Hojo's House

Miroku was having a good day. Not the sort of good day one might spend at a market in a strange town with many beautiful and receptive women, no good in a pleasant way. The weather was fine, the sun was slowly sinking, and Sango was positively radiant.

They sat together with Shippo having a picnic in the shade of a short hill. It had been his idea to go out together. He'd suggested this outing to cheer the other two after Kagome left them early yesterday morning. Originally, this was going to benefit only Sango and Shippo, but as the kitsune played and the slayer giggled girlishly, the monk reflected on what it might be like to have his own little family some day.

He pictured his lovely wife by his side where Sango sat now. His sons and daughters might frolic around them; they would be less hairy than Shippo, but hopefully just as charming. He had decided, however, that there was no room in this fantasy for a family dog.

Just as the monk was marveling at his current good fortune and bright future, the more sullen member of the group made himself known. It was difficult to ignore someone who sat down huffily and picked mercilessly at the fruit destined to be your early evening meal. Little more than an aggressive stray in human form, Inuyasha had lost no time in snapping at them and making it very clear he wanted to be left alone. No one bothered to mention that he had been the one to seek them out.

It was generally understood, since Kagome had explained it, that the hanyou did want to be included, he just didn't know how to go about it. Regardless of this understanding, Miroku was still silently wishing him away. Upon the intruders' appearance Sango gave the monk a doleful look that seemed to say she would be sorry to end their time together. There was no help for the antisocial Inuyasha now, the monk decided, not while his pretty companion was giving him a look like that! If Sango wanted their pleasant evening to continue, the half-demon would have to be sent on his way.

Now to be rid of him. Surely he could be convinced into seeing Kagome, that shouldn't take too much effort….

"You Know," Miroku announced rather loudly to gain the groups' attention, "There's something I've been wondering about Kagome." Sango's eye brow quirked up. He was toeing the line with a comment like that. Thankfully, Inuyasha was on hand to sum up all her thoughts.

"Whatever's worth wondering about Kagome is none of your business." was his stern reply.

"Mmm. Still," the monk waved his hand as if to dispel his friends' sour mood. "Have you noticed how closely she sticks by you? You must be aware that when we travel she is almost always at your side, whether on the road or in the villages. And she always tells you before going through the Bone Eaters' Well, even though she knows you'll argue. She makes a point of telling you when and where she plans to be. Have you ever wondered why?"

The half demon rolled his eyes irritably. "I protect Kagome, she should stay close to me."

"Exactly, she lets you protect her and follows you willingly. Don't you think that's strange, Inuyasha? Under the circumstances I mean?" Miroku knew, as soon as he said this, that his companion would take his question the wrong way.

Sure enough, the half-demon in question snarled at the perceived insult. "What circumstances, monk? Because I'm a half demon? Is that why you think it's strange for Kagome to like being with me?! Is it strange that she likes me at all?!"

"You know that isn't what I meant," he said soothingly. "What I'm trying to say, is that Kagome's in love with you, in case you haven't noticed."

The half demon grunted and looked the other way. "Shut up, she is not."

Shippou made a small noise of protest from beside Sango, but the slayer's firm touch on his shoulder kept him quiet. She gave the demon child a silent stare that told him to wait. The monk was up to something. Trust Miroku to come up with a plan; he couldn't be trusted with much else.

"You know she is. She makes little attempt at hiding it." Miroku paused upon making this point to let it sink in, calmly sipping his tea. His friend blushed outright before looking hard at the grass beneath them. "And doesn't it strike you as odd that the reincarnated soul of a woman who loved you once, has returned to love you still? It has to be more than mere coincidence. Inuyasha, have you considered that Kagome may be your destiny?" For a moment, Miroku thought he might get a sensible response, but instead-

"Feh, destiny," the hanyou mocked. "Do you hear yourself? Me and Kagome, don't make me laugh. No body falls in love with a half-demon." But his secretly hopeful heart was listening, and his ears couldn't help but hear.

"Ah, so you don't believe she would have you?"

"I never said that."

"I thought as much. She's lovely after all. Fair of face, bright eyes, and a generous figure with ample," he began to gesture at his chest, but halted when Sango pursed her lips and cleared his throat instead. "But recall that Kagome has a great inner strength as well as outer beauty. It can only be your fear that keeps you from… such…….pleasures…as…" A familiar expression came over Miroku's face then that Inuyasha did not trust. The monk stared away at nothing and began to grin a little. Shippou crossed his little arms and huffed impatiently. Sango scowled.

"Oi," the half demon punched him arm. "Quit thinking about Kagome like that!"

"Right, sorry," the monk blinked rapidly, trying to get his mind back on track. "What were we talking about?" Inuyasha's glare turned murderous. "Oh yes, Kagome's body -er- beauty," There was a low, feral growl from the hanyou. "But that wasn't the point. The point was that the virtue of her heart will keep you safe."

"Safe?"

"From the rejection you obviously fear. Better to hide and hope than to know and risk your own feelings, right?"

"Wait. You think I'm afraid of Kagome?" Inuyasha was incredulous. "You've been hitting the sake too hard. I'm not afraid of anything."

