Author's Note: Okay, this concept has been in the back of my mind for…gosh, probably close to a year. I wrote the first scene or two months and months ago, and gradually added to it over time. In fact, between the time I began and the time I finished, my ideas about various characters and their relationships had changed somewhat, so I had to update the central concept a bit to make it fit – but anyway, you don't need to hear all that. I'm just rambling at this point. Read and enjoy…
A Question of Conscience
Miroku's eyes snapped up in surprise, a jolt of shock running through his system at the utterly unexpected answer from the even more unexpected source. "Excuse me?"
"I said 'yes'," Kagome repeated, grinning down at the man kneeling before her, her hand clasped gently in both of his. "I would be honored to bear your children."
"You – you would?" the monk stammered, for once thrown off his guard. Not only had his request never been accepted before – except, perhaps, in the case of a demon in disguise who planned to eat him alive at the first available opportunity – but he would never in a million years have guessed that Kagome, of all people, would be the first to accept it. "Why?" he questioned, flabbergasted.
Kagome smiled demurely, cheeks tinted ever-so-slightly pink in the cool evening light that dappled the wooded clearing. "I know this seems a little out of the blue, but I've actually been thinking about it for some time now. I mean, I've always wanted to have children someday, and I know how important it is for you to beget an heir to whom to pass down your curse, so I'd like to help in any way that I can. Besides, I have to admit – I've always wondered what it would be like, you know?"
The monk's mouth ran dry at her shy admission, for what self-respecting man wouldn't be sorely tempted by such an offer from a young, beautiful girl such as Kagome? But he also knew that Kagome was no fool – she was not someone to be taken advantage of and then cast by the wayside. So why on earth would she ever dream of agreeing to bear his children when she was obviously – as anyone who'd ever been around Inuyasha and Kagome for more than ten minutes could easily tell – in love with someone else? Something about this whole situation just didn't smell right.
"What about Inuyasha?" he inquired skeptically.
The girl's eyes took on a mildly pained expression as she answered, "Inuyasha isn't an option for me – we both know that. He'll never be able to let go of Kikyo completely, and I've come to terms with that fact. Besides, I've had enough of unrequited love to last me a lifetime. I'd much rather have something tangible, something I can bank on – like a child. I'm not asking you for anything more, like a marriage or even romance. All I'm asking is that you allow me to help you, and that you help me in return. And even if I don't get pregnant, we sure would have a lot of fun trying." Her lips twitched coyly into a brief but suggestive smile.
When she put it that way it made a strange sort of sense. Besides, she spoke with such conviction, such certainty – it appeared that she had indeed given a good deal of thought to the situation. But this was Kagome! Ka-go-me, he reminded himself forcefully. There was absolutely no way he could even consider having that kind of relationship with Kagome – if not for her sake then for his own. Despite her apparent belief that Inuyasha couldn't have cared less for her, Miroku was quite certain that if the hanyou discovered that he had slept with Kagome the monk would find himself in an amount of pain that rivaled that of being sucked into the Kazaana.
Still...it was an extremely tempting proposition...
"Perhaps it would be better if we held off for the moment, on second thought," Miroku said, at last regaining his composure. "I wouldn't want you to rush into anything you might regret."
Distracted as he was by his own thoughts, he missed the look of amused triumph that flashed across the girl's face as she answered, "I see – you're probably right. But do let me know if you should ever change your mind. I'm always here..." And with that, she smiled cheerfully at him and rose from her perch atop a small boulder by the stream, turning and wandering back into the forest in the direction of the camp site.
Miroku's eyes followed her lithe form lecherously, her hips swaying invitingly if ever-so-slightly from side to side, her natural sensuousness only magnified by the echo of her offer.
Oh, this was a big mistake...
Kagome smirked to herself as she strolled daintily into the woods, letting her body move in what her instincts told her would be an alluring fashion. Not that she had a great deal of experience in this area, but based on how things had just gone it looked as though this was going to be even more fun than she had at first thought. She had to bite her tongue in order to contain her laughter until she was out of earshot of the lecherous monk.
She knew it was a somewhat cruel joke – but he hadn't exactly been playing fair all this time either, spying on her and Sango when they were bathing and groping them at every opportunity. She considered this payback – with the potential benefit of actually getting him to change his ways and realize that he and Sango were, of course, meant for each other.
By the time Kagome strolled back into the campsite her blue eyes were dancing with mirth and her mouth was stretched wide into a somewhat deviously excited grin.
"I take it things are going well so far?" Sango inferred from her seated position before the fire she was busily attempting to build. Not having had nearly as much experience with matches as Kagome, Sango had been forestalling their use under the pretense of continuing to arrange the wood in their makeshift fire pit, hoping against hope that her friend would return before she actually had to use the little buggers. Sango wasn't afraid of many things, but she'd been burned enough times in trying to use those confounded matches to have grown somewhat wary of them. In short, she didn't want to use them if she didn't have to.
Kagome nodded, taking a seat beside the fire and striking one of the matches with practiced ease, using it to ignite the small pile of kindling that Sango had constructed. "He sounded like he was buying it. Man, this is gonna be fun..."
