This is really old and really way too long for its own good. But when I saw it just needed to have the pieces stitched together...well, it wanted finishing. It's a bit rough but any more editing would be a rewrite. I warn you, this story is excessively sweet and sugary and contains unhealthy levels of fluff. Illegal levels of fluff. Fluff beyond all good taste. And everybody is conveniently clueless (convenient for me, that is). And the humor is very cutesy and weird.
Oh, who am I kidding! You've seen weirder from me before. I'll just be quiet now. Enjoy!
Kagome knew Sesshoumaru was an odd demon. She supposed that when you were as powerful as him, you didn't have to conform to anything. So she was surprised when he took on a little girl as his ward, and even more surprised when he later decided to join his half-brother's entourage, but she didn't think too much on it. But these past few weeks, he had been beyond all comprehension.
He brought her dead things.
Every day he delivered a new one. It started small—rabbits, pheasants, quail. But progressively they had gotten larger and more extravagant—boar, mountain sheep, deer, oxen, horses. He would strike off on his own sometime during the afternoon, and when he returned that evening he would go directly to her, ignoring all others, and present her with his latest kill.
And every day she would thank him, if awkwardly. She was at a loss for what else to say. The first few times she'd tried to ask him what it meant, but he just gave her an icy look and walked off (she'd tried to get Inuyasha to tell her, too, but the hanyou just burst into laughter). So she settled for expressing gratitude.
But that didn't seem to be the response he wanted, either. He would stare at her while she thanked him, eyes creasing, then spin around and leave.
It was possible that this really had nothing to do with her; maybe he just had this urge to kill things (a very plausible idea), and had to leave it somewhere. Like when Buyo left dead mice on the doormat. Maybe she was just a nice doormat. It's not like he treated her differently in any other way; he didn't try to talk to her, and didn't seem to listen when she talked to him.
They had such a surplus of meat that they had started giving it away at the village, which was flourishing under the endless supply of food. She felt bad about giving away something that had been given to her, but what else was she to do? She couldn't possibly eat it all. She'd asked him if he was okay with it, but he'd just given her that funny look again and left.
And so it had continued, for weeks on end. It had almost become a routine, and Kagome felt that she had become very graceful at accepting her freshly dead presents—at least, as graceful as a confused miko with no idea what the hell was going on could be.
Today though, there was no pretense at grace. Today Kagome stood there, carcass at her feet, blinking dumbly.
"It's an elephant," she said.
She stared at it some more. It continued, amazingly, to be an elephant.
"It's an elephant," she repeated.
"What's an elephant?" she heard Miroku ask in a hushed voice. He was on the other side of the carcass, the top of his staff just visible over the huge, gray beast.
"I think it's some sort of demon boar," Sango whispered back to him. "Look at the tusks."
Inuyasha howled with laughter in the background.
Kagome shook her head, feeling dazed. Where on earth had he gotten an elephant? More to the point, where in Japan had he gotten an elephant? Because she knew where on earth they came from, and—it just wasn't possible. He couldn't have! He was here just this afternoon!
He couldn't have gone all that way—he wouldn't have. There was no way.
She gave it a small nudge with her foot, confirming again that yes, it was indeed real, it was indeed dead, and it was indeed a large exotic pachyderm.
More confused than ever, she looked up at Sesshoumaru. He was still standing in the same spot, his gaze fixed on hers, and she realized he had been staring at her. Her heart skipped a few beats and she felt strangely lightheaded.
His eyes were hard and unreadable, and it took her a moment to find her voice.
"This is an elephant," she said, pointing at it. She then swore silently, resisting the urge to slap herself on the forehead. Way to look even more like an idiot, Kagome. She didn't know why embarrassing herself in front of him mattered, but it did.
He didn't say anything, but she thought he made the tiniest of shrugs, as if to say, I don't care what its name is.
"I don't quite understand what the ears are for, though," she heard Sango say in the background. "Perhaps it flies?"
Kagome floundered. "What I mean is…ah…" What did she mean? She wanted to ask him where he got it, why he got it, but he wasn't going to answer. She looked at the elephant again and let out a small sigh. Poor thing. She really liked elephants. Only, she liked them more alive than this. She even had a cute little plush one at home. They were one of her favorite animals, and she felt an irrational surge of guilt, like it had been her fault that it died. Maybe it was.
She wanted to ask him to stop killing things for her, but she didn't want to offend him. She'd been taught to always accept a gift graciously, even if it wasn't what you wanted. After all, the thought is what counted, and though she didn't understand his train of thought one bit, he'd obviously gone to extravagant lengths.
Taking a deep breath, Kagome refocused, put on a smile, and tried again. "What I mean is…thank you, Sesshoumaru."
To her alarm, his face twisted up in a ragged scowl. She took a step back despite herself.
Warning bells rang inside her head as their routine completely derailed. Instead of leaving, he took a step closer. His breath hissed quietly between his teeth, which were half bared as he spoke.
"You do not like it."
He had never talked during their exchange before, and certainly never, ever, done anything to suggest that he cared what her opinion was, and it completely blindsided Kagome.
"No! That's not true, I…"
"Do not lie," he hissed.
Her mouth snapped shut. Looking down at the dead animal, she felt another zing of guilt. Looking back up at Sesshoumaru, whose eyes were blurring from gold to red, the guilt was only stronger.
Pressing her palm to her forehead, she sighed. "Sesshoumaru, I really do appreciate it—" He looked about to interrupt again, and she hurried to cut him off. "No, I mean it. I do appreciate it." She let out another sigh. "But…I really don't need any more meat. The entire village has enough meat for the whole winter. To be honest, we don't even have a place to put it all anymore."
Kagome wrung her hands, looking to her friends to help her out with this, but the only one she could make eye contact with was Inuyasha, who she would swear had gone from half-dog to half-hyena.
"And so…" she continued, painfully, "even though I appreciate it…" She bit her lip and then finally let it out. "…I wish you wouldn't bring any more animals."
