The Coyote Child

By Terri Botta

Disclaimer: I don't own Inuyasha. Sole copyright belongs to Viz and Rumiko Takashi. I'm poor so don't sue.

Rating: R for later chapters.

Pairing: Inuyasha/Kagome

Summary: Inuyasha and Kagome are asked to adopt a coyote-hanyou baby from Arizona.

Author's note: OMG! A new chapter. When I opened the document to see if I could possibly write on this again because several people have asked me about it, and I felt bad for letting it languish, I wasn't expecting this to come out.

You need to know that most of this chapter is a flashback from another character's POV. I won't tell you whose POV because I don't want to spoil it, but the flashback portions are written in italics.

After this chapter, Coyote Child is all but finished. Two chapters left at most, maybe only one. Hopefully it will not be another 4 ½ years before I get Chapter 17 finished.


Chapter Sixteen

Everyone was still sitting around the fire when he emerged from the hogan, but the night had a decided bite for those outside the circle of warmth. Having slept outside the last two nights, he knew how cold it could get up in the high desert, but he didn't mind it. He liked the cold; he found it bracing, and cold air heightened his sense of smell. He tipped his chin up and inhaled deeply, then he held it and let it out slowly so he could sift through the different scents and catalog them. His father had taught him the technique centuries ago, but he had never forgotten it.

An inu-youkai relied on scent to tell him everything. They saw the world through their noses, and right now the world smelled of ash and lingering scents of food, of coffee and fried bread, of wool and denim and leather, of human and non-human, of young and old, male and female, mother and child. All of this with a multitude of other minor scents that painted a nearly 3-dimensional picture of the rustic scene before him.

Room was made for him as he came over to the group, and someone handed him a mug of coffee as he sat down on the ground. The warmth from the fire and the drink made him smile, and he let the quiet conversations swirl around him as he listened with half an ear. Out on the dark plain, wild animals were scurrying about their business of staying alive, and their scuttles, grunts, yips and swishes all added to the landscape he was painting in his mind.

A youkai's brain was like an art museum: rooms upon rooms of pictures, some abstract, some realistic, each painting representing a memory. And each youkai could access any painting he wanted at will and see the memory in vivid detail. Not all youkai had photographic memories, but a shocking number of them did, and it had been his experience that even the so-called "dumb" ones still had the gift of total recall – even if the amount of storage space they had was limited.

Sometimes this talent could be a curse. He knew at least two cautionary tales where a youkai got lost in memory and could no longer tell between dream and reality. He often wondered if the tales weren't skewed towards the survivors. Certainly the dreamers, having no idea that they were trapped in a false reality, had no knowledge that anything was amiss. The tales said the victims wasted away in the real world while their minds wandered false, dream paths.

There were youkai out there who fed on the life force of others. They would inject their victims with a hallucinogenic poison that would trap them in a dream world of their own making. The youkai would then feed at leisure, often keeping the victim alive for days, until it was drained dry, never aware of what was happening or waking from their fantasy. Yukio imagined that it would be a pleasant way to die.

Movement to his left brought him out of his thoughts, and he opened his eyes to see his mother sit down beside him. Her face belied her worry, but she didn't prod him to talk, and for that he was grateful. He'd give her answers, if he had any to give, but he didn't, so he stayed quiet and sipped his coffee. Shortly thereafter, he felt her shoulder press against his, and he sighed, comforted by the touch and silent support.

After a while, Ruth stood up and bid them all a goodnight. The temperature had fallen sharply, and her old bones had started to ache. It wasn't long after that his mother retired with Sara and the baby. Emma followed, along with David who was allowed to sleep inside the hogan because he was still recovering from his head injury. The RN had determined that his skull was not fractured, but there was a risk of subdural hematoma and swelling. He had been given some pain medications and cautioned to take it easy and go to a hospital if he started getting headaches, experienced trouble with his vision, or had any blackouts. The man had been quiet all day, even during the party, but he didn't seem to be in too much distress.

With everyone else inside the hogan, the only ones left outside where himself, his father, and Temeh with his two furry bodyguards. Since none of them really felt the cold, they let the fire go out and assumed their defensive positions against the side of the small home, ready to fight if any threats arrived.

"I'll take first watch," Inuyasha said gruffly.

Yukio nodded and hunched his shoulder against the wind, lifting the blanket he was using to cover his back and hips.

"You gonna be able to sleep?" his father asked, which was his way of asking his son if he was okay.

"I think so. It's been a long day."

"Feh. Been a long few days."

Yukio hummed an agreement. "I'm looking forward to going home."

"Me too," Temeh said, snuggling down between his companions.

"You gotta call your parents tomorrow," Inuyasha reminded.

"I know. I will."

There were a few moments of silence, then his father added, "They give you trouble, you let me know."

It took a few seconds for the coyote-youkai to reply, but he eventually spoke in a subdued voice, "I will. Thank you."

"Keh," Inuyasha grunted and turned away, but Yukio gave the boy a reassuring smile.

Temeh looked back at him from amid his pile of silver fur and returned the smile shyly.

Yukio nodded and closed his eyes, hoping to get at least a little rest. When he opened his eyes again, he was no longer in the high desert, but on a cantilevered lanai that overlooked the Tasman Sea.

'I know this place…' he thought, confused. 'This is where I brought Miaka after I made her leave Japan.'

Kidnapped was more like it. He'd drugged her and forced her into the cargo hold of a trawler bound for the southern islands. He'd had to. The Bombs were coming, and they had to get out of Japan. But Miaka was refusing to leave, and he'd grown more panicked and desperate every day. They'd made their escape with only days to spare, but Miaka had never forgiven him for his deception.

The house he'd brought her to was a sprawling mansion with unobstructed views of the ocean, but Miaka had hated it from the moment she'd opened her eyes and realized that they were no longer in Japan.

He looked down at his hands and realized he was holding a plate of bamboo shoots, new ones freshly picked and one of Miaka's favorites. Memory washed over him, and he dared to look up, dreading the scene that he would witness.

Sure enough, there she was, seated on a metal chair and wrapped in a dark komon kimono and haori to ward against the wind. Her hair was in a loose bun, her eyes dark and vacant as she looked out at the sea.

