Disclaimer: Nope. Not mine...
Author's Note: This story has actually been finished for a good six months now—I posted it to one of the LJ contests sometime last summer, I think (don't remember which one or what theme, but I'm pretty sure it didn't win anything… --grin--)—but I held onto it because I wanted to tweak a few things. At long last, I have tweaked everything that's going to get tweaked, so I figured I'd send it out into the world…
Anyway, I know stuff like this has been done before, but I've always wanted to write a version of this scenario. It's one of my favorites…
If I Were You
"Are you real?" the monk asked.
"Yes," Kagome replied.
"Are you female?" Sango chimed in.
"Are you human?" Shippo offered, peaking out from beneath the curtain of Kagome's hair.
She squirmed and laughed as his tail tickled her neck. "Nope."
"This is stupid."
"That's not a yes or no question, Inuyasha," she scolded.
He cast her a moody glare.
"Are you someone we've all met?" Miroku asked ponderously.
"Do you have a tail?" Shippo nearly fell off his perch in his enthusiasm.
"Ummm…actually, I'm not sure. It might be a tail…"
Sango spoke next. "Do you carry a sword?"
"Mm-hmm." Kagome nodded.
"Do you have dark hair?" Miroku again.
"Do you have a title?" asked Sango.
"Do you wea—"
"Oh for fuck's sake, it's Sesshoumaru, you idiots!" Inuyasha burst out. "Now cut it out with the dumb games already. You're driving me nuts with this shit…"
"Very good, Inuyasha!" Kagome flashed him a grin.
She heaved a sigh. "What's the big deal? We're just killing time. It's not like we've got anything better to do."
"Nothing better to do? How about shutting up and keeping an eye out for signs of Naraku?"
"Inuyasha, we've been walking for two days straight and we haven't come across so much as a rumor about Naraku—and we're still at least a day away from the shrine those monks directed us to. I don't know about you, but that tall one looked shifty to me. I think maybe they were trying to con us."
"Don't be ridiculous. This has to be the right way."
"Well right way or wrong way, I'm tired and I'm bored, and I wanna play 'Who Am I.' You know if you'd quit being such a grouch, you might actually have fun."
"Feh. It's stupid."
"No it's n—" but she broke off in midsentence when Inuyasha's ears flicked to attention and his brow furrowed as he glanced off into the woods beside the path. "What is it?"
"There's somebody here. I smell blood."
"Wait here," he instructed, heading off into the darkening trees. But of course Kagome had no intention of doing as she was told, so she followed him.
Just a few feet beyond the tree line they came upon what looked like a bundle of robes lying crumpled amid the brush.
"What is it?" Shippo whispered.
Looking more closely, Kagome could see that the bundle was moving, just barely, rising and falling in a shallow breathing pattern. "It's a person."
"She's hurt," Inuyasha said, already kneeling beside the bundle. "Pretty badly, looks like—probably won't make it."
"Inuyasha!" Kagome scolded. "Don't say that. Come on, we've got to help her."
"Well, pick her up—we'll set up camp somewhere nearby. It's getting dark anyway."
"Kagome's right," Miroku agreed. "We won't be able to cover much more ground tonight, and we should get her to a place where we can better care for her."
Inuyasha gave them both a disgruntled look, but suppressed the urge to protest and did as they requested, gently scooping up the old woman in his arms and following the others in search of a suitable location to set up camp. They found a clearing not far away, and Kagome immediately unrolled her sleeping bag and had Inuyasha place the old woman upon it so that Kagome could tend to her injuries. As it turned out, she had lost a lot of blood, but the wounds were relatively superficial, and with the help of a lot of disinfectant and bandages she was able to patch the old woman up quite nicely.
They left her to rest as they built up a fire and had their dinner. As soon as she was done, Kagome went over to check on their patient and to try to get the woman to drink a little water, knowing that hydration was important for recovery. She gently opened the old woman's mouth and poured a few drops of water down her throat, pleased when she swallowed them reflexively. Carefully, she repeated the process several times until she was satisfied that the woman had had enough for the time being.
"Thank you, child," said a voice like the creaking of an old tree branch, and Kagome looked up in surprise to see her charge looking back at her through heavy eyelids.
"You are far from home," the woman continued.
Kagome frowned slightly at the odd statement, but nodded nonetheless. "Yes, I suppose I am."
"And yet…you are not."
She wasn't sure exactly what to make of that, so she just nodded again noncommittally.
"You have been kind to me, child, and to many others before me. You will be rewarded. You will find what you do not yet know you need in a place you cannot expect."
"I don't understand."
The old woman shook her head almost imperceptibly. "You are not meant to. But you will." And then she closed her eyes and drifted into sleep—and that was that.
Kagome puzzled over the woman's words for a moment, finally giving up on interpreting them. Either the woman was a raving lunatic, in which case there was no point in trying to figure out what she was talking about, or she was telling the truth, in which case apparently Kagome wasn't supposed to understand what she was talking about. Either way, even without a sleeping bag to curl up in, the lure of sleep was too strong for her to resist after two long days of walking and near-constant bickering with an unusually difficult Inuyasha. She found the softest patch of ground she could scrounge up, covered herself with an extra sweater she'd had in her bag, and she was out like a light.
A loud yelp awoke her with a start so fierce that she very nearly fell out of the tree she'd been sleeping in. Of course, when it dawned on her that she had fallen asleep on the ground and somehow awakened on a branch some fifteen feet up in the air, it was all she could do to wrap her arms and legs around the branch and hang on before she lost her balance in surprise.
"Inuyasha!!" she shrieked out of habit—but there was something strange about her voice. It was pitched much lower than usual. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Inuyasha!" But it didn't seem to have done any good.
Then she noticed the claws where her fingernails had once been. And she screamed.
Somewhere in the back of her mind it registered that she had let go of the tree branch and was now falling through the air. Also, somewhere beyond the dull haze of confusion that surrounded her brain, she swore she could hear her own voice calling her name.
She hit the ground with a thunk and got the wind knocked out of her. Blinking away the ghostly lights that clouded her vision from the blow, she frowned as a shadowy figure bent over her. And then she blinked again as she realized that somehow, impossibly, she was staring up at…herself.
