A/N: Sad to say, I don't own Inuyasha or any of the other characters below.

A big thank you to Shaeya Sedjet Namir, Sueric, and Trusuprise for their comments on the story thus far!

Key:

"…" spoken conversation

'…' character thoughts

Haafu - part-Japanese foreigner; "half"

Baka – idiot

Himono - dried and salted fish

Goshinboku – Sacred Tree or here, God Tree

Youki - a Youkai's power or energy

Today had been really quite a strange day, almost too strange for Kagome to take it all in. During lunch period, she had looked around the schoolyard for Eri, Ayumi, and Yuka as she tried to avoid Houjo; it really was unlike them to leave her by herself, especially after one of her prolonged absences. When she finally spotted Ayumi and Yuka, it was in the company of two unfamiliar boys. Not wanting to interrupt the foursome, Kagome scanned the grounds again as she chewed her lip and wondered where Eri was. The sound of girlish laughter pulled Kagome from her thoughts and she turned towards the source only to see both Ayumi and Yuka walking towards her with matching grins, sparkling eyes, and rosy blushes. Confused as to what had put her friends into such good moods, Kagome asked the first thing that popped into her mind, "Yuka, Ayumi…who were those guys you were just talking to?"

"Kago, stop kidding around…you remember my boyfriend Haru, ne?" giggled Yuka.

"What? When did you start going out with him?" asked a dumbfounded Kagome as she stared at the spot where the boys had been standing. When had they met these boys? And why was this the first time she was hearing about the fact that her friend was going out with someone? Kagome couldn't help but feel hurt and more than a little left out as she looked at the grinning pair in front of her.

"We've been together since last December, silly…you're such a goof."

"And the other one…well, the slightly taller guy…that's Kyo. I met him at the last school dance." Ayumi chimed in.

"Kago…before you ask, Eri's current flavor of the month is Yuki." Ayumi continued, the laughter obvious in her voice. "Our little Eri has turned out to be quite the little heartbreaker."

Now Kagome definitely felt like she was in the Twilight Zone…the fact that her three friends were now dating was news to her. But Kagome was especially flabbergasted by Ayumi's comment about Eri…she had always been so shy and quiet when it came to boys. She didn't want to make herself sound more clueless, but Kagome had to ask, "Umm, girls, who is Yuki?"

"Really Kago, I know you've been sick and all but we're going to start feeling insulted if you keep forgetting about the loves in our lives." Teased Yuka. "Although, in Eri's case, it's justified if you can't remember her current boyfriend's name…she goes through them so quickly!"

"Nani? Since when? The last I remember, she had a crush on some upperclassmen. Ummm..what was his name…Sei?"

"Oh God Kagome! That was months ago!" laughed Yuka, "She's now seeing this dreamy university guy named Yuki. Seriously, if not for Haru, I might have tried to give her some competition for him."

As the first warning bell signaling the end of the lunch period rang out, Kagome found herself acting on auto pilot. She was overwhelmed by a rush of emotion - a sense of feeling completely out of place. Here she was with her friends in her own time but she knew next to nothing about their lives and they most certainly knew nothing about hers. While she wanted to blame it on them – be mad at the girls for keeping her in the dark about their boyfriends - Kagome knew that unlike herself, her friends had never intentionally kept parts of their lives hidden from her. Today's revelations were only a byproduct of the fact that she was unable to hang out with them on a regular basis and that she hardly came to school. Truth be told, even when she did see them, she felt like more of an observer. Kagome really couldn't relate to their talk about what was going on in the worlds of fashion, music, or school gossip.

Kagome's travels to the Feudal Era left her little time or inclination to catch up much with pop culture – it was funny how fighting demons while searching for pieces of a mystical jewel just seemed to make other things pale in comparison. Yet, despite the fact that Kagome had begun to relate less and less to Yuka, Eri, and Ayumi she always looked forward to seeing them – unless they were trying to push Houjo onto her or "talk sense" into her about her "rude boyfriend." Although, Kagome grudgingly had to admit that the threesome had backed off greatly about Inuyasha after meeting him at her home a while back. Sometimes, she still couldn't believe that he'd managed to almost reverse their previously negative opinions of him. At the moment, Kagome couldn't help but feel a strange sense of loss at today's revelations. The girls had all grown up together and been friends since elementary school. Kagome had always assumed their friendship was something that would last over time. The girls were a reminder of how her life was and maybe would have been if she hadn't fallen down the Bone Eater's Well on her 15th birthday.

They had been there for each other through so many crises – the realization that boys were not so annoying after all (once they stopped trying to rip up your homework, push you on the playground, and pull your hair), that math was an evil created to punish young girls, and that too much pocky in one sitting could make you really, really sick. But now, it was distressing to realize just how different they were all becoming.

