Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha -- and unless I miraculously come into a large sum of money in the near future, I will continue to not own Inuyasha for the duration of this story...

Author's Notes: Well, you're not going to believe it—I'm actually starting a brand-new multi-chapter story. Wait, wait, wait! Before you run away grumbling about being sick and tired of year-long gaps between updates, let me assure you that this time will be different; because you see, this time, the entire story is essentially already written. I actually originally conceived of this idea as a oneshot back when I started it years ago, but once I picked it up again and really started writing it sometime last year, I realized it was going to be rather longer than your average oneshot. For awhile I debated whether I should keep it all in one piece or break it up into chapters—and I finally decided on the chapter method for a couple of reasons: 1) There were a couple of spots that really worked well as chapter breaks for dramatic reasons, and 2) if I post it as chapters, I can break the editing process into smaller chunks. Once a chapter is edited and posted, it's done, and I can stop obsessing about whether I should have changed that word or tweaked this line. What's done is done, and there's no changing it. It helps me stay sane (well, okay, more sane than I would otherwise be… —grin—).

Anyway, enjoy, and I promise to have the next part edited and out to you in a reasonably short time. I'm aiming at getting one chapter up per week, just like in the good old days when I first started posting here (—grin—). Oh, and in case you're curious, there should be seven chapters in all.

Absence

Chapter 1

Kagome rifled frantically through her purse, her brow furrowed in frustration as her glance alternated between the inside of the bag and the clock that stubbornly insisted on continuing to tick away the minutes. Where were her damn keys?! If she didn't find them soon she was going to have to take the bus, and she didn't relish sitting in traffic for a half an hour on a cold plastic seat. Besides, it was always so crowded and noisy at rush hour—and it would be nearly impossible to find one to take her home again in the afternoon. Perhaps she could call a cab—but she was so late already…

Footsteps in the hallway prompted her to look up just as her husband stepped into the kitchen, still straightening his tie as he went. He frowned slightly when he caught sight of her, seemingly surprised to see her still in the house.

"I thought you had some big meeting at nine this morning, Didn't you? Or was that on Thurs—"

"Nope, it's today," she cut him off, the irritation in her tone not lost on him in the least. "You don't happen to have a key to my car, do you Ken?"

Kenji shook his head 'no,' glancing around the kitchen to aid her in her search. Just as Kagome had resorted to hunting through the refrigerator to see if perhaps she had accidentally left them in there after a late night at work—she had been known to do such things in the past—she heard Kenji call out "Found 'em!" from the next room.

"Thank god," she breathed as he returned, brandishing the small ring of keys adorned with a replica of a little pink ball on a chain. "Where were they?"

"Hanging from the lamp in the living room," he answered with an amused grin.

She quirked an eyebrow back at him. "That's a new one—I wonder how I managed to leave them there…"

He chuckled. "Well you'd better get moving if you want to make it to your meeting on time."

"Right. Bye, hon!" With a quick kiss on the lips Kagome snatched up her purse and briefcase and headed out to the garage. Stowing her belongings in the passenger's seat and slipping off her heels to dump them there as well—it was absolutely impossible to drive in those things—she climbed into the driver's seat and started up the engine.

Pulling out of the driveway and setting off down the street at what was perhaps a slightly faster pace than was technically legal, she fiddled with the buttons on the radio a bit, trying to tune it to her favorite talk station. She'd never been the kind of person to get in the habit of either watching or reading the news, but she felt a sort of obligation to at least attempt to keep abreast of the goings on of the world, as any responsible adult should. So she'd compromised by listening to news reports on her daily commute and reserving her leisure time for things she actually enjoyed.

"…nearly three weeks since the last incident, metro transit officials are still reporting a serious decrease in passenger count. The city planning commission is now being forced to speed up construction and maintenance operations on city streets in order to compensate for the increased traffic flow…"

The voice of the reporter receded into the back of her mind, her words washing over Kagome without really sinking in. She was too busy and distracted to really care about the latest developments in Tokyo public transportation at the moment—except insofar as the cars and the road in front of her were concerned.

