...

the mermaid
by kwizten

[flight]

"How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people, now that you know who you are?"
—"Baby, You're a Rich Man" by Lennon/McCartney

...

Up and down.

Up and down.

Up and down.

Sango's dark eyes watched each and every tiny movement of her brother's body, although his breathing was shallow, and the rise and fall of his chest was almost impossible to notice.

He was barely hanging on.

She wasn't sure how exactly he managed to survive after yet another near-death experience. She could barely remember the way she pounded her hands against his ribcage frantically, or the way Kohaku had weakly coughed up water after she had somehow managed to perform mouth-to-mouth, the way Kagome showed her how to do it. The whole moment was just a blur to her. Her mind had almost completely shut down once she realized he wasn't breathing, and she considered herself lucky that despite the shock, her body moved on autopilot and successfully saved Kohaku's life – how long that would last, however, she didn't know.

Kirara mewed softly and brushed against Sango's lifeless hand. Even the fire-cat knew Sango needed to get some sleep. For the past few days, since Kohaku's body washed up on the shore, she had only moved from his side to make a fire, get food, or dampen another warm cloth to lay against Kohaku's forehead. Resting was out of the question. There were more important things that had to be done, specifically, waiting for the exact moment when Kohaku would wake up and they would go back to Inuyasha and the others and everything would be okay again.

Sango knew it was a silly thing to hope for. But she couldn't lose that hope now, not when she really needed it the most.

She let Kirara push her way underneath her limp hand, but she couldn't find the will or energy to pet her cat herself. She knew it would probably comfort her and make her feel more relaxed, but with her little brother's life hanging on a thread, she felt she didn't deserve to calm down. Not when Kohaku could leave her for good any second now.

If only she had found him sooner. If only she had moved faster. If only she had protected him better in the past, if only she had let him borrow her taijiya mask after she got home from her first extermination years ago, if only she had shared her sweets with him when they were only kids…

She wasn't thinking straight. Their childhood had nothing to do with this mess. She knew she couldn't have done anything to avoid this situation. She knew most of this wasn't her fault, but Naraku's. But even though she knew all this, she couldn't help but feel the need to be responsible. She was Kohaku's older sister. She was supposed to be able to take care of him.

Looking down at Kohaku's pale, clammy face that was still so very young and innocent, Sango felt like she had failed him completely.

But this was not the time to give up. It didn't matter that she was sleep deprived or depressed or beating herself up for everything that had happened. Her misery could not get in the way.

Because even though Kohaku's chances were slim, she would keep praying. And because even though he was barely breathing and had trouble keeping down the water she forced down his throat, he was still alive.

Through her tears, Sango felt her lips tilt upwards in the tiniest and weakest of smiles.

He was still alive.

...

Three days had passed. Three. Long. Days.

When he thought about it, it didn't seem like a very long time, but somehow those three days felt like forever. It didn't feel like he had been meeting Hanabi every night for just over a week – in fact, tonight would be their eighth rendezvous (not that he was counting, and not including the first night he found her at the lake). But after everything that had happened, after all the confusing thoughts that plagued his mind ever since the miko offered him freshly-cooked food, life seemed to be taking its time when it came to Sesshoumaru.

He hadn't seen the girl since that day. Hanabi never again brought her up in conversation, and Sesshoumaru had received no more surprise visits from Inuyasha, despite the fact that he was probably still infuriated about the "Kagome slice-'n-dice" incident in the forest. It was clear his half-brother was very protective when it came to the miko girl, and after getting so violent with her last week, Sesshoumaru was surprised Inuyasha hadn't stormed into the clearing and tried to slice his other arm off…tried being the key word, of course.

But there he went, thinking about that infuriating woman yet again. He couldn't have cared less about her as a person, let alone a female (after all, it was Hanabi he was interested in, not the miko), but it was the things she had said, the things she had done, the possibilities she had ignited in his mind that pestered at him even three days later.

It was all Hanabi's fault, really. She just had to ask Sesshoumaru about what he liked to do in his spare time, and ever since then, he felt very unsatisfied. His unsettling feelings only grew worse after watching the miko make supper for her friends that day, and he suddenly really wanted to have a so-called "hobby" of his own. It frustrated him to no end that he actually wanted something so stupid so badly.

But just sitting underneath a tree all day until it was time to meet Hanabi (like what he was doing right now)…well, he couldn't help but feel useless.

