Well, I think I officially wrote this chapter at least twice, and both times my computer managed to crash and lose everything I wrote. So now, after three weeks in and out of the computer store, it's finally working again and not a moment too soon. Finals are this week, and studying is critical. Luckily for all of you, I'd written most of this previously, or else I wouldn't be able to post anything until mid-December, but I wanted to get this chapter out as soon as possible to say thanks for all of your wonderful support.

I can hardly believe fall term is already almost over, but at the same time I'm grateful. It's been hell on wheels for the last ten weeks, and I'm going out with a bang since I seem to have contracted a nasty virus that has my doctor scheduling me for a Mono test on Monday. Fabulous. Not.

Anyway, I hope you all continue to like how the story's progressing. More action to come later, but this chapter deals with emotions (namely Inuyasha's…lol). Blessings, everyone!


Title: Strictly Off the Record

Author: dolphingirl0113

Chapter VI

Rating: PG-13 (for language and at times implied sexual situations)

Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha.


Standing stiffly against the wall, Inuyasha was horrified to realize he was actually squirming under the scrutiny of his brother's narrow-minded gaze. Damn! Why did Sesshoumaru still hold so much power over him?

Shifting his eyes between his brother's form and the floor, Inuyasha finally gathered the energy to move away from the wall and toward that huge mahogany desk. But once he was there, only feet away, he still remained silent. And Sesshoumaru made no move to help as he kept his eyes glued to his desk, flipping through documents so quickly if someone walked by they'd think he was just shuffling paper…but in reality the demon wasn't missing a single word.

It was strange…Inuyasha hadn't been truly afraid of Sesshoumaru since he was a child, but that didn't mean he had moved past the initial mixed feelings of awe and inadequacy that always rushed through his veins like a vicious drug every time he saw his older half brother. Sesshoumaru was the epitome of power, strength, and endurance…always calm when faced with a storm, taking every precaution, planning every move carefully before acting…and he was a full-fledged demon.

In short, Sesshoumaru Yamamoto was everything Inuyasha was not.

"So are you going to actually make use of my very valuable time, little brother, or are you just planning on standing there until I'm forced to have security remove you?

"Keh!" Inuyasha felt himself wake from the stupor he'd been in since the moment he'd walked into the office ten minutes ago. At least that was one positive change from when he was younger…the feelings of inadequacy eventually faded away. "I need you to answer a few questions for me."

Sesshoumaru didn't even look up from the folder he was flipping through. "I'm not letting you drop Kagome Higurashi as your assignment."

"Well in spite of the fact that question crosses my mind every day at least five times, that's not what I'm here about this time."

"Then what is it?" He still wasn't looking up. For some reason he couldn't explain Inuyasha felt bothered by Sesshoumaru's apparently uncaring attitude.

Thoughtlessly reaching into his shirt, he pulled out the amulet, still warm from the heat of his skin, and held it between his fingers, the lights overhead reflecting harshly off the gold of his name. Closing his eyes, he saw Kikyou…just as he always saw Kikyou when he looked at it. Kikyou's beautiful smile…Kikyou's caring eyes and velvety voice…Kikyou's shocked expression as she put her hand over the gaping bullet wounds in her chest only to pull back fingers coated red with blood…

And then blinding fury whipped through his mind, and without thinking Inuyasha tore the cord holding the amulet around his neck, ignoring the sting as it snapped against his skin, and threw it onto Sesshoumaru's desk, finally forcing the older man to stop what he was doing. "For once in your damn life I want you to listen to me!" He all but shouted.

His golden eyes observing him with a harsh glint, Sesshoumaru finally reached over and hit a small button on the wall behind him, causing the blinds to draw over all the windows, giving them complete privacy. "And what is the cause for this latest tantrum of yours, Inuyasha?"

"Tantrum? Is that all my emotions are to you? A stupid child's tantrum?" Inuyasha was furious. "You're partially to blame for the fact that she's dead, you bastard! If you'd told me what I needed to know about that cursed piece of junk, I would never have given it to Kikyou in the first place."

