Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed in this piece. They are the property of Rumiko Takahashi and any others she has legally sold the rights to. I just enjoy messin' with'em.

A/N: I originally started writing this piece a – erm – very long time ago. It was a response to an image posted by the very talented mcgray, which can be found here: http:// mcgray. deviantart. com/ art/ Inuyasha-A-Walk-in-the-Park-36981650 (remove the spaces). It was dusted off and the first part completed for the "Kiss" theme over on the LJ community IY_Blind, where it was posted on 2/26/09 and also received third place. I'm working on finishing the second part of this. Dunno when it'll get posted, though. _

Anyway, this story takes place shortly after the events in Chapter 465 of the manga. Needless to say, there are probably spoilers.


It had been a long, wearying day on the road, and Kagome was heartily relieved when they all decided to call a halt for the evening. After finding a suitable campsite, the group went about their usual chores; Kagome readied the fire pit and set up her bedroll, Sango went for water; Inuyasha set off to hunt for the night's meal, and Shippo and Miroku headed out to search for firewood.

Finishing her chores before the others returned, Kagome sat in the shade of a large old tree with a book open in her lap and flipped idly through it as she waited, pausing every once in a while to look closer at a particular page. With a slight nod of her dark-haired head, she cast a furtive look around the campsite to make sure there were no curious kitsune or nosey dog demons around. Satisfied that she wouldn't be disturbed and confident that the gently napping Kirara would alert her should anything dangerous approach, Kagome bent her attention to the first page of her book and began to read.

"In the wild, before they were brought into domestication and developed a loving working relationship with man, dogs ran in packs led by an alpha pair. The male was usually the dog with the strongest survival instinct and greatest ability to fend off any and all contenders to his superiority. Not always the largest or more aggressive dog in the pack, he was usually the smartest by far…"

A slight weight on her head was Kagome's only warning that she was no longer reading in blessed solitude just before a child's voice asked, "Whatcha readin', Kagome?"

"A book," she answered absently, turning the page. She felt the weight on her head shift to her shoulder and paused for a moment in her reading, waiting patiently for the questions she was pretty sure would be coming next. From the curious kitsune they always did, especially if it involved something from her time. When several minutes passed and Shippo neither said anything nor moved, she shrugged philosophically and continued her reading.

"When the alpha male is challenged, he will do one of two things, depending on the type of his challenger and his own temperament. He will either bare his teeth and growl viciously in an effort to intimidate his opponent while stiffening his body and making himself look larger than he is, thereby dissuading the individual from a fight; or, if this doesn't work, the two will engage in physical combat, biting and clawing at each other until one retreats or is killed.

"It is an important part of the human/canine partnership that you, as the human, establish your position as pack leader as soon as possible. Otherwise, your dog will always be testing his limits and challenging your authority over him. Remember, you are the master here, not your dog."

"Do you have any of that ninja food left?" Shippo asked from his perch. "I'm really hungry after gathering all that wood." He pointed to a pile of three or four small twigs piled haphazardly by the fire pit while leaning over and giving her his most pathetic puppy dog look.

"Don't you think you should wait 'til dinner, Shippo-chan," Kagome replied. "Inuyasha did go out to hunt just for us, you know." She sighed in resignation when tears welled in Shippo's wide eyes. She really couldn't resist that look, and he knew it. Setting her book down, she pulled her bag closer and dug through it, coming up with a couple of bags of potato chips. "Here. This should hold you until Inuyasha gets back with dinner."

Shippo squealed in delight as he jumped to the ground and snatched the bags out of her hand. Settling on her lap, the kit ripped into his treat and silence descended once again; a silence broken only by the occasional rustle of a chip bag and Shippo's crunching. Kagome grinned at him and, after flipping past the book's introduction, returned to her reading.

"Your dog should become accustomed to his leash gradually. Allow him to drag it behind him for short periods of time for the first few days. Gradually increase the time he spends in it before finally picking it up and applying a little direction.