"What the fuck…?" the figure standing over her said, expression wide-eyed and fearful.
"Oh my god…" she murmured, sitting up quickly and inspecting a pair of very familiar clawed hands. She patted her now flat, muscular chest, fingered a strand of silver hair resting on her shoulder, and finally reached up to the top of her head, dreading that she would find…dog ears. "Oh my god…"
"Hey, you two, what's all the racket?" Miroku asked sleepily. "Even you guys usually hold off on round one until after breakfast."
Kagome glanced over at him dumbly. "Uhhh…"
"Holy shit," the person in Kagome's body spat.
"Inuyasha?" Kagome asked, her voice still far too low.
"Kagome?" asked the person in Kagome's body.
"Whoa…" murmured Miroku, now fully awake and catching up to speed with the situation.
Kagome pushed herself awkwardly to her feet, finding Inuyasha's comparatively large and powerful body somewhat difficult to manipulate. "This…can't be real…"
"Holy shit," Inuyasha spat again, unconsciously pressing his hands to his chest and finding Kagome's breasts there.
"Hey, don't do that!" Kagome snapped, and Inuyasha recoiled immediately, a blush coming to his cheeks.
Miroku snickered, and Inuyasha whirled on him, fists at the ready. "You shut up, bouzu—it's not funny!"
"Oh," Miroku replied, "I'm afraid it really is."
"What's going on?" came Sango's groggy voice from across the remains of the campfire.
"Well," Miroku began, "I'm looking forward to hearing the whole story myself, actually—but so far it seems that Inuyasha and Kagome have managed to switch bodies."
"Oh. Okay," Sango murmured, rolling over to go back to sleep—only to sit back up a moment later. "Wait—what?"
"You heard him," Inuyasha said grumpily.
"Really?" Sango asked again.
"I'm afraid so," Kagome replied.
"But…how is that possible?"
"Hell if I know, but who the fuck cares?" Inuyasha growled. "We gotta undo it. Now!"
Kagome placed clawed hands on her hips. "Well I'm open to any suggestions if you've got them."
"Hey," said Shippo, perching himself on Miroku's shoulder, "Where's the old lady?"
The group swung around to look at the spot where the old woman had slept the night before, only to find Kagome's empty sleeping bag neatly rolled away.
"Uh-oh…" Kagome murmured.
Inuyasha whirled on her. "Uh-oh? What uh-oh?"
"What? Tell me!"
"Well," Kagome began hesitantly, "the thing is…the woman said some sort of strange things to me last night."
"What did she say?" Miroku asked.
"I don't remember exactly. Something about how I would be rewarded for all the good I had done, and how I would get something I needed even though I didn't know I needed it."
"So what, you're saying you needed my body?" Inuyasha demanded.
"No, I most certainly am not," Kagome snapped in reply. "Look, I don't know what exactly it has to do with any of this, but it just seems like a little too much of a coincidence that she would say all those cryptic things to me right before I wake up in somebody else's body."
"Well great," Inuyasha grumbled, starting to pace back and forth across the clearing, "this is just great. I knew your whole goody-two-shoes, gotta-help-everybody, good-samaritan obsession was gonna fuck us over one of these days."
"Oh, like you don't go running into burning buildings and miasmas and stuff like that to save people every other day."
"That's just because you keep getting into so damn much trouble all the time!"
"Well anyway, you were the one who found the old woman in the first place. I wouldn't have even known she was there if you hadn't pointed her out!"
"Well I wouldn't have—"
"Whoa, whoa, guys, guys—let's take a step back, shall we?" Miroku broke in, placating the two of them in hopes of avoiding an all out war. "Look, it doesn't matter whose fault it is. What matters is that we've got a problem and we've got a lead. Now let's follow up on it."
"Exactly," Kagome agreed with a nod, as though she had been saying this all along. "So, what do we do?"
They both looked to Miroku expectantly, and he glanced back and forth between them. Finally he shrugged. "How should I know?"
"Keh," Inuyasha spat, turning away in disgust. "Dammit! We've gotta find that old woman. If I only had my fucking nose…"
"But wait a minute," Shippo chimed in, "doesn't Kagome have Inuyasha's nose now?"
"Duh—that's the problem, runt."
Shippo rolled his eyes at Inuyasha's thickheadedness. "I mean, why can't Kagome sniff the woman out, just like you would?"
"Are you kidding? Even with my nose Kagome couldn't scent her way out of a paper bag."
"Hey, what's that supposed to mean?" Kagome protested, but Inuyasha ignored her.
"Besides, she didn't have my nose when the woman was here, so she wouldn't even know what scent to follow."
"But the woman slept in Kagome-sama's sleeping bag last night," Miroku pointed out. "Perhaps she could gather the scent from there."
"Yeah," Kagome said, nodding defiantly at Inuyasha.
"It's worth a try, Inuyasha," Sango said reasonably.
Inuyasha glared at her, but he didn't seem to have any better ideas, so he shrugged. "Fine, if you think you can do it, go ahead."
Taking that as her cue, Kagome marched over to the rolled up sleeping bag and, feeling slightly awkward, lifted it to her nose to take a sniff. It was amazing—the scents were almost tangible, as though she were inhaling a liquid, and she could distinguish hundreds of different things all mixed in together. Some of them were stronger versions of recognizable scents like grass or fabric softener or her shampoo, but others she could only guess at. There was one she was pretty sure was cotton, and then there were the plasticky smells of the other synthetic fibers that made up the sleeping bag—and there were lots of woodsy smells that she couldn't define, but that must have been different kinds of leaves and sap and flowers. And then she caught it—it stuck out above the others, a little stronger, a little thicker. It was slightly musty, but also sweet, like sake and rosemary and lilac combined—but not quite any of those. That had to be it.
"I think I have it," she said, looking to Inuyasha instinctively, as though he could confirm it for her.
He gave her a skeptical look, but didn't argue.
"Good," Miroku offered, stepping in. "Then hold on to it—try to figure out which way she went, and we'll follow her."
"Right," Kagome agreed with a nod. "Um…okay…" She set down the sleeping bag and started sniffing around in the air, glancing self-consciously at the others as they watched her. She really had no idea what she was doing, but she'd be damned if she was going to ask Inuyasha for help. So she sniffed a bit more, ducking her head and hunching slightly toward the ground as she walked around the campsite, trying to find the scent she'd picked up earlier.
