Disclaimer: Don't own…don't sue. Tormenting them purely for my own sadistic pleasure. Nearly all characters and most situations owned by Rumiko Takahashi and Shogakukan Publishing.

Bouquets: To KagomexMiko for helping me Keep It Simple. Thanks muchly!

A/N: Had to use a rolled-up newspaper to keep 'Yashita' under control in this chapter…it'll be a bucket of water next time…

I know I promised something explosive for this chapter, but telling the backstory to set the scene took more space than I originally thought to do it right. Get settled in…the fireworks will definitely go off next week!

I know…I'm such a tease. (rolls eyes)

The Phoenix Blade: Time Lapse

Chapter 42: Reconnection

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Sengoku Jidai

Kagome bent as far over a semi-conscious Inuyasha as she could, burying one hand deep into Kirara's ruff while trying to wrap her other hand in fire-rat to keep it from freezing off. With the hanyou in front of her, she couldn't lay flat on the neko-youkai's back and protect herself from the cold wind whipping around them. They'd been travelling at altitude for the last couple of hours, and even with the extra protection of her fur-lined cloak and a piece of blanket wrapped around her lower face and neck, she was chilled to the bone. She really, really hoped that Kaede had a pot of rice porridge on the fire, and the makings of a bowl of hot tea to hand.

"K'gome?" She peeked in at the hanyou, who was awkwardly sprawled across both her lap and Kirara's back at the same time. His upper body was tucked inside her cloak, his silver head cradled in the crook of her arm; the rest of his hair was streaming wildly in the slipstream, snapping against Kirara's flank.

"Yes, koibito?"

"How…much…longer?" In answer, she raised her head a little higher to squint between Kirara's ears, and the icy wind instantly blurred her eyes with tears, but not before she glimpsed a familiar landmark.

"Only a few more minutes, Inuyasha. I can see the Goshinboku in the distance."

"Cold…" he mumbled, and turned his head into her body, his arms tightening around her waist. Kagome really wished she could let go of Kirara to hold him closer, but didn't dare in case she lost her balance on the fire-cat's back. She rubbed her cheek against her shoulder to wipe away the freezing moisture and ducked back down.

Very soon, the village watch tower flashed past as Kirara began her descent. Kagome noted that the barrier was still in place as they went through it, but looked almost transparent; she guessed that without she and Miroku around to renew the sutras, it had been all up to Kaede…and her age was telling. Kirara landed right in front of Kaede's familiar hut; it was still extremely early, even though they had been racing towards the rising sun to reach Edo.

The reinforced door mat moved aside, and the old miko stumped out, her one eye flashing. "Kagome-sama! Ye have returned…what is wrong with thy hanyou?"

Kagome smiled grimly at Kaede. "Naraku has a nasty new ability to birth incarnations of himself, and Inuyasha was seriously wounded in our most recent battle with two of them last night." She was at a bit of a loss as to how to manoeuvre Inuyasha, as he was rather a dead weight from the cold and his injuries, but Kirara rumbled and padded slowly forward. Kagome ducked under the doorframe as Kaede held the mat open wide. Both mikos held their breath, wondering if the neko-youkai would fit through the door frame with her burden, but she managed it.

"Use that futon over there; tarry a moment until I put some rags on it so that he does not bleed everywhere." Kagome waited until the bedding was arranged, and then with Kirara's help, lowered Inuyasha onto it. Before the neko-youkai moved back, Kagome wrapped her arms around her furry neck and hugged her tightly.

"Thanks, Kirara. I really appreciate you doing this for us." She let go of the cat, who transformed to her more space-efficient kitten-size, and turned to arranging Inuyasha's limbs comfortably before covering him with a blanket. His ears flicked a couple of times, and he sighed before he slipped into a deeper unconsciousness. She brushed his bangs off his forehead and kissed his cheek, smiling at how his nose scrunched slightly at the contact.

Kaede was surprised by the younger miko's enthusiastic hug that threatened to crack a few ribs. "Ye are looking thin, Kagome-sama…has the quest not been going well?"

Kagome grimaced. "Before I answer that, do you have any field rations left? The others are pretty much out of food, and Kirara can take some back with her."

Kaede scratched her chin. "Aye. Up in the storage shed; there should be a box or two left."

"Thanks, Kaede-sama. While I go up there, could you please make me some tea? I'm half frozen…"

"Certainly, child. Take this to carry what ye require." Kaede tossed Kagome a sack. Catching it, she ducked out under the mat and headed off across the field towards the small outbuilding. When she slid open the shed door, and let her eyes adjust to the dim interior, she noticed that someone had been in to tidy up from the mess left by their precipitous departure just over a month ago. The blankets were folded neatly, and even the hay pallet looked like it had been fluffed and straightened. The brazier had a fresh stock of charcoal in a basket beside it, plus the addition of simple cooking equipment, a couple of pottery mugs and bowls…just as if they were expected to take up residence in here, like a married couple.

Her heart hit the bottom of her stomach with a heavy thud. 'How much longer am I going to be punished?' She shook off the memory of the hanyou's unhappy question, pushed away the searingly intimate memories that this small building contained, squared her jaw and resolutely stepped inside the shed. She searched briefly, found the cases of field rations, and filled the sack, then stepped back outside and closed the door a little too firmly, setting the panel to rattling.

Don't shut the door on your heart, Kagome.

What? Oh, uh…don't read anything symbolic into that. I'm not shutting him out…

Why are you punishing him?

His…compassion…for Kikyo makes him a liability.

His love for you makes him your strength.

I know…but, why does loving him have to be so damn complicated?

I doubt that love is ever truly simple. Look at your companions if you want the proof of that.

True…but…

Don't start this stupidity again, Nixie.

S-stupidity?

When you start doubting him, and then you get bitchy, and then…

I'm gonna ask the Armoury for a new sword.

You're stuck with me, sweetheart.

If Sesshomaru can pack two swords, why can't I?

'Cause you ain't up to dealing with shit like Tokijin dishes out. You think I'm bad? At least I'm not possessed by the desire to kill your mate

Not most of the time, anyways...let's go…gotta look after my hanyou.

Give him a kiss for both of us.