"This is also a good time to try and determine what drives your dog. Carry a bit of his favorite treat in your hand and try to entice him to behave in the manner you wish him to. You might also try getting his attention with his favorite squeaky toy. Whichever he responds best to is the one that you, as his trainer, should stick with and use as a reward to aid in getting him to obey you. Remember to also praise him effusively and offer the treat or toy whenever he does as you have asked him."

"You know, that book isn't going to help you train Inuyasha, Kagome," Shippo informed her while licking the salt off his fingers. "I mean, it says that 'Intelligent dogs will begin to respond within a few days;' and you've been trying to get him to respond to your leash for a whole lot longer than that."

Kagome looked up at him in surprise and slight annoyance. She hadn't realized that he had been reading over her shoulder. "I don't have a leash on Inuyasha, Shippo-chan. And I'm not trying to 'train' him, either. What gave you such a silly idea?"

"Yes, you do," he told her. She stared at him, confused, and shook her head. He sighed and said, "The rosary. It's your leash for him, isn't it?"

"No, Shippo-chan, it isn't."

"Coulda fooled me," he muttered. "Hey, do you think he would respond better if you were a squeaky toy?" he asked brightly. "Not that I know for sure what a squeaky toy is, but the book says some dogs like them."

"I do not know what a 'squeaky toy' is either, Shippo," said a smooth male voice behind them. "But I would be willing to find out if you could be used as a substitute if you do not collect more wood than this. Did you even go look or did you just double back and beg food of Kagome-sama?"

Shippo turned and looked guiltily at the monk. "But I was hungry," he whined. "We've been walking all day, and Inuyasha wouldn't let us stop. Not even for lunch, and -- and --"

Miroku held up his hand and let out a long suffering sigh. "Never mind, Shippo. Do you think you could try to find a few more twigs? I don't think this is enough kindling to get the fire started properly."

"Oh, all right." Shippo made his way toward the trees, and soon all Kagome could see of him was the faint outline of his fluffy tail.

"What are you reading, Kagome-sama?" Miroku asked, craning his neck and obviously trying to get a good look at the book's cover.

"Oh," she said, waving her hand in front of her. "It's just a book I'm looking at for Souta. He wants a puppy, but Mama doesn't think he has the patience to train one. He asked me to read this and tell him what I thought about it. He thinks Mama might be more willing if I ask her, too."

"Ah," Miroku replied thoughtfully. "I see." Miroku looked at the book, his brows furrowed in puzzlement. "What all does this book entail, Kagome-sama?"

Kagome smiled gently and answered, "Oh, it's just stuff about how to train a dog and make it a good companion. You know, how you get it to walk on a leash and not jump on people and sit when you tell it to, stuff like that."

"Ah," Miroku responded. "I see. Well, if I may offer a suggestion?" At her nod, he continued, "It would probably be best to keep such a thing out of Inuyasha's sight for now. As much as I would like to see our friend return to his old self, such a thing might send him further into this funk he can't seem to shake, especially if he thought you were implying he needed training of some kind or you thought him more animal than man."

Kagome's brow furrowed as she puzzled out a reason for Miroku's caution. "Now why would he --?" Her eyes widened as they fell on the cover of the book -- a picture of a large dog standing protectively beside the man holding his leash -- and she realized what she had said in describing the contents and a possible answer came to her. "But that's just stupid! He knows better than that! I don't see him as anything other than who he is, and he knows it!"

In the three years they had been together, she knew that she had more than made that clear, even if Inuyasha was prone to seeing and assuming the worst when he felt vulnerable. Like now, when she knew he was upset and probably beating himself up over what had happened to Kikyo. Still, she couldn't believe he would think something like that. : No. Miroku's wrong. He would never think that. I'm sure of it. :

"Be that as it may, I still think it best if he were not to see that. He's feeling very vulnerable right now and unsure of how to react to all that has happened. You know as well as I how prone he is to seeing the worst in a situation when he is in this state," Miroku told her, his words an uncanny echoing of her own thoughts. "I know you wouldn't wish to upset him further."

