Author's Note: This story was supposed to end faster. But the ending refuses to be rushed. Sesshy, Kagome, and Inu-kun have to work through their issues.

Shadowlands

Chapter 13: Potential Energy

As they walked, the weather grew slightly worse with each step. Kagome saw a storm on the distant horizon, and gray skies over the landscape. It was probably raining on the village, she thought, because the clouds had long, diagonal streaks in them, backlit by the sun.

Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru didn't make the scene any brighter. The dog-demon and his half-brother walked in gloomy silence, and she felt like pulling her hair out in frustration. But at least, the taiyoukai was following them back to Kaede's village. There was a chance that he might linger long enough to work through their problems.

Although she wanted to discuss the situation with Sesshoumaru, Kagome could not bring herself to speak. It was awkward because of Inuyasha's presence, but even more so, because of... well... the white-haired dog-demon. He was like a silent wall of resistance, and she would embarrass herself by trying to get him to open up.

Eventually, though, it occurred to Kagome how much worse it would be to wait until they reached the village. Then, Miroku and Sango would be listeners as well. And Kaede and Rin. And she would have to explain the soul-bond all over again to a new audience. Just thinking about it was exhausting.

If she wanted to speak with Sesshoumaru, then right now was the best time. Procrastination never solved anything.

"So..." began the priestess, linking her hands behind her back and staring at the sky. "I was wondering..." No, no. That was not the right way to start this conversation. She tried again. "Er... I want to apologize! Because I made you angry, before you left. Unfortunately, I don't understand why. And I wish I did?"

A few meters ahead, Inuyasha winced. His stride slowed down, and one ear flicked back toward her, but it was obvious they all knew who she hoped to speak with. Sesshoumaru stopped moving when his half-brother did. However, he did not reply. He merely watched her out of the corner of one eye. Meanwhile, Kagome tried to interpret whether it was a glare or mere curiosity.

"Hypothetically speaking, that is," she floundered. Scratching the side of her nose uneasily, she looked between the elder brother and the younger one. "If I upset you, then I would want to know why. That way, I could avoid it."

Yet again, absolutely no response from the taiyoukai, except for a slight stiffening of the spine. The hanyou, on the other hand, seemed annoyed. Inuyasha rolled his eyes, a lovely gesture of irritation that he had picked up from her in the future. "I'm hungry," he stated point-blank. "I'm going fishing."

It was not until the hanyou walked away that Kagome realized how extremely tactful he was being. Sesshoumaru was much more likely to talk about his problems without an audience. Although the chance of him being open and friendly on any given subject were still quite low.

Once their companion's red fire-rat robes had disappeared into the surrounding forest, she turned back to the dog-demon. "Did I make you angry?"

"No." As usual, Sesshoumaru was willing to deny everything. The horizon held more interest than she did.

"Because you seemed frustrated, as you walked away," the priestess persisted. "If you urgently needed to buy a new kimono for Rin and patrol the border of the Western Lands, then you would have done it sooner."

A fleeting hint of confusion passed over his face. She hoped that it meant she was getting through to him, rather than making him feel even more frustrated and angry than before. Taking a small step forward, she kept from being rude and staring at him by staring at the sword he carried instead.

"I did not buy an outfit for Rin," the taiyoukai admitted finally. The unspoken assertion was that he forgot. But she was kind and she chose not to remark upon it.

"There is still time," she smiled softly. "Although she cares more about you, than clothing, I think."

"Hn." A gentle breeze shifted through the leaves of the trees, signaling the approach of a distant storm. They probably had hours before the rain traveled this far. But without really thinking about it, Kagome found herself drifting closer to her companion's side.

Apparently, giving him additional time to formulate words was helpful. After a while, the white-haired demon continued. "I have come to the realization," he said slowly, "That you know nothing about soul-bonds except what I tell you, so you did not intend any insult."

"Insult?" she asked, trying to work through the statement in her mind. It was true that she knew nothing about the subject, except what he had briefly explained. "When I said that I hoped the bond would fade, I was trying to reassure you." Waving one hand in the air as if to erase her mistake, she explained quickly. "I did not know that a soul-bond never broke. I assumed... that you wanted it to."

