Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters in this bit of creative speculation… especially for the one who's up to something. A nod of recognition is bent towards Rumiko Takahashi for her creative prowess.

Author's Note: Yes, this is an Adult!Shippo and Kagome story. No, you don't have to run screaming. I think you're safe. Mostly. The rating is for occasional swearing, and I'll warn that character death is implied.

A Debt of Gratitude: Thank you to mine beta Fenikkusuken, who puts up with my alt. pairing ways.

This oneshot was originally posted to Live Journal on March 11, 2008.


Shippo had always known where she would be, but the when had proven to be iffy at best. Five hundred years turned out to be more of a guesstimate, and the wiggle-room left by Kagome's haphazard reckoning had become a considerable source of frustration for some of his more exacting acquaintances. She never was very good at math… or history. Personally, the kitsune found her careless misrepresentation of the facts amusing, but then, he hadn't been trying to determine which branch of her convoluted family tree to stand guard over for the last few centuries.

In the years since she'd been separated from them, Shippo moved around quite a bit, but curiosity always carried him back to the shrine that had been his second home—and would eventually be her first. The thought of seeing Kagome again might have been more exciting if it hadn't been tempered by the fact that he wouldn't be allowed to speak to her, thanks to the overprotective streak of a certain taiyoukai. 'The powers that be' had declared the shrine that housed the Bone Eater's Well—and all its inhabitants—strictly off-limits. Having endured enough lectures on interfering with the time line to last millennia, Shippo understood the 'why' behind Sesshoumaru's orders, but that didn't mean he liked them. Still, the consequences of crossing the taiyoukai were dire, so the kitsune contented himself with watching for Kagome's return from a safe distance.

When he was finally admitted into the taiyoukai's private study, Shippo was too excited to bother with the social niceties. "Is it true?" he demanded.

"Be more specific," Sesshoumaru replied blandly.

"Is it over?" the kitsune demanded, his tails swishing in agitation.

"So it seems," the taiyoukai returned calmly, inviting his guest to take a seat with the wave of a hand.

Remembering his manners, Shippo made a quick obeisance and knelt on one of the cushions that were arranged in front of the low table that served as Sesshoumaru's desk. "Is Kagome safe?" the kitsune inquired eagerly.

"Hnn," murmured the taiyoukai in a noncommittal way, inspiring a suspicious frown from his guest.

"Didn't you check on her?" Shippo ventured, genuinely puzzled.

"I did."

"Did you talk to her?" the kitsune asked more sharply.

Sesshoumaru's brow arched in response to the challenging tone. "Of course not," he said coolly.

Shippo shook his head in confusion, "Why not?"

Choosing to ignore the kitsune's impertinence, Sesshoumaru favored him with a flat look, but answered, "It would serve no purpose."

That earned a snort. "I'll talk to her then," Shippo declared.

"That would not be… advisable," the taiyoukai murmured, giving the increasingly-irate fox-youkai a meaningful look.

"Why not!" the kitsune practically exploded.

Effecting boredom, which was never a good sign, Sesshoumaru examined his claws. "It would be an unnecessary risk," he intoned.

"In what way?"

"She's a human," the taiyoukai said dismissively.

Shippo fairly vibrated with indignation. "She's not just some human. She's Kagome, and she already knows about youkai."

"Not in this era," corrected Sesshoumaru impassively.

The kitsune's eyes narrowed to slits. "There have been exceptions over the years, as you well know. How can you dismiss her like this? She's… she's pack!"


"You promised Inuyasha that you would protect her," Shippo spluttered, realizing with a lurch that the taiyoukai wasn't about to be swayed.

"I did," conceded Sesshoumaru, "and I have. She is safe."

"You… you…" the kitsune floundered, then drew himself up. "Inuyasha had one thing right. You are an asshole!"

As the kitsune stormed from the taiyoukai's study with enough ferocity to shake the walls, Sesshoumaru's only response was a distracted, "Hnn."

There was something soothing about sweeping, and Kagome found she liked the calming effect the task had on her. While she concentrated on moving the stiff broom across the smooth stones of the courtyard, she could let her mind drift to faraway places—and times. Lost in thought, she didn't notice her grandfather's approach until he was practically at her elbow. "Kagome, what are you doing out here, child?"

