A/N: I discovered this one of the many shadowy corners of my hard drive.

"Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth

The trumpet of prophecy! O Wind,

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"

-Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode to the West Wind

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The Scent of Winter
Third Place Winner of the Inuyasha FanFiction Guild's Best Romance: Inuyasha & Kagome Award

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Inuyasha coughed and gagged with his back to his companions.

"Are you okay?" Kagome asked, hurrying to his side only to have her concerned touch to his shoulder brushed away.

"I'm fine," he sputtered. "I just," Inuyasha paused to spit, "I got his blood in my mouth."

Kagome wrinkled her nose. "Eew."

x

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"We're setting up camp here," Inuyasha declared loudly, coming to a stop on the edge of a cozy clearing in the forest.

"It's not even sunset yet," Sango replied, not bothering to unstrap her weaponry. "We could make more distance before dark."

"I said, we're setting up camp here," Inuyasha repeated through his teeth, glaring at the exterminator.

Sango recoiled a little and eyed him. "If you say so. I still think it's a waste of daylight hours."

"Good thing I didn't ask for your opinion," snapped Inuyasha before falling into a seated heap at the base of a tree.

Had it been in Sango's character to turn up her nose and huff, she would have. However, she decided to leave the rather undignified girlish pouting to the other female of their group who knew how to use the tools properly and effectively, and Sango headed off into the woods presumably to find something to eat. It was, after all, her turn to make dinner.

"Good riddance," Inuyasha muttered before letting out a tongue-curling yawn.

Kagome plopped down next to Inuyasha and stretched her legs with relish. "I think stopping early is the best idea you've had in a very long time."

"Keh," replied Inuyasha in all his aggrandized articulation. "Somehow I thought you'd think me saving your butt left and right and carrying you around all day would be a pretty good idea."

"Oh, sure, it is," Kagome waved his comment aside. "My feet are sore," she noted, watching Miroku begin to build a fire.

"From all the walking you didn't do?" Miroku asked, looking away from the kindling he was laying down with practiced ease.

Kagome frowned. "I walked."

Miroku appeared unconvinced.

"A little," she added. The monk chuckled and looked away. "I did walk, Miroku!" If there was one sliver buried under her skin that no tweezers could pull and no immunity overhaul could purge, it was the fear that she did not pull her own weight. In truth, Kagome knew she did not. But she thought that perhaps if she insisted with enough frequency, it might, by some twist in the cosmos, come true.

"I did walk," she repeated. "I walked, didn't I, Inuyasha?"

Kagome looked to her right, preparing to prod her companion for not answering her, but he was fast asleep, his soft ears twitching unconsciously.

x

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"That was just gross," Kagome declared as she stepped gingerly around the puddles of gore strewn across the grass. Silently, she berated herself for wearing her school shoes to the past. Blood did not come out of suede very easily. In fact, nothing came out of suede very easily.

"What do you suppose was wrong with it?" asked Miroku. The monk stooped next to Sango and pulled her to her feet with two hands under her arms. The opportunity lay sprawled out before him, but even the delicious texture of such a fine rump as Sango's could not battle the nausea he felt.

Inuyasha rolled his right shoulder while the joint popped in protest. "It looked sickly to me."

"It did," Kagome said. "But I didn't think youkai could get sick."

"Not from pathetic human diseases, we can't."

Kagome took offense to that. "So what do you think it was sick with, doctor?" she bit back, putting her hands on her hips.

He narrowed his eyes. "I don't know," he replied tightly. "Whatever it was, I don't look forward to seeing it again."

x

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"Are you all right?" Kagome asked as she edged carefully closer to the river.

Inuyasha did not look over his shoulder at her. "I'm fine," he snapped. "I was just thirsty."

"Are you sure?" she continued, coming to crouch at his side. "You look pale."

"That last one made me a little queasy is all."

"Me, too," Kagome agreed. "That was the fifth one this week?"

"Sixth."

"Oh."

Inuyasha scooped up more water into his hand and drank quickly, trying to hide how much he savored the cooling effect it had on his fiery core. He took a quick look around. The forest definitely betrayed the first signs autumn. So why the hell was he so hot?

A trickle of sweat set out from behind his ear to trace the deep groove made by muscles in his neck, over his collarbone, and down the avenue of his sternum. The wet, tickling feeling sent visible chills down his spine that only served to jostle his already unsettled stomach.

"Are you certain you're okay, Inuyasha."

"I've told you this at least a hundred times every day! I'm fucking fine!" With that he stood up quickly and began in the direction of the camp. He would have continued on to find a nice, high branch on which to perch away from the others, but his feet chose for him to do differently. Before he could take two steps, Inuyasha lost his bearings and paused as the world decided to make its perpetual spinning evident.

Inuyasha put out an arm to grasp at the closest stable object, but all he found was Kagome's shoulder; she had hurried herself to his side the moment he began to sway.

Kagome seized one shoulder and one flank and tried to hold him steady. Unfortunately, the hanyou to human ratio was too great, and Kagome soon found that all she could do was slow his fall. Carefully and rather awkwardly, she helped him to the ground, leaning him crookedly against a tree.

