Shrine Prostitute by FlameTwirler

Chapter 30: Opposition
- a person or group of people opposing, criticizing, or protesting something, someone, or another group
- hostility, unfriendliness, or antagonism
- the action of opposing, resisting, or combating
- the relation between two propositions in virtue of which the truth or falsity of one of them determines the truth or falsity of the other.

Kagome's long-awaited first rally had all of five people in attendance, which included Miroku and Sango. The two stood a good distance apart from each other and she wondered obliquely whether they were getting along or arguing that day. It was sometimes impossible to tell from body language alone.

She started with the pleasantries, thanking everyone for showing up, and introducing both herself and Yami, who was determined to tag along to every event for 'inter-species solidarity', though he'd emphatically declined to ever actually speak at one. She had to wonder how much of a hand her mother had had in his decision.

It was simple, straightforward things she talked about, things meant to provoke a reaction, to prevent people from being able to remain placid about the current situation. She expected disgust, anger, arguments; what she didn't expect was for the heckling to start only two minutes in.

"So you got knocked up by a youkai," said the only other man present, eying Yami distastefully. "Why don't you just visit a doctor to correct the problem, or throw yourself down a flight of stairs if you don't have the money, instead of blathering on like this?"

She glared at him, affronted, but knew she'd only give the movement a bad name if she behaved with anything other than diplomacy. Going with the shortest possible answer she could possibly give, she stated simply, "I'm not pregnant."

His face morphed instantly, transformed by a lascivious grin. "Wanna be?"

Kagome was frozen for a moment, torn between her desire to step forward and slap the man or take a step back and hide behind Yami, knowing she could afford to do neither. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Sango's fists tighten.

Kagome sighed and carried on doggedly, quickly making her points, hoping that simply ignoring the man would be enough to dampen his jeers.

No such luck. A well aimed nudge at the back of his knee from Sango, however, did.

He rose furious, shouting insults, only to pause and stare in confusion at the only two people standing behind him. Kagome almost forgot her place and laughed at his bewilderment as his head swiveled between Miroku and Sango.

His plight was obvious. Even in his drunken state he was chauvinist enough that he couldn't imagine a female could down him so easily. On the other hand, Miroku was dressed in his robes, and even drunks didn't lightly pick fights with holy men. (It made Kagome almost consider wearing traditional – if outdated – miko garb to future rallies. Almost.)

With a huff the man turned to throw a couple more half-hearted insults at Kagome and Yami before stumbling off, cursing them all until he was too far away to be heard anymore.

"Well that was entertaining," remarked one of the two unknown women in the group before waving and wandering off herself. Apparently the man's departure had signaled the end of the meeting as the only other woman left as well.

At least she'd gotten a couple points in between the man's jeers.

The next rally they held met with similar success, but anytime her courage flagged Yami was there, both as quiet support and as a reminder of who and what was at stake here.

Soon they were doing demonstrations and having meetings every Saturday, and despite her fears they never had one where absolutely no one showed up, so that was encouraging at least. She'd originally wanted to have the rallies at the same location every time to provide a sense of organization and stability, but both Yami and her mother had urged her to change each meeting place under the assumption that many of the people who stopped in were passers-by who'd never even heard of it before that moment.

It turned out they were right. She never saw the same face twice until their fifth meeting when she was surprised to sight one of the women from their very first rally, the one where she'd been hampered by her first annoying heckler. Oh, there were plenty of other hecklers who'd plagued her since, but he was the first, the one she'd had to learn from, so he stuck out more distinctly in her mind.

In the long run it was a good thing she'd had the experience; not a single meeting had gone by without dissention among the crowd gathered. She had to deal with insults and insinuations on everything from the general level to the personal, but if anything the ensuing debates that were provoked only brought in more interest.

There had been many calls for proof on what she proclaimed, that hanyou were intelligent in the same manner as humans and youkai, and she'd actually been considering asking one of the calmer, more mature hanyou to consider joining her at one of the rallies. Jinenji had the perfect temperament; he not only didn't wish harm onto those who had bullied or hurt him in the past, he actually wished them well. If anyone could handle such a situation it would be him.

If only he didn't look so different. She knew from basic psychology that people tended to better identify with those who were similar to them, especially in appearance. Those who looked drastically different were automatically cast as outsiders. It was a pity, really; they were missing out on a tremendous friend in the gentle 'monster' of a giant. So she'd been wracking her brain for who else would be a suitable candidate, comparing who could handle the mental strain against who would be received the best…

…But that was before the newspaper article.

