nose on the door of the icebox. Stretching, Kagome opened the cupboard above it, and her fingers barely brushed the neck of the bottle stowed there before closing around the smooth glass and drawing it out. Pausing, she shifted the bottle from one hand to the other, feeling its familiar weight.

A bitter smile graced her features, unseen in the darkness.

"Hm," she muttered quietly to herself. "Guess I wasn't done with this."

With still trembling fingers, she unscrewed the cap and felt the sharp smell of alcohol hit her nose. Without bothering to grab a glass, Kagome took a swig of the cheap whiskey, and felt it burn all the way down.

Coughing, she spat into the sink.

"Ugh," she whispered before taking another hit.

That one nearly caused her to toss up whatever remained of her dinner, but after a few quick, deep breaths the feeling of nausea passed. Vision finally adjusting to the darkness, Kagome eyed the brown liquid inside the bottle with a strange mixture of love and revulsion. It was disgusting and horrible and a bad habit to have, but it helped her make it through the night, kept the nightmares at bay. Sighing, she took a final swallow and replaced the cap through the tears it brought to her eyes. She guessed she'd polished off a fourth of the bottle. Belatedly, she remembered that she had an exam in the morning.

"Aeeugh," she muttered again, grabbing a paper towel from the counter top and snuffling into it. Whiskey was terrible, but it did clear out her sinuses like industrial grade bleach.

Already she could feel a deep, languorous warmth spread its loosening tendrils through her limbs and pool in her belly like fire. As she replaced the bottle, she wobbled a little on her tiptoes. After the bottle had been stowed to her satisfaction, she leaned gently against the refrigerator, letting her head rest against its cool surface as she felt the tension slowly drain in the quiet of the kitchen.

"Trouble sleeping?"

"Oh!" she said quietly, turning to see Sesshoumaru staring at her, golden eyes turned into an eerie yellow color in the flat blue light of the nighttime. He was lying on the sofa, long white hair draped over the arm, so long that it curled on the floor. The blanketwas thrown him in a haphazard manner. At his throat, the yukata gaped enough to reveal an expanse of luminous skin almost to his shoulder.

He looked more disheveled than she had ever seen him, with one hand trailing on the floor and the other buried in his own hair, elbow propped against the back of the sofa, yellow eyes looking at her askance. He was like some kind of beautiful phantom, almost real, a memory of reality, come to haunt her.

Kagome swallowed, trying to remember what he had asked her; the alcohol was already taking effect. "Um," she said, searching.

She placed a hand against her forehead.

"Nightmares?" he suggested quietly.

Relieved, she nodded. "Yes," she replied. She looked down at the floor beneath her feet, noticed that it needed cleaning. "Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."

She heard the sound of cloth moving over cloth. Against her better judgement, she looked up.

He had propped himself up on his elbow now, hand hanging off the edge of the cushion, other arm draped over his waist, head raised and eyes now leveled at her.. The yukata had slipped ever so slightly from his shoulder. In the dark, he gave her a calculating look.

"What do you dream of?" he finally asked.

On Kagome's alcohol-heightened ears, his voice moved like liquid velvet. She found the sensation frightening - she had never had this much to drink when anyone else was around. Her friends would have been shocked to see her like this.

Swallowing, she tried to hold his eyes. "My friends," she told him. Her throat was dry.

"Friends?"

She shifted from one foot to the other. "The huntress and the kitsune and the monk and... and your brother."

He said nothing, merely waited for her to fill the silence.

Nervously, she tried to appease him. "I..." she looked down at her feet and scuffed a toe against the linoleum."I dream of them dead. They always die in horrible ways, like with their throats slit, or eviscerated, or suffocated. It's awful."

He regarded her. "But they are dead. Did you not see them die?"

Strangely, belatedly, Kagome realized that he didn't understand.

"I don't know what happened to them because I haven't lived for five hundred years," she said. "I traveled through time to get to... the past. When I met you."

For a time, he didn't reply, and she tried not to stare at his bare shoulder; the disarray was upsetting to her. She wanted to either move it into place or smooth the cloth back from the other shoulder.

The longer he remained silent, the more she wondered if she had confused him, and she was on the verge of plunging into the entire story when he nodded slowly. "You were born...?"

A half smile graced her lips. "Twenty-five years ago. When I turned fifteen, ten years ago, I found a way to travel through time, where I met... your brother."

"Ah," he said, as if it all made sense to him now, and perhaps it did.

"So, no. I did not see them die."

"Ah," he said again, but longer this time, and more regretful.

Biting her lip, she shifted in place again. The air around her felt strange and sharp, as though the world were waiting for something. "Do you..." she began, then trailed off.

He waited and watched her, unmoving. "Do... I...?" he finally prompted.

"Do you know what happened to them?" she blurted out.

Slowly, he shook his head. "Only Inuyasha," he qualified as her heart sank into her stomach.

"What?" she asked. "How?"

She was unable to articulate the question.

Kagome stood in the doorway from the kitchen to the living room, legs crawling with pins and needles, alcohol clouding her mind, and waited to hear how the boy she loved had died.

"A wound," Sesshoumaru said abruptly. "He was still young,"

Her heart stuttered and stopped. "From fighting?" she breathed.

"No. From farming. The scythe slipped and sliced his leg open, and he died of a fever afterward, I was told."

Infection, she thought dumbly. She could have saved him, if he had been here. A shot of penicillin, and he wouldn't have had to die.

"Why didn't you save him?" she asked, voice strained. "You had that sword..." She glanced to the side of the room where Tenseiga sat, serene and peaceful.

"Hn." That little derisive laugh. "Too late," he said, looking away, as if to dismiss her, or as though he were ashamed. She couldn't tell which. She watched as his silken hair fell over his bare shoulder. She took a step forward before stopping, hands slightly raised.

"I see," she replied, biting her lip. "I see."

There was an awkward pause before -

"Alcohol, miko?"

She blinked at the sudden subject change. "It helps me sleep... when I have nightmares."

"It is strong," he said, tone noncommittal.

Kagome almost smiled at that. "Sometimes," she said, walking a little further into the room, balance a bit askew, "it takes strong stuff."

"That," Sesshoumaru replied, "is a truth worth remembering."

She had reached the side of the sofa, and she looked down at him, feeling as though she were standing on the edge of a blade, at the top of a cliff. There was wind blowing at her back.

He looked up at her, golden eyes shining dimly. "You should go to sleep, miko."

As if of its own accord, her hand fluttered out into the space between them, and in her fingers she caught the slightly rough cotton fabric of his yukata. Gently she pulled it over his shoulder, covering him. Her eyes never left his.

"Don't catch cold," she whispered.

He didn't reply.

Kagome turned away from him, and, fighting to keep her balance, went to bed.

. . .

There once was an orphaned kitsune.

Tail in air, Shippou was digging through her backpack, looking for candy. He was always looking for candy, Kagome reflected gloomily. She was going to turn him into a diabetic.