"I assumed father had explained it to you, brother."

"You did not. You just wanted to make sure you associated with your tainted half-brother as little as possible, and so you convinced yourself that contacting me wasn't necessary." He began pacing. "How could you not have known what I was doing, Sesshoumaru? You were in the middle of it as much as I was! Think about Kagura!"

"That is enough!" It was the first time in fifty years that Inuyasha had heard his brother raise his voice above a controlled monotone. Looking over, he saw Sesshoumaru's usual stoic mask in place, but his golden eyes were smoldering. "You will not speak her name now or ever."

Inuyasha plunged ahead anyway. Hell, he'd never been one to pay much attention to warnings. "Did you love her, Sesshoumaru? Did you love her in spite of the fact that she wasn't your true mate? Did you love her in spite of the fact that your amulet would never protect her and bind her to you?"

"Why are you asking me this?"

Inuyasha laughed, his voice cracking, the sound desolate. "Because I need to understand what kind of power that damn thing truly wields in my life!" He thrust his finger harshly at the round amulet mocking him from the desk. "It cost me the woman I loved, the woman I swore to protect, and to this day I still don't understand why." He turned pleading eyes upon his brother, hating himself for showing such weakness yet unable to stop. "Can't you tell me why, brother? Can't you just put aside your obvious hate for me for two seconds and tell me why?"

Sesshoumaru didn't shift expression or even twitch an eyebrow…but he did speak, his voice once more calm. "No one knows how exactly the amulets work, Inuyasha, or why…just that they do, and have been doing, since the beginning of time."

"Keh! That's no answer."

"It's the best one I have for you."

"Does it manipulate feelings?" He thought of Kagome and the way she managed to lower his inhibitions the moment she walked into a room, bringing out the side of him he never showed anyone…the side that was hurt, angry, and alone. "Does it force you to love the one it deems your mate?"

"Force is a rather harsh way of putting it."

"Answer the damn question!"

Sesshoumaru exhaled slowly, still glowering as though speaking at all was causing him great pain and he resented Inuyasha for it. "Nothing in this world or the next can manipulate someone's heart. Our hearts are our own, brother…they love whom they choose, and hate who they choose. They will not be contained, denied, or prevented once they decide on a course."

"Then what's the purpose of the amulet?"

"I already told you no one really understands. Some kind of mystical power…fate, destiny…call it whatever you like…chooses the partner best suited for you in this life. But that doesn't mean you are required to love that chosen partner. It just means that the magic of the amulet feels that person would create the strongest offspring or the best chances of survival…in short, it's purely scientific. Not romantic."

Inuyasha felt some of the tension drain away from his face as he stood back up to his full height, realizing that in his frustration he'd bent over and braced his hands against the desk. Still, there were many questions, like… "What happens then if you don't love your chosen mate? Are you required to be together anyway?"

"No. But before you make any hasty decisions, little brother, let me also point this out…eternity alone is a long time. And the amulet only recognizes one soul in the entire world as your mate. If you miss your chance with her, there will never be another opportunity."

"But you just said love is separate."

"Yes, I did." Suddenly, surprisingly, Sesshoumaru's eyes acquired a slightly hazy glow. "You could certainly love many in your long life, Inuyasha…you could love them more than life itself. But if they are not your mate, they will all grow old and die, and you will be forced to go on alone."

The panic was returning again, though he couldn't understand why. "What are you saying, Sesshoumaru?"

The haze cleared and Inuyasha was pinned by his brother's sharp gaze once more. "I'm saying for once in your life don't be an irrational fool who only lives in the moment. Think about the future, and what consequences your choices may have on that future."

Riddles…Sesshoumaru always seemed to be talking in riddles…

Keh. When he was talking at all.

Suddenly Inuyasha's cell phone rang, and without thinking he pulled the device from his pocket and flipped it open, the wireless earpiece immediately answering the call. "Yamamoto," he answered in his usual professional voice, his eyes still locked with his brother.

"Inuyasha! Oh good, you're not off on one of your runs."

