Chapter 5

What Lies Inside

Kagome's eyes fluttered open as a beam of light burned through the open window. Turning slightly, her eyes met a steady blaze of gold; more intense than the sunlight. InuYasha stared unflinchingly at her, as though he could read her mind, as though he was looking at her very soul… at least, what little of it remained.

Kagome quickly twisted her face away, wishing she hadn't as her head began to pound in time with her heart – faster than normal. She wasn't sure whether that was remnants of the dream or the eyes that had seemed to follow her into waking; quite frankly, no matter what the hammering was from, it was unwelcome at that time.

Heat rose in Kagome's cheeks as images from her dream – obviously inspired by Kaou's vines the night before – flickered through her mind. Just as speedily as they tore through her memories, she squashed them aside, feeling a wave of revulsion in her mind.

Trying to figure out just what was going on in that miko's mind, InuYasha began trying to categorize the emotions flickering through her. It'd been harder since she gave so much of herself to Kikyou; they were muted, as though stifled under a blanket, but he needed so badly to know what she was thinking after the clusterfuck the night before had been… 'Embarrassment, shame… arousal?' InuYasha had to bite back a growl as that last spicy scent laced its way into hers, sooooo tempting…

'Not now, damn it!' He shifted uncomfortably, trying to focus on what Kagome could have in her mind that could bring forth that particular combination of scents… and the sour, defeated look on her face. In fact, she looked really damned ashamed of herself.

"Oi," he muttered. "You 'bout ready to go?"

Kagome started, having slipped back into her thoughts. It was only after InuYasha pulled her back out that she realized they were quite alone in the little hut. Her eyes wide, she peered around the room anxiously. "Where is everybody else?"

"They went on ahead," he said gruffly. "Kikyou's leading them toward that shard. We thought you should get some sleep, especially after all the shit you went through last night."

Rather than feeling better, like he'd hoped, Kagome's face fell.

'I knew it; I'm such a waste of space. I wasn't the only one attacked last night but they were all up early and ready to go. Here I am lazing the day away…' She pushed away the thought, knowing she couldn't distract herself with her failings right now – InuYasha was undoubtedly anxious to get going, no matter how unusually well he was hiding it.

Somewhere, in the back of her mind, a little voice told her it was a ludicrous idea; if there was anything InuYasha wasn't, it was quiet when he was pissed off. He'd rant and rave and call her a "weak human" and bitch at her until she planted his face into the ground or until she burst into tears, depending on her mood at the time… and the time of the month.

'So why isn't he yelling at me now?' Kagome wondered as she stood. InuYasha was by her side in a second as she wobbled, weak in the knees. Once she was standing solidly, he backed away; that tinge of need had leaked back into her scent the moment he touched her and he was hard-pressed not to let out a whine. Feeling the heat from his cheeks burning, he spun quickly, staring at the opposite wall. "You okay? Don't be so worried about them going on ahead. We can catch up easily enough."

Kagome's face fell as InuYasha pulled away from her the moment she was able to stand on her own. She'd give anything – up to and including the entire Shikon no Tama – to feel that fire in her veins that had ignited the moment his skin made contact with hers. It reminded her that she could feel something other than a constant barrage of negative emotions. But just as quickly as it had rushed, scorching, through her body, he pulled away, seemingly indifferent to her lusty reaction.

A stiff, unwelcome silence descended between the two; after a moment, Kagome moved over to her bag and began getting ready for the day. There was no sense in trying InuYasha's patience; no matter how thoughtful he was being now, he'd eventually grow tired of her dallying and begin grousing at her.

Seeing Kagome was well on her way to getting them out of the hut and on the road, InuYasha meandered outside to let her get changed. He fought with himself every step of the way, too… even a few feet was too far away when she had been in danger like the night before.

His frown became more pronounced as he realized he was brooding worse than a mother hen. 'What the hell?' It wasn't like him to get so worked up over her being taken – well, it was, but he was usually over it by now. It wasn't as thought Kagome had never been kidnapped before. Hell, it seemed like everybody in fucking Japan wanted to get their hands on her for some reason or another. InuYasha had thought himself rather reluctantly resigned to the process, but now…

'What was so different about last night? Why am I still fucking harping on it?' Was it was Kaou had said? "I merely showed you the dream you wished for!"