A local reporter had run a story about their little get-togethers, and his article had been scathing. She'd been furious. How could blathering on with such an obvious prejudice be called reporting?

Then had come the phone calls. If she'd thought it was bad before when her then-neighbors had learned about her turning her family's shrine into a hanyou-safe house, that was nothing compared to this. Few dared to come and go from her house without the protection or afforded speed of one of their few youkai friends, and the phone had been ringing off the hook. Kagome had tried to convince her family not to answer, but her grandfather had given her a spiel about the duty of tending to a shrine. Not only did they have to be available in case anyone called about something truly relevant – it was what a shrine had phones for after all – but they were doing no favors by ignoring phone calls. As a holy place they were bound to honor their kami by not acting with cowardice and they would handle all complaints with confidence and respect as befitting their station.

She learned he had an ulterior motive though. Not many, but one out of maybe every fifteen or twenty phone calls wasn't angry, but was curious, or even cautiously supportive.

It gave her hope. It meant there were people out there who supported the concept of a free and equal world not only in lip service, but who really meant it. There were people who were just like she had been and wanted confirmation that hanyou did indeed exist, while others simply had questions about what they were really like. She let Jinenji talk to a couple of them.

For better or for worse, after that her rally attendances were never in the single digits again.

Inuyasha woke to the lowest level of consciousness, every sense suddenly on high alert. He could only open his eyes the barest crack, unable to see anything other than a diaphanous light. He couldn't seem to be able to command his body to move a single muscle beyond that though, and he was already so exhausted he had to work hard to keep himself from immediately fading back to inky darkness.

He ran a quick mental checklist down his body, irritated when he naturally checked his hearing first to find he could vaguely hear voices but was unable to distinguish what they were saying. Moving on to taste he grimaced internally; it tasted like something had crawled into his mouth and died. Just how long had he been unconscious?

He honed in on physical sensation last, knowing that if something could lay him out like this he was in for quite a bit of pain. He was almost glad for his total body exhaustion in that moment, as it kept him from following through on the automatic sharp, pain-filled inhale that surely would have given away his semi-conscious state.

He still had no idea what kind of situation he'd landed himself in and had no desire to give away his lone advantage. Thankfully his ears were starting to wake up now and before long he was able to pick up most of the conversation.

"…I still don't see why I had to help drag the bastard all the way up here. He killed my animal, not yours."

For a moment Inuyasha almost regretted his returning hearing; the man's whiny voice was grating to his ears.

"We needed every man we had to get him all the way up here. You know that."

"That's another thing," the whiny man continued. "Why is it today of all days that the monk had to visit this damned shrine? Had to pick one half way up the mountain, he did."

"Would you prefer to have taken him back to the village while we waited for the monk to visit a more convenient area?"


"Shut it," the second man interjected. "He's coming back.

Inuyasha heard feet shuffling and then the voices were just on the edges of his impaired hearing, too dim and muddled to make out. He'd have risked moving then, despite his near paralyzing lethargy, but he could sense that he was surrounded by more than just those three men.

Of course the second man, the more level-headed of the two, had mentioned that it had taken several men to carry him up here – wherever that was. Still, paranoia was second nature to him and it was good to know his senses had returned enough to at least verify the man's claim.

Suddenly he felt a presence hovering directly over him.

"Hm, he's a hanyou all right." The smooth, soothing undertones of his voice gave Inuyasha to believe this to be the aforementioned monk. "Why do you bring him to me?"

He felt fingers on his neck, tugging at the rosary and holding it as far away from his skin as it would stretch for better viewing.

"Ah, yes," hummed the monk, his fingers sliding under the beads so the other man could back away. "Now that is interesting."

He muttered a short incantation and Inuyasha felt power surge through the beads like an electric shock. The monk gasped, dropping the rosary, though whether he flinched away because of the shock or the downward pressure the beads were exerting, pulling back toward his chest, Inuyasha didn't know.

The monk's fingers returned to the rosary, if more tentatively, only stroking the topmost surface of the beads. "Fascinating. They are most definitely active and with some kind of incantation I'm not familiar with."

Someone must've made a face or gesture, or voiced a question beyond his range of hearing, because next he knew the monk was saying, "Yes I'm sure it's holy power housed in this spell. It is curiously strong though; I'd be interested to see how it was crafted."