"Shippou-chan," she scolded. "It's not nice to just dive into someone's things and root around. You never know what could be in there." Firmly, she placed her hands around his waist and lifted him bodily from the bag, taking care to not tickle her own nose with his tail. Shippou squirmed, kicking his little feet as she righted him in her arms.

"But I neeeeeeed it," he whined, holding up a lollipop that he had unearthed from god-knew-where.

Wrinkling her nose, Kagome plucked an enormous piece of lint from the surface of the candy. "It's dirty, Shippou," she pointed out, shaking the fuzz from her fingers, even though experience taught her that Shippou would eat anything if it promised to give him a sugar high.

"But delicious!" he insisted, popping it into his mouth. His lips split into an enormous grin of satisfaction, the skin around his mouth already sticky from the sugar.

Kagome sighed and dug around in her backpack with her free hand, searching for a handkerchief with which to clean up the inevitable mess. After a few moments of rummaging she was rewarded with an only slightly dingy square of cloth. Shippou was already chomping down, unable to contain his joy at having something sugary to chew on.

Sitting down on a nearby rock, Kagome opened a bottle of water and poured a little bit onto the handkerchief to dampen it. "Hold still," she commanded, turning him around in her lap. Against her skin, his fox feet felt alien and strange, and his soft tail made her shiver a little as it brushed against the slight, fine hairs of her own legs.

Obediently oblivious, Shippou lifted his face to hers and endured her ministrations. With rough affection, Kagome carefully cleared the sticky detritus from around his lips and chin. When she was satisfied with his level of cleanliness, she nodded firmly and folded the handkerchief, tucking it away. "All done!" she announced, clapping her hands and looking at the little kitsune.

She paused in mid-clap.

He was crying.

Not screaming, tantrum crying, but weeping, rather. As she watched, his eyes filled with tears that welled up and spilled over, dripping slowly down round cheeks and dropping down to be lost in his clothing. There was nothing in his face that indicated his weeping; his chin was still, his nose was dry and cool, and his brow was only slightly furrowed. But still he wept, a silent cycle of tears rising up and spilling over, then running down, down to his clothes, down to his hands, down to the earth.

"Shippou-chan!" she wanted to say, but it came out as a slightly strangled whisper. "What's wrong?"

The little kit shook his head. "Mama," he said, and in his eyes Kagome could see the shadow of memory, moving quietly, drawing out his sadness, filling him up with fear and loss.

He was always so brave, always trying to protect her, but she forgot, forgot often, that he was just a little boy. He missed his mother.

Kagome wrapped her arms around him and held him close as the tears kept coming.

After a while, he struggled a little against her and she pulled back immediately, hand coming up to smooth his hair from his face. "Better?" she asked.

In the instant between the sad shining eyes and the shaky smile, she thought he gave her a very odd, very old look, but it had to have been her imagination, and she forgot it the moment the little kit nodded.

"Don't tell Inuyasha," he said.

Kagome rubbed his nose against hers. "Our secret," she promised, giving him a little smile. "Our secret."

. . .

Her eyes were glued shut.

That was the first thing she noticed the next day when she surfaced in the world of the conscious. The second thing she noticed was that she felt slightly woozy, and determined that she had consumed a decent amount of whiskey the previous night. Which meant that she had woken up screaming from a nightmare. Which meant that no doubt, from what she could remember, she had said something horribly embarrassing to Sesshoumaru.

She tried to decide which was more embarrassing: waking up screaming, or getting caught sneaking nips of whiskey. After a moment of peeling her eyelids open, she determined that both were equally humiliating, and that Sesshoumaru, being the sensitive man he no doubt was, would probably bring it up in some hurtful way. After all, he'd never failed to taunt his brother mercilessly, or, for that matter, anyone else he found in his way.

It was a disheartening way to wake up, made even worse by the fact that her pharm exam was in two hours.

Kicking off her sheets, Kagome threw an arm over her forehead and groaned. Of all the nights to have a dream like that, she thought, it had to be last night.

With great delicacy, she pulled herself into a sitting position, trying not to jar her head too much; her brain felt like razors wrapped in cotton, and her joints felt rusty, but all in all it could have been worse. Swinging her legs off the bed, Kagome stood and walked into the bathroom and began to draw water for a quick splash around in the tub.

Scrubbing her eyes with a bit of cold water, Kagome waited for the tub to fill.

Then she remembered that Inuyasha had died of an infection, and then she was crying into her washcloth, falling hard to her knees in a move that jarred her to her teeth.

She hadn't been able to absorb it last night, it hadn't seemed real. In all honesty, it still didn't feel real this morning, but she knew the abstract facts, and it was horrible to contemplate.

Inuyasha, who had never cried nor complained about an injury, who had fought on through blood and pain, had been felled by an infection. He'd sliced his leg open farming for god's sake. Sliced it probably through the muscle, infesting the wound with vicious microorganisms that ate away at his skin, turning it black, seeping through his leg, crawling into his body and filling him with agonizing sickness.

Inuyasha, strong and brave and full of a bumbling loyalty, dead in the ground. Dead because she had convinced him to become human. Dead, because she still held the wish of Kikyou in her soul. She had wanted the jewel to disappear, had wanted Inuyasha to choose the correct path. She couldn't even remember now, didn't even know why she wanted him to be human in the first place, because she'd loved the hanyou, loved him, and he died because of her.

Kagome sobbed into cold terrycloth, and tried to quell the paralyzing sadness that threatened to pull her under.

She'd always known he was dead, but she hadn't known how. And now she knew. She'd always been able to pretend that he had died old and surrounded by family, with a wife and children and grandchildren, the way life was supposed to be - even though it hurt to think he could love someone after losing her, she could lie to herself quite well and pretend she wanted him to be happy - but now the illusion was shattered, and it couldn't be pieced together again.

He had died in agony.

She was sobbing loudly, embarrassing heaves that could surely be heard through the thin walls. Angrily, she gulped air and tried to distance herself, but it only worked half-way.

Kagome had no idea what to do now that she was completely alone, really, truly alone. She had memories, but they weren't the same, and the people in those memories had died hundreds of years ago. She bit her lip against another sob, and tried to figure out what was next. She wished that grief came with a step-by-step program.

Scraping the tears from her face but still weeping, Kagome dimly realized that the water was still running. She had to turn off the water in the tub, and on bruised knees she moved to do so.

And then she realized that there were still tears falling from her eyes, but she had to get in the tub. After a while she would have to get out again, and go eat breakfast, and go take an exam and endure the world without Inuyasha, without Sango and Miroku and Shippou, but right here, right now, she had to take a bath.

Kagome crawled into the tub and scrubbed her skin so hard it turned pink.