The rest of the afternoon passed by in a blur and Kagome found herself counting down the minutes till she could leave school, leave this time, and head back to Inuyasha and to her other life in the Feudal Era. It was ironic really. Even with all the danger she faced in medieval Japan, as unsettled as Kagome was currently feeling, at least there, things were more certain. She had a duty to fulfill, friends to help, an enemy to fight. 'Gods, today really has been too much…just too much…' Kagome thought with exasperation as she stole another glance at the clock mounted on the wall in front of her. As soon as school was over for the day, Kagome was the first person out the door.

Kagome adjusted her schoolbag as she quickened her pace, forcing Yuka, Eri, and Ayumi to catch up to her. Not wanting to dwell on the strange gap that seemed to be growing between her and the other girls, Kagome forced herself to focus on returning to Inuyasha...and the others. Kagome had been in her time for three days now and if she knew Inuyasha, he would be arriving soon to make sure the "shard detector" returned to do her job. After traveling back and forth between times for over two years now, she had come to understand the half demon very well. Even though Kagome still negotiated with him to return to her time to visit family and take exams, her heart hadn't really been in it lately. Kagome knew that they were close to their final confrontation with Naraku since she and her friends had collected almost all of the Shikon Jewel. While Inuyasha's attitude towards her had changed much from their first encounter, his frustration at being made to wait to continue their search for jewel fragments when she took the time to return to the present, remained a constant source of arguments between the two. 'Just once, I'd like to be ready before he makes it over to this side just so he can't complain…the way he acts, you'd think I was trying to leave him or that he misses me. Not that he'd ever admit to that!'

Mentally running through the items that she wanted to pack for her return trip, Kagome failed to notice a familiar figure approaching the group on his bicycle. Only Ayumi and Yuka's cry of "Houjo-kun!" brought Kagome back to present company. She looked up to see the boy pull up next to her and fumble for a small package that had been housed in a bag he had strapped at the back of his bike.

"Higurashi, I hope that you're feeling a lot better today…you left the classroom before I could give this to you." He said with as shy smile.

Kagome inwardly groaned. While she was flattered that Houjo – who most would say was one of the finest catches at their school – was interested in her, she did not return the boy's affections. It really was only at the insistence of Yuka, Eri, and Ayumi that she had gone out with him a few times at all. Speaking of the girls, they had not so discretely moved away so that Kagome and Houjo were given a little privacy. While Yuka and Ayumi were deep in conversation, Kagome noticed Eri standing stiffly with tight lips – and was Eri glaring at her?

Kagome shook her head and said "I'm sorry Houjo-kun, I spaced out for a moment. What did you say again?"

Smiling, the boy held out the package, "That's just it. This tea is supposed to have wonderful restorative properties. It's excellent for improving memory, concentration, and the immune system. I just thought that since you've been sick so much, this might help you out."

'Gods Grandpa, with the crazy excuses you make up for my absences, it's a wonder that people don't submit my name to the Guinness Book of World Records for being the sickest girl on the planet.' Kagome blinked. She had spaced out again.

"I was just wondering if you weren't busy this Saturday, maybe we could go see a movie?" Houjo continued, a goofy grin still on his face.

Kagome looked at him and felt the familiar stirring of pity – she knew how badly it hurt to feel rejected by the object of your affection. While Kagome didn't think Houjo's feelings for her ran that deep, she found it difficult to look him straight in the eye and turn him down. But, at the same time, she knew that Inuyasha would never let her come back to her time so soon…let alone for a date. 'Who are you kidding Kagome, you know you shouldn't lead him on anyways, you know that he doesn't remotely compare to Inuyasha.'

Before Kagome could give her reply, Yuka and Ayumi ran up to the couple and excitedly accepted on Kagome's behalf amidst giggles and squeals. Kagome looked on in a daze as Houjo, Yuka, and Ayumi seemed to be negotiating details 'What the heck, am I not standing here?!' She glanced over at Eri who had remained silent and tense the entire time and was surprised to see the glare that she had thought she had seen on her friend's face earlier, being directed at her 'Ok, I am definitely not imagining things…'

As Houjo was riding off and the girls resumed walking, Kagome snapped out of the haze that had settled over her mind, "You guys, why do you keep pushing me to go out with him? He's nice but I'm not interested."

"Nonsense Kagome! It's because of that Inuyasha guy that you're infatuated with – the one who crashed Eri's recital - is that why you won't give Houjo-kun a chance?"

"Look, let's leave him out of it…I already have plans for Saturday evening."

"Why didn't you say anything sooner Kagome, we could have asked him to take you on Friday instead. And you could double with Haru and I." came Yuka's bubbly reply.

