Thanks for sticking with this.

Disclaimer: Inuyasha's not mine. Never was, never will be. But that doesn't stop me from messing with his head.

The sun was sulking just above the horizon. So was Inuyasha, crouched high in a pine.

He had almost had Kagome admitting why she had made those--- things. One of those things had actually come out and told him how Kagome felt.

And, with one moment of red-tinged fury, he'd shredded whatever-- whatever that Kagome felt for him.

He was furious. Mostly at himself. He didn't know what to do. He knew what he wanted to do-- he wanted to kiss the woman senseless until she forgot about the stupid, stupid thing he'd done. All the stupid things he'd done, actually.

Crouched high on a limb, he methodically flicked chips of rough bark into the abyss below. As they flashed in and out of beams of orange sunlight, Inuyasha replayed the shikigami's fearful expression. All he'd done was flex his fingers at her and-- well. He couldn't remember Kagome ever looking at him with eyes that… that flinched.

He'd frightened her. You couldn't have feelings for someone you were frightened of. He didn't know what to do to fix it. But he had to do something.

Hence, Inuyasha was systematically pruning the very branch that supported him.

Unfortunately, Miroku had found the same tree.

"… going to help, Inuyasha. You might as well come down and discuss the situation."

With every word the monk spoke, the upper branches became more and more inviting. When Miroku said discuss, what he really meant was let me repeatedly bash you over the head with. Inuyasha stared up into the darkening pine, letting the monk's cajoling words flow over him and float up into the deep pockets of cool green and burnished copper. If he could get a bit higher… but who was he kidding? Jerking his hand through his hair-- and discovering his previous whittling had coated his claws with sap-- he finally glared down at his friend. There wasn't a tree high enough to avoid his nose. With a resigned, impatient sigh, he stepped off the mutilated limb. Not bothering to slow his descent, he landed heavily in front of the monk, knees and back bent, fingertips splayed across the loam.

Inuyasha straightened and belatedly spotted a shock of orange hair clinging to the indigo robe-- Shippo had tagged along. Of course. The kitsune was as bad as the monk when it came to minding everyone else's business. He shut his eyes, folded his arms, tucked his chin to his chest, and waited for it.

"We left you with three lovely young ladies, and you drove them all away?"

Inuyasha looked up at the monk. "You ain't right," he said flatly.

"Neither, apparently, are you."

Shippo leaned precariously over the monk's shoulder, which didn't stop the kit from looking immensely superior. "Yeah, Inuyasha, you were supposed to make up and kiss Kagome. It is your turn, after all."

Inuyasha jerked backwards. "Wha? Says who?"

"We all talked about it.. Only an idiot would miss how she--" Shippo's mouth was abruptly blocked by a bead-wrapped hand. Inuyasha, torn between wishing the hand wasn't there and wishing that the hand was, in fact, a fist, shoved his own hands up his sleeves and turned his back on the two. He oughtta just whack the kid on the head, but the kitsune was sticking too close to Miroku. Plus, he was cutting back on that sort of thing, for Kagome's sake.

Kagome again.

"I should'a just sent her home," he muttered. "She probably wants to go, anyway." Shippo's nasty little gossip-feeding ears heard him, and the kid pushed Miroku's hand down.

"She should go home. She'd be safer there. Tonight, for sure. You know you're not--" Miroku's hand shot back up.

Inuyasha, ears swiveled backwards, heard the monk suck in a deep breath through his nose. He held it for a good four seconds before he released it and said, with strained patience, "Inuyasha. I'd suggest you speak with Kagome as soon as possible." Overriding the hanyou's dismissive grunt, Miroku continued, "None of us are certain what may take place tonight. That is why you must decide how you feel about Kagome, and act on it. Or you may end up regretting things left unsaid more than--"

Inuyasha spun on him, talon pointing directly at Miroku's utterly composed nose. "You're one to talk! What about Sango? It's not like you've married her, or anything! She's off looking for Kohaku and you just can't resist the opportunity to shove your hypocritical advice down my throat!"

The sanctimonious monk drew himself stiffly upright, affronted. "Sango and I have an… understanding."

Inuyasha closed his eyes and tilted his head away from the errant matchmaker. "You know, Miroku," he said, his voice laced with disgust, "Sango could snap off your head like a praying mantis."