"…in other news, an armed robbery at a gas station on the outskirts of Tokyo yesterday evening went from ordinary to extraordinary at the appearance of a strange young man who chose that particular moment to become a hero. Witnesses say that the man darted out from behind a nearby display rack, snatched the gun from the perpetrator's hand before he had a chance to fire, and snapped the weapon in two."

Kagome snorted as the radio drew her attention once more—now there was something you didn't hear every day.

"The hero's identity remains a mystery, however, as he vacated the scene of the crime before the police arrived, taking the broken handgun with him. All eyewitnesses could recall with certainty was that the man had been wearing a red shirt and a baseball cap…"

Her brow lowered incredulously, a crazy thought flitting across her mind. No—of course not. It was ridiculous. He wouldn't come back to Tokyo after all these years just to play Superman—and he certainly wouldn't have bothered with the baseball cap without her bugging him about it.

Nonetheless, she decided she'd had enough news for today and switched to the light rock station instead. Traffic was a little congested on the way downtown, but not too bad really. By the time she'd made it all the way to her parking spot, she still had fifteen minutes to spare—not as much as she would have liked, since it didn't give her much in the way of down time, but at least she wouldn't be late.

"There you are," greeted the exasperated voice of her boss, Hitomi Machida, as she rounded the corner and arrived at the door to the conference room.

"Sorry I cut it so close—couldn't find my keys," Kagome replied.

"That's okay—she's already inside. Let's just get this over with."

Kagome's wry smile transformed into her "diplomat smile" as she stepped into the conference room and greeted the stern-looking older woman who was already seated at the head of the conference table. Her dark hair, going gray at the edges, was pulled back into a bun, and the wrinkles that lined her face made even her neutral expression look like a frown. She did not rise as the two women entered the room and seated themselves on either side of her.

Hitomi gave Kagome a look across the table, signaling that she was expected to begin the meeting. Fantastic, Kagome thought. When its good news, she gets to start, but when it's bad news, I'm it. Ah, the life of an underling.

"Well, Yamada-san—first of all, your latest book was a joy and an honor to read, really it was," she began. She'd learned from experience that, especially with authors like Kimiko Yamada, it helped to butter them up as much as humanly possible before dropping the bomb. Sometimes all that butter helped dampen the explosion. "Your portrayal of the father was just excellent—he was really effective, very lifelike and well-rounded. And I was absolutely riveted by the scene between him and the prostitute, as they were walking by the river—it was just so moving. I had no idea what was going to happen next."

Catching Hitomi's expectant expression over Yamada-san's shoulder, Kagome shifted slightly in her seat and cleared her throat to move on. "However, there were a few things that we felt could be clarified and refined a bit. For instance, the part where the second daughter was trampled by a herd of goats while on vacation in China didn't seem quite grounded enough." Meaning it came from the friggin moon

Yamada-san stiffened visibly, her jaw setting as she prepared to defend her work. "It is a metaphor, dear, for the relationship between her and her sister—the tensions they've built up over the years finally spilling over and crushing her spirit."

Okay…but it makes absolutely no logical sense. "I see—a valid point. But I'm not sure that's coming through clearly to the reader."

"It's not supposed to be clear—it's a subtle shade. If just anyone could see it, it would be pointless."

Mm-hmm… This was going to be a long day.

After nearly three hours of ego-stroking and eggshell-walking, Kagome was back at her desk with a giant stack of notes. She planted her materials on top of her desk to be dealt with a bit later and collapsed into her leather chair, swiveling to her computer and turning it on, now that she finally had time to get to her usual morning ritual of checking email.

There were a few from coworkers, asking her to look things over for them or simply seeking her advice, one from another senior editor inquiring about her progress on one of the other projects she was working on at the moment, a bunch of junk mail, and finally, an email from Kenji, just saying he hoped the meeting had gone well and that they should go out to dinner that night if she wasn't too swamped. She smiled to herself, typing up a reply:

Love to—where did you have in mind?

She began sorting the notes from the meeting into various piles until the little click from her computer alerted her to Kenji's reply:

That little Italian place on the corner near your building—sound good?

