Disjointed chapter is disjointed. But it was getting too depressing so I rearranged some minor events. Sorry.

Sesshoumaru closed his eyes, letting his thoughts wander as he listened to the calming sound of the shower running in the other room. He could almost imagine that the quiet drum of falling water was the patter of rain on leaves or the rush of a distant waterfall. The only thing breaking the illusion was the discordant singing that rose above it. The miko had a voice like birdsong, except the bird was deaf and had been raised by a broken piano. Pretty, but couldn't hold a tune.

Still, even her off-key melody was soothing in its own way. It had become… familiar. Background noise. Ever since he first stood sentinel at her bathroom door a week ago he found himself waiting by it every morning when she showered. If he wasn't standing outside, how would he know if he should be? Obviously the most practical thing to do was to be there just in case.

Sesshoumaru was ever the practical creature, and it may have seemed a lot of effort to go to for someone he did not care about (which he didn't—never never never), but it was the noble thing to do, he reasoned.

He was still noble. She had said so.

Having never been human, Sesshoumaru was uncertain what was considered a normal amount of crying in the shower but he suspected Kagome was a poor representative of normal humanity in most aspects of her life (Especially her miraculous inability to die. Very atypical, that.). He had a vague notion that happy well-adjusted humans had more friends and went out more and smiled more. And female humans her age (her apparent age, at least; who knew what her real age was?) generally were seeing or seeking suitors.

However, he was hardly a happy well-adjusted youkai, nor an expert on humanity, so his judgment on the matter of human happiness was surely poor.

The shower stopped. Sesshoumaru rose to his feet and padded back into the bedroom, slumping down by the window. Moments later the bathroom door opened, steam billowing out as the miko emerged. Her scent billowed out with it, clean and wet and feminine.

There were many complicated undertones that wove though it under the soap-and-water smell—like the scent of long-ago summers and old battles that somehow never went away—but it was one of the more recent scents that had him lifting his head back up. Sesshoumaru frowned, sifting it out as he scented the air. A bright, clean edge of a smell; sharp like light on a blade; airy like a cold mountaintop on a sunny day.


He had first noticed the scent of it a few days ago, but suspected it had been present for some time now, too faintly to pick up. Having so much repressed youki in close quarters was drawing a latent response out of her own spiritual powers. Kagome didn't seem to be even aware it was happening or she would surely try to control it.

The response made no sense, all his youki was directed inwards, leaving a plain mortal shell. No youkai would be able to detect him, if there were actually any left. A miko shouldn't either. But on some deeper level, she was.

Perhaps, he wondered, she wasn't sensing him at all, but her reiki was acting on…unconscious intuition. He didn't play the role of a mortal dog perfectly, and while Kagome was oblivious enough to overlook it, on some level, a part of her may wonder. Suspect. The very possibility of a youkai, in this youki-less vacuum of a world, could be enough to make her purity react.

His ear flicked twice; Sesshoumaru stood and pricked his ears, wondering if he had heard something. He looked out the window. Nothing. Sesshoumaru narrowed his eyes, scanning the rows of windows facing her apartment. What an insecure location this was. He would feel much better if they were living in the woods, away from all these humans.

Kagome came over wearing a wet towel. "Sesshoumaru, have you seen my hairbrush?" she said. She was standing over him now, dripping all over the floor. Sesshoumaru yawned widely. "No? Damn." The young woman wandered back to the dresser and rummaged around for it.

The taiyoukai stretched his long limbs and settled back as she went about her morning routine. The fact that this involved making breakfast in her underwear was something he'd grown used to. Sesshoumaru had no particular appreciation for the human body anyway, even if he was aware that hers was nice by human standards.

Still, Sesshoumaru sometimes felt bad that he couldn't give her the privacy he felt she deserved—he'd been raised with some manners—but even Kagome would be suspicious of a prudish dog.

"Aha!" she cried some time later, pulling the brush from behind a couch cushion. At some point she had shrugged into her clothes; jeans and a cream sweater. Kagome never wore skirts like she did in the past. Ever. The one skirt she owned was still in the chest in her closet. She had begun to wear pants in the past, too, he remembered now, near the last time he saw her. But he still remembered her best as the strange young girl in the strange little skirt. "Don't think I don't know that this was your handiwork, Mister," she wagged a finger at him.

For once it wasn't, actually, though he wished it had been. But the miko was so good at losing things, hiding them on purpose was almost like…well, kicking a puppy.

She would have made a good dog, came the sudden thought. Better than him. Happy and loyal.

