Disclaimer: Inuyasha and all related characters are the property of Rumiko Takahashi. I own the plot and my original characters alone.
Summary: Hunting a demon in Sesshoumaru's lands, Sango and the gang meet a young man named Kyo. When he starts traveling with them, why is it that the only one who notices something odd about Kyo is Sesshoumaru? And why is he determined to protect Sango from him?


Tactics of Deception
Chapter 1: It Starts Sometime After Midnight

A lone woman stood on a grassy hill. Her black-brown hair cascaded down her back in a silky wave. Her pink and black battle gear fitted tight to her slim frame, and she held her weapon, a giant boomerang titled Hiraikotsu, steady, tensely. Her big doe eyes darted around furtively, looking for a hidden enemy. She knew something was there, but she could not see it. Little did she know it, but a blood red pair of eyes filled with hatred watched her from the upper branches of tall tree.

"Sango!"

The woman turned, hearing her name. A young girl, about 15 years of age, walked toward her, followed by a boy in red, his dogs ears sticking up from his silver hair, a little, orange-haired fox demon and, in her tiny form, a bright-eyed, two-tailed cat demon. It was the girl who had called out to her.

Sango smiled at them, and her smile widened when she saw who came behind them: Miroku. Dressed in black and purple, his staff by his side, the monk provided a deceptively calm and nurturing image.

"What are you doing?" the girl, Kagome, asked her friend earnestly. "We just sat down to have lunch when suddenly you were gone!"

"I sensed something," Sango replied quietly.

"Oh," Kagome said softly, and closed her eyes. A moment later, her eyes snapped open and she declared, "I don't sense a jewel shard."

"It's still—" Suddenly, there was a rustling from the big tree Sango stood under. Instantly alert, Sango hurled the Hiraikotsu, but the creature had already disappeared. "—here," Sango finished dejectedly. After looking around in examination, making sure the creature was truly gone, she sighed, "Never mind."

Inuyasha, the dog-eared boy in red, shrugged and told his companions, "It's gone now. So let's just go back and eat already!"

"Okay. I brought ramen," Kagome said cheerily, very much aware and prepared for the reaction her words would earn.

The one-word sentence Kagome had been expecting came without fail.

"Ramen!" Inuyasha yelped, and beside him, the girl let out a chuckle. "Why didn't you say so?" He grabbed Kagome and Shippo, the little fox demon, and sped back to the camp, leaving Sango and Miroku alone.

After a few moments, Miroku broke the silence that spread comfortably around the two by stepping closer to the taijiya and asking kindly, "Are you coming, Sango?"

Sango smiled warmly and replied, "Yes, houshi-sama."

"Good," he said, grinning at her. Furtively, or so he thought, Miroku's hand stretched toward Sango's butt.

SMACK!

"Houshi-sama," Sango muttered angrily. She glared at him and noted with satisfaction how big and red the handprint on his cheek was.

He sighed sadly. It was worth a shot, the houshi thought. Sango glared at him, as if she could read his mind, and stalked back to the camp. Miroku followed dejectedly. They returned to the campsite to find Inuyasha ordering Kagome to give him more ramen.

Annoyed, Kagome told him that there wasn't any more. Inuyasha narrowed his eyes, convinced that she was lying (he told her so, and it took all her self-control not to sit him), and snatched her big yellow backpack. He sifted through it, eventually discovering that she was telling the truth. The hanyou muttered something inaudible that was undoubtedly a curse on Kagome and sat back on his haunches.

"Sorry, Inuyasha," Kagome said. She glanced up at Sango, and, when she did, there was a twinkle in her eye. "What took you so long, Sango?" Kagome asked, sounding a little too sly and mischievous to be completely innocent.

Though it took her a moment to realize what her friend meant, Sango flushed crimson at the insinuation. "Nothing happened, Kagome," the taijiya insisted, and knelt next to Kagome. Her friend sighed, but Sango wasn't done. "Nothing," she said quietly, too quietly for Miroku to hear, "will ever happen."

Kagome frowned, and pulling Sango onto her butt into the dirt, she exclaimed determinedly, a little too loud for Sango's liking, "Of course it will. You don't know what's going to happen! He obviously favors you over other women. He likes you, Sango!"

"Yeah, and every other woman on the planet," Sango retorted, snorting.

Kagome sighed at the obvious dilemma and offered Sango a rice ball. "I would give you some ramen, except Mr. Greedy here"—she scowled pointedly at Inuyasha—"ate it all."

"You guys know that we're right next to that old hag's village, right?" Inuyasha asked to change the subject; he knew very well that Kagome would be angered by Inuyasha's 'nickname' for Kaede and forget around the ramen situation. Indeed, she turned on him angrily, and he dropped her bag in the dirt, oblivious to the fact that this would only annoy her further. "It's right over that hill," he said to the fuming girl, jerking his head to the right.

After sitting Inuyasha for his rudeness, Kagome exclaimed brightly to the rest of her friends, "We should stop by and say hello. I'm sure Kaede-san would enjoy the visit!"

"Good idea," Miroku exclaimed. He smiled and stood up, ecstatic at the prospect of staying somewhere warm and comfortable for the night. Kagome, Inuyasha and Shippo followed suit and all but Inuyasha—who ran on ahead to avoid the cleaning—began to tidy up.

"That lazy jerk," Kagome muttered. "We haven't even cleaned up yet. Inuyasha!" she bellowed after his fleeing form. "Get back here!"

It was no use, of course. So, the group, without Inuyasha's help, set to cleaning away their stuff. Kagome opened up her huge pack and rolled up her sleeping bag. Stuffing the luxury inside it, the 15-year-old turned to pick up the remains of their lunch. Kagome hummed as she picked up the cup that had once held ramen noodles, and tossed it into the black garbage bag she had brought with her. Miroku cleared away his things and the blanket he had used to sleep under. Shippo eagerly handed Kagome her other blanket, and looked to where Inuyasha had almost disappeared around a corner in the road.

"Wait up, Inuyasha!" Shippo squeaked. He and the two-tailed cat demon from earlier, Kirara, ran after the hanyou, Kagome following close behind. Miroku trailed slowly after her, and then they both realized that Sango hadn't moved to at all; she still sat on the grass where she had been talking to Kagome, staring blankly ahead.

Miroku paused and looked back at the taijiya. "Are you all right, Sango?"

Sango snapped out of her thoughts and looked at the houshi, flushing when she realized they had already cleaned up and was about to leave. "Yeah," she said quietly. "I'm just thinking of the presence I sensed this morning."

"Maybe Kaede-san will tell us something of interest that could be related to your mysterious presence," Miroku suggested as he walked over and offered Sango a helpful hand.

Sango took it reluctantly, closing watching the houshi's other hand. For once, nothing happened, and she relaxed and allowed him to pull her up. "Thanks, houshi-sama." Sango smiled at him, and they walked alone down the road; their friends had gone on ahead. But just before Sango and Miroku rounded the nearby bend, they heard Kagome's surprised yelp up ahead.