"I was just tidying up a bit, Grandpa," she smiled.

The old man glanced around the enclosure with assessing eyes. "Again? Surely it doesn't need it already. You just swept yesterday," he pointed out.

"I know," Kagome admitted with a sheepish shrug. "I don't mind doing it again; it gives me… time to think."

He squinted thoughtfully at her for a few moments, but seemed to think better of whatever it was he wanted to say. Instead, he simply cleared his throat and muttered a brusque, "It's good to have you home, my girl."

"Thank you, Grandpa," the young woman replied softly.

With a doting look and a pat on her shoulder, the old man excused himself. "I'll leave you to it, then."

Resuming the rhythmic motions, Kagome pushed stray leaves into neat piles even as she tried to push her scattered emotions into a semblance of order. I'm home—home again, home to stay, home for good. Is it good? This had always been a possibility—the Jewel sending her back to her own time. Miroku had actually been the one to warn them that a separation might occur, so they'd all taken the extra time to exchange some final words before leaving to confront Naraku that last time—just in case. Kagome was grateful for his foresight. Though their farewells offered little in the way of comfort, they gave a measure of closure to her experiences in the feudal era.

None of that stopped her from wanting to see her friends again, impossible as that wish might be. Kagome couldn't really complain—the quest was completed, the enemy defeated, her friends had been safe, and their future looked bright. It would have been nice to be a part of their future. However, once her duty to the Shikon no Tama had been fulfilled, she'd been whisked away to her own time and place. End of story.

Unless… A small voice reminded her that there was a tiny chance—the slimmest possibility—that someone had waited for her. In her daydreams, Kagome would be sweeping the courtyard, just like this, and then a voice would call her name, and she would turn to find a familiar face smiling at her. If she was perfectly honest, one of the reasons she spent so much time outside was to make it easier for that indeterminate 'someone' to approach her. Kagome had no idea how to search for the few hanyou or youkai that might have survived the centuries, but if she could make it a little easier to be found… Gazing around the empty courtyard with a vague sense of longing, Kagome sighed. Am I… alone?

From his perch within the branches of Goshinboku, Shippo frowned thoughtfully down on Kagome, who was quietly sweeping. Sesshoumaru wouldn't be pleased if he found out, but the taiyoukai hadn't explicitly forbidden this course of action. He only said that talking to Kagome wasn't advisable. Shippo cheerfully seized the loophole, for like most of his kind, he knew just how far he could bend a rule before it would break. Out of respect for Sesshoumaru, who tended to follow through with his threats even when an old friend of the family was involved, Shippo didn't reveal himself to his friend. He felt completely justified in doing a bit of reconnoitering, because Sesshoumaru's stubbornness where Kagome was concerned bordered on the ridiculous—especially considering the taiyoukai's own choice in a mate. He ought to know there's more to protecting a person than preserving their life.

This was Shippo's first visit to the shrine since Kagome's presence had been confirmed. Once her trips through the well had begun, it would have been disastrous for Inuyasha to catch wind of any modern youkai, so he'd been ordered away for the duration of Kagome's little adventure. Now, with the portal sealed, he saw no harm in getting a closer look. Shippo's first thought on catching sight of her was, She's hardly changed at all, but he immediately berated himself for his foolishness. For her, it's only been a few weeks. I'll bet she still thinks of me as a little kid. Shippo would have liked nothing more than to swoop down and introduce himself, but he was already pushing his luck, so he decided to bide his time.

Shippo couldn't resist the temptation to follow her, and it was easy to justify his compulsion. Kagome had always needed someone to look out for her, and with the others gone, the task fell to him. Yeah, right. The kitsune gave a short, self-deprecating laugh, knowing full well that he was only indulging himself by continuing to stalk the young woman. The dangers Kagome was so prone to were a thing of the past, and she hardly needed some youkai protector hovering nearby. Now that she was home to stay, Shippo was sure she'd be getting back to the normal life that she'd set aside for all their sakes. He knew he should just leave her to it, but first, he wanted to make sure she would be okay.