'Argh they are NOT listening…this is getting really annoying.' Kagome thought as she tried to stamp down the feeling of bitterness at hearing Yuka mention her "boyfriend's" name. 'The boyfriend I only found out about today…'

The group of girls was now standing in front of the Higurashi Shrine and Kagome looked nervously in the direction of the well house – hoping that she wouldn't see a red and silver blur streak towards her. With her luck, she'd have to excuse Inuyasha's sudden appearance to her friends. Without anything to cover his ears or a human appearance courtesy of the new moon, Kagome's ability to creatively explain her way out of the situation would be sorely tested.

"Girls, I'd love to discuss this some other time...but I really have to hurry right now." Kagome was becoming extremely conscious of the time… 'Inuyasha might already be here…and I really don't want them to see him in the midst of a temper tantrum – then I'm sure they'd change their mind about him not being that bad after all.'

As the girls made their goodbyes, Eri caught Kagome's eye and quietly asked if they could talk for a few minutes. Kagome nodded and pointed in the direction of the God Tree. As she walked over, Kagome thought she detected Inuyasha's youki and she looked around anxiously for a moment. 'He's so impatient…if he was really here, he would have swooped in on me by now. I must just be sensing his connection to the Goshinboku. Or maybe I've missed him so much that I'm just imagining that I feel his aura.' Satisfying herself with that explanation, Kagome waited for Eri to say something. Despite feeling pressed for time, Kagome really wanted to know what she had done to earn the glares her friend had been giving her during their walk to the Shrine.

"Kagome, how can you be so selfish?!" hissed an angry Eri. Neither girl was aware of the figure perched high in the God Tree's branches whose golden eyes snapped open at those words.

Inuyasha had been feeling so lost for the past three days while Kagome was in her own time that he had taken to sleeping in the God Tree outside of her house at night. This way, he could stay near her aura and scent, both of which never failed to calm him. Of course, he would never tell her that. Knowing that this was Kagome's last day in her time – for a long while he promised himself silently - he had arrived while she was in school and had fallen asleep in the Goshinboku while awaiting her return. 'Hmm, my bitch is back…'bout fuckin' time.' came the lazy thought as Inuyasha gradually woke upon detecting Kagome's presence. Only the accompanying scent of another female kept him from reflexively leaping down from the tree to greet Kagome. It was one of her friends. 'The Eri-girl,'Inuyasha thought as he huffed in annoyance. Inuyasha shuddered, remembering the last time he had been surrounded by Kagome's girl friends. Their giggles and squeals had him trying to flatten his sensitive ears under the scarf he had tied around his head while helping Kagome's grandfather clear out the Shrine's storeroom.

Eri's words snapped Inuyasha into total wakefulness. He could hear the anger directed at Kagome in the girl's voice, and his senses went into full alert as he tried to determine if the girl posed any danger to Kagome.

"What?"

"You heard me! And don't play innocent with me. I never would have figured you to be the type who enjoyed wrapping boys around her finger!"

"Eri, I really don't know what you're talking about! Who do I have wrapped around my finger?" Kagome began, feeling completely bewildered. Of all the things for her friend to say, she had not been expecting this. She was so taken aback that Kagome failed to register the irony for a moment – here was Eri, whom Ayumi had termed a "heartbreaker" - accusing Kagome of the same thing?

"You lead Houjo-kun on as if you have feelings for him only to turn around and break your dates or cut them short. You're out of school most of the time and yet all it takes is for you to batt your eyelashes and Houjo-kun is all over you again!"

Kagome gawked in amazement at Eri. She had become quite accustomed to having her friends practically shove her and Houjo together at every opportunity. They never took any of Kagome's protests or excuses seriously, which annoyed Kagome and made her feel even more awkward about the whole situation. The fact that Eri seemed to have picked up on her reluctance to start a relationship with Houjo thrilled her – until the rest of her brain processed Eri's angry words and posture. "Eri, you know as well as I do that I have never acted like that with Houjo-kun! Most of the times I've been out with him are because all of you have accepted on my behalf."

"So you're trying to tell me that you have no feelings for Houjo-kun at all? That you don't enjoy the attention he pays you or the gifts that he gives you? Do you realize that more than half the girls in the school are after him? And yet since we've all been little kids he's only wanted you! And you – you just let him think that it's possible. Every time it seems that he might be able to get over you, you come back and he falls back into the same pattern…and I hate it!"

Inuyasha flattened his ears against the rising pitch of Eri's angry voice. Having determined that Kagome was not in any physical danger, Inuyasha decided to stay where he was and to listen to the exchange for now. He had heard that bastard Houjo's name mentioned and had to suppress the possessive growls that seemed to reflexively well up in his throat. 'Keh, weak human boy couldn't fight off a demon to save his own life, let alone Kagome's.' Inuyasha thought with some derision, recalling the time Kagome had accidentally allowed a possessed himono to be let loose in her school. Besides, Inuyasha wanted to hear Kagome's answers.