What had she seen? What had made her cry those tears of blood? The meekness in her manner afterward, the distance she put between herself and her friends… her reluctance to talk about what had happened, they all added up to something that made his ears twitch and his insides clench. None of it was right, none of it was Kagome.

InuYasha just wanted his Kagome back. The girl who chattered too much, who smiled and laughed too often, who took everything he threw at her and tossed it back in his face.

"H-hey," a hand fell on his shoulder and he whirled around, wondering how he hadn't heard or smelled or felt her coming. He hated how diminished she seemed now… it was like she gave almost everything she had – everything she was – to Kikyou, apparently just to appease him. It rankled in him that she could think he wanted that sort of sacrifice.

InuYasha could pinpoint the exact moment she saw the emotion in his eyes - he didn't try to hide it; he couldn't hide anything from her willingly anymore and knew it, even as it frustrated him (how could she be so perceptive to some things and so blind to others?). He frowned as she looked away, as though ashamed… 'Why? Why would she do that?'

He hated the day before his human night. He always thought too much.

"Oi," he called softly, regaining her attention, "You ready to go?" He noted the stuffed backpack and smirked when he noticed what she had in her hand – a steaming cup of noodles.

Realizing what he was looking at, she forced a smile. "I didn't know if you'd eaten yet this morning."

"Keh, Kikyou made some stew this morning." He grumbled to himself as her face fell. "Feh, stupid wench! Have I ever said 'no' to ramen?" He snatched up the cup indignantly, double-checking with her that it was ready to eat before scarfing down the treat. She giggled – a real, true giggle, small but enough to make him feel lighter than air – as he slurped up the last noodle.

"Well, what we waitin' here for? Let's go!" InuYasha grabbed her and threw her on his back, rejoicing in the familiar way she molded herself to him as he sped in the direction she pointed.

The two were so lost in the other – secretly wishing for more but refusing or perhaps unable to go that extra step – that they never noticed the eye hovering over the recently vacated hut.


The group traveled in silence. Sango sat astride Kirara, looking back every once in a while and wondering if Kagome would be alright. She hadn't so much as twitched when they were preparing to leave and, though InuYasha was silently threatening their lives, they hadn't been very quiet in their efforts to pack up, eat and leave. Kagome hadn't even woken to Shippou's panicked tears as they dragged him kicking and screaming, promising that he could see her once she got some rest.

Sango sighed. Now Shippou was tagging along on Miroku's shoulder, though he kept taking off to run around. She had tried to convince the kit by insisting that with InuYasha staying with Kagome, they'd need a "strong youkai like him" to protect the group. Her eyes narrowed as she remembered Kikyou's reply.

"I'm sure we do not require a youkai child's assistance. We must move swiftly or the shard will move out of our reach."

Sango tried to feel sorry for the woman; she truly did. But this was the person who had caused so many problems between InuYasha and Kagome, the person who had traveled with Kohaku but would not shed light on how her little brother was doing. This was the woman who had sent her little brother off on his own, to be picked up by a youkai lord known for hating humans. Kirara let out a muffled growl as Sango inadvertently twisted the handfuls of hair she held.

"Sorry, Kirara," she said, smoothing the agitated fur. Kirara purred her forgiveness and moved lower to the ground as Kikyou beckoned.

"The shard's kehai is moving toward us. It is still beyond a day's travel, however, and will remain that way unless we or whatever holds it speed up."

Miroku shared a significant look with Sango. "We'll have to find a safe place to bed for the night, then."

Sango's eyebrows quirked in confusion. Miroku jerked his head toward the sky and Sango let out a near silent, "Oh." She noticed Kikyou's confused look but refused to provide an answer; it was InuYasha's secret to tell, not hers.

"So," she said, fingering the bands on Hiraikotsu speculatively, "I doubt the shard is with one of Naraku's minions; I'd expect they'd come to us, unless they're trying to lead us into a trap..."

