Author's Note: Well, this is a concept that's been rattling around in my brain for months now. I've been dying to write it, but I could never seem to come up with a good way to get into it – until a couple of months ago, when I had a little inspiration. Anyway, before I knew it, the thing was almost 13,000 words long. Hope you enjoy it…
Disclaimer: Nope, still don't own Inuyasha. I'm working on it though – if I ever do, I promise you'll be the first to know…
It was a little thing. Hardly even worth mentioning, in fact. After all, the thing itself wasn't really unusual at all – people did it all the time. And yet, she couldn't help but notice it. Her head cocked ever so slightly to the side, eyebrows twitching into a mildly curious expression. Perhaps she had heard wrong? Her ears might have been playing tricks on her. But still, she could have sworn that when she'd passed the steaming cup of freshly cooked noodles into the waiting clawed hands beside her, she had received a "Thank you," in return.
A "Thank you," from Inuyasha? For a little thing like serving him dinner (which he seemed to generally assume was her responsibility anyway, and therefore unworthy of niceties like "please" and "thank you")? True, it wasn't entirely unheard of for him to utter those words, even to her, but usually a "thank you" had to really be earned – as in "Thank you for preventing me from murdering you all while in my full-demon form," or something of that nature. Even then, half the time he preferred to hurl insults at her instead in order to conceal any potential vulnerability. No, she must have been mistaken.
The meal was refreshingly pleasant: no squabbles over food (though that may have been due in part to the fact that Shippo had opted to stay back at Kaede's with Kirara, who had been injured in a recent battle), no deliberate provocation into verbal sparring matches – just peaceful and enjoyable conversation regarding the day's events and the plans for tomorrow.
"I'm pretty sure there's a village not too far north of here," Miroku supplied. "I've stayed there once or twice myself, so we should be able to secure accommodations for tomorrow. It's a bit out of our way, so it may delay us in following up on that shard, but I think it would be worth it."
"Great!" said Kagome brightly. "Seems like ages since we've had a chance to sleep indoors. Do you think we might be able to find a hot spring?"
Miroku shrugged. "I'm afraid I don't remember that well. Besides, when I was there I sought…other forms of relaxation…" A somewhat sly expression crossed his face. The demon slayer beside him rolled her eyes, but seemed to be enjoying her meal too much to bother with any form of retaliation. They all knew he'd get his punishment when she was so inclined.
"What do you think, Inuyasha?" Kagome questioned the hanyou to her left, who had been unusually quiet during the meal. But then, ramen was his favorite – and who was she to question a good thing?
"Mm?" he looked up raising his eyebrows attentively. With a carefree shrug, he replied, "Sounds fine to me." Then with a brief smile, he went back to his noodles.
Kagome continued to watch him for a few moments as he ate. Something was different. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but the more she thought about it, the more sure she was that something was different. Glancing across the fire, she saw that Miroku seemed to have noticed the same thing, judging by the curious manner in which he was regarding the hanyou – but then the monk gave his head a little shake, seeming to decide that the matter wasn't worth exploring further as he went back to eating. Silently agreeing, Kagome did the same.
Before long they had finished their meal and disposed of their empty food containers in the fire. The schoolgirl stifled a yawn with the back of her hand as she was putting away the last of her supplies. "I'm exhausted," she said, rubbing at her drooping eyelids, "I've got to get some sleep if we're going to get going right away tomorrow morning."
"Me too," Sango agreed, getting to her feet. "And before you even ask," she cut off the monk, who had opened his mouth to speak, "no, that was not an invitation."
"Why Sango my dearest, I thought nothing of the sort," Miroku replied in a voice that was clearly intended to sound aghast and offended – and indeed it might have come off as such, if the other occupants of the clearing hadn't known him quite so well.
"Oh come on Miroku," Inuyasha reproached lightly with an almost jocularly dismissive wave of his hand. "Grow up already – Kagome's right, we've all got to get our rest. Nighty-night all." And with that the hanyou strolled across the clearing and leapt lightly into one of the higher branches of a nearby tree, curling up like a kitten to go to sleep.
Those remaining on the ground, on the other hand, were left to stare after him, and then at one another, stunned into silence.
"Did anyone else think that was weird, or was it just me?" Miroku questioned at last.
Kagome shook her head. "Nope – it was weird alright…"
"Kagome," Sango said quietly, taking a couple of steps closer to the girl in question, "Do you have any idea what's gotten into Inuyasha? He's been acting a bit…strange all evening."
"Yeah, I noticed," she replied. "It's weird though – I can't exactly put my finger on it. I mean, it's not like he's done anything really…I dunno…wrong, exactly. He just seems…"
"Nicer than usual," Miroku finished for her, joining their little circle.
"Yeah, exactly," Sango agreed.
"Do you suppose we should do something about it?" Kagome asked tentatively.
"Well," Sango said with a tilt of the head, "My father always used to say, 'Don't fix it if it ain't broke.' Like you said, it's not like he's done anything wrong really – maybe he really is just growing up a little."
"Sango's right," said the monk. "And you've got to admit, the peace and quiet is rather nice."
"True," the girl agreed. But nonetheless, once they'd all gone their separate ways and settled in for the night, Kagome couldn't help but feel somewhat uneasy.
By all accounts, it was a remarkably beautiful day: The sun was shining, the trees were whispering merrily in the light breeze, the birds were winging, and Inuyasha was…whistling?
Kagome stopped dead in her tracks as she caught the light, clear melody floating back to her on the wind from the red-clad hanyou strolling along at the front of the group. She hadn't even realized he knew how to whistle. As a matter of fact, it had never occurred to her that he might be capable of any sort of melodic utterance, whistling or otherwise. Yet there it was, clear and clean and – though she'd never claimed to be much of a musician herself – right on pitch, as far as she could tell.
Well – you learn something new every day.
Having resumed walking, Kagome failed to watch where she was going – so distracted was she by her thoughts – and found herself walking right into Inuyasha's stationary back, for he had apparently stopped walking right in front of her. She tumbled unceremoniously backwards and landed flat on her backside with an "oof."
Of course, naturally she expected the usual scoff of rebuke: "Watch where you're going, wench," or "Idiot woman – whad'ya do that for?" or perhaps even a "Stupid bitch – no wonder you're so much trouble…"
What she did not expect however was this: "Whoopsey-daisies! You alright Kagome?" Inuyasha asked with a cheerful grin – Kagome merely gaped in reply, but he didn't seem to notice. "Let me give you a hand," he offered, helping her to her feet and then dusting her off a bit. "You ought to be more careful though – wouldn't want to get hurt just walking down the road now would you?" He flashed her one more friendly grin before turning and heading off toward the side of the road – presumably to inspect whatever it was that had stopped him in the first place.
'Whoopsey-daisies'? she thought bemusedly, blinking dumbstruck at the figure crouched over by the trees. Did Inuyasha actually just use the phrase…'whoopsey-daisies'?
She had absolutely no idea what to make of that.
Her confusion was merely heightened when the hanyou stood up once more, and she saw that he clutched in his hands a small bouquet of wildflowers, which he had apparently stopped to pick.
"Come on you guys," he called back to them, "If we keep going steadily like this we should make that village by late afternoon – that way we'll have plenty of time to relax and enjoy our stay. Maybe we'll even find a hot spring for Kagome." And on he walked, his steps light and almost bouncy, as though his feet were just itching to start skipping.
The others merely exchanged a rather bewildered glance and followed in silence.
On they journeyed until at last the thatched rooftops of the village came into view, and Inuyasha pulled to a stop at the crest of the final hill, from which the road lead down into the village itself. "What is it Inuyasha?" Kagome questioned, coming up beside him to find out why he'd stopped. Quite unexpectedly, the hanyou merely looped an arm around her waist – prompting her to glance, startled, from the clawed hand on her hip back up to his face – and said, "Just admiring the scenery. Beautiful, isn't it? I just love how the light sparkles off the surface of the stream over there…absolutely breathtaking…" He drew a deep breath in through his nose, expelling it with a contented sigh.