"No," she replied softly. "No, I wouldn't." Kagome hadn't really had time to come to grips with everything herself. It had only been a little over two weeks; and they had been on the move since, chasing Sesshomaru and Kohaku. There hadn't really been time for them to take a moment and talk about what happened. She could understand if Inuyasha was feeling a little muddled and out of sorts. So was she, and she really couldn't see any way to help him until they had time to talk.

Reaching behind her, Kagome slipped the book back into her pack and got up, heading to where Miroku had piled the firewood as Sango made her way toward them from the river. Inuyasha would be back soon with dinner, and it would be nice to have everything ready when he got there.

Later that night, as she lay in her sleeping bag, her thoughts turned back to what Shippo had said and her conversation with Miroku. : I don't have a leash on him. Inuyasha doesn't see it that way. I know he doesn't. I should take it off of him. He hasn't needed it in so long. I really--: She started to lose her train of thought as she yawned, and her eyes drifted shut. : -- Really should --:


As is the way with dreams, hers started out innocently enough; just some inane nonsense that she would doubtless not remember upon waking. She sat at her desk at school, a mound of papers higher than her head towering over her, and her teacher standing beside her. "Now, Higurashi, if you ever hope to pass this course, you will finish these within the hour."

She bent her head studiously to the task and then, before she could put pen to paper, the scene shifted. Slowly, desks became tree and the walls dissolved, revealing rolling meadowland. A rustle of cloth made her glance to her left. There she saw Inuyasha standing patiently with his nose twitching and his ears pricked forward, seemingly oblivious to her presence.

She turned toward him, hoping to get some explanation about what was going on. No sooner did she draw breath than Inuyasha turned, his nose a hairsbreadth from her own. Smiling cheekily, he cocked his head questioningly at her and then, giving her no time to react at all to his closeness, leaned over and kissed her cheek.

It wasn't, however, the kind of kiss she had always dreamed of receiving from him. Oh, no. This one came in the form of a sloppy, slobbering lick that went right up the side of her face almost to her hairline and ended with a bouncing half-demon panting beside her with his tongue hanging out in an approximation of an eager doggy smile.

It took a second or two for her to get over the shock of being licked by the hanyou, and her face screwed up into an unconscious "ew" as she wiped the drool from her cheek. Inuyasha's bouncing stopped abruptly and his ears pinned back into his hair. Thinking that she had upset him by wiping away his kiss, Kagome reached out to console him. That's when she noticed the strange strand of beads interspersed with fangs she was holding. Following the string with her eyes, she saw that it was attached to what looked like a collar of the same material around Inuyasha's neck. Looking a little more closely, she realized that they formed a leash and collar of the same type as those that formed his rosary.

She didn't have time to ponder the significance of her find because Inuyasha had moved to stand protectively in front of her and was growling fiercely. The sound forced her attention away from what she held, and she stood on her toes to look over his shoulder and see what had him so upset. Standing across the clearing from them were Sesshomaru and the little girl who followed him. The elder demon held the end of a toddler leash that was attached to a harness around Rin's upper body. The young girl munched happily on the contents of a bag of chips and seemed completely oblivious to the growling demon behind her.

Kagome dug in her heels as Inuyasha started to strain against the leash, almost pulling her off her feet. Sesshomaru hadn't said a word to Inuyasha. There had been no taunts or insults exchanged, but it was obvious that, for whatever reason, Inuyasha was determined to get to his brother. Kagome knew very well what would happen if he were to reach his goal. Not wanting to be involved in a fight and somehow knowing that it would be very bad for them to get in one -- although she really didn't have any idea why it would be so bad, but that was dreams for you -- Kagome put all of her weight into hauling the hanyou back. It did her no good. Inuyasha dragged her, flatfooted and spread-legged, across the clearing to within mere feet of Sesshomaru and his charge.

