Its sublime figure weaved through the forest, its unearthly white tail gliding through the foliage like a graceful boat along the peaceful ocean. Several more identical to it weaved through the underbrush and the tree's boughs silkily, their waving figures sailing through the air in gentle arches.
No doubt Inuyasha had sensed them by now. If Kagome had seen them, undoubtedly Inuyasha had sensed their presence ages ago. Why he was still there, leading their group through the forest in the violent raindrops was beyond the young miko, but she dared not question it. The last thing she wanted was to get into a fight with Inuyasha.
She licked her lips and tasted the rain that had splattered against her body. Her clothes clung to her relentlessly and her wavy, bouncy hair plastered against her back. She pushed her bike along, lifting it by the handlebars when a tiresome root from a tree appeared or there was a log blocking the group's movements.
The hanyou led the way, as he always did. His golden eyes were focused ahead, never once looking back at his companions; a simple scent of the air and a swivel of his velveteen ears would signal whether or not his pack of humans had run into troubles.
Sango and Miroku were behind him. Kirara rode on her shoulders, burrowing herself in her mistress's hair, trying to prevent the onslaught of frigid rain. Kagome's heart went out to the poor fire kitty, who was suffering from the freezing rain probably more than the others in the group.
She felt Shippou shiver on her shoulder as he too dug himself into Kagome's equally as wet hair. Her curtain of black locks did little to soothe the small kitsune and bring him warmth. Kagome frowned and pulled the kitsune down.
"Here, Shippou-Chan," Kagome spoke for the first time in hours. The forest was silent save for her voice—muffled by the pounding raindrops and the forests' volume of trees. She dug around her yellow backpack (nestled in the basket of her bike) and produced the rain poncho she'd forgotten about until that moment.
"You should wear it, Kagome," Shippou whined, though he still reached for the plastic water blocker and pulled it over his body. It trailed down him, and the small kit could have easily fit in the hood. Kagome smiled despite the cold feeling in her face.
Shippou must have sensed her discomfort because he pulled the poncho over her before nestling behind her neck, comforted by the warmth that Kagome's body produced and the safety of the hood Kagome pulled over her dripping body. At this point the poncho was worthless, due to her shivering, wet form, but she did it to humor the poor kit who would probably drown himself in the guilt if he knew that he had a chance to help Kagome and had failed to do so.
Kagome watched in mild amusement as Miroku spoke with Sango, his hand sneaking towards her backside, only for the flustered taijiya to bat it away and place her weapon in a way that would protect her rump from random monk attacks. Kagome felt her lips curve into a brighter smile at the sight of her two friends, ridden with trials and tribulations in their life, yet still able to joke and smile at one another.
Kagome's blue gaze shifted to the powerful hanyou that led the way. The rain did nothing to weaken his stride. His long silver hair, usually thick and shimmering in the afternoon sun, clung to his back in a way similar to Kagome's. But whereas Kagome looked ridiculous when doused in an onslaught of freezing rain, Inuyasha looked like the warrior that he truly was.
The white worms continued their weaving through the trees, sending a sense of dread down Kagome's spine. Kikyou's soul stealers were unfazed by the water that poured from the heavens in their pursuit of grasping the attention of the hanyou which had already been captured, most likely. Kagome felt her already low morale drop. Her heart flopped.
They breached the thick trees of the forest and Kagome nearly cried out in happiness at the inn before them. Its windows displayed the rooms within, the inside glowing a warm golden from fires and candles used to heat up the temporary home for weary travelers.
The hanyou's ears twitched at the small sound that Kagome produced and for the first time in hours, he turned his face towards Kagome. Golden eyes stared at her. His handsome face, framed by the tresses of dull silver hair, stared at her curiously. Kagome smiled her apology and waved her hand in dismissal. She hadn't meant to draw attention to herself.
He shrugged one shoulder before leading the way to the small village. The doors had been shut for the night, the rain having driven the weary humans to their warm homes. Miroku took his position before the group and called out to the inn keeper within. The man opened his doors. His small, beady black eyes swept over the rag-tag group before he flashed a toothless smile.
"How may I be of service to you, Houshi-Sama?" the man addressed Miroku with a small bow, showing his respect to the servant of Buddha.
Miroku cleared his throat. "My companions and I were traveling when I detected an ominous cloud hanging over your inn."
Ah, the telltale 'ominous cloud' had made its dramatic comeback. Kagome couldn't recall the last time Miroku had used the con to get them a room for the night. It had been so long since they'd stayed in an inn, for that matter. They'd taken to spending their days in Kaede's village or out in the forest, camping around. Their pursuit of Naraku had dwindled to a dull pace and it had been weeks since they'd even heard a whisper of jewel shards.
