Disclaimer: I own Inuyasha. I do. I swear. I have seventeen books, 1-166 episodes and several soundtracks. I call that owning some serious Inuyasha if I do say so myself.

Ok... Inuyasha totally pwns me.

Author's Notes: Right, the fic was deleted so I'm uploading it again, chapter by chapter. There is no new chapter, I'm just uploading what was already there before, so feel free to ignore this.

The Sinner

Chapter One

Happy Birthday, Ori

Kagome stood at the bow of "The Enchantress", bracing her hands against the railing and letting the wind tumble through her hair. If she leant just far enough forward, she lost sight of the ship beneath her… and that was when she felt like she was flying over the water. It was just her, the wind, the ocean and the enormous sky over her head that seemed to stretch from the horizon to infinity. She was in a world of her own…

That was until her mobile rang.

"Urgh…" She reached down into her pocket, disgruntled with her shattered illusion of tranquillity as she popped the phone open and pressed it to her ear. "Hello?"

"So how's the cruise going?" The unmistakable motherly tone reached her through the crackling connection. As per usual, her mother had that underlying amusement in her voice - the humour she seemed to possess whenever she spoke about dear Hojo. On cue, her next comment matched her tone. "Scratch that, how are things between you and dear Hojo?"

"Oh, they're great, Mama." Kagome told her earnestly as she wandered away from the bow of the ship and drifted back along the deck, past the crowd of sunbathers around the outdoor swimming pool. "We're having the time of our lives here. The entertainment is wonderful - the food is to die for - and Hojo has been the perfect gentleman throughout!"

"Glad to know you're having fun." Her mother sounded pleased. "So you're not sea sick?"

"Not yet, at least." Kagome told her as she padded, barefoot, down the steps towards the large set of steel doors that led her inside. Rich, velvety carpet massaged her toes and she smiled at a pleasant elderly couple that were passing by. "Honestly, the ship is so steady that I hardly feel like we're on water at all."

"And what are you doing now?"

"Going to meet Hojo in the cinema. I'm not sure what we're going to see but he says it should be good." She trusted Hojo's judgement. "I better ring off so they'll let me inside - but I'll call you tonight and tell you about it."

"Ok, Honey. Glad you're enjoying yourself."

Kagome grinned. "Me too! Catch you later, Mama!"

"Bye, Honey!"

Kagome shut the phone off and slipped it back into her pocket.

By now she'd spent just about ten days on the cruise ship, so she knew her way around pretty well. Meaning she only got turned around once on her way to the cinema… not that it was her fault - the ship was vast. There were mirrors down every corridor, making everything seem larger or longer than it really was, thus adding to everyone's confusion. But everything was like that - rich, lavish, and way over the top.

That's what you got for being on a millionaires' cruise.

Of course, Kagome was no millionaire - Hojo's grandfather was, however. The young couple had been dating for just over a year now, ever since they were fifteen. Obviously, that had touched the old man, considering how most youngster's relationships were over in less than a week. Hojo's grandfather had apparently liked her enough to offer her this cruise with his grandson…

At first, Kagome had wanted to decline. She didn't want to leave her family for six weeks, and she wasn't all that sure what people would say after getting back from six weeks alone with her boyfriend.

But that's when she realised…

The mere thought of taking advantage of a situation like this would never even cross poor Hojo's mind. The boy was just happy to be spending time with her… he hadn't a clue that this cruise was presenting Kagome on a platter to him. Not that Kagome wanted to be a platter… the only reason she had agreed to the trip was because she knew that Hojo would respect her wishes for taking the relationship slow.

Her friends called it prudish, but Kagome just wasn't ready for that kind of thing. And neither, as it turned out, was Hojo.

Eventually, Kagome found her way to the film with five minutes of adverts to go until the main feature. It was nice being able to just enter without having to buy a ticket. Films were free and there for viewing if you wished to see them or not.

Hojo was sitting somewhere in the middle of the large room, slap bang in the middle if she wasn't mistaken. He was probably the only teenage boy who would willingly sit that far forward, rather than sit at the back. She just rolled her eyes lightly and picked her way through the lines of legs to find her seat beside him. Once there, she sat down with a thump and kissed him lightly on the cheek.

"I thought you were going to miss it." he whispered to her.

"Never." She smiled, latching onto his arm and leaning her head onto his shoulder. "So what are we watching?"

"Pirates of the Caribbean, I think." he responded quietly.

Kagome stiffened somewhat, but Hojo didn't seem to notice.

