Disclaimer: I don't own InuYasha; Rumiko Takahashi and a large publishing conglomerate hold his leash.

A/N: Thank you all very much for reading! I'll really miss working with Miss Buyo and the brats!

Bouquets to my wonderful, demanding, encouraging betas: Ranuel, who inspired the whole dang fic in the first place, and SilverOnTheRose for her unflagging enthusiasm. The two of 'em are a right pair o' kitsunes, and I'm very grateful for their input. Also, many thanks to Forthright for her bunny-wrangling expertise before other commitments ate her free time!

Warnings: Coarse language, heavy citrus content (approximately one-third of the way through and again at the end), angst.

The Price

Chapter Twenty: Sacrifice


Wisteria House, Tuesday evening...

"Welcome home!" Karin chirped, practically bouncing up and down in the foyer.

She's brighter-eyed and bushier-tailed than anyone has a right to be after a full day of classes. Kagome beckoned the teenager into Wisteria House's main room, where she was organizing her homework for the evening. "Thank you; how was your day?"

"Same old, same old," she groaned, plunking down at the kotatsu and setting aside a cloth-wrapped bundle. "My profs are really piling it on the closer we come to the end of the year."

"Same here. What's your major?"

"I attend a women's college, also known in certain circles as a 'finishing school', where the electives include flower arranging, the appropriate attire for the tea ceremony, tips for dealing with servants, correct posture... y'know, really relevant stuff if I ever want to assert control over my heritance," Karin replied with a grin. Cackling at Kagome's expression, she added, "I was supposed to graduate with a nice, polite degree in household management, marry a scion from the old nobility and produce a pedigreed passel of children while gracefully ignoring my husband's mistresses and gambling debts."

"Sounds perfectly hideous."

The teenager became briefly serious. "I'm so glad that I met Lord Sesshiro now! Can you imagine the scandal if I'd already been married off and then met him?" She smirked evilly. "My uncle would have had a heart attack!"

"So you're really doing your guardians a favour?"

"Exactly!" Karin agreed. Her eyes sparkling, she handed over the bundle. "Here... I'm returning the clothes that your mom loaned me, like, a hundred years ago."

"Oh, thanks! I would've missed the sweatshirt during exams next month," Kagome exclaimed.

"Your husband didn't thank me; he says that it makes his eyes bleed."

"In that case, maybe I'll wear it to dinner tonight." Opening the parcel, Kagome separated the hot pink sweatshirt from the jeans and underwear and shook it out, then noticed that Karin was nervously twirling her hair. "Is something wrong?"

"No, not really... um, but may I ask you something?"

Kagome put down the garment and gave the teen her full attention. "Is it about being a reincarnation?"

"Oh, no! Lord Sesshiro and Mrs. Nishino have covered all that," she airily replied. "Er, I was wondering... I know this is a little unusual... um, would you mind... uh, I'd really like to call you 'Sister', if I may?" The request came out in a rush before Karin returned to twisting her hair into knots.

Kagome started at the abruptness, not to mention social impropriety, of the request, but the shy hope in the young woman's face gave her pause. "Well, er... I suppose so, since you'll be marrying Elder Brother eventually...." Karin's brilliant smile took her breath away.

"Thank you, thank you!" the girl burbled, bowing enthusiastically before rounding the table and affectionately hugging the startled woman. "Brother said it would be all right, but I wanted to have your permission!"

"Oi... I think you've squished all the air out of her, Sis."

Karin leapt to her feet and to Kagome's considerable astonishment, bounded across the room to greet Sha in the same highly informal manner. Brother? Is she going to lick his nose, too?

Sha easily detected Kagome's consternation, and couldn't help a small smirk as he disentangled from Karin. Now you know what it feels like when you have to watch someone else hugging your mate! "I don't mind the personal touch but my brother might, so keep that in mind," he said to the teen, tweaking her nose.

"Why would it bother him?" she wanted to know, scowling cutely. "He doesn't care if I hug the boys."

"Because I'm another adult male, not one of his brats. You'll see; he really won't like my scent on you."

Karin brushed at her sweater as if to remove the offending odour. "Ohhh... this is one of those 'marking' thingies, right?"

"Yep. That's why Kagome wears my t-shirts after I've worn them... so my scent can transfer to her skin," he said, pulling his concealment anchor over his head and reverting to his natural colouring.

Completely unfazed by the dramatic change in his appearance, Karin asked, "You still can't touch each other?" When Sha adopted a puppy-eyed pout, she thought for a moment, then stepped up close and wrapped her arms around his middle. "Give me a hug, Brother... a good one," she demanded. Intrigued, he complied and left her gasping. "Oof! Not that tight!" Swatting the hanyou's arm, Karin galloped across the room and pounced on Kagome before the older woman could fend her off. Squeezing, the teen happily announced, "Indirect hug!"

Sha couldn't help laughing at Kagome's mortified expression. "You really are something else, Sis," he snickered.

The teenager sat back and grasped Kagome's hands. "I'm so incredibly happy to have a family again I just can't contain myself! After my parents died, the only person in my life who ever showed me any physical affection was my housekeeper, Mrs. Ueda... so I have lots of hugging to get out of my system," Karin declared.

Kagome mentally kicked herself. I forget not everyone is lucky enough to have a loving family like mine. Pulling her hands free, she leaned forward to wrap her arms around Karin's shoulders. "I'm honoured, Sister." The teen made a happy noise and practically curled up in Kagome's lap, despite the fact that she was nearly as tall and only a couple of years younger.

Sha watched Kagome hesitantly overcome her social inhibitions to cautiously pet Karin's hair, trying to not let his jealousy show over someone else enjoying her touch, until something occurred to him. "Oi, Sis... does Sess let you climb all over him?"

Karin pulled a face. "No, but I wouldn't try it, anyways. He's just too dignified, y'know?"

The hanyou smirked. "I have a feeling that he wouldn't mind if you messed up his hair a little."

She waved dismissively. "He let me comb it after his bath yesterday."

"What was he wearing?"

"A yukata," Karin answered, clearly puzzled. "What else would he be wearing?"

"Fur," Sha blandly replied, his amber eyes twinkling. "Next time, ask him what that yukata is made out of, but don't tell him I'm the one who suggested it."

"A bit of a troublemaker, eh?" Karin mused, her eyes sparkling. "We're going to get along famously, Brother."


Ajisai Clinic, Wednesday afternoon...

"Mrs. Nishiki? I was wondering... would you be so kind as to take a look at a patient for a colleague of mine?"

Kagome gave the sandy-haired psychologist a curious glance as she tucked away her focus stone. "Um, sure... I guess. Why me?"

"It's an unusual case that your unique powers may be able to resolve," Dr. Sanada replied. "Your husband might also find this interesting." Stepping out into the waiting room, he smiled winningly at Sha who was already on his feet and slinging the Tetsusaiga across his back.

"What's so 'unusual' about it?" the hanyou asked.

"We think it may be a case of possession, and we're hoping that Mrs. Nishiki's spiritual powers might be able to identify and defeat the youkai if that is indeed the case."

"I've never exorcised anything!" Kagome protested as she hop-skipped to keep up with Daisuke's and Sha's longer strides.

"You mentioned that you were able to purify shouki, which is a form of jyaki, correct?" he queried, pushing his glasses up his nose.

"Only if the patient is human."

"As it happens, the patient is human... a young child," Dr. Sanada said, pausing in front of the fire door leading to a different wing. "Her parents are desperate. Ready?"

Kagome exchanged glances with Sha; he smiled encouragingly. "If there is something lurking inside the kid, you should be able to at least drive it out. Tetsusaiga can take care of it from there."

The young woman wrinkled her nose at him. "Try not to bring the building down on top of us, okay?"

Dr. Sanada's eyebrows disappeared under his bangs. "You're joking... right?" he asked nervously.

"I'll be careful," the hanyou breezily promised. The psychologist eyed him before opening the door and leading them down the brightly-painted hallway of a paediatric ward.

Rapping lightly on a door decorated with a chubby panda holding an empty bowl in one paw and a wooden sign that read 'More Rice, Please!' in the other, he waited for a moment before opening the panel. "Good afternoon! I've brought the outside consultants that I mentioned earlier," Daisuke announced to the couple seated on either side of the narrow bed. As they stood up and bowed, he made the introductions. "Mr and Mrs. Nishiki, this is Mr and Mrs. Godai... and their daughter, Haruka."

The wan-looking mother twisted a handkerchief in her hands. "Can you help us?" she asked softly, her voice tremulous.

Kagome tried to look confident when she felt anything but. "I'll do my best, ma'am. Um, what happened to your daughter?"