This was too weird. This was much too weird. "Inuyasha, are you alright?"
"Alright? I'm magnificent – couldn't be better," he replied, sounding not the least bit sarcastic.
Breathtaking? Magnificent? Since when had Inuyasha begun using four-syllable words – especially when a wholly unspecific and unrevealing word like "fine" would do just as well…
"Are you sure?" she tried again. "Because you're acting a bit…strange…"
"Am I? How so?"
"Well you…I mean you're…you've just been…" Finally, she gave up, deflating resignedly. "Nevermind…"
"Oh – alright then. Onward, shall we?" the hanyou replied, seemingly untroubled by Kagome's inquiry as he escorted her down the hill and into the center of the town.
As they went about looking for a place to stay, Kagome mulled over Inuyasha's behavior. It was becoming clear to her that something very strange was going on here – and in light of today's developments, she had serious doubts that it was merely a matter of Inuyasha "growing up a little," as Sango had suggested the previous night. Not only was he more polite and mild-mannered, but he'd started doing things like picking flowers and admiring scenery and whistling and…and putting his arm around her for no particular reason. Not to mention the fact that he hadn't so much as batted an eyelid when she'd told him he was acting strangely and then turned around and told him to forget about it. The Inuyasha she knew would never let her get away with that – he'd get all huffy and defensive and nag her until he either dragged an answer out of her or she 'sat' him so hard that he was knocked unconscious…
And what about his speech patterns? 'Whoopsey-daisies'? 'Magnificent'? 'Onward'? He was beginning to sound as though he belonged in a Jane Austen novel or something. And come to think of it, she didn't think she'd heard him swear once since the previous day at least.
"I'm afraid we only have two available rooms at the moment – but then that should be just perfect for two lovely young couples such as yourselves," Kagome heard the man in the doorway say as she tuned back in to the world around her.
"Oh no, were not—" Sango began to correct him, but Miroku cut her off.
"That'll be just fine, thank you," the monk said, drawing the taijiya to his side, casually ignoring the death glare she was leveling at him.
The portly, kindly-looking innkeeper smiled back. "Wonderful! Your rooms are the two at the end of the hall then. Enjoy your stay!"
Miroku nodded their thanks and led the way down the hall.
"Why didn't you let me correct him?" Sango hissed at him, shoving his arm away from her waist.
"Because it was easier – and safer – to simply agree with the man than to have to explain our whole situation. Besides, what difference does it make? A bed is a bed."
"Yeah, right, but I wasn't exactly planning on sharing a bed with you," she shot back.
"Consider it a bonus," he replied with a grin.
"Don't get any ideas," Kagome heard Sango say, just as the schoolgirl found herself being led into one of the rooms by Inuyasha, leaving the other to Miroku and Sango.
The girl released a sigh as she relieved herself of the weight of her backpack and ran her fingers through her dark hair. She closed her eyes and began rolling her shoulders and neck to get the kinks out of them, when all of a sudden she felt strong yet gentle hands begin to massage her aching muscles. She let out an "Mm" of appreciation and began to sink into the hanyou's ministrations, her pleasure drowning out the sound of her mind's warnings that Inuyasha was acting strangely again. But who could care when she felt so relaxed…
All too soon, his voice brought her out of her reverie. "At last," he said, "We're alone…"
Her body, which had begun to liquefy under his care, tensed from head to toe, her eyes snapping open. His voice sounded really weird. It was his, no doubt – and yet it wasn't. It was all…low and…and smooth…
"Uh…yeah, I guess we are," she replied, beginning to grow nervous, though she couldn't exactly explain why.
"Kagome," he murmured, "there's something I have to tell you."
She turned to face him rather apprehensively. Swallowing, she met his intense golden eyes, feeling him take both of her hands in his. "What's that?" she prompted.
He lifted her hands to his mouth and pressed a gentle kiss to her knuckles, then met her gaze over them. "I'm in love with you Kagome," he whispered, his warm breath tickling her fingers and sending shivers up her spine. "I have been since the moment we met – and not a day goes by that I don't wonder what it would be like to kiss you, to touch you, to love you. You're my only one, my other half…my soul-mate."
And with those words he swept her into a truly magnificent kiss.
The moment seemed almost suspended in time somehow. Part of her was perfectly content to be blown away by the fact that she was kissing Inuyasha at long last, circumstances be damned – but there was another part of her that was screaming What the hell is going on here! On the one hand, she'd just heard the very words she'd been longing to hear for god only knew how long – but on the other hand, the way he'd said them hadn't sounded like him at all. Hell, Clark Gable couldn't have pulled off a line like that…
Finally she found the presence of mind to push him away and try to get her bearings. Unfortunately, it seemed the first half of her – the half that desperately wanted to be able to just buy into this whole scenario – seemed to still be in control of her mouth, for the first words she found herself speaking were, "But what about Kikyo?"
"Feh—" Ooh – at least he's still in there somewhere… "—Kikyo-schmikyo – you're the one that I want," he proclaimed passionately. "I don't know what I ever could have seen in her. You're so much more vibrant, more alive, more joyful, more fun, more beautiful, more spirited – and you wear shorter skirts, which is a big plus…"
Kagome could feel her eyebrows creeping back towards bemusement. What on earth was going on around here? One moment he sounded like an old movie, the next he sounded like…a groupie, or something…
"Yeah?" he answered, his eyes just a bit too intent, too bright, too focused on her.
"Are you sure you're alright?"
"Alright! I'm in love!" he replied with a laugh, practically bursting with what she could only assume was joy – or crack, one or the other… Then, without warning, he broke into song: "Love is lovelier…the second time around…"
He did a strange sort of pirouette over to the door, turning back to her with his hand on the handle. "I'll be right back with a surprise for you, my love – don't move a muscle!" And out the door he went.
Kagome stared; and stared; and stared a bit more.
And then she couldn't help herself: she laughed.
It was the sort of near-hysterical laughter that one tends to experience when a situation has gotten to the point of being beyond reason or logic to absolute absurdity. Even though a part of her was, in fact, extremely worried for Inuyasha – and the world, should he remain like this – the ridiculousness of his behavior simply could not be ignored.
At last she began to calm down a bit and gather her wits. Obviously, there was something very, very wrong here – all they had to do was figure out what it was, and try to keep Inuyasha under control until they could figure out some sort of solution. Easy, right?
Ignoring the hanyou's request that she stay put, Kagome hurried next door to her friends' room and barged in without bothering to knock. She found the two occupants sitting at opposite walls, Miroku sporting a rather painful-looking lump on his head – it didn't take a genius to figure out what had happened. Unfortunately, Kagome didn't have time for either romantic sympathy toward Miroku or feminist solidarity toward Sango at the moment.
"You guys, something is seriously wrong with Inuyasha," she began.
Sango's expression of lingering resentment transformed itself into concern as she stood to meet Kagome. "Are you certain? I mean, I know he's been acting weird—"
"No no no no no – 'weird' does not even begin to cover what I just experienced."
"What did he do?" Miroku questioned, joining them.
"Well, he started out by confessing his undying love to me—"
"Really?" Sango interrupted.
"Now Kagome," Miroku said levelheadedly, "I know he's usually a bit thick in the romance department, but telling you he loves you hardly makes him crazy."
"No, but singing 'Love is Lovelier' and dancing around the room does," Kagome said firmly.
"I—dancing?" Miroku repeated, doing a double-take.
"You heard me," she confirmed.
Sango blinked. "Yep, I'd say that'd about do it…"
"Right," Kagome continued, "So what do we do about it?"
"Sell him to a traveling theater company?" the monk suggested with a suppressed grin.
Sango shot him a glare, saying warningly, "Miroku."
"Well, I suppose the first step would be to find out how this happened to him in the first place. Do you have any idea?" Miroku supplied.