Kagome spent most of her time at home, but every so often she left the confines of the shrine to accompany her mother on shopping trips. These outings became Shippo's greatest delight, because they made it much easier for him to get close to the young woman who occupied most of his thoughts these days. She never knew he was there, but within the anonymity of crowds, he could match her strides and guard her back, enjoying the sight of her face, the sound of her voice, and the sense of sharing an adventure again.

Today, the kitsune trailed after the two women as they entered the local grocer's, and when they divided their list and split up, Shippo followed Kagome up and down the aisles as she collected ingredients. Maybe Sesshoumaru isn't the only one with an overprotective streak, he thought ruefully as he stared down a young man in a stock-boy's uniform who suddenly thought better of asking Kagome if she was finding everything all right.

Deciding the entertainment value of this little jaunt might be increased by adding an element of danger, Shippo kept his eyes open for opportunities. In the produce section, he positioned himself so that Kagome bumped into him when she turned away from the scales. Prepared to offer a smiling apology and make his escape, the kitsune wasn't ready for the sudden scrutiny he received. Soft grey eyes rooted him to the spot as she searched his face with earnest expectation. For one panicked moment, he thought she might have recognized him in spite of his illusions, but the hopefulness in her eyes immediately dimmed. As she bobbed her head in apology and walked away without a second glance, Shippo watched her in stunned silence. What was that?

Shaking himself, he resumed his casual pursuit, taking care to remain unnoticed as he changed the way he watched her. Well… damn. He'd been so busy watching her, he hadn't noticed that Kagome was covertly watching everyone who crossed her path. There was an ill-disguised eagerness in her manner as she darted glances into strangers' faces, and Shippo thought she looked like someone who was lost and hoping against hope to find a familiar face in the crowd. His quick mind made an intuitive leap that sent his stomach plummeting with realization. She's looking for… us.

The quiet evening meal was drawing to a close when Sesshoumaru pinned his guest with piercing yellow-gold eyes. "You have been scarce of late," he commented, arching a brow to make it clear that explanations were in order.

"That's not so unusual," Shippo hedged with a careless shrug, "though it warms my heart to know you've been worrying about me." Dancing eyes met the taiyoukai's flat look, and then the kitsune winked broadly at his hostess. There was a time and a place for Sesshoumaru-baiting, and the only time Shippo was confident that he could get away with 'sass' was when Rin was around. Being childhood friends with your alpha's mate definitely has its benefits.

"Have you been up to mischief, Shippo-kun?" Rin asked in cheerfully accusatory tones.

"I am always up to something," confessed the kitsune with a grin.

"Hnn," was the taiyoukai's only contribution.

Adopting a more serious mien, the fox youkai answered equably. "I've been finding ways to keep myself occupied, but it's nothing worth mentioning." With a quick glance towards Rin, he decided to take a gamble. Maybe with her here… he'll listen to sense? "Actually, I've been wondering about… Kagome."

Rin's dark eyes took on a shine as she poured tea. "I heard that Kagome-sama was back. I'm glad. She was always good to me."

"Yeah… me too," muttered Shippo gruffly. "I still don't understand why we can't go to her. She must be… wondering. You know?" His eyes pleaded with Rin to take his part, but the woman kept her gaze demurely downcast, and Sesshoumaru was the one to answer.

"She will adapt."

The kitsune's jaw hardened into stubborn lines. "I think she deserves to know. After all she's done, you're just going to abandon her?"

"That is a groundless accusation," returned the taiyoukai smoothly. "She is under my protection."

"But you're deliberately excluding her, even though she's pack," argued Shippo, green eyes flashing.

"She has returned to her rightful place. There is no point in complicating her life further."

"At least give her the choice!" urged the kitsune, his tones edged with desperation. "She may have returned to her 'rightful place', but that doesn't mean she's happy there. I think she's waiting for us… watching for us…"

Sesshoumaru tilted his head, eyes intent. "That is an interesting assessment. How did you reach this conclusion?"

Shippo blinked, momentarily rattled by his own carelessness. Backing down slightly, he scrambled for a plausible response. "You forget that I know her," he finally muttered, staring down at the table. "That's just how Kagome would feel."