"And should," Shippo added, primly.

"We're not discussing the good Sango or myself--"

Shippo hopped off Miroku's shoulder and turned his back on the proceedings, much like a miniature Inuyasha from a moment ago. "Forget it, Miroku. He doesn't deserve her."

Miroku, however, remained firmly planted in front of the defensive hanyou. "Kagome does love you, whether or not you deserve it, Inuyasha."

"Yeah, but what if she stops? What if she leaves?"

"She won't."

"You didn't see the look she gave me. It was… bad."

"Figuratively speaking, Kagome has never left your side, Inuyasha. She's not about to begin now."

"Poor Kagome." Shippo earned himself a half-hearted thump, and glared with muted resentment at Inuyasha. Both human and hanyou ignored him.

Miroku half-turned from Inuyasha, pensively watching the sinking sun. "And remember, the shikigami are only incomplete aspects. Kagome is Kagome."

Inuyasha thought that over, then tensed, staring at the ground. "Then when the one said what she said about… uh, us, she could've been wrong."

Shippo shifted from rubbing his head to clutching it, shaking it from side to side. "Inuyasha, you think too much. It's not right."

Miroku sighed, slumping his staff over already weary shoulders. "Especially in your case."

The kit folded his arms. "You might as well give up, Miroku. Inuyasha is under the delusion he knows what he's talking about. Kagome should just give up on him, too."

"Kagome hasn't given up on anything in her life," Miroku said absently, studying the hanyou. One finger tapped rhythmically against the staff, sending the rings plinking tinnily in the evening air. Almost, Inuyasha thought uncomfortably under the monk's gaze, as if he was trying to find a weak spot. An ominous cloud. An unguarded Sango.

Plink. Plink. Plink.

It was really pissing him off.

"Yeah, well, neither have I," the hanyou spat at the monk. It was time to end this. The sun had nearly touched the horizon.



"He's hopeless," Shippo muttered to no one in particular.

Miroku bowed his head for a moment, eyes closed, and mumbled, "Forgive me, Kagome." Then monk sighed, a resigned tilt to his shoulders, and brushed small golden flecks of pine off his indigo robe. Finally, thought Inuyasha. Now they could get on with more important things than his feelings. Like Naraku. Or when his half-brother and the wolf were going to show. He'd rather not think about all this, anyway. Ignoring stuff like this had served him well enough in the past, hadn't it? Inuyasha was already moving, sniffing the air, when Miroku blindsided him with a quiet, rhetorical, "So why, if she loves you-- or, as you believe, doesn't love you-- why won't she tell you? That seems rather… insulting."

Inuyasha blinked, then shrugged. "Feh."

"Don't you think she owes you at least a straight answer?"

Inuyasha started down the hill to the village, half-dismissing Miroku's suggestion. Which meant he was half-accepting it. He scowled as certain events, certain emotional events, took on a darker cast. One of Kagome's shikigami had said she loved him. But the other had, hah, with that wolf, no less. He realized abruptly his ears were folded back, and he quickly flicked them up again.

Shippo, who had bounced ahead, stopped short and looked intently back at the monk. Suddenly the little fox demon looked entirely too casual as he shook his head, "You think she'd respect you more than that."

"Of course she respects me!"

"Of course. That's why she's practically got you chasing your tail." Shippo rolled his green eyes, flicking his own fat tail as the others came abreast.

"Hey!" Inuyasha swiped at the kit, who danced out of reach.

"After all you've done for her," the monk said, voice heavy with resigned sympathy. "Protecting her. Caring for her when she was ill."


"And all the times she's sat you," Shippo observed. "You didn't deserve some of them."

Inuyasha slowed, then stopped, looking over the village without seeing it. "I guess so…"

"And you've saved her life more times than I can count," Miroku continued thoughtfully, jingling as he turned toward the sun hovering over the bronzed fields. "All those bandages, all that blood. Women may be fickle, but that should make up for a little ripped paper, at least."


"Ate curry for her," Shippo added. His nose wrinkled. "I still haven't heard the end of that."

"Offered comfort after she thought you were dead--" Miroku shook his head.

"And she sat me!"

"--rescued her friends, her brother, even Kouga--"

"And she sat me!"

"Let Kouga beat you up!" Shippo pointed out, rather gleefully.