"You're not fine," Kagome accused, flustered and shot through with worry. "There's something wrong with you, and you haven't been saying anything."

"There's nothing wrong with me," snapped Inuyasha. "I just got up too fast. Would you back off?"

Kagome glared. "No, I will not back off. How stupid do you think I am?"

He cracked a grin. "You don't really want to me answer that, do you?"

She was not amused. "I would say it at least five times for that one if you didn't look like you were about to die."

"Gee, thanks."

Sensing that communication was not at all going to further her cause, Kagome lifted her right hand and attempted to gauge the temperature of Inuyasha's sweaty forehead, but he jerked away, successfully sending himself flopping to his side bonelessly.

Kagome grabbed his sleeves and righted him.

"Would you stop trying to be so tough? I think you have a fever, and if you do, then we need to do something about it."

"Keh, I don't get fevers," he replied before adding, "And even if I did, we don't need to do anything about it. I can handle it myself."

"You can't even walk yourself from here to camp. What are you going to do about it?"

Inuyasha folded his arms and glared. "It's my problem, isn't it? I'm the one who's sick."

"Aha!" Kagome declared triumphantly. "You are sick!"

Inuyasha opened his mouth to argue but closed it when he realized his slip. Internally, he muttered a resigned, Well, shit.

"And it is my problem," Kagome added, putting her palm to his forehead. Her brow instantly furrowed as the seal of her mouth cracked slightly.

"How is it your problem?" Inuyasha asked, watching her worried face rather guiltily.

She was quiet for moment. "Because you're really sick," Kagome murmured, moving her hand to his clammy cheek then to his neck then to his other cheek. "I think you're really sick."

"That doesn't answer my question, stupid." Inuyasha spoke without conviction, making his degradation come out sounding strangely affectionate.

"I think you're really sick," she repeated. "Come here." She began to tug him toward the river. She intended to wet his brow and his throat, but Inuyasha seemed reluctant to comply.

"No," he muttered, shaking his head. In fear of sounding weak, he was vague. "I'm gonna stay here for a minute."

Kagome nodded, feeling another ounce of apprehension added to the growing load that weighed down the already laden cart of her present state of mind. She feared that her convoy was running out of room and that there would not be enough space to put Inuyasha since it was becoming obvious that she might have to find a way to move him.

Untying the red kerchief from her neck, Kagome turned and dunked it into the water. Still dripping, she brought the cloth back to her companion and mopped his glistening brow.

She swallowed. "Do you think," she began hesitantly. "Do you think it's what the others had?"

"I don't know," he replied, sounding considerably more deflated than he had before. "I hope not."

"Me, too."

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"Hold on, all right?" Kagome said, tightening her arm around his trembling shoulder.

"I think I've proven that I can fall on my own by now," Inuyasha grumbled. He squeezed her waist anyway.

She felt hard and tense from fear. He did not like it very much. However, she also felt sturdy and steady, which was such a comforting contrast to his incessant shivering that he could not seem to let her go.

"Are you ready?" she asked, putting a knee up on the lip of the well.

"Do I have a choice?"

She hesitated. "Yes, I guess. But I really don't like the alternative, and I don't think you will either."

x

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In the mind-numbing chaos of scents that was the modern era, Inuyasha found an eddy. It still smelled very strongly, but at least it was a bearable smell, a smell he knew. He might even tread so far to say it was a smell he liked. For the time being, it was the only smell he could tolerate.

It felt strange to be in a bed that was so high off the ground. It was thick and soft and welcoming while still harboring the threat of a cliff should he roll too far. Her bed stank of unnatural materials and the shampoo she insisted on using despite his complaints. It also, like the rest of the room, stank of her. So, regardless of the stench, he buried his face in her pillow to try to block out everything else.

Sometimes it would occur to Inuyasha that he was lying almost entirely undressed in a girl's bed. Sometimes he would entertain the thought of her being there with him. Then she would come in with soup or a compress or a cold glass of water, and he would have to quickly quash the thoughts.

Being sat, even when in such a plush bed, would still hurt like a bitch.

"How are you feeling?" Kagome asked, the mattress sinking slightly under her weight as she took her usual seat at his hip.

Inuyasha shrugged. "I'm fine."

She rolled her eyes. "We've been through this, Inuyasha," she began with warning in her voice.

"Then why do you keep asking?"

"Because if you're getting worse, then I have to do something!"

"Like making me choke down your cooking and listen to your prattling is going to make me any better."

He could see that had stung her deeper than he had intended. "Well, excuse me for inconveniencing you! I swear! Why do you have to be such a jerk, Inuyasha?"

He could answer that one even is he did not want to. He was getting worse. He was scared as hell, and he was getting worse.

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Kagome leaned over him, passing a cool washcloth over his neck. Her face was contracted into a frown as it had been for the past week. Inuyasha was tempted to tell her that her face would freeze that way, but he had a feeling she was not in the mood for humor.