"Hnn," murmured Sesshoumaru speculatively as he studied the bowed head of the kitsune he'd 'inherited' from his half-brother. Rin took a breath and looked ready to speak, but the slight arch of a brow and minute shake of her mate's head begged for her silence. She complied with a serene smile, and the taiyoukai addressed Shippo again. "I believe I've made myself clear."

"Abundantly," the fox youkai managed, his voice husky with ill-concealed emotion. Nodding curtly to the couple, he rose to his feet, eyes averted as he backed towards the door. "Thank you for the meal. If you'll excuse me."

Once their guest had departed, silence stretched comfortably for a moment as Rin refilled her mate's tea cup. When her own had been likewise replenished, she met Sesshoumaru's eyes over its brim. "What are you up to?" she inquired smilingly.

He lifted a shoulder in an offhand manner, but she had long-since learned to wait him out. After a thoughtful pause, he met his mate's curious gaze. "He is a kitsune with a contrary streak," Sesshoumaru said vaguely.

Rin puzzled over this for a moment, then frowned. "You… expect him to disobey?"

"It pleases him to be reckless," the taiyoukai allowed, hints of amusement lighting his eyes.

"So, by telling him to stay away, you guaranteed that he'd meddle?" she summarized, disbelief slowly giving way to delight.

"Hnn," Sesshoumaru hummed. "He may prove useful to me where the miko is concerned."

Rin shook her head, pointing out, "If you just asked Shippo-kun to watch over Kagome-sama, he would have been happy to take responsibility."

The taiyoukai's gaze softened, and he offered his mate a faint smile. "The greater the obstacles, the stronger the desire to protect."

Kagome leaned against Goshinboku, head tipped back to watch as the slips of white paper that hung from their plaited rope as they fluttered in the breeze. He would have come by now… if he could. The young woman wrapped her arms more tightly around herself as tears slipped silently down her cheeks. Convinced that death was the only thing that could have prevented Inuyasha from coming for her, Kagome grieved. She'd counted on him the most, since he'd been here before and would know he was welcome. I guess our last goodbye really was… goodbye.

Though it felt like grasping at straws, Kagome tried to think of anyone else who might have lived for five centuries. Kouga came immediately to mind, but the wolf-youkai had never been told the details of her origin, so even if he was still around, he wouldn't be looking for her. Sesshoumaru was probably indestructible, but though he'd allied himself with them in the final push against Naraku, he'd never become… friendly. She sincerely doubted he'd be dropping by to pay his respects. Shippo had been young, so he had a good chance of living into the modern era. Making a mental note to keep her eyes open for red hair and green eyes, she searched her memory for more possibilities. The final list was meager and depended far too much on chance encounters.

Her only hope lay in her ability to sense youki. If I was close enough, surely I would be able feel that someone was youkai. The only problem was, she hadn't sensed anything since her return, and she didn't know if it was because there were no demons in this era… or if her miko powers had been inextricably tied to the Shikon no Tama. Maybe those abilities were just an extension of the Jewel, and now I'm just a normal person. Though she'd often despaired over her role as a miko, the thought of having her spiritual powers stripped away didn't sit well.

She remembered how youki felt—a dark thrum of primal power that called to her even as it clashed against her purity. It pulled and repelled, announcing itself with brashness and insinuating itself with subtlety. Though most humans feared its touch, she'd found more than one reason to recklessly embrace it—each of them a good friend. Closing her eyes, Kagome reached out, wishing she could feel that otherworldly touch again, but when her questing heart came up empty, her very soul seemed to echo with loneliness.

The longer he shadowed her steps, the more concerned Shippo grew. Weeks elapsed, and still he lingered on the fringes, unable to shake the notion that Kagome wanted to reestablish her connection with the past. She scanned the faces of passersby with less intensity now, but she was still looking.