Mr. Godai answered, his tone heavy with weariness. "She was absolutely fine until yesterday afternoon, when she suddenly began running a temperature."

"Her fever was so high that she had a seizure early this morning," Mrs. Godai added. "She fell into a coma on the way to the clinic."

Behind Kagome, Sha spoke up. "Have you recently acquired an antique of some kind, or inherited a family heirloom?"

The couple looked startled. "Yes," Mr. Godai said. "A very old statue of the goddess Kannon, left to me by my grandmother. Why?"

"It may have a bearing on the situation," the spell-concealed hanyou replied, smiling disarmingly. "We'll know more once my wife has examined your daughter."

Dr. Sanada took the cue. "Would you please step outside?" he asked, gesturing. "Help yourselves to some tea in the patient lounge; this may take a little while." Ushering the couple out of the room, he returned within a few moments and firmly closed the door behind him.

"What are you stickin' around for, Doc?" Sha wanted to know.

"Since I'm the only accredited medical professional out of the three of us, I need to be here to forge the reports if something goes sideways."

"Er, right." Sha scrutinized the psychologist, as if seeing him in a new light. "You're okay, Doc."

Daisuke raised an eyebrow even as he inclined his head in acknowledgement. "Thank you."

Meanwhile, Kagome had cautiously approached the bed's small, unconscious occupant. She's only about five years old, poor little thing. "Why did you ask about antiques or heirlooms, Sha?"

"Cursed or possessed objects... like that damned frog-youkai inside that hibachi, for instance... can cause these sorts of symptoms if the evil force inside transfers to a human host." Reaching over his shoulder, he expertly unzipped the carrying case and drew his sword. Dr. Sanada let out a muffled yelp and hopped back a step as the battered blade hissed into its true form.

"That's definitely jyaki," Kagome murmured, bending over the little girl to better inspect the tiny wisps of dark energy flickering over the child's skin. "It's faint, but I suppose in someone of this size, it wouldn't take much."

Sha hefted the gleaming weapon. "My money's on a weasel-youkai because the bastards like to prey on the helpless. See if you can persuade it to leave, Kagome."

"Leave? Then what?" He grinned toothily and waved Tetsusaiga, but the young woman shot him a quelling look. "I'd like to remind you – again - that we're inside a building."

"I doubt that I'll have to Kaze-no-Kizu anything," he said, refusing to be cowed. "If it is a weasel-youkai, you'll probably be able to finish it off without my help." Glancing at Daisuke, Sha directed, "Better stay behind me, Doc. Wouldn't want you getting accidentally possessed or anything." Eyeing the massive sword, Dr. Sanada agreed and wedged himself into the far corner of the room.

Kagome smiled wryly as she carefully folded back the blankets covering the little girl's torso, avoiding all the tubes currently attached to her small body. "No delicacy required, I suppose... just zapping it with as much power as possible?"

"Yep. You'll either vaporize it or drive it out... and then I'll take care of it," he said gleefully.

"Try not to sound so bored."

Sha chuckled indulgently at the barb. "Just get on with it, girl."

Her spiritual power sparked and crackled as she focussed on a desire to protect the child. Stay in control Kagome mentally chanted, watching the pink coating on her hands turn into roseate flames. She'd barely touched the little girl before a loud sizzling sound filled the room. The dark energy immediately peeled away like sooty ribbons, coalescing above the bed in a menacing cloud before literally diving beneath the sheets like a hideous swarm of bees. Kagome ripped back the covers, revealing a battered-looking plush goose that fairly pulsated with jyaki as an outraged sepulchral snarl vibrated the air.

"Zap it again!" Sha yelled, raising the Tetsusaiga, the white youki whirling down its length. As Kagome grabbed for the stuffed toy, a hideous shriek momentarily deafened them... and then a large, white-furred creature burst out of the toy's belly, its fanged mouth opened wide and its claws extended as its sinuous body curled back on itself in mid-air and lunged for the young woman.

"Vile priestess! How dare you deprive me of my meal!" the red-eyed being spat. Kagome threw herself over the little girl's body, willing the Jewel's power to expand far enough to cover them both, but her protective gesture wasn't necessary. The youkai went down in a welter of gore as Sha hacked it into pieces.

"Are exorcisms always this... messy?" Dr. Sanada shakily asked in the quiet that followed.

Sha used Tetsusaiga to prod a twitching chunk of flesh and fur. "Just as I thought... a fucking weasel. If it had stayed put, Kagome probably could've turned it into ash." Glancing around at the fluids spattering the walls, he sheepishly offered, "Sorry about that."

"Eeyew! What are these things?" Both men turned towards the bed, where Kagome was staring at the child with a mixture of disgust and fascination.

"What things?"

"Those things... right there!" she exclaimed, pointing at the girl's pillow.

Squinting, Sha scratched his ear before checking with an equally-puzzled Daisuke. "We don't see anything, Kagome."

She looked over her shoulder. "Little, squishy-looking, imp-like things, wrapped in chains and carrying spears... you really can't see them?"

The hanyou immediately straightened. "The messengers of the underworld?" he murmured in an awed tone.

"What do they want? They're wriggling and chittering and... ick! Don't touch her!" The young woman swatted at thin air.

Sha shook himself. "They've come for the kid's soul! If you can purify them, you can save her life!"

Kagome instantly swiped at the gibbering creatures with pink-coated hands; they looked notably surprised as they melted away. A split-second after that, the little girl gave a choked cry, her eyes fluttering open. "M-Mama?" she weakly called, her dull gaze fastened Kagome.

"No, sweetie... but your mama will be here in a jiffy," the young woman smiled, tucking the blankets back into place as Sha hastily sheathed Tetsusaiga and helped Daisuke cover up the youkai's remains with a sheet.

"Mousse?" the little girl asked plaintively, turning her head as if looking for something.

"D'you mean this?" Kagome retrieved the stuffed goose, absently noting that the toy appeared to be wearing oversized glasses perched on its yellow beak as she surreptitiously gave it an extra jolt of purification power. Haruka held out her hands for the toy and cuddled it close.

"T'ank you," she mumbled, her fingers worrying the goose's large, plush feet.

Kagome pressed her hand against the child's sweaty forehead. "How are you feeling?"

"Tired," Haruka sighed. "Where's Mama?"

Dr. Sanada stepped forward, mindful of the blood pooling on the floor. "I don't think you need that oxygen mask anymore." He carefully removed the mask and the IV lines, then quickly checked for alarming blood stains.

"Is the bad kitty gone?" Haruka abruptly asked, her frightened glance flitting around the room; Sha flinched at the sourness in her scent. "It said it was gonna eat me," the little girl whispered fearfully.

"Mr and Mrs. Nishiki made it go away," Dr. Sanada said.

Haruka's jaw dropped. "You saw it?" she eagerly asked, and then her face fell. "Papa didn't b'lieve me."

"Sometimes adults are like that," Dr. Sanada gently observed. "Let's go see your mama and papa, shall we? They'll be very happy that you're all better." Bundling Haruka into a fresh blanket, he carried her across the room; Sha opened the door for them, but when Kagome made to follow, he barred the opening with his arm.

When Dr. Sanada halted, the hanyou said, "I gotta talk to Kagome. Tell the kid's dad to take that statue to the nearest temple and have a sealing sutra slapped on it as soon as possible… today, preferably." Once the psychologist nodded and continued on his way towards the lounge at the end of the hall, the hanyou hustled his wife in the other direction. As soon as they were through the fire doors, he blurted out, "You really saw the imps?"

"I saw something," she answered. "They were awful-looking... oh, wait! I know where I've seen them before! There's a scroll at the shrine that depicts the eight hells!"

"Keep your voice down," Sha chided as they passed a nursing station. "If you saw the messengers of the underworld, then the cat was right."

"Miss Buyo? What are you talking about?"

They turned down another corridor. "Back when Mistress Centipede chomped on you, the cat said that if you could harness the Jewel's power, you could save people that were about to croak."

"So by purifying those imps...."

"You literally saved the kid's life." Sha gave her a considering look. "The only other person I know who can do that is my brother, but only if Tenseiga's in a cooperative mood."

Kagome smiled softly. "Saving lives... I like the sound of that."


Western House, late Friday afternoon...

"Thank the gods that week's over! Could they give us any more homework if they tried?" Tsugane griped, tapping his long fingers on the steering wheel as he impatiently waited for the grillwork gates of the parking courtyard to open.

"With the party tomorrow, it's going to be a real challenge to finish everything for Monday," Kagome sighed. "Late shift tonight, I suppose?"

"I'm in," Tenmaru said from the back seat, closing his laptop. "There's some really interesting stuff in this new batch of scrolls from the Shrine."

