Ugh. This chapter feels so contrived. Sorry. Moving along...

"Please?" the miko said, prancing at his side.



Sesshoumaru thought briefly about biting and shaking her. It would be the only way to make her shut up about it. And the day had started so well, too.

Truth be told, he had actually been enjoying their traveling together this morning, watching the way she took in everything with a sort of quiet wonder he had lost long ago. Everything to her was new and fresh every time she saw it: every sunrise was beautiful, every flower pretty, every field worth rolling in. Was it because she was seeing everything as a dog now, with new eyes and new senses? Or was it her humanity that made her see the world so? Perhaps to humans, everything was always new because their lives flashed by so fast the world never had a chance to grow old to them. They would never see how cold and bitter it was once the newness wore away.

Or perhaps it was simply Kagome, and the way she saw the world was hers alone.

His quiet contemplation of Kagome had ended however when she was struck by a ridiculous notion—

"Won't you scratch my ears for me?" she said again, tail wagging.


"But it's not fair that you have hands and won't share them."


"But we're friends! Friends help each other. If I had hands, I would scratch your ears for you."

"I would not want them to be scratched," he huffed. Belatedly, he added, "we are not friends."

"You would if I was doing the scratching. I bet I'd be really good at it!" she argued undeterred, circling around in front of him. "I'd be the best. I wish I had hands, then I'd show you. Having hands must be so much fun."

Sesshoumaru stopped, her phrasing making something inside him go still.

"You have had hands before," he said carefully. "You already know what having them is like."

"I do?" She looked confused for a moment, a frown flashing across her muzzle. "Oh…oh, yeah. Right. I just…got a little mixed up there." She shook herself and started walking again, but Sesshoumaru saw that the frown stayed.

So did his.

It happened again a few hours later.

"Let's race again!" she said, bouncing ahead of him.

"No." He continued striding evenly along. "I have humored you enough. That was your fourteenth loss in a row. You are defeated, miko."

"It hasn't been that many."

"It has actually been more. I have only counted the times in which you issued a formal challenge. The total is otherwise considerably higher." A calculating pause. "Additionally, according to your own nonsensical rule system you are now a labradoodle, a puggle, a chihuahua, an overweight cat, several different species of turtle, Naraku's uncle, and a rotten egg. Surely you do not need to humiliate yourself further."

"I finally made you say labradoodle," she grinned.

He huffed. "You are evading the subject. The subject being that you seem to pathologically enjoy failure."

"I told you, racing is about fun. And I'm getting better," she argued. "Not good enough to beat you, of course, but with someone like you to practice with, soon I'll be faster than all the other regular dogs!" With a laugh she added, "When I go back home, I should be a race dog."

The miko was nodding to herself, tail waving back and forth in wide sweeps, rambling on about how her grandfather liked to gamble on racing dogs and she would make her family rich because she was a good racer and a good dog (a good good dog!), so that it took her a minute to realize that Sesshoumaru had stopped again.

"What?" she said, half-turning to him, head cocked.

"You will no longer be a dog by the time you return to your home," he said slowly. "You will be a slow and clumsy human girl with two legs. You cannot race with dogs."

The miko blinked for several moments, and he could almost see her thoughts lagging half a step behind themselves as she worked her way through it.

"Right," she laughed, a little too brightly, "I know, I was just being silly. It was just a funny idea I had. I wished I was a greyhound so I could beat you, and then the thought of me as a track dog was just too funny not to share. Don't you think it's funny?"

She didn't look like she found it funny anymore. She had the look again: the half-distracted, slightly disturbed look of someone who felt like something wasn't quite right but did not know why.

Sesshoumaru found it to be dreadful.

It was fortunate that Sesshoumaru was a strategist at heart and more clever than he liked to let on, so it was a few brief moments before the look was replaced by a dawning scowl. "Wait a sec," she said slowly, "did you just call me clumsy? And as a human? Oh! That's below the belt! You're so mean!"

"Yes," he agreed with ease and relief, and resumed walking.

"Human me is off-limits!" she informed him with a small huff, muzzle held high. "Everyone else already makes fun of human me, and you're too conceited to be that unoriginal."

Sesshoumaru puzzled over this. He was unaware the miko was subject to ridicule among her peers. Though she was indeed the most ridiculous creature in his acquaintance, he was under the impression that humans were generally a ridiculous species and had not believed this would be held against her. "I had thought mikos were highly respected in their human communities."

Kagome's smile was very thin, thin enough he thought it might break. "Yes. Well. You may not have noticed, but I'm a pretty useless miko."

He had not noticed.

Sesshoumaru was a seasoned warlord, this was the sort of thing he would surely have noticed.

His frown deepened as the sadness in her scent settled in her like an ache. This was an old wound, he realized. She smiled but the cut in her heart was old and very deep, and it still bled.

She had already bled to death on him once and Sesshoumaru had not cared for it, so he said, "It is foolishness to put weight on the opinions of others. They do not matter."

"I know," she mumbled softly, tail low.

"Do not be foolish, then."

She again acknowledged the superiority of his advice with a murmur of assent, but instead of relief the miko looked only more miserable. She practically curled in on herself. Sesshoumaru did not know what to make of this. The instructions were simple. He knew they were, because he always made it a point to not care about others or their opinions in any way.

"If you kill everyone who speaks ill of you, you will hear nothing but praise, he suggested as an alternative. "This one would assist with the killing if you ask it of me."

"Spoken like a true taiyoukai," she half-laughed, shaking her head. She gave him an unexpectedly fond look. "I can't be like you, Sesshoumaru," she said gently. "Social animal, remember?"

"Hn," he agreed with a small frown.

"I do know you're right. The problem is they're right, too. It's true: I am a lousy miko." Kagome sighed, ears drooping. "I'm useless."

And like that all his hard work at vexing her was undone. Again. Now he was the one who was vexed. "You survived me," Sesshoumaru said in clipped syllables, rounding on her. "Is that not enough? Those are excellent credentials for any human." At her surprised pause he pressed on, "Must I kill some mikos for you to show you how easily I can?"

"No, no!" she said quickly, "that ah, that really won't be necessary. I'll take your word for it."

"Good." Sesshoumaru reined in his youki, mollified, thought a bit disappointed that she didn't want any killing done. He would be happy to kill things for her. He wanted to. Plus killing things would be so easy whereas finding helpful things to say was hard.

Kagome had been quiet for several long moments, digesting his words, but now she cautiously spoke up. "Was that an extremely roundabout way of complimenting me?" Her tail gave a small, hopeful wag.

Now Sesshoumaru saw the verbal trap he'd let himself fall into. Curses.

"If it consoles you to think so," he said with a sigh.

Kagome grinned widely, ears fluffed up. "It does."

He was glad.

It wouldn't last, he knew, because good things never did, but he was glad.