The way his eyes had gone violent red she expected him to yell at her, smash something, maybe throw her into a tree. He didn't.
"You," he said in a growl, looking away. His cheeks were strangely flushed. "I should never have—" He cut himself off, squeezing his eyes shut. Several heartbeats passed. When he opened them again, they were a pale, blank gold.
Hand clenched in a fist, he gave her a curt nod, spun on his heel, and stalked away.
Kagome stared after him, dumbfounded, until he reached the tree line, and then she ran after him, desperate to apologize—though for what, she didn't know—but he was already gone. The trees were empty.
She felt sick inside. What just happened?
Why had he reacted like that? Why today? What had she done wrong, to make him act like this?
She hadn't wanted to upset him, but she obviously had. A lot. And now he had left, and she didn't even know if he was coming back, and if he did it would still be horribly awkward, and everything was just a mess!
As another howl of laughter rent the air, her hands fisted. Face darkening, she rounded on the one person she knew who would have the answers.
The hanyou had dropped from his perch some time ago and was literally rolling on the ground with mirth. At her sharp voice he paused for a second, cracking open a golden eye, and then hooted even louder.
"Inuyasha, I know you know what's going on, and so help me, this time you're going to tell me."
Inuyasha giggled madly, pounding his fist on the ground.
Kagome's eyes narrowed. She'd pound his head into the ground if that was what it took. "SIT!"
With a whumph he slammed against the dirt, the force of impact dragging him several feet under it. For a brief, fleeting moment, there was silence.
Then, from deep inside the crater, there was a small snrrk.
Then a full snicker. Which swiftly worked its way back up to a titter and kept escalating.
Kagome was at a loss for words as Inuyasha threw an arm over the side of the hole and hauled himself up, wearing a huge grin. "Kagome," he said, his shoulders shaking with restrained laughter, "you can sit me straight through all seven layers of hell and it won't make a difference. I'll never talk." He rolled over the edge and sprawled on his back, letting out a huge, contented sigh. "The pain is worth it."
"The pain is worth what?" she begged. "Inuyasha, please! Why won't you tell me?"
"Because I have never had this much fun in my entire life. Because sweet karmic justice has come to me at last." He folded his arms behind his head and grinned up at the sky. "And because I ain't got nothin' to worry about. It'll never work."
"What will never work? I don't understand!"
His laughter roared in her ears and Kagome stumbled back to escape it. She ran until she was well inside the trees, the sound of Inuyasha's voice receding to a dull mumble.
"Poor old idiot has no idea what hit him," he crowed gleefully, before she was out of hearing entirely. "And he's too youkai to try anything different, and you're too human to even know what you did! It's perfect!"
She scrunched her eyes tight and clapped her hands over her ears, but that didn't erase the image of Sesshoumaru's face from her mind. He had looked so…so…anguished.
She felt horrible.
And she didn't even know what went wrong! A polite thank you had been good enough all the other times; why wasn't it today? It must have something to do with the unusual gift, but she didn't know what that was about either. Why had he gone to all that trouble? What did it mean? What possible message could there be in such a gruesome practice?
Today's 'present' had been beyond the pale; big, flashy, and imported. She'd almost think he was trying to impress her if she thought for a minute that he gave a damn what she thought of him.
Though, her opinion had certainly seemed to matter today.
The idea was still ridiculous, though. And even if he was trying to impress her, to what end was it? What would he be trying to impress her for?
And what the hell, her mind added with a sigh as she slumped against a tree and pressed a hand to her temples, am I going to do with a dead elephant?
He didn't come back.
No more presents, no visits, nothing. It had been three weeks since that day and there had been neither word nor sight of him. Even when they cut through his territory on the way home there wasn't a wisp of youki to be found. He was gone.
The only thing suggesting that he might ever come back was the fact that Rin was still with them (Jaken and Ah-Un were too, but Kagome wasn't so sure he'd come back for them). Rin was entirely unconcerned, but her unwavering confidence that Sesshoumaru would return only made Kagome feel worse. There was a very real possibility she may have driven the girl's protector away for good.
The village had carved up the elephant and thrown (yet another) feast, but Kagome hadn't felt like celebrating. She hid out in her time until Inuyasha came and dragged her back, and then they were on the road again.
It wasn't the same, though. She didn't realize just how much she'd gotten used to having him around until he was gone. It's not like he was ever a social part of the group; he didn't really interact with anyone. But his presence had, somehow, become a part of her mental group dynamic.
Before they left the village, Kaede had surprised her with a small ivory pendant, telling her that since the animal had been for her, she should keep some part of it. The thought of wearing ivory gave Kagome even more guilt issues, but years of travel had taught her to be practical about these things, and if it was already dead, she might as well make use of all of it. Besides, it was hardly more than a polished chip, and she sort of liked it.
A few days out, while fingering the small piece of ivory, Kagome had come to a realization.
She missed it.
She missed their daily tradition; she missed his insane, macabre presents. And it didn't make any sense at all, because she hated it! He gave her dead animals, for god sakes! But while she didn't miss the animals, against all reason she missed getting them.
She missed the glares and the cold looks, she missed his frigid stare, she missed the way he'd watch her reactions each time, waiting for something.
They had made her feel special. For whatever reason, out of their whole group, he'd picked her. Even if she never liked the presents, even if he was still cold and mean and distant, the fact that he gave them to her made her feel like, in his eyes, she was just a tiny bit significant. A rare honor indeed, considering the demon in question.
Before, when the stress and awkwardness of it (not to mention the unpleasantness of cleaning the kill) had been cluttering up her thoughts, she had resented that she was the one stuck dealing with his bizarre ways. But now, she found she liked it. Being the focus of his attention pleased her.
Obviously, the craziness was catching and she had gone as nutty as he was. The damage was done though.
And now she had ruined it forever, and she didn't even know how.