Eeyew! Not this fang…dog germs, blech…

Kagome tied the sack firmly closed, and when she returned to the hut, begged some cord from Kaede, and fashioned a simple harness to tie the bag securely between Kirara's shoulder blades. The neko-youkai finished daintily lapping from a bowl of water and mewed up at Kagome before scampering out the door and transforming. The girl followed her outside. "Are you sure you don't want to rest a bit first, Kirara? That's a fast turnaround…" She received a rumble and an impatient jerk of the head for a reply, so stepped up to the cat and secured the cargo on her back. With another low growl, the feline lifted off into the air, and was gone over the trees.

She ducked back under the door mat, and found Kaede spooning out two bowls of rice porridge with raisins. She dropped her cloak, the makeshift 'scarf' and laid her sword alongside on the wooden planking. "Thanks, Kaede-sama…the trip was really cold." The old miko handed her one bowl, plus a hot mug of tea, and she gratefully absorbed the warmth and the food.

"Where is thy kit?"

"Shippo decided to stay with Sango and Miroku; actually, I think Kirara insisted on it. She's not too happy with the houshi right now, if the dirty looks she sends his way are anything to go by."

"Ah, our wandering monk has not completely reformed his ways, has he?"

"Yes and no. Maybe if they have a couple of days together, they'll be able to sort things out."

"Now, child, tell me why thy hanyou is injured, and why ye look so pale."

Kagome bit her lip before raising her eyes to meet Kaede's intent look. "Sesshomaru's intel was correct; we found Naraku outside of Kyoto. He's built himself a new, more powerful body. You're probably not going to like hearing this, but Kikyo…" She sighed, but continued. "Kikyo stole my chunk of Jewel shard and then gave it to Naraku. He used it to start splitting demonic chunks off of himself, and they've been extremely difficult to defeat."

Kaede's one remaining eye was very large and round. "Kikyo surely would not join with Naraku? The one who caused her death?"

Kagome studied her hands. "Inuyasha doesn't like to think that about her either." The mentioned hanyou let out a couple of soft groans at that moment, and Kaede moved to check his wounds. Kagome drained her cup of tea, and followed. The old woman clucked her tongue over his bodily state, once she'd peeled back the haori and the juban.

"At least there is no poison involved…I have enough supplies to treat him once, Kagome-sama. Ye must bring more from the other side of the well."

The girl nodded. "I'd like to see my mother, too…shall I help you change his bandages now, before I go?"

"Nay…I will wait until he awakens and can complain. Do not be long, though. A demon in search of his mate will rise from his deathbed to find her…and he is in no condition to search for long."

"Just tell him he has to sit tight or I won't bring him any ramen. Is there anything that you'd like, Kaede-sama?"

The old miko smiled broadly, if a bit shyly. "This old woman would love some more of those dried fruits…and some more of the medicine that ceases the ache in my joints."

Kagome's eyebrow twitched. "Medicine? From my time?"

"Aye. There were several bottles in a box labelled with my name, and instructions for their use. They have become very popular in the village for pain relief."

"Uh, sure…show me the bottle, so I know which type to get…" She tried to hide her surprise when Kaede pressed a large container of a well-known pain killer into her hand. Well-known in the early 21st century, anyways… "Sure, Kaede-sama. I'll be back before dark, so tell dog-boy not to panic. Um…do you have the empty bottles of this around? I should probably take them back with me to be refilled." Inwardly, she was wincing at the thought of archaeologists stumbling across plastic containers in a Sengoku Jidai strata. Kaede, however, beamed and handed her five empties plus a bag to put them in. She gave the old woman a bright smile, collected her cloak and her katana, and after brushing a light kiss across Inuyasha's lips, disappeared out the door.

She jogged up the steps and plunged into the forest, heading for the Goshinboku and then veering to the right until she burst out into the meadow. Slowing to a walk, she kept her gaze fixed on the ancient wooden timbers that marked the portal…she'd been gone a month… a month in which everything had changed, again. Kagome paused at the rim, and glanced around the clearing. The scent of spring was in the air; the meadow was lush and green, with the first flowers peeping through the grass. The sun wasn't even over the trees here yet… maybe I can catch Sota at home before he leaves for school to say 'hi'. With that thought, Kagome vaulted over the lip and fell into the shimmering blue…

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Present Day

Kagome climbed up the ladder and hopped out onto the creaking planks, then bounded up the steps with far more energy than someone who had only had a few hours of sleep after fighting demons ought to have. Just as she slid open the well house door, she was assaulted by the sounds and smells of urban-Tokyo-at-dawn. It was almost too much; a month in the relative peace and quiet of the feudal past had let her forget just how noisy and industrial her era was. She sat on the steps leading down to the courtyard for a few moments to collect herself, and then heard the sounds of a scratchy broom on the flagstones.

Grinning to herself, she got up, and moved as silently as her boots would allow on the hard surface, until she could peek around the corner of the shrine at her diligently sweeping grandfather. Tiptoeing around to his side, she waited until he looked up before pouncing on the old man and hugging him tightly.

"Hi, Ojii-chan! Didja miss me?"

"Kagome! My goodness! You're finally back!"

"Short visit only, Jiji…I need some medical supplies because Inuyasha got hurt again…"

"Yes, I understand that I now have a demonic grandson-in-law…"

"Yes…so no more sutra-flinging, okay?"

"Hmph. Go in and see Sota; his ride will be here shortly to pick him up…ah, there they are now, so be quick." Kagome looked behind her to see a familiar sedan coming up the access road, and quickly gave her grandfather another squeeze before loping across the courtyard to stand smirking, hands fisted on her hips, directly in the car's path. The car had barely stopped when a very pleased Shimano bounded out and caught her in a huge bear hug, followed by an only slightly less happy Akagane.

"Hey! Long time no see, Kagome! Oops, um, is he…?" He let her go rather quickly, and peered towards the well house, sniffing intently. Kagome smiled and hugged Akagane before answering.

"Inuyasha is laid up at Kaede's, with yet another hole through his stomach, courtesy of Kageromaru. I need some medical supplies…" The kitsune grinned and gave her another giant hug that left her breathless.

"Come by the Armoury later; I'll have a bag made up for you."