"Yeah! Hey, he didn't--"

"Your loyalty has been unmatched. You would have died for her, Inuyasha. You've proven that. So why she won't resolve what the shikigami have begun--" The monk, shrugging, left the thought dangling in the air, tantalizing, frustrating. "Still, what the shikigami have revealed about our Kagome is nothing short of fascinating, isn't it? The insights--"

"The groping--" Shippo tossed in, eyes sly under his hair.

Inuyasha's eyes went flat.

"True," the monk said with a sigh. "And," Miroku waved his hand dismissively, "speaking of groping, there was that--"

Inuyasha's brows shot down.

Miroku hesitated, as if searching for the right word. His airily waving hand paused, fingers snapping. "Kiss." He looked askance at his friend. "How very awkward for you."

The hanyou stood rigid, staring into the burnt sunlight. His breathing was heavy, shoulders thrust forward.

With the air of tilting someone gently off a cliff, the monk murmured, "Pity."

Inuyasha clenched his fists until his knuckles cracked. "She's gonna give me an answer, dammit, or else!" he snarled, and launched himself violently into motion.

The hanyou bounded away, red and white. Miroku and Shippo stood, surrounded by a cloud of smug satisfaction and the occasional gnat, as their friend hurdled toward the quiet village.

"Miroku, Kagome's gonna beat you apart for that," Shippo said, offhand.

"Not if things go according to plan."

"And if she doesn't, then Sango will."

"Yes. Yes, that's probably true."

"But I think you did a good job."

"Thank you. Inuyasha has always acted on his anger. I simply used that against him. Or for him, depending on the point of view."

"Well, he's used to being angry. He's not used to feeling all mushy and stuff, that's for sure." Shippo hesitated as they walked back to the dusty path. "'Or else' what, do you think, Miroku?"

Miroku began scanning the sky for a certain nekomata as he answered, eyes wry, "Do you really think Kagome will put up with an 'or else'?"

Shippo snickered.

Kagome stood in the cooling sunlight, anxiously chewing on her nail, wondering what was holding Inuyasha up. He'd stalked off without so much as a grunt. Although, given the fact that not only did he have Imp's confession of love to deal with, but another of her shikigami had kissed Kouga, and also given the fact that he had just ripped her likeness into pieces-- little, teeny-tiny pieces-- she wasn't too keen on seeing him.

But she really wanted to see him.

She supposed she just didn't want him to see her.

Which didn't make any sense. But there she was.

So she stood just on the edge of the village, staring up the dusty path, absently worrying her fingernail to a nub.

Her two remaining shikigami, however, were deep in discussion, entirely ignoring their creator's distress. Imp was repeatedly making angry swooshing motions with one hand, while Love, with her large, liquid eyes, was shaking her head in firm denial. As they took a tense pause to glare at each other, Kagome distracted herself from both her hangnail and her hanyou.

"What are you two arguing about?"

Love didn't even bother to look at her. "Well, you're torn in two--"

"Don't say torn," Imp snapped.

"Fine. Of two minds, then. Therefore, so are we."


Love shook her head in exasperation. "Imp thinks Inuyasha shredded Lust out of anger and jealousy. I think he did it out of love."

Kagome's eyes widened. "Love?"

Imp huffed. "Love? He killed Lust! What if it had been her? What kind of guy does that to someone he loves?"

Kagome made absolutely no move to defend Inuyasha. She wanted to. But she didn't. She simply looked at Love with all the tangled anger and worry and, well, whatever that she felt for the hanyou.

Love looked at her creator with raised brows. "You too?" Her eyes cleared. "Of course you too. If you weren't feeling this way, neither would she." Love zeroed in on Kagome with startling focus. "It's not Imp I should be convincing. It's you."

"Convince me of what?"

"Inuyasha knew Lust wasn't you."

"But how could he be sure?" Kagome took a deep, calming breath. "He—" She made a weak swiping motion with her fingers.

Imp nodded emphatically. "Right. What kind of guy does something like that to someone he loves?"

"He did it because he loves you," Love stated firmly, eyes never leaving Kagome.

"Right," Imp repeated, and crossed her arms defiantly, her whole body sarcastic. "When you care enough to shred the very best."

Kagome refused to be distracted by the unsettling fact that she agreed with Imp on anything. Instead, she cocked her head to one side and looked inquiringly at the determined, earnest shikigami. "Explain."