"Eri, I do not have feelings for Houjo-kun and, I've told all of you that before! How can I when I'm already in love with Inu-" Kagome clamped a hand over her mouth…this was NOT the way she wanted to make a declaration of love for the hanyou. Kagome had accepted her feelings for Inuyasha the day that she had seen him promising his life to Kikyou, but she had never ever said the words out loud to anyone else. Not even Sango had been able to get her to confess, although Kagome was pretty sure that the demon slayer suspected that her feelings for the half demon ran deeper than a girlish crush. 'Oh Gods, what if he's around…oh Gods…what if he's heard me?' Kagome's thoughts circled around in a haze of embarrassment as she cast guilty glances back over towards the well house.

Inuyasha in the meantime couldn't believe his ears. It had taken all of his physical control not to fall out of the tree in shock at what Kagome had almost blurted out. 'I knew she cared about me…but is she…did she….did she almost say that she's fuckin' in love with me?!?' While Inuyasha's heart lurched with happiness at the thought, his mind tried to brush off what he had just heard as wishful thinking. Kagome was too innocent and sweet. She deserved so much more than the love of a dirty half-breed…especially one who wasn't even from her time. And yet, the fact that Kagome's scent had just spiked with anxiety as she looked around frantically for anyone who may have overheard her, made him think that maybe she had been about to confess her feelings for him.

"You're talking about Inuyasha, that haafu boy, aren't you?" Eri asked quietly.

Kagome couldn't meet her friend's eyes and turned towards the God Tree, her hand absently rubbed against the scar left on the trunk from Kikyou's sealing arrow, "You know, all of you are wrong about him. He's not a two timer because he and I were never together...that way. I was just upset when I first told all of you about him."

Inuyasha meanwhile had finally figured out that all the references about the "two timing jerk" her friends had ever tossed out – had been about him! 'What the heck has she been telling her friends about me?!' he fumed.

The girls remained silent for a while before Kagome tentatively asked, "Eri, you like Houjo-kun don't you? Is that why you're upset with me?"

It was Eri's turn to look away. "Kagome, I've been friends with Houjo-kun since we were five years old and he is one of the nicest and cutest boys we know. And yet, everyone knows that he has eyes only for you. It's been like that since grade school."

"That's why Yuka and Ayumi keep trying so hard to get you two together. Even after we met Inuyasha for ourselves and saw that he wasn't that bad a person and was actually quite good looking, Yuka and Ayumi couldn't get over the idea of setting you up with Houjo-kun. Now that Haru and Kyo have become friends with him, they're more determined than ever."

"Yuka and Ayumi don't realize that you're interested in him?" came Kagome's quiet voice.

Eri sighed and frowned, "I've never told them. I want to…but every time I try…my throat closes up. Everyone thinks that you two would make such a great couple. Then there's me, the good friend who should want both of you to get together because it would make him happy."

Turning to look at Kagome, Eri's voice throbbed with emotion as she said, "I know that you think Houjo-kun is…kind of dull. But I swear, it's like he changes when you come around – he's usually not like that – it's like he becomes a different person! If you're not interested in him, I just wish you'd let some of us other girls have a chance at winning him over. I wish you'd let him have a chance at being happy with someone else."

Again, silence came between the two girls. Eri's last comments had deflated any of Kagome's anger and left her with a greater understanding of her friend's feelings. In her mind's eye, Kagome could see the last encounter the group had with Kikyou. Inuyasha had stopped everything he was doing to run after her soul stealers, a shuttered expression on his face. He had returned with a vacant look in his eyes. 'Every time she comes around, I can't help but wonder if she'll succeed in dragging him to hell…if he would really just forget about all of us...forget about the quest…forget about me so easily…'

Inuyasha could smell the salt from the tears that Kagome was trying to hold back and every instinct in him was itching to go comfort her…or distract her by making her mad…anything to stop her from crying, 'Gods, I can't stand her tears!' Suppressing the urge to do something, he waited for her to speak.

"Eri, will you believe me when I tell you that I do know how you feel? And I swear to you, I'll do whatever it takes to help you?"

Eri gave a humorless chuckle, "Are you making fun of me Kagome? You're telling me that YOU, one of the most sought after girls at school, the one that Houjo-kun has been trying to ask out for over one year, know what it's like to feel the way I do right now? Sorry, if I can't believe you."

Kagome looked at her friend in genuine shock, a blush staining her cheeks, "Eri, what are you talking about? How am I so sought after?"