Kagome was so upset that at the end of the fourth week, when Kouga arrived for a surprise visit, she spilled all her woes to him and begged for his advice.
This was a terrible mistake.
"Hah!" Kouga said. "That's the problem with dogs. So domestic. Now a wolf, a wolf is direct. A wolf says what he means and takes what he wants, and that's that." He waggled his eyebrows. "By the way, Kagome, are you ready to become my woman yet?"
By the time she got him to leave she'd decided to get roaring sugar-drunk.
Technically, Kagome knew it was impossible to get drunk off of candy, but she liked to pretend. Shippo and Rin had generously offered to assist, so she broke out the pocky and the cherry soda and about six different kinds of chocolate, and threw herself a splendid pity party.
Disturbingly, they made excellent drinking buddies.
"I don't understand men at all!" Kagome buried her face in her hands. "You just try to thank them, and they completely blow up at you. What's a girl supposed to make of that?"
"Humph! Men!" Shippo shook his fist in the air. Then he shoved a twizzler in his mouth for emphasis.
"Yes! Humph!" Rin cheered around a mouthful of pocky.
"And he never liked it when I thanked him. He always gave me this funny look, like I was doing something wrong. But what else was I supposed to do?" Kagome threw her empty soda can at a tree. "It's like a game where everyone knows the rules but me. And I don't even know what we're playing!"
From the other side of the campfire, Sango and Miroku watched the proceedings with wide, saucer eyes. Wisely, they decided not to intervene.
"And now he hates me." Kagome sniffed, swiping her eyes. Then she scowled and ripped open a bag of caramel popcorn. "Not that he ever didn't hate me. Now he just doesn't want anything to do with me."
The popcorn was simply too bland to drown her sorrows in, she decided. She reached for the chocolate syrup.
"Guess I'm not good enough to get dead animals anymore," she muttered sulkily, pouring the chocolate directly into the bag. She sniffed again. "Guess whatever game we played, I must have lost."
"Th' bashtard," Shippo slurred, taking another swig of cola.
Rin took the syrup from Kagome and poured it directly into her mouth.
"I thought we had a nice thing going, though," she said, tossing a fistful of chocolate chips in the bag. "I really did. He'd give me something dead, I'd thank him, and we'd all work on our Atkins diet. He'd never complained about it before."
Butterscotch. That's what it needed. And sprinkles. Chocolate sprinkles.
"It was a good system. Everyone seemed happy with it. Or at least, not unhappy with it." Hot cocoa powder went into the bag, marshmallows included. "And then…" Her hand stilled, just as she was about to add the pop rocks. "Then that last time he just got so angry..."
Setting down the bag with a sigh, she leaned back against the tree, her train of thought sobering her. Something tickled against her breastbone as she moved, and she reached into her neckline and pulled out the ivory pendant. Her heart gave a sad flutter.
"I wish he never gave me that stupid elephant," she said quietly. She looked down unhappily into the popcorn medley monstrosity she had created, then sighed again and passed the bag to her compatriots. "Everything has changed now. I miss it." Resting her head on her knees, she hugged her legs, mumbling into her clothing. "I wish we could just go back to the way it was before. Why couldn't things stay the same?"
"Beats me," Shippo said. "Dogs are weird." He peered into the bag and squeaked with delight.
Rin sucked thoughtfully on her lollipop. Slanting her head, she regarded Kagome with dark eyes, and Kagome was startled by how old she suddenly looked. "Maybe," she said sagely, "Sesshoumaru-sama wanted things to change."
Her heart stuttered . "Wh…w-what did you say?"
But Rin never heard her question. Shippo was motioning to her with an air of great importance, giving the bag a nod and raising his eyebrows significantly. Curious, Rin peeked inside and let out a gasp.
Left to her own thoughts, Kagome stared wide-eyed into the dark night, her hands pressed to the sides of her face. Her mind reeled dizzily.
"Of course," she whispered to herself. "He did it because things were always the same. Because the other animals weren't having the desired effect. I was getting things wrong, and he wanted to…to draw some new reaction out of me." She shook her head. "And that's why he got so mad at me this time…he threw all his cards on the table, and it didn't work. If he…if maybe he really was trying to impress me…it failed. And now he's given up."
Kagome sniffled miserably.
"Don't be sad, Kagome," Shippo said, patting her on the shoulder, "you can have some too. Here." He offered the bag back to her, scuffing his paws on the ground.
She smiled wanly at him. "That's alright, Shippo, I'm not really hungry anymore. You enjoy it."
"Okay!" Shippo and Rin cheered in unison, digging in.
Fingering the pendant again, Kagome sighed and started crawling towards her sleeping bag, wondering when things had gotten so complicated with the demon lord.
Her last unhappy thought before she went to sleep was that she wished things would change too.
Kagome woke the next morning with a screaming headache.
With a groan of protest she rolled over and tried to force herself unconscious again. How can I get a hangover from sugar? she thought miserably. It took her several moments to realize that most of the screaming was outside her head.
Kagome sat up, blinking in the morning light.
They had camped at the edge of a grassy field, and by following the sound of high-pitched squeals and shrieks, she could make out two tiny figures rocketing around the clearing at what seemed, to her dazed mind, to be impossible speeds.
"Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!" Rin cried, flapping her arms. Shippo bounded around her in erratic circles, a copper-colored blur. "Eeeeeeeeeee!"
Kagome opened and shut her mouth several times. Oh dear, she thought, remembering last night's candy-fest. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to share the chocolate.
Laughter from behind her drew her back to the present, and Kagome realized from the sun that it was already mid-morning. She turned to find Miroku and Sango sitting by the campfire, already eating breakfast. It took a moment of searching though to find Inuyasha. Inuyasha wasn't sitting with the others and he hadn't touched his breakfast yet.
This is because Inuyasha was busy sitting in a tree, laughing his head off.
"I c-can't believe it!" Inuyasha howled. He pounded his fists against the wood, making the entire tree shake. "He came back for more!" His voice rose to a gleeful squeal. "It keeps getting better and better!"