"Except loosing her." Miroku's voice was challenging. "You don't want her to go home, when she does you harass her into coming back. You don't want her to fight even though we can't do this without her, and you won't willingly leave her alone with another man. You guard her like a bone, that's as plain as the ears on your head. Come to think of it, you don't even leave her alone with me."

"That's because you can't be trusted! And enough with the dog cracks, Miroku. I'm Inu, we get it."

"You're afraid she'll run away from you." The monk said, pointing an accusatory finger. "It doesn't do you any good denying it. Everyone already knows. She has a power over you, and I'm not talking about those beads." The half-demon looked mournfully at the subjugation beads on his neck. "You said it yourself, no one falls in love with a half demon. You don't trust Kagome to be any different from everyone else, do you?"

"Why the hell should she be different?!" the half demon exploded.

Silence reined over the small group on the meadow. Sango began to gather up the remains of the meal. Whatever Miroku had been trying to accomplish wasn't going well in her opinion. "Shippo, help me get our things inside and we'll start a fire at Kaede's." The demon child nodded at the slayer's chipper suggestion and helped her to pack. As they left, the slayer turned briefly back to look pleadingly at Miroku. He wouldn't let her down.

"Listen," Inuyasha began, somewhat annoyed. "You don't know what it's like. People who don't even know me, wish I didn't exist. Most of them try to kill me on sight. It's like that for humans and demons, Miroku. You have it easy. You walk through a strange village and people come out to greet you. When they see me, they take their women and children indoors. You see a pretty girl and all you have to do is smile. I'm lucky if she doesn't scream. You rob innocent people blind, fondle their wives, and they still want to put you up for the night, free of charge! I have to save an entire village from a natural disaster so the headman will keep a civil tongue when he asks me to leave." The monk watched his friend's pointed ears droop as he made a little sigh. "I'm not like you. I won't ever be able to take someone's daughter to wife, and I'm not gonna have a demon mate. Filthy half breeds just don't have that option." Miroku contemplated this. His companion's view was fairly accurate, if a little embellished. Even so, the monk knew himself to be right and pressed on, crossing his arms seriously.

"And what does Kagome do in all this? She sees it too you know. Don't think she can't hear them whisper, she can. But she keeps walking, right next to you. And she's always the first to defend you when things turn sour, right?"

A vivid recollection of Kagome holding his hand gently floated to the surface of the hanyou's memory. It was more common in her era of course, because she had to lead him everywhere they went. But once, when they had been traveling, there had been an innkeeper who had taken one look at him and refused to allow him indoors. When his friends protested, the man had turned them all away with an ugly remark about half-breeds and the women who followed them. Without warning, Kagome had pushed Miroku aside and raged at the unsuspecting man, shouting that their money was as good as anyone else's. When curious villagers began to emerge from their huts, Inuyasha had taken her wrist to try and stop her. To his surprise, she'd simply clasped his hand and continued her theatrical tirade.

First she berated the innkeeper about minding his own business. Then she told the man that if he were really so afraid of the damage a single half-demon could do, he should be damn grateful when a Monk, Miko, Slayer and Hanyou, didn't bring his grimy inn down around him. Then, pronouncing herself to be finished with, "that despicable cheat!" she had loudly continued that a priestess of her standing wouldn't be seen dead in such a hovel, and if the man were ever so rude to a black miko, his entire family would likely be cursed for generations. Still holding on to him, Kagome had suddenly pointed to another, smaller inn where the owner and his wife stood outside watching the spectacle. The couple stood frozen as Kagome had not only demanded that her entire party be given a room, she had insisted on the price as well. The innkeeper had meekly agreed, the service had been impeccable, and the evening meal conspicuously large.

Inuyasha understood later that she had been proving a point to the entire village populous, but she'd held his hand firmly the entire time. For everyone to see. Maybe the pervert was right. Maybe it wasn't so hopeless after all.

"Come on," Miroku prodded. "You know she's different. Go to her. Sweep her off her feet. Even if Kagome refuses you, it would be Inuyasha she refuses, not the half demon." The monk smiled at his friends' bemused and hopeful expression, making a shooing motion with his hands. "Go on, go."

XXX

"I'm sorry Kagome, but they really do miss you." Mrs. Higurashi really had meant to show her the invitation the minute she got home from the feudal era. Unfortunately, between Souta's Friday football game, Kagome's need for modern amenities, and cooking family meals, Hojo's birthday invitation just hadn't made it to the spotlight. Now after her Saturday make-up tests, Kagome had been about to go off through the well again before her mother remembered she'd already R.S.V.P.'d for her daughter. The poor girl just had to see her friends sometime! "They come over to see you all the time. I knew you'd be home this weekend, and I just got tired of telling them 'no'. Please go out with them."

"I'd like to Mom, but"-

"I'll handle Inuyasha, so you can go out and have fun."

"Well, I guess I could be a little late"-

"Great! Eri said the party starts at seven, so you hurry and get ready. I got your friend a gift card, so you'll have a present to take with you. Get going now, they'll be here in twenty minutes." Kagome's mother waved her up the stairs.