Sango charged forward, wondering what was going on and ready to unhitch the Hiraikotsu. "Kagome!" she hollered, scurrying around the corner and stopping short at the sight before her.

Miroku hurried after her, and as he rounded the bend he nearly crashed into Sango, who had stopped upon seeing a humongous demon in their path. It held the hapless Kagome in one hand, and was squeezing. She let out a groan of agony and went limp in the demon's hold soon after.

"Kagome!" Shippo called out shrilly and jumped from his position off to the side, where he had formerly been shrieking in fear. "Fox fire!" he bellowed, and his attack hit its target, but it was like a harmless bug's bite to the demon.

"Kagome!" Inuyasha bellowed from his place at the demon's foot. He jumped up toward her, letting out a roar of, "Sankon Tessou!" The hanyou's claws struck the demon's forearm, severing the hand that held Kagome. It crashed to the ground, and Inuyasha continued pummeling the demon. "Sango!" he called back to the taijiya, drawing Tetsusaiga with a toothy smirk. "Take care of Kagome!"

But Sango was already kneeling by her friend, and Shippo sat next to her, almost in tears. "Kagome!" she whispered. Sango gently shook the girl's shoulders and repeated, "Kagome!"

Miroku came up behind them. "She's unconscious," he announced.

"Houshi-sama," Sango said simply, looking back toward him. She hoisted Kagome up on her shoulders and shouted to Inuyasha, "We'll go to the village!" Sango started to run forward, but Inuyasha's cry cut through the air.

"No!"

"Huh?" Sango stopped short and looked back toward Inuyasha. "What?"

"Wait"—he sent the demon to hell with an astounding Wind Scar—"for me!" Inuyasha jumped down beside Sango and all but ripped Kagome off the taijiya. "I'll carry her."

"Sure," Sango said amiably, shrugging. "It doesn't matter to me."

But Inuyasha was not listening. He had long since leaped off toward the village.

"Well," Sango said, looking to Miroku, Kirara and Shippo, who were standing next to her. "Shall we follow, then?" The houshi and the fox kit nodded, Kirara meowed a yes, and the four set off, jogging at an even pace after Inuyasha.


"Look! She's awake!" a young man's voice exclaimed.

"Shh!" a child's voice cut in.

The man's voice let out a low growl and snarled, "Don't shush me, you—"

"Shut up!" a young woman's voice said sharply, and then there was a pause before the same girl shrieked, "Houshi-sama! Keep your hands to yourself!" A slap followed, and a second young man mumbled something incomprehensible.

"Kagome? Open your eyes, child," said a familiar, hoarse voice.

Kagome's eyes opened slowly and groggily, revealing, through very fuzzy and blurred vision, all her friends seated around her. "Where… where am I?" she croaked muzzily.

"My hut," said the same hoarse voice as before.

Kagome's head turned slowly to the side and she saw the elderly miko Kaede smiling down at her. "Kaede-san," she murmured, rubbing her bleary eyes and sitting up. "What happened?"

"I can't tell ye that exactly," Kaede said. "All I know is that Inuyasha burst in here, carrying ye. His face was filled with worry, obviously terrified that something horrible happened to ye."

"Old hag," Inuyasha growled through gritted teeth. His face was hilariously red, but instead of laughing, Kagome smiled softly at him. He refused to look her in the eye, and stubbornly turned away while Sango and Miroku exchanged a knowing glance.

Kaede shook her head and cleared her throat. The group all turned to her, and she said, "I'm glad you've come."

"What's wrong, you old hag?" asked Inuyasha. The blush had died down and now he just sounded bored.

Kagome leaned forward in interest. After giving Inuyasha a reproachful glare, she questioned, "What troubles you, Kaede-san?"

"There are tales of a new, shape-shifting demon in the west," Kaede told them somberly. "It has been killing mercilessly. They call it... Tohyama."

"Tohyama, huh?" Miroku asked interestedly.

"Yes"—Kaede nodded in affirmation—"I need ye all to go and kill it. If it does not die soon, it will keep killing and killing until it reaches this very village," the old miko completed her dismal story and gazed at them hopefully, impatiently waiting for their response.

"Let's do it!" Shippo chirped.

"Of course," Sango and Miroku agreed simultaneously.

"What are we waiting for?" Kagome asked cheerily.

All eyes went to Inuyasha, who had not yet spoken and was staring intently at the floor. "In my brother's lands?" he moaned finally, looking up. The hanyou frowned, seeing no way around it, and said, "What a drag. He's gonna try and kill us as soon as we step onto his territory."

"That's true," Kagome mused, nodding. "What are we going to do about Sesshoumaru?"

"We'll just have to fight," Sango decided determinedly as she stroked Kirara, who was curled up next to her, fast asleep.

"You mean, I'll just have to fight," Inuyasha muttered darkly, crossing his arms over his chest and snorting rudely. "You guys don't stand a chance in hell!"

"I could stand against Sesshoumaru!" Sango insisted, annoyed. "I'm a taijiya, remember?"

"And he's my extremely powerful and arrogant jackass of an older brother, remember?" Inuyasha retorted, mimicking her tone.

Sango glared at him, despite the fact that she had known in her heart all along that he was right; Sesshoumaru was just too strong. Just then, Kagome coughed to successfully get Sango and Inuyasha's attention away from their argument.

The futuristic miko, having distracted her two bickering friends, turned to Kaede and announced, "We'll do it, Kaede-san."

"Thank you," Kaede said earnestly, her voice weak with relief. "But," she said quickly when Inuyasha stood up to leave, "ye cannot leave tonight. Ye must rest and eat. Do not forget that Kagome suffered some injuries today, and has not yet fully healed."

"It's true, Inuyasha," Sango said reasonably, grabbing his sleeve to stop him. "Let us stay here for the night."

After Inuyasha sat back down, Kaede stood up with a groan and a creaking of bones and asked kindly, wiping her hands on her hakama, "Do ye wish to have ye meal now?"

"Yes, please," chorused the group. Kaede nodded and disappeared into another room.

Kagome smiled at Inuyasha and said as if they were the only two in the room, "Thank you for helping me, Inuyasha."

Inuyasha looked away and shrugged indifferently. "Feh," he muttered. "It's… no problem, Kagome." Then his eyes met Kagome's and they stared into the depths of each other's eyes for a couple seconds before Sango coughed politely. Miroku and Shippo had already started sniggering. Kagome and Inuyasha both blushed crimson, and stared fixedly at the floor.

"Cute, aren't they, Sango?" Miroku said pointedly.

"Adorable," Sango agreed, biting back a chuckle at their friends' mortified faces.

"We're not half as bad as you guys! You two—always staring at each other," Inuyasha growled back at the houshi and the taijiya. Sango flushed at this and looked away; Miroku just smiled.