"And you honestly think you can win at this game?" Sango questioned skeptically. "You are aware that this is Miroku we're referring to – it's like trying to tame a demon by walking into its lair and shouting 'Eat me!'"
"I wouldn't be too sure about that," Kagome countered. "See, unlike the demon, Miroku has good reason not to 'eat me,' as you put it. He knows as well as you and I do that absolutely nothing could ever happen between you two if he were to be involved with me, and I really don't think he'll be willing to let go of that."
"I doubt it. You're too trusting, Kagome – you're giving the lech too much credit," Sango countered.
"I don't think so," the ebony-haired girl disagreed as she continued poking and prodding methodically at the infant flame. "You should see the way he looks at you when your back is turned."
"That's lust, Kagome, not love."
The girl shrugged. "Maybe so – but I still think I'm right about him. Besides, he's been hit over the head for groping us so many times his skull's grown nearly as thick as Inuyasha's, so obviously that hasn't been working. If nothing else, consider this retribution."
Sango shook her head, unconvinced, but unwilling to rehash the same debate they'd been having since the previous day, when her friend had first hatched this particularly crazy scheme. "Well I still say you're playing with fire."
The young miko flashed a grin, nudging at the logs in the pit a bit more, spurring the flames to growth. "I'm good with fire..."
It was an extremely confusing and inconstant world that they inhabited. The threat of demon attacks and other perils that could so fully alter one's life in the smallest of moments boggled the mind at times, made it ever more difficult just to simply get up in the morning, convince himself to continue living, continue fighting for just one more day. But despite the many tragedies that made up his past, and the many dangers that were certain to make up his future, there was one constant in Inuyasha's life, one certain something that shed radiance and warmth upon the darkness of his heart and made him feel alive, ready to fight once more for the future:
Ahhhh, yes, instant ramen was indeed the best thing ever to have been invented in the history of the world. Or the future of the world, depending on how you looked at it. Eating it just made him feel all warm and cozy inside – not that he would ever dream of saying that out loud.
So engrossed was he in the little cup of heaven he held in his hands that Inuyasha failed to notice what was going on across the campfire until he had nearly finished his dinner. That was when something very strange was brought to his attention: Not only was Kagome not sitting next to him, as she usually did, but she was sitting unusually close to Miroku, of all people.
The hanyou's brow lowered slightly and his golden eyes narrowed, half in suspicion, half in confusion. What the hell was Kagome doing sitting all cozy with that damn monk?
Kagome's carefree laughter echoed throughout the evening air in the small clearing in which the group had settled for the night. Inuyasha hadn't heard what the monk had said, but he felt certain that it couldn't possibly have been that funny – and it certainly couldn't have warranted that all-too-affectionate hand trailing non-chalantly down Miroku's shoulder. All in all, the whole situation was just a little bit too cozy for his taste.
But no, he was being ridiculous. Kagome had never shown so much as the slightest romantic interest in Miroku, so why should she start now? And judging by the composure of the taijiya sitting to Miroku's right, ignoring him completely, she didn't seem to think that there was anything out of the ordinary about their situation at all. She'd have knocked him out by now if she did.
Trying valiantly to ignore the lingering annoyance that plagued his mind, Inuyasha returned to his ramen noodles; but even they seemed to have lost their appeal somehow, as his eyes kept being dragged back to the couple – no, they were absolutely not a couple – across the campfire. Finally he gave up, slurping down the last of the noodles and tossing the empty paper cup into the fire, murmuring an irritable "Feh," as he jumped to his feet and took to the trees. He needed a little space, anything to get away from that campfire.
It was official: Adults made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Shippo wriggled around in the basket of Kagome's pink bicycle, trying to make himself more comfortable as he mulled over the day's strange events, trying to make sense of it all. Four times today Inuyasha had shouted at Kagome for no apparent reason – which, in and of itself, was admittedly not out of the ordinary. What was out of the ordinary, however, was the fact that Kagome had refrained from screaming back. She hadn't even bothered to 'sit' him when he'd chewed her out for being an 'idiot wench who couldn't shoot straight if her life depended on it,' after she'd missed a relatively difficult shot at a small bird youkai that had been pestering them that morning. The bird had been more of an annoyance than a threat, and it had been a small, moving target – which Inuyasha had made quick work of without even drawing his sword, after Kagome had taken her shot – so his insults had been grossly unfair, but Kagome had hardly even batted an eyelid, dismissing him with a light apology as though he simply wasn't worth the trouble.
Despite the fact that he had obviously avoided a much-deserved 'sit,' this had only made Inuyasha angrier. But the more insults he hurled at her, the more she simply ignored him, and the angrier he got. Finally he'd gotten to the point where he refused to speak to any of them, except to bark commands irritably from his position at the head of the group, stomping along petulantly about fifteen feet in front of all the rest.