"Thanks, Shimano. I don't know if I'll make it by today; I haven't seen my mom yet…so if the truck could…" She stopped, struck by the near-panicked look in his eyes.

"You have to come, Kagome. Yash has been a mess for the last month…he really needs to spend some time with you…"

Kagome arched an eyebrow. "His younger self is bleeding on Kaede's futon…"

"Please, Kagome. He's…I haven't seen him like this since the well closed." There was no mistaking the sincerity in Shimano's eyes, which had briefly flickered green as he grasped her hands. She gave him a hard look before nodding curtly; he was obviously relieved, but then dismayed by her next statement.

"I'll do my best, Shimano, so don't tell him I'm coming in case I don't make it…"

Shimano gestured to Akagane; the girl wordlessly re-entered the car. His eyes locked onto hers. "Please…I can't stand to see him suffer like this."

Kagome closed her eyes and grimaced. "I'll try." She was startled when his fingers circled her wrists, tapping on her gauntlets. Her eyes flew open to look into green intensity.

"Remember that scent is important to mated pairs, Kagome. He needs you." It was on the tip of her tongue to point out that they weren't yet properly mated, but stopped herself with the wry realization that she would sound like Koga if she did so. Speaking of wolves…hmmmI think I need to talk to Sessaki, too

"All right; expect me before lunch."

"Thanks, Kagome. It really means a lot to all of us." He pecked her on the cheek, then preceded her into the house. Sota wasn't in the foyer; he could hear Mrs. Higurashi calling to her son that his ride was waiting. Shimano developed a small evil grin as Kagome bent over to unbuckle her boots. Moving fast, he swept her up into his arms, eliciting a small shriek from the girl, and slid open the inner door. "Look what the fox dragged in!"

Mrs. Higurashi turned from where she was standing at the foot of the stairs; her eyes grew large and round as she took in the sight of a triumphantly grinning fox-demon bearing her wide-eyed daughter in his arms like a trophy. Her hand flew to her mouth. "Kagome!"

"Hey, Mom…I'm…ooof!" Just as Shimano set her on her feet, regardless of her boots on the pristine floors, her mother practically tackled her.

"Oh, sweetie…you're back! Come on, I'll make you breakfast…is Inuyasha joining us?"

"No…he's been hurt…and I have to go to the Armoury today for some medical supplies…"

"Oh, dear…not again."

"We've had some adventures over the last month…"

"Hey, sis! Cool, you're home! Oh, hi, Shimano-san… Aw… does this mean I still have to go to school and miss all the good stuff?"

Shimano gave him a mock-stern look. "Yes it does, young man. How do you think that will fly, if you threw over Akagane for your sister?" That was all it took; Sota tossed off a salute and flew out the door. Shimano grinned again before exiting. "See you later, Kagome. I'll let Yash know you're coming." He held her eyes for a moment longer, then was gone.

"Off with those boots…what would you like first, breakfast or a shower?"

"Shower, please…actually, make that breakfast. I want to break my motorcycle out of storage, so might as well get really dirty first."

"Fine, dear." Mrs. Higurashi beamed. "Then tell me all about your doings while I make you some eggs…"

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An hour later, with the sun warming the air, Kagome backed her motorcycle out of the shed. She'd mothballed it properly before the winter break, so was hoping that an oil change and some tuning would be all that was necessary. Attired in grubby old sweats, her hair tied back with a bandanna, she laid out all her tools and supplies necessary to do the work.

First order of business was to see if the engine turned over. Filling the tank with a can of fresh gas supplied by her mother, she turned the key in the ignition and startled herself when the bike roared to life, spewing a tremendous cloud of blue smoke out the tail pipe and a spectacular backfire that sent a small flock of birds rising from the Goshinboku…not to mention Ojii-chan shaking his broom at her from the other side of the courtyard. Oops…put a little too much oil down the spark plug holes… Chuckling, she stayed in the saddle while the engine warmed up, reflecting that Arashi, while equipped with various equine smells, certainly, not even on her worst days, smelled like petrochemical exhaust.

It was the work of a few minutes to change the oil, check the spark plugs and fiddle around a bit, before starting the bike again. It coughed a couple of sparks before settling to its familiar purr. Kagome let it run for a few minutes more, while she checked tire pressure and used a hand pump to bring them up to the proper inflation level, then turned it off. She hosed the dust off and left the bike to dry in the pale sunshine while she had a really hot shower and scrubbed the last few weeks of dust and grime out of her skin and hair.

Her mother offered to brush out her hair, and Kagome happily agreed. While she sat on her desk chair, rolled up to the bed so that Mrs. Higurashi could reach, she hesitantly answered a few more carefully-chosen questions about how she and Inuyasha were getting along, and she ended up telling her mother everything, about Kikyo, and the hanyou's reactions to the undead miko, and how it just complicated everything and how confused she was…

"You need to talk to Yashita, Kagome. He'll be able to give you an answer; he's had quite a while to think about it." The girl spun in her chair; her mother was smiling softly at her. "Now… should I give this wild mane a trim? You're almost sitting on it!"

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The results of the impromptu hair cut cleaned off the bathroom floor, Kagome dressed herself in something other than dragon-hide and microfleece for the first time in weeks. Just before heading downstairs, Kagome took a final look in her mirror. She felt oddly naked, despite wearing full riding leathers. The weight of her quiver was gone from between her shoulder blades; her katana was leaning against the stand holding her ceremonial kimono instead of at her hip. Her body armour was downstairs being cleaned, as were her usual innermost layers of bike shorts and sports bra. It felt almost weird wearing regular underwear; underwires and lace itched more than she remembered. However, the Jewel shards were in her pocket; she didn't want to be cut off from her 'voices'.

Putting on the scarlet red leather trousers had been a bit of a shock; the formerly skin-tight clothing now hung off her hips, and she had to dig through her kit bag for a webbing belt to keep them up. She'd decided to wear a dark, lace-trimmed tank top under the jacket, which still seemed to fit all right. I guess I have lost some weight… Her hair was loose over her shoulders and down her back; it had been in a braid for so long that she wondered if her hair would be permanently wavy, so gave it a rest for today. Fishing her helmet and gloves out of her closet, she took one more look in the mirror, and decided that when she came back, she'd have a quick nap in a real bed, so that she could stay awake to look after Inuyasha that night.