And that just didn't sit well with him.

He never felt useless. Never. Never in his entire life. It was always his duty to get stronger, to know what was going on around him, to protect his wards and rule his land. He lived his life being independent and responsible, but after over a week of being foolish and chasing after a girl he could only see after midnight, he was starting to feel a bit insecure. Actually, he was getting almost desperate. He needed to find some order in his life to balance out his impulsive meetings with Hanabi. The only problem was…he didn't know where he was supposed to start.

Which would always bring his thoughts back to the miko again.

He had seen her read. He had seen her cook. And judging by the way she had easily healed the cuts on her neck before, she spent some time training as well. Adding all that with her laughing with her friends, practically babysitting Inuyasha, and searching for shards of the Shikon Jewel, Sesshoumaru had to admit that she seemed like a well-rounded person, especially compared to all the other lowlife humans he had never quite become accustomed to. And although Sesshoumaru would never dare to utter it out loud, he had to admit that she was rather inspiring.

But just when it came to "hobbies", of course.

For the past three days, Sesshoumaru closely observed whoever he could. Jaken was difficult to figure out simply because he wouldn't let himself have fun in front of his dear "Lord Sesshoumaru", unless yelling at Rin could be considered a hobby. The only other people he communicated with, however, were Hanabi and Rin. They were similar, he noticed, in that they both enjoyed doing something with their hands: making jewelry, picking flowers, combing out their hair, and many other feminine things Sesshoumaru wouldn't be caught dead doing. (That one time he made Hanabi a bracelet simply did not count, he assured himself.)

He was at a loss. He couldn't think of anything he could possibly do instead of sitting still for hours on end. And besides, weren't hobbies supposed to come naturally? Did it count if he just randomly decided what he was going to enjoy doing from now on?

All he knew was that he wouldn't like making things. Like Hanabi had commented before, he was the "killing perfection" – he was a killer, not a creator. It was why Tenseiga was the sword he used the least. He did not particularly enjoy creating life, and he knew it would be the same when it came to everything else: he could not make something beautiful or artistic, he could not cook a delicious meal, and he could not build anything from scratch.

It only made sense that if he could not create, he could destroy.

But then that felt like cheating. If he understood correctly, a "hobby" was something to do in his spare time. In the past, he would kill humans and demons often, destroying landscapes and knocking down trees and mountains in the process. Those things were just everyday activities to him. They could never be hobbies.

And so he would reach yet another dead end. Thinking so intently on this subject was getting him absolutely nowhere, and it was beyond frustrating.

He didn't want to ask Hanabi for help. He was sure she had forgotten about her "hobby" question by now anyway, and besides, he was never really one to ask for help in the first place. This was something he had to figure out on his own, however long it may take.

He wouldn't want to bore Hanabi with his thoughts anyway. Throughout the past week, he had been working so hard to impress her without seeming too obvious about his intentions, and he wasn't about to drive her off because of something so stupid. When he was with her at night, he made it a point to listen to what she had to say. He wanted to know everything about her. He hated talking about himself. It was why he tended to change the subject whenever she started to ask him the more personal questions.

But although that tactic seemed to be working, there was still this strange feeling of emptiness that he couldn't quite put his finger on. It wasn't just a feeling he had when he was with Hanabi; it was a feeling he was starting to have all the time, every day, and he didn't know what to make of it.

Whatever it was, he needed a distraction, something to keep him occupied until it was time to meet with Hanabi again. But wait – this was just bringing his thoughts back to "hobbies" again. Since when had his thoughts become so circular? He really was getting nowhere.

So, Sesshoumaru decided, maybe it was time to start going somewhere instead.

He stood from his spot under the tree, and began to walk away with long strides. He headed south, away from Hanabi's clearing, away from Inuyasha and that miko girl, and away from everything else that could muddle his thoughts.

"My lord!" Jaken squawked, and Sesshoumaru realized he had forgotten about his wards completely, with his mind going haywire. "Are we finally leaving? Where to next, my lord?"

He fought the urge to roll his eyes. "Stay here."

"But my lord! You do not mean to say that you are leaving us behind?" Sesshoumaru had already turned his back to the green imp, but he could still practically hear Jaken's eyes beginning to water. He decided he didn't want to even bother answering.