Kagome, meanwhile, had fallen in step with Miroku – her bicycle at her side – and the two of them were chatting comfortably. Shippo noticed curiously that Kagome's voice sounded sort of strange – softer and silkier than usual, maybe? – and that she seemed to be standing much closer to Miroku than she normally did, and absently touching his arm, leaning in toward him. At one point Shippo noticed the Monk's infamous hand wandering toward one of its favorite destinations, but instead of screaming for Inuyasha to come and kill him, Kagome had simply laughed and pushed him away playfully. Sango, on the other hand, was uncharacteristically silent throughout the journey, trailing along behind the rest as though merely observing the entire scene.
Sometime between yesterday and today, something very, very important seemed to have changed among the members of the group – and Shippo could not for the life of him figure out what was going on.
"Oh Miroku," the woman at his side giggled innocently, giving him a playful nudge to dislodge his hand. "Not here," she added in a whisper, "What would the others think?"
Miroku chuckled and flicked a glance toward the back of the red-clad figure at the head of the group – who, the monk noted, seemed to have one furry puppy dog ear cocked discreetly in their direction. "You're right – Inuyasha's already in a bad mood."
Kagome rolled her eyes at that, and replied somewhat dryly, "Inuyasha wouldn't notice if I hit him over the head with a two-by-four – he's just grumpy, as usual. Actually, I was thinking more of Sango…"
The monk raised an eyebrow in response. Something in her tone was just a little too casual, a little too offhand. "Is that so? And why do you say that?"
"Well, I mean, any idiot could see that she cares for you," – Miroku grinned at that, thinking Same goes for Inuyasha and you… – "and I don't think she'd take too well to the idea of you and me together, you know what I mean?"
Interesting… "Mm hm…" he nodded, casting her a sideways glance, "I think so…"
"So, we should probably sort of keep this whole thing a secret, don't you think? I mean, if Sango ever found out, well…she might never forgive you."
"You're right…I hadn't thought of it that way…" he had to turn away on the pretext of looking at the scenery in order to hide the shadow of a smirk that was appearing on his face.
"In fact," Kagome pressed, further driving home her point, "maybe we should walk apart for a little while, just so no one gets too suspicious."
"Oh, absolutely," Miroku agreed earnestly as Kagome gave his arm one last squeeze for good measure and flashed him that innocent smile once more before picking up her pace and moving on ahead. As he fell behind her, an informed smile spread itself across Miroku's face. So that's what you're up too, eh Kagome? Now everything makes sense…
She was doing pretty well up until now though, I must say – almost had me convinced. But something just didn't add up – and now I know why. Just goes to show, you should never try to con a con artist…
The light of mischief danced in his eyes as he hatched a little plan of his own. She seems to be having so much fun though…why not let her play?
Kagome's innocent smile morphed into a self-satisfied grin as she strolled away. "Matchmaker, matchmaker make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch…" she sang quietly to herself.
Everything was going precisely as planned. Not that she had exactly planned this whole thing out step by step…but she was pretty sure that she was beginning to get through to the lech. After all, she'd been hanging all over him just now, and he'd been completely distracted – especially after she'd mentioned Sango. Surely he was beginning to realize his true feelings for the taijiya. It would only be a matter of time before he cracked and admitted them…
A deafening, ear-splitting wail rent the air, forcing Inuyasha to flatten his sensitive ears to his skull with a wince, though he didn't falter in his step. Another couple of well-timed swings of the Tetsusaiga and the shard would be as good as theirs – the demon was already on its last legs. The large, insect-like creature had given them a bit more trouble than he had anticipated, but in all honesty, he didn't mind the extra workout. He'd been on edge all day, and it was cathartic to be able to unleash some of his pent up frustration upon his foe.
He dodged another swipe of razor sharp pincers with expert grace, springing off a nearby branch and using the momentum to slice off the offending limb, eliciting another anguished cry from the beast.
"It's in his forehead!" he heard a familiar voice call out, and glanced back toward Kagome, nodding to show that he understood.
"Right – I got it." With practiced ease he leapt up to avoid the youkai's mandibles and landed upon its back, fighting off the graspings of its remaining set of pincers as it tried to pluck him from his perch. He was just about to deliver the final blow to its skull and release the shard when a terrified scream met his ears and he whirled to see Kagome stumbling out of the way of the creature's tail – but not quickly enough.
"Kagome!" he called out in a panic, his heart in his throat as he leapt toward her. He wouldn't make it.
Just as the poisoned spikes adorning the insect youkai's tail were about to impale her, a blur of violet darted into range and tackled her to the ground, the tail ruffling their hair as it swept dangerously over their heads. Then Miroku rolled them both out of range to avoid the creature's second pass.
A mix of horror and relief washed over Inuyasha at this, but he didn't stop to ponder any of it. With renewed vigor, he whirled and 'kaze no kizu'ed the beast into oblivion, darting in and removing the shard before it had a chance to piece its expired owner back together again.
He glared at the demon's remains accusingly, as though holding it personally responsible for nearly killing her – which it was, to an extent. And it was better than blaming himself for not being able to get there fast enough. If it hadn't been for Miroku…
He didn't really want to think about it.
Turning back towards the group, he saw Sango leaning against her Hiraikotsu, catching her breath, Shippo sitting nearby with Kirara, who had reverted to her miniature form. But what drew his attention was the remaining two members of the group.