"Nope, not really," said Kagome, glancing over at the door to check for any signs of her lover-boy's imminent return. "Do you suppose Naraku could have anything to do with it?"
"It's possible," Miroku said, considering. "After all, he has been known to impersonate Inuyasha himself in the past…"
"Yeah," Sango agreed, "But why on earth would he impersonate Inuyasha just to make him make a jackass out of himself?"
"Good point," the monk conceded. "Still, he could be controlling Inuyasha by other means, perhaps in an attempt to weaken him somehow."
"I dunno," said Kagome, "Sure he likes to play with people's emotions, but we've never known Naraku to use happiness as a weapon before – and as far as I can tell, Inuyasha seems to be about the happiest guy on the planet right now. He was practically bouncing off the walls when he left."
Sango nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, that's true. So then what else could it be?"
"Well, when exactly did this all start?" Miroku said.
"About two days ago, I think," Kagome answered. "We first noticed him acting more cheerful than usual last night at dinner, but now that I think back on it, he and I haven't fought since at least the day before that, and he hardly swore at all yesterday either."
"That's right," Sango corroborated.
"So," Miroku said, piecing things together, "Whatever has caused this…change…was most likely something or someone we encountered in the last couple of days."
"So we should just back-track for awhile until we find a clue or something," Kagome concluded.
"But what about the shard we're following up on?" Sango asked.
Kagome gave a wry smile. "Believe me, Inuyasha won't care. I doubt he'd even notice we were going in the wrong direction – the shards seem to be the furthest thing from his mind. I'd better get back though – he told me to wait for him…"
"Okay – be careful though, alright Kagome-chan?" Sango said.
The girl smiled again. "Don't worry about me, I'll be fine."
Within moments, however, she was beginning to doubt her own confident words, for when she slid back the door to her and Inuyasha's room she found none other than the hanyou in question stretched out beneath the covers of the double futon, his bare chest visible over the top of the blankets, and a rose resting cavalierly between his fangs.
Kagome barely had time to wonder how the hell Inuyasha could have known about the rose-in-the-teeth cliché before he whipped the rose elegantly from his mouth and began speaking:
"But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?" he recited passionately, the arm he wasn't using to support himself sweeping out in front of him and offering the rose to her in a beckoning sort of gesture, "It is the east, and Kagome is the sun! Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, who is already sick and pale with grief that thou her maid art far more fair than she…"
Oh god, she thought, Romeo and Juliet…
I wonder if he's wearing any clothes under there. My guess would have to be probably not. Oh crap, crap, crap…
"Um…I really, really hate to ask this…but Inuyasha – what exactly are you doing?"
"Now now, my darling," he replied, his voice still tinted with the lilt of a Shakespearean actor, "Don't be shy…" He gave her a come-hither look, patting the bed beside him.
A small part of her, she was very ashamed to admit, was really quite tempted. After all, even though his mind had decidedly flown the coop – and it felt really strange to be thinking of the normal Inuyasha as "the sane one" – his body was still that of the man she had fallen in love with; and it was a very nice body at that. Who knew when she might get such an opportunity from him again…
But no – it would be wrong on so many levels. It would be irresponsible for her, a violation of him, borderline creepy, and just a bad idea all around. Yes. A bad idea. A very bad idea. Wrong, wrong, wrong…
"Um…yeah…about that…" she replied haltingly, trying to figure out the best way to weasel her way out of what he was suggesting. "I'm a little…tired…and I have a—a headache. Maybe some other time though. I'll just…sleep next door." With that, she attempted to simply slip out the door – but unfortunately Inuyasha, crossing the room in record time with his hanyou speed, managed to catch her by the wrist before she could do so. She carefully averted her gaze from the portion of him that had formerly been covered by the blankets as she turned back reluctantly.
"Wait – please don't go, my love. Just having you by my side is enough," he said quietly, and Kagome was startled by the genuine quality in his voice. It was the most real-sounding thing she'd heard him say all day, not that that was saying much – but then again perhaps she was merely struck by the fact that he had paraphrased the words she had used when she'd returned to him after one of their bigger fights: "I'll always be by your side…"
Reminding herself forcefully that his word choice was nothing but a coincidence, that this was not the real Inuyasha, and that there was no guarantee whatsoever that anything he said or did had anything to do with what the real Inuyasha felt, she nodded and said, "Alright, I'll stay. But just to sleep – nothing…nothing else."
"That's all I ask," he replied, smiling affectionately at her as they returned to the bed and crawled under the covers.
Kagome rolled onto her side so that she was facing away from the hanyou and scooted out to the very edge, extremely aware that she was now lying in bed with a naked Inuyasha. Soon, however, her weariness caught up with her, and even the outlandishness of the situation was not enough to keep her awake.
The sound of birds twittering outside her window stirred her from sleep. No, wait…how could birds have been twittering the tune of Gershwin's "Someone To Watch Over Me"? When the "birds" slipped from twittering into singing the words, she realized with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach what – or rather whom – she was hearing.
She cracked an eye open, and sure enough there was Inuyasha, crooning merrily to himself as he bustled about the room putting away their things. Until then, a part of her had clung to the hope that perhaps the previous day's events had been some sort of bizarre – and disturbingly vivid – dream. So much for that theory. At least he was wearing clothes now though – that was an improvement.
"Inuyasha," she murmured wearily as she pushed herself into a sitting position, "What are you doing?"
"Oh, I'm sorry my darling," Inuyasha said, rushing to kneel beside her and caress her hand in both of his – nearly knocking her over in the process, for it had been the hand that supported her weight. "Did I wake you, my love? I just wanted to tidy up a bit before we had to leave – but don't let me rush you! You just go ahead and lie back down and relax for as long as you like – I'll go see to breakfast."
He made to get to his feet again, but Kagome stopped him, "No, wait – don't worry about breakfast, I'll just have a granola bar."
"But dearest," he protested, in a lovingly concerned manner that was about ten times more infuriating than his usual blunt stubbornness, "You must have a full and nutritious breakfast if you're going to keep up your strength."
"Keep up my strength? You make it sound like I'm pregnant or something. Oh god—" she said, mentally going over the previous night's events with a fine-toothed comb as a terrifying possibility occurred to her all at once, "I'm not, am I? I mean, we didn't…"
"Well, no," he replied, and a wave of relief swept through her, "Not yet, but someday perhaps, when we're ready—" she blushed furiously as he continued, "—and I want to make sure you remain healthy and well nourished in the meantime."
"Uh huh…" she nodded dazedly – it was way too early in the morning for this. "Right, well, just the same, granola will be fine."
"But Kagome my darling—"
"Inuyasha, for god's sake give it a rest already, will you?" she burst out at last. "I can't take this anymore! Just chill, okay? Back off…"
"My love, have I done something to upset you?" the hanyou questioned, worry written all over his face – which, for some reason, just made her even more frustrated.
Kagome took a very deep, measured breath, closing her eyes and releasing it slowly as she tried to get her nerves under control. After all, this wasn't his fault – at least, she was pretty sure it wasn't…
"Inuyasha…darling," she added for good measure, the word sounding nearly as strange on her lips as it had on his, "I think I just need a little…space. Let me take care of myself for awhile, alright?"
Inuyasha smiled back at her adoringly, and Kagome couldn't help noticing the frightening emptiness in his ostensibly soulful eyes. "Of course, sweetheart. Anything you wish."
She watched him cross to the door and set off down the hall, resuming his whistling once he was out of sight. Anything I wish? she thought wryly. I just wish I had Inuyasha back…that's all…
But it was no use, she knew – wishing wasn't going to get him back to normal. And the sooner they got going, the sooner they could figure out how to go about doing so.
Before long, Kagome was up, dressed, fed, and ready for action. She rounded up Sango and Miroku from the other room, and eventually found Inuyasha pestering an elderly couple for advice on gifts appropriate to give one's girlfriend on a one-day anniversary. They were bewildered, to say the least.