To the kitsune's growing dismay, Kagome was always cheerful—bright, caring, talkative. He remembered her compassionate heart and her outgoing ways, but some indefinable quality that was 'Kagome' was… missing. It took a while to realize what was off, but once the answer occurred to him, he wondered why he hadn't seen it sooner. She's being too sweet. He'd seen her scold a full-fledged taiyoukai, cow those who mistook her for easy prey, contradict raging megalomaniacs, and sway entire crowds with impassioned pleas. His Kagome could make Miroku back off with a death glare and send Inuyasha into an apologetic backpedal with the quirk of one brow. Where is her temper? Where is her determination? Where is her indomitable spirit? While this young woman went through the motions, her brave face wasn't fooling him for a second. From what he could see, she was losing hope with every passing day, but instead of gathering her courage, Kagome seemed to be wilting. The sparkle of life was fading from her eyes.

Shippo strolled with Rin through the gardens of the taiyoukai's estate. "Can't you talk to him for me?" he begged, all four of his tails bristling in response to his inner turmoil.

Rin's smile was sweet, but a little sad. "What would you have me say that you haven't already said?"

Sighing heavily, the kitsune nodded his understanding. "She's suffering," he confided. "It's like… watching her die just a little bit more every day. How can he expect me to stand by and let that happen to Kagome?"

"So you have been watching her," Rin realized, eyes widening in concern over his report.

With a bitter laugh, Shippo sneered. "Yes, I've stayed close to her… for all the good it does."

"She's lonesome," the woman gathered, eyes misting sympathetically. "Poor Kagome-sama."

The kitsune paused, turning to his childhood friend. "You remember what it's like to be alone."

She nodded solemnly and replied softly, "Rin remembers." Shippo smiled at her return to the old conceit. "And you remember what it's like to be found."

"Yeah," he replied mournfully. "What makes it worse is that Kagome's the one who found me. It feels wrong, knowing she's hurting and not doing something to help."

"You haven't shown yourself to her?" Rin asked, curious.

"No," he sighed, as they resumed their ramble.

"What about her family? Don't they see?" she ventured.

Shippo's brow furrowed in concentration. "Sure they do, to a point. Kagome laughs and smiles and tries to act as if nothing is wrong, and maybe her family accepts the illusion because it's what they want to be true. They're good people, but they can't give her what she needs."

"Can you?" Rin asked gently.

They walked in silence for a few moments before the kitsune reached his decision. "Kagome didn't abandon me; I can't abandon her."

Kagome sighed and stretched, grateful for Mama's offer of a break from her station behind the gift shop's till. The crowds that flocked to the shrine during this annual festival were always a little overwhelming. Keeping her head down as she wended her way between milling visitors, the young woman made her escape, moving with confidence towards one of the out-of-the-way niches.

Her brisk steps were accompanied by the sharp clack of wooden sandals, and full, white sleeves and the voluminous red fabric of her hakama billowed—marking her as a shrine maiden. Kagome found her traditional attire oddly appropriate, since she doubted she'd ever leave this place. Tied as she was to the past, she could see no other future. Maybe I'll live out my days as an old maid like Kaede… She claimed an empty bench in the relative solitude of a secluded corner and closed her eyes as she charted a course through what looked to be a long, industrious, and uninspiring future. It's a good thing I like sweeping, she mused.

"Excuse me, miko-san?" Kagome started at the voice, and turned surprised eyes on the stranger who stood nearby. "Is this seat taken?"

Not waiting for an answer, the young man took a seat on the opposite end of her bench, casually slouching down with his hands behind his head. Too stunned to give a thought to the impoliteness of staring, Kagome eyed him suspiciously. He was casually dressed in unremarkable clothing, but his hair was unusual enough to turn heads. Long and black, it was gathered into a top-knot, but she decided that his passing resemblance to Kouga stopped there. Where the wolf-youkai's hair had been smooth and sleek, this stranger's fell in shaggy waves, with mussed bangs partially obscuring dark eyes. As she continued to study him, he glanced her way, giving her a glimpse of indistinct hazel. She sighed in quiet disappointment as she noted neatly-rounded ears—human. Meeting his easy-going smile with a fleetingly polite one, Kagome turned away, prepared to ignore him.

"If you'll pardon my saying so, you looked as if you could use some company," commented the newcomer pleasantly.

