Author's Note: This is for September's round at LJ's iyflashfic. Hope you like it, please let me know what you think. No character or pairing bashing, I really don't care to see "this sux Inu/Kag 4EVA!1!1" in my email box, if you please.

It's hard enough losing the paper illusion you've hidden inside
Without the confusion of finding you're using

The crutch of the lie to shelter your pride when you cry.

-- Neil Young, Round and Round

A Paper Illusion

She came to him with just Sango and Kirara as companions on her journey. Only another woman would understand what she was doing, after all. Inuyasha and Miroku had not been pleased for their wives to take off for a week, but Kagome had insisted.

They'd been married just over ten years, and the past five were characterized by Kagome's increasingly erratic behaviour and frequent crying jags. She refused to discuss it, however, though she made frequent trips to healers in Edo and all the nearby towns. Baffled by it—though Inuyasha loved her dearly, he was not really equipped to deal with her even in the best of moods—he let her go.

"I don't understand how visiting Kouga will help you," Sango said, for perhaps the tenth time that day. "He didn't take it well when you married Inuyasha." She paused. "You won't even tell anyone what's wrong, why you need help in the first place."

"You don't have to stay," was the only response Kagome would give. "I know you've been wanting to visit Kohaku at the taijiya village. Go there after you drop me off, spend some time with him."

So when Kirara touched down at the cave where Kouga's tribe lived, Kagome slid from the cat's back and patted Sango's knee. "Thanks," she said. "Come get me in a week." There was a stony quality to her voice that Sango had not often heard before, one that had her baffled as to how to proceed.

"Yes, go," said Kouga. He did not shift his eyes from Kagome as he spoke, just leaned against the mouth of the cave and watched her with a predator's gaze. "We've got a lot of catching up to do." His grin was sharp. "Don't we, Kagome?"

"A week," Kagome repeated to Sango, with a faint smile meant to reassure. Sango nodded, unhappy but unsure what else to do, and Kirara took flight.

"So," Kouga drawled, coming forward at last. He scanned her with slow, almost insulting thoroughness. "To what do I owe this honour?"

Kagome glanced around at the little crowd her arrival had drawn. "Let's go somewhere private."

"By all means," he agree easily, and started to lead her toward the waterfall. "We can't let anyone else know our business, can we?"

Kagome gritted her teeth; though it had been over ten years, he was still bitter she hadn't chosen him. His hard feelings were going to make this vastly more difficult.

There was a little ledge behind the waterfall; walking along it brought one to another cave, smaller than the other. Inside was a cozy little apartment, with several low tables and a luxurious-looking pallet in the back, heaped with pillows. The floor was covered in pelts, the walls, surprisingly, in tapestries, and there were many sconces with half-burnt torches to provide light. Kouga lit several of these, and the cavern was bathed in warm reddish light.

He motioned her to be seated at the table, and dropped to the floor on the other side. Kagome felt like they were in some sort of official meeting, entering negotiations for an important treaty, and almost smiled at the irony. That's what she was here for, after all.

"What can I do for you, Kagome-san?" he inquired at last. His pointed use of an honorific was even more mocking than his smirk, and she found herself wanting to hit him for making this harder for her.

"You can stop acting like that, for starters," she said calmly.

"I'll act however I wish," Kouga replied, his voice just as neutral, and the smile never leaving his face. Kagome felt the anxiety within her crest.

"You're not making this any easier!" she cried, flinging up her hands in agitation. "Please, just… just listen to me, and help me."

He schooled his face into a semblance of polite interest. "Fine. Talk."

Kagome took a deep breath. What she was about to say, she had not revealed to anyone, not even her own husband. She was ashamed, and upset, and frustrated, all at the same time, bowled over by a tide of misery that threatened to destroy her marriage.

"Inuyasha and I have been trying to start a family," she said after a long, tense pause. "But it's not happening." Kouga said nothing, just watched her, listening without expression. "I've tried everything I can think of, with herbal medicines, even spiritual healing. But nothing has worked." She stopped and chanced a look at him, gauging his reaction.