"My god Kagome, do you ever look in the mirror? You are one of the prettiest girls at school – you don't even try hard to look good but you do. Not only that, up to the time you started to get sick, everyone knew that you were one of the top students in the class. And you're nice to everyone. God, even right now, when I want to be mad at you…I can't. No wonder Houjo-kun is love with you!"

Inuyasha had been silently agreeing with all the attributes that Eri had been pointing out. 'Bitch doesn't know what she's got. She draws everyone to her…Kouga…Houjo…the pathetic human men in the villages we've been stopping at lately...' Inuyasha couldn't help the possessive fury that went through his system at the thought of the other males trying to win over her affection. 'She fuckin' belongs with ME.' Even as the thought ran through him, his conscience pricked him for his selfishness. How could he even try to claim her as his when Kikyou was walking the earth again, suffering again? Inuyasha's internal dialogue was cut off when conversation resumed beneath him once more.

"Eri, Houjo-kun is not in love with me! He may think he feels strongly for me…but he can't… he doesn't know anything about me. He has feelings for some image of me – some image that is probably perfect and so different from I really am like. I am not the same girl that he used to play with in the sandbox years ago! I've changed…I've seen things…done things…that make me so different from the girl he knew."

"But still, it doesn't help to hear me say that, does it? No matter how much he hurts you by looking at another…no matter how much he annoys you…you still can't stand the idea of him being in pain or suffering, can you?"

Eri turned to look at Kagome who was running her hand lightly over the scar on the God Tree's trunk. "You're thinking about him again aren't you? Kago, you say you aren't together, but you really are in love with Inuyasha, aren't you?"

Kagome turned to look at Eri and the tears that she had been struggling to keep back, finally rushed their way to the surface, "Eri, I love him so much that it hurts! But he doesn't love me…he still wants Kikyou. She's beautiful, talented, and powerful…she's so much better than me! I'm just a reminder of everything he's lost."

Inuyasha felt his own heart bursting painfully in his chest at Kagome's words and he dug his claws into the palms of his hands letting the blood drip down onto the branch he was perched on as her sobs echoed in his ears. 'Fuck! I never knew how deep her feelings ran. I just wanted to keep her the away from me. I didn't want her to be able to hurt me…I didn't even think I could hurt her like this…'

The girls were now clinging to one another for comfort – all traces of the earlier anger now gone. As Kagome's sobs died down, Eri's curiosity got the best of her, "Kago, who is Kikyou?"

Kagome suddenly felt very foolish. 'Did I need to cry that badly? Now, I've got to come up with some explanation that doesn't involve the Feudal Era or demons…gods, why can't the ground open up and swallow me now?!' But another part of Kagome was longing for a chance to confide in one of her oldest friends. She had kept so much from Yuka, Ayumi, and Eri for over two years now. After all if she wasn't living her own life Kagome certainly wouldn't believe half of what she experienced herself. But today, Kagome had felt so lost as she had stood on the school grounds listening to Yuka and Ayumi talk about their boyfriends. Her three friends had all begun dating and sharing the same experiences while Kagome was the outsider...the one who had been left behind. Even though Sango was like a sister to her, part of Kagome desperately missed feeling close to the girls she had grown up with…the girls she had spent many sleepovers with chatting about all sorts of innocent gossip and dreams for their future. 'It's been so long since I've been able to talk to any of the girls in my time about boys…or about the one boy who I'd do anything for…Eri has known me for so long, it would be nice to hear what she has to say…'

"Eri, do you remember anything about Inuyasha? I mean from that time that you met him here at my house?" asked Kagome.

After wrinkling her forehead and thinking for a moment, Eri replied, "Well, with a name like Inuyasha, we figured he was part of a gang. But then he interrupted our school recital and his acting was pretty convincing, even though it was completely unexpected! And then of course his clothing…when we saw him at your place, it looked like he was wearing an old fashioned shrine outfit."

Kagome silently thanked the Gods for giving her a way out, "Yes, he's in a gang, actually it's more like an acting troop that stages fights, but he was going to leave it for Kikyou – his first girlfriend. Before he could do that, Naraku, a guy from a rival acting troop, tricked Inuyasha and Kikyou into turning against one another, because he wanted Kikyou for himself. Nobody knew this at the time and Kikyou ended up getting hurt and still blames Inuyasha for it."

"Well, that's odd Kagome. If you're right that Inuyasha had nothing to do with what happened to Kikyou, why does she hold him responsible for it?"

Kagome was quiet for a moment before carefully saying, "After she was hurt, Kikyou changed a great deal. I didn't know her before, but I think she must have been a good person for Inuyasha to care so much about her. But she is different now. Even her own sister, thinks so. I think the only one who doesn't see it is Inuyasha."