She paused suddenly, her fingertips gently pressing the cloth below the angle of his jaw. "What?" Inuyasha asked, seeing her expression suddenly turn puzzled.

"What's this?" she asked, setting the cloth down on his chest as though it were the closest convenient table. He felt the sensation of skin touching his throat, pushing against a particularly tender place.

"Ow!" he said, jerking away.

"Sorry," she replied quickly without much remorse. Kagome leaned in and, with more care, touched his throat.

"What is it?"

"You're swollen," Kagome remarked absently, her attention caught on the tender spots on his neck and just inside the bony frame of his lower jaw.

"I'm sure your poking is really making it better," Inuyasha muttered when she pushed a little too hard for his tastes. "What do you mean, I'm swollen?"

"Feel this," Kagome said, grabbing his nearest arm and carefully putting his fingers to his jaw. Inuyasha removed his hand from her grasp and palpated himself without her aid.

"Oh," he said, looking a little disgusted. "That's what you mean."

Kagome, smarting slightly from his seeming revulsion to her touch, pulled his hand away from his face and tugged his arm out into her lap.

"What are you - OW! Dammit, that hurts!" Inuyasha tried to jerk away from the set of four fingers thrust inelegantly into his armpit, but Kagome held his arm pinned to her thigh.

"Just what I thought," Kagome muttered, feeling the backside of his pectoral muscle and the flesh over his ribs. Her fingers passed over more tender lumps, and Inuyasha twitched with each one.

"What? What the hell does that mean? Would you - dammit! Knock it off, wench!" He wrenched away once more, and Kagome released his arm.

The bumps, tender, hot, dark colored, were lymph nodes if Kagome remembered her sophomore health class correctly. Somehow, she had not expected a hanyou to have them, but now that she had discovered this new little tidbit of physiological joy, it only made sense. Despite being of two difference species and two different genders, she and Inuyasha were basically shaped the same. It was then safe to assume that they basically functioned the same as well.

Kagome felt a blush spread across her cheeks. Somehow, the thought of how she and Inuyasha functioned only reminded her of the fact that there was a boy, practically naked, sprawled across the bed upon which she was seated. Her mind continued down that road and put the two together: how would she and the practically naked boy sprawled across her bed function together? Quite well, she imagined.

Kagome almost let out a little eep.

"What's wrong with you?" Inuyasha asked, seeing her shift uncomfortably and flush. He could only guess what was making her blush, but somehow he could not imagine Kagome blushing and shifting awkwardly because of the same things that made him blush and shift awkwardly.

"What? Nothing," Kagome said quickly. "I'm going to go call my doctor. Maybe she can help me out with what to do with you."

"I'm not going to see your stupid human doctor!" Inuyasha exclaimed, suddenly possessing the strength to bolt upright.

"I wasn't suggesting that you do," replied Kagome with stretched patience. "I'm just going to ask her about your symptoms."

"Anything your doctor tells you is going to apply to you, not me."

"Have you got any better ideas?"

"Yeah, take me back to the Sengoku Jidai. We've got work to do." He flopped back down on her bed, the blanket now wrinkled and fallen to his waist. He mustered the strength to cross his arms over his chest and frown.

"Oh, quit pouting."

"I'm not pouting."

Kagome smiled. Inuyasha hated it when she smiled like that, like she knew something he did not. "You can barely walk, Inuyasha. I'd like to see you get work done like this."

"I'd rather be trying than laying around all day in your bed."

"What's wrong with my bed?" she asked, knowing very well that it was a loaded question and not caring in the least if that made her patient uncomfortable.

Inuyasha hesitated before answering the question. There was nothing wrong with her bed. It was soft. It smelled good. It certainly would be nice to have a little company... Inuyasha derailed that train of thought before it could leave the station. "It's a stupid bed, that's what is wrong with it! I'm going to go fucking loony if I have to lie here another day! Plus, I'm here all by myself. What am I supposed to do? Stare at your ceiling and twiddle my thumbs?"

"I have to go to school, Inuyasha. This is the first long break from shard hunting I've have in weeks. Besides, think of all the exercise your thumbs are getting."

Clearly, he did not see the humor. "If I'm so damn sick, why are you taking off everyday? What kind of bedside manner is that?"

"You sleep all day, Inuyasha. You don't need company."

"I do not sleep all day."

"You do, too."

"I do not!"

What a perfect time to yawn, Inuyasha thought as he tried to stifle the telltale signs of weariness. Arguing with her had never been so exhausting, and Kagome had never looked quite so patronizing.

"Well, today was my last day before the weekend. So I can sit in here and watch you twiddle your thumbs for two days straight if that will make you stop pouting."

"I'm not pouting!"

x

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I'm not pouting, Inuyasha thought as he tried not to chew on the strange device Kagome had stuck in his mouth. He wanted to cross his arms obstinately, but for the past few days, his muscles had begun to ache. And on that particular morning, they were hurting worse than ever.