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Roaring out of the shrine gates sent Kagome's pulse pounding; Arashi's acceleration was good, but nothing compared to the horsepower she was currently straddling. Stretched out over the bike, the girl stayed low and lost herself in the flow of vehicles. Halfway to the Academy, when traffic bunched and she was nearly clipped by a car, her battle-sight clicked on in response to a threat…and she discovered that it gave her a definite edge in navigating her way. She could see lane changes before the vehicles moved, allowing her to dart in and out of traffic like the worst kind of opportunistic rider…and she found it exhilarating. When she rolled into the courtyard parking area, her eyes were still silver and her aura still flaring; she was so busy deciding whether she risked parking next to Yashita's bike in his stall… As his 'mate', do I qualify for shared parking privileges?... that she didn't notice the two hanyou guardsmen reacting nervously, until they realized the source of the disturbance was her.

Giving herself permission to snuggle her bike alongside Yashita's, she put down the kickstand, killed the ignition and removed her helmet. Bounding up the steps, she nearly forgot to salute the guardsmen back when they snapped to attention; force of long habit saved her, though she wondered about the grins lurking at the corners of their mouths. Once inside the ancient doorway, Kagome paused, chewing her lip while she took off her gloves and stuffed them inside her helmet, excess energy crackling exuberantly around her. See Shimano now?…no, I really want to say a thing or three to Sessaki about that damn sword he 'forgot' to mention…maybe thump Kogashu for being such an ass, and then tackle Yashita.

Hey…you guys with me?

It was very rude of him not to give you some warning…

I love spanking Sessaki.

That's a fairly disrespectful thing to say about your 'father'.

So I'm the rebellious type…got a problem with that?

Nope. Let's go.

Mind made up, she executed a sharp right-turn-march and headed towards the staircase that would take her to Sessaki's office. Just outside the office door, she dropped her helmet and gloves, then gathered her power until it coiled around her…and with Midoriko and Fenikkusuken chortling gleefully, decided how she was going to demonstrate her displeasure with the two senior youkai. Sliding the door open, she met Nekajo half-way across the office and neatly avoided the spluttering toad. From the footwear parked at the door, she knew for certain that the taiyoukai was in residence, and the wolf youkai was with him. Perfect.

Ignoring Nekajo's ranting about not having an appointment, and not removing her boots, Kagome stepped right up to the door of the inner office, inhaled deeply, then flung the panel aside. Two dark heads snapped around to stare at the flaming girl occupying the doorway, and then Sessaki was on his feet in a fluid motion, his concealment spell burning away like summer mist. Kogashu gaped for a moment longer, then scuttled out of the direct line of fire.

Her breathing was hard, but not ragged, as she exerted maximum control, her unrestrained hair rising like a dark nimbus around her head, her brilliant red leathers glowing even brighter as she stood on the threshold, not coming one step onto the inner tatami mats. Silver roiled around her; Sessaki's youkai rose in response until he was shrouded in green vapour, as did Kogashu's glacier-tinted energy. They remained stock still, staring each other down, yellow glass and blue ice against molten metal…and thanks to the information passed on by Shimano this morning about the stage of the mission she was at, both youkai knew exactly why she was challenging them.

They both hoped it wouldn't hurt too much.

Kagome's power intensified, prowled forward, pushed against their youkai with implied deadly threat…and then vanished like a switch had been flipped. Her hair dropped back down onto her shoulders with a sibilant whisper. The dog and the wolf blinked at this bravura display of control from the young woman as their youkai slinked back into place.

Kagome shook her head in mock disgust. "You're a right pair of bastards…but you knew that already," and slid the door panel slowly shut. The thump of her retreating boots was plainly audible in the resulting silence, since even Nekajo was doing his best to not attract her attention.

"Holy gods..." Kogashu shook his head free of the shock pinning him in place and glanced Sessaki's way as the taiyoukai sank back down behind his desk. "I know what I did to piss her off…how about you?"

"Tokijin."

Kogashu whistled through his teeth. There was a brief silence.

"And you?"

The wolf youkai suddenly remembered another meeting that he was terribly late for, until he was frozen by a hard yellow glare.

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Kagome paused on the landing to take a few more deep breaths and enjoy the couple of mental victory laps she'd granted herself. She'd intended on repeating the demonstration she'd given Sesshomaru the previous morning…but this had turned out way more fun and far more impressive.

Hey guys…thanks!

We're getting pretty good at this, aren't we?

Ya shoulda let me zap that mangy wolf, just on principle.

Clattering down the steps and practically skipping along the corridor, she was caught completely off guard by the kitsune. As soon as she stuck her nose over the counter at the Armoury, Shimano was on her like a starving flea-demon. He pretty much bodily hauled her across the gleaming surface and stood her up by holding onto her biceps. "What?" she demanded, taken aback by the worry mixed with anger on the tall kitsune's face.

"You smell like you were dipped in burning metal, Kagome. What happened?"

She shook him off and deposited her helmet and gloves on the countertop. "Didn't you sense anything?"

His eyes narrowed. "No…where were you, and what did you do?"

"Back off, runt," she playfully scoffed, leaning against the counter. "I gave Sessaki and Kogashu a small piece of my mind, that's all."

"Were you in Sessaki's office at the time?"

"Yes."

Shimano's face relaxed a bit. "That explains some of it. After you let off that blast in there last winter, he's had both rooms warded in case of another incident. What, exactly, did you do?"

"Called them a couple of bastards; zapped them lightly; the usual."

"You what!"

Kagome rolled her eyes. "What's up your tail, Shimano? You normally don't…react like this… to this kind of stuff."

The kitsune rubbed his hand over his face and gave her a small smile. "The last month has been hell around here, Kagome. We have to walk on eggshells around Yashita; he's been giving Sessaki fits over his moodiness, not to mention his tendency to attack Kogashu on the slightest pretext."

Kagome chewed her lip, eyeing Shimano and finally noticing how tired he looked. "He really is that bad?"

"Yes. How's the hot water supply at your house?"

"Huh? What do you want to know that for?"