As Miroku fed the story of disasters that could befall the inn keeper and the said man eagerly nodded his head, a look of fear and relief in his eyes, Kagome's eyes looked to Inuyasha. The hanyou didn't feel her gaze. His attention was on the forest, with Kikyou's soul stealers dancing in the boughs of the trees lining the village, their bodies dodging between the raindrops that fell. Kikyou was waiting. Kikyou wanted to see Inuyasha.
Inuyasha and Kagome both looked to the soul stealers, similar looks playing on their faces. Kagome sighed and looked away first, not wishing to dwell on the fact that Inuyasha's heart was still very much bound to the undead miko who waited diligently for him in the forest beyond.
She couldn't help but be jealous of Kikyou at times for her grip on Inuyasha's large heart. The hanyou was loyal and brave; but his heart belonged to Kikyou as it always had. Inuyasha and Kagome rarely spoke of it, save for few times after Inuyasha guiltily returned to camp and he wouldn't look Kagome in the eyes and during their fights when Kagome would protest his being with her when he could very well be with the woman he loved, Kikyou.
Kagome swallowed and looked to see that Miroku had successfully conned the travelers a room. The group moved into the warm, dry inn. Inuyasha brought up the rear, his eyes still on the forest beyond.
Kagome felt her heart drop and she lowered her eyes. She stopped and turned to him. The hanyou looked down at her, his golden eyes shimmering with his confusion and slight irritation. It wasn't an atypical look to the hanyou; he often regarded her with such a look in his honeyed eyes.
"She's… She's waiting," Kagome finally murmured. Inuyasha looked distraught.
"Kagome…" he began but Kagome had already turned away, not wishing to hear his words, and fearing what he would say. Fearing what he wouldn't say.
The night dragged on. Inuyasha hadn't returned. Kagome sat diligently by the window, her blue eyes scanning the horizon for a sign of the hanyou. She waited patiently, albeit nervously, for the hanyou to emerge from the forest. She'd watched him dissolve into the darkened forest and she'd watch him return.
He had to return.
She huddled close to herself, her head resting on the wall as she gazed out the window. A warm blanket retrieved from her yellow knapsack was slung over her shoulders. The kitsune dozed happily in her lap, his face nestled against her chest as he listened to her thumping heartbeat.
Miroku rested against the wall, his eyes closed and his head bowed. Sango rested on the futon on the opposite side of the room as the monk, her maroon eyes hidden beneath heavy lids. Kagome sighed lightly. The rain thundered outside and Kagome grew increasingly worried.
Shippou whimpered in his sleep and one of his small fox feet kicked out, thumping against Kagome's pale leg before falling back into his deep sleep, his tail twitching idly and his mouth opening for a tiny yawn.
Kagome smiled tenderly, regarding the kitsune lovingly as she stroked his auburn hair. The kit hummed in his sleep, nudging against her welcomed hand. Kagome's gaze returned to the forest, waiting for a flash of red. Kikyou's soul stealers had disappeared and it appeared that Inuyasha had along with them.
Silently, she removed Shippou from her legs and moved slowly to Sango's sleeping form. Tucking the small fox under the warm covers besides Kirara, who mewled happily at her friend's presence, Kagome stood and departed from the room.
She slipped by the sleeping patrons to the inn, not daring to breath as she moved steadily down the hallway to the front of the inn. Slipping out, she was greeted by the cold air complete with rain and darkness. She swallowed a lump in her throat before stepping away from the inn and walking towards the forest.
She entered, searching around for any sign of Inuyasha and Kikyou. She did not like how long Inuyasha was taking and she prayed that nothing had happened to him. She blinked as raindrops fell into her eyes. She sniffled as her nose began to run and she shivered. Her legs, covered only by her short skirt, grew gooseflesh and she cursed herself for her lack of proper attire.
Her steady pacing soon grew frantic until Kagome was racing through the underbrush, tree branches and bushes' boughs scraped against her legs, drawing blood from the small scrapes that were left there. Kagome bit her tongue to keep from moaning in pain as she tripped over a root and fell face first into a small puddle of mud.
Sitting up with a small whimper of pain—from her various cuts and scrapes and from the cold rain that froze her body. "Inuyasha," she called out weakly, her own voice sounding far away to her. Where was the hanyou? "Inuyasha!"
She stood up and continued her journey around the forest, her eyes peeled for signs of the white snakes that danced through the air or a flash of a red haori. She sniffled and was near the verge of tears.