They were sitting on the grass where they had landed after Miroku had rolled Kagome to safety. He was looking at her in concern, checking her for injuries – which set Inuyasha off instinctively, since this was Miroku, after all, and such a job often involved touching her in places that…well, that he shouldn't touch her – and she…she was letting him. Not only was she letting him touch her, but she was smiling softly at him as he did so. He could see her mouth moving, presumably thanking him for saving her in that sweet, soft voice of hers – the one she used with Inuyasha himself, until he called her 'wench' or implied that it was her own fault she'd been in trouble in the first place (which it was!). But no, that couldn't be all – she was still talking. He found himself beginning to wonder what she could be saying to him that would cause him to eye her sideways like that.
When Miroku's hand grazed her thigh, inspecting a nasty scrape marring her creamy flesh, Inuyasha couldn't take it anymore. Two quick leaps later he was at her side, Tetsusaiga glinting dangerously in the sunlight from its perch upon his shoulder. "Get your damn hands off her, monk!" he snapped.
Miroku glanced up at the raging hanyou, his expression revealing little surprise as he prudently removed his hand from Kagome's leg. It was Kagome's reaction that puzzled him, however. Though he was still glaring harshly at the monk, he noticed out of the corner of his eye that the girl – instead of appearing relieved and even mildly flattered by his antics – merely looked annoyed, rolling her eyes at him in exasperation. "Inuyasha," she scolded wearily, and he turned to regard her with a slight frown, somewhat hurt, "Leave us alone, will you? He was only seeing if I was alright."
Inuyasha's eyes flashed jealously at that, though she didn't seem to be paying attention. "S'at so? Well fuck me for trying to protect you from this pervert and his wandering hands! After all, it's not as if I just saved your life or anything! No, no – I'm just the one who slayed the demon – he saved you!" he jabbed an accusing finger at Miroku's chest, unfazed by the confusion growing in Kagome's countenance. "Let him feel you up for all I care!"
Kagome regarded the hanyou in confused disbelief. "Inuyasha, what on earth are you going on about?"
"You – you ungrateful wench!" he spat back.
"Excuse me! Just what exactly did I do to you?"
"You—he—aw fuck it! Do whatever you like – I don't give a shit…" he growled distemperedly, storming off and leaving a very puzzled Kagome behind him.
His hand tightened on the hilt of Tetsusaiga, and he could feel the rough leather of the grip creaking beneath his fingers. Where was a shard-toting demon when he needed one?
The merry cooking fire crackled and danced in the middle of the small wooden hut, throwing patterns of light and shadow upon all of the occupants seated around it. Sango had settled herself comfortably upon the floor, grateful for the chance to get off her feet, as well as for the lovely bowl of rice and vegetables that Kaede had prepared in anticipation of their return. She cast a glance over her shoulder at the large bone boomerang she had left resting against the wall – it had been damaged slightly in the battle that afternoon, and she knew she really ought to repair it sooner rather than later, because she hated to be without it, but she figured it could wait until she'd finished her meal. The food was too good to pass up.
Turning back to her companions, she cast a subtle eye over to where Kagome and Miroku sat, side by side. Well really, to be completely honest, it was more like Kagome was sitting beside him than it was the other way around. She seemed to have taken her new role as the innocent yet willing young female quite seriously – she kept character very well. Yet the change itself was so subtle that only Sango, who knew what the girl was up to, seemed to realize that anything strange was going on at all.
No – no, that wasn't true, come to think of it. There was someone else who had noticed, though Sango suspected that his thick skull had prevented him from perceiving much more than the simple fact that Kagome was paying extra attention to Miroku these days. And judging by the tightness of his jaw and the way his eyes kept flicking up from his dinner to glare at the oblivious pair – so often that he ended up spilling half of his rice down his front (not that he noticed) – he was none too pleased by it.
She smiled slightly at that – half pitying, half smug. She did feel a bit sorry for him – after all anyone with half a brain knew that Kagome was head over heals for Inuyasha, and therefore he really had nothing to worry about. But then again, after the way he'd been stringing her along all this time – despite what either of them said to the contrary, because that was what it was in the end – she thought perhaps he could stand to worry a bit more.
Finishing her meal, Sango set her bowl aside and quietly excused herself, getting to her feet and strolling outside for a bit of fresh night air. There was nothing quite like a clear night, in her opinion. When the air was cool and the only light around was that of the moon and the stars, she felt a peace and safety that was unparalleled in the light of day. You could hide a million things beneath the cover of the night – even love.
Yes, love. Of course she loved Miroku. There was no reason to deny it to herself, and she hadn't really even tried to for a very long time. But admitting it to herself and admitting it to anyone else, even Miroku, were two very different things.