"Maybe it's because he still only sees who she was before? What were you saying about Houjo-kun earlier – about him loving some image of you that wasn't real - maybe it's the same for Inuyasha?"

"I don't know Eri. Inuyasha is a very honorable and loyal person – and really, that's part of why I love him. I can't fault him for his feelings. I just wish Kikyou wouldn't hurt him so much. I feel like she rubs his feelings in his face…if you could only see the lost look in his eyes after she visits him…" Kagome's voice trailed off as she again recalled the last time she saw Inuyasha after Kikyou had left the group again. His normally vibrant eyes had looked so empty, Kagome's own heart broke for him.

Inuyasha's dark eyebrows shot up in amazement at Kagome's words, 'She feels pain because she thinks that Kikyou is hurting me? I know this Kikyou is not the same one who was alive 50 years ago…it's taken me a fuckin' long time to realize it, but I do know...oh..Kagome…'

"Kagome, does Inuyasha know how you feel?"

Shaking her head, Kagome turned again to look at the God Tree, "I don't know if he's guessed. But I'll never tell him…I don't want to make him think that I want him to choose between Kikyou and myself. I know that in his eyes, I could never even compare with her. I'll just be his friend for as long as he'll let me, I'll help him as long as he'll let me…and then after that…after that…I don't know."

"But this is entirely unfair to you! And what exactly are you trying to help him with that's so important?!" spluttered Eri out of indignation for her friend.

"Eri, Naraku is a nasty person who is hungry for power and doesn't care who he hurts to get it. Inuyasha has been trying to stop him from taking over other gangs…I mean acting troops." Kagome kept her face averted as she mumbled this last part, hating herself for telling yet another lie to a friend, 'Sorry Eri, as silly as this sounds, that's the best I can do. I can't exactly blurt out that Naraku is trying to take over all of Japan and possibly even the world and that we're trying to put together the legendary Shikon Jewel, now can I?'

Eri sighed and said, "Why do I feel as if there's more to this story than what you're telling me Kago?" A few moments passed where Kagome avoided looking at Eri, choosing to stare at the God Tree instead.

"So, is Inuyasha going to leave this…err…group…once this Naraku guy is taken care of?"

"I don't know Eri. Whatever he decides to do…whether he stays the same or changes into something else…I want him to be happy. I love him for who he is. I accept him as he is. I just wish he could feel the same about me."

"Why doesn't he?"

"Eri, he's still in love with Kikyou…despite everything she's done to him…despite the way she's threatened me…"

"What?! Kikyou has threatened you before?"

Inuyasha's normally amber eyes suddenly flashed crimson at Kagome's revelation and he tightened his grip on Tetsusaiga. 'I never knew…I wasn't sure what Kikyou had done to Kagome…but Kagome wouldn't tell me.'

Kagome nervously looked over at the well house again, and said softly "Look it was a long time ago. I don't know if Kikyou really meant to hurt me. I can't -no - I won't believe that Inuyasha could still have feelings for someone who was deliberately cruel. But I do think that what happened to Kikyou has changed her. And I know she doesn't want me around. Sometimes it seems that she thinks I'm trying to replace her in Inuyasha's heart. You know, we kind of look alike."

Kagome paused as she closed her eyes and the only evidence of emotion was the slight tremble in her voice, "But what Kikyou doesn't seem to understand is that she is the only one who holds his affections. Every time she comes around, Inuyasha forgets all about the rest of us…he forgets about me. And…I'm always so afraid that one day he just won't come back. That she'll succeed in dragging him 'to hell' down with her like she wants to…"

Inuyasha felt like howling…felt like tearing out his own ears…he didn't want to hear any of this. He didn't want to hear any more of how his thoughtless words and actions had caused Kagome pain. Inuyasha was suddenly drowning in a sea of emotion that was threatening to overwhelm him. Long suppressed ideas, feelings, hopes, and dreams suddenly flared to life as he processed Kagome's words. 'She loves me…Kagome fuckin' loves me. She thinks that I am in love with Kikyou and that I only see her as Kikyou's replacement.' For so long Kagome had been like the sun, something so warm, so beautiful, so hopelessly out of reach that he was content to bask simply in her presence. Inuyasha hadn't wanted to develop feelings for the young miko, and so he acted out in every way that he could. He called her names, pushed away her offers of help, insulted her, and compared her looks and talents to Kikyou. 'I've been hurting her so much all this time. She's so good at hiding her feelings! I knew that she cared but I never had any idea about how deep her feelings ran.' Inuyasha scowled, 'Or maybe I just didn't want to acknowledge it...didn't want it to seem real…then I'd have to do something about it. Damn, I am a selfish baka!'

