Disclaimer: I do not own Inu-Yasha and am not making any money from this tale. I have written this for sheer enjoyment and saw fit to share it with my fellow fans. Inu-Yasha is the sole property of Viz Corporation and was created by the venerated manga author, Rumiko Takahashi.

The Heartbeat of a Hanyou

Lightening flashed overhead followed a split second later by an overwhelming crash of thunder. Despite herself, Kagome Higurashi jumped and suppressed an involuntary shudder. Nearby, Shippo muttered fitfully in his sleep as the latest peel of thunder momentarily interrupted his dreams. Sango still slept soundly on her pallet by the far wall and Miroku snored on despite the slow drip from the ceiling that struck his head every now and then. The man could probably sleep through anything after the battle he and InuYasha had endured. It had lasted hours, after all, ending badly for them and worse for the demon.

The demon, cowardly beast that it was, had attacked the group as the sun set taking advantage of the fatigue of a day's walking and the absence of a certain hanyou. InuYasha had left with Shippo to scout out a suitable shelter against the impending storm and had yet to return. The demon knew this and was more than happy to take the opportunity to take the shards of the sacred Shikon no Tama into its possession.

It attacked from the bushes lashing out with sharp teeth and razor claws, a creature more beast than human in appearance. Striking without warning, it mercilessly slashed Miroku's arm from behind and demanded the jewel shards all in one breath. Biting back a cry of pain, Miroku spun around and slapped a sutra on the demon's forehead with his free hand. Gasping he yelled, "Never demon!" and moved to pry his injured limb from the dog-like muzzle of the beast.

Momentarily paralyzed by the monk's spiritual powers the demon had no choice but to release its prey, leaving Miroku to stumble back to a safer distance. Sango was at his side in an instant and helped him retrieve his staff from the ground before turning her attention to the demon. "You cowardly monster! You will die for this!"

Sango hurled her hiraikotsu at the demon with a fierce war cry, determined to strike it down with a single blow. To everyone's surprise, the demon broke through Miroku's sutra and batted the massive boomerang away as if it was an annoying insect. It laughed then, showing bloody fangs and a demonic smirk. "I am not so easily defeated, slayer. I, the mighty Oni-Taosho, will have what I desire." The creature turned to Kagome, grinning in an evil way. "Give me the shards priestess, or you shall feel my fangs in your flesh."

The monster advanced then, moving quicker than the eye could follow, and grabbed Kagome by the throat. It lifted her high into the air, curved claws biting into tender flesh and causing small red drops to appear. Choking under her own weight, Kagome gripped her capture's arm in a vain attempt to free herself. Oni-Taosho only tightened his grip causing Kagome to cry out involuntarily and bringing similar cries from Sango and Miroku.

The monk and demon slayer rushed forward seeking to free Kagome, but were thrown back by the demon's free hand. "Foolish mortals," it cackled. Feeling the pulse in Kagome's throat begin to slow, Oni-Taosho's eye flashed with a kind of perverted pleasure. Death was coming for the priestess. He would soon have the sacred jewel shards that he so desired.

Tears stung Kagome's eyes as she struggled to speak, her voice trapped by the beast's hand. Her world began to spin and darkness gathered at the edges of her vision, but still she fought against its hold on her. "InuYasha. . . ." She finally managed to whisper and was surprised to hear Miroku and Sango echo her words in a gleeful shout.

Kagome saw a flash of red out of the corner of her eye and knew that InuYasha had come to save her. The Tetsusaiga sliced through the air in front of her face and Kagome and she fell to the ground amidst the grimy remains of Oni-Taosho's arm. She closed her eyes against what she knew was coming and was not disappointed as a familiar cry split the air. "Wind scar!"

A blinding flash of light followed, bright enough to leave white spots dancing behind Kagome's eyelids, and Oni-Taosho screamed. The forest fell to a dead silence and several minutes passed before any movement could be heard anywhere. Through it all, the fallen miko remained perfectly still, focusing only on breathing and steadying the frantic beating of her heart. Soft footfalls sounded, moving in her direction and ending with someone standing beside her.

"Kagome?" InuYasha whispered, kneeling to scoop her into his arms.

The miko slowly opened her eyes to find herself gazing into the amber eyes of one InuYasha. Worry glinted in those golden depths until she whispered his name. "InuYasha." Her voice cracked ever so slightly. "InuYasha!" She cried again, clutching at his red hoari with an almost fevered determination.