"Inuyasha!" she called out again, cursing herself for her weakness. She couldn't take care of herself and now she'd gone and gotten herself lost. Inuyasha would have a fit when he found out.
If he found out.
Kagome shook her head, willing the morbid thoughts of Inuyasha's departure from her mind. The hanyou would not leave without telling his companions goodbye. She trusted Inuyasha. She trusted Inuyasha with all her being. She clenched her fists in determination and with a newfound motivation, marched through the forest.
Her willpower was gone almost instantly as thunder cracked. She screamed and cowered under a tree, drawing her knees to her chest. She was cold, wet and lost. And now it was beginning to thunder and lightning. Kagome despised lightening and thunder frightened her every time it boomed throughout the sky.
When she was younger, Kagome's mother had tried to comfort Kagome by telling her that the thunder wasn't anything to fear and that it was simply the angels above bowling—or some nonsense like that—and that her father was up there too, bowling a perfect game. Kagome had been reassured until the next boom of thunder rendered her helpless and a quivering mass of bawling child.
And now she was alone. Her mother was not here to comfort her. She was not in the warm inn, snuggled close to Sango and Shippou as they shared a futon and slept peacefully under the watchful eye of Inuyasha and Miroku.
No, she was out in the woods, searching for the stupid hanyou who managed to get himself drawn in by the undead miko. And because he'd decided to take his sweet little time, he'd caused Kagome nearly to have a mental breakdown and find herself lost in the forest with only the flash of lightening to keep her company.
She flinched as thunder boomed once again and she buried herself in her knees, grasping her shins and praying for her to wake up from his nightmare she'd stumbled into. She wept and sniffled, cursing her weakness once again and wishing that she was strong and brave like the hanyou she'd gone out searching for.
Kagome didn't know how long she sat there, but soon she felt the familiar pressure of a cloak being thrown over her. She stiffened, almost afraid of what she might see when she lifted her head.
"Oi, Kagome," greeted an all too familiar voice. Kagome whipped her head up, elation in her eyes and a newfound happiness in her heart.
"Inuyasha!" Kagome cried out, tears running down her cheeks only to be washed away by the onslaught of rain. "You're okay! I'm so happy."
"Of course I'm okay," the hanyou grouched, insulted that Kagome would dare question is capability. His brow furrowed and his sunshine-gold eyes didn't meet her gaze. Kagome's heart dropped again. He wasn't looking at her. He never looked at her after seeing Kikyou. "What the hell are you doing out here?"
Kagome bit her lip, pulling his red haori closer to her body and snuggling into the warmth his body had left on the warm fur. She breathed in his forest scent, feeling a wave of calm wash over her like a wave of golden sunshine. She was safe with Inuyasha. He was okay. And now so was she.
"I came looking for you," Kagome admitted sheepishly.
Inuyasha snorted. "You stupid bitch."
Kagome's anger surged and her blue eyes narrowed. Couldn't he express the smallest bit of gratitude towards her for risking her sanity to come and find the stupid, ungrateful twit? She opened her mouth to snap at him when a boom of thunder shouted across the heavens and she screamed.
She buried herself in the warm fur of the fire rat, shivering and sniffling as her fear gripped her like a metal vice. She heard Inuyasha sigh and could just envision him rolling his golden eyes upwards. Kagome clenched her eyes shut, not wishing to hear the judgment in his voice nor his condescending snaps of her worthlessness.
"Come on, wench," Inuyasha growled instead. Kagome lifted her head to see his eyes off to his right instead of on her. "It's only thunder. There is no reason to fear it."
Kagome sniffled and shook her head. "It frightens me."
Inuyasha sighed again, his golden eyes narrowing in his aggravation. "Well, it's a god damned stupid fear to have, wench. Thunder and lightening can't hurt you!"
"Liar!" Kagome protested, sending a glare his way which he didn't see on account of his focus seemed to be on the tree right next to the couple. Kagome's brow furrowed. "People can be struck by lightening… and… and you remember Hiten and Manten!"
Kagome sighed, willing her frustration with this situation to go away. Inuyasha had always been difficult, and he rarely opened up to her. Kagome knew this was Inuyasha. He rarely showed affection, but he put her life before his own every day, proving how much he cared for her. They rarely went a day without at least fighting once, but Kagome saw the regret in his eyes when she was on the verge of tears.
She knew Inuyasha was smart. He wasn't a stupid fool. He understood what went on around him. And above all else, Inuyasha had pride.