"Come on everyone, let's get a move on," Kagome called out. "We've got a lot of ground to cover today." The others followed obediently as she strode determinedly along at the head of the group, even Inuyasha – who seemed distracted by the smell of the air and the blue of the sky – falling behind her.
She couldn't take this much longer – they absolutely had to figure out what was wrong with him, and soon. As she walked, even though they were still a long way from the place they had been when this had all started, she cast her eyes about for any signs of strangeness (besides Inuyasha, of course, who was now occupying himself by gently catching butterflies, admiring their delicate wing patterns, and then releasing them back into the sky), and wracked her brain for any possible causes they had not yet considered.
Perhaps there was some sort of chemical in the air or the water around here that only affected hanyous. That way, they might have all ingested it at the same time, but it would only have shown symptoms in Inuyasha. Or maybe someone had put a curse on him – a dark miko, perhaps, or…Kikyo…?
She rolled her eyes at that. Wishful thinking…
There had to be something she was missing, something she wasn't remembering…
"Any success thus far, oh fearless leader?" Miroku's voice broke jovially into her thoughts as he sidled up alongside her.
"Feh – you startled me, Miroku," she replied with a shake of her head, earning a raised eyebrow and a sidelong glance from her companion. "What?" she questioned defensively.
"You do realize who you're turning into, don't you?" he replied rather cryptically.
"Who?" she replied, puzzled.
"Inuyasha, of course."
She blinked at him. "Excuse me?"
"Look at yourself: striding out at the head of the group, telling everyone to get a move on…using the word 'feh.' And meanwhile, Inuyasha himself is enjoying the scenery and catching butterflies…"
"So – what's your point?"
"My point is that the two of you seem to have switched roles for the moment."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa – are you saying that he's becoming me? Like hell! He's clingy and sappy and…and not once in my life have I ever caught a butterfly…"
"Well, no, I suppose that's not exactly the right way to put it. I just thought it was interesting that as Inuyasha has become, shall we say…softer…you've sort of stepped up and taken his place. Maybe there's more of him in you than you care to admit – and vice versa."
Kagome glanced over at Miroku one last time as he finished speaking. He gave her a brief smile before falling back again to walk with Sango.
What was that all about, d'you suppose? she thought to herself, still rather puzzled by Miroku's analysis of her and Inuyasha's respective behaviors. Well, whatever it was, she didn't have time to sort it out right now – they had more pressing matters to attend to.
On and on they walked, with no sign of any possible causes of Inuyasha's predicament. No strange auras, no shards, no nothing.
But wait – what was that tingling at the edge of her senses? A shard – no…two shards…approaching rapidly…
Sure enough, within moments who should appear – in his usual whirlwind of a grand entrance – but Kouga, Prince of the Wolf Demon Tribe.
"My darling Kagome," he greeted her (she wanted to slap her forehead and say "That's where I've heard it before!"), taking both of her hands in his. "I hope the mutt-face hasn't been treating you too badly."
"Uh, nope, no, everything's fine, couldn't be better – gotta run though! See you round Kouga," she said in a rush, silently urging him to leave. She had no idea what would happen when Kouga encountered the present Inuyasha, and she really didn't want to find out.
"Excuse me, sir," Inuyasha's polite voice came from just over Kagome's shoulder, and she cringed at the sound, "but I'm going to have to ask you to step away from my fiancée."
"Your what?" replied both Kouga and Kagome, in identical voices of perplexity.
"My fiancée," he repeated, answering Kouga, apparently unaware that Kagome had spoken. When the wolf continued to look perplexed, Inuyasha attempted (with a blithely superior air about him) to clarify, "My intended, my betrothed, my blushing bride-to-be – need I go on? If you wish to challenge me, I shall be more than happy to prove my worth in a man to man duel."
A duel? Not a fight, not a battle, but a duel? Holy crap. He seemed to have switched genres again – now he was Don Juan.
"Inuyasha," Kagome protested, "Really, that's not necessary—"
"Have no fear, my love – I shall protect your honor from this roguish knave."
'Roguish knave'? Oh lord…Inuyasha would be slaughtered…
Kagome tried to protest once more, but Kouga interrupted her. "Stay outta this, Kagome – I dunno what the hell's going on, but I sure will enjoy wiping the floor with this nut…"
Inuyasha responded by drawing Tetsusaiga – not bothering to transform it – and wielding it with a flourish, as though it were a rapier instead of a katana. He took the exaggerated stance of a sixteenth century Spanish swordsman, knees bent with his weight on his back leg, his front leg poised gracefully before him, his free arm raised behind his head ostentatiously and his sword arm extended as he drew tiny circles with the weapon's point in the air before him. His face was drawn into a smug sort of sneer that was presumably meant to be threatening.
"Engarde!" he cried, attacking with a thrusting motion, which Kouga easily dodged. The wolf demon regarded his opponent in disbelief, absentmindedly ducking and sidestepping the hanyou's strange flailing movement. "Fight me, you scurvy dog!" Inuyasha jeered, continuing his fruitless attacks without the slightest notion of how ridiculous he looked.
"Did he just call me a dog?" Kouga questioned, puzzled.
Kagome merely buried her face in her hands.
"I did indeed, you worthless scoundrel, you cad, you rascal!" Inuyasha continued, relenting in his assault to twirl his sword about once again. "Now if you wish to fight me, you had best brandish your weapon, or you shall lose to forfeiture."
Kouga blinked. "What?"
"Inuyasha, please," Kagome interrupted at last, stepping between them and pushing away the hanyou's sword, "No more fighting…I…" she cast about for something that would get him to stop. "I simply couldn't bear it if you were injured," she said at last, clasping her hands and throwing a bit of a swoon into her voice just to add to the effect. She was beginning to discover that she generally got farther with him like this if she played by his rules…whatever those were.
Inuyasha gracefully sheathed his sword at once and went to her, gathering her into his arms. "Of course my darling – anything for you." Then, after planting a ridiculously exaggerated kiss on Kagome's lips, he turned to Kouga and said, "Well, it seems you have been granted a reprieve. But make no mistake – we shall meet again." And with that he strode off in the direction they had been heading before.
"Hey," Kouga said indignantly, making to follow the hanyou – but Kagome stopped him with a hand on his chest.
"No, please – just go. Inuyasha's…not himself today, and we're busy trying to figure out how to help him. I'll see you sometime soon though, alright?"
"Please, just go – for me?"
Kouga's expression softened at that. "Anything for you, my woman." Then, after sweeping Kagome into a deep and an unexpected kiss as well, he disappeared once more into the usual cyclone.
Kagome merely stood where she was for a moment, wiping her raw mouth and trying to catch her breath. "One of them is bad enough…but two of them…"
She caught up to the others a few moments later, straightening her clothes and running her fingers through her hair. "I'm not sure how much longer I can do this, you guys," she said when she drew level with Miroku and Sango (Inuyasha was up ahead a bit, still swaggering like the Count of Monte Cristo). "I'm beginning to think he might have some sort of dissociative identity disorder or something…"
"A what?" Miroku questioned – of course, they wouldn't know that term.
"It's a type of psychological disorder where you sort of develop multiple personalities that take turns controlling your body," she elaborated. "Usually with that sort of thing though, you don't retain memories from personality to personality – you just sort of "wake up" into your life as various people, or something. Inuyasha's personalities seem to flow seamlessly into one another, with no memory lapses…"
"What do you mean his "personalities"? You mean you think he's becoming different people at different times?" Sango asked, confused.
"Well yeah – haven't you guys noticed? He keeps jumping from stereotype to stereotype. The 'desperate lover,' the 'Casanova,' the 'swashbuckler,' the 'Romeo,' the 'suave romantic'…"
As her friends continued to regard her with puzzlement, something important occurred to Kagome: She was the only one present who was familiar with these particular archetypes. In fact, come to think of it, half of them were European, or at least Western in origin, and thus wouldn't have appeared in Japan until hundreds of years later, with the coming of the Black Ships and the Revolution. Furthermore, what about all the strange references he'd been making – reciting plays he wouldn't have read, using clichés he shouldn't have been familiar with, singing songs he couldn't have known…
What did it all mean?