Shushing her gently, InuYasha lifted her from the ground, calling for Miroku and Sango to follow him back to the shelter he had found. They asked as they fell into step behind him. "Is Kagome all right?" "How did you find us?" "Where is Shippo?" And so on. The hanyou answered them all in his usual annoyed tones, but Kagome knew those tones were nothing more than a mask. He had been very worried about her.

He held her close as they walked, her head cradled against his chest like a child's. Rain began to fall softly and he paused the trek long enough to drape his fire-rat robe over her. She had never asked him to. She smiled a bit, snuggling deeper into the robes and into InuYasha's arms. The hanyou cast a single glance down at her and smiled at her despite himself. Lightening flashed and thunder sounded some two seconds later, heralding the arrival of the storm.

InuYasha stiffened and flattened his ears against his head. The noise had been loud for his sensitive hearing, leaving his ears ringing. Glowering at the dark clouds overhead, the hanyou quickened his step, calling for the others to do the same. "The storm is close. We need to get to shelter soon or this is going to be one heck of a night."

He pulled his robe over Kagome's face as the rain began to pour, whispering to her as he did so. "You'll stay drier under there, so don't you move Kagome."

The young miko sighed into the relative darkness in which he had placed her and closed her eyes, intent on napping until either they reached their camp or InuYasha tired of carrying her. That is when she first noticed it, a sound thudding softly against her ear. It was strangely soothing and reassuring, a steady cadence against the sounds of the rain and thunder. It took a moment before she realized what she was hearing. It was InuYasha's heart, beating slow and easy even at the pace at which they were traveling, like that of a human at rest.

Entranced, Kagome continued to listen as thunder peeled once more and InuYasha broke into a run. The sound was so human . . . and yet, so different. Kagome sighed, content and warm despite the storm brewing outside. Before she knew it, she had fallen asleep, dozing peacefully in InuYasha's care.

Kagome would remain sleeping until some time later when a certain peel of thunder waked her. . . .

Lightening flashed again followed by an even louder crash than before, pulling Kagome from her revere. "Stupid storm." She muttered, pulling her blankets closer about her. Wait . . . the cloth was too soft, and were they . . . red? These were not her blankets! They were InuYasha's robes! Had he meant to leave them with her?

Kagome quickly glanced about the room, searching for the aforementioned half-demon. She found him huddled against the wall near the door, the only place left available in the small, dilapidated hut he had found for them. Wind driven rain came freely through the thin cloth drapery that served as a door, leaving the sleeping hanyou thoroughly soaked. Water glistened on wet strands of silver hair and dripped steadily from the end of his nose as he slept. Occasionally, an ear would flick to rid it of an annoying build-up of rainwater, but InuYasha did not stir.

"Oh, InuYasha. . . ." Kagome whispered, rising to go to the hanyou's aid. She secured the door as best she could and gently shook the boy awake, calling his name softly. "InuYasha, come on now. You need to move away from this doorway before you catch pneumonia." She assumed that was possible for him, although she had never seen him sick. His mother would have never bothered to teach him her cold remedy if he could not get sick, so it had to be possible. . . . He did not wake.

"InuYasha?" Kagome tried again, shaking him a little harder. This time he woke, fixing an unsteady gaze on the raven-haired girl who had disturbed his sleep. "InuYasha, would you like to move away from the door? You're dripping wet and must be freezing."

He stared at her for a moment, his eyes drifting in and out of focus as his drowsy mind formed an answer. "Feh. Y-you f-foolish woman. I'm made of t-tougher stuff than that." Horrible lies since his teeth were chattering against the cold. The boy was stubborn to a fault.

Kagome shook her head. "Yeah, sure you are mister tough guy. You are coming with me."

"W-why s-should I? I'm just f-fine where I am."

With a sigh, Kagome took InuYasha's hand and pulled him away from the wall. When he tried to resist, she said the only thing she could think of to save his precious demon pride. "Because this storm is freaking me out, okay!"

"Feh. Only weaklings are afraid of thunder." InuYasha barked a laugh, but he did let her lead him to her pallet against the far wall. As they both sat down thunder rolled through the hut, jolted another jump from Kagome and (oddly enough) a whimper from InuYasha. That sound must really be hard on his ears.

Knowing better than to ask if he was all right, Kagome set about retrieving some blankets from her pack. "Don't bother." InuYasha murmured. "The blankets are all soaked."

Cocking an eyebrow at the hanyou, Kagome reached into her pack and pulled out a sopping mass of blankets out. That was why he had left his fire-rat robe with her.