No, he decided after a moment's thought. Kagome was human, through and through, and he would not change her if he could. She could not smile any more, if she was not human, and her smile was already so rare.

The thought bothered him more than it should.

"Your problem," Kagome said to him later that day, out of the blue, "is you take yourself too seriously."

Sesshoumaru lifted his head from the rug and tilted it.

"Maybe you used to be a guard dog, or a seeing-eye dog, or any other kind of working dog, but you're my dog now, and you're going to be lazy and pampered and have fun doing stupid silly dog things. You are going to enjoy yourself and be a happy dog, even if I have to make you."

Sesshoumaru lay his head back down.

"I thought you might feel that way," Kagome continued, unfazed, "which is why I got you…this!" She pulled a bright red Frisbee out of a paper bag and held it in front of his face, waggling it. The taiyoukai thought, momentarily, about biting it in half right now and being done with this frivolousness, but no doubt she would buy another, if she hadn't already.

"Now come on," she said, taking out his leash, "it's a beautiful day for a walk."

It was indeed a beautiful day, so Sesshoumaru conceded without much of a fight, and they soon found themselves in the park. It hadn't snowed recently and there was enough sun that the grass showed through in patches. Dozens of other dogs and their humans had come out with the same idea in mind, and were running everywhere through the park, chasing sticks and each other and making more noise than Sesshoumaru appreciated.

"This is perfect," Kagome said with a grin, hands on her hips. "Now," she said, directing her attention to Sesshoumaru, "do you see what those other dogs are doing? Those dogs over there?" Her dog stared blandly up at her. She decided this was a yes. "They are having fun. It is called play. Play." She held up the Frisbee. "You, my canine friend, are here to play."

Sesshoumaru was giving her a particularly uncooperative look and Kagome folded her arms at him. This was for his own mental health. He was still so distant and mistrustful, and that was fine, these things take time—but she needed him to be happy.

And it was hard to tell with a dog like him if they were happy. Was Sesshoumaru happy living with her, in their apartment? If she couldn't make a dog happy, what good was she?

Maybe, a smaller part of her thought, she was just desperate to know if her dog even liked her. Because on the nights where she curled up feeling sad and small and lonely, she really wished he did.

But no, maybe Kagome was forever doomed to be spurned by dogs…

Shaking those thoughts away with a toss of her head, she waved the Frisbee in the air. "Are you ready? Does Sesshou-ma-ru want the Frisbee? Go get it!"

She threw it as hard as she could, sending it gliding over the field. They both watched it arc through the air before landing gently in the snow a distance away.

"That," she said to Sesshoumaru, who hadn't even stood up, "was pathetic. Clearly you do not understand your role in this scenario." After a few minutes of pointing and urging for him to go get it, Kagome sighed and got the Frisbee back herself.

"Okay," she said as she returned to his side, "we're going to try this again. This is your prey." She held up the Frisbee, moving it back and forth. The dog tracked it with his eyes. "Your job is to chase. Chase the Frisbee! Chase it! Now…go!"

Kagome tossed it and together they watched it sail past the benches.

Sesshoumaru turned and looked at her.

"Well?" she said. Pointing. "Go get it!"

The dog stared.

"Can't you see how much fun the other dogs are having?" she pleaded. She brought back the Frisbee again and knelt in front of him. "Come on, Sesshoumaru," she said, looking him in his dark red eyes. "Play with me. Let loose a little. Please. Now…fetch, boy!"

Half an hour later found Kagome exhausted from running back and forth to get the Frisbee, and found Sesshoumaru lying down. In the same place. Not trying even once. She must have retrieved the stupid thing herself a dozen times.

"Maybe I'm not being fair," she sighed, resting her hands on her knees. "I mean, you do only have three legs…maybe three-legged dogs can't play fetch." Giving in, she let the Frisbee fall to the ground and slumped down next to it.

Sesshoumaru finally got up.

And as she watched him wide-eyed, he picked up the red Frisbee in his teeth, swung his head, and tossed it into a glide.

He looked at her.

Go get it, she imagined him saying with his eyes.

This was in fact a fairly accurate translation.

A long minute passed, Kagome blinking at him.

"You," she said, and Sesshoumaru was surprised to see her eyes brighten, "you are playing with me!" She bounced to her feet, energy renewed. "You're a jerk," she added, "but you're playing with me! I can work with that."

And with a grin that left him startled, she ran off to get it again.

It was the most horrible thing that had ever happened to him.

That was a lie: he was nearly a thousand years old. He'd seen lots of horrible things and done lots of horrible things, things that stained his soul, things he would carry the weight of forever. And he had borne the weight of time, which was perhaps the most horrible of all.