"Miroku, what's wrong?" The hanyou tried to keep his voice casual, but inside his journalist instincts had kicked into full swing. Something wasn't right, and he had to find out what that something was.


"By God, Sango, if you ask me how I'm feeling one more time I'm going to lock you out of my apartment!" Kagome's eyes were trained on the ceiling, praying for patience, knowing her best friend meant well even as she violently jerked the spoon in the pot of noodles that were currently softening on the stove.

Taking the hint, the brunette lowered her gaze and continued chopping vegetables for the salad she was preparing. "I can't help being worried about you, Kagome. I got the scare of a lifetime today when I received a call from the hospital telling me my best friend in the whole world had been shot."

Looking at Sango with exasperation, Kagome rolled up the sleeve of her shirt to display the clean white square bandage over her shoulder. "I wasn't shot, Sango…a bullet grazed my shoulder. A bullet that the police are positive wasn't even intended for me."

"They don't know that."

"All the evidence points to that conclusion, and you know it." Seeing her friend still refusing to believe it, Kagome pushed even harder. "Come on, Sango…you're smarter than this. The police interviewed five eyewitnesses who heard the shot and saw me faint, and none of them actually saw someone pull a gun on me. Frankly, they were all convinced the sound of the gun came from an odd direction anyway. So in the end I was just the unlucky one who caught the end of a fight between other people."

Sango finished cutting up a few carrots and silently emptied them into the large wooden salad bowl before proceeding to garnish the creation with cheese. "I don't know, Kagome…this is a safe neighborhood you live in. There's never been any gun fights or drug dealing or anything shady on these streets before."

"And what's that supposed to mean? How does that information suddenly make me a target?"

"I don't know…"

"I mean it's not like there's been any major changes in my life that would bring this about. I'm still going about business the way I always have. Ordering from the same companies. Stocking the shelves with the same kinds of books. Hanging out with the same people." She gave Sango a playful nudge with her foot at that, causing the brunette to smile in spite of herself. "Face it…I'm still the same boring best friend you've had for the last five years, and nothing about my life has changed enough to warrant someone suddenly targeting me with a gun."

"I suppose you're right."

"Of course I'm right. So stop worrying."

Sango laughed and started to reply when the buzzer alerted them to the fact that someone wanted to get into the building to see her. Giving each other puzzled frowns, Kagome handed off the colander she'd been about to use to strain the noodles and walked over to the door, pressing the button on the intercom as she did so. "Yes?"

"Hey! It's me!"

Kagome sighed and released a breath at the familiar voice, realizing that perhaps her ordeal, while purely a result of bad luck, had affected her a little more than she cared to admit. Her nerves seemed just a little too raw for her taste.

Still, she managed to sound normal when she replied. "Are you here to join the party, Miroku?"

"Only if this is the hottest hangout in Manhattan, as my sources have led me to believe."

Kagome laughed, and Sango echoed it. "Your sources might have exaggerated just a bit. But you can come up anyway." She hit the button to unlock the gate below, and opened her door slightly before walking back to the small kitchen area to finish fixing dinner.

Miroku appeared a few seconds later carrying a bottle of wine, but to Kagome and Sango's surprise, he was not alone.

"Inuyasha?" Kagome felt his name slide off her tongue before she had a chance to stop it.

He stood in her doorway looking distraught, to say the least, a small piece of paper clutched in his hands as his eyes raked over her body carefully, clearly looking for traces of blood or bruising or other forms of injury. Finally, seeing none, he stopped and met her eyes. "Miroku told me what happened. I figured I'd better come by and make sure you were ok."

"Oh." She didn't know why that warmed her the way it did, but then again Kagome reminded herself that a girl would have to be completely daft not to appreciate the concern of such a handsome (and famous, she reminded herself) man. "Well I'm fine. You didn't really have to come and see me. Thanks for your concern, though."

She could have kicked herself for sounding so callous, and could tell by the way his face instantly hardened that it wasn't lost on him either.

Trying to make amends, she indicated the damp noodles in the sink and the pasta sauce with her head. "Would you like to stay for dinner? We made more than enough food."