"Because your mission here, right now, is to go into Yash's office where he's holed up and hug him, kiss him and call him 'dog-boy'." He nearly laughed out loud at the stunned look decorating the girl's face; he coughed instead and reached over to tip her jaw closed. "Since the pup is out of commission, we need you to take this opportunity to cuddle with Yash all you can. Hence, the query about the availability of hot water, so that you can wash away the evidence."

Kagome finally got her voice to work. "That's a big assumption, that I'll want to…"

"You have to, Kagome, because Sessaki is at the point of taking him down to keep him under control. Please. You have to help him."

The girl frowned. "Keep him under control? What's that supposed to mean?"

"His youkai is wriggling loose more easily…I think you've seen him go full throttle in the past by now?"

"Yes…"

"And his youkai recognizes you as his mate?"

"His bitch, actually."

"Close enough."

Kagome sighed, and ran her hands through her hair. "So you want me to walk into Yash's office and…"

"Pet his ears until his leg jerks spasmodically, rub his tummy until he purrs…anything short of outright jumping him."

"Gaah! I don't believe this!"

Shimano was suddenly in her face. "Believe it, Kagome. I was there…I remember what went on during that trip to Kyoto and back. Imagine what it's been like for Yash, reliving that time. He's suffering because he knows what you're going through over what we affectionately call the 'dead bitch issue'." The kitsune took a small step back, but was still towering over her, forcing her to look up at him. She fiddled the hem of her jacket; he caught her hand in his and squeezed gently, while keeping a solemn expression on his face.

She slumped a bit. "Okay…I'll do it."

"Don't make it sound like you're scheduled for soul removal or something."

"I feel weird…like it's somehow disrespectful to Inuyasha, who's out cold at Kaede's right now…"

"He needs you on both sides of the well, Kagome. I know you're not comfortable, but please…remember who Yash really is, and how much he means to you…when you don't want to purify him or 'sit' him, that is." Shimano let go of her and stepped back, allowing her room to breathe.

Kagome sighed again, and began to walk the long way around, to leave by the far door instead of simply hopping over the counter like she usually did. She didn't get two steps before Shimano grabbed her and tossed her back across the polished wood, but at least he held onto one arm so that she didn't land on her butt. Straightening up, she gave the kitsune a sharp look before dusting herself off and tugging her jacket straight. With the air of someone going to their execution, she squared her shoulders and strode off down the hallway towards Yashita's office.

Outside the door, she rested her hand on the doorframe and took a steadying breath, then quickly, aware of Shimano's eyes boring into her from farther up the corridor, slid the door open and stepped inside.

Yashita didn't look up from where he was busily scratching away with a pen at his desk, attired in camouflage fatigues instead of an instructor's gi. "Whatever it is, I'll deal with it later." His voice was harsh.

Kagome nearly took him up on it, but instead closed the door gently behind her and leaned on it, waiting for her scent to reach him. While she stood quietly, she found herself admiring his handsome profile, the way his bangs made him look so boyish…the way his whole body language screamed out extreme levels of tension…huh? Kagome examined him more closely, and noted that this hanyou gave every appearance of imitating a coiled spring that was in danger of snapping.

I've done this to him?

He's missed you something terrible.

Do you skip back here to keep an eye on him, or something?

I can feel it…he is one of my 'parents', remember?

Right…and so's the icicle upstairs.

You could say Yashita is my 'sugar daddy'.

I can't believe you phrased it that way!

At least he'll see you with a smile on your face.

She was unprepared for the look of raw, undisguised longing that came her way when his head abruptly swivelled towards her, and he, indeed, saw her with a rather giddy smile on her lips. The desperation in his eyes, and the haggard expression on his face brought emotions roaring to life in her heart that she thought she'd locked away for the duration of the 'mission'…and she pushed away from the door and walked quickly towards him, holding out her hands to him. Yashita stood up from his chair so fast that it slammed right back into the wall, took one large step and was reaching eagerly for her…when he stopped himself with a visible effort, dropping his hands to his sides.

Puzzled, Kagome stopped short, looking at him with wide eyes. A profound silence descended between them, broken only by his ragged breathing. Yashita swallowed hard, and sat down on the edge of his desk, a miserable failure at acting casual. "Hello, Kagome."

She cocked her head on the side, studying him carefully, impressed with his level of control…then realized that he needed her far more than she could afford to be analytical. She'd hurt him deeply by rejecting him all those months ago, because she was too scared of the demands of being officially by his side…she ran because she was selfish.

I'm punishing him on both sides of the well.

Throwing caution to the wind, giving in to the surge of protectiveness that tugged her heart towards him, Kagome took two long strides and wrapped her arms around Yashita's narrow waist, buried her face in his chest, and hugged him as hard as she could. After a split-second hesitation, his arms were around her, his hands in her hair, his voice murmuring her name over and over like a mantra, embracing her as if he wanted to pull her inside his skin and keep her there forever.

After several long minutes of not being able to breathe quite properly, Kagome wriggled a bit and Yashita loosened his grip, but just slightly. She raised her head and found herself eyeball to jaw with him, and it seemed very natural to lean up and lightly kiss his chin. This action was greeted with a near-sobbing groan, and then her face was tilted up for a long, deep, tender kiss that made her knees go weak and her brain turn off all other conscious thought. One of his hands fisted into her hair at the nape of her neck, holding her in place, and the other drifted down to the curve of her hip to press her close. She relaxed completely into his body, and didn't miss the soft noise he made against her lips, nor the way his hands trembled against her.

That was how Kogashu found them, and he felt rather awkward at intruding on the intimate moment, so fell back to relying on his mouth. "Geez, Yash…let the girl breath!" He jumped backwards at the force of the combined snarls loosed in his direction, not to mention the obvious fury of the silver glare sent his way over Kagome's shoulder.

"Leave us the fuck alone, wolfling. You caused enough trouble in the past with your mouth, but I'll be more than happy to let Yash kick the shit out of you right now to make up for it…and then I'll purify what's left."