Seeing his brother approaching in such an aggressive manner, Sesshomaru took a step forward. Kagome watched in horror as his eyes bled from yellow to blood red, his face contorted and elongated into a canine muzzle, and his body twisted and shifted into the form of a giant white dog, the leash in his hand changing to become a collar patterned with flowers that little Rin hung from like an oddly shaped dog tag.

"Inuyasha," Kagome called, "stop."

"But he stole my squeaky toy, and I want it back!" Inuyasha whined before returning to his snarling and growling.

"No, he didn't," Rin yelled from where she hovered. "Sesshomaru-sama was just taking back the toy that Inuyasha-sama stole from him!"

Inuyasha's growls grew more intense. He actually barked at the little girl, an action that caused Sesshomaru to start drooling poison. "Only because he stole my toy first!" Inuyasha screamed, pulling harder on the leash and brandishing his claws.

"Oh," Rin taunted, "you mean this one?" In her arms was a large stuffed toy in the shape of a familiar fox demon.

: This is over a toy?: Just as she thought this, Kagome glanced down at her feet to see a large stuffed toy in the shape of the toad imp that followed Sesshomaru around. "Hey, Rin-chan," she called. "Is this Sesshomaru-sama's?"

The young girl nodded. Kagome bent down as best she could while still pulling on Inuyasha's leash and picked up the toy. Instantly, she had the attention of the big dog. He was no longer snarling but watched her intently with his ears up and his tongue lolling in doggy excitement, an expression that had Kagome hard-pressed to contain her laughter.

A brief slackening and then tightening of her leash made Kagome look at Inuyasha, and what she saw almost made her lose her hard-won control. There he stood, still straining toward Sesshomaru, but instead of the murderous look he had previously sported, his ears were once again pricked forward and he was actually whining in anticipation. Faintly, Kagome could make out words in his whining, "Gonna get the toy, gonna get the toy. Oh, yeah, gonna get the toy!"

Realizing from the way both dogs were tensed that she and Rin were about to be in the middle of a canine free-for-all and that Inuyasha was about to make a lunge for Rin and the toy she held, Kagome decided it was probably a good idea to give the two a little gentle direction. "Okay, Rin-chan," Kagome called. "When I count to three, throw your toy that way," she pointed to right, "and I'll throw mine that way," she pointed left. "Okay?"

"I don't know, Kagome-sama," Rin said, fluffing up the Shippo-toy's tail. "I don't think Sesshomaru-sama would be too happy if I gave his toy away."

Kagome snarled in frustration and dug her heels in a little harder, jerking on Inuyasha's leash and causing him to yelp a little. "Damn, bitch! That hurts!"

"Rin-chan," Kagome called through clenched teeth, "I really don't think Sesshomaru-sama is going to like it when Inuyasha jumps up after that toy, and I don't know how much longer I can hold him. I really don't want to be between them and those toys. Do you?"

Rin cocked her head and looked thoughtful for a second. "All right, Kagome-sama. Count when you're ready."

Sighing in relief, Kagome began to count.

"One," she hefted the Jaken toy in her hand and saw Rin do the same with Shippo.

"Two," she steadied herself as best she could and got ready to let go of the leash as Rin started to swing gently, getting up enough momentum to give her toy a good, hard toss.

"Three!" she shouted and launched the toy as hard and as far as she could just as Rin did the same in the opposite direction.

The effect was immediate. Inuyasha took off, barking madly, in one direction, trailing his leash behind him; and Sesshomaru, the stoic youkai who never cracked a smile or showed any emotion whatsoever, bounded off in the other with his tail held high and wagging like there was no tomorrow. The sight was so silly that Kagome couldn't contain herself anymore. She fell to her knees, clutching her stomach and laughing so hard that she...

…Woke herself up. As soon as the cool night air hit her face and she realized that she was no longer dreaming, she clamped a hand over her mouth in an attempt to not wake any of her companions. Unfortunately, she wasn't quite fast enough.

"What the hell are you cackling about, wench?" Inuyasha's harsh whisper right by her elbow startled her into silence. "You're making enough noise to wake the fuckin' dead."