'I remember this… It was March 1946, right after the Bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki…'

Seeing her there was like ripping open a deep wound, but he knew how this day had gone, and he recreated the scene. He cleared his throat as he approached her, announcing his presence and presented her with the gift.

"Here, Beloved," he stated gently, placing the small plate on the little café table.

He knew she would reject it, shoving the plate off the table with a flick of her hand. The plate smashed into a hundred pieces on the stone lanai, and he flinched.

"Miaka… will you ever forgive me?" he asked in a hoarse whisper.

She met his eyes with a stony glare. "No."

He sighed and turned away, defeated.

"Is it even there?" he heard her ask.

"Hmm?"

"Japan? Is it even there? You refuse to bring me any newspapers or allow me to listen to any broadcasts. Is it Spring? Will there be Sakura blossoms amid the rubble and the dead?"

Her words stung, but he did not rise to her bait. "It is there. Many died, but Japan will survive. They will recover and rebuild, and make a better country than they themselves could ever dream of."

"So your mother says," she stated with scorn.

"You know she speaks the truth. Okaa-san would never lie to you."

She didn't answer, and he didn't argue. Sighing, he left her to her solitude and walked away. A year later, on that very lanai, she would refuse the infusion of his blood, and set herself on the path to death.

His perspective changed suddenly, and he found himself looking at his own face through someone else's eyes. It was disorienting at first, but he shook it off, trying to figure out what was happening. His eyes fell on his own hand, but it was a woman's hand, a woman's hand he knew well because he had placed the wedding ring upon it. It was Miaka's hand, and she was dressed in a dark red and gold brocade uchikake. He recognized it, recognized the box he was holding in his own hands as he approached her.

'No…' he cried, panicked. He knew what was about to happen, and he didn't want to witness it. 'No, please! What is happening?'

His perspective shifted again, and he was dropped unceremoniously into Miaka's memories…

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My husband places the dark wooden box on the glass-topped table that shares the patio with me. It is a sunny day and the wind coming off the ocean is crisp and clean. I knew he would be coming today so I have dressed for the occasion. One or two of my servants are sympathetic to my cause and warned me of my demonic lover's arrival. It seems almost ironic that they should flock to my side when, if not for my husband spiriting them out of Japan when we made our escape, they would be dust beneath the Americans' feet, but I digress.

I have chosen a kimono of pure silk with a brocade uchikake of deep red and gold. I have put up my hair in the style of a proper wife and painted my face pale. It took me hours to dress and do my make-up, but I am the picture perfect Japanese wife: silent and demure.

Do not mistake me. I have not done this to please him or to curry his favor. I have done this because I know he will hate it. I look fake and my scent is altered by the cosmetics. My message is not one of a loving wife, but to tell him that I think he sees me as a doll: a living, life-sized doll. What else am I to him but his plaything? I married him when I was sixteen. I was young, foolish and innocent. I had no concept of the fate that awaited me the moment I took his clawed hand and promised to be his faithful mate.

My family tried to warn me. My mother burst into tears when my father announced that he had approved Yukio-sama's bid for my hand. My sisters were all horrified and my brother threatened to kill me before he let me wed a demon. But my father was a shrewd man. He knew that allowing his youngest daughter to marry into a demon's household would insure that his family would always be protected, and so I was traded like goods for services. My life and happiness in exchange for the safety and security of his family.

At the time I went willingly, happily even. I was deeply in love with the demon from the forest, with his beautiful silver hair, golden eyes, and flawless, ageless face, and I was ecstatic to be his bride. He wooed me expertly and treated me as he would a fine noblewoman, and not the merchant's daughter that I was. He dressed me in the finest clothes and built the largest house for me with all the modern amenities available at the time. He never raised a hand or his voice to me, unlike my sisters' husbands who were known to beat them on occasion, and I never had cause to doubt his fidelity. Also unlike my sisters' husbands who frequented tea houses and took numerous mistresses. Oh no, not my husband. His kind are strictly monogamous. Once a mate is taken, they remain faithful unto death. No exceptions.

My life for the first forty years of our marriage was an idyllic dream, and I lived in a blissful haze of comfort and security. It wasn't until my siblings started to die that I truly understood the nightmare I had been sold into, as I watched my relatives grow old and bent with age while I remained forever youthful. The horror of it finally reached me, and I knew my father had traded me to the devil. My paradise became my hell, but I was too afraid of death to refuse the infusions of demonic blood. I watched my brother and sisters die while I cowardly prolonged my own life and hid behind my preternatural lover. Now I am being punished for my weakness and I understand the fate I must escape.

I am no longer afraid of death.

"Miaka, my beloved," my husband says to me in his soft voice.

He keeps it low and tender, as if he is speaking to a wounded animal. Is that what he thinks of me? That I am not a doll but a pet to be placated and pampered? I have seen the tiny dogs kept by the royal houses, simpering useless animals no good for anything other than taking up space. Their equally useless owners even style their long fur to mimic the elaborate court hair-dos and treat them as surrogate children. The very thought of being treated like one of those dogs makes me shudder.

"Miaka, it is time," he tells me, drawing my attention to the carved box.

He opens the lid and draws out the syringe. The casing is forged steel, but the needle itself is made from a sharpened, hollowed fragment of demonic bone strong enough to pierce his skin. There is a normal hypodermic needle that fits on the tube in the box as well. Once he draws his own blood into the syringe, he will swap the demon needle for the metal one. The demon bone would skewer my flesh like a spear if he were to use it on me and would most certainly collapse my vein.

I watch as he rolls up his sleeve, a tourniquet clenched in his teeth as he prepares his arm. I know what I must do, but there is still a fear of reprisal. Yes, he has never raised his hand to me, but will my rebellion snap something inside of him? His father is famous for his temper, but the son took after his mother in more ways than one.

"No," I say. A simple word. It passes my lips without a tremble, but inside I am quaking.

What will he do to me now?

He freezes and looks at me, his eyes confused.

"Beloved?"

"No," I repeat, more forcefully this time as I clench my fists.

I see a myriad of emotions cross his face: confusion, followed by disbelief and guilt as understanding comes to him, then sadness when he realizes what I am saying.

"If you do not take my blood, you will…" He stops, his gaze falling to his feet.

We both know what will happen if I refuse the transfusion. I have lived for 236 years.

That is 160 years too long.