Jeez… Kagome, relax, she berated herself and forced the tension out of her body. You can do this

Yes. She could watch a pirate movie. Perhaps if Hojo had told her in advance, she would have skipped the offer… but now that she was here, it would be pretty lame to leave, wouldn't it?

Settling down, Kagome leant against Hojo as the opening sequence began. Creepy singing… little children… lots of mist… and… fire…

Kagome began to hyperventilate.

This time, Hojo noticed. "Higurashi?" Amazingly, even after having dated for just over a year, he still called her by her last name. "Are you alright? You don't sound well."

She sounded as though she had a tennis ball jammed down her throat. Hastily, Kagome sat up and tried to calm herself down… but by then it was too late. Her heart was racing, her breathing was choppy and she needed to get out of there! With only a small muttered apology to Hojo, she scrambled out of her seat and tripped, staggered and stumbled her way past everyone's legs to the end of the row, not caring whose feet she stepped on in her rush.


Perhaps it was too soon to confront something like this.

Poor Hojo wouldn't have dreamed of bringing her into the cinema if he'd known. Then again, he wouldn't even have dreamt of bringing her on a cruise if he'd known. Kagome hurried out of the theatre with a backward glance, eager to get away from the source of her panic… but by then it was useless. She'd stirred up the memories again, and now the pain was biting at her heart like it was new.

She considered going up on deck to calm herself down with a little ocean air… but that made her stomach turn ever so slightly. No. Right then she just wanted to go home, curl up in bed and cry. So she did the next best thing and returned to her cabin.

Fortunately she had a whole separate cabin from Hojo, so she didn't have to worry about being disturbed. The first thing she did when she arrived in the luxury suite was to pull down the blinds, block out the ocean and put on her complimentary silk blindfold to help her sleep. Pathetically, she slunk into her neatly-made bed and tugged the covers up over her head…

The engines hummed all around her, and outside she could hear the sighing of waves moving against each other.

It had been four years already. Why was this hurting so badly after such a long time? All she could do was put her face in the crook of her arm and cry.

Here she was. On a millionaire's cruise. Crying her eyes out.

She felt silly and ungrateful, and weak because it only took the mere mention of pirates to set her off like this.

Kagome promised herself, through her tears, that tomorrow she would suck it up and deal with it. After all, she owed Hojo too much to ruin their holiday like this. But if he asked, she decided she wouldn't tell him… she didn't think she was able to…

Not after… that…

It was tense.

Gentle waves lapped at the side of their stationary speed boat, causing the craft to bob lightly on the water. The green felt table set up at the back of the boat was steady enough for the three combatants who sat at it, braced with a hand of cards each. Every now and then, each one of them would lay down a card or pick another up.

"AH!" Sango cried, snapping down her cards. "Rummy!"

"Rummy?!" Miroku blinked at her hand in amazement. "I thought we were playing 21!"

Sango gave him a queer look before they both turned their attention to Inuyasha who sat staring at his cards in bemusement. "What are we playing?"

"Snap?" He shrugged before tossing down his cards with a sigh. "Man, I think I'm getting cabin fever."

"Oh, don't be so melodramatic." Miroku admonished as he picked up the cards and shuffled them again. "We've only been out here for six hours."

Inuyasha tipped his chair back dangerously and let his head fall, regarding the horizon where sky met sea in reverse. Not a single boat, ship, or island could be seen. Everything was deadly quiet and there wasn't a spec of life out there as far as he was aware.

Sango's foot landed on the corner of his seat and he was jerked upright so fast it was a wonder he didn't suffer whiplash. Still, he decided to milk it. "Ow…" He rubbed his neck and glared at her angrily. "What was that for?"

"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to tip your chair back?" She raised an eyebrow as she shuffled the cards that she'd obviously taken from Miroku, who sat looking dejected between them (said young man was an infamous cheater so it was never wise to let him deal at cards). "You could crack your skull if you fell."

"Onto what? Water?" Inuyasha ran his claws through his hair, wrinkling his nose at the way the salty air had already made it sticky and clammy. Not only that, but the ragged bandana he had been forced to wear around his head was cramping his ears and muffling his hearing. Not that he was about to take it off… not out in the open when he didn't know just who was watching, even out on the open sea as they were.

Sango began dealing the cards as Inuyasha flicked a lock of sticky hair between his fingers and Miroku twiddled a finger in his ear. Both Sango and Inuyasha glanced at him when he began taking his shirt off. "What are you doing?" their lady friend asked with a quirked eyebrow.