"So?" he asked with a careless shrug. "That happens sometimes, especially with half-breeds. What does it have to do with me? You know I have no healing skills."

"I don't know what else to do. I don't know where else to go." With that pronouncement, Kagome just sat there and looked at him, hoping he'd be able to connect the dots she'd laid down. "There's no one else I can trust to help me in the way I need."

He stared at her for several long moments, frowning in concentration as he struggled to make sense of her cryptic words. As the seconds ticked by, a blush spread across Kagome's cheeks—borne more of frustration than timidity—and she averted her gaze.

That, apparently, was all the clue he needed. "Oh, hell, no," he said at last. "You are not asking me to… wait, spell it out for me. I want to be sure we're talking about the same thing."

Kagome couldn't bring herself to meet his eyes, and instead focused somewhere in the vicinity of his left earlobe. "I need you to get me pregnant," she whispered, hands balled in her lap to contain the shame and anger she felt at being brought to this point.

Kouga sighed heavily. "That's what I was afraid you were saying." He abruptly got to his feet and stared at the floor, hands on hips, looking like he was searching for words that wouldn't come. Then he grabbed one of the little tables and flung it across the cavern.

The sound of it crashing and splintered echoed around them, and Kagome flinched at his violence.

"Dammit, Kagome," he growled after a moment. "I can't believe you would ask me this. You reject me, and I don't see you for years, and then… then this?" He turned to face her, and his eyes were like chips of ice. "I'm not good enough to marry, but I'm good enough to fuck when your husband can't give you a child?"

She jerked back as if he'd slapped her, and opened her mouth to speak, but he kept going.

"Pretty ironic, huh?" he continued, smiling without humour. "You were so convinced that Inuyasha could give you everything you needed. A nice home, a family… but I've seen where you live. It's a shack, with only the barest essentials." He glanced around the cavern, which was inarguably opulent, comfortable and cozy. "And so much for the family."

"It's… I didn't know…" Kagome stuttered, unsure in the face of his anger.

"Love's a gamble," Kouga interrupted. "You place your bet, and hope you win." He paced back and forth—prowled, really—unable to still his jittery energy. "And now you don't like the dice you rolled, and want to try again with me."

He reached down, suddenly, and grabbed her wrist, pulling her to her feet. "Except that now, you're cheating. You want to win without buying your way into the game. That's how it is, right? You're not leaving Inuyasha for me, you just want to use me to give him a child." He shook her. "Isn't that right, Kagome?"

She stared up into his angry face. The shadow of pain lived behind his eyes, more than any anger or offense she'd caused him. An answering spark of anger lit within her, as well, and she wrenched herself free.

"I never made you any promises," she told him, rubbing her wrist. "You had no right to expect anything of me, when I made my choice."

He stepped closer, looming over her. His presence seemed to fill the cavern, to press in on her, and she felt her miko powers throbbing in automatic response to having an angry, powerful youkai so close.

"I loved you," he hissed. "Right from the beginning, I loved you. I would have died for you. I never made any secret of how I felt, waited for any scrap you tossed to me, and you married the one who made you wait, wondering if he'd pick Kikyou, for years."

He let out a bark of laughter. "That's the sort of thing that makes a mark on a man, you know." There was a wealth of sadness on his face now, a sort of closed-off finality, and Kagome felt her chances of making this work slipping away from her.

"If you loved me, help me now," she entreated, laying her hands on his arm, her eyes pleading. "Prove it to me."

He froze, his gaze moving from where her hands touched him, up to her face, and then a livid rage convulsed him. "You… you bitch," he gasped. "What has happened to you?"

She didn't flinch back from his insult, only gave him a bitter little smile. "You don't know what it's like," she said slowly. "I gave up my family to be with Inuyasha, thinking we'd have one of our own. But it's not happening. And then, watching everyone around you have what you want so desperately... every time I see a woman with her baby, every time I see a man with his daughter or son, it hurts. It hurts so much."