"Houshi-sama…" said an aggravated voice, a new one if Inuyasha wasn't mistaken.

"Yes, yes, the problem at hand before academic musings." The monk sighed, then added under his breath, "Never interested in the scope of things beyond the here and now."

He stood. "The solution is simple: find whatever monk, miko, or shrine laid this rosary and send him there. They can decide what to do with him beyond that point."

At this there was an outcry from the men.

"How do you propose we do that?"

"What about my calf?"

"Why do you think we brought him to you?"

"We don't know how to do that!"

"He's stolen from us! Shouldn't we get something in return?"

"Why should we expend any more energy on this thing?"

They all quieted down suddenly so the monk must've done something. "Have you searched him to see if he has anything to identify who he is or where he's from?"

"Of course not." The one who'd had the most vicious inflection on his questions was the one who answered. "We understand he might be shrine associated so we didn't harm him any further – hell, we even carried him up here instead of dragging him like I suggested – but that doesn't mean we're going to touch him any more than we absolutely have to."

Inuyasha inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. He didn't exactly want the fuckers touching him either. Not only that but he was sure if any of them did, they'd take extreme care to exacerbate any and all of his wounds, regardless of his being 'shrine associated'.

"Someone needs to," the holy man said, his voice sounding suddenly stern. "I'd do it but I have to watch this. You, search him."

The monk must've indicated one of them somehow because a man moved forward carefully until his shoes nearly touched Inuyasha's arm. The man squatted and patted him down before opening his haori. Once Inuyasha figured out the man was actually going to do as directed, panic set in as he realized what they would find.

He gathered all his energy and sprang up, or at least tried to but he was tied in place. Confusion bloomed, as he could feel no ropes or other bonds, and then he heard the monk's labored breathing.

They'd warded him. Shit.

As he continued to struggle he felt warmth pooling down his chest and arm, and was familiar enough with the sensation to know it was his own blood.

Exhaustion caught up with him far too quickly for his own liking; he must've been wounded much more seriously than he'd thought. Half his body screamed in pain, the other half was numb, and his senses were still far too fogged for him to be able to even guess what his actual injuries were, but he could feel that the magical bonds he fought against weren't weakening at all while he was – rapidly.

Well, double shit.

Forcing his body to relax, he made like he'd fallen back unconscious, biding his time until he could make another escape attempt. In the meantime he diverted all his remaining energy to his hearing. The more he learned from them about where he was, what they'd done to him, and what they planned to do with him, the better.

It was a few moments before the monk was breathing regularly again. "Well, that was exciting, wasn't it?"

If they'd been in a different situation Inuyasha would've found it funny that he could actually feel how hard all the other men were glaring at the holy man.

"Please continue, Yoshino." The monk knew the others, at least some of them, by name then. So either he was a full-time resident of these parts or he regularly traveled through. That meant he was more emotionally tied to these men, regardless of how irritated he might sound with them on occasion. Inuyasha doubted the information would be useful but, seeing as he was incapacitated and laying flat on his back, he was just thankful to be gleaning anything from their sparse words.

The man – Yoshino - hovered over him again, and to Inuyasha's consternation he must've felt the crinkle of paper when he'd patted him down before, because his hand went unerringly to the packet of letters he had secured against his chest. Inuyasha had to keep from cringing when he pulled them out.

"Here, houshi-sama," he said, handing them directly over to the monk and backing away.

"Inuyasha, huh?" There was a moment of silence and his ears burned under the weight of the gazes of every man present. "I guess that fits."

There was a rustling of paper and Inuyasha prayed the man didn't open them. He cursed himself for not destroying the letters when he had the chance, for being so stupid as to carry them on his person instead of secreting them away when he knew he was being hunted. If they read the kinds of things Kagome had written to him it could make things very uncomfortable for both her and her family's shrine.

"Very interesting indeed," the monk mused aloud.

"Well, what is it?" one of the men demanded, impatient and curious at the same time.

"There's at least one shrine listed on the envelopes here."

There was a mixture of groans and surprised exclamations from the group around him, and one proclamation hidden underneath that sounded suspiciously like an 'I told you so'.

"Wait, what do you mean 'at least one'?" asked one of the men, finally catching on.

"The return address has been rubbed out on each envelope. There are still pressure marks from the pen used to write it out, which if I hold it the right way might indicate a shrine, but I think it's a useless point to follow. Much more interesting, and useful to us if I'm correct, is the address where he would have received these letters. If, that is, he is indeed this Inuyasha."