"Catching rays." Miroku sighed contentedly, already aware that he was tanned enough to give a saucy wink in Sango's direction. She rolled her eyes and averted her gaze elsewhere, though her cheeks were turning red. Either she burnt fast under the sun or she was getting flustered.

Inuyasha rolled his eyes at their antics and pushed away from the table. "When you get skin cancer, don't come running to me." he grumbled as he headed for the front of the boat.

"Inuyasha, trust me – if I got cancer I'd be running to a doctor, not you." Miroku remarked dryly.

Inuyasha pulled a face as he slumped down at the Helm, one hand on the wheel while another rested below the intermittently flashing radar screen. He tapped it with a faint sound of disgruntlement.

"Nothing?" Sango called over.

"Nothing…" he drawled back. "You know, I don't think they're going to come and save us…"

"Don't worry," Miroku reassured him. "This is a well-travelled sea route. Ships come by here all the time… and they all have radars, so the minute they spot us, they'll come to our aid."

"They'll probably think we're an ice berg or something." Sango mumbled.

"In the China Sea?" Miroku shot her an incredulous look.

"Well… uh…" she spluttered helplessly, still unable to look at him directly. "Put your damn shirt back on!"

"It gets so cold at night that by the time they find us we will be an iceberg." Inuyasha started kicking his feet against the helm's console. "I'm bored."

Both Sango and Miroku groaned. Those were the dreaded two words that Inuyasha eventually spouted at one time or another. It was hard maintaining his interest, and with the attention span of a toddler, Inuyasha was prone to bouts of boredom. When that happened, his two comrades had to endure his not-so-subtle sighs and irritating claw tapping unless they could get away from him. But as it was, they were stranded on a boat in the middle of the China Sea with the unhappy hanyou, therefore making escape impossible.

"Bored, bored, bored, bored." Inuyasha sighed loudly and began tapping his claws against the radar in time to his feet kicking against the console.

Miroku's smile was fixed and fake when he turned to Sango. "Allow me to just go swim with the sharks." He got up and made for the edge - only to have Sango's hand snag his elbow and jerk him back down.

"You're not leaving me with him." she hissed dangerously. "Now… put - your - shirt - back - on - exclamation mark!"

Needless to say, Miroku was humbled enough to obey.

"Soooo… booored…"

They just rolled their eyes, discreetly plugged their fingers in their ears, and pretended to go to sleep. After a while they didn't need to pretend anymore as the high sun and the midday heat was enough to send even the most wired of people into a light slumber – Inuyasha included.

It was only when the cool, looming shadow of a much larger craft fell over them that anyone stirred.

Inuyasha came round first, blinking in confusion, and about to tell Miroku to get the hell out of his sun. That dazed, slightly angry confusion was replaced with sharp realisation as he discovered that Miroku and Sango were still sleeping and it happened to be a rather large freight that was blocking his light.

"Shit…" he cussed swiftly and got to his feet. "Sango! Miroku! Get off your asses - we have company!"

"Urgh… not the face…" Miroku mumbled sleepily as Sango yawned and sat up beside him. She blinked lazily for a moment or two before her eyes widened upon seeing the freight. "Oh crap…" She punched Miroku in the stomach. "Get up!"

"Ow! What's your… oh crap…"

Before any of them could organise themselves, a rough looking figure high up on the freight's platform appeared at the edge, peering down at them in a rather peevish manner. Both Miroku and Sango gulped slightly. Inuyasha, on the other hand, peevishly peered straight back.

"Uh…" Miroku got to his feet bearing the expression of a child having been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He smiled sheepishly and rubbed the back of his neck. "It seems we're having a little engine trouble, sir."

"Broken?" the stranger inquired.

"No." Miroku called back. "We got turned around and ran out of petrol."

"Do you have any spare that you could lend us?" Sango put in, uneasily. "And maybe some directions?"

The guy on the freight shrugged antisocially. "Come up the ladder and we'll see." He disappeared from sight.

Miroku cursed under his breath. "Damn… I don't trust that guy." he muttered. "Just kinda snuck up on us, didn't he?"

How a freight the size of a small building could 'sneak up' on anyone was beyond most people.

Inuyasha yawned and shrugged his shoulders, making a joint crack somewhere. "I'll go… just in case he's a… you know…"

"Be my guest." Miroku gestured to the freight.