It was frustrating being immobile. It was infuriating being at the mercy of this girl, this human. Inuyasha was still in her bed, eating her food, drinking the water she brought him. He needed her help with everything since the encompassing pain had set in. She sat him up for meals. She spoon-fed him. She walked him to the bathroom. Thankfully, he could handle himself from there, but the ten steps that stretched like ten miles from bed to bathroom were enough to make him hate everything. Absolutely everything.

What he hated the most, what he damned more than anything else were the sponge baths. Those terribly awkward, silent half hours spent trying not to make eye contact and repressing the only bodily function he had that seemed to be doing just dandy. Alive and kicking were his hormones. They showed up to work everyday, apparently having missed the memo that utilization was not in the near future. If things continued the way they were going, they may not be used ever again.

Inuyasha did not want to die, but somehow he thought dying during sex would be a pretty good way to go. Or maybe that was just the hormones talking.

Stupid hormones.

Kagome was very careful with him. She never actually made any sexual contact, but somehow, her sponging his thighs seemed twice as sensuous. In fact, the entire embarrassing task felt more intimate than he had ever been with a woman. He wondered why that was.

Inuyasha decided to blame it on Kagome. She always came in with her sponge and hot water right after she had taken her shower for the night. She was in her pajamas, which, in his intimacy-starved mind, somehow linked up with sleeping, and of course, he was in her bed. More infuriating than that was the fact that she always smelled like herself after her showers. There was the hint of her shampoo, but at no other time of the day did Kagome smell more like Kagome.

As much as he tried to convince himself that he hated her for all the embarrassment she put him through, he could not hate her smell. She smelled like maple. She smelled like water. She smelled like something absolutely indescribable and therefore exasperating to an incalculable degree.

The device began to beep too loudly for Inuyasha's preference. Kagome, seated by his right flank leaned forward and took the metallic flavored stick out of his mouth.

"Bleh," Inuyasha said a little dramatically. It was enough to make Kagome smile, a refreshing change from her usual frown of concern. It made him feel better... while at the same time made him feel a little worse.

"Hmm," Kagome said, reading the small window on the thermometer. "Your fever hasn't gone down."

"I could have told you that," grumbled Inuyasha.

Kagome looked up from the device with an expression that betrayed the hurt she was trying to hide. "Then why didn't you?"

x

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Her sleeping pallet was on the floor by her bed. Kagome soon discovered her mother's spare futon was obsolete; she was not sleeping. Still, Kagome kept it there on the floor in hopes of saving Inuyasha from worrying about her. Had she put the pallet away, her insomnia would have been more obvious. Of course, Kagome had yet to realize that insomniacs, despite how pretty they might look when on a normal circadian rhythm, were not so pretty when suffering. Inuyasha realized this. He never said anything, though. He still thought she was pretty... very tired and pretty.

Playing detective had always been one of Kagome's favorite games. She had keen deduction skills, and she, despite Inuyasha's opinions otherwise, was very intelligent. So why was she not enjoying the thrill of the chase this time? Perhaps it was because the object of interest was slowly killing her best friend. Games seem to lose their appeal when they are no longer based in fantasy, when the consequences are real and dire and time sensitive.

From what she had seen, what her research had turned up, what her mother had told her, and what the doctor had explained, Kagome had come to the conclusion that Inuyasha was sick with something.

He was as pale as death. He was as swollen as a corpse. His eyes were bloodshot. He could barely move, and he winced every time he did. He had developed a wet cough in the last two days. His fever climbed. His time awake plummeted.

He did not even complain anymore.

They never mentioned death. They avoided the subject with the same careful choosing of words that they had used to avoid the subject of them... them as a they, as an us, a we. And now that the subject of death was looming, the subject of love seemed like the lesser of two evils.

And yet, they never discussed it. Like maybe if he died without ever speaking the accursed words, they would disappear with him, like just thinking the words did not make them real. Kagome would have given everything she had to make that fallacy into truth.

Unfortunately, she had already promised everything she had in trade for his survival. And you can't give away everything twice.

Inuyasha knew that. Maybe that was why he never spoke of love with Kagome.

He watched her pretending to sleep on the floor, curled up on her pallet on sheets too thin and beneath a blanket too coarse. The urge to invite her to join him with his thicker sheets and softer blanket rose up in him, but he pushed it back. What a ridiculous idea. Why the hell would she even consider sleeping next to him? He was sick. He was decaying. He could smell it.

Then, even stronger than his own rotting was the smell of salt. Inuyasha willed his sore eyes to focus, and he saw Kagome trembling on the floor.

His throat hurt. His lips were dry. His lungs were half full of something other than air. Those were his excuses for being quiet. He knew they were piss poor reasons, and he also knew if he actually had the gall to let her cry like that, he would not forgive himself easily.

Of course, if he were going to die, forgiveness did not matter all that much.

Inuyasha turned his head painfully, looking away from her toward the ceiling. Funny, he thought. What a strange turnabout. Suddenly, he was seeking the white plaster's company instead of the girl's. He wondered why that was.

That's simple. Because you can't give away everything twice.

x

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Her fingers stroked his back placatingly as she spoke quietly into his ear. Somehow, between holding him up and holding his hair back, Kagome still had the free fingers to comfort him. Inuyasha noticed this and resolved that when he could, he would ask how she did it.