"The shard is not tainted," Kikyou said softly. "It feels pure. I believe it may be Kohaku."

"Kohaku?" Sango's head shot up quickly and she cringed, dropping it back just as suddenly as one of the bones in the back of her neck popped uncomfortably. Kirara twisted her head, giving Sango a worried look out of one large eye, and rumbled angrily at the miko on the ground below.

At the youkai's apparent chastisement, Kikyou nearly rolled her eyes. Though she stopped that particular emotion from showing, she couldn't stop them from widening dramatically that blacking her features had been necessary at all; 'Have I become so… callous? And yet, so willing to show such an unbecoming emotion?'

She clenched her fists and jaw, the only outward sign of the emotions roiling within. Her reaction was inexcusable. What if it was Kaede or InuYasha who had been under Naraku's control? Kikyou admitted in the privacy of her mind that she did not know if she would be as strong as Sango appeared… and wondered if like herself, Sango wore a mask and hid her true feelings from the outside world.

There was no way, Kikyou reminded herself, that she could blame the woman for wishing for little more than her brother's safe return. Both taijya suffered cruelly at Naraku's hands; the young man may have finally shaken free of Naraku's hold, but the aftereffects had poisoned his mind and gave him nightmares. InuYasha had filled her in on his group's sundry reasons for seeking the evil hanyou; surely, having lived through her brother's slaughter, Sango bore similar memories.

Kikyou felt like cringing; how could she have come so close to sharing such a horrible reaction? She had been raised to think first and act second; they were lessons that were much harder to follow under Kagome's influence and found she did not care for it. To be honest, it reminded her of InuYasha…

High above, Sango had buried her face in Kirara's fur, though she could feel Miroku's eyes on her. She didn't need his pity… Sango warred with herself, wondering if she should take Kirara on ahead to see if she could find Kohaku.

Then she reminded herself that the group would need every member of the group to stay on guard. Naraku grew more dangerous with each day he held the jewel… as far as they were aware, he held all but one shard. With Kagome powerless and InuYasha essentially out of the picture that night, she couldn't afford to go off after Kohaku; of course, she wouldn't be able to find him anyway… but Kirara could probably sniff him out…

The need to protect her one remaining blood relative warred with her desire to stick near her friends in their time of need. The logic behind staying with the group battled the emotional outpouring at the thought of seeing her brother again.

"The things he made me do," Kohaku moaned, words garbled as he began to shake in her embrace. "I didn't want to- I didn't think I could-" His breath hitched and the young man began to sob, heedless of who could see or hear.

Sango's heart contracted as she remembered her vision from the night before. It nearly stopped in her chest as she realized that deep inside, she couldn't bear to see her brother just then; the wounds Kaou had opened were not yet scarred over enough… guilt flooded her and she stared at the ground rushing by below.

Just then, Shippou zipped past Kikyou panting, breaking the silence as he cried out, "Miroku, Sango! You have to see this! I found a body, but it's all wrong!"

Miroku was the first to respond. "Wrong? What do you mean?"

"I – I – I…" Shippou was shivering with fear, the hair on his tail standing completely on end. "It's just… it's like he shed his skin or something! It's really weird!"

"Take us to him," Kikyou ordered softly. Shippou bristled a bit at the command – if it didn't come from Kagome (or sometimes Sango), he didn't want to follow it… and this was the mean person who had always made Kagome cry. He looked to Sango, who nodded her agreement. Kirara mewed in support.

"Okay." He scampered off ahead, making sure to go just as fast as he knew Kirara could fly, but just a little too speedy for humans. Maybe they'd leave Kikyou in the dust for a while.

As he skidded to a stop near his find, Shippou was disappointed when he realized Kikyou had summoned some of her creepy snake-like soul collectors to carry her. He pouted for a moment before turning to Miroku. "He has no bones! See?"