After a while, she crawled out and dried herself off. Somewhere in between, she had stopped crying, but now her eyes were swollen and her nostrils were stuffed with mucous, and she felt like a car wreck. Almost angrily she blew her nose and splashed cold water against her eyes, trying to wash them out. Grabbing a brush she drew it violently through her hair, scraping the bristles against her scalp with such force that her eyes began to water all over again. Kagome gave up and pulled her hair into a ponytail before stepping into her skirt and shrugging on her blouse.

Listlessly she wandered into the kitchen and went through the movements of making a piece of toast for which she really didn't have the appetite.

Sesshoumaru was sitting at the table, idly thumbing through one of her medical texts. She wondered if he would say something to her about last night, or even this morning. Surely he'd heard her through the wall.

Even though he wasn't looking at her, Kagome blushed and turned away, suddenly mad that he made her feel uncomfortable in her own home, but that feeling vanished like smoke in the wind. She truly was too drained to care now. Let him mock, she thought wearily, pouring out a glass of orange juice. Then at least one of us will get some entertainment out of this.

Her toast popped up and she buttered the warm, crunchy bread quickly before placing it on a plate, grabbing her glass, and sitting down opposite the demon.

Slowly, Kagome forced her mouth to open, and her hand to bring the toast to her lips. She tore a chunk away from the bread with her teeth and chewed mechanically.

It tasted like cardboard in her mouth. Sesshoumaru still hadn't looked up from the book. Maybe he was too disgusted with her to even look at her, though Kagome found that thought even less comforting than the idea that he would find her pain amusing.

With difficulty, she swallowed the lump of badly chewed toast and washed it down with a sip of juice. Looking back at the square of bread, there seemed to be just too much of it there. Too much to eat; the thought of forcing so much toast down her throat suddenly seemed exhausting. Carefully, Kagome placed the piece of toast back on the plate and pushed it slightly away before bringing her fingers to her temples and massaging the skin there, trying to force away a nonexistent pain.

"Nervous?"

Kagome looked up tiredly, but she couldn't seem to comprehend the words that the demon had spoken. "What did you say?" she asked softly, feeling her brow draw down into a slight frown.

Sesshoumaru looked up from his book. "I asked if you were nervous about your exam today," he said quietly.

Kagome blinked. "A little. It's my worst subject."

He nodded, turning back to the book in front of him and turning a page. "You will be fine," he said, an echo of himself.

Kagome swallowed hard. "Thank you," she replied quietly, looking down at her hands. Of their own volition, her fingers were massaging her palms, as though trying to soothe herself back into some semblance of a functioning human being. Kagome sucked her upper lip into her mouth and bit down hard, trying to wake herself up, make herself do the things she had to do to get through the day. Nothing was different today than it was yesterday, except that her heart was broken more than usual. Nothing was different, it was all the same, and she still had obligations to fill.

Her hands wouldn't stop rubbing each other, hard and methodical. She pressed her lips together.

"You should eat," the demon said.

Kagome nodded hesitantly. "I know," she replied. "It's hard this morning."

When she realized what she had said, she kicked herself mentally, suddenly even more uncomfortable than she had been when she walked into the kitchen. She glanced up to find him regarding her with his cool, steady gaze.

He was quiet for a while, but when he spoke, it was short and to the point.

"Yes," he agreed. "It is."

Around her heart, an iron band loosened. Kagome took a shuddering breath.

"Eat," Sesshoumaru commanded, turning back to the book he held in his large, open hand and narrowing his eyes with interest in whatever was written there.

Kagome finished her meal and rose from the table to wash her dishes.

"Leave them," the demon said. "I will take care of them."

The shock nearly caused her to drop the dishes on the floor. "What?" she said, whirling around, pain forgotten.

Sighing as though it taxed him to explain himself, Sesshoumaru looked at her from the corner of his eye. "You will be late. I will take care of them," he repeated.

Startled, Kagome glanced at the clock on the wall where it measured out the even moments of time, and realized that if she left now, she just might possibly make it in time to be late for the start of her exam.

"Oh no!" she exclaimed, dumping the dishes unceremoniously in the sink. "I'm so late it's not even funny!"

Sesshoumaru, as though to prove her wrong, snickered.

Kagome found she didn't care. Grabbing her satchel, she quickly thumbed through the books inside. "Oh no!" she almost yelled. "Where's my pharm textbook?"

Casting a panicked glance around the room, her gaze fell on the book in Sesshoumaru's hands. Without even pausing, she ran across the kitchen floor, plucked her pharmaceutical's textbook from his fingers with a frantic "sorry!" and ran to the entryway where she shoved her shoes onto her feet.

"Thank you!" she called over her shoulder as she raced out the door. She was rewarded with a clear view of Sesshoumaru's nonplused face right before the door closed, and she pounded down the stairs to her car, sadness and memory plucking at her heels.

She staunchly ignored both, rammed the car into gear, and headed for school, but even then she could still feel him hovering over her shoulder.

. . .

Kagome burst through the front door a few hours later and struck a happy pose, flinging her arms into the air - nearly knocking herself unconscious with a grocery bag as she did so - and kicking a shoe off her foot and into the wall.

"I'm home!" she announced.

"I see," Sesshoumaru remarked flatly, not turning away from the television set.

Kagome deflated a bit, but quickly rallied. "I did well on my test!" she said, kicking off her other shoe as she tried to transmit some of her enthusiasm to him. She desperately hoped he would take her lead - maybe if someone else was happy, she could ward off the melancholy for a few more hours. Already the thrill of passing her exam was fading, and the creeping tendrils of pain that she had left behind were crawling around her ankles again. Please be interested, she thought, grinning a hollow grin.

"Hn," he said, flipping the channel. Apparently some male behavior crossed species, because within two seconds of changing the station he was clearly discontent, and did it again.

Kagome sighed as he began to flip through the small rota of stations. Her shoulders slumped and she crossed her arms, no easy feat with the grocery bags still looped over her wrists. "Fine then," she told him, endeavoring to sound nonchalant. "I guess I won't make a special dinner for you."

Sesshoumaru stopped flipping.

"What?" he asked, as though he hadn't heard her correctly.

"I said," she repeated as she flounced into the kitchen to place her purchases in the refrigerator, "that if you don't want to celebrate with me, I won't make a special dinner for you."

Sesshoumaru was silent as she rummaged around. A few seconds later she heard him flipping channels again, but this time at a slower pace, and she smiled a little through the small stinging pain in her heart. He was so like his brother in some ways - Inuyasha had never liked to let her know what he was feeling as well - and she could almost smell the little emotions that he was covering up.

On the other hand, it had been only a week since he had come into her home and she had yet to see him eat. Placing her purchases on the counter, Kagome leaned on the half-wall that separated the living room from the kitchen and pinned Sesshoumaru with a stare and waited for him to notice her.

Come on, she thought, I can wait just as long as you.

He continued to stare straight ahead, finally settling on an educational program detailing modern forensics techniques.