He seemed surprised by the offer, and she could tell he wanted to refuse, but in the end something pushed him to nod his head instead. "Alright."

"Perfect." She smiled brightly and proceeded to place wine glasses on her modest little table, feeling Inuyasha's eyes follow her as she moved and doing her best to ignore them.

He couldn't help it. There had been so much unexpected fear when Miroku had told him what happened. Inuyasha couldn't explain it, didn't want to delve into his feelings further for fear of what he'd find, but even so he'd insisted on coming over to see Kagome Higurashi for himself to assure his worried mind that she was alright.

Glancing down at the paper in his hands, he reminded himself that his concern wasn't just for Kagome's sake. There were much darker forces at work, drawing him forcefully back into the past, and he had a bad feeling it was his sudden appearance in Kagome's life that made her a target.

But what did it mean?

"This was found on her chest by one of the witnesses," Miroku stated in a voice that was straining to be calm. He handed over a small slip of paper that Inuyasha took without hesitation.

Flicking his eyes over it briefly, he only felt more confused, not less, when he looked back up at his friend. "It's just the article about our trip to the opera last night. What's the big deal?"

"The big deal is that I know Kagome didn't cut it out of the paper and circle her head in red."

Inuyasha looked again and had to admit that Miroku had a point. The article had been neatly cut out of the newspaper, and then someone had not only circled Kagome's head with a read pen, but had also proceeded to highlight her name each time it appeared in the article. A shiver ran down his spine at the implication that…

"Inuyasha? Hello?" Kagome was waving a hand over his face, jolting him out of his thoughts, and the hanyou blinked before looking down at her honest, kind smile.

Tucking the article into his jeans pocket, not wanting to scare her any more than she no doubt already was, he grunted in response. "Yeah?"

She giggled. "Dinner's ready. But you're welcome to just stare at my ceiling all night if you want. I certainly don't mind."

"Keh." The corners of his lips actually threatened to turn up into a smile, though Inuyasha stomped down that reaction efficiently enough. The woman had spunk…he had to give her that much at least. That night she'd been grazed by a bullet (and unlike the police he was convinced it had been no accident) and yet she was still able to joke and smile.

Perhaps she'd been correct in insisting he didn't really know her that well after all.

Dinner was uneventful and pleasant, with warmth and friendship seeming to fill every square inch of Kagome's modest little studio apartment. Even Inuyasha couldn't help but feel affected by the time dessert was passed around, something tense and firm uncoiling in his chest.

He'd never had friendships like this. He'd never known or understood such companionship. No cell phone would have rung to alert people he'd been grazed by a bullet if he'd never met Miroku. And even now he was callous toward his best friend, causing him to wonder why Miroku even stayed with him most days.

Kagome said something amusing that caused Miroku and Sango to laugh, and Inuyasha realized, almost in desperation, that he wished he could laugh with them. He suddenly, for the first time, wanted to let go of his inhibitions, fears, and mental crosses. He wanted to be able to forget what had been done to him in the past…of all that he'd lost…if only so that he could have nights like these, with friends who truly cared whether he lived or died.

Even with Kikyou he'd been strained. He'd shared his pain with her, but never his smile. Sometimes he'd feared she wouldn't accept him if she'd seen the more gullible, innocent side of his nature.

In Kagome's presence it was exactly the opposite. With her, he feared being turned away for being too dark, depressing, and serious.

"Hey Inuyasha, are you still with us?"

"Shut up, Miroku." His cheeks turned slightly pink, even though he knew no one could possibly know what he'd been thinking about. He didn't like this sudden need to be with others. It was a weakness, and all weaknesses were to be eliminated from his life as quickly as possible. End of story.

So why did his chest become so painfully tight at the thought of never seeing Kagome again? Why had he been more concerned with her welfare when Miroku had first called him, then he had been about interpreting the hidden message on the newspaper article? Usually he was always about business…totally professional…

The floor rumbled slightly as people pushed back chairs and rose to their feet, Inuyasha dutifully following with his dishes and placing them in the sink.