How did she do it?

Inuyasha had vomited once before in his life. It was not an experience he ever wished to repeat, but if there was one lesson ingrained in him since childhood, it was that wishing doesn't mean shit.

It was terrible. Terrifying. He knew he was not supposed to work this way. It felt unnatural and noisome. It smelled. It burned. It tasted sweet but in the most disgusting of ways.

In his youth, after the death of his mother and the abandonment of his brother, Inuyasha had been left to his own devices. But the devices of children are nowhere near compatible with the batteries and electrical outlets of the world. There are lessons in life that are easier learned from the experiences of others, and there are experiences that should not have to be had by little boys until they have become older. Inuyasha got to learn them all first hand and alone.

He had eaten something. He could not recall what, and for that, he was grateful. It had been something bad that had tasted foul going down and even more foul coming back up. All through the night, the little boy, barely eight years old, had laid on the forest floor, sick and dirty and alone. The pain of his own dysfunction was alien to him. He had scraped knees and bruised elbows, but never before had his body simply not worked right. He felt like the captain of a mutiny, betrayed by himself.

Inuyasha's eyes watered from the pain.

Kagome's hands, pressed to his hot, damp skin kept him there, kept him grounded. He was not alone, not this time. She pulled his hair away from his neck and gently blew a cool breeze across his skin.

"Do you think you're done?" Kagome asked quietly, resting her chin against his hunched shoulder.

"Yeah. I'm empty."

"Do you want some water?" she asked, reaching around him to remove her plastic trashcan from his lap. Kagome made herself not look at its contents even though she had already seen it all. Inuyasha's vomit was black.

"Not yet," he replied after a long, pained sigh.

"All right." Kagome fished the washcloth from the water basin that now resided permanently on her bedside table. Turning his face toward her slowly, careful of his burning muscles, she wiped his chin.

"Kagome," he muttered through an eroded throat and mouth.

"Yes," she replied as she carefully removed herself from behind him and eased him back to the mattress.

He meant to ask her how she managed to make her two small hands into three, but something entirely different slipped out. From where it came, Inuyasha was not exactly sure.

"Thanks. You didn't... thanks."

She smiled weakly before brushing his bangs from his slick forehead. "Sure."

Dark circles and all, she had to be the prettiest girl he'd ever seen.

"Go to sleep, Inuyasha."

x

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The relief of waking from nightmares was lost on him. Inuyasha awoke with a jolt that made every muscle in his body, from the flexors in his toes to the overseers of peristalsis in his gut to the sinewy bands across his skull keen in agony. He would have clenched his fists, but that would only add to the pain.

He was hot and sticking to the sheets. The ache seeped into every cell until Inuyasha thought he might scream in pain. He could feel his fingernails growing, scraping the inside of his cuticles. He could feel the acid of his empty stomach digesting him slowly. He could feel the metabolic poison his own body created abrading the lumen of every artery, vein, and capillary, eating holes in the tender flesh of his heart. The air felt jagged in his throat. The water between his cells was scalding. His muscles were saturated through with lactic acid. His bones were too heavy.

But all that was secondary. A far more terrifying specter hung in the foreground of the darkened landscape in Inuyasha's blurry mind's eye.

She was gone. She was not there. The room was huge, an entire world, and he was lying there, motionless, helpless, absolutely alone. He was drowning. He was falling. He was being ripped apart by something big and hungry. He was aflame. He was hypothermic. He was spinning. He was sinking into the bed, through the floor, into the earth, deep, deeper, deepest into a lightless cavern where he could die without disturbing the rest of the world.

She was gone. She had left him. He was alone. Alone. Alone. Alonealonealonealo-

"Kagome!" Inuyasha cried.

Alonealonealonealonealoneal-

"Kagome!"

He was tied to the bed. He was being pressed down by thick, stone slabs that someone had put over him in the night. He was wrapped up in a blanket so tight that he could not breathe. He could feel snakes slithering up his legs and centipedes crawling down his throat. Something with cold hands was pulling the skin off his stomach, peeling back his muscles, and sinking its fingers into his sick viscera. It squished with relish.

"-asha!"

Alonealonealone

What?

"Inuyasha!" the stone slab cried, pulling its cold hands from his stomach. In an instant, the slab turned soft and curved and light. The hands turned warm and began stroking his shoulder, his cheeks, his chest.

"Wake up, Inuyasha!" Kagome begged, holding him as tightly as she could. "Please, wake up!"

Something warm and wet splattered against his shoulder and followed the curve of his deltoid before sinking into the sheets.

"Kagome?" he rasped quietly.

She began to sob wrenchingly against his chest.

"Where did you go?" he asked.

He sounded scared and weak. Kagome could only cry.

"I've been here," she managed to choke out between repressed wails and much needed breaths. "I've been right here the whole time."

"But... but..."

"I've been right here, Inuyasha."