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Yukio wretched and twisted, trying to break out of the memories, but he couldn't. Whatever evil magic that had been cast had trapped him in his dead wife's mind, and he was helpless against the onslaught of her anger, hatred, and grief. He screamed, pounding against the invisible walls of his cell, but he could not break out or wake up. Instead, his nails scraped helplessly against a smooth surface as he was sucked back in.

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He has asked me every month for the past six months and each time I have refused his blood. At first, I was fearful that he would force it upon me as he had forced me out of Japan, but my demon husband is a noble creature and he would never stoop so low as to make me accept the transfusion. Now he circles around me like a tethered dog, acquiescing to my slightest whim in hopes of gaining my favor long enough for me to accept the hated syringe.

He has all but cut ties with his parents, a significant concession on his part given how close he is to his mother, and he has ceased his frequent business trips in order to stay close to me. His devotion is endearing or it would be if I wasn't so repulsed by it. I can barely stand the sight of him, let alone endure his company for an extended period of time.

He has asked me repeatedly why I have refused him. He has told me numerous times that I will die without the blood. I have replied that I do not wish to live in a world where tens of thousands of innocent people can be slaughtered with a single weapon. I have seen pictures smuggled in to me by my faithful hand servant. The heat from the bomb was so intense that shadows were permanently burned into the concrete. Bodies were vaporized upon impact and thousands died of radiation poisoning afterwards. The devils chose a civilian target just to prove that they could destroy Japan with one strike.

Not even the worst of the demons my husband has ever faced could even come close to the depraved evil infecting the hearts of humans. I am ashamed to be counted among them, if I can even be considered human any longer given the amount of demon blood that has been injected into my veins. I had thought the bloodshed and violence of the era I had been born into was the apex of humanity's love affair with death, but it seems that I was mistaken. Humanity has only just begun to explore its destructive streak.

How many more innocent lives will be lost? Mine can be counted among them. I died when my husband took me from Japan. Now all that is left is for my body to join my heart and soul.

The memory shifted again, leaving him dazed and nauseous. When his vision cleared, he recognized their house in British Honduras. Five years had passed since Miaka's first refusal, and he had moved them from Australia to South America to be closer to his family. He barely had time to orient himself when he was once again dropped into his wife's mind.

My demon husband has moved me to a new cell. My prison is now located on a remote cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea where he has built me yet another house. He has done this in order to be closer to the North American empire his family is building, and he knew I would never set foot on American soil. The murdering bastards can rot in the lowest levels of hell for all I care. I will never cross their borders or have anything to do with them for what they have done. The very fact that my husband enters that cursed country makes my stomach turn. Doesn't he care at all for the thousands of innocent people the Atomic Bomb murdered?

He tells me that they are sorry for the terrible destruction, and shows me how they are being so noble and helpful in the rebuilding of Japan. I spit in his face. Nothing could ever make up for what they did. They cannot bring back the dead. They cannot cleanse the soil of their poisons. I hear that the radiation has spread and infected water supplies all over the world. And I hear that more countries are developing this horrible death bomb.

To keep peace they say. What peace can be achieved by the threat of total destruction? This world and everyone in it has gone mad. Am I the only one who is sane?

At least I know that my time here will end soon. I sealed my fate when I refused his blood, but I have made peace with my decision even if my husband has not. He still asks me, although not nearly as frequently, and I continue to say no.

I cannot say that the years have been kind. As the effects of the last transfusion completely fade from my blood, the aging process that was suspended for so long appears to be making up for lost time. My hair has become touched with gray, and I can feel the weight of my age on my shoulders. Aches and pains that never existed before now haunt my footsteps, and I sleep much more than I once did.

My husband has brought numerous doctors to examine me, both human and demon specialists in their fields. All have said that they can do nothing to help my condition. The demon doctors insist that the only cure for my ailment is for me to accept my husband's blood. Since nothing he says or does will sway me from my decision, I must resign myself to the discomfort that now plagues me.

"Beloved," my husband says to me as he enters the salon where I spend my days.

Like the house in Australia, this one has uninterrupted views of the sea and large, open verandas facing the water. My bedroom is directly off one of these verandas with sculpted stone archways and windows draped in light colored fabric. The sheer linen curtains blowing in the wind are almost identical to the tendrils of his white hair that are caught in the same salt-laden breeze.

"What do you want, Yukio?" I ask coldly, folding my arms over my chest.

He looks away, his golden eyes downcast and sad.

"I… I came to tell you that I'll be leaving for Paris in the morning. I'll be gone for three weeks."

I say nothing. What can I say? It is not like I care if he leaves, if anything I prefer it because looking at him has become increasingly difficult.

"Is there anything you would like me to bring back for you?"

"No," I reply, letting my arms fall to my sides.

His purses his lips and nods. "Is there anything you need before I go?"

"There is nothing that I require."

"A new dress, perhaps? I'm sure I'll have time to shop in the fashion district."

I look at him slyly. "Will your sister be there?" I ask shrewdly.

He blinks and I see a slight flush come to his cheeks. I try hard not to smirk. I know he will not lie to me so I have him trapped.

"Eri might be there," he admits reluctantly.

"And your mother?"

"Okaa-san will be in Calgary."

He didn't hesitate when he answered me so I know that he has not bent the truth in order to keep from lying. That means he won't be seeing his mother. I cannot help but feel a small thrill of satisfaction. I'll never see my mother again. She's been dead for almost two centuries. Why should he see his mother when I cannot? I know it is petty, but sometimes pettiness and bitterness are all I have left.

"Miaka, I… Won't you consider coming with me? You haven't been to Paris since we… exchanged vows," he cajoles me, raising his left hand so that I can see the golden wedding ring on his finger.

Ah, yes. I remember now. The last time we were in Paris it was our 160

th wedding anniversary, and we exchanged vows and wedding rings in the European custom. Silly little sentimental ceremony. He cried when I put the ring on his finger. Emotional fool. He can slaughter a dozen enemies without remorse or mercy, but a plain gold band can make him weep like a child. Why is it that all the things I used to find so endearing about him now only instill in me a bitter tasting disgust?

He looks at me and I realize that I have not given him an answer. I suppose he expects one right away. Does he honestly think I will go anywhere with him? If he does, he is a bigger fool than even I thought.

"Miaka, will you come to Paris with me? Please?"