He held out his hands in a gesture of surrender, and closed the door on his way out. Kagome met Yashita's eyes, and was again struck by the depth of sadness visible despite the concealment spell's presence. She smiled up at him, wanting to make that look go away, and then deliberately tilted her head to the side, baring her throat to him. His response was another of those groans, and then his lips, tongue and fangs on her skin had her eyes fluttering closed and her fingers clutching the thick material of his jacket…

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"Did you deliver the message?" Sessaki did not look up from his paperwork as the wolf youkai entered his office and dropped onto one of the two cushions in front of the desk.

"No. They were more tightly wrapped around each other than ingredients in Ayame's sushi rolls." Kogashu rubbed his forearms at the memory of the searing looks and growls directed at him by the entwined couple.

"What?" Sessaki slammed his hand down on his desk, making both the wolf and the ikebana jump.

"Trust me, Sessaki…go down there and you take your life in your hands. Yash is hanging on to Kagome like she's his only lifeline in a typhoon; let him get it out of his system, or we'll have a demonic inu-youkai protecting his mate to deal with…or even worse, an angry alpha bitch after us."

"They would not be so foolish…"

"Let's hope Yash can hang onto enough sanity to not finish the job before the pup can do it."

"That's why I sent you in there…"

"Hell, no. You're the senior family member; you go lay down the law to them. I personally prefer to remain unpurified, thanks."

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Kagome broke away from Yashita's grip and began fumbling with the fastenings of his fatigue jacket. Bemused, he let her complete the job and push the thick cloth off his shoulders. He was startled when she paused to unzip her own jacket and yank it off, revealing the lace-edged top underneath. Yashita finally moved to stop her when it became obvious she meant to tug his khaki t-shirt out of his camouflage pants. "What are you doing, koishii? We're not even supposed to be touching at all…"

"We're not getting naked, so relax. I'll have myself de-scented before I see the pup…we both need this." He couldn't help a smirk, and Kagome noted that a bit of a sparkle came up in his eyes, so she went back at loosening his shirt. When she had most of it out, she slid her hands followed by her bare arms under the soft fabric, around his ribs and splayed her fingers over the warm skin of his back before slowly, deliberately, pressing her curves against his lean body. "You're mine, dog-boy, and don't you forget it," she whispered, nuzzling his throat.

His hands gently rubbed up and down her body before snugging her tightly to him. "I'd have waited another century to hear you say that, koishii." Yashita exhaled slowly, ruffling her hair with his breath, and then took in another long sniff of her warm floral scent very, very lightly tinged with his own pine-forest earthiness. "You and the pup still haven't…" and then he remembered why.

"Not for lack of inclination, but this last month has been hell." She noted how he went rigid for a moment, and increased the rate of stroking on his back until he relaxed slightly…or was he slumping dejectedly? Kagome lifted her chin until she could look into his eyes, and what she saw there made her breath catch painfully.

The desolation and devastation were not only writ large on his face, but were also rolling off him in palpable waves. The girl reached up to cup his face between her palms, and locked her eyes on his. His large hands came up to circle her wrists as she began stroking the unmarked, spell-created skin that she knew hid his cheek stripes from her. Kagome realized she had seen this look quite recently, on Inuyasha's face the night of the new moon, before he fought Kaijinbo and Tokijin. Five hundred years apart, and still the same conversation

"Yash, what could possibly be so bad…?" she kept her voice soft, and her touch tender. She wasn't prepared for him dropping his hands and almost painfully crushing her against him, burying his face in her shoulder, trapping her arms in between them Strangled sounds emitted from his throat as he trembled…he was crying.

Yashita was crying. Good gods, what other definitive sign of imminent apocalypse could there be?

That stunned her so badly she nearly missed his whisper. "You're going to hate me, Kagome, and I can't stand it, knowing that it's going to happen and I can't do anything about it…" His words tumbled out all in a rush; puzzled beyond belief, she worked her arms up around his neck and turned her head to lightly kiss his 'ear'. The real ones were on top of his head, tucked away under his hair and hidden thoroughly by the concealment spell; her lips touched smooth skin at the edge of his jaw, without a trace of cartilage. It was a rather odd feeling, to 'see' something but not feel it, but if he wasn't comfortable dropping his cover, she wasn't going to ask.

"Yash…I could never hate you," she murmured. "I've had a strong desire to kick your ass now and again, and I've considered purifying you once or twice…but hate? Never."

"When you go back tonight, you're going to…" He choked, and squeezed her harder. The bleakness in his voice scared her; she leaned back and made him look her in the eyes by the simple expedient of grabbing his braid and pulling his face out of her shoulder. Gazing steadily into some seriously sad puppy-dog eyes, she cautiously voiced her suspicion about what could have upset him so badly.

"This has something to do with Kikyo, doesn't it?" He flinched bodily at the mention of the undead miko's name. Bingo. "What am I walking into, that has you tearing yourself apart five hundred years later? Obviously, I don't kill you over it, since you're nicely beating yourself up right now in front of me, so it can't be that bad."

"Koishii, I can't tell you, because your reactions to it have to be the same, or something might get screwed up later…just please…try to remember…what you see is not what it appears…please?"

"Try to be a little more cryptic, why don't you? Miroku would be proud…" Her attempted humour fell flat when his face twisted. At a loss, she hugged him while she frantically cast about for something to say that would reassure him…and realized, with a funny sort of hitch in her chest, that there was more than enough room in her heart for two versions of the same half-demon. That knowledge let her relax into his arms, and allowed her to speak with sincerity. "How can I hate the hanyou that I love, Inuyasha? It would be like hating my own heart or my soul… I can tell that whatever this is won't be pretty, since you're so upset about it, but I swear that I won't hate you for it."

"I know…because I saw it in your eyes…that for one moment in time…you really did hate me." He seemed to exhale all the air out of his body, and became almost boneless in her arms.

"If I did, it was only for that moment, and then it was gone." She curled into him, until he regained some of his composure. "Um…could you tell me…why did you cut Kikyo so much slack?" She braced herself for his answer, but then wondered why she unconsciously prepared for bad news.

"Guilt, mostly…pity, quite a bit…she'd died at Naraku's hands once, and I didn't want him to have another chance at her." Yashita's dark eyes were fixed on a point over her shoulder, his arms around her rigid with tension. "I…never seemed to react the right way when I was in a situation involving both of you, did I?"