"I know," he agreed. "But I never said such a thing." The words did not sound impatient or frustrated, simply informative.

She blushed lightly, fidgeting under his gaze. This time, however, she refused to interrupt. Trying to reassure him had backfired the last time.

"To form a blood-bond with another, it is an honor," he clarified, understanding now that he needed to spell everything out before she understood too. It was still difficult, but he gave it his best effort. Reaching out with one hand, he traced the back of her arm with his claws. "Our connection goes beyond that. Even for a youkai, such things are like stories and myths... When you stated that Inuyasha would guard you, Inuyasha would protect you, while I simply wandered off... This was what upset me."

The blush had intensified, as he spoke. Kagome felt silly for not running those words through her mind before she spoke earlier. Of course, it sounded bad. She had not intended to imply that Sesshoumaru should leave, while Inuyasha stayed by her side!

"I'm sorry," she murmured hesitantly.

"Perhaps it is a lesson for both of us," he pondered solemnly. "Communication is more important than assumptions."

At this, a tiny giggle escaped her. Kagome guessed it was the closest to an apology that she would receive. But she did not mind.

The hand that had been trailing up her arm moved to her face. He smoothed the hair behind her ear, moving it away from her cheek. If possible, the redness in her cheeks might have grown.

It was like he brushed away thoughts from her head with every movement of his fingers. Easing closer and closer, she slowly slid her fingers into the fuzzy, white fur that looped over his shoulder. This was entirely reasonable, she told herself. Her hands were cold, and the fur was warm. She remembered how nice it felt to snuggle against his shoulder in the underworld, while they traveled. Nevermind that it was no longer necessary.

The emotional side of the bond between them might have been affecting her too. She felt strangely fascinated by the taiyoukai at the moment. Still, they could not stay out here all day, could they? "Sh-should we find Inuyasha and keep walking toward the village?"

"No," he decided firmly.

"No?" she inquired.

With a non-committal hum, the dog-demon moved forward a bit more, until he was able to reach around her with his other arm. Tucking her against his chest, he stared at her. As if she was the most confusing person in the entire world. Kagome felt honored to have generated such a response from such a taciturn individual. This had happened once before, though. When they first created a bond, he had seemed strangely enthralled by her too.

She felt similarly confused. Yesterday, her hanyou guardian had tried to kiss her. It had made her feel nervous and uncomfortable, so she had told him to wait. But now, she was standing next to Sesshoumaru and she was thinking about kissing him.

What did it mean? She would not be like Inuyasha and attempt to have two love-interests at once. Yet although she still had feelings for her half-demon, she was contemplating his elder brother in such a fashion. This was inappropriate.

A thread of guilt wound its way around her heart. She tried to force herself to think about Inuyasha instead of her current companion. In response, the taiyoukai shook his head, as if to get rid of an idea. He drew away from her.

"What are you thinking?" asked Sesshoumaru curiously. Despite the connection they shared, thoughts did not pass through it, only feelings. He must have detected her hesitation and a touch of guilt.

Naturally, this made her feel even more guilty. On Sesshoumaru's behalf too, not just Inuyasha. It was insane, but she felt suddenly guilty for denying him. How often would someone like Sesshoumaru spend his attention on a human girl, like herself? Ah! She was completely hopeless.

Well, he had said that communication was more important than assumption. So, she should tell him what bothered her. Even if it sounded badly on the surface. Honesty was important too.

"I was..." she mumbled, picking at her sleeve. "I was thinking of Inuyasha. He tried to kiss me, but I did not let him." Embarrassment was not a fatal, was it? It seemed like it might be, sometimes.

Fortunately or unfortunately - she could not quite decide which - Sesshoumaru took this as a challenge. Instantly, he returned to her side and slid one hand around the back of her neck. She froze, staring at his eyes, golden pools that hovered in front of her. His gaze seemed warm, but his face was ashen, almost as pale as his silver hair.

Softly, he licked her lips, never breaking her gaze.

Kagome blinked. "Was that a kiss?" she asked, feeling puzzled. "I mean, I know that dogs greet people by licking them in the face, but..."