"No, Yukio. I will not go to Paris. You have prepared for me such a beautiful prison, I would be remiss if I were to leave such a well-appointed cell," I answer, waving a hand at the veranda and the sea.

He sighs and clenches his fists in frustration. "This house is not a prison, and I am not your jailer. I am your mate and I adore you. I built this house for you. I want you to be happy here."

"If you truly want me to be happy, you will take me back to Japan and let me die there," I say coldly, clenching my own fists.

"It's too soon to return, Miaka. I promise you, the moment it is safe for us to go back, I will take you back myself and build you a new house anywhere you like," he promises, his eyes pleading with me to understand.

"So we stay here, like cowards, while the poor souls who had no means of escape are left to suffer. While we stay here wallowing in our luxuries, our people drink poisoned water and breathe air heavy with the stench of death. How can you bear to live with yourself, knowing what you have done Yukio? How can you stand the coward you have become?" I seethe.

"Miaka, you are my country. You are my homeland and my universe. Wherever you are is home to me, whether it be Japan, or Australia, or here. My nation is the place where you are queen."

His words give me pause. Not because they make him seem weak, but because they are so heartfelt. Even after I have scorned him, refused him and despised him, his love for me is still unbroken. How is it that he can still love me after all I have done to him?

"There was a time when a loyal subject would willingly give his life for his ruler. Any man with honor would have killed himself long before now," I snap, his love for me only making me angry. I am a spiteful, hateful bitch who does not want or deserve his devotion.

He snarls, baring his sharp fangs, and draws himself up to his full height. He can cut a very impressive figure when he chooses to. He has always been his most magnificent when he is wrathful. His anger thrills me. Will he strike me? Will he finally punish me for all that I have done?

"I did what I had to do to save you, Miaka. I don't feel sorry for it, and I don't regret it for a moment. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't change a thing."

"Then I shall have to remind you every day of your foolishness until you do regret it, until you take me back home to die."

He clenches his fists, and I know that he's squeezing hard enough to puncture his own palms. He stands that way, throwing daggers at me with his eyes, until he suddenly sighs and deflates like a popped balloon. He drops his eyes as he hangs his head, his hands relaxing and I can see the droplets of blood splashing on the tile floor.

"I… I am sorry that you feel that way, my beloved. I… I will bring you back something pretty from Paris," he whispers, turning away.

"What I want is death, Yukio," I tell him.

He glances at me over his shoulder but I cannot see if he is crying.

"That is the one thing I cannot give you, my beloved. I am sorry."

With that he leaves me alone on the veranda, and I am left with my hate and impotent rage. As the anger fades the guilt comes as it always does. I know I am killing him as much as I am killing myself, but there is nothing I can do about it. This is the only way.

"I'm sorry too," I say to the salt-air around me.

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A year later, she would break her ankle while out on a shopping trip to the local market. A little boy would run into her and knock her into a vendor's fruit cart. Her bones, already becoming more brittle and weak from her advanced age, would snap, and he would find himself running into a hospital in Belize City to find her drugged up on pain killers in a small bed. He could have used his influence on her then, to convince her to take his blood, but he hadn't. He never knew if she was grateful for that or not.

His sister, Mariko, would come to live with them after that, and he had been happy for her calming, healing presence.

The world spun again, and he was snared back into Miaka's memories. He braced himself for what he would witness, not understanding what was happening or why. Maybe it was the tea Sara had given him. She said that it would help purge him of his ghosts. Maybe it did that by forcing you to face the dead.

The scene before him was still in Belize, but a few years have passed since Mariko broke her ankle. She was aging much faster now, her once black hair completely white and she had cut it because it had started falling out. She was much frailer and thinner sitting on a plush chair in her salon, and his heart ached.

'I wonder if this is how Scrooge felt in A Christmas Carol, forced to witness, but not be able to change what happens…'

He watched as Mariko came into the room, followed by a maid carrying a lunch tray.

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"Miaka-san," Mariko says as she comes into my salon. Behind her one of the maids is carrying a tray with our lunch.

"Mariko-san," I greet from my seat on the veranda.

My sister-in-law looks out to the sea and smiles. "It is a lovely day."

"The weather is changing. My ankle hurts," I reply.

She smiles gently. "And I would trust your ankle over the predictions of a meteorologist on any day."

I laugh softly as the maid places the lunch tray on my side table. "Gracias, Rosa," I say.

Rosa nods at me, her eyes lowered. She has been one of our maids for five years and she has seen a great deal. She is one of two full-blooded humans in a household comprised of demons and those with varying degrees of demon blood. I know she must suspect something is not quite right with her employer and his family, but she is smart enough to keep her mouth shut. We pay her well enough to buy her silence, and we treat her better than 99% of the employers out there so she has no reason to complain. And if my quickly graying hair and my seemingly ageless husband makes her nervous, she hides it well.

She removes the covers from both trays, places my napkin on my lap and gives us both a bow as she leaves us to our meal. Mariko comes to sit across from me and we begin to eat.

"Where is my husband today?" I ask.

"Yukio went up to Corozal. He will be back tomorrow."

I nod and sip my tea.

I suppose it can be said that I have mellowed with age. I still refuse to accept his blood and he has, thankfully, stopped asking, but I no longer harbor the vitreous hate for him that I once did. Perhaps I am simply too tired to despise him any longer.

Mariko sits across from me and picks up her teacup. She is right. It is a lovely day. The wind picks up the strands of her long hair and blows them awry. I see her smile and turn her face into the breeze.

"Ah, Wind Baby wants to play today," she muses.

"Wind Baby always plays here. I don't think I've ever witnessed a day when there wasn't a breeze," I answer.

"I think this has to be one of the most beautiful views I've ever seen."

I cast a glance at the blue ocean. "I've seen better," I say absently.

"Mm," my sister-in-law replies noncommittally.

"Do you think Yukio will ever take me back to Japan?" I ask wistfully, staring out at the waves.

There is a long pause then she answers my question with one of her own, "Do you think you will ever accept his blood?"

"No," I tell her simply.

"Then I do not know if you will live long enough for him to take you back."

There is no anger or accusation in her voice. If anything the lack of emotion is more disconcerting than if she had been vindictive or gloating.

"Am I that close to death?" I question.

"I don't know. To be honest I've never directly experienced a situation like this before."

"So you don't know how much longer I have," I state, still not looking at her.