"Sorry," she whispered, relaxing a little as another quiet chortle escaped her attempts to stifle it. She watched in quiet interest as he seated himself right next to her sleeping bag and contemplated her with an expression so very like the one in her dream she half expected him to lick her, a thought that caused her to giggle again.

The next second she found herself nose to nose with an annoyed dog demon. He scowled at her before snarling quietly, "What. Is. So. Funny?"

The force of his anger surprised her, and all the mirth drained out of her. "Nothing, Inuyasha," she replied softly, confused. Why was he so angry? "Go back to sleep. I'm sorry I woke you." She rolled over, putting her back to him

She barely heard his soft sigh over the rustling of her sleeping bag. "You didn't wake me up," he mumbled.

"What?" she asked, finally settling down.

"I said," she could hear the exasperation in his voice, "that you didn't wake me up." She heard the grass crackle as he shifted his weight slightly. "I was already awake."


There was silence, a silence that felt almost expectant to Kagome, as though he were waiting for her to say more. When she didn't, he growled. "That all you got ta say?" he asked scathingly. "'Oh.' Not gonna ask me why or what's wrong or any of that other shit you always do? Or are you just gonna keep avoiding me?" She heard him sigh before he asked softly, "Why have you been so distant lately, anyway?"

Kagome tensed a little as the proverbial light bulb went off. She still didn't know why he was yelling at her or what she had done, but she felt a little closer to understanding. She had been keeping her distance in an effort to spare his feelings and try to sort out her own. She had thought he wouldn't want to be reminded that it was her fault Kikyo was dead. Had she read him wrong? Was her distance making things worse instead of just giving him time to come to terms with what had happened? Did it really bother him so much that she wasn't prodding him as she normally would?

"It's really startin' to piss me off, ya know," he continued in an aggrieved tone. "You haven't smiled or laughed or even sounded happy since --"

: There it is,: she thought, closing her eyes. She was a little guiltily glad that she couldn't see the sadness she knew would be in his eyes. He always looked and sounded so upset whenever Kikyo came up lately. : The one thing we haven't talked about since it happened; Kikyo and her death. I know he really doesn't want to deal with it. Now maybe he'll drop it and --:

"Since Kikyo…died," he finished faintly, as though he were speaking only to himself. Concerned, she rolled back over just in time to catch the confused look in his eyes as he turned away from her. "But -- Why? You were always so upset when she was around, but you got over it after a day or two. And now…now you're just sad, and you haven't gotten over it. You don't smile or laugh like you used to." She winced away from his plaintive tone and the pain in his yellow gaze. She couldn't meet those eyes; she just couldn't. "And you won't look at me. Why, Kagome? What did I do?"

Tears brimmed in her eyes, and she didn't try to hide the way her voice shook as she realized that this was something they had to clear up between them, even if it meant that Inuyasha would never forgive her. "You didn't do anything, Inuyasha."

"Then what the hell is it, bitch? If I didn't do anything, why are you so fuckin' sad?" he asked forcefully.

For a moment she let her anger carry away her tears, and she hissed at him, "I'm sad because you just lost the woman you love; and it's all my fault, okay!" With a shocked gasp, she slapped her hands over her traitorous mouth.

Kagome has always heard of absolute silence as being deafening, but until that moment she had never understood how that was possible. Now she did. The silence that followed her outburst was so total that she could feel the air weighing down on her eardrums, and all the sounds of the late night forest vanished as though they had never been. She watched, horrified by her runaway mouth, as everything Inuyasha was feeling flickered across his face. His voice, harsh with an emotion she couldn't put a name to, almost broke her heart.

"What -- what did you say?"

She sat up, curling up into a little ball with her knees tucked up in her chest and her arms wrapped around them. She rested her forehead on her folded arms and spoke to her lap. "You heard me," she replied as the tears she had been successfully holding away with her anger finally trailed down her face. "She's dead, and it's my fault. If I had been stronger; if I had realized sooner -- "

"Will you just shut up already?" Inuyasha growled. "It wasn't your fault, so you can just quit your blubbering and forget about it!"