But it was certainly the most awful thing that had happened to him today, and definitely the most awful thing that had ever happened to his fur, and was awful and sudden enough that all he could do was stand there, a slow horror crawling through him.

A strangled sound came out of his throat. A thin, whining noise.

"Oh, no!" Kagome cried, fluttering her hands helplessly. "We've got to get you cleaned up!" They had been waiting at the intersection on their way home when a pickup truck slid on ice and spun out into another car—the accident was minor, the crisis was the case of paint cans that cracked open against the pavement at their feet. Dumping gallons of thick black paint on Sesshoumaru.

The dog seemed to be in shock, standing rigid. Black paint covered one side of him like an oil slick, splashed across his flanks and muzzle and ruining his beautiful tail.

"Come on, boy, time to go home," she said gently, pulling the leash. He didn't even blink. "Sesshoumaru, listen to me!"

Sesshoumaru's nose and eyes burned. Murder! He was being murdered. He was dying. He was already dead, and being punished for all his sins, and he felt a bit put out about it because no one warned him purgatory was like this. It felt like battery acid was being poured down his nose. Except being a toxic demon himself, acid would have been kinder.

He tried breathing through his mouth but he could taste the rancid chemicals. And he snapped his jaws shut when he realized she might look in and see something not normal—like his serrated tongue, or the fact that he had about a dozen more teeth than a dog really should. Sesshoumaru was amazed that he could think about maintaining his cover at a time like this. He was amazed he could think at all. He would be pleased with himself if it weren't for the ongoing torment.

He just needed to go out and find a river to swim in. Where would he find a river in Tokyo? Where would he find a river in winter that wasn't frozen? Where would he even start looking when he couldn't smell anything?

Like grinding gears he managed to move one leg, plant it, lift another. Getting himself moving was all he could manage in the face of the smell that was like a cloud of black smoke in his head, thick and clotting. His thoughts grew sluggish in it. It felt like he was wading through tar.

"No, no!" Kagome said, hauling him back on his leash as hard as she could, making him snarl, "that's the wrong way! We have to get you home!"

Sesshoumaru snarled again but she pulled harder, and slowly she managed to drag him back to the apartment. He stopped resisting after only a minute but seemed so disoriented it took twice as long as it should have.

The dog sat in her doorway as she ran to the bathroom and threw on the water, letting the tub fill. Changing quickly into a swimsuit, she ran back and found him trying to groom himself, eyes shut tight in a grimace.

"Don't do that!" Grabbing his collar again, she dragged him down the hall, leaving black paint streaking down it.

Once he was in the bathroom she tried to pick him up, but he came to his senses for a moment and drew back from her touch, growling.

"Don't be stupid!" she snapped back. "You are getting in that tub right now, so help me!" She pushed his side and he didn't resist again, and after a long minute of shoving and heaving she managed to manhandle him into the tub.

Sesshoumaru hadn't made another sound. He just sat there in abject misery. He didn't even seem to care that she was touching him anymore.

Climbing in after him, she grabbed shampoo and a brush and got to work.

It took almost a whole bottle of shampoo and over an hour. She washed him several times to get it all out, lathering up his fur till it foamed and then turning on the showerhead and letting the hot water rinse it out again. Eventually the water stopped running black and he started to look like himself again. Kagome could not say the same for herself; she was streaked in black and her hair looked like a soggy attempt at modern art. And she was thoroughly bruised up from trying to maneuver in a tiny tub with a very large reluctant dog.

Combing her fingers through his wet ruff to check one last time for paint, she turned off the water and let the tub drain. He sat like a statue while she toweled him off and wrung out his tail. Then she took up the blowdryer and brushed his fur out under the hot air, working her way from his head down.

Kagome brushed Sesshoumaru until the fur fell feathery-soft and he sagged to the floor and shut his eyes. Unwilling to let the moment end, she sat in silence on the wet tiles and brushed him for hours and hours.

She brushed until the smoke in his head that Kagome did not know was there faded, but still he kept his eyes closed and let her groom him. The room was warm and thick with steam and he was heavy and boneless as small fingers kneaded behind his ears. He could feel her smiling that rare smile and humming that off-key tune, and her brushing soothed his ill-fitting skin, and if he were the demon he used to be he would have shunned himself for it but he was not the demon he used to be.

And it was a good thing he wasn't because Sesshoumaru immediately regretted all those times he'd tried to kill her on the battlefield. It would have been a grave mistake. If he could rewrite the past, he would have kidnapped her and her clever hands and kept her.

And he would have made her brush his hair every day.