"Oh for fuck's sake," Inuyasha burst out finally. "You'll never find it that way. You've gotta get down on the ground and really sniff—take everything in and sort it out. The way you're doing it you wouldn't smell her if she was three feet in front of you."
Kagome nodded and got down on her hands and knees and sniffed a bit more. "Like this?" she asked, glancing back at him.
He heaved a sigh and walked over to her, dropping to his hands and knees as well. "No, you idiot, get down there. Bend your elbows, like this." He demonstrated, bending so low that his nose was practically touching the ground. "It's just dirt—it won't bite you. Come on, wench, you've seen me do it enough times."
She bent down further, matching his form and started sniffing—but before she'd gotten far, she burst into a fit of very un-Inuyasha-like giggles.
"What's so funny?" he demanded, annoyed.
She took one look at his—or rather her—angry face glaring back at her and started laughing even harder, dropping her forearms to the ground and resting her forehead on them so she wouldn't fall flat on her face. "Do you—" she gasped between fits of laughter, "—have any idea how ridiculous we look?"
This only seemed to annoy Inuyasha further—which, of course, only made Kagome laugh harder. Finally she rolled to her side and stretched out on the ground, holding her stomach, and Inuyasha sat back on his heels with his arms crossed, glaring at her.
"How can you laugh at a time like this? It's not funny!" he demanded.
"Sorry," she managed, trying to get ahold of herself, "but, I mean…seriously…it is pretty funny…"
"No it's not! Now quit wasting time and find that scent so we can switch back into our own bodies."
"Okay, okay," she said, rolling back up to her hands and knees and resuming her task, trying her best not to think about how she looked as she did it.
It took awhile, but with Inuyasha giving her a few tips ("Try closer to the sleeping bag." "Don't sniff so fast—take deeper breaths, you'll get a better feel for it that way.") she eventually located a trail. They quickly broke camp and set off in the direction the scent seemed to indicate, hoping that the old woman wouldn't have gotten very far. It was impossible to tell when she had left—only Inuyasha himself might have been able to distinguish that—but they figured that since she was injured and not exactly in her prime to begin with, she couldn't have been moving all that quickly.
With tensions running high given their recent predicament, Inuyasha and Kagome spent most of the morning bickering about anything and everything they could think of. Inuyasha was particularly touchy. Kagome just figured he was picking fights with her in order to get his mind off their problems, as usual. Either that, or because he was feeling a bit self-conscious about wearing a miniskirt, and arguing made him feel more manly somehow. Of course, the nature of their fighting was no different than it was when she was the one wearing the miniskirt, so how this could possibly help, she wasn't sure…
During a brief lull in the squabbling, Kagome's eyes were resting unfocused on Inuyasha as he walked at the head of the group. Even though he wasn't actually the one following the scent (nor was he actually the fastest one, at the moment), he just seemed to naturally take the lead. She noticed he was carrying her yellow backpack—but there was something strange about it. She frowned—it was nearly empty.
He glanced back at her. "Hm?"
"What did you do with all the stuff that was in that bag?"
"What, the books? Left 'em at the campsite."
She stopped dead. "You what?"
"I said I left those stupid, heavy books at the campsite. What of it? You shouldn't've brought them anyway."
"I don't believe you—how could you do that?" she demanded, dumbstruck.
Inuyasha planted his feet and faced off with her. "I keep telling you to leave those damn books at home. They take up space, and you don't have time to study anyway."
"So? They're mine! You can't just throw them away like that!"
"Relax, Kagome," Sango interrupted as the others caught up to the pair. "We've got them. They're in my satchel."
"Thank you, Sango," Kagome said gratefully—but then she rounded on Inuyasha again. "But you have to learn to respect other people's property." And then she stalked off, continuing in the direction they had been heading so that Inuyasha had to jog to catch up. It was nice being the one with the longer legs and the greater speed for a change.
"Well, what the hell do I want with all that crap, huh?"
"It was my crap. I could have carried it for you."
"Feh, this stupid, useless, weak, human, girl's body is so—"
"What did you just say?"
His eyes bugged out at the sight of her venomous expression—hm…perhaps these fangs weren't so bad either…
"Whoa," he said, "My powers and your temper are not a good combination."
"Like your temper is any better," she scoffed. "You just can't deal with the idea of having to use your brain instead of your brawn to win an argument for once. Coward…"
"You little—" he began—and then a positively malicious smile spread across his face. "Sit."
Kagome groaned, scrunching up her bruised face in the grass. She was sure it hadn't hurt nearly as much as it would have if she'd been her normal self—but damn. That was not fun… "Ouch…"
"Not so funny when you're the one eating dirt, is it?" Inuyasha chuckled. He was enjoying this entirely too much, in her opinion.
She picked herself up off the ground and dusted herself off primly before rounding on him. "Now look—"
"Excuse me," Miroku's weary voice cut in before she could get any further, "but we've got a long way to go, and it's going to seem even longer if you two don't at least break up the bickering with a little stony silence every once in a while, so could we please just—"
"Kagome, look out!" Sango interjected, and Inuyasha instinctively tackled Kagome to the ground, forgetting for the moment that he was currently the one of them who was most in danger. A gigantic claw passed over their heads, missing them by millimeters, and within seconds Miroku and Sango had taken up fighting stances to combat the scorpion youkai that had burst into the clearing. Stupid human senses. If he'd been in his own body he would have smelled that thing miles away—but Kagome hadn't learned to tell one scent from the next yet. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she replied, touching his—well, really her—face. "You're bleeding."
"It's just a scra—ow! Be careful with those things, will ya?" He flinched as she accidentally nicked his skin with a claw.
She winced. "Sorry…"
"We could use a little help over here, you know," Miroku called out, throwing another set of ofuda and fending off the creature's left claw.
"Come on—you've gotta use the Tetsusaiga," Inuyasha said, pulling Kagome to her feet.
"Are you crazy?" she blurted out, and they both ducked another swipe of a claw before Sango's Hiraikotsu came whizzing by and whacked it back. "I don't know how!"