It wasn't a matter of being afraid, though she did admit to a mild turn of the stomach at the thought of actually saying it aloud. She knew that Kagome was convinced that fear was all that kept the two of them apart, that they were both simply afraid to come to terms with their feelings and make a commitment. That logic, while relatively sufficient to explain Kagome's relationship with Inuyasha, didn't quite apply to Sango's relationship with Miroku. There were things going on there that Kagome, in her naïveté, simply did not comprehend. As much as Sango adored her best friend, and although Kagome had grown up in many ways, the girl was still a teenager at heart, and tended to boil things down to the conclusion that if two people love each other, then they are meant to be together.
Unfortunately, love doesn't always work that way. What Kagome had yet to discover was that there's a big difference between loving someone and living with them.
Leaning against the rough bark of the tree that stood not far from Kaede's hut, Sango sighed quietly to herself and turned her gaze up to the stars. She heard the sound of footsteps and the rustle of the mat that served as Kaede's door and glanced over to see the silhouettes of the monk and the miko exiting the hut and setting off in the direction of the forest, neither taking notice of Sango where she stood in the shadows of the night.
Her eyes followed his retreating form as he disappeared into the foliage. It wasn't jealousy she felt, nor longing, nor passion – it was something else, something comfortable, like warmth. Because he was near, because he was alive, she was happy. She was happy.
Why would she want to change that?
The truth was that even if she was afraid to tell him how she felt, it wasn't because she feared rejection, or being exposed, or even a lack of control. It was simply because doing so would change everything that they had now, turn it into something that neither one of them could predict – and she wasn't sure it was worth the risk.
Sango smiled softly to herself in the darkness. Good luck Kagome…
Kagome slipped her hand into Miroku's, intertwining their fingers as the pair of them strolled off in the direction of the dark forest. She was getting closer by the minute – she just knew it. She had been doing everything she could over the past few days to make herself appear positively irresistible, in hopes that it would force Miroku to realize the reason that he had to resist her. By now he surely must be wrestling with his conscience, trying to decide whether to take what was offered to him, or whether there was something more important that he simply couldn't pass up.
She was counting on the latter. He had to choose the latter…
This was it – she was determined to push him over the edge tonight. This would be her final thrust, the last ditch effort, the time when she would draw on every scrap of feminine charm she possessed and give him one last chance, forcing him to choose. Sango was right – this was a dangerous game she was playing. If he chose incorrectly…
She swallowed thickly – she didn't particularly want to think about what she would do in that case. Either she'd be put in the uncomfortable position of reversing herself and pushing him away, or she'd have to…
No. No, she trusted him. He might talk a good game, but he could never betray Sango that way…
Anyway, she'd already come this far – there would be no turning back now. She was determined to finish this once and for all.
Leaning subtly into his side as they made their way through the trees and squeezing his hand gently, she murmured softly, "Miroku…"
"Yes, Kagome?" he replied.
"Come on, this way – I know just the spot…"
She led him to a clearing – a very familiar clearing, in fact; one that, had she been there with a certain someone else, would have held a great deal of significance. Where they had first met; where he had once parted with another; and where he had met that other again on more than one occasion. Perhaps it was a bad idea, bringing Miroku here – she might get distracted. But no – this was the most convenient place to have this conversation. And besides, it was her turn…
"What was it you wanted to talk about, Kagome?" Miroku asked, drawing her attention back to the task at hand.
She turned to him, her expression a carefully calculated mix of shy innocence and casual seduction. "I think you know…" she murmured in reply, trailing a hand gently down his arm. "You haven't answered my request – I'm tired of waiting. I want you, Miroku…"
Kagome took a step closer and rested her palm flat against Miroku's chest, lifting innocent brown eyes to meet his. There was something strange hidden inside them: they were guarded somehow, translucent, making it more difficult for her to gauge his reactions, but she suspected that perhaps her work was beginning to pay off. He was starting to realize that this wasn't really what he wanted. Now if she could just manage to push him over the edge…
She let her hand slide up over his shoulder and neck to rest upon his cheek, and drew him down for as sweet and naïve a kiss as she could manage, letting it gradually deepen as her arms wound around his neck. He responded instinctively, holding her and kissing her back, but even with her limited experience in such activities she could tell that he was holding back. For one thing, his hands were both a respectable distance from her butt and breasts – something they hadn't been as long as she'd known him. Funny how his lecherous habits seemed to disappear the moment she actually permitted them. She had to suppress a smile at the thought.
Deciding that she might as well take advantage of the situation and enjoy herself – for it wasn't often that she made out with handsome men in the middle of the forest – she closed her eyes and let herself sink into the embrace, imagining instead that it was Inuyasha's.
Naturally, with her eyes closed she had no way of knowing that the object of her fantasies was, in fact, close by.
Every muscle in his body seemed frozen in place. It was almost as though his brain had been disconnected from the rest of him, for he was hardly even aware of himself anymore. All he could do was stare straight ahead, his clawed hand digging unconsciously into the bark of the tree beside him as his mind comprehended the sight. All the while he seemed to have only one coherent thought:
So this is what it's like…
It was like some sort of perverse déjà vu – poetic justice, in a way, that he should be slapped across the face with exactly the same situation he had put her in on more than one occasion.
But at least Kikyo was dead – Miroku was anything but dead.