Kagome stared at him and counted to one hundred in her head. Then she curled her toes fifty times, just to see what it felt like. Her final verdict was: not terribly good. The end result was a foot cramp and heightened annoyance at Sesshoumaru's refusal to acknowledge her existence.

"Hey," she finally blurted, unable to wait any longer.

Sesshoumaru remained immobile except for his eyes, which slid in her direction.

"Do you eat? At all?" she asked him, surreptitiously trying to massage life back into her cramped foot with her own toes.

"Sometimes," he answered.

"What do you mean, sometimes?"

He tilted his head slightly. "I mean sometimes. But it is not required."

Kagome frowned, leaning further into the room. "Not required? I thought everyone had to eat at some point."

Sesshoumaru made an ambiguous little noise in the back of his throat. "There is no longer any need," he told her.

"Why not?"

If he had been a more emotive man, she was certain he would have sighed. "I am too old," he replied. "I require almost nothing now." There was a flat quality to his voice. Kagome shifted, suddenly at odds with him again, uncertain as to how to proceed. She licked her lips.

"Well, do you like eating?" she asked him desperately.

Again the little tilt of the head. "Sometimes," he said again, voice slightly more genial.

Suddenly, Kagome just wanted to have a nice dinner, just wanted to sit down and have a nice conversation and be normal for a moment, or as normal as possible with a youkai lord in her flat. She pasted a bright smile on her face that would have made her mother proud. "Well, I hope you like steak, because I don't think I can eat all of it by myself," she informed him lightly, and turned around before he could reply.

Propping her hand on her hip, Kagome chewed on the inside of her cheek, contemplating how to cook the steak. In the end she decided that peppering and pan searing was the best option. Despite the fact that it was barely time for lunch, Kagome determined that she had earned her steak, and she was going to eat it now.

Stubbornly she refused to think about the things that poked at her mind with skeletal fingers and focused on her slight victory today. She'd won against the forces of evil as embodied by her pharmacology class, and she was damn well going to enjoy it. Tears could wait until later.

As she peppered the steaks, Kagome idly wondered, the thoughts airy and without weight, if she could defer the tears forever. If she could avoid the grasping fingers of memory long enough, could she slip free of them for the rest of her life?

Slowly, suddenly trapped in thought, Kagome rubbed the pepper into the meat.

A day of sidestepping? she thought softly. A week? A month? A year?

Her hands had stopped moving.

If I could run, could I spend eternity without crying?

The thought fluttered across her mind, tickling her with sadness. Ironically, it almost made her weep.

Biting down so hard on her lip that she thought she would draw blood, Kagome concentrated on the task in front of her.

With soothing, mechanical movements, Kagome found her mind calming down, and after flipping the steaks over, she propped a hand on her hip and looked critically at the meal.

"Needs something more," she muttered. Walking briskly to the refrigerator, Kagome stood on her tiptoes and grabbed the bottle of whiskey. Unscrewing the cap she splashed a bit into the pan and watched the flames lick over the steak with satisfaction.

"More alcohol?" asked Sesshoumaru, only a foot behind her.

Her heart stuttered and stopped in shock before kicking in again. Lips thinning in consternation, Kagome refused to turn around. "Just for flavor," she said, moving the cuts of steak around in the pan. They didn't need to be tended, but she wanted to at least look busy. Something about Sesshoumaru inspired the need to appear useful. "It gives the meat a little extra kick."

"Indeed," he replied.

Kagome had the distinctly unpleasant feeling that he was making fun of her. "It'll taste good, I promise," she told him, turning around slightly so she could see him. From the corner of her eye she noted that his hands were tucked into his sleeves and his bangs - had she really cut them herself? - were hanging over his eyes, shielding her from his scrutiny, or maybe he from hers.

She heard him sniff. "Doubtful," he said, low and bored.

As though he had placed a finger on a fault line, Kagome felt her fragile composure suddenly crack and shatter beneath the force of the sadness pressing in, and loss poured down.

She wanted to get angry. She wanted to throw the still licking flames of whiskey into his hair. She wanted to scream and hit him for being too late, for being so silent and so not Inuyasha, for having his hair and eyes, but not his spirit. She wanted to cry.

Kagome whirled around and opened her mouth, raising her hand to wag a finger, or poke him, or slap his beautiful, passive face.

Then his hand was on her jaw, looking down into her eyes, and she was staring up at him. In the tense moment, she realized that he was still painfully perfect, still smooth skin and otherworldly eyes, looking ethereal and unbearably angelic. His lips were slightly wet - he must have licked them - and a tendril of silver hair had fallen against her bare arm, brushing her skin. He was focused on her, golden eyes narrow, and in his neck she saw his pulse leap and jump.

She felt weak and her fingers twitched, wanting to touch him. He couldn't be real, his fingers weren't on her skin, no one who looked like him could possibly be alive.

He was so close she could smell him. He smelled like blank paper. He smelled like smoke on snow.

Time stretched thin, like the string of a violin, waiting to be plucked.

Sesshoumaru tightened his grip.

Sharp pain lanced through her bones where his fingers dug in to her jaw, and Kagome heard herself make a small noise in her throat as her knees buckled and tears sprang to her eyes. No longer entranced, she was angry again.

Sesshoumaru jerked her face, hard, giving her a painful shake, eyes boring down into hers. He opened his mouth.

"Don't," he growled.

Ridiculously, her brain noted that his voice still rasped along the edges, still recovering from disuse.

One by one, he lifted his fingers from her chin and stepped back. Slowly Kagome lifted her own hands to her face and massaged the flesh there, certain she would have bruises.

He could kill her. He could crush her bones, melt her skin. There was no subduing spell now, and he was dangerous.

And Inuyasha was really gone, so it didn't really matter.

Kagome turned, shut off the stove, and brushed past the unmoving demon. With even, measured steps, she moved into her bedroom and closed the door behind her. Drained and empty, she leaned against it. It was a long time before she gathered the motivation to push away from the wall.

Wearily, she slid into bed, and tried to sleep through the sadness and the fear.

. . .

She thought about asking him to leave. She probably couldn't make him leave, but if she wanted him gone, it would have been worth a shot. Kagome considered, very carefully, getting up from bed, marching into the living room, and asking him to go. To gather the few belongings he had now, and make a quick stage left from her life.

But she didn't. After a thorough examination of her jaw in the mirror, she determined that she wasn't injured in the slightest, despite the fact that he was much stronger than she and could have shattered it at any time. On top of that, he had nowhere to go, and she couldn't just do that to him, even if he was unpleasant and sullen.

And she was bored. So she wanted him to stay.

She hadn't realized how deeply she had sunk into her little world, drawing herself away from her friends, downing shots of horrible liquor late at night when it didn't seem to matter, just being away from everyone. For better or worse, a demon on her couch broke that world open. She felt like she was hovering outside the shell, amazed at how dull and tiny her life had become.