"I think Lord Sesshoumaru is going for a walk," Rin said calmly.

"Foolish girl!" Jaken turned to her angrily, clenching his fists while he sobbed. "Lord Sesshoumaru does not walk unless he has somewhere he wants to go!"

"Oh yeah? How do you know? Have you even asked him before?"

"I don't need to. Lord Sesshoumaru does not take walks. I am his most trusted servant, and I know him like the back of my hand! Isn't that right, Lord Sesshoumaru?" He turned his head towards his master, but Sesshoumaru had already started to walk further and further away. "My lord? My lord!"

"Stay here, Jaken."

"But my lord…!"

"You too, Rin."

"Yes, Lord Sesshoumaru!"

"But my lord!"

With another long stride, Sesshoumaru disappeared into the trees, and successfully rid himself from the annoying voice that belonged to Jaken. If the toad wasn't so loyal and easy to take his anger out on, he would have gotten rid of his pesky ward long ago.

But still, something Jaken said was working its way into his thoughts. No, this Sesshoumaru did not take walks. He always knew where he was going. He did not waste his time on trivial matters such as this. So then, why was he doing this? To think? To get his thoughts in order? He could have just done all that while sitting under the tree; it had worked for him so far, after all. But he was becoming more and more restless, and he couldn't stand to just sit there in that clearing for much longer. Walking gave him something to do, something that required no extra thought or concentration, but could still get him places – and more than anything, he needed to get somewhere, if not with his thoughts, than with his feet.

The more he walked, the more he thought. About his situation, about Hanabi, about that infuriating miko girl who was making him think so much in the first place. And the more his thoughts circled around in his head, the more he realized that although he was making more progress than before, he was still not getting anywhere very quickly.

So he decided to speed things up a bit.

With his demonic energy, he boosted his speed and starting running so quickly, it was like he was flying through the trees. He was going so fast, he could barely feel anything at all: the sun, the wind, the floor, all of it was a blur. After going for only a few miles, he skid to a stop. It wasn't helping. The speed was making him move, yes, but it was all so thoughtless and easy that Sesshoumaru had stopped his thinking entirely. Somehow, that was a lot less helpful than just walking or sitting was.

Shutting his eyes for a while, Sesshoumaru calmed himself down. Although he knew no one would be able to tell that he was going through an inner struggle, it didn't change the fact that it was still happening to him. These strange feelings building up inside him – the restlessness, the discomfort, the way he felt so dissatisfied with himself for some reason – it was starting to get to him, and he needed to deal with it as soon as possible. But if walking didn't work, and if his speed just made it worse…what else could he do?

Of course he knew the answer. Of course. But the solution was much too human for his tastes. Were his thoughts really so important to sort out that he would lower himself to a human's level to get order back into his life?

Yes, he decided. As horrified as he was to admit it, this was the only way.

But naturally he was reluctant to do it. He hated being associated with anything human to begin with; it was already bad enough that his family had to soil itself with a hanyou like Inuyasha, but for Sesshoumaru to take on a trait of the human people he couldn't stand? It was almost too much. But then again, it wasn't like anyone would see him. He still had his demon senses, and he would still be able to tell if anyone was getting close, and then he could stop what he was doing before anyone ever noticed.

So yes, he would do it. If it meant getting rid of this unsettling feeling in his gut, then yes, he would throw away his pride where no one could see him do so.

And with that thought, he turned around and began to walk again. His steady pace started to get faster, almost like a trot. And then he began to pick up more speed, starting to move his legs back and forth in a way he wasn't used to. It wasn't long before his one arm began to move as well, pushing him forward and deeper into the forest.

Sesshoumaru was running. But it wasn't the same running as before – he wasn't flying or whipping past everything around him. He was just…running. It was faster than a jog, but much slower than he was used to. He was running like a human, with his single arm swinging back and forth and his hair flying behind him, his heavy clothes and armor suddenly feeling very much in the way.

It was really very embarrassing, and Sesshoumaru felt rather foolish. But his cold, indifferent expression did not change because suddenly, his thoughts started to rush back to him, and he lost himself completely.

Hanabi was beautiful.

The miko was interesting.

He would find a "hobby" if he gave it time.