She pressed a hand to her chest, as if that could still the pain. "I've always wanted children, always. It never occurred to me that we might have trouble with it. In my time, there are ways around it—drugs, special procedures—but here, now…"

She slumped, tired, to her knees. "…there's nothing. And I don't know if the problem lies with me, or with him. I think, as you said, it is him. Being a hybrid, it didn't occur to me that humans and demons were different enough that their offspring would be sterile."

"I'm not happy about this, Kouga-kun," she continued. "But now… Sango's expecting a baby. And I don't think I can handle watching her grow, watching her with her son or daughter when it's born… I don't think I'll survive that." She drew in a deep, shuddering breath. "I wish it didn't have to be this way."

"You say it like there's no alternative," he replied, and sat down beside her. Closing his eyes, he slumped tiredly against the wall. "You forget that I have a choice, here. I can refuse you. I can kick your ass out of here, make you walk home by yourself, forbid you to never—"

Her mouth stopped his words; she had crawled over to him on hands and knees, was now pressing herself against him almost desperately. She kissed him with a practiced, yet foreign, expertise; she kissed him as Inuyasha had taught her, and Kouga grabbed her arms and pushed her away.

He stared at her a long moment, searching for some sign of the brave girl he'd fallen in love with, so long ago. "I don't know you anymore," he said at last. "I don't know who you've become."

"That makes two of us," Kagome replied, sounding hollow. "Why didn't you ever get married? You know Ayame would have you in a heartbeat."

Kouga exhaled sharply and leaned his forehead against hers. On her arms, his grip loosened, and Kagome knew she'd won. "You know why," he rasped. "Damn you, you know why. That's why you came to me."

And he kissed her, kissed her and peeled her clothes off and spread her out on his fur-covered bed. Kagome responded to him with a fervour that surprised him, and when she came, she cried, "Thank you, thank you."

Yes, she knew why he never married Ayame, and why he did not refuse her, in the end. Once Kouga's love was given, that was it.

Wolves mate for life.

xx

Kagome spent her week with Kouga having as much sex as she could manage; by the time Sango returned for her, she was sore and had come more times in those few days than she had in the entirety of the preceding year.

Kouga watched them depart with a countenance that was unusually stoic, saying nothing, just raising a hand in brief farewell.

"What happened?" Sango asked. "Was he able to help you?"

And Kagome just smiled. "I hope so," she replied. "I'll know soon."

But Kagome was not pregnant; that month, her period arrived right on time. She was disappointed, but not devastated as she thought she'd be. There was time. Next month, once again, she prevailed upon Sango to bring her to Kouga.

"Not this time, Kagome-chan," the slayer said, unusually somber. "Not until you tell me why you're going. I'm worried about you, and I'm afraid you're doing something dangerous. So I'm not going to help you until I know what you're doing."

Kagome wanted to tell her friend—longed to, actually—but fear kept her quiet. "I can't," she said at last. "Not yet."

Sango sighed. "Then I can't take you."

The fear blossomed into anger, but Kagome kept it tightly leashed. She wasn't going to give up so easily, just because Sango was nosy. "Will Kirara take me by herself, then?" she asked coolly.

Sango narrowed her eyes; this was a Kagome she hadn't met before. "I don't know," she said finally, her own tone a bit chilly. "You'll have to ask her yourself."

Kagome did, and Kirara nodded her assent.

"I'll only be gone three days, this time," she told Inuyasha in hopes of assuaging him.

"Why do you have to go at all?" he demanded. "Where do you go? What do you do? Dammit, Kagome, why won't you tell me?"

She hugged him. "It's a surprise," she said against his throat. "If it works, you'll know soon." She took his hands and squeezed them, smiling up at him. "Trust me?" And Inuyasha grumbled and scowled, but ultimately, he let her go.

Kouga met her at the mouth of the cave this time, having been alerted by his wolves of her approach. "It didn't take, huh?"

She flushed, embarrassed, and grabbed his arm to drag him into his cavern behind the waterfall. "Don't talk about it in front of the others," she hissed when they were safely alone.