They all glanced at his ears again; there was little enough doubt of that.

The monk drew the silence out, obviously enjoying the attention. "It's addressed to the Bacana Shrine."

They were dumbfounded. There were thousands of kami and a multitude of shrines, too many for any but the most industrious of monks and miko to keep track of. But there were a smattering of fifty or so of the largest and most powerful of these that pretty much everyone was familiar with. While the mode of worship at the Bacana Shrine was more liberal than most conservative country folks were comfortable with in reality, they still appreciated the theory of the design and the powers of the particular kami it served. After all, they were farmers and ranchers who plowed fields, raised crops, and were experts in animal husbandry. Any deity that blessed fertility was one they liked to keep on their good side.

"Well then, gentlemen," the monk declared, "I believe it is time for us to make a call."

"Do you think being as big and rich as that shrine is they'll pay us back for the damage this…Inuyasha dealt to our crops and livestock?"

He could hear the monk tapping his letters – his letters, damn it! – against his chin and had to quash his irritation that they'd now smell like him. He had bigger things to worry about.

"That, my friend, all depends on who the hanyou is to them and how highly they value him."

The implications were clear. If he wasn't worth enough to the shrine they could just deny any association with him and then there would be nothing to prevent these men from killing him outright.

Kagome gave the door a scathing look before bolstering her courage and opening it. She'd been avoiding this room since shortly after learning of Inuyasha's leaving; it was simply too uncomfortable to come in here and remember.

Now she was left with little choice though.

Rolling up her sleeves and tying a rag around her nose and mouth she set to her task and attacked the dust. As thick clouds billowed into the air and dust bunnies started multiplying like, well, bunnies, she came face to face with just how long she really had been avoiding this room.

She hadn't been inside since Inuyasha left over six months ago.

She hit the bed linens and coughed as more detritus was spewed into the air. After she took in its state she eyed the room a bit guiltily. It had certainly gotten more than just a bit dirty during its months of neglect.

Sango and Miroku had both offered to help with the cleanup, though not at the same time. Sango tried to avoid putting herself in enclosed spaces with Miroku if she could help it. She'd thanked them both – they'd obviously seen how at war she was with herself over it and offered to act as a buffer – but she needed to deal with this alone.

Luckily her mother understood and gave her the space she needed.

She couldn't justify her avoidance anymore though; it was an empty room when they were in need of space. Since being in the news they'd had six hanyou show up on their doorstep, and at this rate they expected more soon.

Whether through word of mouth of those she already knew, or whether people were always getting wind of her family's shrine because of the rallies they held, more and more hanyou were showing up on her doorstep. They hadn't run out of space quite as quickly as she'd expected though, because some of the families maintained their guardianship of their hanyou.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect was that in the majority of those cases, the family was youkai. She didn't know if they worried that she'd do something to taint the clan's honor, if they felt duty bound to keep at least partial responsibility, or if they were truly attached to their hanyou kin and only acted haughty because it was expected in their world. Youkai were just so hard to read it was nearly impossible to tell – made even more difficult because the hanyou was usually sent back and forth in the care of a servant.

Then again, maybe the very fact that they were youkai allowed them to develop closer bonds with their half-blood relatives.

She didn't know how she could've overlooked such important factors as time or age until she met a one-hundred year old hanyou. He lived with his ningen cousins once removed – the grandchildren of his mother's sister – as his mother had died sixty years prior. The woman he'd come with had seemed a bit warm toward him – she had grown up with him after all – but the man (her brother or husband, Kagome still hadn't found out) was just happy to have one less mouth to feed – and a ravenous one at that.

In fact, that was part of why they were running out of space. Yami had made good on his threat to collect money from those families willing to contribute to their hanyou's upbringing. He'd actually taken the entire role onto himself, which relieved Kagome to no end. She couldn't imagine going in to demand money from youkai clans – some were rather powerful, after all – in what she was sure they'd think of her 'grubby, human' state. She was more than happy to hand off that particular task.

But while they had gotten some money, plenty of it was going quite literally down the drain. She'd had no idea how much some of these species of hanyou could eat!

Yami had managed to buy them one property – actually one youkai family had purchased it for them on the condition it was all the money they ever need give, which was fair considering house prices were already at a premium. However the sellers had completely trashed the house before handing over the keys.