His thoughts were starting to separate themselves. No longer was he confused and troubled, mixing up every issue and complicated thought until he lost track of what the problem was anymore. After thinking about one thing, he was suddenly able to move on to the next. He wasn't going back and forth anymore, no longer going around in circles and getting frustrated because of it. In fact, he could barely remember why it was so hard for him to get through his thoughts like this before. How could he bother himself with all his problems and conflicting emotions when he was running like this?

Again, he closed his eyes. After all, he didn't need his sight when his demonic powers could alert him of his surroundings. But by closing off his eyes, he began to really see more than ever before.

Had there always been a stream over there? He could hear the tiny trickling sound at his left. Did the tiny blossoms in those trees really smell like that? The scent wafted down to him so lightly, he wasn't surprised he had missed it before. Was this how it felt when the wind blew through his hair? It was really rather refreshing, now that he knew what it was like.

He opened his eyes again, and somehow things started to look even clearer than ever before. With his feet still moving beneath him, Sesshoumaru let his eyes wander. He had grown up around sceneries like this one. He knew this forest backwards and forwards, having been here countless times before. But now, for some reason, it seemed a little different.

With surroundings this peaceful, this serene, how had he ever become a ruthless killing machine of a demon? How had other demons – and humans alike – ever become so cruel? And how, among all this strange thinking going on in his head, did he almost miss the familiar clearing in front of him?

He immediately stopped in his tracks. He stood still, tall, proud, like he always had before. Without even realizing it, he had been running for miles and miles, and he was back where he started – no, not back where he started. He was in the clearing where he had disappeared to every night, the clearing that would become a lake at midnight, where Hanabi was surely waiting for him on the other side of the barrier. But although he had subconsciously come back here, something was different. He felt the same excitement, the same anxiousness as always, unable to wait until he could see Hanabi again, but at the same time, he felt more at peace with himself. He did not feel so useless, so unworthy of being seen by Hanabi again. He still felt small compared to her, still felt like she had complete and total power over him, but he was no longer ashamed of it. In fact, his run had just made him want to see her even more.

And she wasn't the only one he was eager to see. He didn't know why it was exactly, but when her scent drifted to his sensitive nose for the first time in three days, he couldn't help but head towards her aura. He wasn't interested in her exactly, he told himself, but every time he saw her, she ignited a new fire within him, and although it infuriated him to no end, he appreciated the way it made his life a lot more interesting.

Sesshoumaru turned away from the clearing, the clearing he would return to later that night, and began to walk in his usual long strides toward the familiar presence of that silly miko girl.

The closer he got to her, the more he noticed that her usual scent (which was surprisingly nice for a human, not that he would ever admit it) was really rather foul. She was starting to smell like the other humans he had encountered over the years, and if he were anyone else, he would have scrunched up his nose and covered it with his sleeve. Despite the stench, however, he continued to move closer and closer to her.

When he finally found her, she was running along a trail in even less clothes than usual. He frowned. She looked absolutely awful in almost every way. Aside from her indecent clothes – her arms and collarbone were completely bare, and her legs were just as exposed as ever – she looked dirty and utterly exhausted. Her hair was matted and looked tangled into knots, although it was piled on her head in the same way the demon slayer often wore it. Her skin and clothes were wet with sweat, and one of her forearms looked scraped up, as though she had tripped and caught herself on a tree. She was breathing hard and looked as though she would keel over any moment now.

Sesshoumaru found he was very unhappy about two things. First of all, he was not amused by the fact that she was running in the same way he had been for the past hour or so, especially considering how horrible she looked doing it. And second:

He absolutely hated himself for thinking she was actually appealing in this state.

Honestly, did she know what she looked like, with her skin glistening with sweat and her body exposed to nearby observant eyes?

He stopped. Why was he even thinking like this in the first place?

He took another look at her when he noticed she had stopped running entirely, leaning against a tree to catch her breath. And then he noticed something else. It was only natural that he let his thoughts wander and let himself think she was somewhat attractive, what with that goofy smile on her face.

Because even though she looked like she was about to fall over from her run, and although she looked and smelled disgusting, there was a certain glow about her, a glow he had never seen before, that made even his cold heart skip a beat.

She smiled through her gasping for breath, and although it was very unorthodox, Sesshoumaru couldn't help but want to smile as well – but he wouldn't, of course. Despite how much he hated himself for thinking she was...physically acceptable, her smile made his mood a little better, similar to how his run made him relax and feel at peace. He didn't understand what was happening to him or why, but he wasn't sure he even wanted to.