He still did not understand, and Kagome knew that he would not. He was feverish. At least, she hoped that was the cause. She prayed his illness had not wrapped its fingers of anathema around his mind.

Kagome thought about letting him go and sitting back, but she could not. Somewhere between her brain and her muscles, the message got scrambled and translated to a different command. Freeing one arm, she peeled the blanket and the sheet away from him and settled down on the damp mattress, conforming herself to his side.

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He could not be touched. His skin hurt too badly. His muscles were so swollen that the slightest pressure could result in severe damage.

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He could not see. The light was too much; his eyelids were too heavy to lift.

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He could not taste. His tongue was nothing more than a lump of clay that someone had stuck in his mouth back when he had the strength to open his jaw.

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He could not hear. His ears were so infected and inflamed that no sound could penetrate. The soft appendages could not swivel. They could not twitch. They were red and thick and hot. Kagome did not dare touch them even to wipe away the translucent liquid that oozed up onto his scalp.

x

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He could smell her. In the only source of perception he had left, she flooded him. She was clean. She was in the air. She was in the blankets around him. She was water and maples, something in the woods upon which he had stumbled and unknowingly picked up. Even through the adumbral forests of fear and unknown, she still traveled with him. She still smelled so good. She still allowed him to smell her. How generous.

All he had was her smell. When everything else had failed, when all other aspects of his meager existence had abandoned him, she sat on the floor beside the bed, filling the air with the only lifeline he could grasp.

Water and maples. He thought it would be nice to die in the Sengoku Jidai.

He could not tell the difference anymore. He could not remember what the past smelled like anymore.

The past? There is now. There is numbness and pain. There is a thin veil of nothing. There are maples, and there is water. There is now.

He could tell her now, if he could have spoken. It would be very easy to tell her now because Death brings Perspective. And Perspective does not go anywhere without her kid sister, Understanding, tagging along.

Now he understood.

To give everything one must first have something, and there was nothing before this, before her. A girl with three hands. A girl made of the forest. A girl who could reach all the way into the center of the earth and pluck out a boy made of nothing. A girl who chased away childhood nightmares with her breath.

How did she do it?

He had not given everything... not yet... not to Kagome. He had not even tried, and now Inuyasha found himself angry at his own carelessness. How immature and weak and cowardly. Now that he could see that everything was lying in his hands, he could not offer it to her. Now that his everything was so close to the surface and only tied down by a thin thread, he could not use his fingers to untie it and hand it to her.

But he would if he could.

He wished it did not hurt when she touched him.

He could almost hear her... almost.

Gods, she smelled incredible.

Her breath passed over his swollen, sallow throat. She whispered into the beads of sweat, called quietly down his pores, begging whatever it was just to leave. When that did not work, Kagome demanded an answer from it, from the virus nestled deep inside him. Her beseeching became cruel and angry as she furiously solicited for a reason why it had to pick him. Him of all people.

In the vast, vast world of all the unfairnesses and indignities, this was the one that insulted Kagome. It truly insulted her. And since Inuyasha was too sick to really feel anything, she was insulted for him, too.

Kagome wondered if she would catch it too if she kissed him. For a moment, she did not care. For another moment, she did not care. But for the third moment, she paused and thought. The touch, the pressure of a kiss would probably be painful for him. So she refrained.

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A demon virus, Kagome thought from her kneeling position at the side of the bed. She watched Inuyasha labor for breath, listened to him wheeze.

A demon virus...

Was it a viral demon like Inuyasha was a dog demon? Or was it a regular old virus that was simply picky about its victims?

The answer to that query was the deciding vote in Inuyasha's fate. The result of that inquiry would determine Kagome's course of action.

To purify or not to purify?

Inuyasha would survive, left as a mere human. But if given a choice, what route could he take? Remain hanyou and die? Or become human and survive? Was he so proud? Then again, Kagome was not absolutely certain he would live through purification at all. She could only hope.

A demonic virus, a viral demon would not survive. She knew that for sure. Or maybe she had just hoped so thoroughly that she had convinced herself that she was sure of anything.

So could she take the holy Pinesol to his veins? Would it work? If it did, Kagome was willing to work as long as it took, on her hands and knees, sleeves rolled up and hair tied back, scrubbing out his insides. Dishpan hands and bleach stains on her jeans were trivial... if he would just survive it.

Inuyasha twitched and winced and groaned deep in his throat.

Kagome felt her eyes stinging as they took a final sweep over him. No matter what the result, she would never see him in this state ever again. He would either be human or dead. Never again would he be white haired and pointy eared.

She bit her lip. She loved his ears. Even when she did not like the rest of him, she loved his ears. Secretly, she knew he loved them, too. So at least they could mourn his ears together. That was something.

"Inuyasha," Kagome said quietly as she carefully put her palm to his knee. His brow twitched slightly. "Inuyasha." She wished he could hear her. "I'm going to try something... okay? And... if it doesn't work, then..." Her voice faltered, but she held strong and plowed on bravely. "Then goodbye."

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And the world, rather taken aback by the sudden turn of events, shrugged and laughed off the occurrence as fate. She looked back to the boy and opened her arms wide.