Staring at herself in the mirror, Kagome pondered the question of where the bright, ebullient girl she used to be had run, and why that girl had left this quiet, sad woman behind. It was amazing that Sesshoumaru had even recognized her when he woke up. She must still look enough like that girl to have stirred his memory, but she felt as though she had faded a little bit, her colors no longer as bright. She wondered what he had seen as he looked into her eyes.

A sudden vision of him hovering over her in the darkness of the cave flashed across her mind, and she felt his weight on her, pressing her into the earth. The memory of his breath on her skin and his lips in her hair slipped into her mind, and she shivered.

Face warm, she shoved those thoughts away and splashed cold water over her cheeks before vigorously rubbing her face with a towel. Very definitively not thinking about Sesshoumaru, she stripped naked and pulled on a tank top and some pajama bottoms.

Running a hand through her hair, she stepped out into the living room only to find that he wasn't propped against the sofa like she had anticipated. Cursory inspection revealed him to be at her little kitchen table, silver hair falling like water over his shoulders and staring out the window that directly faced the brick wall.

Slowly crossing into the kitchen and stepping to the table, Kagome lowered herself so she was sitting across from him, crossing her arms and leaning her elbows against the wooden surface. "Can't sleep?" she asked quietly, studying his profile.

Sesshoumaru tilted his head in the way that she was slowly beginning to understand was his own version of a shrug. "Perhaps," he said cryptically.

A small smile tilted her lips. "Is that wall interesting?" she asked.

"Not really," he replied. "But it is a very... calming... sight. I find it helps me think."

Kagome was impressed - for such a normally reticent man, he was downright outgoing tonight; she couldn't remember the last time he had so readily answered a question. "Me, too," she agreed. "I wonder what it is about that wall in particular, but everyone seems to love to stare at it."

He didn't respond, though probably because there was no way to adequately reply. She felt silly and inane. Kagome decided to shut up and stare at the wall as well.

For a long time, they sat in, if not companionable, then at least comfortable silence. Kagome found her mind wandering contentedly through her memories of the past week, letting this or that thing tickle her fancy. The kitchen still smelled like steak.

"Um," she said aloud, glancing at the demon in the muted moonlight.

He had been watching her from the corner of her eye, and she bit her lip, feeling warm and uncomfortable. "What did you do with the steak?" she asked in a small voice.

Turning his head slightly in her direction, he shifted his gaze to the refrigerator. "In there," he told her. "After it was done cooking."

Suddenly distracted, Kagome frowned. "You know how to cook?" she asked incredulously.

A tilt of the head. "Heat it until it is no longer bloody," Sesshoumaru replied. "Everyone knows that."

Kagome decided that she could wait until tomorrow to see if the meal was salvageable or carbonized. She opted for smiling at him. "Thank you!" she said brightly. "We can probably have it tomorrow evening."

His eyes slid away. "I already told you that you do not have to waste food on me."

Turning back to the window, Kagome blinked, frustrated. She was entirely unable to apprehend how Sesshoumaru's mind worked. She decided to let it slide, though she was tired of deferring to him.

Staring at the even pattern of bricks, Kagome let her mind wander. In her head, she picked up her annoyance with his stoic nature and turned it over in mental hands. It wasn't so much that he was being cruel, or rude, but... perhaps shy. Or secretive. Uncomfortable with sharing his personal space with her. It was so difficult to get him to speak that his constant, mute presence was slightly unsettling, rather than comforting or exciting.

On the other hand, the air in the kitchen was moving freely, as though there was some sort of unspoken truce between them that she didn't understand. At the back of her mind, a notion slunk through the shadows; mentally she turned and stared at it, hard, and it began to dawn on her that if they were back to being relatively comfortable, then he might be feeling a little guilty for hurting her.

The thought seemed ridiculous, but then again, the things he had done - or rather the things he had failed to do, such as kill, insult, or project general imperious arrogance - since she had awoken him had been strange and different from the Sesshoumaru she had known.

The brick pattern in front of her eyes faded until she could only see the tracks of mortar in the wall, and down one short path she could see them traveling until they reached the fork. They had parted ways, hundreds of years ago, and now that they had stumbled against each other again they looked the same, but beneath the superficial the substantial had altered in ways impossible to recognize.

With slow realization, she turned and looked at him, at his smooth, pale face and glossy, silver hair. He would look young for centuries after she was long gone, but the person beneath would be different. Suddenly he was a stranger, more exotic than he had ever seemed to her, even when she had first seen him, standing on the shoulder of an ogre, cold and beautiful and deftly merciless toward his only brother. And yet, he was still so familiar.

She wondered if he wanted to return to the person he had been, like she did.

"Why did you seal yourself away?" The question popped out, bypassing her mind for review, but as soon as it was out it suddenly seemed very important to know the answer.

Sesshoumaru turned to her and appeared to study her intently, and she suddenly realized how mussed he looked, loose yukata hugging his shoulders, hair dripping down over his chest, bangs falling into his hungry eyes. He looked haunted and hunted, and she couldn't decide if she regretted the question or not.

"You don't - " she began.

"I will tell you," he cut her off.

She snapped her mouth shut abruptly and waited.

He looked her in the eyes, holding her gaze with his own steady stare. "I was tired," he said evenly.

Kagome blinked, feeling as though she were in slow motion. "Tired?" she repeated dumbly.

"Tired," he said again.

"I don't understand," she said quietly.

It might have been her imagination, but it appeared that the corner of his lips twitched, briefly. He sat back a little bit.

"Miko," he said, "do you know how old I am?"

Kagome shook her head. "At least five hundred years?" she guessed. In the quiet of the kitchen, her voice was soft, as though she didn't want to scare him. As though he was timid, and she was coaxing him out of a shell.

"Older," he said. Slowly, he drew a hand out of his sleeve and placed it on the table in front of him, stroking the wood softly with one elegant, tapered finger. "Much older."

"How old?" she asked him.

Instead of answering he looked at her from beneath heavy eyelids, his entire appearance sleepy and sensual, and asked her another question. "Do you know how old my father was when he died?"

Mutely, she shook her head, unwilling to speak. The air was growing palpable and heavy, and she felt heavy and warm as well. She wished he would stop staring at her.

"He was four thousand years old."

Kagome heard herself gasp. "What?" she whispered. "How is that possible? I thought..." She trailed off, too shocked to know what she had thought.

"Youkai do not age the way you do, miko," he murmured, still sleepy-eyed, still hungry and hunted. "The most powerful are born and grow relatively quickly until they are of age. When they do, time slows down."

Kagome was mesmerized. "How much?" she breathed.

"Difficult to say. Different for each youkai. It depends on the strength of blood, mostly, and sometimes it doesn't stop slowing." Moving heavily, Sesshoumaru lifted his hand from the table and lightly placed his fingertips on his brow, shielding half his face from her. The moonlight cast shadows against him, creating hollows that made him look so, so old. He sighed, lips barely moving. "For the most powerful, time lies down and is still."