Kagome had been furious but also understood that they couldn't take a complaint to any agency or court that would actually take their side.

Meanwhile they had to start serious renovations on the property before it was habitable, though there were often groups that camped over there – both for the fun of it and to prevent any further vandalism.

It interested her somewhat that she could differentiate, for the most part, the kind of upbringing each hanyou had based on their reaction to the camping. Some were completely uninterested, and those were usually those who'd been kicked out of the house and lived on the outskirts of the family dwelling for the most part. Those excited by the prospect were mostly those like Josef, who'd been stuck indoors, tucked away from view. Even those who'd grown up outside, though, took their turns at camping. It was an entirely different experience when done by their own choice and when surrounded by friends.

As such t was selfish to have two rooms set aside as hers when they were so crammed for space. So it was either give up her room in the main house – which often had someone crashing on the floor or makeshift trundle-bed anyhow – or give up this one.

The latter was impossible. Her family wouldn't let anyone else move into a room they viewed as Inuyasha's, just in case. She wasn't sure she'd be able to stand seeing anyone else in there either, so if she had to give up a room it was going to have to be the one from her childhood. It was fitting, in a way, the symbolism of having to let go of that small remnant of her pink frilled past. So it was time to clean up and move in. Sooner or later she had to face her ghosts anyhow, so she figured she may as well do it when it was useful to others.

It took her most of the day to get the place cleaned up, from wiping down every flat surface to sweeping to washing the linens and hanging them to dry. It wouldn't have taken her half that long if every item hadn't made her pause and relive the memories associated with it.

Finally, though, she stood back, wiped her hands on her grubby pants, and nodded to herself. The place was habitable. It had never been intended as a permanent living space though – her family had done a speedy but thoughtful job putting it together for what was only supposed to be a month. There were plenty of improvements that needed to be made: adding better insulation to the walls for instance and putting better binding on the window to keep it from rattling – that last had driven Inuyasha to distraction – but she could manage all that over time while she lived there. Or rather, mostly Souta and jii-chan would. She understood most of it in theory but she was still something of a klutz so her family banned her from anything that had to do with a power tool or anything sharp.

Souta had already made plans to tackle the window and figured that as long as it was out he may as well help her install the window ac unit. She'd laughed and assured him that, what with it still being frigid outside, that project could wait, but he'd insisted. After she'd seen the plans he'd drawn up, she relented.

He'd already measured and cut the wood, built some framing, and when she'd jokingly asked if he was sure he'd done everything right, he assured her he'd measured everything four times just to be sure, and he'd triple checked his calculations.

It was the dreaded math! It didn't matter that it was simple addition and subtraction, he'd done math for her! Sure, he was better at it than she was, but he wasn't any bigger a fan. She'd almost gone a little weepy on him and he'd looked askew at her and she'd laughed outright when he started to fidget, looking so uncomfortable she was sure he was ready to bolt from the room.

"I just want Inuyasha to know what he was missing all this time," he grumbled mutinously. "You know, when he wakes up, stops being an idiot, and comes back."

Kagome just stared at him blankly for a second before bursting into an earsplitting grin. But because she couldn't be sure she wasn't tearing up at the same time, she hugged Souta to her, covering the gesture by giving him a well-deserved noogie.

"Aw, sis!" he complained.

"Thanks, Souta," she whispered fiercely, her brother calming instantly in her arms. His thrashing turned instead into a hug of his own.

"Hey, I was just talking about the room."

She laughed softly but didn't point out that he still let her hold onto him for a few moments longer.

Ryu double checked the summons in his hand against the number on the conference room door before taking a deep breath and knocking. He wasn't sure what this was about; he'd never been summoned to such a high level room before and the sense of foreboding that had been nipping on his heels only grew to see the single representative inside. Standing. Apparently this wasn't going to be a long meeting.

"Ryu-san," the representative said bowing. He hastily returned the bow, but since he didn't know how to address the other man he stayed mute. The representative gave an approving nod.

"Earlier this week we received a phone call from a monk in one of the southern provinces. Do you know what he had to tell us?"

Ryu shook his head.

"He'd found Inuyasha and wished to return him to us."

The middle-aged man couldn't prevent the sharp intake of breath and the representative looked him over shrewdly.

"So it is true that you care for the beast. I would advise you to be more careful about your attachments in the future." With a wave of his hand he tossed the comment away. "Regardless, he has been returned, though not without considerable cost to our honorable Shrine. Inuyasha had pillaged their farms and not only did we have to pay for his damages but there was also considerable funds spread around to ensure their silence. I'm sure you see where I'm going with this?"