Before he could stop himself, he walked out of the forest and onto the trail where she stood, and she looked up at him so quickly, he swore he heard her neck crack. He found it odd that even though her eyes were wide with surprise at his presence, the glow around her still didn't go away. He didn't think it natural, especially since he was still her enemy, even after their last civil meeting.

"Sess…Sesshoumaru?" she panted, wiping the back of her hand against her wet forehead. "W-what are you doing here?"

He took a while to answer, looking at her with a deadpanned gaze. "I could ask you the same question, miko."

He was certain she would scold him for calling her that yet again, not that he cared, but he was surprised when she ignored it completely. "I'm training. What does it look like I'm doing?" That attitude of hers needed an adjustment, honestly.

"Miko…" he said in a warning tone, but she had already turned her back on him, getting up from her position against the tree and walking away. It didn't settle well with him. No one ever turned their back on him. Narrowing his eyebrows, which he found he often did when around her, he followed her as she made her way down the trail.

"Why are you following me?" she asked, but her voice didn't have an ounce of accusation or annoyance in it.

Sesshoumaru thought about it for a while. Why was he following her? True, he had wanted to see her in the first place, but even he didn't know why that was. If anything, he should be wanting to get away from her, what with the stench of her body odor irritating his nose. But something about her was making him stay. Running through the possibilities in his head, he finally realized what it was: he wanted to know why she was smiling so much. Of course, the satisfaction of figuring out an answer to his question – which happened to be the same answer to her question as well – was quickly cast aside. Why should it matter to him if she was smiling like that? It had nothing to do with him. If anything, it probably had something to do with Inuyasha or that training of hers or something equally as unimpressive.

He wondered why he even cared in the first place.

Following her in silence, she led the way to a thin river, which she plopped down in front of very ungracefully. He watched her cup her hands into the water and take a much-needed drink, and he frowned at the very human-like behavior.

"Well?" she asked after she swallowed. After so many minutes of silence, he wasn't expecting her to break it so abruptly. Then again, he supposed she would have said something eventually. She was very annoying and talkative, so naturally she would press him to answer her earlier question. He was about to ignore her, but after taking another look at that foolish grin of hers, he couldn't help but ask.

"Why are you so happy, miko?"

Her smile suddenly got smaller. He was certain that if she wasn't so giddy right now, she would be glaring at him intensely. "Why, what's wrong with being happy?"

He wouldn't know. He was very rarely happy to begin with, after all.

"It's unnerving," he said instead, looking down at her as she rolled her eyes and turned away from him.

"Well, sorry to offend you, but I don't think I'm going to stop 'being happy' anytime soon." She cupped her hands in the cool water again, but instead of drinking it, like Sesshoumaru thought she would, she splashed it against her face. Sweat and dirt could be seen in the droplets of water that fell down her nose and cheeks, but Sesshoumaru almost missed that entirely. He was too focused on the way she looked with the water caressing her heart-shaped face on its way down to her neck, the neck he had scratched up just a few days before. That day, he never noticed how thin and elegant her neck looked, but now, as he watched her wash her face-

He stopped himself. What was he thinking? This was the miko girl his half-brother was so infatuated with, the human girl who dressed indecently and disrespected him every time they saw each other. How could he be thinking about her in a way similar to how he thought of Hanabi? The heat was surely getting to him. Maybe running and clearing his mind earlier hadn't been a good idea after all.

In a desperate attempt to distract himself from the silly, immature thoughts running around in his head, he instead glared at this girl, Kagome, and answered her, determined to get to the bottom of her smiles. "And why is that?"

"You wouldn't understand," she said without missing a beat. Before he could open his mouth to protest and ask another question, she changed the subject. "But enough about me. You still haven't told me what you're doing here."

He frowned. He was going to keep his running to himself, thank you very much. He would die before telling anyone, let alone this human wench, about how much he enjoyed running in a very non-demon way.

"You wouldn't understand," he mocked instead.

She sighed frustratingly and let the sun dry her face, which was still wet, although less dirty than before. "Fine then. Ugh, you're so difficult."

She turned away from him again, getting up from the grass and brushing herself off before walking towards him. Without a glance in his direction, she sat at the base of the tree next to him, basking in its shade. Sesshoumaru wondered why exactly she decided to sit by him when she made it very clear that he was annoying her. Then he realized that he was doing the very same thing: approaching her on the road even though he could barely stand her presence.