"Such maidenly modesty," he quipped. "You're using me, can't I even get a little amusement out of this?"

"You're being amply recompensed," Kagome retorted. "Those aren't objections you're shouting in my ear when—"

"Shut up," Kouga said genially. "It's bad enough you're acting like this, you don't have to talk like a whore as well."

She jerked back, stung. "I'm not a whore."

"No," he said, eyes dull. "I am."

Kagome had no reply to that; it was the truth. In the silence, Kouga began undressing.

"Come on," he said quietly. "Let's get started."

It didn't 'take' that month, either, nor the next, and Kagome was beginning to despair.

Once, when they were done and lay panting in the musk-scented pallet of furs, he asked her why she came to him; why not Miroku, or Sesshoumaru, or practically anyone else.

"Sesshoumaru wouldn't have me," she replied slowly, laughing a little at the idea, "and Miroku is married. That would be wrong." She strategically ignored the incredulous look he shot her. "The baby needs to have demon blood, or it would be suspicious, being entirely human. Plus, you have dark hair and blue eyes, like me."

"So there was no sentiment involved at all, was there?" It was his turn to laugh, bitter and humorless. "I'm just… convenient."

"You don't understand," Kagome said, rolling to face him. She wasn't sure why, but she needed him to understand this. "I'm glad it's you. I'm glad you fit the best for what I needed. I don't think I could have gone ahead with this if it were anyone else."

"Why?" His gaze was steady on her face.

"Because I know you loved me, and I always counted you a good, close friend," she answered, voice a little shaky. "I want this baby to be conceived in as much love as possible. I wanted to be able to look at him and be happy to think of the father, instead of regretful."

Kouga flopped onto his back, staring at the ceiling of the cavern, and gave a harsh little laugh. "And now, after all our arguing? Still think you'll remember me fondly?"

She reached out, tentatively, and placed her hand on his chest. "You wouldn't be so angry if you didn't still love me, would you?"

He closed his eyes. "No."

"I still think you're a good friend, Kouga. One of my best friends, after this." She blushed a little. "You know things about me now that no one else does."

He grinned. "Yeah, I bet Sango doesn't know your favourite position," he said, "or that you really like—"

"Okay!" she interrupted frantically. "That's enough!" There was something about her expression that had him studying her. "What?" she asked. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"I wonder," he said slowly, "if Inuyasha knows that stuff, too."

Kagome went very still for a split second, then leapt to her feet. "Don't talk about that," she said, voice glacial, and started scrabbling for her clothes. "You don't know anything about us."

Kouga lay on his side, head propped on his hand, as he watched her dress. "If you leave early, you'll be missing many, many opportunities…" he drawled.

"I don't care!" she snapped. "I don't want to be here with you anymore today."

She had almost made it to the cavern entrance when suddenly, with shocking speed, he was beside her. In a flash, he'd picked her up and dumped her unceremoniously back on the rumpled bed.

"Don't act like a child," he told her, magnificently unconcerned with his nudity as he stood over her. "We just won't talk about Dog-Shit's bedroom tactics, that's all."

Kagome tried to get up again, tried indeed to remember how angry she was with him, but Kouga crouched over her on all fours, nuzzling his nose up her leg and reminding her that she'd forgotten, in her haste, to put on her underwear.

"You smell like a woman who's been well and truly fucked," he murmured against the smooth flesh of her thigh. "Do you know how that affects me, knowing you have my seed inside you like that?"

She shivered. "Kouga…"

"You're awfully quiet when we do this." His grin glinted up at her in the torchlight as he peeled open the sides of her kimono. "Let's see if I can make you scream."

Kagome huffed, about to fold her arms in affront, but then his talented mouth found her and the pleasure went dark and sharp, and her hands were in his hair, pulling, pulling…

xx

Kouga took one sniff of her, the next time she visited, and said, "Congratulations."

She beamed up at him in delight. Shippou had known before she had, and Inuyasha had confirmed it a few days later when his marginally less-sensitive nose picked up the difference in her scent. Then, she'd missed her period.