InuYasha and Kagome caught up with the group just outside a teahouse set up for travelers. Kikyou studied them as InuYasha bounded in, Kagome clinging to his back as easily as she breathed. In fact, she laughed as he pushed off from a nearby tree, taking off higher into the sky than usual. It was amazing, the simple lengths he would go to when he let his guard down…

"You guys didn't get very far," he chided lightly as he skidded to a halt in front of the group. Even Kikyou could tell he wasn't very perturbed, though, and shrugged off his "attitude" in favor of a meal and some conversation.

"We found something strange," Sango informed him, motioning to where Miroku stood speaking with an elderly man, most likely the proprietor.

Bouncing in Kagome's arms, Shippou waved at InuYasha. "I found it!" He lapped up the praise and attention Kagome bestowed upon him softly, burying his head into her shoulder to properly smell her. 'Dog-boy needs to do something quick… Kagome's almost fading away!' He let out a small whimper at the thought and took reassurance in the weight of her arms.

"We've already found the corpses of ten people in the same condition," the man was telling Miroku as they gathered around, greetings completed.

"Condition?" Kagome asked.

"With just their bones removed," Sango answered. "Probably the work of a youkai," she mused, rubbing Kirara's head.

Kikyou nodded in agreement, raising an eyebrow as InuYasha muffled a curse.

"Ah!" Miroku exclaimed, as though just remembering. "The nearest village, is it within walking distance? Would we make it before sunset?"

The owner nodded. "Yes, of course. It's only a couple hours that direction. With the assistance of your youkai friends, you should get there easily enough."

"What about this youkai? Do you know what it looks like?" Kikyou asked.

The elderly man rubbed his chin in thought. "According to those who were able to escape with their lives, the youkai was in the form of a woman. One of such beauty never imagined in this world."

Kagome and Sango sighed; InuYasha face morphed into a deadpan expression. Conversely, Miroku's eyes gained a curious twinkle. "I shall go to meet her!" he exclaimed, "Tonight!"

Sango seethed as the owner composed a note to his brother, an innkeeper, in the village ahead. "To slay her, right?" he babbled excitedly. "You're certain to get your chance. It seems that youkai appears in the dead of the night. In any case," he added with a flourish of the brush, "please take care of it! My brother will board you most comfortably as payment. The village is of a smaller size but well-traveled; even youkai are welcome there."


Sango counted her knives, slipping them into various holders as she finished her preparations.

"So are you really coming with me, Sango?" Miroku asked with a somewhat mournful note in his voice. Truthfully, he felt the hunt would be good to distract her, but did not want to appear too eager for her company.

"We're slaying a youkai, right?" Sango confirmed, slinging Hiraikotsu across her shoulders. Her dinner had settled well, she noted, and she was not too full to move easily or face cramps.

Miroku waved his arms happily. "But of course, my dear Sango! You wound me to suggest otherwise!"

"I'll wound you all right, lecher," Sango mumbled, more out of habit than actual frustration. She looked up and cast her gaze around the room, noting that while Kikyou was meditating in a corner and Shippou was playing near the door, Kagome and InuYasha were nowhere to be found.

"Where are they?" she asked, still bent over and tucking her remaining knife in her boot. It was difficult to place just so, where it would not impede running, would not fall out, but would also not slice through leather or muscle.

"Kagome went outside for some fresh air before nightfall. Undoubtedly, InuYasha accompanied her," Miroku responded. His eyes strayed to the tantalizing backside presented before him… but wisps of visions from the night before danced before his eyes and he clenched his hands into fists instead.

There was no use inviting what he could not, in clear conscience, have.


"Kagome?" InuYasha came up behind the girl who relaxed on the ground, Kirara curled around her feet, just outside the tree line on the edge of the village. She looked near boneless, exhausted and yet determined to stay awake after infusing her powers into Kikyou an hour early. Kikyou had been obviously confused by the change in schedule but accepted it without question.

Seeing her so… weak, so helpless, destroyed him. Did she ever do anything for herself? Catching his scent on the wind, Kirara scampered back toward the inn, leaving the two alone. "Oi, wench, c'mere." Cursing his fading sense of smell, he nearly dragged her to him the moment she was within reach.