"I ran three miles today." He just looked at her. Three miles was very unimpressive, considering he probably ran at least five times the distance. "Hey, don't look at me like that. It's hot outside and I'm a horrible runner. I think I did a pretty good job."

"Is that so?"

"That's right, and once I catch my breath, I'm heading back. That makes six miles today. Pretty cool, huh?"

Sesshoumaru looked at her strangely. She always had a very unusual way of speaking, and it was definitely taking some time to get used to. Either way, he found her excitement over something as silly as mileage very curious. He didn't see why six miles was something to be so happy about. And speaking of happiness, he doubted this run of hers was what was making her smile so much. His run may have relaxed him and gotten his thoughts sorted out, but he doubted it was the same with her. Like she said, she hated running. So if she was doing something she hated so much, how was it that she could still smile like that?

"Look, I'm trying to start conversation here." He turned to her, and was both amused and annoyed at the expression on her face. She looked irritated at him, but there was an air of sleepiness and joy around her that made her frustration with him unconvincing.

"I am not one to converse often," he drawled.

"Well yeah," she laughed, "I know that. But you could at least try. Especially since you're the one who followed me here."

Sesshoumaru frowned. He didn't like to be teased so openly, and with this miko girl laughing at him, he felt very unthreatening. As a powerful taiyoukai, he wasn't used to the lack of power he had around people. Why had he sought out the miko again? She was frustrating to no end, and he turned around. "In that case, I am leaving."

Before he could take a single step, she cried out. "Hey, wait! Where are you going?" He looked over his shoulder at her with a disgruntled look in his eye. "Fine, fine, I'm sorry. Don't get so angry. Look, if it makes you feel any better, I'm happy because I found out some good news today. That's all, okay?"

He scoffed, "I fail to see how that would make me 'feel better'."

She stood up and shrugged. "I don't know. Isn't that why you followed me in the first place? Though I don't see why you'd get so worked up over it. I'm happy because something good happened to me, so isn't that a good thing?"

Sesshoumaru couldn't find an immediate way to answer. Happiness was something to be desired, that much he knew, but she described it so easily and innocently, it made him feel sort of…envious. Because after all— "Happiness does not come so easily to everyone, miko."

She looked taken aback, and with good reason. Sesshoumaru knew he had accidentally opened himself up to this Kagome girl, even though it wasn't much, and in a desperate attempt to save face, he turned away from her again and started to walk away. He hadn't gotten very far when her voice called out to him, and he was stunned for what seemed to be the millionth time because of her. He stopped in his tracks and felt a tiny hint of uneasiness creeping back inside him.

"But you're happy today too, aren't you?"

He slowly turned his head to look at her, his eyes narrowed because she spoke as though she knew him, which she most certainly didn't. But all the same, her words struck something in him, and he was suddenly very curious. Even though he denied it, the miko always seemed to know something about him that he didn't know himself. It was unnerving, but somehow, he found it very comforting as well. Because even if he lost himself, she would always say something that would get him back on track again.

"Excuse me?"

She smiled, and he was again dazed at how much of an affect she was having on him. "You seem different today, that's all. Even though you're angry, you don't look like you're about to kill me, and when we bumped into each other, you were a lot calmer than usual. So something good must have happened to you too, right?"

He froze. He knew exactly what it was that made him calm, but did that mean it really made him happy too? During his run, he never once felt the urge to smile, but maybe that was to be expected. After all, Sesshoumaru never smiled.

He looked at the miko behind him. She was staring at him so contently, like she was so sure of herself, and he was again reminded of how she could so easily say the things he knew were true, but which he couldn't quite put words to. She always made him think twice. If it hadn't been for her talkative chatter, he would never have thought for days about finding a "hobby" or something to do with his time. He never would have started running like a human man. He never would have been able to sort through all his conflicting thoughts and emotions, and he never would have been able to feel at peace with himself. He never would have been able to feel such relief.

And then it hit him. The run had indeed caused him relief, caused him to relax and settle the thoughts in his mind, but without even realizing it, without even wanting to admit it—

Running had made Sesshoumaru happy.

He wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Happiness was weakness, and after training and working so hard to become the frightening, threatening taiyoukai and lord of the western lands, weakness was the last thing he wanted. And besides, he did not deserve to be happy, with all the people and demons he'd killed throughout his life…and for not regretting it, either.

But even though Sesshoumaru knew all this, and even though the last thing anyone could ever imagine was "a happy Sesshoumaru," he couldn't help but be grateful. Maybe even he needed to feel something other than indifference and hatred. And besides, if this feeling he got when he was running was really happiness, then there were other things that made him happy too.

Rin, with her cute smile and easy way of understanding.

Hanabi, with her acceptance and way of listening to what he had to say, which really wasn't much.

And even…maybe even this miko girl, with her advice and questions and way of getting him to think about himself, not in a conceited manner, but in a way that made him want to change. Taking another look at the insufferable, annoying, loud-mouthed girl against the tree, he realized that her smile, that radiant and contagious smile, was another thing that made him (regrettably) happy. He wasn't quite sure how to feel about that.

"Well, what was it?"

Her voice brought him back to reality, and even though he could still see her smile from where he stood, he could also still see how dirty and sweaty she was, and how her tangled hair was still in her face, and how improper her clothing looked. Focusing on the worst parts of her, he shrugged aside his thoughts of her being pleasing to look at, and how she was leaving an impression on him. When he spoke again, his voice was just as cold as ever. "What?"

"What happened that made you so happy?"

He took one last look at her disheveled appearance and cheery form before turning his back and walking away.

"This Sesshoumaru ran."

And with that, he disappeared in the darkness of the forest, leaving her behind and heading back towards his camp. Rin and Ah-Uhn were probably hungry, and Jaken was probably fretting and causing a scene. He had wasted too much time already, stopping to pay a visit to the headache that was the miko girl. The sky would be getting darker soon, and then a few hours after that, he would be able to see Hanabi again.

Once he was sure the girl was out of his sight, and that there was no one else around, his walk again turned into a slight trot, and soon his arms and legs were moving together as he sprinted. He ran away from the miko, away from the clearing with Hanabi and her lake, away from the things that confused him, and made his way towards his wards, which would bring him back to reality, the reality he so needed.

A quick image of the miko flashed in his mind, her words weighing on him (though not as heavily as before), and his running made him think even more. Maybe it was okay for him to think she was a bit attractive, for a human, at least. It didn't mean anything; it was just a passing thought. His meetings with Hanabi were confusing him. Just because a girl wasn't hideous, it did not mean he had any more-than-friendly feelings for her (and in fact, he could hardly consider the miko to be a "friend" in the first place). It was Hanabi he was interested in, after all, not the miko, who was taken by his half-brother anyway.

He breathed through his sensitive nose and calmed himself down. This run was just as helpful as the first. He was already noticing the changes he underwent because of these sprints, like how he was finally able to look around at his surroundings, and how he was able to have plenty of time to think. Not to mention, running was giving him exercise as well – not that he needed it, but it was still a plus.

But for some reason, Sesshoumaru felt himself frowning. It took him a while to realize that the empty feeling from earlier was eating away at him again. It was the same emptiness he felt the past few days while he waited for Hanabi, the same emptiness he had been feeling more and more intensely as the days went by. But this time, the feeling had a name. He wasn't sure why he felt this way, especially since he was able to speak with Hanabi so often. All he knew, to his chagrin, was that this feeling was the strongest when he thought about the insufferable miko Kagome.

But that was silly. Because why would Lord Sesshoumaru of the Western Lands ever feel lonely when he wasn't around the miko?

...

"Aren't you done yet?"

She rolled her eyes, thrusting a bowl of instant ramen into the hanyou's face. He was so inconsiderate! He was the one who encouraged her to train harder, yet here he was, bugging her to make him food as soon as she got back from her jog. She hadn't even cleaned herself up yet, and she was sure she didn't smell very nice. If there was anything Kagome hated, it was feeling dirty. If there was anything she hated even more, it was being bossed around to make something as simple as instant ramen. "Yeah, yeah, Inuyasha. Here's yours, now quit whining."

"Kagome," Shippou cried, clinging on to her arm, "how come Inuyasha gets food first? No fair!"

Inuyasha just scoffed, talking with his mouth full of noodles. "It's because she knows I need food more than you, twerp. Quit cryin'!"