Not yet, that is…
He felt the strangest mix of anger and despair, half of him screaming to leap into that clearing and tear out his friend's throat for touching her, the other half wanting nothing more than to sink into the ground and out of existence. The end result, since he was obviously unable to do either, was a profound sense of helplessness. There was nothing else he could do but watch silently as he stole her away.
Stole her away…
But no, that would only make sense if he had ever had her to begin with. He'd had a chance, that he knew, but he'd squandered it. He'd spent far too long perched on the damn fence, weighing his options, afraid to move forward but unable to move back. It was just his luck that all it took for him to finally know what he wanted was to lose it. He should have known she wouldn't wait forever – that was too much to ask of anyone, especially someone like her.
He had lost her – and why? Because he had become the very thing he most despised – a coward.
The moment Sango strolled back inside Kaede's hut, she knew something was wrong. But what was it…?
He was nowhere to be found.
"Kaede, where's Inuyasha?" she asked the older woman, trying to keep the edginess out of her voice just in case it wasn't what she thought it was.
"He said he was going for a walk – he left just after Kagome and Miroku did."
Shit. That was definitely not good news. "Did he say anything before he left? Did he seem…upset? Well, more than usual, that is…"
"Perhaps – but he hasn't been in good sorts all evening, has he?" Kaede replied. "Why, is something wrong?"
"Tonight's the night," Sango recalled her friend's words from their conversation in the hot spring earlier that evening, "I'm going to do whatever it takes to knock some sense into that monk…"
Visions of angry hanyous and tearing flesh danced in her head.
"Oh no…" Sango breathed. She was out the door again before Kaede could utter another word.
Miroku smiled inwardly as he continued to let the young girl kiss him, his hands respectably placed, his demeanor studiously detached. He had her right where he wanted her – now to turn the tables.
With the smallest and subtlest of movements, he deepened the kiss, his once chaste hand worming its way seductively beneath her shirt to tease at her flesh. He could feel her falter, startled by his sudden forwardness, but he only proceeded to pull her closer.
Then he began to trail gentle kisses along her jawline and down her neck to her shoulder, just beneath the collar of her shirt. "You're right Kagome – I don't know why I've been resisting you all this time," he whispered tantalizingly.
He could hear her swallow. "Wh…what?" she questioned, trying unsuccessfully to hide the nervousness in her tone.
"Oh come now," he reassured her, pulling back to look her in the eye. His expression held with the practiced grace of a long-time performer – she, on the other hand, had the panicked look of an animal being led to the slaughter. "You don't have to pretend anymore – I know you want this as much as I do. Just…let it happen."
She swallowed a couple more times, here eyes darting back and forth between his, and he could see her trying desperately to regain control of the situation. "But…but what about Sango? Won't she be upset?"
"She probably would be…if she ever found out," he answered conspiratorially. "But nobody need ever know – this will be our little secret, just like you said…"
"Our little…" she began, but he cut her off with another penetrating kiss, eliciting a tiny squeak of surprise from his poor, confused prey.
At last he moved so that his mouth was right next to her ear, and whispered, "Kagome, I just have to tell you one thing before we continue…"
"Yes?" she answered hesitantly.
"Never con a con artist," he whispered back, a smug smile spreading over his lips.
She pulled back quickly, staring into his face, eyes wide with sudden comprehension. "You mean you—"
Unfortunately she never had a chance to finish that thought, for at that moment two things happened: one – a furious red blur emerged from the underbrush with a growl, knocked the monk off his feet, and pinned him by his shoulders to the Goshinboku, and two – an aghast "Miroku!" alerted the other figures in the clearing to the arrival of the taijiya.
"Inuyasha, put him down!" Kagome insisted, seemingly alarmed and rather confused by the hanyou's sudden appearance. Miroku was too busy trying to remain conscious to make any sort of protest of his own – the force of Inuyasha's blow had thwacked the monk's head hard against the tree, and everything was a bit blurry at the moment as a result.
"Shut up, wench," the silver-haired young man snapped back angrily.
"Sit boy!" she screamed in retaliation, and within moments there was a rather large, Inuyasha-shaped crater in the ground, issuing a string of obscenities, and Miroku was slumped at the base of the tree, enjoying the ease of breathing.
The hanyou was up and about again in no time, and he whirled on Kagome. "What the hell do you think you're doing!" he demanded.
"That's none of your business," she replied stubbornly, "And I could ask you the same thing!"
"Me! I'm not the one running around acting like a lunatic—"
"You are a lunatic!" the girl interrupted.
"Well fuck you!" he shouted, taking to the trees and heading off in the direction of the well.
"What…?" Kagome murmured, puzzled. After all, she was usually the one to head for the well when they had an argument. "Inuyasha…wait!" And with that, she took off after him, disappearing into the woods.
It was at that moment that a pair of lithe and lovely legs covered by a green kimono appeared in Miroku's line of vision. He followed the path of her familiar figure all the way up to her crossed arms and the "at it again, eh monk?" expression that adorned her face.
"It's not what you think," he assured her.
"Of course it isn't," she replied, unconvinced, yet not sounding particularly angry about the situation either. She offered him a hand, helping him to his feet.