Her hand covers mine and I turn my head to see her reaching across the table.

"No, but I will tell you that I will stay here with you until the end."

Her vow brings me comfort and my heart fills with gratitude. "Thank you, Mariko-san."

"You are welcome, Miaka-san."

We both smile at each other, small, understanding smiles, then I turn away again and there is a long period of silence between us. I can hear Mariko eating her lunch, but mine remains untouched. I don't have much of an appetite these days.

"I am not afraid," I say finally.

"I know." Her answer is once again devoid of emotion. I meant it when I said that Mariko is like cool water: chilling and deep.

"Do you hate me?" I ask. I know that she will answer me truthfully, if she chooses to answer me at all.

"No."

"Why? I hate me." It's true. Sometimes I don't know who I hate more, myself or my husband. And sometimes I wonder if I hate my husband only because I hate myself.

"You are my sister-in-law," she replies, as if that explains everything. "For a time you made my brother very happy. You could do so again, if you chose to. Your death will make him very sad. But the choices you make are yours alone, and I cannot make them for you. I can only be here to bear witness. My path is one of harmony. I seek to bring everything in balance.

"Right now, the balance between you and my brother is badly skewed. I know that my presence here helps even the scale. Whether you choose to live or choose to die, one way or the other, the scale will have to tip until it breaks. Once it does, only then will you both be free. Whether you are free together or free apart is yet to be determined."

I don't look at her. I know she doesn't lie and I laugh inwardly. I had to join a family of demons to find true honesty. The darkness in the human heart permits it to lie, to cheat, to steal. These creatures which have been so slandered and maligned are more honorable than any human I have ever known.

She did not tell me these things to hurt me. She has spoken her truth from her heart and deep inside my soul I know that she is right.

"As for my hating you," Mariko continues. "I cannot hate you. It is not in my nature to hate. Nor is it in the nature of my brother. Oh, we are capable of great rage and destruction. Many of us can kill without remorse or pity, but I am not like that. Besides, the situation is far too sad for hatred. Do you know the real reason why it is so frowned upon for our kind to mate with yours?"

I turn my head to meet her unwavering gaze. "Because the children would be hybrids; half-demon, half-human," I answer.

"Hanyou children are not as despised as they once were," my sister-in-law corrects gently. "In fact, demon-human crossbred children are becoming more and more valuable as humans conquer more of the world. No, it is not the children that are the reason why our kind should not inter-marry. It is because the human lifespan is meant to be short, and if it is extended over too long of a time, the human soul, ill-equipped to handle the weight of centuries, begins to die. Very few humans have the fortitude to live as long as their demon mates.

"You think you are the only woman to ever choose this path, but you are wrong. Your path has been made by the countless souls who came before you, all of whom suffered the same fate as you. A human-demon bonding almost always ends in tragedy for both partners."

I stare at her in shock. At no time during the long centuries of my marriage has any one of my in-laws ever told me about this.

"You're telling me that humans aren't meant to live forever."

"No, they are not. We knew when Yukio chose a human mate that this is how it would likely end," she answers matter-of-factly.

"Why didn't you warn him? Why didn't you try to stop him?" I demand. If they knew, why did they allow us both to suffer so much?

"We did. My brother would have none of it. He loved you, and deemed you worthy of being his mate. None of us could sway him from his choice. To be honest, knowing how he felt about you, even if he did know, it wouldn't have changed his mind," she tells me with a little shrug of her shoulders.

These new revelations unsettle me, and I look away again. Down below the waves crash against the sand in a dance they have performed since the days the seas were born. I feel like a jellyfish caught on those waves, drifting helpless, and at the mercy of the tides.

So my in-laws did try to talk Yukio out of marrying me, but the stubborn fool refused to listen. That is so like him. He'd made his choice and he deemed me worthy.

I frown at a tern flying overhead with a fish in its beak. It's still alive and thrashing but not for long. Life and death in an endless circle, repeating and turning on itself until the end of time. It is not unlike me and Yukio, trapped in our cycle of devotion and hate. Yukio will love me until my dying breath, and I am destined to hate him until the same.

I realize that I was never worthy of him.

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He was sick with it, reeling and wailing, but he had no time to process or recover because the scene shifted again, and he was alone on a beach as a hurricane bore down on the coast. It was October 1961, Hurricane Hattie was poised to Belize with all the force of her fury. He'd released the staff to seek shelter while he and Mariko set spells to protect the house. They were the same spells that his family had used to prevent the American bombs from flattening their houses and property in Japan during the war. If the magic shields were strong enough to withstand tons of airborne bombs, they would have no trouble facing a hurricane. At one point during their spellcasting, he'd noticed that Miaka was missing, and he had run in a panic down to the shoreline where he had found her alone, facing the storm's wrath.

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I choose a moment when both he and his sister are distracted with the preparations and slip away like a shadow as the sky darkens. I am clothed in a simple shift dress and a long, grey cloak with a cowled hood, and I quickly discover that they offer almost no protection from the growing ferocity of the wind.

My husband is a fool. He thinks because I am old and frail that I have lost all of my power and cunning. He does not understand the overwhelming need someone feels as the end draws near, to complete their remaining tasks before it is too late. This need gives me strength and the resolve I require in order to do what I must.

The path is difficult as I make my way down to the beach. I don't know how much time I have before they realize that I am gone, but I am hoping that the wind and the rain will obscure my trail and make it harder for them to find me. It will not serve my purpose to be discovered too quickly, although I do hope to be found before the storm surge comes. It will do no good if I am swept out to sea.

I've never faced a hurricane so unprotected before. I've watched so many of them from the safety of my husband's shields. I have seen the destruction they wreak upon the land, but I have never felt the full force of their winds. There is something strangely exhilarating in waiting for the storm to come. I wonder if this is what the great adventurers feel when they are facing the highest mountain or the deepest chasm, knowing that the journey might kill them, but going forth in the face of fear. I don't think I've ever felt more alive than in this moment. It is ironic that I have only come to understand what it means to live now when I am so close to death.

In an even more ironic twist of fate, this monster has chosen to come on All Hallows Eve. Tomorrow will be All Saints Day in the Catholic Church, and the faithful would have been gathered in their mission churches praying to all the pagan gods that were canonized in order to foster the natives' conversion. I think there will be no time to pray to these lost gods. By dawn most of the prayers will be entreaties for protection and salvation in the aftermath of Hattie's wrath. And I have no doubts that there will be more souls to pray for on the coming Day of the Dead.