"Well you've seen me do it enough times! And it's not like I can do it myself right now—you've got my demon powers. Now where'd I leave those arrows…"
"You're gonna try"—duck—"to shoot it? You don't know how to shoot!"
"How hard could it be? Now get out that sword and start doing some damage!"
Kagome shot him a dubious look, but didn't bother to argue any further. Instead, she drew the Tetsusaiga, swallowing heavily as it transformed in her hands, drawing on powers she'd never before possessed. "Whoa…" she breathed. "This is really…weird…"
She watched Miroku deflect a spray of miasma with a barrier and saw Sango hurl her Hiraikotsu at the beast's tail—and then she saw the right claw swinging in from the side, and gave a shriek as she swung the sword clumsily at it, gaping when it sliced the appendage right off. Of course, within moments it had reattached. That was when she figured out something.
"Inuyasha," she called, "can you see a Shikon shard anywhere?"
"Huh?" He looked up from where he had been ineptly trying to figure out how to pull back the bowstring without dropping the arrow. "How can I tell?"
"Just look around for a pink glow somewhere. It's regenerating quickly—it's got to have a shard."
"Look out!" he yelled, and she whirled around, raising her sword—but then a small stick thwacked her on the back of the head and she dropped to her knees, ducking the blow instead. Looking around for what had hit her, she snatched one of her arrows from the ground and looked up at a somewhat sheepish Inuyasha.
"Sorry?" she repeated, "You could have killed me!"
"Not the way he was shooting, he couldn't," Miroku said with a wry smirk.
"Shut up!" Inuyasha snapped.
Kagome heaved a sigh. "Will you leave the arrows alone before you put out one of my eyes? Just sit tight and let me handle this."
"No fucking way!"
"Well you're always telling me to do it!"
"And you never listen!"
"Less talking, more fighting," Miroku interjected—and was ignored, as usual.
"I do to listen…sometimes. And if you were any other guy I'd smack you for being such a chauvinist pig, but I don't…usually. And you know what? I accept it, because yes, you are stronger and faster and more resilient than I am—that's just the way things are. But now our roles are reversed, so you've got to be willing to take what you dish out. So just shut up and let me protect you!"
Inuyasha stared after her as she marched back into the fray, swinging the Tetsusaiga in an inexperienced but—he hated to admit it—more or less effective manner. Still, this whole thing would be over a whole lot sooner if she could just use the Wind Scar and blow this vermin to hell—then it'd stop moving and he could figure out what kind of "pink glow" he was supposed to be looking for.
"Alright, alright, come on Kagome," Inuyasha said grumpily, marching over to where she was repeatedly hacking off each of the claws in turn while the other regenerated and came at her again.
"What are you doing? I told you to—"
"We'll be here 'til doomsday at this rate—just get over here," he interrupted, and Kagome shot him a nasty look, but she complied.
"What do you want?"
"Turn around and face your opponent." She did so, and he reached around to grasp the handle of the sword over her hands.
"What are you doing?" she insisted, seeming flustered by their awkward position—made twenty times more awkward by their current dilemma.
"I'm gonna help you use the Wind Scar—now relax, and look for the seam between the demon auras."
"The point at which your energy and the youkai's collide. It should be highly charged with conflicting energies, like a thunderstorm about to break. Just think of it like searching for Shikon shards."
"Yeah…yeah, I think I see it…"
"Cut through it—now!"
Power flooded through her so strongly he could practically feel it himself. It surged forward and exploded across the ground in flames, tearing the youkai apart from the inside out and scattering its flesh across the clearing.
Kagome's breathing was heavy in the aftermath of the Wind Scar, and she glanced back at Inuyasha, who gave her a reassuring smile as he stepped away to scan the remains for the shard. She had never felt anything like that before in her life—never. Her sacred arrows were powerful, sure, but they weren't the same. The Wind Scar was rough and raw, the embodiment of brute force and destruction, whereas her arrows—though very effective—were all about precision and the restoration of balance where evil had taken hold. This was frightening, wielding so much devastating power so easily…but exciting, too, in a way. She could see why Inuyasha liked it so much.
"Got it!" she heard him yell, sounding supremely proud of himself, and she smiled, re-sheathing her sword. Oh Inuyasha…
They continued traveling for a few more hours, during which time the bickering gradually settled back to its normal level. Aside from one exceedingly awkward bathroom break for Kagome, the afternoon was largely without incident. Finally, around dusk Miroku and Sango talked Inuyasha into letting them stop for the night. As much as he wanted to track down the old woman and force her to undo whatever spell she'd put on them, Kagome suspected that he was feeling the limitations of her human body rather acutely as well—he didn't put up as much of a fight as she would have expected. She would have offered to carry him, of course, as he often did her—but she had a feeling that idea wouldn't go over too well.
In any case, they built a campfire and settled in for a meal of piping hot ramen. When Kagome had finished with hers, she dug through her backpack and pulled out a brush.
"Hey, cut that out, will ya?" Inuyasha grumped irritably, looking up from his ramen as she dragged the brush through her mercilessly tangled silver locks.
She sighed. "Look, if I have to live in this body, at least I'm going to keep it neat and clean. Doesn't it ever bother you to have hair this matted? You could loose a freaking arrow in this mess."
"Well I like it that way, so quit messing with it, alright?" he snapped back.
"I will not. And how many times do I have to tell you, you can't sit cross-legged in a skirt! Either sit properly or change into pants—I'm not that kind of girl…"
Setting aside his dinner and pushing himself to his feet, Inuyasha stomped over to Kagome's bag and began rooting around in it for her pajama pants. "Women…" he grumbled.
"Men…" she muttered.
Perhaps in retaliation for her grooming habits and forcing him to maintain her modesty, Inuyasha claimed possession of the sleeping bag for the night, leaving Kagome to huddle up against a nearby tree—no way was she climbing up into one again. It was probably just as well. After all, as the strongest one in the group for the time being, it was sort of her responsibility to keep watch over them all, the way he usually did—and really, she wasn't nearly as tired as she ought to have been considering how long they'd been walking.