Perfect, she typed back. See you at 7:30…

Thinking about dinner was beginning to make her hungry. Glancing at her computer clock, she realized that it was after noon, and all she'd had for breakfast was half a Power Bar, so she called the deli on the corner and ordered a sandwich.

Shifting another stack of papers that needed sorting, the jingle of keys hitting the floor made her curse. She set down the stack and bent to retrieve the key ring she had knocked from the desk with her elbow. "No wonder I'm always loosing these things," she muttered wryly as she reached down to grab her purse, with the intent of putting the keys in it. But before she could do so, something made her pause, purse in lap, the keys resting gently in her palm, her gaze transfixed by the little pink ball glinting merrily up at her. She leaned back in her chair, her thumb running absentmindedly over the ball's smooth surface. It really was a very good likeness. If it weren't for the fact that she had the ability to sense spiritual powers, she might have guessed that it was the real thing.

God, it all seemed so long ago—like another lifetime, almost.

A knock at her office door brought her out of her reverie, and she glanced up to see the delivery boy enter. "Light tuna on rye?" he questioned her indicating the saran wrapped sandwich in his hand.

"That's me," she confirmed, digging through her purse and fishing out the necessary cash. "Here you are."

"Thanks ma'am," the boy replied, turning with a wave and exiting the office.

Kagome wasted no time in unwrapping the sandwich and digging in, continuing to sort her stack of notes as she ate. Beside her, the keys lay forgotten on the desk.


When Kagome arrived at the restaurant at seven-thirty on the dot, Kenji was already there and waiting for her at the table. "Hi sweetheart," she greeted him with a smile and a kiss before taking a seat opposite him.

"Hey," he replied, smiling back at her. "So how was your day?"

"You don't want to know," she said with a wry grin. "This project is really a bear—I don't know what to do with it. And of course, she's fighting us on every single suggestion—and she can afford to, because she's got the name to back it up. Never mind that she can't write her way out of a paper bag—but she sells books, and I guess that's what counts. This is one of those days when I really wish I'd gone to med school…"

"Oh come on, I know you," Kenji said laughingly, "You love that stuff. Besides, you know you wouldn't have liked med school—too much blood."

Kagome forced what she hoped would be a carefree smile at that, visions of massive stab wounds and miasma burns and severed demon heads dancing in her head. She couldn't help but feel a twinge of guilt whenever Kenji unwittingly reminded her of his ignorance of her former life—but really, there was nothing she could do about it. What was she supposed to say? "Oh by the way honey, did I ever tell you I spent most of my teenaged years running around the Feudal Era with a monk, a demon-slayer, a kitsune, and a grumpy hanyou?" He'd have her committed—and rightly so.

"So, how about you? How are things at work?" she asked, changing the subject.

"Fine, fine—a couple of clients are breathing down our necks about a few investments that aren't doing as well as expected, but that's just the way it goes. Other than that, nothing worth mentioning." He paused, peering into her distracted eyes with mild concern. "Hey—do you feel alright?"

"Hm? Oh, yes—yes, I'm fine," she assured him, "Just a little tired I guess."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure—don't worry about it."

"Alright. Listen, I was thinking this afternoon, in between irate phone calls—what do you say you and I take a trip? You know, take Friday off some week here and get out of town for a few days?"

"Oh I don't know—with this new project just getting underway I'm going to be awfully busy for the next few weeks…" Kagome replied.

"Come on," he urged, covering her hand with his. "It'll be just what the doctor ordered. You said you were tired, after all. Hey—remember that ski trip we took two years ago, a few months after the wedding?"

A fond smile spread across her face. "I remember…"

"It'll be just like that," Kenji declared. "It's still not too late to catch the spring skiing season up north. Think about it: A nice, cozy little condo with a big stone fireplace, the snow all around…"

Kagome released a small moan. "I still don't know—I just don't know if I can spare the time right now…"

"Come on, Kagome," her husband coaxed, this time in a slightly more serious voice. "I really think we need this. It feels like…I don't know. Sometimes it feels like…"

Her brow lowered into a mild frown of concern. "Like what?"