She stiffened, then snapped her head up to finally look at him, her shock mirrored in her eyes. "But -- I --"

"You nothin'," he cut her off. "It wasn't your fault, stupid. How could you even think that? You tried to help her, remember?"

"Yeah, but -- but -- I thought…" She couldn't say it. Not now, when he was trying to assuage her doubts.

"You thought what?" His eyes bore into her, not letting her get out of answering. That bright yellow gaze became so intense that she couldn't bear it. She dropped her head and stared at the ground. Her reply, when it came, was so soft she knew he would have to strain to hear it.

"I thought you would blame me; that you would hate me because I couldn't save her." Kagome reached up briefly and dashed the tears from her eyes, looking up at him from beneath wet lashes. "And you're so sad but you won't admit it and you won't let yourself mourn for her. How could I be cheerful when you hurt so much?"

His feature softened, and his brows drew together in puzzlement. "You're sad…for me? Kagome…" For a moment he looked like he was going to finally open up and tell her how he was really feeling about all of this. She really should have known better as his face went from soft and vulnerable to hard edged and arrogant. "Keh. Stupid. I told you before. I'm not upset about it. So you can save your tears for someone who needs them." He rolled his eyes as he turned away, looking off into the trees with a sardonic expression on his face and muttered, as if to himself. "Thinks I would blame her. Keh. Really is an idiot if she thinks something that stupid."

She stared at him, too stunned to really try and form an answer. Kagome wasn't sure whether to yell at him for being a jerk or cry for all the pain he was hiding. Instead, she did what she always did when she couldn't figure out which way to jump. "Fine!" she snarled. "Be that way." And, rolling herself up in her sleeping bag, she turned her back to him again.

Once she was no longer facing him, however, she couldn't stop the angry tears that ran down her cheeks. : What did I expect, really? He doesn't want to talk to me about her. Why would he? :

The rustle of cloth next to her was the only indication thatInuyasha hadn't retreated back to his place across the dying fire. The silence stretched between them, and she really thought he would get up and leave. His voice, gruff and strained, from out of the darkness startled her.

"It wasn't your fault, Kagome," he said conversationally. "You weren't the one who was supposed to protect her." He sighed deeply and whispered, "That was my job, and I couldn't do it."

By this time Kagome had rolled back over to face him. Inuyasha's head was down, and his eyes -- those eyes that always told her his moods and helped her figure out what he was thinking -- were obscured by the pale curtain of his bangs. She sat up and started to reach out a hand to brush them aside, but he spoke again before she could do more than lift her hand.

"She was the first woman I ever loved, and she was depending on me to save her." He looked up, and Kagome could see the firelight as it caught in his eyes and reflected in the tears that he refused to allow to fall. "She depended on me, and I couldn't -- I couldn't --"

"Oh, Inuyasha." Kagome reached out and caught his face in her hand, wiping gently at the one tear that had escaped its prison when he blinked and tried to pull away. "It wasn't -- She wouldn't blame you. She knew that you had done your best." Kagome pulled him toward her and rested his head on her shoulder. Undeterred by the way he stiffened in surprise and his halfhearted struggle to escape her, she held him there, determined to offer what little comfort she could. "She wouldn't blame you."

"How do you know that?" He tried to lift his head away from her shoulder. Her arms tightened around him, and he quit squirming. "You can't know that, Kagome," he insisted.

"But you said it yourself. Remember, just after the light faded?" She felt him shift a little and bring his hand up to rest on her back.

"She said not to be sad, that she would always look out for us." He shook his head against her shoulder and pulled back a little. This time Kagome let him sit up. She wanted to see his face.

"Exactly," she said with a gentle smile. She watched his expression shift from sad to contemplative. She just hoped he would come to the same conclusion she had.