Ryu just looked at him blankly. The man sighed.

"You are one of our best employees, Ryu-san. We appreciate everything you have done, and understand that for some unfathomable reason you care for that beast, which is why we're giving you this warning now and not just sending you his new contract. Inuyasha may be back but he's on his last strike. He brings in plenty of revenue and worship for our honorable kami, provides us with a clientele that otherwise would be unavailable to us, but he's a liability. He always has been. In the past they've evened out but now he's becoming reckless."

"What are you saying?" Ryu asked, seeking clarification in the midst of all the words being thrown at him.

"We will not protect him again. If he steps out of line he's disassociated from the Shrine, completely cut off, and he's on his own."

That was quite the declaration, but something he'd worry about later. "But you say he's back? Now?"

The representative huffed rather irritably. "Yes, he's downstairs in his room."

Ryu turned to go, assuming that to be his dismissal and he'd have to read about these supposed changes once they got a copy of Inuyasha's new contract to him, but the other man called after him.

"Ryu-san, when I say we're not taking any more steps for him, I mean we're stripping all protections from him. That means if a client goes too far there will be no castigation anymore. We are increasing the fines dramatically, may as well get all the money out of him we can before he self-destructs, but we will no longer be putting clients on restrictive probations or making them wait any amount of time before they are allowed to request an appointment with him again. Are we clear?"

Stunned Ryu turned back to the man, dawning horror manifesting in his eyes. Before, even with the more sadistic clients, there had been a measure of counterbalance. Any client that damaged Inuyasha beyond what they'd paid for, any who harmed him enough that he needed extra time to heal – especially if that that cut into his next client's appointment – was subjected to extremely harsh fines and only limited engagements with him for a period of time, determined by the extremity of the damage inflicted. Despite this there were plenty of Inuyasha's customers who were regular rule breakers. They'd discover all too quickly that the Shrine had stripped its protection and every horror Inuyasha was subjected to would just be magnified.

It didn't make sense. Those punishments didn't just protect Inuyasha, they protected the Shrine's investment. The whole reason they were willing to take a chance on him in the first place was because it opened up a new venue of clientele for them. Plus they kept one client from infringing upon another. If he was too injured to see a client what would the Shrine do now? Push back the appointment? That was nearly unheard of, though not quite as much as the freebie or discount the disappointed client might demand.

Why would they throw that away when that was the only reason they took a chance on having a hanyou here in the first place? Why risk offending a client because Inuyasha was too injured to make an appointment, or he did anyhow and the client was irritated at having a toy broken from the start? What if one went too far and actually killed him? How did this decision benefit the Shrine in any way?

That's when it hit him - that's what this man meant when he said all protections were stripped. They didn't care for Inuyasha anymore, even as a cash cow. His restrictions and embarrassments had grown beyond what the Shrine leaders cared to deal with. They probably would've left him to rot in that southern province if not for the fact that acting so would sully the Bacana Shrine's name to the people in that region. They didn't want him here anymore. At all. They'd actually probably prefer it if he did die and rid them of their little 'problem'.

The representative couldn't keep the small tinge of smugness from his expression. Ryu gathered he'd never been much a fan of keeping a hanyou, of 'sullying' the honorable Bacana Shrine in such a way.

"Like I said, Ryu-san, this was a warning just to let you know the state of things at the present. Nothing more, nothing less. This is just how it is."

Ryu stood straight and looked the representative in the eye. "Hai, I understand." Then bowing his leave he headed directly back downstairs to check on the person he was closest to in the world.

Kagome was washing dishes when the phone rang and she heaved a put upon sigh; of course the phone would only demand attention when she was elbows deep in suds and there was no one else nearby. Hastily wiping her hands on her pants, she picked up the phone with still slippery fingers. "Hello?"


She smiled brightly, the expression carrying into her voice. "Ryu! It's good to hear from you. You calling to talk to mama or do I get the pleasure of your conversation today?" she teased gently. Nothing was going on between Ryu and her mom but the two of them had become fast friends, if for no other reason than that they could grumble to each other about their incorrigible, stubborn charges. She ribbed them mercilessly about it, mostly because while her mom was just amused by her antics it embarrassed Ryu to death - she could practically hear him blushing through the phone, even now.