"Hardly! You switch between Kagome and Kikyo every five seconds!" Shippo said loudly, and Inuyasha gave him a ferocious glare. The young kitsune demon responded in a most Shippo-like way: he hid behind Kagome, whimpering.

"Inuyasha! Look what you did!" Kagome snapped. "Poor thing, he's scared to death." She gathered the little kit into her arms and when Kagome was not looking, Shippo's victorious green eyes shimmered and he grinned at Inuyasha, wrapping his small arms around Kagome's neck.

The hanyou growled and launched himself at the kitsune, but Kagome saw this, frowned and hollered, "Sit, boy!"

There was a loud crash and a cry of pain. After a few moments of being too stunned to move, the hanyou picked himself up from where he had crashed on the floor. The floor beneath him had shattered, leaving Kaede with a huge hole in the bottom of her hut.

"Haven't you done enough?" Kagome reprimanded, pulling Shippo close to her.

Kaede returned a moment later with food, and that cut the arguments short. Eager to eat, Inuyasha picked himself up, taking wood chips from his hair and his clothes. "Here," the elderly miko said, handing out portions. They ate in silence for a while, but soon Kaede cleared her throat and spoke. "Inuyasha? Kagome?"

"What?" came the crabby, impatient voice of Inuyasha.

"Yes, Kaede-san?" Kagome replied politely, staring at Kaede attentively, smiling her usual naïve smile.

The elderly priestess coughed and stared at her friends levelly. "Why is there a hole in my floor?"


"Come on, Kagome!" Inuyasha barked as he and the others waited for Kagome the following morning. (Inuyasha couldn't wait to get on the trail of this new demon.)

Kagome appeared in the doorway a few seconds later, and rushed out to where her group of friends were waiting. "Sorry," she snapped at the hanyou. "I was saying good-bye to Kaede-san."

They then set off at an even pace, but Inuyasha lagged behind. Kagome alone stood waiting for him, and Inuyasha was appreciative of this. So much so, in fact, that he muttered to her, "Thanks, Kagome."

"You're welcome, Inuyasha," Kagome replied. The two began walking after their friends, and there was a short silence before Inuyasha spoke again.

"You sound just like her."

"Who?" Kagome asked immediately. And then, a second later, she realized who he was talking about. "Oh. Kikyo."

"Yeah."

Stop comparing me to her! Kagome screamed mentally. I'm nothing like her! Kikyo was reserved… quiet… totally selfless… and I am nothing like her… and that's why you prefer Kikyo, Inuyasha. 'You are very like her,' Kagome recalled someone saying to her. 'You are both spirited and loving, and will do anything for the one they love.' They're wrong. Kikyo is just the kind of person Inuyasha needs… to calm him, to comfort him. I am more like Inuyasha, and would only fuel his arrogance and restlessness. I may sound like her, Inuyasha. I may look like her, I may walk like her, I may talk like her, I may be just like her on the outside, but in reality, we are two totally different people.

"Kagome?" Inuyasha's voice broke through her troubled thoughts.

"Yeah?" she responded. Shoot. Her voice sound raspy and unsure of itself.

"Did I hurt your feelings… before, when I said you sounded like Kikyo?"

"No, of course not," Kagome said quickly. A little too quickly.

Inuyasha stole a look at her and said roughly, "Well, I'm sorry. I just can't… you remind me so much of her…"

You just can't stop thinking about her, Kagome completed in her mind, somewhat bitterly. "Well, how can we not think of the one we love?" she replied softly with a forced smile.

Inuyasha was completely taken aback. "I…" he sputtered. "Well…"

Kagome strode on ahead before he could say more, extremely angry with herself and sorely disappointed that he had not cried out, 'Love Kikyo? No! I love you, Kagome!'

Or, something like that, anyway.

"Kagome!" Inuyasha exclaimed, reaching out to her. Then he sighed. What is the matter with that girl? he thought.

Sango, overhearing every word and imagining Kagome's pained thoughts, glanced back. Kagome had caught up to them and was now walking purposefully fast, not allowing Inuyasha to catch up.

Miroku, instead, fell behind and slung an arm around Inuyasha's shoulders. "Women troubles, eh?" he rumbled. Inuyasha grunted, and the houshi all but sang, "Well, you've come to the right man, my dear Inuyasha."

But before the flirtatious monk could continue, Inuyasha shrugged off his arm and muttered darkly, "Piss off, monk."

"Well!" Miroku exclaimed, watching Inuyasha jog up to Kagome and grab her arm. The monk winced internally. Idiot.

The following 'Sit, boy!' (courtesy of Kagome) rang out through the trees, and the following crash and mad flurry of birds leaving their spots in the trees marked Inuyasha's unfortunate collision with the dirt.

"C… c'mon, Kagome!" Inuyasha snapped, hoisting himself up after a few moments of pain. "What in the seven hells is the matter with you?"

Miroku hurriedly grabbed Inuyasha's arm and pulled him back before Kagome had a chance to sit him again for his ignorance. "Inuyasha," the houshi hissed, "do not bother Kagome right now; she's having a little difficulty coping with her—and your—feelings. Okay? So shut up."

"But…"

"No, Inuyasha. Listen. She really, really doesn't want to accept your feelings for Kikyo, and—"

"My feelings for Kikyo!" Inuyasha hissed back. "What does Kikyo have to do with this?"

"Everything, you fool!" Miroku snapped.

"Look, Kikyo and I—"

The cursed houshi sighed and explained slowly, "Look, Kagome's… err… jealous of you and Kikyo, and she"—desperately, Miroku added in his mind—"wants to be with you."

"… But what if I want to be with her too?" Inuyasha whispered reluctantly.

Miroku sighed again. "Then that's fabulous. Why haven't you told her?"

"I don't want to tell her!"

"Kami, Inuyasha, its not that difficult!" Miroku exclaimed louder than necessary. Lowering his voice again, Miroku continued, "Look, unless you want Sango and I to tell her, you better confess soon, do you hear me?"

"But," Inuyasha began, "what if it turns out she doesn't have f—"

"Oh, for Kami's sake, Inuyasha!" Miroku exclaimed. "Kagome has told Sango and Sango has told me that she does!"

"Oh."

Finally, Miroku sighed mentally. What an idiot!


Inuyasha, every so often glancing (as inconspicuously as he could) at Kagome, was thinking hard. Kagome had long since abandoned her anger for sulking silence, and he was tired of it.

"Kagome."

"…"

"Sorry."

"…"

A vein in Inuyasha's temple throbbed in annoyance. "Look," he snapped. "I said I'm sorry, so why don't you just—" Just then he saw the expression on Sango's face and the mad shaking of Miroku's head. "Uh…" The hanyou paused, contemplating.

Follow Miroku's advice… follow my instinct… follow Miroku's advice… follow my instinct…

Then he realized something. Eyebrow raised, he grabbed Miroku by the back of his robes and hissed, "You know, your love life isn't goin' so well, houshi. Why should I follow your advice?"