His mouth was dry. He felt like he had swallowed a desert and it had one of those lingering aftertastes that are nowhere near as yummy as the original flavor and make you wonder why the hell you ate it to begin with. His tongue stuck to his teeth and the roof of his mouth as he opened his jaw and smacked at the nasty flavor. The movement was painful but possible.

His eyes were open; this, as well, was painful, but he looked around anyway.

In his fuzzy synapses, the message was racing, darting through traffic and probably running more red lights than it thought was appropriate, but the situation was dire even in its good tidings, and expedience was necessary.

Like slap to the face, Inuyasha realized that he was seeing the room around him, the evening sunlight, orange and fiery in its performance for the grand finale; the room was bright and everything was so vibrant Inuyasha had to wince before his underused vision could recover. But his eyes were open. He was perceiving through sight. He found his mouth slack, and with some difficulty, he was able to open and close his jaw.

A quiet gasp to his right sounded in his ears so loudly he thought he could feel it reverberating in his skull. This then, meant that he was hearing. He tried to flick his ears, but could not. Still, his elation, so powerful it could only be communicated through silence, outshone this lack of dexterity. He could get that back later. In the meantime... he could see. He could hear. He could move.

His senses were suddenly inundated with female.

From the right edge of his vision, the girl launched herself. For an instant, he feared she was going to throw herself on top him, but she put out hands on either side of his torso and held herself up.

"Inuyasha?" she asked. She quivered so badly, the entire bed trembled in time.

He blinked. "Yeah?"

"You can hear me?"

At any other time, he would have thought this to be a stupid question. At the present moment, it was a revelation. "Uh-huh."

"You can see me, too?"

"Uh-huh."

Kagome hesitated, feeling fat teardrops coming to her eyes where they clung to her lower lids, threatening to fall and splatter on Inuyasha's face. She let them. One by one, the jiggling drops plummeted from her and made soft patting sounds against him.

"Are you okay?"

He still ached terribly, every inch of skin felt stretched taut and every muscle fiber felt swollen. But his heart beat with conviction in his chest, his senses were aroused, and there was a beautiful girl, pale and drawn but still beautiful, hanging over him. He could not possibly be that bad.

"Yeah, I'm fine."

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"Can you feel them yet?" Kagome asked.

"Sort of," Inuyasha replied, wondering how obvious it was that he was lying.

She sighed loudly. For the balance of the morning, she had been sitting on her bed, now Inuyasha's bed by default, rubbing his right hand vigorously. Earlier, he had complained of numbness in his fingers despite his otherwise speedy recovery. Kagome, thinking that perhaps his circulation was still not up to par, took on the task of getting a little blood into his now clawless digits. Her ministrations were effective and quickly resolved the blockages, but Inuyasha found that he was quite enjoying the work. While still under the safety umbrella of his illness, he knew Kagome would not sit him once she found out he was lying. Therefore, he thought it was safe to manipulate her into a mini-massage.

"Maybe there's something wrong," Kagome said, frowning at his ruddy hand. "You feel warm, but if you still can't feel anything..." She sighed again. "My back hurts."

"Well, that's 'cause you've been sitting like that all morning, stupid. Come here." His "numb" fingers wrapped around her wrist and dragged her up toward the head of the bed. Kagome, so surprised by his rather forward gesture, came along for the ride without argument. Inuyasha moved closer to the wall and yielded half of the headboard for her use. Of course, he was not so ready to share the pillow, so he kept that all to himself.

Kagome settled down at his side, still hand in hand.

"Thanks. That feels better." She wriggled her shoulders slightly and pulled his hand into her lap where she continued to work her thumbs into his palm. "Does this feel like its getting any blood moving at all?" she asked, sounding exasperated.

Inuyasha gulped quietly. He suddenly thought it was a poor choice to bring her up to his side. Why did she have to wriggle so?

"Yeah," he replied. He could certainly feel blood moving and only about half of it was rising to his cheeks.

Stupid hormones.

"Are you okay?"

He pulled his hand away. "Yeah, I can feel my fingers now. Thanks."

"Well, give me your other hand, then." She reached across him for his left hand.

For fear of the discovery of his malingering, Inuyasha gave her his other hand. She took it in her fingers and laid it in her lap. She began to push the pads of her thumbs in small circles over his callused palm, all the while pressing his wrist into her thigh.

"Are you feeling up for breakfast?" Kagome asked, watching his hand.

In the battle between desires, physical hunger did not usually win over sexual hunger. Even in Inuyasha, whose appreciation for food was certainly more advertised than his appreciation for women, often followed that pattern. However, this morning, his stomach sloshed only water as it had been doing for the two days since being purified. Plus, subconsciously, he knew very well that if he did not get some kind of sustenance, lusting after Kagome was a futile chase. He imagined it would take him a good deal of rest and refueling before he had the energy for that kind of exertion.

"I'm starving," he said, freeing his hand from her grasp as though to tell himself, specifically those pesky hormones, "food now, girl later."