The silence on the other end caught her off guard. Had she gone too far? She was sure he knew it was all in good fun, that he'd have told her if it really riled or offended him instead of just making him roll his eyes at her. Was she wrong?

"Kagome..." he started hesitantly and her breath caught. Even for his Serious Voice his tone was off. Something had happened.

Her grip on the phone tightened, both hands nearly crushing the receiver to her ear. "What is it?" she asked, even though part of her was worried she didn't want to know.

"It's Inuyasha." He paused, took a breath. "He's back."

The phone slipped from her still slick fingers and clattered on the ground but Kagome didn't notice any of it. Eyes wide, staring at nothing, she couldn't hear anything other than the roaring of blood in her ears. Inuyasha...was back? Her mind froze for a minute, unable to comprehend what she'd just been told, and then started racing frantically to catch up. If he'd left then why was he back? Had he run as they'd assumed? If so then why return? Had he hated it out there? Had he missed something about life at the Shrine? Or had he not returned on his own at all? Or maybe they'd been completely wrong about why he'd gone missing; maybe he'd been kidnapped by another client and only just now returned. She needed answers, and she needed them now.

Ryu's voice finally broke through her clouded thoughts. "Kagome? Kagome?!"

Hurriedly she picked up the phone, fumbling it a couple times in her haste. "What happened?" she panted into the phone, winded by her own near-panic.

"I only know the basics; he hasn't told me a whole lot and doesn't want to see me much right now. I think he's still dealing with the fallout of everything that happened. But basically he had run and tried his hand at living lawless for a while. He was living off the land but when he killed a farmer's calf they sent out a hunting party that shot him."

"They shot him?!" she shrieked, only vaguely aware of the fact that she was gathering an audience at the doorway to the kitchen.

He sighed raggedly and she heard some rustling that she could imagine was him running his hand roughly across his face. "Yeah, he's okay now though. It was touch and go there for a while. They almost killed him before finding out his connection to the Shrine."

She didn't notice the high-pitched keening sound that left her mouth, nor the hand that squeezed reassuringly on her shoulder.

"The Shrine brought him back," Ryu continued, "but they stripped a lot of protections from him. You'll have to read the new contract when you come back. You will be coming back soon, right?"

"O-of course!" she choked out. "Why would you even need to ask?"

She heard more noise from his end, then he said, "Well you know how Inuyasha is. He said he doesn't want to see you either, but that doesn't matter, right? You're still coming to see him, right? He needs you right now."

That brought her up short. If Inuyasha was a normal boyfriend, if they had anything even vaguely resembling a normal relationship, then his worries be damned, she'd march right up to him and push her way into his life. He'd owe her that much for making her worry; she was desperate to see that he was all right, safe and alive, in person. But she couldn't avoid the fact that they didn't have a normal relationship and couldn't ignore that Inuyasha was still a slave. If a regular guy didn't want to see her he could go to great lengths to avoid her while Inuyasha didn't have that luxury. There wasn't anywhere he could really go to escape from her if he truly wanted to be left alone. Plus there was the fact that he was used to having people push themselves on him, regardless of his own desires, so who knew if he'd even bother putting in the effort to avoid her even if he could.

This whole thing was so absurdly, needlessly complicated. She hated this hanyou system so much, it messed with too many people's lives. Hers and Inuyasha's was only the tip of the iceberg. Finally looking around she saw the motley crew that had gathered around her, all watching her in concern. Her mother, of course, Shippou, Shinichi, and a half-dozen of their other fosters.

How would they feel if someone barged into their life like that? Relieved, if not pleased, that someone treated them normally, as they would anyone else, or irritated that their wishes were being ignored?

She shook her head. That was too much to think of at the moment. Besides, she'd been over this in her head before. She was pretty sure there were no right answers. All she knew was that she had to see Inuyasha alive and whole with her own eyes or she might burst. Once she'd seen him, seen his reaction to her being there, well they could take the rest from there.

"Yeah, I'll be coming," she said finally. She did calculations in her head. She could get most of her obligations covered or shifted enough to allow her a couple days off but she just had too many things to do to leave for long on such short notice. "I can only be there three nights though," she added, looking at her mom with raised eyebrows, asking with a glance if she thought it doable or too long a time frame. When her mom nodded she breathed a sigh of relief and smiled slightly. She barely heard Ryu chattering on the other end, focused only on the date he gave her.

"All right, I'll see you then."