"You can still die," she said, a little too firmly. "Your father was killed."

The demon gave a short, sharp snort of laughter.

"I saw the demon that killed him," she told him stubbornly. "You can still die, just like he did."

Again, his lips twitched and fluttered, as though he wanted to smile without humor, but couldn't be bothered. "I am not so sure about myself, but he could die. And he did." He dropped the hand from his face. "I suspect that he was tired as well."

In his throat, she saw his muscles work in a swallow, and it was slowly dawning on her what he was saying. "Your mother was powerful as well, wasn't she?" she asked. "And the longer you live, the stronger you become."

"Yes," he replied. "And now the age of youkai has passed, and here I am."

Kagome licked her lips. "What about... what about Rin?" she said, stumbling, mouth dry.

Sesshoumaru turned away, long silver hair sliding over his shoulder as he looked out the window and into a dead end, and didn't answer.

Kagome suddenly didn't want to know how old he was, or how tired he was, or how cold his heart had grown, watching everyone else rise and fall and wither and fade into dust, but there was one more question. "Why were you always so cruel to Inuyasha?" she asked him stubbornly. "He could have lived to be old like you. He had the right blood."

"He would have lived five hundred years, at most," Sesshoumaru murmured, eyes distant, profile still. "So short. Why bother?"

Biting her lip, she felt something in her drop open, like a trapdoor, and she was falling through it. "Why are you here?" she said, voice tiny in the endless cavern beneath.

He didn't deign to answer, and suddenly she was twisted up with guilt, with sudden shame for asking him for things so personal. She felt as though she had trod on a grave. She leaned forward, elbows hitting the table, hands clasped in front of her.

"I'm sorr - " she began.

To her surprise, he turned around and mimicked her position. "No," he said evenly, cutting her off, and then he extended an arm toward her and before she had time to flinch instinctively his hand was on her chin again, just the way it had been when he had caught her in front of the stove.

But this time, he was gentle. His cool, dry fingers ran across her skin in a way that made her breath catch, trapped between her teeth. Softly, he stroked her jaw, as though she were still in pain and he were soothing it away, and where he touched her she felt herself grow warm, and then hot, and the liquid heat dripped down through her throat, into her chest where it flowed over her heart like melted wax.

The world narrowed down to his hand on her face, to his slow caress. Over and over, he stroked her skin, stilling her breath, heating her body.

Then a claw caught her lip, seemingly by accident, and her eyes fluttered with the small stinging sensation.

They were both drawing away suddenly, as though he, or maybe she, had broken the unspoken rules of a contract, and they were no longer allowed to touch in the darkness. Now such things had to wait for another time.

The youkai folded his hands into his sleeves again, and she watched with fascination as his spine stiffened and he went from warm and sleepy-eyed to cool and appraising in the space of a breath. "Perhaps," he said, "you should go to sleep, miko."

Still stunned and strange, Kagome felt her legs twitch, as though his orders bypassed her brain and went straight to her spinal cord; she tucked her legs further beneath her, just to keep them from unfolding and doing his bidding. "If it's all the same to you," she told him quietly, fumbling for the upper hand in her own home, and then grasping it suddenly and unexpectedly, "I'll stay here a little while longer."

A fraction of a second belied his surprise, but he inclined his head in his strange, regal shrug. "As you wish," he said, turning away.

Refusing to look at him, Kagome stared out the window, and waited for her heart to slow.

. . .

There once was a demon huntress.

Naked and alone together in a hot spring, Sango and Kagome both sighed with feminine relief, finally away from Miroku and Inuyasha and Shippou. Kagome could feel the tension draining from her muscles within seconds of sliding into the warm water, and gave a sigh of contentment. She loved - er, liked - Inuyasha and Miroku and Shippou quite a bit, but sometimes it was just good to escape from them, if only for a precious half-hour of peace.

It was always something with the boys. Shippou wanted to be held, or Miroku wanted to talk, or Inuyasha wanted to fight; their presence was ever present, even when they took a break to sleep, and she knew Sango felt the same way. They were so... needy.

Only a conscious effort smoothed the frown away from her brow, and Kagome concentrated on the stiff muscles in her legs, focusing on each one and forcing it to relax. It was a difficult task, but the result was well worth it.

After five minutes of intense concentration, Kagome felt relaxed enough to open her eyes and smile at her companion.

"This is nice, isn't it, Sango-chan?" she chirped.

The taiji-ya was leaning against a rock, staring into the middle distance. Her mouth was closed and small, and her eyes heavy-lidded in an expression of vague resignation, a look Kagome had noticed on her features more and more often. It worried her.

"Sango-chan?"

The other girl visibly started and appeared to become aware of her surroundings. Blinking and coming back to earth, she gave Kagome a small, half-smile. "What? Oh, yes. Yes it is nice," she replied, and then the smile was gone, like a small, skittering thing darting across a rock, and her eyes began to look somewhere far away again.

Kagome felt her own mouth twist a little. Well, sometimes it was something with Sango, too. "Is something wrong?" she asked quietly. "Is it trouble with Miroku-sama?"

There was a flash of annoyance in Sango's eyes, and Kagome felt immediately chastised even though it was gone in an instant. "No," Sango shook her head, and Kagome noted her long brown hair, damp and clinging to her skin, sweep through the water at the motion, "it's, um... the scar. On my back." She looked slightly embarrassed. "It's acting up."

Kagome frowned unable to understand. "Acting up?" she repeated.

Sango nodded. "It pulls at the rest of my back. It's uncomfortable, sometimes." She shifted her eyes so she was looking directly at Kagome. "It's uncomfortable when I remember it," she said.

Kagome felt her frown melt into a smile. "Well," she sighed. "I have a really nice salve that should take care of that problem! I use it on my own scar - " her fingers brushed the shiny star burst of skin on her left side "- and it fixes it up a treat! I have some in my backpack if you -"

But Sango was shaking her head. "No thanks, Kagome-chan," she interrupted.

Confused, Kagome tilted her head. "But if your scar is bothering you, you should take care of it."

In the rising steam, Sango slumped further into the water. "No thanks," she repeated. "I'll be all right."

Then Sango closed her eyes and slipped down beneath the surface, leaving only her floating hair and a few bubbles to mark her place, and it slowly dawned on Kagome that Sango wasn't really talking about the scar at all.

Even though the demon huntress was only a few feet away, beneath the water, she was in a place she could not articulate, and where Kagome could not go.

No one, save one person, could touch her there, and Kagome, standing helplessly on the border, could do nothing.

After almost a minute of blowing bubbles, Sango resurfaced, gasping for air, and then turned to her companion with a bright smile that almost hid the things behind her shadowed eyes. "Do you have any of that soap for hair, Kagome-chan?" she asked sweetly. "My hair still has grime in it, and it's really bothering me."

Mutely, Kagome handed the shampoo to her, and watched as Sango worked it into her scalp. She did it slowly and surely, covering the entire length with lather, and then, with deliberate care, Sango washed it all away.