"It's a date... hello, what do we have here?" All three of them sat forward when they spotted the gaggle of guardsmen blocking the garage door. Tsugane rapped his horn, and the troopers moved smartly out of the way, revealing part of a large packing crate.

"Oh ho... looks like Uncle's new toy has finally arrived," Tenmaru exclaimed.

"New toy?"

"It's a frickin' monster!" Tsugane whooped. Pulling into the garage, he scrambled out of his seat to join the admiring throng. Kagome followed much more slowly, catching glimpses of metallic paint and gleaming chrome between clustered bodies as she waited for Tenmaru. Slinging her backpack over her shoulder, she jumped when a deep-throated, mechanical roar vibrated the air. The guardsmen clapped their hands over their ears and fell back slightly, allowing her to see what the fuss was all about.

Sha sat astride a massive motorcycle, its contoured fairing adorned with a stylized pattern of windblown petals and the floral crest etched into the chromed wheels. He revved the engine again, and a flock of birds erupted out of the trees hanging over the inner walls. Kagome flinched away from the sheer volume, wondering how the hanyou could stand it with his sensitive hearing. He must be wearing ear plugs! The movement caught her husband's attention; grinning like a madman, Sha beckoned her forward. "Wanna go for a ride?" he gleefully yelled over the engine's thunder, patting the small, ridiculously-canted scrap of padded leather behind his saddle.

I'd have to practically lie on top of him! "I wish I could," she answered, with a regretful smile.

He seemed surprised at her refusal, but then thought about it; his expression closed and he looked away, clenching his gloved fist. Kagome noted his flaring youki and took the opportunity to slip away. As she passed through the inner gate, she heard Sha harshly demand his helmet, and then shout for the main gates to be opened. A hailstorm of gravel announced his departure, and she winced when she heard Tsugane's rather coarse opinion of his uncle's undisciplined exit. I wonder if he chipped the paint on Ichiko's car? Actually, never mind that... I wonder how many guardsmen he dented?


Western House, five hours later...

"Why won't he answer?" Kagome huffed, slapping down Tenmaru's phone on the kotatsu's polished surface.

"He's probably out of range," her nephew answered, stealthily retrieving his abused electronics.

"If he's on the bike, he won't answer, because that'd be incredibly dangerous at the speeds he's probably going," Tsugane chimed in.

"Thanks for reminding me that he's pretty much riding a widow-maker."

"It isn't that bad, Auntie!" he protested. "Sure, it's really powerful... and really, really fast... but Uncle's an experienced rider."

"Don't get cute with me, Ichiko; I looked up its stats. The fatality rates for those bikes are scary."

"Then don't read them; they only apply to humans, anyways."

"Oh, really? I'd think that hitting a solid object at 200 miles per hour would damage anybody, no matter their heritage."

"I'm sure Brother is all right," Karin said soothingly, marking a paragraph in her textbook. "Although, it is kinda annoying that he hasn't called." Giving each of the hanyou present a pointed look, she added, "I don't think I'd put up with that."

"Make a note of that, Brother. 'Phone home often to avoid wrath of small, fierce alpha female'," Tsugane suggested, easily dodging Karin's retaliatory ear-tug. Scooping the squawking teenager into a bear hug, he shrugged. "Uncle has a sweet new ride, and he's giving it a road test. I'd do the same thing."

"Without checking in once in a while?" Kagome tartly asked, trying not to show her envy of Karin's freedom to touch any one she wanted without fear of injuring them as the playful tussle continued. "I can't see your father tolerating that."

Tenmaru peered over his laptop screen. "At risk of being yelled at, I would like to point out that Uncle has not had to worry about 'checking in' with anyone for quite a long time... a few centuries at last count."

"I'm sure he's just totally into it and lost track of time," Tsugane said quickly, eyeing Kagome's agitated aura even as he casually foiled every one of Karin's attempts to gain the upper hand. "Why're you so concerned? He always comes home... eventually."

"I haven't lived with him long enough to know that and he left Tetsusaiga behind."

The two hanyou exchanged glances. "Okay, now I'm worried," Tenmaru muttered.


Wisteria House, Midnight-ish...

Dammit, what a time for my fucking battery to die! After last Friday, she's never gonna believe me that it was a fucking oversight! Sha half-expected to find the entry door locked, maybe with a note pinned to it curtly informing him that his futon had henceforth been moved into the main house, but to his relief, the wooden panel opened as usual. Quietly entering the foyer, he removed his boots and hung up his jacket, then stashed his helmet and gloves on a shelf.

Despite the trepidation he felt over what was bound to be a tricky conversation, Sha couldn't quite wipe the satisfied smirk off his face as he padded down the hallway towards her bedroom. Hot damn, that was one helluva ride! Cautiously poking his head around the doorframe, just in case his appearance was greeted with thrown objects, he noted that the curtains surrounding Kagome's bed were lit from within. Did she wait up? Might as well get it over with. His ears perked up when he heard a muffled sound from within the draperies, then drooped when he thought he recognized it. Shit. Is she crying? Slipping closer until he stood outside the fabric barrier, he inhaled deeply, searching for the tell-tale scent of tears... but instead received a full dose of a far more seductive scent that nearly bowled him over. Before he considered the full consequences of his actions, Sha ducked through the embroidered panels.

Her head was tilted back, exposing the lovely arch of her throat. Eyes closed, skin flushed, lips parted, Kagome moaned again, her hips undulating sensuously beneath the concealing quilt. Sha's throat went dry as his youki rose, fuelled by the erotic sight, sounds and scent of the young woman's pleasure. Gods, what I'd give to...!

The brush of his aura as he leaned over her alerted her to his presence, but it still took Kagome a couple of seconds to realize that she had an audience, and another second beyond that to recognize who had invaded her private party... but only a split-second to react. Flushing an interesting shade of red, she sat bolt upright and forced him back on his heels. While she hastily covered herself, folding her arms over her chest to keep her pyjama top closed, she snarled, "Where the hell have you been?"

Sha had trouble regaining focus, because both his youki and his libido were determinedly interfering with his thought processes. "My phone died, and I didn't notice until I tried to check my messages a couple of minutes ago."

The fight abruptly went out of her, and her expression changed from fury to weary concern. Rubbing a hand over her face, Kagome mumbled, "Do you have any idea of how worried I was?"

"I'm really sorry," he apologized, noting the pinched look around his wife's eyes and general air of exhaustion. Without thinking about it, the hanyou soothingly patted Kagome's leg through the thick blanket. "After last week, you musta thought the worst."

She smiled tiredly. "I hoped not, although the boys explained that you couldn't safely answer, the way you took off made me wonder...." Kagome broke off, staring at Sha's hand where it rested on her thigh. He looked, too, and then realization dawned.

"I-I can touch you?" he whispered with a sense of shock.

Kagome immediately pulled open her top and inspected her bare skin. "I'm still shimmering," she said, inadvertently flashing him.

"But not on the surface of your clothing," he excitedly pointed out. They stared at each other for a long moment before Sha grabbed the quilt and pulled it up to cover himself. "Just in case your aura reacts when it touches my youki." Holding out his arms, he waited. Kagome didn't hesitate; scooting closer, she kept her gaze locked on his as she cautiously pressed up against his padded chest and held her breath. Nothing life-threatening happened; her spiritual energy remained quiet as he wrapped both the blanket and his arms around her. "Finally," he mumbled into her hair, squeezing her breathless.

An unexpected aspect of their embrace made his head spin; the quilt trapped the enticing scent of her erotic activities, and when Kagome raised her head to smile at him, the sultry aroma sent his arousal into overdrive. His dilated pupils and his hungry expression made a shiver go down her spine, but she didn't resist when Sha slowly pushed her over backwards. Following her down while making sure the protective blanket remained securely between them, the hanyou watched carefully for any defensive reaction from either the young woman or her inherent powers, but instead he detected only nervous anticipation.

Nudging his knee between hers, Sha was pleased that there was only the slightest amount of hesitation before Kagome spread her thighs and allowed him to settle between them. His body coming to rest so intimately against hers appeared to fluster her somewhat, judging by how her eyes widened and the colour in her cheeks deepened, but the way her scent spiked told him that she found the contact highly enjoyable. "Is this okay?" he asked anyways.

"Y-yes," she mumbled, then smiled crookedly. "It was better the last time, when we were skin against skin."

"D'you mean when you propositioned me half-naked?"

She blushed harder and found his chin highly interesting, but her gaze flew back up to his when he began slowly rocking his hips, putting rhythmic pressure on a highly sensitive part of her body. It didn't take long before she responded with matching movements, her eyes half-closing and her breathing becoming short. Sha had to stop himself more than once from dipping down to kiss her; not being able to completely lose himself in the moment made him aware of other, less comfortable aspects of their encounter. Gotta get out of these jeans before I bust the damn zipper!