Nimbly, Inuyasha hopped up onto the side of the speed boat and then dropped down into the frigidly cold waters. He surfaced with a gasp and immediately began doggy paddling towards the side of the freight, aiming for the inbuilt ladders that ran intermittently along the craft's length.

Miroku bent down to whisper in Sango's ear. "Remind me to buy him proper swimming lessons when we get back."

"I heard that, you hack!" was the spluttered response.

It didn't take long for Inuyasha to catch hold of the metal bars and start heaving himself up out of the sea. In a moment, he had scaled the side and pulled himself onto the deck of the freight. As he stood up and wrung the moisture from the sleeves of his shirt, he whistled low in his throat. "Wow, these guys are packing a lot." he called back to the other two, surveying the masses of cargo containers stacked around the freight's deck.

The man who'd previously spoken to them was returning from the bridge, accompanied by a young man - possibly a teenager, even. The older man, evidently the guy in charge, was wearing a smirk. "We ain't got no petrol, lad."

"Don't need it. We got loads." Inuyasha said dismissively.

They both stared at him, equally unreadable.

"Seems to be just the two of you…" Inuyasha looked around sceptically, but as far as he could see, the deck was completely devoid of any other human being. Even through the windows, he could see no one on the bridge either.

The captain glared at him. "Didn't your friend just say you needed-"

"Bluffed." Inuyasha flapped a hand before planting it against his hip. "Ahoy, me maties, we're here to plunder your valuables, steal your women and take charge of this vessel – resist, and I'll take you to the gangway and make you walk the plank. These be shark infested waters, after all. Arrgh and all that…"

The captain was staring at him even harder now, but the younger of the pair was beginning to laugh. "He thinks he's a pirate!"

"Oh, I'm not serious…" Inuyasha shrugged it off.

Somewhere behind him, Miroku called out. "Incoming!"

"Thank you!" Inuyasha deftly caught the rifle that had just been hurled up from the speed boat below. It was already locked and loaded, so he aimed it vaguely at the pale duo before him and picked up where he'd left off. "I mean, after all, I can't make you walk the plank because we don't have one and I have my doubts that there are any sharks for miles. However, me and my comrades are real pirates and I have a pretty nifty gun, so you'll be obliging me, right?"

Double gulps.

"I bet you're both kicking yourselves for stopping by, huh?"

"Shit… I think we're going to capsize!" Miroku was laughing with real mirth as they sped across the waves, bouncing at extreme velocity. The trip was made hazardous only by the very large, very orange cargo container that they'd picked up from the freighter. It had been about all they could carry, and the captain had said it was their most precious cargo.

Inuyasha rode on top of it as Sango navigated with a grin and Miroku still laughed, despite having to cling to his seat for his dear life.

Catching a bounty and getting away with it was a natural high, and even Inuyasha had to admit to feeling daring and pleased with himself. It didn't even bother him that they were going back to their base - which meant facing their boss and handing over their prize… but with sixty prime DVD players sitting beneath him, Inuyasha was sure that the boss would have something nice to say to them for a change.

The wind whipped around him, pulling at his unbuttoned shirt and tugging at his hair. His bandana slipped off and in an instant it was lost to the waves, but Inuyasha didn't care. It was a scrap of cloth, easily replaceable. Who cared about cloth when he could tip his chin up, block out the boat beneath him and pretend that he was flying over the waves like an untamed spirit with only the wind to hold him up?

That was until Sango crashed over a particular bulky wave, making everything in their craft jump and sending Inuyasha sprawling to the floor. Things like that just brought him straight back down to earth, especially when Miroku laughed at him like that. "Shut up!" He tossed an empty packet of digestive biscuits at him.

Miroku just ducked and grinned at him. "What day is it today, Inuyasha?"

"Uh… Thursday?" he guessed. He honestly didn't remember the days anymore. When he lived every day the same as the one before, the world beyond the sea was another world entirely. The Landers had their dates and their days of the week, but here not even the most fundamental rule applied. Here was just you, the ocean and whatever boat you happened to be riding in.

Only the boss seemed to be in vague touch with the land and it's goings on. How else would he know what kind of cargo they would ship out next? Or which ships to attack and which to not bother with?

The oil rig gradually came into view. First it was a spec of grey of the distant horizon. Then it was a blurred black blob. It grew even more till some of its features were recognisable. It stood on roughly six crane-like legs that disappeared into the water and reached all the way to the ocean floor… a long way down. It had three levels; the docks, the working area, and the cabins and offices on the top floor where the workers slept and the boss worked. It may have once drilled for oil, but that was nearly thirty years ago before they had discovered there was no oil to be had.