Kagome shifted uncertainly and glanced over her shoulder to reassure herself that there were plenty of people in screaming distance. When her attention returned to her companion, his relaxed body language remained non-threatening, and his eyes were dancing with some private amusement. Is he just overly cheerful… or is he laughing at me? Confused, she almost forgot to answer his question. "Um… no?" Berating herself for sounding so uncertain, she added a more pointedly, "I'm not looking for company; I'm actually taking a break from the crowds."

Undaunted by her mild rebuff, the stranger let his eyes wander skyward. "Just because you're surrounded by people doesn't mean you're not lonely," he opined.

True as that may be, it's certainly none of your business. She didn't know what to make of his peculiarity or his persistence, but with the unfailing politeness towards a guest that had been drilled into her by her mother, Kagome decided to at least redirect the conversation onto safer paths. "What brings you to the shrine today?"

Slowly, as if unwilling to startle her, the young man reached into his jacket pocked and withdrew a coin. It shone dully as he held it up between two long fingers. "I'm here to make a wish, along with the rest of that lot," he replied, gesturing towards the shrine and its drove of supplicants. Sitting up, he held out both hands towards her and smirked. "Watch this," he murmured, then sent the coin into a tumbling dance back and forth over the tops of his fingers. He finished the little routine with a playful flip, which sent the metal singing into the air.

As he palmed the falling coin, Kagome found her lips curving upwards in answer to his contagious smile. "That's very clever. Are you a magician?"

"Hmm, I suppose you could say that," he agreed easily, making a little flourish with his hands so that the coin disappeared. "Though slight of hand is nothing compared the real thing."

"The real thing?" she echoed skeptically. "There's no such thing in this day and age," Kagome remarked flatly. Believe me, I've looked.

"How can you say that," he chided. "I mean, you're here, aren't you?"

"At the shrine?" she asked, shaking her head. "Of course I'm here; I live here. I haven't got much choice but to be here."

His eyes grew soft and solemn, and he countered her asperity in soothing tones. "Here is not such a bad place to be. Sites like this are rare and precious, reminding us of the past and giving hope for the future. There will always be 'magic' here."

"No… it's gone," she corrected him, conviction and sorrow in her tones. The stiff finality of her statement cut Shippo to the quick.

"Don't say that, Kagome," he begged. "It's not like you to give up."

She bristled immediately, then balked. "E-excuse me? How do you know my name?" Her gaze sharpened as she drew herself up. "Do I know you?"

"Yes and no. You knew me once, a long time ago," he confirmed. "A lot has changed since then, for me at least, but the past isn't as far away as you might think."

Kagome's eyes raked over his features, but there was no sense of familiarity, no glimmer of recollection. "I don't…" she trailed off, becoming skittish. "You know, maybe I should go. I need to get back."

When she stood, he rose as well, holding out a hand to forestall her retreat. "Wait, please. I'm sorry if I've frightened you." As she registered the expression of genuine dismay on his face, Kagome hesitated, and Shippo took his chance to ease closer. "You're so much smaller now," he mused aloud, then on a whim, he dropped to one knee before her. "That's better," he decided, looking rather pleased with himself.

Torn between hope and hysterics, Kagome's heart fluttered at the feeling of imminence. Please, please, please… Oh, please, be true.

The earnest 'young man' reached out and gingerly touched her cold fingertips, then dared to close his larger, warmer hand around hers, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "Watch this," he urged, then lifted his free hand. Kagome's breath caught as he extended his fingers in a graceful curve, and his cupped palm bloomed with fire—the beautiful cerulean blue of foxfire. In that same moment, curls of youki unfurled around her, buffeting gently against her skin with a wild-sweet power she thought she'd never feel again. Tears prickled, and her eyes slid shut as a soft whimper escaped her throat. "Kagome?" Shippo whispered uncertainly. "Do you know me? Here… look," his voice beckoned.

Sweeping a sleeve across damp lashes, she obediently gazed into his upturned face, and as the kitsune's carefully-crafted illusions dissolved, Kagome covered her trembling lips with a shaking hand. Fiery red hair, bright green eyes, ears that came to shapely points, and the gentle wave of a luxuriant tail… no, tails "Shippo," she breathed. At his eager nod, she ventured, "You're here?"

Chuckling softly, he offered her the reassurance she craved. "I'm here, Kagome."