"Now there's an understatement!" Kagome tried to catch his eye, to let him see that it was a joke, but he continued staring at the far wall. She knew it would cause pain, but she had to ask. "By letting her leave with the Jewel, she caused so much shit to hit the fan…"

"I know…and I'm so sorry." He rested his cheek against her hair and just held her, like he was afraid she was going to remember who was holding her and pull away. Kagome listened to the erratic thumping of his heart, then willed herself the strength to bring the discussion from the complicated past to the painful present.

"Yash…are you afraid that I…don't love you…any more?" She hugged him even tighter as she asked the question; he was so beaten already.

Yashita closed his eyes. "When you shut me out after you discovered who I was…I…I've had many dark moments, Kagome… nightmares, even, that after all this is over…there won't be an 'us' anymore."

"Smelling the pup all over me wouldn't help that, either."

He smiled crookedly. "No…it sure didn't."

Kagome caressed his invisible stripes again while trying to assemble her thoughts coherently. "I want to apologize for pushing you away then…I was scared shitless at being in over my head once the shock wore off, and I only wanted to run back to what I knew how to do. I'm still better at cursing and killing demons than making polite conversation and pouring tea, so don't hope for miracles…but I don't want to lose you, either." She decided to try something that she hoped wouldn't backfire painfully…on him.

Worrying that this was a big risk, since they didn't have the heartbeat connection any more, she carefully called up a tiny bit of power and reached out to him with it. Yashita jumped a little, but then held still, wide-eyed, as silver ribbons wrapped around them, briefly binding them together before dissipating.

"Gods…Kagome…we're still…it recognizes me." His voice was breathless with wonder. "After all this time…and we haven't…"

"I don't think the physical act has much to do with how we feel about each other." She blushed. "I can't deny that getting physically involved beyond what we're doing right now would make me feel really uncomfortable. I know that having my scent near you is really important for your sanity…so how about we make a deal?"

"Keh! What kind of deal?" A bit of familiar gruffness came back into his voice; she was pleased to note a bit more of a sparkle in his eye.

"If you take me out for lunch today, I'll give you the shirt I'm wearing right now to keep until I next see you." His mouth started to twitch, and a calculating gleam appeared.

"Agreed…with the corollary that I get to take the shirt off you." Kagome pretended to eye him narrowly, but a cheeky grin spoiled the effect.

"Okay, dog-boy, but only if Shimano supervises the hand over."

"Oi, wench…you are just no fun."

"Of course I am…you know that…but right now I'm also hungry and we're blowing this joint to go eat noodles before anybody else bugs us."

The kiss Yashita pulled her in for was joyous, not desperate or needy, while she responded with her heart. The contact was reluctantly broken, then he stood up and began tucking his shirt back into his pants. Kagome made him yelp by mischievously diving in and dancing her fingers up and down his ribs, until he trapped her arms behind her and kissed her breathless. Time stopped for a brief moment, then he helped her into her jacket, smiling intently at her all the while. Just before they went out the office door, he caught her arm and kissed her again, whispering "I love you, koishii."

For the first time, she could answer him freely, without mentally apologizing to Inuyasha. "I love you too, koibito…now stop beating yourself up. That's an order from your bitch…or I might have to bite you. Take that as either a promise or a threat."

He groaned theatrically as she linked her arm through his on their way up the corridor. "Just a sec…have to let the brat know what's up…hey, Shimano!"

The kitsune's jaw dropped when he saw who was so cheerfully addressing him. Yashita's trademark smirk was plastered all over his face, Shimano noted with relief…and no embarrassing scents lingered over the couple to give Sessaki any reason to go ballistic. Kagome grinned at him from where she was pressed up against the hanyou's side. "We're going out for lunch, and when we come back, I'll pick up the medical supplies…Lady Kaede would like some more pain killers, by the way." She gave him a knowing look; he blushed. "We'll be back in an hour to an hour and a half, tops."

"All right…behave, you two. Here, Kagome…you won't get too far without your helmet and gloves." He spun them across the counter to her waiting hand.

Yashita tapped the counter. "Hold my calls, especially if they're from my brother."

"Bet you don't make it out of the courtyard without him barking at you."

"That's a safe wager. Later, runt."

Shimano watched the couple naturally fall into step with each other and disappear around the corner to the main exit. Yashita was radiating calm contentment, and it couldn't have happened at a better time. After sending a silent thanks to whichever gods or fates happened to arrange things so that Kagome arrived through the well when she did, he continued packing the large duffle bag with medical supplies and threw in a packet of sweets for his younger self, plus Kaede's request. The kitsune smirked rather widely when he remembered where he, the slayer and the monk had been while Kagome and the pup had faced their crisis.

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Yashita was in the process of warming up his bike when his cell phone rang; he fished it out of his breast pocket and winced as he looked at the display. A slender hand plucked it from his fingers, and then Kagome flipped it open.

"Hello, sir. What can I do for you?" She winked at the hanyou as Sessaki, who had obviously inhaled for a roar at Yashita, coughed a bit upon hearing her voice.

"I wish to speak to Yashita, Higurashi."

"We're on our way out; can he call you when we get back?"

She could almost hear him blink. "You…are going out?"

"Yes, sir. We'll be back in an hour or so."

"Is this a good idea?"

"Yes, sir…I think it is."

"Can I trust both of you?"

"You can sniff whatever part of my anatomy you want to afterwards…" She nearly giggled when she heard him choke, but he gave in with surprisingly good grace.

"Very well. If you are not back within two hours, I will hunt you down myself."

"Fair enough. Hey, Yash…Sessaki gave us a two hour head start…how far do you think we could get? Position twenty-three of the Kama Sutra?"

Grinning wickedly, she snapped the phone shut and tucked it back into his pocket, then quickly pulled on her helmet while he shook his head. "You're going to get us both killed…"

Sliding onto the bike behind him, curving her body around him and leaning her chin on his shoulder, she just smirked. "He might as well get used to it; he owes me some slack for putting up with shit like evil swords, not to mention his attitude." Chuckling, Yashita backed the silver bike around her red one, and began a smooth acceleration out of the courtyard. They were barely outside the gates when he squeezed her hands where they were clasped in front of him.

"Hold on tight, koishii."