"Kagome?" Sango prompted, apparently concerned by the expression on Kagome's face, "Is everything alright?"
"I'm…I'm not sure…" she replied absently. "It's just that…I'm the only one who knows…"
"Knows what?" Miroku questioned.
"All this stuff – these clichés, these stereotypes – I'm the only one around here who would understand them."
"So…what does that mean?" Sango asked hesitantly.
Kagome licked her lips and glanced from the one to the other. "It means that…somehow…I must have something to do with what's happening to him. That maybe I…"
She trailed off, a snippet of memory occurring to her.
'…he's just such a jerk…'
No. No it couldn't be.
'…if only he could be nicer…'
'…and maybe a bit more affectionate…'
'…if he could love me…'
'…we'd be like Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara, or Superman and Lois Lane, or Zorro and…whoever Zorro's girlfriend was…'
"Oh no…" she whispered.
"What is it?" Sango questioned again, a bit more worried this time.
"I did it," Kagome replied quietly, biting her lip as an expression of guilt and regret spread across her face, "I did this to him, I know it."
"How?" Miroku demanded, surprised.
"I made a wish…" she murmured in response.
That evening, Kagome sat beside the campfire with her knees pulled up to her chest, her arms wrapped around them and her chin resting solemnly upon them, her eyes fixed unseeingly on the bright orange flames. Behind those eyes, however, played a stream of memory from a few nights before.
Kagome relished the sounds of the night as she picked her way through the dark forest toward the spring. She hadn't bathed in nearly three days, and finally Inuyasha had gotten so fed up with her whining that he'd agreed to keep a lookout (or rather, a "smellout") for any hot springs they might pass by. When at last he'd caught scent of this one, Kagome had insisted that they stop and make camp for the night. Inuyasha had made a perfunctory protest, probably just out of habit, but it had been nearing dark anyway, and she could tell he'd just as soon have her stop complaining.
Unfortunately, Sango had been injured in a small skirmish with a youkai they'd encountered that afternoon, and was now nursing a rather large – but not too deep – gash in her side. She'd decided against accompanying Kagome to the spring, knowing that the hot, mineral-saturated water would probably be more painful than relaxing at the moment, and had said she'd just as soon go to bed early instead.
Nonetheless, the girl from the future wasn't about to pass up the opportunity for a good long soak, so she had gathered up her bath supplies and ventured forth in the direction of the spring on her own, ignoring Inuyasha's muttered scoff at her obsession with being clean.
Once there, she settled her supplies on a flat bit of rock by the water's edge and stripped off her clothes, slipping gratefully into the warm, soothing water with a sigh of contentment. She hadn't realized until just now how much her aching muscles – in addition to her uncomfortably gritty hair and skin – had been begging for this. It felt unreasonably good to be covered head to toe in comforting moisture, and she dipped her head beneath the surface to wet her hair, reveling in the cleansing power of this, the world's most abundant (and yet arguably its most precious) resource.
For awhile she merely reclined against the rocks that made up the edge of the pool, breathing in the gentle steam that formed where the cooling night air met the surface of the water, in no hurry to get back to camp.
'Why Inuyasha can't seem to understand the point of bathing, I'll never know,' she mused contentedly. 'What could be better than this?'
Of course, her wicked mind, spurred on by her current state of undress combined with the thought of the hanyou in question, took that blatant opportunity to reply with a few rapid images in answer to her rhetoric.
'Okay…so maybe a few things…' A secretively amused smile crept across her face at that. So what if what she was imagining would never be possible? That was what imagination was for. And what Inuyasha didn't know couldn't hurt him…or her.
After all, a girl could dream, couldn't she?
'If only things were different,' she reflected absently, closing her eyes and letting her arms float lazily through the water before her. 'If only there weren't so many things in the way, maybe it could be possible. Then again,' she continued, her thoughts taking a mildly sardonic turn, 'if only pigs had wings, maybe they could fly…
'He just makes me so…angry sometimes, y'know? Why does he always have to be such a jerk? Would it kill him to take something – besides himself – seriously for a change?
'But then again, I guess I'm being selfish. I know he cares about me, in his way – and most of the time I don't mind his habits…it's just that…I wish he weren't so stubborn about showing it once in awhile. He's always so closed off, so unreadable – and even when I think I can see past the walls he puts up, I'm never exactly sure if what I'm seeing is really there, or if it's purely wishful thinking on my part. If only he could be nicer…and maybe a bit more affectionate…'
For a moment, her thoughts trailed off, and she was lost in a fantasy of his lips upon her throat, gently nuzzling and kissing their way down to her collar bone. If only he could want her the way she wanted him.
'If he could love me…how perfect would that be? Inuyasha and Kagome, a hanyou from feudal Japan, and a schoolgirl from the twenty-first century, two lovers overcoming all odds of time and distance and all manner of spectacular adversaries, and living happily ever after. Isn't that the way these things are supposed to work? We'd be like Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara, or Superman and Lois Lane, or Zorro and…whoever Zorro's girlfriend was. I mean, the hard part is done – the time travel, the fantastic beasts, the magical powers are all there. The only thing missing is love…romance…passion…
'On one side, anyway…
'If only, eh? If only that last little duck would fall into place, the row would be complete, and my life really would be a fairytale…'
For a long time she merely sat there, gazing into the fire and replaying her train of thought over and over again. It had to have been the spring. In hindsight, she could hardly imagine that she'd actually thought most of those things. After all, in her right mind, she would never knowingly have wished for Inuyasha to turn into Superman – but somewhere in her heart of hearts there must have been a desire to change him, to change who he was. Of course she wanted him to love her – but she wanted him to love her as he was. Was that so impossible? Could it be that the spring had interpreted her wish so as to force him to love her no matter how it affected him? Did this mean that the only way for Inuyasha to love her…would be to become someone else?
That thought was too depressing for words.
Not that it really mattered anyway. After all, the point was moot – he was in love with Kikyo, not her, and nothing short of a wish was likely to change that.
All at once a hand appeared out of nowhere, gripping her wrist and sweeping her to her feet, where she found herself caught up in the arms of her hanyou admirer. Before she knew what was happening, they were twirling gracefully around the campfire in an grandiose sort of waltz, and she couldn't help but laugh, resigning herself to giving in and enjoying the ride. What exactly was the list up to by now? Singer, swashbuckler, romancer, poet, seduction artist, and now a dancer. He said all the right things, he waited on her hand and foot, he worshipped the ground she walked on, he risked life and limb for her at the slightest injustice, and he did it all with grace and pleasure. In short, he was every girl's dream – except hers. What an interesting little self-discovery for her to realize that when given a choice between the fairytale of the prince and the harsh reality of the hanyou, she reached out for reality with both hands.
"Is something the matter, my darling?" Inuyasha asked in that smooth, cooing tone he had adopted recently.
Kagome smiled rather ruefully. "Yes and no, I suppose."
"Anything I can do to help?"
She shook her head, continuing to smile. "Probably not. This is something I'll most likely have to figure out for myself."
"I see," he replied understandingly, "Well if I can ever be of any assistance, you know I'm always here, my love."
She glanced into his shallow eyes, trying to remember what they'd looked like without the screen of the spell behind them. "I know you are," she murmured softly, and the two of them twirled on into the night.
Before long, Miroku and Sango emerged from the woods beside them, Sango's expression somewhat grim, but Miroku's seeming vaguely amused. His smile flashed with a chuckle at the sight of the two of them dancing together, but Kagome didn't particularly care. As much as she wanted him back to normal, it was undeniably pleasant to be held in the arms of her life-sized Inuyasha doll and imagine that he meant what he was saying for a little while. She soon brought the waltz to a halt, however, anxious to hear what the other two had discovered while she'd been setting up camp.