He whooped and pointed a mocking finger, and Kagome, her heart suddenly pounding, followed its trajectory.
Sesshoumaru was bathed in golden morning light, casting his hair and silken kimono in hues of warm amber. She was momentarily dazed by how bright he was. He stood apart from all the others, off by himself at the edge of the clearing, watching the two children at play.
He came back.
As she stared there was a flash of gold in the corners of his eyes, a glance so quick she'd almost missed it, and then it was gone, his attention directed forward with single-minded intensity.
He really came back!
Kagome struggled out of her sleeping bag. She got about halfway to her feet before she got tangled up in it and went down again. Frantically kicking herself free, she jumped up and dashed past the others.
"Sesshoumaru!" she said breathlessly, grinning up at him. A giddy rush bubbled up through her and made her feel light and airy. "Hi!"
He stared coolly ahead and she felt a bit silly. She should've known he wouldn't dignify that with a response.
"I mean, good morning, Sesshoumaru." She gave a small bow and smiled.
Her smile faltered a little when he still didn't answer. She was in front of him and a little to the side, but he was so tall that he was able to stare straight over her head without having to look at her. She had the ridiculous urge to jump up and down and wave her arms.
"It's…it's good to see you again," she said, grasping for something to say.
"Sesshoumaru-sama!" Rin waved from a distance, creating a blessed interruption. "Shippo is teaching me to fly!"
Shooting a glance across the field, Kagome almost choked. Shippo had transformed into his trademark giant pink balloon, and Rin was bouncing up and down on top of him like a squishy feudal trampoline. Jaken, aghast at this behavior, was hopping around them, waving his staff and squawking.
No, no more chocolate for them, ever.
With some trepidation, she turned back to Sesshoumaru. Her heart gave a little lurch when she found he was now staring directly at her.
Locking gazes with her, he lifted his eyebrows in silent question.
"What?" She blinked innocently.
He gave her a bland look.
"Oh, that?" Nervous laugh. "My, they're certainly energetic this morning, aren't they?"
"Hn," he breathed quietly, a hint of amusement warming his gold gaze.
Startled and pleased that he actually said something (sort of), she almost didn't catch it when his eyes flicked across her. Kagome flushed again, realizing she was still in her pajamas. Not that he hadn't seen her on other mornings, but here he was all gilded and glowing and perfect, and she was rumpled and messy and probably had bed-head.
"So…" she began, trying to regain her composure, "how have you been?"
Sesshoumaru blinked languidly and then, to her absolute horror, averted his eyes and resumed silence.
Kagome felt a small stir of panic. This wasn't going right at all! "I mean, um, not that I'm trying to pry of course! It's just—we haven't seen you in awhile and we all missed you. That's all."
A loud snort came from the direction of camp; she threw a glare at Inuyasha's back.
"Well, maybe Inuyasha didn't really miss you, but you know how he is. But—uhm—the rest of us did." She fidgeted with the hem of her top. "But you're back now. Which is good. So…welcome back."
She fixed her eyes on the ground, horrified; she knew she was babbling but she didn't know how to stop! Why on earth had she come over when she didn't have any idea what to say? And what had made her think he'd be interested in listening, anyway? She must have killed off some brain cells with all that sugar.
Chancing a look at him, she peeked though her bangs. Though his expression was as bored as ever, there were chinks in his cold composure; a small muscle jumped in his jaw as she watched, and his body was lined with tension, spine straight and muscles taut.
Her heart sank a little.
It seemed he was still angry with her.
Biting her lip, she tried to hide her frown. She'd so hoped that his return meant that maybe they could just put it all behind them and start over, but…well, obviously that wasn't the case. Last night's revelations had armed her with the understanding that she had, unintentionally, delivered some kind of terrible insult to him. He'd put out the best effort he could for her, and she hadn't acknowledged that at all.
Granted, she didn't know what the right way to acknowledge it was, but in hindsight she could see that treating it just like every other present, when it obviously wasn't, had been rude and hurtful. She'd have felt bad too if nobody appreciated her presents. So, though she'd hoped things would be back to normal, she wasn't really surprised.
"Listen, Sesshoumaru," she said with a heavy sigh, determined to set things right. "Look…I just want to apologize. For what happened last time. I'm sorry I—"
That set her back. "No what?"
"Do not speak of it."
Kagome bit her lip again. "But I just—"
She scowled. "But I'm just trying to—!"
"Do not," he snapped, rounding on her. "You have already made yourself quite clear on the matter; do not dishonor me by thinking that I cannot respect that." He turned his head to the side, his face twisting in a look of disgust. "This Sesshoumaru is all too aware that one cannot control what they feel." He squeezed his eyes shut for a long moment, releasing a breath slowly. Then his eyes snapped open again. "Therefore," he added in a hard, clipped voice, "your apologies are both unwanted and unnecessary. Do not disgrace us both by repeating them."
"Fine!" Kagome fumed, hurt by his unexpected tongue-lashing. She threw up her hands. "I'm sorry that I tried to say I was sorry! I'm sorry I even tried coming over here to talk to you. I don't know what I was thinking. Forgive me for plaguing you with my offensive company; I know how much you hate it." Her voice was rising and she didn't care. "I'll just be taking my horrible human self over here now, where people actually like talking with me. Sorry for bothering you."
She stormed back to the campsite and plunked herself down by the fire. The flash of surprise he'd worn before she spun away placated her a tiny bit, but wasn't nearly as satisfying as she thought it should be. Let him be the confused one for once.
Sango passed her a plate across the fire, thankfully without commenting on her recent outburst, then left to help Miroku pack up the campsite.
Kagome stared at her plate.
Sighing, Kagome reflected briefly on whether or not the universe liked to play intentional jokes on people, and, if so, why it found her so very funny.
Really, what had she been thinking anyway? Had she actually expected him to welcome her with the kind of enthusiasm she'd welcomed him? She was so stupid sometimes.