"Don't worry…I'm not letting you go."

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Sengoku Jidai

"I know that you are lurking…show yourself!" Kikyo stared hard into the undergrowth, knowing without a shadow of a doubt that the dark hanyou was nearby. A low laugh that raised the hairs on the back of her neck was her answer, and then the white baboon pelt stepped sideways out of the ether. The undead miko eyed the creature appraisingly, although her face remained as devoid of emotion as always, even when the fur slipped down around Naraku's waist, revealing his inky black hair tumbling freely over his rich clothing. "Again today, Naraku? Why do you find me so fascinating to watch? Why not just use the white one's mirror?"

"The mirror does not show me what you are plotting, witch." Kikyo noted that Naraku ground his teeth, his whole being radiating frustration, and smiled to herself.

"I did not realize that Onigumo's heart still has so much power over your emotions, Naraku…this must drive you mad, to know that there is something within you that you cannot control." When she saw the demon's red eyes widen, she knew she was onto something, and so pressed her point. "Deep within you, Onigumo's heart still beats…still longs for my touch."

While he was mulling her words over in his head, fitting them into what he admitted of his reactions, she drew near to him. He froze when he felt her cold fingers brush his arm. Kikyo was close…so close…and his traitorous heart beat faster at her proximity.

He wasn't sure if it was pity or contempt hidden behind her dark eyes as she gazed fearlessly up at him, near enough that he could close his hands around her throat and snap her clay neck as easily as thought…yet his hand refused to do other than lightly brush her porcelain cheek with its fingertips. "I should just kill you, and end this pathetic farce of life and longing."

Kikyo did not move, her expression unchanging. "Ah, but can you go so blatantly against your heart's desires?" Deliberately slow, she reached behind her and pulled the ribbon from her hair, loosening the long dark tresses until they twined softly around her face and body in a parody of a lover's caress. Naraku's mouth went dry, and he yanked away from her, disgusted with his body's definite and uncontrollable masculine response to her actions.

"I am done with you, Kikyo. Be on your guard, because I bow to no one."

She tilted her head on one side, observing him with a slight smile gracing her lips. "Is this a declaration of war, oh, enemy of my enemy?"

Naraku forced down thoughts of seeing if her reconstructed body would be at all pliant in his arms with a vicious snarl. "I never was your friend, Kikyo…always your enemy."

"Hm…is that the truth, Onigumo?" She twirled a lock of silky darkness around a slender finger, noting how his deep red eyes strayed to follow the motion, and knew she was correct in understanding the bandit's heart still beating inside him. Naraku snarled again, threw the pelt back over his body, twisted sideways, and vanished into the ether…but not before he heard her light, mocking laughter.

Cursing, he fled back to his stronghold, furious at the uncontrollable ache in his groin…as well as the unbridled erotic images the bandit's vivid imagination paraded across his mind. The dark hanyou swept past all his human retainers and flung himself down onto the tatami mats of his most private room, next to the quietly burbling vases. Blast it…it is absurd that Onigumo's filthy human flesh should prevent me from doing exactly as I please with Kikyo…no more. I will show my mastery over this body and destroy her utterly…

Kikyo, meanwhile, retied the hair ribbon and returned to the village where she lived as a healing miko, curing the wounds of all, turning away none. As she walked, a plan took shape in her mind. She had no doubt that Naraku would send something after her, to prove that he was immune to Onigumo's base desires…how to best turn it to her own advantage? Naraku driven by Onigumo's jealous heart…that could be an interesting game…I wonder if Inuyasha will consent to play? Infuriating that shadow of mine would be a bonus…

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Present Day

Several hours later, Kagome found herself hesitating, for the very first time, when she was poised to jump into the well.

After a very nice lunch date with Yashita at a little ramen shop, during which they had held hands discretely when they could and rubbed knees when they couldn't, laughed until their sides ached over everything and nothing, she'd felt only the tiniest bit of guilt that Inuyasha was injured and waiting for her. She focussed on the fact that whatever was going to happen had shaken Yashita badly enough to be making his life miserable five centuries later, and he needed her reassurances. She was determined to remember his warning, because that devastated look on his face gave her the chills whenever she thought about it.

Once back at the Armoury, she'd handed over her shirt as per her half of the deal, but threatened to 'sit' Yashita when he'd suggested including her bra as well, an exchange that gave Shimano a fit of the chuckles from his vantage point by the weapons racks. She had scored an Academy-logo t-shirt for her trouble from the kitsune plus the filled duffle bag. Shimano had also let her in on the secret to 'de-scenting' her leathers…a quick wipe with a mild ammonia solution would clean away all traces of non-Inuyasha contact. When she wondered how on earth the dog and fox demons could cope with using the acrid chemical, he grinned and confided that Nekajo usually dealt with it, since the toad demon had almost no sense of smell. Other than that, soap and water or a prolonged airing-out were the cures for other types of fabric and of course, skin.

Yashita had walked her out, and they'd parted with a tender kiss, aware of the watching guardsmen. Before releasing her, he'd pushed up her jacket sleeve, pressing his lips first to the hair bracelets around her wrist, and then to her fingers. She saw the sadness returning to his eyes, and caught him in a ferocious kiss that earned them a couple of low appreciative whistles from the watchers at the doorway. When she let him up for air, he blinked dazedly at her; she traced his lips with her fingertips as she spoke. "We'll be all right…we'll get through this." He nodded tightly; she released him and slid onto her own motorcycle.

Kagome gifted him with a brilliant smile and a wink before she pulled on her helmet and launched her bike out of the courtyard. After a quick stop on the way home to buy more dried fruit and rice for Kaede plus some ramen for Inuyasha, she'd arrived in plenty of time for a nap, another shower, and dinner with her family…it had been a Good Day all around.

And it really sucked that she knew it was going to all go down the tubes.

Looking into the dark depths, weighed down by body armour, dragon-hide, weaponry, but free of guilt over Yashita for the first time, she bit her lip, remembering the obvious agony the older hanyou was in over what was to come.

"What the hell…might as well get it over with…" she muttered, as she pushed herself over the rim into the blue void.

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A/N: Now, where'd I put that juicer, and those lemons? Oh, right…behind the large bubbling kettle of angst.