"As you suspected, Kagome, it was the spring that caused this…transformation," the monk confirmed. "We found a tablet by its edge, buried beneath the underbrush, containing an inscription that suggests that anyone who bathes in the spring will receive whatever it is that their heart desires most deeply in that moment. Apparently, your heart wished for this." He indicated Inuyasha, who now stood beside Kagome, gently, lovingly kissing and caressing her hand and paying no attention whatsoever to the conversation going on around him.
Kagome, ignoring the affection being lavished upon her appendage, went right to the heart of the matter. "Did it say anything about how to reverse the effects?"
Miroku's eyes flashed with mischief at that, but Sango managed to answer first in a more serious tone. "You – both of you – have to bathe in the spring. Together."
The schoolgirl's eyes widened slightly at that, and she turned a suddenly panic-stricken gaze to the hanyou attached to the end of her arm, who was still utterly oblivious to them all. "Oh god…oh god, Sango, I can't do that. If he's this bad with his clothes on, what do you think he'll do if I tell him to take them off? No, no, it's out of the question…"
"I'm sorry, Kagome, but…it's the only way."
The girl cast one more reluctant, almost pleading gaze at her two friends before heaving a sigh and saying, "Well, I suppose it's best if I just…get it over with. Oh for god's sake, Inuyasha, get off!" she said, tugging her hand out of his grip when he began licking her palm. "Come on, we have to go take a bath." And with that she started in the direction of the spring.
She'd gone about half a step, however, when she felt a great tug on her arm pulling her backwards and heard Inuyasha's voice call out, in a gleefully melodramatic voice, "Kagome!" The next thing she knew he had tilted her back so far into a dip that her head was but a foot from the ground and he had captured her lips in a kiss that he could only have stolen from Gone With The Wind.
"Mmpf!" she said, both in protest and surprise, but all she could do was hang on to his haori and wait until he put her back on her feet, unless she wanted to end up falling on her butt.
At last he whirled her back to a standing position and held her, panting, at arms length. "My love, I thought you'd never ask!"
"My kinda guy…" she heard Miroku mutter a few feet away, but she didn't have time to glare at him – one male at a time.
"No, no – not like that. I just meant…a bath. Just…just sitting…no, uh, touching…" she explained haltingly, growing less comfortable by the minute.
He regarded her with a look of puzzlement for a moment, but then his expression cleared and he said lovingly, "Whatever you wish, my love. I am yours to command." Then, as though the previous thought had never so much as entered his mind, he grabbed hold of her wrist and headed off in the direction of the spring in a sort of hop-skip, dragging her along behind.
As they were leaving the clearing, Kagome glanced woefully back at her friends and said sardonically, "I wish for Prince Charming and I end up with Clingy the Bear…"
It was a short walk/skip to the hot spring – a little too short for Kagome, for not only was she dreading the awkwardness of being naked in a pool of hot water with her love-crazed hanyou, but she was also dreading the reaction of her not-so-love-crazed hanyou once he resurfaced and realized what had happened. Would he remember the events of the last couple of days? If she had any luck in the world then he wouldn't – but even so she might feel compelled to tell him anyway. It didn't seem right to keep a secret like that from him.
"Here we are my love," he said smoothly, coming to a halt at the water's edge and taking both of her hands in his in that way that reminded her uncannily of Kouga.
"Right – so, uh…you just look the other way and we'll both get undressed and, uh…get in…right…" she said, swallowing nervously.
"As you wish, my darling," the hanyou replied, and turned away to remove Tetsusaiga and begin untying his hakama.
Kagome sagged slightly at that – she was so tired of this "As you wish," "I am yours to command," "Anything for you," business. What she wouldn't give just to get a "fuck no," or a "whatever, wench" out of him.
At least it would all be over soon.
Kagome undressed as quickly and discreetly as she could, climbing into the spring and submerging beneath the water before Inuyasha turned around. She had to close her eyes when he got in, since apparently he wasn't bothered by the fact that she could see every inch of him, and did nothing to impede her view.
At last they were both safely hidden by the water, with nothing left to do but stare at each other across the small pool. Inuyasha seemed as though he would be perfectly content to gaze at her until the earth stood still – but for Kagome the silence was rather uncomfortable.
"So…" she began, not really having anywhere to go. Silence fell again.
At last, Inuyasha spoke, moving across the spring toward her, though he was careful not to overwhelm her. "Kagome – I don't know what this is all about, but I do know that I love you, and that you love me. So why must we be apart? Why won't you let me show you how much I love you?" His voice was so vulnerable, so sweet and sincere that she found herself feeling even guiltier for what she had done.
"Because," she explained quietly, "this isn't really you. You're not in your right mind – you're just a figment of my warped imagination."
"Kagome, please – I know what I feel," Inuyasha continued, "What does it matter where the feeling comes from? The point is that it's here. I'm in love with you, right here, right now."
"I know that," she replied. "But see…I'm not in love with you."
"Yes you are – you have been for months, you can't deny it—" he protested, but she cut him off with a finger to his lips.
"No," she said with a regretful smile. It was alright – she could say it, just this once. "I'm in love with Inuyasha – and you're not him."
Inuyasha fell silent at that, regarding her with a somewhat strange expression on his face, as though beginning to see her for the first time. It was as though for the past couple of days his eyes had been clouded by some sort of golden mist that was now, finally, beginning to clear. "I'm not?" he asked, puzzled.
She shook her head. "No – but you will be again soon. And hopefully you won't hate me too much when you realize what I've done to you over the past couple of days."
He frowned slightly. "What was that?"
"I…" she began, hesitating, "I…wished for you to become someone else…someone you weren't."
His frown deepened, his voice gaining a bit more of an edge. "Why?"
"To tell you the truth, at this moment, I have absolutely no idea," she replied sadly.
Inuyasha blinked a couple of times, confusion beginning to dawn on his face. He lifted a hand to the bridge of his nose and pinched it, screwing up his face in such a way that he resembled one of those people in drug commercials who suffer sudden, life-interrupting attacks of sinus pressure.
Kagome observed him, her concern growing with each moment that went by. At last the hanyou lifted his head slowly to regard her, his hand inching away from his face. The girl stared right back at him, watching as continued confusion and growing comprehension warred within his expression. When his eyes met hers, at last they were clear.
"Kagome?" he said tentatively, his voice back to its usual growl.
"Uh…yes?" she replied, biting her lip. Was he cured? And if so…what was he going to do now…?
"How did we, uh…get here?"
She blinked. He didn't remember? "We…we climbed in, Inuyasha. This is near the campsite we stayed at a couple of nights ago."
"A couple of…" he repeated, trailing off. "Did we, by any chance…stop by a village last night?"
Uh oh – maybe her luck wasn't quite as good as she'd thought. "Um…yes."
She could see the horror spread across his face at that, almost feel the bottom drop out of his stomach when she confirmed it. "Oh no…then it's…then it's real? It all really happened?" he murmured.
Yep, this was it. She was gonna die. "Yeah…I'm afraid so."
His eyes flashed with anger as they locked on hers again. "And you – you did this?" he asked sternly.
All she could manage was a nod.
He didn't say another word to her before hoisting himself out of the water, donning his hakama, and disappearing into the woods.
Kagome could think of nothing else to do but cry.
After a good long soak/sob in the spring – during which she was extremely careful not to accidentally make any wishes, because she'd had quite enough of that can of worms for the time being – Kagome finally climbed out, dried off, got dressed and headed her pruny self back to camp. Predictably, Inuyasha was nowhere to be found.
"How'd it go?" Miroku asked as she entered the clearing, still sniffling and wiping her eyes on her sleeve.
"Not great," she replied, a watery quality in her voice.
"Well is he back to normal at least?" Sango questioned in concern.
"Yep," she replied.
"Then what happened?" the woman pressed on.