Imp shook her head. "Nothing to explain. His temper is bigger than his heart. Or his brain."

Kagome silenced Imp with a look that said, I have matches, then shifted her attention back to Love.

"Inuyasha knew it wasn't you kissing Kouga." Love leaned forward, eyes intense. "And not for any scent, or appearance, or anything other than he knew you wouldn't do something like that." Abruptly her eyes lost their bright burning and she sat back, grinning. "He just knew." The shikigami looked expectantly at her creator. "You see?"

"Um, yeah. Well, not really, no. What?"

Imp's head suddenly shot up, back straight, eyes narrowed. "You're saying Inuyasha ripped up Lust, who, although she looked like us, or you, wasn't really us. Or you. What he saw was something one of us would do, but not one of you would do."

Kagome looked at Imp helplessly. Imp shrugged, with What do you want from me? on her face. Turning back to Love, the miko repeated, "What?"

Love leaned in again, eyes wide, willing Kagome to understand. "Not only does Inuyasha love you, he trusts you. Didn't you catch that? He knows you wouldn't kiss Kouga. This whole thing started because you thought he didn't respect you. Well, you have his trust. What higher token of respect could you want?"

Kagome wrapped her arms around her waist in an unconsciously protective gesture, feeling the last vestiges of her anger dissipate. They were right. He did trust her. Maybe it wasn't love, but it was something, wasn't it? Wasn't trust part of love? Of course, the important bit about respect was dead wrong. But no relationship was perfect, right?

But it was her relationship, and she wasn't about to settle for less than perfect.

"Ah, trust and respect. Sounds like love to me." Imp twinkled at her, in a mercurial shift.

"But he doesn't respect me. How can a man who has to rescue me on a semi-regular basis respect me? How can I earn his respect if I can't even take care of myself?" Kagome grumbled.

Love looked at her sharply. "That's the problem, isn't it. It's not him, it's you."

Imp trained her eyes back to Kagome. "Ohhh," she breathed, in realization. "We're right."

Danger! Danger! Kagome flashed both palms at the two. "Now, let's not get off the subject--"

"We're not." The pair of shikigami set their arms akimbo, heads to sides, watching their creator with considerable intensity. Love narrowed her eyes. "That's right. That is why you made us. To prove that you're capable."

"As capable as Kikyo." Imp added with a sage nod.

Kagome knitted her brows. "Listen, I--"

"Yep. That's it all right." The shikigami nodded heads in self-congratulation, then shook them in self-disgust. "She's still worried that he can't love her."

Kagome sucked in another breath to argue, and then, when she realized she had nothing to say, released it with an explosive sigh. "Yeah, okay, maybe just a bit--"

"Well, cut it out!" Imp commanded.

"Quit thinking you're not good enough for him--" Love urged.

"a man who scratches his ears with his feet--" Imp interjected.

"and remember who you are! You are Kagome Higurashi! You're a time-traveling, Naraku-facing, quick-thinking, stride-taking--"

"homework-doing, test passing, never-bad-hair day having--"

"uncomplaining, kitsune-protecting--"

"long-legged, small-waisted, classic-featured--"

"woman! Hear you roar!"

Kagome looked at them helplessly.

"No, seriously, roar." Imp poked at her. "You've got a lot of repressed frustration. It'd be therapeutic."

Kagome batted the finger away. "I don't have repressed--"

Imp winked at her. "Reconstitute Lust, and I'm sure she'll let you know just how much frustration."

Love shot her cohort a slightly irritated glance. "Not that kind of frustration. She's frustrated with herself."

"I am not!"

"You've always been able to do everything, and it just kills you to know you need him, doesn't it?"

"I don't need him. I'd be just fine without him. It'd just be nice to have some closure--"

Imp looked at Love, eyes clear and shining. "And he needs you to need him to take care of you." Suddenly the shikigami seemed to melt, clasped hands and all. "Oh, he does love us!" She batted her eyes at an early firefly.

"You already know you depend on Inuyasha to take care of you--" Love continued as if the two hadn't spoken.

"I don't need him!" Kagome noticed her voice was hitting the upper registers, and took a deep breath. "I don't." If she didn't need him, then her pride was intact, even if he broke her heart. She wasn't some co-dependent little eye-batter that would crumple to pieces if Inuyasha didn't return her feelings. Or at least that was her theory, and at this point in the situation, it was all she had.