He ran his thumb over her knuckles, staring at her hand in his. "Like you're slipping away from me, or something," he finished, lifting his eyes to hers. "Or worse—like maybe…you were never quite here in the first place."

She felt a wave of guilt wash over her—because sometimes she couldn't help wondering the same thing. But she pushed those fears aside, scolding herself for having allowed them back in in the first place. Of course she was here—this was her life. Where else would she be? "Oh Kenji—god, I'm so sorry," she apologized, covering his hand with her own and squeezing it gently. "Look—I know my work has been taking up a lot of my time these days, but if it's really upsetting you, I promise to make time for us more often, alright?"

He smiled back at her, lacing his fingers with hers. "Alright."


Late that night, Kagome blinked sleepily into the darkness, trying to figure out what had woken her. Then she heard it—a scuffling sound coming from downstairs, accompanied by a few sharp 'yip's. She frowned. Then there was a loud clatter, like a stack of pots and pans toppling to the ground, followed by more scuffling, and the patter of tiny paws skittering across a hardwood floor. Apparently something or other had spooked the dog. Beside her Kenji stirred, but didn't wake, so Kagome slipped out of bed to go investigate.

Shrugging her terry cloth robe on over her pajamas to keep away the chill of the night, she stumbled drowsily through the darkness, blinking the sleep from her eyes. She had to bite her lip to suppress a curse when she rammed her big toe against the doorjamb, and she glanced back toward Kenji to see if the noise had roused him—but he was still sound asleep. Moving a little more slowly and fumbling with the tie of her robe, she crept out into the hall to the stairs. Once she reached the bottom she began glancing around for their beloved pet. "Inuyasha?" she called in a whisper, making a little clicking sound with her tongue. "Where are you baby? C'mere, sweetheart, it's okay."

She heard the telltale click of little toes and the tiny, would-be-ferocious growl coming from the kitchen, where, sure enough, she found the little snow-white terrier facing off with some unseen foe. "There you are, Inu-chan," she cooed, kneeling before the obviously frightened animal and attempting to calm him by scooping him up into her arms and scratching his furry little ears. But the dog continued to growl, his gaze apparently locked on something over her shoulder. "What's the matter, Inu-chan?"

"You named that thing after me?"

The voice from behind her startled her out of her wits, and she whirled around with a sharp gasp—but every last wit that had managed to hold on at the first surprise went running for cover when she laid eyes on the speaker. She let out a sort of muffled scream, dropping the little dog unceremoniously on the floor and waving her hands idiotically in front of her as though afraid the familiar intruder was about to pounce on her.

"Inu…yasha?" she whispered, the confident, headstrong, adult-Kagome swiftly vacating the premises, leaving behind only stunned surprise.

"In the flesh," he replied darkly.

"What…what the hell are you doing here? How did you know where to find me? Why…?" The questions flowed out of her in a rush of near-hysteria as she tried desperately to make sense of what was going on. There had been a time when strange things had been commonplace in her life, and something as small as Inuyasha traveling through time to come see her had been so mundane it was practically cliché—but that had been a long time ago. Things didn't work that way in her world anymore.

"Whoa, whoa, how come you get to ask all the questions?" the hanyou protested irritably.

"This is my house!" she hissed back.

"So?" he continued, not bothering to keep his voice down much. "I'm not the one who picked up and left, just like that! If anyone's got explaining to do, it's you!"

"Me? I told you why I was leaving—and I had every right to do so. And for god's sake, Inuyasha, it was eight years ago. What the hell are you doing here?"

"Well I was—" he began, stuttering to a halt. "I mean I—oh fuck, nevermind that," he snapped finally. And then, in an obvious attempt to change the subject, he blurted out, "Your mother told me where you were."

"Why on earth would she tell you that?"

"Because I asked her!"

"Again, I have to ask: why?"

"Because I needed you," he said simply, crossing his arms over his chest.

Kagome raised both eyebrows and matched his stance. "Oh do you? Well if you're looking for someone to shoot arrows and hunt for spiritual objects, ask Kikyo. I'm out of the Geiger counter business."