"I told you they were wet. Your pack got left too close to the door while we tended to you and Miroku."

"Kind of like a certain hanyou?" Kagome laughed and instantly regretted it. The marks left by Onitoasho's claws were very tender and did not take kindly to her laughter. She winced and pressed a hand to the gauze that now covered the wounds.

"Are you all right?" InuYasha asked, scenting her pain and the lingering smell of her blood. He ducked ever so slightly to see Kagome's eyes as she spoke, her head bowed in a vain attempt to hide her pain. Of course, one can hide nothing from the nose of a hanyou, not pain or fear, contentment or joy, so Kagome just smiled for him.

"Just remind me not to laugh for a few days."

InuYasha nodded and pulled Kagome's hand away from the gauze. "Well, don't you go picking at the bandages either, Kagome. We don't need those cuts to reopen."

It was Kagome's turn to nod as InuYasha continued his lecture. Surveying the room to assure himself of everyone's level of consciousness, InuYasha leaned in to whisper. "You know, you really scared me today. A few minute more and you would have. . . ." The girl winced and InuYasha stopped with a weary sigh. "Well, just don't scare me like that again, okay?" She nodded. "Good. Now that that's settled, what do you say we a-a-a-ACHOOO!"

InuYasha sneezed twice more, his ears flattening with each "choo", and was left rubbing a finger beneath his nose, praying not to sneeze again. He growled softly to himself. "Dog gone it all!"

"Well, what did you expect, InuYasha? You are soaked to the bone. Did you expect your body to sing your praises for it?"

"Feh." InuYasha shrugged. ""I'll be fine, and besides, you worry too much."

The wind chose that moment to whip the cloth door open, allowing the chill of the night to permeate the small hut. InuYasha stood and paced to the door with a look of absolute annoyance upon his face. Pulling it closed again, he weighted the end with a heavy cooking pot and returned to plop down in an ungraceful heap nest to Kagome. Chilled by the wind, he could not suppress the chattering of his teeth or the slight tremors in his hands. He was cold and no amount of nonchalance could change that.

Kagome shook her head. "Your stubbornness will get you killed one day." She scooted around until her back was to the half-demon and folded her arms. "Take off your shirt, InuYasha."

"Huh?" InuYasha's ears twitched as he stared at Kagome's back dumbly.

"You heard me." Kagome said over her shoulder. "Get that wet shirt off before you catch a cold or something, and be warned. If you won't take it off, I will S-I-T you and remove it myself."

Whimpering like a scolded puppy, InuYasha did as she commanded. Although the thought of her trying to remove his shirt was oddly entertaining, the thought of being say was not. Paralysis and pain simply was not his cup of tea.

"There, are you happy now?" He demanded, dropping the soaked article of clothing on the ground by Kagome. "Now I'm really cold."

Without a word, Kagome held up the fire-rat robe and waited for InuYasha to take it. When several minutes had passed without any move from him, she shook it in her fist and held it higher. "Take it, InuYasha."

Behind her, the boy shifted his weight uneasily and looked away from the proffered robe. "No." The word hung in the air with, what Kagome perceived to be, all the stubbornness of the hanyou that had spoken it. Standing and whirling on him like a demon herself, she planted her hands on her hips and prepared for battle. "InuYasha! You hard-headed, fool of a -." Kagome froze as his amber gaze fell upon her, eyes filled not with stubborn arrogance, but with concern.

"No, Kagome. I won't take it." The hanyou's voice was soft but firm, without a trace of an annoyed growl in it. "My body is different for a human's, Kagome. It can handle a little cold a lot better than yours.

"If I get cold I loose a little sleep and maybe endure a bit of a cold, but you . . . . You humans catch a chill and it can be dangerous, even deadly. You need that robe way more than I do."

The miko gapped at the boy as though he were a stranger, pleasantly shocked at his behavior and unsure of what to say. She could try explaining that the miracle of modern medicine meant people no longer died from the flu, but she doubted it would sway him. He shivered again and she sighed. There was only one way out of this.

"Then you will stay with me tonight and keep me warm."

Moving with a tenyou's grace, Kagome draped the robe around InuYasha's shoulders and sat back down on her mat. InuYasha tensed, squaring his shoulders with determination. For a moment, Kagome thought he would throw the robe back at her, but the he only sighed and slipped his arms into voluminous sleeves of the robe. Shaking his head, InuYasha sat down beside her, muttering quietly to himself. "And the wench thinks I'm stubborn."