"Uh"—Miroku swallowed hard—"Inuyasha… you, uh, you know I have a lot of experience in this area…"

"Then why," Inuyasha persisted, his grip tightening, "isn't Sango draping herself all over you and telling you she loves you?"

Miroku grinned despite himself. "Is that what you want Kagome to do?"

The houshi had never seen Inuyasha's face go so red. The hanyou flung his friend to the ground and turned away in humiliation. Miroku smirked knowingly. Beaming, Miroku picked himself up and boomed, "Why, Inuyasha, I never knew you were such a—"

His words were muffled when Inuyasha covered Miroku's mouth with a clawed hand. "Shut it."

Miroku did. He eased back into stride with Kirara and Sango, and shook his head at the taijiya's questioning eyebrow. Meanwhile, the same thought was still running through Inuyasha's head.

Follow Miroku's advice… follow my instinct… follow Miroku's advice… follow my instinct…

That was it. He had decided. Inuyasha stormed up to Kagome, grabbed her shoulder and spun her around to face him. "Stupid wench—what's wrong with you?" he asked hotly.

Several emotions flashed across Kagome's face. Inuyasha saw pain, anger, frustration—but the rest passed too quickly. Then, Kagome did something that not only shocked Inuyasha to the core, but Miroku, Sango, Shippo and Kirara as well.

It was worse than a sit. Far worse. The mark on Inuyasha's check flared an angry red. She had slapped him.

One of Inuyasha's hands came up and felt the welt on his cheek. His mouth opened and closed, then opened again, attempting speech. But no words came. He was too shocked. His hand remained on his cheek, and he just stared at her.

Letting out a satisfied, 'Hmph,' Kagome stormed on ahead, past her motionless friends.

"Inu… Inuyasha?" Sango ventured to speak, but Inuyasha refused to respond.

"See," Miroku sighed, "this is why we told you not to bother her."

"Houshi-sama, don't bother him," Sango ordered, and stepped toward her hanyou friend. "Inuyasha?" she repeated.

"That… that…" Inuyasha had finally managed speech. His throat seemed blocked by remorse and regret, but soon his sorrow gave way to disbelieving anger. "That impudent wench!" he cried furiously, eyes wide.

He went to step up to Kagome again, but Miroku blocked his way. "Unless you desire to be slapped again," the cursed houshi said gravely, as if it were a matter of life and death, "you better leave her alone."

That stopped Inuyasha in his tracks. After a long pause, he stopped resisting and said, "Fine." After a moment-long silence, the hanyou added, "I can't believe she slapped me." Inuyasha glanced at Miroku. "Does that mean that she hates me?"

"Of course not!" the houshi exclaimed, patting Inuyasha reassuringly on the back. "She could never hate you."

"I'll go talk to Kagome, okay?" Sango said. Before waiting for consent, she set off after her friend (and Shippo, who had gone with her after a moment's hesitation), who had not stopped, and now was more than a mile ahead of them.

Sango jogged up, and, within a minute, the taijiya caught up to the futuristic miko, who had stopped and sat down on a rock next to Shippo. Sulking, Kagome had put her head in her hands, and was obviously disheartened.

Though Kagome did not look up when Sango arrived, she heard Kirara, and spoke, "He's such an insensitive jerk."

"Kagome," Sango said, squatting down next to her friend and reaching out to pat her on the back. "He's not that bad, and you know it."

"Yes, he is," Kagome replied, voice muffled by her hands.

"He really likes you, Kagome. You really hurt him when you slapped him."

"Good."

Sango sighed. "Kagome, come on. You know you love hi—"

"Love him?" Kagome spat. "That dumb idiot? Hah. You wish." She paused, and then continued, "Besides, he loves Kikyo"—she sniffed back a dry sob—"and will never love me."

"That's not true!" Shippo squeaked, putting a tiny paw on the girl's shoulder.

Sango stood up. She could see the young men coming down the road. Inuyasha looked upset, while Miroku looked relieved.

"Well, we should probably move on," Sango announced loudly once the boys had arrived. She started walking ahead, adjusting the straps that held the Hiraikotsu to her back. Miroku followed, grinning sheepishly at Kagome. He gave Shippo and Kirara a meaningful look, and both followed, leaving Kagome and Inuyasha alone.

"Kagome."

"What." She said it as a statement, in order not to convey any emotion.

"I'm sorry."

"Did Miroku tell you to say that?" Kagome snarled at him.

Inuyasha sighed and shook his head. "I'm sorry, Kagome. Really."

The human girl stole a glance at him. "Really?" Her voice sounded meek—meeker then she wanted it to be. Kagome wanted to be the tough one in this conversation, and so she repeated the word, this time in a tougher, deeper voice. "Really?" The young woman flushed. She had sounded absolutely ridiculous and desperate, and they both knew it.

Inuyasha inwardly smiled. His facial expression stayed the same, though: a convincing one of apology and guilt. "Yeah."

"Okay, Inuyasha," Kagome conceded. "I forgive you." He kept looking at her, and Kagome stared uncomfortably back until she realized he expected her to apologize too. "Oh," she said quickly. "I'm sorry for slapping you."

"S'okay."


Up ahead, Miroku and Sango peeked back from behind a large boulder.

"Look's like it's going well," Miroku remarked, craning his neck so he could see better.

"Do you think he said sorry like you told him to, houshi-sama?" Sango asked in a hushed whisper, having a perfect view of the couple.

"Looks like it."

"Good." Sango's eyes sparkled. "Now he just needs to hug her—you did tell him to hug her, right?"

"Damn!" Miroku exclaimed in annoyance. "I forgot."

"Well," Shippo cut in from his position on Sango's shoulder, "Inuyasha's not the kind of guy to give out random hugs anyway, is he?"

"No, I suppose not," Sango mused, looking down at her toes.

"Sango, I didn't think you were the matchmaker kind," Shippo said honestly.

Sango chuckled and petted the kitsune on the head. "You should have seen me with my friends in my village."

"Sango, look!" Shippo gasped, pointing.

Sango glanced in the direction he was pointing immediately and gasped, surprised and extremely pleased.


"Kagome." Inuyasha was nervous, though if asked, he'd deny it.

"Yes, Inuyasha?" Kagome replied pleasantly. No longer angry, her face held it's usual naive smile.

Before she knew what was going on, Inuyasha's arms had wrapped around her and pulled her into a hug. She was limp for a second, before sputtering, "Inu… Inuyasha!" His arms tightened, and she slowly wrapped her small arms around his frame, returning the hug with hesitance and hope that this would start something new.


"Awww," Shippo crooned. He turned to his cat demon friend and said, "Isn't that sweet, Kirara?"

Sango and Miroku exchanged a glance. He grinned at her, and her face reddened and she looked away hurriedly.

"Th-that's sweet, isn't, h-houshi-sama?" Sango croaked, refusing to the look the houshi in the eye, and choosing, instead, to stare at the ground as if there was something of interest drawn in the dirt.