As she spoke, his eyes narrowed until Sesshoumaru looked almost grumpy. Playfully grumpy. Which was a combination she had not seen before, so it held her attention.

The next time he kissed her, it lasted longer, and it seemed more traditional. Also, it entirely erased her ability to focus. She took a shaky breath and closed her eyes in the hope it would help her concentrate. People were supposed to close their eyes when they kissed, right? But it merely made her more aware of his presence, the feeling of his body close to her, and his warmth. When she opened her eyes again, he was watching her with a hungry expression.

"You did not prevent me." His tone sounded smug.

Kagome rubbed her forehead in exasperation. Truly, it was not a competition. She still liked Inuyasha, even if she also... somehow... liked Sesshoumaru. She had not thought about which individual she liked more. There had not been enough time to consider such things yet.

Or perhaps she was thinking about this too much. The idea of snuggling up to Inuyasha made her nervous and flustered. It always had. But just as Sesshoumaru said, she had not felt this way about him. She had felt warm, and the tension had started to bleed out of her, not to mention the thoughts in her head, the longer they had kissed.

Damn it. How was she supposed to break this kind of news to Inuyasha? He was still her best friend in this era. She still cared about him a great deal!

And then, like a sudden silence during a storm, she realized that she did not need to. He already knew. When the hanyou had tried to kiss her, he had said that he was 'testing something.' And she had failed that test, hadn't she?

A fresh batch of guilty feelings welled up inside of her. At her side, Sesshoumaru sighed. "What now?" he prodded her verbally, obviously able to sense her discontent through the bond.

"Just because communication is important," she grumbled petulantly, "Doesn't mean that you should know every thought in my mind. Let's go buy Rin the kimono that you promised her."

The taiyoukai tilted his head to the side, contemplatively. But then, he agreed. Inuyasha would simply have to find his own way back to them.

"One for you, as well," he added.

Looking down at her school uniform, Kagome touched the shirt sadly. It was covered in spots of blood, and a multitude of tiny holes ran through the fabric, where a demonic-ant had attacked her with slivers of wood.

Yes, she probably needed a new outfit. The green and white fuku had been destroyed many other times, but she had always bought a replacement when she returned home. Now, she could not do that anymore.

Then, a revolutionary idea struck her. The changes caused by their bond and by having her soul stored briefly inside of the Tenseiga had never seemed so positive. "Hey! Sesshoumaru!" she called out. "Do you think that I'm immortal now, because my soul was stored inside the Tenseiga?"

She had invented this theory earlier as a possibility. Not that she had any method of testing it. All they knew so far was that her injuries healed instantly. Still, she would be glad to know the demon-lord's opinion on the matter. It would mean more, if he agreed with her theory.

Perceptive as usual, he managed to reply to her actual concern, instead of the question she asked. "If so," he reassured her gently, "Then I am certain you will see your family again."

The smile on her face brightened. "I have a little brother too," she winked at him. "Did you know that?"

He strolled along the road toward the next town. Kagome followed happily. "Souta was always very mischievous," she continued happily, trying to phrase it so that her brother sounded faintly (very, very faintly) similar to Inuyasha. "He would never listen to what I told him. After our father died, I hated the fact that I had to take care of him after school. I wanted to play outside instead."

A muscle twitched in Sesshoumaru's jaw, and a small smile started to lift one corner of his lips. Clearly, he was not oblivious to the direction of her phrase. Yet it still amused him. Which was good.

"Really?" the taiyoukai said flatly. It did not sound like a question. More like a statement. "I always wanted a little sister, myself."

Kagome stared in disbelief. Next, she broke into a fit of giggles. "Ah! That explains so much about Rin."

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

It was nightfall before the hanyou returned. Long past sunset, in fact.

They had traveled to a nearby town, buying fabric for several kimono, however Sesshoumaru intended to buy better silk whenever he had the chance. Rin deserved the best. So did Kagome, for that matter. As the current Lord of the Western Lands, it was not as if he did not have money to spare.

Then, they had waited out the oncoming storm at the edge of the town. Waiting under an awning, watching rain fall, the taiyoukai had discovered that traveling with the miko was different now. They had no time-constraint, no quest, no goal that needed to be met. It was actually relaxing.