Kagome's soft moan pulled him back to the matter at hand; her grey eyes were limpid pools of desire as she focussed on his mouth while her hips rolled urgently beneath him. "Need... more...," she whispered breathily.

"So do I," he growled, pushing upright onto his knees and yanking his shirt over his head. Unbuckling his belt, Sha shoved his jeans down over his hips, putting the rampant state of his arousal on full display. Kagome admired his toned golden skin framed by his unruly silver hair; she went very still when she followed the thin line of pale downy hair from his navel to his erection. When she licked her lips, he let out a low groan. "Impressed?" he managed to crack.

She turned even rosier. "Liveliest one I've ever seen."

Jealously stabbed through his guts. "How many have you seen?" he hoarsely demanded, red haloing his irises.

Kagome managed a smirk. "Plenty of 'stiffs'... didn't you know that?"


"Cadavers... in the dissection lab."

Sha stared at her mischievous grin until the dawning blush in his cheeks matched hers, and when she giggled nervously, he laughed with her. "You are such a brat," he snorted, slowly pumping himself.

"Isn't that my line?" she asked, her provocative scent becoming more intense as she watched his hand slide up and down his length, and her fingers stole back into her pyjama bottoms.

"I hope you're not gonna crack jokes every time I try to seduce you, because it kinda kills the mood."

"Are you seducing me?"

"Giving it my best shot," Sha purred, noticing the way her eyes had become slightly unfocussed. The mental image of what Kagome was doing to herself beneath the concealing blanket made him lose the edge of control and thrust hard into his fist. "Show me... please..." he pleaded.

Kagome's hazy vision cleared, and she blushed scarlet as her movements stilled. Sha thought he might have blown it and was about to retract his request, when she slowly folded the quilt away from her body. The young woman looked adorably shy as she shrugged out of her pyjama top, leaving her naked from the hips up. "You don't have to... if you don't want to," Sha said, finally tearing his eyes away from her breasts long enough to note the way she was biting her lip.

"Um, well... you're shirtless, so it seemed kinda... er, unfair if I wasn't," she answered, obviously fighting the instinct to cover herself.

"Am I making you uncomfortable?"

Kagome peeked at him through her lashes. "Well, you sorta look like you'd eat me alive... eep!"

Sha had planted both hands on either side of her shoulders and lowered himself until he lightly brushed his lips over hers, causing tiny sparks to fly. "You're damn right I'd 'eat' you," he rasped, his tone heavy with lust, "until you screamed my name and then I'd lick you everywhere else until you begged me to...." His nostrils flared as he registered her body's emphatic response to his words, and his arousal surged to reckless levels. Fuck! Gotta control myself!

Breathing hard, he pushed himself back onto his knees, but the attractive picture Kagome made, her eyes heavy-lidded, and her mouth soft, weakened his resolve. Only the knowledge that her powers could literally burn off rather important parts of his anatomy kept him from pouncing on her right there and then. How to do this?

Inspiration struck; snagging a lock of his hair, Sha leaned back over Kagome and began lightly feathering the tips of the bundled strands over her skin. She let out a stuttering gasp, then lay very still as he followed the path of his makeshift 'brush' with his heated breath. Exhaling on her hip bone, he stroked his hair across the taut skin of her belly and traced patterns of desire over her torso while she shivered and moaned from his attentions. When he lingered over her breasts, teasing her nipples into hardened peaks, her nerves briefly vanished.

"Move," Kagome suddenly demanded in a trembling voice, but before he could misinterpret her words as a rejection, she hooked her thumbs into the waistband of her pyjama bottoms. Sliding the pink flannel down over her hips, she not only exposed her sex to his attentions but released a heady wave of her scent. Sha didn't hesitate; he flipped the blanket out of the way and gripped a fold of the garment with his claw-tips, then dragged it down and off her long legs. Tossing it into the corner, he knelt between her thighs, his fiery gaze so intense and his body language so predatory that her bravery wilted. "Uh...."

Sha gave himself a shake, sending silver flying with the motion; when he looked at her again, the red rimming his irises had disappeared and his demeanour had relaxed. "Sorry... I got a little carried away there."

"I-I don't know what came over me," Kagome mumbled, shifting self-consciously.

A fang slipped out of his smirk. "I think I know what did." Deliberately trailing a handful of hair over her bare thighs, he held her gaze as he bent down and lightly blew on her sensitive nub. Kagome cried out, barely able to stop her hips from arching off the futon. Ohhh, that wasn't smart, hanyou! He groaned as his arousal officially became uncomfortable. Dammit! Only one way to deal with this... if she's game.

"Sha...." Her voice was a needy whimper.

Making sure he gave himself a buffer for when his youki inevitably expanded, Sha stretched over her, propping himself on his forearm next to her shoulder. His hair spread across her like a gleaming veil, and when she turned her head, they were almost nose to nose. "Touch yourself for me," Sha murmured, "because otherwise I'm gonna kill myself trying to jump you."

Kagome blush darkened, but it was obvious that she was less embarrassed by this less-exposed position because she eagerly obeyed his command. His hair was tugged as she rubbed it over her nipples, and he had to stay aware of the crucial distance between their bodies as her hips rocked faster and faster beneath him in response to her clever touch. Gotta hurry her up, or things are gonna get tricky! Cupping his erection to keep it out of harm's way, Sha huskily whispered what he wanted to do to her, the things he wanted her to do to him, but listening to Kagome's almost-silent moans and tiny gasps caused him to lose focus a few times, to the point of sizzling. This is crazy, but I don't want to leave her hanging by pulling back now!

His indecision kept him from moving long enough that Kagome was able to resolve the situation herself in a very satisfying manner. She's quiet... gonna have to work pretty hard to make her scream. The young woman's shyly contented smile a few moments later was as sexy as hell... and highly inspiring. Sha pumped himself vigorously until he climaxed into his hand with a deep, guttural groan, somehow retaining enough awareness to roll away from her before collapsing onto the futon.

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah. Dammit, girl, if we keep this up I'm gonna be dead in a day or two!" When Kagome didn't answer, he opened his eyes in time to see her dabbing at several droplets of ejaculate that had escaped his grip and landed on her torso. Transfixed, he watched her curiously inspect the fluid before tentatively licking her fingertip. She caught him watching and ducked her head, but he was too far gone in an erotic image of her moist tongue licking something else to do anything more than smirk.

Forcing his relaxed muscles to move, Sha sat up. "Gotta go clean up." Using his other hand, he dragged the blanket back over her and awkwardly tucked it into place. Carefully moving her hair away from her bare shoulder while desperately wishing that he could kiss her, he muttered, "Back in a minute," and pulled away before he purified his lips off.

When he came back, his skin tingling from the soap, Kagome was cuddled into her pillow and his quilt lay open beside her. Sha noticed that her kitten-adorned pyjamas were neatly folded at the foot of the futon, and the idea that she was naked under her blanket made all the blood in his body dive south again. Shaking off the dizzying rush of arousal, he knelt next to her and offered a damp washcloth.

Kagome pushed aside her quilt to accept it, and he realized that she had retrieved and donned his shirt. Twelve more days until I can cover her in my scent... but she'll smell like she's been banging a human the next morning, dammit. However, his wife only freshened up her hands before giving back the cloth. "Aren't you going to wipe off where I, uh, leaked?" he asked.

"Should I? I, um, thought you'd want me to leave it... you know, for scent-marking...?" she mumbled, somewhat abashed.

Sha's proud grin was blinding before he sobered. "I'd love it, but are you comfortable with every dog-youkai in the place knowing exactly what we did just now? Especially the brats?"

She gave him a very straight look. "If they tease me, I'll sic Miss Karin on them."

He laughed. "And then she'll sic Sess on 'em... I almost hope that they do say something!" Returning the cloth to the bathroom, Sha detoured into his room to change into his sleeping clothes before returning to her side. He fussed with his quilt until he had it arranged over his chest and shoulder, then beckoned. Kagome happily obeyed, snuggling up against him through the protection of two layers of padded blankets. Sha tucked her against his side, sighing deeply as the events of the day caught up with him. Yawning, he went to nuzzle her forehead, but the warning tingle had him pulling back in time. "Dammit, might have to try an 'indirect kiss'," he grumbled.

She popped upright to deliver a ferocious glare. "As if! You kissing Miss Karin? Over my dead body!"

"I dunno... watching two hot girls smooching would be kinda awesome," Sha mused, his amber eyes twinkling.