She propped one of her textbooks open on her knees, her flashlight tucked beneath her chin, and tried to get a bit of studying done—but the equations and matrices couldn't hold her attention. Instead her gaze kept drifting off to the shadows just beyond the light of the dying fire, where Inuyasha lay concealed within her polyester sleeping bag.
Why was he so touchy lately? Granted, this whole mess had them both a little on edge—but he seemed to be taking it especially badly. And anyway, she got the feeling that there was something else bothering him—something more than just the body-switching. He'd been surly with her for days, even before they'd run across the strange old woman. But why? She couldn't think of anything she might have done to upset him. It had been awhile since they'd had a solid lead on Naraku, but that was nothing new—and why would it lead him to be upset with her?
She shook her head and tried to return to her reading, though she knew it was probably a lost cause.
Across the campsite, Inuyasha lay on his side, observing her through half-lidded eyes around the edge of the sleeping bag. He watched her pondering the book on her knees, scrutinizing its pages for secrets he would never understand—and he felt a familiar sadness creep in on him, joining him there in the shadows. Scoffing inwardly and trying to shake off the feeling, he turned over to face the other direction and curled his arm up beneath his head, resolving to get some sleep.
They broke camp bright and early the next morning, continuing on their way. The journey was relatively uneventful until midafternoon, when they were walking along a wide lane beneath a canopy of trees.
Kagome glanced to her right when Inuyasha stopped suddenly, a frown on his face. "Something the matter?" she asked him.
"I…I don't know. I feel something weird. It's like a tingling at the edge of my senses, like…"
"A jewel shard," Kagome supplied.
"Yeah. But it's almost as if…oh," he broke off, his face falling in realization, only to then take on a horrified expression. "Oh fuck…"
There was only a moment's warning as they all swung around at the sound of something tearing towards them through the trees. Kagome fumbled for the handle of Tetsusaiga, but before she could so much as grasp it she found herself shoved to the ground with an "oof," something that felt distinctly like a foot digging into her spine briefly before disappearing. She coughed slightly, trying to get the air back into her lungs as she pushed herself up from the ground—but she froze in shock when she realized what she was looking at.
"Kagome, my dearest!" Kouga proclaimed, grasping the hands of a silently fuming Inuyasha. "How are you? Sorry I had to leave you with the mutt-face for so long, but you know how it is."
Kagome blinked a couple times and then bit back a laugh as she took in the furious expression on Inuyasha's face, which Kouga seemed not to have noticed. She wondered briefly why Inuyasha was just standing there and letting the wolf demon prattle on—but then he shot her a meaningful glare over Kouga's shoulder, and she understood: He didn't want Kouga to know what had happened. She couldn't blame him. After all, she highly doubted that being discovered in a girl's body would exactly give Inuyasha a leg up in the perpetual little pissing contest he and Kouga seemed to have going. So he was trying valiantly to act his part—and it was straining his very last nerve. And if she didn't get with the program, she was sure to give him away—either because Kouga would notice "Inuyasha's" inaction, or because the real Inuyasha would flip out and try to tear him to shreds using Kagome's dull fingernails.
"Hey, wolf-breath!" Kagome shouted in her best Inuyasha impression, pushing herself to her feet and marching over to where the other two stood. "Get your hands off her!" She shoved herself in-between them, and Inuyasha promptly wriggled his hands out of Kouga's grip as soon as he could get away with it.
Then he clung on to Kagome's left arm and said, in a voice that sounded like he'd been inhaling helium, "Oh Inuyasha, thank you for saving me!"
She gave him a quizzical look. "What the heck are you doing?" she hissed out of the corner of her mouth.
"Acting the part," he muttered back.
"I do not talk like that," she replied indignantly.
Meanwhile, Kouga was looking back and forth between the two of them suspiciously. "Am I missing something here?"
"No!" they both shouted, a little too quickly.
"Uh…" Kagome fudged, casting about for something in-character she could use to distract Kouga from his suspicions, "listen here you ugly, mangy…uh…nasty wolf! You just stay away from my—uh…from Kagome, ya hear!"
"What am I, a hillbilly?" Inuyasha protested in a hiss.
"Shut up," she hissed back.
Luckily, Kouga appeared not to have heard this time, as he was too busy cracking his knuckles in preparation for an attack. "Big talk for a mangy mutt-face like you," he said smugly. "You gonna back it up?"
"Uh-oh…" she said under her breath. This wasn't looking good.
She stepped sideways, partly to get away from where Inuyasha and the others were standing, but also to try to draw Kouga into a circle, hoping that she could satisfy him with a little glaring match without them actually coming to blows.
No such luck.
He lunged at her, and she dove out of the way, landing clumsily on the ground, but trying to cover it by getting up quickly and taking a swing at Kouga herself. She missed, her lack of skill in hand to hand combat leaving her wide open, and she received a fist to the gut for her trouble. It didn't hurt as much as she imagined it would if she had been in a human body, but it definitely wasn't pleasant. Still, she got to her feet, trying her best to look unfazed as she darted in for another haphazard blow. This one glanced off his shoulder at least, but he didn't even flinch—still, it gave her time to get out of striking distance and prepare for another attack without getting hit again. She almost felt like she might be getting the hang of this whole fighting thing.
Kouga swung around and came at her again, this time with claws bared, and she tensed to try to spring out of the way—but the next second she spotted a flash of green and white, and there was Inuyasha standing spread-eagled in front of her, poised to intercept Kouga's attack.
"Inu—Kagome, no!" she yelled, grabbing him around the waist and knocking them both out of the way. They landed hard on the ground, but Kagome wasted no time in pushing herself up to sit and rounding on Inuyasha. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Protecting you, what else?" he snapped back.
"Yeah, sure, with my own body! You've said yourself a million times, this body can take more punishment than that one!"
"So? That still doesn't mean I want to see you get hurt if I can stop it! Besides, I knew he wouldn't hurt me—I mean you. I mean—you know what I mean!"
"Still, that doesn't mean you should throw yourself into the middle of a fight! You could get hurt!"
"Why not? You do it often enough!"
"Okay, seriously, what's going on here?" Kouga interrupted them—and only then did they realize he was standing above them, looking down at their guilty faces even more suspiciously than before.
"Nothing!" they said in unison, once again a little too quickly.
"Are you sure, Kagome?" he asked, addressing Inuyasha directly.