The schoolgirl sighed and trudged up to her room. It was nice of Hojo to invite her to his birthday party, but sleep would have been infinitely nicer. Still, she knew she had been neglecting her friends for her "other responsibilities". It wasn't right, she told herself sternly. I can sleep any time and a birthday is only once a year. Besides, someday I'll have to stay on this side of the well for good and I won't want to be friend-less!

But even as she changed into a casual skirt and blouse, Kagome couldn't shake her reluctance to go to the party at Hojo's house. Inuyasha would be furious when her mom told him she was going to a party of any kind. She was always telling him school was business, not pleasure, and that her occasional attendance of school was mandatory. Which of course, was completely true, but if he thought for a single second that she had ditched him to have fun elsewhere… Kagome let that thought trail off as she used the curling iron to revive her hairstyle.

"Maybe someday, I'll have a life that doesn't revolve around other people." She muttered spitefully. She was just finishing a light make-up job when she heard the distant sounding of Yuka's car horn.

XXX

"A party?" The half demon tried to remember if Kagome have ever used this word with him. "Does this have anything to do with school?"

"Oh, goodness no!" Kagome's mother laughingly replied. "Parties are just for fun. This one is for Hojo's birthday. He's such a nice young man."

"Hmmph." Inuyasha glared at the clean counter of Kagome's kitchen. This Hoho person again. Stupid girl, stupid monk! Stupid hanyou. He should know better by now. There was no pretty destiny for half-breeds. They all died alone.

"Are you very mad? Kagome said you would be, but I told her to go. It's good for her to be a normal teenager now and then."

"You mean she didn't want to go?" Her mom made her? So, maybe she did want to see him?

"She didn't even know about it till this evening. Poor thing, she was up and on her way to school this morning before I could tell her a thing. Oh!" Mrs. Higurashi's eyes widened suddenly. "Why don't you go to the party too? Hojo's such a nice boy, I'm sure he wouldn't mind, and Kagome would be so surprised!" She clapped her hands together with joy.

"I don't know if that's such a good idea." The hanyou replied doubtfully. "Kagome"-

"I'm sure Kagome would want you there with her, given the choice. Don't worry, just come upstairs with me and I'll take care of everything."

An hour later, his heart flooded with new hope, Inuyasha was bounding through the streets of Tokyo on the trail of a particular girl. After a little coaching on using his "inside voice", Mrs. Higurashi had proceeded to make only minor changes to his appearance. His silver hair had been combed carefully over his flattened ears and tied back. This was a little uncomfortable, but at least this way his ears could remain hidden in a natural position rather than being squished in to submission with a ridiculous hat. His fire rat hoari had been discarded and left in Kagome's room; he wouldn't be needing it anyway. With his hakamas tied lower on his hips, his clothing appeared less bulky, more modern, and more flattering to his physique Kagome's mother had said. Hopefully, Kagome herself would be just as pleased. She hadn't really wanted to see that Hobo boy, and her mother said Kagome would want him with her. So maybe everything would be alright.

XXX

Kagome was in a difficult fix. As expected, Eri, Ayumi and Yuka had lead her straight to Hojo as soon as they arrived. Almost instantly, said friends had then completely disappeared into the throng of teens dancing to the loud music. Happy to see her, the birthday boy was now filling her in on all the school related gossip she'd apparently missed out on. The girl did her best not to sigh. She'd been trying to give him his present for some minutes now and just couldn't get a word in edgewise.

"I couldn't believe it," he was saying, "when your name was fourth from the top. I think I only saw you in class four times! And I'm there everyday and I only made the seventh highest score." He paused and looked briefly at the card in her hand. "Oh, is that for me?"

"Yes, it is." Kagome snapped to attention and handed him the envelope. "Happy Birthday Hojo," She said with an almost-genuine smile. His charmed expression hit her full force, so that she barely registered him taking the card at all.

"You're really something, Higurashi." It registered in her mind immediately that she was suddenly caught in a romantic moment. What rotten luck! He had such a tender expression on his face, and she couldn't think of anything to say. Before she could do any more than blush, there was suddenly a warm body next to her, and an arm around her shoulder.

"You certainly are something, Higurashi." Though he'd been addressing her, the young man who appeared beside her grinned expectantly at Hojo. "Aren't you going to introduce us?" Hojo sighed a little, looking suddenly nervous.

"Uh, this is my cousin Toshio. He-"

"Cousin Hojo is usually so polite," Toshio cut in, "but I see he hasn't even offered you a drink."

"Oh, forgive me. I've just been talking to you all this time. Can I get you anything?" Kagome blinked. He did realize he was being led, didn't he?

"Er, well I guess I am a little thirsty."

"Alright," her schoolmate said kindly. "I'll get you a soda and be right back."

Once he'd turned away, Toshio lost no time tucking Kagome against his hip. "Now that he's gone, does pretty Higurashi have a pretty first name?"

"Well, you're definitely more forward than your cousin," she responded warningly. This boy was much too smooth for Kagome's liking. Her tone apparently didn't ruffle him however.