Now it was just the base of the most proficient organisation of ocean-born terrorists in the Eastern China Sea.

More commonly known as Pirate HQ.

Most of its roots went all the way to Shanghai, and maybe to Korea, but here - at least two hundred miles from any coast – it was just the pirate roost that Inuyasha had known for most of his life. He didn't even remember the last time he'd set foot on land…

The oil rig loomed over them as Sango finally slowed the engines and drew the speed boast slowly towards to the docks. There was already someone waiting there for them… and on closer inspection it turned out to be Kouga.

It was a battle all in itself to keep Inuyasha's lip from curling.

"Took your time." the wolf demon called out as they neared.

"Our ship didn't show up." Miroku called back.

"Then what's that?" he pointed to the cargo container that Inuyasha had been sitting on.

"A gift from a good Samaritan who tried to help us out instead." Miroku chuckled.

As soon as the boat was moored, its three passengers jumped off and began to stretch out their aching limbs.

"Six hours, man…" Inuyasha grumbled, rolling his shoulders back. "I won't do that again in a hurry."

"Oh yeah…" Kouga drawled as Inuyasha mooched past him. "The boss wants to talk to you. Now."

Sango and Miroku both glanced up in concern at Inuyasha… what had he done this time to piss off the boss?

Inuyasha was worried… but he didn't dare show it. Instead he grunted, shrugged, and continue to mooch up the metal grate stairs that led up to the second level, leaving Kouga and his comrades to handle the DVD players.

The boss' office was on the top floor, so Inuyasha had to jog up another set of stairs to get there. He stopped outside a rusty-looking metal door - the type that had its own wheel in order to seal it properly, like in a submarine - and knocked jauntily on the door.


Inuyasha took the invite and pulled the door open.

Naraku looked up and fixed him with a penetrating stare for a moment. Inuyasha froze like someone had dumped a vat of liquid nitrogen over his head. But it was only temporary, as Naraku soon turned his eyes away, shuffling his papers and clearing away his work. "Please sit down, Inuyasha."

Inuyasha sat down.

"Do you know what day it is today, Inuyasha?" his boss asked quietly.

"Uh… Monday?" he guessed again, wondering if there was some sort of pattern he'd missed. Hadn't Miroku already asked this question?

Naraku's response was a faint smirk. "You've been here almost all your life, haven't you?"

"As long as I can remember." Inuyasha shrugged easily, eyes straying around Naraku's grey, dreary office. He had to admit, Naraku didn't seem to go in for those homely touches. Even Inuyasha had a little potted cactus beside his bunker. Naraku had… rust stains.

"You are also our youngest pirate."

"I guess…" Inuyasha had forgotten how old he was exactly. He estimated around seventeen or eighteen. Where was this going, anyway?

"As you may or may not have noticed, each member of our… guild… has at some time or another acquired themselves a prized possession." Naraku's smile was faint. "I, however, seem to have landed myself with several prized possessions… and I am willing to part with one on behalf of my youngest and most favoured member."

"Uh… me?" Inuyasha scowled. True, he had known Naraku a long time, and out of all the pirates there, he'd probably known him the longest. But that didn't mean they particularly trusted each other, or spoke that often.

"Consider this a seventeenth birthday present." Naraku suddenly dropped a set of keys on the desk that Inuyasha hadn't noticed him holding.

He stared at the keys, mystified.

"Dock C. Allotment eight." Naraku's amusement was already going. "You'll find your present there."

Inuyasha stared at the keys.

Then stared a little more to make sure his eyes weren't deceiving him.

"Inuyasha… please leave before I change my mind." Naraku reminded him.

"Oh, right." Inuyasha suddenly snatched the keys up and raced to the door. He only spared a moment to give his boss a hurried thank you before diving out of the office and thundering down the steps.

Pirates were stopping their assignments and duties to watch him all but fly down the steps towards Dock C. Along the way he passed Miroku and Sango, but they couldn't even get a word in edgeways as he tore past them without explanation.

It was there… in Dock C, beside the mooring peg with the faded white number eight…

Only the shiniest, smoothest, most beautiful yacht he'd ever seen in his entire life!

An unexpected surge of emotion made the air catch in his throat. He had a yacht. Finally!