"I can't thank you enough," she said happily. "I… well, I couldn't have done it without you. Literally."

His answering smile was so faint as to be nonexistent. "Is that why you came, this month? To thank me?"

Kagome sobered. "Well, yes. Mostly."

His eyes gleamed, and a bit of fang showed when his grin widened. "Mostly? What's the rest of it?"

She blushed, fiercely, before edging a little closer to him. "I wanted to thank you," she said with meaning.

"If you mean 'fuck', Kagome, just say 'fuck'." He snorted. "After all we've done to each other, and in so many positions, I can't believe you're still so squeamish."

"Gah!" she shrieked, losing patience and slapping his arm. "I meant what I said! I want to thank you! As in, show my gratitude!"

"By giving me one last go?" He frowned. "Yes, please make me feel even more like a whore." He averted his gaze, scowling furiously. "Just can't seem to get enough of that."

She sighed; why was he determined to take everything she said the wrong way? "Kouga-kun, you have done me the most incredible favour anyone ever has. I'm happy, because of it, and I want to make sure you are, too." She ducked so she could look into his downcast face, smiling mischievously at him. "Unless I'm wrong, and you weren't roaring like a bull all those times, sex makes you very, very happy."

He gave her a baleful stare, not hugely pleased with being reminded of how vocal he was at that crucial moment. "I don't want to use you, Kagome. Bad enough it meant nothing to you besides getting pregnant; I don't want to make it meaningless for me, as well."

She had the grace to blush at that. "Alright," she countered boldly. "Let's share something fun and pleasurable, then. It's not me paying you off, it's not you using me. Let's just…"

"Be lovers, for once?" At her nod, he took her hand, studying it a moment before bringing it to his lips and dropping a kiss on her palm. "Let's get a move on, then. If this is our last time, let's make it count."

It was different, this time. Without any favours or obligations hanging over their heads, they were free to explore each other, to demand and satisfy, to relax and let go, as they never had before. Always before, Kagome had held something of herself back, reluctant to share herself completely with him, trying to hold herself faithful in mind—if not body—to Inuyasha.

But there was no way she could deny that Kouga had earned a portion of her heart, these past few months. He had given of himself for her, to make her happy, at great cost to himself. He was the father of her baby. He had become something more than a mere friend, if not quite someone she was in love with.

It was mightily confusing, especially in view of how powerfully her body wanted to react to him. She loved—adored—Inuyasha, and sex with him was always profoundly beautiful, but for sheer sensation, his lack of experience and persistent inhibitions had made for a somewhat less-than-satisfying sex life.

Kouga, however, suffered no such problems. He never met a position he didn't like, was happy to walk around as nude as the day he was born, and was more than happy to show her the myriad things he knew how to do with his talented, rather evil tongue.

As she climbed onto Kirara for her return trip to Edo and waved a last time to him, Kagome wondered how she was supposed to go back to her "real" life, now that this thing with Kouga was over.

It turned out not to be too difficult. Morning sickness the first few months effectively killed her libido, and Inuyasha was so nervous about doing anything to hurt her the rest of her pregnancy that he didn't touch her once. Not that she minded that much; the raging hormones of her second trimester had faded into a sort of misty complacence with celibacy, and she found herself looking back on her rowdy Kouga-induced orgasms with the fondness of a hunter for an old, dearly departed hound.

She gave birth to a lovely daughter whose black hair and bright blue eyes pronounced her Kagome's daughter. Her little head boasted fuzzy, triangular ears; if it were thought odd that they were brown instead of white, no one mentioned it.

"Will you tell me, now?" Inuyasha asked, quietly because Takara was sleeping in his arms. "Where you went all those times?"

Kagome took a deep breath. "I went to see Kouga-kun's tribe," she said after a while. "There was someone there who could help me." She had already explained to him about half-breeds and sterility, and the unlikelihood of becoming pregnant. "They had a therapy there that overcame the problem."

He gazed at her a long moment, golden eyes intent. "Why didn't you tell me? I was worried. You weren't talking to me, to anyone…" He paused, face downcast. "I thought you didn't want to be married to me anymore."