The pair shook their heads at her in mock disappointment, "Oh, Kagome, don't lie to yourself. Ourself."

Imp grinned at her. "Of course you need him. You practically throw yourself at him."

"Name one occasion." Kagome stood tall, arms crossed, and waited.

Clutching her heart, Imp reeled back dramatically, wailing, "Inuyaa-shaa!" Brushing her hair back over one ear, she tilted her head. "I mean, you could vary it a bit. Call for Shippo once or twice."

Kagome bristled. "Inuyasha is the most capable--"

"Right. 'Cause Sango didn't nearly wipe the floor with him when you first met," Imp huffed.

"And how many times have you cared for him? Bandaged him? Fed him? Specially cooked treats, lunches, cases and cases of ramen?" Love, ticking off the items on her fingers, began pacing to Kagome's left.

"After all," Imp pointed out smugly, "the way to a hanyou's heart is through his stomach. Sometimes literally." She began pacing to Kagome's right.

Kagome took a half-step back, trying to keep the shikigami from circling her. "So maybe I went a tiny bit overboard on more than one occasion."

"You've shot arrows at Sesshomaru!"

"He was going to kill him--"

"You've bombed tests because he was waiting at home!"

"They weren't finals--"

Imp, popping up over Kagome's shoulder, jabbed a finger at her. "You defended him to Yuki, Ari, and Hitomi--when he wasn't even around."

"Well, that's not technically throwing--"

"But you did throw yourself at him when he was changing into a crazed demon. That whole near-death, kill everyone thing."

"To save our lives!"

Love raised her voice over the exchange. "Fine. Consider this, then." Kagome found herself looking herself squarely in the eye. "Don't you think he's noticed?"

Kagome opened her mouth, then closed it. She stared at them, mute.

After a moment, Love continued, quietly, "No matter what era it is, boys are boys--"

"--and men are men--" Imp interjected, eyes twinkling.

"And there's no way a man would mistake the way you feel."

"Even Inuyasha," the two shikigami nodded in unison. They watched her expectantly.

Kagome was silent for a long moment, her mind alternating between utter blankness and frantic denial. Her stomach felt twitchy. And that meant one thing-- they were right again. And she really, really didn't want them to be.

"Inuyasha," she whispered to herself. She needed him. And he liked it that way.

He just wouldn't admit that he needed her, too.

Something just under her breastbone began to ache like an old bruise. It was quickly displaced by the rising, volcanic burn of womanly fury.

The two shikigami simultaneously smacked fists into palms with a crack. "The idiot," they muttered darkly. Imp hinted, with a dangerous gleam in her eye, "Somebody should slap him senseless."

Kagome felt a sudden, electrifying unity with the two shikigami. They glared indignantly at each other, each spine straight with ferocity. The air around them seemed to crackle.

"The guy who needs you obviously knows exactly how you feel, yet he lets you dangle along, day after day…"

"I dangled!"

"Gave you encouragement, then slapped you down."

"Yes! Slapped!"

The shikigami looked at each other, eyes flashing. "Look at all the things that jerk has dared do for you! The cold nights when he cuddled!"


"And when the jerk brought you his own homemade cure!"

"The entrails!"

"Fought demons and Kouga and Hojo, of all people, for you--"

"Every time!"

"Followed you through the well! Asked to put his head in your lap!"


"Screamed when he thought moth-man had killed you!"


"Cried when he thought you were dead!"

"He did!"

"You need him, he needs you, he knows it, and won't admit it!"


"He loves to be needed, and you need him!"

"I do!"

"He loves you to need him!"

"He does!"

"He loves you!"

"He does!"

"And he won't tell you!"

"He won't! The jerk!"

"Go get him!"


Kagome flung herself towards the woods, bright green and white against the deepening shadows. Sending her off with a triple 'Banzai,' Imp and Love watched her go, twin fires of satisfaction burning low in their eyes. Tucking their skirts modestly under, the two sat in the short grass to await the fireworks. Suddenly frowning, Imp began twirling a strand of hair around her finger, and a small wrinkle appeared between her brows.

"Love," she said, uncertainly, "Is this the wisest course of action? To drive her to homicide?"