"I'll take that as a compliment, Miss-"

"Higurashi, will be fine." Her small smile was only a polite gesture, but Toshio laughed undeterred.

"One of those, huh? Alright, I can deal. Let me show you where the drinks are and I'll introduce you to my friend before the boy scout comes back." He smiled down at her disarmingly and Kagome allowed him to lead her through the kitchen toward the back of the house.

Now that they were farther away from the music and dancing the number of people around had lessened. 'Still no place to sit though,' Kagome thought ruefully, there were only five chairs around the kitchen table and all were occupied.

"Here's the man we want to see," her escort proclaimed as they neared a table of various snacks and refreshments. Another boy of medium build turned in their direction, his wavy hair bouncing with the movement.

"Hisato, I'd like to introduce Miss Higurashi." Toshio made a flourishing bow.

"Oh, one of those," Hisato said laughingly. "Well it's nice to meet you." He took her hand in a limp handshake.

'Inuyasha wouldn't like either of them,' Kagome mused. 'Toshio is too forward, and Hisato has a weak handshake. What was it he told Shippou? That the way you take someone's hand reflects what kind of man you are? Yes that's right. "Be firm so they know who's in charge."' She'd been so proud of him, making Shippou grin like he'd learned some close-kept secret. 'No!' She reprimanded herself. 'Stop thinking about him! He'll give you plenty to think about once he finds out you went to a party. He'll probably be waiting at home to chew you out as soon as you get there, so have fun for once!'

"Here, try the pickles." Hisato put a stop to Kagome's thoughts when he handed her a plate.

"Thanks." She smiled.

"I can see what Cousin Hojo likes about you Higurashi. You have a beautiful smile."

"Yea, she does. How'd you like the food? I thought the sauce was a little too salty."

"I- thank you," Kagome said, willing her face to remain a neutral color. "I think the food is fine."

"I agree with the pretty girl, fine, but not the best. Do you usually blush every time a guy compliments you?" Toshio queried.

"Because it's cute." Hisato added.

"Sorry, er, thank you." Boy, these guys could give Miroku lessons! "I just don't get a lot of compliments like that."

"Really?" Hisato looked surprised.

"That doesn't sound like my Cousin Hojo."

"Oh, well I don't really spend much time with Hojo. I'm usually with, ah, my other friends." She nearly slipped up on what she said and shoved a rice ball into her mouth to keep it from happening again.

"Well, I guess girls don't go around calling each other pretty, do they?"

"Higurashi, my sweet!" Toshio affected the poetic tone of a prince. "I would love to take you dancing, but I fear my boring cousin would steal you away!" He kissed her hand dramatically, and Kagome knew she was blushing again.

"What are you guys up to doing next?" Hisato grinned at his friends' play acting. "There's not much else to do here besides dancing. And stuffing yourself."

"Cousin Hojo has a game room down the hall." His friend nodded over his shoulder. "It's off limits to party guests, but I'm sure Miss Higurashi can be trusted not to harm a deck of cards?" He looked at her with mocking suspicion. Kagome allowed his charm to make her smile.

"The cards are safe with me," she said raising her right hand as though swearing to it.

"You heard the lady, lead the way Toshio."

"Come on Higurashi, if your friends see us leaving, they'll think we're going to make out." He flashed her a smile. "Or maybe you want them to see?"

Kagome hesitated, framing something polite in her head. "I don't think so Toshio, you're not really my type. But I'll dance with you later."

"Yea," he said softly. "Maybe later." He brushed past her then and opened the door to a room of brightly colored amusements. At the back was a dartboard of blue, orange and green. A ping-pong table was folded against the wall to the left. A small table for two with three different card games to the right, and various board games filled a shelf that went all the way around the room. To Kagome though, the best feature was a plush rug tacked to the center of the floor that looked like a twister mat. When Toshio closed the door behind them, she was happy to spot the twister game spinner hanging from the back of it.

"So what should we play?" Hisato shrugged.

"Ping-pong?" The other boy smiled solicitously.

"No way man, not after last time!"

"Higurashi can decide then."

"Me?" Kagome smiled. "Okay!"

"Don't get too excited," Toshio chuckled. "Give me your handkerchief, Hisato, I know your Grandma makes you carry one." His friend looked embarrassed for a moment and grudgingly began digging in his pocket. "There's only one fair way to decide this," He continued, looking at Kagome. "You're going to be our spinner."

"I am?"

"Sure are," he smiled. "I'll blindfold you, and Hisato can spin you till you get dizzy. Then whatever you point to, we'll play."

"That's pretty creative!" Kagome laughed.

"That's what makes me so fun to be around," he said, slipping the white cloth over her eyes.

She felt Hisato's hands on her shoulders as he spun her counterclockwise. "Tell me when you get dizzy, okay?" She nodded and he spun her a bit faster for what felt like a full minute.

When Kagome felt herself getting truly disoriented she asked Hisato to stop the spinning, but before she could point her finger in any direction, something heavy slammed into her from behind. The impact of her head against what she thought was a wall made Kagome see stars. It wasn't until she tried to struggle that she realized she was being pinned there. The handkerchief was ripped away and when she slowly slanted her eyes open, Kagome saw the black wire of the dartboard, marking the point values of green.