Before Naraku, he had always enjoyed traveling too. This was one reason why he rarely went home. The other reason was, of course, his mother. Enough said.

When the rain became nothing more than a drizzle, they had traveled into the countryside again. Humans did not travel extremely fast, so Sesshoumaru knew his half-brother could trail them. He did not know, however, what was taking the boy so long. Perhaps the hanyou had already returned to his home village?

As they stopped for the evening, both the demon and the priestess had anxiously glanced toward the woods. The priestess had curled up by his side for a while, staring at the campfire with a frown. But eventually, she had surrendered to temptation. Resting her head against his shoulder, she had cautiously checked whether this move upset him. Since Sesshoumaru gave no sign, she had gradually fallen asleep. It was the same position they had maintained every single night in the underworld. Her breath was ruffling gently through his fur.

And at long last, Inuyasha returned. It seemed almost like he had been waiting for the girl to fall asleep. Making barely any sound, the half-demon landed across from them on the other side of the campfire.

Maintaining his silence, the white-haired boy crouched beside the trunk of a tree and crossed his arms. Pointed dog-ears faced firmly forward, as if the hanyou did not want to admit where his attention rested. However, it seemed obvious that he was focused on the sleeping girl at Sesshoumaru's side.

Neither one of them spoke. It felt incredibly awkward. He tried to recall a single time, when he had sat beside his brother without talking or fighting first. No. It had never happened.

In fact, the silence was even more painful than fighting. There were so many things that simply ached to be said between them. Why would Inuyasha refrain from commenting?

Staring at his younger half-sibling, Sesshoumaru tried to will the boy into speaking first. He could not guess what to do next. The bond between his spirit and Kagome's soul, this did provide any kind of insight into other people.

Finally, unable to stand the suspense, the demon-lord settled upon the most inane, pointless remark possible. "How was your fish?" he murmured.

Out of all the things he might have said, this was what emerged. After all, he could not ask what took Inuyasha so long to return - it would have implied that he missed his sibling. And he could not ask how Inuyasha felt about loosing the priestess - it would have been cruel. So, he settled for being mildly rude, instead of utterly insensitive.

"Keh!" scoffed the hanyou, turning his head to the side. Another moment of silence passed, then he began to relax. Almost imperceptibly slowly, Inuyasha gradually uncrossed his arms. One of his ears swiveled lazily to the side. "Didn't catch any," he finally announced. "Might have helped if I looked in water, rather than in trees."

Through the monochrome darkness, Sesshoumaru investigated his half-brother's gaze. Despite their differences, he realized, they had a few things in common. His hair was more silver than Inuyasha's white, his eyes were more golden than Inuyasha's amber, and their ears looked very different indeed. But they tended to express affection in a similar fashion. By not expressing it at all. How odd.

"I once discovered a fish outside of water," the taiyoukai noted idly. "It landed on my head, from a clear blue sky."

"No shit?" mouthed the hanyou, struggling to contain a smile. As usual though, since the boy was weak - only a half-blooded demon - he failed. The grin emerged victorious, fierce and fanged, unlike a human grin.

"Indeed," Sesshoumaru whispered in return, attempting not to awaken the miko at his side. "I picked it up to throw it back into the river. But my claws sliced it, and the fish died."

The air was crisp and clear, following the storm earlier in the day. It did nothing to dampen the sound of a tiny laugh, which escaped Inuyasha's lips. Completely against his will, of course.

Echoing his earlier words, the hanyou finally asked the inevitable question. "So... How was your fish?"

"Hn," the taiyoukai sniffed. "Not objectionable."

Kagome shifted, muttering incoherently in sleep. He glanced at the top of her head. Helpless to do otherwise, the half-demon sitting across from him did the same. She smiled, as if she could unconsciously detect their slow progress.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

Author's Note: I did see a fish plummet out of the clear, blue sky once. It landed near my feet. My friend and I stared at it in disbelief. But since I do not have claws, I successfully returned the very (very) unhappy fish to a river.

Just thought I should add that.