"Well, I'd better get going, babe," Sango finally commented with a yawn to accent her point. "I have to get up early tomorrow for a special private session with one of my students."

"Alright Sango." Kagome walked her friend to the door and the pair embraced. "And I do appreciate you coming over, in spite of what I may have said earlier."

Sango just laughed. "Kagome, if I wasn't able to ignore your temper, we wouldn't have made it this long."

"I don't know if that's a compliment or an insult."

"Maybe a little of both." The brunette winked but then frowned as Miroku appeared at her side. "What are you doing?"

He gave her an impish grin. "Walking you home."

Sango's look turned skeptical. "Oh no you don't. The last time you did that I had to practically beat you off with a stick to keep you from coming upstairs."

"Come on, Sango…I promise I'll behave…please?" His violet eyes were practically shining with honesty and innocent intentions, neither of which Kagome believed he even remotely felt. Still, she wasn't surprised when her friend caved and agreed.

"Fine. Let's go." She grabbed her purse, but then looked at Inuyasha and frowned. "But what about Inuyasha? I'm sure he doesn't really want to walk me home too."

Miroku waved his hand as though that were obvious. "He can stay here a little longer. I'm sure he'll appreciate relaxing, since he's had kind of a long day anyway."

"I'm glad you read minds now, Miroku."

"Come on, Inuyasha, it's not like Kagome bites or anything."

"That's hardly the point."

But Miroku was already walking out the door and clearly planning to ignore Inuyasha's last comment or obvious displeasure about the situation. With one final wink at Kagome over his shoulder, he was gone, and she chuckled on behalf of Sango, who she had a feeling would require that stick of hers before the night was over.

Turning around she almost stumbled into Inuyasha's broad chest, and immediately felt the tension in the room go up a few degrees. Looking up into his amber eyes, she blushed and immediately glanced away again. "Look…you really don't have to stay if you don't want to." He frowned at her, and she rushed on, feeling worse by the second. "I mean, I'm sorry Miroku kind of abandoned you here. I'm sure you were already brought over under protest, and-"

"I told you I was worried about you," he interrupted.

"Oh." She blushed some more, but her eyes softened. "Well…um…"

Looking equally uncomfortable, Inuyasha rubbed the back of his neck and cleared his throat. "Kagome, maybe the better thing to do is for me to remind you that I don't have to stay."

Her eyes flashed up to his instantly. "Why would I not want you to stay?" The instant the words left her mouth she could have kicked herself. Still, she didn't miss the slight twitch of his lips in response, or the way his chest seemed to expand.

Males, she decided with an inward roll of her eyes, were so predictable. They seemed to desire only three things in life: food, sex, and the strength to claim a female who they would then proceed to drag off to their cave, fighting off anyone who tried to stop them with a club.

"It's a nice place you have here," He finally offered, and it occurred to Kagome that he was actually being civil for once. They hadn't argued all evening. She liked that.

"Thanks." It wasn't really anything spectacular, but she took the compliment anyway. It was a typical studio apartment, not too large and not too small, Japanese screens from her family's shrine doing their best to divide the space into rooms. Windows on the far wall were divided in two so that her bedroom and living area could both have a little light, and the dining area was also closed off but was still in view of the tiny little kitchen and laundry room (more like a laundry closet) at the back of the apartment.

But the thing that truly made Kagome feel at home were the shelves of books that lined nearly every wall. She'd been collecting them since she was a girl, only getting rid of one if she truly didn't enjoy reading it. It meant that even at her age she'd managed to acquire quite a collection; one that she was very proud of.

Obviously mirroring her thoughts, Inuyasha began browsing the shelves much like he'd browsed her favorites at the bookstore earlier in the day. "How many do you suppose you have now?"

"I don't know. Hundreds. I only have about half my collection here with me."

He looked at her with wide eyes. "You're kidding."

"No." She giggled. "I love to collect books. I hope some day I can have a big house with a big library of my own to go and read, and where other people can go read too if they like."

"Planned it all out, have you?"

She shrugged. "Not really. Just the library."

"Just like any woman. Always planning for things that won't happen for another ten years."