Still, it stung. She hadn't known what kind of reaction she'd expected, or wanted, but having her friendly overtures completely shot down...it was like a slap in the face. But whom was she kidding? She was probably lucky he hadn't taken off her head.
Crunching on her bacon, lost in her unhappy musings, she didn't even notice him beside her until he reached down and plucked last night's empty popcorn bag from the ground at her feet.
The silence was punctuated only by Rin and Shippo's distant squeals as she blinked up at him, wondering what he wanted now.
Sesshoumaru sniffed the bag in disbelief. He looked vaguely horrified.
"You fed this to the children?" he asked slowly.
Kagome swore never to bring candy to the feudal era again.
"It's just…just some snacks from my time," she said in a too-light voice.
"Hn." He scrutinized it for a long minute. Frowned. "It smells like…" Sesshoumaru trailed off, unable to find the right words to describe it.
"Like pure sugar?" she asked miserably.
"Hn," he agreed, giving it a distasteful look, and Kagome slumped her head in her hands. "One can assume, then, that this is the source of Rin's unusual behavior?"
"It might be," she said weakly, and he turned away to face the field again. Great. Now he thought she was bad with kids. Just freaking great. She should have stayed in her damn sleeping bag.
Reminded that she still needed to do her part in breaking camp, she scraped the rest of her breakfast into the fire and trundled over to her things, stuffing them haphazardly into her giant bag. She gave her bedroll one last longing look before kneeling to roll it up.
"She appears happy."
Kagome started, nearly giving herself whiplash as she spun around at his voice. He had somehow ended up right behind her without making a sound.
"Huh?" she said gracelessly.
"Rin. She is enjoying herself."
They stared at each other for a long minute until Kagome realized that he seemed to think this was a self-explanatory statement and didn't plan to continue. In fact, his attention had wandered elsewhere again already as he studied some feature of the horizon.
Well…that was weird and awkward.
Shrugging, Kagome finished packing up her sleeping gear and spent a few minutes picking up wrappers and empty cans from the forest floor.
"I was merely commenting that your food does not appear to have done any harm."
Kagome paused in her chores. "Er…thanks?" She was at a loss for how to answer the…non-compliment.
She studied him through her lashes as he found some interesting landscape to investigate again. Sesshoumaru was a demon of few, if any, words. He only spoke if he had a purpose and a point, but Kagome for the life of her couldn't figure out what it was. The fragmented comments didn't seem to have a direction. It was…highly unusual on his part.
Confused, she paid attention to him this time as she migrated back towards the fire. Sure enough, he stood there for a few minutes looking distant and aloof, and then he started migrating towards the fire too.
"Rin seems to enjoy your company," he commented offhandedly.
Something clicked inside her head. Was he…was he making conversation with her?
A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. Aww. He sucked so badly at it.
It was adorable.
Immediately her hurt and frustration melted away, and she forgave him for being snooty and yelling at her. She could appreciate the conciliatory gesture for what it was, and knew that it was probably as close to an apology as she was ever going to get.
The demon was obviously floundering again—small-talk was clearly not his forte—and Kagome decided to be generous and help him out.
"Having Rin around has been wonderful for Shippo. I think he really needs someone else his own age to play with." She smiled to herself. "I think he's good for Rin, too. She wouldn't admit it, but she really missed you while you were away, and Shippo stuck to her like glue all through it."
"The fox has potential," he said, and Kagome felt his relief that she was carrying the conversation. She gave an inward cheer. Pleasant chatter was her specialty.
"Oi!" Inuyasha interrupted, dropping down in front of them. "Are we going to get moving or what? We're losing daylight here! Quit yakking!"
Sesshoumaru gave Inuyasha a scathing look and Kagome fought the desperate and uncharacteristic urge to yank his furry ears off.
"I'll go round up the kids," Kagome mumbled, feeling hopelessly frustrated. She didn't know if she wanted to scream or cry. She'd been so close to…to…well, she didn't know what, but she was close, damnit! He'd been talking with her. And it was nice.
She got dressed and somehow managed to capture the rocket-powered children (And how come all the sugar she ate didn't give her super-speed? Unfair!), and without further delay they were off.
It took about three minutes for her to realize he was walking behind her.
She turned and gave him a questioning look over her shoulder, and he very neatly evaded eye contact and said: "You did not finish telling me about Rin and Shippo."
Something warm bloomed to life in her chest.
They spent the rest of the morning talking, or at least she did, telling him about various things the kids had done during his absence, and bit-by-bit the tension seemed to ease away. The conversation meandered on to other things, and he often stopped her to ask questions, and—to her immense delight—to occasionally even throw his own two cents in.
A slap rang through the air, startling her out of her thoughts. Kagome blinked as a scuffle broke out ahead of them, Sango's voice rising in anger. "Those two," she muttered, an exasperated smile stealing across her face.
"I see that they consumed it as well," Sesshoumaru observed dryly.
Kagome found she couldn't make any sense of this. "What?"
He nodded towards the slayer and monk, then towards Ah-Un…who had been unmuzzled and had a squirming, wriggling ball of hyperactivity dangling from each set of jaws. Turning back to her, he arched an eyebrow. "There is a great deal of unusual behavior this morning."
She giggled. "Nah, Sango and Miroku didn't have any sugar, they just like each other."
Sesshoumaru frowned. "This," he said in disbelief, gesturing at their perverted antics, "is normal human courting behavior?" Even as he spoke another squeal echoed around them, followed by a resounding slap.
Kagome smothered a laugh. "No. It's not normal by any means."
His frown deepened. "What, then, is normal?"
Come to think of it, that was a really good question, Kagome mused. She and normalcy had parted ways a long time ago, and she and romance never even got properly acquainted in the first place. "Don't ask me," she sighed, giving a helpless shrug.
Kagome blinked. "Um…I guess because I'm not qualified to answer?" At his penetrating stare she flushed and elaborated, "Well, it's not like I've ever been courted."