"Hanyoucide. And it's the only course of action." The shikigami nodded firmly. "Let's just hope she finds him before she comes to her senses and realized what we did. I'd really rather not find out what life like a paper frog is like."

"Oh, here comes Inuyasha. He looks furious."

The shikigami grinned at the two careening figures, smiles nearly feral. "We're so perfect for each other."

Inuyasha spotted Kagome storming up the hillside. Which suited him just fine. She'd better be ready to spill everything she'd kept back from him. He'd make her tell him how she felt.

Or else.

Her eyes latched onto his, and they lit up with an unholy blue fire. Somewhere, deep in the back of his head, a small voice offered that maybe he'd better cool off a bit. That maybe Naraku should be higher up on Inuyasha's priority list.

He ignored it.

The two strode up to each other, crushing the grass beneath their feet rather than moving through it. The earthy scent of mashed vegetation surrounded them as, each taking a fighting stance, they jabbed fingers under each other's noses and simultaneously snarled, "What--"

They both stopped. Then they started again.

"You--" Both recoiled.

Kagome recovered first. "You jerk!"

"You little--"

And in unison, "After all I've done for you--"

"After all you've done for me--"

They stopped again. Each squared their feet and shoulders, arms folded. Their eyes remained sizzling at each other, blue-grey and gold. The evening's first insects drifted in between the two, and nearly burst into flame from the tension.

Inuyasha didn't want to be the first to speak. But he just couldn't help it.

At the same moment, Kagome took a deep breath. Together they snapped, "Don't you have something to tell me?"

"Ladies first," Inuyasha spat derisively.

Kagome's tone rose ominously. "What is the deal with your attitude?"

Inuyasha steeled himself, ears flat against his head. He didn't have much experience with this kind of stuff, but he figured that confessions of love rarely started out with screeching.

"My attitude? What's with you? Why can't you just come out and say some--"

"Me? Oh, that's perfect, coming from Mr. One Syllable Wonder--"

"I told you, don't you ever listen--"

"-- don't you dare think you can turn this into another petty argument--"

"I won't! Just tell the damn truth!"

"About what? This?" Kagome jerked her hand back and forth between them, other hand fisted on her hip. "This is exactly what I'm sick of!"

"That makes two of us!"

"I'm sick of--"

Inuyasha felt fear snuff out his anger like a candle, leaving only desperation behind. Kagome was going to say it. She was going to end whatever relationship they didn't have before they even had it. She was going to leave him. Alone.

"Just shut up." Too late, Inuyasha discovered that he didn't want to hear her reject him. Crush him.

Destroy him.

But Kagome was still shouting at him, something about ramen and needing, she needed ramen? He turned away, hands to his ears, but she grabbed his sleeve-- still yelling-- and he turned on her with a painful snarl.

"I said shut UP!"

She did. Inuyasha found himself clutching her by the arms, with those wide eyes staring up at him. He'd shaken her out of her anger, and now she was looking at him with those eyes--

He dropped his head, but kept his grip. He couldn't look at her. She was going to say it. He knew it.

I'm leaving you, Inuyasha.

Desperately he jerked her stiff body into him, meeting her eyes again, staring down at her. He had to say it first. He meant to say it. Just leave, woman. Only--

He looked at those eyes. He closed his own, pressing his forehead to hers. She smelled good, like earth and sky and Kagome. Inuyasha felt her twitch, but he didn't let go.

Not yet. He breathed her in. She should be his. They should be together.

Somewhere between a growl and a whine, he muttered, "Why can't you just the hell love me, dammit?"

He felt the shock ripple through her frame, and shook her softly back and forth before pulling her fully into his arms.

Burying his nose in her silky hair, he growled, and felt the frustration thrum deep in his own bones. As he sighed out his anger against her neck, Kagome softened, eased into him.

She was still here. She hadn't rejected him.

"Just love me, woman," he breathed roughly.

An uncertain movement. Small, shaking fingers pressed into his ribs. Inuyasha sucked in his breath--

"There ye are." Kaede's voice echoed up the hillside.

Inuyasha's arms collapsed around empty air. Opening his eyes, he found Kagome just out of reach, flushed, looking everywhere but at him. Slowly he lowered his hands. His brows soon followed.