"Mm-hmm," Miroku said, inching closer.

Oh no… oh no… what now…? Sango thought miserably. She was so caught up in her thoughts that she didn't notice the monk until he was very close indeed. Sango then glanced up at him and stuttered, "H-houshi-sama!" In her nervousness, the taijiya fell back onto her butt and, once again, her face turned scarlet.

Miroku grinned sweetly at her and his hand reached toward her, not to grope her, but to help her up. "Need help, Sango?"

"Thanks, houshi-sama," Sango said, Kagome and Inuyasha forgotten. She relaxed, giving him the opportunity to grope her. His expression never changed, but there was a drastic change in hers. "Keep your hands to yourself!" she yelped, smacking his hand away. "Pervert!"


"We must be near the border to the Western Lands," Sango remarked that evening. She and her friends had stopped in a clearing to rest for the night. They were all huddled around a tiny fire that was barely keeping them warm.

There was a long pause, before Miroku said gravely, "The days are getting colder."

Kagome's shivered. "I'm freezing!" She wrapped the woolen blanket that was draped around her shoulders tighter.

Miroku glanced at Inuyasha, and the monk's eyes told him what to do. Nervous, Inuyasha inched closer to Kagome, as they were sitting on the same log. When he was close enough, the hanyou slung an arm around her shoulder.

Kagome panicked. "Ah… ah… what are you doing, Inuyasha!" she shrieked in his ear.

And she pushed him off the log.

He fell flat on his back, and Kagome shot up, her face scarlet. What was that just now? she thought anxiously. Why the hell did he put an arm around me? A silly smile spread across her face, and she was thankful she faced away from the fire, so no one could see the ridiculous grin on her face. Maybe he does care for me! Maybe he has left Kikyo behind and grown to... to, her face flushed all over again, to love me

Miroku winced internally. That didn't go as planned… But then he glanced at Kagome hunched over form and could almost sense her glee. Though Kagome seems happy.


"Here's the border," Inuyasha announced, stepping forward with his friends following confidently behind. "That river"—he pointed to the thin but impressive river before them—"marks the beginning of Sesshoumaru's territory."

"Well, let's go!" Sango exclaimed, grinning at her friends. Without further hesitation, the taijiya stepped back and took a running jump over the water.

"Sango! Wait!" Inuyasha called. Idiot…

Sango smiled triumphantly at Miroku, Inuyasha, Kagome, Shippo and Kirara from the other side. "See? It's fine. I bet Sesshoumaru is—"

The only thing anyone saw was a blur, and suddenly Sango was pinned to a tree by Sesshoumaru, his clawed hand around her neck. His sharp claws were cutting into her and she could feel the blood drip down onto her fighting clothes. Sesshoumaru held her up above the ground and let out a menacing, guttural growl. She clawed at his hand, but it was futile.

"Sango!" Miroku yelped.

"Sango-chan!" Kagome cried. Inuyasha grabbed Kagome around the waist and leaped across to fight. Miroku picked up Shippo, and he ran over to Kirara, jumped on her, and they flew across the gap, incoherent cries frothing on Miroku's tongue.

"Let her go!" Inuyasha snarled, drawing Tetsusaiga.

Sesshoumaru didn't even turn to face him. "Why are you on my land, human?" he snarled at Sango. But she didn't hear him. Her vision was going black around the edges because of the lack of air in her lungs. "You try my patience," he growled, and tightened his grip. "Why are you on my land?" he repeated, knowing she could not answer, enjoying that she not answer. He watched in satisfaction as her face paled to a pasty white and as she gasped for the breath that would never come.

"You bastard! Put… her… down!" Miroku roared, leaping off Kirara and charging toward the demon, swinging his staff with mad ferocity.

Without even looking, Sesshoumaru sent out his whip, which threw Miroku backward into Kagome. They fell to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs.

"Well? Aren't you going to fight me? Or are you too scared?" Inuyasha taunted.

"Me? Scared?" Sesshoumaru asked, his voice mocking. He let Sango go, and she dropped to the ground, rubbing her bruised and bloodied throat. She stumbled over to where her friends were, swaying. The black spots still flashed in her vision, and she was still short of breath. "You wish, little brother." Sesshoumaru drew the Tokijin and charged forward.

"Wind scar!" Inuyasha bellowed, striking.

Sesshoumaru raised a challenging eyebrow, and casually sidestepped the weaker of Tetsusaiga's strongest attacks. Sesshoumaru charged again, and managed to disarm Inuyasha. The Tetsusaiga hit the ground about 10 feet away from both demons, and transformed back into its useless, broken self.

Inuyasha muttered a frustrated curse under his breath and sprinted to where his weapon had stuck in the dirt. Sesshoumaru sighed, and used his demonic speed to catch up to Inuyasha.

The hanyou's back faced his brother's annoyed face, and Sesshoumaru growled, "Never turn your back on an opponent, fool!" His claws slashed downward, leaving Inuyasha with a deep gash in his back. Inuyasha stiffened and staggered forward, grabbing the Tetsusaiga. He spun round and faced his brother. Though Inuyasha's face was white with pain from his new wound, he held the Tetsusaiga without stumbling.

The battle continued for quite a while, eventually leaving them both sorely injured and panting. Tired of this game, Sesshoumaru glared at his half-brother, suddenly sheathed his Tokijin and, just when Sesshoumaru eyes started to glow red, two cries cut through the air.

"Sesshoumaru-samaaaaaaa!"

"Milord! Where are you?"

Sesshoumaru stopped mid-transformation and glanced up in surprise. A toad-like creature by the name of Jaken stumbled into view, closely followed by a young human girl.

"Jaken… take Rin and leave!" Sesshoumaru ordered.

"But, milord!" Just then, Jaken spotted Inuyasha and gasped, "Inuyasha!"

The little girl, Rin, completely ignoring Sesshoumaru's warning, bounded forward and attached herself to the taiyoukai's leg. "Sesshoumaru-samaaaaa!" she squealed happily.

"Rin, please leave," Sesshoumaru growled.

"No, Sesshoumaru-sama! Look what Rin did for you!" Grinning, she held up a bouquet of wild flowers. Admittedly, it was mostly weeds, but there were a few flowers entangled in the mess.

Inuyasha was laughing. "Awww, look, my high-and-mighty brother is playing mommy to a little human girl!" He slipped in his mirth, and fell to the ground, his brother's situation breaking his concentration and causing him to act more idiotic than usual. Ignoring Sesshoumaru's obvious anger, Inuyasha continued to roll around on the ground, cackling with glee. Sesshoumaru, having persuaded Rin and Jaken to go where it was safe, sped over and kicked his brother hard in the stomach.

Inuyasha let out a pained, choked sound, and the metallic taste of blood filled the hanyou's mouth.

"Get up, weak half-breed," Sesshoumaru snarled, furious that he had been made a fool of.