Something strange flashed across his face.
"I see," he said. A pause. "Nevertheless, I have asked you."
She thought about it for a minute. "Well…" she began, "where I come from, normally a guy gets a girl flowers and chocolates. Or jewelry if he's really serious."
His mouth silently moved over the word "chocolate," and Kagome mentally kicked herself. Right. Hasn't been discovered yet. She'd have given him a piece, but after last night her entire supply was ravaged.
"Chocolates are candy. They're, er…they're something very sweet."
"And the flowers?" he inquired. "Why would humans give each other inedible dead plants?"
Kagome laughed. "Because they're pretty, of course."
"Frivolous sentimentalities," he huffed. "What foolishness."
She waved her hand at Sango and Miroku. "Maybe so, but he'd probably actually get somewhere with her if he'd try it."
"Hn," he said. The taiyoukai glowered at a nearby flower as if it had personally offended him.
She wasn't sure, but the flower appeared to wilt.
Of course, she was about to start wilting too if they didn't find some shade soon. As the sun neared its zenith the heat was becoming an increasing distraction, and she was starting to wish she'd stayed in her nice light cotton pajamas after all. Desperate to get some cool air on her skin, Kagome loosened her red neckscarf.
Sesshoumaru stopped walking.
"What is it?" she asked.
He reached out and slipped a claw under the cord around her neck, his fingers brushing against her collarbone. Head canted, he lifted the ivory pendant free of her clothes. It spun slowly on the end of its cord.
Kagome found that for some reason she couldn't breathe.
"Hn," he said again, and let go.
The taiyoukai resumed walking and Kagome stood there, hand clutching the pendant above her racing heart. Breathless, she tried to compose herself as her mind ran over the million, million things that 'Hn' could mean.
She'd never even thought of what would happen if he discovered the necklace he indirectly gave her. What was going through his mind?
Her mouth opened and Kagome knew with dread that it was about to do something incredibly stupid, like ask him. She clapped her hands over it to stop it.
After that, they lapsed into a comfortable silence. And as the sun passed its peak in the sky, the conversation around them died as well, and the whole group was quiet as they trekked across the landscape.
Everyone's attention, every one of them, was focused on the taiyoukai beside her. Watching. Waiting. They were waiting so hard she could feel them waiting.
Kagome fought to ignore it, because she knew what they were doing.
They were waiting to see if she'd get a present today.
But as the afternoon crawled by he made no move to leave. He stuck with them all through the day. And as the gold disc of the sun began dipping below the horizon, the sky going dusky mauve in its wake, Inuyasha finally called a halt for the night. And Sesshoumaru settled in with the rest of them.
And she could feel them all stop waiting, their question answered.
Kagome tried not to feel disappointed. He was back, and that's what was important. Of course he wasn't going to continue their tradition; he'd made that clear a month ago when he left in the first place. And she was the one who'd asked him to stop, wasn't she? So she couldn't be disappointed. She hadn't expected anything; therefore, she could not have her nonexistent expectations be let down.
She tried really hard not to feel disappointed.
Kagome woke at dawn.
She knew something was wrong before she even opened her eyes.
The steely morning light seemed to wash all the color out of the world, casting it in tones of gray. The trees were pallid and shadowy and the sky was dull and flat. It felt empty.
She sat up in her sleeping bag and saw everyone else was already awake. Miroku and Sango were huddled together by the fire pit, trying to stoke it back to life. Shippo sat opposite on a small rock, watching in silence. Inuyasha was in his tree, staring at some unknown point in the distance.
No one looked at her.
She thought she saw a brief wince flash across Miroku's face. His focus stayed fixed on the pit with a sort of grim determination. Little puffs of ash were stirred up out of the coals as he jabbed them with the end of his staff.
"Breakfast will be ready soon," Sango said, a slight quaver in her voice. She, too, kept her eyes on her work. Inuyasha, reclined in his tree, seemed to be looking at nothing at all.
Not a one of them would meet Kagome's eyes.
Kagome swept her gaze through the camp again until it landed on Shippo. The little kitsune, his eyes covered by his hair, scuffed his paws in the dirt. If she didn't see his shoulders moving, she might have missed the small sniff. Kirara nuzzled his leg and let out a mournful trill.
Her hands tightened around the edge of her sleeping bag. "Where's Rin? And Jaken? And Ah-Un?"
Miroku cringed visibly this time. Another snuffle came from Shippo.
Her voice rose unsteadily. "Where did they go?"
Inuyasha's ears went flat, but he kept looking away. Miroku, however, let out a heavy sigh. He sat back and finally looked at her, and she could see reluctance mixed with resignation in his eyes.
"They're gone, Kagome-sama," the monk said gently.
"Gone?" she echoed.
"They left sometime during the night, before any of us woke up. Inuyasha says their scent has been stale for hours."
"But…" Her eyes stung. "But he only just came back."
"Who can say what goes through his mind?" the monk said, shrugging his shoulders. "Perhaps he only returned to retrieve Rin. Or perhaps something unexpected came up. He isn't the sort to explain his motives to anyone, let alone to us."
"Good riddance," Inuyasha grumbled with a scowl.
Kagome swiped her eyes and stood up, her hands curling into fists. That's it. That was it. She needed a break from all this. She needed to get as far away as she could. So far away that there'd be nothing to make her think about stupid demon lords and their stupid presents and the stupid, stupid things they made her feel.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
"I'm going home," she announced.
Kagome rested her chin in her hands and sighed, watching the trees sway from her perch on the shrine steps. It was a beautiful day. She wished she were enjoying it.
Instead, it felt like all the beautiful sunny days were mocking her. The atmosphere was oppressively cheery. It was as if the universe was determined to draw as sharp a contrast as it could between everyone else's happiness and her unhappiness. She stuck her tongue out at the sky.