"Think I'm you're type now, Higurashi?" The menacing voice hissed right behind her ear.

'It's Toshio!' her mind screamed with sudden clarity. 'He's holding me here. Was this a trap? Hisato-'

"Hisato, unfold the table."

'They're in it together? Oh god, this was a trap.'

XXX

Inuyasha tucked the page of directions Kagome's mother had given him into a planter on the porch, approaching the dwelling with confidence. As soon as he came through the door though, he realized that finding Kagome wasn't going to be as easy as he'd first thought. He was near deafened by the music that vibrated the floor beneath his feet. The main room of the house was poorly lit with strange colored beams of light that moved on their own. Didn't these people from the present want to see each other? Perhaps they were all ugly, his logical mind supplied. Perhaps Kagome was the strikingly beautiful flower amidst a sea of hideous people in stupid clothes. He noticed a few grossly unattractive people here already.

He began to, gently, push through the throng of young people and nearly gagged. The ode of adolescent perspiration was making his stomach turn. Why would anyone come here willingly? The hanyou skirted carefully around one rather large girl and found his answer. It was a dancing couple; a shapely girl with her arms around the neck of a greasy boy. The girl was grinding her hips against her partner in an explicit and extremely shameful manner. Inuyasha scowled. This was why these humans, and possibly Kagome too, came to this loud, smelly place. To degrade themselves with anyone willing!

Inuyasha couldn't help the burn of anger and jealousy that welled up in him. 'Not Kagome!' his mind protested. 'She would never, she's better than this!'

He turned briskly from the humans disgusting him, only to sight that weakling Hoho that was always panting after Kagome. Only he wasn't with her, he was talking to her three friends. Where was that stupid girl? Hoping for a hint, he made his way casually closer to the foursome.

"What do you mean 'where is she?'" the girl with the headband shouted over the music. "We left her with you."

"She asked for a drink and when I got back, she and Cousin Toshio were gone." The boy looked around nervously. "I hope they didn't leave. My Dad said not to leave him alone with any girls."

"What?!" the girls exclaimed in unison, but Inuyasha had heard enough. He already new Kagome hadn't left, or he'd have caught her scent at the door. And if the idiot had been looking for her she wasn't any place obvious, so he could forget about this room and the dancers. He left through the nearest doorway and found himself in a kitchen and dining room. Raking the area with his eyes, the sight of Kagome eluded him. The thumping and vibrations from the music were strong here too, he noted. If Kagome were in trouble some place, and calling for help, would any of these humans be able to hear? He had to find her. Now.

Like a tracker, he checked points of entry first. Beyond the kitchen was a door that led outside. A moment to check for her scent was all he required. Kagome had not been this way. He did smell sweet rolls though. At a table with food, cups, and drink bottles. Might she have come here? Yes, it was her! And another, a stranger he didn't recognize. That Cousin Toshio perhaps? Who shouldn't be left alone with-!

The half demon followed his nose from the table to the adjoining hall. Faced with five closed doors, he weighed his options. To his way of thinking, a man willing to take a woman for his own ends would take the shortest route to victory. He tried the first door on the right. The knob didn't turn. Why was it locked? He put his ear to the door and thought he heard a little whimper. Fearing the worst and praying he was wrong, he knocked.

The voice of a frantic girl sobbed back, "Hojo, help me please!"

Kagome!

"Get lost Cousin," a male voice called derisively. "I can beat your girl at 'ping pong' on my own!" Someone else laughed in the background. There were two of them.

"No, don't Toshio," Kagome pleaded. Inuyasha's mind reeled at the sound of Kagome begging. Prey only begged as a last resort. She had already called out for Hojo to help her, didn't she think help was coming?

A few curious party guests from the dining room peered down the hall when they heard the doorknob being crushed. They watched in still shock as a silver haired stranger used a powerful push kick to fell the door with seemingly little effort.

XXX

For a few short seconds, Kagome thought she might be able to escape her captors. Toshio had twisted her left arm behind her back to hold her. But as soon as he'd tried to back her away from the wall and dartboard, she whirled in his grasp, striking his temple as hard as she could with a closed fist. This did not free her wrist however, and he used his grip to fling her into the arms of his accomplice. Upon catching her, Hisato shoved her against the ping pong table, which was still half folded upright. He pushed her so hard the back of her head rebounded off the hard surface.

The brief sensation of pain was followed by the unwelcome feeling of wet lips against her own. Kagome pushed at Hisato to little avail as he left her no room to gain any leverage. She was still trying to free her face when she felt his sweaty hands moving up the back of her blouse. Indignant that this pig was heading for her bra strap, she did the only thing she could think of to get him to stop. Kagome opened her lips to his clumsy kissing and bit down on the unwelcome tongue that entered her mouth.