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How his legs screamed in pain. How his joints ached and throbbed. How his heart raced from the activity. His lungs gasped for air, and he could feel sweat gathering on his scalp, preparing to trickle down his face. He was hungry again and thirsty as always. But the beautiful distractions of the morning were enough to render his otherwise crying body utterly silent.

The sun was out and flaunting itself shamelessly. The autumn air was crisp on his face; it cooled his skin and opened his lungs, filling him with the familiar scent of change. Beneath him, the grass bore his weight without complaint. Somewhere in the distance, a bird chirped rabidly without pattern. Even in the cacophony of tweets and warbles, there was something melodic and strangely soothing. And then there was the girl.

He felt fingers wrap around his and squeeze gently.

"It's a really beautiful day," Kagome said absently, her thumb tracing the bones in the back of his hand.

"It feels good to be outside again," he replied. He watched the clouds in their saunter across the firmament, stretching and compressing effortlessly. He felt impossibly small when under the sky, and somehow, the thought of being with her, being the same size as her in the face of far greater, more significant things brought him comfort.

"Winter will be here soon," Kagome said. "Do you think it will snow?"

"I don't know."

"Neither do I."

"It doesn't smell like snow yet."

Kagome rolled on her stomach, bringing her closer to Inuyasha. "What does snow smell like?" she asked, releasing his hand so she could fold her arms under her chin.

He thought for a moment. He knew she would appreciate something more eloquent, but it was not in his nature to be so. Instead, he gave her the truth. "Rain and cold."

Kagome laughed. "You're being smart."

"Well, it makes sense, doesn't it? That's the truth." Kagome laughed again. "Fine. What do you think it smells like?"

She had to pause and think about that one. "Hmm, what does snow smell like? It smells like ice-"

"See! Who's being smart now?"

"I wasn't done yet!" Kagome exclaimed, lifting her chin off her arms to glower at him. "Snow smells like ice and... and promises."

"Promises?" he asked. Inuyasha would have rolled onto his side to see her better, but the effort would be too painful, so he simply lolled his head toward her.

"Yeah. Winter is full of promises."

"What kind of promises?"

"All kinds. Spring is the big one, though. Winter promises spring, and it always comes through, too."

"I guess winter's pretty responsible then."

"Mmm-hmm. Winter promises that it will end and that things will get warm again. Plants will start growing again. All the animals will wake back up. People will get to sunbathe and go to the beach. That's the only thing that makes winter bearable, you know? The promises."

"I think I'll be fully recovered by the time winter comes."

"Do you think your youki will come back?" Kagome could not help but feel a little guilty about that. Inuyasha could hear it in her voice. Gritting his teeth gently, Inuyasha made himself roll over onto his stomach, putting him and Kagome right next to each other. Their elbows touched, as did their bare feet.

"I think it will," he replied. "I can feel it already."

"Really? Is that the truth?"

He nodded. "Yeah. You don't need to worry about it."

Kagome laughed mirthlessly. "I wish it were that easy."

"I know."

"Are you worried?"

Inuyasha collapsed forward and put his chin on his forearms. He shrugged noncommittally. "Not really. I feel... I think I feel... you know the way you get when you've got a big thing... what do you call 'em? Exam, that's it. You know how you feel when you've got a really big exam, and you're freaking out about it?"

"I don't freak out about them," Kagome huffed.

"Sure you do. You worry and you complain and you make a big deal out of it, and then you take the exam-thing, and it turns out to be really easy. You know that feeling?"

"So you feel relieved?"

He shook his head. "No, not relieved. I feel like all that worry stretched me all out of shape, and now that I don't need to worry anymore, I've got to put myself back together, but until I do, I'm just... all shaped weird. That doesn't make any sense does it?"

Kagome wondered if maybe facing death had opened him up. Maybe that's what he was feeling, not over stretched, but split open at the seams. She could see the Inuyasha leaking out of the cracks in bright colors and smelling so strongly of rain and cold. And promises. She wanted to delve her hands into him and show him that vulnerability can feel wonderful sometimes.

"It makes more sense than you know," Kagome replied, scooting closer to him as inconspicuously as she could. Inuyasha, of course, noticed.

Despite the protesting whimpers of the muscles in his arm, he draped a limb across Kagome's back and tugged her closer until her shoulder was under his. It felt good to be supported by her, and it felt right to be covered by him. Kagome sighed.

Again, Inuyasha was comforted knowing that he and she were basically the same shape and size. That way, they could make the exchange easily without losing pieces or leaving too much space open for infection. They could trade everythings with grace, and the everything of the other would slide right into place. It would probably feel different, and they might not fit into one another perfectly. But Inuyasha found himself, to his surprise, with an Everything to give, and there was no one he would rather give it to than the girl on the grass next to him, the girl with three hands that she used to hold him up when things got to be too much.

The question was not how she did it; the question was why she did it. Inuyasha had not the faintest of ideas, and he imagined that Kagome did not know either. But he did not feel saddened by his lacking of that knowledge. On the contrary, it excited him to know that he had the opportunity to find out.

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A/N: Thank you.