"But what does that have to do with anything?" he said, shaking his head a little. "I don't --"

"She wouldn't have said that if she didn't think you were worth it," Kagome explained patiently. "She wouldn't have told you not to be sad if she blamed you at all for what happened. Don't you see, Inuyasha? She was just glad that you were there with her in the end. I think -- I think that she knew it wouldn't ever work again between you, and she just wanted one last chance to hold on to what she could never have. She was finally at peace and happy, and she had the man she loved at her side," she finished, hiccupping a little on the last few words.

Admitting that was harder than she thought it would be, but it was more than time that she came to terms with the way the two of them had felt about each other. : Yeah, and you have no place there, do you, Kagome? : She remembered, then, the warmth that had flowed from Kikyo's soul as it had passed through her, and wondered. : Or do I? :

The past few days had been very confusing for Kagome. She was bombarded by the guilt that she had allowed Kikyo to be hurt, a guilt compounded by a very natural feeling of relief. Kikyo had finally been laid to rest. She would never plague them again, never put them in jeopardy just to further her plans; plans that she was unwilling to share and that she pursued with a single-mindedness that was often more than a little frightening.

Kagome had also been fighting with the shame of feeling that she might finally have a chance with Inuyasha now that her rival for his affection was out of the way. It went against her good nature to have such petty and base thoughts when Kikyo had just died and Inuyasha was so sad. She felt as though she were dishonoring him and the feelings he had carried for so long for the older miko.

Then there were all of the older, painful memories that their fight with Kaou had brought back. Every wrong that Kikyo had committed since her resurrection, every moment she had witnessed between Kikyo and Inuyasha, every memory of all the times Inuyasha had left her with their friends just so that he could seek the other miko out, they had all come rushing out of the little corner of her mind where she had tucked them away so that she wouldn't think about them. She knew that Kikyo had her reasons, and she knew that Inuyasha's loyalty to her had kept him running back.

Even knowing all of that, it still hurt to see it, and she really didn't want to take out all of her hurt on the hanyou. He really didn't deserve that, and she couldn't blame for the way he felt. It was this inner turmoil, along with the need to not remind Inuyasha of what he had so recently lost that had kept her silent for the past few days.

"I can't lose another woman who is precious to me, Kagome," he said. His voice was so low she almost didn't hear his words, and she could tell from the way that he wouldn't look directly at her that this was hard for him to admit. "I don't know what I would do if…if…"

Kagome brushed her thumb lightly over his lip, halting the words he was struggling to get out. "You aren't going to lose me, Inuyasha," she told him softly. "I'll always be right where I promised you I would be; right here by your side, for as long as you'll let me."

"Kagome," he breathed. He reached up and placed his hand over the one she held against his cheek, slowly drawing closer to her. Kagome found herself holding her breath as his face slowly inched toward hers. When they were a mere finger's length apart, Inuyasha stopped and just stared at her, his eyes gliding over her face, searching for something only he knew.

Whether he found what he was looking for or not, Kagome was not destined to find out. Just as Inuyasha leaned in to close the small distance between them, the moment was irretrievably broken.

"Either kiss the girl," came Miroku's disgruntled voice from across the fire, startling them both so badly that they jumped apart, "or climb in that bag with her. I don't care. Just, both of you be quiet! Some of us are trying to sleep!"

Cheeks blazing, Kagome dove under the cover of her sleeping bag as Inuyasha turned and snarled harshly at the houshi. There was the brief sound of a scuffle and then she heard the unmistakable sound of Miroku's body hitting the ground.

"Damned pervert," Inuyasha snarled, crouching back down next to her. "Get some sleep, wench. We have a lot of ground to cover tomorrow." As he made to stand and walk away, Kagome reached out and grabbed his wrist, stopping him in mid-motion. He looked down at her and her heart skipped at the gentle look in his eyes. "Good-night, Kagome," he said, gently shaking off her hand and making his way back to his spot across the fire.

She watched as he settled down, Tessaiga propped within easy reach against his shoulder. Her heart felt lighter as she briefly fought a losing battle against drooping eyelids. The last thing Kagome saw as sleep claimed her and the image that chased her into restful slumber was the gentle smile that still graced Inuyasha's face as he watched over her.