Title: Air

Author: Anaphalis

Foreword: I got bitten by an alternate-pairing angst bunny that just wouldn't go away :) Actually, I just wanted to add to the small collection of stories where Houjou winds up with Kagome without him being the reincarnation/possessed body/descendent of one of the main characters from the Feudal Era. This is my take on how that might happen....

Summary: Breathing is over-rated. One Shot.

Disclaimer: Inuyasha belongs to Rumiko Takahashi and Shonen Jump.

Warning: Rated PG-13 for mild language and suggestive comments.

-###-

Air

It only takes you three years, nine hundred and seventy containers of ramen and one accidental act of voyeurism to realize the truth.

You love him the way you love breathing but you will never be his air.

You honestly didn't mean to see it- this time you were genuinely just going home, not following him, not "accidentally" stumbling into his private moment.

And maybe that's why you finally saw.

It's not that he doesn't care for you, not that he wouldn't stand in front of whatever monster of the day wants you for sex or shards. But maybe you'd known, deep inside, that the jealousy, the fighting, the angry denials were more habit now than genuine feeling.

It's not that he was kissing her or hugging her or pledging his undying love. She wasn't even there. He was just standing in front of the tree- The Tree, tracing the scar where the arrow had burrowed into the bark.

"Why didn't you just kill me?"

Why indeed?

And maybe if you hadn't seen his eyes, you would have just passed it off as curiosity. But you did see his eyes as he briefly turned, unseeing.

He wasn't asking because he was curious.

He was asking because he wished she had killed him.

You aren't fifteen anymore. You have killed. You have nearly been killed. That doesn't mean this doesn't hurt.

You head back to the village before you leave, interrupting the rest of your friends at supper.

You tell them that you need a few months at home to finish the last of the correspondence courses and hopefully get your high school diploma. If they find the enemy they can send for you- it is not as if they need you to gather shards anymore. They agree a little unhappily and if they suspect something else they are merciful enough not to mention it. Of course, you could just suck it up and re-build your world while helping them track the other hanyou.

Hell with that.

You aren't a martyr and you refuse to become one.

-###-

You drift in a haze for the first few weeks, barely speaking unless spoken to, attacking your homework harder than you've attacked some youkai. Every day you spend a few minutes in front of The Tree and every day you get a little bit stronger, a little more sure.

It is while you are strengthening yourself that you hear the throat clearing behind you.

"Your grandfather said that you were back from the sanitarium and your mother said you might be up here. It's- it's good to see you."

He's older too now. No more school uniforms- just a tight pair of jeans and a t-shirt. It's a little surprising how the tighter clothing reveals his lean muscling. You ignore the slight heat rising to your cheeks.

"It's good to see you again."

He looks at you and you see that more things have changed in the past three years than his pants. His eyes are far more serious than the cheerful boy you remember.

"Are you all right?"

In the face of his genuine concern you feel a sudden need for honesty.

"I will be."

And to your surprise, it's true.

He starts to move the arm that has been held behind his back.

An "honesty" demon seems to have possessed your mouth, as you blanch and move slightly backwards.

"Please- no more medicines."

His laughter is far richer than you would have guessed as he hands you a bouquet of wildflowers.

"Thank god- I was running out of therapeutic sandals."

You find yourself almost eagerly agreeing to a dinner- without therapeutic sandals.

Maybe it was the sudden discovery of a sense of humor. Maybe it was the realization that he's not quite as clueless as you thought. Or maybe it was the discovery of how fantastic his ass looks in jeans.

After all, you are eighteen.

It isn't that you aren't aching, that you won't dream of silver hair that night and sob your heart out, but you know that you need to start moving forward again, find some reason to want to come back. Because if you don't have a reason, you probably won't survive the next time.

And he has a very nice ass.

The dinner is fun. You haven't laughed so hard in years, maybe ever, as he tells you stories of the strange boys in his dorm at university, of his bad adventures hiking in Western Japan. He asks you if you would ever like to go hiking with him and, to your surprise, you say that you would like that, someday.

He volunteers to help you with your courses since it is his summer break and somehow he is spending every day with you and you are going out and doing things that don't involve blood and death and vengeance. And you are having fun. And passing math.

You are grateful that he never pushes for anything physical. It seems that he now sees you as a friend and a good friend at that. You ignore the traitorous twinge in your heart at that thought.

Maybe it would have gone on like this without change. Maybe you would have destroyed that twinge and left this as yet another 'What if?' in your mind.

But when you come back to your room that evening to get ready for a night at the festival there is already someone standing at the window.

He gets straight to the point without even turning to face you.

"We know where he is- he can't be planning to leave in the next few days the way he's fortified the area. I think he's ready to end this now."

He looks at you then, really looks at you and a part of you rejoices and another part of you mourns. Maybe there's regret there, but you're learning to breath again and you won't have the air taken away before you've even filled your lungs.

You take a deep breath. "I will come back and finish this with all of you. Just give me a day to explain and pack."

He accepts this, even as his ears briefly wilt on his head. He stops on the windowsill before he moves into the evening shadows.

"I hope he makes you happy."

You're so stunned, your lungs so suddenly devoid of air that you almost don't hear the door downstairs. You answer it in a daze, as if your world has been turned inside out in a matter of seconds. When you look up to greet him though, everything shifts into perfect clarity.

There is nothing different about this night than any of the others he's come to see you, but somehow tonight, looking into his eyes, you know. And it changes everything.

You'd always thought that this boy was too weak, too dull to hold your interest with his medicines and persistence and perpetual smile. This may not be forever, may not even be until tomorrow, but right now this is. And for that reason alone, you owe him something of the truth.

"I need to leave for awhile. I don't know when I'll be back again. I don't know if I will come back again. And I understand if you want to leave now."

It is only in the silence that follows your statement that you realize how important it has become that he doesn't leave.

And then he answers you.

He is holding you tightly against him, touching you with a combination of tenderness and passion you would never have suspected him to possess.

He moves back to look at you, his eyes open and painfully honest. You can feel the fine tremors in his arms as he holds you in front of him.

"I don't need to know. I won't ask. But please know that I'll be there when you come home."

You are the one who pulls his head down and attacks his mouth until your lungs burn.

Breathing is over-rated.

-The End-

Updated 01-26-05