Kaede, like her voice, bumbled up the hill. "The sun has nearly set. Come inside. I mislike the feel of the air tonight."

Talk about someone who could kill a mood.

Turning halfway up the path, the old hag stumped back down towards her hut.

He made a move toward Kagome, who practically scurried after Kaede.

Oh, hell no. He wasn't playing this little game again. Frustration and elation fought within him, but it wasn't anywhere near a fair fight. Elation won by a landslide.

She hadn't rejected him. Which meant--

Tonight was the new moon, Naraku was sharpening his claws, and the old woman had ruined a nearly perfect moment.

A grin tugged at his mouth as a dangerous spark lit his eyes. He hadn't felt this good in a long time. A long, long time.

Kagome darted past Kaede, barreling through Imp and Love. They tried to stop her as she pushed her way into the hut, but they were pulled along by the force of her passing, half-falling through the doorway. Once inside, Kagome stood, staring around the single room, completely at a loss. She had a shikigami clutching each elbow.

Inuyasha had held her.

Held her.

And she'd been waiting for it for so long that she had absolutely fallen apart. In her mind, the thousands of Inuyasha scenarios had never gone so awry. And she'd been very imaginative; he'd declared his love in sickness, in health, in the future, in the past, even one or two scripts where he'd been dead and her love had brought him back. But never one where he'd yelled at her, then demanded she love him. Not to mention Kaede's absolute lack of timing. Kagome was completely off-balance.

She'd run like a schoolgirl.

Trying to settle her scattered thoughts, she stared down at her green skirt in bewilderment. "What do I do now?" she asked it plaintively.

Wash me.

"Fat lot of help you are," she muttered. She could still feel his arms around her, his breath on her neck. Her skin missed the warmth, but her mind firmly told her that her skin felt no such thing. A bald-faced liar, her skin. She released a shaky lungful of air.

"What was that?" Love asked. She released her creator's elbow and tried unsuccessfully to catch her eye.

"Nothing," Kagome sighed, running her free hand through her hair.

Imp, however, used Kagome's other elbow to whirl them face-to-face. "No, we mean what was that? It looked like things were going swimmingly and then you take off like the hounds of hell are after you--"

Kaede, with a practiced wrist, twitched the mat that served as a door aside. "Did I interrupt ye and yon hanyou?" she asked mildly. The three started guiltily, then shook their heads in unison. Imp reluctantly dropped Kagome's arm.

"Your creations gave me quite a turn when they came through the well, Kagome. I believe your skills change every day." Then she grumbled, "Although I'm unsure in which direction." Walking to the fire, the old woman swung her iron pot of something away from the heat, then used a rag to lift the lid, wreathing her lined face in steam. "Are ye hungry?"

"Yes, please, Kaede-baba," Kagome said politely, struggling for inner peace. Normal. She needed to act normal. Eating was normal, wasn't it? She sank onto the tatami furthest from the door. Sitting was normal, too, right? Her shikigami stood where she had left them, one uncertain, one frustrated. Her eyes flicked from their accusing gaze to the doorway.

Kaede handed her a wooden bowl of rice and millet as Inuyasha flung the mat aside, eyes hunting for hers. Kagome quickly tipped the bowl up in front of her face, shielding her eyes from the intensity of his. The drawback to the bowl defense, though, was that Kagome couldn't see Inuyasha either. She heard someone moving closer to her, as well as the soft footfalls of the shikigami.

Aw, crap.

Inuyasha shrugged at Kaede as the old woman glanced questioningly from Kagome, who had stuffed her face into her bowl, to him. It's not like he could explain anything. He didn't think he could if he wanted to. He was just so focused on Kagome, and this bubble of lightening in his chest, and Kagome, that he couldn't think about anything but his future woman--

Miss Bowl-face.

Was she embarrassed? Nervous? If he sat next to her, would she sit him? Kiss him? Probably sit him.

Kaede cleared her throat. "Are ye hungry, Inuyasha?"

Inuyasha kept his eyes on Kagome. "Nah." What if he just grabbed her? Hauled her out where they could talk, and maybe do other interesting things? Yeah, she'd definitely sit him.

Kaede huffed and turned back to the fire as Imp and Love moved quietly past the hanyou and stood to the side of Kagome, out of her line of sight and directly in his. Catching his eyes, they waved their hands in Kagome's general direction.