"Thanks," he said with a smile. "If I had noticed Inuyasha over there, I wouldn't have taken it as far as I did."
"It's a good thing you didn't try to take it any further, or I'm afraid you would have been in for a bit of a surprise. I hate to break it to you, monk, but Kagome's been putting you on."
Sango blinked. "You know?"
"Oh come on Sango, give me a little credit – just because I've given my heart to a woman I can't have doesn't mean I'll go around corrupting my young friends. But I couldn't pass up a chance to play chicken when it fell right into my lap…so to speak."
"Wait, wait – back up a second. What was that about giving away your heart?" the taijiya questioned.
Miroku smiled back at her. "You've had it since the day we met," he said simply.
Sango merely stared at him.
Maybe it was the blow to the head, but for some reason he felt like being more direct than usual. "But that isn't all that's at stake here, is it," he said with a seriousness that belied his easy smile, causing it to appear almost wry. Unconsciously, he fingered the beads that adorned his right hand, a symbol of both his lifestyle and his curse.
"No, I guess you're right – it's not," she replied quietly.
The monk nodded silently and turned to go. However, he had barely traveled four paces when Sango's voice stopped him. "Wait."
He glanced back at her, curiosity creasing his brow as she took a few tentative steps toward him. "What you just said, about what's at stake…maybe…"
"Maybe…it would be worth the risk," she finished at last, turning brown eyes to meet his.
"You know I can't ask that of you Sango – not really. I couldn't offer you much of a life, especially with—" he indicated his right hand, but she took it with her left, lacing her fingers with his.
"We'll figure that out together," she said softly.
A grin tilted the corners of Miroku's lips. "Really?
"Mm hm," she nodded. "Besides, we've been doing fine so far. It's not like anything really has to change just yet – well, except a few things…"
The monks eyes sparked lasciviously at the implication.
"Hold your horses there, houshi-sama," Sango warned gently. "One step at a time, okay?"
"Whatever you say Sango dearest…"
Kagome regarded the frantic hanyou with sympathy and newfound understanding. Finally his behavior over the past couple of days was beginning to make sense. She'd been so caught up in Miroku and Sango's relationship and what she was trying to accomplish that it hadn't even occurred to her how confusing this must be for him. "Oh Inuyasha, no, wait—" she held out a hand to stop him from pacing, his agitation and the anxiety on his face tearing at her heart. "You don't understand – it's just—"
"Oh don't I!" he snapped, his anxiety inevitably manifesting itself as irritability. "I'm not as stupid as you think I am, Kagome – I know what I saw!"
"No you don't," she countered soothingly. "Inuyasha, please let me explain—"
"What's to explain? I saw you kissing him…"
"Said the pot to the kettle…" she muttered under her breath before she could stop herself.
"Said the what to the who?" he repeated, confused.
"It means you're a hypocrite – but that's beside the point. Inuyasha, what you saw wasn't what it looked like."
"S'at so? Well then what the fuck was it!"
"It's sort of complicated…but suffice it to say that I was tired of Miroku hitting on every girl that comes along. I wanted to teach him a lesson—"
"By sticking your tongue down his throat? What the fuck kind of lesson is that!"
"A good one!" she countered defiantly. "It was the only way I could think of to make him see that it wasn't what he wanted."
Inuyasha's brow furrowed in confusion. "What?"
"I had to make him believe that I wanted him in order to convince him that he didn't want me, you see?"
The hanyou was still having difficulty with this concept. "Let me get this straight – you were trying to get Miroku not to want to fuck you…by kissing him?"
"You could put it that way, yes."
"That's the stupidest idea I've ever heard of in my life!" he burst out.
Kagome huffed defensively, crossing her arms over her chest. "Oh yeah? How so?"
"Because, you idiot wench, kissing him would only make him want you more!"
"You're missing the point Inuyasha – the point is that he didn't really want me in the first place—"
"Oh fuck, Kagome – of course he did! What man in his right mind wouldn't want you!"
Kagome's eyebrows shot up at that. "What?"
It was at that moment that Inuyasha's words seemed to come back to him and he realized what he had just said. He faltered a bit, not sure what to say next, the entire rest of his argument seemingly gone from his head.
The young woman threw her hands up wearily – she was tired of having this kind of conversation. She cornered him with some slip of the tongue and he lashed out like a caged animal – the next words out of his mouth would undoubtedly make her angry, so she'd just as soon not hear them. "You know what, nevermind – I know you didn't mean what that sounded like, so what's the point? Consider yourself off the hook, Inuyasha. I'm going to bed." And with that she turned to head back toward the village.
But before she could travel two paces, she felt a firm tug at her arm, and all of a sudden his lips were crushed down upon hers, his hands gripping her shoulders as if for dear life. His mouth worked ferociously over hers – like yelling, but much better – and soon she felt herself responding in kind, more than willing to be dragged into this kind of argument. His teeth tugged at her, the sensation of his tongue running the length of her lower lip sending shivers down her spine. She had no idea what was going on, but whatever it was was very, very good…
Inevitably, however, despite her best efforts to ignore them, questions stacked themselves on top of each other one by one within her brain, and soon she knew she needed a few answers before she could let this go any further. Reluctantly, Kagome pulled back, preventing the hanyou from drowning her in his embrace once more with a firm hand to his chest. "Inuyasha, what exactly is going on here?" she asked breathlessly.