Kagome smiled wryly, slumping down to sit on a nearby boulder. "What do you think? He ran off somewhere. Who knows if we'll ever see him again…"
"Oh come now, Kagome," Sango said bracingly, taking a seat beside her friend and putting a comforting arm around her shoulders, "You know he'll come back. He always does."
"She's right," Miroku agreed. "Do you honestly think that it would be like Inuyasha to just disappear for good over something so trivial?"
Kagome raised an eyebrow at that. "Well he's not exactly the most levelheaded person on the planet, is he."
"I've got news for you," Miroku countered, "Neither are you."
"Do you have a point, Miroku?" Kagome snapped, irritation beginning to seep into her voice.
"Yes – go find him. Talk to him. Work things out," the monk replied simply.
"Find him?" she said disbelievingly, "Where?"
"Think about it Kagome. In all likelihood he wants to be found. Just look, and you'll find him."
The words of an old song suddenly came back to her, and she found herself smiling slightly when she realized that the last person she'd heard singing it had been Inuyasha himself: "There's a saying old says that 'love is blind'; Still we're often told, 'Seek and ye shall find'…"
It took her about twenty minutes to locate him, even though he was barely fifty feet from the campsite – without the benefit of Inuyasha's superior senses, she'd been forced to simply wander aimlessly through the woods, looking for signs of his presence. It had helped, however, that she knew his habits – and thus knew to direct her gaze upward to the trees, instead of down toward the ground. Before long she caught a glimpse of red fabric reflecting the moonlight, and soon she found herself in a small, brush-filled clearing, looking up at her hanyou's dark profile.
"Inuyasha?" she said quietly, though he undoubtedly already knew she was there. He'd probably smelled her coming a mile away. Nonetheless, she was answered with silence.
"Inuyasha, please talk to me."
Kagome sighed – she might be forced to pull out the trump card. "Inuyasha…don't make me say it…"
"Go ahead," he growled sharply from his perch, "What's one more humiliation on top of everything else."
Kagome winced at the harsh quality in his voice. "Inuyasha, I'm so, so sorry for what I—"
"Sorry?" he interrupted with a scoff, "You're sorry? Oh well, then that makes it all okay, doesn't it? Everything's just peachy – after all, you're sorry."
"Well what do you want me to say, Inuyasha?" she demanded in frustration, trying to hold back the tears that were brimming in her eyes again – it had been a long and stressful day, and she supposed her emotions were a bit on the fragile side. "I told you, it was an accident – I never meant to…to hurt you."
"You didn't," he snapped, a little too quickly.
"Well what is it then?" Kagome pleaded. "Why won't you talk to me?"
"I just don't want to have anything to do with you right now, that's all," he replied coldly. Unfortunately, that seemed to be the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back, for Kagome soon found she couldn't hold back the tears any longer. Giving in to her emotions, she sat down helplessly on the ground beneath her and cried silently, sniffling and occasionally drawing a hitched breath.
She just didn't know what to do anymore. Her brain was tired of thinking, tired of figuring, tired of playing the games.
The sound of something heavy landing on the grass in front of her startled her, and she looked up to see Inuyasha crouched before her. He was still wearing a rather stony expression, but at least he was looking at her now, acknowledging her presence. They stared at each other for a moment, and Kagome thought she saw something else, something almost…vulnerable blink through his expression – but then he looked away, and she was certain she had imagined it.
"What the hell did you think you were doing?" he demanded roughly.
"I wasn't thinking, Inuyasha," she protested. "Believe me, if I'd had any idea that what I was thinking would actually happen I never would have—but I had no idea. Really, I didn't – and I'm just so sorry—"
"Sorry! You had me dancing around like a fucking maniac!" he burst out angrily, jumping to his feet and beginning to pace the ground in front of her. "You had me picking flowers and catching goddamn butterflies for fuck's sake! And you fucking kissed Kouga!" he spat, rounding on her and fixing her with an accusatory finger.
Kagome was slightly taken aback by this sudden change in focus. "What on earth does that have to do with anything? For god's sake, you must've kissed me a million times over the past couple of days. And I'll have you know that Kouga kissed me – I had nothing to do with it. And how did you even know about it – I thought you'd turned and gone ahead by then?"
"Nothing to do with it!" he roared back at her. "Fuck that – you didn't stop him, did you? And I know because I looked back, okay? But because of the stupid spell you put on me to make me follow you around like a fucking mutt, I couldn't goddamn stop you from doing anything you wanted to do!"
"Now wait just a minute," she countered, rising to her feet as well, "I told you I didn't do it on purpose, so stop making it sound like I did!"
"Yeah, well, on purpose or not, you still did it didn't you," he said darkly, his voice suddenly quiet as he fixed her with an angry stare more terrifying than his loudest outburst. When he turned away to pace a few steps across the clearing, Kagome was left feeling oddly empty. She was beginning to think she might have done real damage to them with this one. Sure she'd claimed she'd thought he might never come back when she'd been talking to Miroku and Sango, but all three of them knew she'd never believed it. Now it was beginning to look like a real possibility.
When Inuyasha finally broke the silence, his voice was much more thoughtful and less angry, though still dark. "Am I really that bad?" he asked quietly. She wasn't exactly sure whether he was asking her or not – in fact, she wasn't even sure what he meant.
"Inuyasha?" she questioned, puzzled.
"Am I really that bad?" he repeated.
She still didn't understand. "What do you mean?"
The hanyou heaved an impatient sigh and explained more clearly. "You made a wish – a wish to change me. So now I'm asking you, am I really that bad?"
"As bad as what?" she asked, still confused.
"Bad enough that you'd want to change who I am," he said irritably. "That…that you'd rather have some 'Prince Charming' than me…whatever the hell that's supposed to mean…"
Kagome stared at him in disbelief. He still wasn't looking at her. "Inuyasha…I don't…I don't want anyone else…"
"Yeah, right," he scoffed disdainfully, "You say that now, but what about that expression thingy from your time – 'Actions are noisier than words,' or whatever. If you didn't want me to change, then you wouldn't have done what you did."
"But Inuyasha, think about it – if I'd really wanted you to be different, then why would I have gone to all that trouble to undo everything?" she pointed out, taking a step toward him. "I'll admit that I did want to change…one particular thing about you – but if turning you into a basketcase was the only way to do it then I'd much rather have things the way they are. I like you the way you are…really…"
Inuyasha peered at her shrewdly over his shoulder. "What was the one thing?" he questioned, his curiosity getting the better of him.
"Nothing," she replied, turning her attention to the stray blade of grass she was absentmindedly lacing between her fingers.
"Kagome…" he said warningly, turning fully to face her.
"I said, it was nothing," she repeated, a bit more firmly.
"Kagome…" he said again.
At last, she couldn't take the pressure any longer. She was tired, she'd been on an emotional rollercoaster for the past two days, and she just didn't have the energy to fight him on this one. In short, she cracked. "I wanted you to be in love with me, okay?" she replied shrilly. "I wanted you to forget about Kikyo and love me, me, me forever and ever until the day I die. Happy? Satisfied? Good." With that, she turned and marched off toward the forest with as much dignity as she could muster.
She didn't get very far. Before she could register what was happening, she felt a hand snag her wrist and tug her backward, turning her back to come face to face with Inuyasha once more. There was a moment's pause, during which something seemed to be clinging to the tip of his tongue, just waiting for him to spit it out. "I do," he said quietly.
Kagome stared up into his face, stunned into silence. It was funny, really – after all, he'd spent the last day and a half professing his undying love for her at every possible opportunity, without so much as a flicker of doubt or insecurity. He'd been charming, cultured, sweet, tender, humble, confident, strong, cheerful – but never once had he been afraid. When he'd told her he loved her before, she hadn't felt his pulse begin to race with anticipation, hadn't seen the weight of his own words reflected in his eyes, hadn't seen him regret and second guess his decision within moments of uttering the words – what if she laughed in his face? What if things didn't work out, and he ended up alone again? What if he just thought he was in love with her, but really he wasn't? What if…what if…what if…
But this time, everything was there. This time, it was for real.