Damn his human night…

For a few moments that dragged on like eternity, InuYasha raked Kagome's face with his eyes. With a downturn to her lips – a direct contract to her usual smile – and a dullness to her eyes that had smothered the sparkles ever since giving more of her soul to Kikyou, it was almost like he was holding a puppet of the girl. Her faded scent and his waning senses toyed with him, made speaking easier. It was like he was in a dream, an illusion –

Illusions. 'Fuck.' Would he ever be able to stare at her without seeing shadows of those bloody tears tracking down her cheeks?

"You have to stay with me tonight, Kagome."

Kagome looked up in confusion. It wasn't a request; it was an order. But where would she possibly go? "I know… it's the new moon; of course I'm staying with you." Her insistence lacked its usual heat and he grew frustrated at his inability to share his feelings with the one person who had brought them out so whole-heartedly.

"You saved Kikyou," he went on, stumbling a bit. It was imperative, he knew, to get this out in the open now… before he became a pansy human, before he ran the risk of losing complete control. He would be trapped between the two women in his life that night and more vulnerable than ever. "And I don't know what you were thinking when you did." She opened her mouth to explain and he cut her off. "But it really doesn't matter."

Kagome cocked her head in confusion. It wasn't often InuYasha babbled like this.

"Son of a – Damn it all, Kagome, but I need to know what you saw!"

Her eyes widened and she averted her gaze to the side, unintentionally baring her neck to him but looking the role of enticing vixen nonetheless. He gulped, willing himself to calm before adding, "Why won't you tell me?" A bit of his human emotions began to surge as the sun began to sink and he murmured helplessly, "Don't you trust me?"

Kagome choked on her disbelief, rushing to him in her need to reassure. "That's not it! That's not it at all! It's just…"

She trailed off, unsure of where to begin. What was she supposed to say? 'Oh, I saw you and me. And you wanted me and it was me you chose and then-' She flushed, remembering the pure lust that had flowed through her, that burned in her veins when she awoke that morning to his intense gaze, and that rose in her now as she remembered… his taste, his texture, it had felt so real.

She met his gaze and flinched. He'd think she was disgusting, hentai like Miroku; he certainly didn't think of her that way. If anything, he'd feel guilty that he couldn't return her feelings or perhaps even scorn her for them.

Would he see her as weak? Unable to control even her most base desires? She was already the most helpless of the group; shouldn't she be able to control at least something?

Maybe it'd hurt him, make him think she wanted him only for his body – she knew that feeling all too well, had wondered too often if InuYasha kept her around as a living and breathing reminder of what he had loved and lost and loved again…

Those eyes… his gaze smoldered through her and lit a fire within her only he could stoke and kami-sama she wanted that…

Kagome didn't know if she'd moved or if he'd taken her into his arms. Her knees were like jell-o so maybe she'd lost her balance but he was there – and then she was sobbing relentlessly into his chest, soaking his haori as she babbled out a confession, hoping upon hope that she didn't confess anything she wasn't ready to ('I love you. I need you. Never leave me. I'll die if you go. I need you to touch me, to love me, to hold me together.').

InuYasha stared down at the crying girl in confusion. He could barely make out what she was saying – something about that "skool" thing of hers and classes and him being there? He blanched. Did she not want him there? Then she was muttering about saving Kikyou and choices and wanting to be herself and not anybody else…


InuYasha hauled the girl away from him, hands on her shoulders, staring her in the face as she hiccupped and tried to control herself. Tears gathering in her eyes caught the sunlight and almost brought back the bit that made her Kagome, rather than the primarily submissive wench she'd become.

The sun set and his hair bled an inky black; the only thing he noticed was the way her lower lip wobbled, the way she almost bit it but it pouted too far for her to rein it in…

As his emotions surged, he gave in to his greatest fear and yet fulfilled his deepest wish – he bent down and kissed her.

She was salty, like tears, and he wished his senses were normal so he could truly taste her but she wasn't ready for any more, anyway. He put a gentle pressure against her lips, cupping the side of her face with a hand and trailing claw-less fingertips across her cheekbone, wiping away the tears as his lips soothed away her pain.

As she melted into him, he pulled away. "Stupid girl! Baka, baka wench!"