"You're… real?"

Breaking into a wide grin that provided a quick flash of fang, Shippo stood to his full height again. "Oh, I'm the real thing all right," he boasted teasingly.

"You're… tall," she blurted, trying to reconcile this handsome youkai with the fox kit she'd left behind.

"It's been a while," he shrugged.

Kagome shook her head in wonder and tightened her grasp on the hand that still held hers. "Is anyone else…?"

A pained expression flitted across his face, and he answered carefully. "A few you'll remember… Not… not many, though…"

Nodding jerkily, Kagome let him know she understood. "I thought so," she whispered.

Shippo hung his head. "I know it's only me…" he began apologetically.

"No!" the young woman interrupted. "I didn't mean that at all! I'm so glad you found me. You have no idea how…" Her voice faltered, cracking with emotion. "I thought I was all alone."

"I'm sorry I took so long," the kitsune mumbled.

Kagome wrapped her other hand around his and clung tight, as if she feared he might disappear. He waited patiently as she struggled to formulate her next question. "Do you… live nearby?" she asked hesitantly.

"I mostly come and go; I never… settled down," he replied casually. "In fact, it wasn't too many centuries ago that I called this place my home. I lived here with the first shrine keepers, you know. Nice family—big family," he hinted.

Could he mean… Miroku and Sango… oh! "I'd like to hear all about them," Kagome said softly, burgeoning happiness lending a glow to her eyes.

"It's a long story—would take a while to tell it properly." Turning slightly to sweep the busy courtyard with alert eyes, he half-managed to keep a serious face when he remarked, "You know, in some circles, it's considered lucky to have a kitsune hanging around."

"Would you consider… staying? I mean, if you're not busy… and since it's lucky… and I could hear all about… everything," she rambled, suddenly nervous.

"Yeah, Kagome," Shippo interjected, bringing her stumbling invitation to a halt. "That's why I came, okay? So stop worrying." She nodded, then sniffled, and the kitsune rolled his eyes as a fresh round of tears began to flow. "Oh, come here," he ordered gruffly, gathering her into his arms and tucking her under his chin.

"M'sorry," she mumbled from within the comfort of his embrace.

"Those had better be happy tears," he mock-grumbled, pleased when he earned a dampish giggle. "Well that's a relief. I was beginning to worry," he teased. As she quieted, he relaxed as well, contentedly breathing in a scent he associated with bravery and belonging. There was no doubt in his mind that he'd done the right thing. Sesshoumaru would be pissed, but the kitsune wasn't worried. His Kagome had never been shy about standing up to the taiyoukai in the past, and another face-off between those two would undoubtedly be entertaining. Shippo gave Kagome's hair a friendly nudge with his nose, then went back to letting it tickle the underside of his chin. "I'll stick around for as long as you need me," he promised.

"That might be… indefinitely," she admitted ruefully.

"Don't be so sure about that," he cautioned, smugness tingeing his tones. "I should probably warn you that in other circles, kitsune are considered something of a nuisance. If you take me in, they'd say you're just inviting trouble."

"I've always been good at finding trouble," she pointed out, pulling back to meet his gaze. Green eyes shone with mischief, but his only answer was a diplomatic shrug. Kagome couldn't leave it at that. "Thank you," she whispered, her eyes brimming with more emotions than she could find words to express. "Thank you for finding me."

The fondness in Shippo's gaze warmed her as gave her shoulder a gentle pat. "You would have done the same for me."

She blinked, and her lips twitched. "If memory serves, I did do the same for you."

A slow smile spread across his face. "Yep. You charged in, dried my tears, and cheerfully turned my whole world upside down." The young woman frowned at Shippo's summation and looked ready to protest, but before she could, the kitsune leaned close and playfully tapped her nose. "So, you might as well prepare yourself, Kagome, because I fully intend to return the favor."

End Note: This oneshot was written for the Live Journal community iyfic(underscore)contest and their prompt for Week 135—Shippo. 5,514 words. In an effort to forestall the obvious questions—Yes, this is a oneshot. I don't have any immediate plans to turn Reckless into another collection, but I'm not saying it'll never happen. Only time will tell. –forthright