Considering how much time and energy she had put into imagining this very moment, she probably should have been able to come up with something truly eloquent and heartfelt to say to him in reply. However, now that the moment was here, words failed her – so she kissed him instead.
As it turned out, that really wasn't such a bad response.
When they broke apart, she could still feel his breath on her lips, coming in short, uneven pants. She could feel the slightest tremor in his hands where they rested in the small of her back – or was it she who was trembling? She couldn't tell.
His adam's apple bobbed up and down as he swallowed. "Why did you do it?" he asked, his voice betraying a note of hurt.
"I didn't mean to," she replied quietly.
"But you did," he said simply.
She nodded. "I know. Because…because I thought it was what I wanted, I guess. I was wrong."
He regarded her warily, yet hopefully. "So…what are you saying?"
"That I want you," she replied, surprising herself with her boldness, "Just the way you are – faults and all. And besides," she continued, her mouth curving into a wry smirk, "You're even more trouble when you're 'good' than you are when you're 'bad.'"
He 'feh'ed at that, trying unsuccessfully to hide a rather smug smile. When she smiled back, he ducked down and pressed his lips to hers once more. It was an incredible feeling, being so close to him like this. It was like her proximity sensors should have been going off, telling her to step back a bit and maintain her bubble – but somehow he was able to penetrate her defenses without tripping the system. He had a secret code or a password or something that made it alright for him to be in her personal space. More than alright, in fact – it was fantastic.
When at last they came up for air, Kagome rested her forehead against his and murmured, "Inuyasha?"
"Call me 'wench,'" she said simply. She could feel his forehead wrinkle as he raised an eyebrow.
"I want you to call me 'wench,'" she repeated.
"But I thought you hated—"
"Just do it already," she demanded, beginning to get frustrated. Did he always have to be so contrary?
Yes, actually, she answered herself, he did.
Inuyasha shrugged and said, "Whatever you say…wench."
Kagome gave a wistful sigh and said, "You have no idea how much I've missed that these past couple of days. Come on, let's head back to the campsite." She slipped her hand into his and began leading him off in the direction they had come.
"Hey Kagome? I've been wondering…" Inuyasha began.
Kagome glanced over at him. "Yes?"
"What the hell does 'engarde' mean?"
Kagome couldn't help herself – she laughed.
They arrived at the campsite a little while later, hand in hand, in companionable silence. Miroku glanced knowingly at them as they entered the clearing, but Inuyasha's harsh gaze warned him not to comment, and – being the prudent and intelligent monk that he was – Miroku complied. With a brief squeeze of her hand and a smile that anyone but Kagome might have missed, Inuyasha released her, taking up his usual position in the branches of a tree overhead. Kagome watched him go with a smile of her own before settling down on the ground beside the fire near Sango, who was curled up asleep, and went about unrolling her sleeping bag, preparing for bed.
As she was crawling beneath the covers, something Miroku had said to her earlier that day – something that had puzzled her at the time – came back to her: "Maybe there's more of him in you than you care to admit – and vice versa."
To tell the truth, even while she'd been falling madly in love with him, Kagome had always thought of her and Inuyasha as being a total mismatch. The time-travel issue aside, they had so many fundamental differences between them that the idea of them together – from a practical, rational standpoint – had seemed positively ludicrous. He was crass and rude and careless, where she was polite and well-mannered and thoughtful. He was fearless and strong and full of complex emotional baggage, where she was clumsy and useless and boringly well-adjusted. Yet, now that she thought about it, as time had gone on, they'd somehow shown themselves to be more and more alike. How many times had they faced off against each other in near identical positions of stubbornness? How often had Inuyasha surprised her by showing a hidden level of fear or uncertainty? How often had she surprised him by demonstrating untapped powers and strengths? Perhaps they were, as Miroku had said, more alike than they had always believed.
It was then that another rather unexpected revelation began to take shape in her mind. For as long as she had known Inuyasha, one of the most painful issues between them – at least on her side – had always been Kikyo. But what occurred to her now was that all this time she'd been angry with him for wanting her previous incarnation, for being unable to let go of her – yet the truth was, she'd been doing the same thing. She'd been clinging subconsciously to this outrageously 'perfect' version of Inuyasha, always thinking that if only this little thing were different, or that little thing were better, that then everything would be perfect. Sure, she'd never wanted anything as dramatic as wishing him to become human, and she'd never thought of all those little tweaks as being of much consequence. But now that she'd seen the results of all of those little changes, she'd realized that what would be left would be a stranger. The Inuyasha that she had experienced over the past couple of days had been no more Inuyasha than Kikyo was Kagome.
It seemed that both of them had been sort of searching for what they thought of as their ideal partner: For Inuyasha, this had been represented by Kikyo, whom he had put on a pedestal and continued to worship even after her death, not realizing that if he had ever really tried to have a real, lasting relationship with her, it would fall apart. He would discover that she wasn't perfect, and that she wasn't the answer to all of his problems, and both of them would be unhappy. What he had thought he wanted wasn't really what he wanted, or needed. For Kagome, this ideal had been represented by a version of Inuyasha in whom all of the "flaws" had been corrected. He was more polite, more sensitive, less temperamental, more romantic – and most of all, he was madly in love with her. Of course, this "perfect" Inuyasha had been no more of a real match for her than the "perfect" Kikyo was for Inuyasha. Neither one really existed.
She glanced up at Inuyasha's silent, watchful form one last time before beginning to let herself drift off to sleep. To the untrained eye, it might seem that everything had gone back to normal, that nothing had changed. Kagome imagined with a smile the expressions that would appear on her friends' faces if she were to describe the scene to them. "You mean he just left, went and sat in a tree, just like that?" they would ask, shocked and appalled. "That's so unromantic. Why didn't he want to stick around? Why didn't he want to hold you and cuddle with you all night long? How could he possibly want to let you out of his sight after all that?"
Well, the truth was, of course, that she wasn't out of his sight. She rarely ever was or had been, in fact, except for when she went home – and everyone knew he balked at that. And yes, she supposed, in a sense nothing had changed – she was still in his sight, and he was still in her thoughts. Except that now, they both knew it – and that made all the difference.
A/N: Well, what do you think? This fic has the rare distinction of having turned out to be pretty much exactly what I wanted it to be from the beginning – if not more. The original concept of Inuyasha suddenly turning "good" and watching Kagome deal with the situation was what occurred to me first, but as I go into writing it I found myself sort of ending up making fun of various romantic stereotypes and situations that crop up both in general culture, and particularly in fanfiction (even my own…). I tried to force myself to make the ending as un-cliché as possible (without letting it get boring or feel anticlimactic – very tricky. Not sure I succeeded in all points…), in hopes of creating a distinction between Inuyasha's many outlandish professions of love throughout, and the only real one. I managed to resist the urge to follow Inuyasha's final profession of love with the knee-jerk question "But what about Kikyo?" an accomplishment of which I was quite proud (grin).
Anyway, I tried very, very hard to get the ending to feel as "down to earth" as possible…hopefully I got close…
Oh, and in my own defense, I really did try to work Shippo and Kirara into the story (since they so often get shunted to the side in these sorts of things), but it always ended up seeming forced, like an afterthought (Shippo had one line, and the rest of the references to them seemed to be all explanations of why they hadn't contributed anything to the scene lately…), so I eventually just wrote them out. Sorry…
(By the way, I spent a ridiculous amount of mental energy trying to figure out whether it should be "acting strange" or "acting strangely." The former implies that his behavior itself is strange in nature, and the latter implies that the manner in which he is executing his behavior is strange. Basically, I think in this particular case they come out to mean pretty much the same thing, and the latter sounded better, so I went with that. Yeah. Not that anyone else cares…)