She gasped and he cursed himself and his inability to ever think things through before he said them. "You are Ka-Go-Me. Only Kagome." It was his turn to avert his eyes as a blush stole across his cheeks. "Only Kagome… and Kagome was who I was worried about. You were nearly taken from m- us." He frowned, trying to stem the flow of his words before he said something he couldn't take back, couldn't admit yet... but his human heart would not be denied on this of all nights and he fell headlong into his own admission, "It kills me to see you like this, wench. You may be Kagome… but you're not really Kagome anymore." He reached out to grab her hand, still not meeting her gaze.

"I don't know how, but I'm going to fix this for you." His declaration, so strongly stated, echoed her own thoughts…

If her actions put him in any form of pain, she'd push through hers to at least try to act normal.

They stood silent for a moment, unknowingly sharing the same thought. 'For you, it's the least I can do…'


Kikyou's eyes went wide as InuYasha and Kagome carefully made their way into the rooms, just minutes after Sango and Miroku left.

'He looks just like I imagined he would. Still very handsome… even more handsome, truly, with the dark features.' Still, there were shadows there that had nothing to do with his bone structure and everything, she would bet, with the younger miko whose progress he followed around the room with anxious eyes.

"Damn it," he cursed softly, sliding to the floor with a thump. He clutched the sword with frustration. "Why did it have to come at a time like this? I hardly did anything last night…"

Kikyou let out an "oh" of understanding as InuYasha's friends' behavior throughout the day suddenly came back. "The first night of each month, am I right?"

She had wondered, had always known hanyou had a night of weakness, but had never seen InuYasha's…

InuYasha narrowed his eyes but jerked his head roughly. "Yeah." She wondered what had upset him so. His eyes continuously darted back to Kagome, who had sat down on the other side of the room to sing a lullaby to Shippou. Kikyou couldn't imagine the girl had done anything to hurt him, but a wave of envy stole over her as she realized Kagome must have known for such a long time, when she had never been given the chance to learn.

"I had hoped to one day see you like this," she said lightly, trying to draw out a conversation.

"Yeah, well, it seems just about everybody has," he grumped. "Fuckin' Kouga knows, Kagura knew… damn it all, why don't we just tell Naraku, too, and get it over with?"

"It can't be helped," Kagome murmured as she came to sit next to InuYasha. She looked strange; like a person in pain forcing themselves to be at ease. Kikyou noted Kagome wasn't a good liar.

Kikyou forced her face to stay immobile as his eyes darkened with worry; Kagome was walking weakly. 'Would he be as worried about me if I were so weak?' Almost immediately, she felt guilty for thinking such a thing; InuYasha had shown his concern for her many times and she had rebuffed his efforts.

"We probably could have gone with the taijya and monk," Kikyou said softly, trying to draw InuYasha's attention. "If you had truly wanted to, that is."

InuYasha shook his head, but Kagome beat him to it. "Tetsusaiga won't work on the night of the new moon," she pointed out. Then she let out an unladylike snort. "And InuYasha has a bad habit of fighting as though he's hanyou… even when his youkai blood is dormant."

She smiled and InuYasha made as though to hush her, though his efforts went unappreciated. "The night I learned about his secret, we were attacked by Spiderheads." Kagome met Kikyou's eyes in the firelight and smiled wryly. "He fought to protect Shippou, a girl named Nazuna, and me… or, if you ask him," she added with a pointed glare, "to protect the shards we had managed to collect."

"Keh," InuYasha scoffed, crossing his arms and refusing to look at either of the women. Perhaps they'd accept the heat on his face as that from the fire.

"So he didn't mean to show you?" Kikyou pressed, and Kagome blinked.

'Is she… could she actually be jealous of me?' Kagome found the idea ludicrous, but she was far too familiar with the emotion to not be able to place it. "No," she assured. 'If he never told you, why would he willingly tell me?' Then she recalled his words and actions near the forest and blushed. Perhaps there was more to him than even she knew…

"Instead, I volunteered our protection to Nazuna and the shrine she stayed in." Kagome winced, "I didn't even notice that the head priest was actually the head of the youkai gathering there. It was early into our journey and I wasn't familiar with my powers at all."