Hisato grunted and shoved away from her making her head bounce against the table a second time. "She bit me!" He exclaimed in surprise wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

"Don't be a bitch Higurashi." Toshio sounded truly angry now. Gone was all the smiling charm and flirtatious humor. He lunged toward her without warning, his arm raised and holding something shiny. Bracing herself for a blow, she reflexively put her arms up to cover her face. Nothing hit her, and when the boys laughed unexpectedly, she hesitantly brought her arms down. Or tried to. The long sleeve on her right arm was pinned to the table with the dart Toshio had thrown at her.

Before she could yank herself free, the two rushed her and within moments, both arms were tacked to the table above her head. The ping pong table unfolded behind her, sweeping her off her feet. They allowed the table to fall open for the last few inches, jarring her head against it one more time, when she thought she heard some one jiggle the knob at the door. But there was precious little time to consider the small noise. Hisato had pulled the hem of her shirt up and over her lace covered breasts. Kagome gasped at the intimate contact, horrified to see the boy smiling at them. At the other end of the table Toshio's hands were moving up her legs to her skirt when someone knocked.

"Hojo!" Kagome cried out desperately. "Help me please!" The idea of his cousin seemed to push Toshio over the edge. He yelled for Hojo to leave and then climbed up on the table, placing himself between her thighs. Now too close to be kicked off, his hands disappeared beneath her skirt. The other boy fingered the exposed cups of her bra and watched his friend intently. Kagome heard nothing from the other side of the door. Frightened tears began to fill her eyes. "No," she choked. "Please stop."

"You gonna do her Toshio?" Hisato asked in excited undertones. The boy at her hips nodded and tugged at her panties.

"Don't Toshio, Hisato please!" Kagome begged again.

XXX

The door had come down with the ease Inuyasha expected, but the scene inside the room made him pause. The sight of the lovely miko pinned by two males attempting to ravish her was not an easy thing to behold. Inuyasha could barely breathe looking at her wide eyes, fearful and frightened.

The boy to the left, with his mouth open and his hands hovering over her chest didn't seem too far into his crimes, though he would still pay. But the second! He would be first, the hanyou decided. His hands were up her skirt, already touching her softest places, and aiming higher to what should only be touched by Kagome's intended. Clearly he was the scum in charge, with his greedy hands gripping her under things as though he had some right!

In two long strides, Inuyasha closed in on them. Sweeping his claws up the boy's torso, he caught all the fabric up to his throat. The ruffian cried out at the attack and the hanyou happily noted he'd opened the flesh just a little. He hesitated not at all before hurling his captive headlong into the second assailant. The two crashed together in a heap and did not move. This pleased the half demon too, since he had taken special care to knock their heads together, but they weren't worth another glance.

Kagome trembled where she lay, saying nothing. She turned her head to one side, eyes closed against grateful tears until Inuyasha pulled her blouse decidedly down. She saw a strangely gentle expression come over the face of her rescuer as he brushed the darts away from her arms.

Kagome reached for him and he embraced her, sweeping her slowly off the table. He thought briefly about kissing her, just lightly, but the stench of another man on her breath made him quiver with rage. He tried to keep his face schooled in detachment so he didn't scare an already stressed Kagome, though behind that mask was a need for blood. Hopefully, no one would come between them and the front door.

"Come on Kagome, I'm taking you home." She nodded mutely and Inuyasha led her into the hall with a hand on the small of her back. The hallway was crowded with people attracted by the commotion, rumor already circulating about just what had been interrupted. No sooner had the pair stepped around the battered pieces of the doorframe, than Hojo rushed to the front of the group.

"Kagome, are you alright?" He tried to reach for her, but his hands were roughly batted away by the mysterious silver haired stranger.

"You don't touch her." Inuyasha said accusingly, purposely stepping in front of the miko to hide her from view. The half demon loomed over the schoolboy. His menacing posture combined with that bright, yellow-eyed glare had the desired effect; Hojo quailed.

"Look, I didn't have anything to do with this, I was looking everywhere for her. " Their host held up his hands as if in surrender. "I didn't do anything." Hojo was glad she had been found apparently unharmed, but this guy with weird hair looking out for her was apparently trouble. He looked like a fighter, and mad enough to throw a punch any second. Hojo shot a worried glance at Kagome, who looked like she might be sick. If he was expecting her to say something in his defense, he was going to be disappointed.

"That's right, you did nothing." One clawed hand gripped the boy by his shirt collar and shook him. Hard. "You were the only one who knew what your cousin was like, and you left Kagome with him anyway. She came to your home, under your protection, and I find her trapped in there with those animals! She trusted you with her safety, and you failed her. Now you got lucky this time, because Kagome isn't seriously hurt, but there won't be a 'next time', got it? Either you're gonna man up in a big way, or you stay the hell away from my girl!"

Still trembling behind her savior, the girl could only reflect that her hanyou was right. She had come here thinking she was safe and protected. Instead, she'd been sexually assaulted. Her mind cringed from the ugly words even as she thought them. She felt exposed and dirty, more than ready to crawl under the nearest rock. It was hard not to blame Hojo for this. He couldn't keep her safe, even in his own home. She would never look at her school mate the same way again.