I have no intention of being one of those souls. I do not know exactly when I will die, but I do know that it will not be today. Still I cannot help but question my judgment in the face of this terrible storm. I had thought to merely frighten my husband into agreeing to my demands, but as the wind picks up and the rain turns pelting I wonder if I've made the wrong choice.

Even though I am afraid, I cannot convince myself to abandon my plan. There is too much at stake, and I doubt that I will ever have another chance like this. Plus I have acquired some of my husband's stubbornness over the course of our marriage. I am sure that if any of the locals were to see me standing on this beach, they would think me completely insane. Perhaps they would even think I was the Lady of the Storm, calling the winds in. There is no one, however. The beach is deserted. Not even the gulls are stupid enough to fly on this day.

The storm gets worse as I wait. The sky turns black, obliterating the last light of the sunset, and I am cloaked in darkness deeper than any darkness I have ever been in. I wonder if the deepest pits of Hell are as black as this. The rain falls so hard it stings like hail, striking at my face and hands. I am soaked; the wind tears at my clothes like thousands of sharp claws. It has been a long time; surely Yukio is missing me by now. Will he be able to find me in this darkness? Have I made a terrible mistake?

I am not quite certain exactly how long it has been, but I know that it feels like hours. My wet clothes offer no protection from the hurricane, and my hands and feet are numb. Perhaps I should try to seek some small shelter behind the rocks or in the scrub trees. I did not know that this vigil would be so terrible.

Before I can decide what I am going to do, however, a strong gust of wind knocks me to my knees and I am unable to rise again. I can hear the howling of the storm as it bears down on me, feel the crash of the sea as it is flung against the shore. The salt spray from the frothing waves splashes against my face along with the rain. I dig my hands into the wet sand, trying to gain purchase to keep myself from being bowled over by the wind, and hunker low, trying to make myself small to give the storm less to grab.

Survival instinct is kicking in now. I can feel the pounding of my heart, the rush of adrenaline in my veins. My soul is shrieking in terror even as I am helpless against the onslaught of the hurricane. I scream into the blackness, the warmth of my tears being striped away by the icy fingers of the rain. Where is my husband?

"Yukio! Yukio, where are you? I am here! Why have you not found me?" I cry.

The thunder shakes the earth, and for one brief moment, the lightning sets the sky on fire, brighter than the day. I cower, trying to shield my face from the pounding rain as the wind whips over me. I have lost all hope. It appears I have miscalculated, and I will pay dearly for my folly. I can feel the storm surge coming. It won't be long now…

Then the relentless gale ebbs and the cold wind turns warm. I look up as the darkness parts and there is my husband, blocking the storm. He stands between me and Hattie's fury, shielding me from the brunt of the hurricane with his own body. He is glowing; a swirling, writhing corona of gold that envelops him and flares like the surface of the sun. His eyes are alight with the same fire and he looks down at me, his gaze intense and anxious.

He has found me, but I am filled with such loathing at the sight of him that I can hardly breathe. I hate him. I hate what he has done to me. I hate what he has reduced me to. I hate him. I hate him.

Kami-sama, he is so beautiful…

"Miaka!" he calls, his voice rising above the howling of the wind.

"Yukio!" I answer, trying to sit up.

He falls to his knees beside me, this great demon lord brought down to my level. His hands grab my shoulders and pull me to him.

"Miaka! What are you doing?"

"Let me go," I demand, struggling in his grasp.

"No! We have to get back inside! The storm is coming. It will only get worse from here!"

"I won't go! I won't go anywhere with you!" I spit, clawing futilely at his hand on my wrist.

"Miaka please! Don't do this! We're out of time!" he pleads, but I know he won't fight me or do anything that he thinks might hurt me. He sees me as far too fragile for such things, and I can use that against him.

"I won't go! I won't go until you promise me!"

He casts a glance behind him towards the blackness and the approaching hurricane.

"What do you want?" he asks of me, his voice cracking with worry and anguish. "What has forced you to come out into this storm? Why did you need my attention so badly that you felt that you had to do this to yourself? Kami-sama, you are soaked to the skin and freezing. Be glad Mariko is a healer, else you would certainly have caught your death out here this night!"

"Does it matter? I am dying anyway! What difference does it make if I perish from exposure or from a failing heart? Either way I am still just as dead!" I counter furiously.

He tries to pick me up, but I pummel him with my fists, striking him with all the fury I have in me.

"Miaka, please! We must go back to the house! This beast will make landfall soon!"

He is desperate and close to breaking. I think I have already broken, but now is my chance. I can take advantage of his weakness. When he is like this, he will give me anything that I want. If I don't seize the opportunity now, I may not have another.

"Take me back, Yukio. I want to go home. Take me back to Japan. I won't go with you now if you do not promise. You'll have to drag me back, screaming. Do you want that?" I tell him, grabbing the collar of his shirt.

"Miaka!"

"No! You must promise me. I don't want to die in this stinking place full of bugs and Catholics. I want to die in the land of my fathers. I want my ashes to lie with the remains of my family. You have taken so much from me. Give me this!"

"Miaka, you ask so much…" he begins but I cut him off.

"Promise me!"

The gale increases, the wind gusting. My husband's back bends from the force of it, his hair blowing wildly all around his face. Our eyes meet in a battle of wills. I grit my teeth and refuse to yield. I know the moment that he relents because something in his eyes dies and his shoulders slump.

"If I promise, you'll come with me now?" he asks defeatedly.

"Yes."

"Then I promise that I will take you back to Japan."

I bare my teeth and glare at him. "Not good enough! Promise that you will take me back to Japan before the turning of the year!"

"Miaka…"

"Promise me! Say it!" I demand, twisting my fists into his shirt. I know I can't hurt him, but I can at least pretend that I can choke him.

"I promise. I promise that you will be back in Japan before the turning of the year."

I am so relieved that I begin to cry. I don't know if he can see my tears over the pounding of the rain, but I can feel them, hot on my face.

"Thank you. Thank you, Yukio," I say, relaxing my hold and slumping against him.