"Sesshoumaru!" Kagome yelled. She charged forward, wielding a sacred arrow. "Stop it!"

"Hmph," Sesshoumaru snorted incredulously. "Weak human… do you honestly think you could stand against me?" The demon stepped toward her and she quivered. Letting out a scared gasp, Kagome shot her arrow, but Sesshoumaru easily avoided it. Using his demon speed, he charged forward until he was right in front of her. She took a frightened step back, but Sesshoumaru unleashed his acid poison.

"Kagome!" Inuyasha bellowed. He tried to get up, but his stomach throbbed painfully and he crashed back down in the dirt. "Kagome!" he repeated, a clawed hand stretching out to her.

Kagome cowered, shrieking, but Sango, having gotten up from where she had collapsed, ran forward, pushing her friend out of the way. She faced Sesshoumaru determinedly, and he raised an eyebrow at her.

The human girl, he thought. She is still alive. This displeased him, and he frowned at her. Sesshoumaru unsheathed the Tokijin and raised the sword above Sango's head. "Die," the powerful taiyoukai whispered.

Sango, frightened, drew her katana and stood squarely. He slashed at her, and though she tried to block it, the Tokijin snapped her weak katana in two and slashed her chest, leaving a deep gash. Sango crumbled, gasping. Her hand flew to her bleeding chest, and she glared up at Sesshoumaru before collapsing back on the ground, unconscious.

"Sango!" Kagome shrieked. She rushed over and cradled her fallen friend in her arms. She glared up at the demon and he, uninterested, turned from them to where Inuyasha, who had long since gotten up, was ready to fight.

"Are you well enough to fight, brother?" Sesshoumaru drawled. "That wound I gave you on your back is quite formidable, and I can see you are in pain from the bruise that is undoubtedly forming on your stomach."

"Come on, Sesshoumaru," Inuyasha snarled. "Quit yakking—let your sword do the real talking!"

Sesshoumaru glanced over to where Rin and Jaken were hiding. His eyes narrowed and he said, "I do not have time for this. Get off my lands." And, giving his brother a final hit with his youki whip, Sesshoumaru departed with his two companions.

Inuyasha rubbed his singed arm and frowned at his older brother's departing figure. He opened his mouth to yell a curse after him, but Miroku's anguished cry made him turn to where all of his friends were sitting around Sango's motionless form. He dashed over and took a look at the taijiya. Her face was deathly pale and she was covered in blood.

"Sango?" Shippo squeaked. A little fox paw touched her cheek. "Sango!" he repeated, this time more urgently. Beside him, Kirara let out a timid meow and licked her owner's cheek worriedly.

"Sango!" Kagome cried, taking Shippo's place and shaking her friend like mad. "Sango, wake up! You're too strong to die now…"

Miroku, on the other side of the unconscious taijiya, snatched Sango from Kagome's arms and pulled her limp form to him. "Sango," he whispered, brushing a strand of dark hair out of her pale face and examining the wound more closely. "Wake up. Please, for me."

Kagome observed him and thought, His true feelings for Sango emerge when she is in danger…

Inuyasha nudged Miroku with his foot. "The only chance we have of Sango surviving is if we go find a doctor—now!" Ignoring Miroku's protests, Inuyasha gathered the limp Sango in his arms and leaped up, calling back, "You guys follow. I'm the fastest one here, so it makes sense that I should be the one to carry her."

"But, Inuyasha," Kagome protested, "your wounds!"

"I'm fine." And with that, he set off jumping through the thick foliage of trees with Sango cradled in his arms.

As Kagome watched, she couldn't help but feel a twinge of jealousy. She brushed it off, thinking, I'm so selfish, thinking of my own feelings for Inuyasha when Sango is hurt. She stood up and exclaimed, "Come on, Miroku-sama!"

The houshi immediately jumped up and, after Kagome put Shippo in her arms and Miroku (with much difficulty) grabbed Sango's Hiraikotsu, they leaped on Kirara and set off after Inuyasha.


Inuyasha glanced at the girl in his arms. "Sango," he breathed, examining the girl's poor condition. He looked away quickly, and concentrated on getting to a village. His eyes lit up when he saw one before him, and he jumped down from the trees, startling all the farmers. They turned to him, bearing their gardening tools.

"Is it human?" one exclaimed in a hushed whisper.

"Nah, can't be," remarked another, sounding frightened.

"Look at its ears!" screeched a woman.

"Demon!" a man bellowed. "Demon! Beware!"

Inuyasha sighed and snapped impatiently, "I'm not here to hurt you." He glanced down at Sango. "She needs a doctor. Where…?"

The villagers, frightened and quaking, pointed toward a hut to Inuyasha's right. He nodded curtly in thanks, and dashed in without another word. "Doctor!" he shouted without bothering to look around and notice the obvious: there was a dark-haired man sitting in the front of the room, reading a book. Upon hearing someone come in and cry out, he glanced up and jumped up in surprise when he saw Inuyasha.

"What do you want, demon?" he asked evenly, putting his book down and showing no sign of fear.

Inuyasha saw he was reaching for a dagger in his belt and sighed again. "My friend Sango—she needs help," he said crabbily.

"Oh." The doctor relaxed and ordered, "Put her on the mat." He pointed to a straw mat in the corner. Inuyasha followed his instructions, and the doctor marched over. Kneeling before her, he frowned and examined the wound in her chest. "It's deep," he announced a moment later.

"Of course it is!" Inuyasha growled. "Is that all your good for? Tell me already—is she gonna die?"

Looking disgruntled at Inuyasha's attitude, the doctor closed his eyes briefly and said, "I hope not." Then he rethought his sentence for Inuyasha's sake. "I don't believe so. I'll do my best."

"What's your name?" Inuyasha asked, his anger dissipating.

"My name is Nakamura Akira," the doctor said, not even glancing Inuyasha's way. All his attention was on his patient. "Her breathing is shallow," he said. "How did she get this wound?"

"I don't know," Inuyasha lied, averting his eyes from Nakamura's face to the floor.


Kagome, Miroku, Shippo and Kirara arrived a few minutes later. They crept in and watched in the same way Inuyasha was: tense, alert… scared.

Hours later, doctor Nakamura stood up and beamed at his visitors. "She's going to be all right," he announced. There was a sound of immense relief, and the man continued, "But, if you had been any later in coming to me, she wouldn't be alive right now."

"Oh, thank you, Nakamura-san!" Kagome sighed, her voice choked with relief. "Inuyasha…?" she said expectantly, turning to the hanyou.

"Yeah, thanks," Inuyasha said grudgingly. But Kagome noticed that his tone was lighter now that he knew Sango was okay, and whether she was the only one who noticed this, she didn't know.

Suddenly, from the mat, there was a soft, feeble groan, and all heads turned.

"Ah," Nakamura observed softly. "It seems she is awake."

Sango glanced weakly up at her friends and smiled feebly. "Houshi-sama… Inuyasha… Shippo-kun… Kagome-chan… Kirara…" she whispered. "What happened?"