An approximation of a sweet smile spread across Inuyasha's face—though the thinly-veiled hatred in his eyes made it come off rather saccharine and false. "Really, it's nothing. You should probably be going though—getting back to all that…important stuff you do."
Miraculously, this seemed to satisfy Kouga, who shrugged his shoulders and said, "Yeah, I guess you're right. See ya later, Kagome. Bye, mutt-face." And with that, he tipped a small salute and tore off into the trees in the opposite direction from which he'd come.
Inuyasha leapt to his feet and jogged after him once he was out of sight. "And don't come back you mangy, filthy, shit-eating, motherfucking son of a bitch!"
"Hey!" Kagome protested, getting to her feet a bit more slowly. "Watch my mouth while you're borrowing it, will ya?"
He turned around and heaved a wistful sigh. "Couldn't help myself. I just always wanted to hear you say that…"
She rolled her eyes, but let it drop. "Come on, let's get moving again, shall we?" she said, turning back to where Miroku, Sango, and Shippo were standing in a little cluster on the sidelines, enjoying the show.
"Indeed," Miroku agreed, exchanging an amused look with Sango and falling in step behind Kagome as she continued along the road.
They were setting up camp later that evening when Kagome heard a rustling in the trees just over her shoulder and glanced behind her only to feel her heart stop in her chest: A long, white, snake-like creature slithered out of the branches and circled the clearing, bringing them all to a dead halt. Of course, she thought wryly, releasing a small sigh. Sango looked at Miroku, and then they both looked from Inuyasha to Kagome, whose eyes met across the clearing.
"I…I guess I should go see what she wants," Kagome said quietly, flicking her gaze down to the ground and turning to follow the creature back out of the clearing.
"No—Kagome, you don't have to—" Inuyasha began, but Kagome interrupted him.
"It's okay—don't worry about it. I'll be right back…"
Inuyasha watched uneasily as she disappeared into the trees, following the shinidama-chuu, then turned back to find the others staring at him in disapproval. "What?" he asked defensively. "I told her not to go—you heard me…"
"That's not the point, Inuyasha," Sango muttered, kneeling beside the fire and preparing to heat the water, as Kagome usually did.
"Well then what is the point?"
"You know perfectly well," she replied.
"Well obviously not!" he snapped back—though to be perfectly honest, he had a feeling he did. It was just easier to argue than to face it.
Sango, however, was not fooled—she simply shot him a glare and continued with her work. He huffed and began pacing back and forth across the clearing, waiting for dinner to be ready and Kagome to return.
Much to his chagrin, it was long after they had all finished their meals and Sango, Miroku, and Shippo had all settled in for the night before Kagome actually appeared at the edge of the clearing. Glancing up at the sound, he leapt to his feet and rushed to meet her, demanding in a low voice, "Where have you been?"
She gave him a small, half-hearted smile and then glanced away. "Nowhere. Just thinking."
"Thinking? You were thinking? Kagome, I've been sitting here worried sick while you were off gallivanting with Ki—" He stopped short, blinking and giving himself a small shake. "Whoa. Déjà vu—or something…"
She laughed a little. "Not so much fun when you're the one doing the waiting, is it?"
He narrowed his eyes, but didn't respond. "What did she say?" he asked.
"Nothing much," she replied, a wry smile pulling at her lips. "Just wanted to see you, I guess."
He glanced away, not sure how to respond to that.
"Inuyasha," Kagome said at last, and her tone made him look up again, his gaze resting on her face. "I saw the way she looked at me—at…at you. She really does love you…"
Inuyasha sighed, shifting his weight from one foot to the other and running a hand through his dark, mussed hair. "Yeah—I know…"
She smiled wryly and dropped her gaze to the ground. "I guess I can't blame you for worrying about her the way you do." The words hung in the air for a moment as both parties considered whether or not they ought to broach the issue they were currently skirting; but soon the moment had passed, the chance gone. "Well, I guess I'll get some sleep," Kagome said, giving Inuyasha a small smile and turning to step around him. Just as she passed his shoulder, her own voice stopped her in her tracks, though it sounded lower and more blunt than usual.
"You know…if I were going anywhere, I'd be gone by now," Inuyasha said quietly, simply.
Kagome breathed in the words, still facing away from him. "I know," she murmured finally, and continued on her way.
It was nearly dusk on the following evening when the group finally happened upon a village. It was small and rural, but considering that it was the first sign of civilization they'd come across in three days, they thought it very likely that the old woman might have stopped here to rest. She had so far managed to elude them—but with any luck, they would find her here.
Inuyasha waited impatiently with the others in the square while Miroku conversed with the innkeeper, just out of range of his human ears. "Kagome, can you hear anything?" he pestered, anxious to finally have this strange little adventure over and done with and get everything back to normal.
"Not with you hissing in my ear I can't," she shot back irritably. "Anyway there's too many people around—I can't make out the conversation. But he'll be back in like two minutes—just chill, okay?"
"I don't wanna 'chill'—I want to get my own goddamn body back. Is that so much to ask?"
"Well don't yell at me—it's not like I'm responsible for this."
"Oh yeah? How do I know that?"
"Well, good news," Miroku interrupted, rejoining them. "She's here—that house over there, just down the road. Hey, wait—Inuyasha!"
But it was too late—Inuyasha had taken off at a run, leaving Kagome to jog along behind him. Brushing past the reed curtain in the doorway, he darted a glance around the empty antechamber before locating a screen door to the right, which he slid back with a satisfying bang.
"There you are, you crazy old bat!" Inuyasha snarled, dashing forward and yanking the old woman towards him by the collar of her shirt. Of course, since he was neither as tall nor as strong as usual, he didn't even get her up off the ground.
The old woman merely smiled at him serenely, unperturbed by his manners or his sudden appearance. "I see you've received my gift. What's the matter? Not what you were expecting?"
"Inuyasha, put her down!" Kagome scolded from the doorway, hands on her hips, and he glared at her over his shoulder.
"Will you shut up and let me take care of this my way?"
"Threatening the elderly is no way to 'take care of this.' Now put her down!"
He grumbled, but did as she bade, relinquishing his grip on the woman and turning to pace back and forth across the room in an agitated fashion. "Fine then, what do you suggest?" he snapped.