Kagome suddenly looked rather devious. "Tenmaru's human night is on Sunday, right?"

"Don't even go there, wench."


Wisteria House, late Saturday morning...

"Rise and shine, kiddies!"

Sha flicked a silver ear as he poured Kagome another cup of tea. "You're loud, brat."

Tsugane crossed the room and seated himself at the kotatsu. Leaning over to sniff hopefully at the teapot, his ears suddenly perked straight up and his head snapped around; Kagome quailed a little from his intense stare, which quickly turned to bewilderment. Noting his uncle's lip curling into a snarl and his aunt's blush, he put two and two together fast enough to save himself from a painful cuff upside the head by quickly finding his lap highly interesting.

"Keep your nose to yourself, brat," Sha hissed while Kagome escaped into the kitchen for another tea cup.

"I honestly meant no offence, Uncle. I'm happy that you two have found a way of getting together!" Tsugane replied. "Thank you, Auntie," he added when Kagome returned, cup in hand.

As she poured, she asked, "It isn't like you to be up so early; big plans today?"

"Actually, I'm Mrs. Nishino's messenger boy. Your presence is requested in the dressing room, my lady," the younger hanyou answered with an elaborate bow.

"Dressing room?"

"Since we missed her official Seijinshiki in January, Father is in effect re-staging Mother's big day this afternoon to celebrate her twentieth birthday. That means full traditional rig... you, too, Uncle."

"I've worn that fucking haori more in the past three weeks than in the last hundred years," Sha grouched.

"Getting your money's worth out of it before the moths eat it," Tsugane smirked.

"Will Miss Karin's guardians be here, too?"

"They have a prior engagement." He gave Kagome an apologetic look. "Your grandfather's bound and determined to keep the Shrine open today, so the guardsmen will keep an eye on him because Lady Buyo is joining us."

Kagome fiddled with her empty rice bowl. "At least you won't have to wear your concealment spells," she said distantly. Darn it, I'm just going to come out and say it because Miss Buyo's concerns are worth repeating! "Um, about the guardsmen...."

"Anybody in particular?" Sha asked sharply. "I forgot to tell you; the ones who showed up late last week had been delayed by some clever kitsune booby-traps."

"Oh! Well, er... in that case...."

Tsugane scratched his ear. "I think I know what you were going to say, Auntie. Lady Buyo talked to me about it when I was bedridden." At his uncle's impatient growl, he continued, "She had some concerns about the loyalty of our guardsmen, considering that the Shikon-no-Tama can confer almost unimaginable power on anyone who possesses it."

"It's a huge temptation," Sha agreed, instinctively inching closer to Kagome.

"An attack from within is definitely a risk, but the big thing in our favour is our inherent pack mentality. Some of our elders have been with the House of the West since Grandfather was alive, and their loyalty is stronger than any ambition."

His aunt chewed her lip. "Do you really believe that?"

"Yep... because being kicked out of the pack is tantamount to a death sentence, even in this modern era, and I seriously doubt any one of our troopers would endanger his or her entire family in case they failed." Tsugane drained his cup. "Besides, scent gives away everything, so it'd be damn hard for someone to hide their intentions for long."

Thinking it over, Kagome nodded slowly. "Thanks."

"No problem. We can't ignore stuff like this, because your safety is paramount." Clapping his hands, Tsugane jumped to his feet. "Ready to be trussed up like a prize fowl, Auntie?"

"But... didn't you say 'this afternoon'?" she asked in confusion. "It isn't even twelve o'clock yet!"

Her nephew shrugged. "Apparently 'dressing the womenfolk' is near the top of Mrs. Nishino's 'to do' list for today's festivities, followed by about half a million other things. You don't want to throw off her schedule, do you?"

"I'm not that brave. Lead the way, Nephew."


Western House, Saturday afternoon...

"Taking a breather, Aunt?"

Kagome turned away from the window to smile up at Tenmaru. "I'm a little tired," she admitted, "and it's cooler in here than outside."

"It's surprisingly warm out there," he agreed. "Plus, all those layers you're wearing can't be helping!"

She held her arms wide to display the ornately-embroidered royal blue uchikake lined with scarlet silk to its fullest advantage. "This thing must weigh at least thirty pounds!"

"About the same as my cuirass," the hanyou observed. "Only much more attractive."

"Any luck with the scrolls?"

Tenmaru shook his head. "Nothing yet, Aunt."

"Darn." Kagome sighed, again looking out the window. The early-spring garden was flooded with pale sunlight, reflecting off highly polished wooden tables that had been moved outside to take advantage of the fine weather. Karin fluttered among her guests, resembling an exotic butterfly with rich orange-gold wings. The sleeves of her furisode will never be the same after being dragged over the grass all afternoon! The teen stopped to say something to Yayoi and Kagome wondered at her mother's mischievous expression as both women looked towards where Sha stood with Sesshiro. She followed the line of their glance and sighed. So handsome... both of them, but Sha in particular. He really looks good in red.

"Uncle is rather striking in his fire-rat, but I'll bet he's sweating like crazy in all that fur," her nephew observed. "Silk is only slightly cooler, but I'll take it!" Tenmaru brushed down the front of his formal black haori, picking a minute piece of lint off one of the embroidered silver crests.

"You look very nice, Nephew," Kagome said automatically, her attention elsewhere.

"Something on your mind?" he gently asked after a brief pause.

She sighed for the second time. "Can't hide anything from your nose, can I?"

He snickered. "No, unfortunately... but I wasn't referring to your unique choice of body lotion. You're concerned about something."

Gesturing at the gathering of friends and family, she said, "I can't help it; I worry about how the Jewel endangers everyone here, either directly or indirectly."

"You're allowed to take a few hours off from being the Shikon miko now and again," Tenmaru chided.

Smiling wanly, she agreed. "I know, but it still really bothers me." Glancing back out the window, Kagome hunched her shoulders as she murmured, "Sometimes... I wish the Shikon-no-Tama would disappear."

"That would definitely make things easier... Aunt? Aunt!" The hanyou stared in horror as the young woman staggered, emitting small choking noises as she clutched at her chest. She raised her head and he was gripped by the terror in her grey eyes just before they rolled upward. As Kagome toppled over, Tenmaru leapt forward without a second thought and caught her limp body before she hit the floor. Frantically checking for a pulse but finding none, he shattered the plate-glass window with one desperate punch. "Father!"


Where am I? Kagome pulled the trailing uchikake more closely around her as she glanced nervously at her unfamiliar surroundings. The meandering path bordered by lush banks of flowers seemed innocuous enough, but the warm breeze ruffling her hair didn't seem to affect either the blossoms or the branches of the blooming cherry trees in the background. Unsure, but unwilling to remain alone and vulnerable, she began following the path.

Her tabi-clad feet raised no dust and gathered no dirt as she walked. No birds singing... and no sun, either, but it's bright. An odd creaking sound came to her on the wind and she followed it until the path crested a low hill and she saw the most extraordinary sight.

A massive, red-lacquered wheel hung in the featureless sky, turning slowly without any visible means of propulsion. It looks like it came from an antique dowry cart! Below the wheel, a collection of ramshackle wooden buildings straggled up the hill towards her. Where there's a town, there are people... and where there are people, there's information. Hastening down the incline, she was intrigued by the fluttering banners that gave the settlement the appearance of a festival.

However, the first person she encountered as she entered the main street set her back on her heels and left her speechless. A tall, broad-shouldered man with a pair of swords at his hip and one slung across his back, his black hair caught up in an old-fashioned top-knot, laughed heartily at something said by a petite woman wearing a red flower in her pale hair and a flashy white haori. Kagome mercilessly tortured the rich material of her sash as she filled her heart with his smile. His hair's longer than I remember... and where did he get those swords? The woman took her leave, and the man finally met her yearning gaze.

"Hello, there!" he cheerfully hailed, his voice as deep as she remembered. Striding towards her, he stooped down to peer into her face. "Oh, dear... still wearing your wedding kimono?"

"Daddy... it's me." Kagome caught hold of his sleeve, desperately willing him to recognize her.

He pulled back, surprised, and ran his hand over his hair in a gesture so familiar that it brought tears to her eyes. "You must be mistaken, miss. I have a daughter, but she's only seven years old...."

"That was sixteen years ago," she whispered, her throat feeling oddly tight.

A strong hand cupped her chin as he carefully inspected her face. "Kagome?" he hesitantly asked.

She could only nod. "Daddy...." A moment after that she was pulled into a rib-cracking hug, her nose filling with a familiar scent made up of sweat, polishing oil and ink. Burrowing into his chest, she hugged him back for all she was worth.