I have bound him, and we both know it. Now that he has given me his word, he is honor-bound to keep it, and I know he will never break a promise that he has made to me. He cradles me close to his body as he picks me up and begins to carry me back to the house. The energy around us creates a pocket of dry warmth and I am completely protected in his arms. I know I should feel triumphant and powerful, but I do not.

After all, it is an empty victory.

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Yukio gasped. He remembered that horrible day too well, but he had kept his promise. He'd built a new house, away from the coast, but full of gardens. Shippou and his mate had moved in with them, along with their three kits. Miaka had spent her last year there, her body further weakening and withering away. Then she had fallen and broken her hip during the winter. Mariko had healed it, but she had said that Miaka's bones were too brittle, and it was too dangerous for her to walk any longer. She'd spent her last months in a wheelchair. She would die in April of 1962.

One last time his world swirled, and he was inside his mate's mind again, on a bittersweet Spring afternoon that he would never, ever forget.

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There are no views of the sea this time. The house my husband has brought me to does not border the coast. In the place of the waves, I now have gardens; magnificent Japanese gardens with curved pathways, ponds full of colorful koi, sakura trees, bamboo and even a thousand-year-old sacred cedar. The ancient Sugi stands tall and vigilant at the other end of the garden, its towering trunk dwarfing the trees nearby.

Winter has loosened her icy grasp and spring has returned to Japan. The weather is warm enough for me to sit outside in the garden to enjoy the sunshine. My attendant has wrapped me in a warm caftan and placed me in my less-than-comfortable wheelchair so that I might witness the splendor of the cherry blossoms firsthand. The sakuras bloom only a few short days a year in a riot of perfect flowers. The smell is heavenly, and I can stare at the pink blooms for hours. All too soon, the petals will fall, carpeting the garden with their pale softness before blowing away in the wind.

I can feel my life fading like the sakura blossoms, but I am content. My husband has kept his promise to bring me home so I can die in peace in the land of my birth. There is great comfort in that.

Children's laughter breaks me from my solitary thoughts, and I turn my head to see two demon fox kits running along the finely tended paths in a merry game of tag. They are the young twins of a kitsune family, long-time allies to my husband and my in-laws, who have moved in with us for the time being. The adult male, his vixen and their three kits now occupy one of the wings in the large house.

I think their presence is a mechanism of my husband's parents. Yukio practically grew up with Shippou and my guess is that they are here to temper my husband's grief. He, his mate Mitsiyomi, and their three kits provide much needed joy and levity to our somber house. The twins Sakame and Shioni are two red-tailed, red-haired, green-eyed imps that light up the garden with their giggles and antics.

Like most foxes, they are playful and mischievous. Yesterday, they trapped one of the maids in a sticky web trap and hung her upside down from the cinnamon tree. I think I laughed for the first time in weeks at the sight of poor Masumi bound up in white goo. They got the gardener, too.

"Bachan! Bachan!" they cry, seeing me outside in my chair.

'Grandmother' they call me and I am besieged by two rowdy kits, both vying for my attention.

"Bachan, did you see me do that trick?" the little male, Shioni asks me, his eyes flashing.

"Bachan, I got a hundred on my quiz at school today!" the little female, Sakame interrupts.

Yes, even demon children must go to school. Education is the key to their survival in a human world, that and concealment.

I indulge them because their joy lightens my mood.

"Yes, Shioni, I saw you. That's wonderful news Sakame. I'm sure your mother will be very proud," I say fondly.

"And she will be unhappy to know that you are harrowing Obaasan," a new voice scolds.

It is the kitsune pair's oldest offspring, Kohi. He is the equivalent of a teenager in their years and he is different from his siblings, much more serious and quiet. I've heard whispers that he is special in some way, and I know that his hair and tail are streaked with faint lines of silver and his eyes are flecked with gold.

"Awww, nii-chan! We weren't harrowing her!" Shioni complains, pouting.

"No, but you were working up to it. I know you, otouto. Now go. I know both of you have homework, and Kaasan will be angry if you don't get it done by bedtime."

The twins frown and lower their black-tipped fox ears, but they know better than to disobey their older sibling.

"Oh all right, nii-chan," they relent, their tails dragging as they trudge away.

I smile after them.

"There was no need to do that. They weren't bothering me," I assure him.

Kohi sits on the bench next to me and takes my hand. His hands are delicate and almost feminine. There is a great deal about the kitsune species that is effeminate, with males being almost as lovely as their vixens. This one is a remarkable beauty.

"Perhaps I simply wanted you to myself, Obaasan," he replies, a teasing smile on his lips.

He calls me 'honored grandmother' unlike his younger siblings who use the more familiar term, but he is formal and reserved; a perfect son. Sometimes I wonder what really lies behind those deep green eyes of his.

"Well, you have me. It isn't like they will allow me to get up and walk away," I say, managing to keep most of the bitterness out of my voice.

He frowns and turns his head towards the sakura trees. Some of the blooms have already started to fall.

"Shall I make the sakura trees bloom again, Obaasan?" he questions absently, and I am reminded that one of his Talents is plant manipulation.

"No, Kohi, but thank you for offering," I answer.

He says nothing and we both look at the blossoms swaying in the breeze.

Sitting there watching the delicate flowers, I am struck by a moment of clarity. Humans are like the sakura blossoms, beautiful but short-lived. Demons are the Sugi, living eons as they grow tall and strong. One erupts in a brilliant flash of color that dazzles and entrances all who look upon it, while the other is more subdued but steadfast.

I am the cherry blossom. Yukio is the cedar tree. We were never meant to marry. The time of my brief blooming has come to an end while he will go on, enduring many more centuries before he reaches his final height.

I have done him a great disservice with so many years of hate.

My breath comes short and my fingers begin to tingle as I feel my soul fluttering against the confines of my chest. It doesn't hurt, but the sensation is strange. I look at Kohi and his face his impossibly sad. He knew. That was why he sent the younger kits away. He was protecting them.

"Kohi …" I whisper.

"It's alright, Obaasan," he comforts, then his eyes lift to something just out of my view and he releases my hand.

I hear footsteps approaching quickly. From the cadence of the gait, I can tell that it is my husband and his sister who are rushing to my side. Did they feel the change in me? Or can the perfume of the blossoms only mask the scent of death for so long?

"Miaka!" my husband cries, gripping the armrest of my wheelchair.