The sun glinted back down, ruthlessly. Tormenting her by being all gold and bright and just like a certain somebody's eyes. It felt like he was peering over her shoulder, observing her misery. Kagome sighed again.
Wasn't she supposed to not think about him? She was pretty sure that had been the point of going home. But it was a point at which she had failed spectacularly.
Well, from this moment on all stupidly pretty demon lords were going to be completely banished from her thoughts! No more missing him, no more moping. Nope. Not another moment. She would be the pinnacle of collected calm, a pillar of self-control. Just like him.
Kagome groaned into her hands. I'm completely hopeless.
Her internal sulk was interrupted when Buyo head-butted her leg in a polite request for petting. "Good kitty," she mumbled, absently reaching down to ruffle his ears. Not even kitty snuggles could cheer her up now, but she appreciated the effort anyway. At least someone seemed to like spending time with her…!
Then something warm and furry dropped at her feet.
Kagome uncovered her face and met the gaze of glassy dead mouse eyes. Her heart lurched.
"Buyo, not you too," she whimpered, completely betrayed.
"Is everything all right, Kagome?" her mother said, taking a seat on the step beside her. It took her a moment to notice the very small, very dead rodent at their feet. "Oh, dear, looks like Buyo is bringing 'presents' again."
"I don't get it!" Kagome burst out. "Why does he do that? Am I supposed to praise him for being a 'mighty hunter'?" She rolled her eyes.
Her mother laughed. "Perhaps that's part of it."
The cat bumped her leg again, and Kagome caved despite herself and started scratching his chin. Buyo rumbled, looking quite pleased with himself. "So what does Buyo mean by it, then?"
"What do you think he means?" her mother asked in return, genuinely curious.
"I think he means 'hold this for me while I go kill some more stuff,'" Kagome muttered.
Her mother studied Buyo for a moment as she thought it over. "I don't think that's it. Cats aren't too complicated. He probably just wants you to notice him. You know, 'Look at me! See what a good cat I am!'"
"So it's all about attention?" Kagome asked. She caught herself fidgeting with the necklace and forced her hands into her lap.
"I wouldn't say that. He wants your attention because he likes you. Buyo doesn't bring me or grampa or Souta mice, you know. They're always for you." The older woman gave her a sly smile. "I think he's telling you you're his favorite."
"I think you must mean least favorite." Her laugh came out bitter and sad. "If I were his favorite anything, I'm sure he could come up with a better way to tell me than that." She gestured at their deceased audience. "I mean, why would he waste his time on cryptic gifts if what he wanted to say was that simple? Wouldn't it be easier if he just talked to me?"
Her mother gave her a perplexed stare. "Well…yes, it would, if he knew how to talk to you," she said slowly. "He's a cat, Kagome."
"Oh—yeah." Kagome flushed. "I mean if he could talk though. Like…if he were a magic talking cat."
"Hm," her mother said, taking this in stride. "Well, I imagine a magical talking cat would still be a cat. It just doesn't know any better." Her lips quirked up as she turned a knowing eye on her daughter. "Especially if it were a male magical talking cat."
Kagome fingered her pendant in silence.
"I think you might be over-thinking this, Kagome. Sometimes the simplest answer is the best. The one that's so obvious you can't see it." Her mother paused. "Didn't you get Buyo something yesterday?"
"What? Oh, yeah…just some kitty treats."
"And why did you get them?"
Kagome looked down at her tubby cat. Buyo stared back at her, then rolled onto his back, tucked his forepaws against his chest, and mrowed. When she started to rub his tummy the sound of his purring filled the air like a small engine.
A small smile pulled at the corner of her lips. "Because I adore him."
"Well," her mother said, "maybe Buyo is trying to tell you the same thing."
An hour later Kagome sat on the edge of the well, staring down into the darkened shaft. Twisting the ivory pendant in her fingers.
No more running, she thought, and she didn't know if the thought was directed at herself or at him. They were both guilty of evading each other and themselves.
She would find him, and she wouldn't let him run away this time until he'd let her have her say. And if he wasn't allowed to hide from her, then she wasn't allowed to hide from him either. Just look at where hiding from herself had gotten her—she'd been avoiding the hard questions for so long that she couldn't even understand her own answers. When had she stopped listening to herself? To her own feelings?
Steeling herself, Kagome pushed off and fell.
When she landed at the bottom on the other side of time, she knelt for a minute, pulling herself together. The light on the ground around her was strange and dappled; splotchy puddles of sunshine that shifted back and forth like branches in the wind. Turning her head towards the sky she squinted, finding the same jigsaw-pattern of light above her, too bright to focus on properly. The air smelled strangely sweet.
Grabbing a vine, she scaled the sides and clambered over the edge.
Kagome wondered if she was in the right clearing.
The well was ringed in trees; a circle of cherry saplings, all in full bloom. Pale petals dropped slowly around her, spinning as they fell. Where they landed she saw that the ground wasn't grass any more; it was wildflowers, spreading beneath her feet and all across the field. They swayed in the breeze, rippling like a colored sea.
She turned around, and there he was.
The breeze tugged his hair and petals swept by him. But Sesshoumaru himself may as well have been made from stone. His eyes were hard and unaccountably grim as he stood and watched her, unmoving. Waiting.
Kagome gave a small smile. "You have my attention."
"Good," was all he said.
Another breeze kicked up and sent blossoms spiraling down, and she wondered where he'd found flowering trees this late in the season. Probably the same place he got elephants. Her eyes were drawn to the blanket of wildflowers again, and she saw that they were chosen with an expert eye for scent and color.
"Did Rin help you with this?" she said, with sudden insight.
He didn't say anything, didn't move. It seemed to her that he was hardly even breathing.
She took a step closer and suddenly he thrust something into her hands. Startled, she gazed down at the silk-wrapped object she held. When he gave no word of explanation, she carefully unwrapped it.
It was a small ornate mirror. The frame was elegant but simple, drawing all attention to the polished glass it encircled. Her reflection looked back at her from within it.