"I bet you have irrational fears," Kagome accused, crossing her arms and looking away. Her defiant look dissolved quickly as a streak of lightening waved through the clouds, like a snake. She yelped in fear and hid her head beneath the fire rat haori Inuyasha had lent her.
He heard her snort. "I fear nothing."
Kagome furrowed her brow. Why did Inuyasha lie to her? Everyone had a fear, whether it seemed foolish to others or not. Why didn't Inuyasha trust her enough to relay these fears to her? Didn't he trust her at all?
She looked up, wishing he would turn his gaze towards her but the hanyou refused her eyes. She sighed and felt her heart drop down to her stomach. She felt defeated, and she hated feeling it, especially regarding Inuyasha.
"Inuyasha…" she breathed. "Don't you have fears? Doubts?"
Inuyasha was quick to shake his head.
"Everyone has fears and doubts, Inuyasha," Kagome soothed, her blue eyes staring at him tenderly as she traced his profile with her eyes. He was so masculine and so incredibly handsome… how could anyone hate him for his blood? He was an amazing person, strong and powerful yet caring and understanding (though he rarely showed people that side to him).
"Keh," he scoffed quietly, not daring to adhere to Kagome's invitation of a conversation. Kagome sighed lightly, unsure how to deal with the ornery hanyou. He was so stubborn.
"Can't you… just tell me? Don't you trust me?" Kagome murmured. That hit the right chord, apparently, because Inuyasha's eyes squeezed shut and he released a long breath of air. His ears twitched towards her.
"I guess maybe I do…" he whispered.
"What?" Kagome breathed.
His eyes opened and he stared off to his left, his golden eyes soft. He licked his lips, his tongue brushing against his rain-splattered lips. Kagome watched their trail for a long moment before he spoke.
"I fear losing."
Kagome frowned at this information. An odd fear. But a fear nonetheless.
"Losing…" she whispered. Losing what? Battles? His companions? His dignity?
She gazed at his profile. Perhaps he just feared loss. He feared losing everything.
"That's not a foolish fear, Inuyasha," Kagome whispered, trying to coax the hanyou to meet her eyes. But try as she might, Inuyasha avoided her gaze like the plague, racking on Kagome's mind.
She began trembling. Why wouldn't he just glance at her, at least?
"I think you're brave," Kagome ventured. Inuyasha didn't turn to her.
Kagome felt her anger bubble and boil within her. She forgot the fact that she was in a thunderstorm and grasped the forelocks of his hair and jerked his head towards her. She was furious. "Look at me!"
He glared and averted his gaze, this time looking off to the left. Kagome felt tears spring to her eyes, but he couldn't see due to the rain muddling his senses. She pulled firmly, trying to draw his attention to her face. She felt her anger seep away to emptiness and sadness.
"Why…" She bit her lip, willing her sobs away. "Why won't you ever look at me after you see her?"
He cringed. They both knew what she was talking about. Anyone who knew them knew what she was talking about. Kagome bit her tongue, trying to stop herself from saying things that would intensify his loathing of her.
But she couldn't let him go. She loved him so much. She wanted him to live. She wanted him to be happy. More than anything, she wanted Inuyasha to live happily. She didn't want him to succumb to Kikyou's wishes of eternal suffering in Hell. She wanted Inuyasha to smile. She wanted him to feel the joy that she felt whenever he held her protectively to his chest.
Why couldn't he stay with her? She still wondered why he chose death over life. But Kikyou had died for him. She could never compare without losing Inuyasha to death. She wished that he would look at her after seeing Kikyou and instead of seeing the weak, pathetic girl he was forced to protect, he would see Kagome, the woman who loved him so.
Tears streamed down her face, washing away with the water. She hated herself for her weakness now. She wished that Inuyasha didn't have this outcome on her. Why couldn't she be strong, like Kikyou was?
"Why does it kill you so much to look at me?" she demanded when he didn't answer. He lowered his gaze to the ground, his lips pursed. He refused to speak. Kagome felt her heart shatter.
The rain fell around them and she felt her resolve break. She pushed him away, drawing the haori to herself at the same moment.
"Why…? Why?" She demanded. She wanted answer. Why wouldn't he answer her? Why was it so hard to answer?
"Is it because I look like her?" Kagome wanted to know, throwing words at his face, hoping he would lash out and perhaps give her hope. He didn't move. "Is it because you can't force yourself to stare at the pathetic reflection of Kikyou?"
She knew she was blubbering, yelling words that she herself didn't believe, but she couldn't stop herself. Her bottom lip quivered.
"Please…" she begged. "Why won't you ever look at me?"