"Oh, Sango!" Kagome hurled herself toward her friend, carefully steering clear of the wound. "Thank goodness you're okay…"

Sango happily returned the hug, but her eyes were not on Kagome; they were lingering on Miroku. Her cinnamon eyes smiled at him and his purple ones twinkled with merriment and a noticeable amount of relief. Sango then closed her eyes, remembering what had happened. "Sesshoumaru."

Kagome pulled back and nodded gravely. "I'm going to kill him when I next see him," she vowed.

"Who do I have do thank for saving me?" Sango rasped.

"Well," Miroku said, "Inuyasha, because he brought you here," Sango bowed her head graciously and, in response, Inuyasha just looked away, obviously uncomfortable with the attention. "And Nakamura-san," the houshi continued, "is the doctor who saved you."

She turned to the doctor, and, her voice wavering with emotion, she thanked him.

"You're quite welcome," Nakamura said immediately. "You are still healing—please, feel free to stay at my home until you are well enough to leave." He turned to Inuyasha and the others and said, "I have plenty of room for you too." Smiling, he offered, "Seven days, sir? I would be happy to house you."

"I don't know," Inuyasha said slowly.

"Inuyasha!" Shippo snapped. "You heard the doctor—Sango needs to rest!"

"Shippo's right, Inuyasha," Miroku said. He bowed to the doctor humbly. "We accept your kind offer. Thank you."

Nakamura bowed back and turned to Inuyasha. "I can see you are wounded. There are bandages and medicine in the room if you want to wrap up the wound." Inuyasha nodded and him, and he stood. "Let me show you to your rooms. It is late, you must be tired."

"Of course," Kagome said, standing. Shippo, Inuyasha and Miroku followed suit. "Feel better," Kagome said to Sango as she was led away.

The taijiya smiled at her friend, but Miroku was the last to leave. "I'll see you soon, Sango," he said softly. Someone called his name, and, reluctantly, the houshi departed.

"Here we are, my friends. This is the men's room," Nakamura said minutes later as they stood in front of two doors, gesturing to the shoji on the left, "and miss," he said to Kagome, leading her to the door on the right, "you have this room to yourself."

"Thank you, Nakamura-san." Kagome bowed and bade them all goodnight, disappearing inside the room.

"I shall see you in the morn," Nakamura said to the boys. "And you," he said to Inuyasha, "bandage those wounds!"

"Thank you," Miroku said graciously.

Inuyasha muttered something about 'Don't tell me what to do,' and shuffled inside. Miroku frowned at him and took Shippo inside the room.

Nakamura backed up into the hall and put his fingertips together. "Perfect," he whispered. On his return to the front room where Sango lay resting, the doctor noticed Kirara. She sat by her mistress, and when she saw him, her figure grew into the larger fire cat and she growled at him.

"Well, what do we have here?" Nakamura said in a lilting voice. "A two-tailed fire cat." His voice hardened then: "Get lost, you mangy demon." His foot lashed out toward Kirara, but she avoided it and growled again.


One week later, on the final day of Sango and the other's stay at the doctor's home, Nakamura woke to a silent house. His guests were still sleeping, but how was his patient? He padded into the front room and saw Sango staring absently at the ceiling, stroking Kirara's head. That two-tail again! Nakamura thought in annoyance. Brushing away his irritation, he leaned over Sango and asked, "Do you think you can stand?"

The taijiya smiled grimly. "Well, let's see." Wrapping the blanket around her, she took Nakamura's hand and slowly and carefully made her way to her feet. Pain struck her chest, and she hissed, but managed to stay standing. The pain subsided, and she sighed in relief. "Um"—she blushed—"Nakamura-san, do you have a place I can wash and change into normal clothes?"

"Of course," he said. The doctor handed Sango her battle gear, which was covered in dirt and blood. "You obviously can't wear this," he remarked. "I'll get you something of my wife's."

"I can't do that!" Sango protested. "Won't she mind?"

"My wife… passed away two years ago," Nakamura said softly, a slow smile on his face.

Sango covered her mouth. "Oh… I—I'm sorry," she stammered.

But he only smiled once again. "It's fine. Here, let me show you to where you can get dressed." He led Sango away and went to awaken Inuyasha and the others. Stopping in front of the boy's room, he gently slid the shoji aside.

"Rise, my friends, and greet the morning sun," he said pleasantly. "Sango-san has woken and I will make breakfast." With that, he left them to dress, and told Kagome the same thing, expecting them all to meet him for breakfast. Nakamura then returned to where Sango was patiently waiting.

In the boy's room, Inuyasha propped himself up on his elbows and exclaimed, "Man, what a freak. All that guy ever did was smile."

"He saved Sango's life!" Shippo retorted angrily.

"He must be bottling up his emotions," Miroku said.

In another room of the fairly large house, the doctor was showing Sango a whole closet full of beautiful kimonos. She gasped and fingered a beautiful red silk one. "They're so beautiful," she breathed. She whirled around to Nakamura and said desperately, "Too beautiful, Nakamura-san! I could never wear these! I'll get them bloody! Do you have a simple yukata I could wear?"

"Yes, of course. They are at the back," he said softly. "I will wash your clothes for you, and this evening, I will return them." Nakamura smiled at Sango and continued, "The bath house is right outside this door"—he pointed out the open window to where a separate bathhouse was visible—"feel free to have a bath. You may change in the bathhouse." That said, he bowed and left her.

Sango smiled at his retreating form and sifted past all the beautiful dresses, and found a plain white yukata nestled in the back. She took in into the bathhouse where she happily scrubbed off the remains of the blood and grime. Sango gave her hair a good wash too, and when she was satisfied she stepped out of the bath. She put the yukata on and tied her hair in a ponytail just below the base of her neck. Finally ready, the taijiya made her way back to Miroku and the others.

Sango stepped back into the room went back to the straw mat. She sat down and heard her friends tramping into the room. Soon, Nakamura entered bearing food and drink.


That evening, Sango and the others turned to Nakamura and bowed low. "Thank you," Sango, feeling much better and dressed in her pink and green kimono, murmured.

He bowed to them in response and watched them leave. "Fare you well!" he called.

Outside, as they were walking, Inuyasha suggested, "So shall we give the Western Lands another go?"

"Are you crazy?" Kagome exploded. "Sango isn't totally healed yet!" Just then, she noticed Sango wasn't with them. Kagome, confused, looked around. "Sango?" Then she heard the distressed whine of Kirara from behind her. She whirled around and found that Sango had collapsed. Miroku and Kirara were bent over her. "Sango!" she shrieked, rushing over. Inuyasha followed swiftly behind her.

Sango struggled to get to her feet, using the Hiraikotsu that Miroku had handed her as a walking stick. "I… I'm okay," she said. "My chest hurts. It's the first day since I was wounded that I've been active, that's all." She smiled weakly at them and then continued speaking, "I agree with Inuyasha. We don't have any time to lose. Come on."