"It's beautiful," she said with quiet reverence, admiring the work that must have gone into the piece. "I don't understand, though."
Still he said nothing.
"What I mean is, I get the flowers," she explained, "but…why the mirror?"
Sesshoumaru gave her a long unreadable look, and then he finally said, "Chocolate."
This went completely over her head.
"Chocolate?" she echoed.
To her amazement, a slow flush spread up his neck and darkened his cheeks.
"'Something very sweet,'" he recited, using her own words.
When she still didn't comprehend he made a frustrated sound and grabbed her wrist, lifting it and the mirror up so she was looking into her own blue-gray eyes. "You," he said fiercely. "You…are the sweetest thing I know."
He let go and she clutched the mirror to her chest, near the heart that had never felt as warm or full as it did right now.
Sesshoumaru looked away with a grimace. "And I do not even like sweet things. I do not like nice people; I am not a nice person," he said, and suddenly she could see how at war he was with himself over this, how much he had put away his own pride. How much it confused him. "But when I see you…when I hear you, I want to…I feel…" His brow creased as he lost the words again.
Kagome took his hand. "And I don't like cold, antisocial, arrogant people," she said, grinning widely.
A flower landed on her head. Laughter suddenly bubbled up in her chest as she reached up to take it off. Holding the delicate pink blossom in the palm of her hand, she breathed in the summery scent and let her gaze drift across the field, surveying his handiwork.
"Flowers and sweets," she murmured with a soft smile.
"And jewelry," he finished, letting his claw graze the pendant that, in a way, he had given her first. His hand trailed by the warm place in her chest that seemed to be just for him, and Kagome wondered how she had gone so long without realizing it was there.
She looked back down at the mirror. Chocolate indeed. His mistake had gotten everything right: he had delivered something incredibly sweet. He may think he wasn't nice, but it was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for her.
"Thank you, Sesshoumaru," she said, putting her whole heart in the words.
His eyes hardened. "I do not want your gratitude," he said, stiffly.
Her lips quirked up. "No?" She reached up and cupped his cheek, smiling wider. "How about this, then?" And then she tangled her fingers in his hair and pulled his mouth down to hers.
A ragged shudder ran through him and Kagome felt him draw a sharp breath, and then he was leaning into her, groaning with a soft, throaty rumbling sound.
"That will do," he murmured against her lips.
And as they deepened the kiss the whole world was them; just them. So much so that they never even noticed the red-clad figure entering the clearing.
Inuyasha's jaw fell open as they came into view. "No," he said. "No! This can't be happening! How did he—how—"
Miroku's staff and Sango's boomerang hit at the same moment, and the hanyou crumpled to the ground. Together they grabbed him by the collar and dragged him back towards the village, leaving the miko and demon alone together.
They finally broke for air, dizzy and breathless. His eyes were glazed over as they stood there, panting. She decided she really liked them that way.
"So why didn't you just talk to me?" she asked when they'd caught their breath, voicing the question at last.
Sesshoumaru looked away again and muttered something that sounded like "Eloquence on the battlefield does not translate to eloquence with women." And she had to laugh because only he would think it was easier to tell someone you'll kill them than tell someone you care about them, and because it had never occurred to her that he might feel as awkward as she did.
"Besides," Sesshoumaru sniffed, "I thought I was being perfectly obvious."
"You gave me dead animals."
A thin smile crossed his face. He plucked a flower from the ground and gently tucked it behind her ear, letting his claws linger in her hair. "And humans give each other dead plants."
"Frivolous sentimentalities," she murmured with a smile.
"Dead animals are a perfectly practical sentimentality," he corrected with a slight grumble.
"Courting humans is a lot more complicated than that."
"So I've gathered."
She laughed and something warm passed behind his eyes.
"You really want me?" she said, feeling suddenly timid. "Even though I'm human?"
"Even though you are human," he agreed softly.
"But I mean, I'm not even a very good human," she blurted. She wrung her hands. "I'm weak. And ordinary. And…" She floundered. "…And I always have bed-head!"
"Not so weak at all," he murmured. "Quite extraordinary, yes." There was an amused tug at the corner of his lips and he bent down to rest his forehead against hers. "And I like bed-head."
Kagome felt herself blush. "So all this time…?"
"And all the presents were really…?"
"And all those mean looks you gave me…?"
At that one he drew back, looking vaguely offended and maybe a little hurt. "Sultry looks," Sesshoumaru said. "Sultry." And she understood then how very much they both had been at fault in all this hopeless blundering. Unable to even imagine it, she never saw that his don't-touch-me glare was really a come-hither stare. She had only seen what she expected to see. His communication skills were only as bad as her interpretation ones.
"I'm sorry it took me so long to catch on."
"You should be. You rejected me thirty-seven times in a row. It was most insulting."
Kagome saw right through his indignant air and knew how deeply it had affected him. To him, all her gracious acceptances had been polite declines—a thank you for the gift, but no-thank-you to the offer—and yet he'd kept coming back. Hurt and humiliated over and over, in front of his brother, no less. All for her.
Even this time, she suddenly realized, until the moment she actually kissed him, he had been halfway convinced she would turn him down again. But he came anyway.
"Don't worry, I'll make it up to you," she promised, grinning.
"You certainly shall." The words were cold but his eyes were amused.
Kagome laughed. "We've got to work on our communication though. Interspecies relationships are complicated enough without translation errors. All these ritualistic presents and elaborate signals are like…like talking different languages." She shook her head and smiled. "I don't need those things anyway. Let's just…you know, just…be us."
"Hn," he said. "As you wish."
And suddenly she was on the ground. There were flowers all around her and a halo of silvery white hair, and Sesshoumaru knelt on top of her and, goodness, where had his armor gone?
"W-what are you doing?" she breathed.
Sesshoumaru's lips curved up and her heart skipped like a stone across water.
"Communicating." And without another word he tilted her head up and sealed his mouth across hers.