He scowled at them. Yes. Kagome was right there. With her head stuck in a bowl. He knew that.

One of them-- Imp-- rolled her eyes and began talking, but no sound was coming out. They were trying to tell him something. Something about Kagome. He squinted at them. They formed exaggerated, silent words with their pink mouths, which only distracted him as he thought about Kagome's mouth, which was just moments from his mouth. Stupid bowl.

Love finally sat down, tugging on the other's skirt to get her attention. Shaking his head to clear it, he squinted harder, cocking his head to one side. Imp had tucked her hands up through her hair on either side of her head, four fingers upright, thumb to palm. She sat slowly down next to Love, who held an imaginary bowl in front of her face, in a perfect imitation of Kagome. Imp twitched her fingertips, glaring at him.

He slowly sat next to Kagome.

Imp scooted closer to Love.

Inuyasha scooted closer to Kagome. She didn't seem to notice, although her chopsticks began moving double-time.

Imp stretched both arms over her head, apparently innocent, eyes sliding sideways to Love.

Inuyasha did the same. A good move, this.

Kagome froze, a scoop of millet hanging near her mouth. Her pink, slightly parted mouth.

Inuyasha looked desperately over at the two shikigami, who apparently were debating what to do next. Great. No help there. He kept his arms up and glanced sideways at Kagome. She looked like she was ready to bolt, bowl and all.

Aw, screw it. He'd do this his way.

Keeping his eyes on Kaede and the fire, he swung one arm around her waist and hauled her to his side. Bending his face toward her hair, he whispered furiously, "Don't you even think about running again."

She sucked in the clump of millet, which lodged in the back of her throat, throwing her into a violent coughing fit. Thumping her on the back, Inuyasha wasn't sure if this was a good sign or not. It wasn't exactly romantic, but it worked for him.

Kagome began to breathe again, and Inuyasha wondered if the pink in her cheeks was from his words or the sudden asphyxiation. He frowned when she kept her face down, staring into her bowl, her hair forming a curtain. He wrapped his arm around her waist again. She jumped.

"Just shut up and let me hold you, okay?" The soft, coaxing note in his rough words even surprised Inuyasha.

A small eep echoed in the bowl. He could feel her heart beating against her ribs, against his ribs. Yeah, it definitely worked for him.

He looked over at the shikigami. Love was practically melting, while Imp was trying to catch flies with her jaw.

For about thirty seconds, his life was complete and utter bliss.

Then Kaede turned back from the fire and lowered herself easily to her tatami. "Now, tell me, have ye kept the final shard safe?"

His ear flicked, of it's own accord, toward the old miko. His eyes followed his ear, frowning at the at the old woman as Kagome, her bowl still obscuring her face, nodded. A nasty, suspicious idea crept to the edge of his awareness, and suddenly splayed shamelessly.

Lowered herself easily.

Reluctantly releasing Kagome, he shoved himself to his feet, snarling at the old miko. "Get up."

She looked at him calmly. "What ails ye now, Inuyasha?"

"I said, get up!"

Kaede rose smoothly, eye closed with tolerant exasperation. "What is the matter with ye, pup?"

Kagome lowered her bowl and looked between the two. "Inuyasha, what--"

"Go find Miroku and Sango," he cut in. Love immediately scrambled out the door, while Imp looked wildly about the hut, then lunged for the ladle, clutching it like a baseball bat.

The room suddenly seemed darker, colder, and his ears itched at the side of his head. He felt a pulse of weakness wash over him, turning his stomach. Sunset.

Inuyasha had the battered Tetsusaiga pointed at the old miko-- her form, anyway-- his eyes burning under his black hair. "How're your joints, old woman?"

She snorted. "Are ye so addled that I too am suspect?" The thing-- not Kaede-- went quickly from aggrieved to irritated. "If my bones does not pop to your satisfaction, perhaps your head will."

And then it erupted.

Kagome, in her travels, had seen many youkai. She'd seen everything from Mistress Centipede to Hakudoshi, from Goshinki to Ginka and Kinka. She'd seen a dismembered leg with teeth hop after Kouga, and she'd seen a blob of guts reform into a baby. She'd even seen a gay zombie make a pass at Inuyasha.

This horror made them look like guests of honor at a Toyota management seminar.