"Never," she declared passionately. "That thought never passed my mind. Everything I've done was for you."

He smiled at her, then, one of his rare, wide, genuine smiles, and held Takara a little tighter. The ache in Kagome's chest, of love and hope and righteousness for her actions, flared a little brighter.

When Takara was a year old, Kagome brought her to meet Kouga. He touched his daughter's ears and smiled. "I fathered a hanyou," he said. "My father would be appalled."

"She's beautiful, isn't she?" Kagome asked, looking down at the tiny girl in her arms. "Kouga-kun, really, thank you so much—"

He waved a hand, cutting her off. "I told you, it's fine." He couldn't seem to stop looking at Takara, smoothing her flyaway dark hair and brushing his fingertips over her feathery eyelashes. "I was able to have a child with the woman I love. That's more than I thought I'd have, when you married Inuyasha, so… it's good. You don't have to thank me."

Tears burned in her eyes. "You deserve better than this," she told him, voice low and vibrant.

"Fine time for you to think of what I deserve," he said sourly, but then he grinned, faintly. "Most people don't get what they deserve in life. This is as close as I'll get, I suppose."

Takara was asleep by that point; Kagome placed her in a nest of warm furs for a nap. She was aware of Kouga standing directly behind her, and as she stood, his nose buried itself in her hair as his hands came to rest on her hips.

"If I deserve so much more," he murmured into her ear, "then why not give me a little more, right now?"

She laughed, shakily; she had what she wanted, now, and there was really no excuse for it besides how incredibly, sinfully good his hands felt as one went to her breasts and the other traveled lower.

"This is wrong," she whispered even as her resolve faltered. "There's no justifying this."

He trailed his lips up her throat. "Don't you love me even a little, Kagome?"

"You're such a jerk," she said on a moan as his fingers did wicked things below her waist. "You were furious when I said that to you."

"I got over it." He turned her around and kissed her lusciously. "I think you will, too."

xx

Kagome had another two children, over the years: another girl, and a boy.

Each pregnancy was preceded by several months of 'therapy' at the cave of the wolf tribe. It was a journey on which she refused to let Inuyasha accompany her, saying it was the only opportunity she had for what she called "me time". Inuyasha didn't pretend to understand her, and grumbled mightily, but in the end he wanted her to be happy, and let her go.

They raised their children to be good, strong, loving people, and by the time Kagome died, she saw them all married with children of their own.

"What're you doing here?" demanded Inuyasha, upon rounding a corner and finding Kouga standing in the courtyard of his house, watching the grandchildren playing a game of tag.

Kouga thought it was strange to see Inuyasha looking so… old. At well over two hundred years, the hanyou was looking distinctly middle-aged, and Kouga wondered how Kagome had looked, but then dismissed the idea. It didn't matter.

"I heard Kagome died," he replied, surprised at how steady he sounded when it felt like his heart had been carved out of his chest. "I came to… to…" His voice faltered at last, and he shut his mouth with a snap, unwilling to shame himself before his one-time rival.

Inuyasha nodded. "She's gone, now," he said, referring to how the dead were cremated. "But you can visit the shrine we put up."

Kouga nodded in return, and followed Inuyasha inside the house. It was better now than it had been the last and only time he'd been inside, with rooms added on and touches added until it had truly become a home. Kagome's presence, in the form of her miko power, was still present, but fading as the days had passed. Kouga touched his fingertips to various things that had been hers—a shawl, a book, a bowl of flowers—and felt the familiar spark of her essence tingle through him, but faintly.

In the back of the main room was a little niche with a urn, surrounded by candles. Before it was a plate of food, an offering. Kouga did not kneel before the shrine as was customary, but stared at it a long moment in disbelief. It hardly seemed possible that someone with such great breadth of soul could fit into a jar that small.

"Those kids you were watching," Inuyasha commented after a while. "They're your grandchildren."

Kouga turned so quickly his ponytail whipped around him. "What?" he whispered, his face gone pale as milk.