Kikyou nodded and motioned for Kagome to continue, despite the exhaustion that darkened the girl's eyes. Before she could, though, InuYasha interjected. "I still think we should have gone. Miroku's been using his kazaana too often; he's putting himself in danger when he shouldn't."

Kagome rolled her eyes. "You'd know all about that, wouldn't you?" Seeing the disgruntled look on InuYasha's face, she plowed ahead, "And besides, don't you think Sango would like some time alone with Miroku once in a while?"

"Are they not going to slay the youkai?" Kikyou questioned. "That is hardly a romantic atmosphere."

Kagome's eyes actually gained a small sparkle as she clasped her hands together. "I don't know… sometimes being in battle with a person has its advantages."

Kikyou caught the look Kagome shot at InuYasha and was only barely able to stop herself from making a catty comment. She was always much more emotional after taking in more of Kagome's power… "Perhaps you should lie down," she suggested calmly, once she had gotten a hold of herself. "Even if you don't wish to sleep, it will be better for you."


"And now, we wait." Miroku settled on the ground, shifting to get comfortable as he, Sango and Kirara stared out over the open plain. He'd offered to let her go back and catch some sleep; Sango had shot him down rather harshly.

A silence descended between them.

After a while, Miroku sighed and finally asked the question on his mind. "You honestly think I'm going to try wooing the bone-extracting youkai woman?"

"It's not that I was thinking that," Sango responded after a moment. Miroku looked at her curiously. "Truthfully, I'm… I remember what Kikyou said. Your wounds from Naraku's shouki will widen when you use your kazaana, remember?"

"Sango, you're…" Miroku was shocked. Did she worry about him?

Sango cleared her throat. "You shouldn't exert yourself! Please… tell me the truth. How is your body holding up?"

She'd just finished the question when he pulled her close to him, wrapping his arms around her. Sango flushed as she realized her face was buried in his chest… she could hear his heart beat.

"You are so kind to me, Sango!"


He rested his head on hers. "Don't worry, I'm perfectly fine."

"Y-you're sure?" She cursed herself for stuttering; what was it about this man that made her feel like a fool? 'I love him…' Sango clenched her eyes shut and saw remnants of Kaou's illusion. 'No!' She couldn't afford this now. Kohaku had to come first… She managed to gain some composure by pushing herself away – to look him in the face, she told herself. "You're all right now?"

"Yes," he responded quickly. Almost too quickly… his eyes were closed. She couldn't see them. It made her suspicious, but Miroku's gasp drew her attention to behind her, where a growing youki had caused Kirara to bristle…

It was a woman. A woman with a carriage filled with skeletons, let by the bones of an ox. 'The youkai?' The woman made it halfway across the plain before a pack of wolves stopped her, growling hungrily. She didn't stop; instead, she reached out toward a wolf brave enough to attack…

And removed the skeleton from the body.

"That's the youkai!" Miroku yelled.

Sango hurled her weapon with a shout at the woman and the clothing flew up, empty.

"Hiraikotsu, you say," the youkai said with a smirk, "how wonderful… such a high-quality bone!"

With that, the mysterious woman was gone, a trail of bones in her wake.

Parts of this chapter correspond with the manga chapters 481: "Bones"

My sincerest apologies for the wait time on this chapter. Every time I try to work on this, something else sneaks its way into my brain. Like ridiculous amounts of "something else" and I don't get it.

Add that to health and work issues… let's just say it hasn't been the best of months. I appreciate the patience!

As always, my overwhelming gratitude and love go out to my beta, angelica_incarnate. I've said it before and will say it again: "I don't know what I'd do without you."

My thanks also go out to LuxKen27, who nominated Control. Infirmity. Defiance. for Best Action/Adventure at the InuYasha Fan Guild. Nominations continue through July 14. Profuse gratitude also goes out to the kind people who nominated my other works.

Disclaimer: I do not own InuYasha or any other characters from the anime/manga. They all belong to Rumiko Takahashi.