. . .

After a fairly fruitless shopping trip, Kagome wheeled cheerfully through the front door on Friday, determined to be normal despite the fact that the demon in her living room bent her around and made her act anything but normal. She kicked off her shoes and walked straight past Sesshoumaru who reclined regally against the sofa from his position on the floor and threw herself against the cushions, feet sticking straight out in front of her with toes spread, airing herself out after her slightly stressful day. "Ooooooh," she moaned rapturously. "I should have never bought those shoes."

In the background, the television chattered, and Sesshoumaru didn't reply. When she lifted her head to see him fully she found him looking at her askance. "What?" she demanded.

He looked back to the television, displaying the news. "You deliberately wear shoes that cause discomfort?" he said, and Kagome imagined his tone sounded incredulous.

"Well," she waved a hand airily, "they're really cute. So I wanted to wear them when I went out to shop."

If he had been a being inclined toward gesture, she fancied he would have raised an eyebrow high. "Cute," he said flatly.

"Yes, cute," she huffily replied. "I think they make me look good."

"Hm," he responded, apparently dragged back into the program. Kagome wondered if he was actually paying attention to the television, or if he saw it as some sort of opportunity to space out and meditate. It was impossible to tell.

"Have you been watching television all day?" she asked.

He inclined his head, shrugging.

"You should go outside and get some fresh air," she told him in her best 'mother' voice. It seemed like a good thing to say, although why he would need anything like fresh air was beyond her. He probably didn't even need to breathe, now that she thought about it.

Sesshoumaru sighed, the sound holding an edge to it that was half-exasperation, half-world weariness. "The air is too putrid," he informed her. "I cannot abide it for very long."

Kagome wanted to smack her forehead. "Oh," she said, feeling stupid. "I hadn't thought of that."

"Unsurprising," he replied, though his voice held no malice. "You cannot smell it as I can."

"Inuyasha never really seemed to have a problem with it," she said, which was the only thing she could think to say.

Sesshoumaru did not respond to that.

"Hey, wait," Kagome piped up, a thought striking her. "You never reacted badly to smells back then in the past. You'd just waltz right through them and do your fighting."

He gave her a look. "Waltz?" he said. His voice gave the word a warm tone, as though he were amused.

"Well. You know. Figure of speech," she mumbled glancing at her hands. "And that doesn't answer my question."

"You did not ask one," he told her, "but just because I am able to endure them for the span of time required to accomplish a goal does not mean I enjoy subjecting myself to them."

Kagome laughed, secretly pleased that he seemed to be speaking to her more, answering her inquiries instead of just staring at her with that penetrating glare. He still looked at her with intensity, but at least the glances were coupled with words, so that she didn't feel quite so uncomfortable.

Absentmindedly, Kagome bent her knee and brought her foot up to her knee and began to massage it while devoting half her attention to the television, and half her attention to the silent demon on her living room floor.

He was sitting seiza and wearing a kimono and hakama, long silver hair flowing down his back to pool over his bare toes. Irrationally, Kagome wondered what it would feel like to have that hair on her own tired, sore feet, but almost immediately blushed and dismissed the notion as a desire too weird to even consider. Embarrassed at her own thoughts, she shifted her gaze from his hair to his thighs, hard and bowed with muscle beneath the thick layers of fabric. Finding those equally strange and distracting, Kagome gave up and stared fixedly at the television set.

The market was doing well today. Not that economics particularly interested her, but it was something to focus on, so she continued to massage as the anchor listed a number of stocks and indexes.

Her feet were really sore, she realized distantly. A small noise surfaced in her throat as she dug the joint of her thumbs into a particularly tender spot below the ball of her foot. "Oooh," she mumbled.

And then Sesshoumaru was in front of her, deftly picking her foot out of her hands and bringing it down in front of him. "Stop," he said. "You will hurt yourself."

One hand cradled her foot, the other looped loosely around her ankle, causing her to shiver through her shock. "What - ?" she stumbled over her own tongue, all her well-ordered thoughts in a jumble. "What...?"

"Be still," he ordered, and pressed down against her arch with a thumb, and the feel of skin on a rarely touched place sent a slow, spreading warmth through her entire leg, shooting up through her calf and over the inside of her thigh to curl low in her belly.

Kagome twitched. "Um," she breathed, brain fighting for coherency.

Soft amber eyes locked with hers. "Be still," he murmured again. "This is difficult."

Deftly, Sesshoumaru smoothed out the kinks in her foot with swift smooth strokes before delicately taking the other in hand and doing the same. All the while Kagome burned, embarrassed and flustered, and tried not to wiggle too much, not daring to break his stare.

He was finished in less than a minute, moving her feet gently from his warm lap and to the floor. "Now you may move," he informed her, settling back and turning his face away, and Kagome let out a rush of air that she hadn't even been aware of trapping behind her teeth.

Where before she had been comfortable and at ease, the world had tilted sideways and she was reeling to keep up with the movement. She had no idea what to think about what had just happened. Her blood was running hot and cold, and Kagome wished she could wind back the ribbons of time that had come unfurled. If she could rewind to a week ago, a day ago, just a minute ago, she would be all right. "Um," she said again, searching for something to say. "Thank you?"

"Do not mention it," he dismissed her. "Humans are frail. They need care."

How would you know? she wanted to ask. A long time ago - it seemed like a lifetime now - she would have taken issue with his tone, but it occurred to her that he was opaque, full of odd, angular reasons for his actions that she might not ever see. He was icy and guarded, obscured, and the places he went she couldn't even imagine. She imagined him driving humans before him in his youth, observing frailty, caring for a little girl with bruised feet who died anyway.

Though she could still feel the imprint of his fingers on her skin, Kagome tucked her own feet beneath her body, and tried not to think about the man only two feet away. When she went to bed that night, she tossed and turned, stared at the ceiling, and counted sheep, and still she imagined him kneeling at her feet, kneeling between her legs, cresting and crashing against her like a wave. Silver hair and golden eyes and just good enough for her to want him. She felt dirty, knowing she wanted him, knowing that desire was a betrayal.

Kagome turned over, buried her face in her pillow, and moaned, frustrated with herself and her own stupid reactions to him, and with him as well. She could feel the past, their shared history growing and wrapping around them and binding her to him. He reminded her of so much, of so many others, that she just wanted to devour him and keep him with her.

In her mind, she wrapped him up and swallowed him whole, and when she dreamed, he tangled claws in her hair and blurred, in and out, himself and everyone else all at once.

. . .

"Cigarettes," Sesshoumaru said by way of non-sequitur greeting when Kagome walked into the kitchen the next morning, fully dressed and fresh from the shower. She'd thought about sitting around in her dressing gown like she always did on Saturday mornings and Sesshoumaru be damned, but the thought of sitting around scantily clad with his heavy eyes resting on her skin made her pause, flush, and decide to get dressed before drinking her coffee. She looked bright and chipper when she paced across the linoleum floor, but was still half asleep and certain she had missed something.