Inuyasha shoved the boy away from him without waiting to hear the pipsqueak's response. He came to Kagome then and embraced her lightly, his aggression gone. He nuzzled the side of her face affectionately. "You ready to go?" She nodded silently against his neck. "Then let's get you home." Leading her by the hand, Inuyasha made his way out of Hojo's house and into the darkened streets beyond.

XXX

Once they returned to the shrine, Kagome was all false cheerfulness to her mother. All she said about anything was that the party 'wasn't very much fun', and that she had 'barely seen Hojo'. Watching her make all the big smiles she didn't feel made Inuyasha uneasy. She wasn't lying exactly, just glossing over everything, but he was still uncomfortable being an accomplice to her 'not-lies'. Especially after how kind Kagome's mother had been to him earlier.

"I was really glad Inuyasha came." She said suddenly looking at him. Feeling himself blush, he tried to return her grateful expression with a smile, but wasn't sure he'd actually managed it. His ears flicked nervously. "We'll probably leave early tomorrow Mom, so I'm going to get ready for bed."

"Alright Kagome. Come down for breakfast, won't you Inuyasha?"

He started to attention under Mrs. Higurashi's direct gaze. "Uh, yes ma'am." She smiled back at him and nodded her dismissal of them both.

Unbeknownst to the hanyou, Kagome had been intent on thanking him properly for his actions since they'd left the party. When they got to her room the girl threw her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. Unused to physical contact as he was, he stood rigid and silent.

"Inuyasha," Kagome breathed against his shoulder. Hearing his name on her lips like that would have been enticing if not for the lingering scent of men in her hair. In fact he could detect the nervous male sweat on the arms encircling him too. It was probably all over her. His lip curled in disgust. She needed some fresh clothes, and a bath wouldn't be a bad idea either.

"I don't know what made you come for me tonight," Kagome choked with emotion, "but I was so glad to see you." Inuyasha mentally cursed the pair of ruffians who'd cornered her at Homo's. Try as he might, he couldn't bring himself to touch her. If she latched on any tighter, he would gag. Ugh, she was going to get this stink all over him too. Unwillingly, he thought of all the places on Kagome's body their hands might have been and all the places he knew they had been. He growled. Those bastards.

"Inuyasha?" Kagome drew back from him. "I'm sorry. Did, did I do something wrong? I, just wanted to thank you."

"Keh." He wanted so badly to kiss her, to let her know that she was safe with him. But the stench of sour cologne that clouded her scent was slowly filling him with rage and disgust. "Why don't you just get ready for bed. Go bathe or something."

Kagome felt chilled by his sudden rebuff. He was sending her away. He'd barely said anything to her all night and now it seemed like he didn't want her touching him. Didn't he want her thanks? Or maybe he blamed her for what happened?

A far away trip to a lakeside village filled here head. "Only a fool refuses a woman who offers herself." It was filth then and still was, she'd told him so, but he'd said it then without hesitating. Did he really believe that? Could he really believe that of her? That must be it; what other explanation was there?

With tears threatening, she gathered her robe and some fresh underwear. She wanted to leave as soon as she could. She just had to convince him he was wrong, and crying wouldn't help.

XXX

Her sobbing could be heard from the hall, even over the running water. Inuyasha hoped he was the only one to hear. He had wondered if Kagome might cry. After all, if he hadn't come they might have- Well, it was a lot for a girl to through.

It had been hard to send her away earlier. He'd tried to be gentle with his suggestion but he could tell she didn't like it. Maybe he shouldn't have interrupted her. She only wanted to thank him. If she had smelled a little better, he never would have stopped her. Hell, she could go right on thanking him if it meant squeezing him like that. He allowed himself to imagine Kagome against him once more, her lush curves and soft skin. She might even kiss him.

His ears twitched. The sobbing had stopped with the water. Standing at the bathroom door, he counted to ten before knocking.

"Kagome?" he called.

There was a rustling of fabric, a sniffle or two, and then, "Come in."

She stood wrapped in her towel in the middle of the white tiled floor. Her hair was still dripping iridescent beads of water, warm clouds of steam curled in the air framing her in their mists. Entranced by her ethereal appearance, Inuyasha knew he was starring. What broke the spell was the redness rimming her sad eyes.

"I didn't want them to do that."

What did that mean? She sounded almost like she was mad at him. He saw her emotions harden with her lower lip, her posture now rigid and challenging. The half demon watched her warily, unwilling yet to comment on what he didn't fully comprehend.

"You said once that only a fool refuses a woman who offers herself." Inuyasha's gold eyes widened as the old memory struck him. "I want you to know that I didn't offer," her voice broke and the collected façade crumbled.

"I know!" Half panicked, the hanyou closed the bathroom door before he moved in to hold her. The last thing he needed tonight was for any of her family to walk in on them. He had really been hoping she would be finished by now, but damned if the girl wasn't crying again. Why did this always have to happen? He'd come here with a mission, finally ready to say what he needed to, to fill the many silences between them. And there was so much needing to be said. Those few precious moments he'd ever had his arms around her and hadn't been able to breath for her closeness. The loaded silence that followed them like a storm cloud after every visit from Kikyo. The unspeakable heat in his chest every time some pig farmer, rice harvester, headman, inn keeper, or even Miroku looked at her a little too long. All the married men and mangy, flea-ridden demons, who shall remain nameless, that took too much interest; damn them all anyway! So he'd come to her today, tonight, to tell Kagome that… well he didn't know exactly what. Destiny maybe. But it was such a fight just to get to her. Why did everything he wanted have to be such a fight?