"My little girl," he murmured, pulling back to smile down at her. "Not so little any more, eh?" Glancing down the busy street, where no one appeared to have noticed their reunion, he muttered, "Time flows differently here, probably to make the wait less onerous." Stroking his thumb over her cheek, he asked, "How is my Yayoi? And Sota? He must be nearly as tall as you now!"

"Taller; he's eighteen. Mom is fine, but she misses you." Twisting her fingers into the fronts of his kimono as the tears began to fall, Kagome said, "She still drinks her morning tea out of that tanuki cup... do you remember?"

"Of course!" His warm chuckle resonated through her hands and her heart. "And my honourable father?"

"Hoping that Sota will stop playing with swords and apply himself to religious studies."

This time, his guffaw boomed off the surrounding buildings. "Poor Father; some traits run too strong to be denied!" A pattern on her kimono attracted his attention, frowning lightly, he brushed his fingertip over the floral crest. "I've seen this somewhere before."

"It's my husband's family crest."

"Your husband?" He gently grasped her shoulders. "You passed away on your wedding day?"

"Oh, nothing like that!" Smiling sheepishly, Kagome tried to explain. "His family is very traditional, and we were dressed up for a...." Breaking off when she noticed his attention was focussed on something behind her, she turned to look but was halted by his hand clasping hers.

"It isn't your time yet," her father murmured. "The thread is still intact."

Thread? Kagome blinked at the narrow red silk ribbon tied around her pinkie. Where on earth did that come from? Bewildered, she looked to her father; his eyes were sad, but his smile genuine as he held up his hand to display a similarly-tied length of scarlet cord.

"The thread of destiny merely stretches upon death; you're only visiting today."

Only visiting? This is the afterlife? "What's that thing up in the sky?" she asked, pointing.

He glanced up at the gaudy, slowly-turning wheel. "The wheel of reincarnation."

"Why haven't you ridden it?" she couldn't help asking.

His smile broadened. "I can't,because only those who are truly free of regrets can be reborn." Brushing aside Kagome's bangs, he pressed two kisses to her forehead. "These are for Sota and you." Tenderly embracing the young woman, he whispered, "And this is for your mother. Please tell her that I love her... that I miss her very much... and that I'm waiting for her so that we can ride the wheel together."


"Goodbye, Daughter." Raising his hand, he added, "Blessing upon your marriage... live long and happily."

"Daddy!" A sharp jerk on the red ribbon was her only warning before she was yanked out of his arms; the last thing she saw was his wistful smile before she was first blinded by pure white light and then consumed by darkness.


"She has a pulse!"

I can breathe again? However, the air seemed to burn her lungs as she inhaled; Kagome coughed weakly, grimacing in pain.

"Sis! Sis, can you hear me?" Sota's voice, urgent and close by.

Warm hands chaffed her wrists, patted her cheek. "Kagome, sweetie... wake up, please!"

Moistening her dry lips, she forced open her eyes, hazily noting her brother and mother's desperate faces filling her visual field. "Mom...? Sota...?"

"Thank the gods," Sha's voice rasped, from somewhere to her right.

He sounds exhausted. Turning her head, Kagome sought for her husband. "Sha?" His relieved smile was welcome, but he looked like he'd aged as he wiped his hand over his face. Sesshiro stood behind the seated hanyou, a gleaming sword in his hand. Did he use Tenseiga on me? That means.... "I died?"

"You apparently struck on the 'right wish', Aunt," Tenmaru said, nursing his bandaged hand.

"Then the Jewel is...?"

"A scan will confirm it, but I expect that it is indeed gone," Sesshiro said, sheathing his sword.

"Why am I still alive? There should be a hole in my heart!"

"The Tenseiga not only retrieves souls from the afterlife, but also heals the wounds that released the soul in the first place," Tsugane grimaced, his shoulder oddly angled until his father applied a quick twist to his arm. "Handy trick, eh?"

"I'll say," Kagome mumbled, then grasped her mother's hands with surprising strength. "I saw Daddy!"

"Y-your father?" Yayoi asked uncertainly.

"Yes! This is from him...." Pulling herself up to sitting, Kagome hugged the older woman. "He loves you, and he's waiting for you so that you can ride the wheel of reincarnation together." As tears filled Yayoi's eyes, Kagome reached for Sota. He was expecting a hug, so the kiss on the forehead threw him for a loop. "Daddy was pleased that you're training with swords."

"You really did see him, huh?" he asked quietly. "I barely remember his face..."

Sesshiro interrupted. "There is something that we must ascertain." Dropping to one knee, he pinned Kagome with a yellow-eyed look before holding out his clawed hand. Youki swirled and eddied over his palm like tinted smoke; Kagome hid her hands inside her trailing sleeves.

"I don't...."

"You must." Softening his tone, the taiyoukai added, "Anything that happens will not be held against you."

Sota nudged her shoulder. "I think it'll be okay, Sis."

Encouraged, Kagome slowly extended her hand, waiting for the inevitable reaction of her spiritual power. Nothing happened. Puzzled, she brushed her fingertips over his palm, watching for sparks or flames. Nothing. She let out a startled yip when Sesshiro's long fingers snapped down over hers, forcing direct contact. "W-what are you doing?" she demanded, aghast, but was even more befuddled when he remained unzapped.

"This is encouraging." Loosening his grip, Sesshiro released the restraints on his jyaki; as soon as his aura turned a threatening shade, Kagome's purification energy sprang spitting to life. "Exactly as it should be," the taiyoukai declared, ignoring the way his skin was smoking as he stood up and shook out his sleeves. "Your powers now only react to jyaki, not to the amount of an individual's youki."

"I still have some power?"

"Yes; probably enough to be useful, but not attract undue attention."

Realization dawned; Kagome quickly turned to Sha, but he was already there, reaching for her. "Thought I'd lost you," he whispered raggedly as he gathered her into his lap.

"Not this time," she murmured, tilting up her face for a lingering kiss that excited applause and cat-calls from their audience.

"I go away for a few weeks and return to find my house full of humans, the stink of cat in my gardens, and absolutely no one waiting to greet me!"

Sesshiro managed to keep his expression studiously blank as the exquisitely beautiful interloper flounced across the room towards him. "Hello, Mother. We weren't expecting you until next week."

"Ciao, darling; Italy was a bore." Air-kissing the startled taiyoukai on both cheeks, the newcomer dramatically sighed, "Risotto is lovely, but it can't take the place of good steamed rice, and there were far too many cats for my taste." Tossing back her long, silver hair, the female dog-youkai came to a dead stop when she spotted Karin peering out from behind Tsugane. "You again? Welcome back... oh ho!" Clucking her tongue, she waggled a hot-pink painted claw under Sesshiro's nose. "Now I know why you haven't been answering your dear mother's emails!"

Tenmaru spluttered, "Father has an email address?" to no one in particular.

Glancing around the dumbfounded group, the woman's piercing yellow gaze settled on Yayoi. Blinking rapidly, she looked again; Sota moved protectively in front of his mother. "Where is your husband?" she abruptly demanded.

"D-deceased," Yayoi stammered; Buyo put her arm around Mrs. Higurashi's shoulders, her unblinking pale eyes fastened on the newcomer.

Ignoring the feline's challenging stare, the dog-youkai's gaze softened. "How unfortunate. My deepest condolences." She then stalked over to Sha and Kagome and glared down at the pair. "I do hope that you don't intend to make a habit out of ruining my dramatic entrances, girl!"

"Er... no, ma'am," Kagome squeaked, highly aware of both the tension in Sha's frame as well as the colourful youki billowing around the woman.

"Good," her interrogator replied firmly before locking eyes with Sha; something passed between them before she murmured, "Congratulations." He inclined his head in acknowledgement and she briefly rested her slim hand on his shoulder before moving on. "Ten-Ten! Be a dear and fetch your parched grandmother something to drink? I haven't had a decent cup of green tea in weeks! Tsu-Tsu! Could you please see to my luggage, darling?" Beckoning imperiously to a wary Karin as she seated herself, she commanded, "Come here, girl... I promise that I won't bite."

"Much," added Tsugane on his way out the door, causing Tenmaru to giggle nervously as he escaped into the kitchen in search of Mrs. Nishino.

Karin first looked to Sesshiro for reassurance; when he nodded, she then silently appealed to Yayoi and Sota for support. The elegant youkai noticed. "Come on then... might as well get to know the whole family at once, I suppose," she said impatiently. "What's your name? This time, I mean."

"K-Karin Mifune, ma'am," the teen hesitantly replied, seating herself a polite distance away and bowing deeply.