"I beg your pardon?" she said, stopping in her tracks and blinking with confusion.

"And slacks and a button-up shirt," said the centuries-old demon. He said the words, clearly uncomfortable with them, but coolly and calmly as though he had been practicing.

Kagome blinked again. "Why cigarettes?" she asked him, still not certain she had properly comprehended what he was saying.

He shrugged, a real shrug this time.

Kagome sighed, frustrated. "Later today," she said. "I'll have to ask my mother for some money."

"They are not necessary yet," he told her. "There is no hurry."

"Oh, thanks," she said crankily, "good to know."

He just gave her his customary flat stare and Kagome threw her hands in the air and turned to her coffee maker, working on automatic and trying to clear her head. Filling the filter with ground beans and pouring the water in, Kagome slowly let her brain catch up with the world.

After a moment her brain seemed to be properly engaged, so Kagome switched on the coffee machine, turned in place, and propped a hand on her hip, looking hard at the demon.

"Do you want coffee?" she asked abruptly.

"No," he said. "A glass of water."

Pressing her lips together, Kagome nodded and retrieved a glass from the cupboard. With steady hands she filled it with cold water from the sink and walked over to him, holding it out in front of her. "Here," she said lightly.

Sesshoumaru extended a hand and closed his fingers over hers before sliding them down to the bottom of the glass and lifting it out of her grasp. Swallowing hard, she deliberately turned away from him and bustled as much as she could as she waited for the coffee to percolate and brew.

He was watching her, and with the feel of his fingers still on her own it was suddenly the last straw. In her mind she turned around and confronted what had been poking at her for the past week.

Kagome was not a stupid girl, but she couldn't understand what he was trying to do. Or rather, she couldn't understand why he was doing it.

Around her, she could feel Sesshoumaru weaving a trap and luring her in.

She was not practiced at the art of seduction, but she could recognize it when she saw it, and each sensual touch or heavy glance spoke volumes, though only now did she think she was beginning to see. He insinuated himself into her life. His every move seemed calculated to inspire a response in her, to manipulate her, to move her into the position he wanted, daring her to defy the pull of gravity. And she was falling into it.

For whatever end, he was drawing her to him, and she was following because she wanted to, but she didn't know why she wanted to.

Kagome hated not knowing her own mind, and she couldn't understand why she was letting him affect her the way he was. Maybe it had been too long since she'd felt wanted, or maybe he was just too beautiful to pass up, but for whatever reason she was letting him do it, and she could feel them circling around each other, falling together.

Outside, Kagome heard thunder rumble, so low she felt it vibrate her bones, and biting her lip she stretched up, arching her body and grabbing a mug from the top shelf, knowing he was looking. There was an inevitability somewhere along the line, and how far or how near it was appeared to depend on her.

Pouring out a stream of steaming coffee, Kagome lifted her mug and walked toward the table, intensely and embarrassingly aware of the sway of her hips, and sat down across from him.

"What did you mean, 'not necessary yet'?" she demanded, breaking her train of thought away from the issue that occupied her mind and refocusing on what was in front of her. "What are you planning to do?" She narrowed her eyes suspiciously.

He gave her a look that radiated wounded innocence and surprise. "You indicated I should go outside," he told her. "I gather my current attire is not... appropriate."

Kagome nodded and sipped her coffee. "All right," she said. "I'll try."

Sesshoumaru just inclined his head, in thanks or indifference, she couldn't tell.

Sighing, she looked down into the dark, steaming liquid in her mug and inhaled deeply, trying to shut him out, trying to earn a tiny moment of time for herself, but his presence filled the room, invaded the apartment, her life.

He hovered, blocking everything else out since she found him, making her spiral around him, distracted, nervous, on edge. He crept along the edges of her consciousness, crawled across her skin, made her pay attention.

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"Do?"

"Once you have clothes," she amended. "Are you going to leave?"

He was silent, as though thinking. "No," he finally said. "Not yet."

Kagome just nodded, suddenly scared he would break that promise, that suddenly she would wake up and he wouldn't be there the next day. She was suddenly glad of his all-invasive presence, suddenly wanted him to stay with her until she wasn't so frightened of the silence, of the absence of her friends, of the happy, uncomprehending faces of her family.

But he wouldn't leave. He was like Inuyasha, wanting something from her, staying with her until he got it. Kagome remembered the other, white hair, yellow eyes, red clothes, warm arms. She remembered everything, and the memories stung, like needles, in her heart.

Sesshoumaru shifted, once again centering her world around himself. "Miko," he said, voice low, "what are you thinking about?"

She stared at her reflection on the surface of the coffee, looking tired in the cheap yellow light of the kitchen, and outside the thunder rolled again. "The past," she told him.

"Mm," he said, dropping the low rumble of his throat into the silence, as though he wanted to see how she would respond to the sound. Kagome closed her eyes.

. . .

There once was a wandering monk.

Kagome liked Miroku almost from their first meeting. He was bright and insincere, always covering up an endless flying fall toward death with an easy smile and bright white teeth. Unlike Sango, his pain was hidden in the open, kept secret only by a dark glove and a rosary.

She woke up one night, before they met the taiji-ya, and noticed that he was still awake, staring at the moon.

"Miroku-sama?" she whispered.

He started and glanced down at her, his eyes wide and unguarded, and she saw him scared and young before he dropped his mask back into place and grinned at her. Putting his hands down, he scooted in her direction. Inuyasha was no where in sight, and Shippou was sleeping soundly in her back pack for some reason.

"What is wrong, Kagome-sama?" he said softly, kneeling by her side and looking down at her, and his warm gaze made her tingle in strange places, and she liked it and felt uncomfortable at the same time.

"I just wanted to know if you're okay," she told him, smiling, ignoring her body's insistence that he was sweet and kind and... cute.

"Of course I am, Kagome-sama," he replied. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"I don't know," she said. "You looked sad."

The monk smiled at her, a warm, bright look. "I am doing fine. But are you well?" Suddenly he slipped on the mask that was all concern and solicitous hands that wandered too far, taking the pleasure they could while he was still alive to enjoy it.

"I'm fine," she told him, scooting away from him slightly.

He looked hurt, and she couldn't tell whether the expression was genuine or fake, because it stayed too long to be genuine, but faded far quicker than those expressions that were false.

"I'm sorry, Miro - "

"Shh," he whispered, and then his fingers were on her lips, and she wondered if he was going to kiss her, give her the first kiss she'd ever had, and she knew they were standing on a dangerous precipice. It would be so easy to fall into it -

And then he smiled, somewhat sad, and moved away, leaving her to feel guilty and cheated, and so lonely she thought she would cry.

. . .

Well! It's about to get steamy, so to continue, go to my author profile to find the rest of the story hosted offsite

Thanks for reading!