"No, Kikyou has no idea how much Inuyasha still loves her. But I can see it. He tries to hide it, but I've caught him looking at me with such an intense expression when he thinks that I don't notice. At those times, I know he's not seeing me - he's seeing her. But Eri, I can't be her…even as much as I love Inuyasha…I can't be someone I'm not for him."

"Oh Kagome, you shouldn't have to! You love him for who he is – and you deserve to have the same in return!"

"Eri, thank you. I know you think I'm wrong to be involved with Inuyasha. I think he even thinks so too – I know he cares about me…as a 'shard detector'…friend…he even tried to keep me away from him once to keep me out of trouble I think. I didn't know it at the time and I was furious with him! Then I thought 'Ok, he doesn't want me with him. He doesn't need my help, I'm going to forget about him.' Around that time, Houjo-kun had asked me to go to WacDonalds, and I actually said yes." Kagome shot Eri a guilty look, "I was determined to forget that Inuyasha ever existed…after all, he apparently could do it. I should've been able to also, right?"

'Fuck Kagome, you don't know how wrong you are! The minute I pushed you down the well and sealed it, I felt like I had lost a piece of myself. But the thought…the idea…of you getting' hurt because of me scared me even more. I thought I was doing the right thing in sending you away, even if not seeing you again killed me on the inside.'

"But the entire time I was with Houjo-kun, I kept thinking about Inuyasha. I really felt like he needed me. Eri, it will sound so strange to say this, but I really feel connected to him. As much as he hurts me, as much as I hurt for him, I can't get away from this feeling…I feel like I belong with him…" Kagome looked at Eri sheepishly. "I know you think I'm probably crazy…"

"No, Kago. I don't know if he's the type of boy I would have pictured you falling in love with… but we've been friends for so long. I know that you're serious about what you're saying. I just want you to be happy."

Inuyasha swallowed hard as he tried to keep a firm control over his emotions. 'So do I. Kagome, you deserve so much more than me…you should be happy. If I wasn't such a selfish bastard, I'd seal up the well again and keep you away from me…'

"But I am happy Eri. As long as Inuyasha let's me stay by his side, I can't ask for anything more. That time when Inuyasha kept me from seeing him, I discovered something about myself. I don't stay with him because I'm such a saint…I'm selfish too. I need to be with him just as much as I need the air to breathe. I would be miserable without him in my life."

"Besides, I promised him that I'd never leave him alone if I could help it. Eri, he has had such a hard life and yet he is so strong...such a good person…in spite of everything he's been through. Even if it was easy for me to leave him, to never see him again, that would be wrong. Especially if I was doing it just because he doesn't return my feelings. Then I'd be just like everybody else he's met…people who've wanted him to change, to forget who he is because he doesn't fit their expectations."

Inuyasha closed his eyes as he felt raw emotion overtake him again, 'Gods, what did I do to deserve the love of this wonderful woman?' With just a few words, he felt so humbled by everything that was Kagome – the honesty of her expressions, the quiet passion behind her words, the nuances of her voice. 'And I tried so damn hard to keep her out of my heart…to not fuckin' need her as much as I do. In spite of how I've treated her she still wants to stay with me. She still wants to love me.' Inuyasha had never felt so conflicted in his life – part of him was elated at her confession to her friend while the rest of him was deeply ashamed that he'd made her feel so miserable. 'Somehow Kagome, somehow I swear to the Kami I will make things right, I'll make everything up to you.'

Kagome took the opportunity then to ask Eri something that had been plaguing her ever since her conversation with Yuka and Ayumi at lunch. "Eri, now I know you have strong feelings for Houjo-kun…but earlier today, I heard that you're seeing a university boy?"

Eri blushed and looked away before asking Kagome, "You think I'm an awful person, don't you?"

"No, why would I think that?" came Kagome's quick response. While she didn't know everything that was going on with Eri and was still startled at the idea of her friend being such a flirt, Kagome knew her friend could not have changed that much.

"I'm sure the other two told you that I've been with lots of boys…" Seeing the shocked look on Kagome's face, Eri quickly added, "No, not THAT way!"

"Ok…go, on."

"Well, it's not like I haven't tried to get over the idea of being with Houjo-kun. Every time I meet a new boy who's interested in me, I think 'Maybe, with him…maybe I'll forget about Houjo-kun with him.'"

"But?" Kagome prompted when Eri stopped speaking.

"But, it just doesn't seem to work! For a little while, it's a lot of fun. And it's nice to feel cared about…to have a boy pay so much attention to you, flatter you, and treat you like you're the most important person in the room. But then, I find myself wishing that he was Houjo-kun…that it was Houjo-kun saying those things to me. That's when I know that it's time to end the relationship, when I no longer see the boy I'm with as his own person, but as a substitute."