Kagome ignored him and instead addressed the old woman with a small, polite bow. "I'm sorry about that—he's a little on edge today. I take it from your reaction to us that you're already aware of our little…situation. We were just wondering if you could help us get back into our own bodies."
"Yeah, and if you don't get your ass in gear and—"
"Inuyasha, sit!" Kagome yelled at him, but he merely shot her a bland look, and she smiled back sheepishly. "Oops. Force of habit…"
The old woman chuckled to herself, drawing the attention of the couple back to her as she spoke. "Well it seems that you have not made much progress. That's unfortunate. Your time is running out."
"Running out?" Kagome asked quickly, concern wrinkling her brow. "What do you mean time is running out?"
"Everything worth having comes at a price, child," the woman replied, addressing Kagome directly. "I have given you the gift of an opportunity—but if the two of you do not find the answer before midnight on the third day, I'm afraid the change will become permanent."
"Permanent!" Inuyasha fumed, lunging at the woman—but Kagome managed to catch him around the waist in time to stop him. "Dammit, Kagome, lemme go!"
"What do you mean, 'the answer'?" Kagome asked, ignoring his protests. "What kind of answer?"
"I cannot tell you—it is not in my power to reveal. All I can tell you is that it lies in the thing you most desire but refuse to seek."
Kagome stared into the old woman's face for a long moment, transfixed. The words resonated inside her somehow, as if she knew what they meant deep down in her soul, but the answer was still out of reach. She wanted to ask more questions, but something in the old woman's tone told her that it would do her no good. "Thank you," she said finally, turning to leave.
"Thank you?!" Inuyasha spat, still flailing and kicking uselessly against Kagome's firm grip. "What the hell is wrong with you? Why're we leaving? Damn you and your—and my strength!"
But just as they were crossing the threshold, the old woman spoke again, and Kagome glanced back. "The truth lies within, child. That which can be seen is no more than illusion."
Kagome frowned slightly, but nodded her understanding and left the woman in peace.
Once they were a safe distance from the house, Kagome loosened her grip and allowed Inuyasha to wriggle out of her grasp and stomp on ahead angrily. "Dammit, Kagome, what the hell did you think you were doing back there?" he growled as he marched back towards the inn where the others would be waiting. "You shoulda let me beat it out of her. I know her kind—they're all high and mighty at first, but a couple of good thumps and they crack like an egg."
"Inuyasha, I'm not just going to stand by and watch you beat up old ladies," Kagome said wearily, her mind still half on the odd conversation they had just had.
"Oh come on, you know I wouldn't've done her any real damage. You could probably throw a batty old crone like that through a fuckin' wall and she'd be able to walk away unharmed—I just wanted to scare her into undoing the curse."
"I don't think it's a curse, Inuyasha."
He stopped in his tracks and whirled on her, looking incredulous. "You don't think it's a curse? What do you think it is, a blessing?"
"In disguise…yeah, maybe."
He narrowed his eyes at her. "What're you getting at?"
Kagome thought hard for a minute, trying to get her mind around this elusive "answer" the old woman seemed to have given her—but then she shook her head, shrugging in frustration. "I don't know, exactly, it's just—I really believe that the woman didn't do this to hurt us. I really think she expects some good to come out of it. And after all…"
"After all what?" he prompted.
"Nothing," she said quickly, stepping around him to head off toward the inn herself.
"No, no, wait," he said, jogging around to stand in front of her again, blocking her path. "What is it?"
Kagome heaved a sigh, shoulders sagging as she looked off to the right, where the evening light faded into the darkness of the trees. "Well, I was just thinking…maybe some good has come of this. I mean, I feel like…like I understand some things about you that I never quite understood before."
He frowned, pulling back a bit, arms crossed over his chest. "Like what?"
"Like…why you always push yourself so hard to protect…everyone. It's a lot of responsibility, being able to fight like you do, knowing that if something goes wrong you could hurt someone, or you could let something slip by and you'd feel responsible."
He glanced away self-consciously, but didn't comment, so she continued, "And the way you are with Kouga. I mean, he's nice to me—but I can see why you don't like getting stepped on all the time. I've still got a bruise on my shoulder blade from yesterday."
"He doesn't step on me all the time. Sometimes I step on him," he muttered indignantly, but she ignored him.
"And…why you're always running off to Kikyo."
His eyes flicked back to hers, his scowl deepening slightly. "You understood that before."
"No—I don't think I did," she admitted. "Not really."
He met her gaze steadily for a moment, looking slightly uncomfortable, before turning away and looking off into the forest as she had done before. He seemed on the verge of saying something for a bit before he finally managed to convince himself to open his mouth. "Well I…" he began awkwardly, trailing off. "You…your body isn't made for this kind of stuff, Kagome. It breaks easily."
She watched him curiously, not sure where he was going with this, but trying not to take offense—she had a feeling he had a point in there somewhere.
"You…it…takes a lot to do all the things you do with this weak human body." He heaved a sigh and closed his eyes, then surprised her by turning back and fixing her with a sincere gaze. "You're one of the bravest people I know, Kagome. And I didn't have to live in your body to know that."
A small smile curved her lips, and she felt a lump form in the back of her throat. "Thank you," she murmured.
As they stared at each other, something strange happened. The evening was sinking quickly into night, and the lack of light was making it more and more difficult to make out the features of the face she was peering into through the darkness—but for a moment she seemed to catch a glint of gold in the eyes across from her, and the outline of a triangular ear peaking up from beneath hair that seemed much lighter than it ought to have been. But they were like phantom images superimposed on the scene, not quite real, not quite solid.
"The truth lies within, child. That which can be seen is no more than illusion."
That was it. All of a sudden it hit her like a Hiraikotsu to the head—she knew it. She knew the answer.
"Inuyasha, kiss me," she said suddenly.
His eyes bugged out as he stared back at her, bewildered and apparently somewhat terrified. "Are you insane? You're wearing my face! That's just…wrong!"
"But if I were myself…you would do it?" she said hesitantly.