Kagome bristled but managed to keep her temper in check. "There's nothing wrong with planning for the future, you know, or knowing what you want out of life. Frankly, if you don't know then you'll just spin your wheels until it's too late."

"I tend to take a more adventurous approach," he replied without looking, still perusing her books, which were all put away alphabetically by author. "I like to just go where life takes me, and enjoy the pleasures that come with each unexpected new thing in my life."

"And what about the consequences?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well you can hardly expect to go through life like that without making certain mistakes."

His eyes darkened at that. "You have no idea."

Kagome frowned. "Are you alright, Inuyasha?"

"I'm fine." But he said it a little too quickly…a little too sharply. She didn't believe him, he could tell right that right away.

Unconsciously he reached into his shirt while forcibly continuing to peruse her books (there were some impressive titles, he had to admit, on her shelves). Pulling the amulet out, he began running his fingers over it, thinking of Kikyou and the greatest mistake of his life.

There was a small gasp behind him and he turned to look at Kagome quickly, fearing perhaps she was in pain from whatever wound she'd incurred earlier that night. But she wasn't looking like she was in pain. Frankly, she looked like someone who had been shown the greatest treasure in the entire world and was now utterly hypnotized by it.


She blinked slowly, but didn't look away from…his chest. "What a beautiful necklace," she whispered, taking a step toward him.

Inuyasha's blood immediately turned icy with dismay. The amulet. She was drawn to the amulet.

Taking a step back, he put his hand over it almost protectively. "Kagome…"

"Where did you get that?" She followed him across the room.

"It was made for me," he replied without even thinking, in this case figuring the truth would be easier than some kind of lie.

"It's beautiful."

"Not really."

Looking up at him briefly, she smiled and shook her head. "If I'm a typical woman than you're just as typical of a guy. You wouldn't know beauty if it hit you between the eyes."

"Beauty?" There was something about her eyes at that moment, seeming to glow with an inner light that drew him forward. He knew what beautiful was. She was beautiful…his mother had been beautiful…Kikyou had been… "No!"

Kagome stopped, as if waking from some kind of trance, and he took the opportunity to thrust the amulet back underneath his shirt. "Inuyasha?"

"This amulet is not yours," he snapped, and she blinked in confusion.

"I never said it was. I just said that-"

"It will never be yours, do you understand? It belongs to Kikyou. It should have belonged to Kikyou. No one else."

"Kikyou?" Kagome frowned and stepped back a few more paces, feeling wounded but unsure why. "That's the second time you've mentioned my aunt's name to me. Why?" But he was headed for the door, and she felt like she wanted to cry with frustration and confusion. "Inuyasha, what's going on? What did I do wrong?"

Damn…now she was going to start crying. He groaned and rolled his eyes, praying for patience even as every survival instinct he possessed was screaming at him to get out fast. "You did nothing wrong. I just…I need…want…" He fumbled for words as he fumbled to put on his jacket. "I have to go."

"Inuyasha!" He ignored her protest as he flew out the door and shut it abruptly behind him, pausing at the top of the stairs and taking several deep breaths to calm his racing heart. To his surprise he didn't pick up on the sound of tears through the door as he had expected.

Good. At least she wouldn't cry over him.

Turning to walk down the stairs once more, he desperately tried to get his racing heart to slow down, his thoughts scattering to the four winds even as he ran about trying to collect them and put them back together again.

There was no doubt…no question. She was the one his amulet had chosen. Only a chosen mate would be drawn to the amulet like she had been, would pulse in her presence, would…

He shook his head, not wanting to deal with that reality. He didn't want Kagome as his mate! He couldn't bear it! She looked so much like…


Damn, had he learned nothing? Had Kikyou's death taught him nothing about what attachments could do to people? They were a weakness, just like companionship, and all weaknesses must be removed from his life if he were to survive. It was the code of conduct he'd been forced to live by all his life, first when he was turned away by all, and later when he was welcomed into their circle and betrayed just as much as they betrayed everyone else.