"Dear child... you are a young one, aren't you? You may call me Lady Mother," the youkai declared graciously. Giving Yayoi a considering look, she asked, "And you are...?"

"Yayoi Higurashi," she answered, bowing formally. "My son, Sota Higurashi."

As the youth bowed, yellow eyes flicked to the cat-youkai lounging just behind Yayoi. "The Shrine Guardian," Buyo purred, casually flexing her claws.

"I am the Grand Lady of the West, known as Lady Nishiki. You are a priestess, Mrs. Higurashi?"

"Er, no... but my daughter is."

Appraising Kagome rather keenly, Lady Nishiki suddenly smiled toothily. "It appears that things have been somewhat lively these last few weeks while I've been away; let's start at the beginning, shall we?"


Wisteria House, a few hours later...

"Is she always like that?" Kagome asked wearily, taking off her sandals in the foyer.

"Pretty much."

"She's a force of nature! I hope that she doesn't cause Miss Karin to change her mind about being with your brother."

"All the previous ones have coped," Sha replied shortly as he followed her into the main room.

"What did you think of that white truffle oil?"

"Don't give a shit one way or another, actually," he said curtly.

Kagome paused in the act of taking down her hair, startled by Sha's tone. Placing the tortoiseshell combs on the kotatsu, she shook out her tresses to give herself time to think before stepping up to the hanyou. "What's wrong? You've been surly all afternoon," she murmured, not feeling particularly patient but forcing herself to make the effort for his sake.

He stared at her in disbelief just before he dragged her into a desperate embrace. "What's wrong? You were fucking dead, Kagome, and there was nothing I could do! I had to hope that Tenseiga was in a good mood!" he snarled.

Cuddling close in an effort to calm him down, she said contritely, "I'm sorry to have worried you."

"Fuck, woman... 'worried' doesn't even begin to cover it!" Tangling a handful of glossy black hair, Sha pulled back Kagome's head so that he could look down into her face. "What the hell would I have done without you?" he roughly asked, then kissed her hard and deep.

Kagome was flushed and trembling when he finally let her breathe, but instead of retreating, she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back. Sha groaned against her lips; his hands snaked under the uchikake and cupped her bottom, pulling her firmly against him. She shivered at his raw need, but continued kissing him until he yanked the garment from her shoulders. He easily detected her burst of nervousness, so he gentled his actions. Don't want to scare her... not when I can finally touch her! Sha slowed down, tenderly cradling Kagome while kissing her cheek and trying to find his control. "I really need to touch you," he admitted. "I went a little crazy when I thought I'd lost you. Tsugane had to hold me down; I think I dislocated his shoulder."

She blushed prettily. "It's overwhelming after not being able to be close for so long... the last time was nearly three weeks ago."

At that ryokan on Oshima Island. Inspired, Sha suggested, "Why don't we have a shower?"

Her smile was tremulous, but game. "Sure." He softly kissed her, then helped her take off the uchikake. Carelessly dropping the rich garment on the tatami, he reached for the knot securing the sash holding her inner garments. "Mrs. Nishino will have a fit!" she gasped, pointing at the rumpled brocade.

"I won't tell if you won't." Tugging Kagome towards him, Sha made short work of the next two layers she wore, the colourful silks fluttering to the floor and leaving her clad in only a sheer white kimono that revealed as much as it concealed.

"Your turn?" she asked, running her finger down the asymmetrical closure of his suikan, her cheeks nearly the same colour as the fire-rat. In reply, he held out his arms to make it easier for her to pull the heavy material out of his hakama. As the jacket fell down his arms and onto the mats, Kagome plucked at his linen kimono. "Wasn't it too hot to wear fur?" she asked.

"I'd rather wear it than that formal shit." Nuzzling her forehead as she worked the damp fabric off his shoulders, Sha closed his eyes in pure enjoyment of her touch. Once the sweaty garment joined his fire-rat on the floor, Kagome stroked his heated skin, tracing the contours of his torso. When she leaned in and pressed shy kisses to his chest, he moaned softly, and she grew bolder until Sha captured her hands and kissed her knuckles before drawing her out into the hallway and towards the bathroom.

Pausing in front of the door, he said, "Go ahead and start the water; I gotta do something." When she obeyed, her curiosity obviously piqued, he dove into the bedroom, darted through the curtains and made short work of readying the futon for occupancy. In the midst of layering sheets and blankets, Sha had to stop and collect himself. She was dead, but the gods gave her back to me. I have another chance to hold her, to cherish her... to love her. He sobered, clenching his fists, as he reluctantly acknowledged the one thing that even Tenseiga could not defeat. I won't think about that now. Not today.

For her part, Kagome was trying to ignore the wildly-cavorting butterflies in her stomach as she picked open the knot on her sash. We've only known each other for a few weeks… should we really be doing this? Shaking her head after a moment of reflection, the young woman reminded herself of a few pertinent facts. I wanted to be intimate with Sha after only a week... and so badly last night that it was ridiculous! Glancing at her hand, she clearly saw the knotted red ribbon in her mind's eye. Destined lovers…after what happened today, I really can't dispute the truth. We're supposed to be together. Slipping out of her kimono, Kagome neatly folded it; smoothing the finely-woven fabric, she contemplated her wedding ring. I'm very lucky that I'll never have to watch my husband fall in love with another woman. Laying the garment aside, she pinned up her hair and crossed the room to the open shower stall.

By the time Sha entered the bathroom, Kagome was wearing nothing but soapy froth. Swallowing the lump in his throat caused by his melancholy thoughts, the hanyou untied his hakama. Tossing the vibrant garment out into the hallway as a warning to anyone who might be stupid enough to come calling, he closed the door and set about reacquainting himself with his wife.

Kagome started slightly when Sha slid his arms around her from behind and began smoothing the suds over her curves, but she soon relaxed into his embrace. Leaning back against his chest, she stretched up her arms and linked them behind his neck, giving her body an alluring arch. Sha pressed his mouth to her shoulder as he briefly cupped her breasts before stroking downwards, over her slim waist and along her sleek thighs before repeating the caress. Kagome's hips began slowly moving in a sensual rhythm, innocently provoking him until he was half out of his mind with want. Not yet....

Reaching for the hand sprayer, Sha tested the temperature before he played the water stream over Kagome's skin, washing away the bubbles. When she obviously enjoyed the way that the water teased her nipples into hardened peaks, he mischievously flipped over the head and directed the spray against her short curls long enough that she gasped audibly, and not completely from surprise. The hanyou continued the game until the young woman was writhing in his arms, practically knocking him over as she ground against him. Can't take much more of this! Spinning her around, all it took was one glimpse of Kagome's arousal-darkened eyes and Sha had her pinned up against the wall, the discarded sprayer rocking on the tile floor at their feet.

Kissing her hungrily, Sha gave Kagome no doubt about his intentions, but left her room to escape if she chose. She didn't take the opening; instead, she clung to him, even when he nicked her lip with his fang in his haste. Tearing his mouth away from hers, Sha leaned his forehead against the cool tiles behind Kagome's shoulder and grasped after his rapidly-shredding control. "It's your choice if you want me to stop."

She inhaled sharply, knowing exactly what he was referring to. After a few moments that took a few years off his life, slim fingers brushed over his lips, stroked down his throat, traced his collarbone. "No," she murmured throatily, "please don't stop… but maybe a little slower?"

"But it's hard," he whined. Kagome giggled and he laughed before caressing her cheek with the backs of his claws. "I need you... want you...." Pressing his erection against her hip, he was gratified when she slipped her arm around his waist to keep him close. Tilting up the young woman's chin for a lingering kiss, Sha whispered, "Adore you," against her lips, and she melted into his embrace.

Kagome steadily shed her inhibitions under his tender assault on her senses and emotions. Losing herself in the heat of his kiss, she daringly pulled him firmly against her. Sha groaned, replied with short, powerful thrusts that sent a rush of warmth between her legs. Growling lowly, he aggressively pushed her into the wall, then slid his hands down her flanks and around the back of her thighs, encouraging her to further widen her stance with delicate pricks of his claws. Kagome pulled back, trembling, and he huskily asked, "Do you trust me?"

"Completely," she answered, but she was biting her lip as she said it.

"I wanna taste you." It took her a moment to figure out what he meant and she was definitely shocked, but she looked him in the eye as she shifted her footing to allow him access. Sha purred his thanks in her ear before working his way down her water-slicked body, taking his time to lick and kiss her breasts until she was squirming and eager, mindlessly rubbing herself against his thigh. When he introduced his knuckle, the direct pressure on her bundle of nerves plus the attention being paid to her nipples had Kagome squealing and bucking... until he pulled away.