"Actually," Miroku deadpanned, "it's because she thought you would shut up once you filled that giant mouth of yours." He grimaced at the way he chewed his food with his mouth open. "Guess not."

Despite herself, Kagome laughed at the look on Inuyasha's face and handed a bowl to the kitsune, knowing that Miroku wouldn't cause a fuss if he got fed last. The laugh, however, caught her friends' attention. "What?"

Thankfully, Inuyasha swallowed before answering her. "What are you so happy about?"

Really, was everyone going to ask her that question today? "What do you mean? Miroku said something funny. Why wouldn't I laugh?"

"Because Inuyasha's still being a jerk," Shippou said. "You haven't even told him to 'sit' yet!"

"Do you think I should?"

"YES!"

"Shut up, you stupid fox!" Inuyasha reached over and tried to hit him on the head.

"Kagome! Tell him to 'sit'! Tell him, tell him!"

She shared a look with Miroku, who sighed at their friends' antics and accepted the ramen bowl gratefully. "I think you are getting off topic here," he said. "I thought we were inquiring Kagome as to what was making her so happy?"

She just shook her head and chuckled, setting aside her own bowl of food – the only bowl that did not have any sleeping drought in it – and sat next to the monk. "It's really nothing. I don't know why you guys are so curious about it."

"Whatever," Inuyasha said, grabbing his bowl again and eating as many noodles as he could at once. "I'll bet it's just because her training's going so well."

"That's not it," she admitted. "I mean, yeah, I'm happy about that, but that's not why today is such a good day. Hey! What are you doing?"

She watched as Inuyasha leaned towards her, his golden eyes analyzing every little detail about her. She saw his gaze dart to her hair and skin, but she knew he wouldn't get anything out of that, especially because of how dirty she was from her earlier training. He looked at her clothes, but he had seen them before, since she had been wearing them the past few days so she could train without overheating. But then she saw the way his eyes turned to her hands, which were no longer preoccupied with making noodles, and she knew she was busted.

"I knew it!" he cried. "You went home again, didn't you?"

She turned away from him and crossed her arms. "I don't know what you're talking about, Inuyasha."

"Your fingernails," he pointed. Whoops. He knew by now that she hated long and broken nails, and that whenever she went home, she made sure to get them filed and cleaned and back in nice shape again. It wasn't her fault she didn't get the chance to fix her nails the first time she went home. "You already went home a few days ago! What are you doing, goin' back again today?"

She glared at him, but she was still so ecstatic from earlier, she knew her glare was only half-hearted. "It's not like we're going anywhere, Inuyasha. What's wrong with going home once in a while?"

"You're gettin' too comfortable," he complained. "When Sango comes back and we go lookin' for shards again, you're gonna keep whining until we bring you home every week!"

"You know that's not true. Give me a break!"

"Kagome," Miroku interrupted, successfully stopping the little spat between the two and causing them to look at him blankly, "did something good happen while you were at home?"

She looked up at everyone and back into her bowl of soup. To heighten the suspense, something she thought was very dramatic but very funny, considering the expressions her friends always had on their faces when she did it, she took a bite from the noodles in her bowl, chewing them slowly and carefully. She savored the artificial flavoring and swallowed delicately, her face emotionless as she made no eye contact with anyone. She sensed all three of them leaning closer to her in desperation, and even Inuyasha stopped eating just to listen to her better.

"Well, it's just that…"

Inuyasha's ears twitched in anticipation, Shippou's tail swayed back and forth, and Miroku's eyes were widening already. She knew they were on the tips of their toes, leaning closer and closer and staring at her mouth, mentally preparing themselves for whatever she was going to say. And with a giant smile and glow in her eyes, she told them why today was one of the happiest days of her life:

"I passed my math class!"

Cheshire grin still on her face, Kagome watched as Inuyasha, Shippou, and Miroku fell face-first into their ramen.

She was glad they were so happy for her.

...

Chapter dedicated to: alphaprincess0803, who drew some fanart. I lovelovelove fanart, so thank you! (All submissions posted to my profile.)

A/N: It's been decades since my last chapter, I know. I've apologized countless times, and I'll do it again. Thanks to everyone who has been patient with me and is still reading! And muchhh love to the new readers too. (: I hope this chapter is satisfying enough (I've had so much trouble with it, which is why I haven't posted in so long), and remember to please review so I know I still have people tuning in!

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