He bristled slightly for a moment or two, opening his mouth to answer, but apparently having trouble forming actual words. "Yes!" he burst out finally, throwing up his arms in defeat. "Yes, okay? If you were yourself, and I was myself, and you told me to kiss you, I'd kiss your fuckin' brains out, alright?"
"But Inuyasha, don't you get it? I am myself, and you are yourself—we never stopped being ourselves. All this is just…an illusion. And if we can see through it, then the spell will be broken. That's the answer!"
He peered at her in the darkness, his brow furrowing in curiosity as he seemed to see something strange.
"You see it too, don't you," she said urgently. "You can see me…"
"I don't know," he replied, apparently still not willing to accept what his eyes were telling him.
"Inuyasha, it's me. You know it's me—and you said if I asked you to kiss me, you'd kiss me. So kiss me."
He hesitated a moment or two longer, his eyes darting over her features as if trying to see past her face to something behind it. She caught that glint of gold again, and the fringe over his brow seemed to swim with silver. When he moved towards her, she met him halfway.
The moment their lips met, a strange lightheadedness and disorientation swept over her, and she couldn't tell what was up or down or even where her arms were in relation to her body—and although she suspected at least some of it might be due to the knowledge that Inuyasha was actually kissing her, she was pretty sure most of it was the work of the spell. All that was real was the feeling of his lips against hers, and they were the only thing tying her to existence. When the haze began to clear, she found that her head was tilted back, and her hands were clenched in the thick, familiar fabric of Inuyasha's haori sleeves, his arms around her waist.
Slowly, they both pulled back, barely daring to breathe as they opened their eyes and found each other. The right way around, this time. For a moment they just stared at one another, twin smiles spreading across their faces—and then, without a word, they leaned in to kiss again, more enthusiastically this time, Kagome's arms winding tightly around his neck, and his pulling her more securely against his chest.
When they had had their fill of each other—or more like when they both felt a need to resume breathing—they broke apart, though neither seemed in any hurry to leave the embrace.
"What made you think of that?" Inuyasha asked finally.
"What, the kiss?" He nodded, and she shrugged. "Easy—the old woman said it herself: 'the thing you most desire but refuse to seek.'"
He raised an eyebrow at her. "So the thing you wanted most in the world was a kiss?"
She rolled her eyes at that. "No, moron. The thing I wanted most was you."
His sarcasm disappeared, and he gazed back at her seriously, apparently surprised. "Really?"
"Yeah," she said simply, slightly incredulous at his reaction. "Haven't you been paying attention for the last—"
But that was as far as she got before he silenced her with another kiss, this one fervent, yet somehow much deeper than the other two. Under the circumstances, she felt no urge to complain.
"You seem to be in a better mood today," Kagome observed, sidling up beside Inuyasha as they left the little village in the light of the morning sun.
"Aren't you? I was getting a little tired of that skirt. I still don't know how you put up with wearing that damn thing all the time."
She laughed. "No, that's not what I mean. I mean, it's great that everything's back to normal and all—but I got the feeling there was something more bothering you than just the 'trading bodies' thing."
"Oh yeah? Why's that?"
"Well, for starters, because you'd already been acting like a grouch for days before we even met that old woman."
"Oh," he answered lamely.
"Have you had something on your mind?"
He shrugged. "Not really."
"Oh come on, that was a yes if I ever heard one."
He rolled his eyes, though he was unable to suppress the hint of a smile. "Really, it was nothing. 'Sides, I don't think it even matters anymore."
"What? Come on, how often do I ask you to open up like this?"
"About twelve times a day," he retorted, and she smacked him lightly on the arm, eliciting a chuckle. "No, seriously, it was nothing. I guess I just got to thinking last time you went home that we're—we're sort of getting close to the end. I mean, the jewel's practically completed, and Naraku can't hold out too much longer—and I sort of started to wonder what would happen after it was all over. You've got your life and your school and your family to go back to, and I guess…I guess I thought…"
"Inuyasha," she began—but he stopped her with a mild, genuine look.
"I really miss you when you're gone, Kagome," he said quietly, but with uncharacteristic candor. "I just wanted to tell you that."
All of a sudden she found herself at a loss for words.
"Kagome!" Shippo chirped, giving her a small start as he scrambled up onto her shoulder. "Can we play that game again?"
Inuyasha scoffed lightly and looked away, turning his attention to the road ahead of them.
"Uh, what game?" she replied, still a little off-balance.
"You know, that one we were playing the other day—the one with all the questions."
"Who Am I?"
"Yeah, let's play 'Who Am I?'—please?"
She giggled and nodded. "Okay, Shippo—you want to go first?"
"No, you—you always think of better people."
"Okay," she replied, narrowing her eyes in thought briefly before nodding with a small smile. "Alright, I've got one."
"Okay," Shippo said, setting his expression into one of concentration. "Are you real?"
"Are you female?"
"Are you human?"
"Hm," she cocked her head to the side pensively. "Sometimes…"
Inuyasha faltered, casting a glance at her over his shoulder, but then continued as if nothing had happened.
"Sometimes?" Shippo furrowed his brow. "Does that mean there's more than one of you?"
"Nope. I'm one of a kind," she replied, meeting Inuyasha's eyes with a smile. He grunted and glanced away again.
"Okay…well, do you carry a weapon?"
"Do you have spiritual powers?"
"Are you a good guy?"
She smiled to see Inuyasha's snowy ear flick back in her direction, hanging on her every word despite his seeming indifference. "The best," she replied, slipping her hand into his as they walked and lacing their fingers together. He lowered his chin slightly and met her eyes again just over his shoulder, fighting a blushing smile. Beneath the cuff of his voluminous sleeve, his fingers tightened around hers briefly—and in that moment, they both knew that they were exactly where they belonged.
A/N: I'll admit, I'm still not totally happy with this—something still bugs me a tiny bit about the resolution—but it's fun, and I guess that's what matters… (--grin--)
A random tidbit—I realized as I was writing this that "Inuyasha-in-Kagome's-body" reminded me a lot of female-Ranma. I guess that makes sense, given that Inuyasha and Ranma have a lot in common personality-wise. There's just something about that feisty, balls-out gumption being housed in a petite woman's body that is very familiar. Especially in the Kouga scene—there are definite echoes of Kuno vs. the Pig-tailed Girl there…