Inuyasha glared back at her, his golden eyes harsh and unreadable. "Kikyo's dead."

She rolled her eyes. "I know—that was kind of the problem, wasn't it?"

"No, no, you don't understand—I mean she's dead, gone, turned to dust, erased from the face of the earth."

Kagome met his gaze with sudden sympathy and realization. "Oh…"

"Yeah…"

She swallowed, asking quietly, "When?"

Inuyasha directed his gaze toward the window over the sink. "About a week after you left," he replied, his voice low and cold.

"And…and you didn't…"

"Go to hell with her? What does it look like?" he snapped back.

She could think of no reply. Except: "I'm sorry…"

His eyes flicked back to hers, anger mounting in them. "You should be," he accused.

"Now just what is that supposed to mean?" she replied defensively. "It's not like I killed her. I left so that you could be with her, for god's sake—no strings attached, no guilt! Don't I get any credit for that?"

"I never said I wanted you to go!" he argued, eyes flashing.

"Well I'm afraid the world doesn't turn at your bidding, Inuyasha—you'd think in eight years you could have learned that much. Then again, how could you be expected to learn in eight years what you couldn't learn in fifty? You're still the same selfish, stubborn, pig-headed jer—" All at once, the creak of floorboards above their heads had Kagome's heart racing. In the heat of argument, she'd completely forgotten about the man asleep upstairs. Come to think of it, it was a miracle he hadn't woken up sooner…

"Kagome?" the familiar voice called down from the top of the stairway, "Is everything alright?"

"Who the fuck is that?" Inuyasha questioned before she could stop him.

"Kenji," she whispered back.

"Who's Kenji?" he demanded.

"My husband," she replied automatically, immediately wishing she hadn't.

"Your what?!"

Kagome clapped a hand over the livid hanyou's mouth and pushed him backward into the nearest closet. "We'll talk later—now just please, please be quiet!" she begged, closing the door and stepping away from it just in time for Kenji to appear in the doorway, a puzzled expression wrinkling his sleepy brow.

"Kagome? Is there someone here? I could have sworn I heard voices…"

"It was the radio," she answered, perhaps a shade too quickly, though Kenji was too groggy to notice. "Inu-chan got spooked by another dog in the yard and knocked over some dishes, so I was calming him down, and I thought I'd fix myself a snack while I was up. Why don't you just go on back to bed, sweetheart…" she suggested gently, guiding her husband back down the hallway toward the stairs.

When they reached the bottom step, Kenji nodded in agreement. "Alright, but come on back to bed soon, okay?" he said with a yawn.

Kagome kissed him goodnight and headed him upstairs. "I'll be up in a few minutes—you just go ahead and get some sleep."

Once Kenji was safely out of sight, Kagome returned to the kitchen and eased open the closet door to find a rather surly-looking hanyou standing with arms crossed behind it. "I still can't believe you named that little mutt after me. And why the hell do you keep calling it 'Inu-chan'?"

"Because you wouldn't let me, that's why. And keep your voice down," she scolded.

"I'll do whatever I damn well please."

"Not in my house you won't. Inuyasha, I really, really don't have time to deal with this right now—can you please just go away and come back tomorrow or something? I have to get some sleep…"

"Yeah, right, I'll leave and then the next thing I know you'll have left the country or something."

"Oh for god's sake, Inuyasha—here, I'll tell you what: If you'll just disappear for awhile, I'll call in sick to work tomorrow morning and you can come back then. But make sure you don't come until after Kenji's left. And try not to let any of the neighbors see you…"

Inuyasha regarded her with narrowed eyes. "You promise you'll be here?"

"Scout's honor," she replied.

"Sc-what?"

"Nevermind—I'll be here."

"Fine," he agreed, and just like that he was out the window from whence he'd come.

He's back for ten minutes, and already he's got me calling in sick again. This can't be a good sign…


A/N: I can't believe I'm finally posting this. Seriously, I've been rolling this idea around in my brain for, like, three years now. Ah, catharsis… (—grin—)