"But, Sango…" Kagome protested.

"No buts." As she said this, the taijiya took a step forward, but stumbled. Kagome frowned at her, but Sango brushed it off. "Come on."

Kagome sighed; she knew that there was no convincing Sango otherwise. "Okay," she said finally. "As long as you ride on Kirara. Deal?"

This time it was Sango who sighed. "All right." Kirara changed into her big form and Sango slowly climbed up onto the cat demon's back. "Let's go, then," she said.

They set off immediately, Miroku walking by Sango's side, Shippo cradled in Kagome's arms, Kagome walking alongside Inuyasha, every so often glancing at him. Inuyasha refused to face her, but you could see his eyes flickering to the side every so often.

Soon they were at the same river, and, after looking around carefully, Miroku climbed up on Kirara and he, the cat demon and Sango leaped across. Inuyasha took Kagome and Shippo over and then hit the ground tense, ready for the attack.

"Phew," Kagome sighed when Sesshoumaru didn't appear. "He must be somewhere else."

"Don't speak too soon," Inuyasha warned, glancing around. "He could be anywhere, hiding in the shadows."

Miroku took a step forward and looked back at Sango. "I'll protect you, Sango," he promised.

Sango felt herself blushing. "T-thank you, houshi-sama," she stuttered. "But, I can fight too. It doesn't matter that I'm hurt…"

"It does, Sango. Don't be stupid!" he snapped. The taijiya was taken aback, and the houshi's voice softened. "You're really hurt, and if Sesshoumaru attacks you again"—his voice wavered precariously—"I don't know what would happen…"

"Or more specifically," Kagome cut in pointedly, "what he would do if something happened." She smiled in satisfaction when she saw the crimson blush spread across the faces of her friends.

Inuyasha coughed to get their attention, and said, "We should go before my brother does come! Kagome?"

"Yes, Inuyasha?" she said pleasantly, stepping toward him. For some reason, Kagome thought it was the time that he might say something romantic, like 'I love you Kagome! Kikyo is old news!'

Obviously, Kagome thought wrong, and became angry when she heard what he actually had to say.

"What was the name of that demon again?"

"Wh-what?" Kagome exclaimed. She growled deep in her throat and muttered angrily, "Tohyama."

"Thanks," Inuyasha said, beginning to walk away.

Furious, Kagome whispered, "Inuyasha?" He turned back toward her and she shouted, "SIT, BOY!"

Inuyasha crashed painfully to the ground, and, as he lifted himself out of the dirt and onto his feet, he snarled, "What was that for?"

"Hmph!" Kagome exclaimed, turning her back on the hanyou.

Sango sighed as she looked at her two friends up ahead. It seemed as if they would never get together… with Kagome constantly sitting Inuyasha (for no apparent reason), and Inuyasha being his regular, dense self… it was improbable, but not impossible.

"Come on, you two. I agree with Inuyasha. Sesshoumaru might be here any second," Miroku said.

"Why can't Sesshoumaru just kill Tohyama?" Shippo whined from Kagome's arms. "These are his lands, so why can't he do it?"

"Yeah," Inuyasha muttered, turning to Shippo, an element of boredom in his voice, "but Sesshoumaru probably wouldn't really care if it killed humans or demons or anything."

"That's true," Sango sighed. "Stupid, selfish beast."

"Be nice, taijiya," a cold, growling voice warned.

Kagome let out a loud, scared gasp as Inuyasha's half-brother stepped out of the shadows.

"I thought I told you to leave," he snarled at Inuyasha. Then, the great taiyoukai turned to Sango with an air of mild surprise. "You have somehow survived the two deadly attacks I bestowed on you…" He stared at the human and asked, "What are you?"

"Just a regular human taijiya!" Sango snapped from her position on Kirara.

"Huh," Sesshoumaru said simply. The exterminator… she is unlike any human I have ever seen. Her aura is very strong, and she burns with a fierce intensity. But… she is no longer wearing her battle gear. His golden orbs narrowed. Now, she is simply like weak, delicate humans in all their flattering finery.

Sango glared at the dog demon and unhitched the Hiraikotsu. Letting out a bellow, she hurled it at Sesshoumaru, but he dodged it. As soon as Sango had thrown her boomerang, she regretted it. The wound in her chest throbbed painfully, and she bent over Kirara, groaning.

She's still hurt, Sesshoumaru thought.

"Sango, no!" Miroku said urgently. "Do not aggravate your wound. We'll fight on our own. You rest."

"No!" Sango protested.

"Yes," Miroku said firmly. "You stay. Inuyasha will take care of him."

"Inuyasha will take care of me, will he? Be not a fool, houshi," Sesshoumaru growled. He turned to face his brother, who had drawn his sword. Sesshoumaru let out a wisp of an arrogant smirk, and drew the Tokijin. He charged toward his brother with one word on his lips: "Die."

Inuyasha's look became almost feral, and he determinedly blocked the oncoming blow. The hanyou struck at the great and terrible taiyoukai, and watched in satisfaction as his thrust hit.

Sesshoumaru stared down at his cracked armor and raised an eyebrow at his brother. "Was that supposed to be painful?" he drawled.

Inuyasha let out an angry growl and went to strike again, but Kagome put a hand on his shoulder. Gulping, she took a tentative step forward, thinking, There must be another way to do this.

"Kagome?" Inuyasha exclaimed, watching as she walked toward his brother. His voice took on a more urgent tone: "What are you doing, fool!"

"S… Sess… Sesshoumaru," she stammered, her body quaking, her voice shaking. "We're looking for a demon." Her voice slowly gained confidence, and she continued, "It's called Tohyama, and it has been killing and killing. We have come to stop it."

"Tohyama," Sesshoumaru repeated. "I have heard of this demon," he announced. "I will take care of it, but right now…" The taiyoukai took a menacing step forward, in the direction of Inuyasha.

"Can't you guys just talk civilly?" Kagome snapped.

"No," Inuyasha muttered.

Sesshoumaru sighed impatiently, and said something most unlike him: "I am listening."

"The only reason we are on your land," Sango said softly, taking a pained step off Kirara, ignoring Miroku's protests, "is to kill Tohyama."

Sesshoumaru closed his eyes and let out a noise of contempt. "I highly doubt any of you will be able to injure this 'Tohyama', no less kill it." Sango made an angry sound, but Sesshoumaru ignored her and continued, "But, I will allow you to stay on my lands until this creature is dead. You save me a job to do. But, should you defeat this creature and live"—Sesshoumaru focused on his brother—"I will be back to kill you."

Concealing his surprise, Inuyasha snorted and said, "Yeah, like we would come to this dump of our own free will."

Sesshoumaru let out a guttural growl, and Inuyasha stopped. "Farewell for now, little brother," the taiyoukai said. The demon's eyes strayed to Sango, but he looked away quickly and departed.

TBC