"What do you think?" the hanyou replied incredulously, "I'm kissing you, that's what."
"No, no, I mean why? What are you trying to say?"
"Isn't it obvious?" he growled in frustration.
"Obviously not to me," she shot back. "I mean, one minute we're talking about Miroku wanting to 'fuck' me, and the next minute we're kissing – what am I supposed to think!"
"That I want you, dammit!"
"Yes, but what do you want from me?"
"You! Just you – all of you, from the ends of your hair to your strange little shoes, to your stupid pink 'bi-cycle' and your goddamn heavy backpack, to your crazy temper and your stupid 'sit' spell! I want every goddamn inch of you for the rest of my life until death fucking do us part, okay! I love you, dammit! And they say I'm the thick-headed one…"
All the while, Kagome merely gaped at him in amazement. "Do you…do you really mean all that?"
"Of course! Why would I say it if—" Inuyasha's rant was swiftly silenced by Kagome's lips.
When she'd kissed him long enough that she was certain he had completely forgotten everything else he had planned to yell at her, she slowly pulled back. "I love you too, Inuyasha," she whispered, and delighted at the genuine smile that lit his face at the sound of those words. And then she recalled one of the less pleasant questions, one she had yet to ask, and her expression sobered somewhat. Reluctantly, she began, "What about—"
"Kikyo – I know," Inuyasha finished for her.
Kagome swallowed, forcing the words to unstick from her throat. "Are you still—"
"I'm here, aren't I?" he interrupted gently. "Do you have any idea how many times I've tried to convince myself that the best thing to do would be to just send you home, seal off the well, and go with Kikyo?"
"I don't think I want to hear this…" Kagome protested, shaking her head as she attempted to pull away – but Inuyasha refused to let her.
"No – let me finish. Fuck – you know I'm no good at this shit, so if I'm ever gonna say it, it's gotta be now."
At that, the young woman stilled, nodding for him to continue.
Inuyasha swallowed, pride and all. "The truth is…I was afraid."
Her brow lowered into a puzzled frown at that. These were not words that often left Inuyasha's mouth. "Afraid?"
"Yeah," he grumbled.
"Of everything – of losing you; of losing her; of being alone… I wanted a sure thing, I guess – something I could…predict. You've always been a mystery to me. And I guess I always sort of knew that in the end you would disappear…and if I wasn't careful, I would be alone again…"
Overwhelmed with sympathy and understanding, and at a complete loss for words, Kagome did the only thing that seemed to make sense: she pressed her lips to his, gently, sweetly, kissing his cares and fears away.
After spending a few more minutes reveling in their newfound and long-awaited understanding – which generally involved lots and lots of kissing – at last Kagome and Inuyasha turned to head back toward Kaede's village, Inuyasha's arm around her waist keeping her pressed close to his side.
"So Inuyasha, tell me – where on earth did you learn the phrase 'until death do us part'?"
"Uh…something your mom was watching on that tele-whatsit one time while I was waiting for you to come home from school, I think…"
Shippo gave a yawn, stretching his arms above his head and squirming about within Kagome's sleeping bag, its other occupant apparently having gotten up already. Goody – more room for him…
He had rolled over and was just about to doze off again when the sound of raised voices caught his ear, and curiosity had him dragging himself up out of bed and over to the door of the hut to peer outside. There he saw the very familiar sight of Kagome and Inuyasha, glaring at each other nose to nose in classic "there's no way in hell I'm backing down first" position. Kagome was poking an index finger into Inuyasha's chest as she spoke fiercely about something or other – what it was he couldn't quite make out, only catching snatches of the conversation. When she paused for breath, Inuyasha jumped in and began arguing back.
Then the kitsune noticed the pair standing a few feet to the side, watching the altercation with the strangest expressions of amusement on their faces. But the really confusing thing was that, if Shippo wasn't mistaken, Miroku's hand was resting comfortably upon his female companion's hip – and she wasn't doing a thing to stop him.
All at once, Shippo's attention was drawn back to the other pair when Kagome released a growl of frustration, and he caught the words, "Look, I really, really have to go now – my test is in twenty minutes." Then, much to his surprise, the girl merely grabbed hold of the distempered hanyou's forelocks and tugged him down to kiss him firmly on the lips before turning and heading off toward the well. A dopey sort of half-smile spread across Inuyasha's face as he watched her go.
Nope…adults made no sense…no sense at all…
Shippo shook his head hopelessly and went back to bed.
A/N: Well? What do you think?
As I said at the beginning, this concept went through a few transformations as I was writing, but hopefully it flows alright. I had originally intended for it to be a bit more on the funny side (maybe it still is – I've read it so many times, it's hard for me to tell at this point), but it is what it is. Any comments? Suggestions? Concerns?