Waiting until her eyes flew open, confused at the interruption, Sha slowly, thoroughly licked his fingers. Kagome's lips parted, but no sound came out; smirking, he dropped to his knees and mouthed her short curls. She tensed, but slowly opened her thighs further, her blush spreading down her throat and over her chest. Sha woofed to acknowledge her compliance before hiking her leg onto his shoulder and proceeding to take full advantage of the situation.

With the first swirl of his tongue, Kagome let out a faint scream and grabbed two fistfuls of his hair. One included his ear; Sha reached up and pried loose her frantic grip, twining his fingers with hers as he pinned her hand against the wall beside her hip. The young woman barely noticed as she gasped and shook, thrusting herself against his lascivious tongue. When she rose up onto her toes, her legs shaking, Sha stepped up his delicious torment until she cried out and lost the ability to stay upright, sliding down the wall onto his lap.

Sha preened over his wife's dazed expression and pliant limbs as he gathered her close, then reached to turn off the hand sprayer. Kagome nestled into the crook of his neck, her arms loosely wrapped around his shoulders, her fingers flexing on his back. "Good?" he couldn't help asking, and received a contented hum in reply.

Several minutes passed, while the air temperature grew chillier and his knees began complaining about the hard tiles, before Kagome recovered enough to start kissing him. Slipping her tongue into his mouth, she sweetly encouraged him to play; when he firmly pulled her against his erection, she didn't freeze up, didn't try to back away. Instead, she rolled her hips in an undeniable invitation, and Sha had to forcibly stop himself from taking her on the cold, wet floor right then and there. Not where I want my first time with her to be!

"Let's go set up the bed," Kagome suggested, bumping her nose against his.

"Already done." Reluctantly disentangling themselves, they set about the necessary business of drying off, but since Kagome seemed to feel that frequent kisses were an essential part of the process, Sha didn't mind. He was surprised, though, when it was the young woman who took his hand and led him across the hall, through the hanging curtains and onto the prepared futon.

"Lie down with me," she breathily urged, and he eagerly complied, thrilled that she was taking the initiative. Once he was expectantly looking up at her, she began caressing his throat and chest, stroking down his abdomen to his thighs and back up, very much like he had done earlier to her.

Closing his eyes, enjoying her hands on his skin, Sha relaxed into blissful comfort until she tentatively touched his erection. "That's dangerous...."

Kagome snatched her hand away, but then quickly returned, making him whine deep in his throat. Here goes…! Dredging up her courage, she stroked him with greater intent, but the way his erection responded was disconcerting. "I'm not sure if you're going to fit," she muttered, circling his shaft with her fingers. "I mean, I know you will, but...."

Sha told his protesting libido to shut up and said, "If you don't want to find out right now, just say so."

He's giving me almost too many opportunities to change my mind… my comment about 'choices' must have really hurt him. Kagome considered the gulf between her husband's words and the lust in his golden eyes before smiling bravely. "I do want this... I just have no idea how to, um, do it."

The hanyou shook with laughter. "No idea? Seriously, Dr. Nishiki? Did you miss the 'sexual reproduction' lecture?"

Her cheeks could've lit a match, and she swatted his stomach. "That's not what I meant! I mean, I understand the mechanical aspects..."

"'Mechanical aspects'? Now that's sexy," he deadpanned. "Sounds like you're going to grease my gears or something."

"Rev your engine?"

"Will you ride me if you do?" Sha archly asked, and Kagome's expression became an endearing mix of desire and bashfulness.

"I-I'd like to try."

Drawing the young woman into his arms, Sha kissed her slowly and thoroughly until she was making needy sounds into his mouth and drawing up her knees to properly straddle him, her sex sliding wetly over his erection. Groaning, he bucked against her before he stopped himself. "Take control," he whispered. Sitting upright, Kagome fruitlessly tried to keep her hand from shaking as she lined him up, rubbing his velvety head through her slick folds before pressing him against her entrance. Sha had to fist his hands in the sheets to keep from grabbing her hips and driving himself inside.

"F-fast… or slow?" she mumbled, holding her position until her thighs began quivering from the strain.

"D-doesn't m-matter!" the hanyou managed to gasp out.

Just get it over with! Kagome sucked in a breath and abruptly dropped her hips, wringing an oath from him and a pained grunt from her.

Light exploding behind his eyelids from the overwhelming sensations of being inside her at last, Sha couldn't help noticing his wife's rigid posture. "Y-you okay?"

"Y-yeah," she shakily replied. "Feels... weird."


Huffing a faint laugh at Sha's somewhat affronted tone, Kagome explained, "Maybe 'unexpected' might be a better way to describe it?"

"What were you expecting, then?"

She wriggled uncomfortably, and her husband's eyes crossed from the provocative friction. "Well… in the movies it always looks so 'omigod AMAZING!' even if the characters are supposedly virgins," Kagome muttered, frowning lightly as she tested a different angle. Glancing up when he hissed, she was surprised to see her husband gritting his fangs. "Oh! I'm sorry! Did I hurt you?"

"Dammit, woman… no! Just…aw hell, I'm going crazy here," Sha snarled, giving into his need and grasping her waist, pulling down as he thrust upward.

"Er… do you want me to… um, do something?" Kagome squeaked, bracing her hands on his abdomen for balance.

"Start moving… please!"

Instead, she stretched out on top of him, straightening her legs as she did so, hiding her face in his chest. In response to his confused protest, Kagome muttered, "Maybe you'd better take over, because I don't have a clue." Sha had them rolled over so fast that she didn't have time to become disgruntled before she was staring up at his red-rimmed golden irises, his silver hair streaming over his shoulders like silken banners. The hanyou held her wide-eyed gaze as he pulled out and slowly thrust back in, repeating the sensuous rhythm until Kagome's lids became heavy and she crooned wordlessly, the last vestiges of discomfort vanishing in a wave of sensation.

Catching hold of her hand, Sha guided it between them, pressing Kagome's fingertips against her sensitive nub. "You know what to do," he gruffly commanded, dipping his head to capture a pert nipple between his lips while increasing the speed of his thrusts, and the young woman completely lost the ability to speak coherently.


"Uncle! We've brought the Go board," Tenmaru sing-songed, somewhat unsteady on his feet as he and Tsugane tumbled into Wisteria House's foyer. In the answering silence, the brothers frowned comically at each other, then peered into the main room.

"Oooh, Brother… look!" Tsugane hiccupped, elbowing his sibling so hard that Tenmaru nearly fell into the display niche. Both hanyou inspected the discarded clothing strewn over the tatami and then craned their necks to peer down the hallway. Spotting familiar scarlet-red hakama abandoned on the floor, they turned to look at each other with identical smirks. An unmistakeable feminine cry of pleasure, immediately followed by a masculine shout, turned the smirks into full-fledged grins.

"I may be wrong, but I believe Uncle and Aunt are far too busy privately entertaining to greet visitors," Tenmaru solemnly postulated. Woozily executing a triumphant fist-bump, the brothers exited far more quietly than they had entered.

Precariously balancing his father's precious game board on the top of his head as they schlepped across the garden, Tsugane mused, "D'you think Uncle's stockroom is safe from invasion by Grandma?"

"It's about the only room in this place that is… once we pick the lock."



Three years after the Shikon-no-Tama vanished from this world and she became a renowned medical exorcist in company with her husband, Dr. Kagome Nishiki gave birth to a tangible form of immortality by way of a golden-eyed baby daughter, followed two years after that by a silver-haired son.

When she passed away many, many years later, at the ripe old age of ninety-four, Kagome went to the afterlife without regret, knowing that her beloved Sha would not be alone during his search for her reincarnation.



A/N: The Godai Family – borrowed from Rumiko Takahashi's Tokyo boarding-house sitcom Maison Ikkoku and returned traumatized but undamaged.

Mousse the Goose – special guest appearance courtesy of RT's Ranma ½.

'The Monster' – for those who are interested, Sha's new motorcycle is a modified and customized Suzuki Hayabusa, the fastest street bike in the world with an official top speed of 186 mp/h (300km/h) - to keep the EU from banning its import. However, unofficial US records have been set at speeds in excess of 233 mp/h with heavily modified machines in controlled racing situations.

The 'right wish' – quoted directly from both the IY manga and the final episode of the Final Act anime.

The Wheel of Reincarnation – this, and all other descriptions of Kagome's visit to the afterlife, are lifted straight from RT's Rin-ne.

Red string of fate – appeared in the ending credits of the IY Final Act anime; Kagome and Inuyasha were linked together by a short length of red thread tied around their pinkie fingers. According to Asian tradition, this indicates they were 'destined lovers regardless of time, place or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it is unbreakable.' (source: Wikipedia)