Kagome smirked and tried the stifle the laughter that bubbled within her. The pot had just called the kettle black, amusing in its own way, but more so from the hanyou . . . her hanyou. Yet now was not the time for laughter. Something was festering at the back of Kagome's mind, something that must be given voice before the night grew much later.

"InuYasha," she whispered.

"What do you want now wench?" He was most definitely annoyed with her. That did not make what she had to say any easier. Swallowing hard, Kagome plucked up her courage and spoke.

"Thank you for what you did today . . . for saving me and for everything. I know I don't say it as often as you deserve it, but I should." She leaned over, resting her head on his shoulder. "I want to say arigato, InuYasha. Thank you for always being there."

The hut fell silent then save for the sounds of the rain and their sleeping companions. Not a word was spoken, not even a whisper, as the cloak of silence drew itself about the room. Slowly, so as not to break the spell that silence brings, InuYasha put his arms around Kagome. He held her much as he had earlier that day, cradled gently in his warm embrace, wrapping the long sleeves of his robe about her like a winter fleece. The minutes dragged on in sweetest bliss until the so-called half-demon, the dreaded InuYasha, broke the silence.

He whispered, his voice resonating with the soft growling notes of his joy, almost purring. "Kagome, so long as I live I will be there for you. You have my word on that by whatever deity you like." He rested his chin on her head and pulled her closer, allowing her to lay her head on his chest. "So long as I live, I will protect you from Naraku, demons, humans, whatever life can throw at us. Kagome, I would never let anything happen to you."

Tears slipped unbidden from Kagome's eyes, dampening InuYasha's robe. She loved him so much it hurt, but would he always be there? Memories danced before her mind's eyes, images of the day's event, of countless narrow escapes for her and for InuYasha. She remembered her first sight of him, pinned to the massive god tree, dead as far as she could tell. She remembered the way he looked after Togenkyo had fought him on the night of the new moon, bloodied and barely breathing, and the time she herself had shot him while under the spell of the moth demon, Minomaru. All of those times when he had fought, bleed, nearly died, they had all been for her sake. How much longer would his luck hold out? Moreover, how much longer would her own good fortunes last? How long until the death came to claim them both?

"Hey, no more tears Kagome." InuYasha's voice whispered in her ear. "You're safe now. I won't ever let anything hurt you."

With a final, shuddering sob and the young priestess settled, calmed by InuYasha's words and the strong arms around her. Safe? Yes, she was safe. So long as InuYasha was there, as long as he held her, as long as he loved her, she was safe.

InuYasha smiled as he felt the tension slip from her shoulders and, with a contented sigh, closed his eyes. He would rest until morning, but not truly sleep. He would keep his word and protect her, even if it was from her own emotions, comforting her until she herself slept.

The night melted away until the girl he held drifted to sleep, her breaths growing softer and her heart slowing its pace. The gift and curse of humans was their dulled senses. They may never know what a pain a thunderclap could be, but then again, they would never know the joy of listening to a loved one's heartbeat. Oh, how he loved to listen to her as she slept! Minutes gave way to hours, the storm drew to its end, and the night slowly waned away, yet still he kept his vigil.

If any were there to witness, they would have seen him smile on more then one occasions, at the girl mumbling in the sleep or the nearby kitsune yipping happily in his own slumbering bliss. He even chuckled when the demon slayer cursed the "perverted monk" in her sleep. The monk himself did not seem to care since his hand had somehow found hers in the depths of the night. It would get him slapped come morning light, but the hanyou was not cruel enough to wake him.

Somewhere near dawn, InuYasha finally slept, his thought focused only on his friends and a solemn vow. So long as he lived, no one would hurt these people. He would protect them, especially his Kagome, to the last beat of his heart. That was a promise.

Author's Notes: Sorry I have not written anything in so long, but school is really getting in the way of my free time. In fact, this story was originally written in segments I jotted down between classes and is the result of some four weeks of tinkering. It was not planned as a one-shot at first, but rather was just a random collection of scenes I created. That is, until I realized that they could be worked into a running story with only slight revisions. You have just read the result. (Which I really hope made sense.)
Oh, as to my story-in-progress ("On the Other Hand") it is still being worked on slowly but surely. I cannot guarantee that it will be updated soon, but I can say that it will be finished at some point in the future. This whole time issue is why I usually don't post in-complete fan-fics, but I broke my own rule and posted that one anyway. I want to say sorry to all who have been waiting for the next chapter. I will definitely be trying to complete it very soon.
Until then, please be content with this mindless piece of fluff. Ja ne, everyone!