Normally, one was expected to steal one's own yacht in order to possess one… Miroku had one, Sango had her speed boat, and now he himself had been handed the most splendid looking thing by the boss himself! And for a birthday he hadn't known he'd been expecting.

His two comrades arrived beside him, out of breath and thoroughly confused. "What's going on?" Sango gasped. "Why are you staring at the boss' yacht?"

Inuyasha wordlessly held up the keys, unable to tear his eyes away from the boat. Bold black letters along the hull proclaimed the ship as "The Sinner".

"Jesus…" Miroku's eyes widened. "He gave you his boat?!"

"All mine." Inuyasha tottered forward. "Mine, mine, mine… all mine…"

That was basically all he muttered for the next ten minutes or so as he climbed up the ramp onto the boat and began systematically embracing every surface that held still for long enough. Sango blinked in amazement, while Miroku just folded his arms and gazed haughtily in the direction of his own yacht. "Mine's bigger…" he said nonchalantly, earning himself an elbow in the ribs from Sango.

"Cut it out." Sango sighed. "It's his birthday after all."

"I know…" Miroku shrugged. "But if I were him… I would sterilise all that before I went hugging it all… it was the boss' yacht after all. God only knows what he's done in it."

Bang! Bang! Bang!

Kagome's forehead wrinkled as she tried to shuffle further down into her bed and ignore the pounding headache she was suffering from. It almost sounded as if someone had taken a jackhammer to her head.

Bang! Bang! Bang! "Higurashi! Are you alright in there? Higurashi?" Bang! Bang! Bang!

Kagome sat up very quickly then. That was no jackhammer - that was Hojo! How long had the poor boy been thumping on the door for her? He was probably worried sick.

Feeling generally yucky all over, Kagome stumbled out of bed and headed over to the door. She pushed up her blindfold belatedly, just as she turned the handle and smiled wearily up at Hojo. "Hi, Hojo." she said sweetly.

"Are you ok, Higurashi?" he asked, looking very concerned for her. "You ran off like you were sea sick."

Ah. The boy had unwittingly just given her an excuse. "Yes… just a bit queasy, but I've taken some medicine and with a good night's rest, I'll be fine tomorrow."

"Are you sure?" The puppy eyes came out.

Oh for god's sakes, Hojo! I'm not dying!

"I'm sure." she responded firmly. "But I need my rest, so I'll see you tomorrow, ok?"


Slam! Lock! Sigh…

Kagome slumped against the door and surveyed her room through hooded eyes. Great… now she beginning to get snappish at Hojo when it really wasn't his fault. She just had a tender spot close to her heart that the day's events had prodded with a pitchfork.

Not now… she thought wearily, of all times, not now when I'm here to enjoy myself with Hojo…

She didn't want to remember what had happened.

But on the other hand, she didn't want to forget either.

Her eyes landed on her near-empty suitcase that lay under her bed. Kagome picked herself up and pattered over, kneeling down to open it up and pull out her purse. The purse didn't have much money in it, considering how everything on the ship was complimentary and free (apart from the gift shop). But she wasn't looking for money.

Unsnapping a button, she let the purse fall open…

A flourish of scraps of paper and pictures fell onto her lap. Kagome stared at the scrambled mess before beginning to pick up the pieces and sort through them.

She had pictures of her family mostly, a few of Souta, her mother and Grandpa, quite a few of Buyo and even two of Hojo and herself. Kagome picked these up and carefully slipped them back into the purse… till only one little photo remained in her lap, face down.

On the back was a little smiley face drawn in red ink. His signature…

Kagome's fingers literally shook as she turned the scrap photo over and gazed at its image.

An eleven year old boy gazed back at her. His eyes were cast in shadow by the baseball cap jammed over his head… but a small glint of gold could be caught in those depths. Wisps of snowy hair framed his face, although, the rest must have been tied in a braid behind his back since she was sure she remembered more of it.

It was his eleventh birthday, if the banner behind him was anything to go by. In his hand, he was showing off his new baseball bat - the one ringed in red paint with "Striker!!" scrawled down the side.

The date on the banner in the background matched the current date… and Kagome realised this with a tingle in the pit of her stomach… something like shock and heavy grief rolled into one.

He'd be seventeen exactly today…

If he hadn't been killed in that fire.

Kagome took a shuddering breath and tucked the photo away before she got too emotional. She all but threw the purse back into the suitcase, kicked it under the bed and crawled under the covers to distract herself from the urge to cry.

But even that didn't really work.

"Happy Birthday, Ori…"