"I don't deserve it." His sudden answer straddled her into a silence. She was thankful for that silence for she had lost control. She had said things she hadn't meant to say and now she was regretting what she had yelled at the hanyou.
"What are you…?"
"I don't deserve to look at you after I see Kikyou," Inuyasha whispered, his golden gaze refusing to look at her. Inuyasha was reserved. He hated expressing himself. He hated expressing his feelings as if it were a sign of weakness to feel fear and regret.
She bit her lip and reached out a hand, her delicate, pale appendage sweeping over her silver mane. He stiffened but did not push her hand away, like she had expected. He focused his attention on a tree beyond, as if it were the one he was speaking to.
"I don't look at you because you look like her," Inuyasha spoke gently. Despite the comfort in his words, it still stabbed at Kagome's heart. She did not want to be compared to Kikyou. She was her own person. She was Ka-go-me. "Because you don't."
His words quelled the fear in her and coaxed the dagger from her heart. It rested there just above the surface, threatening to dig into her flesh with his next words.
"I do not deserve the happiness I get when I'm with you," he murmured. Over the pounding rain and the booming thunder which Kagome had drowned out, it was hard to hear Inuyasha's softly spoken words. But they were there. They rang in her memory like a chorus of ringing bells.
"I deserve no happiness while I live," Inuyasha whispered, his golden eyes indescribably sad. He sighed and ran a clawed hand over his face, smearing the rain water away. He stared up at the sky, water drops splattered over his suntanned face.
He was so handsome. He was so caring, so generous and so understanding, though he hid it well. Even Kagome sometimes doubted that the times she'd seen him stare at her without anger and the times he'd treated her like he truly cared were ever really real. But as Kagome stared at him as he spoke with a woebegone tone, she understood the epitome of his character. He was a deep and wonderful person.
He placed others before himself so many times. He put his life at risk every time he jumped into battle to protect his friends. He put Kikyou's life before his own happiness. Always, it seemed, he'd willingly give his life to save people he didn't even know.
Her blue eyes swept over his boyish face. While he appeared to be a boy at times, Inuyasha was truly a man. A man who cared and understood those around him, despite his insincerity and his harshness at times, Inuyasha was always there to help others.
Why had it taken her so long to realize the depth of Inuyasha? Why had she had to wait until this moment? Perhaps she'd always known. Perhaps this was just reality's way to slap her in the face.
"You deserve all the happiness in the world," Kagome breathed, reaching out a hand and touching his.
Her own pale, delicate hand was a startling contrast to Inuyasha's war-toughened, large and bronzed hand. She placed hers over his, feeling the warmth of his body melt with hers. She smiled lightly and lifted her head to him again. He still refused to look at her.
"Inuyasha…" she whispered, her voice soft as a feather's caress. "I'm here. I know you. You deserve all the happiness you can get."
Inuyasha shook his head, disbelieving of Kagome's words. Perhaps he was afraid. Perhaps he didn't want to hear what Kagome had to say about him. He tried to pull his hand away but Kagome wouldn't let him.
He lowered his head and shook it multiple times. His silver hair framed his face. "I can't be deserving. I can't drag you down. I have an obligation."
"I understand that," Kagome murmured, trying to ignore the sound of her heart breaking.
Kikyou had loved Inuyasha. Inuyasha had loved her. Their trust hadn't been strong enough and they'd gone against each other. Kagome tried to soothe the wounds in his heart but ultimately it was only Kikyou who could do so. The one who holds the blade holds the antidote, as well. Kagome ran a hand over his hair again, closing her eyes.
She wanted to help him, but in the end it was Kikyou who would have to release Inuyasha from his responsibility, if she did at all. They'd loved each other. There was no place for her.
She began to pull away but it was Inuyasha this time that stopped her. He grasped her hand, weaving his long fingers, complete with swollen knuckles from countless fights and hardened skin, with Kagome's delicate, hard-working hands. They weaved together like an intricate design of lace.
Kagome felt a smile pierce her face and lowered her eyes, trying to conceal the blush on her otherwise pale face. It was moments like these that she treasured with Inuyasha. These were the moments when she caught a glimpse of the caring nature of Inuyasha. This was one of those rare moments when Inuyasha's walls fell down and she saw what he truly was.
She squeezed his hand and after a long moment an identical squeeze from his hand followed.
"I want you to be happy, Inuyasha," Kagome whispered. "Whether it's with me or someone else."
She raised her head and her eyes locked with Inuyasha's. She gasped softly as his golden eyes, shimmering in the darkness of the rainy night, stared at hers tenderly. He didn't speak and words needn't be spoken.
They saw everything in each other's eyes.