Kohi stands and formally bows, but Yukio ignores him as he grabs my hands.

"Beloved, your hands are like ice! Mariko, do something!" he begs his sister.

She has the same sad expression on her face as the kitsune, but she tries to humor her brother.

"Let's get her inside. Perhaps it was too cold out here after all."

Yukio lifts me into his arms and carries me into the house, running me up to my bedroom and swathing me in a pile of blankets on my futon. It is a useless effort, but I understand his need to do this. It's been coming for so long, but I don't think he is really prepared.

As for myself, I think I am finally ready. My body is weightless, and I feel like I am drifting. It's warm and soothing like a hot spring. Yukio looks down at me, his eyes wide with horror and disbelief.

"Miaka, hold on! Mariko!"

My sister-in-law stands at the foot of the futon with her arms limply at her sides. She knows as well as I do that anything she does will only prolong the inevitable. Yukio shakes his head and snarls at her.

"Mariko!"

"There is nothing I can do, my brother," she tells him softly.

"No! No!"

Even now he fights for me, fights for my life, such as it has become, and I come to understand that have I hated him for all the wrong reasons. I hated him for being what he was, hated him for the things he could not change. I hated him for the weakness in myself which was not his fault. His only sin was in loving me too much.

I realize now that I have always loved him. I have always loved this magnificent creature who has devoted himself to me so completely for the past two centuries. But I have wronged him by tying him to me. In doing so I have bound him to this pain.

I was never worthy of him. I didn't have the fortitude to live forever. I didn't love him enough to let him be my universe. But I loved him the only way I knew how. Now I must love him enough to face this final moment and give him what he will not take for himself.

As long as I live, he will not move on. He will remain faithful to me and refuse to find someone deserving of him. I pray that he will find her someday; a mate truly befitting of his beauty and generous heart. He deserves that after all I have put him through.

I see him sink his fangs into his wrist, tearing his flesh so the blood flows freely. He thrusts his arm towards me, the fingers of his hand open in entreaty.

"Miaka! Take it please! It will restore you!" he begs desperately.

I shake my head. He doesn't want to let me go, so I will have to do it for him. It is the last gift I can give to make up for all the wrongs I have done.

"Ai shiteru, my beloved," I whisper.

His lips tremble as he weeps openly and drops his arm in defeat, his blood dripping on the pale blankets.

"Ai shiteru," he vows, his eyes resigned.

I smile at him, a true smile for the first time in decades, then I breathe deep…

And set him free.

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The memory ripped through him: Miaka's last moments, his blood on the blankets, Mariko's sad expression. He screamed and tore at his hair as wave after wave of agony drowned him in grief and pain. Why? Why had he been forced to relive one of the worst days of his long life, and from within his dead mate's memories no less? What cruel trick was this that had ripped open his wounds and poured acid into them? What had the Navajo girl given him that had done this?

He bent over and vomited on the hard ground, bringing up nothing but stomach acid and bile that burned his throat. He was still gasping, the pain still searing and fresh, when he felt that he was no longer alone. Lifting his eyes from where he knelt on a dark floor in a dark, shapeless room, he saw the glow first before focusing on the figure standing before him.

She was young again, whole and beautiful, and smiling in a way he had not seen in decades.

"Miaka," he choked.

"Hello, my husband," she said with a fondness that had been absent the last years of their marriage.

"Did you do this? Why? Why did you do this?" he begged.

She reached down and stroked his hair, her fingers tracing the contour of his cheek. Her hand was warm and solid.

"Because you needed to see. You needed to understand."

"Understand what? That you hated me for what I did to you?"

"No. You needed to understand that I loved you."

"Loved me?"

"I did. I did love you, but I didn't have it in me to live forever… or even a few centuries. I knew my death would set you free, but you held on to me. It's time for you to let me go, my Beloved. You've grieved for me long enough."

"Miaka, I…"

She brushed her fingertips over his lips, quieting him. "You know you have. You were always my faithful one. Even when I did nothing to earn your devotion, you gave it to me anyway. The size of your heart is your greatest gift."

He choked on another sob and squeezed his eyes shut, hoping he could block her out or at least force himself to wake from the nightmare.

"Yukio, look at me. Look at me, husband."

Her soft command could not be ignored, and he opened his eyes again.

"I am dead, my Beloved. I am beyond pain or grief or sorrow. I am content where I am. I am loved. I am happy. Now it is your turn to be happy again."

"I don't know if I know how," he admitted, the tears still rolling down his face.

"You do. You will. You're strong. I have faith in you. You'll find your way."

"I don't want to forget you."

She gave him a sad smile. "You couldn't even if you tried. Our lives were linked for over two hundred years. We will always be part of each other. But now it's time for you to move on, make a new life, allow yourself a new love."

"Allow myself to be with Emma, you mean," he said with a hint of bitterness.

"I can't answer that for you. I have no knowledge of what's to come or what you should do. I only know that you cannot create a new future as long as you cling to your past. Let me go, Yukio. Let us both be at peace."

He grimaced. "I loved you so much."

"You did. And I loved you, and hated you for it. But it's time for you to move on. I died. You lived. Now live. Cast off your mourning and honor my memory by being happy. You deserve it, my Beloved."

He was thinking of a response, but she turned her head away, gazing behind her at something only she could see or hear.

"Dawn is coming," she said. "I must go."

Panic seized him, and he tried to stand, but his legs wouldn't obey him. "Miaka…"

"You won't see me again. Remember what I said. Live, Yukio. Be happy."

The glow around her was dimming, the darkness surrounding her closing in.

"Ai shiteru, my beloved," she said as her form began to fade.

"Ai shiteru," he whispered back.

She gave him one last smile and slowly disappeared, leaving him alone in the dark, barren place. A moment later, he became aware of a rhythmic sound breaking the silence, and he realized that he was waking up. Eager to cast off the dream world, he forced himself to open his eyes and return to reality. The first faint rays of the sun were just beginning to lighten the sky, and Ruth and Sara exited the hogan to perform the Dawn Way. Temeh roused to join them, and both he and his father stood as well, but not to join in the ceremony. He knew from the look on Inuyasha's face that they were both hearing the same thing, and they set their eyes on the horizon as the whirr of an engine announced the coming of a helicopter from the south.

TBC (soon, I hope…)