"Kagome, I know that. I know you didn't." He loosened his hold on her to draw her bathrobe from the hook on the back of the door. "Look, just quit cryin' okay? You don't want your mom to find you like this." Nodding resolutely, she accepted her robe. He turned his back while she exchanged the robe for the towel, trying hard not to think about her state of undress. White ears, now free from the confines of his hair, swiveled back to detect the movements of the girl behind them. When she was ready, Kagome lead them back to her bedroom. Thankfully, there was no one else around to take any notice her bathroom theatrics.

When they were safely enclosed in her bedroom, Kagome took up her brush and after sitting comfortably on the bed, began combing through her tangled hair. Her half demon still hadn't worked out what to say to her though, and stood restlessly by the door. "So, did you have a good time, at that party?" he tried. "Before, uh, the rest happened?"

She gave him a half-hearted smile. "No, not really. I wouldn't have gone if my mom hadn't told them I would. How did you know where I was?"

"Oh, your mother told me about the party. I was just going to wait for you to get back, but she said you might want me there, so." he shrugged.

"And so you showed up when I needed you most." The emotion in her voice had him rushing to kneel at her side.

"Kagome, you shouldn't feel bad about what happened." He took a deep breath and decided now was as good a time as any. "I know you're not stupid enough to go for a pair of grabby humans when you've already got a demon falling at your feet." She flinched and looked fixedly at her hairbrush.

"Please, Inuyasha… Don't bring up Koga tonight. I don't want us to fight."

To his credit, the half demon tried not to scowl. "I'm not talking about that stupid wolf." The miko met his serious gaze confusedly.

"What other demon is there?" But now that she was looking her friend in the face, she thought maybe she knew. "Why did you come through the well today?"

"I, I was talking to the houshi. Well, he was the one talking, you know how he is. When he's on to something, and you can't shut him up?" Kagome giggled, bolstering his confidence. He started again with a little more surety. "You know how Kikyo and me were separated by Naraku? He said it was like your soul found its' way back in time just to find me again. And that's not normal you know? He was saying that was too big a coincidence to happen to just anybody. And you still like me, even after being reincarnated, and even thought you grew up being some one totally different."

"I guess that's not something that happens everyday, huh?"

He watched her calm reaction uncertainly. "I wouldn't think so. Anyway, Miroku thought it was destiny. Us meeting and all."

"Wow." She was looking a little dazed. Maybe it was too much to hit her with tonight.

"Yea, pretty dumb, right?" He scoffed, switching gears to his usual gruff demeanor. "Keh, Destiny! What I let that monk talk me into some times. Who believes in that stupid stuff anyways?"

"I do, and I don't think it's stupid." Gleaming violet eyes told him she wasn't buying his 'I-don't-care-act' for a second. "I think it's beautiful." She patted the bed next to her, inviting him to sit closer.

The half demon obeyed without thinking, making an effort to comprehend his good fortune. However it came about, he was almost certain to scare it off. By that logic, it would be better not to hesitate.

"It's kind of a nice thought," Kagome went on. "To think that this was all meant to be. Like everything had to happen just the way it did so we could be here now."

This was too good to be true; Kagome really did want him around, just like she always said. She believed they were destined to be together, sounding so sure about it too. Could it really be this easy?

He kissed her, cupping her jaw in one clawed hand as he did so. It wasn't the kiss of a lover, or one about domination. Inuyasha thought of himself as a man of actions. In his mind, what you did was just as important as how you did it. It was a nice kiss. He was pointedly gentle, as tongue and fang had no place here, but made himself felt enough that she would know he wanted to be here. This moment was supposed to be about the connection between them, and it was.

Easing slowly back, he opened his eyes. Her expression was tender. Kagome leaned into him, neatly tucking her head under his chin, and he found his arm fit magically around her slim waist. They cuddled for several minutes before Kagome broke the comfortable silence.

"I'm sorry you didn't get to have any fun tonight. I mean, it was your first modern era party. I'm sure we both would have had a better time if we'd gone together."

"You think so?"

"Sure. How about this, the next time we come back to my time on a weekend, I'll take a night off school work and you and me can go dancing. Would you like to?" She looked up at him hopefully.

"Go dancing with you? I mean, just you?"

"Yea, like they had at Hojo's house."

He blinked at her and swallowed. "You. Want to dance like that. With me."

"Don't look at me like I have two heads," she laughed. "It's not weird to want to dance with you. You can say no, if you think you won't like it." Thinking back on the lewd, rhythmic nudging he'd seen done earlier, the hanyou weighed his options. Kagome seemed to think it was normal enough. Perhaps in a few weeks, if he could keep anyone else from touching her, if she only 'danced' with him, and if she would still permit him to kiss her, maybe they would go. Whether or not he would like it was not even a question.

"Keh."