As Eri had been speaking, an image of Kouga had come unbidden to Kagome's mind along with an uncomfortable thought, 'Have I been doing the same thing with Kouga-kun? Inuyasha always accuses me of encouraging his attention and I've always brushed off his angry words. Could he actually be right?'

The girls had grown silent again, each lost in her own thoughts when suddenly Eri laughed, "Kagome, what is it with your fascination with this tree? Ever since we were kids, and your grandfather told us some story about a demon who'd been buried under it, you've been slightly obsessed."

"What?!" Kagome turned her startled face towards Eri.

"Hey, don't look so shocked! You don't remember? You'd stare at the tree for hours when we were little…I sometimes thought you were expecting it to talk to you!"

"Hmm…I'd forgotten about that. I guess this tree has always been special to me." Kagome said in a soft voice as she smiled in the God Tree's direction. "And I believe in the story the half-demon was pinned to the tree...not buried beneath it."

Eri looked at her friend in surprise, "Well, I suppose you would remember the story. You've probably heard it a thousand times from your grandfather!"

Deciding it was past time to change the conversation, Kagome turned to her friend with a bright smile and said, "Speaking of our childhood, I seem to recall that you had a fascination with fairytales and finding your very own Prince Charming."

Standing up, Kagome glanced at her watch and then brushed off her skirt, giving Eri a smile, "While there's nothing I can do about my situation, I promise you that I will think of a way to get Houjo-kun's interest off of me and for him to notice you. After all, Princess Eri deserves her Prince Houjo…"

The girls burst into laughter at the silliness of the words. It was a welcome change from the heaviness of their prior conversation. Looking down again at her watch, Kagome sighed and said, "I have to get going now. But Eri, I'm so glad that you stopped to talk to me. I know I haven't been very good about keeping up with everything that's been going on with all of you."

"Kago, don't be silly! We know you've been sick lately. But you're right, I'm glad we talked. It was killing me to be so mad at you."

Kagome smiled warmly at Eri and said, "Yeah, I'm glad that we got that all cleared up. But do me a favor? Please promise me, you won't breathe a word about Kikyou and Inuyasha to Yuka or Ayumi."

Eri turned to her with a serious expression and said "I promise. If you won't mention what I've told you about Houjo-kun to them."

The girls' voices faded as they walked towards the edge of the Shrine property with linked arms. Inuyasha took the opportunity to leap out of the tree and streak towards the well house. His head was spinning with all that he had heard today and Inuyasha knew he had much to think about and needed to be alone to do so. Racing towards the village, he found Sango and Miroku and asked them to wait for Kagome by the well saying that he had some business to take care of that would keep him away for a few days. The red and silver blur was gone as soon as he was satisfied that Kagome would not be left to walk unprotected back to the village.

Given how late she was in returning to the Feudal Era, Kagome was shocked to find no trace of an impatient but impossibly handsome Inuyasha at the other side of well. She instead found herself in the company of Sango, Miroku, and Shippo. Unable to disguise her disappointment, Kagome barely managed to call out a surprised greeting to her friends before she blurted out the one question she couldn't stop thinking of from the moment she had climbed out of the well.

"Where's Inuyasha…I would've thought that he would be waiting to chew my head off for returning late?"

Miroku cast a sly glance at her, "Eh, Kagome-sama, we were hoping you could tell us what is going on with our impetuous friend. A little while ago, he asked us to wait for you by the well because he said that he had some business to take care of and that he would be away for a few days."

"No, I haven't seen him since I was last here…"

The group was silent for a few minutes before Kagome hesitantly asked, "Have you seen Kikyou's soul stealers nearby? Has she called him?" 'Oh god, I don't want to know…but I have to…please say you haven't seen them…'

"Actually Kagome-sama, I have neither seen nor detected their presence in the area."

With that reply, the group continued its trek back to the village in silence. For once, even Shippo seemed to sense that his lighthearted chatter would be inappropriate as everyone pondered over Inuyasha's actions. Kagome's thoughts kept dwelling on Inuyasha's unusual behavior. It was unlike him to leave the village for anything but hunting for jewel shards. For him to have left alone and without his "shard detector" –'And right before I came back' - made no sense. And if it wasn't Kikyou calling him out, then what kind of "business" did he have to take care of? Kagome sighed quietly. She felt more than a little disappointed that Inuyasha hadn't waited to see her before leaving the village. 'I know it's only been three days, but I feel like I haven't seen him in forever. Right now, I think I even miss hearing him yell at me for being late…'

------------------------------------------

A/N: Please read and review. I'd love to hear your thoughts about the story thus far. This is my first attempt at a multi-chaptered fanfic, so feedback – especially if it's constructive – will be appreciated!