Humans could not be trusted, and enemies could always be trusted to attack his weaknesses. In either case, love and friendship were a hindrance to him. Nothing more.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, he turned and looked back up the narrow hallway, still able to see Kagome's door at the top, and felt his ears flatten as a soft whine escaped his lips.

If it was such a weakness, then why couldn't he forget the wonderful warmth that had been in Kagome's home? He'd felt so welcomed tonight among them, as though he belonged to something greater than himself. A unit…a unit of friends, rather than an army of one against the world.

And damn him for wanting such things in his life.

He was a hanyou. A half-breed. An abomination. So disgusting his own brother had wanted nothing to do with him for most of his life. Villages had turned him away, human and demon children alike had mocked him if their parents even allowed them to come close, and the memory of the tears he'd shed in his mother's arms still burned in his eyes to this day.

"Mother…" Even she had been destroyed by love in the end. She and his father, who he'd believed to be invincible, had been destroyed.

Inuyasha could still recall coming back from that campaign with his father and brother, having secured their position as leaders of the Western Lands yet again. It had been the first time he'd been deemed old enough and strong enough to accompany his father, and he'd been thrilled.

But then they'd come home, and instead of being welcomed by Lady Izayoi's open arms, they'd been greeted by a deafening silence.

The Inu no Taisho had demanded sharply to be told where his wife was, and one of their servants had appeared, bravely informing him that she had been taken away in the month they'd been gone, tried, and burned as a witch for her dark deeds.

They all knew the truth, of course…the true nature of her supposedly dark deeds; that she had been a human who loved and married a demon, giving birth to an abomination and loving it as dearly as any child born to any mother had ever been…but it didn't matter. She was gone, and they had all felt the absence of her presence, even Sesshoumaru.

It had been the first time Inuyasha ever saw his father lose control. Wounded himself from battle, he'd nonetheless charged after his wife's murderers, following their scent through the forest until he came to the village where she'd died. They hadn't even bothered to remove the pier or bury the ashes, and the sight and smell had driven the great dog demon mad with rage. With a mighty roar he'd used one of his swords to level the entire village, only after the fact realizing that it was a trap.

A trap that had killed him.

What cut at Inuyasha the most was the fact that his father hadn't even tried to survive. He knew, as did Sesshoumaru, that if the great Inu no Taisho had wanted to escape alive, he would have. But the loss of his beloved wife had taken away his will to live, and he'd gone to his death if only to be with her again.

Romantic, some would call it.

Keh! Inuyasha called it foolish nonsense.

As a child he'd always yearned for the love his parents had shared…dreamed of what his chosen mate would be like. But then they'd been destroyed, his mother for loving a demon, and his father because he'd lost the woman he loved…and Inuyasha had understood, painfully, that love was not strength. It was the ultimate weakness.

So why was he finding it so damn difficult to walk away from Kagome Higurashi's apartment building? Every step he took felt like he was moving through molasses, as though his entire being rebelled against leaving her alone.

In the end Inuyasha just plopped down on one of the cement steps that led to the main door of the building, crossing his legs and arms before lowering his chin, deep in thought. He could still smell Kagome's scent on his jacket, and found it strangely comforting, turning his nose into the collar more than once to sniff.

But then he realized that it wasn't just his coat that carried his scent.

Frowning, Inuyasha narrowed his eyes and leaned down toward the steps themselves, sniffing delicately and immediately catching not only the scent of Kagome, but also of Kagome's blood.

Without thinking, a low growl rumbled out of his chest.

Someone had dared to attack her tonight. Someone had dared to attack Kagome Higurashi, his…

Puzzled whispers greeted him, and Inuyasha hastily sat up straight once more, realizing he must look like a fool sitting on the steps and growling at them. Rising to his feet, he moved hastily away before he did something stupid (like run back up to Kagome's apartment and play watchdog for her), but even as he walked away he knew he'd be coming back. He had to. His fame, if nothing else, had put her in the spotlight and made her a target.

She was his responsibility now, like it or not. And he didn't like it, he assured himself, even as some small part of his heart skipped a beat at the thought.