The hanyou didn't look angry or upset. His mouth was curled into a snotty little smirk, the one that had always made Kouga want to deck him, and he folded his arms while tapping a bare foot on the plank floor.

"How stupid do you think I am?" he asked disgustedly. "I might have bought it, even with the brown ears, if Daichi didn't end up looking exactly like you when he grew up."

"You knew?" Kouga could only gape at him. "You knew?" At Inuyasha's nod, he demanded, "Why didn't you do anything?"

"What could I do? She wanted kids; I couldn't give them to her." The other man shrugged. "Besides, it's not like she stopped loving me. Kagome had enough love for everyone, and she was her own woman. If she wanted to waste a little time on a stupid wolf like you, who was I to tell her she couldn't?"

Kouga stared for a moment, and then laughed. "Bullshit. She sat you until your spine almost snapped, and went anyway."

Inuyasha grinned, too. "That's our Kagome."

They sobered quickly, though.

"She was happy, right?" Kouga asked eventually.

"Thanks to you, yeah. She would have been miserable if we hadn't've had Takara, Daichi, and Kumiko. And the grandkids… I never saw her so happy." Inuyasha regarded him thoughtfully. "Sometimes I think I should thank you for that, but then I remember that you helped us out by fucking my wife, and I get over it."

Kouga just shook his head. Old or not, Inuyasha would never change. "Does anyone else know? That I'm…?"

"Sango and Miroku knew," Inuyasha replied. "Shippou knows. Sesshoumaru, too. Anyone who knew what you looked like, and how you felt about Kagome. The kids don't, though. Though they might suspect that I'm not their actual father."

Kouga decided he'd heard enough. His heart felt leaden with the knowledge that Kagome was dead, and the long years of his life that stretched ahead without her looked bleak.

"Quit sulking," Inuyasha said as he walked him to the edge of town. "You're depressing me."

"How can you be so cheerful?" Kouga demanded, his grief exploding into anger. "She's gone!"

"I've had fifty years to get used to the idea, stupid wolf," he snapped. "It's not easy for me, either. But I know she's happy now, and that I'll see her again eventually." He grinned suddenly. "That's where being a hanyou comes in handy… I'll die way before you, and see her sooner."

"She'll probably already be reborn by the time you croak," Kouga grumbled, folding his arms.

"Then I'll just have to hurry up and come back, so I can find her." He aimed a smirk the wolf's way. "Unless you think you can get there first?"

Kouga's eyes narrowed in challenge. "I sense a challenge."

Inuyasha just grinned wider. "Whatever gets you out of my town sooner. You're like a dark cloud over this place."

"Fu-" He abruptly cut off when a tiny child lurched up to them and wrapped herself around Inuyasha's leg.

"Chichi-ue," she lisped, "Kaa-san wants to know if you're coming in to dinner." In response, Inuyasha hoisted the kid onto his hip and entered into a conversation where he explained how Chichi-ue was far too stuffy a name for him.

Kouga felt like his throat was trying to strangle itself. The picture was so utterly domestic that he indulged a moment of sheer rage, that Inuyasha had enjoyed the life he should have had.

He pushed it down, and swallowed his anger along with the lump in his throat. It couldn't be changed. Some things just weren't fair, no matter how a person deserved better. Kagome had told him that many times, years ago.

"I'm going now," he said. "Take care of my family."

Inuyasha snorted. "Take care of 'em yourself, lazy wolf."

Kouga frowned. "Is that your way of telling me to come around more often?"

"I won't be around forever, like you," Inuyasha said with a shrug.

Kouga nodded. "I'll come, then."

"Thanks for the warning."

Kouga just rolled his eyes, and tensed his legs to spring away, but the rapt gaze of the child held him back. She looked remarkably like Kagome, but there was enough of him about the ears to declare her demonic heritage. He reached out and ruffled her hair.

"If he doesn't like Chichi-ue, just call him Dog-Shit," he told her, and then ran. Behind him, he could hear Inuyasha yelling insults.

Kouga grinned.